He asks me again – about his cataracts – on the way to school.
We’re in the magical no-man’s-land of car space. The morning medley of breakfast bowls and hurried brushing and school bag rushing is done. All there is now to do is be in this air con. We’ll get to school, when we get to school.
He asks me again why they had to remove his lenses. Why couldn’t they just remove the cataracts? I explain again that they were the same thing – that his lenses were cataracts which couldn’t just be peeled off.
He says, ‘If I hadn’t had cataracts everything would be much easier.’ Like he’s apologising.
I hold my breath. Fight the memories massing in my throat. Pray fast. Please God – now – the right words. Because there’s a spam folder in his mind wide open for lies.
I say sure, things would probably be easier for him. Because I’m doing him no favours pretending life is easy or fair or fun all the time. But I talk again about how God is writing Cam’s story and it’s a good one. A sparkling story strung back and forth with startling grace and spangled laughter like the Christmas lights already in the malls.
Everyone has a story, I tell him. There are difficult things and beautiful things in the telling of each one. But our stories don’t define us. Jesus defines us. We just need to live all the bits of our stories for him, and like him.
He says, ‘But what would be so wrong with me having another story?’
I mangle out an explanation of the tension in our stories between physical truth (= some people are partially sighted) and spiritual truth (= God could heal them) and how Jesus holds that tension because in him all things hold together so if we’re in him we don’t need to hold the tension. Or understand the tension. He’s holding it. He knows.
Which doesn’t make it easier and I don’t think I’m helping.
We arrive at the playground. I try three times to steer him in the direction of other six-year-olds who hurtle on wild happy – leave him wandering and wondering – because, well, they’re six-year-olds. He can’t find them or read their faces or feel the game they’re playing. And I feel sick some days with the worry of how I’ll teach him that relationships are our highest success in life because our stories are meant to be read but that there’s a tension here too because people are unpredictable. You’re never sure which chapters they’ll just skip volatile. And I wonder how he’ll read the stories others are writing when the words are a blur.
Back home I check my mail. I’m waiting for feedback from the designer because this story is less than a month away from becoming an actual thing. My editor told me that a good editor takes a good book and makes it great. It’s painful. Necessary. And a lot like life because we all need to get ourselves Professionally Edited sometimes by the God who is generous in grace and thorough in discipline. The tension is hard to carry – and beautiful.
I click on the spam folder – glance through it for rare gems passed over in the mine dumps of junk. Today there are exactly 365 messages. True story. And I think how 365 days a year there’s trash. Lies and scams and links to filth and I’ve won the Nigerian lottery about seventeen times.
But life is not Gmail. It can’t be sorted and sifted. It comes at us thick and fast and indiscriminate, to be lived in the tension of grace and holiness. We’re in the world not of the world. And as we weave our stories into the garish mess and noise of so many others we’re to be the Messiah poetry – the refreshing intertextual reference – no matter what trashy thriller the world scrawls. We must be quietly tapping out a remarkable story worth reading. Pages that leave stardust on the fingers in the turning.
My thoughts drift back to Cam. Stomach knots. I check back into my inbox and there’s this mail from his school music teacher:
‘… yesterday your little man wooed me with his words. First he walked with his nose past my tummy into the class and complimented me on my blouse buttons … Later he commented delighted that we both wear glasses … At the end of the period he noticed my sparkly blue heart around my neck as I bent down to talk to him …’
A knot loosens. Because maybe it’s going to be ok? Maybe Cam knows a thing or two about building relationships – with his nose right up against the heart so he can read the fine print. Maybe he knows what it is to decide to enjoy his story. Maybe he understands what I was reading again this week – about what Gerard Manley Hopkins called inscape and C.S. Lewis called quiddity – the thingness of a thing. The treasuring of the very essence of stuff, just for its loveliness. Like the up-close-and-personal beauty of a button on a blouse. And maybe he’ll learn, sooner than I did, how ‘in giving thanks for the life we already have, we find the life we’ve always wanted.’
