grace, a year later (sharing at Christie Purifoy’s)

I get the chance to share a piece at one of my very favorite writers, Christie Purifoy. Her book wrapped me up in a new way to see the seasons, in the world, in my life, in this always-beginning relationship with God, anew. It has meant so much to me, and I’m honored to share at her space today. Join me?

Here is a little excerpt:

I was all grace-less worry the first six weeks of my son’s life. He was born into the bright steadying lights of the NICU. He was born into weeks of poking, prodding, scoped up and down. His first pictures besides our Instagram snapshots were the flickery black and white of heart and head and kidney ultrasounds.

Two by two, we would go into that ark, my husband and I. Two by two, and no more than that at a time. In the mornings the attending physicians and residents would form a crescent moon standing around his bassinet, and the real moon would take the night watch alongside us.

We are all born into motherhood. The labor is from us, and for us, and so I too was welcomed by bright lights and pulsing blue and red monitors. I too was born into an endless click, click of blood pressure cuffs and kinked IV needles and blanket forts to hide us while we slept.

Keep reading, over at Christie’s?

Love,
hilary

dear jackson: on daring, and prayer

Dear Jackson,

When you were small, in what feels like a different country, hidden behind hills of time, when you lived in the country called the NICU, I used to number the minutes. I used to count your breaths, the dip and climb of your oxygen. I used to pray each time you inhaled that the breath would come back out and that you would take another one. I prayed single words as you breathed – keep. breathing. one. more. breath. It was not that you were in imminent danger, exactly – the doctors told us daily that you were stable, that you were safe – but having once witnessed what it was for you to cry out for oxygen, I could never shake the need to count each rise and fall of your chest.

Today I realized I have stopped counting.

Now I watch the rise and fall of your chest with a confidence that comes, not from the little tube we slip in your neck each week, not from the nurse who watches over you in the long nights, but from you.

It comes from how you run from your room to the record player, how you bring us the puffs when you want more, how you love to be chased down the hallways. It comes from how you laugh when you see us, hair sticking up wildly in all directions, when you wake up from naps. It comes from how you press against me in this phase of being afraid of strangers and then how you push away from me back into the world. You are daring, you are adventurous, because you feel safe.

And so I stopped counting your breaths.

I tell you this as a way of telling you something about prayer. I prayed once by counting. And now that I have stopped, that I have dared to believe you’ll breathe without being watched, I find myself at a loss for how to pray. It was easy when there was panic, to keep me focused, to keep the demand right in front of God. Is this trust, I wonder as I watch you attempt to crawl up onto the couch? Is it resignation?

We are in a new country, God and I, unfamiliar and brighter. I have to squint my eyes to make out the horizons of where I think I might be going. In the old country of the NICU, the only way I could talk at all was to yell and to count. Now I have stopped counting and stopped yelling – what is left? How will I begin to say something again?

 

 

So I pray to you, Lord Jesus Christ, together with the Father who is without beginning and Your all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages Amen.

I once memorized the feel of these syllables in my mouth, in the anxious wanderings of my freshly 18 year old heart, my knees knocking as I stood in the unfamiliar familiar, Greek and English twisting up and out, past icons and candles, the singing. Every Amen is a comma in the Eastern Church, a pause in the endlessness of worship. I would walk in, often a few minutes late from idling in the car afraid to walk in alone, worship having already begun. I would leave clutching the blessed bread from the priest’s warm hands, a piece of the liturgy to go into the world with me. Every Amen a comma, a pause.

Back then I thought it proved something to pray conspicuously. I would go into the small windowless study room on my floor, a few doors down from my room, holding a small white spiral bound book of Orthodox prayers – all but announcing my piety to the tangle of women walking the hallway or simply finding the time to take a shower, do their homework, sink their roots into college. I would fumble through the prayers at noon, holding a knotted bracelet to count repetitions of the Jesus prayer. I would make confession, ask forgiveness, pray in a more righteous voice as time went on. I hid my heart in the glorious prayers of other people – surely, God would be more impressed with me if I prayed in ancient words instead of my own.

But I want to tell you, Jack, you whose spirit is full of daring, full of courage, full of light – prayer for me now is laughter. Prayer is silence, prayer is half-formed thoughts I say in between tickling your stomach. Prayer is singing “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” night after night and feeling your head sink onto my shoulder as you remember where we are all going – out into that Jordan River, out towards home.

