Those Who Wait

Twister*This is part of the synchroblog on waiting, to celebrate the release of Those Who Wait: Finding God in Disappointment, Doubt and Delay by Tanya Marlow – out now. See more here and link up to the synchroblog here.*

I had another bad migraine on Friday. I’d felt it coming on and off, the weird way they do for me, on my way to pick up the boys I nanny from school, but some caffeine seemed to stave it off. The eleven year old had homework, but his parents had given us an hour to stop at the park on the way home, and I was as excited as the kids were at the prospect of fresh air and fun on a gorgeous fall day. I grabbed my sidewalk chalk from the car and we drew for a while, then the boys did parkour on the playground equipment while I cheered them on. And then we played tickle monster, which of course was me. This required a lot of running.

It was probably the running around that made the migraine worse again. It got bad when we were back at their house, making the game of Twister I played with the seven year old while his brother did homework more challenging, especially since we play with heads and knees as well as feet and hands.

“Head on blue, Jessica!”

“Hahaha…owww…”

By the ride home my head was throbbing and waves of nausea were hitting me with every lurch of the car. I realized I’d left the chalk at the park, which was on the way home, so I pulled my car into the parking lot, grateful for the rest from the car movement. I got out of the car slowly, ever mindful of head rushes which lately have been migraine triggers for me, and walked back to the playground, where I saw that kids had made use of the chalk while I’d been gone. There were drawings in rainbow pastels all around the walkway that circled the playground, and I waited till one small girl was done with her picture before I gathered the chalk up. She spoke Arabic, I think, which I don’t except for hello and thank you, but we communicated in gestures, nodding and smiling.

The sun was setting, and the playground part of the park was at the bottom of a steep hill that leads up to one of the best views of Boston. My head hurt, but the fresh air felt good, and I decided to see if I could make it up partway at least, to see a little bit of the sunset. I used to be able to step out on either of my two porches for sunset views, but in my new house the views are more elusive.

It was hard going up the hill. I have a few chronic injuries that have been acting up lately, and the pain in my feet, and back, and shoulder has been making ordinary things more challenging. The hill was steep, but I took it slowly, heading toward a patch of light in the grass that I thought would mean a good view of the light’s source. I sat down there and leaned back on my hands, glad of the small elevation I’d attained. The sunset wasn’t spectacular, just a small patch of red and orange, but it was something at least. I didn’t feel the deep happiness or joy that sunsets often bring on, but I tried to be quietly appreciative, for the little bit of color, for the fresh air, for the break before I’d have to drive through a couple more miles of Boston traffic before I got home. I took deep breaths and took the sunset in as best I could.

There weren’t many people there, and when a man walked close by I became wary of sitting alone in the increasing dark. The sunset faded, and I stood up, carefully, checking for head rushes. I turned and looked up the hill, and realized that even though I was only about halfway up I’d already climbed the steepest part. It would be much easier to ascend the second half. Standing up had revealed that there were actually several more people around, including a group that was doing a photo shoot of a pregnant woman in a dramatic white dress.

I had only taken a few more steps when I turned around and saw the sunset was much broader and more multicolored than I’d been able to see from where I was seated. As I walked to the crest of the hill the light increased, and the full 360 degrees of sky became visible, glowing purple, red, orange, and blue in the west with a subtler reflection of those colors on the clouds in the east, with the silvery grey Boston skyline to the north. Many people were up there, as it turned out, snapping photos of each other and the sky. My isolation had been an illusion. I turned, slowly, taking it all in, still not fully happy or joyful, but glad for the chance to see a more impressive sunset, to breathe under a more spacious sky.

On the way home I discussed my health and finances with God. I’ve been discouraged lately at how expensive life is, and how much harder it is to work as much as I have to work with all the various health issues acting up. I offered God several suggestions for how to help with this: An large anonymous check in the mail, an unexpected job with a hefty salary, a cure for the foot problems, or back problems, or shoulder problems, or the migraines. I promised to do everything I could on my part if there was something on my part that God wanted me to do. Then, after I’d mentioned every other solution I could think of, I prayed for the one that God was giving me already: Give me the patience to keep doing the next thing, to put one foot in front of the other, and make one dollar at a time until the bills are paid. Give me the wisdom to keep going, to climb the hill just a little bit further, then rest, climb, then rest, till I get to a place where I can breathe under a more spacious sky.

***

Those who waitToday is the official launch of Tanya Marlow’s new book! Tanya is one of my personal heroes. I met her when we were on the launch team of Sarah Bessey’s book Out of Sorts. Tanya is a writer and activist who has myalgic encephelomyelitis, commonly (and deceptively) know as chronic fatigue syndrome. Because of some setbacks and some bad treatment by doctors, Tanya is bedridden for much of the time, leaving the house only once every two weeks or so. Despite this she writes, does advocacy work for ME education and treatment in the United Kingdom, and takes photos of the sky from her bed, seeing God in the small changes of her rarely-changing view.

Her new book is about waiting. In Those Who Wait, Tanya Marlow takes four characters from the Bible and tells their story with imagination and compassion. The question she asks of those characters, and of her readers, is: What is it like to wait for God? For Tanya herself this is not a theoretical question. Neither she nor her doctors knows whether she will recover from this severe stage of ME. She does not, however, write either from a place of bitterness or of false hope; rather she faces her own questions honestly and creates space for her readers to be honest about theirs.

Those Who Wait carries us inside the lives of Sarah, Isaiah, John the Baptist, and Jesus’ mother, Mary, imagining how each of them coped with the long periods of waiting in their lives. The reflection questions at the end of the chapter invite us to ponder what we may have in common with these ancient God-seekers, and how their stories may speak to ours.

Tanya’s writing is evocative and vivid, and her pacing is gentle and patient, embodying the years, decades, and centuries that pass before God’s purpose in the lives of these four people. The book is a quick read, but it can also be used as a longer daily devotional, reading a chapter every day and writing, pondering, or praying through the questions.

You can order Those Who Wait on AmazonUS or Amazon UK, and I hope you do! (The US site is showing the release date as November 1st, but that should be fixed soon.) You can read more about Tanya at her website.

***

Two other books I’m looking forward to reading:

gloryhappening_approved-copy

Glory Happening by Kaitlin B. Curticle, coming on November 7th. From her website:

Here’s what people are saying about Glory Happening:

“Kaitlin B. Curtice is a young, Native American Christian mystic who portrays the sacredness of the human condition in everyday language through her writing. Her use of poetic prayers and stories in Glory Happening inspires us to find the divine in every aspect of life, and gifts us with the opportunity to embrace and mirror the gracious reality of God and glory in our midst.”

–Fr. Richard Rohr, Founder, Center for Action and Contemplation, Author, THE NAKED NOW and FALLING UPWARD

“Kaitlin B. Curtice writes with a deep, sweet, reflectiveness about the odd places she encounters ‘glory,’ that is, Jesus. This first book by an exciting young Christian mystic is a must-read. Kaitlin helps us look for Jesus again, and helps us meet him in some surprising places. Strongly recommended!”

–David P. Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics, Vice President, the American Academy of Religion, Author, KINGDOM ETHICS

 

Shalom SistasShalom Sistas by Osheta Moore.

SH ·l m’ / sis ta: A woman who loves people, follows the Prince of Peace, and never gives up her sass. Shalom, the Hebrew word often translated as “peace,” was a far cry from blogger and podcaster Osheta Moore’s crazy life. Like a lot of women, she loved God’s dream for a world that is whole, vibrant, and flourishing. But honestly: who’s got the time? So one night she whispered a dangerous prayer: God, show me the things that make for peace. In Shalom Sistas, Moore shares what she learned when she challenged herself to study peace in the Bible for forty days. Taking readers through the twelve points of the Shalom Sistas’ Manifesto, Moore experiments with practices of everyday peacemaking and invites readers to do the same. From dropping “love bombs” on a family vacation, to talking to the coach who called her son the n-word, to spreading shalom with a Swiffer, Moore offers bold steps for crossing lines between black and white, suburban and urban, rich and poor. What if a bunch of Jesus-following women catch a vision of a vibrant, whole, flourishing world? What happens when Shalom Sistas unite?

You can order Shalom Sistas here.

***

Speaking of books, ubooknerd won the giveaway last month! Ubooknerd, please email me your address so I can get you copies of Love Warrior and Hunger! tenthousandplacesblog@gmail.com

 

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Double Giveaway!!!

LoveWarriorHunger**Congratulations to ubooknerd who won the giveaway!*** Good morning, friends! We’ve (almost) made it through another week. I tried to cut back on coffee this week and it was a real challenge to my fundamental belief that people are generally doing the best they can. Is it possible that people are generally just doing their best to get on my nerves, and it has only been the caffeine making them bearable this whole time?

