I was given the gift of a renewal leave this summer. Thank you for that! People asked me if I had big plans for my two months off. Nope. Oh, I traveled some, spent time with family and friends. But I didn’t take that trip of a lifetime or take on some big project I had always wanted to do when I had time. But I have to say, the last two months have been an absolute delight, and this ranks up there as one of the best summers of my life. So what did I do? I simply tried to show up and pay attention each and every day.
I spent a lot of time outside. Do you know how beautiful this wonderful world we live in is? One evening, my sister and I were in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, and all these people were wandering down the street, and we wondered where they were headed. So we walked that way too. Turns out they were headed to Sunset Beach, where we joined them to watch the sun set over the water on a spectacular July evening. We showed up and paid attention and were given a gift.
Another spectacular moment came in the Badlands of South Dakota. It had been overcast and dripping a little bit . . . and then I was at this one spot, and as the sun moved in and out of the clouds, it lit up the rocks and it kept changing as the sun moved. It was nature’s light show, and I got to see it because I took the time to show up and paid attention.
I have been pondering what makes a life. When I was in the Black Hills, I heard all the history behind the sculptors of Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. Both of them, in their own way, dedicated their life to one all-consuming passion, and they have left behind a legacy. Is that what makes a life? Doing something substantial, enduring? I have a strong suspicion that my life is not aiming in that direction, although Gutzon Borglum was in his 50s when he started work on Mount Rushmore—so, never say never.
But while I was sitting, waiting for the lighting show to start at Mount Rushmore, I talked to a family from North Carolina that was on one of those classic road trips . . . from North Carolina to South Dakota to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon and back. Whew. The father was telling me how he and his son had gone hiking that morning in Custer State Park, and the son was delighting in the telling of the story. A father was making memories with his child. He was showing up and paying attention, investing in the life of a child. He may not have thousands show up every night to witness his work, but it is no less significant. It is shaping a life and, thus, a world.
You never know where you are going to discover life. So this summer, I wanted to keep a simple practice: to show up and pay attention. And when you do, you hear amazing stories. You meet interesting people. You see God’s breathtaking hand in creation. And you are blessed.
My hope and prayer is that I can take this practice I have cultivated this summer with me back into my work life that is driven by to-do lists, competing demands, and just being busy. I don’t want to be so focused on the next thing that I miss what is happening right in front of me. So that is what I learned on my renewal leave, something I already knew but had forgotten: to not take life for granted. To show up and pay attention and discover the beauty and joy of what I have been given each and every day.
Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church