Sunday, January 29, 2017

there i am free



It's difficult to put this week into words. Though I've wanted to. Every evening I have opened my computer, but my fingers lay still against the keys. The words are stuck somewhere between my throat and my heart. Or somewhere deeper still, where they are the unformed substance that makes blood flow through veins, where they blow on the delicate wings of butterflies in bellies.

Now, I write from the room I've been staying in this week. Across the hall, a college student. Downstairs, a family with two young children, one of whom knows my name and keeps asking how long I'll stay. Outside, about a mile to the south, the university I attended more than a decade ago, and further on, miles of farms and trees and open land. The bed in this room has borrowed sheets and an unzipped green nylon sleeping bag for a comforter, which keeps me warm enough. I have a key to the house, and a living room and kitchen at my disposal at the big house next door, which houses international students. No car, and a half mile walk to a grocery store if I need anything.

After our first day, I watched out the window as one of our trainers -- a woman my age -- drove away. Done with work, headed home to her husband and her normal evening routine. I started crying because I wanted my car and my apartment and my normal evening routine. I did not want the dinner of chicken thighs and peas and salad that had been prepared for me to eat with the international college students. I did not want to feel so lost and limited to this room and the company of the students in the big house.

The next morning, I walked over to the big house at 7am. Inside, a young man was playing piano loudly (I had been hoping for some quiet), and I drank Folger's coffee and ate a banana. It is moments like these that I am not too sure what I've gotten myself into.

We drove twenty minutes in an old van with the interior falling apart to a small office building to start our second day of training. As Christians do, we started with worship. I held a second cup of coffee in one hand and closed my eyes and opened my heart. Where you are, there I am free, we sang. Free -- I wanted that. I paid more attention.

That's what I needed, that freedom that comes wherever I am. Or, wherever Jesus is. At a house in the middle of farmland with no car and a bed covered in a green nylon sleeping bag. In Nairobi, where it will take me some time to learn how to get around and who my friends will be. At my sisters', where I will be tomorrow when this training ends, and where kids are waiting for me to play Star Wars with them. In Pasadena, where my car and apartment are waiting for me to establish normal evening routines again (though who knows...).

Monday, January 23, 2017

words like these




Jon walked over to where Jen and I sat on the couch with three spoons fanned in his hand. Each spoon held a stiff mound of chocolate icing from the cake their daughter baked and iced a few hours earlier. He handed one to Jen, then one to me, and the three of us sat and licked the sweet chocolate. I felt like a child who had just been given a treat. We continued to catch each other up on our lives. Jon used phrases like, "I heard the Spirit say" and shared about shifting in his spirit that started more than a year ago and was now taking shape in job interviews. Outside, out the glass doors that held our view as we talked, light held as a gray covering over the damp day. Evening would come soon.

We sat here again the next afternoon after church. This time, Jon brought us coffee and omelets folded in fours with spinach and melted cheese in its creases. This time, Jen used words like "dream big" and "surprised" as she described conversations she'd been hoping for over the past few years that finally felt like they were taking shape. After we talked, I changed out of my church clothes, put on slippers, kept a warm blanket over my lap and looked again out the glass windows at the light that was still gray.

Later, another friend came by and sat with us on the couch. I told my story, tentative, because it has become more fragile, as if anxiety has made tiny cracks that could spider web without warning. She held it as if she knew the cracks were there, and could be healed with a new telling. She used words like "not easily categorized" to reassure me that it's ok to live a life that doesn't look familiar to my parents or to health insurance companies. She used words like "gifts" to describe transactions she thinks will take place once I move to Kenya.

The gray light stayed all weekend. I walked in it as it set that second night. I was free to wander, guessing I'd know how to find my way back to their house.

Monday, January 9, 2017

those who know they thirst



You see, I want a lot.
Maybe I want it all:
the darkness of each endless fall,
the shimmering light of each ascent.

So many are alive who don't seem to care.
Casual, easy, the move in the world
as though untouched.

But you take pleasure in the faces
of those who know they thirst.
You cherish those
who grip you for survival.

You are not dead yet, it's not too late
to open your depths by plunging into them
and drink in the life
that reveals itself quietly there.

Rilke, from Book of Hours

... a favorite, always

***
(photo: niece, who teaches me to want, new years eve)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

preparing the day



I walked down the steps in the quiet house this morning. All the other bedroom doors were still closed. With the faint light of the Christmas tree in the living room, I made coffee and settled under a heated blanket, willing my mind and heart to wake up to these few minutes alone before the other bedroom doors opened and feet and legs carried more people downstairs.

My sister was the first of them to come down. Her husband followed soon after. We said good morning, and then they left me to my reading and praying in the dim light. In the next room, the kitchen lit up the day brighter than the hidden sun outside could, and I heard drawers and the fridge and little lunch bags opening and closing and filling and emptying. The two little ones upstairs slept until their dad went to stir them awake.

As I prayed, I wondered about how my Father had been preparing the day before me even while I still slept.

***

Years ago, during my first year out of college, this happened one night: I needed my dad, but he was asleep and wouldn't be wakened. I had called home, hoping he would listen and give me the advice I needed. My mother had answered and relayed that he wouldn't come to the phone. I hung up, feeling overwhelmed and afraid and, though becoming an adult, very much in need of a father. That night, I notched another disappointment on the long tally regarding my father I had started long ago.

And then this happened: I heard a voice remind me he who keeps you will neither slumber nor sleep. 

Somehow, this other Father I was still becoming acquainted with was so very different from my earthly one. Awake when I needed him, attentive to my cry, able to meet my needs.

***

I will not leave you orphaned. I read this in the morning as I pray by the dim light of the Christmas tree and think of it as little feet pad down the steps, eyes still heavy with deep sleep. They pull cereal from the shelf and load their arms with milk, bowl, spoon. They pour and eat as their mother sits next to them -- awake and ready -- her presence and questions meant to convey love and protection and preparation for this new day.

***
(photo: sunlight in a coffee shop)