Tuesday, September 27, 2011

T.S. Tuesday

"If you aren't in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?"

*Kudos to Mom for this quote.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Remaining Unwalled

I am a task list fiend. At work I record my tasks on my gmail tasks list, my Google calendar, excel sheets, a whiteboard, and a notepad. #1 because I once was told that checking off completed tasks releases endorphins, and what greater high than checking off one task in five different places? #2 because I'm terrified that a task will arise when I am not by my computer, logged in to gmail, or near a notepad and I will need to capture the said task before it vanishes into the abyss of my brain, my schedule, or whatever task is currently at the top of the priority list. With four back up task lists, surely nothing will get dropped.

I'm beginning to think this might be a bit of a problem. To be so worried about dropping the ball that I forget to play the game. In fact, I so fear task drop that it's hard to think of anything else. It's hard to focus on the task at hand. It's hard to rest. It's hard to be still.

Today I realized just how much of a problem this is when I went to pray. I've found I can't even surrender these tasks and ideas and thoughts and proddings to God until I've fortified myself with task lists and double and triple task lists and experimented with two or three methods of prioritization. Before I can experience God, I must have every task or possible task accounted for. No idea left unturned. No thought left behind.


The rational, healthy-dose-of-responsibility part of me knows that task lists don't equal productivity and that productivity doesn't even equal fruitfulness. But still I grasp and flail and hold onto these tasks for dear life.

And sometimes--no thanks to me--God's grace penetrates this wall of priorities I have constructed.

Like today I had just journaled about my fear of task drop. Wondering how on earth I could actually concentrate on experiencing God when my head and my heart were so filled with to-dos and to-thinks.

My Bible reading today featured Zechariah 2. And it spoke past my Saturday chore list, into my Saturday soul.

Zechariah 2 speaks of a man going off to Jerusalem with a measuring line in his hand. When asked where he is going, he replies, "To measure Jerusalem, to calculate her width and length." Presumably to categorize and prioritize and strategize the best defensive approach to wall off and fortify the city.

To which the angel replies, 'Run, and tell that young man this, "Jerusalem is to remain unwalled, because of the great number of men and cattle inside. For I myself, declares the Lord, shall be a wall of fire around it and I will be its glory within."

Later in the chapter, it says, "Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because I am coming to live among you."

I was struck by how much time I put into measuring and constructing walls, into defending my plans and priorities. And God says instead that we are to remain unwalled. That he will be our protector and our glory. That even without our walls and defenses and comfortable securities, he will come and dwell among us.

His power is greater than my prioritizing. His presence is sweeter than any checked off task endorphin high.

I am not a place to be walled off, but a place for his glory to dwell.

Please dwell in me today.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

T.S. Tuesday

Today's T.S. Tuesday will be short and sweet. From Little Gidding:

"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."

I like this line because it reminds me of the spiral staircase. It reminds me of all of Eliot's spiraling, winding, my-beginning-is-my-end writing. Like we're going going going, always thinking our problems are original, our joys unequaled, every experience and ebb and flow of our lives feeling brand-spanking-new, but we come to find out that we've seen and heard and experienced it all before.

Yet in the novelty we can find home. And in the home, the familiar, novelty awakens.

When I wrote a memoir my senior year of college about my study abroad experience, I discovered something about my writing--and my life--that I never knew.

My life has themes. Ruts that keep pulling me down into the mire. Joys that keep surprising and overwhelming my heart. Every new "revelation" I receive from God is not actually new. Margaret Feinberg calls these whispers, these revelations, Sacred Echoes. Ways that God continually shows up and speaks to us in our lives, through our lives.

For me, writing is one of the ways that I learn to pay attention to these themes, these echoes and revelations. I start out trying to write something new, something novel, and by the end I find I've told the same story again, in a way reminding myself of things I already knew but forgot I knew, you know?

Okay, okay, I'm going to stop before even I get confused. More thoughts on spirals and themes and echoes and revelations to come. (And I'll only kind of pretend that I'm writing a novel idea, as long as you kind of believe me.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Flagging an Important Day

Flag Day 2011
Most people don’t know anything about the glory of Flag Day—why we have it, what day it is, or when it started. Now I still don't really know what the intended purposes were, but for me and my younger brother, it’s one of the best days in June. It’s June 14th, actually, and we almost miss it every year because there’s no insane advertising inundation leading up to the fateful day like there is for Christmas or the Fourth of July.

