Month: January 2018 (page 1 of 2)

on a year and four days ago

I don’t think anyone

falls in love all at once.

I think it’s gradual



almost like magic.

but looking back

I can remember the moment

I began to realize–

Mario Carts

tickle fights

laughing as the projector

almost met its end

sitting close

everyone falling toward sleep

in the dark

feeling a little cold

feeling you wordlessly

lay your blanket over me

as if you knew.

quietly walking out into the street

looking up at the sky

this odd, incredible feeling

filling my chest

pushing at the boundaries

a feeling I had never felt

didn’t know what to do with

or how to understand

but oh so strongly drawn to

almost like magic

and I knew it had to do with you.

and as I looked up

a shooting star streaked

lighting up the sky behind the clouds

almost like magic.

and so I went to my room

wrote about the night

went to sleep

but I treasured that feeling

paid attention to it

and as it grew it changed

into something beautiful

and aching

and totally unexpected

almost like magic

definitely like you.

and beneath it all

my heart has felt it

ever since.

1/24/18 – for you


I’m on the train

heading south

heading to memory

to all I’ve ever known

to where I started from

where so much started from.

and you—

you are about to fly across the ocean

to a place you’ve never been.

I pray that good winds

will lift your wings,

I pray that if you’re looking for something

you’ll find it,

I pray that you’ll know what your heart tells you

and that you’ll have the courage

to follow it,

I pray that God meets you there

in ways you’ve never felt,

that you’d know yourself better,

deeper than ever before,

I pray you will come home safe.

I am always on your side,

always here to lean on

if you need it, if you let yourself.

I will always be waiting here

as I always am

and one day, if you want to tell me

I’d so love to hear

all about it.

poems, unlimited

At the beginning of my 18 day trip, I decided I wanted to write at least one poem every day. And so I did… well, almost. If I missed a day, I wrote a poem the next day about the previous day. And sometimes, there was just too much to write about for one poem, so I wrote two. These poems are mostly unedited, unlimited, uncensored, just as they ended up on the page. Many were scrawled in the nonsensical moments right before sleep. And yes, that’s a lot of words. But here they are.

journey, the world keeps on spinning

train lurching past
one two one two
train lurching softly
whisking me away from here

winter brown fields
hawk spread in air
alighting in an edge tree
a nest belonging to someone

ice, clean, ice, innocence
white blue ice
frosted mirror spreading
half frozen precarious beauty

trees, tall bare trunks
regal pine dark, close
thin snow gracing ground
bitter cold, glistening embrace

crisp sky, litter beneath bridge
bright splash of graffiti
primary colors bubble blocky
black outlined, playful

rowhouses, horizontal stacked
faded shades
tired, regal
sagging grey shingles

crying woman on her cell
blues and greens, scarf tied ‘round her head
tears, past caring who may hear
a daughter lost in childbirth
prayer, Jesus, please be here

quiet heartbreak
dark sharp deep
pang, something I know
I can be a hand to hold

my heart cries
with you, eyes water
a pain not my own
yet mine

leaving the familiar
chest aches with step into unknown
excitement, yes, swirls, small
but lonely, oh so lonely

empty seat next to mine
memories of your word and touch
as others’ homes
blow me by.

It’s snowing in Prospects Park.
Quiet bootsteps on semi-packed snow
The trees, the white path
The stillness
Remind me of the time
Perhaps a year ago exactly
When the three of us walked
Through forest snow
Fresh and full of awe
Hushed beauty.
I ache for you
Feeling quite alone in this new world.
But the Tigger onesies
Orange and yellow
Bright and odd
Two people skiing complete with tails
With their dog across the field
Make me stop,
And smile.

I tap her on the shoulder
she’s so glad to see me
I wonder if she’s seeing
the same person I think she is
can’t help it—
a grin splits my face too
and I laugh as her arms
wrap around me
and tighten like they’ll never let go
she says something to B.
about me being amazing
just for existing
how could she know
that’s just what I needed
to hear
just needed to see
someone’s face light up
just because I’m there.

I have always felt
that beautiful things
are meant to be touched
perhaps this is why
the branch of an evergreen
the veins in your forearm
and the thick painted pages
of this sketchbook
seem an infinite universe
at my fingertips
meant to be reveled in
with lit eyes
and a quiet smile
perhaps this is why
when I behold the moon
and the two people watching
below it
or the green, red, blue tree
and its treehouse
I can only think of you.

leaving home
always hurts
this messy apartment
the creaking wood floors
the leak in the ceiling
his warm, fuzzy hug
walking into the dark
causes a pull hard deep
but I’m too tired to cry
home is people
home is souls in connection
home is love
and that’s why missing you
is the greatest void
I can never fill

snow on green metal roof
black rock of wet mountain
swathed in mist
and white air
rain pattering down
making wide window ledges
cozy spaces
I want to crawl into
and disappear
I belong here
yet I don’t
it is beautiful
and yet I ache

you’re the musician!
the girl at the counter exclaims
I guess I am—
I’m just a girl
who likes to play her guitar
and sing
but when I pluck my courage
with the strings and vocal chords
and let the last note
of the first song fade
people clap.
soon, there’s a tip in my jar.
I’m getting into the music.
the night is dark and snowy
and bitter cold
I trudge back up the hill
feeling the knot by my shoulder blades
tighten and ache
from carrying the heavy case.
but when I open the door
my whole class erupts
in cheers.
why didn’t you tell us?
they say, like I’ve done
something big.
and for a moment,
I wonder if I have.

we name our heater Harold
Harold the Angry Heater
because he makes clanking
banging, crescendoing noises
that keep us up at night
although the room is icy cold
ice on the windowpanes
a cinderblock refrigerator.
the maintenance girl comes
and I go to lunch.
A. approaches me—
‘so she found a little alligator!’
she says, ‘with a hammer.
they’re going to rehome him
at 1:30.’
oh, Harold is an alligator.
not a heater.
perhaps he was just
trying to get out.
we talk to another student.
his heater is making noises too.
it must be an armadillo,
we say.
pushing along a little ball
with her nose.
plip-plopping quickly along
on little legs.
‘oh,’ he says. ‘I’ll leave her treats
and she’ll come out and play cards with me.’
we nod. that is the only
obvious solution.

neon tutus
tights, legwarmers
side ponytails
red laser lights
floating across floor
arms moving
in silly beat—
I do not belong here.
not because
I wasn’t alive in the 80s.
not because
I’m too young to drink.
not because
I don’t have a costume.
not because
I’m awkward at dances anyway.
I am not happy.
and this is why
I do not belong.

sometimes hiding away
is the best thing you can do
for yourself
open the inner window pane
swing it wide
feel the freed layer of cold
seeping quietly in
see the almost silent snow
kids tracking sleds far below
pillow behind back
lean against window ledge edge
pay attention to your heart
comfort in familiar shows
hug stuffed animal close
and let yourself just be
whatever that may be

really good poetry
is like breathing
like someone’s pouring starlight
into my lungs
I just sit with lips parted
like I’m waiting for a kiss
as goosebumps take me
in waves
and something burns a little
inside my veins
and yet, it cannot satisfy
when I walk into the night
bitter cold, the kind that bites,
icy grey slush under boots
I speak to you through the stars
and wish for an answer
to fill me.

