Saturday, July 26, 2014

listen to your life {July lessons in listening}

Let life shape itself.

This refrain peppers the pages of Marlena di Blasi’s latest book, Antonia and Her Daughters.  I read di Blasi as much for her pithy quotes and insight into human nature as for her mouth-watering descriptions of Italian food and life.  

Curled up under a light blanket in my dark room, savoring my tiny oasis of calm in the middle of the afternoon, I’m pondering di Blasi’s words, thinking now about life, about observation, about allowing the shape of a day to be determined by forces outside oneself, not by one’s own will.  

This is hard for me.

I’d rather set out a schedule with lines and boxes, fill in each half-hour slot carefully, stick to the plan.  I like knowing what’s coming, the security of preparing in advance so I can rise to the occasion, feel the thrill of success.  I like having all my ducks in a row, how it feels to keep all the balls spinning briskly in mid-air without dropping a single one.  I hate that.  Dropping one.

This sort of square life might be safe, but I’m discovering it lacks a certain… zest.  The element of surprise, maybe?  I’m slowly realizing that surprise is always part of a day;   it’s my choice to welcome it or stubbornly push it away which determines whether the surprise adds to my pleasure in the day, or not.  

Coming upon my daughter sitting on the wooden plank bridge across our backyard water channel, blissfully engaged in reaching her little arm into the cool milky water, scrounging a fistful of mud from the bottom of the trench, pulling it up dripping to smear its cool silkiness over her bare skin… 

How do I react?  Do I scream and scold and whisk her off to the bathroom for a shower, chastise her for getting dirty, for caking her dimpled legs with mud, smearing it over her face?  

Or do I stop, notice the light on the back of her neck, see the shimmer of her fountain of hair, take in her quiet absorption, the way she calmly soothes herself with the elemental coolness of water and dirt against her skin?  

Do I receive the sight of her as a gift, let life shape itself, take what’s given?  Or do I push it away, rigidly insisting on my own ideas of what’s good in a day?

I’m learning.  Slowly.

These lessons in listening, this year of slowing down, of giving myself permission to rest, to be still, to think, to write, to not pursue people unless the fit takes me… these months are changing me, stretching me.  I’ve been like dough that needed time to rise before it can be deflated and stretched over waiting pans.  I’ve needed rising time.  And I’m being kneaded, gently but firmly, and stretched, sometimes to tearing point, over a waiting receptacle which, when I first look at it, I think I will never be able to fit.  

Three children.  A dog.  Chickens.  Guests.  A garden.  A borrowed house.  A village life in Central Asia.  Three foreign languages.  Intermittent running water, sporadic power cuts.  If you had shown me my now-life ten years ago, I would have said, I’ll never be able to fit that.  I’ll never stretch that far.  

Let life shape itself.

Our latest additions!  In for a penny, in for a pound...

I would change di Blasi’s mantra slightly.  I would say, Listen.  Listen to your life.  Let God shape the day, the moment, the hour.  

I’m beginning to hear God’s voice in the surprises.  Things I would have pushed away before, now I’m beginning to smile instead, when I see them.  

The knock of a stranger on my gate. 

Before this listening, before this expanding and growing, before this stretching, it would have been ::sigh::  Not now!  I feel invaded!  I have things to do!  Please, go away… These feelings promptly followed by a flood of guilt, because, after all, am I not here for exactly this, these people, these women?  Am I not called to spill out my life for that knock on the gate?  

Now, sometimes, more often than before, I can meet the knock with calm, sometimes even with pleasure.  It’s ok.  There’s fresh bread.  A pitcher of cold tea.  Sweet peas.  We’ll be fine.  Come in, come in, come inside, sit down a few minutes. 

Lord, order my day.  Shape my life.

This simple prayer has changed my outlook.  I am learning how to stop myself on the point of freaking out and say to my rising panic, Listen.  

I’m learning to notice the afternoon sunlight on the back of my tiny daughter’s neck.  To relish the softness of our (initially unwanted) dog’s coat, the satiny bits behind her ears.  (Yes, surprise - our dog is a “her”!)  I’m learning to expect the inevitable knock at the gate and sometimes feel a thrill, instead of a surge of dread.  To go out on the street after dinner for no other reason than to open my heart to the dusty golden sunset and the silhouettes of my neighbors and their children playing.  

Why haven’t I lived like this for years? I find myself wondering.  This, exactly this, letting life shape itself, is the way to find joy.  

And to be honest, every day is not this way, this listening, receiving, peace-filled, stretched-and-open way.  It comes in fits and starts.  When I’m tired or hungry or at the end of an especially trying day, with intermittent water and even less patience, I am not gracious. I long to grow roots deep enough to always reach that Living Water.  I long for my heart’s cup to always brim with the "Sweet Water" of Calvary love, like Amy Carmichael says, so that no matter how sudden the jolt to my cup, no bitter drops spill out.   

I’m making haste slowly.  I’m learning to listen to my life, to bend my rigidity in order not to miss the beauty of the shifting light.  

The light won’t wait, you know.

Welcoming the moments lets joy flood in.

How do you handle unexpected interruptions?  If you tried praying “Lord, order my day” each morning, how do you think it would change your outlook?

{To listen to the song I wrote about Amy Carmichael's quote, called "Sweet Water", click here...}


  1. Every word you have written fills my cup, Carolyn. Thank you for encouraging and teaching like sweet water.

    1. My pleasure! So encouraging to hear! Thank you.

  2. This is beautiful! All kids love water and dirt. I think they're more connected that we are! (P.S. If you drop a duck, you know, it can fly...) =)

    1. I definitely think my kids are more connected than we are... And yes, I need to let them loose more often! Learning, slowly... :) Miss you, dear friend!