Wednesday, July 6, 2016

literary, lately: Kenya edition

I'm using the term "literary" loosely in the title of this post. Really, it's just an excuse to share some of the things that are helping me gear up for Kenya.

Issues are addressed institutionally, programatically. People are addressed in their story. Watching Poverty, Inc. and was especially moved by the portion about a family helping orphans by helping parents who might have been forced to give up their children. Love this quote about the person to person way of addressing poverty. (Streaming on Netflix!)

The mzungu who is cringing right now, reading this, afraid to be like all these others and yet who fears it might be inevitable. That was me, reading my friend's kick-ass essay on all the shades of foreigners in east Africa.

Remembering how books are a large part of what inspired me to go in the first place.

A Kenyan fav.

A friend posted a photo on facebook from our trip last year that made me look scarily similar to white savior barbie. Imagine a long skirt, Maasai jewelry, one young girl hold each of my hands. Been thinking about how photos are often too flat to convey all of what's true (there is more to what was happening that day then getting photo opps with children), but also how to act and see in a way that embodies true partnership and love.

Edited to add: I love their reading lists. (Fitting, since reading about the founder of PIH is what made me want go to Kenya in the first place.)

Be back in a few weeks with stories from Kenya.

(photo: morning safari ride at Lake Nakuru, summer 2015)

Sunday, July 3, 2016

an occasional strike of soul

And what is Bodily Flesh but a house so lightly mortised as to permit an occasional strike of soul to flash through like summer lightning? ... What is Soul or Spirit but Mystery, a Glory Ship, that Rumour founded by tales such as mine -- Mad Mary Roff -- tales bringing not confirmation but bare continuance of hope... instructing humanity in its keenest question: But if a man die, shall he live again?
- from the title story of Spirit Seizures by Melissa Pritchard

(a slim book of strange, somber short stories. I loved every one of them.)

(photo: sparklers lighting up friends at the end of a wedding)

Friday, July 1, 2016

it just takes a little effort

I am a comfort person... But I don't want to rest on something just because I have in the past. I really enjoy challenging myself, I really enjoy being in new places. It just takes a little effort for me to keep putting myself in those new places.
- musician Sara Watkins via here.

Glad I have some company on this (thinking of this recent blog post...).

PS Sara Watkins has a new album out today! and my earliest Sara Watkins love when Nickel Creek was still a thing (RIP).

(photo: city lights from a new-to-me rooftop restaurant.)

Monday, June 27, 2016

like breathing in and out at the same time

If only you could breathe in and out at the same time, she said, followed by mention of someone we all knew who claimed they could do it. A few of us laughed or called her bluff while she experimented with her breath to figure out how it was done. The rest of us joined in, laughter muffled in the breath we held in our puffed-out cheeks, trying to figure out how to use our noses, too.

The context for this experiment was swimming. The weekend before, my friends had been trying to do as many rounds of front-flip-back-flip as they could without coming up for air. Holding your breath longer, or having a renewable source of breath, means you can stay under water longer.

Back in my living room, we all kept trying to perform those two opposing actions (in and out) at the same time. In the end, all we did was hold our breath, then let it out with relief. Impossible, we all agreed.


I told my friend this story when we talked on the phone. Sometimes breathing just requires focus, she said, as if she believed it could be possible.


Some time before all this, that familiar whisper came as I prayed. Psalm 37, it prompted, and I promptly turned to it, eager to be spoken to. A few verses in, I read that one verse that I avoid because it has always been so problematic. And he will give you the desires of your heart, is how it ends, which makes receiving seem dependent on the action that is mentioned earlier: Delight yourself in the Lord. The desire of my heart - the one I'd been praying about at the very moment the seed of that psalm was dropped into my palms - seemed far off, risky to ask for, unlikely and maybe, in the end, unholy.

That verse kept coming. It popped up everywhere. In a card from my mother, in a text from a friend, on the screen of my Bible app. One could say that the verse is bound to keep coming up because we sentimental Christians love the sweet simplicity of that do this, receive what you want mentality. It is an overused verse.

But it is anything but simple. If delighting in God is knowing Him as one who is just and forever good and eternally good-intentioned, then how do I go on delighting when the desire goes unfulfilled? Do I ignore the desire and assume it wasn't mine to ask for? Did the psalmist even mean give as in fulfill, or is it to signify origination (I will show your heart how to desire). A few weeks later God said to me that he is the giver of the desire, so don't I think he'll fill it? But even now my hands are still holding nothing but the seed of this verse. And what happens if I am being asked to go on desiring but not the specific thing anymore? A desire empty of specifics can feel like a gaping hole, an endless sea.

