Archives for December 2012

On the old and the new

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I don’t know about you, but 2012 was quite possibly one of the most difficult years of my life. Much of it was of my own making, but the unexpected losses and frequent rejections and utter loneliness of this year felt like having the wind knocked out of me by a swift kick to the gut. On repeat. For the most part, I try to write about the best, the beautiful, the slivers of life that lay tissue thin against the weight of the hard and gut-kicking real. I write these things to remember, to see, to cultivate a spirit of gratitude, and mostly because no one likes a whiner. But, as 2012 takes its final bow, I want to draw close to those of you who know what I mean when I say, if 2013 bears any resemblance to this year, it will take an act of God to get me through it.

Did you have this kind of year? Draw up a chair, come and sit beside me. Let’s talk together and remember all the good crammed into the crevices of the bad. Let’s trace the line of those cracks and remember from whose hand they flow. Let’s remember the bad and give thanks that it didn’t kill us like we thought it would. It may have killed a friendship, a bond, an attitude, a future, a dream, or our flesh, but it didn’t kill our hope. We wake up in the morning to the same ugly, but always with the drumbeat of hope banging around in our chest.

I don’t make new year’s resolutions, but in 2012  I chose Bloom as my word for the year. This year felt more like a stark winter than a verdant spring, and as I look at the places I hoped to grow, I see a few tiny buds that managed to survive what felt like a gigantic pruning. The pruning is necessary for growth, but dear Lord, it hurts and I sometimes wonder if I live in a stage of perpetual cutting back. I don’t have a word for 2013 yet, and frankly, I am afraid to choose one.

Perhaps I will let the word choose me.

For all of you who struggled this year with loss or pain, for those of you who failed miserably and continue to mop up the mess, for those who feel alone and rejected, for those who lie down at night and pray morning doesn’t come, know this–the sun will rise on you another day. Hope will beat its ancient heart rhythm in your chest. You will trace the cracks of goodness and mercy running down the fault lines of your soul.  You will be pruned and you will bloom, and I will stand right beside you with my clipped branches and the promise of Spring running through my veins.

Happy New Year, friends. May it be blessed beyond measure, overflowing with hope, and a heck of a lot better than this one.

 

On giving and receiving

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans–and all that live and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused. And to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.”

 ~Sigrid Undset

Sometimes I forget to receive the beauty sitting right in front of me, and this Christmas, I choose to see it. I choose to embrace the hours spent wrapping gifts because I have loved ones to receive them. I choose the long, cold, outdoor runs because I have the strength to endure them. I receive the chatter and bickering and playful sibling rivalry because my home and my arms have children to hold. I attend the parties and eat the hot taco dip and resist the urge to hide in the bathroom with a book because I have friends and family who care enough to show up. (I may have stashed a book in my purse for emergency situations. Old habits die hard.) I choose the empty branches, the cool winter sun, and the pine cones flung from the evergreen tree, even when they strike me square in the face. This is the season I stand in, the one of waiting and then of receiving.

I hope to remember the fullness of all that is given and all I have yet to gain. This year, I chose to receive it all–the loss, the gain, the bitter, and the sweet–with open arms. Some experiences carved away at the flesh and others molded the spirit. I feel the fingerprints, the indentations and pressing in of the places that needed re-shaping, and I feel the freedom that comes with becoming a more usable vessel.

My wish for you this Christmas is for you to open your arms to the merry, the cold, the bright, the bruised, the hard, the light, and the true. Open your arms to receive the greatest truth–Christ came in the flesh into a cruel world under impossible circumstances and He redeemed it. He continues to redeem it daily, in you and me, and in the way we give and love and receive. He molds us for His purpose, and we can choose to remain empty or allow Him to fill us with all He has already given. This world, these people, this one flame-bearing life.

Wishing you a Christmas filled to overflowing.

A Guest Post: Anna White

Today, Anna White joins us with her thoughts on the old adage “Write what you know”. I loved hearing from all of you and learning more about your perspective on the writing life over the last few weeks. As the next week unfolds, I’ll return to my semi-regular posting on whatever strikes my fancy, which will likely include any eavesdropping I’ve indulged in while in the US. I love this country, even with all of its controversy and heartbreak. It will always be my heart’s home.

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Why I hate “Write what you know”

The most ubiquitous writing advice in the world is write what you know. I get what this is trying to say, but I hate it. I’ve spent my whole life learning what I don’t know. These wide empty places are my ‘negative space.’ The knowledge of all that is unlearned or unknowable, keeps things in perspective.

I grew up in a culture of black or white. Right or wrong. There were rules for everything. How you should look. Who you should talk to. Where you should go. What you should think. Everything could be known and tagged and boxed into place.

There was little room for uncertainty or doubt or hesitancy, and yet that’s where I lived. Even at a very young age, I saw from the gray place. The gray place that for me wasn’t so much a thin, dangerous line as a vast ocean holding the narrow black and white shores away from one another.

The more I read, the more I write, the more I make connections, the wider my ocean becomes. Not that I’m ignorant. I have degrees and certifications and training. My brain is full of things that I know.

And yet, with all the things that I know, there is so little that I Know.

