It was a Charming-less weekend, the first in several months, and I’d practically forgotten what a lazy, single holiday weekend feels like. While he was headed North on his annual Mancation, I was getting out of school early wondering how I’d make the best of three days on my own. What did I used to do before Charming?
It was surreal, waking up on Saturday and brewing only one cup of coffee. I Netflixed, graded poetry books, mowed the lawn, hit the gym, cleaned out a junk drawer, and celebrated my sister-in-law Gabrielle’s birthday at Olive Garden with the kids. Sounds productive, right? Somehow, lying in bed that night, the silence of my own dissatisfaction was deafening.
I had kept busy. I didn’t want to think too much about the quiet or what I had always pictured I’d be doing on a holiday weekend in my mid-thirties. Kids and cookouts seemed a given not too long ago. As I set my childhood radio alarm clock for just enough time to get ready for church, I muffled that biological alarm clock and slept fitfully until the real one sounded.
Integrity is marked by what you do when no one’s looking, so while I flirted with the idea of skipping church and binge watching The Americans, I dressed up, drove over, walked in, and sat where I always sit. Routine. Grading papers. Mowing the lawn. Attending church. I joined in the worship choruses, wishing the condition of my mind would align with the words coming out of my mouth.
The music faded. The lights dimmed. A guest preacher rolled on stage in a wheelchair. As former Marine Tim Lee was introduced, the congregation took in the man before us, military ribbons adorning his jacket, and no legs. He told his story in perfect hindsight, the emerging rebellion toward authority that followed his salvation, his excellence in athletic pursuits, a gradual shift toward placing things before God, and ultimately finding that his earthly merits took him further away from the throne of that childhood salvation.
In each dramatic pause, I weighed the silence, until, with a collective sum of them, conviction came and epiphany emerged. I looked back at my own tarried road and marveled at the parallel journeys. My adolescent achievements simply bolstered my commitment to storing up successes. I filled up every empty moment with academic, musical, and athletic pursuits. We found success and praise. We made our parents proud. But even while we were winning medals in Track and Field, Tim Lee and I were both running from God.
Sgt. Lee said he stopped running once God took his legs when he stepped on a landmine in Vietnam, and the significance of the sentiment was profound. We had seen him enter as our guest preacher in that wheelchair. We knew his story would explain what had happened in the war to his legs and what had happened afterward to his spirit. We couldn’t have anticipated how his unique narrative would end up being used by God to save lives. Sgt. Lee didn’t preach about living life without legs. He preached about living life without running from God.
That’s something I think many in that sanctuary can relate to; after all, I’d been doing it just the night before, lying in the silence of my darkened bedroom, refusing to pick up the Bible and journal sitting within arm’s reach on the night stand. I chose to sleep restlessly, holding my own worry tighter than a pillow, quieting the desire for a family as I buried myself under the blankets wishing for rest for an anxious mind.
I used to fill one or two prayer journals a year. I’ve barely made a dent in the one I bought last fall. When did quiet times stop being part of my routine? One of Sgt. Lee’s concluding points in the sermon was to highlight Job saying, “Happy is the man whom God corrected.” It took an act of war to stop Tim Lee from running. Do I want to let it get that far?
I think about my student Jezebel and envision her like young Tim Lee and me, bucking at authority. I met with her parents last week, and she was back in class today for the first time. I prayed God would position my heart to be gracious toward her, offer her a fresh start. The Jezebel before me had been tamed. I’m not sure how or for how long, but her guard was down, and I was kind. At church, I realized that Jezebel’s defiance irritates me mostly because I have seen the error of my own ways, and I want better for her.
I’m not sure that I’ve really stopped running. I mean, I have a good life. I lead a better life than I used to. I make wiser choices, mostly. I don’t achieve much besides a gratifying culmination of strikethroughs on my to do list. I can support myself with moderate means. I’m newly debt free. School’s over in three weeks. I’m going to Italy.
I live well, but do I live fully? Richly? Is every day framed by a renewed spirit resulting from a little quietude with God’s word and prayer that makes me grateful, aware of God’s activity in my life, inclined to mirror His grace to my students? I live well, but happy is the man whom God corrected. That restlessness. That senselessness. That emptiness. It’s evidence.
I won’t trust God with this, this fear of who I will be if I never have a child. Sgt. Lee’s words marinated the next day as I sat in holiday traffic on my way to meet PJ, Gabrielle, and the kids at the beach. Google Maps declared an accident, marking a short route ahead in red. For ten minutes that spanned four times as many in my stream of consciousness, the traffic ahead was all-encompassing. There was little to no discernible movement.
I suddenly wanted a drink of my Powerade but couldn’t reach it. Then, I felt the urge to go to the bathroom. I changed the station as signals faded. It didn’t matter that I would still be early; I didn’t want to be sitting in that traffic, wasting precious day-off beach time. While GPS claimed the traffic would clear, I saw nothing but cars and trucks and brake lights, and I couldn’t trust it. Sitting, waiting, unable to see what’s ahead. I was restless.
All in an instant, the horizon leveled, and I could see the clear road up ahead. My mood made a bipolar right turn and the sun was shining. I wasn’t moving yet, but I could see the bigger picture and an end to the waiting that silenced any growing restlessness. I was waiting at the curb to help Gabrielle unload the children and beach gear. We had a wonderful afternoon building sand castles and marveling at the twins’ quirks and quips. I had that massage Charming bought me for my birthday.
And I went home to a quiet house, again. It’s here, in this house, that I wait. It perhaps defines my waiting. And here, in this house, it’s like I’m sitting in Memorial Day traffic on 64 West with nothing but brake lights ahead. On the side of a page in my journal, I asked why I keep asking for the same thing when it never changes, when there are no signs or promises, when it’s the same prayer with no answer, when I wait, forever wait.
I didn’t trust Google Maps yesterday, and I don’t trust God. I am somehow too worn or damaged or wearied to believe that His will for my life is better than what I have planned. Asking Him for a sign that I will have children someday is like asking the horizon to level and reveal the clear road up ahead, a cherished afternoon with family on the beach to make the long wait worthwhile.
It’s like I’m saying, “God, I’ll trust you when you show me what you see.” If Sgt. Lee had seen that landmine, would he have stopped on it? He lived life more richly, more deeply when he stopped running and walked with the Lord, and as an evangelist, he’s changed more lives in our nation than he could have ever imagined while defending our liberties abroad.
As it seems to happen more often these writing nights, I don’t have all the answers, but I cried when I wrote the words, “I won’t trust God with this, this fear of who I will be if I never have a child.” Navigating the wait in this biological traffic jam will require the kind of fortitude that emerges from an old routine that needs to be revived.
I remember Sgt. Lee said, “The Bible can keep you from sin, and your sin can keep you from the Bible.” My worry, my sleepless nights holding my anxious fears of a future without motherhood, eventually, over time, like the successes of my youth, I’ve set this desire above God.
What will it take for me to stop running?