your attention, please

are you ever struck by beauty head on?
a sharp break in, an almost “you’re joking”

those moments, these petals
tug at your sleeve
see how the colors overtake
the questions your hurried mind keeps in stock?

your attention, please
let the minutes you were tracking fade sweetly
into melodies of leaves in northwestern breezes

her beauty billows above her
like a pillar of fire
but you grow grumpy in your self-constructed desert
do you not smell the smoke?
do you deserve pity for selective sight?

Hateful Past Tense

 

I move to express a thing about your fierce love, or your fancy for fish
the tension rises
those tenses rising
to mock me
I move to cut it
the knife breaks on the past
far from perfect

Do I gently remind myself
that your phone no longer rings?
Do I shove my face into the ice water
of your empty chair?
Or maybe just this once
I can allow myself to forget
if only for a moment
I can hear your chuckle
I say you are

Seemingly simple
He was
such a small shift in gear
But I don’t drive shift
the car stalls.

Many moments
I can’t bring myself to say it
How dare I say
you were
when you are
so large in my head?

Unknown

“but let me remind you of the demolitions I rebuilt into mansions.”

I can’t be in the dregs
for too long
redemption nips at my heels

pinched
by a past
sweetly wary of the renewal
a child
that loves you by startling you
a incredulous moment
that feels too much like a dream

once upon some time ago
imagine couldn’t stretch
I’m brought in
by waves of peace
with the names
that once brought paralysis

How can I praise
such a creative Redeemer
He finds nooks and crannies
of insecurity
clears out cobwebs
builds me the cozy corner
I curl up with a good book
of a new world
one in which
those I most dreaded
become my daily companions

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Off to an Unknown Somewhere 

Reminded of a million scenes
Yet marinating in new novelty

Pastel houses of a Bermudan paradise
Painted darker, and brighter

Limeade colored hillsides
Of a Honduran forest

Flashback to piling out of the bus
At the bottom of the steep hill
Streams beneath my sandalled toes
We pushed

Dirt roads to diners
Like my rural Mexican heartbeat
Searching for the boys on the trampoline

Northern mountain drives
With palms instead of pines

Fronds don’t fall
In a wicked straight line
These natives sprout out wherever they choose

A new language
In familiar territory
You mean to tell me
I’m not in route to the mountain cabin
Of tears in the laundry room
And laughter on the rickety fence?

Expecting to turn the corner
To where we parked off the road
Hidden until curfew

Red earth holds my attention
You’re not something I’ve yet to see
Lime green sprouts
a complimentary helpmeet

They say these forests
Have bandits
How could the trees hold such danger
To me
They only hold stolen breaths

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A System of Reminders

True friendship is simply a System of Reminders.

Across the globe I can see this truth even clearer: a message appears on my screen, looking uncannily like an alarm to wake up for school or a calendar event to take my malaria pill. But it’s a different kind of reminder, one for the voice in my head that is telling me “I can’t do it” or “I can’t beat it” or “I’ll never get there.” Inevitably, that message is from someone fighting that voice, someone bent on showing me compassion.

I’ve done a lot of work to surround myself with the kind of people that will do all it takes to discourage my discouragement, those that will fight with me and for me. With each day, I am reminded by those brave souls that friendship is not much more than a gentle nudge back towards the truth. Like a comfy bed, at the end of each day I can get under their covers and whisper my deepest fears as that furry monster under me feels more and more like he must be real. I can rest in their consistency, waking up in the morning of their truth feeling refreshed and renewed. They squash the demons under the bed with a kind word, with a murmur of understanding, with a piece of advice. Instead of meeting my fears with shrugged shoulders or wide eyes of concern for my sanity, they soothe me with their words of “I know that feeling all too well” or “you’re not alone” or “I don’t blame you one bit.” Their cozy spot is a place without judgment, a place I know I’ll hear the truth even if its hard, but they will be fair to me and kind to me. They are masters of my anxiety- ushering in calm in the midst of the moment’s calamity.

Friendship, to me, is to take scary things and transform them into belly laughs- to remind each other of the good that they are, the compassion they bring, the apologies they need to make.

Gentle reminders define healthy friendships.  If I don’t remind a person of their worth, then I can’t consider myself their friend. If I don’t have a place to speak into their messy life and remind them of the truth we hold to dearly, then I’m fooling myself that we are close.

