5 Things I Learned this Summer

It was said of poet and Jesuit priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins,

"As an artist, Hopkins could not be static; whenever he looked back, it was to go forward with more confidence."

This is summer, fading and lingering all at once.

This list is a form of Examen that I practice in community at the close of each season. Actually, I keep a disorganized list in my journal of what I am learning all thoughout the current season. Some are small, some heavy, some lighthearted, and others just plain interesting. Sometimes, I can see what I am learning captured right in my photo stream on my phone. At the end of the season, I gather all that together, reflect with God, our heads together, and bring you the best of my lessons from the season.

This is what I learned this summer.

1. Reading a single Psalm in the morning gives you moxie.

The habit of reading a Psalm every morning is like turning your face towards the sun. No matter what the day brings, I find I have framed my inner world for being kind, having grit, making decisions, working hard, and trusting God through it all. The Psalms are not all easy to read. They are full of raw emotion and some despair, but also bursting with joy and hope and the long view. I like to say they have moxie. I could sure use some and maybe you can, too.

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2. Taking an actual lunchbreak outside with a cloth napkin makes me human again

One day this summer, during the demands of two full sessions of summer school, I was headed back to my computer, lunch plate in hand, when I decided instead to grab a cloth napkin from the kitchen drawer and head outside to sit in my porch swing. It turned out to be twenty minutes of much needed rest. It was good for me, body and soul. It was a reminder that I am not a robot made only to produce and perform. I am a human being and I need to be hearing the birds and feeling the breeze on my bare toes.

Poet David Whyte says lunchtime is more than a time to fuel for the afternoon. He writes, "The imaginative eye sees an enormous transition from initiation to elaboration. Noon is the threshold between initiation and elaboration".

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3.Sometimes you walk into the mist before it clears.

We made one glorious trip to the beach this summer. We arrived to the sea-salty smell that suggests the salt and sand will scrub your life smooth and clean and awaken the artist inside you.

But first, there was a layer of haze over the coast so thick and low, we couldn't see the water or the lapping waves. Not even the iconic Haystack Rock was visible. We grabbed coffee and bakery sweets and headed for the sand. As we spread out beach towels in a long row, we watched our son, his wife, and their two toddlers disappear into the eerie mist.

It took almost two hours for the wind to sweep away the clouds and Haystack Rock to come into view. By that time, we had eaten sweets, built sand castles, and dug salt-water moats. Of course, all that hazy time, the rock had been there, waves had been rushing to the shore, and we had held hands and dreamed a few dreams of what could be.

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4.There are times to go straight home and times to take the long way home.

Sometimes, my trips home are quick and straight to the house. Other times, I take the scenic route, either literally or figuratively. On this trip home to Texas, I took all the long ways. I went on a writing weekend with two writerly friends, drove the Texas highways seeing two more friends, drove more Texas highways, chasing sky and tacos, and finally arrived home to celebrate my Dad's birthday.

It was good for my soul to see all of these faces in person, worth every mile and taco stop.

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5. When in doubt, buy the balloons.

My Dad turned 80 last month. He was born at home in 1939. Depending on who you ask, there is descrepancy about the exact day he was born. He was a scrappy redheaded boy with a naughty cowlick and a sideways grin. He picked peaches, slung newspapers, and rode a motorcycle with his dog on the gas tank, something strictly forbidden by the grandmother who raised him. Then again, you never could tell him what not to do. He is a no nonsense kind of guy with little use for small talk and parties (usually).

At the height of summer heat, we all came barreling into Texas from the four corners to celebrate with a Cajun shrimp boil and homemade lemon pie. I had this idea to get him the numbered balloons, 8-0, to set the party mood and just to let it sink in. 8o years. My sister grabbed the balloons in town so I would not be trying to bring them on a plane. It was for me really, the balloons. Anyone who knows my Dad for a split second which is all he gives you before he has to go do something else, knows the balloons were a crazy, frivolous idea.

With three cars full of spicy shrimp and corn-on-the-cob, leftover pie, kids, grandkids, and great grands in three carseats, I made the decision to leave the three-foot mylar balloons at my brother's house. We piled all the food and gifts on the dining room table. Daddy took one look around and asked, "What about my balloons?"

The next morning, while I was already on a plane, my sister brought the balloons to him. At that very moment, the Texas wind kicked up and took the eight balloon over the top of the house. They watched as the shiny silver eight disappered into a clear blue sky, Daddy holding the zero balloon in his hand. Our joy was fleeting, fabulous, and absolutely worth it.

When in doubt, buy the balloons.

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This post is posted in community over at Emily P. Freeman's website. You can read her list and lots more from the community she has gathered.

And, if you enjoyed this, here is What I learned in Spring - storied edition.

Let's do this again for Fall at the end of November.