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

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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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just a brief journal on old memories

It’s Thanksgiving here in the United States, and I find myself sipping moscato and trying to think of all the Thanksgivings I can remember as a child. Unfortunately, I don’t remember very many Thanksgivings before my mom died almost thirteen years go. That period of my life all feels like a blur sometimes. I’d like to take a little bit of time right now to reflect on one Thanksgiving that I do remember…

We had just moved to California — my dad, my mom, and I — and we were living in my older brother and now sister-in-law’s tiny apartment. I remember my parents slept on the futon in the living room and I slept on a cot of some sort not too far from them. I was only twelve and hadn’t lived with my brother for three years, so it was nice to me, those cozy moments piled together in one place.

I only remember snippets from that day…

One snippet is about how my obsessive compulsive disorder came out in full swing. I don’t remember what I was compulsively doing, but I do remember my mother getting frustrated with me. My compulsions were really bad at that time in my life.

On a happier note, I remember watching television. We didn’t really have a dining room or a table, so we all sat in the living room with our Thanksgiving plates and watched TV. It was right around the release of the second Harry Potter movie, and the three child actors were on Oprah or something… I just remember them talking about Dobby, who must’ve been cutting-edge CGI at the time. Oprah kept saying, “You mean Dobby was just a tennis ball on a stick?” “I mean, what was it like talking to a tennis ball on a stick?” At one point, my mom exclaimed, to the laughter of the rest of us, “We get it! He’s a tennis ball on a stick.”

I’m not sure if it was that day or some time before or afterwards, but we all gathered to watch Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first movie. I remember running away from the TV and freaking out. I think it was my dad who followed. I kept trying to say that I couldn’t watch that movie, that it was bad, that people from our old church in South Carolina told me it was bad.

My dad (or my mom, or both) told me that it was just a movie, that it wasn’t bad at all, that it was fun and there was no sin in watching it. I am so grateful to my parents for that moment, for their attitudes, for introducing me to a rich and life-changing world.

I am so grateful to them for not forcing religion and rules upon me, for only taking me to church when I asked them to do so. (I remember one kid in my Sunday school class was there as a punishment for something he did the day before). I am so grateful to my parents for showing me that God existed outside of church buildings and that he wasn’t mad at me for “sinning.” I’m grateful to them for challenging the rules I came home from Sunday school spouting — like when they told me love was what really mattered in a relationship, not gender. I love my mom and dad so much.

I was too young to really grasp it then, and I wish (not for the first time) that they were here now to talk to me about my questions, to tell me about their own experiences with faith now that I’m old enough to listen.

I want to watch movies with them. I want them to see their granddaughter’s excitement over reading Harry Potter. I want them to know the incredible man in my life who, coincidentally, is also currently reading Harry Potter for the first time. I want them to glimpse Grey Havens YA, a group that I know they would love. I know it would make them proud.

More than that, I just want to know them. I feel like I hardly knew my mother. Twelve years was too short a time. But then again, twenty-three years was too short a time with my dad, and I want to know him more too. I am thankful for that time, I’m thankful for what I do know, I just wish it could’ve been longer, I wish their could’ve been more.

I miss you, Mom. I miss you, Dad.
I’m thankful that I’m here with my brother and his wife who became my sister, with my two little nieces… but we all miss you.

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.

on numbness and rekindling

wpid-20150803_154444.jpgI walked another Labyrinth today. I’ve written about Labyrinth walks before, and I know it’s a symbol symbol that doesn’t need much explaining, but I wanted to write about labyrinths again.

Lately my faith has felt… dead. This morning I realized how afraid I was that perhaps this faith that’s spurred me on my whole life has slowly and quietly gotten up in the middle of the night and left me. No big eruptions, no violent severings, just one whispered, final end. Gone. What if I didn’t even notice, and now it’s lost and I can’t get it back?

I took out my journal and I wrote two words: Lord, rekindle.

