Every Time I Draft A Piece I Ask Why

Here is something I’ve been thinking, in essay form. Well, in a first draft form I’ll let sit for a while. I always think I’ll let a draft sit, get ready for that magic day when I have the best way to finish the piece. But then I think, For what. Why am I writing this. I get apathetic enough that I don’t bother with question marks. Instead, it’s flat, unanswerable. Why am I writing this. For the piece below, I have an answer: I couldn’t not. There’s a memory that’s hard to look at and spiritual truth I barely touch and as is usual of my personal essay drafts, the writing itself was unpleasant because I think there is something more to say and a better way to say it, but I can’t yet. I hope there is a reason I commit any of this to a page. More, I hope I find a magic day to rework this draft to honor two of my repetends.

With that. I know I am not the only one.


I keep thinking about this boy who died. I was junior in college and he was freshman. We lived in the same residence hall at the edge of campus and fell into step one afternoon. I was a community advisor who put up bulletin boards and hosted ice cream parties and floor meetings but I rarely saw him around the hall. He lived on the third floor, went home on the weekends and ducked his head when walking by the front desk. I remember the day being cold. Maybe an in between day in Wisconsin when autumn is over but air doesn’t yet bite. He had his hands in his front pockets. He was lean like some boys are when they just graduate high school and he walked like he felt too tall, making his shoulders narrow. Maybe because we were walking side by side he could talk a little, tell me he was from a small town on Lake Michigan and that’s where he went every weekend to fish. He had a boat or his father had a boat.

I think we talked about siblings. I think he had a sister still in high school. I think he was studying in the College Of Natural Resources.

I keep thinking about this boy. His name was Nathan. That first afternoon, walking side by side back to our residence hall on an almost winter day, he smiled. I remember feeling like I won because here was this quiet boy who ducked when he walked by people and he’d just smiled at something we said.

He went home on the weekends to take his boat or his father’s boat out on Lake Michigan so I didn’t see him much and had no reason to knock on his door and ask about his day. One night I couldn’t sleep. I laid in bed thinking of his sloping body he hadn’t yet grown into, thinking of that smile I caught when I glanced up.

I thought about boys like that. Boys I’d just met or boys I knew and saw in a different way, suddenly. I constructed so many lives from chance smiles or gestures, from a name called on a roster the first day of a history class, from a long bike ride with childhood friend. At twenty, the years spin out in any direction. I could see myself in Ireland, Alaska or Kenya as easily as I could see myself married to a bank teller, artist or fisherman. When I had class with a boy from Portland I imagined us walking under a shared umbrella. So when I met Nathan, I imagined his whole family I’d never meet. His mother cooked a full breakfast and put an arm around her son’s waist when he came in from an early morning on the lake. Her cheeks flushed like his did. His father was as silent as he was. The house had windows in the right places to send squares of sun on scuffed hardwood. At breakfast his sister and mother talked, pulled Nathan and his father into conversation, and after, each carried his or her own plate and glass to the kitchen counter.

That winter I came in from a night class, carried my bike to the basement room where the residence hall staff had weekly meetings. I opened the door and there was a group of guys having a Bible study. I was surprised. They were surprised. Nathan ducked his head. I rolled my bike to its place against a wall, apologized and left. I thought, He is a brother.

Nathan drowned that spring. He and a friend or cousin were out on the lake when a storm came up and capsized the boat. I remember hearing the boy he was with lived. I remember hearing Nathan saved the boy he was with by pushing him toward floating debris. I remember seeing this story in my mind, the thrash of Nathan’s legs, the heaviness of his wet clothing and boots, the whiteness of his face and hands in the frigid water, the last energy in his limbs propelling another to safety. I remember feeling a little sick. I remember being conflicted that I’d imagined meeting his mother.

I google combinations to find the story again: Nathan uwsp lake michigan drowning, 2001 lake michigan drown uwsp student, uwsp student Nathan drown, uwsp student Nate drown 2001. I can’t find anything. Instead I dredge articles about annual numbers of drownings, reasons why the Great Lakes are dangerous, drunk college students walking into water. There’s an article about another underclassman who killed himself over Thanksgiving weekend that year, after dropping out of college to go live with friends in Madison. I try to remember Nathan’s hometown. I try to remember was it 2000 or 2001. I think about emailing the alumni office but I’m not sure what they could tell me about a freshman (was he a sophomore) who drowned in Lake Michigan before graduating from the College Of Natural Resources, before deciding to move north to Superior or west to Denver, before falling in love and staying awake thinking how to marry this woman, before losing his heart or holding his firstborn, before waking tired each day, before eating slivers of ripe peach on a long summer morning.

