Tracks and Transitions

Out west, our family sometimes stays in a cabin on a parcel of land plunked down in the middle of a national forest. There—with no cell service, no cable, and no wifi– we watch the weather unfold in the sky rather than on radar.

A couple of years back, a sunny September afternoon was overshadowed by clouds that rolled in over the Absaroka mountains, dropping rain and then snow as the temperatures plummeted. A splashy snow, it clung to everything it touched—the meadow’s tall grass, the aspen’s still-green leaves, and us. It fell through the afternoon and into the evening. As darkness descended, a movement in the distance prompted us to pick up our binoculars and search. A bull moose was plodding across the meadow, a dark shadow making his way between the hillside and the stream.

Until that moment, the only wildlife we’d spotted at the cabin had been trout and the occasional deer. We knew animals lived in the surrounding woods, of course. The cans of bear spray lined up on top of the refrigerator and three spotting scopes stationed by the windows silently testified to that. We’d just never seen them.

We went to bed, content with the falling snow and the company of the moose.

Morning brought a cloudless sky and a balmy breeze and we left the house to explore. Fresh tracks in the snow revealed that the moose had not been the only wildlife to pass by in the night. A rabbit had wandered around on the deck. A pair of deer had meandered across the dance floor in the meadow. A coyote had preceded us down the driveway between the cabin and the road.

The snow revealed their presence. Click to read the full essay at Kindred Mom.

 

 

 

 

Sparkling in an Unfamiliar Life

My great-grandma was a woman of summer. She kept a garden. She grew the flowers and vegetables that graced her table. She picked the berries that topped our ice cream. Once in a while I helped her in the garden or the berry patch and it always shocked me when she showed up wearing slacks. 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 hat. She was dressed to work.

Right there are four important lessons she taught with her life: Wear appropriate attire. Protect your skin. Shade your eyes. And, of course, keep a garden.

I should have paid more attention.

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

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

She’d moved before, first with my great-grandpa from the river valley to a rural acreage and then alone to a tidy mobile home on her daughter’s farm. When her health failed she moved again, this time to a nursing home.

Her sorrow hung in the room as we stood with awkward smiles, trying to make conversation while she arranged her few belongings on top of a dresser. She’d been there just 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.

It wasn’t long before she noticed that there were other people there with her, people who 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 something she’d never had, something none of us expected: freedom. She’d never driven. She relied on her husband, and later her daughter, 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 place and season.

Her favorite hymn was “Trust and Obey” and that is how she learned to live an unfamiliar life. She trusted. She obeyed. And 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.

My grandma’s quiet lesson about how to live with trust and obedience is another one I should have paid attention to long ago. It’s one I need every day, especially as I step into the unfamiliar areas of my actual, everyday life.

Not long after her move, Grandma made a small change to her wardrobe: She began to wear bead necklaces. I noticed but never asked why. At the time it seemed simple. They were pretty and she liked pretty things. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to believe they were more than mere adornment. Each was a badge of contentment. When 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 necklaces which graced her neck, made her sparkle.

How about you? What do you hold onto as you step into unfamiliar places in your life? Where do you find freedom to thrive? Do those things give you sparkle?


 

“Sparkling in an Unfamiliar Life” is an edited version of an earlier post.

What Gives Her Away

 

Backyard Brilliance

Elyse was four when she first showed us how brave she was—and what mattered enough to bring that bravery out. We’d moved, pulling into the driveway at a new house after dark on a Sunday night and popping out for a pre-school visit at nine the very next morning. During our tour she cast clandestine glances at the other children and when they invited her to stay for their Valentine’s Day party, she smiled and took a chair at their table.

It was her smile that gave her away.

Elyse is known for her smile. It’s ready and open and real. But not that day. That day it was manufactured and careful and maybe a little bit hopeful.

Thirteen years and another move later, we watched as the landscape of her face gradually flattened from its gentle contours into the hard line of a midwestern highway. Her smile gave her away again. It was gone. I knew why, and that we had to act because when my own smile had faded away a few years before, it was action that saved me.

I’d been lonely. Devastatingly so. We’d moved again, this time to a place where I found myself surrounded by people who called me friend but hadn’t made room for real relationship. Without companionship, I lost hope and withered away spiritually, emotionally, and physically, enduring rather than enjoying my life. So when I stepped out of the shower one morning–already weary and ready for the day to be done–and turned on a random podcast, I expected diversion. What I got was direction: There are friends who need you and friends who you need. If you need a friend, go out and find one. It sounded like a simple solution, but it was new to me. Click here to continue reading. 

Loneliness. It’s painful,  deeply personal, and seemingly pervasive in our culture today. There’s  a conversation underway over at kindredmom.com  this month about combatting loneliness. Join in and read more at Kindred Mom about our family’s experience with loneliness and steps we took to combat it . Click here to read the full essay.

 

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.

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

Before It Blows Away

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The screen door crashed and muted footfalls raced across the carpet. “Come outside and look at the sky before it blows away!” called my littlest girl.

“Before what blows away?”

“The sky, it’s beautiful! But the clouds are moving really fast. I’m afraid you’ll miss it if you don’t come now, before the clouds blow away.”

I sighed.  What I really wanted to do was finish the dishes, but I dried my hands and followed my husband out the front door and up the driveway where we took our place behind our daughter. She gazed up at an impressionist’s sky, magenta bordered by blue and orange, molten sun captured and smudged with white clouds that swirled over our heads.

She was right; the sky was beautiful. But it was nothing compared with the little girl.

Beauty reveals itself to her everywhere and she’s got this breathy little gasp that lets us know when she’s spotted it. She likes my outfit? Delighted gasp. She sees a picture of an artfully set table? Delighted gasp. She walks out onto snowy path? Delighted gasp.

She sees. I could learn from that girl.

What I saw that night was not the sky. I saw the girl in front of it and I watched the wispy remains of her childhood blowing past as quickly as the clouds above our heads. And like the clouds, it’s moving on to make room for something new, something equally lovely.

Lovely, but different. I don’t want to miss what childhood remains while it’s here.

Even if it means leaving the dishes.

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Sharing stories this week with the writers at Kelli’s Unforced Rhythms.

The Road Ahead: October

DSC00827My oldest childrenwere six and three when Jonah—A Veggie Tales Movie came out. When we went to see it, they hopped down the street toward the theater with glee. All their favorites were on the big screen: Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber, Junior Asparagus, and Archibald the, well, we never did decide what Archibald was, but he played Jonah.

The movie featured a new character, a decidedly non-vegetable named Khalil, a little guy who struggled to find his own road and turned to motivational tapes to help him find it–tapes which featured a soothing voice that told him useful bits of insight such as, “You are a skilled metal worker.”

“I am a skilled metal worker?” said an amazed Khalil. “I did not know that!”

The Veggie Tales creators know their audience. The kids loved it. They thought it was hilarious. They repeated it for months.

One morning after going through a Khalil-and-the-motivational-tape routine, my son stopped suddenly and said, “It’s funny that Khalil has to listen to those ear muffs to know who he is.”

Even as I exchanged one of those he’s-so-funny looks with my husband and laughed with our kids, I knew my son had given me something to think about: How do I know who I am?

It’s a question I have to revisit occasionally, often because I’ve fallen apart a little—evidence that I’m listening to the generic and useless and dated information.

As we step out on our road this month, may each of us know who we are based on today’s truth rather than yesterday’s worn out distortion. May we disregard the voices that know just enough to be dangerous and heed the One Voice that knows us. And through the trials that come our way, may we seek to know Him.

Sharing stories with the writers at Unforced Rhythms.