the wild love

growing wings

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.

an unnecessary letter of love

Dear you,

These are the long days, aren’t they? These ones at the beginning of another month of winter, whatever the groundhog says with his ancient conversation partner, the shadow. This year, I don’t know what he told us. It was a Sunday and I was late for church, and I arrived in this half breathing whirlwind clutching car keys but wondering if I had remembered to drive with my license in my wallet. I know you must have those days too, days of too much forgetting, days that you tell the wall that it cannot go on like this as you throw clean socks into a dirty laundry basket just so that you can see the floor again.

I don’t know what made me think of it tonight, maybe the feeling that this blog was always supposed to be about love, and the lingering squint-eyed gaze in the dance studio mirror tonight at my hip shaking body made me realize it had been a while since I offered some love unbidden and unnecessary and unbounded by a reason.

I’m playing Nashville Cast music on Spotify right now. I’m singing it to the screen as I type. This, too, unbidden and unbounded.

We don’t spend our words on each other enough. I’m so sad about that, when I let myself. I’m so sad that there are millions of words flung into the ecosystem of us and not nearly enough of them have been about this work of loving each other. Not nearly enough for you. We’ve spent ourselves on the theology on the policy on the philosophy on the worry on the big church and the small and the medium-sized and what we think and must think and should not think about it all. We’ve spent words like water on all the ideas, thin bridges in the storm, stretched across the miles.

What do I even think the work is? But there I go, almost writing about what I think about the work, almost spending more words trying to describe what I want the work to be or how I think maybe this letter is the work. I don’t really know, to tell you the truth. I stared in that dance studio mirror and I thought, I want to tell someone the stray thought. I want a bridge of words towards another person’s heart tonight, however thin it feels against the storms. I come to the empty screen and I start to write. What do I tell you? What do I say?

I’m singing “Believing.” This song. I’m singing about how you keep me believing. And it’s true. That simple. Writing to you keeps me near to King Jesus, as my dad has been teaching me to call him, and I’m crying while I write it and I’m trying to sing at the same time. Unbidden, and maybe only a little bounded.

I don’t know if you know how much I love to sing. It’s the kind of love I have for writing some days, the good days, where it is the doing of it, the creation of sound and the way I imagine my voice moving through the air, how it might look or feel if you came across it. Do you have something you love that much? Would you tell me about it? Do you sing, too?

I was telling you something, I think, about loving and words and this letter. But maybe, unbidden and unbounded and unnecessary though these words seem in the moment when I’m playing the song again – it’s all just that loving this, the words, the hope that maybe when you read this you feel like someone saw you today and wanted you to know it, maybe that’s the letter.

And the love.


dear hilary: the edge of your hope

Dear Hilary,

I am a recent college graduate, unemployed for five months, living in my parents’ house and watching as my hopes for graduate school disappear as the letters come back. I’ve lived through several tragedies in the past several years — murder, abuse, relationships broken up. I feel as if I am suspended in motion, watching my friends get married, have kids and buy houses – and I wish they had what they have. How do I have hope in the Lord when I am continually disappointed with what happens in my life? Is it wrong to want to be happy?

Afraid to hope

Dear Afraid to hope,

Every time I read your letter, I start to think. I think about you, writing away at your computer somewhere. I think about the way you crafted your story, your question, and what you might have been doing while you wrote it. I think about how courageous you are to write it down at all, because writing makes things a different kind of real. I think about whether you’d drink a latte or something without caffeine in it, if we went out to coffee together.

And your question? There is no pithy quote on this wide and wildly beautiful world that would capture an answer to it. Because you want to know about a living thing – hope – and living things are never as simple as those handpainted lettered signs on the Pinterest page. You want to know about a thing that moves with us, that spills over into the most surprising corners, that feels at once impossible and utterly, undeniably, real.

After I read your question the first few times, I did yoga. I am not great at yoga, so I picked the “easy yoga for beginners” (because that can’t be that hard, right?) on amazon and I started. The first thing we did was lie down. I almost turned the video off and muttered something dismissive about the idea that lying down is a kind of exercise, but for some reason I stayed. I closed my eyes, the way the all-too-peaceful instructor told me to. I willed myself to be calm. That hardly ever works for me, because my heart starts racing and I think of my to-do lists and then before I know it I’m already missing half the warrior pose. 

