In the introduction of her book An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor talks about how she was once invited to speak at a church in Alabama. She asked the priest what he would like her to speak on, and he replied, "Come tell us what's saving your life right now." Taylor says,
It was as if he had swept his arm across a dusty table and brushed all the formal china to the ground. I did not have to try to say correct things that were true for everyone.... All I had to do was figure out what my life depended on.
Today Modern Mrs. Darcy is having a "What's saving your life?" linkup on her blog. Early February--when the glow of Christmas is past and spring seems a long way off--seems to be a suitable time for this kind of stock-taking, so I thought I'd join in and write about the things that come to mind when I ask myself, "What's saving my life right now?"
They're not dramatic, earth-shattering things, really; I don't want to give the impression that I'm dangling off the edge of a cliff by my fingernails. But life can be stressful. And we all have things, big and small, that make us feel strengthened, encouraged, and grounded. Here are a few of mine.
1. Writing poetry. I've found it hard to immerse myself in big writing projects these past few months, but I have been doing quite a bit of work on my poetry. I've been using Tanya Runyan's book How to Write a Poem as a guide to help me generate and revise my poems. Poetry is a slow art that involves a lot of revision and constant tweaking of a word here, a line break there. It's hard to get it just right, but it's a great feeling when it "clicks." To me, writing poetry is the perfect combination of relaxation and hard work.
2. Pizza night. We've been doing this every week for years, usually on Saturday night. When the kids were small it used to be just Richard and me, but now Allison joins us: we eat after Jonathan's gone to bed. We have homemade pizza with dough made in the bread machine, topped with oven-roasted turkey (the kind you get thin-sliced in deli packages; we like this as an alternative to ham), tomatoes, pineapple (actually we keep one quadrant pineapple-free for Allison), and cheese. While we eat we watch one Andy Griffith Show episode; then we have ice cream; then we play a game. When the pizza is in the oven and I start to smell it baking, I just go, "Ahhh." It's such a comforting, cosy routine.
4. My OneNote notebook in MS Office. I was just thinking the other day how useful this application is. I rely on it particularly for the online course I instruct: I use it at least 10 times a day to keep track of students' marks and progress, make lists of things I want to edit or update in future courses, and file information from various campus sites and services that pertain to my course. In other folders in the notebook I keep recipes, lists of songs I've used when leading my women's study group worship time at church, favourite quotes, cover letters I've written for submissions to literary journals, books people have recommended to me .... and more. There are probably lots of other great notebook programs out there, but this is the one I use. I'd be a lot less organized without it.
5. Flannel-lined pants. Seriously: I got these pants on sale at Mark's Work Wearhouse and they are so cosy! I walk a lot in winter for exercise, and sometimes I don't want the bulk of snow pants, so these are perfect. They're a little long, so I can turn up the cuff to let the plaid show, Bay City Rollers-style.
6. Taking one day at a time. This may seem like a strange one; it's not like there's any alternative to living one day after another. But as a mindset, it helps me a lot. Just this week Allison was making plans to reactivate her university acceptance after deferring it for one year. She said the prospect made her feel stressed, but I reminded her that going to university is something you do one step at a time, not all at once. And that's true of all of life. I'm a worrier, so I try to live out all the steps in advance and anticipate all the potential problems and their solutions -- but in fact I can only live from one moment to the next. I can only take one step and then another, not all the steps at the same time.
One of my favourite Bible passages says that God's mercies never fail and are "new every morning." (Lamentations 3:22-23) This encourages me because so often I go to bed feeling discouraged, like I've really blown it -- especially with my kids. But grace is in fresh supply every day; it doesn't drain away at the end of the day, forcing me to scrounge for it tomorrow. When I realize that God's grace is abundant, renewed fresh every day, I can go forward into that day.
What about you? What's saving your life right now?