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Journal

November
17
2020

November 17, 2020

When I woke, 

I was alone.

I was thinking:

so this is how you swim inward,

so this is how you flow outward,

so this is how you pray.


Mary Oliver, excerpt from “Five A.M. in the Pinewoods” 


When I was living in Nicaragua, in my late 20s, I spent so much of my time there feeling lonesome. There was the problem of language--my Spanish was poor, and the problem of money--I had so little that I had trouble finding safe rooms to live in. One late evening I was using my last precious calling card minutes to talk with my friend David who was back home in New York. There is no question in my mind that I was probably complaining about something. While we were talking, a wet, dead rat fell out of my cardboard ceiling and landed at the foot of my bed with a splat. It was the same bed I was sitting in. “David! Some kind of dead rodent just fell out of the ceiling and landed on my bed.” He was even more hysterical than I, and suggested we get to work air-lifting me out of there immediately. Feeling as lonesome as I did then, I can still remember how good it felt to laugh with him on the phone. I faced the large, dead rat only half alone. 


In Nicaragua, each day there I was introduced to the inspiring, life-giving work of the organization I was working with, funded, in part, by my denomination. The people I worked alongside and learned from were exceptional--brilliant, bright, faithful, and incredibly patient with me. In nearly every interaction I had there, I always felt a little bit alone. This was no one’s fault, only the normal feeling any stranger in a strange land has in a situation like the one I was in. I always had the sense that I couldn’t fully show them who I was, and in turn, I couldn’t ever fully know them for all they were. I was simultaneously surrounded by people I deeply respected and wanted to know, and exhausted at the end of every day from all the effort trying. In some very raw and human way, even as lonesome as I was, the best part of every day was making it back into my own room and shutting my bedroom door for a long night, finally alone. God was my closest companion during that time. There was no language barrier with god, no getting frustratingly lost in translation. And there was no smartphone or texting or streaming to hide behind. I cried every day. I prayed constantly. I wrote to god while also feeling like god was writing the story too. It’s funny how we can, in hindsight, look back on an incredibly difficult time and remember it with fondness. When I lived there all I wanted was to go home, and here I am typing away about how close I felt to god and how that time was a true crucible for learning to love myself and coming to know myself as unconditionally loved.


I have experienced intense times of loneliness in my life. The lump in my throat when my parents dropped me off at college comes to mind. The disorienting loneliness I experienced traveling and living abroad. And that painful distance I have felt in some of my closest relationships, even in my own strong marriage. And despite the near-constant presence of those I love completely, I have felt so lonesome in this illness too.


But I have never felt all the way alone. In my earliest memories, I’ve had an always-present sense of god within me, close to me, hitched to me the way my breath is. This benevolent presence is not something I earned or was owed or applied for or remember receiving at some discrete moment in time. God’s loving presence has just been a truth of my life, and it’s been in the emptier, slowed-down, or even painful times I can feel this divine love and the strength of her company the most.


In seminary there was always this theological question that we students would pivot back to again and again--does prayer influence outcomes or does prayer (simply or not so simply) change the one who is praying? Both? I hope prayer has the power to influence outcomes, and I know prayer has changed me. Softened my rough edges, slowed down my anger, increased my capacity to hope, provided courage, and many other things I’m not even aware of. My understanding of what prayer is has changed in my adult years, I used to polish my prayers I would offer publicly when I worked in churches. There is nothing wrong with that, but it’s not really my jam anymore. My dad wrote a song called The Prayer of a Desperate Man. It was never listed on the Billboard charts, but people tell me often, at the grocery store or in the BNA airport, that that’s a song that changed them. One of the lyrics is “He’s known me from my birth, and I think he roams the earth for the prayer of a desperate man, ‘cause that’s what he understands.”


This is an exhausting, emotional illness. I am experiencing life at half-mast a lot of the time. In the same way as attempting to communicate in a language I don’t really speak, it can be lonely trying to translate how I see and what I feel to others. My prayers these days are pretty desperate, completely unpolished, and so immense they aren’t even offered in words, just tears. But what pulls me out of my fear and loneliness are prayers of thanksgiving--naming what I am grateful for--habitually, outrageously, daily. With these prayers, I swim inward, flow outward, and draw nearer to the Love who created me, surrounds me, resides within me. And it is the same Love who will carry me into that great beyond, I believe and I pray. 


