Monthly Archives: August 2013

when there are no words to fill the silences


We got one of those nothing assignments today. Write a couple of paragraphs about your plans and your dreams. Startling fact about me: I don’t have dreams. Maybe because I’m not a planner.

Yes, I have vague ideas of what I might like to do. Sometimes I have to sit down and think about it because there are decisions that have to be made. But I don’t plan. I’m impetuous and uninvested in the future. That’s why I don’t clean well or eat well or sleep enough. Because honestly it’s hard for me to conceptualize tomorrow, let alone work it into my decision making.

My whole life I had it firmly in my mind that I would not live to see sixteen. I couldn’t tell you where that came from, but it was there. I remember we stayed up all night until my birthday arrived, in that wickedly hot and humid room at science camp, of all places. And the numbers flipped on my phone and I had the thought “well what do I do now?”

I had no plans for that. And I still stay up more nights than I let on, not sure what to do as the clock bleeds into another day.

“We thank you for another day, not promised” She used to start all of her Sunday morning prayers that way. And when she died, I remember it meant so much. I hung on to it, and I whisper it often at three in the morning. The first part occasionally comes out almost sarcastic, or like I’m talking myself into it.

Sometimes you’re not ready to write the book. I get a new journal and I hyperventilate a little because there are so many pages. I have never filled a whole book. I probably never will.

It makes me think of Dolores Umbridge and her pen that writes with your blood. And it all feels like blank pages and it takes absolutely everything that is inside of me to fill them with words.

Is it worth it? That’s what I’d like to hear. I want to know that the drunken words I’m scrawling on this page can become something.

“with ink welled from divine veins”

And it’s Propaganda again, reminding me that the cost didn’t have to be mine.

But right now. I’m not even trying to write a book. Or a journal. I need a paragraph. Dreams. Plans.

I have a dreamcatcher on my window that I made when I was six. We wrote down a dream and wove the cord around it. Mine said, rather boldly “I dream I will lose my other front tooth before the weekend. It is loose”. Aim high and all that. Maybe I can write this paragraph about how I am hoping to recover from this cold.

There is a slight lightening at my temples as the Tylenol PM kicks in. The words swim for a second and then I’m checking my email for the first time in a week. And the inbox is screaming at me with bold black and little red exclamation points and my head is lighter than I remembered. It’s one more thing I didn’t plan for, I didn’t do. It’s a whole semester of little boxes in a planner that are asking me to fill them with life and joy and meaning and purpose. And it feels like it will cost me everything. Without meaning to, I fall asleep.

The nap makes me late for the Steve Jobs movie. Which is so full of dreams and meaning and motivation. I’m smacking my head against the wall and wondering if I’m hiding in this degree. If I’m trying to force things into my days because it keeps the absence at arm’s length.

And I don’t have answers. I write a paragraph about kids and PT and I can picture it as a chapter in someone else’s life. I write it that way.

But sometimes the little boxes in the planner feel like a ghost town, and I cannot fathom a situation in which I will actually inhabit them.

 She died, the one who used to thank God for another day not promised. Did I mention that? Out of nowhere. It was really sad, and we all wished it could have been someone else. Because she had plans and family and this life. I wrote her a letter, and put it in the box at the funeral home, the one on the fake fireplace. I think I apologized that it was her and not me. It’s hard to remember. But Good Lord, she had so much to live for.

I hate the silence. It’s heavy and it tends to press. It needs to be filled with words.

The future is a silence. Some days I think I will lose my mind…





when you’re outside the church


I am sitting in my car, afraid to go into the church. Afraid that I will have come all this way, tried so hard, and that I will again leave with this distance tugging at my heart. And it is paralyzing.

God has dissolved into a dichotomy. A Presence and an Absence. And it all got so tied up in how it feels and what I’m thinking…and the absence pulls me deeply into itself, like a vacuum. A void seeking to be filled, pushed upon by the atmosphere around it.

And yet the Presence is somehow more compelling. Like a black hole, it is an infinitely dense mass producing this gravity that draws me inexorably.

