draw nearer and i will show you

I want to write, and I can’t think of anything, and I think I should tell a story. I think I should return into the past, back to a hill, to a late-night on the street outside the athletic complex, to the long looping drive to Great Neck in Ipswich, which is best at twilight when you have too much on your mind to sound it out. I think writing is this work of building a story out of what has happened, to explain in artful just-long-enough paragraphs the way he looked and she sighed, the way I knew then and there that I would remember that moment and it was a lesson. 

But the great work of remembering is not always good. 

It is tremendous effort to gather the scattered bits of a story from across our mind and resew it, present it back as a whole. This is the beginning – when I walked out the door, and here is the middle, when I was wearing old tennis shoes, and here the end, when I gather the wisdom as the door of my car clicks shut. And then this is the lesson of the story, the point where I see again the gracious goodness of God, where I see freedom beckoning, where I stand up for myself and the story is a triumph story and I retell it again and again remembering. 

Oh, I would like to believe it is always good to remember. 

I would like to live in my memories, recreating again and again the way that it went, exaggerating my innocence, their unfathomability, which I relive, claiming to seek understanding, but really, it’s just to comfort and rejustify the parts of it I suspect might yet need to be laid on the altar. I think to myself that if I keep the story closer, if I tell it to enough times, how I learned the wisdom or how I kept the faith… that will be the making of me. 

I have told some stories to myself far too many times. 

I have reveled in the revisit, conjuring up images brighter than the first of the summer blackberries glistening on their spidery branches – what I wore and just what I said, and how it happened next that this one song started playing, and when I hear the song this is what I go back to. 

I’d be happy to keep doing it if Jesus didn’t interrupt me almost constantly these days to ask questions. Hilary, he begins, as I start to hum the opening bars of the guitar chords of that song that was playing at the time that… Hilary. 

How does this honor me? 

What a question, Jesus, and I can hear the scoff in my voice as I think the words in my head. Isn’t the telling of these stories the point of it all? Look at the wisdom I have. Look at the understanding I have gained. Look, look, look at what I have been through and what it means and how I got through it in this glorious way. 

Yet the question remains. How does this honor me? 

I try to keep assembling the pieces of the stories, to keep my eyes fixed on that one time in high school and then that letter he wrote me at the end of a long summer and then that time she and I argued about whether God existed in a Starbucks when they still had the beautiful purple chair to sink into after a long day. 

The pieces crumple, like ash, like dust. I am trying so hard to remember the stories of how I was wronged and how I have been hurt and how I am so good at overcoming. But when have I told myself the stories of how only through Him am I more than a conqueror? Have I ever written the words on the doorposts of my house, on my forehead, on my heart, written the story that those to come might yet praise? Have I remembered the encounter with God on the drive home more than the two drinks and the heartbreak that came before it? How long, O Lord, have I been making the stories after my own desired image of myself, rehearsing my part pitch-perfect, lingering in the hallways of the past for the rush of the feeling? 

There is nowhere to hide from the question anymore, and as it catches up to me, I am afraid. Without these bits of dust, without these bits of the person I think I was and the way I want to remember myself to have been – what then? 

Jesus only says, Draw nearer to me, and I will show you. 

Love,
hilary

there is no safe gospel

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13.47-50)

I read this in a room full of light, warmth trickling across my palms on the table. I’m wearing a favorite grey dress. I’m in a circle of thoughtful and kind people, and we are bending our heads in morning prayer, coffee cups nearby, open notebooks. I’ve been asked to read the Gospel lesson.

I read that there will be a separating of the righteous and the evil, that there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And the warmth seems to evaporate from me as I let the words spill forth, proclaimed into the spaces between our rolled up sleeves. The Word of the Lord is living and active, we say – and I speak and Jesus stops me, my comfortable dress, my comfortable coffee, my comfortable posture in a comfortable room full of light.

This is an uncomfortable parable.

I start to pray in something between a condescending and a wishful-thinking tone of voice, something he is unamused by. I tell myself I am just asking why he preaches to us in stories. But the truth is I’m asking, Why did I have to read that parable? Why couldn’t I have gotten to read the one about the pearl of great price or the mustard seed or the treasure in the field? 

It isn’t just that I wonder why he teaches in parables -

it’s that I don’t really want to proclaim the teachings that I don’t like or understand

that I don’t really want to be linked to something uncomfortable

that I don’t really want to be that close to some of the teachings because speaking them out makes me uncomfortable.

Jesus just looks back at me.

My junior year of college I memorized the first chapter of John in French, a project for a French class. I recited it in a brightly lit room in the morning, wearing a comfortable dress. If I close my eyes now, the words can sometimes still appear – my favorite sentence -

Le lendemain, il vit Jésus venant à lui, et il dit: Voici l’Agneau de Dieu, qui ôte le péché du monde. 

