Everything You Ever Wanted

“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4

I decided my sophomore year in college to change my major from Sociology to English. Admittedly, I wanted to study sociology because Zora Neale Hurston did, and she wrote characters that walked off the page and into your mind, flipping through the filing cabinets of memory and reading aloud long-forgotten accounts. I wanted to observe people, to study people from a safe distance. I did not know how much science was involved, and my research papers were cleverly written, but complete scientific bunk.

What else does one do with an English major, though, except teach? I had daydreams of scenes from Dead Poets’ Society, sitting on the big desk and philosophizing about Hamlet and Frost, molding young people, inspiring, high-five-ing in the halls. Steady, respectable, interesting employment.

God has the habit (perhaps, His character) of giving us exactly what we want, and what we need, but in completely different packaging.

After five years of teaching seventh grade English (no philosophizing or even inspiring, although lots of high-fives), I felt an undeniable urging from the Lord to leave my job and raise my child, later children, at home. It was the hardest decision I have ever made. I left the thing which had made up so much of my identity for so long in exchange for full-time occupation in something that I was never truly pursuant of or prepared.

I took that in which I knew I was successful and left it on the altar. I grieved for it and looked back many times, quite frankly. I took up the position for which I was ill-equipped because God said.

The last three years have been a trial by fire, one of learning and correcting, the practice of grace.

My son is four and will begin Kindergarten next fall. I have been counting down the days, making plans for focusing on one child again, and eventually returning to some type of work. But through a series of events and realizations too lengthy to detail here, I am beginning to see that home school for the first few years may be our best option.

I am not a home-schooler. I was not even an elementary teacher. I was never a mommy-ing woman, even as a mother. I believe in public education.

Yet here I sit, flipped on my rear again, asking God why and how and “Seriously?”

In these three years I’ve also published one book, nearly finished another, and I whip out an occasional haiku for kicks. And I remember Zora Neale Hurston and that I wanted to observe people and write. I want to write transporting truth and beauty and something so familiar it makes you check your rear-view mirrors.

I have realized that my desire to work is not about my identity; it is about a deeply buried notion that my ability to add economic value is what makes me valuable.

God asked me one time in a desperate place if I would be willing to give up the vain accessories that decked my heart’s desire. Would I lay down the visible extras to do the thing for which I prayed? And as I answered, and the external vanities were cut away, I felt peace and direction which had been clouded.

God is allowing me to have the opportunity to pursue the occupations I always wanted while doing what is best for my family, even if I never earn an income or notoriety as a writer. My faith must rise to the uncertainty of finances and to the strength to face the tasks given. I must trust my fragile soul in the hands of my Creator, who gives me the true desires of my heart.

 

Book available now – Sparrow: Devotions in Prose and Verse

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Vision

I was nine years old when I got my first pair of glasses.  They were massive, with clear plastic frames, covering, yet magnifying most of my face.  I felt ridiculous, but I could see.  I never realized how much I was missing out on.  My third grade teacher noticed it before my parents.  She wondered why I couldn’t read the vocabulary charts at the front of the room, and told me I probably needed glasses.  That officially began my life as a nerd.  No matter how much I tried to live it down, all my classmates knew it then: I was a glasses-wearer. 

We live up to our labels, and I proved all my classmates correct.  With each new school year brought a new pair of glasses, each with thicker lenses than the last.  In gym, sporting equipment was drawn to my cranium like a kamikaze moth to a flame.  I spent most of my days behind crooked Coke-bottle lenses.  It was a nice place to hide, and I needed a place to hide.

Sophomore year brought contact lens and freedom.  Still a nerd, but without glasses to hide behind; now, I was just eccentric.  The morning ritual that follows me to this day of poking myself in the eye with floppy plastic is almost an afterthought.  Sometimes I forget what it’s like to see with my natural vision.

I once asked God to show me how He sees the world.  The still, small voice whispered, “I already did.” 

Elaborate, God, I’m not that smart.

One day, I took off my glasses and thought about grace.  Looking around, all I could see were color and light: no defined edges, no boundaries between objects.  Everything was one cohesive blur, a close-up of an impressionistic painting.  Honestly, it was beautiful, and a little detached.  I wanted to stay there.

Grace covers our blemishes and our hard edges.  It blurs the lines we’ve created until we are all one picture of light and color.  This is what God sees when He looks at us: light and color and beauty.  And He sees the whole painting.

So maybe my vision wasn’t a curse or an imperfection in my DNA.  Maybe it was God’s way of letting me see like Him, even if it’s only one corner of the whole painting.  Maybe He wants us to see each other that way.  How would I treat others if all I saw of them were light and color, and none of their hard edges.  Like the line of “Amazing Grace:” “…was blind, but now, I see.”  Grace is pretty amazing like that.

