Warning Signs

Some summers my nephew and niece visit us. The kids picnic and put on puppet shows; they fish and swim and sleep outside and get bit up. They stay busy–all on their own–and they love it.

One year, my daughter was recovering from a cracked elbow. She had a doctor’s appointment so I planned to take them all for some fun along the way. We would stop at the lake and climb the water tower-turned-observation-deck. They would be, I knew, delighted.

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They were not delighted; they were busy making their own fun in the pond and groaned a few complaints when I called them in. Still, they were willing and got ready to go. As we pulled out of our lane I noticed a dark spot in the distant southern sky.

We turned east and drove the few minutes to the tower where I doled out quarters and the kids raced to the turnstile. They trotted up all 170 steps and looked around. Now they were delighted.

Well, all but one was delighted. That one didn’t look around at all. In fact, that one, my nephew, asked to go back to the car. I didn’t want anyone to be that far away–it wouldn’t be safe–so I told him he would he would have to wait until the others were ready to go. He asked again and maybe even again before it occurred to me to investigate what was bothering him.

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He lifted his arm and pointed. “That,” was all he said.

The dark spot in the southern sky was distant no longer. It was ours now, and close enough to show us its churning clouds. I should have seen it coming.

It was time to go, to get off of that tower, and into the car.

My nephew took off like a gazelle and stationed himself beside the vehicle before the rest of us were half-way down. We piled in and started down the lane toward the highway. The stop sign gave us a chance to stop and see, for just a moment, the disturbing clouds that would race us to town.

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We stayed ahead of it until we hit the city limits. As we crawled past the town square the clouds caught up with us and transformed day into night. Cold, splatting drops of rain began as we scurried from our spot in the clinic parking lot.

Just after we checked in, an alarm sounded. There was a warning of some sort, not a tornado, but serious enough that were all shepherded to the basement. It sickened me to realize that just moments ago I’d had these precious little people standing on a tower, oblivious to the approaching storm, all in the name of something I wanted to do.

Our strong memories of that day are all different. Most of the kids don’t remember the storm. They remember the scream that they—and everyone else in the cavernous waiting room—heard when my daughter got a shot. My nephew remembers the scream but also the storm, which in his mind was a tornado. I remember that I was so busy attending to my plan that I missed what was right in front of me–clear signs of a brewing storm.

I hope memory serves me well and launches me straight to lessons learned. Pay attention. Evaluate the plan in light of the moment. Don’t ignore the warning signs.

How about you? Do you pay attention to the warning signs or do you wait for the storm to be nearly upon you?

Linking with Holley and Kelli this week.

What Made Her Sparkle

DSC00643My great-grandma was a woman of summer. She kept a garden and her table overflowed with its bounty. She picked berries for jam and to top ice cream. Once in a while I helped her in the berry patch or the garden and it always shocked me when she showed up in pants. The garden was the only place I ever saw her dressed that way and even there she wore a dress over them, with a long-sleeved shirt and a wide-brimmed straw hat. She was dressed to work.

Right there are four important lessons I could have learned from my Grandma E.B.: Wear appropriate clothing. Protect your skin. Shade your eyes. And, of course, how to garden.

I should have paid more attention.

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She was teaching all the time. She just wasn’t obvious about it. Maybe she wasn’t even aware.

Grandma E.B. knew how to respond to her circumstances. In the garden, she wore pants. In the face of a deer standing in the yard looking like dinner, she became the hunter. After an unexpected move, she looked to Jesus.

She’d moved before, first with her husband from the river valley to a rural acreage; and then alone from the acreage to a tidy mobile home on my grandma and grandpa’s farm. Eventually it was just her and my grandma alone in the country. When Great Grandma’s health failed she moved again, this time to a nursing home.

Her sorrow hung in the room as we stood with awkward smiles and tried to make conversation while she arranged her few belongings on top of a dresser. She’d been there only a day or two and it was through a set jaw that she mumbled something about trying to make the best of it. I knew she wanted to. She wanted to even in the midst of her mourning.

