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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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 An MBI Student – 4/23

Dear Family,

Lesson of the day/week/semester/year/life-so-far: sometimes the kindest words hurt the most.

I’ve had many, many kind words this semester. I’ve had many, many painful words this semester. If the words were a Venn diagram, there would only be a thin crescent moon on each side of times when those were not the same thing.

They are so innocuous, these words that come out of alphabet soup, these words that sound and seem and are written down as extraordinarily ordinary words.

“How are you doing?”

“Can I do anything for you?”

“You say that a lot, don’t you?”

“Do you always have to do that?”

“Did you know?”

“How can I pray for you?”

“Did you mean to do that?”

“You look nice today.”

“I missed you.”

“I waited for you.”

“I was hoping to see you.”

“I don’t understand you.”

“Where are you?”

All of them, those plain little collections of letters, are stones thrown up against life-old bruises. Maybe it’s self-centered, with that ubiquitous “you”…but then again, isn’t it that little baby of a word that makes it mine? What hurts is the hand of care reaching out, what hurts is the someone reaching for a hug you don’t want, what hurts are the questions that stumble against what you hoped they wouldn’t find. They ask “you,” and “you” give them something of “you” and it hurts.

I’m still learning the difference between a hurt that I draw back from and a hurt I lean into. Some of the words on that list come from people or conversations that I never hope to have again. Some of the words on that list come from people or conversations that I need to have again. Some of the words on that list come from people or conversations that I will have to have again. I don’t get to use a Venn diagram to tell me the difference.

Because where kindness and hurt overlap is where the grace of God comes in gentleness to exactly where I most need it and least want it. I have to know Him to know His hand, and in knowing His hand I know His healing.

“Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:25-30

Maybe missing you,

~Rae

Letters From An MBI Student – 4/12

Dear Family,

Decision-making isn’t really my strong suit.

Maybe you knew that.

I’m learning that on the hamster-wheel of immediate consequences, although I think it might be the pace of college that has shortened that timeline. Choose not to read that book and regret it within the next week. Forget to do laundry and lack for real pants tomorrow. Drink lethal amounts of coffee and enjoy your brain functioning while your body yells at you in sundry disagreeable ways. Stop to chat and arrive late. Buy the food now and bemoan the school bill next month. Consequences are not served cold here at school. No, tomorrow’s face gets slapped by today’s hand.

Like I said, decision-making isn’t really my forte.

I think I’ve forgotten that the tumbling pace of consequences right-now covers up the slow shaping of life not-yet. Lately, I’ve been picking the easy side of life and living with the little bruises of my own decisions. It hasn’t really mattered if the crossroads are trivial or less-than, I’ve just gone the way that asked less of me or seemed like it did. Exhibit A: Daily Crossroads

Set out matching clothes the night before//Throw on yesterday’s shirt the next morning

Pay for a cup of coffee as you’re running late//Take your noisy grinder out in the hall to let the others sleep but your coffee brew

Write your paper in the blurry P.M.//Write your paper in the bleary A.M.

Spend quality time with a friend//Or a book (Bonus question: a book for class//a book for you)

Study alone and plow through the necessities//Study among and meet no deadlines

Rewrite the paper//Submit the draft

Make the phone call//Put the phone down

Step into social media//Step away from social media

Take a nap//Drink more coffee

Dash to the next free hour//Linger in the classroom

Text back//Or not

Speak//Don’t

Volunteer//Abstain

Set aside//Give away

For a world-class over-thinker, I’m actually not sure I’ve done enough thinking. Here are a few more I’m less pleased to add to the list:

Spend time with God//Spend time with homework

Choose Christ//Choose self

Like I said, decisions? Not my métier. The decision that I do least well is the decision of what is important, and I’ve forgotten that every “yes” is also a “no.” I’ve lumped my own underfed union with Christ in a collective basket of “things to be decided,” along with the color of my socks and an unanswered text. Enough days of careless decisions and my character and body and soul grow into something I never thought they would.

But decisions? Praise the Lord I decided to go to class today, because I was reminded of the One who pursues me down these winding paths. I was reminded of the One who picks me up with the skinned knees I’ve gotten on the way to growing up. I was reminded of my pitiful faith He undergirds with His own staunch faithfulness. I was reminded of the decision He made, once and for all, to place me in Himself, so that no matter how much I blacken my soul and batter my mind with the consequences of my hand and others, I am yet His. My own faulty decisions are made within a life claimed by the faultless decision–no, being, of Him.

Like I said, my decisions are scarcely laudable, but, then again, neither am I. But I’m found in Him who doesn’t stand at the crossroads of life and flip of a coin or glance at the clock. He does because He is, and with every little choice I make now, I fight for or fight against the shaping of the being that I am in Him.

So here’s to tomorrow’s decisions, whether that’s another letter to you or an unfortunate yellow shirt or a heart that actually listens. Today, one of the decisions was Philippians 3:7-14, and it was good, both for today and for the imperfect crossroads of tomorrow. Praise Him.

Maybe missing you (sorry, I guess that decision is still in the basket with those socks),

~Rae

Letters From An MBI Student – 3/2

Dear Family,

Welcome to the caffeinated ponderings of this week: being tired. I think there are levels, because tired is not an unequivocal thing. To say “I’m tired” can mean one of sundry stages. Here are mine.

Stage One: I’m tired, but I haven’t really considered that yet. I am, but it’s white noise at this point, like walking the halls on Doane 3 and hearing music but not reflecting on it until asked. An annoying trickle of tiredness that I know is always there but don’t bother with. The coffee I hold in my hand is most likely out of habit, and I don’t know you well, so I will say: “Outstanding,” when asked.

