Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Black Thumb

If thou dependeth only on the rain to water thy potted plants, they shall surely perish.
-Gardening 1:1

Monday, September 22, 2008


Today is the first day of Autumn, and I really have nothing in particular to say about it aside that my heart seems to be overflowing from the sheer fact that the afternoon light is streaming through the atmosphere and hitting the sidewalk at the perfect slanted angle and trees are becoming confused about their colors and leaves about their subsequent displacement. Today the earth with divide equally the time it spends turning to face the sun and the time it spends making its retreat. Everything is going to sleep, but I am waking up. Waking up and drumming and exercising my imagination and writing run-on sentences with haphazard punctuation. All of this being reflective of my lack of direction, but my uncanny joy at the forward motion of life and my need to express said joy as it comes up.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Story Told with Permission

Disclaimer: Not all quotes are direct...more of paraphrases for narrative purpose

I always appreciate the opportunity to be a spectator when people reveal a little bit more of their humanity - especially the people whom I love so well. I don't remember how it came up, but the other day my family was sitting around talking about homesickness and anxiety. Mom told me this story:

"When we moved [from Baton Rouge] to North Carolina, Rachel was two years old and we only had one car. So we had to share the car to go anywhere. Every morning, me and Rachel and Papa would get in the car and drive Papa to work at Research Triangle Park. We would drop him off and then all the way home I would cry and Rachel and I would sing 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow.'"

Aunt Em asks, "why did you cry?"

"I guess I was just so homesick I didn't know what to do."

For some reason this really struck a deep chord in me. My mom was 26 or 27 years old at this point - still young, but older than I am now, very a much a person well-established in adulthood (as much as that's really possible for any of us...). And for months, she cried every morning from homesickness and used music and the company of a two-year old to cope. I see so much of her in myself - experiencing the same fear and emotional undoing that I regularly experience and will probably continue to undergo in similar circumstances, beautiful as they may ultimately be. It's so important for me to see that she made it. That she's a person, overall, in a state of internal peace. These struggles never leave us - especially those of us very often hanging on a last frayed nerve. But how alive we are!

"Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul,
and sings the tune without the words
and never stops at all."
-Emily Dickinson

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Today has been just one more new and exciting adventure in adulthood. I never thought my Saturday To Do list (if I ever thought I'd have one) would be this exciting:

Cut the Grass
Pick up Prescription
Buy toothbrush and trashbags
Write thank you note

I know. I'm the most fun person I know today!

That's not to say I don't enjoy it, though. We have a non-functioning lawnmower, so our entire yard (small, though it is) has to be cut with the electric weed eater. Cutting the back yard was a learning experience. The front yard was like trying to reduce an afro with a nose-hair trimmer. My right elbow will definitely be sore tomorrow, and I am no longer a human being - I'm now just one giant mosquito bite. (As suburban as it is, I now understand at least a little, why people hire teenage boys with endless energy reserves to do their yard work.)

As tedious as I make it sound, it was empowering on a new level. It was satisfying to see the piles of loose grass along the road after I raked them out and knowing I did that myself. It was not unsatisfying to observe the stark contrast between my strip of grass and my neighbor's, where I had stopped cutting at the property line. If I had my say, these wouldn't be first on my list of Saturday morning activities, and I'm sure the novelty of adulthood will wear off sooner than I can imagine. But I'll always take opportunities when they're given - to laugh at myself, to interact with the post-man because he has to walk up my front steps to put the mail in the box, to wave at my neighbors when I'm walking or when I see them outside the neighborhood, to get my hands dirty.

What a sweet life.

"I'm amazed by life, and it's amazed by me,
We're a strange old pair, me and eternity...
It's a long, hard road with a good, good end."

Friday, July 25, 2008

Lycopene and Nicotine

I was listening to a discussion on NPR last week about the recent outbreak of E. coli in certain crops of tomatoes and other plants, which have caused some consumers to become deathly ill. Subsequent to this epidemic, tomato markets across the country have nearly bottomed out and left many single-crop farmers hanging by a thread. One commentator mentioned that what has actually been so detrimental to the market was not the actual risk assumed when buying tomatoes, but the perceived risk. Although the E. coli occurred in relatively few select crops which were consumed by a comparatively small group of tomato-eating individuals (who happened to become very notably ill), consumers across the board, perceiving a high level of tomato-consumption-associated risk, stopped buying tomatoes. They made this decision even though their risk of tomato-contracted illness was slim to none.

