The Trouble with Wanting

The trouble with wanting is I want you

but you are a mystery

beyond my comprehending,

summons of sweet-scented blooms

the bumblebee may never see nor taste.

Blindly I follow after crumbs

thoughtless cast upon the ground before me

poor proxies they are

for that in which my soul takes delights-

and so I blunder on,

and hope one day to spy

the humblest vision of that beyond knowing

to which my heart holds fast.

A Real Fixer-Upper

The house of this heart was a real fixer-upper.

A bona fide eyesore if you knew how to look.

Good bones, she had, but see?

Desuetude draped heavy on her,

shrouding windows, latching doors,

and in the darkness labored on,

devouring sinews undisturbed

’til only bones remained.

Can these bones live?

Within the shadow of this tomb

I scarcely dared to ask.

Once, in my ruined state, 

I had caught a glimpse of

something living, perched on the lintel 

and the warmth of that body so close,

thrumming with life

felt like resurrection.

But its living broke me more, somehow:

as I shuddered to life,

plumbing long silenced

surged and split, leaking everywhere

threatening what little was left.

What to do? I shut it off—

cut the main supply at the source

pulled the lever on my leveraged heart.

the rushing silence in that chamber

was deafening. 

It was like the silence of the grave.

daily grind

and some days,

I lift my eyes to the rafters

and drift

no more to give

no more to take

neither joy nor pain

within my barely beating breast

and I wonder:

is this how the pearl of sand feels,

as she grinds silently to nothing

on the shadowed sea floor?

These Days

These days, so often

I catch myself

in the world

but not of the world;

in the place of boundless possibility—

a liminal cloud of of unknowing—

in which the heart

is freed for her own choosing

circumscribed by nothing

save that in which her soul delights.

Expansive as the universe,

she radiates light.

beautiful eyes

The problem, as I see it:

when you looked at me,

when you peered in my eyes

and told me you liked what you saw,

(though I was not looking

for anyone or anything)

I liked what you saw

when you looked at me.

And now,

when I look at myself,

when I get lost behind my own eyes,

I fear that what you saw was fleeting,

(though I search diligently

sweeping the floorboards for

anyone or anything worth treasuring)

and I’m no longer sure what I see

when I look at me.

(and even still,

I like what you saw,

when you looked at me.)

what we have in common

Perhaps we grew impatient, or

maybe it was nothing more than rage

at the distance between

what is right and what is wrong

in this world God has made:

the cry for justice that feels worth a damn

waging war against armchair ethicists at a quiet remove;

the vision of a world held in common

where everyone actually has enough

over against so many clenched fists

screaming into the void as they worry only for their own;

exasperation with the quiet cruelty

of a thousand silent power-mongers

who wave the desperate flags

of their pitiful political tribes

while quietly amassing their fortunes

as the dis-enfranchised,

the dis-empowered,

the dis-illusioned

gasp for breath in the poisoned atmosphere

that is our god-forsaken inheritance.

What happened is,

I thought I recognized you:

a kindred spirit,

fellow traveller on this path

who dreams of something brighter, something better,

if we only had the courage to let that vision cost us something,

and though we are different

(in so many ways)

the truth is simple:

I would rather walk this path with you

than walk alone.

On an early fall morning

There is so much I would tell you

if there were time, if you had time.

I would tell you how the trees are shedding their raiment,

their leaves scattered across the turf

like the cast offs of careless teenagers.

Or how, last night, my heart briefly swelled in my chest

as I pondered the overwhelming beauty of the world

alongside the inevitability of suffering

that is the birthright of the living,

as constant as the velvet darkness

that gathers herself around every solitary star.

I would tell you how you are to me:

a silent companion, kindly but distant, like a ghost,

and how I cannot pretend that you are here,

but also, how you are never fully gone.

But it is not possible to tell you these things;

the distance is too far;

I see through the mirror dimly, or not at all.

So instead I watch the steam curl off my neighbor’s roof

in the morning sun, straining for a glimpse

of that penumbral confluence where air and water merge into one.

I am not lonely

I am not lonely; I am alone,

though you would likely never know

for all the sound and fury, chaos and light

that fills my days and chokes my nights.

I am not falling apart; I am many parts-

emotions and habits, experiences, art,

bandaged together by a fragile gravity

that I call my self (mystery though she may be).

