when this is the seventh month of gratitude

I promised a long while ago that I would keep up this accounting of gratitude for marriage, for the spin of our ordinary days, for the way you learn to move, two by two, day by day, in the quiet and the loud and the in between. I promised myself, maybe in some way I promised this blog, this space I keep carving in, bit by bit, marking where I am and where God is.

We’ve been married almost eight months.

When I say that it sounds long and short. It sounds like newlyweds and it feels like we’ve been married forever, we’ve always been here, always been rounding another bend of time. I forget to be faithful with the laundry. I get mad at myself which makes me avoid it even more, til there are two laundry baskets and a hamper full of things quietly asking for my attention, for my simple act of caring for the space we share and the work we take on, two by two. And it’s so gentle, this forgetfulness, that it makes me so angry I’ll pick a fight over something completely unrelated because I have this idea of what kind of person I should be in a marriage, what kind of house I should keep, what kinds of things I should do and say and feel and think…

I get mad about the laundry. That’s the truth in this seventh month, and the gratitude is as simple as that: he waits for me.

He waits for me through the rage portion, the avoiding eye contact and getting eerily quiet portion. He waits for me to lose my temper and then go silently inside myself to find it again. He waits even when his hands are full of dishes. When we have only 10 minutes to get somewhere and we are already behind. He waits.

And in waiting, he keeps his heart open to me. He waits for me to find the words, to find the thread, to walk my way back from the edge of cliff or from the confusion or the silence.

Marriage is the fullest kind of mirror. It shows the ways that you’re loved right in the midst of showing you all the things you really do and say and think. It reveals and it redeems. Marriage calls you out of your secret, silent heart and into that hallowed space where your belonging sings in your bones. In this, the seventh month, where I know I’ve gotten mad about laundry or sad about not going on a walk every day or worried about absolutely everything for no good reason… in this seventh month I can list for you all of those things, but what I know most deeply is just this:

The love of my life will stay at the sink with the dishes undone or sit in the car when we’re already late or hold me in our living room with all that unfolded laundry, and all the while, he is teaching me that love is patient.

I’m grateful for this: that the love of my life waits for me, especially now that we’re always around each other, always nearby, always close. He still waits. And that waiting is a great gift.

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

dear hilary: when you go into the woods

Dear Hilary,

My question for you. I have been living in Norway for the past 4 months. I was asked to intern at a church here for 9 months, and I thought the opportunity was exactly what I had been wanting. I completed a ministry school, interned as a small group leader for a ministry school, traveled to France, Haiti and Israel and felt that I was called to the nations. With that being said, since being here there has been unexpected circumstances which lead me to feel so discouraged and confused. My heart longs to return home, and yet there is a fear of simply choosing what is comfortable rather than what is best. Currently what I had thought I would be doing I am not. My heart is aching to do what I love, and yet I feel almost stuck. I am wanting to pursue what is on His heart for me, and I feel unsure of where I am suppose to go from here. I am choosing to live present and make the most of every opportunity by serving, and doing the best with I am given but I find myself again feeling I am not doing what I truly want.

Love,
Feeling Unsure

Dear Feeling Unsure,

Have you ever seen Into the Woods? The Sondheim musical, that is – there’s a recent movie too, but for the purpose of this letter I’m thinking particularly of the original musical. I watched it a little while ago, and I have been thinking, and singing the soundtrack, for weeks now. And it’s not a devotional in the traditional sense and it’s not a Bible verse, but I can’t stop thinking about it when I think about your letter.

There is this song, full of things I’m not sure about, about wishes and making our own right and good, but the refrain, it’s the refrain –

no one is alone, truly, no one is alone.

We often ask God for direction and guidance. We often crave a map, a path, a bit of light on the way. I spent months praying every day for clarity about life after college and months praying for a boy to fall in love with me when all I found was uncertainty. I spent my heart asking, asking, asking, for the clarity. For the suredness to come back (had I ever had it before?), for my way to be obvious. For the feeling in the pit of my gut that said, not this, or maybe this or worse still, I don’t even know how to decide if this or if not … to disappear.

