when this is two months of gratitude

There are long days. The days where you wake up full of your own self, your own thoughts, your own worries – and there is the other person, the one whom you love, awaiting you.

And you brush your teeth and think about what clothes to wear and what work needs to be done that day, and you think you’ll fall behind if you don’t spend every ounce of yourself in your new work, in school, in all the big bold things God brought you here to do.

And you’ll eat your yogurt and say something you don’t even think twice about, which is the problem, of course, that you didn’t even think about it, and then you are caught, not just by this person whom you love – no, you are caught too by that description of Jesus from Philippians 2 -

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited;
but emptied himself
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death -
even death on a cross.”

And it goes on, this kenotic hymn of such clarifying, terrifying beauty, you know that moment you hear something you keep wishing you wouldn’t hear?  Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2.4-8 above, then 12-13)

Most of the time, my husband goes first in the self-emptying.

I am grateful that marriage is a self-emptying work. One that I fail at, more often than I can accurately describe. Because the work isn’t a trick of convention or a sudden blaze of glory. It is smallness made holy, an unbecoming of so much of what we grow accustomed to being – caught in our own worlds, however beautiful they are, however good, however purposeful. We grow used to our largeness, the hero-of-our-own-life-ness, the safety of being wrapped up in ourselves.

And then we are charged to work out our salvation, to self-empty, to loosen our grasp of the secure circular thoughts and to love one another. To love another.

My husband so often goes first. So often, he asks the first question, calls out for me, insists on knowing what’s behind the sigh or the half smile or the look-away or the hopeful side glance. And in the long days, when even your two-months-of-gratitude post is late, that calling out is an aching kind of love.

I don’t know if gratitude can truly capture it, how it makes me see him, see myself, how often I forget that we live and move in tandem with each other, how it is such work, such hard, gratifying, knees in the dirt work, to love each other.

He reminds me to cherish the work that is love.

The longest days, when it takes self-emptying, you sense that you are at the very beginning of the work. You eat your yogurt and you hear God tell you again -

This work of love is the coming alive of you.

To have this mindset, as was in Christ Jesus,

to empty, to become small again, to remember

the terrifying and beautiful fear and trembling,

and God, who works in us.

Love,
hilary

 

I’m leaning harder

“You’ve changed.” He tells me this as we’re getting ready to turn in for the night among the whir of electric toothbrushes and the ripples of the brush through my hair. I turn, still trying to loose stray knots from the red lion’s mane around my neck. “Changed?”

I know you’re thinking that this is an obvious one: marriage changes you. 

He nods. “Yeah. You’re more sure of yourself. You’re leaning harder into Jesus, too.”

We keep talking, our voices circling in the dark, how things are new and different, how my thinking has sharpened on some things, how we’ve both learned to weigh and sift our words anew, because we live with someone who wears our words like birth marks on their skin. We slowly drift into the silence, the comforting dark of another day that has been put to rest.

But I can’t fall asleep. I’m still thinking about that, the leaning harder, the change.

It’s not that marriage changes you that surprises me: it’s the weight of the change. It’s the way you carry the change in your ribcage and guard it like your bones guard your heart. How you feel it differently, more than just self-awareness or increased confidence or courage, feel it some more physical than that, feel it in those tugging counts of the hairbrush and in the whirring electric toothbrush.

I’ve said for years I don’t do change well. That I’m a creature of habits of my own making, that if I want to be spontaneous I want to the only one in control of that spontaneity, the one who decides to change the plan. I’ve declared foolishly that I’m just not very good at it and thought it would be a sufficient excuse to never have to do it. I thought God would give me a pass on transformation bigger than the ones I say I’m ready for.

But the Spirit moves us along in the wiser pace – the pace we wouldn’t set for ourselves. So here I am, being changed in big ways, ways that make even the word marriage bigger because it has now begun to mean all that changing, all that becoming between me and my husband and our voices circling in the dark.

I’m weak-kneed from the changing. Maybe that’s why I lean so much harder. Maybe we lean into Jesus not out of the virtue of feeling like we have the time, or we simply desire it – maybe we lean in desperation. Because the joy of the Lord is our strength, and his joy in my changing in the ways that are perhaps much more than I wanted is the strength in me to do the changing, to submit to the changing.