But that too peaceful instructor, she said something that made its way into the maze of my racing heart and mind. She asked, “Where is your body right now? Honor what your body is telling you. Honor what your body can do today.”

I think there is this part of us all that secretly believes everything important happens in our heads. The disappointments and the hurts and the joys and the wondering, that’s all work internal, in that life of the mind, in that wild wandering heart space. And we think that space is, must be, infinite, able to do whatever we tell it to. We think we can think our way or feel our way or demand our way into hope or faith or love. We think we can order the heart space around, tell it to expand, tell it to get wiser – tell it to memorize Pinterest quotes – tell it to have hope in the Lord.

And that’s where I think we go wrong.

We are just one: body and heart and mind all tangled together. We can no more say to our minds or hearts that we can be more hopeful or less disappointed than we can tell our bodies to sink deeper into Warrior II or arch our backs higher in Cobra. “Honor what your body can do today.”

You have to start testing the edges of your hope. You have to get real with God and with yourself and ask, “Where are you today, body and heart and mind? Where are we with this lived thing, hope?” And sink a little deeper, and honor where you are today. Explore it. Ask God all the things you think you can’t ask because you think if you ask you won’t get closer to hope. I mean the gritty questions: I mean the “Why is this happening to me?” and the “Wasn’t I faithful to you?” and the often-lurking-for-me-anyway “Do you love me? How can you love me when this is what I see?”

Afraid to hope, I am here to tell you hope is hard won, body and spirit jumbled together. It is a tested thing, it is a thing that lives. And this is the greatest gift to us. Because it means that when we honor where we are today, we inch towards more strength tomorrow. When we honor the conversation we are really having with God today, we move towards a new conversation tomorrow.

It isn’t wrong to want to be happy, by the way, but I don’t think what you’re after here is an answer to that. I think you’re after the bigger thing – the hope, the hope that is beyond the optimism we associate with happiness, or with achieving the things we want. You want the bigger thing, the hope. I love that about your letter. I love that you ask such a big question. How courageous you are.

So now, I will ask you to be courageous again: go forward, body, mind, heart as one, and test the edges of your hope. Bang down the door to God, be loud, ask yourself where you are today. Sink a little deeper into the stretch of hope, the stretch of this wild thing that is you and God. Tomorrow, I promise you, hope grows.


this is a place of remembrance

“I AM DONE WITH THIS!” I scream it over and over, part hysterically crying, part hyperventilating, the oxygen fighting to enter my body. “I am done. I am done. I am. DONE.” Who am I talking to, on the drive back to campus to charge my now-dead phone? What am I talking about?

Is it the ever present shadow of bride to be workouts, the ticker of the treadmill and the stairmaster, the well meaning tight lipped smiles of the people in the gym all out to prove we love our bodies, love ourselves, have the balance, have the motivation, the stamina?

And the way that I tell myself that 382 calories is insufficient for an afternoon, add up the numbers, spend them again and again, streams of numbers divided and earned, calculated on the drive from Starbucks to work and home again, and so I climb stairs for an extra ten minutes because you must, you must, be above 400 every time. You must or else what is the point and do you know what will happen, the wild collapse?

“I am done with this” – with what?

With the endless looping ribbons of thought about whether it is worth writing a blog post about something as small as climbing stairs at the gym on a Wednesday, that who needs or wants to read such a thing, with the frustration that even when I start to write it I want to tell it better, that there is some other voice asking if this is the right word choice, if I would get more traffic by using some other words, if I got to the Jesus part of this quicker then I would be a better blogger, a better writer, a better Hilary.

With the frustration that there is no clean telling of a story that I live in my skin and bones with oxygen that still fights to enter my body and leave it, the most common of journeys, the most transforming of journeys. With how much I have paused and deleted and revisited, thinking I will find a new ending if I hit “save” enough times.

There is a Jesus part to this. There is a part about God. But I can’t run there because when I run there I get pushed back into the hurricane. We have arenas of salvation, arenas of sanctification, Julie told me once. This is mine: that I am not allowed to run from the fact that I struggle, wonder, worry, count and obsess and overplan how to keep my body in the form I have chosen as right enough (but always, the enough, because there must be room for improvement, there must be more zumba classes and more pilates and more of everything else that might make me better). This is the arena of sanctification, me and God in the ring, wrestling as much with each other as with the bystanders, the voices offering those classes and the quick fixes.

