The Spiritual Discipline of Expecting Delays and Great Scenery

Because of the invisible cord that ties writing to life, it is with some trepidation I acknowledge that my anticipated writing topics for the coming months center around a theme which can be summarized by a road sign, especially a road sign in a construction zone bearing this kind of verbiage: Expect delays and great scenery.Expect Delays and Great Scenery

Oh, I’m all about the scenery.  I’m just not fond of delays. I don’t want to wait. For anything.

That the roads we wander will need repair is a given. That there will be delays, an inconvenient fact. That they will occur at the nearly the worst possible time seems to follow some universal law. To plant an expectation of great scenery takes a leap of greater optimism.

Expectations almost always disappoint.

Except that we tend to find what we look for. Whether we gaze out the window for the view or at the clock to measure wasted time, that’s what we’ll see.

Here in Iowa, our open roads and flat terrain allow travelers through construction zones to slow down more often than stop. When it does require a full stop, it’s usually short, governed by a traffic light rather than a pilot car. Those are more common to the mountains, where the roads are winding, the stops long, and patience is not simply a virtue—it’s a survival skill.

When my husband and I came upon this sign along the road to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, it wasn’t hard for me to believe. We were already in the mountains. The Tetons are known for being photogenic. I already expected great scenery. I just wasn’t interested in a delay.

Whether I’m on the road to Yellowstone and the Tetons or a highway in the heartland, I believe that there’s something to see, that it’s worth paying attention to the landscape of our lives, that there is, as Matthew Henry wrote, “a great deal of good to be learned from what we see every day.” All this I believe, but I forget because I am in too much of a hurry to stop and remember.

Hurry focuses on tasks instead of people. On outcomes over processes. On destinations and not the journey. It leaves little room for the slow unfurling of all the good to be found along the way.

Delay interrupts hurry.

On the same trip that we saw the sign, J and I drove into Yellowstone from the Tetons, arriving later than we had planned. We had only one task to complete that day, but it was an important one: find a campsite, something more easily accomplished early in the day than late. J is more easy-going than I. The need to get to the campground weighed more heavily on me than on him. I was in a hurry.

Within a few miles of the campground, we found ourselves in a long line of stationary vehicles. It didn’t have the look of a typical Yellowstone bear-induced traffic jam, but we couldn’t see the source of the blockage. We had no idea what the holdup was. We didn’t know how long we would be sitting there, waiting. After a while, J suggested we turn around and have dinner at a small picnic area we’d passed a few miles back.

The promised delay had materialized, interfering with my rush to get to the campground and procure our campsite. I was torn. We could sit and wait for the traffic to move while I watched the clock, tormenting myself with each moment that passed, or we could wait by the water in the woods, enjoying the scenery we’d driven across the country to see. The truth was, I wanted to go where I wanted to go and do what I needed to do. And I wanted to do it now, not later.

I wasn’t interested in the scenery.

Tree in the Bluff Yellowstone Lake

In the end, we turned around. After we lugged our Coleman stove and a cooler full of food to a table on a bluff overlooking Yellowstone Lake, I prepared our meal to the soundtrack of waves hitting the shore and J moved on to his natural habitat: the rocks above the water. And an hour later, when the snarled traffic finally loosened, freeing vehicles to whiz by, we lingered in our solitary place among the pines long after our leisurely dinner was done. The delay had dissolved my habitual hurry and created space to see beyond the pressure of the clock, to enter fully into the moment rather than simply passing through.

It seems we are always waiting for something. And while I relish good scenery, I’m more comfortable with hustle, with arriving where I want to be according to my own  itinerary.

Maybe that’s precisely why we need delays: there are unexpected things to see and do and learn that don’t fit into the plan. The expectation of delays and great scenery predisposes us to a willingness to wait, to submit to a timetable not of our own creation, to believe there are purposes and treasures in the long pauses of life. Delays can free us from the crushing weight of tasks and outcomes and arrivals, creating space for us to slow down and lift our eyes to the world around us and the God who gives us life and breath and the ability to move at any speed—whether it’s comfortable or not.

And you, Fellow Traveler? Because we are almost always waiting, almost always in the midst of some delay on life’s road, let me ask this: Do you look for the scenery or do you seek the fastest way through? What would it look like for you to pause and embrace the inevitable delays the coming year will bring?

