I do not understand…but I hope.

Indeed the Book of Job avowedly only answers mystery with mystery. Job is comforted with riddles; but he is comforted. Herein is indeed a type, in the sense of a prophecy, of things speaking with authority. For when he who doubts can only say, ‘I do not understand,’ it is true that he who knows can only reply or repeat ‘You do not understand.’ And under that rebuke there is always a sudden hope in the heart; and the sense of something that would be worth understanding.  — G.K. Chesterton

 

There has been so much dialog lately about strong women. Worthwhile dialog. Conversation happening between women I consider strong, and women I respect. Underlying all of it I cannot help but think of the woman who instantly comes to mind when I think of a strong woman.

 

Grant me a little grace on this post. I am not in the mood to define for you what strength in a woman should be, or how we should exercise our rights. In this moment, late at night on January 25, I am not interested in marches or or name calling. I am not interested in the vulgarity of a president, or the necessity of standing in solidarity.

 

Right now, I am thinking of a woman standing in her bathrobe just inside the the door of a bus. Remember the old buses with the door that had the handle the driver had to pull to close the door? She was standing just inside and the driver was pulling that handle for all she was worth, trying her best to slam that door on this woman. Didn’t work. Bathrobe. Coffee in hand, and rant about to begin.

 

I don’t remember what this substitute bus driver had done that so ticked off my mom, but it was a doozy. I remember coming home and telling her after the first day about our ride. I remember being upset, and I remember coming out that morning and watching my mother explain things in no uncertain terms. The bus rides were much better the rest of that week.

 

That was my mother. Strong woman.

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I remember so many situations when she walked in a room and filled it with her presence. She was elegant, intelligent and incredibly witty. She had a flair and charisma that drew people to her and a generosity of spirit and kindness which made her friendships last for years.

 

She had a wit and a humor that could absolutely leave you rolling on the floor laughing, or stop you in your tracks if you were out of line.

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Today was her 81st birthday.

 

So, why the Chesterton quotation? Because, I do not understand.

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It is not that I think we deserve any great grace or dispensation from a disease, or that because she was strong she should have been spared. It is simply that today is her birthday and it continues to break my heart that she is lost to us in her mind.

 

That the strong woman walks with a shuffle and hums her songs now without a tune, with lyrics made of words strung nonsensically together. She has not known us for some time. We have been on this journey of Dementia for nearly ten years. My brothers and my Dad walk it with an intimacy and strength I admire beyond words, while I watch more from a distance.

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I do not understand why we have to lose her to this dark place in her mind. I do not understand why she does not know her granddaughter carries not only her name, but the set of her jaw when she is determined, and the quickness of her mind and her wit.

 

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I do not understand, and God does not explain. He responds, “You are right, you do not understand.”

 

This is broken, and while it is broken there is still purpose. There is still wonder in the midst of the brokenness, and even here in the midst of this heartbreak, He is present and continues to work.

 

I don’t like it. I wish she could come to the phone and hear us wish her a happy birthday. I wish she could know. But still, I know that there is hope. I lean in on days like today and long for heaven. I long for the healing of the One who can make all things whole. The One who can make all things right, and Who can bring rest in the midst of all this chaos.

 

I remember late on Monday night I think it was, maybe Tuesday nights, listening to the tapping of the typewriter. Mom was the teacher for BibleStudy Fellowship in our city, and she would be typing her lecture.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap….and then that Whhhiiiirrr, SNAP! as she hit return.

 

Late at night, thoughts flowing. I inherited that from her, along with her strength and few other things. The setting of my jaw, for instance, when I’m really ticked off.

 

It’s almost midnight, but I will get this post in before your birthday is done. We need to hear about hope in these days. We need to be reminded…that even though we don’t understand, there is reason to trust and to hope. Not in man, but in God who has time and again proved Himself faithful. It is not easy, and some days we do it through tears, but we hope.

 

Happy 81st, Mom. I trust somehow you knew all the flowers that filled the house were for you.

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“”Let the sea roar, and all that fills it, let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall the trees of the wood sing for joy,”” says David (1 Chron.16:32-33). And shall is the verb of hope. Then death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning or crying. Then shall my eyes behold him and not as a stranger. Then his Kingdom shall come at last and his will shall be done in us and through us and for us. Then the trees of the wood shall sing for joy as already they sing a little even now sometimes when the wind is in them and as underneath their singing our own hearts too already sing a little sometimes at this holy hope we have.