It feels like breathing in and out at the same time, I told my friend on the phone. Confounding, is what I meant.


Sometimes breathing requires focus, I remember, readying my heart for deep dive, wondering how long I can stay under, and if I'll get to the other shore.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

never before seen, never before done

My sister and I talk on the phone, a preamble to prayer. I sit on my couch, the light outside swelling slowly into day, while 3,000 miles away she walks around in the full heat of the New Jersey summer mid-morning. Lately, we do this once a month: talk, then pray. Before work (for me), after walking the kids to school (her).

We are talking about my work. I have just finished telling her how my strange tendencies to avoid unknown things had me procrastinating on an important project. I hate doing unfamiliar things, is the subtext of our conversation. Especially publicly, especially high-stakes, especially alone. 

Another story I could have told her is how on Saturday, when I helped set up for my friend’s wedding, the coordinator showed me to two wood planks decorated with words and told me to tie flowers to the top. I looked at the spooled twine and sprays of eucalyptus and dahlias and thought, but I’ve never done this before. As if she should choose a better candidate from the parents and aunts and husbands-of-bridesmaids that had showed up to help and were busily carrying things from one place to another and setting up tables and chairs. For a minute I stood alone, looking from the flowers and back to the planks, unsure how to start. And then I did. I cut stems and twisted twine and held it up to the planks. I prayed while I did this, an act that might seem over-reaching to some, futile to others. But it struck me that the Spirit who searches out the deep things of God might know something about the beauty I sought. Might know something about teaching me to do something I don’t yet know how to do.

And then there are these plans for Kenya, in which I am leading 40 young Maasai people in creative writing, photography, scripture. I have never done this (well, except the scripture part) in America, what makes me think I can do it in rural Kenya, with young people whose experience of the English language and the world around us is so different? This thought arrived in the storm of last week and landed like the heaviest snow of late winter, freezing all that hope that hard started to sprout up. The next thought that came was grace: I won't be alone. The Spirit will be there, will be in me, will do more than I ask or imagine. 

In the middle of encouraging me about work, my sister stops talking suddenly, her thought interrupted by something that catches her vision. I just saw this beautiful yellow bird, she tells me. I never saw one like that around here before. Grace, again. I understand it as a sign.


(photo: from wedding, exhibit a)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

tell me to come to you

Then Peter called to Him, "Lord, if it's really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water."

"Yes, come," Jesus said.

So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water towards Jesus.

-Matthew 14:28-29


(photo: surfers in Venice Beach)

Monday, June 6, 2016

i want to give you something

For all sorts of mistakes are possible when you are dealing with Him. Long ago, before we were married, H. was haunted all one morning as she went about her work with the obscure sense of God (so to speak) 'at her elbow,' demanding her attention. And of course not being a perfected saint, she had the feeling that it would be a question, as it usually is, of some unrepented sin or tedious duty. At last she gave in -- I know how one pulls it off -- and faced Him. But the message was, 'I want to give you something,' and instantly she entered into joy.

-C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I could tell you a few different stories about this book: how I started reading it after looking for a different book but finding this one instead, how the text on the cover intrigued me. How I found the receipt still stuck inside, telling me I bought it in 2012 but not telling me why. How, halfway through reading, I shoved it into a canvas bag to take it with me to read at the pool over Memorial Day Weekend and found the bag minutes later on the counter where I left it, swimming in the pool of water from my water bottle leaking everywhere. Now its pages are crumpled and stained.

But here's what I will tell you instead: you don't have to have experienced the loss of a wife (or a husband or a child or a parent or a friend) to find Lewis asking questions you have at some point wondered about. Lewis's nonfiction writing is decidedly philosophical, apologetic, heady. But this book, taken from a few moleskine journals he wrote in during the weeks or months following his wife's death, is much more reflective and raw.

I found myself reading the first half as a kind of observer. It's much more focused on the experience of losing his wife. At some point, Lewis notes a shift in his experience where the fog of grief lifts and he's able to experience his wife's presence in a much more clear way. It's at this point where he starts asking questions about his experience of God. His idea of God, shattered by the experience of his wife's death, has to be shattered again and again, he says. We cannot understand. The best is perhaps what we understand the least. He writes of being utterly mistaken as to the situation he is really in, and always understands God as being more generous, more loving, more present than the person thinks. The mistake is to think Him absent, inattentive, unwilling.

[On a writerly side note: I have heard so many times how good prose writing is built on the foundation of good sentences. I would always nod my head. Yes, intuitively that made sense. But Lewis's sentences are good. Their length, their feel, their shape lends a kind of subdued intensity.]

(photo: book on table, before the water incident)