So I lean harder on Jesus because Jesus calls the change forth from me in this marriage, in the little ark of family that my husband and I make every day, and because Jesus is the way to change.

But what about that other part? Me being more sure of myself?

I’m still awake, my eyes searching the ceiling, my hands over the blanket, tracing a pattern in the quilt. Most of the changes these past weeks make me weak-kneed, remember? So how can that make me sure of myself?

In an Orthodox church near my hometown there is an icon of Mary, called in Greek the platytera, which means “wider” or “more spacious.”  The icon is of Mary, her womb a golden circle with Christ inside, holding up a hand in blessing. Mary’s hands are outstretched, a position of prayer.

I think about that icon often, for it puts an image to the meaning of Christian – to be a bearer of Christ. To bear Christ in this world, even as Mary did. Somehow this is not separated from her hands in prayer, the way that she is presenting Christ to the congregation in the icon, even as she presented him while he was on earth and even now as we in turn are sent out each week to put on Christ, to see Christ in one another.

Maybe being sure of myself is in this: I am learning what it means to put on Christ, and therein lies my real self, my self that is raised to new life in the power of Jesus. Maybe being sure of myself is not a confidence but a clinging, my own hands and weak knees opened in prayer, my own feeble heart even now becoming more of a home for the living God.

“I’ve changed.”

I whisper the words in the dark as I begin to fall asleep. Perhaps it is its own prayer.

Keep me leaning on you, Jesus, where I can be sure of myself.

Love,
hilary

the first month of gratitude

When this is a month of gratitude.

That sounded like a good way to title this post, but truthfully I don’t know what to call it.

It’s been a month and a day since I married Preston.

And in a month I didn’t know you could learn so much thankfulness that it seems foolish to try and contain it in words in an online space, seems almost laughable, but then words are cherished vessels, and sometimes, they’re what we have, and the writing is a most needed remembering.

I didn’t know you would be grateful for the noise of the coffee grinder because it means he lets you stay in bed longer. Or the way that taking out the trash when he’s running another errand would mean so much. I didn’t know you could learn to revel in doing small things like unloading the dishwasher or folding laundry while watching a show together, how that could be the most romantic afternoon. I didn’t know about the joy of takeout or the joy of leftovers that become something new and beautiful tasting under his watchful eye. I didn’t know about the Splendid Table podcast or how to share in things that you are new to loving with the one that you love. I didn’t know your heart could be taught again and again the meaning of the word, “thank you” when it’s dinner or dish washing or keeping track of the ways to use up the vegetables from the farmer’s market. How saying thank you would be a thing that he would teach me, day by day, gesture by gesture.

I didn’t know that sometimes I would need the discipline of writing down the gratitudes, the way that you must ask of yourself the work of remembering, of thankfulness, because even the deepest love becomes accustomed to itself sometimes and even the thing that was and is and will keep being so wondrous, like making a home with your best friend, asks to be remembered among the work of building it.

He has told me more than one about the importance of telling stories, so that things will not be forgotten. He told me again on a drive into the city, my feet in their customary position tucked up under me and my eyes half-closed against the sun. I didn’t say anything in the moment, and I should have. He has a wise heart. I should have said that, should have said then and there that he is teaching me the work of remembering and telling the stories, the love stories, the ordinary grace stories, the extraordinary provision stories, the stories that we will write on doorposts in our house that the generation to come might yet praise the Lord.

I should have told him the story again of the drive home from the airport the first time, when everything was so new and I didn’t know how to lace my fingers through his, when we knew and didn’t know how we knew, on that walk leaning late into the hazy rain of June.

It is a month of gratitude, the thousand thanks Ann teaches, spilling out over our days. We must do the work of remembering the blessings, tell again and again the story of manna coming down from heaven and the way that we are provided for, the way that we are loved. We must tell the stories of love at first meeting and the way we build love, gesture  by gesture.

This is my first month of gratitude.

