in advent’s glow,
at the close of a year,
we find ourselves
standing atop the moments that ushered us here.
stacked in our souls
as stones at the floor of a riverbed,
& the years,
of secret grief
& silent longings,
of joy restored
& hope held.
there are the ones
from the blows of trauma’s whip
& there are the ones
the rushing in of a new year
& there are the ones
of what was,
of who was,
who lean into
the crazed mystery :
where was God in it all?
& there are the ones
— we are the ones --
who know the grace
of all of these
& none of these
& every grace between.
we are the ones
full of awe & full of pause,
full of praise & full of pain.
may we trust
there is room enough
for all of it.
for all of us.
may we be a home
inviting every sacred heart
in tenderness & honor :
every part of you is welcome here.
there is space for every stone.
& all of heaven roars,
i have asked myself a dozen times if i have the right to write what i’m about to share, if i can share with an audience a story that is not my own.
it is a question that we need to ask ourselves redundantly because words have power & stories change things.
in this case, i’ve come to the conclusion that i can. & i only can because of this : i am not seeking to replace the voices who are currently experiencing the dark depths of this issue & its ramifications, i am simply seeking to add to their brave number, to raise my voice as a banner of hope alongside theirs.
a few of the latest statistics, according to Aljazeera & the Alberton Record :
“in August alone, 30 women were murdered by their partners”
“a woman is murdered every three hours in South Africa”
“the Crime Against Women in South Africa Report by Statistics SA shows that femicide (the murder of women on the basis of their gender) is 5 times higher than the global average”
“41% of people raped are children”
for the daughters in south africa whose lives have been hauled to death.
for their voices : silenced.
for their dreams : destroyed.
for their journeys : demolished.
we are outraged.
for the fear
that has been planted because of the past & of the present,
may it be starved.
for the fury
that follows this monstrous injustice,
may it be felt
in our core.
for the future
that is being built by today
— a tower of these moments --
may it be strengthened.
the following poem was written by natalia molebatsi, a writer & poet, born & raised in tembisa, south africa. it was written for her daughter & it is a rallying cry for the present & a rallying cry for the future, for the daughters of south africa & for the daughters in every pocket of the world.
“listen up, child” // by natalia molebatsi
“i’m raising you to wake up
and take a ride to any universe
be the beauty of soul sound and energy
create my child like you the created
earn the language of moulding
seeds into fruitful beings
i’m raising you so you too can raise me
infant of my skin
reveal chapters the two of us are yet to learn
and believe me child some of the rules
i have run into can save your soul,
so listen up child,
be yourself or don’t wake at all
life is not for the feeble
are you ready for the fires of time
that only life alone can extend
her long arms to light up?
If so clothe yourself with ancient selves
who knew before we did that you, the future
will be born into this crazy but jazzy
scene called living
rise and let the world know
you are here to claim no sense
nor sin but only the waking and dream-dripping
sun of each dawn
never wait for time’s breath to blow
into your lungs rather bloom
from the dust we rose from like mystics
to grow your own wings
and be sure to ask for strength
between these wings
so they don’t split into pieces and halves cause child,
i’m raising you to be whole
paint your life’s everyday in ways not forced on you
but reflections felt by you cause none but ourselves
can blow up a true self that is everything there is to be
raise your story’s voice to go beyond any beyond
and beat any ghost that could suck
out your way up to clouds of choice
have sacred communion with the past
that knotted to you your present
cause child, any presence that
lacks a past is part of the lost so listen up child
listen close child cause you’re a sister, and i’m a sister
remove your walk from exhausting
arms of men-talities who can’t take a strong sister
and white supremacies who still believe
we’re strong enough only for taking instructions
and child, i’m still tasting the bitter truth i’m learning
that not every woman is a sister
so, listen up gal
listen up, bloom of my belly
infant of my skin never step into boxes
these aren’t enough to hold our stories alive
rise to the knowledge that our people
and theirs are tapestries
sown long and wide enough to hold you up
till you can uphold yourself
never forbid your truth in spaces that strangle our realities
rise child your vision is our voice
i have laboured to challenge convention
beat conviction on my soul, scrubbed the floors of my heart
tended the soil of my womb so the fruits of my garden
would be like you child of mine beautiful beyond magic herself
i stood guard at the entrance to your ride
to usher you into these arms bosom and back
that i’m raising you to fly beyond
so listen up child
i’m raising you within the rain you were made of
walk to the knowledge that you are everything that is musical…”
it is important to learn & to reflect & to mourn. it is important to be thoughtful & intentional & critical. it is important to sit in the discomfort of it all & it is important to keep on journeying through it all.
