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: a gradual slope

Dear Hilary,

There was a boy, a wild and free and brave boy who did the best he could to hurt me as little as possible. and he really made me braver, trusting God more, and less selfish than i thought possible. regardless of whether or not i would’ve chosen him as husband – i, undoubtedly, still love him. essentially, though, he had to say ‘i like you, alot. but not always.’ and now that we’ve both had about a month off work, we’re back in the same office – not simply completing the same tasks in separate cubicles, but a part of the same ministry – planting and growing the Word, in a community that’s washing each other’s feet kind of family. we’re not afforded the opportunity to ‘have space.’

How do i help my heart mend, not simply from being hurt, but from being hurt that his eyes are light and as sparkling as ever; he talks to me without regret or sadness, and that seems to have been the case from day one. i’m learning to let go, but what do i do about the lump in my throat that comes when i see how easily his fingers let loose?

I still notice it

Dear I still notice,

It must have been winter, because there was ice on the sidewalk during our three minute meander to the theater. It must have been almost spring though, too, because I almost fell once or twice as the ice melted under our feet, a hopeful kind of melting, as if the ground itself wanted to be free of the long months of February and March. I’d known him more than a year. I’d passed notes for a few months. Once I tied one with some blue ribbon I found in an unused classroom during lunch and I impulsively wrote, “love hilary” on the outside of the note, creased it again and again in my pocket before I gave it to him.

So it must have been the end of winter when he told me that “he liked me too much” to have ever wanted a relationship. He told me almost laughing, a joke we were sharing that I couldn’t catch the punchline of. I remember vaguely that he wore the same jacket to school every day, a brown frayed corduroy one that made me wonder if he was cold walking to and from his car every morning across the frozen parking lot. He said so many things in that walk to theater, his laughter moving so swiftly to confusion and then something that sounded like pity. Because he liked me too much, we’d make an amazing power couple, but you see, as friends.

I saw him at school every day for the next four months. We had lunch in a group together every week, his brown corduroy jacket and his old sneakers and all I could think when it was happening was how could he laugh like that, tell stories about his guitar or the rival high school debate team, how could he be so whole, while I sat and thought my life would surely end and it could never be the same and it was never and always and everything, and I was heartbroken.

So I wanted to tell you and me both, me that girl not all that long ago, who longed for him to long for her, who wondered (and still wonders) about the wholeness we think we understand in other people – I wanted to tell us that hearts mend on a gradual slope. You walk through each day and notice one hundred things. You walk through the next, and perhaps you only notice 97, perhaps there are three things, the way he holds a coffee cup, the laugh he has when he heard something that makes him nervous as well as happy, the sound of his fingers against a keyboard, that somehow fade. And the next day, maybe something comes back, and something else leaves, and time is the healer not because time makes anyone less the wonder that you always knew them to be, but because we move in the slow swirl of the months and days, and we are freed by the movement. 

You don’t know how he is healing – and I say it in the present tense because even if he ended things, he must also heal, mend, build back together his self from the threads and pieces of what’s come before. How he moves along the gradual slope is hidden from you. How he heals in the midst of seeing your lovely self, and all the hundred small things he knows about you – how you hold a coffee cup and laugh in the morning and sign your name on an office birthday card – is his. Yours is yours. If you can, try not to compare how it looks like he feels to how you know yourself to feel.

You mend by moving in the swirl of those months, by sharing the space you must share but not looking too long or too worried in his direction at the conference table.

We are freed by the movement. We are freed by the way time so gently journeys us back and away and yes, at the pace it must be, you will find yourself looking again – and you have let go.


the world rights itself, a letter to preston

Dear Preston,

I started this letter as a blog post a couple of weeks ago, thinking I’d be able to somehow manage to make it work, say what I want it to say. But you got on a plane yesterday and my words keep tangling themselves up in the ache of leaving. So I’m just going to let my mind wander next to yours for a while, okay?

“I feel weird, God.” I crack open the prayer, feet finding their stride. Three minutes later there is a line of sweat down my spine, the sun has climbed high in the afternoon and I am nowhere closer to knowing what to say. “I feel out of place, standing here, wanting to be in the story that is not mine, wanting to be a part of things, always, a part of the center of things. What’s wrong, Lord? Why can’t I pray?”

I kick at the ground and achieve a magnificent spray of gravel.