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

There is no safe Gospel. There is no encounter with the Word that will leave us comfortable. Comforted, perhaps, but only first through the upheaval of our worlds, the collapse of our presuppositions, the relinquishing of our desire to have the easiest story to tell. We cannot claim Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of world if we are clinging to a tamer, easier version, without the uncomfortable parables or the uncertainties or the radical promises or the hardest questions. The power of the declaration is in how unsafe it is, how transforming, how world-shaking.

I cannot say, Voici l’Agneau de Dieu, qui ôte le péché du monde if I am always searching for a way to make Jesus safer, or find Gospel passages easier to read in a brightly lit room in morning prayer.

I have to give up my search for the safe Gospel.

I’m still wrestling the parable of the nets, still going back again and again for an explanation, for understanding, for the right way to read it.

And in the midst of that wrestling, not on the other side of it, not beyond it, not anywhere but the sweating tired mess of giving up the idea that I’ll wake up to a comfortable, non-radical Jesus, and trying to learn what it means to preach this unsafe and life-changing Gospel in my life, in my heart, in the world -

Voici, l’Agneau de Dieu, qui ôte le péché du monde. 

Behold.

Love,
hilary

when this is making a home

I was fourteen. The age where all your limbs are back to their newborn feeling, you’ve changed jeans sizes twice or three times, up and down as your body asserts sheer aliveness. I tripped over things all the time, and more than one well-placed odd brick in the familiar sidewalks in Newburyport were my undoing all summer.

Dread finds you like a slow drop of water dragging its way down your back. It slides over you, leaves a sticky trail behind in its wake. The international terminal at Logan airport, November, my newly teal and purple colored braces, an endless drip of details. My dad’s suitcase, borrowed for the occasion, in the back, and my backpack, forcibly begged a few nights before – white and blue, Jansport like the other girls, but mine was too new, too shiny. It didn’t look like I skied across open fields on the weekends with it. I tried to scuff it with my hands as I sat in the front seat, my mother chatting in the back of the van, my dad’s eyes keen on the road ahead of us.

“You’re going to have so much fun,” my mother told me, her voice almost singing. I nodded dumbly. “It’s not every day you get to go to France for a whole month!” I only half-hearted smiled, whispered, “Mais, oui,” before I stopped, almost in tears.

Departure is like dread. The airport was immediately close but traffic kept it ever-approaching, past the dog racing track exit and the two dangerous rotaries and the sixteen Dunkin’ Donuts, on both sides of the highway. We parked, we made our way to AirFrance check in. We saw my classmates. My mother, who is relentlessly kind and friendly, chatted with the teachers. My dad drank a small coffee quietly, patted me on the shoulder, smiled.

It was the first time I’d left home.

I used to think being a homebody means being someone afraid of change, someone who doesn’t adventure, the lack of curiosity. I am both, but they don’t mean each other. A homebody, I have learned, is more often the person who burrows deep into places, who scatters pieces of himself into the walls and floors and doorways and sidewalks, builds belonging with place. They’re the people who trace the same path on their morning run, not only out of habit, but out of love. They love home, but home is also the thing they know best how to make, everywhere.

I was a new twenty, in the city almost two months when my father came to visit. I met him at the Newseum cafeteria, coming all the way over from my internship site on the Metro, moving with the sure footing of my SmarTrip card and my work wardrobe. I took him to dinner at my favorite restaurant, loud as it was with the happy hour crowds drinking blueberry martinis while we had water and burgers and fries, and I told him the stories: Eastern Market, walking to the Metro, learning to cook a little on my own, the way that I never thought I would, the Baptist church I went to, the almost-tattoo in Adams Morgan.

“You’ve made a home here, Hil,” my father told me as we walked back towards Union Station under a still-warm sky, “It’s so good to see.”

Home is not about travel or return. Home is about widening spaces in the heart.

No one famous said that, I don’t think, but it sounded wise.

The day of my wedding, I saw my dad first when I was trying to move a box of bouquets into the room where I was getting ready with my bridesmaids. I saw my mom a little later, when I was trying to give my car keys to someone. She was wearing one of my favorite dresses she owns, a cornflower blue, and I remember she laughed. There was a remarkable kind of laughter that day, rich, full, the kind that bubbles over and makes you think you must gather it, the woman at the well first hearing of living water.

The kind of laughter you grow accustomed to over the years, the kind that fills you and fills you and gifts you the grace and courage to leave, to begin.

And this is how I have learned to begin to make a home, ten years after that first departure:

to fill the rooms with laughter.

Love,
hilary

bring back everything

I wander in the thousand winds
that you are churning,
and bring back everything I find.

Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours I, 55

God.

I pray in the cloisters of a thousand older prayers that I have to believe someone before me prayed, that I have to believe are already well worn, broken in shoe prayers.

I am wandering in the thousand winds.

