look closely

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I start our dinner in the morning so that the smell of simmering will bring warmth to the house all day.  This is also my preemptive strategy to avoid that moment in the weary hours when cooking no longer feels like an art and I murmur there’s still supper, forgetting the ever-constant whisper of the Spirit urging me to look closely and beyond and eternally, instead of through eyes that waste away.

I slice into an onion, pressing my fingers into the purple red layers—purple like lavendar in the sun, red like rich blood—and the knife cut reveals the perfect shape of a heart, white at the edges. I reach for my phone to take a picture, because I’ve learned to collect details like treasures gathered in my arms, stuffed fat in my pockets.  Sometimes I freeze-frame the tiniest things—the grip of my daughter’s hands on a blanket wrapped crooked around her legs, dew drops like diamonds scattered on a thin black limb, the sleep rumpled collection of my family around the table for breakfast.  They giggle over my pausing, the way I say wait and get up, but they are generous over my collection of gifts.  I stop short this time, realizing that Zoe has the phone at the bar, that she uses it to talk to my mom.  If I move it, I will break the sanctity of their conversation.  I knew this, of course, that they were so absorbed.  Their voices had made the rumpled background for my thoughts since the moment I turned on the speaker to free my hands for slicing and Zoe scrambled over and lifted the phone, calling, “Grandma, Grandma,” launching into sentences before Mom could even reply.

Look closely.  Savor now.  Again that whisper fills; that urging that stops time and opens up my soul; that beckoning that clarifies light for real seeing.  Something waits carefully in each bit of living, even in the salt of our tears and sweat.  Even these cleansing traces of our pain and effort taste of something He said, a reminder for perseverance: You are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5: 13). The perfect roundness of eternity beckons from every circle—the trampoline moving under bouncing, blackened feet; the wedding band on my finger, the water ring stained into the table.  Each is another testimony if I have eyes to see and ears to hear it:  I have made everything beautiful in its time.  I have set eternity in the hearts of men (Eccles. 3:11).  My words will never pass way (Matthew 24:35).  Love never fails (1 Cor. 13: 8). There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4).

So I stop just to watch my daughter twist a section of her hair on one finger and to see the way the lighter strands still shine and curl, recalling the sweet wispiness of her infancy.  I missed a lot of savoring when the baby years felt like they would go on forever.  I took for granted the dig of those tiny fingers pressing into my arms, the tulip pink skin all fresh and unscarred, the roundness of her cheeks.  Foolishly, I wrapped those days in always.  It feels like I will always be diapering and nursing and weighing my body sore with bags and babies.  These days, God has succeeded in teaching me a better understanding.  He has granted me more wisdom about time coming.  So now I stop just to hear the way my daughter grabs a breath before she says, “And Grandma” and continues; just to gather in the sound of my mom’s voice patiently and lightly commenting, assenting, encouraging.  Mom responds in a way that reassures without shifting attention.  Something familiar resonates, and I know that I must not numbly move around the edges of the words they exchange, the unique tones of their voices, the specific color and taste of this moment.  Now is the fleeting testimony, not the eternity.  Now is the taste, the reflection, the sampling, the evidence, the mark and flavor and shape of Him all over this place, the story of what He’s accomplished.  Only foolishness makes me blind and numb, looking always to the next temporary want.  So, He stills my fingers, stopping my hand with His own.  Look closely.

A testimony waits right there in front of you, right in the background of your living:

This is just how I want you talk to me, and this is how I will listen.  I sacrificed myself for just exactly this for always—for you so absorbed in telling me every new thing; for you new and fresh and young and vibrant with faith; for you grabbing up the opportunity to speak to me; for you calling out my name; for you choosing me; for you hardly able to breathe for wanting me to hear; for the way you’ll cherish and remember and gather up every sound of my assent, my mighty “yes” spoken clear, my voice reminding you I know you and I cherish you and I let none of your words fall to the ground (1 Samuel 3:19).

 

fishing

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In the water, I see the sky, bluer than the feathers of a bluebird, dramatic with wide, radiant strokes of cloud.  It’s enough to steal my breath.  The water itself looks silver in the sunlight.

Except when we move across the bridge, the lake and the floating dock are completely still.  I settle into a hammock chair with a book—something I never do in the middle of the day, giving thanks for vacation and rest.  My chair hangs sheltered from the sun by a cover over the dock that is as blue on the outside as the sky, and here and there beneath, vinyl and plastic owls hang suspended to warn nesting birds away.  From where I sit, I can trace the line of trees at the bank with my eyes.  I can see the russet color of the earth just at the edge where land meets lake.  I can almost feel the soft, cool wet of that ground on my fingertips.

“I am happy not to be doing that,” Zoe says, drawing one leg up into the other hammock chair, balancing a book on her lap.  Sometimes I think she misses out on things by mirroring her preferences after mine, and I wonder what she might have done had I not immediately declared that I’d rather read than fish.  Maybe fishing is messy and thick with a smell that lingers on the fingers, but the experience can be far more rewarding than its less attractive details.

Kevin bends close to Riley, who is perched at the edge of the dock in a navy blue chair, the kind we fold up and throw in the back of our cars for outdoor events and campfires.  Beside her, Adam looks out over the water and stills, holding a timer and Riley’s gratitude journal in his lap.  Every few moments, he turns a page, dragging his finger down her lists, pushing at the buttons on his timer.  I wonder if the day will come when he can explain his games to the rest of us.   He looks up and catches the reflection of the clouds in the water, and just stops.  I watch the wrinkle rise between his eyes and wonder what has captivated him. He wanted to stay back at the house doing familiar things, but we insisted that he come out on the boat and down to the dock for fishing.  He has accepted this, but still says, “No thank you,” when Kevin speaks to him about trying the fishing.
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Kevin shows Riley how to thread a chicken liver on a fish hook, how to toss cat food with one hand, scattering it in the water around the dock to draw in the fish.  He shows her how to cast her bait into the water. The hook and liver disappear with a satisfying plop and become an extension of her arm, connected to her by a thin, almost transparent length of line that drifts in the current.  “Now, just wait,” Kevin says, wiping his fingers on a crumpled square of cloth at his feet. Quietly, Riley holds the rod, looking out over the lake.  She will sit this way for hours without speaking, without checking the time or tapping her foot.  She has patience most of the rest of us do not understand, a contentment the rest of us aspire to.  We all know that when the time comes to pack up our stuff, she will still be happy whether she catches a fish or not.
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“EEEW,” Zoe says, looking to me for confirmation.  “Chicken livers are gross.  I have no interest in doing that.”

“So you and I will just read,” I say, looking at her over the top edge of my book, smiling.

“Yes, we most certainly will,” she says, as though together we share some better understanding of things.

Kevin moves to Adam, taking the small container of chicken livers with him, bending down to pick up a second fishing rod from the dock.  “Adam, why don’t you try it?”

“Oh, come on,” Adam says, “No.  No thank you.” He balances his head in his hands, spreading his fingers out across his cheeks.  When given the opportunity to try something new, Adam will always decline.  When it comes to the unknown, he’s fearful and often uninterested.  He prefers familiarity and ritual, and he doesn’t mind telling us so.  So we usually ignore his protests and push, because otherwise he would cease to grow.  Thinking of this makes me smile, because I know that this is God’s way with us too, for as long as we choose to be His.  He knows we love what we know, but He grows our faith by insisting that we persist through the new and the difficult and the unknown.

“You might like it,” Kevin says, threading the second hook, casting the line.  Kevin sits in a third chair on the other side of Adam, and for a while, we breathe in happy, companionable silence, Zoe and I with our books, Adam with his journal and his timer, Kevin and Riley patiently holding fishing rods out over the water.

“No thank you,” Adam mumbles, moving his thumb up under his chin, pressing a finger against his lips.  He squints into the sunlight, looking near and then far, as though tracing a glinting path with his eyes.

“What are the fish doing?” Riley finally asks quietly, looking out into the water as though the glassy surface will somehow betray the flipping flurry of life at its depths.  But so often a fisherman cannot see what happens below, what life drifts near the bait, what disturbance has been made by the appearance of nourishment there.

“Maybe they’re sleeping,” Kevin says gently, offering her a small smile.

“Yes.  I think maybe they’re sleeping,” she says, settling her eyes on the smooth surface in front of her.  They’re sleeping and that’s fine.  She’ll wait.
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Suddenly, Riley sits up straighter.  The top of her fishing pole bends, clearly tugged by something she can’t see.  She fumbles for words.  “I hear a fish.  I hear a fish on my line,” she says, and this makes me smile, since in her case, it might actually be true.  Riley has always been able to hear things the rest of us cannot. She will tell us a bee is near a full minute before any of the rest of us catch the first glimpse or sound. Still, for us it seems more likely that she feels the fish, and certainly, we can see that something pulls from below.

