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

where are you speaking

“It is the Hebraic intuition that God is capable of all speech acts except that of monologue which has generated our arts of reply, of questioning and counter-creation.” – George Steiner

Dear God,

Pause.

So, God.

Pause, again, take more time, roll the name off your tongue, honeyed and sweet but sharp and knifing its way through the air.

God.

Pause.

This is how I pray. I lose the words as quickly as they come, and for me, the word-smith, the hammerer of syllables, who watches words like owls at dusk, eyeing the next feast, the next shadow spilling over the ground. This is how I pray, stops and pauses, distracted by the name God, by the question of if I pray too much with “He” or “Father” because I’m listening too much to the sound of my own voice than I am to the silence where God speaks and sings. I pause and hear myself, preen my feathers in the righteousness of a bright sadness of Lent, which is a phrase from Alexander Schmemann in a book that I haven’t been reading but said I would read this Lent, a fact I haven’t told God in the midst of my pleased-self-reflection as I pray.

God does not monologue; where did I learn it?

In the hazy heat of the summers I stayed home and ran through my sprinklers, forgetting the provisions of the creation? In the midst of the chaos of the weeks that roll through my several synced calendars? Where did I learn the prayers of run-on sentences that begin and end with me and all the words are blurred not like poetry but like the overachieving grasp at something good to say to God breathless and always trying to beat my self at my own sense of piety?

God does not monologue. Pause, the phrase on the page, alone, before these italicized words are added. 

God.

Where are you speaking?

Because God does not monologue, I can use the second person, the “you” that in French has taught me formal and informal, friendship and lover and austere other, in those three letters looping through the prayer. Another pause, I’ve been writing and writing but the truth is I don’t know anything more about prayer after writing this, even these very words I crave and love.

If God does not monologue, God must want us to talk with him. He must like conversations, even the ones like this, the ones that are me pausing and asking myself if I know how to pray, the ones admitting, God, I don’t know how to pray and I’m talking and talking and writing and the words have lost me.

Where are you speaking, O God my God?

I will claim you in the second person, human being to Creator.

Where are you speaking, God?

I will talk back to you, this intuition of what you must desire and ask of us, in the depths of the silence that is your speech.

And I will fall silent too, to un-learn my monologues.

Amen. 

Love,
hilary

you are already alive

I tell her this as she sits in my office, my feet tucked up under me, a habit of mine that is designed for stillness but really just makes me fidget more, an unwelcome thing when I am trying to listen. I tell her how this past weekend, in between a flying back and forth and the worry that sat with me on the couch those mornings, my Bible open, my heart sounding a gong in my bones.

I tell the story like it is something I came up with on the fly but the truth is I’ve been out there looking for it for years, this answer that finally comes to me, a gong to beat next to my heart, in time with it: you are already alive.

You are already alive. You do not become alive when you get into grad school or when you get married. You do not become alive when you finally leave your hometown or when you make your way nervously forward to accept the Oscar or the Nobel Prize or the third grade spelling bee ribbon. You do not become alive at the next brush of hands or the next on your knees powerful prayer and you do not become alive at some distant moment in the future when the dishes are washed and the kids washed and the house washed with the light of some unattainable perfect.

You are already alive.

And me, too. I am alive, too. I am alive in the aching wondering unanswered. I am alive in the before vows, in the twist of the ring around my finger waiting in line at security, and I was alive before that, too. How gloriously alive was I, that last month of college when I named this space the wild love and when I sat in a bar and felt that I might be beautiful, those jeans and all? How gloriously alive was I driving home that night in the aftermath of it, listening to Bon Iver on repeat? How gloriously alive, in the still chapel reading me last May or the loud bright weddings where I watched love bloom or the times I sat here scribbling and asked God when my life would really begin?

