texas

I unwrap two chicken breasts from brown paper and pour over olive oil and lemon juice and spices. I wash my hands. I place clean glasses into the cabinet, stack clean plates beside them. I think of sweeping the pine needles from the floor, but the low buzz in my body increases intensity.

I can’t absorb this attack, the words form in my mind. Not another. Not one more.

I walk into my bedroom and start my electric kettle. The room fills with blue light. I find my headphones and a slow playlist. I begin to move. I move into dance. I kneel at my juniper calendar and rearrange the nine squares around a new intention: sleep. I massage oil on my belly.

I light a floating candle on the water of my ritual bowl for the families and the children. For America, the beautiful.

Earlier as I scrolled the live updates for the mass shooting, I saw the usual clamor for gun control, and knew the clamor would rise and fall, until the next massacre. I remembered sitting in my high school library at sixteen writing about another school shooting. I remember the line: it is good to be shocked by blood. I spent the rest of the day throwing up. I was soft then. I wrote about the murdered children, and I wrote about their murderer. I remember his eyes. A kid, like the 18 year old today. When kids are killing other kids, you look at the grown ups.

Here we are, making one another the enemy again, blaming the G.O.P. or the irreligious hedonists, blaming the system, typing tiny missives to the choir. Here we are doing the same things and expecting different results. Insane. Insane with our own righteousness. Here we stand at that cavern between us, spitting across the gap, the wind blowing it back in our eyes. Will we ever be able to look at one another again? History will name our clamor, and the name will not be Justice.

I change my playlist from “melancholy instrumentals” to “dark strings.” I change it back. Gotta have the right vibe.

I see blood and accidentally scratch my eye when I jump. I keep hearing a mother scream. This afternoon my nanny family dad told me that once a fire alarm went off in a public building when he and his family were out. Their two year old dropped immediately to the floor and belly crawled under a table. Trained.

Their baby slept on my chest while I checked the live updates again. I saw the soft outline of his round cheek in the light of my phone screen. Eighteen babies. I kissed the fine hair on his head.

I stand on the back porch, my notebook pressed against my chest. I don’t know whether or not to let the screams in. I feel the damp woods under my socks, it must have rained while I was inside writing. I feel the air beneath the wood — a sudden sense of suspension. I hear the robins in the trees, and the highway traffic so constant it sounds like a river.

When I return to my room the candle is still lit. My room smells like me, smells human and like tea and juniper smoke lingering from last night’s Stone. I’m missing my class. My stomach feels light with hunger. I wrap my blanket around my shoulders, and for a moment, before I return to the kitchen to cook the chicken breasts with green beans and small red potatoes, I let myself close my eyes to listen.

life is a sipping drink

322. Citron Citrus 

At a hostel in Seaside, a woman I had never met before asked me to walk with her to the ocean. It would be her first time meeting the Pacific. I was in my pajamas already, but I stuffed my feet into my sneakers and followed her into the night.

I’ll call her Tracy. She had short blond hair cropped to her head and dark eyes that flicked after every noise and watched mine carefully to see if I believed her stories. She had a lot of stories. She used to be in law enforcement. She now runs a house-sitting business. She used to have a family and kids. Now she’d left her life behind to take a train to the sea and write her memoir.

As we walked the bridge across the river, I ran my hand along the cold metal railing, feeling the ropes the crabbers had left knotted there, and Tracy pulled an orange stuffed cat from her backpack. “A week before my cat died I found this in a thrift store. I knew he was dying, and this looked just like him. I take him everywhere with me. It feels less like I lost him.” Her eyes shone with tears for the first time in our conversation, even though she’d been talking about lost lovers, faraway children, estranged friends. She blinked them away and climbed to her feet.

She never stopped talking, not when she took off her shoes to walk barefoot on the cold sand, not when we tilted our faces to the stars, not even when the ocean rushed up around her ankles. “I don’t need anything. I’m complete. I don’t even need a lover, as nice as a companion would be. I’m completely satisfied with my life.” I might have believed her the first time she said it, but I didn’t by the twentieth.

We turned back after half a minute at the water. She and her cat had met the ocean, now she could go to bed.

When we were back at the bunks, she took out some boxed white wine and two collapsible plastic glasses and offered me a drink. I took it gladly, being twenty and still feeling mystical about even cheap alcohol. She tipped back her head and drank the whole glass in one gulp. I heard my mother’s voice in my head, “Wine is a sipping drink.” I nursed mine slowly, obediently.