When I was in England a few years ago, I remember suddenly, I walked across long empty fields in the afternoons. I have never quite understood what it was I kept looking for in the silences – perhaps it was simply the feeling of not being alone with my small muddied boots and big troubled heart. Or perhaps it was a feeling of trust again, that the world, so terrible and so beautiful, was not against us. I walked and walked, preaching myself a sermon for Palm Sunday about how deeply human the story is – how we can each, in every moment, shift our posture to Pilate, to Peter, to Mary. (I know I told you this story, on Skype, but bear with me)

I don’t know how to bear the distance other than to keep praying that somehow the field years ago in England is not so far away from the field where you were sophomore year of college in a late afternoon when you weren’t sure what you were becoming or how. I don’t know how to understand the separation other than to think of me running last week with the world tilting on its axis, Madeleine L’Engle and missing you and a wish for more beautiful words all happening at once, and to think of you, wherever you are when you read this, if it’s in your kitchen or while you wait for coffee or somewhere else… to think that such moments are us in one big field and perhaps that is the secret to love reaching always across the miles –

time and a meadow,

a field somewhere and when before we knew each other,

somehow, through the telling and retelling of our stories,

in the chaos of arranging tables on Saturday and the quiet of driving home, holding hands the way we do now,

when I was preaching a sermon to myself in England and you were in a field in Texas,

and when a little boy of seven gives me free pink lemonade on my way home in the afternoon, the world rights itself.

For a moment, a thin place on the backroads in the haze of summer: and again, the still, small voice, the one that whispers, calm your heart, that day He says, all shall be well.

That’s as much as my words can hold, I think. All shall be well. And perhaps time and distance are not such fearsome things as I once thought.

Love, always,

dear hilary: you are held

Dear Hilary,

I finished high school today. And on one hand, I’m relieved to get my life back and start my summer and move on to whatever God has in story for me, but on the other…I just can’t believe it’s actually OVER. And there’s still so many questions, so little closure with the people I’ve grown to love. One minute I was part of their lives, and now I’m not, with little or no time to say goodbye. What’s going to happen to them? And why can’t I be there to see it?
Love, Wanting More Time
Dear Wanting More Time,

I had this flash of an image of you when I read your letter in my inbox last week. I could see you, hands open, a crowd of people in one, all shouting and laughing and crying and jumping on top of each other the way people do at graduations, and in your other hand, the summer, the next things, which look mostly like a huge blanket of fog overflowing between your fingers. There you were, in my mind, holding these two unruly things, this tangle of people and this bank of fog, and you are trying to hold them out in front of you.

It strikes me that you cannot hold onto either of them.

The people are a wonder, aren’t they? I remember at graduation last year this moment with some of my fellow graduates, after we’d marched in and out, taking this picture where we tried to jump in the air at the same time. The picture came out with us all in various stages of contortion, mid-air or landing on the ground with a thump. But the expression on our faces is the same – some kind of uncontrollable delight. Delight in one another. In the day. In the selves we didn’t even know yet we would become in the next year. I have that picture in my office, all of us laughing and delighting together. About January of this year, I looked at it in the middle of typing notes for a project, and felt my throat tighten, my eyes begin to tremble, tears just peeking out from beneath my eyelids. I don’t see those people every day anymore. I don’t even know what all of them are doing, where they ended up, if they got into that grad school or took that job or moved across the country or the world. 

I couldn’t hold them. Not in the snapshot from last May. Not in my hands in the quiet nights before we all grew up and outward. I tried to, I really did. Looking at that picture in January was a reminder of how much I had longed to hold on tight and build deep, everlasting bridges, and invite everyone to live on the porch of my heart forever with glasses of lemonade and sweet tea. But the thing about rising, dear one, is that we must keep rising. That’s Sugar. We have to keep going, out past the point of holding onto each other just as we are. Out past the knowledge of what we all do and what we all dream and who we love and when and why. We have to journey into the fog you’re weighing in your other hand.

I’m a big fan of this idea of rising, of journeying onward, even into the fog that seems to murky and dark. Mine has been, this first year out of college – but it teaches you to walk on your knees, to crawl, slow and steady, to learn the feel of decisions and love and the path in front of you, brick by brick and bird by bird. I think that’s where you and the wondrous people you love begin. Together. You get on your hands and knees. Release yourself and release your friends from the idea that you can hold this life: be held by it, instead.

