Being Present: An Exercise for Today

Today I rose early to walk with a friend. The air felt good as the sun started to rise.

When I got home I sat on our porch swing, one of the few things I always knew I wanted when I imagined one day maybe having a house. For some reason a free newspaper landed on our stoop and so I looked at it. I remembered to cut the two peony blossoms from our garden so that we can enjoy them for a little longer as they perfume the living room.

Now I’m drinking coffee and eating peanut butter on toast, both things I could easily have for breakfast every day. The birds are singing. The sun is now high enough to splash on my face.

Every once in a while i catch myself sighing. The burden of the last while has been heavy and I’m attuned to the fact that I’m weary. When I get to this kind of place I try to remember that being present to the moment is helpful and good. This morning is about that. Hopefully the rest of the day will be too.

The Mash-Up of Life

For a whole host of reasons these last few weeks have been challenging. We are experiencing what I can only describe as a wave of illness and death in our community. People are worried, mad and sad. Some, in an effort to numb the pain, are being self-destructive. It is difficult.

After a particularly troubling pastoral visit to the hospital, I found myself at a loss for what to say, do or even think. The awareness that there was nothing I could do to fix anything was palpable. Just that morning I had been in a church surrounded by people singing about God’s grace being enough. I confess that it was hard for me to sing the happy tune. My longing for grace was real, but welling up from a deep, deep place, one marked with despair. I desperately wanted God to show up.

Since then I have been aware that God is indeed showing up. For months we have been praying that one person’s estranged family would take time to visit. They finally did. A friend who has long desired to contribute financially to The Dale (though they already give in many other ways) proudly handed me three dollars in change, everything that was in their pocket. On a Wednesday when I had to be at the hospital leaving Joanna at the drop-in, a community member showed up with breakfast food they had already prepared for everyone. The nurses and doctors caring for our loved ones are kind and compassionate.

I am coming to understand that hard times always intermingle with good times. Our lives are a mash-up of good and bad, challenging and easy, grief and celebration, sorrow and joy. The most brutal things can also expose the most beauty. I still don’t understand the last few weeks. I do see though that grace is weaving its way through it.

Though I Walk Through the Valley

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”

These were the words spoken by a beloved Parkdale friend as we sat side-by-side on his hospital bed this week, both of our eyes dripping with tears.

These were the words I thought on my way to a funeral of another friend.

These were the words I recited again as I was told about and went to visit yet another Parkdale friend who is in critical condition.

I will never get used to the feeling of death drawing near or of its actual arrival. Though it sometimes takes time to sink in, the eventual reality of it is stark and FULL. What I long for is death to be put to death.

Granted, living in this broken world leaves some people eager for the relief that death will provide. Too many people seem to have the odds stacked against them from the very beginning. On Sunday our service was tangibly marked with the lament of people’s pain. A regular cry was, “Hell is here. I’m living it. Where is hope?” To say my heart was heavy is a blatant understatement.

Dwelling in the valley with my friends deepens my longing for the resurrection of life. I desperately want people who know primarily darkness at the hands of others and/or their own, to see life marked with light. I want the same for me, for all of us.

Through a veil of tears I finish the 23rd Psalm: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Goodness and mercy, please come.