Refreshment on the Journey

Pleasant inns

“The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast.  We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy.  It is not hard to see why.  The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency.  Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” CS Lewis The Problem of Pain

I read this quote earlier this week and I am struck by its truth. No matter what moments of pleasure are a part of our journey, they will never replace our deep desire for belonging, for “settled happiness and security.” That deep desire belongs to God alone, he is jealous for it. And though there are times when I may make the mistake of believing true ‘belonging’ is attainable outside of God, I am always brought back to the reality that it is in him alone where I rest.

As one of my readers commented “Everyone experiences loss and yearning, we are all travelers far from home.” 

More and more I see those who are aware of this longing as a gift in our world. Because this is what makes us human. This is what can connect us to each other. When we are fully at home and secure we are unaware of the journey of others. We can ignore the lonely, walk by the homeless without a thought, have no heart for the refugee, dismiss the one who is ‘other’.”* But when we are in tune with this human yearning, we can reach out to others with compassion and grace. We can be those who offer refreshment on the journey.

And so I continue learning every day what it is to live well in a place where I don’t truly belong – and, though I don’t want to admit it, that is a gift. Today I will enjoy the “pleasant inns” along the way, refreshment for the journey, and hope you do as well.

*from An Unappeased Yearning to Return

Respect the Detour!


Respect the Detour by Robynn

Tuesday afternoon in central Kansas was nearly perfect! The sun was shining gloriously. The clouds were picture perfect. Autumn has already kissed the prairie grasses and they were beginning to turn into a thousand shades of glory. Returning from a session at the Kansas Leadership Center in Wichita my GPS and I were driving cheerfully along highway 77 toward home and family. My brain was swirling over the concepts I had just been introduced to at the center. My heart was contentedly happy.

Suddenly all of that changed at Herrington! There was a detour of perplexing magnitude. While I had moved smoothly toward the east and the north suddenly the detour signs indicated I should make a deliberate right angle turn toward the south. It was counter intuitive. It didn’t make any sense. I turned south, away from family, away from home. I started going, at the signs instructions, exactly opposite of where I wanted to go.

I told myself not to stress. The GPS didn’t help. She was apparently just as stressed as I was and was freaking out. Every few moments she suggested alternate routes across fields or by way of gravel roads that looked rather dubious. At one point her best guess was to turn left in point three miles into a rundown farm yard. That didn’t seem particularly helpful!  When I didn’t follow her instructions she tried again and again, jaws clenched, “Recalculating, recalculating…”

To thicken the plot I had planned on stopping for petrol in Herrington. My gasoline was getting dangerously low. I had 47 miles left on this tank. I had 42 miles left on this tank. How far should I keep going before I turned around, back toward Hetherington, back toward the general direction of home?

The detour route kept going and going. I still wasn’t going toward the north. Should I deviate from the detour and take my nagging gps’s suggestions? Should I instead resort to my instincts, which in areas of direction, are highly suspect?

Driving home in the opposite direction, it struck me I might practice some leadership. I could choose to make the choice to trust the highway man who posted the signs. Surely he knew what he was doing. I could maintain my purpose of getting home. I could practice holding steady in the face of unfavorable circumstances: the gas tank was dipping lower and lower, the directions weren’t clear, my cell phone was slowly dying and my charger was no longer working, my youngest daughter was expecting I’d be home by the time she got home from school.

By and by the road dipped to the north and the detour signs dictated I turn left and then right again and finally I made it back up to highway 77 to Junction City and the familiar I-70 freeway toward Manhattan and more importantly toward home! The detour felt like forever but probably only lasted twenty minutes. Funnily enough returning to highway 77 I found myself literally just on the other side of Herrington. All of that detour was to keep me from entering and crossing a tiny town that couldn’t have even been a mile wide!

I learned several things Tuesday afternoon.

It’s good to trust the detour. When they plot those out they have good intentions, they know what they’re doing, they see what needs to be avoided. From their vantage point they really do know the best way around Herrington. I can relax. I can hold steady. I can trust the detour.

A “Yield” sign might have been a better choice of signs. Yielding is hard work. Everything in me is wired to resist. I want to fight it, rebel against it. My soul’s spine stiffens. I’m often stubborn and suspicious. However when I stopped bridling against the detour signs and yielded I found myself relaxing and resting. Anxieties began to wilt. Trust stood taller. I submitted to the process and it was somehow easier. Maybe they should have instructed me to yield to the detour.

As ridiculous as this sounds, I started to hate Herrington. Herrington was mean. She said I couldn’t come in and play. She taunted me with the hope of a full tank of gas but then took it away. Of course really this had nothing to do with Herrington. She was innocent. Wounded roads likely needed repair. Perhaps a bridge was out. Perhaps a railroad needed attention. It wasn’t her fault and it wasn’t against me personally. It would have benefitted me to suspend my unnecessarily harsh judgment of the unsuspecting community. I suspect it would have quickened my acceptance of the situation.

