The sun and the moon

January 13, 2021 § Leave a comment

He is the radiance of the glory of God.
~ Hebrews 1:3


Recently, I have felt God speaking to me through the moon. During the hardest parts of my struggle to diagnose and overcome Lyme disease, God was to me the waxing moon, each day growing bigger and brighter, until He was the full round moon, so bright, I could not escape Him. His presence was so real, to disbelieve in Him would have been to rip the organ of reason from my mind. I saw Him everywhere. His radiance was bright upon my skin during one of the darkest nights of my life.

Then, health. How wonderful to recover this most precious of gifts! The strength to walk. The relief in my back. The easing of the sharp pain in my fingers. And just as the pain seeped away, so too did the moon of God begin to wane. “I believe He is still there,” I would tell my husband, “just like I believe the moon is still there, even when I cannot see it.”

So it goes with so many of us. We see God most certainly in the hardship. This the paradox, the mystery we hold, but who can understand? So thin did God become to me in my newfound health, He was like the new moon, His light no longer present, no longer illuminating even a single blade of grass. I would go outside, and look up at the sky, and see a great blackness.

But why be surprised? The spiritual life has its pattern, just like the natural world has its circadian rhythm, the rotation of the earth, the steady repetition of the seasons.

*

At the beginning of the month, my husband and I braved a plane to Antigua, an idyllic island set like a green jewel in the pristine blue waters of the Caribbean. A respite at last from what has felt like a merry-go-round of madness. While we were gone, some people stormed the capitol, but we heard about it later. For just this moment we were blissfully unaware of other people’s opinions and the movement of disease and the mad vying for power. I stood at the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea, and the sun shone, and the waves fell relentless. The natural world is so indifferent. Sometimes this scares me. Other times it feels like relief.

This morning, I read in Hebrews that Christ is the radiance of the glory of God. I pause. I let the words settle. Radiance. The sun’s bright rays. I cannot look directly at the sun without being blinded, but I can feel its warmth on my skin as I bathe in its downpour. I can see the water and the sand and the metal mast of my parent’s hardy sailboat reflect its luminescence. Christ like the rays of the sun: warm, illuminating, observable. I know the truth we too often gloss over: when I cannot find God, I can look to Christ to know Him.

*

Now, we are back home. Back to routine. Back to a new year and work and play. I miss the sun and the salt water. I even miss the manchineel tree, beautiful to look at, poisonous to the touch. But despite the low temperature out my window and the frost on my resilient broccoli plants, the sun shines here also. My skin is browned in places, red and itchy in others. A tangible reminder, at least until it fades. A physical, temporary locus of a hope which ebbs and flows, yes, but remains.

2020 books in review

December 21, 2020 § 2 Comments

Here we are then, at the end of the year, a time of reckoning. We look back and see hardship, but also such goodness sprinkled throughout. This is life, yes? The good mixed with the bad, sadness and joy, fear and courage. As usual, I am being too poetic. Here is my reckoning: books read for long hours in a yellow bungalow that’s slightly tilted to one side.

It is good to be at home, even if we are restless. It is good to sit and sift through pages. What is so very wrong with escape? If we can escape to worlds of imagination, of ideas, worlds that bring us the very courage we need to make it through yet another day of real-life madness.

All right, I’ll get on with it. Here are the books I read in 2020, novels, memoirs, short stories, poems, and more. The ones with an asterisk (*) are my favorites. The ones with two asterisks (**) hit me in that soft spot that somehow feels like my soul. I will return to these special books again and again and again, and still I will not drain every drop of wonder.

What did you read? Do you have recommendations to pass on? The next year is coming, and I am readying a new list.

