Sojourn in the Atlanta Airport

Plane“The airports the one place you hear everyone’s life story,” one stranger remarked to another stranger before both began to outdo each other in sharing the stories they’d collected that day. These stories, and the stories I heard over a few days of delayed flights, reminded me of hope.

The world is very much a cruel and terrible place. It is divided. There are (and have long been) children dying and the bombs flying. In the 23 hours I spent in the airport, I saw a lot of personal hopelessness turn into selfishness. Everyone wanted to be where they had planned to go. Employees were overworked and exhausted. Storms on Wednesday led to over 3000 cancelled flights from Atlanta.

On Wednesday, I left my apartment at 11:00am. My luggage was thoroughly soaked in the quick walk to the bus stop. Usually, I love weather. I love the way it brings people together, and I like its inconsistency. It remains unpredictable, even in its predictability. We were all subject to the storm on Wednesday, every grounded passenger imprisoned as the rain kept falling and the thunder rattled the large airport windows. We were powerless, so some did the only thing left to do—ask the stranger waiting next to them, “So where are you going?”

Interrupted only by loud clasps of thunder, this beautiful question led to the start of excellent tales. With this question, “where are you going?” I didn’t learn a single person’s name. But I learned their stories. I met an aunt who was going to the wedding of her niece. There were reports of a woman missing her own weeding. I heard the stories of businessmen and women going to and from conferences. The Atlanta soccer team players seemed to be arriving. The Netflix employee, with his branded baggage, was departing.

A former Broadway actress (she spent nine years in NYC but then it became too much for the Midwestern girl) was headed to a festival of plays. She sat beside the Dutchman who was headed to Indiana to surprise his son, his son whom had just welcomed his first baby into the world. “Of all my children, I knew my youngest son,” he always called him that—‘my youngest son’, “would end up in America. English always came so naturally to him. It was like it was, a—a, love connection between my youngest son and America. He worked on the cruise boats and then he moved to Indiana.” The Dutchman travelled over 40 hours to spend a mere two days with his youngest son, because, as he remarked “we haven’t seen each other, in life person, in three years.”

The Dutchman, the Mrs. Broadway, and I sat next to each other sharing stories when we got the email notifications that our gate had changed. My Dutch friend led the way, from B23 to A26 to B29. The large Atlanta airport seemed to burst with weary travelers. We were an overstocked aquarium of people, moving as intently as if we were in the ocean2. Every few minutes, my Dutch friend would look back to see that Mrs. Broadway and I had not been left behind. His new granddaughter is a lucky little girl. I hope he made it to meet her.

On the escalator during this long escapade, Mrs. Broadway saw me fiddling to put my water bottle back in its spot. She lifted my bag and said, “my girl, this is heavy!” She lifted my burden. And so did so many others.

When my third flight was cancelled, the boy who has been changing my own story came to pick me up so that I wouldn’t have to ride Marta alone at midnight.  He drove through the intense storm to the intense airport. He left, I think, as soon as he saw my name on his phone, before I even asked. He had to in order to get there as quickly as he did. Then, the next day as I spent 12 more hours in the airport, he seemed to know exactly when to call to cheer me up in the moments when I began to think I’d never make it to the conference I was already missing. So many other sweet friends sent me messages of hope that I needed to recharge my phone twice1.

My dad rebooked my flight twice for me. He saved me seven hours (not an exaggeration) of standing in line. He answered my every call, even when in the middle of doing so many other things. His long ago subtle lessons also helped me when waiting in line became inevitable. My family was flying back from Ireland a few years ago, and we arrived to a stormy New York City. We slept that night on the hard floor of LaGuardia. At one point, both my sisters, my mom, and I were all crying. Still, he talked to the counter workers with kindness. Three hours into the line, I realized I was still standing strong. A stranger came up to ask me a question, and in that moment, I felt a little bit more like my dad.

