O Sinner, Come Home

On Friday my grandmother died. It feels harsh to write it out like that, so blunt and factual, but I don’t really know how else to put it. 

The reality of death is a paradox to me. Death is natural. All things decay and die, second law of thermodynamics, the natural order of this world. And yet in my spirit, there is an uncommonly strong resistance to it. Death doesn’t feel natural. There is something in me that protests against it, that knows by instinct there is something more and that I was meant for whatever that something is. I don’t think we were meant to die. 

But we do, the reality of death is everywhere. At first it hits you hard in the face, like freezing water smashing against warm skin. And then it filters in slow, sinking deeper and deeper into you with every remembrance of the person gone until before you know it, it’s lodged itself so firmly inside it becomes a part of who you are. Grief is such a strange process. 

Grieving is necessary, but so is celebration. In fact I think the two go hand-in-hand. My grandmother was a strong woman. As many of her friends and relatives affirmed to me, she was a “real firecracker” and “Ms. Buie, well she’d shoot you straight.” Of all the people I’ve ever met, I don’t think I know anyone who worked as hard as she did. She taught me how to use a broom, how to clean a kitchen, how to shuck corn and snap peas. You’d have to fight her to get her to sit down, and if you turned around she’d be at it again, finding something else to do. If only I could be half has hardworking. 

My grandmother wasn’t soft, and she wasn’t easy to get along with all the time, but she was always thoughtful. She never missed my birthday. If I missed her call, she’d sing happy birthday to me in a voicemail. In the evenings, she’d drive her scooter to the porch so she could read her Bible while watching the sunlight fade across the farm. She was so lovely. 

I miss her. I miss her in a way I don’t think will ever fade away. Not completely.

The thing about death is that it makes us take a good hard look at life. It forces us to look at the people we love, it shines a flashlight on our every day doings, on what consumes our time and our thoughts. It begs a question of importance and necessity. What actually matters? 

As my grandmother was dying, we sang her favorites hymns to her. I don’t actually remember the name of one of the last songs we sang, but I know I’ll never forget the words. 

“Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me; see on the portals he’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me. Come home, come home, you who are weary come home. Earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling, calling O sinner, come home.” 

I don’t know what life after death is like. I don’t really understand heaven. But I like to think that when she finally let go, she opened her eyes and Jesus was right there in front of her in all his warmth and glory, arms spread wide for her to run into. 

La Bonne Aventure | Part Two | On Coming Home

I’ve been stateside for almost a week, and it’s taken me just about this long to process my entire trip. Full of adventure, excitement, drama, emotions, rich conversations, and sister bonding, it really has been a “bonne aventure” so to speak. 

I’ve had a thought smoldering away inside that I’ve struggled to understand. It began small and innocent, but I’ve chewed on it for the last few weeks and it’s become much bigger. In the midst of my explorations — through all the train rides, gorgeous countrysides, cheese platters, and v. good glasses of wine — I felt this nagging apartness. I was thrown into different cultures and experiences, gloriously appealing in their diversity and refreshing in their newness, an adventure high. But even though I was being swept away by these once-in-a-life-time experiences, I couldn’t shake this feeling that something was missing.

And would you believe it, as disgustingly cliche as it sounds, I think I was missing a sense of home. 

I don’t like staying put. I’ve got an obsession with change, wanderlust, a boredom phobia, call it what you will, I’m on a constant search for new experiences. Always have been. But I guess growing older has grown in me an appreciation for the stability and comfort found in the knowing and being known by the people around you. 

During my travels I got to do amazing things. I listened to nuns’ voices echo through Sacre Coeur as the ancient walls rang with reverent singing. I watched the sun fade behind the Scottish cliffs, the light dancing on the dark blue water crashing below. In a word, it was incredible, the entire trip. But I deeply missed being known. I missed community. 

Greenville’s a great little city. It’s growing, and surprisingly full of corners I haven’t discovered yet. But I didn’t come back for the city of Greenville. I came back because this place has become home. There’s weight in having a space where you are loved for who you are, where you are surrounded by people who care about your soul. I think that’s quite rare, and I wouldn’t trade it for a million European adventures. 

La Bonne Aventure || Part One

I’ve spent the last ten days tramping through Oxford, London, Paris, and Hamburg with my dear sister, Nat. We’ve had quite a few adventures, from desperate train journeys to retrieve absolutely necessary travel documents, to running out of money to pay our hotel bill in Paris. I’m a little surprised we’ve made it back to Durham in one piece.  

During my travels, I’d hoped to discover God in a new way. Sometimes I struggle to connect with the massiveness of divinity. In the midst of routine it’s difficult not to get stuck in the duty of religion. So whether it be in the art of Paris, a cathedral in Durham, or the German countryside—my heart sought beauty like a secret. I would discover it, and I would be awed to tears. 

