Just the Next Step

As a Christian, I am supposed to make it my goal to live according to the plans of God for my life. I suppose this makes sense, but there are some problems with it. Namely, knowing exactly what those plans are – and if they are specific or general – is a daunting task.

I’m always reading, listening, questioning in hopes that I’ll understand this whole process better. Everyone has an opinion, of course, and most of them are at least slightly different.

Recently I heard a great perspective on the following God issue: Just take the next step.

The image the speaker used was one of a father and child walking in the snow. The father strides ahead and says, “Follow me!” For a child, that first step looks pretty big. Following is sometimes more like leaping or flying. Still, he just says to follow.

My greatest weakness is when I see where Father is  – several steps ahead of me – and I try to find my own way to that spot. Instead of focusing my eyes directly on the step ahead of me, I decide I could probably make it to where he is a little faster if I cut this corner or skip that stretch. I forget that I’m being led in a particular pattern for a reason. I try to figure it out instead of just taking the next step. What if he bypassed that particular spot because there was a hidden ditch? What if he knows what he’s doing?

So these days when I look down that unseen path and I see a distant goal, instead of getting frustrated, I’m trying to remember to just take that next step. It feels scary sometimes and I don’t always know how it is going to get me to where I think I’m supposed to go, but it’s the only safe step to take if I believe I’m truly being led. And I do.

I guess that’s why I call myself a person of faith. Because I need some.

Cotton Candy

“With $5 I could buy an entire meal for you, Claire. That’s ridiculous.”

This was my response to her only request at the Mizzou game last weekend. We ate the obligatory hot dog and drank Diet Coke from a huge black and gold souvenir cup, but otherwise I was determined to be thrifty and frugal on this outing. Spun sugar at $5 a bag, no matter how pretty it looked, did not fit that resolution.

She didn’t argue with me. She went back to cheering and shaking her pom-pom and watching all the people around us.

Once in awhile she would say, “Yum. I love this lip gloss Pam gave me,” smacking her lips, “It smells like Cotton Candy!”

“Sorry, no Cotton Candy. It’s really messy, Claire.”

But then as we were walking back from the restroom we happened to be following the lady with the brightly colored bags of cotton candy on her tall wooden stick. A $5 bill in my pocket was jumping out and screaming at me, “I’m NOTHING, but this little girl has only asked for ONE THING today . . . on her BIRTHDAY . . . and it doesn’t matter how messy or nutritionally worthless it is, Claire will never forget it if you let her buy that bag right now!”

“Excuse me, we’ll take some Cotton Candy!”

Many childhood experiences could fit into this Cotton Candy category: no nutritional value, messy, sticky, and over-priced. I’d include sleep-overs, amusement parks, Happy Meals, and birthday parties in this list. But sometimes these are the right choices to make anyway.

Sure, it might mean we’re cleaning up or taking extra naps or temporarily emptying our wallets, but these are investments in memories.

Will Claire remember that pink and blue Cotton Candy of which she barely ate a third? Maybe not. But when she looks back on her childhood, I think Cotton Candy will pop up in there somewhere and she’ll feel warm and happy inside.

That’s worth a few extra wipes and $5 bills today.



I Hope You’ll Hear Us

If there is one thing I have learned in my 36 years on this earth it is that life is about managing the tensions between truths. Very few things are as simple as they seem. Jesus pointed this out often. He was Lion and Lamb. He told us the first would be last. He promised life if we died. Tension between truths.

This week college football took a hit. And rightly so. As I heard Kirk Herbstreit say on ESPN, “We need to remember there are bigger things in life than college football.”

So there’s that, which sort of makes me hesitant to write this. Until I remember the tension.

Because just about 9 years ago, college football did everything right. At least for me.

Most of you know that 9 years ago I was pregnant with Claire and Ellery and things didn’t go well. During the three or so weeks before they were born, I was in and out of University hospital in Columbia, Missouri, because of the complications. The first of those stays was especially difficult. I was on something called mag sulfate that made me feel hot and weird and sick. My room was kept quiet and dark so that I wasn’t overly stressed or excited, but the effect was more depressing than soothing.

Finally one Saturday afternoon we opened the windows – I’m not sure why.

L.G. Patterson/AP Photo

The Missouri game was on the tv. The volume was low, of course, but it was nice to watch the images of strong healthy people on the screen. Then, as if orchestrated, a Tiger (maybe Brad Smith – in my memoir, it will definitely be Brad Smith because you can do that in memoirs) ran in long for a touchdown. I saw it on the screen but not before I heard it through the window.

Thunderous cheering and shouting from the stadium just blocks away. Thousands of people forgetting their cares and worries and cheering for the conqueror, taking part in a celebration bigger than themselves. On the screen, a quiet and tiny image of what could be. Through the widows, the noisy proof of its truth.

For me it was a tension-filled reminder of life: how we sometimes find ourselves grieving and celebrating in almost the same moments. How life is triumphing even while death is threatening. Those sounds and the way they affected me are all that’s right about college football.

Saturday we celebrate Claire’s 9th birthday. And quietly in our hearts we’ll also remember Ellery’s passing. It’s a tension every year. A good friend is taking Claire and Jesse and I to the Mizzou game that day. And we will cheer. And we will be reminded of good and health and life. Maybe our cheers will be someone else’s reminder that day. We all need them now and then because we live in a world of tensions. Both of us living truth. Both of us needing the reminders of each other.

This Saturday we will throw open the windows to the sounds of celebration! I hope you’ll hear us from wherever you are.