The Voice That Tells You What to Do

Fall term is back. Praise the Lord.

I had a conversation the other day with a good friend about the voices that live in our heads. The ones that tell us who and how to be, which lines to walk and which ones not to cross. We were sitting in my car and I said to her, “I get the point of the voice, I do, we all need to self-moderate, but I just wish it could be a little more gentle.” 

That’s so rarely the case with me, though. The voice in my head is shrill and bossy. It sticks to the facts and refuses to have empathy or feelings. Alice, it says, you know very well you have too many of those already. I provide balance. It tells me that it knows best and diligently drowns out outside voices, particularly if they’re speaking words of encouragement or (heaven forbid) affirmation. It rules my inner world with grim determination.

I quarrel with the voice at times, sure. I even rebel and refuse to heed its warnings. But I never really try to banish or change it. I act helpless, blaming its never-ending critical commentary on those around me, but its sharpest barbs and accusations are almost always self-concocted–my heart condemns itself. The truth is, I cling to its harsh legalism, and protect it from anything that might dismantle it, like others’ soft prodding in slow, intimate conversation, or like a sermon or article that is tied up at the end with a doctrine of grace that I feel is just a little too neat, or like, you know, Scripture itself. I do this because I am deeply convinced that this endlessly grating voice which speaks the lines I write for it is ultimately the only thing holding me back from the brink: from darkness, destruction, and chaos. I whisper to my soul that maybe I can save myself with the stringency of constant self-berating if it turns out, as I sometimes suspect it might, that no one else actually wants the job.

I’ve already tipped my hand, but here’s the kicker, the bit where we must hatch or go bad: Someone else does want the job of saving me. He wants it very much. He’s said so. And if I actually believed an all-powerful, all-knowing God deeply loved me, me with all my self-centered minutiae, me with my “great sloth heart,” me with these desolately empty hands, then that would change everything. If I actually believed God loved me I wouldn’t need the voice anymore, or at least the voice as I have known it all my life. If I trusted what he says about letting the little children come to him and about Father, forgive them, then I might be able to take a gulp of fresh air, and tell the voice that it’s not really so important as it thinks it is, that really my Lord (my Lord) knows all about the brink, has been there and back again. I could allow the voice to become a little more firm-but-gentle, still and small. 

And once my feet had begun to root into this new reality, this blinding-bright land of hesed, and my lungs had begun to adjust to their new expansive climate, I might even relinquish control of the voice entirely, let my God tell it what to say. And then, who knows? It could begin to tell an entirely different story than any I’ve yet understood. It could start to speak in the reverberating tones of Love himself.

Hevel and Home

I left Vancouver this past weekend(!!!). I went to the States and walked around little towns which have their streets all named after U.S. presidents in neat chronological order. I feel as if I should now recount for you the complex history of how this came to be and how I got there, but that story, if it is a story, would take too long to tell. Suffice to say, I rode in my friend Becky’s car. We took I-5 into Oregon.

On Saturday I had a bit of a white night and sat alone in the attic room of our little Airbnb next to a truly enormous fern and asked God lots of big questions about why he loved me. And then I read the end of The Four Loves for perhaps the fifth time and remembered Christina Rossetti’s poem about the prodigal son, which begins this way:

Does that lamp still burn in my Father’s house,

 Which he kindled the night I went away?

I turned once beneath the cedar boughs,

 And marked it gleam with a golden ray;

 Did he think to light me home some day?

I woke up with puffy eyes the next morning and that afternoon we drove up the coast from Corvallis to Cape Lookout State Park. I read aloud from Wind in the Willows and in between times I looked out the window and said perhaps five times, “I really like fields. I love fields so much. Fields are underrated.” Becky asked me if they made me think of North Carolina and I said no, I just liked them wherever they were in the world. And I do. I like seeing land stretch and duck and roll as far as my near-sighted eyes can reach.