I used to think about dying all the time. I’ve wanted death at different times. In middle school I was on a youth group camping trip and a few of us went to a playground, spun around in tire swings and talked about the best way to die. One girl said she wanted to drown because it sounded romantic to drown. She leaned back to watch the sky circle above.

My family camped on Lake Michigan for a few summers, going for a week after the season was over when the water was the warmest it’d be for the year. The campground was nearly empty, the beach ours. Mom talked to us before going into the water. She told us about the undertow and what to do if we got pulled under, how to swim parallel to the shore, not to panic. We were strong swimmers. I went into deep water,  where the waves rolled before taking a cap and crashing. In water up to my chest, I could feel the suck of the water, pulling back into the lake, but my feet didn’t go from under me, the sand didn’t slip. I didn’t drown or almost drown or save anyone from drowning. I put goggles on, sank my belly to the bottom of the lake to pretend I was in the bigger ocean, touching the undulating sand and, for short moments, holding everything in my body still to feel the weight and weightlessness of water and death.

When Nathan died, we must have talked as residence hall staff. One of my friends lived on Nathan’s floor and told me the guys made a bulletin board in remembrance, writing notes about Nathan on small construction paper fish. I heard his parents were coming to clean out his side of a room he shared with another freshman boy. I had this idea that Nathan, now dead, could see the story I’d made up for us. Still when I think of this I am embarrassed, a little defensive, a little angry at all the alternate lives I’ve made and loosed while I wound my way to now – a small apartment in a suburb south of Seoul, a late thirties version of myself I couldn’t have thought up when I was twenty because this present version has stretch marks, Legos underfoot, a pretween daughter. But I keep thinking of this boy who died because he isn’t here to be any version of who he made up when he was out on his boat or his father’s boat each weekend.

We can be rich, easy with fantasy when we are nineteen or twenty. We can’t know any different then. Our years are long.

My brother was teaching in India when one of his students died in a car accident over a break. My brother wrote that as teachers we think we are adding to early parts of a person’s life with the introduction and encouragement of passions or pursuits, the space we make to hear a student’s theory or doubt, the sense we have about a student, that he or she will -. But sometimes we are adding to the last lines of a student’s life.

I think about how to close a piece of writing. I think about the revision and edits I make when I write. What makes a last line. One of my college composition classes I took my junior year, the year I met Nathan and the year he died, my professor told us to write a page from our autobiography. Page two twenty-something. I can’t remember what I wrote but I remember wondering how long the book was. Now I am thirty-six and thinking about Nathan and I can’t answer why that smile stays in my mind, why now I want to understand why he was finished then and I am not now. My page two twenty-something might be years away. I might have written it yesterday. I have this wrong view of how death might work.

A couple of years ago we were visiting my brother and his family in Nairobi, my niece’s friend Anna died. Anna was playing on a jungle gym in the yard of her family’s compound when she fell. She was in a coma for a couple of days. She was brain-dead. My sister-in-law came down the stairs one morning and I saw her tiredness, knew she had been awake praying for this family, praying for her own daughter who was going to lose a good friend. We were in Nairobi for the week after Anna died. At different points, we talked about the accident and death. Anna was eight or nine. She loved Jesus. At Anna’s memorial, her family described her kindness toward others, a sense of compassion already whole in short years, love in her conversation with and care for the needy around her. I look at my own daughter differently. I have this animal need to wrap my body around my daughter, around my son, when I think of either of them leaving this earth. I am not afraid but I am aware.

My sister-in-law, in her grief for this girl, wondered if God is merciful like this, allowing death to spare a greater suffering. Life is hard, she said. She spoke carefully. She spoke like she’d been thinking how to say why Anna died when we believe a God of miracles. And she said what some of us (how many of us) think when a person dies at the cusp of more because we want to think it matters, when a person dies. A death at eight or nineteen is different from a death at eighty-one. There must be reason.

When Nathan died I was sad in an abstract way. I was secure and insecure in my youth. I glanced at Nathan’s death. I was sad for his family but I didn’t know them and felt weird I’d even imagined knowing them at all. The made up visit to his home, the made up rock of his boat or his father’s boat, the made up smiles I’d win. Now I am sad in this way: he was spared but this suffering is sweet. This hard life is sweet. I have wished its end. I have made up escape.

