every now and then and you’ll find yourself in the dark
whether it’s a flicker or a long-term night
and you’ll wonder
how moments ago you tended the sea’s beacon
and today you’re fumbling for a switch
and you’ll think
that you ought to try to keep lighting the sea
even when your fuel is gone
and you’ll hide it and pretend
that it’s all okay
because if it weren’t for you
the sea would sink into inky black
but harsh and true
you’re not the only one with kerosene
or a spark
and someone else can ignite the way
and it’s a hard lesson sometimes
that to best help you need to accept it too
and worse yet
that light won’t always come
from the source you expected
by the hands you expected
at the time you expected
but darling it’s still light
despite the size
despite the carrier
despite the timing
and if you ignore the candle to wait for the lamp
it may not come
for some things start small
but the faintest flicker is enough
to glimpse the foot of the stairs
leading up to the beacon
and you’ll find your way
through the smallest of sparks
if you take the time to notice
and when you reach the top
because i know you will
and light the sea once more
and remember the tiny candle at the bottom
of the long staircase
the ships many miles away
you’ve been trying your life to reach
will no longer seem
quite so far off
inspired by a trip to Split Rock Lighthouse, MN.
“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”
The Golden Way
Come and walk with me, I said
I’ll show you a new road
A path of clear and glittering thread
To take you where you’ll go
The Golden Way it’s called, and I’m sure you’ll love it too
On it you can walk your life
So come and join the
This path is one the many take
And its ways are proven true
With safety, caution signs and maps
There is no better view
These airbags are for breathing
This seatbelt for the dance
So come and join us straightaway
Without a backward
On the Golden Way you never ask
You just walk and don’t look down
We mapped it out before your time
No need to look around
The road this way is smooth and bright
Wide and straight on through
No need to watch the steps you take
Just the ones ahead of
No more winding trails of wood
Too dark and grim to bear
You can’t see past the thick of trees
What if you never get there?
Or trip while stepping on a rock
Or fall and scrape your knee
Too many risks that you could take
What’s life without
That’s why the Golden Way is here
To save you from that stress
If you walk the path that many take
It’s bound to be the best
So enjoy the road of silver and place your feet on gold
And never think again about the former dreams you’ve
There’s just one risk upon this path,
I’ll tell you it in full
That leaving it will bring all hell
And wreck your very soul
I’ve seen people who have left
They’ve gone and scraped their knees
They say the woods are prettier
But they’re blinded by them, please
For who would want to venture out
And make their own new path?
If they’re smart they’ll stay right where they are
And never again
This path is one the many take
And its ways are proven true
That if you whittle yourself down enough
There’s nothing left of you
Who wants to stand out from the crowd
A target for our knives
Or follow dreams you once possessed
Away from prying
Yes, the Golden Way is cold
The metal makes it frigid
But in time your feet will numb
And you’ll be glad that it existed
For cold feet cannot bear
The twists and turns of life
The forest is our greatest fear
With all its unknown strife
So walk this path a while, and soon enough you’ll stay
It becomes your only option when you know no other
Mending the frost by building a fire
Hauling another storm’s snow
Wrapping the littles in bundles of coat
Keeping the bite from their toes
Hauling up boxes, unraveling lights
Wrestling a tree into place
Baking and buying the gift that’s just right
Extending new patience and grace
Ringing bells and giving well
Offering a shopper a hand
Tying a blanket for the kid who has none
And holding a door when you can
Stopping and pulling and making a call
For the stranger who’s gone off the road
Small town life, you give and you take
We’re all for sharing the load
Summers we drive and autumns we thrive
In colors and smells and in sounds
Springtime we bask and soak in the light
And dance in the new warmth we’ve found
But winter we give, and winter we show
The love that we often forget
It’s not the dark and it’s not the cold
But what we do in the face of it
3 a.m., November 14, 2015. A suburb of Paris.
A piercing sound jolts me awake. It’s dark, and too early for an alarm. What is that sound? Groping around in the dark with 3 a.m. cognitive capacity, I finally find Stephen’s wailing phone. “What the…”
A device locator alarm has been activated. Turning it off, I find our phones flooded with notifications of every kind: voicemails, messages, emails. All of them ask if we are okay, if we are alive. This is unexpected. If we are okay? A knot begins to form in my stomach. I open the BBC news homepage, and there the horrible truth of what had happened comes hurtling at me. The darkness is overwhelming. “Can you turn on the light?”
