Thursday, October 29, 2009

oh the possibilities!

Everything. is happening. at once.

I do not know what is going on with my future. And I speak of the relatively immediate future, the one that starts around January 1. Honestly, several (3) job/place possibilities, none of them certain options, all of them quite appealing but for very different reasons, all of them at once.

I unloaded all of this on a friend tonight who, poor man, just came by the flat to pick up a pot. I loved how he responded, though, after pausing a moment to think: "at least things aren't staying the same."

True. Nothing stagnant here. And things are moving in directions that make sense, even if there are several directions in which they are moving. It's not just chaos or cloudy water anymore. So I resolve to be thankful that things are not staying the same... life is interesting and exciting, full of hope and always unpredictable.

And as I always always say, in this also we find beauty. If only we will stop shielding our vision in hopes that ignorance truly is bliss, stop running so fast propelled by our fear that the world becomes a blur, stop staring at ourselves in the mirror out of selfishness and vanity and just stand still with our eyes open wide, we will be overcome by the beauty.

See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.
(Isaiah 42:9)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

be the ground lying under that sky (reflections on agency and a poem)

Sometime during the development of my feminist sensibilities, I discovered the concept of agency. And oh, what a wonderful word, what a brilliant and beautiful concept. Agency, as a feminist theoretical notion, refers to the fact that we as human beings have the freedom and ability to act and thus to overcome social pressures, stereotypes, inequality and so on to gain (more) equal power and value in society. This proves important in feminist thought because our agency can be overlooked or taken from us, as it often has been for women -- and when this occurs, it must be reclaimed.

Now because we have agency, we have hope. Yes, difficult circumstances and oppression do affect us, but at the same time, we have the capability and the freedom to push back and to make things different. Speaking specifically, then, of women, I do believe that even our oh-so-developed Western society is oppressive and sexist, ideologically and practically and institutionally. But I also believe that all of us have agency. We do not have to sit and passively resign ourselves to the current condition of our society.

What a notion. I love it.

And this concept of agency ties right into the Christian concept of free will. The last thing I want to do here is to jump into a deep theological discussion of free will and predestination (heavens no!), but I do want to make the connection: agency is a biblical concept as well as a feminist one. God gives us free will; we are not puppets on strings.

You might be asking why I bring this up tonight, so let me now tie this feminist/biblical notion into my life at present. As of the weekend, I had started feeling at peace about a certain possibility for my future. For one brief moment, I thought I knew what was right -- what I wanted, even. On Monday afternoon, however, the content of two unexpected emails completely negated that moment of peace. I found that I know nothing, not a thing. I found that I am afraid of things I thought I didn't fear. I found that the future remains encased in shadow.

And this happens every time, doesn't it? Things fit together; things come apart. Every once in awhile, life stops being confusing and complicated, but just for a split second, and then -- poof! -- the stability is gone.

As I was bemoaning the rebirth of my uncertainty, I began thinking about agency and free will, concepts that usually seem so wonderful to me. I love that God has given us freedom and responsibility, and I love the hope that agency provides in bleak circumstances, but how absolutely terrifying. If I'm being honest, often I just want open and closed doors, black like night and white like a dove, lines in the sand, letters carved in tree trunks and words traced out in the clouds. Tonight is one of those times. Tonight, I want security and answers and stability. Tonight, I am so afraid of my agency.

But I am not one to let fear stand in my way, and I hope that the same is true of you. So join me, dear ones, and let us grasp this agency, this free will, this beautiful freedom that we have, even when we are afraid.

This weekend, a dear friend scribbled the following poem on the back of a pair of receipts and passed it along to me, telling me she thought I would appreciate it. I liked it very much when first I read it, but it strikes even more deeply tonight. I hope it means something to you also.

Dich wundert nicht des Sturmes Wucht
by Rainer Maria Rilke

You are not surprised at the force of the storm--
you have seen it growing.
The trees flee. Their flight
sets the boulevards streaming. And you know:
he whom they flee is the one
you move toward. All your senses
sing him, as you stand at the window.

The weeks stood still in summer.
The trees' blood rose. Now you feel
it wants to sink back
into the source of everything. You thought
you could trust that power
when you plucked the fruit;
now it becomes a riddle again,
and you again a stranger.

Summer was like your house: you knew
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.

