hope

To Write Truth on My Arms

On Saturday I got a new tattoo, lyrics from a song I love crawling down my forearm from elbow to wrist,inked in carefully crafted, one-of- a-kind lettering designed for me by a dear friend. It says, “I will hold on hope.”

When you tattoo words on your arms, people ask questions. They want to know “Why these words? What do they mean?” And there is no simple explanation, no easy way to describe everything these words mean to me, and everything the song they come from represents.

Last Wednesday night I woke up to the sound of gunshots. Three sharp staccato cracks and then the squeal of tires and the roar of an engine. I lay in my bed, heart pounding, afraid to move, mind racing through possibilities. A domestic dispute? A drug deal gone wrong? Or maybe it wasn’t really gunshots at all. How did I even know what gunshots sounded like? But minutes later, when the police lights pulsed through my bedroom window like a beacon, I understood that what I’d heard really was a gun and it really was just yards away from my bedroom. Panic wrapped its fingers around me like a vice as we took our pillows and crept upstairs into the loft in the dark, trying to escape the flashing blue lights without attracting attention. I folded my body onto the short end of the sectional, knees pressed into my chest, trying to make myself as small as possible, thinking about how much I miss living in a place where I never felt threatened, where I was never suspicious of my neighbors or worried for my safety.

For several anxious days afterwards I flinched at every loud noise or flash of motion caught in my periphery. My body trembled and my teeth chattered with chills produced by the excess adrenaline coursing through me. The days blurred together until, with a little medication and a lot of prayer and some serious support from my husband, I started to relax back into my life.

There are many things I cannot control about my circumstances. There are many things I cannot control about my own body. But I believe that I have the power to choose what defines me. Each of my tattoos represents a truth about who I am and who I hope to be. “I will hold on hope,” is both a truth and a resolution. I will not be defined by anxiety and I will not settle into a unfulfilling life because I’ve given up on dreaming for a greater one. I will choose hope.

Later on in this song come the lyrics, “But I need freedom now/And I need to know how/To live my life as it’s meant to be.” Like with any form of art, I’m sure there are different interpretations of this song, but to me, these words are powerful. They express the restless energy I have felt for most of my life–the tension I feel between the life that’s expected of me and the life I dream of. I believe that I can live my life “as it’s meant to be.” I believe that even as I struggle with anxiety and depression, I can choose hope. So I hold on.

I hold onto the hope that the broken parts of me can be made whole, that I can grow strong through struggle, and that I can find the freedom to live my life honestly and authentically, as it’s meant to be, even if it looks different from the lives of those around me.

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My mom went with me to get my tattoo…which was an experience I could never have imagined in a million years. If you know my family, you’ll know what I mean.

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The lyrics are taken from the Mumford & Sons song, “The Cave.”
The font was hand lettered for me by my dear friend Asharae Kroll.
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Valley of the Shadow: Living Life in the Now and in the Not Yet

It’s been six months since we left Korea and even as life here becomes more and more familiar, the loss of our life there still feels fresh and raw. Every day I experience some level of emotional tension between genuine contentment with our lives here and a deep longing for the lives we left behind.

As the months have passed I’ve become more and more certain of one thing – it’s hard for me to imagine a life where we never live abroad again. Living in Korea was hard in many ways –especially when it came to being so far from our families and friends—but it was also the greatest thing we’ve ever done and it changed our lives forever. The takeaway was overwhelmingly positive and I only regret that we didn’t do it sooner.

I’ve written about my struggle with FOBO (fear of being ordinary), but along with that (or maybe the source of that) is a somewhat crippling fear of Time. Sometimes I can’t help but look at my life as a clock that’s always ticking down. I know that I am young, but I can see the process of aging already beginning in my body. There are wrinkles on my forehead and bags under my eyes and my back hurts when I sleep on a bed with a soft mattress.

I don’t want to be young forever for vanity’s sake, but often Time feels like a cruel restraint on my dreams. For several years I’ve been intrigued by the idea of getting a working holiday visa in a place like Australia or New Zealand or the UK and spending a season or so living in one of these places while earning a small income to support (or somewhat support) living there. Just yesterday, I was reminded that these types of visas are only available to people who are 18 – 30 years old and have no children. When Jonathan graduates from his program he will be one month shy of his 31st birthday and the clock will have run out on this dream.