I look into the mirror
straight into my eyes
and try to see
the girl that you saw
the girl I was then
the girl deep inside
the girl that’s the best me
the girl that’s whole.
it’s meant to be a good thing
but I fast realize
it’s too painful
way, way too painful
shattered chest blaring
‘extraction should not be attempted.’
oh yes, she’s still in there
she’s quite real
she did indeed exist
and it was wonderful
alive in color and movement
connected existence
but without you
she cannot come out.
I do not blame her
for her innocent refusal
her inability.
she shakes her head, shrugs
I cannot.
I nod.
I let her be.

snow sifts down
floating in a silver
misty sky
wet, large flakes
frosting every delicate tree
I stick my tongue out
to catch the falling cold
‘lazy snow,’ A. calls it
and she is right
the beauty surrounds me
I am walking in it
I wish to be of it
watching world through
flaking window pane
peeling white paint
fogging glass looking out
at magical shrouded evergreens
and down at children
dragging sleds
tracking through smooth field
stories swirl around me
the air is full of them
good and bright, dark and lonely
I cannot escape them
the voices murmur
asking me to feel
asking me to connect
asking me to remember
asking me to dig deep
to bring out handfuls
of the rich dirt inside
I am like a piece of pottery
thin and brittle clay
ready to shatter
from this aching
a string pulled taught
straight to you

she says
‘your story idea
reminds me of The Little Prince’
and all of a sudden
I’m all choked up
I remember
magical music from the credits rolling
dark bedroom
you next to me
I remember
last residency
walking to the bookstore
buying a copy of The Little Prince
(and Mary Oliver’s Felicity)
reading them aloud to myself
the isolation of my bedroom
crying all the way through
a tear sneaks onto the page
a permanent warped puddle
I remember
placing it on my college shelf
unable to open it since
I remember
drawing baobab trees
taken over my scribbled black planet
no rose
no rose
no rose
I remember
dreaming up a story
of two kids looking for home
and finding it in each other
I remember
‘it reminds me of The Little Prince’
she says
my hands go to my face
my eyes fill up
‘thank you’
I say
‘that means so much to me’

all around
he says cupcakes
I think cream cheese icing
she says
we had a tree of apple fritters
at our wedding
no cake
and I think of sneaking
a bite of yours
I am always
at war with myself
hammering at boarded up
I wish I could just
let them all in
but I can’t.

grey fur
white splashes
velvet nose
so much less soft
than when you held him
so much more time
spent in my arms
a small soothing comfort
as I missed you
I said, I hurt so much
I will hold you close
I said, I remember too much
I will hide you in my closet
I said, I cannot breathe
I will hold you just for tonight
and tonight turned into weeks
tucked under my chin
clutched close to the hollow
of my chest
some thing inside begins
to unclench
just a little
just enough
a vulnerable kind of relief
a release of tension
I remember how
you kept him for two nights
when we were staying away
from each other
I remember how I took him along
on nights beautiful and hard
there’s still traces of pine sap
on his left bottom paw
it’s funny how something
can become so much more
than anything I thought
it would ever

today the graduates
said goodbye to a place
and people
that had been their dearest home.
I felt with them but knew
it is not mine.
it is hard to find home
in a place
when mine lives in memory
pancake parties
in a faerie lit room.
it is hard to find home
in people
when my heart still rests
where I left it
in your hands.
and anyway
even if I’d never been there
even if I’d never met you
this would not
be my home.
and so tomorrow
I move on from here
and I am ready.

I pop the latches on my guitar case
one, two, three, four
sit cross-legged on the cold sidewalk
pull the strap over my head
begin to strum
push my voice to reach out
stretch over the streets
my hat is my tip jar
and I am surprised when
dollar bills tumble in
strum till fingers numb
warm them, a moment
then strum again
strangers stop
strangers smile
strangers say, you have a beautiful voice!
strangers say, aren’t you cold?
strangers say, do you write your own music?
I laugh, and answer
more comfortable with the strangers
than people I know
or feel like I should.
strangers owe me nothing
and I owe nothing to them
but somehow
we meet in the middle.
time trickles on
legs protest
as I finally stand
guitar back in its home
snap, snap, snap
and I wait for the bus
ready to be just another person
who was here
and then was gone.

I wonder if I could be
happier as a wanderer—
freed from feeling like
I’m ‘supposed to’ belong
somewhere in particular
with someones in particular
perhaps people would put fewer
‘supposed to’s on me
perhaps I would but fewer
‘supposed to’s on myself
perhaps I could just let myself
be me
perhaps I could more constantly
find this in-between
the compromise
of living and wanting
because on this day
in this unrooted world
I am content to be in motion
I am content to ache a little
I am content with being
with my joys and sadnesses
I am okay with just me
just for today
to be with friends
and be alone
to explore this city
that doesn’t know me
to let my feelings
do what they will
but not drown me
to feel both light and dark—
to accept myself.
and I want to hold on to this
this okay-ness
for more than just

last night we sat on the couch
two almost strangers
and became friends
sipping thick red port
I found I kind of liked—
sweet at first
although later it burns a bit
going down.
we talk honestly
words flowing naturally,
never forced.
we talk about holes.
about how sometimes a loss
leaves a hole you will feel
for the rest of your life,
and how it’s so easy to be
with people when they can’t
fill the holes in the way
that one person did and yet
we expect them to—
no, not quite right,
we just want them to.
we speak of how
we should embrace many people,
many people who each help fill
one of the many facets
of who we are,
wondrous, complex
they can’t fill the whole hole.
I should stop
being disappointed, feeling
let down.
we should notice how
their many spirits
fill up our many different places,
and who knows,
she says,
maybe we’ll find people
who fill up something
we look at each other
with smiles that speak of more
than just happiness
finding truth, and safety,
in each other’s hearts.

the unrelenting rain, downpour
floods the streets
sheets of water
whooshing up to get me
as tires sush through
indifferent to my walking there.
I find refuge in Turkish coffee shop,
used bookstore, Raven,
the museum where I read poetry,
where I step inside
the huge stained-glass globe
the world mapped out in light and color
frozen in the moment
of its making.
I am mesmerized,
the wond’ring inner child and
fierce knowing girl inside me
both stand together beneath the North Star
listen to the acoustics like a microphone
look at where you and I are, and have been,
and will be
and whisper,
those three words,
always those three words,
hoping the magical globe will catch them
and whisk them away to you.


Boston Is

I think every place means something slightly different to each person that’s been there. It is fascinating to me that my experience can be completely, radically different from someone else’s, even if we happen to be standing on the exact same spot in the exact same moment. I think that’s something to remember… that our minds and hearts and lives shape the reality we create around us, the reality we see and feel, and that we can’t presume to know the colors and frequencies of the strangers that move around us. Even people that we do know well have hidden parts of themselves… and if you’re ever let into those spaces, you are a very special person indeed.

That said, here is what Boston is to me.

Boston is the T, another subway system to master, another subway system to get lost in before then. But this one is smaller, and I have the knowledge I’ve hoarded away in my brain from my attempts at independence in another larger city, and it doesn’t take quite as long. Boston is more little paper tickets with the arrows that point their way into the machines that grab the edge and suck them in and spit it back out, gates opening abruptly. More little tickets only good for one use, accumulating in my pockets and the back of my phone.

Boston is the car with its flashers on, the car coming to pick me up, pluck me out of the wet, dark streets. Boston is a friend I haven’t seen in a couple years. Boston is familiarity I’ve forgotten, a face and voice that hasn’t played clearly in my head in some time, not since that year when he called me on my birthday – it made my day, although T. probably doesn’t know it. When people do things like that, you know they won’t mind when you show up at their door.

