Tag Archives: nostalgia

when i go out, i want to go out like elijah





Yesterday my friend sent me an old picture of hers from Instagram–a photo of my daughter, age 1, crawling around the floors of our apartment. my friend said “I just want to be back at [your old apartment complex] with you, drinking French Press and getting scratched by your cat Huckleberry. SOB. Can we go back in time a bit when life was simpler? I’ll meet you there.”

The picture, and the sentiments, stopped me cold in the middle of my day. My baby–so little, so adorable, such a weird little mullet–I had almost forgotten what she had been like at one. Then there was the apartments: the well-kept low-income housing complex where we lived for four years in SE Portland, which in my minds eye seems cleaner and quieter than anything we have experienced since (a dishwasher! no cockroaches! my husband’s life only got threatened once!). I remember the huge windows, the natural light streaming in (even if it was a bit cloudy), sitting on my orange corduroy couch and drinking coffee with my friend. How we agonized about our lives, how far they were from our ideals, how we were always itching to get on to the next phase of life.

And now here we are. My friend and her husband moved to Uganda, their lives are a mishmash of experiences I cannot even imagine, her photo stream filled with joy and sweat, me wishing I could reach out and touch her. Me and my grown-up baby and my husband moved across the country and plunged ourselves a further bit down the ladder of the American dream, our lives a beautiful jumble and we can’t keep track of all that we have learned or all the ways we have been changed. And as much as I love my life now, I still, just for a moment, longed to go back in time. To sit with my friend, clutching my baby, in my beautiful cozy apartment surrounded on every side by refugee friends and neighbors, to drink coffee and to appreciate the day for what it was.

I told my husband about this. Remember when we lived there? I said. It was a great time to be alive. We were so happy.

I don’t know, my husband answered slowly. You always seemed a bit lonely to me.









There is another picture I thought of the other day, which I tracked back to my Myspace page (oh my word do you remember those?). This is me when I was probably 20, maybe 21. I am untroubled by the world. My face is smooth and unlined, my hair short and swingy, a beautiful baby strapped to my back. i was no doubt running around tacking up flyers for the kids homework club that I started, visiting various families, sitting on floors and eating with my fingers, sitting on couches and being ignored, just showing up week after week for this amazing life that I had discovered in the pockets of America. I did not have angst. I was pleased with myself, pleased with the part I was doing in the world, pleased to know I was using my gifts well.

On second thought, that isn’t quite true. I was, after all, there to “practice” on people before I moved overseas, before I really dedicated myself to God, when I had all my theologies sorted out and a team and legitimacy in the eyes of the world. I was testing it out, seeing if I was any good at it, slowly becoming suspicious of all of the people I knew who loved to talk about mission but couldn’t be bothered to come once a week and help refugee kids learn basic math. I discovered that I was not good at a whole lot of things: proselytizing, supervising homework clubs with 50+ kids and no other volunteers, doing it all on my own without getting bitter. I was more than a little bit lonely. And instead of being good at anything, I began to realize how much pleasure I found in being with people who were different from me.




I’m thinking about all of this, because the angst has never really left me. Even in this season, it is here, lurking underneath. I recently watched Ragamuffin, the story of Rich Mullins (a personal hero of mine), and it left me more than a bit uncomfortable. I recognized so much of myself in him, both his depths of unhappiness and fierce propulsion to continually move forwards. How can somebody continually have revelations from God, write songs about his love, and then have moments of being completely unconvinced of that truth? But this is how it is, this is the reality of the world. We hear revelations, and we forget. We experience love, and we forget. We witness the miracles of forgiveness and resurrection, and we forget. We see the kingdom come, we are filled with love for the church, we are content to be little mustard seeds and then–it all flows away like water.

I have no doubt that in three years time I will look back at this time, this day, this season in my life with nothing but kindness. Through rose-colored glasses I will only see the good, will only see the revelations, will choose to not see the clouds of forgetfulness. I will be kind to my un-perfect self, realize that if I spent over 20+ years of my life willing myself to be the one who goes out and saves everybody then it might be realistic to think it would take some time to gently undo those faulty beliefs and all the relational brokenness that comes out of them.

If I could go back in time–ten years ago, three years ago–what would I tell myself? I would probably say:You can move across the country, sell all that you have and live in a poorer neighborhood–and you will still feel that restless urge. You will not be able to outrun your demons, the sense that you are never doing enough. You will continue to fluctuate between deliriously happy in the love of God and what he is up to in the world and being crushed by the inaction and apathy of so many around you. The angst is not going to go away. The love will continue to grow until it engulfs you. You will be crushed, and you will be resurrected, time and time again.


You will still be so very lonely. You will still be so very loved.


I am writing this here to remind myself. There is no doubt in my mind that I will soon forget.























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coping mechanisms

Transition is hard on everyone.

We were in the car yesterday, on the way to partake of some deliciousness at the food carts (pizza, fried pie). The baby is screaming at the top of her lungs, crying, inconsolable. Snacks, stuffed bunnies, water, hands to hold–nothing is helping. The food carts are far away. My husband puts on some Ke$ha, sings along at the top of his lungs. I pull out my book (the Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris, which I am savoring) trying to immerse myself in reflections on the Psalms while around me the cacophony of sound is truly deafening. We are all trying to cope, in our own ways, right now.

My husband looks over at me, over the crying, the Ke$ha, the calm words in my hand. “This is kind of funny,” he says, meaning the ways we are all coping. “You should put this on your blog or something”.


My new post at McSweeney’s is up (also, can I just geek out for a moment and say that Jesse Eisenberg is also writing for McSweeney’s and his piece came out today too? So in my dream world that makes us writer friends/bffs. And yes, it is that Jesse Eisenberg).

Nostalgia is such a tricky thing. I knew I would have to write about it at some point, I just never knew it would be so much about me. In my grad school I actually had to take a couple of Seminary classes, and one was on World Religions (and friends, I have taken soooooo many World Religions classes that I was pretty miffed I had to do another one). But this class turned out to be great, where we actually listened to experts from various religions come and share themselves with us (imagine that!). The class also focused on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict as a model to explore all modern religious conflict. I wrote a paper on how nostalgia has been used to convert people on both sides of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict into violent forms of nationalism. It was a wordy, researched-based piece, but the results stuck with me. Telling stories matters. We need to make sure the stories we are telling ourselves do not revolve just around our shared history, but the stories of the work God has done in us.

I also found that one of the best ways to subvert violent, nostalgia-based rhetoric was to focus on telling the stories of those not in the majority of power: mainly, the women and the children. This is something I think we all can do, right where we are. All of us have the means to interact with those on the fringes of power, and to help tell those stories. This is one of the ways we can lesson violence, and stop allowing ourselves to be convinced that we are the only right thinkers in the world.

So, what stories are you compelled to seek out and to tell?

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