running to stand still

wp-1469413762554.jpgI don’t quite know what to do with myself at the moment. For the past month or so, I feel like I have been running non-stop. I’ve alternated things that bring me laughter and joy with not-so-fun doctor’s appointments, scans, tests, and results. I’ve been working extra hours at my day job and spending my spare moments helping with the Grey Havens summer camp plans and other volunteer business, in addition to trying very hard to exercise even more than I already did.

I’ve been running fast. And now it feels like I can stop for a while, but I don’t know what to do. My next check-up is in a couple weeks, and then a kidney specialist visit in a month, and I have to schedule another scan…but I can’t do that right now, and even when I do it will have to be for a couple more weeks out. I am waiting. I know that I have polycystic kidney disease, and thankfully so far nothing else, unless that next scan proves otherwise…but I still don’t yet know what this all means for my future. Right now, I am taking my medication, exercising, and waiting to see what comes of it…

Today, my family is pre-occupied, and my love is at home getting ready for his work week, and I am physically alone. It’s quiet outside, almost too quiet, but I wish it were quieter in my mind. I woke up early today and held my love close as my mind kept racing and racing. I’ve already exercised, twice, today. I’ve cleaned, I am cooking, but I can’t help feeling like I am supposed to do something else. I’ve been running so hard that I’ve forgotten how to just be still— and that it is perfectly okay to just be, by myself.

I know I’ve been reserving my moments of pleasure and relaxation to spend them with my love, but that doesn’t mean I can’t relax and do nothing for an afternoon by myself, right? I’m so very hard on myself. I need to just let myself be, and be alone, and rest. I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I’ve been so afraid for weeks that I don’t know how not to be afraid anymore. I am thankful that I have people in my life who help me to pull me out of this and lead me to think positively.

However, now that I am alone… I’ve tried to read; I am reading five different books. I’ve tried to watch tv; I’m watching about five different shows. I can’t slow down long enough to get absorbed into one of either of them. I want to so badly. Sometimes, it feels almost like the first year of grief all over again.

And yet, sometimes I can experience the most ecstatic joy– and a love that makes me wonder how it’s even possible to be filled with this much of it, a light so bright. I’m so glad I have that, but of course that comes with the fear of losing it. But I must push that aside (perfect love casts out fear) and enjoy the now. Yoga has helped me to think of the now; if only it were as easy to take that focus and serenity off the mat… I do love catching this echo of the Divine in the now, in human love, in natural beauty, in knowing my own body.

I know this post is all over the place. I am even typing it as I cook dinner– I can’t even commit to doing one thing at a time. But hopefully the days will get better and not worse; hopefully, I can learn to create a new normal, just as I have after losing my mom, and then my dad. This chronic disease does not have to define me. Let me go, ‘cuz you are just a shade of what I am, not what I’ll be. I want to hold on to the hope I tried to grasp in my last post. I want to do great things with the time that is given to me, but I also want to just be still– to enjoy the resting, to be okay being by myself, to reconnect with God, and to breathe, to listen and connect to the rhythm of the universe.

I am still thankful. I am thankful for the amazing friends and family in my life, for a decent job working with compassionate people, for a volunteer position that changes young lives, for doggy cuddles, for love, for today. I will try to be thankful for the quiet, for these words, for the darkness too. Let there be light.IMG_1552

scary, stubborn hope

I am starting to get a little nervous when I make grand public proclamations of hope, because it always seems to be after those moments that something earth-shattering happens.

Thanks to Facebook Memories, I can now see that exactly one day before my dad suddenly fell into a diabetic coma and was rushed to the emergency room where he took his last breath, I wrote this on my status: “My cup runneth over.”

wp-1467665127939.jpgI don’t know what to do with that. Part of me can’t help but feel really, really bitter. Another part of me wonders if it’s some strange prophecy of hope. That even in the midst of all this sorrow, my cup can still runneth over, right? I’ve certainly noticed blessings, of course. And I have seen a wild new life grow from such tragic death that I never would have seen otherwise. But isn’t it also just a kick in the gut?

It’s so strange now because I don’t feel I have the faith I used to proclaim. I don’t know exactly what I believe anymore. I don’t know what to make of that statement. But I breathe, and I sit, and I try to still myself, to connect with my Creator, to keep my eye on the center.

