I spent most of Saturday outside. It looked nothing like spring, but I could feel it. By afternoon we had taken off our jackets and were warming ourselves with shovels and gardening gloves.
The firstborn and I cleared away some of the invasive (but gorgeous) vine that blankets the edge of our property.
Do you remember, I asked her, what the porcelain berries look like? Do you remember that china blue?
They looked fake, she says.
Which is true. And telling. The most beautiful things look unreal to us. Maybe they are a part of some other reality. Maybe we are too, for that matter.
The dead vines were papery and grey in our hands, but when I ripped one open we could see a shocking, acid green.
They only look dead, my daughter said with round eyes.
We are in those last days of winter. Those days when the cold has moved deep into my bones, and I no longer believe in spring.
I mean this quite literally. Three days ago I had myself convinced that the bleached yellow shade of our lawn was a sign it would never turn green. We killed it, I thought. Too many weeds, too many autumn leaves, and we killed it.
Today, I noticed a spotty green haze. Just here and there. And I remembered: I have seen resurrection. There is such a thing.
Six months ago, we named our daughter Elsa Spring. Soon – very soon – she will see her first spring. There are no words for all I feel about that.
Born in late summer, we named her Spring. Our last baby, our second daughter, she is yet everything new to us.
Before she was ever conceived “My beloved spoke and said to me, ‘Arise my darling, my beautiful one, come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come …” (Song of Songs 2: 10-12).
For a hundred and one foolish reasons I had not allowed myself to want another child, but I knew what those words meant. I bought a tiny, pink sweater, and I hid it in my dresser drawer.
Sometimes winter fools us. We are taken in by the surface of things, and death seems total and irreversible.
The truth is, we aren’t waiting for resurrection. We are living it.
“On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem … in summer and in winter.”
There are times when we get to see the full circle of the year pulled tight around us. The firstborn’s annual dance recital is one of those times.
I remember leaving the downtown theater last year to find ash from the wildfires covering our car. Driving home that night we followed an enormous moon made blood-red by reflected smoke. I remembered the stories of a fire by night and a cloud by day, and I believed we were being led through the wilderness. I believed we would not wander forever.
But the days to follow were often a heavy burden. Stretched out before me, they looked like a desert landscape, dry and empty.
This year’s recital ushered in one more rainy day in a season of rain. It’s been pouring steadily for weeks. The retention ponds are overflowing. Streets have flooded, and I haven’t seen anything like this in the two years since we moved here.
We’ve been handed a key, and we can spy an open door just a short way ahead. I can’t say exactly where it leads, but I also know exactly where it leads:
“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land – a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills” (Deuteronomy 8:7).
My daughter has been working on her ballet for nine months, yet somehow I didn’t realize until this week’s dress rehearsal that the dance was performed to a symphony rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
I don’t usually find myself moved to tears by early 80s rock anthems (and, no, I don’t think I can blame the pregnancy hormones. Or, not entirely).
For two years I’ve heard only one word of instruction from the God I follow: believe.
That’s it. That’s the only thing that has been required of me (though even that one thing often felt impossible).
When “Don’t Stop Believin’” first came across the theater’s speakers, I wanted to put my head down and cry.
Not out of sadness or misery. But relief. Gratitude.
“These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”
This is a familiar story (though I’ve never told it before). I’m sure you have your own version. It’s a story about how one song comes to represent something big: young love, say, or new parenthood, or that one particular summer when the weather just couldn’t be believed.
It actually was summer, and, yes, the weather couldn’t be believed. The coolest Chicago summer in a decade. I’ve never liked hot weather, but I was heavily pregnant and extra grateful for lake breezes.
I’d emerged from the long, dark tunnel of infertility. I’d survived the euphoria and illness of the first trimester. I was cocooned in the mellow hormones of the third trimester.
I’m sure it wasn’t all mellow dreaminess, but that’s how I remember it. The worst was behind. The earthquake that is a first baby was still to come. My husband and I took long walks. Went for long drives. Ate out in all our favorite restaurants.
That summer we could hardly turn on the car radio without hearing the song “Yellow” by Coldplay. Perhaps it only happened once, but when I think of that summer this is what I remember: a nighttime drive down the length of Chicago’s lakefront, overhead the city lights like glittery stars, windows rolled down, a baby girl filling me up, and “Yellow” playing on the radio.
That song and my firstborn: they’ve been tangled up in my mind ever since.
Which is a good thing.
Now when I hear that song, I’m taken right back to a place and a feeling it’s important never to forget. I hear the song, and I remember all of the joy and love and hope that a mother feels when her baby is tucked up inside, still unknown.
It can be difficult (often impossible) to hold on to those feelings through sleepless nights, temper tantrums, sibling fights, meltdowns over homework … well, all the ordinary awfulness of day to day life.
And my own mother-failures are the most awful of all.
But the ordinary awfulness is a distraction. It’s not the real thing. It doesn’t tell us who we really are. It tries to obscure the truth of who our child is.
More and more, I’m convinced that good parenting is learning to coast through the awfulness without losing my grip on the truth.
And the truth is this: life is magical, motherhood is an indescribably good gift, and my child (yours too) is more precious and beautiful than even the nighttime sky.
That is the truth, and this song helps me remember.
Just in time for Mother’s Day: a gorgeous cover of “Yellow” by Renee and Jeremy: