Snowfall

I tended to be that kid who knew too much and nothing at all. Who snagged information with sticky fingers and wandered on without washing her hands. Who collected a dossier of business cards and phone numbers and scraps of background, because these were the important things. Information was safety, was power, was protection against surprise and, thus, fear. Information was important.

It’s snowing outside. The first snow of the season. Big, white, puffy flakes, tumbling down between rust-red bricks and clinging to scuffed concrete.

I tended to be that kid who loved puzzles and did them too much. Who disappeared into a world where all things fit just right and even the missing pieces were fine if you knew about the blank spots. Who did the same puzzle over and over again, because these scattered pieces would go back together the same way every time. Puzzles were safe, for no matter the shape, they all fit together, and, thus, so could life. Every piece had a place.

The snow was unexpected. I think it likes to be unheralded. Let the weatherman say to expect something, and then laughingly blanket the world in white. Somehow it is both lazy and scurrying, plummeting down to collect in fluffy piles. There are footprints in it now. No snow angels yet, but we didn’t dress to play in it today.

I tended to be the kid who knew things too early. Who collected words like rainwater and then looked them up in the dictionary. Who heard a line in a phone call and an adjective used and added siding to the house everyone had been told was only a blueprint, because these things just allowed a sneak peek behind the curtain. Knowledge was confidence, was confidential, would be worth knowing later, and, thus, worth knowing now. Everything could be known.

The snow is still falling. The students are having a snowball fight in the plaza. Some slide across the sidewalks to class, a few tiptoe, too many grumble. Someone threw a snowball against the window of our classroom. Out of joy or spite, I don’t know. Maybe it was done because that’s just what you do when there is snow on the ground. The snow doesn’t care. It just falls and paints the world white. If you stand still long enough, you can taste the bits of cold and become paint-speckled, too.

I tended to be that kid who did a lot of internal construction. Who heard one word and collected five. Who received an explanation and held it in her hand while digging through the pockets and memory banks to pull out the rest of the story. Whys and Whens and How-Tos were more than loose change for the vending machine of what actually happened. Whys and Whens and How-Tos could be re-used over and over again, because the picture could always use a little more focus and, thus, you were never quite blind. Or blindsided. It all always made sense.

It did not snow that night. We walked in with the lights dim and heard diplomatic words like “strategic” and “re-positioning” and “trends” and “reductions.” I’ve never seen us so silent. Afterwards, we didn’t scuttle across the plaza and make snowballs out of the unexpected matter that fell into our laps. We stood and held hands and prayed over all the words behind the words and all the lives behind the lives and all the undone things behind all the things we could-would-should have done.

The snow is slowing down. Perhaps it’s almost done. Still painting, still careless. Perhaps careful. Perhaps it’s deliberate, the way it settles into corners and the folds of a scarf. They’ve salted down the plaza, so now it’s slushy walkways and a slippery path of almost normal. It isn’t quite, though. It snowed. It snowed, and we tasted it, and it was good. It was beautiful. It is beautiful.

I tended to be the kid that thought too much and not quite enough. Who said too much and only sometimes the right things. Who thought about all the scraps of knowledge and pieces of information and wisps of knowing, because if I knew, it would be enough. As if I could patch the world together with just enough thought. As if I could suture a wound with just the right words. As if I could understand the bruise with just a little more knowing. As if all the information in the world could have kept the trends and predictions and funds and enrollments and reductions and calculated words at bay. As if all the information in the world could have told me how to sit at the back of the room and know what to say or what to do when I actually knew what I had already known. The pieces were all there. The curtain had been hung ajar for a long time. The pocket of loose change had told me, dollars and cents, what I could get. They just didn’t tell me what I could do.

It’s stopped snowing. The first snow of the season. Slushy, slippery, melting between the cracks in the rust-red bricks and scuffed concrete.

