Better than black ice

“Kate never lets you help her because she wants things done her way,” they say, laughing.

I laugh too. But I’m not sure they’re joking.

It’s what I’ve done all summer, since the last big life challenge came and I decided to handle it myself.

Because I’m a good driver.

And it turns out God doesn’t force me out of the driver’s seat.

But it’s July when I hit black ice.

“It must be devastating for you,’ says the spa specialist. “You’re a beautiful girl, but now all people will see is your damaged skin.”

My neck gets warm as I think of all the terrible things I want to say back to her.

My skin is exposing me, telling me that my life is out of control.

It’s telling me that I can’t ensure he won’t face heartbreak again.

That I can’t skip the silence of waiting for his email to show up in my inbox.

That I can’t fast forward the goodbyes.

Still, I am determined to steer my own vehicle toward what I have determined will make me happy.

It feels like hell. Literally. My chest feels it a lot lately. My shoulder muscles, too.

It feels like complete control over my life, without any interference from God.

It feels like God giving me what I want.

“All I want is for you to be happy,” she says.

But in mid-March, I am convinced that happiness means holding the wheel, steering away from vulnerability and selflessness.

Until it’s April and I’m tired of driving.

It’s May when I think happiness is adventurous weekends in the Adirondacks.

Until I go home tired and sick.

I’m learning that you can’t drive toward happiness if you don’t know how to find it on a map.

And you can’t ask for more if this is all there is.

I’m ten years old when I sit in the back seat of our grey minivan. I hardly look up when my mom spins out on black ice, because she’s never steered us wrong before.

And it’s time to take a back seat again. To think more like a child and less like a stubborn know-it-all.

“I can’t do this without you,” I pray on my bed in the dark.

And morning comes.

And He shows me a better way.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

 

Advertisements

Grief is a gateway

The day comes and goes. Like the year comes and goes.

I try not to think about how I sat on that isolated beach along the cliffs of Lion’s Head a year ago and choked out a goodbye over the phone.

And how there was no response on the other end.

I try not to think about the following week, gasping for air in the driver’s seat, doubting everything about our relationship. What right do I have to be this devastated? She was my grandmother, not my mother.

He dives into work, acts like nothing has changed. I want to lash out at him. How can you grieve this way?

I’m angry that grief is personal. I’m angry that it’s universal.

A month after the funeral, I call her after the sun goes out, and tell her what I wasn’t brave enough to tell anyone else. “I almost didn’t go see her–when she called. I almost didn’t go see her that last time.” I probably had laundry to do.

It takes me longer to tell her that I can’t drive home to see my parents. The more distance I create between us, the less it will hurt when they’re gone.

“How is it going with that now, Kate? Grieving, I mean.” It’s eight months later.

“Much better!” I say, because I’m anxious to be done with it.

Yet. Grief exposes me.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3

I try to hold it in, but it splits me down the middle.

Until it’s a door for the kingdom.

Until I’m so broken, I don’t care about the awkward silences we share over dinner. And he doesn’t seem to care about holding back the words ‘I love you’ anymore. We both miss her and it’s enough in common.

Until I’m not awkward and afraid when she calls to talk about her grief. Because loss is a language we share.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4

Until my words are simpler when I pray because my bravado is gone.

But His touch is more obvious because my vulnerability has grown.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3

And the constant ache of grief is a constant reminder that it won’t last forever.

Because Jesus felt it too, hanging from the cross, forsaken by His Father.

Because it’s hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

But grief is a gateway.

I read it weeks after she’s gone and the words blur.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying of pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Revelation 21:4

When you feel like a fraud

I scrub my dinner plate, soap suds reaching up to the crease in my elbow. They’ll be singing worship songs now, but I don’t belong in a worship service on a Thursday night.

Because there’s nothing like a room full of Christians to remind you how little you’ve thought of Christ lately.

Sunday mornings can be the same.

When I was a little girl, the twins would save me a seat at the front of the church. I still remember the way they sang, belting hymns from the second row. I could never match their volume.

“Religion–my a**.” She spat on the soccer field in front of me when I was fifteen.

That’s when the weekly glimpse of the cross-centered red brick building started to cause my stomach to churn. Breathe. Breathe.

I couldn’t hold my own on the soccer field. How could I go to church and sing beside the twins?

And on a Thursday night, I can’t bring myself to worship with the other twenty-somethings because I’ve spent the past five days thinking more about basketball than Jesus.

I’m a fraud if I stand in the second row of a Christian service and cheer for anyone other than the MVP of the Raptors.

Because sometimes church can make me feel like I’m an actor in a terrible dramatic production.

But it’s not as obvious if I just stay home.

Then there’s the tiny group of people who meet in an old public school and it’s a bit like a family reunion whenever I visit. Dave’s always in his Sunday best, Steve in bare feet behind the pulpit.

“It feels like family,” she tells me after we finish eating ham sandwiches in the gymnasium.

An odd assortment of misfits.

Because Sunday morning isn’t a trial on who is good enough to belong in a pew. It’s a reminder that our seats have been saved by the only One who deserves to sit in them.

Not even Dave in his Sunday best deserves a seat with the saints.

The reason we fill them is because of the cross on the wall at the front.

Because He fills them.

With misfits like Peter the denier. And Paul the persecutor.

And me.

And that’s why I set my alarm on a Sunday morning and walk through the doors and try to choose a seat that’s not in the darkest corner.

