the forgotten days of holy week

Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. How easily we pass over them, eyes set eagerly on Easter Sunday. Or anticipating Thursday’s opening of the Triduum.

Our first half of Holy Week probably looks a lot like yours. Work. School. Kids. Meetings. Chores. Bills. The lackluster pregame show before the big kickoff. The forgettable prelude before the fanfare. The ordinary before the extraordinary. 

But the church’s calendar claims these three are holy, too.

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The earliest days of the holiest week are in-between: not quite Lent, not quite Easter. It is a time of anticipating what is right around the corner, practically within reach. We are almost there.

The Main Event looms large on the horizon. All signs point toward its arrival, but the journey here has been so long – can it really be coming?

Ahead of us lies both pain and joy, suffering and peace. How can we possibly prepare for all that? How can we hold all this tension at once?

These are the last days. They matter.

Soon we will remember how everything changes.

. . .

The end of the third trimester is a strange part of pregnancy. The eagerness of almost, the frustration of not-yet.

Like Holy Week’s emotional extremes, this time swings wildly: something to celebrate, something to endure, something to savor, something to push through. Both quiet and flurry, both calm and storm. Each day adding to our anticipation.

My mental countdown clicks steadily. Five more midwife appointments. Five more prenatal yoga classes. Five more weeks to finish all those pressing work projects.

Each Saturday the nesting instinct kicks in with greater intensity. Scribbled To Do Before Baby! list in hand, I clean out closets and drawers, watch the boys build the crib with their father, wash baby blankets and fold diapers in neat stacks.

Ready and waiting.

Every friend and stranger I meet asks how much longer I have left. Around us bubble joy and anticipation. A growing readiness to be done. An impatience to discover what (and who!) comes next.

I wonder. Have I done enough? Yes. And no. Like Lent, this journey of expectation is always bigger than me, beyond my personal penances, my tries and fails, my awareness of my own limits. I am carried by forces greater than my own.

And a calendar that presses ever onward, oblivious to the emotions with which I fill the hours.

. . .

I wonder how to honor this time rather than race too fast towards the end goal. How to see the holiness of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in turn.

I love Thursday, I lean into Friday, I learn from Saturday, I leap into Sunday. But right now are the days before. The days that ask me to pause.

These neglected early days of Holy Week are a different kind of preparation from the Lent that preceded. More immediate. Here and not-here. Upon us, yet still beyond our grasp. The mystery of the middle time, when we think we know what awaits us (all the Easters have we been through before), when we remember that we can always be surprised (each year bringing its own gifts).

Do I remember to reverence these almost-days, these overlooked ordinaries?

The Celts spoke of thin places, spaces and moments when heaven and earth seem to touch, only the slightest trace separating their realities. Perhaps Holy Week is a small hole through which we peer into the deepest mysteries of the life of God. We could never understand all that it contains. But each year we might nudge a little closer, if we try, to imagine what its truth might mean for our lives.

I watch and wait in this almost-time. It could be long weeks till everything changes; it could be mere days. But God is here, too.

And it is not only Easter morning which makes it so. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. All the ordinary days matter, too.

morbid? motherhood & mortality

“Mommy, I don’t want to die.”

His big blue eyes stare up at me, full of – what? Worry? Seriousness? Wonder?

We’ve been revisiting this conversation for months, variations on a theme: Mommy, I don’t want to go to be with God. Mommy, I want to live to be 100. Mommy, I don’t want you to die.

He hasn’t yet brushed with death, not in the aching loss of one he loves. But he’s a curious child, and his love of numbers and wonder about God swirl together to stir up questions of how old God is and how old people can be.

All of which added up in his head to a budding realization of finitude in the face of the infinite.

What do I say? Blunder through the typical lines about how I hope he’ll have a long life, and then when his life is done, he’ll get to go be with God in a new way, and God loves him even more than any person ever could, so wouldn’t that be amazing?

Except, of course, it’s all strange and skeptical enough to make wise adults anxious.

So why would any precocious preschooler accept it at face value either?

. . .

Every year on my birthday, I find myself genuinely astonished to still be here.

I only realized in the past few years that most people don’t share this stark sense of mortality, not at the tender age of thirty-something anyway. And while I wouldn’t say that I wake each morning eager to stare my own death in the face, whenever I think about the length of my life I only see so far ahead of me.