Kevin passes his fishing rod to Adam quickly, moving out of his chair.  “Adam hold this for me.  Riley, reel it in slowly, okay?” Click.click.click. I look over my book and see that Adam stands too, drawing in Kevin’s line.  click.click.click. About the time Kevin helps Riley lift a writhing silver-green catfish from the lake, Adam lifts a dripping piece of chicken liver with a satisfied shriek.  Kevin grabs the fish with gloved hands, wrapping a piece of towel around its belly.  “Alright, Mom,” he calls to me, “we need a picture.  He wraps Riley’s fingers around the fish, grinning.  “Your first fish!”
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“It’s a fish!” Adam says enthusiastically, tossing the chicken liver on his line out over the water.  He doesn’t allow enough slack in the line, and he has to hold the fishing rod a little lower to smack the water with the bait.  It bounces on the surface, bobbing.  Adam is so excited about Riley’s fish that he moves back and forth in a tiny space on the dock, holding the rod in one hand, flapping the other in the air beside him.  Zoe throws her book in her chair and scrambles over to take a look.  The catfish moans, a soft, guttural meew punctuated by the clear, wet sound of a bit of tissue opening and closing.
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“Adam, put down the rod, please,” Kevin says, “Wait for me to help you.”  He moves quickly over to Adam and takes the rod from his hands, laying it gently on the dock.  “We don’t need to lose a rod or break the line,” Kevin says gently.  “Just a minute.”
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Then he returns to Riley, who grins down at the fish in her hands.  I quickly snap a picture of the two of them, and then Kevin works to twist the hook out of the fish’s mouth, trying not to do any greater damage to it than is absolutely necessary.  Once the fish is free, Riley bends down toward the water and tosses it back in, watching the silver skin flicker and disappear.  Kevin helps her bait the hook again, and together they cast the line far and away.  She settles into her chair, ready to be quiet and patient, ready to repeat the entire process again.

Suddenly, with the appearance of the first fish, everything changes on the dock.  “Dad, can I try that?” Zoe says, watching Kevin pick up the other rod.  Sometimes knowing that our efforts will matter, witnessing that the patient waiting actually brings results, is all the encouragement we need to follow.

“Of course you can,” Kevin says, chuckling, turning toward Adam.  “Adam, do you want to try it too?”
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“Yes,” Adam says, suddenly eager.  He reaches for the rod in Kevin’s hands, and together they cast the line, but as it turns out, Adam has a greater love affair with watching the chicken liver fly through the air over the water, with seeing the caught fish, then he actually has with the waiting, which is perhaps the most crucial part.  Zoe does well for a while, but after she catches her first fish and it writhes in her hands; after we snap a picture and Kevin twists out the hook and Zoe lets the fish fall back into the lake with a plop, she is less patient with the process.  The second time, she sits just a bit in the quiet before she tries to pass the rod back off to Adam and eventually lays it down again on the dock, with a final snap.  Just that quickly, she has finished.  Meanwhile, Riley sits for hours with a rod in her hands, quietly watching the water.  She hardly shifts, so patient is she with the waiting, so content just with participating.  I watch her and wonder what it would be like if we were so contented just to participate in what God’s doing, if we weren’t so impatient with Him over timing, if we didn’t become so easily bored with quietly waiting on Him or so enthralled with our own ideas about successful outcomes.  We can hardly ever see what’s happening below, what He’s doing with the seeds we’ve planted.
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I’m fairly convinced that when Jesus tells His disciples, “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people (Matthew 4:19, emphasis mine),” He isn’t really referring to this chicken liver casting from the edge of a silver dock on a placid lake like a mirror reflecting the sky.  In my heart, I see the many hands gripping the nets, the many hands casting, the many hands dragging in the catch.  I see weathered men who smell like fish, men whose eyes reflect the sun and sky, men whose deep knowledge and skill run with the tides, the mending of nets, the untangling of gills and fins.  I see men with greater understanding of what draws in the fish, how the water looks when schools move through it like a shadow, how the color of water changes before a storm comes than any real knowledge of how to satisfy the spiritually starving.  But regardless of who these fishermen were or what kind of fishing they knew best, it occurs to me, watching Riley’s blonde hair lift in errant strands above her head as she sits waiting, patient and unmoved, that they knew what it meant to wait long for a catch.  They understood what He meant, in the way they knew their own breathing, when he said, “I will send you out to fish for people.” They could not have made a living on the seas had they been impatient, had they been invested only in the casting and recovery.  They could not have inherited that life had they been unwilling to learn, resistant to help, or disenchanted after the first taste of accomplishment.  Fishing, it seems to me, is a patient, long-suffering, faithful investment.  It’s work that will cut right into the beds of our fingers.  And so it is with fishing for people, with the gathering of souls, with patiently loving the hurting. This resting in the hands of God like a line floating between heaven and earth–this pouring out we’ve chosen—it isn’t merely a hobby.  It’s not just an amusement for our simpler, less cluttered times; not something we’ll eventually take up when we have a better opportunity.  This is a life, a livelihood that will weather our skin and make us smell like fish and salt.  We will be elbow-deep in the splashing, tangy brink.  We will feel the soggy earth on our fingers and gaze at the flash of silver skin.  We will patiently wait, yielding our arms and our hearts to His gentle training.  He will help us cast ourselves far and wide, and sometimes it will be impossible to see or understand what’s happening below the depths.  It will be impossible to guess how long it will take or if any given day’s effort will yield a catch.   Sometimes we will pierce the open mouths of the hungry with the truth they need and pull too hard and fast, and we will scare away the most vulnerable.  Sometimes, the truth will rip a gaping hole right into a life, and we will show ourselves without compassion for the piercing of a heart.  But still, He will insist that we leave behind our familiar comfort, and He will persistently teach us to fish for people.  He will teach us to wait faithfully, to be content with not knowing how or when.  And slowly, by the turning of the tide, we will come to see ourselves as fishermen.
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and I want to see you

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On the way home from school, we ramble down a country road sandwiched between two busy thoroughfares.

We leave the highway still feeling jostled by the cars and trucks that whizzed past while we waited to turn and wander down just this little stretch of peace before we turn again into the chaos.  I always smile over the way this one road feels a whole world away from the speed and noise of the other two, as though it’s held carefully in some hollowed space in God’s hand.  Mailboxes line one side, collecting in front of a small, red brick church with a stark white steeple and even the word chapel on the sign out front.  In italics just below the name, the sign boldly offers, “God has not forgot.” It took me a while to stop thinking forgotten, with a smile, and a while longer to look up the passage listed below—Hebrews 6:10—so that I might understand just what remembrance of God’s these believers have chosen to celebrate.  As it turns out, it is the perfect promise to inhale in the middle:

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.

It feels as though the people who live on this road are all older, because almost every day I see two silver-haired women standing in the front yard talking with the mail in their hands, or I watch a bent man on ahead cross the street to get his mail.  I catch a flash of white blowing just under his cap as we pass and he raises his hand.  On one side, a couple of horses meander through a paddock in front of a worn red barn, stopping to chew on hay heaped up by the fence.  The hair from their tails lifts in the breeze and settles over the planks of old wood while they eat. I can imagine the sound of the rain on the barn’s tin roof even on the days when the sun glints on the dull surface of it. In the Spring, wildflowers bloom tall and lanky in the grass on the other side of the road and in the blank open places between the houses; houses which all look neatly kept and rich with stories.  In one front yard I see a decorative well, in another a small cemetery that always looks tended and clean. Sometimes I wonder who gathers there in front of the stones to rake leaves and plant flowers and remember.  Between a few of these old homes, I can see a pond just a short walk away, and in the early morning, sometimes fog collects just above the glassy water like a congregation of wispy spirits.  In one back yard not far from the water, woody vines have been twisted into an arbor.  Sometimes, as we pass through, I want to just stop my car in the middle of the road and breathe.  I want to linger in the hollowed out space.

Riley sits in the back seat on the way home because we carpool with one of her best friends, and Riley’s friend says she’ll be all alone back there without Riley sitting beside, looking out the window and touching the bun on the back of her head with one hand.  They are a complementary pair, both held slightly apart from the clamor of the world by their individual challenges.  Riley is quiet and thoughtful, absorbing everything she sees and hears and feels and smells without comment, and her friend chatters in one run-on sentence, grabbing breaths before issuing a stream of rapid-fire questions: “Riley, what did you do in in PE today? What did the PE teacher say about ME? When was the last time you saw one of our old teachers? I’d really like to go see them sometime.  Hey, maybe we could do that one afternoon, go see them?  What will you do this afternoon? Do you have any homework??”

I’m not sure the answers to the questions really matter, since both the questions and their answers are generally similar from day to day. For these two beautiful girls, conversation always seems to be less about the words and more about the expression of friendship. I listen and smile as Riley answers quietly, just the question asked, in the minimum number of words necessary.  We see this as a limitation, her reluctance to multiply words, but God has said that “the one with knowledge uses words with restraint (Proverbs 17:27).”  Whenever possible, Riley just says, “Mmmhmm, yea,” her tone sweet and unruffled.  Despite her quiet nature, all these repeated questions don’t ever seem to register with her as an imposition on her thoughts or her time.

