It is dark, four children are finally quiet and in bed, and I am carrying a basket of folded laundry up the stairs.
I lift my head and see this: the tall double-hung window that presides over the turn in our staircase. The bottom is etched glass, and a battery-operated candle on the sill has filled it with one perfect rainbow. The top is clear glass, and a full moon hangs precisely at its center.
A full moon and a rainbow. I’ve heard the voice of God in signs like those.
I stop and listen, but I don’t hear that voice tonight.
Maybe I silenced it when I shouted at the boys? First, there was sword fighting with the curtain rods I had carefully placed in the corner (we’re in the middle of painting the family room). I couldn’t handle the noise, was worried the glass finials would break. Next, there was jumping from the couch, so I left them alone, yelled over my shoulder, “Someone will be crying soon!”
When the older boy started crying, I had no sympathy. Later, when I finally checked and saw the blood on his scalp, I somehow had even less.
Putting them to bed, I stepped on the baby Jesus, and I saw red. The baby Jesus from our wooden nativity set is sharp, and my foot hurt, but I saw red because I had told them, told them!, not to bring the Christmas decorations up into their room. It’s like a black hole in there, and I can’t take it anymore, and why did it have to be the baby Jesus accusing me with its painted-on-smile? Why not the donkey? I’d have had no problem throwing that donkey against the wall.
Lying in bed, I think about the full moon and the rainbow. I think about how silent they were. “Jesus, where are you??”
I hear these words in my head: Jesus was a little boy.
I tend to think of the incarnation and remember the baby. Or, the man. Never the little boy.
And the truth is, I don’t want to think about Jesus, the little boy. I don’t want to imagine Jesus jumping off the furniture. I don’t want to consider whether Jesus knew how to use his inside voice.
I want God to speak to me in rainbows and full moons. I want to see angels and follow stars.
I resist the thought that Jesus might be nearer than I think. Perhaps as near as the toddler bed down the hall where a little boy clutches a wooden Mary in one hand and a Lego astronaut in the other.
A big house with open doors. Four seasons of God’s glory.
Community. Hospitality. Roots planted deep.
This dream is big, and we’ve dreamed it for so long. Maybe that’s why I imagined fireworks. Cymbals crashing. An arrival announced with lightning bolts.
But even big dreams are realized in little ways. A morning. An evening. Another morning. It seems that trust and faith are still necessary even after the dream’s inauguration.
The old farmhouse on the hill fills up with our stuff. It’s good. Also overwhelming. We visit a local church. It’s good. Also underwhelming. Is this the place? The place to dig deep? It’s hard to say.
Our first Sunday is also the day for the church’s once-a-month family picnic. We hesitate. Potlucks are danger zones for our middle child. But, they’re grilling packaged meat, and we can check the label. There are big slices of watermelon. So we stay.
And it’s beautiful, this place. A playground shaded by trees. Meadow grasses leading down a wide hill. There’s a small, bubbling creek. A fishing net and a bench just to the side. The kids wade and play and can’t believe their luck. This is church?
The man across the picnic table tells me about this place. Native Americans long used this hillside for their winter rests. Returning from summers spent on the plains, they came to this spot. They took a break from their wandering, and they took that break here. By this water.
The creek, he tells me, is no ordinary creek. You can’t see it, but there is a river here.
The creek that bubbles up just below our table is the beginning – the very small beginning – of a big river. A few miles away this water holds barges, he says. But it all starts here. This is its beginning.
Later that same day I read these words: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10).
I haven’t felt like rejoicing. Too tired. Too hot. Too pregnant. Too much to do. But, I know now that our dream has begun. It has taken shape. Made us tired with the work of realizing it. And that is very, very good.
It is the end of the first day, and we sit on the porch. No chairs, yet. Just us, here, on the steps.
There is a full moon high in the sky, and it is God’s joy for us.
Because the work has begun.
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
Things have been a little quiet around here. A little empty. On the blog and in my heart. This Lent I find myself in a waiting, resting mode. Waiting for my lungs to heal. Waiting for a little boy’s fever to break. Waiting for God to reveal something of what’s next.
I’m waiting on big things and small and holding on to the hope that there will be much to share and much to say on this blog in the months ahead.
Last night, awake at 3 am and waiting for sleep to return, I noticed the moonglow in my bedroom. There’s a full moon tonight, but I have been thinking of new moons. This blog began with my thoughts on a new moon. I’m posting them again in case any of you are finding Lent to be a dark season.
Just remember … darkness is never the end of the story. To paraphrase the writer Anne Lamott, we may be living in a Good Friday world, but we are an Easter people.
