Because Sometimes We Forget

Once upon a time I looked at the empty picnic tables at interstate rest areas  and wondered Who uses those?  I never saw them in use and our stops were always quick and utilitarian.

Then J and I had kids.

Each of our three children was less than a year before we carted them off on their first thousand-mile-one-way road trip. With the combination of little ones and that kind of mileage, I learned to see rest areas with new eyes.

Beyond the continual requests for potty breaks, our kids needed to move, to get the wiggles out. At rest areas they ran. Down the sidewalks. Over the grass. On the playground equipment.

Now they’re growing up. They’re happy to read or sleep in the car. But they’re still willing to stop and wander through a rest area.

Some rest areas are efficient affairs, with straight sidewalks, grey cement picnic pads, and a pet exercise area off to one side. Others are wooded, wound about with sun-dappled paths that curve through the trees. It’s here where we’ll stroll down a shady sidewalk for a much-needed stretch when we find ourselves somewhere between where we’ve been and where we want to be.

Sometimes we want to be home, to sleep in our own beds, to return to the rhythm of the familiar. Other times we want to get on with the adventure, to arrive somewhere magnificent, to be done with the long drive already. Whether the destination is mundane or momentous, we still need to rest.

Rest Area

Because the kids are beyond the stage of potty-breaks and wiggles, it’s easy to forget that we all still need a break from the car. Because they’re growing up, we’re continually finding ourselves somewhere between where we’ve been and where we want to be. And because none of them are in the single digits anymore, it’s easy to ignore the fact that every one of us still needs occasional respite from life’s road.

Without regular naps or early bedtimes to anchor the rhythms of life, we  got a little lazy. Not lazy as in all we lounged around and eat bonbons, but lazy as in we ceased to pay attention, quit tending to important things. We ignored the reality that we all need pauses, pauses that allow for more than minimal sleep and sustenance. We need the kind that make space for conversation and connection, for worship, for the strengthening of the body, refreshment of the soul, and reorganization of the heart and the mind.

Stopping isn’t natural for me. It’s something I’m learning because I believe in the importance of the things that don’t happen when the hustle of life outstrips the pace of the heart. And it’s the heart–and those things near to it–that suffer first when I forget about rest.

Outdoors, I notice sunny spots and inviting paths that remind me to remember what’s important and to pause, to stop if necessary. I’m learning to look for those same places within the moments that make up my days and the days that make up my life, because it’s there I most need the reminder to pause, to stop if that is what’s called for, to embrace and be fully present in those moments–whether it’s the night’s rest or the morning’s breakfast, worship or conversation.


Sunny spots and inviting paths are less obvious in the moments and days of life than they are outdoors. Sometimes they come disguised as Will you play a game with me? from a little one or an unconvincing Okay to the standard How are you today? asked of a friendOther times they appear as a sick child or post-operative parent. And still others it’s a weary look in my child’s eyes or the nagging fatigue in my soul.

Even short pauses don’t always come easily. In fact, they sometimes come at a cost. Sometimes they cost me my time. Other times they cost me pride.

Rest areas remind of my mortality, that–no matter how my life and lists tempt me to believe otherwise–I’m not omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent. I am human, limited and fallible, in need of grace and mercy, and grateful that, in rest, I learn to receive.

And you? What reminds you that you need to rest?

Something to think about: Shelly Miller is a writer who encourages me to remember the importance of rest, specifically Sabbath rest. She writes this:  …Sabbath isn’t about resting so I can be more productive. It isn’t about me at all.  And this: Sabbath is a weekly inward commute from a loud world to a still small voice; a rhythm of familiar conversation in a language that speaks deeply of belonging. It is a reminder that the world doesn’t revolve around me.

The sad reality is that I so much like things to be about me. But slowly, slowly, I am learning about the connections between rest and God’s grace and mercy and that it isn’t about what I bring to the table at all. If you’d like to read more of what she has to say, click on over here or on the link above.

Sharing Because Sometimes We Forget at Small Wonders.

Because Winter Is Inevitable

IMG_1511Once, a long time ago, before babies and multiple moves to houses in new communities, I picked up the beginning of an understanding of seasons—their rhythms, their tasks, even 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.

