Even in the moment of utmost magnificence, the realities of life cast a cloud over it all. Have you noticed?
This is truth, the here–and–now is what we hold in our hand this moment. We savor the taste, the scent, the love, the sight, the feel.
The Japanese term “mono no aware” is often applied to flowers.
It means “they. . .won’t last forever.” For English speakers, it’s tough to translate, but it’s a relatable idea. ‘Mono no aware’ describes beautiful but perishable things. Mono no aware becomes a human anthem, our song of recognition: Every moment counts.
I choose to live in this moment, right here.
The exquisite beauty of the Japanese language describes “an empathy toward things”, evoking both a transient gentle sadness, a wistfulness at their passing, as well as an underlying poignancy about this state being, the reality of life’s ending in decline and death.
We’ve traveled a lot of road together, and this is so real, so true, it’s difficult to find the language to describe it.
Even as gardens, yours and mine, are carefully tended and watched over, the beauty of nature is fleeting. All nature. We, too, come with expiration dates. We are colorful and thriving and being woven into glorious patterns of symmetry and contrast.
We are carefully tended and watched over, many of us blooming far into the future.
Embellishing options, we keep planting new life, new blossoms in new seasons. When we face the ending of one season, we water new seeds, and graft or adopt or improvise in the faith of growing new sprouts for another season.
In drought, we include the defense of closing ranks with friends and allies. We help each other. We punt for each other. We dress each other in the coverings of costumes and smile at the future. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness are the friendship fertilizers. Doing good, being faithful, being gentle, and having self-control in the face of temptation. These are the ribbons of bouquets.
It’s an aspect of being created in the image of the Creator, that we thrive best in community, rubbing shoulders. Out of one garden, another is already blooming. That bloom of friendship. Bridges through passages become the colorful things that matter. Relationships can trump protocol, can trump rules, can trump law. Friendships can trump financial resources and other competition. Grow the garden of love, and you’ve grown the blossoms of a heavenly kingdom.
I choose to travel this road with other transients. It’s a bumpy road, filled with detours – but its ours and we’re on it together. The scenery right now is breathtaking.
You’re likely familiar with “Breaking Bad”, the TV series about a chemistry teacher desperate to secure his family’s financial future, after his devastating cancer diagnosis. Facing the reality of death does funny things to people.
Even if you’ve never watched Breaking Bad, apparently most of America has. The series quickly became a national sensation and rendered a new buzzword, “breaking bad” for when someone good suddenly changed character.
If “breaking bad” is slang for “defying expectations” then “breaking bud” is a crisp turn–of–phrase for “just kidding, the weather has a mind of its own”. Out of the brown and crinkled tan shades of left-over winter, buds are due. The milk of flowers is already rising through pale green rose stems.
Fine, with this springtime tease, we’ll don a warm jacket today, a light sweater tomorrow, carry a pair of boots in the car for just–in–case.
Spring waltzes in sideways, full of bluster and drizzle, followed by little sunny intervals of calm. Throw in a late snow squall for good measure, and you have springtime in Northwest Pennsylvania: Unpredictable, moody, playful, and perplexing. But we always tolerate the irregularities of spring because it holds promises: Birds returning, leaves unfurling, windows are thrown open to let in the breeze.
We’re starting to hear the spring peepers, those tiny chorus frogs that give usloud concerts every night for a fortnight. The early flowers are already pushing through soil, declaring forgiveness for winter’s icy grip. Something shifts in the air. There’s a mix of earthy smells, a giddy kick of anticipation.In spite of all the challenges we’ve endured, there is this one thing: Spring is “breaking bud”.
I had the honor of proofreading the book, BEING CREATIVE, by Laura Bartnick this spring. Her thoughts on creativity simply jibe with my feelings about springtime’s empowerment. I’m declaring new explorations this year. Did you know. . .
God calls all of His creation His servants, because He has a purpose for our existence. He is the Re-namer, and Redeemer, and Re-purposer. When we walk with the LORD, the possibilities are endless. We can search for Him—though He is not far from any of us. Coming closer to our Creator, we can accept His call to be cunning and skillful. We can even become His friend.
“Anything can become the next exploration. Even those creatives who want nothing to do with being a child of God often find their best material in Scripture and in the church. God can use the imagination of anyone to teach us.