Last week, I wrote a blog post over at Grey Havens YA, part of that new life I was talking about. I wrote about Gandalf’s quote in The Fellowship of the Ring when Frodo laments of his burden and wishes all the darkness had never happened. Gandalf says, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. … All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” It’s a wonderful thought, as most Tolkien quotes are. I wrote about how even in the midst of dark times, I have chosen to do something that brings light to the world. Those young adults blow me away every time and make me so glad that I chose to spend my time with them, that I could turn the shadows of my past into something beautiful.

A few days after that proclamation of hope, a new shadow swept in: I suddenly learned that I inherited polycystic kidney disease from my mother. It means that I have cysts on my kidneys that may eventually stop them from functioning properly. Some people have this disease all their lives and never notice a problem. Others have to be on dialysis or get a transplant. I don’t know what it’ll look like for me, so I’m hesitant to say much. I don’t even know what stage it’s at yet or if there’s something worse on my left kidney. I have more tests and appointments to find out, and it’s all quite unnerving. There’s a problem in my body that I don’t even feel, and that I did nothing to cause, and that I can’t do anything to change…

wp-1467665105059.jpgWhile I still don’t know what to do about my 2013 proclamation that “my cup runneth over,” I do know that I want to hold on to Gandalf’s advice, to decide what to do with the time that is given to me. I don’t know what that time may look like going forward. It may be full off appointments and medication and drastic diet changes, but I hope that it will also be full of laughter, love, and work that makes a difference.

Today has been given to me, all the time of my life has been a gift. I cherish it. I try not to worry about how many more I’ll get or if those days will be good or bad; it’s about what I do with the time, and I can make it good. I want to believe that I am strong, and that I can endure, and hopefully that I can see the glory reflected backwards at journey’s end.

I hope that this hope doesn’t come back to bite me. I’ve got to believe in the light somehow, some way, and I’ve got to write about it for my own sake. I have to put the positive thoughts in writing, otherwise they’ll just slip out of my brain. I hope I can return to this when I’m feeling dark and not let it turn me bitter. Let light guide me… <3

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Thin Places

wpid-20150923_201246.jpgI went to a Celtic-inspired church celebration of the Autumnal Equinox tonight. It was called Ait Caol, which translates from Gaelic to mean, “A Thin Place.” I’ve been slowly drawn more and more to Celtic spirituality after my last trip to the Labyrinth, a labyrinth created by this particular church. I like the artwork and the designs, the symbolism, the connection to nature. I like contemplation and sacred space. I saw an advertisement for this church’s equinox service and thought I’d check it out. It was the first church service I had been to since Easter, and it was quite nourishing. This post will be a sort of stream of consciousness of my experience there. I’ll link to pasts posts as I write, because my experience this first night of Autumn has reminded me of my first Fall in Colorado, of the hope I held onto then, the I hope I need again.

Thin places… To me, thin places have always been scary: High up in the mountains where the air is thin, you may be closer to the heaven, but it’s harder to breathe. Thin places remind me of suffocation. They remind me of the small space of breath between death and life. Ait Caol is supposed to mean a time when heaven and earth come so close together that only “a thin space” separates them.. perhaps that’s still the same thing.

Tonight, I thought about Autumn. I thought about the Harvest, about this transition time between joyous thanksgiving for the bounty of before and steadfast preparedness for the darkness ahead. How the same God brings both light and dark, creation and destruction, life and death… I’ve always been fond of Autumn, but in the last two years it has struck a deeper chord with me, and perhaps all this time I’ve been noticing the thin place without being able to name it.

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I thought about lighting a candle while the dark tries to creep in through the windows. One small flame will stand against the dark. A Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot will not, shall not, overcome it.

“We invite you to celebrate this bittersweet time by being fully present in the now,” the bulletin says.

wpid-20150923_201329.jpgTonight, I thought about Communion. If you’ve been following my blog for a while now, you’ll know I’m fascinated by the “big medicine and strong magic” of Communion. I’ve written about how eating the bread of Communion as my first meal of the day taught me more about the satisfaction of the bread of life. I’ve written about how drinking real wine taught me more about the surging power of the blood of Christ. This year, I got to receive Communion from a dear friend during a dark time. Tonight, the church gave Communion to each other.

