This is the Day

exploring the soul's quest for joy

Page 2 of 9

In Search of Perfect

 

It’s quite possible that fall is everyone’s favorite season. Not too hot, not to cool – in the immortal words of Goldilocks, it’s just right. Never mind that the calendar year begins in January, instinctively we all consider fall to mark the real beginning of the year. Inscribed in our minds from our deepest childhood memories of new teachers, new classmates, and the latest back to school fashions, fall will forever mark the beginning of the new year. Following the rest and renewal of summer, fall is a time for new beginnings and new possibilities.

 

Fall is a time of harvest when we celebrate the work that our hands have accomplished in prior seasons. Winter may have its blanket of soft white, spring its explosion of every pastel hue available to the finest impressionist painter, and summer every shade of green and the brilliance of a hot ball of fire to light our days. But fall…oh fall. In you we savor the final explosion of the Creator’s paintbrush before the whole earth goes silent and hibernates in its covering of grey and white.

 

My soul longs to imagine that this is the perfect season. My critical eye scans the landscape as I walk, when I drive, seeking out a flawless grove of trees where no barren limbs can be seen and all of summer’s green has turned into a blaze of reds and oranges and yellows. I hunt for it as though, once found, I could gulp it down and hold it locked within me to warm me forever.

 

This is the season I feel I must protect. I fret that the color show hasn’t begun on time. I fret that the trees won’t turn brilliant in a tidy and orderly fashion. I fret that an untimely storm may come and wash it all away before I’ve had my fill of its splendor. And I fret about the new season that will replace this one when all this beauty is but a distant memory.

 

I imagine perfection is to be found tangled in the beauty before me. And so, my mind’s eye erases what it does not want to see. If I squint just a little bit, the reds and oranges come into relief and the bare branches recede into obscurity. But the camera tells a different story.

 

This has been an unusual fall for us in the Northeast. With temperatures still in the 60s most days, fall emerges for a day or two and then retreats again under the cover of lush greenery. Impatient, many trees have dropped their leaves before others have even begun their annual autumnal show. Our locust trees have long ago shed their lacey golden crown. Most of the sycamore and English plane trees have suffered blight this year that has singed their leaves brown, causing them to curl inward, dry and decaying before their inevitable descent to the ground. Their grand trunks, clothed in mottled white and army fatigue gray bark, stand sentry, bare, with no blanket of golden yellow to shelter them. And all the while, the proud maples stand tall and green refusing to let a few cooler nights coax them into revealing their majestic hues of crimson, burgundy and pure fire.

 

The trees have not turned brilliant in a tidy and orderly fashion this year.

 

 

My search for perfection is not limited to my visual appreciation for autumnal splendor. If truth be told, I seek perfection in the seasons of my own life. My heart longs to discover perfect moments, perfect days, perfect seasons and settle right in, imagining that all will go according to my tidy organized plan, and that no storms will come to wash away the splendor of that perfect season of my life.

 

I seek out moments when all of my children are healthy and content, where marriage is sweet and friendships are honest and life-giving. Where work is fulfilling and we can taste the financial security that comes from a job well rewarded. Where academic pursuits are enriching and doctor visits are few. Where our cars run smoothly, the hot water heater hasn’t exploded, and there are no sudden trips to the ER.

 

I seek out these moments as if by capturing them I could hold onto them like so many lightening bugs captured in a glass jar. But perfect moments can’t be frozen in time any more than lightening bugs can light up the night forever. Their glow only lasts so long before it flickers out and all we’re left with is a bug in a jar.

 

Is there a lesson for me in the perfectly imperfect autumn display of 2017?

 

The natural world tells us that nothing is perfect, that beauty and decay co-exist side by side in every landscape, in every season. I would do well to learn from nature’s example and not to keep seeking out that one perfect season. Every season of our lives is filled with joy and pain, light and dark, growth and decay, ascent and descent.[1]

 

It is in accepting the decay that I am better able to see the beauty.

 

Fall may be my favorite season, but it is not a perfect one. How could it be? No one season, no one event, no one person is capable of containing all the fullness of perfection. Only God can do that, for God alone is pure and lovely, perfect and filled with light.

 

And so I open wide my half-slit eyes and gaze in wonder that any of this beauty is mine to behold at all. And I see it all for perhaps the first time. The mops of green remind me of the sweetness of what was, while the bare branches prepare me to accept what will be. And in the reds and oranges and yellows I am thankful for the joy that comes in appreciating what is.

 

[1] With special thanks to my friend, William Butler, whose painting series Ascension has helped me better grasp that all of life involves simultaneous ascent and descent.