Boston is a cute, clean apartment in the second story of a family’s home, back entrance atop slippery porch steps, through the edge of a muddy yard. Light wood floors, cards and pictures, plants, spinning chairs. Memorabilia from landmark moments, tags from used salt containers and a wrapper from a round of chocolate gifted on Christmas, all stuck to the wall by tan masking tape. Boston is a guitar in the corner, a surfboard behind the door, a Millennium Falcon pencil sharpener on the desk piled with haphazard papers. A whole drawer full of loose leaf tea and chocolate – the best logical combination for two things living in the same drawer. A Harry Potter mug. A taco ornament perched on the cabinet in the bathroom. A vase of clementines on the counter. Boston is the mini rubber ducky tea steeper that bobs in my cup, perpetually smiling up at me with its orange beak.

Boston is E., the girl T. moved to Boston for, on very short notice, I might add. I like her immediately, her pixie cut contrasting wonderfully with T’s shoulder length hair, slender and bright, eyes and voice full of life. She’s someone who has light in her, and depth. I quickly inform her that I forgive her for stealing T. away from all of us. Boston is E’s laugh in response.

Boston is figuring out the bus system. And realizing my card doesn’t have any money on it, but the bus drivers really don’t care. Boston is waiting and waiting and then walking and walking until I pop into the doors which open up to grey-tan walls and holds I recognize. Boston is feeling relief at the comfort of being around a place and people that are somehow familiar even though you’ve never met them. An unfinished puzzle on the table. The growl of drills held by routesetters crafting new problems. Boston is shredding my skin all too fast, feeling my heartbeat kaboom in my throat at the top of boulders that are a wee bit taller than I’m used to, and feeling my muscles give out faster than I’d like. Boston is watching the couple in the overhang, the easy language of laughs and brief touches, somehow casual and somehow more. Boston is wishing I had a friend to come with me.

Boston is the Turkish bakery with the menu up on cardboard sheets and sharpie letters, chocolate ‘earthquake’ cookies covered in powdered sugar which I promptly make a mess of, pita bread with piping hot sausage and spice. Boston is coming back the next day for another cookie and coffee with an inch of foam on top. I fish out what’s left at the bottom with my finger. Boston is Boston cream pie, cobbled streets, subway ride after subway ride. Boston is pouring down rain, pelting and pelting, puddles so deep I don’t walk through them for fear they will overflow the top of my boots. Boston is my phone almost dying right when I need it, and barely squeaking by on 7%. Boston is that happening a million times.

Boston is the cemetery, almost misty in the descending dusk, closing in about me, wrapping itself around the white statues and gray tombstones and wet, dark trees. I walk up to the tower, feeling like I’ve stepped into a Gothic novel, feeling like ghosts could actually be a thing, peeping down into green glades and almost-there paths branching off from the safety of asphalt and disappearing. I look out at the city from the base of what looks like a giant castle chess pawn, out at the lights, yellow and white, glowing through the mist of near night. Boston is the cemetery that closes at 5pm. Boston is me discovering that the gate through which I planned on leaving is actually closed. Boston is sprinting through the looming grounds as night claims its reign, making it back to the huge iron gates, still open, with only a few minutes to spare.

Boston is a small bookstore, poetry books under my arm in a brown paper bag. Boston is reading in the museum lobby in the kids area with the picture books and the bright green shag carpet and the hanging letters on a string which say, ‘I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.’ Boston is the enormous stained-glass globe I walk into, mesmerized by the colors and lights that wrap around me, encompassing and beautiful. The tour lady tells me that each one was handmade, that the globe is frozen in time after World War II, that if you stand under the North Star the room’s acoustics amplify your voice like a microphone, that the other day there was a visitor from Christchurch, New Zealand, who turned out to be the choir director of a Protestant church who burst into boisterous song as soon as he stepped inside the world, standing suspended on the walkway, and the lady was scared he was going to break the glass, like in the cartoons. Boston is me looking at all the countries, at me whispering my own song that’s in my head, listening to it echo, wishing you were beside me to hear it.

Boston is watching a Japanese reality show with E., which actually turns out to be pretty cool. Boston is play-arguing with T. about literature and categories of fiction and what literary fiction is and isn’t and what genre fiction is and isn’t and does it really matter in the end? We talk about jobs and school and transitions and trying to find community. Boston is finding out I kind of like port. It’s rich and red and not as dry as wine, but tiny little sips in a tiny little shot glass are enough for me. Boston is snooping in the rich neighbors’ huge house because T. is dog/cat/house-sitting and trying to get the weird dog to play with us and petting the insanely fluffy cat that yawns like a lion and playing a cooperative board game and failing to stop the epidemic from spreading to the whole cardboard world and not caring because it was fun anyway.

Boston is sipping tea and talking with E. much later than either of us had planned to. We talk about friends and relationships and holes and balance and work and struggles and hard things and beautiful things and pretty much life. We both say things which make each other think, make each other smile. We understand each other more and deeper than either of us were probably expecting. We make the air between us a comfortable space to sit in and speak into. Boston is her fierce hug the night before I leave. Boston is knowing I can come back, and they can always come to. Boston is sleeping on an air mattress at least two feet tall. Boston is a fleece blanket. Boston is watching Sherlock in the light of a reading lamp. Boston is stealing one last piece of chocolate before walking out onto the frost-slick predawn street.

Boston is knowing myself better. Boston is still being the same me. Boston is friendship, known and unexpected. Boston is being alone. Boston is thinking, and Boston is talking. Boston is balance. Boston is wishing, and Boston is exploring. Boston is not wanting to leave.

The Things I Wrote by Accident before I Could Write on Purpose

So I’ve spent the last week and a half in the whirlwind that is residency. I am exhausted. And I am inspired. And did I say that I was exhausted? I don’t think I can say that part enough. Physically, emotionally, spiritually exhausted.

Something I have discovered this week is that in order to write stories, I have to write about my own self first. Clear out all the things that are haunting the back of my brain and swirling around in my heart so that I can write what I actually am sitting down to write. In other words, I find that I have to write some things by accident so I can write other things on purpose. And yet I found meaning and beauty in those musings, no matter how odd or painful they may be. They demanded to be heard. So here they are. Apply them to your own life. Take what you will, leave what you wish. They are merely the scribblings of a mind always in motion.

When my appendix burst, I walked through the ER into the hospital hallway. The anesthesiologist, a friend, held my CAT scan in his hands, seeing whatever the nasty stuff I drank lit up as wrong with me. He looked from the sheet to me and back down again. “How are you still standing?” he said. The scan revealed the truth of what was inside, shouting that I should be in intense pain. But there I was, standing. It didn’t mean there hadn’t been pain. But I was still there on my own two feet, the proof of my struggle in his hands.

So many times, this is all I have wished for. For someone to come up to me, and not say “You’ll be okay,” or “I’m sure that was hard,” or “What happened,” or “Doing this will help.” I’m not wanting someone to fix me or tell me how ‘fine’ I will be in the future or listen to me rehash every moment of my intimate experience. I just want someone to look at me and say, “How are you still standing?” I want someone to see right through my skin and bones and muscle and the smiling shield I project or the chatter or the quiet I pull around me like a cloak. I want someone to pierce through all that and just see the location and magnitude of my pain, how it lights me up like a Christmas tree, bright pulsing colors of agony. I want someone to not care what precisely caused it, not compare my pain to someone else’s or their own. Just to look at me and with wonder say, “How are you still standing?” To treat me like something strong and beautiful and fragile and tragic.

Perhaps I want this so much because I so rarely get it, am offered its warm, gentle comfort. Perhaps it is because when I look at myself in the mirror, look deep into my eyes and sometimes find nothing, true seeing masked by love and pain inextricably mixed – perhaps because I look at myself then, and think, “How are you still standing,” both a little proud and a little shocked. How are you still standing.

