Hello from Oxford… and Honest Songs!

Honest Songs

Two Benedictions – Honest Songs .. Click here to get your copy!

I am writing this blog from Oxford! My eyes are fluttering with the almost intoxicated sleepiness of jet lag  (please forgive the inevitable typos in this post). And yet even in my weary state, I’ve watched the fading gold of a summer evening melt out of the sky over a soccer court and a church steeple. These dreaming spires will always be special to me.

I’m particularly thankful that Oxford has welcomed me back to the UK for this new year. I am excited to go to Scotland, but Oxford is an old friend making it easy for me. And truly… could there be a more magical place for a wedding? I’m so excited for the Sister-Woman.

I look so forward to writing stories and blogs about my adventures this year. But not enough has happened for a full report, so I wanted to update you all on a previous adventure in my life: our new album!

As a parting project, Joel and I worked in all our spare minutes this summer to produce a small album of songs. I can truly say it is more personal than anything we’ve yet written together. It was so beautiful to work with Joel on shaping music that wasn’t just “about things,” but that was more a part of who we are.

I cried when I listened back through it. Perhaps it’s because these songs were parts of my heart and story from this year, and years past. Or perhaps it was because I so cherished getting to work with Joel before heading off to the wide, wide, wonderful year. Perhaps it is because I haven’t slept enough since Freshman year of college. Who is to know?

But this I do know: the making of this album has been a gift to me, and I hope its product will be a gift to others.

So, as I sign off tonight, I thought I’d give you all a copy of all of the lyrics on the album! I am a lyrics person and love to ponder over the songs of my favourite writers. As most of the albums will be bought digitally, I thought I’d use this post as a lyrics wrap. I plan on doing some explanation and stories of some of the songs soon.

I hope you all enjoy, and please get a copy of the album and let me know what you think!

Get your copy here: Two Benedictions – Honest Songs.

Parting Glass (traditional Scottish folk tune)

Oh of all the money that ‘er I had, I spent it in good company.

And all the harm that ‘er I’ve done, alas it was to none but me.

And all I’ve done for want of wit to memory now I can’t recall,

So fill to me parting glass…

Good night and joy be with you all.

 

Disappear:

Joel and Joy

Leaves turn on trees, die and decay

Is this the fall? Or is it just the way?

Seeds fall into the ground and die

So will I, so will I, so will I.

Everything’s waving a long goodbye

 

We will not disappear, tossed away with the turning of the years.

We will not disappear… disappear.

 

Silent and still, under the ground.

Will what is lost ever be found?

Seeds come up through the ground, they try.

So will I, So will I, So will I.

Digging through darkness by and by.

 

We will not disappear, tossed away with the turning of the years.

We will not disappear… disappear.

 

All these days we take for granted are not wasted they are planted

We will grow if we can stand it, if we push beyond the fear.

All these days we take for granted are not wasted they are planted

There’s a hope that grows inside us and it never disappears. (x2)

 

We will not disappear, tossed away with the turning of the years.

We will not disappear… disappear.

 

Leaves turn on trees, die and decay.

Is this is the fall? Or is it just the way?

 

Already:

Joel and Joy

I think I already love you, I think I’ve loved you since I knew I who I was.

Blue car, playing winds, and lonely heart,

And all at once I remember a future I haven’t known.

 

I’m already, already, already to love you.

To love you.

 

I think I already bear our children, I think I’ve born them since I knew who you were.

Church pews, curls and benedictions,

And all at once I remember the children we have yet to bear.

 

I’m already, already, already to love you.

To love you.

 

I think I already miss you, I think I’ve missed you since I knew who we were,

And who we are to be.

 

I think I’ve already found you. I think I found you since I’ve known what love is.

I’m already, already, already to love you.

Already, already, already to love you.

 

When it Comes to You:

Joel

There are some things that I can never say.

There are some words I don’t know how to pray,

When it comes to you I always end up looking the other way,

Because there are some things that I can never say.

 

Sometimes love is just a word and words can always lose their meaning.

And I know when I’m with you, I often feel alone.

But I hold onto the chance that these words could be redeeming,

And I sing these songs because I hope that this may someday feel like home.

 

There are so many things I feel that I must do,

There are so many things I feel that I must do for you.

When it comes to you I know that what you say may not be true,

There are so many thing I feel that I must do.

 

Sometimes love is just a word and words can always lose their meaning.

And I know when I’m with you, I often feel alone.

