Another enormous and unyielding fire. As precious terrain is consumed, I’m waiting to hear whether or not the house of dear friends is still standing midst the capriciousness of the jumping flames.
Meanwhile, our dog Indy is over in the corner on his big dog pillow with cold compresses wrapped around his swollen joints and neck. He is immobile, whimpering and in pain because that is what occurs when a rattlesnake strikes you. He is in the 5% of prairie rattlesnake bite victims who suffer severe repercussions. The snake was striking at my ankle when we were hiking, and Indy happened to cross the path and took the strike for me. Indy is an inadvertent hero, now suffering onmy behalf. Thank you, buddy.
And here I am, writing with my mouth stuffed with gauze from some unexpected oral surgery. I now have a socket where there once was a tooth, and if it were more visible I would feel like a hillbilly. An extreme leap, perhaps, but that gives you a sense of my weary battle.
These are the ‘light and momentary’ trials, according to Paul…? I guess if the barometer is persecution and shipwrecks. Light compared to being trafficked from West Africa to Amsterdam in the sex trade, maybe. Momentary compared to living in the trash heaps surrounding Manila. My dog and my teeth are nothing in light of blackened trees and destroyed homes, but when added in the mix these ‘along theway’ things make the eternal weight of glory seem pretty far off. Being on pain medication at the moment is helpful (and as I write this, could prove quite entertaining) - these light and momentary things have been adding up, and my courage has been growing thin; my gratitude and wonder caught in thebalance.
Times like these tempt us to wander back to the ‘good old days,’ to the seasons of our lives we hold as golden seasons; the seasons when aromas were sweet, laughter easy and there was a sense of ease and goodness in life. I say ‘tempt’ because when we are weary, we often don’t wander to the memories with our hearts open, we are not looking for reminders of God’s goodness. Rather we go there with a sense of fantasy – “if only I could recreate the thing that stirred my heart so deeply.” We go there having already falsely concluded that there won’t be gold in our present, or our future, so our foray into gold is bitter; it stings.
My life has had many golden moments. Here are a few:
* Staring quiet, breathless, as an array of animals around awatering hole in a remote portion of Kruger Park in South Africa (kudu,waterbok, zebra, monkeys, hippopotamus) dispersed in a mad flurry as a male lion crested the hill. He slowly,majestically, singularly sauntered to the water to partake of his royal drink ,and then he wandered to the top of the hill, settled into a comfortable spot,and enjoyed a slight breeze in his gorgeous mane as he looked over his – truly his – kingdom.
* Reveling in the enchantment of the reception after my marriage to Steve, a party held in what would be our home. The backyard was dotted with round tables covered with white umbrellas, acoustic flamenco guitar music floated throughthe air by our friend Ramon Bermudez, an artist from Santa Fe. Grilled salmon and steak, ample wine, genuine laughter and lingering conversations in the shade of cedar and cottonwood - well into the evening. The end of the day found me in my wedding dress, holding a hose, watering down the garden before our trip. It was perfect. The shining star of a man had been brought tome, and I to him, and it was a taste of the kingdom, as weddings should be.
So am I saying I shouldn’t cultivate thoughts about such precious times? Oh, I must. We all must. We have to remember the magic ofthose times that whisper that there is something more beautiful than destruction,or even dental pain, vet bills and groceries. If we want to thrive, we have to return to the gold. But it is what we go after -what we are looking for inour venture there - that either leads us to deeper life, or resignation. And resignation is a powerful force.
Resignation was a topic of conversation during another sweet, golden season in my late twenties and early thirties. Those were the early days of my counseling career, and I was loving – loving –watching God’s intense desire to restore people, and myself along the way. And I loved working alongside my friend, mentor and colleague, Brent Curtis. Brent died in 1998, and when he did, the world lost a brilliant man, a truly golden man, a true and noble man - a man with the dustiest of rare, clayfeet. Brent was part sage, part curmudgeon, part hobbit, part Ernest Hemingway. He was my crusty friend; my cowboy coffee pot sitting-on-the-fire too-longfriend. I said at his funeral that hewas a cross between Clint Eastwood and a homeless person. He lived predominantly free from so many things that bind our hearts, but he knew resignation like the back of his chapped hand.
I used to muse to myself that Brent’s cynicism was unnecessary. He would often come straggling in to the counseling office, proclaimingthat he was now ready (now ready for the 10 time) to go work at Target, because this fight for peoples’ hearts was too hard; just not worth the cost. I laughed along with him, and understood – at least I thought I understood. In fact I did understand, as even in my young career I felt the immenseprice-tag of enlisting in this war. But I, of course, did not understand - not the way a few more decades of life invite you to understand. As I write this Iam now but a few years shy of Brent’s age when he died. Now I understand, friend. I will put my application in tomorrow; maybe Walmart for me, as it is closer to our house.
Brent wrote this in his book The Sacred Romance (co-authored with John Eldredge). The ‘Haunting’ he refers to is simply allthat stirs our heart to remember there is always more gold to be found.
"At one time or another, though,most of us forget the Haunting, or try to; for it often threatens to cripple us, leaving us bent over and unable to deal with the everyday things that life requires to be done. We all, to some extent, take that shining something in us that felt magical and passionate as children, that something that later swirled amid the confusion of sexual passion and our longing for heart intimacy – we take it and push it through the loneliness, ache, and turmoil of life – through various stages of disconnection and hardness to another abiding place: a kind of resignation. There is something inside of us that says, “This is the way it is. I had better learn to deal with it.” "
Thankfully Brent did not allow the war with resignation to win, and because of it, he is a central golden character in my story. When I was dating Steve, it was sweet to know that, though Brent would not meet Steve, he would have loved him. It was a golden endorsement.
So I’m tuning in to my resignation today. “This is the way it is” is my temptation as I sit here on this smoke filled day,along with our invalid dog. And it is no surprise that it is here that I’m tempted to give my heart away to familiar, lesser things – despair, anxiety, and the accompanying addictions to Facebook,or worry – or simply the foray into the belief that ‘if only I could get back there.’ Fools gold.
But if I tune in with more acuity, if I listen more carefully, there is a deeper beauty. Once we tune into our resignation - recognize its presence and gently push it aside – then the tenacious whisper of the real, indestructible golden place rises. It isa longing for the truest of places; it whispers that this is not, in fact, all there is.
And what the longing points to is not far off. The true gold – the kingdom of God - is very near and accessible. We have a propensity to believe the kingdom is far away – ‘out there’ – ‘coming by and by.’ That is true in that one day there will be no more destruction, malaise, or loss of heart. But when the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.(Luke 17:21,22)."
The true gold is in us, among us. It showed up as my dear friend, who is waiting on word about her burning neighborhood and her home said, “It really is okay. It is just a house.” Her heart is held by the deeper beauty – she knows she is loved – her words hold the kingdom. Steve just brought me a Jamba Juice to comfort me in my surgery healing, and as he did, the true gold lingered. Our daughters made a special trip out of their busy lives, just to come and pet and reassure Indy. Is this the kingdom? Yes.
Robert Frost’s words,“Nothing gold can stay” were penned out of deep disappointment, and he was onto something. But he wasn’t on to enough. He was forgetting the gold of golds, the sheer gold of love – the only indestructible thing that carries the heart of God directly into my weary, smoldering resignation.
The next blog will be about addictions, because that is where our resignation inevitably leads. A chapter in Beauty and the Bitch: Grace forthe Worst in Me is devoted to addiction, so we’ll splash around it in abit.