Perhaps I want to hear someone say it, just because I wonder if anyone else, when they look at me, feels it too.

Missing you is like walking in a tide pool. Wading ankle deep, bare feet, trying to avoid stepping on the memories that are just too sharp to bear. The ones I know will draw blood, cloud the clear blue water with a rusty bloom, salt stinging the curving cut. I can’t avoid all the pointy edges – some camouflage themselves just too well, are too much a part of me to see, and others look innocent and then jump out at me, like the one with purple spikes that sproing out when my toe nudges too close. Other memories are beautiful, like the small, pearly-pink conch shell softly sparkling, or the unassuming sand dollar nestled quiet, precious, in the sand, just waiting for someone to look closely enough to see it. You are like both of those things. Obviously beautiful and a treasure waiting to be uncovered. For someone to just stop long enough and see. You saw me like that too. I love this tide pool, and yet I don’t. I wish all the sharp edges would be gone and everything would be safe to pick up, to turn over and over in my hands, to close my eyes and run my fingers over all the curves and lips, to feel every texture, ridged and scalloped and speckled, to press the smooth egg-like stones into my palms. I wish. I wish. I wish. Tide pools are good places for wishing. So many of my wishes have come true here, a small watery universe of life and color, and yet so many are aching to be reborn. The tide pool is lonely without you. I need your bare toes next to mine, leaving little prints in the white, soft sand, dimples for the friendly water to gentle at the edges, yet never erase.

I realized today I’ve picked up your habit of laughing before everyone else does. Or at least, at a different time. I don’t know how. I don’t know when. It’s like I suddenly ‘get it’ before the rest of them, and I can’t help but laugh. Or the things they think are funny, I don’t. I think other things are funny.

Maybe it’s like how you started saying “Sad day,” and “Oh bother,” just like me, partly because you knew I’d like it, and partly because people pleasantly rub off on each other when they hang around so much. Just like I started quietly “sssshhh”-ing loud noises and loud people under my breath. Because you did. I always loved that. I started doing it because you did. And then I started doing it on instinct. Every once in a while, it’ll just happen, and part of me wants to smile, and part of me wants to cry. I really want to do both.

Maybe it’s like how once in a blue moon, I drink my coffee black. Because it’s just one little step closer to you. One small, pointless connection, that somehow doesn’t feel pointless, even though it’s like a game of pretend. And when I do that, instead of adding the cream and three packets of sugar that I usually do, I actually like it. Don’t ask me how. Maybe because I loved how different we were. We like each other not in spite of that difference, but because we felt a pull to who we truly were.

I still maintain we were better together.

And so I will continue drinking black coffee when the mood hits, shushing random strangers, and laughing before the rest of the world even notices.

Maybe somewhere, a little part of me is still with you, too.

The tree is still there – the tree I climbed in July, the tree that enabled me to climb up and away from all the things that choked me, the atmosphere that grew thicker and thicker until I left the giant chapel lecture hall with its organ and Victorian walls and echoing words and out into the buzzing air and green to find somewhere I could breathe.

Now the ground is covered in snow, snow which has lain there for days and days, no longer new snow, but still somehow white. I walk over to the tree, seeing the animal tracks and footprints indenting the surface, paw prints and boot steps. The thought crosses my mind – if I was the old me, I’d want to touch the snow. I’d want to bend down and feel its coldness between my fingers.

I am at the base of the tree. I touch the low, smooth, textured branch, the one so low to the ground it made a perfect foothold. Last year, there was a little painted rock that someone had placed in the wide crook where branch met trunk. A whimsical surprise for someone to find. I loved that. The rock isn’t there now.

I think about old me’s, new me’s, me’s I liked and me’s I didn’t. I don’t think that’s true, that there’s old me’s and new me’s, not exactly. I think there’s the real me, and not me. I think there’s one true, realest me, and all the different me’s are just varying degrees closer to or farther away from that real me. The me’s I liked were closest to that real me. The me’s I hated being were the ones farthest away. There is no old and new. There is just real and untrue. Untrue things do exist, you know. That’s why they feel so wrong.

As I walk away from the tree, I touch the ground, feel the snow between my fingers, because I feel like I should. That’s what the real me would do.

I would like to call B.S. on something.
We’ve all heard the song that says, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
That’s not true. Not for everybody.
Not all pain makes all people stronger. I would not say that I am stronger. That’s not the right word.
I think pain can make you indifferent.
I think pain can make you deeper.
I think for me, it does both.
But I hope I end up with more ‘deeper’ than more ‘indifferent.’
And sometimes hoping makes all the difference.

I’m sitting in graduation at the end of the marathon that is residency for the MFA in creative writing for children and young adults and boy, am I glad that it’s over.

Something can be incredibly inspiring and terribly exhausting at the same time, and at this point, at this most sentimental and emotionally-charged of all moments in this ten day period, everyone is crying. And I mean, literally, almost everyone.

The graduating class has decided to play a piece of piano and violin music, live, to celebrate their time here. It is meant to symbolize what this school means to all of us, all us writers and students. For most students, this place holds the most magical community they have ever found. This is not true for me. There are many things I appreciate about this place, but it is not ‘my place’ or ‘my people.’ But I have made my peace with that.

So when the music begins to play and steals a bit of my soul from my body, I do not think of school. For the music speaks of home. Loudly, clearly, unmistakably. Resonating in my bones. Carrying me way. Home. I am full of a feeling, and I follow that feeling, and it leads me straight – to you.

Of course it does. For when I think of home, you are what my heart invariably turns to. It does not take effort. It does not take thought. It just does. Home.

You holding me is home.

Or just you. Just you will do. Just you is home.

And in this moment, I realize something that I hadn’t thought of before. I have always known that you have changed me as a person. I am inexpressibly glad for that. But what I didn’t realize is that you have changed my writing too. It is deeper. It ranges farther and wider. It rings truer. Because you are one of the deepest, farthest, widest, truest things I have ever known. And whatever a person treasures will change them.

Martine, the speaker, begins to talk. At first she is funny, and then she is profound. She speaks of why we do what we do as writers for children. About why we are important.

She uses the phrase “radical empathy.” This is our work, our heart, who we are. Radical empathy.

For me, radical empathy means deep knowledge. Knowing something in the deepest way you can know it and feeling a deep love for that thing that you know so very well. Radical empathy is that deep knowing with other people, between people.

I knew you so well. I tried to know you harder than I had tried to know anyone. And it worked. And I felt a love that I hadn’t felt for anyone else. And I think that counts as radical empathy.

And because of that, I think you are now in everything that I write, because you are part of my heart. You are part of the deepest knowing I have ever known. You are part of the deepest desire I have ever had for someone else to know me.

And so much of writing is a keeping on going. Of pushing on when things are hard and long and just plain frustrating. I didn’t know how much “keeping on going” I had in me until this last year. I don’t know how I’ve kept going on, with everything, from the smallest thing to the biggest things, but I have. And inadvertently, you taught me that too. Even when it doesn’t feel like I’m keeping on, even when I don’t think I can keep on another step, I somehow do, only with God’s grace. And here I am, still keeping on. And here I am, still caring about you. I can’t explain it, but I do. And if I can do that, then I can do this. I can write. And keep on writing. And keep on and on and on and on until someone somewhere reads something I write and says wow, I am not alone. I never knew. And they will keep going on. And that will be radical empathy, even if I never know.

