I read a remarkable quote by the always-remarkable Nora Ephron today that said this: “We have a game we play when we’re waiting for tables in restaurants, where you have to write the five things that describe yourself on a piece of paper. When I was [in my twenties], I would have put: ambitious, Wellesley graduate, daughter, Democrat, single. Ten years later not one of those five things turned up on my list. I was: journalist, feminist, New Yorker, divorced, funny. Today not one of those five things turns up in my list: writer, director, mother, sister, happy.”
I’m always trying to be more like people like Nora Ephron, and I was waiting on my lunch to digest before I got back to work, so I figured I’d play. The first word I thought of was lover, which was a relief (I mean, what if the very first one had been nose picker or grouchy?) And I think it’s true. Just yesterday, Caleb told me, after I’d just remarked on something or other being the best ever, “There are a lot of things that are your very favorite things ever.” He’s right, unless I’m feeling grouchy, which happens, you know, occasionally. (But just to be clear, we all know that besides Jesus, coffee is the real best thing ever.)
So I was feeling pretty good about that. The next word I thought of was remarker, which is actually not a word according to this Word document. You’re not a real writer unless you use made-up words. I learned that in college, where all my English professors turned everything into adjectives just because they felt like it: “Today, we’ll be talking about Wordsworthian theory, and then we’ll be focusing on my sweater vestian fashion prowess.” Seriously.
The third word I thought of was clumsy. Last night, I dropped most of a pan of kale on the floor. Last night, I had kale. I’m sorry you had to know that, and no, I don’t have a picture.
The fourth word, though, was what made this whole thing worth it. “Ah!” I thought. “What am I doing in this chapter of my life? I am learning.”
I’d like to submit to the Official Board a decree that you’re not becoming anything until you realize how much you’re becoming, how much you’ve yet to become. There were—I kid you not—times in my life (previous to this moment, of course) when I felt sure that I had things “together,” as they say. I felt pretty good about it, you know? I loved Jesus, and I felt like I was a kind, compassionate, generous person a fairly good portion of the time. I felt like I knew enough vocabulary words. I felt like I was really good at writing. I felt like I had a servant’s heart. I felt like I knew how to boss around my hair with a 67 percent success rate.
And then, something happened. Or rather, a lot of somethings happened. Those somethings began rubbing me, and therefore changing me, and after awhile, Jesus set me in front of the mirror and said, “Oh, see, you look better now. More like yourself.” And it was true: I both didn’t recognize whom I saw and knew her in the depths of my being. It has been made clear to me, too, that maturity comes not from regathering things together, but from realizing how little it matters what you have together and what you don’t, which is to say I’m probably never going to have it together again. It meant that I stared in the mirror (metaphorically, I think. Or maybe I really did stare in the mirror. It’s hard to remember) and I began to understand how much I have to learn, how much more becoming will be, in regards to my Jesus-loving, to my kindness, to my humility, to my hair.
See, I am learning. I am learning how to let grace tread the path before me, throwing jackets over the puddles. I am learning how to be the jacket-thrower for other people, too, especially at the times when my own shoes might get wet in the process. I am learning how to be disciplined, how to look in the mirror and see the parts of me that are dirty and gray. I am learning how to listen to the gentle voice that invites me to be washed clean. I am learning that I’ll be washed, and then I’ll get dirty again; I am learning about the mercies that really are new every morning. I am learning that I am learning that because I—me!—need new mercies every morning; that stuff isn’t for other sinners who aren’t me and don’t have it together. I’m learning to find joy in the moments when I feel the familiar rawness of rubbing (learning! I’m learning this. I don’t have it down yet.) It’s then that I know that things are changing, that I’m looking more like Jesus, if only in, say, the nose a bit.
I am learning how it feels to let unsightly things be swept away. Pride, greed, lust: I want them all. I am learning a lot about my heart and how quickly it sells out. My love is like the morning dew, Hosea says, and I see that now. How much it must pain my Father to watch me peddle it to idols again and again and to sometimes be taken up on my offer. But I am learning—slowly, I imagine—how to pray for the binding of my wandering heart. I am learning that I am the prodigal son, and he’s me. I am learning that my return is not just welcome, but celebrated.
Every day, it’s something else: How to be content. How to love in a way that empties me out. How to be joyful. How to stand unmoved when the world calls me elsewhere. I’m learning how to fix my eyes on Jesus, and that it really is that simple.
And somewhere along the way, I’ve learned that this becoming is what life is; or rather, it’s what it should be. The world can make you feel like you should already be, but then, my friends, you would miss out on the grace of becoming: “Oh, you know, I think I’ll pass on the grace for today. It’s shaping up to be a fine Tuesday, and I’ll give mine to that fellow over there, who looks like he can use an extra spoonful.” I’ve said that. I’ve walked my cup of grace over to that fellow and set it down next to him. But I’m learning that my own dry soul is always needy, and I’m learning to revel in that neediness. I’m learning that becoming is grace and grace is for me.
I’m learning that I need to say this in case you’re discovering you’re becoming and that grace is for you, too. All of us becomers, us losers with broken souls who can’t get it right—we are the graced. (In the moments when we forget, we’re graced still.) And though it can be traumatic to discover you have nothing together, that you never really did, that you’ll always be a becomer, the beauty of this is that you find there that you’re loved just because you are, and not because of how much kale you eat or how servant-hearted you are or whether or not you’re on time everywhere you go. Then we can get together and encourage each other and not feel bad about how much coffee we drink and how often we get it wrong because where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. And as we do this, as we fall deeper into grace and further from ourselves, we do begin to look more like Jesus.
My fifth word was joyful, because that’s what kale will make you.