Didn’t Jacob call the place Peniel, where he encountered God and yet his life was delivered? And wasn’t it there a striving with God? And wasn’t there the fierceness of blessing, the ache for it, every muscle overworked with the longing?

And I build a place of remembrance between my dashboard and my heart, a remembering that somehow my life is preserved. That’s the Jesus part to this story. That when I drive away from the overcounting and the oxygen fights with my body for permission to breathe again is that this whole post is a wrestling. This whole story is a wrestling.

A day after I scream there is a cancelled appointment, an idea in my head that I’ll go to an extra class, fit in one more day at the gym, an email to my father to ask if he can bring the gym bag I left behind with him, and not five minutes later his head pokes around the door to say he is already here, he can’t go back for it.

Who will say this is not all a wrestling?

Nor this writing my own place of remembering that my life is being delivered?

i bind unto myself

There is a feeling, deep in the pit of my stomach, when I sing. It’s not there when I sing just anything, though. I can belt out “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” at a Cabaret night in high school or sing along with Jack Johnson that senior year beginning in the fall with the lazy sunset and the cabin where the seniors got to spend the last night, without it. It isn’t just the love of opening my mouth and hearing my vocal chords spill over into the air, into the room, into your hearing.

It only happens when I sing hymns.

I used to think them too old, but I didn’t grow up in the youth groups and the guitar lessons, the right chords to Hillsong and Chris Tomlin. A friend who went to a congregational church did, filled with stories of the ski trips and missions trips and summer bible studies, filled with games and the healthy junk food and the praise songs, that got you up off your chair and swaying, as you closed your eyes and, it seemed, something wondrous happened.

I was an Episcopalian becoming Anglican, thinking about Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and I didn’t know those songs, only the old hymns, the 1982 blue hymnal hymns, the tunes we would plunk out on the piano or I would offer to sing into the few standing microphones we had at the church. I wanted to sing with some kind of lark angelic sound. I wanted to bring others near to God with my singing, make something happen in the seats, in the church, out in the world. But I didn’t think hymns could do that.

But St. Patrick had a hymn – we call it St. Patrick’s Breastplate – the hymn of “I Bind Unto Myself Today”. It has seven verses and verse six has a completely different melody than the others, and verse one is short -

I sang it first tripping over the words and syllables in a small church in New England where the altar was hidden far back and the priest climbed stairs to the pulpit to preach, and then again in St. John’s Hall, where the praise band played it with guitars and a drum set as we set a kitchen table groaning with altar cloth and frontal piece and those gifts, through and by the Spirit the Body and the Blood, where we made the space alive with our voices and cupped hands. I sang it unsure then -

and then again, and again, I have watched that hymn follow me across state lines and countries, through empty fields where I only remembered one half of one verse in England or along highways and -

you see, when I sing it, the words coming and going like water, when I sing it, close my eyes in church or stand in the shower or just hum bits of it to myself in the car, I realize -

the hymn binds me to Christ.

This song is an act of prayer, this song is an act of worship, this song, this hymn, with all its mystery, the cadence of its sounds, this binds me to Christ.

I bind unto myself today, the strong name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three. 

The feeling in the pit of my stomach is less about my singing, more about my spirit.

I bind unto myself, today.


when this is a thought about marriage

Preston starts his posts with that word, “when” – an invitation, I think, to realize the passing of time and the not-passing-of-time, the way when you sit to read his words you remember that you are exactly where you are, reading, in your kitchen or on your iPad. It’s funny how the vocabulary of the one you love begins to seep into your own, their words swirled next to yours, the way tea steeps in a mug on an early morning.

I’ve been thinking about marriage – maybe that’s not so surprising – and when I think about it, inevitably, I start thinking about the ways we talk about marriage. I think about the advice blogs, the story-becoming-advice blogs, the blogs that remind us that this a great big work, different from anything we’ve tried before, blogs that remind us that this is also the most normal unfolding of life, the most apparently inevitable thing, the way that they hold your hand or kiss you good morning is the only thing that could be.