Stage Two: I’m tired, and I know it, and it is habitually ordinary. I will add a dose of caffeine to my afternoon and look with far less enthusiasm at things that have no deadline, like the dishes in my sink. Homework will happen, because panic is still an effective motivator. The coffee in my hand is most likely my second cup, and I don’t know you well, so I will say: “Going,” when asked.

Stage Three: I’m tired, and I feel it. I become a minimalist in all things, whittling away at evening plans and extraneous conversations. My caffeine consumption takes the mug form of an IV line, with a dose before every class. The coffee in my hand is most likely my third cup, and I don’t know you well, so I will say: “Surviving,” when asked.

Stage Four: I’m tired, and I don’t know anything else. I’m counting the hours until I can crawl into a corner, and I’m in glasses and probably the clothes I wore yesterday. Classes will happen, fueled by countless unquestioned cups of coffee interspersed with unsuccessful doses of Earl Grey. The coffee in my hand is not working, and I don’t know you well, so I will say: “Here,” when asked.

Stage Five: Nope.

I don’t actually say, “I’m tired.” Not anymore. I asked Lady to hold me accountable on that, because, please note, there is no Stage Zero. We live this life tired.
The closer I am to Stage Five, the more blurry my perspective on life. It is far too easy to be tired of being tired and far too simple to make that my identity and not an adjective. After a week of wavering between Four and Five, getting back to Stage One will be the closest I get to some sort of ‘not tired.’ So I say other words instead, which sort of mean the same thing, but maybe can encompass other things, too.
For example, to say I’m “Outstanding” means that I’m thinking of you, Father Time, and your persistent slogan of my childhood: “Outstanding and Improving!” It doesn’t mean that I’m not tired, but it makes a little room for the other things in life; like delighting in the lazy snow, engrossed in the class reading, or enriched by unexpected conversation. I’m not not tired, but I’m not just tired. I’m other things, too.

Like maybe missing you,

~Rae

Letters From An MBI Student – 1/20

Dear Family,

I don’t think I have ever been so glad to see a Friday. Oh, glorious Friday, you came. Or the end-of- Friday, at least. You wonderful end-of-Friday you.

Brief recap: tour was great and fairly chill (but a little weird). But this whopping version of the flu started around right before tour, picked up a few new members on the bus, and settled in my lap on the ride home.

Yay. It’s been a dandy, with a cough that eats up your insides and the fever wobbling between 101 and 103 for four days. I managed to do the baby amounts of homework for each class the day before, so I wasn’t actually late on anything. And Lady was a champ, even if her reactions were totally different than mine.

I got ready for class Tuesday morning and lay down again instead of going. All Lady said was, “Good.”

I went to work, made it 2.5 hours, and went back to sleep. Lady didn’t wake me up in time for Chorale.

Wednesday I didn’t even bother doing anything. Lady brought me Perrier.

Thursday morning I decided I was going to go to class. I got everything together, made it to the bathroom, and had a rather embarrassing episode of needing to poop, puke, and pass out all at the same time and having trouble deciding which was most important. I may or may not have still had a fever and was a little delusion. Lady woke up in the midst of this little crisis, picked me up off the floor, and helped me decide my priorities, which included this insightful gem: “I don’t think you’re going to class today.”

I didn’t, but after sleeping, getting fed and babied all day by Lady, and finally kicking the fever into normal territory, I toddled my way to Chorale that afternoon and found a friendly chair for an hour and a half, because you can’t fall over if you’re already sitting down.

Today I went to class for the first time this week. In fact, I made it to work, to class, to sleep, to class, to a class that was cancelled which was glorious because I could sleep again, to work, and now heading back to glorious, wonderful sleep. Thank you, end-of-Friday.

Tomorrow I intend to do nothing. Except, maybe, the mountain of homework since I did almost none of it this week. And laundry. And cleaning. And things that living human beings do. On the other hand, I could just sleep, because the living do that, too, and that’s what I think will make me most feel alive.

Cheers, family. If you need me, I’ll be sleeping.

~Rae

P.S. One silver lining to all of this? I think my weight loss has finally reached the realm of “impressive.” Considering that this is my fourth time getting the flu in the last six months, it’s about time.

Letters From An MBI Student – 12/5

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Dear Family,

Today has been brought to you by four cups of coffee.

1: Measured and scooped and pressed and brewed in the hurried five minutes before Lady and I left for class. We walked across the slush leftover from yesterday’s snow and I wore my old work boots and G3 sweatshirt and missed a different lifetime but the smell and taste of my hasty Lavazza got me to class and back again.

2: Drained from the dregs of the unexpected dispenser in my second classroom. I walked in with sleep marks on my face and not enough wakefulness to make it through the next two hours, but those using that room during chapel hour had left their coffee totes and tea and bagels and popcorn and I sat in the back with warm coffee and stayed awake enough to take notes.

3: Watched and made and weighed and poured with thoughtfulness and infinite detail by small hands that love with coffee very well. I sat and looked and smelled and carried to class a cup of coffee tasting of brightness and care.

4: Brought unexpectedly at the end of the day, a light roast enjoyed with a dear friend next to the Christmas tree. I sipped and enjoyed and found second words and second breath for the small mountains of tonight.

This weekend was completely beautiful and mostly exhausting and today I was simply too tired to try to put the pieces back together. So today happened with four cups of artificial strength and countless amounts of tangible kindness.

Maybe missing you,

~Rae