 

 

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No: A Long Bridge to Yes

HA Spring Bridge Collage

When I slipped off the wide gravel road and into the woods, I knew it was a risk. The worn, earthen trail between the trees was wore a dark, saturated look, as if just a few drops of rain would transform it into shoe-sucking mud. At first it was solid and often grassy. Before long, though, I heard the unmistakable squish of a boggy trail under my feet. I picked my way over and around and through the sloppy path and emerged at the edge of a clearing that could have been called a swamp. Because it was shallow and my toes were already wet, I tiptoed in and picked my way across. There was something on the other side I wanted to see.

A bridge.

Finding a bridge in the woods is one of my favorite things. It’s unexpected. A gift.  After walking and walking and walking on dirt, suddenly there’s something different, something meant to make the way easier or maybe even possible, depending on the nature of the impasse.

As I approached the bridge, I thought it seemed a little odd. Out of perspective. Off somehow.  When I reached it, I saw that to cross the bridge required three steps down and three back up on the other side. Usually you just walk straight onto and across a bridge. It’s a zero-depth entry operation. To cross this bridge required me to climb down onto it just to cross.

I thought it was weird.

The people who built the bridge could have used a little extra wood and added a few feet on each side and it would have been like the others. Straight on. Straight off.

Those bridges are easy. Familiar.

But this one, I realized, as I leaned over the railing and inspected the cleft in the earth below, mirrored one I’d been walking for a while. Not a literal bridge, of course. This one mirrored one of those figurative bridges I’m fond of. They’re as unexpected as the ones in the woods, and possibly a greater gift.

No. That’s the bridge. And it’s taking me to yes.

It’s a long one. I climbed down onto that bridge one yes at a time only to discover that I’d yesed myself into a whole lot of noes. Noes to people. To sleep. And to fun. All those noes prompted my husband and me to take a close and prayerful look at our life. A close and prayerful look led to the realization that what we need now are more, different, noes–noes to Big And Very Good Things, things we enjoy, things we’re good at, things where we make a difference. All in the name of crossing the bridge back to yes.

Yes to people. Yes to rest. And yes to joy.

It’s a long bridge and I’ll be on it longer than I would like. It will take a lot of  steps to cross from one side of the chasm to the other, steps I know will be small and halting because I’m more prone to overcommitting than to cutting back.

But now that I’ve walked down the steps and onto the bridge I can see that it’s a good place to pause and count the cost, to ponder the conditions of current commitments and attend to God’s leading in order to press on, better able to stand behind my yeses and my noes. It’ll be awhile before I make it across the long bridge and climb the stairs on the other side. Along the way I’ll be learning to make better use of my noes, my yeses, and—for now—my summer, a season in which I’m trying to put my yeses in the right places, places like people—including my kids and the pool.

How about you? What are you doing with your yeses and noes? 

Linking over at Lyli Dunbar’s place today.
Click on over and see what she’s been up to!

Embracing a Big Summer {& a Giveaway}

Summer Scene: Morning on Table Rock LakeWhile the rest of the world waited for February 2 and  Punxsutawney Phil to declare just how many more weeks winter would hold on, I looked to February 1. That was the date I allowed myself to count the days until my kids would be done with school and off on summer break so we could all be home together and do summer things.

The key words in that sentence are home and do, because one always seemed to exclude the other and I ended up fragmented and frustrated in my approach to life.

The kids are older now and so am I. More than that we homeschool. I don’t have to count the days until we’ll all be home together. Still, every February, I find myself counting the days until we can focus more on the freedoms and gifts of summer.

But my desire to be home and do are still at cross-purposes, leaving me feeling as though I’m living in the battle field of my mind, my calendar, and my expectations. And I too often find myself a summer version of Ebenezer Scrooge, bah-humbugging away the season I was anticipating—feeling too overwhelmed to do all of those things I was looking forward to, telling my littlest that we don’t really need to go to the pool, and sometimes counting the days until fall.

This isn’t how I want to approach summer. It’s not how I want to live. But I’m learning that the way I meet seasons and months and days becomes the way I live  my life. So I’ve been working on it, putting on a new mindset about summer–the one I actually have instead of the one that exists only in my mind and Hallmark commercials.

Here are a few ideas that have helped me on my quest to better embrace a big summer. I’m more successful at some of these than others, but I’ll take progress without perfection over the pursuit of perfection with no progress.