More people asked me questions, directly and indirectly. An older wife nudged her husband to get a wheelchair. He said no, but she struggled away to look for him one anyway. His face had gotten paler as we’d stood, and he was clutching his left shoulder. I asked if I could go find him a wheelchair. His quiet reply was tragic, “I’ve never been sick a day in my life. And now this.” He was sitting in a wheelchair twenty minutes later. A woman in front of me had been stuck in the airport so long that she had run out of diapers for her baby. Another young woman’s curses turned to tears when she gave up calling the airline and called a loved one instead. I texted my mom, and she responded, “Keep up the good spirits and the perfect way to do that is to be helpful to others. There are a lot of needs right now!” She’d kept my spirits up all day. And she was right, of course, so I kept listening to stories.

Twenty-five flight changes, delays, and cancellations later, I was in the air. By this point, it was nighttime and the world, cleared of storms, was dark beneath me. But there were lights on. And the lights illuminated stories, beautiful tales with destinations and departures. Beautiful lives.

At the low points, the two days I spent in the airport felt like a waste. I was home, yet unable to go home. I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. Forced to wait, I had no idea what my immediate future held. I went to a lot of gates. I curled up by a lot of windows. I heard a few stories. And because of that, this airport delay will not go down in my story as wasted days. The Story, after all, is so often the cure to hopelessness.

Air Atlanta

Notes:

1-Traveling tip: I came across some brilliant people who brought along a power strip. They could always go up to some of the few outlets and find a place to plug in and charge, plus they often made other strangers pretty happy too!

2-Delay tip: I was reading a book about the Titanic through this whole travelling debacle. I’d recommend reading material on the topic of a slightly related tragedy to put anything in perspective.

Breaking the Chaos with Light

Itraffic-light-heart watch the colors switch again and I pull up just a smidgen. I’ve been here five minutes and thirty-two seconds. I’ve watched the light change again and again, and I watch the frustration change the colors of the faces of fellow commuters.

I finally make it through, but the lights keep changing. Green. Yellow. Red. Green. Yellow. Red. Their little cycles endure through the rain, and as cars pass through their unspoken gates, the days pass too.

I drive to dinner. The lights do just as they are supposed to. We wait and then we go. All of us obey the little sign in the sky. And I wonder, not for the first time, how it is that all these diverse humans going to different destinations decided that they would yield to strangers so that all might better survive.

I pass the time at yet another stoplight wondering what this particular road must have looked like a hundred year ago (I’m not normal, I know). Did the horse and carriage compete with the newfangled automobile? Did the well-dressed business man pass by the dirt-clad paper boy, both on their way to work but meeting here at the intersection of the times?

Once I arrive at my destination, I do a quick google search. The first gas-operated light made its debut in London. Motor cars hadn’t even been invented yet when these two words “stop” and “proceed” were illuminated so the life could continue after the sun set. These words were the perfect banners for the crosswalk the world barreled towards in 1868. The innovation didn’t last long. The new technology needed an operator, and the policeman controlling it was an unfortunate victim in the transition to modernity. The gas leaked, the light exploded, and the operator was terribly injured. Proceeding, then stopping.

The world didn’t seem to try again until the century that was called twentieth. By this time, motor cars were becoming common. Policemen couldn’t control every intersection, so a few tinkered their way to a solution. It wasn’t (mainly) the scientists that came up with the answer, but simple keepers of the law and of the order who invented traffic lights.

Traffic signals transitioned for and with the technology. In the fifties, the invention of computers made the outdoor lamps even more effective. They’ve long since ceased to be a marvel, these signal semaphores. They are hung on wires and mounted on poles. Some hang vertically; some are securely arranged horizontally so a hurricane or tornado will not interrupt their faithful cycles by blowing them down. Eight to twelve inches of light, they often take the shape of a circle. If it isn’t a circle of red, it might be an arrow of green. The arrow tells us how to go more than it tells us where to go.

Contrary to the feeling of the moment, the red light doesn’t last forever. The angry commuters put down their phones and drive on through. In most cases, the light does its job and the people follow along with the laws and customs. Everyone arrives safely. Unless they don’t.