it is important to know their names. here are a few :
Leighandre “Baby Lee” Jegels
it is important to know their stories & it is important to know their stories are more than their deaths & it is important to know their stories are unique & yet, they are tied together by common threads & this is one of them : every victim was a daughter & every daughter was a child & every child is born into this world with intrinsic value & worth that belongs here & is needed here.
the injustices that have happened & are happening in south africa are all too well-known in every corner of the world. the narrative is incredibly familiar. may it never become normalized. it is complex & it is staggering. may it never become simplified.
there is more to be said & there is more to be done, but i believe natalia molebatsi was onto something of power & of change for us all when she wrote this poem for her daughter.
may we all,
if we have a child or know a child, hug her. hug him. celebrate her. celebrate him. listen to her. listen to him.
may we tell her & may we tell him — if not by our words, then by the way we wholeheartedly respect, cherish & love them — as natalia wrote :
rise, child. your vision is our voice.
on september first, ben & i started to build our first home. that day, we walked in it & around it — excited & aimless — tossing ideas back & forth about where to hang our jackets, how to arrange the couches, where to declare the coffee station. the second day, we hauled box after box inside our new home, bumping our armfuls against the doorframes & exhausting the phrase : “we’ll put that there, for now.” (“that” is still “there,” by the way)
& it wasn’t until the first morning we woke up in our new bedroom it hit me : we’re building a home. we’re really doing it. this is it. we’re actually creating a life that revolves around this central word : home. so here we are : making berry smoothies & pumpkin muffins, figuring out household chores & the most cost-effective way to buy just about anything & trying really hard to understand each other — like why i prefer our deep conversations to happen at the start of any NFL game.
we’re creating habits & rhythms, priorities & preferences, that embody what we hope our home will continue to be & we’re celebrating this. every day, we’re celebrating this.
& yet, i’m incredibly unsettled about the fact we’re building a home in september 2019. because in the same moment that i’m putting sunflowers in a vase & arranging them on my windowsill, thousands of people are grieving all they lost from hurricane dorian.
i am sitting on my front porch, which is next to my neighbors’ front porch, which is next to my other neighbors’ front porch & “nearly three out of every four homes on Grand Bahama are under water” & i am wondering why the water pressure in my shower seems lower than usual & in another part of the same world there are “approximately 70 percent of the homes underwater” & i am about to walk down to my local coffee shop & “entire neighborhoods have been wiped out, with houses turned to rubble” in a place — a home — that is not mine, but is someone's. (the washington post)
i don’t have answers, only more questions. what can i do? read more articles? buy a flight? put the dishes away & thank God for my home? raise awareness? send an email? pray for the people who are living this moment in devastation? then go reheat & finish my coffee?
of course, there is a larger question looming under the surface of these words :
how can i celebrate _____ when another human is grieving _____?
i don’t know.
& although i don’t know the answer, or whether there is one, i do have a poem :
“the slippery green frog
that went to his death
in the heron’s pink throat
was my small brother,
and the heron
with the white plumes
like a crown on his head
who is washing now his great sword-beak
in the shining pond
is my tall thin brother.
my heart dresses in black
// after reading lucretius, i go to the pond // by mary Oliver //
i revisit this poem often. incredibly — almost embarrassingly — often. because it seems the longer i live, the more i am convinced that being human is less about tirelessly racing up the mountain so we can reach the peak & stay there & more about holding two handfuls — two hands. full. — of celebration & of devastation.
