You Should Also Know

It's been two months now, two months filled with the difficulties of early grief.

But you should also know that there is a beauty about these days I still don’t have words for, a beauty that is palpable even here, even in these days heavy with her absence.

* * * * *

It’s the week after Lily’s delivery. CJ and I are out for breakfast, eating pancakes at a diner and trying to plan our baby girl’s funeral, when a friend texts us a link to a song.

I listen to it later in the car by myself, in between stops at Old Navy for funeral clothes and Costco to pick up premade soups for the burial luncheon.

And I know as soon as I hear the first line that it is the right song for our Lily: So beautiful how could we not believe.

I listen and I can’t stop crying.

The words speak to the beauty I’d sensed in that hospital room just a few days previous, even as I held my too-small, too-cold, too-still daughter.

I can’t explain it really. It was perhaps the worst day of my life. I watched my husband and my daughters hold Lily in their arms, and I held her too, and my heart split open with the joy and sorrow of it.

So beautiful how could we not believe.

* * * * *

On Valentine’s Day, we make doughnuts at my brother’s house, snow on the ground outside, dough swelling in the warmth of the kitchen. The girls run around with their cousins, a trail of dolls and dress-up clothes in their wake, and I work in the kitchen with my grandmother and the recipe she’d scrawled on an index card decades before I was born.

At one point, I hear the girls in the adjacent room, planning a funeral for one of their baby dolls. Their mood is cheerful, their play creative and cooperative. But they’re planning a funeral for a baby.

I hate that they are playing this, that they are reliving the cold, hard day of Lily’s burial in the midst of a happier one. I wish they didn’t have a category for babies dying. I don’t want this to be my legacy to them, I think.

They’re not acting sad, but I know that on some level, their little hearts are being broken, and I hurt for them, these children I love the best.

Later that afternoon, I stand at the kitchen counter and help as each of the girls takes a turn cutting out a few doughnuts. I guide pudgy toddler fingers and delicate little girl hands, and we fill the dining room table with row after row of our hollow circles.

And then we fry them and eat them, still warm in our hands, and we smile with delight, powdered sugar dusting our lips.

We love. We grieve. Then all seek our reprieve.

* * * * *

At our church women’s retreat a few weeks later, I sit around a table in a sterile basement classroom with a group of women who’ve been assigned to be a small group for the weekend, a group of women I know very little.

I stare at the wildflower arrangement in the center of table and listen to the others introduce themselves, knowing that when it’s my turn, I’ll talk about Lily and about Avaleen too. I’ve reached the point where it’s almost impossible to explain who I am, to tell any real version of my story, without talking about them.

I’m the last to speak. “I have two daughters,” I say, “and I’ve lost two daughters. One of them just last month.”

My voice breaks, and I look up to see that I’m not the only one crying. One woman shares about her own pair of pregnancy losses. Another tells me she how she pictures one of my girls sitting in a room like this someday, sharing about the sisters she’d lost and how God had met her even there.

I remember then something my Mom had said when she was here taking care of us after Lily died, about how she had a sense God would use this loss to help make my girls who He wants them to be, that somehow deep pain would help unleash great good in their lives.

I tell the ladies with me around that table that I believe this, and they pray with me that it will be so.

So beautiful how could we not believe.

* * * * *

Beside me while I write is the Easter lily my oldest child picked out in memory of her sister. Several of its buds are still pressed tightly together, sealed, enclosed. But two have begun to open, white petals unfurling, beauty erupting.

It’s fitting, I think, that a lily’s glory comes from its unfolding, for Lily’s life and death are teaching me about the beauty of coming undone, of the holiness found in being broken.

This Easter, I keep coming back to Jesus’ words to us on the night of His betrayal:This is my body broken for you.

So beautiful how could we not believe.

Early Grief

IMG_9430 I wake up tired, the kind of tired that coffee doesn't touch.

My days are full of normal activities: breakfast preparations, breaking up sibling squabbles, picking up toys, loading kids in the car for errands and activities, breaking up more squabbles, picking up more toys.

