On Turning 27

Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
– Gerard Manley Hopkins

A week or so ago I turned 27.

I turned 27 with the sky turned grey and the first rain of the season. I turned 27 with the death notification of a friend I once knew in a different city. I turned 27 on the heels of devastation, wildfire and hurricane. I turned 27 with my country in upheaval, bearing fresh wounds of division. I turned 27 in tears, with questions and fear and doubt rattling in my heart.

And each year the same battle: am I loved? am I worthy of celebration? are these words and gifts and kindnesses sincere?

Of course, yes, the answer is yes. But this year, though these questions feel no less real, they feel trivial held up against the backdrop of current affairs.

Still, everything hinges on the answer. If I do not have love, what do I have? If this love isn’t real, how will I survive another year? How can I love anyone or anything—God, myself, a friend or enemy, a city or nation—if I do not live from a deep knowing that I am loved well, and perfectly?

*

So I turned 27 with a few of my favorite things: homemade food and handmade things and live music and a live portrait and a fashion show and stars and conversation around a fire.

And it might seem small and it might seem silly but it may actually have been the most important thing, the bravest thing: to trust that I am seen and valued and worthy of love, to give others opportunity to celebrate, not just these beautiful things, but me.

In the face of such darkness, what else could I have done? Each song, each poem, each brush stroke was an act of defiance against the darkness and despair.

*

So here I am at the start of my 27th year, another year further from birth and another year closer to death. How small life seems–all our life lived in this liminal space, the in-between, held in the balance between birth and death, earth and heaven.

And in this space where death presses in, what else can I do but press back, let the light within me leak out and brighten a little darkness?

So this year, my 27th year, I have resolved to say no more to despair, and yes, I can, even if, like Hopkins, the only words that rise to my lips are I can; can…something

What I can do is this: I can get out of bed each morning. I can choose to be brave. I can speak with kindness and sincerity. I can find beauty in unlovely places. I can love this world as no one has thought to love it. I can dream up a more beautiful future, a more compassionate world, and believe there is grace within me to create what I long for.

I can choose to trust in a love that is new for me every morning, and trust that the boundaries of this love extend everywhere I go.

Yes, I am 27 and I don’t have to live in despair. I am 27 and I can.

A New Covenant for a New Day

Come, come, whoever you are,
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving,
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times,
Come, come again, come.
Rumi

So I have broken my vow a hundred, a thousand times, but still the Lord says, “Come.”

He has been good to me, has designed and purposed good for me, and there are words I wish I could say, vows I wish I could make and keep. In seasons past, I made vows of passion, sentiment, devotion, and surrender. Though extravagant at times, I voiced these vows with genuine sincerity. They were words I spoke with my full heart.

But the test always comes in secret, hidden places, in darknesses. Covenant is not proven in great acts of heroism, but in quiet submission and obedience in small things. And it was in the small and secret where I broke my covenant a thousand times over.

Now here I am, a little bit older, a little bit wiser, a little bit more humbled, seeing myself more truly—a lost and broken child, dripping in shame, who has been claimed and cleaned up and covered. {She who was not loved, I have called ‘loved.’}

From here, it feels foolish to make a new covenant. It feels idealistic to make promises I know I cannot keep.

But I choose today to write a covenant in faith. I write in faith that tomorrow is a new day, where sin and shame from today are washed away and forgotten. I write, trusting that there is a place within me where God’s Spirit touches my spirit, and in that place I can live full and free and whole-hearted. I write believing that there is a better, truer Kathryn hidden beneath the shades of fear and doubt and insecurity, who is ready to fling all upon a reckless, untamable, absolute mystery God.

I write a new covenant, trusting in a covenant-keeping God, who keeps His promise for a thousand generations, a God of grace who will not break His vow to me, no matter how I break mine.