“So, what were you doing this morning when we got there to pick you up?” Riley’s friend asks suddenly, a new question, and immediately I wonder where we’re headed with this interrogation. It’s a suspicion, a skepticism only I entertain. Riley excels at accepting what is without looking for hidden agendas.

“I was eating breakfast,” Riley says, and in my mind, I see her grabbing her pills from the napkin and swallowing them quickly, one foot already moving her out of the chair.  I see her bending quickly to scoop up a last bite of eggs, to swallow a last gulp of juice.  I braided her hair that morning while she ate, wrapping the pieces into a bun that looks like a seashell, pinning it in place with bobby pins I grabbed from a jar beside Riley’s elbow.  I see Riley checking the chart on the refrigerator to see if she needs her gym clothes.  I hear her mentally reviewing her list of responsibilities as she gathers her dishes, balls her napkin in her fist.

“Why weren’t you peeping out the window, waiting for me?”

I bristle.  I know why.  Riley gets up early so she can wake up slow, and then she hurries, always making sure she checks off her lists before school.

Riley pauses, not sure exactly how to reply.

“Why weren’t you?  Why weren’t you peeping out the window?  I like to see you peeping out the window.”  Riley’s friend asks her questions without animosity or accusation, without the layer of suggested failure that might simmer below if the words had passed through other lips. Instead, behind her words lilts a simple enthusiasm for being anticipated, watched for, waited upon.  It’s such a beautiful thing, the way their friendship is insulated like this road, a place of possibility held outside of our disbelief, protected by a purity of heart the rest of us interpret as naivete.  The parts of them we consider weakness really are a great strength.

“Well, I–uh–I don’t know, I was just eating my breakfast.  That’s what I was doing.”  Riley answers without the slightest hint of defensiveness or change in her tone or expression. Her pause is more about checking her mind to see if there’s more that she might say to answer accurately, some other explanation for why she wasn’t standing at the window.  She is at once completely comfortable with herself and completely at ease with everyone else.  She feels no need to defend, just the desire to be completely truthful.

“Oh,” her friend says lightly.  “Well, tomorrow I want to see you peeping out the window, okay?”  Listening to them, I realize that this isn’t pressure or ultimatum or if you don’t I’ll think you don’t care about me.  It’s only an expression of sweet and honest hope, with enough grace for believing if not tomorrow, perhaps the next day or the next.

Riley nods, accepting this.  It’s as though all she hears is I want to see you, even though what she says is, “Mmmhmmm, yea.  Okay. Tomorrow I will peep out the window.”  I look in the mirror to evaluate my daughter’s expression, to see if she realizes that tomorrow morning will actually not be different, that she will still be gulping down her pills and swallowing the last of her eggs and balling her napkin in her fist when I see them drive up and call out to her.  But the expression on her face suggests openness and possibility.  She believes she might be able to fulfill this request.  She intends to try.

It occurs to me that driving down this road, in this carved out space where bees flit over clover and sun bleaches fields of grass, such things do feel possible.  Simple, pure-hearted, faithful friendship feels as real as the newly plowed fields with their neatly rumpled rows.  It feels possible to hear what is beyond spoken words, to believe in relationship as fact, to accept what is without looking for hidden agendas.  And in God’s hands, “all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).”

We turn off and head back into the chaos of cars that will take us home.  It isn’t until we pull into the drive in front of her house that Riley’s friend revisits this “peeping out the window” conversation.  Nearly every school day for the last two years, this friend, as she has gathered her book bag and scrambled from the car, has reminded Riley to “be on time” in the morning.  It’s part of how she says goodbye, something Riley has come to expect.  Riley always says, “Okay, I will,” giggling, stopping to wave happily as she climbs into the front seat.  But today, Riley’s friend adds something to her usual admonition.  Today, she says, “Now Riley, be on time in the morning!  I want to see you peeping out the window, okay?” I’m thinking, she doesn’t have time to be peeping out the window. She doesn’t have time.  But Riley smiles wide, and a giggle begins to spill and spread through her words as she lifts her hand to wave, as she calls back, “Okay, I will! I’ll be at the window!”  It isn’t a lie.  She truly intends to be.  She really believes tomorrow she’ll manage it.

But in the morning, Adam is the one peeping out the window.  He has the time, and he loves friends, especially his sisters’ friends.  Riley sits at the table spooning eggs into her mouth, and I braid her hair and press it into a seashell shape on her head while she eats, grabbing the pins, and Adam opens the blinds so that he can see.  And he waits.  It stuns me still, the way Adam responds to things he shouldn’t know, as though he listens far better than the rest of us.  Adam wasn’t in the car to overhear this conversation, and Riley hasn’t spoken of it, and it’s the first time I’ve ever seen him plant himself there that way to wait.  I finish the braid and move back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room where Adam stands.  I check the road, check the time, give Riley updates as she hurries.  When they drive in, Adam waves, standing just behind the blinds, and he repeats her name.  Hi. Hi. Hi.

Riley rushes and I open the door and wave so that they’ll know we see.  Riley’s friend rolls down her window.  “Where’s Riley?”

“She’s coming,” I say.  And then I point to where Adam stands behind the blinds.  “Adam’s waving at you, telling you ‘hi.’”  I want her to know that someone was waiting, someone was peeping out the window, even if it wasn’t Riley.  Sometimes, we all miss the gift, failing to value the same offering when it’s offered in another way or from another one.

“Where is he?  I can’t see him,” she says.  So, I turn to Adam and motion him toward the open door, and he stands on the threshold calling her name, smiling all teeth, waving his hand.  She giggles, surprised and delighted.  But it is still Riley she loves best.  It’s Riley she wants to see.

Riley shuffles past me, offering me a quick kiss, lifting her book bag and settling it against her back, gathering lunch box and gym bag in hand.  “Have a good day,” I call after her, and just like that, she’s gone, sneaking a glance at her hair in the car window as she walks toward them and climbs in.  And as they drive away, I hear her friend say, “Why weren’t you peeping out the window?  I want to see you peeping out the window.”

And I see Riley smile over I want to see you, and nod yes, and even though they drive away and the sound of her voice is lost in the wind, I can feel her sweet words, the faithful way she softly says, “I will.  Tomorrow I will,” in the absence of self-defense.

And so I stand on the front porch, watching the car turn off the street, watching the morning sun streak the sky in soft pastels, thinking for a moment about Relationship; how God created it to be a sacred place, a stretch of peace insulated and simple, a road in the middle for breath and true faith and real love, a space for sacrifice and perseverance.  I stand thinking of the sad, ill thing that robs most of us of the offering of grace, namely our reliance on and protection of ourselves.  Our pride, our comparison, our selfishness, all these taint our giving and receiving from each other.  We shy away from honestly expressing our feelings by sharing what we need, or more accurately, our specific hopes.  I hope you will be waiting for me, peeping out the window. We read things into words, expressions, behaviors, thinking that we are expert interpreters of each other.  We are instantly defensive.  We hear do the impossible thing instead of I hope you’ll be looking for me.  We fight over words, unable to hear the feelings that gather beyond them. And yet these two girls go on, fast friends and feeling equally loved, both different enough from this world not to be so terribly ensnared, pure enough to simply accept what the other can offer.  The two of them teach me, shining bright light on my shadows. And so, I stand in the morning light, absorbing the sky, whispering just this:

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).  Please, make me like a child (Matthew 18:3).

write it down {something to fill your hands when you feel empty}

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Today, this encouragement:

Write it down.

In her lap, a piece of notebook paper sits folded, pressed beneath her hands.  She picks it up, fingering the edges and the corner, where the paper turns up like a curling wave.

From across the room, I can see the faint blue ruling, the holes at the edges, the smooth, elegant strokes of her handwriting.  The way the paper looks, I can imagine the quick, half-blind way she pulled it from somewhere as she drove, maybe out of her purse or off the seat, or, if her car looks like mine, from right beside her where all the left things gather and collect and mock her efforts at cleanliness.  I can see her reaching with the one hand while the other steadies the wheel, her eyes glued to the road in front of her.  I can feel what she felt, the urgent need to write.

“I need to share something,” she says, looking into her lap and then back up, even though the paper is still in her hand, pressed beneath her thumb.

For weeks now, she has struggled.  Her husband has been out of work and hasn’t found many leads, and she has felt the weight of responsibility.  She knows her paycheck pays the bills, buys the food.  It’s been hard to trust that there will be enough.  All our prayers together, gathered with her own, simmer down and waft, just this sweet plea: Help, please.

So, in the carved out space we sisters keep, she shares a bit of God’s reply.  It’s hard to put into words, the way that spiritual conversation is less about words than impression, the way the Spirit presses right into a soul and moves a person, the way listening changes a heart.  Do not imagine the exaggerated, booming depth of a human voice.  Such a construct is far too limiting.  Imagine instead a whisper (1 Kings 19:12), really more like a necessary breath.  Imagine a gasping, first breath without which there is no real living (Ezekiel 37:9) and at the same time imagine a wind, a wind at once both gentle and so powerfully strong that a soul familiar with His Force will at once bend and spread and fly, recognizing the thrill of being carried along and pliable.   Jesus describes Him so, when He says, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit (John 3:8).” Imagine these, and then imagine the unseen current that drives the mighty seas, the way that sheer strength moves you and you know with certainty that you have been carried, even though you can’t hear the current with your ears or see it with your eyes.

