You are tired,
Of the always puzzle of living and doing;
And so am I.
You have played,
And broke the toys you were fondest of,
And are a little tired now;
Tired of things that break, and—
So am I.
- e.e. cummings -
We are shoulder to shoulder in my small living room. Notebooks open, phones silenced, and for an hour, we listen to the gentle lilt of a British accent reading C.S. Lewis’ A Great Divorce. This is our weekly routine now. Gather, eat, talk, and then settle in to listen. It’s not often that I stop and slow down to listen, so this feels restorative. It’s easy. It’s the community of people I’m invested in and we all have other places we could be, but we’re here. Stopping. I’ve just devoured a molasses cookie and now I’m cradling my coffee as we get to the chapter where George MacDonald makes an appearance.
“….Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakable remains.”
And those words — All that is fully real is heavenly — hit me hard. I’m writing them down, circling them, and then tracing the letters again. We make it to the end of the chapter, and then the conversation begins. We ask out loud, wonder, speculate, talk about sin and grace, and the hangups we have in our own hearts. I am circling this one sentence that is now shouting to me and making my heart race. I try saying it out loud, but it only comes out sounding like I’ve just taken a hit off the ole peace pipe and I’m saying, “Guyyyys, what’s reeeaaal?” They nod and smile, and I know they know me well, but I know I sound like a major hippie and tell myself to shut up.
“I haven’t really had a chance to think this through,” I say, laughing. But I know there’s something here. So I dig.
What’s real? Because that’s what I want to build. And that’s what I want to enjoy.
“I know it’s real,” my nephew says as he looks over the mustard and scarlet colored gorge. The trees are at their peak and it really is breathtaking. The colors, the sheen, the hush as showers of leaves fall to blanket the ground. He’s leaning against the tree and I’m watching this boy who is now a man, the same one I used to babysit when he and his siblings were still baby folk, and he’s now broad-shouldered and processing a myriad of thoughts. “I know it’s real,” he says again, his arms stretching out over the expanse of the valley below him. “But, my mind can’t process that it’s real. You know? I see it. I know it’s real. But it’s almost too beautiful. It’s almost too good.”
And for a moment, I taste Heaven. I see it. It’s real and unshakeable. Beauty. Wonder. Breathlessness.
Most of my days are spent with her, my beautiful little girl. Her high-pitched voice, her energy, her imagination. I feel like a wrung out washcloth. I’m all expenditures these days. I hope that through the giving and time, lessons and backyard nature walks, it’s communicating love to her. Somehow. I lose my temper, and apologize. We work through disagreements, and I wrestle with this whole imperfect thing called parenting.
Then she crawls onto my lap, and cups my face in her tiny hands.
“I love you, mom,” she says. “I’m so glad God picked you to be my mom.”
And for a moment, I feel Heaven. I see it. It’s sweet and nourishing. Love. Constant. Unmerited.
My neighbor lives alone. She has no one to chat with over dinner at night, no one to drink tea with at the break of dawn. We have just wrapped up our dinner and there’s a knock on the door. It’s her, wrapped in a cozy sweater, smiling with a small gift in hand for my daughter.
“Do you have a wrench?” she asks as my little squeals over the basket of goodies. “My sink is having some draining problems and I don’t have anything to fix it.”
Of course, I say. And welcomed her in. My daughter dances for her, we chit-chat about life stuff, mention some upcoming plans, church, bible studies, and send her off with what she needs. “I’ll be back soon,” she shouts as I wave at the door and my daughter tells me how she loves her.
And for a moment, I taste Heaven. I see it. How God sets the lonely in a huge family. And sometimes sets the lonely with families who know what it’s like to be lonely, and we find family isn’t always made up of flesh and blood. Sometimes it’s made up of hearts and need and just being in it together.
Guys, I want to know what’s real. I want to live inside of the things that won’t pass away. The beauty. The love. The grace. The families.
Real stuff like forgiveness. Grace. Music. The way the sun creates a masterpiece at sunset. That feeling you get when you’re with the people you love the most in the whole wide world. The way my dad breathes a sigh of relief at Thanksgiving when “Everyone is here together, and I don’t have to wonder where everyone is.”
I want more of real. I’m sketching notes again in my notebook, and trying to make a mental list of whatever is true, whatever is noble, and whatever is lovely. I’m a walking sponge these days; occasionally wrung out, occasionally soaking up everything. I’m listing out what’s real, because I want to know it.
As e.e. cummings said, I am so tired of the things that break. Let’s build real things.