I am not broken; I am breaking down

the distance between who I thought I needed to be

to be loved and accepted in this world we call home,

and the messy, lovely child of God that is laughing through tears within.

What is True Right In this Moment?

What is true in this moment

is that I am alive and

there is breath within my lungs,

this sweet air with its hint of sharper days

on a horizon as yet unseen.

What is true is that

this moment will not be the end of me.

It is is merely one in a series

that together make up the painful fact of living.

And though my heart is breaking,

and will likely break again, and again, and again,

it will also keep on beating,

feeling,

and even, in God’s good time,

healing.

The Stories We Tell

I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the ways in which we live out the stories that we told about ourselves when we were young.* It is fascinating to trace the person that I am today back to the person I was when I was fourteen years old. I ask myself: how is it possible that the struggles I faced back then continue to live and breath now? And yet they do.

Before I go any further, let me be clear about something–I had a pretty happy childhood. Idyllic, even. I never doubted that my parents loved me, my siblings and I got along (most of the time), and we were not subject to the whims of illness, or poverty, or drug abuse, or any of a myriad of traumas that can afflict a home and a child. We were so lucky. So privileged in so many ways.

And yet.

My adolescent self was plagued with self-doubt. You wouldn’t have known that to look at me–I projected a great deal of confidence, especially around adults. I was competitive, and academically strong. But all of that was a grand cover. Around my peers, I couldn’t shake the conviction that they knew something that I didn’t. I felt awkward in my own skin all of the time. And when I looked at my (younger) sister, who seemed so popular and beautiful and at ease, I was convinced that it was something inside me that was wrong. I was the problem.

It is amazing how something like this can eat away at your self-confidence over the years. If you believe that you are a problem, and if you are also someone who believes that problems are meant to be fixed, then you are going to spend much of your energy trying to diagnose yourself, and the rest of what is in you administering the cure. And so I tried all sorts of things: I changed my clothes. I starved my body, I grasped about for answers in books, in church, in culture. I pretended to like the things that people who seemed far more interesting than me enjoyed.

It was miserable.

Even worse, it didn’t work.

So I doubled down on self-recrimination.

By the time I got to college, I knew that I needed a fresh start, but the only “me” that I knew was a striver who was desperate to please. I learned, quickly, that on a large university campus, there are countless opportunities to remake yourself. But I stuck to that same, toxic script. I kept stuffing myself in a box that seemed acceptable, single-minded in my pursuit of success but always with my attention focused on how I might find acceptance in others. I joined rigid community groups–Marching Band, Campus Crusade for Christ, a military recruitment program for aspiring clergy–hoping that within the confines of those spaces I would find what I was looking for. Instead, I learned the hard truth that letting other people dictate the boundaries of your acceptable self serves only to isolate you further. All they did was offer further evidence of my inadequacy.

I’m not sure what flipped the script. Somewhere in college, I started to care about my own well-being enough to make it more of a priority. I never fully stopped performing for other people, but I started to care a little more about what made me happy. What brought me joy. I started to be okay with disappointing some people if it meant choosing myself. It felt good to care about myself. It still does.

But the ghost of my teenage self still haunts me. She lingers at the edge of sight, and when life is feeling unmanageable, as it is right now, she sidles closer and whispers that all of this is my fault. That I am the problem. Sometimes, I can see her for what she is. Many more times, I am tempted to believe her. And when I do, I am right back where I started: anxious, afraid, certain that at any moment, the shoe will drop and everyone will figure out that I am a fraud.

Lately I have found myself wondering how things might have turned out differently if I had not felt it so critical to hide myself, and my insecurity and fears all those years ago? What if my younger self had felt like she could have said what she was feeling out loud? what if someone had seen her struggle, drawn close and whispered, “it’s okay. I see you. you can be afraid with me?” How might my life have turned out differently if I had made that choice to be fully known?

I think of this as I raise my own children. As I watch them silently struggle with their own fears and insecurities. I tell myself, if you will not be that person for them, then who will? I tell myself, the choices you make right now will ripple forward, and while you cannot control that, you can make sure that those that you love know that they are loved, and accepted, exactly as they are. If you wish to make a difference in their lives, perhaps you will have to risk being vulnerable now in ways that you could not be when you were young.

I tell myself this, and I wonder: does the adolescent within me hear? And if she does, would she believe me?

*hazard of seeking therapy, I suppose.