Saddle Bags


I would imagine if I were starving and placed at the forefront of a great feast, I’d be filled with angst.  How would I carry it all away and save it for when there was none? I couldn’t possibly enjoy a corn soufflé knowing it wouldn’t last and the pheasant would turn to bile and the next day it would all be empty and dry again.  Just bones in the dust.  Hungry.  So I’d sit at the head of the table smiling whilst stuffing dinner rolls in my saddle bags.  We just can’t help but to carry around the angst of our past, wondering if the good times might fade away.

I think of the last few years as a trench that I’ve been living in, just hunkered down with my provisions, escaping for food and coming back to the hole with a heavy sigh.  It’s natural when you’ve been beat down to want to protect yourself from attack and make sure you stride more watchfully into the dark night.

When my foot touched down upon a different future, naturally I was still burdened with the memories.  Nights in the hole.  Bombs dropping and shells exploding and haunting faces in my dreams, hollowed out and empty.  But when you leave a warzone, there is no identifying tattoo speed across your chest.  Separated by enough continents and time zones you just seem to have appeared from somewhere, like you went on vacation with a svelte new frame and more coy responses.

So here I am.  I look down to see jewels on my fingers.  I sit at the fancy table with shimmering lights and roses, where men ask to call and tell me I’m pretty.  And in the middle of the room as I cross it in heels toward the door my insides just rage with fire and bristle.  I remember the hole.  The ache of starvation.  The pit of my stomach is just as far to the ground as it was in the worst nights, and I find my hands clasping around a hard dinner roll. I slip it in my pocket.  Just in case.  The funny thing is that the fear of death and the fear of living have the same effect on me.  Both are filled with the unknown, and that causes my stomach pit to flare.

At 3 am this morning I woke, filled with that familiar dread.  The pain that all this bounty will come crashing down.  The high will subside.  The peace broken. Pheasant always turns to bile in the end.  And yet as I lay there with my two children, huddled to my left and to my right, I heard the strangest thing.  My daughter, who appeared to be giggling.  In her sleep she was laughing, and I heard the manifestation of dreams. I held my children tight and let tears well and realized that God is to my left and to my right.  He stretches beyond me and is far behind.  What, and whom, shall I fear?

I dress for dinner in a house bathed in peace. I have a night ahead filled with laughter, with new heels just for the occasion.  In my slumber I see new life sprouting.  I take the saddle bags, the ones filled with old crusty rolls, and I leave them sitting by the garage door, leaning over just so.  A smile spreads from the ether of my former self, the one who remembered.  The one filled with fear.

I have no need for these any more, it seems.




We were born into this world seeking relationships.  We are members of teams and classes and towns and clubs.  We were created for community, resting safely in the notion that we are never, ever alone. Adam needed Eve and mothers need daughters and we are drawn to fellow artists, Christians, comedians, football fans, runners, and scholars, because it makes us feel part of something.  We shower and praise and ooze so much sweetness it’s saccharine.

But what happens when the cake gets moldly? When the excess, excessive?  We grow spoiled and lazy and bored and tired.  What was once a community of friends becomes too much good and too much praise and the banana turns black, sticky sweet with flies.

The circles we keep, they are suffocating. 

If we aren’t careful, what was once pretty becomes ugly.  What was encouraging  becomes fake. We navigate toward the same cereal, and the same sentences, and the same color skin.  We begin to say phrases in the same awkward manner and the Once. So. Different becomes just another yawning repeated period.  If we aren’t careful, we draw the circle too tight, and choke on all the beauty.

I’m trying these days to appreciate what’s right in front of me and not let hate creep in like a fly through a screen door.  And in order to do that, I have to abandon my post for a while, only to return later like a thirsty dog who needs soul-filling water. Because that’s what your inner circle is designed for – to be a resting place for your tired feet, and to speak truth that is never taken for granted.  It’s the deep well you can draw from when your throat is so parched you can’t speak.  And then you can cry real tears, and squeeze hands with true joy, and your thanks resonate to the high heavens.  We need the upper room because the world is a dry, dusty place.

But when our hearts refuel, it’s time to step out toward unknown territory.  And it’s frightening. You are stark naked without trust of your friends, and your family, and those who know your humor and your insight and your perspective.  You can be targeted and criticized and sometimes attacked beyond measure.  But there are also times your faith is tested, and it miraculously survives, and your witness is larger than a hundred Sundays.  It’s a gamble, and a true test of character to live in different worlds, among various tribes, and try to stay true to your Creator.

I’ve seen people content in their own bubble, happily navigating their upper-class life with ease, befriending those who are guaranteed to reciprocate (out of obligation if nothing else), and then discovering a void they cannot fill.  Or wishing for deeper, more meaningful relationships.  Or just living a life of vanilla.  I desire so much more than vanilla.

So draw different circles.

If you sing, join a group on the edge of town.  If you write, explore magazines that don’t always see things like you do.  If you pray, kneel down in a different place. And if you worship, try holding hands with people who are not like you, who don’t always talk to God like you do, or who might not know God at all.  You have the ability to shine with truth, with strength only the Father provides, and you’ll be amazed at how well those toddler legs will walk.  We are not designed to stay within the lines, growing bored and lazy and dumb.  We are charged to keep drawing different circles and charging forth into the world – a place full of scatter and loud noise and ugly, ragged edges.

Go anyway.  Bring your best self.  Your true self.  Be a better person than you think you can be in a place you are not naturally comfortable. Only then are you the person God designed you to be. Take a deep breath. Push yourself.

Get out the chalk and start drawing new lines.