Filled

Bright sanctuary.

The warm, muted, soft kind of bright,

the kind that slides nearly unnoticed through the frosted glass above,

settling over the pews below,

filling the space between pew and carpet,

window and sill,

floor and ceiling.

There are spaces, there on the pews.

It’s a holiday weekend and I count missing faces

in the time between stand and sit,

between greetings and prayer

between coming and going.

But it’s not an empty place,

here in the pale yellow glow.

On the stage, pacing slightly, moving one way, then another,

he recites.

Four chapters by memory, added to the dozens of others

that he’s already committed to memory.

Before he began to recite, he stood and he spoke;

words about depression and suicide

and thoughts you just can’t seem to shake.

And I hear the tears in his voice

and in that sun-above light, his eyes shine

and he says cling to the Word

because this we will always have.

And then he begins.

I’m so excited, I whisper to the father, who sits besides me,

and I hear my voice squeak, every so slightly,

extra excitement squeezing out of my tight chest.

And then, up on stage, he begins to speak,

and the words and the verses,

the pauses and the inflections,

the living sound of the Word of God,

fills that sanctuary,

rising gently,

definitively,

up to the wide ceiling,

filling that sun-lit sanctuary.

~Natalia

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Life Right Now {#58}

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Three hours in Starbucks,
Working, typing, sipping painfully unsweetened tea,
All the while sneaking glances, longingly, at the museum across the street.
I left sooner than I had planned.
But walking those wide halls,
Stepping solemnly through exhibits,
Their high ceilings echoing with wonder,
Moving systematically through an enchanting, fascinating show of Magritte’s work;
I really believe that the Art Institute
Is the best kind of reward.

~Natalia

Eight Months Here Again

For six days a week, between now and December 12th, you will read the devotional that I have posted online, and then write a brief comment responding to the accompanying reflection questions.

It’s homework. Assigned. For points.

I’ve known the professor since my first months at this school, three years ago. And I’ve been familiar with his blog since those first freshman classes, as well. I follow it on WordPress. Skim through it, occasionally.

It’s Bible studies that he writes.

Expository, starting at the beginning of a book. Moving, section by section, to the very end. Passage, reflection, questions.

And now we’re in Methods of Teaching the Bible and he says your lives and the curriculum and he’s modeling godly teaching, and he’s requiring Bible study blog post comments.

And I don’t mind at all.

Last fall was an unintentional experiment in the unsettling ease with which I was able to slide through an entire semester with a greatly stunted, or perhaps nonexistent, faith.

Having intentionally set aside such disciplines as Bible reading, prayer, and the maintenance of a Christian worldview, I found it to be too much to take them up again.

First the summer, then the fall of 2013 passed in a blur of semi-annoyed purposelessness.

It was a new feeling to feel the solid ground beneath me give way to marshy apathy and negativity, and I tripped, fell, angrily sprawled over things that should not have rattled me so.

I was lost, at first willingly, and then confusedly, in a maze of lies and fear: the lie that I couldn’t return to the faith I once held to, and fear that that was true.

Happily, thankfully, wonderfully, a song in a church over Christmas break- reconciliation and hope in four verses and a chorus- brought my tired heart and mind gratefully back.

Back to grace. Back to joy and energy, forgiveness and empathy.

And back to truth.

And now, nearly eight months to the day later, I sit in my bed, in the same room that brimmed over with confusion, anger, apathy last year. And I open that blog, and I read, and I reflect, and I respond,

and it is joy.

~Natalia

p.s. The blog is called The Plymothian, and features wonderful devotionals and reflection questions, as well as (between now and December 12th) an inside look at my homework. :)

Annoyances

The first hour of the first day of my last semester at school began with opening my Bible to read (in a New School Year resolution to get back into reading the Bible), only to find the second half of the New Testament dripping wet.

A quick investigation revealed a pile of cards (lovingly written to me at WOW Camp), the four sheets of paper that I printed yesterday, and my computer sitting in a puddle of water on my desk.

Because, as I realized, non-sealed water bottle + pillow pushed off the bed = excessive spillage.

Thankfully, everything worth saving was salvageable; my six-year-old fighter of a computer puttered to life without a care in the world, and I suddenly found the motivation to clean off my desk, a task which needed done, although I did not envision myself doing so with a towel in my hand.

