A Peaceful Stillness

by Joanie Butman

My porch experiences are not limited to those I described last week. We have two porches of our own at the Krusty Krab – the name we christened our cottage just a stone’s throw from my in-laws. Our decks have seen their own share of family and friends who “come and sit a spell.” Before we rebuilt them, there were times I was worried they might buckle under the weight of my visiting relatives. The front porch is my favorite place to do my early morning devotionals, and I’ve written many a story there in the peaceful stillness with the ocean as my constant companion. It is a place to regain my balance in a world that seems to spin faster the older I get, making it difficult to keep up the pace.

Unfortunately, our home in Connecticut is not adorned with a front or back porch, but as I learned, “the porch is not a place, but a state of mind.” Our well-worn kitchen table serves as my Connecticut porch. My ocean view is supplanted by the resident pair of red-tailed hawks as they gracefully circle over our front yard, gliding effortlessly across the sky.

We don’t live in a “neighborhood” so people rarely just “stop by and sit a spell.” For someone who grew up in a house with a revolving door of visitors, this took some getting used to. I discovered I actually had to invite people over, which seems to defeat the spontaneity of porch sitting. However, even though it feels more contrived, once I get them there, the ease of porch conversation takes over, and our lunches are notorious for lasting almost to dinner. At times, I even leave my friends there while I tend to driving responsibilities. When my extended family visits, we sit there so long one meal just blends into another. The amount of food and coffee we consume could keep a small country going for days. 

Particularly this year, these marathon lunches involve a unique group of porch sitters. I found them at a place I visit weekly during the school year that serves as my Thursday morning dose of porch sitting. It is a group of women who gather for to study the bible. Though we officially meet once a week, our fellowship extends far beyond those weekly meetings. Like the porch, this bible study is a great equalizer. Members come in all ages, races, religions, and ethnicities. The common bond is that we are there to study the bible and enjoy the fellowship of other women. The lure of bible study is different for everyone. For some it is an intellectual exercise, others are seeking spiritual refreshment, and others simply to meet and greet. Then there is me who came because they offered “childcare” and being new to town, I was desperate for any brief respite from my toddlers. If I had to study the bible to get it, so be it. That was 15 years ago.

When I arrived that first day, I found myself surrounded by what I considered to be Christian giants. I left feeling discouraged and more than a little skeptical. After all, I had just moved from New York where I had spent the majority of my life. An inbred cynicism kept whispering “Can anyone be that nice?” “Are they for real?” “What’s with all the tears?” Maybe this wasn’t for me. I can’t recite verses from the bible – never mind cite their location. That’s what BibleGateway.com is for. However, I did recognize that my rusty bible knowledge needed some oiling in order to begin teaching my own children.

What I learned soon enough was that the answer to the first two questions was “Yes,” but that didn’t mean these women didn’t have their own sack clothes of suffering. They just wore them better. We all have our crosses to bear. Some are bigger than others, but we all get weighed down by them. However, listening to other people’s stories often makes our own problems seem smaller and our blessings larger. It puts things in perspective. It also reminds you that you are not alone. Whatever it is you are facing, there is always someone who has gone through a similar situation ready to offer empathy, practical advice, a helping hand or just a listening ear.

I chose to return to that bible study despite my initial skepticism, and it proved to be one of the rare “wise” choices I’ve made in my life. It also marked the beginning of a relationship I never dreamed possible. Did it change the course of my life? Not necessarily, just how I travelled it. I’ve spent the past fifteen years learning from some of the smartest women I know. The wisdom they share so generously doesn’t come from books but from experience. In the past they nurtured and prepared me for some of life’s biggest challenges, and then held my hand through them all. Now, they continue to offer a place to regain my balance on an ongoing basis and are a constant source of encouragement and support.

The answer to the third question came years later. Though it took me a while—and believe me, I had a tough shell to crack—I finally realized that when someone touches your soul, you can’t help but cry. I also learned once it starts, it’s hard to stop. God moments happen to me when I am brought to tears by the overpowering, undeniable feeling of God’s presence. Sometimes it’s the sight of an incredible sunset, a rainbow after a summer storm, the vastness of the ocean or  holding a newborn in amazement at the tiny perfection of God’s creation. I can’t explain this phenomenon but in Paul Coelho’s, The Alchemist, he states, “Be aware of the place where you are brought to tears. That’s where I am, and that’s where your treasure is.” Sounds eerily familiar to Christ’s words in the gospel of Matthew, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This is the gift my choice led to so many years ago. The discovery of my own treasure, that which I value above all else: my faith.

Did I get any better at memorizing verses or their location? No, but I found one even I could memorize, “Be not afraid,” which is applicable in most life circumstances because I believe fear is the underlying cause of so many human issues. Of course, I have my favorite “go-to” verses, but I will never be able to rattle off scripture on demand. As I get older, reciting scripture gets even harder, but I’ve never considered that an important facet of my Christianity. Like almost everything else, there is now an app for that. The right verse is never further than a click away.

What I came away with from my years of bible study is far more valuable: fellowship in its purest sense unbound by rules, regulations or religion (I suppose that’s a bit redundant), and filled with unfailing trust, joy, a deep faith, and a profound appreciation for taking the time to be still and sit a spell with God on a daily basis. Yes, porch sitting is definitely a state of mind, and I have learned to access the peace and stillness of my spiritual porch wherever I find myself whether it is by the sea, amidst a crowd or in the solitude of a hospital bed.

Today and everyday, I choose faith; and without a doubt, it is life defining.