Sometimes the things they say on packaging can be hilarious in way-overkill fashion. Sometimes it can be spot on. The box of the cereal I’ve been munching on states, “What matters most is what’s inside.” It’s true for cereal boxes and people and it’s been making an impression on me lately. Read More »
It’s been one of those evenings. I have many different kinds of those evenings. This has been the kind of 3 books and a Bible and a guitar (accompanied with a giant brown blanket, some lingering Christmas lights, and a pumpkin muffin). I read a verse. “Ahh that’s so true!” I exclaimed and starting talking to Jesus about it. Then I cried. Then I told Him something I’m really needed to get off my chest. Then I opened a book. I didn’t make it far. More tears, comments, songs. Back and forth, reading, crying, praying, singing, exclaiming, asking. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not been a top-of-the-mountain, revelatory moment. It’s been a my-soul-cries-out kind of moment. I’ve been telling Him about some very particular heartbreaks. About some losses, some failures, some regrets and some disappointments. I’ve been pointing out to heaven those little corners in meRead More »
“You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” – Psalms 139:5-7
I have always taken comfort in times of uncertainty that He is the God who goes before me–that He prepares the way, and is in my future before I ever get there. It’s somewhat easy for me to trust Him with the things that have yet to happen, but recent history has challenged how well I trust Him with the things that lie behind. A few weeks ago as I was taking my 7 minute drive to school, I tuned into K-Love thinking, I bet there’s something playing right now I need to hear. Sometimes those 2 or 3 songs that carry me down the 44, give me just what I need to approach the day right. It’s almost my last ditch effort at perspective readjustment on days when there hasn’t been time for anything else!
Chris Tomlin was singing his new song, “I know who goes before me, I know who stands behind…” I was struck. He stands behind me! How had half the impact of this reality never made its way home? I wasn’t scared about my future, I was scared about my past. I was scared of the things I couldn’t do anything about–the things that had already passed through that small window in which I have the chance to alter them. We are powerfully present in our lives in only a sliver of time. We don’t get to go backwards and forwards and make adjustments based on lessons learned and perspectives gained. When today comes, I greet it with today’s wisdom, today’s resources, and today’s state of mind and heart. And then today leaves me, and it goes into a part of my life I can’t pick up again. Tomorrow isn’t so scary because it still has so many chances. Yes, it’s unknown and uncertainty gives fear, but it also gives hope. Where is the hope in yesterday?
He stands behind. I got excited and relieved. Although it’s hard for a time-constrained brain to comprehend, I knew with sudden sureness that the comfort of trusting a God who stands in my future could be applied to a God who simultaneously stands in my past. He’s still there. He’s still working it out. He hasn’t let yesterday go. He’s not done with it yet. Though I can’t do anything, He can, and wherever He is, there is grace, and grace makes beautiful. Trust means not only that I move forward with confidence of a good future, but that I let go with surety that He will take care of the things I no longer can. The deepest beauty and freedom of a life surrendered is that nothing is beyond redemption for a God who stands behind.
In times when I feel behind and desperate to compensate with large leaps, I am gently reminded to find my way through small steps. I have a conviction that they are one of the best ways to get anywhere. There is nothing in this world that you could want to do that you can’t take a small step towards. Often the felt obligation to start out with a ceremonious leap prevents us from ever beginning. We become lost beneath ambitions we are yet incapable of. But when you focus on what you do have within your grasp, it makes for progress. Today I cannot write that book of mine, but I can write this post. I cannot disperse all of my fears and insecurities, but I can choose to seek truth.
I could psych myself up for six weeks to make a great movement, or I could just move a little each day as I can and find myself further along. Life and progress is found nestled between turkey samwiches, morning showers, and the picking up of a book. Oh but we are swooned by the big! Big movements look progressive and create the sensation of purpose. Simply completing the process of the here and now has a drab coating to it. But motion breeds motion, and the daily warms up engines for great enterprises. It’s not just that those journeys of thousands of miles start with one step. It’s that those journeys are completely comprised of, from beginning to end, small steps. That makes today so very important. So very possible.