But my brain isn't normal at all. My thoughts are hazy, disjointed. When I talk to friends, I ramble, or I don't say much of anything at all.

I crave time alone and also I feel isolated.

"The baby died," my two year-old says, in the middle of her afternoon play. "The baby died."

"Yes," I say. "She did."

I don't cry then, nor do I cry when my four year-old prays at bedtime. "Dear God," she says. "Please put another baby in Mommy's belly."

She pauses then continues, "The kind that doesn't die."

"Amen," I say simply and kiss her forehead.

Later though, when all is finally quiet and still, I ignore the crumb-littered floors and the toys strewn on the carpet. I crawl into my own bed, and the tears come with such force that I struggle to catch my breath.

It's been one month since we said goodbye.

Letters for Lily


At Lily's burial service, CJ and I both read letters we'd written her. I am posting them here in the order we read them that day.


I have no idea where to start this letter. I’m not sure I’ve ever written a letter to someone who will never hold it and read it. My hope and prayer is that God will allow you to know my heart and love for you, even though we have yet to meet.

I want to first think about joy. Though you were born still, your gift to us was learning that you existed and getting to tell your sisters that you were “in Mommy’s belly.” Ellie was exuberant. Celia tried to see you by lifting up Mommy’s shirt. Though sadness was to follow several weeks later, you brought us joy and memories we will never forget; just by being. Thank you.

When we were at the doc’s for your 20-week ultrasound, you were still. You were measuring about a month behind. You didn’t have a heartbeat. You were being, yet you were gone. I’ll never forget driving home, sitting in a parking lot down the street with Mommy. Crying. Praying. Calling your grandparents. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was tell Ellie, as she sat in my lap. Her attention immediately snapped from a distracted, “what now, Daddy?” to utter sadness.

We could have kept your existence as quiet as possible, managed risk, theoretically minimized the damage if the worst were to happen. We didn’t do that because we wanted to celebrate your life. All of it. Jesus said in John that He “…came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” With all friendships there are risks. With all marriages there are risks. With all children there are risks. Risks of giving and not receiving. Risks of being hurt and risks of losing someone. Having life abundantly means taking those risks.

You gave your sisters the opportunity to live life abundantly. To experience immeasurable joy and to grieve. We would rather have had the experience of them smothering you with love and telling you what to do, but make no mistake that you have been a blessing to us.

Our family is now and will forever be incomplete. Nobody could ever replace you. When we see newborns this spring and summer, toddlers next year and 10-year-olds in a decade we will wonder what you would have been like. It will make us sad, sometimes cry, but we will know that you are with Jesus, having life eternal. We will long for the day when we meet you, and Him and also your sister Avaleen.

I want to honor your memory by living life abundantly. By loving those around me, appreciating the gifts God has given me in your mom, your sisters and you; not fearing the pain of loss. While the pain of losing you is indeed severe, living a life with fear of loss is a burden too difficult for me to bear. I love you, Lily.




* * * * * * *


Dearest Lily,

There are so many words I wish I could say to you on this day, this day that we gather to celebrate your life and also to grieve its end.

I want to tell you about the day when your Daddy and I first learned that you existed. I knew then that your presence inside me would lead to long months of fatigue and sickness, but still, I felt joy and excitement at the gift of your life.

I want to tell you about the moment when we first told your sisters about you, about how Ellie squealed with delight and how Celia lifted up my shirt, wanting to look and see if she could find this “baby in Mommy’s belly” that Daddy kept talking about. They were both so excited to meet you. We all were.

I want to tell you about the people standing in front of me today, your grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, the friends and neighbors who celebrated with us when we first told them about you. They loved you too, and they’ve shown their love for you and for us these past two weeks, in flowers and meals and prayers and tears, in their willingness to simply be with us in the darkness.

I want to tell you about the day you were born, about the difficult beauty of those precious hours we had to hold you in our arms. I want to tell you about the wonder of your tiny body, the marvelous intricacy of your mouth and nose and toes. I want to tell you about the doctor and the friends who cried with us that day, about the sisters who loved you just as you were, about the way we felt God’s presence with us even as we said goodbye.