“I had such a spiritual experience,” she gushed to the other women in the room. I watched them respond to her as if they were indulging a child, smiling encouragingly. She didn’t seem to notice.

I settled back in my bed again, listening to a woman play guitar and sing in french outside my window and the murmur of quiet conversation from the common area. I realized Tracy had drunk the sea like the wine, and the other women knew it. There had been no spiritual experience because she hadn’t stopped talking long enough to have one. Even though she was living a romantic dream, running away to the sea to write, she could only tell the story, she couldn’t live it. She had shut herself off from pain, so she had shut herself off from wonder.

That’s when I realized I had to go home. I had fled to the sea without telling anyone because I thought it would heal me. But here I was, lonely and surrounded with strangers, my heart just as heavy as when I left, my problems still existing despite the miles between us. I couldn’t find what I wanted by running away. I had to go back and feel my pain all the way through. Because when you increase your capacity for pain, you increase your capacity for joy.

But I enjoyed a long morning before I caught a bus back to Portland, eating strawberries slowly, talking about new york with the hostel owner, drifting along the shore, finding a spot in the dunes to write. After all, life is a sipping drink.

to the sea

54. Berberis

I woke up disoriented and alone in a hostel bunk in Astoria, a river town along the Columbia. Only one other woman had slept in the room with me, and she had left early for a doctor’s appointment. There was no reason to stay. I returned my key to the front desk and left to find a bus to the sea.

I had spent the week before paralyzed in bed, a dragon of dread hunched on my chest and breathing smoke into my eyes and throat. Even when I managed to stumble to classes or friends or meals, nothing anyone said made sense, and my own sentences slumped from my lips like slugs. But 4am the night before I left, one clear thought cut through: I have to give the heart-stone back to the sea. So decided to stay in Astoria and take a day trip from there to the coast, packed a bag, and left. (read this post if you’re wondering about the heart-stone)

That morning in Astoria, my fingers were wrapped tightly around the stone as I paused to lean against the pier and listen to the sea lions bark. Part of me longed to stay by the river and watch the barges and the fishermen, maybe read a book, maybe buy a cup of coffee. It’s too much, I thought. I’ll go to the ocean another time. But I couldn’t shake the image of the heart pressed into soft sand. No, I had to do this. I turned away from the pier and walked to the bus stop.

I have terrible luck with public transportation in new places. Once I ended up at a Dunkin’ Donuts in the Bronx instead of the Brooklyn Bridge. That day was no different. I meant to get off at a beach I knew, but the bus hurtled past that stop and many others without pausing as I obliviously thumbed through a book.

When I finally realized what had happened, I had no idea what to do. Then the driver called out “Seaside!” which sounded like the kind of place I needed, so I stumbled out at a strip mall. As I watched the bus trundle away, I realized I had made a stupid decision. It was too early for the shops to be open and I had no phone data, so I couldn’t ask for directions or find them for myself. I was lost, I was exhausted, and it was pouring rain.

But I could smell it. The salt. I felt a tug: this way, this way. I followed the feeling even though it made me nervous to leave the signs and shops for a residential neighborhood. This way, this way, this way. I kept wringing out my scarf to wrap around my face against the stinging wind. My shoes sloshed with water. But it didn’t matter. I was getting closer. I could taste it.

Then I saw it. There, past the rain-beaten dunes. My longtime lover, the sea.

Here was the moment, but I didn’t know my part. I wanted to pray, but I had no words.

The problem with real life is that there is no swelling soundtrack, and our most dramatic moments look a lot like our most ordinary ones, like bending down and dropping a rock on the ground. I left the stone among the seashells and the bull-whip kelp and the hundreds of strange, blue jellyfish-like creatures I later learned are called velella, or by-the-wind-sailors. I left it close to the water where the tide would claim it. I didn’t stay to watch.

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you; I will remove the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. –Ezekiel 36:26

new

Drunk on that New Year cocktail of shame and mad optimism, I’ve spent most January 1st’s creating the New Me. I did my annual internet hunch, scrolling through hundreds of articles on motivation and diets and productivity and you know, all those things we’re supposed to be good at but aren’t because we’re people and not self-help articles. Then from my new education, I’d make lists. Oh, the lists. But you know this story, and you know just how splendidly I followed my lists by February.

