for when God has time for you

He pulls me onto his lap in the chair he always sits in to type out the emails, the tasks, the daily-to-do’s that pile high in the cramped spaces of our lives.

It was a series of comments about this or that thing not fitting well anymore, this or that salad I should have could have eaten, this or that friend I probably should have texted again but didn’t…

He held me there when I started to pull away, back into the familiar chaos of the busy, making the customary excuses to avoid the quiet place – you’re busy, I’m busy, no one has enough time, this will be too unwieldy, this mess of my heart and don’t you want me to just buckle down and get myself under control? We only have this many days until everything changes.

“What would Jesus say about that?” He repeats the question twice before I make eye contact, and again once I do, holding my waist still.

I gulp, oxygen suddenly a precious gift, because it’s the Name, Jesus, that still undoes my heart at its sounding. I am not sure how to breathe anymore because my husband to be asks me what Jesus would say to me. He doesn’t try to fix it with his words, just keeps his hands fixed, because I am going to run away from Jesus if he doesn’t help me anchor myself there. Because he knows, and I know, that Jesus has something to say to me.

“I don’t know!”

I get angry, the second kind of reaction. If not flight, then fight, and it comes out biting and cold and full of frustration. I don’t know, which means why are you asking, which means can we please not do this and can we please not encounter this.

But this life does not obey our fighting or our flights, and encounter is gifted to us in the worst times because the worst times are the needed times.

I don’t want to answer this question, because the answer is this: Jesus would say, Come here. I have time for you.

I have time for your mistake

I have time to talk about all this chaos, this wedding, this waiting, the days when it feels impossible to do the work I give you

I have time to breathe next to you

I have time to hear you

I have time to remind you that not everything you have ever done is wrong

Jesus is Lord of time. Who am I to tell him he doesn’t have enough of it? Jesus is the Word made Flesh dwelling in the midst of us. Who am I to tell him he doesn’t want to spend time with a sinner-trying-to-be-saint like me? Jesus is the tabernacling, ever-drawing-us-nearer Physician of the soul and body. Who am I to tell him that he shouldn’t be interested in healing me?

My husband to be keeps his hands on my waist while we sit in that all-too-familiar chair, and keeps me there, so that I can answer this question. What would Jesus say to that?

And fellow wanderers, worshippers, lovers of leaving, caravaners on the road and you who are lost in the jungle and you who are scorched by the sand in the desert at noonday and you who walk so calmly and you who ask the fourth question of God when we all stop at three and you who doesn’t know how to believe God has time for the sinners, for the people who should know better and still break -

Jesus says,

Come to me.


dear hilary: call out

Dear Hilary,

What makes a calling big (and none of this bullshit about how we are all called to big things and I should just be thankful for the thousands of gifts I have right now)? Real talk: what does it mean to be called?

Over It

Dear Over It,

So, you want to real talk. We can real talk. We can sit down here, in this space – let me buy you a cup of coffee (dry cappuccino or mocha something or cider, if you want to feel like fall) – and we can real talk.

I could look up calling in the dictionary and talk about the sense of desire for work. But you’d probably see through that, right? Tell me that anyone can look up and parse a definition?

I could tell you the lilting words of the many wise writers that calling is about the sense of doing what you cannot not do, that it is about gladness meeting need, that the world and you meet in a field somewhere, literal or metaphorical or imagined, and hash it out, and you emerge with a sense that you have purpose. But from what you ask me, from the way your question sounded when I first read it, you’d ask for more than that, too, right? You want something else. You want more.

Here is more: you aren’t supposed to fake a contentment in your life just because others appear to have found it. On the road to the unfolding of your calling there is nothing more problematic than trying to pretend you have found it before you have, to tell yourself the lie that this is all you have been given so you better sit down and play at peace and joy because you won’t get anything else. Peace and joy aren’t playthings. They’re things you hunger after with your whole heart and mind and body and things you fight for (and sometimes with) and the thing I want to tell you is that you cannot fake your way to a calling.

