This Town

“It will never be this good again” is a lie we should stop telling ourselves. That’s what Todd Henry says in this article, whose content I first heard on his Accidental Creative podcast.

I’ve been facing down that particular lie with extra determination over the past year, as my husband Nathan and I made plans to move out of our Minnesota prairie hometown, across the country to the foothills of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.

Nathan was born and raised in our hometown. I was born there, moved away at age nine months, moved back at age ten years, moved away at age twenty-two, moved back with my husband and children at age thirty. I joked that this town was like a bad penny that just kept turning up in my life. During the twelve years I spent growing up in this town, like many of my peers I dreamed of leaving it, not always appreciating the goodness and beauty all around me.

I married Nathan and then moved to the big city up the road, got a job, bought a house, birthed a child, conceived another – and then began to dream of moving back to the prairie town, where my parents lived, where I could walk the same park trails I walked as a teenager with my dog, eat at the hometown restaurants I knew so well, relive childhood memories and make new ones with my own children.

And that’s what we did – for seven storybook-perfect years. While I have always enjoyed traveling and even moving (in those years between nine months and ten years old, I moved with my family through four states and about a dozen homes, always excited to pack up and drive to the next place), now that we had two young children and all of their grandparents right in the same town, now that we had a (mortgage-free, rent-free) house and even perfectly scheduled part-time jobs so that neither of us took on the full load of domestic work or a full-time day job – it became difficult to see “it will never be this good again” as a lie. It felt like the inarguable truth.

We had always enjoyed visiting the mountains. Nathan took at least one trip to Colorado every year to do some adventuring. But whenever we had discussed possibly moving there, the call of the mountains was never quite strong enough to overcome the comfort and security of the prairie town.

Until last summer, when our little family was all there together, and for the first time, together, we felt the mountains moving us.

Our prairie town has no glaring deficiencies. Most people will tell you “it’s a great place to raise kids.” It is filled with beautiful parks and a sparkling river, kind people, small-town charm. It is the quintessential Shire, a happy idyllic space of farm fields, fragrant woods, and chatty neighbors. For seven years, our family lived well there, and many families have lived well for generations in this same town.

This song and account of my family’s move is not really about towns and mountains, you know. It’s about knowing when it’s time to step out, time to leave that comfortable thing you’ve always known for that strange and beautiful adventure that is undeniably calling to you. It’s about recognizing when your perfect situation is beginning to choke the life out of you, to smother you with security and lull you to complacency with its comforts.

It’s about embracing the unknown and holding out hope that unprecedented goodness lies ahead, not in the mountains or the prairie town or the shining city to which you are venturing, but in the journey itself.

Speaking of the Shire, I’ll call on J.R.R. Tolkien to close out this post. Here are three fitting quotes from The Fellowship of the Ring.

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say”

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Out On the Road

It’s April in Minnesota and our green breathing earth is covered with snow. But I still believe . . .

Lyrics:

Everywhere we look it seems that
Everyone has better things
to say to one another than the things we tell each other
Everything feels old and faded
Like those jeans that were your favorite
The ones with patches like the patches we’ve made for each other

but then we go

Out on the road
with the wind in our clothes
the sky overhead
and the green breathing earth
all around us

Every time it rains I tell myself
That somewhere something’s growing
And when I step outside tomorrow the world will be so clean
Every day you look at me like
Everything is new and though
I can’t believe, I still believe, I hold you in my arms

and then we go

Out on the road
with the wind in our clothes
the sky overhead
and the green breathing earth
all around us

Children and Snow

On this first day of spring, my brother’s wife is laboring to birth the last of my parents’ grandchildren. This child will probably get a new name today, but for the last nine months he has been Baby Omega.

On this first day of spring, I am bundled in layers and confronted with a cold snowy world outside my window.

These things have me thinking about how children are like snow.

Both children and snow are a beautiful inconvenience. Both are a gift that comes when it pleases, or when God pleases, or the forces of nature and life, or random blind chance, or some crazy-quilt mix of these, depending on who you ask.

Both start as romantically anticipated events, at least to some of us – those who wish for white Christmases, those who dream of a baby cooing in the cradle in the new house we just bought.

The first snow is magic and mystery, and so is each new baby. The world hushes, slows, becomes one eternal sacred moment.

Then the snow hardens to ice chunks, soils itself with sand and salt and animal droppings, and generally gets in our way. The baby wakes us up every night, spits up on our clothes and our furniture, grows teeth and bites us.