Still, it’s my favorite day in June.

We first began celebrating Flag Day seven(-ish?) years ago. My brother and I had just come home from an afternoon at the river. The skin on our cheeks and shoulders was taut and freckled with sun. My calves and hamstrings burned from the perilous hike up the steep rock cliffs that led to our own private oasis on the sun-baked river bank. We drove home in my shaky 1988 Honda Prelude, windows down blasting DC Talk and dancing carelessly, free. (Even now I'm not ashamed of my love for DC Talk)

At home we ravaged the kitchen for ice cold sodas—Cherry Pepsi for him, Diet Pepsi for me—still in our bathing suits.

“Aly, let’s make a cake,” Cameron declared as he flashed me his dimpled smile that gets him out of chores and punishment, even when he’s as guilty as a child caught sneaking cookies before dinner.

“Okay,” I conceded, not that it took much convincing.

“We don’t have cake mix,” he looked at me with the eyes of a wounded animal, but I already knew how to save the day.

“We could go to Mike’s,” I suggested. Mike’s was the convenience store right down the hill from us. We used to ride our bikes down to purchase candy bars for ourselves and milk for our mom. It hadn’t been called Mike’s for a couple of years since an Arab couple took over the store, but it would always be Mike’s to us.

“We should bake the cake for Mom. When does she get home?” Cameron asked me. I was surprised at his spontaneous selflessness and felt a little guilty that I hadn’t thought of it first.

“That way she’ll give us money for it.” No need for guilt, there’s the Cameron I knew.

“We could say it’s a birthday cake, or maybe her half-birthday!” His excitement was growing as he schemed. Meanwhile I made my way over to the calendar, checking if there was some kind of holiday that was close enough to justify baking a cake.

June 14th. It was Flag Day.

I rushed to my room to throw on some clothes, yelling to Cameron to do the same.

“We’re going to Mike’s, Cameron! It’s Flag Day! Everyone needs a Flag Day cake!”

Five minutes later clad in cut off shorts and old gymnastics t-shirts, my brother and I stood in front of the cake mixes preparing to make the most difficult decision of the summer thus far: what kind of cake is appropriate for a Flag Day celebration?

Our eyes greedily studied the sumptuous labels of rich, moist, luscious cakes, and then stopped scanning at exactly the same time. I turned to Cameron and met his brilliant blue eyes as we both broke into a smile.

“Yellow cake, chocolate frosting,” we said in unison.

Flag Day 2010
. . .
Although today is not Flag Day, I share this story in honor of my "little" brother's 22nd birthday. This is just one example of the rich--and unexpected-- camaraderie we share.
Today I want to say I am grateful for the birth of someone who has loved me and been the champion of my soul since the day he was born. For this brother who has taught me so much about life and confidence and self-assurance and second chances. Who has loved me so unconditionally, so fiercely, that sometimes I question his sanity.

Cameron, today I want to say thank you for being my brother.

For being you.
For your unwavering confidence in me.
For your outrage at my pain.
For the songs you've written me.
For the times we've laughed so hard we've snorted and cried.
For the times when you had every right to be angry at me, to look down on me, to judge me, and instead you scooted into the seat next to me, wiped my tears, and told me you loved me. I have never experienced such grace.
For the love of words and poetry and creativity that we share.
For trusting me with your scribbled journal entries and half-formed songs.
For guarding the scribbled bits of my heart that I've shared with you.
For the joy you bring me when I see you perform, your eyes alive and your heart on fire.
For the Flag Day cakes.

You play a leading role in my love story with God and my journey to love myself. You are an unwarranted fit of compassion in my life.

Happy Birthday, you butthead. Enjoy your yellow cake and chocolate frosting.
And now some proud sisterly plugging: check out Cameron's newest song here: http://cameronlewis.bandcamp.com/

P.S. I have an older brother who has greatly shaped and blessed my life as well. He will get a tribute on November 1st, his birthday.

*Flagging in this case is meant to show that I am indicating, marking, or labeling this day as a special day.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Celebrating Savannah

In honor of my beautiful friend and sister, Savannah Feinberg, today's blog post is a little longer than usual.