I still thought about seasons here and there. I even wrote about them. What I didn’t do was understand the truth of them. It 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, considered the cycle of the seasons and acknowledged my own.

Deep winter.


I’m finishing this at Circling the Story today, where I’m thrilled to be included in Ashley’s Reader Stories series.  Click here to read the rest of the story.

For everything there is a season

Do Not Approach


The girls and I emerged from the cozy, fire-warmed lobby,  braced ourselves against the chilled morning air, and took to the sidewalk that led to Mammoth Hot Spring’s historic chapel. Aware of the cow elk lounging on the lawn between the buildings along the way, I said, “Don’t worry. I won’t risk our lives on the way to church this morning.”

It was the end of September, well into the annual rut, and the local bull was busy defending his harem from challengers and his territory from vehicles and  passing pedestrians. It was just the girls that morning because the guys were taking advantage of a break in the rain to hike Bunsen Peak. Even though they were on the trail, we were probably in more danger because of my persistent delusion that the trappings of civilization—sidewalks and roads and such—offer safety from the perils of the wild.

Of all Yellowstone’s developments, Mammoth most resembles an actual town. Beyond the usual–hotel, store, gas station, and post office–there’s a medical clinic, a federal courthouse, and large homes with welcoming porches which front the main road. Appearances aside, our sidewalk was not a safe, civilized place. Its covering of elk scat announced that.

“There’s the bull, Mom,” my oldest girl pointed out.

There he was, in the middle of the lawn at the end of the sidewalk. Abandoning my plan to not risk our lives, I herded the girls off the sidewalk, across the road, and kept moving toward the chapel along the edge furthest from the elk.

“I thought you said we weren’t going to risk our lives,” my oldest daughter said as we climbed the stairs.

Chapel, Fort Yellowstone District Mammoth Hot Springs

“We didn’t,” I started. Then I remembered my delusions about sidewalks and roads and realized what I had done. “Sorry.”

An hour later, after the sermon, the benediction, and the visiting which occurs even among strangers, my littlest girl informed me she needed to find the restroom. The pastor’s wife handed me a key and directed us out the front door and around the side of the chapel. “It’s an old building,” she apologized.

I shepherded the girls out the door, intent on our destination. We were still on the stairs when the oldest–obviously more observant than her mother–said, “Mom, that ranger is talking to you.”

A  ranger, a young and uniformed, smiled and pointed toward the grass between the chapel and the trees. A bull elk was circling around the side yard, heading for the cows on the other side. The harem-defender we’d skirted around earlier, threw back his head, abandoned his station on the other side of the chapel, and began a slow run toward the challenger. We couldn’t leave the building.

My daughter’s this-cannot-wait look compelled me to explain our predicament to the ranger. He looked toward our destination and over at the bulls.

“I’ll walk you over,” he said.


I stood  outside the bathroom door and the ranger stood nearby, his camera ready. “You don’t see them together very often,” he told me.

We watched the elk, ready for a horn-locking battle. They continued toward one another, one with caution, the other with quick, strutting steps. That confidence proved enough for the challenger, who retreated to the woods. The dominant bull reestablished his watch over his harem, and we returned to our hotel. It was over.

For awhile.

This time the challenger did not slink back into the woods without a making a stand. We didn’t see the fight. We saw the evidence—an antler, half of a matched set, sitting on a picnic table near the herd’s morning grazing site—later that day.

As the line of vehicles we were in crawled through the company of elk camped between the medical clinic and the meadow late that afternoon, we saw a bull. He sat alone, apart from the others. Not until I started snapping pictures through the open window did we notice that one of his antlers was missing, a casualty of the battle.

So he sat alone, defeated and disappointed, thwarted by his broken equipment, legs folded neatly under his tawny body and his one-antlered self situated directly under one of Yellowstone’s signs: DANGER DO NOT APPROACH ELK.

Oh, the irony.

I laughed. For a minute. And then I realized that I do a version of the same.  I’m smoother than the elk, blessed with the ability to read, so I wouldn’t actually go park under such a sign, but I put off the signals just the same: Leave me alone. 


