Thursday, October 30, 2014

October Thoughts

I drive every day past shorn fields and golden foliage, serenaded by October. I read somewhere that October is like an older woman who has accepted her flaws and gets on with living, even at the end of her life. I love that imagery for this season and this month of wonder. I am awed by how we still instinctively "batten down the hatches" in our own 21st-century way: buying warmer clothes, filling our Crock-Pots with hot batches of soup, setting the tea kettle on the stove to warm. We still respond to the season's rhythm, even though we may be more separated from it than ever before. But October asks us to pause, watch, see it before it's gone. I think that's a good way to live life. Even though we know the end will come eventually, we squeeze every last opportunity from the golden days we have, not in mourning but in celebration. Autumn is full of lessons and perhaps this is one of them.
I read this yesterday, printed in a local newspaper in 1901 and it stopped my breath.

"I tell you at about this time of day, when the dark begins to come and I am here alone with all these records and reports which might be called the index of lives which have passed out, and the life work of men who have crossed over the dark river, and when everything is quiet and I am here alone; at such times when I hear the papers in these cases rustle and sometimes what seems to be the scratch of pens traveling over rough paper, and muffled sounds come from the dark corners of the room, it seems as if men who are gone come back and again go over the old records and examine the old files."
I know how that feels.
Driving south on a blustery afternoon, a family of birds suddenly appeared in the blue sky-meadow above me, dancing in the wind, and I immediately thought, "They can fly because they are light as air." Hollow bones. Feather coats. And I knew I too could fly high if I just empty myself of all heaviness, letting go of worry and judgement and doubt and fear. It sounds cliche to write it out now but in that moment, there was no greater truth.

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Tape and Glue

Sometimes we just need to say it out loud or hear our beloveds say it to us instead: I am perfect in my imperfections. Or: I am not my body. Or: I am more than how I define myself or how the world defines me. I don't fit inside a box and that is ok.

We struggle. We carry baggage and scars, our souls and hearts riddled with holes we patch with tape and daub with glue. It's hard work to grow up and bumps and bruises are part of the package. Me? I struggle with forgiveness. There is one thing I fear I will never forgive- because maybe I don't want to. The anger about it feels so good sometimes, a drug I can't bring myself to quit though I know it's killing me inside. I'm quietly, slowly, learning to let it go but there are days when I wonder if I can.

I struggle with fears of being left. There are days in my past I wish I couldn't remember- and things said and done that I bitterly regret. There's a particular feeling in my stomach I used to get that only comes every once-in-a-while, but when it does, it sends me reeling backwards to being 9 years old and feeling like I didn't have a home and that I was being split into too many pieces. I lay low. I let it pass.

I struggle with trying to please others too much. Last year, I got so tired of it that I turned my back on it and reacted in a way I never could have imagined. I stopped accepting and started asserting. It was hard and scary and made me cry. But it was liberating. I felt so free and in control, in a way I never had before. I had a voice and I had the right- finally- to use it. That may have been the moment when I decided that I liked who I was, despite my flaws. Despite the tape and the glue and the never-going-to-have-it-completely-figured-out. That I was going to accept her and help her, instead of tamping her down. I am going to let that soul glow out through the scars and the taped-up parts, shine through the holes and onto others.

I'm still struggling. We all are. But I can help carry someone's baggage as I dab on some glue and press down the Band-Aid. We heal each other. We heal ourselves.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Summer Waning

Water bubbles. I drop ears of yellow corn, fresh from the roadside, into my waiting pot. They boil for only a minute before they are dunked in cold water. We won't eat them yet- instead, they will be added to soups and casseroles throughout the winter. Bags of eggplant and squash, containers of jam and pesto and broth, wait expectantly in the freezer for when they are needed, making room for the bags of yellow corn that join them.

Rain drips on my shoulders as I lean over, reaching for a plump tomato. A splash of red among green stalks. My mother and I chat companionably as we move up and down the rows, picking the first round of bounty. We share stories and memories, we vent our troubles as we bend and stretch and our bags get heavier. We are keepers of a tradition, she and I- mothers and daughters bringing in the harvest.

Later that week, I arrive early at my friend's house, greeted with warm banana bread, a mug of coffee, and a cozy kitchen. We start to work, boiling water and rinsing jars. It is our first experiment with canning and we only feel confident because we are working together.

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After a few hours, tomato juice shimmers in pools on the counter, bowls and jars are scattered on every surface, and tomatoes are slipped into their new glass homes. Amidst all of this, we talk and laugh, bonding over our delight in our work and in the starting of new traditions. The jars of tomatoes glisten and steam.... and seal with a sweet pop.

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It is true that the swan song of summer is upon us, in the form of earlier nights and full gardens. Autumn creeps ever closer but I remain in my season of joy, calming my soul in the ritual of cut-dice-stir, finding pleasure in working with my hands. Alone in the kitchen in the dark of night, my thoughts run wild and smooth as I pull more colorful jars from their hot-water bath and wipe the counter for the last time.

Time ticks on, summer waning. All things come, all things pass. My task right now is merely to mark it.... and to preserve it.

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[All photos by my beautiful friend, Joanna].

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Spontaneous Prayer

I started the month of August nose-deep in a memoir (Found by Micha Boyett) on learning how to pray amid the busy, the chaos, the to-do lists. A birthday present from my husband who understands my seeker soul. I found myself nodding my head with the writer as she learned to shed the guilt that has mixed in with her faith, embracing the idea that we don't choose Jesus and we certainly don't earn Him. I grasped onto her insights of the Benedictine Rule, which fascinates and excites me. And I smiled in recognition as she learned to weave prayer into her everyday moments of running errands and showering and cleaning up the kitchen.

Prayer has only ever worked for me this way. I've tried to regiment it, getting up before dawn to recite Psalms or setting a goal to read certain passages on certain mornings but it has never worked well. Prayer is too spontaneous to be molded into a to-do list. I don't schedule conversations with my husband so I've stopped trying to force myself to do so with God. The notion that prayer is not a performance but an earnest, truthful talk with God and the idea that our everyday work is a form of prayer is something that speaks to every fiber of my being. Sometimes I pray without words, instead communicating my needs or awe with my eyes, my hands, or my breathing. God is outside the language of human beings. I only ever think I hear him when I am outside anyway.

