Monday, December 30, 2013

the quivering curtain {on being published}

{photo by Jennifer Upton}
I bought a calender on Saturday.

actually, technically, I bought two of them. one is the kind you hang on the wall, with beautiful pictures to look at each day of the month. and then there's the day-planner sort of thing, with each day marked out in lines with space for me to write my plans for the day, the week, the month.

we're at that midpoint. the darkest night is behind us and the bright burst of Epiphany is in front of us, coming closer and closer. closer still is the new year. I always marvel at the way a new year can feel so incredibly fresh, how burning one calender and hanging up a new one can conjure up such a profound change.

and I'm wordless.

I got the email one hour into Sunday morning. the one that started with "dear Rachel," and then the words blurred around me and my blood started pumping so loud in my ears that I could barely focus on anything else. I zeroed in on certain words :: thank you for submitting, we'd like to accept your piece for publication in our next issue...

it's surreal, I think. I say I think because I'm not even sure how I feel about this yet. 2014 is coming, fast, and it's the year I've pledged to open my mouth and put my words out there. I've decreed myself a writer, claiming the title that has been waiting for me to accept it for years. and then, right before the end of 2013, it started.

it's that light, pressing around the edges of the door. we're in the middle between the darkest night and the startling light of Epiphany. it's eager, excited, whispering of magic and wonder and intense power. I can't remember the last time I have felt this level of anticipation and enthrallment over the idea of a new year.
{photo by Jennifer Upton}
it's been a wandering year, a year of thudding and pulsing and weeping and keening and throwing things away and putting others in places of honour. and the further we get, the deeper we slip. I'm starting to understand why.

the stripping isn't over. the pruning and the baring and the birthing is far from over. in some respects, 2013 was the prologue, the overture, that quiver of the cast moving behind the curtain. He and I, we've done battle this year. and we're not done. it's been that slow peeling, that agonizing flailing. and I've stopped least, I think I have. but it's not like He and I are backed into our own corners just waiting for the next bell that supposedly comes when the bell drops. that's not it at all.

it's just the end of one calender and the start of another one.

it's huge and wild and sacred and so intensely huge. I can feel the ground shaking

and I can hear Him roaring.

{more is coming in regards to my being published  by Literary Orphans on January 8th. I'm still processing the joy and the fear that comes with this. words are brewing.}

Thursday, December 26, 2013

the one where I'm resolving to write a book

{photo by Jennifer Upton}
I'm already working on my list of resolutions for 2014.

I know, it might be a bit presumptuous. I might be stepping ahead of myself just a bit. but I'm shivering with the anticipation of what this coming year is going to hold. 

the big one on the top of my list: write a book. my book. my story. my words. it's been brewing inside of me for a long time -- since I was eleven, if you want to get technical. I didn't realize it at the time, of course, but this passion for story has been living inside me since long before I acknowledged its presence. 

the big things are throwing themselves at me, of course. I don't have an agent or an editor, I don't have a clue as to what I'm doing. I've only ever written fiction, save for here on my blog, and I'm not even sure how to put my words out in a way that won't sound ridiculous or overly contrived. 

they're all lies. that much I think I've come to understand over the past year. but they're damn compelling lies. they feel exceptionally realistic, not unfounded. and those are just the surface ones. there's also the big ones, the big "what if"s that take over every scrap of my mind if I'm not careful. 

what if no one buys my book? what if no agent thinks my words are worth it, whatever that means? what if...what if my words hurt someone? these are the big ones, the ones that keep me up at night. the ones that lead me to light incense in my kitchen and practically fling myself into the Ocean of Him, whispering, won't You please just take me all the way down? 

the funny thing is, I couldn't even bring myself to acknowledge that I am a writer until this past year. if anyone asked me, I'd respond with, oh, I'm a blogger. and I do NaNoWriMo. but I'm not published. I'm not a real writer or anything.

{photo by dramaticelegance}
this looming year, this precipice year, is already brimming. it's like when you're standing on a cliff beside the sea, and you can't see the waves, but the ground is growling and shuddering and trembling beneath your feet. and you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the sea is there. just one or two more steps, and you'll be off the edge. you'll be falling. 