To remember why I don’t deserve to be there.

But also why I am.

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…” Ephesians 2:19-20

The invitation

Years later, I wonder why he never wanted me.

Because I need to be wanted.

And you’d think I’d grow out of it at 25, but I just have to ask him before he can hang up the phone: “Dad, do you miss me?”

Because I need to be needed.

I always feel it when I’m standing in places far away from telephone lines, when the bars of service on my phone shrink down to blanks.

How human affirmation only reaches as far as my service provider.

And how we’re different.

It’s what He told Moses when Moses was trembling at the thought of leading a nation out of slavery.

I Am Who I Am.

But I am the mess that Monday left in its wake.

I am the aftermath of a three-hour long meeting that didn’t go my way.

I Am Who I Am.

He doesn’t need us to call Him the Creator to confirm that He made the unnamed galaxies.

He doesn’t need us to show up to church and sing Hallelujah to know that His place is a heavenly throne.

But He invites us to worship.

To want Him, need Him, lean on His all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful self.

Because He loves us.

Because when I’m coming out of a three-hour meeting or when I’m sitting in my basement apartment after the funeral or in the window seat of plane flying towards the unknown, I can exalt something other than the fearfulness of my situation.

Because worship is not a burden or an obligatory rite of passage. It’s a gift. It’s an undeserved opportunity to delight in Someone who is always better than everything else.

The ultimate Legacy

“It’s hard to know if I’m really making the most of my life,” she tells me as she stretches out between the seats of the train.

I watch the darkness pass and force myself to breathe deeply. I had just read that most writers complete their greatest work in their mid-twenties. My mid-twenties are here.

And soon gone.

I want to leave a legacy with words. She wants to leave one with cross-cultural missions, with the kids he raises, the career she builds.

“What am I doing? What am I doing?” I press the palm of my hand into the steering wheel after a night at the movies.

I say I want to build a legacy, but I really just want my name to live forever. To step outside time.

Am I any different than Eve reaching out to pluck the chance to be like God?

I try to see through the smudged fingerprints on the glass. Darkness flies past and the occasional blur of lights. I’ve heard of trains that fly like bullets, crossing borders and consuming the tracks in a matter of seconds.

But there’s no train I can ride to the outskirts of time.

Even the great people in history books get the past tense beside their name. She was. They were the greatest of their time.

But God stands before the beginning and after the end.

I am.

I flip past another meme of a millenial in their twenties, having accomplished 0% of the goals they ever made.

But the only lasting Legacy sits on His throne, finished with His work.

Even the future is finished.

The number of my days are tucked safely in the hands of the One who cannot be defined by numbers or calculations.

We get off the train together. I start to pray, not that I would make a difference in this world, but that I would trust in the One who has already made all the difference.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8

The diet

I turn sideways to get a good look in the mirror. It’s an involuntary reaction, the way I grab my tummy and try to pull it tighter.

I hate it.

That’s when I think about what I’m thinking. I pull on my favourite pants, the ones that always make me feel proud of my legs.

My reflection stares back, unimpressed.

Maybe it’s being in her house for two days, the 48-hour reminder that I’ll never look the same as her.

Yet, when another friend fiddles with her chopsticks over a platter of sushi and says that body image is maybe one of the biggest struggles women face, I want to say no.

I don’t struggle with that.

The next day, I catch my disapproving look in the mirror. It’s so common, I never even noticed it before.

“The thing I’ve realized,” she says, “is that you never actually get where you want to be with your body.” We used to exercise together.

I always think my inner monologue will change once I look a certain way.

And yet, when I first met her, I awkwardly stared. I thought she might be a model. Later, she told me she struggled with body image.

Because body image is not based on the reflection, but the reflector in the mirror.

Ugliness?

That’s in my heart as I scroll through their Instagram selfies, discontentment growing.

Take every thought captive.

Or the unbelief that my image was defined from the beginning of time–cellulite or not.

In the image of God, He created them.

Or the forgetfulness that skin particles become dust particles, but the soul lives in the end. Faith lives in the end. Contentment lives in the end. Joy lives in the end. Love lives in the end.

It’s a Friday when I look in the mirror and decide to make a change.

A permanent diet, of sorts.

A restricted consumption of discontented thoughts.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

 

One thing we can control

My finger hovers over the mouse. To post or not to post? I’m not worried about what my friends think or my co-workers or my grandmother. I’m worried about my friend’s mother’s friend–some woman I hardly know.

For a moment, some woman I hardly know has the power over my decision.

It’s the same after the party I attend. I fall on my bed without taking off my coat. Did I come off too strong or too quiet? Were my jokes funny? Did they even know they were jokes?

“You think too much about the details,” she tells me.

It’s paralyzing. People.

All the things I can’t control in my relationships.

She tells me she’s been studying this book lately, studying what she says.

“I know people who do that,” I tell her.

There’s the girl who has never shared someone else’s secrets with me and has barely breathed a bad word about anyone since I’ve known her.

There’s the woman whose words are like mortar. Every word she tells me about myself has built me brick by brick.

And there’s the man who listened to me for fifteen years before I started asking him for his opinion and advice.

Because they already knew there are so many things we can’t control about people.

They knew.

The girl with a harsh mentor.

The woman with an abusive husband.

The man with a depressed wife.

They knew.

We can control our words. We should.

How they bruise.

How they build.

“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18