Cellar Door Thoughts


It’s like coming to a new planet and discovering that all the guidebooks were right in saying the food is delicious and the water is bad. And your mother was right in telling you to pack a pillow for the plane ride because otherwise you’ll get a stiff neck. And your Uncle Ned was right in saying you were an idiot for going at all…

College is not only over, but the summer after graduation is chilling off into pumpkin-scented, maroon-coated, sweater-hawking autumn.

And I’m standing at the edges, realizing I am so different…and so is everyone else.

How did this happen, again?

The world was spinning for the last six years because of college study and now, the books on the shelf don’t give half a damn if they get read and the box of 3X5 cards in my left-hand drawer (that I knew I would run out) of are moldering through the months- as blank as my mind.

The kid I nannied went back to school and so did I- working in an office, pushing papers and other people’s money across a magnetic field of vision that included a friend of mine (at the desk next to me) who I was praying I didn’t kill before Christmas.

Where did I go?

knew who I was a few months ago (…I think) and how I fit in this world. I was completely comfortable hauling in the student discounts and waving off less-than-ideal dates with the ever-ready: “sorry dude. Homework.”

And now….nothing.

I asked my roommate if I was really as mean as I felt inside and instead of telling me, “no, no, you’re fine.” she said, “I think it’s just a stage you’re going through…I hope.”

I can always count on her to tell me what she thinks.

Well, Dorothy isn’t in Kansas anymore and she somehow lost her ruby slippers and can’t see the color gold and is now allergic to tin and lion hair and straw.

…or at least, that’s what it feels like.

Maybe it has something to do with change.

Or college students looking more and more like children. With expensive phones. And no idea that the best professors retired while they were still in highschool algebra class.

Or the fact that bills don’t care if you have a college degree or a week-old box of raisins in the cupboard.

Or the fact that more of my friends are now having babies than still want to go to Six Flags for a weekend.


So, the autumn air creeps into the city on leafy feet and I’m stuck with my fingers wrapped around a lovely, full, crazy summer that I’d rather not let go of.

But I have to.

So what did I do?

I started a blog.


(…now where’s that roommate’s box of chocolate I saw her buy last month…)

Featured post


Bones and skin,

words and thoughts,

air and breath:

the tilting shape of a planet-

a present, full of gifts,

ribbed in delight

and shadowed in sorrow…


How the walking selves upon her surface

jilt the nearness of life

with petty glances and hungry gazes.


I am the userer,

trading gilt and gold

for fleeting chills and momentary tastes

of the glory I am aching for.


I am not alone in this.


We are together in our demands

for breathless wonder at the expense of innocence,

freedom at the cost of life,

power on the mortgage of hope,

delight at the exchange of value…


You may release with abandon.

I may hang on (long past the heartbeat of what I hold).

We grimace and grasp,

trailing behind glory because of our empty weight.


How long, O Lord?


How long will I bend my back to another plow,

convinced of fantasy

by its very impossibility?

How long will I see dollar signs and designs

on the skin of my fellow laborers,

pulsing in the blood of those who share my breath,

who know my name?


If I, who have been spared,

cannot magnify the souls around me,

I am no better than the servant,

grasping for pennies with strangling hands…


God of a trembling planet

and the Healer of trembling bones,

Forgive me.


Let me learn to sing to You

because You have dealt bountifully…

Coffee Cake and Slippers

She was a strong woman, born in the sweltering heat of the South, to a mother and father who lived in a two-room house on a cotton farm.

She had five siblings, four strapping boys and a little, fresh-faced sister, whom she goaded and guarded through muggy summers and icey winters and the long pull of schoolyard upheaval and chores.

She worked in the fields because she didn’t like the drama in the kitchen… and yet her cooking could melt the heart of any and every man she met, especially as she got older.

She stuck to her opinion and stood her ground as she grew up, moved to north to Chicago, had five kids and finally settled down with a public transit conductor who also had five children of his own.

Their Brady-bunch household consisted of six girls, four boys, a dog, one bathroom and a lot of noise.