I’m embarrassed to admit that my friend, Nate, had warned me in a decidedly understated way, about the detour around Herrington. I should have asked more questions. I should have listened more intently to what he said. I should have heeded his Herrington advice.

I also should have had a map…a real paper atlas road map. It would have given me a sense of the big picture. It would have quieted some of my angst. I might have felt more confident in navigating the back roads of Kansas. I would have realized that I was really close to my friend Sarah’s house. I could have popped in for coffee and direction.

If I’m being completely honest the drive south of Hetherington was beautiful but it wasn’t spectacular. I did have that thought….well maybe I’m being detoured to reveal some splendor of nature that I might have otherwise missed. But there was nothing remarkable about that bit of road. There was, however, a quieter more subtle beauty along the way. I passed field after field of varying fall shades of sorghum. I saw a long-legged heron drinking quietly at a pond. I caught glimpses of elusive monarch butterflies. Blinded by resentment and fear, I nearly missed all of it. Relaxing into and learning to trust the detour process freed me up to pray, to ponder, to be present.

Before long I made it to Junction City with 18 gallons of gas to spare. Eventually I even found home again, having travelled the road much much less travelled, with a sense of gratitude and a newly developed deep respect for the detour.

Do you have difficulty respecting the detour? 

How to Give Yourself Grace: Advice to someone returning from a long journey!

End of a Long Journey

How to Give Yourself Grace: Advice to someone returning from a long journey! by Robynn

We arrived back in Kansas, on January 4th at 3:00am, after having been away for 5 weeks. The morning after Thanksgiving, while it was yet dark, we drove to Kansas City to begin our grand adventure! And what an adventure it was! We flew to Buffalo, NY, spent one night in Ontario, one day in London, three weeks in our beloved India, another night in London and then 10 days in Ontario again with family for Christmas. Actually it was 11 days in Ontario, because our family got stuck in the first snow storm of the season and our flights were cancelled from Buffalo, NY –flights that were intended to bring us safely back to Kansas. Rescheduled flights meant being rerouted and more cancelled flights enroute (in Houston!?) and a missing bag and a later than anticipated arrival in Kansas City and a long drive home.

It was a trip of a life time. We visited our old lives, old haunts, favourite places and people. We ate delicious food at every stop. We cried at old memories and laughed at new jokes. Our children were steeped in the places of their early childhoods. It was rich and full and we left with hearts overwhelmingly grateful. What an undeserved joy to be able to travel back again to that precious place!

However coming back to my regular routines has been difficult. I anticipated grief and a sense of loss but that’s not really what’s characterized my return. A friend recently inquired on Facebook as to how I am doing. My response to her was, “I have this relapse of culture shock. I feel at odds once again. That nervous uneasiness has reentered my stomach. I feel overwhelmed and easily anxious.”

Each time I try to explain what’s circling inside my soul to friends, in person or online, they respond gently, kindly, “Give yourself grace!”

Just give yourself some grace.

It was a big trip. You were gone a long time.

Give yourself grace!

You planned for it most of last year. It was a big deal. For heaven’s sake…you just went to India!

Give yourself some grace!

But I have no idea what that means. Looking it up in the dictionary does little to help. I don’t know how to do that. What does it look like to give myself grace?  I’ve spent some time stewing on this. If this is the advice I repeatedly receive I owe it to advice givers and, perhaps also, to myself to figure this out!

Here’s what I’ve come up with. Here’s what I think it means to Give Yourself Grace:

  • It’s going to take time. It took time to prepare for the trip. There were passports to renew and visas to apply for. The kids had to finish up their school work. Christmas presents had to be bought in advance. Bills would need to be paid while we were gone, plants would need watering. It all took a lot of time to organize and coordinate and arrange. It’s going to also take time to come back in. Returning requires time too. Unpacking, putting away suitcases, sorting through mail, making to do lists. There will be photos to sort through, piles of paper work to process, routines to reestablish. These things all take time.
  • Whatever you’re feeling is normal and to be expected. At least I hope this is true. I remember once in a moment of profound grief after the death of a close friend, a psychologist who was related to the family said, “Whatever you’re feeling is normal.” That actually brought a lot of comfort at that time. I was feeling some sadness but I also felt anger and exhaustion; I felt bitter and guilty at not being more upset than I was. Her pronouncement over my emotions gave me some relief and some freedom. I find myself repeating that over my heart when I don’t even necessarily know what I’m feeling.  Emotions are so complex. How can I sort through them all? Surely, whatever I’m feeling just now is normal and to be expected!
  • You can expect waves of grief and relief. There are these moments of deep sadness after saying goodbye to South Asia, to close friends, to the place, even to myself. (I often leave large chunks of me there!). But there are also waves of relief. Life in India is hard work. Electricity is unpredictable. Pollution is intense—both in the air and on the ground. If I’m completely honest with myself, I also feel some relief that I don’t have to contend with those things every day. The relief is mixed with the grief which is mixed with equal parts of guilt and sorrow. It’s an odd cocktail but it’s the cup I’ve been given to drink.
  • You can anticipate some cultural confusion. When you switch a baby from breast-feeding to bottle feeding and then back to breast-feeding often the baby experiences some “nipple confusion”. As earthy as the metaphor might be, I think it describes some of what we feel when we return to our beloved places and then reenter our regular placements. We are confused. Our souls are unsettled. We knew a particular way and then we became used to a different way and now we’re back to the old way, but only temporarily and now we race to what was sort of familiar and yet now not so much. There has to be some cultural confusion….some yanking of our tethers, our leashes. We are whiplashed from culture to culture. You can expect to be out of whack!
  • There’s no rush. What’s the hurry? Where’s the deadline? It’s going to take time. (I think this really is the heart of “give yourself grace” and it begs repeating….)
  • Tap into God’s grace, his “unmerited divine assistance.” He specializes in going with people from place to place. He goes before and behind, encircling those he’s fond of. Certainly he understands and he can help. Ask him for some of that “divine assistance!”

