February 3, 2008

occasionally life offers you a moment that touches you so deeply it causes your heart to ache wildly, your mind to slow, and your breath to shorten. these moments often creep up on me without warning, catching me off guard, and unexpectedly leave me with the inability to maintain any semblance of emotional stability. one taste of such moments leaves you with an insatiable craving for more. as someone hungering after these moments i tend to search for them in the fancier corners of life – occasions including small black dresses, multiple courses, flower arrangements, and designated dates. though they can be, and have been, found there, i am frequently surprised that most often these aching moments usually find me in the midst of the most ordinary of times – during the workday, driving the I-5 corridor, while chatting online, during a family dinner in a neighbor’s home, in everyday conversations with familiar people, and on usual evenings at home with any one of my roommates.

life offered me one of these moments this past week and i’d appreciate your grace as i bumble my way through sharing it in the words that follow…

on wednesday afternoon i found myself in the most ordinary of places: sitting at my desk. an email from a mission contact open on my computer screen which, as i read, frustrated and discouraged me. a wave of exhaustion rolled over me as i spotted, sitting on my desk [to the left of my computer], the small square of blue paper on which i had scribbled a lengthy list of things to do. i wondered how [on that particular afternoon] that list was going to diminish with all the students coming in to meet with me for open mic night auditions. as i said, on wednesday afternoon i found myself in the most ordinary of places [for me, anyway]. with no time to waste, i dove into my tasks. i began working in a highly “productive” manner, efficiently crossing off listed items one by one until the first auditioning student walked into the office and found his way to my back corner. this familiar student tiredly sat in the cushy chair beside my desk and i cut right to the chase [i didn’t have time to spare]: what song was he planning on singing? what technical equipment would he need? approximately how long would the song run? i took clear notes as we chatted [so as not to forget], offered my typical witty quips throughout our conversation, and when we had discussed all we needed to, i quickly [yet politely] redirected my attention back to my list. this was the cycle of my afternoon: working diligently on my administrative tasks, stopping only long enough to preview songs and discuss guitar pick-ups with students desiring to perform at the end of the week, and then continuing on down my to-do list.

around three o’clock a student named taylor walked in. i spun around in my twirly desk chair to see him standing with his guitar. i had never met taylor. to be honest, i was unsure as to whether i had ever seen him before. i smiled kindly, formally introduced myself, asked him to sit down, and we began to talk. i asked the same questions i’d been asking musicians all day and taylor confidently, yet gently, answered them. he’d need just one vocal mic, he’d be plugging in just one guitar, he’d be singing two songs [originals], and he didn’t imagine they’d last much longer than 8 minutes total. when i was done asking my questions and jotting down notes i placed my mechanical pencil on the desk, looked at taylor with a smile, and said, “well, let’s hear what you’ve got.” he picked his guitar up, placed it upon his right knee, and slung his arm over it. as i looked at the two of them – taylor and his guitar – i was certain that their friendship was honest and ran deep. he began to pick out a melody and moments later his voice joined in. i sat back comfortably in my twirly desk chair and listened.

it was there, in the midst of a student audition for open mic night, that life offered me a moment so vibrant, so prickly, so full that it caused my eyes to fill with tears and my heart to ache within my chest. my mind slowed as i watched taylor’s fingers move along the neck of the guitar and listened to his voice soar louder than the strumming. the air seemed to grow thicker, more tangible and real, and i struggled to take a quiet, deep breath. it had crept up on me, without warning, and sitting there [with taylor] i felt an inability to maintain any semblance of emotional stability. but somehow i coped. i slyly wiped my tears. i managed a swallow. i continued to breathe. when he finished he broke his gaze with the sheet of notebook paper his lyrics were scrawled across, and looked up at me. i shook my head, my mouth crooked. after what seemed like forever, i quietly spoke, “that was wonderful. ready to sing the second one?” experiencing something completely different in that moment, he spoke with casualty and ease, “sure.” he shifted the papers in front of him and, once again, began to play.

i don’t think it had anything to do with the lyrics. i don’t think it had anything to do with the particular melody being played. i don’t think it had anything to do with the time of day or how weary i felt.

i don’t think it had anything to do with taylor. and i think it had everything to do with taylor.

in that office. in that lowly, dirty, humble office life offered me this moment. and i saw things again. for the hundredth time. for the first time. i sat with taylor. and i wasn’t seeing him as some western student i’d never met. in that moment i saw God’s story. God’s child. he had words to write. songs to sing. life within him. imbedded deep inside him was the fingerprint of all that is good. he had a smile. he had sadness. he was a story filled with questions and a story rich with answers. he was sitting before me sharing a chapter of who he was. he was sharing his creation just as creation had been shared with him. he loved. he hated. he was precious and he was ordinary.

he was a part of the redemption story.

and the great storyteller was sharing this story with me. he had shared a half dozen with me earlier that same afternoon. the truth is, every day of my life the great storyteller shares the redemption story with me through the lives of college students. as i listen to them cry over broken hearts: the redemption story. as i watch them play music on tuesday nights: the redemption story. as i watch them pray with their peers: the redemption story. as i drink coffee with them and laugh about something absurd: the redemption story. as i receive their phones calls to share life’s goodness: the redemption story. what a blessing to spend my days knee deep in God’s redemption story. i just hadn’t been listening well…too distracted by tasks and emails.

he had my attention now. i was captivated.

i am thankful for this moment that found me sometime shortly after three o’clock in the afternoon last wednesday. i am grateful that the redemption story was illustrated for me then. the faces i see in the cars next to me at stoplights, the faces of the small children that play on the sidewalk in front of my house, the faces of people in the grocery store, the faces of my roommates, the faces of those i can’t stand, the faces of my mom and dad and brother, all illustrate the beautiful, complex, and aching story of redemption.

i suppose the tendency these moments have to sneak up on me in these unexpected ways is the reason i am increasingly captivated by the ordinary in ways i find difficult to express…and i’m so grateful.


3 Responses to “moments.”

  1. Michelle said

    I think you just captured it.

  2. earl said

    it’s a good story you have to tell…

  3. Lacy Rain said

    Ah Lisa…
    How your ability to articulate ‘the redemption story’ in the life and experience of a very ordinary day has reminded me that sometimes seeing redemption in others lives will give you what you need to see it in your own.
    Sometimes we need to stop holding our breath to see it in our own lives and rejoice in it happening all around us…
    P.S. that is my mug in that picture, that makes me happy.

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