I lay in the dark and tried to locate my two granddaughters by their breathing. Brooklynn, age five, had a slower, softer and more rhythmic breath. Olive, at three, had a little bear-cub growl on inspiration and I could tell she was right below me on the floor. I smiled remembering a few days ago when all three of us shared a futon and Olive seemed drawn to my left ear all night. Not much sleep. Not much sleep this night either. The birds began the dawn chorus as the room took form around me. My eyes locked onto their beautiful faces. Brooklynn had informed me this trip that she would be a teenager someday. Amusement mixed with sorrow tugged at my heart.
The plane leaves at 1:07 and in my usual neurotic manner I watch the clock, pacing, trying to enjoy my last few hours with my family, but I can’t. It’s time to go. Why prolong this? I request BoJangles as my last meal on hallowed Dixie ground and we stop, filling our mouths with greasy biscuits and Bo Round potatoes and swishing it down with iced tea. The biscuit is like Prozac. I kiss everyone goodbye and roll into the small airport.
Brooklynn and Olive told me they were sad I was leaving, a genuine but child-like sorrow that most likely would dissipate about 5 minutes after I leave the car. I love the simplicity of a small child’s emotions. Sad, mad, glad. Sometimes bad. I wish my own palette of feelings could stay so pure and discernible, like a Dr. Seuss book.
I think this is one of the things God had in mind when He matched me up with my husband, because C.B. has very delineated paths of thought and emotion: straight, sometimes intersecting with a vertical response but easy to recognize and sort out. When I get overwhelmed I become gridlocked like lunch hour traffic in midtown Manhattan.
I knew Boston would be a good 40 degrees colder than Raleigh but I still failed to put on enough clothes so I sat inside, waiting for the bus, nervous it would slip past. A woman walked by pushing a cart obscured by garbage bags tied to every free inch of it and plopped down at the end of the hall. I weighed out whether I should get up, go tell her Jesus loves her, maybe give her some money, but I was more interested in myself; my bus, my comfort, my self-pity. The biscuit had worn off. I remember my mom telling me when I was a teenager that the world wasn’t about me, because I just wasn’t that interesting or important, and it stung at first, but it was true. Tender as a wounded tiger, still my mother had uncanny perspective. Life was not my party. I should know better…
I had to tell God I was sorry as I sat outside the hospital in the dark, trying to pray, and realizing that I had totally blown off prayer the day before. My husband had cleaned the house and he even had fed the birds for me. But I had behaved like a sullen adolescent, withdrawn and self-absorbed. I thought about the lady with the shopping cart in the airport and I knew that God put her there for me, not just so I could help her but because she would end up helping me. I blew it.
I cried over the ironing board. It tied indirectly into running out of pancake mix, which wasn’t my fault. I took Rosie around the pond at sunrise and asked God, What’s the point here? I feel like I should have an assignment if He insists on keeping me here, on earth, in New England, on Cape Cod where the north wind across the ocean feels like ice is being poured down your shirt. He gave me no answer. He was perhaps waiting for an attitude adjustment.
My husband noticed me ironing and weeping and asked what was wrong, and I repeated my conversation with God. I had no answers. He came over and pushed the ironing board to the side and put his arms around me.
“All I know is that I love Jesus,” I sobbed.
“And that’s all you need. “ he said.
I arrived at church with carefully made-up swollen eyes and a headache. If I’ve learned anything at all after following Jesus for 26 years, I’ve learned to praise Him, whether I feel like it or not, because He is always worthy. And as I lifted my hands and closed my eyes, I saw the cross before me, and the Holy Spirit gently spoke to my heart:
Here is the answer; here is the point of it all.
Terrible and beautiful in all of its mystery and power, it is the place of unfathomable pain and agony, yet immeasurable comfort and peace. I stood alone in its shadow, obscured by it.
Take up your cross and follow me.
How can I bear the weight of it? I step into the light, and every stain of my selfishness is exposed, yet a greater measure of mercy and grace flows from above, covering my shame, turning my sorrow to joy. I am home, in Him and He is in me. My yoke is easy, my burden is light. We turn to leave.
I’ve never read One Thousand Gifts and I doubt I will. It sounds too exhausting, one more impossible bar to measure up to. I’m not thankful for everything, and sometimes I’m just grumpy about being here. Nor do I find God in all things. Isn’t that panentheism? Yet in all things He is there with me.
Sometimes I wander off, like a child at a carnival. But I know the way home, and hungry, thirsty, dirty, He takes me back, fills me and lifts me high upon a rock, where I can see eternity in the distance. Then I need no explanation or plan.
Amy Carmichael, missionary to India, said, “You will find your garden very near to the place where you will be crucified.”
Sad. Mad, Glad. Thank you Jesus for leading me back to where we sometimes must begin again…at the cross.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 ESV
And whom I love in return. CB was right. It is all I need.