This year is different. Not because I’ll finally muster the willpower to follow the lists, but because I’m not making any. I realized I’m not in charge of making a New Me. That’s God’s job–and transformation is His specialty. He will make me new. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).

The person He’s making me doesn’t look like the person I was trying to make myself. I want to be Productive, He wants me to skip a class to listen to a hurting friend, sit in the chapel doing nothing for hours, take a whole day every week to play hooky from work and school. I want to be All-Knowing within myself, He wants me to seek out the wise voices He’s placed outside me. I want to be Successful ($), He called me to be a writer and sent me to bible college.

But I don’t have to scrape and scrabble for what I want. I can trust Him with the desires of my heart. After all, He created me with them on purpose. I can trust that His plan is best, not just for Him, but also for me.

I have a long way to go. A really long way. But He promises He’s going to finish what He started (Philippians 1:6).

college & sandwiches

I walk home from Subway at 3am smelling like sandwiches. The morning feels like it belongs to me; I worked for it, it’s mine. My feet ache, but the leaves are lit yellow by the streetlights, and the wind is whispering to me. I’ve been so tired it feels like anger, but Sunday is waking up around me, and it is beautiful.

I love to stand behind my counter of meats and cheeses and veggies meeting strangers. An old man tells me he found out this week he’s cancer free, he has only half a set of lungs but a whole life. A girl places a bottle of coke on the counter and says without looking at me, “I went for a job interview at a bar today, but it turned out to be a strip club. I auditioned…” she trails off, looking lost. Another woman demands I change my gloves, change my knives, change my process again and again and again, living from some tyrannical inward set of laws that I and germs are scheming to break. I build three minute relationships over and over again, sometimes acknowledged with warmth (and a tip!), sometimes beginning a relationship with a Regular, sometimes brushed off and lost.

Today I make sandwiches to pay for books and thinking, hopefully someday my books and thinking will pay for my sandwiches. But this season of my life is just as real as the next. A diploma, a paycheck; these are small, far things next to these strangers, these sandwiches, these professors, these papers. The moment of walking across the stage to receive my diploma is equal to the moment of making a sandwich for stranger. All of life is life.

Even at 3:15am, sinking into bed, my dorm roommate’s breathing soft across from me, soon to melt into blissful unconsciousness for a few hours–but first to write–to write–to write–

the love of the sea

 

When I was a child I knew the sea, and the sea knew me. Sometimes while my cousins and siblings chased each other with jellyfish and gathered abalone and mermaids’ fingernails, I would swim out alone just far enough to fear the currents would sweep me away forever. There I would sing love to the waves, tasting salt on my lips, singing of MAJESTY and HUGENESS and BEAUTY. Even as a child I was never arrogant enough to believe the sea would love me back, but I hoped it knew me, though perhaps no more than it knew the silver flash of a tuna fish.

Then my family was moving from the barrier reefs of South Jersey to the wheatfields of Eastern Oregon, and it was time to say goodbye. I walked to the end of the shore, where the ocean followed the moon to my feet, where sand sucked at my toes and waves lapped at my ankles. As I began to whisper goodbye, something bright caught my eye, and I reached down to pick up a bright orange shell. I stood breathless, silent, staring, because the shell was shaped as a heart. And I knew – I knew – the impossible had occurred. The ocean – this inhuman beauty, this ancient leviathan, this dangerous perhaps-being – loved me.

A few years later, I accidentally shattered the shell in the midst of a time of deep depression and addiction, tiny orange shards scattered like dust among crumpled pages of raging poetry and wrappers of binge-chocolate. It seemed appropriate, I had ended everything good, why not also the love of the sea? But soon after, I was walking along a river, asking it to carry my love to the sea, when I fished a stone from the water and discovered that it, like the shell, was shaped as a heart. And this heart I couldn’t break.

And my Lord, my Holy Sweetness, whispers to my heart, I am what you loved in the sea. This God, this inhuman beauty, this ancient levithan, this dangerous Being who is beingness itself – loves me. And this love I cannot break.

magic

When God told me Cambodia wasn’t my story (yet), I was frustrated. Here I am drinking Starbucks in Oregon while my immediate family hops on a plane to spend the next ten years bringing Jesus to a third world country. Not only do I feel guilty for the first world comforts of my choice, I feel I’ve betrayed my hunger for adventure and deep living. Surely now I will be stuck in America being ordinary forever, my greatest persecution being for my secret affinity for Demi Lovato and Twilight.

