They were given specific instructions: take the letter, buy a stamp, and mail it. In the upper peninsula of Michigan, life moves a bit slower, families stay out a little later, and eight and nine year old boys start chomping at the bit for a taste of freedom. My sister-in-law, Michelle, had brought with her a walkie talkie and now she clipped it to our son, Elijah, before he and her son, Nathaniel, took off on their own for an adventure – a quest for the neighborhood post office.
My husband, Troy, and his siblings had always loved vacationing at his grandparents’, partly because they were allowed to explore the quaint downtown storefronts without the suffocating breath of adults streaming down their necks, without stuffy moms and dads to cramp their style. With twinkling eyes and nostalgic smiles Troy and his sister sent these two cousins on their way. “Just call when you get there,” they requested.
“Beep,” went the walkie talkie, not five minutes after their departure. Between fits of static Elijah’s voice broke through,
“We’re at the end of the street, where do we go from here?”
“Keep straight ahead,” they were told.
“Beep, Beep,” a few moments later Elijah checked in with an urgent update.
“We’re running a little late,” he shouted, “Nathaniel has dropped the letter!”
“Alright,” replied Michelle, now giggling. “That’s fine.” Our two brave navigators were also scrupulous communicators, leaving nothing that might possibly be important to the imagination.
“Beep. Beep. Beep,” came the signal one more time.
“Hello,” answered Michelle, “Did you make it?”
“It’s closed,” said the boys, “what should we do?”
“Come on back,” she instructed.
“Come – on – back,” Michelle repeated slowly, aborting their mission after a valiant attempt, making alternate plans for the stampless letter en route to its orginal starting point.
It isn’t the infrequent petition for a helping hand, the “uh-oh, I really screwed up this time” kind of dialogue, that makes us feel connected. You know how it is, when you’ve been out of touch but you find yourself in need of some assistance. How awkward to make the necessary small talk before ashamedly getting to the point, before revealing the true nature of your relationship – a relationship based less on reciprocal love and more on convenience and obligation. If you could of just kept up in the first place, seeking out advice, sharing the joys and struggles along the way, those phone calls home would seem natural, warm and comforting instead of distant – like a voice lost in static, all distorted and misunderstood.
It’s the little things that hold us together, like strands of twine wrapped all the more securely with each and every length of string that’s added. It’s in the sharing of the particulars (not general and sweeping overviews) that one leaps from casual acquaintance to trusted friend. It’s the ability to speak truthfully, into ears never fickle or judgmental, that gives us strength to crawl out of a rut and try again tomorrow. It’s the frequency of our correspondence that makes it easy and enjoyable, to call, write, and visit with you on a regular basis. But it’s the little things that also stand between us, the nit picky to-do list pulling us into ourselves, allowing days to turn into months without the proper notification that time is slipping away, that you are slipping away, that we are slipping away from each other.
I am certain I know where I’m going and this confidence betrays me. I’ve been out of touch due to lack of need or restlessness. But when, inevitably, I reach a crossroads, uncertain of how to proceed, the rust building up on my prayer life makes it difficult to converse without stiffness. The regret of having forgotten my First Love makes it even more humiliating to approach Him when all looks lost, when all appears hopeless, when I am lonely and empty and tired of wandering aimlessly. If I’d just kept in contact with consistency, laying all of my thoughts and desires, every trivial detail, every step in front of me at His feet, I’d have stayed on course, avoiding dangerous detours and taking courage in our intimacy – my lone connection to what truly makes sense in this world.
When mind and heart are united in prayer, said St Seraphim of Sarov, and the soul is wholly concentrated in a single desire for God, then the heart grows warm and the light of Christ begins to shine and fills the inward man with peace and joy. We should thank the Lord for everything and give ourselves up to His will; we should also offer Him all our thoughts and words, and strive to make everything serve only His good pleasure.
My family is back to reality, our suitcases unpacked, our floaties and lifejackets in storage. We are back to the grind of chores, bills and deadlines and I am extremely tempted to dive right in without pausing to seek out Christ’s guidance. There’s so much to do, so much to fuss over, so many reasons for scrupulously communicating - “Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy on my soul.”
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