Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Following the Plow

Not long ago I turned to enter onto the freeway and found myself behind a snowplow. I was glad, at first, as a light snow had fallen and I suspected the roads were slippery. As we headed down the ramp I had to slow down a bit to keep a safe distance, and smiled as I drove through the still-bouncing salt crystals he was scattering behind him. Briefly, I thought, “When we hit the freeway, he’ll be going too slow for me,” and then wished I’d been ahead of him. But I mustered the necessary patience and steadily kept my distance as we eased into traffic.

I thought about the advantages of following the plow. Certainly the road directly behind it is safer than any other place on the freeway. I couldn’t drive as fast as the other cars, but shouldn’t we all slow down a bit in our lives? Do I really need to go everywhere at 60-plus miles an hour? What is so important that it requires that kind of speed? So at first I took my position behind the plow as a sort of admonishment, a message to slow down and enjoy the ride.

When the plow turned off at the next exit and I passed it on my way elsewhere, I had a very different thought. Sure, the safest place on a wintry freeway is a few hundred feet behind the snowplow. And maybe it’s okay that it moves along at a slow and steady pace. But what happens when it turns? Do I just follow it in order to stay safe even when it’s not going the direction I need to go?

Then I realized: “I’ve been following the plow.” The path of least resistance. The easiest, safest way. I applied to one college, was accepted and went. I majored in Biology because it was straightforward and made sense to me, whereas pursuing writing was scary and full of gray area. I took jobs that were easy for me and quit when they got boring. None were in the field for which I claim such passion. I wrote all the time—and continue to write—for safe audiences: church, friends, children, fellows in recovery, myself: none prone to be critics.

If I were to pull over and get out of my car would I have any idea where I am? Would I be anywhere near where I was hoping to go?

It’s not as if I immediately skidded all over the road the moment I drove past the plow that morning. The road became more dangerous, certainly, but they're always dangerous. And even plows wind up in the ditch if the weather’s bad enough. I can’t keep following the plow if it’s not on the same path I am. I need to pull out and go my own way, follow my vision, even if the road doesn’t seem as well-groomed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Confessions of a Martha

Now as they went on their way, [Jesus] entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’ --Luke 10: 38-42 NRSV

My mental illness is most pronounced first thing in the morning. When I roll out of bed, my brain takes flight like a startled covey of pheasants. While turning on the shower a single thought; a song lyric, movie line or newly created piece of narrative, for example, loops crazily until I realize it’s stuck on repeat and then deliberately shove it aside. My morning routine is a practiced ritual from the order in which I cleanse my body to the sequence in which I assemble my breakfast. If I get distracted in the slightest, it’s almost guaranteed that I will forget something and, upon sitting down to eat, will realize I am without a fork or a napkin or—the horror!—my coffee.

Once the food and caffeine begin coursing through my veins, my thought processes become more linear. I wish I could say that the mental mania subsides completely, but I can’t. Sometime after the coffee, I create a list of all the things I’d like to accomplish in those generous hours my kids are in school. I am aware as I write this list that it’s going to be impossible, but I tell myself that as long as the highest priorities are covered, I can let the rest go. I seldom do. Because inevitably, the things I most want to do wind up at the bottom of the list. And as the weeks pass, the list of “want to do’s” grows rapidly without the “have to do’s” proportionally scaling back. So I am left each day feeling like Martha—standing in the kitchen at 9:00pm wondering where my day has gone, irritated with everyone around me, and feeling the pain and sadness of once again having missed out on “the good stuff.”

I want to be Mary. I honestly do. I believe that writing creatively is what God wants for me. After years of fear that I loved writing too much, that I would never be allowed to do it seriously because it was selfish and wrong, I have finally reached a place of trust that God would not have given me this passion if I wasn’t intended to use it.

So why am I standing in the kitchen still trying to complete my “to do” list before I’m allowed to go and experience the joy of sitting at Jesus’ feet? Why am I unable to reconcile my need to create with the full basket of laundry on the couch, the grant deadlines and the sound of the school bus dropping off my kids at the end of their day? I mean, even if Martha had joined her sister, eventually someone would have had to clean up the dinner dishes. I don’t suppose Jesus would have offered to do them for her.

But maybe that’s where I’m wrong. Maybe if I’m just willing to set aside my own agenda for a while and stop to listen to God’s call, I’ll find that there is time for everything. Everything in God’s plan, anyway. I believe my creativity is a part of that plan. So I will stop and listen and have faith that all those little tasks will still get done. Nothing is impossible for God.