The Illuminated Life: When Holy Happens in the Cereal Aisle
Welcome to our second week of The Illuminated Life!
This week we have Cara Meredith, blogger, writer, speaker and boy-mom, from whom I’ve shamelessly stolen this idea. Be sure to check out her weekly guest blogging series “the little things.”
Standing in the middle of the Safeway cereal aisle is generally not the place one decides to release the tear-filled floodgates.
But, then again, my tears don’t generally follow the schedule and plans I have for their salty little lives.
I’d left a career in teaching to step into full-time ministry, packing up my bags in the Santa Cruz mountains for the suburbs of Seattle. But somehow, I think I’d misunderstood the intent of songs of my Christian upbringing, because I took having the “…joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart,” a little too literally. I came to believe that if I had Jesus in my heart, I would and could experience little to no pain. Eternal, joy-filled happiness must always reside, I resolutely clung to and believed – even when life is hard, even when tragedy strikes. Because everything happens for a reason, I’d whisper. Because he’s not going to give us anything we can’t handle, I’d say over and over again, mimicking the words of Mother Teresa.
So when pain came, I stuffed it down.
I held back tears, staying strong for the people around me, because this was who I believed I was supposed to be: and she, the Professional Christian, the one getting paid to love Jesus, was secure enough to lead the people around me.
But then the reality of loneliness set in.
The hardships of moving and starting over, both vocationally and relationally, began to rear their honest, ugly heads.
And that’s when it happened: I found myself sitting in Starbucks one night, planning sermons thematically centered around the greater idea of community when I realized how much I actually lacked community. Hollywood makes being alone looks so glamorous, I furiously scribbled in my journal. It’s filled with bonbons and bubble baths and candlelit dinners for one, but that’s not what I want! I just want a friend…
The words trailed off, ellipsis marking revelation, while tears brimmed in my eyes.
My shininess had begun to fade.
Ever true to myself, though, I wouldn’t let my heart feel the pain. In an attempt to avoid the telling discovery, I slammed my laptop shut and threw my soy chai in the garbage. Storming into the rain, I ran across the parking lot to the nearby grocery store. The rain beat down on my cheeks, soaking my hair, drowning my pain.
And that’s when she called.
I’d been wandering the aisles for five or ten minutes when my cell phone rang. It was Anna, my college best friend, the one who’s always chipper and happy and joy-filled. Always.
“Hi Anna!” I chirped into the phone, brainlessly staring at boxes of Grapenuts and Frosted Flakes, Chex and Rice Krispies. I can do this, I thought to myself. I can pretend, I can put on the show.
But I couldn’t.
Within seconds, tears were stinging my eyes. By the time she asked how I was doing, pain had captured hold of my breath, my voice, my deepest insides. And The Ugly Cry began, right there in the middle of the Safeway cereal aisle. I responded the only way I now knew how: by letting myself feel the truth.
“I’m, I’m …lonely,” I choked, tears streaming down my face.
She began to do what any good friend would do: she just listened. She sat with me and she breathed in my pain, even though we weren’t actually next to each other. She whispered endearing consolations, and as I paced the cereal aisle for the next fourteen minutes and 37 seconds, she entered into the loneliness with me.
I think something utterly magical and entirely holy began to happen, right then and there, as her shininess began to breathe new life into my soul.
And really, maybe, just maybe, that’s when my own shininess actually began.
Former high school English teacher turned youth minister, Cara is a seven on the Enneagram, if you haven’t figured that out already. A free-lance writer and speaker, she holds a Masters of Theology degree (Fuller Seminary), and is currently chipping away at her first book. She loves pretending to be a foodie, being outdoors and trying to read seven books at a time (although never very successfully). She lives near San Francisco with her husband, James, their son, Canon, and a second little one scheduled to arrive late this summer.