the art in us
In moments at the end of a day–when I feel like I could cry, and the tears gather dark and cloud-heavy in the back of my throat—they arrange their bodies around mine as though together we are some wild arrangement of art, some carefully styled sculpture.
And, we are.
I can tell you what the lines of us mean, what it’s all meant to say when you stand back and rest your hands at your sides, or maybe you prop one bent finger against the dip in your chin and you gather in the shape of us, the chaotic rupture of color, that one thing that’s not what you expected.
It is as though the Artist has placed us just this way, so that the rise of our shoulders and the exact amount of space between our bodies defines a certain height and depth that human beings simply cannot reach on their own. It is as though the color of our hair has been varied slightly here, more dramatically there, to suggest both the contrast and the blending of our personalities, the shared breath, the communication that exists in the slight curve of our mouths, the resting of our hands, the way we hold each other with our eyes. It is as though we occupy this particular space in just this way to express both our presence here—where we breathe right now–and the history of the journey we have made and are making together.
Riley sits beside me, angling her face dramatically toward my own, training her ocean eyes on her brother. At rest, her expression is serene, gentle, glassy still. Deep in her sweeping eyes, resting solidly in the elegant angles of her cheek bones, broods a formidable, determined strength. Without knowing it, you see the hours she spends on homework, the way she still untangles word problems like a pile of knotted cord at her feet, the way she tries to memorize that “covers” might oddly mean “equals.” It is there, in the way she so purposefully gathers her hair up and away from her face. The effort she makes to press on, the hard work she knows like breathing, the perseverance she has lived, these show up as a deeper shade just below her bottom lashes and also as a tiny smile on her lips. I suspect that you will not quite know that it is the fierce, confused, wordless three-year-old you still see in the depth of her eyes, that the serious sophistication of her look is the natural impression of that soul, that she is still driven by a compulsiveness to order this world in a way that makes more sense. At three, the need surfaced in other details–toys stretching across the living room in straight lines; gathered people she would literally rearrange, pulling and dragging with baby hands. But now, you see only her stillness, a calm more remarkable for the turbulance that preceded it, a turbulance she now so sweetly disciplines, so deliberately accepts.
It has not been easy. It will not be easy. So many days end the way they began, with a thousand unanswered questions, including just how.
Zoe sits on the other side of me, clutching my arm, wrapping herself through me. On the day she was born, rain soaked the earth in fat splats. Pain shot through my body and Kevin drove and I watched a tree beside the road bend over in the wind. Lightening cracked the sky in two. You can see this, if you move a little closer, right there in her stormy blue eyes, their wet glint, the way they spark. The light made every color more vivid that day, the way it does now, falling evenly over her head like a crown. Pain ripped, poured, smacked against my body like the rain, and she was the smile on my face, the laughter grabbing at the edge of my words. It is her unrelenting joy, the sharp strength with which she fights for gratitude that shows up giddy, curling in the edges of her smile. It is passion that flushes her cheeks. Her hands still look and feel the way they did when she lay sick and starving in the hospital, learning to give herself injections, fine boned and elegant, driven by someone Other, someone so much bigger and more able. He sketched her eyes a little wider, a little rounder with wonder, a bit more overwhelmed with the question of why.
Adam sits just slightly in front of and between his sisters, directly in front of me. He perches on the edge of the ottoman, facing the three of us at once. He grips Zoe by the hand, touching the tips of her fingers, the callouses left by needles, with his thumb. The tiny dark round, that place where their fingers meet, is not a shadow but the matching of bruises, the mirroring of scars. With his other hand, he reaches up to touch Riley on the ear. It is a gesture replacing words, a touch that means I love you. And the knowing is the smile in her eyes, matching the smile on his face. She is the one who never needs to have him speak. But his eyes are brightly fixed on me, the way they always have been. He speaks to me first with expressions–because he knows I understand, and second with words—because he knows I will require them anyway. The steadiness of his gaze; the careful intention; the familiar, easy way he looks at me, are so much more than whimsy. This is the artful expression of our standing face to face, the solidness of my hand on his chin gently forbidding him to look away. It is the way he studies my lips as I repeat sentences the right way and command him to say them again, the way he grabs me when he wants to say something, the way he has begun to understand and interpret our feelings. He perches himself in front of us, and the orientation of his body speaks three things: she knows how I feel, she knows how I think, and she, she knows my heart.
Kevin sits at the end of our row, his arm slung behind our shoulders, his legs stretched out beside our son, one foot slightly leaning against the thigh. His hand grips my shoulder gently, the way it always has, the way it did the day he told me that we would have to choose between our misery and our joy. His fingers make a “w” over my collarbone, a simple echo of something he says: it has always been we. He looks across the girls, holding a smile for me in his eyes. And in just this way, he possesses and covers and gathers all of us at once. He is the steady strength that wraps us up, the driver in our birthing storm. The Artist made my husband with strong hands for this.
I used to believe the time would come when we would hold simplicity in our hands, when I would not feel in my bones how much more life requires than I have to give. I used to believe that overwhelmed and emptied and tearful weary were the rotten fruit of something not quite managed as it should be, that if I just said “no” to something more or chose one gift to use and others to bury my investment might not feel so reckless. I used to think that maybe if I got more sleep and carved out time for me maybe I would not feel so breathless with things happening beyond the reach of my hands.
But then, in these moments at the end of the day, they arrange their bodies around mine as though together we are some wild arrangement of art, some carefully styled sculpture.
And, I see that we are.
And I know that it is not the easy things that have made us so beautiful together. I see that the shape of us, the chaotic rupture of color, that one thing that’s not what you expected–these things are the deep and vibrant impression of the fingers of the Artist pressing into us. These things are the shiny glimpse of Him.
The King says follow me and bring your cross. He says count the costs because I have no rest, no place to lay my head. He says whoever would save her life must lose her life for my sake. He says stop building bigger barns, whatever you do for the least of these, and you must love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. He says that the trustworthy investor or all things given will find His gifts multiplied. He says this is the servant who will hear well done. He says wash their feet and break the alabaster box and go and tell. He says count it all joy when you face trials of many kinds because the testing of your faith produces perseverance. He says trust in me and lean not on your own understanding and I will make your paths straight. He says seek first my kingdom and my righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well. He says if you want to know me and the power of my rising, share in my suffering and conform to my death. He says be hidden in me and I must be greater, you must be less. Over and over he says do not be afraid, and I will be your shield and your very great reward. He says I delight in you and it takes power to understand my love and…be like me. He says live by faith, love one another, and the truth will set you free.
And if His sweat ran like blood and He wept in the garden before the cross, I suppose I can see why my following might pretty much always feel overwhelming and sometimes tearful and weary. And living by faith, clear asking to see what only God can do probably should pretty much burn the words how and why right across a life. And wildly investing His gifts instead of burying them will be a risky but rewarding kind of living, the kind that always feels way beyond the reach of my hands. And dying to self, well, that will be an epic war, and it will hurt. But we want to live mind-altering, God-centered, God-accomplished, faith-driven lives. And lives solidly placed in His hands will be something altogether daunting, something stunning, something clear-bearing the marks of His fingers. That kind of living will be a wild arrangement of art, and He will be that thing that holds the eye in these moments at the end of a day, when our tears gather cloud-heavy in the backs of our throats, and He settles us together, just so.