Sometimes epiphanies hit out of the blue, solidly on the hindparts of my cranium, causing spots to dance before my eyes. Yesterday clocked me solidly with one of those.
And it shouldn’t have, I think. I should have been aware enough, unafraid enough, thankful enough, to be seeing this all the time and that I missed the obvious is honestly causing so much teeth grinding that I may need to invest in a mouthguard to wear throughout the day. Thankfully, given my husband’s recent forays into dentistry and learning that due to long and persistent teeth grinding, he has the teeth of a starving octogenarian, I know where to buy them.
Over the years, I have learned that, at first glance, my life looks difficult to people. Well… technically for maybe the first 422 glances or so. But I hear that first look is a doozy. It always makes me mildly uncomfortable when folks describe my life is a “whole pile of mess where you hardly know where to begin”, as was told to me earlier this week. But it’s probably how ladies with flat stomachs and shapely toes feel when I marvel at the weirdness, so I can’t really judge.
But what is probably less readily visible to lookers-on is that my life is also marked by the extraordinary, gratuitous kindness and generosity that others have shown me, for as long as I can remember. Truly, the hardships of intractable pain, medically complicated kids, and however we choose to classify my husband’s mental health over the last 5 years have always been heavily counterbalanced with excessive mercies, often from unexpected places. In truth, I feel that I have skated. Plenty of people seem to have to carry their own loads (and maybe that is because their loads are lighter? I can’t know… a flat stomach looks lighter to carry…), their whole lives…
I expect there are people who have always had to pay for their own dazzling hair designs and funky colors rather than having talented men and women offer them beauty in the midst of pain when they couldn’t normally afford it, just to be a part of joy in the midst of suffering. For that matter, I bet a lot of people are sporting full-price tattoos (and given that 97% of all tattoos are ugly as sin and age like a shriveled peach, that should seriously bother you) from their cheerful pagan artists.
There have been large sums of money that show up out of nowhere during seasons that the givers couldn’t possibly have known how broke we were, flowers sent from third world countries, prayers and songs sent, sometimes song forcibly sung to me in person with accompanying guitar in my kitchen (which was intensely awkward, but sweet), a store that drew from all their Sunday profits one week to give my kids an astoundingly beautiful Christmas after we had just been hospitalized and to give the Beloved and I a weekend getaway that probably preserved our sanity for longer than otherwise would have been reasonable to expect, a series of books and art-related Amazon orders addressed to the kids and not attached to any holiday or birthday simply to delight my Quail (which it did, with powerful intensity).
I could go on. And on. And on. And awash in all this majestic kindness, I have always wrestled with how to respond. Thank you is not enough. It can’t be. I feel insufficient to the task of receiving gargantuan kindnesses, the sort that God persistently sends; with the advent of each new pain, each worsening trial, there never fails to be a sustaining love that the hardship comes packaged in. Like spiky dragonfruit wrapped in soft, pliable foam. Even the spikes themselves will eventually break forth into sweetness and juice… all the suffering of this life is but a pregnant pause, watching and waiting for the explosion of glory that awaits us when Christ returns and sets all things right.
But here, I am waiting. Here, I am uncertain and clumsy in my receiving of the gifts. Perhaps trials feel more familiar to me than gifts, but probably only because I am also bad at paying attention; trials feel like something I deserve, at worst, and something I need to keep me from sin, at best. Gifts expose my unworthiness.
And yet, God sends on. This week, I walked, weary at the end of a long day and feeling the pain down to the core of my bones, and I walked into my bedroom — and it was dazzling. A candle was lit and it smelled lovely — years ago, in a favorite boutique of mine, my husband was purchasing a candle and an older woman was nearby and she said the candle smelled exactly like that cute boy from her youth. The room smelled like Cute Boy. My own Cute Boy had draped a canopy of netting over our bed and topped it with a strand of faerie lights, delicate, warm and peaceful. My delight is more than I can probably describe here without you thinking that I was dropped on my head as a child. I love faerie lights. Love love love love love. And so by the next night, there were 3 strands over my bed, an enchanting ceiling of twinkling stars. I am thrilled to wiggle my toes in clean sheets, and to read by the light of my own personal night sky.
And I am helpless to express what it means, or how to offer him the stars.
And then, when a friend was already helping us by watching our kids while we had an important meeting, as I was moving towards the door, promising to return soon, said friend hands me an envelope. Inside is cash, and on the note, in loopy, elegant handwriting — “Happy Shoe Shopping!!” signed by her and another thoughtful friend. There is a lot of talk about love languages, and someday perhaps I will write my own personal critique on how much credence we lend to the idea, but the fact is, gifts are a sure arrow that pierces straight through to my heart and gifts that involve shoe shopping?? Major plotz.
And in that moment, I am instantly so intensely thankful, and absolutely aghast at my inability to love them back. I never think of these things, and I want to be a student of the people in my life, to be so attentive that I know what would speak to their hearts the way these things speak to mine. And as I sat in the car, holding this gift, and obsessing over how on earth I could possibly replay such kindness, it hit me like a piano dropped from the sky —
This is why I am so bad at being saved.
This is what God has done for us in Christ, continues to do the longer we walk with Him. We are asked to receive — that is all. We contribute nothing, and while I know this intellectually and believe it in my heart, my emotions are often stunted (ask all the people who keep telling me I should cry more) and I can coexist with an alarmingly majestic truth without allowing it to lay bare my heart. I can be overly focused on what my response ought to be (and don’t get me wrong — there does need to be a response) and too quickly pass over God’s relentless love poured on my soul.
So today, I am staring up at the soft light of love over my head, feeling the comfort and adorableness of my new shoes (they probably deserve their own post, for real), and basking in a Love that I cannot return.