I sat in my hairdresser’s chair this morning feeling too worn out for small talk. Summer days at home with four children will do that.
She asked about my trip to Tuscany: “Did you bring home ideas for your writing?”
“No,” I said.
“Well, maybe,” I added.
What did I bring home from this spiritual retreat for writers?
Two bottles of olive oil. A duty-free bottle of lemoncello. Hard candies in pretty little boxes for the kids.
Also, a retreat journal full of prayers, epiphanies, and meaningful quotations from the likes of Henri Nouwen.
Your future depends on how you choose to remember your past. – Henri J.M. Nouwen
How do I remember my time in the Tuscan countryside of Italy? How do I remember those days lived in community, in a garden, around a table, surrounded by beauty?
I remember rest.
Simple rest. A total focus on the here and the now and the people right at my elbow.
The kind of rest I believe is available to those walking the Jesus way.
The kind of rest I rarely, if ever, manage to enter on my ordinary day to day.
What is rest? What is its substance?
It feels like being held. It feels like the absence of fear. It feels like no anxiety for tomorrow and a quiet acceptance of yesterday.
It feels like stillness.
It feels like freedom.
It is a spacious place.
I am a gardener who has never yet found rest in my own garden. Who can rest when mosquitos are biting, weeds are waving, and overgrown cucumbers are beginning to rot on the vine?
Who can rest when children are growing, my cellphone is dinging, and the cucumbers I meant to make into pickles are beginning to rot in the fridge?
I found rest in a garden in Tuscany because that garden wasn’t mine. It wasn’t my responsibility. Someone else made that place, and I had only to enjoy it.
If rest is a place made for us, where is the door?
In Tuscany, rest was a stone bench beneath sheltering leaves, a kind of green grotto within an enormous shrub.
Our word grotto is related to the Greek for hidden place, the same Greek that gave us our word crypt. That should not surprise us. “Blessed are the dead,” we read in Revelation, “they will rest from their labor.” In this life we sometimes glimpse the ultimate rest, but ours is only a glimpse, a momentary vision, for “there remains … a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9).
Man-made grottos, whether green and growing or stony and still, are often markers of gratitude: gratitude for some miraculous encounter or some answered prayer. Grottos shape how we remember the past. They tell us God is near. They say all shall be well. They hint at a reality we have yet to enter.
My own garden has no grotto, but, since returning from Tuscany, I have discovered it is possible to shelter within gratitude, as if leaf by leaf or stone by stone, I can be transported, not leaving my ordinary everyday but somehow sinking, a little more deeply, within it.
When fear or worry invade, I say Thank you for this and thank you for that and I find that the list goes on and on.
Until the list becomes a door.
I wanted to write something about these long, summer days: how they are suddenly upon us, how they leave me laughing but also desperately trying to catch my breath. Then I did a little digging in my blog archives and realized I’d already written the post I was imagining. No need to reinvent the wheel, then. Summer is easy like that.
In slightly revised form, here is my summer manifesto. Every word just as true as it was one year ago.
Summer days are here: cool in the morning, a little too warm by afternoon, and every window open.
We wake early but find that the sun has already beat us to it. These are the longest days, and they start without us. I sip my morning coffee and make my list. How is it possible to feel so behind at 6:30 in the morning?
Summer to-do lists are like none other:
Pick the snap peas while they’re still tender. Cut the sweet peas before they wilt. Visit the u-pick berry farm. Make freezer jam. Write that magazine story due tomorrow. Carve a dent, at least, in the email inbox. Write that check and mail it. Help the boys catch fireflies.
Summer priorities are topsy-turvy. Ripening strawberries and fat peas are things of urgency, but I’ve forgotten where I left my laptop. Was it two days ago, I last used it? There’s an important professional conversation I need to have, but I’ve missed the phone call twice. The first time, I was at the creek with the kids. The second, I was picking cherries.
An afternoon storm rolls in, the kind of summer storm that is all sound, little fury, and I think Lord, I love summer.