Those are my bad moments. In my good ones, I know that magic comes from depth, not width. I could walk the world, riding elephants and eating tamarinds and tarantulas, but still never know wonder because I’m always skimming the surface, hunting for the next exotic treat. I could stay in Oregon for the rest of my life, work a 9 to 5 job, and paint my picket fences white, but still be struck breathless every day. Magic is everywhere – in asking friends hard questions and really listening to their answers, in loving the autumn leaves branched against the sky. I can go deep even when I can’t go wide.

But you can get deep-fever like you get travel fever. With travel fever, you rummage through countries gluttonously, swallowing exotic experience after exotic experience without ever feeling full. With deep-fever, you rummage through people, starving for the next emotionally intimate conversation. Then you become like me, cornering strangers on the bus and manipulating them to spill all their secrets and philosophical opinions. You fill notebooks with introspection. You write lots of blog posts. Neither depth nor width will ever be enough. Sometimes being human is like having an emotional tapeworm.

So what’s the balance? I bet it’s what it always is; love. Love takes us wide – like my family to Cambodia. Love takes us deep – like listening to a friend. And Love always fills us up, crushing the head of the tapeworm, because God is Love, and He is more than enough.

I know that, but I’m not quite feeling it at the moment. I just feel heart-hungry. But He promised He would show me how to desire deeply as He does, and He always fulfills His promises. So I’m waiting for my epiphany.

Meanwhile, I’ll order a cappuccino and tap away at my MacBook in Portland, Oregon, keeping my eyes open for magic.

wanting

It’s 3am. I sit on the back porch with my feet in the grass and breathe the chill that has no suggestion of the 100 degree weather that rolled away with the sun.

“I’m just so full of wanting, Lord,” I whisper. The wanting is a fire in my lungs, flaring higher with every breath. Wanting my family. Wanting more time with my boyfriend. Wanting college to begin. Wanting to stop worrying about money. Wanting a few extra days in my home town. Wanting to do everything right. Wantingwantingwanting.

“Look up,” God says. “My desire fills the sky.” And for a moment, I felt a corner of His jealous longing for His bride, for redemption, for righteousness, a yearning that embraces galaxies; all the stars I can see, all the stars I can’t.

“How do you hold all that desire? I mean, you’re God, but do you have any tips?” I sound like I’m asking for a Huffpost self-help article, like He’s going to suggest a long run and a bubble bath.

“I AM,” He says. And He rushes through me, sweeping up all my anxiety with Him. I fall to my knees in the grass, my hands open to the sky. This must be how the creatures in the throne room feel, I think. Just listening to His heartbeat – I AM I AM I AM.

“You Are,” I whisper as I stand. And I dance with Him, intimate as a kiss, singing “I Love You Lord” in my scratchy just-woke-up voice.

He Is. He, my My Wild King, my Holy Sweetness, my Blessed Savior. He Is, and He is calling me through the wanting into His arms, where I find complete fulfillment, where I find complete rest.

Then we are still and silent together, until my bare feet begin to freeze in the damp grass, and I turn again toward sleep.

“I’ll teach you to want the way I created you to want,” He says.

I pause with my hand on the door. “Thank you.” Everything my soul longs for is already here in Him, and yet I wait breathlessly for His arrival. I am waiting for a wedding night beyond my most daring dreams.

Then I stumble back into the dark house and feel my way back to my couch, glad to have been interrupted from my anxious dreams, but also very glad to sink back into sleep.

My prayer today for those I love:
 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,  far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. 
Ephesians 1:15-23

 

mike

Halfway through an episode of Downton Abbey, I jumped up, threw on my coat, and burst out into the street. You can only watch TV for so long when you’re in New York City. So many tall and bright and colorful things. Too much to see to fight to see it all, it’s better to wander and get lost and just look.

When I passed the subway, a man stepped out reading his Bible – slightly disheveled and in his late twenties. God nudged me. Talk to him.

I responded like any sane nineteen year old girl alone in the big city: I’m not sure if you noticed this, God, but he’s a guy and a stranger and a strange guy, and I only took two months of Tae Kwon Do.