My father grew up, loved fiercely and just as fiercely disciplined by this woman- a muscled, motherly, opinionated, often-bossy Gerener Buegel with a handsome face and softly-curled hair.

He called her “Mom” with all the respect his boyish demeanor could muster, constantly aware of the times she had turned his hide beet-red with the strength of God in her slipper.

I called her “Grandma Kissy-Face” until I was about six and she called a halt to the nickname. Then “Grandma” or “Nana” sufficed, although she slathered one with the same barrage of cheek-kisses and suffocatingly wonderful hugs, no matter her moniker.

In the midst of a huge family- broken and dysfunctional and messy as it could be- she gave orders and cooked and swatted children and cleaned the kitchen floor and yelled at a little dog named “Spotty” with the vigor of a woman half her age, the aroma of homemade coffee cake wafting through the trailer home’s porch door.

And then, about two weeks ago, she was gone.

We stood in gathered clumps around a fancy box that sheltered her imposing frame, wondering what to do because the voice who usually gave orders was silent, calling out observations in a Glory we couldn’t hear.

I sat at the end of a chair, pulsing with emotions that didn’t have names, for the most part, except for the ache of sadness that meant “loss”- I had always used Grandma as my understanding of the word “family”, object of fierce womanhood, the sum of my father’s childhood and the anthem of all things well-cooked.

But now, nothing.

There was a glimmering beauty amidst the quiet- Grandma’s faith in Christ, born in 2002, was like iron, spoken without precedence and with a surplus of love. Some of her ending words were “For heaven’s sake, yes- I’m ready to go home.”

My brother and I sang at her funeral, “Amazing Grace” lilted because we were busy passing tears back and forth, my father stumbling through his words at the Bible passage-reading, the quiet smattered with laughter as much as tears.

It was strange- we were gathered around death because we were all familiar with the same particular life, drawn closer in its passing, quiet in the realization.

We laughed about the imperfections of life, the boys in the funeral-home hallway reminiscing about childhood trouble-making and how savory the chicken-and-dumplings were in the fall.

We talked and made sure to eat extra portions that night, no voice to remind us to do so.

And now it’s weekends later; I sit in my living room, with a number in my phone that is no longer connected to a voice- the sheer weight of the former blessing only made real in the light of its vacancy…

Quiet can be healing, even in the city.

In a moment, though, I’ll likely get up from my chair, wander into the kitchen, and add applesauce and a can of Coca-Cola to a cake mix- remembering with vivid scent what I know, now.

Family is held together not only with pots and pans but with the consistency of fierce love…

Thanks, Grandma.


Deconstructed Walls

God’s sovereignty-

Songs are sung about it, poems written, ideas tossed back and forth and knitted into our creeds and identity… and still, we understand it not.

The powerful glory of our faith- acceptance of things that we do not understand because of One we love but also cannot understand.

We are somehow the happiest madmen for this truth…


I ask the Lord perhaps a thousand times a week- “What do you want me to do?”

I’m so focused on doing and following and finding and comprehending that I find myself repeating frustrated gibberish in the silence.

Gibberish like: “If you would just give me a blueprint I would fulfil it,” and “Which of these choices are the right one?” and “Why are You so silent?”

My view of God’s sovereignty, based so long on something I thought I could comprehend, is slowly being stripped apart, brick by brick and word by thought…

The father of one of my best friends once told me- “I don’t believe God opens doors, really. I think He shuts them.”

If God is all-seeing, then maybe sometimes the choices we make don’t matter as much as His divine will?

There have been multiple moments, big moments, in my life that several equally lovely, equally viable choices were in front of me and all I heard from heaven was- silence.

I used to think it was because I wasn’t listening, or because some sin was blocking the way, or because I needed to wait.

But what if the reason was because God’s will would be fulfilled whichever I picked?

What if the bigger picture of His glorious good was not changed (affected, maybe, but not changed) by whether I took one open door or another?

