Wait a while

Hose

One of my favorite summer activities as a youngster was setting up for our church festival. We lived down the street from our Catholic church – Our Lady of Lourdes — and got paid to do the grunt work.

The pastor was a kind man known as Father John. He’d directed many festivals and knew the process. He was wise about many things, including the importance of patience.

He was always slowing down us youngsters.

For instance, we wanted to drag the tables and chairs out of the creepy, cobweb-filled church basement and set them up in the food court as fast possible, checking that nasty job off our to-do list. Father John knew better.

He’d tell us: “Wait a while.”

As we toted the dirty tables from the church basement, he’d have us unfold them and set them on their sides. He’d get a hose and spray them clean, reminding us that nobody wants to sit at a dirty table.

He’d also spray us a time or two, which was part of the fun on a hot June afternoon.

Only when the tables and chairs were clean and dry were they ready to be moved to their proper place. Father John was right about this, of course. He knew that in our rush to move onto the next thing, we’d be creating problems down the line.

Just slow down. Do what needs to be done now, and do it well – even if you end up wet and dirty in the process.

Wait a while.

No fast-forward button

That three-word expression has stuck in my head all these years. It’s taught me not only about setting up chairs and tables for an event, but also about getting through many difficult challenges in life.

Sometimes, you just have to wait a while.

I’ve had so many times when I wished I could hit a fast-forward button. I’d think about something exciting that’s just over the horizon – summer vacation, graduation, a new job, a fun trip, starting a family – and I’d spend a lot of time daydreaming about it and looking forward to it.

And in the process of fixating on days to come, I’d miss all the good stuff in the current one.

I think that fast-forward feeling is particularly true for all of us in the tough times. We lose a parent or a spouse or a child, and we wish the pain would go away instead of scraping our insides day after day. We lose a job or a relationship or a role, and we want to move onto the next thing right away.

Something happens that bruises our self-confidence or our self-worth, and we wish the wound would heal overnight.

Grieving and healing work in their own time, in their own way, for each of us. It’s no fun being in those moments, but the only way to grow through them is to accept them while without slipping into despair.

Yes, this moment really sucks. But it’s not the end. Be a little patient.

Wait a while.

Many faith communities recently observed a wait-a-while day, the one between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It recalls the day after a group of followers saw their leader publicly humiliated and executed as an insurgent.

Their response? They ran and hid behind locked doors. They felt totally crushed. Their lives had just crashed and burned — or so it seemed. All their aspirations of transforming the world with their message of love-one-another felt so foolish.

It’s time to get real, give up and move on. Go back to fishing or doing whatever.

But wait a while. The story isn’t finished. You’ll see, soon enough.

The story isn’t finished

None of our stories is ever finished. The author of life never gives up on life, or on the love that infuses all of it and each of us. We go through many times when it feels as though we’ve been crushed. All our hopes and aspirations seem buried, and a big old stone has been rolled in front of the tomb.

We need to hold fast a little longer, and to listen as we do. We’ll hear the sound of the immovable stone somehow getting rolled away. Soon, the morning sunlight is peeking into the cold, dead space inside of us, infusing us with life again.

It takes time. It never happens in an instant or an hour or a day. There’s no fast-forward button to healing and growth – and it’s probably best. If there was, we’d wind up zooming past life itself.

So, hold on. Wait a while. Your story isn’t finished.

In many ways, it’s starting all over again.

Losing our leaves

tree

Autumn got sidetracked on its way to southwest Ohio. In the last few weeks, we’ve topped 80 degrees regularly and enjoyed delicious summer breezes coming through open windows from the moment we awaken.

Until the last few days, the trees have held stubbornly to their greenness, with only an occasional brushstroke of color dabbed about. Few leaves have taken leave from their limbs, although that will soon change.

It’s a gorgeous time of year in the Midwest, one of my favorites. And I feel a bit sad over what’s coming next.

Soon, the tree limbs will be bare, left naked in the winter winds. The cracks in the bark will show like scars on skin. The gravity-defying nests of squirrels and birds will be totally exposed to the elements.

Seeing a stripped-down tree gives me a chill.

Dark, sacred nights

In the summertime, there are few things more glorious than standing beneath a big tree on a warm night and listening to the soothing, rustling sound as the southern wind blows through it. Fireflies rise from the ground and blink their way toward the treetops like flashing holiday lights.

In those moments, life is so warm and so magical and so good. As Louis Armstrong called it, dark sacred nights.

Then along comes autumn. First, a gush of luminescent color. Then, the wind starts tugging and pulling, and all of the beautiful pieces get pulled off.

We all know that feeling, right?

A relationship ends, and a part of you seems to fly away with it. A medical test comes back positive, and all of the color drains out of your life. A parent falls and breaks a hip and needs to move into a nursing home, and you feel cold and exposed. A loved one dies. A child struggles. Another act of brutality jolts the world and tears at your heart.

Or maybe it’s just the normality of living that gets to you a bit. You see another wrinkle, get another ache, lose a little more hair, feel a little more forgetful as you look for the car keys you’re holding in your hand.

What’s happening?

There are times when you feel like you’re losing yourself, bit by bit. Life is tugging at you and disassembling you. You feel vulnerable. Naked. Exposed. Shaken right down to your roots.

You start to wonder who you are.

Losing yourself, piece by piece

You try to hold onto those parts of your life that are getting plucked away, but it does no good. The wind won’t relent. Another piece flies away, floats to the ground, turns brown and gets trampled.

Instead of rustling in the breeze, all you can do creak.

In those moments, people will try to be helpful by telling you that things will get better – spring and summer will return soon enough – but that doesn’t help. You know it’s true, but it’s not what you need.

What you need is an equally dissembled person to keep you company in the wind. To just stand with you for a while, until everything subsides and your twiggy limbs calm down.

Then the resurrection can begin.

And after a while, you start to notice something in your stripped-down state. You see the squirrels and birds still living in the nests that you support, keeping life going within you. They climb and flap and move about as if nothing’s changed.

Instinct tell them it will soon be time to start the circle of life over again.

In that moment, you also remember that the next generation of fireflies is right there with you, too, deposited safely in the shelter of the crevices in your bark and your roots. You’re serving as a womb for their blinky wonder.

The resurrection begins

Eventually, you take a close look at yourself and notice little bumps protruding from the spots where those leaves once attached. New buds are growing imperceptibly but steadily. And, truthfully, you recognize that you’re bigger and stronger entering this next cycle of rebirth.

For now, the only thing to do is open your arms wide and embrace the cold. Look for those signs of unabated life all around you and within you. Think of the fireflies’ blinks and the crickets’ melodies about to return.

Be patient. Embrace the nakedness and get ready to blossom yet again, more beautiful than ever. It won’t be long now.

In fact, if you listen closely, you can practically hear the crickets warming up.