So for these things, I thank you. I have many things to thank you for, but I did not know that this may be one of them. Even though I wish I didn’t have to keep on going without you, I do. And so do you. And I hope that one day, just maybe, we won’t have to, and we can have “radical empathy.” Maybe we still have it. Maybe one day, we can have a deep, true knowledge again, and from a distance that can be crossed by the simple, small touch of a hand.

Brooklyn, part two

It’s amazing to me how quickly this quirky city apartment feels more like home than most places I’ve  recently been. Its odd shape draws me in – the long hallway down to the kitchen, the separate bedrooms and living rooms separated by the gear room in between, with its shelves of climbing paraphernalia, woodworking tools, and the awkward hunk of log abandoned on the floor. B. shows me all the oddities of his home of almost two and a half years. The light in the bathroom has a pull-string dangling from the ceiling (hard to find in the dark, if you don’t know where to reach). The faucet in the kitchen drips incessantly unless you push the handle a little to the right. There’s a leak in the ceiling in the gear room, a quarter-full rectangular tub situated underneath to catch the water which plips and plops, falling at a regular rhythm. The Neflix sometimes doesn’t work, unless you unplug and replug the tv cable. Some things I discover myself over the next couple days… the floorboard by the living room door which sinks and squeals loudly when stepped on, the strangely hidden button by the table that turns on the kitchen light (I fumbled around in the dark for an embarrassingly long time), the way you only have to twist the shower knob a smidgen or else the water becomes too hot.

It’s funny how knowing all these things makes me feel like a piece of the house is mine, like I belong there. I try to know it the way I wish people knew me – knowing my oddities and loving me because of them and not in spite of them. This little apartment has character. And B. lives here, so of course I like it. It looks like it’s been lived in by two young bachelors… which of course, it has. There’s random stuff everywhere, and the slight mess makes me feel even more comfortable in it. No one felt like they had to clean up for me. I like that even more. B’s fabled rip-off Dr. Pepper collection sits on the shelf, alongside the “Best Mustache” award from the Chicken Race and his medical award. An eclectic mix of knickknacks for a well-rounded, dedicated, silly person.

I’m given a blow-up mattress on the floor with green and white plaid sheets, surprisingly comfortable. I make the little living room mine, and at night it is so very dark and so very quiet I can hardly believe I’m in the city, and I sleep well. I don’t take sleeping well for granted anymore. In the mornings, I boil water in the electric kettle and drink tea standing by the window with the diamond grate, looking out at the untouched snow of the postage-stamp backyard. The honey I wanted to use is so old it crystallized in the cupboard. That makes me smile.

The next few days are a mix of explorations on my own and walking around the city with B. We climb at Brooklyn Boulders, an edgy bouldering gym with bright bubble graffiti art splashed across the walls. The grades are soft, although the walls are high, and it feels good to climb ‘harder’ than I usually do at home. B. and I walk all over the city, making my legs sore for days. We see Brooklyn and Manhattan and all the things someone is supposed to see when they’re in New York. We go to a tea shop with a million different wonderful smells to choose from and leave with steaming to-go cups – B. splits his pair of gloves so we can each wear one on the hand that has to stay out in the cold, holding the tea.

I feel lost in this city without him, much like I feel internally lost most of the time. I stick so close to him in crowds that sometimes he turns around to check I’m there and doesn’t see me, because I’m right next to his elbow. We cross the Brooklyn Bridge, and we can’t help but talk about what it would be like to climb up its arching pipes, clipping in to the strong cables. We visit the new World Trade Center building, and the 911 memorial, waterfall hole falling into waterfall hole, out of sight, seeming to fall into eternity, names punched out of metal which I run my fingertips along, feeling the weight of this place and the ghosts living in the words, remembrance, although I have no memory of the event myself (It’s just one of those things you feel like you remember, because how could you not).

We ride the Staten Island Ferry, see the Statue of Liberty, looking magnificent yet smaller than I expected, trying to stand in patches of sun as the wind blows skin-numbing cold. I like seeing the city all at once, the skyline lining up the chaos in an ordered picture, water rushing blue and white foaming down below, stirring inside feelings of freedom. We talk about life, and long stretches of silence between conversations are more comfortable once we talk about what’s really been burdening our hearts through the past month since we last saw each other. There is no judgement between us. We just ask questions and listen and be. We eat bagels and pizza and Ethiopian food with moist floppy pancake bread and drink honey mead wine that I’m surprised I actually like. We visit Times Square for a few hot seconds at night, just so I can be ‘overwhelmed for a minute and then leave’ as B. says. I spin around looking at all the people and the towering screens that light up the sky like false white daylight. I spin and I spin and I am definitely overwhelmed. “Are you New-Yorked?” asks B. Yes. I am definitely New-Yorked.

We return home and he tries to introduce me to adult cartoons by watching Futurama, which is mildly funny in places, I do have to admit. Or we just sit and talk. He wears fuzzy fleece PJ pants that are covered with pictures of Olaf and say ‘I like warm hugs,’ because he does, and it makes me laugh. He works late shifts and I fall asleep with the light on, until he comes home and turns it off, and I fall asleep again knowing he got back safely. (He insists on biking through the New York traffic and night and snow. He’s wonderfully insane. And everyone in NY bikes and drives too fast, in my opinion.) Or I stay up and we talk about ice climbing and crampons and ice axes and I get to play with his gear, or he eats his midnight dinner and I drink tea and we talk about random things. He does things like texting me to make sure I’m not hopelessly lost on the subway, and I do things like texting him to remind him to ride safe. He’s like the older brother I magically get to have without having to grow up with all the teasing. He’s like the older brother I miss all year and wish he lives closer by. He’s the older brother for whom I use cities I’ve never been to and climbing gyms that aren’t mine as excuses to come see him.

I do spend a good bit of time alone. I feel the normal alone feelings well up in me as I navigate the subway by myself, getting lost and confused but always figuring it out, understanding more and more with each consecutive lesson from B. I visit the Brooklyn Public Library, which moves me with quotes etched in stone and surprises me with towering doors with gold figures from stories and legends, even books I loved growing up, like White Fang by Jack London. I walk in Prospects Park, boots slipping on snow, remembering treasured snows past, missing the people with whom I walked through enchanted forests hushed by freshly-fallen white. I visit the Brooklyn Art Library, which is actually a library of sketchbooks – I love art but hate not being able to touch it, experience its textures and assure myself it’s real, and so I love the quiet magnificence of this place, love turning the thick pages of the insides of people’s brilliant and wildly different and breathtaking and colorful and weird imaginations, painting and collage and fabric and embroidery and pop-up and flap books and poems and stories and just everything you can imagine and more. I want to stay forever, but leave as the light fades from the sky.

There are so many people in New York, as you could guess. There’s just this swimming rush of humanity all around, swirling and mixing, and truthfully it’s all kind of scary. But I start to become desensitized to it after a while, could see how you could get used to it out of necessity, become cold to it, indifferent. It amazes me how everyone, on the street, on the subway, barely see each other, not truly see each other in the truest sense of seeing. I thought it would be the opposite, so many people so close together, but I guess the sheer mass of all that humanity in one place robs people of the ability to appreciate the unknown hearts of everyone all around them. This is sad to me. But at least I can have eyes that see, because I’m only here for a little while.