  • I vow to come. I vow to come whether I feel filled or empty, knowing I can pour out the overflow of my love at your feet when I am filled, knowing I can come to be filled when I am empty.
  • I vow to live in expectation that every day you want to show up and you want to open your hand of blessing over my life.
  • I vow to let you breathe life into my bones again.
  • I vow to let you fully and completely take root in me.
  • I vow to let you uproot me however and whenever you see fit and to let my roots sink down deep wherever you will plant me.
  • I vow to live in gratitude, and, when gratitude feels impossible, to look for and name the gifts you have given along the way.
  • I vow to never speak less of myself than what you say of me.
  • I vow to let you shine through me.
  • I vow to follow your footsteps instead of asking you to follow mine.
  • I vow to chase you with the same tenacity with which you have chased me.
  • I vow to repent quickly, to not hide my sin but expose it, to hand it over, to receive your blood and grace which washes me clean and makes me new.
  • I vow to allow you to break open my heart with your love for people, cities and nations.
  • I vow to pray prayers bursting to the seams with passion, fervor, and life, not sickly, anemic prayers.
  • I vow to receive any gift you want to give—the beautiful ones and also the hard ones, even darkness, even suffering, even pain.
  • I vow to let you deepen, widen, and stretch me, however you see fit so I can be fit for your Kingdom.
  • I vow to celebrate the joys and successes of others, to mourn and take time for those in pain and grief.
  • I vow to cover others, not expose.
  • I vow to never demean another royal child of God.
  • I vow to create from the depths of my being, from the place of intimacy with you, from the place of brokenness before you.
  • I vow to create truth, no half-truth, nothing false, but only words and songs that ring true to who you have made me to be.
  • I vow to seek you above your gifts, above all else, to seek you first, no matter the cost.
  • I vow to never take the glory for myself, to seek instead the glory of your kingdom and the beauty of your face.

Dream Seeds

The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens.
Mark 4:26-27

One year ago, God dropped a seed of a dream for my city in my heart. As with any seed, this dream broke open, took root in the dark and hidden places, pushed through the surface, and began to sprout. And though I am still a long way from seeing the fulfillment of this dream, already, one year on, I see small buds beginning to burst into bloom.

I wanted to write this blog post months ago, but could never find the words. Today, though, I find that I can’t hold back. Today I write to remind myself of where I have been and where God has led me. At times I feel afraid, at times this feels all too big for me, but today I choose to emerge from the shadows and write from a place of faith, trusting that God will fulfill every promise he has made to me.

But, first, some backstory: When I moved back to the Bay Area in September of 2012, I returned with dreams and high hopes, knowing God had called me home. However, one by one, I saw each dream and hope die before my eyes, culminating in an incident where I was mugged on the streets of San Jose.

Somehow, I felt no fear, no bitterness, no anger, and no resentment; instead, God planted in my heart a deep compassion for the person who mugged me and for every desperate, broken soul in this city that he represented. From that moment on, I knew with undeniable certainty that God had specifically brought me to San Jose for a reason far greater than I could see.

From there, I spent two years in graduate school, completing a Master’s in Social Work, where I stared deep into the face of trauma and brokenness here in our city, and allowed God to teach me of compassion, of prayer, of sustaining grace and radical hope in the midst of impossible circumstances. As I neared the end of graduate school, I felt God subtly nudging me away from the job I had planned to take. I turned down that job offer, but as I asked God for clarity and direction, He responded, not with an answer or a directive, but with a simple question: “What do you want?”

So I scribbled out a few paragraphs in my journal of what I knew I was created to do—to carry light and hope into dark places, to see poor and broken communities healed and transformed with the love of God—but the details eluded me. I couldn’t name the desire hidden deep in my heart. After years of disappointed dreams and delayed hopes, it felt too vulnerable to say in so many words, “This is what I want. This is what I hope for.”

Ultimately, I left it all in God’s hands: “God, I know you are with me and I know you are for me. You have led me every step of the way, and your dreams for my life have always turned out better than my dreams. Whatever you tell me to do, I will do. Wherever you tell me to go, I will go.”

Four days later, I sang a song of surrender sitting at my piano—“My life is not my own; to you I belong. I give myself, I give myself away.” And in that open, vulnerable, waiting, empty space, God dropped His dream in my heart. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary; in fact, it was very simple and very small—I saw myself living in a local low-income neighborhood, meeting my neighbors, and supporting an arts program run by my church—but tears streamed down my face because I knew this was the hidden desire of my heart I could not articulate. I knew somehow this would be my job and my livelihood, and that God had known and planned it all along.

*

That was May 2015. Within a few weeks, every one of my commitments ended: I graduated from both graduate school and ministry school, I completed my internship, I stepped out of a few leadership roles. God was removing old things from my life to make room for the new.

In the meantime, I left my part-time administrative job and turned down a few job offers, never searching for a backup job, fully confident that God would provide the job he promised to me. In July, my faith began to waver when I was told there were no job opportunities available for me, but God in his goodness had led me to this verse in Isaiah just that morning: “I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”

God reminded me that this dream was never my dream; it had always been his dream from the very beginning, so he would be the one to make it happen. I realized then that the job God promised me didn’t exist yet; I would have to create my job out of nothing and make it up as I went along.