Before long, she noticed the people around her and she realized that some of them might not know Jesus. That was all it took. She got up, left her room, and went out to where the people were.

Life in the nursing home gave Grandma E.B. something that she’d never had, something none of us expected: freedom. She’d never driven; she relied on her husband, and later my grandma, to take her where she wanted to go. In the nursing home she needed neither car nor chauffeur. She had shoes and a Bible, and that’s all she needed to carry out her purpose in that new place and new season.

Her favorite hymn was “Trust and Obey” and that is how she learned to live an unfamiliar life. She trusted. And she obeyed. It was enough. She was free to be happy, not in her circumstances but in Jesus.

My husband and I have lived in four different cities, which is exactly three more than I imagined we would. Each move was unexpected. While some have been like coming home, others were a step into an unfamiliar life.

Grandma E.B.’s quiet lesson on how to live with trust and obedience is one I should have paid attention to long ago. It’s one I need every day.

Not long after her move, Grandma made a small change to her simple wardrobe: She began to wear bead necklaces. I noticed, immediately, but never asked why. It seemed simple enough: They were pretty and she liked pretty things. They were more than that, though. They were a badge of contentment and that made them—and her—beautiful.

Though the direction of her life’s road led away from her garden and her home, she found freedom to thrive, not in her circumstances but in Jesus. And that, like the lovely necklaces which graced her neck, made her sparkle.

And you? What quiet lessons have the women in your life lived out? We’re living lessons, too. What lessons are you living out today?

Sharing What Made Her Sparkle at Chronicles of GraceCoffee for Your Heart, The weekend Brew, and #TellHisStory.

 

Sometimes the Road is Dark

Harney Peak, Custer State Park, South Dakota

Harney Peak, Custer State Park, South Dakota

We don’t always get it right out on the trail.

We knew it would be close. Still, we hopped out at the picnic area, grabbed a late lunch, and prepared to hit the trail to Harney Peak, the highest point in the Black Hills.

My husband filled our camel paks while I reached into our well-stocked supply of nutritious and frivolous trail food. And then, at 3:00 in the afternoon, after an evening and part of a long day in the vehicle, we set out for Harney Peak. It was a six-mile loop, estimated to take four to five hours.  Sunset was four and a half-hours away.  We needed to hurry.

It was like we had never stepped off of a sidewalk.

Stops for snacks out on the trail were a big deal to all three kids. And from our stockpile of trail food what had I grabbed? Not trail mix. Not granola bars. Not fruit. No, I had chosen one tiny candy bar per person. One.

Our youngest was neither a hiker nor a hurrier. My husband and I were road-weary and stiff.

We were in trouble from the moment we set foot on the trail.

Yellowstone 2011 008In spite of our poor planning, it was a fabulous hike that took us over a sun-dappled path and along breathtaking drop-offs. We climbed the stone fire tower and explored the peak before we remembered that we needed to hurry and forced ourselves back to the trail. When we arrived at the fork in the trail, we decided not to return the way we had come, but to take the other section of the loop.

Down the trail, we stood for too long to watch a mule deer pair graze in the drying grass amidst the trees. While we lingered,  the sky took on the melancholy look it gets when it will soon give up the sun. Now we hurried.

At least, we hurried as much as tired, hungry, somewhat dehydrated hikers with youngsters can hurry.

The sky darkened and our pace slowed. My steps became small and timid as my eyes searched the barely visible, unfamiliar trail before me. Roots and gravel, rocks and holes, enemies to my stability under the best circumstances, transformed a pleasant day hike into a perilous evening journey.

While the eerie light of the closing darkness concealed whatever lurked ahead, behind, or beside of the trail, it revealed my place in the world and in its food chain. I began to envision us perched on a rock, shivering away the hours of the long night as we waited for dawn to light our way to the trailhead.

It was in this moment of desperation that my intrepid husband broke out a flashlight and two headlamps that he had stashed in his pack.

It wasn’t a lot of light, but it changed everything.

Where there had been darkness, now there was light—and right where I needed it—on the trail directly in front of my feet. Now, rather than taking one tiny, timid step after another, I hiked like I meant it. My pace matched our urgency to get out of those rocky hills where the mountain lion dwells. I strode with confidence, all because of a tiny pool of light on the path.

While I never relish distressing circumstances, I do appreciate the unmistakable intersection between the truth of scripture and the circumstances of my life. This night was one of those.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105

This is what I want those words to mean: That light will light up my path and the landscape on every side like a football field on a Friday night. One dark night on the trail is all it took to show me that this isn’t how it works.  A light like this cuts through just enough darkness to make the journey possible, one step at a time.

It isn’t a lot of light, but it can change everything.

Just as we don’t always get it right on the trail, I don’t always get it right in my life. I have forgotten the lesson of our hike in the dark. I’ve struggled against darkness on the path in a vain attempt to see the trail ahead. I’ve even ignored the light because it wasn’t where I wanted to walk.

I don’t want to ignore. Or struggle. Or forget.

I want to remember.  I’ll be in the dark again and I want to get it right, to recognize that I don’t have to know how far is the journey, what route the trail will take, or how deep it will take me into the darkness. I want to trust that there will be just enough light for each of my steps.

Our hike in the dark was a long series of steps. What is this life but a series of steps taken by faith?

And you? What guides you when the road ahead is dark?

Linking this week with Emily’s #imperfectprose.


 

This post is a revised version of one of my earliest posts, revised because bullet points are not my style and reposted because it’s one of my favorites. 

Yeah, Little Girl, It Is

This is a revised version of one of my first and favorite posts. I’m revisiting it today because when it originally posted, Along This Road had all of five subscribers. (Thank you, by the way.) It’s different from the original because I’ve learned that no matter what the blogging experts say, bullet points are not my style.


When my oldest daughter was four, we loaded our life and our stuff into a semi and moved across the state. One morning, while I unpacked, my dad took her out to explore the neighborhood. As they investigated the curved and convoluted sidewalk system that made up our new world, he taught her the last stanza of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.”

Every time they came to an intersection they would recite together:

I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood,
And I, I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Then he would let her choose which way they would go. As they meandered along they became delightfully lost.

It was a great day in the life of a four-year old adventurer.

She learned a poem. She’d been the leader. She made it back from the brink of danger.

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Several months later, our family hiked the Natural Bridge trail in Yellowstone National Park. A section of that trail is a loop. We stood behind her at the fork. She recited her poem, chose our road, and set our course. After a few hundred feet down the trail she looked up and declared, “I think this is the road less traveled.”

Yeah, little girl, it is.

It is, literally.  Of the three million people who visit the park each year, most never set foot off of the boardwalk.

It is because she chose it. She stopped. She considered. She followed no crowd nor caved to a false sense of urgency. I have no idea what went on in her young mind, but I know that to stop and consider is too rare and will help her live well.

It is because she was willing, in more words from the same poem, to “keep the first for another day.” She let go of the good for what she thought would be best. I could learn from that girl.

It is because she stood in front.  In that moment she was the leader.  Leaders navigate uncharted roads.

That little girl is now a teenager and I hope she remembers.

I hope she remembers that day with her Pa and everything they discovered about the road less traveled. I hope she remembers that there might be another road to take and recognizes it when she sees it. I hope she knows when to take it and pray she’s strong enough to live with the fallout.

And if ever it seems that the world around her doesn’t quite fit with her or she with it, I hope she regards her road for what it is and declares to herself as she did to us out on the trail, “I think this is the road less traveled.”

Yeah, little girl it is. Enjoy your journey.

08-09 pictures 454Linking this week at  Still Saturday#imperfectprose and Thoughtful Thursday.