I'm still not sure what this means for me. and I won't deny the terror. I won't deny the fear that comes with the unknown, and the wondering, and the what if's. like I said, they're everywhere.

but He knows. 

and He's standing between me and the lies, the cliff coming up behind me, and He's roaring the holiest of expletives at the ever-creeping fears. 

leave her the eff alone. she's Mine.

and still He's stepping forward, toward me, urging me onward. His eyes are telling me jump. just jump. 

so that's what 2014 is. here on the edge, six days from the start. I don't have a parachute. I don't have wings, at least not that I can see. so the plan is :: I have no plan. the rules are that I'm listening and I'm breathing and I'm taking that final step right off the edge and I'm letting myself float in midair on a puff of Lion's breath. 

and so, in 2014, I'm leaping off a precipice. 

I'm going to write a book. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent and the Von Trapps

{via Jennifer Upton}
I cry every time I watch The Sound of Music. I've seen the film about thirty times, the stage production about seven times. and yet, the tears come every time. 

it's that moment when the Captain looks into a crowd full of his countrymen and softly sings the song of his people, the anthem of the country he loves so very much. there is so much story behind his eyes, a tale that the rest of the faces looking up at him and his wife and his children do not know. but they feel that same thing that he does. we all do. 

and I can't help but compare that moment to this season, to these final moments of Advent. I cannot help but take that moment and hold it against the fabric of this silent night that we are pressed deeply within right now. 

we are steeped deep within this season, our entire selves wrapped up in this time whether we want to be or not. it's unavoidable. there is a holy clamouring that comes right alongside the hushing and the softly flickering candles. 

there's a volume to this season, and it's more than just the screeching of the shopping centers. it's more than the cries of the ones who insist we are victims in a war against us, raising their voices so high against the "happy holidays" greeting that they're drowning Him out. 

it's that moment when you realize that even in silence, there is a noise. it's not about pressing the world out, locking our doors and demanding peace on earth at the top of our lungs. it's realizing that even on that stage, with the music and the song and the clapping of a thousand Austrians, it was most likely the most roaring silent moment of Captain Von Trapp's life. 

{photo by Jennifer Upton}
he was soon to wander. he was soon to take his seven children and his bride over the mountains on foot to escape the hands that sought to drag him beneath the darkest waters that he had ever encountered. but there he stood, fingers strumming the guitar held in skillful fingers. and he sang, may you bloom and grow forever....bless my homeland forever. 

and that is this season, taken from words with no holy intent, but summed up so perfectly. because we are reaching inward toward come thou long expected Jesus. we are welcoming in silence He who brought a wild noise. we are pressing knees against straw-strewn floors as we reach out, whispering, toward the infant I AM. 

but He is the one who was born a radical, with thinking so far outside the box of the words being spoken from the temples of His day. there was wildness in Him, a strange sort of peaceful ruckus. 

He is soon to wander. He is soon to place human feet on the ground sculpted by He-Who-Sees. He is soon to face the darkness of a Father's back turned as the sin of all the world and time fell upon His shoulders. He is soon to rise with cracking and shaking and thunder. 

this is the time of wild, loud, keening peace on earth. 

at the sound of His roar, 
sorrows shall be no more. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

laughing at Jesus

{photo by jennifer upton}
I remember the first time I went to the mission. I don't remember how old I was, but I remember it was cold. I was with my grandfather and his friend, a chaplain whose name I can't recall. I know I was young.

and I remember the first time I ever heard someone laugh at the name of Jesus.

I had never seen a prostitute before. I don't think I even knew what the word meant. but I remember her clothes :: black leather jacket, hot pink shirt that plunged lower than anything I had ever seen. I remember her hair, box-blonde with obvious dark roots, piled up on top of her head. I remember the cigarette dangling from her fingers.

she was sitting behind me on the plastic chairs. the chaplain asked, when you hear the name Jesus, what do you think? and the woman laughed and screamed, holy schmoly. effing Christians!

the chaplain kept in stride, never breaking for a second. I remember that. he pointed to her and repeated the first part of her words like a teacher accepting answers from a crowd of boisterous students, glad they were speaking at all.