With love, tallu


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Comments

  • Rachel Woodall : You introduced me to Mary Oliver. You opened my eyes to how beautiful family could be. You showed my heart what it means to live authentically and fully. I may be much older, but I continue to sit at your feet and absorb from your wisdom and holy spirit. This post reminds me of the song we sang at YWCA camp when I was growing up, Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley. Some walks are ours alone, but we go with a band of encouragers praying for us and creating an energy that helps us through. Prayers!
    12/4/20
  • Claire McKeever-Burgett : Sometimes I think I pray in order to believe. Probably most of the time, all of the time, if I’m honest. Praying with you, dear one. Always.
    12/1/20
  • Susie Ries : As Val said, your words not only help us understand what you are going through (for which we are very grateful), they give us courage to face our own journeys.
    11/28/20
  • Susie Ries : Tallu, you continue to be prayed for many times a day, by me and by many. I’ve wondered a lot recently about prayerI love your question, “does prayer influence outcomes or does prayer (simply or not so simply) change the one who is praying? Both?”
    11/28/20
  • Sara J. Finley : Grateful to you Tallu for your inspiring and thought-provoking words and grateful for you this Thanksgiving! With love, Sara
    11/25/20
  • Sarah Richardson : I remember your time in Nicaragua and the loneliness you described. I was a new mom at the time and experiencing a different kind of loneliness. I would think of you there while I was endlessly rocking my newborn in the dark and feel so connected to you. Your fierce love and your bravery have never failed to inspire me, and never more so than in these days. All the love, my friend.
    11/25/20
  • Claudia Nygaard : I know how what you mean about feeling closer to God. When I lost my mother, who was my strongest supporter and best friend, and during the next several years after she was gone, I felt closer to God than at any time before or sense. I think He is always there, it is we His children who create the distance. Thank you for reminding me of that. We love you Tallu. Keep sharing.
    11/24/20
  • J Fred Knobloch : You are such a wonderful writer!!...I love you beyond anything!
    11/24/20
  • Val Strain : Tallu - you are amazing. Your courage to share your words, so eloquently painted, helps us each in all our lives, so far away from each other, and all in such vastly different circumstances. And, your willingness to share with us your feelings of lonesomeness makes us each feel less lonely where we are. Your words help us understand your journey and give us courage to face our own, and to live our lives in such a way as you do, giving of yourself to make someone else’s journey better. We love you, Tallu. Thank you for making this universe so much better, so much kinder.
    11/22/20
  • Allen McDonald : Thank you Tallu for helping us all learn how to be better swimmers in the ever changing currents of our own lives. You are such an inspiration.
    11/21/20
  • Kaylan Buteyn : Even as I am experiencing anger and sadness knowing the journey you are on right now, you are inspiring my faith in a god I'm not sure I name anymore and reminding me to stay hopeful. You are more than an inspiration.
    11/21/20
  • Jayna Powell : thank you for this, Tallu. This is the best description of prayer I have ever read. So real. Thank you for continuing to teach us, move us, fill us...as we try desperately to pray as you do. Love to you, my friend.
    11/21/20
  • teddy morgan : Thank you for beautiful writing Tallu and for sharing your story. There is a wonderful podcast/interview with Mary Oliver you may enjoy... https://onbeing.org/programs/mary-oliver-listening-to-the-world/
    11/20/20
  • Diane Tucker : Just today, had a chance to read your wonderful post from Tuesday. So meaningful, honest and strong. Write on, our little Earth Angel! Sending hugs, love and healing prayers!
    11/19/20
  • J Fred Knobloch : You embarrass me as a writer with feeling! Wishing you the best and would love to come by and cook with you...You tell me what to do and I'll do it!
    11/19/20
  • Melissa Corbin : Oh, my sweet woman. I am sitting here sobbing. You are such a comfort to me. I can't explain it. I hear your sweet voice in my head with every word I read of yours. Living life at half-mast can be so lonesome, and FOMO can be way too real. To say you resonate in my heart would be an understatement. I give thanks for you and love you.
    11/19/20
  • Judy Quinn : In my humble understanding, the sacred presence you experience, Tallu, inside with God, with others, is a not a solitary place but a place of union. As you say, the presence is felt most easily in the ‘emptier, slowed down, painful times’, when the wise and courageous ‘swim inward’. You’re right; you’ve never been all alone. You know this place. It is transcendent. You can relax here and find refuge communion, and union. I remember when in one of your journals you said that you wanted to have a space where your children could meet with you. I think this is it. Wise advice from Mary Oliver. ‘Swim inward.’ Sending so much love.
    11/19/20
  • Phoebe Spier : Tallu, You are so deeply loved by so many. Your words and whole being are a blessing to us. Thank you for sharing your heart.
    11/19/20
  • charlie biter : Me too, Darden. " there's no crying in baseball" Tom Hanks 1992 Tallu, You have moved from feeding countless stomachs to feeding countless souls. Your thoughts and words are so inspiring all of us, blessedly , beyond our expectations. Pray on, Angel!
    11/18/20
  • Darden Copeland : I have to stop reading these at work. Sending lots of love and prayers to you and your family.
    11/18/20
