Refreshing Hearts One Sentence At A Time
“Expect to have hope rekindled. Expect your prayers to be answered in wondrous ways. The dry seasons in life do not last. The spring rains will come again.” ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach
If I can categorize this year so far, it falls under the heading of Seasons of Loss. It’s super exciting to read about people’s seasons of loss, to be sure, which is why I try to avoid writing about it. I don’t want to focus on what’s missing, what’s broken, and how cloudy it is outside, because that is not uplifting or encouraging, and what I need most in my life is to be encouraged. There is very little outright encouragement, and what little I receive I cling to and tuck away for when my toddler pees on me.
Writing becomes a difficult task instead of a creative outlet when I feel pressure around me to do better than I am currently doing. When I feel as if I’m failing, flailing about, or simply falling down, I find it hard to supply anybody else with refreshment when a warm cup of cocoa is what I need the most. But as I was showering this morning, my little girl snacking on Goldfish crackers, watching a cartoon in the living room, my mind rhythmically whirling about with the long List Of Stuff To Do, the thought which appealed most was that today was a day to write; to push open the heavy wooden door and find a way to encourage myself. And maybe in the process someone else can read some much needed words as well.
So what’s this loss I’ve mentioned? Now, I’m going to be honest on here, and people have a hard time with honesty when it steps on toes. But it’s my story and I can’t recolor or diminish the antagonists I’m facing right now.
My sister, who is also a best friend, has moved across the world and I can’t even mail her a letter. I’m publishing my first book; the editorial review came back and I received a big, fat, red F on the grammar. This is quite the shock for me, as I’ve never received negative grammatical feedback before. The church I attend is becoming a difficult place in which to operate.
Another conflicting emotion that doesn’t really fall in the category of Loss, but more of Conflict, is my inner struggle with ministry to others versus making money to help us save for traveling to see family and buy a house. I have committed this year to coordinate a ministry at church, and I am so excited to be able to utilize my organizing skills and make new friends to fill these voids I am experiencing, but it’s quite a time commitment. The opponent on the field is teaching English classes; I can get paid some decent money to help improve students’ writing and take part in educational camaraderie. But this too is a significant time commitment. A third factor is creating designs for my husband’s multimedia business. He works full time and so I design and communicate and rearrange and email during much of my “free time,” aka my toddler’s nap time.
I’ve been kind of a wreck lately.
I don’t know how I get myself in positions like this, where I am overwhelmingly busy. It makes me start to feel like a leaf in the wind, and my brain starts to feel as if it’s in the wave pool at Hurricane Harbor.
I think a very significant additional factor is that almost every solid ground I have right now is being shaken. My parents, also, are moving 1,000 miles away. The process began about three years ago when they first decided they wanted to sell the two-story wonder where they have lived for 23 years. They had put it in the market before and I began saving up how the rooms smelled like fresh air conditioning and a hint of perfume, the feel of the thick, light brown carpet under my toes, and the way the sunlight drifted in through the windows in the sun room. The sound of the cicadas outside the front bedroom in the big tree; the shade patterns in the backyard, the sunny spot where the pool used to be, the rough gray aging of the wood on the tree house my dad made for me when I was in middle school. The mysterious sound of footsteps upstairs when no one was there.
All these sounds, smells, memories, filling the majority of my life; they are my home. It is the neighborhood where I cannot get lost. There is the peach tree that died that one winter and Bonnie pushed it over and we rolled it around the backyard. There’s the spot under the trees in the backyard where the rabbit hutches used to sit; the far back corner where Rachel and I played in the trees, hiding from our parents because they wanted to go home after Pizza Hut Tuesday Night was over. The bedroom that used to be pastel yellow with blue trim where I would dream of what would be and what could be and how cute Devon Sawa was and if I would ever drive my own Mustang.
Now it is three years later and we’ve had our last Christmas here, our last funeral meal. Our last baby shower for a friend. The house is on the market and my parents are moving much, much farther than two hours away.
There will be firsts, beginnings, and new paint smells.
But in the silence that falls between breaths, in the painful thumping within the chest and last looks around, it is easy to feel the spinning earth ready to leave you behind, just like everyone else.
Two weeks ago I helped my parents put away the sentimentality and clean the house from top to bottom. It was a time to paint over 23 years of memories, and clean out the grime that you never notice until you start thinking about a room from someone else’s point of view. One day I used up two whole Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. On the first floor. We installed lighting fixtures and mirrors and cabinets and vacuumed and put away and boxed up and yes, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Wave your hand in a circle as you read that.
As I scrubbed and washed and Lysoled and wiped and scrubbed again, it provided some clarity and time to think through all the sentimental jargon my brain has been feeding me, for I am a sentimental fool. It’s hard to throw things away when you’re a sentimental fool. But hence we work, and aspire to fix our broken natures. What else do we have to do? If this is my purpose, if this is my privilege to care for my person and my family and homes, then I should be present and scrubbing my hardest.
The scrubbing kind of clears out the junk, you know? It strips away some of the grime in your brain that says, “This has to be a certain way,” because it’s always been that way. But what I’ve seen with my two sisters, parents, cousins, in-laws, and distant relatives coming and going to far off places, that what we can see is so limited. What I know is so limited. How I live is so limited.
Do I live up to my potential, do I act in the full power of the One who made me and gave me tasks to accomplish? Do I instead give in to my smallness, to my loss?
I grew up knowing well the Bible verse from Colossians 3:
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
As a guideline, this is how I try to work, to do my best in what I commit to doing. I do not always commit to doing housework; let’s be honest. I do commit to leading, organizing, volunteering, helping, serving, and cooking meals when needed. I over-commit, to continue in my honesty. I think I do it to find more purpose, to see some kind of gain in all this loss.
But are we slaves? Are we working for God’s purpose? Are we living in the knowledge that one day we will receive an inheritance? What are our earthly masters? Do we store up change in piggy banks, heap extra sets of sheets, stack cans of tomato sauce, pile up pairs of shoes, and cram tubs full of purses to help us assuage the deficit?
Dust, thou art vile.
For real, I hate dusting. Think about what dust is made up of: Dust in homes, offices, and other human environments contains small amounts of plant pollen, human and animal hairs, textile fibers, paper fibers, minerals from outdoor soil, human skin cells, burnt meteorite particles and many other materials which may be found in the local environment (Thanks, Wikipedia.).
Hence, we are even storing our own dead skin.
What are we doing? Do we continue to serve our stuff? What do we get rid of?
Dust came from the fall of man. “For dust you are, and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19b). The fact that our bodies disintegrate is part of the consequences of our actions. Right?! We started dying, started falling apart; but one day we won’t be falling apart any more.
Is there dust in heaven? Think of those mansions... if “there’s a big, big house” for me, there best be a big, big cleaning crew.
We work for more than what we can see. Does it matter if there is treasure or reward for what we do? What about the unseen things? I can scrub and scrub and very likely the next person walking in the room won’t give a lick about how it looks or who cleaned it or how much sweat went into it. What matters?
Don’t we look at the rows and rows of books at the library? Does it matter if I ever get a book published; does it matter if I make some kind of mark on humanity? A friend of mine just returned from a trip to Scotland and told us of a church that was built a thousand years ago. Think of that; think how many lifetimes ago when each rock was cut, trimmed, and placed on another. This friend told us that each rock laid was inscribed with the mason’s initial so that at the end of the week the foreman would give to each laborer according to the work he had done. And, a thousand years later, those notations and inscriptions are still there. Do any of us leave such a durable symbol, an irrevocable mark, to leave behind when we can’t speak for ourselves any longer?
I was the kid who earned reward certificates at the school ceremonies. You know, for good attendance, good behavior, good grades. I wanted to be the best and it was usually pretty easy to attain. I did own a deep fear of failure, letting people down, and getting in trouble, which were strong motivators to my educational success and still obligate me today. I’m working on beating those; but one thing at a time, please.
I’ve been going through old tubs full of old stories, old rewards; as I toss them into trash cans now I see that it is the shaped character, the transformed heart, that are the treasure. The gold stickers, trophies, labeled coffee cups, the framed artwork, is all a bit silly if it’s the goal. Who knows the full extent to what we get one day, but is it what drives us? What gets us through those tears, sweat, or painful defeats?
“You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word” (Psalm 119:114).
Knowing and acting in God’s power and love are what count. As a child of God, I am more than I think I can be. It is his fullness that facilitates my body when my arms shake in exhaustion. It is his common sense that compels me to find his presence when there is nothing of myself left to give. Life is hard. But God is good.
Sometimes that’s all you can say.
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full in his wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.”
~ Helen Lemmel
So as we walk away from home, from the familiar, from what we thought we would hope for, we glance back to the city where dreams play a stark, dissonant chord compared to reality’s song. There, the disposal trucks carry away your baggage and children make new memories far different than yours. This is the place where, beyond a blurry brown hillside, possibility and assumption reside. Maybe what waits is over-commitment and flakiness, but hopefully someone will understand and bring you a Snicker Bar Latte just when you need it most.
“Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed [his promise to Abraham] with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf” (Hebrews 6:17-20).
He has claimed his children for his own and doesn’t mind the dust. On our darkest days, within our weary hearts, we have this Hope, this almighty Strength, which will never let us go or leave us behind. He walks with us down the road, suitcase in hand, toward the next season that awaits us.
But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (1 Corinthians 1:9)
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