Not Busy

Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.

Psalm 27:14

Backyard 1It’s not early, but it’s still dark upstairs when I sit down on the floor, in front of the open, ashy mouth of the wood stove, to build a fire. It’s a new task for me. Except for an unfortunate youth-leading adventure, many years ago, this is only my third fire. Usually one of my parents builds the fire, or Timmy does. But my father is away, teaching the Bible to college students in Canada, and Timmy, by 8:30 AM, has likely walked miles already through the Veterans’ Hospital down in Seattle, since his chaplain’s shift started at six. And Mom had thumb surgery earlier this week, leaving me, thirty-year-old pyro-novice, to build the fire.

I crumple newspaper, tear up cardboard, carefully select variously-sized kindling and logs from the woodbox on the back deck. It’s just started to grow cold on this mountain pass, with mornings in the forties and the halfhearted Northwest drizzle that lingers lazily all day long. I’m told that snow could come next month. We’re hoping it waits–at least that the real snow waits–for Luci’s arrival in November. We’re starting to call this place home.

Last week, I trimmed pottery in the garage while thinking of the whirl of activity going on around me, near and far. Timmy and Mom worked in the backyard, cutting boards to the firewood storage against the predicted ten feet of snow that will fall once winter comes. Dad held meetings at Bethany Community Church, one after another, all day long. Down in Seattle, my former coworkers marched up and down the streets, picketing for a fair contract for Seattle School District employees. Holly sold coffee and smiles at her Danish bakery, Noah and Lindsey at their espresso bar in Leavenworth. And far away, across the world, a new teacher worked with eleventh graders in Room 22 at Black Forest Academy. For the first time in a while, I’m not busy. So used to the standard reply to the ubiquitous “How’s life?” I almost don’t know what to do with its opposite. I’m not busy. I’m… what?

I’m resting. Though Timmy is working half the week, this is somewhat true for both of us, as this year gives us the time and space to reflect on the last five (six, in Timmy’s case) that we spent in ministry in Germany. These were full years, rich in relationship and the beauty of worthy busyness, years that have left us both needing rest and eager to return. The space to step back, quite literally, from the teaching, mentoring and community that we’ve been investing in and simply rest, dwelling in Christ’s goodness and provision, is an incredible gift.

I’m available. I’ve found that these unfilled days are seldom truly empty, as long as I’m paying attention. This means I’m free to mentor a college student this year through our church, or to join a book club with my neighbors. On a daily basis it means learning to build the fire, or making breakfast for my family, simply dwelling in this expanded family He’s surrounded us with for this season. Sometimes it takes us further afield, to celebrations with our neighbors or seeing friends from near and far. Already in the months since we’ve lived in Washington, I’ve been surprised with the marvelous opportunities we’ve had to meet friends, old and new, in this area. We’ve had visitors from Germany, Canada, Oregon and Minnesota, and have marveled at the joy of reconnecting across great time and distances.

I’m waiting. A few years ago, my women’s Bible study in Kandern discussed the “joyful in hope” phrase of Romans 12, wondering how this hope was different than others. We concluded that it was an expectant hope, joyful in anticipation, like “waiting for Saturday.” As we draw nearer to our daughter’s arrival (She’s due two months from tomorrow!), this how I feel. Waiting expectantly for life to change in a big way. I’m learning as I wait, because I wait, learning again that no time is wasted, because it belongs first to Christ.

It’s always been easy to fill my day with titles: missionary, teacher, mentor, class sponsor, small group leader, writer, dorm sub, coach, friend, wife. Some of these will always apply, but others are necessarily seasonal, and I’m lighter on titles than I’ve been in a few years. I recently filled out a survey which asked me not what my occupation was, for which I’d likely still have written “teacher,” but “How do you spend your days?” Such an important question. (I hesitated, then wrote “Stay at home mom.” It’s a new season.)

How will I spend today? In gratitude and rest, listening and learning. Thank You, Lord, for this time.

Backyard 2

In the Forest

In the woods, is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is grey November, a Thursday afternoon, and to my great fortune I’m sitting on dry leaves by a meadow, watching a stream gurgle by with extreme laziness. We call it “the river,” the Kander river from whom our town gets its name, but it is simply a brook, muddy and indolent and good-humored.

Around me, scattered across a strip of adjacent land that BFA recently purchased, are my students. Some are sitting, like me, on the leafy grass and rocks. Others lean against trees, looking up into the golden ends of autumn, and a few choose to wander, keeping their feet and minds moving as they examine all corners of the field. I’ve sent them out here armed only with coats to ward off the insipid non-chill of a mild November day and two slips of paper, one bearing a quote from Emerson’s “Nature” and the other a passage of Scripture concerning God’s creation. Those, and the instruction to “Be in nature. Just to be.”

We’ve been studying the transcendentalism this week, with Emerson and Thoreau, that bizarre amalgam of philosophy, religion and art that has produced nature-loving, interior-gazing Americans for the last 150 years. My lesson for today sounded more than a bit silly when I wrote it down a week ago. Thursday: Transcendentalist Walk. And the students, they felt the oddity of it this morning, when I first brought them outside, giving strange directions as we walked to the creek.

“You’re seeking solitude! Don’t talk to one another. Avoid each other! Try not to see any buildings!”

For a while they drifted aimlessly, blown like the leaves from the trees, resting in one place for only a second before moving on, seeking better inspiration. But once they stopped, really stopped, they put down roots. This class of students is dressed in the muted colors of autumn, the maroon of dying leaves and the grey of cloudy skies, and after a few minutes their unmoving figures blend into the surroundings. They are still, my students, for one quiet minute at rest.

We’re tired these days, students and teachers, stretched by projects and commitments, worn out by late nights, long rehearsals and tournaments. It sounded whimsical last week to spend part of a class “being transcendental” outside; today it feels almost necessary. We all need to slow down a little. Or quite a lot.

After a while, I gather them back again, as gently as I can pulling them up from the solitary rest they’ve found for a while. Back inside the classroom, I play Sigur Ros while they write about their time outside. I don’t know what I expect to hear. I never get the impression that our kids–or any kids, really–love the outdoors as much as I did when I was their age. I’ve accepted that I wasn’t the norm, even then, but still I wish I could share it, this solace I find in the uncomplicated routines of the natural world.

At the end of class, we share our reflections. Students speak of rest, forgetting for just a short time the stresses of past, present and future that weigh heavily on teenagers. They confess to never having spent time outside, and wonder why. They marvel at the originality of their Creator, the artist of autumn. They wish they could have spent longer.

And I remember, again, the deep loveliness in which we’re invited to take part. I’m thankful to share it with these people I love, and glad that, if only for a moment, we found in the forest quiet and rest.