You’ll find the fog not so terrifying when you’re a bit lower to the ground. You’ll feel the path with your fingers, and you’ll find that there are hearts and hands searching next to yours. These will become your community, will journey with you, for a time, for a lifetime, for something in between. They may not always be the people you have loved and lived next to until now; likely, some will depart for different journeys, paths branching out again and again, and you, though you love them, will have a path branching a different way. You ask me for an explanation about why you can’t see it, but there isn’t one of the kind you want. I’d give you an answer if I had one, but I suspect that what you want more than that answer is a way forward.

So: though it is murky, though it is some days dark and damp, though it is not clear, you are held by this life. So are those wondrous people. No more holding on now, dear one. It’s time to begin.


dear hilary: the other side of the door

Dear Hilary,

I have a question. And it is this: how do you know when it’s time to move on? To give up? I said I wasn’t like anyone else. That I wasn’t going anywhere. And I don’t want to. What if the deep quiet love with a wild and crazy illogical side is the true love. I’m sure I could meet someone new some day and fall in love with them, have a passionate romance, what have you. But what if this is my only chance for that deep true sitting quietly by your side not saying a word just being there love? What if he is the person i could spend the rest of my life with, just like he was terrified of? How do I know whether to let go because clearly he isn’t ready to admit anything yet? If he even actually feels the same at all? and because i don’t need this back and forth pushing me away and pulling me back nonsense? Or whether to just be patient and hold on, because the wild quiet love is worth waiting for?

Steadfast and confused.

Dear Steadfast,

I pondered your letter the whole time I was away, driving along the autobahn or standing in museums looking at bits of five hundred year old German script or taking pictures in front of statues of Martin Luther outside churches. I pondered while I ate cake and drank black coffee – what do I possibly say?

Your letter asks the question I answer two ways and then ten and then back to one, and then wrap myself in a knot trying to sort out. I don’t have a clean answer; I can only tell you a bit about what other, wiser people have told me, and tell you a bit of a story, and hope that spreads a little glow on your path as you go.

Not too long ago, there was a guy – I’ll call him Mr. W – that I was firmly, steadfastly convinced that I would be in a romantic relationship with. We hadn’t had one up to that point, but we had the glimmering possibility of one. We had long conversations about what felt like everything on the planet, we liked a lot of the same books, we liked ideas, we liked to sit in bars over wine or gin and argue. There was chemistry, no doubt about it, and there were sparks flying, and I was sure that this was the love you talk about: wild and quiet and passionate and steadfast all at once.

But. That little word, every so often, would pop up – in conversations about Mr. W with my friends, or with myself. But. There was the irreproachable fact that we weren’t in the relationship I saw a glimmering possibility for. We weren’t together on the couch after a long day of work. We weren’t writing the letters, making the picnics, holding hands, telling our friends. I knew that possibility was there; but it hadn’t been made true.

So, Steadfast, I asked, point-blank, not in pretty words but in true ones. I put on makeup and thought about what I’d wear and ate half a grilled cheese in my brother’s truck beforehand because I was so nervous. And the answer was no.

Before the story gets too long-winded, I want to bring you with me, if you will, to an afternoon just before I asked Mr. W for the last time about the glimmering possibility of us. I am sitting on a couch in a brightly lit office, and my counselor, wise woman that she is, asks me how I feel about the prospect of having this confrontation. The words, awful, terrible, please don’t make me do this please please please come to mind. But there, clanging like an iron bell (thank you, Sugar), are the words I speak:

“The truth has already arrived, though, hasn’t it? I’m just going to open the door for it now.”

She looks at me in surprise, and I mirror the same expression back to her. Yes, she says, smiling. Yes.

Steadfast, I think the truth has arrived. I think you know this, from the letter you sent me, and I think you are now peeking at it from behind the door of your heart, and you have to decide if you open the door. Opening the door to the truth won’t mean you get special knowledge of what the future holds. But from everything you tell me, this guy, he is saying no, and that’s the truth standing at your door. The other things you know about him or his life situation, they aren’t knocking. They aren’t here. When all has been laid out on the table before you, and the answer is no, then no is knocking at your door.

My counselor told me over and over in the year before I opened the door that it takes the time it takes. No more and no less. So I’ll echo that to you, too. It takes the time it takes. You are allowed to be steadfast and confused before you open the door and walk outside and meet this guy’s answer and grapple with what it offers you and what it denies.

