let your cup overflow

let your cup overflow

Blog post for slow collection

One of the reasons I wanted to write about living and moving at a slower pace is illustrated in the following hour or two in my life. It’s a small passage of time that revealed my impatience, propensity to hurry and pettiness. I could add other adjectives but, you know, I’m trying to be conscious of word count. 

During Christmas break, my son Caleb had dinner plans across the city from our home. The location of the meal was just far enough away it didn’t make sense to divvy the driving between me and Carl or to return home after drop-off only to return in short order for pick up. 

I decided to take a book, find a warm place to read and wait. I remembered a nearby Starbucks from a previous waiting scenario and was delighted to find several open chairs, cushioned just enough for passing time.

The young woman who took my tea order was cheerful and engaging.  It was hard not to notice thin raised lines running the length of her left upper arm in contrast to her right arm, a colorful sleeve of ink.  Each side a visual of pain in different dimensions. I hoped it was a testimony of inner and outer healing.

 There were several tables dotted with men in conversation and every so often another member would step across the door’s threshold, causing an eruption of laughter and welcome.

I staked claim of my seat, set my cup upon the side table situated between me and an adjacent padded chair and opened my book. 

After about 15 minutes, a man sat down with coffee and proceeded to blow his nose more than sip his drink. He stayed for about 10 minutes and was on his way. I was relieved.

Another ten minutes passed and an older man nabbed the vacant seat and spread his bounty of food and drink, covering the table. I am sure there is an associated emoji for how I eyed this action. I am sure I inwardly sighed as he buttered, torn open and crumpled his bags and liberally seasoned his food with salt and pepper. I know I snapped a discreet table photo and sent it to my daughters with a comment about the virtues of sharing space after he pulled the table towards him, almost toppling my stoppered tea. 

I resumed my reading after picking up my phone a few times to read the emoji and gif littered text responses when the man asked me if two giggling brown-faced children sitting at a high table across the cafe were mine. I replied no and pointed to their parents sitting in mirror-imaged chairs to ours. 

I set my gaze upon my book and attempted to locate my last read sentence. He continued to express his worry the children might fall if not watched properly. We conversed back and forth for a few minutes. It was harmless really. But then from what context of our conversation I am not certain, he began telling me about his great-great-grandfather and how Indians tried to take his land while living in Montana. I didn’t have a response and to be honest, I wanted the conversation to end. I picked up my phone hoping for a text to appear, informing me my time was up.

I attempted to direct the conversation to a different subject. He rose to fetch additional napkins from the counter and I took this as my opportunity to assume a forceful reading posture as if I were a superhero of the literary kind. For a small passage of time, my victory was clear as there was not a sound except for the tide of conversation, laughter, and frothing swirling about us.

My phone’s telltale ding alerted me that Caleb was ready for a lift. I told the gentleman I was heading out and the reason why I had tarried.

I gathered my belongings and stood up. 

“…but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.
I do not know You, God, because I am in the way.
Please help me to push myself aside.”*

He lifted his face towards mine and asked,

“Did you have a nice Christmas?”

In as few words as possible, I answer him by telling him, I did have a nice Christmas, it was simple, quiet and lovely.

I ask him about his Christmas and hoped for an equally quick answer as my foot needed to be attached to an accelerator.

He paused and quietly replied,

“My Christmas wasn’t so good. My wife died 10 days ago.”

My mouth widens and I sit down.

For the next ten to fifteen minutes, Darryl shares about his wife, his sorrow and the pre-existing splinters within his family which would require more than a tweezer or needle to remove the nagging ache. 

My book is in my bag, my phone is in my pocket and my eyes are affixed to him. When I glance down, I reacquaint myself with the remains of his meal. Perhaps this partially consumed spread is considered dinner when a home is suddenly empty. 

I truly need to leave but how can I leave? 

My watch buzzes every so often and I know my messenger’s identity.

When it feels like the right moment, I tell Darryl my need to retrieve my son. I express my sorrow for his huge loss and the grief he must be feeling. I ask if he would like me to pray for him. It is truly all I can even think to offer. I don’t expect him to consent but he slides his hand to an open spot on the table closer to me.

In the midst of hands exchanging cash for nourishment and huddled voices seeking community, I touch the top of his hand and pray words that can only be accomplished by One mightier than me demonstrating my best superhero pose. I whisper words to the One who is always there in the midst of our darkest days, even when the world continues to spin as usual. He’s the One who knows my impatience, hustling, and inward-turning ways and tenderly offers me a seat to grace me with a better, clearer view.

When I arrive at the restaurant, Caleb is unbothered by my tardiness, figuring something important must have come up to delay my arrival. 

Caleb’s friend needs a ride home as well and as we drive the rain-soaked streets, I explain the reason for my lateness and don’t delete any unvarnished parts regarding me.

They listen in silence and I hope it’s not because they are absorbed in scrolling their phones. When I finish, they both agree Darryl had a crummy Christmas and they were glad I listened.

I am glad I listened too.

Eventually. 


*Flannery O’Connor-A Prayer Journal

let your life simmer

let your life simmer

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There were two people who found love and married.

They added two daughters and a son to this wedded union.

Now there were five.

They didn’t know what it would be like to be married for 33 years when they entered their first year of marriage.

Now they do.

They didn’t know what it would be like to have a daughter then another and after many years later, a son.

Now they do.

