A Bump in the Night
I’m writing from a blue room, bathed in sanitary cleaners. One of my five precious snickbuzzard children is in the bed-on-wheels beside me. What is it about hospitals that they are such good soil for writers? How much of the world’s great music and lyrics beats with rhythms of heart rate monitors and IV drips? I’m quite certain a critical mass of mankind’s poetry has been birthed at pain ridden bedsides. Modern medicine may not use bleeding as a cathartic cure, but wounded, worried hearts still bleed words through pen and ink and find healing.
I had different plans for today. I’m not usually a great planner overall, and vastly prefer “grab you suitcase” spontaneity to well curated schedules and carefully coordinated timelines. But today! I’d taken two whole weeks off of all my ceramic work with great intentionality. I had an art show two weeks ago and wanted a good break, redolent with Sabbath ponderings over whys and hows of clay types and glaze colors, handles, forms, patterns, textures. I wanted to re-enter my studio with fresh eyes, new inspiration, rested hands, and bottled enthusiasm. Today was the day. Clean the studio, feed the family, a little laundry, and then peaceful, energetic, enthusiastic throwing clay. Turning sloppy, muddy mess into graceful, useful forms. The well was full and so ready to pour out ideas for bowls and baskets, pitchers and plates.
Three A.M. came with a bump in the night that would aggressively disrupt my visions for today. My almost six-year-old rolled off the top bunk and fell into the merry ol’ land of CT scans and x-rays. So instead of weighing ounces of clay and glaze, I’m counting sweet little boy breaths from my chair beside his bed. He sleeps, and I’m thankful. But an interruption is an interruption. It’s hard not to think of what I wanted to do.
I know that a day’s plan is a tiny thing to let go of. It wasn’t a dream job gone sour or a beloved relationship infected with poison. Just a day. A goal. A few hours in the great realm of time confining us humans by a God who lives outside of it. But much like pain is not lessened by comparison to a greater pain, disappointment knows no companions.
While we the people of this earth are capable of survival in a broad spectrum of circumstances and environments, we seem to all share a mental angst when it comes to change.
Four weeks on the other side of those hospitalized hours, I want to be careful to view them as a gift. My natural inclination is to “get back”. When my plans for calm and control were interrupted by three babies in a year and a half, my own mental stability shook under my feet. Until I learned to rejoice n the “new normal” and stopped trying to get back to normal (which in my heart language meant one toddler to care for) my world spun with chaos. But those three handfuls that were supposed to fit within my two hands were meant to shake me. They were intended to redirect my days and nights and mind and heart. It was the first time in my life I felt such absolute peaceful purpose, like a voice from heaven shouting, “This is the way I have for you to go. Walk in it!” The new maelstrom of diapers and feedings, laundry and bath times brought a calmness to my soul. For once I didn’t need to wonder what God wanted me to do with the talents and gifts He had given! These infants, pulling at each other’s hair and crawling around on the ground and almost always crying, were purpose. They were peace.
I would love to say that I always respond to a change of plans with an appreciation for the different perspective. That sounds so grown-up, so sanctified. Hands gently up-turned in front of me, whispering prayers of, “I am the Lord’s handmaiden. May it be to me as you have said.” But I usually tend more toward the ways of those Israelites when they were supposed to enter the Promised Land the first time. They’ve finally been freed from four hundred years of slavery, escaped a bloodthirsty Pharoah, and survived a vicious desert. They stand on the brink of truly ancient promises being fulfilled, and yet the reports from their spies bring cries of outrage and fear, “What?! Giants? Seriously! Let’s just skip it and head back to Egypt. They’ve got garlic.”
So how do we get from freaking out in the wilderness to accepting that God has a different plan? We can’t actually go back, and we all know it. But oh, how we strive! We kick and scream and fight to get back: to the good ol’ days, to the weekend, to the vacation, to the last house, to something before now that was more comfortable than where we are.
All the while, our Shepherd is calling us forward: here lie green pastures, still waters, dark valleys where he walks so closely with us, feasting in the presence of our enemies. Forward winds the narrow road. It may be slow-going, but at least it’s going!
My twins are now eleven years old. They are masters of coming up with brilliant ideas for how their dad and I should spend our days. It usually involves a card or board game, and their unconventional method of inviting us to join them is to shuffle the cards and deal us in, asking whose partner we want to be. They presume that we just hadn’t considered playing cards while making dinner, mowing the grass, or replacing trim on our antique house was the very best use of our time. If they can just get the cards into our hands, we’ll see the genius of it.
One night a few weeks ago, when these brothers were hard at work plotting and planning, I wondered if the frustration that I was feeling toward their scheming was at all like what God must feel when I come to Him asking for His blessing on some of my better ideas, “Listen to this one! You’re going to love it. I mean, You already gave me this certain gift or talent, so clearly this is going to be right in Your wheelhouse.” Does He shake his head and roll His eyes at my schemes? I wonder if that’s why redirections and interruptions come from His hand at such inconvenient times. How many of those Ishamels could be avoided if I would wait on His good plan from the beginning?
Tedium into Te Deum
Interruptions chafe, don’t they? They feel dizzying and gritty and sloggy. And if they came from anyone besides the Almighty God, they would be. But He usually calls us to unhurried, steady growth, and I wonder if that’s where He’s trying to redirect us when He sends a sheepdog to herd us to the right path.
I did one of the weirdest things ever this summer. I counted black raspberries. Every picking. Every day. Every. Single. Berry. Four thousand, one hundred and eighty seven berries. Several people noticed my strange behavior, especially my nine-year-old daughter who wanted to help pick but didn’t want to count them all and asked why in the world I was engaging in such a ritual. I didn’t have a great answer. It just felt slow and thoughtful and methodical and right. Each one of those dark and sweet fruits were a gift. A blessing. And those are worth counting, right?
Counting berries gave me space to feel gratitude and express it toward the Giver of All Good Berrykind, and that’s what I was looking for: to view the tedium of life as a Te Deum Laudamus (to Thee, O God, we give praise). That feels like a forward path.
One that leads away from the comfort of where we were and toward a home we cannot begin to imagine.
This fall, as my little one heals from fractured collarbone and concussion, I’ve watched his frustration with being slowed from his normal Tasmanian pace, and I want to remember that a good Father takes away things that hurt us, gives us exceptional gifts, and asks us to trust Him with every moment. That He doesn’t send interruptions, but redirections. He doesn’t waste things. If he calls us to slow down, change roads, run instead of walk, grab hold or let something go, it’s because His ways are past finding out and they are perfect beyond our wildest dreams. He gives beauty for ashes. It’s why such anguishing beauty has been written in hospital rooms.
By Jordan Elise Durbin "Originally published September, 2019 for The Cultivating Project at thecultivatingproject.com "