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All things new

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Just the other day, I was reminiscing with my mom about 2011 (i.e. The Worst Year Ever) – and while she said that she has blocked out a lot of those memories, to me they’re still vivid, still shocking. Cynthia Monahon calls trauma “the occurrence of the unthinkable,” and if we’re using that definition, 2011 was traumatic in so many ways. While the events of that year aren’t as viscerally painful as they once were, sometimes I still can’t believe that they happened.

In early 2012, I remember praying that God would “throw me a fucking bone,” because God doesn’t mind an honest swear, even if some people do. And while I don’t necessarily credit that prayer with the change, I have to admit – today, things are different.

2013 was good, so good, in so many ways.

I made it through two sisters’ weddings, as well as the remarriage of my father. I experienced four different managers at work. I bought a house. I lost a beloved dog, and gained another. I found myself in Los Angeles, Nashville, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Austin, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, a beach in Florida, the summits of Colorado mountains, cocoa farms in the Dominican Republic, the shore of Lake Superior, and the seat of a bicycle (of all places). There were hours and hours of walking, hours and hours of silence, hours and hours of friendship, and many bottles of wine. I barely went to church, but I read my bible more than ever before. I chopped off my hair, and started the long, slow work of growing it back. I played my guitar. I met so many new people.

It was a rich year – not without heartache, but somehow without heartBREAK. And that was a welcome change, a gentleness I’d forgotten was possible.

Today, as I retire my 2013 calendar to the bookshelf that holds 10 years of its companions, I look ahead to 2014 – and I’m so excited. I’m just so excited for what’s on tap for this year. I can’t wait to see what the time brings – because despite my sparse church attendance this year, if there’s any promise that I love, it’s that all things are being made new.


Labor Day

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

I don’t feel much like getting up from this bed. My legs are stretched out in front of me and crossed at the ankles, left over right, giving me a good view of my newly pedicured toes. I broke one of them a few years ago – stubbed it on my couch, the one I bought brand new – and it still juts high above the other four, like an adobe hill out of the desert, the kind that gutsy kids use as a bike ramp.

It’s been years since I’ve ridden a bike, even though the Trek I got for my 14th birthday is currently crammed into the mudroom of my house, the front wheel turned perpendicular to the rest of the frame, blocking the doorway. I step over it whenever I go into the backyard, which is infrequent now that Toad is gone. I keep thinking I should put air in these tires. I should ride to work. Or I could try to sell it. Homeowners can always use extra cash.

It stresses me out, money. It always has. When I was a kid, I would pull the dollar bills out of my piggy bank and count them, splaying them across my bedspread, the ones together, the fives. Then I would walk across the hallway to the laundry room, set up the ironing board, and turn the iron to low. The literal smoothening of my money somehow translated, and when the stack of bills was crisp and orderly, so was my spirit – at least, so I thought.

Last night in a church pew, I wrote my September budget on a Post-It note. I had not been to church in – months? It must be. And already, the rhythm of the service felt unfamiliar. Do we really stand for this long? Funny, I went to church nearly every Sunday for 30 years, but take me out for just a few months and all of a sudden attending feels new.

I like it when things feel new and fresh. I also like it when things feel familiar and routine. This desire for both roots and wings is a tug-of-war, and I’m right in the middle of it, and I don’t know if I’ll be pulled to one side or the other or just torn in half.

They – three different friends now – say that they think I’m “on the verge.” Of what, they don’t really know, and it would be silly to speculate. But I feel it, too – the sense that something is almost. I wonder if it will feel like roots or like wings.

So I pray. I think that prayer is important – not so much because I think God will do what I ask, but because it reminds me that I’m not him. Not so much because God is a shelter from the storm, but because I hope he’ll stand out in the rain with me. Not so much because it leads to the absence of pain, but to the presence of love.

Change of plans

Monday, August 1st, 2011

I’m on vacation this week, but my plans – however tentative – have been scrapped.

Baby Zion arrived in Colorado Springs with his family (my brother and sister-in-law and two older nephews) on Saturday, and within an hour, was rushed to the ER because he wasn’t breathing. He almost died that night. Now he is in the ICU, with no real timeline or definitive prognosis.

Please keep my littlest nephew in your prayers.


