Paying it Forward

I’m home sick today, doing my very best to recover after almost a week of being in the clutches of an I-don’t-know-what — cold? — that has me struggling to even stand upright for more than a few minutes at a time. Only God knows how much I needed this time of rest. I slept for a straight twelve hours, woke up, had some quiet time, and then delved into some hard issues with God. A few moments ago, I had such a startling, heart-swelling moment of clarity that I had to share it.

I’ve been wrestling with God about some desires that I’ve had pretty continuously for years. Some of them seem, on the surface, downright selfish, but I have my particular reasons for wanting each of them, none of which {I hope and pray} will manifest themselves as selfish. Still, a specific handful of them have remained constant and unwavering. Every time they come to mind, which is often, I ask God to cast out the ones that are not in His will. Today, maybe because He knew He had a captive {albeit more than willing} audience, He spoke to my heart through His word. I did not hear His audible voice, but His responses pressed so indelibly on my heart and spirit that I literally could not wipe the smile off my face. I even said as much: “Anything that makes me smile this big can’t be outside of Your will. It just can’t. My heart is at peace.” Our conversation went something like this:

Only You know the specific things I want, Lord. But I’m asking again — how can I know if they’re Your will for me?

If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. (Matt. 21:22)

But what if what I want doesn’t honor You? What if these particular desires of my heart are not part of Your plan for my life?

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

You — serving me? {I had never in my life thought of answered prayer as an act of service — I was absolutely astonished at this realization.} But isn’t it selfish to want and expect You to serve me?

For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22:27)

Today, I rest in the truth that the desires of my heart can’t possibly be selfish — if what I want will ultimately serve others.

But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. — Luke 22:26

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The Call of Quiet

Hurricane Sandy is getting ready to ramrod her way into the east coast, and I am spending a fitful evening praying for family, friends, and everyone in her path. I keep trying to visualize the span of the storm on the tracking radars as a wing of protection rather than a wall of destruction. I’ve been praying as much of Psalm 91 as I can remember over and over; it’s coming out a mess, I know, but thankfully, God listens to the heart and doesn’t take off points for shoddy memorization.

All this sound and fury over the impending storm paradoxically keeps bringing to my mind calmness and stillness. I think of the idiomatic calm before the storm, and the calmness in the eye of the storm, and Jesus calming the storm-tossed waters. Calm, calm, calm. The word keeps rolling like a steady tide in my mind and heart.

Be still and know.

Still. Calm. Quiet.

I’m sinking into the deep, rich, soul-soothing whisper of these words tonight. Some of the greatest miracles have been born in the quietest moments.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” — Psalm 46:10

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On Maturity

Forty creeps closer and closer every day. In approximately one-half of a year, I will be there. I recently heard forty called the old age of youth. If youth is a vast ocean of experience, then I’m standing on the shoreline, ready to head in the other direction. I’m not sure what’s there — another shore? Is this one I will willingly step into, I wonder, or will I stand between the two coastlines, wanting to venture toward my youth of old age, but afraid to tear my eyes away from the waters I’ve just left?

There’s a whole lot of moving forward in the Bible: Abraham, Lot, the Israelites, the disciples, Paul’s admonition to the church of Philippi. We humans were never been meant to stay in one place on this side of heaven. I know it. My heart knows it. My spirit knows it, and even embraces it. Yet, I have one foot dipped in those cool, crisp waters of youth. It still so fresh, so invigorating, so enticing.

Still, I have a feeling that what awaits me is so much richer than where I’ve been. Besides, there’s nothing saying I can’t take along a souvenir or two.

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so. — Hebrews 6:1-3

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Seeking

I love layering. I layer my clothes, the dishes on the china cabinet, the pillows on the sofa. I love visiting homes with lots of layers, because, when purposefully done, layers add interest and beauty to a space. I know minimalists who definitely wouldn’t agree with my propensity for layers, but for me, there’s something beautiful about giving the eye something more to seek. I don’t mean to mistake layers for clutter; in my mind, clutter is thoughtless, haphazard, noisy, cumbersome. Layers, to me, are quite the opposite.

I was thinking tonight about how my memories are made up of so many beautiful, intricate layers, but when I travel back to the times I most remember and treasure, they are the simplest times. Somehow, my mind’s eye conjures colors, textures, and facets that may or may not have actually been a part of the actual experience. It’s almost as if my subconscious craves those layers, because the more they’re peeled back, the more intriguing those memories become, and the more I remember and rediscover what I truly value.

As I thought back to my childhood a little while ago, I was actually on the verge of lamenting that my kids’ childhoods seem so one-dimensional compared to what mine was until I remembered that their experiences are not my own, nor should they be. Their simple pleasures will become, I hope, beautiful, intentional, thoughtful layers as they continue on their individual journeys. I pray that, on their most challenging, noisy, chaotic adult days, they will be able to peel back the layers, one by one, in search of the beauty that existed in their simple moments, and that they will remember that, in the midst of the simple moments, unfathomable treasure awaits them.