The days go numb, the wind
sucks the world from your senses like withered leaves.

Through the empty branches the sky remains.
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground lying under that sky.
Be modest now, like a thing
ripened until it is real,
so that he who began it all
can feel you when he reaches for you.

Friday, October 23, 2009

small things.

Too much time has lapsed since my last posting. My apologizes. My sister noted this today, and as she now has (at least part) ownership of two blogs that stay quite up to date and as she is, after all, my sister and dearest friend, she is more than entitled to kick me into gear whenever necessary. So thank you, sister of mine; this was the nudge I needed to just sit down and start typing, to choose one of the many thoughts swirling through my mind and pin it down in words on this page.

So many very small but very beautiful things have happened in my life as of late. This has provoked some good thinking and reflecting, and what I have come to is this: life, though we hesitate to say it straightforwardly, is unpredictable and tumultuous and often strange and just downright hard... but in the midst of the struggle and confusion, there are many small moments of beauty bringing hope and joy. And in this big, strange, confusing life, it is these small moments that carry us through.

This latest season of my life has been the most confusing and uncertain that I have yet experienced, but these small moments remind me that life is a wondrous and worthwhile thing... and not just in spite of everything but rather because of everything... because beauty glimmers through the cracks of the brokenness and dirtiness and imperfection of our lives. So I thought that I would share with you some of the beauty I have experienced:
[A SIMPLE ACT] One rainy day, while grocery shopping at Harvest Health, I ran into a professor from my dear alma mater. I never took a class from him, nor does he teach in any of my areas of concentration, but I know him from various interactions on campus and around town. We paused to talk; I admired his beautiful baby, who he affectionately calls Beetle, and he asked what I was up to these days. I explained my part-time job and yet-unsuccessful search for a second job, and after a short but lovely conversation, we both continued on in search of grains in bulk and ingredients for vegan baking. As I checked out, he paused en route to the door, reaching into his shopping bag and taking out a cookie (and not just a cookie, mind you, but a very good vegan cookie). Handing it to me, my wonderful professor friend said, "This is from Beetle. Good luck finding that second job." He disappeared out the door. I held back the sudden urge to burst into tears. The whole world felt kinder.
[UNANTICIPATED CARE] My job at CBI expanded significantly as of this week, which is a tremendous blessing as I can sustain myself financially with these increased hours plus freelance writing/editing/etc. And the smaller -- but no less significant -- moment of beauty was this: when my supervisor, an incredibly kind woman who had been keeping up with my second job search and praying for me throughout, heard that my job had expanded (the additional hours are in another area of the organization), she was absolutely thrilled, nearly to tears. And this from a woman I've known for just a month.
[COMMUNITY] A friend of a friend's family has a farm and presses apple cider every fall, and several friends and I joined them for this lovely event a few weekends ago. The day was filled with the beautiful community of a group of strangers, small children unabashedly expressing the amazement we all felt at the magic of the wondrous old cider press, freezing fall winds and brightly colored leaves, homemade pumpkin bread and donuts and spicy vegetarian chili, copious amounts of cider and, of course, my beautiful friends.

[FRIENDSHIP] My once-housemate and very dear friend E was in town last weekend for a wedding, accompanied by the wonderful Larry, and we met on Saturday morning for a lengthy brunch at Marie Catrib's (note: favorite. restaurant. ever.). E is a beautiful human being; she makes me feel more alive. Larry is one of the kindest, most genuine men I know. Amazing food, hot coffee, good conversation. Beautiful. And then one of my closest friends from back home appeared here that same weekend; Kevin is traveling with and running video for a concert tour. Spending time with him encouraged my soul and threw me back to our high school days, where I found some lovely memories I had forgotten about. And then I observed him in action, and I was so proud. I love seeing my friends doing exciting things in the great big world.
[ART] One night during ArtPrize (which was wonderful all around -- good work Grand Rapids), I left the public library and turned the corner to see the mosaic on the side of the Children's Museum shimmering in the darkness, sparks of light darting from the tiny mirrored tiles and twinkling in the quiet street. Magical.
[FAMILY] My parents came to visit for no reason in particular, and they are fabulous people. My mother is immeasurably kind. My dad is hilarious. They love so well. And they came bearing sweaters I had forgotten I owned and thick winter socks to keep my toes warm as the temperature drops.
[FOOD] My recent baking endeavors have been successful, though not always conventionally successful... which ultimately made them all the more wonderful... more details to come.
You see, my friends, these small moments make all the difference in this complicated life. A cookie for encouragement, the bustle of community, art that speaks of hope, the mere presence of a friend, good food eaten with loved ones, warm clothes for the coming cold, fall leaves and apple cider... This is how I carry on.

