I love to be out of doors with my kids. I really do. For going on eleven years now, escaping the four walls of our home with its plethora of Things has been a mainstay of my sanity. I like to hike with my kids, I like to sit on rocks and feel sunlight with my kids, I like to collect treasures, discover creatures, and feel my soul center.
Lately, though, getting outside with this tribe has felt like absolute pleasure-less labor. Even though the kids are often their best selves–their happiest selves–outside, the sheer task of preparing six children with all their paraphernalia and then getting to wherever we’re going only to remain the sole parent on duty–it’s work. It is work. And sometimes I just want to be anywhere but in the thick of this kind of work with kids.
I think I’m in a Middle Place. I read Lora Lynn’s words on this idea, this idea of being far from the beginning but not yet far enough to be close to the end, and found myself nodding, “yes, that’s me.” Hi, my name is Harmony, and I am in a Middle Place: life has been hard.
The biggest hurdles are the ones of the mind, I know, but it’s these mental leaps that make getting outside feel so impossible to me. I know that if I make the jump, I will find the effort worthwhile. Usually by the time we hit the wildlife refuge, my joy has buoyed. But on Friday, after a good long while of soldiering through, I admitted (quite sadly) to myself: “I am not enjoying this at all.”
We had gone up to the nature preserve near our house, had settled in at our favorite canyon, and all I felt was irritation. The wind! The toddler! The baby! The blasted sunlight in my eyes! The looming dinner hour for which I was unprepared! The people, little people, touching me, needing me–all the time needing me, all the time making noise!
I wasn’t very kind. My tone was harsh, my frustration dominant. The wind made it impossible to take the baby from the van, so I loitered near it with my littles, corralling them while their eyes hungrily followed the bigger siblings down the hill. At this moment, as I stood on the rim of the canyon above my ice-breaking sons, my loss of joy was keenly felt. I murmured a desperate prayer, uttered a request for orientation.
“I am not enjoying this, Lord, and I am not enjoying my children. Please tell me what to do.”
My feet suddenly felt grounded to the granite. The wind chapping my skin, the sun warming my hands, the water and earth beneath my shoes and before my eyes: the elements, stilling my heart and mind. In the great quiet that hung for just a moment I looked at my daughter and heard, “don’t do. Stop doing. Be.” I joined my voice to the great, universal sigh.
Being was never going to happen here. I knew this, so we took the risk of driving to a new, lower location, and were surprised to find a wind-free nook on a creek bed, complete with geese sliding noiselessly on ice–our own ice show! The air warmed to 65 degrees, and the toddler and I steered a straight course toward a make-shift metal dance floor which sat baking in the sun.
I sank my bones onto that rectangle of metal, let the baby chew on stones while arching her back across my belly; I sank my tension into giggles. I watched the children play. Davita, our six-year-old, slipped into an imaginary world and I breathlessly followed her in my own imagination as she flit and flew with whispered conversation and flairs of hands. This. I took them into my heart again, these children of my flesh, the small boy collecting acorns, the small girl licking ice, the two sons heaving boulders, with each boulder heavier than the last. It had been a long time since I’d lain on my back and watched branches whisper in the breeze, or seen the contrast of their shape against the blueness of the sky, or followed a hawk in its complete rise–a long time since I’d let the pause be mine.
In the old days, nature was called God’s second book. Perhaps it is his first. A person can not come to it and find it lacking in its reflection of His character. There is order, calm, delicacy, detail, passion, humor, honor, gentleness, joyfulness, determination, realism, faith, unexpectedness, rhythm, beauty, judgement, perseverance, grace, peace. There is glory. There is love. When we spend time in the out-of-doors, in the wild, in the wind, in the dirt and sun and rain and trees and bugs and birds and plants and seeds, in our backyards or parks or refuges, these characteristics of our Creator take hold in our minds. I see them setting things to order, setting thoughts aright; folding our feelings, experiences and cares into all the proper drawers like Mrs. Darling does for her children’s minds at night.
In our homeschool we have relied heavily on nature as a subject to be studied and an environment to enjoy. We consider nature something to be known. I was reminded on Friday that in knowing nature we know God, and in knowing God, we find ourselves known in return. This may be truest of all for harried, hurried moms, like me.