A Christmas Poem

I remembered this poem this Christmas Eve morning as a I cracked an egg from our friend, Bill’s, chickens to make cinnamon rolls as part of our family tradition of cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning. There are so many little miracles every day, the holy incarnate among us, if we just keep our eyes and hearts open. Merry Christmas, friends!

I took the fruit
of some body,
mixed it with
the fruit of earth,
birthed harmony
in each small cookie—

Mary’s sowing,
reaping, crushing,
sifting, the cow
with milk to give,
hen with eggs to
fold in. This season
announces the melding
of flesh with spirit.

our miracles blossom from trauma

and this baking is
beating ingredients,
dough in heaping
spoonfuls, elements
egg and sugar,
wheat and water.

Bite in, lick
the crumb
from your upper
lip, partake in this
communion. Now
we are all here:
laborer, consumer,
life-giver, hovering
over the tray.

from Pruning Burning Bushes

Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

Hope: Closer and Louder

We’re entering the season of advent. The days of advent are traditionally not days of celebration—they are days of longing for the light and voice of God to be heard through the darkness, for peace and justice to reign over oppression and violence. Before the time of Christ, the people of God were living in God’s silence, waiting and hoping for the Word of God to speak once more.

Normally, our family skips the longing of advent and leaps right into a month-long celebration of Christ’s arrival in the world. We plan advent activities centered on joy and delight, magic and laughter. As the darkest days grow darker and darker leading to the winter solstice, we’ve used the season of advent to beat back the night and bring light to our lives.

In our small corner of our community, longing and hope are closer and louder this year. My children long to have sleepovers with their friends. My husband longs to play music with friends. We long to have extended family in our home, gathering with all the joy and celebration of long-held traditions. We long for our family, our friends, and our community to be safe and stay healthy.

This season and first Sunday of advent is perfectly aligned with realtime, real-world longing. Even with the knowledge that Christ has come 2,000 years ago and brought with him the hope of salvation, never has the season of advent seemed more real. It’s dark out. We desperately want it to be bright again.

I’ve returned over and over this year to Scripture for comfort and hope. Humanity needs hope, and God is a god of hope. The Bible never shies away from the reality of suffering; God knows the pain of his people and answers with the hope of love, resilience, and restoration. Isaiah prophesied:

“This is what the Lord says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.

The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise.

Paul writes in Romans 5, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

On this Sunday of hope, let’s make space for lament. Let’s make space for grief. This December will be different than any we can remember. We can’t deny the losses. God hears and meets us in our grief and disappointment. He also turns the darkness into light. He makes a way in the wilderness. He brings streams into the wasteland.

We can’t stop at lament.

As a cousin of mine put it, “It’s okay to be grateful and angry at the same time.” Hope does not disappoint us. As we long for brighter days, we already have the light of Love with us, even in the midst of our suffering. We already have the joy of our salvation, even in the midst of restrictions and limitations.

Grieve, mourn, and wail. And then give thanks. And then give praise. And then hope for reconciliation, hope for the peaceable kingdom to come, hope for the divided world to heal.

We’re going to continue our advent tradition of leap-frogging into Christmas because that’s the kind of joy we need infused with our lament right now. With all that has been taken from us this year, so much has been gained. In the last days of 2019, I wrote that God was whispering to me to be prepared to make space in 2020. Make space for what, I wondered, and here we are, at the conclusion of 2020, with so much space made. Space for deep, intimate joy with my immediate family. Space for long days at my parents’ farm this summer. Forced space for recovery and rest. Space for leisurely walks with my husband and our dog. Space for sunrises and sunsets, backyard fire pits, baking with my kids. Space for studying God’s Word. Space for deepened friendships over Zoom calls. Space to realign my priorities toward whatever God is calling me. I began 2020 anxious and depressed, hormonally off kilter. I’m ending 2020 filled with a peace that truly passes understanding and all the space in the world to go on living and loving this small corner of the world given to me. These are reasons to rejoice, even in the midst of longing and lament. There are reasons to rejoice.

May the longing and lament of this advent season be infused with hope and joy!