A light comes on, and my eyes ache. I explain to Stephen that a terrorist attack had happened in Paris, the very city we were visiting. I send a hasty reassurance to everyone who had messaged me, mind whirring and heart pounding as I try and fail to make sense of it all. An attack? How could this happen? How did it happen? How bad was it? I read and re-read the early reports but they have little details. A message comes in from my brother, saying that he had used my Google account to set off my phone’s alarm. I set the phone down again.
My heart continues to sprint and the knot in my stomach tightens. I hear a faint sound downstairs and jump violently. The shadows of the tree branches outside give me goosebumps. We should turn the light off again to try to sleep, but I don’t want to. Maybe we’ll just sleep with it on.
“Are you still awake?”
Sleeping is futile. How can one calm the mind enough to rest at such a time?
I keep thinking of the dissonance between the news we received and how ordinary life had been that day. How could a day so normal bring about a night so tragic? I had sat outside a sunny café in the very neighborhoods where the tragedy would later happen, drinking coffee without a care in the world. The Christmas market had been so bright, so lighthearted. I had bought a fuzzy scarf. I watched a young bride and groom get pictures by a fountain. The Eiffel tower sparkled in joy. How was it possible for all of that to happen so freely and then be shattered so suddenly only a few hours later? It doesn’t make sense, I can’t make it make sense.
I turn over, unable to wrestle with the complicated, repulsive feelings welling up inside of me. The light comes on. We read Narnia until the early hours of dawn. I fall asleep breathing thanks that we had been tired and took the early train back home.
Heartbroken faces, dismayed thoughts, comforting gestures.
Our host family shares the sadness with us. The house fills as friends and family members come from Paris to stay in this safe, quiet suburb. A radio offers a constant stream of updates. At least 100 people have been killed, maybe more. The borders are closed, and we are not to go into the city. Our host makes brunch.
Upstairs, I watch the neighbors from our room’s window. An older gentleman works at taking a French flag out of a bag. A neighbor bikes by. They chat a little, and then together raise the flag by the side of the house.
We get a message from the next host we are planning to stay with in Versailles. He writes that we are welcome at any time we need to come, and that he won’t let such acts of hate ruin his family’s love and hospitality. Later we will learn that one of his coworkers survived the Bataclan, despite being shot in the forearm.
Monday, November 16
We go back into the Paris city center. In the spirit of our future host, we won’t let the hateful actions of a few ruin our few days here with fear.
Guards are everywhere, and the sky is gray. We watch a group of police question a man sitting in a park. Slowly we meander to the Eiffel Tower. It is closed, but we stroll around the park area and have a picnic of bread, cheese, and cold clementines. It’s too quiet for such a world-famous landmark as this, but we eat our lunch in gratitude for the simple fact that we are able to do so.
We are finishing our snacks when a strange sight catches our eye. Across the green two men in suits and ties stand around a strange contraption. Part of it is certainly a bike. The other part looks like a trailer hitch connected to a beat-up grand piano and bench. What?
I watch as one of the men gets on the bike and starts pedaling. The piano and bench follow. We start laughing. “Let’s get a picture!” We get up and follow to document this bizarre sight. As we walk, the cyclist slows to a stop and the other man takes a seat on the bench. They begin to take off again. We follow, and the pianist commences the steady, thoughtful chords of John Lennon’s Imagine.
We’re no longer laughing. As the music begins to fill the park, people look up from their conversations and lunches. Smiles, but not of amusement, begin to grow on downcast faces. I don’t know whether to smile or cry. They continue to travel and play under the gray skies. Imagine all the people living life in peace…
The song ends, and we stand in reverence at their…hope? resilience? love? It doesn’t matter the term. Whatever it was it was moving, powerful. They had the healing gift of music and were sharing it in the city where it was most needed.
As they roll away they begin another song. I watch them as they leave the park, moving peacefully onward to share Let It Be with the next block.
For our First Anniversary
My time in the British Isles was drawing to a close. At the dawn of my summer adventure two years ago, when I stepped onto the streets of Dublin full of hope and curiosity, it felt as if I was on the brink of an endless summer. The possibilities knew no limits, and my time there seemed as far-reaching as the Atlantic horizon. But the days passed as they always do, and I found myself strolling the stately streets of Oxford come mid-August, watching the sun set on my last two nights in the UK.