We knelt at the altar in the middle of the room and passed the bread and the wine to one another. We each heard from one neighbor and said to the next, “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven. The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.” I knelt next to two complete strangers, but they were my sisters. It was so beautiful, so pure, so holy.

They read a psalm (126) that mentioned the Negev desert, and I was transported back to Israel in my mind. The desert helped me connect with such symbolism five years ago, and it still helps me to better understand the psalmists today. “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like watercourses in the Negev.” Watercourses in the Negev-what an absurd notion! What a miracle! What life-giving power such miraculous streams would bring to that devastated desert… “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.”

A beautiful, meditative, spiritual space. I am thankful. If anything, tonight helped to remind me of where I’ve found those thin places before, of that space between death and life where, instead of despairing, I found hope – the candle against the darkness, the beauty of the dying sun. I want to dwell in the thin place.

Skits of My Past and The Road I’m On

wpid-img_20150312_2137172.jpg.jpegI don’t know if this is still a thing, but when I was in high school youth group, musical skits were all the rage. Think of a live-action music video to a popular “secular” song with a story that illustrates the Gospel, something the speaker could use as a jumping off point for the night’s talk.

I’m actually really grateful that I came across an art form like this in those tumultuous years of grieving, moving, starting over, and figuring out high school all at the same time. I don’t remember the first one I saw, but the first one that really spoke to me was a skit written by a senior named Julia Owens set to Frou Frou’s “Let Go.” This was not too long after Garden State had come out, and I already knew and loved the song. I had just started going to a new church and thought I’d check out skit practice. I got to watch them practice this one over and over again, and I loved every moment of it: A boy scribbles in a notebook, too focused on “writing his tragedy” to notice the vibrant girl in front of him who laughs at life and dances with joy. She tries to get him to “let go,” but he won’t. It starts to rain (we actually had a bubble machine, it was pretty awesome), and the girl lifts her face to the clouds but the boy grumbles and hides under cover. There’s a scene where the boy stands center stage with his notebook and passersby each rush past him in a chaotic frenzy and rip out pages of his story. The girl tries to help him, the boy keeps pushing her away… Eventually, he decides on his own to “let go” and sit in the rain, he even opens his mouth to catch it on his tongue. It was one of the most moving stories I’d ever seen, and I said to my freshman self, I can write stories like that.

I’d been making up music videos in my head ever since I was a little kid (back when MTV was actually Music Television). I loved setting story to lyric and music. I would choreograph them in my bedroom and listen to the songs over and over again. I think the first one I consciously created for the purpose of sharing Gospel hope in high school was set to Coldplay’s “Fix You,” and I based it on myself and how I felt “broken” without my mother. The skit was about people carrying around photographs that each represented something broken in their life (relationships severed by death, hearts broken, etc) and finally realizing that they couldn’t fix themselves, but instead had to let go of the darkness and walk into the Light. It’s still probably the most personal one I wrote, and I should think about it more often.

I couldn’t do anything until I was a senior, and I pushed for the storytelling skits to make a comeback. Finally, I got to do it, and I felt like I had found my niche. I did the “Fix You” skit. I redid the “Let Go” skit that had inspired me so much. My favorite skit, however, the one that I think touched the most people, and the one that still gets me today is the one I wrote to Coldplay’s “White Shadows.” Like the seeds that fall amongst the thorns/weeds in the Parable of the Sower, this skit follows a boy who starts out at home with God and his people, full of light, then the pressures of life pull him away (literally, in an assembly-line reminiscent of Across the Universe‘s “I Want You” scene). I had the help of one of my choreographer friends, and my cast executed the moves to perfection. There was also light-dark symbolism: His colorful clothing gets covered in grey and he falls in line with the robotic movements of the rest of the people living in the darkness. He’s tossed about by the crowd and tangled in grey, but when he’s finally left alone, he falls to his knees, lost. A light shines on him, and he looks up. Slowly, he rises and throws himself into the arms of Christ, the colorful people surround him in hug, the song ends and the lights fade.

