She Needed Me to Play

Dance FloorSometimes, when we head west, we land for a few days at a cabin. In a meadow in Custer National Forest, it’s far enough from civilization that the siren song of phone, internet, and television falls silent, replaced by the gentler sounds of wind in the trees and water dancing over boulders. There, the weather unfolds in the sky rather than on radar.

After a series of bright, high country autumn days, the sun succumbed to a veil of clouds which rolled in over the mountain, bringing with them a cold, splashy snow that blanketed everything it touched.

Fly-fishermen in the Snow

It fell through the afternoon and into the evening. As night closed in, we noticed a dark figure in the distance, a bull moose making his way across the meadow, an inky shadow plodding through the haze. We’d never seen a moose here before and we watched it until it disappeared into the trees.

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When morning came we threw on our coats and burst into the bright day, the snow already succumbing to the warmth of the air and the rays of the sun. Impressions in the snow revealed that the moose had not been the only wildlife to pass through in the night. Deer tracks meandered over the cabin’s wooden dance floor and a coyote left prints for us to follow down the driveway.

Deer Tracks on the Dance Floor

We’d known the animals were there. In the middle of a national forest how could they not be? But until that morning we’d seen only trout at the end of the line and an occasional deer.

Tracks in the snow proved their presence.

Down the Road

We headed to the meadow to search for the moose’s tracks. Unlike those at the cabin, his were gone, concealed by the snow that fell into the night. So we followed the road over the stream and between the frosted trees as it led higher up the mountain and deeper into the forest.  At a bend in the road, our son stopped and pointed down at a series of tracks across the road, fresh tracks, clear like those of the deer and the coyote back at the cabin.

Bear tracks.

The best bear defense is a good offense and a good offense is avoidance, so we retreated. And we let him know we were there by going back down the road in the same way we had come up: talking and laughing, planning for the day ahead, but always, always mindful of the presence of the bear in the forest.

After the snow

With the cabin in sight, I felt the familiar relief of having made it back from the wilds with the whole tribe intact, unharmed and uneaten. J must have felt the same, because he launched a snowball at our son just as our oldest girl, who’d been walking a little ahead of the rest of us, entered the cabin.

I paused, torn between heading in and staying out. Snowball fights aren’t my thing. Playing isn’t really my thing. At least, not playing the way kids like to play. I’ll play the game or work the easy puzzle for a while. I’ll hike. I’ll read a book. But play?

I walked to the door and called to my daughter, the one our littlest girl misses because they don’t play together much anymore, and we followed the laughter and squeals around the cabin to where the battle had spilled, and I bent to make a snowball of my own. It fell short. Woefully short. But every one of us was in the game.

Cabin in the Snow

In the midst of it, my girlie sidled up to me. “Thanks for telling me about the snowball fight,” she said.

“I didn’t think you’d want to miss it.”

“I knew there ‘d be a snowball fight,” she said, “but I didn’t know you would play.”

She needed me. She needed to see me play and laugh, to show her that even though growing up is serious business it isn’t all seriousness all the time. And she needed me to show her the way.

The next morning, the moose was back, a dark silhouette weaving in and out of the aspen and pine that bordered the yard, just one of a forest full of animals always present but rarely seen.

And like the woodland creatures that hint at their presence more than they show themselves, the wandering steps on the winding path between childhood and adulthood are easy to miss. They’re watching us, those kids, looking to us to show them the way.

Watching

Linking at Small WondersUnite, #RARA,  Thought Provoking Thursday and Weekend Whispers.

Where She Belonged

Path through the trees

I woke, just after midnight, to contractions. Forcing myself to remain motionless under the covers, I tried to convince myself that it was nothing more than a long series of Braxton-Hicks and go back to sleep. But the contractions were strong and regular, each one arriving with just a little less time between it and the one before, and the baby wasn’t due for another six weeks.

When our previous baby made her entrance into the world, she’d been in a rush. Not the early arrival kind of hurry—she’d been overdue. No, she’d arrived just moments after my husband and I walked through the door to the OB unit in a hospital a mere three blocks from our home.

With that in mind, I imposed a deadline of October 31 to complete my out-of-town Christmas shopping. I had no desire to be on the road when I went into labor. I wanted to be where I belonged, close to home,  near my own doctor and the hospital where he practiced.

On the day of my final shopping trip, I drove to the mall with my four-year-old daughter, whose short strides matched my waddling steps. We walked the full length of both floors of the mall. We stopped at Target and Lowes and strip mall stores I can’t even remember. We put in a long and slow-moving day, but when it was over, we’d finished the shopping. But then I found myself, just an hour after laying my weary head on the pillow, awake, uncertain, and lamenting the fact that I had overdone it.

A few hours in a softly lit room hooked up to a monitor  gave me time to consider the uncertainties of life in light of the first Christmas.

Did Mary hope, I wondered, she and Joseph would make it to Bethlehem and back before the birth of the baby? Or did she know that the baby would arrive on the journey? Like me, she probably wanted to be at home, where she belonged, with the village midwife and familiar women to help her. But unlike me, she didn’t have the luxury of deciding when she would and would not leave town. Mary left for Bethlehem regardless of her own desires, comfort, or plans. She went because Caesar decreed it.

At least, that’s what it looked like.

Mary, along with her countrymen, were part of Caesar’s Rome, a government which controlled their lives and their finances, one which they looked to the promised Messiah to save them from. They had no choice but to go wherever and whenever the expansive Roman Empire ordered. Even women who were great with child.

But Rome wasn’t the ultimate authority.

Mary made the uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem–the city of her husband’s ancestors–in the final days of her pregnancy, not by choice, not by coincidence, not even because of Caesar’s edict. She went because that’s where she belonged, because that’s how God said the Savior’s arrival would unfold.

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The contractions faded away to nothing but doctor’s orders for bedrest and the baby held off until days before Christmas, just like she was supposed to. I was glad she waited, grateful for the memory of those unexpected hours in the hospital, a memory which surfaces once in a while to remind me of the truth of the first Christmas–that God wasn’t bound by Bethlehem’s city limits to choose the mother of Jesus, that he could turn even the heart of the mighty Caesar, that even through all the years of his people waiting and all the miles of Mary’s uncomfortable, uncertain journey he had a plan and the power to bring it about.

He knew where Mary belonged and how to get her there. He knows where we belong, how to get us from where we are to where we need to be. We wait. We wonder. Sometimes uncomfortable. Often uncertain.

He, however, is not uncertain. He is unbound by all the things that bind us, able to turn hearts, able to bring about his plan–both for forever and for tomorrow– for you, for me, for a broken and hurting world. That is a Christmas reality to celebrate.

Merry Christmas to us.

The King’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord;
He turns it wherever He wishes. Proverbs 21:1

Sharing Where She Belonged at Small Wonders, #TellHisStory and Thoughtful Thursday.

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.

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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

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.

Why Summer Matters

A tiny ball of feline fluff has taken up residence in our garage. She moved in at the invitation of our youngest, herself a petite bundle of boundless energy. Our girlie made the little grey cat a bed, set up a feeding station, and installed a litter box, and then she set up a pup tent for herself. For two weeks she slept in a sleeping bag on a concrete floor because right now her energy is focused on waiting for the arrival of the summer’s kittens.

Kittens don’t always arrive in the long glory days of summer. Sometimes they’re born in September and in September there would be no sleeping on the concrete floor. In July, though, she can afford a few fitful nights. She can sleep late because summer, with its long, school-free days offers up time to her–and to us–as a gift.haybales

September’s song tells us that there’s too much going on, too much need to wake early, ready for school, for dance, for whatever the calendar says is next. Summer sings a different melody, one of space, of simple pleasures, of growth. While it’s a different song, it isn’t always easy.

It takes an effort to, as Emily Freeman says, take the changes of the seasons and apply them to our lives.

Sometimes it seems easier declare an immediate “no” to tents in the garage and  “later” to twilight walks with the family and impromptu conversations on our rock wall with my husband. Sometimes it seems more important to keep on doing All The Usual Things and just try to balance all the summer extras on top. And sometimes, when the end comes–whether it’s the end of summer or a little one’s childhood, I wonder why I feel as though I missed it. Or lost it. Or wasted it.

Summer’s not gone. It’s still offering up long days, warm nights, time in a different form. We can still take the changes of summer and apply them to life, to today and tomorrow.

Why does summer matter to you?

For everything there is a season

Sharing Why Summer Matters at Small Wonders and Thought Provoking Thursday.

Celebrating Spring

Mossy Tree at LeHardy Rapids

Spring is well under way and I’m celebrating. Some of these celebrations are borne from intention while others occur as naturally as breath. They are, in random order:

Color

Green grass and leaves, flowering trees and shrubs are here. They’ve created a feast for my earth-tone weary eyes and I am grateful.

Time

After a long too-busy season, life for our family slowed enough for us to take a deep breath. That same season, known at our house as robotics, may come again. We’re trying to decide whether or not to say “yes” to that and, if so, how we’ll approach it so that we’ll live closer to thrive than survive.

Celebrations

Yes, we’re trying to celebrate celebrating at our house–more joy in simple pleasures. I’m trying to reestablish the habit of using the good stuff because it’s not that much extra effort and they, my family and the others who come to our house, are worth it.

One easy celebration: Saturday morning brunch. Gingerbread for my son. Paper straws, cloth napkins, and proper tea cups for my daughters.

Graduation

I’m not celebrating the fact that my oldest is leaving us; I’ve ticked off (read mourned) lots of lasts since he was tiny. Right now I am celebrating that fact that he’s healthy and strong and ready to move on to the next phase of his life.

Natural Music

I heard my first bird of the season as I walked toward church one Sunday morning and the song lifted a ten pound burden from my soul. Weeks later, the frogs joined in. The warmer the day, the louder they chirp. Natural music gives me hope.

The Table

It’s the season for meats and veggies grilled on the deck. Indoors, this recipe for Carne Asada Nachos in the crock pot has become a versatile staple for our springtime table. Beyond nachos it’s perfect for burrito bowls or wrapped up in a tortilla. A fun morning celebration: a Marmalade Roll, straight from Narnia, or at least from The Unofficial Narnia Cookbook.

And you? What are you celebrating this spring?For everything there is a season