My Try at Strange and Beautiful

A teacher once told me that strong writers are expert collectors. We gather the mannerisms and idiosyncrasies of our surroundings, bring them home into our disquiet, wily minds, and allow them some space so we might become curious about it all –endlessly curious about why things are the way they are and what it is that makes them become. We, along with Inspiration and Practice, sift and separate these pieces, these valuable collectibles until there is a fit. Finally, when there is a fit, an arrangement, the product is beautifully new. Novel, even. And this is why we use these very words for our creations, as if to say: Here it is! Something different…maybe, strange. But, if you listen, its familiarity is as immense as its strangeness.

This is art-making. And whether it is parenting, listening, cooking, composing or writing there is usually a remarkable, untrimmable light in the artist’s eye– a cock of her head, a: this is strange, but oh thank you kind of expression that we know but we certainly can’t invoke. It isn’t magic and it isn’t sentimental… it’s art-love, and usually, this kind of love has to do with re-arranging, emptying out, maybe chucking a few things before filling up with something a bit lovelier. Come and see what you do not know, artists say to themselves and to the world. And once you see it, we must start again. Curiosity and possibility keep them in love, wondering, unclosed and usually quite tortured. Art comes out of a deep, deep unknowing which, let’s face it, makes anyone angst-y, yet the creation somehow, someway, always gets at the heart of things and makes it lovely. This is why I love good art and good artists—because everything is just soooo bizarre and soooo beautiful. Always. All the time. And I know people roll their eyes at this, but the drama of it lightly woos me, because life happens this way, too.

People-making, people-being, people-working, people-helping….this is artwork as well. I know I’m not the only helping professional who gets pegged as saint-like. I suppose it’s nice to be called very nice, but I would also say that I don’t like my work because it lets me be nice. I would say that I like my work because it lets me be artsy. Relationships are curious and open-ended and really, really artsy. At least the ones I’m interested in having. The problem is, whether you see yourself as a helper saint or a helper artist both involve some serious ego so things can get a little dicey especially when you feel like your art is not unfolding itself like art should.
When someone tells me the deeply intimate details of his life and I listen, look, and try very hard to communicate an appreciation of their collection in all of its eclectic, human and relatable matter—from their beliefs to their eye contact to their self-image to their parents to their addictions to their style—all of it–and I say:

I see this!!! Here is an idea. What if we take this tiny, special, little piece of your collection and use it to support this other rougher part of your collection…what if we try that. Shift it. Just a smidge. Could we? We’ll do it together. This would be a small, creative, change—a tiny little change— and there would be just the slightest new arrangement. Verrrryy, verrry slight. It would be strange, but also, still, familiar. Remember, that is how art works. And remember? You are art. Let’s. Just. See. How. This. Fits.

It’s not been like that for me. Not only is it not like that, it feels impossibly like that. Instead the moment and the interaction and the whole creative process that I promise I am trying to trust feels closed up and unable to play out. And I know that running too fast and pushing too hard shortens moments instead of widening them, so I really am trying to go easy. But still, the moments feel really abrupt and uninspired. No flow, if you will.

Nevertheless, I am not called to give up on the art of transformation. This is how my work and my faith must be together forever because when my work, and my belief-system and my God say, “Go! Break into darkness” and the people, this art before me say, “I much prefer the protection of this darkness. STOP MESSING AROUND WITH THE DARKNESS. I would like to make a very big hedge around my heart and you, crazy hopeful lady, are making me want to make it BIGGER.” And while the particular instance to which I’m speaking may be a professional one—the dynamic is perhaps, even more accurately a relational one—the one that happens between parents and children and friends and neighbors and husbands and wives and if it’s not happening it may just be that together, there is not enough push for true authenticity and true community. Because, art is also one of the grandest ways human beings have ever come up with to make the strange and the bizarre-o and the unknown BEAUTIFUL.

So if my patients are refusing to be beautiful for me I have no choice but to turn up the soil of my own heart and pray as organically as I know. Please God, could you recycle my human-matter and the world’s human-matter, and any other skunky matter that has crept in the past couple of weeks… could you please recycle into anything really, but it would be lovely if you could recycle it into something made of more wisdom made of more patience made of more goodness. Lilacs maybe? Could I grow a lilac bush in my heart please? If its truth, I need it. And not only does God have the license, but God, really can create the most beautiful out of the most inconceivably beautiful. I believe this. God can create tens of millions of lilac rows out of this pitted mulchy mess.

So, already, there is comfort in this. Isn’t there? Comfort in this for my unpleasant patients who despise others and themselves and the constant reminders that this is so, comfort for me who is beginning to dislike my unpleasant patients because they make me look at me and remember that my heart is not so big and certainly not creative enough for all of this. Comfort for the parent trying to protect uncontrollable children that they love to smithereens but must set free at the same time. Comfort for the woman trying to understand what it means to care for herself and love others with courage and kindness. It’s comforting not just because it’s possible but because it’s the same prayer all around. No one can say that they do not need the soil of their hearts turned up. In the hardship, whatever it is, there are invitations for even greater re-arrangement and masterpiece because we are all workmanship and we are all too sacred to ever be finished. Love works on things. And in love, God works on things. No one likes to be “worked on.” So, thank God, we are not alone. And thank God that love working on things might mean there begins to emerge within us an even greater semblance of truth.

The deepest reminder of this is the way God, who is beyond any kind of loveliness, sent a divine person, Jesus, to work on things. A person, Jesus, to be light in dark things.  A person, Jesus to re-arrange things. To majorly, majorly overhaul the soil of all things. And this person, Jesus, was strange because of where He came from, and who He sat with, and what He said. And what may have been stranger still, is how people clung to this strangeness. In droves, all of them, together, they went to him and clung to his garments and his strangeness. Jesus embodied the strange AND the familiar and these things together, made the Gospel truth. Truly. So they clung. They lingered. Because Jesus was grace and truth incarnate.

So, today, God is using people, and community and each other, so that we might cling with our hearts, to all of the strangeness, because there is speck of it that resembles truth. And then might we let ourselves see a larger speck and a larger speck and before you know it we we will totally shoveling out our heart soil….all of it….over and over again…even the lilac bushes….saying here, take it, each day, take it. We are giving ourselves up to God and each other, longing for more transformation. More art. There is always more art! These are the saints, to me. Not necessarily the big hearts, or the nice hearts or the creative hearts or even the most inspired hearts. They are not necessarily the most responsible ones, or most hard-working ones, or most passionate ones. The saints are the ones whose hearts have been so shoveled out that every day, they look up and give up and in faith, make more and more room. And say, yes, yes and yes.

Everything will be made beautiful in its time.

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Look! Skeleton in wheelchair=so strange, books and music= beautiful. Want to go back.

