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 CafĂ©. 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.