the plan

September 30, 2013


We were supposed to be off on an adventure at the moment. Not able to swing any major travel for this holiday, the three of us decided, about a week ago, to have a mini-excursion, heading out on a 2-day hiking trip. In some ways it was going to be actually more of an adventure than a standard vacation, as we were going to just play it by ear once we got there, so far as hiking plans and lodging goes, none of us knowing the destination point other than just by word of mouth. The idea of getting out of the city, however, was enough to energize us with an edge of carefree adventurous spirit thrown in there.
But when V called me this morning, about an hour before we were supposed to leave, what I heard was not a question about our plans as I expected; instead I heard a voice speaking too quickly, so that I had to ask her to pause and start over before I could understand. She had begun to worry about several things on her agenda for the next few days, and about the prospect of going away. She didn’t think she should do it. Apparently whatever came out of my mouth was not what she imagined because she sounded surprised. “You’re not upset?” she asked. Not at all, I assured her. In fact, I had a few of my own misgivings that I just had not vocalized. We called M and decided together to cancel the plans.
Instead, today, we ended up picnicking in a park. In some ways this simple activity was actually a bit unusual, considering how green and different-from-our-usual-surroundings the park was.
Scrapping the intended agenda, then, we each unpacked our hiking bags, repacked picnic daypacks, and biked to the park. On the way over there, as I enjoyed the peaceful thinking time, I realized that I was getting less peaceful in my thoughts and more intense as I talked to God. I began talking out loud, repeating a few prayers as I did so. Until this moment, I had not realized how much I needed to pray. Really pray. Busy-ness has a way of doing that—a way of crowding out prayer space from the mind and heart. Today being the first real day of un-planned-ness, then, my feelings of late were able to be really felt. And tears came.
Later, at the park, once we had gotten our goofy photo-taking urges out of the way, we sat down to our picnic. As we did so, I talked of my bike ride over. And like I suspected in might, it resonated with V and M. In my case, it is due to the fact that another year’s door in my life is about to open. Or close, depending on how you look at it, so far as biological clocks go ☺ And as the years pass, I grow increasingly aware of the ways in which my life’s path has not turned out the way I used to assume it would. For quite a few years, this didn’t really matter. But now time has crept up on me and I realize that at this point in time, I may never have some of the experiences I assumed were just a “normal” part of life.
I do not say this to have any sort of a pity party: in fact, I have a great deal of enviable aspects to life. But it is simply a matter of fact right now. And I say it matter-of-factly. So be it.
We encouraged each other then, M recalling a quote she had heard recently. As best as she could remember, it went like this: “You [i.e human beings] are too insignificant to mess up God’s plan for you.” This hit a deep need in my heart, since one of my struggles, in this season of long-term vision-seeking, is the fear that I have somehow messed up His plan for me.
No, the day may not have gone as we planned. But it most certainly went as He planned.
*At one point in the day V snapped a photo of me smelling the only rose we could find in the “rose garden. When I looked at the way the sun’s rays were shining down, I gasped and asked how she did that. She shrugged and said she always manages to capture the sun’s rays like that . . . she would :-)