Love,
hilary

put on a little emmylou (a letter to preston)

Dear Preston,

It’s the one-month-mark today, here at the end of the winding road, the one that will so soon become that impossible stretch of green grass between us, aisle to union to marriage on the other side.

Tonight, I’m playing songs on a playlist I made called, “h&p” – with everything that’s indie and everything that’s country and everything that’s the way that these last days make me feel. I’m cleaning the almost emptied room, looking at the bags packed, the dresser drawers that creak with their once full life, their own sort of sweet goodbye.

I’m playing the first dance song from J&E’s wedding last weekend, the one that made me cry, the one where I was leaning against you, feeling your chest rise and fall with the steadiness that belongs to just you, that’s more than oxygen entering and leaving, but the very tenderness of being next to each other.

I wanted to write you a marriage letter early, the way Seth and Amber have written those, calling out on the waters of these blogs something, I don’t even really know what, but something, some echo of the impossible hope that I feel building in my chest when I look over at you, after more than a year, awestruck and comforted all at once.

But we aren’t quite yet married, and for all its ache, there is something about being engaged that I felt like I had to remember, now at its closing days. So, Preston, here – a last-month-of-engagement letter.

Put on a little Emmylou with me?

We will move slow across the room, just a sway like that other time, and the time before that, when the work was too much and for a moment we shrank the world to the small steps across the ancient wood floors. We will move in the sticky rhythms of a second summer together, make our way around her voice laughter tickling our ears.

Put on a little Emmylou with me, and I will press my hand into yours, we can drink lemonade along the water and you can steal more than one kiss before I duck my head, blushing, as the teenagers walk past in their colorful struts. I will wear your favorite dress and ask you a thousand questions about your favorite kind of pie and whether you think you’d ever live in the South of France.

Put on a little Emmylou, Preston, and we will reread our story in the pages of graduate school applications and gall bladder surgery recovery, in wedding menus and Pinterest pages, in my grandmother’s lost and now found ruby ring that I’ll wear in a month and again, in the smallest whispers across a French 75 or a morning cup of coffee or a birthday present and a made bed. We will remember how we build this, and I’ll make a joke that you laugh at and roll your eyes, and I’ll make that face and you will laugh again.

Put on a little Emmylou, darling, and I will start singing the way you like me to, unafraid, my feet up against the dashboard on the long drives, and I will promise you again and again, there is nothing quite as wondrous as stumbling on another way you’ve loved me – the boxes you’ve saved to open together or the the way you remember how much I love the Trader Joe’s twizzlers or the way you relentlessly force my hand with Jesus, day after day, so sure that the only way to heal my heart is to ask me to open it again to God. Again, and again, I will sing it out, one year and two and ten and sixty-five, how it wasn’t just happenstance, this love, but whole, and maybe even, holy.

I’m singing with Green River Ordinance, now, again that line, put on a little emmylou, and we’ll dance into the night, singing hold my loving arms, my loving arms are for you. 

And I remember how much love was singing at their wedding, in this song, in this dance, and so, my not just yet husband,

put on a little emmylou,

and slow, in the softness of these last days -

hold me. My loving arms are yours.

Love,
hilary

for when the poem makes promises

I’m a haphazard writer, at best. These days I turn to the keyboard and I find that I have little to say, that everything coming to the surface is about the waiting, this endless waiting, or about the hurry-up-and-slow-down dance we’ve been doing. I keep thinking that I have nothing new, that there is nothing new under the sun, to gift or to give, and I want to sigh like Anne of Green Gables, exhale all the sorrows of the ages into the world, breathe in the goodness, breathe out the worry, begin again.

My wordpress dashboard tells me that this day two years ago we began here, a wild love for people and God and words and the way those things are in each other and through each other. Two years. The two years of agony and wonder that only a life lived full can bring at the same time.

And there, the silver thread running through, the minnow in the shining water, is poetry.

It is the beginning of every metaphor I have given in the past two years, the end of every sentence. It is the heart behind the heart I present, the asked unasked question that shivers in the dark. It is the stolen moments at work when I type to remember how to write at all, to stitch limbs with words like so much dissolvable surgical thread, hoping the body, the poetry, will heal itself. It is itself, too, spurning my company in an instant for the sticky sweetness of the afterword, the last punctuation, the ghost in the air.