The world arrives at a junction of the times again. Could the vibrant green days of the traffic light be meeting their golden fade to red?  These lights haven’t been around forever. Machines continue to make the jobs of humans different. Cars might soon drive themselves. One day, the world might look back on the roads of our time and wonder at the ineffective chaos. They’ll smile at their transformations, if they pause long enough to look out the windows and see.

For now, I’ll continue to encounter my chaos and be grateful for the light that almost always breaks it. And next time I’m miffed by how much time I waste at red lights, I’ll fill the time with gratitude.

Stop lights are a little bit like love. Love always, perfectly breaks the darkness. Love is the light that shines in night and day despite the winds that threaten, the careless ones who plow through with only their own motives in mind, and the innovations that change nearly everything else. And though traffic stops might one day pass away, Love never will.

(I might not have gotten all of these facts right. This is just a fun fact interest of the moment, not a valid source. For possibly more reliable information, turn to http://www.historyhouse.co.uk/articles/first_traffic_lights.html,  https://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-1460,00.html, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-electric-traffic-signal-installed, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/history-traffic-lights-100th-anniversary-first-electric-traffic-system-1459680).

A Strange Week: Random Romping in the Rockies, Part Three

It was 3:41am by the time we arrived in the mountains of Colorado, but with the time change it felt even later… earlier? After a happy flight (total cost $37, which made it happier) I had fallen asleep in the rental car while trustworthy friends drove. I woke and saw the faint shadow of mountains. The reflection of the moon suggested there might be snow somewhere up there. The stars, so different from the city lights I’m used to, dazzled. Looking down, I peered over the edge of the world while we traveled 50mph.2016-11-04-13-33-57

The world was already filled with light when we woke to explore it. We choose a mountain and climbed. Epic soundtracks escaped from the speaker balanced in a backpack. We were rising to defeat the dragon, stepping in battle, conquering as we rose further up and further in. Arriving to the point where the trail probably ended, we kept climbing because we hadn’t reached the summit yet. Every step introduced a more beautiful landscape. The mountains towering above us were crowned with snow. The valley below sparkled with the promise of the ski season that hadn’t quite arrived.

The giant boulders became loose pebbles as the mountain got steeper and the trees became fewer. Thorn bushes reached out to catch me from plummeting down the mountain. “So, how are we going to get down?” I repeated a question I’d probably been asking for the last 500ft. As we were leaving home, a sweet lady on Marta in Atlanta had asked us not to be faces she would see on the news. We’d assured the stranger we’d be safe. I thought about her as we kept going up. Finally, the more adventurous in our group (everyone but me) agreed that this summit was not ours to claim. I learned later that these friends were operating out of what we termed “pseudo confidence.” They lent some to me as we harnessed together to make the journey down possible. If I fell, they’d be there to hold on to the mountain and then the mountain wouldn’t let me go.

When we returned to completely solid ground, we looked up to the mountain we’d just met. We thought we’d been so close to the top. Looking up from the valley, we realized our humility. We weren’t even half way.

Even though I’d see the shadows of the mountains the night before, even though I’d understood the power of the mountain as the thorns bit and I slid, even though I’d realized its beauty as we gasped in awe of the surrounding mountains, it wasn’t until the next morning that I realized what all of these shadows and glimpses had been alluding to. “This is what you were missing,” the mountains whispered in the glory of a sunrise.

We never even caught the sun, but its promise was powerful. We valued each breath because of the beauty and height and cold at 11,990ft. The silhouettes and shadows, mighty on their own, were filled in with vibrant color and sharp detail. The wind wept at the beauty of the sky’s dance.

This was the weekend before the week whose dates will be recorded in history books. The world was shocked. Some celebrated; some mourned; everyone at some point on November 8, 2016 was forced to realize that they have fears. America realized this is a huge mountain, and though we’ve been preparing for years, no one was ready. Our foundation might not be the strong boulders we thought we stood on. We’re clinging to pebbles. We’re driving on the mountain’s edge at 3am. Operating out of pseudo confidence works for some, but it isn’t nearly as secure as clinging to the rope that attaches you to a friend who’ll be there when you fall.

