|June 6, 2014||Posted by V under advice, books, change, living life, loves it, new ish|
The following was taken from Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist. I loved this book SO much!!
Everything is interim. Everything is a path or preparation for the next thing, and we never know what the next thing is. Life is like that, of course, twisty and surprising. But life with God is like that exponentially. We can dig in, make plans, write in stone, pretend we’re not listening, but the voice of God has a way of being heard. It seeps in like smoke or vapor even when we’ve barred the door against any last-minute changes, and it moves us to different countries and different emotional territories and different ways of living. It keeps us moving and dancing and watching, and never lets us drop down into a life set on cruise control or a life ruled by remote control. Life with God is a daring dream, full of flashes and last-minute exits and generally all the things we’ve said we’ll never do. And with the surprises comes great hope.
It’s rebellious, in a way, to choose joy, to choose to dance, to choose to love your life. Its much easier and much more common to be miserable. But I choose to do what I can do to create hope, to celebrate life, and the act of celebrating connects me back to that life I love. We could just live our normal, day-to-day lives, saving all the good living up for someday, but I think today, just plain today, is worth it. I think its our job, each of us, to live each day like it’s a special occasion, because we’ve been given a gift. We get to live in this beautiful world. When I live purposefully and well, when I dance instead of sitting it out, when I let myself laugh hard, when I wear my favorite shoes on a regular Tuesday, that regular Tuesday is better.
Right now, around our house, all the leaves are falling, and there’s no reason that they have to turn electric bright red before they fall, but they do, and I want to live like that. I want to say, “What can I do today that brings more beauty, more energy, more hope?” Because it seems like that’s what God is saying to us, over and over. “What can I do today to remind you again how good this life is? You think the color of the sky is good now, wait till sunset. You think oranges are good, try a tangerine.” He’s a crazy delightful mad scientist and keeps coming back from the lab with great, unbelievable new things, and it’s a gift. It’s a gift to be a part of it.
I want a life that sizzles and pops and makes me laugh out loud. And I don’t want to get to the end, or to tomorrow, even, and realize that my life is a collection of meetings and pop cans and errands and receipts and dirty dishes. I want to eat cold tangerines and sing out loud in the car with the windows open and wear pink shoes and stay up all night laughing and paint my walls the exact color of the sky right now. I want to sleep hard on clean white sheets and throw parties and eat ripe tomatoes and read books so good they make me jump up and down and I want my everyday to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift, who will use it up and wring it out and drag it around like a favorite sweater.
That’s what I want. To arrive. I want to get to wherever im going and stay there. That’s why I was such a ferocious planner of my life. But im learning just to keep moving, keep walking, keep taking teeny tiny steps. And it’s in those teeny tiny steps and moments that become, actually, who I am. We won’t arrive. But we can become. And that’s the most hopeful thing I can think of.
Thank God I was wrong about everything I had planned. Thank God we weren’t on my schedule, because even though I dragged my heels and checked my planner every five seconds while I watched my life change in his hands, I really like the place we’ve ended up, and the things ive seen along the way.
The idea that my smart, successful friend Lori has seen the cabinet beneath my sink and has risked her feet on our dishwasher door positively floors me. I’m quite certian she doesn’t have cabinets like that. But then again, maybe she does. Maybe we all do, somewhere. Maybe its not your cabinets or your basement or your butt. But I think it’s something, and I think you probably spend a lot of time covering it up and thinking about it in the middle of the night. And I think when you let someone into your life far enough to get a glimpse of it, at first you think you’re going to pass out, and that that person is going to ruin your reputation as a good person by blabbering about your butt or your cabinets to everyone you know. But a second after that, I think you’re going to realize that that person is your friend. Like really and truly, from Jesus, your friend.
There are things that happen to us, and when they happen, they give us two options. Either way, we will never be the same, and we shouldn’t. These things can either strip us down to the bone and allow us to become strong and honest, or they can be the reasons we used to behave poorly and indefinitely, the justification for all manner of broken relationships and broken ideals. It could be the thing that allows everything else to turn, that allows the lock of our lives to finally spring open and our pent-up selves to blossom like preening flowers. Or it can be the reason we use to justify our anger and the sharp tones in our voices for the rest of our lives.
The thing that keeps me going with the anger and the rotten feelings is that I think I’m right. Really. When I think about what happened, I think she did a bad thing to a not entirely bad person named me. And I want her to have to apologize. Loudly. Publicly. And give me a present, too. I want her to feel how bad I felt, how small and scared. I want her to tell me she was wrong, and promise never to do anything like that again, in writing, with a notary public present.
We preserve the myth even though we no longer believe it. We insist that everything is okay. But we’re kidding ourselves. Can you look into the eyes of the people around you and really believe everything is okay? We want to believe that things roll off our backs, that we are tough and world-wise, and that we’re all holding it together pretty well. But you know which door you lock behind you when you’re crying so hard you can’t see. You know what word or image rips off that scab. Everything is not okay.
Being with Julie and Doug today made me think about the idea that everything is okay. The idea is nothing but cruel in its untruth. Okayness is a thin scab that rips off every once in a while and exposes a river of blood and infection, an inroad to the whole body. We live in a reasonable peace, accomplishing things and doing what we’re told and expecting that if we behave, we will be rewarded; that for living quietly and industriously, for donating to Easter Seals and letting people merge in front of us on the highway, we will be given good things, good lives. And then something happens to us; we get that phone call or that feeling or that doctor’s report, and everything changes.