This evening, with six syllabi waiting to be entered into the 2×2 inch squares on the Almighty Ruler of My Life (also known as my calendar), I finished, emailed to myself, and hopped downstairs to print the summer reading paper which must accompany me through the door of my 8am class tomorrow.

The printers are out of paper.

Loathe to walk to the library, and (wrongly) assuring myself there must be some solution, I proceeded to waste nearly an hour puttering around on multiple printers, both those of the school, and friends, in the (apparently vain) hope that I might avoid a 7am jaunt to the school library.

But alas, woe, woe, to the library I go.

Tomorrow.

But these inconveniences, these annoyances, their affect on me was somewhat less than I anticipated as I watched my plans first for the morning, then the evening, crumble rather dramatically. I suppose I maintained as level a head as I originally possessed through the (greatly-helpful) power of the Holy Spirit.

And I doubt that will be the last time, either. Because life is a hard thing to nail down, specifically, and these little moments of ineffective machinery or non-fatal user error on the account of water bottles (for instance) happen when we least expect them. Annoying. Time wasting. And probably largely inevitable.

So I take a breath, shrug, make a new plan, and move on to the next thing.

(And also pray like crazy that I don’t forget to print my paper in the morning.)

~Natalia

The Chicago I Know

I leaned over the heater this evening, 

hands resting on the wall, cool and dry under my fingers, 

and I looked out the window.

Below me, five lanes of traffic glowed in the red throb of brake lights.

I recognized the long white body of a police car at the corner, 

watching, waiting momentarily, then rolling away when the lights turned.

People wandered alone, in small pockets of peers, up and down the street.

A faint scent of cigarette smoke wafted into the crack of open window. 

Down the street, out of my sight, two cars honked; 

one a quick beep, another a long, insistent, screech. 

A siren called out into the night, then faded quickly from earshot, 

on its way to someone, some place, over there. 

I leaned my forehead against the thick window glass, 

watching everything and nothing, 

refreshed by the familiar, chaotic, routine rhythm 

of the Chicago I know. 

~Natalia 

 

All the Wrong Things

We’re almost thirty strong, there in that windowless classroom. Next to me stands our leader, his yellow polo shirt unbuttoned at the neck, the hem tucked neatly into his slacks. He knows students, has lived this undergraduate circle of come, learn, grow, repeat, for years. We’re there, in a wide, oblong circle with twenty-five freshman, and he’s talking about a new school and ethnic diversity and healthy friendships and suddenly I’m thinking about April’s chill spring weekends, and a blue dress hanging in my closet, two buildings away.

He’s talking, still, pointing to a pictograph of a friendship, a relationship, built upon Jesus Christ, and he says grace, truth, humility, and influence, and I might be sitting there in that stuffy classroom, but I’m thinking about April; I’m living April once more. 

The school formal dinner in ten days, I’ve two dozen red roses on my dresser courtesy of my date, and a freshly-purchased dress and shoes next to my desk. Di bursts into the room one afternoon, asking styles and shopping, planning and details, and I nod toward the bag; Wanna see it? 

I look good in the dress. It fits me well, brilliant blue fabric ruffling over my shoulders, down to my knees. Taking small steps in heels three inches taller than my normal footwear, I turn in front of the mirror affixed above my sink, leaning first one way, then the other, watching my reflection intently. Behind me, perched on my bed, Di exclaims as only she can, hands clasped before her, pale pink polish just beginning to chip off her rounded nails. 

It’s a good dress, and my trepidation over participation in such a grand, unknown event seems to melt in the warm face of an outfit I’m excited to wear, along with Di’s rapturous support. 

But then, movement, words in the hall, and I peer out, stepping towards the RA’s room on legs made longer, fawn-like, by the shoes. The RA raises her head from her reading when I appear in the doorway, as if drawn by some irresistible force into her warmly-lit space. She smiles at me, nods toward the outfit I’m still wearing. Suddenly uncomfortable, I look down, step towards the door again. But it’s too late, and what I feared, dreaded, unfolds before my eyes. 

Is that for the banquet? She asks, and I nod, my stomach sinking. It’s so cute- you look great- she begins. Then, my excitement comes crashing down: It’s a little too short, she says.

