Unfinished

Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God with whom I fight?

***

Who is this God who was when there was not?

Who is this God who breathed life into dust and formed kinship from bones?

Who is this God who walked with His creation in the garden?

Who is this God who clothed those who hid from His face?

Who is this God who heard the cry of wrongful death?

Who is this God who passed through fire and covenant blood?

Who is this God who promised faithfulness to the faithless?

Who is this God who called forth and sent out and was with to the galaxy of generations?

***
Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God with whom I plead?

***

Who is this God who heralded himself with trumpets and a chorus of angels?

Who is this God who announced himself with a baby’s cry?

Who is this God who clothed his glory in human skin?

Who is this God who spoke to the outcast and lifted the face of the least of these?

Who is this God who wore the nakedness of emperors and the scorn of sinners?

Who is this God who stretched out his arms before the world?

Who is this God who could not be contained by tombs and rags?

Who is this God who goes to prepare a home for me?

***
Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God with whom I strive?

***
Who is this God who draws near to me?

Who is this God who draws me near to him?

Who is this God who said to Jacob: “Let me go”?

Who is this God who will never leave?

Who is this God who plagues with blood and darkness?

Who is this God who restores the years of the locusts?

Who is this God who grants weeping in the night?

Who is this God who sings the lullabies of heaven?

Who is this God who teaches His children to walk?

Who is this God who allows them to stumble yet again?

Who is this God who collects these precious tears?

Who is this God who will wipe them away?

***
Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God to whom I cry?

***
Who are you, God?

***

Who are you, God, who walk before and behind and hold all the earth even as it is under your feet?

Who are you, God, who hold back the floodgates of destruction yet send the rain on the just and the unjust?

Who are you, God, who listens to us cry and weeps with us over this world that is not as it should be?

Who are you, God, who heals the sick, gives rest to the weary, and carries the lambs who cannot walk?

Who are you, God, who does not heal me?

***

Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God for whom I yearn?

***
Who are you, God, that I should grapple with you and grip your promises with bloodstained hands?

Who are you, God, that these hands should be cleansed by the lifeblood of the Lamb?

Who are you, God, that you rename us and place us in new families of grace upon grace?

Who are you, God, that you should make yourself known in human skin and holy presence?

Who are you, God, that you give yourself again in bread and wine for those who hunger and thirst?

Who are you, God, that you should listen and long for and leave the ninety-nine to answer the pleading of the one who is lost?

Who are you, God, that you delight to be asked?

***

Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God in whom I live?

***

“I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the LORD.” Hosea 2:20

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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.

Kindred

I do not crave you

I do not hope and wait and seek you

I do not haunt your hours and stalk your times of solitude

I do not covet your looks and longings, the heady rush of crush and scent

I do not seek your passionate soul that does not know what way it bends

I do not yearn for a quest for me

And yet

Yet I crave the quiet fellowship

Yet I hope and wait and give the gentle words of cheer and challenge

Yet I hold and freely join the laughter of late nights and the joyful and fierce voices of life lived among others

Yet I covet and carefully bestow the hug of greeting, the look of anticipation, the touch that speaks what we cannot, the hand that holds what we do not always understand

Yet I seek the steady pace of life together

Yet I yearn for the grip of faith, the abundant joy of life as one

Yet I crave the love of another, the call to die and be undone, the astonishment of one accord, the profundity of fellowship that seeks not itself

Yet I crave us

And yet

I crave You

Rest, Truly

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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 – 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

Letters From Tour – 31 MAY

Dear Family,

I’d like to tell you a story. A story of colors and first things. This tour has been full of firsts, but last week’s wasn’t my favorite: an ambulance ride.

Prologue: it wasn’t my favorite night, but there were still good things about it. We were in Gypsy’s hometown, she and Lady did everything, her mother drove, we were at a church with a very gracious nurse, I was able to go home that night…many good things. Many less than, though; and to be honest, I don’t entirely remember everything from that night. Mostly pieces and colors. Here they are, disparate and disassembled.

Black: I wore my Chorale dress the whole night. I tried to sing the first set (ha), came off for the second, and tried again for the third. The last song I had enough oxygen to sing was The Lord Bless You and Keep You, even though the world was already spinning by then (per usual). It’s a good song to end on.

