Monday, July 18, 2011

Lark Ascending

We were up in New Hampshire for a quick overnight with family and a day trip to Storyland. Dan and I arrived well after the kids, who had come with the grandparents. When we got there, they'd been there with their aunt and uncle and cousins for several hours. I put down my things and headed upstairs to the big room in the condo where they had all run moments before in a frenzy. When I reached the top of the stairs, I saw three kids in the huge closet, and one who was going back and forth between electrical outlets, pulling out and pushing in the plugs and trying to turn the lights on and off.

Just like that, I felt the air seep out of the balloon...those puffed up, greedy expectations that come when things are going well and hope is easier to come by.

We've had a good couple of weeks around here with Ethan. Lots of swimming. Lots of firsts -- like long overnight trips with the grandparents, going to the fireworks, sitting through a library story time, attending VBS at church with 100+ screaming kids and (wow!) even participating. We've avoided major meltdowns and played together as a great little team, Ethan, Anna and I. The problem is other kids. To my son they are still just so. darned. scary.

Or maybe it's the confusion of being in a different place...the anxiety of too many people or not having a set plan or schedule...the struggle to focus and distinguish between all of the noise and chaos that just comes when a bunch of people get together. He used to be miserable. Now he just shuts down. And again, the voice in my head is shouting, There's more to my boy than you see! I don't know how to calm him down so he can show you, but there is a different person in there who is worth getting to know!

When I was a kid, I LIVED for family gatherings with my cousins. As the oldest, I was the ringleader. For a brief time, I was even president of the "Cousin's Club." We played endless games of hide-and-seek. We spied on the grownups and got into mischief in my grandmother's attic. We stayed up too late on sleepovers and stepped into bee's nests and ate too much ice cream. We laughed.

When I stood there watching Ethan play with cords, apart from his sister and cousins (this continued into the next day as well), those were the pictures that flew threw my mind and caused the ache. We've worked so hard. HE works so hard. Yet still the basics of making a connection are so difficult for him. Of course I know he's only three. Of course I'm not conceding defeat. But sometimes still there is a part of me that sighs and acknowledges that things like get-togethers with the cousins are not the way I imagined they'd be.

That night I tossed in bed, knowing I needed sleep before a long day at the amusement park but having trouble finding it. A scripture kept rolling around in my head. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)

What does that mean, I kept wondering, I kept asking. What does it mean for the joy of the Lord to be my strength? What IS the joy of the Lord? Where is that joy that is still possible even when all is not right?

I didn't get an answer. But I fell asleep.

The next day after we had done the park and listened to the kids laugh on the roller coaster and eaten pizza and gotten refreshingly wet on the flume and raft rides and hugged the princess and help row the pirate ship, our GPS somehow sent us home straight through the mountains. I still don't quite understand this, as a few years ago, the same GPS sent us an entirely different (and I'm thinking shorter) way home. But there we were, driving through the White Mountains to get to the Green Mountains of Vermont, and the sun was sinking low in the sky. Fields of corn spread out before us and mountain after mountain rose in the distance. Brown-eyed Susans dotted the roadside and people sat out on their screened porches of very old houses, drinking cold drinks and drinking in the early evening. In one town everyone was spread out on blankets around the town bandstand, waiting for the music to begin.

"Look! The clouds are closer!" Anna shouted. Above a shaft of sunlight was punching through a thick cottony cloud.

"That's because we're up higher," I said.

Around then I noticed the music coming from our XM radio. We were listening to the classical music station; it's the only way my not-so-cultured self would know that the work was titled "Lark Ascending," by the English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams (

The music meandered and swelled over us. It rolled on and up and over hills as we did the same. A violin soared, depicting the bird in flight, then swooped to the depths, back to earth. And all at once the song and the mountains and the sun and the little faces in the back seat were too unbearably beautiful, and I felt tears welling in my eyes behind my sunglasses. I kept them there and let tears fall but couldn't speak, because I knew I would not be able to put my thoughts into words.

I did not have an answer. I did not have resolution. But I did see for a moment. I saw the grandness of a Designer. I saw the beauty, the intricacy, the details around me that make life, life. I saw mountains that made me understand the word majesty. I saw people savoring the simple sweetness of a cold glass of lemonade on a midsummer afternoon...savoring life, breathing in each moment, the good and the bad. I saw how much was beyond me. I saw how on the grand scale, life is beautiful, even when it is not.

I wasn't reading a scripture. I wasn't listening to a sermon. Yet for a moment, I think I understood the joy of the Lord.

It's when I rise like the lark and soar despite everything around me.

It's when I dip into the valleys but am not choked by despair.

It's the song woven into to life around me, when I stop and listen.

It's the hand that steadies me and the arms that carry me.

It's the river that flows when I feel parched.

Sometimes, it's seeing beauty in the little things. Other times, it's looking beyond them to appreciate the grand scheme, the larger puzzle that one day will become completely clear.

That is joy unspeakable.

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