But eventually, I think, that’s where you must go. You must open the door. You must look that answer in the eyes and listen to it, and let it ache, and let it roam around, and let it lead you. Because the truth will always lead you somewhere. His no will journey you to a new place. Mr. W’s no took me somewhere completely unexpected. The truth does that.

And here is the other thing, for your fear (and my fear) about whether there will ever be any love like the one you express in your letter – the truth also always leads towards fullness. The guy in your letter, he doesn’t sound like he leads there. His no will not bring an end to the fullest love that you can imagine – it will bring only an end to one possibility, glimmering and beautiful though it was.

There is fullness and joy on the other side of the door. I promise this. And in the acceptable time, I have all kinds of confidence you’ll fling that door open.


dear hilary: gather the threads

Dear Hilary,

All I ever see is the clock ticking. Time is always running out. There’s never enough time to do it all. When this season ends, a new one will begin but what about when that one comes to an end? Why do all good and beautiful things come to an end? I’m so scared on missing out on things and losing those who are precious to me.

Hilary, how do I live alive in the moment when all I can think about is how quickly the end is approaching? How do I deal with the clock that keeps ticking, and a heart that desires to live so fully, experience so much, and spend time with so many people? My heart feels ready to explode.


Dear About to Graduate,

Why do all good and beautiful things come to an end? I feel you on the edge of your seat with this question, maybe tapping a pencil on your desk, wondering, worried that the answer might be something trite like, “because that’s the way things go,” or “that’s life,” or even, “it will all be okay.” I want to steer clear of those words, not because they are untrue (actually, I think they’re terribly true), but because sometimes it helps to hear it sounding in different words. I want to tell you a story.

I was sitting in a kayak in the middle of a French river. My friend and I were in floppy sunhats, my skin already a solid pink, our arm muscles so tired we couldn’t even admit to ourselves that we didn’t really know how to “feather” or “J-stroke” back to the group. It was early afternoon, just after lunch, and the group was eagerly paddling ahead while we floundered. It was summer, and in the south of France there is a sweetness to the air itself, a dull humming from all the things coming alive: lavender and bees and olives. We were in search of the Pont du Gard somewhere down the river, further into the afternoon. We were in search of ourselves, as soon-to-be seniors, in search of love at 17, in search of everything. I can almost taste that day, our laughter pealing out over the water to annoy a stray duck and a solo Frenchman, convinced that we had arrived at the beginning and this was, and must be, a kind of forever. We floated under the ancient Roman aqueduct singing a madrigal we had learned four years before – “All Ye Who Music,” All ye who music love, and would its pleasures prove, O come to us, who cease not daily to warble gaily…

As the days in France, and later that summer, meandered by me, I began to panic. It was senior year, I whispered, the end of high school. The end of the daily relationships, the walks to and from the Barn, the end of singing “Wade in the Water” and “I’ll Fly Away” in voice lessons, the end of whispers and note passing and French. I stayed busy so I wouldn’t see the end coming. I convinced myself it would be fine. Or that I wouldn’t miss things. Or that time wasn’t really moving at all.

But, dear heart, time was moving. And I moved with it. And you, where you are, have moved with it too. We cannot hide in our feathers or in our schedules. We cannot convince ourselves that absence is a word without meaning or the life, so rich in front of us, is not going to change. We are not given permission to do that.

I want to tell you that my story in France, which I type as if I am still in the kayak in the south of France, it was six years ago. All of its richness has entered the wider tapestry of my story and now, when I plucked the thread to show you, it brings with it a thousand others. Stories I didn’t know about until four years ago, one year ago, Sunday afternoon. It’s bound to the things that haven’t happened yet in my life – just as your threads from high school, the people you love, the things you love, all that feels most alive in you – they are bound to your future. I promise you do not lose the things you love, and the good and beautiful things that go through the first ending now have a life beyond it.

Gather the threads, sweet pea. Run your fingers through these stories of high school, of deep friendship, of strange awkward school dances and movies you didn’t need to spend the money to see in theaters and essays and languages and family summers. Hold them in your hands, feel their weight and length. Write them down, or tell them on the phone late at night. Or relive them with your dearest friends.

They have a life beyond this first ending.

They live among the thousand threads of your one beautiful story.