She Was A Readheaded Woman

She loved to sing in her bedroom, just before midnight when the world fell asleep but the nocturnal voices drifted through her music.

She worked in a record store, jamming to Jimmy Hendrix and smiling at the boys who browsed the rows of vinyl. At times she would slip into one of the listening booths and slide the headphones over her ears, turn up the volume and fall asleep to the drowsy longing of Jeff Buckley’s “Lover, You Should Have Come Over.”

Her favorite food was cucumber sushi. She’d buy a plate of it from the local market and let the clustered rice collect on her tongue before tasting the coolness of the veggie. She’d read Proust and imagine she was brilliant.

In winter she’d walk in a midnight blue jacket, puffed like a marshmallow and setting the streetlights in imaginary arrangement of a Christmas tree entrapping the city. She’d sip a salted caramel hot chocolate and let the creamy cocoa spill through her body, reminding herself that she doesn’t need arms around her to block the wind’s cruel chill.

There was a man, once. One who lasted for two years and earned the privilege of seeing her in all her vulnerability. He was an architect by day, painter by night, and struggled to break the balance between them, to tip the scales in favor of one over the other. He moved to Saint Louis and packed his brushes and pencils in boxes that were never opened again, just buried deep inside a closet in the one room apartment he rented while he designed dream homes for wealthy lawyers. She never got over him losing his passion.

Sometimes she wondered where life was going, where her currents would sweep her to. Her parents asked if she was ok, if she was still set financially. Maybe it’s time you get a real job, they told her, gently, as if the harsh words could be softened with a smile. She thanked them for their concern, then stopped in a coffee house to grab a mocha.

Real job. Real life. Real problems. What was reality, anyway?

The pulsing in her heart as she listens to a new song for the first time. The lull of the subway car as she watches houses and children pass in a blur. When her heart beats in time and she dances in the park, dusky shadows swaying alongside her and the pieces of autumn in her hair that turn amber in light’s lullaby.

The presence of this life inside her grows so full she makes no room for sadness in its chambers.

Above the Waterline

They say to trust the Lord and He will help get you through your struggles. But I think that’s something the superficial Christians say to keep them from truly experiencing the underside of God, the side where your heart is a razor cutting into the tender hope laid bare in the bones of your soul. When you are breaking every day, a constant thorn in your side that does not seem to be getting any better or going away any time soon. My heart bleeds for the impossible, and I cannot just turn off the way I feel. My head says trust the Lord because He works all things out for me, but my heart, that bruised, lonely piece of me where real life seeps in, it is not so sure, cannot see the other side because it takes every ounce of energy just to take another step.

Trust, to me, is tiny. It’s baby steps. It’s all I can do to place one shaky foot in front of the other. One breath from my lungs into another. It’s holding my eyes above the waterline, refusing to submerge under the sea. It’s deciding to see God’s goodness in the mundane, for only the moment stretched at my fingertips.

I have to keep telling myself to breathe. I have to literally remind my lips to part and exhale the air I’d been subconsciously trapping within, holding off my heart.

Today is today and tomorrow is tomorrow and that’s all I know. In the bowels of the bad and breaking, it has to be a moment by moment walk with my hand stitched to His. It is one tiny whisper of trust, and then another.

Redemption Song

The Lord redeems all things.

The week that stretched an eternity, knocked away my energy and crashed my computer, accounting for endless hours on the phone, troubleshooting with tech support, taking it in to a repair shop and saying the internal is fried and all my documents and photos, erased—this has been a test of endurance, a realignment of perspective and what matters. No matter what, God is good, and I will hold fast to Him.

After six hours yesterday on the phone with a tech who helped us with a factory reboot so my computer magically runs as if it was brand new, with a clean slate with nothing on it, I was ready to piece documents from an old external drive and what I had emailed to myself over the weeks. But Eric called me over, and we looked at the screen to find it all safely tucked in a cloud-like folder. Hidden and protected somewhere in the sky high above our heads. And now, when I signed in to my account, it all just suddenly was there.

I have no explanation, but I give all praise to God that through this incredibly confusing and frustrating week, He taught us many things, and assured us that He protects, defends, and redeems His children.

A redemption song my soul gladly sings in the middle of a sun-bright morning. He is always good, even in the midst of trial. He is faithful, even when circumstances try to shake our belief. But we remember what matters, what truly lasts—relationship with Him, gratefulness for what we already have, and the privilege to love others well.//

Hallelujah, I have my “life” back with the surprise reappearance of everything. Hallelujah, He has been with me, proving yet again that when I am so very weak, He is strong. He is strong so I can boast all the more gladly in my weakness, showing God for who He is—Protector, Provider, Sustainer, and so much more.

