Every morning, I pull seven long curtains back on seven long windows in our front room so sunlight will stream into our home space. I press a pen onto paper. The swirling black ink in firm strokes is pre-dawn, pregnant therapy — an effort to convince myself there is order and purpose while the teapot whistles and I glory in moments alone. I wrestle the daily lectionary for something profound and desperately hope the Scripture gets in me good, better than yesterday because that didn’t go very well.
Yes, we have seven windows. We live in Atlanta now, where they don’t come at such a premium. They are old and historic and dirty wonderful. The bars on the front remind me of Brooklyn, and I love that too.
The first few days and weeks of our new southern life, I felt lonely for shared Brooklyn apartment walls. I grieved the distance between front doors, the yards and the fences and the streets in between. The vast physical space followed me like a giant personal bubble – equal parts fresh air and far country where all the city used to sit. We arrived strangers in the South in late August and by early September I longed for crowded, colorful streets and common laundry establishments and an elevator full of neighbors. Homesick for shared space, I guess.
I am 33 now. Yesterday was the magic day and hour that my body officially adjusted to the new numerals. Baby was due to join this side of the world as a celebration, but (surprise, surprise) Baby is stubborn. I get it Baby, take your time. I am not ready either. I mean, my belly is stretched to the max, so don’t get any bigger. I can still touch my toes but I sometimes need help getting out of bed.
I had a small hope of knowing myself a little better before number two arrived — maybe even destroying some of the demons and facing more squarely the fears that fester secretly in the corners of my soul. I blame the complex emotions of moving across the country and nesting in a strange place and growing another mystery in my belly, but I know it is my human condition that remains the thorn in my stubborn side. I am still weak and weakness is a stage I will never outgrow.
And inside weakness – inside hot shower tears and endless “Oh, so, nice to meet you!” conversations, inside GPS disasters and unnecessary selfish implosions – I see you, God.
I have tried to conquer weakness all my life. At times in small, subtle ways and at other times with great flair and volume. Something about the daily lectionary reigns over my whitewashed importance and anchors me in a Strength I will never attain. It is slow, steady work that calmly lives inside the liturgical year – absent any flourish or savvy and present a faithful plodding toward the most important Easter season. The Bible readings rest confidently and quietly on each day just because the words are True. It is good for my weakness to read the Bible this way, I think. In my pen to paper reflections, I often read myself saying “It is good for me to be in the Word… I need more of the Word, more Truth.” I read back things like that and instead of emotion, there is confirmation.
Anyway, I do not feel less weak. Or less homesick or more nested or any sort of strong.
I am the same amount of weak I was at 13 – when I wrote chapter markings into my journal and in pencil because I thought it might be published someday and I’d need to make revisions. It’s always been a deceptive strength for Caroline Marie, a wrestling to establish where the roots are firmly planted and what control I can wield in the growing. And I see you, God.
Zella runs down the concrete steps of our front porch (remember, we live in Atlanta now) to chase the people passing by. “Hiiiiiiii!” and with a sloppy wave and a head tilt she goes on, “You can come over next time, if you want to!”
Then she runs back to me and says, “Friends, mama! Look, I say hi to them! And they can come overrrrrrrrrr next time!”
Everyone is all kinds of sweet about it and she lifts her face like a sunflower to the attention and the possible hope of new friendship. She chased one boy at the park when his mom determined it was time to leave and said, “It is hard to leave sometimes,” nodding her head like a little grandma who learned the lesson long ago. Her new friends’ names are folded into our conversations and our prayers as they show up to our campfires and library classes and long walks through the city’s center.
And she is weak, too. Her weakness frustrates me because it looks so like mine – impatience and anger and selfishness. I speak slowly and calmly (a truly spiritual effort) and explain her crazy while inwardly I rebuke myself for all the same things.
None of the weakness is shaking out like I thought, like I maybe hoped it would – like some sort of magic skin shedding when you move from one city to another. But I see you, God. And somehow, I have not yet exasperated You or Your love.
You extend steadfast love in a way my weakness will never be able to match.
The lectionary is taking me through the Exodus story and I am seeing God’s steadfastness anew. In Hebrew, steadfast love is “chesed” and English fumbles to find a word equal in depth. It means something like “loving kindness” and “mercy” and “loyalty.” The entire meaning has articles written about it. I lean towards “loyalty,” mainly because Dick Lucas leans that way and I really respect his study of Scripture. Anyway, he pointed out that this kind of loyal love is mentioned in the Psalms 125 times and always in reference to God’s love for His people and never in reference to our love for Him.
I see you, God.
I am too weak to respond in kind to your loyal love, to your steadfastness and your kindness. I’ll never be able to give You back the kind of glory that comes with the sun streaming in morning windows or the beauty of new neighbor thoughtfulness or the faithfulness of churches holding up Your Word as True. I am just too weak, all 33 years of me.
God chose inarticulate Moses, pursued the wayward Israelites, and moved us to the heart of Atlanta … not in spite of weakness but in order that He would be glorified for His strength.
I see you, God. And I’m probably going to forget this tomorrow, just FYI.