29 December 2008

28 December 2008


Sometimes the days seem dark. I can’t catch my breath, feel like I'm walking into a fierce wind, feel like my heart is constricting with cold and lack of a vision; heavy with an ache that is more desperate than pesky.

I like to think about how stories work. We usually don’t want to watch a movie about a beautiful girl who does everything perfectly and wins the pageant with no struggle or effort. A good story starts when things don't go the way they are expected to go. If the hero of the story is buff and amazingly strong, suffers no injuries while not saving the world (cause it doesn't need to be saved); if he does everything easily with his superpowers, has no flaws, there are no glitches, and everyone is spared total annihilation with plenty of time to spare...that would be a terrible story. No conflict, no character development, no resolution.

I spent a lot of time recently watching the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy from start to finish. I was completely taken in by the story. All odds are against the hobbits. They are the unlikely heroes. They have to be exhausted and terrified and in places where they see no hope of ever completing the journey. They have to be in danger to find out that they are brave.

This is kind of an obvious point, I know, but sometimes we want our lives to be the most perfect, most boring script ever written. We want to avoid the things that end up being some of the best parts of the story—the fear, the suspense, ache, drama, yearning, beauty, mourning, disappointment, waiting. Stories are not really complete if they are too perfect. Things come together too neatly and there is not much to hold our attention.


Recently I went for a hike in my favorite near-woods. I think the hobbit journey made me crave it, subconsciously. These woods are close to a highway, they are mapped out with trails and fences. There are train tracks running right through the park, and the trains came through three times on my hike. Long trains, car after car, piled high with heaps of coal. They lumbered through my favorite hiking spot in half hour intervals during the coldest day of the year so far.

This being the case, these woods are only near-woods, not the the true wilderness you really crave when you hear the metro announcement from your dining room table every 15 minutes. But being a city girl, I must settle for this two hour trip rather than wait in vain to hike in the mountains of New Zealand.


Sometimes I ask God for signs. I know it’s kind of dumb (rationally--but what about faith is rational, anyway?); I know it’s an unfair demand--not that God can’t do any sign he wanted to, but that my belief in his goodness could or would be founded in his meeting my expectations? This habit of mine is pretty ridiculous--knowing all of the things he does to prove his faithfulness and care. But sometimes I lose sight of that, and the darkness makes things feel more hopeless than....like...sad, nihilistic French movie hopeless. I mean things feel really hopeless. This is the part of the story I want to avoid—the part where you get so low and desperate that you have to ask for help, have to ask for a sign. I really would rather avoid it all together.

So I was driving way out to the woods on this really cold day last week thinking: man, I just need to see a deer or something. The first part of the trail I was hiking is one long gravely hill up to a mile or so of path that winds along the top of the bluffs, overlooking the river. Below the bluffs are bare branched trees and the wide brown river that was icy along its banks but was still flowing swiftly.

Starting up the trail, everything was brown and frozen and wet piles of leaves. No real indication that two months ago the path was blazing with green, orange, yellow, and red and humming with bugs and critters and birds. That day it was desolate, one of the coldest days we’ve had in years.

I was trudging, and I was tired, and I knew I was looking for something by driving all the way out to these woods to walk up this long hill. It was just one of those weeks where you are uncomfortable in your own skin, where you feel terrified and dark and anxious and angry. I was walking with my head down and when I looked up on the hill above the trail, there were three deer nosing around the leaves on the forest floor about twenty feet from me. I stopped, somewhat perplexed, and met eyes with them. They took turns looking at me with their big brown eyes but didn’t run away. They stood eating and meandering. They ever so slowly wandered away up over a hill and I stayed there still on the trail, realizing when they were finally out of sight that I had been holding by breath.

After that as I kept walking it seemed like there were signs all around. There were finches and robins tussling about in the leaves, there was a cardinal swooping down across the path. There was a flock of geese camped out in the open field, stopping to rest like they were posed for a painting. The clouds cleared away and there was blue sky and winter sun coming down in streaks. There were blackbirds sitting high in the tops of the trees and taking flight over us all, swooping in the midst of the trees and singing with each other.

Somehow this happens a lot. I think it is meant to be part of the story...that things get desperate, and we ask for a sign and feel stupid asking for a sign. The reality is we need to see beyond ourselves and our limited perspectives and small lives and remember that the Creator of the universe calls us each by name. Too many times now the sign has been what I was sort of hoping for...something just out of the ordinary enough that it isn't coincidental, and it manages to take my breath away.

I am reminded that there are surprises left in my story, even when I don't have the faith to hope for them.

