"The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing —
to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from —
my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing,
all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back."

~C.S. Lewis


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Windchimes in the night


"I'm not ready to die."

In the glow of my nightstand clock blinking 11:32 p.m., I set down the purple pen and the bedside notepaper kept there to record thoughts and images and prayers that flit at the edges of consciousness, appearing only in the filmy gauze between awake and asleep. I don’t want to forget those words, because they often contain truths I don’t realize when the sun is up and there are friends and bills and books. But just before I fall asleep, I drop my guard for just long enough to, sometimes, hear my spirit like windchimes in the night.

And tonight, I realize I am not ready to die, which means I am not truly living.

An hour later, my flowered sheets are nearly ripped off my bed with continual tossing and my Bible lies open to Psalm 61 and outside, a blizzard sets more snow on top of 7” already fallen.
And if I can rouse myself from the trance of what’s wrong to find something stable in this world, something either awake or asleep and not this place of in between, perhaps I will be all right. The snow is falling harder now, at 12:43 a.m., and as a child on Christmas morning I need to be out in it, within the beauty I see. Or within its war, or pain, or fighting, or longing, I don’t know.
I unlock the sliding door, push back the curtain (soundless, now, with roommates asleep), and without thinking, abandon my socks in a heap on the carpet.

Outside. The purple sky is a halo to the glittered white world; if I am trying to be asleep, I can pretend I’m Alice down the rabbit hole, but if I want to be awake, then it is just city lights on city clouds with smog, sometimes, and sirens.

The patio soaks cold through my bare feet, but just wet, not snow, and in one more step, I am barefoot in the storm. The snow over my feet is not as cold as expected; it wakes me from my fog to focus on one thing: ice, slush, April, and what it is to stand in your nightgown barefoot in the snow in your apartment by County Road D.

I wait to hear from God, in the snow, as if somehow it is more holy to be there. And in a way, perhaps it is: it is more holy because I can hear. In the parking lot are seven lampstands, twenty-three entombed cars. I feel snow turning to ice water under my toes and wonder how many millions of snowflakes I have just melted by standing there; each one unique, they say, and I have destroyed them. And the wind blows my hair from its braid, and I wait for God’s voice.


And the silence is beautiful.

There is no less of God in silence than there is in words; there is no less beauty in mystery as there is when all is known. The grass withers, the flowers fade, not one sparrow drops apart from Him, and are they not all clothed more beautifully than ye?

And God does speak.

Because as ten trillion million snowflakes pour from the sky in sunbeams of snow and a thousand land in my hair and my hands and on bare feet and I behold infinity, I hear Him say, “This is how much I love you.”

Standing barefoot in the snow is my small act of rebellion against a normal life. Pathetic, vulnerable, alone, and not enough, but tonight, at 12:43 a.m., it’s all I can do.

And at the end of my path from bed to snow perhaps I’ve walked the way of God.

The freedom experiment (and a coconut on the fridge)

I have a coconut sitting on top of my refrigerator right now. I’m not really sure what to do with it. One of my friends told me to hit it with a hammer, and another suggested a saw and screwdriver and drain out the milk.
I was thinking more along the lines of dynamite.

But regardless of how I actually manage to eat the thing, it’s actually indicative of a much larger part of a journey I am on: the quest to find my boundaries, the edge of the box, the brink of heresy, and to move beyond. To discover what rules I live by and to test them to the utmost as to whether they are indeed needed rules… or if they are just my own.

The desire is to cultivate in myself a radical freedom; in a way, it is the freedom experiment. Albert Camus said it best in that, “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”

And it starts with a coconut.

The freedom experiment began small enough: every time I went grocery shopping, I bought a food I’d never bought before and, preferably, had no idea what to do with. I found myself with the most bizarre vegetables you’d ever seen (even the cashier didn’t know what they were), mushrooms with unpronounceable names, and, most recently, a coconut.

I did it because I needed to break out of the box I’d been living in regarding food and my habits therein; there was so much life to be lived even in as forgotten a place as the grocery store aisles, and I was going to find it.

But then, the freedom experiment grew.

Now, I examine everything—not just food, but theology, schedules, conversations, relationships, finances.  When I come upon something from which I shrink back, I ask, “Why? What rule is that, who said that? Is it the Lord? If not, why am I giving it power?” I write down my answer, I write down a way to break that boundary, to push my limits. In every area, I look for the edge of my comfort zone and seek to find the life beyond it. (So that way, when I’m the only girl in a gym with a dozen sweaty men mostly twice my size, and we’re all practicing wrestling and jiu jitsu and kickboxing and how to choke each other until we black out in my quest for me to get beyond my comfort zone—well, I remind myself that the terror is helping me grow.)