I don't remember anything else that was said after that. 

I had never heard someone respond that way to Jesus. I never even knew that existed, never knew that people thought that way about Christians. I was confused, hurt, a little girl who had grown up with Jesus from day one and never even dreamed that someone wouldn't like Him. why didn't she love Christians?

{photo by jennifer upton}
and then I grew up. and I started seeing that woman more often.

obviously it wasn't the same face. but the eyes were identical. I saw her everywhere, in crowds and in churches. I found her in the supermarket. I noticed her at the post office. I realized that I was friends with her.

and now I understand that laughter. I hear it differently. it was mocking, caustic, and was laden with so much pain. it was the sound of a woman who had been slapped and kicked and knocked down a thousand times, had reached out her hand, and had someone spit in her face.

she had been given up on by the ones who were supposed to be the hands and the feet. I don't know every step she took. but she is familiar to me now. her story is one I understand, her words are ones I completely comprehend.

He didn't come for us to look down, to refuse to meet the eyes of humanity. He was born for lifting up. for getting dirty. for putting on skin and blood and pain. He touched.

can't we?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

the theft of words

you want the truth? I forgot about plagiarism.

I'm not in high school or college anymore. the word stopped being something I heard all the time. but somehow, it was one of those things that slipped away from me.

plagiarism is one of those things that almost seems surreal. it's the concept of taking the work of someone else and putting it out into the world under your name. in the literary world, it's the taking of words. someone else's words, breathed from their spirit, and putting your name on them.

it's theft.

and then it happened today, right in front of my nose. a post made its way around the internet, a good post, one that felt familiar but it felt good also. I shared it, so did others. we commented and ooh'd and ahh'd and tweeted the link to our corner of the internet. and then today, we understood why it felt so familiar.
{photo by Jennifer Upton}

someone else had written it, long before it made its way to this new space. the words we were sharing, they didn't belong to this new voice. they were taken. stolen.

it makes me feel like I'm watching The Little Mermaid. a voice stolen, pulled from a throat and swallowed down into someone else's body. it's a deeply personal destruction. if you take someone's television or their wallet, you're taking a piece of earth. something physical, something replaceable.

when you take someone else's words, you're taking a piece of spirit, a piece of themselves. sometimes, it's not replaceable. the words can be repeated, but there is something deeper taken. it's a guttural, visceral violation.

i don't understand why it's ever done.


there's a big lie out there, one that seems to slip in among the writers like poison gas that can kill us while we are completely unaware. it's the lie that you don't have words. it's the lie that you have no story, that you have nothing to say of worth. it's the lie that your words don't exist.

but there's something we've forgotten. there was a Voice in the beginning, speaking words over empty space and watching light and earth and sea and sky and plants and creatures appear from the void. simply through words. His words. His song.

and then, on the sixth day, there came more words: come and let Us make man in Our own image. hands and words joined together, art of a whole different sort began. He spoke, and there was Life.

do you know what that means? do you understand?

{photo by Jennifer Upton}
you are made of words. 

your skin. your soul. your wild parts, your sacred parts, your everyday parts. it's all words. they're waiting, lingering just beneath the surface. you have your own words.

you don't need someone else's words to make you a writer. 

you have a story. it's pulsing beneath the surface. you have thoughts, points, valid observations about the world around you. you have a voice. and maybe it's a little rusty from lack of use. maybe it's a little skittish because of the way you were treated. maybe it's a little soft because you weren't taught how to raise it up.

but it's there.

you don't need someone else's words to make you a writer because you already have your own.

because you already are your own

Monday, December 16, 2013


{photo by jennifer upton}
I found my word for 2014. and it's a scary one.

normally, I keep this under wraps until right around the end of the month, the end of the year. there's something about that cresting that has always appealed to me. I appreciate symmetry, waiting for the start of the end to speak about what word is to come. but this year, this year is different.

this year is a big one.

it's been building, this strange activity that I started just for fun. I had no idea that He would use it to change me, shape me in such a powerful way. how could I have known? it was just a clever pastime, something everyone was doing.

