Tuesday, November 12, 2013


You are a vessel.

You carry within you the capacity for good, the capacity for love. You can make someone’s day brighter or help another heal. You can remind someone what is feels like to smile or whisper to them that they're not alone. Or not. Or you can magnify the burdens of someone's day, make them feel unloved, unworthy. You can make people look down at their shoes or avoid your eyes. You can do that. You can do any of those things because you are a vessel, capable of planting love and watching it grow...or letting it rot.

You are a vessel, despite how you might feel. It does not matter what state you find yourself in, but do not be afraid. Allow yourself to be used for good. Allow hope to be your road. Allow yourself to be led to new horizons, slowly but confidently going more and more outside of yourself and towards others. Plant love and cultivate it. Too many are forgetting to. Too many have allowed themselves to be bearers of despair, superiority, hatred and anger. Be a vessel of hope. Then you will begin to grasp the infinite.  

You are a vessel, and you are small and broken. Know that, but do not focus on it, for it leads to a dead end. Yes, you are but a small and broken vessel, but you are not limited to staying that way. Instead, you can be filled with the divine, with love. Empty yourself of your doubts, your insecurities, your unkindness. Let the divine rush in, not to overcome or erase or destroy you, but to let you thrive and grow. Allow yourself to be led to joy, the profound kind that enables you to find beauty in the midst of suffering and heartache. Surrender your fear. Make more room for love. Then you will begin to understand why it is you are really here, despite being small and broken.

The desire for more is within you. Do you feel it when you’re driving? You roll the window down and can’t help but stick your arm out. You open your hand and it extends, trying to grab the sky, the air, the world. Your hand is stretched out wide, each finger is reaching, and yet you can never grab the wind, only feel it. And as the wind rushes through your fingers it does not destroy them, but the feeling it leaves as it rushes past you makes you long to grab for more. And so rolling up the window becomes a heartbreaking and confining act. Stopping the car seems like a tragedy. The lack of motion becomes boring and lifeless because you had just experienced the rush of life. You had reached out for something more, you had grasped at the infinite. But your hand, no matter how open, could not even begin to grab it. And now you feel a small and hollow void.

What will you fill it with? Friendship, drinks, new clothing, a packed calendar, a well-paying job, family, studying, nature, gambling, love, God? How will you be used? To make someone’s day or to ruin it? To help someone feel loved or abandoned? Because you can do either.

You are a vessel. Be one of love.  

And never close your hand when it’s grasping at the wind.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

My song is love

Dear Jesus,

Coldplay took one of your lines: “My song is love.” You sang it centuries ago when you explained the whole “love your neighbor thing.” I liked your jam—until you included everyone.

I’d like to gently remind you that there are a lot of annoying and terrible people out there. Can’t we just stick with the ones we like? But even annoying and terrible people love those who love them, you noted. So what’s so heroic or noble about loving people who love you?

Fine. Way to call me out. But why’d you have to include everyone? I’ve got enough on my plate, man. I’ve got reading due for class, packages for the post office, a dress to hem, a profile picture that was old days ago and needs to be updated with something artsy and mysterious (preferably showing me having the time of my life or looking off pensively into the distance). So why are you asking me to be loving to the guy that talks too much in my group discussions, the mom driving the minivan that just cut me off, the screaming kid at the coffee shop?

I forget your tune a lot of the time or I hum it until I get to that certain lyric—the one that includes loving everyone, even the annoying and terrible people. I catch myself muttering under my breath, being super impatient, tuning out when that annoying guy talks, shaking an invisible fist at the minivan, glaring at the screaming kid. But I never feel good afterwards. I never think: “that showed them!” and then skip away joyfully. I feel ugly afterwards, even a little cheap. And then your song is left incomplete. I wish I could mute it sometimes. When I’m angry or slighted, I tend to think it’s not as catchy. But your words are for us. It’s actually why we’re here….to love.  

You tell me we cannot be okay with only loving those that love us. I look around at our world and see that we mostly preach love and understanding and then retort at our co-worker, share the great gossip about that person from high school, slump people into categories, exclude others. We defend the rights of the poor on social media and our resumes and then attack the co-worker who left dishes in the sink, the roommate who let the food get moldy, the “unsupportive” friend, the ignored guy in our discussion groups, the sleep-deprived mother who cut us off, the crying kid in the coffee shop. These are our neighbors, whether we chose the neighborhood or not. These are who we are called to love. 

You call me to live these words. Not in Scripture, not online, not in my head, not even in my heart, but in the real world, in an “un-noble” but profoundly noble way—in the daily, mundane moments of my life, the moments I may never be recognized for.

Let’s sing together, shall we? I’m a little off-tune. Teach me the whole song.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Letter to George Saunders

Damon Winter/The New York Times
Dear George Saunders,

I finally read your commencement speech at Syracuse, and I’m trying out this “erring in the direction of kindness” thing. After two days, I’m with you: it’s hard. I could have told you that yesterday, but I decided to try again for another day before letting you know.

