It’s an overcast evening with light air hanging over the black-eyed susans that blanket the fields behind the house. The Conservancy planted them when they bought the land, and despite the fact that they tore down the old white barn, we’re blessed by the wildflowers.
Among our favorite parts of summer is dinner on the deck. I like it because the spilled honey and tiny pieces of shredded cheddar don’t end up plastered to the dining room floor for weeks on end. The kids like it because the last bite of the meal is permissibly tossed off the deck to our three hungry chickens. We all like it because the open sky and chattering red-winged blackbirds fill us with a deep sense that we are free.
I’ve spent most of the day cleaning the house, dealing with a frustrating computer issue, and searching the basement boxes for size 3T sweatpants, and I’m a bit frazzled by the time the food is on the table. After Caleb’s garbled prayer to give thanks for chicken nuggets, buns, and spoons (he thanks God for spoons twice), we eat with few words. The company of family and the space to enjoy silence is a gift.
I feel myself unwinding from the frustrating parts of the day when it happens. Our sweet little girl winds up with a banana peel in her right fist. I know she’s aiming for the weeds behind me, and I know exactly what’s about to happen before I have time to swallow my bread and speak a word.
She throws the peel as hard as her six-year-old arm can throw, and the peel smacks me in the center of my face.
Silent stares watch my face for a reaction, and in a split-second, I make a choice that will set the tone for the rest of the evening. I choose to unleash hysterical laughter. We all laugh until our eyes water, and I consider throwing something in return, but I know where it could lead and resist. The moment is priceless, and I’m thankful I chose laughter.
When the dishes are washed and the kids are busy making bubbles in the yard, I reflect on the banana peel. Something about the moment felt like I’d just encountered the heart of the Father, and I can’t put my finger on it.
For years, I’ve claimed Philippians 3:8 as my life verse: More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.
Thinking of the verse, I unlock the truth wrapped in the shriveled banana peel: I come to know Christ more deeply when I let go of my agenda, my rights, and my expectations of how circumstances should unfold. I come to know him more when I can laugh at the ridiculous and let go of what doesn’t really matter.
I recently read Emily P. Freeman’s post on 10 things she learned this summer. Her words, combined with the banana peel incident, have prompted me to consider what we’ve learned around these parts this summer. Her words remind me that sometimes the best way to close the chapter on one season and step into another is to reflect on the lessons learned. This is my list:
1. Whenever possible, choose laughter over angry words.
“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come” (Proverbs 31:25). And this is the kind of woman I want to be – not the kind who takes herself too seriously.
2. When the pace of my life feels out of control, I have the choice to deliberately step out of the raging current and recalibrate.
We spent quite a few weekends in the hills of northern Pennsylvania this summer. For most of my life, our family’s hunting camp has been a place of solace for us. Darrell and I have often discussed our longings to move permanently to a cabin in the woods somewhere. It was while reading Shauna Niequist’s book Present over Perfect that I was struck with the truth behind our longings. Shauna writes about similar feelings as her family regularly seeks reprieve at a cottage on a lake:
It’s at the lake that I realize how far I’ve come, or how far I have yet to travel. Both, maybe. It’s at the lake that my priorities reshuffle, aligning more closely with my true nature.
I’ve wondered from time to time if we should move here, permanently, to this small Michigan town. But it seems to me that we’d bring our bustling and hustling here, and pretty soon we’d need a new place to escape in order to recalibrate. Part of the magic of the lake is that it isn’t home – it’s away, and away allows us to see the rhythms and dimensions of our lives more clearly.
Shauna’s words remind me that I have the choice daily to decide if my life will be frantic and frenzied or serene and steady. My pace is about a mindset, not a place.
3. My life is richer when I’m increasingly aware of the small miracles in my midst.
I was struck by this quote in a blog post called “Chasing Smallness” by Shauna Shanks this summer:
These past few years God has been re-ordering my life. Rather than bigger is better attitude, He has asked me to stop all the chaos, hand him over my crumpled-up mess I’d made, and start again. Smaller this time.
These words remind me that bigger, faster, and more glamorous are not always best.
4. Hard doesn’t mean wrong.
I’m inspired by the words of Tsh Oxenreider. Tsh and her husband embarked on a 9-month journey around the world with their three young children. Before leaving on the trip, she wrote a note to her future self – the self that would be doubting the decision at the beginning of the trip. The note read:
You’re in China, which is hard. But you can do hard things. You won’t be here long. This month is the foundation for the year. Lean in to the struggles: give thanks for the easy times. Hard doesn’t mean wrong. You’re on the right path.
Her words remind me that difficult doesn’t always mean wrong.
5. Confidence and vulnerability can coexist.
My time at the She Speaks conference in July prompted me to question many things about calling, life, and authenticity. Greatest among the lessons from this weekend was the realization that it’s possible to walk into a crowded room of gifted women and be honest about the difficulty of the journey. This kind of vulnerability might be the bravest and most confident way to live. My confidence doesn’t come from my own gifting. It comes from the One who created me.
6. There’s only room for a miracle when I am unable to produce the outcome on my own.
I’m currently reading Unashamed by Christine Caine. Christine reminds us that we are unable to measure up in our carnal, human selves. It is the power of Christ in us that is sufficient in our weakness.
7. I’m not defined by the outcomes I am able to produce in my life.
I could list twenty more lessons from the summer. For the sake of illustrating this final point, I’m stopping short. I’m stopping short as a reminder that none of us are defined by the outcomes we produce in our lives. Coming up short doesn’t classify a person as lacking, and every failure is an opportunity to grow.
As summer fades to autumn in the subtle shift from light to darkness, warmth to chill, and green to crimson, we will keep growing deeper roots around here. We will keep laughing at the ridiculous and smiling at the future. This is how we step boldly into the next season.
Niequist, S. (2016). Present over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Tsh Oxenreider (2017). At Home in the World: Reflections of Belonging while Wandering the Globe, Nashville, Tennessee: Harper Collins.
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