The beach towels are put away in the back corner of our closet. Fall seems to have come a bit early this year, or right on time depending on how you look at things. While normally we might have a few more days of swimming–one summer we went all the way to October 9th–it’s been cooler here for the past several weeks. I often take pictures at the beach, but rarely share them here. Something about our beach days feels sacred to me, the way we’ve learned to mark the time, the way I remember year after year, September by every passing September, that summer is leaving and won’t be back until May at the earliest.
The boys have been asking when Columbus Day is. Every once in a while I have to sit them down and ask them–You’re not miserable, right? There’s a big difference to me between, “I really hate this, please don’t make me” and “This isn’t my favorite, but it’ll be fine”. One is traumatic. The other is growth. So far it seems to be more the later, not even for all of them, and not even every day. We still pray everyday for their mornings, and for the prayer requests ranging from having the day go by fast to could there not be too much homework after school. I add my own along with theirs. While it makes me happy that they do miss home, I want them also to like these days too.
Whenever a season passes I always wish that I’d shared more, whether in thoughts, or pictures, or details of our days. With all that can be said and overheard on social media, I was scarred for a while by the fear of oversharing, even more so by the fear of losing, that I did the thing people do and swung the other way. I used to think I was writing these blogs for my kids, for them to have a sort of record to read and look back on. It didn’t seem right to think that I was writing them solely for myself. I had to have some kind of nobler reason, I still do. I do hope in some way they benefit from me writing here, this pausing to know more of what is true in my life, this wondering if I could’ve shared and brought someone else joy.
Note that the relations of the three persons of the Trinity never imply the dissolution of the individual person. That the persons of the Trinity mutually indwell each other never means that they become each other. It means that, eternally, completely, they are together. They breathe each other, and dance with each other, but do not collapse into each other. Likewise, our ability to be individuals (made in and for relationship) comes from our being made in the image of God.
How can we express the relationship given to us by being made in the image of God? By loving, first God and then neighbor. Why does that gift of love–for love is a self-donation, self-giving–not result in the loss of ourselves (if done wisely)? It is because loving another is the way that we become the persons that we were meant to be.
According to the Eastern Orthodox understanding of the Trinity, this mutual inherence is the expression of the monarchy of the Father. There is a relation of asymmetry in that the Son and Spirit have a relation of origin with the Father, but what that relation of origin indicates is that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit mutually inhere in each other and mutually define each other. God is God irrespective of creation, but that the Father is Father necessarily includes the Son (and vise versa). “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 16:25); this is not merely a text that applies to the created economy. Christ crucified reveals this salvific dynamic to us as the eternal life of God. It is both our salvation and our true humanity to participate in this life, just as it is the Son’s eternal being to give his life away. And, the Son, exactly reveals the Father; by Christ’s dying for us, he showed us what it means that God himself is truly alive.
The life of the open hand (not clenched fist, holding onto what is ours), is the life in which we become true selves, true persons. It is the image of God who forever is self-transcendent, who forever gives, whose life is the mutual in dwelling of the Trinity…
What is the image of God? Love God with all you are, and love your neighbor as yourself.
~Steven Cone, Theology From the Great Tradition, Module VI: Human Beings
Last month instead of traveling like we normally do when camp season ends, we took a week for a family staycation. Earlier in the summer I’d proposed the idea of having a staycation where we focused on thoroughly cleaning the house. I thought it’d make for a great vacation, and everybody else was pleasantly supportive. The idea was to spend the morning and afternoon hours on house projects, and the evening hours on doing something fun as a family.
We actually had a really good time. Several nights we went out to eat. One night we explored a downtown record store with old pinball machines. One day we spent the day at the waterpark. I tried out three of the slower slides, then did well spending the rest of the time reading under an umbrella. Another night everyone went to the drive-in (me and one of the boys stayed home). My personal favorite was the night we walked the streets of downtown Springfield.
You can’t really tell anymore that we cleaned. I knew a week wasn’t a whole lot of time to cram in everything I would’ve liked to get done. The one exception to this was a project that wasn’t even on the list, which was our homeschool timeline wall. Several years ago, I ordered a ten-foot timeline from Answers-in-Genesis to display on the wall as a teaching tool. It outlines the 7 C’s of history: Creation, Corruption, Catastrophe, Confusion, Christ, Cross, Consummation.
I rarely used it. We’d bought trim and made a border for it, and it was on the bottom third of the wall where little ones could walk by and see it at eye level. After several tries to find an accent color to go above it, I gave up and for years it’s been a darker mauve. Since we were already painting over a deep blue accent wall, I thought we might as well just go ahead and paint the hallway. It was a labor of love on several people’s parts, and I absolutely love how the wall turned out.
