When a Chapter Ends the Same Way It Began

bird journal

In May of 2011, I strolled the meager office-supply aisle of Walmart in search of a pretty and inexpensive journal, preferably one with a large stack of pages. I had plenty to say. Plen-ty.

Yesterday, on an everyday Monday, I filled up the last page of that blue and red floral journal with the paint-by-number bird on it.

I haven’t written in the journal every day since May of 2011. Not even close. Sometimes I wrote in it a few times a week and sometimes several months would pass before I’d crack it open again. I mostly opened it when my emotion was bubbling over so furiously that I needed a place to pour it out. That’s pretty much what this journal is — angst that I spilled out in ink instead of tears, though sometimes it was a mixture of both.

The first entry was on May 23, 2011 and the final paragraph of that first entry claims what I really did believe but struggled to grasp:

…this is what it means to rest in Christ, to really live (though I’m just beginning) as if my life is hid with Christ on high. He is my shelter, strength, and provision. He is more than enough. I still don’t have answers for this unfixable life — no manual, no map to tell me how to get from Point A to Point B and what road signs to look for. It is so hard, the not knowing. One day at a time, trusting in Christ and not in myself. That is the way home.

If you asked me before yesterday, I’d have had no clue what that May 23rd entry said. I’m almost surprised that I was able to write those words way back then; I feel like such a different person. In three years time, one would think that I’d have moved along to very different themes by now. After all, so much has changed. I’ve changed. Others have changed. Circumstances have changed. Opportunities have changed. So many things are for the better and it’s okay to celebrate that. I’m a big believer in having a party for the stuff we never celebrate.

If three-years-ago Marian could peek into the life of three-years-later Marian, she’d probably make a lot of untrue assumptions. She’d probably hand me a pile of decorating magazines and nail polish and iced coffees because of course. What else would I be doing? No more trips to the counselor. No more days of homeschooling. No more days of napping on the sofa because exhaustion is a bully and she’s too tired to function very well. Okay, sometimes still napping on the sofa. But still, life has done a much-hoped-for 180 over the last several years.

Sort of.

If three-years-ago Marian read three-years-later Marian’s journal entry for April 21, 2014, she probably wouldn’t expect her to still be scrawling out the same words as three years before. Words about anxiety and rest. Words about cluelessness and hope. Words about living a life mired in condemnation versus a life defined by Christ — and how her default self has a way of clinging to the former but her hopeful self is clinging to the latter.

Circumstances change. Obviously. Change is inevitable — sometimes welcomed and sometimes scorned. Always, we trade out one set of issues for another. I’m 40 now. I’ve been married 18 years and I’ve been a mom for 13. I’ve cycled through career and being at home, experienced life as a home-school mom and now a public-school mom. I’ve experienced seasons of joy, walked robotically through seasons of denial, crawled through seasons of grief, and tasted days of redemption. I’ve thrown perfectionism out to sea and traded in the ideal for the real. I’ve learned that sometimes God re-routes us in ways that feel like failure but are actually grace.

And though these days right now are brighter than some of the days in the past, I laugh at the prospect of perfect. Like, slapping my knees, snorting, belly-aching laugh. Actually I even laugh at the prospect of “manageable.” Because just when you think you’re at a place to stand firm and knock out a home-run, life throws a curveball. Again. {Baseball metaphor? Really? Who am I?}

After 40 years of living — 40 years of turning ideals into idols, of chasing after perfect, of sticking my head in the sand, of trying to wish away the uninvited, I now know {but don’t always embrace} that our hope is never found in circumstances. Never. It’s never found in relationships. It’s never found in knowledge. Though admittedly, I will bend over backwards trying to prove myself wrong in every. single. one of these areas. I fear I may never learn. Good things may genuinely bless us, but they may also numb us, entertain us, placate us, and postpone the inevitable. Good things will never heal us from the inside out. They will never bring lasting joy or unswerving hope. 

When I think about it, the used-up journal holds a story that is simply the slow unfolding of the Real, the evolution of Hope. Capital H — Hope. And though trouble continues to roll our way and roll your way, because that’s just the way it is in this world, an “overcoming” Hope continues to roll our way too. That’s not pie in the sky talk. Even as I type this, there is mess. You can be sure. Mess that keeps me awake and still keeps me spilling my ink-stained emotion on spiral-bound pages.

But by grace, I am learning ever so slowly but surely to receive my own life. If anything is the story of my life, it is this. It’s why I “write the real.” It’s why I write at all.

chair

In my grace-saturated moments, I want to look the Real square in the eyes — the beautiful, hilarious, mundane, messy, unfixable host of Real — and I want to say,

Hello there. Some of you I invited and some of you simply had the nerve to show up unannounced. But guess what? You are all a gift. You are all characters in my story. You are all part of my redemption. Through laughter, tears, anger, grace, and pure grit, teach me to keep receiving each of you as a gift, to not resent you as Cousin Eddie sort of houseguests. May I even have the audacity to be grateful for your presence.Teach me to bring you ALL into the truth-revealing light of Jesus and to see you as you really are.

Real life reminds me I’m not in control. Real life kicks pride out from under my feet. Real life introduces me to those “guests” I needed but never would have invited. Real life steers me away from my contributions and planning and “where-with-all” and points me to God alone, to his redemptive and ongoing work through Christ, to his faithfulness.

And really, what is the Father’s faithfulness if not Hope realized? Often not in the way I’d anticipated but always in the way He’s orchestrated. There can be comfort in that reality, even though I’m still prone to fight it, to wrangle and flail about and demand my version of what should happen next.

As one chapter closes itself, as I tuck it away and stack it on top of the chapters that came before it, Hope skips ahead into the pages of the next, waiting with expectation and promise and an outstretched hand, reminding me of how far we’ve come, inviting me to receive what’s next, whatever that may be.

Every season ushers in new beauty and new brokenness. Long, exhaustive chapters end. New ones begin.

And with each stop and start, I’m learning that we find the fruitfulness of Real Life and the promise of Real Hope in just one place, one person — The Real Jesus. We definitely don’t find it anywhere else. Believe me, I’ve searched. But real life keeps circling me back around to the same place.

Like the words of that very first journal entry, words that didn’t know the full weight of their truth, words that could have never predicted the very real journey they narrated.

One day at a time, trusting in Christ and not in myself. That is the way home.

And it is — the way we look back, the way we live today, the way we lean into tomorrow, the way we are led to our true home.

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Comments

  1. Joan Rampey says

    Oh, my, this is GOOD! Driving into the city from the mountains this morning, “Blessings” (Laura S.) began to play . . . and I began to sing and ponder. (Does that count as multi-tasking?) Your 3-year journal journey has pulled me along as well, as I continue to learn so many of the same oh-so-vital truths . . . and many of them from you and your God-anointed ink on paper. LYF, MOM

  2. Debbi Vischer says

    Oh, the journeys of life that are so unpredictable! God knew best when he chose not to allow us to see in the future.
    We couldn’t handle what is to come. For we learn thru the experience of our ups and downs, rights and wrongs, good choices and bad, joy and sorrow, love and anger, laughter and tears, all pointing us to His arms. Just because I am far away, doesn’t mean I have not felt your joy and pain. I have!! I apologize for not letting you know more often how your written words have taught me many lessons. The journey is not over, lessons are still to come. Thank you, Marian for writing down your thoughts and sharing them with us. It is truly a blessed gift from God!! (I know the book will come later!!!) Luv, Your Mother In Law, Debbi

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