This is a kingdom life, for as my dad told me this afternoon: “Risk is overrated.” If I am living a Romans Road gospel—a gospel of John 3:16 and nothing else—then risk is a great enemy. But if instead, I am living in the kingdom of God, risk is overrated; that life has far less to do with sin management than it does with the glory, will, life, battle, and beauty of God Himself and His kingdom—then my life is one of exploration and adventure. This is the kingdom; live in its entirety. Do not be so afraid of sin or error that you never seek truth; never fear being wrong more than you fear not finding what’s right.

Therein was the freedom experiment. Who said I couldn’t learn pole dancing? Where was that in the Bible? An unspoken rule I didn’t need to adhere to. So I took a workshop and met some wonderful women. Why did I not want to watch a horror movie? There were far more graphically evil scenes in my beloved Scripture. I let go of my prejudice. Why didn’t I confront my friend on a serious relationship issue? Because I usually wasn’t that abrupt; another rule of, “Be nice… too nice”—a rule I was clearly not intended to live by. So I confronted my friend and broke it.

And I took martial arts by myself, decided to move halfway across the country, trained horses with previously taboo methods, read books I never would’ve touched, ate raw cookie dough at 11 o’clock at night. I became more confrontational and more reconciliatory, tried beer and alcohol and wine, sought out untraditional spirituality, changed my schedule radically, learned about sex, and told people to their face that they were dead wrong. I went to a bar, changed my wardrobe, prayed with a total stranger, wrote down my dreams from the night before, started my business, wrote this blog post. I have become more angry, more joyful, hate more, love more, pray more… live more.

And every time I find the edge of my comfort zone, I find the rule or fear or belief keeping me there, and I pray over it, and I seek whether or not it is a stronghold that should be broken for me, a rule I was never meant to live under, a burden I was not supposed to bear, or if it is truly a grace to me, my Lord, and others, and should be kept.

The freedom experiment seeks a radical freedom, a radical grace.

But most of all, it seeks a radical God.

Recent encounters forced me to confront my own version of heresy in which I locked Him in a box instead of embodying what one of my friends says: the truth is endless. I was haunted by the C.S. Lewis quote, “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like.’” If we are finite, and He is infinite; if we never are uncomfortable with who He is, it means we have choked Adonai Elohim down to a small box roughly the size of our comfort zone.

I don’t do the freedom experiment because I am particularly brave, because I am particularly radical. I do it because I am not. 

When airports are better than convents on Pluto

caribou coffee
You know it’s going to be an epic day when you actually go to Caribou Coffee like a normal human being. Not as the token “here, I spent $3 so I can use your Internet for the next 7 hours straight while I see 3 shifts of workers come and go and pretend I’m homeless,” but real live, “I woke up at 5 a.m. and am getting coffee like the elite urban socialite I am while drinking it in my snazzy car on my way to my awesome life.”

It’s a truly empowering feeling.

Actually, if I were the Instagraming type, I’d have made my roommate photograph-and-photo-filter the occasion with her plaid-backed iPhone for the world to see, but I don’t really see the point of documenting my eating habits like some sort of exotic zoo animal: “Here sits college graduatus adventurous, thriving in her native habitat on the addictive, mind-altering drink of her people.”

Not something to be proud of.

But we only went to Caribou because we decided an audacious day needed to start with a scandalously expensive coffee, and with a quick hug to my roommate and toss of the empty almond latte container into the garbage, I passed through sliding doors into yet another adventure—the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport on my trip to Orlando. Though my flight didn’t leave until 2:56 p.m., I was walking through the doors at 7:14 in the morning due to my roommate’s work schedule, which meant I was set for one of the best days I could remember in a long while:
Reading. All day. Reading. All. Day.

Seriously, this was going to be incredible.

But first, I had to get to my gate. Happily, my roommate and I couldn’t remember which terminal I was supposed to be in, so we obviously went to the wrong one (in accordance with the 50-50-90 rule: if you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there’s a 90% probability you’ll get it wrong), which meant I was able to embark on the glorious adventure of wandering about, finding the Light Rail, riding it the wrong way, turning around and riding it back (sneaking about hoping no conductor would ask about the ticket I was then supposed to have by riding the wrong way into the city, while preparing a long defensive speech in my mind in case he did), nearly walking into a glass door (not my fault, obviously, as it wasn’t well marked), going up the wrong escalator, riding it back down, and finally arriving at my correct terminal.

Apparently the coffee hadn’t particularly helped me wake up.