“Your own skill is a learned thing. Wisdom takes time. You may not yet understand this when you begin to write about a tragedy causing a family to become displaced, all their treasures to be lost. What you are really going to discover and write about is the greater gift of creativity from loss, the value of new relationships, and community—finding other treasures in hidden places. This story may require much prayer, wrestling with God for the blessing, and many edits to test and strengthen the wings.”
Spring is going forward and gathering steam, hurtling headlong into backyard picnics, flip-flops, beach time and road trips.
There are ten little rules of creativity listed at the end of each chapter in BEING CREATIVE. There is also the suggestion to keep a journal nearby. I have practiced this invitation of capturing the wonder of my days, of God’s creative invitations to life in my own way. This is where the gift book series, BREATH OF JOY, was budded and flounced. SINGING SPRING announces this season of life burgeoning from death. It celebrates wonder with yellow daffodils, with purple lilacs, and with perfuming pink hyacinths.
Crops are going in this spring, and before we know it there will be rows and rows of sweet corn. That’s what I love about seasons. They simply show up. Regular as a heartbeat, as welcome as the friend you haven’t seen in quite a long time. Springtime is roguish, breaking bud and being mischievous in all the best ways.
I found one of my favorite quotes in chapter four of BEING CREATIVE:
Experience allows us to follow the dots into the unknown. We learn from intersecting paths along the way. We learn to improvise.”
I just love this! I want to lift it out, highlight it, then repeat it for emphasis!
Unconcerned about vaccines, politics or March Madness, the season is a joyful riot of mud puddles and sudden bursts of color, chasing away the landscape’s last edges of grays and browns.
“Well, I wanted to catch you on your morning walk. I woke up wondering whether the chorus of spring peepers was singing around the lake yet.”
“It’s not quite warm enough. It’s only supposed to be 63 degrees in Erie today. Maybe next week.”
“Really? We’re supposed to have another blizzard this weekend.”
“Well, that’s a Rocky Mountain springtime for ya. Once we hear them, we will have three more freezes – then, it’s truly spring!”
“The coming of the peepers foretells three more freezes?”
“Oh yes. There’s the onion leek melt, the sweet pea melt, and one more – I’m having a memory melt right now.”
“Ah, ‘Singing Spring’ comes in notes and melts, like your book.”
“None too soon.” I’m huffing and need to hang up on this conversation in order to accomplish this morning’s walk.
“Hey, I woke up in one of those post-dream phases, the phase where you’re not asleep but not quite awake, either.” But, my friend also has to go. We say our ‘goodbyes,’ and my thoughts turn inward, dredging up memories, I mean, really distant memories – from lifetimes ago. Mostly good ones. These memories came from this morning’s dream.
A recent National Geographic study polled people around the world—including more than 600 featured in just one study—who say they experienced a new phenomenon: coronavirus pandemic dreams.
Science has long suggested that dream content and emotions are connected to well-being while we’re awake. Bizarre dreams laden with symbolism allow some dreamers to overcome intense memories or everyday psychological stressors within the safety of their subconscious.
The study concludes,
The virus is invisible, and I think that’s why it’s transformed into so many different things.”—Deirdre Barrett, Harvard University
I agree with Deirdre. The virus is invisible, and I think that’s why it’s transformed into affecting our dream state.
I keep hearing about the virus. I have lost friends to it. But, we never really see it, do we? Most of us are prevented from seeing the worst of it, even with our loved ones.
This next season of social isolation comes with a promise of a new vaccine. It’s a trade-up.
So as I was saying, I was dreaming of my childhood lunchtime trade-ups. I was in one of those post-dream phases where you’re not asleep but not quite awake, either: the best time to rein in the edges of your dream and frame it before it is erased by cornflakes and coffee and morning light.
I remained as still as possible to capture the details.
We were all back in elementary school. As dreams rarely make sense, my classmates included pint-sized versions of people I have known throughout my lifetime, even my grandmother.
No matter that she was in grade school a full 60+ years before I was; dreams are like that.
So as dreams go –
We were out on the playground. It was recess and lunchtime and a cluster of us were sitting cross-legged in a circle near the swing set. I remember there was a teeter-totter there, too.
We were trading lunches.
Two Twinkies for a homemade cookie.
Bologna for a PBJ.
An apple for a Hershey Bar … (is that a fair trade, really?)
