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Leaping and Sleeping (5-26-2002)

Dr. Michael Thomas

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.

After many tumultuous years in our youths, my wife and I have settled down to a fairly routine life. We have had the same routines for several years- same work, same house. This routine helps us both to be more even-tempered and effective in our work. Life is much easier when I don’t have to figure everything out each moment. I feel safe in a way that’s hard to explain.

That’s part of what feels so good when I get home from a trip. All the bewildering lines and connections and frustrations of being in strange locations fade away as I slide onto the couch and put my feet up on the hassock. My family is with me. I can play the music I like. I know that my favorite foods and drinks are in the pantry and refrigerator. My books are in my study. The familiar is comforting. We are usually all at ease in the loose and informal clothes that we tend to wear when we are at home. Often, when I find myself in a situation where I feel very comfortable, I will remark, I really feel at home here.

A few weeks ago, we turned our lives upside down. A friend gave us a phone number and told us to call it. She knew that we have been half-heartedly looking for a new place to live. We had long been talking in a nebulous way of a few acres and a house, but after many months of looking, we hadn’t found anything that seemed right for us. Our friend encouraged us to at least go and look at it. We did, and both of us knew, almost at the same time, that this was what we had been looking for. And with that simple decision, life began to shift. The fellow that owned the property had fallen onto hard times. His dreams for the house and land had slowly dissolved. Out of his loss came the germination of possibility for our family. Something ends, something begins. And suddenly there are hundreds and thousands of decisions to be made. Phone calls to make. Appointments. And, eventually, we had papers to sign, and more papers to sign.

Once the property was ours, the real work began. We have now worked for many weeks without a day off. I’ll admit, I’m stubborn at times and slow to learn but even I am now beginning to see the value in taking Sabbath once a week! Even so, we hope to be able to move in a couple more weeks.

Needless to say, there is very little that is habitual about our lives now. Each day presents new jobs that must be taken care of: electrical work, plumbing, painting, laying new floor, picking up trash, hauling wood and cement blocks. Even mowing has taken on a new quality as I learn how to bush hog the overrun portion of my new land. I got my new mower stuck three or four times, once requiring a chain attached to my slowly accelerating pickup to get me free. I also had to ask my neighbor for a bit of help after I ran over a roll of barbed wire and found that my mower, powerful and mighty though it is, could only chew through half of it. I found that it was hard for me to ask for that help. His kindness and patience have been a welcome that I didn’t expect and am very grateful for. Moving from the suburbs to the country is more than just shifting a couple of miles. Becoming stewards of these five acres is starting to feel like a new way of life.

I am just at the beginning of this new part of life. I can tell that we haven’t yet found a viable rhythm with our new property because we are all exhausted. I find myself reflecting on the ease of habit and contrast it with the bewildering labyrinth of new responsibilities and new opportunities. I realize that the habits of the past few years have helped me to manage the routine events of my life in the most efficient way, allowing me to focus on special projects. With nearly all my waking time now devoted to this new, humongous, special project, I find that I am becoming merely task oriented, losing the part of me that observes. All work and no play make me a dull boy too. It’s time for a Sabbath.

Tonight I found myself walking out of the house and away from the painting job I had assigned myself. I just sat down to watch the chickens wander around in the yard. My son has named them all. Rachel and Ginger (two Rhode Island Red hens) were scratching up tasty tidbits under the watchful eye of Lee ( a beautiful Japanese rooster). Blackfoot, a shiny black rooster with feathers on his feet is crowing his displeasure at Lee. Pepper, a black hen that he roosts with, hovers close by. Most of the chickens are in the chicken house but two of them (Rachel and Lee) are pretty much feral, roosting up in the cedar tree at night. Nobody has been able to catch them in years. We inherited these chickens from the previous owner and they are a whole other world and one I am slowly learning about too. I find myself going on and on about my chickens to most of the people I meet. I have a suspicion that everyone else doesn’t find them as endlessly fascinating as I do.

This month I feel more humbled than most. Changing routine is always humbling for me, but the property we have purchased has really gotten under my skin (along with a couple of chiggers!) I feel real awe as I look across the land and realize that I am soon to live here. Blessings come in their own time and their own season. For us, there has been a time to live in habits, and also a time to break out of a life that feels stale and reach for what is possible. I really don’t know how to intellectually figure out when to make that leap, but I know what it felt like when Bonnie and I looked at each other and we both saw the gleam in each other’s eyes. We knew, right then, that we were going to sign on for a huge adventure, and change our lives forever. And we leaped.

I find prayers of thanks and gratitude constantly stirring in my heart even as I struggle to maintain equilibrium. I still feel God’s hand in all of this, even the frustrating parts. Now, several weeks post leap, I must report that taking the leap isn’t necessarily the most difficult part, but without it, I would not have the very real sense of new possibility that is bursting from every pore. At the same time, forging a new routine is a challenge that nearly overwhelms me on a daily basis. This is when I fall back on my faith. How often can we really see what is ahead? I’ve been overwhelmed before and I know that if I am persistent and sincere, I will know what to do and that these trials too, will pass.

When life is steady, it is much easier to spend more time in prayer and meditation. These kinds of days go by like layers of paint, one on top of the last, one day much like the others. We build our lives a day at a time. Obedient practice makes it possible to tolerate the routine and clarifies the moment when it is time to take a leap. I often have little sense of gathering momentum when I am in the midst of routine. The usual steadiness of life’s habits nurtures and restores me. It helps me to be ready when I feel the call to action. What kind of calls can my heart hear? What is it that calls to me? Do all calls come from God? What compels me to act? These are some of the questions that I ruminate over in those long stretches of time when life is routine.

No one can live in ongoing chaos. A life spent in constant upheaval will tear any person apart. At the same time, a life devoted solely to routine will cause a person to simply sleep through their life. Falling asleep to the life we have been given is a terrible waste of the precious gift we have been given. And so, we must strive to take good care of this temple that we have been given to live within. And, we must stay awake so that when the heart’s call comes, we will know when and where to leap. If you believe that God does not call to your heart, then perhaps it is time to awaken from your own nap.

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

One last note- the heart’s call is always founded in Love. God is not hatred. God is love. His call to us is a loving call. Those who answer a call to violence and hatred are not answering a call from God. This is as true in Islam, as it is in Judaism and Christianity. It is true in Buddhism and Hinduism. Those who advocate hatred, violence, and death to innocents are not answering a call from God in any religion. Please spend some time in prayer for God’s will in this world. Let the peace that Love brings fill our hearts. Maybe you could make it a habit. Maybe we can all make it a habit.