12 DEC 2016 [safe journey, little brother]

Safe journey, little brother.
Hand high, head higher
Tall with things promised
Tall with self to prove
Sworn to be selfless
To bear and defend and
Become less of one
You will yet bear more weight
Than the promises you swear
While the things forsaken
Forever weigh heavy

Safe journey, little brother.
Firm stance on yellow footprints
Firm feet on solid ground
Heart flag staked
To God and country
Or country and God
Where is your heart?
To Whom are you promised?
To us, to them, to all
That you truly love?

Safe journey, little brother.
With sun and sand
Water and wind
Overcoming with struggle
Easy, someday
Less so than words
Unrelenting and seeking
Your heart and soul
And body. All.

Safe journey, little brother.
While Christmas comes
We will make snowmen
Melting shapes, making cheer
With sticks and stones
You will be remade
By words and men,
Sticks and stones

Safe journey, little brother.
We will pray and write
Pennies and postage
Sending words, just words
Pieces of our days
Words that you will not hear
There, until home again.

Safe journey, little brother
Keep your oath
We will keep ours
Prayer for your journey—
In Whom do we hope?
That you might be kept

Safe journey, little brother.
These words and prayers
Threads between coast and heartland
Will not spare you
From the breaking of self and soul

Safe journey, little brother.
Come back as new
Remade as a man
By God first, country second

Safe journey, little brother.
In losing self and all else,
Do not lose Him

Safe journey, little brother.
Hand high, head higher

Safe journey, little brother.

Letters From An MBI Student – 11/30

Dear Family,

Am I poor?

Please don’t answer that question. I think I know your answer. It’s not actually a question, or maybe it is. Consider it rhetorical, one I’ve asked myself daily.

Am I poor?

But I mean it in regards to money. I’m not talking about poor in spirit or poor in thankfulness or that sort of poor. But money poor. Pennies-in-the-bank poor. Tomorrow-is-the-1st poor. So maybe it’s not entirely rhetorical.

Am I poor?

I know what I have, pennies included. I know I have more than the average college student, but I know I’m hip-deep in debt, but I know I’m where I’m supposed to be, but I know that God’s will doesn’t mean debt-free…

Right?

Being a college student is doing weird things to my outlook on life. It’s hard not to resent knowing that when adjusted for Chicago living, I used to make more than my current bosses. It’s hard not to resent the fact that I don’t get to plan extravagant Christmases just because I can. It’s hard to look at church opportunities and support letters and the vast need for finances in ministry and to know that I have no pennies to give because I need fifteen cents for a scantron on Friday.

Am I poor?

I’m still learning to live like I’m poor, and I despise it. I still want to buy chocolate for my sister every time I’m at the store. I still want to ship random Amazon packages to my sister just because I can. I still want to take my siblings out for birthday trips to buy their new jeans for that year. I still want to send those birthday flowers, because this is year five and it’s a tradition now. I still want to give the way that money used to enable. That’s not selfish, is it?

That’s not a rhetorical question, either.

Am I poor?

No. Yes. No? Yes?

No. No, no, forever, no. Nuances to this conversation abound, but in asking this question over and over again, I’m realizing that the question itself is a dangerous thing. Because the minute I say “Yes,” I start living like it. And I start despising all those things I can’t do and other people can. I despise the Amazon boxes and plane tickets and resent the careless pennies of Apple and Spotify. I cut corners and bury my money in the ground and hope a tree of Benjis will appear. I stare at the sidewalk for the dime that will save my life, or stare out at sea waiting for my ship to come in. I wait and wait to not be poor because I hate it so much. Because I have chosen that as my title and it has made me so, so, so much less. It has shrunk my pennies to be tiny, bitter things, but it has also shrunk my perspective so that all I can see are those things that will never be enough.

Here, let me start this conversation again.

Am I poor?

No.

Why?

I am not materially poor because I have a thousand more pennies than I could, praise God. I have food in the fridge on even the worst day, an apple a day in the SDR, and three ways to make coffee in my room. I have gift cards to Starbucks and student discounts at Treasure Island Foods and rice cakes all day long. I have had gift cards in my CPO and emergency cash to tide me over to the next cycle and a doctor that takes very, very late payments.

