Playdates with God: The Sweetness of Things

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Today we go back to the normal. Normal has been interrupted by Winter Storm Jonas these past couple days. We’ve been digging out from under 16-17 inches of snow, bit by little bit. But today I return to work, Jeff resumes his teaching schedule, and though school is closed for Jeffrey, he won’t be snowed in the way he was this weekend. Temperatures still sleep below the freezing mark, but yesterday the sparrows sung the sun high and we warmed under her gaze. Still, all this white is going nowhere—save for one shovel full at a time.

There is something so sweet when normal is interrupted. We huddle together and light the fire in the fireplace and hearts are soft to one another. We walk together through snow drifts, slipping on ice patches here and there, giggling and holding on to each other like we haven’t for years. We catch snowflakes on our tongues. And our eyelashes. And shoulders and the tops of our heads. Both of my boys had birthdays this past week and though we celebrated with Teddy before taking him back to school, I kept finding myself near tears as his day came to a close and I did not get to see his face.

“I miss you today,” I texted him. “First time you’ve not been home on your birthday.”

“It’s the way it has to be, mom,” he replied, always the practical one. The new semester has only just begun and he is busy learning his new schedule, getting the lay of the land on the new classes.

“I know,” I replied. “It’s how it’s supposed to be and it is good. I’m glad you are having some fun.”

I watched the birds hop atop the frozen crust of snow under the feeder. A Cardinal pair, a handful of snowbirds, some house finches. The day before, an Eastern Towhee stopped by, his cinnamon breast and side a sharp contrast to the pearly world he haunted. But after all that snow, today the sky gleams brilliant blue and the glistening trees carve their shapes into its void. In all this alabaster I struggle to feel what is greening inside me.

Belden Lane quotes Jonathan Edwards as saying, “The works of God are … a kind of voice or language of God to instruct intelligent beings in things pertaining to Himself.” When I watch the birds I am listening to the voice of God. It’s a kind of synesthesia—every sense engaged in this knowing.

I watch the male Cardinal tap a sunflower seed against the mottled trunk of the Maple tree. His insistent tapping sends an avalanche of snow from the slender branches and the air is filled with flashing shafts of powdered light. My throat catches at the sheer abundance of nature. I remember the question Augustine asked of God,

What do I love when I love you? Not light nor the fragrance of flowers, not the taste of honey, nor the gentle touch of the human body. None of these and yet all of them! I do love a kind of light, a certain fragrance, a food and an embrace when I love my God … I said to all those things which stand about the gate to my senses: ‘Tell me about my God … ..’ And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘He made us.’ My question was in my contemplation of them, and their answer was in their beauty.”

This interruption of the normal has been a gift of space for contemplation. For a short while, life slowed to a stop, warmed under a blanket of snow, baffled in white, breathed beauty in every language.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

Laura Boggess

Birthday Forecast: Snow (a poem for Teddy as he turns 19)

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for your birthday we
went for a walk in the snow
under a white sky
shedding bits of Jonas
an inch every hour;

we went to see the
creek, beneath the ice,
and I slid down the embankment,
crouched under the bridge to
film the snowfall and sing
you a birthday message

the song was small and
filled with the sadness of
missing your face for the
first time in nineteen years—
the first time without you on
this anniversary of my becoming
a mother

your dad stood above on
the street in his fluorescent
orange tuque; he said I sounded
like Marilyn singing to
JFK, and isn’t that a little
creepy? to send to our son?

so instead of sending you
a song, I closed out the video,
let melting snowflakes pool
in droplets on my camera like
prayer beads made of light;

every word spoken began as a
picture; each click of the
shutter sighs,
I love you; I miss you;
I’m so glad you were born

Black Crow (For Jeffrey on His Seventeenth Birthday)

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“You’ll never be sixteen
again,” I said, words misting
like white doves in the air.

I don’t remember
what the weather was like
on the day you were born.
this morning, it snows—
tiny, frail flakes, drifting

I drive away, you still
sleeping

it’s hard to know when
a boy becomes a man,
switching out smooth stones
in his pocket for car keys.
you used to leave the kitchen
table smelling of syrup and
milk; now you enter the day
clean-shaven, all soap
and mint

what do you remember
of the days gone? Do you
recall when a maple seed
held all the world in its
wingspan? when a pine
cone was the grandest prize?
a flat of frozen creek, hoisted
your victory dance? the
trophies you seek now
I can’t hold in my hand.

one black crow in the parking
lot when I arrive. he pushes down
on the air with wings longer
than his body, languid in his
escape.

