Charred Marshmallows


“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Back in October, my sister gathered several of her friends to celebrate her 25th birthday. She wanted to go camping, of all things. I like camping. I do. I like sharing meals on picnic tables. I enjoy taking walks by the lake. I delight in afternoon reads in hammocks. I like being outdoors to watch the sunset. What I don’t like is earthy grit in my sleeping bag or when all my “clean” clothes smell like a tent tarp. My favorite part of camping is probably coming home and washing the campfire smell out of my hair and repainting my nails. Nevertheless. Anything for my dear sister. I know you’re supposed to rough it when you’re camping but, it being a birthday celebration and all, I asked for permission to dress it up a bit. Sister obliged and I packed my suitcase full of brown paper packages and burlap banners and twinkle lights. (Special thanks to the cute park ranger for not ruining my aesthetic and busting us for what was presumably a fire hazard).

It was a magical weekend in Michigan. The autumn leaves at Van Buren State Park were vibrant, striking. We gathered around the campfire that first evening to make s’mores. It was the evening of game four in the World Series and we could feel the city of Chicagoall the way across the lakeholding its breath. Our neighbors happened to be the epitome of traditional campers: brats, beer, and baseball. We were separated only by a few sparse trees on which I had strung twinkle lights—a comical barrier between us and our contrasting camping styles. The game sounded through their radio and the commentator’s voice became background noise to our evening as we ate White Chicken Chili and drank red wine by the fire and told stories and read poems. While our camping methods could not have been more different, we still found ourselves in the same woods, waiting, wondering if the Cubs would win.

It was also the weekend before the election and the whole world was waiting to see who the president-elect would be. We mused about the future: hopes and dreams, where our own lives were headed, what new adventures or hardships might be just around the bend. I reflected on my current season, how much my life has changed in the last year and how strange it still seems. I feel like I’m wearing a new sweater that hasn’t been worn-in yet. It remains a stiff and ever-so-slightly itchy garment. It possesses no nostalgia. It’s still simply a new sweater.  

I don’t generally like marshmallows, but in the woods, by a crackling fire, when fancy wafers and chocolate are involved, I make an exception. Everyone has marshmallow roasting preferences and I enjoy mine lightly browned, ever-so-slightly crisp on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside. I stuck my marshmallow too close to the flame and it caught fire. I blew it out and stared at the charred ball of sugar on the end of my stick. My patience level was waning.

Patience: noun | pa·tience | \ˈpā-shən(t)s\

-The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.

-Calm, self-possessed waiting.

Time will tell who will win the World Series. Time will tell who the next President of the United States will be. Time will guide my life and show me what lies beyond the horizon.

I returned from camping and told a friend that I am the most impatient person I know. She looked at me and shook her head in disagreement. She pointed out all the ways I’ve been patient with her and with other people in my life this year. She helped me chronicle all the students I’ve cheered for, the family members I’ve supported, the friends I’ve encouraged. “You are a very patient person,” she said, “but you are not patient with yourself.”

{Sigh.} She was right.

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetPatience is an eight-letter word that I despise. It’s punchy. It’s mysterious, elusive. I wrestle with it and I always lose. I burned a marshmallow for lack of patience and this made me mad.

I speak discouraging things over myself like: you’re not working hard enough, you’re not learning fast enough, you’re not giving enough, you’re not doing enough. I berate myself for not reading more, for not writing more, for not knowing what I’m doing with my life, for not having a strategic plan for saving more money, for not exercising more frequently. The list goes on. I know this is dangerous and that what I should be speaking over myself are the realities laced in grace: I recently started a new job and I’m navigating an entirely different department in higher education. I moved to a new state just over a year ago and I’m still forming new friendships and I’m still planting seeds. I still don’t know what direction I hope for my career, but I think I’ve unveiled some passions in my soul this year and I’m well on my way to refining some hopes and dreams. 

Patience is confusing because it demands a posture of stillness but is not in any way passive. Henri Nouwen says, “A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.” If I’ve learned anything since undergrad it’s this: life doesn’t stop. Time doesn’t stop. It’s so much less about waiting for seasons to end. Rather, it’s learning how to live in the middle of the mess of them. They’ll change. They’ll ebb and flow, just like a river. A.A. Milne knew something about patience that I am still struggling to learn. Rushing, pushing, pulling; it doesn’t profit. I’m practicing not burning marshmallows 1) because charred sugar tastes horrible and 2) because I believe there is a way to live both patiently and purposefully. Here’s to speaking grace over ourselves and not living our lives in a perpetual hurry.


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