I was really good at this. That’s why it’s hard for me now in the midst of my unraveling to hear a song come on my shuffle by 3 Doors Down and think about the unfinished skits in my head. You see, just like how my youth pastor had once set a musical to all Coldplay songs, I had started devising my own musical to 3 Doors Down. I think I chose them because they were the musicians behind the first ever skit I managed to get performed at my church, “Away From the Sun.” I honestly can’t remember all the details to this one, but I remember it involved a boy (I always thought that boys were a good choice because girls tended to be empathic to the skit regardless of who’s playing the lead, and boys find it easier to see themselves in another boy. This is a viewpoint that I find problematic for a number of reasons now, in my twenties, but it seemed worked okay at the time). Anyway, the boy was again dealing with peer pressure, and I used the most after-school special topic of them all: alcohol use. He was lost in the “party world,” and I remember there was a devil character who kept tying black strings around his arms and legs… I think there was a moment where the strings came off/ were cut off and the light blinded the devil, but I can’t really remember. I know though that it was another story of the pressures of life pulling someone into darkness, but at the end Light always won out.

I think my story-lines say a lot about my age at the time of writing and my worldview that encompassed only high school. I hope they were beautiful and moving, but sometimes I fear they were a bit contrived. I really was sincere when I wrote them, though, and I really believed in the power of the Light.

That’s why, again, it’s hard for me to listen to 3 Doors Down’s “The Road I’m On.” I had started making up skits to a few of the band’s songs that I had on my ipod– yes, I even had one written for “Kryptonite,” and no it didn’t involve Superman. It was great, but I could never really think of one for “The Road I’m On” except as a transitionary song between a dark skit and a light one. I thought it was an okay song, but there was no hope in it, just solidarity–what was I supposed to do with that?

I listen to it now and it hits me, hard. Those other songs were my high-school life. “The Road I’m On” is the song I’m living now, and I don’t have an ending for it. I’m not any closer to finding a good ending for it than I was six years ago.

She said life’s a lot to think about sometimes, when you’re living in between the lines … He said life’s so hard to move in sometimes, when it feels like I’m towing the line, and no one even cares to ask me why I feel this way.

Much like how I didn’t understand Bono’s “still looking” notion in high school, I didn’t understand living between the lines either. That wasn’t something that made sense to me. You either stumble in darkness or you thrive in the light; grey strangles you. I remember this was even part of the youth pastor’s Coldplay musical, a theme that the people on the fence had to choose where to belong and where to stand.

He said life’s a lot to think about sometimes, when you keep it all between the lines of everything I want and I want to find, one of these days.
What you thought was real in life has somehow steered you wrong. Now you just keep driving, trying to find out where you belong…

That’s me.

I know you feel helpless now and I know you feel alone,
That’s the same road, that same road that I am on.

That’s the song’s only comfort: Life is hard. Seeing it shatter is devastating. Grey is everywhere, and I don’t know where the road will lead, but I’m right there with you.

That’s all I can have right now. It’s not a drastic transformation, it’s not a chain-breaking, darkness fleeing, light encompassing, grey suddenly flooding with color story right now. (It’s not somebody who’s seen the light, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.) Right now, it’s a long silver stretch of road that often leaves me feeling helpless and alone. And maybe I am driving towards the light, but it seems too far off and dim to be coming any time soon, though I hope it’s really there, I hope I’ll find it again someday.

wpid-20150415_175804.jpgRachel Held Evans writes in Searching for Sunday: “Scripture doesn’t speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God. This is a keep-moving, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, who-knows-what’s-next deal, and you never exactly arrive.”

Maybe now “I’ve found myself so far down, away from the sun,” but it’s not from anything as concrete as what I used in my skit, black ropes and beer bottles… It’s something else, and the way to “fix it” isn’t as simple as I thought in my old skits. It’s powerful, yes, and divine, and hopefully possible, but certainly not quick and simple. I turn to another song:

Somewhere in this darkness, there’s a light that I can’t find.
Maybe it’s too far away, or maybe I’m just blind.
Maybe I’m just blind.
So hold me when I’m here, right me when I’m wrong
Hold me when I’m scared, and love me when I’m gone.

Hold me, Light. Love me, even when I’m gone.

Easter won’t let me go…

It’s hard for me to go to church anymore. It’s hard for me to follow the church calendar, to find meaning in days like Palm Sunday or contemplate seasons like Lent. It just doesn’t reach me anymore, not now. Some of it never reached me… I never could quite accept a calendar when I wanted to celebrate all holidays all the time…I wasn’t good at following the guidelines, though I tried.

I’m currently reading Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar, and it’s been helpful to me as I process this unraveling period… she is helping me to understand that there is still something left after the house of cards comes tumbling down. (Though I know my shifting is intricately tied to the sudden loss I experienced two years ago and the abrupt upheaval of my life to the point where I didn’t really have a church community to “lose” anymore, the book and her stories are still helpful.)

Anyway, what I’m saying is… a lot of “religious” things have fallen away recently, but Easter keeps tugging at my heart strings. Easter won’t let me go. I’m going to go to church on Easter Sunday, or at least I’m going to attempt to do so. It’s still going to be difficult for me. But it’s a sunrise service, and there’s just something about sunrise church services that I can’t let go of.

I was trying to describe it to my friend, who graciously said he would go with me: “Well, the service doesn’t start at sunrise, it starts before. We start in darkness and we end in light.”

And that very concept is what I can’t shake from my mind. That, the whole darkness turning into light thing, is what won’t let go of me.

I wrote about Easter last year, about how I don’t know how to sing, “He is risen,” when death still feels so close and so painful, and yet I still want to hear that Christ is, in fact, risen. I still need to hear that death is not the final end, even as it feels so final and so consuming.

I wrote of eucatastrophe, a word I think of often but still can’t quite describe adequately. I don’t know fully what it is, but I find hope in its meaning, a meaning I can’t articulate. The good catastrophe, the sudden joyous turn. Like Easter, a eucatastrophe involves light reversing the darkness, but as Tolkien wrote, we can’t see it yet. It doesn’t always seem like a happy ending, “…at least, not what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end,” says Sam. We can’t see the glory on the other side yet.

I don’t know why I’m drawn to the sunrise and the symbol of a resurrection that I don’t understand, but I am… And I think it is only a light like this that will bring me back to a building that I don’t know how to or even want to be in anymore… just for one day. For one day, I can join in the singing. For one day, I can awaken the dawn. I can believe.

Light is coming. Let it reflect backwards through time, through space, through the “chinks of the universe.” Let it pierce this shadow, and let it kiss my face. Let me sing.

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Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

wpid-img_20140730_151118.jpgI’ve been pretty silent on the blog this summer. The one year anniversary of my dad’s death passed, along with the birthday that marks the first year of my life in which my dad had no physical presence. I’ve been silent on here about it for several reasons…

One is that I’ve started a lot of posts only to end in bitterness and confusion because I’ve been on a rocky journey lately.

Another reason is that I’ve been able to forget that bitterness and confusion because of happy and joyous things going on in my life these past couple of months, and so coming back to this blog brings me down again with feelings of both grief and guilt.I’ve probably been trying to avoid that.

I want to write about my dad, I want to write about grief, but sometimes I also just want to throw off the weight of grief and be happy.

The seasons are changing again. I thought that I couldn’t handle the smell of summer, but now the crisp fall air frightens me. I wonder if I am simply still afraid of the passage of time. I’m afraid of the marking of more days, months, years spent without my dad. Fall means I’ve done this before, it’s not the anniversary of the death but it’s the anniversary of the aftermath… It hurts because I used to love Fall. Hopefully I still can…

The other day I caught myself saying, “I’m tired of this. I’m tired of being the girl without any parents.” It was a strange emotion. It was as if I felt like turning to the sky and saying, “Okay, God, I’ve done the whole grieving thing. I think it’s gone on long enough. You can bring my dad back now.”

And I think that’s why I’ve been so silent on this blog– because after writing that sentence, I had to stop and search Facebook for ten minutes because I didn’t want to keep writing.wpid-img_20140825_163538.jpg

That happy stuff, the good stuff, the gifts that I can’t believe are coming my way in this life… that all comes with a sadness too, it comes with its own shadow. Because when I’m happy, I want my parents to know that, I want them to see it. I want them to meet the amazing new friends in my life, I want them to hear about my job, I want to tell them stories about Grey Havens YA

I don’t want to go through another Fall without them.

Title taken from “To Autumn” by John Keats.

Mingled.

