If Sweatshirts Could Talk
I have this old sweatshirt. I’ve had it since the eighth grade. It is oversized and blue and simply says “Harpeth Basketball” on the front. Harpeth is the school I attended in junior high and high school, but do not be deceived. I didn’t play basketball. I was the statistician for the boys’ basketball team. I could not make a basket, but I could do math—we all have to use our gifts, right? The coach kindly rewarded my mathlete abilities with a team sweatshirt that season. And I loved it. I’m not sure why; it was just cozy and comforting.
This sweatshirt would go with me through many stages of life. I wore it as a teenage girl who was trying to figure out how to love herself, who was desperate for someone else to tell her she was loveable. I wore it as a college student trying to find her place in the world. I wore it as a young bride and a young mother trying each day to live up to the task, and I’m wearing it today. This shirt has seen me at my best, and it has seen me at my worst. I wore it to youth retreats and church camps—mountain top experiences. I wore it the night my sweet friend took her own life, with my third child growing within me, protected by its warmth on what felt like one of the coldest nights of my life. I have worn it to many a bonfire celebrating life, and I wore it recently on a silent retreat while I sat with the pain of the death of my 15-year marriage, wondering who I am outside of that context.
I don’t have many things that have been with me this long, at least not things I still use. And I wonder, if this sweatshirt could talk, what would it tell me about my life and myself? What would it say about the 13-year-old girl who first wore it? What would it whisper about the things that were within her that have been beaten out by life? What would it say about the 37-year-old woman I am now—the things I have learned and the ways I am wiser because of the hardest seasons of life? What sweet days and lovely conversations would it remind me about that I have long since forgotten? If my sweatshirt could talk, would it help me find meaning in things past and present? Would it cover me in warmth and tell me that things will be okay? What does it know about me that I cannot remember? This sweatshirt reminds me of the cohesiveness of my life. But the thing is, it’s just a sweatshirt.
As I worked through my silent retreat, I was reminded of something more comforting. God has been with me always. He has walked every minute of my life with me. He knew me before I was finite, and he will know me long after I am. He was with me as a baby in the arms of my mother, and he holds me in his arms now as I mother my own four children. He was with me as a teenager, telling me I was loved, and is with me now saying the same. He has been there in every victory, in every defeat. He has been with me when my heart was full to the brim and when it was broken to pieces. He knows who I was, and he knows who I am, and he knows the deepest desires of my heart. He knows every single moment of my fleeting life—and he loves me still. Oh, blessed Lord. He can tell me of my past and my present. And he—only he—can tell me of my future. Because he is there, too. And anywhere I go in life and wonder, “Can he be there?” he answers, “Yes, child, even there.” I can try to treat God like my sweatshirt—hang him in the closet and pull him out only when I want him to be a part of an event in my life. But I will never succeed, for whether I am attuned to his presence or not—he is with me. And that presence is the answer to all of my questions.
There was a lake on my retreat. It was murky and dark due to some recent storms. There were leaves and sticks strewn about it. I had decided that it wasn’t so beautiful, but as I sat on a bench next to the lake, I admired the trees that surrounded it. Beautiful fall colors stood, barely clinging to the trees. And after sitting there at the murky lake for a while something happened. The wind calmed, the water stilled, and my eyes drifted down to the lake. I saw a little flash of color on the water and focused my eyes on the yellow. As I focused on the water, the most beautiful reflection became so clear. All the way across the lake was the image of the trees that surrounded it. It looked like a painting. It was mesmerizing. The colors took over, and the murkiness of the water was not even noticeable—the reflection was all that I could see. And I heard God saying, “Be still. My reflection in you is all that is needed.” I thought about how murky our lives can seem but how much beauty shines out of them if we only welcome God’s presence and reflect his image.
Thanksgiving is coming soon. I love Thanksgiving. A day and a season for focusing on gratitude is such a gift in an often-angry world, and showing gratitude for all the little things in life is so important. But Thanksgiving will be different for me this year. For I have come to realize that all my thanks can be summed up in this one truth: God is here. What more could we ask?