It would be a full seven months before I would be hired (through a series of odd, impossible circumstances), but I needed each day of those seven months to water the seed of the dream in prayer and to allow the seed to break open, take root, and grow. I needed each quiet and hidden day to prepare my heart for the work He had called me to do: He expanded my understanding of who He is for me, He deepened my identity as His daughter, and He daily cleared out fear and shame and replaced them with love.

In those seven months, I began to see how God had been orchestrating this dream and my place in it for years. I learned that this neighborhood was directly across the street from the high school where I had been counseling students all year long. For months I had prayed over that school and its students, over the surrounding neighborhoods and the families who lived there, never imagining that I was praying into my future.

I also realized that God had been waiting for the perfect moment to release this dream into my life, at a time when it would be catalytic not just in my own life, but also for my city. I had been carrying a dream like Joseph had carried his dreams, through slavery and imprisonment, through long and silent years, but the fulfillment of the dream came at the opportune moment when he was positioned to save not only his own life, but the lives of his family, his entire nation, the generations leading up to Jesus, and the entire nation of Egypt.

So, too, I recognized that the dream God had dropped into my heart was only the seed of a dream that needed to be broken open, that this dream needed room to grow into something much bigger than myself, much bigger than one small neighborhood. As I prayed and as I allowed God to widen the scope of my dream, I realized that I was meant to do so much more than move into a neighborhood, meet my neighbors, and support an arts program. I was meant to lead an army of people to do what I saw myself doing, not just in one neighborhood, but in neighborhoods all over the city, and beyond.

*

It has been over a year now since I took my first step on the pathway this dream paved for me. Already, this pathway has twisted and turned through valleys and mountains of fear, shame, doubt, and opposition. This pathway has led me through quicksand and caverns, but I have felt Him build the pathway beneath me even in times of fear and uncertainty.

Today, this pathway has led me to a valley, void and formless, Spirit hovering, waiting to birth new life. And I see again that this is hardly the beginning, that of all that I have seen and all that God has done, it is nothing compared to the glory that is yet to come.

This seed of a dream will not be the only cherry tree in a vast empty valley. This dream tree will find its place in the orchard of new dreams, with leaves for healing and fruit sweet enough to eat. This orchard will stretch far beyond the eye can see.

And all from a seed of a dream planted in my heart in response to a quiet question echoing through my days, “Kathryn, what do you want?”

The Blessing in the Breaking

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

– St. Francis of Assisi

This afternoon, my mother handed me a card with a photo of St. Francis and this prayer written on the back. The card announced the death of an uncle, one year older than my mother, ending the long journey with cancer but entering into eternal rest.

For one brief moment, I saw her truly—head bowed, hand trembling, voice quiet—a child wrestling with darkness. She opened her mouth and whispered again the question, the question that hounds us, the question she has spoken only once in these last two years: what if God chooses not to heal me?

The question hung there, heavy.

She looked at me, seeking hope and reassurance, seeking insight: a mother turning to her child in desperate need.

And in the silence, I sifted through my storehouse of encouragements—verses and testimonies, prayers and promises—and I found each one too trite. What word is worthy to break a moment heavy with holiness?

So I offered the only thing I had to offer—my presence, my silence, my listening ears. And I saw in her eyes no fear, no anger, no regret, just a calm, quiet assurance.

*

Eventually, she moved into the other room to play old hymns on the piano, her fingers hesitant and delicate on the keys, weak and numb from treatment. She played a song of casting cares on Jesus, a song of gratitude—and I heard her heart: a deep, quiet trust, a leaning into the will and ways of God, a surrendering, a rest. And, in that moment, I was Saul and my mother David, and her song spoke peace to a tormenting spirit.

In the kitchen, sorting through the last tomatoes of the season, I bowed my head and awakened. My eyes opened to the gift hidden in plain sight: my mother at the piano; my father brewing a cup of coffee, who, one year ago, was fighting for his life; my brother bent over his math homework, who curled up in my lap only just two days ago, sobbing for the death of a dream; these tomatoes baptized in tears; the sun setting behind the trees; a heavy peace resting over all and in all…and I whispered a prayer I had not prayed in years: “Time, time, stand still here.”

