Monday, August 31, 2009


To willingly confront a problem early, before we are forced to confront it by circumstances, means to put aside something pleasant or less painful for something more painful. It is choosing to suffer now in the hope of future gratification rather than choosing to continue present gratification in the hope that future suffering will not be necessary. - Scott Peck

today in my class on human behavior, my professor (a licensed social work whose been in the field for over 20 years) told us, very matter-of-factly, about a client of hers who was killed by her husband the day after her counseling session. and of another client who killed herself after transitioning from outpatient to inpatient care. Her following theoretical points - about not thinking we're saviors or knights in shining armour - were good ones and a challenge. but those stories hit me right at the root of my fear about one-on-one work - i know, intellectually, that i can't save anyone. but it's so scary to know that the only way that i will actually understand that point is by experiencing, again and again, failure in the face of brokeness and an inability to heal others.

my teacher clearly experienced enough failure that she can talk about death and brokenness and inevitable failure without bursting into tears (like i probably would). and i kept thinking "will i ever be able to do this? will i ever be able to lose someone i thought i could save and get up the next day and continue to work with the living and not be preoccupied with the shadow of death?" and i know that's where faith comes in - faith that, if i play my cards right, i'm always approaching but never reaching the kingdom, faith that I will fail and be forgiven and fail and be forgiven - maybe not on earth, but for sure in heaven...i think that's why, of all the prayers i've been saying these days, the one thing i've begged for more than anything is courage. courage to look brokeness in the face, to not ipod my way through chicago, to live not as the world lives but as the Savior lives, and to admit that i fail to do that a thousand times a day. which means i am forgiven a thousand times a day. i want courage to be hurt instead of being safe - to recognize now that if i am truly comfortable, i must be in the wrong place.

dear lord, it hurts. and it will continue to hurt, to live in this broken world, with needs around me that i cannot meet and a half-healed heart and uncomfortable shoes. thank you for all of this.

Friday, August 28, 2009

my first two chicago poems...

they're untitled, though, frankly, the ought to be called "what i do at midnight when i can no longer study, verses 1 & 2"

untitled 1

while i was reading today,
it occured to me that maybe the root
of so much hurt in the world
is that we're all little children,
imperfectly looking for love.
and we've been dealt a raw deck
& it's what we choose to do wit that
that makes us foolish or wise,
friendly or forsaken.

because some of us got born
with parents who left bootprints on our hearts
or just left
or never really knew us to begin with.

and some of us gave our love to the wrong people
who laughed at our little candy hearts
& never gave us construction-paper hearts in return.

and some of us got born in places
where we could feel the hatred swirling around
but without really knowing that it came from
how we looked,
who we were,
what we lacked.

they say one of the perils
of psychology textbooks
is self-diagnosis,
which is why I'm sitting across from this little girl now
& when i say "hey kitten, what's life done to you
to make you look all busted-up and sad inside?"
she starts to cry -
big, fat, left-alone-on-the-playground tears

and then she whispered in my ear.
i'll never tell anyone what she told me tonight
but it's probably the best damn therapy
i've ever had.

untitled #2

since it's true that
the rain
falls on the just and the unjust,
that ought to mean
that everytime it rains,
i should look up at the sky
& ask myself
"who am i,

it's raining again today...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Willetts and trains...

i've found that one of the most enjoyable things about taking the El is that you get to see an almost-hidden part of the city. When I'm walking down the street, or taking the bus, I'm subject to large, moving advertisements and tons of people and noise.

but, for some reason, people don't advertise too much on the backs of buildings facing the El (except for in Wrigleyville, but that's just to get everyone drinking before the game, i guess). and you get to see the backs of people's homes, where most of the living happens.

tonight, i saw the silhouette of a Celtic cross in someone's bedroom window and had a truly inexplicable moment of calm in my soul. I saw women gathered in a rather non-descript office building/turned mosque, beginning the call to prayer. i saw a couple sharing a bed with each other, a dog, and the glow of the makes me feel a little like a spy.

and that doesn't even account for what happens on the El, which leaves one to wonder how a presumably-sane person can somehow believe that an elevated train makes them invisible. I now know all about someone's divorce proceedings (apparently, pets are involved and it sounds very sad), breakup (also sad), and pathetic attempts to pick up members of the opposite sex 20+ years younger than them (most definitely the saddest one of all).