Lessons From the Gorge, Part 2

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to turn the page on this calendar year and put an end to 2017. It has been an awfully painful year, hasn’t it? Five terror attacks in the UK. The Barcelona bombing. Mass shootings, car bombs, and suicide bombs in Istanbul, Baghdad, Kabul, Somalia, Pakistan, Syria and many other locations around the world. Hurricane Harvey. Hurricane Irma. Hurricane Maria. Hurricane Nate. Two earthquakes in Mexico. And the Las Vegas massacre.

 

None of us is immune to the horror of these senseless acts of violence and destruction. We are stunned and grieved. Shattered. We all feel the anguish of what was lost, even if our lives were not personally affected by any one of these events. All of humanity shares in the pain and in the longing for recovery.

 

And we weep for those who have lost so much more than we have.

 

There are those who have suffered excruciating loss from the gut-wrenching events of this year. Some have lost loved ones. Others have lost homes. Some have found themselves suddenly alone in the world with no possessions and no family to depend on.

 

I cannot fathom their pain. It is bigger, more incomprehensible than the pain I have experienced in my life.

 

None of us is immune to suffering. We all experience our own private heartache and loss, smaller in scope for sure, but no less painful in our individual experience.

 

This year I lost my father. Then one month later, my mother followed her husband of 64 years. My daughter tore her meniscus, ultimately requiring knee surgery and months of rehab. My son’s health concerns have necessitated a leave of absence from college. And just this week we discovered a new problem in his eye related to his diabetes.

 

Years like this one are enough to make me just want to raise up my hands in surrender. Surrender to the bully holding me down. During years like this one, I long to shout UNCLE! to the forces in the universe that threaten to undo me. I have grown tired of the fight. Tired of reading of man’s depravity. I am unable to conceive of such hatred perpetrated against another human being. I have grown weary of the onslaught of medical crises. And my heart aches at each announcement of yet another natural disaster.

 

My heart cries out, Enough!

 

Maybe surrender is exactly what I need. Not surrender to the forces of evil that swirl and rage around me, flashing their jagged teeth poised to rip me asunder. Perhaps what I need most right now is to surrender to the creator God who is the force behind all that is good and pure and right in this world.

 

What might it look like if I opened my heart wide enough to consider that even amidst all the horror, God is still who he says he is – the God of love? Can I accept that even though horrors and tragedies surge unabated all around us, he is still enthroned over all the earth? What might it look like if amidst the firestorms of this year I would choose to look for the hand of God, still at work in his creation, still bringing new life where all had seemed hopeless?

 

 

I stand still before the mighty gorge. Quietly I observe all it has to teach me. The waters rage with great force tumbling over the solid granite slab. All is pounding. All is in motion. The water is relentless as it spills over the rock walls.

 

I catch my breath at the beauty and the majesty of the gorge. All I hear is the thunderous sound of the destructive water, powerful enough to move mountains and forever change landscapes.

 

Science teaches us that erosion continues in the gorge, not at the cataclysmic rate that was witnessed during the great ice ages, but at a slower pace that changes the landscape in less perceptible ways. Nevertheless, whether dramatic or imperceptible, forceful erosion is always a part of the experience of the gorge.

 

There is never a place of having fully arrived, where the gorge remains forever the same, forever placid, forever free of the forces that threaten to be its undoing.

 

At the gorge, the pounding of the relentless flow of water carries on undeterred.

 

And yet, even in the pounding flow of destructive forces, there are places of respite where new life can be found. Look closely. There settled in the cleft of the rock, new life does its own inexorable work of springing forth.

 

In our trials there comes a moment of surrender. Not the lifted hands that signal a giving up, but the lifted hands that declare, even in this, I will trust you, God. And in the surrender, we see new life.

 

In the atrocities of this year, I see new life when I observe the hand of love. I see the image of God alive in humanity in the kindness of strangers risking their lives to help and shield those fleeing a firestorm of bullets.

 

I see the face of God in those who give of their savings and their vacation to travel to help strangers rebuild their lives when disaster strikes.

 

I see the hand of God in those who log a ridiculous number of miles on foot or on the seat of their bikes to raise money to find a cure for type 1 diabetes, MS, and all types of cancers. There are warriors of love all around us, sheltering us, giving us much needed respite in the storms of life.

 

 

This is the place of new life. This is the place of hope.

 

And in this place, I am reminded that the promises of God still stand. Despite the evil all around, God is still love. Despite the chaos all around, God is still enthroned above the heavens.

 

And one day, he will make all things new.

