Some Imperfect Thoughts on an Imperfect Faith

I pray for others daily, even though I don’t know how prayer works. Does it “move the hand of God,” as a former pastor used to say, prompting me to visualize an arcade game, a claw crane grasping at tiny rubber ducks? Is it more about the person praying, an engagement with the Holy Spirit that changes our own internal state, so that we become God’s hands and feet in the world? Is prayer an act of connecting to an energetic force, something already at work, and allowing ourselves to feel our participation in something huge and real, something that definitely impacts our hearts and others’ lives? All of these feel true to me on some level, and I don’t need to know definitively to believe in prayer, or to pray.

*

My prayers are flimsy sometimes. Little half-sentences tossed up to God as I drive the car, brush my teeth, chop carrots. Other times they are long conversations that blend into that middle zone of consciousness, between alertness and sleep. Sometimes writing feels like prayer. Sometimes looking at a sunset or into a baby’s eyes, feeling music fall deeply into my chest, putting my hands into dirt feels like prayer. Maybe prayer is a bridge, something that can take many shapes, that leads us from one place to another, even if at first it’s just one step.

*

A perennial worry: That I’m not doing enough to nurture my children’s faith. That my own faith is still forming, still blurred around the edges, so what is it I’m imparting?

*

As a family, we pray sporadically before dinner– short, simple prayers of gratitude for our home, a hot meal, our health, and each other. Sometimes my daughter asks specifically to pray, and surprises me with things I didn’t know she was thinking about. Please help the people who don’t have homes. Please make the virus go away.

*

My husband isn’t Christian, but he’s come along with me to different churches over the past decade or more, as I’ve returned to the faith of my childhood after long absence. He’s sat beside me during sermons, in small groups in people’s homes. He’s helped move couches and tables and loads of compost for parishioners, taken our kids to church events, watched me get baptized for the second time. He’s made me beautiful crosses– a small wooden one for prayer, a metal one I’ve hung near my bed, a tiny silver one on a chain. Sometimes I think he is more of a Christian than I am, in the way he loves. Sometimes I think Christianity is a kind of remedial course for stubborn souls like mine, the ones that keep cycling through lifetimes without shedding the sticky sap of pride, jealousy, arrogance.

*

I believe in angels, and have a strange fear of them. It’s getting better. I mean I feel like I’m closer to entertaining the thought of connecting with them. A friend tells me our angels are waiting for us to ask them for help. They can’t help us unless we ask. I love thinking of this. I used to think of angels like the heavenly version of busy state representatives. I have no idea what they do, and it’s better to just thank them and stay out of their way, lest I disturb their work. But what if they’re actually bored, waiting to hear from us?

*

A related fear: That angels are for people in the bible, not regular people like me, with static cling and a habit of spending just-earned money on tarot cards. That angels, like tarot cards, are a type of spiritually-suspect accessory it’s best not to mention to your Real Christian friends.

*

My daughter draws pictures of angels in long gowns with fairy wings. They always look joyful, and breathless from dancing. One of my favorite memories with my husband is of dancing like fools to 70s funk, at a wedding where we knew only the bride and groom. How much freer you can move in a space like that, where there’s neither a past nor a future, just a feast. That’s how I imagine the hereafter feels. I hope there’s still a specificity to us. I want to dance with Lyle there, and know I’m dancing with him.

*

Last night I dreamt about the industrial areas in our city and the people trying to survive there. Concrete, shadow, graffiti, tarps, tents. Places where the housed and the privileged, like me, don’t go, or where we drive past in sealed, air-conditioned cars. In the dream I could see the beauty possible there, resistance like a hand brake, making a space even for a short time where people are fed, listened to, their wounds cleaned, their clothing washed. I’m afraid to do those things. I’m afraid not to. In the dream they were connected, the places and people abandoned, and the things and images pursued instead. Then the city became my soul, the abandoned places became the parts of me that I choose to neglect and ignore. This is the location of the work I think Jesus does in us, and where God calls us to seek Them. That’s about as close as I get to defining my faith.

*

It’s only partially true that I’ve returned to the faith of my childhood. It’s more like I’ve returned to the address, but the house that was there is gone. Maybe I am rebuilding, or maybe I’m sitting on the bruised foundations, wishing I could remember to seek God with the simplicity of the child I was.

