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

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

for when the poem hurts your pride

This is for the poems that stand defiant on the other side of the fence from you, sure that they have evaded your grasp, and you are tired, limb-tired, arms hanging off your shoulders like skinny stockings, and you are too tired to understand them.

This is for the poems that read me better than I read them, aloud in my office in the eerie stillness of an evening working too late, my halfhearted defiance against the ordinary. The poems that sat contented to watch me struggle in pronunciation or in prayer, poems that I imagine laughed at my third or fourth reading where I adopted a British accent in the hope that would uncover the meaning in the page.

Poems are meant to hurt our pride.

They are bruising things to the tender fruit of our thinking ourselves wise or right or people with understanding. The poems tear down our defenses. The poems reveal and reveal past layers of skin and shards of interpretation to that quickening heart, the one that beats and beats and goes on beating even in the longest day.

When I wind my way home on an afternoon, when I am convinced that I will be weighted and measured by the accomplishments that gather dust in the old battered shoe boxes at the top of the creaking stairs in my house, there the poems arrive.

One after another they cling to me like stubborn water, in my hair, in the hollow spaces of my ears.

I can hear them even now, their echoes -

“so, through me, freedom and the sea” (here)

“He had cancer stenciled into his face” (here)

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall ” (here)

“Out on the flats, a heron still
as a hieroglyph carved
carved on the soft gray face of morning.”(here)

That’s Pablo Neruda meeting Edward Hirsch meeting Robert Frost meeting Leonard Nathan.

And still, they devastate me with the promise that I am not the accomplishments, I am nothing as neat as a checklist or a perfect score. I am nothing as simple as dotted i’s, for the space between a lowercase i, ee cummings, and the regal I of Margaret Atwood’s “Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing” – that is where  mystery begins.

If a poem was a graph, I think, I could map its meaning, plot it, make a line of best fit to zip the untidy grammar and preserve this idea that I can be known by what I do, and by that I mean you can know me by what I presume and present.

If a poem was a graph, but, then – a poem in the midst of the thought -

the small clustered army of empty boxes
marches across the white desert, line by starved blue line
awaiting the signal to scatter
plot, parabola, sharp V like the neat geese northbound
in June.

I can’t even write a post about poems without being taken up with the idea of one, the promise and peril of words on paper. These poems wound my pride until it sits meekly in the corner, finally, aware that there are a million acres of understanding between me and the poem, me and the poet, and those acres in an instant no distance at all.

This is for the poems that make me think I can never love poetry.

Those same poems preach in my worried heart that I wanted to be taught the wild love, and they are the unrepentant teachers.

These are the poems that will uncage us. These are the poems that call out our sweet, living flame.

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

on poetry (a guest post for Seth Haines)

Today I get to share over at the wonderful Seth Haines’s space about poetry. About why I love it, how I love it, why it makes me move and think and wonder. Join me over here?

I’m not a poet, I’m the hidden in morning traffic undone hair and lonely smile. I’m not a poet, I’m wild bursts of laughter at the wrong end of the dinner table. I’m not a poet, I’m a gyroscope spinning in your closed hands. I’m not a poet, I’m a tangled yarn of words half phrased and loosed over the page like prisoners bolting for the cracked door.

I don’t write poetry because I’m a poet.

There’d be no point to the words, then, they’d be only the stricken shadows of a claim of identity, something to put after my name, titles lining up along behind me, wife, lover, student of and knower of and, and, and. I’d say, “I’m a poet” and really just mean to tell you to take me more seriously, treat my words like silver or gold rippling through your hands. I’d say, “I’m a poet” because I’d want you to think I’m a good writer and the title will tell you everything.

Keep reading over at Seth’s place, and let’s celebrate poems and poets and the way that words make this world so beautiful.

Love,
hilary

I’m not a poet, I’m the hidden in morning traffic undone hair and lonely smile. I’m not a poet, I’m wild bursts of laughter at the wrong end of the dinner table. I’m not a poet, I’m a gyroscope spinning in your closed hands. I’m not a poet, I’m a tangled yarn of words half phrased and loosed over the page like prisoners bolting for the cracked door.

I don’t write poetry because I’m a poet.

There’d be no point to the words, then, they’d be only the stricken shadows of a claim of identity, something to put after my name, titles lining up along behind me, wife, lover, student of and knower of and, and, and. I’d say, “I’m a poet” and really just mean to tell you to take me more seriously, treat my words like silver or gold rippling through your hands. I’d say, “I’m a poet” because I’d want you to think I’m a good writer and the title will tell you everything.

- See more at: http://sethhaines.com/uncategorized/on-poetry-by-hilary-sherratt/#sthash.nHqJImSk.dpuf

I’m not a poet, I’m the hidden in morning traffic undone hair and lonely smile. I’m not a poet, I’m wild bursts of laughter at the wrong end of the dinner table. I’m not a poet, I’m a gyroscope spinning in your closed hands. I’m not a poet, I’m a tangled yarn of words half phrased and loosed over the page like prisoners bolting for the cracked door.

I don’t write poetry because I’m a poet.

There’d be no point to the words, then, they’d be only the stricken shadows of a claim of identity, something to put after my name, titles lining up along behind me, wife, lover, student of and knower of and, and, and. I’d say, “I’m a poet” and really just mean to tell you to take me more seriously, treat my words like silver or gold rippling through your hands. I’d say, “I’m a poet” because I’d want you to think I’m a good writer and the title will tell you everything.

- See more at: http://sethhaines.com/uncategorized/on-poetry-by-hilary-sherratt/#sthash.nHqJImSk.dpuf

I’m not a poet, I’m the hidden in morning traffic undone hair and lonely smile. I’m not a poet, I’m wild bursts of laughter at the wrong end of the dinner table. I’m not a poet, I’m a gyroscope spinning in your closed hands. I’m not a poet, I’m a tangled yarn of words half phrased and loosed over the page like prisoners bolting for the cracked door.

I don’t write poetry because I’m a poet.

There’d be no point to the words, then, they’d be only the stricken shadows of a claim of identity, something to put after my name, titles lining up along behind me, wife, lover, student of and knower of and, and, and. I’d say, “I’m a poet” and really just mean to tell you to take me more seriously, treat my words like silver or gold rippling through your hands. I’d say, “I’m a poet” because I’d want you to think I’m a good writer and the title will tell you everything.

- See more at: http://sethhaines.com/uncategorized/on-poetry-by-hilary-sherratt/#sthash.nHqJImSk.dpuf

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