Where the Phone Used to Be

My kitchen has loads of counter space. It was a selling point for me when we bought the house a dozen years ago, and we use every square inch of it whether we’re cooking, eating, playing games, or just needing a place to put all the things.

When we moved in and settled ourselves, we inadvertently – like most folks do – chose a collection spot for the things we didn’t care to sift through in the moment. It was conveniently located by the phone and worked as a place to keep lists, the mail, coupons, extra keys to things unknown, and so on. You get it.

It also worked as a locator of sorts. If I left something for Mark and wanted to make it clear to him where it was, I could say, “It’s by the phone,” and he knew exactly where to look. It was easy to hold the kids accountable for chores assigned to them when they knew the list was “by the phone.” They couldn’t argue that they didn’t know what I wanted them to do. Obviously, they wouldn’t dare do that anyway because I’m a bit scary… but still. And when the mail came, it was stacked “by the phone” so everyone knew where to sift through the pile for whatever was delivered to them.

Pretty much all of the things most often needed by anyone in our family could be found “by the phone.”

Car keys. Coffee. Sharpies. Coffee. Medications. Coffee.

You know, the basic necessities of life.

As our lives have evolved (or devolved for the glass-half-full types like me) over the last decade, though, one key component of this space in our house – the focal point – the phone – has disappeared. We cut our landline several years ago and fully embraced the digital age with smart phones for everyone. No regrets here. It’s surprisingly handy to be able to carry little computers around in our pockets wherever we go. Cell phones have at the very least made our lives as much easier as they have made them complicated.

Except for this one thing.

Once we dropped the landline, the collect-all space on the counter could no longer be called “by the phone.” And we’ve struggled to rename it. We’ve tried. I promise. Nothing works. “By the coffee” is too vague because the coffee beans are there, but the coffee POT is to the left…so that direction leaves the other person searching a 2′ length of countertop with futility. “In the junk place” feels beneath us. “Over there on the counter” is ridiculously aimless. “Stash spot” is too cutesy for our family.

And I couldn’t just say “by the phone” anymore even though by the phone still meant the exact same thing it had always meant. I tried, I promise. It usually played out like this…

“Mom, where’d you put my keys?”

“On the counter.”

“Where on the counter?”

“By the phone.”

“What phone?”

“They’re RIGHT THERE.”

“WHERE?”

“OMG.”

“What?!! I don’t see a phone!”

Sigh.

“They’re WHERE THE PHONE USED TO BE.”

“Ohhhhhhhh…”

After stumbling through these kinds of complicated interactions for way too long, we settled on that mouthful of words as a name for the place.

Where the Phone Used to Be.

Nailed it.

Suddenly, everyone knew exactly where to go. The place it used to be ended up being the place it still was…even though, by definition, it was no longer that place at all. The problem was solved.

And yet, we still often find ourselves stumbling over the name because first of all, it’s just too many words even for wordy people like us. And second, because we feel a bit silly referring to this place in the present as the place that it was in the past.

I have a “naming things that existed or happened in the past as if they exist or are happening in the present” problem. The residual fallout from my life experiences makes it difficult to translate the belief that in Christ all things are made new to my day-to-day experiences – moments that are rife with echoes of painful or scary things that have happened in my past. Unfortunately, this condition I have has often kept me stuck in old patterns and with old labels that made sense in the context of the past, but just don’t describe me well anymore.

I am a victim.

I am too much.

I am broken.

I am not safe.

All of these have been true at one time… but they’re not true anymore.

Okay, fine. Maybe my people find me too much at times. I’m no walk in the park. But who is? And, yes, my body is pretty jacked up. But the essence of me is not broken or too much.

You guys. It’s taken a LOT of therapy and hard, hard work to be able to say this – especially out loud – and to believe it’s true at least much of the time. Bless my therapist, Lord. Like I said, I’m no walk in the park. I identify with Jacob, the son of Isaac, who wrestled to the point of permanent injury with God. GOD, you guys. God. Now THAT is stubborn. But though fear makes some of us retreat – a reasonable response to a perceived threat of danger, some of us lose all intelligent thought and, instead of running, we come out of the corner fighting. Solidarity, Jacob.

This wrestling is worthy work, I think. Yeah, it can feel good to beat the crap out of the thing or person you’re resisting, but mostly I think the value is in the release it gives you. I mean, it’s not like he was going to win that fight. And I think he was smart enough to know that. He just needed to work it all out. I can imagine Jacob throwing all of his heartache – the deceit, the emotional manipulations of his mother, the angsty father who just didn’t get him, the outright betrayal of his uncle. It’s a lot. A lot, a lot. And I bet it felt amazing to gather up all that angst and throw it right in God’s face.

Isn’t it interesting that after all that fighting, God sat him down and gave him a new name? I love that his new name, Israel, named Jacob as he was in the present while at the same time honoring what he had suffered and experienced in the past. God took all that pain and loss and summed it up with a name that puts an unexpected spin on things – someone who struggled and struggles with God.

Past and present. Was a victim. Now is a contender.

I wonder if it was a hard sell? Did Jacob sit across from God with his arms crossed – disbelief and distrust written all over his face? Did he argue and demand God stick with his birth name – dismissing the moniker as just another example of how little God actually knew him? #askingforafriend

Or maybe he was so empty and worn out by then that he found it easy to surrender to his new name? A fight with God can really wear you down.

Either way, I don’t think Jacob was the easiest of God’s children.

Same, Jacob. Same.

The truth is, I still often find myself in a wrestling match with God as He continues to gently coax me towards a place of acceptance of my new name(s). It’s hard to do! There’s a sometimes-not-so-subtle interplay within – parts of me stuck in the past with my old names and parts of me aching to move into the present and embrace what God says about me – You were broken, now you are mended. You were a victim, now you are an overcomer. You were unsafe, now you are safely connected. What identified me then doesn’t identify me now. I’m all safe and grownup in the present moment and able to handle whatever thing(s) I was once afraid of and victim to. This is where my therapist’s role is so crucial – because when I am caught up in the past and slip back into identification with those old names, she is able to see me in the present and remind me of who I am now. And she’s quick, that one. It’s maddening. Lifesaving, but maddening.

You might think that this handy little metaphor compels me to rename the place where the phone used to be.

Nah.

Some old names are good to hold onto, and this one is an excellent reminder to the parts of me that like to stay stuck in the days of landline phones with curly-q cords – a reminder that my truest Self is in the present.

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