I found this interesting in light of the success of certain markets with products boasting high levels of consumption as well as high levels of actual risk - namely cigarettes. Ultimately, a person is much more likely to develop serious and possibly lethal health complications from smoking cigarettes than he or she would be to consume a contaminated tomato and subsequently contract E. coli. Furthermore, the health risks associated with cigarette smoke are printed boldly on every box of cancer sticks sold; they can't be missed. This risk is not only perceived, but acutal, known, clinically documented. And yet, most people don't seem eager to bring down the cigarette market because is is harmful. But God help them if they should buy tomatoes!

Where (aside from the addiction factor of cigarettes) is the logic here?

What are the odds?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Maybe I'll See You There

July 11, 2008 - 9 pm - Workplay Theater

The third concert of a smattering of local musicians who assemble often, lay their individual artistry on the table, and collectively create music which could not be achieved alone.

www.workplay.com www.greyhavencommunity.com

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Myself, in 150 words or less

"Yet another temptation goes to the other extreme. With Sartre, it says: 'L'enfer, c'est les autres!' ('Other people--that's hell!'). In that case, love itself becomes the great temptation and the great sin. Because it is an inescapable sin, it is also hell. But this too is only a disguised form of Eros--Eros in solitude. It is the love that is mortally wounded by its own incapacity to love another, and flies from others in order not to have to give itself to them. Even in its solitude this Eros is most tortured by its inescapable need of another, not for the other's sake but for its own fulfillment!"
-Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

Monday, June 23, 2008

Obligatory "Things I Learned In Europe" Post

Things I learned in Europe...
1. Never fly United Airlines. Ever.
2. Some of the most beautiful things in Europe (and the world) lie at the top of the stairs (-Rachel)
3. The word "succor," pronounced SUH-koor, is a noun meaning aid or help. I win. (Rach and I argued about this. I think it's the first...and last...argument I've ever won with her).
4. My body is much more capable than I ever thought possible.
5. Home is grossly underappreciated. So is yellow mustard.
6. Salade Nicoise involves anchovies, just in case you were wondering.
7. Someday, someone is going to introduce Ranch dressing to Europe and rock the world. Just you wait.
8. Public transportation is a beautiful thing. I love subways systems.
9. Europeans have a much less well-developed sense of personal space than Americans. This includes visual space (i.e. staring), which we don't even consciously think of as personal space.
10. Most Europeans don't dislike Americans as much as I thought. Some do. Most don't. Most are genuinely eager to help, so don't be afraid to ask.
11. Europeans also have a brilliant sense of when to stop talking. They are okay with silence. Americans should learn from them.
12. Picnic meals are some of the best ones.
13. Rick Steves' books are very good, but his maps are slightly arbitrary. Maps are important; train schedules are more important.
14. "Get on with it." -a Kenyan resident of Bath, regarding how some people feel about travelling in the consistently dreary UK weather.
15. There is something refreshing about hanging clothes on an outside line to dry, praying that it won't rain in the mean time.

I'm sure there's more, but I can't think of anymore right now.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Things to hold on to

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
-Habakkuk 3:17-18

"Here dies another day,
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands,
And the great world around me.
And tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?"
-G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, May 17, 2008

time flies when you're inundated with stuff to do

So, I thought my last blog post was probably about two or three weeks ago. Turns out it was over six. Oops. Guess I haven't been doing any blog-worthy or profound thinking in the past several weeks. I have, however, been writing songs. Hmmm.

But, now that my life is once again my own, I should be back on (the writing) board again soon. That's right, I survived nursing school and I'm a college graduate. I even changed my status on facebook to alum, so it's definitely official.

Now what?

All that to say, I really have nothing to say, but I'm still here.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

small, and yet so big

The Holy Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance. God's guarantee that He will finish what He started.


(see Eph. 1:13-14)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Nothing to do but write

I'm sitting in a screened-in porch on the bayou, waiting for a projected thunderstorm to blow through. It's a strange feeling being protected in this way by mesh-wire windows, but at the same time feeling so close to it all. I can hear the wind hissing through the fine metal membrane, wrapping its fingers around the palm trees and stripping them from the bottom up, causing a stir among the gulls and pelicans, herding the water between the banks. It makes me worry about the workers on the roof next door.

And yet, from where I'm perched on this couch between screens, were I blind and deaf, I'd have to sit very still to even realize there was a slight breeze blowing through the space. Barely enough to turn the page of a book or pick playing cards up off the table. Raindrops are hung up in random patterns in holes in the screen. Tiny string-lanterns draped across the tops of windows bob as if in anticipation. On particularly heavy gusts, the edges of the table cloth might be inhaling and exhaling.

