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"You sure have your hands full!" said the older woman in Target, watching me try to corral four independent-thinking and adventur...

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Same Changes

The dress in the window at 2 on Crescent is gone now.
After months of walking past that window display on work breaks, the iconic dress I always admired is gone.
I never made it mine.
Never satisfied with myself, I never achieved worthiness to possess that dress, much less actually put it on and unite myself to it. Not yet. Maybe in a month. Maybe the month after that.
And the days keep passing and then the seasons change and all of a sudden it’s been years and here you are. In the same place, but the dress is gone. Things do change. Just not the things you expect.
I’m 48 years old now. I never thought I would be 48 years old.
28, yes. 38, most definitely yes—wasn’t that what I was reaching for all along? But 48? It’s hard to grasp.
My mother was 48, but I still wear cool shoes. Doesn’t that count for anything?
Strange changes.
I didn’t expect to be here in this same place and so not the same as what I envisioned either, and I find myself so puzzled by the changes that crept up around me—the ones I didn’t see coming. Mindsets.
“I have no notion of loving people by halves,” says Isabella Thorpe in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. “It’s not my nature.”
The quote resonated with me years ago. Decades ago. I thought it was a universal truth.
It isn’t.
But this one might be: “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
I’ve wrestled so long with this idea of contentment and fulfillment and my own nature to want something that is not clearly defined and somehow out of reach but just barely and if I wait just a little longer or work just a little harder or gaze just a little more determinedly on the face of Jesus and die to self just a little more enthusiastically then any minute now it will be attained. But that change doesn’t seem to come. The Holy Contentment isn’t realized, not that I haven’t tried.
I can’t deny there have been needed changes. Absolutely needed for survival. But one thing I have had to swallow, finally, is the reality that survival isn’t always solution.
Necessary, yes. Absolutely. There is no cause to look back in that case. But looking ahead comes with troubles and questions and choices and disappointments all its own. It's not as if we ever say, "That's resolved and now it's time to soar."
Would I live by formula if I could? To see the end and attain it by a series of calculated steps? To lay a map and follow it? A program. A manual.
Is certainty worth a soulless burden like that? Sometimes I’m not sure. Two roads diverged, that is for sure, and I took one and left the other, not knowing what lay ahead but yes, expecting.
There is a reality over all of this that I want to lay hands on, but the stuff of faith isn’t about grasping with the hands, but taking the next step toward the end, not knowing how way leads on to way, but knowing it does. And somehow, this changing path that’s always still the same is going somewhere, toward Someone.
Maybe that’s why contentment is always just out of reach. If I were truly satisfied in the moment, would the future hold any draw for me at all? Is there a gene for hope somewhere in the human DNA code, and perhaps it pours out its signals at some mitochondrial level that tells me really, we have one foot in another world, and this dissatisfaction is Holy? A Holy Discontentment? A place to rest within dissatisfaction?
We are not yet what we are to become. Loving by halves. Seeking survival in the moment out of necessity. Falling short of reaching yesterday’s goal, yet again today. But on a winding path of loops and detours and dead ends that require some steps backwards at times, always on our way to a destination, a holy one, defined by completion and fulfillment and . . . love. A love that never changes, and in that, changes those that enter it. A love that comforts. Fills. Includes. Desires. Sings. Sees. Leaves nothing wanting.

Isn’t that what Love’s supposed to do?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Already. Almost

Today began with death.

Actually, it began like any other normal weekday. I got up at the same time as any other normal weekday. I let the dog out, like any other normal weekday, at the same time. I wonder sometimes if any of my neighbors know my routine.

But unlike any other normal weekday, this morning there was a guest in the backyard. A small, gray, harmless guest, likely nibbling the clover that grows in patches back there where once there was a lovely, manicured sod--for a little while.

I can't help but imagine her so peacefully nipping and chewing in the quiet, placid setting of early morning, before the houses wake up, one electrical light at a time; before the dawn. With its fences around it, our backyard must feel safe to the little things. That's probably why she came.

