Wednesday, June 30, 2010


A lovely anecdote for us to begin: Having recently returned to Phoenix after my adventure in the Midwest, I attended Mass at my former time and location. There I met a friend with whom I had taught youth ministry. Since our last meeting, he had grown a beard, changed his earrings and gotten a tan. I thought that was all.

“Hello Brian,” I said, striving for conversation so as not to appear standoffish in my seat. He greeted me as well. Then I said, “How’re the wedding plans coming?” He and his fiancée had gotten engaged sometime around September last year; I figured they must have at least set a date if not been on the verge of matrimony.

“You mean for Andrew?” he asked, a bit taken aback. I glanced at his finger, wondering if I had missed the date already and should be congratulating him rather than interrogating him. But his ring finger was naked, and I then realized something was wrong. Where was his promise ring, the one he had been wearing since before the engagement itself?

In a bit more muted tones, I replied, “No. Yours.”

Confusion. Silence. Then, in attempt at cheery banter, “Oh, that? Naw, that’s been postponed. Indefinitely.”

His mom, sitting behind me, chimed in, “He’s enjoying his youth.” She, unlike Brian, looked serene about the decision. Brian maintained his composure and said something about what he was doing with his time now, but I could see his disappointment and wounds openly on his face. When he moved away from me shortly thereafter, I couldn’t help but pray that I hadn’t made fresh lesions upon his delicately healing heart.

This lovely experience got me to thinking. The woman (and writer) that I am, I began to list all sorts of plot twists that could have made their story go awry. A difference in lifestyle? A difference in faith? Another man? An admitted lie? Growing up? Growing apart? Growing scared?

As I knelt at my seat and, later, as I lay in bed, I began to wonder if Brian had fallen prey to the same bear I’ve been mauled by times innumerable: the hopeless romantic. Had he, too, been entranced with the story and disregarded the life? I have something near twenty journals chalked full of mental tirades against God for disrupting my stories. Something happens in life and I focus on it through the lens of the narrator, creating my voiceover of explanations until the plot seems to completely align with my desires. Then, when the realities take their own course, I revolt. Anyone else on this train?

Of late, though, I’ve been meditating on living in the realities and leaving expectations to the novels and chick flicks. I wish that this meditation could have been spurred by a new-found maturity. I wish I could say I woke up and recalled all the times heretofore that my desires have not shaped my reality and so became present to the moment’s experiences. I wish I could say nothing spurred my realization that I do not control the world.

But no. After a heart-to-heart with someone I love, I realized that no amount of hoped-for endings will change the natural path of life. We are not in control, no matter how much we insulate ourselves from tragedy or strife. Dictating the circumstances of our lives will not dictate anything apart from our own interpretation of events. We do not get to change the story just by willing it so. We are not God.

And thanks be to God for that.

Buddhists believe that our attachments are what cause rebirth, because we cling too much to our desires and wills to see life for what it is: suffering. Pessimism aside, how brilliant! We cling to our own desires, get blinded by them, and suffer for our blindness. Absolutely! We try to write our own “happy” endings instead of seeing the happy endings revealed to us by living life.

Disappointments, prolific as they are, are not the cause of our suffering. We are. We place our hope in our own devices and are angry when our hope is dashed. But are we hoping in the right things? In his letter to his best friend, St. Paul wrote “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men.” Fixed our hope on the living God. We do not hope for things in this moment; we wish for them. We hope for God, or at least we should.

God only knows how we may become a people of hope fixed on God. Perhaps that is why God allows us to suffer, to show us where we’ve falsely placed our hope. We are not to allow ourselves to become too attached here. We are not to allow ourselves to write our own stories. We are to experience our lives, active in bringing about the good God has intended, yes, but passive too, content when God’s plan for our actions take on a life of its own. We must rejoice in how God is writing our stories, rejoicing with the fervor of a people who know they do not hope in vain.

Perhaps if we manage this supernatural feat, we will find that the stories we would write pale in comparison to the story God has written for us. I don't know what will happen to Brian. I don't know what will happen to me. But I must trust, and trust completely, that God is the maker of good promises. The maker of good stories. Nothing I could pen would be as good as life has been thus far. Why not stay the course and see where it leads. I'm hoping, I'm sure, it'll be great.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


“Anyone who attacks individual charity,” I began, “attacks human nature and casts contempt on personal dignity. But the organization of ‘public charity’ and the problem of individual freedom are two distinct questions, and not mutually exclusive. Individual kindness will always remain, because it is an individual impulse, the living impulse of one personality to exert a direct influence upon another…. How can you tell, Bahmutov, what significance such and association of one personality with another may have on the destiny of those associated?”