I am encouraged when I remember that faith is not guilt. It is not the opposite of doubts and questions. It is not a single life-affirming moment of conversion but a gathering-home that takes place every new day. And so is prayer. Prayer is one spoken word that can hold a dictionary of meanings. It is listening as well as speaking. It is in the work we do and in our relationships with others. It is the inhale and the exhale.

Monday, July 28, 2014


What to write?

I want to write about our trip, which was another chance to spend a few days with one of the few people in this world who really understands me. We spent the days filling our lungs with dry mountain air, driving around town, laughing loudly at outdoor cafes as we won and lost board games, sharing a bowl of ice cream. It was satisfaction and exhilaration and comfort all rolled into one- vulnerability over a walk and a drink paired with sweet silence while munching cereal and watching 30 Rock.

I want to write about contradictions. That I can hike a glorious mountain path while bombs go off in the mid-East or that I can savor a blueberry lavender cider in one of my best dresses before walking past homeless men on the street are tragic mysteries. I still can't figure life out and it breaks my bones with the weight of it all.

And I want to write about how love and friendship are both beautiful and terrifying- a true contradiction. They are a risk and a gamble that I have lost in the past. Underneath the trust and confidence, I am afraid to lose what I love most. I fear that I won't be enough or that I will somehow break it. Hell, I fear that I'm just plain boring.

But mostly I want to write about how trust wins in the end. Every day I rediscover that what I thought was fragile as gossamer is actually stronger than stone. I trust her.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Raw Beans

I have vivid memories of growing up with two gardens in our backyard. Memories of walking down the rows with my Opa or watering with my Mom or washing produce at the spigot with Oma- memories that are sometimes forgotten, only to be resurrected when I bite into a pea pod or smell wet earth or pull a raspberry off the bush. Back then, I didn't notice the magic of a garden's yield or food straight from the ground, streaked with dirt. It was just part of my life. I relished the taste without recognizing the beauty of it. But that has changed. These days, the sight of a garden row fills me with soul-aching pleasure and snapping beans off the vine is as satisfying as eating them. I may not have a garden of my own yet, but I take what I can get, and this summer that means getting food and picking food from a farm near my home.

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Photo by my talented friend!
Yesterday, I walked down long rows lined with beans on one side and sage on the other, bags in hand to gather dinner. My best friend and her kids were with me and ahead of me, picking beans and then finding the pea patch. One of her little ones, a blond two-year-old boy with a sharp eye and a vocabulary to match, held my bag of beans, watching me select the biggest ones and twist them free. He wanted to help and I showed him how to grip the bean and pull, scootching his hand closer to the top of it, lifting the leaves for him. He dropped a few of the beans he picked in my bag. I plucked another bean and took a bite, the crunch reverberating through my teeth. Raw beans are a weakness of mine. Watching me, he asked for a bite too. I handed him my piece and watched him chew it. "I can't believe he likes that," my friend said as he took another bite. While we picked, I selected a few to eat, sharing with my picking buddy, smiling at his new-found love of raw beans.

As I worked, I thought about my childhood and the moment that had just passed. I don't know who first gave me raw beans from the bean patch, but the love for the taste has stayed with me into my adulthood. My need to walk barefoot on hard dirt, my appreciation of the feel and smell of dirt on my hands are all remnants of the childhood I had and the lessons I was taught by my parents and grandparents. My knowledge of gardening is still rudimentary but my appreciation for the power of soil, sun, and water and the resulting bounty that grows from the earth is something I learned early and learned well.

There was a tightness in my chest as I realized how much I want to pass those experiences on to my children. How desperately I want a child to pass experiences on to. Kneeling in the bean rows, I was overcome with an ache for them, these unknown people that I already love. In my bones, I can feel how much I am ready to meet them- to give them the world and for them to change mine. Yesterday was the day I discovered that all I want in the world, it seems, is to give my children the taste of a raw string bean.

Sunday, July 13, 2014


When was the last time I took a minute to watch a cloud move? I ask myself as I watch a white shadow scoot across its wide ocean of sky. A few years ago, even a few months ago, this thought would have spiraled into some fierce self-condemnation, into frustration and anger at myself for not noticing the clouds every day, as I added one more thing to a vast list of everything I'm supposed to remember and accomplish that filled my head. I realize now how much has changed as I watch this cloud, just glad I took 20 seconds to notice it as I moved through my day.

For most of my adult life, I have found it easier to notice and fixate on what I am not, rather than what I am. Keeping track of what I don't do, rather than what I do. It's truly exhausting- mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And it has worn me ragged like an old dishcloth, left me crying on the bed in the middle of the afternoon, spent and empty. But in the last months, I have found myself slowly revolting against this inclination of mine, tired of being my own worst critic. Little by little, I have forced myself to see me as my loved ones see me, as God sees me. I have forced myself to accept that I am loved, not because of anything I have done, but because of who I am, as I am. It's a hard lesson to learn.

And self-love can be hard for one who is not very used to it. I take it easy, noticing little victories. Like being on a diet, I make great progress only to relapse and gorge myself on self-loathing. But I rebound more quickly now, stronger than before, more accepting and less harsh than I would have been before. For years, it felt like my inner peace was dried up like a lake, barren and empty, full of creatures of my own making. But lately, the water has started to flow again, for real this time, like a baptism, cleansing and pure, washing away my guilt and self-criticism, making things grow so that I can in turn water the soil of those around me. Things are changing. Water will do that- the holiest of the elements. I am no more perfect than I was two years ago but I love myself more. I see God in clouds and I feel him in that lake of inner peace. Finally, finally, I relax into who I am, not worried anymore about who I'm supposed to be.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Summer Glory

From my balcony right now, I find myself surrounded by growth and life, from the buzz of a fly to the cheep of a blackbird across the fields. Summer is here in all of her fullness, swollen with heat and rain, bursting with plants, food, and life. My cat keeps me company out here, stretched out on a chair in the semi-humid breeze of a July afternoon. I do my homework, sporadically looking up to watch the leaves of thousands of corn stalks sway and flutter, like a vast undulating sea of green water, never still, always moving. It's July already.