It’s just a plain white now. While for a while I loved the colors, the symbolism of the arrows I added from Hobby Lobby, and just the overall busyness and stimulation of the wall, now the wall is soothing and peaceful. Every time I walk through it makes me happy, as the satisfaction of productive work returns. The hallway is one of the places where the house gets natural window light, and now with the lighter color, the wall is able to reflect the light back in ways it couldn’t before.
You hold tight to your umbrella Well darlin’ I’m just tryin’ to tell ya That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head ~Rainbow, Kacey Musgraves~
After playing more than I should’ve over the weekend, I got my work done. I’m not exaggerating when I say that every time I finish a paper it feels like a small divine miracle has happened. I can’t even explain exactly what’s hard about it. I don’t mind the title page and I can handle the reference page, but the pages in between are what I never quite know how they’re going to get done, especially when we have to be official and write using research.
I actually was jealous of people who seem to be able to do this much easier. It wasn’t the innocent and loving kind of jealous. It was legitimate I-don’t-like-you-right-now kind of jealous. I guess me writing about it here is me repenting. I’ve actually been jealous of a few things lately, each one having to do with words. Where do people get the confidence to say anything with certainty, to communicate as if they actually know something? I have to cite every word I say.
I recently saw a rainbow in the morning sky, but without rain. To be more specific, here’s exactly what I was envious of–the ability to put experience, knowledge, and understanding into words. And not just any words, but words that exude a supernatural radiance. I know time and practice must have to factor in somewhere. I don’t want to bury or misuse talents, however non-utilitarian certain talents seem to be, like writing of a rainbow without rain when I see it.
Yesterday one of the boys had a field trip here. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do, like if I was supposed to take him to school, or if I should be hosting the group or volunteering to help. Turns out they had everything figured out, with moms driving and attending along with even some grandpas and dads. I dropped him off at school with the other boys, and then came back home to work on a paper, skipping the pool feeling like I needed to be here if somebody needed something. At 11:00 I picked him up from main camp and drove to church. Dad picks up the boys on his way home from teaching religion at Lutheran High in the mornings. He wasn’t going to be home in time with the other boys for the timing to work for me to leave our other son here.
So I brought him with me to the new mom’s group that was meeting. I’m not in charge of this, I just volunteered to help with it if needed and to come as I could. Two other moms wanted to start a mom outreach for the mothers of children in our church’s preschool. There weren’t any non-member church moms that came, but we did have four member moms there, three of us who had each brought a son. The boys kept busy with their “busy stations”, including mine who even though he was older, didn’t seem to mind the toys around.
The moms called the group A Cup of Conversation. They set it up so that we all sat around in a table with cups of tea or water or special diet smoothie. They had a coffee mug in the middle of the table filled with slips of paper containing questions. For the scheduled hour, we took turns pulling out a question and then going around the table to answer it. One of the questions was, “If you could only have three apps on your phone, which ones would they be?” Since I pulled this question, I also had to answer it first. My mind kind of went blank as they waited. The first app that came to mind was my WordPress app. It’s the one I use to upload pictures. I used to do this on the computer when I used to use my DSL camera.
But I didn’t want to say that, because I didn’t want to also say I had a blog. So I kept thinking and the next thing that came to mind was Goodreads. I don’t even use that app all that much right now but that’s the one that came to mind next. After confirming that texting, emails, and phone calls were automatic, I ended up saying Goodreads, Instagram, and Safari for the internet. I wasn’t at all happy with that answer, as I felt like surely I was missing something more important, something less wasteful, something that would present for the group a clearer picture of who I was.
After my turn passed I picked up my phone. I knew exactly when I saw it the one I’d forgotten. Once the next speaker was finished sharing her apps, I raised my hand and said I needed to amend my answers. Instead of Instagram, it would be my moon app. I only have my moon app because I like having one, and following the days leading up to the full and new moons. Thing is, I don’t even need the app anymore. I’ve watched the moon for long enough to know what phase of the moon we’re in.
Another woman shared that she would keep her plant identification app. She and I have walked the camp grounds together, identifying plants and gathering her flowers. I admittedly have not done much with the plant apps since the days of 2020. She really likes the medicinal plants, and we even had plans to dig up the wild elderberry on the side of the road, though we didn’t follow through in time before the township mowed. The next girl said she’d want a map app. I thought to myself, yes, that’s the one I was missing. After I’d had even more time to think about it, I requested again a chance to revise my answer, finally landing on the Internet, Apple Music, and Maps.
