Tenacity is the ability to hang on when letting go appears most attractive – Anonymous
Let us hold fast our confession, for He who promised is faithful – Hebrews
Yesterday I stumbled on a podcast of two of my favorite
and perched on my lawn chair amazed
as they described the sense of anxiety
that accompanies an idea they don’t fully understand,
and won’t fully get
until they sit down and write it out.
Because if we writers are honest with ourselves,
most of us try not to write.
Confession: When a deadline looms
(even a self-imposed one)
I come up with 150 projects around the house
that need my
right this second,
or any other remotely plausible potential distraction.
When that stops working,
I argue with the not-quite concrete thought
and tell it
since you’re not actually fleshed out,
I have no business writing about you.
But what’s really going on,
and what I hate to admit,
is that the actual act of writing is far from enjoyable.
Some of you just online-high-fived me.
Others have yet to experience what I just described, but if you asked me to detail it for you,
I’d say writing a blog
like this one
is like extracting a tapeworm
that has infected your whole body
and captured all of your attention
and not always in a good way.
If that description is too graphic for you, I apologize. #nursebrain
And while I am grateful these women were able to flesh out this painstaking process on the podcast I listened to,
I also kinda hate them for it,
because they were expressing what had been happening to me the past few weeks,
the thing I was trying to ignore
and knew I couldn’t anymore.
I’ll be reallly honest with you:
I didn’t want to sit down and write this.
So I ask for your patience
as I try to be patient with the thing
I don’t fully understand yet.
Let me back up a bit.
Last Monday, I woke to run and found glass in my running shoes.
I didn’t realize it was glass at first – I assumed it was some Houdini pebbles I’d collected along the road in my trail runs of the previous week.
But they didn’t shake out well.
Glass doesn’t, usually. But its also not the usual suspect when digging through your shoes for the thing that makes you say ‘ouch’ with each step.
But that Monday, I wasn’t entirely surprised.
The day before, I’d risen to temperate sunshine over the gentle blue waters. Fourteen years and four days after our first trip to the island as a married couple, the blog star (aka. my husband) surprised our little family with a spontaneous night away.
It couldn’t have come at a better time.
We drank coffee, we read, we ate good food, we laughed with our kids.
In short, we did all the normal things we normally do on a vacation.
Except on this one, I turned thirty-six.
I can hear some of you scoffing – just a baby.
And in many ways you’d be right to do so.
Yet from where I sit, thirty-six feels old.
I sit in a rather unusual place.
Not every twenty-eight-year-old mother of two is told she has cancer. Not every thirty-something is forced to wrestle every day the fear that this year might be her last. Not every family knows that part of how we live well is to live moment-to-moment, because, really, there are no guarantees.
(I actually wish we did all know that).
But while some would call this living lightly,
I’m starting to see it differently.
The day of my birthday was an otherwise glorious day: We ate brunch at a favorite restaurant. We wandered the surprisingly sparse streets of Vancouver’s downtown core. My husband patiently waited for me while I tried on clothes,
(if you call patient testing out the newest noise-cancelling wireless headphones at the Bose store)
and we went to a Broadway show
I had always wanted to see
but was finally in the area.
Good day, right?
Yet somehow I couldn’t shake the feeling
that something was just a little bit… off.
I’m not sure if David felt it, but something just outside my awareness kept gnawing at me.
I tried to shrug it off
– as we all do-
and pretend I was cool
and not, you know, the other thing.
And yet halfway through our night at the Q.E.,
– just as I’d convinced myself I wasn’t going to be paranoid –
an usher approached us
with the kind of expression
that usually accompanies
a terrible World War II telegram
any other sorts of news of something terrible happening to someone you love.
Fortunately, in our case, it was just something we love.
My girlies started to cry as they heard the words of the Vancouver policeman over the phone: a repeat smash-n-grab offender had broken into our car and taken all of our luggage.
as she realized
the broken window
was right next to her booster seat.
Did they take Brutus, Mommy? she managed through a quivering lower lip.
(Brutus is the current favorite of her stuffies).
I don’t know, I said, because I didn’t.
We didn’t really know much at that point,
except that four of our backpacks were taken
from the now windowless-backseat of our miraculously-provided van.
Wanting to keep the rest of the evening as normal as possible, David insisted the three of us finish the show while he went to figure out the rest.
And as we traipsed back to our seats, Noelle tugged on my hand.
I don’t understand, she said.
I thought nothing bad would ever happen to us.
That’s a pretty incredible thought for a girl who’s been praying since she was two for her mom’s blood not to be… confused.
And yet, she kinda nailed it.
Don’t we all believe that bad things only happen to other people?
Don’t we tell ourselves:
That’s never going to happen.
Don’t be paranoid.
Everything will be fine.
Those kinds of things only happen to people who make mistakes,
people who deserve it?
We might even call ourselves mentally healthy for thinking this way. Or better yet, optimists.
We chalk happy thoughts up to our sunny personalities or fundamental beliefs in
and the goodness of other people.
I hate to tell you this, but none of that is even remotely true.
