June, 2018

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What do you want?

Monday, June 11th, 2018

She is curled at my feet, nose tucked beneath her tail. Right now she is peaceful, worn out from our after-dinner walk in which she had a chance to run free through the woods. When she emerged with a rabbit’s leg, severed from the rest of the body, stripped of flesh save the furry foot, her off-leash privileges ended.

When I tell people about Foxy’s hunting habit, many recoil; nature can be harsh. But here is the honest truth: I love watching my dog run. The girl knows what she wants; when she spots a squirrel or a chipmunk, she drops to a crouch, tense for a split second before rocketing into the chase, transformed by primal instinct like a wolf in Yellowstone. It’s as if she finally remembers what she truly is, what she was made for. Foxy may be cute, but beneath her domestication, she’s as wild as they come.

I think I’m jealous.

I’m told that as a toddler, I loved to run naked. Once my mom heard the front door unlatch, and by the time she made it outside, her unclothed 2-year-old was halfway down the block. Listen, I was born to be free!

Somewhere along the line, I was expected to get myself under control — which, when it comes to matters of clothing, is definitely for the best. Many guidelines we are given as children certainly help form us into respectable human beings, not to mention law-abiding citizens, bless our toddler streaking selves.

But in learning to follow the rules, is it possible that something significant could be lost? In squelching our instincts, might we be subduing an inner wildness that perhaps needs to be shaped, but was never meant to be tamed?

Of all the questions Jesus posed during his life on earth, there is one that hits me straight in the heart: “What do you want?” (John 1:38). Referencing this inquiry, James K.A. Smith says, “This is the most incisive, piercing question Jesus can ask of us precisely because we are what we want. Our wants and longings and desires are at the core of our identity, the wellspring from which our actions and behaviors flow” (You Are What You Love).

Surely a large part of what this means is that we have a responsibility to guard and curate our hearts, seeking to align our core desires with the heart of all that is good, creating habits that will help foster health and wholeness. This takes intentionality and work — because despite what this world would tell us, “Follow your bliss” isn’t exactly a reliable North Star.

But just like Foxy was created for the chase, each of us was created with a default orientation. We were created to long for something. And since he’s the one who made us, I believe Jesus’s question can also be taken at face value. Turning to the men who were about to become his first two disciples, he asks, “What do you want?”

The question feels stunning to me, probably because I often don’t know what I want — or, perhaps more accurately, I often don’t trust that I know what I want. Unlike my beloved, uncivilized dog, I fear that some of my God-given instincts have been trained out of me, leading me to play it safe and settle for small. As much as I want to, I have trouble dancing at weddings. Regardless of how I’m drawn toward beauty, I avoid extravagance. Despite the urge — and there is definitely an urge — I never raise a ruckus.

But for those who seek God, we can trust that our desires were placed inside our hearts by God himself (Psalm 37:4). They are there to serve a purpose, even if only to point us back to our Creator. Saint Augustine famously wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” This statement implies design — both that we were designed by God, and that we were designed for God. Our heart’s ultimate desire is always God himself, and our unique individual longings exist to point us back to the One who made us.

Watching my dog run full tilt through a field, I have sometimes jokingly co-opted Irenaeus’s line to say, “The glory of God is Foxy fully alive.” But just as every creature on earth was made by a Creator, for a Creator, Irenaeus’s original words ring all the more true: “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

I do not want to shy away from all I was created to be. I want to chase after the longings I was made for. I want to live like Foxy: running wild and free, head thrown back, howling at the moon for the love of my Maker.

The wild beast, captured by Ashley Parsons (www.wearetheparsons.com)

[This piece was written as a part of Lore Wilbert’s Writing Mentorship course. If you’re interested, I highly encourage you to apply for the next round this fall — it was so good for me.]

Writing and yoga

Monday, June 4th, 2018

Over the past several months, I took part in Lore Wilbert’s Writing Mentorship course. If you don’t know Lore, well, me neither — at least not in person. But thanks to years of blog stalking, I’ve come to know her as a gorgeous writer: intentional, challenging, and smart as a whip. Our faith looks different in some ways, but I so respect the way she grapples with life and with God. In a world of “Christian influencers” where everyone is eager to spout off opinions on this or that, Lore balances both a weighty theology and a light-footed grace. She makes me want to know God more — which is to say, she makes me want to press further into mystery.

As a writer, I am learning that deadlines and accountability are my friends; this mentorship was a catalyst for writing more than I have written in years. In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing some of these pieces here on my blog, so be sure to check back.

In the meantime, one of the essays I wrote as a part of Lore’s course has found a home at Fathom Magazine, one of my favorite online spaces. Yay! It went live today. Here’s an excerpt, and here’s a link to the full piece.

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I open the door and the heat hits me like a solid wall. At 105 degrees, the air has morphed into a physical presence, thick and palpable, yet I willingly enter the room. I am early. I want to get a good spot, because the only thing worse than being strangled by heat is being strangled by heat and unable to follow the instructor. Not that I necessarily need a visual.

The sequence is always the same, 26 poses in unchanging order. Some might consider the repetition monotonous, but these days, I find the predictability a comforting liturgy. This flow has served as consistency when life has been anything but. I have been coming to this yoga studio for ten months now, ever since I left my home for the last time and drove south. Ever since the day everything fell apart. (Continue reading…)

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If you’re interested in Lore’s Writing Mentorship course, she’s planning on hosting another round in the fall. I can’t recommend it highly enough; she crafts the entire thing with such care, and I grew as a writer and a human. Follow her online and watch for the application!