So each March I honestly marvel at how I’ve been blessed to have these many years to my name.

You can analyze it easily as any armchair therapist. My older brother died of cancer when I was 10, so I grew up living with death and loss and grief in a way that many children do not. All of that made me who I am, shaped my faith and my worldview in unmistakable ways, here endeth the college admissions essay.

But now as a mother to young ones waking up to the strange and sad ways the world works, I wonder what I should pass on to them from my own sense of mortality and what I might need to set aside.

Keeping death daily before our eyes is St. Benedict’s healthy advice to his brothers, but how helpful is this for preschoolers?

Mystery is good. Morbidity is not.

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So we talk about not being afraid of death, because it is part of life. We talk about the love that is waiting for us in whatever comes next, because it is full of God who is love.

We talk about how some people might live to be almost 100 like Great-Grandpa, and how some people might only live to be 21 like Uncle Jay. We talk about how we can’t know everything that God knows or make everything happen in the way we would like. But we can trust that God will take care of us.

Is that enough? For now, perhaps. If my wee ones continue to be blessed with a childhood free from trauma or loss, unlike so many children in the world.

But if they are not – if death or sickness or suffering enter into this home as an unwelcome guest, the darkest thoughts that only the thin, lonely hours before dawn tempt me to imagine – will any of that make sense? Or sustain them?

Motherhood is supposed to be about life: its nurturing and nourishing. But is there a place for death in this daily work and love, too?

. . .

Lent is a grateful time to practice all this death-talk, all this suffering-preparation, of course.

In small ways we choose to die to our own whims and wants, setting our sights on the deeper growth that comes from drawing further from our fears and nearer to God.

As with our own short lives, we know that death lies at the end of this liturgical journey, too. There it is on the calendar, Good Friday in all its starkness: church stripped bare, silence echoing in an empty tabernacle.

But beyond this loss lies a truth equally baffling to comprehend: an Easter reversal of everything we thought we knew, a game-changer of existential expectation, a flip-side resurrection of death itself.

Every day we are walking towards Friday’s death-as-we-fear-it. But we also edge towards Sunday’s life-as-we-dare-to-dream-it.

And children are a part of this journey, too.

This is my favorite part of Ash Wednesday. That for once we don’t banish babies to the nursery or preschoolers to the Sunday School classroom. We all walk up together, regardless of age or status, and someone smears dark grey ash on every forehead and tells us that from dust we have come and to dust we will return.

Every tiny curl of a newborn, every wide-eyed toddler, every curious kindergartner – their mortality stares us smack in the face, too. Tiny crosses of truth on softest skin.

Maybe this is part of Lent’s gift. Reminding us that these beautiful beginnings of youth are part of our shared journey toward death.

Be not afraid.

. . .

I started this post several weeks ago and haven’t known how to finish it.

Because there isn’t an easy ending, of course. There are no pat answers when it comes to talking about death. So many of the rote responses and tired clichés we use to wrestle our arms around such a vast and thorny subject are just that – rote and tired.

Theologically unsound, pastorally maddening.

As in so many dark corners of this strange land called motherhood, I find myself flinging wide my arms and releasing my fears, partly in hope, partly in despair.

I do not have the answers, and the questions will only become more complicated.

All I am learning to do is letting my babies go, day by day, into the arms of God who is love.

how to live lent as a pregnant mother

Lenten Approach #1 (aka The First-Time Mother):

Step 1: Read everything you can to prepare. Stock up on all the experts’ manuals. Consult all the conflicting schools of thought. Aim to stack at least five sizable books on your nightstand.

Step 2: Consult everyone you know for their advice. When in doubt, turn to the Internet. Start a Pinterest board for inspiration. Post Facebook statuses asking for suggestions. Email every trusted friend to find out what worked for them.

Step 3: Chart daily progress. Check off each to-do. Secretly compare your progress with others. Start to feel guilty. Worry that you’re doing this all wrong. Entertain temptations of giving up.

Lenten Approach #2 (aka The Second-Time-Around Mother):

Step 1: Check the calendar to confirm that weeks are indeed flying by. Resolve to do something to prepare.

Step 2: Dig out something that worked last time. Try to remember what you liked about it. Decide to use it again anyway.

Step 3: Marvel at how the same book/technique/discipline/philosophy that worked before now produces an entirely different result. Start to let go.