You’ve brought me here to the beginnings of everything, and there are a thousand winds, each so full it seems it will take a lifetime for the words to catch it. How can I bring you back what I find?

I find my old shoes on new pavement, a Texas sun planting freckles on my shoulders, a bridge over an unhurried river, the smallest breeze lifting my hair off the back of my neck between red lights, almost as if you wanted the ordinary world to come a little closer to me. The air, the sweat of the morning, the silence.

How can I bring you what I find? Because he is next to me when I wake up in the morning and when I go to sleep, and there is suddenly, finally, and all at once, the ark of marriage, as much mystery as calling and covenant and courage. Oh, the courage it is to be married, to wake up next to each other with so much more than ever can be said between you, with so much fullness, and so much wonder? How, God? How can I bring you what I find?

You are churning these thousand winds, O Lord, and I am so small. How can I bring you what I find?

The question echoes along the corridors of my heart, walks with me into the grocery store, when we walk down the street to talk about our days, or what has surprised us, when it is morning and the words don’t seem to be there, for what it is that I want. But this is what I want: to bring back everything I find.

To be a gatherer of the scattered pieces of your goodness in the world, the smallest goodnesses of muscles that move me along that unhurried river and the goodness of the man who moves with such ease in the small kitchen, his smile betraying so much more joy, the goodness of the well-fought fight, of the bigness of Texas sky or the way a phone call will pour water on a thirsty heart, of Life of Pi read out loud one morning, of country music through speakers, of running out of words long enough to be asked to listen again.

This is what I want, God, to walk these cloistered prayers and to be in the churning winds and to bring you what I find.

I find your fullness in these thousand winds.

I want to bring back everything.

Amen.

Love,
hilary

for when God has time for you

He pulls me onto his lap in the chair he always sits in to type out the emails, the tasks, the daily-to-do’s that pile high in the cramped spaces of our lives.

It was a series of comments about this or that thing not fitting well anymore, this or that salad I should have could have eaten, this or that friend I probably should have texted again but didn’t…

He held me there when I started to pull away, back into the familiar chaos of the busy, making the customary excuses to avoid the quiet place – you’re busy, I’m busy, no one has enough time, this will be too unwieldy, this mess of my heart and don’t you want me to just buckle down and get myself under control? We only have this many days until everything changes.

“What would Jesus say about that?” He repeats the question twice before I make eye contact, and again once I do, holding my waist still.

I gulp, oxygen suddenly a precious gift, because it’s the Name, Jesus, that still undoes my heart at its sounding. I am not sure how to breathe anymore because my husband to be asks me what Jesus would say to me. He doesn’t try to fix it with his words, just keeps his hands fixed, because I am going to run away from Jesus if he doesn’t help me anchor myself there. Because he knows, and I know, that Jesus has something to say to me.

“I don’t know!”

I get angry, the second kind of reaction. If not flight, then fight, and it comes out biting and cold and full of frustration. I don’t know, which means why are you asking, which means can we please not do this and can we please not encounter this.

But this life does not obey our fighting or our flights, and encounter is gifted to us in the worst times because the worst times are the needed times.

I don’t want to answer this question, because the answer is this: Jesus would say, Come here. I have time for you.

I have time for your mistake

I have time to talk about all this chaos, this wedding, this waiting, the days when it feels impossible to do the work I give you

I have time to breathe next to you

I have time to hear you

I have time to remind you that not everything you have ever done is wrong

Jesus is Lord of time. Who am I to tell him he doesn’t have enough of it? Jesus is the Word made Flesh dwelling in the midst of us. Who am I to tell him he doesn’t want to spend time with a sinner-trying-to-be-saint like me? Jesus is the tabernacling, ever-drawing-us-nearer Physician of the soul and body. Who am I to tell him that he shouldn’t be interested in healing me?

My husband to be keeps his hands on my waist while we sit in that all-too-familiar chair, and keeps me there, so that I can answer this question. What would Jesus say to that?

And fellow wanderers, worshippers, lovers of leaving, caravaners on the road and you who are lost in the jungle and you who are scorched by the sand in the desert at noonday and you who walk so calmly and you who ask the fourth question of God when we all stop at three and you who doesn’t know how to believe God has time for the sinners, for the people who should know better and still break -

Jesus says,

Come to me.

Love,
hilary

when we are not competing

I go to the gym and almost start to cry. There is a row of treadmills and a row of elliptical machines, pristine from the spray-and-wipe-down routine religiously followed by most of the gym-goers. I don’t know where to start, and so I choose an elliptical machine, a familiar one, and I plug in my headphones.