And my head fills with other people’s thoughts faster than its own sometimes, trying to think my way into wisdom about marriage, sewing a patchwork quilt of what other people have done and thought and tweeted and posted and shared. But my stitches fumble, and when I look over at him in the quiet of the morning, the pieces slip to the floor. I can’t read my way into being good at marriage. I can’t repost or borrow or sew together thoughts to cover us in the moments when we don’t understand each other, or those moments, even more surprising, when we understand better than anyone else ever has.

And maybe, before journeying down the road of what someone here and there says will make this work, I must close my eyes, lean into what is right in front of me. The way he says hi on Skype, ties his tie when we are going out to dinner, the way we laugh or curl up to watch Game of Thrones together or the way that we  both know when it’s a night to stay in, instead of go out, a night to pray, a drive where we will talk about deep things in the church or a drive where we will ask about our favorite praise songs growing up.

Once, before Preston and I got together, before the full unfolding that would be this love story, I went for a walk with a friend. It was warm, the end of May in New England, when the world bursts green and the sun plays with the trees, throwing its light on everyone who passes by. We walked, talking about marriage, talking about love, and I remember so desperately wanting to store up everything she said, learn and memorize her words until they sang out from me as if they were mine. But as she talked, and we wandered out of the woods, back into a small cluster of houses around a pond, the afternoon stretched long and we leaned into it.

She didn’t want me to memorize her stories. She was telling me as a way to push me towards discovering my own. She was sharing about her life, her marriage, not as blueprint but as beautiful, as the wonder of how God led her and her husband into and out of each thing. She was telling me, not because she knew best, but because she knew how much of the story we must write on our own.

I don’t know if I believed her at the time. But I do believe her, now, in the months that still stretch out before our wedding, in the nights in and out, the jeans and sweatshirts and the salsa dancing club and all the wonder of the in-between every day learning each other.

It isn’t a blueprint. It’s just all, always, beautiful.


dear hilary: the shape of your grief

This one, friends, doesn’t have a letter in front of it. This one, since Preston told me to write the hard thing, is the letter just for me.

Dear Hilary,

It is always weeks after you think it will arrive that grief finally, politely, knocks on your door. It isn’t in the moment you make the bed in the house that is emptied or bake dozens of cookies and do the dishes over, and over, worrying that there won’t be enough bowls when the rest of the mourners arrive. It isn’t when you finally lie on the bed at home after the flights, after the funeral, after the tears you knew would come when you realize your engagement ring is the exact color of the suit she was buried in, or when your brothers cry next to you, or when you spend an hour playing around the world in basketball in the concrete driveway even though you can’t move past the first place, because you don’t really know how to play basketball.

But one afternoon, a weekend, when you’ve done the errands and dropped off the dry cleaning, when you’ve had tea and coffee and not worried about the whipped cream you put in the coffee, when you’re settled adding street names and numbers to a spreadsheet for your wedding, and you suddenly realize it: everything she never saw.

You didn’t show her the binder you made, the colors of your bridesmaid dresses or the way your dress fits you, just right. You didn’t show her the ring, in person, you didn’t exclaim the way he holds your hand or how much he loves to cook for you – and you know she would tell you you are lucky and you and your mom, you don’t deserve these men who cook for you. She didn’t know that he makes you laugh, even at yourself, or the way you look in a picture together, or your plans for five children, and how your mother thinks it’ll be all boys.

And you will sit, binder in hand, on your bed and realize with a start that you are getting married and you can’t give her a corsage and you can’t hug her and you can’t take a picture with her, with all the women in all their wedding jewelry all together, those pinterest pictures everyone tags can never be yours.

The shape of grief is ever-moving, the heart is the hammer that molds it, beat by beat, the well-loved driftwood on a beach after winter, shaped by the movement of wave after wave, slowly sanded smooth, gentle, even. 

This is the shape of your grief, Hilary: an absence physical as presence, while you bake cookies and organize flights and make the world move in the right times and places, the grief waits for you. It waits for your heartto hammer it smooth again, beat by beat.

The shape of your grief: softening, still.


so i write today

I am sitting on my bed in the chaos of Preston’s departure, unwilling, unable, maybe, to really bring myself to the zumba youtube video workout or the making of dinner or the folding of laundry that’s overdue in a corner of the room. It’s a hard thing, long distance, because the stillness is lost in the miles logged, the yet-another-plane-ticket, the counting up and down the days and hours until you can be next to each other again. 

