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

dear hilary: the solitary inch

Dear Hilary,

I’m sorry. I say I’m sorry probably approximately 218 times per day. I say it to basically anyone about basically anything. It’s my catchall, my secret weapon. Say I’m sorry and then the conflict can end, right? But lately I’ve started to hate the word sorry. I use it when I don’t think I mean it. I use it when I’m just tired and want to not be having the conversation anymore, when the explanations for myself run dry or I don’t know how to justify being sad or being angry or being any of the emotions I’ve spent my whole life putting in the, “THIS IS DANGEROUS LOCK IT IN A BOX” category of my heart. I don’t know what to do. I am mad at myself for being mad at myself, or sorry about how often I say sorry. Help?

Love,
I’m sorry for even asking this

Dear I’m Sorry,

Hey love.

Been a little while since you’ve let all that out, eh?

Or maybe just a few days, if you’re like me, and you sit in the counselor’s office and say the same things week after week, that you don’t know how to build a person who believes in herself as herself because the habits run deep, habits of denial and apology and habits of self-deprecation and self-doubt, habits of keeping those emotions at bay so that now they loom out at you in the night and  you really didn’t feel like you had to apologize about that thing you said or worried about or over-thought, but you did and now you don’t know how to take it back and you think you’ll always be like that, always the one in the wrong, even though yes you know that it’s supposed to be shared and aren’t you just a failure for not sharing it better, eh?

Sound familiar?

It’s an agonizing discernment, when we’ve done wrong. We avoid it, all of us. All. Of. Us. You included. Yes, I bet you didn’t see that coming. I didn’t either. I assumed for the longest time that I was the only person in the world who was able to be accurate about what was her fault – everything. Every fight. Every misunderstanding. Every agony.

And in doing that, I built the safest protection of all: protection from the truth.

Because here it is, the uglier truth: by apologizing for everything when you know perfectly well not everything is actually your fault, you’ve excused yourself from really owning your wrongs. You’ve allowed yourself to think that there isn’t really anything wrong with you except the deliciously dramatic EVERYTHING IN THE UNIVERSE and so by doing that, you’re keeping the real work, the work of looking at a fight and saying, “that was ugly and fierce and mean” at bay. You try to take the whole thing into yourself and in doing so you sneakily get your fix of absolution. You get the control back. You get the safe feeling back.

Let’s be free of that, shall we?

You will have done some things very wrong in this life. You will have done some things very right. Sometimes you will fight a good fight and at the end you will both cry and rage and not be sure how you made it through but you did. And sometimes you will stay in the same place and some times you will need to gather your courage like a fur coat around you and plunge into the winter of being risky and vulnerable and not say sorry as a way to escape the fight but only say it after you’ve fought longer and harder than you want to know the truth, to live the truth.

Most days it will be only one single solitary inch of work. Most days it will seem like nothing, like you’re still doing what you’ve always done, falling back into saying “sorry” as a way to make it all better or make it all go away (or make it all belong to you). Most days being in a fight will still terrify the living crap out of you and you will think, I am going to die. But you are not. You are going to live.

You are going to live more gloriously, too. With every solitary inch of work. With every moment of saying, “Am I sorry? Is this mine?” you move. You move that inch and that inch is full of glory.

I’ve long given up the ghost on becoming “perfect” at not being a perfectionist. I am one, and it moves and lives, and the solitary inch has to be full of glory because most of the time that is just what we can do. It is glory-full, even when it isn’t done exactly right or you still apologize too much or you’re still kind of controlling.

Every solitary inch of work we do is glory-full.

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

the gift is given

It’s a slow morning, the kind that you take a long time to wake up fully, not sure if your dream has shifted into sunlight or if you’re still in the midst of it. There is a quiet to this kind of morning and an unrest, too, and the heart is full, always, achingly, full.

I’ve been trying to sit with the Bible more lately. I’m a lover of the liturgy, prayer book guidance to the Word. I’m more likely to trust what someone else appoints for me to read than I am to trust my gut telling me where I need to go. So when I sit, alone for a few moments, on the familiar porch, and God says, read about washing the disciples’ feet, I’m almost too quick to resist it.

Isn’t that always the giveaway? We find a reason not to, a reason it’s out of order or our sermon series has us meditating on something else, we must consult a calendar and a guide to be in the Word the right way?

So I slink towards John, chapter 13.

And Jesus got up from the table.

He got up from the table and took off his outer robe and took a basin and knelt and washed their feet. These, whom he loved until the end, these, whom he cherished. These, who knew so little about what they had seen. These scattered sheep. He washed their feet.