Well, I’m drinking my morning half cup right now, so I love you all and believe in you. Just, when it wears off later in the day, would you please try not to cut me off in traffic or pick arguments about politics, or, like, touch me? I’d really appreciate it.

In all seriousness, though, I really do believe that by and large we’re all doing our best. I believe you are doing the best you can do, and, furthermore, that that’s exactly what you were meant to do, and exactly what the world needs you to do. All we need is for you to show up, in whatever state you’re in, caffeinated or under-caffeinated. Are you here? Great! Welcome! Let’s begin.

I reached 1000 followers on Twitter this week, and I wanted to do something to celebrate and say thank you. Glennon Doyle’s book, Love Warrior, came out in paperback this week, so I thought it would be fun to do a giveaway. If you haven’t read her amazing book, this is your chance! I’ve also really been wanting to read Roxane Gay’s memoir, Hunger, and it occurred to me that the two kind of go together. They’re both soul-baring memoirs of women struggling to understand who they are and where they fit in this world, while rooting out the toxins in our culture that have been slowly poisoning them since childhood. Glennon and Roxane have also both struggled with eating disorders, which is something I know a lot of us can relate to.

So! One lucky winner will receive both of these books in paperback. The simplest way to enter is to leave a comment either here or on this Facebook post. If you would like extra entries, you can do one or more of the following. (Don’t forget to tell me that you’ve done them! I won’t see it automatically.)

–> Share this post on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, your blog, your book group’s email list, or anywhere else you can think of. Each share counts as an entry.

–> If you haven’t already, “like” my writer’s page on Facebook. For an additional entry, invite one or more friends to like it, too!

–> If you haven’t already, follow me on Twitter.

So your comment might be something like, “Hi Jessica! I shared your post on Facebook and Twitter and liked your writer’s page on Facebook,” then I’ll make a note that you have four entries (one for commenting, two for sharing, and one for liking my page). I’ll pick a winner next Friday, Sept. 22nd, using a random number generator.

Thanks, everyone! I hope you have a good weekend. Don’t forget to breathe. Also, be kind to each other — you never know who is trying to cut back on coffee this week.

Love,
Jessica

***

Related posts:
You do not have to quit Facebook
How I finally learned to feed myself
Love your neighbor as yourself

That is not it, at all

Colander Eclipse

Colander pinhole camera, solar eclipse

From my bed in my new apartment I can see out the window onto our back porch. It’s a closed-in porch, so beyond my bedroom window I see the porch windows. Beyond that I see the large maple tree, one of the line of trees alongside the baseball field behind our house. When the huge and hugely bright stadium lights are lit for games I can see the one on the other side of the field through the maple leaves. I love the layered feeling this creates, me in my bed, the rectangular window, another window beyond that, with different dimensions and shapes but all lines, parallel and perpendicular; beyond that the rustling, moving tree branches that scoff at right angles, creating their own constantly shifting shapes and shadows, and beyond that the grand, ethereal lights of the stadium, bright almost as sunlight but whiter and more specific, as if alien space ships are hovering over my block, the moment of their appearance when humanity inhales sharply, in shock, before anyone attempts to react or respond.

My eyes take in the shapes and colors of this new place — smells and sounds, too, but the visual seems to bypass the part of my brain that would write letters to the editor if there were an appropriate publication: I dislike the meaty smell of the neighbors’ early breakfast, the pounding of the bass of the cars that drive slowly down the street. I have mixed feelings about the trumpet-filled Spanish music that the neighbors all play, and the volume at which they play it. The ice cream truck’s repetition of Turkey in the Straw is alternately nostalgic, cheerful, and utterly annoying; I have opinions about which truck’s version is better (the one that doesn’t jump an octave in the middle) and I love my landlady’s gentle voice as she speaks on the phone in her garden. But the visuals come through my eyes as direct feelings — I couldn’t say what I love, exactly, about the row of multicolored triple-deckers outside the front of the house, the other side from the field, but I feel a jolt of happiness when I look at them. I like to move to different seats inside, and observe from different angles the chipped woodwork, the dark frames of the doorways, my familiar books on their familiar bookshelf, but in a new house. I lie on the floor sometimes, to see how things look from there.

