lost.

to be shocked to tears by a glimpse;

the clear shade of light and

the dark blurring of shadow not

the paint-by-numbers of human hands

and soak it in as if this place of near-hue could possibly flood all the gray corners of dead space

to know the trueness of a scent;

the realness of color and

the piquancy of reality not

the bitter tang of chemical mockery

and gasp for it as if you can only breathe one more time and this last taste is what you choose

to hold a piece of former things;

the tracery of forgotten touch and

the ownership of your own fingerprints not

the betrayal of misplaced memories

and clutch it again and find that your hands are not small enough for this to feel the same

to chase down lanes of new life;

the cresting hill of new memories and

the worn grooves of your own footprints not

the treacherous cobblestones of old lifetimes

and look for known lands through the refracted haze of dust and ghosts

to hear the strains of yesterday’s loves;

the wistful line of once begotten and

the thumping echo of heart songs not

the muffled clatter of foreign feet

and lean towards the light-spun notes that can neither be held nor heard again

to reach for another’s touch;

the honest smiles of welcome and

the generous hearts of selfessless not

the choking grip of needy arms

and find new callouses and listless hands and familiar lines composing a stranger’s face

to be placeless.

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cardboard lives

I made him when I was a child

bits and pieces of paper and string

the misshapen trunk of a dryer hose

a cardboard box with a knee-shaped dent and a torn flap

tape and glue and silver threads of imagination

with googly eyes set to rattle around

always askew

I called him Mr. Robot.

*

I played with him when I was a child

concocting mud and gravel pies

stirred in with the pine needles and juniper berries

gold and blue and storm-grey gravel

he gave me a crooked sharpie smile

and an eye tumbled into the gritty stew

I scolded and fished it out and taped it back on his bucket head

still awry

I told him to eat his soup.

*

I talked to him when I was a child

sitting on the prickly ground of fir and elm

touching the bristly edge of glossy leaves

I gave him mittens for the hands he didn’t have

so he could touch it too

and could know why I liked it

and we found the place where the wind blew best

shushing a gentle storm around the pines

but never quite threading through the needles to us

in the eye of the hurricane

I told him everything.

*

I made him keep a secret

and his coiled neck crumpled and his head titled sideways

of course he could keep a secret

we were quieter than the hushing wind

and we decided we would run away someday

away from the scrubby yellow grass that pricked our feet

away from frowning trees that encroached the house

and away from the loud places

where we lived

I swore him to secrecy.

*

I asked him never to tell

his crooked eye drooped

and he reminded me he didn’t have feet

so he would always be with me

but I hadn’t asked him not to leave

just to keep my secrets

I knew people who left because of their unsaid lives

he said secrets shared were like little threads

keeping us able to grow up together

but people are most honest with their bodies

in the end

I thought maybe he was right.

*

I shook his hand in promise

and the mitten dropped from my fingers

clinging to dust-brown pine needles and old leaves

instead of to me

and the wind shifted and the bucket clanged

empty and cold when he looked away from me

the cardboard grew limp with fingerprints

and he was left under the porch because

we couldn’t have bugs in the house

or silently seeing eyes

I set him outside.

*

I didn’t recognize him

tipped over in the dirt

with one eye askance and a smeared mud mouth

the silver neck was crumpled

and there were no mittens

the neighbor’s dog had a new chew toy

and Mr. Robot went away with my secrets

or I left.

For Such A Time As This

Dear Dr. Fledderjohann,

You were my 8:30, my first class, my first professor. You were my introduction to what Moody would be like. And you, with your stern-faced, soft-soul-ed, no-nonsense demeanor, said teaching the Bible had to be interesting. With punctuation. And so we learned, and I took a final in the fireplace room and was proud of my work, and I took criticism in my projects and learned that I deserved it. Thank you.