We got to the campground and after pitching the tent we walked out along the beach. To our left the brilliant sun, too bright to look at, eased itself casually down to the horizon over the waves, as if it did it every day. The ocean purred and lapped, loud and jubilant, and the divots our feet made in the sand cast tiny bright blue shadows all up and down the beach like other-worldly beauty-marks. The cool wind blew so full against me, it made me want to pick up and fly. That night as I dozed in and out of sleep, I forgot my clever metaphor of the ocean as some great cat and kept thinking that its roaring must be a train that never got any closer and never got any farther, but stayed by your side always.

Yesterday we went up to Cannon Beach, where a concrete wall facing out over the lowering tides read “ALL is HEVEL” in green chalk. I liked that. I led my willing friend on an expedition over to the far sandbar and on the way found a tiny daisy which was white on top, but magenta on its underside, like brazen petticoats. The sandbar, when we reached it, was like another planet, smooth and white and quiet, on and on and out. We walked and walked. My unwashed hair gusted around my face, and I stored all this away as happiness. When we reached one of the rock formations, we climbed it, scaling the salt-encrusted base and scrambling up and up towards where twisted trees and brave grasses clung, balancing, for the time being, between brown gravel and blue sky. We stood in wind which is much stronger than I am.

And now I am home, in my familiar bedroom, looking out my window at the well-known pine branches against this blue sky, which looks wonderfully like the one I saw yesterday, almost as if it were the same.

Your sure provisions gracious God

Attend me all my days;

Oh, may your house be my abode,

And all my work be praise.

Here would I find a settled rest,

While others go and come;

No more a stranger, nor a guest,

But like a child at home.

Empowerment, Selfishness, and Loneliness

We live in funny times. Several years ago I was in a school library when an older woman came in, and I overheard her adamantly announce to the librarian that she wanted to donate books with a specific message: empowerment for women. I remember thinking that books with a “message” sounded boring. Who would read them?

But I must have been wrong, because the narrative has grown and become ingrained. We’ve been told to break the last of the ties that bind us, to have it all, to say yes, to say no, to change the world, to lean in. We’ve been told that we can. And, of course, because we can we should.

We do not need anyone else but ourselves to succeed, because You is kind, you is smart, you is important. Follow your heart and go with your gut. And so, wherever we are and whatever we want, we are true to ourselves, following the dubious wisdom of a Shakespearean lord who gets murdered through a curtain. We dig deep, find hidden reserves, and realize that we’re capable of much more than we ever knew. On our own strength, which is at times considerable, we rise.

We’re not cruel, of course. We don’t step on others’ faces as we climb past them—we’re not willing for their heads to bruise our heels—but we do leave them behind. This is our journey, not theirs, this journey further up and further out, where no one has ever been before. We’re not making decisions based on what others want anymore—we’re basing our decisions on what we want! This makes us feel powerful. We begin to glow.

And then one day we wake up to find ourselves alone. Even if the dream we were chasing was in service of others, we have not wanted to rely on their help to get there. To accept, or—God forbid—ask for help would have disproved all the stories we’re only just now managing to believe about our own capability. So it is just us here now. To be our brother or sister’s keeper would have gotten in the way of our hard-won self-sufficiency. Particularly when some brother or sister is not particularly kind or smart we have been trained, in self-preservation, to ignore the fact that they are still painfully, wretchedly important.

We’ve cut ourselves off and, in doing so, imbued ourselves with a loneliness that feels nearly impossible to recover from. It’s not just lonely at the top—it’s lonely to be a human with skin on. Hollywood makes movies about this. We are empowered, sure. But to reduce ourselves to bundles of self-made desires and shining abilities to fulfill those desires is just another funny roundabout way to dehumanization. Our deepest level of personhood does not exist in self-reliance, but in belonging.

I’ve made more generalities here than I know what to do with, and they’re all centrally based on the only subject I really have for study: myself. I’m thinking mainly about women because I am a woman, and I’m thinking mainly about millennials because, for better or for worse, I’m one of those too. But as usual, my driving purpose in writing all this is much the same as Ralph Ellison’s, something which is both a fear and a hope, cautious and bold: “Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?”