But at precisely 6:15am, like every other normal weekday morning, I opened the kitchen door and let the dog out back. She was gone in a flash, like every other normal weekday morning.

I heard the rabbit scream even through the closed doors and windows. Scream and scream. She had not been quick enough to make it through the wire fence at the back before she was caught.

With bare feet and wet head, I went into that darkness to help but I couldn't get the dog off. I had to get a shovel and use it as a barrier between the dog's chest and the fence to pull her back enough to get her to let go.

I'd like to say the day got better. It didn't get worse, but as People of the Redemption, don't we get impatient to see evidence of that redemption right away? I wanted something in this day to fix the horrific way it started.

By mid-day, I was just too restless to keep plugging at the parent and teacher resources I was writing, my mind a flood of memory and sound and ineffable sadness. If I could grab it, name it, I could conquer it, right? And move beyond it? But no. It's there. The reality that things die, and sometimes for no good reason.

So I took a walk.

I do so most days, past the Cathedral of All Souls. Past the shops and empty benches. Over the warpy, hazardous brick sidewalks that I love, even if they are treacherous and will one day likely take me down.

It was breezy and cool and nothing in the familiar setting made me feel enveloped or safe this time. It just felt cold. Empty. Quiet. The church bells didn't ring on this walk. There wasn't even traffic to wait for at the crosswalks. My own reflection in the shop window at the yoga gear store was the only pedestrian I met. In the distance, there was a siren. Punctuation, it seemed to be, on the sentence written this morning: There's always an emergency somewhere in this world of dire need.

I passed the Christmas shop, like I always do, but this time I stopped before reaching the Corner Kitchen. That was it, wasn't it? That was what I needed.

I needed Christmas.

I do hope the women who work in that shop don't get jaded by selling there year 'round. They didn't seem to be today, which is good, because I needed to be greeted with exactly the welcoming cheer they offered. Do they realize they aren't simply offering trinkets, but the artifacts that will be the vehicles of generations of memories, handed down even unconsciously through families that may be strangers to them always, binding hope and love and relationships to the most important hinge in the history of the world?

I wandered among all the baby Jesuses, letting it sink in. Everything there exists because of one absolute truth: God came down. Light shone in the darkness. Death is ended. Love wins.

The words PEACE and JOY are repeated on the shelves and the walls, in frames and painted onto baubles, hanging from the ceiling and knit into clothing and stockings and blanket throws. PEACE, Rebecca. JOY, Rebecca. He came. It is finished.

There's no way to accept that he had to come without seeing the darkness that he came into. And some days are like this--characterized by the experience of the darkness. That I am not feeling the redemption does not negate it though.

He came down.

It is written.

There's a nativity in that store that looks just like the one my grandmother always set out at Christmas time, on the hearth she never used otherwise. I stopped and stood there, remembering her. Remembering happy childhood memories. Remembering promises made long ago. She's gone ahead of me. So has my mother. The childhood I wished for my own children has had far much more pain in it than I ever imagined. I can't give them the good that I would have, if I had the power. The days don't have to start with a literal death of some small, innocent, gentle thing to bring with them the burden of how absolutely tainted everything is...

But God... in his mercy...

Who willingly goes into dark places, into death?

Only the one who cares about the perishing more even than his own comfort. And oh, you and I... we are so much more to him than that tiny bunny was to me. I ran, on horizontal ground, but he came, headlong, downward into the very midst of all the suffering and sin and division and war of the ages, with his face set like stone toward the one and only solution and gave himself into it, so that one day, all we will know is redemption.

PEACE, and courage, and joy today... Already. Almost.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

What I'm learning in the snow

I'm a flatlander.

I grew up in the hot, dry, flat, sandy midlands of South Carolina. I really don't like to be cold. I've never acclimated to temperatures that regularly drop to the teens, and sometimes even to the single digits. When it hits 3--which it does rarely, I grant, but I've seen it happen--I automatically think: Something's broken. This can't be right.

Snow for us more-Southern Carolinians meant a few flakes swirling in the air, which sent us racing in pajamas and bare feet to the window begging for it to stick. If it was enough to cover a car windshield, you could bet school would be canceled.

