Love Well

Well, it has been a really long time since I last wrote here. Since April my words have found a home in other spaces. In East Asia, my words belonged in a black journal that I carried around everywhere or, when I wanted to share my experiences, on the small postcards that I gave to my friends. It was strange to not document my experiences. Before I left I could not imagine what it would be like for people to not know my thoughts or experiences.

When I returned to the States, I stopped writing in my little black journal. With a thesis to tackle, and essays to write, my words lived in my computer or scribbled down on a nearby napkin. My words also made there way into other people’s homes in the form of thank you notes, and, believe it or not, my words even sat on other people’s couches as they traveled through the air!

And so, out of all of the places my words could live, I am writing here because I think it is important that this blog is their home.

Because I live off-campus this semester, I frequent the bus. I know the many faces of the 656 bus drivers. While most of them are kind (although a few are a bit sassy), sometimes I am fortunate enough to hop on the bus with the sweetest bus driver. And this is why: at every stop, she smiles and tells people to have a wonderful day.

For anyone who rides the bus (or has ever taken a crowded, smelly bus) this is out of the norm. For the most part, people don’t look at one another. They don’t talk to one another. And they most certainly don’t encourage one another.

But she does. At every stop, on every day, she loves people well.

Today I found the courage to tell her thank you. Before my stop I slowly made my way to the front of the bus to encourage her. When I did, her reply was simple and genuine: “I love people.”

Her response was so simple and so profound. So easy and yet so hard to execute.

I wish I valued people more than feeling comfortable. I wish I loved without expecting anything in return. I wish I made my stupid, mundane tasks exciting and joy-filled because I looked less at the task in front of me and more at the people surrounding me.

At one of the stops today, after encouraging everyone who was leaving, she talked to a family that was sitting on the bus bench, waiting for another bus. When the father saw she was stopping (not knowing others would be getting off the bus), he gently put his hand up to inform her he would not be getting on. And when she started to speak to him, he did it again.

I am sure he did not expect to be treated with kindness and conversation. And why would she? She has her job to do. She has to transport people to and from places. She has a schedule to maintain.

To me, her job is so much more. She isn’t just a bus driver. She is a friend. An encourager. A person that turns bad days into good ones, or at least hopeless days into hopeful ones.

I wish we did that more. Will you join me in loving people well?

xx,
Hannah

 

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Sky Study

 

I recently heard this quote by C.S. Lewis before he became a Christian and it changed my perspective on the beauty and the inexplicable glory of nature. While driving back from Nashville, I hummed strong yeses that agreed with every tree lifting its hands in praise and every beam of sun that turned the greenest leaf gold. Such beauty does not, it cannot, exist without demanding some sort of acknowledgement. The skies pull my eyes upwards and when I look at the clouds straight in the eye, I cannot help but recognize that creation is also looking up towards a God that seeks that I humble myself and say beautiful, glorious, good, powerful, grand. Here is the quote:

“Precisely where does the beauty of a tree, for example, reside? Like every other physical object, a tree is made up of atoms, and atoms are identical and without color. So when you call a tree beautiful you are actually speaking of something other than the atoms of which it is made. A light from the vibrations in the distant sun produces a wave toward your eye. When it reaches the tissues of your eye another vibration is set up and moves along a nerve like a telegraph wire, carrying the sensation to your brain. One such sensation, we call greenness, another brownness, a third shapeliness. But there is no actual color either in the atoms of which the tree is composed or in all those vibrations.

How then does the beauty of the tree arise? Shape, size, color, touch, and the like are simply the names we call our sensations, and no amount of study of them can ever bring us to the notion of beauty in the tree. Beauty must therefore arise from some nonmaterial relation between the tree and myself.

I fancy that there is Something right outside time and place, which did not create matter, as the Christians say, but is matter’s great enemy: and that Beauty is the call of the spirit in that Something to the spirit in us.”

Again and again I have tried to capture every slice of sky with a camera that cannot produce the pixels that I cannot even fully see with the clearest, truest picture set before me. C.S. Lewis’ insight gives me a little more understanding as to why my child-like fascination has grown into a forever appreciation to a God who shows His magnificence in His creation to His creation.

Above are photos I have taken of the sky, of the sunset, of creation; I guess you could call it a study of sorts.

xx, Hannah

 

The Progressive Painter

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Everyone leaves after the sunset, but
I don’t understand why they don’t just wait:
for it takes a second for colors to ripple
upwards and deep blues to spread

in hot pinks and strong oranges like a
mad painter dipping his brush
wildly into a pallet that was made to be
spread across the sky.

I wonder why those radiant faces
think that the show ends when the sun’s rays
turn to the other side of the Earth
and their bodies turn into silhouettes that slowly
disappear as night creeps in.

Don’t they know that at the end of our day,
it is the beginning of another and that our
sun setting isn’t light resting but preparing
itself for more work to be done?

