dear hilary: the edge of your hope

Dear Hilary,

I am a recent college graduate, unemployed for five months, living in my parents’ house and watching as my hopes for graduate school disappear as the letters come back. I’ve lived through several tragedies in the past several years — murder, abuse, relationships broken up. I feel as if I am suspended in motion, watching my friends get married, have kids and buy houses – and I wish they had what they have. How do I have hope in the Lord when I am continually disappointed with what happens in my life? Is it wrong to want to be happy?

Afraid to hope

Dear Afraid to hope,

Every time I read your letter, I start to think. I think about you, writing away at your computer somewhere. I think about the way you crafted your story, your question, and what you might have been doing while you wrote it. I think about how courageous you are to write it down at all, because writing makes things a different kind of real. I think about whether you’d drink a latte or something without caffeine in it, if we went out to coffee together.

And your question? There is no pithy quote on this wide and wildly beautiful world that would capture an answer to it. Because you want to know about a living thing – hope – and living things are never as simple as those handpainted lettered signs on the Pinterest page. You want to know about a thing that moves with us, that spills over into the most surprising corners, that feels at once impossible and utterly, undeniably, real.

After I read your question the first few times, I did yoga. I am not great at yoga, so I picked the “easy yoga for beginners” (because that can’t be that hard, right?) on amazon and I started. The first thing we did was lie down. I almost turned the video off and muttered something dismissive about the idea that lying down is a kind of exercise, but for some reason I stayed. I closed my eyes, the way the all-too-peaceful instructor told me to. I willed myself to be calm. That hardly ever works for me, because my heart starts racing and I think of my to-do lists and then before I know it I’m already missing half the warrior pose. 

But that too peaceful instructor, she said something that made its way into the maze of my racing heart and mind. She asked, “Where is your body right now? Honor what your body is telling you. Honor what your body can do today.”

I think there is this part of us all that secretly believes everything important happens in our heads. The disappointments and the hurts and the joys and the wondering, that’s all work internal, in that life of the mind, in that wild wandering heart space. And we think that space is, must be, infinite, able to do whatever we tell it to. We think we can think our way or feel our way or demand our way into hope or faith or love. We think we can order the heart space around, tell it to expand, tell it to get wiser – tell it to memorize Pinterest quotes – tell it to have hope in the Lord.

And that’s where I think we go wrong.

We are just one: body and heart and mind all tangled together. We can no more say to our minds or hearts that we can be more hopeful or less disappointed than we can tell our bodies to sink deeper into Warrior II or arch our backs higher in Cobra. “Honor what your body can do today.”

You have to start testing the edges of your hope. You have to get real with God and with yourself and ask, “Where are you today, body and heart and mind? Where are we with this lived thing, hope?” And sink a little deeper, and honor where you are today. Explore it. Ask God all the things you think you can’t ask because you think if you ask you won’t get closer to hope. I mean the gritty questions: I mean the “Why is this happening to me?” and the “Wasn’t I faithful to you?” and the often-lurking-for-me-anyway “Do you love me? How can you love me when this is what I see?”

Afraid to hope, I am here to tell you hope is hard won, body and spirit jumbled together. It is a tested thing, it is a thing that lives. And this is the greatest gift to us. Because it means that when we honor where we are today, we inch towards more strength tomorrow. When we honor the conversation we are really having with God today, we move towards a new conversation tomorrow.

It isn’t wrong to want to be happy, by the way, but I don’t think what you’re after here is an answer to that. I think you’re after the bigger thing – the hope, the hope that is beyond the optimism we associate with happiness, or with achieving the things we want. You want the bigger thing, the hope. I love that about your letter. I love that you ask such a big question. How courageous you are.

So now, I will ask you to be courageous again: go forward, body, mind, heart as one, and test the edges of your hope. Bang down the door to God, be loud, ask yourself where you are today. Sink a little deeper into the stretch of hope, the stretch of this wild thing that is you and God. Tomorrow, I promise you, hope grows.


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 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.


why love must be wild

I named this blog almost a year ago – the wild love.

I imagined that we would, that I would, live that way. I remember finding the name as I sat at work on a Friday afternoon, in the middle of the ending, with only a few weeks left before everything changed. I remember trying it out, running the syllables over my tongue like water. The wild love. It sounded right.

When I was born, my dad named me. I’ve heard the story told a thousand ways, and there is something precious and funny about it. My name, Hilary, means cheerful. My middle name, Joan, comes from John, and it means, God is gracious.

When you ask my dad how he came up with this name, he’ll tell you that Hilary just seemed right. He’d always loved the name – but it was decided almost like a lightning strike: this was what I was going to be called, and that was it. Joan is for a dear friend of my parents, and because, I think at the time, Hilary Joan sounded just right to them.

Hilary Joan. Cheerful, God is gracious.

If ever names might help us imagine who we are meant to become…

And now, my blog is just shy of a year old, taking its baby steps into the world. There have been a few posts that have made their mark on me, perhaps on you, dear readers. There has been a lot of pondering. There was been a lot of asking God in the midst of this, the hard of 22, how and why things are as they are. There has been hunger, and fulfillment, a confirmation, a wedding. There has been the loud voice of the Holy Spirit across the waters and my own timid replies.

But here I am, with this, the space that I have named, and I wanted to ask again – why must love be wild?

Because we are a people too desperate to love only inside the conventional, accepted boundaries. We are a people too hungry, too alive, too beautiful, too broken.

Love is wild because we are wild. Because we are made in the image of Someone Wild, Someone who sang out for freedom, who defied logic, who broke his Body and poured out his Blood and saved us once and every day.

Love is wild because there is a bird sitting inside our ribcage, like Emily Dickinson said, the thing with feathers perched in us, and the only way to hear it sing is to start singing.

I’m only just about a year into this blog and I named it something before I could have known how deeply I would want to become the very thing I had named.

I want to live with a wild love: a wild love for words, for readers, for strangers who I pass on the sidewalk and dear friends who stay up late on Sunday nights just to make sure I’m okay. I want to live with a wild love that hopes and forgives and says that “no” is sometimes a beautiful word and that “wait” is sometimes a promise and that “why?” is sometimes the answer itself.

I’m Hilary Joan – a name with meaning that still feels a little too big for me. And the blog still feels like that some days. But I want to link hands with you across these words, across these miles and time zones and ages, and love wild.