God feels far away. I’m throwing friends and busy-ness at the Absence, hoping to fill it somehow.

I have missed His presence. I have missed it in the searching for the next great moment or crisis. I have run to the mountaintop, staring at the sky and looking for a Jesus who spent so much time eating dinner and riding in a boat. Who lived in the ordinary moments.

I was lost in the church building when I was younger. And I tried to get to the car, to get home. I was just sure my mom would find me there, because it was her car. She would come. An hour passed, with me standing there lonely. When someone finally saw me out there, she came running outside in a panic.

It had never occurred to her to leave without me. She was looking for me, and she told me quite seriously that in the future I was to stay put and let myself be found.

We hang the tattered curtain back on its rod and we sit outside the Holy of Holies, waiting for Him in this place He has been. We are the men of Galilee, staring at the sky where He was. We go looking for Him, when He came down from there for the explicit purpose of finding us.

We try to feel it. We try to feel close to Him. We try to know more things about Him. We try to pin him to a cork board and examine Him, only to find that He continues to slip through our fingers. We go to camp, or a worship experience and try to wake up that feeling that used to burn inside of us. But the glow has faded, and we just can’t feel it.

And so we are outside the church. Broken and with our faith not quite working. Looking for the way back. Trying to fix it, trying to find God somewhere in the lost and found like an old cellphone or set of keys. “where did you last see it?” “when did you last use it?”.

If my soul could be still. If my anxious thoughts could be taken captive. If I could stay in this moment instead of rushing about into the unchangeable, into the past and the future…perhaps I could be found. Perhaps I would let myself be found, rather than seeking so desperately, and trying to create His presence when I can’t feel it. Perhaps instead of trying to know…instead of bombarding the ceiling with frantic questions and theological quandaries, I could let my anxieties and worries go, and I could just be known.

If you’d like, we could sit outside the church a little longer. We could sit in the gravel of the parking lot and be a complete mess, and I don’t think He would mind so much. I know it’s hard to go in there right now. I know it feels like God is millions of miles away. We could sit here for hours and talk about our lives, for a change, instead of trying to figure out some burning question or resolve some complex issue. We could sit here on this hill and watch the sun set, the way Lauren and Jen and I did at the very beginning of summer. With drinks from Sonic and a blanket. We could stay here until it comes back up, and we don’t have to go inside right now, if you’re not ready. Eventually there may be stars, and the quiet might be exactly what both of us need to quiet the crazy inside our hearts.

But just know…He is here, too. And even when it feels like absence we are known and we are found.

i almost set my house on fire. and also gnosticism. and the oh hellos.


         Today, I was the epitome of whatever the opposite of an environmentalist is. I took Febreeze, Raid, Off, hairspray, and something called Black Flag with a picture of a dying insect on the can, and I went aerosol crazy on the webs of the two giant spiders that live above my garage. They’re tricky little things (and by little I mean massive things). One lives on each corner of the entry to the garage, and when I go in or out I do so covering my head and at a full sprint. I hate spiders. I hate them so much.

                For just one second I had this brilliant idea. It occurred to me, as I was spraying every aerosol and flammable chemical I could find on the webs, that there was an easier solution to this problem. I could light the webs on fire. Survive that demon spawn, that kind of thing. I actually got a lighter. It seemed like a foolproof plan.

                I’m an idiot, by the way. A complete idiot. The reason I decided not to was that I wasn’t sure whether or not burning something called Black Flag would create caustic smoke. It didn’t occur to me (it really didn’t) that I would be lighting something on fire that is attached to a mostly wooden structure that…oh yeah…I LIVE IN. I was like two seconds from lighting my house on fire, y’all. And they gave me a college diploma.

                I have a point.