September 15, 2005

The wind bit at my cheeks as I walked back to my dorm after class. I checked my phone and saw thatonly my mom had called, as usual. I pressed number one on my speed dial and was instantly connected with my voicemail. I expected the usual, “Hey, Aly, it’s Mom. . . call me back,” but nothing sounded normal about her message.

“Aly, it’s Mom. I know you’re in class, but I really need youto call me back,” she pleaded, her voice tired and pale like she hadn’t slept in days. Images of my Alzheimer’s-strickengrandmother tangled in tubes and gasping for her last breath flashed before me.

I expected the worst.

I punched down my mom’s speed number hoping that my worst fears were still fears, not a catastrophic reality. Not yet. She answered on the second ring, and my heart sank like a small sailboat caught in the acidic storm of my stomach. She had been waiting for me to return her call.

“Aly, I need to tell you something. Where are you? Are you sitting down?” I wasn’t sitting, I was walking home from class, but curiosity trumped my mom’s concern.

“I’m fine, Mom. What?” I snapped. I was angry already, and I hadn’t even heard the news.

“Aly,” my mom’s voice was hushed, and I had to strain against the wind to hear her. “I guess Savannah Feinberg has been sick for awhile. She was in the hospital last week with meningitis. I don’t think anyone evenknew she was sick, and I think everyone thought she was getting better. But there were complications. ”

“What? Getting better from what? Savannah’s fine, Mom. I don’t understand.” By now I had stopped walking and was standing at the top of the hill above my dorm overlooking the ocean. None of this made sense.

“Aly, Savannah died this morning.”

Savannah wasn’t my grandmother. Savannah wasn’t anybody’s grandmother. Savannah was a beautiful 15-year-old cheerleader and my former gymnastics teammate. She was like my little sister. She couldn’t be dead; there must have been some mistake.

I didn’t hear my mom as she explained the details of the funeral. I didn’t hear her when she told me that she wished she could hug me. I didn’t hear her tell me that she loved meand didn’t know why this had to happen. I heard nothing. I felt nothing. My head, my heart, my wholebody, felt empty and meaningless. When I finally said goodbye and snapped my phone shut, I crumbled.

Tears slashed my face as I fought thecutting wind and the urge to throw up. I zombie speed-walked back to my dorm, passing by couples talking happily outside the grey cement building. With my puffy eyes and pathetic attempts to control my sobs, I imagined them thinking I had just been dumped by my boyfriend. I wish.

I made my way down the hall only tofind I was locked out of my room. I knocked on the door, praying my roommate was home. No answer. I ran down the hall to my best friend’s room and quickly collapsed into the oblivion of her lime green, garage sale couch and the comfort of her embracing arms.

The next day I was on a flight back to my hometown.

“I think you need to be here, Aly,” my mom had advised. “The girls need a big sister.”
Savannah was like my little sister, the epitome of pink. All of the little girls who loved Savannah most, with their bra stuffing contests and prank calls, and now in their grief, were my sisters, too.

Savannah’s dream car was a white VW convertible bug with leather seats and fuzzy pink dice hanging from the rearview mirror. Everything she did, shedid with style. Savannah liked to make a statement, and she especially liked to make a fashion statement. She was our resident drama and fashion queen, always commenting on fashion victims’ wardrobes as if they had set out dressing to personally offend her.

“Oh my gosh, look at what she’swearing. Doesn’t she know you can never wear black and brown together? Uuggh,” she’d cringe.

We’d just roll our eyes; that’s how Savannah was. We knew deep down she’d always love us even if we didn’t have the best fashion sense. We knew she’d always be the first one to congratulate us on mastering a new skill, her bright smile wide in genuine excitement.
This is the flexible little Savannah I remember--hot pink and all.
The last time I had seen Savannah shewas wearing too much makeup and a much-too-tight halter top at the annualNevada County Fair. She told me that she had just found out she had ADD.

“Don’t tell anyone,” she pleaded with us. “Oh my gosh, I am so embarrassed.”

Luckily for her, when cute blondes have ADD, it’s misinterpreted as a bubbly and enthusiastic personality, not a disorder often associated with hyperactive, delinquent boys.

For Savannah’s funeral, one of the moms bought us pink silky shirts that were too skimpy to wear to church on any other occasion. None of us wanted to be haunted by Savannah’s critical fashion eye, so we erred on the side of attractiveness. We assembled popcorn and M&M goody bags because it was her favorite treat. We tied each bag with pink ribbon and made our way to the church.