in 2012, it was brave, that word I now use far more freely than I ever imagined I would. but He heard me and whispered, brave you will be, dearheart. but it must be built. 2012  was a year of expectancy, of pregnancy, of birthing, of pain and sickness and surgical knives. it was the year of delivery. it was the year of motherhood.  

then came 2013, and with it, came release. I remember wondering, why this word, and thinking of what it could mean for me. I wanted to be made new. I just forgot that Holy fire was often involved. it brought me the first year of my daughter's life, the loss of a dream house and the finding of another. it showed me that I'd forgotten how powerful grief could be as I mourned the death of one grandmother and brain cancer in another.

now 2014 is right around the corner, and it's breathing soft down my neck. it's not stalking me, it's not threatening me. but it is making me quiver as it breathes the word straight from the mouth of the Lion, whispering it over my soul.


when I heard the word, curled under a quilt beside the Christmas tree while Survivor played on the television, my everything shook and I wept. there was something overwhelming about this word. simple letters, laid together in order, enough to make me tremble with the power it brings.

{photo by jennifer upton}
first I was brave, brave enough to climb the mountain. and then came the releasing, the start of the shedding, finding what was holding me back and weighing me down. and now I am on the precipice. and as my precious sister Elora spoke to me, prophetess that she is: nothing is holding you back now. you've released everything. now you're free to fall.

I've talked about this birthing before, this cervix-like opening, a Red Sea of blood with my soul as a midwife and the Lion of Judah as a coach at my back. it's standing on the edge of a cliff with the water beneath me. the waves are beating and the rocks are shaking and my footing is a combination of steady and unsure.

I've been shedding, chips of me falling off and splashing into the water. and now, here comes 2014, right around the corner. and my toes have found the very edge.


nothing holding me back. I'm free to fall.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

wild night, holy night

{photo by me}
I want to talk about the wildness.

did you know that this season is the start of the wilding?

we don’t talk about it, we don’t focus on it, hardly ever. we focus on the two extremes, the war on Christmas or the silence of the must-be-holy.

there is the madhouse of the mall, the shopping centers pulsing and writhing with need and want and heads down to make it from one aisle to another. or there is the Silent Night, the soft moments that are left behind the closed doors of imagination, the things that cause lit candles to flicker to the tune of Oh Holy Night

those are your options. pick one and have done.

but I can’t. I can’t release that wildness, the one we feel obligated to leave at the door as we find our places in the pews in their special liturgical rows. because there was screaming and howling and blood, so much blood. and was there even a midwife, anyone save the rough carpenter hands fumbling? It was foreign, one virgin touching another in a way far different than they could have anticipated.

there was wildness. this I promise.

but it’s not just the cave and the hills and the shepherds humming the song of the expectation to their flocks. It’s not just the mooing of cows to the tune of birthing screams.

it’s the sacred conflict, the holiness of the One long awaited slipping in a rush from body to hands in darkness. it’s the way we strip away this rawness, this wildness, the very moment the tree is tucked away and the candles are guttering in their sconces.

{photo by jennifer upton}
we wipe Him down and place Him neatly on His prepared shelf, and say, “there You go. You were so dirty, and now You look like us.”

it’s not that He was Anglo-Saxon or Mediterranean, it’s not that He was born in humble state and then raised up high. it’s that He was born wild, raised in His own Messianic rebellion. and then He poured out the essence of Himself on the ground into a puddle that splashed against their shoes.

but we would rather see Him clean. His birth was blood and straw. His life was dirt and wind and callouses on His fingers and blisters on His toes. His death was blood and splintered wood. His burial was ice cold stone and humbly woven linen strips.

there is a reason for the falling to knees and whispering, “oh night, divine.” 

because what is more holy that the Mighty taking a seat beside the bleeding and pulling them against themselves? what is more sacred than the Lion taking the wounded lamb and letting her blood turn His mane from brown to crusty sodden red?

oh, holy night. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

anticipating scarcity

{photo by Jennifer Upton
I am vibrating. 