To think that the painter’s job is never
done, smearing lights and dipping dabbing
dragging his thumb in blues, pinks,
and oranges – color after color – until his
thumb is as black as night.

And so why do we wait and leave
while he is still painting? Can’t we see
each halo of light is him erasing
and each layer of vivid hue is him
contemplating what to make next?

If we would only sit and wait, we would
see creation in its rawest form
as he works, and he paints, and he steps back,
admiring his portrait with a grin.

He makes a signature with the mark of a
slivered moon. He grabs a blank canvas.

The tired shadows leave and go to sleep.
It’s time for him to start again.

xx, Hannah

Here and Now, Big and Small

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I’ve been looking up a lot lately. At the sky, at the trees and the way they glisten green as the sunlight shows them that being transparent is beautiful. Turning dark into soft, highlighting all the veins of the leaves that will soon meet the dust that they were made of. I’ve been running to rooftops and trying to gain their perspective; I’m teaching myself what it is like to be tall and strong, big and brave.

Yet even from the rooftops, from the fingertips of trees that spread like arms that embrace, I feel small. My hands feel small when I hold others’ and pray to a big God that I can’t quite comprehend. My symphony of breath and heart beats are a whisper when I consider all the alarm clocks ringing, birds singing, babies yawning, mothers crying, flowers swaying back and forth, back and forth.

Being big, looking up to the big, sometimes means being small. It means crouching and crumbling, falling back to be buried in the dirt, lying beneath the sky choked by the fallen leaves.

It means looking up.

Living means moving my head from my chest and climbing the mountains that remind me that even at the biggest view I will have the smallest perspective. With my small eyes that cannot see but a few miles, my arms that cannot even wrap around a tree or my ears that cannot even listen to my dearest friend because I am listening to myself, I want to learn how to hold the big that reminds me that I am small.

I want to share in suffering. Pray with fervor. Lie beneath the stars. Confess brokenness. Listen to my friends. Call my dad. Read journals, articles, novels.

Look at the trees. Forget, for once, about me.

xx, Hannah

Learning Pazienza

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Pazienza is a word that I am constantly hearing from la mia mamma italiana. When the lady upstairs rearranges her furniture at 3AM: pazienza. When the autobus does not show up, and so she walks the three miles home: pazienza. When the mirror that she ordered arrives broken: pazienza. Pazienza, pazienza, pazienza.

A Roma, the most important lesson I am learning is when to be patient and when to act.

Today I sporadically hopped on the 30 bus and left my friends behind. Without much thought and a melting-by-the-minute gelato in hand, I bolted for the autobus – making a fool out of myself as I squeezed between doors that hugged my shoulder blades – and waved at the friends I had been in mid-conversation with goodbye. A moment lacking hesitation or second guessing, I went.

Normally, as they say in Italian, ho ragione (I have reason,) but today I did not weigh my options. It was freeing. I made my way to the quartiere Trastevere, a sweet and short one mile walk after my stop at Largo di Torre Argentina, just over the bridge that overlooks the Tevere River. There I walked around without any plans. I wondered across some bambini playing soccer at a park; a few kiosks of flowers; many corners with secret streets that hide behind the other; and my favorite, a woman at a piccolo negozio I visited that was kind enough to correct my sbagliato Italian and ask me about my travels here in Italia.

I told her that I was here exploring Italy — the culture, the streets, the people, to which she responded with thanks. She told me that she did not understand many Americans that travel to Italy. They drink without enjoying. They invade the Italian cities without considering the people, thinking that the city is their own.

To this woman, Americans were lacking what is the essence of Italy: pazienza.

In Italy, all is done with pazienza. Dinner is slowly and precisely prepared after working for 10 (or more) hours. Wine is sipped slowly, used to enhance the flavor and the enjoyment of the food. Conversation is long. Even in the inconvenient aspects of Italy: the stores that close for a two hour lunch break, the busses that go on strike and do not show up, the dinners that start at 9 at night, there is a state-of-mind that there is time; be patient.

It is this balance that I am trying to discover while I am here in Italia. When is the time to run from conversations onto jolting busses? When is the time to get upset that plans did not work out? When is the time to sit down and rest? When is the time to get up and move? When is the time to choose patience over anger?

This reminds me of Ecclesiastes in that there is “a time for everything.” What season is now and how will I use it as I acquire patience?

Now, I believe it is a time of listening and learning. A time of waiting to speak. For the rest of my stay here in Italy I will – in the good and the bad – wander through the streets of Italia, soaking it all in.

Da Roma, Hannah

P.S. I will post photos soon, non ti preoccupare.

Sentire a Casa

As I spend more and more time in Roma, the more and more it feels like home.