Not to mention the whole having children thing –a decision that is constantly hovering in the background as each year passes and we collect more and more unsolicited advice on decreasing fertility rates and the problem with being old parents.

I wonder if this is my version of the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I live and love and move and be here in this valley and much of the time I’m even quite happy here, but all the while this shadow of death hangs over me and over us all. In the Psalm, David says he fears no evil as he walks through this place, but I am not like him. I don’t fear death itself as an eventuality, but I do fear that it will come too quickly and that I will have too little to show for my life.

You might say this fear of death and of missed opportunities is sinful and that a person of faith shouldn’t cling so tightly to life. That I should have confidence in eternity and be expectant of the life to come. All of this is probably true, but the fact remains that I can’t always change my feelings or what’s in my heart. Only God molds hearts and I am not God.

I hope and pray that my heart does change, but until then I have a choice to make. It is easy for me to get so caught up in not wasting my future that I end up wasting my present.I am here in Columbia, South Carolina for at least 2 ½ more years and I can either live here pining away in fear that I won’t make it to the next, more exciting thing, or I can live here fully and accept that THIS is my next exciting thing.

Because in the end, what would be more of a waste – living well for 3 years in a place that doesn’t feel sexy and exciting to me, or getting to the end of our time here and realizing that I’ve wasted 3 whole years of my life thinking about where else I might be?

There is always tension between living fully where we are and planning for where we are going. I need the grace to live in the now while I hold onto hope for the not yet.

Image credit: HealingHeartsofIndy.com

Faith is the Thing with Scales

Faith is a slippery thing.

Emily Dickinson calls Hope, “the thing with feathers.”* She says that Hope is like a bird that sings in your heart without stopping and without expecting anything in return.

If Hope is the thing with feathers then Faith is the thing with scales. Faith is the eel that wriggles out of your grasp. It’s that shard of eggshell trapped in slimy eggwhites that slips from your fingertip or right over of the lip of your spoon every time you try to isolate it.

Faith is rubbing alcohol with its sharp ammonia scent, disinfecting you of cynicism and doubt but then evaporating off of the warm surface of your skin and fading into thin air faster than you can catch it.

Faith is Jacob wrestling with the Angel of the Lord through the long, dark night. It’s trying to hold onto something enormous when you have such small hands.

But, like Jacob, there are brief moments when I do capture Faith and grasp it tight in my two hands. Like Jacob I say, “Don’t leave me! Or if you have to go, then mark me. Leave something of yourself with me so I can look at it and know that you are real. So I can remember this time that I caught you and looked into your eyes. So I can believe that I will find you again and again, even as you slip through my fingers.”

I am leaving for vacation tonight and will be traveling for the next two weeks with sporadic internet access so I will probably be slow with responding to messages and putting up new posts for the next few weeks. The first 52 Weeks of Adventure link-up is still open. Click on the button at the bottom of the post to add your link or to view links that others have added. 

Image Credit: Jennifer O’Kelly on Flikr

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*
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

Holy Longing: Why Advent Isn’t about Peace and Joy

Growing up my family didn’t celebrate Advent in any traditional sense. We always attended non-denominational churches that lacked any sort of liturgical traditions. We never used an Advent calendar or lit the appropriate candles on Sundays, though we did set up a nativity scene where the baby Jesus remained conspicuously absent until Christmas morning when me or one of my siblings got to unwrap the Christ-in-manger figurine and place him between his expectant parents who had been kneeling in awe of an empty space for weeks.

Even without Advent traditions the Christmas season was always full of excitement and anticipation for me. There was something mystical and magical about the lights and decorations, familiar tastes and smells and the chance to sing Christmas carols during regular church services.  But, like many people, after adolescence hit, some of the glitter started to rub off. I remember feeling a sort of let-down that for some reason even though I enjoyed Christmas, it just didn’t feel as magical as it used to. This continued year after year and despite my attempts to follow the advice of all Christmas movies everywhere to “Just believe,” I could never recapture the way I’d felt about Christmas as a six-year-old. Eventually I gave up hoping that Christmas could ever be as magical as it was back then.