Photo by Darshak Pandya from Pexels

My Ongoing Journey with a Suspected Case of COVID

It’s now been six months since Brandon and I got sick with low grade fevers and fatigue for 14 days, me with shortness of breath that was enough to be thinking about going to the hospital but not enough to feel like I might die. Tests were in short supply and reserved for the very sick, so we were told to assume it was COVID based on our symptoms and seek emergency care if it got worse. 

Thankfully, it didn’t get worse. We regained energy and began living like everyone else under new stay-at-home orders. Except when we took walks, I struggled to talk and walk simultaneously, stopping to catch my breath. Then other weird symptoms started – rapid heart rate and chest pains and lung pain that persisted for weeks, constant thirst, dry throat, fatigue. Then the tingling in my hands and feet started, numbness in my face, daily headaches, dizziness, brain fog and forgetting words or exchanging “golf cart” for “golf course” without realizing the slip. 

I’ve been working for months with my healthcare provider who gratefully takes my complaints seriously and has ordered test after test, the expense of which I’m aware is high if it wasn’t for the great insurance we have. Before all of this, I saw a doctor once a year for my annual appointments and that was it. Now, I have a neurologist and a cardiologist. 

Yesterday, finally, I got a diagnosis for what’s been happening since March, a common diagnosis that many self-proclaimed “long haulers” who had Covid and didn’t get better have received: POTS, or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. 

Living in a small rural town that has hardly been touched by COVID publicly makes recovering from (a suspected case) of COVID particularly isolating. I feel surrounded by anti-maskers and COVID-deniers who still believe it’s just like the flu, while some COVID patients do not recover within a couple of weeks of illness to potentially become long-haulers like me, trying to figure out what’s wrong with their bodies and when they might return to normal, if ever:

“In July, a survey conducted by the CDC found that 35% of people who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and had symptoms of Covid-19 — cough, fatigue, or shortness of breath — but were not hospitalized had not returned to their previous health two to three weeks later. Among those between 18 and 34 years old who had no previous chronic conditions, 20% felt prolonged signs of illness” (“Seven months later, what we know about Covid-19 — and the pressing questions that remain,” Statnews.com, August 17, 2020).

Ohio continues to develop 1,000 new cases a day. If we reduce that 35% of people down to 10%, this means 100 new people daily join the ranks of likely long-haulers who have potentially weeks, months, or years ahead of them, trying to figure out what’s wrong with them and how—or if—they’ll ever return to what was normal for them before. And that is just in our State of Ohio. If we multiply that 100 number out over a month, that’s 3,000 long haulers in September, 18,000 long haulers since March. 

There were three neurologists available for me to book an appointment with in the next three months. Neurologists don’t grow on trees, and people like me are going to be looking for answers, and treatment, and hope. There are long-term implications for individual health, and there are long-term implications for public health: Who will take care of all of us who continue to struggle with health issues we never dealt with previously?

All of this to say that when I am out and about and see friends and family or strangers who buck against the public health requirements that will reduce the spread of this virus, even denying COVID is a thing, bragging about how they won’t live in fear, I force a smile under my mask and weep a little (I am also much more prone to crying since COVID. I don’t know if that’s an actual side effect or just who I am now lol.).

I do not live in fear; my trust is in the Lord. Jesus implores us in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” The phrase, “do not be afraid,” appears 81 times in the NIV. But Scripture also has another common refrain: fear the Lord. The phrase “fear the Lord” appears 132 times in the NIV. Here’s just one example: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7 NIV).

What does this mean? How do we reconcile “do not be afraid” with “fear the Lord”? Do we cower in the presence of an angry God? Flee his presence?

No, this fear is respect, the same way we respect powerful and majestic unknowns—the ocean, the hurricane, tornadoes, thunderstorms, fire, the wilderness. We don’t stand outside in the middle of a hurricane. We don’t sit next to a window and watch an approaching tornado. We don’t stick our fingers into the heat of a blazing fire. We don’t enter the wilderness without preparing for what we might encounter in the woods. We don’t just carry an umbrella by our side while the rain soaks us to the bone. If we did these things, people would call us foolish and reckless (and silly, in the umbrella example), not brave.

This kind of fear is awareness of how much bigger and overwhelming and mysterious the Lord is, all of which demands respect and humility in his presence, the same way the natural world demands our respect and humility.