Yesterday, instead of spending time exploring the nooks and crannies of the city with friends like I normally do, I took the bus home after school and stopped at a gelateria that I had been wanting to try. I ordered un gelato con cioccolata e ricotta con ficchi. And of course, I had panna (whip cream) on top. After inhaling my gelato, I took a twenty minute walk back to my house as a storm settled upon Roma. The raindrops kissed my cheek and I walked with a posture of confidence; Roma is home.

There is freedom in walking the streets of Roma without having plans or a direction to go. So often I feel the need to have an agenda, but in Roma my agenda, my goal, is to not have one. Here, the buses are unreliable – you can wait for 30 minutes and the bus will not show – and my plans are always changing.

The beautiful thing about change of direction, time, and place is that I am getting to take in Italy slowly.

Two days ago, I visited Villa D’Este a Tivoli and it is the most beautiful place I have visited thus far. A huge garden that overlooks the city of Roma, I discovered the beauty of Villa D’Este alone. It is the moments that I am by myself that I feel are the most special. There, being able to see far and wide, I felt my lips automatically mouthing praise. I stood breathless at the top of the garden and I gave thanks: “thank You Father, for the roses, that You have intricately composed;” “thank You for the city of Rome and that You love and care for these people;” “thank You, Lord, for il cielo that you paint with Your hands;” “thank You that Your creation is a reminder of Your love for me.” When I am alone, I get to spend time with my Maker. He always romances me.

Often, these praises come when I am walking in the rain or admiring the flowers. But they also come when I spend time with my host mom, Paola.

The first couple of days after I arrived, it was difficult for me to communicate with Paola. She told me that she did not know if I was contenta living with her and I had trouble conveying to her that I was truly happy. As the days have gone by, our relationship has become stronger and stronger. Having a close relationship with Paola is something that I have prayed about since before I met her – before I even knew her name – and each day I know Paola better and better.

My experience a Roma would not be the same without Paola. Finally, we are starting to understand each other. Paola continually shows me that she cares for me. When I have trouble speaking, she helps me finish my sentences. When she makes dinner, she always serves me first. When I glance at her, she smiles. Her countenance is kind always asks me about my day with kindness, sincerity, and a willingness to listen. Spending time with her for hours at the dinner table – where we always watch TV and she always sings to the songs playing on the TV, where she shows me the pictures of her granddaughter Camilla and of herself when she was younger, where we talk about musica and Texas two-step – are the best moments of my day. Knowing Paola is knowing a small, but important part, of il cuore dell’Italia.

So much of me wishes that I could take you to experience Paola’s pasta con le anguille or eat un gelato (o forse due) with you on a sweet summer day. Yet these are moments I am getting to take in and enjoy alone. After all, Roma is home.

Ciao a tutti, Hannah

To the Farmer’s Daughter

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I was staring at myself in the mirror, comparing myself to the beautiful people that I am so often jealous of when this poem came to me. Or rather, when His words came to me. This is a poem about getting our hands dirty as daughters of Christ and becoming real beauty as He molds us to be more like Him:

How many hours have you spent
tending your head of hay
when your hands could have been
getting dirty and

strong. Daughter, the harvest
is plentiful and I have
called you (my worker) to press
your hands into the soul

of the Earth and knead it
to life. You are woman because your
hands are skilled and strong:
I’ve seen you rise

like the yeast that excites
the dough you have pounded
with your fists. It is okay to be
angry, the work I have given

you is not easy. I have asked
you to pick the thorns
until your fingers bleed
and the ugly is made beautiful.

I want your hands to be
as strong as the carpenters that
has carved you into
a vessel that will water the plants

I have placed in your lot. Daughter,
your beauty will fade (and these
flowers you have nurtured will,
too) but trust that the work

within you is as strong
as the hands I am giving you
to do my work. I will make
you beautiful in my image. I will

give you the mane of a lion,
the strength of a warrior, and the
delicacy of a daughter. I have
not forgotten you are my daughter.

Because you are woman, I know
it well how I have made you. Your
tears I have given you to water
those in dry soil, your small (but firm)

hands I have given you to tug away
the weeds that cannot be easily
reached, your lips of honey I have
given you to speak wisdom

with sweetness. My daughter,
I have made you to do more work
than to prick and pull at your petals
until you are the most beautiful

flower in the vase. No, I have given
you these hands to serve. The rest
of your pruning will be done
as I do the perfect work in you. You

are altogether beautiful. Go! Do
the work I have given you. I will make
all the old (hatred, jealousy, selfishness) new.
As you work for me, I am doing

a work in you. You will blossom.
You are blossoming. And I (your Father)
am so proud of you.

(Psalm 139, Philippians 1:6, Isaiah 40:8, Matthew 9:37-38, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Genesis 1:27)

xx, Hannah

P.S. A big thanks to my friend Shelby for always delivering with beautiful photos. If you want to get to know more of her soul, here is the link to her blog. If you want to see more of her work, here is her photography page.