In the church we moved robot-like through the sea of pink. Pink flowers,pink flowy skirts, and pink ties flashed through the sanctuary; even her small,white coffin was trimmed with pink. The blackest day of my life was also the pinkest.

Streaks of rich, black mascara scarredour raw cheeks, but we looked good in our silky tops, form fitting jeans, and strappy shoes. This was my church. The same sanctuary where I lifted my hands in worship and thanksgiving every Sunday I was home. The same sanctuary where I sang my favorite worship song, “Blessed Be Your Name.” The refrain of that song grated against my head and my heart.

You give and take away. You giveand take away. My heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name.

I prayed constantly throughout the funeral, and for weeks after. I prayed for peace and comfort for Savannah’s family. I thanked God for the abundant life Savannah had lived. I prayed that I could somehow be a comfort to those around me. I prayed that, although I didn’t feel it, I would be able to mean the words “blessed be your name.” I clung to the idea that God is good because I couldn’t live with the alternative. I knew life had to be meaningful,otherwise it wouldn’t hurt this bad when it is taken away.

When my friends picked me up from the airport the same day as Savannah’s funeral, I wasn’t ready to get back to real life. They threw me asurprise birthday party because I had been attending memorial dinners and coaching my teammates on how to give a eulogy instead of celebrating my 19th birthday. As they waited to surprise me in the darkness of a lovingly decorated dorm room, two of my friends held my hands as I sat in the car, heaving and sobbing, empty and tired of being strong. After a few minutes, I pulled myself together and went back to my life.
For the first week I was back I talked about Savannah non-stop. I recounted detailed stories of my favorite moments with her, like the time she tried to convince us that the water under a frozen pond is actually colder than the ice because the water is under the ice or the time we convinced her that the roof was leaking in August by spraying her with a water bottle when she wasn’t looking. I told them all of the funny, ditzy, Savannah things she did. I talked about her mom. I talked about her sister, pregnant with her first child, because if I ceased to talk about her, it would mean that she was really gone.

I prayed like crazy, convincing myself that God had a purpose in all of this.

God, please be with Savannah’s mom. Help her to know Your love, Lord. Thank you that I could be there for my friends. Please bring them comfort. Bring them peace, Lord. I want to feel Your peace. Surround everyone who is numb, heartbroken,and hurting. Let your glory shine.

Today, September 15, 2011, I echo the same prayer.

Lord, thank you for Savannah. For the life of laughter and love that she lived. Please be with her mom today, her sister, her family. Please bring them comfort. Bring them peace. Let you glory shine.

I love you and miss you, Savannah.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

T.S. Tuesday: Antsy for Creation

In T.S. Eliot's poem "East Coker" from "Four Quartets" lies one of my favorite phrases:

"the intolerable wrestle with words and meanings."

In his own poem, Eliot finds that often poetry can fall short of explaining the mystery and awe and wonder and heartbreak of life. In the middle of the poem, he writes,

"That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory: A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion, Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle With words and meanings."

And that intolerable wrestle with words and meanings is what brought me back to God. I found that when I couldn't pray--couldn't even consider praying--I could wrestle with words. I could write questions and question meanings. I could create meaning and delight in my creation. I could wrestle with poetry and in a way wrestle with God.

I started a journal I titled, "Antsy for Creation." Because I was. But as I started to write and create and wordplay, I found I was even more antsy for God. For the Creator who stamped his own desire to create on my soul from the very start.

God spoke to me through poetry long before he spoke to me through prayer. And why wouldn't he? The Bible is filled with poetry, with testaments of ancient, anxious wrestling with words and God and meaning. And God speaking into chaos. God filling and comforting and redeeming with
his words and his meanings.

So whenever I read this poem and these words by Eliot, I am grateful for a God who created me to create and who brings forth his presence into my own "intolerable wrestle with words and meanings"--and makes it a little more tolerable.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Birthdays and Baby Talk

And I'm back from the world of surgery.

Years ago I would have been bashful about asking for money on my blog. --Please don't stop reading, yet-- Months ago I was bashful about even having a blog.

You know those people who swear up and down that they would never call their boyfriend babe or be lovey dovey in public, and BAM once they meet that special someone they're baby-schnookums-muffin talking and nuzzling all over the place?

