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Love Notes

“Maybe Jesus knew you’d read the word ‘beagle’ today!” I say to her after sounding it out and our remembering that those two matching beagles just walked by the house this morning so she got to hear this strange word. “Or maybe the owner just wanted to walk his dogs…” she says, empirically, with all the rational exposition 300 years of Enlightenment Thinking can produce in its youngest prodigies. I laugh and nod, “Both things can be true, you know.” Because the question I am convinced is built into the factory settings, is Are you there and do you care? That is, is there a “you” to care at all and if there is… do you? My mother thanked the Lord for sunsets. She attributed good parking spots and choice seats at the movies to Jesus. Bonus fries at the bottom of the bag in the McDonald’s drive thru or a few extra bucks for gas in the glove box got a sincere, enthusiastic, “Thanks, God!” I can still hear it in her voice. Sometimes she laughed at the absurdity and sometimes she just took the gift, however trite or banal. Nothing just so happened. Coincidence was a love note. Before I learned to roll my eyes I learned that the creator of the universe cares about bonus fries.   When she was sick she trusted God to heal her, to make the tumor shrink, to make her well. When scans came back showing no new growth she gave God credit. But then one ordinary day in January, when scans like these were almost boring, but an excuse to hang out, we gathered up on FaceTime and talked about what we planned to do with our hair later while we waited for the doctor whose smile we’d memorized. Only that day she walked in somber. Sunsets and parking spots then did not seem to me like great evidence of a caring divinity, but of cruelty disguised as kindness. I will give you good seats in the theater in which to drool over Gerard Butler, but abandon you at brain cancer. Ooookay. Thanks, God? But that’s not how she saw it. I don’t know what she would say about it because I never asked her. I didn’t need to and she didn’t owe me an explanation anyway. I am long for explanations that do me no good whatsoever. Instead I bore witness. To her faith which had very little to do at all with what she got or what God fixed or what worked out for her or didn’t. And that was not just true then, when the stakes were life and death.   Once when I was a scared barely-adult-child of divorcing parents, begging the universe to make sense again, I confronted her. Why are you getting a divorce, I asked, when you know God hates divorce? “Because God wants me to be happy, too.” I thought it was ridiculous. God wants you to stick with your commitments. But years later I had the same fleeting hope that maybe God did not want me to be miserable, when the letters of the law spaced apart to make room for the spirit of the God who is love and does, actually, want all of us to be at peace, have joy, find rest… be happy. Which is fine and good for things you have even some amount of say in—whether or not to get a divorce, have a baby, go to college, buy a house. You can weigh those options and line your choices up against your highest values. But when things are entirely out of your control—when your spouse doesn’t love you anymore or you are diagnosed infertile or the school you planned to attend doesn’t want you or the bank won’t approve the loan or you think you have a sinus infection only to find out it’s brain cancer and your prognosis is grim… Does God want you happy then? She was scared, angry, sad, disappointed. She said “why” into the air of Gramma’s “garden room” where we laid in the guest bed together and her question joined 30 years of dust into the old green carpet. We vacuumed it up, no answer. In between appointments and regimented medications she caught naps and woke up with reports. God put his hands on her head, she said. They were so warm. The Holy Spirit had wings and they wrapped around her like a hug, she said. She felt safe. Jesus met her on a paddle board, she said. He joined her on a choppy ocean and told her to enjoy the float. She spoke to Jesus at her bedside and not about the things I would have asked if Jesus Christ was sitting next to me. “What did he look like?” I asked, eagerly. “You know… like Jesus. Middle eastern, I guess, dark hair…” she shrugged. It reminded me of the accounts in the New Testament where people around Jesus ask him what it will be like after we die or what this or that law really meant and he says something like, “Don’t worry about it.” I picture him shrugging, too. With dark hair, I guess.   Because my mother’s relationship with the divine was just that: relational. She felt all the things any human feels when life seems stacked against them, but beneath it all she had trust in the Goodness of this place, trust in God’s love for her, trust in a bigger picture she did not need to see. Trust not borrowed, but earned, from a life of knowing God, loving God, listening for God—not to get it right (she was never nearly as disturbed by her mistakes as I was), but because it was like breathing. She loved God because God loved her. Her trust was foundational, cyclical, not entirely explainable. Jesus walked around talking about, pointing out, a world of abundance in the midst of scarcity. While people experienced oppression, he told them they could be free. While people were hungry, he said there was enough food. While people suffered disease, he promised healing was available. While people died from all these things, he offered the hope of life. And it seemed then—it seems now—somewhat foolish to believe him, to accept his version of reality. We look around today at a time when so many things are so much better than they used to be and it still seems so dramatically less than whole. Babies are starved by government officials with power in their hearts, men and women forced into camps by the end of a gun, refugees flee to closed borders, children taught to strap bombs onto themselves, to hate what they don’t know. And that’s just out there. The tragedies that fall into our personal lives count, too: strained relationships, cancer, financial trouble, mental health battles, etc. etc. It is not hard to lose sight of anything beautiful in a world full of so much ugly. Still, my mom believed his story. I am learning now that I can choose to focus on the abundance without lying about the scarcity. All of the awfulness is true. So is all the good. God help us, humanity can keep pushing for Better and the tragedies of my own life don’t have to be justified, but they can be mined for gold. Under all of this chaos, all this pain and not-as-it-should-be are promises of hope, the big universal Source showing up on a paddle board or in a teddy bear ballon or under a fig tree. Under all of the unrest: rest. Peace, which comes from trusting the Light because you’ve seen it show up in dark places before even if it has never been this dark. Love that whispers in those moments to lean in, come close, choose hope. So that yes, some person walked his dogs today and that is why we saw the beagles. And also, this is the first time that word has been presented to you, child, and you just happened to see that type of dog today. So lean in: yes. God cares about your reading lesson and those dogs and that man and the mom who looks for too many connections for her own good sometimes, but is learning once again to take the love notes.

