Little to Show, Lots to Say / by Sarah Schwartz

I haven't written much this spring, mostly because I've been having my ass handed to me by grad school. Luckily, my friends having been willing to share their words here from time to time. Below you'll find a piece from my friend Natalie, who is the kind of writer (and person) I hope to grow up to be. -Sarah

When I feel the stirrings of the Spirit as I have lately, I know better than to pretend they don’t exist. I’ve been brought back time and again to, “write this down.” I haven’t, for reasons. They are important, but secondary.

Tonight the ghost of who I used to be hangs heavy over my little twin bed. I’ve fought tirelessly over the last several years to get her off my back, and our agreement these days is that she stays near, never touching but always close. She believes too many lies for me to trust her, she is scared of her own shadow, which to my advantage looks a lot like me. At least for now.

I’m always late to the party. I never got the right shoes until way after they were cool, and I didn’t realize that I was supposed to try and date boys until after they were all taken. It is only fitting that my thoughts about Lent and the death and resurrection of our Lord come after the party is over.

As the season of Lent passes me by with few ripples in my thoughts and scarcely evidenced by my life, I’m barely beginning to let the weight of the Resurrection creep into my heart. The ebb and flow of the grace written in the gospels and the dance they practice does not wait for me, but also does not trample over my apathy.

It is especially in this season that we love to toss around the imagery and symbolism of the crucifixion, we love to exhort one another other to “leave it at the cross,” to “bring it to the cross,” we sing, “lead me to the cross.” We nod with looks of deep understanding, implying the too-familiar metaphor that the storm brings forth new life.

I’m currently in one of those “new life” seasons that arrived after a storm that seemed to last...well, high school graduation happened and the rain is just now clearing up. I’m only half-joking. However, these seasons it seems leave me feeling almost guilty and apprehensive that the suffering that was once so accessible is no longer available to be my token “cross” that I can speak of when prompted.

I ask myself against my better judgment, where is the cross in my life, and how am I positioned towards it?

As a veteran of Christian education, I have been asked this question in many forms across many settings, and I hate it with a stubbornness as great as my addiction to soy lattes. Often when I’ve been asked this question, I’ve fumbled for the appropriate answer in a small group fidgeting with my hair out of discomfort or in a classroom failing at self-righteous humility.

These are part of the “old self” I mentioned earlier. Her answers do not satisfy me anymore, if ever they did. There is another part of the “old self” that did not care about this question or it’s answer, for a long while. There is a calm before the storm of healing that looks an awful lot like indifference.

I’m trying to get away from letting my writing stem from the places in me that are still jaded for the pain that lingers over events and relationships past, most of which happened within the guidance and blessing of the church. I’m trying to steer away from letting humor be the color through which I experience and relate to my own life. These things are easy for me. The pain and the humor that masks it are like an old pair of jeans, well worn, familiar and comfortable.

The anger and the pages I could write about the demons from my past are like the southern California streets I’ve driven for years and the landmarks that line them, each one a welcome back into all that is known. These days, I’m tempted to keep driving past the familiar exits, to embrace the discomfort that comes from being forgiving and kind to myself, before any other. This is perhaps most painful of all.

I’ve made some significant changes in my life recently, and now each night I see that Los Angeles skyline rising from the ground, I am undone. Each time it is new. The Spirit’s voice is like this, steady and sure, the notes rising out of ashes and fear, then gone the moment it is heard.

“Think of what you love. Think of what this love requires of you. This is the cross.”

The fear is leaving me slowly, even still. New life requires that I let go of the anger, and in this my question is answered. Where is the cross in my life, and how am I positioned towards it? I am standing before the cross with the wind in my hair and my hands open wide. All that I love requires new work in me, and I must bring my full self to it.

I am no longer the shell of a whole person. This is a new kind of pain, the pain of stepping into the light rather than retreating to the dark. Surely, the darkness will come again, as it always does. I will meet it with my eyes wide open, and we will share the knowing look of the cross.

On my left wrist you’ll find the permanent markings of my 19-year-old self. I regret nothing. I wish I could tell her now what wisdom she had in those brief moments in the tattoo parlor that stood strikingly apart from her apparent indifference. I would take her out for coffee (because she’s too young to drink), I would reach across the table for her sweaty little hands and look her in the eye, because I know how much she needed it. Together we would recite,

“Awake O sleeper, arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14).