“Can you imagine any of our own major novelists allowing a character to say stuff like this (not, mind you, just a hypocritical bombast so that some ironic hero can stick a pin in it, but as part of a ten page monologue by somebody trying to decide whether to commit suicide)? The reason you can’t is the reason he wouldn’t: such a novelist would be, by our lights, pretentious and overwrought and silly. The straight presentation of such a speech in a Serious Novel today would provoke not outrage or invective, but worse—one raised eyebrow and a very cool smile. Maybe, if the novelist was really major, a dry bit of mockery in The New Yorker. The novelist would be (and this is our own age’s truest vision of hell) laughed out of town.
“So he — we, fiction writers — won’t (can’t) dare try to use serious art to advance ideologies. The project would be like Menard’s Quixote. People would either laugh or be embarrassed for us. Given this (and it is a given), who is to blame for the unseriousness of our serious fiction? The culture, the laughers? But they wouldn’t (could not) laugh if a piece of morally passionate, passionately moral fiction was also ingenious and radiantly human fiction. But how to make it that? How — for a writer today, even a talented writer today — to get up the guts to even try? There are no formulas or guarantees. There are, however, models….”
— David Foster Wallace from “Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky” in Consider the Lobster. Above quote in text from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.

I don't know if I even want to try. Steinbeck said a writer would have to be crazy to attempt to articulate the Truth of humanity. Add to that DFW's accurate portrayal of that person's reception, and I just can't quite find it in me today to hope that it's possible. To write Beauty. To be removed from the chains of a cultural smugness dictating what's acceptable to believe. To embrace the spaces between the words — between the beats of a heart — between the breaths of an infant.... Who can attempt it? Who is crazy enough?

Thursday, April 22, 2010


While procrastination is something I struggle to avoid, I cannot help but enjoy the fact that I’ve procrastinated phenomenally well the past two days. Not that I’ve done a good job procrastinating (though that is true), but that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the time I’ve spent procrastinating because I’ve spent it so well. I’ve been devouring the works of the best essayist I’ve ever read: David Foster Wallace, a man whose wit and insight meld to form explications that both make me ache and rejoice in the gross capacity of the human person to digest truths about the world. The most recent essay, “Authority and American Usage (or, ‘Politics and the English Language’ Is Redundant)” makes the-Shelley-who-publicized-The-Chicago-Manual-of-Style-on-Facebook-as-“Favorite-Books” side of me verifiably glow. I woke up at 6:45 today with the goal of writing. Instead, I’ve been reading from this 62 page essay for the past two hours, and I cannot find an ounce of remorse. Foster Wallace’s humility, humor, and sheer brilliance bite and tickle and make me want to be a better woman. There. I’ve said it. It’s plain and simple love.

I don’t expound on DFW’s mind-boggling talent because it delights me (though it does) but rather because it presents a good introduction for the rest of my point. I must begin with an apology. Yes, I’ve been away. And though I flatter myself to think that you have missed my endless self-indulgences (“too long,” I believe was the term I recently heard), I do want to explain. I’ve been spending the past few weeks weighing some very serious options. As many of you know, I have been examining my potential futures. Having applied for graduate school, I’ve been touring the programs that decided to send me a large envelope instead of a small one. This process, though not as extensive as it could have been, has been a relatively exhausting. Planes, trains, and automobiles as well as couch surfing and map gazing have all been employed. With a singular result.

I’ve been writing since I was seven. The first novel—an illustrated tale of love set against the hyperbolic drama of a Disneyland inferno—was the hit of acid that recurs on me and drives me back to the keyboard. There was the story of the alien disguised as a king/coral snake with wicked intentions for planet Earth, the hopelessly romantic translation of Sleeping Beauty, the tale of what happened to the countryside after Cinderella and Prince Charming married, the unfinished collection of letters written to a non-existent granddaughter. Fictions, all of them, and written with varying degrees of plot/character development/voice/description. Basing my self-evaluation upon those imaginings, I always assumed that I was a fiction writer.

It’s only recently been brought to my attention that I’m actually a non-fiction addict. Yes, I sat down to create those fancies, but the preambles and post-scripts to those dalliances with my imagination were letters, journal entries, running internal notations of life. We all do these kinds of things, and for this reason I posit that there’s a non-fiction writer in each of us. Mine just puts thought to page.

Armed with collections of these rambles about reality (pun not intended but embraced), I finally put my head on the chopping block and sent applications out for a Master’s in Fine Arts degree for creative non-fiction. See, I’ve been trying to pursue an MFA in creative writing for over a decade—since I first learned of its existence. Many trials and tribulations have interrupted this course (tales of which I’ll spare you as this essay is already getting too long), but it has finally progressed, and has finally culminated in some success.

