Poem: Prayer

I stumbled across this poem the other day, and it spoke to me about the frustration we find with ourselves when we try to grasp the abstract things that seem so important – spirituality, love, generosity. We want to commit our thoughts to these things, but our small human brains become distracted by the tangible and mundane, by the immediate gratification of doing. I try to sit still, eyes closed in prayer, and I begin to think about lunch. I am so annoyingly human sometimes.

by Marie Howe

Every day I want to speak with you. And every day something more important
calls for my attention—the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage

I need to buy for the trip.
Even now I can hardly sit here

among the falling piles of paper and clothing, the garbage trucks outside
already screeching and banging.

The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?

My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.

Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.

Prodigal : Owning Failures on My Résumé

This article originally appeared on ProdigalMagazine.com.

10 a.m. and I’m just rolling out of bed. It’s my morning off. I work this afternoon at my part-time office job, and I’m blissfully happy that I don’t work at the restaurant again until tomorrow.

Until the phone rings.

It’s my restaurant manager. I don’t trust her any farther than I can throw her, and apparently the feeling is mutual. She’s called to tell me that I’m fired.

I’ve never been fired before, and it’s a feeling worse than (God forbid) getting a failing grade on an English paper, because I’ve just flunked real life. I’ve lost out on an entire paycheck, maybe even several paychecks.

Angry, hot tears well in my eyes as my mind scrolls the rolodex of handy excuses. My boss played favorites, as did the other waitresses. I was the outsider, the one that didn’t come from their hoity-toity, upper-middle class neighborhood. I was the college student working three jobs and trying to earn my degree. Once I graduated, I was the girl working three jobs and trying to plan my wedding. And then I was the newly-wed commuting 45 minutes for each 4-hour shift, just so that I could get paid to have screaming mothers and their toddlers berate me because they wanted booths instead of tables, soy milk instead of half-in-half.

I was book smart, not restaurant smart.

I was the artsy type, the type that wasn’t great with mental math or memorizing daily specials.

I roll over and look at my husband. He stands at the small mirror tacked to his wall, adjusting his shirt collar before he leaves for work. He’s been working in music retail for two months, and every day before work he gets shaky and nervous, his blood pressure skyrocketing as he faces another day working on commission. All he wants is to provide for us, but if he doesn’t sell a $3,000 keyboard today, he will earn less than minimum wage. We’re working these hard, ridiculous jobs, and it’s getting us nowhere.

I feel it, this overwhelming pressure :

Make money. Pay your bills. Figure out your career. Find a full-time job. Be a good wife. Write a book. (And don’t get pregnant.)

It took me six months and another waitressing job, but I finally got the point :

If I had just owned my mistakes, if I had just taken a moment to be embarrassed by my own behavior, if I had just admitted that I made waitressing harder than it needed to be by believing that the work was beneath me, I might have kept the job.

One thing is for sure, we’ll never hear God say that our behavior is contingent on how much slack other people give us.

Thus, I can’t erase those waitressing jobs from my résumé; they keep me humble. Those jobs are a bigger part of my career than I ever planned. It’s like my mom always used to tell me,

“In order to earn the big things, you have to be faithful in the small things.”

Whether it was schoolwork or house chores or even in my relationships, the wisdom in that has never failed me. Our overall grades depend on our faithfulness and consistency in our everyday effort. We may hate jobs like retail, food services, manual labor, or nannying, but those stages of our lives are what God has provided in the meantime.

It’s a chapter in a bigger story. It’s the work that God has given you today.

It is your daily bread.

Be thankful. Steward it well.

I’ve known for a long time that God made me a writer. Maybe not for my whole life, but for a good portion of I’ve known that it’s what I do best. Eventually it dawned on me: working is a necessity, but working a job we love is a privilege. We are not entitled.

God will provide the right work at the right time if I just begin.

This is why I started blogging. In the past three years it has helped me exercise my writing muscles and hone my skills. I started by venting about my sucky job situation and all my dreams of being a celebrated writer.