I people-watch out of instinct. Part of it is the watcher in me, part of it is the writer. There’s the man on the subway that brings his sketchbook, looking at the paper with tilted head, adding small, deft strokes with a simple black pen. There’s the two college guys chattering about stick and poke tattoos and how they found out so and so is going out with so and so who lives in another state by snooping at a stranger’s phone, what a coincidence, what a small world. One of them is holding a copy of Kelly Link’s book of fantastical short stories. There’s the gaggle of middle school boys that hop into the car all a rush, talking loudly and gesturing, standing although there’s plenty of room to sit, and hopping off a few short stops later, just as loudly. There’s the toddler at the pizza shop with the tiny pink mittens taking tiny little bites, stepping uncertain in this big world, but with a hand to hold. There’s the kid at the library who’s been sitting there forever and looks like he will sit there forever, playing a video game on the computer, and the boy beside him messing with a Rubik’s cube. There’s the two guys in tigger onesies, complete with orange and black striped tails, on skis, walking (or skiing?) their dog in the park. There’s the guy that pops a bracelet on my hand in Central Park and then asks for money. There’s the couples taking pictures on Bow Bridge. There’s so many people.

B. and I go to The Cliffs, Brooklyn’s other climbing gym. It feels much more community-oriented, with a storm of team kid climbers and an after-work rush that fills up the space. A big lead cave arches to the right, and to the left, bouldering stretches on and on. I push myself to lead, but fall back to top rope as well. I have to take advantage of the moments when I can really trust the person on the other end of the rope. I run into T., and I can barely contain my excitement. She was my counselor on my very first New River Gorge Rock Week summer camp, one of the most transformative and joy-filled weeks of my life, and I haven’t seen her in a long time. I tap her shoulder. The sheer happiness on her face and the way she hugs me and won’t let me go overwhelm me. It’s a comfort and connection that I haven’t felt in a long time. Whenever I see T., she always makes me wonder how any person could be that happy to see me. And I think she makes everyone feel that way. I come back the next day and we climb together, talking a mile a minute between routes, filling in the gaps of the last few years of our lives. It’s amazing how it fills me up too. Despite it being the third day of climbing in a row, despite being sore, I climb the best that day out of all three. Crazy. Sometimes the best things defy logic.

Around the time I finally figure out the subway system, around the time I would finally feel comfortable enough to busk in its tunnels, around the time I am less unnerved at walking by myself through crowds and crossing lines of honking cars, around the time I know where the sugar is in the kitchen cabinet, it’s time to go. Barely two hours after we fall asleep, B. gets up at 4 am just to lock the door behind me and give me a hairy, shirtless hug as I slip into the night. I feel a pull deep in my chest as I go. Anyplace that gives me a piece of home is difficult to leave. Leaving B. is always difficult. Probably because it’s always unpredictable when I will see him again. But at least this time I know that I can now go to him instead of waiting for him to come to me.

The usual travel melancholy fills me up, and I try to sleep as I board the bus to Vermont, darkness sliding empty past my window.

Brooklyn, part one

I’m almost through grad school residency here in Vermont, but it feels like I’ve been here for a month… and I can feel the details of my handful of days in Brooklyn slipping through my fingers as my brain spins and spins. so here are a few moments from my time there to look back on.

trains are odd things. I decide I like train travel – I’ve never been on one before. they sound just like they do in the movies, whistle and all, and the car rocks slightly back and forth, especially when leaving the station. it’s a miracle I made it on the train at all – I remembered the wrong time on my ticket, and when I came back the second time around, I found that my ticket was for the wrong station. I was meant to be across town. thankfully, the teller changed my location so I didn’t have to go back into the cold dawn morning.

it turns out I think I was meant to be in that particular train station after all. I’m sitting with my book, waiting for the train to arrive in a room full of other passengers, and I’m feeling kind of sad. I always feel more intensely sad and lonely when I’m about to travel – it just heightens the everyday sadness and loneliness I feel, I think because I’m launching off into the unknown all by myself. it makes what I feel real, even though I’m glad I’m off to see people and do new things. but I’m sitting there, feeling like the only sad person in the world, even though I know intellectually that can’t be true.

but then I notice the woman sitting on the bench behind me is on the phone, crying. I mean, really crying. the type of crying where you don’t care if the whole room hears you, because you feel so sad, it really doesn’t matter. I’ve been there. I’ve been at the point where you don’t care what anyone thinks of you, because your world has gone to pieces and there’s nothing you can do to put it back together again. I get the feeling I should go over and talk to her, and ask to pray with her. yes, that sounds mildly terrifying. yes, this is something I feel God wants me to do. I figure I don’t have anything to lose. I go and sit next to her. she’s wearing a pretty scarf wrapped around her head, green and blue patterns on black. I ask if she’s okay. she says she’s not okay. I appreciate the honesty in that – so many times I wished I had the courage to say I wasn’t okay instead of just saying what would make someone not worry about me, leave me alone. she says her name is Toni. we pray together. we let our hands reach out to each other, resting on legs and knees. perfect strangers yet not. and as we do, I can tell that this was the right decision. she needed it. I needed it. we both needed it. and God is there, like he says he would be. after we pray, she says her daughter died giving birth. I walk back to my seat, on the verge of losing it myself. I am very very glad I was there at that very specific time. glad our lives got to intersect at that moment. painful and beautiful. less alone. Toni leaves on her train. I later board mine.

I think a lot, on the train. I seem to do the same thing on planes, and buses. it’s something about travelling. something about crossing great distances by myself. I think about the moment in the bus station. I think about how so much of Passion was about purpose. about how even when I sometimes don’t feel like I have a purpose, or a point, I do. my purpose is to be who God created me to be. to be a light pointing people to him. to be an arrow in his bow to light the world on fire for him. I think about how many times this past year I have felt completely empty. completely blank. completely nothing. completely pointless. and that is perhaps the scariest feeling of all, feeling like your life has no damn point. Passion reminded me that even when life feels empty, and I can’t see happiness on the horizon, I do have a point. and I can be that purpose knowing that one day, everything inside me will be made whole, even if I never get that feeling here on earth. but that moment in the train station – I didn’t feel like anything incredible, because I’m not, but I did feel special in the sense that I got to be something for someone who needed God that day. I felt far from pointless. I felt that maybe God can use me after all. that maybe even when I’m not happy, I have worth. I have a point. and that is a feeling I want to somehow hold on to.

white-blue ice. frozen lakes. snow. snow. more snow. dark trees flashing past, forests of tall, dark trees. rivers. bridges. I read an entire book on the train. I begin another. I write. I watch. I listen to music. the trees roll past. I feel quiet and aching and small. the trees roll past. the world is beautiful out there. I can see that. I am glad for it.

I emerge from the train to the subway station, a riot of people and noise and just too much of everything. I’m lugging a guitar and my pack and a school backpack and it’s all too heavy… and guitars don’t like to go through subway turnstiles. I’ve never been on the subway before. I make it to the actual platform and get so many different directions until I’m confused and worried about going the wrong way. people busking in the hallways echo too loudly. there’s a tired man with his full shopping cart sitting against the tile wall, out of place. I leave the subway – tall, bright lights pounce on me, letters, a bright green band of fluorescent. I feel lost here. it’s night. everyone’s rushing around and I’m just me. by myself. tired and fed up, I call a cab, which charges me way too much, but I’m don’t care. it’s warm. the driver has an accent and a turban – we don’t talk as he cuts through traffic, a  bit recklessly. we pass over a bridge. I can see the white lights strung on the Brooklyn Bridge running parallel to us across the water. the skyscrapers are alight, upended rectangles reaching into the sky, a jagged horizon, up, down, up, down, up.