*

Theology overwhelms me, like Costco. So many options, each item massive, containing much more than I feel is necessary, but at the same time not containing all I need. The closest I get to a theological home is Liberation Theology, but even there I hover, unsure if I’m welcome. Does a white, middle class, cisgender woman, living on the unceded lands of the Clackamas, Cowlitz and Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, belong there? Could I ever be anything more than a hypocrite? Is that sort of a given within Christianity anyway?

*

Still at the center of all my questioning, there is someone. A presence, a pulse, a ground. I get annoyed with myself, my whining, my disappointing way of repeating mistakes, but this is what I know to be true: God still calls me Beloved. Has always called me– called all of us, incredibly– Beloved. And that’s reason enough for me to press on, to keep trying to know God and do the work God has for me today.


This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “True”.

Golden Hours

I remember my dad talking about the golden hour when I was a kid. He was the photographer in our family, documenting everything we did with one of an ever-growing collection of cameras and camcorders. We lived a short freeway trip from the beach, and I understood that the golden hour was often at its finest near the water. My dad took pictures, and I wrote poems, so I tried to capture the golden hour in my notebook.

I was a quiet, shy kid who daydreamed a lot and filled ragged spiral notebooks with poems, using my special pen, a Bic wrapped in green florist’s tape with an artificial rose at the top. My mom had put a dropper of rose oil into the flower, so my notebook smelled like ink and roses. I smelled the flower and looked around me. What did the golden hour mean? To me it meant the warm-hued light spreading over the world as the sun spilled behind the ocean again. It meant butter color, velvet shadow, ladders of light leading up or down from the clouds. It meant a feeling that got trapped in my chest like a bird, because another day was ending and it was beautiful and sad at the same time.

Raising my own family, I get that bird-in-chest feeling a lot. It’s this sense of crushing gratitude, love, and wonder at my children’s innocence, their unfettered joy, the unfiltered feelings that pour from them without fear, combined with the weight of impermanence: babies don’t keep.

Golden hours in a house of three small children are more like golden minutes, and they’re sprinkled through long days full of many other qualities– frustration, fatigue, anger, worry, boredom. In our house, my husband Lyle is the family photographer. Where he once focused on landscapes, still lifes, and portraits of friends, he now turns his camera toward our family life. The gift of his photos is something I really treasure.

And, I’ve often felt intimidated to try my hand at snapping pictures myself. I’m at home with the kids most of the time, and there are so many moments I want to catch on film that often dissolve before I can grab the camera. I’ve been a stubbornly-analogue person for most of my life, but I recently got a smartphone with a good camera. I’ve been surprised by how quickly I can snap a photo that I actually like. It’s just on my phone, so it takes the pressure off.

Following some good advice from Ashlee Gadd in an Exhale Creativity resource, I started paying attention to where the light is, what time of day it’s most dramatic, and what it looks like in different parts of the house. This simple practice of noticing what the light does has been nothing short of magical. It’s become an exercise in mindfulness that feels playful and, well, light.

I can practice it in a stray moment when the soup is simmering, on my way to do a load of laundry. It draws my attention to the small and beautiful: a halo of unbrushed hair on my daughter’s head, my son’s bright blue bike making patterns with the shadows from the side gate, my husband’s silhouette as he walks the baby around to calm her in that dicey little half hour before her bedtime.

Little golden hours. A camera as a call to attention. A way to settle the wings in my chest, or maybe release them.


This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Illuminate”.

Home: A Love Story

Once there was a child grown
on the edge of fields where she fell
in love with the smell of chaparral and sage,
gravel-pilfered crater of an old volcano,
lake calming the blight
of quarry, alluvial clay and silt
hardened into trails, in grasses
left unmowed, where the dog
rummaged for rabbits. The houses
came closer, coyote tracks patterned
the yards, remnants of night’s
near howling, and once, a memory:
leaving the sensible
streetlamps, the child went
with flashlight and family
to lake’s edge, searching the beam
for a clutch of mallard ducklings
they’d released that day,
after days of keeping the dog indoors,
watching for mother duck
who never showed, ushering soft
peeping into a fruit crate, mistake,
or was it, sending them out un-
mothered, unwild? Still
now, decades on, the child-not-child
feels the lake settling, rising
in the midst of that dwindling
open space, the stars hemming the place
where streets ended, the clicking of bats
overhead, the crickets
sewing themselves to sleep, the dark
lake-not-lake holding them
somehow at home. To carry that
back in the empty box, thumping
the sides of her mind, its subdivisions
still developing.


This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “280 Words.”