I was SO EXCITED. I had been wanting to make the hour-long trip down to Lake Wapello State Park for quite a while, and my most recent vacation was the perfect time to do so. So one morning I loaded my kayak into the back of my pickup truck, tied it down, and was on my way.
The trip was a gorgeous one, as I traveled roads I've either never been on or that I've only been on once or twice. I'm from a part of Iowa that is fairly flat and filled with corn, soybeans, and hog confinements, so it still takes my breath away anytime I have the occasion to drive through the gentle rolling hills here in southern Iowa. There were cattle, sheep, and horses grazing. There were chickens free-ranging like nobody's business. And there were more tree groves than I knew what to do with. It was all so stunning.
After about an hour, I pulled into the state park, and wound my way to my first glimpses of the lake--magnificent! There were lily padded areas in full bloom and the water looked clean and crisp and blue from the shoreline. I made my way to the kayak launch area and excitedly unhooked the straps holding my kayak down. I got my life jacket and my floppy hat, then grabbed my water shoes and my waterproof case. As I was reaching for my water bottle and prepared to lock up my truck, a sense of doom and dread filled my stomach. My paddle! I had forgotten my paddle! With all of my planning and loading and ratchet-strapping, I had somehow managed to leave my kayak paddle back home in our garage!
Immediately I started to tear apart my truck, hoping I had somehow thrown the paddle in some compartment somewhere (even though I fully knew I had not). Then I got in the truck and drove aimlessly to the park's boat rental only to find that they didn't open until the weekend. Maybe I could just track down the park rangers and see if one of them had a spare paddle or something, I thought. But even after driving around for awhile, I couldn't find them...it was a long shot anyway. Defeated, I went back to the kayak launch, loaded everything back up, and headed for home.
As I drove, I was SO negative. I was SO angry at myself, and SO disappointed that I had been SO careless in packing for this trip. I thought about how I had "wasted sunshine" and "wasted vacation time" on this fruitless excursion--not to mention wasting half a day and half a tank of gas.
About 20 minutes into my trip back home, though, a thought crossed my mind: How was this day a waste? Had I not seen some beautiful countryside, some crisp, blue water, and some lily pads in full bloom--not to mention getting to scope out a great place for my spouse and I to kayak and hike one day together? The day was only a waste if I let one forgetful moment cloud over the rest of the experience.
I wonder how many times we do something similar in our lives of faith? How many times do we let the one thing that didn't go as planned detract from the journey? How often do we get so committed to the day or the trip or the life we thought we would have, that when it doesn't happen just as we had planned or just how we had hoped, we call the whole thing "ruined," "bad," or "a waste?" How often do we miss the beauty and the goodness of the world around us--just as it is--because we are so focused on the one thing we don't have? Or the one thing that didn't go just right?
Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön, writes, "The happiness we seek is already here and it will be found through letting go rather than through struggle.” Which leads me to believe that the very best thing that we can do for ourselves and for those around us is to practice letting go--letting go of the vacations, experiences, days, and lives we thought we would have, and grab hold of what we ACTUALLY have. Right here. Today. The present really is teeming with gifts and goodness, with love and with hope, with beauty and with opportunities to begin again--if only we will notice. If only we don't throw the whole thing out because of something that didn't go our way, or didn't go as planned.
That doesn't mean that disappointment isn't real--it just means that it isn't the full picture. The question is, what kind of picture are you training your eyes to see? I'll leave you to ponder that this week.
Learning to see the full picture with you,
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.