I met with another group of women today. The women I’d met from our IF gathering this spring had planned to get together for lunch. I’d been reading the texts, but not replying to them, figuring a Saturday was probably not a good day for meeting. I’d planned to work on my paper all day, while my daughter was at an event that didn’t end up working out for her to go to, and Josh and the boys were at a shooting retreat. The morning was surprisingly and pleasantly productive, with two whole pages appearing rather quickly.
I decided during the morning that I would try to go to lunch. After pulling over beside the mowed over elderberry to type out a prompt so I didn’t forget it, I kept on driving, my latest Apple Music choice on repeat. I was the first one there, followed shortly by the others. After talking about date nights and pre-teen daughters struggling with anxiety, one of the women pulled out her phone to read us a personality test. According to this test, everybody falls into one of four categories. Following the descriptions, you had to answer if you were reserved or outgoing, then whether you were task-oriented or people oriented.
We had a good time there as well, though after about an hour my heart started racing. I had a paper to work on, a daughter who now was home alone, and the sun on my back reminding me of the lake. After thanking and waving to the ladies at the table, I returned to the van and called the camp phone. I left my daughter a message, just in case she was on the office computer. I told her I’d be home in 20 minutes to swim. We walked down to remember an afternoon at the lake, first with us both on the paddleboard, then with me swimming, her paddling off in the distance beside me.
I’ve been having a harder time settling into this new semester. It’s a couple of things. The first is that the classes I’m taking have more assignments than my previous ones. Last semester surprised me with the relative ease of the coursework and workload, as I had expected the classes at the very least to be moderately challenging. This semester’s classes are more what I expected.
The second is that there are more things going on in my life in terms of outside commitments where I am responsible for doing things. Last night after class, I told my husband when heading to bed, that I wish I would’ve waited to get more involved with church things. It’s amazing how quickly meetings and blocks of time can add up. I’ve known this, which is one of the reasons I’ve stayed out of said committees and commitments for so long. It’s one thing to have ideas. It’s completely another to be the person or part of the group of persons who now must work to implement these ideas.
Last year often felt like I was in a grueling crawl back to civilization. At the time I started briefly meeting with a few others last summer, I didn’t know I’d be going to school. I had a brief thought today of wanting back my old life. The life when country internet didn’t keep me from homework, when my calendar was endlessly open and clear, when I wasn’t driving away from the boys as one was shedding and choking back quiet tears.
And yet I feel in some way that this is the path we’ve been set on, like God is working and things are happening in his time and all of that. To put it another way: I have long prayed for this. Not necessarily these things specifically, but for God to hear me, for God to answer me, for God to do something, for God to keep helping me. I still do say things here that I end up questioning. I hate that feeling like I spoke too soon, of suddenly and intently fearing whatever I just asked God for, like I should’ve just kept that all to myself and let me and God’s business be just between me and him.
All of this stuff just leads to more prayer. Prayer that I can get these papers written, that the pieces will fall into place with these church things, that the boys would find comfort and strength in God, and continue to do well as they grow and adjust. Prayer for good sleep and focused work. Prayer for the mourning, who like the poor, are always with us. Prayer that I would not be anxious, but trust. Prayer knowing God is my shepherd, and ask.
(As much as it pained me to face my reality, and say goodbye to whatever I was still holding onto, contained here are dreams I have fully let go of. Sometimes dreams were only there to get us to the places we were always meant to go.)
If in my heart there flows a stream a current of our Maker’s dream
Then send me where you tow a raft for us to ride in love together
Oh not the cross we’ve been there too I mean the place where me finds you
And not the sky How can I say? with lungs anew where night meets day
To temples plain On earth this place where God is seen in every face
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” ~2 Corinthians 4:7~
It’s a resting in bed and working on homework kind of day. Sometimes I come down in the schoolroom on the guest bed. There’s more light down here and it’s less secluded than our bedroom. I also like it because it’s the same guest bed I used to sleep on when I was little. My grandma called it the pink room because it had pink carpet and the decorations in the room were pink. When they moved from their house and were getting rid of and giving away most of their stuff, I requested the guest bed. I never did find a new bedspread for it, but instead have been using one that she had.