Decision in hand, I have slowly begun to realize the full ramifications of acceptance: expectation of success. Who do these programs think I am? I mean, this blog notwithstanding, I don’t have the best track record of delivering on writing projects. (In fact, I actually started this blog out of a desperate need for a shame factor to force me to sit down to write.) Beyond the blessed terror of producing something on demand, I’m also now facing the queasy realization that they’ve accepted me with the assumption that I’ll actually create something good. I’ve just returned from a professional writers’ conference which has only further demonstrated how ill-prepared I am to accomplish that task. And while the Two Antagonists are not (at present) gnawing furiously, I’m all-too-aware that I am torn between a great longing to write and a great dread of the prospect. Every other project imaginable (woodworking!) has come to mind, but hope for actually achieving something deserving an MFA has flitted away. I have become a twat.

Which is what makes the beloved DFW so outraging. He, perhaps single-handedly, brought the essay back into fashion simply by being SO GOOD. Literally. He’s been dead (at the age of 46) for two years, but his legacy is enough to get an entire panel’s discussion at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ annual conference (no small feat). Because of his exquisite ability to ply humor and rhetoric and concision and style so effortlessly—and because he’s bred stream-of-consciousness with occasional graphical explication—he bars identification. Is he a humorist? A realist? A philosopher? Avant-garde? Classical? Cynic? Optimist? David Foster Wallace’s lens shows the breadth and depth of an entire genre. And we, the readers, are left with wonder and excitement at being human (I dare you to prove me wrong).

Who am I to follow where he tread?

I’m sorry if my digressions today have left you with anger at your procrastination. Leave me off and read DFW instead. Consider the Lobster is an objectively fine introduction. And if you’re wondering where I determined to go next fall, I’ll say it was an obvious choice (though not for the obvious reason): David Foster Wallace’s alma mater: the University of Arizona.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Ed and I don’t exactly know when our anniversary is. The night we met? The day of our first conversation (and therefore the beginning of our long distance relationship)? The night of our State of the Relationship Address? Our first “date” shared over the phone? Our first reunion? Kiss? Decision to become exclusive? Mostly we just happenstancely celebrate whichever one we remember, embracing for a moment the occasions of ritual supposedly significant to a relationship. Considering how blurry they are, they can’t exactly be monumental. But they are monuments.

Certainly anniversaries are significant if for no other reason than they offer us a moment to pause and remember where we’ve been, where we are, where we hope to go. They are the recycling of time seen through a lens of recollection and prediction. We pause, see, evaluate, and—often—give thanks. In their singularity we may celebrate the passing of time. The transformation of years. The transformation of ourselves.

I’ve been thinking of anniversaries a lot this week as I have celebrated a rather significant one this past Thursday: Ten years ago March 25, I became a Christian. A decade. Nearly half my life. My decennial.

Catholics don’t usually observe their re-birthday. Catholics usually don’t have one. Traditionally, when we celebrate anniversaries in faith, we celebrate those sanctioned by the Church. Baptisms, weddings, ordinations. We even structure our liturgical year around important anniversaries: consider the annunciation, assumption, Christmas, Easter. Our conversions generally take the form of a gradual realization of Truth, a transformation that can take weeks, months, a lifetime.

Yet, for some of us, rebirth happens in an instant.

In my case, in the throws of adolescent suspicion, I had long been toying with the premise that Jesus was simply seeking the celebrity. At the time, I was the exact, living replication of Mean Girls’ Cady Heron: A hippie-school-implant-to-public-education, who had effectively hogged the spotlight enough to reach school president and, therefore, the celebrity status of assembly director. With this eighth-grade fame, I had no problem juxtaposing my self-centeredness with Jesus’ social status. I mean, assembly director is good, but to claim Godhood… the man must have been epic!

It wasn’t until I saw a reenactment of Christ’s passion that I suddenly gained perspective. The two-man show I saw that Saturday night used no props, no scenery, no special effects. Simply a spotlight, a solitary pianist, and a man with the intensity of a martyr. As the actor gave expression to each individual role and scene of the 24 hours leading up to Jesus’ death, I suddenly considered something new: Jesus suffered. The sweating of blood particularly struck me: during Jesus’ agony in the garden, he prayed with such fervor that the capillaries nearest his skin actually exploded from physical and emotional stress. His blood vessels exploded. Exploded.

That was the beginning of the end. The actor went on to describe the shards of shell and iron that were tied to leather straps and used to whip Jesus’ flesh over and over and over; to describe the way his back was flayed and then tied against a knotted piece of wood; to describe the nine inch long nails rammed through his wrists; to describe his process of breathing while standing up on the nail impaled through his feet; to describe the accumulation of saliva that would trickle down his throat until he drowned in it. With each impassioned description, I kept returning to the thought that Jesus had the opportunity to deny everything. He could have ended that pain at any moment. He could have come down from that cross. But he didn’t.

