conversations and communities

"Perhaps the best conversationalist in the world is the man who helps others to talk." --Lee from East of Eden

My soul has been so tired recently (gratitude to my friend Destiny for unintentionally giving words to feelings I couldn't compile).

Aside from what I've already written about in this space, there are also these wicked things called hormones that cause all sorts of confusion, without any regard to the timing of life's other atrocities.

It's rude, I know.

Weird moods haven't been and will never be an uncommon occurrence for me, unfortunately, but 2014 has definitely been the most growing and progressive and ultimately hopeful year by far.

As I reflect on where I started this week—a mess of emotions and selfishness and general confusion—and where I sit now—peaceful, resting, and bruised but clarified—I'm realizing the change I've experienced is a direct result of the conversations and community surrounding me.

It shouldn't surprise me as much as it still does, but over and over again I'm reminded how powerful words are, and even more so, how powerful a listening ear is.
My dear friend Michelle (happy birthday!) sent me Stitches by Anne Lamott earlier this week. She told me how comforting it was during her time of grieving, so she put it in the mail with a little note and prayed it would do the same for me.

It's only 96 pages, but I already finished it and soaked up every word. Knowing the intention it was sent with, too, and seeing all the pages Michelle had already doggy-eared, made it so much more than some book I bought at Barnes and Noble—it became a thread, a connection, a stitch if you will, that made something about this human experience a little clearer. A little more cohesive.

The same feeling occurred during a conversation with my roommate, a conversation where me saying 'I'm sorry' was more important than anything else. It was important because sometimes I forget that we are all connected, and that me acting a certain way or saying a certain thing, good or bad, can and will affect those around me.

It happened yet again with a friend/neighbor of the family I nanny for, when she came over with her son to simply hang out and we ended up talking about...everything. God, the world, and our place in it. Christian culture and church culture and do we have a place in it? We talked about differences in relationships and how those can be so difficult, but so beautiful. It was an unexpected morning that led to an unexpected conversation that completely changed the perspective for my day.

To be cared for and understood by someone, to talk open and honestly, to really click with someone...these are some of the greatest joys in life, I'm convinced.

I am beginning to feel peace because I am beginning to see the stitches. The little pieces of life that come together, one at a time, to create something you wouldn't have expected and couldn't have dreamed of.

Two of my favorite paragraphs from the book are these:

"The American way is to not need help, but to help. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was that I was going to need a LOT of help, and for a long time. (Even this morning). What saved me is that I found gentle, loyal and hilarious companions, which is at the heart of meaning; maybe we don't find a lot of answers to life's tougher questions, but if we find a few true friends, that's even better. They help you see who you truly are, which is not always the loveliest possible version of yourself, but then comes the greatest miracle of all—they still love you. They keep you company as perhaps you become less of a whiny baby, if you accept their help." p.34

"Alone, we are doomed, but by the same token, we've learned people are impossible, even the ones we love most—especially the ones we love most: they're damaged, prickly, and set in their ways. Also, they've gotten old and a little funny, which can be draining. It is most comfortable to be invisible, to observe life from a distance, at one with our own intoxicating superior thoughts. But comfort and isolation are not where the surprises are. They are not where the hope is. Hope tends to appear when we see that all sorts of disparate personalities can come together, no matter how different and jarring they may seem at first." p.55

I hope we all ask for help a little bit more, and I hope we find the courage to have more honest conversations instead of the I'm good how are you? ones. They just don't create as much space for the stitches to be sewn, and if stitches are what hold us together, then I think we owe it to each other to make some more room. I know I do.

a morning prayer

God, all any of us want is to make sense of things. To make sense of the world around us and know that somewhere there's a place for our existence and a place for it to matter.

But the world doesn't oblige so easily. It's really hard to make sense of everything going on in Iraq while I'm here, sitting on my couch and typing on my iphone.

It's hard to make sense of cancer and death and suicides, like Robin Williams' yesterday.

It's hard to make sense of people working and dreaming for something only to have it end in a "no."

And I suppose, Lord, that's where we need you. We need you to help us make sense of things. And if making sense of things isn't important, then really we need help knowing you. We need help making sense of you in a world where overwhelmingly bad things happen a LOT. 

I'm praying because I miss you and I want to know you, I want to know that your promise of never leaving us as orphans is true. 

You know the place I'm coming from, and you know it's wound up in fear right now. Fear of NOT knowing you and what that means for my soul. 

How vulnerable it is to admit that, but how important it is to let you change me from my starting point. To let you meet me where I'm at because that's kinda what you do best.

Don't let me block you out Lord. Don't let me fight so hard and analyze so much. Teach me about faith and trust and hope. Show me that it IS possible to know you, and know you well. And give me grace when I stop remembering that I don't have to do this on my own. 

I love you as much as I know you, but I as I know you more I'm confident I will love you more, and I'm confident you'll help me make sense of some things some of the time. And everything else I'll learn to trust You in, learn to trust that those things are not mine to make sense of. 

That will be hardest for me, hands down.

Thanks for your grace and your long-suffering love. I'm grateful for those above all else.

because cancer sucks

There is obviously a huge pain that comes with death. 

I'm not the first to experience it and I won't be the last, but this is the first death in the family that has actually affected me personally.

My uncle battled colon cancer for two years and passed away just a couple of days ago.

Cancer really sucks. It takes a whole life and slowly chips away—chips away until the life no longer resembles itself, until the life adapts to a new normal and this new normal is decay.

It's hard for me to reconcile this, and to reconcile this alongside the battle my uncle also had with schizophrenia. His life was a struggle. It was a puzzle he constantly strived to assemble, but assembly wasn't possible because there were simply too many pieces.

