Monday, November 14, 2011
Last night there was a storm. A fierce wind shook the house – toppling several pots and a fledgling Cyprus. It rattled the windows and beat against the doors, howling like an old dog wanting to be let in. Snug in our beds, Dutch and I heard the ruckus and clambered outside to find the patio turned upside down: the wind had sent the watering pots clattering down the stairs and knocked my collection of old birdhouses off the garden table. The umbrella above the sandbox was whipping about like a sailboat, caught in a storm, and Dutch swooped down to rescue it while I rushed to gather the window casements for the dollhouse which were skidding along the clay tile ground, about to fly clean off the balcony.
Then, this morning, we woke up to something remarkable: there was snow on the mountain.
For a desert-dweller such as I, few experiences can rival the shock of snow. ‘Shock’ may seem a strong word until one considers that yesterday I swam laps out of doors in 85-degree weather, wore a skirt and sandals to the grocery store, and made ample use of my air conditioner.
We’ve had nearly eight months of summer weather. That’s 32 weeks – roughly 175 days - of relatively uninterrupted heat and sun - of making juice popsicles and drinking iced coffee and generously applying sunscreen before going outside to weed the garden. You wouldn’t be surprised, then, that the very idea of snow sounds almost mythological. A magic powder which falls from the sky, bathing the world in white? Impossible. Cold, clean air which nips at the skin and causes one’s breath to come out in little puffs of smoke? The stuff of fairy tales.
But after raiding the winter closet and winding an hour up the mountain, sure enough, there it was on the ground: snow. I gave the girls a little tutorial on how to wriggle their unruly fingers into these strangely unfamiliar things called, mittens, before we emerged from our cocoon, like the Pevensie children when they first entered Narnia, into a strange new world of startling brightness.
We followed a snowy white path up a hill, haloed by ponderosa pines, their arched limbs locked in a permanent posture of suspense, either from so many years’ exposure to the wind, or the weight of snow. Their spindly needles looked like sea anemones or witch’s fingers, pointing us onward.
The girls romped and stomped ahead of us through snowdrifts, shrieking each time they sank unexpectedly into deep snow. At 53 degrees, I felt as though the very air around me had expanded – all at once I had room to move and breathe and be in! Everything – trees, bushes, logs, land, even people - shone with an unearthly light. I couldn’t quite take in the quiet purity of it all.
Audrey tramped ahead of me. When I asked her to turn around for a picture she sighed and said, “I really can’t because – I’m too busy.” Busy, indeed. Enraptured was more like it. I walked behind her, with Evangeline in my arms and my camera slung over my shoulder, under my own spell. The way the light reflected off the fresh snow was blinding. Icicles, which seemed to drip off the ends of every tree branch, sparkled like diamonds.
It was astonishing. If I had ever witnessed a winter landscape before, I had forgotten the experience - or had only vague memories which were nothing compared to the clarity of the vision before me. It reminded me of the time I walked into a Klimt exhibit at the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome. Every idea I had formed as to what the real paintings would be like was blown to bits in the presence of the paintings themselves - the replicas I had erected in my mind were shattered by the reality: the flat, two-dimensional images I had emblazoned on my coffee mug and hanging on my dorm room wall were instantly transposed by enormous canvases that glittered like Byzantine mosaics, embedded with precious gems - lapis lazuli, rubies, gold.
Dutch took the girls by the hand and crouched down on the side of the path. "Have you ever tasted snow?" he asked. They shook their heads, incredulous, and we each took samplings of the fresh powder. We savored its sweetness on our tongues, so fresh and strangely nourishing, and giggled uproariously, like a family of criminals, guilty of some great indiscretion.
It was enthralling to imagine what was taking place beneath the snow – the life underground; and as we walked back down the bluff I quietly relished the thought that this world which seemed, in all externals, to be “dead and buried,” was only asleep, crouched in a state of drawn out, if hidden, suspense, waiting to be ‘reborn’ come spring. Spring http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqZLftD3SMI. Our closest approximation to Rebirth.
I love the way God has woven into the fabric of the natural world, hints of the supernatural. The shocking change of seasons are – like golden leaves in fall, and snow in winter— but foreshadowings of the Great Change that will someday take place.
This is odd, in a way, because so much of the time my life seems static – a drawn out suspension of sameness. Or like a revolving door, it is marked by circularity. The world, caught in a hiccup, seems to greet me each morning with the same set of headlines: a sunny sky, a sink full of dishes, children who need food, clothing, and a bath before bed. I, too, feel the same. But for those occasional moments, after a shower, when I am pulling a comb through my wet hair and discover a stark white one, standing on end among the others, waving like a flag to remind me that, indeed, I’m growing old, I don't feel the change.