He wasn’t doing it for the celebrity.

The veil of the sanctuary wasn’t the only thing torn in two from top to bottom. Everything about my life suddenly seemed shallow, hollow, insignificant. Right there, on a pew lined with my peers, I wept myself dry. I may not have sweat blood, but I exploded with the excruciating tears of humiliation. Of humility. If Jesus wasn’t doing it for celebrity, what could his motivation have been except, perhaps, perhaps, love.

From the fertile soil of my humiliated heart grew out a realization that such a good individual had died for such a wretched one as me. I began to barter my life for his, if only to redeem the years of good deed doing he sacrificed for my sake. Over time, that bartering became a steady pursuit of the good for the sake of who Jesus had been and his divine call to goodness. Religious conviction blossomed, as did the knowledge that I was loved regardless of what good deeds I did—or bad ones I avoided. Nothing I could do would ever take back the need for that cross and that death, but I could live joyfully, invigorated by God’s great love for me.

Years later, when I read C.S. Lewis’ deduction of “Lunatic, Liar, Lord,” I suddenly realized that before all other experiences, that argument had been the one that had transformed my life. He could have been a lunatic, but no lunatic could say or do what he had. He could have been a liar—as I had always supposed— but the cross broke that line of thought. So he had to be Lord. And he is. I celebrate the ten years in which I have experienced that Truth. And I look to the next ten years I can shine in the light of God’s great and unending goodness.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


When I was a little kid, I used to pray fervently, fervently that our house wouldn’t burn down. I had this quilt on my bed that my great-grandmother had made and a couple of dolls that my dad had played with when he was a kid, the history of which incited an urgent sense of responsibility should a fire strike. I actually had a plan that if our house should be burning, I’d open my first-floor bedroom window, kick out the screen, grab the pillow atop which rested those most prized stuffed animals, throw them out the window, pull the invaluable quilt off my bed, and jump out the window with it. The greatest fear, though, was that the impending inferno would strike while I was out of the house. So I traveled with an entourage of stuffed animals and blankets.

When I got older, the possessiveness translated to family members. They couldn’t die. Couldn’t. Should God decide to take anyone of my loved ones, God would be answerable to me. I never once missed a prayer on their behalf, pleading that God would be nice and not kill anyone I loved, because I couldn’t live without any of them. It simply would not be possible. I forewent praying for anything I wanted materially because I couldn’t lose some of my credit reserved for my family members’ safety. It was my sole responsibility.

Come college, things began to take a different spin. I realized that my prayers to God were not good prayers simply because they were for others—I needed to actually have a relationship with God, one based on trust and one that understood that whatever happened to my family or friends, God loved them more than I did and God would take care of them. I had to let go of my sense of responsibility and let God take over. And I had to trust the fact that God is always good. It was the most relieving experience of my life when I finally gave God that power over the fates of the people I protected. I still remember the moment of liberation that came when I gave up my control. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I felt as though a huge weight had been lifted.

Then came the heartbreak. I didn’t lose anyone to death—thank God—but I lost someone to the general course of life. So much of my heart and intellect had been invested in this person, and as I watched him slip away from me, I lost all sense of up. No one else in life mattered anymore. Neither did food, school, art. I was simply a leaky balloon barely able to stay at equilibrium most days. God was a burden, but one I couldn’t completely disown. Instead, I resented God, resented the fact that God had taken this person away from me. How could it happen? How could this God, whom I had trusted so fully, renege on our deal?

I spiraled down into the muck of self-pity. God had betrayed me. Nevermind that my family and friends were all still alive and healthy, the fact that I had lost such a significant relationship was absolute betrayal. Benedict Arnold? Brutus? Judas? Piddens.

It’s taken me years to recognize the providence in that loss and the beautiful growth God has fostered through my suffering. On the far side of pain, I can give thanks for what I’ve experienced, hellish though it may have been. And my suffering was hardly a betrayal. It was simply God utilizing God’s right to turn my possessiveness on its head.

I have been considering these experiences a lot lately as I have begun to become possessive to a fault again. Somehow I never learned my lesson. And it means that I’m constantly living in fear. I’ve left too much happiness to the authority of God. What if there is this divine “gotcha” and I’m left empty-handed? What if all that I have begun to appreciate is simply castles of sand?