2013, Here’ s a Quick Top Ten to Remember You.

1. Of all the states there are, never thought I’d live in the one shaped like a chicken bone and known for whiskey, but as of July 4, 2013, here we are!

2. This year, I started my 5th clinical position I’ve had since graduation.  I’ve reasoned there should be a word to capture the profound overlap of joy and sorrow in my profession. JORROWFUL, maybe? Whatever it is, it must be all caps.

3. Luke and I have added paper-writing (him) and editing (me) to our list of evening activities. Words + meaning + theology + conversation= romance. I married the right man.

4. This last month was hard. Our beloved dog had a back injury and we didn’t know how things would turn out. I spent many December nights so very restless and worrisome I wanted to crawl out of my own mind. The experience gave me a raw and renewed sense of compassion for the dark and lonely places the human soul can inhabit.  Advent felt quietly desparate. It looks like she is going to be okay and we are still rejoicing. She is so, so, so dear to our hearts.

5. This year, I have sunk my teeth into the book of Romans, Paul Miller’s “A Praying Life” and Dave Benner’s “Surrender to Love.” I find myself increasingly full of faith that there is nothing better on this Earth than bowing and bending to God’s sacrifical love.  Romans 8 is like this beautiful, winged, blessing that I remind myself of every morning. A blessing with wings is like a benediction. And a benediction wraps us up before we are sent out– just like love should. This is precious and self-shattering.

6. Every summer, I have family reunions in Wisconsin. Never, has it been driving distance and this year it was! At 29 years old, I believe: genetics, family and tradition are very powerful and shan’t  be undersestimated. That is all.

7. If this is God’s green Earth, Kentucky is the capital. Think of an expanse like the Sahara, or the sea-bottom and then picture green, grassy carpet rolled out over top. Those are the meadows here.  The brightness and the beauty make me very happy to be alive and sometimes, it’s true, I feel like the frolicking horses. Right now, the frolicking horse in me says, “I CANNOT WAIT FOR SPRING”!!!!

8. I miss hearing Luke’s voice every Sunday. When he does sing, it is as warm and earthy and full as ever. And my  heart is still sing-songy for him.

9. Materialism has been a difficult area of spiritual formation for me. But, this year, simplicity seems to go down easier than ever before. We are not on the corporate, secure your retirement, invest in stocks, travel the world plan. We just aren’t. Sometimes, I am still jealous of the people that are. But mostly, I am very much okay with it and on some days, even grateful.

10.  We bought a van on Craig’s List this Fall. It is large and blue. And not quite cool enough to be Retro. But still: it has a bed, a sink, a microwave and limo-lights. The three of us, Aja, Luke and myself travel places in it.  Not all things are as adventerous as they sound, but I think this is.

Human Nuggets

When I first decided to get my MSW it was 2007 and I was pretty quiet about it.  The whole process was a really covert operation that was more effortless for me than I’d like to admit. I applied (didn’t tell anyone), got in (didn’t tell anyone), looked for a roommate (didn’t tell anyone) and when I decided that it was probably a good idea to, you know, show my face, I was already regretting the whole thing which made me feel super clumsy.  I’ve had this poor-form before with other really monumental events (ahem, marriage) and for these hiding and disappearing patterns I’ve provided for others myself some reasons like: “Why bring other people along for the crazy ride if it doesn’t pan out?” or “I’m independent and free-spirited” or when I’m feeling really defensive: “This is just how I make decisions. Quickly.”  Some of this is true. A lot is actually. But that doesn’t mean that I get to avoid acknowledging how it could be hurtful and harmful and silently bulldoze some community.  Some of my inner circle people know that I do this, and with gracious ease, they call me endearing and we move along with our friendship-life. Other equally big-hearted people I know have felt big-hurt by the independence that I’ve named. Slighted. Really, really, really left-out. And even though I act like I don’t know, I know. I know that my “independence” when it’s un-closeted, unmasked and standing still can be plain and inconsiderate. The rub happens for me when I’m standing still because I know my heart is begging itself for honesty. I think the rub happens here for most of us, when we’re butt naked and butt ugly and still, called to be heartfelt and ask ourselves- am I going to name this and get on my knees? OR am I going to puff up feathers? OR am I going to be clumsy and hidden? We know the things we do. And If you don’t, read Brene Brown’s work, she spells it out wonderfully.  So, if I don’t get on my knees, which is just really hard for me when I have my cool, adventurous, free-spirit costume on, I usually do the clumsy hide and disappear thing. And then I whisper things to myself in my closet like, “I don’t have to be exposed to imperfect reactions and imperfect judgments and imperfect love. And I don’t have to leave safe closet and cool adventurous free-spirit costume and ostensible independence.”  Just. Kidding.

Actually,  Just. Forgive Me. That whisper would have probably been more graceful.

So in the spirit of retrospection and critique, what I should have said to my dear friends/family/roommates in the year 2007 was, “I really think I need to learn how to be a more alive human, so I’m going to get my graduate degree in social work.” I’m not so sure that this would have spared me the comments about the social workers being secret socialists and the ones about the social workers taking kids from their parents like it was a really fun game or the ones about social workers actually being burned out and actually grumpy and actually not like the soft hearts that they let on to be.  I’m not sure that rationale would have spared me those.  But now, in 2013, I know that of all the things I love about my work, I love the deep, divine, crack and cranny, nitty-gritty humanness of it. And because ideas about humanity can include ideas about everything and because I have not yet read,   “A Theory of Everything” (fyi that actually is a book),  good clinical social work demands a lot of looking at your own human self. Like one of my dearest professors said, “In this work, you’re really the only thing you’ve got.” This is scary and awesome.  Scary because it can be an ethical/legal/boundary nightmare.  Cue the unprofessional. Awesome because human connection is a powerful thing and it begets honest change and I believe that honest change rounds us out. In the same way that husbands and wives say marriage is hard and pitiful and desperate and anxious they also say it’s transformative and gentle and easy and good. And usually, human hearts swell from these kinds of things. On second thought, that is probably the other reason I went to social work school so my heart might swell up and round out a little bit more.  On third thought, that probably just goes with being more alive. I really do need to read that Theory of Everything book.

So. I’m finding myself now, in a new social work setting confronted with this I’m a human/you’re a human thing. I am working with veterans. 30’s-70’s. Some PTSD. Mostly substance abuse. Some legal issues. Some really poor. Some not. Remember that thing I said about social work being everything? Yes, that.

My new job intimidates me some and most days the intimidation factor feels like a great workout so it’s doable and even fun. But, when it comes down to it: I just don’t know a lot about drugs, I’ve never worked with men and its different for me, plus I have this idea that I’m going to get the wool pulled over my eyes. I think this fear is rooted in lots of junk but I seem to keep remembering how I loved working with kids because you always knew where you stood. Kids would always say things to me like, “this is really boring right now” or “I really don’t want to talk about that” or one kid actually told me he thought I was really silly and weird and didn’t want to come back. Seriously.  The better part was when they were doing so well and talking about feeling better and trying new things. I knew it was sincere.  It was rare that the one in front of me was JUST nodding along. Well, teenagers were questionable. I think my point is that therapy CAN be magical but it can also be fake and sometimes I have this nightmarieish idea that me + veterans + substance abuse are all just going to nod along like dead logs in a very fake, very stagnant, very well-documented VA river system.

So this is why I HAVE to be real. I cannot put on heirs or hide parts of my clinician self because I will disappear, like I told you. I start putting on costumes, cramming in closets, building crazy houses in the sky and then I disappear. I think clinicians call it “burning out”, but on the human level, which EVERYONE gets, its a disappearing act (for me), or puffing up act or some thing or another. Throwing silly putty and touching our head to our feet was me showing up for my 8 year old clients. Sometimes, it was the most human, most appropriate, most perfect thing to do.  Now I must find fully human ways to show up for my 58 year old veterans.

I’m not sure what this feels like yet but I WILL tell you that I nearly wanted to jump out my chair and hug the man who asked me during group if I knew what it was like to buy crack on a street corner. Well, I didn’t want to hug him at first because he asked me in front of everyone and it was my sixth day and I felt like he was half making fun of me. BUT…I took a deep breath and I told him thank you and then I changed the pace of group for a second and a voice said, “Do this. Because he is RIGHT.” So, I tried to show up. I was not a weird phantom. I stopped talking about thought filters and thought stopping and started talking instead about one of my favorite quotes: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us walk together.” Yep. I went there. And then I told them that they had stuff and I had stuff and maybe some of their “stuff” looks more similar than some of my stuff. But when it comes down to it we’ve all got it. And so we TALKED about this. Like human people. And they said things like, “So if we all got stuff why don’t you talk about yours?” So I tried to answer in the most honest most professional most profound human way I could.  We listened to each other.  It wasn’t perfect but I really really don’t think it was supposed to be and the same man at the end of group said, “I just want to say that it goes a long way to really work with someone who loves their job.” Not sure if I love my whole job yet but I LOVED that human nugget.

Yep, human nuggets are the best. And this is me, holding on to them.

 

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Kentucky Thresholds

So, there was time, (say last week) that I was trying to push July along so as to feel “settled.” And then, I realized, in talking to many folks, that I kept saying something along the lines of, “it’s strange not being in some sort of routine.” I’m sure I said these words because it is strange to be on summer vacay in my new nest, but it’s also way fun. We are loving the quiet in this sleepy hollow of a town, any “heat” just isn’t when you’ve done Texas in July for the past six years and in addition to all that, the dusks are glorious. Every evening the sky seems to get ready like it would before a thundershower, but instead it busts open with all kinds of peachy colors. I wish I had a poet like Mary Oliver to come sit with me on the front porch and narrate everything because it looks per-fect. She would especially be wonderful to have when the fireflies came out. They don’t stop coming. They don’t stop blinking and twinkling their little selves and giving an extra dose of mood and energy to the whole dusky scene like smooth jazz music or a big bonfire might.  These fireflies– they are very good at their jobs and it’s more than enough–definitely more than those routines I was lamenting the absence of. So, I stopped doing that and resolved to press in hard to these God given days and all of its tremendous Kentuckyness because that is where we are.

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Now July is almost over, I turn 29 tomorrow, I’ve found that my tree-hugging/van-building Luke writes really heady, smart papers (knew it. proud.),  we go to Farmer’s Markets a lot and I start work on Monday, August 12th.  Aja has some doggie playdates in the works, I got lost in a novel and also had a garage sale in the rain. You see, I could write a lot of these disjointed, listed sentences because life has been really list-ish and scattered. I think it’s because I get stressed out by list rigidity and become scattered. Luke tends to think that it’s not sticking to these lists that makes me scatter. Myers Briggs people: it’s a total P/J thing. Insight welcome. Whatever the case– over the past couple weeks, I’ve found myself looking for the spice rack while deciding where the lipstick plant should go all the while tiptoeing around the pile of dirt in the kitchen because I STILL CAN’T FIND THE DUSTPAN.

On a non-scattered, clear-as-day note, we went to a new church on Sunday and had lunch with some very funny, kind and talented couples who seem to love Jesus and community and each other a whole heck of a lot and oh, how that makes my heart swell with all kinds of things, but mostly peaceful hope. Peaceful hope is clear as day.  And I think it can also be blinking like fireflies. Or busted open with peach like the Kentucky sky. Peaceful hope is happening, even when we are in the middle and tiptoeing around the dust pile and moving locations which is the ultimate “everywhere and nowhere” feeling like my friend Jennifer says. I also know it is Divine, always– but especially for someone like me, who, can be a little rushed, a little fretting a little disconnected and a lot anxious. A lot more anxious than she likes to admit especially when this transitional journey has been so imperfectly beautiful and every day I seem to forget that we have been led.  And so, once again, I find myself in the soft and mysterious folds of my spirit, my mind and this transition. Are we not always at this kind of threshold?  Trying to break through–to the other and more certain side– organized spice rack in one hand, lipstick plant in the other? So this day, this new day, in the tiny, before-the-threshold and very liminal space, I am quieting down and taking up residence.  As is the case with all true and worthwhile things we must have the courage to press on and in AND the courage to say–  not too hard, now. Ea-sy. Not. too. hard. And here is where the peaceful hope walks in with another sunrise.  Or, this morning, it was a prayer that I had once written in one of my journals.  An old-old benediction sounding prayer from St. Patrick’s Breastplate:  Christ be with me /Christ before me/ Christ behind me Christ in me /Christ beneath me/ Christ above me/Christ on my right /Christ on my left/ Christ where I lie/ Christ where I sit/ Christ where I arise/Salvation is of the Lord. 

So simple and grounding and so very perfect for the threshold.  Walk on. Go forth. Stay still. Welcome in. blog 1

Thank You for Moving Us

Moved!!!! Yeeessssss.

This Thursday is a lot different than last Thursday.  This Thursday: there are seven (note– just 7, not 27, or 77 or 700) boxes left in the living room, our doggie is content dominating her new squeaky toy, my husband is doing such strategic office organization that I am beginning to rethink his vocation and I am saying to myself, “Yes, I think you have time to go ahead and update your blog.”  Last Thursday, on the other hand, was a rainy, 4th of July move-in to our new home in Wilmore, Kentucky. After weeks of preparation best summarized by cardboard moving boxes and that packing tape roll-y/smack noise I was feeling pretty zapped.  I know it’s dramatic, but my mental picture of myself on that move-in morning is with little slit-eyes, a coffee IV, some kind of matted hairdo and weird shoes. Yep, thaaaaaat’s about right.

