Grace for the road

Perfection is not obtainable.  We know this, intellectually.  Or maybe we don’t.

Maybe it is reachable in a category.  Say, cooking or baking.  A perfect culinary creation, a cake made by a master chef.  Or in a sports field.  Figure skaters and gymnasts can achieve perfect 10’s.  The SAT and ACT, perfect scores have been recorded.  Or the one time a scientific experiment led to the discovery of something that changed history, is that not a perfect equation?

But what about everyday stuff.  Relationships, words, conversations, parenting, jobs, school, learning.  Learning.

Or what about raising a dog?  It can be like raising a child sometimes.  And we want well-behaved children and well-behaved pets.  Honestly, it is hard to say that we don’t want some level of perfection from kids, dogs, ourselves, our parents, our neighbors, our pastors, our schools, our bosses, our co-workers, the clerk at the store, the postal service.  Have I left something out?  I mean, we can say that we don’t really want that, and I think it is true.  How boring and Stepford-like to have perfect all of these things.

When the poop hits the fan and goes flying on any of these (church, family, schools, jobs, etc.), when the reality of our blessed humanity feels so blasted real, oy vey.  Tell me then that we wouldn’t like a little perfection.

You see the precarious nature of the concept.  Perfection is not a realistic goal, and yet our culture breeds the need for it in many arenas.  The church is, I’m afraid, a great instigator in this quandary.

In my personal and internal life, it keeps cropping up.  I have few answers.  No answer seems to wrap anything up neatly.  The only reasonable response  is what my friend, Libby, used to utter repeatedly when we would pray together some years back.  “Grace and mercy, Lord.  Thank you for your grace and your mercies,” she prayed.  Grace for me and for you.  Mercy for me and for you.  If I can receive it, I think it follows that I can also give it.

I would like to say that every part of me is cured of a desire for perfection, for pleasing people.  More honestly, I would like to say that I’ve ceased caring what other people think of me, or my children or my dog.  As gross as it is, that is what sits at the bottom of it:  people-pleasing and poor self-worth.  It is a graceless and merciless way to live.  It would be nice to say I’m completely through with that manner of living.

We don’t arrive today.  It is a long road.  We have questions* along the way.  I pray you’ll help me up when I fumble, when I miss it, when I don’t hit the target in the center.  And when you’re not perfect, I will help you remember, as I remind myself, that perfection is not the goal for us.

 

*I spent some time over the weekend with our friend, Rusty Gates, over on Audio Liturgy Podcast.  We spent some time talking about journeying with questions and grace and wonder and imperfection.  

 

 

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What I remember

The sign just outside of town read “Population 750.”  That was over 35 years ago, but it was a proud moment when they put up the sign Welcome to Campbellsburg.  That road, Highway 421, runs straight through the city, turning into Main Street, and then back out again.  As a little kid, the city was big.  No one told me that I really lived in a very small town.

I had lots of freedom, within a range, to roam where I wanted.  My dad held employment at the bank on Main Street.  After school sometimes and on Saturday mornings, I could go to the free-range places in the center of town while he finished his work.

Cook’s Pharmacy, located just next door to the United Citizens Bank at that time, intrigued me with all the merchandise they carried.  For, aside from being a drug store, it was also a general store with a host of fascinating merchandise.  A small jewelry area, a toy section with a small assortment of stuffed animals, a magazine section (the former location of internet lyric searches and the latest issues of Tiger Beat), the school supply section, cards, and candy.  I spent my time at Cook’s browsing around, imagining how the school supplies would enable me to be a teacher or planning how I could save money for some make-up to use someday.  Elsie worked behind the counter, and she was always kind and gentle, even if I didn’t purchase anything.

Often, I visited Sue’s Beauty Shop.  My Nannie and many of the older women in Campbellsburg had standing weekly appointments to get their hair washed and curlered and set.  Sue and Pam let me sit in the dryer seats and watch and listen, and sometimes I volunteered to sweep up hair or straighten the nail polish display.  The smells of shampoo and permanent solution and woman perfume and hairspray fused all together and seeped out of the doorway, a screen door and a wooden door.  I liked the way the door sounded, first one and then the other, going in or going out, creaking just so.

The neighboring establishment to Sue’s produced odors of its own.  Just around the edge of the building, and through the heavier spring-loaded front door of James’ Java Shop, all of the aromas of drip coffee and hot griddle and fresh pie greeted me every time.  Four-top tables covered in vinyl tablecloths, wooden chairs with green pleather on the seats, and a soda counter complete with spinny stools–this is where coffee happened and where local farmers smoked their cigarettes and talked about stuff, where families could go to dinner as a special once in a while, where a kid could get a chocolate milkshake made by Eileen or Mamie.  The best hamburgers I ever remember came from that little kitchen and the modest culinary skills of Malcolm and his staff.  One of the most delectable treats, that I can still taste if I think about it just right, was a hot honey bun that Mamie grilled with butter on the griddle.  Sometimes, if she was talking to me while it cooked, it got a little crispy on the bottom.  No matter, because it still held the buttery sugary heat.  Maybe it even tasted better because she was busy visiting with people.

The Carol Ann Shop was next door to the Java Shop; the two businesses were connected by a hallway, so it was really logical to go after the Java shop, or before.  I could spend what seemed like hours in there, dreaming myself older so I could wear the women’s fashions on display.  I pretended in my mind to have a cash register and a store of my own where I could sell materials and a rainbow of thread spools.  Carol Ann babysat us often, and when she established her business, I felt she became a very important grown-up.