Lenten Approach #3 (aka The Too-Tired-Third-Time Mother):

Step 1: Find yourself shocked to be on the threshold and utterly unprepared.

Step 2: Sigh. Shrug. Sit back.

Step 3: Jump once again into the unknown. Trust that things will work out. Rejoice when they do. Forgive yourself when they don’t. Embrace the unexpected.

. . .

Throughout my life I’ve had all three of these Lents (regardless of gestational status). Maybe you have, too.

The Lents I swore I’d fast like a fanatic and pray like a pro and give like a saint. The Lents I scrambled to remember what worked so well in the past. The Lents when life was already complicated and I didn’t need to go searching for spiritual challenge.

Each one brings its own promises and pitfalls. Each one depends an awareness of the season’s gifts. Each one opens a door of invitation to draw closer to God.

What will this Lent be for you?

Six weeks start here. I still haven’t “decided what I’m doing,” as we say in our Catholic circles. What to fast from. What to pray for. What to give alms to.

Plenty of ideas swim round my mind; good intentions crowd my thoughts. But this year I’m feeling called towards the unknowing. It’s fine to have a Lent that clamors for no contest or competition.

Living as a pregnant mom brings plenty of opportunity for discipline and self-denial. Counting down the weeks till a new baby joins our family makes preparation a daily practice. And looking ahead to a time of great change means that I’m already turning inward to ask God where I will be led.

Lent feels like it’s been here for a while. The question is how I go deeper.

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By the time Easter Sunday arrives, I’ll be 4 short weeks from my due date.

I could choose to go Route #1: read a bunch of books to remember what birth and babies are like; email every friend I know with 3+ kids to ask how they do it; make a detailed to-do list of everything we have to finish before baby arrives.

Or I could choose to go Route #2: mentally nag myself to start getting ready; paw through boxes of baby books and gear to figure out what we did before; ignore my midwives’ advice that this time around will likely be completely different from the last.

Or I could choose to go Route #3. Remember that labor – and Lent – come whether we are ready or not. Remember that the more I wrestle, the harder both will be. Remember that the joy and peace and beauty that are God can never be contained by my own control.

How to live Lent as a pregnant mother? Probably the same way we’re all called to live it.

According to the ashes in our life this year. Towards our hope of what an empty tomb might mean.

epiphany

epiph-a-ny : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something

It was supposed to be a practice session. She’d gone through the healing touch training and wanted to try out what she learned. I’d been sick for weeks, and she offered to come over one night, hoping it might help the morning sickness lift.

But after she stepped back out into the winter cold and I wrapped back up in blankets on the couch, I stared into the fireplace and realized with absolute clarity. That it wasn’t nausea or vomiting or endless exhaustion that needed healing.

It was fear. Fear that we’d lose the baby again. Fear that I’d never make it to another delivery day. Fear that something was doomed to go wrong.

All of a sudden I saw that the hardest part of this nine-month journey would never be a burden of the body. It was all in the heart.

. . .

epiph-a-ny : a Christian festival held on January 6 in honor of the coming of the Magi to the infant Jesus Christ

“Mommy, why is tomorrow the last day of Christmas?”

Because it’s Epiphany.

“What does Epiphany mean?”

It’s when you see something amazing, that you never saw before.

“So why is January 6th called Epiphany?”

Because it’s the day the three wise men came to visit baby Jesus. They had never seen something amazing like that before.

“So tomorrow we will sing ‘Hark the Herald Angels’ but then on January 7th we will sing regular grace for dinner?”

Yes, that’s right. Because it’s the last day of Christmas, we still get to sing the Christmas songs.

“We should sing ALL the verses. That’s what we should do for Epiphany.”

We should.

We should sing all the songs we know by heart. For all the things we’ve never seen before.

. . .

epiph-a-ny : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure

For weeks the meteorologists have been worrying and warning about the cold. Record-breaking. Life-threatening.

When the temperature finally plummeted last night and the negative numbers on the kitchen thermometer were enough to make me shiver, I listened as the radio host reveled in the jaw-dropping wind chills. The coldest in two decades.

That’s when it hit me. I’ve only lived here for ten years.

Tomorrow would be the coldest day of my life. When can we ever hyperbolize with absolute truth?

