Onward: Kindergarten, Apples, and Hope

Honeycrisp apple treeThe fall that we moved to our hobby farm, my husband planted a small orchard of Honeycrisp apple trees in the front yard. The following year, we had twin babies, an active toddler, and one of the worst winters in memory. Newscasters kept calling it a polar vortex; I called it a one-way ticket to stay-at-home-mom insanity.

In the spring, (the late, late spring that year), a few of the apple trees barely leafed out. Some developed a blackish type of rot, and others just withered. Every so often, my husband would stalk across the yard carrying an uprooted sapling and add it to the burn pile. Meanwhile, he carefully tended to the rest of the trees: pruning, fertilizing, fencing, weeding, waiting.

Last year, seemingly out of nowhere, a few small, red apples dotted the branches. Jason hid the biggest one on the top shelf of the fridge, a ruby red trophy, and we marveled at it every day for a couple of weeks, waiting for just the right moment to cut into it.

Meanwhile, apple alchemy was working its magic in the little orchard.

This year, five of our most gangly, teenage-looking trees produced an incredible show of nicely sized, bright red, juicy apples. Afraid for the young branches and the weight they were carrying, we decided to pick last week, though I’m sure it may have been a little early. (Remember, it’s amateur farm hour here. We’re learning by… experience.) The girls joined me in carefully twisting off all the apples they could reach, and I couldn’t help but remember driving past the orchard that polar vortex winter, wondering how on earth those trees were going to make it.

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Four years ago, we were in the thick of raising babies. My eldest was two, and our twin daughters were two months. For better or for worse, our life was about small, concentric circles; we moved around the house in reliable patterns – meals, naps, laundry, baths. Taking an outing required a ridiculous amount of prep work: diapers, clean clothes, snacks, wipes, extra clothes, socks, shoes, toys, etc. and so most days we stayed home, managing best we could.

I want to say, “fast forward a few years”, the way people do when they scroll through vacation pictures and only remember the highlights (conveniently forgetting all incidents of puke, sleeplessness, and wardrobe malfunctions), but the truth of the matter is this: those early years of raising little ones did not go fast. They were full of wonder and challenge, failure and growth. And like the apple trees, there were times I wasn’t sure just how we were going to make it through.

first day of kindergartenBut two weeks ago, I watched my eldest hang her backpack in her locker and walk into her cheery kindergarten classroom. We stayed for a minute, processing her emotions and getting her settled in before turning around and navigating back down the hallway full of eager and nervous students.  The following week, I watched the twins walk confidently through the preschool entrance and line up by the door. And just like that, my minivan was overcome with silence (Griff isn’t a big talker yet).

I drove a few blocks, parked, and pulled out the baby carrier. Griff and I commenced to take on a beautiful, albeit sweaty hike through the woods in Taylors Falls. (Twenty-five pounds of baby and carrier adds a new level to any exercise these days.)

For a majority of my walk, I kept thinking back to two things – apples (namely, the giant bags in the pantry needing to be processed) and waiting, an action I’ve struggled with all my life.

You see, I had to wait for those wimpy little trees to do something, anything.

I waited through those long, wintery days when my daughters tested every ounce of patience I could muster, and it felt like we’d never be able to open the front door without a mountain of snow spilling into the entryway.

I waited while I mowed in circles around the apple fences and weed-whipped around the trees, keeping them clear of intruding vines.

I waited through seasons of discipline when I sat my eldest firmly down on the stairs over and over, talking through actions and consequences.

I waited in the smoke of bonfires, watching the dry leaves of another failed tree darken and curl into ash.

I waited through shopping trips of horror where my daughters took the liberty to climb like monkeys out of the cart, eat Chapstick, tear tags off items for sale, land us in the bathroom multiple times during one trip, and demand to be fed every eight seconds.

I waited because I had the promise of something else to come alongside me through the difficulty.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

I had hope. Firm, anchoring hope, a Hebrews 6:19 hope, that what God promised me through his recorded words was going to come true.

I wasn’t muscling my way through the daily grind without reason. I was waking up day after day, pouring bowl after bowl of cereal, mediating argument after argument, reading story after story, because I had faith that eventually my children would learn to do those things for themselves…and that my perseverance in teaching them the small things would prepare me in maturity to teach them the bigger lessons later on.