I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me. — Proverbs 8:17

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Deliberate

I love to watch period movies. My favorites are Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and A Merry War. There’s something about the deliberateness of these particular time periods that is attractive to me. I like that people dressed for dinner. I like that women took the time to put themselves together. I like that much thought and care was put into everyday tasks. I like that time for rest was prioritized and enjoyed. I recognize, of course, that many of these movies showcase the aristocratic set, but still, I can’t get enough of them. I love parasols and picnic blankets, delicate lace shawls and silver tea sets. Sometimes, I think I was born two or three centuries too late.

Outside of the cinematic realm, I’m drawn to deliberate people. It has taken me years to realize that I am attracted to deliberateness because I am sorely lacking in it myself. For the longest time, I thought my attraction to careful, thoughtful people was because I was supposed to be more like them. Only now am I beginning to realize that deliberate people provide much-needed balance in my life; I am not meant to become one of them — I am meant to learn from them.

I feel like I can breathe easiest when I’m in the company of someone who is thoughtful in their choices, their speech, and their mannerisms, someone who takes great care with every task, someone who embraces tradition and reveres it. Deliberate people provide consistency that I lack, and somehow, when they accept me for who I am, I learn to better accept myself.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. — Philippians 4:8

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How to Write a Sonnet

I got the itch last night to purge. I get this itch once every few months, but last night, it was absolutely uncontrollable. After we put the little one to bed, I tackled the walk-in closet. The fact that we are fortunate to have a walk-in closet is not lost on me. At some point, I decided that, because we had the extra space, we should use it. Correction — that I should use it.

My husband has eight long-sleeve shirts, three short-sleeve shirts, seven t-shirts, three pairs of jeans, and one pair of khakis. He also has one dress suit. He wears what he has, and he always looks effortlessly good. I, on the other hand, am a girl. I like clothes. A lot. I like to wear shorter dresses as tunics with jeans and flats in the spring and summer, and layer them with boots and sweaters in the fall and winter. This has resulted in an embarrassing accumulation of layering items and shoes. My husband has never once complained about the obvious imbalance going on in our closet. In fact, he even offered his shelf for my shoes. This should have clued me in that I simply had too much.

I finally got real with myself last night, which resulted in four bulging garbage bags full of clothes to donate. I had held onto some of the things for at least five years, waiting for the day when they would magically look good on me. Some things are clearly never meant to be. It was time to break up with the excess and set some serious boundaries.

I have come to realize that setting boundaries is wise in more areas of life than closet purging. When I set clear limits for myself, paradoxically, I feel free and unencumbered. When I remember the rules I have for myself, they don’t feel legalistic — they feel safe. Madeleine L’Engle, in A Wrinkle in Time, articulates it perfectly in an exchange between Mrs Whatsit, the alien, and Calvin, the human:

“[The sonnet] is a very strict form of poetry, is it not?”

“Yes.”

“There are fourteen lines, I believe, all in iambic pentameter. That’s a very strict rhythm or meter, yes?”

“Yes.” Calvin nodded.

“And each line has to end with a precise rhyme pattern. And if the poet does not do it exactly this way, it is not a sonnet, is it?…You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.”

 

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Letting Go

We said goodbye to Essie yesterday.

My husband took her to the vet for a checkup, and blood tests revealed that she was very sick. She was just under a year old. It’s a sad final chapter, unfortunately, for many stray kittens. In our hearts, we somehow already knew; she was slow, she slept more than we thought she should for her age, she refused to use the litter box, and she frequently went off by herself. Still, when my husband texted me the news at work, I was in in shock.

We were terrified to tell our middle child. He is sensitive, just like his mama, and when he thought she went missing the other day, he was in tears. The thought of having to tell him that Essie would not be coming home was more than my heart could bear. I drove home from work in the rain, my heart heavy, one part dread, one part sadness. He was outside rollerblading with a friend, soaking wet from the rain, a towel around his neck. I pulled him inside and told him the news. For a moment, he simply stared at me. Then he said: “It’s okay. I’m used to it now.”

Essie was an animal; I definitely understand the importance of prioritizing relationships. While I’m sad, I know that my grief will be brief. After all, I didn’t know her long, and pets simply occupy a different space in our hearts than family, friends, and loved ones do. Still, I’m learning a lot of lessons these past few months about the risks that accompany willingly letting another life into my heart, and the excruciating decisions that sometimes must be made as a result. The biggest lesson I’m learning is that the risks are well worth it. Our second chance didn’t turn out like we’d hoped, but it is still a gift.

My son told me last night that he knows that Essie is now playing with her older sister Mimi in heaven. He’s happy they got a chance to meet. He said he’s sad, but he knows that we’ll see them both again someday.  Because God places value on all life, and because He knows what our pets mean to us, I can’t help but think that my son might be onto something.

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. — Isaiah 11:6

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