So, I’m not writing that you might have the unfortunate image of me looking like a mover–zombie. Instead, I’m writing to let you know that the Body of Christ has been ANGELS. True angels. All of those sacred phrases like “being the hands and feet” and “being known by love”  and “feeding and clothing and taking care” weren’t just phrases, but were walking, moving, talking GINORMOUS hearts and we were the receivers.  I have never had nor seen brand new neighbors come over to help you unload after 1. you pull your diesel truck into their sleepy-town and SLEEPING neighborhood  at 12:30 am 2. the rain is not stopping 3. it’s their day off 4. The moving ramp is steep, slippery and somewhat of a death wish.

But they did. Five new neighbors, they all came over with broad smiles and peaceful dispositions and Wilmore welcome brownies and they did.  And even as the rain kept doing its thing and the Gatorade ran out and their glasses got wet, they were easy and light.  Those were/are our Bluegrass angels.  East Texas angels, you are next.

I suppose one of the greatest gifts you can give a person is your belief in them.  And that’s where things started for us, Texas angels, with your belief in us.  When we started saying, “I think this is it. I think we are called to this ministry-thing for the long-haul and need to pursue formal theological education.” People can say lots of things when someone speaks out of their heart like that. They can say things like, “Hmm. That’s interesting.  I hope that works out for you!” They can leave things at, “Good Luck! We will be praying for you!”  You gave us more than that. Instead, there were lots of knowing smiles and sincere head nods and almost winks. Phrases like, “Of course you are! We were just waiting for you to figure that out.” It was the best because it was sincere and made us feel like we weren’t crazy, and maybe, just maybe, we were listening to the voice of God with the clear ears and the soft hearts I pray for. The Pastors, the staff, our whole community really were quiet fans declaring into our lives big, God-filled dreams like loving parents do for their children. To this grand community of dream-believers and us-believers:  thank you.  I speak for both of us when I say your words have burrowed their way deep in the soul of this journey and we feel them. We feel the way you have told us that we are a team and we complement each other well. We feel the way you told Luke he can be a great Greek scholar and I can be a devotional writer. We feel the way you tell us our ministries have spoken to you. And in times of doubt and the inevitable jerkiness of transition we will cling to God and your send-off chorus:  Have Faith. God is making a way for you. This is your path and it’s GOOD.

 And what’s incredible is that these words were just the first part. That moving week you were angels in word AND deed, who clapped and flapped your wings, flew behind us, packed our boxes, brought us lunches, filled our gas tanks, scrubbed our oven, weed-wacked our lawn, touched up the ceiling paint (serious saint), did our laundry and raised tuition support. The list is endless. And truly, it is because of you, this divine momentum and this Holy Spirit-push that we are here. Texas angels, you have sent us off with buckets, and I mean BUCKETS of self-sacrificing, Christ-like love. No wonder it was raining buckets when we got here– it was just reminiscent of the buckets you sent us off with. Love-Rain.  Sorry. I didn’t quite recognize it in my mover zombie state.

So now here we are (we’ve been saying that a lot lately) and to make this finale/beginning even grander, we recently received word that a number of personal contributions are being sent to Asbury for Luke’s tuition. Again, I say the heartfelt and inadequate words: thank you.  In faith, you have believed in us so much so, that you have opened your hearts, homes, time, words and wallets for us. I am head-to-toe honored to call you our friends and very unsure about an adequate expression of my gratitude. So, Ill tell you this: in 1 Samuel 20:41, the writer Samuel captures the intensity and humility of David and Jonathan’s friendship when David kneels to the ground and bows, three times before Jonathan. Even though I am not near you, I am before you in so many other ways, and as David bowed before Jonathan, I bow before you. And after I get up, we get up, after we stop unpacking boxes and saying things like “here we are” and “I’m not sure there is a shirt/shoes law in Kentucky” we will begin to live ourselves into this new work God has begun in us. We are in this together- you and us- an angel army of cheerleaders, of teachers, of mentors and scholars. An army of ceiling painters and cooks and organizers and lawn mowers and peacemakers.  A hospitable army, a merciful army, a wise army, a God-fearing one. Blessed be YOU, the angels who work for the Glory and the Kingdom of God.

Oh, and one more thing: we really miss you. All our Love, Sarah and Luke

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Redemption Song

I remember Good Fridays growing up with more of me than I do Easter. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a lot of glorious things, but at the moment, I’ll call it the most crazy-loving-radical-strange thing that has ever happened.  Ever.  Still, culture slips Easter into happy holiday garb with great ease and some of its glorious strangeness has been lost to more comfortable phrases like hope and new life and fresh starts. I certainly love the inspiration and warmth of these things, but still, they are a little mild in the context of eternal things.  Pastel maybe. Pastel next to a Cross and a Holy Story and Gospel News that is Glory-White. I had an art teacher who once explained to me how the color white has all the colors of the visible spectrum. It has no hue. It is so bright and so full and so blasting in its purity that we can’t really get it, but we try, because it’s white and we just need it.  Pastels are really no substitute. This is how the Glory of resurrection is. And Easter, I think, is about the way this shatters our sense of seeing, being and doing more than it is about wearing pretty pastel lenses.

Good Friday, of course, is a hard one to make happy.  Whether I remember the day growing up with such poignancy because of its sadness or because of its strangeness, I don’t recall. Knowing my penchant for both, it was probably the combination. I remember that an usher would slam a hymnal down in the back of the sanctuary to reinforce the finality of Jesus’s heartbreaking words: “My, God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” The necessary drama intrigued me.  Then, we left this funeral-feeling service in silence– not even a dirge-ish melody! I remember feeling like a lot was at stake right then– that evening, on the car ride home and especially as the words of that hymn, “Were You There When They Crucified my Lord?” stuck to a strange tightness in my throat.  I treasure these deep feelings of loss, neediness and awe because I think it was my small-self coming to the Table and taking a bite.

I acknowledge that the word sin and all of its implications- the muck of it, really, makes it a loaded term for many people. I include myself when I say that it’s difficult to think about what exactly such colossal sin that needed dying for by Perfection entails. I think about the glimpses of Good Friday with which I suffer. Indeed, this is just my portion, but a portion to which I can speak.  And this Easter evening, I am thinking about the weight of sin. The heavy cross. The black, bruised bloody night.  I am thinking about darkness that does not go away; that stays and hovers– cursing the silence.  I am thinking about mental illnesses that wreck havoc on generations, knocking sons and daughters, sisters and brothers silently to the ground.  I am thinking about love growing cold, un-defining itself, and turning its pages in perfunctory silence.  So, we clench our jaws, but still, things fall open and stay that way: wide and gaping  Sometimes, self-sacrificing friends and just-turned-30 moms and toddlers that have just said hello, die. It is sudden and impossible and terrifying and it puts us on a kind of deathbed of our own.  We might recover, but only halfway.  Things might become bearable as long as we are numb, and when we are numb we do things we do not understand.  And we try to reach out, but we make ourselves islands and slowly, silently, some people are still swallowed by the sea.