Sometimes I think what I still need to get right. I forget the gospel. I am whole in Christ. The Spirit works in and through me to finish the good work begun. My wrong view of death comes from this idea that it’s the good work in my life that needs to finish – the good work in my small, forgettable life. But the good work spans time and place to tell God’s glory, to show his great power and love and I am a stroke of the pen. I might be a smudge in the margin. I might show up on two pages. I might be a footnote. I believe Nathan and Anna had more good life. They had suffering ahead, and sweetness. They had days of wonder and sorrow and rest ahead.

Nathan and Anna are repetends to me. I think of each irregularly. I did not know Nathan and I did not meet Anna but I think of them. I think of how their lines in the story show up in all sorts of books. How many of us in how many places know their lines in the story and how many of us in how many places are now shaped by their lines in the story, thinking about what it means to love a merciful and frightening God who can work the drowning of a boy, the sudden death of girl into a plot that holds. I don’t know how the plot holds. I haven’t gotten to that part yet.

Part Two Of Leaving Kuwait: Can’t Be Smug About Waiting, Can Doubt

We don’t have a job yet. We probably won’t get a contract until January or February. Friends who ask if we know where we are going yet rearrange their faces when we say no. There isn’t much exciting or possible about no. The other day a friend I hadn’t seen in a month assured me, “It’s still early. If it were March I might be worried for you guys.” If it were March I’d be negotiating rent and commune-like cooking promises with my parents who still have four kids living at home. If it were March, we might fire sale our belongings and put up rent for a year of homeschooling in Budapest. If it were March we might look for a rental in our college town and scrape by on sub pay. But it isn’t March. It’s mid December and international schools are starting holiday break and our applications are in a few someones’ inboxes, waiting for whim or vision to turn into an interview offer.

There isn’t a lot to say about waiting. Except waiting works your character.

Can’t be smug about waiting.

Last week one of my students said to me, “Pray for me, Miss. I find out if I got into NYU at one in the morning!” I pictured her refreshing her email. Please please please. I do the same. I check my email. No one wants an interview yet. I wait another hour or two and check email again. No one wants an interview yet. When it is midday in South America, I check email again. No one wants an interview yet. Later, a quiet voice tells me not to check email again but I open my email again and still no one wants an interview. I whisper fuck.

At church this week, a woman talked about doubt. What do you do with doubt? She preached from Matthew 11, when John the Baptist wonders if Jesus is “the one to come, or shall we look for another?” So John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus even though he knew. He’d already leapt in his mother’s womb when Elizabeth greeted Mary. He’d already spent years in the wilderness, unbound by convention, prophesying Christ to come. But Jesus didn’t show up so bold as John might have imagined a savior should, so John had to ask, “Are you the one to come, or shall we look for another?” John’s doubt wasn’t unbelief and Jesus didn’t belittle his cousin for wanting another confirmation. Instead, Jesus sent word back: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Doubt that God will do as he says can grow faith. Consider the disciple Thomas. Others went around talking about the resurrection and Thomas is like, I’m not buying it unless I touch the wounds, put my hand in Jesus’s side. Imagine Thomas later when he sees Jesus standing in front of him. I might feel shame or embarrassment. I might try to duck out because Jesus knew what I’d said, my bluster about putting a hand to his crucifixion wounds. But Jesus invites Thomas to touch the wounds. Thomas’s doubt led to an encounter that radically confirmed his faith. I listened to the sermon.

Last night I didn’t sleep. I have a pinched nerve in my neck that sends sparkles down my left arm, numbs the thumb a little. I bit the pad of my thumb to test if it was worse. I sat up in bed. I laid on my side. I turned on my belly. I thought about the perfect will of God and his permissive will. I rolled over onto my back. I pressed into the cords of my neck and shoulder, looking for the muscle that cut my nerve. When I woke, I felt terrible.

On the drive to work I yelled at my son because he lost his winter coat, the puffy inside jacket and the heavy shell. I’ve been telling myself I am not anxious about this move. We are fine leaving Kuwait. I want to go. But I want to know where we go. And this week showed me in boldface underline highlight that I need to learn how to wait. How to pray. How to hope. How to trust. I need to learn how to wait because it matters to God that I rest in his love and peace. It matters to my husband and kids, colleagues and students. If I am consumed by fear, I lose this place in front of me. But I can’t make myself rest and that’s an accepted mystery of faith for me, that I go to Jesus and say my questions and lay down my fear and doubt again again again, more often than I check my email or refresh job postings, and I trust God kneads the tight cords in my heart and body, works out the fear I hold.

