Friday, November 17, 2006

The Spider is Gone

Several weeks ago, back before I left for Spain, while out for an early morning walk, I saw a big black and yellow spider suspended in a magnificently detailed web a couple of blocks from our house. It had hitched one end of its lacy home to a light post and the other to a mailbox nearly four feet away. The web was wide and tall and meticulously groomed.

I could see places where the spider had obviously had to repair the web; it looked like someone had taken a needle and thread and used a carefully measured zig-zag stitch to reattach several web strands that had unraveled. I was so impressed with that spider and its home that soon after I returned home that morning, Kristiana, Maya and I walked back up the street. Maya wasn't terribly interested in the web, but Kristiana and I stood and stared at it for several moments, few words passing between us. A staggering work of spidery genius.

Days passed. Weeks passed. But the spider did not; it was firmly anchored in that web. On the way home from the supermarket one rainy and windy night, I looked at the web as I drove by, and there was the spider, blown back and forth, but essentially unmoved. A follow-up visit to my leggy friend confirmed that his home had sustained storm damage, but repairs were well underway.

This past week, however, the spider was gone. The web hung limp. Tenantless. Abandoned. I don't know what happened to the spider, but I do know that something happened to me. That spider prompted me to think about my own life, my own web, my home, and my response to life's billowing storms.

For one thing, I was challenged to reconsider how often I think about abandoning my web, how often I think about my shoes, pocketbooks, cars, and sometimes even relationships with a callousness that causes me to shudder. I ask myself questions like: Why put so much time and effort into repairing something that can so easily be replaced? Why bother? I know lots of people with many more pairs of shoes than I've got. I only paid ??? for them anyway. This old bucket of bolts; as soon as a better model comes out, I want it. I'd bet better off alone that going through this again.

Fortunately, these days I am getting more adept at answering those kinds of questions with another question: is this thing, this person, this relationship truly replaceable? Even if it is, what is that replacement going to cost? Where did my obsession with perfection come from anyway? Much of the time damaged goods are still good.

That scar on my shin comes with a story: a tale about summer camp in Napanoch, New York, running down some stairs during a rainstorm, and falling. The resulting gauge of flesh was too deep to even warrant stitches; the gap was too wide. A good bandage, lots of antibiotics, and waiting for enough skin to grow to cover it. Touching that spot today is akin to touching the bone itself. Thank God for long skirts, over-the-knee socks, and knee-high boots. There are several scars on the left side of my neck that are the result of shingles. I have a pile of sleeveless, short-sleeved, and long-sleeved turtlenecks (one of which I am wearing right now) that are chosen because they cover up those scars. The scar on my soul has several stories as well: broken love relationships, churches that have imploded, family members whose neglect, abuse, and criticism - so many stories, so little time.

What is wrong with having visible scars and stitches anyway? We spend so much of life trying to keep our wounds hidden, trying to convince others and ourselves that all is well, that we have no real problems, and that we haven't cried ourselves to sleep many nights, that we actually begin to believe the ultimate lie. We think we are the only ones trying to lose five or ten pounds, the only ones with children who disrespect and willfully disobey their parents, the only ones whose husbands or lovers seem distant most of the time, and the only ones with doubts, questions, and concerns about nearly every area in our lives, including our faith, perhaps especially our faith.

I have come to realize that we all have our woundedness. We all have family members with cancer, addictions, disabilities, and loved ones who have died suddenly. I met a woman today whose husband was killed seven years ago in a car accident when their children were toddlers. Someone else there is struggling terribly with trying to lose weight, but having no visible success. Another is launching herself in a new job because ends aren't meeting as well as they used to. Together we shared stories, helpful hints, words of encouragement, and wished each other traveling mercies as we continue this walk of faith called life. I look forward to hearing how far they've come when we meet again.

There's a spot on the ceiling in our family room that needs to be scraped and painted. What we really need to do is find out where the slow drip of water is coming from that is causing the spot to form. The exhaust fan in our master bathroom isn't working at the moment. The carpeting upstairs in our house looks like it needs to be cleaned again. The lawn is covered with leaves, and the flowers that were planted during the summer have died and need to be pulled up and replaced with pansies - which bloom all winter here in Charlotte.

There's a spot on my heart that, when I touch it or pay any attention to it at all, causes tears to erupt whenever I think of how much I miss certain friends. There is a slow drip of anxiety when I think of the possibility that I may never see them again. The exhaust fan in the ceiling of my spirit works rather slowly when I think of certain sibling issues, in-law issues, and extended family concerns; steam builds up, but it is slow to disperse. Earlier blooms of patience, grace, and joyful laughter need the fertilizer of solitude, meditation, and prolonged time spent with dear friends pretty soon, or impatience and the thorny weeds of bitterness are likely to choke them out.

My tattered and sometimes poorly maintained marriage is worthy of prayer, care, and repair; it cannot be replaced or recreated. I like the way Jen Lemen's husband said it: What if we toss perfection overboard? What if we decide that a less scripted, less surly, more unpredictable, but wholly honest relationship is better than abandoning this one and trying to find someone or something better? What if we are better off together and this is as good as it gets? It's not about conceding defeat; it's not about giving up hope for improvement. It's about claiming victory in the areas where we have success and basking in those. It's about deciding on a new model of marriage because the old one isn't working for us. Or for anyone else I know... but that's a-whole-nother blog.

The spider is gone. His web is empty, lifeless, and useless.

May my web, my home, my heart, my spirit never be so.
May I be ever willing to pull out the needle and thread
of prayer, of thoughtful reflection, of truthful conversation,
and of regular introspection so that this house will always be a home,
so that this soul will always be full of life, and
so that peace that passes all understanding and
unspeakable joy will be evident to everyone I meet.

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