Today’s guest post comes from my friend Shelia Mullican, who I met at church. Shelia is a writer, runner, dreamer, artist, hiker, singer, and choir director extraordinaire. She blesses me with her beautiful voice, and she also blesses me with her poignant and honest writing. Shelia’s words always point me back to the natural world and remind me of the holiness there. I am thrilled to have her words here in my space today.
Where I Found God: In the Touch of a Friend
I was a spring baby. My first draughts of air were heavy with the scent of Iris and Peony blossoms. And from those earliest breaths, God began to woo me.
He whispered to me in the hymns my mama played and my daddy sang at church. He whispered also in the night songs of crickets, the soft patter of rain, the silence of snow.
I saw him in colorful flannel graph stories. I saw him also in extravagant sunsets, in tiny blossoms painted with the most excruciating detail, in the perfectly formed body of a new-born calf, in the fury of a turbulent sea. I saw him in marvelous works of art.
He was in the Body and the Blood. But he was also in the wild sweetness of muscadines; leathery skins bursting to pour nectar, still warm with sunshine, into my mouth.
I felt him in the basin of water we used to wash one another’s feet in my country church. I felt him also in the warm soil behind the plow, in sultry summer breezes, and in the secret movements of the babies who grew inside me.
The scent of him was roses and rain, autumn leaves, wood smoke, lavender, and incense.
For as long as I can remember, I loved him. I loved him like you love a movie star or maybe the president. Like someone spectacular, someone untouchable, someone very far away.
And I believed he loved me.
Certainly, his actions were loving. He gave us a world of astonishing beauty. He sent his son to us to restore us, and all of creation, to himself. And yet…
Blame it on the fact that I am a first born. Or that I have an insane work ethic. Or that I grew up in a tradition that taught that if I died with unconfessed sin I would go to hell, even if I had walked with God all my life. Blame it on arrogance.
However I got to this place, I was convinced that I had to earn God’s love. I needed to show him that I was worthy. And thus commenced four terrifying decades of working myself to death. I volunteered for everything. I never said no. My kids spent so much time at church they thought we lived there.
It was never enough.
I always felt that God was at a remove. I could not attain to him. And over time, it made me angry. And tired.
Empty and hungry, I made some pretty terrible choices. Selfish choices that hurt people I loved. I was forcibly flung from the treadmill of trying to be enough. Clearly, I was never going to be enough. That thought almost destroyed me. It felt like death.
My friendships had operated much like my relationship with God. Do everything you can for them. Never say no. And never let them see the ugly parts of you.
But I was such a mess I couldn’t keep up the illusion any more. I sat across the table from a dear friend. She shared some pretty vulnerable things with me about her life, and before I knew what I was doing, I had spilled the whole of it to her. All the worst parts of me. I immediately wished I could scoop my words up off the table and shove them back in my mouth. But it was too late.
In the moments that followed, I learned, in the deepest part of me, what grace felt like. Her tenderness, her tears, her kindness poured over me like water. And my parched soul drank it in through every pore.
She loved me. In spite of everything, she loved me.
And for the first time in my life, the love that God had offered me all along became something so real I could touch it. Because it had touched me. In the flesh.
I wish I had learned earlier to live vulnerably with friends, and with God. I am still astonished sometimes by their relentless love for me. They grieve with me. They forgive me. They challenge me when they need to. (This too is love.) And with every interaction, God comes closer. I still serve, not out of terror, but out of the overflow of love. Trust me, love is better.
In Deep Nights
Rainer Maria Rilke
In deep nights I dig for you like treasure.
For all I have seen
that clutters the surface of my world
is poor and paltry substitute
for the beauty of you
that has not happened yet….
My hands are bloody from digging.
I lift them, hold them open in the wind,
so they can branch like a tree.
Reaching, these hands would pull you out of the sky
as if you had shattered there,
dashed yourself to pieces in some wild impatience.
What is this I feel falling now,
falling on this parched earth,
like spring rain?
Shelia Mullican is a writer, carefully camouflaged as a mother and grandmother, who lives in Franklin, TN with her husband and youngest son. She spins stories about faith, family, beauty, words & wild places at her blog, Anam Cara. She is insatiably curious, is known to swerve the car off the road to watch a red tailed hawk or blue heron in flight, and delights in seeing the world anew through the eyes of her granddaughter. You can follow her at her blog, Instagram or Twitter.