Beautiful Day

It’s a beautiful day. The sky is periwinkle blue. Across a cornfield lie the brown hills of the coastal range, the ridgeline so clear I could cut it from the sky with a scalpel. It’s hard to imagine just two weeks ago, the sky was so orange with smoke that people were recreating scenes from Blade Runner in downtown San Francisco.

This year has been set up to mean so many things. In January, it was a year of promise, a phenomenon this world won’t witness again for a thousand and one years. “Will you do something for me this year, God?” That’s what I prayed. Take some action, move my life forward. I tried not to be specific, but there were things I’d been waiting for: a house, a career, a book, a car, a man. I had put in my time. I felt like I had been faithful and patient. And slowly, like steady drops in an empty bucket, I had begun to see results.

In the beginning of 2020, I felt I had grown to be more trusting. More loving toward who God made me. More beautiful, more at peace. I won a scholarship to attend a writing conference and I was having dreams.

And then, March.

I actually don’t remember the week all hell broke loose in our country. When skyscrapers were collapsing all around me, coming down like the Twin Towers. One then the other. Things I had been hoping for, praying for, suddenly gone. And voices in authority telling me it was all for my own good.

So I rebelled. I fought against the taking of things: freedom. Common sense. Community. I found myself surrounded suddenly by tape marks on the pavement, masks, and shuttered windows. Nauseating mantras were slung around: “we’re all in this together,” “stay safe.” For a week, I hid, too. Then when my adrenaline expired, I was left standing alone in the ashes of a changed world.

But has it changed?

I walk into a forest. The trees stand mighty in the wind. The river flows steady by my feet. Out here in farm country, the melons and the pumpkins are growing. The almonds have been harvested–it’s a strong crop this year. Outside on my new back porch, my morning glories are blossoming, moon-discs of purple among the heart leaves. The plants haven’t heard of the Coronavirus.

Neither, it seems, has God. In July, He gave me a house. In August, He gave me a car. Fourteen years of waiting, and in the midst of fires and riots, He gave me blessings. So I asked Him about it. Why now, God? Why 2020?

He answered.

“This year is what I say it is.”

Not politicians. Not doctors. The narrative we’re living is still God’s story, and while we scurry around like ants on a hill that’s been flooded, He still holds the pen. And he’s always writing.

Now it’s September. There are still three months left in the year.

I can’t wait.

March 2020

Right now, looking out the window you see chaos. Empty shelves, long lines. Locked doors and six-foot isolation zones. It feels like the world’s being torn apart, but I see people coming together.

At Rite Aid, I see a family holding up the checkout line with a cart full of Coke and a notebook of coupons. Six of them, arguing in Spanish with the cashier, but arguing together. Friends are riding their bikes along the quiet neighborhood streets. I see a family of five walking together on a spring afternoon, the brother and sister holding hands.

People are talking now. Strangers in line. Isn’t this crazy? I’ve never seen anything like it. And they laugh. The girl behind the print counter at Staples (Asian) laughing with a customer (black) about how to make hand sanitizer with vodka and aloe vera, and them both glancing at me in line (white) to see that I’m laughing, too. The cashier at Target asks me how I’m surviving the end of the world and I say she has cute glasses. Because they are cute, but maybe before, I would have swiped my credit card and she would have called “next,” and our stars would have touched shoulders for a moment, then drifted on.

It’s spring. It’s a beautiful spring. The cherry trees are blooming, the tulips are unfolding. I saw a mother hen with eleven yellow chicks in the grass on the side of the road. In the driveway in a neighborhood, two men were home from work, sitting in lawn chairs and talking in the sun.

It’s a blessing. Time. Days to be still. Hours to sit on the porch and read, to pick up the paintbrush, to call your cousin in Texas and ask how are things over there, are you okay? I just wanted to hear you’re okay.

It makes me think of World War II. I wasn’t alive then, but was it a little like today? All of a sudden people fighting the same enemy, caught in the rapids of things they can’t change. Weddings, flights, birthdays, conferences, home groups cancelled, everything bound up and reigned in with a jolting halt. Because we’re all in this together. Our enemy is the same, and it isn’t each other.

