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I stand under the night sky. Two feet on Dominican soil, thin rubber soles between. I wonder how my fingers would feel to reach up and scoop the stars from a leaking sky, light dripping holes in the darkness. They would never fit in my pocket, even my two blue eyes struggle to stretch wide and far enough to hold them.

I feel so small inside these skin walls, which hold my belly to my bones to my soul.

I feel so small when I see you, little one. Arms wide while you smile, star teeth shining between your dark brown lips, your dark brown skin, you reach up to me like the ache in my belly reaches for love. I pull you up, into me. You are growing, and I am stilled by the surprise in my muscles responding to you.

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Good morning, I say, as if we are familiar, as if I lived in your batey and you see me every day. You are sassy, little one. What have you seen since I saw you seven months ago? Through what have your growing feet walked? Are the other kids sweet in Cabeza de Toro? Do you have enough to eat? What do you love? Tell me all.

There is one full year of growing inside of you since the first time I held you through your first day of school. Your life is shooting up out of the soil of your soul like the sugar cane lining your long road home. You are bigger, all of you, your bones, your memories, your fingers, your nose.

I am holding you on the same morning I am holding scary words from my very best friend. She is sick, baby girl; she is so sick. The doctors think cancer; my mom had cancer too, and these things wreck us all in such strange ways. This makes me feel so small, little one, so sad and so small. I hold you with the same hands I hold them all, and I wish these hands could do more. I wish these hands, this mind, this heart could be so much more; I wish this body could heal her tumor and carry her pain. I wish my body could stand between you and abuse or shame. I would lay myself down to ease the ache of the world.

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And I would think of those Dominican stars, so big and beautiful, gas and dust expanding into light.

And in some quiet moment, on a Sunday night in late July, they raised my chin and made me stand stock-still between the whirling tension of rage and delight. We are not so different from those fireballs in the sky, collecting soul and spirit matter over time. As much as I wish to carry all the hurt and all the shame, I will only stand beside you, hold you and love you, because I would hate to take that glorious substance, relentlessly expanding dust and gas, aching into eternal light.

We are made to become such magnificent giants, stars in the night.

Step by Step, Bit by Bit

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July 21, 2014, I walked into Carmel Christian School.
July 21, 2016, I walked out of Carmel Christian School.

As I read both of those sentences, I think immediately of the slight margin between. Those black letters and that white space humming within punctuation. That is some chunky life, baby; the manifold experience of pure, full throttle living lingering between two set points of calculable, calendar time, between 731 days (plus one because this was a leap year).

I moved to Charlotte for the job at Carmel; I had no other reason to come. My expectations were foggy but pretty glossy, a little like an underdeveloped Polaroid. I believed working at Carmel would be like working at summer camp, really vibrant and energizing and crafty, and I thought I was really going to blossom, a little bud in spring.

Of course nothing is really clear until you give it time.

With the little time I have had to generate some perspective, I can confidently say I did not move here for Carmel. My work there was meaningful and will continue to be; however, the job was simply a mechanism to pull me into an unknown.

When I consider this, I really moved here to meet the Young, the Liner, and the Otis families. I moved here to meet Ben. I moved here to meet Dawn and Lacey and the good, kind people of Carmel and Renovatus. I moved here to be closer to folks who usher a certain fullness of joy into my life.

I moved here to know what it feels like to miss my family.
And I moved here to wonder about home.

I moved here to check myself into a Renfrew Center, to recover and to grow up and to learn the power of honest decision-making. I moved here to be heartbroken, more than once, to be lonely, more often than not, and to help a girl, brand new to America, figure out the nuances of private Christian school in South Charlotte. I moved here to be her safe place and to find my own safe places too.

I moved here to discover an unconventional, strange faith in an unconventional, strange God. I moved here to learn how to hear myself think and to find gratitude with my odd, wild, wonderful being. I moved here to hike mountains slowly and to learn how to chew my food carefully.

That is all life really is: hiking mountains and chewing food. Step by step, bit by bit.

So, here’s to something new, step by step and bit by bit.
Here’s to life and taking it day by day, this unpredictable, wildflower adventure.


No, I am not marrying Iain, my skydiving instructor.
Or moving away from Charlotte…
yet. 

Your Crib is Empty

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Your crib is empty, baby.

You were due to arrive Monday; the date is marked on every calendar I own. My phone and work computer, graphite on calendar paper, everything holds the expectation of you, because you are precious, little one, and we couldn’t wait to meet you.

Did you know the name prayed over you means to explore, to go before, to discover? Your name meant to listen.

I hope someone gives you a safe place to explore. I hope every one of your senses discovers all the wonders of this world. I hope are you free, baby. And I hope someone will listen to you sing and cry and laugh. I hope someone will see the golden, sweet nectar soul you carry in your body.

I hope someone puts bubbles in your bath.

This world is beautiful, love.
Leaves and streams. Oceans and fireflies. Elephants and sunsets.