Yet there are those that make this living thing easier, those that hear out my long winded meltdowns and allow me to occupy the heart space I need while declaring over me “you are good, you are good, you are understood here.”

Even an ocean can’t stop their reminders from reverberating.

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Life & Lemon Zest

Over cups of tea
we giggled
at our folly
at our freedom
Newfound

The sun setting on blank white walls
like pages to be filled
with our histories
Full of breathy life
“I felt the same”

Our lungs swelled
with the expanse
of our unaltered souls
see untamed,
or untarnished

Because burdens aren’t wrapped
In exuberant packages
Girls with life & lemon zest
aren’t changed by
a few complaints

Four Plates

I’m writing to you
On the behalf
Of silence
There’s a cruelty
In the quiet
your deep laugh once claimed

I know you didn’t mean it
And I hated seeing you stumble
But this eerie quiet
Is like a pillowcase
Over my head

I hate the four plates
That sit on the table
Their porcelain shine
Mocking and jabbing
There’s no need for five

Your absence
Carves out the rock face
Changing the very shape
Of my existence
A new emptiness
Space that one held solid
Threatens to crumble

Your truck in the driveway
I am forced to imagine
You’re waving goodbye
Your smile like the fireplace you built
As you wrap your arm
Around your sweetheart
You wait outside
Until our car is out of sight

Did Not Occur

You weren’t there

your eyes never met hers 

the blue ones full of fear 

your ears never picked up

a request for reprieve 

.

You weren’t there 

if you were I trust

you wouldn’t soon forget

that look on her face 

Forcibly Depleted 

.

You weren’t there 

replayed memories and settling fog

realization of shoplifted choices

.

You weren’t there

A beige couch 

anxiety reverberating out of her fingers

reclaiming her voice

.

You weren’t there

Yet she trusted you  

repay boldness with compassion

see sensitivity

.

Tell me how you can declare

those jagged words

“Did not occur”

Three words 

turn the nightmare relived nightly 

to a pathetic cry for attention

.

Tell me how you can scratch and claw

for the very voice of a hero

she stood on her shaky feet

declaring her pain 

and you mocked her for it

.

“Did not occur”

Means to us

“I do not care”

.

Tell me how you can so calmly announce 

Her pain is a lie

too bad she’s been carrying all this time 

a pesky burden

Self inflicted

.

You say

“Did not occur”

I bet her oppressor says the same

.

Yet we push our shoulders back

and push our feet into the concrete

We will not stand down

lest this injustice

“Did not occur”

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.

.

.

This poem is dedicated to my dear friend and roommate Hannah Hughes, whose bravery and fight against injustice is unmatched. My blood boils for the way she has been treated, and below is her story in her own words.

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a safe place.

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These past few months were filled with those kind of days that feel like cartoon robberies: dangled by my feet and shook hard until everything in my pockets fell to the ground. The bandits took my trash and my irreplaceables; nothing was left behind besides some scrapes and bruises. If you’ve ever experienced one of those seasons, you’ll know how you walk out of them in a haze, feeling that the only thing you are certain of is that you will never return to the person you were before. As the fog begins to clear, I’m realizing that my world has shifted, and I have with it. In retrospect I see so clearly some places where I took sanctuary for granted & other places that were merely illusions of safety. Both have helped me understand the absolute importance of friendships that function like sanctuaries and places that help you feel held.

Those places I’ve taken for granted were threatened this summer, and while God sustained some, others were taken away. The latter has taught me the persistence and inexplicable nature of grief. It ebbs and flows, as you deny and ache and forget and curse yourself for forgetting. As much as I hate this and I still struggle to accept life without the patriarch of kindness and valor leading my family, it’s my reality now. My family continues to day by day adjust to our new life of four, the pangs of grief still real and resurfacing. Each day is a new journey he won’t be there for, and the absence of his physical presence is incurable, something I hope I never get used to. 

