Sometimes the timing of a book is absolutely perfect. As I drove down Interstate 81 through the Appalachian Mountains toward Grayson Highlands State Park, I was happy to be headed back to the trail. My road trip entertainment of choice these days is a good audio book, and I scored this time. Jeannette Walls’ “Half Broke Horses” was capturing my attention and filling my soul.
The beginning of the book describes the early life of Lily Casey Smith, born in the early 1900s, who faces every challenge in her life with grit and the determination to play the cards she has been dealt. She leaves home at 15 years old, to travel 500 miles on horseback for a teaching job. Later, she finds herself married to a conman who is already married with another family. When she confronts him, he sobs mournfully and declares that he has ruined her. She stares him down and lets him know that he has a higher opinion of himself than he ought, because he doesn’t have the power to ruin her. She’s not cynical, she just doesn’t feel sorry for herself when life gets hard. In many ways Lily is soft, nurturing and optimistic about life. She looks for the lesson and moves on.
As her story unfolds, the characteristics that prevail in the midst of her imperfections are determination, hope, grit, a love for and freedom in nature, passion to teach those around her, and endurance that remains true to her values even in the face of opposition.
Weaving through the mountain ridges, I began to think about my soon approaching 40th birthday. I’m not facing a midlife crisis. If anything, I feel like this birthday is a coming of age! For so much of life, I have sought the approval of others in a way that was sometimes paralyzing. I felt insecure, unwanted, and often lonely. Raising Mossy changed me. I may not have been carrying a small pistol in my pouch like Lily Casey Smith, but I used my words in show downs with school administrators and anyone else who stood in the way of the resources he needed. I learned to maintain grace and teamwork, while standing my ground. At the same time, I learned that I can’t do it all. There is an end to what I can do and be. In that hard truth, my faith was tested. Either God was big enough to cover us both or he wasn’t. Hope prevailed. I learned I could be completely broken and empty and that He could fill me with a song. I learned that the steep climb would not break me. I would make it to the other side, and so would Mossy.
In many ways, I am weaker than I’ve ever been. In that weakness I feel strong. I’m not afraid to be alone. I’m not afraid to make a decision that may or may not turn out the way I hope it will. I still love community, friends, family, and the advice of trusted friends, but I’m not lost without them. In the car, with the sun shining on that bright Spring day, my thoughts were as clear as the blue sky. I thought about how close I feel to God out in the woods…. and anywhere else I go.
Yesterday was Easter, the holiday when we celebrate new life because of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice. The sermon at church (ug it’s not posted yet, so click the link later this week) was probably one of the best Easter messages I’ve ever heard. Simple, yet profound. As our pastor read Ephesians 2:10 (NLT) –
“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
… and 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT) –
“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”
… I felt like it all wove together into this wonderful knowing that this year is a coming of age for me, not a crisis. A masterpiece doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, our pastor used Michelangelo’s Pieta as an example. For a year, Michelangelo used sharp tools and hammers to chisel away marble, until it represented a breathtaking scene of love. In the midst of the chiseling, it’s hard to see that beauty is forthcoming.
I never would have chosen this path from the beginning, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m thankful for the compassion I’ve gained for others who have and are facing hardships. I’m thankful for the amazing friends I’ve met along the way who have poured into me in my greatest time of need. I’m thankful for the faith and hope that is still growing.
It’s been a rich 40 years and I am hopeful about the next 40!