We flew back on Saturday night. On Monday, I drove to an elementary school to work with some precious kids who have lived hard little lives. I passed images of America on the way, images as beautiful as looking towards the summit. Two hundred construction workers gathered to meet, matching in their bright yellow hard hats, before they add a bit more beauty and structure to the growing dome. Two old men smiled and watched the world change before them as they waited by what must be their favorite stoplight. The discount bread bakery owner opened the doors. People, delightful in their diversity, prepared to fill their days. And children stood up and repeated the Pledge of Allegiance with innocence, beautiful unity, and future.

I drove home on Monday and again on Tuesday. I looked out my window on election night and saw the faded lights, some close and some in the distant skyscrapers. People came home, they cooked dinners, they laughed and sighed, and they lived extraordinarily ordinary lives. I know this not necessarily because I stared into their windows (that’s creepy), but because this was what filled my window of light.

This is all just a shadow of the beauty. This image of America is my initial glimpse of the Rocky Mountains shroud in the dangerous darkness of night.

There is a sunrise coming. It won’t come with the ending of a presidency or the begging of a new one. It was never tied to such human measures of power and fear.

When it comes, these dark silhouettes will be filled in with vibrant color. These mountains will be replaced with the truth that they’ve longed to be.

2016-11-05-12-03-16Aristotle defined fear as an imagination: “a sort of pain and agitation derived from the imagination of a future destructive or painful event” (On Rhetoric). According to Aristotle, as soon as someone sees a way out, fear can no longer be called fear because it has instantly become courage. Fear can also be changed by indignation. Then, it becomes anger.

Let’s use courage to fuel us up a mountain too far. And when we can’t return on our own, let’s rejoice because we need friends who have different strengths. Let’s introduce this other solution to fear: faith. Because even when so much seems to hinge on a decision, we’re all still humans. We’re fearfully frail. We’re foolish. We judge because we value ourselves above everyone else. But we’re also all made in the image of Christ. And if we bear the image of the maker of the mountains, then we have an incredible job to do. Paraphrasing the great Yoda, fear can turn into anger which turns into hate. The ancient Greeks argued that fear can turn into courage which turns into action. Or, fear can turn into faith.  And like the watercolor sky, faith bleeds into love—love that celebrates the coming Son.

 

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Some courage quotes:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” –Thomas Merton

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:1-2

“The surprising thing in the biblical message is that it finds in love the opposite of fear and anxiety. There is no terror — one might equally well say anxiety — in love, we are told in I John. The surprising thing is that anxiety is not opposed by fortitude, courage or heroism, as one might expect. These are simply anxiety suppressed, not conquered. The positive force which defeats anxiety is love. What this means can be understood when we have tackled anxiety in what we have tried to see as its final root. That is to say, anxiety is a broken bond and love is the bond restored. Once we know in Christ that the world has a fatherly basis and that we are loved, we lose our anxiety. . . . If I am anxious, and I know Christ, I may rest assured that I am not alone with my anxiety; He has suffered it for me. The believer can also know that Christ is the goal of history. The primitive community knows that this One has not gone forever, but will come again. It thus has a new relationship to the future. This is no longer a mist-covered landscape into which I peer anxiously because of the sinister events which will there befall me. Everything is now different. We do not know what will come. But we know who will come. And if that last hour belongs to us, we do not need to fear the next minute.” — Helmut Thielicke (The Silence of God, 8-9)

“Would you like to know your Lord’s meaning? Okay, then know it well. The Lord’s meaning is love. Love is his only meaning. Who shows this to you? Love. What did He show you? Love. Stay in God’s love, then, and you’ll learn more about its unconditional, unending, joyful nature. And you’ll see for yourself, all manner of things will be well.” –Julian of Norwich, Revelations

“Love is only had by loving. So be up and doing. And remember that there’s nothing so difficult and no stronghold so impregnable that it can’t be broken down (and you built up) by Love.” Catherine of Siena, Letters

“This is what the Lord says:

‘Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.’” –Jeremiah 6:16

*These are just a few of my favorite quotes, but if you have some you’d like to share, I think comments work!!

