Some Reassembly Required

“How are you caring for yourself?” The question came from a friend, one of two I meet with most Thursday afternoons for encouragement and accountability. I had just finished talking about my uncertainties in dealing with a struggling loved one – a struggle these caring women know firsthand. Together we are learning that we can’t change other people; we can only change ourselves and how we respond to them. Rather than letting their trials consume our thoughts, worries, energy and money, we are trying to take care of ourselves.

How was I doing that? The answer came without thinking: “I’m walking every day and watching what I eat.”

After they left, I considered my response. Yes, I was caring for myself by eating less and moving more, but why did I go immediately to diet and exercise? Why not the other healthy practices I began or continued over the past year?

  • I meet weekly with these women, who listen and understand and gently encourage me to love better.
  • I’ve filled the house with Christmas carols, ornamented the tree with memories and invited family and friends over.
  • Craig and I share this blog and are challenged to post every week on it.
  • I’ve established a morning routine of walking, reading, praying, writing on some days and tackling the New York Times crossword puzzle.
  • I’m cooking more locally raised and seasonal foods.
  • I worship on Sunday mornings with a community of friends who affirm and challenge me.
  • I practice yoga.
  • I spend time with a granddaughter who delights to be with me.

My physical body is only one part of me. I am also a mental, emotional, relational and spiritual being. To be healthy, I must recognize the importance of caring for all these parts. At times it seems daunting, just more to-dos that leave me feeling guilty when I don’t do them. But now that we’re empty nesters and others’ schedules (and food preferences) aren’t dictating ours, Craig and I are feeling a freedom to develop a new life rhythm, one that pulses with our heart’s desires rather than the lock step of duty.

It’s a rhythm that needs movement and stillness, solitude and community, inward reflection and outward service, truth and grace. Comfortably moving through my days with this dynamic tension is a lifelong mission. It keeps me dependent on God and grateful for the loving people in my life.

As I look over my list of healthy habits, I don’t see much in the area of service. I’ve had seasons of intense service but right now am more focused on time for writing and time with Craig, our family and friends. But seasons change, and as the new year begins, I’ll be watching for my next movement. Maybe a nudge will come during a cold morning walk.

Off the Shelf

“What are you going to do with that?” I was surprised to hear the accusation in my voice as Craig pulled the book off the shelf.

“I was telling a friend about Anne Lamott today at work,” he replied, “and I want to loan her our copy of Traveling Mercies.”

“But that’s my copy.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“You want to loan her my copy of Traveling Mercies?”

“Yeah. Is there a problem?”

In fact, there was a big problem. Traveling Mercies belonged on the bookshelf, where I could see it, touch it, maybe even pull it out and read it. When I first read it in early 2000, I fell in love with this smart, funny, slightly neurotic woman with an unexpected and unapologetic love for Jesus. She brought lightness and grace to my faith, along with a freedom to not vote Republican. Her presence on the bookshelf was an emblem of discovery, and now Craig was ready to send her away.

We have 125 linear feet of bookshelves in our house (yes, we measured), all packed with books. Stacked up, the books would reach as high as a 10-story building. At least two-thirds of them are Craig’s. That’s 80 feet of art history, art technique, biographies, faith exploration and leadership principles. Couldn’t he find something of his own to loan his artist friend?

I didn’t know how to tell Craig what I was feeling. It sounded silly even to me, and I knew he wouldn’t understand. He takes a rather populist approach to our books. He pours himself into whatever he’s reading – with a pencil in hand and Post-it Notes beside him, he underlines, stars, notates, rereads, digests, even reads a passage to me if I’m so inclined – but once he’s finished, he happily lends it out, no matter how dog-eared, no matter if he sees it again. If he finds value from reading John Ruskin, Dr. Gerald May or Philip Yancey, he’s sure you will too.

I, on the other hand, approach my books with the reverence of a priest. I remove the dust jacket of a hardcover volume to keep it from being torn. The only writing on the pages is my name in the corner of the title page. I sit and read for hours. When I finish a book, I slide it back into the jacket and into its opening on the shelf. I imagine the author wants to become my best friend as much as she has already become mine. I want to see the book on the shelf, to feel the author’s presence in my life.

When I connect with a book, I connect with the author. I hold on. When Craig connects with a book, he uses it to connect with others. He lets go. And hopes someone is there to grab it. But I wasn’t ready to release Anne just yet.

“It’s such a powerful book,” I finally responded. “Why don’t we buy your friend her own copy?”