I have been afraid of life. Afraid of people. You have to understand. I have a crazy background. Some of you know the story first hand. others have heard abbreviated accounts. But only my husband has felt the true weight of my tears, my joy, my triumph, the lessons learned, the wisdom gained from such a chaotic past. He sees the good fruit, but he has also quietly listened to, and then prayed over, my confessions of fear. Fears that become more evident with each passing day. For healing and maturity will not come without truly embracing what lives inside of us.
I can truly understand and relate to the words of Bob Dylan when he knowingly proclaimed, “I accept chaos, I’m not sure whether it accepts me.” My sister June probably summed it up best when she asked, “WHY are you not in a mental hospital? How is it you are still standing?” The answer to that question is, of course- Jesus.
And he has protected me. But in the past ten years I have padded that protection myself. I have built walls. I have also built my house. Comfortable and beautiful. A place for everything and everything in its place. My days are carefully orchestrated and predictable. I like it like that. No surprises. No inconveniences. No chaos- no mayhem. No……….Ministry.
Ministry, as it turns out, is messy. Ministry involves people. People have, and bring, mess. I, for one, do not need any more mess in my life.
I recently made a trip to Panama City, Florida. It was a forced trip out of necessity. I was scouting out the land. We used to live there eight years ago on that beautiful Florida coast. We have friends and family there. We have roots. Recently we moved to Texas and have been living here a few years now. But sadly, some of our basic needs are not being met here, namely:
Gardening: I am a grower. I have to feel my hands in the soil. The need to grow my own food is as innate as my need to walk. As it turns out, we live in the deer capital of the United States. We have about a dozen deer in our yard every day. They eat everything. Everything I plant is gone within a week. I can barely accept that I will not be able to grow my own food- but my narcissus? Come on now! I bought the bulbs expressly labeled, “Deer Resistant.” As it turns out the deer in our neighborhood are profoundly ignorant, for not only do they eat everything in their path, they also, clearly, cannot read!. Now perhaps, with thousands of dollars, we could put up a seven foot fence around the back yard to protect the produce, but I am not also going to try and enclose my entire front yard to protect all of my pretty flowers. And life without narcissi is no life at all.
Water: We live around several lakes. Perfect, right? It would be, I suppose, if one lived on the water. For everyone else there is no lake access. None within walking distance. No decent place to swim. You can, indeed, drive twenty or thirty miles and find a rocky shoreline, or pay to get into a state park….sigh. I am Canadian. Public access into any body of water is a given. Our tax dollars pay for luxurious outdoor locations free for all. Not so, here, in the land of the free.
Music: If gardening is as innate as my need to walk, then music is as innate as my need to breathe. And it just aint happening here. For the sake of brevity, I will not go into detail about why that is. But trust me, it just aint happening.
Culture: My husband is a beautiful African American and let’s just say he has certain…ummm….African American needs. I can’t explain that to you if you aren’t black. I would have never known myself, except that I am so closely knit to him. He has needs- and they aren’t presenting where we live. He’s good about it, though. Tim can get along with anyone. He’s lived all over the world and speaks three languages. He assimilates well- even with white folks. So much so that you will have to do a double take and re-examine his skin color to ascertain if it hasn’t possibly faded to white after all. But he isn’t white. And though extremely patient and giving in his marriage to a white girl, that is not his color. He is African American with African American needs. Namely a taste, at least every now and then, of his African American culture.
And so I took a trip. A fourteen hour both ways journey by myself to Panama City, FL. I admit, every single reason why I went to Florida was selfish. I went to re-asses the land where we began, to see if it could provide the things that are so desperately void in our present existence.
And, indeed, in Panama City, the gardens are not overrun with deer and there are no need for fences. There is public beach access everywhere. I already have several venues set up to play music in and there is an abundance of African American people and culture.
But in the last three places we have lived in the last ten years, I have worked tirelessly and quite successfully at keeping mess and chaos far from me. I have indeed been safe. I have been comfortable. WE have become extremely comfortable. Every need we have has been met. But I have also become very sad on the inside. Lonely. And lost. How can it be that I have perfected my life to such a degree, but it does not bring fulfillment or contentment?
I have to say that everywhere I looked in Panama City, FL there was mess. Even the most organized, perfected, and together individuals will encounter chaos in this beach town as soon as they step outside their door. Every kind of people are drawn to the beach- to the ocean. There is a kind of variety that is akin to what I experienced on the streets of Manhattan. It is that vast. It is that engaging.
To live on the Florida coast is to engage. To live on the Florida coast and have Jesus in your heart, is to minister. To live on the Florida coast is chaos. To live on the Florida coast, for me, is learning to love again. To throw myself out there into the arms of those in need. I have good reflexes. They are always tested there. No more predictability. No more fine orchestration. No more comfortability. A life interrupted. A messy life. But to quote Mr. Dylan yet again: “He not busy being born is busy dying.” And to quote the wisest man who ever lived,”I have set before you life and death…. therefore choose life.” Ecclesiastes 7:12
Am I strong enough to engage in life once again? Is Tim strong enough? I doubt him far less than I doubt me. Are we ready? Today we have both said “Yes” and offer our lives up in prayer. Lord Jesus bring what may. Be our strength and our stay.