December Inventory

I have a little brown paper Moleskine journal that’s gone with me almost everywhere this semester. When I first got to Vancouver I titled it on the inside cover: “Bus Poems: From Between and For Between.” And a couple months later, I wrote a Chesterton quote on the front: “The greatest of poems is an inventory.”

I ended up only writing one poem about the bus, but from the most recent nearly-illegible scribblings in the notebook, I can at least give you an incomplete, three-part inventory of the last few days. Whether it will manage to perform like a poem for you, I don’t know, but living it has felt like meter and rhyme.

First, my semester at Regent ended in a great rushing swell of rain and essay exams, both of which I sort of enjoy. On Friday night I went to a celebratory Christmas potluck where there was lots of good food and more and more fond faces kept coming in through the door. I talked and laughed and drank wine and, as occasionally happens, transformed like a butterfly into something resembling an extrovert. One friend told me I looked so happy, another said she felt like I’d been at Regent forever, and then another looked at a wet spot where I’d been sitting and asked if I had peed a little, so that brought me back down to earth. (I hadn’t, to clarify.) When I left around ten o’clock so I could still catch the bus at a reasonable hour, for a moment or two I had a hard time finding my boots in the piles amassed around the coat rack. I stood still and took a deep breath, overwhelmed by all the shoes and the feet and the beating hearts and the laughing hands. Then I laced up my ancient, salt-stained Timberlands and walked warm into the cold.

Then, on Saturday evening, my plane touched down on American soil and I felt like crying, though I’ve never even been in Dallas before and it was only a short layover. I’ve only used my phone while on Wifi since I moved to Canada, and as we taxied into our gate and I turned off airplane mode for the first time in four months, I felt as if trumpets should be sounding somewhere. Keeping my phone on airplane mode, using it pretty much only at home and at school, has felt symbolic. A classmate from China asked me a couple months ago what I thought of the word “foreigner,” and I said that, so long as it was not cruelly meant, I actually liked it, because it accurately described my state. And the little airplane icon in the top corner of my screen has served the same purpose: marked me as a wanderer, an outsider, far-from-home. Because of that little symbol, from the get-go I knew I was not obligated to know the way, the words, all the answers. Yet, in the four steady months that that tiny sign of transience glowed there, I have, without even noticing, learned quite a few small lessons about belonging—belonging not because I have made myself a place, but because a place has been made for me, not because I know the way, the words, all the answers, but because I was lost and now am found.

And finally, last night, a few hours after getting back into town straight from a wedding in Texas, I went to Caldwell’s upper school Christmas concert. From the time I was a teenager, this yearly concert has been important to me, has placed a warm finger on some exposed part of my sternum, and two weeks ago when I told a friend in Vancouver that it was one of the first things I was going to get to do when I got home, I found myself in tears at just the thought. But when I arrived there last night, instead of weeping in gratitude, my heart simply short-circuited and then noiselessly imploded, again and again. I slid in right before it began and sat next to Leslie, who I hadn’t seen since June, back when everything was different for both of us (but mostly for her). We listened to the first couple of songs arm-in-arm, holding tight as we could till our shoulders went a bit numb. Look at all their little faces, I whispered giddily when the high school choir got up on the risers. And after that final Hallelujah Chorus, I began to hug people and call it good. Canada’s good. So good. It’s good to see you. So good. Over and over, on and on. I had expected to be overwhelmed with gratitude at God’s faithfulness to me in giving me so many precious souls in so many places, so many heaps of Blundstone boots in so many foyers, but when I got in bed that night, still thinking of the sweet coworkers I’d seen and the dozens of little faces, I realized I was grateful for something more. I am grateful for his faithfulness to each of them. Because he has been faithful and continues to be. I am certain of it. I saw it with my own eyes. He is faithful to the once deafeningly anxious boy who enthusiastically echoed my own So good when I asked about his school year and faithful to the tough, smart girl who grimaced and told me that her first semester of college was “an adjustment,” faithful to the kid who used to sneer and now seems to mainly smile and faithful to the tired friends whose faces are fresh with the loss of those who loved them best. He has been intimately present with each of these people, has placed a warm finger on exposed skin, has invited them in where they belong.