But I hold onto the chance that these words could be redeeming,

And I sing these songs because I hope that this may someday feel like home.

 

There are somethings that I can never say,

There are some words I don’t know how to pray.

When it comes to you I can’t say if I’ll go or if I’ll stay,

Because there are some things that I can never say.

There are some things that I can never say.

 

Girls in the Movies:

Joy and Joel

I don’t want to fall in love like the girls in the movies do,

On vacation in Rome, far from home,

Like love is a vacation too.

 

Let it be gentle, let it be slow

Let it be easy, like coming back home.

Let me come home, let me come home, let me come home to you.

 

Everyone I’ve tried to love felt like a holiday.

Fine while it lasted but as soon as it passed it was too easy to slip away.

 

Let it be gentle, let it be slow

Let it be easy, like coming back home.

Let me come home, let me come home, let me come home to you.

 

I’ve seen city lights come and go,

Faces pass like lines on a road.

All I really want is a garden that grows,

And a hand for me to have and hold.

 

Let it be gentle, let it be slow

Let it be easy, like coming back home.

Let me come home, let me come home, let me come home to you.

 

I don’t want to fall in love like the girls in the movies do.

 

Born Again:

Joy

It’s the same old mountains.

It’s the same old sky.

It’s the same old love song

That made me cry when I was

Just a little bit younger,

Just a little bit stronger,

Just a little bit better.

 

It’s the same old heartache.

It’s the same old sigh.

It’s the same old wishing

For a time when I was

Just a little bit younger,

Just a little bit stronger,

Just a little bit better.

 

So wake me up to the wonder of it all,

Breathe new life in the dry and weary halls of this

War torn heart that has made a home for pain,

I wanna be born I wanna be born again.

I wanna be born I wanna be born again.

 

It’s the same old mountains.

It’s the same old sky.

It’s the same old love song

That made me cry when I was

Just a little bit younger,

Just a little bit stronger,

Just a little bit better.

 

Parting Glass (Continued):

But since it falls unto my lot that I should rise and you should not,

I’ll gently rise and I’ll softly call,

Goodnight and Joy be with you all.

 

Two Benedictions – Honest Songs

 

Indeed! Joy be with you all!

Off to a jetlagged slumber.

Peace,

Joy

Packing in Haiku

FullSizeRender (3)

For this detailed deprived idealist, packing is a challenge only to be mastered with a great, great deal of tea. This weeks’ packing struggle has been epic, and I have won. The only appropriate way I could think of expressing the battle was through the honored art of haiku.

Packing in Haiku

A carpet of clothes

Drawers of good intention

An empty suitcase

~

Too many sweaters

Lonely, single, patterned socks

Not near enough books

~

Chocolate I once loved

Now a part of my suitcase

*sigh* And so it goes

~

Sell your things and give

Administrative nightmare

And yet appealing

~

So that’s where you’ve been

You elusive sweater, you

Not a fan now😦

~

This will be easy

I said before the undoing

Please sit on this case

~

Toil and tight zippers

Begetting a journeys birth

Adventures begin

IMG_5267

The Darcy Dog is a helpful packing companion.

Ode to Colorado

This fall, I’m off on a new adventure: Scotland. But as I go about packing my bags and purchasing my rain boots, I’ve found myself aware of the gift that Colorado has been to me this year. Not just the people — although they are probably the greatest gift— but the place… the mountains, the seasons, the moods of the sky. It is a magical place. It deserves and Ode. So, tonight I wrote it one.

flurple

My friend Rebecca on a hike with me in the big, big mountains.

An Ode to Colorado

Oh, Colorado. I love your ways.

I love your casual magnificence, the way you brandish sunshine mountains and red rocked glory, even on a Tuesday.

Oh, Colorado. I love your untameableness, your proliferation of shy wild beasts. I love the feeling of never being quite safe, and yet being embraced in the glorious Other.

With you as my residence I feel associated with a power I cannot control, but one which deigns to endure me.

I love your blustering emotions poured out across the afternoon sky. The blistering heat of anger that cools in your marshmallow cloud rains.

I love you best in fall, and only better in summer.

I love your phasing flowers, the summer fields that fade from pink to blue to yellow.

I love when you slip into autumn for a day or two in August, just to sooth our sour, sweating souls.

I love the freckling sunshine that doesn’t outstay its welcome, allowing for Camelot rains.

I love when the awakening breath of autumn chill winds its way through the whistling pines. I love the dawn cold that smells like adventure.

