“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear, nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck all the marrow out of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close…”-Henry David Thoreau
The small sample of wood by my house has proven to be more than a mere walking trail. As I suggested in a previous post, the direction in which you walk is significant on its own; for east and west lead to quite different worlds. However, the wood itself offers a bit of an alternate reality for me. On an especially gorgeous fall day, in the quiet of the morning and the tenderness of the sun, I was walking out from underneath the umbrella of yellow leaves to the neighborhood, and I thought to myself, “back to reality.” A relatively common sentiment upon returning from vacations or places or experiences outside of our normal, usually followed by a soft sigh and possibly slight sorrow, considering the all too quick ending of the sweetness of the former time. We rightly consider that our daily routine is the reality we live in, but is it the only?
I am a major C.S. Lewis fan and enjoy not only his apologetic works but even more so his children’s books, namely The Chronicles of Narnia. When the Pevensie children find themselves in Narnia for the first time, I would assume they didn’t consider that world the reality. Their home back in London was the reality. The longer they are in Narnia and the further invested they get in the things of this world, the more and more it becomes what is truly real. So much so, when they stumble, quite literally, back into the “real” world, it seems closer to a dream. When I was leaving the woods that day and thought “back to reality” to myself, the Pevensie children came to mind. There is good fruit to be had from our daily routines, but when this becomes the fullness of our reality, I believe we are at risk of leading quite mundane lives, substituting what we think we know and what we consider to be all there is for us, for hope. Thus, I checked myself, remembering the things the wood teaches might actually comprise greater truths and speak to a greater reality than my daily normal. In other words, there is a greater reality to be known and lived. Something whole and raw and hopeful to be transferred and breathed out in the day-to-day moments.
I moved back to Chicago in May after finishing my master’s degree and graduate assistant position with the soccer program at TCU. Six years in Fort Worth proved to be a chapter in my life overflowing with joys and curve-balls and deeper sorrows than I ever wanted to give time in my thoughts to. It is a lie to say I never took it for granted or never got caught up in the entitlement that being an athlete and student at a private NCAA Division 1 college program subjects you to. I fell into it more frequently than I probably realize. Still, I tried to remember to be grateful and to give as much of myself to all the incredible people I met and built relationships with. The foremost lesson I learned in my undergraduate and graduate years is life is about people and relationship. My introverted self still resists this revelation, but it is a truth I believe more deeply each day and take with me from season to season. The Lord has been sweet, and honestly more direct than I would like sometimes, reminding me that it is my relationship with Him that forms the bedrock of any other relationship I have with another person. In my less narrow-minded moments, I ask Him to help me see others as He sees them, beloved sons and daughters, and my fellow sisters and brothers. Loved beyond what they can or cannot do.
This is the posture I hope to take more times than not in my relationships and interactions with others. It has been far, far from perfect, but perfection is not what I am asked for nor is it what I expect of myself anymore. This does not give me license not to attempt or care, quite the opposite really. I can be secure in attempting to love people with all I have, all of my talents and abilities, strengths and weaknesses, and still coming up short because ultimately, it is not about me. I can trust that God uses what I perceive to be my failures and shortcomings in some way. Mostly because I have seen Him do it.
Going back to Fort Worth last week renewed that trust and gave me a fresh sense of the love we all crave. It sharpened my purpose in giving myself to others and helping people see themselves as beloved creatures of God. I was overwhelmed with the response from friends, teammates, co-workers, coaches and players. Most of my time back was spent meeting with individuals, listening and catching up with what was going on in their lives. Just being with them and having conversations. I was talking with one friend in particular about coaching a 9-year-old boys’ team in my hometown. There is enough in this experience alone for a whole separate letter, but the important piece here is the feedback the club director was getting from the parents and the immense gratitude they were expressing to me. What has always struck me about positive feedback like this in any position is it seems to come from doing what one ought to do. I realized it is a great example of the difference a Narnian reality brings. Faith, hope, and love.
Not by coincidence, the 10-year-old girls’ team I coached in my final year as a GA happened to be at the last TCU soccer home game. Catching the last weekend of conference home games was really the main reason I wanted to visit when I did. As a tradition, the youth teams at the game come down to the field to create a tunnel for the team to run through from the field house onto the field. I was standing by the field house when all of a sudden a mob of little girls come running up and shower me with hugs. They are beside themselves with joy and an abundance of warmth wells up inside of me. We crave to be genuinely known and loved and do not forget easily when someone relates to us in this way.
“Burst our stingy hearts so we may give more of ourselves to others.”
As I have grown closer and become more intimate in my relationship with the Lord, the more Narnia feels like the reality, like the normal. It is living deeply all that is life, while not resigning or dismissing the intricacies of daily moments. He has softened my heart to interact with others more intimately and removed the scales from my eyes to see humanity in a transformed way.
“Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
In the movie “The Guardian,” Jake Fischer is in training to become a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. The instructor and rescue swimmer himself, Senior Chief Ben Randall, tests Jake and challenges him to see what he is made of, knowing he has what it takes to be a great rescue swimmer. In the beginning of the movie, Jake makes a bet with some of the other squad members that he can get a girl to leave the bar with him. When he goes up to talk to her, she realizes he has made a bet and agrees to leave the bar with him under the circumstances of getting half the money from him next Friday at a different bar on the base. He meets her there and as she is about to leave, not interested in starting anything with him, Jake gets her to dance. Emily agrees, telling him just one and just casual, no attachments. Jake assures her that he is a guy, he can do casual.
They continue to see each other throughout the time Jake is training and upon graduation from the program, agree to part ways, knowing the difficulty of continuing to pursue a relationship with the uncertainty and volatility of him being in the coast guard. It is definitely more of a “this is probably best” feeling than what they both actually want, each other. Jake goes on his first couple missions and one Senior Chief Ben Randall is called in on to help him. Complications arise and Ben ends up falling into the ocean from a height that impact is fatal. He is lost in the sea. His death shocks Jake into realizing what is dear to him, Emily. She is a teacher, so he goes to her school in the middle of the day and interrupts her class. She comes out into the hallway, asking him what he is doing there.
“I lied to you. I can’t do casual.”
He is a fisher of men.
Regardless of whether a relationship is romantic, between friends or family, teacher/student, coach/player, co-workers, employee/boss, etc., I don’t want to do casual. I want to give myself in whatever way the relationship calls for and to give freely and abundantly. I want to love indifferently, not measured by what I think I can get in return. The love we were designed by and for is not casual in the slightest bit. This love is the marrow of life and worth sucking every bit of. This is the love that changes our reality from London to Narnia, mundane to raw and hopeful and full. This is the love that makes you a fisher of men.
This is the love that says, “I can’t do casual.”