I finished Kathy Escobar’s Faith Shift today, and I think I may still be more in what she calls the “Unraveling” phase than I am ready to begin the “Rebuilding” phase. The last chapter of the book says, “That you are even bothering to read this book is a sign that your faith is most definitely not dead. It’s glorious that you are wrestling with cultivating a freer faith despite the costs.” I really hope that’s true. I need that to be true.

Which brings me back to the Labyrinth. The most comforting aspect of a labyrinth walk to me is how the winding path brings me so far away from the center that I feel like I’ll never make it. It’s comforting to me because it’s a false fear– I can see the path ahead and I know I will always make it to the center. No matter how far away I get, the path will always lead me back.

Another symbol I noticed in my walk today was how jarring some of the twists and turns were in the labyrinth. At times, I felt I was being jerked back and forth; I could hardly get my bearings before the path turned again, and I honestly felt a little dizzy. It felt pretty close to the path my life has followed recently.

I also noticed that there were times when the path brought me very close to the center before it shifted and went back out again. At those moments, I could have easily stepped over the stones to cheat my way to the center, but I had to trust that the winding path was the better one.

All of this sounds really nice, but the tough thing is truly believing it and letting it sink in and encourage me.

Escobar says the best thing to do when you’re struggling through a faith shift is to focus on “what works,” what brings you life, revives you, whatever leads you closer to the divine, even if it’s not what it used to be. Right now, for me, those things are investing in my love relationship, working with Grey Havens YA, walking labyrinths, sitting outside, watching the sky, reading (especially poetry), taking in plays and movies that make me think, playing with art and music and words whenever I can, baking bread, practicing yoga, laughing with my nieces… It’s not church right now. It’s not the Bible. But Escobar writes, “We must keep bridging the divide between the sacred and the secular and respect that God is always present – revealing, challenging, reminding, healing, inspiring, convicting, and loving. Instead of seeing things as spiritual only if they have a Bible verse, God, or Jesus attached to them, we can notice God’s Spirit moving in our hearts through nature, music, people, work, and play.”

Lord, rekindle.

When the night rolls on, and I can’t sleep for fear of an empty soul, I turn to the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
I whirl, and I follow the Sun.
From “The Dreamer”
And all’s well that ends well,
Whirl, and follow the Sun!

Two.

IMG_1193A lot has happened over the past two years

I caught myself saying it had been “three” years the other day, I suppose that’s how much time blurs after grief burrows inside your heart and settles down for the long haul. I used to meticulously count the months, now I imagined I’ve been living without my dad a whole year longer than was really true. I guess that means I’ve resigned myself to this fate, that this life has to keep going now, without him.

And yet, I can still clearly remember the details of that day:

It was overcast, rainy, much it like it was on June 10, 2015 when I started this post. In 2013, I was at work when I got the call that my dad was in the ER…. I couldn’t focus and I asked to go home. I wandered around the house, I cuddled my cat, I watched episodes of Total Drama Action to distract myself from the wait. I told friends and they prayed with me. The friends I lived with made dinner. I was just about to attempt to sit down and eat –it was a sausage biscuit, breakfast for dinner– when the call came. I remember kneeling on the wood floor of my bedroom. I remember our pastor coming over. I remember sitting with a pillow clenched to my chest, trying and failing to sip a smoothie so that at least I could take in some nutrients.

That day was awful, but it was the days that followed that were worse. I fell asleep hugging my cat and I remember waking up early for my plane ride and wishing that it had all been a bad dream. I remember sobbing on the plane. I remember a panic attack in Colorado when the high mountain air fled from my lungs and the stress of making funeral plans became too much. I remember beer and sandwiches. I remember stepping outside DIA as I waited to fly back to Maryland and wanting to collapse on the sidewalk and never get up again.

I remember music. Manic Depression is touching my soul… So keep your head up, love. And the landslide’ll bring it down.

