Warm-up #1: Resetting the Stopwatch with Kairos Time

Soul Element Exercised: Timelessness

 

“In the spiritual life, God chooses to try our patience first of all by His slowness. He is slow: we are swift and precipitate. It is because we are but for a time, and He has been for eternity. . . . There is something greatly overawing in the extreme slowness of God. Let it overshadow our souls, but let it not disquiet them. We must wait for God, long, meekly, in the wind and wet, in the thunder and the lightning, in the cold and dark. Wait, and He will come.” – Frederick Faber

 

“You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” – Dallas Willard, on the health of the soul

 

It’s been a shocking two months since I’ve last written, and it shows how much I’ve become locked into the chains of chronos time (gr. scheduled, chronological time). But a little over two weeks ago, at 25 weeks along in my pregnancy, I took my last chance (pre-child) to go on an intensive retreat with 52 students from our Jesuit high school where I work, a retreat called Kairos (gr. “God’s Time”). It was a chance to step out of the office, step out of my responsibilities as a wife at home, and focus on the spiritual needs of myself and the community of the retreatants there with me.gods-time-1

The retreat was an intense four days of talks, reflections, prayer, small group chats, and emotional revelations, from seven in the morning to past midnight each night. Day two included my 25-minute talk as a retreat leader on the topic of “God’s Friendship”, which was simultaneously empowering and emotionally draining. It required me to dig down to things I hadn’t touched in a long time as I rehashed my history, including my faith struggles during my parents’ cancers, the pain and disorder of my father’s loss, and my own intense loneliness as I navigated those years feeling isolated in the experience due to my age and entrapment caused by my dependent status. To make sure the kids listening understood my perspective from these rough years of my late adolescence and very early 20s, I didn’t hold back on those elements; however, the meat of my talk arose from those moments (and I shared most of them) when I realized, sometimes many months after the events, that I wasn’t alone, in any of it, ever.

I won’t share the whole talk here. It was a long one. But I will say that writing it and giving it served as a reminder to me, as much as a revelation to some of the kids, that God is active in our lives in quiet ways, through gentle reminders, circumstantial blessings that are unexpected, and the generous hearts of others who follow an impulse that goes beyond mere human kindness – the kinds of gestures that can’t be explained by anything but the influence and presence of the divine.

I went back to my room that night to find a thick mail packet on my bed. Although most students (despite the secrecy surrounding this retreat) have come to expect that a part of Kairos is getting some letters from your loved ones as an encouragement, I was surprised as an adult leader to have notes from anyone but my husband, to whom I’d shared the details of the retreat ahead. As I opened note after note, I realized he’d done more than just follow an impulse to write me a little something for my Kairos mail; he’d hacked into my email to contact relatives, college friends, and even high school friends. I also opened several notes from many of my coworkers, sometimes surprised by their candidness as they shared their thoughts on their past four-and-a-half years with me.

And as I read past two in the morning in that Spartan little retreat room with one light, I remembered those many moments in my life when these note-writers had shown me that I wasn’t alone. I remembered, too, the intense spiritual talks with some of them that had influenced me in darker times.

Even though I came home on Day 4 from the retreat to almost immediately engage with the real-world and its demands again, the spiritual time-out allowed me to remember, as I embark on this next part of my life journey, this time as a parent at the end of my twenties, that I’m still not alone.

I just had to take the time to remember this truth by disengaging myself from the world’s notion of time and dipping into the non-scheduled space of eternity.

I need to do it more often, and I hope that anyone reading this gets inspired to take off for a little time to themselves to relive moments of God’s kindness in their lives. After all, it’s hard to understand and enjoy that kind of eternal, everlasting love unless we can turn off our calendar apps and schedulers for a little while and experience the time our soul is made to dwell in: an unlimited continuum not measurable with a minute-hand.

Taking that little space to breathe gave me one relieving piece of knowledge: that God measures our lives as a kind of ripening, and not as a rush.

