If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this:
Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.
She’s tracing her roots is how my husband describes it when he tells people about the trip we took last weekend, back to my beloved Southwest Virginia. And while I wasn’t thinking of it that way, exactly, I suppose it is a rather accurate description.
It was a journey long-planned, you see, one with a specific purpose. I want to stomp around in the mountains I told them to see all the places I never appreciated when growing up there. It was all too ordinary back then, this living amidst the rugged Appalachians, a mere backdrop for after-school band practice and Friday night football games. And my brother and sister-in-law thankfully said yes when I asked them to serve as our guides, Randy and Lisa Rigg, two people who know this territory well.
My heart skipped a beat, I must tell you. I knew we were in very good hands.
Stomp, we did, for the next 36 hours. I spent much of the time in a blissful state of awe—to say those mountains wrapped and rocked me like a baby is the understatement of the 520 posts on this blog. We mapped and drove and hiked and wandered; we traced family lines and hunted down homesteads; we followed railroad tracks and trailed along great rivers and crossed tiny streams, all in search of … what? Realization? Affirmation? That the Earth is mighty. That we are all connected to it—to its mountains and valleys and rivers and plains, connected in significant and inextricable ways—just as we are connected to each other, now, and for generations spreading in every direction.
That it has been this way since the beginning of time.
It was a gigantic blessing, this knowing, a sweeping grace that settled over me then and sits with me still as I write this from my current home in the flat midlands of South Carolina. Here, now, miles and decades and generations away.
We are connected, I know, to the Earth, to each other. And I am a part of it all, a link in the great chain.
We took a walk, my Eliza and I, on this cold, rainy Spring Break day in Florida. We’d made the trek South together to give her a little prime beach time with her cousin, Claire, while I visit with my sweet Daddy. But alas, the weather has simply not cooperated. In fact, Three Days of Rain = Total Spring Break Washout for the girls.
That’s a tough break for these college juniors—girls who run toward the sun the moment Spring arrives.
But for me? Eliza + Claire + housebound = Spring Break BINGO.
I was listening to the radio on the long drive to Florida, a marathon of goodness via Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday series. There was so much to love in every single conversation. But then Iyanla said this, and it cut right through and took up residence in that I Know It’s True place in my heart.
God whispers to us in our pleasure,
speaks in our conscience,
but shouts in our pain.
Of course, C.S. Lewis, you are right. When I don’t hear the whispers, the voice gets louder and louder until—well, as you say, it becomes impossible to ignore. I am grateful for this powerful reminder why.
I was having a retail moment—in passing through TJ Maxx on the way to something I actually need, I spotted an incredible pair of shoes that I stopped to try on—when I overheard a conversation that caught my attention. It was an exchange between two ladies who obviously hadn’t seen each other in a while. I couldn’t see either of them, separated as we were by a tall rack of shoes.
Hey girl said the first voice.
Hey there said the second, with an inflection that let you know this was a pleasant surprise. Good to see you. You doin’ alright?
Oh, said the first (and here there was a definite pause).
I guess I got no complaints. (another pause) I don’t reckon it would do any good anyway. Ain’t nobody wantin’ to listen to a bunch of complaining.
You’re right about that, said two. And they both laughed.
I laughed, too.
How true, I thought. Ain’t nobody wantin’ to listen to a bunch of complaining. And yet that’s just where we tend to go when talking about our lives, isn’t it? Even in brief exchanges or surface conversations, what we feel most compelled to share is the bad, the ugly, the difficult.
Why do we do that? Why, when we all already know:
Life is hard. Each of us carries a heavy burden. No one of us is immune.
And yet when we connect to one another, we tend to weigh down rather than lift up. How significant would it be if that moment—How you doin’?—opened the door to a little sliver of light and grace?
Is that even possible?
(A little soul searching is in order for this rather guilty party.)
I can’t explain how it came to be planted at the corner of our house, on the edge of the bed beside the driveway. We built the house, after all, and we oversaw the landscaping plan. You’d think I’d have paid great attention to that particular spot, as it is the one I see as I enter and exit the house a thousand times a day.
Nevertheless it is there, this thing I call a “tulip tree.”
What is her issue? you may be wondering.
It’s pink, for starters.
And it blooms too soon.
This thing buds out, you see, in February. February! When the temperature is likely to be unreasonably cold and the threat of a deep freeze looms with every sunset. I worry about that tree from the moment those buds emerge. And if they make it to March (an unlikely bet, is what I’m saying), they bloom leafless (!), a wild burst of fuchsia that’s made a grand ballroom entrance—only to discover the party has yet to begin.
Until this year, that is.
This year, I spotted those buds and (I cannot tell a lie) my heart leapt at their promise.
The blooms unfolded, one after the other after the other, and I rejoiced.
Spring is coming.
How happy I am my tulip tree has the courage to be the first one to the party.
The halls of our church are lined with artwork created by the children of the Providence Presbyterian Child Development Center. They’re holding a fundraiser, you see, an art show to raise money for scholarships and playground equipment.
As I turned the corner to Sunday School, I looked up to see this.
What a beautiful interpretation of a profound truth. God can love the wohle world. And He does!