I think on the summer so far, of watching fireworks from this balcony with Nathan, huddled under a shawl against the unnaturally cool July evening. It has been days of satisfying work and getting through school, punctuated with memory-making, sweet as a ripe peach. Exploring the Art Institute with a dear friend while baring our souls on a train. Looking out on the swollen Mississippi with two of my best friends. Meeting my mom for ice cream. Watching a best friend walk up the aisle to her new husband. Spending days at a living history museum with my sister and family, pretending we've gone back in time. Reading more Barbara Kingsolver. Picking up fresh vegetables from a local farm, my arms laden with greens and beets and summer squash galore. Dancing with Nathan. Baking my birthday cake with my friend's sweet little girl.

I find myself giving thanks much more during the warm months, when the world is luscious and generous. Today, I'm thankful for fresh food on my plate and warm breezes through the screen door. I'm grateful for support systems, for the friends and family I don't deserve who care for me in big ways and in small. I'm thankful for morning sunshine, little adventures, driving through farm country, zucchini muffins. I breathe in the world around me and exhale my thanks, wrapping myself in summer's glory, in all of the possibility she offers.

Friday, June 20, 2014

June Light

June sunsets are one of my favorite parts of the month. Long days, hours of twilight, culminating in peaceful evenings full of lightning bugs in the ditches and fields, blinking on and off like synchronized swimmers as I drive past. After the sun has gone down, the light hugs the horizon, brilliant horizontal bars of the fiercest oranges and reds, like bright bolts of fabric on a shelf of sky. This time of year, I fall in love with the world all over again every time I step outside my door.

So far, our June has had it all- hot sunny days, wet and humid storms, cool breezes at night. I stand on my balcony like I always do when the storms are at their fiercest, full of awe and peace at the dance of light playing out among the clouds, at the crashes of sound that shake my foundations. Inhaling the sharp scent of ozone and wet earth, I remember watching storms roll in with my Opa who was just as fascinated as I am now.

I am surrounded by June light and by storms and sunsets, and I am grateful.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

God On A Bike

It was windy this morning. Really windy. On an 80 degree day like today, the wind probably feels like sweet angel breath to someone digging in their garden or sitting on their patio, sipping iced tea. But to an out-of-shape 20-something pedaling a bike uphill, facing into the wind with the sun beating down, it felt more like the scene from Twister where the cow got swept into the storm. In that moment, I felt like the cow. In more ways than one.

It had been a lovely bike ride up until that point. I don't always love where I live, but on my bike rides, I understand the magic of flat Wisconsin farm fields. I notice the life in the ditches and hedges along the way, I savor the intoxicating awareness of my smallness among the bigness of the sky and the land. Usually I am alone with my thoughts and prayers and cursing and the blackbirds. Today was not one of those days.

My usually empty farm roads were full. Of bikers. Fancy bikes, fancy helmets, color-coordinated biking suits, all rubbing my face in their biking superiority and my puny attempts to join them. There must have been some sort of race taking place and these rural roads were part of the route. They were streaming down the roads, in front of and behind me in little packs. At one point, we were traveling in opposite directions so I waved as I passed. Nothing. They could probably tell I was a fraud.

I put them out of my mind, trying to regain some enjoyment in the ride. It worked for a little while until I turned at the stop sign and began traveling into the wind- which also happened to be in the direction the bikers were taking. There were more of them. Thankfully, we were all pretty spaced out so I wasn't worried until I noticed a group of bikers behind me. They had been a long way behind when I had turned onto this road but they were not keeping their distance. I knew with every slow, agonizing turn of my bicycle wheels they were coming on me fast.

So here I am. On a hill, pummeled by a wind doing its best to push me over, surrounded by a cadre of biking pros, and I suddenly come to the horrible realization that this is going to be the day when I actually can't make it to the top. I will have to stop and rest or, worse yet, walk my bike the rest of the way. (Sadly, it's not even a substantial hill. It's more of an incline. Pathetic.) I am starting to panic about this when the group from behind overtakes me. I flush with embarrassment, as tortuous hours of elementary and middle-school gym class flash before my eyes. What am I doing out here? Why did I think I could do this? How embarrassing. As they come alongside me, two of the men turn and call out to me. "Good job!" "You're getting there!" "You can do this!"

I couldn't believe it. My face broke into a ridiculous grin as I squeaked out a very grateful "Thanks!" I sat up straighter on my bike, felt my confidence grow. I swear my legs felt stronger. The whole ride changed. Instead of wanting to crawl into the nearest ditch, I suddenly wanted to own those roads and kick up some dust. I grinned like an idiot for the rest of the bike ride, buoyed by just that small bit of encouragement and kindness. I even cried a little, astonished by how good those words had felt. And I made it to the top.

I am convinced that if you look hard enough, you will find God anywhere because He is in everything and everyone. Well, he was definitely doing some bike riding today.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Lunch Break

I took my lunch into the community garden behind the library and plunked into the grass, my back resting against a bed full of newborn greens. I stretched my feet out in the warm sun. I am still in awe that summer is here, still surprised every morning to be greeted with green rather than white, still marveling at the miracle of leaves twirling like ribbons on the tree branches above me. Summer has finally shook that ole' lingering Winter from her back. It doesn't surprise me that the changing of seasons was once celebrated as a holy time. It's transformation and uncertainty and hope all rolled into one.

