These unexpected gifts

The summer morning air is cool and heavy. I instantly feel it resting on my forehead and arms as I cross the yard to let the chickens out. My yellow farm clogs leave dark footprints in the grass, proof of life in the quiet, early hours. I open the coop and watch the chickens pour out in a flurry of feathers and straw, then turn to the bigger coop housing the ducks and meat chickens. Something green hanging on the barn catches my eye.

Every so often in the summer, and usually after a rain, the farm becomes home to some amazing moths. We’ve found various Polyphemus types resting in the grass, but this moth was new to me. Her wings were a perfect creamy green, with four small, yellow markings, and her antennae were like an intricate ivory lattice that twitched gently.

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I finished chores and came back to check on her, and, knowing how excited the girls would be, decided to bring her inside. I gently reached my hand under her wings and waited until the delicate legs grasped my finger, and then slowly carried her into the house. The girls were thrilled, and no matter how many times I reminded them to move slowly and quietly, they shrieked and jumped with excitement.

Picturing a sticky preschooler foot as an untimely cause of demise, I scooped up the moth, which I later looked up and discovered was called a Luna, and set her back outside. After a wobbly start on the grass, the moth suddenly started shivering (a precursor to flight), and then caught the breeze and fluttered into the sky, looking for all the world like a delicate leaf suddenly come to life.

I stood back up, brushing my hands on my knees, and watched the grays and blues of the clouds marble the sky. And in that moment, I decided it would be a slow day for me and the children. A day for margin, for space. A day for looking for the extraordinary in the framework of our normal lives.

***

We spent the morning sprawled on the rug, playing games, clapping for the baby who practiced his squats and stands with the dogged determination of an Olympic athlete. His strong legs pushed him up and down, and I marveled at how tall he’d grown, and how much work it must be to learn the art of balance and motion.

We moved outside to the swings, the bikes, the trampoline. The baby joined me in the garden and learned the sheer joy of smearing, squashing, and raking his way through the dirt. I staked peas, pulled weeds, spent time staring at the intricacies of the flowers in bloom. Instead of rushing from one thing to the next, I slowed down. Took notice. Enjoyed.

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The rest of the day flowed steady, easy, like water from the garden hose. Please don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t perfect. The girls fought over stuffed animals. The baby cried and messed an extraordinary amount of diapers and clothes. I still did dishes and laundry and sweeping and the lego-to-heel dance of pain.

But somehow, those things were okay too. It seemed that having margin for both joy and error was equally important. After all, life doesn’t favor one or the other. Could it be that joy and error were necessary partners in the everyday?

***

Later, we piled into the van and headed for the library, where we ran into our neighbors and miraculously both had time to chat. A surprise text landed us next to my best friend for supper at the local Drive In, where our kids ran circles around the fountain pond and chowed down on hamburgers.

Out of nowhere, someone anonymously paid for our family’s meals. I looked up from wiping food off the baby’s face, and stared incredulously at the waitress when she told us. I couldn’t have been more surprised, or more grateful. We hopped back in the van and left the radio off, making time instead to talk about the about the gifts of thoughtfulness, of generosity, of blessing.

Later that night, I kept thinking, “I could have missed this entire day.” And in a sense, it was true. Yes, I would have lived and breathed for the same 24-hour period. But it would have been easy enough to hurry my way through chores before diving into house tasks, and miss the experience of the Luna moth delicately spiraling into the sky.

I could have skipped playtime to fold and put away laundry. I could have thrown together something quick for lunch instead of making my daughter’s favorite meal. I could have said no to the library, which would have then been easier to decline meeting up with my best friend, and not afforded me the chance for sharing an unexpected object lesson on generous living with my kids.

I could have missed it all.

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When I create space to say yes, to be awake, stay present, and actively appreciate the good things in my life, I rarely feel as though my minutes pass me by, or that they’ve gone too fast. Savoring my days ensures that even if I look back and yearn for a certain time period again (newborn stage, anyone?), I can know I lived those moments to the fullest, leaving no space for regret. Conversely, time moves slowest when I put the blinders on, doggedly pushing forward, bound by my own perception of duty in lieu of enjoyment.

And some days, that might be reality. Some days are meant for doing, moving, accomplishing. Some days run beautifully on a schedule. But when we’re given the opportunity and reminder to slow down, to watch, and to feel grateful, there’s endless surprise and delight waiting in life’s simple, unexpected gifts.