I wish I had a lifetime to tell you these stories, to wrap you in my arms and hold you close, and recount for you the memories stored up in my heart. You were loved my sweet girl, and you are loved still.

This morning, your sister Ellie placed a card inside your coffin. It read, “I am sorry that you died.” And in the end, I don’t have much to add to her words. I am sorry that you died, my Lily girl. So very, very sorry.



Lily Mae

Her name sounds like springtime, echoes the month in which she should have been born. Instead, I delivered her small, still body in winter, just days before the largest snow storm my living daughters have ever seen.

It's been nine days since we said goodbye, and this morning, we awoke to streets blanketed in white. This feels right, like for a few, fleeting moments, the world really is standing still while we grieve.

But the sun is out now, and the snow is already beginning to melt. Stores are reopening, and all too soon, CJ will return to work and there will be preschool and ballet class and church. Our lives will continue even though her's did not.

I'd been watching Call the Midwife throughout my pregnancy, and since those terrible moments in the ultrasound room, I've thought often of the episode where Jenny's fiancé died after a sudden, tragic fall. I've kept returning to the words of one of her patients, a Holocaust survivor, the words that pierced me even as I felt the child inside me flutter and kick. Keep living, she said,  until you feel alive again.

When Avaleen died three and a half years ago, I spent months convinced I could never be truly happy without her, that the deep sadness I felt would always be with me. This time, I know better.

But still, the days are long and the nights are sad, and the road ahead, while not unfamiliar, often feels unbearable.

People ask me how I am doing, and I don't know what to say. But perhaps I should say this: We are living, allowing God to carry us in this darkness, trusting that one day we will feel alive again.

When Your Friends Prayers Aren't Answered And Yours Are

20140902-Waldron-LaughwithFriends I'm honored to have a guest post running on the (in)courage site today.  It's about being a mom of two living daughters and also being a woman who's experienced infertility and miscarriage.  It's about holding both life and loss in balance as I relate to women currently struggling with reproductive loss.  I hope you'll visit, read, and join in the conversation.

Fall's Beginning

Well now that summer's over (see post below for some pics), fall is here, and that means I'm back to school - this time as a full-time student and teaching assistant at George Mason. It's weird to not be in middle school after 5 full years! Anyways, I've been having fun teaching freshmen composition and doing lots of reading and writing. Here are some excerpts from the thesis chapter I've been working on this week; it's about church as body with each part relying on the others. I've cut out all the fun story parts (so you'll have to buy the book someday!), but this will give you an idea of what I've been thinking about. Enjoy, and send any feedback my way!

There are many people at my church who do not fit neatly into the self-centered vision of church I’d generated in my teens and early twenties. In my grand dreams, church was a place where I should be comfortable, where people should make me feel welcome and accepted and warm inside. Don’t get me wrong; I didn’t have any illusions that they’d all be just like me. I wanted them to be different, unique, diverse in the ways that make any community really beautiful. In my internal vision of church, there was room for many types of people: the nurturing, motherly type, the intellectually and artistically stimulating type, the make me laugh until I cry type, even the want to follow in my footsteps type. But of course, I used to think, they’d all be cool and energizing and fun. They’d be different, but not that different, not uncomfortably different.

But the reality is that church is full of people who are uncomfortably different, and I am often unsure of what to do about that. Last week though, I came across a passage that helped. In I Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul describes the church as a body, a unit which contains many individual parts functioning together for a greater purpose. In Christ, we are part of the same body, and I need these people as much as they need me. Paul writes, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you,’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor.” And as much as there is still part of me that wants to say to some people, “I have no need of you,” I am beginning to see that I do in fact have great need of them. I need them as a constant, physical reminder of my pride and of my need, by God’s grace, to change in this area.

Summer's Over...

Last week marked the end of summer for me, so I thought I'd share a few highlights...

