When I was training for a marathon, I would fill my pockets with orange slices in Ziploc bags. As weariness snuck up, one or two slices popped in my mouth would push it back and give me strength to press on another few kilometers. God's words and His encouragement sometimes come in bite-sized slices -impressions, experiences, encounters - and are just enough to push weariness back and keep us pressing on a little further...

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fingerprints (January 29, 2009)

Since I’m airing horrid little secrets, I might as well let you in on another one. I know this one ought to cause me great shame – when I meet other women effortlessly successful in this arena, I sense that great waves of inadequacy ought to wash over me and spur me on to make vast and sweeping changes. It hasn’t actually happened yet, but I always sense that it should.

Here it is: I am messy. I hate to clean. There – my dirty little secret is out in the open. If you’ve been to my house (or seen my office) you may already know this. It pains me to admit it, because society tends to peer down its polished nose at me and “my kind”, subtly suggesting that I am somehow less of a woman because of it. I warned my husband of this minor flaw before we got married, but, swelling with the dizzied flush of new love, he said, “That doesn’t matter – I love you anyway!”

A couple of years on and slightly less flushed, he said, “You’re messy.”
I said, “I know – I warned you.”
He said, “Yes, but you were supposed to change.”

Marital matters aside, the fact remains that brooms and mops do not inspire me. The scent of bathroom cleaner does not sweep me up into fits of ecstasy, and while I love a man with dishpan hands, washing them myself is sometimes the bane of my existence.

The wheres and whys and deep psychological issues related to my “neatness-challenged” self are not really what I’m getting at today, however. I mention it only because I spent today cleaning – not my house, of course (to my husband’s dismay, I’m sure), but a place where I have spent much my life over the last five years.

We, in Düsseldorf, call it the Clubhouse, and it is a special place; a literal and figurative home for myself and countless others who have walked through the door. It’s where we fit in and belonged. It’s where we were family.

As I wiped fingerprints off the walls, I wondered which hands had made them, for many hands have run along those walls. Many feet have slid up and down the great hall, many eyes have shed tears, in laughter and in sorrow. Many enthusiastic arms have hugged hello, and many heavy hearts hugged good-bye. Many memories made by many people had now condensed into little more than fingerprints on the wall. And I was wiping them away.

It made me think. Don’t we spend much of our lives making fingerprints on the wall? Trying to leave something lasting, something that will endure once we are gone? We reach out and touch others, hoping that we will leave an impression, a print that will not fade with time or circumstance. Sometimes, we succeed. And sometimes, the world comes along behind us, wiping our fingerprints away.

The lives we live are transient ones. Some of you know this better than others. While losing the Clubhouse does not erase the memories we made there, memories were made by other feet and arms and hearts before we came, and many other memories will be made, fingerprints left by hands we do not know, after we are gone.

What, then, is permanent? Where, then, is my home? Is there a place where my existence is validated, my heart settled? Where in the world do my fingerprints remain?

I don’t know how many times I have moved. I have changed schools 13 times. I have lived in five different states and three different countries. My hope is that I’ve left my fingerprints over all of them. I don’t know. I do know they’ve left their fingerprints on me.

I know because every time I travel or move somewhere new, there is still a whisper of familiarity, an aftertaste of home. I feel a little bit settled everywhere I go, even if I’ve just arrived. And while that is comforting, the flip side of the coin is that there are now pieces of me scattered all over the world. Everywhere feels a little bit like home, but nowhere feels exactly like home. Or how I imagine it would feel.

Soon I will long for Germany the way that I now long for Albania and Romania, and any beach I’ve ever been on. The landscape of my life will change again and wherever I land, I’ll feel a little bit at home. But not quite. Mere geography cannot quench the little blue fire of loneliness that sometimes creeps along the floor of my heart. I assign a person, place or thing to the feeling, I say that I miss so-and-so or thus-and-such, when what I really mean is that my soul is searching for lost fingerprints, for feelings of belonging, of fitting, of being home, and I think I remember those feelings in those places with those people. Have you been there? Unfortunately, seeing those people or going to those places doesn’t always satisfy the longing we've nurtured in our hearts for them – sometimes, it only makes the longing worse b/c we're at a loss as to what will truly satisfy it.

C.S. Lewis spoke to this phenomenon when he said, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

Often, people see the Kingdom of Heaven as the “pie in the sky, place where good people go when they die”, perfectly simple, perfectly calm, perfectly boring possible existence after this one. I don’t. On the day I cease attempting to leave fingerprints on this life and step into that one, all my misplaced longings will be satisfied, the bits of me scattered and left behind in one country or another will navigate their way back to each other and, at last, I will be Home. Home – where I fit, where I belong; where I am Family. Where my fingerprints will never be wiped away.

“…We have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.” (1 Peter 1:4, NLT)

That is the appeal of Heaven for me. This good King has built His good Kingdom as the lock for my ever-searching key, every other “home” merely a layover on my journey there. It is beyond the reach of change and decay, a home sweet home that can never be anything less.

Perhaps the reason I am less than enthusiastic about cleaning is b/c of its transience – I can spend hours cleaning one day what will be messy again in a week. It’s a reminder that in this life nothing truly remains, all things and states of being will pass away; everything I do to make a lasting impression on the world will someday be forgotten. Forgotten here, that is. But God notices my attempts, feeble as they may be, to validate my existence. He sees each tear shed in laughter and in sorrow; He has known every enthusiastic and heavy-hearted hug, has watched my hands run along the walls of this world and treasured each fingerprint. My thoughts and actions, though often dusty and disheveled, are not hidden from Him, and He never fails to clean me up when I ask Him to. He’s much better at it than I am.

Which is good, because on my own… I’m a mess.

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