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In Plenty and In Want

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Thanksgiving came in a beautiful tide, activities and planning washing in and out of our weekend. There was family, there were friends, there were two gallon ziplock bags of the best leftover smoked turkey ever.

Somewhere in the middle of my celebrating, a family down the road from us faced a tide of their own, one that took their daughter away and wouldn’t give her back.

Gratitude is like a beach full of startled gulls, lifting and swooping in unison. They settle and the beach is thick with their presence. They leave and the emptiness is wide. Deafening.

Peru 124Some days, a house is brimming with life and activity. Others, the afternoon sky turns gray and everything falls to sadness.

The awful truth is that we must somehow live with them both.

The times of feasting and fasting.

The places where gratitude washes over our souls with all the goodness in the world, and the places left when the tide goes out, waterlogged sand crumbling beneath our feet.

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.

Reality gives us no other choice but to accept it. The table is full. The bed lies empty.

But we have a harder time with the next sentence. The one where Job says, Blessed be the name of the Lord. Because whether it’s in plenty or in want, we get overwhelmed. Finishing the phrase is the last thing on our minds.

Goodness carries us into laughter and revelry, busyness and schedules, making it easy for the heart to forget its praise.

Sadness takes our breath away. We are rocked with confusion, questioning everything, our eyelids burning with salty tears.

In both circumstances, we often find it easier to say nothing.

And then Love steps in.

The party dies down, and friends begin helping with the dishes. Seeing their hands scraping plates draws gratitude back to the table.

A community gathers. Floods a sorrowing threshold with meals and cards. Offers anything. Everything. Slowly, heads are lifted.

Love goes to work, and somehow, our mouths remember the rhythm of the word Blessed.

Because rhythm leads to movement. Movement to awakening.

And Love stretches out its nail-scarred hands, teaching us how to be present to one another wherever we are.

Whole or broken.

Full or empty.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

38 weeks and 6 days: The Waiting Games

IMG_0602It starts around three in the morning, this inability to sleep.

There’s nothing to do at this point but make another pilgrimage to the bathroom. On my way down, it occurs to me that I’ve never once paused to be thankful for not tumbling down the stairs during my uneven state of half-asleep hallway meanderings.

In fact, there are a great many things I should really take the time to be consciously be thankful for that have happened over the past few months.

(And in case you’re wondering, getting one more extension on inducing is one of them. We now have until next Tuesday, July 16.)

I can tell I haven’t done that recently – been consciously, list it out, write it down, thankful.

A few hours ago, my husband hugged me before bed. He told me to try to enjoy these last few days of pregnancy the best I could. I snorted like some sort of Spanish bull.

But it’s what I’ve thought about all night, in a roundabout sort of way. How to be thankful for things in your life you don’t feel thankful for.

Nightly bathroom walks. 14 pounds of baby tucked safely between my ribs and hips. This period of what feels like constant waiting, waiting, waiting.

To be honest, sometimes all I want to do is gripe to myself. Feel sorry for myself. Take shower after shower because it’s one of the only sensory things that takes all the discomfort away as I wait for these babies to arrive.

I believed the stories that everyone told me about twins coming early. 36 weeks, 37 weeks, 38 weeks. I ticked them off on my fingers and held my breath. Any day. Any day now.

And yet, this coming Monday marks 39 weeks. I never expected to carry this long. Quite the opposite, in fact. And now that it’s here, I’m having the audacity not to be thankful for it?

I climb back in bed, rearrange my pillows for the millionth time, and wait for the babies to settle in. This is always a reassuring part of my evenings, because I can feel both girls readjusting themselves from vertical to horizontal. I put a hand on my stomach and wait patiently for them to calm. One of them responds, a small movement tracing itself under my palm.

I smile.

For this, I can choose to be thankful. It really can be that simple. Gratitude can be a choice. David the psalmist made it in Psalm 130:

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

He continued to wait – enough so that he wrote down his metaphor twice to remind himself of his intent.

But notice his focus. He was waiting not on the thing that was coming, but on God himself. On God who never failed him, never left him, never gave him any cause to doubt His provision.

So. Here in our little corner of Taylors Falls, we continue to wait. And in my case, take plenty of naps.