Morning by morning new mercies I see

The Power and the Pity

Today I was riding the bus and it occurred to me that I am much more comfortable with God’s power than with his love. This was a large realization, but then my stop came and I had to get off and go to tutorial.

And now I am back home and I have a little time to think about that thunderbolt.

I thought of the countless times I’ve been told that the Lord loves me, not from the pulpit, not in song, not in a book that’s sold millions of copies, but by someone sitting next to me, who actually knows me, earnest in conversation. And whenever I hear it in that intimate context, some surge of frank disbelief rises up in my gut, and usually shows itself in my face. Sometimes the kind friend then tries to argue for the truth of the statement (“He does, Alice!”), but more often than not they already have their head bowed in the act of praying for me, so they don’t notice, and I just sit, weltering in discomfort over what the deepest part of me actually believes to be their poor theology. God would not love me, I think. He’s God. He knows better. Why spend your love on someone or something who so obviously, particularly from an Almighty vantage point, really has nothing to offer? Someone who takes up so little space and will inevitably fail at all the important bits? Why bother?

I’ve never said any of this aloud before, of course, and there’s a reason for that. I’ve never said it aloud before because it’s actual bad theology. The worst. It thumbs its nose at something utterly central to God’s character: it denies his pity. His love is not built out of particular affinities for certain people or some set of utilitarian desires like ours too often is. His love is built out of pity: pity that looks down from an Almighty, holy vantage point, sees his people whom he formed out of dust, and is moved, moved to crack open his ribcage and pour out everything within. And to be clear, though something within me still pushes back at writing this, or maybe because something within me still pushes back at writing this, God pities not just his people at large, or us, or you. All of those things are true, but more astounding, God looks down, sees me existing in my little self-made space, failing at all the important bits, offering nothing, and finds himself awash in his own love. And he breaks open his chest for me, a sheep without a shepherd.

Last week I sat in Old Testament during a lecture on the Psalms, and when Iain got to the concept of lament he used Psalm 22 as an example. He pointed out verse six which begins, “But I am a worm and not a man.” He said the Psalmist feels that his own suffering has degraded him, has made him less than human, something vile. Then he added gently, “But, of course, that’s not the truth of the matter.” And sitting in the third row, I started to cry–I guess because I’ve always thought it was.

Friendship and the Weightiness of Laughter

Years ago, when our lives looked very different than they do now, my friend Abby used to call me up and begin the conversation with, “Alice, I’m wretched.” And then we would laugh. She would tell me everything that had gone wrong that day, and I would spend an hour laughing till my face hurt and we both wondered what we had done to deserve this goodness. This remains one of my dearest friendships, and I think that’s a central reason why. We take laughter seriously.

And when my friend Lauren and I were living together and we got stressed out we used to repeat to each other in high-pitched, giggling hysteria, “It’s fine, it’s fine, everything’s fine.” The joke, of course, was that everything wasn’t. But the indelible truth beneath the joke was that it would be fine: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. We laughed and were comforted.

When I stop and think I realize that nearly every important relationship I have ever had has had laughter seated at it weighty core. To laugh with a friend is to say, thank God you’re here and thank God all this isn’t up to us. Laughter, not derision or mockery or any thing with barbs on it, but the real kind, the gift kind, that some days begins in your eyes and some days begins in your gut, that laughter tells the truth. And the truth is that this business of being human is frankly a bit ridiculous, and we understand very little about how it really works. I mean, we get sleep in our eyes, we have toenails, we sometimes say nicer things about someone behind their back than we ever would to their face, and once I blacked out at a Walmart pharmacy and knocked into a display in full view of a crowd of people because I was too stubborn to stop walking. As I used to say about my students: we’re funny when we mean to be and funny when we don’t.

I’ve found that the people here who it’s already easiest to call my friends are the people who I laugh with, and, more than that, who are willing to laugh at me. So while laughter seems like the shallowest thing and simply the first, easiest way of communicating, used well it’s soul-baring. It can act as an admission of your own fallibility: that you’re a contradictory, limping creature with delusions of grandeur and everyone else in the room is too. So laugh.

