Officially, summer is still days away, but we are already knee deep in it.
The sprinkler is making its rainbow arc for Elsa and her two-year-old cousin. Even the big cousins have stained their t-shirts with grape-juice popsicles, and we are shifting our Friday-night, homemade pizza from the oven to the grill.
Everything is a little hotter, a little louder, a little messier. Everyone is a little happier, a little more relaxed, and a little more likely to lose their temper.
We’re still waiting for the last day of school and the longest day of the year, but summer has already arrived.
I feel incredibly grateful and more than a little nervous about the coming months. My kids will all tell you that their mother is not at her best when the air is humid and the house is crowded and the children are singing, “I’m bored.” Because, like afternoon storm clouds, time can hang a little heavy in the summer.
I am grateful for these words from Abby Perry. She is a writer who lives with her family in my Texas hometown, and she knows summer heat. She also knows that time is a gift and every season reveals the One who first established its rhythm.
by Abby Perry
Two little boys found their way into my bed this morning, snuggles turned to wrestling each time one felt the other had greater access to me than he did. They are Owen and Gabriel, whose birthdays at the end of summer will turn them 4 and 2. Their dad is out of the country for two weeks on a mission trip. We have Backyard Bible Club each evening this week.
Summer has begun.
We live in Texas, where it has been unseasonably rainy recently; the scorching weather holding off just a few weeks more than usual. But today, it is in full force. 90 degrees before noon and I am remembering what it was like to work long, hot summers at camp in East Texas, what it feels like when my legs stick to the chair at an outdoor wedding, what our air conditioning bill will soon be.
A husband out of the country, two little boys so dependent, so rosy cheeked in the sun. Gabriel, the youngest, has a neuro-genetic disorder that results in the need to wear braces everyday, his pudgy legs covered just below the knee to his toes. Owen asks to go to the pool and I fight immediate overwhelm, wondering how I will make it work with Gabriel’s schedule since he is only supposed to be out of his braces for an hour of each 24.
It can be hard for me to believe that the summer is a time for flourishing.
“Can’t I just take this season off?” I wonder. “Go quiet, hibernate a bit?”
I internally answer my own questions before I’ve even finished asking them. It is not hibernation that I’m truly craving, it’s rest. It is soul quiet, whether my hands are busy or calm. It’s certainty that I am thriving in my place, that I am where I should be, that I am contributing and not merely letting the days pass me by. What I crave is the confidence that I am redeeming the time given to me, with all of its caveats and demands, expectations and interruptions. What I crave is not something I can find by looking into myself, or by gazing at my calendar. It is not something I can conjure up through scheduled breaks, nor hard work, nor abounding family time, though each of those endeavors have great merit.
I wonder if you’re craving the same?
What we crave is something only to be found by looking upward. There is treasure we search for that is only discovered when we seek an orientation to the True North, when we remind ourselves of our position and protection under a good and sovereign God.
I glance at the Liturgical Calendar sitting near the sink and am reminded that it is the season of Ordinary Time. It is the season for ministry and discipleship, the season for hands to the plow and eyes fixed upward and forward, the glory of God and the service of others ever before me. The calendar reminds me that though I do not wake up each morning convinced of God’s sovereignty over time, nor go to bed each night certain of His goodness, His grace abounds all the more and sets a cadence for my days. He makes my paths straight, allowing me to be oriented to him, to set my pace by Him, to move my feet in rhythm with Him.
As we seek to live well in the summer months, through work and play, labor and rest, may we find ourselves certain of the infinite One who is not limited by the finite restraints we live within on this earth. May we exchange the complaints of the hurried heart for the gratitude of the surrendered soul, confident and joyful in each commitment we make, resolute when we need to say, “no.” May we carve out space for long evenings on the porch, kids making up games late into the night and falling into their beds with that outdoors induced exhaustion that produces the sweetest sleep. May we find opportunities to serve and to seek the peace and prosperity of our communities, our hands and feet guiding our eyes away from ourselves. And in it all, may we remember our desire to flourish and to see others do the same comes from the Giver of all good gifts, and that time, in all of its wildness and wonder, is one of them.
