I began reading The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns today, and in the midst of my own similar writing project on reading the Bible I feel as if I’ve found a kindred spirit. This comes early on in his narrative:

“Sweating bullets to line up the Bible with our exhausting expectations, to make the Bible something it’s not meant to be, isn’t a pious act of faith, even if it looks that way on the surface. It’s actually thinly masked fear of losing control and certainty, a mirror of an inner disquiet, a warning signal that deep down we do not really trust God at all.”

Losing control and certainty. That’s a deep fear, no matter the era or generation. Abiding with both mystery and reality isn’t a space we occupy comfortably most days, and yet that space is where I find the most tension, the most strength.

Mystery and reality seem to be colliding in all of my writing. Two new essays of mine are coming out this week, and both wrestle.

My lyric essay, “Miles to Go Before I Sleep,” in the winter issue of Tiferet Journal smashes my mom’s cancer against my son’s obsession with Star Wars Legos and killing things in Disney Infinity. It wonders about death and regeneration, dying young and growing old, and paralyzing fear, fear that triggers the panic button, fear that turns you wild-eyed and unreasonable.

The essay begins with the end of the Robert Frost poem, “Miles to Go Before I Sleep,” then:

We talk about growing old, my mom and me. We talk about the crankiness of some old people, the games they play, the things they say, the way they lay blame, the way they’ve changed. Tomorrow, she will turn 54. Together we plan to take my daughter to lunch and to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. The first movie is one of our favorites; we quote it nearly weekly: I peel the potatoes… OH, it’s a CAAAAKE… Toula, when are you going to get married? You look so… old.

I have three children now, children who always measure up an age, almost-10, al-
most-9, almost-5, ever eager to be older. When my mom was my age, I was 13-going-on-14, and all of my grandparents were alive. All of my grandmothers are still alive. All of my children’s great-grandmothers are still alive.

My last living great-grandmother, Anna B. Lingro, stuck around until she was 94. She died in April of 2002. 2002?! Why did I think it was so much earlier? I had in my head her death in 1997, but it turns out she died much later. It was my grandpa who passed away in 1997. Grandpas shouldn’t go before great-grandmas.

Last night, I dreamt I remembered at a conference that my oldest son Elvis was shot dead. A girl was talking about how you can’t know my grief and I nodded and waited until she walked away because whose grief is impersonal, whose grief is common? No one’s. No one knows the depths of your personal grief. In my dream after she left I collapsed alone. My son is dead, he’s dead, shot dead. I woke up dry sobbing, clutching my comforter.

He is not dead, he is not dead, he is not dead.

You can keep reading in Tiferet’s online edition.

The second essay, “Opportunities for Grace,” is to be published as the introduction to the Easter edition of Our Daily Bread. It begins:

My mom was recently diagnosed with stage-four kidney cancer, and as might be expected, I think about it all the time. The latest scans show more growth in her lymph nodes. Her days are filled with decisions about the next steps in her treatment, balancing the cost of expensive drugs, and dealing with insurance claims. She is not old. I am not old. We are both too young to be going through these things. Like anyone facing cancer, the first question on our lips is Why?

Why is this happening? Why did this happen to me? Why do bad things happen? Why the grief in the world, why the chaos, why the suffering? They are huge questions that often go unanswered. This happened. This happened and I hate it.

That’s the state many of us find ourselves in the world these days, right? When my mom’s cancer isn’t fogging up my worldview, there are a million other concerns, a million other fears and anxieties, a million possible arguments on social media, tension between family members, drama with friends, threats in our world. We are afraid for our safety, afraid for our financial status, afraid for our future. There are many things to fear, and lately we seem to fear them all.

Even though both of these essays are dwelling in the realm of scary things no one really wants to ever have to think about, they are reality. And they are mystery. And I am abiding.

In spite of the chaos in the world my own personal 2017 is more at ease, more at peace than previous years. It has something to do with taking social media off of my phone, something to do with fewer hours in my car each week, something to do with the cross-stitch I picked up again. Brandon and I are also watching West Wing on Netflix where we pretend the fake government is the real government. It helps.

But mostly I think it has to do with letting go and letting grace fall into all the hollow places. Where I’ve tried to be in control in the past, I have given over and surrendered trust. Where I’ve felt fear and anxiety, I’ve been attempting to walk with intention and courage. Where I’ve worried over judgment and contention, I’ve unclenched my fists and tried to stop gritting my teeth.

Here with open palms I’m doing what I can to abide in hope and peace and love, in all those mysterious spaces that make this reality of holes a bearable place.

The holes, they are gaping. But what mercy fills them to overflowing.

Quick resolution check-up

How’s your resolution list working out for you? Here’s a little update on mine:

  1. Start a new job! check!
  2. Knock the socks off of my new job check! (at least so far)
  3. Read 30 books. – 6 down, 24 to go.
  4. Plan at least one big trip with my mom – in-progress
  5. Go on at least one camping trip with my family
  6. Go to six parks in Ohio to hike with the kids – one down, five to go (hiked at Rocky River Nature Center with my mom and kids)
  7. Get away for at least one weekend with Brandon – in-progress
  8. Celebrate Brandon turning 40 – in-progress
  9. Visit one state I’ve never been to before
  10. Spend time with friends. I realize this doesn’t seem like it should be a goal, but this introvert needs this goal – started a book club (go, introvert, go!) and read For the Love by Jen Hatmaker as our first. Good stuff!
  11. Take more walks – in-progress
  12. Retreat to write for a day or night every quarter or so – hasn’t happened yet
  13. Attend AWP in DC (yay!) – FAIL. Skipped out due to a cold.
  14. Write a(nother) book. Sure, why not, I can write a whole book in one year, even if the first one isn’t published. Aim high, baby! – in-progress, with 60 pages down
  15. Write ten new poems to weave into a second collection of poems – so far, nothing here
  16. In 2016 I sought to blog once a week. This didn’t happen, but I did manage 19 here posts here and 25 over on Off the Page. In 2017, I’m aiming to write two times a month here and at least once a month for Off the Page. – off pace in both places, but still writing!
  17. Plant a garden – to be started soon!

Looking Back

2016: Going It Alone
Writers, Just Do It
2014: Westbound and Down, Rollin’ Up and Truckin’
2013: Visiting Ghosts: Writing about the Past
2012: Praying for Enemies
2011: The Weekend
2010: Season of Productivity
2009: A Voice in the Crowd at Capernaum

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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