He indeed redeems all things.

 

 

**

Continuing my attempt at the Five Minute Friday weekly writing challenge. Five minutes to write on the assigned topic. Raw and unedited. (Yikes!) This week’s topic: Redeem.   // symbolizes where five minutes started and/or stopped.

Stand Wherever I Am

Tired after just day three back to work and counseling this morning. I’m feeling the effects of the week, up again in the night, thinking and heaving through fears and emotions. But I had a good talk with one of the baristas this afternoon at the cafe, talk of hope and hurt and the will to keep going. This is a reminder to hold fast.

Good. You are good, Papa. In my tiredness, in my fears and suppressed emotions, in my doubts. And You allow rest for restoration.

I’ve been off pace. Show me the right cadence, I briefly pray. And soon enough, I find my response in the vein-like pages of a poetry book I’ve picked up and am combing through.

Sometimes I need
  only to stand
    wherever I am
          to be blessed,

-Mary Oliver, “It Was Early”

 

Poetry is a textbook God uses to teach me beauty and reverence. This alone could be my prayer that reminds me to see and worship where I am, see the small, see the beauty, see the good.

 

***

This is part of an ongoing series that will share excerpts of my book-in-progress, tentatively titled Grappling for Good: Revealing grace to light the dark. It’s my journey through a year of unexpected circumstances and soul excavation to discover the goodness of God in surprising ways.

Elements of Silence

Today’s the kind of day where the damp goes straight to your bones.

Where the wind laughs wildly and slaps the waves of Lake Michigan and makes them jump ten feet in the air.

Where rain and snow merge amidst the clouds and storm to earth as slick and sharp sleet. Like your skin’s stitched with daggers.

The boards of this house creak and rock like a ship sloshing through the mass of water. Cold filters through the windows as if there are no panes at all.

I keep the lights off and let the muted gray move its way through the halls; pace the room and collect the silence, save the howl.

Howl.

Is that what this noise in me is doing?

Looking for you in all the wrong places and lashes out in frustration when you’re nowhere to be found? When the truth slips my feet from under me and turns me upside down?

Wind rolls sideways, upturning the tree branches. The sky is turning slate quicker than I would have thought. Can I light a candle not in remembrance, but to forget?

Let the elements roll in. Limbs become submerged in ice and face turns to the tide. At breakwater’s edge atop this hill that holds these howls for what has been, I drink the mist into my eyes, translucent fuse of fog and dusk, become a myth, the silence.

Only You

It’s only You.

Only You can save my heart, even when You’re the only who can cut down deep enough to excavate what needs to go. It is a surgical procedure, and Your scalpel is swift and sharp, but I am finally at the point where I know You want to help me, it’s necessary to my survival, that I allow this surgery to happen.

So I sign over my permission, release my clutching hands from around my heart, leave my flesh exposed, wound open and sensitive to every small speck that finds its way to touch the surface. I am fully trusting You to operate, and receive me well.

It hurts, though. Oh sweet mercy, how Your incisions are painful! My bleeding heart, cut by Your blade. I cup my hands to catch what flows down and hold it all out to You. These intimate, tender pieces—they are Yours. Absorb them into Yourself. I scream out, for I am awake for this procedure and acutely aware of each place You stitch. Every cut I feel, antiseptic stings like madness. But such a fierce burn soon cools to a nurturing salve, even as I twist and coil, searching for comfort.

My chest parted and most delicate organ on display, I am determined to let Your fingers continue to massage, scrape, rearrange. Use the instruments You must, take time to do it right. This holy healing rips my sensors, strengthens my soul. Only You reach where others cannot, bend Your mouth to whisper words that sustain me in this state of suffering. Only You see what will be; bones must break before they reset, scrapes must be swiped clean as to avoid infection from meddlesome debris.

Strange thing is, I am more certain of Your presence here with me on this cold, metal table, than I’ve been in years. This pain still blazes, sharp and slicing through my raw heart, but You delve in to it with a willingness of Your own, reassurance that there is something eternal going on in the here and now.

Hold me. May I move as You move, bend as You bend, and lay supine for the remainder of this reconstruction. Surrendered to Your steady hand, counting breaths as Yours merge with mine. Eyes calm and locked on You, lovingly tending to this work within. This is for my good and Your glory. Chip away. I trust You with the pain, in the wire cuts, rub of my red heart. Only You feel what I feel. Only You know how to heal. Only You can truly bring me back to life.

 

Lord, this does not feel good. I have never been so acutely aware of the pain, yet also of Your presence. This is You with me, in the tapping of my bones. You are my sustenance, my comfort, my healer. I need to within me, to massage my soul from the inside out. We will walk this together, as I keep holding my heart out to You. Amen.

 

Slow Reminder

Spice and fullness of coffee steams and drips from the brewer. That hearty life-saving scent fills the kitchen and living room this morning, where I sit perched in an oversize plush chair with so much to sift through and nothing to say.

It’s been so long since I’ve assessed my heart with words. I hardly recognize the different feel of each emotion, each ripple of hope or sadness, recalling memories I make hard for myself to remember.

Sometimes I can’t bring up the recent past so I make myself busy. If I’m in a constant flurry, there’s no room to see what once was and how much I miss.

I let life here overtake me.

I am tired of trying for the other way. Nothing ends up as I’d like, evidence that the control of life was certainly never mine.

My mug is now nestled in my hand, fingers curled around the handle. There are times when I cannot understand how this is my life, how I seem to be so far away from where I’ve wanted to be. How I keep trading steps forward and back.

Easter is coming soon. Resurrection. Beginning. Life. Do I ask for my own death with Christ so I can come alive? Become empty in attempt to be filled?

To empty myself and make room for another—this is the gift, I realize as I sip slow. The slow reminder to say thanks.

Forgotten to Remember

It is terrible to forget.

And yet I have.

For clusters of months, mounting to a year.

Until I found my way, one Sunday, to Cedar Lake Park, the place that had held me in the storm of my soul’s transition into the life I never wanted, didn’t know I’d need.

I took the wrong exit off the highway like so many times before; I can never remember which one it is, but I don’t mind the turnaround. I am proud that I am now able to maneuver the back roads and find my way to the park’s swan-necked entrance.

It isn’t big, but is sizable enough to find a spot to myself, down twisted gravel lanes where my tires spray pebbles, and straight to the edge of the water’s bank, slant in the grass to the same bench I like to spread my arms and legs.

As soon as I settle on my wood bench, clouds roll over the sun, and when the breeze swings, the coolness catches my skin.

There are many people dotting the lines of the lake, throwing fishing lines into the water. It’s mid-afternoon, not an ideal time to cast, but I guess there’s simply something cathartic about creating another wrinkle in the current.

I have forgotten the quiet, the crescent of trees, call of birds, spread of sky. Forgotten the sound of my own heart when it is breathing. Forgotten what it’s like to let go and surrender up my life. To give it away, to gain it back.

There are people all around me, coming and going, and though I am by myself, I do not feel alone.

A bullfrog throbs its throat and echoes across the wind, finds my ears. There is no need to fear what is not known; this life is meant for exploration, welcome. Mystery discovered and changed into new life unfathomed. Every single piece should be treated as a pleasure and not a puzzle. Let it all go, slip into nothing, transform everything.

It feels good to write for me, because it pleases my soul and not to beat my mind up in pressure to fill a page, some self-prophesied destiny. I had forgotten how it felt to just be, wrapped up in the land, quiet and unhurried, and let the words come, rather than crash about and jam wrong ones together, break their brittle hands.

I had forgotten how good it feels for me to rest, to receive what is necessary for me to remember. In a way, I have forgotten to remember. All that once I thought I lost, now, found once more.

Dear God, let this day last forever.

Sometimes, I even forget such a prayer.

Do not let this go.

I will spend my heartbeats remembering, tell my spirit to never forget the way it moves most alive when it is immersed in simple wonders marked by the earth, loosened time.

Only an hour has passed, but it disguised itself as an eternity. It is good to be myself, bare, sacred. My true, deep, unhidden being. And when I return to the ways of life around me, there is a wiseness around my eyes, clear and soft. And in a way, I have shifted into newness with hope ballooning strong within, still the same, always evolved.

Life, Rearranged

I will never know how life arranges itself. I can give up attempting to rope up its wildness, give up trying to run my mind through the unknowns to grab hold of the smallest tangible reality I can stretch to make sense. I open one door; God blows me through another. I step one way; He sets me somewhere else. It’s a constant chess match I’m not meant to win. I’m not even supposed to rearrange the pieces.