So why don’t you wrestle?

Why don’t you hang on with your limbs and stray thoughts tangled together, with everything you have, to the question what is my calling? Why aren’t you fighting harder for a way through the thicket, or standing at the edge of things and shouting that you want to know where God is and where He is going, that you are tired of living in the pretend of “already-finding-contentment” because that’s not gratitude, really, is it? We both know that. We both know that it is better to go out and holler in a field that there is nothing you know right now than to sit on the concrete sidewalk and be wounded by what you haven’t actually wrestled with.

Peace and joy more often arrive fiery. Peace and joy aren’t pretty feelings, they’re movements in and around you. Contentment is about a stillness that comes both without and within, about a listening to God, about a listening to yourself. Your letter to me tells me that you haven’t shouted much about it. And we are both like this. I cup the questions of big calling or wild calling in my hands and run in the woods with them, careful like I’m holding a baby bird that will break. But the question isn’t fragile. And God is not.

And the truth is, I am not, either.

We are both wild and brave enough to face the question of a big calling, without the comfort of trying to make ourselves content with what we see. We are both brave enough to launch out and say, “THIS I LOVE” or “THIS I CHERISH” or “THIS, THIS, GOD, DO YOU SEE ME?” and wait for an answer.

It is a long story in the Bible of people who strive with God, who go out into the field to yell and holler and ask.

You have to do that before you can get still enough to hear an answer. And being called?

Maybe for us, maybe for you, it means actually more about how you are calling out to God and asking to be called back to. Maybe it is about the sound of your voice meeting the Word, being silenced and changed by it. Maybe rather than worrying that you have or don’t have a big calling, or what it even means (because I doubt anyone can tell you the feeling or the way you know or the kind of thing that it is)

you can call out -

Do you see me? 

And hold that up, and hear.


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: the love equation

Dear Hilary,

I have another question for you. This year, boys have been a huge distraction.

When I decided I like a boy, it begins to consume my thoughts and actions. I change the direction I walk to class just to “accidentally” run into them, I scheme ways to end up in situations with them, I make sure to get to math class early just so I can find a seat beside them. I do irrational things all the time. Maybe it’s infatuation or lust, but then why does it feel so real then? It just seems impossible to shake this frame of mind. I want to stop obsessing, but at the same time I like obsessing. Is any of this natural? Is it unhealthy? Or maybe it goes deeper, and I am just desperate to be loved and treasured. Even so, my heart is aching from these boys- this is something that seems so silly but has such a legitimate weight on my heart.

A little obsessed

Dear A little obsessed,

You know what I can’t stand, really, truly, cross my heart shoot me ten times before you make me … ? Settlers of Catan type games. I’m terrible at them. I lack all the strategy. And that makes me mad. And then I do something stupid, I don’t want to admit it, or I do, and I basically just end up feeling pissy. Not a fun time. I like cards, I like charades, I like 20 questions that I turn into 20,000 questions, I like Mafia and a thousand other ones. But make me settle villages and stuff, and I’m sunk.

So last year this boy that I really liked brought me to a friend’s house on the water, and a funny group of us – maybe five or six people – sit down to play … yep, you guessed it, one of those bridge-building farm settling monasteries and something about blocking other people’s castles games. I wasn’t jazzed about it, but I played the whole game.

And not because that’s the polite thing to do, though my mother did raise me to be polite. I did it to impress the boy. I did it to keep his attention. I did it with some well-timed doe-eyed looks in his direction, a wink or two. I can only imagine if I could see myself I would laugh – here I am, making faces at the game in my head, and then whenever he makes eye contact, holding on for dear life to those brown eyes and hoping he’d look just a bit longer.

In the love equation in my head, playing this game + batting my eyelashes + walking by his office by the mailroom in my work outfit + some well placed comments about German philosophy + drinking a second cider at the bar on a Thursday night x my hope squared = LOVE.