What if He “closed doors” and left the open ones to me, knowing all the while where I would step?

Theologians could no doubt pick apart my phrases and show me the sparsing of truth that I’m slathering all across a blog-o-sphere… but it’s not really meant to be an understanding treatise, this pack of messy words and even messier thoughts.

It’s a theological statement, I grant you, but not a very good one.

It’s more like a shakey step in the questioning walk of a child- wobbly deconstruction of a bigger world around; requests to a Father Who knows more than I and shapes me with each lisping thought.

Someday I’ll have words for the colors in my mind, the weights in my chest, the everlasting, confusing brilliances that He sets before me with an imperceivable smile.

But right now, the only way I can describe them are in the broken words of a poet, the arpeggios of a musician, the faltering sentences of a writer…


“It might be a good idea if, like the White Queen, we practiced believing six impossible things every morning before breakfast, for we are called on to believe what to many people is impossible. Instead of rejoicing in this glorious “impossible” which gives meaning and dignity to our lives, we try to domesticate God, to make his might actions comprehensible to our finite minds.”

-Madeleine L’Engle


Whirring around and around and around-

circles of rubber and metal

on the tarmac of the City I live in.

Tracing her ribs in cyclical fashion

we often meet her unexpected blemishes

with the same jolt

as the expected ones…

She is taller from here-

our route spinning along the avenue

with the haste of leaves;

pre-cold abandon in autumn’s

remonstrative teeth.

Sprawled from the river,

we dance on ribbons of discovery

and among angry cabbies

who are jealous of our passage

along their metal sides

and into the crosswalks ahead.

Forrage now,

while the summer ends,

before the icy winds blow

and our wheels are stored away,

slumbering amongst memories of the summer sun…


Why is life the painting I never expected to see?

I’m constantly brought back to and wrapped around the idea of following Christ being an abstract thing- a reality based on relationship, steeped in unsure steps, surrounded by faith and unseen mercies that I won’t recognize until later.

Perhaps my stubbornness and curiosity have set me up for the particular entanglement of wondering aloud- tenaciously fighting even the hand of a loving God with my wriggling queries, hollering out loud if need be.

I dare say we all tangle with sovereignty and grace, with people and principalities, with the frustrating elements of our faith and our futures.

Especially in our twenties…

But today, writing the tenth email to a mother of two about what time I should come and teach their oldest her piano lesson- I felt a little of the fabric over my security slip loose, yet again.

We are elemental things- ribs and blood and scabs, thoughts and dreams and disappointments, trauma and hope and memories.

We break. We heal. We scar. We smile.

I went to a Gungor concert with some of my closest friends recently and, whatever you may say about Gungor and their theological makeup or philosophical ideals- I was deeply struck by the first song they sang: “Am I”.

The lyrics of the “verses” pulse through question after question, offering tentative suggestions in hope of being answered-

“Am I a ghost?… Am I an animal?…Am I alright?…Am I loved?…Am I a memory?”

The chorus is simply the words “Am I?” repeated over and over again, a chant of honesty in the near-silence of some gorgeous tonal work.

The end of the song, it shifts to asking Someone-

“Are you there?… Are you anything at all?… Are you good?… Am I okay?”

The chorus begins again, but the words “Am I?” chase themselves around and around into “I AM”- perhaps the most comforting and exasperating Name in the history of the world.

Moses chose the possibility of death and the complication of his calling, with the mere breath of this Name.

The Pharisees offered to kill a Man because He claimed it as His own.

I have been met with it over and over again, frustration and questions only finding a home in its hollow.

And we wonder at the concrete abstraction of life…

When I am left to cry for lack of direction, or wracked with pain over something I would never have seen coming, or watching my own choices bubble into wrongs I wish I could take back- I’m not given anything more possibly concrete than a Name:

I Am.


“I will have nothing to do with a God who cares only occasionally. I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights. It is when things go wrong, when good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.”

-Madeleine L’Engle.


(Listen to the whole of “Am I” here

Or here)

From the Negative.

