What if you get to the ripe old age of, let’s say, over 50 and you realize you haven’t accomplished much? You know. You haven’t been successful in business, haven’t revolutionized a product or a process, haven’t been invited to speak before large crowds, haven’t even written a break-out novel. Heck, what have you been doing with yourself?
Worse yet, what if you were voted most likely to succeed by your high school classmates? How disappointing to start off with so much gusto and glide in with so little to show for it.
I’m not looking for sympathy here. I’m just stating the facts. I was given lots of tools and lots of resources and an open door to the world. That comes with strings. The strings are: use these gifts, talents and treasures to build up the kingdom. I’m looking back on a lot of projects that were started and not finished. Good ideas whose time just never came. Efforts and initiatives that fizzled and went out. Queries I didn’t follow up on or projects that had their season but were unsustained. Left behind. Lost.
One day I will be called to give an accounting. To lay all my deeds and doings on that scale and see if they balance against the plans God had for me. We’ll see, He and I, whether I have contributed what I was meant to while I was here.
Yesterday, I got some good news about this moment. There is a place for invisible deeds on that balance. Things we don’t see but God does. Time and age and distance and despair may blind us to what God sees so clearly. But every now and then we’re given a glimpse of the invisible. Someone is kind enough to share that what we said or did a long time ago has stayed with them. It’s become a part of their story – a good part – that has meant much and lingers still. We have forgotten these things. In fact, we are reluctant to believe we are even responsible for these things because, let’s be honest, we were really not such good people back then. But still, something real remains, and it gives life.
Somehow God is working His eternal in our lives here on earth even without our knowing. And that’s good because, had I known it, I would have messed it up for sure. I am feeling especially blessed today for the kind recallings of this old friend who says the old me still lives on in him – in a good way. How do you account for that? No telling. I’m just glad God’s doing the accounting.
And I still have time left. It’s a wonderful life. Now, to finish that breakout novel!!
I’m in a hole. The further down I go, the darker it gets.
Oh, I don’t know I’m in a hole. I’m busy with projects and activities, schedules and travel. I scurry to complete, scour to clean up, check for misaligned pieces and missing parts. Anyone who looks my way would likely call me capable, organized, got-it-together. Perhaps they would even call me successful.
Not until I look up do I realize the hole I’m in.
On a lovely crisp autumn Saturday, I drive down to Williamsburg, to the College of William and Mary from which I graduated 30 (yes, 30 :)) years ago. I gathered with friends and we shared the “where are you now” conversations.
They are not the conversations of 30 years ago. (where are you headed? what’s on your horizon?)
They are not the conversations of 20 years ago. (what job have you landed? do you have children? how busy are you? me too!)
They are not even the conversations of 10 years ago. (how’s the corner office? what about the stock market? have you saved for your kids’ college?)
No. Today’s conversations are about home-coming. Welcome back. So glad to see you. How has life treated you? We discuss achieving-children and ailing parents, fears and longings, habits and hangups, aches and pains.
Somehow, in the interim we have grown older. Time has passed. In this setting we don’t notice because we’ve gone there together.
One friend and I set off for a stroll across campus. It’s been a while. I want to see what’s changed. We walk past the old and familiar. The brownstone buildings and the well-worn walkways. The statues of famous folks and the gaggles of students. Old and new campus and the lovely Crim Dell. We head to the sunken gardens, a central grassy depression where we used to sit and study or laugh and throw frisbees. Today there is an ugly white tent that covers two thirds of the area. It doesn’t belong there. Do we?
On leaving, I spot a curly blond-headed young man holding the hand of a smiling young woman. I know this boy. He was a student in the church confirmation class I taught 5 years ago. He graduated high school last spring. The twosome is walking toward us but doesn’t notice us. That is the way with young people. They focus on each other.
I am looking around at the campus of my youth. It’s the same old campus, same grounds, same walkways, but it looks different through eyes with thirty years more life. It is spectacular in a new way. Was it this way when we went there. How could I have missed it?
When I frequented the sunken garden, I felt protected by its beauty and was engrossed in learning. Now I’m free to wander. A bit less spryly but still wander. I’m not going places, like I once was. Not worried like I once was. Not even cautious like I once was, though I do watch my step. Because life is full of holes you can fall into if you’re not looking. My wandering has a new dimension; it’s guided.
Today, I look back on a life pock-marked with holes which, ironically, have given me better vision. When I stumble into a depression in the landscape, I look for the staircase out. It’s not a doorway that swings open for me to run through. It’s not a hand to haul me out and set me upright. It’s a staircase lit by the light of Christ. If I take a careful look, I’ll see that something’s amiss. Something is here that shouldn’t be here. Perhaps it’s a big white tent. Or a young blond boy. Or is it me? Wait, it’s Homecoming for both of us.
It’s what this visit home did for me. It reminded me of who I was. Not to torment me with “you’ll never be like this again” but to show me what’s worth keeping and what doesn’t belong. It’s not carved in brownstone, and yet it is. It’s both long gone and on-going. A continuous looking for the same staircase leading me out yet again. Leading me up.
Christ unfolded that staircase into every depth – he descended even to the dead – to provide a way out for us. I have known His sustenance in those places, even the greening of the grass and the sense of protection, but I’m meant to climb out. At His urging but by my own effort. Putting one foot in front of the other. But I must do so with reverence because upon this ground once tread the feet of Christ. And He carried a cross.
There are heavy, heavy indentations in those marble steps. But they have been unfurled downwards, so I might climb up. Paved a path for me to follow, and for generations to come.
Oh, I facebooked Byron, the young man I had passed, asking him what he was doing in “my sunken garden on my homecoming.” He replied, “The better question is what are You doing in My sunken garden on My homecoming?”
I said, “Glad you asked. Hope you’re having a great year. And in 30 years, I hope you’ll be strolling the old hangouts, too. Don’t look for me then. :)”
He replied, “Thank you very much! 30 years? You best believe I will be looking for you then!”
That kid knows Christ, too.