Abby is an old soul, a Jesus girl, better in writing. She is a pastor’s wife and mom of two boys, one of whom has a neuro-genetic disorder, which Abby writes about (among other things such as faith, liturgy, depression, social issues, and literature) at www.joywovendeep.com. Abby directs communications for a nonprofit organization and co-facilitates two community efforts – one promoting bridge-building racial reconciliation conversations, the other supporting area foster and adoptive families. She has a soft spot for books, podcasts, learning about human relationships through television and movies, personality typing, and pasta. Abby holds a B.A in Communication from Texas A&M University and is completing her graduate degree at Dallas Theological Seminary.
Twitter & Instagram @abbyjperry | Facebook Page: Abby Perry
From my kitchen window I can see a blue plastic sled stranded at the top of a small hill.
Last year, our first spring at Maplehurst, we edged the hill on one side with blueberry bushes. We shored up the other side with an asparagus patch. We planted a peach tree and a cold-hardy fig like two flags at the top, but the kids have carved a downward path that manages, usually, to carry their sleds around their mother’s precious plants.
The snowcover on the hill is shrinking, and the sled is marooned. I can imagine it still sitting there in July, nearly forgotten in the weeds.
The sled I see clearly, but it is much harder for me to imagine July’s green abundance. Here, in early March, there are no signs of new life. Instead, the snow seems to be coughing up rusted buckets and wilted kickballs.
These hinge weeks between winter and spring are always ugly, but, thanks to February’s ice storm, this one is particularly awful. Brown grass and mud are mixed with splintered wood; our world looks as if it has only just survived some disaster.
From my kitchen window, I see a waste land.
The trees, still bare, no longer remind me of elegant bones against the sky. Instead, they look naked, and I am ashamed for them.
At church, it is the first Sunday of Lent. The cross carried in procession is veiled in purple, as if we cannot yet bear the sight of our redemption. Easter, like spring, is still too good to be true.
The reading from the Old Testament this day is from Genesis. Adam and Eve discover their nakedness, and they are ashamed.
This season I am following my friend Sue’s example and praying daily one simple prayer: Search me, God, and know my heart.
This prayer is simple and brief, but it isn’t easy to pray. It feels like a deliberate stepping out into the open with no clothes. Not even a fig leaf.
I thought this prayer would open my eyes to some sin. Instead, my eyes have been opened to something much more complicated.
T. S. Eliot describes it in his own meditation on a wasted, blasted land:
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow …
Winter’s rest is melting away, and I am waking up to a great desire. And I find this terrifying. Exhilarating, too.
Spring won’t truly arrive until I have dreamed and ached to pick asparagus, blueberries, peaches and figs. First, the longing. Then, the feast.
And the new plans God has for my life can’t be realized unless I first recognize the desire planted in my heart. Certain dreams will never come true unless I first wake up and remember them. But to remember them enough to pray for them is to stand naked before God. There is no more hiding the depth of my desire. There is no shrinking from the fear that he will say no or not yet. Sometimes spring is interrupted by a killing freeze.
God is tugging me – and you – towards resurrection.
But the road is a cruel one.
Last week, I wrote a few words in praise of The Slow Life. And you responded.
So many of you said you live in just the same way. Or try to. Or want to. And I was pleased. Maybe even a little smug in my self-satisfaction.
And then ice blew in on the wind, and I learned something: my vision of the good, slow life is highly dependent on hot coffee in the morning. And hot tea in the afternoon. And cozy heat in the radiators and running water in the tub. And, well, creature comforts of every kind.
But there are days when the carpet of your usual choices does not roll out at your feet. Days that do not begin with hot coffee and do not end on the sofa watching PBS with your husband.
