when I find dirt on my wedding shoes

I had a plan for my wedding shoes, even before Preston proposed to me. I’d seen them in a magazine the previous Christmas and in so many wedding Pinterest pictures. They were the perfect color pink – ballet pink, the kind that’s gentle but strong and not too flashy but not too pale – made of what look like satin ribbons, flat but elegant. I’ve wanted to be graceful like a ballerina for a long time (far longer than I actually studied ballet, I should admit), and these were the shoes I imagined wearing.

They fit perfectly, and I kept them in their box without ever touching them or wearing them. I would show them off in hushed whispers, the tissue paper crinkling, slip them on for no more than ten minutes and always inside. I couldn’t imagine ever wearing them anywhere – they were the thing I thought would make me beautiful.

photo by Ebersole Photography

photo by Ebersole Photography

And today I was cleaning our closet on a whim listening to the rain outside and I tried on my wedding shoes again, just to see. I don’t know if any of us are very far from thinking beautiful things are magic, and so I stood amid the dust and the old scarves and the sweaters and I slipped them on.

They fit perfectly.

They’re covered in dirt.

I began a lament, half-formed the words on my tongue and half whispered them to the mirror, looking up and down and wondering where all this dirt had come from, if I should put them somewhere safer than in the midst of all my other ordinary shoes, as if they should be kept safe from my ordinary life, from my growing self.

But I couldn’t stop looking, noticing, and then I realized: the dirt makes them beautiful.

The dirt is the witness to the growing of a young marriage, the beginning, the glorious running through the world and the slowing down, the catching each other, the catching ourselves, the being constantly caught up in God. They’re bearing the marks of marriage: the almost five months, the honeymoon where we got tattoos and the wandering through the grounds of my high school where we got married, the scuffs of grass from down by the river where we walked in the haze of a Texas summer. I can squint and see the mystery green pen marks I tried to erase with a Tide pen now permanently etched at their edges. They’re wearing history now, a bit of rainwater, worn from being stamped in frustration or impatience. And they wear the history of love, how different and the same it is, how easy it is to forget that love is always moving in wild uncontrollable circles, bringing more people in, bringing you closer to the one you love, sealing the ark and the ache of marriage with every click of the lock and every first peek of sun too early in the morning.

We tell ourselves to make memories because time goes too fast, to take pictures, to Skype every detail back home lest we lose sight of who we are or were or could become.

But perhaps our lives are already bearing witness to it. Perhaps it is we who are too worried to notice that the rest of our ordinary is holding and bearing to us the story of us, of our marriage and jobs and moves and fights and triumphs. Perhaps our shoes, even those we were so afraid to touch, are beautiful when we let them wear and retell our stories.

Perhaps the dirt on my wedding shoes is a better storyteller of this hallowed beginning than I can hope to be.

And perhaps, I should stand still in the perfect pink shoes now flecked grey and brown and that funny hint of green in my closet on a Saturday and listen.

Photo by Ebersole Photography

Photo by Ebersole Photography

The story they tell is so beautiful.

Love,
hilary

dear hilary: when strength is hard-fought

Dear Hilary,

He hurts. I hurt. We play the game of who cares less: He is winning because I care too much, invest my heart too quickly. Still I do not tell a soul. I wrestle with sexuality, faith, self-respect – aware that this is unhealthy. I cannot fix him, I know. And I too walk through a season of brokenness and loneliness – I am not strong enough. 

Tonight I ache and before I know it, I have spilled my tears and confusion and fear all over the passenger seat of my friends car. He pieces the story together and asks me if I want his advice. I nod and he tells me that I need to get out of this relationship, that I am too good for him, that he does not want to me get more hurt than I already am – that my no will hurt him, anger him, alter the relationship, but in the end, he will respect me for it. 

Alone in my room, I absorb his honest words. I think about what it means to respect self, declare that you are worth more than being used. I think about how it is foolish to expect that I can fix other people or be their saviour, and I know they cannot be mine either. Because the broken cannot fix the broken as the blind cannot lead the blind.

Yet still I think of his arms around me. I fear that I am not strong enough to respect myself.

