If I’m not short of breath, I’ll take the stairs. It was the new internal scale of self-guidance that came to my mind in the split second I was needing to decide whether to take the stairs or the escalator. Anytime I am moving around I am always a little bit short of breath. Even that statement is a little revised, having had to redefine my terms, reassess what is normal and what is not. My breathing combined with the movement of my body has been out of sync since this whole thing started.
Most of the posts I’ve either deleted or not posted have had to do with the physical experiences of the past almost two years. Just typing that out is mind-boggling to me. Even as I’ve been well enough to go on with life, my mind is never far from what it’s just been through. I feel like I’ve been processing along the way, and yet there’s something going on that I can’t seem to name, a deeper meaning I can’t seem to get to. “I can’t believe I’m swimming right now”, I’ll think as I’m moving down the pool. When I’m walking on the indoor track, glancing at the clock with every lap, every 20-minute, 30-minute, 40-minute (I’ve only done that twice) block of time is a shock that can bring me to tears if I stop too long to think about it.
If I walk with my hand on my torso it helps, on my lower stomach, so my body can remember what it feels like to breathe there. Most of the people walking there lap me. I’m not walking for speed, or even distance or time, but for movement and practice in breathing while doing so. The exercise has been a regular, but not everyday thing. Since school I’ve been averaging 3-4 times a week in my Y visits, depending on the week. Last week I didn’t go as much. Overall, it’s been a blessing to go.
The rain began early this morning and is scheduled to stay until the evening. I don’t mind a rainy day, particularly when I get to enjoy it here within these walls. I keep thinking mornings should be spent on my own homework, and sometimes they are. But also I use the time to catch my breath, take a walk, call a relative, or go to the Y. After that there’s still plenty of time to look around see what other tasks call out to be chosen. A load of laundry, making the bed, sweeping the floor and remembering again how I used to love this.
That is, how deeply I used to believe in how the work of home mattered. Home was to be the place where hearts were bound to one another, the sanctuary in a restless world, the secret city on a hill, where nothing was done out of selfish conceit or ambition, when the praise of the world meant nothing and the works of your hands were blessed and ever-pleasing in God’s eyes. I hardly think of him now, or the home as holy work, of God being present in the ordinary and smiling when I change a diaper or whatever that Luther quote was.
There’s an Instagram account I can follow without internally rolling my eyes at all the homemaking jargon: maryannechallieshelms. I’ll read her posts and come away feeling warmed and inspired, to set the table with soup and crackers and my Pioneer Women bowls, to straighten a cluttered surface and ponder eternity. I look at her and think, “You’re really doing this, you still believe this”, for her over two whole decades later. She strikes me as someone who has truly excelled in the homemaking arts and the narrow way.
It looks different for everyone, the ways God transforms our souls to be holy vessels of his love, to be his hands and feet and givers of ourselves who are no more, who have been taken up and hollowed by the strings and harps and melodies. I would’ve loved for excellence and proficiency in every art, but I don’t mind being more of a generalist, being a little more less specialized in order to rest in the ministry of peace and contentment. Oh, I almost sound like one of them again, a woman of grace who fears the Lord.
This is all nonsense. And I am shaken back to earth with every song I’ve never written, every piano I couldn’t play to find a way to share my heart, to touch the souls, to reach the heavens, to set my mind on higher things, O who comes up with these sayings? I think I still believe it too, the way she goes on about lighting candles and washing bowls and chopping vegetables to roast for supper, and it didn’t matter who noticed, and it didn’t matter who thanked her, it didn’t matter when all the company of heaven had things to do.
Our overnight friend needed to catch a morning train. It was my husband’s morning to preach, so he left early to take him to the station. I was in charge of getting everyone to church. Over the years as I have carried this out, it is the norm for us to arrive a few minutes late. When the kids were smaller, the lateness seemed excusable. Obviously I had my hands full and just getting there and staying was an enormous accomplishment.
I’ve kind of just about had it with being the one who determines our arrival time. As your kids get older, you can’t hide your flaws anymore, or at least you can’t carry on in the same ways you have for years and years and expect the flaws to go unnoticed. So this morning, I was proud of myself for getting out the door by 8:45 to get there by 9 after I made sure the cats were fed. Cat chores and dishes are the parents’ job on Sundays.
On the 12 minute drive to church, a minor quarrel erupted. I didn’t help matters at all, at least I had no present or immediate evidence that anything I said in the car this morning registered, when I interjected my matronly wisdom, “Yeah, well, this is why God says to have a Sabbath day, because when you don’t, this is what happens.” I said it without malice, that hint of the old fading Sunday morning bitterness, but with a patience tried.
I cried after church when I couldn’t write. After lunch with my in-laws at the Pizza Ranch buffet, we had to get ready for the church trunk-or-treat. It reminded me of the mom in the memoir The Glass Castle, where all she wants to do is paint and be an artist but life requires her to do normal things like get a job. Instead I had to edit and make copies of a flyer for the upcoming Breakfast in Bethlehem that hardly anyone came to last year.
It’s been another busy weekend here. The kids had their regional cross country meet yesterday morning. Yesterday afternoon we had a lovely wedding at camp that lasted into the evening. I kept thinking that surely somebody’s prayers had been answered for the day, as the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for a fall outside wedding. The temperatures were in the high 70’s and low 80’s, with a light breeze and warm sun.
