My love 

My love,

Listen…

 

You are not broken.

You are scarred and still standing,

Battle worn, weary,

But still kind,

still needed.

 

You are not defeated.

 

Stop feeding that darkness

with old lies

and unrelenting doubt.

 

 

My love,

Look….

 

Look through my eyes,

Into this heart,

Offered,

Open in these bloodied hands,

 

Listen,

Look…

And I’ll show you,

the miracle you’ve become.

 

cswhitlow

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Nieces

She’s looking up at me.

Careful, watchful, brilliant blue, green, gold.

Mind churning with silent observations she won’t truly understand until her heart’s been broken.

She’s learning the way I breathe deep,

How my shoulders tense,

Where my eyes wander,

What makes my eyes dim and brighten back again.

She sees me quiet, curled up on my corner of the couch;

armor dismantled.

She hears my real laugh, belly deep;

worries forgotten.

She knows my love, arms thrown wide;

ready to catch her.

She knows I am safe, a harbor for tears ripped open;

when the world outside rages against her.

 

She reminds me of my place here,

that words matter,

actions matter…

that I matter.

She’s looking up at me…
And there is no other choice,

 

but bravery now.

 

cswhitlow

Sustained


I am sustained …

by Autumn rain,

by laughter and daydreams,

by red lip stick and plaid blankets,

by strong coffee and good books,

by words bled onto page after page after page,

by notes and lyrics that slice and stir,

by scarves wrapped round like comforting armor,

by soul-searing conversation still churning long after midnight,

by “I love your guts, Aunt Chels” and “Goodbye, Darling”

by dark chocolate and red wine and Irish whiskey,

by the stories that have long since become scars,

by sunrises and the smell of winter coming,

by Christmas lights and Birthday candles,

by moonlight drenching the barren places ,

by the Love that seeps in anyway,

by the tenacity and hope woven in so “fearfully and wonderfully” from my very beginning,

by those given to walk beside me,

by grace and mercy,

by every moment when I chose to stand back up again,

by the relentless Spirit residing within these fragile ribs.

Chelsey Whitlow 

A Smile

  
There’s this guy I’ve recently noticed at my favorite coffee shop. He’s there when I arrive and he’s still there when I leave, every time I’ve been there lately. The last time my writing partner and I were there together we had a conversation about him, curious, wondering, about his story. My first guess is, he was once a soldier, obvious by a few distinguishing accessories he always carries with him. My second guess is, he’s witnessed something traumatic, obvious by the weight of the air around him. 

He sits at the same corner table, a battered notebook in front of him, furious scribbles bleeding out across the pages. It wouldn’t take a sharp observer long to recognize he’s haunted. By so many ghosts. Pouring them out each day over page after page after page. We’ve never spoken. I’m not sure he ever even looks up at those around him. His focus is always intent upon his pages, and the bleeding out of ink. 

Tonight though, was different. I’m by myself tonight, scribbling away at my own ghosts. I noticed him stand from the corner of my eye. As he walked across the room to throw something away in the trash can near my table, he looked up. And on instinct, I smiled at him. A smile and a nod. Even being the introvert I am, it’s just one of those Texas things you do when you make eye contact with a stranger in passing. It’s ingrained in us. I can’t help it. But the truth is, I wanted to smile at him. I wanted him to know, I see. 

It was clear in those few seconds in passing, he struggled to reciprocate. The smile he returned was nervous and heavy, his eyes shadowed, like the stories he carried had become too much, like he was daring me to run away screaming. A heart damaged. Walking wounded. Burned by a fire the naked eye can’t see.

I’m not normally moved by strangers. I’m notorious for getting lost in my own head most of the time and people blur past me unnoticed, as we all go about our respective business. But this guy, him, I saw. I made the decision to look up, to get out of my own head and pay attention. And now I can’t stop thinking about him. I can’t shake this feeling that his burdens might be undoing him and though the circumstances are most certainly different, I know what that feels like. I can’t shake this feeling that even though his posture screams “keep away”, he’s lonely, and I know what that feels like too. Now, he is haunting me.

It crossed my mind to sit down beside him, to trade a cup of coffee and a kind word for a piece of his story. But he already had a cup of coffee. And the set of his shoulders, curled tight and protective over his words, told me my offer wouldn’t be welcome. Maybe he just doesn’t want to be completely alone, and that’s why he’s chosen this place for his thoughts. And maybe, though surrounded by so many possible conversations, his words are meant for those battered pages only, because that is all that he can bear…

So, I ’ll sit here wondering from afar, curious and haunted by his sadness, sending up a silent prayer for the burden of the ghosts he carries. I’ll sit here in peace, sharing the space in respectful quiet. And I’ll smile when he passes by, wishing that he might find hope there or somewhere, anywhere at all.

He left before me tonight and his eyes found mine for the second time as he walked out. I smiled and he smiled. And maybe it was just my own irrational hope clouding my vision, but this smile didn’t feel as heavy as the one before. 