The best coaching I can give myself is that no matter how often I think otherwise, God really is in control. And God loves me beyond belief. If those two assumptions prove true—as they always have before—what use is there in my bartering or plying or begging for favors? What merits are there in making God an object I can control if I pray fervently enough? All I’m left with is egg on my face when the divine plan changes the course of my predicted life. And while egg-on-the-face is no fun, it’s far worse to have everything go according to our narrow-minded plans. We’re made for more than that.

Job lost everything only to be given ten times more in return. When we give up our control and feelings of entitlement, we find that everything becomes a present to be enjoyed for however long it’s in our possession. If we can train our minds to be accustomed to the unpredictability of blessing, and can rejoice even when things are no longer what we dreamed, then all matter of good fortunes will come our way. Because when our minds are formed to thank God for even the air that we breathe, then each and every breath becomes a gift. And that’s something no amount of possessiveness can ever quench.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


On a day like many of the others this winter, the horizon melted into the dismal gray of old snow. Whether it was run off from the warming ice or fresh flakes that liquefied on the road, the highway itself matched the wet, wilted world of the Middle West in February. I drove from Indiana back to Nebraska alone and silent. Through the windshield, my white car’s grimy exterior mirrored the hills and sky. A haze coated the world. My eyes blurred. My heart sank. This winter had extended too long.

In an effort for something, anything, to clarify the view, I pushed the button to activate my windshield wipers and fluid. There was little chance of an improvement with my broken wipers. Yet, with the sudden stream of cleaning fluid and the staccato of my hardened wipers stuttering across the glass came a miracle: the view truly cleared. The horizon still faded into oblivion, and my car was still stained. But I could suddenly differentiate so much of the scene, could suddenly tell that I had been staring through a mucky window expecting it to be clean. Before I had hindsight to explain my situation, I had thought I had seen clearly. Then, I clearly saw.

How often in life do we discover the truth in this metaphorical experience? I know for my part I have spent hours, days, weeks, dare I say years considering myself an enlightened viewer only to be sideswiped by a sudden onslaught of clarity. These moments burn because they cauterize wounds we didn’t realize we had. Initially we feel robbed even though the universe never promised us anything at all. We may be angry, dejected, disillusioned. Almost universally we are disappointed.

I have been reflecting a lot on broken plans and hindsight. When I was in elementary and high school, I expected to be a writer. Tirelessly I typed away, generating new takes on classic fairytales and semi-autobiographical works built around my adolescent fantasies. I went to college for writing, applied for a competitive major in writing, received affirmation after affirmation for this chosen path. And yet, when the crucial moment came, I had to walk away. Leaving behind writing broke my heart—even if I walked away with the peace of a prayerful soul. I just had no idea how God could be working through the roadblock.

Yet, God has. In hindsight I discover how many innumerable and beloved experiences I have gained through the abandonment of my past dreams. In hindsight I realize what foolish and shallow hopes I used to hold—hopes that now appear incomplete, immature, and downright dull. Why I spent so long crying over the changes in the course of the river or the digressions over unappealing terrain I do not know. Why I seemed incapable of considering everything with perspective, I cannot explain. Yet now, as I stand at a new fork in my road and contemplate all the quirky sidesteps that have led me to where I am, I cannot bemoan any of the seemingly counterproductive experiences I’ve weathered. Everything has led me to this point, and whether I can make sense of the past or no, I am thankful for it all.

I guess that is the solution for all the momentary inconveniences or smashed dreams we experience: thankfulness. On the other side of our heartbreaks we meet the beauties we never saw coming. If we can recognize these blessings, if we can embrace these revisions to our dreams of yore, we find there is no other option but to be thankful. And in our thankfulness we discover a renewed sense of trust in the path ahead. I do not know what will become of me, whether I will leap for joy or rent my garments, but I am peaceful about all that is approaching. Blind as I may be in this journey, I know I’ll see everything through 20/20 eyes, in hindsight.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Obedience, part I

One of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises is a meditation on duty—or obedience. He doesn’t exactly put it in those terms, but he challenges his practitioners to consider the request of a great king. The divinely-appointed king approaches a citizen and asks this person to serve for the sake of the kingdom. The king is just and will be laboring alongside the citizen, will share in the toil and share also in the success. St. Ignatius claims that everyone who is approached by such a king would feel an unavoidable sense of duty, and would be crazy not to accept the charge. In turn, St. Ignatius equates the same impetus for serving an earthly king as the rationale for serving a divine king. The citizen of God’s kingdom would feel an unavoidable sense of duty, and would be crazy not to accept the charge of serving alongside God. Right?

I found myself pausing over St. Ignatius’ self-evident claim. Perhaps as an American, or simply as an innate rebel, I have little interest in duty. I’ll hide behind the sins of my country to claim indifference towards patriotism, and I’ll hide behind the affronts of our leaders to validate discounting civil service. From the safety of the outside I criticize those within. And I am irreproachable because I am uninvolved.