Talk to him.

I followed him for two blocks like a stalker before finally obeying.

“Hey, whatcha reading?” I asked, walking faster to catch up with him.

He glanced at me in surprise. “Proverbs.” He read me the verse, but I was so surprised that I had actually talked to him I didn’t hear.

“So you’re a Christian?” I asked. “What’s your Jesus story?”

His name is Mike. He loves Jesus. He moved here on faith. He’s from Nigeria. He writes music. He doesn’t have a job. Someday he’s going to be famous. For now he walks the streets and lets God lead him.

“I don’t know how to share Jesus,” I confess. “I see all these eyes full of hurt, and I just want to stop in the middle of the street and start proclaiming.”

Usually people agree with me when I say that. I know, isn’t it confusing? But he just looks at me blankly. “So do it. Sometimes God tells me to dance. So I dance. Today I was dancing in the subway station and almost kicked someone,” he laughed. “But it ended up okay.”

I don’t know if he’s crazy or onto something magnificent. Or both.

Three hours later, after a lengthy discussion of faith and Lamborghinis, we were at a little deli and he was buying sandwiches. One sandwich was for him, the rest to give away. “I get a little extra whenever I buy food,” he said. When he paid, he used food stamps.

As we walked back into the street, he stopped by someone sleeping on a bench under a large blanket. Anyone could be under there, I thought. I imagined a large, muscular pirate with tattoos and a switchblade. I hung back, not sure what to do.

“I have something for you,” he said softly. “Here, juice and sandwiches.” The blanket rustled and shivered, then fell back. A tiny little woman with large black eyes emerged.

Mike quietly placed the food on the bench beside her, then began to walk away. Say my name, God nudged me.  I moved closer to her.

“Hi. Um. What’s your name?” My hands were shaking.

“I’m okay, I’m okay,” she said, smiling ear to ear.

“Is it alright if I pray for you?”

She nodded. She was so tiny and frail.

I don’t remember what I prayed. Maybe it doesn’t matter. All I remember is that when I touched her shoulder and said His name, her eyes shone brighter than I’ve ever seen anyone’s eyes shine. I can still see her eyes now. I didn’t know a person that destitute could hold so much light inside herself.

Then we walked away. Night had fallen. We were in Upper West Side, where I was staying. The streets were strung with lights, little classy cafes sparkled with beautiful couples sipping wine, the marble museums and their statutes shone with white light.

“I have to go home now,” I said.

“Oh,” he said, surprised. “I thought you were on the streets like me.”

He’s homeless? “Well, I’m just sleeping on a friend’s couch,” I stuttered. Am I completely blind? I’m completely blind. Should I do something? I should do something. But what?

We arrived at my friends’ apartment and stood outside awkwardly. They weren’t home, so I couldn’t exactly invite him up. He was still a stranger.

“Could I stay?” he asked suddenly.

“I’d – I mean – if it was my place – but it’s not. I can’t. I’m sorry.”

“Right. Okay.”

It was starting to rain, but I didn’t know what to do. So I chose the most awful thing possible. I said, “Nice to meet you. See you around.” Then I walked into the apartment, and he walked back down the street.

to mess and mayhem!

The year passed. First slowly, as I was living it, and now all at once, looking back on it. I moved into my own apartment, got a great job,  quit my job, left my apartment, traveled to New York City, ate unhealthy food, visited family and friends and places all over the east side of the states, spent too much money, wrote music and stories, painted a little, learned a smattering of astronomy & physics & calculus, and moved back home temporarily but indefinitely. This year was a mess, but a good mess.

2014 will be another mess. I’m swimming at the edge of a waterfall. My parents and most sibilings are moving to Cambodia. My brother is going to college. I’m turning twenty. I don’t know what I’m Doing With My Life except just living, which is maybe enough, maybe not. Either way, I can’t keep from rushing with the waves. Ready or not, here I come.

This year, I hope I make a fool of myself. I hope I make magnificent mistakes. I hope I choose the wildest, scariest adventure and jump in with my whole being even if I fail. Because then I’ll be really living — and really trusting God. It’s only when I trust Him through my fear that I am deepened as a woman and as a child of God. And it’s only then I get to see Him, because fear is blinding, but to trust is to see.

Hello 2014. I’m ready.