 

Warm-up #2: Cleansing Breaths to Replace “Comparisonitis” with Gratitude

Soul Element Exercised: Peace and Perspective

 

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” – Thornton Wilder

 

“To be truly grateful, you must not only recognize the benefits or gifts that come your way, but that they are not just random acts; they are not accidents. They are coming from Someone who has good intentions for you.” – John Ortberg, Soul Keeping

 

I’ve been home from the retreat for a few weeks now, doing what women in their third trimester tend to do: scurrying around completing childbirth education, scheduling prenatal medical appointments and tests, planning for the mountain of work to get done (or leave detailed guides on how to do) before maternity leave, and trying to outfit the necessities in the nursery (oh, and doing taxes, because it’s that time again. Joy.).

I admit, when I sat down in February to figure all this out in terms of my calendar and our budget, I felt frankly overwhelmed, anxious, and at times resentful.

Not that I wasn’t grateful to be having a healthy baby – I was and still am—but I had been running seemingly every day into women who are or have recently been pregnant and who have far more of this figured out, or have had the luxury of more personal time and more financial resources due to their husband’s full-time employment, than I do. These well-meaning women have kindly asked if I’d heard of this class yet, or if I’d joined a prenatal yoga group, or gotten scheduled for massages to help with pregnancy pains, or how often I was able to nap during the day (my answer – never, during the work week).

Pinterest before bedtime didn’t help. I stumbled with a sort of helpless nesting-instinct-driven-fascination onto blogs written by women who have had the resources and time to set up and document beautiful nurseries in well-proportioned houses, and buy adorable and expensive clothes, toys, knickknacks, and doo-dads. I came across scholarly articles telling me that I was a bad mom because I hadn’t also shelled out a lot more money to take this other special class, or have this special test or treatment, before my due date arrived.

I’d shut off my laptop some nights and wander the 20 feet into the single bedroom of our apartment which I realized had been all furnished with hand-me-down furniture that I’d cobbled together into something resembling “cozy”. I had one area by the window where I was hoping to fit in the rudiments of a nursery, and I was having trouble envisioning what would go where in a small room that was seemingly full already.

Even as I shut off the lights, the smallness and the shabbiness of the room still dimly shadowed my mind as I thought back to the sparkling affluence and beauty of the things I’d looked at others enjoying on the web as other couples filled up their big nurseries and big houses with exciting things for their newborn.

And then, on the penultimate weekend of February, my in-laws arrived to offer a cradle that had been in the family for decades. My husband had once slept in it, and other kids on that side of the family, too. And in our tiny apartment, it was a better answer than a huge crib, at least for a little while. It came inside with us from the backseat of their car, out of the cold and snow.

This is the little cradle with so much history.

This is the little cradle with so much history.

As I polished up the old wooden cradle and gave it an experimental rock, I noticed some things about it. The first was that it had been well-sanded to a gleamy smoothness before it had been stained, and its components had been put together entirely by hand using a tongue-and-groove design; there’s not a clunky nail in sight. And then, as I looked closer at some of the scratches and nicks in the wood, I recognized places where wedding rings, toys, and maybe other furniture had scraped this cradle as babies were placed in and lifted out of it, from years and years in my husband’s family, in days and nights of loving routine and fretful concern.

I thought about the hours spent in previous generations sitting beside this cradle, and all the sudden, all of it – the stuff on Pinterest with that posh designer feel, the anxiety I felt about putting the nursery together in time, the worry I felt about finances being there when we needed them – it just went away.

And I remembered to be grateful for what we already had, which was all that was really going to matter: that this child would be born with a loving extended family and the commitment my husband and I have for each other. That’s all that most babies for thousands of years have ever been able to ask for, and it’s all that any expecting mom can really hope for.

 

But on that note about all this other baby stuff, stay tuned for some upcoming posts about Bringing Up Baby on a Budget….

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