But it didn’t matter, because after the Light Rail I had come to one of the best things an airport has ever invented: the moving sidewalk. Seriously, it’s like having seven league boots. Forget the fact that walking on my own power would be all healthy and good exercise and whatever, because if you have the choice between exercising and being super awesome magical, I’m totally going with super awesome magical. So I pounded along on that sidewalk, the only person on the entire thing, no one to slow down my flight, reveling in the fact that every step whooshed me an extra 10 feet down the hall like a superwoman.

The worst part, of course, was getting off, because I’ve never quite gotten over my little girl 5-year-old fear that I’d get sucked under the conveyer belt or trip or not coordinate all my steps right and fall in a disastrous heap, even despite the helpful disembodied voice shouting overhead, “WARNING! YOU ARE COMING TO THE END OF THE SIDEWALK! WARNING!” I always hated that voice. It was sort of like someone saying, haha, so sad, no more magic for you.


But even with magical powers stolen from me when I step off (barely), I continue on. At 7:32 a.m., there’s not a single person in the security line, so after I strip off my coat and my shoes and my cell phone and my purse and my one-quart bag of carefully measured liquids and whatever other murderous items I have in my purse, I start a lively chat with all the TSA agents within earshot. How are you? Is it always this quiet? How long have you been here? Isn’t this fun? And we chat and talk and laugh and I proclaim that my flight isn’t leaving for nearly eight hours. Eight hours! I crow. And then another five hours to my final destination! And I brought five books! Five! And my Nook! And my Bible! This is bliss.

The blonde TSA agent who’d brushed the dirt off my jeans a minute earlier stared at me open mouthed, probably considering whether she should shuttle me through the security check again. Clearly something was wrong with me mentally. Don’t you want to look around? Go shopping? You could try the overlook in the other terminal. You couldn’t possibly want to sit in that seat at the gate for the next eight hours.

Oh, yes I could. Just you watch.

And two hours later, I’m doing exactly that. The seat beside me is strewn with the evidence—one teal pen nearly dry and another blue pen not so dry and my Nook turned on to one book of the Bible and my travel Bible opened to another, then the journal lying smashed on its face full of scribbles a few inches away while The Omega Conspiracy lies staring up at me in my lap, and the page protector full of sticky flags used and reused since freshman year of college four years ago with a half-eaten apple on the ground and my feet dangling over the armrest as I sit propped to the side. And no one knew me! No one would talk to me or bother me and my phone is something King Tut would’ve used so no one will text or call and I can’t check Facebook, and it’s basically like living in a convent right in the middle of Minnesota (even better than the one I’d often threatened to start on Pluto).

And there were still 10 hours of reading to go.

One week later, I walked back into the MSP airport, Hubert Humphrey Terminal, not even burned from the Orlando sun, having satisfactorily completed fully four of the five books brought along (all 374 pages of The Hunger Games read in one fell swoop) and plowed well into the fifth. My brain had more information than it could hold, I’d drained two pens dry, and life was very, very good.

And within hours of returning to my apartment, I was tempted to start at least another, oh, three or four books.

Which is why I’ll have to go on another flight sometime soon.

A hateful love

I shuffled barefooted into the kitchen. Down came the pewter bowl with blue flowers (the pretty one, obviously), filled with the ¼ overripe pear (no throwing away food) and the generic brand shredded wheat (cheapest in the store) and the GoLean Crisp (to pretend I was eating something exotic), because I couldn’t possibly have a normal breakfast. (It was that or eat the frozen vegetables, which I’d been known to do some mornings in my less-awake moments.
But at 7:20 a.m., I’m not thinking about breakfast.

Mostly, I’m thinking about hate.

Not just hate, but hate and anger. The afternoon previous, I listened to a Mark Driscoll sermon: “If you don’t ever get angry, something is wrong with you.”

I pour Almond Breeze (three years old, left over from my family’s acute almond milk craze) on my conglomeration and try to remember the last time I was angry at someone. Hated their actions—beliefs—words. Seething anger, absolute hate.

I couldn’t remember.

The fridge door closes.

I’m ashamed. The depth of my anger, the trueness of my hate, reveals the intensity of my love. The more I love goodness, truth, beauty, and the fight for abundant life, the more I will hate evil, lies, and deception, the more anger I feel at the people and the world and the demonic that seeks the destruction of all that is good and right and pure.

If I have no hate, do I truly love?

Jesus, teach me holy hate, righteous anger. Give them with an intensity that shocks me. Drive me out of neutrality into war; light a fire within me with all the threat of inferno. Don’t let me be a safe person. 