The winter wears on and we settle in to the new reality. We read more books, go skiing, build snowmen, drink hot cocoa. We wake when the baby wakes, which is no longer a shock to the system. The babies grow, and we accept the relentless school-night routine (dinner, clean-up of kids dishes table floor, bath, storytime, prayers, kisses, lights-out, drink of water, lights-out, comfort for nine-year-old’s existential fears, lights-out, comfort for six-year-old’s scary dream, lights-out . . . ) as our basic reality, just like we accept that we can’t run barefoot outside in the snow (though our children don’t always concur).

We dream of summer. We dream of empty-nest years. Middle-aged couples in the child-free restaurant booth near ours (the one with children chattering about Phineas and Ferb and parents droning, “sit down!” and “say ‘excuse me!'”) look as exotic to us as the posters for Jamaica hung in the icicle-bedecked windows of the travel agency downtown.

The snow is going nowhere, though the calendar says it’s spring. The children seem to be in no hurry either.

But every day has moments that catch us off-guard with their goodness. The color of the light on the snow at sunset, the waking adult we glimpse in the graceful stride of our golden-haired daughter.

The days and the years carry on. One day the snow is more absent than present, the child’s life is lived more out of our home than in it. All of us are refreshed by the spring, with its sprouts and sunshine, this new season of our lives ripe with energy and possibilities.

But then winter, with its gifts we never asked for, gifts we never did experience as well as we could have, softens in our memories, and we are just a little sad that we never officially said goodbye to the snow, even as it faded right in front of us.

I Deleted The Doctor

Oh no, not That Doctor.

And not my friendly family practitioner.

The doctor I deleted was a knockoff of Doctor Mario – a free game I downloaded on my iPhone maybe a month ago, one snowy cold Minnesota Sunday when I thought, hey, I wonder if there are any Doctor Mario games I can download for free on my newly acquired iPhone 3gs? (Doctor Mario was my favorite video game back in my college days – it’s something like Tetris.)

And sure enough, there was one.

Thus began my addiction.

I played it to “de-stress.” I played it on Sundays, while the rest of the family played Xbox. I played it in the evenings after the kids went to bed. I played it in the evenings while dinner was cooking. I played it in the evenings after dinner while the kids did their clean-up chores. I played it on Saturdays. I played it while the kids would ask me if I wanted to play with them. Usually I’d put it down then, but not always.

These are the confessions of an addict.

I knew I needed to quit. Heck, I knew I should never have started. When Nathan inherited and fixed a broken Xbox and asked me about my interest level, I said, don’t get me started. I hadn’t played a video game in years, and for good reason. I get addicted.

This past weekend I went on personal retreat. Of course I had my phone with me. No, I did not play – or even feel tempted to play – “my game” during the whole weekend (I would have drained the battery and there was no electricity in my hermitage!). I read some books that renewed my inspiration to live generously, slowly, meaningfully (The Windows of Brimnes by Bill Holm, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, and Everything Must Change by Brian McLaren).

I came home truly de-stressed, and eager to live more intentionally, more present to the people around me in each moment.

And I succeeded, for maybe ten minutes! I hugged my family, played a card game with a friend’s daughter who was visiting; and then when the kids went in the other room to play some Xbox together, I went for my fix with the Doctor.

It was my last fix, though. That evening as I reflected over the day, remembering my kids seeing me pull out my phone and saying, “oh, you’re playing your game again aren’t you?” – and not in a joyous, “good-for-you” tone – I decided to delete the Doctor.

Clicking that little “x” felt great.

Now I’ve decided that a “de-stressing” activity should be something that is ultimately good for me – like exercise, or good food, a conversation with a friend, playing music, taking a power nap or curling up with a good book, catching up on the blogs I follow, or even watching an episode of The Doctor – the one I would never delete!

I know, I can always download the other Doctor again. But I’ll have myself, my family, and the expansive life of my dreams to answer to.

A Long Walk, A Thousand Miles From Newtown

On Saturday Silas and I walked downtown to buy a book for his kindergarten class gift exchange.

On Friday our town had been a snow-covered Christmas-fairy-tale village. Then it rained. It rained on Friday night, and all day Saturday. The rain erased the snow and exposed the husks and straw of fall to the numb gray sky.

We bought our book and headed home through the mist. Everything was crying. We moved slowly and silently, my 37-year-old legs newly attuned to his six-year-old pace.

The cheerful Christmas music piped through Central Park’s loudspeakers sounded alien and anachronistic.

We passed the post office and the library, who face one another across Broadway. Their flags waved wearily where they had fallen, halfway to the muddy ground.

We passed my children’s school, whose flag also trailed low, heavy with its load of grief.

We passed three neighbor boys on bicycles. I smiled and said hello. They were painfully beautiful.

That was a very long walk. I am still tired from it.