There is a safety in this outsider’s position. We can abandon ship whenever necessary because we’re not beholden to its weathering the storm. And we can rebel without conscience when it fits our mood. The leadership says something we disapprove of, we ignore it. Perhaps, if we’re perfectionists, we’ll toe the line for the sake of keeping out of trouble, but in the end we won’t take the authority’s word to heart because that authority doesn’t truly represent us. In a word, we’re irreverent.

Does this irreverence translate to other points in our lives? St. Ignatius seemed to think that personal allegiance towards an earthly leader would necessarily predispose an individual to personal allegiance towards a heavenly leader. If that’s the case, then does personal irreverence for an earthly leader necessarily predispose me to irreverence for a heavenly leader? And if that’s the case, is the fact that I occasionally take issue with God and God’s declarations—especially those voiced in the church—indicative of God being behind the times or me simply being a dissident?

Unfortunately, I’m inclined to think the latter. The ramifications of this realization, though, I’ll save for the next entry. Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


We have different opinions about when it began. Perhaps the easiest marker is the day when Ed finally asked me to be his girlfriend: We had wandered from park to park in Houston, Texas; had gone to see Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers play our song live; had borrowed a guitar and sat atop a hill looking out over the skyscape of America’s fourth largest city; had discussed our pasts and prepared for our futures; had kissed for the first time. That day we told each other we loved one another. Yes, that day could certainly be the beginning of love.

But it could have easily been earlier—perhaps the first time we hung out, discovering different nooks on a frigid night in Houston’s downtown. I had packed for much warmer weather, so I was layered with Ed’s clothing. We walked the streets with a common blanket draped over our shoulders to shield us from the 40 degree cold, and took shelter in the shadow of skyscrapers when the wind drilled against us too hard. To avoid the crispness of that February-becoming-March air, we paid $15 for glasses of water and a table for two at the local Hard Rock Café. We split Thai food takeout on the patio of the Symphony Hall, and I received a flower as I got off the longest three-hour plane ride of my life. Yes, that could have been the beginning of love.

Before that there were late night phone calls and early morning wake-up calls and successions of emails. There were long distant phone “dates,” when we shared a meal at our respective locations, talking on the phone and avoiding other restaurant patrons’ inquisitive stares. There were chats about our families and our dreams and our fears and our brokenness. The seedlings of love rested in each of those conversations.

And then, of course, there is the day we were set up. I was unaware of what was happening—my friend had simply (and off-handedly) warned me that I’d either love Ed or hate him. She had very intently informed Ed that he would love me. Meetings are awkward enough without the pressure of starting a relationship. Yet somehow he saw through my retuning-from-abroad-with-serious-culture-shock sensitivities, and I saw through his nearly-incapacitated-from-the-flu misery. Something clicked between us, something strong enough to span 1200 miles and weeks without face-to-face contact. Yes, love very well could have begun there.

But Ed and I both trace our beginnings to long before we ever heard of one another’s names. Providence was acting long before, a voice calling out from the deserts of our previously broken hearts. Neither of us understood what those early stirrings had been at the time. Simple moments of clarity in which we could prayerfully accept that God had a plan for each of us. And that God undeniably loved us. In Providence there is excitement, comfort, peace, and sincerity. In God’s will there is a love greater than any human emotion conceived. In the months leading up to our first meeting, both Ed and I had experienced a sort of conversion to God’s desires, a sort of preparedness that whispered into our hearts that something rested just over the horizon—something larger than either of us could dream. With hindsight we have discovered just what God’s providence could mean. It very well meant the beginnings of love.

I find comfort in the Providence displayed throughout this opus. Relationships are never easy. No matter how well we know another person, there is always going to be the unexpectedness of independence. Yet, throughout this entire process, Ed—and God—have been teaching me more about what it means to trust. Trust in God’s plan. Trust in another person. Trust in the power of love to overcome all of our unique and abounding failings. In love we encounter the best in ourselves—that spit polish luster of divine grace. In love we get acquainted with whom we most truly could be. I do not know what will become of Ed and I. Neither does he. But we both rejoice in the love we have experienced since the inklings first began. That providence that has offered us this glorious year will follow us through wherever it leads. Resting in that steadfastness makes every anxiety fade. Resting in that love makes everything make sense.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Ed often prays that we won’t become complacent in our contentment. The prayer is beautiful in both its simplicity and its depth. Complacency is certainly a violent threat to persons and to society. It’s what drags us into a standoff with change and what builds barriers against new experiences. We’re happy in our bubble, and will not move beyond it.