And I felt again that deep, elusive contentment, the joy with the hard edges, the gratitude that knows the blessing in the breaking.

Impermanence

“Is not impermanence the very fragrance of our days?”
– Rainer Maria Rilke

The days have shortened, but summer has stretched long. It is mid-October, and the thermometer reads upwards of 80 degrees. I live in a liminal space where the heat beats and time is suspended. My sight turns inward; I move through my days in a trance-like state.

We are gathered around a table, conversation swirls free, but my words come halting and quiet. Someone makes a joke, but I can’t hear it, I can’t laugh. I am held in an impenetrable sphere.

She’s sitting in the passenger seat across from me, my mother with one breast, red fluid oozing from the empty cavity. How do we bridge this chasm, how do we break out of the silence of our minds? How do we broach those unnamable words that haunt our days: shame, fear, loss, death?

The TV blares Chinese news and the old Monkey King. The hours pass; my grandparents’ eyes glaze over, listless, purposeless.

You’ve fallen asleep next to me; my eye traces the curve of your jawbone. Is this real? Are you? Are you flesh and blood? Am I?

Eight deer turn their heads towards me as I walk past. They used to turn their tails and run; now they watch me, patient and still: “This one’s okay,” their eyes seem to say, “We don’t have to go; she’s okay.”

With her foot on the threshold she waited a moment longer in a scene which was vanishing even as she looked, and then, as she moved and took Minta’s arm and left the room, it changed, it shaped itself differently; it had become, she knew, giving one last look at it over her shoulder, already the past.

Already the past. This moment, as I write it, is turning already, the present turns already into the past. Is this living? A myriad of moments, pieced together in my mind like so many patchwork pieces, mismatched, frayed and ragged at the ends. And the weight of it, the weight of it, how all this—all this—is already relegated to the past.

*

I have been dreaming of death. I have been dreaming of the suddenness of loss, that moment when death incarnates in the present, how the weight of death trivializes the busyness of our lives. I have been dreaming of wild animals stalking me, terrorizing me, death lurking around each corner.

Through the grey, I awaken to myself, sometimes, in a panic. I awaken to the undercurrent of time pulling relentlessly at my ankles, threatening to drag me under. I awaken to the wild world in bloom and decay. I awaken to the shadow death casts across my path. I awaken and find myself running from eternity, I awaken and find myself housed in a fortress, sheltered in the illusion of safety.

I awaken to distance. I find myself in places I have loved, with people I have loved, and I cannot locate myself. The trees are the same trees, the light the same light, but years of drought have sunk into my own heart, and praise that once rung wild now rings hollow. I awaken to myself, a stranger.

In the great meteor shower of August, the Perseid, I wail all day for the shooting stars I miss.

My eye is turned inward; what am I missing?

*

Now—and how?—it is early November and the seasons have changed. The days pass, and pass, and pass. There are moments of raw emotion, when grief scrapes out the cavity of my heart or joy bubbles through my veins, but these, too, pass. There are moments of deep communion, when we break through these spheres of isolation, holding the light to each others’ faces. In a flash of illumination, we recognize each other, unguarded and real, and love each other true. But these moments too, rare and precious, even these, these, too, pass.

The sudden illumination—
We had the experience but missed the meaning…

In all this, I know there is more. Death stalks me and I awaken to my hunger: I am starved for reality. I sense the absence; the void gapes within me. But this is a grace, I know—the awareness of my poverty, lack, and need. I come empty and hungry, eager to be filled.

There was a time when my eyes were young and my heart open and free, when the world and its people burned golden with holy light, when I knew intimately that secret, hidden place of full living, when deep contentment rested weighty in my heart. I knew, then, that my Abba hid treasure in each moment, and I planted my flag in the present moment to claim it for my own. I opened my arms wide to live full and deep, my heart a sail to catch any slightest breeze and skim, easy and free, across the surface of the waters.

When did I choose the lesser way? When did I settle for half-living? When did my heart grow dull and satisfied with greys? When did I exchange creativity for consumerism, substance for illusion, complexity and intricacy for glib cliché, the Holy and Real for idols?

See, every moment is a gift and a grace, an invitation into brightness and extravagance, and I miss it almost every time. But the moments when I say yes, when I linger a little longer, when I press in to the limits of my longing, when I turn my eyes outward and open my hands to receive, the golden light dawns…my Abba has been waiting, and my heart has been missing Him all the while.

