Long ago, and far away

I walked from the gym entry doors of my high school and made my way to the gravel parking lot and my white Buick.  The distance between the doors and my car was the same as any other day, but on this day, I used every step as a prayer station.  My urgent and desperate plea, Please, God, please don’t let me be pregnant.  I bargained with Him, You please fix this, and I’ll never cross the line again until I’m married.

People said (they still say) having sex is normal behavior for young people.  It never felt normal.  It hovered over me, a tent-like shroud, silently consuming pieces of my self.  Normal, I suppose, under different circumstances.  But I didn’t have that context.  The only context I knew was the one I was in, and I tried to normalize it.  Whatever life sex leached from me, I sold for some price of belonging and being loved.  I trusted too much.

We tossed around trust and love often and easily during high school.  Terribly intense times to try and navigate such concepts.  Adolescence is heightened enough without heaving in the melding of one body to another, of entrusting so much to hands too small to carry the weight of it all.

We were too young.  I was too young.  The information we got from adults about sex was lacking.  Someone taught us about sexually transmitted diseases and preventing pregnancy.  I knew basic anatomy.  I don’t remember the class discussion about pushing all of the envelopes, about pressure and guilt, about how both boys and girls objectify and use each other, about the gravity of becoming so naked.  So much insecurity and fear, yearnings and movie-scene dreams, self-doubt and self-loathing.  And not enough protection in the world to keep any of it at bay, to barricade the impassioned and complicated emotions that surge all around.

By the time someone in church talked about sex in a way that was true as well as kind, real but not shame-based, a heavy turmoil already lived in my being.  Growing up in the church, I knew well enough that pre-marital sex was displeasing to God.  I was well acquainted with rule keeping, and how breaking the rules meant wrath and anger and disappointment. What I didn’t grasp very well at all, and would not internalize for years to follow, was how God loves, how much beauty and joy He intends for us.  He conceived far more for any young man than buying temporary patches for the hole in his heart.  He dreamed so much more for me than the relentless pursuit of a boy–this one or any other one–to fill a hole in my heart.

I imagine another young girl.  She made the long trek to the school parking lot, too.  All along the way, she prayed and asked God to reverse things.  She slid into the driver’s seat and started the car.  She and I share similar stories.  But she was pregnant, and I was not.

What would life have been like if the switch had flipped in another direction for her?  For me?  How many young women in other small towns and big cities are walking to their cars after school, begging God to change the outcome?

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Chew it up again

I taught a class this summer.  A class on Sabbath.  During the preparation time, I discovered something profound in my research.  It challenged me and began a change in me.  Today, and all this past week, it has been kicking me in the ankles, like a toddler needing to pee at the grocery store, desperately needing my attention, and I’m too hurried and irritated to listen.  Now, it has my attention, and I wish I hadn’t discovered it, hadn’t learned anything like it at all.

Worse, I taught another class later in the summer.  A class about engaging spiritual battle, living a life transformed by the Holy Spirit, and leaving a spiritual legacy to those coming behind–all of those things in one class.  Aside from new insights I gained from preparing for this second class, what I had learned for the first class resurfaced and made its way into the outline and content.  While I sit here on a Sunday evening in my kitchen, the words I received and then taught have come back up, like dyspepsia, burning my throat.  Not pleasant at all.

For the Sabbath class, two realities emerged.  First, for the ancient Jews, Sabbath observances marked the time.  Every observance of weekly Sabbath and every participation in a special feast reminded them not only of who they were and who God was (and is), but every observance and participation also reminded them that time was moving toward something, moving with a purpose, pointing toward the coming Messiah.  At the birth of Jesus, the observance was transformed into a celebration of a now-reality.  Second, as Christ followers celebrating and observing Sabbath (resting, recreating, remembering who God is, and because of that remembering who we are), we place a stake in the ground with every participation.  We post a sign that says, “This is all going somewhere, and one day, Christ will come again.”*

This not only encouraged me, but it shifted my perspective.  When I began scribbling notes toward the next class, the thought that our lives and living matters not only for us but for those who follow us, and that we have to fight for it, and that our transformation gets short-circuited when we don’t engage the battle–all of that, it bumped into this marker and sign concept.  As I wrestled with the order of the content and the words that needed to come, I could not get away from the way our living is a signpost.  We point to a greater reality just by how we live.  My paradigm shifted even more.

