With homeschooling and being together every day, all year long, I wouldn’t have thought it would be such an issue. But, it’s why I almost always start school by the beginning of August. The summertime squabbles had hit our house hard. I stood in the kitchen, the drizzle outside finally slowing down, and realized we had been indoors and I had been playing a referee for the last two hours. I could hear from different corners of the house various children arguing over toys, how many people could fit on the couch and where they should keep their feet and whether or not calling someone ‘mean’ was name calling or just being accurate.
I needed to do something. Fast.
“Everyone out to the cabin! I have something I want to show you.”
The cabin has been my retreat for quiet and prayer.
Walking through the rustic wood door is always something like coming home. Upstairs is a loft with three small beds while downstairs in the one small room there’s a bed and bureau, a small table, a few chairs and a woodstove. A grandmother quilt covers the full bed and a great-grandmother quilt sits carefully folded on a shelf my father-in-law built. The cabin is full of his handicraft made from scraps of wood he scrounged from around the property during his visits. Last time, to make some shelves, he said to one of the boys, “Do you think your father would mind me stealing this board?” In reply, the ten year old said, “Well, it’s not really stealing since you’re just moving it from one spot to another.” He’s taken scraps from one place and made little treasures in another. My mother-in-law carried the chair cushions home one summer and brought them back reupholstered with extra material for curtains and a wall hanging. After each visit I find new little touches of paint or wood or material. There are touches from my own mother as well. One of her oil paintings hangs on the wall along with her sun hat left on a hook. I keep kindling wood next to the stove in an old washbasin she gave me. When I was four and there were hard times and no running water, the basin was where she gave me Sunday night baths. After my mother’s visits, I’ll often find a book on one of the little tables. Last time it was a book about an island off the coast of Maine and after she left, I sat holding it in the doorway while I watched the children swimming in the pond. As I flipped through pages of verse and photographs, I could almost smell salt water and feel the rocks and sand and I could have been sitting next to my mother in the doorway of another little cabin on a point on Islesboro.
The children all piled into my little sanctuary and suddenly it wasn’t so quiet.
I grabbed the Bible from the top of the bureau and tried to hush the chatter. “I have a story to tell you.” The promise of a story quieted them down though a few arms and legs were still restless and there was the occasional protest from someone close enough to be nudged or thumped.
I began. “Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She was three years old and lived with her Mommy and Daddy and three sisters.”
I reached up on a shelf and took down two worn puppets. “This monkey and this lion belonged to her. She would sit on her parent’s bed and she believed they were real. They would talk to her (sounding a little like her mother and father) and she would try to feed the monkey bananas.”
The kids laughed and said they knew who it was as I put the monkey and the lion in the hands of my seven year old. I reached for something else on the shelf. I took down a picture of the same little girl sitting in an old fashioned baby buggy with her two older sisters standing next to it. I told the kids some stories of the fun these sisters had, including some wild baby buggy rides and of how gullible the little girl was and how she always believed the big sister who tricked her over and over with the same joke. I handed the picture to my oldest daughter and reached for another. I took down a framed picture of the girl a little older, holding a lead rope and with her little sister sitting on the pony named ‘Molly’. I told them stories of these sisters and the pony and they laughed and I could see in the eyes of my little girls that they were longing to be there on that sweet Molly.
Next I took down a cross stitch of a little house and the words, “Joy be with you while you stay and peace be with you as you go.” I told them about the girl grown older and in college. She didn’t know what she would do with her life but deep down inside she wanted to love a husband and children and to have house with a guest room where people would come and stay and she could feed them and make them feel safe and happy. So, in between writing term papers she would sit on her bed and cross stitch and wonder what might someday be.
After putting the cross stitch in some little hands, I took down more handiwork that had a picture of a house and the words, ‘God Bless Our Home’. I told the story of going to Maine for Christmas and my grandmother telling me that she had a neighbor make a picture to match the one she had hanging on her wall because she thought I’d like it. But, then after she got it from her neighbor, she lost it and had been looking for it everywhere. So, she decided to give me the one from her wall and wait until the other one showed up to replace her own. I held in my hands the little gift from my grandmother, and with a familiar heaviness rising, I handed it to one of my little girls.
There was one more child and I looked around the room for what I should have him hold. There were more items that I had placed there to remind me of our family and the history that gives me roots and steadiness as I pray and hope. But, instead of those, I reached up and took the clock down from the wall and placed it in the hands of my nine year old.
I told them each to hold the items I gave them and think about them and the stories I told while I read them a poem. I turned to the book of Ecclesiastes.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
I looked in their little faces and told them how precious each time is. That they shouldn’t waste a moment being angry with each other because this time together, where we live in the same little house and eat dinner together each night, is going to pass away so soon. Every moment together is precious.
I looked at my little boy holding the clock and asked him how much time had passed since I had handed it to him. He did a bit of math in his head and said it had just been some minutes.
