|Photo by Walter A. Aue|
Thursday, December 8, 2016
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
It's clear that this reunion will not be simple. But then, what reunion is? They often fail my expectations. The conversations aren’t as deep; the time is not enough; the mutual understanding has shifted or faded. I am forever learning that my rosy spectacles of nostalgia for the past will often be disappointed.
And as much as I may lament the loss of a relationship with my host family or even the loss of some piece of myself, the truth is that I don't want to be my 22-year-old self again. Sure, I was learning to be carefree and independent and full of complicated love. But there was also a lot I was unsure about, a lot I didn't know.
I didn't know, yet, that three or four years later I would begin to explore and confirm a sense of this call to seminary and ministry--a call that has been terrifying and beautiful all at the same time, because it's so real and meaningful and yet so vulnerable to being subverted. I didn't know, yet (though I certainly hoped!) that on my next trip to Africa, I'd be four years into this marriage that is no longer a wade into the stream but a full submersion into this life together, with all its ups and downs. I didn't know yet how much I still needed to be humbled, by all the injustice in the world to which I am a part; I didn't know how much I still needed to be built up, with affirming communities and spiritual practice to unravel harmful self-talk.
I see the Spirit working in who I have become, who I am still a long way from becoming. I do not want to go back, nor can we, ever.
What I pray for is grace--grace for me, grace in me for others. That I may be slow to judge and quick to listen and full of compassion. And I pray also, I think, for just a glimpse of my 22-year-old self. Perhaps she has something to offer me for today.
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
|Photo by Andrew Parnell|
After my first overnight shift at the hospital this summer—after twenty-four hours, seventeen calls, eight deaths, $21.50 worth of cafeteria food, and four hours of sleep—I handed the clipboard to the Sunday chaplain, exhaled heavily, and hopped on my bike, speeding hastily away from the clinical halls and towards my church. I knew I needed hymns, prayer and the Communion meal. And then, most definitely, a long nap.
And maybe it was just the vulnerability of being in the hospital that got them to the place of sharing, and maybe most of the time the tears are forced back down. But they have been carrying these burdens through all their house renovations and business deals, their lonely or sleepless nights at home and their Western movie marathons.
I am sitting in the library now, rolling my eyes at the always-exasperated woman who seems to have such a sense of entitlement about using the computers here, even though she is a guest of the university, and I am the one paying for these services with my tuition dollars. But who is she, and why does she come here so often, and what is she carrying that makes her so easily frustrated? Could you or I offer her some kindness and compassion? There is always so much more to each of us, beneath the surface.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
|Photo by Robin Robokow|
Can I tell you how excited I am? I've been waiting several years now for this, so that when people inevitably ask me if I'm in high school, or say I'm too young to be a pastor or drink or be married or have five years' job experience--I can retort with I'm thirty, which is a lot more of a zinger than I'm twenty-nine.
At three I tried to hop on a Paris subway car by myself; at sixteen I begged to be able to drive myself to my own appointments. Ever since, I've always been pushing for more independence and responsibility. I've dealt with obstacles and maybe embarrassment when I feel people question me about whether I'm competent to handle certain tasks. I've never found a way to graciously respond when people take me for an amateur in a place where I'm in charge. And now I'm thirty. Surely that's worth some respect.
In a society that prizes the novelty of youth, I'm not concerned about becoming boring or irrelevant. If ever someone inspires me to think "I want to be like her," it's usually a woman whose hair has begun to gray. She is usually thoughtful about her own experiences, the painful and the beautiful. She has a sense of connectedness to all the people she has known, and they have each made her who she is. She carries an inner silence that can only come from years of practice.
Many of my friends are sad to be hitting this milestone. Thirty, to someone still trying to find a career or just a stable job, may seem daunting, like a deadline she never knew until it had passed. Thirty to a single woman may bring fear of loneliness, of being forgotten by friends, of never finding the "right" person. That's real fear and real pain, and I can't pretend to speak to that.
I can go back to Tanzania one day, and maybe even move or work in East Africa again, which will be its own adventure. But I can't go back to the free and weightless person I was there. I can visit friends and see the homes they own and their pets and children, which is a new kind of joy. But I can't be a roommate again in the group house with a garden and potluck dinners and parties full of laughter. I can't be a young college grad who could take a job in any city, move to be near friends on a whim. There may be new choirs or a book clubs or yoga classes. But I have less leisure to play piano or join an intramural soccer team. And it's hard to imagine now that I'll ever spend a season working on an organic farm learning to grow vegetables, or get a degree in creative writing or counseling or music.
The world is no longer quite all ahead of me. Trajectories are set in motion, and mostly that is joy. But, too, moving forward always means leaving something behind.
