Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Because (Mysticism and Math)


Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Because my husband and I reached a moment of clarity when his truck, again, needed extensive repairs we couldn't afford.  "Something needs to change,” we said, together, and the words set like concrete, solid and steady beneath our feet. 
  
Because, the job opening was posted online within a day or two of our decision.  

Because, it had been six months or more since I looked for any kind of job and this kind of job only appears once in a blue moon.  What are the chances we would reach this decision, that I would start looking for a job, the day after my dream job was posted?

Because, my references all said, "Yes, of course, we think you'd be great."  

Because, the timing is perfect, with the kids ready steady in a new school year. 

Because I want it to be so. 

Because, because. 

//

I ticked these signs off one by one in my Spiritual Director's office, laying them out like bread crumbs I've gathered amidst the wilderness of my life, crumbs I hope might form a trail.  

“I want these things to add up,” I said.  “I want them to mean I will get this job.  But I know, it’s one thing to know what is – to be aware – and a much more difficult thing to know what it means.”  

Here, she nodded, knowingly.  

“I want to be able to say these signs mean God is doing this," I continued, "but I know God too well by now to place God in that kind of box."  "I’m not sure where God is in this,” I concluded.

“It seems to me,” she said, “that you’re being invited into a more mystical way of being.  Invited to dwell, not in the meaning of things, but in what you know to be true in each moment.”

//

In high school, I always did my math homework first.  For the most part, for me, it was easy.  More importantly, though, it was solid, clear, concrete.  There was only one answer and when you found it and checked it, you were done. 

Writing homework, though, was another beast.  Writing an essay is so open-ended.  There are so many words to choose from, so many ways to shape a sentence, a paragraph, a thought.  There is no clear ending; there are many was to frame a correct answer, so many ways to sculpt ideas across a page.  I never finished my writing assignments until just before they were due.  

//

Mysticism is not math.  It is the homework I have saved for last.

//

I immediately recognized the truth in my Spiritual Director’s words and, inwardly, I sighed.  Giving up my clumsy attempts to discern the meaning of things felt like a loss – a loss of knowing, to be exact.  

What do we have if we can't add events of our lives up one after the other, if we cannot trace a simple path through the woods of where we are to where we think we want to be?   We are left only with the present in all of its fullness and fragility.  

I told my director this, how I value the easy math of knowing, nailing down, what God is or is not doing.  How letting it go feels like a loss.  But, I realized even as I spoke, that by letting go of what is not, we enter, more fully, into what is.  We are free to stop hoarding and trying to find our path via the breadcrumbs of our lives.  Free to enjoy each crumb as the much-needed manna it is.  

What do we have if we only live in the present?

We have nothing.  We have everything.

We have God.

    

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Thrift Store, With God (What I Gave Up & What God Holds)



God and I went to the thrift store last week. 

It’s was the first day my kids were back in school.  Although I often go thrifting with the aim of stocking my kids’ closets, I breezed right through the children’s section of the giant store with barely a glance.  The image of them each boarding the bus that morning in new shoes, shorts and sneakers was still fresh in my mind.  

The day before, I had been struck by an unexpected wave of resentment at the wealth of new clothes they had and their apparent lack of appreciation for it.  It wasn’t just the clothes I resented, though, it was the time, the sheer amount of resources, I sent their way this summer, particularly during the last grueling weeks of August.  You see, this summer, I gave up.

I fought hard, in the beginning, to make room for my writing and working life to continue.  Hard, like, wearing ear muffs in my office while my kids mimicked the rooster by my window and practiced playing the recorder outside my office door.  When working with them at home failed, I took them to a free day camp program the next town over, freeing up two precious hours, three mornings a week.  But it wasn’t enough.  The pressure to drop them off, drive home, and dive into writing with little to no transition proved unwieldy. 

By early August the impact of my evening and weekend work schedule at the library became clear.  In summers past, those were times I could steal away to my office write.  This summer, I traded those hours for a small but much-needed paycheck.

Then came August, with two birthdays (twins!), several days of single-parenting while my husband wrestled the engine in and out (and in and out again) of his rattle-trap pick-up truck, then several days more of single parenting while he traveled for work.  All of this, right around the time the day camp ended. 

I gave up.  I let go of even pretending to keep the semblance of a writing life together. 

At first it sucked and I was sad and mad and had All The Feels.  But then acceptance came along like a breath of fresh air and it felt so good to not be swimming upstream, to accept that there was neither time nor energy for more.  I lived in the reality of the last weeks of summer with four kids.

I cut hair. 

I bought shoes. 

I participated in a round-robin of back-to-school night events and organized a mounting pile of supply lists and schedules. 

I took them to the pool and praised every new trick they learned. 

I washed load after load of towels.  

It was what it was.  

But, after I loaded them onto their buses, when I went to post the traditional first day pictures online, I felt, again, the loss that accompanies ‘giving up.’  I scrolled through images of friends releasing new books into the world.  I read updates of others heading off to new jobs teaching in local schools.  I had nothing to post except for a few candid shots of my kids decked out in new gear, ready to face a new year.  “This is what I did this summer,” I wanted to write.  “This is what I’ve been working on.”

It seemed both sad, to me, and simply, remarkably, true.

In the post-bus quietude, I messaged a friend, “I’m trying to process what I lost/gave up this summer.”  Then, I shut up the house, pulled on my sunglasses, and headed to the thrift store with God. 

Like an awkward parent and teen tackling difficult subjects on a shared commute, God and I find it easier to talk at the thrift store.  Something about strolling the aisles of color-sorted clothes quiets and opens me, creating a place of listening and attention, which God and I both recognize as prayer.

That’s how God and I found ourselves sifting through hangers of winter coats and blazers, discussing ‘what I lost’ this summer.  It occurred to me, as I perused tan corduroy coats from the nineties and multi-colored ski jackets from the eighties, maybe I was being a bit melodramatic.  I paused, with my hand on the shoulder of a pea coat and considered the possibility.

Was I being melodramatic? 

Yes, perhaps I was. 

I turned to God, then, for an opinion. 

God said, without skipping a beat, “Yeah, you get that way sometimes.”

I stifled a snort of laughter.  Of course, God knows me.

With acknowledgement came acceptance.  I felt free to feel the loss – both real and exaggerated - and to trust that it too would pass.

God reminded me, then, of how it works between the two of us.  “All the things you give up, I hold,” God said.  “There is no part of who you are that ever has been or ever can be lost.”

How could I have forgotten that simple truth?  With it comes incredible freedom – freedom to hold on when the time and space are right; freedom, even, to fight for what I want.  But, freedom also for letting go when time and circumstances demand it.   

I felt lighter as I moved on to rows of skirts and blouses.  God wandered off into the aisles of handbags and shoes (God does that sometimes).  We said we’d meet up in the car on the way home, we find that’s a good place for talking, too.