I’ve noticed a lot of people this year posting blogs or statuses about feeling disappointed and discontented with the way Advent is turning out. People are angry about the injustice in the world, disappointed with circumstances in their own lives, or frustrated with their own busyness. All of this disillusionment seems to center on the idea that this is not how the Christmas season should be. I’ve seen a lot of comments along the lines of, “This is supposed to be a season of joy, a season of peace, a season of contentment and closeness to our families, a season of celebration.” Even those who don’t claim Christianity often consider this time of year a good time to remember the poor, to celebrate family, and to intentionally show more love and patience to others.

I think we may have gotten it wrong.

I don’t think Advent is primarily about peace and joy and all the other warm and fuzzies we think we’re meant to feel. I think Advent is about longing.

It is about longing for a world that is not broken. Longing for justice for Michael Brown. Longing for restored relationships with our families. Longing for a world where people cannot be bought and sold as commodities. Longing for comfort for the friend who has lost her child. Longing for rest from a world that is moving so fast we feel like if we pause for a moment we’ll get left behind. It is about longing for hope that we are not abandoned.

Most of us are very uncomfortable with longing. We live in an instant-gratification world, one where it is unacceptable for a need to go unmet or a wish to go unfulfilled, so when we feel emptiness in ourselves, we rush to fill it. Sometimes the desire to satiate longing manifests itself in materialism – the need for the next new thing. Sometimes it shows up in our relationships and we use and abuse other people in our desire to satisfy our longings.

My own attitude towards longing is usually, “How can I make this go away?” But I think we have two choices when it comes to longing – we can lament the discomfort we feel and try to make the feelings go away, or we can embrace those longings and let them change the way we live and love.

Maybe Christmas is the perfect time to bring awareness to the disparity between the world we live in and the world we long for.

My favorite Christmas song has always been “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

This is a song about mourning and emptiness and the longing of a people for rescue and restoration. But it is also a song about hope. Yes, we are mourning in exile now, but Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come.

Calling attention to the brokenness in the world doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. As long as we continue to deeply feel this disparity, there is hope. As long as we still have the image of what peace and joy could look like in the world – as long as we live every day to bring these things to our corner of the world, there is hope.

For Christians, it is the hope of the incarnation. It is the tangible promise of God with us. It is the belief that we are not abandoned. As long as we both pray and live “Thy Kingdom come,” there is hope.

If we’re looking for a perfect time of holiday cheer this season, we can be sure we won’t find it, but that doesn’t mean we have to resign ourselves to disappointment and disillusionment the way I did when I outgrew my childhood belief in Christmas magic. We can embrace the longing and feel it deeply instead of trying to chase it away with other things or feeling guilty that we aren’t filled with peace and joy . And we can rejoice that Hope is still alive and  let that longing and that hope  change the way we live.

Just Around the River Bend: Nobody gets me like Pocahontas does

The past few months have been filled to the brim with activity. Trips and adventures, anticipation and hard goodbyes. Since my last post I have been to my sister’s high school graduation in Louisiana, to my best friend’s graduation from her Master’s program (see the picture – Master Christina), on a weekend getaway to Washington DC, on an anniversary cruise to the Bahamas, to visit sweet friends Thai and Lanise in Wilmington, had our dear friends Brandon and Christy visit us and went to a Durham Bulls game, and had a crazy girl’s weekend in Chicago/Wisconsin with my roomies. We found a wonderful girl to keep our sweet kitties while we are gone, sold both of our cars, and moved out of our beloved apartment in Raleigh. We said goodbye to a place we love and many of our closest friends, and drove 17 hours down to my parents’ house in Louisiana to store all of our furniture and visit my family and grandparents (aren’t they the cutest?) From there we spent a few days in Orange Beach, AL on vacation with Jonathan’s family (which included the sailboat cruise pictured below  – most terrifying thing I’ve ever done) before making the 14 hour drive back up to their home in Cincinnati where we have spent the last week trying to fit our entire lives into four 50-lb suitcases.Durham Bulls Game Washington DC Bahamas Landscape Bahamas Christina the Master Grandparents sailboat

Girls WeekendI have cried more times than I can count, but I am still incredibly excited about the adventure ahead of us. While it has been harder than I imagined saying goodbye to family, friends, pets, and a city I have come to think of as home, the prospect of all we will learn and see and experience in Korea and wherever else we may make it to on the way has given me hope and excitement about the future. The world feels full of possibilities and even the most ordinary things seem beautiful.