  • Let summer be summer. Not a continuation of spring. Not a runway for fall. Just summer.
  • Let this summer be this summer. Not last summer. Or next summer. Every summer is different.
  • Look at every opportunity as a blessing rather than an obligation. 
  • Ask and adjust. Ask yourself what you want to do this summer. (Which isn’t the same as what you’d like to accomplish this summer.) Ask your family. Ask what’s realistic. Adjust.
  • If you need to let some things go, let them go and move on. Without guilt. Don’t dwell.
  • Say yes to the people who live in your house. It’s their summer, too.
  • Plan a few no days. Most days you’ll do things. Set a few apart to not do things.
  • Go to the pool. Or the lake. (And maybe get in the water.)
  • Eat outside. Even better: Put your dinner in a basket and go on a picnic.
  • Simplify your meal planning. During the summer we eat taco salad most Mondays. My girls love it, especially when we take it to the lake and go for a walk afterward.
  • If you travel, lighten up. Take less stuff. Make packing less of thing to contend with.
  • Consider this question: What is summer for?

I’d love to hear your answer. Let me know in the comments. 

The Giveaway:

There’s a new book on the market: A Family Shaped by Grace: How to Get Along with the People Who Matter Most. It’s by Gary Morland, a believer in connecting the dots of life, in the power of encouragement, and in God’s care for the state of our family relationships. It’s practical and encouraging, a story and tool-chest for how to bring about small changes in your family culture, not by changing your family, but by changing your heart, attitudes, and actions toward your family. I’ve been privileged to be on the launch team for this book and because I believe family matters and am grateful for Gary’s voice, I’ll be giving away two copies of his book, one to blog readers and one to newsletter subscribers. To enter, leave a comment on or before June 29.

Blog reader winner will be announced June 30, in the comments on this post. (Newsletter subscribers will be notified by email. If you’re not a subscriber, there’s still time. Subscribe in sidebar.)

 

Sharing at  Lyli’s and Barbie’s.

For This October: Too Fast of Speed

Calling my husband’s family a water-sport loving family is like calling the arctic North, chilly. They’re hard core. He grew up on skis. He also grew up clinging to his dad’s shoulders as his dad perched on a chair which was balanced precariously on a plywood disk (the “saucer”) as it skimmed across the water behind a boat. Skis? Normal. Saucer? Oh my.

My son, who has thus far been spared the ski-on-pop-on-a-chair-on-a-wooden-disk circus trick, did spend the young years watching every wakeboarding move made by his grandpa, his dad, and his uncle. They were – and are – pretty good.

Back when we were all younger, his uncle, who was serious enough about wake boarding to go to a wake boarding school in Texas, tried and succeeded at about everything I saw him try on a board. He could do flips and 180s and all kinds of amazing things. I was in awe of him. He worked hard and his effort bought him smoothness of execution, and a delightful combination of strength and grace. It also cost him some wipeouts.

One morning, when my son was about four, as the boat made yet another slow circle to deliver the rope to my brother-in-law, my son called out with the boldness that only a doted on nephew would possess, ” I know why you fall so much. You’re going too fast of speed.”

Indeed.

I heard him. I laughed along with everyone else at his sweetness and his logic. What I didn’t do was listen. I should have, immediately, because what he offered was true. When we go too fast, we fall down.

I have some of proficiency with putting a plan and a schedule together and I can, with varying degrees of smoothness, pull off its execution. Calendars and schedules are not as exciting or exquisite as my brother-in-law’s wake boarding, but the result of my effort is usually worthwhile. Except that sometimes I wipe out. Epically.

I forget that just because I can get it all to work on paper doesn’t mean that it will translate well to life. It all begins to crumble when I feel the need to hurry, hurry brought on by being overcommitted. My bulging to-do list overwhelms me and I wipe out because I try to go too fast of speed.

Speed is a brutal task master, standing between me and the sweet faces that I have failed to look at as they have shared their stories, the friends I have sped past on my way from a vital here to an urgent there, and the confused little people who don’t conform well to a life of hurry. There is a time for hurry, but it is no way to live.

Speed should receive my gratitude when it eventually causes me to take a spill, because just as a my brother-in-law grabbed the rope for another go behind the boat, when I get up I can start again. This time I can do it better. I can slow down.

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