(photo by yours truly)
I waited and prayed for children for a long time. I first knew that God had heard my prayer when, crying out to Him for an answer, any answer, I saw a brilliant orange moon rising over Lake Michigan. One year later, we brought our daughter home from the hospital and sat by her Moses basket in the light of another full moon rising over the lake.
For nine months, I’ve written a hefty monthly check to a local dance studio for this daughter’s ballet class. Each month, I worried that the money was being wasted. Wouldn’t it be better to sponsor another Compassion child? Or, put the money away in a college fund?
My daughter enjoys the class, but I have no dreams of grandeur for her involving a career as a dancer. I’m afraid the gene pool in our house quashed that dream before she was even born. And I don’t have to take it that far. I remember clearly the moment in my own childhood ballet class when I realized that my body wasn’t made to do the things being asked of it. I was eight. I quit and never looked back. Should I really be devoting so much of our monthly budget for a ballerina-fairytale-dream that will probably end in a year or two?
Last night, sitting in a beautiful old theater as class after class danced for us I saw how wrong I have been. I filter my budget (and my world) through concepts like productivity, utility, and remuneration. Words like beauty and art don’t enter those equations.
The annual dance recital was art. The whole of it and the little moments: from the graduating dancers performing their elegant senior solos to the three-year-olds dressed like pink bumblebees standing on stage looking dazed.
I can’t dance to save my life, but, watching those dancers, I knew that this is what we were made for. To dance. To sing. To perform and write and paint and rhyme and . . . create beauty.
Still, there are doubts. In a world in which so many suffer while the rest look away, how can I justify any time or money or energy that is not spent on aid, in protest, or at work? These things matter. A lot. In fact, I’ve just decided that we do need to sponsor another Compassion child. However, I’ll shift the money from our Christmas fund instead.
Driving home from the downtown theater, we followed a full moon tinted deep orange by the still-burning wildfires, and I remembered the moons that announced the gift of this girl, my girl. The moon stayed centered in our windshield, and I could have sworn we were being led through the desert by a pillar of fire, the only sound in our car the subtle tapping of silvery ash against the window. My daughter’s dance is gone. Blown away with the ash on a Florida wind. Like life itself, it is over and gone before I’ve fully registered its beauty. But it was good and worth far more than dollars can count.
“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
(James 4: 14)
I recently jotted down a few lines from Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith. Describing the honeysuckle and magnolia blossoms in her Atlanta neighborhood, she writes: “All these earthly goods were medicine for what ailed me, evidence that the same God who had breathed the world into being was still breathing.”
Generally, I imagine the act of divine creation as an over and done deal. God spoke. God breathed. Past tense.
Taylor’s words offer the best kind of literary shock: the shock of confronting a truth we know but have never really considered. A truth that suddenly appears, not only obvious, but vitally important.
Reading these few words, everything in me responds, “Yes, of course.” For creation, the very breath of God, continues to unfurl every moment.
I hear a whispered breath in the utterly unique daily bloom of my morning glory vine. Each morning a new flower or two. There is also my own breath. Inhalation and exhalation require no act of decision or effort on my part. I can’t claim them. They are given to me, again and again, whether I think of them or not.
This moment by moment gift of breath would seem to be unadulterated good news, but, for me, it is also a source of fear. I grew up with asthma, can still feel that whistling wheeze in my chest, and when my own son struggles to breathe I feel, not only empathy, but fear. I can’t take breathing for granted, and my personal phobias are all rooted in this fact. Some people fear spiders or heights. For me, it’s something innocuous like scuba diving. Each breath measured from a tank, and a weight of water on my shoulders: this is someone’s idea of a vacation, but it feels like a nightmare to me.
It is only when I consider the character of the gift-giver (He is good. He is love. His plans are not to harm me.), that I can trade fear for peace. I cannot provide for myself the one thing I need most: breath. Fortunately, the one who can knows my needs better than I do and loves me more than I love myself. Even better, His love for my son swallows my own puny love. I can administer an inhaler and an epi-pen, but the God who made us, who loves us, who holds us, can breathe life.
In response, I breathe back my thanksgiving. Why do we sing our praises to God? As a friend(and talented musician) once shared with our church, we sing in order to give back to God that which he first gave us. Breath.
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul”
(Genesis 2: 7).
Today I tried writing a Summer List and discovered that this once-favorite tradition hasn’t traveled well. I started writing Summer Lists in Chicago. At first, they were just for me, but my oldest child did contribute an item or two in recent years.