I think most of us do this, just as you describe your own love equation to me – if you sit here in math class + walk past them and if you use the Pythagorean theorem to calculate just where they might get coffee after school that day… maybe that’s how you get them to see you. Maybe that will = LOVE.

I want to separate out how real your feelings are from whether your changing seats in math class or walking in a different direction has a tangible effect on a relationship. Your feelings are real; you are attracted and interested, and honestly I’m going to hazard a guess that some of it is infatuation, some of it is exploration, some of it is longing, some of it is that delightful butterfly feeling when you recognize how wonderful and lovely someone is, and there is a whole lot more feeling that can be easily categorized. That will all be real no matter what you do or don’t do on a given day of the week or a given Saturday night game night.

And yes, honey, I think some of it is maybe a little bit much. I liked the feeling of liking someone so much I wound up playing games I didn’t like and changing how I walked and what I wore and what I talked about (though I love German philosophy). When the excitement of adventuring into romantic feelings becomes the trump card in your (even small) decisions, I think it’s good to take a step back. Changing your behavior won’t make anyone like you more or notice you more – it won’t satisfy those longings to be treasured and appreciated and loved, it won’t do much of anything.

Remember Sugar - real love moves freely in both directions.

Love moves freely. It moves when not constrained by constantly monitoring behavior, input and output, looking for an equation that will finally work. It moves when your longing to be more of who you are meant to be, your longing to lean into the true and beautiful and good of your life, equations abandoned, is where all your energy is going.

Resist the temptation to take my words and make them another voice in your head that calculates the way towards those boys or that kind of love, dear one. You can’t force contentment and the growing wings as a way to get those boys to notice you. You can’t ask your heart to long for the good/true/beautiful so that the boy in math class sees you – that’s no different from calculating which seat.

Instead open up your hands and heart and start asking the question – what are those lupine seeds I’m going to scatter today (thanks, Miss Rumphius)? How can I do one more thing to make this world a little more beautiful? Who are the people right here, right next to me? How do I make their world a little more beautiful? 

We don’t have to play Settlers of Catan. We don’t have to change seats. Real love is on the move already. You and me, together, we can just open towards it.


myself, eighteen

I’m trapped in a heard of other freshmen in Boston all wearing matching tan tee-shirts with an orientation logo emblazoned on it, promising me that if anyone wanted to think I was a cool, sophisticated college student, they will see my t-shirt and sneakers and know better.

I hold my phone in the palm of my hand inside my pocket, sweating against the keys. I wait, and wait. I spend the first three weeks waiting.

It would have been better if I didn’t have the evidence that I had spent the last ten days in the middle of the woods in upstate New York telling a group of people I had never met before that this boy, he and I were a thing. A thing I couldn’t define, a thing I couldn’t quite pin down, one Starbucks lemonade and one impulsive kiss against a car door the afternoon before I left, but a thing. I was sure of it.

He doesn’t write back. I keep myself away from the ten digits I’m sure I’ve memorized in tracing them over and over in my pocket, because I don’t want to text him but I want to text him, and I promise I have to let one more hour go by where I’m silent, and the hour becomes two, becomes a week… and maybe I don’t know the ten digits as well anymore, was it 7-8 or 8-7 and was there a 9? But I imagine what I’d say, in my first-year indignant heart, it is rageful and spiteful and angry. And I start to spin the story.

I tell my roommate in hushed whispers at 4am while we’re eating cookie dough straight from the tube how much experience I have with boys. I laugh to the girls on my floor as one of them puts a 5 day Garnier hair dye in my hair about the fact that if you kiss someone in the middle of the night on a beach you’re going to find you are covered in sand, completely, the next morning. I proclaim that my love language is physical touch. And I wink.

