The Scene of the Crime

“I have to go.”

This has to be the most commonly used line in movies and TV shows today. Almost never is it a character solely needing to leave a physical place. It’s always about the subtext (“I can’t handle finishing this conversation.”) “I have to go” has been the scene of many a quiet crime.

Why is it that some of the most heartbreaking moments in our lives seem to happen to us in the most arbitrary of places?

There you are: standing at some nondescript location, some random unfamiliar corner of an ordinarily familiar world, a street or place you’ve only been to once. Somehow it seems to make it worse. In a way, the unspoken arbitrariness makes it scarier, the way horror movies play nursery rhymes in the background to heighten the tension and fear of impending doom. (Something isn’t right about this.) The irony of it makes the foreignness of the moment resound somehow louder. More threatening.

The apparent randomness of location is almost mocking and unfair. Here you are sharing part of your story – part of your soul – with a geographical stranger. Giving some of your most preciously heartbreaking moments to a place-person you’ve never intentionally acknowledged before. It almost becomes another person in the play. But what strikes you is that the specific square-footage concrete, while being physical, pales in comparison to the weight of the emotional transaction taking place on it.

I’m going to remember this moment. This random stretch of road.

I’ve passed by it and never knew it would become a permanent fixture in my story.

It just feels like really breaking moments should happen in a safe and familiar place, places that already have value to us. These are the places we expect to hash it out. Not down the street from the Ben & Jerry’s we almost went to once on free ice cream day. Not in the parking lot of Buffalo Wild Wings on a cold Tuesday night in March.

But these are all abstractions, shards of observations from a series of shatterings. Trying to dissect all of the pains occurring simultaneously. They’re all bit characters in a terrible parade of me losing you and you skipping away from me, not caring. Or hopefully, you just not being able to say so.

This is one of the pieces I was not indifferent about on Sunday when you drove yourself away from me and all of the story we’d written up until this point.

This is was one of the ripple effects that I am not eligible not to feel, unlike you and the way you seem to have mastered it… packing your feelings neatly away on a shelf and not looking back.

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Searching for Amen

“She’s not used to mattering.”

What a startling confession. I sit here and see the scene: angels whispering an introduction of me by telling this secret. Some unspoken confession of mine that I don’t even know. Like they’re narrating the film version of me.  “This is the root of what moves her.”

“Really?” I wonder.

When you think about God thinking about you, how do you think he feels?

Imago Dei is the concept that we are made in the image of God. Our greatest strengths can also manifest as our greatest weaknesses. A double-edged sword. For as many times as I can and have bemoaned how deeply I feel – about almost everything (and yet not feeling enough for the things that matter most) – I fail to see this as a signpost of God.

I feel deeply because He feels deeply.

This whispered confession, then, follows that in my day-to-day existence – trying to function as a capable, compassionate, valuable woman in society – I don’t fully inhabit this truth.

You matter, you matter, you matter. You move the heart of God.

Suspending disbelief. Mentally agreeing with this basic notion. And yet… it’s a truth I don’t own. It’s the house I’ve signed a lease for but still don’t have the keys to enter. Until the truth descends into the heart, it’s not bound to move or shape my life. And to make this crucial shift, all I can do is pause, suspend my heart-disbelief, and wonder.

Does my presence really move you? Is my absence something you can feel? Does it really matter?

I think these are questions we all ask. Or ones we run from asking but look the answer to from a myriad of people and places on a daily, perhaps hourly basis. Am I seen? Am I heard? Am I acknowledged? And I think we’re all just terrified the answer is a passively pervasive,

“No…”

Our waking hours are spent in constant pursuit of the amen (“yes”) we’ve already received. We look to other people to supply validity to our existence. We look to other people for affirmation of our truth. Only sometimes we don’t realize we only half-believe the core truth, leaving us to spend more than half of our waking hours trying to find a note we left at home…

You matter. You matter. You matter.