I am not materially poor, because once upon a different season, I had the opportunity to buy many uncounted treasures: sturdy shoes, dress pants, a yogurt maker and coffee pot and a vehicle that has passed 150k with only the occasional murmur. I have clothes that meet the dress code, a winter coat that has lasted me four good years now, and Christmas lights stolen from home to drape around the window that looks at Chicago.

I am not materially poor, because I have a paycheck every two weeks and my church takes electronic deposits to take it off my hands the very next day. I had long days of work this summer and bosses that asked me to stay and the ability to take care of the little things and still, pennies in the bank.

Am I poor?

I’m trying to say that I think I may be as poor as I choose to be. I haven’t even scratched the surface of the thousands of priceless things that fill me right now: carols and Christmas lights and the hugs of a friend. I have my sister to bless me with words of cheer when I only have two pairs of jeans because I ripped the other one and when my six-year-old shoes finally give up the ghost and I can’t replace them. I have running shirts galore and sweatshirts I love that were $4 at Goodwill. I have plaid for days because “Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart, that’s our store; we shop there because we’re poor!” I have a friend that trades me in coffee purchases and a mother that sends a jar of yogurt with me back to school every time. I have so many things I could try to count and yet still fail to value.

It’s true that I can’t pay my bills with high-fives, and smiles aren’t currency in the bank. So I sit in an office and make my pennies and save them for coffee at Joe’s and don’t go if I can’t leave a tip. I pay my late doctor bills with sticky notes of apologies and thanksgiving that I could actually pay it this time. I take out a loan with a sigh and a prayer for those pennies as the trickle their way to Moody and return to me tenfold in the wisdom and love of those who teach and care for me. I write a support letter for Chorale with the yo-yo of shame and marvel, because if I am poor I hate that I have to ask, and if I am not poor I am eager and brimming with the gratitude that these people will even consider sharing their pennies with us.

If I am not poor, these coins are not mine. These scraps of paper are not mine, whether or not they are printed with Benjamin Franklin’s face or “FINAL NOTICE.” They are just another choice, another opportunity like the thousands God has given before.

Sorry for the long writing again. I’ll get back to the short ones, but this is what is on my mind. Tomorrow’s December 1st and I’m trying to figure out what Christmas looks like, and I’m trying to do it without “POOR” emblazoned across my forehead. I’m trying to figure out what generosity looks like without “CAN’T PAY FOR IT” barring the way. I’m trying to figure out how to love in new ways when I can’t afford the old ones. I’m trying to figure out what joyous work looks like when it will never pay the bills.

They say that tithe is just giving back to God what is His in the first place. I don’t want to look at my pennies with the view that maybe He didn’t give me enough. The bank may not say it is enough, but what does He say?

So I work and wait and save and make decisions based on what I have. I won’t buy new shoes or those jeans or tickets to the Nutcracker. But, dear family, please catch me when I say “I’m poor.” Because I’m not, truly. I’m not able to buy you the moon, but I will lay out under the stars and laugh with you. I’m not able to gift you with the wealth of the world because I have none of it, but I will gift you with the wealth of what I have been given: pennies and joys and love beyond measure.

Because I am not poor; I just have very little money.

Maybe missing you,

~Rae

P.S. Also…how can I be poor when I have a wonderful family like you?

Letters From An MBI Student – 11/30

Dear Family,

Thanks for letting me come home for Thanksgiving. I would have hitchhiked my way, but it was nice to see someone actually show up at the train station before I fell asleep with my luggage.

Home felt pretty good this time around, and I think I figured out some of the things that make it feel like home. That’s such a strange word for me, and I’m still figuring out what that word is hard for me to use, but I don’t have a better substitute. So here are some things I realized about the place I call home. Warning: it’s about to get sappy. It’s Christmas and it snowed today and…ahh, strings of lights or not, it was always going to be sappy. So.

Home is where you plop down on the kitchen floor and laugh because you’re too tired to stand or think or do anything other than be some sort of emotional. And because it’s home, you don’t wake up the next day and wonder how laughing hysterically has affected your reputation.

