I heard the voice. Loud, but mostly just deep and gruff, so it was louder than most. It filtered in through the passenger window which had just been lowered to let in the spring breeze. My mind sorted 15 other thoughts, mostly pertaining to whether or not we needed Bonnie Brae ice cream based on the generous lunch we’d just consumed. I checked the rear view mirror to ensure no one was behind me, and I peered ahead of me and to my right and to my left, again to ensure that my sitting still at the stop sign would not be a hindrance to anyone. We sat there while our fancy device navigated the directions, and I noticed someone walking across the intersection. Suddenly the convergence of the voice and the person walking startled me from ice cream and lunch and the gentle breeze. “F—-n’ sitting there [incoherent mumble and grumble] f—–g f–k imaginary stop sign! F—-n’ [incoherent complaint] f–k, f—-n’ [grumbling something] f–k.” My foot remained on brake as I stared at the man, or woman, as they walked angrily, and loudly, past my very mom-ish mini van. A slow minute inched forward as I tried to understand what in the world this human carried inside that dictated such an expressive street crossing, and my finger moved the automatic window lever to spare us all –my three kids and my mom– from the blast of foul mingled in with the spring air. And then, the person turned and glared at us with disgust. I understood the rant was just for me. We made a right turn, taking us toward the ice cream shop and in the direction that the pedestrian now strode indignantly. I saw the brows furrow and saw more words spewing for my benefit. F-ity, F, F, F. Like 10 of them. No other cursing words. Just that one in various forms. For me, and my children and my mom. Because we stopped too long at an actual stop sign, not an imaginary one. It wasn’t an imaginary stop sign. I saw it right in front of me, and I stopped. I saw it, STOP, in white and red. What I didn’t see was that person across the street waiting for me to take my turn at the stop sign. But then I did see, and my heart stung. Sure, it ached more than a little at the ridiculous injustice of it, at the display of offensive sounds that I could not stop my children from hearing, at the fact that I could not stop the outburst and could do nothing to explain myself and make peace with someone who had quickly made an enemy of me. It clearly messed up that human being’s day, for a least the next block of his/her walk. It’s Lent. What I pondered the rest of the way to the ice cream store was that it’s Lent, and everything–every little and big thing, every raw thing and every covered thing, every bird that lands and every bird that trails off toward another destination, every beauty displayed and every curse word thrown at me–quickens my heart for a more true kind of water and a more real kind of food. Jesus the Christ. God, can’t you mend it all now? Can you wash that person’s mouth out with soap–better, can you tend the breakage that spills out that kind of incessant anger and pain? Can the resurrection be true now? Can I really be a part of what you’re doing, can any of us, when it is so very, very fragmented? Can enemy’s be unmade? This new one? Old ones? Can misunderstandings be formed into understandings? Can injustices all around the world everywhere really be resurrected? O God, I’m hungry for water that quenches and for food that lasts. Please say it’s coming. I’ve been stopping throughout the days since that eff-y day. Stopping to feel my lungs expand, to whisper a prayer for grace and mercy, to catch myself before I say something stupid and before I miss something important. Imaginary stop signs in the wilderness.
The thought came to me to simply ask for a word, just a singular word, for each day. A prayer to utter, something to unwrap, learn from, ponder. A word that I could just simply hear, and that would be enough, to know that I heard anything at all.
Trust. The first word. Blech. Okay, God, I trust you. Can we say that quickly and be done with it?
Exposed. Second word. Good grief. How many fig leaves can I find in the garden? I’ll hide all day long, and then some. I said I wanted to be known, but I do not. Not really. Trading glimmering raiment for layers of leaves and other refuse, shifty ways to attempt to hide even from the One who already knows. Fear, exposed. Insecurity, exposed. Loneliness, exposed. Lack of trust, exposed.
Return to the first word. Trust. Every other word that surfaces sits subservient to trust.
Wait. Cleave. Wait again. Listen. Rest. Rest.