When something is out of my control, I like to look around and pick up what I can control. Sometimes this is a friendship I stoke for the pleasure of being liked. More often, it is the food that goes in my mouth or the miles I put on my body. I like physical, measurable control. This week I wanted to tally my food, I wanted to run when I hurt. But I saw this behavior in a new way, the sin of holding part of my life with my own hands when Christ says to follow him is to surrender all. To follow Christ is to surrender even this waiting time to God’s glory. I am not supposed to wait in worry or feed my pride with what I manage to hold on my own. Over and over in the Word, I see God is for me. What happens if I say, take this body too, the knots of anxiety I pretend aren’t there, the belly that eats doubt, the legs that want to run away forever: work out this waiting perfectly, physically, in my bones, in my blood and brain, over my muscles and skin so I rest and wake in peace.

I know doubt. And like Thomas, I’ve put up challenges to more faith. God answers and I believe. I falter and God answers and I believe. This year, I don’t doubt God provides. I don’t doubt his faithfulness. This year, I’ve got no one to seek but Jesus, like John the Baptist sending a message directly to his cousin to find out if what he believed really was true. I want to know where we go. I want to know do I teach. I want to know what relationships wait for our family. Instead of worrying these questions with a best laid plan, I press into doubt, honestly and a little afraid. This year I wait, sit with uncertainty, and read the Word for assurance. I know my God. But like John the Baptist, like Thomas, I want to know again.

Part One Of Leaving Kuwait: I Tried On Hope And Went To A Job Fair

I tried on hope. I tried on fearless hope. And for a few days I felt like the name-it-claim-it-Oprah’s-secret kind of people might really have something, like the send-it-out-to-the-universe people might be right. I was high on hope. I thought maybe I’d been missing something essential in my faith for decades and now, look, I was unstoppable and sure and able because I wore hope. Not long ago, my friend sent me one of those daily affirmation emails that landed in her inbox. The message was to change your narrative. I’d been thinking about that in light of faith, reminding myself of who I am in Christ. We tell ourselves a lot of stories about what we can or can’t do, about what we should or shouldn’t want. We need to learn true stories.

So I tried on hope. I have this faith that says I can do all things in Christ. I have this faith sewed up with hope and trust. But for years I worked hope in private, praying for healing or joy or contentment in my own body and mind. And when I admitted hope to others, I couched assurance in maybe later or probably not. Like I know it’s a long shot to write a book in Budapest or run a hundred miles or climb Kilimanjaro but I still hope I do.

Maybe I confuse hope and dream. A dream is like spun sugar. Even dark dreams are made of spindly wisps. But hope is a cinder block. Hope has weight and sharp corners. Your arms get tired and scraped carrying hope around. That’s it then. Hope isn’t a fuzzy shawl that imbues you with certainty. Hope is a cinder block that cuts into your palms. True story: hope is hard to carry. I must be doing it wrong.

I want to live in Nairobi. This desire surprised me a year ago. We visited my brother and his family and all I could see was green trees and red clay. My sister-in-law took us to an outdoor market where vendors expected bartering but charged a Western price anyway. I ran the hills each morning, up and down quiet streets lined with gated properties. I found alleyways and narrow paths cutting through fields. When we drove out of Nairobi, I imagined us in our own boxy jeep exploring the plains. I have this spun sugar dream of a linen shirt, kicked off hiking boots and a cold beer. I have this spun sugar dream of running to the edge of quiet and standing very still under sky unrolled by God. I have this spun sugar dream of my kids climbing backyard trees, eating thick skinned fruit.

I made Nairobi tangible. So when Justin and I decided this is our last year in Kuwait, I saw us going to Nairobi. I saw my kids growing up with cousins. I saw weekend morning coffee with a splash of Baileys. I saw Justin biking to work. This is about the time I decided to try on a fanatic brand of hope, making Nairobi something that just had to happen because it had to happen because I was hoping hard enough that this city was our next home. And I thought God had to give me this. I wasn’t asking for France or Argentina. I was asking for a country with fire ants and the nearby threat of al-Shabaab.

We had an opportunity. Our first interview in eight years. Later, I’d think how underwhelming we were, lacking concision and polish. Later, I’d cry because I supposed I’d wanted this place too much.