As I approach June 10 2014, I don’t know how to feel. Once again, I let the words of Josh Garrels speak for me:

We wait for downpours
A drenching joy
A carnival sky

But what I don’t say,
What I can’t say,
Is that with this joy
Comes a mourning…

Something left behind
Blue lined, teary
Mingled, I move on…

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Mingled, I move on. I really don’t like the term, “move on.” It sounds so final, so simple. It’s something you only do once, and once you’ve done it, it’s over. You’ve moved on, life is normal again. Also, the word “move,” implies a moving away from something, leaving something behind. I don’t want to “move on.” I like better the phrase my grandmother used to say to me for a while after my mother died: “Keep on keeping on.”

Mingled, I keep on. This year has been one of survival. I’ve had a few people ask me recently what I plan on doing with my future, and I cannot answer them. I cannot answer them because all I’ve been able to do is focus on surviving, and that is what I plan on continuing to do.

I do know one thing I want from this life, though. I want not only to survive, but to thrive.

Whatever that means, whatever that looks like, I want it. And I know for certain that my mom and dad would want that for me too.

Mingled. The year is over, but the grief and the mourning and pain are not. There will still be times when I am not anywhere near “okay.” I will keep writing about it, because I have to, because I want to share with others, I want to cultivate roses in this wasteland, as I walk through this valley of the shadow of death. Let there be light. Let there be beauty. Let there be joy. (And let there be recognition of sorrow, too.)

Let. There. Be. Life.

All things will change
We wait for the rain
And the promise remains.

Against my ruins

My sense of smell is intricately (and sometimes quite inconveniently) linked to my memory.

The other day I caught a whiff of new-carpet smell, and I nearly burst into tears. (My dad used to work in a carpet store. That smell clung to his being all of my childhood life.)

And yet another day, the air was warm and heavy. We opened the windows. As I walked down to my room at the end of the night, I caught the smell, that outdoorsy, windows-open, fresh air, summer smell. I can’t handle that smell, the smell of summer…

Because my last summer was so awful. Daunting. Oppressive. Dark. Suffocating.
It can’t be summer yet. It’s too soon.

T.S. Eliot says,
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

Did winter keep me warm? Winter was awful too at times. But the cold was so long and permeating that perhaps I forgot about the passage of time. And now it is April.

More Eliot,
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

I never agreed with Eliot’s description here before. Who could call ever call the breath of April cruel? But now I think I am beginning to see what he means. Yes, spring is the season of the poets, but in the joy of new life, there is also sorrow. It is this very juxtaposition of the blooming April against the decaying winter that makes it so cruel.

The world is still slow, silent, dead, when spring tries to grab hold of us and thrust us into the life.

Pablo Neruda,
How do the seasons know
they must change their shirt?

Why so slowly in winter
and later with such a rapid shudder?

What will it be like this time around? Can I handle that rapid shudder?

And how do the roots know
they must climb toward the light?

And then greet the air
with so many flowers and colors? -Neruda.

Am I climbing towards the light? I need it so desperately.
But when my dried roots reach that light, will there be any flowers to bloom?

I have lost my train of thought. Eliot: These fragments I have shored against my ruins… What does it mean? What will it bring? I need to climb towards the light. Lilacs, I want lilacs. I cling to the promise of the lilacs, of the spring rain. This dead land, this waste land, needs water to quench it and color to save it.

(Come in under the shadow of this red rock)
-Eliot.

Jumbled thoughts on the new year

So what I wrote in my last post about choosing to take joy is very much easier to write about than to do. It seems that every time I proclaim that I will take joy, darkness rushes in to try to steal that joy away. I have decided that I have to change the notion to: “I will take joy — and I will not let it be stolen from me. No one can take away my joy because my joy does not come from within me, it comes from the Father who holds me, and no one can snatch me out of my Father’s hand.”

Still, easier said than done, but I have to start by saying it or I will never do it.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about church recently, mostly because it seems impossible for me to find one. For the past few months, I’ve been working most Sunday mornings, and even when I do rarely get the morning off, it’s still difficult to get to a church because of sudden illness or necessary babysitting. When I do get the chance to go, community is hard to find, and it doesn’t come about as instantly as I’d want it to. (And why, oh why, is it so hard to find people my own age in church in middle America?) I miss my old communities. I miss how easy it was to form friendships at Crossroads in Scotland. I miss how quickly the people of Metanoia in Maryland embraced me.

