I reach for the bathroom door, pulse pounding in my ears. I am surprised, and relieved, to find it is a private restroom, no stalls. I lock the door behind me with a click that echoes. Staring into my wide eyes in the mirror I attempt to smush my scattered thoughts and dissonant emotions into a more cohesive, manageable form like a multicolored lump of Play-Doh. I force focus on my breathing.
Deep breath in.
Lord, that it would bless them.
Father, that You would be glorified.
That I would be made more like You in this process.
Blow back out, forcing myself to be fully present. My heart drums a call for flight. Sweaty palms, shaky fingers rest on the cool, solid granite. I straighten my spine and square my shoulders shifting the weight of the heavy new story that is settling on me, in me, enveloping me. I wiggle my toes in my brown riding boots. Mirror-me is confident, collected, but my dark eyes betray me staring back out swirling with old stories half told.
Please be here with me.
Fragmented scripture breaks the roiling surface of my thoughts, the same snippet has often over the past couple weeks, “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The words connect like a wooden bat and a fastball, cracking in my chest and reverberating through my limbs.
Above all, I am here to offer myself in worship and I am made to worship by using my gifts.
I close my eyes. Inhale. Exhale. I force my shoulders down and in doing so the tension slips and the new story settles into place. Now it fits like a loose-knit, slightly misshapen mantle; the pressure no longer a burden, but an embrace. My eyes pop open in surprise and I catch myself smiling in the mirror.
“Well there’s no running now,” I giggle at my dramatic reflection, “Either I’m going bomb or I’m not. Time to just do the thing.” My fear fizzles replaced by effervescent excitement. I walk out of the bathroom and follow my big crazy dreams down the empty hallway, boots clicking the laminate floor.
My memory of giving the message is a blur of faces and page turning and a surprisingly clear internal monologue that ran concurrent to hearing my voice coming out of my mouth. I felt comfortable, strangely relaxed. The only concrete experience I can compare it to is when I lose myself writing and come up for air, then am shocked to discover I’ve been writing for hours that snuck past as minutes. Sometimes I muse that perhaps these moments are “pockets of eternity” where you feel so connected to your work or fellowship or whatever that time gives a glimpse of its irrelevance.
“Do you feel relieved?” A smiling friend asked as I awkwardly made my way back to my seat—back to reality—from the podium. It surprised me to find that the relief I, too, had been expecting wasn’t there. Instead I felt fire. “No, I’m pumped!” I attempt to elaborate, “I loved it! It was really fun…” I lamely trail off, my mind and attention buzzing to the next face. Women mill about me, smiling, patting, touching my sleeve, shockingly a couple with tears in their eyes. I’m carried on this surreal sea of affirmation, no time to process, next door to the chapel for the final conference session from the main speaker.
The powerful words of the final session, a call to Sabbath, wash over me. Then I bask in the silence of my first experience with lectio divina. “Endurance and patience,” I speak aloud the portion of the scripture that spoke most to me after the third reading. I say it feeling somewhat resigned, deflating from the high of speaking earlier, but settling into a better Peace.
This is not about me getting discovered. Forgive me for my pride. Father, You see me. You know the timing. You have a plan for me. Help me to be patient, to endure.
Another snippet of scripture floats into my meditating mind from Romans 15:5: “May the God of endurance and encouragement…” Oh Lord, thank you that you are both!
I breathe the scripture slowly, purposefully, reminiscing on my earlier near-freak-out in the bathroom. Thank you, Father, that you came! I feel his paternal pride for me swell in the pit of my stomach, an I-wouldn’t-miss-it-for-the-world flood of emotion that brings tears to my eyes.
In the muddle of goodbyes and well-wishes and all-the-hugs after the conference something important happened and I almost missed it. It struck me like an electric shock as I pulled out onto the main road shifting gears manually and mentally. (I’m reminded of the moment in Madeline when Miss Clavel turns out the light and declares, “Something is not right!”) I pull onto a side street and shift into neutral in front of a tiny older home situated across from some sort of industrial yard.
I’m sitting in my old Civic not even a mile from the church. I pull my worn, purple journal from my bag and fish out a pen. What did she say?! I strain my memory to reach back to the moment.
Closing my eyes I will myself back into the quickly dimming memory in the church foyer. I was standing talking with some friends and family when she—Mary Hulst, main speaker, Calvin College chaplain, and ex-seminary professor that I had mentally been obsessing over since the moment I realized who I would be speaking with—had tapped me on the shoulder.
She had gone out of her way to encourage me earlier in the day. I was crackling with anxiety like static, trying to pull it off only to find it clinging. Twice she reminded me how she was for me. She told me to imagine her with face painted and shaking cowbells: my biggest fan in the room. I relaxed into her loving grace.
But there in the foyer, after all was said and done, what did she say…? I whisper a prayer into the dusty dashboard. Lord, I know that was important. What did she say?
Standing in the foyer, I turned away from the friends I was chatting with, momentarily distracted by the tap on my shoulder. I remember Mary smiling at me and a rib-cracking bear hug. Some words of affirmation and congratulations. I don’t remember those words, just feeling that they were very generous. I remember telling her she might make me cry; something I say when I feel like I should be crying, when I want to cry, but can never quite let myself do it in front of people.
Mary stepped back, away to leave, smiling. My eyes were wild with questions. I wonder what mixture of searching for answers and puppy dog longing she saw there. This is what I want to do. I think this is what I was made for. How do I do this? Silent questions coming so rapidly I could not have found the words nor the time had my tongue not failed me anywhow.
She meets my gaze directly. Sees my face momentarily naked, desire exposed.
With authority and warmth that I imagine wells up from the spring of her experience, she answers my unspoken questions, “Make small, faithful choices.”
I scribble the train of consciousness stream onto the page in blue ink. I close the journal and lean back against the soft gray headrest. I let the answer simmer.
Make small, faithful choices.
What does God want me to do next? Make small, faithful choices. What is the purpose of my life? Make small, faithful choices. How do I live a life of purpose, of fullness, of wholeness, of joy? Make small, faithful choices.
What if we aren’t meant to be geysers surging or great waves crashing only to be replaced by the next big thing? Each small decision drips faithfully into the pools of our lives, eventually overflowing the banks and rippling into eternity. The process of small and faithful is slow and the change is incremental, but the effect is reaching and the impact is lasting.
The answer to the question—the Pinterest-worthy Mary Oliver quote I see everywhere now—“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” What if the answer is not as big or bold or radical as the question?
The answer is profoundly simple, humble and hard: Make small, faithful choices.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Featured image: Owen Roberston via Flickr Creative Commons