I am thinking about Momastery tonight. I’m not sure why, an article on Relevant that people have been sharing on facebook that made me think of something of hers I read once and so I go to Glennon’s blog, because Sarah Bessey links to it and I see that under the Relevant article, and I find myself paging through and reading those good words and thinking about writing and good words and spaces with nice colors and clean CSS coding. And I think about how I have so often wanted to have a big space like that, and those thoughts have a something, I don’t know if it’s a bitterness or just a wistfulness, or somewhere between them, about writing and me and the wide gap between what I think it should be and what I think it is.

Her Ted Talk link is in a corner. I click, lean against the pillows. She is only a few minutes in when I start to cry. 

I want to be someone telling the world to take off its superhero cape. I want to tell you my story of emerging, how I have learned the shape of kindness can be the word no and the shape of grace can be in an ending. I want to tell you, especially, that I never thought I’d ever be a writer because I assigned the role to someone else in my poetry class that first year and I pretended I didn’t want it so that it couldn’t hurt me if it didn’t happen, and I want to tell the world that sometimes the song about freedom has stanzas in it for whatever cage you’ve lived in. I want to be someone like Glennon, I think, and 17 minutes later I’m still on my bed in the same leggings avoiding the same zumba video with the same hole in my heart. 

There is a part of me that thinks in this moment about the fact that I don’t have my own domain name and I don’t know how to code CSS, that asks me who I think I am, writing like this, 23 years old and still not sure if she knows how to make pancakes right. 

But I am still writing today. I am still wanting to add some stanzas to that song about freedom and I still want to say to you that if you and me together in this watch these women – who write brave books and who speak brave Ted talks and who keep shouting about things like daring greatly and carrying on, warrior and being a jesus feminist and how mothers are superheroes – if you and me together watch them, 

I think we’ll start to tell each other. We’ll whisper carry on, warrior in the supermarkets and down the corridors and into all the small places of our lives. We will tell you the new mom as we hug you during the peace in church that you are a superhero. We will learn how to write cards and notes to girls who wonder about how to be brave and dare greatly. And we will tell them yes, you can. And we will tell them yes, you are brave and beautiful and good and let’s be in this together. 

And so I write today. 


when it was a year about light

I am 22 in this picture I paint of myself for you, looping the words over us like so much leftover Christmas ribbon. I am achingly frustrated and desperately unsure of myself. I am sitting, as I usually do, on my bed with the blankets still unmade from when I woke up. I am living in the in-between, in a place I know so well – so much better, really, than I wish I knew it. I wanted to be somewhere new, I say to myself as the New Year’s night lingers on. I wanted to be in DC, I wanted to be in France, I wanted to have done something or gone somewhere, and yet I feel as I type that the word of the year must be light. 

It is meant to be a year of light. 

I expect this will mean the utter brilliance of day. I expect that God will hear this prayer of a word and turn my shadows into sunlight. I expect that when I wake up in the newness of the year, I will be different. I go to bed in that messy pile of blankets and I am ready to be transformed. Perhaps I even smile a little as I sleep. 

God turns out all the lights. 

The months pass and there is less clarity than ever before. I do not know where to find God even in all the usual places I go looking for him. I am still in the same place and I walk into the same building at work and feel as though I must have prayed it wrong, said it wrong, chosen the wrong word. Because in the wintering of the year I am wandering through nothing but shadows and all that I think I know of me is gone. I sit in Tenebrae, the service of the lengthening shadows at the end of Lent, and even there, though I hear Jesus say to me “You will flee, and I will go to be offered up for you,” I cannot find a window to open for the light to come into my heart. I must be praying some angry prayers in this year, too, prayers that tell God just what I think of this silence, this darkness, this apparent failing of my hope for light. 

But it is the wonder of the world that the shadows reveal the light more brilliantly. It is the wonder of knowing God that we are given a glimpse of how God loves us through praying a word like light and walking through shadows. It is the wonder of a year where I moved from thinking there was an easy way towards the light to despairing about shadows to meeting God again and new for the first time - 

it is the wonder that to be still before God with a trembling self one year ago is to pray a wild prayer. It is the wonder that God hears such prayers, that God is close to such prayers. That God so tenderly answers them. 


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.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 383 other followers

%d bloggers like this: