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Vocation, not vacation

I’ve noticed that the world doesn’t take this week off. I mean, if you don’t pick up and travel to some location far away, life finds you. And it finds you doing what you do the other 51 weeks of the year. I’m not sure we know how to do rest anymore.

I was so looking forward to it – a week of Sundays with no demands. None of the regularly scheduled items. No deadlines. No meetings. No classes. No obligatory anything. All was left open. But that’s not enough. Because things wander in, and before you know it you’re more full with things to be done than you were when your appointment book reigned supreme. Unless we “take our rest,” we are restless, and the world’s ways have a very quick solution to that problem.

This week, known as Holy Week to those in the Christian faith, is the holiest week of the year. We are meant to set it aside, the culmination of a season of Lent which has prepared us for just this time. The week following Palm Sunday: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. What a package deal: 3 for the price of One, all on sale this week at a church near you!

That sounds just plain exhausting. Better to go on vacation to take our mind off it all. But this year, we haven’t. I’m here and I must decide what this week will be for me. For my faith. For my Lord. For my family, friends, community and world. Because that is why I am here.

What do I suffer so that someone else might be healed? It’s a simple question, with no simple answer. We all have to answer it for ourselves. The key for me is trusting that there is an answer. There is an intention behind what I’m meant to do, and it’s bigger – so much bigger – than me.

A friend just posted this on Facebook: Photo

A week of palindromes. The dates this week will be the same read backwards and forwards. Were you to list these numbers, there would be no way of telling whether your started at the beginning or the end. The last would be first and the first would be last, and we couldn’t tell which was which. Cool, huh?

Funny that this is true of Holy week. The week where the greatest reversal of all time is celebrated. The week that death itself was defeated and life eternal took its place. Impossible to grasp, really. Yet, what I keep finding (and hearing from others when they find) is that when God’s solution in a circumstance or a question or a hardship or a decision is made plain, it makes perfect sense. “Of course. I should have seen that all along!” It’s so simple.

So, I sit with my week that isn’t quite what I had planned, and the things set before me. Kids who are hurt, injured, recovering and the parents and coaches who long for them to be well. I see the hardship that desperately needs healing, and I am in awe that He would entrust these to me. But God, this week? It was supposed to be our quiet week, our Sabbath time, our rest. We were going to get to those old projects, really wrap up the manuscript, tidy up those articles I have been meaning to submit, and clean out those closets. It’s spring after all!!

Wait. There’s no quiet there. The spring break holiday is no respecter of pain and suffering; they get no vacation, no break, no respite until healing comes. Health care workers are on the job, even on holidays, even on weekends, even on Easter. Perhaps this week, above all weeks, is meant to be dedicated to making all things well.

Jesus didn’t take a week off. Especially not this one. How simple.

Have you heard? Vermont Ain’t Flat

Have you ever found yourself on an uphill with no more gears to shift down into? That was me last weekend. Two mile uphill. Couldn’t see the top and Jim, the tour group leader sweeping the route (yes, I was the LAST cyclist) shouts from behind me, “Don’t save your gears!”

He is not kidding.

Jim’s not kidding…or is he?

“I’m not!” I called with what breath I had remaining, “I’m in my lowest gear!”

Thank goodness for 12 (or is it 14?) speed bikes. In the lowest gear you can pedal almost without going anywhere. Which is exactly what this felt like. Pedaling for all I was worth and going nowhere. The nerve of that guy to yell instructions.

He was trying to be helpful. And he did pedal next to me. Somehow we managed to chat and pedal, chat and pedal all the way to the top. Distraction is a wonderful thing. So is company, when the going gets tough. And you’re in your last gear.

Jim and I fist bumped at the top. He gave me the requisite encouragement: “You did great!” Then added, “You’re not even breathing hard.”

And I wasn’t. That was funny. In my younger years I would have saved my lower gears, just in case the hill got steeper. Now I wasn’t ashamed to go ahead and shift into the granny gear and pedal, pedal patiently all the way to the top. It wasn’t me against the mountain. It was just me and the white line ahead of me. There was only one way back to the Inn for dinner and it was up that hill.

Of course after the big uphill there was an outrageous downhill. Several miles of steep and then steeper, winding down and around, through shadow and shade, past…I’m not sure what. Because I was too busy pumping my breaks hoping not to fly face-first over the handlebars. Funny that the uphill doesn’t faze me but the downhill can be terrifying. Oh yes, and I knew Jim would be closing fast from behind. He had warned us that he really zoomed on those down hills. Great. Bumper bikes at 45 mph.

Thankfully, most of the Vermont terrain was neither steeply up nor downhill but rolling. And feeling neither the need to lead the pack nor embarrassment about bringing up the rear, these rolls I road with great pleasure. Taking in the sights, left and right, front and back. Stopping here and there to snap a photo or follow a goldfinch in flight. To wander into a very old cemetery or count the horse stalls by the church, leftover from the days when this was the mode of transportation on a Sunday morning.

such stories the headstones told

such stories the headstones told


still waters reflect


a moment’s gift


covered bridge at the bottom of the long downhill


“caution, children playing” – energy even at the top of the hill


takes a lot of wind to orient a moosevane

“Your head is on a swivel,” Marilyn, our other bike tour leader told me. “You see three times as much as everyone else.” She coined me ‘observant.’ Perhaps this is something I have adopted as I’ve seasoned a bit.

the marvelous effort of "inching"

the marvelous effort of “inching”

I had thought I was just slow. But perhaps moving slowly can be profitable. You notice stuff. Stuff like the inchworm making his way across your husband’s shocking yellow jersey. Stuff like your neon pink clad teen, jumping and waving her arms wildly while running back down the hill (and then back up!) to celebrate your arrival. Welcoming you home to the room designated for you at the Inn. That’s a welcome sight, especially when the journey has been long.

The Norwich Inn, Hanover Vermont. Finally, a resting place.

Body, I am Listening

“I haven’t got time for the pain.” … a slogan for a pain reliever. Funny how some things are timeless.

I am on vacation at the beach. This is my very first morning and I open my eyes to a different room, different clock showing the time, different furniture, unfamiliar lighting. Where am I? Then I remember, and sink back into my pillow. That’s when I become aware of a distinct tightness in my neck. The left side. It doesn’t hurt exactly. It’s more like my shoulders are scrunched all the way up under my ear, like it’s shrugging without permission.

I have a history of cervical disc problems and neck and shoulder pain. Normally, I march to my exercise mat, pick up my hand weights and go through a relatively elaborate routine of stretching and strengthening. Not this morning. This morning I am on vacation. I receive this pain news differently. It’s not  pain, it’s tightness. Not my enemy, just part of me. Not something to be dismissed but something to be befriended. To be spoken to.

I tell it, calm down. Not out loud, of course. Don’t want to wake my sleeping husband. But I send it a message – how does that happen? – to relax. My mind, very firmly but very intentionally, says comfort. And it does.

I am wondering how often I apply force when what is needed is pulling back. How often I go straight to addressing the situation with my capable approach when what is needed is calm. I am wondering if I can only really discern the right approach when I am on vacation. Resting. When I can attend to my body parts (which incidentally are incapable of lying – they always tell the truth ) one by one without the static of the rest of my life.

Today I am going to keep checking in with that neck (and a left hip that is ornery) and apply the balm of “How are you feeling?” This will be tricky because I have a long-established habit of ‘ignore and go on.’

Whose body is this, after all? The one loaned to me just for this lifetime. When it speaks up, doesn’t it deserve to be heard?

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