Being in Liz and Colin's wedding in June
(and having CJ there with me)

Camping with CJ and his friends Dave and Sarah in early July

Celebrating my birthday with soft serve and friends at a local favorite, Woody's

Another birthday celebration, this time with CJ, Liz, and Colin at Movies Under the Moon in DC

Spending a week at the beach with the fam and CJ (boating on the bay here)

Evidence for Christ

I read today a transcript of a debate between Christopher Hitchens (atheist) and Douglas Wilson (Christian) and really enjoyed Wilson's presentation of evidence for Christ...probably because of its poetic quality :)

"Actually, I believe I can present evidence for what I know. But evidence comes to us like food, and that is why we say grace over it. And we are supposed to eat it, not push it around on the plate—and if we don't give thanks, it never tastes right. But here is some evidence for you, in no particular order. The engineering that went into ankles. The taste of beer. That Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, just like he said. A woman's neck. Bees fooling around in the flower bed. The ability of acorns to manufacture enormous oaks out of stuff they find in the air and dirt. Forgiveness of sin. Storms out of the North, the kind with lightning. Joyous laughter (diaphragm spasms to the atheistic materialist). The ocean at night with a full moon. Delta blues. The peacock that lives in my yard. Sunrise, in color. Baptizing babies. The pleasure of sneezing. Eye contact. Having your feet removed from the miry clay, and established forever on the rock. You may say none of this tastes right to you. But suppose you were to bow your head and say grace over all of it. Try it that way."

Check out the rest of the debate here:

A Few of My Favorite People

On this cold, blustery day when I tempted to fear that spring may never come, I thought I'd follow Julie Andrews' advice and think about my favorite things - or in this case - favorite people. It's been quite some time since I've posted some pictures, so for your viewing enjoyment, here is some of what I've been up to in my free time these past few months.

My boyfriend CJ and I. Yes, it's true. Hard to believe, I know, but we've been dating for just over 3 months now, and it's been such a blessing. Here, we're enjoying a walk around a local lake.

My good friend Liz Woo with Morgan Maxwell. CJ and I met Matt and Kellie and their kids Morgan and Caleb at the Baltimore Aquarium. Liz, her fiance Colin, and another good friend Anne also met us there. We had a blast seeing the under water world through the kids' eyes.

Here's Caleb - getting so big now!

This last weekend, CJ and I visited the Peters in Raleigh and had a great time together. Here's Christopher, Mary Grace, and their son Caleb at the Duke Gardens.

Truth and Beauty

Last night around 10.

I walk across the George Mason campus after class, delicate snow flakes swirling in the glow of the street lights, swirling me into the delightful wonder of a child. I turn my eyes upward and stick out my tongue to catch a few flakes. People are watching, and I have a bag on my shoulder, but I want to stretch out my mittened hands and spun in a giant circle.

Freedom. Joy. Beauty. The deep goodness of God.

In class, we'd been talking about Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, about a LSD-induced world of delight that eventually fell to pieces, that fell so far short of everyone's dreams, that left us disappointed too. Earlier, I'd had conversations with two friends - about their desires for forgiveness and redemption in hard situations, about the seeming impossibility of it all. And my own doubts linger, questioning the goodness of a God who allows suffering, who judges and condemns.

Rebellion. Brokenness. Darkness. The holy justice of God.

I do not know how to hold all of this together, how to stand in the deep and dark places that are real and ever present in this fallen world, how to continue believing that redemptive love is deeper still, that true joy remains possible.

I do not know how. But I do know this - that the gospel is the thing that holds this together, that Jesus died to rescue us from the deep, dark, and deadly power of sin, that He offers us eternal joy and freedom in the depths of His grace and forgiveness.


Yesterday, I came across a book in my friend Jess' classroom - Happily Ever After: A Book Lover's Treasury of Happy Endings. This morning, I nestled myself into my couch with a cup of coffee and read it straight through. What a sweet time to reflect on the beauty of redemption and the ultimate happy ending we can anticipate. Allow me to share a few of my favorites...