I am already alive. Not tomorrow, not when the email finally comes, not when there is something better I’ve earned or won or by luck or by work or by begging I have that I didn’t have before. Not even the beautiful things, poems in crumpled pockets or sunlight after the longest winter or a move or a marriage or a child or a friend or a promotion. They do not make me alive, because I am already alive, and this life, this life is already moving, already a river is running through it, and the invitation is echoing across me, skin to bones to muscles in their gentleness:

will you be already alive?

This is the answer God gives me to the question I can’t remember asking, or perhaps there doesn’t always have to be a question for God to still give an answer.

Hilary, be already alive.

advent 4 (how to delight)

The lights dim just as the couple and their two boys, bedecked in Fair Isle sweaters and tiny yellow rimmed glasses, settled next to us. The boys can’t be over four or five years old, and they beam out their excitement when the first tiny dancers, the street urchins, appear onstage. The costumes are new this year, the set is new, the people, perhaps, are new too. Somehow, in this matinée theater, we are all being made new, made children again by this familiar music.

I love the ballet for a thousand reasons. I love the delicacy and the strength it requires. I love how joy is captured in movement, but perhaps it is a gift of joy as much as the joy for the dancer, the knowledge that the audience behind the lights is receiving something from the watching. I love the way that the story is ours to imagine with the music, with those onstage. I love the way this story in particular is about so much and yet is so simple. I love how ballet reminds me about the truth of balance:

everything pulling in the right direction, tension that produces harmony unlike any other, a stillness that, underneath, is held by tremendous strength

and how to desire it.

And in this matinée, the day before the final Sunday in Advent, when the word is joy, when Christ is near to us, when we are anxious with the anticipation of what will come, I sit with  my mother and celebrate what it means to be childlike in our unabashed delight: the costumes, the Arabian section of the second act, the costumes, the Snow Queen and King, the Sugar Plum Fairy. We lean forward in our seats, marveling, and the boys next to us, our faces are mirrors of each other. We wonder what it would be like to be at the Boston Ballet School. We lose ourselves in the setting and the thousand pairs of shoes that the dancers go through each performance. We almost float out of the theater, humming and singing the melodies, now well-worn in our minds, but somehow, again, new.

And isn’t this the promise and work of Advent? That we must be ever more familiar with the coming of Jesus, and yet be as delighted as the first time we heard such news? We must learn the rhythms of a life lived before the Lord, and yet we must discover that such a life will make us as free to wonder and delight as the first time we ever hear God say, “I know you.”

And so I dance my way out of the Opera House, marveling at the ballet, making my posture straighter to mirror those dancers, moving a bit lighter on my feet all the way back to the car, and next to me, my mother does the same.

What is truly good and beautiful must always make us new.

Love,
hilary

when I learn something about valor

Eshet chayil – woman of valor.

I turn the question over this morning on my way through the frosted trees. The sun is slow to rise this morning, unruly, as if it, too, is tired after the snowfall last night. I sip the gingerbread latte – my nod to the season, to the red Starbucks cups, to the closeness of Christmas. I don’t know why I’m wondering about this phrase in particular – woman of valor – but I know about it from the women that start to come to mind – Nish, and Sarah, Lisa-Jo, and Rachel, Ann, Antonia, Elora - and then I realize I know them from across my life, not just across the threads of connection, electricity firing across miles to bring our words to each other.

I know them in my mother, wisdom spilling out as she leans back across the end of my bed and reminds me of the way that we are meant to trust God. I know them in my sister, who texts me to remind me she is here and loves me, who raises her son with such patience and grace that I am sometimes speechless at it. I know it in the women who have colored and changed my life by their knowing me – from breakfasts sophomore year to Thanksgiving Black Friday shopping at the Pentagon City Mall to a walk in the woods and tea on her couch to hours of talk about racial reconciliation and education and what it must mean to love God and to believe that we are to know Jesus by what we do with our hands.

And I could not stop thinking about it, the words sounding over and over again in my head. Eshet chayil – woman of valor.

How do you become a woman of valor? How do you become the fiercer truth-teller, the wiser grace-giver, the woman who spills out light wherever you walk because you cannot help but do that?