Now if I could only get away with driving without my glasses.

Logic

The most difficult class I took in college was one called “Logic.”  This should tell you something about me.  Anyway, I had taken a philosophy class my first semester, freshman year, and the next class in that series was Logic.  It fit a general requirement and I assumed it would be an easy A.  Unfortunately, it turned out to be all about formulas and proofs.  It was like taking geometry in high school all over again.  I had nightmares about standing in front of a blackboard, receiving the barks of Mr. Knight as I fumbled chalk.   I scraped out of Logic with a B minus, and to this day, I hold that class personally responsible for keeping me from graduating Summa Cum Laude (furrows brow, shakes fist in silent aggression). 

That class left me with some understanding about logical conclusions, however.  A lot of “if this then that’s.”  As fate would have it, I was also doing some soul-searching at that point in my life.  It’s a long story, but I had basically come to the realization that either my life was worth living, or it wasn’t.  And my life was not worth living.  Throughout my adolescent years, I had tried every path you could think, from New Age mysticism to atheism to eastern religions and philosophies.  Reluctantly, and as a last resort, I found myself in a non-denominational church that spring.  And reluctantly, things started to make sense.  I had never approached Christianity in a logical way, always believing it a crutch for the masses. But as I opened my mind to the teachings and examined the world around me, it was the only thing that made sense. 

As I turned my life over to God, I gave Him an ultimatum (because, you know, I’m at liberty to do that…).  I remember praying one night that, if this was real, it needed to be my everything.  It didn’t make sense to worship a God, but only give myself to Him in pieces and portions.  Here’s where the logic comes in:

If God is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and last; if He is the reason for my existence, your existence, and the existence of everything; if He created everything and everything works in a greater plan that all points to Him, then it follows that everything I do and say should be for Him.  If He created me for Him, my only goals in life should be for Him, directed by Him. 

Let’s follow this rabbit a little further, shall we?  It sounds like this God is pretty selfish, huh?  Creating all of us and everything just for Him.  I mean, how arrogant, right?  Shouldn’t we just get to live our own lives the way we want?  But we forgot something else with regard to logic: A does not equal B.  God is all goodness, all love, all perfection.  I am not.  I am fault and carelessness and sin, even when I have good intentions.  I am worthy of nobody’s worship.

God takes His goodness one step further, too.  He doesn’t force our worship, our love, or even our respect. He gives us the choice. 

So what does all of this lead us to logically conclude?  God is worthy of everything we have, everything we say, everything we do.  He cannot be an afterthought in my life.  He cannot take the passenger seat or wait until I feel like going to Him.  My existence is proof of His.  My life should be proof of His goodness and mercy. 

And one more thing – this conclusion doesn’t mean that life as I wanted it is over.  You see, I’ve also realized that what God has planned for me is so much more amazing than anything I could plan for myself.  Not “win the lottery, live on a yacht” amazing, but “I can’t believe I did that” amazing.  At nineteen, my ten-year plan had me alone in an apartment with a crappy office job and a persistent feeling of insignificance.  God has given me a husband, a career, a beautiful child, and purpose. 

The popular thing to do is ridicule Christians for their beliefs, and I used to subscribe to that philosophy.  Now I see, though, God is the logical choice.

River

I live next to the east fork of the Stones River.  It is not very big, so we call it a creek.  Everyday, I drive this amazingly curvy, tree-lined road next to the river before getting on the interstate to go to work.  I watch the scenery progress through the seasons; the river progresses, too. 

Usually this time of year, the river is at its ugliest.  It lies low and stagnant, growing pale brown organic material on its surface like old pudding.  The deer seek water elsewhere.  No one fishes on the limestone shore.  It sits alone, waiting for someone to stir the waters.

Something unusual has been happening this week, however.  The normally dry late summer has broken its hold over the rain clouds.  Three days of rain culminated in a deluge over my fair vicinity yesterday morning.  The little river could not contain it, and neither could the surrounding fields and farms.  Homes and lives were threatened by the rising water.

After work yesterday, oblivious to the amount of rainfall that had actually occurred, I came around my beloved road to find it closed.  I could not enter my neighborhood.  Fields had become lakes.  My street looked like an overrun dam.  After much pacing and questioning, I was able to face the current and make it safely to my undisturbed home.  By the time my husband arrived later, the water was almost totally off the road.

