the wild love

growing wings

Category: rambling

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,


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.



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. 


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.



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.


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?


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.


when my mind wanders

on a Sunday late morning, mid-day, really, we’re driving home together, music or no music, around the winding roads and past the farmstands and apple orchards, fall around us. I think about how the leaves are like flames now, licking up the sides of the trees,

how the wind lies in wait to surprise the scattered seeds of the last of the dandelions,

how all of this should make a beautiful poem, the ordinariness of nature, how it goes on and on harvesting the expected and the surprising in one fell swoop of the calendar.

This year the word was light, I remember, as I see the sun peek through the trees and catch the edge of his glasses. I glance at him, a second longer than I look at anyone else.

I remember that God turned all the lights off, suddenly. I remember how last October I cried and cried about being among the ones who never strayed from the crowd, when God told me at a stoplight how He leaves the rest of the world to come after me, in search of me the way no one else ever has been, ever will be.

Last year the fall was golden, and now it turns red, and again and again the harvest returns, offers something to us.

I think about Rilke and poetry and how there are now 45 poems in my computer that weren’t there before. How it must be an act of obedience.

And then I think about you.

I drive and I think about you, writer, reader, lover of leaving – that’s Rumi, a long quote about ours not being a caravan of despair – I think about how you have watched this year, in a way, watched the light dawn and fade, watch me wonder about stillness, peace, watched me try to write wisdom into a space where more often than not I am the one who must learn from you.

I think about how I could not write, but that you, you, read this. And you give me space to write it wrong, write it with questions hanging on branches, write about silence and presence and God’s wild love… Rilke is right, always, but as I drive and think about you I want to tell us – tell you -

the reading of it matters.

The reading of the poetry,

or the blog posts,

the half-my-heart-intact prayers,

the reading of it is important.

It makes a difference to me to think about you when I think about writing down the leaves have turned to flames on the trees.

It makes a difference to know that I can clang pots and pans in a field somewhere about the Kingdom and midwives and Shakespeare, about silence and ache and courage, about not knowing where to find God and sitting in a chapel all alone at the end of a long day.

My mind wanders as I look at the world on a Sunday afternoon driving home, and it takes me to you. I’m so grateful.


fragments of glory

I tell him that it is like this: when you write, when you create, you carve out of the ordinary a sculpture, a story of the beauty of God, a story of the beauty of your own being that moves and shifts and desire and builds. We are meaning-seekers.

You carve out with pen to paper, and fragments fall around you, dust swirls through the air. You don’t always notice, how the pieces fall to the floor near your feet, because you are seeking and carving the big story, because you want to know the wildest version of it – the biggest vision, the brightest horizon.

But I want to know the fragments.

The fragments are glorious – the stories of the one afternoon of insignificance, where you ran along the same path you always run along, but perhaps, for a moment, you thought about how nature teaches you to sing of God. The stories of the coffee where you were ten minutes late and she forgave you, with the fullness that astounded you as you slid apologetically into the chair, as you listened to her, and as you realized that perhaps forgiveness is simple like bread, like manna, daily, quiet, and good.

The fragments are glorious – the days driving along the highway alone, the seemingly unimportant and anonymous stories of how you sat in the library writing a paper for yet another class you don’t totally understand the meaning of, the yet-again of school meetings and parent-teacher conferences and board rooms and emails.

I tell him, that’s what is beautiful about blogging, isn’t it? That in the spaces we create online, we don’t have to always seek a sculpture of the most beautiful, biggest story? That sometimes, we can pour out the fragments of our lives, watch them spill over the edges of the table, and see -

they are fullness of glory.

I used to want to quit blogging every other day, stepping half-in and half-out, convinced that without a big story how could I possibly be considered a writer. I spent so much time at the foot of my bed with this thought, that I didn’t have a sculpture, a grand weaving together of things, a purpose in my words or in my tiny online home.

But then it is years later, and somehow I have still promised that I would do this thing that I hardly know how to do, that I would still write, and I am sitting on Skype with him and feeling the ache of those miles, and I wonder, out loud, about the fragments of story that so often fall to our feet. I tell him that this is his gift – that he weaves back the fragment bits and reminds us of the glory that lies in them. That this is what he teaches me to do.

And perhaps that is the beauty of these online spaces, that they are wide and broad and wild enough to show the light of our everyday, to reveal that our fragments are glorious.

Light shines through fractured windows, doesn’t it?

Maybe these are all fractured windows with the fragments of our glorious, every day living.

Maybe that’s what makes them so beautiful.


the airport

I was scared out of my mind in the ten minutes before I met you in that airport. I paced in and out of one of those news stands that sells magazines I know I shouldn’t buy but almost always do when I’m in airports on my way somewhere, that sells packages of peanut M&Ms and gum. Once I bought a pair of headphones for way too much money because I couldn’t imagine flying all the way to Baltimore and then taking the train to DC without a soundtrack (I almost always imagine my life to a soundtrack, as if somewhere someone wants to capture scenes of me with my head against a train window listening to The Civil Wars). I paced in and out of it, over and over, running one hand over my shoulders in that gesture of comfort you’ve now seen a half dozen times and through my hair, which wouldn’t be tamed no matter what I did, thinking about what I would do? The possibility of you, walking toward me in that airport terminal, the possibility of really seeing you…  I was so scared and so excited, and I paced in between packages of peanut M&Ms and People hoping that I’d figure out how to hide from you that my heart was beating a thousand times a minute, because I’d been waiting. And if I had known it, I’d have played “Dust to Dust” on repeat as I waited.

