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.

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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?

Roads in Transition, Part 2

haveyoubeenaskingOn December 12 the National Park Service posted a news release to inform the public that Yellowstone’s interior roads would open on December 15, just as predicted.

Yellowstone’s fall and winter travelers knew when the road crews would start to let the snow build, when they’d get dangerous, and when they’d be safe for snow machines.

They knew.

Sometimes I wish I knew. You know, about changes, about transitions. About the things I’m waiting for and the ones I’m dreading. I imagine that a little more information would help me hang on. Often, a more accurate assessment would be that I desperately crave more information because, well, because I want to know. Just a little more.

Just a little more information. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Maybe.

But maybe I know enough. Maybe we know enough.

We know that our little ones grow older before our eyes. We can’t miss our body’s intermittent reminders that we’re doing the same thing. We see our children go through rough patches just as we did, and we know that, like our parents before us, we’ll tread some deep water.

Advanced notice doesn’t seem to help. Knowing there’s a baby on the way or the nest is about to empty doesn’t make it easy.

We live lives of constant fluctuation. Change lurks somewhere around the bend. Either the road will begin to clear or begin to get rough, at least until the next transition brings more change.

We also know that there is only One who never changes.

Every January these words from Oswald Chambers turn me from what I want to know to what I need to know: Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you. God does not tell you what He is going to do— He reveals to you who He is. 

And that’s enough. All the rest? That’s too much to handle.

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Read part 1 of Roads In Transition here.

Sharing Roads In Transition, Part 2 at  Unforced Rhythms and Thought Provoking Thursday

The Single Seat

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During the first months of the year, a friend and I directed a play together: Outlaws, Goldmines, and Whatnot. On performance day, I realized that our directing work was done. Oh, we had makeup to help with, questions to answer, and I gave what one of the boys called my Storming the Beach at Normandy speech but now it was up to the actors.

They had worked. They knew their lines. They understood their characters and their place in the story. What they didn’t know was how the audience would respond.

The lights went down and they took the stage. The play began and the audience laughed.

That was new.

So they adapted. They repeated the lines swallowed up by the laughter. Then they thought ahead. All those lines that had tickled them in the early practices, in the days before they were numbed by weeks of repetition? They paused after those, ready for the audience to fill the gap.

Their acting changed, too. The outlaws were badder. Romance was more romantic. Bravado, more nauseating. It was fabulous, just exactly as it should be.

On the stage.

My daughter was on that stage. As she effused her thrill at being spoke to by a young count she’d been secretly admiring, my friend leaned in close to whisper, “Look at her play to the audience!”

Maternal pride mingled with unexpected sadness. That sweet girl wants to be an actor someday. She loves to make people happy and I hope she keeps her acting to the stage and out of the rest of her life.

All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players; They all have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts; His act being seven stages. –William Shakespeare, As You Like It

We enter, helpless and naked and we’ll exit, feeble and frail. We aren’t here long before the audience comes into play.

From my seat I could tell that not all of the laughers responded in the same places. Some lines elicited laughter from across the theater. Others got a reaction from one section while the rest of the audience remained quiet. And sometimes the laughter came from a single seat.

The response from the single seat was subtle. The actors were busy acting and I don’t know if they even noticed it. In life, though, it is the one we need to attend to.

It’s hard to resist playing to the reacting audience, especially for those of us who like to make people happy. Just as people in the audience responded to different lines, the people in our lives will be pleased by different things.

So Shakespeare is right. Kind of.

All the world. Absolutely. The audience is there, but we get to choose who we will play to, who we will set out to please. Will it be made up of the ones who call so loudly, the ones our hearts nearly insist we try to please? Or will it be the One in the single seat, the One voice that really matters, even when everyone else is silent?

Sharing this week at Lyli’s Thought Provoking Thursday, Kelli’s Unforced Rhythms, Jennifer’s #TellHisStory,  and Holley’s Coffee for Your Heart.

 

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.