Reminders All Around

“In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” Mark 1:9-12.

[Note: I wrote this post in August, then forgot about it in the swirl of the start of the school year. It resurfaced recently and I thought it appropriate for the beginning of Lent, when we remember Jesus’s journey in the wilderness. Jesus was accompanied by the Holy Spirit and so are we as we face our wilderness in its many shapes and sizes.]

While driving my son to college – his first year, my first kid – I passed beneath a road marked Watson Road. One of my best friend’s last name is Watson so seeing it made me smile, and then I teared up as I thought of all the friends and family I have in my life. This has been a teary time in my life as I’ve prepared to send Conor off to college, saying farewell to the younger part of his life and this part of my life as his parent. I’ve commiserated with friends who have taken their kids to college, and who I’ve encouraged as they’ve faced this milestone. I know I will be fine and he will be fine, and that this is what we’ve been planning for and working toward for years. Still, or maybe because of all that, it is an emotional time, and I have gotten weepy at reminders of loved ones, special events, and ordinary events.

Seeing my friend’s name on a sign along the road was a good reminder, albeit a moist-eyed one, of the love that surrounds me each and every day. If I look, I can find reminders all around (as I typed that, we passed beneath a road sign for Lover, PA. I am not making that up!!) How blessed I feel and how thankful I am for the presence of a loving God in my life and in the lives of my loved ones. It is a privilege to raise children and to see them grow. It is a joyful (and challenging, tiring, exhilarating) journey that we are privileged to take together. The reminders of God’s love and the love of others are great companions on my trip today and everyday.

Gracious God, watch over all of us who are taking sons and daughters to college this season. Bless all those who work at colleges and universities too. Amen.

Leaving the party

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Mark 1:35

The gift of time alone. That is one of the things I got after my divorce. Time alone when the kids were with their dad. Not just for a night or a weekend but regularly for four or five days at a stretch. Painful at times, but also an opportunity to read and think and write. If it were not for those times of being alone I don’t think I would have written any of these essays. With other people in the house I think I would have filled my time doing things with them and for them, and for myself, but probably not writing.

Fortunately it is possible to find time alone without getting a divorce but it may not be easy. It involves choosing one thing over another, and building up the discipline of making the choice consistently, over the long term. Who wants to leave a party when people are having a good time? Or who wants to get up early, crawling out from under the warm covers or leaving the warm side of a loved one in the bed? Yet making these kinds of decisions provides other spaces to open up, spaces that are needed to accomplish other things: getting in extra hours of studying, getting to work early (or on time), exercising, reading, thinking, writing, praying. The discipline of leaving the party early (figuratively speaking) takes time to practice and repetition to strengthen, but it is not a magical skill that some people have and some do not. It is a choice made hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, until it becomes more like a habit than a disruption.

And, it helps to have some kind of accountability. The weekly phone calls with my “writing buddy” have been going on for years, providing encouragement and holding me to my self-imposed deadlines and goals (thank you, Jerry!!). It is easier to “leave the party” when you are not the only one leaving! It is easier to put in that extra hour of studying or work or those extra steps/laps/sit-ups when you are not doing it/them alone. I need to be alone to write but I do not have to make that choice a secret.

Lord, in this era of constant communication, remind me to seek some time for stillness and reflection. Thank you for the sustaining power of prayer, and for strength to focus on long-term goals. Amen.

Pushing the pause button

Pushing the pause button

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Mark 1:35.

I am reading An Altar in the World, by Barbara Brown Taylor, a book given to me by my dear friend Carol. It is full of meaty phrases and ideas, such that as I read I am sticking my fingers between the pages that I want to go back and reread right away. “Wow,” I think, “that is great. I will come back to it as soon as I read this next amazing description!” By the time I stopped to go back I had read four more pages of pithy insight.

The irony here is that I was reading about the practice of paying attention, of being immersed in the moment, rather than looking past this present moment towards the next moment. Taylor describes this as a way of being reverent, and thereby honoring the people and things around us. Fortunately, I did go back and relish the points I wondered at, and I marked up the page so that I can go back and find them again more easily. It took a little time to do this, but not much.

Call it what you will – stopping to smell the roses, pushing the pause button, practicing reverence by paying attention – doing so this morning allowed me to soak in the thoughts that caught my attention rather than having them ricochet off me before I could grasp them and  hold them and truly appreciate them. I will not spend my whole day this way, pausing to see or hear and appreciate the people and things around me. I wouldn’t get out of my house and yard if I did! But it is good to pause for five or 10 minutes to soak up the rain of blessings that bombard me daily.

Thank you, God, for the wonders of your creation that stop us in our tracks. And thank you for people whose gifts to help us appreciate your creation all the more.