And so it happened, that as my friend drove home from work praying help, please, she found herself groping hastily with one hand for paper and a pen.  His reply came to her like a flood, an echo of something ancient, the modern mirror of Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years (Deuteronomy 8:4).  The Spirit pressed into her, testifying not simply you need and I am who and what and all you need, but an entire list, like an accounting of spiritual deposits.  He reshaped her heart, while she gasped and tried to drive, while she breathed and stared at the road and felt Him move.  Write it down, He pushed, moving her arm, her hand, because she needed to see the list with her eyes, because without the writing she could not have shared so specifically what He gave her.

She tells us about driving and writing and wondering if she could do both without wrecking the car.  The hand holding the paper moves frantically from side to side as she speaks it out loud, as she rewrites the list in her mind.  It’s a rare thing to be able to see right from the middle that where ever you’re going God has already been ahead of you preparing the way.  “I have no idea where this will lead,” she keeps saying, again and again as she reads the things God has done, sprinkling her faith right through the impression of His fingers, like glittering stones on a lit path.  She has a list now of just at the right time and miraculously enough and a way where there might have been none.  She has a list, on notebook paper she can hold in her fingers, of clothes that don’t wear out and feet that don’t swell and oil and flour enough for food through the famine (1 Kings 17:14).  Into the room she reads her list of blessings, her list of truth.  She can’t read the whole list without crying, and she says it matter-of-factly in the middle—”And I’m going to cry”—barely a pause before she continues with her voice breaking apart. The recording of gifts has carved in her a tender space.

“I have been having such a hard time with all this,” she confesses freely, “but I see now that it really hasn’t been so bad.  It really hasn’t been so bad.”  This last she says with a shred of awe, pausing just a beat before she finishes solidly.  “God has given us what we need.  He has taken care of us.  He is taking care of us.”

And the whole time she speaks, I listen, gripped, thinking about how well our Father knows us.  I think of the way God has always written down His love for us, the way He asks us to write it too, all over our walls, our doorframes, our hearts.  And in the next breath, He tells us to talk about what we’ve written, to share, to teach our children(Deuteronomy 6: 8,9; 11:19,20).  I hear my dear friend so compelled, see her scrawling blessings while she drives, hear her saying “I need to share something,”and it all reminds me of something Ann Voskamp wrote:

…I don’t even know they are gifts really until I write them down and that is really what they look like. …This does feel like my own reformation, all things wooden-hard giving way to the sky.  Recording gifts to reform.  I pick up a pen and write of the God-gifts…and the list is my thanks…I hold the seeing pen, the one with eyes, eyes that, in due time might just decode the whole of eucharisteo (One Thousand Gifts, 45 and 49).

This has been the Spirit’s grip on me too, the way He fills me, lifts me, pours me out.  I have learned that there’s truly something powerful about the writing down, the recording to reform and remember.  I need that intentional, habitual practice–that pen that sees–so much I nail the reforming words to the walls to remind me.  Sometimes Adam reads them before he prays:

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The Spirit reshapes me by this testimony: you need and I am the who, the what, the how, the enough, and then God uses the command—write it down—as a foundation for joy, as a gathering, as a way to exhale what the Spirit breathes right into me.  When I have trouble trusting that there will be enough, I can still see the impression of Him clear-written in my own hand, my own intentional testimony of truth solidly printed across my doubts. This, then, must be why He urges,

Write it down.

And so, I spread my journal open on the bar for jotting.  We keep a jar that is, as we are, filled beautiful only by gifts of grace, and beside it a pen, because again and again the Spirit changes us like waves reshaping the shore, moving our arms, our hands, as we stare at the road ahead of us and try to breathe. And so we, like my dear friend, are compelled, urgently thus:

Write it down, and then speak it, loud. 

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fresh cut

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Rigidity is a Spectrum curve, one we’ve worn to a polish, fast slipping our way through so often that we know the feel of it by heart.  After all, we’ve got not one track here, but two, and even though the trajectories spin differently, that particular curve is common to both.

Something starts fresh, like the counting of gifts, and we turn around and press our hands up flat against it, catching a sticky bit on one finger to taste.  The habit is at first sweet, the flavor complex with intention and purpose.

She notices how I count one thousand giftshow I fill pages and timelines and jars with gratitude; how I can’t stop saying thank you, and she brings me her journal one day and flattens the crease in the middle with her hand.  She shows me what she has written carefully there like a rainbow, every word a different color.  She grips the pens in her other hand, and it’s the first thing she’s listed:

colored pens.

“That’s true,” I say to her, smiling.  “You do love colored pens.”

Come to think of it, rainbow pens are just about the only thing she ever wants to buy with her spending money.  It grips me, how without knowing it, she chooses to write nearly every single thing that’s important to her as a spectrum of visible Light; that a Spectrum is something she herself represents; that these rainbows are wildly unbound, always partially unseen, and yet orderly—even in some ways predictable—beauty.  They say that a rainbow is always a full circle—eternally round, like a full embrace, but we only see the upper half, the full lit drops above the horizon in our line of sight.  It takes my breath, the idea that God has chosen this divine and vibrant pattern, this untouchable, uncontainable, uncaptured bending of light through water to remind Him of His own covenant with us.

Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth (Genesis 9:16).

It is the grandest gesture, the way He takes the same droplets that once cleansed the earth of evil and bends His Light right through the middle of each until it reflects against the back side.  It is an illumination that changes a flood-seed into a baptism.  And so, the cleansing water becomes not a curse but the promise that He will cut redemption right out of Himself.  Truly, He bends Himself right clear into human flesh, and as His light shines back from the deepest parts of the soul, the result is a wildly unbound, partially unseen, and yet somewhat predictable beauty.  And so my children reflect the Promise, and she, she even writes her thank you’s right under the arc of it.

“What else?” She has picked up the journal.  She lifts it up, turning the page away because she wants to read to me.  She is lit just like those droplets.

“Number 2,” she says dramatically, and I can tell that the numbering pleases her.  Sequencing is solid, orderly.  The round, black dot behind each number is something we expect, a hasty and yet meaningful blotch.  “Daddy washing dishes.”

“Mmmhmm,” I say, because without it she will not continue.

“Number 3. Cauliflower,” she says, looking up, pleased, waiting to see that I approve.  Her gifts feel random, as though she reaches into a mystery bag and extracts them with giggly bravado.  And yet, on her face, I see nothing but absolute sincerity.

Wildly unbound, partially unseen, and yet, in some ways, predictable.

Her offering is art; an eclectic delicacy.  Her list is fresh, deliciously genuine.  I press my hands flat against the sides of it, breathing in the new smell.  And so these things begin.

But on another day, somewhere around gift 699, I find her standing in the kitchen, copying the meal plan on the refrigerator into her journal.  She turns to me, as if this is as perfectly rhythmic as breathing, and says, “Mom, I have written my thank you’s for TOday.”  It is a recitation I have grown used to, and even the cadence at which she pronounces each word, the emphasis of each syllable, feels like a well-traveled groove.

“Okay,” I say, reluctant, looking over her shoulder at the calendar.  I know already what she will read out and in what tone, how she will say, “number 699 (pause, beat beat beat) gingerbread muffins, number 700 (pause, beat beat beat) egg salad, number 701 (pause, beat beat beat) Mississippi Roast.”  It’s the second week, this listing the meal plan, and listening to it feels a bit like chewing on regurgitated food.  It only matters because it’s her, but I’ve noticed that now she just grabs the first pen she can find.  It’s something she does because it’s routine, because it makes her feel like everything is under control, not because it matters anymore to give thanks.  She’s lost even the care with which she selected her pens.

I have waited the weeks to address her repetition because I know that the redirection must be smooth or it will be traumatic for both of us.  It’s as though without warning something once beautiful has been gated into that Rigid, meaningless curve, where the doing becomes a prison and the familiarity is a trap and the sign on the gate she’s erected has been carved from the word FEAR—fear of losing her routine, fear of everything unexpected, fear of disappointing me.  Her voluntary offering has become a prison she is afraid to leave.

All children find comfort in their routines, but children with autism do so obsessively.  They monitor the new and unexpected from well within the boundaries of schedules and times and predictable outcomes.  I know this well.  We have traveled this way through a thousand other things, all of which begin with beautiful intention.  For Adam, it’s the way he’ll empty a dishwasher even if the dishes are dirty because it’s what he does and when he always does it.  For Riley, it’s lately also been the weather – - mindlessly reciting the extended forecast for three cities every morning first thing. In the middle, Kevin sometimes looks at me with weary eyes and says, “Is this how God feels when our prayers, our worship, our giving, even becomes a memorized and meaningless routine?”

