Make your mind up

I am not the worrying kind. But sometimes I’m afraid of the dark. Of the minor possibility of intruders. 

Sometimes I’m afraid he’ll realize it’s more of a burden than a benefit to love me. 

Sometimes I’m afraid of how the people I love are changing. Sometimes I’m afraid of how they are not. 

My back aches on the morning of my 29th birthday. My soul too, a little. I am afraid that my life will slip away, buried by my selfishness. Birthdays are the worst for entitlement and self pity. 

I get too caught up in hoping people will say nice things about me. 

A few weeks before, she asked the group if anyone wants to share their struggles with fear. I stay silent as every other person opens up.

How can I tell them I’m afraid of the dark? 

“Make your mind up about some things,” she says. I put it on paper and stick it to my wall. “Just get up every morning and make your mind up.”

Make your mind up that her mood doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you anymore. Make your mind up that there will be strength to forgive, strength to grieve and tenacity to grow. And you will be okay if the worst happens. And God won’t throw His hands in the air at you because He’s already put them on a cross for you. 

“Could you pray I would sleep?” I ask her. I have more faith in the power of my worst fears than in the power of a God who loves me. 

On the morning of my 29th birthday, I read Psalm 18. “Then the channels of the sea were seen and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD.”

How terrifying. How powerful. 

“For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness.” 

I almost miss the passage from sleep deprivation and have to read it again. 

I must take Him for His word. 

I must make up my mind, every day for the rest of my twenties. He is more powerful than the power of my fear.

I make up my mind that I love Him and He loves me. Frightened, little me.

I will be obedient. I will not fear.

And that is enough to lead me through the dark.

Not a right

We’re leaning against the cedar planks of the sauna when he tells me that people have it all backwards thinking relationships are about what you can get out of the other person. “The more you serve, the better the relationship gets,” he says. 

I’m the one who tells him, a few days before, that I wouldn’t be the type of person to get up every morning to make my partner breakfast–a preemptive clarification of my feministic principles. And anyway, it’s not practical. 

Maybe I’m right. But I realize I’ve been approaching every relationship lately on the basis of practicality. 

“I think I am finally in a stable place in my faith,” I tell her. There was a period when I wondered if Christianity ever did any real good over the course of the last few centuries. And a time when I wondered if it was a religion for women or just for the men who got to speak from the pulpit.

“I am finally in a stable place in my faith,” I tell him. “But I am missing my intimacy with God.” 

Maybe because it’s hard to be intimate with someone when you’re scrutinizing whether your relationship is fair. 

Or maybe because it’s hard to lay down your life when you’re not willing to do their leftover dishes. 

And anyway, selflessness is not practical. 

Certainly not when he stays up late to get my coffee ready for the next morning. Or when I ask to borrow a vacuum for my car–and, instead, he goes to vacuum, wax and fuel it himself.

It’s not fair for him to do that. It’s just grace.

“It’s your reasonable service,” the preacher had said from the pulpit, speaking of offering our bodies as living sacrifices to God. 

Because loving someone usually changes your priorities.

“The more you serve, the better the relationship gets,” he says. And the same night, I feel a rotten load of discontentment boiling up inside me as we finish our run. Before I can blurt it all out, he tells me all the things he loves about me. 

But I’ve always thought of love in relation to losing–freedom, time. But maybe, when you lay your life down, you give it the chance to be taken apart and rebuilt into something more real. Something you can see for what it is. 

Not a right. But a privilege. To demonstrate your love for Someone who loves you with no terms or conditions.  

“For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:7-8 

A home for longing

I wonder if I will ever get to a point where I am not longing for my childhood home. 

As I drive through the Redwoods and down along the coast of California, I’m always comparing it–how the sun falls just so, in familiar lines through the trees on Sawmill Road. 

“What do we do with our longing?” It’s a rhetorical question on our group chat.

Where do we place it? It’s not sadness. It’s not happiness. 

Maybe that’s why it’s easier to eliminate it. 

It’s easier to scratch the itch. “If it will make you happy, just do it,” people say. So I buy a million skin care products and bake a dozen cookies at 9 PM until I’m broke and sick to my stomach. 

“Look to God and be satisfied,” others say–and it sounds like another version of the same thing. 

If I looked to Him and didn’t long for more, would it really be Him that I’m seeing?

“Longing is sort of like grief,” I talk through it with her. The process is painful. But without it, our loss would have no meaning. 

Maybe that’s why half the reason I read books is to finish them, but sometimes I cry because I do. 

Maybe that’s why I constantly anticipate the start of the leaves turning colour, but regret when they fall. 

Maybe that’s why I’d love someone even if I’ve lost someone. 