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I Hope I Sleep Tonight: Laying Awake Wondering Why I Write And What You Think

I lay awake last night thinking about the Fahaheel essay. I wrote it two months ago, revised it last month and have turned it over in my head at least once a day since. Something bothered me about the latest revision. I crammed in too much. My ambivalence (occasional hatred) toward early motherhood, jealousy of friendships, scream for contentment. Framed by a beach I don’t want sullied by my litter. But I crammed that much in one piece because it all happened at once. I had babies and just about died of introspection. All my flaws and fears in block letter Sharpie. That first year with two kids was my most prolific journaling year and not by accident, the neat lines and black ink admitting truth, telling truth, hoping truth.

I was a mess. I like to remember I wasn’t all messy because that’s true too.

So I lay awake thinking why I write about insecurity and anger. Why I’ve got essays about unpretty sins like lust and envy. When we visited my brother and his family at Christmas, their church hosted a New Year’s service for people to share their testimony. What has God done this year? I remember a woman talking about how loving open confession is at her home church, how Christ-like for her brothers and sisters in faith to accept her after she confessed sin. And I remember a man standing and saying he’d been depressed all year and it never lifted and maybe that kind of darkness is the thorn in his side that doesn’t go away here on earth, but that even in the dark days, he knows God is faithful.

I lay awake thinking maybe I should stick with fiction. I like to make stuff up. It’s fun.

But I remain compelled to write my way through. Then I lay awake wondering if it’s a mistake to share my personal narrative. When I share anything from experience I deal with insecurity and fear. I rarely feel bold offering an essay to read. Sometimes I feel like I might throw up. Does nausea connote gravity, honesty? But I keep doing it. I keep going back to certain moments and relationships because I want to find something finished. Perhaps that’s why I lay awake at night, to root out conclusions to stories written entirely in the middle.

I enjoy marriage and motherhood. The past two years I’ve settled where I am. I can’t undo. I can’t redo. But I can be here. I laugh a lot more today. All the junk that started turning over years ago, still turns over but I’m (mostly) okay with the process. I’m (mostly) okay trusting God to refine me through whatever is right here where I am.

I’ll keep writing it all because I’d like us to be more like that woman who speaks her sin and finds forgiveness and acceptance and I’d like us to be more like that man who tells what it’s like to carry a burden you can’t put down yet.

There’s more. I remember those two people because I think that’s what we need more of: honest vulnerability. Not gluttonous over sharing but unashamed openness that asks us to check our pride as we write and revise, as we read. But I want to pair that with hope. My hope is Christ. My hope is all the junk gets redeemed, even if I can’t see how just yet. Years ago, I learned I don’t need to slap a tidy end on an essay. I need a good close, but I don’t need to teach you anything. What I’m doing here is finding a good close because it’s night again and when I lay down, I don’t want to lay awake wondering how I look on the page.

Stuck In A Pleasant Place

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
Psalm 16:5,6 ESV

Friday afternoon I sat down with a coffee, my notebook and a couple of verses. I chose a phrase from the above to meditate on

The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places

and wrote the line followed by a thought on the phrase. Then I rewrote the line followed by another thought on the phrase. I did that fifty times.

When you write and respond to phrase thirty or fifty times, something shifts. You have to abandon expectation around fifteen or twenty and open yourself to looser associations or unexpected connections. You let your mind and heart wander without judgement. I’ve tried this exercise with the phrases Because, I love you and Thank you. When a friend mentioned this approach as a spiritual exercise to exploring a single verse in the Bible, we talked about the necessity of repetition to rooting ourselves firmly in our faith. There are prayers and rituals, but there is also the need to say truth more than once. And so I have stretches when I reread a single book of Bible or return to a couple of chapters to tell myself again what I need to hear for the day.

I was a senior in college when I first read The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places (NIV) and it meant something to me. In the years since, God has brought that verse to mind as a promise. After last week, I returned to Psalm 16. Perhaps guessing it’s a go-to for fast assurance, a little spirit pep talk about contentment. But when I spent an hour responding to the single phrase, more came: prayer and repentance. This life is not about my happiness but about God’s glory. God gives great joy and walks us through great sorrow. But to suppose my faith inoculates me against unpleasant places, people and situations is wrong. There’s a leap I have to make to say The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places and that leap is more trust in God. I don’t lie about where I am here on earth, but I yield to God’s sovereignty.