Do you know what a new moon looks like? Of course, I do, you’re probably thinking. Until two days ago, I would have thought exactly the same, but I wouldn’t really have been seeing a new moon in my head.
Because I have been in the middle of one book (or six) pretty much ever since I picked up my first kindergarten reader, many of the ideas floating around in my head are attached to letters but not pictures. For example, having read a towering stack of nineteenth-century British novels, I have the word rookery firmly planted in my head. However, I have no solid picture to go along with it. Instead, when I happen upon this word, maybe in Jane Eyre, I see the letters r-o-o-k-e-r-y with a vague image of big black birds sitting on rocks. Which is funny, really, because a rookery shares nothing with rocks but “r,” “o,” and “k.” Though, I had to look it up in wikipedia to be sure even of that.
So, new moon. Two days ago, I googled the phases of the moon. If you’re following a train of thought and sitting in front of a computer (or smartphone, I suppose) it’s amazing how far you can follow said train. My thought began with a complaint and a worry.
I have a two-year-old, and he is a terrible sleeper. Always has been. Which means that my husband and I haven’t slept well in more than two years (because those last few months of pregnancy are never great for sleep, either). Lately, this boy has taken to creeping into our bedroom several times each night and trying to sleep on the floor beside our bed. It’s a little sad and a little cute, but, mostly, it’s exhausting because the two-year-old can’t actually fall back to sleep on our floor, and we can’t fall back to sleep with the loud sucking sounds of his pacifier. Also, I’ve been worried that I’ll get up in the night, not realize he’s there, and step on him. Did I mention that our bedroom has been very, very dark lately? We have transom windows that let in a lot of moonlight, but recently there’s been no light at all and why has there been no light? . . . well, I started googling. The first page that popped up had a huge image of Wednesday night’s moon. A new moon.
This is what a new moon looks like: black, empty, nothing. Somewhere in my head I suppose I knew that. However, it’s the word new that throws me off. New suggests promise, possibility, beginnings. New things should be light, bright, and shimmery. Shouldn’t they? Yet a new moon looks like a black hole. The opposite of promising. The opposite of fresh. The opposite of, well, new.
Staring at that shadowy, black circle where a moon should be, I felt both surprised and encouraged. I’ve been waiting and watching and longing for new things. Months ago, I read these words and felt a promise for my own life: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43: 19). Some days, I did perceive it. Lately, not so much. I read David’s confession that God lifted him “out of the mud and mire” and “put a new song” in his mouth. I too want a “new song,” but I’ve seen so few signs of it. The landscape of my life looks a little dark. Mostly empty.
Seeing rightly what a new moon is, I recall what I do know: new things start out small. New things begin growing in darkness. In their earliest days, new things look a lot like nothing.
Today, I am choosing to believe that what looks like emptiness and nothingness to me is actually the most promising sign of something new. It is fertile ground for the new thing I choose to believe that God is doing.
I’m afraid I’m mixing metaphors here (from sky to earth), but the new moon reminds me of nothing more than a bed of fertile soil. It looks like absolutely nothing. It looks like darkness and emptiness. It isn’t.
“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him” (Psalm 126: 5,6).
It is St. Lucia’s Day, the day the poet John Donne called “the year’s midnight.” It is a short, dark day even here in Florida, thanks to a windy, rainy nor’easter.
The firstborn and I are determined to mark the day as they would in Sweden. Whether this is because of our drop of shared Swedish blood, or because we are firstborn girls, I’m not sure. But, we do it.
We make a crown: soft wool felt for the evergreen leaves, battery-powered candles for the light. She lays out a white nightgown and red ribbon sash while I set her alarm clock. She’s never used an alarm clock, and I must show her three times how to turn it off. She practices her lines for me one more time: “St. Lucia invites you to breakfast!”
We forego the traditional saffron buns, but the gingerbread cookie replacements are prepped and waiting on a tray.
“Goodnight, Lucy/Lily,” I say, as I shut her bedroom door on the eve of Lucy’s day.
Tiptoeing through the dark hallway, straining my eyes to avoid the Lego casualties scattered across the tile, I remember how dark my days were before this girl. Those days of praying and waiting and living without.
I remember, too, how bright the full moon was that winter night when I first knew that she was on her way. Nine years ago it was a bright light of answered prayer, of hopes fulfilled.
It is winter again. I know now that when the days are short and the nights are long, the only right way to see ahead is to look back.
So, I look back and remember: “… weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” Psalm 30:5.