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.

Beating back the dark side of Christmas

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It’s the Friday before the second weekend in December. My approaching day is full of party prep activities, Christmas card pickups, grocery shopping runs with three children. I feel tired before I even peel my face off of the pillow.

Nevertheless, I get up early to sit, breathe, read, pray. For the moment, our house and its inhabitants are quiet, windows still turning a shoulder to darkness.

Each day this dark encroaches further, stealing into our hours of light.

It will continue to do this until the winter solstice, December 21st. On that day, Earth’s northern pole will see twenty-four hours of solid darkness.

It’s strange. We call Christmas the season of light, though in reality, it’s the exact opposite.

Christmas descends into the darkest hours of our year.

Here on the farm, we’ve found the miniature nails and hung the aging, craft-store garland that somehow survives year to year. The tree is brilliant in a new corner of the living room, a wonder after having fallen on the piano and the floor three times so far. Almost every room hosts a new light, sparkle, shine.

But outside, darkness weaves into the fabric of winter blue sky sooner than we’re ready for.

It seems as though there is less time.

Which isn’t true, exactly, but no one quite believes it. The first wave of holiday busyness is in full swing, and we’ve started to feel the pinch. The presents that took too long to find and cost a little too much. The magical cookie making that turned into a three hour flour-and-sugar marathon. The half-empty boxes of decorations waiting to be sifted through, hung, arranged.

And everyone tells us to slow down, pause, be present….and then buy this. Wear that. Hang this. Smell that.

Darkness laughs.

It knows, deep down, we’re afraid. Afraid of missing the season, never quite engaging, spending our time going through the motions, producing cheap shine and scraps of tinsel.

Every December, we set off on a great journey to the 25th. It looks nothing like the journey of the original Christmas story, the one where Joseph and his very pregnant betrothed, Mary, walked/rode on a donkey for 80 miles to follow a government mandate and register for a census.

We see concerts. They saw the backside of the donkey in front of them. We splurge on special foods. They ate travel food – stale bread, hard cheese, watered down wine (hardly the recommended diet for a pregnant mother.) We snuggle down deep in our beds. They slept on the cold, rocky ground.

It was, in fact, only day after day of hardship that finally led them to a dusty, crap-smelling stable in Bethlehem.

It’d be easy to miss that, too.

A baby born in the darkness of a cow barn, supposedly a king.

A baby foretold to make a way for mankind.

A way to find God. To stop going through the motions and know Him.

To hear Him. See Him.

To be illuminated by the Light of the world.

Which has nothing to do with what kind of appetizers I set out for a party… and everything to do with the way I love and bless my guests when they walk into my kitchen.

Nothing to do with presents… and everything to do with the appreciation they convey.

Nothing to do with picture perfect cards… and everything to do with the way they encourage and brighten others.

To purpose to see every small celebration of the season as a pinprick of light, a joyful response.