He was only 46 and his parents, both in their 80's, had to say goodbye to their son in the very room he grew up.They had to say goodbye to a son who was so wrecked with the physical consequences of cancer that he didn't even look like himself.

Yellowed-skin and body so thin it would make anyone rethink their definitions of skinny. And yet he was pregnant with tumors—tumors that took residency throughout his stomach and protruded from here and there, causing pain that I can't begin to imagine.

There are pictures of him I can't get out of my mind and images from his last moments that I wish I could. His death wasn't glorified, but there is peace in his ability to say goodbye hours before passing, and knowing he passed in his sleep, even if his sleep was a drug-seduced one.

This post is heavier than any I've written and it's hard to write without words of hope dispersed throughout. But cancer doesn't leave a lot of room for hope, unfortunately. 

I (want to) know God is not absent and I do know Chris isn't suffering now. But last month, and the last few days especially, have been very real and very tangible whereas the former---not so much. Yet, anyway.

Please pray for all the layers death reveals. The layers that consist of planning a memorial service, of elderly parents adapting to a life without their son, of figuring out what it means to claim hope above it all.

Chris had such a giving, genuine, inquisitive, and polite soul. He constantly thought of others before himself, especially those less fortunate than him—which is really beautiful when you consider what he also endured. He played piano more intentionally, emotionally, and purposefully than anyone I know. His heart stayed on those keys way after his fingers left, and it was truly something to behold.

And amidst and above it all, he trusted and loved the God who says he's with us always. He openly asked questions and prayed prayers of great depth. His pastor told us last week that his and Chris' conversations centered more on grace than any other topic, and somewhere in there I find comfort, because grace is what I cling to, too.

Things are still tangled and bruised, though, and we need prayers as we stay tangled and bruised for a little while here.

Thank you in advance and thank you to those who have already been on this journey with us. We love you all.

beloved


You know, when you're sitting in the middle of an LA highway, two miles away from your destination, and your truck decides to stop working, you have time to think about life.

Granted the thoughts are more like flashes, and not totally coherent, but regardless, they show up.

When the 5-month old baby you're taking care of won't stop crying because she knows you're not her mom—you're not her home—the thoughts come.

They come when you're visiting your uncle who's battling colon cancer, they come when you're finally sitting in church again, and they come in the quietness of the morning.

My first two weeks in Pasadena have been accompanied by these thoughts, and it's been a really beautiful thing. I'm seeing fragility and dependence all around me and I'm remembering how blessed life is.

I finished reading Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen last week, and aside from its straightforward writing and authentic voice, I am most aware of its timing and its ability to piece together my fragmented thoughts. 

It's harder to listen to the voice that calls us chosen, harder to claim blessings amidst ordinary days, and harder to face brokenness when all we want to do is package it neatly and send it away. But the easy way doesn't affirm our Belovedness, doesn't push us to see life, doesn't encourage us to claim brokenness so it can be redeemed.

I could go on and on about how "the great spiritual battle begins—and never ends—with the reclaiming of our chosenness," but really you should just read the book. It's a super quick read that is simply and perfectly profound. I love how God sobers us into dependence, and how He surrounds us with tangible situations where dependence lends itself to something beautiful.

a reorientation of time

I'm taking a morning off, doing nothing but drinking coffee and eating chocolate-chip banana bread and reading a bunch.

It's been a crazy week—a crazy month—and I'm remembering the importance of time. Time to set aside certain "need-tos" for other "need-tos," time to step away from stress and be quiet; reflective and aware and in-tune.

I've been thinking a lot about time recently, whether or not that's been a conscious choice. I've been frustrated by people's disrespect for other's time, I've been reminded that time is short because life is short, but mostly I've been humbled by time's tenderness; its fragility and its precision.

My good friends got married in June, and their wedding reintroduced me to a pretty special guy. His name is Mack(enzie) and I call him boyfriend, and the timing of him, of us, is fairly astounding.

When I think that God could allow someone so wonderful and something so beautiful enter my life when I felt (feel) least prepared, least equipped, I'm brought back to grace. I'm brought back to the tangibility of grace, the tangibility of a God who is involved in our lives.

There's this girl I've met a couple times, an amazing girl whom I only know through mutual friends, through Facebook, and I've watched her family go through the reality of a brother, a son, with terminal cancer. He's 19 years old and his time is fleeting (but aren't we all), and watching their journey has been incredible.

It reminds me of my friend David who passed away at 20, it reminds me of the strength of a family who says God Your will be done even when that will might be unimaginable loss. I think about how I'm barely strong enough to look at pictures of this guy (it makes me tear-up every single time), much less proclaim God's goodness in spite of it all.

And then I'm brought back to grace again—grace that is triggered by this concept of time. And I'm starting to understand that how we spend our time, what we choose to do with it and how we carry that to completion day-in and day-out is one of the most important things in life. 

I'm learning that a general disrespect for time is ugly; it is focused on self and unaware of others, it is something we chain ourselves to and refuse to let free—it is the quickest way to deplete energy and cause frustration. Time is really pretty sacred. 

And to be honest, I don't have any other magnificent conclusions—just the simplicity of that thought. I want to respect time. I want to respect it in my own life, and in other's lives; I want to understand how special it is, how crucial it is, how short it is.

I want my concept of time to forever be linked with grace, waking up with no other words on my lips (as Anne Lamott would say) than thank you thank you and help me help me. The second I begin disrespecting time is the second I begin disrespecting grace, and Lord forgive me in advance for those moments. I truly pray that I would begin to orient my days in view of God's mercies—in view of His mercies and nothing else.