This is the Day

exploring the soul's quest for joy

Tag: joy

Through a Child’s Eyes

 

This photo has stood sentry on my dressing table for as long as I can remember. It’s one of those cheesy shopping mall photos – the Christmas tree isn’t real, but the smiles on my boys’ faces certainly are. In the eyes of the one, I see the strength and assurance that comes with being the first-born. In the eyes of the other, I see the twinkle of mischief, and a giggle forming on the lips and I am reminded how good life is when you’re only two years old.

 

When I gaze into these two sweet faces, I remember a time long ago, a time of innocence and unbridled laughter. A time when each day was met with a smile and with expectation over what untold adventure the day might hold. These were the carefree days.

 

These were the days before they knew disease would knock on our front door and settle itself right in.

 

These were the days before they learned the sting of disappointment and betrayal.

 

These were the days before they experienced the loss and uncertainty that comes with moving far from the home they loved to live in a state or a country they had never experienced before.

 

These were the days before life got messy and complicated and they began to understand it in all its complexity.

 

These were the days of chubby hands and pinchable cheeks, and glimmers, always glimmers in the eyes.

 

Life has its way of taking some of the glimmer out of our eyes, doesn’t it? Experience the shock and gravity of disease, the weight of the burden of caregiving, the sting of betrayal, the fear of another failure or disappointment, for that matter, just experience grown-up life at all, and it’s understandable why our glimmer fades.

Last night, on a balmy August evening, I had the privilege of taking my sister’s family to the ballpark. All four of my niece’s children, ages 2 to 9, were there as well to watch the Phillies take on the Nationals. I saw the glimmer again – in their eyes. In every pair of eyes that looked back at me across the ballpark hot dogs and the cheesesteaks (we are in Philly after all!) I saw that glimmer of light.

 

 

Even in our Tyler’s eyes. Diagnosed with retinoblastoma at 2 months of age, and wearing a prosthetic eye since he was 18 months old, even Tyler, my niece’s son, was all a glimmer and a glow at the prospect of the joy of the evening before him. His life has been hard. Harder than most of us can imagine. And yet, even through all the surgeries and chemo and treatments and the discomfort that has accompanied all of it, Tyler’s joy is irrepressible.

 

And I remember my own son in the years after his diagnosis with type 1 diabetes at age 5. His joy was also irrepressible. Shots of insulin, multiple finger stick blood tests a day, food restrictions, soaring or plummeting blood sugars, a hovering mother – nothing seemed to phase him. I was the one who was a mess. I was the one who had lost the glimmer.

 

This morning, Tyler’s parents and my sister took Tyler for his now semi-annual appointment at Will’s Eye Hospital. They can speak casually about the complexity of the visit: removing Tyler’s prosthetic eye, inserting eye drops, and examining everything for signs of health or disease. And they make it sound so easy, so commonplace. But make no mistake about it; what they endure as caregivers is also hard. Harder than most of us can imagine.

 

Tyler will one day feel the weight of the lifetime effects of retinoblastoma on his life, even as my Austin feels the weight of living 24/7 with type 1 diabetes. But what always strikes me about children who suffer from chronic illness is their irrepressible joy. It is as though they have entered this world with a sense of the holiness of life, of the sanctity of life, of the joy of life, despite the trials that come their way that try to steal their hope. Although they experience such hardship at such a tender age, they refuse to yield to the fear of what might be and instead rest in the beauty of the moment that is.

 

They carry within them the solemn truth that life is sacred.

 

I love who my children have become, but, I’ll just admit it, I also miss who they once were in all their innocence and glimmer, because through their eyes, I could see that yes, life may be hard, but life is also beautiful. We will all walk through pain and hard seasons, but there will also be sweet times ahead. Life is short, and not a single day is guaranteed to us, so it is essential we seek out the sweetness in life and press in there.

 

Even with only one glimmering eye, we can see more of life’s beauty than we could ever see with two eyes that have lost their sparkle.

 

 

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.

Days Like These

 

Today was one of those double-whammy, two-fisted, double-doctor appointment days. The kind that sucks all the life out of you, leaving a mama spent and wondering what happened to her plans for the day.

 

Still, I guess it’s better than last week’s triple play, three-doctor appointment day.

 

Five medical appointments and two small surgical procedures for two of my kids within two weeks left me with enough medicines and potions to take over an entire section of my kitchen and enough post-visit printed summaries to paper a small bathroom.