And until it becomes the driving force, the cohesive element, the great adornment of your life – it is with these small seeds, these musings that we begin.

God is far from indifferent about you.

Can we let it be so? Slowly now.

Merry Melancholy, Christmas Songs

“Ah, that’s right. I knew you once.”

These are the kind of Plath-like half-thoughts that float across my mind when I’ve had a few days like these to process. Process the endings and beginnings and quieting of stories from the past years. The set changes, the casting choices. The almost-somethings and the crop circles they leave behind.

Melancholy is an easy thing to wear. For me, at least. It’s much unlike those drop-waisted dresses at Forever 21 who only look good on about 1% of women, of whom only another 1% actually know the term “drop-waisted”. To them it probably sounds like a new faddish adjective from a crazy red solo cup party. I digress.

I haven’t written in a very long time. It wasn’t that I couldn’t write — though for a while I had very little time even to sleep — but it was that I didn’t want to do the emotional archeology that writing requires.

But now that the inertia has slowed, the dust has started to settle, and I’ve had a few (too many) days to breathe, I’m finding some of the questions surfacing. And they usually surface while I’m driving in my Prius listening to NPR, like the young, moderate-liberal artist-girl that I am.

Joni Mitchell’s “River” (“I wish I had a river I could skate away on…”) comes floating into my head and I start composing tweets that I ultimately choose not to post, simply because better judgment says they sound more pathetic-sad than ironic-joke-sad. TWEET IDEA: “Listening to Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’. Feel free to join if you can clear your schedule to sob for the next three days.” Okay, probably more intense-sounding than joke-sounding. TWEET IDEA: “Joni Mitchell’s “I wish I had a river I could skate away on.” These lyrics slay me.” True, but so lamely straightforward. So I don’t post anything and I just muse about it.

Why is it that Christmas* music can be so sad? Sure, a fair amount of it has a buoyant sway to it, ornamental bells and what-not. But more of it feels sad to me. Or maybe it’s just the air around the holidays. Maybe it’s the air and the songs reveal the air’s sadness, the way a relief painting highlights the opposite of what it displays. Holidays are an amplifier.

There’s so much excitement and anticipation in the air. There are colored lights and decorations adorning otherwise usual streets and doorways. The lights alone are enough to intoxicate my quixotic little heart and make me believe that anything is possible. (It’s amazing the way light can affect your spirit.) It’s no wonder that the holidays are romantic. They just are. They have all the trappings for it.

Maybe that’s why the air seems so thick hanging around the holidays. There’s so much beauty and expectation. There are friend-gatherings and family gatherings. Everyone trying to hold all that’s precious to them in one hand, on one day. The barometric pressure of nostalgia around the holidays can feel heavier than the August air in south Florida.

And every year I hope to have some sort of someone at Christmas. Every year I hope it’ll be different than the year before. And somehow, it never yet is.

I really want someone to write a song called, “Alone Again at Christmas.” I’d also like 50% of it to fall under my would-be publishing name, “Yesterday’s Makeup” (BMI). I think we’d make a million dollars. Or maybe about $5 if we put it on Spotify. We could also write, “You Should Be Kissing Me at Midnight”. As long as it didn’t end as a country song, I’d personally consider it a major success. There’s another $5 in royalties.  And I would take my $10 royalty check and go buy dinner at Chipotle and probably eat it on my way home in the car.  It probably sounds more depressing than it is. In any case, I’d at least have the tasty consolation of knowing that I helped birth a new expression of a universal sentiment.

I don’t subscribe to the place-holder mentality when it comes to dating (the word alone seems both foreign and antiquated). I’m not the kind of girl who needs someone to fill a boyfriend vacancy when there is one. In full truth, I rarely meet people with whom I think I’d actually make sense and there’s any mutuality.