The more I strain my brain to take control of the uncontrollable, I wrack my heart and tie it up in greater knots than sailors can structure. Where has this crazy, audacious spirit come from? Certainly not the timid girl who slid her feet across tiles to make sure I marked the right way. But when my heart is shoved into upheaval and I am swimming in the deepest of ends, survival instinct says fight instead of the Spirit that says sink. Sink into the mysterious. Into the One who is invisible. Into the realization that my life, my heart, look nothing like I once had imagined. And to open wide my arms and see how I can float once I find the source that buoys me in this abyss.

Losing my own understanding slunk like a thief inside me and stole away with my rational. It will never be missed. I’ve seen how terribly wrong I’ve gotten this whole guessing of my story, the twists and turns that sprung and I began to deduct where they went. I must be so amusing to the spectators of Heaven, who see me stumble over my own stubbornness.

In the balance of freefall, just before the winds of surrender sweep through, my spirit thrashes against giving up wanting to know how the patterns of my days align. But when I come to the end of myself and collapse against the strain, I am set free.

I’ll keep holding on by letting go. My grasp was cutting off the blood flow, too tight, slowly and unknowingly killing me. The One who knit me together designed me for life, unexpected and full like sudden rain showers.

Let my heart break on its own accord. Let the mystery that is this tremulous life throb in prayer, bloom to faith. May I never wash away the wonder from my pores, push the pride in front of prostrated soul. All I have is the light illuminating my footsteps, glow that grows my world into all I cannot fathom. I breathe, for once relaxing in losing control and leaving space inside to still.

The Sunrise of My Sleeping Heart

My heart hovered over the abyss, gray swirled shadows swathed without form. It longed for light, for love. It waited over time, over hope, over time and again of disappointment and no arrival. Like before creation, my heart hovered over unformed waters, waiting.

Then, a spark of light, a warmth of welcome rising from the depths. One pierce of orange, dusted yellow, dance of blue creasing the edge of the horizon. Your eyes, clear and gentle, alive with love and assurance of a safe place. My heart began to recognize yours, and they began to fit together, align themselves in the sky of an unknown future becoming visible.

You, the sunrise of my sleeping heart, awakening me to dream, to believe in hope, and accept the terrifying and wonderful gift of love. God knit our hearts, helped mend what was broken, and brought glorious color to the skyline of a new life that dawned when you dropped to one knee asked to be mine. //

**

The Story:

February 7, 2020 was full of snow and blue skies. I was already on Washington Island for a solitary writing retreat, and Eric caught the 9:30 AM ferry to join me for the weekend. Around four in the afternoon, we needed to get out for fresh air. Winter on the island doesn’t afford as many opportunities to explore outside for long stretches of time, and we contemplated the options.

It was Eric who spoke up first. “Want to go to the observation tower?” We had climbed the tower back in October, and he had carved our initials into the wood. This was a special place for us, and he wanted to do a bit more clean up work on the initials, so we took the dipping roads to Mountain Road. It looked a little different in February than October, as it took two tries to get the car through the unplowed snow, and then there was the trek up the steep staircase layered with snow and ice. Both of us were on a mission to see this idea through, and the view at the top was worth it, with a span of the island, sun dipped below the trees in the west, and reflective light illuminating the lake.

Eric seemed a bit disappointed that the sun wasn’t over the water, but I reminded him that I had told him the tower faced northeast, not west.

He contemplated it for a while before asking, “Would you like to come back tomorrow morning and catch the sunrise up here?”

I laughed. Get up early in the morning, come back out in the cold, and all before I had my coffee? I declined with an emphatic, “NO.”

He considered the answer with a shrug of his shoulders. “Alright. In that case…”

I turned to see him bend to one knee, look up, and as the sun continued to descend down the trees, I rested my hands on his shoulders, ready for what I’ve been waiting for for nearly thirty-five years. He had one more question. “Sarah Rennicke, will you marry me?”

This one I quickly said yes to, and I wrapped him in a hug. The wind whipped cold around our faces, but the air felt invigorating, with the leading light of pastel colors in the sky, bright moon already making its appearance in the evening, and my favorite person with me in my favorite place, asking me to live life with him for the rest of our days.

 

**Happy one-year anniversary of our engagement, Eric. You have brought such light to my once shadowed heart.

 

**

Continuing my attempt at the Five Minute Friday weekly writing challenge. Five minutes to write on the assigned topic. Raw and unedited. (Yikes!) This week’s topic: Sunrise.   // symbolizes where five minutes started and/or stopped.