                It’s like this: I hate KLove. I hate the way Christians will rally around mediocre music or movies or whatever because they mention Jesus. Like…It’s okay, singer of a mediocre caliber, that you are releasing songs with uninspired lyrics and musical styles that are five years old. It’s okay because you like Jesus so we will support you. It’s kind of the same philosophy that made Facing the Giants and Tim Tebow world famous. Millions of American Christians saying “Hey, look! Jesus people are doing things almost as cool as the rest of the world! Hooray!” And we end up with this whole knock-off Christian culture. Tshirts, music, television, books, movies, mints…all stamped with a Jesus fish and approved for the whole family to use. And it’s Gnosticism. It’s failing to realize that the world isn’t split into the sacred and the secular

                It’s also like this: I’m exhausted with the flip side of the coin. I spent several years shunning all things ‘Christian’. The first time I heard the Oh Hellos, I liked them until I realized they were singing about God. Then I condemned them as cheesy. For the longest time I wasn’t reading, listening to, watching, or interacting with anything that celebrated Jesus. That’s a lonely thing. And it’s hard to say that you love Jesus, and then act ashamed every time He comes up in conversation.

                My answer to the cheesiness of Christian culture was SET IT ALL ON FIRE! And that’s not anywhere near out of character for me, obviously. But here’s the thing: I live in this house. I need Jesus. I need community. I need the song “Second Child, Restless Child” every single morning.

                And so, I offer to you a back door. Which is what my garage needs, by the way. I’m going to try to remember that I need to celebrate loudly when Christians produce really excellent things. I need to revel in the fact that we serve a creative, brilliant, abundant God and to be excited about the awesome things that overflow from the hearts that He lives in. That’s so much more productive than letting Mardel inspired nihilism slowly destroy my excitement about Jesus.


autocorrect is going to be the death of me


*this piece is in no way profound, meaningful, theological, or didactic.*

To my hideous, beaten up, 99 cent wonderphone: thank you. You stepped up big time in a pinch when I was phoneless, and I’ll always appreciate that. It was really fun, when I first got you, to tell people “but, hey, it was 99 cents” and then listen to them rap Thrift Shop back to me. We were doing so well. I don’t know what I did to earn your wrath.

But I have. You are a vengeful hunk of polymer, and I loathe and love you at the same time. It’s horrendous, for example, that you so frequently dial 911 from my pocket. I understand it’s just poor engineering, but good grief. I think I have the world record for butt dialing the fire department. And they always leave a voicemail making sure there is no emergency, and I so hate voicemails.

Also your battery behaves like a caged animal, breaking free at every available opportunity. If you fell an inch onto a pillow it would pop out. Perhaps all that energy used in escaping accounts for the fact that your battery has never once lasted an entire day, regardless of data usage.

Then there’s autocorrect. This is a belated blanket apology to everyone who has ever been cussed out by my phone and its vengeful system of text messaging. It doesn’t care if I meant to type shirt or sure or duck or batch. It’s going to swear at you because it’s cranky and constantly fighting with its battery (see above). Unless I want to swear. If I want to swear at you, my phone is almost certainly going to censor me. I’ve named it Murphy, because it swears at my parents and is overly nice to Rebecca. We are living in the worst of all possible worlds, this phone and I.

It’s lovely how autocorrect tries to plan my social life for me. It doesn’t matter which Sam I try to text, for instance, autocorrect will always initially select the other one. Don’t even get me started on the woes of when it decides to email someone to their outdated Facebook email instead of texting them. And it isn’t at all creepy that it tracks how many texts I send and attempts to rank my friends for me. Not even a little bit.

And then there’s the little grievances. Like how haha always becomes hahahahahahahahaha and I sound like a hyena. Or the way that the word “I” never seems to make the cut. Instead it becomes it, in, is, etc. and I sound like a moron. And I’ll completely pass over the apostrophe issue. It takes THREE BUTTONS to put one in manually (and it almost always gets corrected away), and Murphy’s law continues to put them in all the places they don’t belong. I know the difference between its and it’s. I do. My phone will also choose to leave total gibberish at times. It trusts me that inromt is a word, but the word often has to be changed to obvi. Obviously.

And, of course, there’s the adorable way that you deleted my map app with no warning whatsoever. It’s fine, I’m not the sort of person who relies on navigation. It’s all in my head. I’m like a homing pigeon. It wasn’t at all confusing to be lost in the middle of some suburb of Dallas with the new, less awesome map app refusing to give me directions until I paid for an upgrade. Never to fear, the vague map was easy for someone with my astute visual interpretation skills.