I cherish the gaudy shimmer of the aspen trees dancing across the foothills.

I love the days when there’s nothing to do but listen to celtic music and eat apple muffins.

I even love your hateful winters. I begrudgingly thank you for unplanned snow days. Though I mope and stew, those days give time for thoughts to simmer and rise with a clarity as bright as the blinding snow. In winter, roots grow deep.

I love the eucatastrophe of your springtimes, the way they come in a sudden rush, like someone bursting from a closet to surprise you, scattering violets with every chuckle of self satisfaction.

I love the urgency of your summers, the aching feeling you must drink them up before the glass is dry, or frozen by winter.

And as I lay my head down tonight, witnessing the clashing flashes of lightning and grumbling explosions of thunder, I feel that same urgency. I am urgent with the desire to stand witness to your loveliness that I might not forget it when I’m gone.

The fragrance of falling rain fills my heart with rest and longing.

Wherever I go, thunder will make me think of my mountains.

I will miss you, Colorado.

And I’ll be back.

Honest Songs

Honest Songs

Honest Songs – Two Benedictions… coming soon!

Music is special.

It seems that there is something woven in the fabric of our souls, and written into the chemistry of our brains that makes us respond so strongly to melodies and harmonies. Even those whose aged minds are fading into another world respond to an old familiar hymn. Every couple I know has a song that is “their song.” Music is univerisal. Every culture without fail has their music, their patriotic pieces, their aching story songs.

Where there are humans, there is music. We can’t help ourselves.

Personally, music has the effect of making me feel swept up in a reality larger than my own. In writing music I find I can lose myself and find myself all at once.

Really good music feels like an invitation to me; my soul responds and I dive in. The melodies and harmonies and rhythms pull me under like a rushing river. They draw me out of myself and remind me that there is so much pulsing, aching beauty in this world. Music gives me the gift of self-forgetfulness.

And yet…

Music helps me wrestle into resolution what I cannot resolve in life. Just as we all long for the resolution of that final major chord, we all long for resolution and peace in life. We wish for tidied loose ends and relationships where we are always understood. The older I get the more situations I have been faced with that I could not, in my power, resolve. I find myself returning to creativity, whether writing or music, to face the irresolvable bits of my life. The disappointments I can’t make sense of. The rush of wondrous joy I can’t quantify. In music I find that though I can’t always resolve elements of my life, I can give them shape.

I need music in my life at the moment, because there are many things that need shape given to them. In my experience, much change begets much creativity.

That is why I am very glad to be in the midst of producing another album with my brother Joel.

Joel Maestro

In the slap-dash, quick-bang manner that we are accustomed to, Joel and I decided to write and produce another album before we are off on our wild, wild adventures. 

Recording is not always glamorous.

Book Micro

As you can see, we work with a very sophisticated (and somewhat wobbly) mic stand comprised of fat books. We laugh a great deal while recording; The Giggles are the great enemy of the recording artist. We gently tease when our voices just won’t cooperate. We forget words and start over again. And yet, somehow in the midst we pray we can make something beautiful… something hopeful.

Silly joel

We’re calling this album “Honest Songs.” We are calling it this because it is a work of our lives; the songs are shaped by the experiences we have had, by the hopes we harbor, the griefs we carry, and the faith we keep.

I feel a bit as though in releasing this album, I am releasing to God the past years, so that I can open my arms to all that is coming.

How thrilling that is.

Thank God for the gift of music.

paper

For anyone who lives in the Colorado area, we are throwing an album release party. You can get tickets  here.

For everyone else, I will post about it here when it is up on iTunes, Amazon, etc.

And, just because, I thought I would share with you all the lyrics to one of our Honest Songs.

Disappear:

Leaves turn on trees,

Die and decay. 

Is this the fall?  Or is it just the Way?

Seeds fall into the ground and die,

So will I, so will I, so will I.

Everything waving a long goodbye.

Chorus:

We will not disappear,

Tossed away with the turning of the years.

We will not disappear… disappear.

Silent and still,

Under the ground.

Will what is lost

Ever be found?

Seeds come up through the ground,

They try.

So will I, so will I, so will I.

Digging through darkness by and by.

Chorus:

We will not disappear,

Tossed away with the turning of the years.

We will not disappear… disappear.

Bridge:

All these days we take for granted

Are not wasted they are planted.

We will grow if we can stand it, 

If we push beyond the fear.

All these days we take for granted

Are not wasted they are planted.

