Just about perfect

Blueberries, blackberries and little Miss Tux helping out

I was up very early—before 5 this morning, and it didn’t take long for dawn to start breaking. After feeding Tux and Mo, who demand to be taken care of before anybody else, I sat with my cup of coffee.  My small obsession is good coffee and today, the coffee I roasted Friday was just right. On a day off it somehow tastes so very much more delicious, perhaps because I get to savor each sip. I read for a bit, played with my silly dog, slipped into some gardening clothes, and got started on the things I’d promised myself I’d do today.

The best part of the work was out in the garden before the heat had taken hold.  This is the first day blueberries truly needed picking and now I know how to do it—how to turn them gently this way and that, to make sure they are blue all over. How to pluck them so their tiny, delicate stems stay on the plant and I don’t have to pick them out when I’m getting ready to make some jam. 

I used to do this work in a hurry, anxious to get the work done, anxious that I might not pick enough and too many would go to waste. The pace is much more slow and careful and deliberate so I see the bees, the big, loud bumble bees and hear the endlessly noisy mockingbirds. It’s all about the journey, not the destination when I find the right rhythm. Some of the berries I plucked slipped through my fingers and fell in, under the branches of the blueberry bush. I didn’t even try to find them. I decided it’s one of the ways I share this bounty with all the other creatures who appreciate their juicy deliciousness.

When I stopped, I walked over to our blackberry vine and put down my trug. It looked so pretty I had to grab a few pictures.  We planted the blackberry vine three years ago; last year was the first time it bore fruit. This year it stretches a good 6-8 feet in either direction, and the vine is laden with blackberries that will be ripe, most of them all at once, in the next 2-3 weeks.  

Volunteer flowers are growing on either side of the fence between our fruit and vegetable garden and our backyard. In the next two weeks, if the heat doesn’t kill them, they will bust open too. And if I looked down towards the gate into our food garden, I could see the fig tree that has plenty of fruit this year as well, and the peach trees that Sherod has so carefully tended to and should bear some nice peaches. I got a recipe for pickled peaches yesterday, knowing canning is in my near future. It never stops being new. It never stops being a parable of the gracious reign of God.

The rest of the day whirred its way through. I had washing and ironing and beds to make, with line-dried sheets. I cooked some of the meal for this Memorial Day, I continued to work on my thank you notes for everyone who was so amazing the night of Holy Comforter’s Celebration of a New Ministry, went back out for one more round of work on the flower beds.  When I was hot, really hot, really tired, really dusty and gritty and grimy, I rinsed off, got in my bathing suit and Sherod and I got in the pool long enough to splash around, watch the shadows start growing longer and laugh at the utter cuteness of our two silly dogs as they played around the pool. 

And then, it was time for dinner with my dad, time to clean up, time to watch an episode of Downton Abby (am not exactly binging but trying to see an episode a day; I only started watching episode 1 of season 1 a few days ago).

This was a day when Sherod and I were like three-year-olds intently engaged in our own projects, only catching glimpses of each other, or stopping to ask a quick question.  I kept silence most of the day and luxuriated in the solitude.

All that’s left is to post this, brush my teeth and go to bed. A day doesn’t get much better than this.

By gratitude alone

Sometimes the only thing that keeps me going is gratitude. I woke up early this morning, and so did Sherod. As they begin, the days are still cool and gentle, so today we went out to the back deck with our coffee, sat quietly and watched the morning start unfolding. There were two moments so beautiful it felt like my soul was not big enough to hold such loveliness.

Towards the end of our property line, there are some very beautiful trees and in front of them, a small patch of wildflowers that Sherod plants each year. The light came through the trees, dappling the flower bed, and the bluebird house Sherod made that holds a busy little couple raising their babies, making everything lush and luminous all at once. Then I saw that one of my roses, a plant that had actually been in pretty bad shape as spring began this year, was covered with blossoms and buds. Two other rose plants were also blooming and the abundance that all of them together represented was simply astounding.

I got back from Fort Lauderdale yesterday afternoon. I had gone down to spend María’s birthday with her. It was the first time I had to confront directly the new normal that is emerging with our daughter. She basically lives in two different realities at this point. Some of the time it’s as if nothing had changed. She is her winsome, needy, amazing self. Then, this vacant look comes into her eyes, she slows way down, seems to get increasingly confused, struggles mightily to stay grounded in the world that the rest of us know and understand. She stops recognizing me, and all I have left that I can do is sit quietly next to her, hoping the confusion will pass. It did this time around, but not quickly.

We went to the movies on the day of her birthday, when she seemed to be in a good place. We were well into the movie when she got quite agitated. She’d held on to the stub of her entrance ticket and all of a sudden said we needed to leave immediately because she had won the prize and needed to go pick it up it up right away. There was no way to redirect her. Fortunately, I was there with one of the staff members who works most closely with María; between the two of us, we agreed it was time to get moving. Ashley took María back to BARC and we decided I’d take a step back for a while. Instead, I went shopping, got my girl a new set of bedding–sheets, quilts, pillows. By the time I got back to BARC with Costco pizza and birthday cake for a party, she was in better shape, puffed up big as could be when we sang Happy Birthday. It was only when I was getting ready to leave that the weird ideation and affect came back.

This is the new normal, probably for the foreseeable future. As far as we can tell, this moving in and out of the reality the rest of us know is a symptom that Maria has somehow regressed to the point where she has stopped being able to distinguish between past and present. We believe it is the result of the line Sherod and I had to draw last April. That was the last time we were able to have her here at the farm, and it was a nightmare with her out-of-control behavior that included brutal self-injury. Unable to make the connection between her behavior and the fact that she sees us less and is not able to come and spend time with us, Maria keeps experiencing the trauma of abandonment that so defined her early childhood. And it is more than she can bear. She becomes psychotic often these days and the medications still haven’t helped much.

We have had to find our way through so many new normals with this brave and wounded young woman. There has been so much to let go of. I have the strength to go be with her, to love her in whatever shape she’s in. I fly to Fort Lauderdale and let my heart rejoice to see her and hold her hand or hug her, if only briefly. In fact, this time I saw some exciting progress with her physical health and and, well-being. She is working out at the gym four times a week, and has lost over 40 pounds which is excellent. I hold on to that as a reminder that even the new normal with its losses doesn’t mean that everything is lost, by any stretch of the imagination.

But it takes energy and it takes pure strength of will, to say goodbye again, to come back into this other part of my life. As I drive away from BARC the last day I’m with her on one of these trips, I wonder how I will make myself leave her, get on the plane to come back home.

By God’s grace, the strength has always been there. This morning I was reminded how the grace is offered—it is all around me in God’s creation, the steadiness of Sherod’s love, the generosity of the parish I serve, the newness of a new day. It is gratitude, sometimes gratitude for the smallest, most insignificant things imaginable, like sunshine dancing with the leaves, that keeps me going.