At the top of the stairs, again.

Classes start up again on Monday, after a six-week break. Six weeks should be long enough, right? And there are factors, changes, which i know will make this semester different from last—and yet.

Ever since midterms of my first semester—a year and a half ago; how is this possible?—i have staved off stress-and-homework-induced panic attacks by writing words on my hands. They’re the words that called me down the stairs, the words which told me that it would be worth it. Three times over break i have looked down while washing my hands to see these words on my wrist when i have not written them there. The third occasion happened today. Do my eyes play tricks on me, seeing the phantom where they have so frequently seen the reality? Or am i being prepared for another death?

It hurts to die, but each time i’m raised again and i’m something new, something i don’t recognize, something i never expected.”

Last semester i stopped believing in resurrection. i didn’t want resurrection; i didn’t want even to survive. i just wanted sleep. i lived in a chemical suspension of exhaustion and adrenaline for two months. It took days to climb out of that grave.

i don’t know what this semester holds, but i hope to regain hope. And maybe, just maybe, one death at a time, i’ll learn to trust the coming resurrection.

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Again

Second semester starts tomorrow. i stand on the stairtop and look out over the flight to come. There will be a breaking, and there will be a soaring. i know this, and i embrace them both.

i have turned my back on my turning back.

End-of-semester gratitude

My first semester’s finals were yesterday. Oh, i am tired—and so, so grateful.

All last week i had reminders written all over my hands. Not reminders of things i’d need for the tests, but reminders that i would survive the process. Around my thumb and forefinger i wrote, “i have turned my back on my turning back.” Last night after my Hebrew final i collapsed into a chair and curled my fingers and saw how the words made a circle, turning back, then turning back again. And i had been telling myself over and over that i must not turn back, that as weary as i was i would reap a harvest if i did not give up. At that moment the words became true. i had turned my back on my turning back. It was accomplished. i knew that i had come far and could begin to gloan upon it. As we drove home afterwards, i could feel the semester receding behind me as if time was a place.

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i am grateful for:

  • Jonathan. Oh, Jonathan. He was on call all last week, and had finals and papers of his own (he has one final yet), but he took care of all our dinners (and the dishes) all week long so that i could study. He planned our Geek family night, too. Every time i cried that i could not, could not, could not, he told me i could. He prayed for me and pastored me and served me, my priest. Every day, he preaches to me the way of Christ to the church.
  • My beautiful Hebrew family, my classroom table-mates. Asher and i had an uproarious time studying together yesterday afternoon (we were both sleep-deprived and deliriously hilarious). Atarah brought us chocolate and little hand-written cards of appreciation last night. Gadi lets me mother him. i could not have asked for a better group of people. i never expected them. They are a gift of grace.
  • Dr. Dallaire, my Hebrew professor, has been an endless source of encouragement all semester long. Last night she gave me a hug i could live in and told me i’d better write to her in Hebrew while she’s on sabbatical. 🙂 She graded our finals before leaving last night and i had an email waiting for me when i got home. For the midterm and the final both she brought us food. And one of the questions was, “True or False? Dr. Dallaire loves chocolate!” 🙂 Again, i could never have expected her. i’m so grateful for her. Just knowing her (not to mention learning from her!) this semester was the best way to begin seminary i could imagine. She taught me that seminary is not scary, but an exhilarating, encouraging, enlarging adventure. i am keeping her forever.
  • Dr. Hess, my Pentateuch and Wisdom Lit professor. i learned so much in his class, and much of it was about myself. His style of teaching and grading stretched me, and is stretching me, and i am better for it, and i will be better yet. He was an instrument of sanctification in G-d’s hands. Again, it was grace that placed me in his class this first semester.
  • My darling amanuensis Rachel. i texted her crying so many times this last week. She prayed for me and brought me ice cream and ginger soda and hugs the night before finals. She wrote me haikus to keep me going. She shares my heart.
  • Andrew Peterson‘s song “Day By Day,” and Josh Garrels‘ “White Owl,” both of which tethered my heart and my mind as i studied. i played them for hours. Hours.
  • Pete Peterson and the Budge-Nuzzard. Pete’s witness that faith does not always end in despair gave me the courage to begin seminary. The Budge-Nuzzard, in ways known only to Divine Grace, became my own story as i struggled to finish my first semester well. The fact that the story is yet unfinished may itself have been a grace, as i was able to see myself in it without the distraction of pressure or fear regarding where the story was going. The first time i read Hind’s Feet on High Places, i was too afraid of resolution to finish. In the Budge-Nuzzard, uncertainty came alongside my uncertainty and helped me along. i know that a story this weird (but i am so weird!) is an unlikely candidate for spiritual direction and courage. But—
  • My merciful Abba loves me so well. He’s close to me when i struggle. He hides me in His heart. He rejoices over me with singing. He stoops down to make me great. i so often seek life everywhere but in Him. He is gracious, and He grows me in grace. He’s teaching me to rest in Him. And He knows that i am made to respond to stories; He made me that way. So when i cry out for stories to help me along, He never shames me for needing them but instead He provides grace upon grace, and gives me stories to enlarge my heart.

This sounds like an Oscars speech. But seriously—i am so deeply grateful.

My list of things to do today includes “read a poem,” “take a walk,” and “blat at someone.” i am eager to dive back into fiction-reading (and writing). i might take a nap. i need to buy groceries. Facebook will wait until tomorrow. Short-story-writing will wait until Friday or even next week (yeah, i never did any writing in November, and i am not really sorry). For today, the theme is gratitude and peace.