The kids had a cross country meet at home. It was held at what is now their former high school campus. Over the summer we received news that the school had suffered structural damage due to mine subsidence, which is when mines underneath the ground collapse causing the structures above them to sink below ground level. The building has not been officially condemned, but the entire student body and staff have been displaced.
They’ve been holding school in a Nazarene church across town, which is their secured place of residence for the next two years. Nobody has officially come out and said this, but everybody seems to understand that there isn’t going to be a return to this building. Between the state laws, insurance policies, and the damage itself, there are no current plans for rebuilding. They’ve lately begun the process of researching options.
The meet went by. It was the last regular season meet for the year. The temperature was in the 40’s, which is colder weather than August. Last night at the volleyball game was senior night, which included the cross country team’s two seniors. They read thank-you letters from each of the athletes. Our son thanked his dad for pushing him to be better, and his mom for putting up with all his many long hours away from home.
I didn’t make anyone clean today. My husband commented this morning that this was the first Saturday since camp ended, maybe even since camp started, that he didn’t have anything else going on. I stayed home from the pastor’s wives retreat next door. Because of all the Saturday things, it felt like the better choice was for me to stay home and be here to also enjoy the day.
It was a beautiful fall day again. I did get together and walk with a friend who was here for the retreat, and is another pastor’s wife I know from our former district. We’ve had many wonderful retreat times together. Last year I joined the planning committee for this one, but my heart isn’t quite invested yet there. Someday I pray I am able to give a little bit more of myself to such doings.
My husband’s dream version of camp includes a hospitality coordinator who’s in charge of the cooking, the cleaning, settling people into the rooms and/or buildings, and being the contact person while they’re here. I think that’s too much to put on one person, but right now there are at least people who help with those things. Yesterday it made me happy to show a family to their cabin.
By attentive living we can learn the difference between being present in loneliness and being present in solitude. When you are in an office, a house or an empty waiting room, you can suffer from restless loneliness but also enjoy a quiet solitude. When you are teaching in a classroom, listening to a lecture, watching a movie or chatting at a “happy hour”, you can have the unhappy feelings of loneliness but also the deep contentment of someone who speaks, listens and watches from the tranquil center of his solitude. It is not too difficult to distinguish between the restless and the restful, between the driven and the free, between the lonely and the solitary in our surroundings. When we live with a solitude of heart, we can listen with attention to the words and the worlds of others, but when we are driven by loneliness, we tend to select just those remarks and events that bring immediate satisfaction to our own craving needs.
Our world, however, is not divided between lonely people and solitaries. We constantly fluctuate between these poles and differ from hour to hour, day to day, week to week and year to year. We must confess that we have only a limited influence on this fluctuation. Too many known and unknown factors play roles in the balance of our inner life. But when we are able to recognize the poles between which we move and develop a sensitivity for this inner field of tension, then we no longer have to feel lost and can begin to discern the direction in which we want to move…
The mystery of love is that it protects and respects the aloneness of the other and creates the free space where he can convert his loneliness into a solitude that can be shared. In this solitude we can strengthen each other by mutual respect, by careful consideration of each other’s individuality, by an obedient distance from each other’s privacy and by a reverent understanding of the sacredness of the human heart.
~Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life
The cross country meets are getting easier again. Yesterday evening we traveled to Carlinville, about a 45-minute drive from my in-law’s house. My father-in-law doesn’t usually come to the meets, as they occur during harvest, his needed season. The boys and I drove into town to meet my mother-in-law at their house. We took the country roads, as the interstate had recently been backed up with traffic. The drive back home was particularly beautiful. People oftentimes speak of fall as their favorite season. I understand why.
Dad left the pastor’s conference early to make the three-hour drive. He was already there by the time we arrived, and the boys had already started their race. We made it to the park grounds in time to see my son pass through the first mile marker. The loops and design of this course allows for multiple views of the runners without having to travel too far yourself. I’ve stayed pretty stationary for the meets both this year and last, but yesterday I wandered over toward a more remote soccer field. I found a bench to stand on for the girls’ mile two.
Over the past month I’ve been feeling a lot better. For a while it seemed like I’d plateaued in terms of any more physical improvements. I still need to be intentional about where and how I’m spending energy, but lately its been good to go about current normal without much need for multi-day recoveries. This past weekend we chaperoned the school dance. I spent the night walking the perimeter of the dance floor, a cardigan tied around my waist, my hands holding a water bottle close to my chest. For such things I am grateful.
The boys and I went grocery shopping this afternoon. Dad has a pastor’s conference up in the quad cities, so after teaching this morning he left straight from there. We have to go into the school to pick the boys up. They have a buzzer you push near the entryway door, which always makes me feel like I’m bothering the secretary whenever I push it. I’m sure she has her days, but she doesn’t seem to mind when the buzzer rings again.
We made it in and out in exactly a half hour’s time. I made a list of dinners while we were eating our lunch. We parked by a tree and watched a man with a guitar walking around the Lowe’s parking lot. He tried out each of the sheds lined up against the Lowe’s property fence. He’d go into a shed with his guitar and close the door. A minute or two later he’d come out and go into another one. Halfway through this a Lowe’s lady came out.
It sure is a tremendous help to have all those hands. When your kids are little, people in the stores lines often smile and say things like, “You’ve sure got your hands full!” People don’t smile or say things to me like that anymore. We usually roll up to the check-out line with a pretty full cart, to the silent dismay of all those who come behind us. I don’t know that. I just know if I let all the people with less go ahead of me, I’d be there all day.