Good, Jesus, but never safe.

Love isn’t always the other side of hate. Sometimes, it’s the same thing.

Waiting for your story

If someday I ever decide to live in one place for more than three months (maybe the nursing home?), there is really just one thing I want in my house.

A window seat.

My grandmother had one in the green-papered room I stayed in as a eight year old, and I’d always clamber up on top, look out at the birch and maple woods, and make up stories of valiant adventure. I was a princess—I was a Jedi—I was a princess and a Jedi. I was being rescued through the glass-paned window—I was fighting some great dark evil—I was riding away on a unicorn.

This window seat was different, Room 220 of Owatonna Microtel Inn and Suites (the room with the Tempur-Pedic bed! the receptionist crowed). The second-story view was of the Fleet Farm gas station and the truck drivers’ parking lot instead of the magical woods with the scrabbling turkeys, but of course I didn’t care, because you can make up adventures about Fleet Farms and truck drivers, too, if you’re practiced enough (and I am quite experienced).

Only I wasn’t making up stories this morning—I was asking the Lord about my own.
Waking the Dead lay next to me, scribbled all over in Barbie-pink pen, bent open to the section on the healing prayer, chapter 8, page 142. The pen marks had paused here as I set the book back down, swirly green cover against flat white sheet.

Lord, what part of my heart is still broken?

I received an instant answer, one word, unmistakable. I continued to question, to search, to let the Lord reach into my heart and tell me why I had not allowed healing there. It had to do with something I deeply wanted, had dreamed of for years.

Why? When will it come? I twisted my fingers into the sheet.

The Voice sliced into my mind.

It will. You’re just not at that part of the story yet.

Sometimes what you want is beautiful and true, a longing the Lord has deeply set within you, and that is holy. The longing for it is real, and it is good. Maybe it has to do with horses or music or marriage, or perhaps a friend or a skill or a dream. Don’t be afraid if it hasn’t yet come. It still may.

Perhaps, you’re just not at that part of your story yet.


Footprints through snow, eight inches deep, but the air is too cold to allow water to pool. Just snow—plain snow, old snow—to step through, sink in. Six footprints press from arena gate to ATV-plowed path, and I arrange my feet in them as I go.

Maia steps behind me, chooses one path as I pick out mine. Braided mane, loose rope, and a sparrow picks through hay on the ground.

What are you doing? she asks. Walking to the pasture gate, what else?—but that is the wrong answer.

That is what will happen, but what am I doing?

I am stepping into footprints in the snow.

And when I become present to stepping through snow for no other reason than to be present to stepping through snow, I realize Maia’s breath on my neck and jewels glittering on ice and boots sinking deeper and the weight of the rope on my glove and that someone once said that forever is composed of nows.

When stories are truer than reality

On the flat screen on the wall (just right of the fireplace, just under the horse painting) flickers Shadowfax in the meadow, Rohan of the hills, and Eowyn in the great hall. 

Aragorn: What do you fear, my lady?
Eowyn: A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.
~Lord of the Rings

And I sit on a couch of faded blue as the credits trickle down and Enya sings about the West, and I wonder—is this it? Is this life I have chosen all there is—to get up early, to work through the day as the sun brightens and fades, to go to bed early and sleep in the same bed as all the days before, to make enough money to buy the same food to live the same life to cry the same tears until all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire?

When the Lord has put such a desire in me for so much more—to fight for Middle Earth, to bleed for my people, to set souls free from the spitting snakes that bind them—then I can only believe that He has made me to pursue it.

I have to believe it.

For if life is less than my greatest dreams, if the truth about this world that goes straight to my soul is a liar, if Middle Earth has more inherit glory than Planet Earth—then fiction is better than reality, my God is not who I believe Him to be, and I dedicate myself to living in my made-up world:

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.

And with that decision, life opens to me—all of life—the life that makes this world as wild and breathtaking and terrible and beautiful as any Rivendell or Mordor or Shire. The battles just as great, the risk just as high, and the love just as real. The same cutting feeling of maia that causes me to dig my fingernails into my palms when Sam talks about the great stories, the same agony that makes me bite my lip when Aragorn goes to certain death at Mordor, the same desire that makes me curl up and sigh when Eowyn goes to war—those stories only affect me because they were meant for me to live.

I don’t know how to live them, sometimes. But I don’t think that always matters so much, in the end. Because once you believe in the greater stories, the stories seem to then find you.

Aragorn: What do you fear, my lady?
Eowyn: A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.
Aragorn: You are a daughter of kings, a shield maiden of Rohan. I do not think that will be your fate.

~Lord of the Rings