“What do you want?”

The question hangs on the empty air,

screeching my thoughts to a halt,

echoing the shadows in my mind

when I’m alone…

How do I know?

I usually fiddle with ideas,

trying them out,

listing the experiences that I abhor

so that I will spin their

photographic negative

How do people sense their desires?

I am busy

biting my nails

and trying as many things

as I can find time for,

in order to find the day

for my night…

Is this how to go about it?

Question and query,

list and picture,

forage and find…

Lower the lens cap

and view the world around,

asking to grasp

the big picture

in black and white

For now

I’ll be content

with the negative…

Bunk Beds

I’m “too old” for lots of things… and yet, here I was, with nine other humans in a room the size of my college dorm lounge, settled into the squeaky bottom mattress of a metal-framed bunk bed.

It wasn’t so strange- I went from my sister’s and my bedroom to the collegiate bunks of Houghton 6 to the slightly-lumpier mattress of my “own” home… all a pile of quirky furniture and slight snores and the hope of a quiet fan at night.

This room wasn’t going to be hard to fall asleep in; one blessed fact about the Buegel children- we can sleep almost anywhere. Camping and visitors and travel and moving and generally high-strung temperaments in work ethic mean that we’ve covered the gambit of exhaustion on wooden floors, WWI Army cots, sleeping bags, grass, chairs, moving vehicles and (no joke) the occasional bathtub.

I just had to reflect on the picture of it all for a minute.

I was a 25-year-old American from Chicago, bunked under a 30-year-old Korean, next to two Australian students, a vacationing Norwegian, a business-traveling Russian, a backpacking Italian, a Swedish kid on holiday and another Aussie, traveling simply for the heck of it until she ran out of money.

It was 9 pm on a Wednesday in Munich and we all sat around and traded stories in bits of languages, mostly English.

The Russian guy felt like going out to explore; he invited all of us and three fellows took him up on it. I had an early bus the next morning and so did the Aussies, so he handed out his card to the rest of us (to look him up, if we ever came into St. Petersburg) and the night-owls struck out.

Something about hostel culture has taken the cheap kids by storm and I think it bit me, too…

Now, when I refer to hostels, I’m not thinking about dormitories or student facilities. I’m picturing the rent-a-bed facilities that offer mixed-company rooms (and the occasional private room) to travelers, often for a far lesser rate than the hotels in the area. Those places that you might have been told were full of bedbugs and weirdos. Those.

And, as a disclaimer: I’m not saying I have enough experience to endorse one thing or the other, to serve as any sort of expert on any sort of culture, or to help you have a better vacation. So there.

That being out of the way, I freaking loved the hostels I stayed in.

Something about the air around me made me smile- I was amongst other travelers and we were generally genuinely interested in (at least five-minute) conversations with each other about the basics- family, food, home, sports, the trajectory of our trip and where the showers were.

There were plenty of strange sorts, to be sure (I’ll tell the story about Snoring California and Pantsless Finland another day…) but the overall atmosphere was that we were adult enough to be polite, young enough to be interested, happy enough to be flexible, and smart enough to lock our things in the provided lockers…

It was almost like the shadowy memories of my family visiting hosts while we were on deputation (raising funding for our ministry work, for all of you not familiar). You stay long enough to gain a glimpse but not long enough for your smile to lose its shine.

The strange thing was, the kinds of conversations that swirled through the rooms and common rooms constituted a shocking amount of serious subjects. Politics, religion, relationships- you name it, and somehow a stranger became a better conversation partner than the ones you knew so well back home.

I’m not saying that’s a great thing or an admirable thing. It may speak more to our loneliness and longing for community than our openness and hope…

But it was refreshing for this trip, nonetheless.

I had left the US, in part, to think. To wander and wonder about a few things that the noise in my own backyard had been drowning out.

And here were these people, dredging up the very things I couldn’t hear as well when I was stationary. And not always directly to me.

