Nine Words to Guide My Future

In 2004, I remember sitting on that worn basement couch after Bible Study and telling someone for the first time that I was a Christian. I remember walking home to my dorm that night a little drunk on cosmic love, naïvely dreaming of doing Something Great for Jesus Someday as I pushed the glass door of my dorm open, caught between wild darkness and warm glow.

In 2005, I traveled to Greece with its grand, golden, empty churches. I walked to the one neighborhood people told me not to go to, down streets crammed with people and past shops crammed with imported trinkets, to the soup kitchen above a falafel shop. Heavenly smell as I climbed the stairs! Inside, slopping soup and taking names, I learned that my smile was sometimes not enough, that Something Great for Jesus was hard to do, but nonetheless, I kept showing up.

In 2006, they called from Arizona to tell me my grandmother was dying. I flew home immediately, though we’d never been that close and my teenage self-absorption and her dementia had just widened the gap. When I walked in the room I barely recognized her, her body curled in fetal position, the vibrant red hair of her youth almost gone. We children and grandchildren held her hand and fed her ice chips and sang to her and talked to her, although we didn’t know if she could sense our presence anymore. She died the next day, all of us in the room watching her chest rise and fall until it didn’t anymore. What can I say? I’d never loved her more. In those few days, I saw Jesus in her.

In 2007, I went to live in rural Panama for two months. I went “to help,” which was, again, a total joke. I lived with nine other people in a house with one room and one light bulb. They pulled out all the stops for me, gave me the only real bed, taught me merengue and how to wash my clothes by hand. Everywhere I went in that town of maybe a hundred, people pulled out their best plastic chairs, shooed away their dogs, sliced up mangoes, made coffee, killed a precious chicken for my dinner. The strangeness of their world almost shook my faith apart, and their generosity put it back together again.

In 2008, I graduated college, moved to a new state, and couldn’t get a job for three months. Then I got a job, which I found exhausting and grueling, and I almost got fired except I cried in my boss’s office and she took pity on me. I almost couldn’t function, unable to live with my utter incompetence, not wanting to leave the house. The worst was feeling like I’d failed God by letting all this crush me. But I remember, too, crying on the phone with a distant friend about my multiple levels of failure, and she said, “Oh Rachel, don’t you know God loves you so much he’ll never let you go?” And I cried more, because somehow I hadn’t known it before, and now I did.

In 2009, I found a church home for the first time. Weeks before Lent, I walked into that shabby wooden building not knowing how much it would shape the next several years of my life. I ate the bread and drank the wine, and it started to infect me, ever so slowly, like yeast or a creeping weed like mustard plants. They drilled the Preferential Option for the Poor into my head with sermon after sermon, they washed my feet on Holy Thursday and stayed up until midnight with me on Easter Vigil. Before I knew it I wasn’t just a spectator, I was part of the Body again, bringing muffins to interminable meetings in which we plotted how to bring the Kingdom always just a little closer.

In 2010, I picked up my dusty Bible and read the thing through for the very first time. I wrestled with twisted family histories, purity codes, temple blueprints, census numbers, raving prophets, and strange riddles, and I realized something that should always have been obvious: This is a love story, beginning to end.

In 2011, I started praying for real. I sat in silence and tried to learn to just Be with the one who is called I Am Who I Am. I met a woman from Canada on the Internet who wanted to be prayer partners with me. I prayed for her through her months of bed rest during what was possibly one of the world’s most epically difficult pregnancies, and she prayed, with awesome humility, for my relatively pain-free life and my rampant pride issues. We’d wake up while it was still dark sometimes to encourage each other, and miles away we’d pray with similar desperation things like Please let me get through this day.

In 2012, I found myself sitting in on a rather unremarkable seminary class and I heard some words read aloud that were like a big neon sign to me: This is a clue to what you do with your life. It had to do with some of my favorite things: bread and words and desert rain. It was Isaiah 55:10-11:

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

In 2013, I’m wrestling with that passage and how to make those words come true in me. Can I do it? Too early to tell, really. It may take another nine years. It may take the rest of my life, or even more than that. Who knows.

If I make it through the next nine years, I’ll be thirty-six, the age my mother was when she had me, her first child. I think about that and I think, It’s not too late to give birth to what will bring you your greatest joy. When I think about the future, I think about what I want to define me, and I think of learning these nine words by heart until they power me like a heartbeat: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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