My sister and I talk on the phone, a preamble to prayer. I sit on my couch, the light outside swelling slowly into day, while 3,000 miles away she walks around in the full heat of the New Jersey summer mid-morning. Lately, we do this once a month: talk, then pray. Before work (for me), after walking the kids to school (her).
We are talking about my work. I have just finished telling her how my strange tendencies to avoid unknown things had me procrastinating on an important project. I hate doing unfamiliar things, is the subtext of our conversation. Especially publicly, especially high-stakes, especially alone.
Another story I could have told her is how on Saturday, when I helped set up for my friend’s wedding, the coordinator showed me to two wood planks decorated with words and told me to tie flowers to the top. I looked at the spooled twine and sprays of eucalyptus and dahlias and thought, but I’ve never done this before. As if she should choose a better candidate from the parents and aunts and husbands-of-bridesmaids that had showed up to help and were busily carrying things from one place to another and setting up tables and chairs. For a minute I stood alone, looking from the flowers and back to the planks, unsure how to start. And then I did. I cut stems and twisted twine and held it up to the planks. I prayed while I did this, an act that might seem over-reaching to some, futile to others. But it struck me that the Spirit who searches out the deep things of God might know something about the beauty I sought. Might know something about teaching me to do something I don’t yet know how to do.
And then there are these plans for Kenya, in which I am leading 40 young Maasai people in creative writing, photography, scripture. I have never done this (well, except the scripture part) in America, what makes me think I can do it in rural Kenya, with young people whose experience of the English language and the world around us is so different? This thought arrived in the storm of last week and landed like the heaviest snow of late winter, freezing all that hope that hard started to sprout up. The next thought that came was grace: I won't be alone. The Spirit will be there, will be in me, will do more than I ask or imagine.
In the middle of encouraging me about work, my sister stops talking suddenly, her thought interrupted by something that catches her vision. I just saw this beautiful yellow bird, she tells me. I never saw one like that around here before. Grace, again. I understand it as a sign.
(photo: from wedding, exhibit a)