Learning to be Present

Oct 20, 2007

Julia, Emily, and I were all returning from a long weekend retreat at Emily’s parents house on a Sunday afternoon. We planned to stealthily get into our apartment from the car carrying significant loads of stuff (food, ten loads of laundry, pillows, sleeping bags, luggage), without one of our neighbors noticing. The situation was simple. All three of us had been gone for the weekend, we felt behind in our preparations for the coming week and we did not want to be distracted from our productivity. By some miracle we made it into the house after several trips back to the car without any of the neighbors knocking at the door.

We worked like honey bees preparing the hive. For about an hour straight we scurried unloading laundry, unpacking bags, putting food away, etc., because we all had full schedules for the coming evening. My schedule was the following:
1:00 PM: Return from the retreat
2:30 PM: Meet with friend to plan birthday party for another friend
4:30 PM: Eat dinner and shower
5:30 PM: Leave for evening activities
6:00 PM: Swing by the musicians’ dinner at the church plant
7:00 PM: Go to meeting to hear Os Guiness speak
I was going to be very productive.

I went to my meeting to plan for the friend’s birthday party. When I got back the apartment I was in productivity mode. Then I heard a knock at the door. I thought, “Lord, I don’t have time for this.” I opened the door and little Mari (our 8 year-old neighbor) gave me a big hug and said, “Hello Miss D.” She then asked if she could come in. Reluctantly, I allowed her passage… I knew this would hinder my schedule, but she bought me with the hug and greeting. I told her that she could come in, but I would not be able to play with her because I had to eat dinner and shower to get to a meeting. I told her she could pull out the toys and read some books on her own. This started the questions.

“Where is Emily?” she asked. I said, “She’s at a meeting.” She questioned, “Why?” I said, “She is at her church service.” This led to her asking, “Then where is Julia?” The same conversation repeated but in regard to Julia. This is one of the famous plays of all the children in our neighborhood. When only one member of the household is home and is on her way out the door, they begin asking about the housemates. This often makes the one who is home feel guilty or shoved aside as if they don’t matter. Then she said, “What meeting do you have to go to?” I told her about my meetings in children’s terms. Then she asked, “Why do you have to go? You’re never here.” This is another popular guilt trip that they use. I asked her if she had eaten dinner or if she wanted some as I was preparing dinner for myself. She responded that she had eaten dinner and that she didn’t want anything. Just as I was sitting down to eat my baked potato (left over from the retreat), she asked if she could have one.

I got up pulled out a baked potato, heated it, added some fixings and served it to her. We prayed over our food and started eating. Then I started teasing her that I was going to finish before she would. I was just playing a little innocent game with her and joking around. She responded, “Miss D…why do you always eat so fast?” I said, “What do you mean?” She responded, “Well, you are always in such a hurry and you eat your food so fast. Sometimes you don’t even look at people when you’re talking to them while you’re eating.” I started to choke on the last bite. The eight-year-old was teaching me about how poorly I was prioritizing my life. My heart sunk; I knew she was right.

I picked up my phone and canceled my other two commitments realizing that it was almost 6:00 PM and I had been given another priority for the evening, Mari. Five minutes later, she asked me, “What time is it?” I responded, “It’s 6 o’clock.” She said, “Okay.” Then she picked up her coat and walked to the door. I said, “Where are you going?” She responded, “My mom told me that I have to be home at 6.” She gave me a hug and with a quick, “Bye Miss D,” she was out the door.

I cleaned up the dishes from our dinner and spent the rest of the evening quietly at home, by myself. I wonder if that was God’s way of intervening, showing me that I needed to slow down and “smell the roses.” I don’t think I missed out on anything that evening, and I was given an opportunity to love a small child through being present with her. I am thankful that I will be given more chances like that evening and next time I will be a bit wiser, and a little bit quicker, in recognizing it.

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As a faith-based Christian non-profit with a small staff and over 100 volunteers, we serve alongside more than 100 families and their children (1st-12th grades) each week through our community programs.

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