Becoming a writer didn’t start with a best-selling book. It started with writing.

Through blogging I’ve realized that in small increments, my blog is my writing at work. This has transformed my writing life. It connected me with Ally and Darrel, and now Prodigal Magazine. I couldn’t have predicted that. I certainly didn’t have the confidence to believe that it could happen, but here we are.

It makes me wonder :

What experiences do each of us need to own up to in order to live a better story? What moments in your life stand out to you, the ones that you wish you could erase from your résumé? Where do we need to demonstrate faithfulness in order to be the people God has called us to be?

More than likely, those moments feel scary because they hold a significant amount of truth and freedom for us, but we have to humble ourselves enough to admit it.

Inspired By.

You may have noticed that posts were a little scant on the blog this week. Between wrapping up nearly a dozen Etsy orders, drafting another story for Prodigal, celebrating bff’s birthday, celebrating rare 70 degree days in March in Chicago, and a busy week at work, the blog was low on the priority list. Nevertheless, here are a few things I did get around to reading.
What are your thoughts on Pinterest?

“Rather than constantly pondering whether our reach is ‘big enough,’ we should also be looking at the depth of our actions.” – Jess Constable.

20 Things to Know in Your Twenties.

10 Reasons to Love.

“I pray He’ll draw them in, whisper to them that they’re worth it.”

Happy Birthday, Love.

I look at her across the table. The glow of the tea candle between us highlights her soft features and curtain of dark hair; I know this face so well.
My earliest memories of her begin with our desks arranged end-to-end in our third grade classroom at the small private school we attended. We shared the same love for Beauty and the Beast, and I remember the day that we both came to school toting the same lunch boxes, pink with Belle on the front.
She, with her terrible memory, does not remember this, but it’s okay – somehow my elephant memory and her forgetfulness balance our relationship, the same way that her head for numbers and facts and order balances my flighty, rather unkempt, highly emotional existence.
It’s the reason I feel completely comfortable asking her to open my bathroom cupboards, not because she won’t tell me that I’m a mess, but because I know she will. In fact, she’ll stand there with me and tell me what to toss and what to keep when my own obsession with beauty products rivals that of my mother’s.
We’re such opposites in some ways. She’s at ease in a kitchen surrounded by twenty other cooks and waitresses, and in the chaos she maintains a focus that produces finely crafted breads and cakes, the likes of which you’ll only find in artisan bakeries or her own mother’s oven.
I share her love for food and cooking, but in that same flurry of activity I’d be a basket-case; I have the scars to prove it. And while I can sit for days on end in front of my computer screen crafting essays out of words and blank pages (so long as the coffee and quiet hold out), she would be driven to madness within an hour’s time of being faced with that task.
And yet. We’re so compatible. There are few people in life that know the difference between stealing and sharing when it comes to a plate of food. We coordinate our orders at dinner to make sure we get the best of both worlds. On ritual Thursdays (movie + wine + dessert = weekly pre-weekend celebration) we can split a bottle of shiraz evenly, and we can split a box of frozen, store-bought cream puffs in one sitting and arrive at the same conclusion : good idea in theory, but let’s never do that again.
Our childhoods were similar in so many ways: we grew up in the same church, our parents were friends, and we each survived life with a pair of torturous younger brothers. We are the only sisters we have.
After nearly twenty years of this sister-love, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that she never left my side when mom died, and yet, as she walked into the room where my mother lay in her casket, tears sprang to my eyes,
You’re here,” I whispered.
Of course I am,” she whispered back, wrapping her arms around my neck.
That’s true love at it’s best. Surprisingly faithful, radically selfless, quietly constant, wholly unconditional. It needs no explanation, it carries no complaint. It bears all things willfully, and it communicates without words :
I will do the same for you.
Yesterday was her birthday, and what with her recent trip to Paris and my scant free time between work, writing, and art, I nearly forgot it. Thank God for my Google calendar. We did what we do best and made an impromptu dinner date, braved bumper-to-bumper city traffic to meet each other, and then there we were, splurging on steak frites and Sophie at Hopleaf.
You’re 26,” I say, raising my glass to toast her.
Wow. I am,” she replies.
We share that smile, the one that we’ve shared for a million milestones, big and small :
We’re growing up, but it’s our little secret.

