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.

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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.

Blossom in all seasons…

I’ve been thinking again about the change in seasons. I don’t know what to make of this winter/spring mix. As I was looking back through summer photos of the mountains to find aspen pictures for this post, and I was struck by how luscious and green everything looked. I found myself wondering if I’d even seen these photos before, because everything looked so new and beautiful. (I had seen them, I gone through them and uploaded them to Facebook, but that was right after I had taken them, in the middle of summer.) In the dry and dreary winter, I saw summer’s beauty and bounty and remembered that life would renew again.

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I want to remember the aspens throughout the seasons. The papery leaves, brilliant green in the summer, yellow in the autumn, crumbled and lost in the winter.

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March has been a strange season… Still no resolution. This month has left me feeling unclear about what to write here, but I know I must write something. I cannot let the time go unrecorded.

Sometimes I can go for days without thinking about my dad, or at least without despair. I can have days where I accept joy, and it does not come mingled in tears. Just the other day, I participated in an event that I had been working on and driving towards for weeks… It was a lovely day, and I had a lot of fun, but my dad never knew anything about it. He didn’t meet the people of Grey Havens. He didn’t know I had found a group of young adults to lead even nerdier than I am. He didn’t get to see their hilarious skit. All of these things happened after he died, part of the life I live now without his presence. But here’s the thing that scares me: I haven’t grieved about it. At least, it doesn’t seem like I have yet, anyway.

I do not know if I am numb, blinded by temporary happiness, or just reaching a new stage in the grieving process. I do not want it to be any of those things. I do not know what to make of this. What will spring bring to me? What will the tenth month bring? What will happen when I reach the anniversary date of the last time I saw him?

Lately I have been distracted from thinking about grief because I have been looking at the new blessings of my life. (Why do I feel bad about that?) I have a new job, praise God. I am getting to know new friends. I am growing closer to my nieces. I am finding things to enjoy in Colorado… And my dad won’t see it. Well, hopefully he will, but it won’t be in a way that I can interact with him about it. And it scares me that I haven’t broken down about it yet. I worry about what may be coming. (I suppose that’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I should be careful. I need to stop overanalyzing. Grief is grief, there is no formula.)

There are some days that still pierce me. I am struggling with churches and questions of faith right now, and I can’t talk to my dad about it. I know he would have listened. I know he would’ve held me when I felt so confused and alone. I miss singing next to him. I miss the way he loved to worship. I also miss learning from him. I miss hearing him tell me stories about our family, his childhood, about mom.

The white flowers on the tombs of the kings of Rohan blossom in all the seasons of the year, that is why they are called evermind, simbelmynë. They grow where dead men rest, and I am the simbelmynë. I am the aspen tree. I stand rooted through winter, spring, summer, and fall, with my scarred bark and my papery leaves, but still I stand, silver and golden in the sunlight. Because there is always sun.

I am the evermind. I grow where death has overtaken, and I bloom there bright and beautiful, a white eye in the grass, ever seeing, ever remembering. 

February Fragments

Sometimes, when I read The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, the writing is so true, the experience of death so familiar that I feel shivery and sick. I remember a similar feeling of sitting outside the Denver airport in July and wanting to fall down and never get up, to melt into the sidewalk, to crumble into the stones…

There is a new advertisement on our carts at work for some random real estate company with smiling photos of either a man or a woman looking right at you… The man, from far away, with his greying mustache and his big grin, looks like him. I don’t think I can handle seeing it, even a glimpse was almost too much today. He’s not here. Nobody here knows him. He will never be here again.

This past Valentines Day didn’t make me sad because I was single. It made me sad because it was another holiday in which I had to face the absence of my dad. For as long as I can remember, my dad would always give me cheesy valentines gifts, even after I turned twenty-two. I remember often worrying about it because I could never stop him from buying a box of chocolates here, a little stuffed animal there, a mug with hearts painted on it, and I worried about our expenses. Still, it was nice to know I could always count a little gift or card each Valentines day, even after my dad moved away.

My friend wants to take me to a Rockies game this spring, but I don’t know how that will go for me. Baseball was such a special activity that I got to share almost always solely with my dad and my grandpa, both of whom are gone now. I don’t know if it will be better or worse that I’ll be in a new city, watching a new team, instead of the beloved Orioles of my childhood, my dad’s childhood, my grandfather’s hometown. I miss Baltimore now more than I ever thought I would.

In Didion’s account of the year following her husband’s death, she meticulously records the details of the night he died… Do I have to do that now, before I lose it? I can’t even face writing it down, some of the memories are still too raw. Since she keeps dates in the book, I try to place my grief own timeline beside hers (which, when you think about it, is kind of absurd). …Should I be writing more? Should I be able to face the specifics now? What if I forget? What will I forget?