The next morning, in an attempt to view the damages and drive my normal path, I drove to the slab bridge that had been closed.  One would have thought a hurricane had struck: ancient trees lay prostrate across the steel girders of the bridge, limbs and branches stuffed the gaps, warning signs barely clung to their posts with exhaustion.  My car, along with others, crept across the bridge at a funeral pace, as if honoring the wounded and fallen.  The swollen, brown river moved quickly beneath, like an embarrassed guilty party sneaking out of the room, hoping no one notices.

Tomorrow, though, and with each passing day, I will see a river progressing.  The level with go back to a comfortable height.  Cranes will visit again, hoping to snatch away the fresh fish brought by the waters.  The limbs and debris will be carried away as driftwood.  The organic film on the river before won’t be seen again until the summer.  The river will once again support life, not destruction.

Someone once said that there are two great metaphors for life: a garden and a river.  I saw the river metaphor flash before me today as I mourned at the bridge.  We progress.  We too become dead, stagnant, and unlovable.  And what we need to renew us might just hurt at first.  We might lose some limbs, but we will realize that those that were lost were dead anyway and just holding us back.  We may end up swollen, overwhelmed, and overflowing, but we will settle just as quickly as we rose.  And all of this purging will leave us better: cleaner, renewed, ready to be of use again.  This is the progress of nature and the process of life.

Simplify

“Simple is good.” – Jim Henson

This year has been simultaneously painful and whimsical, ridiculous and rewarding.  I have seen myself at my worst and my best.  I have re-conquered demons I thought were dead and gone, I have looked God in the face through the eyes of those most unknown and insignificant.  It has been a year of firsts, but with those firsts also come lasts.  But all of this lofty reflection comes from grown-up revelations about life.  In my life, I’ve come in, sat down, made myself comfortable.  It only took twenty-five years.  Now that I have had the chance to look about the place, I realize: there is just too much.

I say this with dual meaning (as most things I say).  There is too much materially.  There is too much psychologically.  I also say this to a dual audience.  I have too much.  Chances are, you do too. 

Not that I know you.  Even if I know you, I don’t know you, know you.  You know. 

But I do feel like I know humanity, at least in slight glimpses.  I know what humanity does.  Humanity hordes.  Humanity collects.  Humanity covets.

About this time last year, my husband and I started looking at a new house.  We really wanted to move back to Nashville, to live in some upscale condo, and to be urbanites.  Truth be told, we could afford it.  We also looked at buying a bigger house in general.  Mind you, we are two adults and a dog, currently living in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom, two car garage home.  Two people… wanting something bigger and better.  My parents didn’t have a three-bedroom home until they had three children, who were 12, 11, and 9 by that time.  While the housing market slump kept us from making a move, I wonder if I would have been content with a bigger or better home a year from now.

Now, with a baby on the way, I realize just how much stuff I have to deal with.  I also realize how hard it has been to surrender it to make room for someone who will soon be the love of my life.  My husband and I have had “discussions” about which room the baby will have, since each of our spare bedrooms has been claimed as a personal space by one of us.  Regardless of rooms, there are bags and bags and stacks of things that will have to go, and I second-guess with every decision.  Besides the material things, there are the social and psychological needs that I am having trouble letting go.  I want to take a year off from work, but my pride wants to stay and continue my professional path.  I want my young friends.  I want my young body, clothes, carefree lifestyle.  I want…

I know I am not alone.  As I’ve noticed this in myself, I’ve tried to make changes.  Unfortunately, it is an unpopular path.  I made the mistake of commenting on a social networking site one day about the ridiculous-ness of a family of four driving around an eight-passenger vehicle.  Especially when the father has a separate vehicle and rarely partakes in the monstrosity.  The retaliation I received was downright defensive.  As usual, I cowered under the pressure, apologizing for my opinions.  This was a mistake.  It is a logical fallacy to conclude that because you think you have to transport your toddler’s entire nursery everywhere you go, it is mandatory.  The lengths we go to pacify our dependents or satisfy our own grandiose desires are grotesque. 

I’ve learned a great deal about myself this year.  I’ve learned it’s time to clean house, and it’s a big enough house as it is.  I’ve learned I don’t have to be and do everything to be and do everything.  I’ve learned the important things in my life don’t require as much from me as I lead myself to believe. 

And I know I’m not the perfect example of a simplified life.  There is more I can and want to do:  plant my own food, learn a craft or trade I can share, give more away, keep less.  But I’m going to try to simplify because it just might clear the way for me to see that which I don’t want to miss.  And yes, if you visit sometime soon, my nursery may be filled to the brim with stuff.  I can’t make my family think like me.  But I can promise, when we can, my child will learn how to give his or her stuff away.