Intro – Wonder-Filled Living

“People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.”  ~ Augustine of Hippo

The African, Augustine of Hippo, remembered as Saint Augustine, pondered that people travel the world to experience wonder yet pass by themselves without wondering at all. We become used to ourselves, used to our lives, our surroundings, our situations. We begin to think we are common, that there’s nothing special about us, indeed that our very basic days are as good as life gets. In my late thirties, I fell into the darkest of pits. One where I could not even see the light in myself. The harder I tried to climb out, the further I sank into it. I didn’t see a future for myself. After a while, I didn’t care to have a future at all. I simply wanted to be done. I laid down at the bottom of that pit and waited for a day when I didn’t have to worry about getting up. That day has yet to come. No matter how low I fall, there’s a push in my spirit to get up and walk.

Journal Entry – Friday, June 11, 2010

Here we go again. I’m just floating around passing time and taking up space. Another day, weekend, summer, year with no one to share any of it with. Not talking about the people who pass through with sincere deposits of any value into my life. There’s no one with me day in or out, each hour who plans or hopes to be around for the long haul.

I’m tired, Father. So very tired. Exhausted. Hurt. Bereft. Rejected. Abandoned. Lonely. Sad. Heavy-hearted. Angry over it all. I don’t know what to do with it, except come to You and ask You to please take all my burdens away. In the name of Jesus, Father, please.

You put so much in my heart and I yearn for it all more every day and each day Your blessings seem further away.

What am I missing? What am I supposed to be learning? What should I be seeing or hearing? Where should my focus be? I believe my focus is on You. My hope is for all You want for me. I’m doing my best to live, think and love according to Your Word. The more I do, the more isolated I become here.

My most discouraging lesson here [has been] learning to hide. Repressing my feelings and thoughts. Keeping them to myself. Which naturally leads to keeping to myself. I want to share and remain open but the pain of rejection if debilitating. The scorn and superiority of the People (Your creation) halts me in my tracks. Now I just want to keep my Self buried within me. Protected. Soothed. Safe. Calm. At peace. No harm can come to me if I’m shielded, right? Of course not, not when You’re shielding and protecting me. I want… need Your protection, Father. I need Your covering. I need Your peace and reassurance. In the most gracious name of Jesus, I pray! Thank You, Father. Thank You, Abba.

A few years marked by feeble struggles to reanimate my life passed by. At thirty-eight I looked at my life and realized I had the time and resources to complete a master’s degree. Just as I started a graduate program, I was presented with an opportunity to finally purchase an apartment home in New York City. The combined stress of a home purchase and a graduate degree kept my mind off of depression. Halfway through my thirty-ninth year I decided my 40th year would be “a year of wonder-filled living;” which also became the working title of this book. My commitment to myself was to focus on the abundance in my life instead of the things I believed I was lacking for a whole year. Perhaps I spoke the revelation into fruition by naming my 40th year on Earth and my new book “A Year of Wonder-Filled Living.”

won·der /wəndər/
1. a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.

How many of us spend our lives wandering and wondering? Searching outside of ourselves for direction, instruction and satisfaction? Trying to figure out how we can dominate, control or eliminate our issues and our foes? Dedicating our lives to someone else’s vision, purpose and grand scheme? Adhering to lies, misdirection and trickery because that’s all we know? How many of us are stuck in a rut because life simply stopped flowing in our immediate favor; we reached a bottle-neck or a fork and decided it would be easier to just stay put?

In all the ways life comes at us, and in the countless ways we analyze our lives, we rarely give ourselves the benefit of wonder.

Desert of Solitude: Refreshed by Grace explores my journey to recognizing myself as a wonder. This truth, which is exceptionally hard for many to accept about themselves, revealed itself slowly and concretely over the span of three years.

When was the last time you felt surprise and wonder at the beautiful creation you are? When was the last time you embraced the unfamiliar and inexplicable in your life?

The Bible speaks of God’s wonderful works, His miraculous creation, as expression of His everlasting love. Psalm 139 is an ode to humanity. “I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; that I know very well (v 14).” Humans are the Creator’s wonderful work.

You are a wonder! Your wonderfulness is not dependent on money, employment, family, friends, network, possessions, status or anything else. You are a wonder because you were created that way.

Though the experiences shared in Desert of Solitude: Refreshed by Grace were written in a symbolic desert, processing them led me to a geographic one – the Sonoran Desert in Sothern Arizona.

There’s something incomprehensible, yet encompassing, about deserts. The vastness. The dryness. The endless natural beauty and matchless sunsets. The silence. There is such majesty and awe in the thundering silence. My soul and spirit were crying out for all of it. Dry bleached bones. Dehydration and death. All the imagery an arid desert conjures up is truth. As is the ferocious refreshing of the monsoon rains and the invigorating desert breeze. The evening sky is no less miraculous. A map of eternity laid out overhead. Stars without number stretching as far as the eye can see, revealing more and more the longer our eyes gaze upward.

The desert appears to be nothing. From a distance is looks to be a vast empty space incapable of sustaining life. To the contrary, the desert embodies everything important for life. Space for clarity. Gentle breezes to revive the soul. The Breath of Life breathing into empty vessels. The unrelenting separation of darkness and light graces us with a beautiful illustration of the need for both and the purpose of each.

In cities, it is impossible to experience such an understanding. The natural is washed away by artificial light and vainglorious darkness. Manmade enticements deaden souls to the need for nature in all its vast starkness and bounty. The contrasts and seemingly opposing truths in nature lead to a better understanding of our true selves. Cities on the other hand, make it easy to spend a lifetime pursuing false ideals and empty goals while cultivating identities that don’t resemble who we are at all.

Desert of Solitude: Refreshed by Grace was conceived as a multimedia book project with links to Bible passages, uplifting songs and encouraging sermons. Not quite a movie but certainly a moving story. Joy is present throughout, though at times it may be hard to spot. Sorrow may be more obvious, but please remember sorrow made moments of joy immensely sweeter. By and large Desert of Solitude: Refreshed by Grace grows into the understanding that a wonder-filled life is a by-product of embracing the wonder that is humanity and more specifically, embracing the wonder of our own personhood.

LaShawnda Jones
New York, 2017
Listen to: Desert Song by Hillsong

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