Most people are thinking about beginnings this week, but I’m behind the eight ball and still thinking about endings. I submit as evidence the fact that my “2014 in Review” is here post-calendar-turn instead of pre-.
So: endings. And Revelation 22, the chapter at the Bible’s ending. Earlier this week, I was stopped by verse 7 of the passage: “Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
Keep the words. When we encounter a phrase like this in Scripture, often we take it to mean “obey or else.” That’s because often our knee-jerk reaction in matters of Scripture is to treat it like a rulebook and a list of consequences for broken rules. We assume God’s ultimate word to us is about a hammer dropping. We fear that if we fail to toe the line, he’ll pulverize us.
Tune in today at 3:30pm EST/12:30pm PST to catch me on HuffPost Live, as part of a conversation about marriage and virginity. Is it really worth waiting? Catch the segment here.
1 Thessalonians 4 is part of a letter from Paul to the Christian church in Thessalonica. The chapter begins with the kinds of subjects that make people feel condemnation hot around their necks: sexual immorality, lust, and passion right out of the gate. These are the impurities (verse 7) Paul pits against a clear expectation of holiness, honor, and sanctification.
If the early church was anything like our churches today, they would’ve met these verses ripe with potential for missing the point.
One of the more illuminating moments in our marriage happened on the night when Nathan and I came to terms about The Leak. I don’t recall the particulars of our conversation anymore, but knowing me, I had likely cried and talked in circles for some time, trying to simultaneously figure out a point and make it. Knowing him, he had likely listened patiently and with a furrowed brow, putting forth a valiant mental effort to sift through what I was saying in order to hear what I actually meant.
We were talking about being busy and about the toll it was taking on things. That detail I do remember. Nathan had been working especially long hours: weekdays and -nights away from home on training exercises, weekends spent at his desk trying to keep up with everything that had piled on while he was away. Times like these are par for the course every so often with military life, but accepting that fact doesn’t necessarily make them easier. As is typical in our relationship, the feverish pace was leaving both of us beyond tired—but where his exhaustion was physical, mine was emotional. I felt like I couldn’t remember the last time we had invested together in our relationship, and I wasn’t sure I believed I could anticipate that changing anytime soon.
We have settled on a name for the wildly moving mass of unborn boy that is taking over my torso. It is still a few months ahead of our son’s arrival, and we’ve known his gender for only a handful of weeks—still, it feels like this process of deciding took forever.
Any name my husband liked, I couldn’t stand, and vice versa. (We knew it would be this way. The disagreements were foreshadowed early in our marriage, when Nathan told me he loved the Puritan practice of naming children after virtues: Patience, Chastity, etc. I twisted up my whole face at him in response.) This time around was the same as with the naming of our daughter: one of us would toss out an idea, and the other would immediately make a faceor say, determinedly and disgustedly, NO.
But we hashed it out, because names are important. This boy will wear his forever: infancy, childhood, awkward teenage years, early adulthood, old age—as long as he is privileged to live. The sounds made by his name will reverberate on people’s ears when he first introduces himself. The way the letters appear together on paper will become some people’s first impression of him. These are the silly, real things we talked about when talking about the name. Names are important. And we were more than willing to be determined and disgusted about them until the final question was, to our estimation, decided well.
In Genesis 32, a man and a nation get a new name.
Writing class, senior year, undergrad. It was over ten years ago now, and still I remember Katie’s take on a particular assignment. Our professor had told us to write with honesty about ourselves. Something like that. I remember the gist of the assignment only because of how Katie fulfilled it. We went around the room, reading what we had put together, and it was all sentiment and cheap disclosure until we got to Katie, who said things like:
I’m so selfish that sometimes I wish I could take other people’s things, so I wouldn’t have to be jealous anymore.
I look in the mirror sometimes and tell myself I’m prettier than another woman is. It gives me smug satisfaction to think like that.
I often want to lie about myself to my roommates and friends, to make them think I’m better than I am.
I looked down at my own version of the honesty assignment and was suddenly ashamed to see things like I’d love to be published someday and I’m a farm girl at heart. Hardly gut-deep. Aligned next to Katie’s version of honesty, I found that my own lacked an important kind of bravery and candor. It made me wonder: Just how honest am I, when it comes to me?
Last week, crammed into a house far to small for all of us, my (ever-expanding) family of origin gathered as a whole for the first time in two years. We relished the in-person hugs and the introductions of family members who hadn’t yet met. We caught up on the kind of news that gets forgotten or breezed over during Skype and Facetime chats. We laughed about the same old stories and made fools of ourselves playing ridiculous games. We sat around for hours over breakfasts, lunches, dinners. More than once, we wore pajamas well into the afternoon.
Since the last time we were together, we have added three members: two babies and a fiancée. We’ve changed for the better: degrees begun and completed; jobs changed; promotions earned; homes rented, purchased and sold; engagements announced; babies born. In all this change, there has been much to congratulate and celebrate.
But we are also the same as we were before, so there is still plenty to mourn. In this little family alone, hearts are heavy under aches that haven’t gone away, unmet desires that haven’t faded, strains that haven’t been eased, questions that haven’t been answered, and griefs that haven’t worn fully away. And we can still hurt one another in the same tired, old ways. And we can still be our most selfish, spiteful, ugly selves when we’re together.
Our girl was born two months into my husband’s six-and-a-half-month deployment to Afghanistan. It was late afternoon there when she made her arrival, and his company was out on a mission. There had been a firefight, on account of which he hadn’t slept much and he needed to write and submit some reports to higher headquarters urgently. He didn’t have much access to civilian emails during that time. And the (typically reliable, typically lightning-fast) Red Cross message that a hospital nurse supposedly dispatched to him on my behalf never made it to the Middle East. The result of all this was that Nathan didn’t know about his daughter’s birth until two afternoons later, almost 48 hours after the fact.
Two a.m. local time, he finally called me. “I just found out,” was how our first parental conversation started. There was an uncharacteristic jitter in his voice, and it laid bare some of his feelings about the new and uncharted waters we were in. I could hear it instantly: he was curious, tentative, apologetic, proud, thrilled. But three minutes after I had answered the phone, duty called again, and he had to hang up. He hadn’t even had the chance to hear a Cliff’s Notes version of our first child’s delivery. Initially I was tempted to be upset about this: Wasn’t he at least entitled to a quick overview?
Then again, the more I thought about it, I wasn’t sure if anyone—certainly not I—could have properly remembered the events that had happened two days earlier.
Colorado Springs, 1999. My first real job as a writer.
I was 17, and I had been chosen by the editors of a teen magazine to write a column every other month for a year. “Lisa’s Line,” they called it. They had flown me to Colorado by myself for a weekend photo shoot, to get the next January’s cover image and a few more pictures for accompanying my columns. The editor in charge of choosing me that year, Andrea, had flown in for the weekend as well. She and I were staying in the same hotel, and I was positively awed by her.
Andrea asked if I would meet her for breakfast at the hotel restaurant on the day of the shoot. So I found her at a table that morning, sat across from her, and tried to mirror her beautiful posture without being obvious about it. (Was it the way she held her shoulders? Were they forward or back? Or up?) I tried to say intelligent things and to not hold my fork awkwardly. I was embarrassed that my hair was still a little damp.
She told me why they had picked me: they liked my writing and it seemed I had solid faith. Since the magazine had a distinctly Christian focus, they were looking for a teenager who could be a distinctly Christian role model for their readership. That was ironic, considering what happened not moments later.
My friend Karen* has just had surgery, and her husband is away. (This is not uncommon for military folk like us.) We have spent three days holed up at my place—she as the patient, me the attempted nurse—so she can begin to heal. Now she’s ready to be back on her feet and at home, but her cupboards are bare. So we go grocery shopping on the way over to her place. She chooses the food, I push the cart and lift the heavy things.
We arrive at a seasonal display in the produce department. Bags of cherries are stacked up in piles: a couple rows of deep red, a couple rows of red-yellow, then a couple more of red. It is at this point when Karen reaches out nonchalantly and grabs a single Ranier.
“I always taste-test these to make sure they’re good first,” she explains, popping it into her mouth. Her official assessment is a slight pucker.
My internal response to this cherry-pick is instantly surprising to me, for two reasons.