When I asked my mother what I should do to “commemorate” 100 posts, she appropriately responded with, “maybe you shouldn’t do anything.” A few minutes later she offered, a little tongue in cheek, “what about writing ‘In a Hundred Years, What Will It Matter?...’” How true, I thought. In a way, what could be more appropriate in a blog where I write my little thoughts, centering mostly around me and my life, than to think about what it will really matter 100 years from now. Sort of an antithesis, mockery celebration. Add to that the fact that I was already mulling over and dealing with a bout of “what are we doing way over here??” and you get this, the 100th post…
I remember the way the lines looked, all neat and straight with precision against the chalky feel of the blueprint paper. My mother would study them, rearranging each line, placing the imaginary furniture in front of a different window, placing doors and closets against a different wall. It was the dream of the perfect house, the house that would maybe be, if they found the right land, at the right time, for the right price. My father, he drew lines too. In his mind’s eye they lined up: rows of vegetables and the straight edge of barn beams, the curving sway of a property line edged by a stream, or perhaps a row of fir trees.
I remember too the day they signed on the dotted line. No blue prints laid out or barn beams raised, just a signature and a single file walk across our suburban street, to a slightly bigger house with a slightly bigger yard, tucked back against the sewage canal that became our “stream-edged” property line. The house dreams waned and the barn dreams died, the vegetable rows found a place inside a smaller picket fence. But other things grew where those dreams lay buried.
Three years ago, I the child of that house-drawer and barn-dreamer, packed the remains of our thrift store furnished house, saying goodbye to the budding friendships of our young family where the bonds of a lifetime are often formed, whispered tearful parting words to our families as they headed back to the East and the West, the South and the Midwest. We were heading to the Far East, to the Middle Kingdom where a new job and a new land, a new language and people and entire way of life seemed to have beckoned us to tear up our roots and replant. It wasn’t entirely clear why. There were reasons, there were confirmations, but there was never a calling in the way that some people are called. We simply meant to keep learning to do what we are always called to… love God and our neighbor in all the myriad of ways we are meant to do so.
It’s three years post our leaving, twenty five years post their moving and I think back on those early, fresh faced dreams of my parents, of that house and that barn. I think of those dreams dying and the years since, marked both by the maturing and the marring of their mistakes, the kind that come from every one of us who are broken people living in a broken world. I think on the goodness of God. Those early dreams given up and given over, then slowly eroded and built up with a new and somewhat imperceptible work, the slow growing of a life that matters forever. That kind of life, it grows on a patch of land settled for in suburbia. Settled for but not watered with tears of bitterness or regret. Now a handicapped man moves in, now a broken marriage knocks on the door, now a neglected child comes to play, now a lonely woman comes to lunch. My imperfect parents with all the marks of their imperfect lives pour out imperfect love that rings out to all eternity, and I sit in my other world, in my other country and think of dreams.
I think of the dream to live overseas, to teach in a place that aimed for Higher things, to seek after a life that didn’t look the same, and I wonder where this dream leads. Because though I miss the land of Target-runs and Trader Joe’s less and less with its grind of the busy-ness, the push of the keep-up, the pressure of activity, I feel the weight of our absence in that place.
I look at pictures of nephews and nieces, of friend’s babies I once held and watched play on my floor, and I feel the three years’ absence in the little faces that are growing more unrecognizable to me. As the years pass, I will no longer be a faint memory to those little cheeks that are losing their roundness, but a forgotten one. Life moves on and I am noticeably not a part of it. I spend the last month, rejoicing in our summer here, void of consumer driven activities, but in the midst of the summer fun comes the realization… it’s been a year since Grandpa’s tractor rides and there is still another year more til they ride again.
But you chose it, you say. Many people don’t, and I wonder sometimes if we made the right choice. Is all the leaving worth it when your only goals are to love God and love neighbor, in all the myriad of ways he calls you to do so? Could we have just as easily chosen to do those things two doors down from flesh and blood, of the kind that is thicker than water? My friends and I, we turn to each other and we make ourselves sisters, patching together families out of the fragments that have come from other lands and other cities, but I think on the sister that drew demarcation lines with masking tape across our childhood bedroom and mourn that her son is only known to me in pictures and scattered words. My children run the streets and parking lots, forming friendships that are sweet and powerful and will make a lasting mark on the memories of their lives, but I also watch as their kin, with whom they share a hundred years of heritage, build separate memories and lives, unknown to their cousins on the other side of the world.
It's like I am looking at a photograph, filled frame to frame with the smiling faces of a family gathered. My face and the face of my husband, my children, are slowly fading away though the rest of the faces remain. No one does it to us, no one is abandoning us or making us feel removed. We’ve done it to ourselves. We’ve taken our presence out of the vacations and the dinners, the phone calls and holiday visits. We’ve made it impossible to run down the street to play or stop over for coffee or have grandma or auntie babysit for the weekend. And I feel the weight of it.
I feel the weight of it, and I think on the goodness of God, who takes a broken world and broken people, dreams that are dashed and dreams that seem to break families apart and I know there is something He is doing. My dad, he dreamt of a farm and though he lost it he found people and the building of a life that will last. I dream of a life that will last and know that it comes even while it feels like I’m losing in this one. I know that even though God cares about place and family and the way we embrace our lives in this present world, sometimes he calls us to leave those things because he is doing something else. There was another man who left a place for what reason he knew not. And though I am no Abraham I know that my God is the same as his. Sometimes what He is doing is unclear for generations, but the thread of his grace and presence of his goodness is evident to each and every one of those same generations. Sometimes it’s all I can do to cling to those bits of thread.
I think of dreams and I wonder what they will matter in a hundred years. The garden carved out in a corner of suburbia instead of the perfect plot of land, the suitcases I’ve packed and the people I’ve left, the words that I write here, what will they matter if another hundred years comes to pass?
I draw my lines alongside His, scribbling and erasing, making smudges and ugly marks, wishing I could see what it is He’s writing. In these moments of doubting and wondering, I make my mind think back on all that I’ve already seen. The lines written in Creation, in the written Word He etched out spanning the distance between heaven and earth, in the generations of lives He's made His mark on long before mine, in the criss-crossed lines of the wooden beams that promise redemption and hope and new life to all who come to it. It’s those lines He's left for all to see that make me trust in the ones I cannot see now, and bring dignity to the ones He is letting me draw out every day, in this life lived for both the here and now and the far and away.