I don’t feel it; though I know it is happening all the same.
But isn't that the way it is with most changes? Those which turn out to be decisive, which seem to come upon us “like a thief,” have been evolving gradually, in tiny gradations, all the time, so that unless we are really looking for them we don’t notice they are there at all… That’s why the smallest decisions we make can have the greatest impact. They are rolling themselves into something great and unstoppable, like the ball of snow that formed the body of our snowman.
One day, not long from now, the change will burst forth, and I’ll discover that, somehow, in the hours between waking and sleeping, sunrise and car rides, I will have grown old. The tide will have turned – my hair will be all silver. A thought which sends chills through the hearts of many a woman, but not to me. While I certainly don't relish the idea of diminishing capacities, or fading glory, I have a reason to be confident: "for though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4.16).
Indeed, each neat little set of twenty-four hours propels me forward, on the conveyor belt of time, toward that other, more important Change. Soon - so very soon - the night will be over. Dawn will break, Christ will return, and we will all be changed: in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye. The bud will burst forth, the tiny green sprout will thrust its head above the soil: Spring will come. And those things which seemed irrevocably lost, or given over permanently to decay, will suddenly bloom again with a fragrance and beauty so sublime our greatest poets can only hint at it; the life underground will rise again, and be reborn; it will blossom and grow, not only for a season - but forever.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
It was Monday morning, life as usual, only the events of the previous four days still had me in a daze, and I struggled to live life in the present... While backing out of a friend's driveway, the terrifying sound of crumpling metal woke me in a hurry, as I realized in horror that I had backed into a cement pillar, cracking it in two and bashing up my car in the process.
By the time we got home, I was tired. Tired enough to cry. Instead, I sat down on a bench outside the front door and let the girls enjoy the pleasant air. I don't know whose idea it was, but suddenly Evangeline was standing on top of a trunk opposite me, belting out lyrics which Audrey eagerly fed her from "off-stage." Suddenly our entryway had become Broadway, and I was being treated to a private showing of Annie - only the title star was roughly two-and-a-half, instead of six-and-a-quarter, and the lyrics to the song, "The Sun Will come out Tomorrow," sounded a little more like - "I'm ne-ver a-lone! I'm ne-ver a-lone!" (I have no idea where they came from, or what they mean, nor did I care - the girl was putting her whole heart and soul into the number, and it showed.)
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
“Beautiful life, full of grieving…”
~The Innocence Mission, Into Brooklyn, Early in the Morning
Some six weeks ago I discovered I was pregnant. We spent those weeks in the usual way: joyously anticipating the birth of another child, and the addition of another member to our family. Pulling all the pregnancy books off the shelf gave me a secret thrill; and I relished the mornings the girls and I spent paging through one book in particular, “Beginning Life,” which uses real photographs to illustrate what is happening inside the womb during each week of prenatal development.
I cannot but smile now, when I recall the evening Dutch came home looking dog-tired; when we sat opposite each other at dinner, and commiserated about how we’d both felt thwarted that day. I said, “Well, whatever we did or didn’t do pales in comparison to what our baby did – which was to sprout arms and legs!” We talked of names, and Audrey clung to one of her old ideas, that we should have two babies, and name each one carrot. “That way,” she explained, “we could have two baby carrots.”
But then, quite unexpectedly, something went wrong. After only two months I became one of those awful statistics, proving that 2-3 in every 10 pregnancies end in miscarriage.
Driving home from the doctor, I cringed to think of telling the girls, who'd spent the morning playing with friends.... When they arrived home they found me sitting on the back patio, wrapped in an enormous pink blanket, listening to old hymns as water trickled into the pool. They ran to my side and embraced me as though I’d been away a long time.
When I held her at arm’s length, Audrey gave me a look I'd never seen before. A strange mixture of hesitation and interest. “There’s not a baby in your tummy anymore,” she said quietly, as if to relieve me the burden of wondering whether or not she knew. And Evie said, in her emphatic way, “Daddy told me that, and I CRIED.”
Some awkward moments of palpable silence passed, in which I attempted to stifle the flow of tears. Audrey walked to the edge of the patio and peered down into the garden. “Mommy," she said, picking at her fingers, the way she always does when in a state of contemplation. "Mommy, what would you think about if we planted some flowers down there?"
"Flowers?" I said, bewildered because we spent the last two weekends planting winter bulbs. "Okay... but why?"
Audrey turned to face me. "For - for saying goodbye to the baby,” she said, then twirled back around and pointed at a little bed of verbena, its tiny purple petals peaking up through a sprawling bed of green. “Or. Or - Mommy," she panted, excited now, "I know! What about those purple flowers down there? See them? We could name them our Goodbye Baby flowers.”