 

Some of the appointments were expected and had been scheduled far in advance; others were surprises, interruptions in a carefully scheduled life.

 

This morning’s visit with my son to see his endocrinologist was one of the expected visits. But the crashing low blood sugar just as we arrived at the physician’s office wasn’t expected.

 

Nor were we prepared for it.

 

You do have glucose tablets, right? Because you know I no longer carry them with me since you went away to college…

 

Unlike most days, today, my usually prepared son forgot to stuff his bag of tabs in his pocket. He quickly ate the snack he had brought with him but it was ineffective at elevating his rapidly falling blood sugar. Twenty minutes before, his blood sugar had been super high, too high to eat that snack. It makes no sense that his blood sugar could swing so wildly in twenty short minutes.

 

Unless you have type 1 diabetes. Then all bets are off.

 

This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.

 

I remind myself of King David’s words from Psalm 118:24 and know that God has made this day for me. Including all the curve balls, the mini crises, and the unexpected events that come with this day. Will I rejoice in it or give into anxiety because the day is not going as I had envisioned it would?

 

Rejoice, oh my soul, rejoice. Trust and rejoice.

 

I reach into my bag and hand my son the partially eaten sandwich that I had started eating during our car ride. I quickly stopped eating it when he discovered that his blood sugar was too high to eat his own snack, so I quietly tucked it in my bag for later.

 

When it would be safe for him to eat. When it wouldn’t be rude to eat in front of him.

 

But now, he is in trouble, and I don’t care that my tummy is rumbling and that it will be hours before I can stop again to find food.

 

That’s what mamas do. We gladly hand over our partially eaten sandwiches to our children in need. Because crazy, unpredictable days aren’t always kind to those who have little control over how their bodies respond to the unpredictable.

 

We live in the tension between wanting to control all of life’s circumstances and knowing that we simply cannot control everything. And right there in that tension we discover the source of much of our discontent and grumbling. Many days there is simply far more that we cannot control than we can control.

 

But we can decide how we will respond to the unforeseen circumstances of life. Will we let go of what is beyond our control and choose to trust in the One who gives us and those we love our very breath? Will we trust Him enough to rejoice even amidst the dark, uncontrollable moments of life?

 

And I smile just a little bit, realizing that while I had thought myself so clever to think ahead and make myself a sandwich, I was not actually making it for me, but for my son.

 

This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.

 

 

Today’s other appointment was not expected and I certainly had not planned for it to consume the bulk of my day. It began early in the morning, involved two hours of phone calls with nursing and scheduling staff at two different offices, the pleading voice of a mother saying, isn’t there just a small window of time in the schedule with one of your doctors, and the surprising kindness of the one who ultimately arranged for one of those squeeze-her-in-where-there’s-not-really-any-room appointments.

 

The knot in my stomach builds as my mind races to sort out what must be done.

 

Do not fear, for I am with you.

 

These words of the prophet Isaiah remind me to invite God’s presence right here in the midst of the storm. Deep breath in. Savor the opportunity for silent prayer during the long waits on hold with the medical staff. Deep breath out.

 

Two hours have passed since I began trying to schedule this appointment. Finally I hear her voice again on the other end of the phone. We have the appointment. Arrive 15 minutes early. Yes, I know the drill.

 

This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.

 

The knot in my stomach loosens. I mentally review the schedule for the rest of my day, half-listening as the woman reviews with me more details about the appointment. I must leave home in 10 minutes to take my son to his appointment. I will have just enough time between the two appointments to take him home and pick up my daughter at school. Better pack a sandwich; it will be a busy day.

 

The conversation draws to a close, and yet I can’t hang up the phone without telling her how much she has blessed me today by her efforts to help me. She looked for the needle-in-a-haystack appointment when it would have been so much easier to say, I’m sorry lady, but there just isn’t anything available.

 

Comfort others with the comfort with which you have been comforted.

 

I speak my words of thanks and blessing. There is a pause. Then I hear her voice. It is changed. Lighter somehow. I think I hear the smile on her face, knowing she made a difference in the life of a stressed-out mama today.

 

Days like these are, unfortunately, not too unusual for me.

 

But they’re never expected.

 

And I rarely welcome them into my tightly designed vision of how my day should unfold.

 

I remember that these days never catch God by surprise. And I am comforted by the knowledge that He is right with me in the midst of the firestorm. These are days to practice letting go of control and of my need to have things go my way and to choose instead to look for the blessings that are all around me.

 

This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.

 

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