The Inspiring Devotion to Nothing

 

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Are you familiar with the Chinese Bamboo Tree?

Once planted, it doesn’t break through the ground for 4 years.

During this time, gardeners tend to this seemingly bare spot of earth – water it, fertilize it, nurture it – with no visible display of what difference their care has made.

But then, after 4 years of “nothing”, in the 5th year, the shoot bursts through the ground and grows at an amazing pace.  In just over a month, it will tower over you at 90 feet high.

I feel like this relates to so many areas of life.

It resonates so deep within me right now.

Because sometimes, I give up tending to certain things I believe in.

Sometimes, we don’t see the outcomes of our kindness, generosity, patience, grace.

Sometimes, the grueling, gritty, every day work just doesn’t seem worth it.

Sometimes, we fail and instead of learning from our mistakes, give up prematurely.

Sometimes, we look crazy devoting so much time to something that gives us so little in return.

Sometimes, I look at everyone else’s bamboo trees and instead of enjoying their beauty and celebrating the hard work it took to grow them, I allow envy to settle in my stomach.

Then there are those moments – days, weeks, years – where incredible growth takes place.  It was happening all along, but you didn’t see it.  You couldn’t.  Maybe it is all timing.  Maybe you just weren’t ready.  Maybe someone else came along who believed in you and even did the hard work and tended to your garden for a time when you neglected it.  Maybe there are a slew of reasons.  Maybe you were so busy tending to that barren ground that it just sort of changed overnight and things are suddenly happening at a dizzying pace.

I feel like I have experienced these stages at different times in life.  Sometimes I give up and move on.  Sometimes I wonder and doubt and second-guess why I am even doing the things I am.  Or I am just lost and don’t know what is next or what I should be doing at all. And then there are times when I stand back and see the outcome and feel full and satisfied.

But you can’t skip the seasons and you can’t get the lost years back.

There is so much going on below the surface that we don’t see.

As a mother, this feels poignant.

I sense that many of us with young children feel like we are just getting through these early years with our kids.  We have lost ourselves somewhere along the way and feel like every drop of energy is devoted to their care and nothing is left. We just have to get through these years and things will change. It is both joy and hardship, but I have never found myself more than through the experience of having children.

It has loosened so many lies I believed about myself and others, about where I actually find my value and what is important in life.

Even those formative years in our children’s lives are like tending to a bamboo tree.  You might not see the outcome of what you pour into their every day, the sacrifices you make for them, for years to come.  And we bear the wrinkles and tired eyes from the laughter and frustration and sleepless nights and dim, early mornings.

But when I think about the bamboo tree and growing another year older and hearing the stories of others’ lives and the abrupt endings we can face…I also feel a broader call, an urgency.

Not to see change, but to work toward it.

Because sometimes, the work takes years and years and maybe I don’t even get to enjoy the shade that will one day come from the daily tending,

but

I can imagine who will.

And I wonder, what have I been tending to beneath the surface all this time?

-b.e.

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listen instead

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I sit here, tea cup to my side; half full with tea which has steeped for too long and become tainted with bitterness. The house, quiet, other than the near silent whirring of the fan and humming of the computer.

Children tucked in and kissed and brought water, nightlight turned on and off and on again and chilly toes tucked in once more, finally, settled and still and breathing the sweet deep sighs of sleep.

I sit here to write, but a phrase cycles through my head: “listen instead”.

I close my eyes.  The typing ceases. Breath becomes quiet and small. And I listen.

No agenda.

I am not trying to hear anything specific.

I simply listen.

If only more often, I would listen to listen, rather than to reply, perhaps my relationships would grow deeper and my understanding of others richer and the words they have to offer more valuable.

What if when my child is going on and on and on, and I really just want to quickly respond, because there are so many things I am trying to do…what if I actually stopped and fully listened? Not just so I can reply with affirmation, laughter, or correction, but so I can understand this growing and developing young person. And what if this became more of a practice in my every day life and encounters with others?

I feel an enormous amount of gratitude for people in my life and the diversity of perspectives and stories each has enriched my life with; a kaleidoscope of color. Yet there are many colors I have not even begun to imagine, for even the ones I think up and have caught vague glimpses of, I have not come close enough to understand all the depth and shades and value.