Dr. Profe,

I took you because I was afraid. Of failing, mostly. At some point in class, you said that learning a language involved being willing to make mistakes, and that when that mistake-making happened, to learn to have fun with it. You said that learning a language involved the sort of failure I was afraid of. I learned to be good at it, and even if I didn’t learn how to have fun at the parts I wasn’t good at, I could at least look at you and realize it could be fun. On another note, you were the first professor whose patience I couldn’t comprehend. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Baurain,

Did I still set the record for most writing done in those minute essays? I’ve always loved to write, but I didn’t know how much I’d need those early crucial tools you gave. Your knowledge of Lewis intimidated me, your essay questions captivated me, your enthusiasm for Nebraska delighted me, and your willingness to engage in conversation taught me that professors could and should be approachable. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Park,

You are still a legend to me; an incendiary one, admittedly, but a legend in both your boldness and the fact that you still remember me–and my sister. You talked about an arena I had little technical knowledge in, and you drew it back to a region of personal impact. You taught me what it looked like to do something that I thought I already knew how to do. Thank you.

Dear Professor Worrall,

I still want to call you ‘Dr.,’ even after you corrected me. You corrected me in class, too, that first early time when the little bubble of loyalty was pricked and old griefs came spilling out. And you corrected me after class, in the pause between things you had to do and things I didn’t understand. You corrected without saying I should know these things already, and I learned–along with bold declarations of faith, deliciously creative classroom presentations, and absurdly beautiful handwriting–that teaching involved stopping and engaging, if even for a moment. Also, I still remember your teary-eyed delight at the wonder of having children. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Baker,

I think I doodled in the back row of your class quite a bit. I promise I was paying attention–truly. I had no concept of what these motions meant until I was out of the sandbox and onto the shore with waves too big for me. And then I realized that, all along, you had been trying to teach us how to swim. That was the first time I was late on a project, the first time I snuck into Fitz late so I could slip a paper under a professor’s door, and the first time I wrote a note to one and signed my name. I wanted you to know that the class mattered to me, and that you did, too. Also, my sister had said that I would want your sweaters. She was right. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Namaan,

You said you had an extra ‘A’ in your name so you could give us one. I appreciated that, but even more so I appreciated your endless desire to see the world know Christ. While I learned that yes, I could write a four-page paper in half an hour, I also learned that I didn’t enjoy being out of my comfort zone but sometimes I had to. I still remember Habakkuk 3:18-19, by the way. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Lit,

That’s appropriate, isn’t it? I didn’t know what to expect, sitting in the back and wondering what this would be, but while I didn’t agree with everything, I did learn that theology involved lots of humor and the capacity for endless study. I also learned that I didn’t know theology half as well as I thought I did, and it was humbling in the best possible way. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Sauer,

I didn’t know the nickname for your class until I was almost done, but ‘love hour’ wasn’t wrong. I loved every minute. I didn’t know one person could have such unflagging energy for the Word, for life, and for love. You may not remember it or know it, but you were the very first professor in whose office I sat, and said a little, and cried a little, and you flipped through that big Bible on your desk and spoke the very verse that I had been praying for my sister over and over again and never praying for myself. Thank you.

Dear ABD,

I still think of that, and am still rooting for you, however long this journey takes. Thanks for still remembering my name. You recognized our failings as students and sought–even while busy and burdened in ways we never knew–to feed us more information than we could grasp but badly needed to know. I wish I could go back and understand better now what you taught us then. The coffee was delicious, too. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Mathews,

I never understood how you did it, how you managed to teach and preach and speak and steadily love the Lord and His Word and His Church and His work and His children in the same unflagging breaths. I know we were few and listless, but I still have those books sitting on my shelf, because what you had us read could not leave us untouched. You haven’t given up on the vision of work done well, and you resuscitated that vision for us, too. Thank you.

Dear Dr. McDuffee,

I’ve sat under you three times. I think you only remember the last two, but it was the first one that floored me. How do you think of the world with such breadth and with such humility? I finally saw White Cruficixion but it was only after visiting Chagall’s museum and being in tears because I was finally glimpsing a fraction of the way you see the world. I’ll admit that I did sudokus in class to keep my brain grounded to my hands, but I promise the hundreds of pages of notes were from those times when I was able to pin to the page those scraps of thought too vivid to leave alone. I thought you were profound; then I realized you were unforgettable. I had already wept in Yad Vashem, but you taught me that I could weep with both anger and gentleness. And then I wept in your office, and you were kind and still gentle. And you still remember, because somehow your mind can comprehend the full spectrum of color and not forget the specific hue of the people around you. Thank you.