They won’t be coming back next year. Probably. Those professors who taught, those mentors who listened, those teachers who lived alongside us for a few years or perhaps a few decades or maybe just a few times a year, baton in hand. I don’t know many of them. I don’t know the what-when-why-how of their lives and losses. I don’t have those pieces. We’re all missing a lot of pieces, walking around with gaps. Some of them are tiny gaps. Some of them are not.

It’ll snow again, hopefully. I love the snow. I love the way it paints the world, and me, too. I love the way it turns dirty corners into white alleys, leaky roofs into bleached canvases, scraggly trees into dusted masterpieces. I love the turning of the world, even for a moment, into something new.

I will always be that kid who thinks she has all the pieces and doesn’t, actually. Who has read all the books and written all the notes and done all the puzzles twenty-six times. Who has heard all the conversations and seen all the signs and noted all the warnings each and every time. Who has actually done less than all of that and will never quite be ready for the actuality of things. But today I stood in the snow and stretched out my arms for the chance to taste something beautiful. But today I knew about the snow and was still astonished at the way it made things beautiful.

There’s a newness here, too, in the holding and the praying and the singing now. And there’ll be a newness there, too, when there are fewer people to participate in the holding and the praying and the singing. But praise to the Maker of snow and life: He still makes new, all things. Maranatha.

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Domestic Incident

I hear my neighbor smashing his guitar
against the wall. He’s done it once before
when in a rage. This time he can’t afford
to get another. They’re expensive things.
And yet he loved that wooden box with strings
more than his wife. (Their daughters sit afraid
and wordless under his bizarre tirade.)
Should I call 911, report a case
of spouse abuse? He hasn’t touched her face
or body, simply bellows that she keeps him
from his writing, hovers while he sleeps . . .
She wouldn’t thank me. She remains unmoved,
shelters her little girls and simply waits
while he destroys the only thing he loved
rather than strike the woman that he hates.

“Domestic Incident” by Gail White

Published in First Things, November 2015

Narcissus” by Caravaggio, 1597

Letters From An MBI Student – 7 OCT

Dear Family,

You know what I truly despise?

[maybe this is a rant]

[maybe despise is the wrong word]

[loathe?]

[abhor?]

[detest?]

Carelessness.

[maybe carelessness is the wrong word]

[recklessness?]

[heedlessness?]

[thoughtlessness?]

Those tiny things said, thought, done, undone – chosen without care.

[maybe chosen is the wrong word]

[neglected?]

[overlooked?]

[scorned?]

Is it just a lack of consideration?

[maybe consideration is the wrong word]

[appreciation?]

[deliberation?]

[education?]

Do they know no better; do they think we know no better; do they think we care as little as they?

[maybe care is the wrong word]

[maybe all of these are the wrong words]

[maybe there aren’t good or right words for bumping into the sharp little corners of those who don’t think; and those who think and don’t know; and those who know and were simply human for a moment]

[maybe this is just a rant]

I suppose I know no better, too.

[suppose is the wrong word]

[think]

[know]

[am]

[sigh]

[I am, I know, no better, too.]

Maybe missing you,

~Rae

Rest, Truly

cropped-100_2864-w.jpg

Dear refuge of my weary soul,

Bastion for this tired heart

Outstretched arms that wait for me

Is this true? Are You not?

 

Come home, all ye heavy laden,

Wandering feet, stumbling tread

Painted on these signs and songs

Yet unsure of this path and end

 

Dear saints, I will give thee rest

But truly rest, from this, from You?

Is this burden from your arms

Or these sleepless hours gifts undue?

 

Jesus, I am resting, resting

Restless in the hands of rest

Hands that give and take and reach

How can these thorns be Your best?

 

Nearer O my God to Thee

Against these that would woo my soul

Out from under, up from below

Wondering, waiting, yet unwhole

 

And yet, How Long, O Lord?

For weary souls to wander home

And will they, Lord? Will they surely?

Will we find Your rest alone?