So I am sitting here in my room in our little flat while blustering winds blow outside and raindrops gently patter on the windows, cuddled up in two warm sweaters, smelling the lingering scent of coffee mingled with traces of the delicata squash I roasted for dinner and listening to Rosie Thomas singing peace into my ear.

And I know all will be well.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

i write.

I have been writing all day/week. Just not here. Sorry. And what have I been writing, you ask?
1 -- Newsletter for Au Sable (I freelance!)

2 -- The 40-year history of Baxter Community Center, summarized succinctly and poetically in approximately 3 pages, along with accompanying stories and quotations (I volunteer!)
And allllll the copy is due on Friday.


Oh, and one more:
3 -- Random articles for Crossroad Bible Institute when I am not processing lessons and lessons and lessons (I work! For someone that has me on payroll!)
When 1 and 2 are complete, I will write for you and me again, my friends. Until then, think on this, some wisdom from our friend Frederick Buechner:
Here is the world.

things will happen.

Don’t be afraid.

Friday, October 9, 2009

functioning oven, poppyseed cookies and living gracefully

All of my posts thus far have been relatively serious, so on a lighter note, let me tell you two very good things that happened approximately a week ago:

1. Handyman Dave came and fixed the oven.
2. We turned on the heat in the flat.

I was so happy.

Let's talk about the oven. Our oven has been out of commission since the very start of the summer. It has been awful. The saga began with the pilot light being out. This seems like it should be easy to deal with, but it was not. First, a neighbor of mine lit it briefly, but the following morning ALL of the pilot lights (oven and stovetop) were out. Even Taylor, lying on the kitchen floor in his work clothes and reaching matches back into the depths of our oven, could not light it. And Taylor is good at these sorts of things. So finally Landlord Man sent Handyman Dave, who lit the pilot light but apparently did not check to make sure the oven worked. Because it did not. And then by this time, I was discouraged and frustrated, and I thought I was moving out at the end of the summer, so I just let it ago.

But when I realized I was staying, I was bound and determined to have that oven functioning. As Landlord Man was not all that responsive when the chimney fell off the house earlier this summer, I didn't expect a lot, but he was actually very responsive this time. But then again, I was quite firm. (As another result of this firmness, he has also now dedicated himself to the task of helping us catch our squadron of mice. But that's a story for another day.)

So last Friday, Handyman Dave (who is really not only knowledgeable but also very kind) came over and banged around under the oven for awhile and then informed me that it was fixed. As he explained to me and I now repeat to you, in my layperson terminology and probably quite inaccurately, there was gunk on the small pipe that the gas flows through to get to the big pipe where something else gets lit, at which point the newly lit thing, whatever it is, makes a whooshing sound and heats up the oven.

He knocked the gunk off the pipe.

There was whooshing.

There was heat.

I was thrilled.

Now, two good things did result from our oven being broken for this long, sad time. First, I now have a much better understand of gas appliances in general and our stove in particular. And second, I learned to be very resourceful in my cooking. I cooked many a thing on the stovetop this summer. I was particularly proud of my successful use of a skillet on the stovetop (rather than a pan in the oven) to roast tomatoes and to roast spiced chickpeas. I may not have been as innovative as my sister, but then again, she's pretty brilliant.


But I couldn't bake. No scones, no muffins, no bread. And you cannot roast a butternut squash in a skillet on the stovetop. At least I don't think you can.

However, now the oven works! So as soon as I felt I could trust it, I baked. Constrained by a lack of baking ingredients, I perused my cookbooks until I found this recipe for poppyseed cookies in a little green book called The Peaceful Cook, written by Harriet Kolfalk in 1991. My sister got this book secondhand and then passed it on to me a year or so ago. (As a note, I must mention that my sister and I agree that the book takes the concepts of holistic living and interconnectedness further than we are comfortable with, but the recipes within are unique, healthful, seasonal and focused on whole foods. Good stuff.)

