Become aware of God’s presence.
We meet almost weekly over some seriously legit bagels – which I feel wouldn’t normally exist outside of New Jersey and New York – but I think these people who own the bagelry are actually from the Northeast. This means the bagels are perfectly soft on the inside, and when toasted, it’s the divine combination of crunch and carbs and lox cream cheese, and usually a random pickle or tomato slice completes it for me.
It’s three of us around the table, sometimes four, small in number but the conversations always feel significant and encouraging. They loom large for the rest of the day in my mind in a good way, in the same way an honest and simple meal or an artful glass of wine will nourish me long after I’ve digested it because it’s not just the nutrients or calories (or the de-stressing) but the smells and laughter, all the clinking of glass and silverware and ceramic, the light, the chairs, all that fills me, too.
We switch off posing a thought or question to prompt the conversation. This week it was about memory and the ways we cultivate our identity – as individuals and communities – whether through oral/aural, written transmissions, and I suppose, in our digital age through other forms (Tweets and hashtags? Status updates and groups? Google Plus circles?). She shared her appreciation of a classic spiritual discipline – the daily examen. And as she explained what it was, and how she has used it in the past to ground her in grace and gratitude, my mind drifted to the last week of putting the twins to bed.
Review the day with gratitude.
“One more! One more! More crackers, pleasepleaseplease, Mommy, more cracker!” they beseechingly chirp in unison at me. Except it sounds more like, “moeeeeee, peasseeee, peasepeasepease,” if it’s Anna, and “moooorrrnnn, Mommy, PEASPEASOHPEAS,” if Desmond. For some reason his “more” is “mourn,” like he knows that I’m mourning the day they figured out the baby sign and verbal word for more. As adorable and miraculous it was to see them communicate with us I kind of rue that day. Now it’s always more. More. More. More.
I shuffle off and grab a few more Ritz crackers and hustle back before they realize they can get out of bed and run down the hallway one more time. And as I hand them two more crackers, and tuck the blankets under their chin I recount the day with them.
“It was a good day, wasn’t it? We went to school, and saw our teachers and friends, and got to play outside and ride in the cars, and play in the big room, and have a nice snack.” I pause as they parrot what I say and add in their own memories or riff off each other’s stories or even completely make up stories or get off track and talk about something abrupt and random – “Mommy, dinos have big teeth.”
“And then we went to the playground and we went down the big slide, and tunnel slide, and curly slide and you climbed up the ladder and did the swings, and you were careful to wait for your turn–” and before I’m done recounting that episode both interrupt me with their own memories, their own revisions and redactions, and their own conclusions about what happens when you push someone or scream at another child or don’t wait your turn and mommy gives you the hairy eyeball and starts counting to three.
Pay attention to your emotions.
We go through a few more moments throughout the day working through our own sort of communal daily examen reflecting on what was good, what was bad, and what was hard, what was surprising. And while they’re doing it I’m mentally giving thanks for the moments of survival and abundant life – we managed to make it another day mostly intact and even enjoy ourselves! – and feeling a mixture of regret, bliss, shame, and amity.
The combination of emotions is a perplexing cocktail that makes me feel like the onset of a headache is imminent and my stomach churns from the nausea. Is it beer before liquor and never sicker? Or liquor before beer all clear? My mind wanders again seeking out an analogy from the hazy memories of drinking rules that never really worked when I thought of them at the moment because it doesn’t matter what you drink or when you drink it. Drinking a lot will always make you sick no matter what order. But I decide I will do a keg-stand on these emotions anyway because they’re the cozy debris from those memories of the day. Not everything was perfect, I wasn’t close to being the perfect woman/pastor/mommy/wife/friend/daughter/sister but these peculiar emotions are the little crumbles of bread that I snatch up from under the table to remember the stories, and remember who the children are, and who I am, Who we belong to, Who walks, sits, runs, gathers with us.
Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
“Oooooooooh the Lord is good to me and so I thank the Lord for giving me the things I need…” I trail off hoping one of them will jump in and sing with me but they’re shoveling food in their mouths like I’ve been starving them for a week. Anna surprises me by singing the next line with a shy smile and we get to the end and all shout Amen!
Then Ozzie – the 13 month old – reaches for Desmond’s food who screams bloody murder with big elephant tears forming in his eyes so blindingly quick and Anna somehow manages to fall out of her chair and knock over her plate full of food and Ellis – the boxer dog – comes scooting in trying to get the food that’s now fair game and now Anna is shrieking at the dog to get away and that commercial from my childhood pops into my brain, “Calgon, take me away.” Is that even still around? I pray for God to make my feet like concrete blocks so no bubbles lift me up and away, I need and want presence, heavy presence, one that doesn’t run away out of fear or cowardice but faces it all, all the good, all the hard, and I soak myself in it, let it baptize me over and over again, the living waters might not have foamy bubbles but they’re the ultimate detox in a way, so I ask again, “God, keep me here.”
After it all, the kids finally quiet and asleep clutching apple slices and sock monkeys, clean laundry finally folded neatly in three large baskets, and the murmur of the dishwasher in the background, I collapse onto the couch and…
Look toward tomorrow.
Thankful. For these rhythms of love. For these practices of thick, meaty hope. For these signs of grace.
“For grace to be grace, it must give us things we didn’t know we needed and take us places where we didn’t know we didn’t want to go. As we stumble through the crazily altered landscape of our lives, we find that God is enjoying our attention as never before. ”