God has given me this abundant life. A family I love. Work that invigorates.
And yet I want. I want some parts of my life to be different. I think “what if. . .” and “If only. . .” My mind wanders and I think about my life and what it might look like “if only. . .”
And then I come back to the present. But I find I’m only partially here. I leave a small piece of me–part of my attention–in that place. In the “If only” place.
I’m like a puzzle with one missing piece. Set out on the table, put together, yet not complete. The puzzle makers search for the missing piece and come up short. Disappointment after all that work. And then the sigh, oh well.
When I live in the “If onlys” and “what ifs” I imagine God’s disappointment. After all, He has orchestrated this life. He knows my disappointment. My frustration. My expectations. My hopes.
He also knows how it impacts those around me. Those He gave me to love completely. Those who aren’t getting my full attention.
What would my life look like if I fully lived the life set before me? No “if onlys.” No “what ifs.” What if I just lived in the present moment and focused my full attention? What if I celebrated this life fully with thanksgiving? What if I just trusted God fully? Had faith?
Would this life begin to look like the life I dream about? Or perhaps, become more abundant than I could ever imagine. . .
I think of Christ and wonder whether he ever felt as I do. As He carried the cross, I wonder if He ever thought “if only. . .”
“let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” – Hebrews 12:1 ASV
Sun breaks today. Through the clouds. And, I see the beauty of the cherry blossoms. Light pink puffs like cotton candy set gently against the branches.
How can I—how could I—ever doubt your existence, your faithfulness, your presence?
Chickadees settle on the branches, soft voices singing. Petals fall like tears, soaking the ground with pink polka dots fragrant with God’s creation.
How can we look upon the Earth and not weep at the beauty or know joy? How can we not know there is a creator?
I breath in and reach toward beauty and joy. I reach toward the creator and celebrate His creation.
Counting my blessings of gratitude with Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience.
#102 – 120
A crisp spring morning
the grass that needs mowing
the son sleeping too long
warm tea and flannel
a gentle smile from my husband
good work for the day
moments of silence
a short text message from daughter
a calendar that says she’ll be home this week
cooking a meal with my son
sharing that meal as a family
a week to walk toward the cross
time to reflect on that walk
His loving arms
I wondered into the sanctuary and sat silently, anticipating worship. I glanced around as others filed in, bundled in their coats and hats. Layers of clothing. We had been warned: no heat in the sanctuary. The furnace had gone out. So, as we prepared for worship, we kept on our hats and gloves and coats.
Just before worship began, the musicians showed up, bundled up, just like us. I smiled–my favorite musician was playing today. Trent. Young father, husband, and friend and mentor to my son. But the fact that I know Trent is not why he is my favorite musician at church. (Well, maybe that helps a little!)
When Trent plays worship music, he displays joy. I can’t describe it, really. I watch him and it is as if he were dancing before God. The pure joy he expresses when he plays is raw and real. Despite the fact that his fingers must be freezing, he plays the banjo and mandolin with passion.
I look at him and I think — I want what he has. A big grin comes to my face. You can’t help but smile when you see him. His face and his movement express Christ’s joy.
Even when he isn’t playing music his eyes and smile reflect Christ. The way he connects with the person he is talking to. The genuine warmth and sincerity of his words. His compassion, kindness, gentleness. I think of his friendship with my son and what that friendship means to him. I think, as a mom, how I value that friendship for my son. How grateful I am that God brought Trent into my son’s life.
He is a gentle soul clothed with the love of Christ.
And, so as I worship Christ today, I think of Trent and what it means to live our faith and reflect Christ. Truly reflect Christ. To have His light shine through us.
I remember Paul’s letter to the Colossians:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts . . . And be thankful.” Colossians 3:12-15
I read that verse again. And I realize that allowing the peace of Christ to rule in my heart that will allow me to fully reflect him — not just my effort to display compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. To “clothe” myself with these things requires first that I seek Christ’s face–seek a relationship with Him. He will clothe me in genuine, God-inspired compassion, kindness and humility. He will help me to display gentleness and patience and show me how to forgive fully. He will show me how to love completely.
And so, I turn toward Christ in this season of Epiphany.
Sometimes I think that, as an American, I have an unfortunate life. I have much and those around me do, too. Most of us have roofs over our heads — nice roofs, and walls, and furnishings. And, most have food on the table. Ample food, although, not always healthy food. I live in a country where most people follow the rule of law — we have a government and laws in place. And, I live in a country that hasn’t seen combat on its soil for decades. I feel safe leaving my home and carrying out the business of my days. I have civil rights, freedom of religion, and the right to speak and write freely.