I suppose this is what painters feel, the connection to the visual that makes them want to recreate and interpret it. I’m a writer, myself, so I use words to describe and make sense of things, but I’m aware that the words change the things they’re describing, too. I didn’t feel the words “alien” or “ethereal” when I looked out at the stadium lights last night, but I needed to use them to describe the feeling, to move it, somehow, from my heart to yours, and now those words have altered it, have codified it, and the feeling will be different when I look out my window tonight. Sometimes it’s worth it, to change things by describing them, to feel less alone by knowing that a few people, at least, will read this and feel a similar feeling reading it: “Ethereal. Alien.” It’s necessary, really, or else I would be lost inside my own head, feeling things strongly and purely but alone. It’s satisfying to gather up those feelings in a ball of dough and knead them out into something which others can taste. But I lose something, too. Safety. Surety. Purity.

***

If there’s something to lose in writing, there’s even more to lose in speaking. I’m so much an introvert that I think it veers into the realm of social anxiety disorder. The thing is, I love people. I love them so much. I love when they talk to me and tell me their stories. I’m just so terrified that they’re going to look at me and it’s going to be my turn to speak and I’m going to have nothing to say. I’m afraid all that will be in the front of my brain is how their bangs frame their face, or how the color of their eyes is like an amber ring I once bought in Krakow and then lost in the airport bathroom, and I’ll know that’s not appropriate, probably, but I won’t be able to think of anything else. T.S. Eliot gets at a similar feeling, I think, in his poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Profrock:

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say, “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

Communicating is just so hard. But I went to a gathering the other night, of people I’d only met once or twice before, and somehow, miraculously, I seemed to say things that made sense. I turned to the woman with eyes the color of an amber ring I once bought in Krakow and said, something, I’m not sure exactly what, but I meant, “Tell me your story,” and she did! And when it was my turn to speak I found I could tell a little of my story, too. And then it was like a dream, or an essay I could have written with the prompt: “Describe your perfect evening,” because the husband of the woman with the amber eyes stood up, and all fell silent, and he read a spoken word poem that brought tears to all our eyes. And the poem was about being separate from people and scared to come back into community, and about finding the courage to step out of the safe and holy woods and come back as if from the dead. And no one in the room said, “That is not what I meant, at all.” Because it was exactly what we all meant, I think. At least it was what I meant. And we moved on from dinner to cake and Swiss chocolates, and children ran in and out of the room, and knocked things over and were brushed off and forgiven. And the light in the house wasn’t ethereal or alien at all, readers. I have to describe it just right because I really want you to feel what I felt. It was the light of stories being told and being listened to. It was the light of poetry. It was the light in the window when you pull up to your family’s country house at night after a long drive back from the city. It was the light of home.

 

The art of losing

Farewell, friend

Well, the move is over. I live in a different house now. I have woken up for the last four days and said, “This is where you live,” and tried to make sense of that. For someone who identifies so strongly with her home, moving feels more like the end of a relationship than a mere relocation. I left a house I still loved because we just couldn’t make it work. She was perfect for me — but she wasn’t, really, because Mark and I couldn’t afford her without a third housemate, and after our third third housemate left on bad terms we just couldn’t stomach trying again. But my brain compartmentalizes the bad experiences with housemates, and I remember the house as practically perfect.

I’m grieving her right now. She was a place of deep healing for me, and a gift to both Mark and me as we left the community where we’d lived for years. We both see our four years there as that — a gift, a place of beauty and rest. I want to open up my heart to my new house, new beauties, new healing, but first I need to grieve and to let go. I need to learn again the art of losing.

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
This poem by Elizabeth Bishop has been in my head and heart a lot these last few months. I feel really grateful for so many things in my life, but I’ve lost a lot of things, too. My health, or at least the illusion that I was healthy. My dream of a husband and children. The house in Maine where I spent my teenage years and thought my parents would live out the rest of their lives. My dream of a job in ministry.

The photo on the left is the exact moment I realized I was going to lose my couch, the place I’ve rested and written for more than three years. It wouldn’t fit up the stairs at our new place. It’s an art to let go, to say, yes, this is sad, terribly sad but it isn’t a disaster. It’s the rhythm of life to gain and lose, gain and lose, homes and couches, relationships and loved ones, the illusion of something you thought was true but never was. It’s something you need to learn, and practice, like the poem says. Start small, accept the loss of the the cover of your Pyrex container, which was probably thrown out in the paper towels it was packed in. Move on to the lampshade you really liked which fell out of the moving van. Then accept that the jade plant that fell over in the car on Monday, then fell off the windowsill on Tuesday, is probably too top-heavy to live very long in this world no matter how hard you try.