But still, a lot has happened in these past two years…

wpid-20150602_165350.jpgI’ve gotten to live alongside my family, the brother who went off to college when I was only nine years old. I get to live with him and his wife now, I get to watch them be parents to my nieces, I get to sit with them and be, and feel at home with them. I get to stop my writing, dry my tears, and go watch a documentary about music with them… which is exactly what happened in the middle of this post.

Not only that, but I’ve started chasing a new dream, a community of nerds, a friend and partner to tend this garden with, something that fits.

I’ve stumbled upon a job with consistent hours and a service I feel good about. I’ve been adopted into a work family who truly cares about me.

I’ve found another friend, one who reached out to me, one who grabbed my hand as the darkness closed in– and he steadily became more, so much more…

But yes, there was still plenty of darkness… In these past two years, I had to decide to say goodbye to my cat, because I couldn’t take her with me. She was a gift from my mom, and she’d been with me through both losses, it really sucked having to lose her too. I also reached the point in my life when I’ve been alive longer on this earth without my mother than I’ve been alive with her. She died when I was twelve, and I’ve been living with her absence for thirteen years, and the years will keep adding and adding now. I miss her. I don’t really like this math, but I’m compelled to focus on it. Grief does strange things to you.

Grief messes with your faith. I don’t know where I am anymore, and I don’t know how much of it was sparked by grief or if this was just something I was bound to encounter eventually. (I’m sure it doesn’t help that when I lost my dad, I also lost my church community.) As I look back on the posts I’ve written since June 10, 2013, I see small glimpses of hope and light– not too much, but just enough to have kept me afloat. I read them now and I sink. I feel bitter and doubtful and cynical about the words I once clung to to keep from becoming bitter and doubtful and cynical. O Lord, help my unbelief. Actually, I don’t know if it really is unbelief or if it’s just pain. I can’t hold to faith anymore because I can’t trust God anymore, because I’m hurt; I still don’t think I’ve fully recovered from the blow. I had to fill out a questionnaire recently that asked me to rate how much I agreed with the following statement: “I have beliefs that sustain me.” Two years ago, I would’ve given that statement top marks, but I didn’t know how to score it this year. I’m scared, and I don’t know what to do about that.

Deep breath. Okay, back to the good things:

In these past two years, I’ve traveled a little, visited the Great Sand Dunes, attended two concerts by my favorite musicians, spoken at an academic conference, won an award for working with youth in my community, taken up yoga, read widely, and fallen in love.

I truly wish that my dad could’ve been a part of it all. I know that would probably mean that most of these good events wouldn’t have happened, and I suppose knowing that his death has at least brought about a glimpse of beauty helps a little… but I miss him. I just miss him. Two years, Dad. I hope you and mom have been watching.

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.

Using a dead man’s library card

Sometimes, I still use a dead man’s library card… The card belonged to my dad, and I still have it on my key ring even though I have my own card in my wallet. Sometimes, I accidentally swipe his when I check out books, and I don’t realize it until I select an email receipt and the machine tells me my receipt has been sent to my dad’s email.

Well, that’s a receipt I’ll never see again. I still can’t access my dad’s email. I don’t know the password, and his security question is so vague that I don’t want to risk being locked out entirely by guessing wrong too many times. Unfortunately, Yahoo refuses to release passwords for the deceased. Apparently there’s some clause you agree to in their terms of service, which renders it pretty much impossible for your surviving loved ones to gain access to your correspondence without your exact password at time of death. They say it’s to protect your privacy, I say it’s ridiculous.

I wish I could read his emails. I wish I knew him well enough to be able to guess his password. I just want a little insight into his mind… I want to read his words again. I want to see who he spoke to… Not to mention that, in the midst of death, I needed to access emails from his various accounts.

And now I need to access my library receipt so I know when my books are due.

What a waste, a whole inbox is sitting there, locked.

I wish I had asked him more questions. I wish he had told me more stories.

The other day, my friend was telling me about the funny details of the day of his birth, and he wanted to know about mine. I told him there was no one left for me to ask for that information.

No one left.

There’s no one left for me to ask about the firsthand account of my birth. No one left to ask about the moment my mom knew my dad was the one. No one left to ask about what kind of daughter I was, or who they hoped I’d become.

I didn’t intend for this post to be sad. I mean, of course it’s going to be sad, but I thought at least it could be quirky, a clever/bitter-sweet comment on the sudden cut-off moment that is death, on the jarring experiences of surviving life, and on how we may continue for years to use the same dead person’s library card without realizing it.

I can’t believe that I’m finally referring to my dad in the past tense– not only that, but I’m even referring to him as “a dead person” and “the deceased.” For a while I couldn’t even write the word “dead,” I had to say, “gone” or “left.” I don’t like that I can say it now. I don’t know how I feel about it. I’m sorry if it’s wrong.

I sit on little thoughts like this one. I sit, and I’ve stopped writing about them, so I’m writing it now. I’m typing about death on my lunch break. Maybe it’ll become part of the book I finish one day, the book I told myself I would write about this orphan experience. To do that, though, I have to re-immerse myself in the grief fog that at times seems lighter, and I don’t always want to stay in that shadow. It won’t leave me, I know that, but I don’t always want to stay immersed in it…

Either way, I wrote this post today, about death and library cards and email accounts and lost information… I wrote what I could, and I’m publishing it now. I’m sure it’ll come back to me later, I have to return that book in two weeks… I think.

Still Haven’t Found…

I used to think U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was a great song, but also a sad one.

wpid-20150207_172018.jpgI believe in the kingdom come
When all the colors will bleed into one, bleed into one
But yes I’m still running.
You broke the bonds and You loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame, of my shame
You know I believe it
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

I used to hear that and think, “No, see, Bono, that was it. You found it. Right there.” I would think about how sad it was that those words weren’t enough for Bono, that he still felt lost and searching even though he believed in Jesus. How could he still feel the need to search for anything else? What, exactly, is he looking for that Jesus can’t satisfy?

Now that I’m reaching my mid-twenties, roaming in search of community, home, and still reeling from the loss of my last surviving parent, I think I’m starting to see where he’s coming from, that lifelong search…

The song hits me in a new way, and tears stream down my face as I try to drive home. I believe it, Jesus, you know I believe it, but I still feel lost and confused. I believed it, but where has it led me? Where am I going? I’m seeing as through a mirror darkly. I want more, but I don’t know what that more is. I want TRUTH, but I’m terrified of finding out I’ve been lied to… I’m afraid of everything I’ve built around me since the age of 5 unraveling and falling to pieces.

C.S. Lewis says God has to knock down our house of cards just so we can finally see that it was a house of cards after all. But then what’s left?

Someone once spoke to me in prayer three years ago about a vision of myself wrapped tightly in bandages and cloth that were slowly being unraveled so that I could see…

I know it was also Bono who said, “For all that ‘I was lost, I am found,’ it is probably more accurate to say, ‘I was really lost. I’m a little less so at the moment.’ And then a little less and a little less again. That to me is the spiritual life. The slow reworking and rebooting the computer at regular intervals, reading the small print of the service manual. It has slowly rebuilt me in a better image. It has taken years, though, and it is not over yet.”

Am I “rebooting?” Where am I going?

I’m almost finished with my reread of the Harry Potter series and I don’t know where to go next. It has been such a comfort to me, a way for me to escape, to remember, to believe in love, and to work through my emotions. I’m afraid. I’m finding it hard to pick up my Bible anymore, and I’ve let the mirror collect dust so that now the Image I see dimly is even hazier and darker than before. I don’t know where to turn.

I’m cynical and I’m tired. Some days I’m afraid to even look into the mirror, and then I’m afraid I’ve gone too long without doing so… How do I begin to go back again? How do I clean off the dust? How do I accept that it’ll never be truly clear? I hope I’m not too far gone.

wpid-20150208_071238.jpg

Let there be Light, and let it warm my bones.

on death, prayer, and phoneixes

I’m trying hard to write. I’m trying hard not to write. When the grieving thoughts strike me during my lunch break, I ache for the cathartic process of creating beauty from ashes. Then break’s over, a happy face returns, and by the time I get home, I decide I’d rather escape into Harry Potter‘s world of ashes and phoenix songs than focus on my own.

Where’s my phoenix?

I’m currently reading three books at the moment:

1) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (I just finished Goblet of Fire) by J.K. Rowling
2) Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer by Richard Rohr
3) American Afterlife: Encounters in the Customs of Mourning by Kate Sweeney

You wouldn’t think those three fit together very well, but they mingle beautifully in my head.

For example, Rohr writes, “Historic cultures saw grief as a time of incubation, transformation, and necessary hibernation. Yet this sacred space is the very space we avoid. When we avoid darkness, we avoid tension, spiritual creativity, and finally transformation. We avoid God, who works in the darkness — where we are not in control. Maybe that is the secret: relinquishing control.”

Sweeney writes of Victorian mourning customs, “However, while strides were taking place in the name of modernity and expedience in other realms … mourning was designed to be hard. You had buried your brother; you would stay up nights over a candle sweating over the thinnest pins wrapped in his hair. You would wear scratchy clothes and mourning veils for months. It would not be convenient or subtle, and you would not be comfortable.”

Rowling writes many of her great quotes in the voice of Professor Dumbledore. When I stumbled over this passage in Goblet of Fire in which Dumbledore speaks to Harry about witnessing a tragic death, I cried. She writes, “‘If I thought I could help you,’ Dumbledore said gently, ‘by the putting you in an enchanted sleep and allowing you to postpone the moment when you would have to think about what has happened tonight, I would do it. But I know better. Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it. You have shown bravery beyond anything I could have expected of you. I ask you to demonstrate your courage one more time. I ask you to tell us what happened.'”

I remember that. I remember wanting nothing more than to sleep… to sleep and wake up and find that it had all been only a nightmare. Even though I know now that no amount of sleep will reverse what happened, I welcome a deep, enchanted sleep to escape for a bit.

Have I been sleeping too long now? Have I avoided telling my story? Have I been avoiding the darkness, or have I just been letting myself stay comfortably numb in the twilight?

Rowling goes on to say that the sweet song of Dumbledore’s phoenix “warms” Harry’s insides, giving him hope. I ache for a phoenix. Am I really going to be transformed, as Rohr claims… or have I already passed the incubation period? Sometimes I wish we still honored a Victorian mindset about death, where mourning was public, prolonged, accepted, where our outside appearance reflected the turmoil of our hearts. But what happens after the designated “mourning period” has ended? What happens to widow after her year of wearing nothing but black ends abruptly and she is expected to wear color again? Does that mean she no longer grieves? Does that mean she’s “over” it?

I don’t want to talk about how long it’s been.

I returned wpid-20150114_161158.jpgto my walking lake today. I didn’t walk it, because it was chilly and I wasn’t wearing the right shoes, but I just felt the urge to see it. I hadn’t been to the water in months because of the bitter cold. I’ve been hearing the geese, though, the cacophony of life that inhabits this frozen wasteland. It’s as though they’ve been calling to me, beckoning me. So I went back today, just to look. I found light again, a beauty reminiscent of the one that saved me during those toughest months of my life… Is it wrong that I haven’t been walking there? Is it bad that I haven’t journaled?

I still just want to read Harry Potter and forget — No, forget is not the right word. I do escape, that much is true, but I also find a part of myself in those books, my grief, my childhood, my fear, my hope…

Sometimes all I want to do is fall inside those pages and never come out, so I’m breaking up the wizarding world with a book about death and a book about prayer… It’s a strange little collection, I know, but I hope it will awaken me slowly, allow me to breath a bit deeper, and lead me even closer to resurrection…