I got on the floor of my bathroom the other night while my husband made us dinner while he sang praise songs. I got on the floor and wept for no other reason than life is still confusing and I am in the woods with you, somewhere I’m not sure of, somewhere new. All after the clear calling to grad school and marriage, all after the work of it and the months of being in it and becoming familiar and even after there has been so much that has felt sure.

And everywhere, there is someone who went into the woods, like you, trusting the One who calls and who now sits on her bathroom floor or in his car with the engine running, and everywhere there is a fighting to believe it: you are not alone. Truly. No one is alone. 

You aren’t failing or falling short because your heart hurts for home. You didn’t mishear a good calling, or make a wrong turn, or disappoint anyone. Hurting for home, for the familiar, for the certain path, is part of how we are made and remade and sanctified, yes, even this longing is caught up in that greater work.

If you go home tomorrow, if you stay for ten years, if you long every day to go home but stay, or if you find the hurt leaves you for a little while – these are not the markers of being in the will of God. Nor are they the marker of pleasing God or living out a calling.

Those things you are already doing because you are in the woods calling out for Jesus. For what is it that we are made for but to learn endlessly how deep and wide the love of Jesus, that it is finally, irrevocably true: you are not alone. Truly. 

You are calling out in the woods, and many miles from you, I’m doing the same, and there are thousands of us calling out, and this is the fullness of every calling: to call out for the Lord in the middle of the woods and to become more and more and more fully assured of Jesus. Believe me, Jesus hears you, loves you, and is in the middle of the woods with you.

You have already done so much that is brave and breathtaking. Trust now that you can pause and ache and wonder, and go where you go, and all the while, you are not alone. Jesus goes into the woods with you, and even now, He is near.

Love,
hilary

tonight, welcome the wonder

Dear friend,

There is a scene in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead I want to remember with you.

After a while the baby cupped her hands and poured water on her mother’s arm and laughed, so her mother cupped her hands and poured water on the baby’s belly, and the baby laughed… The baby made a conversational sound and her mother said, ‘That’s a leaf. A leaf off a tree. Leaf,’ and gave it into the baby’s hand. And the sun was shining as well as it could onto that shadowy river, a good part of the shine being caught in the trees…

After a while we went on back to the car and came home. Glory said, ‘I do not understand one thing in this world. Not one.’

I can’t read this without tearing up. That sunshine and the shadowy river, the baby laughing, the leaf and the ordinary unconscious teaching of the wonder of the world, in a muddy bit of a river in Iowa. How can I not cry? That sunshine. That teaching. That wonder.

It’s the day before Christmas, and I am caught up in the ordinary wonder of today. There is sunshine through trees, and my father-in-law and I spent a morning drinking coffee and looking out big bay windows and talking, our minds wandering new and familiar paths and it is that, the making of memories of laughter and wisdom shared and questions asked, in the unhurried way of daily life – that is the wonder of Christmas. That is the wonder we are welcoming in this moment, in this night. We welcome the wonder of new life, Heaven colliding irrevocably with earth. We welcome a baby, who bears our flesh, our ordinary, who is now in the midst of us and among us and in us.

How can I not cry? We welcome the wonder of all wonders. Not apart from the ordinary, but entering the heart of it.

I sing Christmas carols around the house when I clean these days. I don’t notice it all the time, but then suddenly I do: the same wonder, the rhythm of the cleaning of the floors and of my heart, too. I sing Christmas carols loudly and without worrying about managing all the right notes in the original key. I sing these stories loud. Something about the soapy water and the quiet and the ordinary work that never ceases: this is the work of wonder. The task of it, to repeat it in the midst of everything.

Tonight, we welcome the wonder of all wonders, the Lord of Heaven come to earth. We do this work of welcome in the middle of being so very much ourselves. I am myself, 24 years old, young in marriage and love and wisdom, me, the desperate seeker of a wilder love. I am welcoming Jesus as me, because Jesus comes for me. I am welcoming Jesus in the midst of my ordinary, singing Christmas carols with the Swiffer in hand. I am welcoming Jesus crying over Gilead. In the heart of the ordinary, the extraordinary enters in.

Come with me even unto Bethlehem? Bring your ordinary, your uncertainty, your wearied heart and hands and self? Even unto Bethlehem?