Hours ago, I sat at this same kitchen table and told a friend and then my husband that it feels futile, all of this living life and getting up and running the same clock each day.  Oh, I knew it was crap.  My life isn’t even hard, and I’m bitching.  I know.  Gross.  I did repent.  I tried to tell John I was sorry.

But sometimes, don’t you just feel the futility?  Another day, another month, another year, another presidential election.  More news that makes your stomach churn, more random shootings, more poverty, more slavery.  Another load of laundry, another sigh about money, another parenting dilemma.  Another marriage on the edge of the end, another addiction, another illness.  Blah.  Lord, have mercy.  And the sun went down, the wind blows through the trees, and the sun will come up again tomorrow.

From my notes for the second class….   I wrote them.  I taught them.  Now I am having to chew them up and eat them, again.  Prayerfully, I can digest them and allow the truth of it to make its way to my cells and my bones, the very marrow of myself.  It is not for nothing, this turning and spinning and breathing in and breathing out.  It matters.

I am truly sorry and I humbly repent.  For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.  (adapted from the Book of Common Prayer)

 

*A good portion of my research about Sabbath came from a later chapter in God and the Authority of Scripture, by N.T. Wright.

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Fans and no fans

The box fan propped inside the kitchen window hums behind me.  I’m outside, because at least out here, a breeze has begun to blow.  It’s hot.  Not like hazy, hot, and humid hot, but still hot.  Like the kind of stifling heat of my freshman dorm room.  My roommate brought a powerful floor fan, and we kept it cranked up.  It helped only at little in the air-conditionless dormitory.  The big white house in Campbellsburg was likewise old and minus an air-conditioner, so it was plus a metal box fan, a few plastic ones, and the attic fan.  Something about the familiar whir of a good ol’ plugged-in, 1-2-3-knobbed fan whistles a nonconformist tune, open and simple.

My brother and I used to sit in front of the fan and talk, laughing at our own antics.  A few years before “Luuuukke, I amm yourrrr faaaaa-ther,” we threw our voices into the spinning paddles and relished the results.  Sometimes, we carried on a ridiculous conversation.  Other times, a long and drawn out “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh” would suffice.  Dual purpose:  entertaining and cooling.

At night, if the setting was on low, I could hear the crickets and cicadas singing through.  The lullaby of the simple machine accompanying the insect song hovered over the sleep of the sun-kissed and play-worn.  The dawn let the temperatures drop to that dewy morning cool, the air pressed the motor and the paddles a little harder, and I snuggled a little deeper under the covers.

At some point, we moved to a house with central air.  Rarely did the windows have the same usage, and the box fans went by the wayside.  Outside of freshman and sophomore years in Lexington, fans were a relic of my way back past.

I’m sitting outside, at our home in Colorado, miles and years away from my childhood and college.  The chatter from my son’s television show pours through the open windows.  My husband’s glass clanged as he set it on the countertop.  No loud voices–happy ones or frustrated ones–spilling out of our house would be kept from earshot of the mom who just walked past with her little boy.  My neighbor watered her flowers and invited Journey the dog over the play with Oliver the dog.  Because we don’t have air-conditioning, because we went outside to feel the littlest offering of  the wind.

The fan in the window drones steadily. Night is coming.  The welcome coolness of the dawn will be a while.  

 

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Retrospective Grace

My Ford Escort sat ready, packed up and full gas tank.  A week or so after high school graduation, the next obvious move was to leave home for the summer.  It was one step closer to freshman year of college and the beginning of adulthood.  Except I didn’t know anything.

The summer proved how little I knew, how arrogant I was, how terribly small I really felt inside.  I tried new kinds of clothes, makeup like in the advertisements.  Dishonesty and pride wear about as well, and are as obviously false.  I left my summer job while it was still summer.

When the heat of summer began to fade into fall, my parents took me to Jewel Hall at the University of Kentucky.  While they parked the car, the story goes that I dropped my blue jean Gap duffle bag down near the front desk of the lobby, looked around and said to no one in particular, “Where do I put my shit?”  (I don’t remember that exactly, though I know my friend would not lie.)  A kind and gracious someone must have heard me and, without chiding me at all nor turning me over a knee for the darn good spanking that I deserved, offered me the check-in information I needed to be able to locate where I should put my sh-stuff.

Mom made her way back inside and helped me get settled, and she left me there.  She let me go.  I didn’t know anything.  Still.

What I really didn’t know, until just a month or so ago, was all manner of things my mother must have felt but never said.  I don’t know them now because she’s since told me.  I know them because I’m there.

