Smoke


I held the smoldering sage between my fingertips and watched.

Watched as the remnants of a desperate prayer became smoke.

Watched as that prayer shifted and curled upwards, rising effortlessly as it was born out of ashes to do.

I felt it then. An ache trapped and screaming beneath my skin. A desire surfacing like anger and hope.

I longed to be smoke.

The time had come to leave my ashes to their rest.

Chelsey Whitlow

Post It Note

  
I woke up before sunrise this morning, restless and anxious about something I couldn’t quite name. So instead of staying tangled up in my blankets, I shuffled through my dark house to the kitchen to brew up some coffee. No use tossing and turning in bed listening to the whir of the ceiling fan.

As I sipped at my mug of dark roast, I perused my bookshelves looking for something to distract myself from anxious thoughts. (Anxiety is an unwelcome companion of mine and I often quiet it’s wailing with books.) My fingers traced the spines of these beloved books until I landed, surprisingly, on an old bible.

As any other gal raised up in a Southern Christian family, I own about a dozen or more bibles of varying translations, in varying degrees of wear and tear. Some of them were gifts and some were purchased because at the time I felt like I needed a fresh start with fresh pages that hadn’t been cried over or marked up. There have been years that I have clung to the words across those pages and varying translations like they were the only thing strong enough to keep me going. A lifeline in one storm or another. And then, there were many more years that those words burned like acid. When anger and disappointment and grief bled over them until they became unrecognizable and painful. Salt on an open wound. These years, sadly outnumbering the clinging years, they stayed shut up on shelves collecting dust, because I couldn’t bear to open them. I couldn’t even bear to have them mentioned.

Faith is a tricky thing. So many of us have been burned deeply, beyond repair, by it’s promises. So many of us have been torn apart and left to bleed by it’s followers. Humans, reckless with their words and actions. There is a certain amount of disillusionment that comes as we grow older and we’ve all been guilty of the tearing apart, we’ve all been reckless with other’s at some point in our lives. And some of us have used faith as our excuse. Again, faith is tricky. It’s irrational at times. But, it’s also full of hope.

My faith has weathered a lot in my short life and it has become a core of who I am and who I’m becoming. It drives so much of how I approach my life and how I desire to be love and compassion to the world. But, I’m not writing any of this to debate faith or tell you to go read the bible or beat you over the head with religion. Because I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of those debates and beatings. And I know how ineffective they really are. I’m not here to preach either. But I am writing this morning to remind, to highlight a specific little element of faith…that word hope. For as much as life has made me a cynic, it has also grown me into a fierce warrior for hope. As much as I have overcome, I’m still a human capable of breaking and I need to be reminded that hope still exists in this world of ours.

HOPE.

It’s such a tiny little word, but it’s impact is immense for those who get a taste for it. It’s a relentless little word. It can make or break you.

It’s easy to be negative, to lash out from our own pain, to tear down to appease our own brokenness. Depression, Anxiety, Heartbreak, Grief…. Darkness does not discriminate. None of us are immune in this world. None of us. In spite of all of it though, Love perseveres. People heal. Life goes on. We are resilient. And the thing that pushes us forward is Hope.

Sometimes, hope is loud. A speech that inspires, a concert where you walk out with your ears ringing and your adrenaline pumping and your heart so full of energy you could burst, a great revelation on a mountaintop after a year or years in the valley.

But more often it is quiet. A phone call, a whispered prayer over you that you know nothing about, an unexpected kindness like a check in the mail, a meal offered or the car ahead of you in the drive thru paying for your latte, a hug from a friend, tears shared, a card or letter, or some goodness from the past resurfacing to remind us who we have become.

So, back to the bible.

The particular bible I pulled down this morning is rather tragic looking. It’s the bible that journeyed through college and the early twenties with me. It’s survived countless college trips, devos and small group studies, a flooded apartment on a couple of occasions and has been marked through in a kaleidoscope of highlighters and pens. It’s kind of like the Velveteen Rabbit. Well loved and sewn back together. It was my favorite bible that came before my greatest season of darkness, before I closed them all up and put them away to collect dust. So, what does this have to do with hope, you ask?

Well, as I gently flipped through it’s pages, I found a sticky note folded in half and stuck on a random page of the Old Testament. Now, my bibles are all filled with notes written between friends and I when the preaching was too boring, along with scraps of things I wanted to remember. I’m a note hoarder. It’s the same with a lot of my other books as well. But, as I unfolded this particular note to see what might have been so important about that page on some long forgotten day, I smiled. It wasn’t my handwriting on the note at all.

You see, hope often disguises itself as people. Sure, people hurt us, burn us, but they are also the most beautiful vessels for hope.

One of my absolute favorite vessels is one of my best friends from college, Emily. She is a notorious sticky note leaver. When you’re not looking she’ll hide them in drawers, in books, on your clothes in closets, on your steering wheel or dashboard, on your mirror or nightstand. Little shards of encouragement. Little nuggets of love. Little slivers of hope. She has been a constant vessel of hope for me since the day we met sophomore year of college. Her message is relentless …You matter. You are beautiful. You are loved. She hasn’t let me forget.

She is hope on a post it note.

Life is hard. I know I’m not saying anything you don’t already know in that regard. But here’s the thing, the point of all my long-winded rambling this morning, the reason I think I pulled that bible down, even without knowing it….

We need more post it notes.

We need to be post it notes…. or hugs or lattes or whispered prayers or tears shared.

They really are everything.

Hope is everything.

   

 

Rise


We were made to break,

To shatter,

To become a thousand weeping pieces.

 

We were made to endure

Grief,

Pain,

Heartbreak.

 

We were made to bleed,

To heal,

To forgive,

To scar,

To grow deeper.

 

We were made to fight,

For joy,

For justice,

For other broken souls,

For truth,

For Love.

 

We were made to …

Rise.

Chelsey Whitlow

Reminder


Sometimes, you simply have to return to the songs of an older season. Sometimes, you just need to remember that one night drenched stretch of highway, the stillness in the air, the notes and lyrics spilling out of speakers and merging with conversation, that cabin in the mountains, that feeling of fear and need rooted in your chest, the soundtrack that seasoned that one adventure.

A decade or so stronger, I look back now with sharper eyes. I see the pieces of that older chapter, the one right before the darkness came, the darkness that almost destroyed. I can now pick out the beautiful, the grace-filled, the hopeful, the relentless shards that dug in deep and sustained me. The bedroom windows open wide at night with the sound of rushing water drifting inside to calm, the wine and countless cups of tea, the music, the fires, the words bled out onto pages and pages, the hike in the rain, the picnic by the lake, the cigars on the porch at midnight wrapped in quilts to keep the cold at bay, the conversation, the friendship.

Those pieces, All my pieces in fact, have made me stronger, deeper, more… the good and the bad. They have sustained me and shaped me and become my most cherished scars. I am grateful for them all.

But today, I am grateful that my shuffling iTunes landed on this song. And for the corresponding flood of memories from that one adventure. It was the calm before the storm. It was necessary to this story. It was a gift.

I am alive today to remember.

That song, those memories are a reminder,  that nothing stays the same. That change is important. It is necessary for a lived life. And I needed that reminder today.