I cried the first time I saw the Seine. Nat and I had been wandering the avenues of Paris, weaving our way through a myriad of buildings and busy streets. We turned a corner and voila! there she was flowing sweetly past the Louvre, like she’d been doing it for a millions years. A sharp intake of breath and my eyes got blurry. The fleeting sunset accentuated the ancient buildings with a painting of pinks, an original never to be seen again. I could have stood there forever. In that moment I knew there must be a God, and he must be beautiful. I felt very small in comparison.

I knew there must be a God, and he must be beautiful

The next day we went to Notre Dame. One thing I’ve discovered about cathedrals is that they’re a bit ridiculous in presentation. Not in a bad way, it’s just there’s so much sacred that it’s almost frightening. You walk in and feel like you have to appreciate every detail—the high archways, the intricate stain glass, the archaic paintings of saints, it’s a lot too take in. It’s holy, overwhelmingly so. 

I was pondering this while walking around the cathedral when Natalie pointed out a wooden panel that had several important biblical scenes carved into the wood. We tried to identify each one, and when we got to the middle section, we found a depiction of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet. For some reason, I couldn’t stop looking at it. 

I am very aware of my inadequacies, especially in contrast to the beauty and holiness encountered over the past few days. I couldn’t shake that feeling of smallness, of weakness, of an inability to love the way I wanted to. Even in simple interactions—I wanted to be kind to Natalie, but when frustrated my remarks were short and harsh. I thought perhaps I just needed to try harder. Excuses are such sweet temptation.

If we allow this grace to sink into our core, I think it can be revolutionary

The wooden block of Jesus brought me back to reality. If God is Notre Dame, he is holy, beautiful, too sacred to touch, too above to be known. God of Notre Dame exposes my weakness. I cannot be like him, be near him, no matter how hard I try. But if God is Jesus, he is humble, accessible, loving. He takes my weakness upon himself, he washes my feet. I think that’s why I was so moved. God is both. Big and beautiful as the magnificent towers of the cathedral, as intricate as the stain glass, and as powerful as the beams and archways. And yet, he is humble, on his knees, washing the dirt off my feet so I can experience and partake in this overwhelming holiness. 

It’s deeply mysterious is it not? But if we grasp it, if we allow this grace to sink into our core, I think it can be revolutionary. That, my friends, is a good adventure. 

 

The Beginning of an Adventure

                                                                        The East Coast train line that passes by Natalie's Cottage.
                                                                        The East Coast train line that passes by Natalie’s Cottage.

Welcome to my online journal, which is not a blog. Blogs are things I never remember to do, but journaling is a discipline. For starters, I’m still living in Greenville, South Carolina and am in the midst of a job transition. There being six weeks before I start my new job,  I decided to visit my sister in England, stopping in Paris and Germany as well. I’ve been here since Monday and it’s all turned into quite an adventure.

Natalie and her husband Francis live in Durham, where she attends university. They live in a quaint railway cottage just off the moor (another name for fields?) and have two devilish bunnies that sometimes escape into the donkey field next door. The cottage, like everything else in England, is small and compact.

I’ve discovered that England is exactly like it is in the movies. People actually say “brilliant!” and “where’s the loo?”, and they constantly “put the kettle on” for tea. Some of the students at Durham live in the castle, and they wear robes and belong to houses (they call them colleges) just like in Harry Potter. 

Everyone here walks. Not like “go for stroll” walk, but walking as THE primary means of transportation. It’s revolutionary. They walk to work, they walk to the pub, they walk to the station, walk to the grocery store, they walk in the rain, they walk in the cold, they’d probably walk to America if the ocean didn’t get in the way. I was not prepared for this, and I think I’m getting shin splints. And no one thinks it’s abnormal! Today I absolutely refused to walk home from the botanical gardens, and when we asked the lady for a taxi number, she instead gave us different options to get home, all of which involved walking. Natalie doesn’t think I’m going to make it in Paris. Apparently they walk a lot there too.

I also was unaware there was a difference between a cathedral and a church. On my first day, Natalie told me to meet her at the cathedral, assuming I couldn’t get lost it being the biggest landmark in the area. Well I managed to get lost, but I saw this lovely old building with a tower and steeple and assumed it was the cathedral. False. It was a very large church. So I kept walking and saw an even bigger and lovelier old building with a tower and steeple and thought, this must be the cathedral. Again False. Not to be outdone, I decided to follow the general direction everyone else was going, and lo and behold came upon an enormous castle, which is apparently the cathedral. I tried explaining that we don’t really have buildings like this in America… but oh well.

Anyway, check out the pics above, will do my best to keep these regular!