Right now, where I am is a difficult place to live. For me. So to spend time rewriting The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places was a small fight. I heard the line fifty times. I saw it in my own handwriting fifty times. There is no “maybe” or “sometimes” that opens the phrase. Instead the line is declarative. I humble myself to God’s mercy and authority. My complaints do not negate his love. If I trust more (Spirit, help me), then I open to this understanding: where I am is a pleasant place, not for the soil or water or air itself, but for the God who knows me and draws lines in the sand and says Even here. 

I will think about this for a while yet.

Church

Last of the single syllable vignettes. I have an order in mind for the pieces. After revision, I’ll post the all four as I want them read. But now, the last draft. As with the sea walk, I’ve more to say about church. But this is the simplest of starts.

House Church

We hear of a house church, go for a month or two. Our girl is small. She cries and I take her up the stairs to a bright yard fenced by shrubs. We wait. There is a cow tank in the yard. We quit church.

When we go back to the house church we have our boy too. We are tired each day. While the church sings I nurse my boy and give my girl bread and fruit. I eat truth. I am still tired.

God wants all of me. There are parts I do not yield. I think I want to. I can’t see how. The church sings, lifts hands, shouts. I sing, lift my hands. I weep. I have this hurt I want healed. I shout for that, when I am in the car with my girl and boy in their seats. I drive and shout I want this hurt gone. This hurt has a deep root and takes years to heal. I ask. God is firm and kind. I ask. He does not stop a good work. I ask for love and joy. I need love for my girl and boy. I want joy for my day.

At church there is a song or word or verse and I break. All week this goes on. A song or  word or  verse and I fall. This is what it is like to be made. I want to quit. I beg for more love, more joy, more peace.

I let go more.

One day the church can’t meet in a house. It’s a law so we leave the house and move from one hall to the next. The halls aren’t clean, but we go. The church sings, lifts hands, shouts. I still can’t shout. But I want to know how much is all.

Recent Reads: One God Book, One Parenting Book

First, the God book. I parse my issues. I like to know the root. I think about what I need to give up or forgive or atone for. So I picked up Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero after a pastor I listen to recommended it.. Despite spirituality being in the title, I need to note that Scazzero writes from Christian perspective, holding that Christians have deep spiritual needs we must address if our desire is to live our faith more fully. Scazzero spends the first chunk of his book assuring readers it’s okay to have feelings. This really cracked me up because I have loads of feelings all the time. But there’s a lot we don’t like to look at or take our time getting to and I respect that. I can be very insecure about some things or feel like I don’t belong and I’d like to know why I wobble in those ways when I am fully accepted in Christ. I’d like to know why there are times when God’s love isn’t quite enough but an invitation from ___ would make my day.

My suggestion (and Scazzero’s too, I think) is to read the book slowly. He leads us through ways to understand why we act (or react) as we do – depending on family, our understanding of God, personal expectations. He writes with patience, acknowledging that growing in our faith takes time and that uncovering hurts or roots of behaviors and beliefs can be difficult, even if necessary. The last part of the book gives a range of ideas about how we can nourish a daily spiritual life. One suggestion I am practicing is the Daily Office, a tradition kept by monks that I also see reflected in the call to prayer here: simply stopping three to five times a day to be quiet in the presence of God. I am not disciplined in this yet. But one way I take time to pray and listen is by turning off the car radio while I drive. It isn’t the same as meditation, but can reset my mind and heart.

One reason why I need to reset my mind and heart is that I have two kids I’m driving home to. Which brings me to All Joy And No Fun by Jennifer Senior. Great book. I read it because I guessed that any woman who admitted she’d turned out okay on a childhood diet that included processed food would probably not heap guilt on my parenting choices. I also read it because I’m a parenting trends junkie after failing to totally love my role as mom. Early in parenting, uncertainty led to comparison which led to frustration, anger and, eventually, bitterness that I’d married and borne children at all.

(See above, issues!)

I was wading through love and hate in a single day. I read about parenting, found a few parenting podcasts, talked with other moms, begged for patience and wisdom. I still have parenting insecurities even if I am more satisfied in marriage and family. But when I started Senior’s book, I still hoped for validation, that I am doing okay. That I sought validation from a book about today’s (insanely over-involved) parenting culture and why said culture may promote personal / social / familial imbalances tells me I need to return to prayer re: security, wisdom. So reading the book made me feel a little smug that I am, at least, uninterested in falling into the overscheduled-too-attached-high-stakes parenting that’s so so so North America right now.

