You were made for the impossible thing.
You were made for the goal you cannot conceivably achieve. You were made for the task you are ill-equipped to manage. The high bar you can never reach.
You were made for the thing that terrifies you the most. The thing those others can do but never you.
You were made for the dream too good even to dream.
Some of you know this. You have already seen that the impossible thing slowly, gradually becomes more than just an impossible thing. It becomes a prayer. In other words, impossibility is shot through with cruel desire. You hardly know how it happens, but somehow you begin to want this impossible thing.
Until, one day (but truly it is never one day; it is always slowly over many days) the prayer is answered. The promise inherent in prayer is fulfilled. And the impossible thing becomes a gift, given freely.
Writing is my impossible thing. It is the dream I buried in a million books. Books I was convinced I could never write.
My friend Cara Strickland, a writer of delicious details, sent a few questions my way. They are questions meant for writers, but I’ve been considering them with all our many impossible dreams in mind.
I am working on noticing.
The more I notice, the more convinced I become that our lives, and the world in which we live them, are not the chaotic, meaningless jumbles they often appear to be.
When I notice the connections among a few dots, I write out those connections here on this blog. I try to do this once per week, but dots do not always obey our commands (pleas, bribes, etc.) to reveal their associations.
But I keep showing up and, sometimes, I am rewarded.
Slowly (very slowly), I am also writing out the connections among some bigger dots. Dots like homesickness and desire and kingdom come. I am gathering up these bits in a file called “My Book.” We shall see whether the title of this computer file proves itself prophetic.
- How does your work differ from others of its genre?
One of my greatest fears is that it does not. That, indeed, there is nothing new under the sun. But I find in the Psalms a command that has also become my prayer: “sing to the Lord a new song.”
I think this is why we are here on this planet. To sing to our God a new song. But, like most commands we find in the Bible, it is impossible. It asks too much. Every word I write rings in my ears like an echo of some other, better writer.
But I am learning to stand in the river that is the source of every new thing. I am learning to recognize the new when it bubbles up like a spring. New words, new stories, new beauties, new mercies. New is the keyword of the kingdom of God, and we are Christ’s own. We hold the keys to the kingdom.
- Why do you write what you do?
I write because the world holds so much beauty my heart would break if I couldn’t pause and gather some of it up.
I write because there is a river, and it has filled me with good news. Somehow I, the quiet one, the cautious one, want only to “go up on a high mountain” and shout “Here is your God!” (Isaiah 40:9).
- How does your writing process work?
It works like this: I stand near a sink overflowing with dirty dishes, a paper calendar in hand. I carve out quiet time. This is exhausting, difficult work. My knife is never sharp enough. And then, typically, I must let go of the time I have so carefully cut away. The baby does not nap, or the preschooler will not fulfill the “quiet” portion of his afternoon quiet-time obligation, or school is canceled, or I get sick, and on and on it goes.
Until, while wiping the counters or raking leaves or changing a diaper, I am visited by an image. Maybe two. The beginnings of a story.
My friend Laura Lynn Brown sings beautiful songs. She sings with words (you can find her award-winning essay “Fifty Things About My Mother” at Slate). She sings with paintbrush and pencil. She sings with an Irish flute. I’m passing the baton of these questions on to her. Look for her own thoughts on writing and the writing process at her website in the coming weeks.
Now tell me. How do you sing your own new song?
“Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.”
A week ago Friday, Maplehurst’s kitchen was the scene of a pizza party.
Rice flour crusts turned crisp in the oven while puffy dough rested on the counters. Oregano snipped from the pot on the steps turned tomatoes, garlic, and oil into more than the sum of their parts. We sliced fresh mozzarella on one board. We scattered dairy-free cheese substitute on another. We browned sausage from Axel, our local farmer, in the cast-iron skillet.
We baked and sliced and baked again as seven children held out their hands for more.
The pizzas were delicious, but that doesn’t explain the looks on the faces of two mothers who hovered near the table.
“He’s never shared pizza with a friend,” she whispered.
“Never,” I said.
The kitchen table.
It’s a symbol of hospitality. Of togetherness and community. Except, for us, it’s the place where fear draws up a seat. The table doesn’t bridge the divide. It reinforces it.
We say no to potlucks. We decline the invitation to someone else’s Thanksgiving dinner. If we say yes to the birthday party, I bake our own pizza and cupcakes ahead of time.
We don’t often say yes.
A young girl in California is given three injections with the epi-pen but dies anyway. Fear scores one more point.
Always there is another reason to be afraid.
In the daily sifting of life (this is good, this is bad), life-threatening food allergies are our constant Bad Thing.