The past and the future. Memory and expectation. Remember and hope. Remember and wait. Wait for him whose face we all of us know because somewhere in the past we have faintly seen it, whose life we all of us thirst for because somewhere in the past we have seen it lived, have maybe even had moments of living it ourselves. Remember him who himself remembers us as he promised to remember the thief who died beside him. To have faith is to remember and wait, and to wait in hope is to have what we hope for already begin to come true in us through our hoping. Praise him.” -Buechner

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1400 Miles. Each Way.

1400 miles. Every year.

 

We load up the truck, taking care to bring only the bare essentials. We plan the route even though we already know it by heart. We plan whether we will drive without stopping, or if this year we will stop and spend the night somewhere. We plan surprises and pack them in little paper sacks.

 

We plan music and movies and audiobooks.

 

We plan and we anticipate, and wait for that moment when we will pull down the long driveway to one of our favorite places in the world.

 

My folks’ place in Colorado. The place is filled with memories for me and now I watch my kids marching around breathing this air and walking this ground that is so much a part of who I am.

 

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This year I hung my eldest’s hammock under an ancient apple tree and caught a few minutes of reading time. Mostly the hammock was used by the younger kids to swing and giggle. When we were all here, which was for at least three of the days, there were about twenty of us clamoring around the house and the yard.

 

There were lots of giggles. And volleyball matches. And conversations over coffee and meals.

 

 

This house has always had two of the best porches. One porch overlooks a pasture and long view to mountains and amazing sunsets. This is the place to sit for long conversations into the evening, for watching deer or the ducks on the pond.

 

The front porch is the place to sit to watch all the activity. The kids riding bikes and kicking soccer balls, chasing dogs and each other. Snacks are brought and again, long conversations begin.

 

And I am finding that this is where we learn more of who we are. We find out our differences, and we find that our love is constant in the midst of those differences. We find out our shared stories, and the parts of the stories we had forgotten.

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We remind ourselves of our shared history and we carry the current burdens together a little more lightly in the midst of the joy of fellowship.

 

We take the time to find out who we are once again.

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This year I pushed for a picture I have wanted for a few years: a picture of the Little Miss out in the field by the house with all the men on my side of the family. Her three big brothers, her six male cousins, her four uncles, her Dad and her Grandfather. I am so glad I pushed and they were so patient as we tried to fit it in with everyone’s plans. I love the final picture:

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This is my girl, and this place is part of who she is. It is a mirror of how this place was the foundation for who I am. I stomped these same grounds with strong men standing behind me. I played in the mud here and didn’t want to stop to take a bath at the end of the day either.

 

I didn’t want to leave.

 

She doesn’t either.

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Nor do my boys. Every year. They want to stay. This place is part of who they are, and we never quite sure what the next year will hold. The one who put her mark on all of this place is here and yet not here. She has laughed some this trip and has been present with us, but she has been greatly missed.

 

And yet, her mark is everywhere. Not just in the decorations, but in the strength of the family. In the fact that every year we continue to come back. We continue to want to be together. We continue to load up the truck and drive 1400 miles (one way) to be together.

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We have to take the time, to pause and to know our history. To know more than the cursory glance. When we have the chance, to stomp the ground our parents have walked and to sit on the porch with all our cousins and talk…really talk… and share stories and hear our history, we have to take those moments. They are so much more than just stories.

 

So thankful for this past week, yet again, and for this magical place. Thankful for pictures and for moments. For stories and for history. And for quotes which sum it all up so much better than I can….

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” – Frederick Buechner

She Littered our World with Glitter and Pink

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This face. This little one who changed our world.

 

She was not expected. In fact, she was a surprise which left us feeling a bit overwhelmed when we first learned she was arriving. Funny how God’s surprises can be exactly what we need…even when at first we don’t know how or why.

 

 

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This little one, five years ago, changed our world of all boys to a world littered with glitter and pink.

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And wonder.

So much wonder. Her imagination staggers me. All the boys have been creative and imaginative…but Miss Madeleine Jane takes it all to a completely different level. I will catch her running through the house, stop sharply, lean over and whisper something to the air, and take off again. Playing some game with some imaginary friend. Giggling and laughing her way through the day.

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This little one is filled with humor and sharp whit. She understands and grasps the world around her in a remarkable way. She is delightful, wonder-filled, fierce and brave.

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The other day a friend asked her if she was brave when she saw King Leo on the trailer for the new Jungle Book Movie. “Yes. I thought I would be brave, and I was  braver than I thought I would be.”

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She loves worms and teacups in the same degree. She can embrace you with spontaneous hugs or scream at the top of her lungs…within seconds of each other.

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We had no idea we needed so much pink, so much wonder and so much love in our midst.