But what a lucky man. Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have, which once you have it you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known. He takes deep breaths and the cold air goes to his brain and makes him more sensible. He starts out on the short walk to the house where people love him and will be happy to see his face.

-Garrison Keillor, Lake Wobegon Days

"I wonder where the old Pinocchio of wood has hidden himself?"

"There he is," answered Geppetto. And he pointed to a large Marionette leaning against a chair, head turned to one side, armas hanging limp, and legs twisted under him.

After a long, long look, Pinnochio said to himself with great content: "How ridiculous I was as a Marionette! And how happy I am, now that I have become a real boy!"

-Carlo Collodi, The Adventures of Pinocchio

He sat at the folding table in the basement, pondering what Miriam had said. How he'd been discouraged when God didn't seem to be working, then when God did do something it made him mad. It occurred to Sam that he wasn't an easy man to please.

Upstairs, the Frieda Hampton Memorial Clock bonged nine times. He rose from his chair, rinsed his coffee up out in the kitchen sink, turned off the church lights, and walked down Main Street toward home.

Over at Legal Grounds, Deena Morrison was turning the sign from Yes, We're Open to Sorry, We're Closed. She waved through the glass at Sam as he passed. He smiled and waved back.

She cracked open the door. "Have you heard the news about Sally?"


"Isn't God good," Deena said. It was a declaration, not a question.

Sam smiled and nodded his head in agreement.

God is good, he thought. Bewildering, but good.

-Philip Gulley, Just Shy of Harmony

Small Steps of Faith

"Trust in the Lord with all of your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways, acknowledge Him,
and He will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones."
-Proverbs 3:5-8
My roommate Kelly shared these verses at our small group last night, and I found them really encouraging. I've been trying to figure out how to grow in the area of faith, how to take small steps toward what seems like a huge and overwhelming goal - to completely believe that the God of the Bible is real, good, and sovereign.
And this passage gives me hope. It reminds me that my own understanding and wisdom are limited and flawed. And it calls me to be obedient in the areas that God has already made clear to me, to fear Him and to submit my own sinful heart to His leadership. And best of all, it reminds me that He is worthy of my trust, that He is the one who is working in my life to make straight my paths, to heal and to refresh.
How comforting to know that I do not have to figure everything out, that in fact attempting to do so is an indication of my own pride and arrogance. My job is simple: to trust, follow, and obey. These are small steps I can work toward by His grace. The big picture rests in His hands.

The Laughter of Faith

"Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
'The Lord has done great things for them.'
The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad."
--Psalm 126: 2-3

I've been thinking a lot about laughter lately - and how the way in which we laugh reflects the posture of our hearts before God.

Take the Old Testament character of Sarah, for example. Three messengers of the Lord appear to tell her and her husband Abraham that they will finally have the child God promised, even though they are "old, advanced in years." And in her tent, Sarah laughs, saying to herself, "After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?" This is the laugh of bitterness, a laugh that defies God's promise, a laugh that refuses to trust in His goodness. It is fearful, sarcastic, guarded.

I am good at this kind of laughing, at recognizing the futility of things, laughing at hopelessness. I am good at being sarcastic. Like Sarah, I struggle to trust.

But there's hope. Because just two chapters later in Genesis, Sarah has discovered another kind of laughter. Holding her baby boy in her arms, having realized God's promised goodness in the warmth of his small body pressed against her bosom, she says, "God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me." This is the laughter of faith, the laughter that wells up from a deep place in the soul of she who has tasted and seen that Lord is good. In spite of years of unfulfilled desires, in spite of continued hardship and an uncertain future, she laughs, tinkling peals of joy ringing out for all to hear. It is a laugh that is certain and real. It is a laugh that worships a real and good and sovereign God.

This is the kind of laugh I want, that of the Proverbs 31 woman who can laugh "at the days to come," even days that are uncertain, even days that promise pain and hardship. But I am aware that I cannot produce this laughter on my own. Like Sarah, I need God to show up and "make laughter for me." I need God to teach me how to trust Him.