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Beam Hallelujah

The beams reach high—to you As if you are not here, in the pew But you don’t mind it You come how we’re able Hallelujah The cross up there reminds me of the ones you put all over Torture as a decoration, hallelujah Like the one you pained for me at that pottery shop When I got myself baptized And Grandma Betty thought it was a waste You were my sanctuary—are? Do I still get to say that? While I learn to stand on the legs you knit for me in your womb? Which sort of makes them yours, I guess And I like that thought, hallelujah And I hope to make you proud with how I use them These walls say different things to me than they would to you —or do? You say “thanks God” Like the All Powerful Creator has your number memorized And I—with this brain you stitched—wonder if that makes any sense I’ll walk into the dark so you don’t have to, hallelujah And the beams stretch tall like the trees Who know already that you’re in the roots And who is God to me anymore without you? Hallelujah.

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An Attempt

It will not stop a war now, but I’m gonna love my kid I’ll tell her every day that she’s got the things we need So she’ll believe the truest thing I know If I have any say (That power flexes big and tall, but hope and beauty strike it) It will not jam the guns up, but I’m gonna kiss my man Let our limbs wrap all around for to do what arms are made Worship the Imago Dei, not burst it into shrapnel If I have any sway We’ll hold each other when we’re scared and make ourselves more whole It will not soothe a leader’s greed, but I’m gonna laugh with friends We’ll tell each other what we want without an expectation Won’t move nations at our silly whims, but we can shift the mountains We know what to say In the landscapes of each other’s lives where abundance doesn’t scare us And fine, it may not work, I know The killing won’t stop yet And maybe it never will, I guess But it could, right? And the only way I’ll know is if I try it.

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Developing Brains and Love Stories

I got married in a discount gown with a low back and my older male friend said, “I though you were a good girl” when he saw the photos. I thought I was, too. Everybody told us we were children. Which is true, though not strictly speaking. We could vote and go to war, but not drink or rent a car. I suppose that says something about what the powerful think of us, but that is not my point here. My point is that neither of us had fully formed prefrontal cortexes which one needs to make long term decisions. But the more ancient, rudimentary parts of our brains—the parts that keep the species going—were fully functioning. So we were in love and nobody had ever been in love like this (another side effect of not having a fully cooked PFC) and we were going to write our epic, heartthrobby, Disney-worthy love story. Except better, because Disney princes never kissed like that (though I’d hear a case for Eric knowing some dirty words). And we would be in this together. At least, I thought so. So we jumped in holding hands, but when we broke the surface tension, the pressure was too much and our grip broke. I’ve spent so many years flailing around, mostly blind, trying to find his hand again while I suffocate. And then reeling back when my fingers touch his skin. I didn’t realize we were sweeping fears of abandonment under the aisle runner. Or that the petals fell on existential crises covered in white satin. Or that the candles on the alter covered the light stench of neglect. He has his story and that’s the point: I thought that it was ours. More honestly than that, I needed it to not be mine.  I needed someone to save me, to make it so that I didn’t have to bear up under the weight of my confusion and my wounds. Someone who would dress them for me, let me never have to think of them again. Someone I could lose myself to because myself had became a real pain in my ass and I didn’t want to deal with her anymore. I wanted to be swept up and away from everything that hurt and felt unsafe. I used him to escape and trusted him to make a life for me that made sense, felt good, kept me safe. Obviously this is a dumb idea. But in my defense, my prefrontal cortex was still a baby and he looked very good in a uniform. Prince Eric, eat your heart out. We have almost 17 years between us and those kids on the altar and many of those years have been hard. What a slight word for an unslight thing, but it’s the one I’ve got. Hard and good. So much of the life we’ve built even from painful un-reckonings is more beautiful and fulfilling and Good than I could have dreamed up in my very best imaginings of our life together. Disney doesn’t show you Jasmine and Aladdin 2 kids in, exhausted and broke, making each other laugh with Office quotes or burying their shared and shattered history with their pet Rajah. I can’t wrap this up neatly because it’s not wrappable yet. Everything is out on the ground and we’re both deciding what to pick up. But I can say that for all the things I thought this was and all the things it is turning out to be, I do not regret walking down the aisle in that accidentally skanky discount gown. And I am grateful for the stories we are making our own.