The words keep coming. One short word at a time. All followed by that one word of trust.
Do you trust me while I peel back the layers you’ve accumulated from trying to hide? Do you trust that I will clothe you properly, that my glory in you and on you is covering enough?
Do you trust me while you wait? Do you trust me while the answers don’t come?
Do you trust me enough to cleave to me? Do you trust that I am a most profound lover?
I’m asking you to wait. In little things, in big things, in money things, food things, lonely things, family things, parenting things, marriage things, school things, writing things. All things. Don’t get ahead of me. Wait for me to show you, to guide you. Do you trust me?
Do you trust me with your children? Do you trust me when they falter? Do you trust me with their stories? Do you trust me with their very lives?
I’m asking you to rest, to be still with me. To cease striving. To stop stamping your childish feet and let me teach you. Do you trust me?
If it is really true –like in Hinds’ Feet on High Places, when the tempter whispers doubt about the Shepherd, “He’s going to deceive you, He’s a bully, He’s got plans to leave you limping all of your life, He really has nothing to give you”– and I must be pinned against the wall by Jesus Himself or anyone else to answer if I would still follow, the answer is “Yes, still I will follow.” As much as I can understand, as much as I can not understand, as much as I know what it means to trust, as much as I do not know about what it means to trust, as dry to the bone as my spirit becomes in these desert days, still I journey on toward the cross. And the resurrection. Lord, I belief. Help my unbelief. I believe.
It’s almost over now, Fat Tuesday. But it feels still fat. My mind and my spirit and my heart share overcrowded space. Lent begins in just a few moments, though it will be after sleeping hours when I fully enter in.
In the meantime, I sit in the swollen nature of the Tuesday before. The day where, across the world, hundreds of thousands of people revel in parades and parties and dancing and colorful cakes and beaded necklaces. And they take one last opportunity to consume a pleasure before things turn more contemplative and intentional. 40 days begins tomorrow, they know. It’s the season of Lent. I don’t know how seriously the party players getting down at Carnival and Mardi Gras festivals take the season that follows the craziness of Fat Tuesday. In some way, some weird way, my heart bears the chaos of the celebrations lingering in the crowded streets, the paper strewn boulevards. Like a movie where the camera focuses on the frail, hapless girl as she tries to find her way out of the noise while, all around her, the scene pulses with music and movement. Somehow I’m there in the mass of people, shoving one last piece of king cake into my over-full self while I meander my way toward home where surely tomorrow something else begins.
Even if it’s not an easy season, even if it costs me, it will–please, Lord–be worth it when the noise has ceased and I can hear the voice of Jesus again. I still do not know exactly what things I will lay aside, or what things I will pick up, as I travel through Lent. It’s been too loud to discern any direction. But tomorrow, when something new begins, I will ask. And I will listen and wait. A word for each day, or a word that stays until its purpose is accomplished–that is the tiny cry escaping from my heart.
So, when the sun comes up, I begin the process of leaving Fat Tuesday behind and setting my face like flint toward the cross. One word, one step at a time.
I’ve written poetry throughout my life, though I do not profess skill or understanding of writing poetry. Last winter, I acquired a book–Making Manifest, by Dave Harrity, which I found, quite by accident, on the same Dave Harrity’s website, Antler. In the course of about 40 days, God used Harrity’s book and the exercise of poetry writing as a catalyst in my personal devotional life and also as a source of healing. I maintain and repeat that I know little about constructing poetry or what makes poetry great, good, or even somewhat terrible, which is why I share very little outside of my journal. The following poem was written somewhere in between waking and sleeping, not fully spelled out, but lived out somehow in a restless night.