I end up sitting at a sandwich shop with a burger. I feel weird with my hiking pack and guitar propped up against the wall. I sit for a couple hours. B. is still on shift at the hospital and has to bike over after. his roommate feels weird about leaving keys for people. unfortunately for me, shifts at the ER can be long and unpredictable. I wait. and wait. and wait. and watch the kind of scary world of Brooklyn spin around outside the window. people come and go from the shop – the owner speaks some language from the Middle East, perhaps Arabic, and there’s obviously a close community around this street. people come and go, names exclaimed as they walk through the door, hugs and bright hellos in welcome, pleasantly rhythmic conversations that I don’t understand. I wait. I lay my head on the table but feel weird closing my eyes with so many people walking right by me on the other side of the glass. I wait.

when B. walks through the door, beard and puffy and all, smiling, everything is instantly better. he gives me one of his bear hugs, and he leads me across six lanes of traffic and down the next dark road to his house, bike wheels spinning in the slush beside us. he tells me to remember to turn at the ‘happy cleaners,’ the one with the big neon yellow smiley face on the front, and that his apartment is the door after the house with the sparkly snowflake garlands wrapped around the iron railings. I will remember. I’m just glad he’s here.

thinking about the people I truly care about in my life makes me think even more. they make me think about amazing things… in the actual sense of the word, of being kind of in awe of something big and wow and how. it’s amazing how one person can spin your day around. it’s amazing how one person can even spin your life around. it’s amazing just how amazing one person can be. it’s amazing how much one person can fill you. and empty you. it’s amazing how much you can think about and feel for one person and still keep on living without them. I don’t understand it. but I know how much one person can mean to me.

to the half-unwelcome guest

dear sadness,

well hello there. I knew you’d be coming back. you may be a bit unwelcome, but at least not unexpected. unexpected and unwelcome guests are the worst. so I guess I have the upper hand. I’ve prepared for you being here. and I’ve done a lot of thinking since you’ve been gone. there’s going to be a few changes in the way things are run around here, so listen up.

first off, you may only have one room. yes, it is a room close to the center of the house, close to the everyday workings and thought processes and the other deep feelings. yes, you are still living next door to love, and memory. but this time, you are also close to faith. let me say it again – you may only have one room. you can’t have the basement, and the kitchen, and the lounge, and the attic, and that little cubbyhole by the round window, and you most certainly cannot have the tree house in the backyard. you will not take over my life and tell me what I can and cannot do. you do not make the decisions. you most certainly will not be in charge of my house. you are an important occupant, but not the only one. I know I cannot get rid of you, because you are part of me, especially now. I was meant to feel you. and where there is loss, and space, and great love, there will always be sadness, and this is not wrong. but you will not drown me anymore.

secondly, you cannot bring your best friend, your right hand girl, your fellow conspirator – fear. sadness makes sense, but fear does not. you have no claim here. I have learned that fear has no place on God’s throne, and that’s what my heart is meant to be. fear is always irrational for anyone who believes, because God is in charge. that doesn’t mean I won’t ever be afraid, and it doesn’t mean I won’t fear for other people in my life, sometimes with good reason… but you were never meant to live here. not even lurking in a corner of the garden or crouching in the hedges or creeping up the ivy. wherever you show your face, I will fight you. and I will win. no more will you steal my breath and sit on my chest and clamp your stupid, clammy hands around my throat. I now have weapons, divine words and promises, which will make you bleed. so you will stay out of my house. I know you are there, but you will not own me. not any longer.

so, sadness. this is the way things are now. you’re just going to have to deal. I may not always be successful at implementing these rules, but I’m going to try my best, and you’re going to listen, because I’m not doing this alone. I’ve got God on my side. yes, you are valid. yes, I feel you deeply and accept the reasons why. yes, I do not hate you for existing. love is a coin – happiness on one side and sadness on the other. right now, sadness is the side my coin has settled on. but that doesn’t mean love still isn’t there too. and where love lives, there is always the potential for happiness. I still remember feeling that happiness fill my whole house. deep inside, the walls still know its warmth and song. just waiting to wake up again.

oh, and yes. that reminds me. you may indeed bring hope. sometimes hope brings happiness, but often it brings sadness too, in the waiting. it is double-edged like that. the shiny sharpness to my coin, the honed gold the light glints off of. I will admit, this is something I do admire about you. that you can still hope. some people think that you’re crazy. I think you’re just born of something that just won’t quit. that makes you stubborn, but also not entirely pointless. it’s a complicated subject, one I don’t understand fully. but I know that you don’t make sense without hope, as do most things. silence breeds sadness – in fact, I think it may be one of the most painful kinds of sadness, because it is so empty – but silence also means there is space that could be filled, even with difficult things. but at least that would be something. I can understand hope for that. so yes, please, bring hope. as much as you and I can stand.

and do pack a small suitcase, if you can – like I said, I don’t have room for a lot of your unnecessary luggage. no stowaways, if you please. I’m wise to your tricks, if not impervious. I’m sure that we’ll get along just fine, in time. perhaps, one day, you’ll decide your room is much too big for you. maybe if the coin flips, or the walls wake up. just say the word. I’ll be ready. but for now…

I’ll be expecting you.

– me, heart-housekeeper


when I was little, I read this mystery book with a character who could take mental pictures. she would blink, like a camera shuttering, and make a little ‘click,’ and her mind perfectly saved that moment. she could go back to it anytime she wanted to and remember exactly what she was seeing. I always wanted to be able to do that, to save a moment in my mind like a photograph, and I tried. most of the time, it didn’t work. I’d try super hard to remember but the picture would just fade away. I’d remember I’d taken a picture but couldn’t remember what it was of, or the pictures that did stay were unimportant, not things that really mattered to me, like the pink flowers on a smooth dead tree on the drive back from the beach. those things didn’t count. they were beautiful, but not what I really wanted to remember.

but one day, we were sitting on your bed. I think it was the afternoon. just us. and you had the blanket pulled halfway up your face. you know, the peachy orange one, almost scratchy but not quite, thick and warm. all the way to your nose, like you sometimes did when we were talking. and you were looking at me. all I could really see were your eyes. the eyes that I know are brown, with a bit of gold in them when the sun hits just right. and I remember really wanting to remember that moment. I’d never met a person my heart wanted to take a picture of more badly. and I think because I was scared of losing you, I was even more desperate to capture it. to never let it go.

that picture has stuck with me ever since.

Jesus is the lightning bolt

Here’s something I’m realizing about God… he rarely does what we think he’s going to do. And that’s generally because our dreams and ideas are too small for him. What he did for me in the past three days is no different.

I decided to go to Passion 2018 probably not in the same way most students did. I had written it off – too last minute, too far, too many people – until three days before the conference began. I was sitting at the kitchen counter, staring at a job application I was supposed to be filling out, and all I could think about was how dizzy I was, how my breath felt constricted. I hopped in the shower just to feel the water on my skin, just to get outside myself a bit. I was thinking about how my plans didn’t work out, how I’m still still stuck in the same city with my same self with my same circumstances for the foreseeable future. I was thinking about how I wanted to rest in God but just didn’t know how, my head knowing all the answers but my heart just couldn’t feel anything anymore, nothing but dark and sad and scared. He felt so far away, almost like he didn’t exist. I knew he did. I had felt his presence, his spirit, in a powerful and undeniable way in a church on my knees in 2013, and hundreds of smaller moments before and since. But now, I felt completely alone. I couldn’t reach him. And I needed him now more than ever.

I decided to go to Passion because I needed a way out. I told myself it was practical, a vehicle for physically leaving my world behind for a while, but I also desperately wanted God to do something. Anything. Anything other than the way I felt right now.