God catches up to me on a walk around the quad right before first semester finals. I don’t notice Him at first, walking head bent to the concrete against the early-December drizzle. But I’m worn thin in trying to write that scene between Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Birmingham Jail and his wife. I’m thinking about stage directions when I realize God is there, too.

Do you want to talk about what happened?

I have said no a thousand times, I remind Him. I’ve told the story already. It’s better the way I tell it. It’s safer the way I tell it. I keep walking, repeating things about the Kings and the scene in the jail. I read over the words in my head.

Do you want to talk about what happened?

I still say no, but perhaps there is a crack, a pause, just small enough for a bit of the Spirit to slip inside my well-walled heart. I sit on a bench, damp from the rain that just stopped. I put my books next to me, not realizing until I hear the slap of paper on water that I put them in a puddle. I cringe, and put them on the wet concrete at my feet.

You cared for someone.

A pause.

He didn’t stay.

Another pause.

And this means something to your heart.

I start to cry. I’m eighteen and in college and I had a thing that wasn’t a thing and I told that group of people in the middle of the woods in New York that I had a thing that turned out not to be a thing, and now I’ve told everyone that I was pleased with myself, with all that I did and said and I made it this story, and that was going to make it feel better, was going to make it safe again, I was going to be safe inside the laughter and the knowing wink and the hair dying on the first floor bathroom.

It can’t be the kind of beautiful I want it to be, Hil, until you let it mean something in your heart. It can’t be restored to you if you keep it.

I stop crying.

Let Me have this story.

I don’t want to give it back, and my version is safer, steered clear of it meaning something. Of it hurting. Of it aching, and healing.

Let Me have it.

The rest of eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, and counting, I watched Him make more of this story – more healing, more peace, more delight, more laughter – maybe even something like wisdom.

It began that first night. It began with the thing that wasn’t a thing, that became an entirely different and more beautiful thing. I gave Him back the story.


dear hilary: why we pray

Dear Hilary,

If God is other, if God is something inconceivable and beyond, why would we pray? Why should we pray? How do we even know if he hears or cares, if there is anything real about the Person you say you get on your knees in front of? I don’t want to pray anymore. And why should I?

The Challenger

Dear The Challenger,

I’m torn between telling you that I believe in intercession, in prayer, in the agonizing work of getting on our knees because of something about St. Augustine, St. Teresa of Avila, and this one man who lives in rural Mississippi who I met last year on a trip down to see my mentor – and telling you that I’m not sure I always do believe it, but I pray anyway. Both are honest, in different hours of the same day, in different seasons of the same year. And the reasons behind our prayers are mysterious, I think, and somehow beyond words, but I’ll try.

I pray because of things like, well, the fact that God’s otherness has been brought so near to us in the image of God we bear, in how the Incarnation has flung all our ideas of “cosmic distance” out the window. I haven’t ever known what to say to the red shift and the rate of expansion of galaxies, other than to ask whether the Incarnation shouldn’t shatter any idea that we have about what love is, and what it contains?

And when I get on my knees in my office and bend my head and close my eyes against the too-bright office light, I’m not sure I know how to believe Him against the black holes, the waves and vibrations of shadows and shuddering dimensions, the unknowns. And call me a fool, but I remember a love so particular He knows my name, cares where I work, who I befriend… a love so particular, He came to earth to save me.


God is inconceivable; but it’s His movement that mystifies me more than His being. The fact of them: the fact of this Redeeming, the fact of this messy, sweaty, bloodied birth and life and death; the fact of his loving, not just in the hypothetical, but in the lived. I can say, “I pray because God has commanded me to,” and there is something in that all on its own.

I pray because God Himself cut the covenant. God saved Israel. God wandered with His people, through the years of disobedience and the agony of distance and all in the movement towards this pivotal mystery: the Word made Flesh.

And whether we want to, or not, doesn’t really seem the question you’re asking. I think if you waited a little longer, you might ask that question differently. I think you’d be asking whether you can trust the work of prayer. Whether it means something.

And that answer is a terrifying yes.