I looked up at the vast blue today and allowed it to make me feel small. I needed that sense of me being tiny in the expanse of everything else that is. Sometimes I get too big, and when I am too big inside of my world, I become scared. When I am big, my problems are big, my needs are big, my importance is big, and my responsibility to those things is big. There I am–looming all important in my world. My disappointments fill the sky, and I am the one to face the problems and fix them.
I stepped outside into the cold. I let myself feel cold for a while. I asked that big tree across the road whether he was touched by my situation, and how he thought history would progress if I didn’t master it. I asked him if he didn’t think my troubles and predicaments were unfair and worthy of obsession. But he wasn’t very obsessed with any of the things that I have been. I looked at that endless blue that I don’t understand, and I thought about all the things of time and eternity that I can’t explain. I contemplated all I don’t know. I contemplated how much of history past and future stands unmoved by what is so moving me. I felt small again and as I shrunk back to size, I felt the freedom of being a small person in a big story. It’s not that my life isn’t important. It’s not that my choices don’t matter. It’s just that I’m not the whole story.
Fall is good at this–this shrinking experience. Fall strips and sheds and spills. Fall gets you bare. But there’s so much comfort in it. It’s the reassurance of things so much bigger than yourself. Here you just get to be. Be bare, be held, be small.
Gratitude doesn’t always look like a day full of things to be thankful for.
Thankfulness is not always a list, not always conscious.
Some days I write two pages straight of things I am thankful for. Other days I don’t write a single word.
Gratitude when you can’t think of things to be thankful for, is worship. Worship is a step of faith. It’s a faith that says I believe in His goodness even when it feels like I am not experiencing it.
Worship doesn’t come out because things have gone well. Worship is given because He’s always worthy, and because I have learned that when I am full of the gratitude of worship, I position myself to see rightly again.
There are some mornings when I can’t sleep in because I have somewhere I have to be. Then there are other mornings when I can’t sleep in because I have nowhere to be at all, and that makes getting out of bed far too irresistible. The lazier my morning, the more I want to get up and poach an egg, have a slice of sourdough, and deliberate about whether my tea is over brewed or not. I stick my nose in a recycled paper magazine, love its smell, and suddenly want Italian sausage to make its recipes. Not to mention, since buying my camera, I have had to add about half an hour to all of my morning preparation times, to accommodate for the shutter snapping between bites and sips and keystrokes. I have a new, non-literal understanding of the phrase, “cooking time.” I will throw an egg shell into the garbage and be half way across the kitchen before I realize I need that egg shell for my photo. You have to tell the whole story. My camera is teaching me that… my canon and my 2H pencils.
The more I engage with art, the more I realize that so much of life is about seeing. Whether I’m looking through my viewfinder, or my subconscious train of thoughts, seeing is an art and a discipline. To see well is to live well. When you can see, you can make something beautiful. My art professor tells me almost every class period that drawing is not about becoming better at holding a pencil, but refining your ability to see. He comes along, puts a stroke on my Bristol pad where that stroke was supposed to go, and I exclaim, “oh! I see!” I get it. That’s what was wrong. How I wish the art of my life had a professor walking around saying, “no no, look here… you’re not seeing it right… see… it goes like this…” I am having to train my eye to see where the lines curve around a cello, or how light encases apples. More importantly, I have to train my eye to see where grace just gave me something I didn’t deserve, and where a difficult situation just helped to mold me into something more beautiful.
I turned 25 yesterday and for the first time I feel that I am getting old. I had a scary moment when I thought, “oh no! I can’t start this now! Am I going to feel like this for the rest of my life!” Somehow at 25, every decision feels more risky as if it’s toying with uncertain time and resources. I want my decisions to feel more guaranteed in their outcome, but my life is still young and I am figuring out where to walk, and how best to get there.