Home is also where you can chase people around trying to be affectionate to them and they may not want it and you don’t care if they do or not. You’re not doing it because you met that person on your dorm floor who likes hugs and you feel like you should probably encourage them; you’re doing it because it’s family and you’re so darn glad to see them. And it’s your sister, whom you haven’t seen in an eternity and your brain doesn’t have interesting words to tell her how much you love her so you kiss her instead. Or try to.

Home is where you fall asleep in total silence. It’s where you realize for the first time why people use white noise machines, and you feel so sorry for them and their lives of perpetual noise.

Home is where you can see the stars instead of stoplights. There aren’t crosswalks to watch for and pedestrians to avoid running over. The only red lights at home are the ones on your car when you pull into the driveway too fast. And you don’t care that the neighbors will probably have an opinion on that at the Christmas party, because you’ve done it a thousand times before and this time you’re not in a hurry because you have stuff to do; you’re in a hurry because inside is home and family and more interesting things than speed limits.

Home is where you yell at the dinner table and throw peas and eat an entire pie yourself. It’s where the world’s best food is made with more love than that house can hold. Home is where you wake up feeling guilty for sleeping in so late but your mom made you coffee and the day begins with a little sip of heaven.

Home is where you sit and crochet and don’t fidget about the homework that you brought back because home means rest and peace. Home doesn’t give peace, but it creates the space for it. And then God and the love of family fills it and you take it back to school and find the energy to power through the last three weeks of school.

I’ll probably not be as retrospective about home as soon as I leave my cozy place beside this Christmas tree. I’ll probably not be as gracious when I tell you about Candlelight Carols rehearsals. I’ll probably not be as enthusiastic about home as soon as I start writing that paper I’m avoiding.

Oh, well. At least you know for now.

Maybe missing you,

~Rae

Letters From An MBI Student – 10/15

Dear Parents,

I think this is going to be the sort of letter that every parent dreams about receiving. Did you two talk about getting a letter like this after another day of rowdy kids who didn’t get their schoolwork done and had bad attitudes and didn’t listen and didn’t obey? I seem to recall a few “someday” conversations. You know: “Someday you’ll realize/understand/experience/thank us/etc.”

Well, consider this my someday letter (sort of). Because while, over the past few years, I’ve come to the gradual-and-instantly-terrifying realization of how much I’m like you both, school has been an opportunity to realize a few of the little things. And here, the little things mean a lot, because in the big overwhelming-ness of college life, these small understandings have felt a lot like gifts from home.

Yesterday I was thanked for cleaning up the kitchen after cooking. For simply wiping down the stove and counters and behind the faucet. Please don’t laugh at me, because I know very well all the times that I haven’t done that and I know I won’t always in the future. But I know how, and that’s thanks to you, Mom. I know what a clean kitchen is supposed to look like and how important it is, regardless of how consistent I am in doing that. You said that good cooks were good at cleaning up, that the work wasn’t done until the kitchen was clean, and I never knew how much that meant to you.

Last week I was thanked for being honest. I don’t think of the students here as being dishonest, but apparently some types of honesty are more rare than the rest. I wish I could claim that I was always honest, but I know that whatever level I am, it’s because I learned to love it in all those hours with you, Dad. I got to learn that to be best friends with someone requires honesty in all things: in love, in argumentation, in confrontation, in apologies, and even in fun.

Two weeks ago we sang “Be Still My Soul” in chorale. I’m at a Bible school where hymns are rampant and the words are sometimes taken for granted, but, Mom, I still remember those evenings singing “Trust and Obey” and “Be Still My Soul” and while I may not remember all the words, you gave each of us kids a love for music and the meaning in it. Maybe it’s the sweetness of the memory, maybe it’s the seasons in which I’ve encountered those hymns, but mostly I think it’s because I never saw you get tired of them, so I never have, either.

Three weeks ago I got in a conversation with a student about politics, and I realized the breadth of untaught education I got from you, Dad. You may not always have been right (shocking, I know), but you did make it seem absolutely important to be and stay informed on this world and its decisions. Here at school, the opportunities to do that are harder to find, but thanks to you I’m keeping up. Because it is so ingrained in me to know and understand and acknowledge the economic, political, societal, and spiritual impacts of the decisions we have abandoned to a secular world.