Even though I hate the cold, I smiled to myself as I flipped off the radio and turned upstairs for bed. Tomorrow I would see something I had never seen before.

. . .

epiph-a-ny : a revealing scene or moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way

As soon as we stepped into the dim room, my throat tightened with the memory: the two of us walking down a long, cold hospital hallway, the smell of freshly mopped linoleum and medicinal hand foam as we passed through the doorway, the blond-haired ultrasound tech waiting for us with kind eyes and a gentle voice.

Too much like the last time.

She poured warm gel from the squeeze bottle in a slow circle on my round belly. The grainy grey and black images began to blur and blink as she spun the wand around, trying to find the baby.

I wanted to look and I wanted to look away and I wanted everything to look right.

And suddenly, like a signpost in a swirling blizzard, the face slowly emerged from the whirling snow on screen: eyes, nose, lips. Two tiny hands trying to cram themselves into one small mouth.

All the fear evaporated as quick as a puff of breath into January cold.

I never believed women who said they fell in love so suddenly, when the lines on the test turned positive or the doctor placed the baby in their arms. But there it was.

I was absolutely smitten with what I saw.

Why this one, this second chance, this third child would make my heart leap like cloud nine, I’ll never know. Maybe because even though we had come here today – through bitter cold and biting wind and every wise voice warning us to stay home – hoping to find exactly this, I was still astonished to discover it before my own eyes.

Love in the humblest, smallest, most unlikely place.

Everything changed.

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the shortest days. the longest nights.

We’re inching towards a day I dread on the calendar. The winter solstice: shortest day of the year. As a lover of light and warmth, I cringe at the cold, recoiling from the longest dark.

When I worked outside the home, I hated these December days even more – commuting to work in the blue-black before dawn, driving home after the sun had already set. All the life seemed sucked out of the hours before I ever got a chance to enjoy them.

Small consolations twinkle: Christmas lights flashing through dark neighborhoods, a thick cover of snow that glows luminescent all night long. But still I long for summer’s bright yellow light and stretching evenings. Pulling tight the curtains in the kids’ rooms to convince them it’s time for bed even though their parents plan to sneak back outside barefoot once the covers have been tucked under their chins.

But every year in Advent, a season of lighting candles and marking time, we lose sunlight hour by hour. It gnaws at me: how I have to release into the dark to let these days pass.

. . .

When I was pregnant for the first time, my wise friend Anita wrote to me on a baby shower card that the best truth she’d heard about raising babies (and she’d had three, so she knew well) was that the years are short but the days are long.

I’ve heard this comforting adage a thousand times since, so I know it rings true for parents who have passed through the throes of life with little ones. In the endless cycle of dragging days filled with newborns and diapers and toddlers and tantrums and preschoolers and discipline, the years somehow slip by. Quickly and quietly.

I hear parents of grown children tell me to relish these days, because they long for them now. And of course I won’t, any more than they savored potty training or dinners full of whining or 3:00 am sobbing wakeup calls.

Still I respect their wisdom; I know that I will one day look back fondly at the same. How wondrous and fleeting were these years full of tiny ones.

But the same truth echoes across the cold dark snow of this winter solstice, too. A month full of shortest days means longest nights. So much temptation for brooding in the darkness. Advent is a necessary hope: we must light the candles and sing the songs and prepare as the weeks pass.

Otherwise we would despair.

. . .

Some parents call a child after miscarriage their “rainbow baby.” A promise of hope after loss. A shimmer of colored light after bleak rain. A sign of calming peace after the storm.

But for me, this baby has been a full moon. Round and bright in the dark sky. Pulling my eyes back to its light whenever they stray. Casting its glowing shine onto a cold world waiting below.

The full moon has brought me comfort through each passing month. Whenever I would rise at night – from nausea, from anxiety, from restless sleep – I found my companion in that glowing orb.

A single light strong enough to fill the sky and flood the land below.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons by Lachlan Donald from Melbourne, Australia (Flickr)

My longest nights have been full of this presence of God’s promise: that light always returns. Even when the days are short from December’s cold, or the nights are long from children’s demands, there is always brightness somewhere, if I keep searching.

If I keep looking up. Even in the deepest dark.