But that is the extent of the inside turmoil. The movement within does not match the chaos without. And yet my eyes and ears would seem to tell me (falsely, of course) that I could be swept away at any second. I'm not quite sure how to feel.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

pressed down, shaken together, and running over (and running over and running over)

I am so thankful to God for a day so beautiful it is almost unfair. Maybe unfair is not the right word; I think the word I'm looking for is gratuitous. It is a gratuitously beautiful day. When I saw arms hanging from the windows of the car in front of me on Shades Crest Road, fingers splayed to catch the vacuum of wind, I felt better to know that I wasn't the only one with this idea.

I have a bad habit, in my on-the-spot prose, of switching between voices (first, second, third person) and moving in and out of prayer. Just a forewarning in case the following is confusing. I won't go into the context; it doesn't really matter. Just some personal thoughts which tumbled out over a sandwich, lacking in profundity (and possibly in coherence, to anyone but myself).

It's so weird how God so often brings things full circle for me just to show me I lead a charmed life. Faces from my history returning, not to haunt me, but to know and shape me in a new context, a new place, a new paradigm. This way of returning good things to me - ideas, people - is His way of reminding me I'm not forgotten.
...Israel, I know every detail of your existence because I created that existence. I know what moves you - you may have forgotten, Israel, but I remember - and I will reveal it to you and floor you all over again. And in this way, beloved, you will know how I see you, how dear you are, because I want you to feel the weight of glory even when you turn away your face, when you think you have ceased to feel at all, ceased to be sought and found...
I see now that I was a fool every time I projected God's disdain onto myself and didn't bathe in the love, didn't bask in the pride He feels for me. I was made for glory - a light not just reflected, but instilled within me and brimming over, seeping out uncontrollably, so dense and magnificent it defies all gradients; it cannot be contained!

Oh, bring me back when I have left this place!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Seen and Heard

While I was in The Urban Standard the other afternoon reading Flannery O'Connor (more on that in a second...) and getting some work done and eavesdropping, I heard the following from a man in conversation at the adjacent table. Something about it seemed terribly disjointed and made me sad in a new way...

"...but we decided in the divorce, I let her have the church. She actually joined - she became a Presbyterian. But you know, I'm not a Presbyterian. I'm a good old Southern Baptist - but a good Calvinist Southern Baptist..."

I didn't make note of this to be judgmental or to say that I am anymore enlightened in the way of grace or community than he is; and I certainly don't claim to have any insight into this man's life, but I thought 'This breaks my heart. What are we, as Christians, doing that make people think this way? What messages are we actually conveying about hope and community? What are we accomplishing through church membership and theological labels and dividing the church among ourselves like a legal asset?'

My interest was also shaded, for the moment, by the fact that I had just finished reading the story 'Greenleaf,' by Flannery O'Connor. If you haven't read it, I would recommend it. I recently picked up O'Connor again, for the first time since high school, because a number of people I love and respect think the world of what she wrote. I remember in high school thinking her stories were bizarre and alarming and pointless. I realize now I didn't get the point of a lot of her writing (I hadn't grasped the tongue-in-cheek style for which she is so well-known and the endless irony and symbolism, whose use she perfected). I didn't have the persepctive on some things that I have now. And for this perspective, reading her again with fresh eyes, I have come to appreciate her brilliance. I was actually laughing out loud (oops) in the coffee shop. I took the following slice from the story (there are many to choose from):

"Mrs. May winced. She thought the word, Jesus, should be kept inside the church building like other words inside the bedroom. She was a good Christian woman with a large respect for religion, though she did not, of course, believe any of it was true."

And finally, rediscovered a much-loved poem by Calvin Miller , from which the following is an excerpt (I love excerpts, don't I?) :

He picked up an old junk cross,
lugging it into the bookstore
after the great religious rally,
and stood dumbfounded
among the stacks of books
on how to grow a church.
"Are you conservative or liberal," I asked him.
But he only murmured, "Oh Jerusalem..."
and said the oddest thing about a hen
gathering her vicious, selfish chicks under her wings.
He left the room as I yelled out after him,
"Lord is it true you've left the church?
Quo vadis, Domine?"
"Somewhere else," he said.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Les Miserables

I sometimes forget why I love this book, how rich it is, and then I run across words like these:

"He was experiencing what the earth may experience at the moment when it is opened by the plow so wheat may be sown; it feels only the wound; the thrill of the seed and the joy of the fruit do not come until later."
-Victor Hugo

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Some thoughts on Lent, in no particular order

Read Exodus 3:17-22
-3:17 - When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine Country, though that was shorter...