 

Be Still, my Soul, truly still,

Still in arms of wrathful love

Quiet in a spacious place

Waiting for He who does

 

Before the Throne of God above,

Though we did not ask to come

Footsore, forlorn,

Learning of the love of One

 

O Love that will not let me go,

Incarnate Lover, Severe Mercy,

Wrath of God, Son of Man

Joined to us, the too-long weary

 

It is well with my soul

Well and good and healing yet

Knit with Spirit, flesh and blood

Marked as His toward final rest

 

When the shadow lands are done

When the saints come truly home

When my faith shall be my sight

When my flesh shall seek the light

When this pain shall have no grip

When these feet shall never slip

When these hands shall be remade

When this crown at His feet laid

When all is right and all is new

When this soul knows this as true

 

To You, O Father, let us come

Joined to Jesus, heirs with Him

Marked by Spirit, paid by blood

 

This is rest; life within

This is rest; love undimmed

This is rest; truly Him

Letters From Abroad – 13 AUG

Dear Study Abroad,

Well. I’m not sure I know where to begin.

This was going to be a thank you letter, but maybe I should start with a confession.

Confession: I was prepared to dislike you. I was prepared to find little to no connection. I was prepared to be starved of soul-filling fellowship. I was prepared to laugh because I had to. I came with rehearsed answers and withheld questions and a body under an expired warranty. I came without trust in the God whom we serve together.

And then you all happened, in all your smudges and imperfections. I was snarky and you laughed, I was silent and you asked, I was tired and you cared. You did not answer every need of my soul, but that is because God used you to build me up in other ways. You built me up so I could see Christ in the mess of the unspoken parts of life.

Corgibutt, thank you for your infectious laughter, your ability to delight, your choice to ask and care. I can’t wait to hear your joy in the halls of Moody.

Catmom, I may not love cats, but I love you and your snark, the theology and thought underneath, the bursts of laughter, your crazy dreams. I mean, what is even…?

Bush with red berries, I never expected another sister, the stories you tell, the care you take, the wisdom you humbly hold, and the tenacity and empathy rooted so deeply in you that you can weather apathy with honesty.

Jane, I wish you could see yourself and the grace you carry. Thank you for the hilarity (leaves!), honesty, and heart. Your own godly womanhood is a testament to those women for whom you care.

Yellow, you were vastly unexpected; a burst of heart and sass, a deeply caring soul, a vulnerable honesty, and a treasure I wish I’d known so much earlier.

Nancy Drew, there are so many strong women I could name for you, but perhaps this is what I appreciate most: your anchor in Christ is deep, your gentleness tangible, your humor a witty, subtle thing.

Sports GODDESS, we may notice your enthusiasm and skill, but neither can we miss your faithfulness in learning, care of everyone you meet, quick eye and hand to help, and humility to see others at their best.

Pocahantas, where did your heart come from? You have blossomed from the quiet observer to the one speaks truth from that, and your heart to teach and care has chosen to remember those who care for you.

Jenna Coleman, I thought you were quiet, but perhaps you only trusted your voice in memes for a while. Thank you for the hilarity and the honesty. Thank you for teaching us how to see present redemption.

Ophelia, I will look forward to seeing your face at the desk now, because I know the faith and healing God has placed in you, alongside the talent and skill to organize and be a faithful Martha and Mary.

Thriftqueen, I wish you were in Chicago, but perhaps God needs your graciousness, killer style, love of food and place, and quiet ability to enter and enjoy at Spokane. By the way, you’re not too old; you’re just right.

Asian Mountain Goat, I will miss you. I will miss your unexpected questions, your ability to speak into everyone, the different glasses with which you look at the world, and your tender heart towards God. The spirit of you will be in every numbered list until we meet again.

Potato, please know we care. Your questions are unexpected, but who knew that on the scale of serial-killer-to-saint, you were in the category of honest friend who can both shock and awe?

Squirrel, Chipmunk, Hamster… I’m unsure how to describe you other than the small friend who never quite goes away, chatters frequently, but brings delight and has learned to care in ways the world has not yet understood. Your cheer and encouragement will be missed. Stay smiling, friend.

Dan Brown, you bring so much to us. Truly, you are built in Christ, a Timothy being brought up into a thoughtful man of God with deep-running thoughts and a still-cherubic-cheer. (Get it? Angels & Demons?)