I've been practicing how to be still, how to just sit and observe, since I have the tendency to try to cram every waking moment with productivity and busyness and to-do lists. So instead of grabbing my book, I ate my salad and orange while keeping my eyes trained on the scene in front of me. The greens waved at me as I turned their way. I saw a squirrel practically lose his footing on a massive tree. The scent of lilacs stole into the garden once or twice. Ants crawled all over my legs, like Lilliputians trying to hold me down. Nothing happened and everything happened. It was holy.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Hold the Morning

I'm just going to start typing. This week I have felt full of nothing but words that can't get out and it hurts, each word pricking me like a pin as they try to find a way to leave. So I'm just going to open the floodgates and let them fall. School is almost over and the world is waking up with warmth and green. My soul is so full that it should be pouring out all over the place but I'm buried in a fort of books, stretched on the couch, reading five at a time because I can't get enough. I sit in the kitchen sink with Cassandra Mortmain, then I march in a vigil with Anne Lamott. The evening stretches before me to go where I want- to have time is one of the best feelings in the world.

I have started to meditate now, but not as often as I'd like. Developing new habits is hard work and I often don't have enough motivation to get out of bed earlier than normal. In the mornings, whether in bed or out, I take deep breaths, noticing the work of my lungs for the first time in ages. I feel God in my breath, in my deep prayers, in being next to Nate, in trying to be still and clearing my mind which sounds like an ideal state to be in but doesn't happen for long. I'm still practicing.

I fling the door open and breathe loamy earth from the field freshly plowed next door and the mourning doves flit all over my balcony, singing their own type of prayers. The days are longer and my bike gleams in the living room, waiting for another spin on the country roads. The last time I went out I realized how out-of-shape I've become, how hard it was to breathe after awhile. I see that the bike will be like a prayer mat for me, another place to focus and breathe and watch the sacred unfold around me, even as I sweat too much and coast down hills.

Getting dressed this morning, I slid my favorite bracelet on over my wrist, a wooden piece of art from Cameroon given to me years ago by a friend from that small nation next to Nigeria, where over 200 girls and women are still missing. Wearing it is my small way to remember them, to remind myself that we are sisters, no different, that their fates matter to the world and to me. Their names are printed out and propped up on my computer at work and I let my eyes drift over the list throughout the day. Mairama. Juliana. Lugwa. Asabe. Ruth. Esther. Rahap. Each name a little prayer. I am still furious at men I've never seen with an anger that I can't let go of. I'm sick of men determining women's rights and fates. I'm tired of women defined as "less than", whether in Nigeria, in Iran, or in the U.S. This isn't a Nigerian issue- it's a world issue. And I feel powerless, which makes me angrier.

I grab another book from my pile, a precarious stack on my bedside table. Any day the cat will knock it over but I keep adding to it. There is so much in this world to know and see- I always feel like I'm racing against time to experience it all. I don't have any answers to all of the questions in my soul, but I do know that the day is lovely, that words are powerful, and that I, like everyone else, am part of it all. The powerful play goes on and we all contribute a verse.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Whimsy and Water

I was in Kansas City, Missouri on Friday, several states away from the cold and gloom of the northern Midwest. I was there for a conference that turned out to be inspiring and exhilarating, a chance to network and score free coffee. The days were 80 degree ones, full of green and sun and the smell of hot tarmac. Several of us left the conference center for an exploratory walk through a park and down busy streets, into a beautiful old train station that held the sunlight and reflected it from marble floor to gilded ceiling. I felt as if I was in a sacred space, the echoes of hellos and goodbyes murmuring from the walls.

We ate lunch in a square full of families and white tables covered with umbrellas. I leaned back, weightless as a balloon without the heavy drag of a coat. Warm breezes playfully lifted my skirt and for several minutes, I think I entered heaven on a Kansas City afternoon. The day would have been perfect with all of that, but an announcement filled the courtyard and kids of all sizes scampered to a nearby fountain in the square. Adults everywhere turned expectantly and we waited. Soon enough, an unseen symphony started its opening notes and suddenly the fountain came to life, plumes of water dancing and sashaying around in time to the music. Like children, the jets of water skipped and leaped, as if they were drunk on the playful music and the spring sunshine. The strings hit their crescendo and the water rose higher and higher until it came crashing down, the children squealing and shrieking as the water darted out to touch them. My group all sat and watched this beautiful thing we had stumbled upon and I felt dizzy with gladness to be alive, here in Kansas City with warm rays of sun cloaking my arms, surrounded by friends and beauty, music and water. What an opportunity, what a gift to be able to live to see such things. How lucky to be able to bear witness to the fact that whimsy still exists in this world and that we are all prepared to put down our lunches to enjoy it. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Coffee Shop Inspiration

This coffee shop is full of noise, a pulsing potpourri of voices and laughs and typing. Inspiration is so easy for me to find in this world and it varies with the day and my mood and the work I'm trying to do. Sometimes I find it under a tree or burrowed in the quilt on my bed. On Saturday, I heard it call me as I drove into the town on the Mississippi River in which I used to live for four years with all of my soulmates. I had been tense and worried as I wound around the bluffs in my little red car but as I turned the last bend, my soul leaped inside me like John the Baptist and the ugly floated out the window. My soul knows what it needs even when my head has no clue.

But this coffee shop is it today, the perfect blend of subdued frenzy and caffeinated energy that I need to power through the homework lying before me and the writing I'm dying to do. In a room full of people, I feel slightly invisible and small, which can be good feelings to have sometimes. This atmosphere- vibrant, loud, full of life- evokes a desire in me to be part of this world, to "contribute a verse," which helps me pick up the textbook and pull out the notebook. I listen and watch, one person with a story in a crowd of strangers who are probably just like me under the skin. My tea fills me up like grace and mercy, like a weekend of family and friends, like a lesson of compassion and a wordless prayer.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Week Holy Life

Beginning of Holy Week. Bread in my mouth, wine on my tongue. Hymn song, stained glass light, walking through a cloud-spattered morning waving palm branches and calling my Hosanna to the crows above. I pray in the shower, the steam rising from my skin. Besides driving in the car, it is one of my favorite places to pray, where I am naked and vulnerable before my God, without armor and distractions, cut off from the things of this world. Just me.