And then it struck me that here, in this season, some of the things I’ve been waiting FOR just climbed into the passenger seat next to me like it was no big deal. It’s like when you see your child make their own toast and pour their own milk and you feel like THE WORLD has opened wide up with progress.

We survived that first awful winter, and the ones after it, with a little bit of pluck and gumption. The toddlers that tried my patience are now talking about helping others on the playground and raising their hands in class. The apple trees are thickening their limbs, digging down deep to produce the richness they were meant to.

Our daily life, which used to feel so small, is now moving forward, not at breakneck speed, but with a steady, constant pace that I have grown to appreciate as I deepen my understanding of things like faithfulness, and patience, and hope.

Onward.

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One. More. Day. Homestretch of a 40-day Fast.

We started at 3:00 am. The blackness at the trail head to Long’s Peak grew even thicker as we left the ranger station and made our way into the section of the trail known as the Goblin’s Forest. The tree branches were beaded with water, and every time we brushed against one of them, miniature showers fell on our heads. Not that we noticed. All attention was focused on the ground, where tree roots lay in a constant tangle, silent, petrified snakes across our path.

Over and over, we banged our toes. Shifted our packs. Squinted ahead into the darkness, wanting to see the ink of night fade to rust, which meant sunrise was approaching. It wasn’t until we hit the switchbacks that dawn started to wash the horizon. We climbed back and forth, a literal zigzag up the mountainside. It’s normally my least favorite part of climbing, but on Long’s Peak, the switchbacks are above treeline, which meant that we had an unobstructed view of the entire progression of the sunrise somewhere around 11,000 feet.

The entire morning was a fight to keep my breath. The air was cold and thin, and my windpipe felt every breath as it warmed on the way into my lungs. The views put words like amazing and spectacular to shame. Light eventually came, and we made it past the major trail milestones: the Boulder Field, the Keyhole, the Trough, the Narrows.

mRLong_117

Photo courtesy http://www.14ers.com. Eleven years ago, we still had a film camera.

And suddenly, I was facing the last section of the trail, the one called the Homestretch.

It was vertical. It required scrambling. I don’t remember if there was a rope, but I do remember the distinct feeling that if I slipped, I would die. I would take out the climbers below me, and I would do a complete and horror-filled free fall off the north face of Long’s Peak.

At that moment, I made what felt like an easy, justifiable decision. I was exhausted, shaking, sore. I was mentally shot. I didn’t need to see the top of the mountain. I was okay with the view from the bottom of the Homestretch.

So I quit.

I crossed my legs, assumed Sitting Bull stubbornness, and reasoned with Jason that I was okay. I wasn’t going to regret not going to the top. Yes, I’d stay right here and wait for him. (Where the stink else would I go?) He gave me about ten minutes to change my mind, and then, with an eye to the clouds and the clock, grabbed the camera, kissed my head, and started climbing.

For the first few minutes, I was content in my decision. I made it this far. It was lovely HERE. I didn’t need to go any further. I talked up my accomplishments to myself, and reclined a little deeper into the rocks behind me.

And then.

An eight year old boy.

Climbed the Homestretch.

In five minutes.

And dang if I was going to be bested by a scrawny-legged-eight-year-old boy.

I attached myself to the next group, and surrounded by their laughter and encouragement and excitement, I climbed the Homestretch. I made it to the summit, which was surprisingly flat. I jumped over prehistoric boulders and surprised my husband with all the stealth of a sixty year old mountain goat with a lame leg. We stood side by side, and stared at the glory of uninhibited landscape views, our eyes traversing miles in milliseconds.

Unforgettable. Truly.

This is the long way of telling you that this has been my last week of the 40-day fast, and yesterday, I told myself I was ready to quit. I listed all the reasons, and I sat by our backyard bonfire and ate pretzels and dip and savored every sweet, sour cream-filled bite.

Except for one thing. Today, (Saturday) is my last day. And when I woke up this morning, all I could think about was Long’s Peak, and a lesson I learned eleven years ago.

Flesh is weak. But weakness can, and should continue, to be overcome.

2 Peter 1:5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of Jesus.

Saying no to the self for the sake of another, growing to understand prayer in a new, more effective way, learning to love lives half way across the world – these things are a priceless experience.

They are worth one more day.