And for all of this, we want to be with you, to help you, to love you, to hold you, to sing over you, and to watch you grow. And there are three people who have been building home for you, who were waiting for you. Your future was already glowing in the hope of their souls.

I could pick a flower every day for the rest of my life, and the bouquet would not be as big or as beautiful as the way they loved you, already, before your tiny legs and toes and elbows were ever known.

And sweet baby, the world is ugly too.

In the eve of your birth, men and women were murdered, in ways so inhumane, so evil and cruel. You do not know what any of this means yet, and honestly, the grown ups have no clue too. We are such angry and sad and scared creatures. War tears through life on the other side of our aching circle earth and in our backyards, just as it does in our precious, ragged hearts. Every day, you will fight your own wars, and we all want to be with you, to help you, to love you, to hold you, to sing over you, and to watch you grow, baby girl.

So many lives have been murdered, stolen because we are such angry and sad and scared creatures. Their beds are empty just like the crib that sits in your brother’s room, waiting for you. Their children and partners and mothers and fathers are feeling these empty, endless, deep well spaces, too.

But what we do know is they are gone, and the grief has some concrete slab of knowing on which to hold.

But you, baby girl, you? Are you alive? Are you safe? Are you crying or hungry or lonely or scared? We do not know, and this is the most devastating of miscarriages.

We do not know.

How do I do this well? When all I want is you, to be with you, to help you, to hold you, to sing over you, and to watch you grow.

We love you, baby; we love you.

Let’s Fly

Our bodies split the circle of the sun, separated the air as we fell.

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I swallowed the air between earth and sky. I let you carry my life on your chest. I let you push our bodies into a great gravity from ten thousand feet in the sky.

Still, you were with me, held tight to me. Your chest was at rest on my spine during the moments I felt most free. The fall felt like your nature, like your home, and you welcomed me. Our arms and legs spread wide toward the horizon lines, airborne.

And when we fell, I held nothing in my hand or mind; this was a thirty five second reckless adventure, and I was fully surrendered to gravity, to maybe.

That morning, I woke to news of one man murdering forty-nine human beings, wrecking so many others. He was pure hate leaking from an acid soul to the ends of his guns, ripping the flesh and bone of bodies built from love. How?

How?
How do we wake?
Or pull our shirts over our heads?
Or send our children away, to school or to play?

How do we pray?

We are such fragile and sick creatures, the tenderness beat from our souls. We hurt one another and ourselves. We are selfish and poor. We are filled with cancer and hatred, grief and fear. We busy ourselves to help us forget and avoid, to neglect that feral ache. However, that pulsing, feverish longing is there, somewhere between our bones.

So, we build new houses, make more babies, memorize more scripture, or begin new projects to quiet the nagging insufficiency of this whole life thing full of the cries of our neighbors and the violence in our own homes.

Surely, acknowledgement is a terrifying place in which to fall headlong.

I could have sat on my couch all day.
I could have refused to leave the ground.
I could have remained inside the cabin of the plane.

But as we fell I heard in the howling thick, white noise a gentle seam of laughter, cracking the furious sound in two. And perhaps that was the best prayer I have ever prayed, the beauty of a wildly divine tumble of joy pouring from my belly into the sky as I abandoned myself to Maybe.

I think Maybe is begging me to become a child, to trust and to fall again and again. Maybe is asking me to humbly acknowledge and refuse to avoid, to sink and to soothe the darkness in others and myself with the sound of an unmanageable joy.

In childlikeness, to live becomes to fall, full-hearted and full-bodied into the tension of human gravity and to pray simply, crying and laughing into the violent fury. I have lived many days staying, holding, tightly grasping. But moment by moment, I am pushed to the fall, held to his chest, listening for that prayer of laughter spill from my wild fire tenderness.

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Let’s fly.


An Epilogue

In response to some frequently asked questions:
Yes, my instructor was attractive.
No, I did not inquire if he was single or not.
…perhaps I will ask next time.

Hope, that risky substance

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Hope is a risky substance.
…a reckless child, unaffected, stubborn and wild. Sticky fingered and swinging, full force, pumping a body above the heads of friends, who stand with feet planted in the sand. Hope begs me to play, to swing, to live or die, to breathe.

“What’ll you have, Cora Belle?”

Elgin stood on the other side of the bar, and I had to shake your memory off my skin to give him an answer.

See, you were biscuits and gravy, baseball, and Mississippi. You called me Cora Belle first, and I really should have loved you. You were real sweet, and you drove me down Okeechobee in a fifteen passenger van to find the ministry sites we would share through our summer. I felt safe with you.

For those of you who did now know him, Jake taught math, coached ball, and had this southern drawl that pulled words from his lips like taffy. He was real steady, real still, like a solid cement block. I imagine life could put things on that man’s shoulders, heavy and painful, and he would have held up. And when cancer broke his bones, the strongest parts of him, his soul full of gentle love, remained and spread across those who held pieces of his earth memories. I think the goodness in his heart did not follow him into the ground; he held up.