The boys start fighting (again), and I pray, Lord, let me survive the summer.
Summer days are so long, we have more than one second chance.
Here is one, and here is another. We explode in anger. We apologize. I make them hug. One shrugs. One runs away. We laugh. And we do it all again, three or four times. I maybe cry once, and then I tell my kids how I used to fight so terribly with my sisters I made my own mother cry.
Summer is crying mothers, and fighting kids; summer is fat, sweet strawberries, and lightning crashing like a cymbal on your head.
Summer is more, and more, and more.
Summer is magic.
Summer days run fast and hard until evening. Then the summer sun slows, almost stops, and you can hardly tell it’s sinking. Summer evenings taste like forever. I could finish that to-do list if I wanted, but urgency fades in the evening. Why didn’t I realize sooner? These are the longest days, and there is time enough.
Swift, swift times flies, but still there is enough for what matters: porch rockers, bubble wands, strawberries, one last visit to the new tree with a watering can.
The kids watch a movie and stay up too late. You and I walk in the meadow we made when you decided to stop mowing the grass.
There is time enough.
Summer is here. Why don’t we sit a while?
Tell me, I’d love to hear. What is your summer manifesto?
Winter does not give up easily. Not this year, at least.
For weeks now, winter has held on, as if digging icy claws deep into the frozen soil, deep into my heart, and deep into the whole wide world (yes, even in the southern hemisphere where warm winds blow but hearts still feel the chill of injustice or violence).
When the thaw finally begins, I feel as if I should shout for joy, yet I find myself angered by mud and mess. The ice is giving way, the green tips of daffodils are reaching for cloudy skies, but I want a settled beauty. I don’t want the mess of hard transitions.
I really don’t want to set my hopes on spring only to find the snowflake icon creep back into the ten-day forecast.
In the final pages of our Bibles we hear a victorious Jesus say,
I am making all things new!
How those words ring. How they lift my heart.
But then I look around.
The beauty of winter snow gives way to the ugliness of mud puddles, and I recognize that making new is hard, messy, sometimes back-breaking (always heart-breaking) work.
I could turn away. I could close my eyes to the mess that always does emerge in the middle.
Or I could hold my broken heart still, will my eyes to open wider and wider, and wait for that magic moment (and it always feels like magic) when something hard yet necessary finally breaks and a river is loosed.
A river of spring is set free.
I’ve never yet seen the precise moment. Always, I marvel: Did this leaf uncurl overnight? Did those tulips grow six inches in an afternoon?
Yet here is the wild thing about this particular magic: we helped make it happen.
We participate in spring.
When our hearts are broken, when are eyes are open, we don’t simply wait for spring. We join in. We dig our shovels into the dirt, and we help to release rivers of justice and peace. When the flood finally comes, I like to think we will turn to our Jesus and say, we made things new, didn’t we?
Together, we made things new.
Here are four more pages from the book of my dreams.
When I first imagined the book that eventually became Roots and Sky, I pictured an old-fashioned treasure, something like the books I seek out in thrift stores and used bookstores. I thought my stories would be interspersed with seasonal tips and recipes and nostalgic pen-and-ink illustrations.
Almost as soon as I began writing, I realized that the story I needed to tell was simpler and leaner. Those first four seasons at Maplehurst were more quiet and watchful than busy and industrious, and the book needed to reflect that.
But the idea of offering more–seasonal stories, tips, recipes, and beautiful illustrations–has never gone away.
In collaboration with the talented designer and illustrator Jennifer Tucker of Little House Studio, I’ve created four spring-themed pages from that book of my dreams.
One comes from my kitchen, two from nature, and one from my bookshelves. Each page offers something practical and beautiful wrapped up in my own lyrical point of view.
I’m planning to print and frame mine, but they’ll do just as well tacked to a bulletin board or tucked into a garden journal or recipe box. Feel free to share this post with friends who might like to subscribe and print their own.
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