That's what Plant With Purpose did for me.

I swore I would never blog--too much self-promotion.
I swore I would never ask anyone for money--too self-degrading.
I swore I would never in a million years work in fundraising--too sleazy car salesmen sounding for my shy, literary self.

And now, I must admit, I do all of these things on an almost daily basis.

What changed? Did I sell out?

I would like to think that I didn't. I would like to think that my shameless Plant With Purpose promotion has been a lesson in humility. In putting an organization I love--and the people it serves--above my self and my desire for privacy, self-sufficiency, and autonomy.

When you love someone (or something), you want to shout it from the rooftops. And that's how I feel about Plant With Purpose.
For those of you who don't know, Plant With Purpose is a Christian non-profit organization that reverses deforestation and poverty around the world by transforming the lives of the rural poor. What does that mean exactly? Basically, we come alongside poor, rural communities around the world to restore productivity to their land, create economic opportunity, and foster spiritual growth through discipleship and church partnership. Our main focus, above giving anything away or even solving any problems, is transformation. We believe that all of us—not just poor people or rich people or people who speak different languages or live in different countries—are on this journey of transformation. A journey of learning—and choosing—to live and enjoy life as it was intended to be. A journey to “recover our true identity as human beings created in the image of God and to discover our true vocation as productive stewards, faithfully caring for the world and all the people in it.”

That’s it. That’s what Plant With Purpose is about. With a heaping dose of humility and a hearty dash of respect, we seek to come alongside individuals and communities to bring about this positive change, both in their lives and in our own.
This idea is what I first fell in love with. The people I have met in the field--the hardworking Oaxacan mothers, the big grin wearing Dominican men-- and the countless stories of men, women, and children I receive from the field are the reason the feeling hasn't faded.

And this is why I am unashamed to ask you, dear blog readers (well, family, a sprinkling of friends, and, of course, my mother), to please consider donating to Plant With Purpose for my milestone 25th birthday this Sunday.

You can donate to my
Birthday Wish on Facebook or give directly through our website: https://www.plantwithpurpose.org/donate.

Thanks for reading this far, if you did. Thank you for supporting me in my life and my work. And thank you for putting up with my shameless, baby-talk equivalent, Plant With Purpose promotion.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Big Word Wednesday

I would like to take this Wednesday to initiate a new blog series: Big Word Wednesday.

And the big--and apropos--word of the day is...dun da da da....Septoplasty.

According to Wikipedia, "Septoplasty is a corrective surgical procedure done to straighten the nasal septum, the partition between the two nasal cavities."

The apropos part is that I had this surgery done yesterday. Basically, I got a nose job not for looks, but so that I will be able to breathe through my nose, perhaps alleviate chronic headaches, and finally be able take some much-yearned-after ujjayi* breaths through my nose during yoga class.

I tried to think of ways to relate this "delay of respiration" to storing up treasure in heaven in order to redeem this post for you, my dear readers, but I couldn't think of anything that didn't sound cheesy or trite or too much like I'm just trying to convince myself that all this pain will be worth it in the end.

Upon my recovery, I look forward to providing you with more insightful topics and big words that don't pertain to medical procedures.

Thank you.

*Ujjayi breathing is a technique used in many yoga practices where you breathe in and out of your nose with your lips sealed and make almost a low growl sound with your throat as you push the air out. Previously being incapable of sealing my lips for more than 30 seconds without passing out, this new procedure will greatly improve my yoga clout.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I say I want to know your story, but I haven't even asked

When I look into your eyes, I can see your story.
But that's as far as I get.
What is love?
What is kindness?
Where does my story stop and your story begin?

I've spent my whole life writing my own story.
I haven't had time to listen to yours.

Why am I paralyzed in fear?
Why is it so hard to look past my story for one minute?
What is it that I'm scared of?
Am I scared that your story will be different, or do I fear that it will be the same?

I say I want to know your story,
but I haven't even asked.

I can live with you for a semester and not even know you.
I can live with you for a lifetime and never even know your dreams.
I want to know you, I really do.

What story do I believe in?
That this is it, this is all?
Is there a heaven or a God?

Why haven't I learned that your story is my story?
That when I ignore you, I discount myself.
When I'm scared of you, it's really me that I'm afraid of.