A kid named Robert was in the circle, and he had a liverwurst sandwich. This detail rang true – there really was a kid named Robert in the first grade whose mom packed a liverwurst sandwich nearly every day. Maybe his mom had told him how the iron in it would make him grow up to be a muscle man, but Robert seemed to like it and rarely traded it out. He probably wouldn’t have very many takers, anyway.
I mean, liverwurst.
It was only a dream, but it had real slices of reality sandwiched in.
Maybe you, too, shared lunchtime negotiations back in the day.
You got rid of those vegetables and Mom was none the wiser.
We are almost always alert to something better out there. Trading.
Those murky-dream-drenched lunch swaps – snippets of real memories rising to greet me during the Great Sequester of 2020 and continuing through the springtime of 2021 with the promise of a trade-up. Is there a better vaccine to conquer our isolating fear of the real thing?
Trading lunch is metaphor-speak for what many of us are actually doing these days.
Opening our lunch pail, assessing the situation, and looking up to see what tastes better on that day. Negotiating a trade, pooling our resources, helping each other survive the “liverwurst” of life.
What if we traded sorrows for singing with a chorus of peeps?
Worry for watching the patterns. What is God doing?
Anxiety for trust in the available flavors and coming flowers.
News grazing for cloud gazing.
Swollen ankles for walking the dog.
Despair for Curiosity.
Trading trauma for a sweet pet whose fur accepts our tears.
These are good swaps, life-giving, even.
Switching out the bologna for iron-rich blood, if not liverwurst, then ribeye; trading the mundane for the moment you will savor and return to for a tasty reminder during a day of scarcity.
There’s a song lyric from a favorite musical that goes like this:
The clouded sun shall brightly rise,
And songs be heard instead of sighs.”
What a glorious swap!
A chorus of songs rising up to conquer the gloom – a goofy, ravaged, joyful mix of imperfect voices rise in natural praises every day.
Gathering momentum, drowning out the cries and making sense of the sighs.
I know the swampy spring peepers will lay bitsy eggs, attaching them to vegetation in shallow waters. They may hatch in four short days. Their dream state will end in an energetic wetland chorus.
I rouse myself from my sleepy knowledge-memories to walk amongst the happy spring peepers, now camouflaged, who are not beleaguered by any virus. Their chorus will come melodiously and noisy overnight, regardless.
Crisp late-winter Lake Erie air has done its job. My lungs are woke. My stomach rumbles.
Do you know that 24 hours before the Spring Peepers are singing under the tell-tale ‘X’ marking on their backs, they are wee black tadpoles swimming underwater? Full metamorphosis takes an uncanny 24 hours!
Oh, Get ready!
We will wake from this dreamlike state one day, looking to each other for guidance into the light of a New Normal. We will add our voices to the chorus frogs.
Pass me the Corn Flakes, I can hardly wait.
Kathy Joy is the author of Singing Spring, one book in the Breath of Joy seasonal coffee-table series. This month, her children’s picture book released to the public, Will You Hold My Story? This Shell Silverstein-esque story features the adult idea of listening to a child’s tales in a Mister Rogers-esque neighborhood.
Reprinted by permission from her December 19, 2019 blog, Coffee with Kathy.
This message is bathed in hope for the parent who has not heard from her kids, who might not see them at Christmas.
I want you to know it won’t always be this way.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while,
will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10
My late husband, Roger, was fond of saying, “Let’s make the kind of memories that keep the kids coming back home – even when they’re grown.”
Oh! How I loved Roger’s enthusiasm for special calendar dates – particularly Christmastime and All Things Winter.
To commemorate the First Snow, he and I wrapped a “snow gift” for each of the girls. For gift-wrapping, he used the funny papers.
He was thrilled at the arrival of egg nog in the dairy section – he went nuts with the stuff, pouring it into his morning coffee and grabbing enough cartons to store in the freezer “to get through the winter months”, he would say.
For years, we bundled the girls and searched tree farms for just the right tree to grace our Colorado home.
Every Christmas Eve, he read from Luke’s account of the birth of Christ; when our daughters became readers, they read it out loud to the family.
We had an advent calendar.
He sang the carols, often adding verses he made up on the fly.
He insisted on driving us around the neighborhood to look at the festive light displays.
He was big on memories and minimal on material things.
So many rich traditions, steeped in the wonder of raising our girls; the sweet simplicity of being a family together.
Four months shy of Christmas 2008, Roger died.
The girls were 18 and 15.
A black shadow passed over our little snow globe of a family.
What if they don’t come home?