While we’d love to believe the opposite,
all of us are just so far from good.
I’m uncomfortable with that too.
The most powerful time I was confronted with this was eighteen months ago.
Calamity often comes in threes, as it did then: my world turned upside down in the course of three separate, fractious, events
that all threatened the core of what I believed in.
Not so much that bad things don’t happen to us,
because that lie has been dying for a long time now.
But there were other things I thought I could cling to
in the middle of that bad thing,
in the end
showed just how much I’d built my
fragile little house
on nothing but sand;
These people will never betray me
This thing would never happen to me
At least I know I can rely on _____
And so I’m not off in the corner navel-gazing by myself, I urge you to ask yourself how you would answer those questions.
What would be your fill-in-the-blank?
If you’re brave enough, write it down.
(somewhere no one else will see, of course)
Now stare realllllly hard at what you’ve written.
Do you still believe it?
Or does it look a little… weak?
I know what you’re going to say: I don’t have any of those things I believe in.
And you probably think you’ve found the solution:
believe in nothing,
bank on no one,
trust only yourself.
I understand the temptation.
After a certain number of pain points, each of us are tugged that direction.
We think we’re protecting ourselves,
but really, we’re just drowning in a sea that tastes oh so bitter
so we keep our mouths shut
and hope we don’t take in
any of our own water.
Our culture loves this option, and they love to offer the fix for it, too – just find the right person.
Think of how many fictional romances begin with the protagonist who’s been hurt too much to trust again.
Enter the solution: the perfect person.
I’m not sure if I want to laugh or cry at that.
But we all know its bogus, right?
There’s just no such person.
And even if there were, we wouldn’t deserve them.
But before you accuse me of being a Debbie Downer, I want you to know I get it.
Off and on these past few years, I’ve been living this protective way.
But there’s another Force that tugs at me and
suggests another option:
and so much better than
care about nothing
care about everything.
The truth is, most of the freedoms Western individualism was built on were entirely dependent on passionate people who let themselves care about things.
The show we watched the night our car was broken into was based on a true story of some of these people.
And we really need so much more of them.
it’s only a little over a hundred years ago
that most poor families
were forced to pull their children from school
and put them to work in factories
where they were underpaid, abused, and targeted
by those who had more than enough.
In many ways this thread has continued throughout our history. Those who have will always be tempted to take advantage of those who have not so the haves can have even more.
They convince themselves they deserve what they’ve been given
and the afflicted deserve all they’ve not been given
leave the oppressed two options:
I’ve tried my hand at both, and I’m not sure that one is better than the other.
Both sides have pitfalls,
yet the stability of the world we see today
is so largely dependent
on those who chose the second option,
that we really can’t ignore it.
What’s even more powerful though,
and what I believe the world is waiting for,
is that third option.
I believe it has two parts.
The first: a liberator from outside the people needing liberation.
Take William Wilberforce, for example.
He was a man of influence, even a bit of money. An excellent orator, Wilberforce could have spent his days in reclined debates at the highest of privileged institutions, but chose instead to use his passion and eloquence
to abolish slavery in England
while fighting physical and emotional maladies himself.
Wilberforce’s American counterpart, Mr. Abraham Lincoln, went to physical war to accomplish the same.
I don’t think he intended to. But the passionate plea of his first inaugural address declared war on the South and their entire way of life:
a life built
abusing the have nots
so they could have even more.
Those of you who know this story know that Abe spent every day in office following that address – and the rest of his life – in pursuit of liberty for the oppressed.
He didn’t do it to become a hero.
He did it because he couldn’t not.
I can’t imagine how he stomached some of the injustices he saw.
How does one live with,
that a country built on revolution from oppression
a group of people who prided themselves on ‘liberty and justice for all’
to make the very flag
they declared represented freedom.
But then there is some insidious darkness that tends to follow us when we throw off our own shackles.
Freedom can soon become indulgence.
Take the history of the last one hundred and fifty years or so.
As Susan Wise Bauer has said in her children’s history series The Story of the World:
Violence is not random. It is alarming, but not random. You will see, again and again, the same pattern acted out: A person or group of people rejects injustice by rebelling and seizing the reins of power. As soon as those reins are in the hands of the rebels, the rebels become the establishment, the victims become the tyrants, the freedom-fighters become the dictators.
And isn’t that what The Hunger Games was really all about?
That, without check, the abused become the abusers –
given the right amount of power?
Take Adolf Hitler, for example.
Here is a man who knew power, even if only for a brief period of time. Many would still call him one of the greatest and most inspirational speakers of all history. It was likely this very ability to bind his audience in a spell of sorts that persuaded an entire country to back the biggest mass genocide in history
and call it good.
See, Hitler thought he was throwing off his own shackles.
He thought he was standing up for the rights of his country.
And yet even the most cold hearted of us can see that he went much further than that.
It’s not tenacity itself that is the problem.
It’s what we’re holding onto that counts.
This past winter, our family hit another season of crisis.
What I thought were merely bad shin splints from a particularly long run was really the beginnings of septic cellulitis.
