Secret Admirers and Popular Kids

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In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line.” 

― Henry David Thoreau

I had an admirer in high school. His name was Ben. I cannot recall exchanging more than a sentence in the two years we attended school together. Each Valentine’s Day, Birthday, and Christmas he would purchase a school sponsored offering for me – a rose, balloons, candy – and it would be either delivered to my first period class, or tucked in against my locker. Upon discovery of the sender, my hopes deflated and I  blushed upon the realization my gift was not from the Molly Ringwald-esque crush I held, but from Ben, my steady gift giver and unshakeable admirer.

I’m not sure what became of Ben. We didn’t know one another. I’d like to think I said “thank you” for the recognition, but I’m not convinced I cared more for Ben than I cared for myself those days. I’m certain he liked me and wanted more from me than a terse acknowledgement of his kindness, but I had my sights set higher.

My middle and high school years were spent longing for a bid to the next echelon of teen society. I studied the yearbook without end, dreaming of rubbing elbows with athletes and ASB presidents. While tooting my flute in the marching band, I hungered for an invitation to go out with cheerleaders and football players. I wanted to be noticed and included. The friends that did include me, the smart, humble, kind, generous were not enough. I wanted more, shinier, better.

As a pastor’s kid with a penchant for being terrified in the name of Jesus, there was no way I was getting in. While too preoccupied with my own misery, I failed to claim the beautiful, precious people before me. I couldn’t appreciate the friends who saved a seat for me at lunch or on the band bus, or who helped me understand a concept. I couldn’t fully embrace the kindness of the souls who cracked jokes until I felt better, who guided me towards discovering myself. I have many regrets, this might be the greatest – my inability to be present, to see the gifts in my possession.

I have learned from the painful days of my youth. But I still catch myself living in scarcity, with one foot stepping towards the future, while the other foot drags out of the past. My body straddling the present, I look ahead to the next thing, engage the plan, rather than settling into the discomfort or the tension or the delight of now.

These times are tough, many distractions pull. The news is overwhelming, the vitriol contagious, the tweets obnoxious. We want what’s next because right now is tricky and disjointed and scary. But what are we neglecting in our desire for the past or our clamoring for the next? What are we failing to notice or hold? What are we failing to appreciate or feed? The future holds no guarantee, one way or the other. All we have is now. What do I do with now?

Instead of wishing things were as they were or wishing things were better than they are, look at the remarkable things happening before our eyes as a result of these pressing times. People are coming together, seeking to understand, finding new expressions of community. We are educating ourselves, discovering the tenuousness of democracy and the impetus for each one of us to contribute in our unique way. We are donating hard-earned time and money to make our towns better, to bring relief to people who need a break. We are protesting, making our voices heard through phone calls and postcards, holding our elected officials accountable while reminding them they work for us. There is beauty. There is hope. We are living in historic times and we have a front seat to the demonstration of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking in humility with God (Micah 6:8).

Many nights I lay my head on the pillow after spending far too much of the day worrying or fearing or wishing I was somewhere else. The secret sauce, our success, depends upon our  lean into the discomfort, finding rest in what is, standing fixed on the uneven terrain, discerning what we can affect. This is where we garner our strength and resources, where we press into injustice and ache and fight like hell for justice and love and truth.

Thirty years have passed since those days of walking the halls of Savanna High School. I want to return for just one. I want to find Ben and thank him for seeing me. I want to find my friends and thank them for loving me when I was miles off dreaming of some other reality, gazing off to the impossible places that were not safe or inviting.

I want to live here, now, standing in this present with purpose and hope, ready to defend the causes of love and justice, while appreciating the consistent gifts faithfully delivered.