Finding October

Finding October

October — how you get away with anything!

You are equally charming with brilliant sun streaming through leaves of gold, as you are with brooding-grey-black skies and whipping winds. We’re happy to take you in shorts and tees, cherishing the year’s last hurrah of warmth. Or, if you choose — changeable you — to swirl in with chill rain or morning frost, we relish the chance to cocoon {for the first time since March} in jeans and sweaters, or with blankets in front of a freshly laid fire. Coffee, tea, and hot spiced cider, cupped in cool hands, with steam rising, on newly dark mornings — this is something to be savored!

golden leavesYour burgundy, hot-pink, red, salmon, orange, yellow, chestnut, russet raiment strewn over hillsides — and, later, ground — takes our breath away. Last year, we thought your leaf show was the best in a decade, but you’ve done it again, demonstrating our Maker’s artistry in show-stopping fashion.

You can even get away with breaking my heart. So far, you’ve brought me two deaths and a diagnosis. And, still I wait for your color-riotous days and dense velvet nights with anticipation

I am nearly convinced you are going to do it again. As the dog and I walk, my heart feels scraped raw, so tender any slight touch makes tears well.

basket of pumpkinsThe caller ID Friday night puts me on high alert even before I hear the familiar and kindly voice of our pediatric rheumatologist. Yes, we’d had blood drawn the day before to check key inflammation markers for my 10-year-old daughter with a rare autoimmune disease. Yes, she had been steroid-free for almost four months. Yes, she had relapsed last time steroids were withdrawn.

Two numbers come back high. Not alarmingly high, but they signal cause for concern. We schedule another blood draw for 8:30 Monday morning.

After I drop her at school late, I ache inside with uncertainty and worry. She seems tired. That ankle is still hurting. {Knee pain had started this whole thing three Octobers ago.}

She looks so pale. Isn’t she too skinny now that she’s dropped the steroid weight? {She was pale and skinny right before the relapse. It was so obvious from that one photo– we should have known something was going on.

And, that scrape on her knee– it looks like it’s getting infected, and if it does, that in and of itself could start a whole chain reaction and put her already compromised immune system on dreaded hyperdrive.

Yet, as I walk, October, you woo me with your colorful abundance. Even as I struggle to release my worries, I can’t help but be smitten by your vivid intensity.

handful of leavesYou remind me how life persists even in the face of death, how so often beauty and pain mingle.

You make me recall that carefree weekend at the farm last year, right before tragedy struck. On a woods ramble, I noticed an anomaly on a twisted honeysuckle vine — a fresh, nectar-ready blossom side by side with the red berry it should have already become — June on the same branch as October.

But, in a way, doesn’t it make sense? Isn’t October herself a dazzling final display of life before winter’s death? Aren’t the colors her leaves’ last slow, spectacular exhale before expiring?


I hear the smile in his voice even before he gives me the good news. Julianne’s numbers have come back into the normal range. It turns out that the same enzymes that mark muscle inflammation due to disease and damage can also be affected by intense physical activity {that old muscle breakdown inherent in building new, stronger muscle}.

If this is it, my reason for false alarm, so be it. If my daughter — who could barely get off the floor three years ago — can now dance now for two days in a row at a recent convention… If she can tap and dance hip hop and jazz, for six hours straight, so much that it raises her CPK, well, glory be.

And just like that, you flaming, fickle, fantastic month, you’ve launched in me a praise stronger than my past October hauntings could ever be.



My fingers fumble. Little tendrils already escape the confines of my crude French braid, and her golden hair finely frizzes as it dries. We start over.

She’s a willing model, my girl, enduring these awkward attempts in a way her older sister never would.

I spritz more water on, draw the part straight down the center of her head, first angling the comb down her forehead to use her nose as a guideline. Even this part is difficult for me.

{I believe there are two types of moms: those who can do hair and those who can’t. I will leave you to guess which one I am.}

We watch YouTube tutorials, and a particularly helpful one shows me how to hold the hair strands as I braid. I gain a sense of rhythm and proficiency in my braiding while holding the strands in this fashion, so different than the haphazard way I was doing it before.


