sun’s trailing light through the clouds.

the valley has spilled down away from us, i can see it lingering on the trees. they’ve said their prayers, lifted away the light. night is coming. the fastest way down is to rappel.

i am perched, hand to either side of the triangle, behind me the mountains, before me the gaping wide of valley’s heavy weight. he’s already climbed through, his voice drifts to me.

‘come on, shade. it’s fine.’

i step through. it’s a narrow slab of rock, it climbs from scree up to sky. narrow, wild, we have climbed its edges. i walked the rim of light to the summit, even while wind grabbed at my courage. i held the knife of hope against sky, bled my fears into the wide.

but down, down gravity pulls us now.

it’s my first rappel, a detail that snuck up on us both. morning had lightfoot come, painting the rock with light. and so we’d climbed and climbed, until the salt runs in between our words. and our words, they have been few.

a quick grin here, a shout for the rope.

out here, we are the very of being. rock and wind, sky and cloud, we match life to belief. i have held his rope, he has held mine. sun brings heat, cloud brings a coolness, and we are between trees, defying the pull of the ground. gravity becomes a kindness, a weight against my skin.

bit by bit, it no longer howls against my every thought.

now, stepping through, gravity wakes. wind between my skin and soul, gravity is teeth sharp, slicing past the light. it eats my courage.

‘come down here, shade. this is the rappel station.’

he is just down and to the left of the gap.

he perches easily, mountain goat solid on the rock. gravity never ate him, never reached out and broke the world. he climbs like light moving on water. easy, flowing from move to move.

i cannot move.

‘can’t i rappel from here?’

his grin slips out in dusk’s fading light. a flash of white under his helmet.

‘nah, that wouldn’t make sense. here look, i’m tying the knots. i want to show you how it works.’

‘do you have me? are you sure?’

my rope’s stretching down to his belay device, and he’s anchored 3 ways into the rock. we cannot fall. i know this.

‘i have you. i always have you. you can do this.’

and i am feet to rock, climbing down and away from the almost safety of the rock’s window.

‘here, you tie the knots like this,’

he’s shoving the ends of rope into my hands. i am fashioning my own safety. twist, turn, x to knot, i can make safety for us. even trusting, he shows me how to stand for myself.

‘this is the other end, i’m going to knot the ends. i like to do this for safety. you won’t fall off this rope.’

chains threaded, rope through my ATC, and it’s time.

i feel the weight of gravity, it’s pulling me down down down. valley’s floor yawns past me, a wide gaping drink of light and air brushed by trees.

‘do i have to do this? i don’t think i can. i really don’t.’

‘how else do you think we will get down? i should have let you know multi-pitch means rappelling.’

‘are you sure?’

‘trust me, you can do this.’

inch by inch, i lean back.

‘remember your brake hand, it’ll be ok. you can do this.’

i’m leaning into the rope, into the cams. feet braced into the rock, branches brushing my skin. air holds my fear, my voice freezes.

the valley dips into night.

knuckled into the rope, double-fisted behind my back, the rope falls into gray shadow. moon is peering half-lit, over the summit. one last whipporwill sings her way home.

smoke drifts over blue-tinged peaks.

everyone’s home, making dinners. ending the days with songs and hopes, dreams laid out with napkins. i want to be home, i have heard of home. it echoes strangely between the now and then of being. but the rope pulls me down.

letting go, i wait for gravity’s betrayal.

nothing happens, the rope’s so heavy and i am triangled into the harness’ straps, that i must work to lower myself. gravity remains kind.

while wild and dark comes night, tinged with smoke, dreaming of starlight. and so foot by foot i lower myself. until at last i am swinging, feet pushing from the rock. i drop drop drop, air sings in my ears. i am, of course, safe.

north has me, i am home.


i’m folded up against him.

we’re watching a movie, science fiction, and he is all the solid edges of the world. we are contained in his stillness. my knees to elbows, heels under my skin, the day’s fragments gentle against the knowing of him. even leaning here, even safe, i am half-ready.

i’ve seen this movie before – we both have.

then, it was just a movie about futuristic society. i liked it, i picked apart the reality of the space missions. i picked apart the computers and their interface. i didn’t pay attention to much of the social interactions. i did not follow the context, it did not matter as much as the science fiction.

they were so much noise to the actual story.

until i heard this:

“Each day I would dispose of as much loose skin, fingernails and hairs as possible, to limit how much of my in-valid self I would leave in the valid world.”

so  i watched and watched.

i watched as he navigated a world that believed him incapable, primed for evil, certain of death and failure. because he was alive, he was invalid, unworthy.

and i knew those feelings.

word for word, i began to feel them echo in my bones. the lack of belonging, a furiously desperate need to be seen as worthy.