For three years of emotional drought, they didn’t.
It was dreadful for me, the surviving parent.
A mom who is unsure of her child’s safety and well-being is a pile of misery, and that’s what I was during those lean years.
I won’t go into the whys and the pain of those whys. Grief is weird. A sudden loss can unravel a lifetime and reorder it into something scary, chaotic, unknown.
We all respond in different ways. My daughters turned from me, not in open rejection or hostility, but in the throes of sudden, unexpected loss.
What if they don’t come home?
Christmas during those years was the stark reality of an empty chair, a huge hole he once filled with his larger-than-life-laughter. The emptiness was intensified by my fractured family.
And that star? The one shining in the east? That star was shrouded in a fog of grief and worry; I couldn’t see it through the haze and maze of guilt, fear, anger.
All I could feel was the dull ache of my heart, thumping along in spite of wanting to disappear, to fold up inside my pain.
I’d become an exile to my husband’s family, through a sad myriad of misunderstandings.
Being an outsider to in-laws, that’s pretty hard to deal with. Being an outsider to your own kids – that’s impossible to endure.
Then, we had a series of fun celebrations together. Endearment was restored like a chain of Christmas lights getting the dud bulbs replaced so that the whole string twinkles, unbroken.
Covid 19 has crimped the style of families everywhere. For our safety, holiday celebrations are limited, shops, even grocery stores, and home celebrations closed down. We are given tips on how to keep children safe and parents informed during 2021.
During Thanksgiving, people posted humble but joyful pictures of their small feasts for two, three, and even singular plates on social media. They called it the war of light and loveliness on the darkness of this holiday season. Still, when I called my own mother to tell her that I had been exposed to the disease at work and could not risk her health, she wept. She and I both sat alone with our thoughts this Thanksgiving, like many others.
My adult girls remember their dad’s corny jokes. They ask about his favorite movies, then they watch them. But, there are many episodes of tragic family attitudes and events in our history, and probably in yours, that haunt our current decisions and lives. Parents are blamed for decisions they didn’t have the wherewithal to tackle; they should have been wiser. Children are not excused because they were trained up better than that.
Helplessly, we grapple for promises of better days from the only One who can provide these to us.
The Lord has promised to restore what the locust has eaten.
I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.
Does this promise mean today, tomorrow, or next year? I believe He does restore our souls in mysterious ways, and we can depend on that, but it doesn’t always look the way we want it to look. And, this is why our faith is often called a “walk of faith” “traveling in darkness” “running the race” because we don’t bear our weights in vain. They make us stronger.
We honor Roger’s memory in small, sweet ways. We laugh a lot, we cry some, we laugh some more.
His name is a regular part of our conversation.
Before, we avoided saying it for fear our brittle voices would break and scatter on the floor.
We can now dream of the future and we know the strength of forgiveness, the binding up of wounds.
My daughters call regularly to check in on me; my oldest planned a June wedding and made it happen even in the pandemic, and it was a landmark memory I will always cherish.
It’s not a Hallmark movie; there are still some things quietly coming to the light to be dealt with as we continue forward.
Cars break down, we have health scares, there are often misunderstandings to be ironed out. The point is, we’re doing life together again – as an extended family finds ways to do so.
This year, I celebrate the many times the kids and I have been together. It has been a hard year once again, but I am stronger and more creative than I once was. They will come home for Christmas another time.
And that star? The one shining in the east? That star is a glowing reminder of God’s presence, His longing to be in a relationship with us. He traveled from His heavenly home and spiritual body to become human and to wander in a strange, unwelcoming place. It meant everything for Him to do that.
The late Mister Rogers is quoted as saying, “It’s ok to not be ok.”
November includes the National Children’s Grief Awareness Day, a day to honor kids who are grieving – in any season – and particularly as we journey into the holidays.
Children need to feel safe inside the space of their sorrow.
They need to tell about their story and tell about it to someone who is safe and available to hear it.
For Meggi Beth, it’s been hard lately to carry the weight of her story, which you may sense is a story of grief. In the picture book, “Will You Hold My Story?”, (artistry by Brianna Osaseri), this lovable little girl is patiently waiting for someone else to ease her burden. An endearing children’s book is one that carries meaning for both children and grownups.
Meggi Beth discovers two things along the way: a secret and a story-bearer who becomes a treasured friend. Settle in and get acquainted with the delightful characters who stop by to comfort Meggi Beth.