Or maybe don’t. The elk didn’t want to be left alone. Not really. He wanted a harem and, because I anthropomorphize wild animals, I figured he was pouting. Just like I pout sometimes when I’m disappointed. Or lonely. Or dealing with being broken.

Every year elk lose their antlers and every year they grow back again,  bigger than before. This autumn brought the elk another opportunity.

I don’t have to wait that long.

Every morning, every moment really, I get the same. God’s mercies, they’re new every morning. Like the psalmist, I can ask Him to teach me to number my days. What are days but a series of moments? And who wants to spend them parked under a DO NOT APPROACH sign?

Sharing Do  Not Approach  with the writers at the Small Wonders and Thought Provoking Thursdays Link-ups.

Influenced By the One That Came Before

InfluencedbytheoneswhichcamebeforeSummer’s green is wearing thin. Before long, it will give way to the colors of autumn.

Some years, summer’s heat and its green march across the lawn arrive with a suddenness that suggest we’ve gone straight from winter to summer with no stop for spring. This doesn’t happen with autumn. Thanks to the turning of the leaves when summer fades to fall, it’s a transition impossible to miss.


Even though the leaves turn every year, even though it’s impossible to miss, it doesn’t always look the same.

Some seasons the trees along the roads and in the woods wear a regal assortment of gold, russet, and scarlet, intense pigments as invigorating as the crisp autumn air. Other years they cloak themselves in a faded array of the matronly hues of serviceable cloth.

The difference between the two lies in the weather.

During the growing season, the chlorophyll that colors the leaves green is constantly replenished by a transaction between sun and tree. As fall ushers in short days, a weak spot forms between the branch and the leaf. This weak spot, known as the abscission layer, prevents any exchange between the leaf and the tree. Chlorophyll restoration ceases and the leaves lose their green color.

The most vibrant displays result from a summer of abundant rain followed by an autumn of dry, sunny days with cool, frost-free nights. When low temperatures arrive after the abscission layer develops, it hastens the loss of chlorophyll and causes fall’s orange and  yellows to arrive early.  At the same time, the brilliant days and chilly nights enhance the reds and purples which lend autumn its splendor.

After a dry growing season, trees shed their leaves prematurely. They drift to the ground before decreasing daylight diminishes the production of the chlorophyll mask and fall’s yellow and orange are revealed by the fading green. An untimely freeze hinders the leaf’s ability to make the intense red and purple pigments that give the forest vista depth.

The colors of autumn are influenced by the season which came before.

Yellowstone 2011 175Sometimes, during a stretch of difficult days, a friend will tell me, or I will tell her, or we’ll tell one another, “It’s a season,” and look forward to the day it will pass and the situation will be different.  But when it gives way, when whatever has been coloring life fades and the new season is revealed, it doesn’t seem quite right. It lacks some brilliance. It isn’t as vibrant as expected.

I wonder if, like the colors of the leaves, our seasons are influenced by the ones which came before.

Perhaps there was a drought of sleep, money, or friendship. Or a deluge of opportunities and obligations. Or the chill of hardship, disease, or death. Or maybe just  too much cloud cover for too long.

It takes time for the effects of a such seasons to pass, time for the rain to penetrate the parched soil of our lives or the flood of too much to recede, time to feel the warmth and brightness of the sun on heart and mind, body and soul.

It takes time and I find it hard to wait. Still, it’s worth it, to count on the nature of seasons, to believe that a new one is one the way, to remember that as one color draws back another will be revealed, and that, while it might not be at all what I expected, there is a time for everything. Every single thing.

For everything there is a season

Sharing this week at  Small Wonders and Thought Provoking Thursday.


Because the things of earth end, because beginnings arrive disguised as endings, because this week brings both to our family in the form of college–a repost.

Natural Bridge Trail Yellowstone National Park

Natural Bridge Trail
Yellowstone National Park

Every summer the cicadas sing their song. Every summer it starts too soon. And every summer it makes me sad.

It made sense when I was young. The cicada’s song signaled school’s imminent return. I enjoyed school, so maybe it didn’t make sense, but as a child, it was the best I could come up with. I dreaded the inevitability of its lonely refrain vibrating through summer’s evening air. My parents held a different opinion. They called it beautiful.