“All the best things in life are hard, but they bring a lot of meaning.” That is the conclusion I have about marriage, having children and friendships. 

Living with longing is the side effect of living with meaning. 

And the inkling that there is Something More.

And one day I’ll turn down the old highway and onto Sawmill Road once again, and see how the sun falls just so in those familiar lines through the trees, and still feel it deeply, that longing for Home. 

“My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord…” Psalm 84:2

How DARE You to Here Am I

How DARE you. 

That is the feeling I get in my gut when I’m ten and my mom asks me to fold the laundry. 

Or when I’m a teenager and they want to change our Christmas traditions. 

Or when it’s a month ago in the middle of an argument when I realize I’m wrong about something. 

And when she tells me through a voice message about the results of her tests–and how they will change her life–I sense no anger. No bitterness. It simply is.

Her acceptance is not only too brave for me, it’s too humble. 

“See,” I want to tell her. This is exactly why I am scared to be here. I wish she’d make a big fat deal about it. Stir up some drama.

“Sometimes in working through things with God,” she says, “you can feel a lot better about a situation even if the situation hasn’t changed.” 

But I’d prefer to change the situation. Or work at changing the problem and the other person. 

That is how I waste Christmas Eve and Tuesday nights and perfectly good relationships. 

“Will you ever be okay depending on anyone?” He asks me. 

I get that feeling in my gut. Even if I could do the whole thing by myself–the growing, the learning, the loving–would I want to? 

“I don’t want to miss out on something good because of my pride,” I tell her. 

But I am half-afraid it’s already too late. And I’ve missed the sweetness in our friendship because I’ve failed to forgive the past. I’ve failed to notice the ways she’s changed because I’ve written off the possibility. I’ve missed deeper connections because I’ve refused to be vulnerable. I’ve dodged peace in unplanned situations because I’ve resisted acceptance. 

What if humility gives you more than you give up? 

From How DARE You to Here Am I. 

“Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.” (Frances R. Havergal)

The way my Saviour did.

Think of all the good things one might see.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” 1 Peter 5:6

The things that scare me

These are the things that scare me. 

-Karaoke

-Never publishing a book

-Walking alone in the city at night

-Publishing a book

-Not living very long

-Being hated

-Living too long

-Being loved

-The world my kids (if I have them) will live in

-Inflation

-All of the things I don’t know

ALL OF THE THINGS I DON’T KNOW.

The mistakes I will make because of my lack of knowledge. 

“I can’t write anything,” I tell him. Weeks pass like this. Instead, I read incessantly, hoping my knowledge will immunize me against mistakes, against fear. I get my hands on every audiobook and podcast I can find. I browse higher education opportunities. 

ALL OF THE THINGS I DON’T KNOW.

I know God is in control. But not whether I will lose everything and everyone I love. 

I know I will live after life, but will I die a painful death?

I know things will work together for good, but when will they exactly? And how? 

For every book I read, I add ten more to my list. I can never gain enough knowledge. 

Knowledge is the fruit I want to take and eat and give to Adam, but the more I know, the more I’m exposed to everything I don’t know.

I remember the way he holds out his hand for me as he stands in the gap below me, between me and a long drop to a rocky ledge. “I got you,” he says. 

There’s no way on earth I’m just going to trust him. “I need you to tell me exactly what to do and what to expect. Walk me through every step.” 

All of the things I don’t know are in the gap below me, between my hand and his. Fear lives there. And I want to eliminate it, along with any element of trust and faith in anyone else other than myself. 

There once was a man who couldn’t walk and I remember reading what Jesus told him: “Get up, take up your bed, and walk!” (John 5:8)

“I got you.”

What if he hadn’t tried? What if he had waited until the uncertainty was gone? The need for trust–eliminated. Until he was really, really, really sure it was all going to work out just fine.

What if he hadn’t seen uncertainty as possibility? The gap for trust as just a space for grace. Between not knowing and knowing–a space to trust. To link hands.

The opportunity for hope to spring to its feet. 

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:25)

Emergency sunsets

She tells me Grandma kept a lawn chair in her trunk at all times in case of an emergency sunset she needed to watch from the side of the road. 

She tells me this as we’re standing by the casket. It’s a new piece of information, but it fits like a quilt piece. 

It fits my memory of her sitting quietly in the passenger seat as we listen to the live music across the water.

It fits like her hand over mine as she shows me the first three chords to “Little Brown Jug” on the banjo. And we jam away the hours.

It fits like my head in the pillows on the spare bed in her purple room as I read. Purple walls, purple lamps, purple just because she can. 

Among the adults who taught us to read, taught us to work, taught us to plan, she taught me to play.

She taught me that there is purpose in doing things just to do them, even if you have nothing to show for it but flushed faces and happy hearts. 