God's economy of salvation and redemption is terribly inefficient. Efficiency is not the point.

Sometimes all this language of life and death, torn flesh and spilt blood sounds so strange to me. Foreign and unfamiliar. Phenomenal and appalling and against my better judgment.

...dying and rebirth...
...putting away and drawing out...
...forgetting and remembering...
...an exodus and a return home...
...a mourning and an exaltation...

The energy of my conflictions is such that I feel I might change states of matter. I melt, I freeze, I sublimate, I combust.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Fly or Starve

Allow me to be candid here (as if I’m not normally), but I’m not looking forward to graduation. Even though I’m a strong P (see Myers-Briggs types), I’m not resting well with the fact that I don’t have a clear plan for what comes next, aside from this foggy outline of a trip to Europe and taking my licensure exam at some point this summer. Most people I know are incredibly ready to kick the undergrad bucket and move on with their lives, but I still seem to be coming up short on the major symptoms of college senioritis. In short, like the majority human beings, I’m digging in my heels when it comes to significant life change.

Hoping for a little wisdom and empathy, I called my sister the other day to ask if she ever experienced this deep-seated anxiety over her impending graduation. Her answer was, “not really.” Awesome. (To her credit, she also had some words along the lines of, “I was nervous about what came next, but it all worked out.”) I know this is true, but it’s difficult to see from here.

In conversation with a few other senior friends the other day, I found some sympathetic voices, even among those who know where they’re headed after mid-May. I mentioned that we may have to be pushed out of the nest. And I’m willing to wager that we’re probably not that different from every other person in our current situation.

And really, even in our early twenties, we’re a lot like baby birds learning to fly. Fledglings obviously don’t fly right out of the egg. Until their wings have dried and their musculature has developed, the nest is their whole world. And yet, these aviary novices have an innate sense that flying is a natural act. “Parent birds begin to teach their fledglings the importance of flying by remaining a short distance away from the nest during feeding. If the young birds are to survive, they must step away from the nest. Frequently, this means a few hard falls to the ground followed a long trip back to the safety of the nest.” (wisegeek.com) Nobody said learning the art of flight was easy, but I imagine it’s probably also exhilarating and empowering.

Which brings me to my next thought (they’re always connected) – I started writing a song about this change adventure and the accompanying sense of I-suddenly-have-no-earthly-idea-what-I’m-doing. I used to write all the time. Ever since I churned out this little ditty about a sailboat in first grade, there were constantly ideas coming out on paper - up until college, when my writing became much more infrequent for a number of reasons into which I will not currently venture. But over the holidays this year, I got together with a friend and wrote a song. Not anywhere close to a high-caliber work of lyrical genius, but it was like a scab was pulled off and in the past month or so there’s just been this profusion of words pouring out of my head. So I’ll leave you with this little beginning of one…

Do we emerge
Just to fall to the earth
With our little wet wings
And no knowledge of things


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly

Found this in some old sermon notes in one of my notebooks:

"When people's needs are met, they can hear a language they've never heard before. And when we're filled with the Holy Spirit, we can speak the language of anybody he calls us to."
-Jeanette Flynn

So true. This is why the gospel is good news for everybody, because it speaks a language of each individual need. The gospel looks different for everybody.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Pack Rat

At least once a week, someone in my relatively small neighborhood is throwing away furniture. I don't know if this is due to the transient nature of the living situations in my neighborhood (a good deal of the housing facilities are apartments) or if it's just the season for new furniture, but there are always piles of it on the side of the road.

Most people, I imagine, pass them by without a second look. I, on the other hand, have lost count of the number of times I've almost stopped my car and picked through the furniture to find a piece to carry home. Unfortunately, the Protege probably wouldn't take well to a sofa in its back seat (it barely survived the Christmas tree stuck through the back windows). There's also the problem of actually finding space for the new/old furniture in my apartment.

But I mean so much of this furniture is beautifully horrific vintage pieces. The kind with stories (that I may not want to know) and personality. The kind that people are lucky to find in a vintage or antique store, and that with some fixing up will leave guests asking "where on earth did you find that?" So many old chairs and sofas now strewn about some landfill, but stuck in my imagination.