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We celebrated her fifth birthday with a fairy garden.

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We gave her some ingredients, and she is already filling them with life.

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She is already learning that there is danger around her. She asked the other day if there were bad guys in real life. Sadly, yes there are. She is preparing herself though, listening to fairy tales and truths. Learning about courage and wonder. Filling her heart and her imagination with stories of bravery and of humility and of wonder.

We will keep giving her the tools, and we will keep looking on as she twirls and delights and reminds of so much good. She will continue to shape our world to have more laughter and more love than we could have imagined. What a delight-filled surprise she has become.

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Happy Birthday, Maddie Jane.

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“To cease to wonder is to fall plumb-down from the childlike to the commonplace—the most undivine of all moods intellectual. Our nature can never be at home among things that are not wonderful to us.” – George MacDonald

Dementia and Birthdays, Disengagement and Hope

I have not posted lately. I haven’t felt like writing. I’ve felt a bit more like playing slither.io and Candy Crush. Just not engaging completely. We all have our seasons, right? We all have our moments where we sit on the porch and read through books while sipping our coffee, and we all have our seasons of just making it through.

 

This season started with a coffee mug.

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I walked through the Starbucks in a bookstore and it caught my eye. Immediately I was reminded of my mom sipping her coffee, wearing a bathrobe and slippers and making her list of things to do that day. Mom was a woman of lists and coffee. Strong, dark and extremely hot.

 

I bought the mug. It was like physically holding  on to a memory. A tangible reminder of the strength of presence this woman held.

 

Then the disengaging happened a bit. Because she is not that woman any longer. Her words no longer form sentences, her eyes are not piercing or twinkling with laughter. Her voice is not strong, sometimes filling with song. And that is terribly difficult to settle with: we have her, and yet we do not.

 

And I miss her. So there are seasons of disengaging with some of reality so that all of my reality does not suffer. The season of truly mourning the loss of my mother has not come in full force. Instead it is this long-distance endurance mourning as we watch her slowly leave us in Dementia. A mourning in moments that does not leave any healing yet.

 

There is more around me, though, than coffee mugs which hold memories.

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That is my White Rabbit about to jump through the rabbit hole. He and his friends brought us a fantastic performance, filling us with laughter and pride. Such talented kids. Such good friends.

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This brings back my engagement. Seeing these kids delighting in their talents and enjoying their moment. Fully engaged as I see his enthusiasm and joy overflow in the company of his friends. He shines when he is around people, his compassion and genuine love of people so prominent.

 

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This is a ten year old boy, sporting his “Player of the Year” hoodie. I have in the past posted birthday posts on each child’s birthday. That didn’t happen in this season of disengagement. But this boy…he celebrated with friends and ate cake and laughed heartily. Inching closer to being more man than boy, he shines with hope and enthusiasm.

A few days ago he tried out for a select team. It was 85+ degrees of Tennessee humidity, complete with mosquitos and an ant covered soccer field. The boy just hadn’t seen these temperatures or this level of activity since last summer. Wind sprints and laps. He couldn’t catch his breath and the tears were on the brink. I sent him back in.

“Finish as well as you can and you will be proud of yourself. Just don’t quit.”

He finished. He finished well and was a sweaty mess of tiredness, with just a touch more confidence. Bringing my engagement more focus as I feel the pride in seeing who he is becoming.

 

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This is a fifteen year old man-child. I am somewhat staggered that he is a year away from driving on his own, three years away from leaving for college. A blink of an eye.

We are celebrating him tonight and that means meat. Lots of meat.

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He asked for Philly Steak sandwiches, and I realize these probably bear little resemblance to those from Philadelphia. These are my Mom’s take on the sandwich, and I remember them being a rare treat. Strips of steak seared in butter with Worcestershire sauce with onions, on toasted bread with Philadelphia cream cheese. I really don’t care if they are authentic…they are authentically my Mom’s. And the boy loves them.

 

He is in that strange between land of childhood and manhood. He is young enough to laugh at utter silliness, young enough and wise enough to admit his vulnerabilities. He is old enough to feel the weight of responsibilities and the future. He is young enough to still love Tres Leche cake for his birthday.

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He is becoming his own. And I am humbled and thankful for the man who glimpses at us through the laughter and the silliness, through the shyness and uncertainty. Glimpses of confidence and easy humor. Glimpses of strength and wisdom. Pulling me back in to engagement.