First of all, I’m doing the things I don’t want to do but know I should. I think not doing everything I want to do all the time is pretty good for me…pretty good for others, too. Like taking out the heavy blue recycling bin or picking up the paper instead of leaving it to one of my aging parents. Like responding sooner to e-mails from people, getting up an hour earlier, cleaning the toothpaste residue from my sink, skipping out on that dark chocolate bark with sea salt and pumpkin seeds after dinner (which has been really hard, let me tell you.) Like making small talk with the cashier at the grocery store even though I may never see them again. Like going up to old acquaintances I run into and actually talking to them rather than pretending I didn’t make eye contact and bolting for the door. You know, that type of stuff.

Yes, I do have a college degree. No, that does not make me too good to do these things. And no, I am not pretending they are anything sensational. Only they are because of the kindness you talked about. The kindness makes them heroic. That’s why when I do these un-sensational things, it feels pretty good. I feel adult-like and responsible and human, whatever that’s supposed to mean, even if it’s in a feeble kind of way.

Great speech, by the way.

It’s also been a nice vacation, you know? From thinking about myself. Sometimes that feels like a full-time job. How healthy was that last meal you ate? Are you sure you edited that cover letter enough? Is that gray hair number 4 or 5 on your twenty-three year old scalp? So...what are you going to do with your life? It’s a bit of a bore, really. All this thinking and re-thinking about myself. And doing things I don’t like all the time is at least challenging and new in an exciting and simultaneously awfully scary kind of way. My progress is slow, but I’m working on it. This kindness thing is growing on me more and more with each recycling bin and newspaper.

I don’t say all of this to get your applause or your attention. If anything, it’s embarrassing that it’s taken me so long to even become a little better. So I’m glad you included that bit about getting kinder as we age. I’m looking forward to it. And in the meantime, that's why I'm starting today. So that when I am old, rocking my fro and enjoying iced tea or whiskey on the front porch and the neighbors walk by, I will be radiating kindness.  I guess what I'm trying to say is...thanks for the reminder. I really needed it. I think we all do. It’s easy to forget that we’re called to kindness, and that there is a greatness in living it.  Sometimes I think that’s the only reason we’re here.

You said the Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, wrote towards the end of his life that he was “mostly Love, now.”

I add that we should mostly love, now.


Saturday, August 17, 2013


“Dance, when you're broken open. Dance, if you've torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you're perfectly free.”

We have been wrestling for days. The trouble is…I want to dance. You pushed me and I pushed back. I invited my will into the ring, letting it coach me, letting it whisper advice into my ear. I didn’t want to admit that I was in a struggle after all, and that I hungered to win. But each push gave me more and more clarity, until the moment came when I could no longer deny the reality: we were wrestling, and I was losing.

Why is it that the acknowledgment of our failure and weakness brings about victory? Why is it that we often make the mistake of placing our will above all, thinking strength is found in getting our way and having total control? We confuse arrogance for success and choose instead to look down upon anyone that hesitates, admits they were wrong, allows themselves to be vulnerable. We've forgotten that it's when we relent, as daunting and uncomfortable as it feels, that we realize we’ve really been the ones giving ourselves blow after blow in the wrestling ring. The bruising, scraping and sweating have been the result of great effort—one that often hurts more than it heals.

I’ve talked about surrender, but only now do I actually hold up my white flag. My prize is no gold trophy, just the relief of letting go--and knowing that I'll still be okay. And that I'm not alone. There's a freedom in admitting you don't have it all under control. There's a strength in that too. 

So now, with a black eye, fat lip and torn dress, I get up, take off my gloves, hold out my hand, and rather sheepishly ask, “may I have this dance?”

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Calling me back

You call me back again and again—and again.
And I am astounded.
Did you notice the crumpled shirt on the hardwood floor, the papers all over my desk?
Did you scrunch up your nose at my unwashed hair or unfiled nails?
Did you get overwhelmed by the ideas that clutter my head, get whirled around by my racing thoughts?
Did I tell you I have no set, sterling future plans? Might not have witty or entertaining stories? Forgot my line?
No heavy sigh. No tapping foot. No crossed arms. No rolling eyes.
You call me back again and again—and again.
This is what makes me unafraid to come back each time.
Because if I thought I had to be worthy of your call, I would never answer. If I thought I had to be perfect before greeting you, I would never stop getting ready. If I thought I had to come carrying perfectly baked goods or a wrapped gift, I would never knock. If I thought I’d come to a wagging finger, I would settle for where I am.
I come seeking, regardless of my shabby state, because you’re the only lasting peace I’ve ever known. And I will be persistent while knocking on your door because I know you will answer, even if we aren’t on good terms, even if we haven’t spoken in a while, even if my hands are empty, even if I don’t deserve it. I will keep knocking because the world leaves me nowhere else to go, gives me nothing as life-giving, leaves me dirty on the floor, expects more than I can sometimes give. I will keep knocking, knowing that when you open the door, your arms will open even wider—with no squinting glances, no frown, no furrowed brow—only a warm smile, a reassuring gaze and a chest to rest my head on. 