In the end, the fear will mist away. The sun will rise, the dream will end, and we’ll sweep up the shattered glass and the broken chairs. We’ll scrub the smoke stains from the walls, button on the suit, and go back to work. But maybe we’ll take something with us. A memory of three weeks of stillness when the Corona virus came to town and we survived and got the t-shirt. Do you remember March 2020? They sent me home from school, I played video games for a month and my mom almost killed me. Those were some good days.

Worthy

This is for anyone who doesn’t know what is going on. You’ve done everything right. You’ve checked all the boxes. You went to college and made the honors list. You buy organic groceries using your own bags. You give coffee to the homeless guy standing on the island in the center of the street. You’ve gone to church since you were in your mother’s womb. And God doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo.

You know he doesn’t work like that. He’s not a tame lion. But you were hoping. It seemed to work for other people. There was a woman in my church who prayed for her student loans and she received a check in the mail for $30,000, and she brought it to church and held it up, crying, saying God answers prayers. But my student loan account is still full, and I’ve been on income driven repayment since graduation. At this rate, I won’t pay it off until I die.

Does it feel selfish? Asking for a miracle? Asking God, I’ve been the other son. The non-prodigal. The one who stayed at home and tended his father’s flocks while his brother ran off to Vegas, and you haven’t given me a lamb to celebrate with my friends. Why do other people get married, have kids, have boyfriends, and here I am in the corner, a shadow on the wall. I’ve never kissed a guy. No one’s ever asked.

Then here it comes, the guilt. Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow. Oh, praise the one who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead. Oh, praise the one who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead. Jesus.

It slaps you across the face. Who am I? Who am I to demand a little respect, a little golden sprinkle down from heaven once in a while? What has all this been for, all these years, dragging myself to church, writing the ten percent checks, raising my hands in worship, trusting God will make all things work together for my good? That he has a plan for me, and his plan is good, and I have a hope and a future. Where is the hope? Where is the future he promised?

Is it right now? Am I living in the future now, is all this part of his plan, or was it right, what that man told me who said God loved Jacob because Jacob put in the sweat and he put in the time. God honored Jacob for asking seeking knocking searching striving after God, shaking the pillars of heaven until letters rained down from God’s desk, secret notes that slipped from the surface and dropped through the clouds. Blueprints no one had seen, not even the angels, because they were still just sketches in God’s mind. But Jacob shook and he asked and he wrestled with God, because that’s what God really wants, someone who can throw a punch. Not some whining crying little girl in the closet with a pile of snotty tissues, begging God please please please listen to me. Hear me. I want to know you. I don’t care what you do for me or don’t do for me. I just want to know you. Be close to you. Why aren’t you here?

I know it doesn’t matter. The little things I see each day, reminders that I’m still on Earth. But I am still on Earth. This is where I live, because this is where God began my story. And I’m here, with the dust and the smog and the blossoming almond trees and the Corona virus, and the orange and purple sunset smeared across the watercolor sky. And on Earth, it matters when you gain twenty pounds. After you signed up for the gym and pushed through the pain went on that boring diet and what do you know, it worked! You lost twenty pounds. And then two years later, you have too much birthday cake and gain it all back. But every time I look in the mirror, I see that cake pudging out from my belly and the fear crawls over me like a spider, saying now you’ve gone and done it. And it grins a wicked smile.

That’s not God. I don’t know what he’s doing up there in the yonder. But it’s not him, the voice that’s sneaking over my shoulder saying you’re not good enough, you’ll never be good enough, did you think he was paying attention? He’s too busy for you. He’s got wars and starving orphans in Africa and the untouchables in India and the underground churches in China. He’s got the whole damn world in his hands. What are you? Little miss disappointed American.

