Its summertime and we are desperate for rain in central Iowa. Our fields are dry, are yards already burned up, and our roads are dusty. Yet each new day arrives like the day before. The sun rises in the east (a phenomenon I rarely witness due to my night owl tendencies) then it sets in the west.
The danger is not so much in the dry conditions, but more so in the temptation to give in to mediocrity and status quo during these summer days. All winter we count down until spring breaks forth. Then we long for summer freedom only to waste the days away with the day in day out routine of work schedules, household responsibilities, and whatever else tricks us into believing we’re being productive.
Mid-May I began searching for “more”. I wasn’t exactly bored or missing anything in my life, but I did feel like I’d settled into a routine. And it wasn’t a bad routine either. Yet something longed deep inside to know more, believe more, experience life more! So, I changed up my daily prayers to include an invitation for God to surprise me…every single day. I gave God permission to open my eyes and open my heart to see, hear, and experience beyond the status quo–beyond the surface of mundane-ness.
And off I went into a new day. I started reading a new series of book designed to improve self-discipline, something I feel like I lack in many areas of my life. The author has an on-going series on various life topics for developing self-discipline in exercise, in entrepreneurism, in weight loss, etc, etc. I chose four “topics” and downloaded them onto my Kindle for easy access whether I was driving (in audio format) or sitting still.
Filled with a sense of new energy I dove into the one I thought would benefit me the quickest. Self-Discipline for the Entrepreneur. Perfect! Each chapter ends with 3-5 action items to put into practice. Chapter one was easy. I flew through it. And I remember doing the action items. I just can’t recall what they were at this moment in time.
Then came chapter two. It talked about interior stress points that distract and prevent us from being productive and focused. The author’s instruction encouraged me to write down any internal stressers that threw me off course over a two-day time period. The assignment was to be aware of things or people that caused me to respond with a high level or stress or unidentified frustration, then journal the item. I thought that would be super easy because I believed ALL of my stressers were EXTERIOR–caused by outside forces and other people.
Surprise! First thing the next morning, I totally freaked out over my hair! Seriously. 7:00 a.m. and my hair was already reacting to the high humidity. Granted, our air conditioner was out of commission that day (and had been for 6 full weeks by that time), but still! A flat iron couldn’t do a thing to control the mop of hair on my head.
I wrote that down in my stresser-journal.
Then my day went along pretty well. Nothing else triggered uncontrollable stress as long as I didn’t look in the mirror. Until bedtime. I had my Kindle in hand. Supper dishes were done. Laundry was done. Nothing pressing was on my agenda. I had time to actually read! (Oh, come to think of it, that was one of the chapter one action items – learning to unwind at night!) I was excited to sink into a chair with my reading.
But there wasn’t a chair made for me! Sounds crazy, right? But my hubby had claimed the family room with the 72″ flat screen tv where my favorite chair is. I had no desire to listen to old Western movies in the background of my reading. My mom had claimed the main floor where my favorite sofa resides. She was happily watching her little tv while she sorted and resorted magazines, newspapers and the like.
I retreated to my bedroom and climbed up on the bed. We haven’t exactly set up our room like we’d like even though we’ve lived with mom now for 9 months. Everything has a step by step system in order complete the bedroom to make it ours. Like first we have to paint, then we install the closet doors, then we get a headboard for the bed…things like that. Well, we haven’t painted yet so everything else hinges on simply “starting”! Sitting on the bed is uncomfortable after just a few minutes. I had no desire to hang out up there with my Kindle, wishing for lumbar support while I tried to read chapter three!
I was stressing out! There was nowhere to sit and read at 9 p.m. in this entire house! I found myself almost angry because I couldn’t find a comfortable spot to call my own.
Then it hit me! Oh! This is part of my assignment for the day. This in an internal stresser! I wrote it down.
The beginning and end of my day contained my most stressful issues! What a surprise! I had no idea! The biggest surprise was that both issues were fixable! I had total control over both of them if I chose to engage in a solution.
The next morning, I called for a hair appointment and “fixed” the hair stress. The next evening, I rearranged my bedroom and drug my great-grandma’s rocker up next to the reading light in my bedroom. Hair and a chair. It’s all I needed. I’d mastered the assignment. And consequently, I must have mastered the entire series on self-discipline because I have yet finish the rest of the first book, let alone the others I downloaded!
But that whole experience brought me to a couple of important conclusions. If I could solve the biggest stress points of my day with my hair and a chair, surely there were more simple solutions to change up my daily routines!
I began to look for “more” everyday.