Do not be afraid if someday you reach for words – your own, the Church’s – and you find your hands come back to you empty. Do not be afraid if you come out of one type of prayer and walk the road for a long while without knowing what to say next.

Every Amen is a comma, a pause, and courage is sometimes pausing long enough to feel God’s friendship in the weight of your son on your shoulder. That is prayer enough. God hears.

Love,
mom

this can carry us

I learned to pray when I learned to drive. Those smooth, familiar backroads, at age 17 too hasty in hoping to be older. At the stoplights where even now I do not notice how I know where I am going, I just turn, left, then right, then right again. I learned to pray driving past the old white house covered with vines and lilacs that only bloom for a week, a glorious hidden week in May, the kind that sneaks up upon you and shatters your resignation with joy. I prayed the unconventional hours: early morning requests and questions, the late evening thanksgivings. Often, I repeated this: I love you, Jesus. 

When I slink into the driver’s seat, even now when I go home to visit, I feel the pull of those hours, the richness hidden in rhythm and repetition: I love you, Jesus. I remember the drives, keeping those hours, the expectation, the simplicity. The lilacs bursting forth against the old white house.

These hours keep me praying in the long summer of expecting my first son. These hours keep me, my younger self’s prayers, ones about God’s glory being revealed to me, or the fullness of God’s wisdom being shown to me, or the love of Jesus, my younger love of Jesus. These hours keep me, praying somehow still over me from the week of bursting lilacs to the week of driving to Temple, of learning about Jackson, of new glories.

I have wanted to write about praying for Jackson, but the truth is, it’s really the old prayer I’m praying, that the Spirit is praying in me and for me: I love you, Jesus. I find you so beautiful. 

My son knows my voice. This overwhelms me, since so much of the day I am quiet. We talk in snatches, I tell him about what I’ve been reading, I tell him about his cousins, his grandparents, how much love is waiting for him. I tell him about his doctors, too. I tell him that he will love them, that they are helpers, people God gave special gifts to for helping kids heal and grow and be strong. I am telling myself all these things.

He hears about this ordinary life all day, carried around inside me with his fierce, strong spirit: he hears Preston read One Hundred Years of Solitude, me proclaiming my craving for red velvet cake and ice cream sandwiches, my laughter with his dad, our plans for crepe myrtle trees and a backyard garden and a library of books just for him. And he hears me on the couch or the bathroom floor, some mornings getting dressed, how those are sometimes hard moments in my expectation. How I cry sometimes because I am new at this, new at even the very act of becoming a mom, becoming his mom.

So the old prayer, the lifeline – I love you, Jesus.

He hears that, too.

May this be the forever thread running through our days together: I love you, Jesus. 

I love you with the first light slinking through the blinds, with long hours of reading, with appointments and ultrasounds and so many pictures of Jackson as you are forming him. I love you when I pray laughing or weeping, or both at the same time. I love you with the bursting lilacs all those years ago, the first hours set down, that resound now. I love you with everything in me that is unfinished – with the poem that that line comes from, Robert Bly, I think.

I love you, Jesus. 

This is the well-worn prayer. This can carry us.

Love,
hilary

when I am learning to worry heaven (on prayer)

We have been worrying heaven on your behalf!

She says this laughing from the pulpit, voice bright with the joy of a Sunday morning, and the congregation shouts sings nods claps its approval, its affirmation. We have been worrying heaven on your behalf. We have been up at night and during the day, in the midst of our praising and our praying, telling heaven about you, reminding heaven about you, worrying heaven for you.

How long has it been since I worried heaven for another person?

How long since I got on my knees, face to the floor, or prayed loud in the car or on a run, how long since I was bold enough to declare that my words spoken in the name of Jesus have power? That when I’m talking to the Almighty, I believe that the Almighty is listening, is hearing, is attending to me?

Have we forgotten what it means to pray? Have I forgotten in my desire to make sure I’m contemplating the right issue or the right person or the right non-self-centered words, have I forgotten that Jesus gave me power to worry heaven for another human person?

I think about the faithful who wouldn’t let God alone, the widow who pursues the judge, the men who carry their brother to Jesus and lower him through the roof, the disciples who panic and cry out on the water, the crowds who clamor for loaves and fishes, the Israelites who wander and persist and insist with God that God has cut a covenant and God must keep it.

Why am I so timid when it comes to praying? I don’t want to sound like I want something too much or like I wouldn’t be happy if God gave me something else? I don’t want to be a bother, I don’t want to overstay my welcome in the family?