There’s a Hope that grows inside us,

And it never disappears.

Chorus: 

We will not disappear,

Tossed away with the turning of the years.

We will not disappear… disappear.

Leaves turn on trees,

Die and decay, 

Is this the fall, 

Or is it just the Way?

– Joy and Joel Clarkson

Click here for the full audio of this song.

Life is Madness. Play Music. Eat Donuts. Dance. Laugh.

traffic

Is it humanly possible to leave the house on time when going to the airport?

I’m beginning to think not.

Yesterday only served to support this suspicion of mine. Planning to leave at 4:00 PM exactly, we pulled out of the driveway when when the clock was threatening to turn 4:15. The cause for our tardy departure was sentimental. We were savoring one last tea-time on the porch with my sister as an unmarried woman before sending her back to the UK.

Tea was sipped. Words were shared. Smiles were many. Dad checked his watch often.

And so, with a bustle the Girl’s Club (ie: me, my sister and my mother) were off!

Truth be told, we were not worried. We had more than three hours before Sarah had to get on her plane, and we were enthusiastic to savor a few more stress-less moments with our Sarah, driving through the vast Colorado mountain plains. What could go wrong?

Well, it started with the freeway coming to a complete stop a mere three minutes after we merged.

Having endured this test of patience, we drove hopefully towards…

Another complete standstill.

The frustrating thing about traffic is that all you can do is fruitlessly beg your mobile apps to provide a non-existent alternate route, wonder why that white car won’t pull just a little bit closer and not hold up the whole lane, bewail the state of US highways, adjust the air-conditioner, wish you had gotten more gas, and wait. And wait. And wait.

And, also play music.

I attempted to sooth our carnal frustrations with tuneful distractions. Soothed by the gentle croonings of Lewis Watson, we hardly noticed the angry clouds forming ahead.

First there were rain drops.

And then there was rain.

And then the sky was yellow.

And then Sarah was forcefully driving against the wind that was doing its bully best to steer us off the road.

And then it was tumble-weeds smacking our wheel wells like we were in some gosh darned wild west movie.

And then there was an earthquake, but the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake… I kid. There was no earthquake. But I would not have been surprised.

We considered pulling over, but pressed on watching the clock nervously.

Finally, we reached the stop for British Airways.

With lumps in our throats, we lugged suitcases and took windblown selfies with unparalleled verve, thinking this was our last few moments together, because our ridiculous car ride was over.

LOL.

Sarah, carrying her wedding dress as a carry on, and all her worldly possessions in two massive bags weighing 49.9999999 pounds, needed a bit of help in, so I happily obliged. Bumbling through the automatic door, we were greeted with an almost humorous site: long lines of disgruntled passengers waiting at the British airways gate. With what looked like a thousand suitcases in tow, dozens of people glared at the attendants while the attendants glared at computer screens. Sarah and I joined the line. And waited. And waited. And dropped one of her suitcases on a stranger. And waited and waited. For 45 minutes.

Turns out the whole British Airways computer system was down. Of course.

Shaking more with adrenaline than emotion, we waved our Sarah goodbye as she and auspicious garment bagged wedding dress traipsed down the security checkpoint.

Beleaguered, my mother and I picked our way back to the car, which, I might add, was parked in the very last row. We went on our way, pulling over as the storm threatened to blow us away. We got two donuts and watched the storm roll in. This was quite pleasant.

Back on the road, the weather took a sudden turn for the sunny. This would have been very pleasant except for the fact that the sun began to set right at eye level with the highway. My mother drove as my license has recently expired. My mother used to be legally blind, and while I admire her for the bravery and care with which she drove, we were once again forced to pull off the road.

This time we drove along curving back roads, where the sun was obscured by trees and buildings. The going was slower, but at least there was not imminent danger of hitting a poll without warning because the sun was so bright. And we even stopped to get take-out Italian.

On the road for one last homeward push, we were hardly surprised to discover that the freeway had six miles of standstill traffic. Managing to exit the freeway, we wound our way through backroads, playing aching (and loud) celtic music, and munching on the bread from the take-away Italian. All things considered, it was a pleasant… if long… drive.

By the time we got back it was 9:30 PM.

A usually 2 hour round trip took us 5 hours and 15 minutes.

To me, our airport escapade felt like a microcosmic representation of my life. So often life is more inconvenient and more difficult than we could have imagined. Everything takes longer than we want or hope it will. Obstacles surprise us, and just when we think they’re gone another appears. Storms make it hard for us to see, and we wonder if we’ll ever make it. Emotion is mixed with urgency. Perhaps most of all… Life is just not at all in our control.

I used to have this idea that I would feel peaceful just as soon as the next “thing” was out of the way. I would settle and be happy when there was time. I would be thankful when there was no longer anything to cry about. But life and the Lord have taught me that if I wait to love, be joyful, or be purposeful until the air is clear and there’s no traffic, I will be waiting for the rest of my life. I am not guaranteed tomorrow, or even the next moment. To live well is to greet each moment face-on and ready to laugh.

There will always be traffic, but only you can decide to put on music.

Or eat donuts.

Or find take out Italian food.

Or laugh wildly at the madness of your life.

Or squeeze your loved one’s shoulder just because they’re there.

A wise old wizard once said, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light” (Rowling).

Traffic, storms, lines, broken computers… they’ll always be around. But will you remember to put on music?

 

Concerning Change and Bacon Gouda Sandwiches

speedy changeCan we talk for a moment about the indignity of spending $10.75 on 2 pieces of 6 day old bread surrounding a substance made of more nitrates than turkey flesh?

I speak, of course, of Airport food.

A few moments ago, I found myself faced with the difficult dilemma of airport induced hanger, or a stale sandwich. In the end, I rejected the food stand sandwich in favor of a comparable choice at Starbucks. At least this overly expensive, stale bundle of preservatives comes with chips.

This choice was thrust upon me by Starbucks’ lack of Bacon and Gouda Breakfast sandwiches.

In days of old—by which I mean when I attended college—each trip home to Colorado from the Santa Ana airport was accompanied by a happy tradition: a bacon and gouda breakfast sandwich and a tall mocha with whip. This carb, sugar, dairy filled treat was one that heartened me for the homeward journey. I looked forward to it. I counted on it.

Today, I am flying home from Santa Ana, but alas… No bacon gouda breakfast sandwich.

Considering this with a hint of disappointment, I mournfully popped a potato chip in my mouth. My tastebuds swiftly made me aware that the chips were not original sea salt, as I expected, but vinegar. I sigh and resign myself to the eye-watering sourness.

Life, it seems, is conspiring to remind me that nothing is the same as it was.

This whole visit has reminded me of this fact.

On a whim I decided to go back and visit my dearest college friends. I stayed with my college roommate. We visited our old haunts, talked about everything, laughed a lot, showed each other our favorite new shows, ate like we were still Freshman, and took too many pictures. My soul was filled.

But accompanying the lovely time we had was a slight ache.

Everything is different.

Things are changing.

You can’t get back what you once had.

This was particularly evident on a visit to my old favorite coffee shop, the Night Owl.

The Night Owl was our place during college. On my last day in California, we decided to go back for a visit. In defiant opposition to the heat, L and E and I sat with hot beverages in hand. In the comfort of easy conversation we talked about post-graduate life, our years, our disappointments, our surprise, our unsureties, and our hopes. In the presence of my friends I felt at home; I belonged.

And yet, I didn’t belong in the Night Owl anymore.

The Night Owl was significant for me. When I was an Resident Advisor, I escaped on Fridays to the high back chairs and mediocre americanos as a reprieve from the constant and necessitated extroversion of my job. I wrote countless papers there. I had deep thoughts about the opening passages of Dante’s inferno there. I ate too many ham and cheese croissants there. The baristas knew me.

But now, I don’t belong. This place has no context for me. It is a Walmart print in the photo album of my life. Californians with tan skin and hipster glasses slip in and out of the curtained front door with ease, but I feel too pale, and I don’t belong.

Perhaps you understand this. Perhaps you have returned to a place that was once yours, only to discover it has moved on without you. And you have moved on as well.

Change.

There is a lot of change in my life right now. My sister is getting married. I am moving to Scotland, Joel to Cambridge, Nathan is settling in New York. My life no longer has a gravitational pull to one place. I have felt a shift in my life, a sense of forward motion and of urgency… though I can’t quite articulate what for. When I step on the plane to the UK this August, I don’t quite know where life will take me next. It’s exhilarating. And, somehow, sad.

It’s a lot for my little heart to hold.

Everything is different.

Things are changing.

You can’t get back what you once had.

You can’t even order a bacon and gouda breakfast sandwich.

It is often said that the only thing you can count on in life is change. I don’t think that this is true; there are ties stronger than the ceaseless beating forth of life. But change, in somethings, even in most, is inevitable. Nothing remains static. If we do not change, we cannot grow. And if that is true, a great deal of my life will be contingent on how I respond to change.

