Learning Tears

I thought I would wait until I was in the right mood to write this one, but it has finally occurred to me that I wouldn’t know “the mood” if it marched into my room and smacked me up side the head. So here I am. Still full from lunch, in a little bit of a hurry, and writing.

I’ve always been a crier. I am not, on average, sadder than most, and I’ve certainly been given a very good life—the deeper parts of me are just constantly in touch with the surface parts, and that’s all there is to it. Many people who read this blog know that already. A close friend once told me cheerfully that she would be surprised to have a conversation of any great length with me in which I didn’t tear up at some point. I know I’ve found a true friend when I can begin to cry in their presence and absolutely nothing in their manner toward me changes. And as with any activity one participates in with frequency, I’ve tried to become good at crying. I mix tears liberally with self-effacing laughter, I almost never ruin my make-up, and I rarely sniffle.

But a change has come over my weeping in the last year or so. Perhaps it is the release of no longer teaching and needing to hold the feelings in all day, or the occasionally overwhelming changes wrought by my move to Vancouver, but ultimately I think it may be evidence of a more gut-level shift. Whatever the case, my tears are more and more often mixed nowadays. They are no longer merely sad or hurt or tired. There is often a piece of them, sometimes a sizable piece, which I might call awe. And several times in the last year, I can remember crying for joy.

I did not fully admit this change to myself until this summer, I think. In both of the classes I took earlier in the summer (on the Psalms and on George Herbert) I found myself moved to tears, spoken to, intruded upon by Love. I’m taking a class this week on the theology of desire and it will very probably happen again. The crying may get in the way of taking notes.

Tears have been a part of my rhythm of life for so long, but it never occurred to me that they could be part of learning, that they were complex or strong enough to bear connections not only to my own sticky inward minutiae, but to whole sunny shafts of the hope of glory. But, of course, it seems inappropriate, unseemly to cry during a lecture. Tears make others worried and uncomfortable. People so often feel pressure to do or console or fix. They are unlikely to understand my act of crying simply as evidence of my tuition dollars at work, that it means I am being educated. 

But I must rely on the well-practiced silence of my tears, and not allow myself to be waylaid or cowed by the potential concern of others. The tears which leave that tough, tangible residue on my cheekbones are busy teaching impossibilities, and often Gospel ones. They gather up and weave close the threads of things I once presumed to be far distant from each other: sadness and joy, discipline and gentleness, need and abundance, and my slow-beating heart and the God-made-man who came here, close enough to touch, and died for it.

Patience and Long Light

We are deep in July now, and I have been thinking about patience today.

Back when I was teaching, if you had asked any of my students to describe me, probably one of the first descriptors you would have heard from almost any one of them was that: patience. Once, on a Friday afternoon in Spring, a student asked me if I had ever yelled, and all his classmates fell into an earnest, curious silence waiting for me to answer. If I had a trademark, it was patience. There were upsides to this, certainly. Being told I was patient by the ones who struggled to write an introductory paragraph and needed slow, painstaking help, by the keyed-up, anxiety-ridden ones who were used to grating on the nerves of most adults they came into contact with, by the talkative ones, the attention-hungry performers, was a compliment. I never got upset, always had the time, and that was something they could rely on every day they set foot inside my class. But being told I was patient was often also an indictment, though usually a gentle one, and I knew it. Coming from some kids, the ones who did what they were asked the first time around, who came into my class having completed every page of the reading without fail, who opened their binders to that quarter’s scripture before the bell even rang and stood ready and waiting, it meant: You let too much slide, Miss Hodgkins. Some days, your patience does none of us justice.

So when I think of patience, I often think of it in that context: the way it operates for me as a double-sided coin: a gentleness to those around me, but also an excuse, an abdication of responsibility, an escape into passivity.

But today I have been coming at the thing from another angle. Because in some ways I am not patient, for good or for ill. This will reveal the deep veins of selfishness in me which adulthood has not rooted out in the least, but whenever there is something which really directly relates to me, to my own well-being and comfort and satisfaction, I am not patient at all. Summertime reminds me of this, without fail, in its awkward, unreliable rhythms and the way we all leave town and come back only to leave again, and this one has been a particularly good example. It has been my first summer in Vancouver and sunlight here comes before I wake and lasts well past dinner. The days not only move slowly, but sometimes, despite my busy-ness, they seem to sit still. When will the sun set? When will the balance between rest and action return? When will the heart beat properly again?