Liminality

Do you see yet? Do you see
how to love the wave already breaking
because it is a wave?
Because it breaks?
– Marilyn McEntyre, “Nothing Gold”

liminality (n.)

  1. The transitional period or phase of a rite of passage, during which the participant lacks social status or rank, remains anonymous, shows obedience and humility, and follows prescribed forms of conduct, dress, etc.
  2. The condition of being on a threshold or at the beginning of a process

Here, now, is all I have. The old has gone; the new has not yet come. I am held, hidden, in the balance.

Each day brings death. Gold from the last season turns to ash in my hands; yesterday’s manna turns to dust on my tongue. The guiding light turns dark.

This is a season of plowing. Any shred of dependence on anything other than the One Holy and Living God is exposed. The blades drag through my soul, like claws scraping across my chest, to uproot, overturn, and soften. The furrows are deep and fertile, but stained with blood.

If I can see past the violence and vulnerability, this day is golden. There is treasure here, but every day I miss it. The moments slip through me, substance-less. I grasp at vapor.

*

These are the characters of my liminal space: my mother, bald and fragile with cancer-killing drugs blackening her fingernails and thinning her already slight frame; my father, driving the long road through the desert for the very last time, coming home to stay; my boys, grown tall, kind, and wide-hearted; my cousin, who has found shelter here.

This day was a day like any other, but today my eyes were open: now my brother and I share thoughts on assignments and concertos during our morning commute; now the rain falls soft on my head and the fog rests heavy on the hills; now I harvest apples and stare into the questioning eyes of a wandering deer; now I read and journal while the drugs drip into my mother’s bloodstream; now my cousin makes me a bowl of kimchi ramen; now the house has emptied out and I dice vegetables and load the dishwasher; now I sit with lemon-ginger tea, shaping the magnitude within me into words.

This, here, now. This is living. This is what it means to be and to become. This is the inheritance of humanity, this moment now, where the timeless intersects time, where the infinite swallows finitude, where heaven invades earth.

God comes to me, not in the spectacular, not in visions or raptures of glory. He dawns in my awareness in these hidden places, in the mundane, in insignificant tasks and moments. He comes to my kitchen while I am scrubbing the stovetop. And my eyes are opened: He never knocked; He never arrived; the Holy and Real has been here all the while.

I am coming again into the deepness of who I was always meant to be. A weighty contentment washes over me; happiness, praise, and perfectionism are too small to be worthy aspirations. I sense my soul expanding: such beauty, such mourning; such hope, such melancholy. This is what I yearn for each day of my life–to get to the heart of being, the deep knowing of the Holy and Real. Each moment is a grace; who knew one soul could hold so much?

*

This is the present, and this is all I have. The old has gone; the new has not yet come. I am held, hidden, in the balance.

I have been given glimpses of the future; they drop in my hands like three-dimensional Technicolor gems in a two-dimensional sepia world. They whisper of all that could be and all that will be. But instead of stirring impatience or discontentment within this liminal season, these dreams remind me to ground myself here. There are treasures in this darkness to illumine my way, there is a deeper measure of grace in this wilderness, there is peace in this in-between space. This darkness goes fast and fleeting, but the beauty is in the transience. The dawn is coming, and it is coming soon.

The Great Homecoming

“You, the great homesickness we could never shake off…”
– Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours

After I’d left London, well-intentioned strangers tried to forge a connection in our common love for the city. I was skeptical. How could these people, who had spent mere days traveling through, love it as I did? I wanted to take hold of them by the shoulders, stare them straight in the eye, and ask, “But did you know the city? Did you see the way the city evolved and recreated itself daily? Did you know the life of the city at each hour of each day, in every season? Did you know the silence of the city when the shops closed down and the streets emptied out? Did you weep over the city? Did the heartbeat of the city sink deep into your own heart?”

But I bit my lip, and I smiled and nodded, “Yes, it is a wonderful city, a beautiful city, a city without compare.”

*

Even as a small child, I experienced what environmental psychologists call place attachment—the emotional bond between person and place. At the age of five, I left the wide-open fields and wild skies of Amish country and the sleepless streets of Manhattan, and an emptiness settled like a pit in my stomach. Then, my dreams were filled with the morning fog rolling up the golden hills of Gilroy, and the white sands, red roofs, and blooming bougainvillea, magnolia, and jacaranda trees in Santa Barbara.