I read a book earlier this year about the Amish culture, specifically about the way their children are raised, but one part of their culture or common behavior which left an imprint on my mind was the way in which they listened and responded to one another.  The writer referred to it as the “amish pause”, because every time someone spoke, there would be an uncomfortable (to our outsider ears) pause in the conversation as everyone in the room reflected on what was said and took their time before replying. This allows them to focus simply on listening while the other is talking, and put their attention on their response after they have listened fully and clearly.

In a world where everything is so instant and we begin to worry when someone hasn’t texted us back or replied to an email within a day, I truly believe there is so much value in this waiting that we have lost.  So often we can feel undervalued when someone does not respond to us almost immediately. What if taking a little longer to reply was actually a gesture of respect, rather than the other way around?

This is just a small thought on a quiet night, but when I am gearing up to respond, I hope I will more often choose to listen instead.

-b.e.

before they fade away

It was quiet in the house.  Son in the office listening to an audio book. Myself taking a moment to sit and rest in the living room. Daughter upstairs being unusually still.  She doesn’t actually sleep much during our sacred still space in the middle of the day, so I was curious to see if she was indeed asleep.

I crept up the stairs and found her lying flat on her stomach at the top of the stairs, breathing and sleeping deep.

There was something about the way she was laying there, as the sun filtered through the window and warmed her little spot, golden curls highlighted in the bright rays and softly falling across her face.
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I lingered a moment and watched.  Watched her breath. Looked at her small features and rosy skin. Things I couldn’t stop myself from doing when she had hardly been outside the womb a few days, but now it was harder to slow and just look.DSC_0006_01

Life speeds by so fast. There are so many things we can think about wanting to do or places we want to go, and so often, those things just end up passing us by.  Or we can become so consumed in achieving our goals that what is already around us fades into the background and we forget what we already have.

I find myself wanting to be more present and more realistic. As mothers, we can feel pressed to prove our worth and the value of what we are accomplishing on a daily basis.  It is so easy to look at our friends without children or those who continued with their careers or developing other hobbies and talents into something that seems so much more exciting than what we are doing. Or perhaps you are on the other side, waiting for those precious little ones to call your own, to nurture and care for and fulfill a deep longing in your own heart.

It is good to pursue your callings.

But oh dear mothers, how I wish I could look you in the eye and tell you that you are doing so much.

If there is a calling on your heart and it is the season, pursue it.  But also,

soak in these warm sunshine filled moments.

Maybe right now they feel few and far apart,

but when they are there, grasp them for just a little while longer before they fade.

I remember reading in a gardening book about waiting a full season in a new house before planting your garden. During this time, record how the sun falls, the water drains, the vegetation grows so you can be the most prepared when you finally begin to lay seed into the ground.

Maybe we need to do this more with our children. Watching and paying attention to who they are and then carefully considering what seeds we will plant in their lives.

Some times we simply have to linger longer and wait, faithfully, consistently, lovingly.

stop our feet for a moment or two

breath

and just watch.
DSC_0012_01– b.e.

falling back in step

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Looking back over these snapshots I have taken on my phone in the past weeks, life is full and happy and I am reminded of all I have. Fresh eggs from our chickens, cookout at our beautiful beach, little ones sleeping soundly, trip to Seattle for the kids’ first ball game, daily mario art, chowing down on bunny pancakes in Easter best, car selfies, silly boy, and afternoon naps in a sun warmed bed.

This week we have been battling a little bit of sickness. Hailey never sleeps well when she is sick, and last night she woke up four times screaming, and at least a few times, I was less than graceful.  Even a poor sick toddler who throws a tantrum when you are very tired can make you crazy,

but every morning brings a new day and I am given grace again to love these little humans who call me mama and feel so much love for me they can’t help themselves from poking and tugging me in all the places I’d rather be left untouched. Who have to get every unfiltered word out they have on their minds before they forget it and want me to share in every experience with them. Who ask me for song after song before bedtime and can’t go to sleep without that final kiss and hug goodnight.

Oh I may be a tired mama who will always want to do more and there will always be busy days and days that seem hard to get through, but every one of these young child days will feel short soon, I know it.

I am reminded again to fall back in step with their pace and live less for myself and more for those around me.

– b.e.