the wild love

growing wings

Tag: love

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?

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.


dear hilary: that impossible brightness

Dear Hilary,

My question concerns (as most questions seem to) fear and love. For a long time, I was afraid to love, and then I was brave and fell deep into it, and then what I was most afraid of happened: I was too much, or I wasn’t enough. The end of it was confusing and tangled and I got hurt again and again, but I held on, thinking that I wanted to show him grace and love and forgiveness. The problem is, I didn’t show any of those things to myself, and now I’m so embarrassed and afraid of how hurt I got, how long I held on, and how badly I was willing to be treated. The question is, how do I forgive myself for that? How do I move through the fear of love ending and fall in love again, now that I know how the ending burns? How do I get over the fear of never falling in love again, which is partly what motivated me to hold on to the love I found for so long after it hurt me?

The Edge of Hope

Dear The Edge,

“It is not the critic who counts.” Can I ask you to go look this up? I won’t say more, but I will say click beyond Goodreads, beyond the quote itself (I’ll give it away – it’s Teddy Roosevelt), and down towards the bottom will be this name, Brene Brown, and if I say nothing to you in this, it’s just that you remind me of her mantra. This letter, this act of describing your question, this being willing to be you here in this space – that is what she calls daring greatly.

Today all I can think about is this time that Preston asked me something that flipped me upside down. “Are you,” he said, pausing over the words and over the rim of his mug (we were sitting in the living room), “always this unkind to yourself?” We were drinking coffee and going through my applications to graduate school and I was telling him with a lot of confidence that I was NOT going to get in and I should NEVER try and I should just quit and not be a philosopher or anything because everyone would find out I was a fraud and… then he asked that question. “Are you always this unkind to yourself?”

I got mad. I don’t really know why. Maybe because the truth doesn’t set you free before it royally pisses you off and arrives at the most inconvenient time and screw up all the plans you had for avoiding it. I hated the question, though, for what it pointed to in me: that my unkindness wasn’t towards others in that instance. It was towards me. It was shame and regret and hurt I piled on and on as a way to protect myself from potentially being rejected. “Who am I to apply to school X? Smart people apply there” or “Who am I to have loved so wildly? Only fools don’t realize what it costs…” or my personal favorite, “Who do I think I am to be enjoying such a good life? It won’t last!”  Unkindness asks that question, tries to protect us in a cocoon of doubt and embarrassment, tries to keep us from making what we think will be a mistake.

The cocoon is not where it is at. I mean, we all go there, we all build one, but maybe specifically here, when it comes to love and fear, I want to put up a big warning sign that says, BE KIND TO YOURSELF. I want to stamp it across every sign you see today. You do not need a cocoon of doubt or fear or embarrassment or shame. Because actually, in fact, I believe you are already stronger than the cocoon. I believe you are stronger without it.

Here, in love, the critic in you does not count. At all. In any way. You loved, and it ended, and it was terrifying and beautiful and tangled and ugly and hurt like hell and probably still does on some mornings (I have those days too). But the forgiving of yourself begins in a kindness to yourself. A basic, gut level kindness. A kindness that says, “I dared greatly. And now it hurts.” A kindness that says, “I was brave. I believed in love. It disappointed me that time.” A kindness that does not hide the truth – the real truth – which is not that you should be embarrassed or ashamed of loving, but the truth which is that you dared and even so it is complicated, and no blame or unkindness will clarify that paradox.

There is an impossible brightness to love: that paradox of daring and fear, of deep connection and also things not working out every time. That kind of love, falling in it, falling out of it, that is where you tell me you learned things about grace and forgiveness and love. I believe you did learn about those things. I believe now is the time to hold them in your hands and offer them back to yourself, not as warning for what not to do, not as judgment for how long you stayed or what you were or were not willing to do for this person, but as the gifts of that time. As the gifts of daring greatly. As the gifts of the impossible brightness of love.

You are already out here in the brightness, love. You don’t need the cocoon. You’re far too strong.


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.