In each of these places I craved belonging. I came carrying hope for deep, loyal, meaningful relationships, but by the end of each season, my hope had worn through. What I could not find in people, I found in place. I could let myself belong to a city; I could let myself fall in love with skyline and the ground beneath my feet and the light filtering through the trees. So I came to London, grieving relationships that had been precious to me but had grown tired and repetitive. I came to London because I was running—from disappointed hope, a gaping loneliness, a life spent on the margins.

Almost immediately I found what I had been searching for. There was a Kathryn-shaped hole waiting in London for me, and I slipped into it perfectly fitted. I found my place in this international borough where no one truly belonged. In the faces of my gypsy Romanian neighbors, the greengrocer from Bangladesh, the Indian man behind the cash register at the pound shop, the Cockney ladies who came in for tea and cake each Friday morning, the Muslim and Hindu girls dressed in saris and hijabs in the local school, I saw myself—a little immigrant orphan girl looking for a home and a family, with a hardened heart from saying so many goodbyes.

It was in this city that I came to know my Father and His love for me. It was in this city that God set me in a family and I understood myself as a daughter in God’s house. It was in this city that I learned to let my heart open and break. It was in this city that God made a way to reconcile with my earthly father. And wherever I looked, wherever I went, I felt myself enclosed in a sphere of joy that touched everything, that washed over everything with golden light. In the mornings I set my feet walking, and I returned home, day after day, filled, inspired, and amazed, my heart and hands brimming with little gifts and treasures given by my good Father who knew how to perfectly thrill and delight my heart.

*

On the airplane back to California, I cried the entire eleven hours home and almost daily for the next ten months. My homecoming was marked with grief; everywhere I turned I was greeted with grief. I was grieving the loss of a community that had become a true family to me; I was grieving the loss of the first place that had felt like home, knowing I would never live there again. I returned to a house of grief, my grandpa freshly buried. I returned to a church that had recently buried its fifth member that year, and within weeks of my return, A was hit by a car and taken to Heaven.

For months, the city haunted me. While London had offered treasure to me each morning, I woke in California with garish sunlight streaming through the windows and dread weighing on my heart. I saw all the days of my future stretched out before me in grey monotony, and an aching emptiness spread within me like a cancer, secret and silent but deadly. Germans call it sehnsucht, and the Portuguese call it saudade—that deep unspeakable yearning for an unnameable something, that something you can’t quite put your finger on but you know you have been missing all your life.

Amidst all this, I was hounded by senseless questions: “Do you miss it? Do you want to go back? What are you going to do now?” Oh, how do you answer questions like that, what do you do with the magnitude of all that is in your head and your heart, when the person asking wants a trite, concise, two-second answer?

So I learned silence. I learned to smile and nod and say, “Yes, it is a wonderful city. Of course I miss the city. Of course I want to go back, but God brought me home for a reason. I don’t know what God has for me here, but I know I’m not meant to go back.”

And all the words I longed to say but couldn’t say, all the stories, all the beauty and brightness died within me.

*

Now three years have passed, and I have returned to the city. There are miniscule changes—a new shop here or there, a new kettle, a new picture hanging on the wall. I am surprised and humbled that these people still recognize and remember me: the man at the pound shop, the cashier at the supermarket, and all the old regulars in my coffeeshop. I trace with my eye the familiar wallpaper patterns of my old room, I walk these old, familiar streets, and I hold this humming tension within me—a familiarity, yet a strangeness; a feeling of arrival, yet a foreignness.

I feel I am living a dream I have dreamed a thousand times before, like I have stepped through Alice’s looking glass and am seeing the room and its familiar objects all turned round. I am Lucy come face-to-face with Aslan on her return to Narnia: “It is hard for you, little one, but things never happen the same way twice.” Nothing feels wrong here, but the love I had for this city has lifted or changed; the golden light that sparked fire and inspiration eludes me; the feeling of home has left me.

This is what I think has happened. Last time, I arrived in London on the brink of the Olympic Games, when this city was saturated with prayer, when Christians from all nations and denominations put aside their differences to invite the Presence of God into this city. What I loved in this city was not the city itself, not the people, not the streets; not the culture or history or creativity of this place; it was not the feeling of home, not the family I found here, not even the work that God did in my heart here.

No, what I fell in love with here was the tangible Presence of God in this place. He was the golden sphere of joy that awakened me to the beauty and treasure hidden in this place. Returning to this city, the emptiness sharpens within me; what I loved in this city is no longer here. It is not that the Presence of God has left this place, but it was the hunger, the intentionality, and the unity of the church in that season that invited such a heightened measure of the Presence of God in this city.

