Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Two selves

Two things I must get off my chest.
First, Maica is a spot-stealer.  Yes, she is, the little turkey.  I'm sitting all snug in a chair with my feet up, a heating pad around my neck (you know how you move wrong and that sharp nerve pain goes slicing through your neck?  Well, I did that last Thursday and the dang thing just won't stop hurting!), get up to pour more tea, and when I return there's a black and white Springer curled up in my spot.  I've even taken to saying, "Saves-ies!" but you think she pays any attention to me?  As we used to say (and the double negative of it drove my grandmother crazy!), "Not hardly!"  So, now that I've resettled myself on the couch, perhaps I can also regain my thoughts.

For the last several days I've had a particular idea for a post, one I keep mulling over right before I go to sleep. I really should get up and write about it then, because, honestly, by the time I'm wide awake and ready to place my fingers on the keyboard, I can't remember what that brilliant idea was.  Not for the life of me.  For three straight days I've had this lightbulb go off, feel utterly certain that this time--surely this time--I'll remember it in the morning, to discover it's been wiped out by a good night's sleep.  It reminds me a little bit of a cartoon I saw years ago.  In the first box, a man is asleep in his bed.  In the next, he's awakened from a sound sleep, and says, "Aha, the secret of life." He quickly scribbles something on a scrap of paper and goes back to sleep.  The next morning when he wakes up, he grabs the paper, excited to know what he uncovered in the dark.  The paper says, "Cheeseburger."

So in case my brilliant idea is no more than "Cheeseburger," I press on. 

A couple weeks ago, when I was searching through photographs of J on his birthday, I came across this picture almost 40 years old--a very posed picture, I should say.  If the date on my brother R's t-shirt is current, we're looking at vintage 1974, and, left to right, that's R, me, our cousin BJ, our aunt Aureli (I had to tell you her whole name because it's so unusual), and the Dump.  We are the four oldest grandchildren and the youngest child of my father's parents.  We're in the kitchen of our cabin on Whidbey Island, beginning the process of making a family favorite, Bread Dumplings, a dough fried in oil, then dipped in syrup, and VERY delicious.

I turned 17 the summer this picture was taken.  I was very skinny, with (as you can tell) a long nose on a long, narrow face. And my eyes... I have eyes so deep set in my face, I've been asked if I'm tired or sick hundreds of times, but when I was thin, the dark circles looked like I was punched in the nose. No, I wasn't very attractive.  I say that from a distance of time and objectivity I certainly didn't have then.  A boy once told a friend of mine that from the back I was very pretty...but then I turned around.  Granted, this was a boy whose interest I neither wanted nor cared about, but my friend has reminded me of this comment almost every time she's seen me for the last 40 years, so it's been a bit hard to forget.  I also had a couple of very sweet nicknames: one was 'Stash, for mustache, which I'm telling you, I tried every blasted thing in the world to destroy.  Bleach, pluck, whatever it took...oddly, I outgrew the 'Stash after those years, both the name and the hair, which is really a cruel injustice.  Then there was Beak.  Ah, my nose.  My long, lean, triangular nose.  Oh, the woe it has caused.  Another boy--an actual friend--once spent an entire field trip making fun of my long nose.   He said things like, "If you put it in the air, you could sail a boat with it.  Put a hinge on it and it'd be a door." I remember laughing, because all our other friends were laughing, but it wasn't very pleasant on the inside. Particularly because he was, in most girls' minds, probably the best looking boy in school.  Just so you know, however, he felt badly enough afterward that he wrote me an extremely thoughtful apology letter.

But here's the thing, the very unexpected, counter-to-what-culture-would-tell-you thing: I wasn't insecure.  Now, let me explain.  Of course there were insecurities about boys.  I wanted to be liked, particularly by the one I liked.  And I did worry and fret over that big nose, thin hair and bruised eyes.  But inside of me, inside this not-very-pretty-except-from-the-back girl, there lived a girl who believed in herself because others believed in her.  I can't tell you all the reasons this is true, but I know it.  I remember a conversation with a college friend--a very pretty friend, actually--about why I was so vivacious.  I told her that in order for people to make an accurate judgment about me and my character, I had to open my mouth and tell them the truth of me, because first impressions couldn't do it.  I couldn't walk into a room and expect to be liked for my looks.  Only my real self could do the job. And that real self was somehow confident enough to stand in front of adults and even her peers, and talk about Jesus.  Whenever the occasion presented itself.

I think everyone in the world walks around with two selves, the external, which they show and speak through, and the internal, where something completely different may be/is happening while their outward engages in talk or work or whatever.  Most of real life happens at the vortex of the two.  And I think that in my early life with Christ, which happened in the critical days of adolescence, while boys (and girls) were teasing, mocking and just plain being mean to each other, the Holy Spirit was also burying Himself deep inside me, telling me a different truth about myself, that I counted, that I was made in His image, that who I was and would become had been planned by Him and was no mistake.  Is no mistake.

It would have been easy in those years, to focus on the outward.  The world, after all, lives there and places all focus, meaning and value on the external.  Somehow, He got through to me. Don't get me wrong, this was/is completely, totally by His grace, and no credit to me. Absolutely all Him, I know. But He whispered, and nudged and told me, over and over, that I could only do so much with the external.  I could get thinner or fatter, could put makeup on my face, but, barring surgery (which seems anathema, unless there is some medical reason), only so much could be changed about the shell God has placed me in.  But the internal, where He lives and breathes and has His being--much could/ must be done there.

This is where the real work is always done, where it's continually done, until we breathe our last on earth and our first in the rarified, pure air of heaven itself. To give Him more of myself, to marry more of my internal with my external so that He is evident in every step I take and every conversation I have: this is worth spending my life on.  The invisible must rule the visible.   Just as Christ is the visible image of the invisible God, we can allow Him to be in our visible selves what He is in our invisible selves.  Incarnate in us.

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