Grief and embrace. These are the ideas I’ve been wrestling in this season of life. To embrace change, you must release parts of the past. A friend’s mother of mine recently recounted her daughter’s wedding. She said it was beautiful; everything they could have wished. And yet, that the day after the wedding she found herself totally undone, bleary eyed. She said it felt like grieving.

Change begets and requires grief. It’s hard to believe sometimes that something good could require us to grieve. But, really, grief is a response to loss. And even in the best of life’s changes, there is something lost. Familiarity, security, closeness, innocence, childhood. It is right and good to grieve because it helps us let go of the past— even if the past was very good— so we might embrace whatever gift God offers us in change.

And so we must release… something. So that we have willing and able arms to embrace.

As the ancient Preacher in writes, “There is a time to embrace, and a time to turn away” (Ecclesiastes 3:5).

In change there is grief, and there is embrace, but I also believe that beating beneath the frantic dance of life, there is something sturdy and steady.

We live in uncertain times. I confess that sometimes I look at my world, the headlines, and the events of my own life and am stymied; what will my world look like in 10, 20, 30 years? It is not for me to know, not until I get there. But I confess that if all I was guaranteed in life was change, I might crumple. And yet, I find that in this gypsy life, there are roots in my heart that can’t be ripped up. Chords of love and faith that tether me.

Love and Faith.

My love for my dear ones, my family, my closest friends is a root that means no matter where life takes me, I belong. In Hannah Coulter (2004), Wendell Berry describes “The Room of Love.” It is the space in our heart that we allow our loved ones into, and where their love stays no matter what. Near and far, life and death make no difference, the love is still present in our hearts. What could be more rooting than that? I give in love, and am given abundantly more. I choose to invest in love because it is the only thing that transcends fear and change. In the love I give and share, I always belong. No matter what change comes. Love casts out fear. And that is good because I am so often afraid of change.

And Faith.

Faith for me is a matter of trust. It is a covenant held between me and God in which my end of the deal is to lean into his faithfulness, and trust that all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well. Someday, at least. In my heart I find a spark of hope that beating at the heart of the universe is not hate, or violence, or nothingness, but love. That tethers me. That sets me free to embrace change without fear.

And all these thoughts because of a bacon and gouda sandwich.

It’s amazing how much a breakfast sandwich can symbolize isn’t it?

As I munch, I can’t help but wonder what my airplane rituals will become when I fly home from the UK.

I’m flooded with images of the new and unfamiliar. Happy butterflies flutter in my belly. I think morosely and momentarily of how quickly this new context will pass.

But I quiet my mind. No need to go there yet.

I need only take the next step.

It’s time to board.

Learning to Listen

Rothmc_cover

When I was in fifth grade, my mother read Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry (Taylor, 1976) out loud to me. It was about a little girl, like me. She had gangly, mischievous brothers, like me. She had a mama who loved her and worried about her, just like me. The author even lives in Colorado, like me! But there was a difference: she was black. As a ten year old, I didn’t know why this should make a difference. I had heard words like “racism” and “slavery,” but, to me, they were articles of history, things that passed with the abolition of the slave trade and Martin Luther King Junior. Thank goodness we were past such primal sins! Could life be so very different for Cassie simply because of her skin color?

As I read, my eyes were opened to a thousand little ways that life was frustrated by the choking seed of racism sewn in our country. My country. For the first time I glimpsed the uphill battle life can be for those with a different heritage from me; I encountered my own ease. My eyes were opened to the many responses people had and have to injustice: silent submission, minimization, violent reaction, grief. As the book drew to a close I hoped for a happy ending. Those final pages left me with a hollowness and a realization that the wound has not closed.

I felt that hollowness this week.                 

A midst a hundred facebook posts and videos I couldn’t force myself to see, an echo of those condemning voices in Taylor’s book haunted me. I remembered anew that division, racism and injustice are not words associated with a bygone past. I felt in real life the complication, frustration and cloudedness I first perceived so many years ago in the pages of that book. I thought about how speeding tickets were a subject of annoyance to my teenage brothers, not of fear and danger.

One of the gifts that stories give us is the ability to see a world different from our own. They teach us not to be immune to pain we don’t understand. Clouded with our experience and preconceived notions of how life is, and how it ought to be, events like the shootings of this week become abstractions that support our already decided theses. Through stories we can imagine others pain, and let it affect us. Stories slip past our well built world views, and help us see the world through eyes that are not ours.

To live in a skin we don’t understand.

When I press my ear up against the walls of my country, I hear a wailing, wild sorrow that cannot be ignored.

I do not begin to know how to heal the wound of racial divides in this nation, and I cannot do it justice in this tiny blog post. I am not a judge. I am not a police officer. I am not black. I do not pretend to know what it is like to lose someone in the line of duty or to a broken tail-light. But, in my eternal state as a hopeless optimist, I want to believe that much can be changed through empathy. Through listening to others stories. To seeing the world through someone else’s lens, and weeping with them, because the wound of racism has not been healed. Finding in those tears seeds of hope.

My determination is that when I engage with this topic, I will not engage in it with disinterest, or preconceptions but a heart to hear stories, no matter how heart wrenching and complicated they are. I don’t want to think of statistics or platitudes, but of faces and names like Philando, Alton, Patrick, Brent, Michael, Lorne… I must imagine the people left behind. Could my beliefs stand if I had to admit them to the mothers of those who died? Surely, our facebook comments would be different if we thought that way.

When I closed the pages of Mildred Taylor’s powerful novel, I felt unsettled. It was an unsettledness that made me discontent with the weary and wounded ways of the world… a discontentedness that makes me long for a heavenly kingdom, and hunger and thirst for righteousness. We must be unsettled. Discomfort leads to change, and so to hope.

So be unsettled.

Listen closely to the stories of people you don’t understand.

Weep with those who weep.

Hate what is evil and cling to what is good.

And re-read Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry.

Fourth of July

Friends,
I don’t have much of a post today because I spent today walking in the parade with llamas, handing out bottles of water with my church in my our tiny town’s parade.

What are you doing today?

I hope you’re….

Hugging your family.

Eating corn on the cob.

Getting sunburned.

Tying bandanas on your dog’s neck (much to its chagrin).

Thinking about big ideas like freedom, responsibility, bravery, sacrifice, community and diversity.

Watching the West Wing. #Bartlett2016 

Slurping up too much watermelon.

Thinking about the family history that lead you to this great old melting pot/salad bowl of a country. 

Feeling thankful. 

Grilling in the back yard. 

Watching sparkling fireworks rain in the sky with an appropriate sense of wonder and delight. 

Saying prayers that this old republic of ours will continue in virtue. 

In short, I hope you have a beautiful Fourth of July. 

5 Phrases for a Well Lived Life

The words we say shape the worlds we live in. Proverbs 18:21 vividly puts it this way: “The power of death and life are in the tongue.” As I dwell on this, I wonder sometimes how I have been intentional with the words I say.Our world is showered with the frantic on and on-ness of our ever present news feed. In the constant barrage of words upon words, our speech can become careless. I don’t want to let this happen. I want to consider…How am I bringing life, not death, to myself and the people around me?

In pondering, I came up with this list. These phrases are the ones I have found to shape my life for the better. What are yours?

  1. I admire ____ about you:

So often the true virtues of our lives are developed in quiet and sometimes lonely fortitude. I have often felt that I could carry on and be faithful for one more day if only I knew that someone saw and cared.

I think sometimes we assume we’ve said the kind words we think about others, or we assume that surely someone else must have. We don’t want to be redundant, and we certainly don’t want to flatter or be too vulnerable. Wouldn’t it be too pushy or personal to say something? Might as well save the complimenting for someone else.

But the truth is, no one else may do the complimenting, and we are all starved for affirmation.

To compliment someone is to see them. To acknowledge a part of their being or action. To affirm that who they are and what they do is good and seen and worth it. And we all desperately long to be seen. A gift we can give each other is to see and acknowledge the beauty, virtue, and talent in each other.

I see the gentleness you offer in response to harsh words. I see the hard work you have silently put in to accomplish your dreams and calling. I see the effort you put into presenting yourself with loveliness. I see the diligence with which you seek answers for the questions you have. I see your wit and humor and it is delightful.

You are seen, and you are loved.

Isn’t that what we all long to hear?

2. I shouldn’t have done that:

Regret is a terrible master to live under, but so is pretense. There have been times in my life where I made the wrong decision; the unwise, hurtful, or selfish decision. My temptation is always to try to gloss over it, and vindicate my choice as right. I’m just stubborn enough to carry on in a series of bad decisions I don’t want to make purely so I don’t have to admit I was wrong. Eek!