You can trust the work of prayer, of speaking words too big for your head and your heart, of interceding for a person you love.

I can’t pretend to really know why. My logical and theological arguments begin to fade at the moment when I face the real question – can we trust this – and I don’t know how to tell you yes. But yes.

God is inconceivable, beyond comprehension, the creator of the dimensions we know nothing about. And He is wondrously close to us. And His love is particular for you and me. And a love that particular is listening.


last night, I almost quit

You wouldn’t believe it, would you? That it should sound so easy, to leave words behind?

To give them up.

To give, them, up? How could I? Haven’t words always been my bones, my bricks, my feathers and wings and roots? Haven’t they been the way I learn and forget and learn again? Hasn’t it always been writing, mine the quick answer to Rilke’s lingering question – whether I must write, else die. Haven’t I always said yes? 

But I almost quit last night.

I imagined myself cutting loose the threads that moor me to a space in a corner of the world so much wider than I understand, or fathom; I imagined how it might be, to put away documents in folders, occupy my mind with the already-told stories, the things that are unique and breathtaking and here, in front of us.

I imagined silence replacing comment counting. I imagined tucking up my words like quilts in attic boxes. I imagined no more bending and breaking beneath the words and their silence and their speaking.

No stories that begin and end in the unfinished places, no more hitting “publish” on a post you’re never quite sure resounds the way you  thought it would.

No more desperate cherishing of lithe or luminescence or blessing, of caress and carries, of child for the way their sound looks as it finds an ear, the way they build up meaning, the way they are.

It’s not the writing of it, it’s the reeling of the writing. It’s what I think I could write, if only. But, yet, then, I plaster together words with commas and prayers and they flutter groundward, and there still isn’t a good answer, or maybe any answer.

I’m bravest and most afraid here.

I imagined quitting to fold up inside a safer version of myself; I saw my years stretching out before me, word-less. I pressed my hands to my face, and thought I could see me, not undone by a poem or the way I cannot hear a character speak, not worried over the choice of light and illumine.

Brave and afraid, I write still.

Brave and afraid, I publish a post where I talk about the almost-quitting, the question of why someone would try this work of penning  glory into syllables and vowels.

Brave, and afraid.


dear hilary: the bass notes

Dear Hilary,

I know that my life is littered with problems only a privileged few could complain about. I know that I’m not really complaining about what is worth complaining – and I tell myself as I peel the parsnips and chop onions for some vegetarian thing I am convinced I should eat because it would be good for me, that I shouldn’t be feeling so confused and lonely and irritated as I do. But I want to know – I’m hungry to know – what is the point of the sadness? Is it okay to feel sad, even if there isn’t a good reason?

Peeling the parsnips

Dear Peeling,

Hey there, hon. Before we go any further down this road, I need to tell you first just a yes. A yes as you chop and peel and worry and scream to loud or soft music or kiss random strangers in a subway car or wish you were kissing them or eat vegetarian or Five Guys burgers. Yes. It is okay to feel what you feel.

Permission is not a thing we should seek for our emotions. That’s a lie that we’ve been taught – that we need to ask first before we allow our hearts to keel over with the things they’re already carrying. They are what they carry; permission is irrelevant. So you, rich in love or money or college degrees, poor in clarity or money or college degrees, mixed up between them all, you must give yourself more breathing room. Chuck permission – the question of “is it okay to feel…” right out the window.

Let’s start where you are: you feel sad.

You peel the parsnips – a beautiful sounding phrase, love – and you are lonely. And it simply does not matter one bit if I tell you that I am peeling potatoes, another person is chopping lettuce, and three other people are eating ice cream straight from the carton – and that we are all, in our own ways, feeling the pull and dip and gravity of sadness. That we, too, wonder about what is ahead, or what we have just emerged from, or what we are sitting in right now. When you feel loneliness, I do not think that you can comfort yourself out of it. No amount of “solidarity!” or “we’re in it with you!” or “buck up it’s not that bad!” will help.