A few months ago I was watching Pocahontas on Netflix (hurray Netflix for getting that contract with Disney, but boo for not being available in South Korea) and as I was singing aloud at the top of my lungs to “Just Around the River Bend” (what…you mean you don’t do that every time you watch a Disney movie? What…you mean you don’t just watch Disney movies by yourself?) I was really overwhelmed by the lyrics. Pocahontas is trying to decide whether to do what is expected and traditional by marrying Kocoum or keep chasing her dreams.

You have to admit, Pocahontas is pretty bad-butt.

You have to admit, Pocahontas is pretty bad-butt.

“Should I choose the smoothest course
Steady as the beating drum?
Should I marry Kocoum?
Is all my dreaming at an end?
Or do you still wait for me, Dream Giver
Just around the river bend?”

And I wept. (What, you mean you don’t weep openly while singing along to Disney songs in Disney movies that you are watching by yourself?) Because I knew exactly what Pocahontas was asking…well, not the marrying Kocoum part, but the rest. Should I choose the smoothest course (stay put, settle down, find a desk job, start a family)? Is all my dreaming at an end? Or do you still wait for me, Dream Giver? I thought, “Pocahontas really gets it.” She gets what it is like to feel deep down that there is something else out there for her, even though everyone else is content to stay where they are and do what is expected. Pocahontas understands what it means to follow the Dream Giver (even though her Dream Giver was probably some sort of weird-looking cloud spirit, judging from the controversial Mother Willow).

“Just Around the River Bend,” has become an anthem for me over these last few months. In the harder moments as well as in the exciting times I have been spurred on thinking about what I might find beyond this particular river bend. I think the Dream Giver is still waiting for me there.

Jonathan and I have set up a new blog to chronicle our Korean adventure together: Two Sore Thumbs…Because two redheads living in Korea stick out like sore thumbs. We would love for you to follow us there so we can continue to share life with you, even from the other side of the world.  Such Small Hands will stay up and may still be used occasionally for non-Korea related posts, but most of our adventures will be posted to Two Sore Thumbs. Hope you check us out!

My Resolutionless New Year

For as long as I can remember I have been that nerd kid who absolutely loved getting new school supplies. I would burst with excitement over the sharp wood-scent of new pencils and the crisp bindings on composition notebooks (and later in college, slender, trendy moleskins) with all of their empty pages which seemed to me to hold whole worlds of possibility. I have always been a lover of the written word and even though most of my notebooks would soon be filled with notes on lectures and computations and random doodles in the corners when I got bored, each blank book seemed to me to hold secrets that I had the power to unlock by simply setting my pen to the paper. The beginning of a new school year was full of opportunity.

Cool thrift-store notebooks

 Even in college, I loved the first day of classes when we’d get our syllabi and I would carefully copy due dates and assignments into my planner as though they were treasures just waiting for the right moment to be revealed. I loved the first lecture where I would use a new pen and have dramatic internal struggles about what the first worthy thoughts were to put on the page. (I was always a little anxious about marring the page with something silly or insignificant.) The first day or even first week of lectures would be preserved in careful notes written in my most precise handwriting and a mistake was like a horrible blemish on that perfect clean slate. I’ve even been known to tear a page out completely and recopy the whole thing rather than leave the ugly stitches of a crossed-out word on one of those first sacred pages. Of course after a couple of weeks my handwriting grew sloppier, my carefully printed words slipping into a crazy mixture of print and cursive, my full sentence outlines turning into bits of words and phrases scattered haphazardly across the page, my syllabus a portent of doom rather than the exciting excursion into knowledge it had once seemed.

My romanticized view of school supplies

 In many ways, I have a habit of looking at a new year in the same way. There is the initial excitement of the fresh start, as sweet and clean as the crisp pages in a brand new notebook.  There is the anticipation of the beautiful things that might be discovered in the coming days and weeks of this year. There is the hesitation over how to begin. How to place that first mark on something so pure. So altogether holy. Unblemished. But inevitably, it does begin. Usually with a dozen promises to myself, to God, to the world, of all the projects I will begin, the habits I will form or break, the ways I will be better, more, different. Things I want to accomplish. Things I want to change. The parts of me I want to discard like yesterday’s newspaper. The parts I want to sink more deeply into, attributes I desire to weave more deeply into the fabric of my being. The parts I want to take up and try on for the first time and see if they fit. As if any of these things could happen simply because one day rolled into another and we called it 2012.