These cookies are soft and somewhat crumbly, just slightly sweet and with a faint crunch from the poppyseeds. My friend Abby said that they reminded her of scones; I think I'll try that next I return to this recipe.

Poppyseed Cookies for Celebration and Graceful Living
Adapted from The Peaceful Cook

1/2 cup skim milk
2/3 cup poppyseeds
1/2 cup raisins
1 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup honey
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. lemon extract

Heat oven (!!!) to 350°.

In a saucepan, heat milk to nearly boiling. Remove from heat and stir in poppyseeds and raisins. Set aside.

Mix dry ingredients together. Cream butter until smooth; add honey, vanilla and lemon. Combine butter mixture and dry ingredients. Fold in poppyseed mixture. (You may need to add a bit more flour as I did at this point if your dough is overly wet.)

Drop small spoonfuls onto buttered cookie sheet. Bake 15 minutes or until cookies are light brown at the edges.

Yield: about 3 dozen small cookies

Here author Harriet would insert some comment about harmony with nature through poppyseeds. I do like harmony. But today I just say this: Let the cookies cool. Eat. Enjoy. Be thankful for your oven. Be thankful in general.

That's the final thing I want to touch on today. Aforementioned friend Abby and I were talking earlier this week about being in this strange phase of life that we've found ourselves in and being confused and discouraged and disoriented. I had been frustrated about something, but with fierce independence, I said to Abby that I can handle this. I can. I can handle a lot of things, and I can take it, whatever it may be.

But wise Abby reminded me that actually, everyone "handles things." As long as we continue living, that is what we are doing. And so people handle tragedy, the death of those they love, cancer, unemployment, homelessness, depression, disappointment, betrayal... but sometimes they handle these things poorly.

So yes, of course I can deal with the situations I am in. The question is not if I can handle things (as they are and will be) but rather how I will handle them. Will I do so gracefully... or no?

I want to handle things gracefully.

But I don't always do a fabulous job of this. I think that at many times in the last few weeks in particular, I've been very far from graceful. And I apologize, flatmates, dear friends, family, all you who have had to deal with me being so clumsy. I'm working on regaining my balance, being stable, living as if I am dancing, figuring out what it means to be graceful when being graceful is so hard. Feel free to keep me accountable... but also please be patient.

Summary: The nice handyman fixed the oven, and we turned on our heat. I felt thankful. I made cookies. The thankfulness continued. I realized that life is not about just handling what comes my way but about doing that well. I decided that I need to live more gracefully.

And there it is. If I forget, I'll just go make some more cookies.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

love is a miracle. seriously, people.

Disclaimer: The following does not relate to any one circumstance in my own life or that of anyone else but rather to the cohesive whole of all of my experiences and observations. Point being, don't read into this or try to figure out who I'm talking about, because I'm telling you now: I'm talking about the whole world. And everyone in it.

Tonight, my friends, I present one of my more brilliant (?) observations of late, something very simple but also true and worth at least a moment or two of pondering. Here it is:

For two people to (1) fall in love (2) with each other (3) at the same time (4) to even somewhere near the same degree... this is pretty near to a miracle.

This is like magic.

Really, though, how likely is that to actually happen??? All of these things, all at the same time? Not likely. Not likely at all. And I'm a realist in my (still persistent) romantic sensibilities; I am not talking about perfection, and I know well that any relationship necessitates significant work. But still. We should be shocked that it EVER happens.

Now on the one hand, this observation makes genuine love coursing back and forth between two people stop me in my tracks with its beauty. But the whole thing also just makes my heart ache. I know what it feels like to be in those other, more typical situations, in the more likely event that only one person has fallen, the timing is off or the levels of attachment are entirely unequal. I have been the person offering unrequited affection and the person not requiting the affection of another, and, as most of us know well, neither one is pleasant. And this is happening all the time, all around me, and people ache and hurt just for this crazy, inexplicable thing that is love.

I'm not trying to be cynical; I just want to keep things in perspective. For me personally, at this moment in my life, I cannot even imagine tumbling into a relationship in which the aforementioned points (even mostly) line up, and I don't want to forget feeling this way. If ever this kind of loving happens in my life, I do not want to take it for granted.