I don’t have all the answers he’s looking for but this I know:
I will keep writing truth over his life and living into the tension of it. Because we can’t hang Christmas lights without it. The tension is how we string up the beauty.
. . .
Wow. November. How did that happen?
I’m praying for you, friend, that you’d live your story well this crazy penultimate month of Christmas concerts and year-end functions and long hot days in this hemisphere and short cold ones somewhere north.
Twenty-four sleeps until the launch of Dragons and Dirt: the truth about changing the world – and the courage it requires (©2014), DV. Read about it here. Watch this space, and stay in touch on Facebook or Twitter. Think: *stocking filler* *bargain*
Here are a couple more comments from those who got the early scoop. I’m so, so humbled and encouraged.
‘Just finished your book and was devastated that it drew to a close so quickly … It is beautifully written, inspiring, touching and amazing. It’s the kind of book if I bought it at a shop I’d think wow I’d love to know this author, she sounds amazingly wise: what a privilege to actually know you and to have been a part, albeit a small part, of this journey of yours … Thank you for your courage, perseverance and openness in writing this book. It will enrich the lives of many.’
‘Another two chapters devoured … Love love love Tea and Zanzibar. Still smiling. Thanks for helping me start my day with such moving, real stuff.’
‘Absolutely LOVED your book. It was so inspiring … Just know Dragons and Dirt is going to transform lives.’
‘Thanks so much for the privilege of a pre-reading of Dragons and Dirt. It reminded me in a vivid way of a quote by Plato that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living.’ …
It is a great book that God-willing gets the traction its message deserves. You have a prose-like simplicity in your writing style with short, punchy sentences that make for an easy and engaging reading experience. It is also a personal and compelling story, making the book hard to put down …
What I really love is the seamless way in which you weave together the contemporary and the Christian and how these are both built on the rich tapestry of your own personal experiences. This comes through strongly from the chapter-opening quotes to the content of the chapters. Your approach of writing from a position of humility, vulnerability and sometimes brutal honesty is incredibly refreshing and extremely rare in our ‘success at all costs’ cultural facade. You have also done a great job in avoiding taking self-righteous positions that are so easy to take with such a personal narrative …
Thanks so much for sharing your bravery, wisdom and authenticity. There is a very exciting journey ahead of you and I hope that Dragons and Dirt becomes a powerful vehicle to speak Christ into many people’s lives.’
‘Sometimes I think you might just be ME but a better writer. You say things I hear myself saying and that’s going to be what resonates with your readers. As in, ‘Hey, that’s ME!’’
‘Started reading your book last night when I couldn’t fall asleep. Think it was a God thing! All I can say for now is thank you for being obedient and writing it. I am on page 50 now and I can’t wait to have my own hard copy to highlight and underline and write in it. I am challenged! Hugely! Thank you! Can’t wait to read the rest. Have banned the girls from the room for the next hour – so I can re-read, read and process!’
‘… I’m only on chapter 3 because it’s been a tough week. But I just want to let you know that it couldn’t have come at a better time to read it. It is already ministering to me profoundly. Each sentence considered and prayed over. And it is like faith balm to me right now. “He is perfect in power, perfect in wisdom, perfect in love”. That’s the most powerful preach I’ve heard in a long time. And it came from your book. I know already that this book is not safe. God’s hand and Word and gospel seep through each word and insight and anecdote and narrative. He is the meta-narrative to this all. Thank you for this living sacrifice that you have laid down as an offering to your King.’
And because I would butcher the translation:
‘Ek het jou boek soooooo geniet! Twee aande toe is hy deur en net gestop omdat ek geweet het ek sal nie die volgende oggend opkom as ek nie eers stop nie! … Toe ek eers begin lees kon ek ook nie ophou huil nie! Jy deel so eerlik en opreg jou hart en letterlik elke hoofstuk is net so spesiaal en roer daar iets in my hart wat ek wil verander, verbeter, myself uitdaag … Dankie! Ek bid nou nog meer intens dat God dit kragtig sal gebruik! En Hy waarlik alle eer sal kry! Wow: well done on an excellent job! Dankie vir jou gehoorsaamheid!’