  • Thom Schuyler : Dear One - If I had to rely on the arrogance and ignorance within me to communicate with the Divine I would surely fail. This verse has always given me great hope: "Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." (Romans 8:26)
    11/18/20
  • Sherry Kail : I am still learning that praying without ceasing has nothing to do with "Dear God" and "Amen". What I used to consider memories of our times together, I now realize are prayers.
    11/18/20
  • Toni Pollard : So beautiful, Tallu. You help us all be less alone, by generously sharing your self with us. So much love is with you.
    11/18/20
  • Johnny Wray : I have no words just tears of gratitude and love and hope.
    11/18/20
  • Sandy Smith : your words are changing my life, Tallu... sending love and prayers.
    11/17/20
  • Jonathan Farmer : Tallu - you are always in our prayers. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us - they are so inspiring.
    11/17/20
  • Mahri Leonard-Fleckman : Thank you for your courageous, breathtaking words, Tallu. You continue to inspire me.
    11/17/20
  • emmie Thomas : Love for you, and love for the love that is within you. I've prayed that prayer for the Desperate Man, to the tune of your Dad's song, and I believe in its truth.
    11/17/20
  • Adele Tyler : Wow, Tallu - I'm sitting in the Kroger parking lot, waiting on groceries and wiping away tears, so moved by your beautiful writing. Thank you for inspiring me and many others - it feels as if you have invited us to join you to swim in the deep waters of your experiences and insights. I'm holding you in love in my heart, 24/7.
    11/17/20
  • Pam Richardson : Your spiritual insight and strength inspire so many, myself included. Even in the midst of a season of storm you speak with beautiful peace and wisdom. More people than you realize are lifting you up to God in prayer every day. May God’s power and light shine on you and your loved ones continuously.
    11/17/20
  • Rita Pirkl : Your vulnerability and transparency are a gift and a reminder. Thank you Tallu❣️
    11/17/20
  • Faye Tevebaugh : Another piece of your real and beautiful journey you share with us. Thank you! You can count on our prayers.
    11/17/20
  • Liz McWilliams : Again beautifully stated Tallu and please know that we all send you love and prayers. You are not alone in this voyage and we all admire your courage as you move through each stage of these unknown waters.
    11/17/20
  • Kate Nelson : Love you so much. And I remember your time in Nicaragua and all the wild updates then how lucky I felt when you came back home to Nashville! Plus how grateful I was to Robbie when it looked like you were going to stay! Thank you for all of this one!
    11/17/20
  • Emily Noel : My thoughts and prayers are with you, Tallu❤️🙏🏻
    11/17/20
  • Richard Painter : I love you Tallu. You may be sometimes lonely, but never alone. I think of you with love every day.
    11/17/20
  • Denise Sesler : I love you.
    11/17/20
  • Ashley Dukes : Oh, my dear. I love this so, but not as much as I love you. Praying for and loving you daily, hourly, from Mississippi.
    11/17/20
  • MaryBeth McLaurine : Dear sweet Tallu. I look so forward to you journal entries, coming straight from the heart. I think of you every day and prayers are abound
    11/17/20
  • margie moore : I relate to this so much, Tallu. Especially how I, too, would polish my prayers. I was more into my eloquent performance than to any heart/God connection. You won't find me praying in public anymore. ha. Thank you again, for your thoughtful and meaningful words. This really touched me. I love you.
    11/17/20
  • Marianne May Causey : My heart just stopped. Your insights, your words, your life is so powerful-----So powerful. I cannot express my gratitude enough to you for sharing your raw and exquisite self with me---I mean, with ALL of us. I treasure these ----your sermons. (I mean that in the best way.) You are a gift in my life. I wish I lived next door to you. I mean, I wish I had ALWAYS lived next door to you. My thanksgiving today is for knowing you through your divine sharing of what is real and from the God within and without. I share any and all strength I own with you. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on Tallu---and on each person who is part of this tethered holy circle she has created for us.
    11/17/20
  • Christi Williams : The great I Am is gathering his dancers for you, our dear friend! Love love love.
    11/17/20
  • Kimberly Naftel : Thank you for the inspiration you give to all of us through your writing. I think if you often and of your sweet family.
    11/17/20
  • Becky Smith : I love you
    11/17/20
  • Ann Shayne : Grateful for your clear voice, Tallu, every day.
    11/17/20
  • Kit Thomson : I was just thinking of you, and then saw your post. For me, colder weather and the coming of winter has brought some different thoughts and curtailed outside visits. It sounds like you are remaining connected, which is great. Have you watched Morgan Freeman’s The Story of God? I just finished it and enjoyed it. I am embarked on a long chemo journey, hoping for good outcomes. Wishing you and your family the best.
    11/17/20
  • Jane Hardy : Thank you again, Tallu, for describing your struggles and your faith. Know that so many of us hold you 24/7 in our hearts and our prayers. We're inspired by your posts about your journey and we're forever grateful. Love to you and yours, Jane
    11/17/20
  • Margaret Smith : Every time you post you capture universal feelings in beautifully personal, descriptive prose. This one is especially powerful. So many prayers for you and your family. You are beloved.
    11/17/20
  • Therese Fajardo : You are right, Tallu- we are never really alone. You have the gift of faith that carried you through the crucible so far, and with the prayer support of all who surround you with their unique prayer, you will never be alone on this pilgrimage.
    11/17/20
  • Scott Rollins : Prayers and love to you, Tallu!
    11/17/20