making time

September 17, 2013

“Dear God, thank you for making time when there is none,” I prayed this evening, after being asked to bless our dinner. It was the only thing I could think of to say at the time, considering the fact that I almost didn’t make it there.
Today I ran out of time. I arrived to Cross Country practice flustered by my inability to get out of the library when I wanted to, and flustered as well by my impatience with people asking for things as I tried to leave. I’m late! I was muttering to myself, imagining the team twiddling their thumbs as they waited. The fact of the matter, however, is that they are quite a self-sufficient bunch and were diligently stretching when their wayward coach arrived. But the point is that I felt overextended, and distracted. Practice went amazingly well, in spite of me. As I tried to worry about multiple things at once, it suddenly occurred to me that the team was doing an incredible job with their workout, pushing themselves with a single-mindedness that would make any coach thrilled. Realizing this, I tried to push my time-crunched feelings out of my mind, refocusing on the practice and reconciling myself to the fact that I might not make it to my weekly evening appointment. In between time trials I texted my language teacher. “Practice is running late and I haven’t packed for the trip yet. I might not make it tonight. Sorry!”
Later on in the practice, though, I realized that if I skipped a shower and went straight there, I could make it. I called her and was told to come on over. The evening was, as I suspected it might be, exactly what I needed. No, I hadn’t packed. [still have not, in fact, thanks to a quickly-planned flight with a friend who needed a hospital trip]. And no, I had not taken a shower [that one I have now remedied ☺]. But there is nothing like a little one to take one’s mind off of grown-up concerns.
A friend of mind once told me that she sometimes asks her husband, “Why do you love me?” when she is feeling particularly insecure and/or unlovable. I often feel the same way about the children I spend my workdays with. So much of the time I lose my patience, am unfocused, or simply plain unlovable; yet they love me still.
For whatever reason this little one I am tutoring loves me, quite clearly. She was obviously excited that I made it tonight, and we happily laughed our way through some semi-productive lessons. When I excused myself and explained I needed to go pack, she picked up a pile of her stuffed animals, placed them on a pillow as if it were a platter, and told me it was my food. I pretended to gobble it all up, then took it over to my bag and acted as if I were packing them into a suitcase to take with me. She laughed and called me silly. I asked her mother about the word to make sure I was getting it right then practiced my language skills by saying “ Goodbye silly little one.” She shot right back at me, “Goodbye silly big one.” We all laughed then, remember the previous occasion in which we had exchanged goodbye nicknames, me being her “desert” and she my “forest” the last time. I think perhaps our original nicknames were more complimentary ☺
**Photo is one of the shots of those time-making little ones in my recent workdays.

sun, and grace

September 8, 2013


For 6 days I have prayed fervently for sun. The rain has been falling steadily, confining us to buildings that grow increasingly chilly as the wetness cools the air. This is not a place accustomed to cold, so structures [and people, for that matter] are simply not equipped to handle it. Winter is generally so mild that there is no such thing as central heating. And certainly, September does not count as winter . . . not usually. But this past week has been a steady deluge without our usual sun-breaks, and without any relief from the chill in the air. Winter coats, hats, and scarves have appeared as general attire.
I know how I feel about the cold. But for some reason I thought I had gotten a bit wiser in my old age: a bit more patient about waiting it out. This week threw me for a loop, though: I could feel my mood darkening by the day, and a sense of panic setting in—an irrational fear that this was it, and that the sun I had grown to love so much in this home was gone forever. What if the tectonic plates have shifted and from now on our climate was going to be forever cold and wet? [yeah, I know–tectonic plates have nothing to do with climate but, hey, I have a point to prove!].
It was humbling to realize how externally motivated my sense of well-being can be, especially as this week has also included significant work challenges, demanding much of my professional resources on any given day.
This weekend we had our annual staff retreat. Envisioning a weekend spent at an outdoor center in this revived my sense of panic, so my prayers were amped up a bit. I called on extra prayers, in fact, recruiting my mother and a friend to pray with me. But the morning of our departure did not look promising, in the slightest. As the day wore on, however, it grew oddly warm. There was still nothing resembling true sunshine but it was pleasant enough that three of us decided we would spend all our free time outside regardless. I think we were like-minded in our feelings about this past week because as we romped around the lake, we all grew giddy, acting much like the little ones we spend our days with. Eventually we had the inspiration to break out a phone and have a little cell phone dance party. We were dancing to an odd choice of tunes, though, since my playlist consists largely of hymns and folk tunes. It worked for us, though. We raised our hands to the sky and laughed as the sun broke through the clouds.
It was, in all respects, a beautiful day. And the weekend as a whole left me heart-filled with a sense of family. Our theme for the weekend was that we were working towards being, and becoming, a community of grace.
This morning we had a closing session. In my small group of four, I confessed my feelings over this past week, using that as an example of a way in which I would like to grow more in a grace-filled approach to my work community and not just eke my way through the days. As I talked, though, I realized something. One at the table said that she had felt the same way about the week, and I suggested that maybe part of being a grace-filled community is have grace for our humanity: our own and that of each other. What if we all are weak-willed, flesh-driven souls striving together in a quest for something greater than ourselves? If that is the truth, then what more can we do, on some days, that simply step forward together, leaning on each other in our baby steps?