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Eugene

“Unforced rhythms” says the version we’re allowed to accept now That the author is dead and we found out That his heretical words didn’t do any harm But undid quite a lot—brought forward the Love that book meant —for some of us Others hope he rots in hell Why do we work so hard to protect what we make up? Was Jesus just another cult leader? Setting up another thing to keep alive, whatever the cost —blood and self-abandonment the first in line? Revolutions like the ones we need are not won with war Or euphoria Or right doctrine Or ritual They revolve around the solution. A re-love-elution Bathing in remembrance of our true inheritance, of a scathing recompense, in a narrative of nonsense Which can only be very very slow As it must get to every cell and there are many And hearts are notoriously well protected But beat in time, always, to a rhythm that’s unforced

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Talking to/with/for God

Here I am, at the page. A place that has been home to me for so long, even when I haven’t come. He’s like that. Or she. I can’t say “it” because that feels so impersonal, and this presence is personal—the most personal—but also ambiguous. For a long time I have taken the ambiguity as apathy. For a long time I have wondered if God is what they said God is… Annoyed. Disinterested. Too Busy For Me. Too Important. But I asked the question: “Who am I that you are mindful of me?” like the scared girl I am, the one trying so hard to accept the lack. The one staring at the side of her father’s face, begging for him to turn and just look. Only I got an answer. “You’re my kid.” So when Liz Gilbert started talking about two-way prayer, and how God tells her basically the same thing every day, I had to turn the interview off because sobbing while picking out bulk items in Costco is not the look I’m going for. And when I tried it, the voice that answered my question swooped to answer another. Ran. Forced his way through the cosmos to hit my paper. “Do you love me?” I asked because when you are prompted to ask God one question you might as well hit for the jugular, no use in wasting your time or the Universe’s with polite terms and groveling. “Yes,” said God. “It’s not just a longing, it’s a Knowing. I know it’s hard to square GOD into this. It’s okay. I don’t need a beard or a title to be near you. I’m here, however you can receive me. I love you.” I keep asking, God keeps answering. On and off the page. But what keeps getting me is how quick. I don’t have to meditate for 20 minutes to get into the right headspace. I don’t have to find a guru or a priest or a shaman or a guide. I don’t have to understand anything I don’t already know. I don’t have to be in a special spot, or a certain time. I don’t even have to remove my doubt, my skepticism, my fear. I just have to be open to the possibility that God—Love, Source, Light, the Universe, whatever—is here, too, and is at least as in love with me as I know he is in love with everyone else. I have to be open to receiving what is so easy for me to give to other people. You reading this, I know God loves you. I know it. It is carved into my bones. I know that the universe is conspiring for you. I know that you are worthy of grace and belonging and hope and joy. I know that God smiles when she sees you. I have a learned check at saying “she” but I have zero qualms about the affection and delight and protection and goodness God has for you; Love covers you, reader. I am as confident in little else. But for long enough—since I was 14, actually—I’ve had a hard time embracing that here, in my own body, with my own experiences and my own mind which is both mystical and rational and each side deeply wounded. I came here with that Knowing and when it came into question something wore it down like a tired, seasoned detective who needs to get home to his cynicism and chicken dinner. “Did God really say..?” to a kid without a lawyer. Fair trials aren’t based on false confessions. Yet here I am now. On the page again. And it turns out home doesn’t need you in it to be that for you when you return. Maybe I am speaking too soon, says the part of me that loves me enough to hedge our hope. Maybe, love, perhaps. Maybe I am speaking too much, says the part of me who loves me enough to hold the weight of skepticism. Maybe, friend, perhaps. Maybe I am speaking too loud, says the part of me that loves me enough to keep private things hidden. Maybe, beautiful, perhaps. And maybe I am not speaking alone. Subscribe Here To get these posts directly in your inbox, add your info here! First name Last name Email address Birthday Subscribe Thank you for subscribing!

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