You are neither brilliant nor spectacular. The truth of it immediately threatens you because in desperation, you have wanted to be both. It is never easy to face the ordinariness of ourselves. But let the truth of it sit on your skin: you are one in seven billion, a speck on the still point of the turning world, the present pinhead I in the thread of all who have been and are and ever will be. Others will write books that will be better received, speaking truths more substantial and elegant than yours. Others will be funnier, smarter – more godly. Their lives are, in every way, more interesting that yours. These can become the fragrant and freeing truths of your life, throwing the door open into the wide world. Go free. You, into your ordinariness, you into your stories, be they predictable and boring, you into all of your uninteresting and clumsy words. You, take up courage, and do this little bit of creating and living, You, be faithful in your small and invisible ways, you who are neither spectacular nor brilliant.
I stand in front of the cashier yesterday, panicked momentarily when she asks, “Credit or Debit?” I can’t think of my pin, rummage my mental space, and breathe when I remember I had it recorded in my phone for this moment I must have anticipated.
I was a week removed from this world of transactions. With the exception of our one night over beers at Gordo’s, my friends and I spent the better part of our week’s writing retreat disentangled from the normal currencies with which we secure and spend our lives: time and money. There was never, as there almost perpetually is for me in my routines of everyday life, the sense that either was scarce or running out. The days stretched on endlessly in the best sort of way. And nothing needed to be bought or sold: the exchanges we made were of conversation and prayer.
Dave and Jody decided sixteen years ago to do their staying in a small, littered corner of Cincinnati. This was not a place that well-suited their preferences. These were not people with whom they shared a natural affinity. West Norwood, Ohio, is a small community, which, in almost every way, is unlike any I’ve ever called home. Its front porches accumulate a litter of their own kind. There is not much to call meticulous or beautiful here where the houses sag from their foundations with a palpable kind of sadness. Everything you might expect to find here, you do: crime, racial tension, economic hardship, addiction. Dave and Jody call it home, having heeded a call from Jesus to stay.
An unexpected surprise of this past week’s writing retreat was the company I shared around the table and in prayer with men I had only just met and the friend I’d come with from Toronto. We were four of us, this small band of writers committed to the week of writing and keyboard dance. Chris, Andy, Wendy and Jen.
I tell my children about each of them at the breakfast table this past Saturday, and they learn to love them, as I did, through the stories I tell, their eyes wide as they do their wonderful work of imagining. I tell them about Chris, whose beard is wiry and full, his horn-rimmed glasses giving hint of his bookishness. He is smart and quiet, his voice slow and punctuated: he carefully keeps ahead of his words, like any good academic does, demanding of them rigorous coherence. He is so ruthlessly quiet and thoughtful that it’s not until Wednesday night that we learn how the years have done their painful beating against him and his family. A baby born stillborn, a child diagnosed with cancer, a parent’s death.