Our family has a rule: In this house, we don’t blame. Your sister did not make you late. Your mom did not make you grumpy. Your friend is not responsible for your bad choice.
As one of the adults in the house, and therefore a so-called leader-by-example, I’ve had no choice but to work hard at not blaming individuals for my moods and failures. But boy, do I love to blame circumstances—especially when it comes to those responsible for shattering my peace.
The traffic was horrific. My house is a mess. The evening news was disheartening. My blood sugar is low. Any combination of less-than-perfect external factors, it seems, can throw me. It’s almost as if I am holding peace in my hand, like a fragile ornament ready to be knocked to the ground by any edge of the real world that bumps a bit too harshly up against me.
As soon as the peace shatters, I’m quick to surrender to whatever has come to take its place. What else can I do? It’s out of my control, after all, and in the hands of bad traffic/dirty dishes/frustrating politics. I am at the mercy of whatever comes to steal my peace.
Grasping peace when you need it most is a tricky thing. Peace begets peace, which is a wonderful truth if you can get caught up in that cycle. But when you aren’t already basking in its glow, peace can seem like an impossible place to access. It’s a Catch-22: The more tightly you’re wound up in stress, frustration and regret, the more you need peace, but the harder it is to move in close enough to embrace it.
What I want is for peace to be easy. I want it to sweep in and cover me like a blanket, right where I am, still clinging to all the junk I’ve gathered up in my arms. I just want to be warmed by it for a spell, so I can carry on in my anxious, wound up ways.
But maybe peace isn’t like a blanket. Maybe it’s something I have to move toward and gather to me. Maybe I have to let go of everything heavy that is keeping me stuck in a space beyond its circle of light. I have to let go of everything that fills my arms, preventing them from reaching out to something else—a something that will not just cover me, but fill me.
I had driven for three hours across the prairie to spend another three hours speaking to creative writing students at Taylor University. At the end of the day, I didn’t have time for dinner, but my host, Dan Bowman, suggested we visit Amy Peterson and her husband Jack, who also teach at Taylor. Amy and I had met briefly at the Festival of Faith and Writing last spring and we’re connected via Twitter, but we were essentially strangers.
We drove the few blocks to Amy and Jack’s home, stepping into the living room, which was strewn with toys—evidence of a hard day’s play by little Rosie and Owen. Amy greeted us without apologies, only warmth.
It was a gorgeous day—one that felt more like summer than fall—so Amy led Dan and I through the house to the back yard. The lawn was half-raked, but it seemed the piles were more about play than work. As Rosie and Owen jumped, ran, and scattered the leaves, Jack poured us glasses of wine and offered a comfortable seat in the late-day sun.
Our conversation meandered comfortably. We laughed and referenced communion as Owen dropped a chip in his dad’s wine. We talked to Rosie about the moon, which she had noticed rising bright in the evening sky, and about how people have walked on it. We talked to one another about the gritty work of writing—about being true to both the hard edges of life and the softness of grace.
Then it was time for me to say goodbye and get on the road. As I drove through the darkening dusk, into cornfields and night, I was burdened by nothing. I wasn’t in a rush. I wasn’t worried about the next day’s work. I only breathed, in and out.
In that space, created by my headlights and old songs on the radio, my mind wandered to what I had told the students earlier that day: Write like someone who isn’t sure of everything, who is willing to lay down expectations and plans, and instead to just trust and follow their stories. Think of your stories, I said, as creating rather than filling a space.
That’s a space that feels true—a space that's framed by the hard edges of life and cushioned by grace, creating a place for peace.
Kristin Tennant (@kt_writes) has been a freelance writer for ten years. She blogs about family, faith, struggle and redemption at Halfway to Normal and writes for RELEVANT and The Huffington Post. Her essays have been included in two anthologies: Not Alone: Stories of Living With Depression, and Ask Me About My Divorce: Women Open Up About Moving On. Kristin, her husband Jason, and their three daughters live in Urbana, Illinois, where they love cooking and sharing meals and conversation with friends.
shared with imperfect prose