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.


all that christmas music

Preston and I were driving to the airport this week (the not fun kind of drive, where we know it’ll be a little while before we can see each other again), and he was playing a CD of Advent and Christmas music. It doesn’t surprise me that much anymore to discover the things that this man knows and loves are close to my heart – old hymns set to new sound, simple melodies that whisper through the cold drive that we are waiting for the Messiah, that we are anxious for him, that we are hopeful, that we are preparing the way.

But since that drive, I’ve been listening to all that Christmas music – the kind that plays in the Gap and on the Michael Buble Holiday Pandora station, the music that surrounds us with dancing sugarplums and dreams of warm fires and friends and falling in love.

And a dear friend was talking on Wednesday about how couple-y Christmas can feel. How that can be hard.

All those images of ice-skating on Frog Pond, you know? And the way that the TV seems to tell us Christmas is really about love, and love is really about romantic love, and romantic love is really about Kay Jewelry, and the logic twists and turns around us and we feel trapped in a story we were never writing ourselves, left to ourselves.

Last winter I wrote this post for Lisa-Jo, about how I wondered if my skinny jeans would still fit while I ate my way through a bag of peppermint bark looking at all the heart shaped icons on Facebook. How I felt sitting in those jeans and how I didn’t believe it would happen, how I told God that it would not happen, how God said, “I have named your life beautiful,” and how desperately and deeply that has changed me.

This year is the first year I’ll have ever had someone to call mine on Christmas.

The first year I’ll have the chance of kissing anyone under any kind of hanging plant at a holiday party, or clinking champagne glasses with. And I sing along with the holiday stations thinking about love, how to keep it safe from too many commercials telling stories to us in our skinny jeans or our pjs eating our peppermint bark watching hearts pop up on Facebook or another rerun of the holiday love movies.

And while I love the Christmas music, the warmth and familiarity of it, while I play the Pandora stations and you might even catch me swaying my hips in time to Lady Antebellum in a store this weekend -

I want to tell you that the love I love most this Christmas is the love of the man who took me to Panera and to see Frozen because he knew I would like it. The way he catches my eye and does the dishes and tucks my feet under the blanket on the couch because he knows I get cold. The way he kisses my forehead, just because.

And the love I love most is not less than this: the love of my mother, who laughs with me as we curl up under the covers. The love of my father, who wraps me tight in hugs sometimes for no apparent reason, other than he loves me and wants to remind me, right there in front of the stove. The love of my brothers, with their fiercely handsome hearts, the way that they teach me to give more of myself, to listen better, to drink Dunkin’ Donuts and watch Despicable Me. The love of my sister, our FaceTimes with the baby nephew, the love of my brother-in-law and laughter over sausage pizza and the quiet of the family gathered together. The love of the friends that call and text and write and give of themselves in the way that teaches me how – the love that teaches me how to love.

That’s the love I want to sing about, in between Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe” and Michael’s “Cold December Night” and someone else’s something else that tells us Christmas is only one picture of love.

Because Love comes down this Christmas, because Jesus becomes known in the hugs and laughter and making space for each other, passing around the peppermint bark.

Because I want the fullness of love for us this Christmas.


dear hilary: stay at the table

This is a new kind of dear hilary question – but one that I care a lot about, and I’m excited to share.

Dear Hilary,

As Christians, what, if anything, do we stand to gain from political disputes?  Should we just throw up our hands and agree to disagree, even on emotionally charged issues that matter deeply to us?  Or should we dive in headfirst and fight the good fight, even when it starts to poison our relationships and hurt our ability to love those with whom we disagree?

Or is there a third option?

Sincerely, Swing State of Mind

Dear Swing State,

When I lived in the bright chaos of DC, I remember wondering how people “did it” without losing their minds. The mantra of “it’s who you know, it’s the connections you have,” or the walk along K Street with the power houses and the promise-makers-and-breakers was a lot to take in. And it seemed like the longer I spent time there, the more I realized the immense complexity of political life. The process of getting a bill to the floor alone is long enough and complicated enough to want to throw up your hands. And sometimes, when you hear one more report on the 7 o’clock news or one more newspaper headline about gridlock and insider Washington and the stalemate of government and this or that filibuster fight – you think this can’t be what it is meant to be. 