When I was little, that was my big city world.  A little town tucked away somewhere off of Interstate 71.  It wasn’t a perfect community, and I knew so much even then.  But it was and is one of the sanctuaries for my memories.  It holds stacks of photographs and movie reels of sacred spaces and tattered saints who lived life in and around Main Street.

 

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small seasons

I watched the sun beam off of the snow this morning, brightness stinging my eyes, but I could not look away. Sometimes I think to myself that if I could absorb enough of the glints off of the water or enough contrast of the grey dog against the blanket white or enough of the hush of mornings, then I could blend into the splendor and disappear for a while.

Life is not like that. Of course. Feet shuffled upstairs, and I knew my bed-haired son would soon walk into the rays of sunlight spraying the kitchen. The day would move forward from still and glistening, earth turning and moving the shadows to newly appointed positions. The dog begged for company, the boy needed direction, the girl-woman asked for my reading voice to bring church history alive, an index card held a neatly penned list of things to do.

An essential oil scent caught my attention, I inhaled deeply. Its name is Peace and Calming, and I prayed it into my system, into my spirit, with each long expanded breath. Please, God.

These days my heart feels small, squished inside a smaller box. It peeks outside frequently, looking for safe spaces to stretch and breathe. The beginning of daylight hours when the sun broadens the sky, when quiet leaves room for ravens and geese to be brilliant, when the cars have yet to rumble and whir, when I hear the sleeping breathing of my children—this might be the streams of quiet waters, the lush meadows where He leads me to rest. But fox-like and stealth, the noise gathers in many forms, and chaos pushes the lid on more tightly.

It doesn’t take much, it seems, for external chatter to morph into internal clanging and clashing. And the box wherein my heart lies becomes all the more constricted. I wish it weren’t so, that I didn’t feel rather breakable, but that instead I could say I felt stable and steady.

I hear whispered to me in the stolen moments of exquisite and heart breaking beauty, in the quiet before the last of the Walton children says Goodnight, that all shall be well, that there is grace enough even for small-box hearts. This, too, shall pass.  And to rest inside the little box, because it will not always be so.  Remain in my love, He says, while the fragile and small times are happening.  The spirit of the living God bids my heart to keep peeking out and to please keep letting the wonder in.

 

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gratuitous post of almost 300 words

This afternoon and evening, I had uninterrupted time in my own space to write and be still.  I had 600 words in a draft, a draft I had wrestled to the ground.  All titled and tagged and ready to preview then post.  My handy pen, my favorite Tul pen, had already been used to cross it off of my to-do list.

I saw the autosave happening several times over the hours.  It kept saying, saving draft.

When I clicked the Preview icon, it took me to a screen that appeared at first to be walking through the normal routine.  However, where the preview would be, there was this question:  Are you sure you want to do this?  Try again.  And the Try Again was a hyperlink.  So I clicked on that, and it took me to a New Post page.

The original post still open in another tab, I went back to it and tried again.  Before hitting Preview, I hit Save Draft.  The same thing happened twice again.  Instead of Preview and proofing it in the preview page, I proofed it in the Edit Post arena.

Publish.

Are you sure you want to do this?  Try again.  Yes, I said out loud, I’m sure I want to Publish.  And it disappeared.

All 600+ words gone.  No matter how many times I went back.  And no draft is anywhere to be found.

I could cry, but I really don’t have the energy for it.  And it’s bedtime.  The Preview is working just fine now.  I thought I was sure I wanted to publish those words.  I guess I will try again tomorrow.  But I did still technically post something I wrote.  So, there’s that.

Grace again, grace again, jiggety-jig.

 

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Retention of living water

Her feet and ankles peered up at her from the bottom of her pants.  Oof, she sighed.  Why am I holding onto extra water?

The internal conversation with herself and God paused as a customer came in the door.  Another customer.  A job with so many customers.  And today, the day where she felt swollen with extra already, she wished for no customers.

Outside, she said, let me serve you.  It is good to serve you.  Inside, she tasted the tears she had swallowed.  More extra water, salty retention inside.

God, she cried, forgive me for not loving others well today.  I guess, she thought, I am not loving you well either.  She reasoned it all into sinfulness, into not living from the deep places.  Because, most surely, living from deep places means abundance and free and joy, and not sinfulness.

When the work part ceased, the serving people part, she acknowledged to her co-worker, “Today was a blunder.  I’ve been a bit of an ass today.  Forgive me.”  He laughed it off, skimming the surface of her words.  She shrugged and swept the floor.  David Bowie sang and helped them finish.  They locked the door, and she went home.  All of the way home, the day followed her.

Returning to prayer, a habit and a manner of fact, she turned it over and over before this Jesus.  What does it mean to live from a deep and abiding place, really? she asked.  And she listened to the wind whistle outside her windows, watched the street lights streak their flame in the reflection of her glasses.

Her co-worker’s face surfaced in her mind as the interstate lines drew her further.  He had told her about his brother, and about a terrible tragedy.  He acted like it was not a tragedy.  But she saw him then, and saw him again.  She prayed, like she had when he told her, that God himself would be known, that this guy and his brother and the tragic circumstances would and could be redeemed somehow.  The prayer just happened, because she saw him.  She saw him.

The water she wades into, washes her feet, clings to her ankles, absorbs into her flesh.  The deep water of her soul, where she lives and moves and has her being–which has to be about the real and hard of the world even in the abundance and most certain freedom–intermingles with the depth and height and width and breadth of the Living Water, Jesus himself.

Oof, Lord Jesus, she sighs, you can have the extra things.  I know I can not hold what only you can, she prays.  And she watches the water wash it away.

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