 

I’m going to go head out to the porch to read. I’ve had my moment of feeling the impact of Mom’s Dementia. We have to take these moments…to allow ourselves the space to reel a little and then for the moments of hope and encouragement and life to pull us back.  The weight of our sorrow can sometimes blind us. We need to allow space for sorrow, but not allow it dominion. These moments of White Rabbits and soccer hoodies, of boys becoming men (and I haven’t forgotten the little Princess…her day is coming and I’ll be back to writing blog posts for her), these bring us back to life.

“ . . some moment happens in your life that you say yes right up to the roots of your hair, that makes it worth having been born just to have happen. laughing with somebody till the tears run down your cheeks. waking up to the first snow. being in bed with somebody you love… whether you thank God for such a moment or thank your lucky stars, it is a moment that is trying to open up your whole life. If you turn your back on such a moment and hurry along to business as usual, it may lose you the ball game. if you throw your arms around such a moment and hug it like crazy, it may save your soul.” – Buechner

 

 

Don’t Blink.

The season is done. We have travelled together from Nashville to Chicago, Notre Dame University, and Atlanta. We have washed piles of sweaty clothes and gear. Cheered until we were hoarse and poured over video of the games.

 

Hockey season is long. We start to feel it a little by the fifth month in, and yet after the last game we are always sorry the season is done. This year was one of our best, even though we didn’t win every game. Even though it was tough. Especially this last weekend.

 

We played three teams a division above us, and they beat us three games in a row. Then Sunday morning at the consolation game, it came together and we walked away from the last game of the season with a win.

 

What is the point of all of this? What is the point of the cheering and the raised blood pressure as we watch these kids skate like mad, take and give some major hits, shoot every chance they get and make some amazing saves? At the end of the day, what is the point beyond some bragging rights?

 

Oh, there are so many points. Especially as a homeschool family, there is so much value in sports, or arts, or drama, or music. We get to sit in the stands and watch our kids go out and give their all for something they love. Whatever that something is. For us, right now, it is hockey for the eldest. We get to watch as he takes instruction from someone else, as he learns things we cannot teach him. We get to watch as he bonds with a team and recognizes the responsibilities of being part of something beyond just himself.

 

We get to cheer him on.

We get to sit and watch our kids do something they love, and we get to stop the busyness of life and just watch. Just focus and watch our kids. Look at them and realize how incredibly wonderful it is to be a parent. The kids are working and sweating and learning lessons like responsibility and discipline and perseverance. The coach is taking over the moment for us and teaching and guiding.

 

We get to just watch. There are not enough moments where we get to do this. Our kids notice. It is important.

 

Even when they are losing.

We lost a lot this weekend. Three of the four games. And here is a second point to the worth of these activities. We need to learn how to lose and not have the world fall apart. We need to learn how to lose and get back up the next morning and try again. Our kids need to learn this. Three times the boys showed up, played hard…and lost. Then Sunday morning they showed up…and won.

 

I know. It’s just a game. Just a play. Just an art piece. Just a performance.

 

Nah. It’s life. I’m thankful for coaches who guide our kids, who make them work hard and yell at them when they are slacking or encourage them when they are trying. I’m thankful for groups of parents who come together and cheer and encourage and delight in our kids.

 

That’s what it comes down to. Zach isn’t going to make a career of hockey. This is a moment. We’ll blink and these days will be over.

 

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Five Words I Love To Hear: Mom! Please, Don’t Read Anymore!

 

Each night for the last couple months I have been met by this exclamation from my youngest boy.

 

The lights are dimmed, he is in his bed and the Littlest Princess (I’m still settling on their nicknames for this blog) is in some degree of resting. Prayers are done and we have read one chapter out loud from our latest book.

 

We have been taking our time, savoring George MacDonald’s books. About Princesses. Yes, reading my boy books about princesses.

 

But these are George MacDonald books about princesses.

 

 

The Princess and the Goblin.

The Princess and Curdie.

 

The Lost Princess (or The Wise Woman: A Parable)

 

Books which greet us with comments like these:

“It was foolish indeed – thus to run farther and farther from all who could help her, as if she had been seeking a fit spot for the goblin creature to eat her in at his leisure; but that is the way fear serves us: it always sides with the thing we are afraid of.”

 

“There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection.”

 

“What honest boy would pride himself on not picking pockets ? A thief who was trying to reform would. To be conceited of doing one’s duty is then a sign of how little one does it, and how little one sees what a contemptible thing it is not to do it. Could any but a low creature be conceited of not being contemptible? Until our duty becomes to us common as breathing, we are poor creatures.”

 

These are books which carry weight, and I have been happy to read slowly. The other night, though, I thought we might read two or three chapters so we could finish the book that night. The Youngest Boy would have none of that.

