We arrived home from our vacation on Friday afternoon sun-tanned, rested, and happy. An entire week away was good for our very souls. Best of all, we actually wanted to come home again.
Our house felt dear and cozy, imperfections and all, our yard a wide green respite after eight days in a high-rise, and our life in Columbia a gift, even the hard parts.
The very best thing our vacation did for us, I think, was invite us to live in the present.
Have you ever noticed how innately good kids are at it? Of course they can be as restless as the rest of us at times, but in their finer, truer moments they have a knack of becoming wholly absorbed in the tower of blocks that they’re building, or the spider meandering across the picnic table, or the weeds that have sprouted up between the house and the driveway — so much so that it often drives us fast-paced grown-ups crazy.
I’m learning to slow down on the outside, but the tendency of my mind is still to race around and dwell anywhere but the present. I think part of this is my anxiety disorder, part is being an adult — having to be responsible and a planner — and part is just bad habits.
On vacation I took social media off my phone. I kept my phone in my bedside table and my laptop closed and hardly checked either. I didn’t do it because those things are bad, simply because I know myself and I wanted to disconnect from anything that threatens to pull me out of the present moment. In short, I wanted to rest, on the outside and on the inside.
And you know what? It worked!
I did not think about homeschooling curriculum or swim team or friendship dynamics or New Members Class.
David remarked at the end of the week, “Can you believe we didn’t talk about church one single time?”
We didn’t even have to discipline ourselves not to, we were just far away and unplugged, so absorbed in the world right in front of us that included nothing more pressing than digging a very deep hole in the sand, choosing embroidery floss colors for a friendship bracelet, or figuring out how to sear the swordfish steaks we bought for dinner.
That, my friends, is the magic of a week-long vacation.
And it’s something I hope I’ve brought home.
Lately I see myself with new eyes.
I notice the way I so often pull my kids — even David — out of the joy or concentration in their present moment — even with the best of intentions. I tell them we’re planning to go to the zoo later, or to meet up with their friends, or to order pizza for dinner. I ask David what our weekend plan should be. I talk about the things I want to move around in our house or buy for the back porch.
Heck, I pull myself out of the present with a load of worries and deep thoughts and responsibilities.
It’s hard to be grateful for the right here and right now when my mind isn’t in the here and now.
It’s hard not to be a pessimist and a worry-wart when my mind is racing a dozen different directions.
Of course, like I said, being an adult requires a certain amount of living beyond the present. If the gift of childhood is dwelling in this moment, then surely the gift of adulthood is a bigger perspective of the world, of cause-and-effect. And so at home I open my computer and write on the blog, I answer texts and think about what to cook for New Members Class this Sunday night, and shop for groceries.
But in the other moments (and there are many other moments), I want to be right here. I want to kneel in the grass and pull weeds and think about nothing other than the way the soil crumbles in my hands. I want to sit at the table during school time and ask questions about the water cycle with my third grader. I want to read Mary Poppins and laugh as hard as my kids do at the idea of a tea party that brushes the ceiling. I want to watch that spider march across the picnic table.
There are gifts I can give my family that don’t include new shoes or a pack of gum or a Sonic milkshake. One of them is to let them live in their present.
If my children are peacefully playing Lego’s, I stop myself before I begin talking about our library trip later that afternoon. If David is digging up the back yard bed and drinking a beer, I don’t mention the difficult situation at church. Instead I can watch them and ask a blessing, that they find joy in their present.
I realized this week that that’s a gift Jesus offers me too.
I feel that for too long I’ve equated spirituality with responsibility, with making plans and taking care of people and preparing myself for every possible outcome. I’ve made sure that I’m a good Southern girl, that people like me, that I don’t offend, and that I’m towing my end of the line.
And somehow in doing so I’m dwelling in this inner world in my head of obligations and fears and cares stacked taller than Wyndham Resort Tower 4.
Is that really being spiritual? Is it really obedience to Christ?
Jesus says, “Be anxious for nothing.” “Give thanks for everything.” “Cast your cares upon me.” “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
He says I need to become like a child.
Browsing the grocery aisle on vacation, Gabe said, “Remember when we drank juice during school-time and sat on the couch and read books? Can we do that again sometime?”
And so I came home and quit our twice-weekly swim class for the little boys. It was fun for several months and we loved the people and they learned a ton about swimming, but our mornings felt so rushed. We no longer had time for sitting and drinking juice cuddled up on the couch together with a stack of picture books because we were racing to finish worksheets. I don’t like who I became herding my four kids up and out the door and back again two mornings a week. Somehow I couldn’t come home and shake myself out of the rut of rushing, both in body and spirit.
Gabe and Noah are five and three years old. If they want mornings at home to read books, then I’ll be right there with them, getting lost in the story.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that the only way to be at rest is to homeschool or be a stay-at-home mom.
I guess what I’m saying that I’m learning is that there is busyness of the body and of the schedule, and busyness of the spirit. It seems that God is peeling back the layers of my anxiety, helping me to quiet my schedule a bit, but also showing me what’s beneath, that my calendar can have plenty of white space, but my mind can be striving and anxious and mistrustful that He’s taking care of things.
I came home from the beach deciding to be a recovering control-freak and worry-wart.
I can’t change this way of life in a week or even in a year. But I can take notice and decide, by faith, to change direction.
I can try a little bit every day to stop what I’m doing and to look my family in the eye when they speak to me, to show them by my facial expression and body language that there’s nothing more important to me in this minute than what they have to say.
I can thank God for this moment, right here and right now, sitting with my laptop and a cup of steaming tea, instead of wondering if there are likes on my Instagram or texts on my phone, whether we spent enough time on CC memory work today, and fret about how my anxiety will be during that zoo play date in two hours.
I can choose to stop before I say that negative thing and instead say something positive, something thankful.
I can ask God to help me be very, very patient with my children when they’re restless and discontent and complaining because only He knows the scars my own heart bears from those very sins.
I can believe with all my might in forgiveness, in second chances.
I can choose to live a life of childlike absorption, which is to say, a life of wonder.
It promises to be a bumpy journey, my friends, but I believe that herein lies the path to joy.