What will help is to keep peeling the parsnips.

What will help is to ask your lonely, your confusion, your unidentified emotions, to pull up a chair as you work. Don’t ask them to say everything – just allow them to accompany you in the midst of your daily life. Invite them to sit with you in a coffee shop or gaze at a sunset on your drive home. Ask them to play Switchfoot’s “Where I Belong” on repeat. Wander up and down the grocery store aisles with them. They are not against you.

They are, instead, the bass notes. 

In good music, we listen first for the melody – for the soaring notes, for the lingering treble. We pick out the main theme and wait for it as it darts between other notes. We think of the song, and we hum that line.

But in most music, love, there are the bass notes. These are sometimes sweet and soft, sometimes insistent, sometimes fiery, sometimes desperate, sometimes lonely. The bass notes hold the melody. They deepen it and give it a new shape.

I think that this is what your sadness, the things that you complain about but wish you didn’t – is, at its root. It is the bass line of your song. It is deepening work, these nights of peeling parsnips and sitting with loneliness. It makes your melody a fuller story, in a way that nothing else could.

That is the miracle of the bass notes: though they go often unnoticed, they do remarkable things. 

So I urge you – wherever your days take you, remind yourself: some days I will sing the bass notes. Some days I will build the song of my life in the deep and difficult things. Peel the parsnips, and love the bass notes.

The song could not be so good without them. 


dear hilary: gripped by fear

Yesterday, this kind of amazing and crazy thing happened. I got to share over at Lisa-Jo’s space, and I would love it if you’d visit me over that way? Just click here. And if you have a question for me to ponder with you? Just email me:

Dear Hilary,
I don’t think of myself as a pessimist (and I don’t think others do either) but I’m noticing my tendency to expect the worst. The phone rings and I think tragedy has struck. Someone pulls me aside and I instantly assume I’m in trouble. Sometimes the fear makes me sick to my stomach.  I know worrying isn’t productive and most of the things I fear never come to fruition but logic isn’t loosening fear’s grip on me. How can I shake it?
Dear Gripped,
I read your question and thought about it as I drove home from sign language class. I drove in silence, asking myself occasionally what fear is, where it comes from – what might we possibly do to shake ourselves free from it?
The words that came to me as I swung my car into the driveway, and trudged up the steps to my house through the slush and rain, through the night that always feels impossibly dark, were not my own words. They were Rilke’s. I wonder if you know them, from his Letters to a Young Poet?
“Only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another person as something alive and will himself sound the depths of his own being.”
I don’t pretend to really know what’s going on in these words, because I’m far from having sounded the depths of much of anything. But, Gripped, I think Rilke’s bigger point is that the opposite of fear is not only courage. It is also trust. 
We are all convinced that the things we do not know – the phone calls we haven’t picked up, the being pulled aside by the teacher, the long silence from a friend, the unreturned email – they must be a monster. They must mean that terrible thing that we have always secretly wondered about, but never really tried to understand or imagine. Fear thrives on the things we don’t want to know – thrives in darkness, in vague worry, in the unexamined and unaccepted. We too often keep ourselves from knowing the things we are afraid of. And so we do not trust them. And so the fear lives long.
To shake fear, I don’t know that you always need to be brave as we typically define it. It doesn’t mean being angry with yourself for your fear or trying to “outreason” or “outlogic” yourself or demanding that you suddenly be fearless.
Instead, perhaps we can shake fear by widening ourselves to receive all that the world holds for us. What might the experiences that have you shivering with fear hold for you that is rich and beautiful and good? What might they grow inside you? What might they help you become? What might the phone call bring you – can you imagine in the thirty seconds before you answer it being something marvelous? Can you widen, even if you just say it inside your head, your heart to accept this new thing?
Fear keeps you from being that fully alive self Rilke talks about: one who is open to even the most incomprehensible experiences, one who trusts that even those things which are strange and terrifying hold something good. Fear feeds on our uncertainties, but most of all, fear thrives on our lack of trust.
I think we shake it by repeating the gestures of trust over and over, in our head and in our life, until they are as natural as breathing: arms open, eyes wide, running toward the world.
It will undoubtedly disappoint us sometimes. It will be less than what we want. It will be too much. It will bring crappy phone calls and teachers yelling and family fights and silence and shouting. But all of this makes us more alive, Gripped. All of this, even the things you fear most this moment, can be the very things that are the making of you.
Trust me.