Oh, Pantech Flex. You were the link that tied Waco to Oklahoma City. You were the distraction that helped me survive the most boring anatomy class of all time. We got hooked on Candy Crush together, discovered that I resemble Monica Lewinsky together, and listened to the Oh Hellos so many times that when I try to say Oh in a text, you immediately add hello to it. I used to tell people you didn’t get me, because you are sporadic, confused, and incredibly aggravating. But you do get me, Murphy, you really do. You’re as random and secretly vengeful as I am, and you can’t spell the word random either (there should be an n at the end. I’m sorry but it’s true). We belong together Murph, and even if we didn’t I’m stuck with you until the two year warranty is up.

Right this second, as I attempt to text Lauren, I am remember the way you sometimes suggest whole sentences at a time. Like right now, when I type “I” into the text bar you suggest “it’s not that big of a deal”. Apparently I say that to Lauren a lot. Intuitive of you, really. But for goodness sake “I” CAN BE A WORD ALL BY ITSELF.

for you (all of you)


                It’s furtively Catholic, my bedside table. There’s all these candles and a little angel figurine and a wooden cross I painted at a Phi Lamb retreat once. There is also a bracelet with a world charm on it and a prayer book and a stack of cards and letters from people I adore. Also there is a bag full of pictures of ICM kids. Rather glaringly out of place, there is also an alarm clock and an owl figurine I got from my sister in law. Every night I read out loud from the book and light the candles.

I light one for the ICM kids.

I light one for my family.

I light one for the patients I see at work, and for their families.

I light one for the things people have asked me to pray for (and if you’ve asked, I keep a list. Because I’m learning to be better at this)

But I light the last one a little differently. I light it after I blow all the other ones out, when it’s dark. And I always pray the same prayer, mostly.

“For everybody I love who is stumbling around in the dark. For when there is no way. For the days we are fighting our way back to believing. For the days we aren’t. For when the darkness is heavy. Just that you would shine a little light. That you would speak it into our hearts.”

And then I read part of Psalm 139 about the darkness not being dark to God.

Look, I know this is eccentric and maybe you think it’s creepy. And it’s not like I think this little flame is going to put any light in your life. But it’s just…

Last night. When I prayed this last night I was crying (I mean what else is new?) because we’re a mess. Because the darkness looks big and the light looks small. Because my heart breaks when my friends are hurting and I’m not there, and I can’t be there, and everything I can do or say from here seems so much less helpful than what I’d like to do, which is sit on my old couch, paint our nails, watch How I Met Your Mother, and bake you brownies. And then give you an awkward hug and we could go dangle our feet in the pool and I could tell you that God’s still here, and until you see Him I’m here, too. But I can’t.

This morning I woke up and realized that I hadn’t put the candle out right. It was just barely glowing. I know, fire hazard.

But it stayed lit. I wanted you to know that. I wanted you to know that when I couldn’t be there or say the right thing or bridge the gap…I don’t know. But it feels like God was there, watching this candle, getting you through this night.

We don’t always know how it got so dark. We don’t always get some five point plan to recovery, a list of rules and checklists to bring the lights back on. It’s not always our fault (and sometimes it is). But to be honest, when the lights have gone out it’s hard to care about why they’re gone.

I wanted you to know that you can borrow this light for a bit. That it isn’t mine, anyway. In my own dark there were these flashes and flickers of everyone else’s light all around me, and I took them and I held them close to my heart, and it started to glow again. And you can take as much as you need.

Because we’re Christ for one another. And I tend it even more carefully, because I’m saving some for you.

irony (i think) and what i’m thankful for


Alanis got me all confused on irony. I always get it wrong and look stupid, but I know that a scuba diver drowning in a bathtub is involved.

But oh good grief. 
So if you know me, you know that my mom’s job has given me a set of life rules. They include obvious things like never tolerate chiropractors (seriously) and don’t crack your knuckles, as well as slightly more obscure things like Tylenol is for the weak and stretching can cure basically anything. 

Rule number one has always been, and will always be: no motorcycles. Turns out that when your job is rehabbing people with spinal cord injury you develop a complete fear that someday someone you love will touch a motorcycle and suddenly be in a wheelchair. 

So when my dad came home with a Suzuki…um…power scooter? Sure, let’s go with that…is this irony?

Good grief. It’s orange and it goes 28 miles per hour (and yes, we timed it with a baseball radar gun). It has a basket and it looks like something that a hipster would drive. It also turns out that I love it desperately. What’s more is that my mom has officially decided that 28 is a safe speed and this thing is on its way to street legal (the funny thing is that she might ride it to work and earn the disapproving stares of all the other PTs). But guys…it’s great. This whatever you’d like to call it is just lovely.

I’m thankful for a lot this week. I’m thankful for friends and Austin and Waco and Common Grounds and Derek Webb (seriously just go buy his new CD. 

But this week, when I wasn’t sure how I’d left things, I came home to a not-a-motorcycle and learning to drive it while we laugh in the driveway, and it seems like we’re going to make it work, me living here. 

And I came home to the exact right passage underlined in Narnia and left on my pillow. And I came home to a new volleyball season. So…

Everything will be made new again. 

a door in the air


I was dreaming of the beach, dreaming of grad school somewhere I could wear sundresses in December and get a tan. I’d just gotten back from San Antonio, and I was in love with the sun. My brother was in the next room with a crooked, skinned nose; I was ignoring the fragility of the emotions in my house. I was trying not to see the crooked lines of worry etched into faces. I was trying not to see the weight of what I’d missed. I didn’t want to own the parts of this that belonged to me, the worry that fell back on my shoulders. I didn’t want to deal with the worry, or the apologies, or the unnatural cold in Oklahoma that week.

It was a hesitant time, those weeks I slid back into my old life. The minutes had such a tendency to blur like it was some kind of dream. They dragged and raced and jumped around until I would come to laying on Lauren’s brown couch and grasping at what structure I’d built for myself. It was always the same.

I was waiting, there in my old room with the purple walls. I was waiting and knowing I shouldn’t be there. Knowing that I was part of this. Knowing this was my chance to be present. That this was my chance to fill the void that I tended to leave on the end of every stilted phone call. But there I was in my room alone, planning for California.

It nagged at the edge of my mind for a moment. The thought of roots, and being planted, and the fact that mine were here, however withered. I flashed back to a moment on my phone in the dark thinking I had lost something that I’d never let myself need. And here we were, back together, and I was hiding in my room. Because I couldn’t get back. Because this wasn’t my world anymore, and I couldn’t see a way back through the wall I’d built with the guilt and the frustration and the pride that I didn’t call pride at the time.

I’d been comforting myself with songs and verses for leaving and forsaking, and with a canned promise that isn’t in the Bible. “you can’t go home again”. I was so much the martyr, save for my eyes which had never left the yellow lines along the side of I35 and the way back to Waco. You’d almost have believed me.

But I was hiding when His voice came to me. I’ve only heard it once. One time there was the sudden understanding in my heart that the world hung on a single sentence, and it wasn’t an emotional tug. It was a certainty. Once, in the whole spread of everything, have I ever been certain that it was His voice, out of all the others in my mind.  

“I am able to make a door in the air”

“Please don’t” instantaneously, because it made more sense than I wanted it to.

You don’t hide long, and I opened Prince Caspian and read the chapter quickly through two times, looking for a loophole.

”I am able to make a door in the air”

That probably doesn’t sound like bad news to you, unless you’re a hard core Narnia buff. But the door in the air…

…It’s high time that I explained Prince Caspian to you. If you want to understand me, read that book. It’s the book that makes me cry. If there was only one, it’s this one.