Another place I took for granted is filled with pine trees and a lake that plays the sunsets like a flute. I woke up in my days of grief to hear of a wild fire barreling towards my favorite place in the world, the GPS location I have most consistently felt the Lord’s presence. I felt paralyzed. Hume to me is something like a heaven on earth, a place that in no way means escape from problems, but in every way means a life full of hope in the midst of the problems. This was never a place I worried about losing, never considered its safety contingent on a lone lightening strike. For days, most I could do was incessantly check the camp’s website, feeling helpless and terrified of what seemed like the inevitable. The fire was a stone’s throw away from my place of refuge, and there was nothing I could do but watch. Ripped apart by my current grief, I barely knew how to talk to the only Being that could fix it, scared that one more prayer answered negatively would send me off into crippling doubt. All I remember saying to God was that I didn’t know how to pray, but that I couldn’t lose anything else this summer. I think he heard other prayers from people around the globe that felt similarly about this place, and the back burns worked. The Fire Marshall said the operation shouldn’t have held as well as it has, and called it a miracle. 30+ days into this wild fire, with 80,000 acres burned around it, Hume Lake Christian Camps has yet to have been touched by flames. What a testament of protection, that a place that has seen millions of lives affected in joyous ways would hold strong in a destructive blaze. That the safe refuge many of us call home would be kept and held just as it kept and held us many times before.

This sanctuary of mine was threatened, and in those days of holding our breath I began to understand how deeply I cherished this lake. Ever since high school I have gone dozens of times: to play, to work, to serve, to rest. There I have fallen in love, gotten my heart broken, found my hope again. There I have forged best friendships, redefined my faith, discovered deep refuge. Hume has seen the best of me and the worst of me, and still welcomes me with open arms each time. I feel this way because I feel the Lord’s love so tangibly each time I’m there, and it reminds me that love is present on the mountain as well as in the valley. 


I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to rack my brain to figure out what about a place or a person makes it a sanctuary: and I’ve found the common cord to be acceptance. Acceptance of your strengths, your issues, your reactions to circumstances: nothing about you is annoying or unworthy of love. Safe places have open arms that bear no conditions. They don’t ask you to be different or better, they just encourage you to work hard and keep showing up. This acceptance goes hand in hand with belief, since those people that are sanctuaries believe in you and will fight for you. When you can feel safe to be you fully and unapologetically, then you’re on holy ground.

In this valley season, I have seen God’s tangible love not only in his protection of Hume, but in his provision of friends. The people that surround me, uplift me, and check in on me are the the kind of people that never expect me to be swimming strong but understand I’m simply trying to stay afloat. They give grace through back rubs and sacrificed mornings. They don’t have time to question if comforting me is the right call: its already been done without a second thought. They call me up out of the blue just to tell me they saw me really try, and that they want me to know I deserve the very best. They take me to a movie on a weekday afternoon just to distract me from my reality. They sit with me in my endless questions, they listen to my mid-day ramblings, they get more frustrated over my heartbreaks than I do.

But what about those refuges that you realize were mirages? How do you deal with those that you once trusted deeply that let you down?

A hard lesson to learn is that not everyone (or everywhere) is capable of being safe, because sanctuaries necessitate a selfless & open spirit: to be a refuge you must put another’s needs first. Defined by compassion and consistency, it makes sense that selfishness and inner dissonance can render you incapable. In order to accept someone else as they are, you must accept yourself as you are: this will take being kind to yourself and allowing others to care for you in your struggles.

I’m reminding myself that there heavenly places on earth, but they take a group of compassionate people spurred on by love to maintain. I’m reminding myself to invest deeply only in those that show they can match the grace I give them, being more selective with who I consider trustworthy. But more importantly, I’ve come to the realization that if I’ve become incapable of being a safe place for those around me, then I need to get to work on my heart immediately. There’s never an excuse for not caring, never circumstance so large that I am unable to extend grace to the people around me. If I’m whining that “Woe is me, I’m just too broken” then I’m fooling myself. I’m blinded to the grace I have been given by my Creator, and I’m hoarding the goodness he has invested in me. Putting someone else before me will heal those wounds and bring light to those circumstances that I’m using as an excuse; avoiding people that will force me to be more Christlike because I’m choosing to be selfish will get me no where good. It’s so easy to forget that pity parties are only fun for so long, and the festivities will soon exhaust those that are willing and ready to help.

Please be a safe place to someone today, and thank those that have provided shelter in the rough weather. God has sustained and protected these beautiful sanctuaries, sending us Samaritans in the wake of our muggings.