There is purpose in doing things that make you truly happy to be living at that particular moment in time, even if you never write it in your memoir. 

“In an ideal world, we only have four thousand weeks to live,” I tell her about the book I’m reading. Four thousand weeks worth of time to spend. 

She taught me to spend it on contentment. Because contentment is the best return on investment. It doubles what you already have. Triples it.  

“We really don’t know just how amazing she was,” she says as we listen to the old tapes Grandma recorded with her bluegrass band of thirty years. 

How can you really know the quiet impact her contentment had on the people around her? 

“She was the best person I knew,” she tells me. We’re just two of her granddaughters, leaning against the fence in the barn beside the house where she raised six children. I’m thinking of the way she played the banjo in nursing homes, at plowing matches and in churches. She’s thinking of weekly pizza nights. I’m thinking of the way she let us enjoy our childhood for as long as possible. 

And the way we prayed together, the way she talked about her faith–the simple, genuine, love-your-neighbour kind. 

Of how she was still the person everyone wanted to be around well past turning 90 because of the way she made you feel

She tells me Grandma left a plate of half-eaten dinner on the table to hop in the car and run an errand with them–and it fits like a quilt piece. She left her dinner to get cold to spend time with the people she loved. 

Isn’t that a way to live? The way her Saviour lived. Isn’t that the stuff that lasts long, long after. 

“But godliness with contentment is great gain…” 1 Timothy 6:6

Yorkshire pudding people

I still remember what I ordered in the pub on Sunday afternoon a few kilometers from campus when he told me who he voted for. I’d known him for years and never pegged him for it. Never assumed that we would vote for the same party when he was so different from me. 

But we shared Yorkshire pudding and sat together for hours, talking about literature and all the books we don’t have in common. 

Goes to show people are people–not their political affiliations. 

And I remember when she showed up at my door after he died and sat on the front porch with me. Or when she sent me that care package right after my first breakup. And we don’t see eye to eye on some major headlines. 

But I’d die for them. Or sit on the kitchen floor with them. Or on their couch in their living room after their baby goes to heaven. 

I scroll through stories of people calling other people “idiots”. And then I turn off my phone for a few hours. I don’t answer calls. 

Because pride divides. Alienates. Dehumanizes. 

But there’s one weekend in August when we laugh and hike and jump off cliffs and she never mentions it at all–the one thing that everyone has been talking about all year. Not once. 

It doesn’t register until later that it’s the first weekend where the biggest issue of the year was not an issue for us. “It’s none of my business,” she tells me later. 

Sometimes I scroll through the comment section of the New York Times. It has become the business of everyone to care about everyone else’s business. 

And there are reasons to care and to be informed. 

And there are reasons to go hiking on a Sunday morning–far away from cell service. “The reason I love hiking is because everyone can’t look at their phones for hours,” I tell him. 

And as we climb the snow-covered trail under the warm sun, I wonder if heaven has wilderness. I wonder if we wander for days in wild places with our Lord. And I wonder if it’s something like this day when time doesn’t matter.

Because time doesn’t matter to Him. He is in the future and in the past. He is where people are deciding to vote for someone who won’t be born for years and He is at the end of our time.

And He is here with me as I pray about how to live.

He is: I AM. 

“I want all this to be over,” I tell her. But I know it will not be over for me for a long time. 

But it is for Him. 

It is seen, lived, completed for Him. From the Messiah on the cross to the King of Kings on the white horse, it is finished. 

And it’s our business to live like it. 

“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

A 90-year-old’s bucket list

“People just give up,” he tells me at the age of 90 from his room at the senior’s home. “But you have to dream.” Everyone needs a bucket list, he says. 

We talk about ours. I’d like to go to Turkey and he’d like to go back. I’d like to take a road trip across New Zealand and he’d like to take another cruise through the Panama Canal. 

“I don’t need a big dream,” she tells me. Instead, she asks me to pray for purpose in her life. 

On a Wednesday afternoon, I find myself planning my next big hike. It was my dream to be out in the mountains every weekend. I asked for it, moved across the country for it. And now I feel guilty when I want to sleep in. Some Saturdays, it feels more like a burden than a break. 

She tells us she’s been thinking of that verse for the weary and heavy laden. She tells us that Jesus is our rest. 

Because even small dreams, ripe with expectation, can hold you back. Burden you. Weigh you down. Overpower your ability to live with purpose. 

“I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” I remember telling them in a job interview. And I wake up five years later and can barely keep my eyes on that blinking cursor in Word for more than a minute at a time. 

The honeymoon stage has worn off. 

“There are days,” he says, “when we aren’t at our best. But there’s never a day I don’t want to come home to her.” That was what he told me of love long past the honeymoon stage.