We’re all walking wounded, carrying ghosts. We’re all bleeding stories of either hope or madness, or some irrational combination of both. And the truth is, we all have a story to tell. We all want to be seen, to be understood, to be loved. 

I haven’t always been good at looking up, at paying attention to other wounds, but I’m getting better and better. I’m glad I looked up tonight. I’m glad I smiled. Because, maybe all this soldier needed, in the middle of his heavy story was a smile and a nod from a stranger, to remind him he matters. To remind him of hope. Maybe, that’s where redemption begins…in those slivers of hope. 

Shadows and Cold: A Scribble by Leah Jarvis

  
I am blessed to be friends with some incredibly creative people, ranging from very young to very old. They inspire me on a daily basis and keep me going when I lose my spark. 

I had the privilege of spending this last weekend with just such an individual. In real years she is sixteen, but her soul is old and perceptive and wide and deep. I actually taught her in preschool for a very brief time, which brings to painful attention my own age. I consider her more than a friend, she is family, a niece if a title must be established and I love her dearly. What an inspiring and incredible thing it is to watch a human grow and become themselves. It has been an honor to watch Leah grow into a radiant, kind, sharp, compassionate, brilliant young woman. 

We share a love for words and stories, Leah and I. Bookstores and music, movies and old poems. These are the treasures I share with those I love the most. The conversations I most love to indulge in. 

So I asked her the other day, if she would be willing to share a scribble with me. If she would be willing to let me post it for my other word loving friends to enjoy. She said yes. So today I would like to share a scribble by the ever so incredible Leah Jarvis, brilliant teenager, beautiful soul and talented wordsmith, a scribble inspired by a conversation on the way home from a movie inspired by a book. 

Shadows and cold.

They are what creeps under your skin with rotten fingernails and through your porous bones, a paralysis. They steal your breath and replace only glass-cracked stiffness of the mind and soul.

Shadows and cold and holes.

You fall with the wind at your back only pushing further as it laughs, and then you hit the bottom only to have it crumble out from under you once more. You are swallowed in every sense of the word in the maw of your own helplessness. How freezing is it now, that your limbs aren’t even in agony anymore? There is only exhaustion, except that your heart is racing to catch up with you, to save you. It never makes it. It fails, and again, down you plunge.

But then, suddenly, it doesn’t matter, because there is a warmth that pulls back. Yellow flares up in the cold, and there is a candle flame beating like the heart far behind you. One single candle. Yet the exhaustion lifts, and relief washes like a bath.

The darkness snarls at it, snaps at it, but you are bold now. You laugh.

There is a light now, you say, gathering strength for the words.

The candle flickers dangerously and nearly perishes with a particularly biting gust of wind. Then it returns brighter than ever, renewed by the oxygen.

The darkness is ahead of and behind you. It’s impossible to see when this will end, or if it ever will.

But it doesn’t matter.

There is a light now, and its name is love.

Unraveling

IMG_1869-2

She took a timid step into the morning light,
a terrified exhale frozen on trembling lips,
a prayer left hanging, that perhaps,
the dawn might be merciful and
burn away the cold what-ifs of another lonely night terror.

Clutched in white knuckles, she carries the only word left…

Please

A desperate whisper, let loose into the wind.

Silence,
Silence,
Silence

Wrapped around her like an unforgiving noose.

And then,
all at once,
and ever so slowly,
lungs filling up with air,

Her merciful unraveling…

Phrases, written in blood, undiscovered, long buried,
Unearthed.
Dreams, too terrified to be imagined, believed impossible,
Drinking in light for the first time.
Deep rivers, exploding into life, rushing forward, unstoppable,
Cutting canyons into a thirsty desert soul.

Possibility, potential, reckless abandonment of all the dark before.
Ribs and tissue, blood and marrow,
Stitched and scarred, holding tight and setting free,
Containing and opening wide
A universe inside.
A revolution.
A phoenix with burning wings.

All this…
From letting go.

Chelsey Whitlow

The Muse

  
Tonight, there would be such a beautiful bleeding, torn open and laid bare, raw and untamed. She would give him everything… fire and spirit and blood… Herself. 

A willing destruction. 

When morning comes, there will be nothing but ashes and embers, burnt shards of who she was before… remnants of a life used to keep him, breathing and alive and dreaming. 

Ashes are better served at dawn and she would rise, only to burn again, night after night after night… If only to remind him of hope once more. 

Roadmap

 
I pushed you away,

For your own safe keeping.

 

I pushed them all away.

 

I was an open wound;

Raw and ever bleeding.

Fear became my chosen weapon,

Shadows my armor,

Evasion my dance.

 

I bear her scars now,

Long years spent in hiding.

They are the threads of my discovery.

They tell the tale of my beloved undoing.

 

I would welcome you now,

No longer a danger.

 

I would welcome them all,

To sit and to listen.

 

I am a beautiful roadmap,

Wiser and healing.

Love is my weapon now,

Light my armor,

Courage my dance.
Chelsey Whitlow