**Parts one and two of Random Rompings in the Rockies were actually written last year about a different trip. One of my favorite hobbies is finding ridiculously cheap plane tickets to Denver and then travelling there within the week of the decision.

***I didn’t even realize I was quoting Yoda until I read a draft aloud. Thankfully, we’d carried Yoda’s head all the way to Colorado with us…

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Waterless Waterfalls

Before anyone could have predicted the coming drought, in the span of my final four summer days, I went to five waterfalls, a wedding, and highfallsa funeral.

On an August Thursday, I splashed behind a waterfall. At High Falls State Park, the waterfall quietly flowed. An intense stream, there was just enough room to breathe behind the veil of water. Though the waterfall itself was short, the thick flow made it hard to see the outside world. Reaching out, I felt the weight of the water as I attempted to make a curtain with my fingers so that I could see the world I’d just somehow escaped.

fall-creek-fallsOn Friday of that same week, I found myself behind another waterfall. This long waterfall at Fall Creek Falls was nothing like Thursday’s. It was the elegant skyscraper lit up at night compared to the cozy ranch cabin. Still, there were similarities in the falling flows. Water still glistened as it fell, laughter was muted by the comforting roar of river, and I felt a little bit more alive as I again tried to catch a glimpse of the clouds and trees from my perch behind the waterfall.

On Saturday, water fell from my eyes as I went directly from a funeral to a wedding. One ceremony marked the start of a marriage, the other a tragic and unexpected end. A wonderful man’s three daughters mourned the fact that their dad wouldn’t be there to walk them down the aisle on their future wedding days. Then, I watched a dad dance with his daughter at the beautiful wedding of two friends. Families gathered and friends were reacquainted. Weddings and funerals; these are the ways we creatures of emotion know how to mark the biggest moments.

On those Thursday and Friday waterfall adventures, I don’t think I could have imagined empty rivers. But now, it is autumn. And in this particular fall, for the first time anyone can remember, there’s no water flowing over so many of the waterfalls in Georgia, little-river-canyonAlabama, and Tennessee. It’s a drought that I didn’t seem to notice until I saw these pictures of some of my favorite places. My friends stand where if once they’d stood, they’d be crushed by the power of the falling drops. Every hair on their heads remain dry.

On that Saturday wedding, even after such an encounter with death, I wasn’t able to imagine a world without the beautiful girl who smiled at me and introduced me to her sister. During the reception, she came over to say hello. I was a friend to her friend, so I was a friend to her. Though I knew in that moment that she was bravely fighting cancer, I caught a glimpse of life that completely overshadowed the terrible word “terminal.”

On this October Monday, this sunshine girl named Sarah is supposed to turn twenty-years-old. Victory came for Sarah about two weeks ago. Last Saturday, her family and friends gathered to sing her favorite songs and join together to celebrate her life.

On the Saturday before her birthday and after her funeral, I found myself again at a waterfall with friends. Though impacted by the drought, the river at Amicalola Falls was not completely dry. So I laughed with the glimmering drops and climbed the stairs to catch the sun before it set. A stranger passed me as apparently a smile escaped,

“You’re absurdly happy,” he told me.

I was. I was surrounded by life even as the trees accepted their temporary death with fiery, golden colors. The leaves fell with the water, and I was provided a glimpse beyond this world. In the same way that celebrations of life, weddings and funerals, allow a peak through the veil, these days of more intense emotion remind me of the greatest story.

In the abundance, the powerful waterfalls—the weddings, this beauty is just a shadow of the day our Lord will call us home to be his bride. I’m reminded in the letting go of my friends and of the leaves that there is a promise of love and hope that I can hold on to.

In the drought, the waterless waterfalls—the funerals, it is both harder and easier to glimpse eternity. We long for other side of this life when the other side suddenly holds someone who made us laugh. There’s never more desire for that one day wedding feast than at a funeral. But the veil seems so powerfully distant.

My typical days don’t actually usually include waterfalls, funerals, and weddings. A pattern of work and food and commutes and electricity bills and classes shape my schedule. So when the days do include these glimpses, I’m reminded of how I should live every day.

The veil has already been torn by a hand much stronger than mine. He reached out and held up his arms on a cross, and the curtain of the temple was ripped in two. His death that marked the turning of times was celebrated with a resurrection.

Veils of waterfalls. Ceilings of clouds. What is unseen becomes seen from behind the water and the caves. Funerals and weddings: they are celebrations of love but veils of what’s still to come.

May I live life like the veil will one day be lifted, the abundant water will one day be parted, and the joy will be made complete.

Happy birthday, Sarah Barr.sarah-barr

 

 

Don’t DIY

We sat on the porch of their beach house, painting. My grandfather, master woodworker, had made me a beautiful trashcan to go in my big-girl room. It was just a bin for used tissues and clothing tags, but because he made it, it was crafted with suprepainting-trashcanme care. The quality wood would last for decades. But, because it was indeed a trashcan, they let me, the enthusiastic helper, learn how to paint it.

“Up, down. Up, down.” Granddaddy guided, his larger hand on mine as I grasped the brush and the illusion of power. I laughed and looked at his trustworthy eyes instead of the white paint, replying “ALL AROUND!” His first granddaughter, I surely shocked the man who had raised three boys. Our hands shook with my giggles and he patiently replied, “Up, down.”

I knelt on the old navy blue sheet spread across the back deck of the home I grew up in. “Up, down.” I muttered to myself, staring at the dresser my granddaddy had made to go with the trashcan. I’m preparing to move to my big-girl condo in the city. So I’m painting the pink and purple knobs black. I’ve bought a futon, a table and four chairs, an arm chair, three beds, and dressers from yard sales and Craigslist.

The process has made me look at wood differently. I see pieces of furniture with renewed appreciation. Sweltering in the Georgia summer that refuses to yield to autumn’s breezes, I’ve wondered if the patience is worth it.

But it is fun to see the transition from dirty and broken to beautiful and abounding in purpose. And I haven’t been alone in the process. My mom, with her fantastic bargaining skills, has found most of the pieces of furniture and gracefully discussed their potential in a way that made me want to believe in them too. She’s driven to the questionable areas to pile beds and mattresses into her minivan. My dad has paraded furniture down the street with me. He always offers to go backwards as we carry arm chairs and beds (still fully put together), barefoot down the familiar path. My parents have let me learn to do these projects by myself. Offering assistance and endless support, they’ve also let me make my own mistakes. We call my granddaddy with questions. And many friends offer beautiful opinions, encouragement, and even assistance along the way. Even my puppy has attentively helped in her attempts to lick away every fresh coat of polyurethane.

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No, Lucy, you can’t walk on the freshly painted table top.

I’m creating a home, table leg by futon cover and memory by memory, that displays the best story in every bit of furniture. I find myself relating very well to the furniture. Pride and doubt swirl like the thoughts of a discarded yard sale table. ‘I’m not good enough, no one will ever want me’ trapezes to ‘they don’t understand me because I have more experience than them,’ in instances where defense is my reaction instead of faith.

It isn’t until someone brave decided I’m worth it that these rough parts of me begin to release as I let myself be sanded away and made new. This is the work of the Father alone. The carpenter’s stepson (the Creator’s son) allowed His hands to be pierced with nails that, with His obedience, would hold him to a cross until he died. On that rough piece of wood, He gave up so much more than the thirty dollars I’m spending at yard sales. He gave up everything.