“Will those minutes ever be here again?”
Like it usually does, the weight of the lesson fell on me. The kids were soon off again, playing and laughing and bickering, while I stood for another moment in the cabin.
The minutes are moving too fast.
Before I followed the children outside I pulled out the bottom drawer of the bureau where I keep stacks of my old journals. I reached way down to the bottom and pulled out one with a Minny Mouse cover. I stepped outside where I could watch the kids play, thankful that the rain had stopped.
Opening the cover I read the first date. I would have been thirteen, just a year older than my daughter is now. I remembered opening the cover for the first time, at my sister’s house, after just hearing that Molly the pony had been put to sleep. With a sad smile, I saw that my first entry was a poem.
You were the pony next door
Though to me you meant more
In my heart forever
Remains a great treasure
Which is the memories of us
Of undying friendship and trust.
Though your happy days here are over
I wish you in heaven a field full of clover
I will never forget you
My love and friendship is true
Your kind, friendly eyes
Hid no secrets or lies
Your great heart we could never tame
Though you were kind without shame
You carried us all
Fat, skinny, large or small.
I was both laughing and crying inside as I read the last line of the poem. I still grieve in poetry though I’ve given up on rhyme.
I read the rest of the journal, seeing this little girl that isn’t me and yet was and the stream of consistency in who I have been and who I am now and wishing I could go back and save her from some of the choices she was about to make.
I ‘fell in love’ several times my eight grade year but I never loved any of those boys with the same intensity with which I loved the horses named Thunder and Shawnee or even the dog, Bendyl. I read the page I wrote after sitting on the bleachers talking with a friend. This little girl and I both talked about how our boyfriends kind of grossed us out. We didn’t even really want to hold their hand, especially in the hall at school. We wondered what was wrong with us. I wanted to go back and grab that little girl out of that middle school and give her some Breyer horses to play with and a couple of gerbils. I prayed a silent prayer and thanked God for the gentle growing up my children are getting.
Mostly, the pages were about horses and friends and true love always and every now and then an interesting historical tidbit like the dissolution of the Soviet Union. A few pages were a little harder to read and again, I wanted to go back and snatch her away.
I didn’t remember thinking much about God or ever reading the Bible back in those days. So, it was with surprise that I came to a page and read the words, “I’m not so mad at ____, anymore. I read in the Bible about not fearing man because they may be able to hurt your body but can never touch my soul! Not that ____ ever hit me. He just has no power over my soul. Only the Lord has that key!”
What? How could this little boy-crazy girl that only went to church on Easter with her grandmother have written down, twenty three years ago, the truth that I thought I was just finding now? The very same verse even?
Suddenly, tears were streaming down my face.
He was there.
I had wanted to reach back and save the little girl writing in her journal when she was lost and being used because it felt like she was so alone.
But she was never alone.
In the weeks leading up to my thirty-sixth birthday this month, I often found myself singing a few lines from Stevie Nick’s song, Landslide.
“Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older too
Oh, I’m getting older too”
I have strongly been feeling the, “Oh, I’m getting older too” part. I’ve also been afraid of changing. I’m dreading my children getting older. I love it right now.
And, I don’t know that I’ll love it in the future. It’s likely that bad things are going to happen. There are going to be goodbyes and I don’t want to say them. Even if there are good things they might mean bags will be packed and tickets bought and planes boarded. I don’t want any more changing.
I’ve built my life right here.
I can’t see what is ahead. It seems like at some point in their growing up, I have a conversation with each one of my kids about whether or not you can walk on a cloud and what it would be like to be inside of one. A little voice says, “Can you see anything when you are in there or is it all white?”
Sometimes when we’re eating breakfast, since we’re quite high on a hill, we can look out over a valley and see the fog rising off of several lakes and ponds. Some mornings we see a heavy fog settled below us and then head off in the van to run errands. On the way to town, we pass through the ‘clouds’. I remind them of how thick and solid they looked from a distance, but when we’re in them they’re just wisps and we can see ahead of us. It’s just from afar that you can’t see.
And I think, isn’t that just like life?
I’m afraid because I can’t see what is ahead. And, because this is a world broken, there will be things that will break. My loved ones seem so fragile when I look ahead into the fog.
But just like there was someone behind me bringing that little girl the truth she needed to get her through, there is someone there in the fog ahead of me. And, from where he is, he can see clearly. He’s already there.
The only thing that overcomes the fear of the future and the inevitable change is to build my life on what doesn’t change and to fix my eyes on the one who is and was and always will be. There is something solid to stand on because there is something that will never change.
I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 8:38)
I am going to savor each precious moment of now. This minute is passing and it will never come again. There is grief in the passing of moments but there is something to cling to with hope and expectant joy as we look ahead. There is a love waiting that has carried us through the past and is strong enough to carry us through whatever lies waiting in the fog.
He’s already there.