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.
It seems the drought is over.
In so many ways, it is over.
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.”
Revelation 3: 7-8
I’ve been thinking about my Summer List.
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. And did I mention the heat? Maybe fruit picking? Beau’s two favorite episodes of Caillou are the one in which Caillou picks strawberries and the one in which Caillous picks apples (which makes me very, very happy). Oh, but 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 in January. 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, baby girl isn’t due to arrive until the end of September, my two oldest are out of school, even the two-days-a-week preschool is on summer break. 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.
Edited and reposted from the archive.
My father likes to say it’s a good thing our country isn’t any bigger. If it were, he jokes, our family would live even farther apart.
It always makes us laugh. Then sigh. Because it’s painfully true. From western mountains to eastern beaches, southern swamps to midwestern plains, the members of our immediate family have spread across the miles to create a kind of star map, the lines of our constellations drawn with automobiles and airplanes.
This past week, quite a few of us (we never do seem to gather the whole) met in my Florida home for a week of beach, pool, and grill. A family reunion. A family vacation.
The parents of a toddler and infant buckled their weary selves into the car, along with the bottles and sippy cups and squeezable applesauce, for the two-day drive to family. The mother whose husband couldn’t leave his military duties dutifully packed the minivan and buckled the three kids into carseats. The grandparents drove two days (or was it three?) to help us hold babies, take photos, plan multiple forays to the grocery store.
We talked long and late over the noise of eight grandchildren. We fixed snacks. We changed swimsuits. We packed picnics. We fixed more snacks. Sometimes we remembered to feed ourselves.
At least once each day we’d look at one another with half-smiles to say that vacations with young children are more work than work. In other words, going back to work, returning to our everyday, would offer more rest than this vacation.
And that is as it should be. We don’t vacation together for the rest. We do it for the fun of it. We do it for the memories. We do it for each other.
Despite (or because of?) the chaos and messiness of a family vacation, my thoughts this week often turned toward the theme of rest. Maybe the adults in the house weren’t resting (though, I admit to doing quite a bit of reading by the side of the pool), but the kids certainly were.
No, they weren’t necessarily sleeping in or taking long naps, but they were enjoying rest.
True rest, I think, looks a lot like this: all is provided (watermelon and grilled cheese appear, as if dropped from the sky) and you have no control (mother decides if it’s pool time or movie time, quiet time or monopoly time).
The only tasks on the to-do list are to receive and to let go. Receive the good gifts, let go of the need to plan. The worry about tomorrow.
“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
(Matthew 11:28-30, The Message).
“When I am talking about food I am talking about life.” Nigella Lawson
I should be back in this space next week. In the meantime, it’s all about the pool, the cousins, and the food.
Sometimes I think about the privileged ones in God’s story. The ones called out into the desert, like Abraham, Moses, even Jesus. The desert was brutal. Not a place or an experience they would have chosen.
It was also beautiful. They met angels there. They met God himself there.
There are others, too. Like Hagar. Hagar knew desolation in the desert, but it was also there that she discovered the intimacy and the peace of being seen. “You are the God who sees me,” she said. “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
To follow God into the desert is to turn your back on ordinary life. To trade comfort for something much harder and much better.
I know this, but why do I also know that I don’t want to hear that call? Shouldn’t I be willing not only to follow but to run toward the God of the desert?
I’ve had these lyrics bubbling up in my mind for days:
When we were young
We walked where we wanted to
Life was ours
And now we’re old
We go where we’re told
The Lord’s Spirit calls
Follow my road to sorrow and joy.
(from “Desert Father” by Josh Garrels)
We left Chicago two years ago to follow that singing voice into the desert. I hoped for joy, but found, mostly, sorrow.
I’m not sure I would have followed had I known.
I’m glad I didn’t know, because we never do look far enough ahead.
I would have seen loss. I would have seen loneliness, and I would have stopped looking, turned my back, and walked the other way. I’m sure of it.
I would have turned my back on the road that would carry me through the loss, through the loneliness and toward …
Another daughter. A gift and a blessing I was sure would never be mine. I was sure, and I was wrong.
Now I pray, with hope and joy, the final words of “Desert Father.” I pray them for myself. I pray them for you:
Who wait by the blue shores
To part the water
Show us a new way
The impossible dream
Through the deep and the unseen
Carry us home.