You have made it to the very last day of the first month of the year, and in the chaos and disillusionment that is the state of many unions these days, I hope this letter finds you with warm toes and with a heart, body, and soul easing toward health in one way or another.
This is the third newsletter I’ll have sent to you as a gift that would usually only be for paid subscribers. I’ll write these letters for free like this a few times a year, 1) so I can only write one letter in a month instead of two (like during crazy holiday seasons) and 2) so you can catch a glimpse of what goes to paid subscribers. I have some really fun news to share with you at the end of this one! You’re welcome to subscribe now so you catch it again next month or to keep the freebie with fewer words in the months to come. If you cannot subscribe because money is too tight, just let me know, and I’ll get it to you free. I appreciate those of you who even want to support my work in this way.
A New Format.
The format this month is new, and it’s how I plan to carry on through 2021. We talk a lot around here about coming back after we’ve lost ourselves for a while. We talk about healing, faith, art, and acting in accordance with Hope. My aim is to remember who I am in the process and, hopefully, to help you get back to yourself, too. (Yourself is the only place you’ll ever come to experience God on this earth.)
Each month I’ll give you a Witness, a Work, and a Word. In these, I hope you find the power of solidarity, the inspiration to recognize beauty where you are, and the courage to keep going or to quit or do whatever it is you need to do. Here goes.
I could tell you today about my chickens and the way I rush out to them in the cold, throwing feed and squinting my eyes over what I’ve strewn around my yard like an actual redneck. Bamboo perching poles rot and crunch in on themselves, and I just let them settle where they land. I don’t know how much I’m ignoring: phone calls, emails, broken things (relationships), and how many shoes. I step over a lot of things, as any mother does once she’s chosen sanity over tidiness. I could try to tell you, too, how Titus sits with me—or on me—and aligns himself, legs to legs, torso to torso, to watch a show, aligned to where his breathing mirrors mine, and it is not conscious to him, but I notice … breath by breath, because I love him. Could I unravel how he shows me God, that if I dare notice a stillness in the Presence, we, too, may be breathing together? What critical intimacy avails itself to us if we stop a minute, but I can’t get into it much. What a bag-full of tangled yarn, and I do not have many words to help unravel it yet.
I’ve come to appreciate my own mouth the quieter it is. I’m drawn to the quieter rooms, closets even. When I knit and purl, I make margins of silence in my head. I go to the chapel sanctuary to process life, but even better, I go to not process at all. I sit blank. To learn to let the quiet take up space is a newer one for me, but I think I have the hang of it.
Seth barges in with a passionate exclamation or a “Listen to this!” as he begins reading sentences aloud, and I’ve become the one who nods and listens and asks a short question. Yeah? I say, and he tells me more. It used to be me, who came in bursting at the seams. Now I’m more like a cup filling so slowly I can’t tell it’s happening, but it is.
I know because Friday my heart brimmed with gladness. I was myself (listening and feeling with intensity) when I talked on the phone in counsel with a friend. I went walking till I was sweating in the cold with one who makes me laugh, and then my sister had a question about Catholic stuff, and we face-timed. I apparently had a sermon ready to go, bless her heart. My norm is deep connection with others, fire, presence to the pain, ready to cry, question, praise, laugh, and to dog-cuss what needs cussing.
Not unrelated, I’m working on losing the 20 pounds I’ve gained, and when someone asked me how my life would be different if I lost the weight, I said that I would show up for others more. I have spent a season afraid that showing up would mean pouring out until I no longer existed. Maybe it’s a fear of being used up. Do you relate? Isn’t it interesting that the more afraid I’ve been to show up (for fear of disappearing), was the bigger I became? Now I’m learning to act in trust that I’m not the source of healing for anyone else, and so the more I speak, laugh, counsel, and take up a little space in people’s lives, is the less I hide under these pounds and the more I recognize myself in the mirror, able to pull my pants up a little more over these wonderful, working thighs. There is a battle in the good silence, the desire to disappear, and the need to show up and speak.
It is still hard for me to come into your inbox, but I believe it’s true for us all that acting in HOPE is showing up with our big tangled bag of yarn, our big butts, mouths, and all. Where do you need to show up today as an act of hope?
Because interacting with art has a lot to do with remembering who we are and helps us hone a sacramental lens for experiencing the world, I will share a work of art with you each month, sometimes from me, from other artists, and I hope from some of you. If you have a work of art you’d like to share with me, please do!
Here’s a little Wendell Berry in a southern accent. If you don’t love Wendell, go to the doctor!
Think of this section as a toast, a blessing, or a benediction before you go. This is where we practice speaking what’s true of one another.
As we roll into February with low expectations on the healers of our politic, with degraded trusts in journalism, family members, religious structures, or even, yes, our own mouths and sciaticas, I bless you today that as you speak, just before actually, that you’ll recognize a brief, most confident stillness within you as you inhale, that the words of your mouth would come out with resolved compassion, because you yourself have received such bottomless love. When you speak from such a thing, you are not a well but more a living river. No one can ever get to the bottom of you.
Now for some Lagniappe.
A book update:
I was in the process of completely rethinking my book, and as I talked it out with Seth, it dawned on me—again—how well we work together. So much of what we write comes out of conversation with one another, so I wondered aloud what it would be like to invite him into it with me, for readers to hear how we process, tell a story together, and riff off one another. We decided to rework the whole book with Seth as a co-author, and I feel so good about it. We’re writing a book together! Or I hope we are. We’ll hear from the publisher soon. Say the prayers.
I’m assuming everyone here knows Seth, but if not, please go find him! He’s a smart, fun, and contemplative follow, and he’s good at consistent, public work. I have the privilege of seeing what he’s like in real life, so I can tell you his life matches up with his words.
Another great place to start is with the podcast he co-hosts with our dear friends, Tsh Oxenreider: A Drink with a Friend. They discuss a sacramental life and finding God in all things. <3 I think you’ll love it.
Side note: Speaking of podcasts, Shannan Martin and I have discussed starting one once our books are written. I feel safe saying we are both ill-equipped for such an endeavor, but girls can dream! We are really good at dreaming about it.
Last but not least, if you’ve followed me for a while, you know my love for Laura Tremaine runs deep. She is such a leader and my bossiest friend (the kind you thank for saying what she thinks). One of my life’s great desires is to see her boss as many of us around as possible. Her first book is coming out in two days, so add that sucker to your cart! It will be fun, vulnerable, and the perfect prod to share your stuff with a friend. It’s easy, because Laura goes first.
Of course, as always, thank you for allowing me in your inbox. You’re a gift to my real life. Please send ideas, art, and questions to me any time. Let’s show up together.