And I want to sit on every one of them.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Expectations and Filled-In Spaces

*I apologize in advance if I go a little cerebral or Faulkner on you here

This morning as I was willing myself to crawl from between my sheets, promising myself only one more eight-minute interval before I hit Off instead of Snooze, there were some old thoughts casting about in my attic of a brain. Incidentally, our discussions at church related to and gave a bit more form to these musings.

The impetus for the first thought was a morsel of wisdom handed to me by a close friend a couple of weeks ago. Basically she said, “God doesn’t need good odds in order to accomplish His will.” I’ve been ruminating on that ever since. How tirelessly I work trying to orchestrate all the streams of activity in my life – putting myself in the right places at the right times for me to meet the right people and say the right thing – so that “God’s will” might have the perfect conditions in which to come to fruition. Like I’m trying to grow bacteria on an agar plate. I mean, surely God’s hands have to be awfully full trying to manage His will for the lives of every single human being, not to mention coordinating the rising and setting of the sun, the cleaving of cells to create life, the naming of stars, the counting of hairs, you know, all that jazz. He could use a little help, right? Ok, so maybe I misinterpreted the scripture where it says that God created Eve to be a helper.

Why am I still worried that things won’t work out if I don’t have my hand in them, that things could go horribly wrong if I choose one thing and not the other? A couple of examples (and, while you’re laughing at my absurdity, don’t forget you’ve been in my shoes):

I’m really tired, I don’t feel like going out with friends this evening, but what if my future husband is there and I don’t meet him, and he marries someone else, and I never find someone and then I end up being that old lady next door with all the cats?! And I don’t even like cats! Or….

Forgoing the nursing career for a couple of years to go to seminary. What if I can’t pay off my debt from nursing school and I end up in financial crisis?

When did God’s will become an arbitrary prayer we toss up, as if God decided “ok Abby, I think you’ve got it under control, call me if you need me.” I often forget that A) He’s no amateur, he’s been planning this since before time began, B) compared with history and eternity, my scope is not only limited, but frequently ridiculous, and C) He’s writing the story and making provisions for every event and outcome. I’m not going to make a move ever for which God hasn’t already made provision, for which there’s no next step. God doesn’t actually need me to create an environment which is conducive to accomplishing His will. He’s just nice enough to let me in on the story. Misery is not what God wishes for me, so why do I continuously choose it over peace? I’ll let you know when I figure that one out.

The second thought which kept surfacing is related to the way we go about forming relationships with other people. For every person who is going to become a part of our lives, we have carved out a space for them to fill in our hearts. The interesting thing is that people rarely, if ever, fit into the hollows we create for them. It may have something to do with the fact that we ultimately went about fashioning the space with our greatest knowledge about people (perceptions, preferences, rough edges) coming from our greatest well of information – our own selves. In other words, the margins I draw for other people look most like a space I could fill because I used myself as the type. Consequently, no one else fits exactly into that space. The beautiful thing, though, is that we have no power to change other people, to carve or mold them and make them appropriate. Instead, we unknowlingly change the shape and surface of our own hearts until the “lock and key” are suited to one another. In this way, we keep transforming ourselves, gaining perspective on one another, on our ability to adapt to, love, and forgive one another. We carry pieces of each other around, so we can never be truly alone.

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not known until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” –Anais Nin

Monday, January 7, 2008

so little time

I have so much to say lately, but not the initiative to get it down in words. Nor the time, for that matter, to get down as much as I want to get down in writing. I've been consuming books like food, however, over the holidays and liked this latest piece from Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard.

A blur of romance clings to our notions of "publicans," "sinners," "the poor," "the people in the marketplace," "our neighbors," as though of course God should reveal himself, if at all, to these simple people, these Sunday school watercolor figures, who are so purely themselves in their tattered robes, who are single in themselves, while we now are various, complex, and full at heart. We are busy. So, I see now, were they. Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? There is no one but us. There is no one to send, nor a clean hand, nor a pure heart on the face of the earth, nor in the earth, but only us, a generation comforting ourselves with the notion that we have come at an awkward time, that our innocent fathers are all dead -- as if innocence had ever been --and our children busy and troubled, and we ourselves unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, failed, yielded to our impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, week, and involved. But there is no one but us. There has never been. There have been generations which remembered, and generations which forgot; there has never been a generation of whole men and women who lived well for even one day. Yet some have imagined well, with honesty and art, the detail of such a life, and have described it with such grace, that we mistake vision for history, dream for description, and fancy that life has devolved.