dear hilary: the thinnest envelope

Dear Hilary,

I’ve been telling people for a good while now that I have plans for graduate school. You see, I’ve always had plans for graduate school. Once it was law school and once it was nursing and a few times it’s been a joint JD/PhD and always it’s been the idea that I should and can be a part of that. But lately, when I tell people, I tell them the school, the fellowship, the hope, and then I start to worry. Because what if I don’t get in? What if I get that thin envelope in the mailbox? What if I’m not one of the few who get chosen to be a part of the class of… ? What will they all think? What will I do?


Dear Nervous,

What will you do? I’ll just ask the question back at you. It isn’t for anyone else to work out or reason how you build a life after that gnawing possibility of rejection. We can give you the pep talks, pass the B&J, or the g&t, or both, tell you to stop worrying and stop feeling that prick of fear, because you have a beautiful life… but this one belongs to you and there isn’t all that much I can tell you.¬†

You, however. You can tell you a lot.

You can tell yourself that the meaning of the thinnest envelope is less than the meaning of the love you’ve sincerely built in the afternoons and the extra hours and the holding your palms open for another heart. You can tell yourself that if graduate school A or B ¬†says no, it means less about who you are than the six pairs of eyes that gaze up at you during the busiest time at the prayer circle, mean less than the three year old who thanks God for you, right there in her list of horses and birthday parties.

You can approach the mirror with an open hand and whisper that you are going to hold it open and watch what is put inside it, without peering sideways at what is put in the palms of the other hands that grace your life. You can imagine yourself a seed, in a fallow field, hungry for the rain, but unafraid.

You can whisper a bit of peace, say Sarah Bessey‘s, “calm your heart” while you drive home. You can remember that not one of us came into the world stamped with a seal of graduate school approval and all of us came in with God’s image borne deep in our bones and His law written on our hearts and He is right there, engraving His name over the walls of our hearts.

You can pour the second glass of red wine. You can write yourself a letter and put it in the thinnest envelope and mail it to yourself for the same day that those other envelopes, thick or thin, arrive next year. You can write love inside that letter: love for the work that has belonged to you, love for the work that is mysterious and yet to come, love for the people, love for the places, always more love than you were able to bear but you somehow did, anyway.

That’s all you.

What people think if you don’t get in is a deep fear that lurks under the bed. Will they love me, if I’m not a ? we whisper. If I never have a – if I fail to win – if I don’t – ? And this is what will catch us slowly, the sinking feeling that perhaps what they love is only how well we’ve performed.

You work your way out by rereading the old and good and true words. You run back to the promises that we have been set free, and He who loves, He is from everlasting. His command to abide in his love. His promise to send His Spirit to be with us.

You are loved abundantly, dear one. Not because of an envelope or a graduate school or an anything. Love is just like that: overwhelming and rich and somehow, always, seeking us. Let it find you.



for me (Advent 3)

My heart crawls slowly to the manger.

Friday afternoon, it feels like I can’t breathe, for thinking about the children, thinking about the tragedy, thinking about how everything here is a thin veil, torn away, and the ugly and the wound is deep and raw, this world we wander through feels dark. I sip tea, cry in my office, look forlornly at my post-it notes, because how, O Jesus, can you come into a place with this much hurting?
How can you come dwell with us, when you see us rip each other apart with words and deeds, a world violent and terrifying?

Sunday again, and I hold my breath when I see them coming through the white door. Because these are the children, just this age, in their red ruffled coats and big boy sneakers. These are the children, sticky fingers from dipping them in the glue bowl and anxious to tell me that they have been driving to see all the Christmas lights in their neighborhood. These are the children. And I whisper to them to listen closer, and to sit down, all the while wanting to hold them next to me and fix their pink hairbow and listen to them tell me about Horsey and Emma the bear and give them kisses because I don’t know what else to do, and I am 22 and helpless and in Sunday School.

Where we talk about a God of big love. Where we pray to Him, our voices piping up and running over each other. And we light three candles on the Advent wreath.

“For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given.” “What does this mean?”Miss Andrea asks. It means something about this violent terrifying world of hurting, but I don’t know what. I whisper to myself, feeling Kate scooting her mat a little closer to mine. O Jesus, what are you doing?

The glue bowls sit untouched, the candles flicker. The clock ticks towards closing time. From the room next door, we can hear singing about Jesus the life. Our three to six year olds sigh and shuffle, and the purple cloth on the prayer table holds the dancing shadows from the flames. I hear rain outside, shiver. Kate hands me her pink hair bow – a gift, and puts her head on my knee.

“Who do you think the child is for?” She asks. There. The real question – the why is all of this happening. The question I want to ask Jesus, when I sit in my office fearful for life and light. Afraid of the dark again.

But Kate sits up straight, without her hairbow, and shouts to us on our mats, to the room, to the world – “FOR ME!”

For me. This child comes into this broken, bleeding world, for her. For each of them in the circle, for the teachers, wide-eyed in wonder, for the congregation, crying and praying Collect after Collect, for the families who sit in desperate grief, for each of us, who grieve next to them. The child comes for this: that each of us might have life so abundantly that we remember He has undone death. That we might be so wrapped in His love that though we walk in the valley, we fear nothing. That we might, each of us, pink hairbows and winter boots and bare feet and hungry eyes, know, know, like Kate knows: that YHWH is our Shepherd, and He is born for me.

My hearts makes it to the manger.