Four weeks ago I started reading aloud with a student here. A girl like me, with a love of stories and hearing them. So I get to read aloud to her, going through a classic children’s story. Did you know, Mom, the way I can hear your voice in crowd because of the way you say you “s’s,” and that I love that? I’m finding my story voice, the voice and pitch and tone of a narrator, and I hope it sounds like you. Because in my head, I hear you in those hours after lunch when you taught us to love both story and sound.

Five weeks ago I met someone else who loved math. It’s kind of a rare thing here, and I’m nervous to claim that love because I’m not fantastic at it. But, Dad, you never said I had to be good at it, but you did want me to understand it. You always described math as this unexplored, extraordinary thing that was waiting for me to delight in. You and Mom both managed to do that with all of my school: yes, I did it because I had to, but you thought there should be joy in it. That if I could just get to the other side–beyond the bad attitude and nagging frustrations–then I could discover how meaningful every piece of learning is. So now I get to experience that at school; the absolutely joy of learning.

There are many more of the little things, but here are a few. Please understand that I will not always be thankful like I am today. I will probably forget some of these next week when I have a Spanish exam and two hundred pages to read and a week’s worth of dishes and dirty laundry piled around my room. I will be crabby and hate the learning and sing a joyless version of even the most beautiful of our chorale songs. But someday I’ll write Version 2.0 of this when I remember it all over again.

Missing you,

~Rae

Little Pieces

Writing is hard. Sharing is worse.

I’ve been a storyteller since I was little, scripting plays with my teddy bears and reenacting Robin Hood between the swing sets. The packed dirt was the brook, a railroad tie was the bridge, and in my version, Robin Hood never lost to Little John. They ended the fight as friends and equals, since that was what my sister and I were and would always be. Also, she was two years younger, and it was too much for my ego to fall into the brook.

I enjoyed drawing, but I discovered that I was invariably pulled to write and that my sketchpad was a messy writing surface for an eight-year-old hand. Thus began the first in a series of red notebooks–my favorite color–as I wrote and plotted and realized that I could be an author.

My sister read my stories. She and I were two halves of each other, and I needed the ego boost that her unbounded enthusiasm brought. She and I entered into something of a writing circle with three of our friends, and I was jealous to learn that they’d been doing this for years.  They had interesting characters and completed stories and I was behind on the times. I wasn’t used to no longer being the oldest and most experienced of our group. So I wrote, desperately, needing to pull out every shred of story that I had imagined. I wanted to impress, to create, and the writing felt disconnected from me. My characters were strange people to me, and it felt like our collective group was getting to know them together; like strange pen pals, only I wielded both pens.

Then we entered high school, and our little circle dissolved. One girl moved away. Another started public school. The last held on, and we emailed our chapters and scraps to each other. I gushed with pride when my hero died and it made her cry. I used copious punctuation and a multitude of emoticons to encourage her to continue her writing. She didn’t.

Then it was just my sister and I again, and I missed our community. I was writing more than ever, now, but it didn’t feel official. I didn’t feel like an author. The writing was too hard, too painful, too personal. Stress in my real life was encroaching on my writing. It became journal entries on the page, and it was entirely inadequate. No one else was reading it except my sister, and I loathed it and wanted it that way.

The therapy that writing gave me lasted through three hundred and fifty typed, single-spaced pages. My sister read it, but said little. It was enough for me to have written it, to have released it. My own emotional turmoil was over, enough for me to write “real author things” now, as if that was some safe category that I could arrive at and be satisfied with.

I’ve been writing “real author things” for some time now. They’ve been unfinished NaNoWriMos and second-drafter short stories. But there is still something terrifying about sharing it with others. I’ve never regained that disconnectedness I had when I first started writing, and I know that is a good thing for my craft, but not for my person.

My parents and other siblings never–still have not–read my writing. I hated the idea that they would read them and look at me differently. Just because I wrote about a girl looking for her father didn’t mean that I was equally lost. I wrote about trophy wives, but my mother was never one. My characters had half siblings and abusive bruises and loneliness. I grew up in the middle of six best friends; we played Dutch Blitz together and made pizza on Saturday nights.