Age has allowed me to agree. I can hear a loveliness in the cicada’s song because I know now it was never what I was walking toward that made me sad; it what I was walking away from. School was good but was home was better. More time at school meant less time with my mom and dad and brother, less time in books, less time with my grandparents, less time to be free.

Sometimes I hear the cicadas singing over my children’s lives and feel the same hollow sadness I did in childhood. I heard it as the newborn became a baby and the baby grew into a toddler who wandered out into the living room one day as a child, soft baby fat having disappeared in the night. I heard it when they stepped onto the school bus, the soccer field, and the stage. I hear it now as I watch my seventeen-year-old-hardly-a-boy-anymore do his seventeen-year-old stuff.

When he was three a thunderstorm brought down a tree branch in our front yard. The next morning, he put on his tool-belt, climbed into the branches and went to work with his plastic axe. When he was nine our neighbor’s treetop landed in our yard and he was there immediately, checking it out and absorbing the talk about what would happen next. At seventeen he helps provide the wood our family needs to be warm through the winter. His plastic axe is gone, replaced by tools with sharp edges and motors.

He’s building a trebuchet this summer, perhaps the last in a series of many. This is a big one, with a metal frame, and this is his second summer on it. I want desperately for him to have time to play in his way, but he’s growing up and time a luxury. He doesn’t seem to mind. I don’t think he hears the song.

The cicadas aren’t at fault. They are message bearers only. The thing is, I’m not ready for him to go. The time is so close and their song is so loud and sometimes I don’t want to hear it. The cicada’s song has its own rhythm, relenting occasionally and silencing itself long enough for his father and I to enjoy the boy he is even as it reveals the man he is becoming.

I know it’s not what he’s walking toward that makes me sad. It’s what he’s walking away from. Perhaps with a little more silence I can make peace with their song.

And you? Are you facing an ending or a beginning today?foreverythingthereisaseason

Sharing Because at Small Wonders and Thought Provoking Thursday.

It Changes Everything


20150716_210530The pontoon pulled away from the dock and turned toward the open water where we drifted past brown and pastel cabins tucked into the trees along the shore. Under the influence of the overcast day, that was all there was to see. The sky, typically the star of our evening cruise, offered nothing but dismal grey gruel. Gloomy clouds stacked up overhead, familiar companions for some part of every day of that week.

We were grateful the weather allowed us to be out at all. Between downpours and thunderstorms, electricity-eradicating straight line winds and near-misses with tornadoes, it had been a weird weather week.

Out on the lake,  with its ducks and herons and loons, its reed beds and lily pads, we floated along, satisfied with the knowledge that there were fish below the surface–fish that some of our party hoped to catch the next morning. When my young nephew took the helm, he brought us alongside an island with a fawn on the shore. We watched until it turned and bounded a few feet inland. There, hidden behind a bush, stood its mother. We’d been so busy watching the fawn that we hadn’t noticed her.

Content with our nature sighting on this grey evening and aware that to make it home before that awful hour when the mosquitoes came out en force, my nephew accelerated and turned us toward home.

That’s when we noticed the sky.

Blues and pinks haloed a molten glow, spreading from one side of the sky to the other. Behind us and to both sides the day remained as dingy as when we’d set off, but before us it was vivid and lovely and full of life.

Perspective, I remembered again, changes everything. The fruit of the setting sun had been there and we hadn’t even noticed it. It was behind us as we lamented the grey we cruised into. It was above us as we observed the fawn and the doe.

We didn’t see it because we didn’t look.

Sometimes I don’t see things because I don’t pay attention. Sometimes it’s because I’m looking the wrong direction. Sometimes it’s because they’re still out of my range of vision. What I fail to remember that just because I can’t see it doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.

When I forget this, I lament life’s difficulties the way I despaired the sky.

Sometimes, though, when things aren’t going the way I wish they would, I remember. I remember that there is a time for everything, that almost everything changes, and that the changes begin long before I ever see them.

Because He’s always at work. 

When the woods are thick and the way is uncertain, He’s at work. When life is dry and the soul is parched, He’s at work. He’s always at work.

The way will clear and the river will flow. Sometimes I remember this first, and I am grateful.

Sharing It Changes Everything at  Thought Provoking Thursday and Small Wonders.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43:19