there's really no other description for the way I'm feeling than that. vibrating :: a quivering, a throbbing. it's more than just anticipation. in a sense, it's an overwhelming soul-tremor. 

this season is a cracking. it's foreshadowing of the next season of Holiness, for the breaking and bleeding and the tearing from top to bottom. there will be an earthquake then, too, as angel feet brush against stone. it's an opening in the darkest of places. it's a springing forth in complete darkness. 

there's a reason this is my favourite time of year. it's the time of the year where the darkness is not only expected, it's accepted. there's a word that flutters around the December page on the calender :: scarcity.

but then, that's been a theme over the entirety of 2013. a thousand things happened this year, things that filled me with more conflicting emotions than I thought a person could contain without exploding. there was grief so great it threw me on the ground, there was euphoria beyond my wildest
imaginings. there was loss and love and a mighty settling. but there was a scarcity.

a scarcity of knowing. 

there was peace, even amid the tremors. but there was barely any sort of knowing. and honestly? I'm not expecting 2014 to have any more knowing within it than 2013. I stepped into 1/1/2013 with a word on my tongue: release. and oh, every time I take a word, I wait for the impact. it always comes. and this year was no exception.

{photo by Jennifer Upton}
there was so much releasing. there were times that the letting go was pried from my tightly clenched fingers. I did not want to let go off the house that I was sure was the perfect one, my magic purple dream house tucked in the woods. I didn't want to let my grandmother go, but then, I didn't have a choice on that one, either.

but then, He was a table-toppler. He didn't come to settle into a corner with a cluster of lambs gathered around His feet. He came to stand in the gap, to stretch His arms out and shake things up. but He came in silence, first.

it's so appropriate that we end the year on this Savior-coming note. this Advent, this expectation. that's how every single year ends, wrapping its arms around us and crooning gentle against the ears of our souls.

yes, things will be scarce. and there will be such weeping, and such shouting, and such laughter, and such brokenness that you fear you will never stand again. but breathe, dearheart. there will always be air. and there will always be Me.

my word for 2014 :: it's coming, slowly. it'll be here when it needs to be. things never happen the same way twice. but there will be scarcity, this I know. and maybe it's time that I sat in the light of a candle, incense smoke swirling, and allowed it to settle here with me.

there is a scarcity of knowing

but never a scarcity of promise. 

meeting poetry

{photo by jennifer upton}
I remember where she found me, a step beyond the shelves of
appropriate and good Christian girl.
she found me in the place
where technically, neither of us were supposed to be.

she was forbidden, but only a little, because her big sister
was the right kind of words
the kind that might not send me to hell, the kind that King David
penned and approved.

I found her in the wanna-be classroom, the place where
I hid my black lipstick and let the hair hang into my eyes
she was key-shaped angst and a forbidden road to the required
she whispered, “drink me,” and I obliged.

she was sin
or maybe she was water turned to wine
the kind that they disapproved, but that He raised in a glass
and spoke, “this is My blood.”

she turned me into smoke, the good kind
incense and candle wisps,  
the kind they said would send me down a road too wide

and He and She and I were okay with that. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

when you haven't written a book

{photo by Jennifer Upton}
I'm the blogger than hasn't written a book.

it's funny, and then, it's not, because everywhere you look anymore, having a book with your name on the cover and your picture on the back is becoming the norm. at least, in my circles, it is. and it's damn intimidating.

it's hard to feel like a lioness when you're mewing and scratching at the door in your own head.

recently, I wrote for Preston Yancey about what women want from the church. my answer was voice, the chance to stand up and speak on par with all the other masculine heads that tower above me. and then i start to get a good look around me, and I start to think, well, maybe my voice doesn't count because it's never been between two covers. 

I am Alice, tumbling down the rabbit hole with nothing to hold onto, finding myself flat on my face in a strange sort of Wonderland. I'm a flower with the wrong kind of petals, they whisper...or am I just imagining it because I'm too scared to admit that maybe I might fit in here after all?

