One morning in November, I woke up compelled write a post that had been percolating for a year and a half. On that day, much to their delight, I left the boys to their own devices, and I sat down with my laptop. By evening, “The Introverted Speaker” was complete. (If you haven’t read that post, you might wish to do so now.) I clicked publish, sent the link to people who might care, and thought I was done with the whole process.
I was not done. Instead, the floodgates of emotion were opened even wider. Granted, my emotional flood control infrastructure is not all that impressive. I probably need the Army Corps of Engineers to shore things up a bit. Sometimes, though, I think it’s a good idea to let the current take me where it will. That’s what I did back in November, and I wrote down, in rough form, what I discovered. Now I find myself on the fifth day of Christmas, in that peaceful lull before the new year begins. The presents have been unwrapped, the miles between here and Grandma and Grandpa have been traveled, the Lego has been assembled, and the house has been tidied. I can sit near the glow of the Christmas tree, and edit the words that tumbled into a word document in the days before Advent.
In “The Introverted Speaker,” I reminisce about the morning I became convinced that my speech was no good. As I wrote that paragraph back in November, I tried to picture myself in the classroom across the hall from the cafeteria, and I tried to remember how I felt: I was sitting in the corner farthest from the door that morning, away from the couch and the overstuffed chair. This was back before the internet, and we were working with these tangible things called newspaper clippings. The assignment was to cut them, paste them, and turn them into a broadcast of sorts. Extemporaneous speaking was not my forte, but on a typical morning, I could have pulled it off. That morning was different. My eyes were on the newspaper clippings, but my mind was on my already written and rehearsed speech. This was the speech I would take to competitions all semester, and the one I had decided was doomed to fail. I remember that sometime during that class period, I started to cry, and tears tend to smudge up newspaper clippings. What I remember most though, is feeling paralyzed.
I hadn’t remembered that before. I hadn’t thought about feeling paralyzed one morning during my senior year of high school. When the memory of paralysis flooded my senses back in November, the feeling was all too familiar. I recognized that paralysis as something I have been experiencing for much of my adult life. I will be thirty-nine on Thursday. The past decade of my life has been marked by anxiety and depression. These two conditions, taken together, cause paralysis, an inability to function. This has been my experience and my struggle.
My condition is improving, and I have reason to hope that my next decade will be better. Even so, this memory of paralysis causes emotion to well up inside me. It is a new link between my teenage years and my recent past. It is part of my story, and it puts words to what I have been feeling. I can say, “Look. This is how I have been feeling, except now there is no one to tell me it will be all right.”
That’s what they told me. I don’t remember the exact words, but Tracy and my coach told me that my speech would be fine and everything would be all right. I believed them because I could. I was a teenager living in a lovely small town, attending a good school, and getting good grades. My worries consisted of whether or not my speech would take me all the way to the state finals.
I don’t believe them anymore.
When your baby is born with a hole in his back, it’s not “all right.” When you spend four weeks in the mental ward of the hospital because you really just wish you did not exist, it’s not “all right.” When your relative is diagnosed with cancer, it’s not “all right.” When wars are raging, people are starving, and little girls are sold into slavery, it’s not “all right.”
In The Irrational Season, Madeleine L’Engle refers to the not-all-right of the world as the “battlefields and slums and insane asylums.” These are the result of the fall of humanity. Indeed, there has been much that is not-all-right since our fall into sin.
Certain things can be made “all right.” A scraped knee can be kissed, a teenager can be consoled, and even the hole in a baby’s back can be fixed by the skilled hands of a neurosurgeon. What about the other things? What about the “battlefields and slums and insane asylums”? What will make these all right?
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Isaiah 40:1
In the midst of our mess and despair, a baby was born. God came. He saw that we were not all right, and He came to save us. He was born in a dank, dark, dirty stable. His earthly parents fled with Him to Egypt so that He would not be killed along with all the other Hebrew baby boys. He grew up, He began His ministry, and He was executed on a cross. It was not “all right.”
It was not “all right,” and yet, we are comforted, because on that cross He took all our sins, all our mess, all our despair upon Himself, and He washed them away.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. Isaiah 40:2
Jesus paid for our sins on the cross, and rose victorious on Easter morning. Our hope is in the resurrection, when we know that everything truly will be “all right.”
Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth…I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more….The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. Isaiah 65:17, 19, 25
In the meantime, we struggle with everything that is not-all-right. It is part of our human condition. We struggle, but we have peace. We know we have a God who loves us enough to give the gift of His Son, and we share that love and peace with others. We console the teenager, we kiss the scraped knee, and we use our talents for the benefit of those around us.
Never tire of doing what is right. 2 Thessalonians 3:13
Tracy and my coach did what was right, and in doing so, they made a day a little more “all right” for a teenager in a small town high school. We do the same, and even in our sinful human condition, we can make things a little more “all right” in our fallen world.
Then we can go to bed and night, and pray, certainly in the words of the apostles and prophets, but also with the words of Harry Connick Jr:
I pray one day my heart will see
The light of God’s eternity
And know that Jesus died for me.
Now close, my eyes
So I may rise
At blessed dawn of Christmas day.
1. Quote from Madeleine L’Engle, The Irrational Season (New York: The Seabury Press, 1977)
2. All Bible verses from the New International Version
3. Lyrics by Harry Connick Jr. “The Blessed Dawn of Christmas Day” (EMI Music Publishing)
4. Nativity photos by John David Duke Jr.
5. Nighttime photo also by John David Duke Jr. The miles between here and Grandma and Grandpa’s house are the same miles between here and the lovely small town of Frankenmuth, Michigan. While we were there, we were able to visit with my speech coach and his wife. After a happy visit, we braved the Michigan cold to snap this picture down by the Cass River.