Open Hands

The holidays are the best time for nostalgia to creep up. Memories find you that you didn’t even know you had. For me, it’s seeing Christmas lights on my drive home. I am overcome with something resembling homesickness–a feeling like the one you get when your heart is both full at the thought of home and broken at the fact that you aren’t there now. I love Christmas lights and imagining that people are getting home from work and school and going into a similarly decorated home; that their television sets are polka-dotted with the lights of a Christmas tree and maybe there are some extra snowmen popping up around the house. But there’s this nagging in my heart knowing that someday in the not-so-distant future, I’ll be making the same drive home and all of the Christmas lights will be gone.

I mourn endings before things are even over. Do you ever find yourself in that trap? The fear of ending gives me a relentless grip on what I have now. Right now, in this instant. The dichotomy between a passionate desire to know the future and a fierce sense of preservation for the present is crippling–but I get the sense that it is a feeling we all face every day.

Because today, the future seems so distant to us. Sure, at one time, even today was a distant future. But now we know what it took to get here: painstaking effort. It took pain and bravery and many nights on our knees praying for exactly what we have now. So why would we want to give it up?

We wouldn’t.

A friend of mine used to say, “Erin, God won’t show you gold and give you silver.” She meant He always has something better in store. How am I to know, though, which I have at this moment? What if what I’m holding looks silver to me, but is the most golden thing I’ll ever get? Here’s where faith comes in. When we are faithful people, the only thing we can cling to is the Lord. We can’t cling to material possessions; we can’t cling to others; and we cannot cling to time.

There’s a scrap of paper in my desk drawer with my handwriting on it. It’s so old I don’t know when I wrote it, but it was scrawled no doubt from the kitchen floor, where I used to sit and listen to my mom while she cooked dinner. I scribbled it down as I heard the words come out of my mother’s mouth:

Your hands cannot receive something new if they are wrapped around something else.

(Honestly, I could populate an entire website’s worth of blogs with just the wisdom I get from this sainted woman. Praise God for all of the the many inspirational people in my life, but even if my mother had been the only one, I think I’d have turned out just fine.)

These words are the closest thing I have to a mantra or motto. I am a person whose hands readily wrap. Once I have found something I love or believe in, I never want to let it go. That’s why I spend so much time in reflection on the great occasions when God has been able to present to me because I have let go. I need to remember, every day, that life and blessings and sufferings are all fluid.

Learning to let go

When my sister and I were kids, we each had a preferred script when we played pretend. Elizabeth wanted to be a dog, always. Every scenario was different; I found her in a park, I bought her at a store, she fell onto my doorstep–but she was always a dog and I was always her owner. She loved dogs. And that love fueled her imagination.

My imagination, on the other hand, was fueled by independence. My pretend life starred me as Erin Nicole: the successful and important grown-up. I had my own car that I drove to my very important job writing commercials in the city and came home to a cool house with all of the charms of small town living. I wanted to live like the women in the movies I loved; I wanted to walk down busy streets with tall buildings with perfectly tousled hair, a wonderfully fulfilling job, and come home to a fully furnished apartment.

In 2015, I got a job as head copywriter at a marketing agency in the downtown district of my small town. I walked past tall buildings to go to work and I lived outside of town in a spacious modern farmhouse tucked into the countryside. I was walking to my office one day, hair tousling in the wind, and I realized:

I am living my dream.

I was profoundly grateful to God and overjoyed. The joy of what appeared to be a dream realized carried me further in that job than a lack of gratitude probably would have. But either way, all good things must end. And all bad things, too. Sometime in 2016, I realized I didn’t like my dream. I hated the hours and the expectations; I didn’t feel challenged or appreciated; I came home exhausted to roommates that I didn’t get along with anymore.

And yet, it was still so hard to let go. I wasn’t happy. But this was what I had dreamt of. I had been given my gold–and I didn’t want to give it back for some silver-lined life.

How powerful fear is that it can even keep us from escaping dark places? There’s a gospel where Jesus gives a blind man sight and a spiritual director said to me once, “Wouldn’t you love if Jesus let you see after a lifetime of blindness?” And I surprised her with a passionate, “No!” I know myself well enough to know that if I was blind and accustomed to darkness, I wouldn’t want to have my eyes opened to a life I wasn’t ready for; how much painful adjusting would that take! Keep me in the darkness, Lord, because at even if I don’t know what I’m stumbling over, at least I can anticipate the stumbling. That’s where I was at in my life.

But the weight of unhappiness eventually trumped the fear. I opened my hands and a God who loves me swooped in. At the very beginning of 2017 (01.03.17, to be exact), my life began to change. I started work at my current job, which I love. And incredible things followed. I moved into a new place where I’m happier, I grew my small business, I sidestepped some bad relationships and patched up some important ones.

I’m reminding myself of this because it’s important to be reflective and grateful; but it’s just as important to not get so swept up in gratitude or pride or fear that we stop moving forward.

I have no idea if what I’m holding now is the most golden thing I’ll receive in this world. At the moment, it feels pretty wonderful. But if I refuse to let it go, I’ll tarnish it with sweaty palms to the point where even if it was gold, it becomes unrecognizable. We must keep our hands open. And if you must cling to something, cling to the God who made you.

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