He found me curled and weeping, my husband did, as he had found me the night before… and the night before… and the night before… through all that endless winter. House around me, a maelstrom of the unguided activity of two 10-month-olds and two 2½ yr olds — my precious children, yes… but my captors, also.
I had no paradigm for the “stay-at-home mom-of-little-ones” identity, nothing in my upbringing that could interpret to me this foreign land of diapers and crying babies. My days seemed to run together in endlessly mind-numbing tasks, broken only by the four or five visits a week with the various specialists investing in the cerebral palsy of my son, Tillman. A dark future frayed at the edges of my life’s great dreams — and when I encountered Annie Dillard’s powerful quote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” I was filled only with despair.
In a sudden moment of determination that night, desperate for whatever it took to defeat this enemy that had lodged its despondent voice inside my head, I planted myself at the kitchen table, in the middle of all of that mess. Beauty, I’ve got to see Beauty. Vision, beyond this moment, beyond this season. I’ve got to see Vision. I opened a well-worn book to a section titled “Isaiah.” Page by page I scanned, lingering at anything that cried out to me, “Beauty! Vision!”
And then, there it was.
“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back” Isaiah 54:2a
God’s Spirit doesn’t speak to me audibly. Never parts the sky. And yet, when the pages of my Bible are open before me, the flood that pours into my heart sometimes is as undeniable as my own breath:
The place of my tent felt small and constrained — the Spirit said, enlarge it, look out.
My griefs had me shrinking in — the Spirit said, open those curtains, look out.
I was fearful, fully aware of how not-enough I was for this unanticipated future — the Spirit said, do not hold back.
“…lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.” Isaiah 54:2b
He went on…Something more or less like…
Nicole, if you’re going to be a let-the-world-in, stretch-your-tent-curtains-wide kind of person, there are some things you absolutely must get right. Things like stakes and cords. Things that keep you solid, hold you together.
I am your stakes, Nic. You want Beauty & Vision? You want meaning beyond this moment? It’s the strength of your relationship with Me that will determine your ability to discover and handle that life of Vision. Invest in your relationship with Me.
Your cords, Nic? Your core relationships, starting with your husband and children, those are your cords. You want Beauty & Vision? Cords don’t lengthen on their own. It’s the health of those cords that will give you flexibility and room to expand. Invest in your husband. Invest in your children. Stop waiting for someone to come take care of you.
“…For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities. Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.” Isaiah 54:3-4a
And a few pages later:
“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” Isaiah 58:12
What happens when desolate cities get settled, when ruins become streets with dwellings?
There is life now, where there was none before…
And why can all of this be?
“For your Maker is your husband — the LORD Almighty is his name — the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.” Isaiah 54:5
Here’s Vision for you, Nic. You remember Who I Am. You take responsibility and action. You invest in your relationship with me. You invest in your husband and your children. You find ways to stretch those tent curtains wide, so that your life is shaped by looking beyond just yourself and your family…. and you just watch and see if I don’t expand your capacity and make of you and yours a people who bring life now, where there was none before…
It’s January once again. Rainy and dark. More than a decade separates me from that season long ago. My house is still a mess around me. I still curl up sometimes as if to say “Now, who’s going to take care of me?” Sometimes my griefs and my fears still make me want to shrink in.
But I have found, with Annie Dillard, that “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” And seemingly small investments made within my days become, over time, “a blurred and powerful pattern.”
A pattern of investing in my relationship with God. A pattern of investing in my husband, in my children, in core relationships. A pattern of finding ways to stretch open those tent curtains and look out…. and it looks like a pattern of Beauty. It looks like a pattern of Vision.
And so I step to the cusp of another year, and I lift my head to look out. And in the face of a dark and rainy January, I speak to myself again those Beauty-Vision words:
“Enlarge, Nicole, the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.
Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame.
Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.”
What small investments are turning into patterns in your life? What shape are those patterns taking? And at the cusp of this new year, what Beauty-Vision pursuit will lift your head?