Last year I went on an impromptu picnic a few weeks before summer began.
I awoke to the usual routine: send the kids to school, the husband to work, cook breakfast and sit down with Bible, pen, and manuscript. I wasn’t planning to go anywhere that day. My goal was to stay home and write. Only three weeks left until summer meant only fifteen days of free time to get a head start on my book. I had to invest every spare minute. I had no time to waste on beauty, or Spring, or relaxing and having fun. No, it was time for me to get to work.
After reading and praying, I sat awhile thinking about the chapter I’d been working on. Then I stood up because my cup of tea was empty and I needed a refill. On my way down the hall I glanced out the window to see if the recycling had been picked up yet, when the sunlight caught my eye. A single gleam bounced off the edge of the brown bin, beckoning me to drag it back from the curb of the street to the edge of my driveway. I imagined how good the warmth would feel on my bare shoulders, and that’s when I knew: I had to pack a picnic lunch and spend the day outside. A bit of a song we’d sung in church the day before began to play inside my mind. And the phrase that spoke the loudest was this: "you call me out."
I felt like God was nudging me to find a new location for work that day. Perhaps he wanted me to spend some leisurely time outdoors, enjoying beauty and gathering strength before I sat down to write. It was something I’d tried before. Attempting to let the Holy Spirit lead me as I work can mean several different things. Some days it’s as simple as folding laundry, making pasta, or taking a nap, before my mind is still enough to hear the beat of my own heart, to see the visions of my past and the paths I need to follow to pave this memoir trail. But the words had been coming more and more easily the past few days and I had a goal to reach before that final summer bell rang. I felt so good about everything I’d accomplished, but staying inside for the rest of the day was not an option anymore. It was time to pull back from the canvas and imagine a new color.
A particular place popped into my head when I first thought of an outdoor picnic. I wanted to get there as soon as possible, but by the time I packed my lunch I felt really hungry. Sometimes, when I get really hungry I feel jittery, and sometimes those jitters turn into anxiety. I drove past my kids’ school and knew something bad was bound to happen to them if I drove over twenty minutes away, to the park by the water. No, I should go and sit in the park right next to their school. I needed to be nearby so I could go scoop them up when the airplane suddenly crashed into the playground and they were left all by themselves, hungry and alone, in the middle of a fiery crater, filled with noxious fumes and burning debris. Wild-imagination-writer-Mom to the rescue!
Luckily, there was a woman training for a race on the greenway next to the bench where I ate my sandwich. I watched her go by enough times that it began to feel like I was invading her privacy, so I decided to head to that park after all.
It was a warm morning but the drive was winding and shaded. I turned on one of my favorite CDs and hummed along as I followed the road. The water was calm and there were only a few people hanging out at the park, so it was quiet and peaceful. I chose a shady spot up on the hill where I could see the lake as well as the railroad tracks across the bridge. I spread out a blanket, stirred up my yogurt, and breathed. The moment was pure bliss.
I felt at ease, knowing there would be plenty of time to write on my laptop after spending time in the three dimensional world first. I pulled out my notebook and began to journal. Before I knew it my eyes were watery. I admitted, on paper, that I was scared. I felt guilty for spending time this way, daydreaming and thinking, rather than cooking and cleaning, or sitting in an office bringing home a paycheck. After all, there were summer trips that needed planning and ways to pay for those trips that I hadn’t thought of yet. There were dishes to be washed, floors to be vacuumed, and closets to be cleaned. Wasn’t it lazy and selfish to spend my time trying to write a book? What good could this possibly bring to anyone, I thought, and isn’t it vain to write a book of stories only about me?
These feelings didn’t surprise me. I’d faced them before, but a rejection letter in the mailbox that week served to amplify them. It was only the second time for that particular project, but the sting was still fresh. I couldn’t help thinking I’d wasted thirty-seven years of my life, and I’d never be good enough to accomplish what it was I wanted to achieve: my name on a spine, my story on a shelf, my vision become reality.
I filled up a page and a half with whining and told God that I needed help trusting him to continue providing for our little family. Even though I had a running list of all that he’d done since I left my job in January, it was hard for me to believe the goodness would last. I felt overwhelmed at the mountain of work in front of me. It’s just too hard, I thought, and then I wrote this prayer in my notebook:
Please make my faith stronger. Sometimes I feel the need to trust you with all of eternity, right here and now. But maybe you just want me to trust you right here, right now. To take the next step, whether in the dark or in the light. I know you’re in front of me leading the way. Help me to feel the tug of your hand and follow wherever you lead, even if I’m scared.
I looked down the hill, toward the water in front of me. That’s when I noticed a middle aged man and a young girl who’d gotten out of their car ten minutes earlier. They didn’t walk to the gazebo and open up a picnic basket. They didn’t get out fishing poles and add bait to their lines. They didn’t unload a canoe like the young guys on the far side of the bridge.
Instead, they walked over to an outcropping of rocks that stretched several feet into the lake.
The father went first and his daughter held his hand and walked behind him. When they came to a large crevice he let go and stood in the gap to catch her in case she slipped. Then she reached out and grabbed his hand again as she gained sure footing across the crevice. He walked slowly for her and they took time to look out at the sunshine rippling across the water. The father picked up an old piece of driftwood for the girl to throw and she gathered her strength and sent it whirring a whole two feet. It sank for a moment then bobbed again along the surface. Finally, the two of them made their way back to land in much the same fashion as they had started out: him going first, her holding his hand. When they reached the grass she jumped in the air and shouted for joy. I was already crying by that time but the words she yelled out cut loose a sob in my chest.
“I did it, Daddy!” she cried as leaped up the hill toward their car.
They were too far away for me to catch his response but I feel like I know what he said in return, as he patted her head and smiled.
“You sure did, sweetheart. You sure did.”
As I opened my laptop and started working, the rest of the song from Sunday’s service came back to my mind:
So I will call upon Your name And keep my eyes above the waves When oceans rise My soul will rest in Your embrace For I am Yours and You are mine