I find the idea of New Year’s Resolutions too simplistic to be helpful. The idea that I, by sheer force of will and determination, could decide in one day to change the patterns and habits that I’ve been developing for years simply by resolving to do so. I mean, think about it. It isn’t as though I had a magical revelation on December 31 of all the things I wish were different and am now making my first genuine effort at changing them. I am constantly aware of things I want to change, from practical things like being more organized to heart issues like being less selfish. In most cases, they are things I have already tried (many times) and failed (many times) to change. Like my careful notes in my notebook during the first few weeks of a new school semester, I manage to keep some of my resolutions for a few weeks. But slowly and surely (or more often honestly, pretty quickly) I slip back into my old routine, my selfish habits, my less healthy choices, my overly busy lifestyle.

For me, New Year’s resolutions quickly become a reminder of new ways that I have failed. Failed to do what I said I would do. Failed to change things that need to be changed. Failed to keep that clean page of the new year free of angry ink-scarred blemishes. Over the past few years I have stopped resolving altogether, at least officially. But this year I am thinking something new. I am thinking that my failure doesn’t have to be such a negative thing. I’m reminded of another post I wrote many months ago about how ultimately, there is no such thing as ultimate failure, there is only feedback. And looking at it from that perspective I can see that my string of failures are valuable in several ways. At the most basic level, they help me eliminate something that does not work. A “solution” that did not have the intended result. But on a spiritual level failure is a stern teacher, a reminder of my brokenness, of my inability to fix myself, even when I can see what needs to be done. Failure gives witness to my sinfulness. To my need for salvation. And then I remember the great news. The news we celebrated just last week. Salvation is here. God with us. Hope is here.

So instead of making resolutions this year of things I will do or won’t do, I’ve decided to frame it in terms of hopes for this year. The greatest of which is that God would make himself known. That in my weakness, my utter inability to fulfill any of these hopes, I would see any progress as the work of the Giver of every good and perfect gift. That I would see any small successes as an outpouring of grace. That I would understand that in my weakness, I am utterly incapable of making the changes I want to see in my life. But my weakness is the perfect avenue for God’s strength. With that in mind, these are the things I am hopeful for in this year. These are not things I think I can accomplish and they are not items to check off like a grocery list. These are ways I hope to see God work in my life, but hopes I hold with open hands knowing that God’s desires for me may be different than my own.

My hopes in this year:

1. Develop a greater dependence on God and a greater desire to hear his voice and to obey it, both individually, and as a couple

Lily and Jonathan Swing. Courtesy of Asharae Marie.

2. Cherish and invest in the friendships God has given me

Scott and Sarah, some of our new friends. Who wouldn’t want to spend more time with these guys?! (This was at the state fair, by the way. There aren’t giant hotdogs just sitting around NC.)

3. Practice being a better listener. Be slower to speak.

Me listening. Also courtesy of the lovely Asharae Marie

4. Give more than I take. Especially with my husband.

5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle- eating well and continuing to run even after my half marathon is over

In case you never got to see this picture. So true.

 

6. Take time to write. Hopefully finish something I’ve started. It’s been years since I’ve completed something besides a blog post.

7. By this time next year I would like to be in a job or school situation that is more fulfilling, even if it isn’t my ultimate “dream job.” Take a step closer to understanding what God made me for.

I would like a path to follow. Any direction will do. 🙂

8. Bake more! : ) And practice the gift of hospitality that goes along with that.

Confession: I made these cookies like 5 years ago. But it was the only baking picture I could find today. So there.

9. Live an adventurous life, less hindered by fears that disguise themselves as “practicality.” Take opportunities to travel, to love strangers, to try new things, to learn from unexpected teachers.

Tintagel, England. Near Merlin's Cave. Photo by the lovely Jenny Hansma.

10. Find ways to spend time playing with little children (in the non-creepy way!)

Little guy I used to watch. Obvious why playing with kids is on my list. I have to get my baby fix or I'll start wanting one of my own.