This same attitude—not cowering, but respecting—needs to be adopted by us in order to flourish as a community, in all things, but particularly in this season we are in. Fools despise wisdom and instruction. Approaching this virus with respect and humility brings care for one another while we continue to take steps to contain and eradicate this life changing virus.

Now that I know what I am dealing with, I am hopeful to begin the long, slow journey to recovery, building up endurance and strength to live with POTS. I want to take long hikes, walk a 9-hole golf course, explore parks, and bike ride with my family again without feeling like my heart or head is going to explode or collapsing in exhaustion at the end of the day. 

I believe I can get there, but also maybe I won’t. Maybe I will be the other half of adults who develop POTS as a result of a viral infection who do not recover to their normal lives after five years. And that is okay too. This quiet space with hard constraints that insist on rest is holy, sacred room to be in the presence of the One I fear and love, and to receive the comfort of the Holy Spirit. I am surrounded by those I love. I have all that I need. Joy and gratitude pepper my days. There is hope that, no matter what, all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well. 

If you are someone who is in the middle of this long-haul journey, you aren’t alone. Connect online with one of the many long-hauler groups on Facebook. There’s hope for answers. You aren’t crazy. You don’t just have anxiety. You aren’t just stressed out. Your symptoms are real and physicians and scientists are learning more and more each day. 

Wash your hands, social distance, wear masks. Get vaccinated now that the vaccine is available. Respect the virus. Life goes on, even with a piece of cloth across your face. I promise.

Today I Am 38

So much has changed in the last six months, but in the year of our Lord and Coronavirus, my dog still sleeps in the cradle of my crossed legs each morning as I drink tea and watch the news with my husband. 

Our lives used to be busy. There was no breathing room, just constant and glorious activity as we filled each minute with movement, and when there was a spare moment, we looked for ways to fill it. For me, it felt like the right and admirable thing to do, to be that social and that busy. We are social creatures, after all; we need people. I love our community and the wide network of friends and companions we are fortunate to do life with here in our small town. 

But then high speed downshifted to stillness. With all of the distractions of obligation and activity lifted, under the veil of all those other commitments there were three children, one husband, one dog, one home. 

There are homes with unfavorable situations and homes where people live alone, where social distancing and stay-at-home orders meant complete and total human isolation. This is, categorically, not good. It is not good for man to be alone. However, in this house, we are not in complete isolation. My current and only community is the one previously so easy to be babysat or left behind.

These are my people, the ones I longed for before they came into my life, the ones I’ve ushered around to help them connect with as many others as possible, the ones I’ve left home to be elsewhere – all good and filling and wonderful places and people and things, but so many people. So many places. So many things. 

In mid-March, Brandon and I got sick with suspected cases of COVID-19. Four and a half months later, I’m finally feeling more myself again, with only lingering symptoms the last couple of days: a headache, slight tingling in my fingers and toes, still a little fatigued but better. I am hoping this is it and there are no more relapses, so we can put this behind us.

But I do not want to leave behind us the sacred space we’ve made. The sudden downshift was hard and stressful, but in the wake of that disruption there’s peace. Plenty of sleep, good sleep, regenerative sleep. And space. Space for card games and books, walks and birdwatching. There’s room to converse, where before there was only room for orders and directives—eat your meal, wash your body, go to sleep, clean your room.

I am 38 now. Lydia will be leaving home in four years, Elvis in six, Henry in nine. These are my people and their time with me is now. I do not want to miss this opportunity to know them better and for them to know us. 

In the midst of the chaos and fear and anxiety swirling in our society, this space we’re in is sanctuary, this summer of boundaries is wide open for long hours with a limited number of loved ones deepening relationship, developing greater intimacy, pouring into one another.

I couldn’t make space on my own so the Coronavirus did it for me. In this physically distanced place there’s so much room for gratitude, clarity, and holiness to fill this small microcosm of our world with glory. I treasure it. I don’t want to miss it. 

I am 38 now. I don’t know if I’ll ever wear makeup again. I don’t know if the dark circles under my eyes will disappear as I continue to recover from COVID. This just might be what you get from me from now on, people. I don’t know when sickness or death will visit our family, or how long we each have with our loved ones.