Christ, be our light. 

advent in the frenzy: as it always was

I don’t know who I have to blame for the peaceful, pastel images of Advent I have hard-wired in my brain – stained glass windows? holy cards? illustrated children’s Bibles? – but every year I find myself torn between the following:

Advent-in-my-head (serene Mary, peaceful Joseph, calmly carrying on to Bethlehem to prepare for the birth of Jesus)

Advent-in-my-life (frantic to-do lists, Christmas preparations, a December spilling over with family parties and festive gatherings)

The nagging guilt that this liturgical season should be all quiet prayer and slow anticipation. Meditative chant instead of blaring holiday jingles on the radio. A small candle flickering in the dark night instead of our neighbor’s Christmas display flashing hypnotically across the street.

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But this year, I am coming to peace with Advent-in-the-frenzy. Because I realized it was ever thus.

Maybe this insight came as I was overwhelmed by nausea for the 4th time one morning (be patient, dear reader, I promise to stop complaining about morning sickness…AS SOON AS IT ENDS).

Maybe it came as I was trying to cram kids’ dentist appointments and mom’s midwife check-ups into short weeks already stuffed with school Christmas concerts and office holiday parties.

Maybe it came as I flipped through family photos looking for card ideas and I remembered just what it looks like to be at the end of a pregnancy. Swollen, uncomfortable, counting down the hours till baby arrives.

Whatever the epiphany moment, I realized that the first Advent must have been no different from our own today.

Picture Mary at the end of her pregnancy. Picture Joseph trying to get ready for the unexpected baby.

Now imagine, as Luke’s Gospel invites us to do, that they have to make this last-minute, third-trimester trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem. An arduous trip over long distances to a strange city for some government bureaucracy, just when their lives were already consumed with readying for the child.

And on a donkey. (I always cringe. This one sealed Mary’s sainthood for sure.)

The first Advent? The first preparing for Christ to come? The earliest anticipation of Incarnation?

It was likely one heck of a hurried, hormonal, harrowing time. No pregnant woman, no expectant father, no sane couple would sign up for that.

And while I want to believe that the Holy Family’s lives were still full of saintly prayer and quiet communion with their Maker, I have to believe they were just as human as the rest of us, too. Stressed-out, anxious, uncertain about the unknown.

So this December I embrace the chaos. I invite the frenzy.

I find comfort in how Jesus’ parents kept their wits about them when everything seemed too much. I find peace in knowing there has never been a calm Advent.

And I marvel again at a God whose in-breaking is always messy – as painful as labor; as challenging as a last-minute journey; as unexpected as birthing a baby in a dirty stable. There is so much hope for us here – that nothing is too frantic or frenzied or frustrating or fractured for God.

Advent in the wild. As it always has been.

mary & elizabeth: back booth, corner bar

We met up at a sports bar, around the corner from the dive where we used to dance until dawn, down the street from the stadium where we spent all those Saturdays every fall. The place was packed with football fans flocking inside from the swirling snow, beer flowing before noon, TV announcers barking out touchdowns and tackles on the sound system blasting overhead.

But in the back corner booth it still felt like our small world again – the world that was cozy enough for one college quint and wide enough for all of us to dream our ways into something bigger. The gift of friends who pick up exactly where we left off.

We laughed and caught up and cracked old jokes like we always did. Except this time when we hugged, we each bumped bellies. Four babies on their way to join us. How far we’ve come down this road together.

One friend is set to deliver in just a few weeks, and as my husband and I drove home we reminisced about the wonder of that moment, the tipping point when you sense your world is about to change completely but you can’t quite grasp the enormity of how.

Parents who’ve walked that path love to pile on the advice - sleep while you can! squeeze in one more date night! enjoy this time while you’ve got it! - but when you’re expecting your first, you shake off all the suggestions because they don’t make sense yet. You’re still in the awe of before, as you should be. And what you need most in the waiting space is solidarity and sympathy. 

The consoling companionship of others in the same boat.

I always think about this when I read the story of Mary and Elizabeth meeting – their bellies bumping, those babies inside leaping with joy. The Visitation is a tale of kindred spirits: cousins in two generations, a path and a plan unfolding that none of them could predict in the waiting time before. Surely there was wonder and joy, also fear and anxiety, but they were in it together.

That was all they needed for the present moment.

The hours we spent together this weekend were far from an easy Magnificat to pregnancy’s glows; there was much more griping about restless sleep and back pain and endless trips to the bathroom.