And just that quickly, I think, “Yes,” and the thought aches. God says, “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me (Amos 5:21),” and He means our once vibrant patterns of remembrance that have lost their meaning and become routine and then are not even connected anymore to our hearts. He means our hearts all wrong, all stuck and fallen. He means our comfortable rigid living that isn’t living by faith or love. He says, “There are those who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground (Amos 5:7);” and He says, “seek me and live (Amos 5:5); and He says, “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth (Revelation 3:16).” So yes, this bland nausea over meaningless repetition is something He knows.

Over the years, I have learned that sometimes the toughest love an autism parent offers his or her Spectrum child is forced change. Perhaps, in the same way, change is God’s tough love for us when it comes to reminding us that it’s all supposed to mean something eternal.

I had been avoiding this issue with my daughter over her gratitude because sometimes it’s hard for human, imperfect me to decide whether it’s worse to listen to the mindless droning, the mind-numbing repetition of nothing—whether it’s worse to just watch them slide back and forth comfortably in an overdone routine, or to bear the weight of their anxiety—the tears, the pleading for what they know when I force them to move on.

So this particular morning, I pull up Ann Voskamp’s Joy Dare on my computer, because this time God grants a way that will feel smooth, like a soundless breaking of the padlock, the careful opening of a gate.  This will hardly register with her as a gasp.  I can print the calendars Ann has offered, a different prompt for each day, carefully numbered.  I know that the order of it, the list, the predictability will soothe her back onto an intentional path, back to a pattern eternally rounded with meaning.  Next year, I will have to write my own, new ones to spark her thoughts. I am prepared.

I don’t know if Riley’s memory qualifies as eidetic, but she never forgets things that matter to her – - names, addresses, dates, times, birthdays, and I know that next year, she will remember this year’s three gifts round, three gifts white, three gifts broken.  But for now, the Joy Dare offers her a map right out of meaningless repetition and back to a meaningful pattern, and for this I am thankful.

“Why don’t we try something new with your gifts today,” I say to her, showing her the Joy Dare, the freedom page illustrated with elegant birds, for flight.

“Huh?” She says, her tone hard, as though I have jerked her by the hand, interrupting her easy, careful treading.

“See, there’s a different one for each day.  Today’s is three gifts in the afternoon,” I say pointing, my thumb on the paper bird perched beside January as we look just below to March.

She nods—an okay, I can do this nod, as she takes the paper from my hand, scanning it with her eyes.  “Mmmhmm,” she murmurs, thoughtful. I can see her eyes sparking now, her grin returning.  “Let’s see…three gifts in the afternoon….number 702, going to the chiropractor.  Wait.  I need my pens,” she says almost to herself.  And just like that, she’s writing in rainbows again, offering her gratitude beneath the vibrant pattern of Light given, Light bent and reflected back.

I watch her bend over the journal and then sit back, tapping a finger on her lips, looking over the offering already written, and in the picture of her I see the truth: God has given us a smoothly printed thing to hold in our hands, a map for travel, a lens through which to see all new, a solid Sword to break the lock right open on the Fear gate.  It is the sharp, fresh cut of Word that keeps the human heart free of calluses.

And now I understand why, when I’m dead stuck and feeling nothing I should, why He presses His Word right into me with His own hands and whispers all through the gentle reshaping,

So, maybe today we try seeing all new?”

my spot

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I call it my spot, that place right beside where I seem to melt into him like a carefully sculpted, invisibly bonded part; that place I best know how to fit.  It is a place carved in the shape of me.

In the early morning, this is how we pray:  He reaches for me, and I move close, settling my ear over his heart, pressing my hand flat against a groove in his chest that’s only mine to know.  Together, we silently walk away from this temporary shade and into the full, bright, blinding light, seeking our King.  The things I say to God, the words I reserve just for Him, fly heavenward as we breathe, and the things God says to me flow back through me like a river, their rushing sound accompanied by the sound of my husband’s heartbeat.  I feel the warmth of life—my love’s life—beneath my open hand while I lay everything I carry at my Father’s feet.

It’s not a long time—never really long enough for me—but it’s time I need, time that centers me carefully on the order of things; time that reminds me how to focus on what will last; time that carefully marks how things begin and how they will end. From that space, that carved out place where we dwell with God together, we launch a day and also a lifetime.  An eternity blooms there.  It seems like the smallest thing—those moments we offer each other before time and responsibility catch us up again in a fury, but then, Word says the Kingdom is like the tiniest seed that “when planted…grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade (Mark 4:32).”  And so, Riley is our bird, perched beside us on the bed, reading the weather report softly—the extended forecast for three cities—well sheltered by the canopy of our embrace.

Most days I linger in my spot as long as I can, savoring warmth and breathing and completeness–the oneness of marriage, the oneness of our marriage with Him, the completeness of joy. I desire to remain just there–in our love and in His, in this space untainted by selfishness and suffering.  “If you keep my commands,” the King says, “you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you (John 15:10-12).”

We break away physically because this life is a sending forth, a traveling with God, a following, but the unseen bond of the Spirit remains, tethering us all together.  I close my eyes one last time and slide away, planting my feet on the floor, gathering the day’s opportunity in my fingers.  I know that as the afternoon exhales and the sunlight fades in the sky—if God chooses to bless us so again, I will put down whatever I hold in my hands when this man of mine walks in the door and I will find my way right back into his arms, right back to my spot, to the place I best know how to fit, to this space in his side carved in the shape of me.

I plant my feet on the floor knowing this: that this is how it’s meant to be with God and us.  We are husband and wife and together the tiniest part of His bride, just a Kingdom seed.  But the branches have grown tall and wide, and there’s a place in Christ’s side sword-carved in the shape of us, a place where we’re meant to settle close and place our ears right over His heart; a place where we’re meant to lay our hands empty and flat against a groove in His chest that is ours alone to know and feel the warmth of Him; a place where the things He says to us rush through us with the sound of His heart beat.  It’s a place we need; a place blinding with light; a place where eternity blooms.  And maybe the time we spend here seems like a small thing, like something less urgent, like it could hardly matter if we miss it. But this is time we need.  For these moments we offer Him—the moments He offers to us—they are the moments that center us carefully on the order of things; the moments that remind us how to focus on what will last; the moments that carefully mark how things began and how they will continue forever. In these precious moments, we launch a day and a lifetime.

“For your Maker is your husband— the Lord Almighty is his name— the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth (Isaiah 54:5),” and in the early morning, He reaches.

go

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Go.

Saturday morning and this is what he says, when I am struggling to wake up, when I am trying to remember how to think.

How many miles today?  You should go.  Enjoy it.

Enjoy it? Really? Weary growls through my bones.

I switch on the lamp beside the bed.  Let there be light. He has been downstairs already.  Steam curls from a mug of cinnamon tea on the bedside table, and he moves around the room, shedding sleepy clothes for active ones. Something happens to my husband on Saturdays.

You should go now, he says, before the day gets on.

But see, I really prefer to stay. I like here, where I’m comfortable.

I see now that it’s this thought that so often bitterly roots my grumbling.  It’s this thought that makes me reach for no.  It’s this thought that sends me far off the course He’s chosen, looking for a way that seems better to me, a land that looks more fertile from where I stand.  It’s funny that He chose the words home and a place for there, the words dwell and abide for in Him, and words like journey, pilgrimage, wander, and race for here.  Isn’t it?  For here, He chose the word go.  But see, I really prefer stay.  I like here, where I’m comfortable.  So much of what I strive for is the preservation of my own comfort.

I throw a leg out from under the covers, testing the chilly, newborn air, stifling a groan. I push a hand flat against the mattress, gathering myself to sit up.

Always that word–go, go, go.

 
Sometimes I feel like my life is a relief of that word, the big letters built of a thousand tiny snapshots of our day suspended.  G. O. It makes me cringe. But even this the Spirit breaks apart, reassembling the pieces a better way.

I like home.  I like being home.  I like building home.  I like to savor the moments I can find just to be with God right here–the planting time that requires more listening with a yielded heart than hard core faith.  I like being quiet and alone and setting things in order, shaping them well, making a place my family can return to, a hideaway from the brokenness of living.  I sit with God and we share conversation that is less about words than the impression of His hands on my soul, and He shows me that He created me this way, that these parts of me deserve their own recognition, their own season.  These loves of mine are His loves too:  Yes, He loves His family. Enough to die for them.  He likes home—a home with us.  He likes building home so much He built one right on the cornerstone of His own son.  He likes setting things in order, creating beauty, making a place where He can tuck us safely away from brokenness and pain and despair once and for all.  He wants to see us safe and well-provisioned; blessed and warm and satisfied.  He longs for our comfort maybe even more than we do.  But His is the better, surer, safer home; His is the comfort that lasts; His is stay forever.  The place He prepares will never spoil or fade.  He cares about this so much He left his own home to see us safely returned.