Love,
sexuality, emotions & other dangerous things

Dear Dangerous Things,

I was in France my freshman year of high school when I learned the word for wound in French: blessure. We were talking about the Normandy Beaches, about D-Day. When I think about things that hurt, when I think about things that ache, for some reason I go right back to the hallway just by the gift shop in some small museum in Normandy where my teacher taught us the word for wound. Une blessure. 

I’ve since looked it up, and in the Oxford English Dictionary, one of the entry for the word “bless” is this idea – to wound or to hurt. It’s from the Old French and the French. I don’t know how often we use it, or if anyone uses it at all these days. But it is there, in its quiet catalogued home, and when I read your letter for some reason I went back and looked at it again.

You have been blessed in just this way – injured. And your letter speaks that out and it is worth attending to. I am not anxious to speak the other meaning of the same word – the meaning that has to do with abundance, with gift, with praise, with being given a blessing. I think perhaps there will be a moment when this one blessing becomes the other, but that’s not for me to say.

It’s just for me to say that your strength does not depend on not having been wounded. Your strength does not depend on you being in top shape all the time. Strength is a mysterious thing. You have it by clinging to it. You have it by insisting on it, daily, in the small ways. You have it not by already having it, not by being without une blessure or even more than one, but by the taking of those things into yourself.

I encourage you think deeply about the conversation you had with your friend. I encourage you to attend to the parts of it that perhaps feel most wounding: that your friend has said you should alter the relationship. That your friend has said you will be more hurt by continuing. That your friend, whatever else has happened, whatever wounds live there, is telling you to go.

That conversation hurts, but I think it is its hurting, its clear-sighted pain, is the strength. Because you will not have strength to go before you go, and there will be no magical moment where you wake up and the wounds have disappeared.

So do not wait. Strength to go will follow your leaving. The healing will follow your binding up of the wounds.

I can’t know how or when or even if this wound, this blessing, will become the other kind. But I know that you will have strength to go by going, I know that you will find that in the first steps you take out from the space where you are hurting, out from attending to it, clear-sighted, there strength will meet you.

For I believe that God’s gesture to us is one of constant coming near. Nadia Bolz-Weber writes that in her book Pastrix - I remember underlining it over and over and over. “God is always coming near us.”

God is always coming near you. Constantly. In this, in the first step away, in the before-you-have-strength, in the strengthening, in the aftermath. In the blessing, and the blessing.

Love,
hilary

when I am keeping a quieter vigil

I have a thousand stories that I haven’t told.

It’s snippets of moments of remembering, the way that our hearts remembering, outside of time, bending it back and forth hoping that the truth of it will illuminate in the quiet, heartfelt, wondering places. Last year I wrote some of the stories down, a flood of remembering, in the way that when something changes you want to put it back together, make it a new story so that you can understand why and how and if it even was the way you thought it would be.

I have stories of high school, stories of college and the first floodlit after-years. I have stories about midnight drives through the towns of my childhood and ones about walking the dog on a marsh field with my mother in the cold before winter, thinking about how I never imagined being able to grow up, only to turn around and find that it was happening all along.

I have stories about the poems I used to write and the ones I write now, how my poetry is a scattered collection of skeletons, ideas that I love because they show me who I was not so long ago.

When I think about blogging (and, dear friends, it’s been such a long time since I’ve written over here), I think of all the stories I’ve been telling: stories of confirmation and falling in love, stories of Easter vigils and long car rides home, stories of missing my grandmother and letters to others about how to be unafraid of the beautiful monsters in our closets.

But today, as I sit in the sunlit corner of the building where I do most of my reading and writing these days, I realize that I am keeping a quieter vigil. These are the days of collecting stories, gathering them around me like echoes of the Psalms, stories to rage and stories to pray, stories of God’s wonder and God’s silent watchfulness, stories of me, learning and unlearning the world. These are the days when the world lights and darkens, when I watch the fan above the bed in the early morning, when winter is coming, when the seasons gather us on their unrelenting way.

I wonder if we are too quick to think all the stories are for the telling of them, and not our own hearing. I wonder if I am too quick to worry that I have been quiet on my blog, that so much has happened in these last few months and I’ve said so little, my space gathering a bit of gentle dust.

And then I wonder if the stories won’t be better, when they are told, for having been kept a little longer in a quieter vigil?