I am convinced that I have become crazy, that the soul thirst I have been feeling for months has consumed me and I embrace it, flinging myself into an awe too great for words, at this existent Great Spirit that I happen to call God. I am a soul with a body, a spiritual being, connected to the universe in unimaginable ways. We all are. This is the spring of my reawakening. I swear I can feel myself growing. It's all starts and stops, fits and spurts, but it's happening in a wave of vulnerability and connection and humbling and exalting. I hunger for words,  from the Bible, from Jesus, rediscovering Paul (I used to really dislike that guy), but also from women of faith I respect: Sarah Bessey, Jen Hatmaker, Anne Lamott, Rachel Held Evans. Reading histories of the Bible, discovering how it was written and how it has been passed to us over centuries. And I still have no answers, only questions, but the questions exhilarate me. I love not having the answers.

Lent has been a practice in trying to embrace and accept who I am- even the messy, the unlikable pieces- instead of working to be someone I'm not. Trying to show myself grace even as I work to give others even more grace. I've started to realize that we all have the answers, that we are all living the best way we know how, and I am learning to accept everybody for exactly who God created them to be. I'm learning that people of faith come in all guises- that the definition of faith is far greater and more radical than I ever understood. I see now that there is no black and white, no either/or. There is both/and, there are gradations of gray, and God is in all of it. I try to worship not only with my voice, but with my eyes, with my hands, with a smile. And I see God everywhere now. He is in the sacred stillness of ritual, in candle flame, in the grass under my feet, in the songs of birds, in books, in the rude patron, in the garbage, in awkward silences, in the growth. And I'm amazed all over again.

The vulnerability, the opening-up, the deep gratitude, the connection, recognizing the souls of others- this is holy.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Whole in the Green Silences

Because my anticipation for spring and trees and grass under my feet is overwhelming, I'm sharing this piece from last year. It makes summer feel closer.

Fall has returned from its long hiatus, slipping silently into summer like a diver into water, without a splash. We greet each other as I sit under the tree where I sat a year ago. I see the ghost of myself a few feet off, head bent in concentration, her posture vibrating with nervousness and excitement, unsure of herself at the precipice of something new, yet ready to conquer. I salute her and pull my book from my bag, already stamping this place again with my memory. As the sun swims downward, I read my latest Barbara Kingsolver- a book of essays, the lyrical words and crisp fall breeze knitting a cocoon around my body. I read of hopes and fears and finding solace in the wild things. "Among the greatest of all gifts is to know our place." Yes. Me too. Always. Barbara Kingsolver has it- the magic of blending quiet words with a powerful voice. She pulls the detritus away and reveals shining nuggets of truth in mere sentences. It is a haunting power, and I eagerly sift through the debris with her. "People need wild places...We need to be able to taste grace and know once again that we desire it."

 photo Green_zpsfa1813f1.jpgI look at the time and then at the woods nearby. There's time enough. Quietly I stuff the book away, hitch up my bag, and follow the steep trail into a grove of trees that quickly muffles the sights and sounds of students. I take my time, wending down the path, stopping to watch a chipmunk- their voices sound like the chirp of birds, how did I never know that- and come to a little bridge, shielded from the bike path nearby, utterly alone and yet surrounded by life.

Slowly, I feel my mind stop its whirling dance, like a bird alighting on a fencepost. Letting go of the to-do lists written on the chalkboard inside my head, the endless litany of things to be done and things to worry over, I sink down and lay on the bridge. Pulling my body into various stretches, I breathe in and out, centering myself here, with the trees and the birds and the chipmunks. Now. Now is good. Feeling small is good. I lay down on the bridge, my gaze stretching up and I feel such a surge of love for the plants and animals. A connection thrums through my body like a plucked guitar string, bringing sudden tears to my eyes. I am part of this, I am of this, we are all of the same God. The trees above me seem so strong and enduring, but they are slowly being poisoned as I lay here, the whole earth bleeding out with each second that passes. The trees are the tangible past, our history, hundreds of years of days and nights that I get to witness. I wonder if the seedlings at my feet will someday stretch over the heads of my great-great-grandchildren or if this secret place will be a parking garage or a wasteland and trees will be beyond memory. And I feel such love and protectiveness for this massive system which is dying, but I cannot save it and I am filled with despair.

I stand and breathe in the oxygen these trees are making for me. I exhale some carbon for them. We feed each other. I feel so whole in the green silences, as I always do, as if I found something I forgot I was missing. In the wildness, I can let myself be me in a way I cannot in the world of people. The trees watch me with no judgment, no agenda, and I whisper promises we cannot keep to the leaves that flutter like fragments of paper above me. We could learn from the trees, ways of being that could save our souls. To watch and listen and let others be. To stand firm, but without malice or judgment. To understand our place and the larger picture we fit into. To love without destruction. I want to fill myself with the trees, with their knowledge and patience and beauty, and carry it with me like a talisman against all of the things I cannot change. I lift my arms above my head, like a child begging to be picked up, waiting to be anointed. Trying to slip my fingers into this awesome silence, offering my prayers and holy words to the caverns of leaves and branches above.

The sun is low. As I turn and walk on, the chime of bells from a campus building swells into the silence, the capstone of the sanctuary's architecture. There is still hope. There has to be.

"Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground- the unborn of the future Nation." ~ The Constitution of the Iroquois Nations

Friday, April 4, 2014


Tonight was a night of stress, where it all seemed to go wrong. My paper wasn't coming out right, another project not even started, and then I found I didn't get into the class I need this summer. It's always right when I think I have everything under control that I trip on the rug and fall flat. Deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Quick prayer. Jesus, give me some of that strength. Or turn my water into wine. Literally or figuratively, either one works for me.

