Monday, June 27, 2011

Don't settle for the stick

Andy came home from Malaysia on Thursday of last week. I was on cloud nine that day. My mom had driven with me half way across the country earlier in the week, and my brother and dad flew into Austin on Wednesday. The four of us made our way to San Antonio on Thursday afternoon to welcome Andy back from a month away from home. On the way, we stopped at a gigantic Cabela's outdoor world in Buda, TX. We looked a little bit like city mice come to the backwoods store, but we found some goodies to take with us anyway. One of my prizes was a set of two small tennis balls- for Gatsby, of course. They appealed to me because they were supposedly made "tuff"- and since Gatsby can usually crack a tennis ball in half in about a minute, I thought I'd give the sturdy Cabela's version try.

Sure enough, the balls lived up to their name. Through days of ball playing- with my dad, Andy and even Grant- Gats has not broken the ball. All of those days were really good days, and I'll put some pictures up here in a little while. But as today approached, and reality starting setting in, the balls were not the only thing that turned out to be "tuff." Sometimes I deal with disappointment by hardening my heart. Rather than admitting that I'm fearful, sad or frustrated, I sometimes will let a shell form around my heart. When that happens, I can be callous, unloving or downright mean. Knowing that my family was leaving made me sad, not just because I miss them- though I do miss them- but also because I knew that once they left, I'd be alone with a lot of the things that hurt and disappoint me once again, those ongoing circumstances in my life that I have done my best in, but still hurt and discourage me.

Once my family drove off for the airport today in their rental car, my sadness, disappointment and frustration returned full-force, and rather than taking it to the Lord immediately, I decided to run errands. Productivity usually just hardens me more. The more efficient I become, the more frustrated I can get with my circumstances. I suppose it's because I start feeling powerful over inane things- like mailing packages and buying gift cards- but still feel powerless over the great disappointments in my life, and this angers me.

I felt like the heat was just making my anger worse, so I thought it would be a good idea to take Gatsby & Daisy out to the lake after Andy got home from work. Andy agreed to that idea and the four of us headed off, my attitude as sour as ever. I barely looked at Andy or even the dogs as we drove the curvy road out to Volente Beach. I knew my heart was hard, so I did pray, as earnestly as I could, for God to change my heart- even though I didn't really feel like softening at that point.

When we got out to the beach, I threw the "tuff" little tennis ball for Gatsby some, and Andy did as well. It was about the most together thing we could do at that point, given my affinity for keeping Andy at arm's length when I'm in a mood like this. At one point, Andy said, "Aww, the ball is broken." Apparently Gatsby had finally conquered the tiny "tuff" ball, just in time for Andy to throw it back out into the lake. Gats went after it, of course, but the ball was no longer able to float. It sunk down, and while I watched my little dog swimming vainly in circles looking for a ball that had completely submerged, I felt even more anger and disappointment.

"It's like that, isn't it?" I thought to myself. You think you're going to do something fun and good, and then it all turns into a gigantic disappointment. Gatsby was pitiful to watch, so I called him back and found him a stick. He sniffed it out and seemed sort of interested when I threw it into the water, but once he got back out to the place where the ball had sunk a few minutes earlier, he completely ignored the stick and once again searched for his ball. This was just too much for me. I called him again and when he got to the shore, I said, "The ball is gone. Get used to it. Life is full of crushing disappointments." And with that, I went to sit on a white plastic pool chair that someone had dragged out to the beach.

I stared at the deserted beer cans that littered the area and thought about the people who must have been out at Volente over the weekend, no doubt having a good time and looking forward to the rest of their lives, thinking that everything is going to be one really fun party. I remembered feeling that way the first time I came out to Volente Beach, as a newlywed, before the reality of life and sin and selfishness crushed so much of what I had hoped for. I thought of the many ways that I have fought to maintain hope and do what I believe is right, to no avail. I felt like Gatsby, still looking for a ball that's in pieces at the bottom of the lake, hoping vainly for something that's no longer available to me. The dreams I had- they're gone. Better learn to just be content with what I have. Make the most of it. Be a good sport and play the card I got dealt, blah, blah, blah. As if to convince myself that I was arriving at a profound truth, I shouted out loud to Gatsby, who was back in the water, once again looking for that dumb ball, "Just learn to appreciate the stick!" I looked away from him then, and said out loud, "This isn't what I thought it was going to be like."

I thought that people were going to like me. I thought I was going to be understood. I thought I was going to feel like I had a purpose everyday. I thought that I was going to desire to sacrifice my own desires out of great love for my husband and other people. I thought I was going to find great joy in loving and being loved. But that ball sank.

I don't know how much time passed, enough time for me to stare into my bleak future and see that I was always going to be without purpose and that I would always feel disappointed and angry. Staring into my future gave Gatsby enough time to come up from the water and make his way down the beach a little ways. Just about the time that I was going to tell Andy how terrifying it was all going to be, something drew my eyes away from the dismal days ahead and toward my black and white buddy. There he was, my persistent little friend, running toward me with joy and excitement- a big yellow tennis ball in his mouth.

I threw both of my hands into the air, lept to my feet and shouted with joy- "YES!!!!" For some people, a dog finding a tennis ball on the beach is just a coincidence. But I know that God has always chatted with me through Gatsby. I know that tennis ball was more than just a lucky find. There I was, feeling so sorry for myself, certain that all things good had dropped to the bottom before I'd really gotten a chance to enjoy them. That the only thing to do is to make do. I was so sour over it, I was trying to convince my dog to give up with me. Misery loves company- even furry company. But Gatsby has always been my hero for listening to God (I swear the dog can hear Him or something) and not me. He knows not to settle for the stick. He kept on going, until God provided Him the very thing his heart desired.

Look, it might seem crazy or coincidental to you- and that's okay. But I know that the hardness in my heart melted the second I saw that yellow felt. I knew that God was saying to me, "Persevere. I will bring you new joy."

Listen, sometimes the ball sinks. Sometimes life doesn't go the way you planned. Sometimes your hope seems lost and the practical, common sense thing to do would be to learn to appreciate the stick. But when that kind of thinking is void of the absolute truth that hope is real and joy can be found because there is hope and joy in God, then that common sense is really a lie.

I know it's not going to be easy. But I believe. I believe that He is real, and He is good and that even when my heart wanders and hardens, He is able to remind me- even with a tennis ball- that His joy is still out there for me, and maybe it's closer than I think. So I'll keeping seeking Him, I'll keep persevering toward Hope and I guess I won't settle for the stick, after all. Thanks for the reminder, Gats. Good boy.

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