& this is how we go about it : we give in to celebration & we give in to devastation & we do not hold one handful above another. we embrace them. we unify them. we live them. we share them.
then, we press on.
we build & rebuild.
this september & every september.
i went to a gas station earlier today. there was a woman on the other side of the pump as me, screaming into her phone. although i am one for eavesdropping, i didn’t have to. she jabbed the pump into her car & screamed at the person on the other end, “I WANT TO BE WITH REPUBLICANS! I WANT TO BE WITH WHITE, CHRISTIAN, EVANGELICAL REPUBLICANS! I DON'T WANT TO BE WITH DEMOCRATS! I DON'T WANT TO COEXIST WITH LGBTQ DEMOCRATS! I WANT TO BE WITH REPUBLICANS!"
now. i have zero context for her phone conversation. i cannot tell you who this woman was, where she’s from, what her story is, what her wounds are, or where she’s headed to after the gas station. but as i inserted my card wrong not once, twice, but three times, profoundly distracted & frazzled at what was occurring about three feet from me, & finally jabbed my own pump into the gas tank, i can tell you i was deeply, deeply unsettled. there were so many emotions suddenly flooding my mind as i followed her minivan out of the parking lot. for one, i was angry. angry at her for - in that phone conversation - representing numerous amounts of people that may share similar beliefs as her, but live in & love the world in drastically different ways. angry at her for involving herself in whatever event or dinner or relationship she is involved in. i was sad. saddened over the fact that this random experience i had on my way to hobby lobby on a friday night isn’t all that random. saddened over the lack of dignity & respect we are capable of hauling at a person during a short exchange. i was stunned, although i maybe shouldn’t have been. i was embarrassed. for her. for me. for all of us.
i’m sharing this experience, but i don’t know what message i’m intending to send. every concise message i could possibly come up with sounds so forced & emptied & lazy. be kind? be a better person? be more self-aware? be somewhere in private when you’re reaming someone out over the phone?
i left the gas station & thought i left the experience largely behind me. i came back home & sat on my floor & played some music & started writing letters to my bridesmaids, my sisters. as i was writing, memories of being their little sister piled themselves in my mind. i remember spinning in my white dress as a flower girl for their weddings & learning how to throw a ball left-handed & being hugged over & over again whenever they walked through the front door & being listened to at the kitchen table & being cried with next to the dolphin lamp in my bedroom & being chased up the stairs & waking up to hand-written notes on my dresser when they left for college & having an insatiable desire to be around them all the time because i was safe with them.
& i spent a few minutes reflecting on how life for me & my sisters has changed & how in many ways it’s come full circle with each of them having kids & i was blasted in a moment with this : life is urgent.
yes, i hope each & every one of us have strong & deeply held beliefs, but i hope with each new morning, there are less & less of us that see the world as black & white, that write-off each person as republican or democrat, christian or democrat, christian or republican. whatever labels we falsely interchange should never serve as an all-encompassing description of a human being. we cannot afford to allow our unconscious bias’ to dominate our worldview & rage themselves inside of it. we cannot afford to scream over the phone at a gas station demanding the world has to be a certain way & then screaming our position again & then screaming our position again & then screaming our position again … at another person. & may i add - a person who is likely just as confused & wounded & hungry for love & acceptance as the next.
we were all, at one time, little boys & little girls figuring out how to do a cartwheel & throw a baseball & draw a hopscotch course. i’m not saying we were meant to stay that way. i’m glad we didn’t. the world needs our voices, but more than our voices, the world needs our ears, our strong & tender hearts & most of all, our love. our stubborn, safe, fierce, handmade, be-with-you-for-however-long-when-you-break kind of love.
scream that next time you’re at a gas station.
i had to be ten years old when my mom set me up in my bedroom with my own bucket of lime green paint, a tattered paint brush, an old sheet that she tossed over the blue carpet & a white plastic bowl full of water. this was after i told her that i’d really love to redecorate my room & this time, i’d like it to be lime green & baby blue themed. so she set me up & let me have at it. i painted every other square on my closet door, painted my desk we rescued from the neighbor’s trash & painted a bright white desk chair given to us by a friend, all lime green.
looking back, the entire room was a blazing eyesore, even with my lime green & teal polka dotted comforter that seemed, at that time, to really pull the room together.