My disappointment melts into anger in seconds. I nod my understanding, move quickly out of the room, down the hall, feeling the blue fabric inch higher, become shorter, with every step. My hopes of looking good, of enjoying the events, of stepping down Michigan Avenue to the venue, confident in my apparel, dissolved before my eyes. In my room once more, I let the door shut behind me, kicking off my shoes while relating my quickly-forming list of complaints to Di. 

I don’t have time to buy a new dress. 

I bought this dress for this event. 

And the shoes! They match so well! 

Why is she always making it about rules? 

What am I supposed to do? 

I rail and fume, my eyes burning with hot tears of anger. In the hours, days, that follow, I repeat myself for emphasis a dozen times, gladly picking up my fury again and again as my prohibited dress comes up with school friends, work friends, my mother. 

She’s always all about rules, I huff, over and again. It’s never about relationship, I emphasize, allowing my frustration to center upon the one whose main offense was communicating to me rules which she neither invented nor initiated. 

In the days, hours, before the dinner, I flounder, still fuming, through locating a back-up outfit. I’ll change, if required to do so, but I cling to my anger still, protesting the prohibition of my new dress until 45 minutes before I must leave my room, before I’m to meet my party in the Plaza.

The floor abuzz with formal preparation, I weave through girls in heels balancing before miniature hallway mirrors, lips puckered, eyebrows raised as they stroke mascara onto their upturned lashes. Is there any way I can wear that blue dress? I ask when I’ve found her, waiting silently for her reply, not daring to hope, too prideful to beg. She gazes up at me, her red lips bright, contrasting against her beautiful face. Wordless, I watch uncertainty flutter across her face. Then, looking down at her hands for the slightest moment, she sighs; Put it on and show me again. 

I do. I trot back up the hall in seconds, pushing into her room once more, yanking the dress as far down my legs as it will go. I stand before her, arms at my sides, the dress tight, form-fitting, and just as she said, just as I know to be true, too short. 

She sighs again, her hands still in her lap. Go ahead and wear it, she says, and maybe the shrug of defeat is just in her voice, but maybe I see her shoulders sink infinitesimally, relinquishing concern over a rule that I had determined I could not, would not, follow. 

Sitting in that orientation room, elbow resting on my crossed knees, I think about that luxurious banquet night. We walked down Michigan Avenue, a mass of students with high heels clicking, dress shoes treading over gum-stained sidewalks. We ate, took pictures, sipped fake cocktails out of miniature plastic glasses. And I wore that blue dress, its hem sneaking higher up my legs every time I sat, stood, walked. 

I’d felt guilty, convicted, as soon as she consented; my anger settled on the only one who bore the responsibility: me. It felt hollow, unfulfilling, petty to have won the right of the dress. My insides burned at the thought of the many people who had heard my story of injustice and persecution, and I slunk into the hallway once more before leaving, knocking on her door, head bowed. I apologized then. For stubbornness. And pride. And anger. Then I walked downstairs, platform heels echoing in the stairwell, with tears in my eyes from forgiveness, and from wrongs that don’t disappear with words of pardon. 

And there in that August orientation, the leader standing before me talks about relationships and grace and I know then that I was more wrong than I thought. Because when she sighed, looking at me in my too-short dress, and nodded her head in consent, she chose the value of our relationship over the guidelines of the event; laying down what she knew was right, in order to maintain our relationship. 

But the choice I made, decisions made on gut reactions and split-second anger, drove rules like a wedge into the relationship between me and her, threatening to divide us further with every time I repeated the story, citing a rule made in wisdom as the barrier between us, when really, it’s not about rules at all- it never is. 

It’s about choosing people over rules. It’s about people and words and grace and kindness. It’s about humility and understanding, flexibility and humor.

And that night in a blue dress, and the days leading up to it, I chose all the wrong things.

~Natalia 

No Comparing

There’s no comparing, of course, 

because last year, and the two before that, were different.

Different voices ringing up and down the hall, 

different RA setting up meetings, planning events.

Different classes, different professors,

different roommates, different rooms, 

so many things are so very different, every year. 

But I look at eleven new faces on this dorm floor, 

and a different RA speaking kind, gentle, in the room two doors down, 

and a class schedule I’ve never lived before, 

and new days

and new assignments

and new decisions, 

I can’t help but be excited 

because new might not be better, 

and different really cannot be compared

but I’m looking forward to it

just the same.

~Natalia 

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