Except, once the book was done, my smugness went thin again and I’m back to a Daily Office, hoping wisdom and peace and joy fall fast.

Valleys Of The Shadow Of Death

One of our pastors, Doug, died this week. He had back pain last spring. Doctors found a tumor wrapped around his organs. They guessed it’d been a slow growth for seven or eight years. Maybe it was already too late but Doug and his wife, Bia, went to the States for treatment. As a church, we prayed. Some prayed fervently for a wild miracle. Doug and Bia walked in small miracles near the end of his life.

On Friday, the message included  Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.
ESV

At first, I thought the psalm was a response to Doug’s death, a pat reminder to us living believers that it all goes okay at the end. I think of Psalm 23 as great for the emergency room. It’s that bit about the valley of the shadow of death. I’ve read it in that light, dismissive of the passage’s succinct truth about God’s full care for his people. I’ve read it thinking that my valleys are not so shadowed as those walked by others. And so, I’ve read it feeling undeserving of the promises too.

Pastor Alan read Psalm 23 as truth for each of us. My valley of the shadow of death is not a too-short stay in a cancer ward or the loss of a partner. My valley is tired, discouraged, doubting, sad, wounded. My valley of the shadow of death is not wanting to get out of bed in the morning.

I get out of bed anyway

for you are with me.

Psalm 23 is rich. It’d taken a worn hue after decades of hearing it, not for me, not really. Ask for new comprehension. Read it slowly.

More Than My Chosen Portion

Another round of overthinking. I wish I were blind to my heart sometimes. This from my WP, an extension of previous posts and essays. I am near desperate to write the one that says I’ve got the whole thing figured out.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed I have a beautiful inheritance.
Psalm 16:5,6

There is a church song with a line in its chorus that says “Christ is enough for me” and when I sing it I want it. There are days when I am ready to abandon my nets and let the dead bury the dead. There are minutes when I see my stuff and my body as dust. There are shifts in my perspective when I get an eternal eye and want more than anything to follow the radical Christ who says I must be willing to lay down everything.

The state of my heart hammers me. The last few years have stripped me of pretense. I have no desire to play Christian. Instead, let me be refined so that I am. Still: I want what isn’t mine and am jealous to keep what I hold. I am afraid to lay down everything, unsure that Christ is enough.

I want more than my chosen portion.

I want what’s over there. I want what you have.

And in my relationships – I am not always a servant. I am not always loving. Sometimes I want your approval. Tell me you like me. Flatter me. Chase me. Need my thoughtful insight. Want my clever brilliance.

Tell me what you see in me is good.

In Christ, I am good. Whole, covered, free. Why do I seek more than my chosen portion? Why do I not trust that this marriage family place church work body moment is my pleasant place? I bang my head against these questions, again again again.

The Knee Prayer

God, I write.

Father, I write.

Please, I write.

A few lines or paragraphs or lists of wants, needs, sins. I write prayers for the same reason I write many things: for the right expression or understanding. I write prayers to slow myself and think about what or whom I am seeking.

A couple of years ago, I knelt down to help my son with his sandal and I felt a tightness in my right knee and quad. I knew immediately something was wrong but ignored the pull, running for another week or so, until my knee swelled so painfully, I had to stop. I’ve been looking for a tidy summary of that year and half long experience, waiting for my knee, which had no physical injury appear on an MRI, to heal. Physical therapy provided my body with much-needed strength training, but my knee didn’t heal.

My notebooks from that time are packed with prayers about my knee. I confessed selfish motivation, on multiple pages. I played with syntax and logic. I wrote a single line over and over like a mantra: Please heal my knee. I thought if I hit the right combination of words – written or spoken – with the proper measure of humility and boldness, then God would just heal me. And it didn’t happen and it didn’t happen and it didn’t happen.

Until it did. But not because of a perfect combination of words written longhand. I don’t know why my knee finally healed when it did.

I am writing about that experience, carefully. I pressed hard into prayer. I often felt abandoned, stupid or misled as I sought healing. A lot churned up in the process: selfishness, idolatry, vanity, anger. It was a knee: it wasn’t cancer or paralysis or divorce. Now I am writing about the knee without knowing what clarity I’ll find from remembering, or what I might open to: questions of faith, prayer and healing. Very likely, I’ll write around the topic and leave it again, for another time.

But I think even that is worth it.