What does this slow life look like when we are not comfortable? On those days, is the slow life we crave even possible?
On our first day without power, I spent many hours reading on my old pink settee by the light from my bedroom windows. It was cozy under a blanket, and the baby took a good nap. The cold hadn’t yet settled into our bones the way it would on day two.
But I wasn’t comfortable. I was on edge. Every few minutes I would hear a rending, cracking sound, and I would sit up looking left to right, left to right, trying to see which tree was losing its battle with the ice this time. When a 120-year-old maple tree loses a limb, that limb is still the size of a large tree. And those large trees fall with a grinding sound of splintered wood, and a crashing sound of falling limbs, and the shattering sound of a shower of ice.
When I lived in Chicago, I would often come across a sweep of broken windshield glass glittering on the sidewalk. Sometimes, I would find more and more of it leading from car to car and on to my own car parked on the street with a startled look where the front windshield once was.
Late in the day, I took a short walk, and I remembered all that broken glass. By then the temperature had warmed to the low 30s and a lot of the ice had dropped its hold on the trees and scattered in the wind. You could see it everywhere, great sweeps of it sprinkled on top of the frozen snow.
I stepped carefully, shielding my eyes against the glittery light, and realized that the whole sky must be made of glass, like the windshield of a car.
And someone had taken a hammer to it.
There are quiet days and there are days we are convinced someone, somewhere is wielding a hammer.
And, honestly, I’m still waiting for whoever’s in charge to put down the hammer because the suitcases we packed when we decamped to a hotel have disgorged their contents in every room like last night’s dinner, and I’m sick with a cold and a pounding headache, and they say another big storm is headed our way.
And yet, I still want to say this: there’s a still point in this turning world. On the quiet days it grows in us, we welcome it into our hearts with coffee cups and dinners together and hours with a book and bedtime stories read by the fireplace and candlelight at breakfast just because.
And when the hammer falls, and the sky does come falling, that still point doesn’t leave us as we duck and take cover. It’s still there in our hearts and still out there in the world. Leaning over, catching our breath, we might spot it.
To me, this day, it looks like one splintered tree fallen just to the right of my car and one splintered tree fallen just to the left. It looks like another tree lying broken just beside the kids’ playset and another huge limb right beside the henhouse.
Looking around, I would swear that no trees fell on this hill.
They were placed.
(Also, my husband says he’ll slice the old maple wood into pretty round platters for serving bread and cheese, so there’s that.)
I worry a great deal about the shape of my days.
This worry is a symptom of privilege. It means I have choices. For the most part, my days are not ruled by desperate necessity.
Instead, each one of my days unrolls like a red carpet. It is a carpet woven with hundreds of tiny choices. First, what should I feed the baby for breakfast? Next, should I spend this hour playing Candyland with the four-year-old or cleaning the kitchen? Then, should I read a book while the baby naps or try to write something? Until, should I spend the evening balancing the checkbook or watching PBS with Jonathan?
Choice after beautiful choice until my day is spent, and I lie in bed wondering where the hours fled. What did I accomplish today? Why did I never manage to send those emails? How could I have forgotten to do the grocery shopping / take that book back to the library / return that phone call / schedule that appointment?
Worry. Guilt. A resolve to do better tomorrow but never quite sure what tomorrow should look like. This is the blessing and the burden of choice.
I am an overly sensitive, introverted person. I require a great deal of space in my days: time for sitting and thinking. Time for sitting and reading. Time for taking that walk, pulling the baby behind me in her sled. Never enough time for cooking or cleaning or whatever else it is I’m supposed to be doing in my life as wife and mother.
Which means, I rarely do anything without guilt. Guilt says, shouldn’t you be doing more / working harder / accomplishing bigger?
(photo by yours truly)
I don’t think this is only a problem for mothers at home with small children. I can remember breaking out in hives from the stress of life as a college student. My life is more complicated now, but I have, at least, learned to avoid that kind of strain. I have learned, at least, to let myself live slowly, even if the price I pay is no longer hives but a constant, low-level guilt.