Staunton, VA

On the way to Staunton, Sue and I pass towns with names like Woodstock, Verona, and Edinburg. The leaves burst brilliant reds and oranges in the glory of the Friday afternoon sun.

Saturday afternoon, we wander around town. The streets swell and drop on the curves of rolling hillsides, brick buildings nestled tightly against one another. It is quiet here. I say this at least once every hour, so striking is it to me.

At the antique store, the clerk's voice bubbles saccharine. In DC, it would annoy me, but here it is charming. We walk into a glass blowing store, a mosaic of color hanging from the ceiling, lining each shelf. I reach out to touch a vase, its smooth surface warm ice to my fingers.

After the play, we sip chai and mocha latte in a coffee shop that is not Starbuck's. One of the actors walks in and says hello. He notices I'm grading papers, mentions the stack of his own in the car. We have never been introduced, but in Staunton, a face once seen becomes familiar.

Church at Home

I am curling my hair in the bedroom when I hear Kelly open her door and walk downstairs. I glance at my watch – 8:30 a.m., the time we’ve set for our first roommate breakfast. I turn off the curling iron, and survey the floor of my bedroom, uncharacteristically messy these days. I really should clean this up now, I think. It’d be nice if I could just have this hour before church to myself.

But I’m not one to break appointments. Especially not this one. Since Kelly moved in three weeks ago, I’ve only seen her two or three times. She works late at her graphic design job in DC. Amy and I, both teachers with early schedules, are usually in bed before she returns. The three of us have yet to sit down and figure out house rules and routines, and until we do, I know I won’t really feel settled. I sigh, noting the compression in my sinuses and the cramps tightening my stomach. Just do it, I tell myself.

I join Kelly in the kitchen where she’s in the middle of rummaging through her cupboard, pulling out stacks of cans: Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, generic black beans, Del Monte corn. “I’m looking for my pancake mix,” she explains.

I smile, moving into the dining room to set the table: three pink placemats, three cream plates with scalloped edges, three forks, three knives. By the time I return to the kitchen, Amy’s made her way downstairs too, still in the sweatshirt and boxer shorts she must have worn to bed last night. She’s cutting overripe peaches into bite-size pieces, sorting them into two neat piles on the cutting board: edible and brown. Kelly’s found the pancake mix and is stirring in an egg.

“Does anyone have milk?” she asks.

“I’ve got skim,” Amy returns.

“I’ve got one percent,” I add before turning to measure coffee beans into the grinder.

Amy opens the fridge door and pours the milk into the one cup measuring cup. “How are you Abby?” she asks, handing the milk to Kelly.

“Okay,” I say, trying to keep track of the number of tablespoons I’ve measured. “I think I’m coming down with a bit of a cold though.”

“Oh no,” Kelly exclaims, looking up from her mixing bowl, her eyes widening into genuine alarm. Though we go to the same church, I barely know Kelly, so I’m struck by her sympathy and sincerity. “Do you need medicine?” she asks.

“Actually, that’d be great.” She runs upstairs to get some while Amy and I chat about our Saturday night activities: movie for me, catching up on e-mail for Amy. When Kelly returns, I thank her and pop the cold pills into my mouth, their bitter sweetness dissolving and spreading across my tongue in the brief seconds before I wash them down with water.

“So what do you think we should do about chores this year?” Amy asks. She’s finished slicing peaches now and is sorting through the blueberries I left on the counter last night, throwing away the moldy ones and dumping the others into Kelly’s pancake batter.

“What did you do last year?” Kelly asks. Amy takes a few moments to explain the system the two of us and our old roommate Chrystal had used, and I listen, hand poised on the button that will start the coffee grinder. Kelly likes our chore chart, so we all agree to keep it.

With our decision comes a lull in the conversation, so I push the button, the whirr of the grinder forcing each of us into our own worlds for a moment. When it’s finished though, we return to each other, chatting about plans for a new DVD player while we measure, stir, brew and sort. We’ve never cooked together before, but we’ve fallen into it easily, a natural rhythm emerging in our movements, in our words. I breathe deeply, taking in not only the rich aroma of coffee and the crisp scent of pancakes in oil, but also the moment itself and its echoes of goodness, rightness, home.

