A few weeks ago it was my birthday. It was a lovely little day, full of bright winter sunlight and the sweetest moments from family. A small group of dear friends gave me a dinner party, and in true style to our friendship, my friend who was hosting, texted me hours before it was to begin and said, “Come whenever today. Come now. I just want to see you.”
I arrived an hour before the dinner party was supposed to begin and sat in her kitchen while she busied herself with braised short ribs and piles of steaming mashed potatoes. (OMG)
“How’s the book coming?” she asked.
“It’s coming,” I shrugged. “It’s amazing to me how when you finally start doing and achieving things that once upon a time were only a dream, the feeling of ‘having arrived’ at all disappears immediately.”
As I say this, her husband is pouring me one of our signature cocktails of the evening. “Autumn Winds” he’s called it, and I like that name because it makes me think of that golden tune “Autumn Leaves” which I once attempted to croon out with a legit basement jazz band with a bass player whose dreads were longer than my hair, and they smoked weed while I stepped outside to call my mom because I was 18 and I didn’t know what I was doing with my life…. but I digress.
The cocktail is sweet and spicy, and something about having signature cocktails at my own birthday dinner party feels unbelievably magical.
“So, your book,” she says again,”It’s hard work?”
“No…er, yes,” I say while the cinnamon dances on my tongue. “It’s going just fine. It’s just that I’m realizing that I’m still not happy, you know? There’s still this gaping hole in me. As soon as I reach or find something I’ve always hoped for, that feeling just disappears as fast as it comes. I’m still left with that feeling that I’m missing something. Totally normal, right?”
She rolls her eyes, because she knows me and I can’t even begin to put into words the value of someone who just gets you. “Of course, Dre,” she says my nickname like I’ve had it for 31 years. But it’s just this past year I’ve been given it and what may have started as a joke has now stuck, which I don’t mind one bit. She slathers on some sarcasm as she says, “You mean to tell me that the purpose of this life is not writing books or whatever fill-in-the-blank dream there is?” I laugh because exactly. Of course not. But somehow, I always fall for it.
Life seems to be full of these things — moment after moment, dream after dream, hope after hope, that I’m convinced will be the thing to finally fix that ache in me — to be successful, complete, at ease, at peace, self-accepting, loved, beautiful, whatever. I am the first one to buy into the lie. I’m also the first one to not be surprised when I wave my hand into the watercolor hues and find the oasis wash away into my peripheral vision. Doesn’t this hint at something? Doesn’t this reveal to me in my words and stories and dreams and hopes — that I have yet to fully understand and comprehend what this work of Grace actually does to me and the way I respond to the world? My only life lived is a memoir for me to read and I’m realizing mid-chapter, I’m missing the whole point of it all.
The feelings that come and go through my soul, hinting at joy, suggesting satisfaction, are not to be ignored. It’s like standing outside of a house while a giant party is happening indoors. I know the party is close. I know being here is not wrong. There is a joy to come and I want to be in it. I can hear glasses clinking and people laughing. But standing outside of the house is not the same as being in. I feel as though every moment I’m living is pregnant with purpose and meaning, and I’m too busy, too self-focused, too busy wandering around outside the party to actually go in and just enjoy. The Gospel and all of its implications is Shakespeare and I’m a five-year-old. The party is flowing with Grace and only the drunks are welcome. I’m too temporal. I’m waiting for the party with an invitation in my hands. I’m far too interested in the doorbells and outside lights and wondering where I’m going to park my car, and will I know anywhere there, will anyone know me, or will I be the awkward kid standing in the corner the whole time.
If you’re still with me, hi.
I’m grappling with the madness of words these days. All of the things we say. The stories we tell. The things I write. Page after page, story after story, and there is never a moment in which I don’t feel acutely aware of my shortcomings. Something about writing a memoir will do that. Gladys Taber said “What most memoirs do for me, however, is to illuminate the personality of the writer, for this always comes through.” (The irony that her general distrust of memoirs was discussed in her own memoir is not lost on me.) But, I’m daily writing, most of which does not get posted here, but instead makes its way into paragraphs and prose in the manuscript that will eventually be red-marked and hacked to bits and bundled up and called a book at the end of this road.
So if I can, I’m going to confess here that I’m determined to be as real as my heart can possibly withstand. I’m going to talk about the book — because it keeps my mind on the work and the reality that I’m writing something today because my heart was strung out on sin almost 10 years ago and I want to help someone else in case they’re in the same place today. I’m not writing to create another oasis for my aching heart to find a false refuge in. I’m going to talk about my real life and it’s not always going to be tweetable or linkworthy or even something you’ll want to share with your friends. I’m just going to keep writing and hope that here and there something will come out that is decent.
I’m going to tweet and write about whiskey and pipes, worship and the Gospel, parenting and design. I want to try and smash some presuppositions now, while I can. I’m telling myself it’s ok to not fit into any boxes. It’s ok to not create a dream that I know will only disappoint me if and when I arrive there. I’m all for dreaming, as long as my heart is at rest in the Gospel. If it’s not, then my dream is a kite and my heart, the key on the end of Benjamin Franklin’s kite, and it’s just a matter of time until we’re both fried in the process. If my hopes are on anything but Christ, I’m just sitting in my car outside of the party and moping about how it all feels empty.
I need to keep my eyes and head clear to see beyond my own oasis-driven hopes. I need eyes to see beyond the mirror, even beyond my hungry soul and through the incandescent veil that is between us and eternity, because ultimately, that is what He has put in my heart and I never want to forget I’m longing for things I cannot even call by name.
We are 30 minutes from the party beginning. I’m aging again, (it keeps happening just like all things), and I’ve given up making any grand announcements for my year to come. This is not defeat. This is grace. I am not painting any watercolor scenes in my head. I want something more. The more is not the stuff, or the failures. It’s not the contracts or the stage. The more isn’t even the parenting wins or the well-tidied living room. The work of Grace is invisible, and it’s magnetic and pulling on me in every moment and thought.
The dinner is served, family style, and I feel whole and life is sweet among this collection of hearts and souls who know me better than anyone else in the world these days. I count this a grace. A glimpse of what is to come. A shadow of perfection. I feel the rise and fall of all beautiful things in one evening and this? This is not an oasis. This is a breadcrumb leading to the feast of Home.