Tonight, the wonder of all wonders is born. Come with me, and greet Him?

Love,
hilary

when I choose the economy of God

“So, I guess you’re going to have to figure out three things.”

This is my husband, in the still, dark room where we sit and write with the rain outside and the quiet inside. He’s talking about gratitude, something I’m resisting, and I don’t have a good reason, I should tell you that right now.

Actually, I should tell you that I have some bad reasons.

In the economy of an anxious heart, your minus columns are always outlasting your positive ones. In the economy of a perfectionist heart, a minor dip in expected performance is the 1929 crash of Wall Street. A lower grade than you expected of yourself or a missed opportunity to make friends with someone or some nice thing you can’t quite put your finger on but you’re sure you failed to do. You name it for yourself and suddenly it is another thing you’ve forgotten, and you work and live on an ever steepening incline of failure, and somewhere along the way you’re also drowning in your own misunderstanding of yourself, and you’ve mixed your metaphors together so you are a drowning person climbing a mountain with a top you can’t reach, pushing a rock maybe, like Sisyphus, or maybe just pushing yourself, hauling yourself up and up and up and already you are sure you have been defeated.

That’s me sometimes. I don’t know if it’s ever you, but it is me. It is me when the grades and the papers and the research ideas come back with critique or comment or areas for improvement. It is me in the quiet fights and the loud ones. It is me lying in bed on a random Saturday morning cataloguing the friends I haven’t caught up with lately or the places I have not brought peace or the way I should have and could have and would have been a better me.

The economy of God looks nothing like the economy of my anxious heart.

The economy of God is God coming towards us, promising abundant generosity for the laborers who work an hour and those who work a full day. It is a strange, terrifying generosity, the kind that makes my neat columns of deserving and undeserving and the weight and sift of my measurements look foolish. The kind that puts us to shame in our race to merit and earn, but rescues us in the midst of it too. God laughs, I imagine, and sets us free.

Once my counselor asked me what the big bad was that would happen if I didn’t win. If I didn’t get perfect grades or perfect GRE scores or a perfect record of performances. I still don’t know the answer to that question. I think that was her point.

I want the economy of God. I want the economy of generosity, the economy of grace. I want the rescue from drowning my way up a mountain I can’t ever finish climbing, the setting free. I want the economy that will force me to give up my pride in making each and every thing perfect, my disappointment at myself when things aren’t just as I would like them. I want Jesus, in the end, whatever it might cost me and my well-worn anxious heartbeat.

And so I do have to figure out three things, write a story that is full of the richness of a generosity I didn’t earn, full of receiving blessing where I can’t say my goodness or my rightness is the reason, but the only reason is the sufficient reason is that God loves. That’s the new story. God loves, and the richness of the story is there. I’m caught up into it, and set free by it, and this is the better story.

Preston asked me for three things. I won’t tell you what they are, but I’m thinking I might keep a journal somewhere, and start writing them down.

And so in a little way, widen my welcome of the most wondrous love.

Love,
hilary

dear hilary: if the impossible is true

Dear Hilary,

I’m learning a lot about probabilities right now, and how to apply them. I’m learning that there are high probabilities for some things and low ones for others, based on evidence, based on prior ideas or beliefs, based on… you name it.

What if there is no probability for something? What if there is no probability that God is real, the way you talk about God? Is trusting in something that isn’t really trustworthy is a bad idea?

Love,
Probably

Dear Probably,

I have a high probability for believing that I am sitting in my apartment typing this to you. I have a low probability for believing I am a brain in a vat, or secretly a monkey typing on a typewriter into infinity. I suppose lots of things are possible, but they have low probability.

Honestly, though, what a curious idea – that you would measure belief by something like probability, up and weigh and judge things by how rational they are and seem. It’s not a bad way of going on for some things, but it isn’t the only way we measure belief. It isn’t the only way we measure familiarity or trustworthiness.

So maybe I wonder whether the probability of me being a brain in a vat or being a monkey typing on a typewriter to achieve Shakespeare’s Hamlet is really in the end the best way to think about your questions about God.

The Incarnation kind of messes around with all our probability.