I know, I’m a pro at finding the old-lady diseases.
But it was this very fact that I got this at 35 and not 75
that made those who were taking care of me
wonder what else might be going on.
And so Pandora’s box was opened once again:
Blood clot, stress fracture, leukemia blast crisis, these were all things we were looking dead in the eyes.
Except this time, I really thought so too.
I’ve never experienced pain like that – pain that takes your breath away, that none of the normal medicines touch, none of the regular strategies begin to relieve
Pain that left me rocking on my bathroom floor at 4:30 in the morning, with nothing else to say but help me get through this, help me get through this.
In those days and weeks I gave myself IV antibiotics at home, rested with my foot up while I stared at house messes I didn’t have the strength to even begin to think about cleaning, taught my girls school with one foot always in an ice pack and often waiting in a doctor’s office.
And while David and I learned how to kill some of those hours when the pain was at its worst, we encountered one of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen.
I don’t want to name it for fear I trash your favorite of all time.
But if its your favorite of all time, we really should have a chat.
Because really, I left that movie with not only a bad taste in my mouth, but in my whole being. It wasn’t just the plethora of tired tropes (see the lighting of the candles for a special dinner? Cue the disappointing phone call), it was more the diluted definition of faith it not-quite-enthusiastically embraced:
All your dreams will come true if you just believe.
Cue every Disney movie ever made.
This is the problem with the whole world, I told my almost-asleep husband.
He peered his eyes open at me. This man is used to dramatic bedtime statements like this one. He’s even learned to fall asleep in some of them.
(That makes him sound worse than he is.)
I mean to highlight the number of so-called-epiphanies I think I get in the wee hours, and not his overwhelming call to the land of Nod.
I also knew I might have something when he woke up to hear this one.
What do you mean? he asked curiously.
I mean, this is what is wrong with the world. Even those who call themselves people of faith have somehow begun to believe its nothing more or less than
wishing for things we don’t know will come true.
And really, that doesn’t pack much of a punch, does it?
All it does is leave me asking
should I choose to believe things like hope does not disappoint us
when the only hope my culture has ever taught me
is the kind that shows nothing but disappointment
because its grip is so fiercely tied to family, football and The American Dream?
Let’s be honest, friends.
When we’ve grabbed onto a rotten branch –
or ten –
in a row –
our option isn’t only to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results
(by definition, that’s called insanity)
nor is it only letting ourselves fall into oblivion
and hope we fall on something soft.
It’s grabbing on to a branch with roots
or better yet
grabbing the hand of One anchored to firm ground.
It was this image that hit me as I considered Noelle’s oh so important question.
But it wasn’t until
I grabbed my biggest girl,
who gets bigger by the minute,
and looked her square in the eyes
Our safety doesn’t depend on the absence of bad things happening to us, girlie.
on the One in charge of all of those things –
good and bad
that I knew I even believed that.
Just like I wasn’t sure I believed that a minor malady often cures us of an underlying cancer
until my oncologist told me
while my entire body was septic
there was, in fact, no leukemia blast crisis
the cancer gene dropped to the lowest its. ever. been.
So low, in fact, I can see that tiny elusive horizon of
the amazing world called
We aren’t there, and there’s no guarantees we will ever be
but that’s okay
because my safety doesn’t depend on it.
It depends on Something much firmer than that.
Take what David found when he returned to our damaged van:
two plainclothes Vancouver policemen
planted in plain sight of our vehicle
saw the whole thing,
arrested the ones who stole from us,
returned to us all of our belongings – unharmed.
(plus a really gross orange sequined purse that I don’t really want to think about right now)
I looked at Noelle and asked her:
Girlie, what are the chances of any of this happening?
She gave me a faint smile.
Not many, she admitted.
It was almost as if it had been designed just like that.
There were still hardships to deal with, of course.
You try driving home late at night on the Trans-Canada highway with no window and two children.
(there was lots of laughing about that)
And when I think of all the things we chose to do that day, where we should not have parked, what we should not have left in our car, what we should have perhaps not spent our money on,
I wouldn’t go back and make it not happen.
Or as Steve Saint, the son of murdered missionary pilot Nate Saint, says:
If I could go back now and rewrite the script, I would not change a single scene. I have come to understand that life is too complex and much too short to let amateurs direct the story. I would rather let the Master Storyteller do the writing.
What makes Steve’s words more powerful is knowing he wrote them as he developed a familial-type relationship with the man and the tribe who speared his father and four other missionary fathers who were only trying to establish the first friendly contact between white people and the dangerous Waodoni ‘Aucas.’
Friends, that’s tenacity –
the kind that holds onto
the Thing that just doesn’t give out
no matter what kind of storm comes.
Its that same kind of tenacity I’m willing to bank on,
the kind that sees the tiny shards of glass in my shoes as a reminder that One so much bigger than me
was looking out for me,
It’s the kind of tenacity that knows hope that doesn’t disappoint.
Its the second part of the third option.
Find the One Whose feet are on firm ground
and hold on with all your might.
I promise you
You won’t be the only one holding on.