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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Stories of Dark and Light: Hooking up with Night Driving Synchroblog

night drivingIt was dark the spring of my sophomore year of college, even though daylight savings time had bartered sleep for sun and the streetlights of Christian community artificially lit the campus where I lived all night long.

That year, dark did a strange thing to me.

Time stopped.

I mean this in the truest sense. In my world, time stopped passing normally. My anxiety was one of reverse chronophobia – instead of hours passing too quickly, they became painfully slow. Days seemed to widen and spread like the mold on the last few pieces of cheap bread I had in the kitchen cupboard. Hours that were not spoken for by class became a gaping chasm where I laid in my bed, pretending to read with my face to the wall.

The clock became an obsession. Twenty minutes in the shower. Ten minutes to get ready. Five minutes to eat breakfast. Seven minutes to walk to class. Class. Class. Then Break. A dreaded break. Where would I go? What would I do?  I’d plot where I’d walk, how long it would take me, and how to avoid eye-contact. Each move had to be calculated, or the wheels of my strange anxiety would hit pavement and I’d speed onto a highway of full-blown panic.

No one knew.

It was too hard to explain, and I didn’t really get it either. I didn’t know about triggers, and how easy it was to fall under the dark spell of depression. Meanwhile, the rest of my world was busy moving forward – something my anxiety with the clock prevented me from doing.  Other classmates excelled. Friends made new friends. A boy from another school that I’d had a deep friendship with told me he saw us always, and only, being friends.

I spent hours in my bed, clutching my bible like some sort of holy talisman. Sometimes I read it. Sometimes I just held the green canvas cover to my chest and mumbled intelligible prayers about wanting to wake up three hours later,  feeling normal.

And there, on the bottom bunk, staring at the brown metal springs of my roommate’s bed above, God did something strange. He held me. Quietly. Solidly. He pointed me deep into the Psalms, where I found David, a writer who seemed to understand how I felt in the pit and tangle of my fear.

I read. I read and I slept. My dip into depression was not deep, lasting about three months, though they were literally the longest months of my life.

Alone in my room, I read until I knew enough about God to believe what He told the writer of an Old Testament book called Ecclesiastes – that there was a time for everything and that somehow, time was not the enemy I made him out to be.

That spring, I also took a poetry class. I didn’t know anything about contemporary poetry, but I fell headlong into a world of metaphor and simile that threw me another means of rescue. My professor Judy encouraged me to submit my work to the campus literary journal, and my first published poem buoyed me to keep pushing into my darkness, prying into what it meant, and why it was happening.

I tell you this because I believe everyone has a story about dark and light. These are stories that deserve honor and space in our worlds for what they can reveal, and the ropes they can throw us.

Addie Zierman’s Night Driving is one of those stories. It catches you whole, packing you along with her carefully labeled totes and snacks and two small boys, and drives you down the interstate in a frenzy of giddy, winter escape. It makes you laugh with along with her wit and wisdom about gas station coffee and hotel pools, and think deeply about faith and the places you run from.

Night Driving is a perfect spring read, a realization that even a seasonal escape cannot bypass the reality that faith, like all living things, must endure the necessary dark and barren stretches in order to once again show green signs of life.

ANDDDDDDD… it releases today, which means you can buy it NOW at places like Barnes and Noble or IndieBound or Amazon.

Go ahead. Get one. You can thank me later.

 

 

 

 

Turning the Tide – The Twins are One!

The most important things are somehow the hardest ones to get down on paper.

My babies turned one year old. You guys. One.

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My darlings (Gabby left, Lucy right), day one.

Bottles. Pumping. Newborn diapers. Midnight feedings. Swings. Play mats. Burp rags. Bouncy seats. These things marked our reality for a certain set of months.

The girls’ infancy was glory unfolding. Perfect pink hands curling and uncurling like sea anemones. Slow blinks, dark eyes working to focus on our faces. The sweetest smells of milk and baby wash. The ease of holding, yet somehow feeling held ourselves. Two babies. We couldn’t stop repeating it.

But their infancy was a work like none other. There were days that felt like the sun was stubbornly stuck at 3:43 pm. There were some months I remember only in fog and through pictures, because I spent them stumbling out of bed in two hour increments every night.

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My specialty: folding tiny clothes

Everyone tells you “it’s a stage”, and “it’ll pass”, and “you’ll never get these days back.” This is about as helpful as starting a road trip and seeing your destination on a highway sign: New Orleans 1800 miles. You still have to drive every single one of those miles, yellow lines flashing in your wake.

You have to break it down.

In one month, the newborn clothes will start getting tight. In two, a schedule will start guiding your days. Smiles will play on the edge of his lips. In three, she will start holding her head up, no longer an infant. At four, the clothes become tight again, and the drawers need to be cleaned out. In five, sleep may become elusive as they grow. At six, a glimmer of change, a flurry of arm and leg movements.

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Gabby’s favorite toy: Daddy

Seven, solid foods. Sitting up. More drawer cleaning, more clothes. At eight, there may be teeth starting to arrive. In nine months you’ll put away a few bits of baby paraphernalia – the bouncy seat, which they wiggle out of, the swings, which are boring. You become their favorite toy. In ten you’ll start debating whether or not to grab baby and car seat, or just baby, because the combination of weight is enough to break your arm. Eleven – movement. So much movement.

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Mama! Look! Fingers!

And suddenly at twelve months, she is big. You put her down at the end of the day and wonder just how it was you made it from here to there in a manner of months. The baby has become a person. A person with (very) vocal needs, great belly laughs, and keen interest in the surrounding world.

It is as though time is based on desire. The more you want, the faster the minutes pass. The harder the hours, the more everything slows down to the second. Tick. Tick. Which means that maybe, just maybe, though we can’t control time, we can control our perception of it.

Perhaps then the key is simply a matter of want.

It’s okay not to want to change diapers and launder blowout-stained clothing. It’s also okay to wish his head would rest forever on your shoulder. It is this combination that moves the days forward – motivation and movement, reverence and rest.

***

IMG_4732 (800x533)We didn’t throw a giant birthday party with themed gifts and pinterest-style decorations. To be honest, I’m not good at that kind of thing, nor do I have the time to care. So my mom did the work of invites, and I blew up a few balloons, hung them on a Happy Birthday sign, and combed everyone’s hair. My family gathered in the yard at my parent’s farm, ate amazing home-cooked food and adorable cakes kindly made by my sister in law, opened presents, and played with the kids in the sprinkler.

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Lucia -1

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Gabrielle -1

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Ellis -3

It was summer and it was lovely. Really, really lovely, according to all three of my girls. And that, my friends, was all I wanted.