This is the stuff of the crucifixion and Calvary and it is mysteriously awful.  Good Friday.  I think about the way followers of Jesus: men and women thousands of years ago, must have questioned everything as they turned to walk away from Jesus’ body hanging so dead on the cross. Their heads must have been low, their feet and their spirits dragging on the ground. We thought you promised redemption Jesus. This is it?  Jesus, you have confused us.  I never imagined goodness to be so broken, Jesus.  I never imagined your perfection to be so full of shame. I thought you came to save us!  I was not there when they crucified my Lord, but I imagine this kind of desperation between heaving sobs and nightmares and the trauma of the whole, bloody, God-awful scene. I imagine it with ease because I ask my own, hard Good Friday questions now. I feel confused by the staggering mental illnesses and the deathbeds and the sea-swallowing I wrote about just a moment ago.  I see these sharp and shiny fragments, surrounding my own heart and others’ hearts and society’s heartbeat and wonder about the jaggedness of it all.  Jesus, I am confused.

And here, I think, is part of the Easter-answer: we must know these jagged edges, to know His great Love. It is part of the loss, the surrender and the authenticity that is essential to our confessions of faith.  All of the jagged edges for all of Christ’s time and this time and the time to come slammed into that one night , up against this one Holy man and killed Him.  And then it was finished. He whose loving might and glory holds all of time and all of Earth together, sealed eternity for us.  But that Easter morning, that Glory-white morning, marked the most finished-beginning the world has ever known.  Anyone can say that Jesus’ life and ministry was full of grace. In fact, many people do. But to acknowledge His death and resurrection is to believe that the conversation has now turned from Water to Living Water.  Everlasting Water. Flowing, abundant, clear, cool water.  And it has a glorious, changing, off-the-radar, off-the-spectrum force that outdoes any sentiment. Jesus, let us, let me, not underestimate how this grace can flow! So in faith, in the name of love that goes beyond my ability to love or be loved, I take this invitation and step in. In faith, I abide in this current that meets me in my stagnancy and silt, your stagnancy– the same stagnancy that kept the Earth still and the women weeping Good Friday night. And I will be carried in this current, abiding in Your love, knowing this, this is THE story and I will sing this redemption song to others in the best ways I know how.

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Pic found here

Swaddled

There is a wise lady at church, Sister Avis, who tells me that I am so young and how time goes so quickly especially as we get older. I think it was just after the Easter Lilies were cleared off the altar that she said something like, “Christmas is coming!” And here we are. She was right. Christmas is here and 2012 nearly accounted for. The pages of the calendar have been full this year and of course, there are twenty bajillion things for which we can and must bow our heads. Luke and I are filthy rich when it comes to material and spiritual blessings: moving arms and legs, people that love us and cheer-lead us, employment that is meaningful and a Savior that we believe has come to deliver this weary world and secure our Hope.

Speaking of immeasurable blessings, scrolling through my Facebook news feed is better than peering through the windows in a maternity ward. So many lovely people I know are bringing life into this world.  Seriously, it feels like there are bellies popping out everywhere.  And next, the babies: these tiny hes and shes with perfect names and toes and expressions on their faces. They come out alive and  kicking and in a matter of moments, bam! love wins. Things are never the same. I have never held a tiny person I grew inside me and felt my soul change, but I do believe I have an itsy bitsy baby idea of what mothering might be like.

Sometimes, I think about my counseling room as an incubator all its own.  A little cocoon. Womb. A place where the babes I see get to be born some more, explore the world some more…alive, kicking, and wondrous like they were when they were two days old.  ”I said that!” they get to say. ” I want more!” they get to dream. “I am okay,” they have sorted out. And I get to listen and say Yes. I have heard with all of my ears and all of my eyes and all of my heart what you have said and I acknowledge what this means. You do not know how my heart and tear ducts swell when I think about this very precious kind of swaddling, I get to do.

And no matter if we are 3 or 11 or 27, don’t we all kind of need this at some point or another?  To be reminded of who we are like the  people that ooogled over us when we came out in that hospital room?  Don’t we all need to scream without abandon and be held that way too?  To be celebrated for the beautiful work, the beautiful life that has begun?  For gosh sakes, we are the same exact human being we were then. Bigger brains, bigger bodies. But still, vulnerable spirits and delicate.  Yes, some days I am in need of some serious swaddles.

Last Friday, we all felt vulnerability in the very worst-in-the-world kind of ways.  And still, I feel pretty dead inside when I think about Sandy Hook. Everyone tells me to turn off the news and stop looking at their faces: their sweet picture day, jack-o-lantern, familiar looking grins.  So, sometimes I do. I do turn it off  because it is too big for me or it is time for me to go to sleep. But sometimes, I do not, because we must grieve this together.  This tragedy belongs to us, friends.  Those families cannot be alone.  And if my horse-loving, craft-making comedian of a six year old was shot, I think I would want people to swaddle me, and to care.  Like, really really really care. Not in a, “oh that’s so awful I can’t think about it too hard”  kind of way.  That’s shallow, and if December 14th, 2012 taught us anything it might be that we cannot afford to be shallow.

In times of tragedy, I know we try to make a teensy bit of sense out of senseless things. I want to know, like everyone, if there was anything that moved this 20 year old boy to these actions.  I think of the kids I work with in my practice who are suffering emotional distress on a (much) lesser scale. Most of the time, they have no blessed idea why. If I sat a child in my therapy room and said, “Now tell me why you are kicking the other kids in your class,” they’d run out the door.  They know something feels uncomfortable, they hurt, they don’t like it, and their response is, well, less than stellar in our adult opinions.  The emotion runs deeper than the reason: this is a neurological fact in young children. In the same manner, we do not ask a boy with a fresh gash in his arm why he screams in pain. We figure out what he needs, what kind of wound it is and how his body responds to certain medicine. Next, the medication stings, he resists, but slowly, with help, he begins to bear the pain. Then, perhaps, he might be calmed down enough to tell us what in the world he was doing to create such a gash in his arm.  In the same way, we must give our children the tools to feel before they develop their self-insight.  We must teach our children to bear their own emotional pain and to help others do the same. We must teach them to use all of their hearts. And we must teach them with all of ours. 

Of course I don’t know what was going on with this monster of a shooter.  But I do know, he wasn’t always a monster. At one point in time he was our baby just like the victims are. And in my humble opinion, I might venture the guess that the shooter didn’t know what was wrong with him either, but by gosh, something was wrong, terribly wrong and now all we have is a horror story to tell.

I have searched Scriptures these past couple of days desperate for hope. Desperate for the light that people are talking about this season, the light that can’t be shut out, that flickers on. I have lit candles and read the names of the victims out loud, like my friend Glennon over at Momastery encourages me to. But most of all, I have clung to this verse from The Message translation of Hebrews 13:3  “Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them. Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them had happened to you.”  

In Chapter 13, the writer of Hebrews is telling recently converted Christians how to be Christians. He is giving them practical guidelines. He is saying that we must lean into our brother’s suffering and musn’t ever, ever begin with judgement, but with pure heart: the really, really pure 7-year old, freshly swaddled kind of heart.

So let us start here. Let us all be mommas and daddies and professional swaddlers and givers of  light. And let’s teach our babies to do it, too. And their babies. And their baby-dolls. Whatever. But, please, let’s make this the most important thing. More than the rat race and the degrees and the enlightening experiences is knowing how to love. Please. I know this tragedy makes God weep. I also know that God loves to give us hope in the most unexpected ways, and we must be looking. We must be looking for babies in barnyard stables, lying in mangers in swaddling clothes of His own. May you experience the redemptive grace and love of this Peace Baby in your homes, in your hearts, in each other. May we all.newtown

Growing Old

Today, I’ll start here: Growing old is not for sissies.

The most notable transition in my life of late is a job shift  from counseling at the Children’s Advocacy Center to providing counseling at Hospice of East Texas.  It’s a PRN gig about twenty hours a week, and I have the opportunity to do private practice on my off days. After difficult goodbye(s) (s) (s) to my sweet former clients and colleagues, I walked out of the CAC feeling quite brave and quite grateful for the opportunities set before me. It’s not everyday that a flexibly scheduled, well paid, meaningful job opportunity shakes my hand and says: “Hey, just thought I’d let you know, I’m here if you need me.”  Over the course of two job searching weeks, that had happened. Twice.  So, on I went, hospice at one side and private practice at my other. My heart was open, my knees were knocking and my eyes were full of everything. Mostly, I was hoping my knees would just stop knocking.

Now, two weeks in, I’m deciding whether variety is thrill, or whether it’s whiplash.  The medical setting will make me a better t crosser and i dotter.  I have a few crookedly-crossed, halfway-dotted consonants in my life, so I’m gladly practicing.  Non-profits easily attract the idealistic-holistic- hippie (but don’t put me in a box) type. Hospice, as one might gather, attracts doctors and nurses.  While I’m sure some of these medical folks have an easy-breezy side to them, I’m staying preeetttyyyy buttoned up in my blue scrubs, name badge and hair pulled back.

My private practice is the opposite. There are purple walls, a large sandtray, and throw pillows with neon owls.  My clients talk a lot about Angry Birds (fine) and Justin Bieber (no he’s not your boyfriend), I have no boss, and the shag rug makes everyone want to take off their shoes, including myself. See what I mean? Whiplash, right?

My counseling clients don’t remember 9/11  and my hospice patients tell me stories about D-day and working for the New York Paper Company in 1951. Can you imagine if I took off my shoes at hospice?  I don’t think that would go over well. In fact, I’ve made a practice of singing happy birthday twice while I wash my hands in the hospice bathrooms. There’s a sign that says that staff should, so, I turn off the faucet right after “birthday to youuuu…” and feel quite satisfied, knowing I’ve just dotted another i. 

One foot in front of the other, friends.

So, my mind is buzzing with the life experiences that these people, my clients, are going through.  They seem very different. It seems very different to hear a teenager talk about the shame she carries than it does to watch a ninety six year old man kiss the shell of his wife. They are both profound and even more, profoundly sad, yet I think the connection is beyond the loss and the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors doctors like to offer me when I tell them about my work (just kidding. kind of.)

Very beautiful people whose anecdotes and insight line my bookshelf have written about the way learning how to die well means learning how to live well. How life is this mysterious and delicate string of births and deaths to which we must hold honestly. Honest holding, for me, is honest trusting that God has orchestrated this life and death balance in such a way that the death will bring the life abundant, which ultimately is closeness to God: wonderful counselor, mighty God, prince of PEACE (Is.9:6).  I want to walk the life-death-life-death tightrope, more than I would want to walk the life-life-life-life-life tightrope if it makes for such communion. Besides, I just don’t think I can balance very well when I am pretending to be in charge.

Dying people, hands up over head, nearly face to face with their Creator is not life-full. It is death-full and squeamish and oh-so not pretend or in charge for that matter. And this is the gift Hospice has given me: We are all going there. We will all take our last breaths, leave ourselves, get made-up like clowns and get put in the ground.  Eeeeeessshhhh.

So what if we weave our mortality, the knowledge of it, into ourselves in a different kind of way? I know we can do this in a carpe-diem kind of way.   I have been on this bandwagon, let me tell you. Be the change. Save the world. Suck the marrow out of life. Seize. The. Day.  I can totally talk on this because I love it, but tonight I won’t. I think hospice is teaching me something much different than grabbing life by the horns.

Hospice has this kind of whisper-speak to it, that goes: “be gentle, be very very gentle.” I don’t know that it’s a passionate whisper speak.  I also don’t know that it’s the kind of thing I want to proclaim with zeal and fervor. Strange isn’t it? Strange for something so rich to be so quiet.  But I am quiet. Because hospice says this, too: “be careful. be very very very careful. you are so young.”  And sometimes, I don’t know how to try to be humble other than to try to be quiet.

So, I sit, wonderfully small by the bedsides of people who have lived their life.  And when they speak, I listen and let the age-old wisdom pool around my heart. Growing old is not for sissies and really and truly, I want to do it well.

As for my living clients with their shoes off and their chewing gum? Indeed, they are  in the thick rather than on the edge.  But you know, they are dying, too. They are dying to the comfortable life-life-life balance and replacing it with a  finer life-death-life one. They are feeling the weight of the necessary losses.  For these clients, I think: You are brave. Growing up is not for sissies, either.

So tonight I think I will put extra honey in my tea, kiss Luke’s sleeping face and thank God for the space to Grow Up so Grow Old might make a graceful entry (maybe, hopefully…I know I am so young)  Oh, and the  kind souls in my life who help share the load? Thanking God for you, most of all.

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Luke’s Story

This is an article I wrote for Marvin Church’s publication The Mosaic.  The editorial staff asked me if I would include my take on Luke’s passion for worship and his journey to Marvin. It was fun! And harder than I expected. I’ve gotten lots of sweet feedback and encouragement, so thought I would go ahead and include his story here. 

