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Embracing this life as a gift

What’s in your sack? the traveler, stooped from the heaviness, is asked.
My Mother.
Isn’t she heavy?
She sure is.
Why don’t you put her down?
I can’t.
Well, why can’t you stop carrying her?
I don’t know. I’ve always carried her.   

I know this: I, too, carry a sack, and am reluctant to set it down.
In fairness to Mothers everywhere, I could have chosen my metaphor differently. But here’s the deal: what is in the sack is not the primary issue. What is true is this, we carry stuff that weighs us down—heavy enough to steal our spirit, and keeps us from being alive and well on the inside.
Our sacks can carry a whole lot of things, any of which prevents us from seeing and embracing our own sufficiency…
…the anxiety of the day,
…resentment from past grievances,
…woundedness from an unfair life,
…unresolve regarding an “unpaid” debt,
…fear of conflict,
…a struggle with vexing personal issues,
…the badge of being a victim,
…a preoccupation with busyness,
…our itch for perfection,
…clinging to self-righteousness.
Regardless of what it is, we allow this sack we so diligently carry to be our only story; to tell us who we are. 

Here’s the irony; Whatever it is, we live consumed, because we find reassurance in the weight. Even though (whatever it is), every single sack prevents us from embracing this life as a gift—the gift to be awake and present.
I can tell you that I never wanted to ‘fess up to the fact that my sack takes care of something. To my detriment. But it gave me a sense of identity. As if I need to shore up something. Or compensate. Or maybe, just the fear of being called selfish if I set the sack down.
Parker Palmer’s guidance deserves to be read twice. “By surviving passages of doubt and depression of the vocational journey, I have become clear about at least one thing: self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.”
A troubled young boy asked a man whether there was any compelling reason for him not to pull the legs off a spider. The man said that there was.
Well, spiders don’t feel any pain, the boy retorted.
It’s not the spider I’m worried about, the man said.
Here’s the deal: When I make choices that disconnect me from my heart, and insulate me from the present moment, it hurts me.
The bottom line? These choices put a bushel on the light that lives inside. And that light cannot shine, and that ends up hurting those around me.
“If you are here unfaithfully with us, you’re causing terrible damage.” Rumi
But then, like the little boy with the spider, how would I know?

Many years back, I was traveling from JFK to Dallas. First Class. (It was be-nice-to-middle-aged-writers day.) Next to me, a young man (perhaps 30) works at his laptop. Until we depart, he is conducting business on his cell phone. On his armrest table are reports and other paperwork. He is dressed in his business attire, a perfectly starched shirt, tie still knotted. His dress and his focus impress me. I am reading a novel. During the meal, he asks, “So, what do you do?”
I usually respond to that inquiry, “I’m a TV Evangelist.”
Mostly because people do a double-take, and more than likely–for the rest of the flight–leave me undisturbed.
“I’m a writer.”
“Like Stephen King?”
“Very similar,” I say.
Then I tell him about my books, including Soul Gardening. He tells me a story. “When I was a boy in northern Texas, my grandmother had a garden. And she loved green beans. And she loved me. One of my favorite memories is helping my grandmother pick green beans. Today, my life is good. I have a big house and a bigger mortgage. But that means that I work 60-hour weeks, and I have a hard time keeping up my commitments to my wife and three kids. And sometimes, I get a little overwhelmed. I’ve never told anyone this, but last year I planted a green bean plant. In back of my house. It’s not much, and it made my wife laugh, but it’s amazing what it does to my blood pressure, every time I return home from a trip. It reminds me of my grandmother. Peaceful somehow. Strange, huh?”
No, I tell him, not strange at all.   

This story is even more prescient now. In the cacophony of 2020, exhaustion is real, and we easily lost sight of self-care. Not seeing the power of self-care even and especially in uncertainty.
So, we begin here: Everybody needs a green bean plant.
When the young man visits his green bean plant, he sets his sack down.
When he visits his green bean plant, he practices sanctuary.
A sanctuary is a place where I am at home with my own company; even on days or weeks when all is catawampus.
A sanctuary is a place of rest (Sabbath).
In sanctuary I reclaim the gift of my authentic self—my whole and imperfect self. I (and not the sack I carry) get to say how the story ends.
A sanctuary is about setting the sack down.
In sanctuary we find the truth that our vocation (the light that shines from the inside) is where our deep gladness can meet the world’s greatest needs.

On Tuesday, Punxsutawney Phil will emerge from his burrow to deliver his highly anticipated forecast. I forget, is he ever right? Just askin’.
I know that I don’t need him to know the weather here; overcast, gray and steady rain. In other words, close to normal, perfect for staying inside, by the fire, with a book.

Quote for your week…
Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at anytime and be yourself. Herman Hesse

Note: I mentioned Soul Gardening. Here’s an invitation to join the Soul Gardening eCourse. It’s available to all. No fee. You can order the book to go with it. It would be a good retreat journey for Lent (which begins on Wednesday, February 17).
The other great Lent option is my new book, The Gift of Enough–a journal for the present moment. My journal with invitations to embrace and savor the sacred present.

SABBATH MOMENT BULLETIN BOARD

POEMS AND PRAYERS

The question we were to debate… was whether it is theologically accurate to say that wild salmon are holy. The trouble with this plan was, I’ve spent thousands of days on rivers awestruck and in love with the very holiness she wished to see “debated.” David James Duncan

Sabbaths
Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.
And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace.
That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.
When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.
Wendell Berry 

I welcome and thank the Creator for prayers
that come from all souls. I am not a lonely
star but a member of a constellation, we shine,
we shine, with grace and love and light.
Karren Hoyt

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