July 15, 2014

a horizon

[written one Sunday afternoon in June...]

I've never been sure enough of myself and my impressions to be a “thus saith the Lord” kind of girl, but in the past few months I've felt a sort of divine invitation to “come away for awhile and rest.” As you might imagine, this is a smidge on the tricky side for a stay-at-home mom of four (who also has sole responsibility for their schooling).

But gradually, it's happening. With the counsel of my Farmer, I've been reviewing my commitments and slowly but surely releasing myself from them.

Not surprisingly, my social sphere limited as it is by my current vocation, most of my commitments were at church.

I wrote to the prayer ministry coordinator and asked that I (and my Farmer) be removed from the after-church prayer schedule. We found substitutes for Sugar in the church nursery. I told our moms' group's leader that I wouldn't be available next year to help plan the schedule, call speakers, maintain the blog, pray before meetings, or do the secretarial work.  I let the co-leader of the Sonshine Girls know that I would be taking a sabbatical from non-family responsibilities.  

We broke it gently to the children that we may not be participating in church clubs next year.  The gentleness turned out to be unnecessary – they are far less attached to these activities than we think; it is their relationships with family and close friends that matter most to them, and the way they see it, this will give them more time with both! 

Those were all things that I loved. In the past, I have accepted positions for wrong reasons: someone told me I'd be good at it, I wanted to see what it would be like, or the worn-out old “they needsomeone to fill it.” I learned that lesson the hard way several years ago when, juggling too many responsibilities, I heard my young daughter ask wistfully as I slung my purse over my shoulder and grabbed the car keys, “Are you going to another meeting?”

I want to be present for my family.

Flashback to my childhood: my father, the younger of two bi-vocational pastors at a small country church, spent what seemed like many evenings away from us taking care of church business, and while home, many hours ensconced in his study, working on church business. In case you're not familiar with bi-vocational pastorates, it means that he worked full-time as an electrical engineer during the week, and divided his free time between church and home responsibilities.

He took this on the year I turned one, and was still pastoring there when I left home after high school for a mission assignment.  That's nearly two decades of meetings.

[caveat: I was a child, seeing my dad through a child's eyes. I don't know what his hours actually were, and there are photos to prove that he also played with us. I remember him reading the Little House books to us, and later, the Chronicles of Narnia. His study door was closed, I believe, but I always knew I was welcome to come ask for a sip of his coffee or help with a broken doll, to share a contraband kitten, to settle a disagreement between my siblings, or get an opinion on a book.  I did feel cherished by him - I just would have liked him to be there more often.  This post is not about his choices - which I honor - but about mine.]

I recognize that I don't have a whole lot of control over what my children remember of their childhood, and of me – our memories are extremely selective, and unreliable. But I do have some say in the matter, and I didn't want them to remember me running off to committee meetings, so I freed myself as soon as I could from as much as I could.

But that was several years ago. Why am I disengaging now??  Everything I was involved in, I loved doing. 

The problem is, my margin had disappeared.

No book on the market will print lines out to the edge of the page – you couldn't read it. The margin helps you to make sense of what's written. In music, there's the rest. In art, negative space to set off the focal point.

In life we need margin, too. Going non-stop leaves no time to reflect, no time to weigh decisions. Without margin we react instead of responding.

And being more reflective than some (go ahead, ring the "introvert" bell), I need more margin – more space in which to think about my life, and the life my Farmer and I are building for our family.  I want to have time to feed on God's word rather than merely read it.  I want to have time to watch my children instead of just keeping an ear out for cries of distress.

Every mother of us has been admonished by some well-meaning older woman (usually while we're juggling a baby, a toddler and a diaper bag, at least), "Enjoy them while they're young!"  Well, I can't seem to enjoy them, really, when I don't even have time to observe them.  And over a decade into this parenting thing, I can see that time does fly, and the only way I can slow it down is by slowing down.

So we're taking a sabbatical. 

 For the rest of the summer (and possibly longer), we'll be free from our usual commitments (although my Farmer will continue to serve out the remaining months of his term on the church board). Unentangled, we'll see what happens to us.

One thing that I've been challenging myself with is doing nothing.  “Do nothing all day. Then, rest from it.” reads a quote in my purse notebook, written months ago when a friend prescribed it to me. To my surprise and disappointment, doing nothing is difficult for me!

Especially inside.

Have you ever (and you have my permission to think waaaaay back to your childhood summers) sat outside and gazed at the clouds, or the trees above you, or into the flames of a campfire, or at far-away hills and just let your mind roam? Peaceful, isn't it? Calming and oddly refreshing, too.

Now try to do that in your living room.

The indoors is just not conducive to reflection. I see the cobwebs in the corners, or the toys that Nice left out, or the papers that need attending to. I think, not about eternity or the meaning of life, but what to make for supper, and whether I should return those calls now or wait till tomorrow.

So I'm happy to be outside today. Yes, this time with my laptop and something to say, but outside nonetheless.

In the past few weeks I've been learning the art of the porch rocker, the gaze toward the hills, letting the mind come out for an airing (interrupted by Lil' Snip's observations regarding sand, bugs, and new flowers in the flowerbed, true, but I take what I can get). I'm not good at it, yet, but I'm getting better, and I know one thing for sure: you've got to be outside if you want it to work at all (although a good view through a window will work in a pinch; I just haven't got any window views with adequately placed seating - yet!).

And the further you can see, the better. 

 Today I can see several miles (okay - two, maybe) across farms and fields to tree-covered hills that still exist, where the roads are not. I feel a breeze under this maple tree, and see puffy white clouds slowly spreading across a clear Caribbean-sea [colored] sky. Birds chirp (and occasionally sing) and the heat quivers over the cornfields. 

A blackbird bursts out of the wheat growing beside me.

A biker pedals by silently.

A white cabbage moth flutters through sunlight in contented commonness.

A vulture rides the wind,
gnats hover over the keyboard,
a jumbo jet thunders distantly overhead.

Swallows flit playfully past,
a breeze rustles the leaves of a line of walnut trees.

Horse-drawn Amish carriages (“buggies” to us locals) go at a slow Sunday walk, home from church or a visit.

“The health of the eye,” says Emerson, “demands a horizon.”

And so, I think, does the soul.

     --- < O > ---

And now, after an hour or so of reveling in the horizon and the birds and the artistically-leaning fencepost, it occurs to me that Quiet Time is halfway over, and my Farmer is probably sitting in the unimaginative living room eating ice cream, and that it would feel fine to leave my dappled shade now and join him.

And so I do, buoyed with plenty of horizon now, plenty of margin to frame the living.

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