If I really knew His love, would I be scared?
His love is supposed to drive out fear.

I want Your love to be my story.

This was one of my journal entries from March 31, 2006, in the middle of my religious and ontological crisis. I'm discovering more and more the importance of stories. Discovering more and more how to let His love be my story.

But these questions still linger, still hound me.

If I can barely make sense of things in my own head, how do I find the space to let others' stories in?

Looking back, I can see these questions, in fact all of my journal entries from that year, were steeped in loneliness. A loneliness and an insecurity that led to hostility toward myself and others. A loneliness that I (and I think everyone) still struggle with.

I just finished reading Henri Nowen's Reaching Out, where he speaks about the dichotomy between loneliness (a needy, grasping place) and solitude (a posture of secure identity and contentment).

He writes, "As long as we are lonely, we cannot be hospitable because as lonely people we cannot create free space. Our own need to still our inner cravings of loneliness makes us cling to others instead of creating space for them."

This journey to love myself is also a journey to love others. To create space for others. To allow their stories to become my own.

I am striving for a spiritual life that "makes [me] so alert and aware of the world around [me], that all that is and happens becomes part of [my] contemplation and meditation and invites [me] to a free and fearless response." Nouwen

God, please allow your love to be my story, so that my heart may be opened to others' stories.

T.S. Tuesday: The Spiral Staircase

So for this T.S. Tuesday I’m going to steal not only from T.S. Eliot, but one of the authors who originally introduced me to Eliot’s poetry: Karen Armstrong.

I read Karen Armstrong’s memoir, The Spiral Staircase: My Climb out of Darkness, my senior year in college. The year I spent writing a memoir trying to make sense of the poverty and injustice I saw and the anger and questions that surfaced with it. Her eloquent memoir is a story of climbing out of the depths of depression and self-hatred into contentment, empathy, and love. At that point, I resonated only with the depression and self-hatred, and had yet to experience sustained love or self-acceptance. Hers was the first memoir I read where a spiral into darkness didn’t end in the dark. And it gave me hope.

In the Preface of her memoir, Armstrong explains how her title, The Spiral Staircase, was inspired by the image of winding staircase evoked in T.S. Eliot’s poem, Ash-Wednesday.

She explains that “This image is reflected in the twisting sentences of words and phrases, apparently making little headway, but pushing steadily forward nonetheless."

She compares this slow, circular journey to her own climb out of darkness, saying, “the strange and seemingly arbitrary revolutions of my life led me to the kind of transformation that –I now believe—was what I was seeking all those years ago.”

I loved it then and I love it now.

And now for some actual excerpts from the poem, Ash-Wednesday, I.

“Because I do not hope to turn again

Because I do not hope

Because I do not hope to turn

Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things”


“Because I cannot hope to turn again

Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something

Upon which to rejoice”


“Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still.”


If you’d like to read the whole poem, click here.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Eye of the Storm

I've been talking about hurricanes a lot.

Describing God's faithfulness in the eye of the storm. Telling harrowing tales of floods and evacuations.

Today God had something to tell me about hurricanes.

At the end of the service at my church, there's always the invitation to come up and receive prayer. You can receive prayer specifically pertaining to the message--today it was about knowing and experiencing God—and you can receive prayer on absolutely anything that needs prayer in your life. That's one of the (many, many) things I love about my church.

Today I went up for prayer.

I asked the woman who prayed for me to pray for vision regarding a decision I've been wrestling with for the past several months. I was asking for vision, but I was wanting answers, wanting God-given permission to do what I already know I want to do.

The woman had a vision for me:

"I'm getting a picture of a tornado or some kind of storm or cyclone. I don't know why but I feel like God is saying that he is with you in the eye of the storm."

Sheesh. Talk about apropos.*

I don't think any metaphor could have spoken more strongly to me today.

This woman knows me, prays for me every day and I serve with her at church. But she didn't know I had just gone to North Carolina. She didn't know I was just in a hurricane. She didn't know I had just experienced God's loving presence in the eye of the storm.

That was the glory and the voice of God. Reminding me that he's here. In the midst of the storms and the decisions.

I must admit my gut reaction is to yell, "Then get me out of the freakin hurricane!"