And so for a breath of journeying on this earth, His children now must go. Our lives are a sending forth to gather in, but where we go, He goes too.

I strip away the warmth of the covers and pajamas in favor of my running gear, lacing up my shoes and strapping a watch on my wrist.  In between things, I take sweet gulps of tea and close my eyes, tasting the cinnamon warm on my tongue.  I am a runner who often struggles just to go.  The irony makes me smile, beginning a litany of humorous truths that stretch my sleepy grin at the edges:  I am a pilgrim who doesn’t like to travel; a speaker who doesn’t like to talk; an introvert who has been reshaped as a vessel for loving people.  The humor isn’t lost on me, nor is the power of the way God does things.  “But I chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; He says, “I chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. I chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before me (1 Cor. 1: 27-29).” 

And most assuredly, I can’t boast before you, I whisper into the morning, smiling, acknowledging that He is all and in all (Ephesians 4:6).

In the kitchen, I fill my water bottles half full of coconut water before I top them off with filtered water from the tap, absorbing the dark quiet of the kitchen before the day spins fast and away.  It strikes me that we all still struggle with the greatest single consequence of the first step we took away from God, the first time when, as immature children, we forgot the supreme gift of home and the guidance of a wise hand, the benefit of eyes who see everything and watch on our behalf.  We walked away, determined to do things on our own, and we have all been trying to get home and stay ever since.

But He sent Adam and Eve from the garden because they chose it.  And then He sent Cain, who refused to wander his way closer to God and instead spiraled into the darkness of the earth.  God sent Noah to survive on the ark, and Abraham to “a place I will show you.”  He sent Jacob to live with Laban, and He sent Joseph to Egypt as a slave.  God sent reluctant Moses to bring His people out of Egypt. He sent the people of Israel out wandering in the desert for 40 years that they might develop their faith.  He sent Joshua to trust past fear and conquer kingdoms; He sent Jonah to Ninevah (and everyone knows what happened when Jonah didn’t want to go).  God sent Gideon to rescue Israel.  He sent Samuel to the temple.  He sent David out of the sheep fields to the fields of war and then into the caves to hide and become a king.  God sent Ruth far away from her home and family to become a mother for Israel.  He sent Hagar away from Sarah.  He sent prophets to speak to His people.

For Isaiah, as it has been for us, the sending was more than a command. It was an invitation to sacrifice that went like this:

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’

And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’

He said, ‘Go and tell this people… (Isaiah 6: 8,9).’

Go.

God has been sending us since the garden, again and again whispering real truth: I will send mine.

God sent His own son to die and be the Savior of all, a Redeemer wearing human skin.  And what did that Son say to His very own, to those who lived because of Him?  Go.  More exactly, “Therefore go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19).”  And before that, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves (Matthew 10:16).”  Peter, Ananias, Paul, Philip, all were told, “Go!”  Go, go, go.

God has made this life a sending out, a journey, a going to gather in those who belong to Him, a traveling well past fear and discomfort all the way to the establishment of real faith.  Not once has He ever said, “No stay.  Be comfortable.  Take care of yourself now,” because here and now are not for home.  For now, there’s work to be done.  “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field,” He says (Matthew 9:38).”

I gather my keys, thinking as they clink together, that I have still yet been seeing the going all wrong.  I don’t know why I still sometimes believe that following Him will have anything at all to do with comfort.  It’s a tough truth, and one this home-loving soul likes to avoid.  But when one man said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go,” His reply wasn’t, “Okay, great.  It’ll be fun and we’ll find some great locations to set up camp.”  Instead, He said something the selfish part of me finds tragic every time.  He said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head (Luke 9: 57,58).”  He never shared or supported our confusion about our status as wandering children.  Our life here is a sending, a going, a traveling on toward home for the purpose of gathering the others and learning how to live by faith, how to love Him and each other, how to trust.

I open the door, catching sight of a bird in our tree, remembering something God said about provisions for the journey. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they (Matthew 6: 26)?” When the Israelites wandered in the desert, their clothes never wore out, their feet didn’t swell from the walking, and they had food enough to satisfy them–food from God’s own hands (Deuteronomy 8: 4).  Despite all his initial reluctance, the one thing all the go, go, go, taught Moses is that it will all happen well as long as God goes too. “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here,” Moses said to Him, and rather emotionally, too (Exodus 33:15).”

So why is that now so often I place more significance on the go itself than on God’s promise to go with with me?  When He sent Adam and Eve from the garden, He went too.  And from that time, He has sent His own presence right out with His children, where ever our wandering takes us.  “But be assured today that the Lord your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire (Deuteronomy 9:3),” His ancient voice booms, and then reverberates some centuries later, when Jesus himself promises, “When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice (John 10:4).”

So, as I gather my stride, I embrace the difficult truth that going is the cost of following.  Until I finally return to the place that is truly my home, it will always be go, go, go, though there is an important difference between being on the go, and being sent.  As long as I’m going where and when He sends, as long as the going is about following Him and not about busily moving in my own way, then the only thing that need concern me is that He goes ahead.  My feet will not swell, and the robe He’s given will hold up, and the food He offers me will be enough to satisfy my soul.  The light by which I see will be His own light.  The breath I have will be His own breath, for He who raised me to life will breathe new life right into these dry bones (Ezekiel 37).  And finally, I will see His Glory as I go, looking right into His Holy back, as I follow right where He leads.

Just as this settles in, just as I make peace with going forth, with being led away from comfortable, I run right into this:

IMG_20140222_080623_075and all creation does testify, and the sight wraps one more thread of sweet truth around this traveling:
Suddenly I am sure that if I go with Him as He calls me forth and spurs me on and moves my feet of clay with His own hands, I will see majesty I could never have known had I stayed right where I thought I wanted to be. I know it as solidly as I know the feel of the morning sun on my cheeks.
And so, I press into the run, breathing only this:

I am yours. So here I am. Send me.

it really isn’t my day

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Maybe—when I capture it here in flat black letters and solid lines, when I carefully trap the moments still within the boundaries of words—it will not appear as romantic as it really is to me: the two of us, finally side by side again at the end of the day. But then, the true value of things very rarely lives just right at the surface.

He still wears the button-down shirt he wore to work, although now the sky blue stripes are bent at angles, rolled into v’s at his elbows.  His hands and wrists have pinked in the hot, soapy water at the sink.  He looks at me, lifting a sterling pot–I seem to use every one I have when I cook–and smiles as he sets it in the drain board.

“How was your day?” He says, making sincere use of whatever moments we have before someone needs help changing an insulin pod or remembering if they took their pills or brushing those places on their teeth where it still just seems impossible to pull the lips away.

I turn a lid in my hands, rubbing it dry with a cloth.  “Hmmm…well,” I begin, my thoughts sliding over the mental list I keep, all the doing it takes to manage a household, and then reluctantly, “It was good, I guess.” Whenever someone asks that question, How was your day, it’s as though that one word – - your – - takes over. I always think first about all the things I’ve yet to do, all that I couldn’t quite get to in the time I had.  That one emphasis makes all the details of the day feel like less than they were.

Kevin pushes the washrag over the cutting board, scrubbing away the visible food and with it all the microbial things unseen by the naked eye, and he nods.  I smile at his profile, noticing the way the hair over his ears is a little more gray, the way smiling into our lives has etched a few extra lines at the corners of his eyes. I start listing for him all the things I didn’t manage but wish I had, even though those things are never the things he considers significant.  “I have so much organizing I need to do,” I say, when suddenly the Spirit grips me and makes me look more closely at how I’m centered.

God has shown me that He wants His children to live His way, for Him, for eternity.  He has shown me that knowing about this in the mind and pursuing it in the heart are very different things.  He has said that He can do without our empty words, how we say the doctrinally correct things without really ever letting them change how we think.

No, you be transformed by the renewing of your mind, He says.  You be a living sacrifice.  You dwell in me and I in you, and you let my Spirit bear fruit in you.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness…these are the morsels that will satisfy the multitudes. These are the things on my list. You think on what’s noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable.  You say what is beneficial for building another.  You come out and be separate.  You be mine.  You seek my kingdom first.  You submit to me in all things, leaning on my understanding instead of your own.  You leave the accomplishment to me.  You live like you believe in the resurrection, like you know I can redeem, like you recognize that I made you out of clay so that everyone can see the power is mine and not yours.  You’ve been crucified with Christ and you no longer live, but He lives in you.

It’s this Word–this sheer conviction of real truth, this revelation of what remains for eternity–that jars me out of my listing, that pulls my focus away from my collection of debits against a day.   It’s not God who gathers these lists of earthly failures.   These are not the things He considers significant.
Kevin picks up another dirty pot and slides it into the soapy water, and I change course, returning to the drain board to pick up a knife.  As though God has dropped scales from my eyes, I am suddenly able to see the day more clearly.