“You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

I am only the first few steps along the cracked cement of understanding, and I’m holding my arms out to balance myself as I read out loud these words.

So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 

Is there anything more beautiful?

Is there anything more precious than this? That we were taught by his way of living. That we were known in the washing of our feet, and this morning I need Jesus to wash my feet again.

I need Jesus to show me how he will come into the midst of everything that is still a mess inside me and he will hold it tenderly, he will change it, he will do this wild act of grace on my heart and set me free. I need Jesus to make the lesson alive in the doing of it, not just the thinking or the idea-making or the understanding-seeking that so often and so quickly becomes misunderstanding. It wasn’t about the prayer book appointed reading today, it was about Jesus coming to me and taking off his robe and washing my feet.

And I do not understand one thing about this love but that it is gift and it has been given to me.

These mornings I go to the Word because the Word is life because the Word is a lifeline in the days where the joy meets the ache and it collides in my heart. These mornings I sit and shrink away but I keep going back because I am sold out to this Jesus, who washes the disciples’ feet, who tells us again and again to love as he loved us, we whom he calls friends, not servants. I go back, again and again, to King Jesus because King Jesus is life, because he is freedom, because he is the fullness of beauty, because he knows me.

And I do not understand one thing about Jesus’ love but that it is gift, it is washing my feet, it is meeting me on my familiar porch, with such tenderness, with such freedom. It is gift, and it has been given.

Love,
hilary

go free, prisoner

I find myself looking at Jesus out the window of the borrowed Highlander in the midst of Waco.

He is there clearly in my mind, maybe car windows can be like the iconostasis some days, that piercing window into heaven, that stirring up of your spirit to meet the Spirit.

It’s just a few days before Pentecost.

I have been in the midst of telling Jesus that I am trapped in my mind, lost in the sea of obligations. I have been telling Jesus with the bold and arrogant assumption more often made by the accustomed Christian that Jesus is mild-mannered and so tolerating this rant, and that eventually the emotions will subside and I’ll go on, and Jesus will go on, both of us mostly unchanged.

Let me tell you something: that is not Jesus.

Instead I hear the thought ripple – no, that’s too gentle – rip into my mind, hurricane wind, not just a little bit of fire in the voice. I am telling you, go free, prisoner. 

I don’t know what you’re talking about, Jesus, the easiest lie, the lie of pretended incomprehension, because a God that we say is so beyond our knowing surely cannot be speaking so clearly to us, to me, as I stare out the car window hoping against hope that I can find my way around the words.

I am telling you, go free, prisoner. 

It takes nothing less than the Spirit to shake us out of our assumed ignorance back into the obvious truths, the who we are before and afters. Because I am so much of the time a prisoner rattling the iron walls when the door behind me is swinging open and it is Jesus who stands there, arms open, waiting. I am the too busy noticing my own struggles to see that the shackles are at my feet, that the sun through the window is the first day of the week and I’m living in the time of the resurrection.

I do this with the story of how eating became harder, or how I don’t know how to stand up for myself, or how I am too people pleasing or too quick to worry or how I don’t know when to allow myself to feel grace because I worry that if I give myself room to not be perfect I’ll collapse altogether. I rattle the walls of the prison of I should be better or I should do more or I am not good enough at 

and then there is Jesus, calling for me – go free. 

Me, in that car, driving through Waco, and there is Jesus, caring so much more than I imagine he does. Not mild-mannered, not indifferent, not unconcerned. No, I meet Jesus who says, Go free, prisoner, and who keeps calling out to me, who is relentless in the message that my heart is no longer bound anymore, but freed. That there is no need to rattle the walls because the door is opened, because life is beginning.

Just a few days before Pentecost I hear again the old story, the Gospel of the radical concerned grace of God – that God will not be mild-mannered or indifferent with us, but come to us, driving through Waco or when we are in front leading worship or as we glance back at the iconostasis, and Jesus will keep saying, go free, prisoner. I have loved you, I have freed you, you are urgent and important to me, you belong to me. 

Oh, how the Gospel needs preaching again and again to this tired heart.

And oh, how good God is, to still come shout it over me.

Love,
hilary

put on a little emmylou (a letter to preston)

Dear Preston,

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

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

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

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

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

Put on a little Emmylou with me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

put on a little emmylou,

and slow, in the softness of these last days -

hold me. My loving arms are yours.

Love,
hilary

for when the poem makes promises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day by day, stitching us whole.

Love,
hilary