So, perhaps it is not so terrible that I am gathering the stories in, that I’m out on the plains of my life caught up in the work and worry and awe of living, and perhaps it is, even, a great and mysterious thing to be silent and watch it unfold, so that when I find words for the stories, find movement in my heart to tell them, there will be a richness that might not have been otherwise.

In my quieter vigil, I might write here or there, and I’m collecting the stories in notebooks and napkins, and oh, how good it will be to bring them forward in the time that is right. Vigil-keeping, it is a practice, a work, but we are the better for it.

I will leave you with this, a bit of what I’m pondering in the back of my notebook, in scribbles and half finished thoughts:

The goodness is sitting on a swinging bench. The goodness is next to us, near us in from of us and so why do we cry out except because we hope for more than an intangible idea we hope for a weighty glory of sunlight and dirt and squirrels climbing trees. I am along on this bench writing in my journal which is really a supposedly philosophical notebook and my pen keeps smudging as I go I remember the freewrites and how they must have been more about freedom than writing more about light and air touched and sensed and the scratching pen and distant frisbee thrower and how here in Texas the sky is a different color blue. Here the trees have grateful roots in dry ground, rain is a surprise and so always remains a gift like the freedom in writing. How can we know the world without knowing its beauty? 

Love,
hilary

when no one else can believe it for me

We were back at a church we love this past Sunday. I’m a long-road Anglican, winding my way along a path from childhood and pink dresses at First Communion to that St. Michael and All Angels confirmation, a swirl of the Spirit descending and those words, this is a new anointing, my daughter. This particular church, where the light spills in across the altar, where the choir and the electric organ sing bold to hymn and spiritual alike, where there sits this beautiful banner I stare at every time I go in – yellow, gold, that proclaims: Yours is the glory, Risen Conquering Son. is where I first saw my husband in the midst of being deeply and irrevocably in love with God. This is where I learned that there are ways of being traditional that sing spirituals and pray for the Spirit to come and fall upon us. This is, in short, where I relearned how to encounter the Lord Jesus.

On Sunday the pastor preached on fear.

On Sunday, Jesus came and sat down beside me.

We sat together, my eyes on my hands, hearing what by now feels so familiar – that anxiety is not our nature, that we are fearful from the first moment of disobedience, that perfect love, who is the person of Jesus, casts out fear. And you all know, in your journey with this rambling heart, that I am acquainted with fear. I’ve lived and wandered inside it often. It’s the kind of dark where my eyes adjust quickly, my adrenaline kicks in, I feel my way through the blackness and so often think I’m doing just fine.

And you all know that I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I keep writing about it. I’d say it was some kind of theme or meditation for the season, but I think it’s more likely that God is content to dwell with us where our hearts most often go to hide from Him, and so He waits for us, comes out into the dark after us, beckons us into the midst of His very self.

So here we are, me and Jesus, and I’m counting the invisible threads in my skirt and I’m hearing again that Jesus will cast out fear, I am hearing that the Holy Spirit lives in me, I am hearing, I am hearing… Jesus, just the stillness of Jesus, is near me.

Then the pastor says, “I cannot believe this for you.”

I bristle at the thought. Aren’t we carrying each other? When the road is long and we are weary aren’t we leaning hard on the faith of each other, on the promises kept generation to generation, of the stories others tell us when we cannot tell ourselves?

But then there is this moment, where I think about it again. I close my eyes, stop counting the threads.

Jesus desires relationship with me. Me, without helpful scaffolding or hiding behind the true things someone else has said. And having faith isn’t just assenting to what someone smarter has said. Jesus doesn’t desire my agreement with someone else. He is too in love with the being of me to want less than my self. My whole self. My whole self, believing.

I do believe we should lean on each other. I believe we should carry each other. Oh, but how we must believe this without hiding from the nearness of God to each of us, in the just-us-ness of our being?

I told my mother once I was doing something because of the lightness of me. I think God’s answer to that question, the one we keep asking, the one we keep hiding from, the one not about God’s goodness or qualities or cosmic salvation or any of that, but just the one about how God loves -

because of the being of you. 

Because of the you that is so gorgeously alive. And you are enough of a reason for all the nearness of God. It is our whole self that must believe. It is our whole self, believing, that God is desperately in love with.

That kind of love is so particular, no one else can believe it for us. We have to believe it, too.

