And I am sorry. I wanted to give you metaphors that sing, but I have only this empty page and a blinking cursor. This is doubly unfortunate because today’s essay was intended for the column at Living the Story. In other words, today’s essay had a deadline.
I feel embarrassed by this blank page, as if it exposes something of which I am deeply ashamed. It seems to matter more than a blank page should.
This page is my life, I think. I rush and worry, trying to fill it up with words. I am terrified that I might run out of words.
Typically, I fill my empty pages quickly. So quickly, in fact, I rarely notice their emptiness. That this page has stayed blank longer than most, I blame on my ragged throat and tissue-burned nose. I blame it on my flexible work-from-home husband who was not, this week at least, able to work from home. I blame it on the baby girl whose cough matches my own.
She knows the baby signs for “milk” and “more” and “banana” but not for “sick.” I have to read it in the way she clings to me, the way she asks for food then tosses it down, the way she makes it impossible for me to live. Because isn’t my life composed of tasks ticked off, essays written, deadlines met? Which means today my life is not being lived. It means today this essay is not being written.
Or is it?
Perhaps even our blank pages have stories to tell?
I hope you’ll click through to read the rest of this one for the Living the Story column at the website BibleDude.
While you’re there, I hope you’ll leave a comment and let me know you stopped by.
We married young and hit the road. All we wanted was Texas dust in the rearview mirror. The rumble of the El was our siren song.
We weren’t afraid because we carried this around like a turtle shell: Church.
Baptist, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Church of Christ … ours was a messy family stew that had finally deposited us both in a non-denominational box.
The box was what we knew. The box felt safe.
But boxes, it turns out, don’t travel well, and we were wanderers now. D.C., Chicago, Jacksonville, now this little country corner of the Philadelphia burbs.
Church has been a constant, but it’s been anything but safe. Anything but predictable. Not really a turtle shell, after all.
We thought there was one right way to do church. One right way to be the church. The way we were raised, of course.
But God kept us moving, and he kept our ideas about church moving, too. What had been small and safe became big and wild. Beautiful but unpredictable.
I’ve been thinking about those first Christians. They were “scattered” by persection, made wanderers for God’s own purposes. They wandered, and the church grew.
As we wandered, our understanding of church grew, too. Always bigger, always better than we knew.
I’ve sat in a Catholic mass and realized that the Eucharist might be more than the sum of its parts. Much more than the saltines and grape juice of my childhood.
I’ve stood in a gathering of Vineyard women when the doors of our meeting-place burst open with a loud wind. I watched that wind sweep around the room but I knew those doors didn’t open to the outside. What I saw and felt was no earthly wind but Pentacost miracle.
I’ve sat in an Easter morning service when the procession of colorful vestments and golden cross was so beautiful, so celebratory, I could have wept.
I once sat in an old wooden pew. A choir lifted its voice, and I suddenly knew what heaven sounds like.
I’ve seen adults baptized in Lake Michigan.
I’ve seen babies baptized with a cupful of water.
All of it so good.
Recently, we’ve taken to driving a long, long way to get to church. It’s something I’ve always said I’d never do. Join the imperfect neighborhood church, don’t go chasing “perfect” miles away. Perfect doesn’t exist.
But I don’t think I’m chasing perfect. I think I’m searching for home. The place where this wanderer can find rest.
Maybe this will be my church for a season. Maybe for a long, long time. Only my second Sunday there, and I was fretting about it instead of worshipping. I could hardly hear the music because I was listening to thoughts like these: Is this the place? Are we right to come so far? Will we make friends here? Or wil we set off searching, again?
The music finally broke through, and I realized what we were singing: Better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere.
I have been given so much more than one day. I’ve been given a lifetime of Sundays. A lifetime of small groups and youth groups. Of church retreats and coffee hours.
We pile the kids in the car and drive and drive. We do it because we need that soft brown bread. We need that sweet red wine.
We do it because one day in His courts really is that good.