 

Behold, I am doing a new thing;

now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

I will make a way in the wilderness

and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)

 

 

The Gorge

 

I have recently discovered Ithaca, NY and must confess that I am smitten by its natural beauty. My visits began two years ago when my daughter committed to play lacrosse at Cornell University. Several times a year we would travel to Ithaca for her to attend lacrosse camps or clinics as she pursued her passion for playing lacrosse at college. This summer my daughter entered Cornell as a college freshman and those sporadic visits have now been replaced by regular trips for my husband and me up to the shores of Cayuga Lake as her fall lacrosse season has begun in earnest.

 

Spend much time in Ithaca and you quickly fall in love with the beauty of the place. The advertising genius who coined the phrase “Ithaca is Gorges!” could not have spoken clearer truth. With 150 waterfalls flowing across the town, funneling water through gorges carved out by glaciers a million years ago, Ithaca truly is gorges…and gorgeous!

 

Like much that is beautiful, the landscape of the Finger Lakes region was not always the stunning vision that it is today. Its breathtaking beauty was forged over years of deconstruction and reconstruction. To create something as magnificent as the gorges takes years in the making.

 

Years of chiseling.

 

Years of cutting in and chipping away.

 

Years of forceful, constant pressure from the source that seeks to recreate what once was a solid mass of rock into something entirely new.

 

In the Maker’s hand, the once solid, solitary mountain has been repurposed into a channel through which water can flow.

 

 

I long to live a life that reflects the strength and beauty of a mighty gorge, yet instinctively I know that this type of strength and beauty can only be created through adversity and challenging seasons. I don’t much like adversity and challenging seasons. I have experienced enough of them to know that I prefer the peace and stability of the solid, solitary mountain.

 

I know the pain of being chiseled away, because type 1 diabetes has forged its way into every fiber of my family’s life and is relentless in the pressure it places on my son, every single day of his life.

 

I know the heartache of being cut, because concussions and surgeries and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome have at times cut the joy and laughter and normalcy from my children’s lives.

 

I know the fear of being chipped away, having lived through a long season of family unemployment that chipped away at our security, our comfort and even our identity.

 

I don’t much like the work of being repurposed.

 

The work is painful. And it is scary at times when the chiseling lasts longer than we think we can hold on, and the cutting has cut so deep we think we might not survive this time.

 

The work of being repurposed into something stronger and more beautiful doesn’t happen overnight; it takes a long time. And it usually takes much longer than I would like.

 

But it is in the painful, intense pressure seasons of life that the Maker does his best work. It is in the excessively stressful seasons of life that my hardest edges get exposed and chiseled away. My fears and insecurities, my worries, my need for control, my jealousy and anger and bitterness – pressure forces them all to the surface, exposing them and leaving them unprotected.

 

It is only when my love for the one in need exceeds my desire for self-protection that I can say to the Maker, Come have your way.

 

 

Yielded, facedown, I release control. I release my stubborn view of what the Maker owes me. Going deeper still, I release my dreams. All that is not true strength, all that is not true beauty is laid bare and is chiseled away.

 

Going deeper, ever deeper, into the hard rock. The waters of life begin to trickle. Another cut, a little more pressure, going deeper still. I can feel the smoothing and polishing of my rough edges. Cool, life-giving water is flowing now, faster, mightier, filling up the newly hewn channel.

 

Until all that remains is what is strong and lovely in the Maker’s eyes.

 

I am no longer the same. I have been repurposed. In my Maker’s hands, I have become a channel through which his living water flows.

 

Hold On My Heart

Double-buckling up front because there’s no room left in the car!

 

It really began five years ago. Five years ago the first cords holding my heart intact began their inevitable, inexorable unfurling, taking with them what was never mine to hold onto in the first place. Depositing a first-born child at college is the dreadful opening of Pandora’s Box, for with that first Great Departure comes the promise of the inevitable departures that will follow.

 

No sooner does the heart settle and the mind accept a slightly less full nest when the cords are stretched and ripped wide open again, and just like that, the second child is gone. There is now no escaping the reality that this one who is left will, like her brothers before her, respond to the siren song, and my heart will tear just a little bit more.

 

This week, Time has called her name and has insisted that she too be wrested from my heart. This week, I moved my baby out of her forever bedroom and settled her into her new life in college, and my heart will never be the same.

 

Mamas like me have a need, a giant-sized need to settle our children into their college homes. Our need to settle them stems from our own role as nest builders, which we instinctively assume in the days and weeks preceding the birth of our first child. This same instinct goes into overdrive every time one of those children leaves to make new homes outside of the familial nest. We need to settle them, to tuck them in. To move them into their new dorm rooms simply does not cover the full spectrum of what a mother needs to do! And fathers and children who understand that will be all the happier for that wisdom!