Love,
hilary

God is speaking joy

“And I think to myself, how long has God been speaking this joy over my life, and I have been too filled up with anxiety to hear it?

I tell this to her on the phone pacing outside the building where I spend most of my time as a new graduate student. I try to let my feet carry me where they will on the winding paths of campus, past library and other classroom buildings and people on skateboards and scooters, past trendy backpacks and BPA free water bottles.

I am relaying a conversation I had with Preston about callings, about anxiety about the future, about what is happening in our lives and what it will mean and how it will happen, and it’s in the midst of telling her about the conversation (not even the conversation itself) that I realize it:

God has been speaking joy over my life.

Anxiety is an unruly substance – it fills up the spaces wherever you let it in. It creeps into the corner of yourself and becomes the drumbeat and gives the marching orders.

And I fill myself up with anxiety so much that I cannot hear God speaking. And it is in the very act of resisting anxiety that we will find, that we can hope to find, the ears to hear.

Be astonished! Be astounded! For a work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told. 

Habbakuk, 1.5.

When was the last time I was astonished at the Lord? When was the last time I was astounded? When was it that I stopped and marveled and felt my knees go weak from seeing the wonder and the blessedness?

When I resist anxiety, even for a moment, I can catch a glimmer of the song God is singing over my life: joy.

In resisting the anxiety there is promise, there is purpose, and no, it’s not a new life plan with a bigger God stamp on it. It’s purpose that is drawing nearer to the Father and purpose that is becoming more like Jesus and it is purpose that will lead you to a new city in a new state in a new marriage so that you might know God better and love him more. The places where we live out our vocation have a tendency to substitute their purposes for the ultimate purpose: we think that we’re here to become a certain kind of scholar or a certain kind of teacher or a certain kind of electrical engineer, and that’s the real reason God said go. But in that we forget: we forget that Jesus first and always and finally calls us to be a certain kind of human being, one who is made glorious by the Spirit dwelling and moving inside them, one who bears God’s image, resplendent, made new, gracious and graceful and alive.

Before Preston and I got married, I memorized Romans 8. I don’t know why, except for the ways that, daily, I have had to remind myself of it. Remind myself that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Remind myself that you are in the Spirit. Remind myself that those whom he called, he also justified, and those whom he justified, he also glorified. 

And here again, I remember: nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus. 

In the midst of what is unknown, we are not apart from the love of God. In the midst of what can make us anxious, we are not apart from the love of Christ Jesus. In the midst of hoping and praying and waiting and raging, in the emptiness and the fullness, the silence and the singing, we are not apart from such love.

Be astonished! Be astounded! For nothing will be able to separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus. And thus, rejoice.

Love,
hilary

i write to keep believing

Someone once told me that my blogging personality was like sweetened, condensed milk. She said it perched on the edge of the swiveling chair just inside the office where I worked. It was late on a Thursday and I was working overtime, filling in for someone on maternity leave, half-distracted, half-exhausted, maybe less than half-hearted. She swiveled, proud of the declaration, or maybe just the uniqueness of her metaphor, I’m not sure which. I must have turned around in an angry kind of way, asked “What?” in that biting tone girls perfect for and against each other, and she stopped twirling, poised to defend her view. “It’s not really how it is with you, is it, the stories you tell on your blog? It’s just… sweeter.”

I think tiredness offered me a good reason to accept defeat on the point, so I just nodded and started to close up the office. We didn’t talk about it again, but it still lingers, that metaphor, that question - is that really how it is with you – that makes me wonder whether I’m really being honest with anyone who happens to read this. Wonder if, somehow, I’m lying to myself.

Preston, a few years ago – “You have opinions and thoughts. And you should put them out there. Your blog should be a place you explore those things. Edgier.” I don’t remember the order he said those things, or if he said all of them, or if some are my interpretation mixed with his words mixed with the fog that accompanies memories. I do remember he was Skyping me from his kitchen while he made lunch for a friend of his. I do remember that we were still trying to figure out what being friends would mean to two people who had been so entangled in not-realized-it-yet love letters. I do remember that I was drinking iced green tea with lemon that my mother buys every summer from a plastic cup.

I wrote a post in response saying that I couldn’t write an edgy post because that wasn’t me. Sweetened, condensed milk me.

