Sunday, July 24, 2011

Spilt Milk

So someone forgot to remind me that self-pity was not an Olympic sport because I have been in hard core training all week.  I mean there've been some serious woe-is-me-isms going on in my heart as I've competed in the "I'm more pathetic than you are," races.  Oy.  And I can testify that there is no physically induced exhaustion that can compare with the complete weariness of soul brought on by self-pity.

Last night I let Quinn have some chocolate milk for dinner, which is a pretty rare occasion at our house, but it was dinner and a movie night so we were living large.  In less than five minutes, Quinn lost his balance and executed this incredible gyration that catapulted his drink across the living room in some twilight zone moment that I saw in slow motion where he managed to cover everything in a five foot radius with chocolate milk.  It was gross.  I tried to be kind about the accident, since he gets his genetic predisposition to ridiculous feats of clumsiness from me, but I did make him go to his room while I cleaned up the mess because I just couldn't deal with him as well in that moment.  As I cleaned every exposed surface in the room, I heard these choking sobs coming from his room like his heart was going to break, and I was touched that he was full of remorse.  So I went back to talk to him, and he was very pathetically splayed on his bed.  I asked him why he was sad, thinking that he might actually be sorry for making such a mess, but he was barely able to choke out, "My shirt has milk on it, and it's my bestest Batman shirt."  And then I remembered that he was indeed four.

At least being four, you have some excuse for being self-absorbed.  I, being somewhat past four, have nothing like his excuse for the completely self-absorbed pity party that I find myself stuck in like quicksand.  Strangely enough, I never set out to be here, and I've spent the last couple days trying to figure out how I got here and how I can get out.  I've been looking over my notes from reading The Ascent of Mt. Carmel by St. John of the Cross, and it occurred to me how appropriate his words were, almost as if the Lord let me experience this week simply so I could understand what he is writing.  So I'm going to summarize my notes here, as a sort of stream-of-consciouness explanation for how I got here and how I'm going to get out.  Anything in quotes will be a direct quotation, otherwise, the words are my summary:
If our goal is union with God, then we must pass through two nights, the first of which is purging the sensual part of the soul, it's attachment to this world.
 "We are not treating here a lack of things...  It is not the things of this world that either occupy the soul or cause it harm, since they enter it not, but rather the will and desire for them, for it is these that dwell within..."
"The soul that loves anything else becomes incapable of pure union with God."
The misplaced desires of the soul are sources of endless weariness because they allow the soul no rest since they can never be filled.  Like bugs to bright light, we are drawn to these desires, blind to all else, even our own destruction.  "He that is blinded by desires has this property that, when he is set in the midst of truth and of that which is good for him, he can no more see them than if he were in darkness."
The soul that is divided has no energy to pursue God.  Even the slightest whim or attachment to something, no matter how insignificant, has the power to prevent union with God.  Even people who have conquered great sins and vanities may be tempted to cling to some small attachment, yet "one imperfection is sufficient to lead to another....  If a man is to enter this divine union, all that lives in his soul must die, both little and much, small and great."
How do we mortify these desires?  We must have a habitual desire to imitate Christ and long for the greater love in Christ, to the extent that our strength, courage, and constancy to mortify our flesh comes from a desire to please him that is greater than our desire to please our flesh.  (Does that sound like Thomas Chalmers to anyone else?)
 So it would seem in this light, that I have lost my greater affection for Christ, and the lesser affections of my heart have been waging war against my spirit this week.  Thus I am weary and heavy-laden with the burden of trying to satisfy my insatiable desires.

But I am learning to say with the psalmist, "Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my savior and my God."  I am finding more and more that this verse is the picture of faith, to hope and praise despite all feeling to the contrary, to step out, regardless of my current state, with the expectation that I will be met by grace.

So I will continue praying 2 Thessalonians 3:5 for myself, "May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance."  Because right now, I desperately need more of God's love and Christ's perseverance.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Growing Old

I'm not sure how I found myself in a Hallmark store, a place I visit maybe once a year, on the day they decide to premier their Christmas ornaments.  In July, people?  Really?  I thought I'd pop in and out for a card but found myself surrounded by throngs of gray-haired ladies spending hundreds of dollars on Christmas ornaments.  It was bizarre.  But there was this one little old couple in the corner browsing the ornaments and enjoying each other's company, and it made me think of how much Emmett and I looked forward to growing old together.  We used to laugh about how much fun we were going to have as crazy old people, gardening, and traveling, and enjoying our family.

Last week I found a copy of The Velveteen Rabbit that Emmett had sent me while we were engaged and living on separate continents.  Inside he wrote:
My love - I saw this and thought how much like the velveteen rabbit you are to me.  You are incredibly awesome, and I want to love you till all the of the pink rubs off your nose and till your fur and whiskers don't look like such.  The older we shall grow together, all the more beautiful and special you will be to me...
Memories of Emmett seem to grow stronger as his illness fades away.  I've just wrapped up some time in a cabin on the Toccoa River in north Georgia.  It was a sweet time away, playing in the river's edge with Quinn, watching the mountain laurel blooms float down stream like tiny teacups, and enjoying nature.  When we went tubing on the river, I could recall Emmett's laughter almost perfectly and thought about how much he would have enjoyed being with us.  As I hiked up the side of a waterfall, I could point out exactly where he would have stopped to help me, almost feeling the touch of his strong hands.  And as Quinn and I played in the river's edge, I longed for Emmett to be there because he would have found ways to make us laugh that I could never imagine.

