Well, here’s a confession: I haven’t done well at living in the present over the past few days. And I haven’t been filled with joy either.
I have spent most of the recent days in the past. My mother said, “Welcome home, I love you, you’re going through the boxes in the garage.” This is understandable. I haven’t lived at home for nearly ten years, and my family has moved twice since then. That means they’ve lugged my stuff all over the U.S. and Canada, which is really very kind of them.
Every two or three years, though, they ask me to go through my boxes, and I’m pleased to say that the boxes have dwindled as I’ve steadily gotten rid of old papers and drawings, awards from high school, stuffed animals from childhood. It’s a slow process with me, because I have an enormous amount of two very precious things: photos and journals.
I’ve always been a writer, and this is never more evident than in the amount of notebooks that I have in my parent’s garage. Every trip to Florida or camp, I had a new notebook. They were rarely filled, but always exuberantly reflective. High school is where the bad poetry comes in, along with some other creative writing journals. In college I journaled daily, the only way to communicate what I was thinking and feeling about boys and God and the pursuit of knowledge. Mostly boys.
It’s the same with photos. This was long before iPhones and Instagram, with their ready-made photo albums for the world to see. I have hundreds of physical albums of printed photos, carefully chronological. More camp trips and beach vacations, even Valentine’s Day of fifth grade and youth group root beer kegger events. I told you, I was the photographer. I felt a need to capture. These are photos that don’t exist anywhere but in my hands, and they speak of a life lived, however small. A life loved.
In the midst of this process, I look back and remember the people who I loved and who loved me. Most of those people are no longer in my life, save for maybe a small profile picture on FaceBook or a tweet here and there. Many I’ve not spoken with since I moved, one of the many times I’ve moved.
For a person like me who lives so much in her head and in her heart, introspective to a silent fault, this derailed me. I have so many present and future projects, things to accomplish over the next few weeks: a syllabus and unit plan, freelance projects, a thesis chapter. Plus, I’m surrounded by family who I haven’t been able to love in person in many months.
This project sent me back in time, disconnecting me from the present moment. In that way, it wasn’t good. But in another way, it was.
Because I remembered love.
When I am home, I go to my parents’ church, and my father (who was my first and only pastor for 18 years of my life) didn’t preach on love yesterday. He preached instead on Joseph’s dream, in which Joseph was told to marry Mary and keep moving forward. Dad/Pastor Harry reminded us that Joseph was informed that Jesus was the Immanuel, the God-With-Us (or I suppose, the God-Soon-to-Be-With-Us, at that point).
I started thinking about the kind of love that would send a part of Godself to a wretched earth as this. So wretched that not so many years later, they would execute that part of God, killing the only part of God that could die. Not surprising, given this world we’re in that kills children and police officers and puppies. It seems a very painful kind of love, a very cruel and horrible love. A love I’m not sure I want, or even approve of.
I think through all of the people I know who have loved and lost, far too soon or maybe long past the time. Those stolen and those who have lingered. I flip through the photo album of my mind, and think of those friends who are lost to me, who are far from my life, who I no longer speak with. And I think of all those I know and don’t know who are grieving losses of children, of fathers, of mothers, of safety and hope. Of possibility and love.
What a hard thing, love is.
But there’s a flip side, isn’t there? Because love is a many-splendored thing. Love lifts us up to where we belong. All we need is love.
Love is what sonnets are written about, and vows exchanged over, and promises made about. Love is contained in smiles, in hugs, in kisses, and in shouts of joy. And sometimes in silence. And best of all, love shifts our direction, changes us.
And now I’m thinking of all the people who have fallen deeply in love this year: with spouses, fiancés, significant others. With babies. With best friends and with co-workers. With parents, in-laws, houses. With mountains, rivers, plains. Colleges or hospitals, cities or waterfalls. With Jesus or a community or the possibility of more.
I think of the people who have loved me and changed me, and the ways I’ve saved memories of those people in journal entries, photos, awards, and friendship bracelets. I see the cards that have been written to me, filled with love and encouragement and often a joke or two. I see the theatre prompt books that taught me to love art and be strong, the travel diaries that taught me to love new places and be brave, and the awards that taught me to work hard and be grateful.
I’ve been lucky to be loved by so many people: my family, who didn’t have a choice, and friends, who did. Youth pastors, who challenged me; mentors, who encouraged me; bosses, who trusted me; teachers, who learned from me; and students, who taught me. Some I’ve lost to death, some I’ve lost to time, others I’ve lost to diverging paths, and some I’ve found again and hope not to lose. And some I cling to at every moment.
But it’s worth it, isn’t it? Love is always worth it. Jesus represents that in so many ways, and it’s shown to me over and over again as other humans represent him to me.
One last story. A few days ago, the first morning I was in Calgary, I saw a friend from high school. I hadn’t seen her since her baby shower two years ago, and then her wedding reception four years before. Brittany was my first real high school friend, both of us transplants from other places, and since then we’ve crisscrossed America, staying in touch via FaceBook. Funnily enough, we met in Canada, where we ate pancakes and talked about life as adults, while Elizabeth, a feisty golden child, played with princesses and racecars.
Life changes us. Love changes us. And sometimes breakfast brings us back together, and we remember who we were, and realize who we are, and hopefully we are thankful for both versions of ourselves. The opportunity to be two people at once, and to be loved because of and despite ourselves.