Laugh because I wear purple tights and things that sparkle to compensate for my native shyness. (See, it works! It brings joy.)

Laugh because we’re too sleepy for this or laugh because we’re far too awake.

Laugh because we can’t remember or laugh because we can.

Laugh because we’re surprised to have failed or laugh because we’re surprised to have succeeded.

Laugh because we don’t know the words, or laugh because, suddenly, we do.

Laugh at our tears because their significance is not lessened by the reality that they will be dried in the morning.

Laugh without fear of the future.

Violent Graces

A few weeks ago I had a brief conversation with my friend Abbie about the nature of God’s grace, whether it is violent or gentle. To be honest, we didn’t really get into it–we were really talking more about Christian writers and who each of us tended to gravitate towards–but I have been thinking about violence ever since.

I have been thinking about what Marilynne Robinson calls Flannery O’ Connor’s “appalling imagination” and about how that imagination is pretty nearly reflective of the contents of the human heart. I have been thinking about Jacob wrestling with God all night, how he demands a blessing, and how, as the sun rises, he walks away with a limp. And I have been thinking of a Man dying naked and alone of asphyxiation on a wooden cross and knowing it was love.

Throughout human history, many of our truest examples of promise and mercy are red with blood. I believe that violence is usually ugly, and very often wicked and repugnant. The school shooting this week? I do not believe that it was grace. I believe that it was evil. I also believe that God can bring grace out of that situation, but even that is not what I’m talking about.

What I am talking about is our hearts, those hearts meeting God in a dark alley. Coming around a corner and finding the light of light, very God of very God standing there, right where we least expected him. He stands and he offers goodness and grace, but those meetings are so often violent because sinful people like you and me will naturally rebel against goodness. He is gargantuan and clear and bright. We are dusty and crumbling. The light is too brilliant, and it burns us clean and refines us, strips the rot out of our souls. The flames rise higher and higher around us, and we are not consumed.

But isn’t God gentle? Doesn’t he care for the orphan and the widow and the sparrow? Can’t his changes in our hearts be soft and his love be sweet? Perhaps Jacob did walk away with a limp, but didn’t the lepers leap for joy, and run? Christ bid the little children to come to him. I know he meant it.

I am going back to the basics here (I’ve been doing that a lot lately, for my own benefit), but God made us and God loves us. He knows the caverns of our hearts. He knows whether they need soft light or a sharp blaze. He knows how to mold with strong, sure hands. He both pays the fee and does the labor to make us whole, so he knows every part of the job.

I am making a muddy-eyed conclusion, as I usually do, but I think that for most of us children of God, our relationship with the Lord’s grace will be like that of Paul. He goes towards Damascus with murder in his heart, and is knocked down and blinded by the light. Then as he lies in the darkness, God sends Ananias as a bearer of grace to pray for him and baptize him. He gains new sight and a new name. When he leaves that place, everything is different. This is most of our stories, told again and again and again. It is the story of our daily lives. We learn love slow.

“Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.”

The Fixed Land Receding

Writing is getting harder than ever. I hate that.

I can find the time, and sometimes I can even find the ideas, but there’s a paralysis that creeps up my arms and into my throat when I try to paste words together into thoughts, and it’s getting more and more difficult to fight through it. Like I said, I hate that.

Lately I have been praying that foolish, wonderful prayer for God to teach me fear and trembling. I remember in the prayer room at Grove City, both in the communal journal and on the butcher paper on the walls, our precious overabundance of English majors used to write out John Donne’s sonnet in earnest to their Lord: “Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you as yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend…” Sometimes I smile and shiver when I think of all the ways He must be answering those prayers. Then I think of my own prayers and immediately want to pull my knees tight to my chest. Fear and trembling…

Of course, my life is pretty stable, I am returning for a second year of teaching at Caldwell, with almost exactly the same load I had last year, and I am living with my best friend of 14 years in an apartment less than a mile from the house where I grew up. I have never been an adventurer.