 

I was woefully unprepared for my first son to leave, both emotionally and practically. When your son refuses to choose any décor for his new room, it’s hard to make that space feel like home! As much as I dreaded the day of his move-in and tried to steel myself against the emotional tide that was rising up within me, I completely failed at holding it together! My need to settle my son into his dorm room was at complete odds with my husband’s desire for our son to be independent and our son’s desire for us to finish up and move along!

 

The move-in for my second son was just about as unpleasant for the same reasons his brother experienced. Except this time, the stakes were higher. This time, we had to get it right to keep our son with type-1 diabetes safe. After preparing the dorm room, we still had to talk to the folks at the health office, visit the pharmacy, buy supplies, and meet the RA. Without warning, Orientation began and all the newbie students were whisked away to begin their new lives together while their parents stood open-mouthed, amazed that the first real goodbye in their child’s lifetime could be that sudden or casual.

 

Not only had I not succeeded in making his room look like home, but I didn’t even have time to buy all of his emergency supplies. Time came for my son and I was left standing alone, tears stinging my face, pondering all he had been through to get to this place.

 

I know what it is to watch your child suffer the interruption of academic progress due to health struggles and the associated fear that taunts life will never be normal again for your son. And I know the fear that college itself will be just outside of his grasp. And so I rejoice that this departure, as abrupt and difficult as it was, has indeed happened.

 

These are, of course, just the first of the heart wrenchings that herald more and greater departures to come. Where college is accompanied by the promise of summers and holidays spent together, under the pretense that nothing has changed to disrupt life as we always knew it, a child’s moving out after college keeps up no such charade.

 

My heart endured a deeper wrenching the summer my firstborn moved out of his upstairs bedroom, with no promise of an imminent return. The baseball men, who for more than a decade have stood sentry along his wallpaper border, will no longer have anyone to look after. The bedroom on the right will remain empty now.

 

And while I miss him body and soul, I rejoice in this departure too. For it is as it should be. Parting is indeed such sweet sorrow, not so much because of the future joy of being reunited, but because my heart longs for the world as I’ve known it for 23 years.

 

 

My daughter’s college move-in, our final one, was different. Better, much better. I guess we’ve learned a thing or two over the years. I was expecting it to be the worst, she is my baby after all, but it was surprisingly the easiest. Girls, with their undeniable preference for Instagram-worthy college dorm rooms, make a mother’s need to settle her offspring into this chapter of their lives easily satisfied. We arranged, we rearranged, we decorated, we hung, we folded, and in the end she was satisfied with her space, and I was satisfied that I had settled her in.

 

Nevertheless, as sweet as this experience was, I taste the bittersweet knowledge that nothing will ever be the same. My heartstrings have been stretched to their breaking point now. My heart has moved very far beyond my front door and has settled into 3 different cities, in 2 additional states.

 

Ours is a nest of five. It feels full and right and good when all five of us are present. How does one begin to carry the weight of its inadequacy when it is not full and brimming with life?

 

And I tell my heart to hold on; this is all as it should be.

 

These precious ones that I have had the privilege of raising and loving were never mine to hold onto in the first place. They are gifts from God, entrusted to me and to my husband, to love and nurture and care for until they have wings to soar on their own.

 

It is not fear for their safety and protection that occupies my thoughts – I know the God who knows the number of hairs on their head and calls the stars by name will watch over them better than I ever could. The ache in my heart stems from the knowledge that where their independent lives are just beginning, my forever-together life with them has come to an end.

 

There is a natural tension between my joy at the adults they are becoming and my sorrow over the children they have left behind. I have loved those little children with every fiber of my being and will miss who they once were.

 

I long to talk with them like friends and hold their chubby little hands in mine. I want to hear their opinions on current political events and hold them tight as I read yet one more bedtime story to them at night. I long to see them thrive as adults, glimpsing the paths they will choose in life, and I want to brush the hair from their cherubic faces as they drift off to sleep.

 

But I can’t have it both ways.

 

They too were created with a purpose, not just to stay my little ones, but to grow into all God intended for them. To glorify God, to love one another, and to make this world a better place.

 

Hold on my heart; it is all as it should be.

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons From the Sea

 

I raise my hand to my face to brush aside a tendril of hair that had come loose from my hat in the sea breeze. The fragrance of the sea – salt, fish, sea water – escapes from every pore in my ten fingers and two palms, a pungent reminder of the lobster I had just devoured on the harbor wharf. It doesn’t matter that I had washed these hands several times already. The scent insists on lingering, a potent reminder to this island visitor that life here is inexorably connected to the sea.