Monday, March 7th, 2011

Part of the inner world of everyone is this sense of emptiness, unease, incompleteness, and I believe that this in itself is a word from God, that this is the sound that God’s voice makes in a world that has explained him away. In such a world, I suspect that maybe God speaks to us most clearly through his silence, his absence, so that we know him best through our missing him.
-Frederick Buechner

I know people who have active, vivid dialogue with God – they speak to him, and they hear his voice respond.  I am not one of those people.

When I talk to God, I am usually answered with silence.

Most of the time, it’s not that I think that God is not there – but, like Buechner says, perhaps his silence is meant to create a longing that I wouldn’t otherwise have.

And for me, these days, does that longing ever exist.

On Friday, I sat at the edge of the Caribbean, listening to the water hit the sand.  It made me think of a line in Alli Rogers‘ song “Closer to the Moon,” when she sings of listening for God’s voice:

“It’s in the aching that you know there’s something more.
I have never heard even a single spoken word,
Except the rhythm of a wave upon the shore.”

The steady pulse of ocean waves reminds me of the voice of God – it’s one of the biggest reasons I miss living in Seattle.  There is a comfort to the sound and the pattern, wordless as it is.  When I feel frustrated and anxious and doubtful that he even exists, the ocean somehow, inexplicably, brings me back around to truth, calming my heart and soothing my fears.

I’m back in a very landlocked Denver now, after 7 days in Haiti.  A mere week was not enough time to even scratch the surface of the culture, the language, the people – but sitting by the ocean on my last day was the best way to wrap up the first of what I hope will be more trips.  Listening to the waves reminded me that God is still there in Haiti, in the midst of the poverty, the devastation, and the crumbling homes – and he is still here in Colorado, in the midst of my sadness, my uncertainty, and my crumbling home.

Heaven stands

Monday, June 21st, 2010

I will never understand this life, furious and fragile.

Please pray for my friend Steve.

I’m listening to JJ Heller‘s “Your Hands” and “All I Need” this morning, and pleading that the words be true.

A title that fits

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

In a grand twist of events, I found myself dining last night at the Eastland Café with my two roommates, one of their mothers, and two strangers. I had the duck. I love duck.

The strangers quickly became friends. I fell in love with these women.

I heard their stories – what brought them to Nashville, what gives them joy, what they are learning at this stage in their lives. And in turn, they asked me insightful questions – ones that, when I answered, gave me a certain familiarity with myself that I didn’t have before.

Among other things, they asked me about my musical ambitions. I sighed, and told them what I have been thinking lately: I have been so tempted to just quit doing music. To “retire.” To stop frantically scrambling for ideas, and no longer have to answer the question, “So, do you have any shows coming up?” I’ve been discouraged, and creatively dry, and lacking inspiration. Nashville is a great place to enjoy music, but a daunting place to make it. Everyone is good. The mailman is good.

But, I know, I know. The comparison game is completely feckless and futile. I’m learning this. I may be slow, but I AM learning this.

And so I opened up with these women, and told them that I’ve quietly started work on an album – what will wind up being a 6-7 song EP. It’s my first “official” recording project beyond simple demos, and will take awhile to complete since it is self-funded. But the timing is right, and the cost is worth it to me.

I’ve been looking for “a reason” to make a record – a logical justification for it, like, “Oh, I’ll make some money,” or “Oh, this will help me get a publishing deal,” or “Oh, a CD will make me a legitimate songwriter.” But when it comes down to it, my main motivation is this:

I wrote some songs, and I think it’s time for them to be heard.

That’s all.

And in that moment, one of these women reiterated what my mom had said to me earlier in the day: “That makes you an artist.”

After all of my soul-searching and wheel-spinning and worrying that I don’t know what I am doing with my life. After months of despondency and sleepless nights. After a lack of direction, and a desire for definition. After a lot of prayers. I still don’t have all the answers, but…

Finally. A title that fits.

Stay tuned.


Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

Keeping vigil with the Townes today. There are no words.

I am clinging to the truth that no matter how deep our sorrow, God’s love is deeper still. And I’ve heard it said that grace always flows downhill: pooling in the deepest, darkest places of our pain. May the Townes feel that inexpressible peace that passes all understanding.

And may Ben smile his pure-sunshine smile, the one that is so much like his mom’s.

O is for Our Father

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

When your spirit feels stripped, when your foundation is rocked, when you watch your friend’s lives being torn in half like a giant bed sheet, you begin to wonder about this God – the one that you have never not known, the one that you have sung about since you can remember, the one that you have prayed to as naturally as breathing. And when the doubts and questions and anger start creeping in, it’s hard to think straight. It’s hard to remember what you know to be true. It’s hard to believe.