Big Bear, I meant what I said: you astonish me and contain the qualities of a person unmistakeably transformed by the grace of God. You stand out in a hundred ways, although some of them will be changed once you learn to use your inside voice (ha).

Soccer Dude, don’t change. Don’t change your laughter, your care, your ability to listen, your honesty about God. I may tease you now, but I count it a privilege to see you grow in those things He has so precisely placed in you.

To those who taught: you taught far beyond the classroom, and, from the person who is occasionally starved for a life perspective outside of my generation, you fed my soul, every day. You treated me with respect I did not deserve, made yourself available in countless unasked ways, and looked ever to Christ so we might see Him, too. You cared for our needs of body and mind and spirit, spoke honestly of hard things, praised Him in past and present grace, opened our hearts to receive a greater portion of Him, and believed in the God Who Is. Thank you.

There are so many more people and places and servant-hearted saints to thank. This is just small gratitude for a harvest that I will be reaping for much longer.

Cheers, friends.

~Rae

Letters From Abroad – 30 JUN

Dear Family,

In the interest of maintaining my sanity and upholding honesty in all things, here. We’re at the halfway point and I can truly admit that there are things I miss. I may be trotting around fantastic places across the ocean, but I can still miss things. Life is like my little tin of colored pencils; beautiful and yet still missing those key shades. Let’s go around the color wheel…

Pearl: My car isn’t usually this color, but the rarity of my trips to the car wash are inversely proportional to my love of that dusty white thing. I’m not lacking for roads traveled, but even the glimpse of a highway in England feels achingly similar. But for the mirrored lanes, it’s Iowa and Illinois and Nebraska and I could believe I’m back under the Midwest clouds. I miss sitting behind the wheel and spinning through those sun-soaked miles on my own.

Brick: I thought of choosing Sangria or Berry or Garnet, but those stones that surround the Plaza are no more than this ordinary color. I already know that Chicago will feel squashed and small, but I’m ready for that. I don’t mind this endless old color, because the headlong pace of these days is its own pressure.

Coral: They may be sweat-stained and more gray than this color, but I miss my running shoes and the poor-man’s talaria that they are. Whether it’s the spit and gravel of the home road or the bumps and cracks of a Chicago sidewalk, there’s nothing quite like feet on familiar ground.

Dandelion: I don’t know when we started calling the sun yellow, but I think of it in this color and there hasn’t been much of it here. I actually miss the sweltering heat of the Midwest. Here the sunlight is white or gray and they don’t call them sunny days here: it’s “bright days,” and that usually means that the clouds have lightened just enough to remind us that there is sunlight somewhere behind them. I will always love a proper gray day, but in the constancy of these I still miss the yellow.

Cerulean: I’m cheating here, but I wanted a blue color and I think of her eyes when I see it. I miss my sister.

Emerald: I’m surrounded by beautiful cities with greenery in every lawn and window box with a level of abandon that puts Chicago to shame…but it’s not my own high green hills. We’re gearing up to go to the Emerald Isle and I love the mountains but miss the green places that I can consider mine. Strange how the emerald I think of isn’t even a plot of land I own, but I miss it in a way that all the ivy here can never satisfy.

Scarlet: for the friend and sister who lives in the state I used to…I miss you, too.

I don’t have a color for each one of you, family. There aren’t enough shades to color in what you mean to me, and I miss you in your own way. And while I can try to fit all these things somewhere in a neat little pinwheel, the truth is that even these things won’t satisfy. We’re all homesick for something, but we may arrive at home to find out that it wasn’t what we were missing after all.

Maybe missing you,

~Rae

Letters From Abroad – 24 JUN

Dear Family,

Can we talk about pain?

That sounds excessively dramatic, and it probably is. Maybe I should begin this the way I began every childhood letter…

Dear Family,

How are you? I am fine.