Plans are changing. Big plans. Plans that for the past two years have played a role in where I have pointed my life and what side of the world I have lived on. Have you ever had a vision that pulled you forward, and gave you your sense of where you were going, suddenly end a few feet in front of you? Sometimes these visions change because we have grown to see differently. Sometimes they are changed by things outside of ourselves. But when change means that plans end, so much that is big and meaningful is unfulfilled.
For some time now, I have been chasing a train track until it has run out of rails and steel and I have become disillusioned to find it doesn’t go anywhere. The plan no longer continues, and so it seems that it was never valid. How does one not become stunned and disappointed? I look forward and I ask, “what was the purpose?” But then I look at where I am today, and I see that these plans, these rails that have ends, have brought me here. So much of what my life has come to look like, where I am and what I have to build from, would not exist if I hadn’t chased that dream. It gave me the security and the vision I needed. We need these–these evolving plans–to keep us moving into our future. We move forward through vision, and the visions I have had have helped me to carve out this world. God knows this. He knew I needed those big plans and all their meaning to bring me here and give me the security to make the decisions I have made. What if this track I have been walking on was to serve that end, to bring me forwards? Here I can see new plans and form new visions that perhaps I would not have embraced further back on the road.
On day two of being 25, I am scared of changing plans. I am scared of train tracks that end, and casting vision without guarantees. I want to make plans promise me that if I chase them, they’ll work out. But what if it’s not supposed to look like that? These unfilled plans of mine dare me to consider that perhaps they have met their purpose. Even as plans morph, change, or dead end, they fulfill a place of meaning in that they bring me forward.
Coffee shops do wonderful things for my soul. I could sit in a coffee shop for three straight hours and do nothing but watch other people’s lives and listen to John Mayer sing “A Beautiful Mess”. It’s one of my, “Amy, go reset yourself!” songs. Somehow I think that when Starbucks on Lake Blvd was being built, God smiled and thought, “this place is gonna do Amy a whole lot of good!”
When life gets frustrating, I start tackling it like a floor full of building blocks. If I can’t master the blocks, they turn themselves into clouds of irrational ideas. I’m terribly professional at strategizing how to right things whose “wrongness” is questionable. From blocks to clouds, I’m an over-thinker, and heads quickly become tails. The best reset button I know for such an occasion is an afternoon alone in a coffee shop. It doesn’t solve my life’s problems, but it does help to evaporate the ones that don’t actually exist! And that’s precisely what a day (or week) spent battling the blocks and clouds needs.
For all the wonders that a coffee shop can work on my head, I’m not there often enough. I have whole pockets full of things I know make my life richer, and yet I do them infrequently. Things like being alone, or taking a walk when it’s almost dark. Things like driving down back roads listening to classical music with the windows down. One should almost always drive with the windows down. You take in a lot more of the world that way—a world you are otherwise too occupied to see. These things bring me life. Every time without fail, I come back thinking I should do them all the time. But I don’t, and it’s because I don’t often feel like doing them. I have to twist the arm of some person inside. It has been a sobering observation of mine that we don’t do the things we want as often as we might presume. Rather, we do most often what we find to be comfortable and easy. A good deal of the things we truly want are things we have to tell ourselves to go do. It’s as if the best parts of our lives are dark leafy greens—really good soul food that sits healthy on the inside, but lacks the “eat me!” charisma.
I used to think that discipline was simply to help me do things I didn’t care for. It could perhaps be an elementary revelation, but it surprised me that our passions and desires demand discipline too. Things most valuable to us don’t automatically slot themselves into our lives. We have to schedule, and form habits around them. I used to think that if I could just clear away all the things I didn’t want, then in that great space I would begin to do all my passions. But no, the only things that fill giant spaces, are things you do without thinking—things of comfort and habit. Everything else, regardless of how important, has to be chosen and worked into our lives. It’s a strange concept to me to build schedules and habits for things I thought I could do from sheer inspiration. But it’s making the days richer, shaping my priorities and my life to look more the way I want. I am no longer depending on empty spaces that never come or the presence of inspiration to bring what’s important into my life. It’s there because I put it there, and it’s worth buying a few more grande iced teas for…