The term is over. The holidays have begun. (Yes, that’s a Lewis reference, although this semester break is only a foretaste.)

Baruch atah, Adonai.

The Budge-Nuzzard and the coming resurrection

It hurts to die but each time I’m raised again and I’m something new, something I don’t recognize, something I never expected. I’ve gotten no better at avoiding the pain, but maybe, just maybe I’m getting better at trusting in the coming resurrection.”

I have indeed gone to action. That sweet abode of my arrival is now but a dollop of memory within my upper head. I must confess that in my weaker moments, I have longed for it and three times now have turned back to seek my solace within. But at length I have turned my back on my turning back and hence have come far and now gloan upon it.”

You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on You,
because he trusts in You.
Trust in the L-RD forever,
for the L-RD GOD is an everlasting rock.”

Finals are on Tuesday. i am tired. i am struggling to focus. i can’t remember why i began this journey, one which terrified me and thrilled me only three months ago and now just makes me bone-weary. How did the first half of the semester, full of excitement and voorish glee, turn into this slog? i wonder: Can i make it? i wonder: Do i want to?

“i hope it’s good for your soul.”

Well, you weren’t kidding. i wasn’t thinking at all of my soul when i started; that exhortation took me by surprise. i didn’t even burn everything i own, but it is hard anyway. And one of the most remarvelant surprises of this journey has been discovering what a source of strength and spiritual formation lurks in the ludicrous lobidiousness of The Budge-Nuzzard.

i do want to turn back. That sweet abode of my arrival seems so homely and comforting. But i will keep turning my back on my turning back. If there is a resurrection at the end of this, i want it. G-d is an everlasting rock and i can trust Him to help calm my mind and tempt it not to wander. And maybe, just maybe, one death at a time, i’ll learn to trust the coming resurrection.

Next week, i will have come far enough to begin the gloaning.

First death

This week i had my first opportunity to truly practice resurrection.

My first attempt at writing this post sounded much too heroically tragic. i came face to face with the wretchedness of my own pride on Tuesday, and it unraveled me. i knew i needed to write about it—to be honest. But my first instinct when i began typing was to glorify myself even in failure.

i am smarter than anyone i know. Call it perfectionism; say i am a high achiever and have high standards for myself, but the truth is that i am prideful. Tuesday my mental image of my perfect self was fractured by a grade i did not expect. It felt unfair. It felt surreal. Surely, it was a mistake. It was not. i failed to earn a grade worthy of myself, and in so doing i was forced to face what was in my heart that i should consider certain grades worthy of me, rather than humbling myself to make my work worthy of such grades.

When i began seminary—even as i was applying—i held clutched in my hands the hope of resurrection. i reminded myself that resurrection requires death. The first time i missed a single point on a quiz i told myself this. It is okay to die. Dying is a prerequisite for the remaking you desire. But even while saying this, i was working against myself. i had flung myself down the steep steps of seminary (see how noble that sounds?), but rather than allowing G-d’s grace to tandem jump with me, or to catch me at the bottom, or even to let me crash that i may be resurrected, i was blowing frantically at the ground as if i could keep myself aloft through my own effort.

To be blindsided by this grade was a grace. It sent me to my face, wracked with shame, and it forced me to acknowledge my pride. i wanted to be resurrected? to be remade? My redeemer (baruch atah, Adonai!) is so eager to redeem me that He will not wait even a whole semester before beginning the process.

As i lay on my face in the chapel, weeping into the carpet, i knew i had a choice. i could feel sorry for myself, even paint myself as a victim of unfairness. Or i could own my sin, celebrate this first death, and look forward to resurrection.

On my hands i wrote truth, truth that after repeated washings has not yet faded.

It hurts to die but each time i’m raised again and i’m something new, something i don’t recognize, something i never expected.”

Practice resurrection.”

Go now with me and define my becoming.”

“Love.”

Today i was listening to Sixpence None the Richer—the album which came out as i was beginning my undergraduate, the most beautiful album i’ve ever heard, an album soaked through with despair and grief and pain and, yes, hope of healing—and was met again by grace.

The Harvester is near. His blade is on your skin
To plant a new beginning: Well then, let the cut begin.”

Resurrection requires death. But death, if i trust His good intentions more than my own sufficiency, will always result in resurrection.

Let the cut begin.

A poem for the journey

i found this tonight while looking through a file of story ideas. i wrote it before school started, and i meant to come back to it but never did. The peace in it is striking when i remember what turmoil i was feeling when i wrote it.

“i hope it’s good for your soul.” O remind me, Adonai, to keep my eyes ever on You.

At the edge of graduate studies

i begin now a long journey.
And who shall i be when i arrive?
Go now with me
and define my becoming.
You, my soul’s hope,
my beloved,
my joy,
be for me my only goal
as You make and remake me
as You desire.
Build me as a cairn,
year by year,
class by class,
stone by stone,
and make me a sign-post.
When i arrive,
i will look out across the summit
and wonder at Your majesty,
and glory in Your creativity,
and marvel at what You have made me,
and open wide my arms
and laugh
and set my feet upon the path
of our next great journey.

T-minus nineteen hours

Deus vult.
If You can deceive me, You may.

Practice resurrection.
Practice resurrection.
Practice resurrection.