Beauty in the Breaking

We roll our bags down the entry hallway of Children’s Hospital, past a colorful abstract butterfly mural. We’re here for a scheduled overnight—no rushed admission, no immediate accident or illness, no heart-thumping clutch of fear. We deal in the long and slow, in measured stretches of medication carefully calibrated—dripped in by IV monthly, spooned in by dropper-full twice daily, cut in half and swallowed in applesauce Monday through Thursday, and injected on Friday.

We’re not the family in the waiting room rocking a wailing baby, pacing, talking on the phone in tears. We’re not the stoic mom holding the tiny four-year-old boy with half a shaved head.

We’re the ones with the kid who looks just fine. Julianne sits in the waiting room with headphones on, reading her book serenely. While stress ebbs and flows around her, she appears untouched.

We’re the ones with the girl who’s proud she can pronounce the ten-syllable mouthful Ju-ven-ile Der-ma-to-my-o-si-tis (JDM) correctly when she’s first diagnosed two years ago at 7 1/2. We’re the ones with the statistical anomaly: one of only two to three kids per million get JDM, an inflammatory disease of the skin, muscle, and blood vessels. (And we wonder why we can’t beat these odds when it comes time for school raffles or radio-show call-ins or even a lotto ticket.)

Join me today for the rest of the story at The High Calling?

Rocks for Steps and Roots for Handles

Rocks for Steps and Roots for Handles

Our GPS takes us a strange way into McConnell’s Mill State Park, and we park at the dead-end by a closed-down, rusty old bridge. We see none of those official brown park signs to let us know we’ve arrived; there are no informational kiosks, no painted parking lines … just a gravely spot off the end of the road, hedged in by weeds and a few late wildflowers.

It’s colder than we could have imagined. After weeks of unseasonably warm 70s weather, we find ourselves quickly heading back to the truck for more layers, grateful we thought to bring them.

As we walk, we see a few small signs here and there alerting us to the danger inherent in this beauty; there are precipitous drops nearby. We hold our breath — and snag our four-year-old by his hood — as we approach ledges camouflaged by tall grass that will lead you straight down a cliff if you’re not careful.

forest floor

The risky views reward us with slices of glade-green goodness — ravines fringed with ferns, creek and waterfall framed by rock and upward-stretching tree trunks, and the leaf-littered forest floor far below.

After our mountain-goat Caroline satisfies herself by finding a way to scramble all the way down to the creek bed, we retreat to our vehicle to scarf down egg-salad sandwiches, the closed space quickly redolent with dill pickle and mayonnaise.

We drive off in search of the main park, and find it, all red covered bridge, foamy dammed creek, dark-wood mill. We roam the mill, which once harnessed the power of the water below, turning huge wheels to grind wheat, corn, buckwheat. We peer out wavy glass windows and get weighed as a family by the park ranger on the huge in-floor scale {where we find our young family already 460 pounds of humanity strong}.

bridge and mill

foamy creek

mill inside

mill windowBut, it’s not until we step into the chill wind and spitting rain, turning onto the trail along the stream, that we settle into the cold and let the day take us.

I give Jules my iPhone; I’ve brought my real camera along. We let Bob, Caroline, and Adam range ahead as we shutter-step. Every few steps, we stop to click away. A fern here, a leaf there. An expanse of roots. A winsome stretch of creek. We become enchanted with the views we capture. Julianne finds she excels at nature close-ups; I take a bit of everything, laughing at myself as I crouch low to get the right angle and slip, falling ungracefully onto my behind.

jules leaf

wonderland

The path twists ahead of us, thick with sinewy roots, slick with fallen leaves, studded with chunks of rock. And, I muse, as far as paths go, this one’s not so good — especially if you like them straight, smooth, level.

But, today, we are here to see and savor, not make good time. We are here to scramble on boulders and trip over roots, able to imbibe the wildness around us precisely because we must go slow.

When Julianne and I catch up to the rest of the family, Adam tells us proudly: I found rocks for steps and roots for handles.

root on rockAnd, it strikes me profound.

You see, these fall days have run long and exhausting, whirling from one activity to commitment to project to another. I find myself turning down a getaway weekend with my husband because I am simply too tired to contemplate travel. I fantasize a night without any activities that take us out of the house. I realize the time has come when there is simply more than I can do.