I’ve written before how I refuse to live in the moment. I still stand by that. Mostly.
But here is something new (one more new thing in a season of new things): I’m learning to make my home in the moment.
If life is a river moving relentlessly forward, the present moment is like an eddy in the current.
It is too easy for me to press on and on, searching for whatever is next, desperate to fit the pieces together into some kind of meaningful pattern. Today brought this so tomorrow will bring … ?
But what if I can discern no pattern? What if, having reached the end of myself, God seems largely silent?
He may be the silent and invisible God, but he is never absent.
Sometimes, when I stop seeking, stop rushing (even if the rushing is only the rush of thoughts in my head), I realize that I am slowly circling.
Like that yellow leaf we saw in the puddle at the bottom of the hill.
I am caught in an eddy.
Why fight to keep moving? This is a good place to be. I could make my home here.
And it would be like this: a warm baby sleeping on my chest. The sounds of the high school football game blowing in on the wind. The crunch of technicolor leaves under my feet. Children with cold, pink noses.
A baby-boy-turned-big-brother who says, “Elll-saah. Elll-saah. Where is Elsa?”
“Life isn’t long enough to do all you could accomplish. And what a privilege even to be alive. In spite of all the pollutions and horrors, how beautiful this world is. Supposing you only saw the stars once every year. Think what you would think. The wonder of it!”
– Tasha Tudor (one of my very favorite children’s book author/illustrators)
My father likes to say it’s a good thing our country isn’t any bigger. If it were, he jokes, our family would live even farther apart.
It always makes us laugh. Then sigh. Because it’s painfully true. From western mountains to eastern beaches, southern swamps to midwestern plains, the members of our immediate family have spread across the miles to create a kind of star map, the lines of our constellations drawn with automobiles and airplanes.
This past week, quite a few of us (we never do seem to gather the whole) met in my Florida home for a week of beach, pool, and grill. A family reunion. A family vacation.
The parents of a toddler and infant buckled their weary selves into the car, along with the bottles and sippy cups and squeezable applesauce, for the two-day drive to family. The mother whose husband couldn’t leave his military duties dutifully packed the minivan and buckled the three kids into carseats. The grandparents drove two days (or was it three?) to help us hold babies, take photos, plan multiple forays to the grocery store.
We talked long and late over the noise of eight grandchildren. We fixed snacks. We changed swimsuits. We packed picnics. We fixed more snacks. Sometimes we remembered to feed ourselves.
At least once each day we’d look at one another with half-smiles to say that vacations with young children are more work than work. In other words, going back to work, returning to our everyday, would offer more rest than this vacation.
And that is as it should be. We don’t vacation together for the rest. We do it for the fun of it. We do it for the memories. We do it for each other.
Despite (or because of?) the chaos and messiness of a family vacation, my thoughts this week often turned toward the theme of rest. Maybe the adults in the house weren’t resting (though, I admit to doing quite a bit of reading by the side of the pool), but the kids certainly were.
No, they weren’t necessarily sleeping in or taking long naps, but they were enjoying rest.
True rest, I think, looks a lot like this: all is provided (watermelon and grilled cheese appear, as if dropped from the sky) and you have no control (mother decides if it’s pool time or movie time, quiet time or monopoly time).
The only tasks on the to-do list are to receive and to let go. Receive the good gifts, let go of the need to plan. The worry about tomorrow.
“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
(Matthew 11:28-30, The Message).
I’m a lover of stories. I’m a writer of stories. Increasingly, I understand my life and I understand my God through the lens of story.
There’s one story I can’t escape (though I have often wished I could leave it behind or move past my need for it): the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert. This story is tribal: it’s about those particular people, at that particular time. It’s global: refugees lost and searching for home. It can also be deeply, achingly personal.
It’s a story of living in between …
I’m honored to be telling my story here today. Will you join me?
I encourage you to explore Angie’s website Woman, In Progress. She has a great deal of wisdom to share, and I am blessed to call her friend.