But this is what the word of God says in the stillness of my heart when I stop long enough: you cannot overstay your welcome in this family.

We have been worrying heaven on your behalf!

The courage it takes, to come bold before the throne, to come as our fullest selves, selves that persist and insist and come back again and again with the same prayers: safety for this person and life for this one, hope and patience and a new job and the truth to come out and a smoother transition and the thing that they really need.

I want to pray like that again.

I want to make my home in the tangled knot of the family of God, where we cannot overstay our welcome, where we cannot pray too much. I want to worry heaven for the ones I love.

I’ve been trying to write this blog post for weeks, and I couldn’t find the words. I’ve been sitting at the computer, waiting, and the words haven’t arrived. But the other morning, while Preston made coffee and I put off getting out of bed for as long as possible, I heard it: why are you waiting for the right words? The Spirit will teach you to pray. 

Perhaps I waited so long to write this blog post because I was hoping I could write it about how great this new way of praying is, and how much I have become good at it. And, of course, God hears that too.

I don’t know how to worry heaven or how to pray with a wild, relentless confidence. But the Spirit will teach me, will teach us.

So, courage or not, confidence or not, today I am on my knees, learning to worry heaven. And falling deeper in love with Jesus, who teaches me how.

Love,
hilary

when no one else can believe it for me

We were back at a church we love this past Sunday. I’m a long-road Anglican, winding my way along a path from childhood and pink dresses at First Communion to that St. Michael and All Angels confirmation, a swirl of the Spirit descending and those words, this is a new anointing, my daughter. This particular church, where the light spills in across the altar, where the choir and the electric organ sing bold to hymn and spiritual alike, where there sits this beautiful banner I stare at every time I go in – yellow, gold, that proclaims: Yours is the glory, Risen Conquering Son. is where I first saw my husband in the midst of being deeply and irrevocably in love with God. This is where I learned that there are ways of being traditional that sing spirituals and pray for the Spirit to come and fall upon us. This is, in short, where I relearned how to encounter the Lord Jesus.

On Sunday the pastor preached on fear.

On Sunday, Jesus came and sat down beside me.

We sat together, my eyes on my hands, hearing what by now feels so familiar – that anxiety is not our nature, that we are fearful from the first moment of disobedience, that perfect love, who is the person of Jesus, casts out fear. And you all know, in your journey with this rambling heart, that I am acquainted with fear. I’ve lived and wandered inside it often. It’s the kind of dark where my eyes adjust quickly, my adrenaline kicks in, I feel my way through the blackness and so often think I’m doing just fine.

And you all know that I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I keep writing about it. I’d say it was some kind of theme or meditation for the season, but I think it’s more likely that God is content to dwell with us where our hearts most often go to hide from Him, and so He waits for us, comes out into the dark after us, beckons us into the midst of His very self.

So here we are, me and Jesus, and I’m counting the invisible threads in my skirt and I’m hearing again that Jesus will cast out fear, I am hearing that the Holy Spirit lives in me, I am hearing, I am hearing… Jesus, just the stillness of Jesus, is near me.

Then the pastor says, “I cannot believe this for you.”

I bristle at the thought. Aren’t we carrying each other? When the road is long and we are weary aren’t we leaning hard on the faith of each other, on the promises kept generation to generation, of the stories others tell us when we cannot tell ourselves?

But then there is this moment, where I think about it again. I close my eyes, stop counting the threads.

Jesus desires relationship with me. Me, without helpful scaffolding or hiding behind the true things someone else has said. And having faith isn’t just assenting to what someone smarter has said. Jesus doesn’t desire my agreement with someone else. He is too in love with the being of me to want less than my self. My whole self. My whole self, believing.

I do believe we should lean on each other. I believe we should carry each other. Oh, but how we must believe this without hiding from the nearness of God to each of us, in the just-us-ness of our being?

I told my mother once I was doing something because of the lightness of me. I think God’s answer to that question, the one we keep asking, the one we keep hiding from, the one not about God’s goodness or qualities or cosmic salvation or any of that, but just the one about how God loves –

because of the being of you. 

Because of the you that is so gorgeously alive. And you are enough of a reason for all the nearness of God. It is our whole self that must believe. It is our whole self, believing, that God is desperately in love with.

That kind of love is so particular, no one else can believe it for us. We have to believe it, too.

Love,
hilary

God is speaking joy

“And I think to myself, how long has God been speaking this joy over my life, and I have been too filled up with anxiety to hear it?

