Look at the Pretty Lights

Look at the Pretty Lights
(source)

Our headlights cut through the blinding darkness of the December night, illuminating the country highway as my littlest girl and I made our way home from church.

“Look at the pret-ty lights, Mom-my,” she called from her car seat in the back of the van. “Do you see the pret-ty lights? I like the pret-ty lights. Do you like the pret-ty lights?”

Like them? Yes.

See them? No.

At least, not like she did.

She, days shy of her fourth birthday, saw twinkly lights on the horizon and deemed them worthy of attention, of affection, of conversation. I, days past my thirty-ninth, noticed them and kept plowing into the night. I knew they were there. But she didn’t ask if I knew they were there. She asked if I saw them.

Acknowledging a thing’s existence is not the same as comprehending its presence.

So, no. I hadn’t seen the pretty lights. I’d glanced right past the glow they cast on the bleak winter landscape, overlooked that someone was celebrating, taken for granted that we have something to celebrate.

Seeing the lights required eyes concerned with more than pavement and progress on the season’s looming list—things to do and stuff to buy, clutter to clean and places to go. And those eyes were not mine.

They were hers.

Hers were the eyes of a child, eyes that came along for the ride while I did, while I bought, while I cleaned, while I drove. Hers saw beauty along the side of the road rather than racing ahead to the details of the destination. Hers attended to the small celebration in the now rather than fixating on the work of the later.

These days leading up to Christmas, these days of Advent, are not about pretty lights along the side of the road any more than they are about doing, buying, cleaning, and going.

They’re about watching. About waiting. About seeing Christmas for what it is.

And Christmas is a remembrance of what has been. That the long-awaited Messiah, Immanuel, God with us, left heaven to come to Earth. That he dwelt among men. And that he overcame the grave. It’s a celebration of what will be. That he’s coming again. And it’s an expression of what is. That once again, we are waiting.

Jesus called us to have the faith of a child. Children see the world clearly now, not dimly through a haze of details which cloud the mind as much as the eye.

Look at the Pretty LightsSo, look at the pretty lights. Do you see them? And look at the Light of the World. Do you see him?

Sharing stories at Lyli’s Through Provoking Thursday.

Gifts and Graces

Autumn Leaves Over the Pond

Gratitude. It doesn’t always come naturally.

grat i tude noun the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

Along with the continual quest to lift my eyes so I can see, I’ve been trying to acknowledge life’s gifts and the little graces of each season. It’s a practice that helps me cultivate gratitude and walk life’s road more grace-fully.

These are some of this season’s gifts and graces:

  1. Cats, because field mice and fall. And also there’s purring.
  2. The settling in that comes with shorter days and longer nights.
  3. Glimpses of the sun after a string of grey.
  4. Board games, because I too easily succumb to the pseudo-rest of DVDs and Amazon Prime.  A modified version of Bananagrams  continues to be something our family gathers around.
  5. Candles. They’re cheery company on grey days and when darkness falls too early.
  6. Maps. I’ve had an unusual amount of road time this fall and, while GPS is a gift of its own, it’s nice to see the whole route at once.
  7. My daughter’s navigational skills, a trait she got directly from her dad. When the two of us went on a road trip involving more traffic than I am comfortable with, I was grateful for her ability to get a map in her head and understand the landscape. More than even that, I’m glad to know that if she finds herself living in a city she’ll be able to find her way.
  8. On the subject of road trips: Grandparent willing to substitute teach. Reliable vehicles. Generous offers and kind invitations.
  9. Color.  God makes all things beautiful in their time and in their way.

And you? What helps you cultivate gratitude in your life beyond the Thanksgiving season?

Happy Thanksgiving,
Signature

For everything there is a season

Sharing with the writers at Kelly’s #smallwonder link-up.

Bridges Between

IMG_0828One fall, when I attended the University of Iowa, I went a few weeks between visits home. When my parents drove me to school, the fields were full  and green. When they brought me home, the fields stood empty. Even the combines and trucks had gone home.

Growing up in rural Iowa, I’d never experienced fall without seeing harvest, that gradual dismantling of the familiar, fertile landscape one field at a time. It was unsettling. I’d seen empty fields before, with the stubbly shave they wore between fall and spring each year. The problem wasn’t how they looked. It was that, while I was insulated in the city, fall had stolen in without me noticing. I’d missed it, and now I felt out of sync, like something was wrong in the world.

Twenty-five years later I can look back and recognize harvest for what it was, a long event that was part of my transition from one season to another, one that carried me from the verdant warmth of the growing season to the stark beauty of winter. According to merriam-webster.com, one definition of bridge is “a structure carrying a pathway or roadway over a depression or obstacle.” Another is “a time, place, or means of connection or transition.”

Harvest. It’s more than the gathering in of carefully cultivated bounty. It’s a bridge, a steady, unfolding process that I fail to notice until I miss it, one that spans the chasm between heat of summer and the chill of winter.

The measured pace of the seasons is a hidden bridge which carries me gently from where I am to where I need to be. It extends some space to prepare, not just to enter the coming season but to let go of the best parts of the one  fading away.