I remind myself that these shake-ups are good because they ask me to trust, they help me remember that it is ok not to be in control. It doesn't mean I don't hate them though. I cry a bit and eat some ice cream and say some more prayers as Nate looks over my paper (God, bless him for not killing my crazy and emotional self when I get like this) and then I lean into the quiet again and get back to business. My stomach is roiling less feverishly now and I even feel slightly relaxed, but the tears are hiding just behind the ridge and I know that stress weight on my shoulders will stay with me all weekend as I check my email, hoping for a tiny miracle. But tonight: Pray. Write. Eat ice cream. Heal. Start again tomorrow.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Inishmurray Island: One Great Irish Spot

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The story of Inishmurray, like all good Irish stories, is a beautiful one, tinged with the sacred and with lament. It is a story of men of great faith, of a hard-working and tight-knit community, of painful farewells, and of the sea. The island still holds the ancient monastery- its church open to the heavens and the weather, a beehive hut still snug and dry. It also contains more weathered remains- the cottages and cemetery of the community who lived and worked, danced and cried, were born and died there until the last survivors left in 1948.

This is just an excerpt from a piece I wrote for "The Wild Geese" about my favorite Irish Spot. Please follow the link to The Wild Geese blog to read more. :)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Thoughts on a Car Ride

In the last week, I have been wrestling with the fact that I am not fearless enough with my writing. Too often, I find myself holding back, restrained by a wicked self-criticism that pops up like the literary villain that won't die. Ideas pop into my head in seconds and are just as quickly squashed into nothingness. Like the proverbial devil on my shoulder, the self-criticism hides beneath my keyboard and follows my fingers, taunting my attempts. The most dangerous thought the criticism devil whispers into my ear  is that I have nothing of importance to say. Who do I think I am? I haven't been anywhere, seen anything. I'm tempted to wait for wisdom to knock on the door but I know that wisdom won't find me that way. I want my writing to soar, to inspire, to uncover layers, to stretch the boundaries inside of me and inside others.

But then I find that all I really want to capture right now is the drama of cloud and light playing out on the pavement against the backdrop of a chiaroscuro sky. That's all. And that's everything.

Monday, March 10, 2014


Winter blues. Homework blues. The season of Lent started with a piece of bread, a sip of wine, and an ash cross on my forehead. The sacred and the humble of the season don't match the chaos and rush of these weeks and I try to set some time aside, try to catch my breath, try to remember to feed my soul but I fail at all three things and soon it is the next day. My soul is starving for color, for warmth, for fresh air and Vitamin D, for laughter and silence and sacred. So I seek it out, finding what I need in substitutes, in little things.

My "Mary-Jane's Farm" magazine, like spring in my mailbox. Sprinkling bird seed. A Skype date with Colorado. Mint ice cream-and-movie dates on the couch. Reading blog posts by inspirational women. [This one. (For Lent.) And this one. (For peace.) And this one. (For the power of food.)] Mumford & Sons. Stocking the freezer.

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It doesn't always work but I still keep trying to push back the dark of winter with everything I have, working every day to find the color, wherever it may be hidden. It's out there somewhere.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Papers With Voices

This week I spent half a day deciphering and transcribing a letter that is as old as my great-great-grandparents. Honestly, I am still amazed at how thrilling a worn piece of paper can be. I should be immune by now, unaffected by the smell of the paper or the marvel of ink on paper. But like a child watching a magic show, I am mesmerized, focused intently on the swoop of the letters and the blend of dark and light that tells me where the ink leaked, where he pressed his pen a little harder. It's like seeing a ghost, but then I wonder if I am the ghost, watching invisible in the corner. I run my fingers along the edge of the paper in reverence; I turn the pages as softly and gingerly as I would lay a baby in its crib.

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He talks a lot about farming. His son came down with a fever, but thankfully it passed. Don't tell Grandfather though, because he'll just worry. They say the railroad's coming soon, wouldn't that be great? I think you should join us out west. Linda's peppers got covered up just in time for the frost. We'll come and visit this fall if the harvest is good. I'm going to plant more corn next year.

167 years away and I'm in his September, worrying about his wheat crop.

Three weeks ago, analyzing Civil War letters for class, I followed a man from Wisconsin to Arkansas and then assumed he went home when the letters ceased, as he had been talking about the train ride that would take him back north. The next day, researching his name, I found out he died shortly after that last letter and he never made it back. The death date- February 3, 1863- so casual on the screen, felt like a slap across the face and I cried with the pain of it, which seems both appropriate and ridiculous at this stage in my career.

I eat it up, hungry for more, these papers with voices that are larger than life and larger than death. No matter how often I do this, how much I see, the sense of wonder always returns and I am grateful for that. Every day, I have the opportunity to meet new people and hear new stories. I get to learn from other lives and other experiences and I am only now recognizing how good that is for me. This connection, this world-collide, forces me to learn how to see through the eyes of others and in doing so, I find strength and compassion and empathy. The labels drop away and the differences don't really matter anymore. Turns out, we are all just humans with leaky pens and a fear of an early frost. And that's a pretty cool thing.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sacred Night, February 18th

It has already been two years and I have never once written about it. There are six blank pages in my journal that I had skipped over, intending to fill the lines with details of what happened that night and the emotions that walked by my side through it all. But there is still nothing. I am angry with myself over this because I feel I have failed him by not telling his last story- how brave he was, how beautiful, how strong- and how I watched it all with a keen eye and a hunger to remember it for him. It is the only story he is unable to tell. 

February 18. He sits in his chair, trying so hard to be present, greeting us when we arrive, smiling at us when we talk to him. Like a parent feeding an infant, I hold his vitamin water to his lips, helping him take the straw so he can swallow a few more nutrients. I watch my strong, kind husband help wheel him to the bathroom and back. As the hours tick by, he slips farther and farther away, in and out of sleep on his red chair, his inanimate legs tucked under the red pepper quilt my grandmother made him. When sleep is all he has, I see my father try gently but oh-so-terribly to drag him to the bed and I bury my face in my aunt's shoulder, knowing he will not leave that bed again. He tries to talk, the last time he will make the effort. My grandmother understands what he cannot say and reassures him that we all know he loves us. He nods. His eyes close. We stand and sit and kneel and pace in the bedroom, taking turns to watch and pray and cry and tell stories. Even on the bed, he looks strong. As with everything in his life, he is going to do this his way.

I am anxious to do something so I volunteer to call the hospice nurse and the pastor when they are needed. I go to my father's house to let the dogs out. The sense of urgency is in direct contrast to the slowness of the night but it pulses through my bones anyway. We wait and we watch and we weep, even as we know this is exactly what he wanted. There are no machines, no hospital noises and smells. He is home and we are grateful. We pray with the pastor and we ask the nurse questions and then we shift positions again, waiting. At one point, it is my turn to lay in the bed next to his unconscious weight. I inhale the sweet smell of his skin and cologne and brush his hair and even laugh with my grandmother who is so brave in these moments that I want to hold her and rock her and sing to her, as if she is a child I can protect from the world. I realize now that she has never needed protection.

After all of that, we retreat to find nothing but fitful sleep. I am on the living room floor with my sister and my father and my husband- our vigil tempered by three small hours of rest. I barely notice my father leaving the room but like a racehorse out of the starting gate, I shoot up from the floor, wide awake in five seconds, when he comes back and tells us he's gone. Without a word, I stumble to the other bedrooms and wake my cousins and aunt, relaying the news in a monotone devoid of emotion. I had already known the morning wouldn't come for all of us.

It must be 3:00 a.m. by now and we are all awake. Eventually, amazingly, I find myself alone with him in the bedroom as calls and coffee are made in the kitchen. I imagine he is still hovering somewhere close by, so I talk to him. I wonder if he could be sitting in the chair next to me so I turn away from the body on the bed and turn toward the soul on the chair. I talk and I listen. I don't cry. Eventually, I go to the bed and lay down beside him. I hold his foot in my hand. Still warm. My grandmother and my sister join me and we all four are on the bed, like we were when I was a child staying overnight, when my grandmother read me "The Little Bird's Rice" and I looked forward to the smell of bacon greeting me in the morning. We remember these things together as indigo turns to violet and the daylight creeps nearer. Silently, urgently, I pray for it all to slow down. The night feels so safe and sacred, a temple where I can hide protected in my grandmother's arms. In the dark, he is still here. The day will change everything. With the dawn will come plans and more phone calls and people from the funeral home wheeling him out the door. With the dawn will come the first time in 81 years that the sun saw a world without my grandfather in it and that is a day I cannot bear yet.

This night had been ours. It was a night of memories and solidarity, as my family focused solely on our grandfather's journey and formed a wall of strength and support that seemed impenetrable. I felt strong last night, strong for him. Strong for us. I fear it will all disintegrate in the light of day, that when the blanket of night is pulled off, I will have no choice but to face my weakness and my vulnerability. I will have to face a world without him and it starts today and I do not think I am up to this task. If only the dawn would not come.

But it does come- and as with everything that has happened in the last 24 hours, I am helpless to control any of it. Time sweeps me along and I wave to my Opa as the train picks up speed. I watch him walk away from the platform, a tall figure on the horizon. I settle back in my seat and gradually begin the act of remembering. The sun rises.

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Friday, February 14, 2014

The List

For today, a list of loves:

I love.....


Hot tea. And hot cocoa. Any hot beverage, actually.

Mourning doves on the balcony.

Mint chocolate chip ice cream.

The sound of peepers in the spring.

Random texts from my best friend.

My partner in crime (also known as my husband.)

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Shopping at the farmer's market.

Jane Eyre.  

Words and language.

German Christmas carols.

Traveling. Especially to Ireland.

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Lazy mornings.

Watching Gilmore Girls for the zillionth time.

Cows. (Addendum: The smell of cow manure. Don't ask.)

Snuggling with my katz.

W.B. Yeats' poetry.

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Making dinner and trying new recipes.

Spending time with my sister.

History and archives and museums and libraries. It's a lifestyle.

Being part of a close-knit family.

Reading in bed.

Louisa May Alcott.

The baby aisle at Target.

Skirts and sandals.


Yup, lots of love here. Today and every day.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Evidence of a Procrastinator

This article of 18 pages and double columns has become my mortal enemy. (Why are papers published in double columns anyway? Are they trying to torture us?) The abstract glares me down and I return with my own narrow-eyed stare of death. 9:45 on a Thursday night and neither of us wants to be here. This is not going to end well.

This morning I was a different person. I zipped through my readings in record time, with extra to spare. But tonight this one article and I are ready to rip each other apart, the mutual loathing like a red-hot anvil. With fire in its voice, it orders me to get this over with, read it already, put us both out of our misery. I pull the computer toward me, focusing my last vestige of willpower on not checking Facebook or opening Blogger just to write about how much I want to write. I am so close. I can do this. I can stay strong.

10:02. "The Concept of Appraisal and Archival Theory" has lost this round. This post is all the evidence I need.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Probing the Depths

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It's that time of year again. The one where I start getting restless- gazing longingly at my suitcase, watching travel documentaries, and scouring the library stacks for anything by Freya Stark. How inconvenient. School has barely begun and I'm thinking of anything but digital curation and appraisal methods. Instead, I'm starting a Pinterest board (God help me) and swooning over pictures of Plovdiv and Malin Head.

I have learned through the years that my travel bug is never about a longing to get away. It's more complex than that. It's a longing to meet new people. To gain a fresh perspective, to see the world through other eyes. To feel small, because that is when I learn the most about who I am and my place in the world. Nothing pops my self-centered bubble world like unfamiliarity.

It's so easy to get stuck in my own opinions and worldview and declare that "I AM RIGHT! I have the answers! I understand it ALL!" Until a new place, a new face, shake up my preconceived notions about grief, fear, religion, joy, womanhood, politics, motherhood, or love. (Books do that too, but that's another blog post.) I want to know what the world thinks, how it pulses. I want to know other people, if only to understand the many ways that we are all wrong and all right.  

I want to probe the depths of the gray shades that make up life's answers, shedding the black and white of self-importance.

In Ireland, surrounded by nothing familiar, I discovered a part of myself that existed outside of my daily routine. I was chuckled at in a supermarket for forgetting my money when buying groceries. I talked with an old man about Irish history on an abandoned island in Sligo Bay. We got lost, we misread signs. I was bold, I was nervous. I felt self-conscious and I felt confident, sometimes all in one day. We listened to Irish news radio and realized there is so MUCH happening in the world that we tune out.  