A Summer List is exactly what it sounds like: a list of activities and experiences you want to do and have before September arrives. It might sound sentimental and overly precious, but my Chicago Summer Lists were deadly serious things.
Having endured months of bitter cold and forced hibernation, I often felt a little stressed at the beginning of Chicago’s second season (you know, don’t you, that Chicago is called the Second City because it has two newspapers, two baseball teams, and two seasons? You don’t need me to tell you what those seasons are, do you?). A Chicago summer offers so much goodness, I actually worried about fitting it all in. What if Labor Day arrived and I hadn’t seen a film on the grass in Grant Park? What if the wind turned cold, and I hadn’t yet eaten apricots and just-made goat cheese on a blanket at the Green City Market? What if busyness or laziness kept me from packing up the kids and the snacks and listening to music under the stars at Millennium Park? What if we said “yes” to too many weekend birthday parties and forgot to leave time for blueberry picking in Michigan City? Thus, the Summer List.
Those lists helped me to make the most of a glorious but, ultimately, fleeting season. It felt like an antidote for the to-do lists that kept me rushing and preoccupied the other nine months of the year.
The problem with a Florida Summer List is that the season is not fleeting. I’ve discovered that this part of our country also has two seasons: hot and not so hot. Everything I could think of to write on my list today caused me to think, “Well, but I’d rather do that when it’s not so hot.” Beach? I prefer to collect seashells in February sunshine. Pool? Yes, of course, but we’ve been swimming since March, and I’m already a little tired of wet swimsuits. The zoo? It was beautiful in January. Disney? Not if you paid me. Too many tourists this time of year. Fruit picking? Florida’s strawberry season ended months ago.
So many people love Florida because the joys of summer last for most of the year. And even I can’t complain about weather like this. After all, I enjoyed those grilled pizzas on Christmas Eve. But what do I make of summer now? Is there anything special about June, July, and August when our activities and experiences are mostly the same? What is summer, anyway? A date? A point of view?
For now, I’m focusing on the one thing I have in abundance only during these months: time. I’m not teaching, my two oldest are out of school, the babysitter for my youngest has shortened her hours. We have time.
We’ll get bored. We’ll get hot. No doubt, tempers will flare. But, unlike summer itself, these hours will never come around again. Once crossed off the list, they’re gone for good. I do not know what they’re for or why they’ve been given, but I’m glad that, for now, they’re still mine to anticipate. Each hour listed neatly on pristine paper.
For several weeks, I have thought of barbecue every time I stepped outside my door. It’s a smell that burns, and a fog that makes my eyes smart. It isn’t my neighbor’s backyard grill (though that smell is common year-round. Really. This year we grilled pizzas on Christmas Eve).
When I first moved to Florida in late spring one year ago, I worried about the summer. I grew up in the heat and humidity of central Texas, but I’d always hated it. I’d also escaped the land of six-month summers more than a decade before, and I wasn’t sure I could handle it again.
Fortunately, it never got as hot as I had feared. It turns out that living near the coast really does make a difference. It may get very warm and very humid and stay that way for many months, but it’s always breezy and, best of all, nearly every afternoon the humidity ushers in a spectacular thunderstorm. And then . . . there are rainbows.
Sometime around last August, the thunderstorms stopped. The meteorologists on the radio talked about a dry spell. They kept talking about it, but I stopped paying attention as the temperatures cooled, and I enjoyed pulling out my sweaters while keeping my snow boots packed away. Now they talk about drought, and I don’t have to listen to them to know what they’re talking about. I can see it for myself. I can smell it, too.
The retention pond behind my house has sunk within itself, and muddy banks have grown up around it. The palms and palmettos are fading from green to gold. And there is smoke. Some days I won’t let the kids go outside because the haze of it burns my throat.
I pray for rain. My livelihood doesn’t depend on it (as it does for a farmer in Africa). My home isn’t threatened (as so many are, even now, in Arizona). Still, I pray for rain.
I pray for rain because the zinnias I planted need help. I pray for rain because a beautiful magnolia tree on my street is dying.
I pray for rain because I seek the face of a God who first revealed himself as Love to a people living in a desert. We were made, each of us, to seek the source of rain, of rivers, of streams and creeks and oceans.
I pray for rain, and I wait for the fulfillment of so many promises.
“A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house and will water the valley of acacias” (Joel 3: 18).
“Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs” (Isaiah 35: 6,7).
"He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. . . . and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you" (Joel 2: 23, 26).
Unless otherwise noted, all of the photographs on this website have been taken by my talented sister, Kelli Campbell. You can find her Flickr stream here and her website here.