But I can’t shake this worry that starts after about minute 3 that the soccer girls next to me are much better at this. I can’t shake the worry that the woman to my left is decidedly unimpressed with the level I put my resistance at and that she is better because hers is over 30 and mine is just 22. I keep my eyes fixed on the orange blinking lights, minute by minute, and amid the shouts of encouragement from the first string center forward to the striker who are running faster than I will probably ever run in my life, I start to calculate it – more loved based on calories burned or miles run, better person, more virtuous version of herself, actually excellent, more good and beautiful than me.

A little while ago I read this post from the lovely woman over at Scissortail Silk, about we aren’t each other’s competition, not one more standard to measure against in this already overmeasured world.

And I am fired up and I start this post, my blog says, at the end of March. I think, we are not competing, and I wanted to write and say it out loud, that we, the bakers and butchers and lawyers and authors and midwives, we are all in the ragged band of beautiful making our way towards heaven.

We are all, I want to tell you, the raw art, the rare creation. We are all, not in the diluted universals we always use, but in the particular concentration of mitochondrial DNA and endless cells recombining and holding us together, in the concentrated, intense, fiercest way – we are all and each the uniqueness we cannot fathom.

I wanted to say this when I first read those true words – we are not each other’s competition – but somewhere I lost the message. I went out into the world thinking I had the voice of a prophet and I still preached a fear of the bathroom scale. I still proclaimed scarcity.

It can be hard to remember that the work of becoming well is a series of hills you fall down, and the falling and rising, they live together. And so I marched out in March thinking I could wear the banner of the not-competition, and it is May, and I am still sewing the pieces together.

But here is what I know, what I preach next to you, in my nervous ponytail making our way through the jungle of the kingdom of God:

God is too particular about us to compare.

God is too intent on us, on the molecules of being, on how we move and lie down and arise, to watch the numbers at the gym and mark us in a rank of better to worse, against each other.

If it is true that God wrestled with Jacob, if it is true that Jesus appeared to Mary and called her name, Mary, like that, each syllable resounding with news of the resurrection and life -

then we cannot be competing.

Because as Jesus calls her Mary, so Jesus calls me Hilary. So Jesus calls you, calls the striker and the first string center forward, calls the Zumba class ladies and the lawyers and butchers and authors.

If God is really wrestling with each of us, our bones pressing against God, our lungs stretched to keep breathing the air that gives the life as we wrestle with the Lifegiver,

then we are not competing.

We are each the beloved, particular, wrestlers with God.

We are each the remarkable made alive again.

We are each so singularly loved that God laughs at our comparisons, touches our hip socket with His laughter.

And so shall I be delivered.

Love,
hilary

to the girls in my zumba class

Dear girls in my Zumba class,

Dear you who is willing to jump up and down to music we don’t really know the words to, you who is willing to do the moves with more energy after 50 minutes than I think I have in my whole body, who laughs at our blurred reflections in the mirror,

you are what makes me brave.

I’ve been up and down the mountains and hills for a little while now, with this question about food and how to eat and the fact that sometimes I don’t know how to finish a bagel in the morning, I’m so nervous that it will upend my life. I’ve been in the thicket of the thoughts about mirrors and beauty and whether the scars on my stomach from the time I had my gallbladder removed are moments of skin knit together, moments of pride that my body is always doing a healing work on itself, or if I should be embarrassed and try to hide the thin pink line that dances near my belly button.

I’ve thought about writing and not writing, I’ve written and deleted, and in the end of every day I don’t write a blog post about this journey up and down the mountains of that question – am I beautiful? -

you are the people I see at the other end.

You jumping up and down in the aerobic studio to Pitbull and Lil’ Jon. You in old T-shirts and yoga pants and running shorts and neon sneakers and bare feet. You, afraid and unafraid, because we are all a little of both if we are honest. I can’t describe how much courage you breathe into my lungs just being in that second row with you.

And yes, you know, it is courage to shake my hips and courage to swing them in something that I think might someday look like a circle. And yes, it is courage to keep dancing at minute 50.

But it is also courage to be.

You give me courage to be, without walls, without the tap tap tap of the prison guard of my mind that says I should eat less run more be more do more perfect more. In Zumba, there is no better and no best, there is just us and the courageous being of us.

If I could tell you anything it is that yesterday at the end of class I walked out and realized that I think you are all, each, singly, remarkably, beautiful. I realized that I know this in my bones, that you are beautiful, that you are courageous.

And maybe it’s time I walked out of a class and thought of me alongside you, as one of those beautiful and bright courageous beings. Maybe it’s time I walked out of class and let the lessons you are teaching me sink into my bones.

I wish I could paint this for you, write the way you have built my courage from my pink sneakers to my heart, how you have changed me beyond what I had imagined could change. You, with every routine and every sigh and laugh you are rebuilding my idea of what it could mean for me to be beautiful. To be courageous. To be whole.

Gratitude is not measured in a word count, so I will only say, again, you have done infinitely more than you know. And this girl, she is learning beautiful from you.

Love, hilary