Dear Mrs. Smith,

You were color and sound and always wore something sparkling and glittery. You were the pastor’s wife who never sugarcoated the work of it but never presented it as anything less than the richest gift. You wept in a moment and smiled in the next. You proclaimed conception a miracle and made it all make sense without it ever being made shameful. You gave me my only ‘B’ in 9 years of college. And then you sat across from me at a lunch table and said you could see me. And you sat across from me at a coffee shop and said you could see me again. And then you sat across from me on a plane and saw me again. And in those moments I saw you, a woman, who teaches with passion and loves with ferocity and gives both joy and tears their rightful place. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Weber,

I had heard about you before I sat in your class. So I wasn’t disappointed, and then I wasn’t disappointed again, and then I was surprised because I wasn’t disappointed again. You knew me because of where I sat and you gave us clarity because of who you are and you gave me a fair grade because you would never do anything less. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Peterman (Napoleon),

It only makes sense if you’ve seen it, but then it always makes sense. You were the first person to care about footnotes and margins and the period in exactly the right place. You meant ‘exactly,’ and I learned ‘exactly,’ and in between we were your guinea pigs and we turned out just fine. It seemed like too much reading and too many words and too much knowledge and suddenly it became pastoral because you could do no less. And when I was able to learn from you again, I knew both when to laugh this time and that you were capable of tears, too. And because I knew, I wasn’t afraid to ask, because you never caused us to be afraid of your answer. Thank you.

Dear MM,

I’m sorry I didn’t know how to appreciate you right away. You didn’t pretend that we were better than we were, and up until then I had pretended that I was. And then I was uncertain, and it led to certainty, but I was still uncertain how to bring new certainty to you. And instead you asked, and listened, and let me go with blessing and not complaint. And then I learned that you had taught us to appreciate you, in your own way. Thank you.

Dear Dr. de Rosset,

It feels pretentious to call you anything other than the real thing, but you were never anything remotely pretentious. You had just as many opinions as the next person, but more clarity and gravity in your words than the next fifty persons. And you laughed when it struck you as funny and cried when it wasn’t. You scribbled and marked out and brooked no excuses. You also savored words and named things as good without parsimony. And when I finally sat in your office, you walked straight to my soul, bypassing the masquerade of niceties along the way (and, coincidentally, my name). I treasure your praise, because you are unafraid to both withhold and extend it. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Koessler,

You may not remember that I spoke to you, twice. And the first time you said it was nice and well written and rather boring. And the words I had been so afraid to ask came tumbling out. You went next door to retrieve an awkward fistful of kleenex and gave them, gentleness, and wisdom all with the same generous hands. You had told us to ask what we dare not ask, and I did. And when I saw you again, you asked and were still gentle and I’m still not certain if I can tell what that meant to me in that season. I’m still asking. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Finkbeiner,

You were the nail in the coffin, as it were. Or perhaps the helium in the ballon. Or the instructor on the parachute jump. You made out both soaring and falling to be the greatest adventure of them all, and you scribbled out with pencil and paper those first instructions for how to begin. Then you stood against a wall with your hands in your pockets and asked bad questions and encouraged all manner of fumbling answers and loved theology all the while. And I still am realizing the places we jumped and the things we tasted and what richness you gave us in small, cheerful measure. Thank you.

Dear Mrs. Penfound,

I learned more about the grace of the Word than I did about fitness, I think. Your class meant a lot of pain, which I didn’t enjoy, but you gave a lot of grace, which I needed. You never said our goals were too lofty or silly or that we were not where we were supposed to be. You just did whatever you could to encourage us as who we are as people, people who could do better and people who you encouraged to do yet better still. Thank you.

Dear Coach,

You were pressed for time and persons and yet not pressed for grace. So you gave that to us, and the Lord used you to give us the gift of free time. And in the times you were with us, you didn’t mince words but didn’t withhold engagement. It was a relief and a gift and never a threat. Thank you.

Dear Coach,

I didn’t particularly want to be in your class, until you sat on the desk and took a call and made another one and exposed your love for life and sense of humor. I was reluctant and nervous and in pain most of the time, but even though you didn’t know, you encouraged us in the small ways with a cheer that made it all seem possible. Thank you.