But God sees me. I know it. Because last weekend I sprained my ankle in the parking lot outside of In-n-Out, just walking off a curb. And while my brother was driving me home, when I still couldn’t think because my ankle was throbbing and how am I going to pay for this and I’m not going to get to go backpacking this summer, I heard a little voice. A nudge in my chest, like God’s hands reaching down through the filaments of heaven and encircling my heart, saying he’s here.

That’s all.

He’s here.

And sometimes, I think that’s all he needs to say.

Mercy Snows

Denver is a curious place. Here, the saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” It’s winter in Denver: earlier this week, it was sunny and sixty outside. I went hiking. The next day, it was snowing. I like to think there’s a magician who lives up in the mountains, practicing his weather control. He gets away with it, you see, because people attribute the weather to the mountain range messing with air currents. I digress.

A few days ago, I was sitting quietly in the morning watching the snow fall–fat, white, conglomerate flakes drifting down from thin clouds. I’ve been feeling lately that I’m in a sort of winter. I’m in a quiet time of my life, waiting for the seeds I’ve planted to take root, watching the world exist and move around me. But me, I’m here–waiting like a solitary, bare tree in a field. From what I can see, very little seems to be happening to move me forward into the next active phase. And I’m not sure I want to move there.

The interesting thing about the winter, though, is its stillness. It’s in the winter that snow falls, accumulates. This snow builds up a store of water which nourishes the world for the rest of the year to come. In the west, most of our water supply comes from snow melt. In years with a dry winter, the west goes into a drought–again. 

Winter is beautiful. It is rest, quiet. I don’t have to do so many things. Because of the cold, I am drawn inside to the intimacy of fellowship with God and with other people. Each snow flake is a unique raindrop of His mercy, frozen in a delicate shape just for fun, packaged in ice for the long haul. They fall in the coldness of grief, or pain, or weariness. Yet there is a shelter from the cold: Christ, and houses with heaters and cozy blankets. And even while God is sheltering me, He’s building up a snow pack within my heart: truths learned in the quietness, moments of simply resting in Him and enjoying His presence.  Long conversations with good friends. Standing by the window watching the snow fall, allowing myself to watch the world with the eyes He gave me. God is a fantastic multi-tasker.

I saw all this in the flakes falling outside my window: individual miracles, and so many thousands of them. My toothbrush. Light particles. Fingernails. When I go brush off my car, I’m scooping blankets of mercy onto the ground. 

Thank you, Lord, for your mercy snows. For stillness, and for my toothbrush. 

 

  

The Beginning

And so it begins: a single letter becomes a word, a word joins a sentence, sentences compile into paragraphs, and somehow you’ve written entire pages, and you have a blog. Blog…that’s an interesting word. I believe it’s short for “web log,” but I haven’t researched it. If you know the background of that word/term, please feel free to enlighten me. Do you ever wonder about words? Where did it come from, why do we use it instead of another combination of syllables and sounds: a rose by any other name, right? Does that work with names, too? If I were named Angelica instead of Charlene, would my life be any different? My parents considered naming me Angelica. I don’t mind that name, but I’m glad they picked the one they did. I don’t feel like an “Angelica,” if stereotypes are allowed.

Hello, welcome to my blog! I have this crazy idea that someday I’d like to be a writer. But then I learned that “someday” won’t come unless I get out and start working to make it come. That’s why I’m in college at Colorado Christian University near Denver working on my BA in English, with an emphasis in creative writing. I’ve hoped to be a writer and novelist since elementary school, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I had the brilliant idea to work harder at improving my writing, and college was a good place to do that! Funny how those obvious things don’t really hit you until you’ve rolled through the sandpaper of life and sit up, blinking and rubbing your skinned knees, realizing Mommy can’t kiss and make this one better. You have to push yourself up. It’s tough and cold, but I think those times make the warm ones sweeter, gives them more substance.

And so I acknowledge my own audacity to hope. I work, play a bit, and work some more. But always there’s this songbird of hope, like in Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope is the thing with feathers.” Sometimes I shoo the bird and fume when it insists on staying. Hope is so unreasonable. Maybe that’s why we hold onto it so tightly, because it insists on belief in the miraculous. What do you think?