I started this blog with the idea that love is wild, and maybe that is the prayer which is the poem which is not either thing, but I want it to be so I can be writing about poetry, so that I can be a poet, a prayer. Love is wild. Is it?

The poems command me to say yes, that it is an untamed thing, living like fire, the other breath in our lungs. Love is basic, built from what builds our bodies and yet, like our bodies, beyond its elements. Love is hormones firing in the brain and then pushing out into the kiss, the skin cells meeting, the silent late night sorting of the recycling. Love is basic, built up from the periodic tables we live in, then reaching so far away from us it takes a poem to pull it back in, takes words, takes the Spirit’s speaking. And a listening ear.

Poetry is that listening ear against the galaxy, against the spinning chaos, against the noise that becomes the music that still is chaos.

Poetry is my surgical thread, the minnow I imagine at the bottom of the pond that most days looks too ordinary to notice, poetry what turns my gaze back towards the world in horror and awe.

Poetry pulls the wild love out of me, of you, makes more of us wherever it is, sitting in dusty chapbooks abandoned by the world.

Day by day, stitching us whole.

Love,
hilary

for when love is desperate

I woke up in the haze of the night, that space where the sunrise is slowly bleeding into the day, where rain casts an enormous shadow, where there are things like jury duty and immediate deadlines and the last plane ride of the man back to Texas.

Sitting in the eerie, half empty room with the other wanderers with their bleary-eyed coffee, their newspapers and knitting, their snuck-in granola bars eaten quietly, it struck me that this journey is almost over – well, perhaps, almost begun. Or both.

I can’t tell you why, but when they dismissed us – justice reached between the hallways and the bank of elevators – and I was driving back in to work, to meet that deadline, it hit me: this is the man I’m marrying.

This is him.

I started to laugh, but at the same time I started to cry. I was laughing and crying along a 10 mile stretch of road that I have never seen before, with small clumps of pansies blooming in the median boxes, the rain still hesitantly pounding the windshield, and two UPS trucks turning left and right and me in between them. I was laughing at myself, at this beautiful world, at the fact that in that moment I realized it:

I’m marrying the person I always and never imagined.

I had to tell myself that I was still driving, that this is the middle of the workday, that the world is racing past me and there are places to go and deadlines to meet, because in a moment, I am a heap of tears and shaky breathing and laughter, so much laughter it seemed to rebound off the walls and windows, carrying me.

I think this must be what it is like to fall desperately in love.

Not a hurricane, no, but the steady second, third, hundredth time falling into love. This is the we’ve been engaged for a long while now, the we know who does the dishes and sets the table, the ordinary missed words and not missed eye-rolls, who loves hummus and who loves sea urchin, where she always forgets her glasses and where he always puts down the car keys. This is the falling in love again with all the familiar, with all the still-surprising, with the way that love turns out to be eating leftovers on the floor or walking to the pond when the sun finally comes out and warms the earth.

I always imagined that it would be as simple as that, the person as inevitable as breathing. I never imagined it would be so good, goodness essential as breathing.

This isn’t the post where I can say anything profound about love, other than I didn’t realize how much you keep falling into it. How you fall into it, again and again, when you realize that this person still thinks you’re the best thing that has ever happened when you oversleep and mess up plans and forget things. How the fact that he knows how much I love hummus and steak makes me cry. Or how he never lets a day go by where he says, “Hello, beautiful,” and there I am, hopelessly falling into love.

This is the post where I say that I spent that drive laughing and crying because I’m getting married to Preston. Because it’s the hundredth time I’ve fallen in love with him, and love it wild, and sometimes I could cry with how extraordinary it is. And laugh.

Love,
hilary

dear hilary: talk to me

Dear Hilary,

Finishing up my Freshmen year of college, I have found these last months to be consumed with the desire to fullfill a definition of beautiful and be the sort of person a boy would desire. Everyone around me seems to be speaking of identity and verses are continuing to declare God’s love and claim of worthiness on my life. Yet, I find my self so deeply desperate for the affection of a boy, for a romantic relationship. I have never had a boyfriend and I feel like I have no one pursing me in that way. 