I tell this to her on the phone pacing outside the building where I spend most of my time as a new graduate student. I try to let my feet carry me where they will on the winding paths of campus, past library and other classroom buildings and people on skateboards and scooters, past trendy backpacks and BPA free water bottles.

I am relaying a conversation I had with Preston about callings, about anxiety about the future, about what is happening in our lives and what it will mean and how it will happen, and it’s in the midst of telling her about the conversation (not even the conversation itself) that I realize it:

God has been speaking joy over my life.

Anxiety is an unruly substance – it fills up the spaces wherever you let it in. It creeps into the corner of yourself and becomes the drumbeat and gives the marching orders.

And I fill myself up with anxiety so much that I cannot hear God speaking. And it is in the very act of resisting anxiety that we will find, that we can hope to find, the ears to hear.

Be astonished! Be astounded! For a work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told. 

Habbakuk, 1.5.

When was the last time I was astonished at the Lord? When was the last time I was astounded? When was it that I stopped and marveled and felt my knees go weak from seeing the wonder and the blessedness?

When I resist anxiety, even for a moment, I can catch a glimmer of the song God is singing over my life: joy.

In resisting the anxiety there is promise, there is purpose, and no, it’s not a new life plan with a bigger God stamp on it. It’s purpose that is drawing nearer to the Father and purpose that is becoming more like Jesus and it is purpose that will lead you to a new city in a new state in a new marriage so that you might know God better and love him more. The places where we live out our vocation have a tendency to substitute their purposes for the ultimate purpose: we think that we’re here to become a certain kind of scholar or a certain kind of teacher or a certain kind of electrical engineer, and that’s the real reason God said go. But in that we forget: we forget that Jesus first and always and finally calls us to be a certain kind of human being, one who is made glorious by the Spirit dwelling and moving inside them, one who bears God’s image, resplendent, made new, gracious and graceful and alive.

Before Preston and I got married, I memorized Romans 8. I don’t know why, except for the ways that, daily, I have had to remind myself of it. Remind myself that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Remind myself that you are in the Spirit. Remind myself that those whom he called, he also justified, and those whom he justified, he also glorified. 

And here again, I remember: nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus. 

In the midst of what is unknown, we are not apart from the love of God. In the midst of what can make us anxious, we are not apart from the love of Christ Jesus. In the midst of hoping and praying and waiting and raging, in the emptiness and the fullness, the silence and the singing, we are not apart from such love.

Be astonished! Be astounded! For nothing will be able to separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus. And thus, rejoice.

Love,
hilary

along the dark and twisty road

Did you know, that there is such a thing as becoming more confused by your obedience?

The things I wish someone had told me.

Obey, and the road will get darker and twistier. Obey, and the clarity you prized will vanish. Obey, and the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living will become the prayer for water on a desert highway, the simplest, most desperate question – is there manna for me today, Lord? – with no thoughts of hoarding it or storing it up or anything but the one meal, the daily meal, the crumbs from the table meal.

Obey, and that sweet daydream you had about what you would be like and sound like and do, the person you glorified in your mind, you in maxi skirts sweeping through your life with such grace and such ease, she is crying on the couch, yet again, making lists, yet again, asking again for a manna she doesn’t know how to find on her own.

And you think about how to say it because you think there is nothing more embarrassing than admitting it, that you don’t have it together on this dark and twisty road.

I keep thinking about Jacob.

I keep thinking about all the moments when I have likened myself to Jacob, wrestling, strong, prevailing through the night. I keep thinking about all the times that I have said I have wrestled with God and yet my life is being delivered. Or even because I am wrestling so my life is being delivered.

It was night when Jacob wrestled. I never noticed that before.

Jacob wrestled until the day broke open.

Jacob went out into the dark and twisty night, into the utter unknowing, and wrestled until there was light.

I will not let you go unless you bless me. 

I will not let you go.

I am saying this in the dark. I am saying this to a God who I grasp for and hold onto, praying that I have, in fact, found God, that the wrestling is a holding fast, that in the midst of the darkness is the closest kind of encounter.

The things I keep inscribing on my heart and the sides of my notebooks during class, that this is the place of closest encounter and Jacob, he walked with an ache in his hip because in the ache is the remembering of how we wrestle with God, all of us, and how in that is the closeness, the hope.

I’m out here on the dark and twisty road of obedience, and if you’re there, too, then can I whisper a hello, I can see you? And together we will wrestle until day breaks open.

Love,
hilary