Bridge

Life offers other hidden bridges, simple, vital, nearly unnoticed parts of our days.  These are structures that carry our path, that support us along our road, that make the impassable way possible, that provide connection and transition. Stopping to look closely enough to actually see  helps me to understand these three for what they are. Gifts. Helpers. Graces.

Fatigue: That I want to do just one more thing before bed prevents me from either getting up when I should or being at my best for the people around me. That I get tired insures that I lay down for the rest I need. Fatigue furnishes a daily opportunity for fresh starts and new mercies.

Hunger: Because my body needs fuel, I get to pause, body and soul, not for only bread but also for breath. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner.  Hunger bestows three chances to pause between where I’ve been and where I’m headed next. Three opportunities  to gain perspective before launching into the next item on the list. Three occasions for thanksgiving.

Slow Fades: Under the influence of the hardest part of any season, I think that when I’m done with the season, I am done with the season. As in, I think I could switch from one hundred degree days to fifty degree days. I can’t. It takes time to shift between the long, hot days and the short, cool ones. My body isn’t ready and neither is my mind. The seasons’ slow fade offers transition time, a space not just for hello, but for goodbye.

BridgeAnd you? Are there hidden bridges carrying your path along right now, supporting you, making a way for connection or transition?

 

Linking at Kelly’s Small Wonder
and Lyli’s Thought Provoking Thursday.

Because Winter is Inevitable

aspen
Once, long  ago, before babies and moves to houses in new communities, I picked up the beginning of an understanding of the seasons—their rhythms, their tasks, their hard realities. Learning to be a mom to three babies while finding my way in three different towns left room for little else in my brain. I traded a loose grip on the concept of seasons for the clutching fist of survival.

It was not a good trade.

I forgot that seasons really do change. That whether delightful or dry, balmy or bitter, fertile or fruitless, they don’t last forever. That there is a time for every single thing.

SmokeysI still thought about seasons here and there. I even wrote about them. What I didn’t do was believe the truth of them, a truth that drifted around, unanchored, just beyond my grasp.

At least, that’s how it was until I woke up on the hard ground one morning in a tent in South Dakota to a bombardment of missiles launched by a pinecone-gathering squirrel. The squirrel didn’t forget. Because he is a creature of instinct and the outdoors, he knew. Yellowstone 2011 It was September and he was doing the work of the season—gathering pinecones and flinging them down from the tree in rapid succession. They landed on the ground, the picnic table, the tent, and the camper next door. Autumn, the season of harvest, of preparation, of gathering and storing what he needed for the winter, weighed on him. He went to work with the sunrise.

Cocooned between my husband and our littlest one, who’d woken up cold in the night and sought out somewhere warmer to sleep, I listened to the frenzied activities of the squirrel in the tree above as he prepared for the unavoidable days of winter. From the warmth of our double sleeping bag, I considered the cycle of the seasons and acknowledged my own.

Deep winter. There was no other name for it.

Above the Basin

Our babies had grown into big kids, but even years beyond what we hoped would be the last move, the bleak chill of displacement claimed my soul in the same way the afternoon cold settles into my bones and makes them ache. And this frozen season of the heart held on too long, so long that my emotional storehouses—reserves against times drought and famine—depleted to dangerously low levels. With little left to fight off an engulfing depression, I longed for spring, a spring so slow in coming I thought it might never arrive.

But it did.

It came quietly, meandering in soon after waking up to that squirrel. It came on the heels of a long breakfast with an old friend, several perspective-challenging days in the mountains with my dad, and a couple of space-making weeks in South Dakota with my family. It came slowly, spring, with its powers of restoration, and its light, balmy air that took the chill off my soul.

The squirrel gathered because his fields were ripe. He gathered because it was time to harvest. The physical world is tidy that way. The seasons come in turn. Winter, then spring, then summer, then fall. And then it begins again.

101_0915It isn’t so simple in the world of people. Our seasons don’t follow a predictable pattern. They don’t always come in turn. And because of the rich complexities of our lives, we sometimes find ourselves facing deep winter in one place and high summer in another.

What the squirrel didn’t know on that sunny September morning was that within the month his home in the Black Hills would be blanketed by two feet of out-of-season, blizzard-driven snow. Like him, I’ll never know when autumn’s abundance will end. But what I’m learning is that winter is inevitable, that it’s best to gather whenever and wherever the fields are ripe.

For everything there is a season

Linking with Kelly’s Small Wonder and Lyli’s Thought Provoking Thursday.

This post was originally shared at circlingthestory.com.

Because of New Normals

On the eve of our son’s return to college when the kids were snarly and I was weepy, my husband looked at us and said, “Transitions are always tough.”

They are. I know. But I forget.

With his words barely out into the air between us, I remembered Yellowstone’s roads and the rough transition from spring-summer-fall to winter and that it’s hard sometimes to get from where we are to where we need to be. Because I see the road as a metaphor for life, remembering Yellowstone’s roads smoothed my frayed nerves and gave me perspective. And because I know that transitions the road to new normals are not only tough, they’re inevitable, and that it’s human nature to forget what we know, here’s a repost from a couple of years back.


