Monday, August 27, 2012

The Glory of the Present

Last night as the Pilot and I curled up on the couch for a pre-bedtime snuggle I said, "Do you ever find it difficult to believe that you are where you're at? That you blinked, and suddenly you're married and in this new stage of life?"

He doesn't find it difficult, apparently. But then, he has been grown up for longer than I have, and sometimes I wonder at how slippery the years have been! They didn't feel that way when I was small, of course. Then, the years were water buffaloes, lumbering, clumsy, blundering. And now they zoom by like the road-runner we saw crossing the street the other day, without even a cartoon "Beep beep!" for a warning.

I am terrible about living in the present. It is not a recent difficulty; the future has always seemed so much more interesting to me than the time I am in right now. I remember being in first grade thinking about how old and important I would be when I was in third grade. I was ten dreaming of thirteen, thirteen dreaming of sixteen, sixteen dreaming of eighteen.

Even now, the mental day-planner in my head is waving a checklist at me of errands and appointments, yoo-hooing for my attention, trying to drag my brain away from this blog post to the haircut tomorrow, the writing assignment due at the end of the week, even tonight's dinner. I have a count-down app on my iPhone so that I can always know to the second how far away important dates are (and yes, Christmas is one of them.) That's why we have calendars, isn't it, and day-planners and schedules and alarms and all those kinds of things, to help us keep the Future firmly planted at the forefront of our minds?

C.S. Lewis, of course, had something to say about that, and being the genius he was, he saw how much more effective it would be coming from the devil himself. Screwtape writes:

The humans live in time but our Enemy {God} destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity...
Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present... it is far better to make them live in the Future. 
To be sure, the Enemy wants men to think of the Future too– just so much as is necessary for now planning the acts of justice or charity which will probably be their duty tomorrow... He does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it.  (The Screwtape Letters, Letter 15.)

As slippery as the days have been lately, (what!? we're in Arizona already? We've been married almost eight months already!?) nevertheless I am entering into a stage of life where the heart-thumping pace of day-to-day living has slowed into a more leisurely stroll. It has been literally years since I have been in a time like this. I began today the one last online class before I complete my college degree, and besides that and my domestic and marital pursuits of keeping a house in order and a husband well-fed, the foreseeable future holds a light schedule. People have asked me if I will get a job, and I tell them no, no I won't, at least not in Phoenix. I would rather read books (maybe write one), and volunteer, and practice piano, and spend time building friendships, and have fun with my husband on the weekends without having to worry about a work schedule getting in the way.

Which all sounds very delightful, but when I come to the point, can I take each hour as it comes,  can I resist the temptation to ignore the living breathing present for a phantasmic future which I create? When I push away today's tasks, pleasures, pains, and prayers for the sake of a tomorrow, a next week, a next month which I am not in control of anyway, is it just innocent "planning for the future", or am I falling for a devilish scheme to wean my heart away from the importance of the present in light of eternity?

We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow's end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present. 

What kind of gifts have been set before me that I have blindly pushed away in asking for tomorrow?

How to live intentionally? After all, "whether you eat or drink, whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31) I cannot do anything in the future, only in the present. Dare I to look for the glory of the present moment– where, as C.S. Lewis says, eternity touches time?

A good friend challenged me to pray and search out what this time in Arizona was going to be about spiritually, because the days do pass so quickly. Perhaps part of an answer to her challenge is to become a student of intentional living. Can I take advantage of the unusual freedom with which God is blessing this new stage of my life to slow down even more, to seek out what it looks like to live each day in the grace of His glory. Can I trust Him with the future so that I can live in the gift of the present?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

From Humble Abode to Desert Domicile: Moving Part 2

This morning I sent the Pilot off for his first day of "school"– i.e. B-Course– i.e. F-16 training. The dreams and hard work of years and years are shimmering like mirages behind this sunny day. Deep down swells a wish that I had been there for more of it, like my friend who has known her husband almost her whole life and has walked with him every step of the long journey to this desert-land where the jets streak across the sky and our men's footsteps lead towards the flight-line. I have to remind myself that my story is different, and that the collision of the Pilot's life and mine, two years, four months, and thirteen days ago was no accident: guided by an unseen hand of the One who writes the story.

My dear friend Sarah, who was my maid of honor and a crucial player in that intersection of the Pilot's life and mine, said to me not long ago, "If I had told you five years ago that you would be married to an Air Force pilot, living in Texas, running, and doing yoga, you would be very offended." The move from Texas to Arizona notwithstanding, she is right. Thank God that I don't write my own story, since He writes them much better!

Three and a half weeks in, Arizona is quite new enough to be exciting, to make us remark upon the number of grocery stores and coffee shops and new places to go, and yet it is undoubtedly already Home. Perhaps this has less to do with the place itself (though being surrounded by mountains certainly helps!) and more to do with the fact that "Home is Wherever the Air Force Sends Us" as a picture in my friend Ashley's house so eloquently reminded me. We have a house, which we have named the Desert Domicile. At first I thought we should name it the Adobe Domicile, but it is not made of adobe, and the alliteration was too appealing. We rented Sebastian, our piano, even before all of our furniture and boxes arrived (because I refuse to be like Mrs. Elton in Emma and neglect my music any longer) and after everything did arrive we unpacked till we were drowning in brown paper and cardboard boxes. (I wished that I was small again so that I could make a series of tunnels and forts out of the huge boxes. I hope our future children do that!) Nothing was broken, nothing was lost– we had a brief concern about our Apple TV, which we thought the packers had misplaced (and I wondered if it was a divine sign to be interpreted that we ought to read more books) but was found in the bottom of our laundry hamper, along with the garden hose. I have three or four different supermarkets all within a couple miles of our house to choose from, and three novels I've never read before with my new library card, and a dentist appointment on Friday. Abundance upon blessing: the cup runneth over.

