My beloved readers, we take a break from the four-part series I had been posting in order to pen something that I, at least, consider very special. This morning, at 11:00, I had a telephone conversation with a woman whose ideas and thoughts I deeply respect. At that time, I mentioned a project that had become tradition amongst Jedidiah, Naomi, Hannah, and myself—especially Naomi and Jedidiah. The person with whom I was speaking inquired as to what project I might possibly be referring, but I was reluctant to disclose it. Finally, I sent her to this blog—but, you know, I must follow through… So, if you’re reading this, and you know who you are, here is my little response, revised and expanded in order to let other readers in on this most personal piece of my life.
For as long as I can remember, there were cassettes. There were vinyls and CDs, too, and eventually music downloads—but the constant was those cassette tapes. After all, you couldn’t record on a CD or etch constant family memoranda upon a vinyl. Besides, you could affix Braille labels to those tapes, unlike any other media. Ah, cassettes! And, when there were no longer cassettes, when they broke and tape players began costing $60 if you wanted something that would last for over three months, then there were little blurbs on the handheld digital voice recorder.
For as long as I can remember, I say, there were recordings—particularly of loved-ones’ voices. Many of my readers are already acquainted with this fact, but I doubt you know the extent or the depth of the phenomenon. It all began with books to which I did not have access—old, fragrant, print books that would never be embossed into Braille. And because I would never be able to read them for myself, Naomi or Jedidiah would sit down with a tape recorder and painstakingly read every detail, sometimes adding their own narrative commentary. Oh, that narrative commentary! Thoughts on characters’ actions, on the unconventional spellings of words, on the uniqueness of a certain turn of phrase, on how interesting—or not!—they found my choice of reading material… And when books had been exhausted, then there was the singing. The conversational thoughts from day to day. The articles from Guideposts. The whispered prayers and words of encouragement. All encompassed on ninety-minute plastic rectangles. Exquisite!
Eventually, the cassette tradition developed a distinctive pattern. At least twice a year, usually about six months apart, we deliberately set aside time to do beautiful things with one or more tapes. It was something I began anticipating two and sometimes three months before we would ever even begin working on a Cassette Project. Hey, since I can’t employ unconventional fonts in this blog, imagine “Cassette Project” in twenty-point font, in an extremely bright color, will you?
And then one day, it stopped. Those who know me will ask whether, perhaps, it ceased because we were going through difficult times. I can tell you the real reason. We stopped with all recordings on the day when I received the Holy Spirit. I had been a Christian, a devout Christian, for many years prior to that day in 2002, but never before had I known the intensity of God’s love and presence. Never before had I told Him, my Lord and Savior and now my closest Friend, “I will never want anything, or anyone, more than You, O Lord.” I had never before said that, and if I had, I would not have meant it to the depth that I meant it on that glorious day in 2002. And, when I said it, I could not have imagined what it all meant.
It quickly became clear, though, that one of the first things it meant was the end of recordings. Odd to say that, but ’tis true. And—don’t you know?—I was all right with that—no, I was deeply content. All I really needed were audio translations of the Bible to complement my Graille volumes. And I had audio Bibles in abundance—New King James Version, Revised Standard, New International, New Living… What were a few paltry stories, songs, and words of wisdom in comparison to THAT!?
Oh, it didn’t stop completely. Once, Naomi, Jedidiah, Hannah, and a precious sister in Christ whom I shall call Martha colaborated to present me with recordings of chapters from Scripture—even down to my favorite translations of those passages. Revelation in the RSV, Psalm LVI in the NKJV, John XX and XXI in the NIV… But those were isolated incidents, and I continued without a need for Projects.
Then, in 2006, I experienced a deep spiritual trauma that most of my readers are already acquainted with, and which I shan’t dust off here. Suffice it to say that everything changed during those six months. Oh, Jesus was still all I ever needed, but I forgot to see that. Instead, I clung to people as, if not my primary source of comfort, a strong supporting reserve. Gone were many of my feelings of contentment, and I was terrified of abandonment. And so, I reinstituted The Projects. So much turmoil was taking place in my life—the remnants of that spiritual crisis, medical traumas for myself and my loved-ones, academic and guide-dog-related pressures—that I decided I must have another solace. At the beginning of this post, I introduced a woman whom I deeply respect; I did not initially want to discuss The Projects with her because I’m now ashamed to admit how deeply I clung to something so very, very trivial in the scope of life. But cling I did. Twice a year and every six months, as in days of old, I set out materials. I would place a Bible next to a list of favorite passages, top the whole set-up off with two or three cassettes, a tape player, and batteries, and wait. I would discuss how very, very, ever-so-exceedingly meaningful this was, would casually quote certain Bible passages that I had listed out to see if I could get anyone to share whether any had been recorded—was that a faint glimmer of recognition I heard in Naomi’s voice?—and do everything in my power to suggest that this tradition could not, must not, be allowed to fade from our memories and consciousnesses yet. Sometimes it wasn’t Scripture; sometimes it was a fervent, pleading, almost too-emphatic request for people to share their testimonies, with that ever-present tape player sitting prominently on the kitchen’s central island. Or a not-so-subtle copy of Stormie Omartian’s book, LORD, I WANT TO BE WHOLE, “just happening” to appear on an end table, held open by a stack of blank tapes on each of the facing pages. Not that extreme, but it wouldn’t have surprised even me if I had ever actually resorted to such measures.