This day, though, I have this day. This husband. This daughter. These sons. This mom and dad and mom-in-law and dad-in-law. These people in our close circle for this moment. This moment is hard and this moment is holy. Let us be in it, still in it, be still in it. 

In the Wilderness of Coronavirus

In Ohio, our community interactions began to dwindle on March 15 with the closing of restaurants and bars, then dropped off sharply over the course of a week. It is now April 15, a stay-at-home order has been in place since March 23. If the order is lifted on May 1, it will be 40 days of life as we knew it, disrupted.

I don’t have to list off the things we’ve lost, both big and small, during these 40 days. The individual injustices and disappointments have rained down almost daily, let alone personal losses, job losses, the suspension of freedoms, the loss of human life, and perhaps what is most unmooring, the collective sense of security that cushioned our daily lives. All gone. Any guise of certainty we had before regarding our immortality has been taken away, replaced with this reality: There is no way to know whether any of us will get sick or die from the coronavirus.

Of course, we have always known this. Everyone dies. This isn’t news. The difference is how universal and communal this particular revelation is right now. The whole of humanity is likely wondering whether or not they might get sick and die from this one thing. 

We’re experiencing and will continue to experience collective grief for all we have lost, and this grief will permeate our futures in the form of habits we develop and coping mechanisms we’re forming in these long, slow days. Our grandparents kept bread bags and drawers full of twist ties for decades after the Great Depression so that we could dump them into the trash after they passed. We will adopt our own practices that get us through; we will vigorously wipe down every hard surface with Clorox Clean-Up until we’re dead.

It’s going to be at least 40 days. Forty days! 

This is hard, and no one will ever want to go through it again, but there is good to be found in the wilderness. There is hope woven in the suffering.

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

Forty is significant. In Scripture, the number “40” often symbolized a season of testing or preparation. Moses spent 40 years in the desert before God called him to help the Israelites escape Egypt. The Israelites wander in the desert 40 years before they are allowed to enter the Promised Land. Jesus spends 40 days and nights in the wilderness before being tested by the Devil.

What new thing is being prepared in our hearts as a church, as a country, as a world, during this time? What old thing is being dragged into the light, deemed unessential after all, and is ready to be discarded? What new thing is taking its place?

I believe one of those new things is a more firm sense of solidarity and connection. For so long and still, many of us have operated in the States on our islands of individual freedom. I should be able to go to whatever beach I want. You can’t tell me how I should live. I should be able to congregate wherever I feel led, with whomever I desire, on whatever day of the week. I have my rights!

For the first time in decades, perhaps, we have been encouraged, recommended, and to some degrees forced for the public good to consider others more important than ourselves. In an ironic twist, by forcing separation it has brought us, with one mind focused on a collective good, closer together.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…”

Philippians 2:3-5

People are generally self-centered and driven to meet their own needs. This is not supposed to be the way of the Church, and yet, so much of our narratives about our relationships with God have become individually focused, from our worship songs to our Bible study to our disconnected “us vs. them” narratives that cause separation and fear of the other, in all of it we have lost the communal nature of faith. The Scriptures address the Nation of Israel, the Body of Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven. He has a plan and a purpose for you plural, you nation, you body, you kingdom, you people, to prosper you and not to fail you, to give you all hope and a future. There ought to be a Southern American Version of Jeremiah 29:11: He has a plan and a purpose for y’all, plans to prosper y’all and not to harm y’all, to give y’all hope and a future.

From our individual homes this Easter we participated in a virtual church service, and to some degree, our church family has never felt closer, more intimate, more vulnerable, while practicing social distancing. The fanfare, the polite morning greetings, the brave face even though our personal worlds might be in crisis, it has all fallen away in our shared crisis of this moment.

We are all always going through hard things. But right now, the hard thing is all of ours to carry. And for the moment, we are all carrying these burdens together. And isn’t that what the Church is supposed to do? Isn’t that beautiful?

At the beginning of the year, the “word” I heard for myself in 2020 was “make space.” Who knew how much space would be made for me, for us?

What do we do with all of this space? How can we live out the truths we’re learning right now – that love is strong, that community is important, that people are precious, that life is sacred, that family matters, that nature persists, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, that these three remain: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.

