Don’t you love the way God sometimes brings a book into your life at the very moment you need it? A couple of years ago I picked up Joyce Rupp’s book, Praying Our Goodbyes, thinking I would give it to a friend who was grieving the loss of her mother. It ended up under a huge stack of books in my study, where it stayed until I uncovered it last spring. I’d already given my friend another gift, so I stuck the book into my computer case to take up to our new home, Cloudland, thinking I would read it there. Again, it disappeared (amazing how that happens!) only to resurface again a few weeks ago. I’ve been reading it ever since, a chapter at a time, every time we spend the night at Cloudland.
In this strange, in-between place where I’ve been mired the past few months, the book is helping me to make sense of my grief. It is helping me learn to let go.
Joyce reminds me that all of life is on loan to me. This includes the 32 year season of stay-at-home motherhood that’s come to an abrupt end. It includes a son with autism, who is finding a new life away from home. It includes a son and daughter-in-law who have moved to Montana, and another son who is finding a new life here after living out west for 7 years. It includes this house where we’ve lived and loved for twenty-some years. It includes my mother, who has dementia. Joyce writes, “This “on loan” philosophy is the first and most important attitude of a pilgrim heart. It can give us the courage to stay with the groaning of our spirit. It can carry us through many a hard time and can help us to hold our treasures in open hands when we want so much to resist the letting go of them. When we look upon all of life as being on loan to us, we look at it differently. We look at this loan for what it is—purely gift, given to us out of love. We reverence all that we have and take great joy in it, but we do not grasp, cling to, or hoard our treasures.”
Today she asks me the question: What would you pack in your suitcase of life? What are the essentials you would choose to bring with you as you make this pilgrimage through life?
As I sit with this question, I slowly realize that everything I need can be carried very easily from one place, and from one phase of life, to another:
My Bible and journal and Lectio Divina—the Word of God to feast on, and my journal to help me make sense of what I read.
Contemplative Prayer—time to simply sit in God’s presence. This prayer without words is what makes it possible for me to make it through these desert times. It is where God’s unconditional love meets me, cloaks me, protects me, fills me.
Family and Friends—My family is part of my DNA—I couldn’t live without them. And I’ve often said I couldn’t live without my friends. I truly couldn’t! Even though many of the people I love have moved away, and even as we prepare to move from Cincinnati to Oxford (it’s only 30 miles, but still…) e-mail, Skype, air travel, my Prius—it is easier than ever to stay connected to loved ones. And I’m coming to see that they all live close by in my heart, mind and memory.
Beauty—Yes, I will miss having 3000 acres of woods in my backyard, along with the birds that frequent it, but the beauty of farmland awaits. Last weekend at Cloudland, we awoke to a herd of 60 deer in the field across the road, and the next day Wally saw two foxes on the prowl. There is beauty no matter where I go! And beauty is absolutely necessary.
Courage—Joyce stresses the importance of packing courage, and I agree with her. Without courage, fear keeps me from moving from the comfortable to the unknown. God continually calls me to risk stepping into the unknown when I’d rather stay wrapped up at home in my cozy robe, sipping a cup of tea and reading a good book!
Dreams—dreams are a God-given gift that enrich my life in amazing ways. I plan to pray with my dreams as long as I live.
Joy—the Spirit has been speaking to me of joy for several years. I am not good at joy. It is not my natural way of being, as much as I want it to be. But the Spirit is definitely working on me, nudging me, telling me to open my eyes to the daily miracles surrounding me. I’m getting better at it!
Worship—without worship, life is as dreary as the month of February in Ohio (if you live in Ohio, you know how very dreary that can be). Worship uplifts me, fills me, centers me, and encourages me.
Words and paper—this is the way I reflect on who I am, on whose I am, on what the events of life might mean. Writing helps me gather up the courage to venture into the danger and mystery of who I might yet become.
Thinking about carrying the above “items” in my suitcase, I find myself less fearful as I contemplate moving from one phase of life to another; from one home to another; from one city to another. I am still “me,” formed in the image of God, named “beloved” by God, filled with the Spirit of God, named Kathleen and loved by my mother and father, chosen wife of Wally, blessed mother of Matt, Justin and Joel, happy mother-in-law of Elizabeth, blessed sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin, and friend of so many beautiful people I can’t even begin to name them all.
What I “do” in this new phase of life is not nearly important as who I am, and what I carry with me.
Thank you, Joyce Rupp, for this simple yet profound exercise. Suddenly, packing up my house doesn’t seem so overwhelming.
The important things are already packed!