Amy and Kelly are both flipping pancakes now, Kelly in a round skillet, Amy in a wok. Neither pan’s right for the job, but they don’t seem to mind. I grab the margarine and pancake syrup and put them on the table, then add the finishing touch: a candle in the center. I run upstairs to get a match and return to light it, finishing at the same time as the pancakes.

We all sit down together at the table. “Wow, we work well together,” Kelly says, surveying the results of our efforts: coffee steaming in mugs, peach and blueberry pancakes, some perfect crisp rounds, others lumpy piles. I offer to pray. “Thanks God,” I say, “for letting us all work together this morning to make breakfast. Thanks for fun memories. I pray that there’d be many more in the coming months. And I pray too that in the fun, there’d also be lots of growing together, lots of helping each other seek You more. Amen.”

I look up and smile at my roommates, truly thankful for this moment and for the fact that I’m not spending this hour before church alone, thankful too that church is beginning to work its way into my home.

Post Trip Reflections

After a hiatus of several weeks to recover from my adventures and readjust (somewhat painfully) to life in DC, I'm ready to return to the blogosphere. It's sad, but I really am kind of addicted now. Writing for an audience - at least an imagined one - makes it seem so much more real. And since I'll be doing lots of writing for my grad classes this semester, I thought I'd post some of it without further ado, some reflections on Scotland, the Heathrow craziness, and the way it's impacted me.

On Beauty: Scotland and Pennsylvania

*Scotland: Thursday, August 10, 2006

We are driving toward Loch Ness on a Haggis tour bus when I first hear whispers of the foiled attack at Heathrow. The news comes in fragments as we weave our way through the lush green of the Highlands, tidbits gathered by tour members with cell phones, intermittent updates on the radio: major terrorist plot involving flights from London to America, extra security, evacuation, restrictions limiting carry-on luggage.

Our tour guide, Fergus, tries to keep things as “wild and sexy” as his company’s advertising promises, blasting the Automatic’s “Monster” over the loudspeakers as we near Fort Augustus, amusing himself and at least some of his audience with off-color jokes for the first stretch of our long drive back to Edinburgh. It makes me think of the teachers I work with who had to keep going on 9-11, pretending that everything was normal, sneaking peeks at CNN online, turning on the news during their free periods. I wonder if Fergus is secretly as anxious as I am to finish the tour and find a television, to get the full story, to figure out what all of this means for me, for the world.

And yet, part of me likes that in the isolated bubble that is this tour bus, it all feels far away. From my back row seat, I can hear little above the hum of the air conditioner, and I lay my head back on the seat, trying to take in the quiet of the countryside: sheep scattered across fields of gold, sprinkled with purple heather and bright pink bursts of flowering thistle, the green vegetation on the glacial bluffs darkening to brown in the distance.

It is beautiful, all of it, stunning really, and yet I find myself feeling not the ache of beauty, the one I feel when I can simply sit and take it all in, but rather the ache for home. I long for those I know would love to be here with me, for places I can visit without feeling the weight of capturing them in pictures and words, for beauty I can call mine, its familiarity adding to its richness.
Here, now, even my words are tentative, grasping for cohesiveness as we fly through Scotland at one hundred kilometers per hour. One minute, the patterns of vegetation on the hillside are a swirled mass of browns and greens, like the earth as viewed from outer space. The next, they become a mini-golf course, lighter green blobs outlined in darker green.

And suddenly, being on another continent matters in ways it hasn’t for the past five weeks. I’m no further away than I have been, but I feel further knowing that Heathrow might be shut down, that my plane ticket may do me no good, that the world is full of people who don’t like Americans. I wonder if my flight was one of those to be targeted, try to imagine what it would feel like, thousands of miles in the air, to know you were going to die.