And I don’t think it is. I don’t think we are intended to sit at tables and yell at each other over nicely arranged water pitchers and smoothly swiveling chairs. I don’t think political conversation is meant to be so defensive and so positional that everything we hear the so-called “other side” saying we treat as an attack we must vigilantly rebuff.

But here is the thing. A conversation only dissolves when people leave it. It might be a loud cacophony right now, it might sound like chaos, it might make us want to give up – but it still has life in it. If we withdraw, if we become so dissatisfied that we simply cease to participate, we might send a signal of our dissatisfaction, but we won’t have a better conversation. We won’t get to be agents of that change.

I don’t want Christians to be in politics simply because we represent an important philosophical perspective on matters of political and community significance. That’s true. We care a lot about highly charged issues and our reflections can add a lot to policy-making. I want us to be there because we are fundamentally people of peace and justice. I want us to be there because, if we claim Christ, then we claim a kind of approach to politics, to conversations, to decisions about our common life, with the fiercest kind of commitment to listening. Peacemaking has to begin with listening. Justice has to begin with listening. If we leave the table, how will we hear?

That means if we sit at the table, if we model for others and for each other (because we need that, too) we can make the conversation itself, the very way we go about deciding these things and weighing different opinions, one that is peaceful rather than punishing. We can ask questions and sincerely listen. And yes, maybe the philosophical opinion on one policy issue won’t become law the way that some of us in this wild knit-together family wanted. Maybe it will be less than our original vision.

But we can be a people who don’t retreat into a silo of the like-minded. We can be a people who disagree within themselves, but who know that to do this common life, we have to listen. You say that sometimes our opinions hurt our relationships and makes it difficult to love those with whom we disagree? But whether it’s in politics or families or workplaces or third-grade classrooms this was the charge we were given by Christ. We were told to love. So we have to get down in the dirt with each other and practice it. Couldn’t it be, in fact, that participating in this political life is a part of how we learn to love?

Can we imagine together that this politics thing doesn’t have to be fighting the good fight and hurting those we love? We do that no matter what, so we’ll bring it to politics. But can we imagine that politics could be the kind of chasing after justice with our whole participation at the table, disagreeing with care and attention, being the first to stay at the table when it gets difficult, being a people who listen?

If we leave the table, how will we hear?



love on a sunday afternoon

It’s Sunday afternoon and the haze of sleep is settling over us both. I feel my limbs heavy, asking for a moment or two to close eyes and breathe deeper and rest, find a moment in the chaotic joy of seeing him again to sleep. At first I fight it – we only get so many days, and I want to be awake for them, I want every moment with this man who in the airport late on a Friday night makes my whole heart swell in my chest at the sight of him, who catches me and kisses me in baggage claim, in front of everyone, and pulls away only to hug me closer to him. Because that embrace is home.

But two days later and the cold I’ve been trying to ward off won’t budge, wants time to move through and around my body, and my body politely insists on sleep. We sit on the couch on the porch, in the cold October sunshine, and I put my feet across his lap and he sits reading a commentary on Genesis and he piles more blankets on me to be sure I’m not cold, to be sure I’m peaceful. I feel his steady breathing, the rise and fall of it. There is a silent joy among the birds and branches, the leaves descend towards their winter resting place and a car pulls in the driveway and someone goes to the grocery store and someone else comes home from a different church activity, and we sit on the porch and I fall asleep.

I think this must be the look of care – how we become unhurried with each other. How there is enough time to take a nap on a Sunday afternoon in October, despite my protest that long distance makes every moment of closeness to him seem impossibly short (so why would I sleep it away). How it is his voice that tells me, tickling my ear, that I am, in fact, tired, and I do, in fact, need to sleep. And it is his hand that drifts across my ankles in the gesture of care. Reminding me of his presence, reminding me that there is enough time in the long journey together.

I don’t know how to describe it, or why I would try to fill words with the unutterably beautiful feeling of falling asleep next to him on a Sunday afternoon late in the day when the sun is dripping gold across the tops of the trees. Perhaps all I wanted this to say was that the look of care, the way care moves, is not what I expected before I met him. Before I might have told you that care was bold and grand and sweep-you-off-your-feet, that it was a wild trumpeting kind of thing, that everyone saw and noticed and gaped at. And I do run towards him and kiss him in the airport and we do laugh and cry and hug each other -

and then on a Sunday two days later he astounds me by sitting on the porch with me and reading while I take a nap. He astounds me with the gentleness of care, with the simplicity of it, with the way that love moves, unhurried, from one to another and back again.

