Friday, May 9, 2014

Grateful: A partial inventory of odd and unexpected gifts

With each passing year, it seems, I notice how many gifts in life come wrapped in ugly, prickly, mismatched, ill-fitting paper. Paper that is stretched too taut, with the tiny gap in between where the edges don't quite meet up, and this is where the tape tries to cover it all. Paper with designs that hurt to look at, they're so hideous. Paper that cuts your fingers as you struggle to open what's inside and makes you bleed.  It can be so tempting not to open the package at all. Most of the time, though, we don't have that choice. It falls open one way or another, and in the opening and the beholding, we choose whether or not to view what's inside as a gift.

* * * * *

The week rent is due is almost always, without fail, a stressful time for us. This week was no exception. And so, by the time it was all said and done, I slipped away to walk down by the lake near our apartment. I set off, initially, to walk fast and long - I needed a workout, I said, to release some pent up anxiety - but I quickly recognized what I really needed was to slow down and sip the air. 

God knew this, of course.

He caught my attention by the shore near the rowing center, where a tiny flock of ducks, crows and Canadian geese were winding down for the day. I tiptoed to a picnic table close to the birds, with a sweeping view of the I-90 bridge stretched from shore to shore and the clouds reflecting their images in oil paintings across the surface of the lake. 

This bench along the lake shore with the birds and the water and the clouds was the door to losing myself. 

I lost myself, in the sound of buffleheads skimming graceful landings with their tiny feet across the water. In the quiet gurgles of the geese sipping water. In the simplicity of the robin submerged in a pool of water in the grass, the feathers around her neck fluffing, shaking the droplets from her wings. The crows scouting the grounds for food, flying away with morsels in their beaks.  The oil painting of the evening sky, fluid, ever-changing color right before my eyes.

One of the geese, nibbling at the grass, gradually moved closer to the table where I sat, lifting her head to regard me with tourmaline eyes. For a moment, we held each other's gaze. I held my breath and she came closer, continuing to feed. Soon, she was underneath the bench and I dared not move until she'd had her fill and moved away.

"You're so beautiful," I whispered to her backside, and my soul's cup filled with peace.

I lost myself there, in the evening rhythms of bird life along the water and the trees waving leafy hands while swallows danced in the sky above. I lost myself in a moment suspended in time, outside of time, where I saw God in the eyes of a goose who let me into her home.

It was here I heard so clearly, words so ancient and dear: "God, my shepherd! I don't need a thing.  You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from.  True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I'm not afraid when you walk at my side... You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing. Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I'm back home in the house of God for the rest of my life" (Psalm 23, from The Message).
If I could only trust him like the birds who bathe nightly in puddles, who feed in the grasses and nest alongside still waters. They seem to know something I am only just now grasping the edges of.
 * * * * *

Two years ago, I was lying on my back in bed, leg propped up in a clunky cast on a huge red pillow, full of pain. I didn't know, then, how much injury would be my teacher.  How two years later, I'd still be wondering if my calf muscle would ever return, but I'd be marveling at the way I'd learned to walk again.

Not only how to physically walk, but to walk through life at a slower pace, with hands open to gifts of pain and wonderful beauty.

When you're a runner, it can be more challenging, I think, to notice the beauty around you. Your mindset is different. At least when I was a runner, I rarely stopped to admire things that caught my eye. I had a route, a workout, a destination and often a time constraint. I didn't care to be interrupted on my runs. I was in training mode. 
But then came the day I couldn't walk. Not for four months. And even then, I was limping for another two or three. And yet, I didn't care how long it took me to get from point A to point B. The point was, I could walk. My heart has not ceased, two years later, to stoop and kiss the ground for this gift of walking - and sometimes running - that I'd taken for granted my entire life, wrapped in the paper of injury.

My pace of life has changed. I'm more in step with a pace of wonder, and this, I've found is a slow pace. We can't catch hold of wonder in a blur.

* * * * *

April was a month of anniversaries. My injury. Our wedding. Physical and spiritual breaking apart, joining together; pain and love, rest and revelation.

We sat recently inside a chapel, all to ourselves, in quiet reflection as these anniversaries bore upon us.  A canopy of translucent lights bathed us in this urban sanctuary of green velvet-covered benches stretching from wall to wall, our green pastures, where God lead us to lie down and drink from the stream of presence.

I lay my head back against the wall in a room all to myself, staring up at a tree, tall and curvy, growing from floor to ceiling. A single lantern hung down, amber glass, illuminating words on stark white wall.

And I was filled with the full force of my hunger in this moment, pondering another year gone by and let the tears flow their streams down my cheeks. How I live in a perpetual state of not enough, hungering for love and so afraid to hunger - for if I eat of it today will there be any for tomorrow? And God's wordless whispers answered my whispered prayer:

My love is enough to sustain you,
come what may.
With me, you will not starve of love.

I lifted up my broken cup and let this Love pour in, spilling over the sides.

* * * * *

For all these gifts with all their odd and unexpected packaging, I am learning to unwrap, behold and receive. 

And friends, I have no other word to utter but this: grateful.

* * * * *

Joining Lisa Jo and the Five-minute Friday community of writers, to the prompt of "Grateful." Please note: I clearly could not have written this all within 5 minutes. I am fully guilty of taking the prompts and writing as much as needs to come out. Thank you for your graciousness with this long post today!



  1. OH, I love your words today. They filled my heart. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Seriously, I sing hallelujah to that, Patricia... utterly grateful these words could be used to fill your heart today. Thank you for being here and saying so.

  2. My heart is full here Amber. I am grateful with you!

  3. Stopping by from FMF- glad I did! Loved your post!

    1. I'm glad you did, too, Boni, thank you for your kindness.