When we cannot admit we are wrong, we become a slave to our mistakes.

We must defend them, live by them, cover them up. We must make a long string of bad decisions to cover up the fact that the original decision was wrong.

We are never free from our mistakes until we can call them what they are. Relationships are torn apart by silent grievances. A heart is torn apart by hidden guilt.

Voice your regret so you can be free of it. What can be said can be moved past. Confess so you can taste the sweet fruit of forgiveness. Confess to yourself. Confess to someone. Confess to God. 

If we confess our sins to him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us (1 John 1:9).

3. I want/wish/hope:

I have often felt like I wanted to much out of life. I hunger after life and life to the full. I see in vivid colors the way life could be, and I hunger after it… love, adventure, faith, hope, excellence, taste, sound, color…!

Somewhere along the way, I think a Buddhist idea slipped into our Christian imaginations: that we really oughtn’t desire anything too much. We play a trick with our minds thinking if we don’t want something, say marriage, it will come upon us as a reward for our desire killing efforts.

This is not the gospel.

God does not call us to a bleaker, dimmer life, but too a fuller, more passionate, more human life. As Lewis says,

“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward … promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased” (Weight of Glory, 1965).

In not allowing ourselves to desire, we do not allow God to provide. Let your desires be spoken, and give them to God who does not give His children a stone when they ask for bread.

Want things. Want great and beautiful things. Want a glorious and redeemed life. And though your thirsts may not always be satisfied, they will remind you that you are meant for a life beyond this one. It may be a chance to trust and know God more deeply.

4. I feel …

Feelings are given a bad wrap. Explicitly, we are told not to live by them. Implicitly we are told not to express some of them (anger or sadness, for instance). But the funny thing that I have found is that feelings will be felt even if you don’t want them to be. You can try to press them down, but they’ll come gurgling out at the most inconvenient moments, or harden into a persistent grumpiness.

Just like regrets, if you can’t express emotions, they will rule you. We must own our feelings, not treating them like something foreign to us. We should listen to our emotions and talk to them: what do they tell us about the state of our lives?

Emotions are one of the things that make us human. We don’t just react to things instinctively, we react to them with rich, complex, pesky emotions.

Sharing emotions creates an inroad to closeness. Express your emotions so they don’t control you. Express your emotions because they are uniquely human. Express your emotions to someone you love to invite closeness.

5. I love you.

Love you, Joy! he said with a wave as I got in my car. I wouldn’t see him again for many months. My American reserve prickled. Is it too much to say “I love you” to a friend?

But I carried those words in my heart.

I have said goodbye many times in the last three years. The coming and going in my way of life has taught me the transience and uncontrollableness of life. I never want to be caught unawares, but to express my love to each person who matters to me in the only moment I am promised: now! If you love someone, if you cherish them and hope the best for their lives, tell them. Now. Don’t wait for the day that may never come. Words unsaid are a bitter poison.

Live a life without unsaid I love you’s.

Am I only a speck?

hand-dust-flour-chalk-large

I watch as a speck of dust floats and settles in the afternoon sunshine.

Do specks mind their meaninglessness?

Do specks of dust bewail the brevity of their earthly dance? Do they weep from time to time about the vanity of their journey to resting on the arm of a sweet heart’s couch? Do they moan and say…

“Thus go I! A speck floating across a cruel and indifferent universe, with no destiny but to adorn antique furniture?”

But then, I’m told I am only a speck.

A smattering of matter, not mattering a smatter. Born to struggle and die and decay. To become nothing more than Fertilizer for daffodils. A floating speck of dust in the afternoon sun.  Destined only to frustrate the housewife by coating her house in dust.

I am not very good at being a speck. Nor at submitting to a speckish destiny, or non destiny as it were. 

I am possessed of the persistent imagination that this all means something. Something more than I can say.

I write poems.

I ponder lofty things.

I find myself praying and falling in love.

I am not a good speck. I make too much of things.

I cry when they tell me all this means nothing — the dancing leaves, returning spring, compassion — I grieve. LIke I’ve lost something. But how can you lose something that never was to being with?

But I have lost something.

We have lost something.

There is a fathomless ache, a chasm meant for something filled with nothing, a spasm towards creating and loving and meaning things.

We writhe and weep and rail against the darkness. We are not satisfied. We are not certain. But we are not resigned.

And, I ask again: Do specks mind their meaninglessness?

Because, I think, perhaps, I am not a speck.

 

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)