moving on up
“Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert. Be present. I’m about to do something brand new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.”
Here’s a story for you: In the fourth grade, there was a girl named Blythe. She wasn’t the prettiest girl in our class. She wasn’t the smartest or the funniest girl, but she had the best-packed lunches.
To my 9 year–old mind, Blythe was the most loved. Every day, her mother packed her lunches that I can only describe as exquisite. They were not necessarily exotic or fancy, but they were delectable by sight alone, made with intention—dainty with no crusts. They were daily love notes from home.
I’ll begin with her sandwiches. These were the stars of her daily, midday repast. They were what Sunday church hats were to Sunday pew benches—crowning glories. Cream cheese with olives on honey wheat, Peanut Butter with Apple Butter or Ligonberry Jam, Ham with Herbed Havarti when no kid in the whole state of Ohio had ever heard of such a thing as Havarti. Nestled beside her sandwiches were bundles of side fancies dressed in fine frippery like ladies in waiting, such things like home-baked cookies that were evenly browned and uniformly shaped, or little parchment purses of granola. If there was anything as ordinary as a Twinkie or an Oreo, they were packed into tiny plastic containers with colorful lids that roomed with things like evenly peeled, matchstick-cut carrots, dewy blueberries, or heart-shaped strawberries. Never did anything lowbrow and common like animal crackers make their way in, and never bologna.
When Blythe graced a lunch table, everyone who sat at that table felt as if they’d been invited to dine with a princess or perhaps a child star. She would unzip her lunch box, which was light blue and insulated, as if she’d been taught how to dine. There would always be a white paper napkin that rested nonchalantly within. It looked as if it had slipped and fainted on top of her manicured goods. Blythe would gently pluck it from her lunchbox, unfold it and place it softly in her lap. You’d never know she lived in our back-roads railroad town in a state as plain as Ohio. You’d think she lived somewhere where the air was stirred with sophistication. You’d think she was she was kin and neighbor to the likes Eloise living in the penthouse of the Plaza Hotel in New York City. I was sure she had a nanny and maybe even a butler and an elevator in her home.
Everyday, I sat with Blythe at lunch just to bask in the glow of her gilded existence. I wanted so very badly to be that story—but not as the child. I wanted to be the mother, who I imagined packed her lunches while wearing heels and pearls. I too wanted to love myself as well as she did so that I could know the skillful art of loving someone else down to the most unimportant, lowercase, trivial details.
We have moved again, Sweets. Can you believe it? This makes number eight in your sixteen years. We have moved for half the years of your life. All my life I dreamed I would travel the world and see things and do things and never stay put. But I’ve only been as far south as Mississippi, and as far north as Toronto. Never would I have guessed that I would have signed more leases than received stamps in my passport. Never would I believe that I wouldn’t have a passport to pack at all.
All of our details—sadly sans passports—are boxed and packed, waiting in some “to-be-decided” limbo that I don’t do well with. I liked all of Blythe’s flawless, albeit possibly dangerously obsessive, perfectionistic lunches for a reason. I am a creature of persnicketiness and habit. I am the lunatic who bought you peeled grapes when you were a toddler because they were unblemished and packed so prettily in jars. I don’t think even Blythe's mother would have bothered with peeled grapes. Or maybe that’s where it all began for her, too. She saw something better than the best and packed it up for her little girl to consume with a silver spoon.
Today, I miss those packed lunches I made. I could count on them and so could you. Do you remember them? I wrote you small notes and hid them beneath your cucumber and hummus sandwiches that I used to wrap in brown parchment and seal with a glittery sticker. To me, packing your lunches felt like I was creating an orderly but magical world. Then like Houdini, I would fit the entire kingdom into tiny boxes. Those boxes stuffed with wonder made sense to me. But these packed up boxes surrounding us right now—well, I hate them.
Every time we move and start over again there’s no time for little notes or things tied in red-and-white-speckled baker’s twine. All the magic is left out. Everything feels unkempt and like we’re not gonna make it. We’ve been sleeping on mattresses and box springs on the floor. The only thing that would be sadder for me is if they were sprawled beneath bare bulbs swinging from hanging sockets. But we can’t even find the box in which I packed up the light bulbs. So, our home—and I guess this is our home—has less of a glow.
Somehow, I’ve always equated my worth as your mother to how well I loved you with the minor details. It wasn’t that you had a packed lunch. It was more about how your packed lunch made you feel. Did your lunch make you sigh like anyone would sigh finding an ice cream parlor in the middle of a desert? I wanted you to open your lunch and for all the other kids’ eyes to bulge out of their heads, having been struck with dazed wonder.