Capital K Knowing, that’s the Knowing that matters: the sureness of goodness, a grasp of faith, a belief in the unfailing chaos of life, and the security that out of that chaos, improbably, comes love. This is the Knowing that is slippery, hard to hold on to when I am falling. It’s so much easier to grab for the things I know, facts and figures and statistics and rules. But there’s no heart in that. No healing.

I have to let go of my small knowing, and let my weight carry me down into the deep where my heart and soul catch on fire. Rilke wrote, “things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable. They happen in a space that no word has ever entered.” This is truer than true. How can words convey the vast Knowing waiting to be discovered?

So I encourage you, writers, to throw away that advice to write what you know. Turn in, look into the blinding burning of your heart. Close your eyes, and see what patterns dance there, what impressions are left by that light. Write that. Use your words to sketch an outline of that place. Build a bridge that can carry me, not into your Knowing, but into my own.

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Thanks so much for adding your voice to the conversation, Anna. Hop on over and visit Anna at her blog 2Day I Choose.

When the dream looks like a whole lot of crazy

I feel as if I unceremoniously ended my posts on writing last week, and then fell head first into my usual hodge-podge of topics. I wanted to thank all of you who contributed in the comments, and to Karrilee Aggett for her guest post on Monday. Tomorrow, Anna White will be joining us with her thoughts on writing, so you’ll want to stop by then too.

I’m sitting at the kitchen table in my mother in law’s house this morning with the laptop open and a gigantic mug of tea. I have two pieces of orange foam shoved into my ears while four children watch four different programs on four different devices in various adjoining rooms. From the corner of my eye, I can’t help but notice the Christmas lights blinking on and off from the deck. The flashing makes it hard to focus, as do the children in spite of the ear plugs. If all the rumors are true, I think this is what writing looks like, but I kind of wish it looked like a cabin in the woods with a flickering fire and a symphony of silence. Instead it looks like a mom hunched over a laptop at five-thirty in the morning while sitting in the midst of jet-lag induced, barely controlled, chaos.

I’m not convinced I will have much to offer over the next few weeks.

We arrived in the US two days ago, to national mourning and holiday crowds and the deep sigh of relief that comes with understanding ambient conversation. The husband arrived last night from China, bearing a mysterious illness and an entirely different jet-lag schedule. In the last twenty-four hours, I’ve visited the apple store twice (my technological nemesis), explained birth control and lots of dirty words to one of my children, cried over the nightly news, unpacked seven suitcases, and explained repeatedly to sales clerks why I live in Switzerland and why my husband’s phone needs to work there and in this country too. It’s been weird, and finding the time to write in the middle of the above chaos, near impossible. I had a stranger ask me what I do with my time during school hours, and at first I drew a blank and then I said something about grocery shopping. After a brief pause, I said Oh, and I write, when I have free time, I write. Yeah, there’s that.

Simmering under the surface of all this crazy, is a closing deadline for a devotional a friend asked me to write for Lent. When I mentioned it to my husband, we nearly fell off the sofa in laughter after he said “What are you going to say? You’ve never denied yourself anything!” Oh, how we laughed. Then my laughter took on a hint of hysteria when I realized he was right, and how does one write about the redemptive blood of Jesus while sitting in the center of a three-ring circus? Enter the ear plugs and a shaky belief that I’m created to do this, regardless of the mounting holiday madness.

The writing life looks nothing like I expected, but I’m learning to borrow time where I can, plug my ears to the crazy, and find inspiration in the everyday.

Have you found that chasing your dream looks different than your expectations? How do you find time for it this time of year?

How to bear the truth and the light

Today, I’m joining Emily and friends for Tuesdays Unwrapped as we unwrap our lovely, messy, and unexpected gifts. Thanks so much for stopping by.

He asked me to cuddle, then he threw his arm across my shoulder and looked me square in the eye. He asked me what I’m afraid of, and I blinked my eyes fast to avoid letting the tears fall. Dear God, son. I’m afraid of it all. Of every bit of darkness that invades the light, of madness, and guns, and sons who rise up against the one that birthed them. I looked into his eyes and I wondered how much of the truth he could see. I think he saw enough, and I blinked and we each confessed to the a few things we fear. I mostly lied. How much can a ten-year old boy bear to know?

Today, I bear it for him. I bear the weight of the fear and of the unknown. I bear it for my daughter who knows nothing of the evening news or how a womb can weep on behalf of twenty mothers. Some day they will comprehend it, and they will bear the weight of truth for themselves, but not now. Now, I will carry this for them. I will give them the gift of un-knowing, of believing mothers can still shield a child from the world. And I will build a deeper truth into their souls–a Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. This truth will sustain them when they can no longer un-know, when the knowing makes them feel as if they will break in half.

I set about telling the truth about the Light, building them up from the inside out, so when the darkness comes they may throw open the doors of their souls and light will pour out and consume it.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” ~John 1:5

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I’m praying for all of us mothers today, those of us who weep, who wrestle, who fear the darkness, who mourn. It feels impossible to continue to believe in gifts this week, but I have three children to hug tight every night, and so I pray for those whose arms are empty. The gifts are endless.