What Remains

Bonus rounds
Nothing left to prove
Nothing more worthy of doing
than serving as God’s hands
Down here in this mess

Bearing witness to the unwinding
of the lives we have built
and the lives we have known

Embracing the new lives
God ushers into our presence
That we might tend to their souls
And they to ours

Honoring the beauty we behold
Grieving the pain we cannot evade
Seeking to touch with love
all that has been touched by fear

Awaiting our time of rest
in God’s welcoming arms

As I begin writing this, I am in transition from 2+ weeks in southern Italy to life back home.  The transition has been delightfully gradual.  One last quiet day at our place nestled in farmland, then saying good-bye to rural Italy.  One last afternoon and evening in frenetic Naples, where we began our sojourn, greeting it like an old friend, then saying good-bye to urban Italy as well.  Catching myself saying “grazie” to a restaurant server at London-Heathrow.  The flight map now tells me we will land in Portland in 7 hours.  As much as we have enjoyed this time away, shared with lifelong friends, Diane and I are looking forward to returning to the familiar surroundings and routines of home.

And then what?  What are we coming back to?  What remains for us to do?  The central goals of our lives—to raise a family, to accomplish meaningful work, to build loving relationships with family and friends—are mostly in the rear-view mirror now.  Even though I feel incredibly blessed that these dreams have come true, we have always oriented ourselves toward goals in the future, and I often find it disorienting to have no big goals in front of me.

Four years ago this month, on an even longer flight home—from Kenya, where Diane and I had served on a medical mission—these same thoughts arose for me, fresher and more urgent than they are today.  And from these thoughts arose the poem that opens this post.  I have tweaked it over the years, but the urge to do so has diminished.  It keeps calling me back, though, and it anchors me at times like this.  It helps me to let go of ambition and accomplishment, for what lies beyond them is far richer—unimpeded engagement with the fabric of life itself, in the warp and weft of each moment.

The poem also reminds me that, even if I have endured my share of losses, my season of letting go is only just beginning.  I see this in the increasing infirmities of family and friends, in the activities we once shared that are no longer feasible.  I see it in my own body, in the fact that the decades have imperceptibly shaved two inches from my height.  I still have the strength for ambitious travel and backpacking, but I am growing more at peace with the notion that I may never again see the backwaters of Kerala or the summit of a Cascade volcano.  I see in some of my patients a weariness so deep that death appears to them like a long-promised rest, and I no longer struggle to imagine feeling such a weariness myself.

Yet every day I wake up to find abundant life all around me.  Whether tending to a grandchild, listening to an elderly patient, or sharing a meal with Diane or another loved one, there is so much in each day that feeds my soul even as I seek to feed the souls of others.  This is what I am returning home to now.  It is what remains.  It is what I hope to do for as long as my body and mind are able.  And it is as satisfying as any ambition I have ever had.

4 thoughts on “What Remains

  1. Steven

    Thank you, Greg. I too have been reflecting on being less driven and goal oriented and embracing the daily flow of life. Still deeply thinking about all this as I apply my friend Ray’s acronym QTR, Quality Time Remaining. It was relatively easy to cancel all of our plans for two weeks and fly to Phoenix to care for Marci’s parents. What is needed at this moment, and independent from big goals of accomplishment. Feels right being here. Praying for patience.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rosalie

    Greg – Thank you for these thoughts. They are lovely. I am understanding the need to rest and feel satisfied with my life, even as I start one more new quilt. If I never finish it, it will be okay. Rosalie

    Liked by 1 person

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