Life lately

The damage from our epic and unexpected storm in February is still seen around homes and in the forests here. On my walks in the woods, the brush is rubbled-up like leftovers from a huge party, blocking the creek in places and changing the landscape. Fir trees, strong and established, came completely unmoored by the surprise weight of the snow that fell. The trees grow roots to hold on to the earth and so many of them completely let go, gave up, and their bodies all lay neatly pointing downhill. 
There wasn’t a lot people could do about the mess until the season had passed, but now the sun is out and it’s time. 

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There is really no good way to describe a season while you are in it. You don’t understand the full extent of it till it has passed.  So we describe what we were and what we did and how we thought. We tell it as though it was either the worst of times or the best, because nostalgia creeps in and makes us victims—either the past was great and now, here we are; or the past was terrible and there I was. Distorted. Hyperbolized. Inflated.

Knowing all that, let me try to describe our present season in one sentence: On Thursday we took the trash to the dump and we didn’t have another bag-full of garbage until Sunday. 

Or this sentence: Friday there were only three of us so we had dinner out. 

You’ll need to get used to this mom, my daughter said when I noted the trash situation, and that’s another sentence that could describe our season—my daughter, explaining things to me gently, letting me down slowly.  She has two months in Mongolia this summer, a full-time job, and plans to move out soon. Is eighteen years really enough time to prepare?

I had already changed our chore chart from a daily trash affair to every other day, and then I removed the chore from the chart altogether because it was so random and chore charts need regularity. Someone just takes the trash out when it’s full and no one gets to check it off a list anymore.

We still run a load in the dishwasher daily, but I wonder when that changes. When do we switch from six gallons of milk a week to four, to two, to a tiny, cute half-gallon? When does the milk spoil? I can’t remember the last time the milk spoiled in my fridge and I think it's maybe never happened; maybe milk spoilage is a myth to perpetuate repopulation: have more kids or your milk will spoil.

Time is the same. God is the same. We think it’s logical that our bank account should begin to increase now as children work and learn and leave, but even that is essentially the same. 

The sameness of God is what counteracts our (mock) despair in a season like this. He is same and steady and sure, the way a tree rooted to the earth and reaching to the sky should be. But He’s not boring in His sameness. He’s not fully discoverable, still, after so many seasons.

God is the center of a concentric circle we rotate around, rowing our boats, forgetting our bread, still not getting it. He increases the surface tension and we don’t even realize we could walk right to Him and touch Him and see Him steady, unchanging in Himself but new to us in every season. We think we’ve discovered something new when we unwrap a mystery, but He has only just pulled back the cover on what has always been. The only new thing is our understanding.

I need to think about these things when all my things are changing things, because I am a woman whose definitions and titles are changing. But I am who I always am.

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When the disciples forgot their bread, somewhere on the shore behind them were twelve baskets full of fragments leftover from a miracle—twelve baskets from a feast prepared for the hungry who would be hungry again. On the one hand, no one thought to bring bread for the trip and I think they were men focused on a task. On the other hand, wasn’t Jesus exasperated that they still didn’t get it? “Don't you understand yet?” He asked them. They didn’t and I don’t and we attempt to cover our lack of understanding by trying harder, but it never works that way. We laugh at a joke we don’t get and wonder how our bellies will be filled in this next season.

I don’t understand yet how God meets all our needs but sometimes we still feel a lack; how the spiritual dangers we can’t see outweigh the physical ones we can; how preparing for a season is even possible when we don’t know the start date, the itinerary, the return flight schedule. I don’t know how to prepare for something I’ve never been or done or seen.

All I can do is what I keep doing: gathering the fragments for the trip between feasts. There are miraculous provisions in my past, baskets full to carry me through the present.

The fragments for this season must be the memories: a toddler and an infant on the carpet, one reaching for a toy, the other starting to take it away but holding back, looking at me, knowing to be gentle; scrunching up a baby sock, rolling it over tiny toes; a baby in a room full of un-held babies, one of those orange plastic jewels stuck to his finger, eyes large and black and drowning; all of us on the floor Christmas morning.

