The last few posts have strained slightly under a weight of seriousness. So I aim to lighten the load a bit this time. This is the week to take up joy for the sake of Advent waiting, so why not? Today held one of those ridiculous moments that made me laugh at myself. And shake my head. So here it is for you.
It actually started almost a week ago. Sitting at my desk in St. Paul, I realized I had extra time. The snow was pouring. My flight had already been delayed by an hour. That’s an email, by the way, that you really don’t want to see when the snow is pouring. Even in Minnesota where they have the world’s best snow removal equipment and more plows and de-icers than Garrison Keilor has jokes.
An extra half hour. I tell myself: Surely that’s enough to put together all the receipts for my credit card bill and turn it in before leaving campus! I start printing and gathering, sorting and checking. Then I see I’m missing one hotel receipt. I check the obvious places:
Trip folder? Nope.
Expense file? Nada.
Okay, well everything else is gathered. I must have left the receipt at home with the other things I cleared out of my bag before the trip. I pack the copies away in my backpack.
And I forget about it for the next eight hours entirely while I try desperately to get home. Why am I trying desperately? I can’t control the weather. I can’t fly a plane. I tell myself: No worries! If you get stuck, you’ll get a lot of writing done! But somehow taxiing around the airport and watching caravans of snow plows race down the runway clearing ice and snow, I could not concentrate fully on my writing. Every few minutes we were instructed to turn off all electronic devices. Again. Hard to keep momentum going under these conditions. And then the pilot explained that we had to be de-iced a second time. And a plane ran off the runway so we would have to wait while a different runway was cleared. Uh oh.
Finally I arrived home only to fall into bed in utter exhaustion. The next morning was a frenzy of cleaning and repacking for another short family trip. There was also gently corralling the two little girls who wanted to play with every toy. In every room. All morning. Except when they wanted to play under the dining room table. There were the errands and lists and laundry. The receipt was nowhere near the surface of my conscious mind.
On Sunday morning we are headed out the door when I realize I don’t have the blasted thing yet. I look with agony toward the tell which has formed on top of my dining room table: papers, magazines, books, shopping bags, an advent wreath, photographs, Christmas cards and junk mail. I know the receipt must be in some layer of all that paper. But in the next five minutes I’m not going to unearth it, even if I had the world’s finest archaeological tools, which of course I don’t.
After church we head straight to the family gathering three hours away. I spend the next two days working in coffee shops and public libraries. Writing, emailing, catching up. And I even get out the credit card bill and look through my entire back pack again for the receipt. No luck. I vow to find it as soon as I get home.
But I do not reach home until late last night. Too lake to tackle the archaeological dig on the surface of my dining room table. This morning I stare for three seconds again at the stacks of papers and try to envision the receipt buried in one of those stacks. I grab the purse full of discarded paper left behind on my last trip. Surely it is in there. I haul it to work.
Today I finally pull everything out at my office. I go through it all again. The bill is ready to send except for the one hotel receipt.
I go through the purse. No luck.
I try the aforementioned folders in my backpack. No joy.
I have to go home. In the middle of the day. Geeze. I hate it when that happens. Pack up my computer and backpack and head to the car. Berating myself for not following my simple system which works most of the time: collect all the receipts in the trip file. Return there for the receipts when the credit card bill comes due. Simple, right? Apparently not.
I arrive home, pretend I’m an archaeologist, and start sifting through the paper on my dining room table. Don’t even take off my coat. I find other things I need (of course!) and recycle fully a third of the paper. But I get through the last stack. . .
Stop. Stand still. Remember getting the receipt at the hotel. I was checking out. Where could I have put it?
A light bulb goes off in my head: my journal.
I usually have a few items folded neatly in the front or back of my journal. Ah yes, my journal, the one I write in every day. The one that has its own pocket in my backpack. The journal where I make “to do” lists with things like “send in the credit card bill.” The one I took to Minnesota, carried to coffee shops and libraries, the one that sat in the seat behind me as I made the extra drive home just now. That journal.
I go back to the car. Open the backpack. And the journal.
Sure enough, folded neatly in the front is the hotel receipt.
Deep sigh. A mixture of relief and disgust slips out. Then I jump back in the car and take it to make copies and drop in the mail.
My mind can’t resist the teaching moment as I drive to the post office: search and search for something, take days to look. And all along just what I needed was right under my nose. Literally on my back and passing through my hands daily. Slow down and see what is there. Everything needed for life, for love, for joy, all right there. God is waiting for us in the smallest things. If we can just slow down and notice.
What does my heart need that I miss while searching in haste in all the wrong places?
This week’s lectionary texts make the point more eloquently. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. . . . And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 35:5, 10)