So I’m really wondering, is it okay to dream of this man? Because I used to believe that God had that man for me, it was just a matter of waiting and loving him first. But now I wonder, that perhaps I am called to that single life or an early death or to not finding that guy until I’m in my 30s or to marry someone that is not like the man I have dreamed of. I just don’t feel like I am worthy of being loved in that sort of way or if it is even fair of me to dream of such a guy. How do I approach the Lord in prayer when I don’t even know if there is a guy? And can I dream of a guy with particular qualities or is that un-christ like and foolish because the only thing I should look for in a partner is his love for Christ?

Love,
Just Asking

Dear Just Asking,

I was driving home one weekend from college, in the midst of thinking about and wondering about this one guy who was in my microeconomics class. We sat next to each other, we passed notes about where the supply and demand lines met in the graph and whether that always determined the price. We occasionally saw each other outside the regular Monday, Wednesday, Friday clock. It’s funny how you can find yourself in a rhythm of thinking just like the other rhythms of your life. 4:30 on those days saw me turning my thoughts to the what if we dated and the why doesn’t he ask me out? and the ever-present am I worth that? There is a certain kind of ache in the rhythm, a certain all-too-familiar. I would overthink what I was going to wear to class that day, I would write those notes in the margins of my notebook and I would walk back to my dorm wondering everything you are wondering, about love and the person and whether Jesus was going to get around to giving me a person anytime soon.

And I could write a lot about how this remembering is a work of conviction in the heart but also the practice of grace, the realizing that our past selves are not to be condemned as the worst possible versions of ourselves, but to be loved and accepted as being the people that they were, knowing what they knew… but that is a different story.

I am driving home. That’s where we are. I am driving home and I am turning left, sneaking around the bend in the road a little fast than I should, and as I swung the car through the turn I found myself saying, “God, what is the deal?”

And God said, “I see you’ve decided to talk to Me.”

I promptly started to cry. I drove and cried and talked, spilled out the story into the empty car which is not empty because God and I are finally, really, talking. I said everything, the notes, the protests that what if I was not worthy, the questions about if he was ever going to ask me out. I said it, spoke it into being.

And that was the beginning of the change for me. Not when the boy dated someone else, or when the other boy and I ended things, or when Preston and I got together. The beginning of the change was this drive home, the fall whispering through the trees, promising winter, promising, further on, spring.

God, what is the deal? 

We do not always begin in a glamourous, beautiful, prayer. We do not always begin in the right words. But if we begin, then we begin. If we are willing to say something to God, then we open our hearts to be changed, to be molded, to be made more.

I will not tell you whether you should desire specific qualities in a guy or not, dear one – because I do not believe it is wrong to ask and imagine. I believe only that it is more dangerous when you are not honest with God. I mean gut-wrenchingly honest. I mean on your knees honest. I mean with your Bible open and your pen raging across the pages of God’s promises honest. I want you to get real with God so that you can get quiet and hear God.

We hear so many times that we should make our worthiness not about guys. Oh, have I heard this and preached this in the coffee shops and along the sidewalks. But can I tell you, across the wires of the Internet, something?

I think God is more willing to tell us our worthiness without us trying to make ourselves believe it without Him. 

I think God wants to tell you you are worthy. I think God wants you to get alone, to get rage-y, to get serious, to ask the question. I ask it, still. Only when we are willing to ask God, who alone can answer our questions with the fullness of His life, can we begin to feel the life moving in us.

The point of your life and my life and all the lives that scatter this beautiful world – the point is the real conversation with God. Not whether he wants you to love him before he gives you a guy. Not whether you’ll have an early death or be like Paul or find love in college or work 10 jobs or 1. Not whether you are a poet or a preacher or a physical plant manager.

The point is always Jesus, looking at us, looking at you, in the beautiful singularity that you are, and saying, “Talk to me.” When we start talking, and only then, do we start to make our hearts able to hear God. About boys. About college. About love. About worthiness. About the aches wrapping around our hearts.

“Talk to me.” This, my dear friend, this is our invitation.

Love,
hilary