Looking out the window on my left, I catch a glimpse of a patch of sunlight on the gently sloped hillside. A cloud advances upon it, gradually sweeping up tree after tree into its shadow, like a curtain closing.

*Pennsylvania: Sunday, September 3, 2006

I am sitting in the back seat of my parents’ cranberry red Ford Taurus, sipping a cup of McDonald’s coffee. I hadn’t planned to get up before six over the long weekend. In fact, I hadn’t planned to set my alarm at all, but then again, none of us had expected my youngest brother to call yesterday and say that he’d lost one-third of his vision in his left eye. Gone. Without explanation.

It’s a little after seven now, and we’ve been on the road for an hour or so, heading from Lancaster, where I’ve been visiting my parents for the weekend, to State College, where my brother is supposed to be beginning his senior year of college in two days. He has a doctor’s appointment at 9, and we expect that he might have to go into surgery immediately afterwards. My mom, a nurse, suspects a retinal detachment, but even if it’s not, we all suspect that it’s serious.

We are driving along the Susquehanna River, winding upward through the Alleghney Mountains. Fog rises off the water, and mist drifts through the lush, green valleys. This is prettier than Scotland, I think, amazed that in the forty or fifty times I must have made this drive in my own college career, I’ve never realized this before. If I were on a tour bus, I think, I’d be commenting on how gorgeous America is, how I just wish I could live in a place like this. Strange that I have. Strange too that this is the time I’m finally paying attention.

But maybe beauty is like that. Maybe it hits you most when you least expect it, when you can least stop to enjoy it. Maybe it’s most striking when we’re most aware of our own mortality, most humbled by our own powerlessness. Maybe beauty’s not meant to be grasped, but to call us to something deeper.

The Adventure Continues

We're currently paying exorbitant rates for internet, so I'll keep this brief but here's the update. We made our flight to Heathrow from Edinburgh, only to find our United flight one of the third that were cancelled out of Heathrow today. It was absolute craziness at the airport; I've never seen anything like it. We couldn't even get inside the airport. So we're at the Marriott near the airport, scheduled to fly to Germany tomorrow morning and then from there to Dulles, hopefully arriving tomorrow evening. Please keep praying that we can get on both flights and arrive home safely as soon as possible! Thanks. I love and miss you all TONS. Never thought I'd be so excited for American soil.

Ready for Home

Well I took notes yesterday with the full intention of writing a really poetic post on my reflections about the Scottish highlands, but right now, I'm too tired to manage. So instead I'm just writing to say we're still here, still having fun, still seeing lots of cool stuff - in spite of all the drama in the airports here.

We spent the last two days on day trips in the Highlands, and they're absolutely beautiful: lush, green, quaint little towns, sheep everywhere, some cool looking hairy coos (cows in Scottish dialect). We visited Loch Ness and a distillery - fun, but I still don't like whiskey. Stacie and I sampled some haggis yesterday, and it was actually quite good. Tomorrow we have one more day in Edinburgh before the adventure of trying to get home begins.

We'd definitely appreciate your prayers for a safe trip home. We need to fly from Edinburgh to Heathrow and then back out again to Dulles, all in one day. From everything we're reading, it's going to be a bit crazy with luggage and all, but we're definitely thankful they foiled the plot. If I don't post again tomorrow, hopefully my next post will be made from good old Fairfax. I can't wait!

Enjoying Edinburgh

Just a quick post to say we made it safe and sound to Edinburgh this afternoon and are LOVING our hostel here. It's in a beautiful, old castle-like building right on a lake with incredible scenery. So far we haven't made it in to downtown Edinburgh because we've been so busy enjoying exploring the hostel (which includes a store, movie theater, pub, and gym) and walking through the scenery around it. Tomorrow, we'll spend the day in the city and then Thursday and Friday we'll be taking day trips out into the countryside.

It's FREEZING here...I bought a wool sweater in Ireland, and even with that and two other layers on and sun still out, I was cold on our after-dinner walk. It's hard to believe that just two weeks ago I was sweltering in Cambridge!