Care is quiet and full and this morning, I close my eyes and miss him and remember the slow Sunday afternoon. How this must have been what I was longing for:  such astonishing every day love.


dear hilary: a revolving door

Dear Hilary,

Every one around me seems to be falling in love. The older I get the more I realize I’m not sure what being in love means. Each person I ask how they know it’s the love and not some other shade of love they never answer the same. And yet somehow it’s the same. The person always finishes with, “You’ll just know.” But I don’t know. How did you know it was love?

Is It Love?

Dear Is it Love?,

I think I asked myself that question every night before I fell asleep in the days leading up to meeting Preston for the first time. Is it love? I asked a group of ducks that wandered across the road on my way to Starbucks one morning. Is it love? I asked my bleary-eyed reflection in the mirror. Is it love, is it love – and behind the question was this fear about myself. I had asked people, just like you have, about love. I had heard the many answers: that you know because they will order the Chinese food on the night you need it without being told, that you know because they’ll offer to do the laundry and the dishes in the same day, because they catch you around your waist on the street, with people watching, and kiss you. Because they’ll tell you things that you’ve longed to believe about yourself but you couldn’t before, give you a pair of hands to help you hold all that you are and desperately hope to become.

I had heard it.

And then I met Preston in that airport.

I’d tell you that I just knew, too, but the truth is that I think knowing about love is more like a revolving door. You walk around and around inside love, see the outside world in one instance, the inside world (the world of you and the person you love) in another. You ponder them both in the same moment. You spiral in and out of knowing, in and out of certainty.

What keeps you afloat is trust.

What keeps us all afloat is a trust that even if we don’t know, if we have moments when we wake up and it is a question, when everyone tells us “you’ll just know” and we think that there is no way that can be true – because I hardly know myself some days – that’s when you trust that you can still walk forward, still walk around and around inside the love, and somehow see your next step.

I could tell you the stories of falling in love with Preston, small moments when I felt it moving in my heart: the time we ate Chinese food on the floor watching Company (the Sondheim musical), or the time we made my family dinner in the kitchen and I was singing Alison Krauss songs and he was searing lamb chops in something I couldn’t even probably pronounce, or the time that we sat side-by-side in the midst of something really hard, and prayed our way through it…

But the truth is, though I knew in those moments I was in love with him, part of the joy is realizing it new every time – a moment of being surprised by the in-love-ness. It takes me asking, “is it love?” to answer yes. On days when all I want is to sit across from him in a Starbucks somewhere and write on our blogs and be in our own worlds, together and yet distinct, when all I wonder is whether this gift is really what I have now dared to dream it is…

I guess a part of me likes asking, “is it love?” not because I want to doubt, but because there is something to saying yes. To choosing the answer to that question every day. To walking through the revolving door, the worlds never the same when I circle back around to them.

I knew it a long time ago; and I learn it again every day.

I want to wrap everyone up in the safe and beautiful words of, “you’ll just know.” But I also want to wrap around you the words that love is a many-splendored, ever-moving, choose-it-again-and-again kind of thing. Maybe the knowing must and should move with us, too.

Is it love? We wonder in the world.

There is a beauty to trusting the question as a way towards the answer.


dear hilary: what lives on

Dear Hilary,

Have you ever been unkind to your body, or yourself?


Dear judgmental,

I never thought I’d write anything about this story on this blog. To be honest, I never wanted to tell anyone. For a while in college, not all that long ago, I waged a silent, prim, polite war against my body.

I stood at a cabinet looking at a jar of peanut butter and half a loaf of bread and dared myself to walk away, to be braver and better than food, to not need the comfort that comes with being full, feeling full.

I dared myself to go for days like that, to run every morning (that was the permission to eat, you know, if I had run). I dared myself, sly and quiet, to master desire.

