5 b : capacity to observe dispassionately
We are currently in Wisconsin visiting family. Our drive here is a long one. Google maps will tell you it takes 10 hours. The reality is that it's nearly impossible to make it in 10 hours. I think in my 20 years of marriage and courtship, J and I have made the drive in under 10 hours only once - and that drive concluded in the wee hours of the morning, taking us through Chicago around 2 AM. That's just about the only way to get through Chicago quickly - do it when everyone else is asleep.
My children are champion travelers and for this trip I spent some serious prep time doing my best to ensure a stress free drive time. Each girl got a box packed with markers, pens, colored pencils, a new journal, stickers and a pencil sharpener. They also got a bag with more sugar than they are normally allowed in a week's time. Additional travel tools? Library books, Playaways, a few math worksheets, two Pillow Pets and one Snuggie.
One advantage of such a long trip is that there's time to think. Plenty of it, in fact. On the drive north on Thursday, I was looking at some of Southern Illinois' fall foliage. (I know it was Southern Illinois because there aren't (m)any trees in Central or Northern Illinois.) I saw a gorgeous line of trees from a distance and kept my eye trained on one tree as we got closer. I noticed something. The beauty of fall trees is a cumulative thing. One fall leaf, even one fall tree, is not all that beautiful. You might find the occasional exception, but fall's beauty is really seen best from a distance. As I noticed this, I got a flash of a truth much bigger. I think God sees our lives the way I see the fall trees.
The bible talks about God's ways not being our ways and his thoughts not our thoughts. I've often fallen back on that when I go through a difficult time or when I see others walk through difficulty, but I've never grasped the concept in such a graphic way. Those ugly leaves on the tree of my life? They aren't ugly when seen alongside hundreds of other leaves and the trees representing the lives of others around me. Or maybe they are still ugly - nothing will change that - but their individual disfigurement ends up being less important when seen alongside everything else.
This was a comfort. Everywhere I turn lately, I seen pain. I have friends, family members and acquaintances who are variously watching family members die, walking with those they love through illness, struggling through the loss of a job, recovering from surgery and receiving cancer diagnoses. Not one of these circumstances is OK with me. Each and every one hurts my heart. I long for a day when mothers do not outlive their children, a day when there is no pain that needs management, a day when we all know - not just rationally, but with our whole being - that we are loved not for what we do but for who we are. I long for a day when we are not faced with saying good-bye to those we love.
I'll be honest: I want to be able to see the beauty now. I want a distance that I will never have in this lifetime. I don't know why people I know and love are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. I don't know why and I don't know how to comfort or console them. I have no words of wisdom to offer, no scripture references that explain it all away. Because the truth is that there is pain and there is hurt and there is ugliness in this world of ours. I don't know why. I'll probably never know why. And a glimpse of an idea that momentary troubles (that don't feel momentary at all) are leaves that manage to make something beautiful isn't much to cling to right now. But it's all that I have, so I'm offering it humbly to you, just in case you're walking through your own valley right now.