There is a measure of sadness or grief in that realization, but there is a deeper revelation here. The unnameable something I had longed for all my days was simply the Presence of God, and that same Presence lives in the secret place of my heart. I know now that London was never my home. Heaven is my true homecoming. What I experienced the twenty months I lived here in London was simply Heaven come to earth. I found my home here because I found God here, because Heaven was here, all around me, and I had been homesick for Heaven all the days of my life. God in His goodness let me experience the tangible and undeniable reality of Heaven on earth to plant within me a holy restlessness, a holy dissatisfaction with the things of the earth.

So I have tasted and seen the glory of Heaven, and I could never settle for anything less. The task before me is simple: to live in a constant state of hunger for more of God, to raise my voice in prayer until I see the Presence of God totally and completely saturate this land, and to build and incarnate the Kingdom of Heaven here and every day.

These old words take on a fresh meaning: I am a stranger and a sojourner in this land, but I carry my home within me, I carry the Presence of God, all of Heaven, within me. I belong to no place, no person, because I belong only to God, I belong only to Heaven, which is here and now, always, everywhere, anywhere I go. My eyes have been opened, and I find my home, I find Heaven, right here, right now.

Small Things, Simple Things, Nothings

What can anyone give you greater than now,
Starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?
William Stafford, from “You, Reading This, Be Ready”

I dreamed last night I was sitting at K and E’s kitchen table, drinking tea and eating a slice of pear and stem ginger cake. It was cold and stormy out; the glass had steamed over. Dishes had been cleared away, leaving only a bowl of figs and a jug of cream on the table, candles sending wisps of smoke up to the ceiling. We listened to Adele and talked and laughed late into the night.

I woke to the rain tapping on my window, sunrise creeping over the mountains, morning fog resting thick over this valley, and the latent longing I carry with me through all my days rose to consciousness. This is the life I want to live—something small and simple, mundane and unremarkable. Here in the moments of dailyness, of nothingness, the beauty and the brightness come in.

I have written about this before, over four years ago now, when I was young and dramatic, navigating a strange, in-between season:

For a little while yesterday it felt like light was running through my veins and flowing from my fingertips, my heart about to scatter into pieces from trying to hold in too much happiness. There was a whistling tea kettle, and blue sky and sunlight peeking through eucalyptus branches, and a mistyness hung over the ocean. And all of it made me want to run—hard and fast and long, hair whipping in the wind—and dive into the ocean, taste salt, and let the waves carry me.

The days which are empty are so full; I lose time like an absent-minded child, moving slowly from wonder to wonder. I recount the events of this past week, and I have done nothing really, except perhaps practice the art of waiting well. It’s the small things that fill my hours, the unexpected, rediscovered things: lunch dates and coffee dates and dinner dates, long walks to the ocean, the smells and faces of roadside lavender and Mexican sage bush and jacaranda trees…and other things, nothings, forgettable but beautiful and surprising.

It’s true: the most beautiful moments are the ordinary ones, the ones hardly worth mentioning. In this glitzy, busy, techy valley, full of noise and distractions, it is these small things, the simple things, the nothings that hold meaning and bring rest.

Oh I never want to be so full and content that I miss the gift hidden in plain sight. So I practice the discipline of seeing and naming what is in front of me; I lean into holy dissatisfaction because I know there are greater–simpler–things in store. Daily I want to wake in this world with open hands, releasing the grace that carried me yesterday, receiving new grace for today. I want to move through my hours, thirsty and expectant, with senses sharp, yearning for that all-pervasive beauty and goodness that is here and is to come.

Pure Autumn Fragrance River

I traveled through time this weekend. In the grey in-between time when light fades fast and crickets start to sing, I sat on a swing in the woods of my childhood home, and I found myself fifteen again on a sad and sleepless night, swinging my sorrows away. In that season, one who loved me saw me and yearned for me and called me home.

Now ten years have passed and how the tables have turned: he reached for me in my sadness and he is reaching for me now in his. He recognizes Holy Spirit Comforter in me, and the absence aches within him.

So I have chosen a field where my work is to sit with pain, to hold grief in my hands. Daily I am learning humility. Who am I to transgress the intimacy of tragedy and trauma? Who am I to think I am worthy to carry the secrets of ravaged hearts and bodies? And when it hits so close to home…how can I be brave in love?

