Earlier this week, my husband, Donald, and I packed up a cooler, loaded the trunk and set out for the wilderness of Red River Gorge. I had been anticipating this trip for three weeks. I needed a vacation... desperately. The clamor and stress of work had shredded me of my patience and passion. I needed a respite from life and we both needed to make a declaration to live in the now and to start letting ourselves indulge in the little things. We were treating ourselves. There was just one problem- "Treat yo'self" is not a part of my common vernacular.
The day we left, I was on edge. I had seven days off and, honestly, I was annoyed that I had scheduled a getaway at the beginning because I had so much TO DO! The car needed checked, the cats needed wet food, I needed an eye appointment, the taxes needed analysis and one cat needed a check up. The list was long and I couldn't complete it because I needed to rest. I have no idea how to do that properly.
Aggravation wasn't going to change the plans, however. We were going away, just the two of us, where no technology could distract or demand our attention. Rest was the "to do" on the list. Since that was the case, I was determined to wring out answers about my life's trajectory and gain solutions to our current problems. That's rest, right? If I couldn't work on my "home" to-do list, we were gonna tackle the life ones, and darn it, there would be answers! I made a mental checklist and was determined to see those items accomplished.
Writing those words makes me both laugh and cringe. But it's the honest truth. I wanted to keep busy, to stay focused because I was afraid of what I would find when all the normal day-to-day trappings were stripped away.
You see, I was desperate to make those few short days away worth it. I was reminded of how during my college years, our campus ministry would go into the wilderness for a weekend to do soul searching. You were filled with the expectation of God showing up and laying out the answers to either your sins or your dreams depending on the intended message/theme of the weekend. I saw this vacation as a similar sojourn into my soul and I would walk away with a load of peace and a timeline of events that would change my life.
While I didn't have a "mountaintop experience" where Jesus solved all my stress ball problems, I did walk away with a few revelations and wilderness lessons.
Wilderness Lesson #1: Don't wait.
About two hours into our drive to our cabin, we received a call from the front desk informing us that our cabin wasn't receiving any water and could we reschedule our visit? Ironically, they had called a few hours before to confirm our visit and yet hadn't informed us of any issues. We had no Plan B, so rescheduling wasn't an option. While our minds raced with worst-case-scenarios and my husband white knuckled the steering wheel, I decided that whatever would happen, would happen. I couldn't control the outcome. (Did I mention I was on edge and also imagining three days without water- peeing in the woods, a chamber pot? Glad I didn't lose my cool.)
In the end, we had water...but it was temperamental at best; there one minute, gone the next. It was like playing Russian Roulette... just not as dangerous.
On our last evening, I braved a shower that ended with me shivering under a tepid trickle of water. I was clean, but definitely not satisfied. Even so, I seized the opportunity because who knew when the water would return? Procrastination wasn't an option. The water was running, so it was time to act.
And that was, after all, the whole purpose of being there. Instead of waiting until we had better jobs and more money to take a week long vacation, we were acting. We don't have kids yet, cats yes, but they could be watched. We had the opportunity and the water, a necessity of life, reminded me not to wait to take what you need. Whether that's visiting family, taking vacation or just sitting in silence, busyness could wait; pursuing a thriving life cannot.
Wilderness Lesson #2: I attract peculiar insects.
First, some back story.
During our honeymoon, now almost four years ago, we again escaped to a secluded cabin, this time in the hills of Georgia (we are not beach people). On our last night while clearing the sink for dishes, I noticed a small black creature emerging from the drain. At first, I thought it was spider (creepy enough) until I noticed an odd appendage curled upward at the end of its shiny black body. SCORPION! (Insert Kuzco freaking out)
Primal instincts charged onto the stage. I quickly grabbed the wooden chopping block to my right and smashed it to smithereens. #sorrynotsorry
Flash forward to our last morning in our Kentucky cabin. The night before, a wood bee had buzzed its way into the rafters. Knowing it was harmless, but not knowing its origin, we let it bee (bedunk-chink) and went on with our evening.
The next morning, I was once again at the kitchen sink, checking the state of our temperamental water (MIA), when I noticed the same wood bee shimmied between the drainer and the drain. Confused, I let it wriggle and went back to reading in the living room.
Ten minutes passed. I went back and found its back-end still wriggling its way downward. Maybe it was stuck? I lifted up the drainer and quickly replaced it- wood bee or not, my terror at being stung was still strong- and then I heard a distinctive THUNK! The bee went down the drain! Why is a bee going into the sink? Are there more? Is this going to turn into an attack of drones movie? And what is it with me, and insects and drains in secluded cabins away from emergency medical personnel? Irony has its own unique humor.
Wilderness Lesson #3: Silence makes me vulnerable.
I talk A LOT, as can be noted by this excessively long post (I commend you for your commitment). I also purposely do a lot. Remember the lists I mentioned going into my getaway? Lists are my thing. I work hard and have a hard time resting. Even while "resting" I can be found watching TV, usually the latest series on Hulu that I'm binge watching; currently all seasons of Army Wives. No rest is complete without some action accompanying, usually folding laundry or browsing job searches...or lazily pinning projects to complete on Pinterest.
I'm a professional multi-tasker, constantly surrounding myself with noise (see above paragraph). The noise drowns out my introspective thinking; no thinking cancels out the digging; no digging means no revealing; no revealing, means no facing the mess of a weary soul. Strip away that clamor and I'm left bare, struggling to comprehend the true feelings and thoughts that are raw and crusty from determined avoidance. Bare, I am left trying to organize and categorize and wash away the crud so I'm left squeaky clean and tidy again. But that process is tiresome, messy and sometimes, downright defeating. So I hug the noise to avoid the mess, like a beautiful ostrich with her head shoved into the sand.
Flash back to the beginning of this story. Imagining three days in nature without distractions, filled me with anxiety. Not only was I frustrated I couldn't be busy, I was afraid that without all that noise, my husband and I would be left staring at each other, speechless. My fears of "What next?" and "What now?" in regards to our life trajectory, shackled to some recent personal disappointments threatened to pull me into the dungeon of depression, a darkness I am terrified to enter and never escape. If it's not obvious, I will put it in plain black and white: I was afraid of being found out and found wanting.
I would love to say that all those fears and anxieties immediately disappeared after a sudden revelation or a sweet word from my loving husband, but they didn't. My husband did help but more with patience than a riveting call to arms speech. The simple silence of the trees, the wind singing over the cliffs, slowly seeped into my heart, a little more each day. The fear eased, Donald and I talked, laughed and connected. I eventually embraced the vulnerability instead of hiding from it, however hesitantly. And even now, three days after I'm still learning to embrace the bare naked emotions and thoughts in moments of silence. The process isn't finished but only begun.
In fact, it wasn't until the day after we returned that I realized the biggest lesson. It didn't appear to me like a shining beacon from on high, but rather more like a shiny button discovered on the sand:
Happiness, I imagine, is the active athlete that runs in Freedom, while Joy, the wise coach, encourages and bolsters from the sidelines. Until I let the fear fade and the drive of being busy ebb, happiness couldn't form. When I strive to do instead of be (be present, be silent, be still), it's shackled. Striving suffocates the opportunity to breathe deep and satisfying the breath of life.
While getting away doesn't solve all of life's problems and mysteries, it can reveal the next steps. Mine are figuring out how to seize hold of the happiness and enjoy those simple, silly moments when life throws wrenches in your plans.
Happiness is out there!