Today we trekked up to the castle, ventured out to a museum, found lunch on a cold and blustery day belonging more to March than June. Today was going to be a full, lovely Saturday, stuffed with things to be seen and experienced. Today was begun and ended and muddled in the middle with simple, ordinary pain.

How are you? I am fine, but I’d like to talk to you about pain: physical pain, specifically. And I need to be honest. Because pain tells many, many lies, and maybe putting them down on paper will make the black and white between truth and falsehood a little more clear. Because pain siphons away worth when the group trundles along the street at a faster pace than you can manage; pain taunts your inadequate muscles when the stairs are just too difficult to climb today; pain blots its dreaded inkspots into the agenda of the coming day; pain whispers of a lesser life when your mind is cloudy and your hands shake and your speech stutters in unfamiliar ways. Even those things that you once did or planned to do are not untouched, like the phantom pain of a lost limb. I know it’s something any retiree can tell you: your sleep will become a privilege, clarity of mind a rarity, and even your feet will betray you and keep you where you do not wish to be and lead you where you do not desire to go. I’ve been told that I’m in my prime of life, but pain speaks its classic lie to me as it does to any age: it says that I am not truly living, that I am experiencing less, drifting more, whittled down to joints and muscles and neurons that are all rusting too soon.

I’ve questioned myself: is it my will that is not strong enough? After all, I’m a walking antithesis of every sports t-shirt and self-help slogan: Just Do It, or some other unhelpful phrase. When do I say “I think I can!”, and when do I roll over and take a nap? When do I relinquish the backpack to someone else’s shoulders, and when do I muscle through on my own? When do I stop deciding my day based on the physical factors, and when do I start? When and how do I do both?

Today this was the part of pain that I struggled with: the lie of less. That this different sort of life is somehow less. That this is less when I watch the world from a window and leave my running shoes at the bottom of my suitcase. That this is less as one blissful day of wander and wonder steals the stamina from the next three days. I know it’s a lie. I know that I’m not alone or different or special. You live life tired, live with your own creaks and aches, live with your breath stolen in its own way. Physical pain is universally experienced and individually endured.

I just wish I knew when it was lying to me. Someday maybe I will be able to speak better of pain as a gift, not a lie. Maybe I will be able speak of how it shapes my relationship with the Lord, or how I am living differently–not less–for staying at the bottom of the stairs or handing off the water bottle for someone else to open. I’m not yet ready to declare those with confidence. But in the midst of the lie of less is the first step that I need: wisdom. The physical and the spiritual are not battles I have learned to fight together. Days like today remind me that James’ plea for wisdom is not simply for better spiritual sight or to gain a sort of ephemeral wisdom that takes me to a higher plane of piety. The struggle to know when to push forward and when to stay back is exactly the sort of wisdom I crave, the same wisdom that can recognize the quality of life in the midst of a quantity of pain. There are a million decisions and small struggles for which I am unequipped, but James speaks of confidence before God: that when I bend these knees before the throne in prayer, the Lord gives generously to all without reproach. He does not look at me less because I know so little of how to live like this. He gives as one who intimately knows my every need, who knows the spiritual bent of my soul and the physical bent of my body. He walked here, too. He who gives wisdom knows even the requests to which I cannot give voice.

And the wisdom He is giving in these moments is also what reminds me that my pain is not so bad. There is thankfulness in all things and new mercies every morning. There is the ordinary joy of another day spent travelling in places I never thought possible. There is the simple joy of breakfast at a kitchen table, pressed down and shaken together by the fellowship that does not care that we are eating differently. There is the biting joy of weather I cannot control, sharp with the reminder of the extraordinary Creator who sent it. There is the unacknowledged joy of freedom and taking steps to new places on ground that is steadier than it once was. There are the unrecognized joys of sight and sound and smell and touch and taste, countless unrehearsed joys for the journey. There is the expectant joy of Scripture that speaks truth when all I hear are lies. And there are those who have walked years far beyond mine, who look at these little things with eyes and hearts full of wisdom that has been asked for and granted in undeserved measure.

Like you.

Maybe missing you,

~Rae