I’m visiting my parents’ farm, and as I so often do here, I head to the woods to talk to God. Here, each step leads me farther from my workaday life where His voice is distant and muddled and closer to Him. Here, we talk. Here, prayer comes effortless.

But today’s walk is not blissful or revelatory; instead, it’s an ugly outpouring of my failures:

God, I feel like I’m right back where I was three summers ago. Everything you guided me to, everything I started for you has either come to an end or slowed to a trickle. I’m afraid I’ll just fall back into my comfortable old life — the work, the kids, the house — and forget.

What now, God? What now?

The answer doesn’t come quickly, but rather, a month later during a long car drive: You hold the strands, Beth. You braid.


I don’t like this answer, because I know what it means. I don’t have permission to just focus on one or two aspects of my life anymore. God’s upping the ante.

I’ll be holding and plaiting together the strands of a life that’s full and complex — one that includes paying work as well as occasional blogging; managing kids in pre-K, 5th, and 7th grades {and the requisite homework and activities}; engaging again in volunteer roles like Sunday School teaching, Girl Scout co-leading, and helping out at school; managing our household and serving as a loving wife and mother; as well as caring for myself, mind, body, and soul.

God’s not condoning over-scheduling, nor does He expect perfection, but He is telling me these past three years have been training for this. I had to be shown how to pare my life down to one or two simple strands so I could hold those well. Now my fingers are more deft, and I’ve learned how to hold my life’s central strands firm and secure while plaiting in the others.

I know I will have days — or weeks, or months — when my fingers slip and life becomes a tangled mess. And, I know I’ll be tempted to let go of the unruly pieces like I used to — instead of stilling and steadying my fingers and working calmly on through.

But, there will also be moments when my braiding is rhythmic and proficient,

when God shines through …

and coats the strands glorious.

Are you like me? Are your life’s threads slippery and hard to grasp some days and thick, long and tangled on others? Is God’s calling you to hold and plait these strands together — to make art out of a life that’s brimming, intricate, and often messy?

The Angel in the Dishwater

The Angel in the Dishwater

I pad downstairs in my PJs, keen on getting a cup of coffee and some quiet time in before I wake the kids. Sipping my strong dark brew, laced through with coconut cream, I turn to Leviticus.

This book is not my favorite. Comprised of countless rules and regulations, the archaic restrictions are mind-boggling in both detail and content. {When was the last time you were concerned about the precise way to deal with defiling molds or skin diseases?}

Personally, I like to think of God as continually present and accessible rather than approachable only through elaborate burnt offerings and ceremonial priestly interventions. {And, I find mold more of a bleach-and-water affair than a spiritual matter.}

But, the honest truth is, lately, I feel a spiritual disconnect. God seems distant.

And while I deliberately seek Him in prayer and scripture most mornings, the rest of my days often careen by in an unholy blur of food preparation, kid-chauffeuring, and calendar wrangling. If I’m lucky, I say a foggy prayer as I head off to sleep.


By this point of the morning, I have exactly five minutes left to tackle the sticky pasta pot filled with soapy water gone cold overnight. And I am deep in thought as my hands go through the motions.

Half-heartedly bookending my days with God isn’t enough. I need more.

I begin planning ways to get at God better as I pour cloudy water out of the stainless steel vessel. Into my waiting hands drops a smooth bit of swirled white onyx, with wings.

I am here, Beth, Emmanuel.

There is no reason my son’s angel {an Easter basket gift from his Mimi} should turn up in my dishwater, and family questioning turns up no explanations. The divine token stops me short.

You can make plans to find me, but the simple truth is this: I am here.

angel deck plants

Why is that so hard to imagine — God pouring out with the cold water?

The saying “God is in the detail” rings in my mind for days after, so I look it up. tells me the saying means “attention paid to small things has big rewards.” The perfectionist in me nods at this. But I am careful not to turn this into fodder for another self-improvement project.

God is in the detail — yes. When we attend to detail and make it count, that’s divine. But, He’s telling me more than that, and I turn it over and over in my mind, as I drive the kids around in our dinged van, as I straighten couch pillows, and pick up legos.

angel legos

God is in the detail — not just symbolically but literally, I realize. He is in the larkspur and lilies in my front yard; He is in the chipmunks frolicking under the bird feeder out back; He is in my daughters’ nighttime kisses on the cheek, both soft and sweet.