So with all my annual angst and impatient kicking against the goads which mostly no one can hear but myself (and a few lucky loved ones!), I thought today of a couple of things about patience which I hadn’t before.

First, I thought that perhaps I could get a better, deeper grasp on patience, really dig into up to my elbows, if I could stop thinking of it as a virtue intended for use in the love of others, but, as perhaps all virtues ought to be, as an entrance into wisdom, a way of learning old rhythms anew. I thought that if I waited long enough, if I were patient, there might be time for something to come from very far away. So the fruit of this patience today, while my late lunch slowly cooked, was found not in the eventually browned Italian sausages but in wandering out onto the sun-dazed patio and chewing absently on a fresh mint leaf, like we used to do as little girls in our North Carolina backyard when it was a wilderness and we played at adventure. I stood still instead of straining forward, and there, on my tongue, was a gift.

But more than that, and conversely, the other thing about patience I became convinced of today was this: patience needs an object. Though we may be called to stand in the sun, we are not really supposed to do so absently. We are supposed to direct our patience toward someone. When my old friend Hopkins began a sonnet way back when with, “Patience, hard thing!” he was not really talking about the patience I directed toward my students, that we are called to offer our friends and families and neighbors. He was talking about the kind of patience which I struggle to exercise when July rolls around, about the patience you use to quell the thing gnawing in your gut. But who, pray tell, is the object of that patience? To say that it’s our own selves veers too near the realm of patience as excuse and passivity. But if we are called to stand still in a given spot and be longsuffering there perhaps the object of our patience ought the be the One who does the calling. Indeed, he may well be the Object of all virtues, and they may only ever be complete virtues at all when directed towards Him. He is the maker and breaker of rhythms, the crusher of foes and life-breather of hearts, the one who separated the light from the dark in the first place.

He is patient. Patience fills                                                                                                               His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.

Promises

This entry is about two entirely separate things. Please do not try to draw any sort of philosophical, metaphysical, or, least of all, theological connection between the two. Failure to comply may result in misery and confusion. (Exceptions will, as always, be made for literary connections.) Thank you for your cooperation. 

Last week I took a class on the Psalms, and all week they felt very near. This is perhaps a bit inevitable when you listen to someone lecture on a single topic for six hours a day, five days in a row, but nevertheless, the intimacy of those ancient poems, even the ones I’d heard and read dozens and dozens of times before, was startling. Then, as I walked home from church the other night, past the large, still houses and moss-grown trees of Shaughnessy, I realized why that might be. 

I’ve always been hyper-conscious of my good fortune in terms of Christian community: I was born to parents who loved the Lord and displayed that well, and have spent literally the entirety of my life up to my neck in Christian education. I’ve always had more Godly potential role models than you can shake a stick at. Many people may assume that the danger of such a saturated environment might be complacency, or a resentment and restlessness that leads to rebellion, and that’s true for some. But I think that my problem, though I’m still overwhelmingly grateful for what I’ve been given, is that I was so aware of God’s grace towards and concern for the little and large worlds around me that I never, for more than isolated split seconds at a time, took a chance to comprehend His grace towards and concern for me.

But the Psalms blow all this out of the water. They’re full of thoughts of the community (and the nations at large), but they’re also brimming with the voices of individual psalmists claiming God’s promises for themselves–promises of justice, of salvation, of forgiveness, of wisdom, of provision, of mercy, and of righteous, shot-through-with-holy-light love, all for the poet and his singular heart. Not once, not twice, but probably dozens of times as I sat in room 100 last week I found myself thinking, “But has this always been true? Has it always been possible to be alone in a room with God in this way without a chorus of other voices? Has Psalm 103 always had those words in it–confidently declaring that he knows us and understands our human dustliness? Has Psalm 139 always announced with such great firmness that the God of the universe holds the author in His own right hand? And why does this make me weep? Has He promised something to me as well?”

But now for something completely different.

Yesterday, for no particularly constructive reason, I thought through my whole history as a writer. What sorts of things I’ve written at various periods in my life and what I learned about writing as I went. For the first four or five years that I wrote, from the ages of about thirteen to seventeen, while I cared that I was good, I didn’t really care about getting better, perhaps because, with some teenage combination of naivete and arrogance, I didn’t know that was possible. And strangely, I find myself enormously grateful for that, because in those formative years I was motivated only by the joy of the thing. In the years since, as I’ve encountered my own limitations and struggled to stretch beyond them, that joy of the thing has perpetually hovered in the periphery of my vision. I have never once ceased to see words as friends. Thus they began, and thus they will remain.