“…We [cannot] know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.” -Didion, emphasis mine.

Sometimes I wish he had been a writer, so that I, like Didion, could sit and reread the words of the one I had lost. Or so that I, like Christopher Tolkien, could be left with an entire world of my father’s thoughts in published novels, half-finished manuscripts, and fragments of verse and story.

What did he leave behind so that I could find him again?

I think one of the ways I feel closer to my dad is through the music I know he loved. I forgot to mention in my last post another aspect of Tolkien’s world that connects to my grief journey, the music. I suppose I didn’t bring it up before because it’s not exactly Tolkien, but it is Tolkien-inspired. My dad loved listening to the soundtracks to the movies. He really loved the song from the credits of The Return of the King, “Into the West,” by Annie Lennox, Fran Walsh, and Howard Shore. As I mentioned in the post, my mom passed away recently after The Two Towers came out in theaters. I think my dad and I both escaped through these movies, and when we first heard the song in that next year, it was a almost form of catharsis. I’m sure it made him think about my mom. I like to think it gave him hope…

We used the lyrics, amended a little, in the memorial booklet made for his funeral:

Don’t say, “We have come now to the end.”
White shores are calling,
You and I will meet again.

What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea,
A pale moon rises;
The ships have come to carry you home.

And all will turn
To silver glass,
A light on the water,
All souls pass
Into the West.

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I don’t know what else to say. I’ve lost my momentum, and I’ve used up all my concentration. If I wait to think of something else, I’ll never hit publish. So, I will simply quote Didion again as she expresses the emotions surrounding the end of her account of the year after her husband died:
“The craziness is receding, but no clarity is taking its place. I look for resolution and find none.”

Grey Havens

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, or even if you read one of my posts from December, or checked out the meaning behind my username, you’d know that I really love The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

I found Tolkien around late 2001/early 2002, after my friend dragged me to see The Fellowship of the Ring movie. I remember being really upset because I didn’t know she was taking me to see it, and the previews had really frightened eleven-year-old me. However, I fell in love at the cinema that day, and even though I still turned away during the Moria scenes out of fear, I wanted to learn everything I could about this strange new world called Middle Earth. I started reading and devouring the trilogy, and by the time The Two Towers movie came out, I was a bit obsessed.

As you may remember from the poem I published a few months ago, my mother died not long after The Two Towers was released. In fact, the last time I saw her awake and breathing without a machine to do it for her was before my dad and I left the hospital to go see the movie.

I clung to Tolkien’s works during that tumultuous time. I clung to Jesus too, and I don’t think the two need to be separate. Yes, The Lord of the Rings helped me to escape, but it also helped me to see God in a different and deeper way. I researched into Tolkien’s life and his faith, and I found hope in the same Power that was dear to him. I did a project on the making of the films for my seventh grade English class. In eighth grade, I led a workshop for my church youth group on finding spiritual truths in The Lord of the Rings. As a freshman in drama class, I had to write and perform a monologue while portraying a famous person from history, and of course I chose good old J.R.R. I wish I had the transcript of the monologue somewhere… but I remember I wrote it as John talking to his wife Edith about his mother. (He too had lost a mother around the same age as I did.) I also remember that my British accent often strayed off course as I kept turning into a southern belle… but that is neither here nor there. In my senior year, I titled my college admissions essay “Hobbitry in Heart,” after some encouragement Tolkien wrote to his son in one of his letters.

If the kids at my middle school knew me at all, they knew me as the girl obsessed with The Lord of the Rings, the one who wore the One Ring around her neck and decided that instead of doing a peace sign or a thumbs-up in photographs, she would hold up nine fingers, the right ring finger missing, as if she were Frodo or something… Yeah, I was that kid. God bless my friends at the time. I love that about nerds, we look out for each other.

And that’s what brings me to the present moment. (Yes, I know I skipped a few years.) I wanted to write about a group I found here, a group of nerds, a group of scholars, a group of loving and compassionate people, The Grey Havens Group. I moved to Colorado after my dad died last summer, and I have struggled to find new friends, new community, and new hope. I’ve clung to Tolkien (and Jesus) during this time too. I remember needing to watch the films right after it happened, putting them on as I tried and failed to sleep. I returned to the books and read them over again, and I started reading The Hobbit to my little niece. I am grateful that I got to share The Lord of the Rings with my dad before he died. He was the one who actually shared it with me, since he read it back in the day and would watch it with me and tell me it’s not scary. He would always point out to me the lines I should pay attention to before I knew the whole story. For example, he would repeat Gandalf when he tells Frodo in the mines that “Gollum has some part to play yet,” and then make this humming noise that always meant he knew something I didn’t. I love remembering how my dad would get excited about movies, stories, and foreshadowing.

It was during this mourning season that I randomly came across a Tolkien Society not too far away from me in Boulder County. I decided to show up to one of the meetings, and I instantly felt welcomed, cared about, and accepted. I had been struggling to find a church community at the time, and when I walked into Grey Havens, I felt more accepted there than at any church I had yet found. I’m sorry to say that about church, but it’s how I truly felt. Here was a group of people from all different backgrounds, all different ages, careers, beliefs, life stories, but we had one thing in common: a love for Tolkien, for the Inklings, for fantasy and imagination. I am so grateful for that bond, and for a group that will sit around a table in the back of a bookshop to discuss fantasy, history, comedy, and spirituality while respecting each other even amidst disagreements. We spur one another on to think deeper, and I love that.

I haven’t been able to make many Grey Havens meetings, but with its online presence, I never feel as though I’ve left the community. Grey Havens has also started a young adult chapter (the blog is now LIVE!), and I’ve been able to get involved there. Watching young adults come alive while discussing literature makes me so happy inside, I can’t even describe it to you. We host monthly events at the library and a biweekly book discussion. These young adults have such passion, and they are not afraid to be themselves, to love what they love, and to respect others for what they love too, even if it’s different. (We stole our slogan from Wil Wheaton: “Being a nerd is not about what you love, it’s about how you love it.”) I am so blessed to have come across the Grey Havens during this time in my life.

Tolkien people are good people, and I am grateful to have found a community of them right in my neighborhood. If you’re in the Boulder area, check us out. If you’re a Tolkien fan, but haven’t told me yet, let me know. (You’ll be my new best friend!) And if a work of literature or film has helped you through a dark time, I’d love to hear about it.

I’ll leave you with the quote I used for my essay. It’s from one of Tolkien’s letters to his son Christopher while he was in the army during World War II: “Well there you are: a hobbit amongst the Urukhai. Keep up your hobbitry in heart, and think that all stories feel like that when you are in them. You are inside a very great story!”

Heartbeat

Hello, lovely blogging community. I feel like I’ve been a bit missing in action for a couple of weeks, and it is weird to not be posting regularly here anymore. I thought I should at least take some time to post about what I’ve been doing. The truth is, I’ve been spending most of my time trying to craft posts for Small Still Voices every Friday. I love being a part of that community of sisters, but it has taken a lot of my energy away from Chased by Light.

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It’s not just Small Still that’s been keeping me busy though, it’s also the two new jobs that I started. I’ve already blogged about the sudden change on Small Still, and I’m still getting used to it. I’m so grateful to have the chance to work now, but I haven’t quite hit the sweet spot when it comes to managing my time yet. I also haven’t hit the sweet spot when it comes to being Light at work, but I’m praying through it.

Tonight I am praying that God will help me to learn what it means to pray without ceasing,  and to help me actually do it during my shift tomorrow. I work very early shifts at this retail job, and I tend to too tired to focus on Christ or the other people there. I don’t want to be like that.

I’m still reading Chronicles (now on to book 2) and Luke, and I’m sorry I haven’t written many blog posts about them yet. As I read about David and Solomon and their plans to build a temple for the LORD, I am awed by the fact that God chose them as leaders for the people he also chose as His own. I know David’s earthy history, and I am amazed by the faith he pronounced at the end of his life and psalms he penned and the deep relationship he, a sinner, had with the Creator of the universe.

Sometimes, I feel an ache in my soul to know Christ more. I’ve been thinking about His humanity, and His divinity, and how many times Luke records that Jesus spent time in prayer. Jesus, who was by nature part of God Himself, needed to spend time in communion with His Father. I need communion with my Father. I want to fall in love with Him over and over. I also want to remind myself that He is too big for me. I can never have Him all figured out, and I don’t ever want to think that I do.

I’ve been listening a lot to Judah & The Lion’s album Firstfruits. (Please go get it on Noisetrade, it’s free!) They have a song that says “I’ve tasted and I’ve seen the sweetness of our King, I’m taken by the warmth of Your embrace.” And still another that I may have completely wrong, but when I sing it, I say, “I feel Your heartbeat, and I am home.”

Because that is what I want, to be so close to my Father that I can feel his heartbeat, and know that I am home in His arms. I have tasted the sweetness of my King–that He would even chose to be called mine. I don’t want to forget it. Why have I forgotten it? I want to taste that sweetness again. And I want to rejoice always and pray without ceasing, always walking with the God who chooses to dwell in me.  Oh let Your love come fill me up, I love Your love for me.

Thank you for being a part of my journey. Let us continue to seek our King together. <3

How Precious to Me

I’m blogging at Small, Still Voices today. Here’s an excerpt:

How precious to me
Are your thoughts, O God.
So high, so wide, so deep,
How precious to me.
So if I were to count them,
I would live and die in perfect bliss
The counting, it is never over
And the beauty, it never ends.

If I were to spend my entire life doing absolutely nothing except counting the thoughts and dreams of God and praising Him for them, my life would be bliss. That’s what this song says…. Click here to read the rest at Small, Still Voices!

There is good. Here is good.

I realize that my last couple of blog posts have been a bit depressing, so I figured I should take the time to write about some of the things I am grateful for in this not-so-desired season of my life.

–First, although the Autumn season has been reminding me daily of my walks through Edinburgh, I’ve also been able to enjoy the Maryland scenary. For the first few weeks of October, I felt as though I were driving through a painting. It was wonderful, and that plus the new Mumford & Sons album have made my commutes a lot more enjoyable.

–I’m grateful to experience all things pumpkin-flavored. I’m not sure Scotland has caught on to this glorious spice yet. Coffee. Donuts. Cookies. Muffins. Hershey Kisses. Bagels. Did I mention coffee?

–Getting to spend Halloween handing out candy to dozens of adorable kids in costume. Halloween is so much better when there are kids around.

–Finding a group of believers who have welcomed me into their community. I’ve loved having dinner with them, doing Bible study, and getting to babysit their children.

–Pandora.com

–Seeing my cat steadily grow back to health and back into the spunky, curious trouble-maker she’s always been. Getting to curl up next to her every night.

–I’m reading some pretty awesome books for some of my classes. Since the main reason I’m here, after all, is to finish school, I might as well do my best to enjoy it. I’ve also gotten to write some pretty interesting papers. (Yes, I know, I’m a nerd, and I’m proud of it.)

–I’m stressed about work and money and situations, but God is good and I’ve been able to watch him provide in crazy ways both for me and for my family. He is so faithful, even when I’m faithless and give way to worry.

–I’m learning to remind myself each day that God has marked that day as good. God has redeemed it. He has redeemed this day. He has redeemed yesterday. He has redeemed tomorrow. He has seen my future and called it good, even though I cannot see it yet.

<3

Season of Rain?

I’ve been thinking about this concept for probably a month or so now, and I kept meaning to sit down and blog about it but I never have. So, I am going to attempt to do so now.

You all know about my Josh Garrels obsession and how I often blog about his lyrics speaking directly into the seasons of my life.

Well, another song on the album Jacaranda is called “Season of Rain,” and during this time in the desert I have been singing this song over and over, particularly clinging to these lines:

Season of rain will bring labor pains,
But it’s end will be the most wonderful
Joy.

Isn’t that so beautiful? The tough seasons, the storms, the rain, those are the times just before something wonderful will be birthed.

But wait a minute, haven’t I been telling you for six months that I’ve been feeling like I’m in a desert season? Aren’t deserts and rainstorms kind of opposite of each other?

I don’t know, but I do know that God has been laying those words on my heart, and I started thinking…

Perhaps, after one leaves the sands of the desert, the rain comes…

If the the rain is the labor pains, then wouldn’t the time in the desert be a time of formation? A time when what will be birthed begins to grow and take shape in the womb?

I don’t know. But I think that is in agreement with what God has already told me about this time, that it is a time of preparation.

It has been literally raining here in my area a lot lately, and I started to think that perhaps I am entering the season of rain — which would mean a time of intense pain just before the joy comes. And that terrifies me, because my life certainly feels tossed and jumbled by the storm right now.

But I still don’t know, because God keeps showing me deserts. I keep getting vivid flashbacks of my time in Israel when I would stay awake at night listening to the sound of the desert wind rattling the windows.

Did you know that the wind blows strong, wild, and unconstrained in the desert?

I want that. I need that. Especially if I’m going to enter a turbulent rainy season.

So once again I say, I don’t know. I don’t know what this is yet, but I know I want the Spirit to fill me because I can’t do this without Him.

This is the blog of an English major.

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And Fade into the light of common day.

–William Wordsworth, stanza 5 of Intimations of Immortality


Remember my post about The Reluctant King and embracing our God-given glory? Well, I had to read this poem for my British Literature class, and I geeked out over this stanza, writing “original glory” in the margins: “I daresay we’ve heard a bit about original sin, but not nearly enough about original glory, which comes before sin and is deeper to our nature. We were crowned with glory and honor (psalm 8:5).” — John Eldredge, Waking the Dead

Dear one, child of God, please don’t forget it. <3