Honestly, I felt a little insane as I packed my bag, prepping to sit in a van for hours with over twenty college kids I didn’t know to join a conference of thousands of more people I didn’t know to talk and sing and think about Jesus nonstop for the next three days. I was the girl who isolates herself because she doesn’t know how to be around people and carry her pain. I was the girl who almost never made it all the way through a church service because the emotions and the truth clash and it’s just all too much to surrender. I was the girl who hides in the familiar and the small and the comfort of a quiet bedroom and fictional adventures. Not the girl who decides on a whim to jump in the car with strangers, basically attend church 24/7, and constantly be around thousands of people I didn’t know. I really did feel crazy. And I completely lost it as I left my house in the morning, the thoughts in my head spooling out and circling me, you don’t belong there you don’t belong with these people you can’t handle this you should just stay home stay put and just get over yourself. But my need to get out was bigger than my need to hide. And God used that to get me where I needed to be for him to blow my mind.

As my group walks into the arena, I immediately feel surrounded by possibility. The speakers are pumping. Purple lights illuminate the mist, making the air seem to glow. Cellphone lights bob from the far reaches of the accumulating crowd, like stars or white fireflies. The atmosphere feels as if it is humming with life. I look out on it all, the stage, the full seats, the blasting music, and am aware that I am still me. I am still the girl who hides, who struggles, who loves in an empty room, who feels trapped by everything that she is and isn’t, who cannot seem to pierce her own isolation and dark, who can’t seem to reach her God. But I also felt promise. Promise that if I come, if anyone comes, we will not be turned away.

And so here comes the part where even as I ask God to something, I already have a presupposed idea of what it’s going to look like. I ask him to remove my depression and anxiety. I ask him to either completely take away the desire that has caused so much hurt in my heart or give me peace and confidence that he’s going to fulfill that desire. I say, do this or this. Hit me with a metaphorical lightning bolt, one that changes everything. But I also say, whatever you want to do, don’t leave me where I am, because I can’t stay here anymore. I can’t change myself. You can. And that’s all he was waiting to hear.

The music starts, and something incredible begins. When I decided not to run, to let him in, God filled every second of that time. The next few hours blur into days, moments all strung together by his mighty hand. I came as nothing, a shell waiting to be filled, a person begging to be rescued. And he did, and totally blew my expectations of what that was going to look like out of the water. I am still processing all that happened in my heart and in that arena and probably will continue to process these things for a long time.

In the end, God didn’t do what I asked. And yet he did. He did both things, and neither. Often this is the way God works, in seeming contradictions and impossibilities, that only make sense once we experience them, are willing to be open to them. He lifted off of me the burden of depression and anxiety that I have been feeling. I was in a pit where I couldn’t see and I couldn’t breathe and he pulled me out of it. But I also know I will still struggle with sadness and fear. We cannot escape these things in this life, on this earth. Sin and heartbreak go hand in hand. We have the promise of wholeness but the world is still broken. Even as God brought his peace and strength and light to my heart, I still intimately knew the fracture lines in my heart. They are as familiar to me as the sun and the night, I can trace them with a fingertip with my eyes closed. While I am here, they will always be part of me. Where love is great, pain is great. This is a part of life. But at the same time, I felt God breaking me free from the depth which I had been at. He says, you will feel pain and fear and confusion and achings, but you will not drown in them. Not while I am here.

And then, he did something strange with my desires, my longings. I expected him to take them away or tell me he will fulfill them. But he did neither. He filled me up with who he is. The songs and the messages reminded me of who God is in a new way, and as I surrendered everything I was to those truths, my heart started to wake up. I told God, I just want you, everything that you are, all of you, just fill me up with yourself, and he said yes. alwaysHere’s the thing about being a Christian – you don’t have to feel God to believe in him. Just like you don’t need to visit India to know it exists, or see the sun in the nighttime to believe that it’s there. Believing is not about feeling or seeing. It is about knowing. About truth. About the facts lining up. And they do, and that should be enough. But it is human to want to feel. I have been blessed to have powerfully felt the presence of God a few times in my life. And in that arena, with 10,000 people all praising God together, technologically connected with over 30,000 more, I felt him there again. It’s not something that’s easy to explain. I don’t know if it’s something that people can explain, because the words just aren’t there. But we know it when we feel it, and it’s not something deniable.

Over and over again, God showed me this: He is the lightning bolt. No change in my circumstances or my desires can make as big and true an impact as his presence in my life and the condition of my relationship with him. When I let him fill my focus and my heart, everything changed. My desires did not change, but when I desired him above all else, I didn’t feel them as sharply. They felt smaller. Not because they were any smaller, but because next to God, they couldn’t compare. He eclipsed me. God is worth infinitely more than anything else we could ever want. And in the end, everything good we desire is a reflection of who he is – that’s why we want it in the first place, because it is good. But ultimately, our biggest desire and need is him, and nothing else can fully satisfy us. It’s one thing to know that, and quite another to feel it. My desire is still there. My love is still the same. My memories intact. What was true before is still true now. But with God, it doesn’t have to overwhelm me. All is not lost if my desire isn’t fulfilled here. God will be enough for me. And in the end, in the perfect world that is to come, every desire will be fulfilled, in ways more perfect than we can imagine.

And yes, God did give me peace. He did give me hope. But he gave them to me through my being willing for him to do whatever he wants in my life. Through knowing that he cares about my loves and my desires. Through believing in his fierce, unstoppable love for me and for the people I love. I don’t know what’s going to happen. No one can ever know. But with God, I have hope for good things, even if the good things he has for me aren’t the ones that I would have picked. His plans are better than anything I could choose. Bigger. But he also hears me when I pray. He feels my heart when I love. And with him, anything is possible. And it. will. be. good.

I am aware that the experience I had at Passion definitely qualifies as a “mountaintop” experience. It was full of revelation followed by revelation, one after the other even when I thought there couldn’t possibly be any more. It transcended most of the experiences I have ever had. It was full of feeling and seeing and not just believing and knowing. Whenever you climb a mountain, you have to come back down. You can’t stay up there forever. It doesn’t mean you leave behind what you have learned and who you have become, but you do have to come down to the life you normally walk, full of plains and hills and even valleys, but rarely mountains. I am aware that I probably will not feel this peaceful, this grounded, this full, this satisfied, this courageous, this lit up, in few days. Right now it feels like there’s this direct line between me and God, a 24/7 connection. I know that most of the time it doesn’t feel like that, even though nothing has changed, even though his spirit is still present and living in me. I am aware that as I come down off this “high,” sadness will trickle back into me again. Fear will attack me. Those fracture lines are going to hurt like nobody’s business. But I’m going to fight back. I know who I am. I am a daughter of the King. I am never alone. And he’s already won every battle that I have to fight.

During the last session of the conference, someone said, “Be in the dark who you are in the light.” I like that. It feels like the truest statement for me. It doesn’t deny that there is going to be dark, that I will have to live through darkness. But it also confirms that there is light. That who I am in the light is the person I was always meant to be, the person I truly am. The person God has made me to be, who he will help me continue to be, get better at being. Right now, after these few days, I feel like I am living in the light, despite the darkness of unmet desires and love that keeps on going without answer. I am infinitely grateful for that. I am not the same person that left for Passion. But I also know that the farther away from this mountain I get, the more the dark will undoubtedly return. But that doesn’t mean that who I truly am is different. That doesn’t mean that God is different. And that’s what I want – no matter what happens, I want to live in the dark as the person I am in the light. And with God in me and around me and by my side, I will.

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