It’s a strange time. When you have one foot in one place, and the other foot in another, and your heart feels like it’s divided in two.
Living fully in the present when you’re in the midst of transition is hard. You feel like there’s this sort of chasm in between here and there where you can’t rest or feel at peace. Half of you is holding to the familiar and beloved, half of you is reaching for the good things to come. You yo-yo relentlessly between the two positions, unable to make a solid landing on either.
I have struggled to write about it, because I like to write reflectively instead of processing out loud in the moment. This is raw stuff, still in process. There is so much on my mind and to-do list right now. But, in the midst of this overwhelming project of trying to somehow wrap up ten years’ accumulation of belongings here into two tidy packages of taking or leaving, all the while trying to say goodbye to people and places we love dearly, I’m still taking pictures. It’s something soothing that I can do that doesn’t require more mental or emotional energy, this composing of images within a frame and capturing moments of time in pixels. Taking time, even just a minute or two, to savor the beauty around me is such a balm for my soul. It reminds me of the things that are solid and don’t change, like the rhythms of nature, the changing of the seasons—and the God who created it all and remains faithful even when everything else feels like it’s in upheaval.
“This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.” (Lamentations 3:21-25)
On Christmas Day 2019, with doting aunties and grandmas hovering round, my firstborn son turned two months old. I’d spent the previous weeks nursing him beneath the lights of the Christmas tree, often twinkling over us in the wee hours when the rest of the household was slumbering. And on those nights, as his little head nodded downy and drowsy down onto my shoulder, I thought a lot about the first Christmas. I feel like I understand how it might have been for Mary so much better now because of him.
I had it all planned out, you know. Our fourth child would be born peacefully at home, surrounded by the birthing professionals I had carefully chosen and built a relationship with over the last nine months. The birthing pool was sitting in the living room, ready for the moment I told Zach, “It’s time!” to be filled, tiny cord clamps and other medical supplies waiting in a box nearby for the midwife’s arrival. A pretty robe was hanging up, waiting for me to slip into after labor for first pictures with my new little one. Our bedroom was clean and ready, tiny baby newborn-sized clothes laid out on the changing table, one small pile of pink and one small pile of blue, and a pile of neutral in between awaiting the big gender reveal. My mom was ready to drop everything when the phone rang to come whisk our other children away until after the birth.I imagine that Mary had plans, too, those 2000 years ago. She, too, probably envisioned her child being born in the comfort of her own home, perhaps assisted by the wise old midwife who had helped every baby in Nazareth enter the world for the last 40 years, her mother nearby to hold her hand and offer encouragement during the frightening pangs of her first labor. The swaddling clothes were laid out next to the beautiful cradle her carpenter husband had crafted, and certainly, she had dreamed that the event would be at least nine months after her wedding day to her betrothed.
But things didn’t go according to plan, mine or hers.For me, what was supposed to be a trip into town for a routine prenatal turned into a trip to the hospital for induction after an unexpected diagnosis of preeclampsia. We arrived weary, after midnight and a long evening of testing and being shuffled between towns and hospitals. A doctor I had never seen before agreed to make room for me in her schedule because the situation was considered urgent. The unexpected circumstances were such that I arrived with nothing but the clothes on my back and my purse. No camera, no toiletries or changes of clothing, none of the small comforts and baby things I had so carefully arranged back home. I gave birth in a borrowed gown, surrounded by more strangers than not, an awkward but necessary blood pressure cuff attached to my arm and the foreign sound of monitors beeping. My firstborn son was wrapped in a hospital-issued swaddle instead of the little clothes sitting back at home. He was laid in a rolling baby cart of stainless steel and plastic labeled “Baby Ender” instead of the wooden-spindled cradle under the window in my bedroom.For Mary, the honor and wonder of being with child by the Holy Ghost looked unfortunately too much like a shameful out-of-wedlock birth to her neighbors. She received snubs and nasty gossip instead of congratulations. The wedding—after the fact—was very nearly called off. Caesar Augustas in Rome did not take due dates into account when he ordered an empire-wide census. A long, arduous trip kicked off labor. They arrived weary in an unfamiliar town where they knew nobody, too late for a premium room at the inn. They were stuck sleeping with animals on a night when she labored as a first-time mother, undoubtedly longing for comfort and familiarity more than any other night in her life. If anyone assisted her in birth besides Joseph, it was certainly a stranger, pulled in at the last minute for the emergency. A manger stood in for the hand-crafted cradle back home.
And yet in both of our cases, in spite of all the upset plans, the most important thing did go as planned:
A baby boy was pushed safely out into the world, opened his mouth with a healthy squall, and blinked his sleepy eyes to look up into his mother’s face for the very first time. The pain was forgotten. It didn’t matter who was there, or where we were, if there were monitors beeping or animals lowing. All that mattered was that our child was born.And all was well, because God was there.
For you in whatever unplanned circumstances you didn’t ask for this year, like celebrating the holiday in isolation, sick in the hospital, or mourning the loss of a loved one. God is with you.
Never forget that this is the true meaning of Christmas.“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in prayers to God on my behalf.” (Romans 15:30)
Is there an any more beautiful thing than when the body of Christ, one in spirit, strives together in prayer for one another? Today, I want you to know that I am praying for you who will read this, that “the God of peace be with all of you.” (Romans 15:33)
P.S. Seethis original postfor info about this photo challenge and more about this reading plan I’m using this summer for the book of Romans (and I’d love to have you join in!)!