I think all this was around the time that I realized I wasn’t ready to go to graduate school, and that I didn’t know what to do with my life after, right around the night I wore a brown sweater dress and scrawled an inscription in a book of poetry I gave him for his birthday, scrawled something about how Edward Hirsch writes beauty into the world, and so should he, but I wrote it while we drove back from a conversation that changed us forever, with the light on in the car along the back roads, an ending kind of conversation.

I think all this had begun a long time before that, too.

I’m scared to write it here, to admit out loud that there are these days when there is still a voice in my head that tells me I would better thinner. I’m scared to tell you that the girl you look at, with her smile widening at the sight of you, with all the good she has been given, she still has a bit of glass edging its way out of her heart, too.

I’m hopelessly tangled in my own story, which has wild love and this silent war so knit together they’re both mine. They’re both me.

But I titled this what lives on. Because something always does.

What lives on in me is the hope, that the patient repetition of the words, “I am beautiful,” in the mirror, in the driveway, in the desperate too-long runs in the woods, they were healing words. I had to speak my way into believing them. I still have to do that. But I have hope.

What lives on in me, almost two years later, is the time I sat in the parking lot with my mother who is wiser than all the rest, and let her love me back, back from this polite war against fullness, back from the rage at the lack of control we have over our days, back over my fight with my present. What lives on in me is the radical notion that there is something good alive in me, something I have made, or am making, of this time when I was unkind to my body, my self.

Because what lives on is what we breathe into being, what we keep, what we cherish.

So dear heart, because you will breathe life into something, let it be hopeful. Let it be beautiful, let it not be bittered by all that it was in its ache but let it be beautified by what it became, as your story always holds more than you imagine it does.

I whisper to you that the things most beautiful are often first, and somehow, continuing, most broken. Wild love and a polite war. Talent and jealousy, wisdom and pride, a thousand peacekeeping and another thousand battling moments, all inside us.

To me, what lives on is how wondrous we are, to contain such things – and how much more wondrous, that we can make beauty from it.


dear heart, love hilary

Dear little one,

I already lost count of the ways I love you. Mom sent me pictures of how you grew inside her, for months and months, we waited for those brief glimpses of the two of you together, and I would yell every time and stop what I’m doing and stare at the two of you (because that’s the funny thing about pregnancy – a picture of Mom is also a picture of you for nine months). Your mom is a gently beautiful person, full of joy, full of life, and now that you are here, I know that flows into you too, with the physical life she offers. She gave you a special kind of life from her heart and her body these long nine months, and now, you are here. We are beyond excited – we are out in the field of wild joy. We are out dancing in our kitchen and we are outside under the bright summer sun, laughing and praying and trying to find the right days and times to fly out to meet you.

When your parents got married I fell down the stairs at the reception. Not all the way, not dangerously, just in enough of a way to be completely embarrassed and wish that I was safe from the memory. But we are a long remembering family, and so your uncles on our side and your parents and grandparents won’t let me forget it – and trust me, your soon-to-be Uncle Preston won’t let me forget either (he’ll love telling you all kinds of stories about me). But their wedding day was a day about your parents, about two becoming one, about love. And these are the roots of love you grow from. I can promise you, little one, they are deep roots. You will grow in a richer love than you know.

That day, the reading was from 1 John 4 – about how we love because He first loved us. How we know love at all because it has been shown to us by another, by He who is love. You will be fed on love that is rooted in His love. You will be loved, in the midnights and the hurried mornings, in the laughter and the snow, in the every moment, by parents whose love is anchored and rooted to God’s love.

And I remember that day knowing your mom – my sister – and your dad, my brother-in-law, became a family. And now you are here, and you are a part of our family, and we are jumping up and down with joy over it and I might fall down a hallway or an airport or an escalator as I run towards you when I meet you.

But we anchor each other in a deeper love.

We will – this whole family of yours, aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents – promise in our own ways and times, to love you wild and deep and forever. There is so much I don’t know about you, dear one, so much I cannot wait to discover. But I promise you a deep and wild and forever love in this family.

I promise you all of my love, too. I promise you all of it, anchored in His.

Aunt Hilary


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