They are my friends even now in graduate school as I have been tying myself in little mental knots trying to prematurely decide on a direction for my final creative project. And, as often happens, I’ve landed back where I began. I’m going to write a novel, a story which is at gut-level far more important to me than the one I wrote as my honors project at Grove City. 

I have a (very new) theory, that when you get a good idea for a piece of fiction, to help it come to fruition you have to hover over it like an egg that needs a mother or a warm incubator to hatch. You trust the mysterious natural process, and eventually something living will burst forth. And as of last week I have an idea, an idea that I’m fairly certain of, so from here on out if you’re trying to find me I’ll be busy hovering. If I am patient and keep a steady hand, one day there will be words on a page to show for it. And that’s a promise.

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.

Practicing Resurrection

On Tuesday, I will finish my second semester of grad school and on Wednesday I will turn twenty-seven, which my sister and I used to joke was the age of perfection. It was a funny joke back then, and, frankly, is an even funnier joke now.

Last year on my birthday I wore a pink dress and it bucketed rain. It came down in a long morning deluge which made everyone grumpy. Then, in the afternoon, my fourth period students threw me a surprise party which I did not manage to be surprised by, complete with hats, a shiny balloon, and a cookie cake. My fifth period, not to be outdone, hastily ordered pizza. (My erstwhile birth functioned as an excellent excuse for all sorts of distractions.) I wanted to hug all of them, but I didn’t. I just smiled. It was an odd day and a good day.

The year and the ground which have passed under my feet in the interim have been dizzying. A few times in the last week in particular, as I have reflected, I have wanted to pinch myself—maybe I actually physically have pinched myself once or twice. (I can’t remember.) Is all this real? Did I really run away from home, and begin to do new things one after another in such rapid succession till it became habit? I want to check the mirror sometimes. Am I the same person? Are my eyes still brown, and when did the fear behind them stop running the show every day?

My rate of change over the last eight months has perhaps been privately alarming, but it is also much more than that. I found myself telling a friend the other day that being here, at Regent, in Vancouver, in a place which tastes different on my tongue and sounds different to my ears, something about it makes me actually want to heal. Not just make agreeable noises and blog entries, but take my hands away from the festering parts of myself which I’ve been covering, and say, “Alright, Lord. Come in at long last. Come in and perform the alchemy. Make me new, though for all my talk of Spring, I’m not even sure what that means.”

I’ve lived a fair number of Easter Sundays by now, have remembered the Resurrection over and over, but this one is softly special. I don’t just believe the promise of new life today—I want it.

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen.

The Indigestible Portions

I’m probably about to get all kinds of poetry on you. (But please don’t go away just yet. Hear me out.)

I am tired and achy at the moment. We could blame it somewhat fairly on last night’s restless sleep, but at the core is the fact that I’ve had an anxious week and my body knows it. Some days the sky is blue and I wear sparkly shoes because I like them, but other days, though the sky is still blue, I wear sparkly shoes because I need them and much of my energy goes into managing and dismantling my fear, trying to move past it so I can function. More than ever recently, I’ve become aware of the myriad of coping strategies I’ve developed to deal with everyday anxieties.

When I was eleven I made up a trick I sometimes still use. When I felt overwhelmed I would take a piece of paper and draw and label a little cloud for each of my worries–size and darkness corresponding to the intensity of each. I found that when I did this, put them out on paper visually, there were always fewer of them than I had assumed.

In college, to get out of bed on hard days I would promise myself that I could wear an oversized flannel, that I could put no effort into my appearance and play-act as the Invisible Girl, if only I would get up and go to class.

Even this past Fall, when I first moved to Vancouver, I was still adding strategies to my arsenal. I was irrationally nervous about riding the city bus, and so for the first few days, every time I waited at a bus stop I took a picture of my feet, so that my camera roll would fill up with growing evidence that I had done this before and I could do it again.

Every one of the aforementioned strategies have worked and still work when I need them. I am oddly proud of all the little ways I’ve come up with to chant to myself, “Be brave, be brave, and be brave.” It’s quite possible you have a similar list yourself.

But.