On weeks when my husband is in town, or where we aren’t double-booked halfway to January, life feels blessed and beautiful. {And, so it is always — if we can only recall to measure our favor in sacred terms, rather than bowing down to unholy proliferation.}

But, too often,

I become hospital-weary and impatient for healing.
I become bleary-eyed calendar compiling.
I become frantic trying to keep pace with the world and falling out of step with the One.

Too often, you and I, we look at the roots and the rocks and say: This way is too hard. Doing this job, keeping this schedule, loving this God, caring for this family. Impossible. I need a smoother passage.

But, what if we could see instead the glorious adventure that commences where the path skews upward?
What if we saw opportunity and worship rich where the trail turns to tall grass?
What if we learned to see rocks as steps and roots as handles?

family walking

 

A Poem: Economy

I’ve come to crave
frugality
in a world
gone greedy
swallowing
too many things
whole.

Just like
I might
use cheese rinds
to flavor soup
or eggshells
to cradle sprouts,
I long
to press
scraps into service.

I’ve begun to seek
considered
pauses,
to value
the precise economy
of silence.

I’ve come to savor
prudence
like stillness –
its particular weight
at once heavy
and ripe
like nectar
from summer’s
first cantaloupe.

And though
I am often tempted
to release more
into the glut,
I’ve learned
the hard way
that I might rather
steep beets
to make scarlet dye
or learn to darn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To The Lady In The Hot-Pink Running Ensemble

To The Lady In The Hot-Pink Running Ensemble

I glance over at the woman next to me. She’s tall, blonde, and in full makeup. She’s wearing a ruffled running skort, a spotless neon-pink tank top and matching hot-pink and orange running shoes. Her body is that perfect uniform shade of light golden brown that either indicates an entire summer of pool days or unlimited tanning bed sessions.

I’m wearing a faded black pair of running shorts, a relatively new bright green tee with socks that nearly match and my hair is fixed, rather sticking out from under my ancient, sweat-stained running cap. I’m lucky that my sleeves hide my farmer’s tan.

In other words, for me, I’m looking pretty good.

We’re at a cross-country practice on a local trail, and as we wait for the kids to do their “striders” down the path, we begin to talk. I find out one important thing about this woman next to me over the next 15 minutes or so: She’s a lifelong runner, and she wants me to know she’s good — really good.

She also wants me to know three other things, which she keeps saying repeatedly — as I struggle to find common ground talking with her about something I love {running} and failing spectacularly:

  1. She’s “over it.”
  2. If I’ve done it, she’s done it about 100x better.
  3. She doesn’t have to prove herself.

So, while everything about this woman rubs me as wrong as a cat combed tail to head, I decide to take my irritation and see what it teaches me. After I coat the grit that’s caught under my skin, after I turn it and work it over and over, after I layer it smooth, I find I’ve learned three things:

     1.  I’m not “over it.” In fact, I’m under it, I’m in it. And, frankly, I’m having a ball. Life is not some dull, been-there-done-that checklist.

Life is a gift straight from God, varied and new every single day, brimming with fresh opportunities to live and love and touch others. I’ve no interest in hiding behind the mask of the jaded; may my eyes remain ever open, shining in joy and wonder at what the world holds.

    2.  I never want to make myself feel good by making others feel small. Bragging is funny: While it might make you stand a bit taller, it makes your heart shrink smaller.

It’s almost like self-cannibalism; you consume a chunk of your humanity in a desperate bid to quiet the “never-enough” voice in your head. I think I’ve been feeling a bit too prideful about my recent races, and this exposure to shameless swagger serves as a healthy wake-up call to my ego.

   3.  Proving myself makes me feel alive; I’m amazed and thrilled and grateful when I can push my body or my mind to do things I never thought I could. I’m not done learning, or running, or doing. Not today, not tomorrow — hopefully, not ever.

In “Bread and Wine,Shauna Niequist says it’s good not to peak too soon. She describes her mother — how at 60-something she’s so much more than she was at 20-something — she’s still trying new things, acquiring skills, and challenging herself in novel and exciting ways.

As a Christian, it’s true that I don’t have to prove myself (I’m saved by grace, not works), but I also know life is not something I can write off simply because I’ve already accomplished much — I know I always have ample room to grow.

And, so, lady in the hot-pink running outfit, might I thank you for our conversation? Might I express my appreciation {rather than my exasperation}? Might I suggest that you’ve inspired me?

You’ve awoken in me a renewed vigor. You’ve helped me form a new motto.

May I run swifter at 60 than 40.
May I learn something new every day.
May I build others up, rather than tear them down.
May I always remain as naive and starry-eyed and easily wowed as a child.