We had no sleds. Who could possibly afford such an extravagance that would almost never have that proverbial snowball's chance in you-know-where to ever be used? We also had no hills, so there's that. But there's a picture of my older brother, about age 8, pushing me, about age 4, in a cardboard box on what might have been an inch-and-a-half accumulation, around our flat yard. I wore a red knit hat and mittens, and you would have thought it was an Olympic event and we'd just won gold, given the delight on my face.

Even that dusting of snow meant joy.

So snow has a mystic quality to it that even now, almost exactly 23 years after moving to the highlands, where we do get some snow a couple of times a year, and where we do have hills, the effect hasn't worn off. It still has a majestic, magical quality for me.

It still feels like a gift.

Even today.

I have the day alone. Just me and my dog. My girls are away, and there was a tinge of sadness about that this morning. I didn't bound out of bed like I would have on a snow day with them here. I took a very slow start to the day. It was the dog's begging to go out that pushed me to bundle up, find the boots I don't think I've worn since last March, the closest thing to water-proof gloves that I own that are NOT fine leather, and that cute hat I wear only for times such as these, and head out to play fetch with her in the snow.

But there are things I'm learning on this day, alone in the snow. Things I probably wouldn't have learned if I didn't have the time to do it myself, all the while reflecting in the quiet. Here are a few of them:

--When playing fetch in a deep, dry snow with your faithful, furry companion, a wiffle ball is a much better option than a tennis ball. Though it doesn't go as far, it is much more likely to remain visible near the surface of the snow than a tennis ball, which has some power to disappear completely and simply NOT be unearthable (unsnowable?) until the spring thaw.

--While it is a very good idea to act in advance of the snow to stack some dry firewood in a covered spot near the house so that it's usable and easily accessible in case the power goes out, it is ALSO a very good idea to go ahead and bring the snow shovel up out of storage too. I recommend putting it just inside or just outside the door you'll need to use first. I will remember this next time.

--Had my super-economical and labor-efficient grandfather lived where it snowed, I am sure he would have taught me the wisdom of clearing off the TOP step first, instead of starting at the bottom (which was closest, since I did not think to put the snow shovel near the door last night, and had to go out into the backyard shed to retrieve it). Start at the top and you won't shovel the snow TWICE. (Quite a realization for this Southern girl.)

--68 degrees really can feel too hot sometimes. (Does this mean it is possible that I actually COULD acclimate to enjoy the cold? I still hate to think of the conditions I would have to immerse myself into and the extent of time to so suffer before I would come to call 19 degrees balmy or even refreshing, though.)

--Dogs are good company in the snow. They really are. But they are not as good as kids. So this morning, when the beautiful child who lives across the street rang my doorbell to ask if my children could come out to play, the twang of pain in both our hearts when I told him, "No," was real. And I stood and watched with love deeper than those inches of snow, as his little booted feet made the first marks on the pristine landscape. His footprints are still there, and when I took the dog out, I chose to go out the back only, so that my dear little friend's tracks stay undisturbed as long as possible. Merciful God, pour out your blessings on that boy, all the days of his life. 

--Finally, even the shabbiest and most broken of things become beautiful when the snow arrives. My backyard is nothing special. At least two out of five spindles are loose. Deck flooring planks have dried and curled upward toward the sun that, today, I can't believe does actually beat 90 or more degrees down on us many consecutive days in the summertime. The storage building roof is bumpy with lichens and the lattice around the bottom has long ago fallen into shards in places. The lawn... well, once there was a lawn. A summer of drought and dog and children has left it pocked, sparse, weedy. But today, it's truly gloriously beautiful. The Leyland cyprus at the back border claims Christmas is still with us. The cyprus is right. The blemishes in the lawn are covered completely. And so, I'm reminded, are my own.

"Though your sins are like scarlet," my Redeemer promises me, "they will be white as snow." (Isaiah 1:18)

You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. (Psalm 85:2)

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. (Romans 4:7)

Amen and amen.