So with all those blessings, how could I believe I live an unfortunate life? While I have all the good — a home and food, a government, a country in which I have rights and privileges–I also have so much isolation. I–we, as Americans–might live in busy cities and share our homes with our families. But we tend to live in isolation from others because we fear authenticity–we fear being open and candid and vulnerable with others. And, we often don’t make the time to share in the lives of others in a meaningful way.
I become acutely aware of this every fall–when school starts. I teach in a demanding graduate program. I’ve sat where my students now sit. I stand now on the other side of the podium–in the front of the class. And, every year, I see the same thing: students, sitting upright in their seats. Game faces on. Trying to show, on the outside, that they are smart, intelligent, articulate, and successful. That they understand every word, concept, doctrine, and theory they are learning. That they are confident they will find success in school and beyond. That life is a bowl of cherries.
But I know better. They show the game faces–the faces we show the world, even when our lives are in crisis. I know this because I sat where they sat, game face on while I juggled family, marriage, and my mother’s terminal cancer. I sat there with my game face on while my teachers and classmates were oblivious to how close I sat to having everything fall down around me. I know this also because every year for the past eight years a few students come into my office, close the door and tell me. The stress of school, the pressure to do well, the events of life ongoing while they are trying desperately to stay on top of their studies seems too much to bear. The game faces come off and I see the individual’s heart — their true self. I see authenticity.
The rows of students sitting upright in class–and for that matter, the rows of people sitting upright around me in pews on Sunday–remind me that we are a broken people. But, because our worlds don’t look broken, we feel isolated. We see a world and reflect a world that looks great on the surface. But, when we look beyond the surface, we have broken relationships–shallow, meaningless or hurtful relationships–pain, crisis, loss, fears. True suffering. And we feel absolutely alone at times.
That is why I believe I live an unfortunate life, and that many Americans live unfortunate lives. The facade that life is good, the privilege of living in a country filled with affluence and rights and privileges and opportunities push us toward isolation–encourage us to put on our game faces.
I need authenticity. We, as people in community, desperately need it. We need to take off the game faces — the masks–and make life about building relationships, not about building lives that look good on the surface. We need to engage each other. Embrace each other. And throw off the things in this world that prevent us from doing that.
We might fear rejection or humiliation if we take off our game face. That is a risk. But, when the isolation becomes overwhelming, or when the task of making things look okay on the surface becomes too much, maybe then the risk will be worth it. And. maybe then we’ll find the lives that Christ wants for us. Lives that allow His light to shine, even in the darkness. Lives filled with hope and joy and love and grace.
As we approached the front steps to the small Episcopal church in rural Washington, we saw a line of people patiently waiting to enter. I wondered: why a line? The memorial didn’t start for 20 minutes. So, we joined the line and waited quietly.
The rain gently sprinkled down on our shoulders and the shoulders of those around us. God’s tears of joy and sorrow. Just like the tears of peace, joy, and sorrow of those who loved this woman. Tears of peace that she would no longer suffer the pain. Tears of joy that she had gone home to dance with the Lord. But, tears of sorrow for the loss of such a joyful, loving, and compassionate woman. A woman who had left God’s thumbprint on so many.
When we made it to the door of the tiny church, we saw the reason for the wait: standing room only. I thought, this was a full life. A life that touched others in her community. The life of a woman who left God’s thumbprint on others.
The priest, dressed in his white and gold trimmed vestment led the service. White. The liturgical color for celebration in the Episcopal church. The celebration of life, but also the death and resurrection that we share with Christ.
But, in the eyes of the man who led us in the celebration–through scripture readings, hymns, prayer and the Eucharist,–I saw sorrow and grief. Tears and deep sadness. The same sadness I saw in her family and friends.
He spoke of hope–the hope and promise of Christ. And, as I saw his eyes momentarily well up with tears, I wondered: in times like these, does a priest, who grieves just like me, also cling desperately to hope? Rely on hope–the hope of life everlasting, the hope of God’s mercy and grace, the hope that God will walk through the valley of the shadow of death with those who grieve.
I think he must cling to hope, and the promise of Christ. And, as I see his eyes well up again, I hear God’s voice:
“sorrowful, yet always rejoicing”
We need to grieve. We need tears of sorrow, whether we are family, friends, or the priest who must stand before us all, in his own grief, and lead us in the celebration of life and death. But, we must rejoice always in the hope and promise of Christ’s death and resurrection.
As I walk out of the church, the raindrops again gently fall on our shoulders. God’s tears of peace, joy, and sorrow. I hug my sister and ask how everyone is doing. I don’t recall her exact answer, but I think, “sorrowful, but still rejoicing. Amen.”