Dear Dr. V.,

I got to know you at your best, didn’t I? Around a table in a little classroom, on the floor around a little living room, on couches in front of Indiana Jones. You said Sys Theo wasn’t your forte, but then you dove into the Greek of the thing with more elan than I had ever approached a language. And the language spoke to the theology, and Biblical theology and Systematic theology settled alongside and within one another better than I had seen before. And you remembered and asked and had a settled, unabashed honesty that stretched my spiritual muscles and helped to heal them, too. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Neely,

I was sorry not to be in class with you, yet I was privileged to sit under you at all. There are moments of you that still strike me; an opening word at FBM that oriented both our day and our lives toward Christ, a sermon at a church in Edinburgh, a conversation around the kitchen table at the Lighthouse, clarity around a campfire. You’ve repeated these moments time and time again in always choosing to greet me. The most striking thoughtfulness is a word you perhaps don’t remember, when your kindness to say how proud you were of me was a ribbon of kindness in a day seamed with grief. Thank you.

Dear James,

You presented yourself with integrity before you ever knew how deeply it would matter. You kept your honesty and welcomed ours and never lost your sense of the absurd, even when you were late to the bus and even when you knew the spiraling troubles ahead. Meanwhile you sat back and crossed your arms and somehow taught us to keep our feet steady when the theology was unsettling. You were honest when you said every passage told us something of God, and you were honest when you didn’t have the answers. And in that restless summer, when all I wanted was answers, I wrestled with God and was finally honest with Him in the end. I left limping and loved anew. I just wish I had more time to learn from you. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Root,

Your knowledge managed to both intimidate and inspire at the same time. Every day was extraordinary and heady and gripping and it felt like we barely scratched the surface. I treasure these moments; a coffee break when you were surprised and blunt in ways you didn’t know I needed; a quiet afternoon in a field when I fell in love with Alice in Wonderland again; a day traipsing in Oxford when you made a doctorate seem like the most ordinary and possible dream in the world; an evening watching and thinking and learning of redemption yet again. I learned to love the Word and its enduring treasures, while you were full of the life of the Word and its enduring transformation. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Goodrich,

I wonder why you never told us quite how difficult it was. Because you taught so steadily, as if was the most delightful and steadfast thing in the world. And it didn’t matter if we were sleeping or staid, because you pressed on and distilled years of study into minutes of teaching. I feel like I skimmed the surface in everything I learned, but I realized that the waters were far deeper than I first thought. I need to learn to swim, and learn to love it, but you helped us begin. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Merchant,

You entrusted us with hefty papers and loaded assignments, and I loved the chance to hear and exchange and begin to see the hands and feet of theology in new and unexpected ways. But what I needed most to hear was that early day, when you confessed and proclaimed that ours was a God of active redemption. In a semester of regret, I needed to know that He was still drawing us up from the deepest places we have wandered. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Schmutzer,

How did you know to ask that first question? To ask if there was something else behind that door that I didn’t want to open? You weren’t afraid to pull boxes off the shelf and name their contents, and in a year when nothing was in order, you spoke truthfully of even the most difficult things. I still feel as if I don’t know and have barely begun to understand, but even when I was uncertain and stumbling for words, you listened and still asked. You were careful with this hurt because you know the Healer so well. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Hong,

I’ve said it before, but I was continually astounded by you. You were tireless beyond comprehension, enthusiastic beyond measure, and prayerful beyond sight. There is much I didn’t say, but what I did you were always careful with in your own way. I didn’t know how bitter I was towards music until I learned to love it again and realized I’d forgotten what it tasted like to sing with both joy and tears in my throat. And you never condemned when my body failed and never ceased to call us higher when we could go yet farther. Thank you.

Dear Dr. C.,

I think of you in terms of honesty, except that your honesty is never unkind. So thank you for your kindness towards those I love, your kindness towards those I don’t yet love, your kindness towards me. I wanted to say thank you first when I realized the way you were gentle and honest in all the ways I couldn’t be, and then you willingly turned towards me with that same grace. Thank you.

Dear Dr. J.,

I have no words to say what you mean to me and what you have taught me. You are my brother and my friend and my teacher and it is forever my privilege to call you so. Thank you.

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.

9/11/2001

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?

And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?


Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,

’Tis the star-spangled banner – O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.


No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!


Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto – “In God is our trust,”

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

The Star Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key

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.