“Dang it,” my friend said, hitting the accelerator. “The storm’s getting away from us.”
“Oh,” was all I could muster in response. I’d hopped into her car earlier that morning, eager for something new. We headed south, hoping to escape the city, and within a few hours, we’d pulled off the expressway and turned down as many two-lane roads as we could find. We shouted out old high school tunes as weathered fences and rolling pastures passed us by. I put my feet up on the dashboard and forgot about everything.
It all seemed rather idyllic until the sky turned grey. Streaks of lightning started to dance overhead. The thunder rattled my insides. I was just about to suggest that we turn back when Katie leaned forward in the driver’s seat and announced our new mission. She revved her Toyota Corolla and started chasing after the storm, flying over hills, one after the other. I pulled my knees into my chest and held on. The closer we got to the lightning, the more alive she became. There was no turning back. More hills, more sharp turns, more split-second decisions.
Torrents of rain eventually blocked our view and forced her to relinquish. I exhaled. We slowly settled back into meandering, rolling over hills and down into valleys, wondering about the men and women who moved in and out of the faded red barns and long gravel driveways. We took in the haze that lingered in the air, fresh from the storm and ripe like the inside of a melon. Soon, a double rainbow arched across the sky. We stopped the car and stared up at the grandeur of it all.
“Isn’t it funny?” Katie said off-handedly. “When you’re not trying so hard, grace always seems to find you.”
I think about that now as the summer draws to a close. “Where did it go?” I asked as I watched my nieces pack up their belongings and head back to college. “What have I accomplished?” followed as the question du jour, especially after rifling through my to-do lists and random post-it note reminders. This was the summer I had dreaded. It had meant another three months of waiting for the adoption to finalize. I’d imagined the hours would crawl by, but instead the months flew. Why wasn’t I elated?
I shared all of this with my spiritual director. She knew how hard I’d worked this past year, both as a consultant and as a mom-to-be. “You know, Karen,” she said. “Burn out is a loss of intimacy with yourself.” It has less to do with how many hours you’ve worked or how many weekends, even, and more to do with how connected you are to nurturing your spirit. To paying attention. Savoring. “What have you done to feed your soul this summer?” she asked gently.
My eyes started to water. And right then I knew the source of my unease. I’d soaked in my trip to Haiti with my nieces in late June. I’d relished a get-away weekend with an old friend in August. But in the day to day of living, I’d turned savoring off.
I wasn’t entirely sure how to turn it back on. But I remembered doing a creative exercise where I flipped through magazine pages and ripped out pictures that struck me, that without too much thought would supposedly show me the sustenance of my soul. I cut out plates covered with red, yellow and green tomato slices drizzled with dark vinaigrette. I culled festive pasta dishes tossed with bell peppers, red onion, and freshly grated cheese. I even tore out dark leafy green salads, something I hadn’t eaten since I was a child.
Stunned, I leaned back against my couch. Perhaps I harbored some deep-seated desire to be a chef. Searching for a theme, I scribbled down a bunch of questions: What is fresh? What is natural? What is colorful and artistic? I put down my pencil, surveyed my pictures once more, and sighed with relief. My soul seemed to be longing for more color, more self-expression, more richness and vitality in how I lived. Culinary school was not in the question.
And now, that the same ache was back. I knew I had to get busy. So, in these waning days of summer, I’ve taken to eating popsicles on my back porch late at night, listening to the cicadas serenade the darkness. I baked two pies (blueberry and peach), one banana cake, and a French silk pie that melts in your mouth (just ask my nephews). I took a hike through fields of wild goldenrod and aster, wandered through rooms of impressionist paintings and modern art exhibits I did not understand, and played hooky from work to catch a matinee.
I listened to music. I read a good book. I even walked to the neighborhood co-op to pick out the tomatoes, red onion, corn, bell pepper and fresh cilantro for the chili corn crepes with black beans that I made all for myself. I feel fuller now, lighter even. I still worry that there isn’t enough time to work and savor, but then I remind myself, when you’re not trying so hard, grace always seems to find you. Perhaps feeding our souls is what God longs for, too.