It is Lent now. We are in a season in which we are supposed to remember our own mortality, to feel death in our bones and pray to understand what that means. So I have found myself thinking that while bravery is good and well, it is perhaps also good and well to sit and learn from my own frailty. When my hands begin to shake, as they have a couple times this week, perhaps instead of sitting on them so they will stop and no one will notice, I can look at them and remember the dust from whence they were formed. In the stillness of the weeks leading up to our celebration of Christ’s deafening acts of redemption and renewal, maybe this magnified anxiety is not a curse, but an appropriate reminder of my need.

In my Christian Imagination class a couple days ago we read Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday.” He is mournful and acutely aware of his limits, his lack of answers, his lack of any sufficient words at all. The liturgy of any traditional Ash Wednesday service is full of the same heavy truths Eliot has felt all his life, full of the angst of Prufrock’s “overwhelming question” from fifteen years earlier in his career. Yet in this first long poem after his conversion, everything is different because while Eliot sits in the void within himself, he knows the Word has come to fill it. The Gospel gives context to the weakness he has always known so intimately. And conversely, Eliot’s long fixation with human lack and the inadequacy of his own speech has fit him with ears to hear the words of Him who is greater.

So sure, those pictures of my feet back in August bear witness that I have done this before, that riding the bus is really not such a big deal, but if I am being honest, perhaps even more importantly, they bear witness to the truth that I was afraid. I was foolishly afraid of something I could not name, which never came to fruition. Those pictures chronicle how I am riddled with sin, riddled with holes, ultimately unable, despite all my little tricks, to cope with the “indigestible portions” of my human soul.

And last night I read the end of Revelation, full of lines which deserve to be shouted, which have been and will be, all about newness, over and over. He is making all things new. Those words are always true whoever and wherever you are, but it is the infirm sinner, silent and barren, who really feels their power.

Two Hundred

I wrote my first entry here in October of 2010. I was eighteen years old and I wrote that I was starting this blog “in good faith.” Today I am writing my two hundredth entry, and I write in gratitude. Eight and a half years ago the girl curled on the desk chair by the ground floor window that looked out over Pennsylvania’s blazing autumn colors could not have comprehended.

She could not have comprehended the strangeness of the many precious and painful ebenezers along the way: the hands and the handwriting, the shouting and whispers, the nights weeping and the nights laughing, the holy silence of falling snow under midnight small-town street-lights, the vast emptiness of hands one Thursday morning at eight a.m. as the copier churned industriously behind me, or the steady plod of my own two feet up a green hill in Wales. These things would have baffled her. She could not have borne them.

But mostly she could not have comprehended the way this virtual space has functioned as a room of my own, as perhaps my most constant home of the last decade. Here I can slide words onto a string in complex order and hold them up to see if the light shines through, then try again and again until I get it right. Here I have over and over set myself the funny, laborious task of saying what I mean, of telling the truth both straight and slant. Here I have learned over and over the ever-piercing lesson that I am not alone in my fears or my joys, that there is nothing new under the sun, that there is always some other sheep lost in the same thicket, and more than that, beautiful and wrenching, that “grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough,” and he loves even me. Here, two hundred times over, wielding only a softly blinking cursor against a blank expanse of page, I have grown.

Thank you, little two hundred.

Something Steady

I’m sitting in a room surrounded by half-unpacked suitcases. Sometimes, I feel as if that’s my constant state, even when I haven’t been travelling. Why is that?

Now that I’m back in Vancouver it feels like it’s properly the new year. The other day I wrote myself a list of things I wanted to accomplish and ways I wanted to grow in 2019. I wasn’t exactly digging deep–one of the entries was “get better at French-braiding”–but much more so than when I left Greensboro and moved here five months ago, I do feel like sitting down and taking stock.

Yesterday (was it only yesterday?) I subbed for the seventh grade humanities class at Caldwell. Around midday I realized that it was easier and more joyful than I had expected it to be. I don’t know why I was surprised by that, though. Especially in retrospect, I tend to focus on my weaknesses as a teacher, and I had them in spades, but I had strengths too. I was good at my job. And even if I never return to it, I’ve been marked by teaching, my heart scuffed all over with funny, seemingly-accidental marks that will not wear away. Those four years changed me. I grew.