“You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it… You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.” (Psalm 139:2-5)

  • Maybe the dictionary can help! Give yourself, “a temporary exemption:  REPRIEVE,” a “special favour,” or, “disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency.” In other words be nice to yourself! Pamper yourself. Make yourself a cup of hot tea. Sit quietly in your favourite chair. Watch a cathartic something that will make you cry! Watch something that will make you laugh out loud! Read through your journal again. Pour yourself a hot bath. Be very nice to yourself.
  • Resist the urge to return too quickly. Try not to rush back in. Breathe deeply. Move slowly. Go ahead and do the next thing on your list but don’t hurry. Your poor body has been around the world and back again. Let your soul catch up! Come home slowly.
  • Make to do lists. It’s pathetic, I know, but one thing you’re likely feeling is completely out of control! And of course you are! Regaining control is a mirage….it can’t really happen. But there is something to be said about doing the next thing. And it’s easier to know what that is when you have some good lists to work from.

So this is what I think it means to Give Myself some Grace! And it’s what I’m trying to do just now. The return journey from India is a lot longer than the one that took us there. I’m giving myself grace.

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Image credit: afhunta / 123RF Stock Photo

Journey: One Year

A year ago on Monday we passed a milestone of parenting – we witnessed and participated in our son Micah’s wedding. There is a peculiar joy as you watch your child find a soul mate and embark on what is surely the hardest journey any two human beings will ever undertake. I watched this video made by Micah for Lauren with tears – may you enjoy this and be reminded of the mystery of marriage.

Happy Anniversary Micah and Lauren!

A Backpack too Heavy

Sheila Walsh tells a poignant story of her son wanting to leave home at the tender age of six. Evidently he set out with his backpack and jacket, heading toward a pond near home. She, wanting to allow freedom but aware of his young age, kept a watchful eye from a window where she could ensure safety as well as give him his independence. After a short time he was back at the door, offering no explanation other than a six-year-old going on sixteen response of “It’s good to be home!”

Later that night as she was tucking him in, she brought up the adventure and asked him about it. His response was matter of fact “I would have gone farther but my backpack was too heavy”.

As I listened to her, I was overwhelmed by the truth in this retelling of the story and a child’s simple comment. When I would go farther except my backpack is too heavy – the things I carry too weighty. My kids and their lives with the confusion and sorrows; friends I know who are aching from pain, some that can be spoken and other that can’t; patients I have known and sometimes lost; worries and fear about the future and regret about the past – a backpack too full of ‘stuff’.

It’s all mixed together with the good stuff so I’m not always sure what the good stuff is. Sort of like my kids backpacks at the end of a semester, where a mashed up moldy sandwich, an apple, and crushed Cheezits are crumbled up together in what used to be a brown lunch bag, but mixed in with this is a perfectly good juice carton and packaged granola bar. Instead of sorting through, I throw all of it away.

I’ve always thought that the primary lesson to this story was the heavy backpack preventing him from the joy and distance of the journey. If I just lighten my load I would go farther, make more of an impact and be freer to serve. But the symbolism goes farther.

This little six-year-old knew exactly where to go to remember who he was and drop off his backpack. He knew the way Home. He knew that Home was light, and love and Mom. He knew that there would be no condemnation, just warm chocolate chip cookies, cold milk and a listening heart. He knew that at home he could rest and move forward, his burden gone. He knew home was a place to be reminded of who he was. 

So as I think about the times I turn around because the backpack is too heavy I hope I have the sense of a six-year-old who goes back home, because the back pack was too heavy. I hope I can go back to where I am reminded of who I am, take out some of the load and journey on.