That jolt of unfamiliarity, like an electric shock to my ego, wakes me up and reorients me. In doing so, it also focuses my priorities and lightens my expectations of myself.

It's a world-shaking thing when you look west across the Atlantic, not east. Or when you see the mountains of Colorado from above, rather than below. When you eat blood pudding or watch Irish reality TV or sign up for a library pass in a library that is actually a 14th century church. When you hear what others have to say. When you learn to listen, not to talk. When you stop looking through your own eyes, and start to walk in the moccasins of strangers. There is no greater feeling.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Day

The Wisconsin landscape is ablaze with white, our fields scoured and glistening under the intense chill of a sub-zero day. The library was closed today, so the Norwegian church records and the obituaries in piles on my desk must wait one more day. I miss them already.

Today was a robe and hot cocoa day, a pasta and prayer day, a day of comfortable silences and pens scratching against paper. The cat skittered across the floor, no doubt pretending he was romping through his own winter wonderland, joyful that his two humans were home. Four dark-eyed juncos pecked at seed on our balcony, clearly taking great enjoyment in plundering the free food.

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At my great-grandmother's table, I read essays by Barbara Tuchman for class, knocked backward by the force of the voice and soul erupting from her words. In an instant, I felt again that passion for what I do, the reminder of why I study, why I surround myself with documents and records. Like a bloom from a snowbank, her compelling essay reawakened in me my own stories of library stacks and childhood books and life-changing moments that led to my love for history, for a good story, for writing. And she made me yearn for more.

With dusk creeping over the fields, I turned to the kitchen, squeezing pleasure from the simple act of creating in silence, cutting garlic and sifting oregano with joy in my fingers and prayers in my head.

Life is often so much rushing, so much doing. I'm actually grateful for the snow and the cold today. It made us stay still, listening to each other and ourselves, counting the time in words read and cocoa sips and meals made, rather than seconds or minutes or to-do lists. I need to seek these days out more, in which my soul finds the permission to do what it needs and wants, to go nowhere, to find the beauty in home routines.

Be still, be still, be silent and still, for there the sacred is found.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

No Rules

The conversation flew like the snow outside the window as we tossed words from one to the other. Without leaving our chairs, we wandered down the paths of womanhood and motherhood and jobs and passions, poking our heads around bends in the road and relaying our observations. Distracted as I was when she walked through the door, I felt that skip of delight that I had almost forgotten. Most of my soulmates live miles from my door and after awhile, I don't even realize I've gotten used to that void and forget the face-to-face. This morning, I remembered. Remembered what it is to have a friend drop in, to begin anywhere, to drift lazily at sea among an ocean of words and laughter. Hopscotching from topic to topic, pulling each other up and giving each other a little push.

Every day, I miss the blond with the fiery resolve and infectious laugh who holds my secrets. I miss the curly-haired one with whom I shared food, an apartment, and millions of every-day moments. I miss the talented, quiet brunette who first sat next to me junior year. I miss the sister of my blood and my soul. They are part of me always. I miss, but I am learning how not to let the distance define us. I'm moving from missing to accepting. From regret to appreciation, as we work together, tugging and pulling, forcing that distance to shrink. And I revel in the fact that I have one friend I don't have to miss yet, the dark-haired creative artist that I can visit anytime.

Tonight, my feet are warmed by slippers made with a sister's love. My best friend's faces laugh up at me from the frame on the coffee table. And the morning holds a particular smile, and a reminder that friendship is not a limited space with defined rules, but an ever-widening sphere that can encompass it all- the far, the near, the lonely, the fulfillment, the memories, the future. I have everything. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Worktable

The words in my head simmer and bubble and boil. I give them another quick stir and lean in to observe the ways they twist and reshape themselves. Ideas still sit on the counter, rising slowly under their tea towel. Hot with impatience, words start to jump from the pot. Why are they always ready before the ideas are?

The snow comes down and the world is white with inspiration. I stir and measure, knead and sift, filling the winter morning with carols and prayers and memories, content to be at my mind's worktable. I dip my hands in, ready to create something from nothing. As I grind and chop and peel, the pile of words grows taller and taller. Soul, mind, and hands work in happy unison. All is peace. All is joy.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Beginning

Several days ago, I came upon a quote from Zora Neale Hurston: "There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you." I bookmarked it, wrote it in my quote journal, shared it with friends because that is a truth that I know all too well. I have no novel simmering in my head, but that urge to write is one that follows me from dawn to dusk. Too often, I feel the itch in my fingers that begs me to pull out my journal or clack away at my keyboard. But for the past several months, I've found myself ignoring these impulses, pushing them out of mind, not because I didn't want to write but because I couldn't settle on what to write about. I needed to write, physically suffering from the lack of creating words, but I had dammed the flow because I was stuck.

For two years, I have written a blog that has kept me happy and busy, but for the past few months, I felt my motivation stagnate. Too much pressure, too much obligation. It was a themed blog, though I had often strayed from that theme, feeling myself restricted by my own creation. While I loved writing it, it was no longer what I needed.

So the solution is a new blog, a new writing platform for me alone. While I welcome readers, I am not writing for invisible eyes anymore. No sticking to themes or topical essays. No attention to length or detail. I want to let the words flow through my fingers; I want to throw off the mental restraints I've put on myself and let my words free. A true writing exercise, with no emphasis on what the content of that writing will be. To challenge myself further (but with no obligation or guilt), I am pushing myself to write at least once a week, even if it's only four sentences strung together. Because the point is not the finished product, but the process.

"Pilgrim Soul" will be a platform where I can explore my life, my world, my thoughts and impressions any way I wish. The title, while a line from one of my favorite William Butler Yeats poems, also evokes travel- through life, through the world-, a sacred space, and a journey. I want my writing to be all of those things- something that feeds me, that lets me explore and wander, grow and learn. I couldn't be more excited.


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