I woke up this morning in my new apartment feeling like I’d rushed into this relationship. I still love my old house  — what was I doing with this new one? I should be homeless for a while first, find myself. But of course I have to live somewhere. So I’m trying to find a balance between allowing myself to be sad and focusing on the positive. There are many beautiful things about this new place. I think of Maggie Smith’s beautiful poem Good Bones, in which the house is a metaphor, but the literal applies to me right now:

Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

It’s not a shithole here, but it’s not as nice as our old place, my old love. But I can make it beautiful. Making spaces beautiful is a gift of mine, both physical spaces and emotional ones. I know how to transform experiences into stories, suffering into redemption. I’m doing it now with this post.

Still, when I woke up this morning and told myself, “This is your new home,” it didn’t feel true. It felt nonsensical. I puttered around unpacking and cleaning, but it wasn’t working, at least not much.  I thought of One Art, and I thought of Good Bones and the poems helped. Then I opened Twitter and someone had shared another poem, called What You Missed that Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade by Brad Aaron Modlin. One of the things he mentioned in his beautiful poem was

— and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home.

This makes complete sense. It was the day I was absent in fourth grade, probably when I broke my wrist roller skating. Other people know how to do this, those who showed up punctually for class in the red-bricked grammar school. But of course, Modlin is kidding, that wasn’t taught in fourth grade or anywhere else, just like “how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts / are all you hear;” was not taught. We have to figure it out ourselves. But the poem told me that Modlin also has woken up in a new house, and told himself, “This is your new home,” and had trouble believing it. Other people have had, and are having, the same experience as me. I am not alone. That’s where the transformation is to be found; that’s where the redemption is to be found.

So I put down the boxes and mop, and open my computer, and write to you here.

***

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Summer in the city

Last summer I was job hunting for the whole summer, and this summer I’ve been apartment hunting, packing, and soon moving and unpacking. Because of the nature of nannying I’ll probably be job hunting next summer since the little boy I care for will be old enough to start preschool next fall.

Facebook showed me a memory from a year ago today: It was 96 degrees, and I still didn’t have a job after months of searching. I was at Cafe Nero getting an iced coffee to help cope with the heat, and chatting with the barista.

My barista said he wished he had a sprinkler.

“I feel like it’s asking too much to wish for a pool,” he said, stamping my frequent drinker card, “but I think wishing for a sprinkler is reasonable.”

“Yes!” I said, “I bet you have enough magic in you to materialize a sprinkler!”

His eyes lit up. “I do!” he said, “I really think I do!”

Today the temps will only hit the high eighties, breaking a three-day 90+ streak. I tried to pack during the hot afternoon yesterday and got a splitting headache, so I rested and drank glass after glass of ice water — and a couple of iced coffees of course. Yesterday was my first day back home after cat-sitting for the ten days, driving between two houses every morning and evening to take care of three cats, and spending the night with one of them, an American Bobtail whose owner didn’t want him to be alone for too long. The cat, Tucker, and I, spent each night negotiating how close he could sleep to his preferred position on my face. I had cat hair all over me every morning, and the dusty ammonia smell four boxes of kitty litter clung to my clothes. I cried when I said goodbye.

This morning my head still hurts, and my long moving to-do list has been compressed to two days since I didn’t get much done yesterday. But Mark is driving up today to help. He’s still in Connecticut after going down for the weekend four months ago. His mom fell and broke her arm, then his grandmother got sick and died, then his family visited from the Middle East, and next week he’s dog-sitting himself in Connecticut for his sister’s new puppy. He hasn’t slept here since March. For three months I lived with just our third housemate who wasn’t speaking to me — no words, literally, even when I spoke directly to her — then for the past month or so it’s been just me here, filling up boxes, taping them shut, and piling them up wherever I can find space.

I went from living with one of my best friends, to living with someone whose wordless anger radiated out to me, to living with furry creatures who wanted to be as close as possible, to back alone. In two weeks the move will be over, Mark will be back to stay, and I’ll be living with one of my best friends again, in a two bedroom this time without the angry third housemate. It’s a nice apartment on the third floor of a triple-decker, so it will probably be pretty hot in August. I’ll have to make sure I have plenty of ice water and iced coffee to get me through. And God only knows what next summer will bring. But only God ever knows, whether it’s a quick weekend visit that turns into four months, or a seemingly nice housemate that turns sour overnight. God only knows, but I make my plans as best as I can without that knowledge — sign my lease and my job contracts, fall in love with the apartment and with the kids and the cats, knowing I’ll have to say goodbye one day. Still it helps to know that God knows, even if I don’t.