Twice now I have been totally awe-stuck by the summer sunsets in the western skies. A blazing red ball hanging low on the horizon has captured me to the point I had to pull off the highway so I could fully experience the ever-changing color palette as the sky ebbed and flowed in and out of deep purples, pinks, reds, and oranges. How many sunsets have I missed driving home because I was lost in a thought or totally focused on the pavement passing under my vehicle at 75 miles per hour?
I spent yesterday painting old wire lawn chairs. I rescued them from a garage sale years ago and the first time I painted them my daughter helped. We chose bright colors and painted them into cheery patio pieces. But the paint was worn again, and the colors had faded. We’re building a new deck for my mom and I wanted the chairs to be a bright spot when the project is finished. So, I spent yesterday painting them a bright, sunshiney yellow! (I also painted my feet–I think my daughter’s feet were red from our last chair painting effort!)
The days are getting shorter already. Dusk is coming around 8:50 now instead of 9:15ish or after. But I finished painting with plenty of time to drive out to my brother’s farm to “snack” our horses. Beauty and Shadow like a little extra attention in the evenings and crisp carrots and apples seem to perk them up at the end of the day. I grabbed a bag of carrots, loaded Crickett, our Lewellyn Setter, into the car and took off for the farm.
Beauty and Shadow did a little happy dance in their stall when I pulled in. Crickett ran her little heart out sniffing out rabbits, and cows, and whatever other critters might have passed by during the day. The horses snacked away. We had a good “visit” but the sun was starting to drop. I called Crickett back to the truck to head home.
But at the end of the lane where I’m supposed to turn east to go home, I was captured once again by the sky. I turned west instead and followed the road to a spot where I could see the entire expanse of the horizon. Jet trails formed a perfect cross against the ever-changing colors of the sunset. Hues faded in and out of each other freely. I took a few photos. But instead of heading back toward home, I found myself compelled to follow the sky.
I drove to the top of a hill where the corn blocked the view, yet the reflection of the sun as it paused a moment on the horizon, painted an absolutely stunning canvas in the eastern sky. I could see the sky behind me in my rearview mirror and stopped alongside of the road to take in the wonder of it all.
Then I drove on. I recognized some of the farmsteads from my childhood. It’s possible some of the original owners still live in some. But more likely the places are inhabited by new owners by now. A mile further west. A mile south. Then west again. All the while watching the sky. I crossed the pavement onto another dusty gravel road.
Meadowlarks sprinted back and forth along the dusty road. A little red fox poked her head out of a ditch to watch us pass. Cows looked up from their grazing to observe us as we slowly drove on. Butterflies zigged and zagged among the ditch flowers. I waited, thinking the sky would eventually darken, but light lingered, urging us on.
Eventually I reached an unfamiliar spot deep into the rolling hills of Madison County. I had no idea where I was, but the view was breathtaking. The cows were grazing in a pasture overlooking a massive farm pond. The air was perfectly still. I stopped the car and got out for another photo. Through the lens of the camera I couldn’t tell exactly where the sky was. When I looked over the camera, I realized the pond was reflecting the exact image of the mystical sunset.
Surprise again. I had two sunsets in the same night.
There are no words to describe the absolute beauty of the moment. Life was alive all around me. Colors without names painted the landscape and skyscape in a giant, unmeasurable canvas. No directions. No agenda. No worries. No concerns. Just beauty opening up before me like a gift. I stayed in the moment until the sky was dark. Only one flicker of light remained on the pond as I drove away.
Next surprise. No cell service. So, no GPS to get me home!
But it didn’t matter. If I’d traveled mostly west and a little south to get there, then surely mostly east and a little north would lead me home. Or at least back to familiar territory!
Self-discipline? Not at all.
Yet I returned by my chair next to the reading light in my bedroom and pondered that scene over and over. I pressed it into my memory–willing it to stay and not fade like the old paint on the lawn chairs.
If I were a painter, I could show you the image with a brush and some paint because the image is crystal clear in my mind. But all I have to offer is the depth of the moment. I could have left the horses and turned east like I did every night. But this time I turned west.
One change in my regular routine led me to a life-changing moment in time.
There is more.
The summer is winding down. The new deck will be finished, and the updated lawn chairs will surely be a bright spot to enjoy. The horses will still enjoy apples and carrots at dusk, and Crickett will continue to sniff out the farm yard.
Yet there is more.
Take a different route. Read a new book. Repurpose an old piece of furniture. Find yourself a chair to call your own. Whatever feeds your soul.
Then give God permission to “surprise” you.