On Being Made New

It’s the last Saturday in August, the final weekend before school starts. Part of me wants to rush do all the FUN THINGS because it’s, well, the last week before school. But the grown-up part of me says, “shhhhh. We’ve done all the things. Let’s just finish the summer well.”

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I’m still figuring out what that means, exactly. We’ve already camped and picnicked and spent countless hours at the waterpark. We’ve had ice cream and popsicles to our heart’s content. We’ve gone on adventures with family and had long, lazy weekends with friends. I’ve been to Paris. Jason’s been to Colorado and the BWCAW. It’s been a beautiful summer.

Last week I found myself planning very little. Doctor appointments, perhaps. A play date, sure. But beyond that, I wanted us all to have the margin to just BE. To practice cartwheel after cartwheel on the trampoline. To run out and hold baby kittens anytime we want. To scatter Legos in wide, clattering swaths across the floor and write picture books with bold red crayons.

I want these last, foggy, unrushed mornings to be full of grace. I think this means immediately saying “yes” a lot, because normally, I say “when I’m finished…”. I’m still working this one out.

School supplies are packed in backpacks, and everyone has new shoes. The drawers are organized, the house is marginally clean and functional, and we’ve taken to leaving the windows open at night to filter in the cool evening air. This morning Lucy asked me when it was going to snow. It’s as though everyone understands change is eminent.

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I understand this change most by what’s coming out of the garden.

It’s been a great year for growing things, and August is the peak of goodness in my yard. The tomatoes are heavy and firm. The dark green zucchini and cucumbers still come with regularity. The carrots are crunchy and sweet. Broccoli crowns are just starting to appear, and the sweet peppers turn from green to red and orange every other day. The herbs are a wild tangle of goodness that add brightness and flavor to everything, and the whole works screams Life! Life!

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The challenge, as it always is, is to use this bounty well. This year I tried my hand at both savory dill and sweet refrigerator pickles. The freezer is filling up with bags of tomato basil soup and shredded zucchini for sweet bread. I vacuum sealed seven pounds of edamame pods as a side for dumplings and stir fry.

Yesterday, we made our first batch of impromptu apple sauce with early honey crisp apples that we picked from a few of the trees in our mini-orchard whose branches needed lightening.

All of these things feel like a rhythm to me, something almost elemental. It feels good to slow down to the pace of ripening, washing and de-stemming tomatoes. The water is warm, streaming over my hands. The skin of the tomato glows red as the and grit and dust runs off. I hold it in my palm, watching it become something new, something ripe with potential.

Working with food in its raw state is to trust the power of transformation. It’s the understanding that roasting tomatoes and garlic and onions can result in the silky smoothness of our favorite soup. It’s having faith that the long dirty fingers of carrots that come out of the ground will become the tender sweet snack we have at 10:23 a.m. when everyone has declared a state of emergency until their stomachs are fed STAT.

It’s everyday magic, cultivating knowledge and wonder at the same time.

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***

On Monday I had the opportunity to go down to the Bethesda rehab hospital in St. Paul and visit some friends who are there working through the aftermath of a stroke. I brought my thick green canvas hymnbook and we sat in a semi-circle, singing truth and life into the cool sterility of the hospital room.

I also tucked a few songs from the previous Sunday’s church service into the hymnal at the encouragement of a few friends (a whole different story for another post). Little bits and phrases from all those songs have stuck with me this week, like post-it notes hanging around in my brain.

                “Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow.”

“With me in the dark, with me at the dawn.

                “Though He giveth or He taketh, God his children ne’er forsaketh.”

“You are making all things new.”

It is difficult to understand how life can look so very different in just an instant. Or how we can be planning and waiting and living in fullness right alongside someone who’s story has been arrested by a drastic, silent pause.

But perhaps this partnership is necessary.

Maybe we all need to be reminded that our time here is never static; it is continually moving, growing, pausing, transforming. That no matter our place in the cycle of seasons and activity, we are constantly being made new in even the most unlikely circumstances, like when Gatsby said, “Life starts all over again when things get crisp in the fall.”