In my estimation, he is hope, holding up regardless; he stretches me into eternity, raises the stakes and gives me the kind of perspective that reminds me to breathe, and then breathe again. The wily audacity of a breath, that one powerful sweeping motion of wind in lung or not is hope, both death and revival, unpredictable. Hope is that nameless pain and indescribable ache, that feral undercurrent, relentless and pure, holding us all up through spacetime.

And when there was nothing left of him, except what has been etched into me, that good hope remains, immutable and powerful. And I think, what keeps us all going is not the residue of dreams or memories; it is not the construction plans of swing sets or the prayers for pancakes on a Saturday morning with a family of our own or new shoes. Hope is not an architect but rather the raw material of a simple breath, the matter and substance of life, rockslides, and waves.

That iridescent, whimsical thing hung on the lips of a man who called me Cora Belle pauses me, and I think the most beautiful shade of hope has no definite hue but rather exists, raw and pulsing, aching on without regard for my limited demand.

Hope simply is.

an unfettered mass

Though I convince myself I will not endure another broken heart or the relentless eating disorder or this absolute sadness, I see it there on the windowpanes, outside of this finite life chaos.

I remember that translucent substance carrying the laughter of a dead man, the light of another dawn, the frame of a hummingbird, a leaf, and a storm. Fingerprints. From that sticky hope stuff on the fingertips of a wild kid, reminding me the very air is hope, nudging me on into wonder, again and again and again.

That risky substance dancing on my open palms.

Bittersweet

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I saw it just now. A picture carrying a memory so visceral, I stopped. Carnival flavors oozed up into the atmosphere from the night leaking sound and color and light.

One year has passed since we danced on an outdoor makeshift floor in the early heat of May. In my recollection, we were so young then, so naïve, so nervous and hopeful. I think of me smiling up at you. You were wearing that Hawaiian shirt, grinning and holding the purse I hid. I would have never known how our days would unfurl then fold, how we would pour both sugar and acid from our tongues, how we would stretch days into eternities, bittersweet…you and me.

What a year for us all, and yet, this seems so inadequate.

I wonder, what is the full measure of all the sorrows borne in our bellies? How did the heartbreak carve indelible lines through the soft soil of our minds? How are we strikingly different than just three hundred and sixty six days before? Was there enough laughter and sugar and love to balance the despair and hunger and fear?

I’m not so sure.

Relationships and socks and puppies wandered off somewhere and were lost.
Babies were born still, and bread began to rot.
We bought bananas and butter, sweaters and towels and flowers.
We moved to new towns. We felt the momentum of a simple kind of love.
We were hurt and horrified. We were wounded and healed.
And still, this year, the glowing moon stayed stuck up in that big old sky. Some things don’t change.

But we do, and we just keep moving, collecting, and growing. I wish I could measure the movement of my matter and offer up something shiny, some thing that will make me feel proud or that will make me appear wiser. I want to tell you this was a successful year. I want to say love and distrust can both be held in the human heart. I want to tell you I am fine in a simple sentence. But a shallow synopsis of the contents of this time would cauterize the weighty truth of this crucible year. Still, old Time creeps in, a beggar with a ledger telling me I should be stronger, greater, better.

I say,
hush Time

Time is just the name of the tool by which we label and measure the duration and endurance of our resilience. Time does not wilt the hydrangea or sow the seed. Time does not break my heart or mend it. Life and death are hallowed wonders, everything in between is endless mystery.

What a year, what a full year from that night, the grass between the toes of our feet, my heart so surprised. What a year, what a full year to that final night, the floor hard under our soles, my heart so severed. But I know I will rise, I will ooze on up toward that fixed moon, carnival flavors on a hot night.

What a year, what a full year, bittersweet.

What a Mystery

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What a mystery.

This whole thing, this whole watercolor life, a sea bleeding and spreading into eternity, is a harsh and holy mystery.

I feel this more and more, as my skin and soul collect artifact scar memories, indelibly etched in my memory and into my dream. I feel myself in between, dragging and chasing that which is behind and before me.

I wonder, how do we survive? Another year, another dollar, another relationship, another death and another birth, another election? How did we survive? Who do we hold and who do we release? How do we endure the relentless unpredictability of the way a human life is grown? How do we bear the volatility of those who collide with our own fragile souls and leave us spinning, sinking, drowning? And then, how do we embrace the buoyancy of those who flow from another eternity and remind us of resting, swimming, breathing?

I watch the way we shatter one another, the way we shatter ourselves; I see fractures and holes. We are both cannonballs and wonderwalls, and I see in myself both fear and love. I think of the way I came tearing into this world, fear and love, ripping the seams of my mother and my father, absolutely shredding their worlds. I think of the complete arrogance of my nature state, and I think of the way I carry her, a needy and hungry child, in me. Still, today.

I am nearing thirty, with new shades of need and hunger, fear and love. Truly, we are such delicate, deepening creatures, nuanced, ripening in the heat of a life.

What a mystery.
What a kind and cruel unknown, this whole watercolor life, a sea bleeding and spreading into eternity.