& this past weekend i was in that same room, this time without a paintbrush, clearing out my desk drawers & sifting through pictures & paging through journals & staring at the lime green squares painted on my closet door that hadn’t faded one bit. & i let the lesson that was even louder for me than that shade of green sit with me in the room for awhile : how my parents let me create in a space they knew i would one day move on from. this idea of joy & generosity & creativity in the moment. this idea of not taking yourself or your things too seriously, but inviting innovation into a space we’ll inevitably move on from.
i’ve been wanting to write about the process of picking apart a home, of walking away from a home that holds layers of memories & childhood dreams. a home that holds the habits we’ve shed as we’ve grown & the pain we’ve endured & the celebrations we’ve held inside its walls. how to give into & validate the grief of it all, yet let go & move on in confidence & strength. but inspiration seems lost on me when i try to find the deeper meaning & symbolism underneath the act of walking around with the people that have made the house a home for you, picking it apart by labeling mirrors & desks & paintings & side tables with sticky notes that determine each item’s new home. by dividing up childhood pictures & albums & treading with each other in the waters of nostalgia.
but i needed a takeaway from the closure & for me, it comes back around to the bucket of lime green paint. whatever space, whatever home, whatever room you’re in, i hope you find the freedom to create — maybe not with lime green paint — but with whatever you have, within you or around you, that allows you to give to whoever is in front of you.
these are the days we have & even in their unique chaos, there is always opportunity to use the space we have to create. create meals & welcome baskets & letters & sugar scrub & double fudge brownies & poems & whatever our outlet, our passion is, create & share. to bring someone into the space we’ll one day move on from & be generous in our creativity with it & with them & let the joy of living in the imperfection of it fuel our soul’s joy.
i promise it will well up inside of us because generosity is joy’s heartbeat & to give is to really live & the homes we’re in will never be forever but how we choose to create in our spaces, what we choose to be busy about, will leave the footprints of love on the doorstep to another person’s heart & what more can we ask for than to have our love take part in refreshing & reminding the world that there’s a God who is constant in His generosity & who lives to invite us into His space — the only space that is ours forever because of the cross — & when we come with our mess, whispers that we’re safe, inside the home of His love & His kindness, steady in their grace.
before i went to church this morning, i read a few essays from the book, “the reckonings,” a book that pursues questions about the nature of justice & injustice in our culture. & it’s undoing me in a lot of ways, drawing me to challenge my cultural worldview as i see it & unveiling systemic truths & rhythms of which i cannot read & stomach without asking myself what i’m going to do about it.
without completely diving in to the specifics of the book & the parts that struck me the most, i showed up at church feeling complicated & confused, neck deep in the tension of while there are injustices running rampant in the world, i’m enjoying a quiet sunday morning, worshipping the king of that same world.
& while i’m still reconciling those two concepts & wrestling with what i’m going to do to raise my voice against injustice — which seems to me like this huge monster wearing a million different masks — this sunday morning advent message fell on my soul in a way that made me want to take what i learned & put it in a poem & hand it out to everyone i know & don’t know. it’s near impossible to capture all the layers of the first Christmas in a few short words, but here is my attempt :
for the ones
who feel abandoned
& for the ones
who are ashamed
& for the ones
who are in anguish
& for the ones
who are afraid,
of the galaxies
comes to you
in a cradle
with the cross
in His mind.
for the ones
& for the ones
& for the ones
& for the ones
of the galaxies
comes to you
in a cradle
with the cross
in His mind.
i sat in my chair after the message, while the songs played, bending under the weight of the Christmas story & our culturally warm view of the holidays & the soul-wrenching sadness many of us feel we have to hide this time of year & the idea that under the same sky, some are hiding gifts & others are hiding for their lives & how does the joy that God brings actually play out today & have we proclaimed Him, displayed Him, wrongly? half-heartedly? am i really seen? fully known & at the same time fully loved? was the cross enough & does God still care?
these questions are still raw inside me, but i do know this : while there are no simple answers to heartache & suffering & injustice & anguish, there is a king who entered into it all & from the cradle to the cross to forever, He has declared Himself to be for the ones abandoned & ashamed & anguished & afraid & unseen & unloved & unknown & undone. i don’t have much else from this morning except to say that this is you & this is me & this is God : redeemer of our worst mistakes, restorer of our broken stories, healer of our open wounds & savior of our hurting hearts.
what i’m learning these days is nothing new. it’s the same old lessons that i think we’re all re-learning as the days pass us by & they show up in different forms for us all, of course, but the message is universal : this life is magical & this life is devastating & it is invigorating & it is heartbreaking & it is gracious & it is gray.
i know i'm not saying anything new, but my mind hauls these thoughts around like deadweight until i put my fingers to my laptop keys like it’s a piano & i’m there to make a melody.
