The Full Spectrum

There is only one element I don’t want here in this jumble of life that is suddenly, surprisingly beautiful to me. Except sometimes I do want it, when the autism augments the good of who my daughter is without adding to her misery, that same misery we all know in one way or another during this life between Edens. What I want is for the autism to diminish, and if it can’t do that in her bodily experience, then at least it can grow smaller within the space it takes up in my imagining and understanding of this wonderful girl. I don’t yet know how to relegate it to its proper place, but I am hopeful. If my favorite house is the messy one now, then I can change and grow, too.

The Dilemma of Desire: Juana Inés de la Cruz

You haven’t heard of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz? You can blame it on centuries of storytellers, the ones who’ve recounted the intellectual traditions of men and ignored the silent and silenced contributions of women. Your ignorance is no surprise. Even in her own day, Juana’s bold public voice was hushed by bishops and priests. It’s been 350 years since she lived, but it’s not too late to bring Juana back. Her words have been here all along.

The Pecan Orchard

The Orchard stands at the end of the road. Waiting. Solid, robust, kindly, full of route and routine, of dank pockets where rain has padded the soil, of the sound of small, dry leaves shaken by the wind. Oh, all the stories I played there: it was a kingdom of the imagined, an arena of the kind of grace that allows for further creation—however misplaced, silly, phantastical, fleeting, and even unreal. 

I’ve Loved This

I have not liked it here, and I’ve felt guilty about not liking it here: I know I should be grateful for a roof over my head, a safe and warm place to sleep, enough money to pay the rent and other bills. I know we were lucky to have six years in our previous place, and to leave it on good terms. Yet I’ve missed the old place and struggled to find reasons to love the new. It has not felt like home, though we’ve adjusted, done our best to make it work. But now, ironically, as we prepare to leave, I’m realizing what I have liked, even loved, about this place. 

All Who Enter Here

When I was younger I came to this plot of land for years—almost 25 in a row—roaming the grassy shoreline, rowing around lily pads and tree stumps poking through the pond water, and running sweaty laps up and down Forshee Road. As an adolescent, I bloomed in the sensual soil of this place. I thrived during weeks like this one now, when I was the child vacationing here with my parents, brothers, and sisters. Year by year, we formed a kind of family liturgy, a joyful way of being together that transcended the reality of the modest little cabin and weedy pond.

What Light There Is

I have become, in the past few years, a seeker of the light. Now that it doesn’t pour over my shoulders each day, unasked and abundant, I’ve learned to keep an eye out for it. I can’t make it appear, but I still crave it, and I am learning to watch for—and appreciate—what light there is. 

Testing Siri

What I love the most about Siri is if I make a mistake—a wrong turn, for example—she doesn’t tell me. She just finds a new path for me without saying, “re-calculating.” Sometimes, I’d make a mistake on purpose, just to see if Siri could find me and figure out what to do with me next. She always did. Only a few times has she told me to, “proceed to the route,” and I do, wondering only for a moment if her robotic female tone sounds mildly snarky and exhausted with me.

A Map of the Heavens in Four Poems

It lies on its side, that large, bell-cupped vessel. With the seraph-scrolled handle meant. For comfort’s grip, meant to hold tea and warmth. It is nearly empty and very cold now, rolling on its curve.

In the other room, I can hear him thrashing. I ignore the sounds, the moaning, finally, the silence. In my chair, I read a magazine, anything to delay. The vault into that high bed with the pillow top.

Meeting Barbara

Romero was blooming last year the week I moved to Pittsburgh. I was intrigued, but busy unpacking and settling in. This year when an email from Phipps announced, “They’re coming to SNIFF you, Barbara,” I decided to go. It was an excuse to run away from home.

Permission to be a Beginner

Taking this pottery class was giving that back to me. I was a beginner again. I wasdoing it simply because it brought me joy. Sitting at the pottery wheel was giving me freedom and space. I’d sit and work the clay, and my mind was at rest. The wheel would spin and the clay would slide through my hands, and I could feel myself relax. It was quiet. I needed that.

Vernal Equinox

Three daybreaks in a row, I spot a long-necked snowy egret, a thing I’ve rarely seen on Ocracoke during crowded summers. I will see a fourth and a fifth before this week is out. I’m cycling on the sound side of this windy barrier island, 20–25 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North Carolina. I’m here in late winter, in time for the run up to Vernal Equinox and to learn from the elegant waterfowl and her windswept empty beaches how to be and think and pray afresh—how to work and play in an uncluttered, unfettered manner.

Wild Wonder: Embodying Faith through Creation Care Camp

At camp, we sing, “All your works are good. From everlasting to everlasting, all your works are good.” We live in that in-between-time, where all things are not yet made right. But when we plant a seed in the ground or prepare a feast for thirty campers or delight at the soft touch of a newborn lamb, we are partaking in the heavenly Kingdom. The plant, the bread, the created life of the little lamb—from everlasting to everlasting, ALL of these things are good. 

My Days with Charismatic Megafauna

Not only will I help you pack this elk out, I will tan the hide to show you how much I care. My parents showed me a healthy marriage takes patience, compassion, and humility. I missed the part about applying those values to a good match. In my mind, Chris’s love of the outdoors was enough glue to link our mismatched hearts. We couldn’t have been more different. Why did I marry him?

A Shimmer of Possibility

I remember which bookcase it was on, where it was on the shelf, what the light was like. Maybe I opened it to a sentence that might as well have been in neon, a passage I admired for its construction and loved for its truth. I've kept the book all these years and reread it, or at least part of it, a few times (evidenced by the geological strata of marginal notes). And for decades I’ve kept a little sign on my desk with one of her sentences, printed in a font that now seems to scream 1990s: “Work is the backbone of a properly conducted life, serving at once to give it shape and hold it up.” 

Lessons from Dogs

A wise friend once told me that there is always some element of sacrifice involved to help something or someone else flourish. And in those painful moments reckoning what was happening with the dog that we loved, I realized that blessing creation, both human and non-human alike, might not be what you expect and usually comes at a cost. 

Garden in the East

The body I am tending is a living and organic revelation of the unseen spirit inside. We are sacraments of the One who made us—beautifully and wonderfully made, as the psalmist would say. I am given charge of this garden from season to season, from birth to death. So, what if I tend to the body the way an attentive gardener would his garden? What then? What is the watering? Where is the history buried here beneath the oak? How do I help to bring about the blooming of springtime flowers even as I embrace the stretch marks and surgery scars in the skin that covers my miraculous muscles? 

Lessons in Copycatting

They say good artists copy and great artists steal, so for one, no point worrying about my authorial voice issuing from deep within—I’m an artist, thank you!—and for another thing, why was I born not knowing how to express myself if not so someone could teach me? 

A Car with a View

The ring road was a real-life video game, a high-stakes bumper car ride. I opened my eyes as wide as I could, as if that would help me see better, scarcely daring to blink for fear of missing one of the Fiats or Ferraris zooming around me like moccasins whipping past a lazy water spider. There’s something of the primordial swamp about driving in Italy—it’s very much a sink-or-swim situation, wherein the fittest not only survive, but sprout scales, fins. Wings. I squared my shoulders and lowered my foot on the gas pedal.

Testimonies

Christians love to ask each other how they “got saved.” It’s never been an easy question for me to answer. If you ask, I’ll probably say that I am saved, but also that I am being saved all the time, that it’s a thing I’m working out with more than a little fear and trembling. I’ll say that my “testimony” involves a lot of stories, not just one. My personal history of faith is all bound up in my personal history as a writer and a reader. If you have time to listen, I’ll tell you some of the tales.