27 December 2008


lisa congdon collage

you & me--matthew barber

17 December 2008

some light

Today was an industrial day. All gray and brown and melting snow. Driving on Page there are only the low-lying brick buildings and bread-box houses with dingy siding, there is the smudge of salt and ice on everything. The brown grass peeks out from under the snow. Bits of pale blue sky come through the heavy clouds. This day needs to give in to night and be covered over in a more forgiving darkness. It makes me feel like I am in Detroit or Minneapolis, makes the song "Life in a Northern Town" play in my head.

As dusk falls I find myself on the couch looking at the tree & listening to a nice mix of Mindy Smith, Sufjan, Charlie Brown and Over the Rhine Christmas albums. I just finished my first fun read, The Great Divorce, I'm making plans to go to U City library to find Animal, Vegetable Miracle.

Night has come and I am in against the cold, thinking about this: "So far from sitting on clouds playing harps, as people often imagine, the redeemed people of God in the new world will be agents of his love going out in new ways, to accomplish new creative tasks, to celebrate and extend the glory of his love." N.T.Wright. If you haven't read Surprised by Hope, do so. You will not regret it.

The lights are strung around the evergreen tree. It is in these quiet moments that I find myself thinking about those times when the sun breaks through the clouds, about being surprised glimpses of things that are far too bright to be of this world. I find myself thinking about how learning to see makes your heart ache more, not less.

I found this over at oakies. It is too lovely to not share as we all here, we all here are waiting. And yet to some who waited long ago, there was tangible fulfillment of promises in some of the most unexpected ways.

All was taken away from you: white dresses,
wings, even existence.
Yet I believe in you,

There, where the world is turned inside out,
a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and beasts,
you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seams.

Short is your stay here:
now and then at a matinal hour, if the sky is clear,
in a melody repeated by a bird,
or in the smell of apples at close of day
when the light makes the orchards magic.

They say somebody has invented you
but to me this does not sound convincing
for the humans invented themselves as well.

The voice — no doubt it is a valid proof,
as it can belong only to radiant creatures,
weightless and winged (after all, why not?),
girdled with the lightening.

I have heard that voice many a time when asleep
and, what is strange, I understood more or less
an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:

day draw near
another one
do what you can.

- Czeslaw Milosz

O come.
O come.

10 December 2008

isn't there anyone who knows what christmas is all about?!

it's been a long day!! my mind just won't stop.
christmas curses!:
1. one line of "little drummer boy" in your head for two days straight: "the ox and lamb kept time ba rum pum pum pummmmmm". does anyone else think that song is kind of weird?
2. strange finals induced insomnia
3. sore elbows from sitting 12 hours straight in a study carroll (which is not as fun as a christmas carol, believe me!)
4. too many fun things to do and too little time!!!!
5. 2, count 'em, TWO nails in the tire of my (brother's) car...(offset by his generous tire repair errand whilst i study carrolled).
6. ice on the windshield and no gloves! ba humbug and many worse things were said this evening at 11:00 p.m. in the covenant seminary parking lot (should i admit that in such a public forum?...it reminds me of this funny.

other than these small and very inconsequential annoyances, i love christmas time. our tree is beautiful and our house is glowy. i have one final left!! if only i could sleeeeep.

A few more classics to take you wayyyy back, since i'm awake anyways:
old favorite charlie brown
classic sinatra
new favorite--beautiful wintersong

06 December 2008

Zechariah's song

67His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:
68"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come and has redeemed his people.
69He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
70(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
71salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
72to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
74to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
75in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace."
Luke 1:67-69

01 December 2008

it's crazy time

I can't believe Thanksgiving weekend is already over. Tonight is one of those amazing winter nights...it looks much like the one pictured above from a fun trip to Rochester L'Abri in Feb 2007. A sharp orange sunset behind tangled, bare branches, and snow on the ground. We have a Christmas tree and the apartment smells nice and piney, but it is yet to be decorated.

A friend showed me this interesting artist--chris jordan. He's a photographer who depicts U.S. over-consumption and waste. I really like his work.

To let you know how things have been around here, last Wednesday night found a post-it note that had "cheese" scrawled on it haphazard handwriting. It was sometime this week but I can't remember why I wrote it, because I don't need any cheese. I also found the peanut butter in the fridge. My toothbrush was on the dining room table, my socks were both inside out, and my eyelid was twitching. Ohhh golly.

For as exhausting as it is, school is awesome. i love it love it looooove it.

Seeing movies at Christmas time...how great. It is so cozy! I saw Australia--it is a mutt of a movie...western, drama, war movie, mystical tale, historical fiction, musical, romance...what am i forgetting? My friend accidentally called the dude in it "Huge Jackman". a little bit overboard with the muscles, dude. We understand that hollywood has high expectations, but you look like you're on steroids. Whatever you do, don't see a christmas tale. It is absolutely depressing and bizarre, and it is not a comedy. Do not be fooled!

Iiiiii should be studying. Back to the books!