here i am. i shove my thoughts away, then draw them close. i befriend them, examine them deeply & make a melody out of them. this is my life.
i wrote the following poem for myself, but i wanted to share it in case you need the daily reminder, as i do, that
‘really, all is well & you are loved & you are forever taken care of & you were only meant to take on this life one day at a time & i promise you, you’ll make it. we all will.’
so, from my heart to yours :
“as you go”
as you go,
you are only
meant to hold
as you go,
that to hold
those little wings
it may just be why
you’re not soaring
like the ready sun
that rises every morning
to shed its golden warmth
on a cold & aching world
to make it glow.
as you go,
is no puzzle
to piece it together
will make you fall apart.
you were made
for far more
as you go,
is some of God’s best work,
so think deeply
is what another craves,
so share honestly
is what the stars
so live generously.
& please know :
you are loved,
& you have
His full attention.
as you go,
just as they should
as they do,
ever so slowly,
like love does
that are holding
in this grand world,
at a time.
i hesitate to write this post because I'm not one for complex questions to be summed up in simple answers & then forgotten about. i’m more about the wrestle, the struggle, the gray areas. i find comfort in the question marks & i try to avoid clichés that carry the undertone that we should just get over the hard stuff, forget about the mess & move on from whatever we’re wrestling with.
so with that disclaimer in mind, allow me to continue with what i hope will not be that ^.
when i feel pain, when news of a tragedy punctures my small world & my sight gets blurry because tears are my most natural reflex to pain, & a random guy at the mall follows me around the corner to ask if i’m ok, it feels like a thorn bush has shoved itself inside my mind & taken up residence there. & it makes sure to thrust itself against every thought i have, making each of them bleed more heartache. leak more pain.
pain threatens our control. it threatens our safety, our plans, our comfort. it voluntarily stains itself on our life story & forces itself to play a role in who we’re becoming. pain often comes with baggage. layers. a certain kind of depth to it that makes you unpack a dozen other things about your life or your self or your family or your habits or your tendencies in order to work through it. pain is a pain. an open wound. a permanent limp.
so what happens when we feel like we’re walking from one dark room to the next & there is no morning in sight, only more mourning?
(this is where that disclaimer comes in — i am so desperately hoping the following won’t come off to you as cliche)
eventually, sunday happens.
this is what sunday means : it means a renewed hope that’s grounded in a breathtaking eternity that’s just on the other side of this world. it means a final peace that lands on every thorn in our minds when we remember what the cross accomplished. it means a solid trust in an empathetic God who never fails to understand, but keeps on whispering, “i know, i’m here.” it means a faith as small as a tiny seed that knows that life will send hurricanes of pain over our souls, but our souls are safe.
that’s not all to say there’s no pain that seems meaningless to us. the “why’s” are painful & they are necessary & that’s why we need each other. we need to come alongside each other when things are going well & when things are going terrible & we need to say to one another, “i’m not going anywhere,” & mean it. we need to walk through one night to the next holding hands & whispering to each other in the darkness what i know God would say if we could hear him : “i know, i’m here & eventually, sunday happens.”
i haven’t written in a long while, or at least it’s felt that way to me, for a couple reasons. one being that i’ve read a lot of books that have weighed me down with their wisdom & lessons & every time i try to put what i learned into a brief number of words to share, i simply can’t. the other reason is tied to the first. i haven’t written in awhile because i’m just plain tired of telling people what to do & how to live in a concise number of words. i’m fed up with my own contradictory habits & i’m trying to wrap my mind around how to be at peace with being a person that is both/and, not either/or. but i’ve put my fingers to the keys this morning because i don’t want to be a writer that only pens pretty words when she feels she has a grip on her life & feels she has finally ironed out her inconsistencies (which is never, ever, ever true about me) but i want to be a writer that strings words together when she feels messy & complicated & so crammed full of contradictions, but has come to the same conclusion at the end of every day : we need more grace.
this in itself is a contradiction as i’m here telling you what we need to do, but alas, there’s no way around it. we need more grace for each other & we need more grace for ourselves & we need to recognize the overflowing grace that is ours from the Father. we need, more than ever, to hold each other to this standard : that we are unfinished, that we walk through our days making a handful of wrong decisions & a handful of right ones, that we are not black & white, that we are complicated & crave someone to believe that we’re capable & that we belong to the Father that tenderly whispers in the midst of our messy moments : “you did this wrong, but i did it all right.” (erin loechner said it first in her incredible book, chasing slow) & there we have the gospel : our freedom, our song, our reason, our peace.