And along with getting ready for school, I’ve been watching a lot of Friends. It’s been fun. I’ve been thinking, though. It’s a show that’s supposed to be this iconic look at what it’s like to be in your twenties, how you need something to center yourself on, how you need (wait for it) your friends. Because it’s at this point in our lives that many of us realize that we are finally out there, in the big old world that’s been so criticized and lionized to us. And what and how are we going to do from here?

Perhaps the first thing everyone my age has noticed is that friendships are harder now. I have many friends but I have to work and work to love them and to hear them. I have to set up phone dates and answer texts. Even for the friends here in town, we have to constantly invite one another into our lives, add seeing one another to our to-do list, make the time even when we don’t have it.

When we do get together, we catch up. And I will tell you a dreadful secret: I am sick of catching up. I love these people, and I want very much to know how they’re doing, but at some point I’d like the conversation to progress into something more. (I first realized we were really and truly grown-ups when people my own age started politely asking how my family was.) I’d like to actually participate in living with one another, instead of just getting the recap highlights reel.

We talk about our jobs, our attempts to find them, and our attempts to find the work of our own hands in them. I will say, it’s been a peculiar joy to me to see so many friends light up: This is it! This is hard and this is good. Or even, This job is not what I meant at all, at all. But now I think I know where I’m headed, and once I get out of here, I think I even know how to get there.

I often walk away from these conversations thinking about teaching and high school. When I first got up in front of a class last fall, I was startled at how familiar these kids seemed to me. Their laughter and their shrugs, their bitterness and innocence showed me myself at sixteen and myself at twenty-two. But I was somehow simultaneously shocked to find that there was also a great chasm between us. I am stunned by the minute and large ways you change and grow as you enter the long corridors of your twenties. This is the age when the sounds in your head at last quiet down, when, for better or for worse, you can finally hear yourself think.

And so here each of us twenty-somethings sits… Lonely is not the right word, although it’s a very real possibility for many of us. Solitary is better. Alone with our souls and the Lover of our souls. Other people still matter, oh how they matter, but they don’t have the power over us that they used to. We are discovering that we “hang always upon the cross of ourselves.” “The mind has cliffs of fall,” and we have begun to peer down over them to learn the depths and the heights. There are tall, bright waves crashing at the bottom.

In Perelandra, C.S. Lewis’s science fiction retelling of the Fall, the one command the green lady must obey is to never spend the night on the “fixed land.” When she goes to sleep she must lie down on one of the floating islands in the seas of her world, and trust God that she will wake up in a place where he still cares for her, even if it’s quite different than any place she imagined or knows.

I am twenty-three, I have clambered onto a floating island, and the fixed land is receding in the distance. I am calling out for it as I watch it go. I am afraid. I know: this is not safe, but it is good.

A Couple Things I Miss

I am home sick from work because my head feels like an over-inflated balloon, so clearly now is the time to write. There are many good things about teaching, (and I hereby pledge to write to you about them in a couple weeks, just in time for Thanksgiving,) but oh, how I miss writing.

The problem is not that I don’t have the time to write. I’ve never believed that as an excuse, anyway. I always managed to write when I was a student, both in high school and college. If there is time to breathe, there is time to write.

The problem, I think, is that I haven’t yet learned how to let teaching act as a catalyst for writing. Writing is never really born out of itself, you know. You see something or read something or hear something, E.B. Browning writes of the “gold and purple” of her husband’s heart or Don Draper takes his kids back to see his childhood home, and suddenly a wonderfully itchy little ball begins to form in your midsection, and you’re off. It’s that little outside idea which ignites the whole wonderful Rube Goldberg process of getting words onto paper. Unfortunately, I have yet to learn how, as a teacher, to pick up on those little hints to kick-start the machine, and right now my life has time for precious few other sources of inspiration.

I come home, want to write, and review my options: I could begin work on a fourth draft of novel #1, but really I should wait for an agent to help me do that. Right? Right. That’s what they tell me. Well, to attract that agent I should get a few stories published in reputable magazines. This means I should I actually write a few stories. But the only idea I currently have is for a little Flannery O’Connor knock-off, which would probably turn out to be pretty useless. I could work on organizing chapters and scenes for novel #2…But does my room really need that clutter of scribbly index cards when novel #1 still requires so much ripping apart and pasting back together? So I come sidling back to my blog for the first time in almost a month. Hello. I’m rusty with my words, but I’m making an effort.

