whiplash, macaroons and the sacred romance
How's that for a post title?
Sometimes, when you're about to embark on an explanation of a lot of disconnected information, you have to state the obvious. So there you go.
Last Thursday, while minding my own business, I was involved in a car accident up on Hwy 9. (For those of you who don't live in the Puget Sound area, let me just say that Hwy 9 is a two-lane, 50 mph speedway that regularly hosts accidents--many of them fatal). It was a gray, rainy afternoon (my favorite) and I was stopped at an intersection waiting to turn left. A Bronco behind me was doing the same. Behind him, a transplanted Los Angeles teenager came screaming down the road. Unable to stop in time, she crashed into the back of the Bronco, which then hit me. The girl explained afterwards that because she was from L.A., she didn't realize it would be so hard to stop in the rain. Why did no one tell me it no longer rains in L.A.?
I knew I had whiplash instantly because I didn't want to let go of my neck. Not wanting to get strapped to a gurney and immobilized by the paramedics, I opted to ride to the hospital with Dave. After a brief 3 1/2 wait in the ER, a doctor confirmed what I already knew.
Darvocette, muscle relaxers, and my favorite horse linament (an analgesic ointment--it makes you snort and whinny but it's totally worth it) have taken the edge off my sore neck and back spasms, but I think it's going to take awhile--and a few trips to a physical therapist--before I can jump out of bed in the morning. The real test came this week. We'd been planning a return trip to Oregon for a free "pastor's getaway," courtesy of the Cannon Beach Christian Conference Center, and while I looked forward to three nights at one of my favorite spots on the planet, I worried about sleeping on a bed not my own. And as it turned out, I had a lot of back and neck pain on this trip. But I also had some wonderful, not-to-be-missed moments.
Wednesday morning, I woke at 7:17 with a strong desire for a latte and a peek at the beach. As quietly as I could, I showered, dressed, and filled my backpack with my Bible, a pen, a notebook, my Ipod, and the book I'm currently reading, The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God (John Eldredge and Brent Curtis). I left the conference center and walked straight to the bakery, where I ordered a tall nonfat latte and a chocolate encrusted macaroon (see the pieces of my post title coming together?). With sustenance in hand, I made the long, two block pilgramage to my favorite look-out--a bench overlooking both a freshwater stream and the ocean.
I hadn't taken two bites of my macaroon when a gull landed near my feet. I don't know where he came from; there were hundreds and hundreds of gulls circling the freshwater stream and pacing the water's edge, leaving diminutive, 3-toed footprints in skinny drunken trails across the sand. But this one gull spotted me and, with the hope of a morning morsel, steered himself in for a quick hello.
I resisted at first. I said hello, pulled my macaroon closer, and went back to my book. I have to tell you--even though I've just started, I'm loving this book. The authors talk a great deal about what God is after, which is a relationship of the heart. Though Pharisees and other legalists want to make our Christian walk an outward, letter-of-the-law, "check all the boxes and you'll be holy" seeking of rules and righteousness, the real thunder of love--both His for us and ours for Him--happens in the heart. From the time we first drew breath, our hearts have been aware of the "something more" that this world cannot provide. We catch quick glimpses of our heart's cry in unguarded moments, when a smell or a sound or a glance at the moon tugs at our longing and reminds us that something--Someone--is waiting for us.
While I read about that sacred romance, my gull flew away. But he returned in just a few moments. I knew it was the same gull by his markings. His chest was the color of chocolate Necco wafers, dusted over with ivory speckles. I'd noticed one larger blotch of ivory up near his neck, so when he returned, I checked again for that blotch and found it. He took me in with both eyes, one at a time, turning his head left and right with the cadence of a tennis spectator observing a particularly long rally. Those eyes got to me. I caved, and threw him a chunk of my macaroon. He made it disappear with impressive speed, even cleaning up the few errant, miniscule crumbs with dainty pecks of his 12-inch beak. I threw him another glob, and another, and another. Pretty soon, all that remained was the chocolate topping. Guess which of us ate that part?
With nothing more to offer, I went back to my book. I was reading and nodding and sighing and scribbling in my notebook with such intensity that I completely forgot my gull. A good ten minutes passed. I got to a section in the book where the authors quoted from Frederich Beuchner, who said that we should "listen to our lives," for apart from the Bible and the exposition of biblical truths in church, it is there--in our lives--that God is most apt to speak to us. Right as I finished reading that quote, I looked up and noticed that my gull was still there, still waiting on me. And oh, how I wished--in that flash of realization--that I had something more to give him. I wished I had a big bag of gull-worthy offerings: seeds and bread chunks and whatever else gulls dream about. The longing was birthed by the knowledge that the bird had been sitting at my feet for ten minutes, unmoving, waiting for me to extend my hand again. And what do you suppose my heart heard in that second? I heard my Maker say, "If you feel such longing to feed this gull, simply because he's been waiting at your feet, how strong do you suppose My desire is to feed you when I catch you waiting at My feet?"
That whisper stirred my heart. I hope there's something for you there, too. Can we feel greater compassion than God? Greater empathy? Greater love? It's not remotely possible.
I live for those snatches of realization. I'm awed to know that I'm part of a Sacred Romance, and that the One who loves me beyond reason has whispers for me today, too.
"For everyone who asks, receives. Anyone who seeks, finds. If only you will knock, the door will open. If a child asks his father for a loaf of bread, will he be given a stone instead? If he asks for fish, will he be given a poisonous snake? Of course not! And if you hardhearted, sinful men know how to give good gifts to your children, won't your Father in heaven even more certainly give good gifts to those who ask him for them?" --Matt 7:8-11 (TLB)