I had my life mapped out in blocks of five, 10 or 20 years, and while that may sound organized, it had more to do with my mathematical disability. It was easy to say, Journalism until I’m 30, small kids and teenagers until 50, and on and on. I didn’t have detailed plans, but the big picture was always in front of me, this never-ending lists of necessary tasks and accomplishments each demanding my check mark. Done. Finished. Complete.
Whatever was out there was the thing I chased, the next big thing, the next accomplishment.
Snow blanketed our yard several weeks ago, thick, deep, powdery snow that fell in dreamy flakes and took ages to melt. Big Boy can get on his snow suit and gear all by himself in five minutes or less; he loves playing in the snow this year, but Little Bear officially hates it. Possibly it’s the snow jacket and pants that keep him from moving properly, and he’s still not so stable on his feet. Walking through snow is a big ask, and carrying him the whole time we are outside is a big ask for Mommy.
I was explaining to Big Boy one day that it’s tough to go outside with Little Bear, and I started saying, Just wait until – before I caught my breath.
I was going to say, Just wait until next winter, and then you’ll both play outside and love it so much. But another winter is not promised to us in Sweden, we could be here, but we might not. I was about to tell him to skip past now, to cast his eyes on my idea of the better thing to come.
We do this, all of us, keeping our eyes fixed on what we consider to be the prize, the better job, the bigger house, the smaller dress size, the higher grade or faster car. But here, right now, there is something else waiting for us.
The next step.
It’s the choice you have to make today about your attitude, your plans, your creativity, your time. Sometimes the next step is tedious or painful, other times it is a restful break or maybe something for which you are longing, but whatever it is, the next thing is most likely not going to be something glamorous or big. The next step is the thing staring at you, right there, right in front of you. It’s the laundry that needs to be folded, the onions you have to chop for soup, the email you don’t want to write, the 10-minute conversation someone in your life needs you to stop and have, it’s the 30 minutes you spend exercising or the five minutes you take to stop and paint for fun.
The next step is ordinary. The next step forces you to wrestle with the life that is right at hand, not the bigger thing that may be coming in the future.
My mind is constantly pulled into the future, the next five years, the 10 or 20 or 30 year mark. What is important to us? What is my legacy? Where does my focus need to be? These are all good, necessary questions all adults should ask themselves, but if the big picture is the only thing on our minds, we will miss the small thing in front of us, and it is the small thing, the next step that anchors us in a foundation.
For me the next step is often the real life I have to make with our small children. It means playing with trains, dancing, making food every few hours, and disciplining attitudes and behavior. These are the next steps in a long chain that lead me home. Today, there is the laundry and the playing and the cooking and the eating. That’s where I am. And this next step I take will lead me to the next step and the next step, one marker after the other, one decision after the other, one unglamorous choice after another that leads toward the destination: A full, beautiful life enjoyed in process, lived on purpose and created one step at a time.
I still didn’t take Big Boy out in the snow a lot this winter, but one glorious morning at 8am after I put Little Bear down for his nap, my oldest and I bundled up, left the baby monitor right by the front door, and we ran out in the snow. It came up to his knees, he looked like a farmer plowing a white field with his legs. We fell into the snow and carved angels with our arms, I pulled him on a sled around the bare apple tree, we lay in the snow and watched the snow flakes falling into our faces.
They fall fast and there is no break or stopping, one after another each fluffy flake descends down and down and down, landing on skin and outstretched arms. We didn’t say much, we just lay in the snow, quiet and warm. When we were finished, we went inside to get our crying Little Bear and play some more.
[ba-dropcap size=”4″]N[/ba-dropcap]ow it’s your turn: Do you find yourself pulled into the bigger picture of the future? What’s the next step you need to take?