So when I admitted my belief and confessed my failures, He picked me up and declared me worthy not because of anything I would or would not too, but only because He was worthy. He teaches me the beautiful lesson of grace every day. In patience and love, He teaches me even as the lessons that scrub away my self-inflicted grime sometimes feel like they hurt. It’s a series of intentional direct lines, and I want to add my all-arounds. He offers me purpose and a plan and surrounds me with a legacy of faith and a life of friends to encourage me through the journey when I doubt that purpose and lose my way. And, one day, He’ll carry me home to the home he’s prepared for me. And if I feel like I’ve spent so much time preparing a home, then I truly can’t begin to grasp how splendid this home that He’s spent eternity preparing will truly be.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed us to the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 6:17-21

 

The Song of Moving Mountains

2016-06-28 21.02.18At 1:59am, I dreamt that I woke from a dream. In this dream, I thought that I’d woken up just a few minutes before my alarm. In reality, my alarm had been set early so I could chaperone camp the next day. So at 2:01, I got up and quietly made my bed—this I actually did, though it was all still a dream. I sleepwalked across the hall. The light I turned on in the bathroom jolted me awake enough to walk back to my room and check the time. Three hours later when my alarm did go off, I woke up cynical. I trusted neither myself nor my alarm. But then I heard the singing of the birds and truth was restored.

I’ve found myself too quick to wake up to news cynical about this country we call America, about this freedom we call just.

The first chapter of Romans lays out the plan for the destruction of a civilization. It happened to Egypt, it happened to Rome, and it seems the question I keep encountering on this Independence Day 240 years after the country began is that is it happening to America?  I’m back in first grade and the fireman has come to give us a demonstration, to tell us to escape, to yell when the smoke (fog machine) is too thick. I want to escape from the news and destruction instead of somehow feeling bolstered that my society is on the path to destruction.

I did escape to my favorite spot in my country, Emerald Isle, North Carolina, with sixteen 2016-06-25 10.54.15treasured family members. We spent the summer solstice admiring the strawberry moon. On one of the last days, a sudden storm forced us to follow the crooked boardwalk to shelter. The rain untangled my hair while the wind attempted to knit it into a braid of a hundred knots. Lightning forced my eyes to blink, even though I’d rather stare at its powerful flash. The thunder, such a different sound from the wind chime song of shells when touched by waves, cracked its knuckles.

Just an hour before the storm, I’d taken a turn with the kayak. I’d gone out so far that I could hardly hear the roar of the shore. Up and down, I stared at the logo on the front of the bright blue kayak. “Lifetime” it reads. I realized I had to strain my neck to look up at it.

Matthew 17:20 says faith can move mountains. It is often easy to read and yet nearly impossible to actually imagine a mountain moving. Yet, as I sat upon the sea, a little paddle in my hand with which to ward off nature’s power, mountains moved underneath me. They left me in the same place, the rush of tides in and out following the ancient pattern of the moon.

As we sought shelter from the storm, I asked my aunt and my uncle how they met. They told stories of twists and turns that go all the way back to the month my aunt was born. Because she was five weeks early, she started school early and met a friend in fifth grade that would eventually meet another friend who would become friends with my uncle. On our last night, I walked to the shore with their youngest daughter to kiss the ocean goodbye. Together with our cousins, three nine-year-olds danced away from the sea, products of love and story. These are the singing birds of the morning, the light waking me up, and they remind my cynicism of the truth.

2016-06-10 19.17.09This is my home. To me, America isn’t just politics and culture I don’t always understand. It is the reflection of the campfire in the eyes of friends as we share stories in Tennessee. We smile because we’ve just seen a magnificent waterfall, and we laugh because we’ve seen a lot of life together here in America. America is the way my puppy skips across the green backyard. She chases a butterfly under the shade of the trees that have grown up with me. America is the singing birds at a camp in Kentucky, the splintering pews in a little white church in Virginia, the sunset clouds floating beneath me as I ride through space with a plane full of stories.