Because love lasts–long past. 

Past the point when dreams have lost their charm, been stripped of ego and misdirected passion. Pared down to the bare minimum. 

Love lasts. 

I ask myself more and more frequently what I really need to accomplish in this life to truly feel I’ve made the most of my time here. I ask on late nights when I can’t stop working. I ask as I scroll through flights and sales like an addict. 

I ask like a lawyer once asked Jesus. When He really should’ve known the greatest commandment by His life, His miracles, His compassion, His death and His resurrection. 

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind,” He answered. “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37,39)

And I call him weekly and we talk about our bucket list.

But really I just call to talk to him. Because I love him. And even if we never do the things we plan to do, I’ve loved him. 

Even if I never do the things I’ve dreamed to do, I’ve loved Him. 

And that will be enough for this life.

And more than enough for the next. 

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

A little every day

I’m still a kid when I ask him how his sister became a best-selling author. “She writes a little every day,” he says. 

And so, I write a little every week. 

I tell her I want to write a novel, but she knows I’m a creature of habit. “You don’t want to commit because when you do, you’ll actually have to do it.” 

I don’t commit. Yet. 

Shortly after the world shuts down and people buy too much toilet paper, I talk about it again with a fellow writer over Facetime. 

“I’m going to write a novel,” I tell her. “A little every day.” 

As soon as I say it, I want to take it back. It sounds like a death sentence. It sounds like a commitment to imperfection. 

And then it’s mid summer of 2020 and I sit on the grass with my friends as a member of the orchestra plays the piano. He’s traveled the world, but here we are together, picking ants off our legs and nodding to Chopin. 

One of the reasons I know everything will be okay is the way humans never stop creating. Never stop laying down their ego at the possibility of picking the wrong notes, the wrong words, the wrong samples.

“You have to be okay with failing,” he often tells me. 

And so, I keep writing. A little every day. 

“Art is essential,” she says. We talk about it all the way down the mountain above Canmore. “It’s like an advertisement.” You look at it and it’s asking you what you think, feel–and what you should do about it. 

It’s a relationship: creator to beholder. We look up at the mountain we just climbed and I want to shout: beholder to Creator. 

But most days, writing doesn’t feel like a relationship. It doesn’t feel holy. It feels solitary.

It feels like sitting in the witness stand. Tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And you do it. You show up scared and write a little every day. 

Some days, writing is like being in the infantry. You stare at the blinking cursor and fight for creativity. You do it scared, a little every day.

Like you show up to a first date, a second and a third. One step at a time. 

You go to the funeral. You talk about her memories. You take out her old photos. One stage of grief at a time. 

When I finally finish my novel a year and a half after we talk over Facetime, I sit back in my desk chair and stare at the screen for a few minutes. 

I’ve imagined what I would do to celebrate, many times. Instead, I go for a run as I do every day. I make dinner. Buy groceries. 

Small things. Faithful things. Habits of endurance.

Stamina to break through the finish line. 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1

The right kind of curiosity

I share moments with different people now. New people. And the more I share with them, the more I discover.

“You bring out the weird in me,” she says. “And I bring out the weird in you.” I thought at 27, I had myself figured out. But then you meet someone new and there’s another piece of yourself you didn’t see before. 

There’s a piece of Him you didn’t see before. 

I get in my head when I catch my reflection in his sunglasses because I wonder if what I see is the way he’s seeing me. Usually, he lets me leave my overthinking at the door. I’ve never seen myself live in the moment before–not like this. Not the jump-off-moving trains kind of living. 

“I haven’t blogged as much since I met you,” I say. The truth is all the new relationships are already too much exposure. Too much vulnerability. 

I travel back to my childhood home for eight days and it feels like we’re all teenagers again, but I start to notice differences about them. They’ve met different people. They’ve lived different lives. 

“We have to expect the people in our lives to change,” she says as we sit cross-legged on the grass on a Tuesday night. She says it like it’s the secret to long-term friendship and lifelong love.

And long-lasting faith. Faith that goes in the hall of fame. Faith is the conviction that the gospel brings change.

And perhaps the best advice I received this year is to be curious. 

To start conversations with curiosity.

To get on the phone with my family members. 

To handle confrontation.

I open the page in the Bible and read the passage that makes my cheeks burn and my tongue get dry. 

Curiosity is admitting that there is always something you might not know. It’s the secret passage to humility. 

“The love I have for my nephew is something I never imagined I’d experience,” she tells me. 

And that gives me hope that there’s other love we haven’t experienced yet. There’s joy we haven’t known. There’s growth we haven’t felt. There’s beauty we haven’t seen.

But we will one day, perhaps–if we’re only curious enough to keep our eyes open for it. 

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1