It is up to us to determine how we emerge from this wilderness. What new thing can we see God doing right now? What way is he making? What river is he carving? What dry bones is he resurrecting? What walls is he breaking? How will this hard thing break us, and how will Christ’s love and comfort in the midst of this wilderness fortify us for what comes next, the slow emerging, the entering into the Promised Land of tomorrow?

When You’re Off Balance

My prescription arrived, finally, five days ago. It’ll be a few months before it fully takes effect, but I’ve already begun to notice a difference, a fog lifting. When you’ve been living off balance for a while, it’s easy to forget what normal feels like until it is, normal, again.

A couple of years ago, I started to feel “off.” In the wake of learning about my mom’s cancer diagnosis, moving, and taking a new job, the circumstances of life finally felt like they were leveling out, and yet I wasn’t. For as optimistic and hopeful as I usually feel, I felt gloomy most days. I started to experience weird, small changes in my body that were frustrating given the attention I gave to diet that should have made me the healthiest version of myself. It didn’t seem to matter what I did, my body kept on behaving strangely. I felt anxious and depressed.

I brought up all of these minor symptoms with my doctor in January a few years back. Thankfully, he listened to my complaints and didn’t write them off as just entering mid-life, just gaining weight, just breaking out. 

It turns out that my adrenal gland over-produces the hormone androgen. Symptoms of hyperandrogenism include acne, inflamed skin, male pattern balding, hair growth in places women typically don’t want hair, weight gain, and other unpleasant things a person doesn’t really want to happen to them. Not surprisingly, hyperandrogenism also comes with a side dish of anxiety and depression. My doctor referred me to an endocrinologist, who prescribed Flutamide, a drug that is typically used to treat men with prostate cancer, and other than having to take a cancer drug twice daily for the last three years, things have been pretty great.

Until I thought, maybe I’ll try to wean myself off of this drug and see if I’m better now.

It wasn’t that hasty, really. This summer, my endocrinologist moved practices. Before she relocated, she had suggested trying to drop down to one pill a day to see how my body handled it. I figured since I had to find a new doctor anyway, I’d go ahead and drop to one pill a day, and then no pills once my prescription ran out. I thought maybe the stress of the season of life I had been in previously might have caused my adrenal gland to misbehave, and maybe now, things would be normal without needing to take a medication to balance out. 

This turned out to be a bad idea.

When you’re off balance, it isn’t just the physical symptoms – the hair loss, the acne, the sweating, the weight gain – that surges again; the entire lens through which you perceive the world shifts and blurs. Normal, everyday events spin into potential catastrophes. When your husband is late from a meeting you worry that maybe he got into an accident, maybe the police didn’t know to call you, maybe you’re a widow now and you don’t even know it yet. When your daughter doesn’t answer her phone after school you think maybe this is the day she’s been abducted by a sex trafficker. You imagine your son falling off his bike into oncoming traffic and your heart skips a few beats in fear. These are all processed with the cool logic of an irrational mind that needs to figure out what it will do if this highly unlikely scenario becomes your reality.

Maybe worse, the weight of every-single-thing-that-happens drags you into sadness, weariness, and loneliness. You are on edge. Your off-balanced brain and body tells your heart lies. Maybe your husband’s focused attention on his phone isn’t attention to a news article or a friend’s comments on a football game, maybe he is texting someone else, someone he loves more, even though your husband has never given you any reason to consider such a thing; he is honest and trustworthy and loyal, more loyal on the enneagram tests than you are, even. 

But you think it anyway. 

You might leave a women’s book club meeting realizing how everyone else has their person – everyone else has someone they trust that knows them so well and they all must feel fulfilled and loved all the time but not you, not you. You know that isn’t true, either, but in the moment it feels so true

At the height of imbalance, a weekend your friends spend together without you might trigger absolute loneliness, which might spiral into feelings of worthlessness, which happens to spiral when everyone else is occupied, everyone else that might be able to shake you free of this spiral. It feels like you’d be an interruption, a problem, a burden with all of your burdened worthlessness. 

It makes you wonder whether anyone would notice—. What if you were to just—. 

This stream of wide-eyed sobbing might scare you enough to send your despairing self into the cold, winter air where the Spirit snaps you back, and you breathe, and you breathe, and you try to remember that this is probably hormones. This is probably not reality. Probably not, but you are still so sad and so broken and so hurt, and this imbalance magnifies the hurt. This off-kilter, off-balance, unhinged, raw version of Sarah can’t see beyond normal hurt and hormone-inflamed hurt. 