I want to be done with guilt. I want to believe that my most important job, the most critical task, requires space. It requires quiet. It requires rest.
The most important item on my daily list is always this: to be his witness. To open my eyes and see. To open my ears and hear. And only then, to open my mouth and sing of what I have seen.
It might happen while I sit still. It might happen while I work. But it will never happen when I rush.
I want to remember that the person with the most important job of all was never in a hurry. Jesus knew there was time enough.
(photo by yours truly)
“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.
Yes, and from ancient days I am he.”
In late December, the seed and nursery catalogs began arriving. I dove in. When I came up for air, I tried to remind myself I was planning a vegetable plot, not an eight-hundred square foot formal rose garden.
It is easy to get a little lost in a pile of seed catalogs.
These are the days for rest, both for you and your garden. Unless you live in Florida.
I’ve heard it said that southern gardeners should take their winter break in late summer. Which is sort-of true. No one can grow tomatoes in Florida in August. But, it is also not true at all. You may give your vegetable beds a break, but the grass, the weeds, and those horrible invasive vines covered in thorns do not take a break. Unless you want your house to disappear back into the primeval jungle, you had better not neglect the August garden entirely.
I only gardened in Florida for two years, but I am still recovering. As it turns out, I need a good long break from working my bit of ground.
I need a season for rest. I need a season for dreams.
Rest can be painful. A persistant ache. Dreaming hurts.
I love winter in the north, but I don’t find it easy. I long for sunshine. For warm air on the skin of my arms. For flowers and green grass and those little breezes that feel like a caress. It is a season for rest, but this means it is also a season for waiting, for desiring, for pressing hard against the blunt edges of everything you dream about but do not yet hold in your arms.
It is a season of emptiness.
True rest means returning to God. But this is not as easy nor as pretty as it sounds. It is often anguish that sends us back.
Back to the source of dreams, back to the source of every good and new thing.
Back to the only One who can renew our hope.
For one year, I have heard this one word: return.
It is a word for the exile. For the younger son. For the wanderer.
It means home. It means healing. It means a new beginning.
“Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere … sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan.”
Leviticus 25: 9-10
Stepping into this new year, I have been reluctant to let this word go. I have not wanted a new word, or a new anything, but only more. More of what has been given. More of what has begun.
But isn’t that an ugly word, more? A greedy, grasping word? I refused to embrace it, until all I could hear was more, more, more repeating like a drumbeat in my head.
I gave in. I agreed to claim it … silently. I wouldn’t speak it out loud. How could I admit that my word, my prayer, for this year is so ugly? So easily misunderstood?
Until this day. It was three parts hair-pulling crazy (because no one can buckle their own skates, and the baby was determined to hurl herself out of the sled to faceplant in the snow), but it was one part glorious. A frozen pond for skating only yards from our front porch. Three children with Christmas-gift ice skates. On a Saturday. While the sun shone.
It was one part perfection. One part pure glory.
And it ended as abruptly as a bubble bursts. The older boy fell. The baby really was determined. But as we trudged back toward the house, the younger boy crying that his boots were full of snow, all I could think was we will return. There will be more skating. Every year, there will be more. I pictured a day when every child could strap on their own skates. A day when even my husband and I could step into skates and glide along. This is only the beginning, I thought.
The return is never a dead-end. No one returns to God only to say, “Now what?”
Instead, we turn toward God and see a door. Walking through the doorway, we discover … more. There is always more. To use the words of C. S. Lewis, “Come further up, come further in!”
To return to God is a way of life. It is a turning back toward wholeness, toward peace. It is like finding a home and feeling yourself stretching out to meet the years to come. Like a tree planted by water, those roots growing deep and deeper.
This is our second year at Maplehurst, and my word is more.
It is a song of praise. It is a song of joy. It is the song of the wanderer who has found rest.
And I cry, more, more, more.