A lake, a wetland, and our soul journeys

Just looking at it, you’d find it rather odd to be called a boathouse. This time of year mostly green leaves and grasses hide the small, shallow waterways winding through this patch of land.

There's a boathouse there because once upon a time it was a lake. 

R.J. and Katharine Reynolds were building a model country home. It was mostly Katharine’s project, seeing as how R.J. was running Reynolds Tobacco Company at the time. Down the hill from the main house several smaller streams fed into a larger one. The land between them was dredged to form Lake Katharine. The boathouse was built on its banks.

As generations passed the family gave the estate to the university next door, and dredging the lake ceased to be a concern. The slow-moving water left silt and sand behind, and over time the lake became a wetland and the trees and grasses returned.

One morning recently I sat on a bench by the boathouse and thought about the transformation of this patch of land. The first lesson I meant to take away was the importance of inner dredging, of keeping things from building up.

Because, you know, that’ll preach.

But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed that the lake-turned-wetland spoke a different lesson.

You could argue that Lake Katharine had gone downhill and gone to seed, no longer useful for boating. And it's true. But the thing is, the land wasn’t really a lake. That was the identity that was forced upon it. It was originally a wetland.

Far from being a decline, these last few decades have been a graceful slipping back into familiar clothes. The land is flourishing as it was created to be.

This isn’t a diatribe against development or landscape architecture. It’s a reflection on our spiritual journeys...

Maybe our whole journey is one long grace-filled movement towards becoming who we were created to be. 

All kinds of things get in the way. Sometimes it’s the families who decide who and what we must be, instead of delighting in the curiosity of who we are becoming. (In my book it’s one of the coolest things in the world to watch kids grow into real people, to see them discovering their passions and their interests and their gifts.) 

Sometimes the people around us define us in negative terms, reinforcing the judgments as to why we’ll never be as smart or successful or good looking as someone else, why we will perpetually fall short. Sometimes those judgments come wrapped in a twisted version of spirituality that completely loses sight of our identities of beloved children of God. God is used to shame and not bless.

Sometimes the world in which we live defines us, labeling us as inferior because of our gender or the color of our skin or the size of our pocketbook or who we love.

None of it is who we truly are. None of what they tell us that we have to be in order to be acceptable isn't necessarily what we can be in order to be fully alive.

Over the years we keep doing the dredging, digging out the things that would like to grow in us and over the years we become less and less alive. We may try to find solace in having everything nailed down, controlling all things so that we can keep forcing ourselves into that shape that will make us acceptable or lovable or even godly in the eyes of another.

Still, in the middle of the night something starts to take root. Something starts to break through.

A whisper. A nudge. A slow-moving bit of water lays something down in our souls and we find ourselves longing just to let it sit. It’s not supposed to be there… but what if it is?

A memory in our bones keeps us restless, a memory of a time maybe even before time began for us on this planet when we tasted the delight of being who we are. The delight God felt in creating us, as God stirred the passions and gifts into our souls and said with a smile, “This one -- this one will be special.”

Even as the angels rolled their eyes because God says that every time.

It’s okay not to be a lake when you were made to be a wetland. 

Be the child of God you were created to be. And if you’re not sure who that is, that's okay. Some of us will be glad to walk alongside you as you figure it out.


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