***

Okay, back to my to-do list. How are you all doing this summer? I’d love to hear from you.

Come follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and join in the conversation! (I’ll tell you a secret: I’m feistiest on Twitter!)

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Outside your Father’s care

I tried to rescue a baby bird the other day. There were six of us trying, actually, two adults and four children, playing in the backyard for two hours while a bird cheeped steadily every minute or so, and an anxious mother robin fluttered around the trees above us, calling to her baby to come to her. We humans wanted badly to help, but the problem was we couldn’t figure out where the little bird’s cries were coming from. When we stood next to the shed it seemed to be coming from the shed, but when we went into the shed it was clearly coming from outside. The mom and the two five year old girls tried on and off to look for it, and the toddler helped out by saying, “Birdy!” every time he heard the chirps. The three year old was mostly otherwise occupied. But me, I was obsessed. So much so that I was concerned I wasn’t doing my job as a nanny. I tried to focus on the kids, but the chirping kept calling me back to the search. My compassion and motherly instincts were working hard, but also my inability to back down from a challenge. There MUST be a way of finding that bird. I could do it, I knew I could.

Still, the kids were my priority, and I was also concerned that they not be too upset about the lost bird. I tried to reassure them, even as I was searching, that the bird was alright.

“Oh, I forgot!” said the five year old that was under my care, the bright, imaginative Louise that I wrote about here. “I can understand bird language!” She went over where the noise seemed to be and listened for a moment.

“I was right!” she said. “That’s not the sound of a bird in distress.”

“Oh good!” I said, pretending to believe her, and she and her neighbor-friend went back to their game. The mom went around the corner to work in her garden, the toddler and the three year old played in the sandbox, and I tried to focus on them, to pay attention for my own sake as well as theirs. One of the main reasons I’ve been nannying for the past eight years since my ministry job fell apart is because being present with small children is so therapeutic for me. Watching a one year old play in the sunshine while the breeze ruffles my hair is as good to me as an anti-anxiety medication. There was my health, my centeredness, right there in the sandbox. Pay attention, Jessica, I told myself. But:

Chirp chirp!

That was a bird in distress, no matter what Louise said. It was almost time for us to go inside. The kids’ dad would be home soon and I wanted to give them a snack. I checked to make sure all the kids were safe and occupied, and then I went over to that corner of the yard, closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and listened.

Chirp chirp!

I peeked at the kids again, then resumed my breathing and listening. I took a step forward.

Chirp chirp!

To the left, I thought, and took another step. I squatted down. Then I opened my eyes and I was in front of a blue bin, full of balls and other outside toys. Could it be?

Chirp chirp!

I slowly, carefully began to remove the toys from the bin. Suddenly I heard a fluttering sound from the bottom. My heart skipped a beat. I’d done it! I was about to rescue it! I kept removing toys, even more slowly and carefully, my head full of visions of the bird flying away free, of a joyful reunion with its mother. Then, finally, I removed the last toy, a frisbee leaning against the side of the bin, and under it was the terrified little bird. I gently tipped the bin over and called to the kids:

“I found it! I found the bird!” And then my heart sank. Instead of flying out of the bin, the bird hopped out, and I saw that all of its tail feathers were missing, and some of its wing feathers as well. It hopped around to the side of the house and I blinked back tears.

“Okay, Louise and Manny,” I said, “Time to go inside.”

From the dining room as we ate our snack we could see the baby bird, still on the side of the house.

“Look!” said Louise, “Its mother came to find it!” Its mother was there, indeed, chirping at it, and feeding it. I tried to be enthusiastic about it for Louise’s sake, but I wondered if the baby had any chance of making it. The mom could feed it on the ground, but she couldn’t protect it from predators. I had worked so hard to locate and rescue the little bird, but it seemed like that rescue had been in vain. It all seemed deeply unfair. Many baby birds die, I know. But this was my baby bird. This was the one I’d left my baby humans to save. This was the one I’d used all my powers of centering and quieting myself and listening to search for. This was the one I’d found.

To be honest, I don’t want to write the second half of this blog post. I don’t want to look for deeper meaning, for reassurances, for the presence of God. I just want the bird to be okay. I want to write another story like the one where Louise and I rescued a little dog, and brought him safely back to his warm home and loving owner. I want to write about a joyful reunion, not a tragic one.