This season brings constant reminders of mortality. The fragility of babies in the womb, the sudden death of a healthy adult at 35 or 60. As much as I may speak with bravado and whitewashed idealism about the wisdom of the old, I am standing right here in the middle of the messiness of it all, mourning those I have lost, mourning those others have lost. My own body joins the crowd of evidence. Two of my teeth are literally falling out. My joints are getting weak. My body is less resilient after red-eye flights than it once was.
Two weeks ago a cross was made on my forehead, the words spoken over me, "You are dust, and to dust you shall return." And this is always true, and perhaps every year it becomes more true. My mortality is not something I fear, exactly. Except that in the moments in which I believe I am about to die--moments on highways, or moments of walking alone in the dark, or moments suspended in the air as I fly off the front of my bike--I am struck with a panic that I have not loved as I might, I have not made peace with all, I have left too many messes on my floor and broken pieces in my journey.
So getting older is as treacherous as it is beguiling, bringing the fear of things that have not yet been and may never be.
What I mean is that I think perhaps the challenge given to us all is how to love the very ground we are resting our feet on at this moment. Contentment does come from being seventy and having achieved it all, but from learning the art of gratitude. Respect does not come to me from a snarky I'm thirty I throw our to the world, but from being grounded and centered no matter how people see me. Inner silence won't suddenly appear at seventy if I don't cultivate it now.
So today I am going to hug a friend, and eat fresh food, and call my mom, and say a prayer. Today I am going to volunteer at a food pantry and study for a midterm. I am going to love this day that has been given, add my best to it, and try not to put my hope in the number that has been assigned to it.
But just in case you were wondering...that number is thirty.
Friday, January 22, 2016
|Photo by bekasinne|
A note for a self-confident third-grader:
Don't worry. Yes, a mom down the street said fourth grade was hard. So I understand why you asked your mom if she would home school you next year if it's all too much for you.
But you are more than capable of the challenge, dear one. And you won't be alone--you'll be taking on long division with the help of all your friends. And with the help of your parents, who believe in you. You know that, don't you? They believe in you, and they will believe in you if you get a B, and they will believe in you if you decide, one day, to quit piano or soccer or even church, and that believing in you will cover over a multitude of hurt.
So you see, there's nothing to fear.
A note for a ninth grader learning to fail:
Don't worry. Oh dear Katie, what a year it's been--your first bitter tastes of failure, your first experiences of un-belonging. I know how badly you wanted to be in the musical. The exhilaration of being on stage in middle school--you loved it perhaps even more than anything you'd ever done. But you will get the chance to be on stage again, and you will love other things even more than this.
And it doesn't end there--I know what disappointment you feel at not making the chamber choir. The first time you heard them sing, you knew you'd been waiting all your life to get into that group. But wait another year, it's okay. The trade-off will be deep, life-long friendships and the chance to lead your own singing group and the kinds of experiences that will stay with you for life.
And yes, dear awkward soul, you are fifteen and you have braces and frizzy hair and your sense of humor hasn't blossomed, and yet you still long for their approval. It feels utterly humiliating to stand at your locker by yourself in the morning before class, pretending to be occupied, as all the groups of laughing blondes wander by. But oh, if only you knew the depth of the empathy and compassion growing up in you right now. For the rest of your life you will always notice the girl standing on the wall, you will always feel the pain of the lonely. And though you couldn't possibly imagine it now, you will always stay in touch with the close friends you will make in these halls.
A note for a college sophomore, amidst the collapse of all her certainties:
Don't worry. Don't worry about going to a "third-world" country or about your first relationship or about not having a five-year plan. I know, dear Katie, that these things are not really what you're scared of. The truth is you're scared that something within you is changing. You're scared that you're losing all that has been your foundation--your God, your habits, your identity.
Listen: you are not losing anything that won't be replaced one hundred fold.
You will lose some convictions, some people, some of yourself. It will hurt. It is okay to mourn. But here's the thing: God is not going to leave you. In fact, in all of this you will find God in a different and more beautiful way than ever before, a way that opens up possibilities you never dreamed of.
A note for a twenty-something planner without a plan:
Don't worry. You simply don't have to have it all figured out now. Oh, how funny it is to think of you and your dear roommate staying up late trading worries. Yours is career--shouldn't a twenty-four year old have a plan by now?!--and hers is relationship--shouldn't a twenty-four year old have met the right man by now?!
