My husband has drawn me this little mouse. He said he fashioned her a bit after me, with her hands together, a little timid. I had asked that he draw her with pen, in the style of old-fashioned children’s book illustrations – something whimsical and real. She already feels at home here.
She doesn’t particularly have an obvious connection to Still Traveling. But, in my mind she’s a country mouse, preferring the slower way, partial to sunrises, wheat fields, an evening read. She travels around (of course she does), but she most travels her own fields, finding there is always a new stone or burrow to investigate.
I love her to bits.
Welcome to the blog, ol’ girl.
There are many rural places in Ohio. Most people picture cornfields, and they aren’t wrong. There are cities, too, one of which I live in, but even then the cities are green. My own is nestled between Kentucky country and nature reserves. Much of the state can be crossed at 70mph on a quiet highway. One summer in college I packed up and moved to Chicago. By the end, I ached for a cornfield. A wide green pasture. A clump of trees like a desert island, surrounded by dry amber.
Out here there are billboards with the Ten Commandments. Big, sprawling advertisements that say “Hell is Real,” shadowing cow pastures and family farms. We always pass a particular one on the way North. It says, “Marriage is between one man and one woman,” the words sitting next to thick gold bands, one resting on the another. I agree with it. This is the kind of marriage God purposed when He made people; it’s the pattern after which He modeled Christ and His church. It’s the natural instinct of the body.
I believe, too, that these billboards tend to render snappy head nods from some and disgusted eye rolls from others. For some of us, it’s some uncomfortable feeling between. I agree with it. Decisively. Yet I wonder, when we zip on past, cruising an easy 75, who these signs are actually for.
My boys and I were in the grocery store the other day. The baby was strapped to my chest while his brother sat in the cart. At the register, the friendly cashier looked at my youngest and asked, “he or she?”
I smiled, “boy.”
“Of course, that doesn’t mean much anymore,” he said, jovially.
I hesitated. He looked at me, waiting for a reply, and then he went on – remarking how everything was changing, how it was a little crazy.
I said, “it’s a lot,” speaking overhead the boy in the Baby Björn, about whom I have prayed earnestly, around this topic and others, but about which topic I hadn’t considered how to make small talk over frozen corn and baby wipes.
My whole chest had gone tight. Cat got my tongue. This little mouse ready to drop and run. I think he felt a little strange, too, for bringing it up, because he quickly let the subject drop. He was being friendly, and it had backfired. He was attempting to make conversation is a trying world, where words are banished quicker than fists. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how to be a light there. I had no idea how to be kind, truthful, unwavering behind what God says, bleeding for the cashier.
I’m still praying for the words. I hope I can trust you with that, dear reader, as a frightfully unreliable narrator. Praying for clear candor. Unafraid love. God has told us ahead of time, “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). It’s worth finding a better way than a billboard, I think. Worth looking that scared cat in the face. If it bites, then I guess it bites.
Once, in Trinidad, my youth group visited a Hindu temple. Our guides had gathered and instructed us before we’d arrived. They told us, respect the people, honor the rules – remove your shoes before entering. They assured us, this wouldn’t do a disservice to God. Instead, it would strengthen their witness among the people, many of whom they had been loving for a long time.
This was hard for me. I was a black and white film, and these were hues I hadn’t seen yet.
At the temple steps, we slipped off our shoes. We took to the stairs barefoot, like all the others. We didn’t worship the gods, or place fruit at their feet, where the flies were feasting. But we honored the people around us.
The temple faced the sea, a literal High Place, where you could look out over the water and see Tobago on a clear day. A family was gathered down by the bank. We watched as they released their loved one’s ashes into the water.
I have never regretted taking my shoes off, though it pained me at the time. I didn’t know that loving God meant loving people in incredibly specific ways. It didn’t mean worshipping their gods, which I wrongly supposed taking my shoes off would imply. It meant being humble. And it would mean being honest, too, if given the chance.