Even with his praying for our protection from such a curse, I regret to say that I am in the throws of complacency. I'm happy to sit at home, all day, every day, and pretend as though I'm going to be productive. More often than not, I dream up my next great project. Not that it ever materializes or ever even begins. I could, if I ever managed to drag myself beyond my complacency, accomplish my goals or complete all of my tasks. There are enough hours in the day. I could fix something within myself, or even fix something in this world. I have no excuses. Yet I seem to always be putting it off for tomorrow.

Flannery O’Connor really offers us an idea about what to do with this mindset in her short story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” After a criminal holds a woman up at gun point, she suddenly begins to grasp just what it means to love others selflessly. O’Connor leaves us with the criminal’s reflection that the woman would have been a good person if there had been someone there to point a gun at her throughout her life.

Now I’m not about to pull a gun on myself, nor do I want to run into every dangerous situation simply to be reminded of my own mortality. But I do see a benefit in living as though I were going to die tomorrow. I don’t want to look back and regret those opportunities I let slip through my fingers. I want to live life more fully, to embrace each day, and to go to bed knowing that I’ve done all I could do with the time I’ve been given. Please, God, let that be my nightly thought for the rest of my life.

Sunday, January 31, 2010


Most weekday mornings at 8am, I turn on my computer, brush my teeth, and assemble my plastic stair-step. With a movie playing, I’ll step up and down, kick right and left, count off my pushups, and stretch out my hamstrings in an unintimidating attempt at getting fit. Actually, it’s an attempt at preventing bone loss, a threat my doctors are already wielding with zeal. They tell me that my skeleton is eroding out from under me. “Weight bearing!” they press. I must bang this body around a bit. I must get strong, or I’ll become very, very, very weak.

Strength seems to be the theme for this period in my life. I come across it every day. One example: a recent assignment has me ghostwriting a man’s autobiography. We’ll sit down at a local coffee shop—only a few inches away from the next occupied table—and he’ll tell me stories of being raped as a child, of growing up with a learning disability, of becoming a drug and alcohol addict. This man does not dumb it down, does not dodge the phrases nor bat an eye at the things he says. Rather, he stands up to his broken experiences and says, “No more. I will not be beholden to you ever again.”

That sort of strength astounds me. But he’s not the only one who faces down beasts. Consider the person who sits beside the bed of a dying parent, never cursing God or running away. Consider the person who battles fears, anxieties, the crushing weight of expectation and still says, “I am my own person, and I will not be mastered by this.” Consider the person who has a heart beaten up time and time again by a should-be ally and remains buoyant and willing to embrace the world just the same. Consider the person whose body sears with daily pain, and yet who is a bright light to the world. Consider the person who lives life fully alive, refusing to be scared off of love or hope or faith that the world will be better tomorrow. Consider the person who asks for help, the person who lends a hand, the person who battles for a change.

These, these and so many more, are the strong. These are the heroes.

Heroism is not monopolized by the great among us, but by the once-weak. For weakness begets strength. The end of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians reveals this fact perfectly, reminding us that even the greatest have struggled with brokenness and challenges. “That I might not become too elated,” explains Paul, “a thorn of the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’”

What power, what strength do we receive in our weakness? What might must we have to not be subdued? The silent and the strong are here among us every day, revealing heroism in the beautiful and broken world we experience. We must remain faithful to them, acknowledge their presence, take courage from their strength and their example. In their presence and fortitude, we discover hope in our own moments of weakness. In their lives we find possibility for our own.

Seeking out the strength of others—and admitting to our own weakness—we are made new and whole and ready. Suffering is not our enemy. It is the crucible that yields our strength. Just as my weight-bearing exercises yield a strength that will keep me upright, so too will our weight-bearing experiences yield a strength that will keep us going even in the worst of times. We find ourselves in our suffering. And by the grace of God, that is enough.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


“You’re reading Pride and Prejudice again?”

I’ve heard this comment many times. There I’ll be, clutching my Dover Thrift edition, gluttoning Austen’s mischances and Mr. Collins-eses. The wizened and satirical tone of the book’s narrator paints my world a new color with each perusal of the pages. Every time I revel in her word choices, her attitudes, her opinions, I feel as though I’m on a coffee date with a very dear friend.

Sometimes I wonder whether everyone else is reading the same thing I read when I pick up this classic. Certainly some readers are Mr. Darcy’s mistresses. Others seek a scholarly understanding of the time period. Then there are the pimply-faced high schoolers who are simply trying to survive the language. A reader’s reception of a piece varies by degrees with each perspective they bring to the pages. No matter how honed an author makes a text, there will always be a margin of error. Just as there’s a margin of error in every author.