Because she is brave, this woman of valor. She will wear red lipstick on a too-early morning and put on a blue puffer coat to shovel the walk. She will stand in front of the room and teach. She will preach the truth over coffee or wine, across the sale racks at the consignment shop or in her office with mugs of tea in front of you and rain outside. She will strike out on her own to chase down a dream in New York, in California. She will sing Sara Bareilles in the car and pull up next to a man in a large truck, who will stare at her and laugh, and she will be unashamed. She is brave. She takes the time with you, again and again, to work out the trembling bits, to ask every question or none at all, and she reminds you that there is nothing for it but to live deep and wide and full, wherever you are. She is unafraid of the truth and unafraid to chase it down, across the mountains and rivers, in the hardest moments, in the lightest ones.

I know so many women of valor, I realize. I wonder if they know that they are. I wonder if they know, sitting at the table in Panera or drinking tea in my office or driving in my car on our way back from coffee. I wonder if they know, who have taught me the way grace feels and moves in a life, have taught me that being brave is worth it, in their questions and their laughter and the way they love.

I pull my car into the parking space, cut the engine, let the song finish playing from the speakers. I wonder if becoming a woman of valor has something to do with hope, with singing along with Sara and reading the good words of the women who have taught me what valor looks like.

Maybe I can begin in the hope to be more like them. To learn the shape of their kindness, their graciousness, their fierce love of the truth. Their courage.

I  begin in the smaller prayer, just as I walk up the steps to begin my day. Lord, might you make me a woman of valor?

Love,
hilary

be taken care of

A few years ago, I fainted in an airport (I think I’ve told you all that story). I was afraid and in Cincinnati and away from my parents and a fresh almost 18, thinking I could be on my own. The first moment of panicked “what’s wrong with me?” when I came to on the cool airport tiled floor was enough to convince me that I never wanted to feel so helpless again. I wanted to be able to sit up, drink water, get back on the plane and go home, without the soothing voices of the medics or the reassuring hand in the ambulance or any of the rest of it.

But of course a few short years later, and I regain consciousness on the floor in the sacristy, the room where we gathered before the service, and I realize that once again, I’m panicking. I don’t feel like I can breathe because I don’t remember what happened, and the suddenness of losing control makes me feel like I am made of paper and might fold up, an origami crane, and fall down. I am surrounded by people and they offer orange juice, some says bring her a muffin or something to eat. They tell me to breathe, to inhale and exhale and follow a flashlight with my eyes and I’m scared, and my paper crane self wants to crumple at the sight of these people, care cradled in their hands, offering me the chance to need, to be taken care of.

I am in the hospital bed in hallway 43, they take blood to run tests, they run an ECG/EKG (apparently the k is from the Greek kardia, meaning, heart, but that’s a google search on a Monday night). I wonder, disconnected from the world, where home is. I think of my fiancé and the miles that still stretch between us and how there is a part of my heart that is never quite whole without him. I wonder about that picture of my heart’s electricity.

I wonder if it tells the story of how I’ve been trying to do this self-sufficient, emotions-in-their-alphabetical-non-offending-box thing for a while. I wonder if it shows how much of my heartbeat is caught up worrying that I’m not quite there yet, not spiritually or emotionally there, so much still in process like the scared crying almost 18 year old I was back in the Cincinnati airport. I’ve so wanted to be brave and strong and able to bear cheerfully what I’ve been given and not complain and not need…

But then I think, would it be so wrong, to have my heartbeat whisper that I need taking care of, too? Would it be so wrong to lie in this hallway, waiting for blood test results and a saline drip to run its course, eating chicken salad out of a plastic carton while my brother, wise and steady man, makes me laugh quietly at the edge of the bed?

Would it be so wrong to want to be taken care of, to want my fiancé’s hand on my forehead and the marching orders to get back in bed, the call to check in and make sure that heart is okay? Would it be wrong to admit how much I need that?

I faint in church on a Sunday morning, and they take a picture of my heart.

For the first time, I hope it says how much I need.

Love,
hilary