But He is also in the jumbled socks I pair, the cast-iron skillet caked with eggs, the ready tears of my five-year-old confronted with the extreme injustice of a lollipop denied before breakfast.

I realize I have lost intimacy with God precisely because I have lost the knack of seeing Him in the everyday-ordinary. I have become a Levite with a long set of rules and regulations of what communing with God should look like, which constrains Him only to the rare, quiet edges of my day.

So I invite Him to jog with me, high up Mt. Blaine road, where we stop to eat wild black raspberries and note the footfall of a doe. I invite Him to breakfast and we take time to chop fresh chives from the garden and purple basil from the farmer’s market to scatter over the eggs.

angel lilies

And I also invite Him to sit with me and my grumpy morning boy as he wakes early, interrupts my quiet time, and begins dropping demands. I invite Him into reasoning with a leggy daughter rapidly approaching 13 who hates to wash and blow-dry her hair. I invite Him into the countless forms and phone calls and appointments that mark the life of a mom with three kids of varying ages and stages.

I invite Him to share all my life — not just the clean, neat, quiet parts that seem good enough for Him. And, in the process, He draws closer. He helps me see the divine in the mundane, the holy bits shining through the chaotic mosaic of our days; he shows me the angel in the dirty dishwater.

Lake Gem

Lake Gem

From the water, I see a pale leg-tepee on the far shore. 

It might be a woman lying on her back, knees bent, or it could be a patch of exposed tree bark. I’m not sure which, from my vantage point in the kayak. Things have a way of looking different from the water.

But, as I tour the nooks and crannies of the small lake, startling turtles off logs and generously watering my thighs as I paddle, I see it is indeed a woman. Her back is flat against the earth, feet planted and knees touching.

turtle in lake

At the lake’s center, I stop paddling {skewing the results of the GPS-enabled workout app keeping track of my pace and distance} and lean back, looking up at the blue sky streaked with clouds. I let my gaze wander down to the end of the lake where the fishermen gather on a grassy knoll.  There, clouds hang low and dramatic, stretched thin and long, shaded with darker grey. They look painted like a stage backdrop, the sky depicted skillfully, if a bit heavy-handed with light and shadow. 

branch lake

As I float aimlessly, I notice him now — a stocky man in a royal blue tank sitting still atop a picnic table on the shore to my right. He doesn’t move.

We three — sit, lay, float — a triangle of tranquility.

I am impressed by their skill at being still. Their commitment to inactivity. Their choice to be small and let quiet overtake them.

I am working hard to convince myself this lake date is not about a workout. I’m struggling with a notion that honors the opposite of motion.

heron lake

How obvious, I think, that God is big and we are small. Yet, do we experience life this way?

How often do we take time to be still and recall small?

My life has become huge. My problems, my worries, my to-do list. Simply enormous. God is a tiny tickle in the back of my mind, a quick prayer for safety while driving, a rushed morning devotional.

My need to manage our busy life (with three kids — 5, 10, and 12) has grown to gigantic proportions. I have gotten into the self-indulgent habit of magnifying everything, from my dissatisfaction with my messy closets to my frustration with my aging physique. Nothing is good enough for me.

lake view

But, this quiet morning on the water, I hear dogs barking on the distant shore and a hint of traffic noise even farther off. As I stare at my still companions on the shore, I recognize with a sudden and sharp clarity we are at the center of something far larger, and it is beautiful.

kayak lake 2

For a heart-stopping moment, my view zooms out incrementally, from the lake to the hills to the surrounding town and region. There is concrete around us and stores and roads and busy people leading their rushing lives, but we … we three are tucked into an Eden moment.

We three are consciously still players in an impossibly serene pastoral scene, the lake an opal ringed by layers of pine-and-maple-green emerald, the moody sky graduated blue textured with dusky clouds.

We are held, gemlike, perfect and tiny, in the palm of this world … and in the even larger hands of its Creator.

Lord, though we are faced daily with myriad demands in our hectic modern world, please help us pause and remember You. Though we know in our minds that you are larger than our petty day-to-day worries, infuse this truth into our hearts so that we may walk today with our shoulders lifted and heads high, confident in Your ability and secure in Your peace. Amen.