On Stewardship

When I was 18, my dad bought me the cutest little silver sports car. It was a gift of many proportions, being functional--pretty much necessary, as a college student in Indiana; but also fun and a great source of pleasure. It was the perfect gift.

Now, I know nothing about cars. I have a less-than-basic understanding of how they work. I only know the care they require because I've been told. I can't say my college and graduate school years were my richest, and so I tried to gracefully take on the financial responsibilities of owning a car, even when it was hard or not convenient. I also realized that the car would change and would require care; it wouldn't always last, but with a little effort, I could stretch its life, and therefore my enjoyment of it. 

So I took pride in it. I would spring for the middle-grade gas, or put ethanol gas in it when it needed a good cleaning. I made sure to get the oil changed, right on time, every time, even though driving on to those garage things made me nervous and I never understood what the mechanics are saying to me. Once a week, I would visit one of those do-it-yourself car washes, scrub my car clean and vacuum out the insides. I kept every document tucked neatly in an envelope in my glove compartment and the console was always organized. I didn't put trash in the pocket in the door. 

This is what we call stewardship. It's an expression of gratitude, taking care of what we have been given. It's being responsible and thankful. I tried to be those things, even when it was tricky or I didn't understand. You don't have to be all-knowing, or even agree with everything, to have a thankful heart. 

Over the years, I have felt accountable for my behavior on this Earth, which I consider to also be a gift. It is functional--you know, necessary for life, as human beings. And I also derive great pleasure from my time spent here. Splendor abounds. I take pride in it, and because I believe God gave me life to live here, I want how I spend my time here to reflect thankfulness.

I considered this as I dumped vegetable scraps into my trash last night. When we had a house with a garden, I never did that because we used peels to feed the chickens, and we composted the rest. But I don't have a garden here, and composting for the city is expensive and almost impossible right now, so I just don't do it. 

The thing is, there is a lot that I don't understand about the environment and our planet. I've only scratched the surface learning of how interconnected is our health and the quality of the air and the ground and the water. I know plenty of people who don't agree with certain measures taken to protect our resources, probably know even more people who aren't willing to choose the responsible route when it is financially inconvenient. 

I've been thinking a lot about right and wrong lately. I don't think I believe in right and wrong in the way most people perceive those words. I think there is a lot our human minds will never fathom, and that when it comes to ethical codes and the wars we wage against people who don't agree with us, we're missing the big picture almost every time.

But I realized that one way to grasp a greater vision, to think around a situation instead of staring straight at it but not seeing, is to instead think in terms of stewardship. It doesn't have to be about environmental practices. Maybe it's about relationships. Maybe you're not taking pride in the people in your lives and fostering healthy, loving friendship. Maybe it's about parenthood, and instead of seeing yourself as a steward of your children, you seek ways to control or not to control them. Maybe it's your work, and the situation feels so terrible, you take no personal pride in what you do. 

Still, how would your choices change if to live was an expression of gratitude? What if in spite of what you know or what your opinion is or what those around you are doing, you exercised that heart muscle into thankfulness?

That's all I'm trying to do, all I'm trying to be: Thankful.

2015/2016

I just needed a few weightless moments, high up in my parents' house, tucked into the garden tub next to the window. I could see the tops of trees and the soft snow floating by like a distant relative of the white fluff I'd piled high up the sides of the bath. I laid there with my eyes closed, soaking the heaviness out of my limbs. I have begun physically manifesting the stress of life over the last month or two, and a bathtub is one of those things I thought I could easily go without until it was absent from my day-to-day. I mourned the loss of this little luxury, then tried to be grateful for these moments I had in it.

My stress is not without merit, but I dwell on it to the point of ridiculousness. I wallow in it until it seems immense and impossible, like I'm battling in the toughest war ever encountered. I actually thought that, relaxing in the whirlpool of my parents' mountain home. As soon as the thought crossed my mind, the weariness somewhat drained as I had hoped, it was replaced by an overwhelming sadness for my current state--a nasty, selfish worldview. I'm a spoiled brat.

So in penance I toiled over the struggles of others around the world. I thought through 2015 and how, from the comfort of my own home, surrounded by my family, I've heard tell of hunger and murder and displacement and discord. I tried to imagine a woman, perhaps just my age, maybe with two children of her own, but on the other side of the world. Where I worry about comforts, she may worry about necessities. Where I struggle through a living, she is actually trying to stay alive. I obsess over the insignificant details of silly interactions, and her relationships are what she clings to for survival.

I pulled the plug on the tub and lay back to let gravity take its toll, crushing upon on my bones, sinking me down, down, down. The weight of humanness.

"Touch it," I hear. "Feel it."

As much as I know being human is temporary, this past year I have come to understand the big importance of it. We all bear humanity's heaviness; and we all receive the privilege of participating in it. Me and my friend across the world. 

It's the end of the year, so I've thought about the process of our new year's resolutions, how we make lists to "better" ourselves, things generally related to weight and bad habits and somehow elevating ourselves nearer the impossible standards we allow culture to dictate. The other woman, she will want to better herself too; but she will do so without a juicer or a workout plan or new beauty products to aid her vanity. How easily distracted we are. What I focus on covering up, she will expose and correct. 

Last year, in lieu of resolutions, I gave myself grace

. I have felt the grace soften and reopen my heart in a far more real way than I could have anticipated. For grace to continue its work, I must be willing to change my perspective. I must be pliable enough to be redirected and refashioned, especially where it is hardest or scariest. I thought I might forgo the resolutions process again, and instead I will try to ask myself questions, bringing to light and becoming vulnerable with what I think I can fix on my own, but really can't. Since I learned this year anyway, life has little to do with living rightly or wrongly, and a lot more to do with the way in which we move through it. That's really the humanness part--not how we achieve living across some moral spectrum or according to tools of measurement, but the fact that we simply do it, in the face of its weight.

Maybe, in being human, my international friend is not so different than me. Maybe we all want the same things, and some of us--like me--have a misconstrued vision of how to get there. There aren't steps, there aren't formulas, there aren't really even ways of being. Humanity is fluid, and it's all important, all beautiful, all good. The choice really is not in how we touch life but in how we let it touch us, by daily casting off the standards that tell us to do and measure, and instead asking the questions that help us to feel life to its fullest:

  1. Am I saying yes and being brave?
  2. Am I leaning on my own understanding?
  3. Am I exercising perseverance?
  4. Am I exuding grace?
  5. Am I a steward of others and what I've been given myself?
  6. Am I aware of the moment?
  7. Am I being unashamedly, boldly myself?
  8. Am I pursuing my dreams?
  9. Am I acting in love?

I am grateful for the grace I found in 2015. I hope I was able to give it. Here's to a brave, big, and full 2016. Happy New Year!

Things I Didn't Know Before This Year

1. It takes longer to figure anything out than they say it will.

2. You will never actually feel your age (or rather, what you think your age should feel like).

3. I actually like a center part when my hair is long.

4. Life happens. It doesn't happen the right way or the wrong way. It just happens, and you go from there. 

5. It's not so much the busy-ness of cities that appeals to me, but the un-stuck-ness of them. I care less about being busy and more about being flexible.

6. I can finish writing a book. Whether or not I can finish revising remains to be seen.

7. I lost my voice. I think I'm finding it again. But fear can creep into places where you were certain you were certain. I'm going to try to be braver and more disciplined instead of louder and apathetic.

8. You can't relive a single, solitary second, so you better pay attention the first time. (I have to relearn this every year, which is dumb.)

Claire Margit

I used to go over to Claire's house in yoga pants and with the craziest bun on top of my head. We would walk in the door without knocking, say hi to the girls, including Winnie the Great Dane, and then I wander through their gorgeous home to the kitchen: Claire always had a French Vanilla latte--bowl sized--ready-made when I arrived. She has a sixth sense about when to turn on the Nespresso. 

At Claire's house, there were always toys on the floor. Everywhere. She would not mind my telling you this because, for her, it is a point of pride. And for me, it was the marker of a safe zone. My kids could call this place second-home and run wild with their friends. In fact, Claire's house is so safe, I would go with nothing. No snacks. No diaper bags. No water cups. "Use mine. Leave that at home," she would say. So, at my house, Lucy and Iris would simply share their water, and at Claire's house the girls knew which shelf held special forks and spoons for them to use at lunch.

Claire is basically a gourmet chef. If the play date was at my house, I made sure to have a box of mac and cheese on-hand; but if the play date was at Claire's house, she would literally prepare a feast. I might remark on how unbalanced this was and she would scold me. "It's my joy. Don't take my joy from me." 

We would let the kids stay up past nap time if they were playing well. We'd brew second coffees. Then I'd curl up and sink back into Claire's enormous couch and I would simply bask in her presence. What a selfish friend I am! But just to be near her invigorated me! Revived me! Set something right in my soul.

Claire is what you call a walking testimony, and if you know her story, you know that's quite literally true. She's sharing her story right now, on a new blog--it would be your privilege to read her words. She's bared her soul and told of how she beat cancer twice and how she's overcome addiction and how she's made peace with being human. 

When I meet the Lord someday, I think he's going to tell me that Claire was actually an angel on earth. That's what knowing her is like. But Claire would think that's a funny thing to say because she's been through so much and still finds the good in being human.

All Claire wants out of life is to share the truth of Redemption. 

And maybe that's what I miss the most--just to be near her and to feel it running off of her and how good it felt to cry for no reason other than that until I walked through her door, I'd been striving for an unattainable perfection, and then she'd hand me that oversized coffee mug and hug me tight and cuss when she dropped something on the floor and just glow with the actual love of Christ.

On a day that's hard, I think of Claire. And not because I need to compare my pale problems to what she's overcome. She would scold me for that too: "Your pain is your pain." But instead I think about how she calls things out, face value, no holds barred; and then she stops, takes a deep breath, and says, "God loves us so much." 

Claire has about 13,891 talents. Not just things she's good at; things she does expertly.

One of these things are her beautiful floral arrangements. She used to cut plants from her garden or ours and then she would make professional bouquets for us as gifts--again, because it is her joy. When we moved to New York, it was a parting almost without tears. It was like her soul was talking to my soul without us actually saying the words, and she knew to come was what I needed. (I'm convinced she communes with God in a way that most of us don't. He probably let her in on His secrets for our life here.) She smiled as we walked down the path from her house, through the gate, for the last foreseeable time (thank the Lord I've since been back!). She said, "Send me photos of the florist shops. Think of me whenever you see a pretty window!"

Oh, Claire, I do. I think, "Claire would love this." And then when I snap the photo, I think, "God loves us so much."