Narrators are invariably broken people. Writers grapple with this fact and are constantly unearthing new ways to manipulate these voices. (Consider Gatsby’s Nick Carraway or Lolita’s Humbert Humbert.) The task of the writer and/or the narrator is to stretch or break open the nuances in his or her voice. To exploit the strengths and weaknesses of the perspective. This intentional manipulation succeeds when one is self-reflective enough to recognize the negative-space in each of our experiences. We’re each different. An author must be fluent in his or her own psychology as well as the psychology of everyone else. Then an honest voice may develop, one that is coherent and engaging. Only then. It is an understandably difficult task.

Whether we write things down or not, we are all narrators. But what happens when we don’t know that our narration speaks from a bias. Each of us has encountered that uncomfortable moment when we realize that our approach to a situation is skewed, unbalanced, or simply broken. There’s a miscommunication, a fallacy in our statement. Sometimes we backtrack, discover our mistake, and correct. Sometimes we fall and are forced to climb out of the crater-like hole in our language. Other times, though, we simply continue onward, ignore the fact that we’re fumbling about in the air like Wiley Coyote, and maintain our brokenness. We count on everyone else to understand our approach and not once do we consider whether we are, in fact, the ones off track.

Communication is key. I’m realizing this more and more as I continue a relationship with Ed. Our most common fights stem from our differing perceptions. Some topic will catch our fancy and we’ll digest it sweetly until suddenly something is misunderstood and everything turns sour. Take, for example, a very simple argument that had me storming for hours: We’re cleaning up after a photography shoot and our friends tell us that they’ll meet us later at our next destination. I comment, “That sounds great. We’ll follow you.” My assumption—my perspective—used the term “follow” in its uncomplicated definition of “Use the same path after someone else.” Ed perceived me to mean “Proceed directly behind.” When he disagreed with me and cited my statement, I was completely at a loss as to where our miscommunication lay. Who wouldn’t use “follow” in the way I did? Obviously, Ed wouldn’t.

We all have our broken lenses, our idiosyncrasies that taint our perspective or warp our understanding. That’s allowed. But to enjoy that benefit we must also recognize its cost. There’s a responsibility in communication, a responsibility to understand the other’s terms before too many personal assumptions cloud our approach.

One of my professors in college always used to make me define my terms when we began a conversation. I laughed at his eccentricities (I mean, really, who would think they’d need to define “How-was-your-summer?”?), but I’m now grasping his wisdom. Certainly we can’t always go around and ask everyone else to define their terms. But recognizing that each of us approaches the world with our unique perspective (and vocabulary!) will help us respond to miscommunications in the future. Hopefully then we won’t find our narrations so incompatible after all.

Friday, January 15, 2010


For the past several months—perhaps for the entirety of my self-awareness—I have been contemplating my motivations to write. In this contemplation I’ve encountered Two Antagonists residing within my core: one, The Egoist, fantasizes that I am a good writer and wishes to bestow my insights to the world; the other, The Child, halts the process of creation by saturating me with self doubt. The Egoist tells me that I should write, but that I should write for reasons that my heart knows are wrong. The Child tells me that I shouldn’t write, because even if I were writing for the right reasons, I would fail to speak any sort of Truth.

The Two Antagonists wield a lot of power over me, especially whenever I look at a blank page. However, if I can silence them, if I can get over my desire and fear of being a writer, I touch on something almost prayerful. It is all encompassing, something that my mother can see on my face and which she has titled “the Ozone.” In truth, her word choice may not be far from the truth: “Ozone” connotes “celestial” in my mind, a term that mirrors the event horizon I encounter while I write. It’s the same feeling I get when I look at a masterful piece of architecture or listen to a soulful piece of music. The hope to articulate something beyond myself. That hope subdues the desire to be known for writing and the fear of being good at writing. In the Ozone, I may actually simply be myself.

The title of this blog comes from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. He declares:

"For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known."

-1 Corinthians 13: 9-12 (NAB)

The last line is terrifyingly hope-full: I am fully known. Every single thing about me is known. The good, the bad, the insane, and the contradicted are all viewed and understood by God. This level of nakedness in the eyes of God shames and exhilarates me. Fully known. Fully. Completely. Wholly. I find hope in such a thought, a hope that drives me to write despite the gnawing intimidation of the Two Antagonists. We know partially. We cannot know fully. We speak partial Truths. We cannot speak full Truth. But if we cling to Love, to God, we may discover, we may see, we may know fully, even as we are fully known.

I want to write of Truth, to analyze Truth, to know Truth. I want to create something beautiful—like a cathedral or a sacrament. I want to glorify God with what God has given me. Here lays my motivation. Here I may rest.