Life / Travel

The Gift of Slow

Do you remember the last time you received a really thoughtful gift? Or maybe you’re someone who has spent some time coming up with a gift like that for someone else. It seems to me that with that type of gift, it’s more about having someone in your life who knows you that well. It doesn’t even matter if you’re on the giving end or the receiving end – the real gift is the relationship it was born from. Maybe that’s too deep too fast. We’ll get there. 

But speaking of gifts, let me introduce you to one I recently received.

I know what you’re thinking. What on earth is that and why did you take it paddle boarding? All of you who grew up in the days of Flat Stanley might have an easier time with this. If not, humor me while I explain.

On August 6, my husband, Nathan, and I loaded up our car, filled to the brim with everything we thought we’d need for a year, our two (very confused at this point) dogs, and a hope that what we were about to do would be an adventure we’d never forget or regret. See my first blog post to put this in context if this is all news to you! We drove away from a home we built and loved far sooner than we expected, while carrying the memories and impact of a community that had richly blessed us for the years we’d been there. In the wake of Covid and some other life circumstances, we found ourselves in a position of more geographic flexibility than we’d ever had, and we didn’t want to let the opportunity pass us by. We decided to take a year and live as nomads, sell our house, work remotely, and travel from place to place one month at a time while staying in rental houses (think AirBnB). In the weeks before leaving, we tried our best to spend time with many of the people we’d come to love, and several of them gave us some really thoughtful (and small, because fitting everything for a year into one car is no joke) trinkets to bring with us. 

One evening about a week before leaving, a dear friend handed me a gift bag to open and  immediately said, “So, I’m gunna need to explain this one…” You know it’s bound to be good with that kind of intro. As I reached in and pulled out something tiny and hard and tightly wound in bubble wrap, my only thought was, “What on earth could this be?” But, I trusted the giver and how well she knows me, so I couldn’t be too anxious (a life lesson for another day perhaps). After I finally got the wrapping undone, I was greeted with a cute little tortoise made out of a milky-glass-looking stone. 

I glanced up at my gift-giver, who at this point was grinning as she began to explain her very unique choice. She reminded me that back in January, when I had taken a creativity class she taught, our first assignment had been to make a collage out of magazine clippings. The collage was meant to be inspired by our “word for the year,” an idea that she introduced to the class, but that some in our community have been practicing for several years. The basic idea is that at the beginning of the year, you pray and ask if there’s a word that you’re meant to lean into that year. Something you might need to embrace or be more intentional about stepping into. In the past few years, those words for me had been “dream” and “create.” This year, I decided my word should be “slow.”

Naturally, my collage had lots of serene, peaceful images – beautiful things in nature, books, art, candles – and, you guessed it, a tortoise. I mean what better animal to embody the idea of going slow? (Except maybe a sloth…but now that I think of it that’s more lazy and not really what I was going for.) I really wish I had taken a picture of said collage before packing it and putting it in storage, but ya know, hindsight. And let’s be honest, after 2020, we might need to rethink that little phrase anyway if it’s supposed to refer to something good.

So all of this happened in January of 2020, before most of us knew Covid existed or certainly how it would drastically bring so much in life to a screeching halt, whether your word for the year had anything to do with slowing down or not! But my sweet friend had remembered my word and my tortoise. She also knew about the journey we were about to step into, so she chose a tortoise made of a stone I now know is called opalite. She explained that opalite is said to symbolize smooth transitions and improved communication when we find the strength to verbalize what’s within us. Who wouldn’t want to have a heaping dose of both of those?

Aside:: Before anyone starts to panic too much, let me just clarify that I’m not a ‘crystals’ person (not that there’s anything wrong if you are – it’s just not me). I am, however, someone who appreciates the meaning that a physical object can hold when it’s thoughtfully given, or just has a good story associated with it. I don’t believe there’s any sort of magical power held in the object itself, other than its ability to remind us of something we might just need help remembering. And let’s be honest, we can all be a little forgetful when it comes to holding on to some of the most important lessons in life. And if a thing really does help us remember something good and true, well, maybe that is a little magical. A little mystical. It’s certainly a gift. 

Back to the story.

At this point, my thought was, “Wow, what an incredibly meaningful gift!” 
Followed quickly by, “I have to name the tortoise.” 

One can’t have a little creature that holds that much meaning and not give it an equally meaningful name! So as soon as I got home, I started scrolling through all kinds of names that started with the letter ‘T’ because it was a tortoise and I already had in my head it needed to be “______ the Traveling Tortoise” (cuz I’m super cool and witty like that). 

Finally, I found a ‘T’ name that was perfect. Partially because I didn’t know anyone else with the same name – that’d just be weird – but more importantly because of the name’s meaning.

Theo. It means “divine gift.” 

And this was. Not just the cute little tortoise that would be a reminder to slow down, or that transitions can be smoother and richer when we allow ourselves to truly listen to what’s going on inside us and then communicate that, or that someone knew me well enough to put all that together into one symbolic gift. All of that is certainly part of it, but perhaps the most divine part to me was that the journey I was about to step into could be the perfect training ground for all of those things to take root. If I let it, that is. 

Now, of course it doesn’t mean that the only way to learn any of this would be to literally drop everything and become a nomad for a while. That’s obviously not feasible or even the right path for everyone. But regardless of what the ‘journey’ looks like right now for any of us, there’s always an opportunity to learn and grow if we allow it. But we do probably have to let go of something if we’re going to allow something else to emerge. It might be a way of thinking, or a way of living, or a toxic relationship – whatever the case, it’s going to be scary. It’ll always cost us something. But it’s so much easier to find the courage we need when we have others in our life who are able to see the value in the journey we’re on and give us the gift of encouragement along the way. As much as we all need that, we also need to be able to be that. 

Whether or not you’re someone who feels like you need that encouragement right now, you’re definitely someone who has the ability to be that for someone else. I know that just by receiving a gift like Theo the Traveling Tortoise (I know, adorable), it made me want to be the kind of friend who gives that kind of gift too. It’s taken forcing myself to…drum roll, please…slow down to even be able to see those kinds of opportunities though. 

It really always comes full circle. So many ways to learn the same thing. 

I’m counting it as grace. 

So, I’ll carry Theo with me on this journey. I might take him paddle boarding or skiing or tote him in my purse. Or maybe he’ll just sit beside me while I write or paint or sleep. (Are you catching the Flat Stanley vibes yet?) Whenever he shows up, he’ll be a reminder of going slow, embracing the journey of growth, and sharing the stories of the people we get to know, hold, and encourage along the way. 

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