The Note in the Yellow Backpack
It was several years ago when I wrote this five page rant of pure ugliness. I didn't date it, so I can't be sure of exactly when, but it was obviously at one of the darker times of my life. I knew it was ugly when I was scratching it out as fast as my pen could fly across the sheets of notebook paper, but I wanted to get it out, as if transferring the words from my brain to the written page could somehow get rid of them.
It sort of worked. I never finished the rant. It stops short in the middle of a thought. I had worn myself out, emotionally and physically, and God met me there and began the healing process in my soul. I did feel better, and I can honestly say I've not returned to that low of a place since then.
But for some reason, I kept the note. I wanted to rip it to shreds when I saw how ugly my heart had become, but instead I folded it up and tucked it safely away in a little-used pocket of my yellow backpack, the one that only I use.
Incidentally, there are really only a very few things in life that I consider mine and only mine, that everyone in my family KNOWS they are forbidden from borrowing, lest they get lost or damaged by someone other than me. One is my travel mug. Mine. Another is my camera. Back off. A third (and I really can't think of any others) is my yellow backpack. Go find your own. Oh, you left it at a friend's house? Then put your stuff in a grocery bag. The yellow backpack is mine. I suppose I sound like a toddler here, but really, it's only three little things in my whole life. I'm ok with it.
So the note has been stashed in the bottom of my backpack for years now. One other time, I pulled it out and started to read it, but it was too ugly, too honest, too much of a reminder of the ugliness that can exist in my heart--the heart of the one everyone thinks is such a faithful follower of God. Rather than throwing it away, however, I folded it up again and put it back into my backpack.
A few months ago, I went to load my things for a trip to the lake and couldn't find my yellow backpack. I searched high and low, tearing the house apart looking for it. I'm not sure what worried me more, the missing backpack, or the fact that my ugly note was out there somewhere for someone else to find and read. This week, finally, I found a tub of our winter gear (mittens and hats and such) that hadn't been used since we returned from four months of travel this past April. Under all the fleece and woolen gear was the yellow backpack. The note was still inside.
So here it is. What do I do with it? It is a part of my life, a part of my story. I think it is worth remembering, long-term, so I suppose I should transcribe it for posterity's sake. I will post it here, and then I can discard it. The wood stove downstairs has a nice fire going in it. That will do nicely.
It doesn't include much in the way of paragraphing at first, and I'm not going to bother to edit. Here goes:
This is the cry of the selfish, of the short-sighted, of all who have fixed their eyes on the temporal. "Seek first the kingdom of Heaven," the verse says, but I have sought the kingdom of me, the kingdom which has me at its center in royal attire, a host of servants bowing at my feet. Instead of "thy kingdom come," I have cried, "When will my kingdom finally come? When will trying to live a Godly, upright life finally pay off? When will I get my reward for being a good and faithful servant? When will things turn around and go in my favor? When will I not have to deprive myself and my family of the little comforts that others enjoy all around me? When will I get to say "we really need a weekend away, a little vacation--or better yet, a great family trip? When will I drive a car that isn't on its last leg, a car that could be trusted on a vacation, if we could ever take one? When will I have the opportunity to say, "I really miss her and will go for a visit?" When will my weekends be weekends, for relaxing and enjoying my family, rather than for working--or feeling guilty for not working? When will I live in a house not in construction? When will I have a house I'm not ashamed of? When will a conversation with my husband not center on business, or potential business, or the lack thereof? When will my husband not be discouraged or stressed or depressed? When will he be able to hold his head high, knowing that he is providing for his family on a regular basis? Why does it all have to be about money, money, MONEY, MONEY MONEY??? Why can't we have just enough to get by simply--even without the shiny nice new things or the travel to wonderful places? When can I do something with all the ideas that float around hopelessly in my head? Why can't I make a living, if he can't seem to? Why can't I stop doing the dishes long enough to write some books or make something wonderful out of my photography? When will my family learn not to be content living in such utter chaos? When will they put in the smallest amount of effort at keeping our living space clean? When will they do any household chores without my instruction or guilt-trips? When will I even be able to enjoy going on walks again with my husband? Will he ever be able to enjoy any physical activity of any kind ever again, or is that it--an injured knee, a weak back, a broken ankle, some extra pounds, a damaged hip, and 'boom'--at 40 years old (37 or 38, but who's counting?) he is beyond any sort of physical activity for the next however many decades and the rest of our free time together (if any ever exists outside of work) will be spent sitting on our butts in a dark house watching TV or taking turns getting lost in a computer screen? Is that it? Too tired, too sore, too fragile, too defeated to enjoy fresh air ever again? And what about my hopes and dreams? My ideas and ambitions? Pointless? Then why did I ever have to have them in the first place? To frustrate me? Wouldn't it have been more merciful to make me a simple creature who just wanted a quiet life at home of dishes and laundry and soothing children's tears and arguments and never desired more?
This is the cry of the selfish, of the short-sighted, of all who have fixed their eyes on the temporal.
I want what I want, when I want it. I don't want to give of myself. I don't want to put others' needs ahead of my own. I don't want to be the loving, supporting encourager of the downtrodden, even the ones in my own family. I don't want to put effort into setting a positive tone in my home. I don't want to be left with the broken pieces of my husband and painstakingly and patiently glue them back together like I've done with so many plates and dishes and pieces of my daughter's tea set. I don't want to encourage him when he's down. He's always down. I don't want to play referee between my children. I don't want to try to clean a house no one else cares about. I don't want to do anything that takes me away from me and my kingdom.
"Seek first the kingdom of Heaven." But what about the second part of the verse? The part about "and all these things shall be added"? What about King Solomon, asking only for wisdom and being rewarded with wealth as well?
I'm looking for the second half without really concentrating on the first half. I've not sought the kingdom of Heaven. I've not sought to live like Jesus did--giving, giving, giving, GIVING, GIVING, GIVING.
Am I to consider myself a Christian if I am not willing to act like Christ?
I know I need to look up--get my eyes off the temporal and see the eternal, seek His kingdom, be Christ-like in all I do. I really do. But what do I do with the temporal? I live here now. How are we supposed to go on without income? How do we know what to do next? Trust. Have faith. Yes. But what do we do? Let our house lapse into foreclosure? Stop buying groceries? Do we, by faith, step out and try to grow our business, trusting You to provide? Or do we, by faith, choose not to grow our business, trusting You to provide?
And that's where it ends.
I find it interesting that here we are, several years later with a home that didn't lapse into foreclosure, bodies that haven't suffered from malnutrition, and a business that--although it is still touch and go quite often--basically provides our needs and seems to be on an upward trend. My husband is very good at and very well-respected for what he does. Our home is getting to be an almost pleasant place to be, even though it is still in construction. My husband and I have a generally close relationship that seems to get better all the time, aside from the regular ups and downs of any marriage. We have even had the chance to travel, all of us, all over the whole country, for months at a time--while I worked on writing one of those books. And although I will always struggle with being egocentric, I like to think I'm not nearly as selfish now as I come across in this old note.
I don't really know. I just know that God cares for us. I know that He was not frightened off by the ugly words I've recorded here. He did not get angry at my impudent attitude and turn His back on me. No, I do believe he pulled me into his lap like a toddler storming out of control and held me there until I'd settled down again.
He whispered into my ear, "Trust me."
I still forget sometimes, but I'm learning. Rather than fearing the ugliness of this rant, I hope to use it as a beautiful reminder: He has brought me so far. I must continue to trust Him.
Must continue to trust.
I trust you.