I’ve always wanted our home to have fairy dust sprinkled in every corner. I wanted every detail, trinket, cup and saucer, soap dispenser and knob to be as whimsical as the chocolate river that flowed through Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory—yet with an edge of sophistication fitting enough for the magazine cover of Architectural Digest. I wanted to steal Blythe’s mother’s crown.
Which is why moving is hard for me. Without a wand, packing up basic, old evidence of mortality is just functional and mechanical. There’s no frippery or delicacy to it. You don’t need to have an eye for color or a way with textures. It’s all brown boxes, packing tape and dirty moving vans. And, at the end of it, you can never find the stupid can opener again. It’s living like phantoms, haunting old habits that no longer exist in a new, freshly dug grave of bare walls and lamps with misplaced lampshades. Oh, how I miss my old tea towel drawer, assigned and appointed. And oh, how I miss knowing where our rice cooker took up residence for the past year. This morning, I couldn’t find the Keurig. It now lives on the corner of Not Here and Nowhere. So we had coffee out that was made by baristas that didn’t know our names. We were commoners lumped in with other wanderers and nomads coming in for their coffee fix.
Everyday, I try to wake up and live as if we are on a new and better adventure together. Then I can’t find a bath towel or body wash, and our adventure becomes a struggle as I lather my body with dish soap and dry off with a roll of paper towels. These are the times that I have doubts. I never doubt my faith or my God with the big things. My faith doesn’t bow or bend under weighty debates about the presence of evil in this world. My doubts flare up because I can’t imagine how Jesus left the well-ordered glory of eternity to shack up with us, slumming it down here in ancient Biblical times before running water. Why would anyone do that except for someone you dearly love?
No one understood the predicament of the rich young ruler more than Jesus, who sold everything—everything! Jesus who told the young man, “You lack one thing; sell everything that you have and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have abundant treasure in heaven; and come, follow me as my disciple—believing and trusting Me, and walking the same path of life that I walk.”
My doubts are all about my lack of trust and faithfulness when I even slightly feel like one of the have-nots. Can I truly be His follower when I’m struggling to carry my cross over to a new zip code? Like the rich, young ruler, I am extremely rich with a Keurig, clean towels and running water. It’s impossible to fit this life through the narrow eye of a needle and step into the Kingdom of God. Just look at the number of boxes stacked around here. It’s would be a tight squeeze, my darling—maybe not camel-sized, but still tight. Where to begin to trim the edges? How did Jesus give up His heavenly robes for dust-covered sandals?
Last night, I began to read to you from Genesis, and you asked, “How do you know all this is true? Do you sometimes wonder if it’s all true?” I said I didn’t know. But I believe in the person and life of Jesus. For me nothing is more compelling. He had so much more to lose. Even a fool wouldn’t risk so much to live out a lie.
However, I know you want something more concrete. Something that I can point to in this story of how the world was created. Truth be told, I don’t have that to give. Honestly, I don’t know if the sky was pulled from the sea. I don’t know what it means when it says, “God said, ‘Let there be light.’” I wasn’t there. However, I believe it because I believe in a God who is bigger than my imagination, and way bigger than my ability to comprehend all that I read. Besides that, last night, you felt something, Snickerdoodle, when I read, “In the beginning God, Elohim, created—by forming out of nothing—the heaves and the earth. The earth was formless and void, or a waste and emptiness, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, primeval ocean that covered the unformed earth. The Spirit of god was moving, hovering and brooding over the face of the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light.” You felt something stir in you, when I told you that God creates out of chaos. You said, “Mama, write that down for me.” So here it is, written down.
I know that there’s an eternity because I am certain that you have been here since the very beginning. You were there way back when I was just a kid. Somewhere, the essence of you existed.
Despite the darkness that I knew in fourth grade, God hovered above the deep, primeval ocean covering the unformed life within me. When Blythe unwrapped her bejeweled lunches, He released light and called forth something more—a light that was clearly distinguishable from the darkness I knew. Without knowing it, Blythe’s mother was a light-bearer—like the sun or the moon or the stars. She was a sign of God’s provident care for me. She was an ever-present, celestial glow in the dark night of my childhood.
As certain as I am of my own existence, I know you and I have been together since—well, since forever. You were a swirling, unformed being within me all those years ago, sitting with me beside the light and glow of some other little girl’s packed lunch.
I don’t know from exactly whence you came, my girl. But I know it’s someplace that has always been and is much more majestic and forgiving than any land that lies within myself. When I think of the truth of this, I can live without the Keurig, without bed frames, without fresh towels and light bulbs. I can live with strange faces that make me coffee without knowing my name.
And, I can see light seeping from the corners of all these brown boxes.