There are times in life when it seems like an extra ‘sense’ has been switched on and you feel keenly in touch with the fabric of the world around you. When stories peek behind cultivated facades and make you weep, when a concept almost makes you cry out as it hits your heart with such resonance. When you feel as if something magical is leading your steps, connecting the dots and gradually unveiling a larger fragment of life’s masterpiece.
Stories are such a heart stirrer for me. Unlike my husband, Dave, my eyes glaze over as soon as the essay/sermon begins, but talk about your life and the events and reactions that make you who you are today, and I’m hooked. Stories get beyond the cognitive, practiced response that we present, and curl their way into our being, becoming eternally part of our outlook.
Though there are some exceptions. Last week was the final night of the marriage course and Adi Marsh, Family Relationships Counsellor, came to bestow her hard-fought wisdom of how to fix your relationship before it is too late. She exploded my mind with her insistence that when we are in the midst of conflict -heart racing, fists clenched- the reaction that ensues is not, in fact, revealing the depraved true self that is finally clawing its way out. Actually, in this moment your brain has become the master over the usually rational mind, reverting to fight/fight/freeze survival tendencies that we would barely own in a more calm situation. I hadn’t even realised that I subscribed to the former view until the concept struck me to the soul, and became my freedom.
I’ve begun reading ‘The Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin and already I have gleaned so many nuggets from surveying her experience. The gist of the story is that upon realising one day that she technically ‘had it all’ but wasn’t proportionately ecstatic, she commenced a year long experiment to increase her levels of happiness and to figure out what elements of life were bringing her down. So far I’ve followed her example in decluttering ‘noisy spaces’ and have the best intentions of going to bed earlier, though that one might be more of a struggle as there is always far too many fun things to do once the kids go to bed! I’ve also tried her ‘act like you have energy’ trick and found it does, indeed, work.
For the past few years I have been returning Rob Bell’s coffee table book ‘Drops Like Stars’ to the cube shelf, after Hudson has decided to rearrange things, but I had never actually cracked it open. Until today. I went to return it again today, but stopped short, a recent recommendation from Dave echoing in my head, and flipped to the front page for the first time. It was a magical journey of story and poetry, insight and revelation, and it coincided happily with all three kids absorbed in their current activities. One of the lines that will never leave me came from Bell’s therapist, when he started lamenting his mistakes, failures or screw ups, his therapist cut him short, opened his top drawer and pulled out a plaque inscribed ‘The God Who Wastes Nothing’.
That line almost made me cry. What an incredible concept. That the mistakes, the failures, the blemishes aren’t deviations from the ‘perfect’ path, but experiences that God uses deftly to weave beauty and redemption in our own lives and in those around us. If we let him, of course. We do have the choice to live shadowed in shame and bitterness.
Another haunting tale from Bell’s book was that Native Americans, when weaving, have a tradition of leaving a blemish in the corner of the rug, because that is where they believe the spirits enter. The astounding beauty of that concept shattered me. I grew up reciting the scripture ‘His strength is made perfect in our weakness’ but it took a disfigured rug to drive home the hidden truth. The Spirit is hampered and obstructed when we insist on modelling the perfect weave, sitting firmly on the blemished corner. It isn’t until we expose the loose ends to ourselves and those around us that we can truly realise the power of His help.
My battle with perfectionism is alive and well, but as I open myself up, reading with urgency and opening my eyes to the watershed moments of the everyday, that I notice the little victories adding up. And it is in these moments- not the fleeting thrill of op shop finds, nor the momentary buzz of a glass of Pinot Noir- that I feel the most alive.