Milestones and moments

Sitting beside my daughter, a senior in high school, in a darkened theatre in Charleston, South Carolina, I heard the author of “Wonder” say that writing the book helped her learn “to focus less on milestones and more on moments.” Her sentiment struck me enough that I wrote down her thought. Moments make up a life, I think she added. Milestones do, too, I would argue. As I plan that same daughter’s graduation party and think about her sister’s 16th birthday the next day, milestones loom large in my mind these days. Reflecting on my son’s recent graduation from college, remembering our extended family gathered around a table for lunch after the ceremony, the photo of our nuclear family of five now placed on the fridge, I realize that milestones conjure moments vivid, lovely and cherished. Milestones and moments often come in tandem, comingled, unable to be extricated one from another.

Jesus said, “Consider the lilies of the field.” Surely, a call to make note of daily moments, to notice and extract meaning. He also performed his first sign at a wedding, offering divine gravitas to milestones. He went up to mountains to pray, attended worship regularly, ate ordinary meals with tax collectors and Pharisees. Lots of moments. His parents, though, took him to the temple as a baby for that important religious ritual and Jesus himself asked to be baptized by John in the Jordan. Noteworthy milestones. God’s presence cannot be confined to one or the other. The holy overwhelms where it wills — the divine imbues birthdays, weddings and funerals and also shows up as we walk the dog, bathe babies and make the daily commute. Expansive or small, once-in-a-lifetime events or routines done again and again, there is nowhere we can flee from God’s Spirit, no place God is not, no time when God will leave us alone.

Our human challenge amounts to awareness, that oft repeated biblical admonition to stay awake, be alert, keep watch for both the returning Son of Man and the present kingdom of heaven in our midst. Lately, those calls to notice and look feel less a command and more like a loving invitation. Perhaps hitting a lot of milestones as of late has caused me to cling to moments. I yearn to pay attention. I don’t want to miss anything, no joy or delight, no matter how seemingly insignificant. The sliver of light coming through the cloud and illuminating the top of the mountain, the buttery sweet taste of the frosting flower, each “I love you,” everything beautiful and good feels too important not to mark — all evidence of God’s promise to chase us down and never let us go.

My prayers reflect this new-found reality. I plead for peace, for the whole of humanity. I earnestly ask how I can participate in the healing of creation. Come, Holy Spirit, bring headline-grabbing, earth-shattering milestones. In the next breath I say, “God, just a nice meal together, that’s all, that’s enough.” Or, “Lord, bring him safely home tonight.” I’ll give thanks for a few more formerly-thought-mundane moments. My hopes expand and contract no less than my lungs and I want to be grateful for the oxygen keeping me alive.

I remember a radio program dedicated to the stories of people adjusting to life outside of prison. One woman grieved all the milestones she’d missed after a long incarceration: her children’s birthdays, her father’s funeral. But when talking about what she relished most about her freedom she said: Making toast. She described the sheer delight in being free to go to the kitchen and make her own toast. She lamented the missed milestones. She relished the present moment. Therein lies wisdom for those who wish to live fully awake: Mark with abandon the milestones, give thanks relentlessly for the moments. Remember that God encompasses them all. The light of Christ illumines both. The power of the Holy Spirit nudges us to notice the grace, the love, the joy present in each and every one and be thankful, so aware of our blessings that we cannot help but be a blessing to others in their milestones and moments.

Grace and peace,