Oxford was a place I had long wanted to visit. It was the home of some of the greatest writers and most beautiful colleges, and thus a fitting location to spend a few relaxed days between leaving Scotland and travelling to France. It was a time to slow down and process what life in Stirling had meant to me and how it had changed me. And for me, the backdrop of history, bookshops, and lush green meadows seemed the perfect place to unwind and do just those things.
But while I was in that classic city and wandered the winding streets and manicured courtyards, I found I no longer felt completely alone to think about my travels like I had before. In fact, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking about someone across the ocean whom I had not seen in nearly three months, yet someone who was one of the most important parts of that entire summer. This person would be Stephen, my amazing friend who is now my husband of almost a year.
For me, our story had its beginnings in the spring of 2014. Though we had known each other for almost two years, we were little more than distant friends until registration for the Eau Claire Marathon opened that year. A number of our friends signed up for the half marathon, Stephen and I included, and we began to meet at my house on Oxford Avenue a few times a week to run together. Over the months of training we grew from being distant friends to close friends. I was struck by our conversations and how Stephen cared so much for everyone in our group. When I had laryngitis the day of the race, he stuck by me to make sure I was alright. It was then that I began to see the how much he truly cared about me, and in turn came to realize how I cared about him too. It was an exciting time, though for me it was tinged with the knowledge that I would soon be leaving for Scotland. With our growing friendship at such a fragile stage I didn’t know whether it would survive three months of being apart or look remotely the same when I returned. I was becoming more disappointed at the thought of having to leave at such a time when Stephen asked if he could write to me while I was abroad, and all of those worries disappeared.
His first letter came the night before I departed on a weekend trip to the Highlands. It was the most beautiful piece of writing I had seen. I read the letter countless times and hiked with it in my backpack all over Glencoe. I memorized some of the passages. There didn’t seem to be any way I could create something half so good, but I crafted my return letter on the bus ride back, polished it up in my favorite coffee shop in Stirling, and sent it off with the hope that he would like it. My letter arrived in Eau Claire about a week later, and thus began the days of our correspondence.
It was a beautiful time, a tender time. It was the days of waiting every day for a letter, walking along the loch thinking of what to write, and hoping desperately that each envelope that I had sent would make its way safely to Wisconsin. It was a time of learning and growing. I’ve been asked if it’s difficult to start a relationship long-distance like that. For us, the beginning our story was fitting for who we are. Things moved forward slowly over those first three months, giving each of us plenty of time to think and pray. Our writing letters allowed us to express who we were more deeply and more thoughtfully than typical first-date small talk, and through writing we formed a real substance to our relationship that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
But despite the wonderful way our relationship was beginning, my mind kept returning to all of the unknowns. It’s a vulnerable thing to allow yourself to fall in love. There aren’t any guarantees. There’s no roadmap or guidebook. You can try to make it as safe as possible, but when you choose to become close to someone you always run the risk of being hurt. I thought of these things as I entered Christ Church Cathedral for evensong. A small group of us were escorted inside and given hymnals, and I held mine tightly and looked up at the stained glass windows many feet above us. I was fully aware that in just a few weeks’ time I would be back in America again. I knew that part of me wanted to take courage and let this friendship grow, but another part of me wanted some sort of supernatural, lightning-strike moment of assurance that this was the right thing to do before I advanced any further.
Of course, there was no such moment. But while I was in that service in Oxford, something changed. A passage that we had each sent to each other that summer made another appearance: My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord (Is. 55:8). And the third time it finally sunk in. All of the things I was perceiving as unknown or daunting weren’t so for God. Everything I felt was too much for me to figure out wasn’t for Him. I didn’t have to see the whole future before taking the first step. I was free. I felt a quiet peace and trust that was more powerful than any lightning strike could have been, and the assurance that despite any problems that I perceived, loving my best friend was, and would always be, worth it.
And so I walked out into the golden meadow of Christ Church Cathedral and found a quiet perch beside a brook. My smile was too much to contain, my heart overjoyed. And I took out my little notebook and jotted down how I hoped that Stephen would be able to visit this wonderful place some time, and how I hoped I could be there with him whenever he did.
A year later, nearly to the day, Stephen and I arrived at the Oxford train station. The city looked exactly the same, felt the same. For all I knew it could have been only two days that I was away. Except that this time, the man that I had fallen in love with in Oxford and had decided to love was with me, and we couldn’t have picked a better place to begin our marriage.