Over the past few days, I have seen everything – everything – through the lens of Ben Towne. Every conversation, every observation, every thought and attempt at prayer – everything has been colored by this bulldozer called cancer. How are we supposed to pray? What are we supposed to ask for? What is really true? What do I believe?

And in this dark and rocky time, I have fallen back on one prayer – the only prayer that I currently know to pray, the one that I’ve never had to memorize because I’ve always known it.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Over and over, like a mantra, this prayer has been pumping through my veins. This is a prayer straight from Jesus’ lips – the way that he taught us to pray – and at this point, it’s the only thing I know. As my friends are living their absolute worst nightmare, I am offering this prayer with every breath.

Thy will be done. But also, deliver us from evil.

I am praying for both. And I don’t know what else to pray for – except for time. As much time as God will give them.

I believe that God is love. I believe that this world is broken. I believe that we were not made for pain and death – and that’s why it hurts so badly. I believe that there will come a day when creation is restored and renewed and redeemed. I believe that, in the grand scheme of eternity, our lives are a flash in the pan. I believe that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. And I believe that God loves Ben, and God loves the Towne family, and that he sees them and has not abandoned them, and that none of this is a mystery to him. I have to believe that.


Friday, October 31st, 2008

In July of 2007, I took a ferry from Seattle across the water to Bainbridge Island, and drove to the beach where I met one of my best friends, Carin, and her 2-year old son Ben. We walked along the water, and threw rocks into the waves, and looked for little sand crabs, and ate grapes and crackers, and soaked up the glorious summer sunshine. Ben was running, and climbing, and laughing. It was a perfect day.

Looking back on that afternoon, our ignorance is obvious – blatantly flashing like a neon sign, humming with a warning we could not hear – as no one could have ever expected what was to come. For a few short weeks later, Ben was diagnosed with an aggressive, high-risk form of cancer called neuroblastoma. And since that day, Ben and his family have walked through nothing short of hell on earth.

While thousands have prayed, Ben has endured surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, stem cell transplants, oral drugs, experimental antibodies – not to mention excruciating pain, vomiting, and the side effects of atrociously harsh narcotics. Jeff and Carin have watched their baby writhe in pain, with no power to do anything about it, or to explain to him “why.” They have continually trusted their son’s safety, health, and comfort to the doctors and nurses – all the while living in fear of what the final outcome might be.

Last night brought some unspeakably heartbreaking news. Ben has four new tumors – three on his brain, and one on his liver. Despite every effort over the past 14 months, the cancer is spreading.

News like this is like… a fistful of broken glass. A fish-hook in the side. An anvil on the chest. And it takes me to a very raw and ugly place – one in which I doubt prayer, and I doubt God. It’s not fair. It’s just not fair. He’s just a little boy – barely 3-years old. He should be trick-or-treating tonight. I cannot stand it. Is there anything worse – anything more senseless – than the suffering of a child?

When Ben was baptized as an infant, his mom, beautiful Carin, stood in front of our church congregation and read the scripture that they were claiming for his life: “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Who knew that Ben would actually be faced with all of these things within the first 3 years of his life. Now I am clinging to the promise that none of these horrors can separate him from the love of God… but where is this love?

I know I’ve asked for this before, but please join me in praying for Ben, his parents Jeff and Carin, and his little brother Ryan.

By the way…

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

… D is also for decisions, discernment, and distraction.

Any of you who have been following this blog for awhile know that I struggle with “knowing” if I am making the right decisions in my life. I continually question whether or not I’m in the right place, moving in the right direction, meeting the right people, pursuing the right things, giving my attention to the right goals, and generally, being the right version of Annie.

These are all good questions, and hard questions, and questions worth asking. But. I tend to stress and spiral out of control with these concerns, rather than doing what it is that I should do from the very beginning, which is asking God for discernment. And so in recent weeks, I have devoted myself to the discipline of opening myself up through prayer, and presenting these questions to God. It’s as uncomplicated as that. I tell God exactly what is on my mind, and ask him for direction.

And through a sermon that I recently heard in Kansas City, I was challenged to include the simple prayer, “God, distract me from myself.”

I suspect that the answers to my quest for meaning and purpose lie somewhere within that simple prayer, and that the path might look very different than what I have imagined.