 

We walk the little sandy path, dunes to our right, harbor to our left, pressing ever forward until we reach the beach. The sand stands sentry, guarding our approach to the sea as it rolls back and forth, back and forth, preparing to catch the great ball of fire as it descends. We are travelers on a pilgrimage, seeking a greater glory, a transcendent experience that will at once show us more about ourselves and more about the Divine.

 

Sunsets at Menemsha are serious business, where spectators evaluate, rate, and compare the colors illuminating the evening sky like they do fireworks displays on the Fourth of July. And we too have come to see. And to measure and compare the beauty of this sun as it sets, yielding the night sky to its lesser orb, the moon.

 

They arrive in pairs, as families, and as small gatherings of friends until the entire beach is littered with beach chairs and blankets. With goblets of wine, tall glasses of lemonade, bags of pretzels, and tins of biscuits, the spectators settle in, facing the skyline screen before them as movie goers in an expansive theatre. There is no need to read the storyline; the plot is the same every night. The Great Star that warms our earth and gives us light will bid us farewell and leave for us a parting gift of the most magnificent spectacle of iridescent color.

 

 

The gulls are there in abundance as well. But they are not here for the light show. Their proliferation signals the presence of something my eye cannot see. We humans rely far too much on our eyes for knowledge when we were given five senses and the possibility of faith to help us experience and know. The natural world teems with proof of the existence of things our eyes cannot behold. My dog smells things I will never know are really there, and these gulls swoop and dive for the school of small fish I cannot see, yet believe is there.

 

Just below the surface of what I can see.

 

Those truly in tune with nature and the sea rush to get their fishing poles. They know a greater reality – where there is an abundance of small fish, there will be an abundance of bigger, more desirable fish, even if you can’t see them. Within moments the fishermen are on the jetty, throwing in their lines where no fish can be seen, but the birds have signaled to them to trust and know, not with their eyes, but with their full senses.

 

The sun descends a little closer to its sea foam bed. One of the teenage fishermen reels in his line. Wriggling at the end of the line is a 15” flounder. He has caught and brought into the light what could not be seen in the dark of the sea.

 

 

The soundtrack to our evening at the seaside is of course the lapping of the surf on the shore. Can one ever really grow tired of this sound?

 

Breaking in over the steady rhythm of the sea is the percussion beat of the buoy bell. It rings out like church bells inviting us to come and worship. The buoys that are moored at the entrances to the harbors of Martha’s Vineyard are surmounted with a bell that is sounded by the motion of the waves. The bell buoys are essential to sailors and boaters trying to safely navigate their way back through the harbor.

 

But where the coastal lighthouses require navigators to depend on their vision to guide them safely home in the dark of night, bell buoys require the navigator to listen. And to trust.

 

The tones that ring out from these floating bells carry for a great distance over water, and most have their own distinctive mix of tones for easy identification even before the navigator actually reaches them or is able to see them. Bell buoys are essential in the dark of night and when the coastal fog rolls in.

 

In our own journeys through life, fog is sure to roll in. The dark of night will take its turn with us, settling in, and during the winter seasons of life, envelope us for longer, deeper stretches of time than we feel we can survive. These are the times that we cry out for the light of day. For clear skies and warm, bright sunshine to light our way.

 

Oh how happy we are during the long sunny days of summer when we can navigate life with our eyes, through the light of the bright hot sun. But just as night belongs to day and the two form one perfect whole, fog and darkness are a part of life.

 

These are the times when we need to know that we have a bell buoy to guide our way. These are the times when we need to listen to the sound of the Master’s voice guiding us through our dark, uncharted waters. These are the times when we need to trust what we have experienced of Him and what we know to be true, even if we can’t quite see the way forward just now.

 

 

The moment arrives. Like clockwork, just as the tide charts said it would. The Great Star makes its final bow, and like the finale of a Broadway play or a live music concert, the audience erupts with applause. Yes Lord, I say to him quietly. Yes Lord, this applause is all for you, maker of heaven and earth, the dry land and the sea and all that is in them.

 

I came seeking a greater glory, a transcendent experience that would show me more about myself and more about the Divine. And the evening did not disappoint. All of my senses were awakened – the taste of the exquisite lobster, the jewel of the sea; the scent of the sea permeating every layer of my skin; the feel of the sand beneath my feet; the sight of the gulls beckoning me to trust what I could not see; and the buoy bells reminding me that there is One I can trust to guide me in the dark, stormy seasons of life.

 

I came seeking a sunset. I left having encountered God.

 

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2018 This is the Day

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