on finishing well

It’s been hard to write lately. For one reason or another – mostly the whirl of transition over the past few months – it’s been difficult to know what to feel, let alone translate feelings into words. So there’s a backlog of a few half-written posts which I’m going to post anyway. Because what I love about blogging is the unpolished immediacy of it – the way it leaves a trace of real, messy-around-the-edges life. So if you get these into your email inbox – sorry that there will be a few at once! This first post from last week…

Last night – the last night altogether in No 7 – was extraordinary. In the two years we have lived together, four of us sisters, we have got it far from right a lot of the time.

In our busyness, we have failed to listen and make space for the other. In our selfishness, we have forgotten to reach out. Perhaps most of all, in our fear, we have been too quick with our words, too quick to the defence, too clumsy with our well-meant counsel. Four of us in a very small space meant that physically and emotionally we didn’t always give each other room to breathe and stepped mightily on each others’ toes as we tried to figure out this journey.

And yet as we gathered together around the low table in the way we have too many times to count, we were able to hold between us the precious thing which we have built together through it all. We’ve built something unique, we four. Bashed around the edges , yes, but hard won and durable.

We ate pizzas on kitchen-roll-plates as everything was packed up and poured the last of the endless supply of mystery wine into Hello Kitty paper cups from some picnic gone by. We laughed a lot. About things no one would understand but we need explain none of it. It was just us, and it was okay. Halfway through one round of laughter I burst into wailing tears which made people laugh even more. They know this is what I do.

We’d excavated the eucharisteo list from the aptly named cupboard of doom when packing so brought them into the pizza-hello-kitty melee. We’d had an evening back on the night when the Boston bomber was found where we listened to the news and crafted together various lists with numbers running to 600 and stuck them on the wall going upstairs – to write down 600 things we were thankful for over the course of a few months, inspired by Ann Voskamp. How good to remember the ways in which we inspired one another to live well, and to live thankful.

We were supposed to reach 1,000 but of course, being us, we made it to 595 before hurriedly having to take the lists down because we’re not meant to use blu-tack and our landlady was coming over. So they got thrown in the cupboard of doom never to be unearthed again until last night.

We dusted off a few lists each and began reading them in order. In the beginning it was just a funny and wonder-filled time of remembering the gifts which had strengthened each of us and the threads which have woven us together over these two years. Homemade bread, breakfasts together, staircase chats, sunshine walks, becoming stronger in body, mind, spirit.

As list went on we remembered the people who have always been there and continue to be now, causing us to give thanks for their unique reflection of Jesus. We learned new things too – like how Felicity is grateful for sunshine on a fairly constant basis. We drank in with wonder the ways in which we grew even just between 1 and 595 – how grateful hearts gave way to more gratitude, more joy.

As the list went on, we became acutely aware of the power of thankfulness. This is something we’ve often said, but it transformed us afresh as we heard the words of thanks dig into those deep places of our spirits. I couldn’t help but feel as this shift was taking place that the thankfulness carries a power that is not of this world. Ann Voskamp says the only way to break the habit of ingratitude is by practicing a new habit – of gratitude, chipping away bit by bit at the old. As we went through to #595, this is what happened. Our well worn habits of ingratitude, bitterness, regret were slowly chipped away by the glorious redemptive power of gratitude.

By the end, my heart was utterly full. With laughter, shared memories and a deep gratitude right down to my bones for the good hard work of walking alongside and propelling each other ever further into the arms of the Father.
If ever I needed evidence that ours is not a life to be lived in isolation, it’s this. A community which taught me to love well, and to live more simply. They were the overriding themes of all of our entries over many months. In all we had written down there it was: we are all longing to love people well and live more simply because there we can – and have – tasted your goodness.

We decided to fill in the final five entries. All of our entries thanked God for the power of thankfulness and for each other – followed by one final joint entry for #600: “Finishing Well”. We aimed for 1000 and made it to 600 with full, full hearts. I’ll take that.

The deep chasm of loss only felt truly real as I sat in my empty room this morning after all my boxes had been taken downstairs, every last corner swept and still. So much has happened here. So much growth, loss, laughter, tears, time around the table, creating, talking into the night and figuring out what this one, wild life is about. My heart was breaking.

I couldn’t help but feel though that maybe these moments where are hearts are fullest are the times when they are most ripe – most beautiful – to be broken. For we carry so much, and we have so much to give away. What a blessing to be carriers of this joy – joy not of this world, but in every corner of this world, if we will seek it, and seek it with all our hearts.

May it be so.

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