But for me it was still a soul moment, a sacred meeting of friends who have already journeyed through many changes together and are now on the brink of everything turning again. That time filled me with something that still sings – even after the football game was the bitter coldest in recent memory, even after the drive home was long and dark, even after the same-old pregnancy woes kept me from sleep again last night. There’s always Mary-and-Elizabeth in the meeting of true friends.

My spirit rejoices.

statue visitation

This week I’m wondering about Mary and morning sickness over at CatholicMom.com. Praying the Magnificat during this pregnancy has changed what I thought about Mary’s prayer, and I wonder if – once again – I have much more solidarity and sympathy with her than I realized:

For the Magnificat is a hymn of expectations turned upside down. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. 

These are theological truths about the nature of a just God, but they are spoken from the lips of a young woman who never expected to be pregnant before marriage, who never imagined her child’s arrival would be announced by an angel.

Mary understood the upheaval of pregnancy on its deepest level, and so she could proclaim these prophetic words about God who defied the world’s expectations.

Click here to read more at CatholicMom.com – a new (even nauseous?) twist on familiar words…

i’ve never done this right

I never read a single “how to blog” article before I started.

I never tried to find a niche.

I never strategically stalked other bloggers to boost my stats.

I never joined the blogging networks that pay you for running their ads.

I never worked on sensational titles or pin-worthy photos.

I never got sponsors.

I never tried to make a single post go viral.

I never even told you my children’s names or shared zillions of shots of their adorable faces so you could fall in love with them.

By many standards, I’ve never done this blogging thing right. All the experts scream that readers want sound bytes, top-10 lists, slick design, meme-worthy quotes. I’ve done none of that.

(For crying out loud, it’s been over a week since I last posted. Don’t I know the first thing about keeping readers interested?)

But from the beginning I’ve wanted to do this blogging thing real if not right. Which is to say that when my family or my work or the rest of my life needs me more, I always step back for a bit. I don’t stress about posting; I don’t check the stats; I don’t keep up with the comments.

And the lovely thing about a true passion is that it always forgives you the neglect.

Right now I have lots of irons in the fire. Right now I have plenty of projects in the works, including the biggest and longest thing I’ve written to date (!) and a bunch of other deadlines gently elbowing my side: don’t forget us. Right now I have two busy little boys who run me ragged sunup to sundown with an exhaustion of love and giggles. Right now I have a husband who travels and a house I stopped cleaning and an email inbox stuffed to overwhelming with so many good things and people I need to respond to.

So I let the blog slide, or maybe I let it lay fallow, or maybe I let it slow down. Knowing that coasting and resting and pausing are all part of the ride. Knowing that the energy and excitement always come back to this place.

Because you are here, and I never take for granted the gift that is someone else reading these words. What never fails to blow my mind is how that people keep finding their way here, even when I never intended to draw them in.

So today I’m reveling in all that I don’t do right. The bathrooms I don’t scrub, the homemade meals I don’t scratch together, the to-dos I haven’t done, the errands I haven’t run, the activities I never signed my kids up for, even the blog I neglect.

Because in between all that I don’t do right, I do so much real. With a partner and kids and work and faith that I love.

And maybe because all of that is wrapped tight with hope in the truth that faithfulness was always a deeper call than success, I’m reveling in letting things fall where they may. In this season of falling leaves and dipping temps and letting go, I’m giving thanks for all that is done and undone. Knowing that whenever I turn back to pick up what has fallen, there will be time enough, again.

Time enough, always, for the real. If not the right.

Do you ever revel in this, too?

oh, october

Some months of the year are almost too bittersweet to bear.

April is one. It teases, coy and cunning, with windows-down 45-degree days, full of more soft breezes than we remembered possible. Then the next day the blizzard dump another 6-to-9 and the interstate is piled with skeletons of cars spun out in six-foot drifts.

October is a heartbreaker, too. It starts so bright and beckoning, full of rich yellow light and red leaves splashing the treetops. But by month’s end we’ll be bracing ourselves against biting winds as we drag costumed kids through dark streets.

Too much change in one short month.

swing

Today as we colored with chalk on the sidewalk outside (or rather, as I took orders from the tiny artistic director barking over my shoulder: do a square, mama! now do a triangle!), I glimpsed again how the natural world mirrors our own seasons, each one slightly different from last year’s version.