Novels

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel*

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel*

Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley*

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

22 Minutes of Unconditional Love by Daphne Merkin

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr*

Short Story

Florida by Lauren Groff*

Memoirs

Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett*

This Is My Body: A Memoir of Religious and Romantic Obsession by Cameron Dezen Hammon

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell

How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem by Rod Dreher

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor

Devotion: A Memoir by Dani Shapiro**

The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke

The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander**

What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by Carolyn Forche*

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver*

Leap by Terry Tempest Williams**

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed**

My Victorians: Lost in the Nineteenth Century by Robert Clark

Mystery

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

Still Life by Louise Penny*

Religion/Philosophy

Where Goodness Still Grows: Reclaiming Virtue in an Age of Hypocrisy by Amy Peterson

Pain Studies by Lisa Olstein

The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher

The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller

Poetry

Lines of Defense by Stephen Dunn

The Tradition by Jericho Brown

The Best Poems of Jane Kenyon by Jane Kenyon**

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri*

Graphic Novel

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

On Writing

The Author’s Craft by Arnold Bennett

Good gifts: a list

July 27, 2020 § 1 Comment

Hot rooibos tea in a hand painted china cup, gifted by a friend.

Fresh cut lisianthems, lavender, mauve, and pink, clustered in a round glass vase on an old walnut table.

Homemade pizza crust and fresh tomato sauce. Roasted red bell peppers. Portobello mushrooms. Handfuls of mozzarella cheese.

Reading on the front porch surrounded by marigolds and cacti, a milkweed plant, a fern.

Sunshine in the late afternoon dappling a pink wall, a mint green couch, orange cushions.

Sunflowers in the windowsill.

Trips with your husband to Home Depot, to Tom Thumb.

The smell of ground coffee. Reading the Sunday paper. Grilling in a friend’s backyard.

Wine, lots of it. Red. White. Rosé.

Gin and tonics. Moscow mules in icy copper cups.

Just a cold beer.

Steaming, homemade waffles topped with honey and fruit and eaten with a friend.

Phone calls just to catch up. Phone calls for prayer.

A jazzy blues band playing a street concert. Neighbors seated in fold out chairs. Neighbors dancing, falling over with glee.

Bon Iver on the record player. A home with records to play.

Tentative plans held loosely. A camping trip. An airbnb reserved.

Having hope.

Seeing and knowing the Kingdom of Heaven is still right here.

ICYMI: A story and more

January 27, 2020 § Leave a comment

I’m a bit behind on sharing this story — it came out at the beginning of the year, and here we are almost at the end of January! But isn’t this how Januaries typically go? We resolve, plan, push, and by the end of the month ask ourselves, what did we really do, where did all our hopes and goals and resolutions vanish? I, for one, spent a good deal of the month working on stories that I’m afraid ultimately look a bit too forced, a bit flat on the page. Though, perhaps not; perhaps they only look that way in the dim light of wintry January.

Here is what I want to share: An SMU Poet Brings a New Form of Storytelling to Your Phone. This story felt especially triumphant to me because it was one of the first journalism pieces I worked on since recovering from that pesky Lyme Disease, which still causes some nerve pain in my poor ol’ hands. Baby steps. One by one. Making it through this cold beginning month of the year.

***

I’ve noticed other bloggers will often share things they love on their newsletters and such, and while I can’t promise any form of consistency here with that sort of thing, I will share these two delightful bits I’m enjoying right now just for the fun of it:

A Sunday Note by Aningri. I look forward to this every week, and have to say Anna’s words almost always hit me right where they’re most needed.

And, Out of the Ordinary Podcast. I listen to this every Wednesday as soon as it comes out. I am younger than these women, and my life looks quite a bit different than theirs, but the universality of their friendship and the stories they tell always offer me just the right shot of encouragement and tenderness I need at midweek.

Here’s to a fabulous new year!

 

Downpour

October 28, 2019 § Leave a comment

On this Monday morning, a short story to read!

I like to think of Downpour as a story for Texans, artists, and fellow admirers of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

I’m thrilled to share this story in the fabulous Southern Humanities Review.