 

I get carried away reading books. Looking up I will find that I have read for two hours when I only meant to take a few minutes to read. This boy, though…he has restraint.

 

Stop reading.

 

Savor what we have.

 

He wanted me to stop so the book would last longer, so we would have more nights to think about Rosamond or Curdie or all the other cast of characters. He asked last night if there were any more after this…I told him there is this little one called At The Back of the North Wind.

 

There will be plenty of time to be swept away by stories and read for hours….there is something priceless about a 9 year old being aware that we need to savor the moment. He knows there will come a time when we have read all the MacDonald books, and he wants to hold that off as long as possible.

 

There is wonder, and sometimes we just glance and acknowledge what should make us stop in our tracks. The absolute-out-of-control laughter of children. Sunsets which turn the sky to fire and make our hearts beat faster. The smell of honeysuckle.

 

The reality of a God who creates all these things, and who cares for all of us. And for me. And for you.

 

Wonder. On a Monday it may feel far away….but think about the last time you took something in just a piece at a time to make it last. Today, take in just a piece…

 

Peace.

 

Grace.

 

Mercy.

 

Love.

 

Forgiveness.

 
Resurrection.

 

Creativity.

 

Don’t rush. Show the restraint of a 9 year old.

 

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The Necessity of Play

Yesterday as I was walking I listened to a TED radio hour about play. Now, I was outside and I was moving, but I wasn’t exactly playing.

 

I was working to get my body in better shape…so that I can play more. With my kids. Because sometimes they need encouragement to play.

 

We all need that encouragement, and yet after listening to the speakers, I realized the importance of play. Or I remembered.  Play should be a priority.

 

We are born stamped with the image of a Creative and playful God. Yes, we face a myriad of struggles in this life, and there are so many things to think deeply about and to weep over. There are enormous, staggering issues that surround us. There are also the mundane duties and necessities of life, which demand our attention.

 

Still, there is this wiring in us that looks for and loves play.

 

There are waterfalls and rainbows and amazing sunsets and wonder all around us. There are signs everywhere of a Creator at play.

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The colors purple and pink.

 

The platypus.

Laughter. Deep, releasing and spontaneous laughter. The kind where you can’t contain yourself.

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And when we play we relate in such a different way. With freedom and with joy. Imagination.

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“That’s a sure way to tell about somebody–the way they play, or don’t play, make-believe.” Madeleine L’Engle

 

Part of the TED talk was with a Dr. Steve Brown who had researched the role of play in murderers. They didn’t play. They didn’t engage in spontaneous play as children. And they didn’t learn empathy. They didn’t learn the necessities of life that come through play. That is fairly staggering.

 

 

The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground. G.K. Chesterton

 

We have to have a release in the midst of the struggle. We have to sometimes be reminded to play.

 

Pinterest and my Facebook feed are full of ideas to spark play in our children this summer. There is a tinge of sadness that we have to sometimes manufacture play because our children need the encouragement. Maybe we need to incorporate more play in our lives so it becomes more engrained…then it can be more spontaneous. Maybe we, I, need to not say no when the children want to play…we need to encourage it and enlarge that desire.

 

 

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” G. K. Chesterton

It’s summertime. Let’s play. Let’s let down our guard a bit and get silly and get wet in the sprinklers and run around with the kids. Let’s laugh until we pee. Then laugh some more.

Let us allow that joy to revive us this summer.

Let’s play, and show our kids we still know how to be alive. Go throw a water balloon at someone, or color a picture, or play video games with your kids.

“I do not think that the life of Heaven bears any analogy to play or dance in respect of frivolity. I do think that while we are in this ‘valley of tears,’ cursed with labour, hemmed round with necessities, tripped up with frustrations, doomed to perpetual plannings, puzzlings, and anxieties, certain qualities that must belong to the celestial condition have no chance to get through, can project no image of themselves, except in activities which, for us here and now, are frivolous.

For surely we must suppose the life of the blessed to be an end in itself, indeed The End: to be utterly spontaneous; to be the complete reconciliation of boundless freedom with order–with the most delicately adjusted, supple, intricate, and beautiful order?

How can you find any image of this in the ‘serious’ activities either of our natural or of our (present) spiritual life? Either in our precarious and heart-broken affections or in the Way which is always, in some degree, a via crucis?

No, Malcolm. It is only in our ‘hours-off,’ only in our moments of permitted festivity, that we find an analogy. Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for ‘down here’ is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment’s rest from the life we were place here to live.

But in this world everything is upside down. That which , if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” – C.S. Lewis