When at last I could speak I told her I thought this a beautiful idea... and marveled that something, someone, who was a part of our lives, and a part of me, for so short a time could have made such an imprint on all our lives … It may sound strange to say, but the fact that we feel so great a loss has come as somewhat of a surprise to me. A surprise which, I suppose, cannot be explained apart from the fact that God made us to love as He loves - even those things that seem too small to signify.
After the girls had gone to bed, Dutch said to me, “Do you really believe that this life, this soul, was a real…someone we will meet in eternity?”
I was a quiet a moment. At last I said, “If you and I, who are made in God’s image, care so much about this little life — is it conceivable that God could care less?” After all, what are we to God, but a little cluster of cells which is here today and gone tomorrow? Relative to eternity, all life is but a vapor. But God cares for us. “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance,” writes the Psalmist, “and in Your book were all written for me the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139.15-16); proof that the life which in our eyes ended before it had fully formed, in God’s eyes is complete – complete and fully known - from the moment it was borne out of the mind of God.
The night before it happened Grandpa came for dinner and while Dutch and I made milkshakes in the kitchen, he read the girls a story about a baby bunny whose future vocation is imagined, in turns, by each of its relatives. As I listened, my heart, which was already gripped by a sense of foreboding, swelled with longing, and I couldn't but hope that one day we’d all be sitting around our baby, exchanging similar speculations.
As the story goes, Baby Bunny did not want to be any of the things his family imagined for him. Instead, writes the author, "Baby Bunny sat in his basket and smiled at his bunny family. He knew what he would be.” I realize now that, in the same way, God, whose ways are infinitely higher and better than our ways, knew – has always known - just what this baby would be: not a mailman or a farmer or an engineer, but a child of the resurrection; where, like the angels in heaven, he can no longer die (Luke 20.34-38).
The following Saturday afternoon I was outside, losing my sadness in the assembly of a dollhouse for the girls when Dutch came and sat down beside me at the table. “How are you doing?” he asked. I couldn’t look up, couldn’t speak for tears; could only listen as he told me, falteringly, that he felt God had given him a name for the baby in prayer.
"What was it?" I asked.
"Do you want to know?"
"Of course," I said, half-choking.
We held each other’s gaze a moment. His blue eyes, normally so clear, were full of tears. His lips trembled, and his whole countenance bore a kind of world-weariness which was amplified by his unshaven face and rumbled shirt. "His name - " he said finally, "His name is Isaiah."
Isaiah. Oh, I thought to myself, in quiet desperation, I love the way it sounds! Suddenly, I saw a little boy sitting at my dining table with sleek brown hair and large blue eyes; I could see myself peaking at him from the kitchen, hear myself calling him, “Isaiah! Bring your plate to the sink and hurry, get your shoes on. You’ll be late for school!”
Late that night, I looked up the meaning of the name. In Hebrew it means, "God is salvation" or "it is God who helps me."
It occurred to me that there is a story about Isaiah in our Jesus Storybook Bible. I looked it up immediately and read it straight through. As author Sally Lloyd-Jones has it, Isaiah's name means, ‘God to the rescue!’ because the prophet Isaiah was chosen to convey the message of salvation to God's people in Israel: "Now, God let Isaiah know a secret..." she writes. "God was going to mend this broken world…” “…He was going to make all the sad things come untrue…” “…Even death was going to die! And he will wipe away every tear from every eye...”
This was the Secret Rescue Plan God showed to Isaiah: “Operation 'No More Tears!’”
Even Ms. Lloyd-Jones admits that it sounds like a fairytale which, as everyone knows, rarely come true... But this one did. Jesus, the Son of God and Creator of all things, made Himself small. He became a man, and died a sinner's death so that all men could become his sons and daughters; so we could live forever, clothed with the garments of salvation, adorned like a bride in her wedding ornaments, for the everlasting display of His splendor (Isaiah 61).
It is no small comfort to think that our littlest one is now experiencing in full the salvation we can only perceive through a glass dimly; he knows in the fullest sense that help which comes from God alone; and of course I relish the thought that perhaps one day – in that place of No More Tears, where all the sad things have come untrue – we will be given the chance of meeting.
“Long roads of orange groves
I try, try to see down.
Joyful arrival may be far, far away.
When will I see you coming so many miles?
It is too early to say.
Out in the backyard I will wait for a downpour.
The sky may open but it won’t be today.
When will I see you coming so many miles?
It is too early to say.
Oh down orange groves, narrow roads
I have been looking.
I am half in tomorrow and half in today.
When will I see you coming so many miles?
It is too early to say.”
~The Innocence Mission, Too Early to Say