The encyclicals I could write about this photo. Not in the vain sense, no, not about how the light is catching the subject in such a way... This photo was taken the summer of 2004. I was in the Hamptons, at a writer's conference, headed up this mosquito-laden hill when my classmate Jay said, "Here, turn around, I'm going to take your picture and I want to catch the grass behind you." And little did Jay know but that I would forget his full name (he had a Jewish surname?) but I would return to this picture every so often to be reminded.
*** I found that conference difficult, even wrenching at times. I had dreamed about attending for years, all of my rockstar idol writers would be there, teaching, being accessible and debonair. I got a scholarship, I got permission from my boss to go. I took the crazy bus to Chinatown, hopped the Long Island Railroad, and took a cab to the campus. Then I walked across the street to a divey hotel and asked if I could borrow some toothpaste. Hotelier gave me his half-used tube. Goes to show. Show what? I don't know. That I was 24? That he was nice? That you never know what you may find at a divey hotel in the Hamptons? Maybe a toothpasteanthropist?
I was 24. I was so broke when this picture was taken. I had just gotten a second job to pay down some debt. I was behind on rent. Some of my personal relationships were in shambles, mostly because of my impetuousness. The one thing I had going for me, I felt, was that I could write. All along, even when the math quizzes came back FAIL, I would stroke the lucky rabbit's foot of writing skill, and be assured that all would be well.
Then I attended this conference of rockstars and I felt, well? Trampled in that grass. Like my poems were in a beauty pageant and I was told they had a nice personality.
I was bankrupt.
That whole two weeks, I just kept reading Nehemiah over and over. I didn't bring other books for pleasure. Maybe on purpose or maybe because of the circuitous travel I had to make with a rolley suitcase? But I just poured over Nehemiah, and marveled at how he led the skeptics, the underdogs, the unlikelies. I took note of how much rubble was in his way. He surmounted the rubble. The rubble was nothing. He built the wall anyway.
When I look at this picture, I see the lines around my eyes and I see the honesty of my skin, no make-up. I see the really bad dye job that I did in haphazard patches. I see my smile, in spite of it all.
A month later, I got baptized. Two months after that, Loverpants and I got engaged. I got out of debt. I patched up some relationships. I made it through the rubble and built a wall.
I found my early twenties to be a difficult season of life, but I learned so much about myself and the way that the Lord can work through a willing vessel. In this current season of life, I feel that I am back sifting through a lot of rubble. I've got a lot to purge before we can put our home on the market. I've got some personal relationships that I pray will be healed. I am no longer 24, behind a couple months in rent. I have heftier responsibilities and multiple little lives tethered to me.
My friend Laura told me recently that conflict is just an opportunity for growth, that it's just the tension that arises when some change is trying to break through and flourish.
I am walking up the hill again, undeterred by mosquitoes. Can't turn around for a picture right now. Gotta go build a wall.