All in all, I’ve had time to look at crop circles in the carpet like I’m Imogen Heap. Time to dive into new movies that punctured my hidden-away heart and cry about whatever needed crying. Time to drive around enjoying the witty intellectual banter on the radio. And time to wonder about Christmas music- Christmas music and why it tends to make me so sad. I wondered about the heavy nostalgia air and if that was part of what made thinking about or missing anyone around Christmas just that much harder. (*And yes, “River” is more of a winter song. But plenty of other Christmas songs are fitting culprits.)

But I’m a melancholy romantic by nature, so for now I will do as I have always done – enjoy both the beauty and the sadness and all the pretty lights. And I’ll listen to sad and happy Christmas songs; I’ll try to prepare my heart for Advent and soak up as much of the season as I can. And I’ll try to keep the lights on inside my little heart to believe that next year… anything is possible.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

Where the Sidewalk Ends.  Did you ever read those books when you were younger? Where the sidewalk ends.

I have a feeling “where the sidewalk ends” is near the same coordinates where the ocean horizon meets the sky. It’s an apparent apex of nothing meeting nothing. A moment between breaths.

And though I could say, “I wonder where faith is in those moments…” that’s not what I mean. I don’t need to know where faith is. My faith isn’t in faith. (It’s a bit of a closed circuit.) And if it faith is present anywhere, I know it’s active in those moments.  My question is, “Where is God in those moments?”

Can you find Him? What about when the healing isn’t manifest yet? What about when the circumstances haven’t changed yet? What if the air in the room doesn’t seem to thin & the same questions hang in the air like a dense fog? Where is He? Can you find Him?

God, I have prayed your words. I know I don’t know as many of them as I know I need to, but I know you don’t require me to meet a certain standard of godliness to be heard by you. I’m heard; I’m seen; I’m loved. I’ve known you to be too real to be imagined; too true to be false. But there’s an extra loud echo of my voice against the surrounding walls and I’m wondering where you went. Or what you’re doing.

Breathe and lean. Be still and know. I know I was nowhere when you laid the foundations of the earth. I know you don’t owe me anything. You see better than I can see. Your ways are higher and more mysterious. I’m just having trouble finding you here- here where the sidewalk ends. We’re so far into the wilderness, we’re far beyond our map. And yet I know you see us. Perhaps it is that knowing, paired with an accompanying blindness, the daily onslaught of death – the temptation to despair – that ridicules us so.

But if you were ever true, you are true now. So come find us when the air in the room doesn’t change. Come find us when the hall-echoes are resounding. Come fetch and apprehend us- not because it sounds eloquent but because it’s what we need.

If thou wouldst have us breathe, dear Lord supply Thy breath.

[.psalm 77. your pathway led through the sea, a pathway no one knew was there.]

From the Apple to the Tree

How fitting that Whitney Houston’s ‘I Believe In You And Me’ should be playing while I write this. My mom and I love The Preacher’s Wife (and Whitney Houston in general). In fact, my mom helped me “choreograph” some arm motions to Whitney’s The Bodyguard classic, ‘I Have Nothing’, when I chose to sing it in the fifth grade talent* show.

However, this is not a post about what my mom has done for me (such as choreographing arm motions). It’s not one because there simply isn’t enough time or words to aptly list it all. And I wasn’t very present-of-mind for all of those young-little-lass-Andrea years, and she probably did a lot for me then too. MAYBE. (#sarcasm.)

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If any part of me is a good apple, it is because my mom is a mighty fine tree. She worked the night shift in the E.R. for so many years while my brothers and I were growing up because she was determined not to let someone else raise her kids. She and my dad made enormous sacrifices in order to make that life work.

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She’s also my “Aaron” when I’m facing a battle and I need to be lifted up in prayer.  When I’m heading on a flight into turbulent winds, I know she’s on the ground already in contact with “air traffic control.” (Read: Jesus). She fasts and prays for me continually. She fasts from a meal each week and prays for my future husband, which she has for years now ( — and I’m all, “Mom! Eat a sandwich already!”)