Sometimes I think we’re afraid of the beautiful.

The airport is this place I’d always imagined I’d meet you. In between a few of the times I imagined flying to Scotland in March or driving to Texas (I imagined sitting in my car outside your driveway and just hoping you’d be curious who I was, that you’d walk outside barefoot or your garage door would be open and I would walk in, halfway, and you’d be there painting) – I’ve always kind of hoped it would be the airport. It carries the ache of leaving and the joy of arriving, the familiar and the new. Somehow, in the long hallways and the too-bright lights, in the incessant announcements of delays and baggage claim carousel numbers, that’s where I always find myself again. It is the place where I cried about my sister getting married while eating a bagel from Dunkin’ Donuts. It is where I first left home – flying on Air France as an awkward and gangly 9th grader. It is where I first came home – England and Boston, oh, how I remember sobbing my way home from DC in the Baltimore airport at 6am realizing that I left, no certainty, no promise of return to that place.

The airport is where I meet that beautiful I am afraid of.

That beautiful is living in the carry-on bags courtesy of Virgin Atlantic they used to make for us with crayons and coloring books of airplanes who had friendly faces, in eating too many Twizzlers looking at a bridal magazine in a Houston terminal. The beautiful is in how I pace waiting for you in the basement baggage claim, how I check my phone so often, how I played Horse Feathers in July and country in August, how I used to fly to DC on a whim because something in me was aching for friends and cupcakes and the memory of me, there, and how I would come home, confused and remade.

The beautiful is here. Isn’t that the point of this long winding post? That the beautiful is arriving, is closer than we think?

That first time I found you running with my phone half out of my hand and losing track of the people I ran into on the way, searching for you in the crowds of late afternoon tourists and umbrellas, that was the beautiful.

And now, I anchor myself to it again – the beautiful is close to us.


you free my heart, a letter to preston

Do y’all remember when Preston and I were writing all those letters last year, Tuesdays and Thursdays, writing out this ramble through faith and life and coffee late at night and Gossip Girl and all the rest? And how, those letters, they were the beginning of something wondrous? We are beginning again, new and the same, our selves familiar and not. You can read his last letter to me here.

Dear Preston,

We’re sitting in a Starbucks together, alternating putting our hands to our faces in excitement or frustration, as we try to shape our words just so, keep them honest and true, write theses and personal statements, work out this life in the way we have for so long – in the syllables sounded out silently by the reader, heard again and always for the first time.

Your last letter to me. Can I say any more – but we both know it was something wondrous and I’ll leave it at that.

But your being is a better letter to me, always was and is – the way you look at people when you think I can’t see you, when you smile at them gently, when you rage in the car about all the things but you soften, always, and you remember out loud for us both that there is good and we are to seek it.

You’re a seeing, and a seeking, man.

You teach me. When you write to me, and I smile at you and we lock eyes over the screens and the white noise of this Starbucks, you ask me what it is, and I shake my head, and I tilt it just so and take a sip of my coffee and you return to your words, and me to this letter, and I know that you know I am still smiling over you – it’s that you’re teaching me something about the best story that we’ve been told that makes me want to tell it better. The way you tell our love story is the way we should all be telling His – fearless and free.

You’re a seeking, and a seeing, man.

When I was in France the last time, just before senior year of high school, we had this one day at the musée Rodin, my favorite museum in Paris. We had a picnic, I think (there is a picture of us all in the grass, me in this grey and white striped shirt with sunglasses perched awkwardly on my head) before we spent time in front of the Bourgeois de Calais and were sent into the museum to draw. There is this sculpture there, The Kiss, and I remember walking by it, over and over, too afraid to stop in front of it for too long, because there was love deep and wild and true, there was love alive in the stone, as if Rodin had freed something, his creating work a work of revelation more than conjuring. Sharna drew it – she was always good at art – but I was too afraid to put my pencil to the paper. I drew instead a sculpture in the same room, called the Hand of God, and my shading was, as it always is, not true to life, and my pencil wobbled and so it’s mangled on the page. I wasn’t brave enough to draw The Kiss, to be near that kind of love (because it’s there, alive, a gesture I think, towards the wildest love of all) but I longed to be Sharna that day, sitting at the feet of that moment writing it over and over as my pencil traced along a moleskin journal page.

I’ve thought about that afternoon a lot in the space here, where we are together. I think if I were to find myself there, I would be brave enough to draw it. I would sit down at the feet of that sculpture, look at how the two lovers grow up from the stone itself. I would let my pencil hit the page and tilt, scratch the shadows and lines in the way I learned but never mastered, because though I will never draw like Sharna did, you free my heart to be in the midst of love like that. You free my heart to see it and to seek it.

You’re a seeking and a seeing man, and you’re freeing me to see, and to seek, those things which years ago in a museum in Paris I learned I wanted, and was afraid to know.

“Mais cette transposition de ma restitus ne fait rien à mon amour car je t’aime à minuit comme à midi ; les heures, les jours, les mois, les années glissent sur lui sans le ralentir ni l’amoindrir. Au contraire, chaque minute qui s’écoule est un siècle d’amour de plus pour l’éternité, c’est ainsi que mon cœur thésaurise depuis le premier moment où il t’a aimé.” – Juliette Drouet à Victor Hugo, 1 décembre 1860.

Love, always,

so. we got engaged.

so. we got engaged.


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