The sky might as well be red, the solid ground replaces with seawater, because it is a different world. It’s like a chemical change, charges reversing from positive to negative. And in the midst of this change, you look around and realize that everyone else seems to be doing fine, that you must be the only one who notices this change.
I respect people who pray, and who appear to be living that wiggly, whatever-God-wants kind of life, but it’s sort of how I respect people who don’t believe in conventional medicine – it’s indie and cool, but when I’m feeling a little under the weather, I want every machine and tube and drug in the world.
The problem is that the worldview I’ve chosen has melted like butter. I had a plan, and the plan is gone. I did it right, in my own made-up-system, and it all came out wrong. All my logic and contingencies and smoke alarms and insurance didn’t see this coming, and now my life has changed. I’m off the plan. And I loved the plan. I believed in the plan, secretly, way more devoutly than I believed in the mysterious work of God.
So now, out of desperation, I’m back to prayer. I’m back to prayer, sheepishly, because I couldn’t make my life work without it. I pray out of sheer lack of options.
This is my most basic, most frequent, starting place prayer: Dear God, I need help. I can’t make it anymore. Can you please give me a little something for the pain?
That’s how family gets made. Not by ceremonies or certificates, and not by parties and celebrations. Family gets made when you decide to hold hands and sit shoulder to shoulder when it seems like the sky is falling. Family gets made when the world becomes strange and disorienting, and the only face you recognized is his. Family gets made when the future obscures itself like a solar eclipse, and in the intervening darkness, you decide that no matter what happens in the night, you’ll face it as one.
At our house church that week, we just stared at each other, exhausted, spent, cried-out, sliced open. One of the women broke the silence by saying, “To be honest, when we pray as a group, I don’t pray. If God’s going to heal someone because of prayers, there are enough people praying. I don’t know if I believe one more voice matters.”
I didn’t know what to say to her, but what I do know is this: prayer helps me. When I pray, something freaked-out and dazed inside me finds a place to lay down and rest. When I pray, I don’t feel so alone in the universe. I feel like there is a web, a finely-spun net, holding it all together, keeping it spinning. I feel powerless, and prayer reminds me that I may be powerless, but there is power, and the one who holds that power is good. Prayer reminds me that the universe is not powerless against the evil and loss that seems to be swallowing up this season in our community.
I imagine a huge choir, hundreds of voices, and they’re singing something unquestionable, remarkably beautiful, and if you look at each person, you can see their intensity, their attention to detail and precision, their extreme focus on sounds and phrases. And you can see their love for music and their passion to sing. You could never pick out an individual voice, out of those several hundred, but that’s not the point. They are not singing to he heard individually. They are singing for the act itself, for the love of music and tone and melody. That’s one of the reasons I pray, for the act itself.
I pray because I need to. Because I need to remind myself that there is something up there and that it is good. I pray to be heard, certainly, but practically speaking, what the act of prayer does in my life is profound in its own right. The act and posture of prayer connects me back to something I lose so often, something that gets snipped like a string. Prayer ties up the string one more time. Prayer says, I know you’re up there, I believe you. I can make it. I know you are good. To pray is to say that there is more that I can see, and more than I can do. There is more going on than meets the eye.
Prayer heals all the muscles that I’ve been clenching for a long time, while I’m holding it together, gritting my teeth, waiting for impact. Prayer, like yoga, like singing, brings soft from hard, pliant from brittle, possible from impossible, warm from cold, breath from breathless. And no matter what gets you there, it is better to be there than not.
What I know now is that his kindness burns through even the deepest betrayals and invites life from death every chance we let him. There are things that explode into our lives and we call them curses, and then one day, a year later or ten years later, we realize that they are actually something else. They are the very most precious kinds of blessings.
My friend goes to a spiritual director, and I was asking her about it, and she said, basically, Sister Carmen asks her to talk about her life, and she points out the presence and action and grace of God when my friend didn’t even notice it was there. So it was there all along, and the trick is learning to see it.
Each one of our lives is shot through, threaded in and out with God’s provision, his grace, his protection, but on the average day, we notice it about as much as we really notice gravity or the hold in the ozone. So what I’m trying to do is learn to see the way Sister Carmen sees. Because one you start seeing the faithfulness and the hope, you see it everywhere. And little by little, here and there, you realize that all of life is woven with bits and stories of God’s goodness.
What gives me hope is the belief that God will be faithful, because he has been faithful before, to me and the people around me. I need the reminders. I need to be told that he was faithful then, and then, and then. Just because I have forgotten how to see doesn’t mean it isn’t there. His goodness is there. His promises have been kept. All I need to do is see.
So when I’m on the edge, peering over into the unknown, trembling and terrified to move forward, devastatingly afraid to take that next step, I practice believing that full life is beyond the fear. I know that God’s voice has lead me to this exact place, and I grab a few pennies. They are sacred reminders that God is God, that he is leading my life, and that he is saying to me, as he has been saying to his people throughout history, I will never leave you, and I’ve left reminders all around if you have the eyes to see them.