Beyond inadequacy, I find rest in surrender. This is what Father God says: “I have known you and have named you rightly: Pure Autumn Fragrance River. Your name holds purpose and hope. Open your hands; I entrust to you the broken pieces of my heart. As you weave your love through this land, as you draw my people home again, you heal my heart.”

I know now—my name is a gift, waiting to be unwrapped. My name crosses borders: language, generations, walls surrounding hearts. As I have come to love words, their shapes and sounds, I have come to love the music of my name: the hard-edged English k’s, the silky sh sounds from a Chinese dialect I do not speak. As I have come to know the power of true and rightful naming, I glimpse the power of the meaning of my name. My name was given by a father and a grandfather but the meaning—the purpose, the promise—comes from Father God:

Pure | Psalm 24:3-4
“Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.”

Oh I can count mistakes from here to the sky. There are days when all I see is filth and grime. So often I have acted upon selfish ambition, so easy to speak a word in bitterness, so compelling to choose death over life. Yet God invites me even so, “Come, you who are washed in the blood of the Lamb—you are pure, you are lovely, you are worthy to stand in my presence.”

Autumn Fragrance | 2 Corinthians 2:14-15
“Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”

This is my heart’s cry: that the fragrance of the Lord would be so strong on me that His love, grace, and peace weave through every situation I enter like a mystery, invisible but tangible, undeniable.

River | Ezekiel 47:9-12
“It shall be that…everything will live wherever the river goes…Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail. They will bear fruit every month, because their water flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for medicine.”

Yes, I long to be a channel for streams of living water to flow from my heart, to see a lush, green orchard where once was desert. No earthly wisdom, power, or ritual sustains me; it is the indwelling, the washing of the Word that births fruit in every season. It is only when I am filled to overflowing that those who drink of this water will themselves be filled, will feed, heal.

Yes, this is humbling work, the most beautiful, the most simple. This is where the ease comes in, this is where the grace is: walking in the fullness and the promise of the name I have been given.

Look, I Am Alive

D used to study his hands. He stretched his fingers out wide, curled them into fists. He turned his palms over and back, tracing veins and creases. He said to me, “Look, these are my hands. Look, I’m alive. How strange.” How strange indeed. It is August 29th, 2014, and look, I am alive.

*

We move through our days from task to task, event to event, thrill to thrill, partly living. Such clamor and distraction in our days; we are bored out of our minds and do not know it. What will waken us out of this fog? What will thaw the frozen sea within us?

*

When I moved back to California, the light seemed inescapable: long sunlit days and burning streetlamps. In a grey and rainy city, I had learned to let my heart break. Deepness came in darkness; shadows validated ambiguity. When I returned, I craved the blessing of darkness.

Even as a child, I knew darkness and stillness held a gift for me. I lived for the times my bustling house emptied out; I orchestrated evenings in the house alone. I turned out the lights, sat cross-legged on the floor, and listened to the house creak and breathe. I let emotion come at me in complexity and intricacy, declaring, “Let me not live what is not life. Let me feel all I can feel. Let me live everything.”

What I was hungering for was no cheap thrill, no passing emotion. I didn’t want to chase adventure or manufacture meaning from the mundane. I didn’t want something cliche and mass-produced. I didn’t want a perfectly curated existence. I didn’t want to make a god out of my finest moments. What I wanted was a life larger than what I could say about it. What I wanted was reality.

*

Months ago, I spoke in haste, “Nothing is meaningless. All things are sacred.” No sooner had the words slipped off my tongue that I awakened. I had spoken untruly; at one point in my life, I had lived the truth of these words, but no longer. I had grown satisfied with half-living, and a hunger awakened to live these words into being once again. I needed to know deeply, viscerally, the meaning in my days; I needed to come alive again.

So I entered in again to the ancient rhythms, claiming truths tested by time: the Infinite wraps Himself in the mundane; the Eternal hides Himself in the moments of our days. Glimmers of His glory press up against the membrane of time, meant to catch our attention and invite us to step through into Time outside of time.

As I crossed the threshold, I sensed a stirring in the secret part of my heart. Here, in the secret place, time and space extend. Peace washes over. Mind and heart touch holy fire; golden light calls forth gold hidden beneath layers of dullness and despair. Senses sharpen to divine order and beauty. The waste places are plowed through and gratitude rises.

*

Can it really be so simple? To pause when life gives you pause, to cultivate stillness in chaos, to assent to the whisper weaving through our days: Be still; come in; come alive.