It is exactly how I feel and so not me at the very same time.

There are people in this world who don’t feel like themselves. Something is off and it makes them acutely aware of their bodies, self-conscious and anxious and depressed. It manifests itself in a million different ways, mental health, sexual health, physical health, and more. Sometimes the right thing is medication. Sometimes there is a physical abnormality that triggers your body to be other than its best, most balanced self. 

The body is so complex. We are wired for relationships – when those relationships are healthy, we glow with physical health, and when those relationships are toxic, that toxicity can manifest itself in physical symptoms. When work stresses us out, our immune system reacts. And when something is diseased, abnormal, or imbalanced in our physical bodies, our mental and spiritual and emotional health is bound to be impacted. 

I am grateful for modern medicine. I am grateful for the gift of cold, crisp fall air that shocked my soul back from a ledge I never imagined myself standing on. I have never felt so low. It was frightening. I don’t want to feel so low again.

It has been five days back on Flutamide. It will take months to revert some of the symptoms of hyperandrogenism that spiked this fall and winter, but even in these first few days, I’ve noticed a significant clearing in the fog. 

The sunrise is beautiful.

Light and Heat

For Christmas, a friend of ours gave us his 55-gallon fish tank and stand after I mentioned on Facebook that we were considering an aquarium for Henry. It was one of many delightful surprises on Christmas morning.

Before we can add fish, we need to make the environment right. Our city water needs to be dechlorinated. A filter has been installed, the rocks have been added, the artificial plants sway next to the rock castle and bridge and tiki hut fish home. All that’s left to do before we buy the fish is install a new lightbulb and make the water warmer. This afternoon at the top of my grocery list is a lightbulb and a submersible heater for our soon-to-be newest residents.

All I need too, really, is a little light and heat.

Warmth and light have defined the last week and a half around here. It’s the in-between period in which most everyone feels a little disoriented after so many weeks of anticipating Christmas and eating all the carbs. We celebrated with family in multiple gatherings with gifts given and received, and it was warm, and it was light. We extended our Christmas celebration with a trip to Kalahari’s indoor waterpark, and it was warm, and it was light. Our friends celebrated a white elephant Christmas with us combined with laughter and drinks on the 27th, and it was warm, and it was light. Yesterday, with our children’s friends over, I played games and read a book and mostly rested, and it was warm, and it was light.

And now, we’re all turning toward a new decade. In the waning minutes of 2019, I’ve sensed with some anxiety a quiet, nudging voice suggesting that maybe I should prepare myself to make space.

For what, I don’t know. Maybe just more space to be warm, more space to be light. More space to do laundry (which I’ve neglected these past few days). Maybe more space to write. Maybe space to breathe. Space to exercise. Space to stare at fish in a tank and reflect on what it means to stop being so busy and just be, just keep swimming (thank you, Dory).

Simultaneously I wonder whether the whole idea of space is a luxury of the privileged, which I am, surrounded by plenty and able to even consider the idea of space, instead of being entirely occupied with meeting my immediate, basic needs. Maybe those are the concerns I need to make more space for, more space for bearing witness beyond these walls.

Maybe “make space” is just the Spirit’s calling to be quieter amidst all the noise, to clear out the clutter of senseless worry. Maybe make space for more hope, less doubt, more confidence, less fear.

Well, anyway, the point is, I don’t know what I’m supposed to make space for, but these are the words I’m hearing these days, make space, make space, make space.

The only space I know to make right now is space to listen and wait on the Lord to make whatever that space is known.

And to make space for fish.

Photo by Gabriel P from Pexels

Things Fall

Henry and I splashed up and down the creek with a dozen other wilderness explorers searching for things worthy of being found. He had a net and a bucket and competitive drive; I had flip flops, a smartphone, and creek walking experience.

More than anything, Henry was on a mission to catch minnows. I served as his spotter. “Here’s some!” I’d shout and he’d run over and swoop his net down into the water, hoping to be faster than the darting fish.