book·ish : Brookish

Oh my, I’m in love. Brookish is an Etsy shop entirely devoted to bringing a little Jane Austen to your everyday happenings, complete with mugs, totes, and scarves. A little dose of Mr. Darcy with my morning coffee? Yes please.
1. (of a person or way of life) Devoted to reading and studying rather than worldly interests.
2. (of language or writing) Literary in style or allusion.
3. (of art and all manner of lovely things) devoted to the written word as a form of art and as a way of seeing the world.
4. (of SheWritesandRights.blogspot.com) anything of the aforementioned characteristics as they arefound on the interwebs and reposted by Bethany, because bookish and writerly things always give reason for amusement.

Inspired By.

The stars were quiet. The river spoke in some other tongue, some vernacular for fish.
- Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

I’ve just finished Miller’s spiritual memoir (in preparation for seeing the film adaptation in a few weeks!) and I really loved the heart of it, and the writing was so good; this small passage is one of many that I found absolutely delicious. The words latched themselves to my memory instantly. I continue to roll those phrases over and over in my mind like candy on the tongue, savoring their flavors. That’s why I lovedthis post from him about using verbs versus adjectives. His sentence is a perfect example of that principle at its best.

While I pick up the pages of this novel, here are some good reads for you to explore.

…to the seedling on the sill. I am the small, green heart, all bud and shoot and tendril.
(Poem discovered thanks to Sam‘s tweet.)
Worst movie of all time? Hard to narrow it down to just one.
Good advice from a dad and a grandpa.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I always knew the woman I wanted to be.” – Diane von Furstenberg via The Everygirl.
[Photo and excellent reflection on Blue Like Jazz here.]

Paris : A Recollection.

In a quiet moment at the Musée D’Orsay, I sit on a bench and watch a painter make his peace with a replica of Latour’s La Nuit. In strokes he layers pastels over the soft concave and convex curves of her body, wraps her in a cloud of lavender and gray.
Patrons tread quietly on marble tiles, stand arrested by the colors of Cézanne, Degas, Delacroix, Klimt. They peer out the second story windows at a brilliant sky. By my eyes, the clouds are different here than anywhere else in the world, brilliant white cotton and silk spun mountainous over sacred monuments. And the sun shines bright across twinned balconies, long bedroom windows, blue rooftop after blue rooftop.
By no surprise I am in love here, and with here. I am unsure if it is the expected or unexpected that raptures me, the idea or the tangibility. As with art and life, romance and relationships, idealism and realism beg conversation.

So it is with memory – was I really there? I’m glad I wrote it down.

[Best friend returns from Paris tomorrow. Oh how I wish I could go back.]

Poem : The Memory of You.

Recent past eclipses healthy memories,
those days when your smile and skin glowed happy,
what do we remember from before?
all of us were young and unaware of a soon and threatening after,
of a life later,
when the living room is empty of you,
when sad, silent objects sit in your void.

Tears come, a slow tide of grief in the dark,
or in a swell surrounded by a sea of strangers,
an angry rock of grief grows in my throat as I flee
to bathroom, closet, closed door.
I drive apologetic and repentant all the way to work each morning,
all the way home at night, mascara running along the road with me.

And when I think that faith has failed me,
Take a deep breath,” you say.
The sun glows bright against glistening pavement,
a sparrow flies fast and free above me,

I breathe.

Until I see you again,”
I whisper,
Beatific, wholly holy, alive and well.”

Prodigal : “Facing Grief and Finding Faith”

This article was originally published on ProdigalMagazine.com.
I stepped quietly into the room where my mother lay sleeping and walked to her bedside. I took her hand, thin and bony, and held it to my face. Struggling not to cry, I leaned down and kissed her forehead.“Mom,” I whispered, “The nurses are going to put a tube through your nose and into your stomach to drain it. It will help you not feel nauseous anymore, okay? So don’t panic. They’re here to help you and as long as you hold still, it won’t hurt.”

At first she didn’t respond. I didn’t think she could hear me, but then she opened her eyes and turned to me and smiled. “I just saw Jesus,” she said. “He told me…”

Whatever insight Jesus had made my mother privy to, it was lost in a garble of sleepy syllables, but her thin hands arched above her as she tried to explain. She laughed quietly and smiled at me, happier than I’d seen her in days.Then, for reasons I still cannot articulate, I felt moved to sing to her our favorite hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

“Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
there is no shadow of turning with thee…”

I made it through the first line before tears choked my voice, but she, who had barely talked in days, smiled at the sound, and proceeded to sing the rest of the verse and the first chorus back to me. Her voice was clear and unhindered, the way it used to be when she sang solos at church. She was even mostly on key.

And this thought popped into my head, “I’m closer than you think.”

And along with those words an image : Jesus, gently and patiently and lovingly coaxing my mother away from this world and into the next. In that moment, a peace and a joy descended on me, something that I had not felt in more than a year.

She died five days later.

After 14 years of fighting against breast cancer, her body had had enough. I watched her vomit several times a day for months before that, watched her abdomen distend not with fat but with fluid, while the rest of her body withered until she was Auschwitz thin.

Forgive my graphic description. There’s something about terminal illness that strips us of our preferred pretenses, the things we wish we didn’t know.

And there is something about watching the people we love die that kind of death that shifts our perspectives on life, on the eternal. It’s an experience akin to staring, nose-to-paper at a stereogram until suddenly, Bugs Bunny’s giant face emerges three-dimensional from empty, chaotic design.

I had always had faith. I had always believed in Christ and proclaimed Him as my Savior. I had always believed in Heaven as a real place, a place I would go to someday. But I believed in Heaven the way that I believe in the quadratic formula; it exists somehow, but I just didn’t get the logistics. I believed in Heaven the way that I believe in six figure incomes; some people have arrived, others are on their way, some are working their asses off to make it, some claim they’re ambivalent, and others just don’t have what it takes.

How foolish I was, how flat and empty and selective was my concept of God’s grace.

In the days before and the days immediately following my mother’s death, life took on a distinct and urgent spirituality. The gap between where I placed God and Heaven and the spiritual world and where I lived my every day life, down here on this tiny planet earth, grew smaller and smaller as I listened to that still, small voice, “I’m closer than you think.”

It didn’t ease the grief of our goodbye. However, my hatred for life, my distrust of God, my self-perpetuated isolation from His Spirit was not something I clung to anymore.

I wasn’t ready to be motherless, but I was finally ready and able to pray that impossible prayer, God, Please take her Home.

Inspired By.

Le sigh. I just drove my best friend to O’Hare so that she can catch her plane to Paris for an international pastry-making competition. I die of jealousy, but I’ve had my turn already, nearly four years ago. It’s her first time traveling internationally, so I’m happy for her. I’ll go back someday, right? Right.
Meantime, I sit in the quiet of my little apartment in the Chicago suburbs as the sky begins to fall in big white chunks – a late winter snow storm that I could do without. I hate the Midwest in March for the hangover-like feeling it leaves on dreary afternoons and its unpredictable swings in climate. It was fifty degrees and sunny only two days ago. I’m ready to bare my legs in a gauzy dress and go without a jacket and feel sun on bare skin and sit outside on my porch late at night.

For now, I guess I should use it an excuse to brew an extra mug of earl grey and settle in with my current read. Yes, that sounds like a good idea… Happy weekend, loves.

There are few things in life as romantic as dating your spouse.
Not Heaven someday, when we get there, but right now, right here.
Praise God for transition.
Beautiful words about my favorite city.
Doesn’t this book look like a juicy read?
Then trying to get back in… which makes me want to read this book.