What am I to make of it? One thing I realized when the Pilot and I first moved into the Desert Domicile, before the movers brought our things and we had only what we'd brought with us in our vehicles, was how relatively little one needs to get along. It was inconvenient, yes, but we hardly suffered from the lack of the multitude of material possessions that the movers brought on their truck. I recalled all the pioneer stories I read growing up, and how packing up and moving your life from one place to another was a matter of choosing what things would fit into a wagon and leaving all the rest behind, forever! Materialism didn't have much place in the early days of America. Not that I have anything against possessions: I like glancing over at my tea-set on top of the bookshelf, and the books very carefully and meaningfully arranged (all Jane Austen together; same with Dorothy Sayers; small paperback classics on the bottom shelf). But where are my affections? Is there anything, materially speaking, that I can't live without? Many people say that the worst thing about military life is the constant moving, but if it helps me to re-evaluate constantly what is really important and what isn't, that is a blessing and not a bane.

A quote that I have adopted as a kind of motto for our military life is something G.K. Chesterton said: An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. This past move has contained its fair share of adventures, mostly small ones: I failed quite miserably at considering the broken air conditioner in our lodging the first night in Phoenix as anything but a quite intolerable inconvenience. But the Pilot and I found a house in two days, and moved into it two days later, and that was an adventure, and we enjoyed it. The next year will, I'm sure, contain all kinds of inconveniences of all shapes and sizes, and my hope is that I make the choice to see through the disguise into the adventure-blessings behind them. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Moving Part 1

First came the packers- Dustin and Chris, who were very nice. How many clothes does a person need? I had cram-jammed them into a suitcase and still they sprung out from corners and curled up in drawers.  There is nothing like packing up and carting everything from one place to the next to make you realize how absurdly bountiful your possessions are, how your cup runneth over with things and stuff and more things. The suitcase bulged with the supply I'd need for the meantimes, the times while we were still gypsies traveling and sleeping and traveling, and then Chris packed the rest. I was embarrassed to find out that he couldn't just leave it all in the drawers where I'd left it. Nice as he was, it was awkward that I'd left some slinky, lacy specimens haunting the drawers. (Something to remember for next time!) What a job it must be, as a packer, seeing all the preposterous amount of possessions that people fill up their lives with, and getting to touch and handle and wrap up in brown paper and hide away in blank cardboard boxes!

The Humble Abode, the Pilot said, had gotten a lot more humble. One day we threaded our way in and out of great towers of boxes– we still had a bed, and a couch, and a table, and chairs to sit on– and then, next day, it was all gone, leaving only blank walls, and the undesirable ability to now see just how many cricket corpses were tucked away in the corners and under surfaces that were no longer there. 

 I remarked to the Pilot, one morning, that I did not feel at all grown-up enough to be co-responsible for the moving with him. Moving is undoubtedly an extremely Grown Up thing to do, and I half-expected my parents to come and supervise and arrange for the little things like lunch, and tips for the packers, and things like that. But they didn't, and we did all that. There is no shortage of horror stories about moving with the Air Force– I have observed that telling them can be almost a competition, each participant listening and ready to one-down the opponent with a worse story of loss, breakage, or theft. The Pilot kindly sat me down and explained that our move was not going to be perfect, something would go wrong, but it was all just stuff, and eventually it would all work out.  It is very good to be married to someone like my husband when you are moving. 

People say that a drawback of Air Force life is the constant moving. I have decided it's better to look at the advantages. The most obvious is that you don't have to pay for it, and if you move anything yourself, the Air Force pays you! Also, there is no shortage of other Air Force wives who have done the same thing and understand it all. It is delightful to have friends who offer to house you and your husband when you have been left bereft of all your furniture and would otherwise have to sleep on the air mattress surrounded by dead crickets. That is what my friend Ashley did, and it was from her delightful guest bedroom that the Pilot and I oversaw the last odds and ends of our preparations, made appointments to look at houses, and prepared ourselves to shake the dust of Wichita Falls off our feet forever. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

How I know I'm Not In Wichita Falls Any Longer

the palm tree sentinels, lining the roads, stately guards of the traffic

the cacti, like weird bristling many-armed mutants

the mountains in not two, not three, but all four directions. I have already learned how to tell them apart. And I know which way is west again.

I'm writing this in a Barnes & Noble, surrounded by books.

Chick-Fil-As, Chipotles, and Red Robins, oh my!

the shade works. In humid heat, the shade is broken. Here the shade has been mended and is thus functional.

We live in a stucco jungle.

landscaping everywhere. I didn't realize that suburbs in the desert could possibly be as pretty as they are where we live! They must have a Committee for Making Neighborhoods and Shopping Centers Nice to Look At.

The percentage of people I see who are obese has dropped dramatically.

Our thermostat is set to seventy-seven degrees... and that feels perfectly cool to us.

more than five libraries within a reasonable driving distance! I think I'll get cards for all of them!

Instead of T-38s like little sparrows zipping busily across the sky, it's the F-16s gliding like stately, fearsome hawks, and the Pilot cranes his neck to look at them and I beg him to look at the road every now and then too, the F-16s aren't going anywhere, and actually he'll be flying them in less than two months!