When Jamie and Bethie were recently in Eastern Europe for almost three weeks, I found myself wishing that the time would zip by and that things would soon return to normal. A normal schedule, a normal number of people to feed and clothe, a normal time to wake up and go to sleep.
As the days ticked by, however, the four of us at home slowly developed a new normal. We huddled around one end of the dining room table at mealtimes, letting school books and papers rest on the vacant spaces. Avery grew to enjoy sleeping on the couch (we were desperate for sleep, things were weird with sissy gone, so I said "well, sure . . .").
We even grew accustomed to a somewhat different schedule. This was due, in part, to my tendency to stay up (much too) late in order to catch the morning updates from across the ocean because there just might be a picture of my girl in Slovenia. There usually was.
But two weekends ago I had an experience that was anything but normal. I was home alone. For the entire weekend. I'm pretty sure that's never, ever happened in my whole life. But it just so happened that the boys were with my parents, Avery was with my sister, and Jamie and Bethie were frolicking across Europe.
Now, if you know me, you know that the prospect of a full weekend to myself was both exhilarating and terrifying. Exhilarating because: alone time, people. Terrifying because: all that time must be used well and perfectly and wisely because I might Never, Ever get to do this again. I tried not to panic as I thought about how I'd spend this weekend. I wanted it to be restful, peaceful, fulfilling, and purposeful, but how to best do that? (No pressure.)
Of course I knew that tea and books would be involved. Writing was also a must. And a leisurely stroll or two . . . a Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn movie . . . and some more tea and some more books. (I live rather simply.)
The thing that was interesting to me about this weekend holiday was that that's pretty much all I did. I did normal. But I did it in a way that was leisurely and peaceful and quiet, giving me time to think and fully experience the tasks which I often rush through in a normal day. I slowly made a salad for lunch, delighting in the flavors and textures of tart limes, juicy cherry tomatoes, sweet corn, and perfectly ripe avocados.
I strolled through the park, reveling in the sights and sounds of a nature fairly bursting with the hope of spring. I propped my feet up in the evening to enjoy a movie and popcorn, delighting in Hepburn's inimitable style and Grant's sense of humor. I snuggled under a blanket with my Bible, journal, and tea and just read and wrote and listened and prayed . . . for as long as I wanted to. I was normal. I was myself.
It was exhilarating and terrifying. Exhilarating because I found that my normal is good and fulfilling and right where God has placed me. Terrifying because I don't want to ever take it for granted or emerge from it unchanged.
Jamie and Bethie returned last week, and all was right with the world. (Especially once they recovered from jet lag.) We whipped ourselves back into shape and I eagerly prepared for things to return to normal.
But as I thought through my weekend holiday and the life-changing experiences of Jamie and Bethie, I knew that we really shouldn't return to normal, at least not to the normal we knew last month. No, if we returned to anything, we needed to return changed. We needed to be more fully ourselves, letting each new experience shape us and grow us into the people that God intends us to be.
And so as our family continues to talk and visit, exchange stories, and evaluate plans and dreams for the future, we enjoy a new normal. We've added new souvenirs to our pilgrim packs, and as we look at each one, treasuring them and remembering what they stand for, we continue to walk forward, and we walk forward . . . changed.
(Read about the first part of Bethie's European experience over here . . .)