They couldn’t imagine the teen years when those babies were teething. Or any of them reaching adulthood when they were taking their first steps.

Now they do for all but one.

What I know now is I couldn’t have imagined those future ages because they were meant to be a mystery. They were meant to be a fleeting ponderance reminding me to live in the moments placed before my eyes. I wasn’t called to lament over not having a single idea how I would teach a child to drive when they hadn’t learned to roll over. It was futile to worry about college acceptances before they had mastered the alphabet.

What I know is God has equipped me for each and every day of my life as well as my children’s. The hard part is He hasn’t promised endless days to any of us.  But He has promised to deposit what we need. God reminds us to reside in today not tomorrow.

Think of today as a simmering pot and each passing day adding another necessary ingredient. When we examine the length and breadth of our days, how much richer the view of the future when we have given our attention to this gift.

*****

For roughly 14 years, our family was comprised of five people, the Original Five. Whenever I wondered who was coming to a particular gathering, it was easiest to tally the Original Five. However, in the last few years, as the people my children love and are attached to expanded so did the number of expectations, logistics, and complexities when approaching special events and holidays.

Important days carry an added weight of tradition. Traditions can be one of the most emotional aspects of a family. Decision making can feel peppered with booby tracks when some members bank on a heavy dousing of tradition and others are fine with a sprinkling.

Personally, I wait all year for Christmas Eve. I love watching a dark church sanctuary slowly fill with candlelight, a loving embrace that the Light of the world has come, God with us.  I love watching my family open one gift after service and witnessing the power of the right gift for the right person in the right season. But if others in our number were asked, it might be ham or stockings or reading the Advent Book or even an avalanche of socks. Traditions provide an anchor to help connect us to one another’s histories.

The most challenging questions are: when is it time to hold tightly to tradition and when does it make sense to allow these anchor points to be adapted?

Over the last few years, there have been small iterations to our Christmas Eve and Day rhythms. So it didn’t come as a huge surprise after a litany of text messages, that the expanded Original Five would not occupy the same space for the Eve and Day. But as I allowed my mind to wander over so many people who long for even a few moments of face-to-face presence and will not have this access, it helped me exhale. I could either walk through December with an attitude or I could view this as one of the dynamic aspects of life. I had equated the change in our united observance as a diminished holiday instead of being simply different. With this reality check in mind, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to fling the windows wide open by changing our menu.

I will admit there was an audible sigh from the ham lover but I am grateful for her pliable ways.

Maybe because I was set on embracing a slower-paced life with its accompanying spaces for silence and solitude. Instead of being clamped down by constant outer noise which renders me indecisive, my mind was able to easily enlarge and immediately landed on making Beef Bourguignon. I had never made it before but every thought conjured visions from the movie Julie and Julia and filled me with a warm and cozy family feeling.

I researched recipes and found a recipe based on Julia Child’s classic recipe with four options for preparation. The Beef Bourguignon could be made on the stovetop, in the oven, crockpot or InstaPot. Could there be a more accurate illustration of our culture?

We had a lovely Christmas morning together with a casual brunch and exchanged gifts. A few members departed and others remained. We enjoyed telephone conversations with faraway family members we missed and a few naps were had. A day without little clock watching revealed I was later beginning my cooking than anticipated. But there wasn’t a reason to panic as dinner would happen in its own time.

I began cooking bacon and chopping vegetables and meat. The searing of the beef in batches took time but the smell made it enjoyable. Each layered step was important as I added herbs and spices while maintaining a low heat. I placed the covered pot in the oven for the magic of a few hours to occur. Just before taking the pot from the oven,
I would prepare mushrooms sauteed in butter and garlic as a final add-in. Our menu would include mashed potatoes, green beans, fresh fruit, and rolls. This simplicity gave me plenty of time to sit, visit and enjoy the day.

There was a tiny part of my mind that mulled over the thought of this meal turning into a disaster. With every “what if”, I whispered to my mind to obey my nose, as the house began to fill with the aroma of glorious ingredients doing their job in tandem, those fears were subdued.

When I look back on this meal, I will recall glancing at my watch and knowing the intended eating time had passed but the actual time was perfect because no one was in a hurry. I will remember the popping of Christmas crackers and the placing of crowns upon our heads.  I will visualize the star attraction of the meal being ladled over creamy potatoes, the smiles and chorus of sighs upon first tastes. I will never forget our (never understated) son-in-love Adam grabbing me not once, but twice by the shoulders to proclaim it the best Christmas dinner he had ever had, coupled with his desire to have Beef Bourguignon every year. A new tradition, perhaps.

The meal was exceptional not because of the cook. It was delicious because of the ingredients and time. The dish was allowed to simmer and each part was allowed to mingle. Perhaps the experience could have been replicated in an InstaPot but I have my doubts.

The depth and richness of a recipe are often only achieved when the ingredients are allowed to cook slowly for an appointed time.
We would be wise to let our lives and the cast of characters remain at a simmer instead of fretting over why a rapid boil hasn’t occurred.

True, God made everything beautiful in itself and in its time—but he’s left us in the dark, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he’s coming or going. I’ve decided that there’s nothing better to do than go ahead and have a good time and get the most we can out of life. That’s it—eat, drink, and make the most of your job. It’s God’s gift.

Ecclesiastes 3:11-13 (The Message)

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Top of Post Photo credit: Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash