This past weekend my family, including my parents and sisters, went to Geneva, NY for the day. My dad grew up in Geneva and even though it is only about an hour from home, we had never spent the day there all together seeing the various places of significance in my dad's childhood. We kept referring to Geneva as my dad's old "stomping grounds", which was humorous and fitting for me, mainly because my dad is not a small guy (6'5) and he is not exactly what you would call fleet of foot. In fact, God love him, my dad is probably the noisiest walker I know. I can still hear the rapid, booming thump-thump of his dress shoes down the front hall when he came in from work each evening. Or what sounded like a rock-slide when he ran down the stairs.
We all have the sounds of our childhood. Mine included my mom screaming at the TV during Syracuse Basketball games, the echos of which weaved all through the house and curled up the stairs to my bedroom while I drifted off to sleep. Who needs a lullaby when you have that? And who needs an alarm clock with you have a an entire men's varsity rugby team and the cast of "Stomp" going up and down the stairs outside your bedroom. As an added bonus, my has a habit of leaving his shoes everywhere. His size 14 shoes. In the most random and hazardous spots. I don't even know how many times one of us has tripped over his shoes growing up. Conservatively I would say, at least 12 million times, because that seems both accurate and fair. Somethings don't change because now my kids will regularly collide with one of his giant sneakers and go flailing. My sisters and I are eternally indebted to his hazardous shoe placement because without having to stick those landings we would never have grown into the graceful, coordinated women we are today... So yes, the idea of his former stomping grounds made me laugh to myself, because I can just picture my dad as a kid and teenager tromping all around the streets of Geneva, leaving giant footprints (and shoes) wherever he went.
It was an absolutely gorgeous day. We walked all afternoon as my dad pointed out the landmarks of his life. The house he grew up in, with his bedroom window in the top left-hand corner. The front door is a different color now. The rectory he moved into when his dad became the head priest at the Episcopal church in town. That house was his favorite. It was big, like a maze, perfect for exploring. And his best friend Billy Summer's house, right across the street. We saw "Dead Man's Hill": the story behind one of his scars, where he went sledding head first into a guard rail. The florist shop where one holiday when he was in elementary school he bought his mother a cardboard flower. My dad had saved up his money but couldn't afford a real flower. Timidly he offered up what he thought was a meager gift to his mother, my grandmother, and to his delight she pinned it right onto her fancy dress and showed it off to everyone at their high society holiday party. The college where his dad taught. The frat house my dad lived in when we attended the same college. The store his mom used to shop at for knick-knacks. And the grassy area overlooking Seneca Lake where he first learned to hit a baseball.
It was strange and pleasant to put a "face" to all these places, from all these stories I had heard. I had never envisioned Dead Man's hill to be snack dab in the middle of some cheery 19th century row houses. The church was ornate and grand, one of those old grey stone main street churches I would have commented on if we had driven by on any other Sunday afternoon drive. As he spoke telling a story about being woken up by the sound of car accident below, I could almost see his five-year old face peering out the window under the street lights.
When we came home and in the days afterward I have felt a restless feeling in me. It's nothing new, really. Often times I find myself wrestling with some event or circumstance, searching for a metaphor. I scrolled through pictures from our day looking for some lesson to come from the day, some inspiration. I toured over the the streets of Geneva again in my mind. What symbol held deeper, spiritual meaning? You might think it's a little strange at best, and down right pathetic at worse. And you'd totally be right. I'm just a girl with a weakness for symbolism and deeper meaning. A good metaphor is my Kriptonite. Along with apple crisp.
I can't let anything be. I tend to turn things over and over in my mind, squeezing every last drop of meaning out of it. Especially the hard things. I am a poker. In fact if "life" had a Facebook account I would poke it, circa 2006. Just give me something. Something to learn. Some sort of purpose. Something insightful. Something to show for this. Something instagram worthy (and a nice matte filter to go with it, maybe a few emoticons).
I think it's my way of giving validity to the hard stuff of life. If I can find something in it, then it's not wasted. If I can discover a symmetry to the whole thing, a meaning or application that matches up just so, then there is beauty in it after all. I exhaust myself in trying to find that "something", and when I do I let out a sigh of relief. "Well at least now I can understand God's purpose in all this, and I can see the good in it." It helps me to endure.
I don't ever want to be passive in my suffering or waiting. I want to be purposeful, vigilant, faithful. I want to find that nugget of something-that lesson, that provision, that growth, that purpose that God has for when this comes full circle- I want to unearth all the wisdom each season has to offer.
Throughout my life the hardest grace I have ever experienced is when despite all my poking I couldn't find what I was looking for. My "something" was nowhere to be found. I really don't often become disillusioned or devastated when hard things happen. It's when I don't have my "something" to go along with it those feelings start to creep in. It's like I have this unspoken arrangement with God (cause that's totally how life works) that He can take anything away as long as He gives me a purpose, that "something", in return. He can allow life to be hard as long as it ultimately makes sense. He can allow me to hurt as long as I get that "something" out of it. (oh hey, ugly pride.)
Very often He does give me those requests. He has given me about a bazillion somethings. In fact most of my writing on this blog is about all the somethings. But what about when the something never seems to come? Is the hard stuff still grace? Is it still good?
This happened a few months ago. Nothing made sense to me. Just about nothing seemed good. I knew it wasn't true, but judging by my circumstances and feelings, even God didn't seem good, at least not good to me at that time. Life was bitterly painful and that bitterness was threatening to creep into my heart. I begged and prayed and turned my circumstances inside out searching for that "something". All signs had been pointing to what I assumed must be God's purpose for this season of pain. I thought I saw the answer. My heart let out a sigh of relief at the congruency of it all. And just as it seemed within reach, that answer was pulled away. I couldn't understand. The hurt intensified. I hadn't begged God to take away the suffering as much as to give me that something in it. But it didn't seem like He was. Turns out I was looking in the wrong places.
My weary, foolish heart is sometimes tempted to believe that when I don't see the purpose and no tidy metaphors can be found, there is no beauty. I have failed to see the good in it all. When the pain doesn't seem to be fulfilling a purpose I can see and point to and wrap my mind or hands around, then I start to believe maybe there is no purpose at all. Pain without purpose? That's not how God works. That's not loving or good. At times in my life I've made an idol out of the "something" and forgotten what I really crave, what I really need isn't an answer. It isn't a word picture or even a lesson to be learned. It isn't clarity or purpose or a silver-lining. It's Jesus.
Paul says in Philippians "But whatever I had, I counted loss for the sake of the Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish in order that I might gain Christ." (3:7-8)
"Everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus".
There are lots of things I need to count as loss. (Turns out "everything" encompasses a lot of things...like every thing.) But today I am reminded to count even my "something" as loss compared to knowing Christ. My desire for wisdom, for purpose, for direction, for clarity. Somethings are good. Somethings are grace. But they aren't always the greatest good or the greatest grace. In seasons where the something doesn't come it is because God has another thing that is better than all the somethings He has given me. It's better than an answer. It's better than a purpose. It's better than any metaphor. It's Himself.
John Piper says "What sustains...in suffering the loss of all things is the confidence that in losing precious things in the world (we are) gaining something more precious-Christ".
I don't consider an entire day spent with my family, my dad, a waste just because no quotable, inspirational, instagram-worthy symbolism came out of the day. That would be shallow and ridiculous. That day was of value because of who I spent it with. I gained another piece of my dad, because I was with him. It was him I wanted anyway, much more than any metaphor or life-lesson. I need to remember the same is true when it comes to my relationship with God, except oodles more. It's Him I am after, more than all the somethings. I am learning that the greatest purpose He has for suffering or waiting is an intimacy with Him that makes everything else look like rubbish by comparison. That is the ultimate grace in any season, because whatever season I find myself in God is there with me. The seasons of my life are God's stomping grounds. I can count on finding Him there. That is definitely something.