You’d think that if I needed church and Christian community at any particular time in my life, it’d be now…right? Now that I’m in a new place, orphaned, directionless… But God doesn’t seem to be bringing me that community as quickly as He has in the past.  And I don’t understand it.

I am grateful, however, that I still feel Him so close, that I still worship Him and learn from Him, even if it’s not in the midst of a congregation. I am lonely, and sometimes I ache for a community like this, but I can still sing with the earth. I don’t know exactly what He’s up to right now, but He hasn’t left me, and that is good.

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On the first day of 2014, I glanced back through my journal and found a verse I had written down back in July. The verse was Isaiah 51:3, and I wrote about it on my Facebook status that day:

“The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; He will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.” -Reading Isaiah 51:3 at the start of this new year, when the passage of time seems depressing and daunting rather than “happy,” but my God is in the business of turning wastelands into gardens.

Yes, amen. Wastelands into gardens. But wasn’t that the same tune I was singing a year ago? Two, three years ago? A way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. Is this the tune I am to sing all my life? Am I to move from one wasteland to the next, following the Way, sipping from the streams that miraculously burst through the ground at just the moment when I feel I can’t go on any longer without a drink? If that is to be my journey, at least I will not be making it alone.

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The LORD will comfort His people, He will look with compassion on His daughter, and He has comforted me. He has made streams appear in the desert before, and He has made a way in the chaos and the wasteland, so I will trust Him to do so again. And again, and again, for all my days.

But I am like an olive tree
flourishing in the house of the God;
I trust in God’s unfailing love
for ever and ever.
-Psalm 52:8

What I’m taking in these days… part 2.

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Back in July, I wrote a post about some of words I’d been taking in during my first month of grief. We are coming up on the sixth month soon, and here are a few more things I am taking in these days…

The other day, I watched the movie Shrink, and it was beautiful, I recommend it. In it, Kevin Spacey’s character, a shrink, undergoes a tragedy and still tries to help his patients while not really knowing how to help himself. When his friends get upset with him about the unorthodox way he tries to cope, he says:
“They want you to have some kind of normal response to grief. So they don’t have to watch. But it’s mine.”

Those words just really struck me, and I found myself nodding along in tears…

At the end of the movie, Spacey talks to another character in the movie, a young girl who also suffered a loss. The conversation goes like this:
Spacey’s character says, “It’s never going to go away, is it?”
And the young girl replies, “No. But we’re still here. That’s something.”

*   *   *
I’ve shared many times before how much I love The Lord of the Rings. I found Tolkien’s stories just before my mother died, and I’ve clung to them ever since. I feel such a strong connection to these stories written by a man who also knew loss, who also sought Christ–and found Him– in the midst of darkness. I’ve been rereading the trilogy for the past few months, and last week I finally made it to Mordor.

Sam cannot find Frodo in the dark orc Tower of Cirith Ungol, and Tolkien writes: “The torch, that was already burning low when he arrived, sputtered and went out; and he felt darkness cover him like a tide. And then softly, moved by what thought in his heart he could not tell, Sam began to sing.” This is his song:

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In western lands beneath the Sun
the flowers may rise in Spring,
the trees may bud, the waters run,
the merry finches sing.
Or there maybe ’tis cloudless night
and swaying beeches bear
the Elven-stars as jewels white
amid their branching hair.

Though here at journey’s end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done
nor bid the Stars farewell.

Then, in the next chapter, “The Land of Shadow,” Tolkien writes, in one of my most favorite passages in all of literature:
“Far above the Ephel Duath in the West the night-sky was still dim and pale. There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of that forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope, for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, even his master’s, ceased to trouble him.”

There is Light and high beauty forever beyond the Shadow’s reach, and because of that, we can walk unhindered in this darkness, knowing the Light will never truly fade.

*   *   *
I would like to share one more thing. After the deed is done, the ring is destroyed, Frodo and Sam return to the world of men, and Aragorn brings forth a minstrel to sing of all the terror they passed through and all the strength that kept them going to their victory in the end:
“And he sang to them, now in the Elven-tongue, now in the speech of the West, until their hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.”

evermind. <3