Happy reading!

A story to read

September 16, 2019 § Leave a comment

Just popping on here to share a short story I wrote a while back which has at last found a home in the lovely literary journal The Summerset Review!

I hope you enjoy Best Wishes! And if you read the story, do let me know what you think — it’s so nice to know I’m not writing into the void, and I cherish your thoughts. Happy reading!

When life gives you Lyme

June 24, 2019 § Leave a comment

Over the last year and a half, I’ve struggled to overcome what I now know is Lyme Disease. For those who missed it, I wrote about that struggle — and the difficulty of so many others — to get a correct diagnosis and treatment for the disease for D Magazine’s medical directory.

Lyme Disease is surmountable, but if left untreated it can be debilitating and even life-threatening, and the number of afflicted patients is on the rise. Which is why I’m joining my voice with so many other Lyme patients to argue: “With the rise in Lyme cases, healthcare professionals should be on the lookout for the disease, becoming more educated on how to diagnose and treat it properly.”

You can find the full story here. It was not a story I ever wanted to write, but one I hope will shed some light on this terrible disease.

Savor

June 5, 2019 § 1 Comment

In Korcula, we feast.

Our guest house is a good thirty minutes walk from town, and each day we make the trek along the blue-green water, sometimes more than once. This is Europe, so of course the cars mind the pedestrians. The miles add up, step by step, and soon we are walking six, seven, eight plus miles a day.

Thank goodness, because this is the land of plenty.

There is rich chocolate gelato dripping down fingers in the sun. A dry white wine, Grk, grown and distributed only on the island, tasted from a chilled green bottle alongside a sweet red wine, a cherry liquor, an herbal grappa. Goat cheese and cow cheese and black and green olives. Bread and olive oil so flavorful, it’s a meal in and of itself.

If this is not enough, fried shrimp and fried calamari caught straight from the sea lapping at our feet, and even a taste of salty crisp sardines dunked in tartar sauce.

Still more, though: cherry, cheese, and Nutella-filled, flaky, and warm pastries in the morning; black Americanos sipped at tiny tables in an ancient stone alley; later, a bus ride into the rainy hills to a seemingly otherwise desolate town, roses the size of fists growing before crumbling stone homes and quiet empty churches overgrown with the twisting of floral vines, to the popular Belin restaurant, home to homemade pastas and Dalmatian green beans and, why yes, the caramel cake for desert, why not?

It is not always so decadent, of course. The simple meal of bread and cheese and salami, perhaps a leftover slice of cold pizza, also suffices. But the abundance is a gift to be savored — call it fulfillment, satiation, the cup that overflows.

On the island of Mljet

June 1, 2019 § 5 Comments

We have come to rest, he from the demands of work, I from the trauma of a waning illness which I am determined to wholly recover from, determined shall not hold me back. In the mornings, we drink coffee and eat yogurt and bread and cheese and salami and Nutella, reading and watching the perfect ocean. Is it indulgence? Or merely living life well? Leisure, really. The bliss of long night’s of sleeping without an alarm, of awakening to sunlight and birdsong, to afternoon strolls through the ancient medieval walls of a city built hundreds of years ago, a city bombed and since reconstructed, a city jam-packed with tourists from all over the world.

Then, it’s onto a ferry that whisks us across the Adriatic to an island, Mljet, legendary oasis of Odysseus, possibly a haunt of Paul’s. I am determined to make it, but here again, the splitting pain, the lying on a strange contraption called a “back jack” that miraculously eases said pain, the walking through it because I did not come all this way only to suffer.

We take a boat across a teal-blue salt lake to an island on the island — St. Mary’s, home of a Benedictine monastery. In hat, dress, and sandals, I circle the monastery walls in the sunshine, clamber over crumbling rock steps split by red poppies, white lilies, purple and pink wildflowers buzzing with giant honey bees and yellow, green, and orange butterflies. It is a fecund place, overgrown and blossoming, a tomato and zucchini garden here, a stained glass window of Mother Mary there. Along the way, an occasional weeping juniper.

