when i go out, i want to go out like elijah

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Yesterday my friend sent me an old picture of hers from Instagram–a photo of my daughter, age 1, crawling around the floors of our apartment. my friend said “I just want to be back at [your old apartment complex] with you, drinking French Press and getting scratched by your cat Huckleberry. SOB. Can we go back in time a bit when life was simpler? I’ll meet you there.”

The picture, and the sentiments, stopped me cold in the middle of my day. My baby–so little, so adorable, such a weird little mullet–I had almost forgotten what she had been like at one. Then there was the apartments: the well-kept low-income housing complex where we lived for four years in SE Portland, which in my minds eye seems cleaner and quieter than anything we have experienced since (a dishwasher! no cockroaches! my husband’s life only got threatened once!). I remember the huge windows, the natural light streaming in (even if it was a bit cloudy), sitting on my orange corduroy couch and drinking coffee with my friend. How we agonized about our lives, how far they were from our ideals, how we were always itching to get on to the next phase of life.

And now here we are. My friend and her husband moved to Uganda, their lives are a mishmash of experiences I cannot even imagine, her photo stream filled with joy and sweat, me wishing I could reach out and touch her. Me and my grown-up baby and my husband moved across the country and plunged ourselves a further bit down the ladder of the American dream, our lives a beautiful jumble and we can’t keep track of all that we have learned or all the ways we have been changed. And as much as I love my life now, I still, just for a moment, longed to go back in time. To sit with my friend, clutching my baby, in my beautiful cozy apartment surrounded on every side by refugee friends and neighbors, to drink coffee and to appreciate the day for what it was.

I told my husband about this. Remember when we lived there? I said. It was a great time to be alive. We were so happy.

I don’t know, my husband answered slowly. You always seemed a bit lonely to me.

 

 

 

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There is another picture I thought of the other day, which I tracked back to my Myspace page (oh my word do you remember those?). This is me when I was probably 20, maybe 21. I am untroubled by the world. My face is smooth and unlined, my hair short and swingy, a beautiful baby strapped to my back. i was no doubt running around tacking up flyers for the kids homework club that I started, visiting various families, sitting on floors and eating with my fingers, sitting on couches and being ignored, just showing up week after week for this amazing life that I had discovered in the pockets of America. I did not have angst. I was pleased with myself, pleased with the part I was doing in the world, pleased to know I was using my gifts well.

On second thought, that isn’t quite true. I was, after all, there to “practice” on people before I moved overseas, before I really dedicated myself to God, when I had all my theologies sorted out and a team and legitimacy in the eyes of the world. I was testing it out, seeing if I was any good at it, slowly becoming suspicious of all of the people I knew who loved to talk about mission but couldn’t be bothered to come once a week and help refugee kids learn basic math. I discovered that I was not good at a whole lot of things: proselytizing, supervising homework clubs with 50+ kids and no other volunteers, doing it all on my own without getting bitter. I was more than a little bit lonely. And instead of being good at anything, I began to realize how much pleasure I found in being with people who were different from me.

 

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I’m thinking about all of this, because the angst has never really left me. Even in this season, it is here, lurking underneath. I recently watched Ragamuffin, the story of Rich Mullins (a personal hero of mine), and it left me more than a bit uncomfortable. I recognized so much of myself in him, both his depths of unhappiness and fierce propulsion to continually move forwards. How can somebody continually have revelations from God, write songs about his love, and then have moments of being completely unconvinced of that truth? But this is how it is, this is the reality of the world. We hear revelations, and we forget. We experience love, and we forget. We witness the miracles of forgiveness and resurrection, and we forget. We see the kingdom come, we are filled with love for the church, we are content to be little mustard seeds and then–it all flows away like water.

I have no doubt that in three years time I will look back at this time, this day, this season in my life with nothing but kindness. Through rose-colored glasses I will only see the good, will only see the revelations, will choose to not see the clouds of forgetfulness. I will be kind to my un-perfect self, realize that if I spent over 20+ years of my life willing myself to be the one who goes out and saves everybody then it might be realistic to think it would take some time to gently undo those faulty beliefs and all the relational brokenness that comes out of them.

If I could go back in time–ten years ago, three years ago–what would I tell myself? I would probably say:You can move across the country, sell all that you have and live in a poorer neighborhood–and you will still feel that restless urge. You will not be able to outrun your demons, the sense that you are never doing enough. You will continue to fluctuate between deliriously happy in the love of God and what he is up to in the world and being crushed by the inaction and apathy of so many around you. The angst is not going to go away. The love will continue to grow until it engulfs you. You will be crushed, and you will be resurrected, time and time again.

 

You will still be so very lonely. You will still be so very loved.

 

I am writing this here to remind myself. There is no doubt in my mind that I will soon forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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9 thoughts on “when i go out, i want to go out like elijah

  1. heidi says:

    Love this. I always imagined that as we go farther up and farther in seeking the here-kingdom, we eventually grow beyond this heartache or figure it out. But, no. It just gets deeper and wider; and I crave more and more elemental connectedness to Him, because it will always be too much and not enough.

  2. Bronwyn Lea says:

    I love this: so beautifully expressed. All the hope and immaturity and growth and wistfulness. The more I look back on yester-me, the more I marvel that God would entrust the words of the gospel and the building of the kingdom and the patching up of the Mess to US. Good Lord, to us?? To us.

    I can hardly even imagine doing effective ministry with all the different iterations of myself, much less imagining how our God will knit all of our collective efforts and energies all together. And yet, He does. From our younger selves on orange couches, to our present selves, and one day – I love you how you put this – we will look back with kindness and marvel that these daily offerings were of use even now.

    Thanks for writing a piece of my heart, too.

  3. Such a great piece. Is there ever a bottom we can stand on where we’re finally settled in ourselves, our surroundings and our vocations? I guess the tension always exists, but I think of the rest offered in following Jesus, that yoke… and people like Jean Vanier who seem so centred and purposed and peaceful. Some people seem to struggle far less than others, suggesting something close to equilibrium is possible in life. I’ve been thinking a lot about the findings of a study on longevity and stress, where encountering stress wasn’t in itself a lifespan decreasing factor but the way people felt about stress was. Eh?

  4. pastordt says:

    We all forget, we all ‘switch sides.’ And do come back and re-read this, as needed. Because the truth is, all the time you are doing ‘it’ imperfectly; all the time, you are loved beyond measure.

  5. dphorrocks says:

    That desire to be ‘enough’, I feel that tug deep too. Thanks for the reminder to have grace with myself in the present.

  6. […] When I Go Out, I Want to Go Out Like Elijah, by D.L. Mayfield.  I absolutely loved this.  It made me feel sentimental (which is kind of rare, just being honest). […]

  7. […] loved this from D.L. Mayfield: When I go out, I want to out like Elijah – a gentle reflection on how some things have changed, and some have stayed just the same in […]

  8. messyjoyful says:

    really awesome post. thank you for sharing the lonely~I was just thinking about that on my walk today; how many different kinds of lonely I’ve gone through recently. And none of them necessarily solved or completely finished. God has been really helping me un-do myself and my what I thoughts this past year. And I love it=). Even when I don’t! I didn’t even know there was a Ragamuffin! i’ll be watching; I listened to him all the time, and recently got his cd’s back out!

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