But his answer is different, although not something that I don't know. In fact, I've been writing about and thinking about and working this metaphor out in my mind with great fervor this past week. My last blog post talked specifically about God's grace in the storm. I said, "in the eye of the hurricane, I experienced peace, rest, and the richness of time spent with family."

What I'd like to add now is....and God. I experienced God in the eye of the storm. Literally this last week, and he wants me to experience him now. Before the storm has passed, before the decisions are made, before all my duckies are in a row.

As I seek answers, he seeks relationship.

I think that about sums it up. This is a lesson I'm going to have to learn and relearn and learn again. And, hey, I think it's pretty incredible that God's using his church body to speak into my life. To remind me that he's here with me in the eye of the storm.

And all I can say is thank you.

*Cameron, apropos means this was a very timely and opportune response. I will be initiating Big Word Wednesday this week, too.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hope in a Hurricane

“Aly, get up! We need to move next door!” my cousin yelled to me in the 5 a.m. darkness of the storm. In mere minutes I was on my way to higher ground, sludging through thigh high water in pj pants, socks, and my cute new flats while carrying my laptop and everything I could scramble into my backpack lit by the dim glow of my cell phone.

I spent the last week on “vacation” visiting relatives near the Outer Banks of North Carolina. If you’re thinking “Outer banks, that sounds familiar. Where have I heard that recently?” That’s right, the Outer banks was where hurricane Irene made landfall early, early Saturday morning.

After a day of boarding up houses, taking down porch swings, relocating porch plants to a card table in the living room, and driving cars and trucks to higher ground, you would have thought I’d sleep like a baby. But as the wind howled outside my window and the power flickered the air conditioning on and off, I couldn’t sleep. In my near dreaming delirium, I half expected waves of floodwater to crash through my windows at any moment. When I finally slept, it was short lived.

Although I had been excited for the adventure, I have to admit I was pretty scared when I took that first dark step into the front yard water, debris and downed tree limbs floating by, the propane tank bobbing in the waves. Once I reached the safe (and higher) haven of my relative’s home next door, there was nothing much left for me to do but dry off and wait.

Wait and hope and pray that the tidewaters would stop their threatening surge. That the howling and the wind and the waves crashing on the doorstep (ocean waves on the doorstep?!) would recede. That the salty water wouldn’t seep into my cousin’s home, destroying floors and carpets, refrigerators and valuables.

In the midst of the waiting and the hoping and praying, God doled out another unwarranted fit of compassion. Because in addition to wind and waves and fear, that day, in the eye of the hurricane, I experienced peace, rest, and the richness of time spent with family.

The rising tide meant we couldn’t go anywhere. I was trapped. Trapped with my wonderful family, including my new favorite human being: my cousin’s baby boy, Macon. (see left and tell me you don’t agree) Poor me.

In addition to babbling baby time, I also had time to rest. To rest and reflect and spend time in prayer. To dream and scheme and breathe.

And while I was journaling and reflecting, I was able to connect with my cousin’s grandmother (my cousin’s grandmother on the other side, so no direct relation to me). She saw me reading and journaling, and asked if I was writing my prayers, which I was. From there we bonded over our love of words and writing, of putting our thoughts and hopes and dreams on paper. She read me poems she’d written for her grandchildren and spoke to me of the lessons she’s still learning as a great grandmother and daughter of God. She read me notes of encouragement and spoke words of love and affirmation into my own life.

I don’t know how to write about her without sounding too cheesy or sweet, but there really is no other way to describe the day and the time spent with her as sweet, filling, and life-giving in a way I can’t explain. It was yellow cake and chocolate frosting (which we ate later that day in celebration of surviving the hurricane) good.

As the eye of the hurricane moved closer, calming the swaying trees and lulling the misplaced tide, I was reminded of the line in my favorite T.S. Eliot poem that says, “So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

In the darkness of the storm and the stillness of the day indoors, my heart was dancing.

*Below are a few pics taken from the day of the storm. Also, I am very thankful to report that despite some minor damages to my cousin's house--her air conditioning and water pump were broken, her husband's truck flooded--none of my many, many family members in down east North Carolina had floodwater enter their homes.

My cousin Mollie's husband, Matt, forging the floodwaters.

The water rising in the garage--and the boots that would have served me much better than my nice flats for an early morning dip in the ocean.

The steeple of my family's church that was knocked down in the storm.

A tree uprooted in the storm.

More photos and stories to come!