I was looking for other interesting things, mostly—fossils in the creek bed, orange mushrooms, trees stretching tall and straight and climbing out of roots that cling to hillsides in spite of the dirt having been washed out from underneath them, good light to catch my littlest child growing more and more into himself with every passing hour.

As I stared into the water, a caterpillar plummeted to its not-death from some high leaf and landed in the stream right in front of me. It was one of those white caterpillars with a couple black dots on it.

“Henry! Check this out!” I called. We found one just like it a couple years ago on a pin oak in our backyard in Copley. We had never seen one like it, which isn’t saying much for him but is quite something for me, having inhabited these parts of the world all my life. That was probably three years ago already, when he was five and so much smaller, just beginning to love all of the wild things. And here we are now, every sentence from my explorer beginning, “Did you know…” or “Look!” or “Mom, come here!” followed by some fun fact I may or may not have already known about the world.

We watched our creature fallen from heaven crawl with impressive speed for his inch-long body and turned the stick over and around so he wouldn’t fall into the water again.

Sometimes things fall right into your lap. That wasn’t what you were looking for but here it is and it’s the perfect thing, just what you needed, just what you desired but never expected. You are doubly blessed, by the thing itself and the surprise of it, the grace and mercy of it.

Mornings, Revised

Just a few days ago, the mornings were ours, and with it the slow rising, the steaming cups of tea, the sky changing shades of red and orange and gold until the orb finally burst over the horizon.

And then we had two middle schoolers.

It’s day two of school. The dog and I are sitting in our usual spot. Our daughter is knocking on the bathroom door to enter (it isn’t me in there, I promise). Our son is not moving from his heap of blankets, previously unacquainted with what it means to wake up everyday at 6:30, so my husband is playing “Bang the Drum” by Todd Rungren on repeat until he gets out of bed. The tea is still steeping.

When they were young, the evenings were ours. Our two oldest were bathed at 7 and in bed by 7:30, leaving us at least 3 glorious hours together, alone, to watch tv or play scrabble, or if I was feeling inspired to write. As they’ve gotten older, bedtime has gotten later. And now they’re taking occupation in our mornings too, banging cabinets, not getting out of bed, making lunches, eating breakfast… it’s like they think they live here too or something!

This morning shift means either we get up even earlier or I have to accept the season for what it is: a new season of transitions. A season during which time transforms my small people into people who borrow my shoes and clothes and stand next to me to see whether they are as tall as me or taller yet. A season during which their fears and worries grow abundantly more complex and singular, and it takes time to navigate those concerns. A season that requires so much more of us than changing diapers ever did. And while it feels at times inconvenient and disruptive to our time right now, this time will be over with them in ten years. That’s it. And then the whole house will be ours, filled with empty spaces and no children’s alarms or cabinets slammed or trips to school.

It’s morning, and Brandon has to leave the office now to take the oldest to school, and if I don’t get up from the couch soon I’ll be running late, and our youngest will be rushed out the door, and then we will all be on our way to our independent jobs and responsibilities.

For every season, a time to give something of meaning to the day, a time to help something grow.

Local Stories

I love the companionship that is born when reading a book set in a familiar place. I’m currently reading Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. It’s a novel that takes place not only in a familiar geographic region but also a nostalgic era of my life, with characters the same age as myself during that season.

There is pleasure in shared spaces and shared history, even if this author’s story is fiction, there’s something that delights us to hold a place in common with others. It’s the same feeling I have when someone says, “Oh, we vacation at that beach too!” or names a far-off city I visited once, or “no kidding, you’re from _________?! Us too! Small world!”

The same sensation overwhelmed me standing outside of Westminster Abbey, walking the halls of the Tower of London, all the strings of history that have been woven to arrive at this present day.

There’s so much more entangled in physical space. Memory presents its prickly burr and sticks, accumulating until a place is heavy with it. With Ng’s characters in Shaker I remember trips to Beachwood Place with friends and the collision of my very white upbringing with other ethnicities, I remember all the complications of being female and mother and teen girl. I was there. With Scott Russell Sanders I explore the wilderness of Northeastern Ohio. I was there too.

And on and on it goes, the local and personal turned into a sharp spark of connection that says we are not so alone in our experience here in this world. We are bound together in this humanity. These narratives draw meaning from the otherwise random chaos of experience. Me too. I was there too.