Lifelong Learning: Compelled

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When we drove away from Yellowstone earlier this month, we went only as far as we could get in an hour and stopped for a couple of days at a resort famous for its thermally fed, all-season, outdoor pool. We expected to relax with our bodies submerged in the therapeutic ninety-eight degree water as our faces braved the mix of cold air and steam which hovered over the pool and permeated the courtyard. We had not planned on the arrival of the eight ladies on a girls’ weekend. They took over the pool’s northwest corner and the fifty of us who remained drifted to the opposite end.

Even from a distance the group was loud and coarse and on the receiving end of muttered derisive comments from some of the people congregated in the packed half of the pool. The atmosphere was tense. People seemed to feel able to do nothing other than tolerate it or leave. While it was warmer than the previous evening’s thirty-five below zero air, people were not inclined to go.

When the least sober member of the group mooned her companions as she exited the pool, I knew that I had to grow up and talk to her or be willing to leave. Just days earlier I had wondered if I had ever been compelled to do anything and here I was, compelled to act. I hopped out of the pool and into the ten-degree air, padded across the heated tile and into the locker room where I told her privately, quietly, and matter-of-factly that I had a teenage son with me who really didn’t need to see her backside.

I learned a few things during the next few minutes:

  1. Although I see myself as someone who handles neither conflict or confrontation well, it seems that when it was required of me, it was possible for me to deal with it. Well.
  2. Even though I spent the short journey between the pool and locker room contemplating the likelihood that I might get punched out, if that had happened I would have survived. My family (or maybe someone from the pool full of people I was blissfully unaware had watched me head to the locker room) would have come checked on me. Whatever happened, it would have been all right.
  3. One quietly spoken sentence was all it took to change the atmosphere of the whole pool area. The stream of f-bombs dried up, the group subdued itself, and everyone else relaxed and redistributed themselves throughout the pool.
  4. While it’s not always easy, it is right for me as a mom to defend my children’s one short childhood from the thoughtless and uninformed.

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What has life been teaching you?

Linking with Emily at Chatting at the Sky.

Let’s Sit In Front!

Two years ago my parents took all five grandchildren to Florida to the beach and Sea World and Disney World.

Disney World.

My mom looked kind of chagrinned when she brought it up, as though she was worried we might think they had taken leave of their senses. She had reason. When my brother and I were young, our family drove west, not south; we vacationed in the woods, not the city; and rare were our visits to an amusement park.

They take them, all five of them, somewhere every year. I accompanied them on one of these trips. Two words: controlled chaos. Plus hefty doses of work and fun, adventure and love. They come home exhausted.

 

My son is the oldest grandchild and my niece, the youngest. The ten years between them has allowed him to enjoy her in a different way than he has the others. From her toddlerhood he’s carried her on his back when they’ve been on the trail. He pushed her all-terrain stroller down the mile-long switchbacked dirt trail to the Yellowstone River and back up again. He still hoists her up when she’s too little to see.

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Yellowstone River
Yellowstone National Park

They’re pals.

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She was his partner so his was the dilemma when they passed through the gate to the Journey to Atlantis water roller-coaster. He felt her pull on his hand as her little voice called out, “Let’s sit in front! Let’s sit in front!” What was a fifteen year old boy to do? He didn’t want to take her to the front because he knew it would be scary for her but he didn’t want to disappoint her either.

They sat in front.

It was a rough ride. “Let’s sit in front” quickly gave way to “Cover my eyes! Cover my eyes!”

Roller-coasters are punishing. I didn’t know that when I was young. When I climbed out of the car on Adventureland’s Tornado at fourteen, I didn’t know how it would be twenty-five years before I rode again. What was a thrill in my teens was just painful in my thirties. Every hairpin turn shook my rigid body. Every drop rearranged my insides.

I don’t get to choose reality and unlike my niece, I don’t head to the front car. My tendency is to hang to the back and give myself the illusion that I’ve postponed the drop or minimized the effect. I suppose we all have our way of engaging the drops and turns that come our way. This year I’m wondering if I need to shatter the illusion and grow up enough to revisit the zeal of youth that heads toward the front.

And you? Where is your seat of choice on a roller-coaster? How about in life?

Linking with Lyli’s Thought Provoking Thursdays.