 

IMG_1511The sun dawned in the steely sky and peeked through trees veiled by the falling snow. It had begun the night before and lingered, fine and heavy, through the day. “It’s slick,” my son told me when he returned from his mid-day Calc class. I must have looked concerned, because he amended his statement. “The roads were fine. It’s the parking lot that was bad.”

Of course the roads were in better shape than the parking lot—the DOT turns the crews loose before the first flake hits the ground. They work to keep the roads neat and tidy, safe surfaces for us to navigate between where we are and where we need to be. Their trucks and plows spread through the area with sand, salt, and blades.

The forecast called for snow in Yellowstone that same day, but there no one bothered much about the roads.

It wasn’t because of a strike. It wasn’t because of a government shutdown. It was because–with the exception of the fifty-two mile stretch of road between the North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana and the Northeast Entrance at Cooke City–Yellowstone’s roads are accessible only by snow machine during the winter.

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In spring and summer and the early months of fall, Yellowstone’s roads are just roads. They have their seasonal dangers—potholes the size of small cars, thermal mist which ices the surface on cold nights, wildlife lallygagging just around the bend—but they are roads, meant for us to drive. We belong there.

During the winter they consist of snow, groomed smooth enough by the same machines that tend to downhill ski slopes, their edges marked by tall orange stakes rather than the familiar white line. We can belong there, too, on snowmobiles or in Suburbans retrofitted with treads.

But for a few weeks in between they are roads in transition.

They’re messy. They’re dangerous. And they’re fit for neither tires nor treads.

Some of the people who live and work in Yellowstone’s interior drive them anyway—to the grocery store, to visit a friend, to their winter’s work assignment. Park employees tell tales of white-knuckled travels over slippery, snowy roads. It’s what their life requires while they wait for the snow to build up so that groomers can carve out a smooth surface for them to get from where they are to where they need to be.

coyoteonthe road

Some of ours are roads in transition.

Stretches are messy. Sections are dangerous. And sometimes our vehicle feels like no match for the way ahead.

Our kids get older and what once worked suddenly is a cumbersome, clunky way that doesn’t get the job done. Our marriages reshape themselves just as we do, and so do our friendships. Our jobs change, and sometimes even the place where our key fits the lock.

In the midst of it all, we keep going. We make our way over roads that are messy and dangerous, in vehicles that feel like no match for the terrain. We wait for the day when it will smooth into a neat and tidy surface, one that feels safe to navigate–even if only for a little while. It’s the process life requires and the way it gives for us to get from where we are to where we need to be.

And while we wait, beautiful encouragement from a Psalm of David: For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. 

No matter the condition of the road.

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And you? Are you on a road in transition today? What helps you navigate?

The Light of Summer

As the sun set over the baseball field at the end of a sweltering July day, I sat in the stands and tried not to long for fall. Extreme heat is kind of my kryptonite, so I found myself fighting to not wish the light of summer away over a little discomfort.

Sunset at the Field

Summer, hot as it is right now, is already fading. Like a sweet newborn who marches toward independence from the first breath, each season arrives with the end in sight. And autumn, it’s getting ready, waiting in the wings, ready to take center stage. Soon enough I will miss summer’s warmth.

Gifts of Summer

If you’ve been here for long, you’ve probably noticed that I tend to think in seasons and about seasons, that I  take stock of the gifts each one bestows. The practice of intentional gratitude reminds me that seasons change, that they come to an end. It keeps me from wishing them away. And it helps me remember that seasons, whether of the earth of or life, are not about me.

Rainbow at Campfire Bay Resort

 

Gifts Of This Summer

  1.  Daylight that lasts.
  2. Central air at home. Because it’s everywhere else and the human body (at least this human body) does not adjust quickly.
  3. Rain. Growing things need it. Even three days of stormy downpour when we’d planned to be engaged in some sort of outdoor activity bestowed the gift of forced creativity. That is, we held our first family ping-pong tournament, one that forced those of us who typically spectate to participate.
  4. Nieces and nephews. My summer list always seems to include these guys, because this is when I really get to see them, not just for a couple of days over a holiday, but for a week. It’s when I get a little glimpse into their lives.
  5. Carpet ball tables. Carpet ball is one of the happy sounds of summer.
  6. Loons. Their haunting call issues a reminder that even when there are no humans in sight, you are not alone when sitting on the shore of a Minnesota lake. Listen here.
  7. Mousetraps. Traditional ones. Better ones. Feline ones. Probably that’s all I need to say about that.
  8. Summer skies that go on forever. Especially the ones with a fiery sunrise or an impressionistic sunset.
  9. Summer break. Our boy is home for the summer. Our girls are occupying themselves with kittens and crafts and books and the outdoors.  These are things that don’t happen as easily when school is on.
  10. Basil. Especially when it grows just down the lane in the garden.

And you? What are you thankful for this season? I’d love to hear.

foreverythingthereisaseason