The pizza party came during the week we hosted good friends, a mother with two daughters and a son. Our big girls were once babies together in Chicago. Their family left the city soon after that, but our lives have run on parallel tracks ever since. Epi pens and questions. Fear and hives. Uncertain blood tests and frighteningly close calls.
Most importantly, we share little boys. One has a grin slightly wider than the other, but they both carry medicines and their own packed food wherever they go.
This shared Bad Thing brought us together for a week, but it turns out Good and Bad can’t be sifted so neatly.
Our week together was perfect summer weather and long drives over green hills past storybook farms. Our week was three little girls laughing and noisy, nightly sleepovers. It was a week of good conversations. Of childish voices singing together during our own at-home Sunday morning service. We swam in the creek. We visited a new Amish farmstand every day.
And the food! Two ears of corn for each person at the table. Watermelon for breakfast, afternoon snack, and dessert. Garden squash even the children enjoyed (the secret? Julienne into matchsticks and cook it up in a pancake).
We ate Japanese fried chicken and ribs cooked on the grill. We dipped spring rolls fried in coconut oil into a no-sugar-needed apricot sauce. We licked our fingers over garlicky green beans, and we smiled over a rainbow of tomatoes dusted with salt and cracked pepper.
I don’t think a week like this would be possible if we handled our fears well. I don’t think it would happen if we tucked them neatly out of sight.
I think we arrived at this week because we felt the full weight of fear on our backs, but we kept on walking. We acknowledged our fear but asked, “Isn’t there more?”
It turns out there is more. Much more.
I’m no longer so confident about naming the good and the bad in my life. What do I know, really? I know that food allergies are terrifying but pizza shared with a friend is the most delicious pizza around, whether or not the cheese is real.
I think even a life lived in the valley of the shadow of death can be beautiful. I don’t fully understand this. I may never be able to explain it or account for it. But I am grateful.
“… the rising sun will come to us from heaven / to shine on those living in darkness / and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
Taken by Yours Truly at Chicago's Art Institute. This painting, with its people like stone columns, always reminds me that living in a crowd is not the same thing as living in community.
Our airplane tilts away over city rooftops, and I feel as if I am leaving home in order to return to a house. It is not an altogether blue feeling (it is a house inhabited by my favorite people, after all), but it is disorienting. An emotional confusion to match a physical one; as the plane banks, I can no longer tell if I am pointed toward ground or sky.
I’ve spent four days trying to understand what I left behind when I moved away from Chicago. It seems important to do this, because I do not yet know if my life is a straight line heading always away from it or a curve that will one day return. I think the only word for what has been lost is community, but that word seems beyond inadequate.
In Florida, when my husband leaves for a business trip, I lie awake wondering who I would call if one of the children had an accident or became suddenly ill. I know that there are people in our neighborhood and people in our church who would graciously, even eagerly, help out, but it would involve some tracking down of phone numbers and many apologies for having “bothered” them in the middle of the night.
Living in community meant that there were no apologies.
We frequently woke to midnight phone calls, whispered midnight prayers for friends in crisis, made beds on the floor for small children whose parents were racing to hospitals. I have rushed behind a curtain in the emergency room to find a friend sitting at my son’s bedside: the friend who held him down for the epi-pen, the friend who drove him to the hospital.
But community is so much more than a safety net.
It is a web of interdependence that is often uncomfortable, even painful. It is the downstairs neighbor who calls (again) because my children are pounding on her ceiling (again). It is the woman pushing the stroller down my street who asks me (again) for bus money. Walking near my old building this week, I saw her, remembered her, and was not at all surprised when she stopped me to ask for money. I passed her again on my last evening in Chicago, and she asked (again) for money. I hand over my bus pass knowing that she will always need, and I hope, for Jesus’ sake, that someone will always be there to give.
Community is trying to keep the kids quiet in the kitchen in order that the group of church ministry leaders meeting in the living room won’t be disturbed. Community is making the bed in the spare room for friends of friends. Community is waking up early to make them breakfast, too.
Community is being inconvenienced.
It is straightening up the living room in order to host a weekly gathering for a church small group when all you want to do is climb into bed. Community is when the unmarried, male graduate student from that same small group surprises you with home-cooked Indian food two weeks after your baby is born.
Community is life in abundance.
This is the gift of the one who made us (the one who said it is not good to be alone): to be poured out again and again in order to be filled again and again. Of course, I am not talking about martyring oneself so that bitterness and resentment destroy all hope of relationship. But I have seen that when I open my hands to give until it hurts I receive … oh, I receive so much in return.
On Sunday, I sat once again in my former church. I was joined by a friend, and we both had tears in our eyes just for the joy of sitting next to one another. She turned to me and whispered, “This is our life,” and I knew just what she meant.
This is our life: it is real, it is now, it is beautiful and difficult, and, above all else, it is shared.