Perhaps ee cummings put the idea in my head years ago with his poem, “i thank you God.” Or perhaps it’s because I’ve been laughing at and lounging in The Book of Delights by Ross Gay lately. Maybe it was Frederick Buechner’s The Remarkable Ordinary or this article by Norann Voll in Plough. But whatever the reason, I’ve been more aware of the beauty around me these days, of grace in all the beautiful, kaleidoscopic ways it can show up in a life—especially one like mine, which has been beset by stress and worry for the last year and a half.
It seemed wrong not to tell another person about the “leaping greenly spirit of trees,” the “blue dream of sky,” and “everything / which is natural which is infinite which is yes” in my life. So, to that end, I hope to begin blogging periodically about the winsome, altogether lovely things that cross my path. I hope they bless you as they have me.
Today is October 22, 2019, and I spent the better part of the day in Amélie’s French Bakery & Café in Atlanta writing an essay I’ve had in my head for quite some time. Firstly, can we talk about what a delight it is to write something that’s been knocking around inside you? To have the time and space to allow words to bubble up and flow together into sentences and paragraphs, to create something that will allow another person to look and maybe, just maybe, say, “I get it. I understand exactly what you’re getting at” is a blessing I can never discount.
I sat in a sagging blue velvet armchair and read, priming the pump for writing, noshing on both a chocolate croissant, all butter and flake, and a tartine topped with melted brie, bacon, and fig. (I saw no reason to choose.) The sandwich was sweet, salty, and rich all at once. Joyful flavors. The world just doesn’t seem so dire when warm fig is spread on a toasted baguette.
In cafés and coffeeshops, there is a special level of camaraderie I have yet to find anywhere else. For some reason, people trust their neighbors, those folks hammering away nearby on their own laptops, to watch over their things while they run to the bathroom or to the counter for a refill. I know I certainly did, and that’s how I met Cheryl. Before I walked out of the building to pay for parking, I locked eyes with this hoodied angel over her copy of Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir and asked for the favor, which she happily agreed to. (How can a person reading Mary Karr not be wonderful!?) I did the same for her, and together, we made it all happen.
When I went back to order lunch and bit of sweetness (a lemon tart the cashier referred to as “teensy weensy” and a chocolate mousse cup the size of a half inch socket), I just happened to return with a palmier for her. “I thought you could use a little something,” I said. “It was perfect,” she told me later. “Just what I needed to finish my work…and my tea.” We talked shop for awhile (she’s a freelance journalist with a five-year-old son) and about how hard it is to be a writer and a mom in the same body. We shook hands. We blessed one another and parted ways.
Having recently moved into Atlanta, the first truly metropolitan area I’ve ever lived in, I can say that there are some adjustments I’ve had to make. Some of the changes that come from moving from a rather idyllic suburban area to an urban zone have been positive. Others, well, not so much.
On the negative side, with my poor sense of direction, learning my way around has proven to be a challenge. For those who have never visited the ATL, half the streets have “Peacthree” in their names, and none of them meet up. It’s like the street were titled by the same five-year-old who calls all her pets and stuffed animals “Kitty.”
I’ve ended up going the wrong way down more than a few one way streets, calling my husband to help me get somewhere after I’ve gotten lost, and generally crying hysterically for a few minutes once I get home. On the plus side, my prayer life is much richer for it. Also, once I do reach my destination, I have to determine where I can park because “parallelin’ it” is often out of the question, and only so many of the parking garages take debit cards. (I’ve also learned the value of the word “validation,” which has NOTHING to do with my self esteem.)
And the TRAFFIC. I’ll save my discussion of that for another blog post. It truly
deserves its own. I’d like to find the person or persons who thought it would be a good idea to merge I-75 and I-85 together through a major city and to do so in such a way that it is impossible to ever widen it. I would have a reasonable discussion with them about civic planning, like Sampson, smite them with the jawbone of an ass.
However, for all the drawbacks (i.e.–not as many people say “Hello” when they pass you, personal safety is of greater concern, and it gets hecka cold here in the winter for a thin-blooded Florida girl like me), there are a great many positives. For example, I live five minutes from an amazing arts center where I can visit the museum, take in a show, or listen to a concert just about year round. There’s a botanical garden close to it as well. There are unique bookstores, restaurants, and music shops straight out of High Fidelity I can peruse at my leisure. Broadway’s best shows come here, as do the biggest bands while on tour. All major sporting leagues (except hockey…sorry Thrashers) have teams here I can follow, and there are beautiful historical sites and festivals going on all the time. There’s never a shortage of new things to experience; I just don’t always have the funds to indulge in all of them!
I’ve tried to balance out these two diametrically different forces in my life. Sure, I’m farther away from my family than I’d like. However, moving to Atlanta gave me the opportunity to leave education and jump feet first into the print industry. I’m writing and editing for a living, which is something I NEVER could have done back home. The many long and painful things Wayne and I had to endure on the path that led us here were worth it, both spiritually and financially.