“where will you go?”
I ask with my white-bird
words.

Image by Dennis. Sourced via Flickr.

31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Halloween Ghosts

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This morning I am awakened by the sounds of the shower from down the hall. Little Jeffrey is up early to report to the high school so the whole retinue can get on the road for another band competition. I’m tired from a late night of working the hot chocolate station for the band concessions during the football game. My arm is sore from the flu shot I got on Thursday, and I slept fitfully for some reason, dreaming of milk and puppies. It’s still dark outside, but I get up to make the boy a good breakfast—he’ll be gone all day and into the evening.

The bacon sizzles and I flip his favorite pancakes while he studies who-knows-what on his phone screen. He feels so far away lately, coming and going like a ghost, moving in and out of the house on my peripheries. I study him studying the screen and I am seized with that feeling again, that terrible sadness that comes with being left behind.

I know the almost-empty is meant to prepare me for the empty-empty but sometimes my heart refuses to budge. The earth is filled with longing and preparation for a sleep that gives new life but my roots long for the sun.

The boys and I have kept this tradition. Every year, before Halloween, we dig out their old radio flyer and march up the sidewalk a mile or so to the Halfway Market. There, we tap on and inspect every pumpkin before making our picks. One for Ted, one for Jeffy, and a small one for the resident dog. Then we trudge back home with our loaded wagon and proudly place said pumpkins on the porch until carving time. This year, with Teddy gone and Jeffrey ghosting in and out of the house constantly, their dad and I picked out two plump pumpkins at Kroger when we were grocery shopping one day. No pomp. No circumstance. We barely got the things carved in time for trick-or-treat.

Last week, I realized it would be the first Halloween with no Ted. So I sent him a care package with some Halloween goodies—a collection of light-up necklaces and glow-in-the-dark stuff to share with his friends. I wondered as I bought the trinkets if it was a waste of money. Surely he will think his mother has lost her mind. “Now if you go out haunting late at night, at least you’ll be visible in the dark,” I wrote, in the Happy Halloween card enclosed. Before I left for the game last night, he texted to tell me to check Facebook for a picture of him and a couple friends sporting some of the “stuff.” “I shared the stuff,” he said. “Some people said nice things about you for sending them.”

It made me smile but I still missed him.

On trick-or-treat night, after all the ghosts and goblins were back inside with bags full of candy, Jeff and I sat outside under the stars a little bit longer. As we sat with Bon, the little girl from across the street skipped over to visit with us for a moment. She had doffed her Cleopatra costume but still wore the remnants of her Egyptian makeup. “I went to every house,” she bragged. And we exclaimed over her fortitude, making much over the huge amounts of candy she amassed. This little sprite always fills my heart and I must fight the urge to scoop her up, pepper her white brow with little kisses. But I realize this would be beneath her. She is, after all, a world champion trick-or-treater.

So I just smile and memorize the curve of her face in the moonlight and sigh as I think how it was only yesterday my boys were small and their short legs were challenged to walk these streets with their pumpkin-shaped buckets full of candy.

And this morning, I make Jeffrey pancakes. And sit with him while he eats, showing him the little watercolor vignettes I’m working on for some friends, reading to him from my bird field guide all the particulars about the blue-gray gnatcatcher.

Before he leaves, he bends over me to hug me tight and kiss me on the cheek.

“I love you, mama,” he says. And then he ghosts away.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series.  I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. Don’t forget to stop by this post for a chance to win some signed copies of S.D. Smith’s children’s books. And stop by this post for a chance to win The Girlfriend’s Short Stack. 

Almost Empty

A Table that Reaches Across the Miles

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The text came just a week and a half after we drove the winding four hours to leave our eldest to his first year of college.

Will you mail my flip-flops?

I was laying the place settings for dinner, still painfully aware of his empty chair, heart tender from all that elbowroom around the table. I finished placing the silverware on the napkins—forks on the left and knives on the right—and then I sat down with my phone. In his chair.

Sure, I typed. I’ll send them out tomorrow.

Thanks, mom, he replied. And then, silence. A silence heavy with all those miles between us, his empty chair at the table, the closed door to his bedroom upstairs.

The chicken was crisping in the oven and I imagined his feet, languishing in leather sneakers as the last hot days of summer lingered.

Why didn’t we pack his flip-flops?

I’m over at Grace Table today, sharing a story about the hospitality of parenthood. And it includes my pepperoni roll recipe! Will you join me over there? Thanks a million!

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This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. Only a couple days left to leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a cool giveaway!

Almost Empty