Title Search

My ferns have died.

Big, lush and green when I left for a few days, I returned to find them browned and dried. Large black caterpillars hung on the half-eaten fronds. I carefully lifted the heavy pots off the porch (lest any unwanted guests decided to find another home) and stuffed them in the trash.

Normally I would have been upset and made a trip to the nursery to replace them immediately. But my new focus on simplicity stopped me from even thinking of doing that. As pretty as they are, and as much as I enjoy the greenery and flowers on my back porch—my sanctuary—their beauty comes with a responsibility. They must be watered, fertilized and trimmed. And on these 90-degree-plus days, the watering is almost daily. So if I’m gone for a while, I have to think of someone who can care for them in my absence.

Now that they’re gone, my view is different. I can see farther through the screen into the lovely backyard. The ferns no longer block the sight of a basket of fuchsia and yellow vincas next to a rustic wooden bench, nestled in a cozy setting of cypress trees. And even though I miss the “garden feel” to my outdoor sitting room, I like the broader view of my little corner of the world.

This seems to mirror my life right now. Things are dying and being discarded. Relationships are wilting. My capacities are being reduced to what is needful, doing away with “fluff”—those extras that often get placed in the category of necessity. I am being stripped down to the core of my being.

It’s a frightening place.

Will I like my soul when all the externals are taken away? Is there anything special, worthy, valuable about who I am without all the things that I accomplish, offer, give, speak and teach in a busier life?

I hate to fill out medical forms and biographical questionnaires. The typical questions reveal the bare bones of your life without the fleshly parts that make you a living, breathing, loving person. I have no title. I have no “career.” I have nothing to sum up my life and put down in a one- or two-word answer to say who I am and what I do. The only moniker that works is “homemaker” and that gets a bad rap these days. I’m a teacher without a school, a writer without a book, a mother without children to care for on a daily basis.

Who am I? What value do I bring to the world?

I read today, “The only significance of life consists in helping to establish the kingdom of God.” Maybe I could wrestle a title out of that one—an establisher of the kingdom of God. I am: a seeker of the Holy One, an encourager to the weary, a friend who loves, a daughter who cares, a servant of God.

I thought of others who have faced this dilemma and Mother Teresa came to mind. But she could write “nun” on the dotted line, and I noticed in a book that she had credentials written after her name. So, even this simple woman who simply served the poor had a title.

My husband is a CEO. You can’t get higher than that in the business world. He is an elder in the church, a Campus Outreach Board member, and a business owner who just this morning was interviewed on an Atlanta radio station. Many in the professional world, as well as friends and family members, seek his opinion and help. He is in constant demand—he walks in every evening on his cell phone, deep in conversations that have not stopped from office, to car, to home.

I play a supporting role but have no title; my name is never written on a marquee listed as a supporting actress to the leading role. I am in the background. Maybe I could start a new designation of CEW—“chief executive wife”?

Author and speaker Jane Rubietta wrote: “In this world, our value and strength come from ability, a sense of our own competence. We live our lives based on our own merit, our sufficiency: at work, church, and home. We have shortened Philippians 4:13 to read ‘I can do all things,’ and when we can’t ‘do all things,’ shame comes naturally.”

That is where I am—at the end of doing “all things,” even though I believed I was doing them “through Christ who strengthens me.” The challenge is to allow this process to continue without ending up with shame as a by-product.

Lord, in the stripping away, would you give me a clearer focus and broadened view, just as taking the ferns away allowed me to see farther? If I continue to stare at the shortened view or grieve the losses, I will get lost in this place of depression and depletion. My prayer right now is the one written by Paul in Ephesians—

            “…that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner man so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16-19)

As I step down to my back yard, I have an unimpeded view. Even though I can see it all from inside the porch, I’m still looking through a screen. When I am outside, everything is in sharper focus. Lord, bring me to this larger place, this clearer vision, this new way of seeing. I will stay in the sanctuary until the time is right for me to venture out again with the knowledge that something more is out there, waiting.

I am your child. Is that enough for me?

I bet there are no titles in heaven.


[Written during a time of soul searching years ago]