So now we're home, and tonight it feels like I've lost him all over again.  I'm snuggled up in one of his favorite jackets, unpacking and crying and writing.  It is one of those nights when I wonder how long life gets harder before it starts getting easier.  And yet, I'm content to dwell in sorrow for as long as necessary because, though it is deep, it cannot separate me from the love of Christ.  If I can grieve this deeply, then how much more has God grieved for us.  If I can weep this much, then how much more has God wept for us.  I am surprised to find that sorrow reaffirms the love of God better than happiness ever could.  So for the mean time, I will explore God's love to the fullest extent and let it wash over me, making me new.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sandpaper and Waterfalls

My hands feel like sandpaper right now, so much so that I'm afraid to touch my bedspread or nice clothes because my hands are so rough I might snag the fabric.  I suppose that makes sense because I spent the whole morning Friday sanding our bathroom cabinets, finally getting around to a project that Emmett and I had planned long ago. I blasted an old worship mix I made for Emmett's iPod and shut myself in our tiny bathroom for about 3 hours, not stopping until may arms were about to fall off.

I've had to be intentional about reintroducing music into my life.  Emmett was always my music filter, bringing me new music and encouraging me to broaden my tastes.  After he got sick, listening to music gave Emmett so much pain that he gradually gave it up.  I've been listening to many of our old mixes as I can and searching for new music as well.  It was a blessing just to sit and work and let so many of the songs we loved flow over me.

So I sang, prayed, talked to myself, wrote blogs in my head that I've already forgotten.  I talked to Emmett a little bit, tried to channel some of his attention to detail, and got thoroughly grimy from the dust.  It was a nice morning.  It's still strange to have nice mornings.

I felt like the Lord was working on my soul as I worked on those cabinets.  I was reminded of a song that later played in the mix by Emmett's college roommate, Jeff, that I believe they recorded in our first apartment together.  I don't even know if the song was ever recorded again, but it is about the place Emmett and Jeff used to camp in college, Jones Gap, in Traveler's Rest, SC.  Emmett took me camping there for our first anniversary, and from the first time I heard the song, I've loved it.   Now it seems to express where I am perfectly, so here are the words:

Way up off highway 11
You can follow this old road a couple miles
You find yourself at the gates of heaven
Step outside and feel the earth smile

Gentle brook song and poplar grove.
A ringneck snake and a cool breeze.
And the way the hemlocks grow 
Will make you weak in the knees 

And God's a river falls,
From the mountains through my heart,
Polishing jagged rocks into smooth stones,
wearing away, giving me new life.

So follow this water up through the hills.
Sometimes walking is all you need.
Leave the destination to his will.
Let each step bring a little peace.

And God's a river falls,
From the mountains through my heart,
Polishing jagged rocks into smooth stones,
wearing away, giving me new life.

So feel the rhythm beneath your feet.
A simple thrill is creation's call.
If you follow where it leads,
I'll met you there where the river falls. 

And God's a river falls,
From the mountains through my heart,
Polishing jagged rocks into smooth stones,
wearing away, giving me new life.

My soul feels very much like my hands right now.  This process of polishing, of intentionally and patiently and relentlessly wearing away at my soul, has left me feeling so rough and unkempt that I feel unfit even to form words right now, afraid I might snag someone else's spirit unintentionally.  Consequently, I seem to be speaking through other people's songs, instead of saying anything really new.

And yet, I'm encouraged to know that there really is a communion deeper than words in the body of believers, that somehow, despite our quirks and differences, our various trials produce the same depth of grace.  Whatever our struggle, the Lord presents us each with the opportunity to dwell ever more richly in his grace, to have our false selves gradually worn away, and to find the sweet new life that comes when we meet him where the river falls.  May we have eyes to see, not only how God is wearing each of us down, but may we also see how he is creating each one of us anew in his image.  And in his grace may we carry each other to that river.  Amen.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A New Normal

I'm listening to the popping fireworks outside and thinking of last year when some lovely neighbors two doors down set our lawn on fire.  Emmett was so angry.  I went outside this evening for a moment and saw the neighbor in between us was hosing down her yard, trees, and roof in preparation for this year's festivities.  I had to chuckle.

This morning was spent cleaning the house and playing with Quinn.  I forced myself to play music, something Emmett always thought to do, so it wouldn't be so quiet.  It occurred to me that this was the first time I had cleaned my house in...  well, let's just say I can't remember.  Between parents and friends helping out, it may have been over a year since I have done more than the occasional spot clean.  Six months ago, I wouldn't have even thought my house was dirty because I hardly noticed those things.

When Emmett was sick, there was no down time.  I woke up in time to get dressed, give Emmett medicine, get Quinn to school, go to work, come home, snag some time with Emmett before picking Quinn up and finishing the evening with frantically preparing things for the next day before I could snag a few hours sleep.  I think back and wonder how I made it through.  There was no free time, no need to make decisions about how to spend my time.  Everything was portioned out with no margins.  Occasional free moments were spent at the gym or reading in a desperate attempt to preserve my sanity.

The past few weeks, although not packed quite as tightly, were also filled with things to do while I had the help I needed.  With Emmett's services, two birthdays, countless friends and family to see, and numerous details to put in order, my schedule has felt very much the same - moving from one thing to another, putting out the nearest fire and moving on.  But now, this week, starting today, there is a new kind of normal.  Today was filled with wide open spaces of time.  We played, I cleaned, I napped, we visited friends, and yet I still managed to feel anxious, as if I were forgetting something.

So I'm in training to teach myself how to handle free time, to learn to have interests again, and to be still. It's not going well so far, but here's to hoping it gets easier.