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She’s the hardest working mom I know. And she’s smart as a whip – but she’ll never make you feel dumb. I’ve never seen it happen once. I don’t know how many lives she’s actually saved over the years, but I’m overwhelmed by the thought of how many families’ lives are forever changed because of her intervention. She is equipped to do great things and has been doing those things her whole life.

My mom is a servant. She’s gone to the Dominican Republic and to Zambia (Africa) to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of people in dire poverty.

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My mom is intrepid; strong and courageous. There’s really no succinct way to summarize the physical agony my mom has endured the past few years (after her mastectomy from breast cancer). There’s no way to describe it in any sort of “general” way that would do it any justice. Sometimes when I think of all she has gone through, I can hardly catch my breath.

What I can say is she continues to endure, by the grace of her even stronger God. And she’s been working all throughout it. While she was getting chemotherapy, she was also completing her masters online. Again, she is intrepid.

I know she longs to be released from this seemingly never-ending-story of pain, and we all want that for her. The fact that God allows some of his cherished and most obedient sons and daughters to experience the greatest suffering is a mystery I just don’t think we’ll understand this side of Heaven. And I will pause to remind her now that despairing isn’t just a sin but simply a mistake. Only God knows the end of our individual stories. We just need to keep holding on to Him. Our enemy never tires in offering us the lie of despair as the “death-thought du jour”.

And God still has good plans for her.

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Though I’m much quirkier than she (I’ve watched a lot more TV over the years), my mom can be goofy too. She loves to dance – and of my parents, that’s definitely who I get it from! And we both love sparkly things – though I think she prefers gold and I still prefer silver.

The list goes on and on. But all I know is that my mom is a continual source of inspiration and strength for me. She’s managed to raise three God-fearing responsible adult children, most likely because she and my dad have been on their knees in prayer every single day. I don’t know how they did it. But someday I’ll want to know how to be half as good a mom as she.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! I’m happy to be an apple from your tree.

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— Andrea

*Unfortunately for you, dear reader, this footage does not yet reside on the YouTubes.

Beauty & Power

What’s the point of feminine beauty? Rather, what’s the point of a beauty that’s impotent (without strength)? If beauty does not move you to action, if it doesn’t make a wave, if it has no apparent effect, then what is the point?

I guess my real question is: what’s the point of embodying objective beauty if it does nothing to you? Beauty isn’t something to be acknowledged clinically and then casually passed by. If you say I’m captivating but you’re not captivated, your words are hollow and meaningless to me. Apart from evidences of that reality, the words make a mockery of the reality to which they point. So what are we left with? Living contradictory truths. It feels not quite like being cast into a cellar (though we all have those days) but moreso like being eclipsed in plain sight, like being stuck behind glass.

But then again, who am I to judge? If you go to an art gallery, you may view paintings whose objective beauty you can identify but whose power doesn’t touch you. We are not all moved by the same things. And I know that’s okay.

But if I’m honest – and I am – there are few things more keenly frustrating and confounding than having beauty but realizing it doesn’t matter. At least not in the way you want it to.

I saw Memoirs of a Geisha in the movie theater just once when it first came out. There’s a scene where they talk about how the true test of beauty – being truly captivating – is being able to cast down a man just with one look of your eyes. It’s phenomenal. They say, “The very word geisha means ‘artist*’, and to be a geisha means to be judged as a moving work of art.”

That’s what we want. So often I settle for being amusing when I really just want to be the muse. I want someone who can recognize the poetry of me.

And there’s really nothing to be done about it. As quoted in Desiring God’s Will by David Benner, psychoanalyst Leslie Farber notes, “I can will knowledge, but not wisdom: going to bed, but not sleeping: meekness, but not humility; scrupulosity, but not virtue; self-assertion or bravado, but not courage; lust, but not love; commiseration, but not sympathy; congratulations, but not admiration; religiosity, but not faith.” You can no more make someone recognize your beauty or fall in love with you than you can make them fall asleep^. You can only create the conditions for these things to take place.  Even at the end of what can only be accurately described as veiled manipulation and self-marketing, you live empty-handed of the perception and openness of others.

Perhaps that’s the crux of the issue: powerlessness. We find ourselves subjected daily not to the naming or unnaming of beauty (we are not waiting for it to be bestowed by others) but rather the perception and calling forth its pre-existing reality. That’s the dissonance. If we have gotten past the first hurdle of believing in its truth, we must round the bend and reclaim the truth even when it seems impotent.

It’s like being told you have a great voice but never being asked to sing. What’s the point of possessing the ability then never filling the room with your sound? Beauty is the same way. Beauty is resounding! It’s meant to make waves. It’s meant to awaken us. It’s meant to invite us deeper into life.

There’s something so soul-killing about living the mystery of a reality whose power is – as I can only guess – not ready to be made manifest.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that it’s hard. It’s hard to live what can feel like a silent beauty. A beauty behind glass. I want to hear its sound. I would almost rather be passed entirely than to be looked in the face and acknowledged but not see a wake. I want to know that you hear the poetry, even if you don’t understand it yet. I want to know that it moves you… because until it does, beauty just somehow feels broken.

What do you think?

AKH

*(And no, geisha is not a synonym for prostitute.)

^Although, if they fall asleep with you there are only a few possible explanations: 1) they were very tired, 2) they feel really safe with you, 3) you’re really boring. One of those.

I Love You Like a Song

There’s this scene…

It’s in the 2001 movie “I Am Sam” starring Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Dakota Fanning. It’s a gem of a film, really. Basically it’s a story of a father with a mental disability (Penn) who’s fighting a custody battle for his bright-eyed young daughter (Fanning).  Oh and the entire soundtrack consists of updated Beatles covers.

Just go ahead and start crying now.

All to say, there are many forces at play- many valid questions to be considered as they try to determine the best course of action in this custody case. Can he properly care for the well-being of the young girl? Can he give her what she needs? etc.  And yet seeping into the consciousness of all the onlookers – the “powers that be” weighing all of these very-important factors – is the unmistakeable love of the father for his daughter.

I don’t remember what scene it was. I don’t remember the context. All I remember was the line flying off the movie screen and straight into the dark corners of my heart.

“I love you like a song,” he says.

I love you like a song… and God, I’m wrecked.

I know the verses. I know Ephesians 2:10 that says we are God’s workmanship (i.e. God’s poetry). We are God’s poetry? I pause… Yeah, I think that’s true. I can understand that.

I feel like I learn more about God the more I fall in love. I fall in love quickly and deeply. And not necessarily just in a romantic way. I fall in love with people the way some people fall in love with paintings. Or the way some women love diamonds. I love people like diamonds, like prisms; I like the way they catch the light. I just get so captivated by their uniqueness. It doesn’t necessarily mean I want to marry them (if you’re into Greek think more “agape” rather than “eros”) because it’s not a gender related thing.

I fall in love with the art of someone.

And it’s in that art-loving place that I learn more about God and this rumor of God’s love that I still have so much to encounter.

There’s this great quote by John Eldredge from his book Journey of Desire (a book which literally changed my life and understanding of God) that reads: “The heart cannot live on facts and principles alone; it speaks the language of story and we must rehearse the truths of our faith in a way that captures the heart and not just the mind.”

So you can stand on a street corner and tell someone God loves them… You can write it on a billboard if you want to… But maybe they need something more like a melody. Something they can hum.

Because God loves them like a song.

He loves you like a song.

There’s a difference between flat black and white words on a page “God loves you” and the whisper of a lover who looks you in the eyes and says, “I love you like a song…”

So go listen to a song that warms the blood in your veins. Watch a movie that sparks the fires in your mind. Walk around an art gallery or the gallery of creation. Go feel free. Fall in love. Be captivated. And maybe God will sneak in the back door and whisper to you, as he has with me, “Darling, I love you like a song.”