An idyllic story has taught me to call this place of canyons and caves, trees and tornadoes home. History has taught me that corruption and confusion are nothing new. And truth has taught me, even in the celebration days, that this isn’t actually my home. Someplace Real awaits.

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” –Philippians 3:20-21

2016-06-29 20.43.24

A Legacy of Last Impressions

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Driving to the beach with my grandparents, I briefly marveled that they didn’t tap an address into a GPS. ‘Of course,’ I realized. They’ve been making the drive for forty years. They didn’t just know the roads and the turns, they knew the stories.  When we got to the old mill where the water falls, my granddaddy remarked, “looks like they got a new coat of paint.” We drove past the abandoned farmer’s stand; he told a story of the meteorologist who passed away a few years ago. The weather man knew the place so well that when a tornado came, he told the people out at the local farmer’s stand to take cover for in two minutes, the storm would blow their fruit away.

We kept travelling through decades of stories. “Up at this gate, there’s one of those roadside memorials marking a place where someone died in a car accident. Only, this one’s been there since ’79. Huh. It’s not there anymore. Wonder if they sold the land.”

It was a last impression of something that marked a last impression.

Close friends of close friends—gone in an instant. Car crashes, waterfall missteps. Tragedies and college goodbyes make me consider last impressions. My last few weeks before graduation were filled with questions. Is this the last time I’ll ever see this stranger whose face I know, this classmate whose beliefs I know, this friend whose heart I once knew? It is so tempting to wonder how they will remember me.

We talk about first impressions because we do not yet know the end. Last impressions are less predictable and more difficult.

By May 12, I’d well considered the significance of last impressions. I’d said my goodbyes to professors and friends. I’d realized that constantly living in wait of a last impression is a dangerous thing to do to hope. And without hope, the last impression is truly a final.

On May 12, we drove to her birthday lunch extravaganza. “Nobody loves free stuff more than you,” a friend had told her. “You haven’t met my sister,” she replied—making me feel proud. So we ventured, coupons printed and chart drawn, to sample freedom in our new era of being sort of adults. We debated who would drive. I paused to grab a CD out of my car since Hannah decided to drive, a decision that would wreck her heart with guilt but potentially save our lives. We’ve probably been through that intersection 5000 times in eighteen years of living here. Following the rules we’ve been following together since our childhood days of “red light, green light” in the front yard, we obeyed the glowing green. My sister went, but so did a car turning left.

Hannah said “she’s not stopping,” blew her horn, and slammed her brakes, but it was all too late.

My eyes opened and I smelled something that reminded me of fire. Without thinking (because how can you think), I told Hannah to get out of the car. Then we got around to asking if we were ok. She was, I was. The other driver was. I walked around to Hannah’s side as witnesses ran to help. They called 911. I realized I was walking around with only one shoe on. My beautiful cup of tea was hanging out the edge of Hannah’s side. The glass was shattered, but the windshield wipers couldn’t be turned off. The car—totaled. Strangers held my elbow, held me up. Hannah, the beautiful birthday girl who had to stare at her broken car and call our mom to come, amazed me with calm courage.

Sixteen minutes after the crash, my heart still chose to beat 150 times in a minute. Outwardly shaken but trying to appear calm, it was like I needed to quickly make up for moments in which my heart might not have beat had Hannah not slowed down as fast. They—police officers, the fireman checking my heartrate, my mom and sister—kept asking if I was hurt. I looked down and there was strawberry red blood gluing my mint green skirt to my apparently broken flesh. The seat belt, in saving my life, made a lasting impression on me.

With blood and bruise and burn, it left its mark. The CT scan at the hospital confirmed the mark was deep. Our pastor called the next day. “God must not be finished with you yet. You must still have more work to do, a purpose.” I get the chance to make more first impressions, more last impressions. Will they bruise? Will they heal? Might they even save a life by pointing to the author of eternity?

“I think you girls fell asleep,” my grandfather remarks on the way home from the beach. “But I wanted you to know—they cut the grass. The little roadside cross from ’79 was still there, you just couldn’t see it from the way we were going.”