About the photo: You knew the resident swans were going to make their annual appearance on the blog at some point, didn’t you? I know you can’t quite see them all here, but there are four cygnets this year!
Everyone around here seems to have spent the last couple months and weeks waiting eagerly for the ice to break up. And by “everyone around here”, I mean us and our feathered neighbors.
The swans have been patiently spending their days here for almost two months now, two faithful white lumps out on the ice standing guard over their nesting grounds. The eagles began checking in next, periodically soaring in to keep tabs on the status of the frozen mass obscuring their fishing grounds. Then the geese arrived, honking in and out (far less devoted than the swans), and the ducks, squeezing in to paddle around the tiny puddles opening up along the edges.
And finally, just yesterday, the loons arrived with their wildly haunting calls. They never show up until there’s a long enough runway open for their lengthy takeoffs, so it this was the surest sign yet that ice out was imminent. Today, there’s a giant pancake of ice floating out on the lake, and around it’s edges, the waves are moving again for the first time since November. The wind is shifting it from one side to the other, slowly crushing, consolidating and wearing away at the ragged edges. I’m watching it recede before my eyes as the day wears on. In a day or two, or maybe even by morning, it will be gone.
I can feel the exuberance of the waterfowl in my own soul as I watch the lake come alive after it’s long winter’s sleep. I, too, have missed the twinkle of sunny waves through the shoreline trees, the soothing movement of the ripples reflecting the colors of the sky, the energy of the waves driving before the wind, and the smooth glimmer of its liquid mirror on still evenings. I think I am surely just as happy as they to know that the reward of our mutual long and hopeful wait is right around the corner.
But I wasn’t worried that it would come, because the promises of God are always true to those who wait for them. That goes for the change of seasons, as well as a lot of other things too numerous to list here now. It’s good to remind ourselves of that, especially right after Easter. The story isn’t finished yet!
“Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:28)
All of our children have summer birthdays, and we seem to agree that birthdays are to be celebrated with great festivity. The swans celebrate such occasions by taking the whole family on their very first loop around the lake to see all the sights; we celebrate by hosting picnics on the lawn, with doting grandparents, aunts and uncles galore, and plenty of homemade ice cream. Sometimes these celebrations even coincide, and watching them glide gracefully past while we eat birthday cake is almost as entertaining as watching birthday girls in their best dresses get excited about gifts of stuffed puppies and tiny baby dolls.
We both get upset with birds of prey and the other assorted hungry predators who lurk in our neck of the woods when they threaten to eat our cygnets (or chickens). I do wish I could match their gracefulness in expressing my outrage, however. I mean, how much more sophisticated to trumpet and flap powerful snowy white wings then to run out into the yard shouting and flailing your arms? I’m working on that.
We both live on the same lake, and think it’s a wonderful place to raise children. We agree that being near or in the water as much as possible is an excellent way to spend a summer. We both think that sunshine and fresh air is healthy for little ones, and that they should be out in it as much as possible.
Perhaps the most interesting thing we have in common is that we both enjoy foraging for food to eat in the wild. Although, I must admit that other than wild rice, our tastes are somewhat different. They like lily pads. We like saskatoons. Each to their own, of course.
We rejoice together. We identify and call out evil together. We have things in common, but appreciate and respect the beauty of our differences. What does that remind you of? It reminds me of this:
“Therefore if you have any encouragement in Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, then make my joy complete by being of one mind, having the same love, being united in spirit and purpose.” (Philippians 2:1-2)
Every time I drive over the bridge there are more of them there than the last time.
The returning has begun.
In the car, though, you miss the sound of it. On a blog, you do, too. There’s just nothing that replaces the physical act of standing on the bridge, leaning into a square wooden beam, and immersing yourself in a few minutes of that wondrous cacophony of honking, quacking and trumpeting. It’s the music of spring migration, and it’s enough to infuse any year-round resident who has weathered yet one more season of long nights and sub-zero temps with hope.
I heard them chattering in the church foyer last week, too, as the winter birds gathered round, tired faces relaxing into welcoming smiles for these forerunners of the much-anticipated annual migration. The sound of the returning was never so obvious, however, or so beautiful, than it was in the swelling fullness of the opening hymn.
Welcome back, snowbirds. It’s good to hear all your happy voices again.
“Even the stork in the sky knows her seasons; and the turtledove and the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration.” (Jeremiah 8:7)
“For, lo, the winter is past…the time of the singing of birds is come.” (Song of Solomon 2:11-12)
Every spring, there’s this short window of time, just before the ice goes out, in which there are little open areas of water around the edges of our lake. All the waterfowl congregates in these puddles and pools to forage for food and paddle around in one great companionable waiting game for the lake to open.The ducks and geese seem to have a mutual agreement that it’s a nice little community event, too, and mingle quite nicely.
The swans, not so much.Such a fuss we had from them, of fiercely territorial wing-flapping, neck-bobbing and trumpet-blasting, particularly when another pair of swans would come in for a landing (on a multi-daily basis). It was all very exciting, and we’re going to rather miss it now that the lake is open and the spring festival is over.
But I must say that I’ve learned something from watching this year’s waterfowl interactions before ice out. Entertaining as it is for us to be the audience to this yearly stiff competition over swan nesting grounds, it’s not exactly peaceful. For all their magnificent beauty, they are surprisingly selfish. And, as God’s Word says, we’d all be much better off emulating the contented little puddle ducks than the regal but contentious swans.
“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:16-18)