People have been doing the “Thirty Days of Thankfulness” thing this month on blogs and on Facebook, posting one thing a day for which they are truly grateful be it family, a flush toilet, or flavored dental floss. I think it is an excellent exercise, one we should practice the other eleven months of the year. After all, we’re blessed year-round, not just during the one month the holiday happens to fall on the last Thursday.
I can tell one thing I’m grateful for.
His name is Onk.
You’ll notice that I didn’t name him; the “artist” who created him did. Granted, he’s just graffiti, a spray paint squiggle defacing a wall separating a train station from the street. I see him each morning when I leave for work as the road I take out of our neighborhood runs into the one where he’s stationed. There’s something about him that makes me smile. Perhaps it’s the “whomperjawed” eyeballs that sit, off kilter from one other, or the bucktoothed grin. Maybe its just the mystery of why someone would take the time to create such a thing (and name it) on a random Atlanta wall. I’ve come to think of Onk as “home.” I know I’m in my place when I see his familiar teeth, and I can use him as a guidepost for others who need directions to find me. Sure, time and the elements will eventually erase him, but, to a Southern girl like me, that’s no different than knowing how to get somewhere based on where “such and such building used to be.” There’s a comfort in distinctly human things like this, a quirky thing that decorates an otherwise soulless wall. I’m willing to bet hundreds if not thousands of people drive by him every week and never notice he’s there, but I do.
Imagine my surprise yesterday morning when, on the way to church, my husband and I saw this!
Yep, Onk has a roommate! (Or two—I can’t tell if the squiggles in brown are a word or a design.) There’s now a vivid blue mouse wearing a turban (or a ninja hood) a foot or two away from my old friend.
Unlike the sanguine Onk who sits tranquilly on the wall, his eyes glazed in half sleep, the blue mouse (who I have to name on my own some day) seems flabbergasted to be where he is. His wide eyes and acute eyebrows betray his panic to oncoming traffic, as if he’s afraid we’re going to choose neither left nor right and plow straight into the wall where he’s stuck. I was actually delighted when I saw it for some reason, and I stopped to take a picture this morning.
Perhaps I clapped my hands in delight because yet-to-be-named-blue-ninja-turbaned-mouse reminds me that I live in a world of constant change. Nothing stays the same, but I can choose how I react to it and be thankful that I’m around to experience it.
I can either get angry because A.) Someone is defacing a wall or B.) I liked Onk just the way he was -or- I can see it as a positive. It’s just another guidepost, a thumbtack on the topographical map of my life. I think I’ll choose the latter.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I have a tendency to get into ruts. I become comfortable in a routine, and I stay there so long I border on turning into an Ent. Now, while there is some pleasure to be taken in routine, especially in the security and predictability it provides, it is also dangerous because it makes me myopic. I tend to only see what is directly in front of me, and like a Beagle after some elusive scent, I put my proverbial nose to the ground, only to look up several miles later in a place I don’t recognize and without a clue as to how to get home.
However, I can always count on God to provide me with something I’ve come to term “Etch A Sketch Moments.” If you’re my age or older, you remember the toy I’m talking about. The red frame, the dual knobs, the line that snaked its way across the flat, gray screen as we turned them in frustration. I don’t know about the rest of Generation X, but more often than not, my tongue was often stuck in the corner of my mouth in total concentration as I tried to draw Castle Grayskull or Soundwave, my favorite Transformer. Unlike the talented soul who created the reproduction of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night in the image to the left, my attempts at art often ended up looking more like something Salvador Dali might have created after a long night spent consuming Ouzo and playing Cootie (in that order). All I ever created were lopsided stick figures all connected by a tether, because I could never figure out how to double back and cover my lines, or the generic depiction of a house–blocky, square windows, triangle roof with a smoking chimney hanging off it at a perilous angle, and a door smack in the middle.
When I put my creation on display, my poor family members would all put their heads together to try to discern the meaning of the Rorschach Test I’d created, hoping to guess correctly and avoid hurting my feelings. When they’d guess “Choo Choo Train” instead of the Thunder-Tank from Thundercats or drew a blank at my rendering of the scarf wearing and umbrella toting fawn, Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I’d perform my patented eyeball roll (which could never be interpreted as anything but exasperation) and shake the poor Etch A Sketch until my otiose attempts at creating visual art were no more.
I’ve often wished that my mistakes were as easily erased as those crude drawings, but alas and alack, life is not as simple as the Ohio Art Company would have it to be.
However, when I say God provides me with “Etch A Sketch Moments,” I don’t mean he gives me some sort of celestial mulligan. I mean that He sends someone or something into my life to shake me out of a certain way of thinking, to erase some stale and lifeless pattern I use to interpret the world. He removes all those limits I and others have placed in my life and makes me see the world in a different way.
Today, a wonderful gentleman named Christopher Coleman spoke at our weekly chapel at In Touch Ministries. You can click on his name and visit his website where a more detailed testimony can be found, but here’s the long and short of it. When he was born, the doctor’s pronounced him dead and went on to work on delivering his twin sister. Fifteen minutes later, after another doctor worked on him, he began to cry! He had been without oxygen for fifteen minutes, and doctors told his mother to send him to a home and forget about him because he had cerebral palsy and would never walk, talk, or speak.
Well, thankfully, she didn’t…and he did.
Now, he’s a college graduate (the only one in his family) who travels around the world telling his life’s story and showing people that God is truly able. When Christopher was called by God into ministry, he asked the Lord, “Do you see me? Do you see my hands that won’t stay still, my feet that go in every direction but the one I want? Do you hear my voice that’s so hard to understand?” God replied to him, “I don’t have to look. I made you. You are exactly what I planned for you to be because I don’t make junk.”
He shared several scriptures with us during his presentation–my life’s verse, 2 Corinthians 12:10, and the story of the cripple at the Pool of Bethesda found in John 5. With regards to the latter, Mr. Coleman pointed out that Jesus Christ asks an odd question, one that bears some consideration. He asks the crippled man, “Do you want to be made well?” What is this man’s answer going to be “No”? He’d been a cripple for thirty-eight years, unable to provide for himself or move without aid. Of course he’d love to be healed! However, Christ asks him because, if made well, this man would be compelled to spend his days walking and telling as many people as possible about the blessing he’d been given by Jesus. He would no longer be living for himself because his body would be a living testimony to Jesus’ power and mercy. I’d never considered it that way before but the truth is that Jesus understands our wants better than we do. I love it!
Throughout his talk, Mr. Coleman amazed me with his wit, his positive attitude, and his joy. He said that people often look at him and wonder, “How can he, with all his physical challenges, be so happy when I am whole and miserable?” The answer is a relationship with God! Not having that one amazing thing can alter and skew our perspectives in such a way that we forget just how blessed we are–how loved and how cherished we are by God the Father.
Sure, I could always want for more money, more things, more security, but no matter how much I acquire, none of it will never make me happy. Thankfully, that’s not what makes me feel joyful. From time to time, I do get into ruts as I mentioned earlier, and I forget the things for which I should be truly grateful. I can look over those things, take them for granted, and forget just how marvelous they truly are. For instance, I am, above all, a child of God who will one day be with Him in heaven. That alone is cause enough for lifelong celebration. However, while I am here, He blessed me with an amazing family who loves me unconditionally, a husband who cherishes and cares for me, a mind that is able to handle complex ideas and problems, and a body that is healthy and whole despite my illness. Yes, I have Multiple Sclerosis, and I tell you that I am thankful for it because it is what keeps me mindful of God’s hand on my life. Without it, I was on the completely incorrect path. I wasn’t relying on Him, and I wasn’t living the way He would have me live.
Now, I wake up most days and wiggle my toes to make sure I can still feel them. I blink my eyes and check to make sure I can still see. For seven years, I have been able to do all that and more! Let me tell you, when you have MS, it can compromise your life in a multitude of ways, so when I wake up each day and discover that I can walk, talk, see, and do any and everything I want, every task I complete is done in joy. Taking out the trash is more fun than a field trip to the zoo, and running errands is more fun than a shopping spree on Fifth Avenue because I can do them without a struggle! However, there are some days I roll out of bed and don’t think about that simple truth, and that’s when little things frustrate me. I lose my gratitude, my perspective gets skewed, and my life is much less mirthful for it.
Mr. Coleman was God’s way of sharing that truth afresh with me today. I am like him in that I have that thorn in my flesh that Paul spoke of in 2 Corinthians. But my thorn is not Paul’s thorn, and it isn’t Mr. Coleman’s thorn. Ours were given to us at different times and for different reasons because we all have our own roles to fulfill in the furtherance of God’s kingdom. However, as I looked around the chapel today and saw my co-workers being taught and blessed by him, I was reminded again that, like the cripple by the pool, my body is healed so that I, too, can be a witness for Christ. Like I often did with my Etch A Sketch, God shook me up today and erased all the crooked lines in my mind, and He will no doubt help me create a more accurate rendering of my world.
I have but to consult Job 5:6-9, 17-19, the words of Eliphaz, to keep my perspective accurate. He tells his friend Job:
For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble spring from the ground; yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.But as for me, I would seek God, and to God I would commit my cause—Who does great things, and unsearchable, marvelous things without number. . . .Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore, do not despise the chastening of the Almighty.For He bruises, but He binds up; He wounds, but His hands make whole. He shall deliver you in six troubles.Yes, in seven no evil shall touch you.