In between sleep and wake, the cells and blood and organs
keep talking, working, being noisy
Shifting levels, trading commodities like Wall Street
Borrowing and buying to keep it together
and it is heard
Electricity coursing through wires
seen beneath eyelids, felt under skin
Words swimming, images popping
tangled and unintelligible
Divided planes like elevators stopping in between floors
Some letters to one word on half, some letters to more words
dangling, uneven, unreadable, unsayable
A tangible and familiar fear gripped somewhere inside
asleep and awake
If speech poured out, would the words be
garbled and misshapen
Somewhere between sleep and wake, looking for flush surfaces,
for cohesion in the words and for quiet
space to let the blood course, the cells renew
communicate if necessary
But only conduct business silently
so rest gets the last word
A dear friend once said that we spend a great deal of time comparing our insides to the outsides of others. We see from across the room a beautiful woman, see her toss her head back with laughter and a grace we don’t possess. Surely, we think, she’s got it all. That family over there, well, it must be nice to create Pinterest moments every day. That guy at the coffee shop, he’s just living the dream, hanging out there all day every day with his computer and his ultra chic yet rugged and storied attache.
It seems from experience, and since I’m a female and I’ve never been a male, that we women know this terrible trap of compare and contrast all too well. Social media is a veritable nightmare in this way. Worse than sitting across the room from a tangible human that we could actually go and talk to, introduce ourselves to, open up the opportunity to see the real words of the story, social media outlets allow us to stalk hundreds of posts, threads, and photographs and sit in the privacy of our own stew to pontificate about whatever. Oy vey.
I had an exchange through email this past week with a dear and true friend. In a place of deep and strange oppressive thinking, I cried out for a lifeline, asking for prayer and an assurance that she could at least see the real me somewhere underneath the tangled mess. She was right there across miles and time zones with a quick response, and I sat huddled in the privacy of my closet while I clamored to read and absorb her words. Tears fell. She saw me all right, and I knew I was not alone. Unfortunately, in a place of trepidation, it was hard to receive her response. What she delivered back to me was her presence, and the reality that my naked exposure reminded her that the real me was there in spite of the image she had formed in her mind. That same kind of “they are doing this and that” and “I’m only doing this and that,” that same kind of compare and contrast that had–most assuredly, in retrospect–led me to my closet, hiding with my sobs and deep anxieties. I could not hear properly, and her words added to my fears and internal disqualifying dialogue. I thought, you mean that’s how you see me? that’s how I’m portraying myself? Evidence that isolation is by far the safest option.
A few days later, I confessed to another friend how I had withdrawn that day, in spite of the knowledge that I did have places in my present geography where my heart would have been safe. I told her how utterly under-dressed I had felt that oppressive closet day. We talked about the ways that we conceal our hearts, because who wants to look the fool, the needy weirdo who keeps emotionally limping the same way, the bad parent, the suck-y wife, the doubting believer.
And so we sit. So I sit. Isolated heart. Envying the bravery of those I know. Guessing their stories based on their outsides compared to my wrecked insides. Sure, sometimes my guesses aren’t inaccurate. But it doesn’t matter, because my heart is locked up like a vault and their hearts are unknown to me. I miss out. They miss out. A whole bunch of guarded and self-protective half-selves walking around in doubt of our true identities. Isolated sitters.
Deceived, and fulfilling a great plan of the Enemy, we are. I am. Spitting justified rants of unbelief in the face of God, as if His words of new life in Christ do not declare something over us. As if His words do not hold weight at all. Disguised and false humility, pride incognito. Fear of others based on things we only think we know, at least much of the time. Thinking too much, loving too little. A terrible offender in this way, I am.
God, forgive me. Forgive me.
For not trusting God enough to rest in His estimation of me and asking others to tell me who I am. For comparing and contrasting and withdrawing. For hiding in fear. My insides ache to know and be known. For ways that I hoped you could possibly be what only God can be and is for the scraggly parts of my heart, forgive me. For ways that I wasn’t honest outwardly enough for you to know that marriage is hard and parenting makes me buckle so fast, that I’m a recovering yell-er, that moving is something I nearly despise, that my faith is a tattered sail so very often–forgive me.