dear hilary: on old flames

Dear Hilary,

Do you think that it’s a good idea to get back together with an ex? I’m wondering if it’s a good idea, because while we fought, and it was hard, and a lot of us felt difficult and broken, there was a lot of good. And so now it feels like a real possibility, and I’m wondering if it’s a good idea. What if we just hurt each other more? What if this is it, but we don’t get back together and we leave it unfinished? Where do you even begin to go with that possibility?

Old Flames

Dear Old Flames,

Well, here is an interesting question, and an old one, and a good one. Do we step back into something that we left behind? Do we return to a landscape we have visited before? On the one hand, there is that warm call of familiarity. This person knows you, knew you in a moment in your life full of growth/change/becoming. They understand that habit you got into your 20s with folding your sheets or only ironing shirts the morning you wear them. This person knows your favorite movie when you were 5, what you think about taxes or the environment.

On the other hand, there is that list of the things that fell apart – the way you couldn’t fight fair, the misunderstandings that started over coffee and ended over listening and whether they cared at all about your feelings. The long nights of counting shadows on your bedroom wall thinking about everything else that might be out there, and could this be it? And the conversations where those thoughts slipped out and it felt like things broke all over again.

So there you sit, with your old flame, who is wonderful and difficult and folds sheets weirdly and doesn’t like Mexican food. There you sit, you who are wonderful and difficult and don’t like parakeets and think James Bond is a total sap. You both come to this moment, and ask, do we go back?

But that’s not really the question. Relationships are only like places in that we live in them, that we make space in our hearts and minds for another. We cannot make the same space twice; because we are changing, and the person is changing. So you are never going back, if you and an old flame decide to pursue a relationship. You are going to build something new together, because you are meeting again as people weathered by the years or months apart. You are meeting, not as old flames, but as a possible fire.

I can’t tell you what to do – there isn’t a universal rule about ex’s and get togethers. Some work wonderfully; some don’t. Some build back the patterns they had hoped to learn from; some build something entirely new. But always, I urge you to ask questions not from the perspective of wandering back into the past, but from the perspective of bringing all that you have learned from your past into your present. What did the first falling apart teach you both? What do you want it to teach you about this new possibility? Who have you each become in the time you were apart? Do those people fit together?

Don’t be anxious, sweetheart. These questions won’t be checked off a mental to-do list before you make a decision; you’ll ponder them lying awake in bed at night no matter what you do. Your gut will make the decision and you’ll step into it, tentatively and boldly, with confidence and trembling. But ponder them with all your might, and listen closely to your heart. It will tell you whether to work out those questions alongside your former lover, or whether those questions are better pondered alone, in preparation for the next relationship.

We do this work of love, whether with people we have just met or have known a ten thousand days, whether lovers or friends or teachers, by allowing our hearts to guide and be guided. By asking ourselves about the people we were, and are, and who we would dare to become, and letting those people point the way. In the great unfolding of your life, getting together with your ex is a sparkling silver thread; no matter what you choose, there is bound up in the choice itself such wonderful things to learn.

The poet Robert Bly once wrote, “I love you with what in me is unfinished.” Does it get more beautiful, Old Flames? Does it get more true?

You are unfinished; your ex is unfinished. This choice will not finish or complete either of you or your life stories – it will only help you love with what is unfinished inside you.