The answer, of course, is no. In six years you still won't have it figured out, but you will have realized that the journey has taught you more than a plan could ever have done. When you get to graduate school, eventually, you will be so glad you didn't know yet what you wanted and studied English in college. You will be so glad you didn't know yet what you wanted and joined Americorps and encountered the gritty beautiful slow-paced DC and learned the hard way how to work on a team. You will be so glad you had those late nights trading worries with people who will be forever friends.
A note for today.
Don't worry. First of all, you're doing great. In fact, can you stop doing great for a moment and enjoy life a little? You may not know exactly what's coming with balancing two careers and a marriage and the hope of children and community and so much more--let tomorrow worry about itself. Aren't you having fun? You love studying languages and writing sermons and giving hugs in the handshake line at church to the women whose pain has been told you over coffee.
Sure, you are in this place of leaving behind the freedoms of young adulthood. Sure, you are re-figuring your friendships and practices and hobbies. Sure, you are grieving what it means to settle somewhere, which is also not to settle somewhere else. Sure, you are realizing that to embrace church and prison work is also not to embrace farming and piano-teaching and other dreams you once had. And you are always, always afraid of failing at the things you for which you are responsible.
But look back on it all, dearest Katie. Have you really ever had a failure you didn't learn from? Have you ever really been alone in your questions? Have your musings and wandering uncertainties ever really led you somewhere where blessing was not to be found?
In hindsight the memory is always clear, that you have been accompanied in all your paths, whether you attuned yourself or not, by the Spirit of the living God.
So read backwards. The memory is now. Just sit and watch the snow awhile.
Monday, January 11, 2016
|Photo by Nelo Hotsuma|
So this is what I am going to try. This is my version of New Year’s resolution—or maybe just the hope of someone who has become tired of getting by. And since I’ve learned that abstract aspirations never get me too far, I’m taking three concrete steps.
And also: maybe you too have been getting by and maybe you want to take a concrete step towards being whole and maybe we can walk that journey together.
Monday, January 4, 2016
2. Lila by Marilynne Robinson: This deals with the same characters, and some of the same events, as her two earlier novels Gilead and Home, but from a much different (fascinating) perspective. Robinson doesn’t write page-turners, and her books don’t follow a typical plot, but the writing and characters are impeccable, and the themes are rich with human questions. What is it that defines our souls, our capacity for good or ill, our relationships and our loneliness? Lila asks questions especially about the feral and gentle within us, about how early experiences shape us, about how spirituality is relevant to those for whom the main question is survival.
1. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson: I’ve been recommending this one to everybody. Stevenson’s book reads as part memoir, part documentary, part true crime. You’ll be flipping pages to find out what happens to Walter, a man on death row who swears he’s innocent, and meanwhile you’ll be confronting our justice system, the depths of brokenness within all of us, and the persistence of hope and redemption.
1. While visiting the Getty Museum in LA last March, I was drawn to a painting in a way I’ve never before been drawn to art: “Mary Magdalene at the Sepulchre” by Girolomo Savoldo. I see myself in it, I suppose. And I see the most perfect, realistic-but-hopeful balance of darkness and light. It's not the same on a screen, but:
3. Trips: California (lovely former roomie plus meeting the life goal of peeing in all 3 oceans that aren’t at Arctic Temperatures plus riding a bus with some silly college choir kids plus biking across the Golden Gate); Minnesota (spirit home plus two of my dear college friends marrying each other!); Western Massachusetts (friends’ wedding plus camping and napping under trees).
1. Reunion: If you read any of my pieces this summer, you know that I had a beautiful and possibly life-changing experience with Church of the Saviour this summer, especially the time I spent learning from the people at Reunion, seeing both the heartbreaking reality of the prison pipeline and the redemptive possibilities of community. I’m so grateful for the servant leaders of that community, for the men and women coming home from prison, for the encouragement to be authentic across lines of race and class, for a place which nurtured my spirit so.
3. Durham, NC: In one of the harder decisions we’ve had to make since our marriage, John and I decided to turn down a job offer he had received in DC, since it would have started this summer and necessitated us spending a year apart (it also wasn’t his dream job). I love DC so it was sad to say, “not now.” But John graduates in May and we’re looking forward to staying here in NC like for a few more years. I won’t say I don’t have second thoughts when I visit home and reunite with all the wonderful people there, but it’s nice to be putting down roots and slowly building community here in Durham.
2. Being able to walk! After lots of biking and running this summer, I started noticing minor foot pain. It took four months of no running or biking, five weeks on crutches, two X-rays and one MRI to finally figure out what it was—irritation and inflammation of the sesamoid bones, which are on the bottom of the foot near the big toe. I’m now mostly recovered and in physical therapy, looking forward to being active again, not depending on people for rides, hiking the Grand Canyon in May and maybe running a half marathon later this year.