I don't have an MD, but then, I'm not a doctor. I'm a healer with a satchel of words. I feel like a midwife in a world full of modern medicine. and it's not wrong, because there's a time and a place for those who have greater experience in other areas than me. but sometimes you just need that silence, the hands that wrap around your shoulders and whisper, breathe through this. I've got you. 

this is how I will {eventually} write my book. this is a vow to myself. it's a pledge that my words belong in hands, shared over coffee and firelight, breathed from one mouth to another.

I just hope that I'll eventually find my corner and admit to myself that I myself am breathed from the lips of Holiness, that every fibre of my being hums with the chorus of the Spirit-Song composed before the dawn of time.

I'm the blogger that hasn't written a book.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

the f-word

i remember the first time i said the f-word
in front of my mother.
and her face turned pale and she cleared her throat and spoke
“you know we don’t approve of that word.”

i remember the first time i wrote down the f-word
in my journal.
and my fingers quivered and i whispered inside myself
“do I really approve of that word?”

i remember the first time i said the f-word
to my husband.
and he smiled with his eyes from the driver’s seat and said
“good. I’m proud of you.”

i remember the first time i said the f-word
in relation to Jesus, spoken casually about Him, in His direction,
and i  felt power flow out of Him and heard the wind whisper
“that’s right.

I’m a feminist too.” 

{i'm doing 40 days of poetry, a new adventure for me. i'm sharing them with you, little bits at a time.} 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

the Holiness midwife

{photo via dramaticelegance}
dear you,

yes, you, the one with the Charlie Brown Christmas tree and the pile of tangled lights. you, with the expectation piling up in droves around you while sparkling decorations and Christmas carols threaten to drown you in a haze of grief and overwhelming fog.

it's okay.

it's okay to shut down Pinterest and buy cookie dough from the store. it's okay to leave the elf off the shelf and the cardboard star hanging sideways off the top of the tree.

it's okay to bury your head in your hands and sob to the tune of Jingle Bell Rock because you're too exhausted and worn down to turn the radio off.

because that's not the point, is it?

this is the season of Word becoming Flesh, the season of being stripped down to beyond the nothing. sometimes, it's even a time of fear. because waiting can be scary when you can't see beyond that curve in the road. it's a pregnancy, an expectant quivering. it is a cracking, an opening cervix through which blood will stain and Life will come.

it's the time of imperfection. if we were perfect, there would be no need for this season, for this waiting for the cry of One who came to gather us into Himself. for the One born of blood who came to bleed. He was born to stain, to leave a mark on all He touched.

He was not born for tidy.

it's okay to let go. to relax and let it come. we scream through the contractions and labour through the waiting. the Holiness is the midwife to this birthing, strong enough to bear it all.

and so you, you dear beautiful expectant soul. there is so much permission here. there is permission to breathe and pause. there is permission to quiver. there is permission to be imperfect.

sometimes you have to fight to find the sacred in the Advent. sometimes, you light a candle amid the piles of dishes on the kitchen counter and close your eyes and whisper,

i am waiting, i am listening. 

{this is another in my Story prompt series. would you joint us? there is always room for you}

Sunday, December 1, 2013

a letter to December

dear December,

you begin on a Sunday this year, and i love that, because that's symmetry and my heart likes that. it feels right to begin at the beginning of the beginning.

you're permission for me. this is Advent, expectation of newness. it's always been sacred for me. it's not just you, December, with your specially marked pages and the little square boxes all in a row. because i'm more than just boxes, and you know that.

but then, so is He.

i feel so often like all the mystery has been drained out of Faith, that is is left only to words from experienced mouths, eyes that have read the same words but understand them "better." they tell us what to see, and our eyes must find focus or else we are assumed to be wanting.

but you, December. you, season of Advent. you, Son of Man. you, Word made Flesh. you are permission to embrace the mystery. you are the entryway into all the things that so many who walk in and out of those familiar doors find to be sacrilege.

but you come with a breath of icy cold and nights so dark they are almost blue and glittering whisper of a thousand stars. you come with heartache and tears and pain just as much as you come with sacredness and magic. you come with devastation and you come with expectancy.

but you are also a promise.

oh come, oh come, Emmanuel. 

{this is another in my prompt series from story sessions. we are a community of women, of writers, of seekers. join us?}