I gained confidence, prudence, perspective, a greater ability to think on my feet, and a keen sense of my own limitations. But the greatest thing I learned was Love. I still know very little of it, but simply by necessity, because increasingly I realized there was no other way to view my students, I began to wade into the borderlands of that frighteningly bright place where you see the people around you as Christ sees them. Human faces there are drawn in bold lines, the image of God and the sin that mars it both clearly visible, and you know instinctively, without thoughts of either discouragement or heroism, that Love is the only power, the only recourse, the only cure. Plenty of times, certainly, I’ve tucked my tail between my legs and retreated back to the shadowlands of my own easy criticisms and lazy assumptions, but I had just enough lessons there that I can attest to this: that land is the only way through. As one of my grandma’s favorite little books was called: Love or Die.

I learned all of that without planning to. And now that I am in a new place and new season, what will I learn here? I find it very easy to ask that question with blissful, blind anticipation and then sit still, doing nothing, waiting for the answer to drop down out of the heavens into my lap. In fact, I do that far too often on this blog. And certainly, there are many things I can’t and am not meant to predict. God is sovereign and I am not. But at times the “I don’t like being in charge” part of my personality stretches to excess, and I fail to even take charge of myself.

When I first moved here one of the things I said quietly to myself (and probably wrote on some piece of paper somewhere) was that I wanted to grow in holiness, which often runs shallow in me. And that’s not exactly a minute task. So I am realizing that nearly half a year in perhaps it is time that I begin, that I stop floating and wandering and hoping I get somewhere, but start to walk in as straight of a line as I can manage, going somewhere on purpose. The Lord will be there all along the way. It’s not as if I’ll need to wait for him to catch up–he’s well ahead, Alice.

To that end I’m about halfway through a book about holiness. (Who knew I could be so practical?) And, as icing for my new goal-oriented self, I’ve set myself a very manageable little writing target for 2019: draft two full chapters of the new novel I’ve just started poking at. Oh, the terror and the joy!

So there. I’ve sat and I’ve taken stock and, by God’s grace, perhaps even made progress. Now to my gaping suitcases.

 

Restoration

2019 has begun quietly. (For me, at least–I can’t speak for you.)

I’ve been home for a while now and will be home a little while longer. Events worth noting have included lots of time spent at Caldwell (more than I intended, really), lots of time spent with friends from high school and before (more than I expected, really), a brief, exciting ambulance ride to the ER (I’m fine, totally fine), and a trip with my family to Staunton to see Shakespeare (because that’s what we do).

If you don’t know anything about this Staunton place (which probably just means you haven’t known me very long) it’s right in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, which might be the most beautiful place in the whole American South. It’s all close winding creeks and green grass and steep, steep hills woven over with blankets of quiet tree branches, surrounded by wave upon wave of blue mountain ridges. Even its dilapidated buildings with cracked shutters and mossy, caving roofs are soul-wrenchingly picturesque. During the Civil War they called it the breadbasket of the Confederacy because its fields were so fertile, and, perhaps, for me, more than any other place in the South it seems to be marked like Cain, to be aware of both its beauty and its sin, but unable to reconcile them. I think it is what my friend O’Connor called “Christ-haunted.” It is a place that makes me want to sit very still.

To that end, I spent a lot of time over Christmas and the days that followed, as we went up to those mountains and down into that green valley, thinking about restoration. It showed up in my poetry reading for Christmas day and then I thought of it again as we walked through and over the cemetery full of lilting nineteenth century gravestones by the big Episcopal church in Staunton. I wondered about those graves, how they lay so still and quiet and temporary. How the promise of Christmas is not brand-spanking-newness, something never-before-seen, but even more miraculous: God making skin-to-earth contact, causing the lame feet to run at last, the long-silent lips to speak, and the dead to sit up in their grave-clothes and breathe fresh air. He makes the first things new and whole again.

Then on Saturday night we went to see Winter’s Tale, which begins so grim. “A sad tale’s best for winter,” Mamillius says. Leontes bursts out in a fit of unwarranted jealousy so lethal that by the end of the third act his wife and son are dead, and his best friend and daughter are so far banished that they are presumed so. But then in the final scene of the play, which takes place sixteen years later, the statue of Hermione, penitent Leontes’ now long-dead queen, steps down off its pedestal and takes him by the hand, alive again. He turns to the audience, to the heavens, to anyone who will listen, and says with awe, “O, she’s warm!”

So this theme of restoration kept coming up this weekend, but I’m not sure if I have anything to say about it except that it is. It exists. It’s all true. “She’s warm.”

Happy New Year.

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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