You call me back again and again—and again.  

And so I answer, "I’m coming, Lord. I’m coming."
“And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Matthew 7:7-12

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

You Are Light

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.Matthew 5:14-16

Dear friend,

You know how when you look up at the sun, you can’t stare directly at it because it’s so bright? We carry that kind of light within us. We just choose to cover it up most of the time, or have actually listened to a world that’s told us otherwise. But I’m telling you now: you carry that kind of light within you. One so beautiful it makes others squint, peering at you through clasped hands or shaded eyes. One so bright it illuminates the surrounding darkness, gives hope with its very being. One so radiant is warms all it touches, helps the world around it grow.

Keep following the light. Keep searching for it. Keep believing in it. It starts with you peering down and realizing the majesty of whom and what you are. It starts with remembering you are the daughter or son of royalty. It starts with noticing every freckle, every vein, every wrinkle, every hair is a divine signature. It starts with believing that you are made for glory.  

"Jesus says ‘You are the light of the world.’ I like even more what Jesus doesn’t say. He does not say ‘One day, if you are more perfect and try really hard, you’ll be light. He doesn’t say, ‘If you play by the rules, cross your T’s and dot your I’s, then maybe you’ll become light.’ No. He says, straight out, ‘You are light.” It is the truth of who you are, waiting only for you to discover it"
 -Greg Boyle, SJ, Tattoos on the Heart  

You are light.  Dust yourself off or get a new bulb. Break through the rain and the clouds. Remember who you are and shine on.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Team Players

Dear friend,

I wanted to share with you some great news: we’re on the same team. I don’t care if you like the colors of your flag better or think your national anthem’s tune is catchier than mine. I don’t care that your skin is lighter, darker, more freckly, wrinkled. I don’t care if you even understand me or not. Or can decipher my alphabet. A smile trespasses all frontiers. A tear dances on boundaries. Laughter melts away formality, music erases stiffness, steaming food lifts perimeters. And we all understand those things. We all understand.

What I care about are not our differences, our colors, our unique identities—beautiful as they are. I care about our oneness despite it all. And I wanted to remind you of the great news despite your political affiliation, religious denomination, language, gender or yearly income in case you forgot: we’re all on the same team.

We all have the same beginning and end. There is an end, you know, whether you care to think about it or not. I can’t tell you what happens after this now that we’ve been given. But I can tell you that this now is important because it’s all we’ve got. And I wanted to remind you that it can be used to build up the rest of our team--the one with millions of different players--because we’re stronger that way.

We’re stronger when our players are better nourished, better rested, better educated, better treated. We’re stronger when everyone shows up bringing their hundred percent. We’re stronger when our needs and wants and actions aren’t always the center of attention in a world so obsessed with gratifying these first. We’re stronger when we can weigh our wants, discern them, and realize that those of others may be more dire or relevant or important.   

It’s easier said than done. I wanted the fourth taco, for example. But I said I was full. Why?  It meant I got even stronger nourishment: my mom’s smile…and a sigh of relief from my thighs.

Friend, life hurts a lot of the time. So we jump from small, fragile, beautiful moment to the next, savoring each along the way. Sometimes, the leap seems too far, to take too long. We barely reach the next stepping stone or have to swim a while before getting to it when the next leap comes along. Sometimes there’s fog. But the next stepping stone is there. And this knowledge, and the knowledge of the past one, sustains us for the next leap. Sometimes it doesn’t. That's when we need our teammates to step in—offering the knowledge of the next stepping stone, directions, encouragement or just a partner to leap with. This is how we get stronger.   

My beautiful moments, my stepping stones, take many forms these days, in phone calls, texts, e-mails, conversations.  In the prayer sent, the reading referenced, the link to that article or comic or viral video, the quote from the movie, the song they can’t get out of their head, the letter in the mail, the picture of the moon.

These moments sustain me in the fog, the rain, the silence, the sunshine, the moonlight, the dawn, the leap. These moments poke me into remembering life’s meaning: that we are all on the same team. And it’s time to help one another keep playing. Not so that we may win every single day. Because we are not going to win every single day. Not so that we may be the best. Because we are just called to be better. But because we win when we reach the next stepping stone or when we help someone else to. We win when our teammates are their best selves. We win when we are our best selves. We win when we share our best selves with others. But we need each other's help sometimes in order to get there. I need your help and you need mine.

So cheer me on, will ya? And in the meantime, I’ll cheer for you.