I don’t want to, but I’m going to anyway, because I do believe that God is present in everything, the good and the bad, and I am committed to paying attention to that Presence. In Matthew 10:29 Jesus speaks about a sparrow falling to the ground. Some translations say something like, “Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent” or “your Father’s permission.” This makes it sound God has been asked by someone — maybe Satan? — if it’s okay to kill the bird, and God has said yes. But the New Living Translation has it as, “without your Father knowing it,” and the New International Version says, “outside your Father’s care.” I like this idea much better. The sparrow never stops being within God’s knowledge and loving care, even when the time comes for it to die. It is held in love, in life and in death. And so are we.

Jesus goes on to say, “And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” How intimate a way to express God’s love and knowledge of us. We are under the care of someone who has held us, who has touched our body with gentleness and attention, separating each strand of hair to count them one by one. God holds us with this same gentle attention in death as well as in life.

And there’s another story from the Bible that comes to my mind. Many people know the part of the story where Jonah is swallowed by a whale (or big fish) when he refuses to preach God’s warning to Nineveh. As the story goes, Jonah prays inside the whale, God saves him, and he then goes to preach to the people of Nineveh, who listen to him and repent of their evil ways. But there is an epilogue to the story, a follow-up to Jonah’s role in the drama. Jonah is angry with God for forgiving the Ninevites, and God feels that Jonah needs one more lesson to understand God’s compassion. So God makes a plant grow, which shelters Jonah from the hot, Middle Eastern sun. Then, the next day, the plant dies, and Jonah is so hot and miserable and angry that he wants to die. Then God says to him:

“You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

The story ends there, and we never know whether Jonah understood what God was trying to say. But I thought of it when my heart broke over the injured baby robin. It is easy to have compassion for a creature who cannot speak, cannot insult me or offend me, cannot honk at me in traffic or be mean or inconsiderate. But how much compassion do I have for those people in my life who have hurt me, or angered me, or just made my life harder than it has to be? How much concern do I have for the messy, smelly, frustrating, broken people who are worth more to God than many sparrows? How much time am I willing to spend — listening for them, eyes closed, breathing deeply, then slowly and gently moving things out of their way until they are free?

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For those of you who read my post about apartment hunting — good news! We found an place! It’s not perfect, but it has many good things about it, and I look forward to turning our pros and cons list into prose and poetry.

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Come follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and join in the conversation! (I’ll tell you a secret: I’m feistiest on Twitter!)

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And three books that I’ve read recently and highly recommend:

Flee, Be Silent, Pray is an excellent introduction to contemplative prayer for Evangelicals and others. Cyzewski vulnerably shares his own stories and struggles with spiritual anxiety within Evangelicalism, and describes how silence, contemplative prayer, and other practices like the Examen, and canonical prayers helped to calm his anxiety and reconnect him with himself and with God. He draws on the writings of Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, Richard Rohr, and others to describe the benefits of contemplative practices contrasted with the activity-based and results-based practices of the Evangelical world. As someone already familiar with the subject I wondered if the book would have anything to offer me, but I found Cyzewski’s story to be personal and compelling, and I enjoyed rereading some of my favorite quotes and stories from Merton, Nouwen, and Manning. I definitely recommend this book for those interested in learning about contemplative prayer, and I think it will be an enjoyable read even to those already familiar with the practice.
I was given an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

The Light is Winning is a fascinating read about a man who has overcome spiritual trauma as both a child and an adult, worked through bad theology, and come to a place of deep faith and hope. Hoag tells his story with compassion and humor, making space for the reader’s experience and perspective. My favorite part was chapter 3: A Problem With Authority, especially Hoag’s discussion of sociology professor Josh Packard’s research into those who he calls the “dones” who have poured years of energy into the church and have finally given up, exhausted. I found much to relate to in this book, and I think many struggling Evangelicals and post-Evangelicals will, too. I will definitely be recommending it to friends!

If you like social justice and want to see the veil pulled back on capitalism, then this book is for you. If you like The Hitchkiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books and have always wished that someone would write a guide to economics theory with the same wit and ease, then DON’T PANIC, this book is for you! Seriously, this is one of best books I’ve read in a long time, and well worth the price, especially when you consider, as the book will reveal, that MONEY IS JUST A LIE WE ALL BELIEVE.

Click on the images to see the books on Amazon.

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