I like to imagine heaven. Sometimes it looks like the costuming department at a theme park. Sometimes it’s like being at a music festival, where big names like Mozart and King David are headlining. (This is one of my favorites. There is never a line for the bathroom and nobody is drunk. It’s fabulous.)
I also imagine heaven like being at an airport. Me, I’m just sitting there on my suitcase, minding my own business waiting for my flight, reading my copy of the National Enquirer. A crowd gathers nearby. There are whispers, a flutter of excitement while a well dressed secret service contingent sweeps the concourse. Then the first members of an entourage surrounding someone very very important. There is intense agitation, then a man enters my line of sight.
He is the one everyone was whispering about. He is well dressed, wearing a chic all-black ensemble and is walking briskly, with purpose, but still takes time to greet the crowds that have gathered. Me, even in my heaven fanfic, remain distant enough that I pretend I am not intrigued, all while secretly dying inside to stare.
With a gesture, he indicates to his entourage that he wants to stop their progress towards his gate. He slows down as he passes me, lowers his sunglasses and smiles at me. Me! And he asks me out for coffee (I order a chai with whipped cream. He pays cash.)
As we sit down in the corner booth, I recognize him. He is the one who gave me the gold coins. He wants to talk about what I’ve done with all the bags of gold he gave me.
Now, before anyone goes accusing me of being overly simplistic or heretical based on my ideas of heaven, or too sweet and hopeful based on yesterday’s article, let me tell you straight up: it’s not just goodie bags of fantastic surprises and lost dreams that are buried in the back yard. I went through wheelbarrows, nay, dump trucks full of turds before I ended up figuring out where I hid the gold.
I would just like to quote myself, in my defense:
You are special. You are unique. You bring something to the table that no one else does.
No one in all human history ever possessed the same recipe of geekiness, goofiness, talent, vice, virtue and exasperatingness.Lily Fields, completely lucid woman of vice and of virtue
As I was digging up those bags of gold I buried in my proverbial back yard, I dug up a metric ton of something else, too. Like, that scene in Jurassic Park, (fast forward to 2:14, to catch up to where my brain is.)
Knowing what you do about my Heaven Airport fantasy, you can imagine why this scene from Jurassic Park, with Ian Malcolm, all dressed in black, sidling through the jungle and slowly taking off his sunglasses to comment on this tremendous, huge pile of s#@! makes me laugh.
My own personal Jesus says things how they are, with no sugar-coating. He’s lucid, too. What is in my proverbial garden does not deserve to be called anything other than what it is: a raging, stinking, festering pile of dinosaur excrement.
A non-exhaustive list of my faults
At the same time I became willing to embrace the idea that there might be something good that was written into my soul when I was young that I could still make fruitful, I was confronted head-on with the reality of that steaming pile of poop.
If I was willing to accept that my voice was a gift, my writing was a gift, and my physical self, too, then I also needed to accept that I had been willing to blissfully ignore the more troublesome aspects of my character
Here in no particular order is a non-exhaustive sampling of my shortcomings:
Unfaithful. Foulmouthed. Covetous. Prideful. Stubborn as a mule (or at least as stubborn as a four-year-old.) Impatient. Relentless. Eternally unsatisfied. Self-absorbed. Angry. Bad listener. Moody. Fakey-Fakey.
I could go on, as could the people who know me, but in order to preserve my own dignity, I will stop there. (BTW, no need to send me emails with additional shortcomings, whether in bullet list form or unpunctuated. I’ve got this. Thanks.)
These shortcomings came to light, no surprise, through my relationships, and no small number of them through my relationship with my husband and my children. The fatigue, the isolation, the boredom of parenthood exacerbated these character flaws.
Every time I would snap at them; each time I would covet; each time I would put on a veneer of sincerity, the mess in the yard got deeper and deeper. How would I find my treasure buried in the backyard if I had to dig through that? How could I be credible as a writer, a speaker, a singer, with all this mess on my hands?
Grace. Lots and lots of grace
In spite of the wafting fragrance of manure that emanated from me constantly, when I would sing, God would still show up. No matter my misery or that of the people I lived with, when I would listen, God would still talk to me. When I wrote, I would still feel the moral imperative to get these stories onto paper.
For some reason, in spite of the horrible, awful, terrible person I was, the presence of God did not leave me. I was perfectly aware that my behavior and my thoughts and the very words that would come out of my mouth were unworthy, undignified and downright ugly. And yet God did not leave me.
Not only did he not leave me: He went with me. The voice of God whispered to me, “I’ve already gone ahead of you. You are mine and I will not leave you, no matter what you do.”
This is not blanket permission for sin. This is grace.
Even now, on the other side of so many of these bad decisions, I am flummoxed and amazed by how I never received the punishment I deserved. I am a beneficiary of extravagant grace.
So are you.
Weak and strong
I never expected to be writing daily about all the ways in which I am a horrible human being. I would have been, by far, more excited about a career writing best-selling novels and overseeing their adaptation into blockbuster movies. I would never have hoped that my shortcomings would be broadcast across the world and read by thousands each day.
Seriously. This was not in the plan.
However, I came across this verse which has become the new song of my heart:
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV
My own personal Ian Malcolm puts his gloves on daily and goes through my pile of shortcomings with me. Next to me. He doesn’t just snap his fingers and take it all away, although he could. He helps me examine it.
It’s painful, stinky, embarrassing. But when he does the work with me, the pile gets smaller faster. It adds up less quickly.
As you are trying to dig up the bags of gold, those sparks of divine excitement that make you who you are, don’t be surprised if you start finding yourself faced with an overwhelming pile of sh(ortcomings). But do not be dismayed. Do not think that because there is so much crap to dig through that the treasure hidden in there isn’t worth it.
It is. And the reward will be all the sweeter when you come face to face with the festering flytrap that is your heart. Put on a pair of gloves and start digging through the crap. I bet, if you were willing, your own Personal Ian Malcolm will come alongside and help you deal with it.
I would definitely let him if I were you. (He knows where the gold is buried.)
This article is part of a series called Bags of Gold. If you want to get caught up:
Part One: The Shame of Plenty
Part Two: My Bags of Gold
Part Three: What’s in a Name?
Part Four: On Heaven and Dinosaur Poop (You are here.)
Part Five; Just Blame Me, Okay?
Part Six: You used to Sparkle
Part Seven: She Sparkles: an interview with Izabela Rabehanta