 

If I know a thing or two about my husband, I know this: it had to be the Holy Spirit who moved him from Denver to Tyler.  Luke loves Colorado and all the things that go with it: the mountains, the powdery snow, the granola lifestyle…not to mention his entire family (Dad, Mom, three sisters, two nephews, four nieces!).  All of it is home to him. And as the saying goes, home is where the heart is. So, I have more than a sneaking suspicion that it was God’s sacred Guidance, Word and Will that landed him here smack dab in the middle of East Texas.  I, for one, am quite grateful for where it is Luke’s feet landed, had it been any other way, I would not have met the man of my dreams who quickly became the love of my life. In thinking back over the past year and half of dating, engagement and marriage, we have both been reminded of the Apostle Paul referencing the words of Isaiah in 1 Corinthians 2:9.  “The Holy Writings say, ‘No eye has ever seen or no ear has ever heard or no mind has ever thought of the wonderful things God has made ready for those who love Him.’ ” We have both been humbled by God’s hand and find ourselves praying, the simplest prayer there is when it comes to remembering our path to each other: “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You,” we pray. And yes, for those of you doing the math, our courtship was short and our engagement even shorter. After all, when you know, you just know.

As much space as there is in Luke’s heart for the Rocky Mountain state, there is also a bigger, and deeper, part of Luke that delights in music and leading people to worship our God.  Being married to him gives me the privilege of insight into his passion. Call it one of those inherent differences between men and women, call it my husband’s scientific brain, call it what you will: Luke’s take on God’s call in his life is relatively simple and completely straightforward. “Music is who I am,” he says. “So, I have to give it back to God.” I look at him for a moment and say, “Anything else?” But, “No,” he says definitively. There you have it.  If you ask him, he’ll probably tell you the same thing.  You know, marriage will teach you a thing or two about men and women (imagine that!).  Personally, I could probably spend an hour or two over lunch giving you details…stories…maybe even poems (if so inclined) regarding the things of my heart.  Different kinds of expression, I like to reason, but equally expressive in their own right. And I will say this: growing up with three sisters, the man has been trained well.  He knows how to listen to my stories.  After all, as we women know, there is a right way to listen to our stories.

Part of the reason worship ministry has taken up such large residence in our lives is because of how deeply seeded it is in Luke’s past. Growing up as a high-schooler in Aurora, a suburb of Denver, Luke played the drums every Sunday for four and a half years at East Metro Community Church. He also began a lifelong friendship with Paul Bolding, currently Director of Contemporary Worship here at Marvin, the Worship Leader at East Metro Community church, a church in Aurora.  The inkling that perhaps this ministry is more than a temporary volunteer gig and more of a lifelong calling arose for Luke even as a young teenager. And like many Spirit-led nudges, they are usually reinforced by earthly and Godly voice of encouragement.  Paul has been such a voice in Luke’s life. The validation, support and career mentorship Paul has provided as a fellow musician and brother has moved Luke in more ways than one. Luke would say, “Paul and I have known each other a long time and it’s a blessing to have a sounding board with that kind of history, whether you like the feedback or not”.  Whenever I’m around the two of them, which, by the way, usually involves some level of goofiness I don’t totally understand, I comment to Luke: “You guys are like family!” And it’s true, I think they’d both agree, there’s little that could stand a chance as “awkward” or “uncomfortable” between those two.  They have some serious history —there’s even an embarrassing photo or two to prove it.

It’s no surprise, then that Paul was in-tune to Luke’s growing pursuit of ministry opportunities around 2007.  At this point in time, Paul was already at Marvin, leading contemporary worship. Whenever he and Luke would connect, he’d pass on words of encouragement, and eventually a position accepting applicants for Marvin Church that might be a fit for him. As a guitarist at the Community of Grace Church in Denver, Luke felt God’s continual hand in preparing him for full-time ministry. While I’m sure many of us have felt that exciting sense of God’s preparation- there’s no doubt that it’s also unnerving to face a sea of unknowns. When I hear Luke reflect on this time, I picture a kind of spiritual tug-of-war. On the one end, Luke was encouraged by the assurance that God’s plans were to “prosper [him] and not to harm [him]” (Jeremiah 29:11). But on the other end, things might feel a little less daunting if he could fit worship ministry into the life he already had going on.  There was zero-to-no appeal in the idea of uprooting (remember how I said he loved Colorado?), leaving friends, church, family, and parents who would say they have been blessed with disability as it has drawn them closer to their Lord Jesus Christ (he loves his parents so much).

On July 29, 2009, God caught Luke’s attention in His own way. Luke was in a highway car accident—he directly hit an SUV at 75 miles an hour that swerved out of control, hit a median and spun into his lane.

While the event was terrifying, and the recovery process a long-road, Luke really sees the blessing in it as the time of surrender and revelation he experienced. Out of work, depressed and injured (the car accident created some serious back issues), he tells me, “I was broken and at a point where I surrendered my desires and prayed Lord open the doors and I’ll walk through them.”  It’s difficult for me to reflect on this time in Luke’s life even though I know his testimony like my own. Besides the chills I get when I think about the wreck, I find myself wanting to interject into his timeline and provide some reassurance. “Don’t worry,” I would say.  “Your back will get better soon! God is working in ways you cannot even imagine! And in just a year, we’ll get to meet!” But then, of course, that would be me doing all the talking; probably confusing my poor and aching husband who is trying to discern the voice of God.  Personal issues aside, after a brief period of waiting, which felt anything but “brief,” sure enough, an opportunity presented itself. Paul told Luke about the Director of Productions opportunity at Marvin.  Deep dependence brings about deep communication with the Holy Spirit- at the end of your rope, on your knees, or in my husband’s situation: lying very straight on your back.

After a couple of interviews and a trip down to Tyler, Luke was offered the Director of Productions position and began his work in January 2010.  Luke embraced the responsibility and challenge to make sure worship “happens” at all four, now five services, whether it’s TV broadcast to engineering sound for contemporary worship. While the learning curve was a steep one as Luke walked into a new community, church and ministry, I’ll take a moment to brag on my husband and tell you that he is the most capable learner I know.  God has gifted him with keen trouble-shooting abilities, technical inclinations, lots of managing people, and a can-do attitude with extraordinary responsiveness to high-pressure situations.  For those of you that know anything about productions, you need, all of these skills and most of the time, all at once.

