In the afternoon, we burst through the door, with three different conversations knotting in the air—one thread hard to follow, one dangling, one darting so fast I can’t keep up. A general fumbling ensues for snacks, and Mom, I need to tell you, and What I have to do today is, and May I watch Tom and Jerry, please?
Adam and I have the same conversation every day about the Tom and Jerry and the fact that Riley has to finish homework first. He follows me through the kitchen, pointing at his watch, repeating, “Untilll…untilll…unnntilll,” until I think I might open the oven and put my head inside it and just scream. He doesn’t understand that I know the exact time for only a tiny percentage of our living, that I am trusting blind, that I don’t even usually know if or possible. I point him to the schedule on the wall, to the list of things for him to do, things he’d rather not: put dirty clothes in laundry room, clean your room, put clean clothes away, help with lunches for tomorrow. I write out clearly Tom and Jerry on Friday. He stares at my list, in disbelief still, after all this time. His thoughts are written through his eyes, across the furrowed brow. “No…not help with lunches,” he says, while in the background, I half-hear Zoe’s plans for making caramel apple cupcakes and filling them with apple pie filling. She rifles through my baking supplies, picking out a disposable frosting bag and a tip, even the coupling ring, laying them on the counter before the first egg has been cracked. Riley stands as close to me as possible without stepping in front of Adam, holding her agenda in her arms. She whirls through the kitchen with us, interjecting, “Mom? Mom?”
So, I try to unravel the knotted threads one at a time, while trying to recall the status of the laundry, while thinking through what must be done to get supper on the table on time. And my phone beeps and chimes and buzzes, and habitually I reach for it and slide my finger across the screen, and I file headlines away in my thoughts and move emails to a need to reply file so they won’t get lost in the thousands of less personal messages I don’t have time to read. And I really don’t know why, but I feel like I have to answer the texts right then.
When I walk upstairs to fold the clothes, a train follows, Riley with her homework, and Zoe with something exciting to say, and Adam with his list. They buzz around me, weaving in and away like bees bringing nectar back for chewing. And sometimes, the sum of what I see is all the work still to be done to turn it all to honey. I see that the homework must be done, and Zoe must be heard, and all three of them must have time both to learn and to enjoy the fun that makes life sweet. I see that they must be fed and nurtured and kept, that papers must be sorted and signed and recycled, that the linen closets must be full of fresh towels. I see that time comes quickly, and I still have so much to teach them—deep things and functional things and practical things and creative things. I have watering to do and training and pruning, stretching and reaching and weaving and shaping. Here too, Autumn comes and takes me by surprise, and in the night, Kevin gently reminds me that sometimes I have to just let the leaves fall and float right with them. “You need to take time,” he says in so many words, “just to laugh.”
It amazes me how subtly—how over and over–it happens that I become more centered on my doing than on collecting and savoring the bounty of beauty I’ve been given. And just as subtly, just as shocking a surprise, comes the understanding that I’ve been nurturing this thought: It’s all up to me.
What a lie.
I chew on the truth, stacking towels on the shelves, stopping right there to smile at Riley reading to me about a grandma who enlists the help of a teenaged granddaughter to bust her friend out of an assisted living facility. Every few sentences, Riley giggles and can’t quite read. The words tumble and melt away, and she looks at me, all light, wondering if I’m listening, if I understand. And suddenly I realize that she’s laughing like she does when my mom is beside her and nothing in particular is funny except that they’re together. I almost missed it—the tiny connection she feels with this book. For a moment, I stop just to see her, to look up close, to appreciate the details that make her stunning—not just the curve of her cheekbones and the gold ribbon tucked behind her ear, but the stripe of sunlight always in her ocean blue eyes, the easy joy of her, the peace.
We wander down the stairs, and I stop at the bottom just to see. And I give thanks for the way Adam never walks in a straight line, the way he embellishes his own movement with effortless spins and hardly slows, as though the path he follows is anything but bound. I give thanks that my sweet son lives and breathes and moves music. I smile at the soft sound of Zoe’s voice, the way she has lost herself in imaginary banter while she works on a project for school, the angle of her legs tucked under her, the wisps of hair that have slipped from her ponytail and dangle around her ears. I give thanks for the vibrant color she always leaves in her wake.
The artistry of it all, the brilliance, doesn’t lie.
I cannot collect His beauty and feast on His grace and still believe somehow that any of this is really mine to do. It is not, has never been, all up to me. I could not have created this abundance, could not have dreamed it. The truth is always just waiting for me, ready for me to collect up and hold in my hands. Time comes, and I have time for truth.
And so the Spirit breathes into me: “He makes all things beautiful in their time. He sets eternity in the human heart; yet not one of us can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it (Eccleciastes 3: 11-14).”
Riley settles into a chair at the table across from her sister, still reading. I gather up the crammed and overflowing trash bag with my hands and walk outside to put it away, slowing my pace as I turn to walk back. I glance up, collecting stars in my eyes, pausing to sit just a moment in a rocking chair on the porch. Autumn comes—a glorious surprise, and even in the twilight I can see the red tree in my friend’s yard across the street. I can hear Riley’s voice lilting, traveling through the walls. And I give thanks.