i've seen folks with mental illness or urine-soaked clothes alternately ignored and engaged. i've formed little, fleeting friendships with people who just happen to be going my way.

i've loved trains since i was little, thanks to 3 generations of Willett men who've hitched their wagons to the Union Pacific engine. And, I know that the Chicago elevated train is a far-cry from the coal trains that run up and down the Columbia Gorge and that my grandad knows so well. But, regardless, it feels nice to have my own train and tracks that i feel at home in...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

she's got class...

tomorrow's the big day. first day of classes. it's odd, at this age, to be transported to the exact same feelings i remember from my first days of class in kindergarden, in middle school, in high school. the worries are all the same - will i find my classroom? will people like me? will i be able to understand what's going on? can i resist the allure of eating paste? (well, i guess that one's gone, but everything else is pretty constant).

but this time i'd also spent time with another worry - am i where i am supposed to be and did i choose fields of study that will help me with my vocation and my desire to make the world a little bit more like God's plan for it? Will i be able to learn enough to help lift up the downtrodden and make my life a beacon for the light of Christ? will i have a community that challenges my assumptions, calls me out on oppressive behaviors, and loves me enough to want me to grow into the radical nature of the Gospel? that's big stuff for a first day of school...

but most of those fears were put to rest this weekend. i had both my orientations this weekend - Friday, I spent most of the day with the other 200+ students in the Social Work program. Turns out, this program is going to be WAY more intense (and rewarding) than I'd expected. We're required to do 2 internships - the 1st year for 16 hours/week and the 2nd for 24 hours/week - basically a full-time job. Also, i totally had no idea how time-consuming the eventual process for becoming a licensed social worker would be. Now I know and have accomplished approximately 50% of "the battle", according to GI Joe. Anyways, in addition to receiving slightly daunting info on the program, I was also really affirmed in choosing this program - my meeting with my advisor was wonderful, the possibilities for placements are both exciting and challenging. anyone who isn't taking a dual-degree already has their placement, so I got to learn more about what to expect next year. One guy's working with clergy abuse victims, someone's working in Headstart, two girls are in hospitals, and countless other placements. people come to this degree from 1,000 different paths and for countless different reasons but it's both amazing and humbling to realize that i was sitting in a room full of people who felt exactly the same call i did to make the world a better place, to learn from people who've been hurt in this world, and to try to fix a little of what's broken in America. That's a pretty unique situation...

Saturday, Chrissy and I hightailed it back to school for our Institute of Pastoral Studies orientation - the Institute for Pastoral Studies is the larger school that houses our Social Justice program. The beginning part of the day we all spent together - there was a real plurality of degrees and interests going on. Some folks were getting MDivs, some were in Pastoral Counseling (including the only other Pacific Northwesterner I've met yet - a girl from Seattle who grew up in Portland and went to Grant! Yay!), some were focusing on religious education, and a handful were Social Justice-ers like us! We learned everyone's name (and sports affiliation, inexplicably - now that I'm single I've got basically no sports interests, so I just said we don't really have sports in oregon, which at least made people laugh...). The best part, though, was when we split out into our different majors - the Social Justice crew definitely has the most rad people in it! Chrissy, as per usual, made friends with everyone around her right away so now we've got all sorts of contacts! We sat in a circle and went around again and said our names and what drew us to the work of justice. Everyone's stories were so beautiful - some people had profound callings, some had gradual inclinations towards this work, but everyone brings really unique perspectives and really good hearts for this work. And everyone seems really genuine and kind. Thankfully, we all have at least one class together, so I'm hopeful we'll become a pretty close-knit community. Also, Chrissy and I decided to host a 1st & 2nd year Social Justice mixer this fall for everyone in the program so we can get to know each other more informally. Looking forward to it.

We also got a chance to meet some of the 2nd years - the lovely and talented Holly and Breanna were there (oh, man - side note: Holly made some RAD salted carmel truffles. I think they might have been vegan and they were close to Wingnut Confection quality. Delicious!) along with 3 of their classmates - Dennis, Matt, and Jerica. Jerica seems especially awesome and her placement deals with nonviolence, especially in Palestine, so I am really excited to touch base with her more about her internship.

A bunch of us take the same train home together, so we rolled into the station laughing and joyful and just caught up in the moment. My favorite street musician was playing the harmonica in the subway and it just led to this moment of pure happiness - a feeling like, much as i miss and love my Portland crew and my Portland life, I am exactly where I need to be with people who will help me grow and change. Good times!