‘this is the world i left. i know these words.’

i can’t stop myself from saying it, but north just nods.

‘i know,’ and he wraps his arms a little tighter around me.

the minutes piled one to the next, my bones ached from memory.

day by day, he’d scrub. a serenely painful meditation of removal. all his self, all skin, his dna, would be burned. the altar of acceptance to society was to remove himself from himself, and become someone else.

i know that feeling, i have lived that life. the only way to be, the only way to be loved, was to take every piece of me and cut it away. from verse to preaching, all the words would fall down like stones.

until the altar was built.

and piece by piece, i laid my sinful self upon it. i welcomed the bible’s application. knife-like, i would flay myself willingly. all for the hope of peace, the promise of safety, i died daily. holiness, i was certain, came from death.

i, wretched sinner, was willing to die.

now, now i’m trying to kill the g-d that ate my soul. i’m reaching backwards, forwards, blindly seeking the pieces of my self that i gave too freely to a g-d that only hungered.

easily, quickly belief has come. even now, i fall backwards into the knowing. evil have i come, and wretched do we walk this world. the acid of the words run hotfoot behind my eyes, eating the pieces of light i’ve sown.

ashes and scars, i’m sifting the bones of a ruin.

more and more i feel the divide. uncertain, i cross and cross, mapping out the unknowns of hope.  it is away from belief i’m running, away from dubiously held grace, into the unknown of wide-skies and freedom. even when i tip, balanced backwards into habit, i know where i want my feet to land.

and i am reaching forward, hoping against the dark, that there are stars for me there. desperately hoping that i can, without belief, be good enough. hoping that if i kill g-d, that i will own the edges of my soul entirely.

i will build my self again.


‘sombrita, sombrita, mi sombrita’

she’s happy again, her words suddenly flowing from the hard shaped sounds of english towards spanish. wood colored, her hands soften the ends of the couch, neat and neater. she’s making the house ready.

i am, hands against my mouth, watching for her darkness.

glass in hand, she’s walking around the room, checking it for her secrets. trailing her hands across the tables, all the papers flutter behind her. all numbers and red that run wild on the pages.

the curtains part to her hands, red-sea rising, light comes in telling tales.

her voice paints the world, softens the edges of the room. grass, green as prayers, hopeful as light, is echoing sun’s happiness into the room. dust planets whirling, cobwebs dream of castles, she’s building us forts instead of breakfast.

eyes closed, head tipped back, she drinks light from her glass. and sip by sip, the shadows eat her smile. sun slides by, hesitant and ghosted. branch from branch, light falls into the room.

she is sleeping.

she’s wrinkled into the couch, skirt to knees, hand to face.

finger by finger, we pull the blankets back. across the gap, alder’s eyes are watching.

‘is she… sleeping?’

‘can we..?’

‘shade, i’m hungry!!!!’

cairn’s interruption decides us all. grabbing hands and swinging, we race for the kitchen.

it’s a race, against her glass, against her sleep.

‘here, take this.’

she hands me the measuring cups, one for us each. and we are sitting on the floor, circled in the pantry. the smiling man’s head is opened between us.

‘look what i found! taste this, you’ll love it. open your mouth.’

we all bird-like open for hope, open for secrets.

‘close your eyes’

and she puts a lump into each of our prayerless mouths.

dark and light exploded inside my mouth, all the words came unglued. maybe this was the glory of g-d everyone talked about happening. maybe it wasn’t coals of fire g-d put in the mouths of those he loved. maybe it was this. maybe it was just sweet light and dark melting all the edges of hunger.

faithless, i wish communion were like this.

instead of tasteless pieces of fear and pale purple juice. it comes in little glasses, and preacher reminds each of us what sinners we are. and every time my prayers race forgiveness. bread and juice, they collide inside my mouth. i outrun death.

this was purely light and hope. alder was our preacher, and she only gave good, only gave light. today she held light, today she was better than g-d.

i want more.


the baby is crying again.

night has stretched out into the room. we are head-toe-head next to each other on the bed. blankets fluffed, sheets pressed into the corners. alder had even said the ‘our father’ prayers over our heads. night would not eat our dreams, she promised.

‘don’t get up, you know what will happen. she needs to learn.’

alder’s right, we know the rules. there is to be no crying after bedtime. and river, river was old enough to know better.

‘I’ll have no crying tonight. You are old enough to know better. If I hear you cry one more time, I will be forced to discipline you. Don’t think I won’t.’

she shut the door, and said, ‘She’s got to learn. She can’t have everything her way. Babies are born little liars, sinners. They cry and cry when they don’t need anything. She does not run this house. I will not have a spirit of rebellion take root in this home. Now go, get ready for bed. I’m tired of you all.’

i pull the blankets over my head, i started to count. between the 1 and the 5, her cries broke through. down the hall, through the doors, i heard her. i count harder, pulling all the edges of the room around me.

‘we have to wait.’

alder’s eyes are brown too, like river’s. they hold so much night, so much good. we know alder’s our boss, we know. like water falls, like words have sense, alder is the one who knows the words to use.

and i love her.

alder makes sense of the world. she’s the one who explains my sins so i can understand, how much they have to work to make sure i’m good. she promises me that if i work very very hard, she will like me more too. so i try.

but tonight i hate her.

her hands are strong, and moon has lifted back night’s eyes. the stars forgot how to shine, and alder will not fall asleep.

alder and i, we wait.

we wait for silence, we wait for the door to open.

the baby still cries.


the music has only just stopped its ringing.

chorus to chorus, the barrage of old-new songs fell like fire between my hands. we’ve the words, they are so easy each time. written for knowing, for singing, for belief, they are tattooed into the cracks of my hands.

i hold the table, i hold the ground.

coffee burning my skin, tongue to teeth, mouth to cup. i’m drinking the darkness like communion. it’s the only kind i can stand now. the oil black of the coffee flits across the surface. serene heat, heavy with doubts.

here, i drink it black. there is no grace to soften my unbelief.

steam curling, rising, we are again turn and turning backwards. circling around these thoughts. white leaves, flimsy ghosts, these are the small prayers i never meant to whisper. wild, they fly from my mug.

i swallow faster, burning the prayers into my body before they betray my faithlessness.

willing, unwilling we have come. circled to the table, ready for the learning and the leaning, the agreeing and the needing.

lent came running this year, and i dreamed myself ready. so ready for advent to be over, so ready for the season to change. with the colors of the curtains adjusting to reflect some other portion of the bible, i was hopeful.

maybe things would be gentler again. maybe i could sit still longer, maybe the words wouldn’t cut quite so deep. maybe belief would come like spring, new-found and grass-green.

the icon has stopped circling ’round us, the chr-st still gazes out, triangle borne, heavy handed to the cross. even the softened edges of the beautiful colors can’t hide how much pain there is.

it grows harder to look at.

i can almost read the expression on his face. it reads unending pain, when the stories say he could have gotten down. i fail to understand. i would have run. f i could have run, i would have never stayed.

i am still running.

and he turns to the verses we are to hear tonight, it is to be j-sus in the wilderness. his voice gentles as we begin. j-sus is caught in a sifting desert, dry, exhausted. and then satan appears to tempt him.

i have heard this a hundred times at least. j-sus, son of g-d, is tempted and resists. be, believe, obey.

i wait for the hammer as he pauses.

‘what kind of temptation is this, if j-sus is all g-d and all man? which part faces the temptation? notice what you’re feeling right now. notice it.’

and i do, i notice.

in between the accusing, the shifting sands of my faith, i notice.

g-d is not supposed to be temptable.
g-d, infinitely perfect and good, cannot sin.
j-sus is supposed to be g-d’s son.
j-sus could not be tempted.

and i am eustace, again, peeled down to the barest of scars and darkness. but there’s no grand beauty of grace and forgiveness, there only is this. each word pierces. until sharp like light, truth shines down. all the lies come raining down, they shatter about my feet.