Eight months into his time at Marvin, Dr. Robbins approached Luke about leading a worship service on Saturday nights.  The contemporary Saturday night service would aim to reach those whose schedules or lifestyles make Sunday morning church a difficult commitment.  Luke responded with enthusiasm and began setting plans in motion for the birth of 5:14 worship. “5:14” references to Matthew 5:14: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.” After numerous auditions, the 5:14 worship band was formed, and what a group of fine musicians and people, they are! I am very much in admiration of their consistent focus on the Lord and Him as the most important audience member. Whether the auditorium is packed, or whether there are just two or three gathered, Luke prays constantly that he and his worship team might remember they are ultimately playing for an audience of one: the King of Heaven. 5:14 Worship kicked off October 16th 2010, and shortly thereafter Luke and I went on our first date.

At the time, I was living and working in Waco, and experiencing a bit of a transition year myself, having graduated not long ago from Baylor University with a master’s degree in social work.  Our first date, sparks flew, we were both smitten, and I knew this bearded, long-haired, Texas transplant of a wonderful man was “the one”! He carved a wedding proposal into a tree, and we were married on April 8, 2011.

Before that, there was, of course, “the sea of unknowns.” I had to move to Tyler, find an apartment and a job, yet for those of you that know the “la-la land” that is young love, these all feel like minor details. God was gracious even to my love-struck and bumbling self. My passion is providing clinical therapy and counseling to children living in poverty who may not otherwise receive quality care.  In Waco, I worked as a children’s counselor at a domestic violence shelter, and was uncertain of the non-profit opportunities available in Tyler. I called the Children’s Advocacy of Smith County even though their website said there were no employment opportunities at this time. As it so happens, a therapist had put in her two weeks notice that very week, and I was hired as a full-time children’s therapist by Thanksgiving of 2010. Whew! My family and friends could barely keep up with the rapid changes happening in my own life…neither could I, for that matter. But, I knew it was wonderful, and I was confident showing the way. The Children’s Advocacy Center provides resources, advocacy and therapy to children who have been victims of physical and sexual abuse. While the reasons that necessitate our services are certainly dark, it’s a privilege to witness the transformative and healing process in these precious children—a blessing, in fact, and I am honored to have a hand in my agency’s mission.

So, here the two of us are, now, “The Hummels,” foreigners in a new land (I’m originally from the East Coast). With that, I might add that Texan hospitality has been extended to us tenfold (just ask me about our wedding, which is a separate story in and of itself, a story of generosity), and Marvin Church is at the center of such graciousness.  Thank you, Marvin, for embracing us. Thank you, Lord, for giving us the opportunity to glorify You with the passions and ministries you have called us to. And to get to do it together! I don’t know that there is a greater gift.

 

That Day

“So, what do you think about the name Eve,” I asked Luke. “Eve?” he said. I waited eagerly for his reaction  like I tend to do. “I think that may be the fifth time you’ve asked  me that.”  “Really?” I didn’t think so.  “But, I like it.”  Geesh, I think, I really talk a lot.  There’s nothing quite like discovering you are a verbal processer until you have all ears.

Luke likes the name Eve. No we are not having a child. I do, however, nurture quite frequently my penchant towards naming things. So, I mull names over and let them leaf out in my head and speak, like a sermon on a Sunday afternoon.  Perhaps, I think, an “Eve” would have to just be a certain kind of dreamy. Not only in the pretty-face way, but also in the pretty mystery way.  “Yes, Luke,” I said, “if we ever have a little girl, we can name her Eve, but only if she is a pretty mystery of a baby.” (He said okay, vagueness and all, just “as long as her middle name doesn’t make her sound like a body wash.” He has a point. There are a couple of combos that could get a little dicey.)

For those of you thinking this is really weird, well…I know. Which is probably why I felt so validated when I found out that a co-worker of mine names her rosebushes. The moment she told me so, I knew we were kindred spirits 1) because she names her rosebushes 2) because she told me so and 3) because one of them is called Marjorie which is the perfect name for a  rosebush.

My storytelling self likes this quirky ritual of mine; to name things that would otherwise be called by their common nouns (say, “rosebush”, for example) makes all the different pieces of the world seem charming in their own right.  It is  (so very) odd then, as I reflect on my long-line of named treasures, (imaginary triplet friends: Corliss, Judith and Leslie top the list) that my wedding day (April 8, 2011) wasn’t…really… weddingish, or named, for that matter. In fact, for the longest time, it felt weird to call it wedding because it wasn’t the normal  kind.  So I called it the “day we got married.” You’d think I might come up with something a little more poetic and stand-alone, but I couldn’t. As sappy sweet as it sounds, all of that seemed  inconsequential to the handsome bearded  man who had told me he would be mine forever. Seriously? Seriously.

We were so smitten I’m sure it was ridiculous. Many people told us many things about wisdom and knowing each other and infatuation and being careful and waiting and making sure. I know it was with rich care and rooted experience that they said such things, but, quite frankly, it didn’t matter. My heart beat too much of a YES.  I had been found.

So, it was a Friday afternoon and time to get married. When you truly are found in such a way, we didn’t have time to navigate the geography of a wedding. So, we put on some white clothes, went to a friend’s garden and spoke what we knew (and are knowing) before God, each other and the stars.  It was lovely, even without the map.

One year later, we had yet another  nameless and full celebration.  It was a party? Or…a dinner party?  Reception?  Celebration?  Anniversary party?   Once again, I found myself asking (myself):  can it be many things all together and all at once?

 {Fete.Soiree.Fiesta.Gala.Partei} 

Words just like the ones I am typing here are nuanced by speaker and tone, reader and experience, language and dialect. I learned this in my novel theory classes.  Life, I think, is quite nuanced as well.  Series of ricochets and reflections.  Terribly wily and wonderfully out-of-reach.  And then there are the moments dying to get born, the very wriggliest of them all!! Why, then, must I be so inclined to categorize?   If I did, in my own anxiety, I would squelch the shadows into straightness, which is, of course, unbending, repeatable and far too predictable, at least for my taste.

So, I did not really name our party, just like I did not really name our wedding.  I know that I wore my heart on my sleeve the whole time because I could.  I know the lights were wrapped around the branches just like I wanted and the white tissue paper flowers bobbed  up and down underneath them. I know I flitted from person to person tickled by gratitude because of what this all meant. I was full of so much good and so much room…full of precious, precious room for belonging and for freedom to live…together.  I know the mojitos were delightful and the toasts made me cry. I gave and received and then received  more until my very fingertips were crying out with blessing.

When I was in Africa, we spent a day with some Rwandans at a Boy’s Home. It was another one of these off the map days. At the end of it, a beautiful man said: “You know, we go through life and there are days, but then this…this was…this was a Day. Then he told me thank you.  His passion and his white teeth were simple and honest- kind of like a lady who names her rosebush Marjorie.  So, I will follow their leads.

To My People,

It was a day that blessed me to my fingertips.

Thank you.

Love,

Sarah