Rest in my arms.
Sleep in my bed.
There’s a design
to what I did and said.Sufjan Stevens, “Vito’s Ordination Song”
“So, how are you chasing joy or nourishing your soul in this season?”
I’ve been staring at the question in the little chat box for a few minutes by the time my co-leader repeats it aloud to our small group of moms. We are at the first meeting of our church’s chapter of Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS). This year, feeling marginally more confident at mothering preschoolers now that my daughter is almost done being one, I decided to help lead a table group. It felt like an easy decision, a way to invest in moms around me and form some friendships in the process. It felt, if anything, familiar.
Of course, like most other things, MOPS looks different this year. Instead of putting on nice-ish clothes first thing in the morning and bringing myself, my children and perhaps a quiche the two-minute walk to church, I’m logging into a massive Zoom call after the girls are in bed, sipping tea and watching a prerecorded message from two of our founding mentor moms, one of whom is my mother. And these were their questions for us: How are you chasing joy? What is nourishing your soul?
I shared near the beginning, talking about the value I’ve found lately in slowing myself down and savoring the slowness, especially during the time we spend outside together. All true. But towards the end of our small group session, when it’s late and we’re really out of time for additional comments, another answer occurs to me:
I really should have mentioned the LEGO collection.
It started when my mom found the instructions to my brother’s and my LEGO sets. We knew that the pieces existed somewhere, suspended in the theoretical void where grandparents hang on to their children’s favorite toys until they’re requested. But it wasn’t until this summer that my mom produced a tall stack of building instruction booklets, promising that the plastic tub of bricks could become more than perilous threats to our feet late at night, but in fact a whole bunch of really cool stuff.
One night, after our everything-in-her-mouth toddler was in bed, my husband and four-year-old daughter and I upended the tub onto the floor, selecting a modest little pizzeria for our first building task. It was overwhelming, at first, not just finding the individual parts in the sea of multicolored plastic, but the rush of memories that these shards brought back.
There were the battlements of the castle, the sides of the space shuttle, the log ramparts of the Southwestern fort. In a shoebox full of people I found bands of pirates and Robin Hood’s woodland thieves, a handful of knights and their vassals, two warring camps of pirates and red-coated British sailors. My brother and I spent hours with this crowd of little figures, these ones unconnected to outside tales, like Star Wars or Harry Potter, but the blank archetypes we cast in our own very specific narratives.
We started building. Night after night, in the hour or so between our oldest and youngest child’s bedtime, we would put together a LEGO set. Or two. Sometimes the longer ones would take a few nights to complete. We spread out a sheet on the rug and dumped it all out, the whole collection, sifting through the bricks for the parts we needed for every step.
I can trace the last two months or so with our LEGO projects. Preparing to go camping for the first time, we built the medieval castle with a working drawbridge. As fires burned up the West Coast, forcing us all inside as we tracked the smoke that settled on our city, we raised the walls of the fort. Watching PBS NewsHour and then switching to The West Wing, we snapped together the NASA shuttle and the folding wizard’s house.
Soon, gripped by LEGO mania and running out of larger projects to complete, we found ourselves the proud owner of our own LEGO castle, one with many steps and thousands of pieces. This one took longer, weeks even, as we took turns checking off the steps. We listened to one man shout over another man for 90 minutes. We laid the foundation of rocks and trees. We watched the President of the United States fly to the hospital, then drive around in a limousine, then return home again, still sick and in defiance. We installed stained class in the Great Hall. We heard Kamala Harris answer many questions and Mike Pence answer few. We put the roof in place. In a season when our own nation seemed to be falling apart, it felt good to put something—even a toy—together.
And I realize the danger, here, of retreating into nostalgia, of chasing a joy that’s behind me now, the simplicity of childhood that these bricks bring to mind. Still, there’s a present joy, too. There’s the joy of putting something together, even if it’s just a toy, when so much seems to be falling apart. There’s the joy of sharing this with my daughter, watching her grow into the skills she needs to follow each minuscule step to the letter.
And for me, there’s the joy of seeing all the steps in the middle. Somewhere near the base of the newer castle, I found myself peering over steps that felt mundane, repetitive, even annoying. The level of attention detail required to create a LEGO set is astounding to me, especially as I sometimes struggle to muster enough to put one together. Still, I followed the rules, paid careful attention, and kept at it. We finished it last night, down to the last brick, but it’s not the final steps that strike me now. It’s all that business in the middle, incomprehensible and tricky and yet still requiring care and attention at each moment.
So much seems messy and mysterious these days, both in the world around us and in our own lives. I often feel like I’m plodding through the difficult middle of a massive LEGO build, and I don’t know quite what I’m creating. Still, I find comfort in the knowledge that I don’t actually have to see the completed picture to follow the next steps. I just have to listen for them, those elusive next steps, recognizing the voice of my Shepherd in the midst of a noisy world.
Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly.
I think I’ll start there.