The monastery is under reconstruction, but I imagine the monks’ prayers anyway, lingering in the sweet, quiet air. I join mine with them and take a photo of their seclusionary walls. Are we all praying for each other, at the heart? We find a sunlit slab and promise to return the next day, for a swim in the warm, buoyant salt water. No wonder Odysseus stayed so long, my guide book says. It is the isle of bliss, Edenic.

“I feel better,” I tell Jared. He says, “And tomorrow you will feel better. And the day after that, better. And the day after that, better.” And on and on, we live in this space of not-yet-healed, moving toward what is whole and holy.

The next day, I do surrender my body to the water, but only part ways — in reality, it’s freezing. Afterwards, we walk for seven miles around the lake, feeling better. And even better.

Out of hope

May 25, 2019 § 2 Comments

Is it foolishness, or acting out of a sense of hope? I say the latter, but is that merely because I am greedy for beauty, greedy for a return to that version of me who went, went, went, on planes from here to there, longing to see with my own eyes these views of glory?

I am being too poetic here.

What I mean is this: we bought two tickets to Croatia when it seemed so very likely that my health was on the upswing, and then, one week out, my back erupts in excruciating pain.

Why now, I wonder? Just last month, I spent a long weekend camping in Big Bend with no Lyme symptoms at all, and now, a slight turn of the back at my desk and suddenly, I am back on the phone with my doctor, back shelling out money for therapy I pray will alleviate the pain that is all-consuming before I must confine myself to a tiny airplane chair for eight hours.

It’s the pain that does it: I can think of nothing else. My doctor reassures me: this will pass, your system is simply vulnerable, you. Will. Be. Fine. But that part of my brain based in fear only remembers this time last year, when it was uncertain why I was in so much pain, whether the pain would ever stop, and I am doubtful, though still, there is the acting out of hope, the slow preparations, Jared’s reassurance that he will be with me, to help.

On a Tuesday, we board the airplane, I take a muscle relaxer and fall asleep with a knife in my back, a whisper of a prayer like smoke rising with me into the darkening, eastward sky.

And then, suddenly, Paris, the city that never ceases to enchant. We thread the dingy underground Metro, and emerge into the sunlight — oh, city of lights! Ten years since I walked up and down beneath the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, another five since I tromped the long lane of the Champs Élysée, eyes widened with the wonder of Paris, of Nutella crepes and cigarette smoke and flowered balconies and the ritzy, rich shops — tight black jeans, sugar-spun scarves, occasionally, a burka. We walk along the Seine, tired, red-rimmed bleary-eyed, stopping before the Louvre for a quick photo, sipping chilled Rosé, eating at a tiny round table a croqué madam, croqué monsieur, blackest espresso, deux café au lait, s’il vous plait. Once, I sat in classrooms and learned the language, but how much I can’t remember.

Oh well, the main thing is this: in the morning I wake in Paris, pain-free.

How quickly I forget pain once it passes. “After great pain, a formal feeling comes,” says Emily Dickinson. For me: a forgetfulness. Was the pain ever so bad? Did I ever curse God Himself in the fury of a child who’s fallen and can’t understand why she smarts so? Did I ever see Jesus, standing at my church near the altar, seated beside me in my room, floating above me in the bathtub where I soaked my poor muscles in the hope that heat would ultimately alleviate the pain? He did come with me, pressing the knife of His hand into my back where the split occurred, that invisible wound I carried and became all of me, all-encompassing strange companion of white-lit nerves.

But now: all is forgotten. I sit beside Jared on a sunny terrace overlooking orange-tiled roofs and the green-treed islands of the blue Adriatic. Birds chirp and the breeze is cool. Dubrovnik, Croatia, our city of rest. My body, slowly restored, sign of mini-resurrection.