I see that In this one day, God has let me participate in things only He can do.  He has allowed me to love, to listen patiently, to encourage, to build, to strengthen, to nourish, to create.  He has made art even out of housework.  He has filled my frantic hours with Mozart, a sea of notes flowing loud and passionate from my son’s room.  He has let me really see the sky, the way the trees move in the wind, the smile on someone’s face.  And all day He has given me ears to hear Him right in laughter and birds and little girl chatter.  He has allowed me to feed my family and help with homework.  I have watched him give my son words and use my daughters to make other people feel noticed and loved.  I see that His living through accomplishes what will last.  He gathers, reaches, multiplies, touches, heals, redeems, teaches.  He keeps His promises.  He shows up.  He blesses.  And this He shows me in bold strokes, reframing my perspective just that quickly, as I lift another clean dish from the rack and swaddle it in the towel I hold in my hands.

How was your day.

I suddenly realize that the emphasis itself is all wrong. The question, like so many others is grammatically impaired, the words limiting. The truth is, it is not my day at all. It’s always Hisday.  He says, This is the day I have made.  Rejoice and be glad in it.”

All my subtraction, my debits, my minimizing of the truly lasting fruit must cease in favor of the way He sees.

“Why do we always do that?” The words tumble out and sit there, with the dish I have just placed on the counter in front of me.  “Why is it that we evaluate the day on the basis of what’s temporary?”

Kevin smiles at me, listening.  He is used to my passion and the way God changes me right in the middle of a sentence.

And so it is that I look at this man I love and find the question He really asks, the value sometimes hidden beneath the solid black lines of human words. I start again, listing the real moments God redeemed, the multiplying I saw, the fruit I tasted.  Because the truth is, it is always God’s day.  It is what He makes it to be, and I am His within it.  And because I am His, I do and see and say and hear things that will last, and the things He accomplishes are good.

I don’t understand {the truth we can own that will change us all}

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At the chiropractor’s office, we take up the whole row of cervical traction units against the wall—Riley, Adam, Zoe, me.  We all know the routine.  We slip the padded bars behind our heads, rest our chins on the thick foam in front, grip the ends of the chin bars with our hands.  Riley and Adam always count out loud the sixty times they bend their knees as the movement sweeps their heads backward. 1,2,3,4,5,6…We must look a bit like marionettes, bobbing up and down.

Zoe and I swallow hard, glaring at each other, sending silent messages back and forth about the book Riley has been reading to us in the car—a story studded with relationships that are disfunctional and loss that’s bitterly sad.  To Riley, the words are just words on a page.  She doesn’t understand.  She doesn’t connect them to any reality at all—no blurry faces, no cracks in the way things happen here.  Her innocence protects her from understanding that this kind of pain hurts people all the time, that we run our fingers along the broken seams of other lives or reach down to gather up the shards and the brokenness cuts right into our skin and breaks us too, slicing right through the protective layers that hold us all together. But truly this is the way of things, something well-woven into the fabric of our living: Our brokenness always pierces right through the tender skin, shedding the blood of One innocent.

At the end of the last book Riley read, Zoe and I cried, stopping homework and cooking in the kitchen, wrapping our arms tightly around each other.  Riley giggled.  Laughter was her compensation for confusion over our reaction.  But then, laughter is so often the way we all handle what we don’t understand and what we are afraid to acknowledge.  I am at once grateful that Riley’s pure heart cannot comprehend all the pain of this life and also terrified that this fact about her nature leaves her vulnerable to calculated evil.

I nod at Zoe, who rubs a hand over her eyes, and we both turn toward the wall, thinking well past the audible chant of Riley’s and Adam’s counting—25, 26, 27—to the observance of our own progress.

“You two need to stand with your feet further apart,” someone says.  I turn to find the doctor who is newest to the practice and newest to us standing behind Adam and Riley, talking into the space between their heads as they bob up and down, still counting.  …32, 33, 34…

Riley immediately moves her legs wider, correcting her stance, but Adam ignores the comment and continues.  …35, 36, 37…

“You too,” the doctor says, smiling, talking toward Adam’s cheek.  “Your legs should be shoulder width apart.”  …38,39,40…

One of the difficulties we have as humans is that we can’t just look at each other and identify the struggles, the challenges, the sensitivities, the inadequacies we all carry.  Children with autism very often have no discernable physical differences from their neurotypical peers, and so they are often stung by misunderstanding, impatience, ignorance, and lack of compassion.  I feel like I spend so much of my mothering protecting my children from just these things and from a thousand awkward moments in between.  This doctor has no reason yet to know that Adam doesn’t understand all of her words, that his best strategy is sometimes just to pretend not to hear at all.

I stand up straight, forgetting my count.  “You’re just going to have to move his legs,” I tell her, returning her smile.  “He doesn’t understand.”

“Oh, okay,” she says easily, quickly, as though she’s just remembering a note about him on a patient record, and I am grateful.  As I lean over to move one of his legs myself, she moves the other one, and together, we correct his stance.

“Adam, you need to stand like this,” I say to him directly.

“He also needs to switch his hands,” she says to me, gesturing, fumbling a little, and I smile at her again, trying to let her know I appreciate the help.

“You’re right.  I didn’t even know he was holding it that way,” I say, touching Adam’s hand with my own.  I had been so caught up in the emotions of Riley’s book that I hadn’t even noticed.

“Hey Adam?  Hold it this way,” I say, gesturing to my own bar, modeling the grip.

Immediately, Adam shifts his hands, readjusting, and resumes his count. …44,45,46…

“Thank you,” I say to the doctor, turning back to my own exercises, trying to determine a reasonable number on which to begin my counting again.

The kids finish well ahead of me, and together they gather what they need to clean the bars and the foam pads—paper, a spray bottle filled with vinegar and water.  They pass these around, each one moving back over to the wall to wipe the unit they had been using.

“No, not the glasses.  Don’t touch the glasses.  NO.  I said don’t touch my glasses.”

“Adam,” I hear Zoe say, urgently.

I stand up straight again, slipping the padded bar from behind my head, giving up on my count.  I turn around to find Adam trying to retrieve his books from the table next to the cleaning supplies.  He has a pair of eyeglasses in his hand, carefully pinched by the side of the frames.  He has frozen, reading the emotion etched on the woman’s face.  He understands angry well before he understands the words she’s saying, because he has no ability to give priority to any one type of sensory input.  The words will take a moment longer and a bit more repetition than this woman’s patience can tolerate.

Apparently, when she went to use the apparatus on the far wall, she left her eyeglasses on the table, right on top of Adam’s books.  He only meant to lift the glasses, retrieve his books, and put the glasses right back on the table.

I would like to say that this is really a beautiful woman, because you will naturally read my emotions into any description of her at this point, but the best I can offer is that habitual bitterness has a way of deeply creasing our faces in certain places.  I look at her and I feel her resentment and frustration, sharp and heavy and dark.  I see her insolence coloring the air.  It isn’t immediately that I look at her and recognize that I can no more see her challenges or her pain any more clearly than she can see mine or my son’s. The truth is that at first, the strength of her emotion surprises me, knotting up my heart and my thinking with it.  All I can manage is to pin my arms against my sides, to press my lips together, to flatten the emotions that move through me like the seething tremors of an earthquake.  Adam is innocent.  He doesn’t deserve her anger.  I am not able, on my own, to look past this woman’s impatience and acknowledge that I can’t see her very clearly at all.

I take the eyeglasses out of Adam’s hands, handing him his books.  “Adam, don’t touch the glasses,” I repeat dumbly.  I watch him turn immediately and walk away from us, heading to his next activity.  Zoe stands still by the wall, gripped, her face pale.  Riley has already moved into the next room with Adam.

“I’m sorry,” I say sincerely to the woman, setting the eyeglasses gently on the table.  I know a thing or two about what annoys those who wear glasses, and I am grateful Adam has not smudged the lenses with his fingers.

“NOT like that.  You can’t sit them like that,” the woman says, waggling a crooked, wrinkled finger toward the table.  I realize she wants them sitting the opposite way, so I reach down and gently flip them over.  And somewhere deep, where she can’t see, I whisper to Him who is able to love even the ones who drive the nails right through His innocent palms:  Help.  Please, help.  I don’t understand.

“That boy had no business touching my glasses,” the woman grumbles loudly to the woman on the apparatus next to her, growling out the words.

“I’m sorry,” I say to her again.  “He has autism.  He doesn’t understand.” I know that she does not care at the moment that the glasses were completely unharmed, but I think maybe this truth will deflate her frustration just a bit.  He is not an ordinary boy.  He does not comprehend our social nuances.  He was not being disrespectful.

Her eyes burn, flashing at me.  “Well then you should have been watching him,” she shoots back, gripping the bar in front of her fiercely, looking to the woman next to her for agreement.  Her words pound, but already God has heard me.  Already He has touched my eyes.  He reaches out and moves my heart with His own hands, the way the doctor and I had moved Adam, correcting his stance when Adam could not comprehend her words.