Then, last night, Chrissy and I went to our first ever jamboree. Chrissy made THE BEST banana bread, which we brought to Breanna's and proceeded to spend the evening with many lovely women and one very nice man. We made music, we laughed, Chrissy found someone to talk Ohio sports with so I can stop feeling so bad about my lack of interest in the Cavs, i found a new member of the Dead Parent Club, and a new L'Arce-y friend who lives in intentional community above our church, and just generally drank in the happiness that comes with being surrounded by people who make me feel happy and safe.

so, yeah - it's been a pretty damn good weekend and I expect that, school jitters aside, it's gonna be a great day tomorrow...

August 23rd, 1981

Look how the same possibilities
unfold in their opposite demeanors,
as though one saw different ages
passing through two identical rooms.

-"The Sisters" by Rainier Maria Rilke

The nice thing about living far away is that it finally occurs to you to say all those things you love about your family that you just assume they know. Distance creates a need to bridge with words what you used to with proximity - that closeness and sense of being loved.

Oh, and yeah, it's my favorite (and only) sister's 28th birthday today so this is her birthday post.

An Incomplete and Abridged List of Reasons Why Claire Willett Is Amazing:

  1. she still won't admit that she snores

  2. she's the only person (now mom's gone) who i trust to give me 100% honest feedback

  3. she's also the only person (now mom's gone) that enjoys polishing silver

  4. i don't think even Bernstein and Woodward love the Watergate era as much as Claire

  5. if 100 people were singing 100 different songs in a large, echoey auditorium, i'd still be able to immediately pick out her voice

  6. she's wonderful with children and the elderly and anyone who needs someone to make them laugh

  7. she and colin have never 100% determined who's the most reluctant to get up and find the remote. mainly because i eventually do it - seriously, it's like watching sloths battle...

  8. she's perfectly balances braggadocio with self-deprecation

  9. she loves God deeply and shares that love constantly, mostly without words

  10. she's been through Hell and back with me several times throughout my life, and she's never once judged me for it or lost faith in me

  11. she planned the most amazing memorial service for our mother - people still come up to talk to us about it

  12. all my good book recommendations come from her - she's never led me astray

  13. she put up with my nagging and pet peeves for the 1.5 years we lived together - not happily, at times, but she did it

  14. she's absolutely the best sister a girl could be given. the end

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

the city and me...

it's been almost a week since i landed here and already so much seems routine. Chrissy and I are, somehow, learning to live with the fact that we're 2 blocks from the firehouse and apparently Chicagoans have fires EVERY 10 MINUTES during the hours of 2am-5am. It sounds so "country-mouse" of me, but I had no idea how LOUD the city would be. There's constant traffic, the aforementioned fire trucks, people yelling, and just the sounds of continous living in yet another city that doesn't really sleep. I remember Claire and I getting irritated at our neighbor's parties that lasted until 2am - this is so much worse.

But, actually, it's also kind of great. Our neighborhood is really great - lots of diversity which is so refreshing, coming from Portland. And it appears to be at a really interesting tipping point - more gentrified behind our building, and more lower-middle-class in front of our building. Well, that's how it seems to me. There's lots to observe - dozens of off-duty cab drivers congregate at the two African restaurants across from each other. I wonder what makes one better than the other? I'll need to sample to find out, I think :) There was a peace march organized by one of the local nonprofits (Centro Romero) that works in our neighborhood. So I looked out my window Monday to see a small peace rally with a call-and-response chant and a few dozen children holding signs and waving. There's a farmer's market a few blocks away, a coffeeshop 2 blocks past that, and 3 gorgeous Catholic churches within easy walking distance. It makes me feel really wonderful to know that there are these sorts of things in the neighborhood I'm trying to call home.

One of my biggest struggles was recently brought up by my friend Alex. Alex puts a high price on living in solidarity and, while I don't know if that's what I'm called to, I have great respect for the way he lives life. I was talking about the relative issues of safety, and he reminded me that Jesus wasn't safe, that he basically spent all his time in a war zone, moving between 2 warring tribes, and, obviously, he was eventually killed, which he KNEW would happen. So, Alex reasoned, one should expect to mugged or beat up or worse. But I've spent a lot of time thinking about my own safety - trying not to look at people on the streets, always being aware of my surroundings, etc. I think that the truth is between those two ideas - reckless abandon in regards to personal safety and a buttoned-up, closed-off approach to city living. So, in the coming weeks, I am hoping to do more personal exploring, both geographically and spiritually, to find my place and equilibrium in the city, so I can stop anticipating violence or distress whenever I'm alone at night. People lived good lives here before I came and will after I leave, so it's ridiculous to assume that I can't also do that.

Oh, and my room looks almost-put-together after a marathon night of bed-making and a trip to Salvation Army for my new desk/chair set-up. It's feeling more and more like home, which is nice! It's the little things that make the biggest difference sometimes...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

a brief digression from moving-related posts

i was just reflecting on the readings for today's Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and I realized that, no matter how often I say it or sing it, the Magnificat still retains all it's power and humility and grace. I literally never tire of reading it aloud so i figured i'd repost it for those who, like me, totally didn't make it to Mass today...

The Magnificat
Luke 1:48-55

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.”

Thursday, August 13, 2009

our house. in the middle of our street.

so, yup, i've made it home! thanks to chrissy, i was welcomed by a wonderful sign and a picture of the two of us at the Bean. Someone's gonna win Best Apartmentmate of the Year!

Our apartment is fantastic (well, my room looks like something made exclusively of cardboard and clothes exploded all over, but otherwise...) Our landlady gave us lillies and a delicious apple pie. Our property manager is apparently Greek and gorgeous. And all our neighbors appear to be genuinely friendly and helpful.

Life has been filled with the little housekeeping things - got groceries, got internet installed, figured out bill paying, etc. It's a funny thing to be doing this with a relative stranger, after living with a partner or family member for a very long time. But, I actually am really enjoying it. Chrissy is the most thoughtful apartmentmate a girl could ask for, and we have tons of things to learn about each other, so everything feels new. Plus we get to embark on this adventure together, which is truly exciting!

but, now, for the moment everyone's been waiting for - pictures of our place (these are all stolen from Chrissy, since I haven't unpacked my camera. so all the ones of my room are not entirely accurate - picture a billion cardboard boxes in it!)

first pic of our main living area!

our main living room area, take 2!

our kitchen (the gas range got me SO excited!!!)

my room before cardboard and clothes exploded on it!

down the hallway from my room and my bathroom

my wonderfully colorful bathroom

the front of our building

our outdoor patio space (including toilets repurposed as planters)

so, yeah! mi casa esta bien! now i just need to get rid of all these boxes...

Sunday, August 9, 2009


i uncovered this whilst packing - i wrote it during the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. we've come a ways from then, but some of it still applies and i kinda like it...

-song for one who will die-

"my country tis of thee/sweet land of liberty/of thee i sing"...
and how often have we lied to ourselves like that?
we have denied the truth in our very bones
& my country tis not of me
& i sing for no man's land.
my country tis of tee, almighty dollar
& this land sings out corruption like an unholy hymn.
so it is hard not to get lost in the tick-tick-boom! tick-tick-boom!
of a country that has gone mad with the promise of everlasting glory.
it is hard not to drown in that historical river,
where blood flows like oil
& oil flows like water
& now we only have tears to water our gardens
& our souls.
but, brothers and sisters - we gotta take back our song.
we gotta sing like it means something.
cuz it does.
sometimes, even if you are so low-down you can't stand,
you gotta sing, from the very depths of your soul.
you gotta sing out over the tick-tick-boom! tick-tick-boom!
of a nation on the edge of madness.
sing out like you are not broken.
sing out like you & only you control your destiny.
sing it & it will be true, as long as the words last.
when you sing,
you will realize that,
beneath all the oppression, the injustice,
& the bullet holes in all our lives,
there is a song.
there is a song which says
"think beyond your borders
& love even the things you do not understand."
find that song & sing it to yourself.
it doesn't matter if your voice isn't good
or you feel so bone-weary, you can't even talk.
sing when the flowers die,
when your hope dies,
when your love dies.
and flowers, hope, love will live,
as long as the words last.
sing your life's story out in the streets,
even if it makes you feel crazy.
you are not half as crazy
as the ones who don't sing at all.
and when you look back on your life,
when you think about all the songs you've sung,
sing one last song for the rest of us.
sing strength to us.
sing hope to us.
sing our thoughts into action.
sing it & it will be true,
as long as the words last.