So we cannot expect this sensical, non-chaotic relationality as we so readily tend to... but let’s please be thankful and in awe when it happens. Hear that, all you folks in (even relatively) happy, committed relationships? Remember what a crazy, beautiful, unlikely thing it is that you are where you are, with that person you are with. How ever did this happen when all the cards seem stacked against? I know it's not perfect; of course it isn't perfect. Nothing is without its degree of brokenness. But even so... what magic!

Love. Really. Oh, what a world we live in.

Friday, October 2, 2009

good/bad (this is life).


A few nights ago, I went on the most wonderful run, and oh yes, my friends, it is fall indeed. As I ran, the wind whisked through the leaves, leaves colored green to yellow to orange to red like fire, and I could hear the trees creaking in that erie way they do when the cold settles deep inside of them like it settles now already in my bones. I ran past a football field and thought of being sixteen and caught up in that strange and completely different world that is high school (thank God it's over). Canadian geese honked loudly in the distance as I passed Reed's Lake, bringing to mind nights at the wetlands in Midland with my dad when I was young; I never loved it quite as much as he or my sister did but was drawn in whatever small way to something in nature and thrilled to make my dad so happy just for having come. I ran down these streets that I've run down so many times before, past houses and down sidewalks whose shapes have become so familiar, and the smell of fall nearly overwhelmed me...

For whatever strange reason, after a day that seemed rather inconsequential, happiness was overwhelming me as well. And the mystery of changing seasons and the memories bombarding me and the hope of the future threw me into this strange place of beauty and I felt so deeply that the world is new the world is new the world is new.

And then the next day started so well. I went to the farmers' market (which, as many of you already know, is one of my most favorite things in the entire world), and the farmers were all bundled up and my toes were cold and I wandered through with the handful of other people that come out to sparsely populate the Wednesday morning market. I bought apples and tomatoes and zucchini and eggplant and onions for my house and talked to one of my favorite farmers, a darling old man with surprisingly straight, white teeth who I first bonded with early this summer over the beauty of swiss chard. I went to breakfast alone at Gaia, and it was warm and wonderful and peaceful. I talked to the waitress and listened to the rapid flurry of Spanish bouncing between two Puerto Rican men and a little girl sitting up by the window and wrote and drank a copious amount of coffee.

And I was feeling relatively, surprisingly positive about life in general.


Then I went to work, job 2, nonprofit 2, currently part-time/temporary but with promise of becoming part-time/not temporary. At the end of a few mundane-but-not-so-bad hours of sorting and filing, I found out that the possibility of the job becoming more permanent had lessened significantly.

And suddenly I did not feel quite so positive about life in general.

None of this should have been surprising. I knew, first of all, that things weren't completely settled in my life, and they never will be because life just isn't that way. And for weeks now, I have been telling people that I think that this phase of life I am entering into is one in which things will remain in flux, up in the air, shifting constantly. Whatever happens next, I realized mid-summer, is very unlikely to be a full-time job. With health benefits. Check back in a few years, and even then don't count on it. I've become quite okay with this.

And yet. And yet, I am tired, I am tired of being tired, I am tired of being confused, I am tired of the puzzle pieces of my life not fitting together. (Yes, Kyle VZ, don't you worry, Old Stacy will never go away completely.)

And this is the thing: loosening our grip on our lives, choosing peace (thank you Ryan), knowing that life is hard and crazy but choosing to enjoy living anyway... these are things we must do every day. Of course it's still hard. Of course things are still uncertain. I have to throw up my hands and give it all over, every day.

As part of my job at Crossroad Bible Institute (part-time job 1), I read through the Bible studies completed by our students, who are currently in the US prison system (more description of this job later). Yesterday, I read the following in one man's prayer:

"Le entrego todas mis cargas, mis angustias, pesares, anhelos, deseos, planes, mi vida, mi ser y que sea lo que Dios quiera." (More or less, "I give him all of my burdens, my distress, grief, yearnings, desires, plans, my life, my being and that it may be what God wants.")

All of it? Wow. But yes, all of it. I give him all of it today, I'll probably need to do it again in an hour or so and tomorrow I'll do it again. And to really mean this is terrifying, but it's the only right option. So may it -- all of it -- be what he wants.

And I know even now that it will be good, and it will be bad. May I choose to enjoy living, regardless.