I wonder still whether I should have written about my opinions of education reform.

My counselor and I in a late January evening, the night black and the stars few and far between. Her office is warm and well-light, which makes the night seem blacker as I stare determinedly out the window. “I don’t want to talk about it.” And her wisdom, always pouring through – “But does anything grow the eating disorder as much as silence? As much as pretending it isn’t there?”

And so I blog a few posts and whisper in them the fears that feed it, the fears of enough, the fears of how I look and what it means and whether I am beautiful. I don’t want to say much more, and I go back week after week saying that I didn’t write or I didn’t really talk about it, and my counselor, and her wisdom: “But you will know the right places to talk about it, and the right people to talk about it to, won’t you?”

So I go back to writing about Jesus and the ordinary aches of a heart growing up, I put my one word in front of the other in a steady parade of characters on the screen.

This afternoon, when I’ve despaired over enough of the workload I have to leave it behind for a few hours, I ask Preston for a writing prompt. He reads me something from Joan Didion, about truth and fact and writing and why she keeps journals and the words dance by me too fast. But I start to think about this blog. Why do I write?

I don’t write for sweetness. I don’t write to make the days drift by in a haze of vague hopefulness or nice feelings.

I don’t write for edge – I don’t think I would even know anymore what that would be, a raw honesty that forgets the truth that spaces are our responsibility, that something belonging to us means we answer for what we bring forth into the world in it.

I don’t write, even, to keep a journal of what I have and haven’t done and accomplished and worked through or where I have or haven’t failed or fled.

I write, I discover, to keep believing.

I write to fix my hope in the firmness of the Resurrection. I write to hear Jesus calling for me. I write to believe that Jesus is calling for me, to believe that there is a wild calling on my life in the days where I don’t believe it. I write so that, in saying it out loud, I can hear it. My heart has a quiet voice sometimes next to the girl in my head with her giant megaphone, and I write to hear over the noise of my life.

I write to believe, to keep believing.

O Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief. 

I don’t think I have ever told anyone that’s what I pray most of the time when I sit down to blog.

Except, now, you.

I don’t remember a word of the Joan Didion quote Preston read me. But maybe the point of it wasn’t to remember that, but to remember this: that writing is getting quiet enough to hear and believe in Jesus, writing is making my heart louder than my head. 

And writing is receiving: grace enough.

along the dark and twisty road

Did you know, that there is such a thing as becoming more confused by your obedience?

The things I wish someone had told me.

Obey, and the road will get darker and twistier. Obey, and the clarity you prized will vanish. Obey, and the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living will become the prayer for water on a desert highway, the simplest, most desperate question - is there manna for me today, Lord? - with no thoughts of hoarding it or storing it up or anything but the one meal, the daily meal, the crumbs from the table meal.

Obey, and that sweet daydream you had about what you would be like and sound like and do, the person you glorified in your mind, you in maxi skirts sweeping through your life with such grace and such ease, she is crying on the couch, yet again, making lists, yet again, asking again for a manna she doesn’t know how to find on her own.

And you think about how to say it because you think there is nothing more embarrassing than admitting it, that you don’t have it together on this dark and twisty road.

I keep thinking about Jacob.

I keep thinking about all the moments when I have likened myself to Jacob, wrestling, strong, prevailing through the night. I keep thinking about all the times that I have said I have wrestled with God and yet my life is being delivered. Or even because I am wrestling so my life is being delivered.

It was night when Jacob wrestled. I never noticed that before.

Jacob wrestled until the day broke open.

Jacob went out into the dark and twisty night, into the utter unknowing, and wrestled until there was light.

I will not let you go unless you bless me. 

I will not let you go.

I am saying this in the dark. I am saying this to a God who I grasp for and hold onto, praying that I have, in fact, found God, that the wrestling is a holding fast, that in the midst of the darkness is the closest kind of encounter.

The things I keep inscribing on my heart and the sides of my notebooks during class, that this is the place of closest encounter and Jacob, he walked with an ache in his hip because in the ache is the remembering of how we wrestle with God, all of us, and how in that is the closeness, the hope.

I’m out here on the dark and twisty road of obedience, and if you’re there, too, then can I whisper a hello, I can see you? And together we will wrestle until day breaks open.

Love,
hilary