There is something more than a little disconcerting about writing your autobiography… As if anybody cares or should care… like showing my baby pictures to strangers. But I do it anyway. I do it because it seems to me that no matter who you are, and no matter how eloquent or otherwise, if you tell your own story with sufficient candor and concreteness, it will be an interesting story and in some sense a universal story. I do it also in the hope of encouraging others to do the same- at least to look back over their own lives…for certain themes and patterns and signals that are so easy to miss when you're caught up in the process of living them. If God speaks to us at all other than through such official channels as the Bible and the church, then I think that he speaks to us largely through what happens to us… so what I have done is to listen back over what has happened to me for the sound, above all else, of his voice. - Frederick Buechner, Now and Then
I can hardly put into words how much Frederick Buechner has mentored, comforted, encouraged, and challenged me this past year. I have been ministered to in some mysterious way through a man I've never seen or even heard his voice expect through his writing. Even our "meeting" has been a little magical. I should say this may sound a little crazy or too poetic, but it is really my heart of hearts about Buechner and his impact on me. My friend Katie first introduced me to him (or so I thought) when I asked her for recommendations for books to read over the summer. I told her what authors I loved reading in the past and she handed me the book A Room Called Remember by my soon-to-be new best friend. This was almost a year ago to date, and at that time I was struggling with a whole new level of anxiety in my life that I had never experienced before. A lot of the anxiety had to do with the responsibilities in my life feeling like they were too much or too heavy and relationships too complicated. I just really wanted to escape my life. I had felt sadness before but never the "tight feeling in your chest- hard to breathe" waves of anxiety. If I let myself get too inward I would start to shake and cry and freak husband Jared out a little bit. It was at this point that Jared saw it fit to share with some friends of mine that I was really struggling and to pray for me and love me in some way. One of my high school friends, Lexie, offered her family's mountain cabin for us to stay for the weekend and Jared arranged, childcare and all, for us to get away to the mountains and be still for a little while. And it was on this trip that my relationship to Buechner and my own healing began.
The book, A Room Called Remember, is really "uncollected pieces" of Buechner's works from sermons to essays and graduation commencement addresses. The piece that means the most to me is actually the name of the book, "A Room Called Remember". In it Buechner talks about a dream he has about a room where he feels safe and a "profound and undergirding sense of peace" (pg 7). He later connects this room called Remember to the place in all of us where we can go and purposefully remember our lives as a way of searching and finding something deeper. Buechner calls his readers to intentionally think through the lives we have lived and see that through difficult and hard times as much as the happy times, each of us had not given up. "And what does this tell us, our surviving? It tells us that weak as we are, a strength beyond our strength has pulled us through at least this far, at least to this day. Foolish as we are, a wisdom beyond our wisdom has flickered up just often enough to light us… Faint of heart as we are, a love beyond our power to love has kept our hearts alive." (pg. 8). This is where I cried. I looked around the room I was sitting in while reading this, up in the North Georgia mountains at my friend's cabin realizing I was sitting on the same couch I sat on 14 years earlier as a teenager in high school. I began reflecting on my life, writing down events and details that stuck out in my mind in my journal. 14 years earlier I sat in the same cabin with a whole different set of fears and anxieties about the future. I hadn't yet met my husband or two children that own my heart. I had run around that cabin like a crazy girl laughing and eating as much I wanted because that was life at 17 on vacation in the mountains. I had deep conversations about God and life with kindred-spirit friends but no conversations about how difficult different stages of my life could be, because how could we have known? And yet God was with me then and now. In stopping to remember I could see how God had rescued me, saved me from so many things with plans for better things. I could see redemption in broken relationships and heartache, wisdom in me not getting into grad school two times, endurance when I said I was going to die in childbirth, kind gifts in friendships and giving me a husband who I thought was God's gift to women from the first time I met him. Not that it all has clear meaning in looking back, but I could see, as Buechner says, "we've been saved enough to survive our own darkness and lostness and folly, saved enough to have gone through thick and think to the next day and the next day's saving and the next." He quotes 1 Chronicles 16 where David exhorts the people to remember the wonderful works he has done and give thanks to the Lord. Buechner admits some just thank their lucky stars for whatever has gotten them through this life, but he calls us to sense, "that there is a holiness deeper than shabbiness and horror and at the very heart of darkness a light unutterable." And then Buechner finishes the essay in connecting this remembering to hope: that what God has done, he continues to do and bring to fullness and fruition. This saving he is doing in us is the evidence of the saving that King David speaks of in saying, "The trees of the wood shall sing for JOY." And death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning or crying. And his kingdom will come at last and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. I have loved this image of trees clapping their hands for a long time, and picture myself walking down some pretty path to see King Jesus and the trees clapping for me. Not clapping for me in some glory-is-due way but clapping because I've made it home, however limped and half-hearted I may feel, and I will finally see my maker and all will be well. The goal of my remembering is hope, and that is what that day at the cabin represents to me. It was a picture of his saving me each day unto the next, from that day 14 years ago to the present day and every other day I've been alive. God moved and spoke and worked in me in some big ways. Looking back it seems so perfectly orchestrated that Jared would send an email to my friends and this particular friend would respond in this particular way and this particular book and specific chapter would find its way to my heart on that exact couch. The picture I posted at the top of the post is the picture I had Jared take of me on that couch. I knew it was special and had to get an iPhone image of it if, for no other reason, only to remember God's work in my crazy and chaotic heart. And below is a picture of me at this same cabin 14 years earlier with my friends.
Fast forward a year later and I'm writing this post. I really wanted to write it at different points but didn't know why I should actually blog about it. Why would I post something super personal to me on the world wide web? But I did it after reading Buechner's introduction to his autobiography, Now and Then, which I quoted above. I love what he says, how talking about yourself and your experiences is like showing a stranger baby pictures. But in telling your own story you start to see patterns and signals that you would have otherwise missed. And that maybe somehow God speaks to us through our lives. I definitely feel that way and have experienced that. I think not only do the heavens declare the glory of the Lord but our lives are unfolding and telling us about who God is and who we are in his story. I've started to hear sermons being preached all around me, from sunrises showing the power of God to make all things new to the birth of my babies preaching that some of the most painful things bring beautiful life. I can see how writing about your own life can be encouraging because I am so encouraged in reading about other people's lives like Buechner. I love hearing his doubts and fear and hopes because it shows me that other people live in the tension like I do, both faithful and faithless at times, sometimes even at the same time. So I was encouraged to start writing my own story for all those above reasons. Most of all because it deepens my own heart and causes me to reflect on things that really matter instead of getting lost on Pinterest for hours. I do love Pinterest and think it has value in helping me decorate my house, but I think writing forces me to dig deeper and reflect more on God and his world and his work in me. I have since gotten lost in Buechner's books and am hoping I get a letter to his home address thanking him for pressing courage into my heart. And I hope to blog more about my story and the sermon Jesus is speaking to me through it, because I believe it can give me and others hope in dry and weary places we, at times, find ourselves. But most of all I want to blog about these things because it reminds me that perfect pictures aren't the goal but instead knowing my creator and making it home to enjoy a big hug from him. And any pictures that remind me of that or help me and others towards that are just gravy.