This year’s Project has been a little different. On 11 March, I began an alphabetized, annotated compendiom of anything that has ever had spiritual or sentimental value for me or anyone else I’ve ever known and loved. It was quite an undertaking. The result is a 104-page document in ten-point font, single spaced. It now resides in a three-ring binder, each page carefully folded into a sheet protector. My motives for wanting this as the Project of 2014 were twofold—first, I wanted those I loved to see my heart; secondly, I can see this document being perfect for narrator commentary, for the singing and exclaiming and general chichat that have always made these kinds of recordings so precious. And so, this time it was a new recorder that made its way onto the kitchen countertop, along with the bulging binder, a sort of labeler, written instructions as to how this book-length work is best read, and a number of cassettes that I am almost ashamed to write down. All right—six! Six tapes, but I later removed two of them, leaving the other four because—face it—104 pages may require that many.
All of this was done by 2 May. The “book” had taken me that long to complete! By 7 May, though, the Lord had begun to work on my heart. In His Word—all those wondrous, “exceedingly great and precious promises” of comfort and peace—and by His Holy Spirit, He began reminding me of a much, much better way. There were promises of His sufficiency, and even promises to return to me my wasted years—all the time I had spent pining for peace following that spiritual crisis of 2006. And day by day, He began to fulfill those promises. One day I would be given more boldness to proclaim the Gospel, the next day I might be shown how to serve Him in serving others again. And interspersed amongst all that He was doing in giving me strength and emotional healing was His pure, indescribable joy. I think that joy was but one way in which He showed me, beyond all shadow of doubt, that He is my all, my everything. I had forgotten what peace there was in obedience, what rest lingered in surrendering to His will. And so, as I took baby steps out of that place of traumatic memories, anxiety, depression, and self-willed thinking, He filled me with overwhelming joy even as He was gently chastening me about what I had neglected before Him. Oh, what we read in the Bible about His conviction coupled with love—it’s beautiful!
Meanwhile, the Project was well underway, without my “help”. With no hints, no words of hope or pleading, those I loved sometimes stayed up long into the evening. How do I know this? Because subtle word games and hints have become part and parcel of this tradition and are about five percent of the fun. I’ve been privy to someone picking up a cassette, and then two tapes a few days later, rearranging them so they rattled a bit, and then setting them down with a little bang that clearly identified the objects being moved about so. Little things like that. So, I know that things are underway without my begging. Oh, to think that I ever did that!—but, you know, we all have our thorns, whether it is Internet addiction or the need for approval or a tendency to eat ice cream when we’re sad or a pathetic latching-on to a tradition involving recordings from loved-ones.
I was lying in bed the other night, contemplating this, and I believe that this is the next thing the Lord would have me to surrender to Him. If I say that He is all I need, how is it that I am so fervently clutching this tradition? Moreover, how is it that I had hitherto been tying Projects to deeper emotional things—approval, abandonment vs. security, and other things that my readers can probably imagine? How? What I know now, or believe I know, since I am still developing and being strengthened in Him, is this: I believe there will come a point, perhaps as soon as six months from now, when I really won’t need those Projects anymore. Will I enjoy the ones I have received over the years? Absolutely! Would I ever spurn having another bestowed, for the sheer delight of it all? Not at all! But if He could satisfy my soul, and my heart also, from 2002-2006, and if He is the same yesterday and today and forever in His love and caring for us, which He is, then surely I can trust Him for all that I need, at the very core of my being. When I contemplate His love, grace, and mercy, all else really does pale in comparison. It is at those times, when His glory is so intense, that I’d just as soon leave Projects like the ones we’ve traditionally done sitting on the bureau untouched for days or weeks or even months. And as I draw nearer to Him, I trust that more of those moments in His presence will be mine, changing all my earthly desires and redirecting my heart to follow hard after Him. He’s already working on that, and I hope and pray that I’m ready to give up all my clinging, clutching, grasping tendencies when it comes to these Projects, in order to rest in Him. Step by step, step by step…
Addendum: Most of my readers know that I generally title my posts after worship songs. I’m making an exception here because the woman with whom I spoke this morning indicated that she might be reading this post and I wanted her to find it easily. I’m still going to name this post, though—if only in your mind and mine. It is called “You Are My All in All”, taken from the worship song of the same name. The version off of which I based this post is by Bob Fitts and appears on the album HE WILL SAVE YOU. Go and buy it!