On paper, being a mom means certain things.  Like, one day, it’s your job to watch from the door of the nest and wave happily as your little-now-big kid spreads out their full wingspan and flies out over the watercolored horizon.  And on paper, you revel in the glory of it all.  On paper, you cry a little tear on this page, but on the next page, your job is done.  I know Mom tried to tell me, without as many words, which is more her way.

On paper, it is easy to know a lot of things, to say a lot of things.  But you don’t know how small a fraction the paper weighs in actuality.

I’m sorry for hiding behind words and appearance, for the conceit of massive insecurity.  I’m terribly sorry for thinking I really didn’t need anyone in authority, as if somehow I had acquired all of the knowledge on my own, all of the knowledge I would ever need.  For believing that previous generations were out of touch, for cutting myself off from the blessing of hearing what I could learn from the roads they had traveled–I repent.

And for having a potty mouth, when I could have deferred out of kindness to those around me. I’m sorry.

I guess this is how we come to learn anything at all.  We live.  Then we walk around in shoes that once belonged to someone else, someone wiser and more learned.  Those wiser ones wait with kindness, and they offer grace for when we didn’t know.

 

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Little lights shining

Just a little bit before Sunday School hour, we gathered in one of the classrooms to sing.  All of the age groups, whomever arrived to participate, huddled next to the upright piano which carried a tune in a specific old, upright way.  Aunt Betty sat on the spinning stool and situated herself.  Her reading glasses hung around her neck, and she reached to put them on with one hand.  Then she played all of the songs that I don’t ever remember learning, we just knew them.

Only a boy named David.  And we slung that one little stone round and round and round and round till the giant came tumbling down.  Deep and wide, deep and wide.  The fountain flowed to our motions.  We sang about our own story, about our own involvement in God’s greater narrative.  We were numbered among all the little children of the world.  Jesus loved, we love.  We had a little light.

I put my pointer finger up, small though it was, and let my little light shine.  No hiding it under a bushel, and no letting Satan blow it out–I’m gonna let it shine.  We always sang, “Shine it all over Campbellsburg, I’m gonna let it shine!” Campbellsburg was about as big a world as I knew, and I imagined that little light going all over my world.  A charge I had to keep.

I imagined all the little children of the world–red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.  I didn’t know very many other children who looked that much different than my Caucasian self, but I tried to imagine all of them, so many different children, all over the rest of the bigger world, outside of my small world.  If Jesus loved them, maybe they had little lights, too, shining all over their communities.  I tried to grasp it, as much as I could reach in my young mind, how many children Jesus loved.  Maybe that is where it started, wrestling with the vastness of the world.

Years ago, I moved past the borders of my hometown.  Bit by bit, year by year, God has stretched me past the edges of my comfort zone.  I have bumped into people from all kinds of geographies and people groups, people in all manner of seasons and stages of life, people with varying beliefs and values.

Missionaries in our family opened the culture of Botswana to us, expanding our view past facts and photos from National Geographic.  When we lived in Appalachia, the secretary at the small school our kids attended spoke four languages.  She shared with me the perspectives she had gained on war, because she grew up in a part of Europe that endured great devastation from both World Wars.  Her story gave flesh to history I had only read in books, flesh that challenged me.  My husband traveled to Peru, and he returned to share experiences that changed him and thus changed the fabric of our family life.  My friend, Reegan, opened my eyes to the reality of modern day slavery.  I have never been the same.  We currently live in an area where, when I visit the Post Office, I may hear three or four other languages from the folks in line.  Only weeks ago, I sat at my own kitchen table with a young woman who lives in Slovakia; we shared a meal, and she told me how she came to know the love of Jesus in spite of living in a predominantly atheistic region.  A man from Haiti (also fluent in four languages) spoke some words of deep encouragement to my son this past week.  I found out on Saturday that we have neighbors from Kyrgyzstan.

I’m holding my little light up, along with all of the children of the world.  It seems small, insignificant really.  But I can shine it in my home, in the worlds of my children, on their struggles.  I can put it with my 76-year old neighbor’s little light, and we can make a brighter glow.  I will hold it up to my young friend who wants desperately to know that she is of value.  Jesus loves.  I want to love like that.

Sometimes, with tangible awareness, I see and experience all over again how and when a piece of foundational stone was placed under my feet, a long time ago when my feet were very small.  Aunt Betty and Minnie and Sue, thank you for pressing your fingers into that old piano and singing truth over me.  It mattered that you let your light shine, that you loved the little children of the world.

 

 

 

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