There is something else I miss. Besides the writing. Something more basic and more valuable. A couple weeks ago I was talking to one of my best friends from college and she mentioned that she might have a family wedding down in my area next fall, and would come and see me. “Jacks, really? Please come.” I said, “I would cry.” I meant it as a joke, I really did, but then there were tears on my cheeks. I miss my friends. I have good ones.

I don’t just mean the girls I went through college with. I mean my sister in Tennessee and my Karen in Madrid. I mean so many of you. Friendship is a wonderfully incomprehensible thing. One can pick up friends in the strangest and most sudden ways, lose them states away, and then find them again years later like the missing right half of your favorite pair of socks. How did this happen? I wonder sometimes. How do you and I find so much to say to one another? And why is it that we would rather be silent together than apart?

Lewis, who I rather think knew a lot about friendship, wrote this:

“In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”

This idea that God meant us for one anothers’ lives, to stretch and grow and comfort each other in our own certain ways brings me a particular quiet delight. He knew our friendships would extend over miles and months, that our worries and prayers for one another would form fine threads connecting us from here to there to the next place, elongating till their length could wrap round the whole world. Those continuing threads of affection are what He intended. I am so thankful.

Oh, look… Somehow my God has given me a small, but perceptible, path from discontent to gratitude. How good it is to miss things. How near to nostalgia lies joy.

An Open Letter to My Best Friend

Dear Karen,

In less than two weeks you graduate from college. And while I’m still baffled at how you managed to turn three changes of major into a degree in only seven semesters, I am so proud of you. I’m proud of you for letting your patience be stretched, for crossing the Mississippi, for keeping lists of books and movies, for knowing a whole different language, for quickly moving from dislike of avocadoes to a long, loyal infatuation with them, for being brave, for following your passionate love of purple wherever it leads you, and for always, always reaching out to those around you.

This January you’re going to Haiti for just a bit, and in the fall you are most likely headed to Hungary to teach English, but for the spring and summer, you will be at home, working and reading and waiting in the in-between. In the spirit of Mandy and Nancy’s detective notebook in days of yore, here are some things to do:

-Watch The Graduate exactly once and learn from Ben’s mistakes.

-Make at least two new friends.

-Visit me.

-Read all the Lord Peter Wimsey novels.

-Forget about being edgy. Remember about being kind.

-Make a t-shirt quilt.

-Use the word “wretched” when you feel angsty. It will make everything funnier.

-Re-read The Hiding Place as many times as necessary.

-Take your parents out for ice cream.

-Get that haircut you were wanting.

-Take walks in my neighborhood and hang out with my family.

-Give thanks.

-Buy dishes.

-Go hiking with me.

-Do that much-needed reconnaissance on Ballinger.

-Remember that the amount of frustration you feel when people don’t call or text or love you back is miniscule compared to how much of Jesus’ love you have yet to encounter.

-Don’t treat the next few months like waiting. Treat them like a worthwhile part of your life that God has actual, important plans for.

Last week I showed up at your front door to get you and watched as you chased your old Chocolate-puppy down the block in the rain, alternately expressing your awful anger at him and offering him cheese. I couldn’t stop laughing. Actually, I still can’t. Sorry for letting him out. But thanks for being the best person I know to be grumpy with.

For the record, you are also one of my favorite people to be happy with, to drive with, to talk on the phone with, to plan with, to buy dinner for. And even if we never get to realize together the dreams of going to England, or solving a grand mystery, or driving cross-country, or finally finding that fourth grade picture of us in our matching American flag bathing suits, please remember that I love you, Ka-ren. I’ve probably said that to you multiple times a week since middle school, often out of habit, but it’s always, always true. Thanks for the years of voicemails.

LYLAS forever and forever, no matter how bad my handwriting gets,



I loved this day. This was a great day.