Blue: I remember getting into Gypsy Mother’s car afterwards (being handed in, mostly), and being cold and it being very dark out. I thought it was funny that they always wheel you out in a wheelchair yet somehow expect you to get home alright. I also remember being annoyed at how much clothing I was wearing when Lady and Gypsy helped me get ready for bed.

Green: Green and blue and dirty-looking but almost overwhelming? There was too much already, so when I think of the color of the ER now, I’m glad it was muted to that side of the color wheel. My eyes and mind couldn’t really take much more. I wanted to sleep and couldn’t really and for a long time they didn’t want me to close my eyes, then they said I could, then I didn’t want to for the things that happen when you close your eyes without breath. Funny how an oxygen mask can’t convince you that you aren’t suffocating.

Red/Orange: I don’t remember the ambulance people, but their vests were orange and there were red things around. I still had people telling me to open my eyes when they came, or maybe it was after… I only remember the pricks of early tests and those slices of color and far, far too much noise that still sounded like it was coming from far, far away.

Pink: the color of the sky for the sunset I didn’t see. I think Nae Nae and Mountain Man had said it was beautiful, but by the time the concert ended I was heading out of daylight pretty fast. I wanted to catch my breath so I could go see the sunset, and I never found either.

Ivory and Brown: I think of Nae Nae in those colors, when the world went nope and turned into mud colors and went sideways. Her lap was soft and felt so safely unhurried when everything went very fast. I have never realized the measure of confidence one receives when one is heard and understood. Lady, Nae Nae, Gypsy…the Lord placed them under my head and around myself and somehow, they heard me and there was never a time when this highly verbal person did not feel like her voice was not heard through the fog.

White: the nurses and people with the cold and gooey EKG stickys and the one who kept telling me to look straight ahead when I was trying to leave and the world still wanted to tilt and I couldn’t squeeze his finger even when I tried. It’s amazing how frustrated you can be with the kindest of people when whom you are really frustrated with is yourself. I do recall the relief of leaning into someone and not having them push you away because at that point, you’ve returned to a body that feels as hollow and unfamiliar as a seed husk that was ground underfoot.

Gray: that’s the color I remember most of the night. Gray hands that didn’t work and were the sort of all-encompassing pain that made me forget everything else but that couldn’t be distracted away themselves like all the others; the sort of bewildering force that is almost too great to be responded to with something as little as tears. Gray lungs and body that folded up like creaky billows that get stuck and never quite open up for air. Gray self that spent itself like water wringing out of a towel and managed to hurt when there was nothing left to hurt. I was proud of this analogy that I said (and remembered!) from the ER: I am a juice box. One that is emptied out and all twisted up and can’t be undone yet. I’m still undoing it.

Epilogue: so there was my night, in the full spectrum of color. Except yellow and purple. Yellow was the color of Lady’s hair when she smiled at me and made the downhill slide feel not quite so fast. Purple wasn’t a color I remember, but maybe it’ll come later, like most of these pieces have.

I woke up sometime in the dark that night, still looking for that elusive breath, but the Lord, with His gentle hand that wastes nothing, taught me once more how to pray.

With all the dizziness of mind and disembodiment that comes with pain, somehow the thing that keeps me tethered to myself is this called prayer. I once would have said prayer is an ethereal thing; a paper crane that cannot fly. But when it is your soul and self that wants to fly away and make it stop, prayer is a tether strong enough to keep a kite in a hurricane. Is it the meeting of heaven and earth, the way prayer takes the physical self to the throne room of God and keeps your soul on its knees when the walls tumble down? Is it because it doesn’t matter whether or not the trembling walls are the skin that holds us together or the soul that shakes us apart?

When we return to these husks and hollows of ourselves and find that the muscles and mind and lungs don’t work like they should, prayer draws in the lines that should be there, returning the loose cotton to these empty cloth dolls, knitting soul and body together with prayer and breath, holding our fragile seed husks with hands we cannot see that work better than our own.

I remember my father’s hand, so large and heavy, and the way it felt to pick it up and draw his arm around my shoulders. That night, prayer began without the strength to pick up the Father’s great hand and place His arm around me..but in that yawning nothingness of my own strength, I found, underneath, the everlasting arms.

In the shifting prisms of graying color and the ungrounded firsts of that night, that was all I needed.

~Rae