I never know what to say in situations like these, but God does.  I never know how to see, but God does.  And He grips me by the shoulders and makes me look again, and immediately I see.  Suddenly I know that something has scarred this woman deeply.  Some jagged thing has cut right into her, piercing the skin, and maybe it’s still lodged there, hidden.  “That’s very unkind,” I say to her quietly, offering her just this simple observation, sealing my lips carefully around the words.  “I’m very, very sorry.” I tell her this with a sincerity that comes from somewhere well outside of me.

For an instant, her expression changes, naked with vulnerable surprise, because she knows I am not apologizing again for the glasses.  I can only guess that she has caught me really looking, really seeing.  And just that quickly, the soul of her retreats behind her anger.

She throws up her hands and lobs the equipment she is using in a basket by the table, roughly retrieving her glasses, making her movements as loud as possible.  She storms out of the room, murmuring something to the people at the front desk as she breezes through the front doors.  I can’t see her leave except in my mind.  I can’t hear exactly what she says.

I sigh, offering God a silent thank you, and then I see Zoe, still standing by the wall.  Tears drip off of her face along the chiseled line of her jaw.  She shakes her head back and forth, staring at the ground, rejecting what she has just witnessed.  No, no, no.  I walk over to her and wrap my arms around her shoulders, and she leans into me. Her whole body shakes.  And so we run our fingers along the broken seams of other lives or reach down to gather up the shards and the brokenness cuts right into our skin and breaks us too, slicing right through the protective layers that hold us all together.

“It’s okay,” I tell her, holding her right there, while other people bob against the wall like marionettes.  But I can only see her, no one else.

“No, it isn’t,” she says into my shirt, still shaking her head.  “It isn’t.”

And she’s right.  It isn’t okay, this way we hurt each other.

These days, God engraves this truth on my heart with deeper and deeper strokes, in the beautiful script of His own holy hand:

None of us have any ability to understand.  

We all need God to wrap His hands right around our own.  We need Him to move our legs so we can stand the right way.  We need Him to speak, that we might say the right things.  We need Him to look right through our eyes in order that we might see.

We need His wisdom to discern the difference between calculated evil and the sharp edges of another broken soul, imprisoned by pain.

We cannot look at each other and see the true presence of confusion, heartache, challenges, grief, or brutality written right plainly into the features of other faces like changes in color on an elevation map.  We can’t see, but He can.  And so, He must be the lenses through which we look.

This is why He writes slowly over our hearts, again and again, this wisdom:  Trust in me with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways, submit to me, and I will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5).  Own that you just don’t understand, and I will move your legs myself.

It’s the truth—the need—we all need to own, because it’s not okay, this way that we hurt each other.

I wrap my arms tight around Zoe’s shoulders and guide her from the room to the chairs where Adam and Riley sit moving back and forth, warming up their lumbar spines.  Zoe and I sit side by side, just looking at each other as we move, until a woman stops in front of me and lays her hand on top of my shoulder.  I recognize her as the woman who had been next to the eyeglasses lady, the one the angry woman had looked to for justification.  This woman’s auburn hair sits lightly on her shoulders.  Her eyes are lit bright green, gentle.

“Some people just don’t understand,” she says, and I can see that she really looks at us, that she really sees.  “I’m really, really sorry.”

“Thank you,” I say to her, offering her a smile, a smile I look then to find reflected in Zoe’s eyes too.  And in just that way, this woman gently stops the flow of blood with her own innocent hands and an honest acknowledgement of the truth.

the making of a woman

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In the last fifteen minutes before we rush off to school, I gather her hair in my fingers, smoothing the strands with my thumbs. I trace the unseen bumps and grooves along her scalp and map them in my mind, the geography of her, the feel.  I know the landscape by heart.

Before I can begin to twist the hair into the art she wants it to be, I have to brush out all the knots she has neglected.  Sometimes, she’s still too impatient to find them.  Other times, she deliberately neglects them to avoid the pain.  Gently I pull the hair brush through the underside, gathering her hair in big sections with one hand, sliding my fingers down to protect her from yanking at the scalp.  She cries out, her voice a sharp, angry stab.  No matter how slowly I go or how strongly I grip the hair, these hidden tangles hurt.

“I’m sorry,” I say, continuing my strokes.  She never wants to brush here, where the snarls take her by surprise, where the pulling strikes the most tender.  And still, when her dad asks her why she needs my hands on her head, why she places the brush in my palm when she could do the job herself, she says, “Because Mom does it best.”  We both know it’s my attention she needs most, my touch, my effort in helping her become.

I gather a section of her hair and secure it with an elastic, making a crooked ponytail that looks cast off and awkward at the back.  This part I’ll not need until the end, when I anchor the part I’ve weaved at the top to the section at the base of her neck.   I have a plan, even though at this point, any objective audience would never predict the finished look, the grace of it.  Right now, elegance is only an image in my mind, something yet to be realized.  Right now, the clay looks just muddy and misshaped.

The rest of her hair must be split into two parts, and one of those parts I will divide into four for braiding.  I brush the hair flat against my hand in diagonals, wetting it a little with a wash cloth.

“What are you doing?” She asks.  Deprived of a mirror, she only feels my hands moving, the tugging, the coolness of the water.  She only hears the snap of the elastic.  I smile, thinking that if she saw the hair just now, she would hastily change her mind and ask me just to sweep it all up into a quick ponytail.  Even she would not be able to guess how I will get from these beginnings to the finishing in which she has placed her hope.

“I’m getting everything in the right place, reserving the hair I don’t need, wetting down the rest.  Just sit back and relax.  You’re going to love it.”

It’s her trust in me that allows her to sit still so I can work, that keeps her from demanding to see clearly, that places her beneath my moving hands.

Carefully, I braid the four sections I have divided, keeping my eye on the clock in the kitchen.  We will finish just in time to get her to school with enough time to walk to class and settle in before the bell.  I anchor the braids with elastics, laying them against the back of her head before I begin to separate small sections from the remainder of the hair with my fingers, patiently pulling apart just the right amount of hair for the intricacy of the style I have in mind.  These I weave through the braids—-under, over, under, over.  I alternate the order of the weave, incorporating each section in the order opposite the one before, until the back of her head has become a textured tapestry—braided and smooth, soft brown and streaks of blonde, like rays of sunlight, woven into and through each other.  After the weaving is finished, I slip the elastic from the reserved hair and divide it into two low pony tails, incorporating the ends of the woven pieces, securing each with an elastic that matches her shirt.  Than I stand back and smile, happy with my work, with the art I’ve created.  It is an expression of her beauty, beauty that is an elegantly textured tapestry of body and soul, the Spirit gleaming all through her like flashes of sunlight.

She turns her head, feeling me remove my hands, guessing that we are finished.  “Can I go look?” she asks.

“Of course,” I tell her, stepping back, knowing she will gasp when she sees.  She runs to the stairs, but stops at the bottom to look back at me.  “Wait.  What do you think, Mom?”

“I think you’re going to love it,” I tell her, grinning wider.  It’s a joy she returns, nearly giddy, before she races up to find a mirror she can hold up to see the back.  I watch her go, wondering how long she will be that little girl, how many more times I will get to see her scamper up those stairs before she becomes a woman.  I gather the brush, the pins, the elastics from the table, rubbing at a suspicious spot with the tips of my fingers.  I see my mother’s hands when I look at my own.  I still feel her moving over me, shaping me, tugging a brush through my hair.  Sometimes it feels as though she and I stand in a room together or on a porch waving or drying dishes at the sink.  She’s always with me, woven into me, even when we are not physically sharing the same space.

From upstairs, I hear my daughter squeal, seeing the work I’ve done.  “Mom,” she calls, her voice electric, “how did you do that?  How did you do that?  I love it!”

“I knew you would,” I’m saying, more to myself than to her, as she flies down the stairs and into me, her arms wrapping my back, squeezing.

“Thank you,” she says.  “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”  It occurs to me just then, with her hands pressing into the middle of my back, that I could not have managed even this simple thing she wanted without her trust or her belief—her certainty about what she could not see.

And then I understand this thing God says to me, as I feel Him moving over and weaving through me, knowing the landscape of me, reshaping me with His hands.  Peace. Be still.

“What are you doing?” I so often ask Him, crying out when He finds a hidden tangle and frees me of the snare I had avoided.

“I’m sorry,” He says to me, continuing His work.  “I’m just getting everything in the right place.”

I can never quite understand how He will move from the messy beginnings of me to the finishing in which I’ve placed my hope.  I glimpse the awkward chaos, feel the tugging, hear the snap of His work without being able to imagine the glory He has in mind.  How is that He twists and smooths and weaves our light and momentary troubles into a glory that will far outweigh them all (2 Corinthians 4:17)?  And yet, I believe He accomplishes by His power far more than I could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).  I believe, and it makes me gasp, and that’s what places me beneath His hands, that’s what keeps me still, that’s what—these days more and more—keeps me from demanding to be able to grasp the whole of it before He’s finished.

And that’s why, when I begin to see, I fly into Him, wrapping my arms tight, and breathe this, a thousand times:

“How did you do that? How did you do that? Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

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