What is that line, from the L’Engle poem? Had Mary been filled with reason, there’d have been no room for the Child.

Probability is a way of filling the room, the paper, the equation, with reason. And sometimes, when you’re filled up with reason, there is no room for the Child. There is no room for the Incarnation in its particular, improbable, unyieldingly unlikely way, to live in your heart.

I’m just now learning a lot about probability and probability calculus. I’m learning about how much we trust something based on what appears to us to be true or on what an authority says versus what we see, or think we see…

There is a beauty to what it can show you about how you think. There is a goodness and a truth to it, too. But there is this resistant, stubborn part of my heart, or maybe the whole of my heart, that says even when it is good and helpful, it’s not everything.

The improbable is sometimes remarkably true. And our measure of believing in that improbable truth can’t be contained in the neat lines of a pencil on a calculus problem on graph paper.

Had Mary been filled with reason. Maybe this is a post about reasonable-ness, that elusive thing we so often want to defend us. We want to be justified in being angry and hurt and confused when something happens, or being elated and grateful and full of joy. We want reasonableness to keep us on the straight and narrow, give us the right opinions, protect us from being fools or from being in error. We want a hedge of protection around the happenings of the world.

There’d had been no room for the Child.

And isn’t it the Child, after all, that we should stretch enough to make room for?

And isn’t it the Child, after all, that makes room for us?

I want to tell you, young philosopher in the making, you who seek the probability, the justified and justifiable reasons, and even you, who might be reading this, who think that the best thing is the most probable thing –

Welcome the wonder of the impossible: the Lord, come among us as a child.

Let us make room.

Love,
hilary

Jesus is journeying toward us

It’s hard to believe it’s already the second week of Advent, isn’t it?

Hard to believe that we’re already such a ways along in the journey towards Bethlehem, towards Jesus.

This year I realized something new: Jesus is coming for me. Jesus, the King, is coming into the world, into the mess and beauty and hope of the world, for me. For my heart, for my always anxious always joyful heart, for my whole self. Jesus is coming towards me.

We spend a lot of time in Advent talking about our journey to the manger. We’re like the wise men following a star, we’re like the shepherds following the words of an angel, we’re like Mary and Joseph, even, riding on the back of a donkey and walking beside it, when the whole land is to be registered.

But have we forgotten, in our Advent calendars and moving wooden animals and counting down days and lighting candles that it is Jesus who is coming to us?

I so often want to cast myself in the role of the person in the story who climbed up the tree to get a better look, who declared allegiance well before it was popular or easy, who stayed faithful to the end, who went out looking for the Savior and who found him.

But the truth is, most of the time, I am standing still, and it is God who comes out looking for me. It is God who leaves behind everything to catch everything back up into Himself. It is God who promises salvation and then comes to us bringing it. One of my favorite eucharistic hymns – and with blessing in his hands, Christ our God to earth, descendeth, our full homage to demand. 

We cry out, Come, Lord Jesus but sometimes we are so anxious to be seen as the ones running towards him that we forget our helplessness, our wandering in darkness, our on us light has shined. Not our own light, not light we went out and found and sought and made for ourselves, but the light that comes from beyond us is the light that is coming. That is the light that we have been gifted this Advent.

I am standing still, in the thousand thousand winds of God’s coming, and I wish I was one of the angels one of the shepherds one of the wise men one of the righteous one of the wisest one of the enlightened. I wish to be the one who recognizes the movement in the air and who goes after God running.

But I couldn’t, and the stories should be told no less honestly than this: when I could not move at all, Jesus came. 

When I couldn’t take off running for God, Jesus came running for me.

And when even my bones did not know how to cry out, yet even then did God say, behold my Son. 

And even in those moments when I get out of the boat, when I see Jesus, when I whisper and hope and pray – then I fear I am sinking, and even then, Jesus immediately – immediately – reaches out to catch me and whispers, you of little faith, why did you doubt? 

This Advent, can we remember together, the wonder that God is coming for us? That we are the receivers of the light, of the hope, of the great news, that the angels and shepherds and wise men and the sheep and oxen and calves and goats and everything that is in heaven and on earth leaps together in rejoicing –

because Jesus is journeying toward us.

Love,
hilary