I did go to the pool again this morning. I didn’t really swim though, I more just danced. That’s what we’ll call it anyway. There’s a water aerobics class that takes place at the same time. I’ve always liked that swimming is a sport that even old people can do. The women who come to this class aren’t old. I would guess they range somewhere between their 50’s-70’s. Beside me in the lanes though were two old men. Another middle aged man came in from the locker rooms, stood there for a minute, then left. All of the swim lanes were taken up. For a split second, I wondered if he was mad that I was taking up a lane with my ballet. I normally would’ve swam more, but was still more tired again today.
Last week I started compiling some lessons I’d been learning in all this. I’m only remembering one at the moment. The lesson is that you can’t rush healing. When I see now where I was over a year and a half ago, I can see that I was trying way too hard to rush and condition my body back to health and normal. While conditioning would work for other kinds of weakness, that’s not how it was ever going to happen with this. Our primary healings only come through rest. It meant I needed, and was given, lots of time for doing nothing, a time for simply laying there and letting God hold me.
A friend asked me how I was doing today. I said I was doing fine and she looked at me like I was lying. I was, but saying fine was easier than saying that the organs in my core were feeling constricted again. Today was our annual chicken fry at camp. Despite the rain, we had a good turnout, and I remember thinking my husband had done a wonderful job with the sermon. Somewhere toward the end of the chapel service, I got up to leave and stand outside. I suddenly felt like I was about to start crying. I never did.
It mostly just feels redundant to talk about. Some of the things I’ve written here have been wildly tame. Anxiety isn’t a sufficient word to describe what this is. No I cannot stand in line for an hour. I actually have to go sit down in the shade. No I cannot be the person to jump into the kitchen fray with the dozen plus volunteers who barely seem to halfway know what they’re doing. I actually should be going to lay down. I carried a friend’s baby from main camp to our house and hours later still feel like I am trying to catch my breath.
The boys had friends who were visiting for the weekend. Their mother is a woman I met during the days of my first blog. She and I and another mom had a fairly regular email thread that lasted several years before life just continued to get busier and busier. At the time we all met, one had four kids, I had five, and another had six. This weekend the one with four came and visited with her ten. My boys and hers have been pen pals for several years, though now they tend to email more and have times for approved and limited online games. She and I have gotten together a handful of times, and this is the second time our boys have been able to play together in person.
We had a wonderful weekend. I have to say, five kids isn’t nothing, but ten kids is a whole new thing entirely. Absolutely delightful, every single one of them, and it was a joy to finally meet them all. The only way I know how to befriend a mother with ten children is to make myself useful however I was able and not be offended when she couldn’t really talk. When I needed to sit down, and left her standing with her tiny group of wonders, I wouldn’t have known how to even begin to explain.
Again, so much more than I could’ve done a year ago. I do continue to thank God for that. I keep thinking how homeschooling the boys had been easy, even though I’m seeing the needed good in this change. The other night I asked my big kids if they thought I was old. They said no. I asked if they thought I was different from before. They said yes. I asked them how so and one of them said, “You don’t do anything”, then added, “I mean, you do things, but not like before.” Yeah.
“To wait for moments or places where no pain exists, no separation is felt and where all human restlessness has turned into inner peace is waiting for a dreamland.” ~Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life~
Penciled into the margin where I first encountered these words are an asterisk and the personal note “Not true”. It was my knee-jerk reaction, my displeasure made manifest, my un-slowness to speak, my definitive statement in response to his. Somewhere in the back of my mind I had something more to say, like the kid in the back of the classroom whose hand and voice rises to challenge the beloved and seasoned teacher.
That’s not what the Bible says. “But the new heavens, and the new earth, that’s not a dreamland”, says the child, “It’s real, every last bit of it, and that’s what we’re waiting for.” Of course I don’t believe the author would’ve disagreed with that. He wasn’t talking about the coming world. He was talking about this one. Prior to the above quote he says, “There is much mental suffering in our world. But some of it is suffering for the wrong reason because it is born out of the false expectation that we are called to take each other’s loneliness away. When our loneliness drives us away from ourselves and into the arms of our companions, we are, in fact, driving ourselves into excruciating relationships, tiring friendships and suffocating embraces.” He’s saying God is the dream we will never wake up from, and when we do, we’ll find his love is even better than life.
It’s hard to be a dying romantic in this place. It’s even harder to be a cynic or a skeptic or any of those other aggravating words that take us away from the heart of God. I was a little annoyed by something I said yesterday, when I talked about the fondness I had for the homeschool years and the people who filled them, as if a mere sentiment is all I’m walking away with. If fondness had been my only reward, my only great possession in exchange for youth and time, what a colossal waste of life and energy it would’ve been. But as it stands, I was given something more, more solid and stable. I was given the door that swings wide open, handed the shores of the kingdom of God.