I have a sketchy memory full of very specific snapshots I’ve intentionally frozen—remember this. I am mad about so much I don’t remember but the fragments are enough to fill the boat, and if I forget, ultimately, it’s ok. It’s never about the lack, the forgotten things. It’s always about the present provision.

The trees grow roots to hold on to the earth but so many of them let go this winter. I am changing, but I am not like those trees.  

Building. Tending. Praying.

Summer is doggedly hunting down its ending, turning on me just as I was settling in. I flipped the calendar and caught the sun still sleeping at 5:30am, caught the grass refusing to green and the tomatoes all of a sudden blushing overnight. 

My current summer routines are not what I thought they would be. Shocker. I had big plans for the “extra hours” summer would give me and the wide-open mental space I would have. (It would be humbling to go back through the summers on this blog and see myself learning this lesson again and again.)Turns out, summer keeps the same hours as winter and just adds extra light, and I distract myself with the same things, get caught up doing the same things, and tell myself the same things.

I forgot to project reality into my visions of summer.

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The kids in my home who are mostly adults are coming and going with their own schedules. If I still had some semblance of control over their lives, I’d plan for all their jobs and activities to coordinate better. Instead, they leave on the half-hours between 6:30 and 8:00 a.m., each needing more coffee or food and each deserving a little conversation, and they return at all hours of the day and night. Dinner for two? For three? For seven or eight?

Flexibility is the new “consistency”, because nothing is consistent except the need to be flexible. 

My routine is not a routine anymore. The schedules do not follow a pattern. I need the ability to dive deep into my own work at a moment’s notice, to surface intermittently on demand, and dive back in again as soon as possible. 

On top of the staggered stop and start times of the majority of the house, I still have one child who needs summer and fun and someone other than mom to stare at all day. I gave him the option of listening to me read-aloud a book from his curriculum this coming school year, or playing a game with me. He chose cards, which is fine and normal and good. I could have insisted on the read-aloud to make myself feel better, but summer-life needs the freedom of childhood. 

Gone are the days of my schedule-making. Gone are the days of my dictatorship. Everyone here has opinions and preferences and a life, and this is exactly as it should be, I remind myself. 

As summer winds down, so does our summer with them, which is what I'm really thinking about. I love fall. But the changes that are coming this fall are ones I can't fully anticipate, different than all other falls before, out of our routine and even my ability to plan for.

Last week, our oldest daughter was feeling overwhelmed by her impending fall schedule and by all the loose ends she is unable to tie up in her life.  The solution for her was to go back to that tree she fell not far from and get herself a planner.  She found one under the shining glory of a display in Marshall’s, all decked out in scripture and tabs and spiral binding. “I know the plans I have for you…” the cover declared, a play on words of biblical proportions, but also a comfort to her. She is not so jaded yet as to see the cliche. 

A hope and a future is not a cliche, but I see it twist before me like it’s a promise of perfection here on earth. I get it mixed up. Build houses and plant a garden and live and pray for the peace of the foreign land you live in (CURRENTLY. RIGHT NOW.), because you’re going to be here for awhile —  my paraphrase of Jeremiah 29.

Make order and beauty in the place you are.

Deal with what you’re dealt.

Stop looking for the next thing.

Don't listen to the prophets-for-profit who tell you God couldn't possibly intend for you to have hard times, difficulties, disordered plans.

The order we’re seeking is continually following the laws of nature and descending into chaos, only to be ordered again. That’s the cycle. The future and the hope we are given might not be as entirely orderly as we think, might not be all about ducks-in-a-row and predictability, seeing how God has fitted us to be chaos-managers and those who seek order. 

We are led to disappointment by the false prophets of perfect planning who would tell us that once everything is ordered, we’ll sail smoothly. Building and tending and praying all involve the ordering of things that are out of order, and this is our unending vocation here.

It could be a long captivity in this chaos. 

The future and hope of Christ is all things ordered in Him and by Him. I live in small seasons, up close to chaos. I stand in summer and see it fleeting. God stands in summer with me and sees all things working together, chaos filling in the larger borders of a pattern that might one day be clear to me. 

He knows the plans.