‘it’s a fake,’ i can’t stop the words from coming out of my mouth.

they fall into the silence between other voices.

he turns to look at me, ‘what was that? what did you say?’

i lack the cohesion, all i can do is repeat, ‘it’s a fake. g-d can’t sin.’

the thoughts race through me, burning up the ground.

j-sus cannot sin.
i am made of sin.

and in my failings, all the punishments were mine every time. there’s no room here for grace, for the sweet kiss of hope. there is only the ever-deepening night that holds every sin.

and i see, these were the lies that painted the inner rooms of my belief.

never, never could i live up to the good of who j-sus is. there is no grand succeeding, no winning of the light. faith is faithless, unwilling to be found. and belief mocks my heart. there is no good enough with these words. there is only failure.

i run from failing.

i run from belief.


night scrapes across the bed, it is all sharp teeth, dripping fears.

lark, she sighs. i hear music in her, even when she sleeps. alder, lined neatly, sleeps too. head to toe, she and lark make lines in the bed. blankets mussed, moon’s light falls soft on their dreams.

i’ve found a spot, just behind the bed. wall and blankets, i am waiting. i wait for the lion, with roaring shadows. it always walks. sidestep slowly, heavy feet down the hall.

moon and sky, all the stars have flung themselves high. against dark, they are white sparks of love, distant gleamings. 

one time he let me look, hands fast to the telescope. and all the planets arrayed, in quiet singing arcs, hiding heaven’s secret door. so every night i send my prayers, folded and folded, up into the deep.

someday, they will fly. true, white, clean, to heaven’s door. word for word, g-d will read my every wish. all the sorries would be known, and forgiveness would come. wing-light, quick-step, heaven would no longer hide.

for every step to step, i count the our fathers. my shepherd’s prayers, my deliverances all fall short. but every prayer is only half-folded.

guilty, deceitful, my heart always ruins the good.

the window’s edges sharpen themselves bone-deep against night’s little hopes. prayer by prayer, verse by verse, they are caught between the coming and going of light. until at last, night bleeds sadly to sun’s return.

light slices through the room, a knife of truth. it is dividing, dividing. always comes the truth, forever comes the stalking hand of g-d. everyone knows, the lion that walks the night is g-d’s own conscience. it seeks, it summons, it eats the sinful.

and the lion stands, heavy-hearted the wind sings into the room. squares and squares, numbers to the edges, they all tip sideways. light from grey, white to dark, he’s eating all the dreams.

i am still counting my sins.


he sits folded under my arm.

he’s wrapped into the music. words flowing by us both, falling on our ears. he’s getting old enough to hear the words. i see it in the way he leans into the harmony, the way he holds my hand.

he is blue on blue, eyes to sky.

sun’s breaking the clouds, sifting light from reason. by habit, he finds the rough spots, and traces them. without thought, without comment, we are here.

note by note, we find the sacred.

i used to care when he traced my hands, i used to hide the marks. i’d distract him with another toy, another word. i’d hold his fingers still, trying to hide the marks.

my hands, they won’t ever be pretty. they are marked, knuckles, fingers, bones. most of them have faded, most of them only i can see. they stand out, signposts to the past.

but one is as bumpy and raw as the day it healed. and he traces that. it curves under my first knuckle, almost an inch of shame. sometimes i still feel the burning.

there are so many things i have not told him. because he is light on light, hopes and dreams. because he is too young, and the darkness is not his to hold. and yet, i have these scars that i cannot hide.

and we hear the words:

I smoke these haunted memories every night 
While i think about the scars from another life’

he turns to me, ‘mama, what are scars from another life?’

and fingers on my scar, i finally have some words.

‘this mark, is when i was someone different. this was a long long time ago, when i used to get a lot of scars.’

eyes serious, knowing, clear, he says, ‘no one’s hurting you anymore, right?’

he pushes his head a little farther into my shoulder’s hollow. his elbows all triangle pointed, knees gangled and bent, it’s enough. i can shed these yesterdays, i can name their shadows, scars.

secret by secret, i can leave these scars behind. until they are only rough spots marking the boundaries of hurt. my now is studded with shadows and light.

and he, he is part of my light.

Leanne – guest post

when i started writing, i wrote and hoped i was not alone.

i wrote and feared i was alone. and then i started to hear.

little by little, word comes in of things survived. they were your whispers, secrets, half-spoken words.

and i read.

we were there, our secrets are real. your secrets are real too.

today’s post is by someone who wrote to tell their story.

Leanne’s family was involved with the Institute of Basic Life Principles, and bill gothard for most of her childhood. from there, she was sent to another family involved in the same teachings. the abuse she suffered there left her vulnerable to a predator.

if this were even the only case, is it worth defending gothard’s teachings? is it worth even one child’s pain, hurt, fear?

i don’t think it is.

Leanne’s Story