I remember one night, I was curled up in the common room, listening to two brilliant and sweet female travelers from Amsterdam speak with a Chicago-gone-Californian deist about the nature of church. Over in another corner, a gentleman from Quebec, Canada was asking a South Carolina girl about the study she was making her way to in Romania- you’ll never guess…she was going to dig up and study dead people. Go figure. And I was breathing it all in, wondering if I wanted to go to graduate school and why. Don’t ask me why that atmosphere was helpful for me to see clearly that I wanted to go and to go for music. But it was.

Somehow, between the crazy decor, the odds and ends, the weirdos, the tepid showers, the glorious views, the new-found acquaintances, the overall ability to shut up if I felt like it- I was actually quiet.

The mix of new atmosphere and familiar things (like sleeping arrangements) slowed me down in a way I hadn’t experienced since before college. I was able to think.

Sometimes, you do just fine with bunkbeds…


It settles in my chest,

the shadow of hope.

And I am afraid.


Once you begin this hoping business,

you also kiss the cheek of despair.


My hands are open as I watch her face,

struggling to keep down the wave,

waiting beside the tiredness,

underneath the practicality,

the childish delight that could be good,

that could last,

that could


We are made to hope.

To look for light in the darkest rooms.

To seek for good in the wreckage.

To want, even though it drive us mad…


The candle flickers,

my blood and skin across the table,

her eyes glittering in the half-light,

tampered by pain.


But even now…

I hope.

Thunderstorm Faith

He wore a dark, button-down shirt and grey dress pants and loafer-type tie-up shoes. His glasses glinted at the sky.

I had ropes of glittery beads layered over a Minnie Mouse t-shirt and pink shorts, hair a mass of stringy sticks. No shoes.

His arms were big and I was very, very small.

The thunderstorm was rolling in, dark clouds layered in greys under the silvery sheen of rain in the distance.

Mom stood on the porch and called to me to come inside, a half-hearted suggestion because she knew very well that I wouldn’t respond.

The front door screen slammed, punctuating the silence of her focus shifting indoors.

Dad and I stood together in the hazy air of the summer, waiting.

He scooped me up to rest against the texture of his “work” shirt, murmuring in my ear the meaning of the rumble and flash, the swirl and gust, the greater Light above the clouds that we were growing excited beneath.

The hint of a second- suspended air rose to meet the sky and we too held our breath.

Then it crashed away and the trees bent beneath the fall of bellowing wind, whirling specks of grit mixed into pelting water, the bushes rushing away from their roots, my shrieks delighted because I was wrapped in the loving holdfast of my father.

Delight in the danger of a thunderstorm was allowed by the physical safety of my father beside me- the faith in his strength was heavier than the possibility of tornadoes. So I was unafraid.

My brother Matthew found this out too, carried from infancy into the summer storms with me, our mother yelling at my father to “bring those babies back inside, you crazy nut!”

The youngest two siblings stayed behind the glass doors, watching the oncoming winds and rain with worried eyes.

They continued to be frightened by lightning even Matt and I waltzed under thunderstorm warnings, old enough to enjoy the rain alone because we had the memory of our father’s voice in the back of our minds.

You might call it foolish- I would call it peace.

Joy and trust don’t come in the absence of danger- they show up in the light of the hope beside you.

You see, we often beg for what we do not understand- we ask to be absolved of pain and delivered from inconvenience and eased into and out of every stage of our lives.

But instead, we are given the Comforter of each moment and the Way Who has walked before us, testing the uneven ground and weeping in blood the outlines of the death and resurrection that we cannot see, even now.

We are given a cup of wine when we would much rather have Starbucks.

We are given bread when we would rather have cake.

We are baptized in cold water when we would ask for the hot tub.

We are seated next to liars and thieves and bloodied refugees when we would rather forget that we are the same as they.

We ask for the plateau of ease inside the absence, if given the choice.

Instead, we are given arms to run to, a Voice that whispers “I am here” and the eyes to see another’s brokenness through our own.

We are not safe.

But we are held.

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.”

John 16:7

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6


Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