Spring in Wisconsin is shy. She peaks out for a moment, almost sixty and sunny, then she ducks back, below freezing and blankets us in a light snow. This past month has felt like that, moments of rest and beauty that allow us to catch glimpses of the vision for why we moved, then it’s hiding again behind lines at the DMV and waiting for certifications to come through, and boxes and suitcases. One of the sunny days, one of the days where I could feel deep in my soul it was good to move here, was Evan’s birthday.
Often on the first day of Spring, always in the middle of Lent, Evan’s birthday has been for years the reason that we throw our only party of the year. In years past we’ve brewed cider, made up batches of crepes, and invited dozens of church friends over to our cozy apartment. But this year we had a family birthday party: my parents and brother and sister in law, Evan’s cousins, homemade cake, babies, honorary-grandparents, and childhood friends. It was sweet and small.
We fed them good food—hamburgers with mushrooms and caramelized onions and avocados and bacon, garlic broccoli, roasted sweet potatoes, strawberries and pineapple. We broke our Lenten fast with wine and cocktails made with honey-ginger-syrup. A two-year old helped to blow out 30 candles on a Paleo Humming Bird Cake. Conversations swirl about motherhood and health and testimonies and stories from decades past.
Family. It is good to be close enough for an afternoon gathering. It is good to take a few hours, to be together and celebrate. It has been almost eight years since my parents lived close enough for a weekend visit. It is an adjustment to not need to pack in 6 months worth of time together over the course of a week or so. It seems to be part of this larger lesson that I learn and relearn about my family: I can only create space to connect; I cannot force connections to happen on my schedule. I have to give them space to be themselves.
My family is different from my closest friends in that they don’t want necessarily to have a six-hour heart to heart every time we have a day together. They might want to play board games, eat good food, go shopping, and for me to love them where they are. And if I go in demanding instant long-soul baring conversations, I miss what they have to offer. I miss the way my brother and sister in law cook up onions to the perfect golden brown because they love Evan. I miss the offering of my mother running out to pick out the right paper plates along side more quilting supplies. Or my dad standing in the cold Winter-Spring weather to light the long neglected grill. I miss the gift of my family enjoying themselves and hosting a good party.
I am reminded of CS Lewis writing about how when we go looking for a transcendent experience in the beauty of nature, we almost always miss it. But when we focus on the work before us, when we pray outside, then the beauty of God’s creation meets us. “Say your prayers in a garden early, ignoring steadfastly the dew, the birds and the flowers, and you will come away overwhelmed by its freshness and joy; go there in order to be overwhelmed and, after a certain age, nine times out of ten nothing will happen to you.” – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, p. 22.
Because in the end, connection and joy are gifts. We cannot create them. We can only make space in our lives for them to show up. We can invite our friends, and buy food, and bake. But the celebration is a gift that we have to let unfold on its own, in its own time. When I get desperate and needy, I make that space smaller. I cramp people I love with my anxieties, and don’t let them be themselves. But when I trust, that there is enough time, enough space, enough love to go around, then I can see the beauty right in front of me.
Writing is like that too. I can only make regular space in my life for the words; I cannot force them to come. Some days they come quickly, like a birthday party where the good conversations spill over each other just like my ideas for writing. Some days I just sit there, and the words are as shy as Northern Springtime. But, if I am faithful to make the space, to show up with a desire to listen when they are ready to speak, I find an unexpected abundance.
What good things are you trying to make space for these days?
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