Tonight the world is crashing around me. I mean it. It’s bad. It’s like I’m standing in the desert, and the sky is black with night, ink black because clouds are muting the stars and I’m watching comets whiz by my face, burning and crashing into the scorched perimeter of the land. It’s hot and scary.
That’s how the world feels tonight. Like comets wrecking all around me.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m 30 now (are things more serious in your 30’s?) or because I’m paying more attention, or if life really is just a fire storm of problems, but lately I can’t seem to step around the blackened earth. The people I love are hurting. The whole world is burning. People are hurting something fierce, and my chest aches with their pain. Scorched marriages. Failing bodies. Sick babies. Burned bridges with our parents, torched dreams for our futures, quicksand swallowing our resolve. Local pain. Global chaos. Faith lost. God distant.
Back in August, I stayed with my friend Claire for a mini-retreat, to gather ourselves before this fall season and pray for each other, as friends and mothers and leaders at our church. We worked together to speak intention over our lives, and we each chose 3 words that we wanted to describe our autumn once it was over. Three words to read aloud in December and say, “Yes- this is what the last few months looked like in my life.” My three words are:
I had no idea what that meant when I wrote it all down. I prayed and felt God telling me these three things, so I wrote them down and only a few weeks later, felt like a total failure.
Failure comes in many forms. For me, it almost always looks like disappointment. A slow, steady, constant stream of disappointed people in my life, from here to eternity. Amen and another sad amen.
I spent the first few weeks of fall gathering shame around me like a big lace dress. I was doing none of the things I set out to do. My three words were billboards announcing my failure to achieve them.
I had assumed that I was supposed to be disciplined in my writing- I’m writing a book, which is such a foreign length and effort- and then my laptop was destroyed by a vase of water. I’m writing this, right now, on my sister’s laptop, which she graciously lent to me because I was starting to fade away because I literally cannot write. I have no tool (besides a pen but what is this 1998?) and it’s an insurance matter so you know it’s taking forever to resolve. So if I wasn’t supposed to be disciplined in my writing…what then?
Being still didn’t make any sense either, especially when we decided to move. Sam and I have lived in our little house for 9 years, since the day we got married, and this fall we knew we could make a decent sale and move our family into a bigger space. We procrastinated, we had a million reasons to wait on selling, and then we finally put our house up for sale. And it sold in 2 hours. How could I be still when this kind of movement was happening? How could I be still when I was making one million trips between our house and our storage shed and Goodwill? How could I be still with a full schedule and 3 kids and a house to move?
And how, how, how could I take joy in these things? Joy that I can’t write? Joy that we don’t know where to move, or that we don’t even think we’re supposed to move? Joy in failing at everything I set out to do this fall? Joy in the disappointment? Joy that I’ll never write a book, that I can’t keep any commitments, that I can’t make anything work because I can’t make decisions unless forced by outside circumstances and by then it’s always too late?
Discipline. Still. Joy. What a joke.
It is a joke, you guys. It’s so funny that I always think I know best, even when the Bible says stuff like this.
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?”
Even when I read that, I still think to myself, somewhere deep and small inside me, “I do. I know the mind of the Lord, and I can tell Him what would be best for me.”
I’m laughing while I write this because I truly truly believe that. I stand before the throne of the Living God and I hand over my plans scratched out on my crumpled piece of paper and say, here ya go God. I already did this for you. Sort of a paint by number situation. Just fill in what I left blank.
And then when the desert night comes; when the sand is sinking; when the sky is lit with burning dreams: I wonder how God messed up what I made so clear.
It’s a funny thing, these three words. These callings. They dart like fish in a stream, quick silver lines of thought that I can’t seem to catch. They’re wild, and they don’t depend on me, apparently. Because my imagination isn’t just limited by my own experience, it’s limited by the unknown. But God knows. God’s imagination is ever-expanding, a universe of dreams I can never fully understand. Here’s what I mean:
God keeps telling me this and I keep missing it, but motherhood is my ultimate discipline. Nothing in my life has required more of me, physically, mentally, spiritually: I’m wiped clean by 9:30 in the morning some days (a lot of days). But there is something happening lately in my house, with these 3 small children at my feet, that is good. That is holy. It has nothing to do with writing a book or having a platform or making huge steps in my professional career. It has everything to do with making me stay. Making me be still. My children will be little for a snap in time. An absolute snap of my fingers, and Clara will be in school. Sammy will be on a baseball team. Audrey will start sassing me (not my precious baby!) and everything will start moving so fast I won’t even remember the warmth of their foreheads pressed to mine, or their hair so sweet after a bath, or their tiny voices bouncing off the hardwood floors with my name. “Mama!” they call all day long. So I stay beside them. Day in and day out, I raise my babies and use my hands for small acts of faithful love. I make soup. I wash blankets. I feel trapped at home because naps never line up and then I consider the fullness of staying home, of not wishing away my life for other seasons yet to come.
And in the discipline; in the stillness; God is giving me so much space to be present for my people. My family. My neighbors. Strangers and alien alike, He is setting me apart and asking me for many small works of kindness and it is changing me, catching me and making me see the joy in what we all mean to each other.
We sold our house and then realized we didn’t want to move. But the people who bought our house? They let us sign a lease to rent it back. We sold our house, but we get to stay until we know where to go. Be still, Jessie. I thought I was supposed to write a book this fall. I thought I should press into that work, dig myself into the dream in my heart. But my laptop broke, and my timeline changed, and I realized that I had other work to do in my own home and the lives of people I love. Be disciplined, Jessie. Nothing I wanted happened this fall. My plans fell apart. And then my friends started to actually fall apart, and they needed me, and because I wasn’t moving away and I couldn’t write my book, I had a new sort of freedom to take care of people, and a new kind of joy in the caring. God gave me time. He gave me open space. And that wasn’t for nothing.
All these comets keep crashing around me and God says: Be a safe place. Be a steady friend. Even when you disappoint; try again. Be disciplined. Stand still. Find joy in a season of offering rather than taking.
Tonight, I stand and declare under the canopy of a starless night that I know exactly nothing. May my plans dissolve in my hands. May my disappointment in myself and in this world be the beginning of knowledge of the One from whom and through whom and TO whom are all things. To Him be the glory, forever and ever amen! Amen. So be it.
Let the comets burn. We worship the King of Living Water and we will not fear. We have each other, and we have a Lord who moves mountains, splits the sea, and climbs the cross for us. What a goodness I can claim for you, and for me, even in our darkest nights.
We are all so loved, dear ones. Be loved.