We are made new every time we see or do something that changes our perspective: when our eyes see new scenery, when we learn a new skill, when we hold one another close, building fresh layers of trust and love. It’s a beautiful process, this grace of newness. I am incredibly grateful for it.

Perhaps it’s an echo from our Creator, a living, breathing reminder that God himself is more than statue and edifice. He is continually at work on our behalf in this process, and has so much to teach us when we follow after his leading.

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

The change of seasons always holds a certain allure to me, a promise of something different. But it’s also a poignant reminder that time does not stop, nor should it. Time is a necessary partner in the process of being made new. It is not our enemy; it’s the signage in our journey, reminding us what and where we’ve been.

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The Only Way to Start

I unlocked the door and pushed the familiar curve of the handle into my old kitchen. I was hoping for good news to share with my husband about our former residence-turned-rental. The former renters had moved out, and a wonderful family was moving in in five days. Meanwhile, I didn’t have huge expectations. Just empty space, wiped down cupboards, maybe even a clean refrigerator.

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Creepy-doll selfie courtesy my four year old

Alas.

Giant black garbage bags squatted in corners, half open, half full of leftover belongings that must not have made the cut. My daughter immediately found a creeptastic purple doll and ran to the bathroom. “She should not be in the garbage. She needs a bath, mama.” I mumbled something incoherent and opened the fridge, appraising the damage of what looked like spilled BBQ sauce. Please let it be BBQ sauce.

I closed the fridge and let my eyes stumble over the entire kitchen. Layers of grime. Dirty woodwork. Spiderwebs draped casually along the walls and in the corners. The rest of the main level was mostly vacant and begging for some serious broom, shop-vac, and window washing love.

I could still hear the water running and my daughter chiding the purple doll. Honey, you have to wash your hair. You have tangles! Hold still! 

I took a deep breath and climbed the stairs, which still creaked and groaned the same song as when we lived there for six years. The second level was only slightly better. One garbage bag, one tube TV that time forgot. Bathroom drawers scattered with broken earrings and crushed bits of blush. A cheap, anise-lavender scented bubble bath gift set still tied in a gaudy gold bow. Broken blinds. Carpet littered with a mysterious miscellany of broken toys, leftover markers, half-sucked candy.

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ALL THE FEELINGS indeed.

I wandered back down to the kitchen. Then back to the dining room. Then back into the kitchen. I picked up a few dusty glasses left on the buffet and put them on the counter. I opened the oven. Coughed. Opened the freezer. Gagged. My arms suddenly felt like hundred pound weights. I was stuck. I stopped and stood there, hostage to ALL THE FEELINGS.

And then I did what any child need of rescue does. I called my mom.

She listened patiently to my list of and this was dirty and that was a mess and this needs to be replaced and there are scratches here and… She gave a few suggestions. We talked through whether or not the oven had a self-cleaning function. Bless it. It did.

But then I started escalating again, whining about how even the screen door was disGUSTING. So start there, she said. Sometimes the best place to start is with what you see first. Then work your way in. That way, the next time you come in from that direction, you won’t be so discouraged.

It made good sense. She promised to pray, and I promised to calm down. My daughter had finally finished washing the doll and was setting up a tea party with some old shot glasses she found in a drawer. I opened the bottom cupboard and found a turkey roasting pan, which paired nicely with a dusty bottle of vinegar left under the sink, some warm water, and a half-used roll of paper towels.

IMG_20150827_084630Because sometimes, the only way to start is to start. 

I’ve seen that saying a hundred times in Instagram and Facebook posts. Usually it’s in block font with a picture of a person running up a path that’s eventually going to lead them up a mountain, or something glorious and motivational like that. It’s never with a background of a dirty door smeared with greasy fingerprints and old ketchup stains. And yet.

The only way to start was really as simple as that.

Start.

Start with what I saw first. With what I knew I could manage. It didn’t matter how bad the whole of it was. The whole was frightening.

But the door? The door was doable. I could handle cleaning a door.

I just had to start.