Yes, they go back into Narnia. But it’s like knock off Narnia. Everything they loved is just wrong, and they don’t fit anymore. No one believes in them, and everything changed, and they always wanted to come back. When they do and it sucks. But then Lucy is looking at stars she knows and wandering around talking to trees, and you think okay! Things are looking up! This will fix everything and be lovely. And she tries to get the trees to wake up but…she can’t do it. She’s different and they’re different and it’s just a little girl alone with some trees. (this is the part where I lose it entirely.)

A little girl in the place she loves the best; she is realizing she can’t stay here, and it can’t be like it was, and everything ends, and the magic has disappeared. She’s thinking that maybe the magic was never real, or at any rate it will never be real again. Wondering if it’s her fault for believing too easily, or if it’s her fault for doubting too quickly. Sitting alone in the trees and belonging nowhere, and all her hope is in a million pieces.

I always wonder if she regretted leaving at that moment. If she regretted chasing that stupid stag through the wardrobe.

Things start to come back together. Narnia still isn’t the way it was, but it’s not hostile anymore. They fight for it, and they win.

And then they leave. Just when everything is getting better, they go home. And nothing has changed except Edmund doesn’t even have his birthday present anymore. Seriously. CS Lewis, a happy ending would have been swell. But no. Aslan makes this door in the air, and they walk through it and go right back where they started.

It’s like nothing changed. Sitting on a train like nothing was ever different or magical. Peter and Susan can’t go back, and even though Edmund and Lucy can they’ve just learned in a heartbreaking way that it can’t be the same. Things can’t happen the same way twice.

“I am able to make a door in the air.”

Sometimes God doesn’t use a wardrobe or rings or a horn or an unlocked gate in a fence or a painting of a boat. No, sometimes he rips open the fabric of the world and you walk blindly through the gaping hole.

“I am able to make a door in the air”…

…My response was less than enthusiastic.

“If that’s your plan, I’ll go. But I can’t help but resent it. I can’t help but cry. Why would you do this if you love me?”

And then God and I did not speak for months. There was no door. I slouched toward it, anyway, unsure of where you turn when your heart knows where God is taking you and every other piece of you is just wandering out in the fog.

We became reacquainted, of course, the first Sunday I was back in Waco. And I realized it couldn’t always be like this, making this place into the throne of God like He wasn’t near when I wasn’t here. And so began the process of God slowly and inexorably creating this Way, and I’d been so sure there could not be one.

I’d like to say I was mature about it.

I’d like to say I stopped turning hopelessly at the knobs of every other door.

But lying isn’t very classy.

Here is what I missed in the din and clamor, in the lightening and the earthquake that it took for me to heed the whisper: You were the door.

All of you. The words I carry with me, and the advice and the stories and the laughter. That was the door. God used a year of my life to shape me in every way possible, and it was a thousand tiny lights on a landing strip helping me know that the ground was there, coming up under my feet. The past 365.25 days have been so drenched in fire and magic and the presence of God that it knocks me back down to my knees.

A year later, on Rebecca’s floor, trying to explain how I ended up here, and how it was different than I expected. Because she prays for things and makes lists, and I pray for things to go away and make escape plans.

“I am able to make a door in the air”

It’s like MLKJ said, according to Rebs anyway:

“When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a great benign Power in the universe whose name is God, and he is able to make a way out of no way, and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. This is our hope for becoming better men. This is our mandate for seeking to make a better world.”

And He is the Way when there is just not one. And you were His body, and you were the Way once before, but even in this place where you aren’t He is the Way.  And if you ask me why I’m writing this, today, I’d have to tell you that it’s because it’s been one year, to the day, since I asked God to do what He needed to get me where He wanted. It was a simple prayer with my feet in the Pacific Ocean and the dreams of living there falling into the water, rock by rock, as I threw them as far as I could.

When I think about heaven, I can see us somewhere on the beach in California, all of us, letting the waves break over our toes and laughing while the sun sets, throwing rocks in the ocean. And I know it’s bigger and wilder and more perfect than that could ever be, but tonight, when I can see the state capitol from my window, it’s enough that we had this time together and it changed us. And we all end up back at the train station and it looks the same, but I promise you—it’s different.