But there were little pieces of me, scattered among the imaginary.  I remembered the first time I held my littlest sister, and the wonder at the tiny hands and perfect toes. I remembered the confused bitterness of an older sister who loved and hated with equal passion.  I knew about false promises and empty apologies and what it was like to miss someone until your heart ached.

But to give that to someone else? I’m not sure if I’m more afraid that they will attribute false emotions to me … or that they will recognize those parts that are mine.

I tell myself that I’ll let others read it when I’m satisfied. When I’ve parked my trailer and hung my curtains on that plateau of “real author things”. Yes, there is a perfectionist in me, and she can be quite persuasive. I listen to her when I’d rather not hear from the part of me that knows I’m simply too insecure to share it.

I think my perspective is all backwards. In handing over a manuscript, it feels like my story. Like this will be analyzed for posterity as a reflection of my current mental state. But maybe it’s not. Sometimes I forget that I’m writing fiction, that I’m telling someone else’s story. Someone else who is broken and challenged in different ways than I ever was. Yes, I recognize those little pieces in her that remind me of myself. But there’s far more to her than just me. I have to ask myself if her story is worth telling. And if it is … then why am I not?

Tell The Truth Tuesday

Today’s list is Things-I-Should-Have-Done-This-Weekend-And-Didn’t-Because-I-Was-Doing-Other-Things

1. Grad pictures. My sister is graduating this year, and she’s having a party in June. We were going to shoot a fresh batch of pictures for these invites, but it keeps not happening. This is mostly thanks to the rainy weather, too much traveling, family coming to visit, and general lethargy.

2. Comics. Three years ago a good friend of mine had major leg surgery. He was in a children’s hospital in St. Louis for over a month, and wore a leg brace with sixteen pins inserted into his leg, allowing the doctors to rotate the lower leg bone into the proper position over the course of nine months of therapy. Yeah, it was a big deal. As a get-well gift, I drew him a series of comics detailing our friendship, including the origins of our nicknames for each other: Charlie. Well, Charlie is graduating, and I have given myself a deadline of two weeks to finish a second Charlie-is-an-adult/goes-to-college comic. For being mostly stick figures and colored markers, it takes far more time than I usually give myself through my endless procrastination.

3. Reading. I was going to read non-fiction this weekend. Get through some of my fat biographies that I really do enjoy. Instead I curled up with To Kill A Mockingbird and was treated to a stunner. While I’m sorry that I didn’t get to read more, I’m not sorry that all I got was this fantastic book. Wow. Sometimes we give classics a free pass because the author is famous or his/her books are revered…but then you get a book that can stand on its own in every decade.  This one needs a reread.

4. Writing. Sigh. I didn’t get a scrap of writing done over this extended weekend, and I’m fit to burst with the need to write. I’m finally settling into the idea of rewriting this old project, and it isn’t taking long to reawaken my love for it. Must. Write. Now.

5. Rest. One of the things I love about my family is our ability to just be together. We don’t have to be planning maniacally or driving six different places to have fun. We can lounge together and drink coffee and tea and make waffles and watch Finding Nemo and be hermits all weekend and simply enjoy the fact that we’re together. Unfortunately, this weekend was travel and traffic and rainy days and less time together than a non-holiday weekend. I was on the road fighting Memorial Day traffic, driving 6 hours to my hometown in order to spend only 16 hours there. We had fun, but it wasn’t restful, and I’m still discombobulated from the whole thing.

How was your weekend?

In Memoriam

(source)

In memory of my cousin, who is recognized on Memorial Day, but remembered every day.

They played these songs at your funeral, and a thousand hearts cried in that auditorium.

Hawkeye sat at your casket, and the world caught sight of it.

The American flag was hung from the firetruck ladders, and hundreds of flags were carried by the Patriot Guard. I will forever love those people. They were the wall against Westboro and the wall keeping us together. Their flag line at the cemetery was unforgettable, as the sun blazed and they stood motionless, holding their flags and holding our hearts.

(source)

I will never hear taps the same way again, and the trident symbol is no longer just a symbol. It’s a memory, of row upon row of pins in a cherry red casket, pounded in with hurt and anger and without a spoken word.

There are a thousand more things to remember that day, because you never forget. Sacrifice is unforgettable, and this is our chance to remember.

Thank you.