i’ve been reading a good amount of mary oliver’s poetry recently & if you haven’t read her work, this is my subtle plug to tell you that you should start to. she writes in one of her poems “listen, are you breathing just a little & calling it a life?”
while i haven’t been writing, i’ve been chewing on this quote & overanalyzing its message & figuring out how i can implement its strategy & i — surprise — haven’t come to any incredibly profound conclusions that would ensure we are all living a life that is more than a culmination of little breaths, but i have concluded that a life that lives up to what it was intended to be is made up of the following : risk & love & sacrifice & curiosity & awe & laughter & a whole lot of grace.
it’s a life that’s rooted in the freedom of the gospel, a freedom that doesn’t require us to iron out all our inconsistencies to be saved, but a freedom that declares that God already did it for us. a life that is so imperfectly put together, that it almost never makes sense, but it pauses often to find the grace, like in the barista that looks up & smiles at you after you push open the door to sound the soft chime & the grace in the old man you pass for the third time around the lake that waves to you each time like it’s the first time & the grace in the smile of the woman leaning against the trash can outside the grocery store when you tell her she’s rocking her red sneakers. it’s a life that sees grace & gives grace & pours grace into every crevice & every crack & every contradiction. it’s a life that lets grace be the only conclusion. oh, & we’ll fail at this over & over again because we’re all a bit inconsistent, but there’ll be grace enough for us when we do. that's what this whole thing is all about.
i hopped in my car the other day feeling fragile, like the world & all its weighted pain & problems were throwing darts at my heart, slowly deflating its resilience. i often walk through my days feeling fragile, feeling threatened by the pain in my little world & in every person’s little world & in the whole wide world. so as i drove down familiar roads among hundreds of other cars, all holding little worlds, i broke down under the weight i was holding in my hands & the weight i was bottling up inside my heart & all i was trying to take on in my mind & it all felt like too much to carry so i invited the tears & remembered what a friend shared the other day : tears mean your heart is working. (not to say that if you don’t cry as much as i do, your heart is malfunctioning, but you get the point)
i revisited the same kind of concept with my sister this morning as we strolled to the park under the trees with two babies & two toddlers & two red wagons & two blueberry muffins & as we rallied our little ones toward the swings, we tried our best to put into words how doggone hard it is to be human & to feel things at a soul level & how it sometimes feels like there are a million problems that need solutions & how there’s not enough time in the day to address them all & how our hearts have a hard time handling even one of them & how all we want to know is that we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing & that we’re exactly where we need to be & that we’re carrying plenty in our little hands.
we didn’t tie up the conversation in a neat little bow or tidy up our thoughts with neat solutions & hollow conclusions, but a few minutes later, one of the little ones ran up to me for another handful of popcorn & as i poured a few kernels into his open hands, some rested on his tiny palms & others fell to the ground but i assured him that it was okay that they fell & that the kernels he was already holding were plenty. he ran away happily responsible for those few kernels & i immediately thought what a silly analogy it is but that’s kind of a picture of God & us because our little hands can only carry so much & that’s the design & the rest of what we can’t carry in our own, God will give to other open hands to hold.
i carried that silly analogy back to the swings & shared it with kelly & we laughed at how simple that picture is but how it might’ve just been exactly what we needed for our morning.
in the meantime of figuring out what my hands are carrying & what they don’t have to be carrying right now, i’m on my way to making peace with the fact that i was designed to be highly sensitive & i’m learning to see it as something to be celebrated instead of despised, but i think along with it must come the realization that my hands were only meant to carry so much & even if it’s only a few popcorn kernels here & there, i’m doing just fine.
so here i am, propping up this analogy on a screen for anyone to see & hoping that we’ll all consider what we’re meant to carry right now & what we’re meant to leave for other open hands.
whatever your hands are carrying, carry them well & give those people & those jobs & those passions & those hobbies your time & your energy & all your love & kindness & compassion & steer your heart towards them over & over again because the world needs your little hands, full of purpose & full of light.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.