This is our only fall with a four- and two-year old. No matter what the coming autumns bring us, it will never have quite this same configuration.

And each of my children – my blond-haired, blue-eyed eldest and my brown-haired, dark-eyed youngest – are crammed with so many changes of their own within these ever-evolving seasons. Favorite foods, toy obsessions, beloved stuffed animals, bedtime routines – they all shift so slightly as the weeks turn.

The first day of a month rarely resembles its last.

Sometimes I fool myself into thinking I love change, that I’m type-B enough to breeze through without anxiety over the unknown. But these months of too-much-change always remind me this is false.

I cling to summer, squinting through September’s last golden days to make them masquerade as August. And as soon as the leaves start to swirl to the ground, I find myself frowning at the fact that fall is here and winter’s chill is right around the corner.

Maybe it’s the same with my kids, too.

I tell myself I want them to grow up, to grow out of diapers and into shoes they can tie themselves, to grow out of potty jokes and into academic interests to deepen our dinner table conversations.

But secretly I cling to their small selves, too – the way my toddler’s legs wrap around my waist like a koala when I scoop him up, the soft rub of my preschooler’s skin when we snuggle our noses together to say goodnight.

It’s the vertigo back and forth between the two – the babes they are today and the big boys they will become – that exhausts me sometimes. I watch it ripple over their faces in an instant as the light hits just so, and I see the glint of the men they will become and the memory of the newborns they once were.

So much to hold all at once.

But October reminds me that it can exist all together, this tension between summer innocence and weathered winter. That in the short plan of a month everything can shift around us, even while the same calendar page stays tacked to the wall.

Reminding me as we run barefoot through green grass to pick pumpkins that the only constant is change.

when pavement ends

This sign sits in our front yard. Since it’s covered from view by a line of trees, I rarely glimpse it from the house. But whenever the boys want to walk down to the creek, I notice it while we wander at the edge of the road.

The yellow steel diamond that screams this unmistakable truth in all caps:

pavement ends

And it reminds me again.

That everything certain ends.

Everything that seems sure and steady, ends.

Everything that spread out before our eyes, smooth and rolling, stretching on beyond our view – it eventually ends. Sending our wheels spinning and skidding as we scramble to reorient and remember how to travel this part of the journey.

But so, too, the road that was twisting and turning, ends.

Everything that was hard and unrelenting, packed down like pavement rolled by strong machines – it ends, too.

And there can be something comforting in the crunch of dirt and rumbling gravel we will meet ahead. A road that leads to an unknown adventure or draws us back to nature.

Back to the ground of our being.

. . .

Sometimes I wonder what it meant when Jesus said I am the Way.

Did he mean he is The Way: the one and only road; the strong, solid, shining, and certain street; the gleaming golden highway leading off into the sun?

Or did he mean that he is the way, the winding and wandering path, the trail that seems to shrink in the overgrown woods, the dusty trace of footsteps that trudged before our own?

Or did he simply mean that there Is the way, that light falls on our feet when we follow, that there is always something next if we keep going?

Sometimes we fool ourselves that we know what path we are on. We’ve chosen this career, this spouse, this address. And so our days are going to unfold accordingly, neatly tipping in a row like dominos we lined up with a careful eye.

But if the only constant is change, as the wise try to tell us, then the fact that pavement ends is the only sure truth. Today is a blink, this season is a phase. Tomorrow may be rockier or smoother, but it will not be exactly like now.

Maybe Christ meant that all of this is the Way – that he is both the level ground and the rumbling gravel, the reliable street and the meandering road. Maybe he is there when we glide easily, assuming we’re in control, and when we spin out helplessly, remembering we never were.

 . . .

The kids slap the bottom of the sign, grinning at its metallic twang. They run to the brush to find sticks to see how wood will sound when it clangs against steel. When does the world stop seeming so simple and wonderful, like one great science experiment waiting for our discovery?

This is the Way, too. Wonder. Listening. Joy.

I take one small hand in each of my own and we start to walk back up the hill towards the house, our shadows lengthening like giants in late afternoon sun. Suddenly they do not look so small, to my right and my left; they seem to stand at my same height, all three of us together with the sun warm on our backs.

This pavement, too, will end. But around the corner where I still cannot see, there will be some unseen wonder ahead.

That is the promise of way.