The Wonder Report: November 19, 2022
A Livable Life: Part 4
If it felt like I fell off the face of the earth about six weeks ago … let me start by saying I’m sorry. Full-time work plus graduate school plus a couple of out-of-state trips left me with little time for this newsletter that I love so much. Then after a few weeks of just not showing up in your inbox, I began to wonder whether I should even write a newsletter anymore. There were also a couple of weeks where I considering ditching The Wonder Report for a new format altogether. Finally, after a weekend retreat with my fellow Redbud Writers Guild members, God showed me a path forward for my writing life that included continuing on here, only at a smaller scale and a more intermittent pace. Also, without trying to keep up with a paid subscription option or the latest in marketing funnels.
I won’t always show up with the same predictability or regularity I’ve offered in the past, which is a reality that’s been difficult for me to accept. But if you’re still open to hearing from me occasionally and conversing with me deeply and chasing wonder wherever we can find it, then I think I’ll just keep plodding on.
This week, I’d like to conclude my Livable Life series by reflecting on an important reality that had me waffling and reconsidering and ultimately ending up right back where I started: Adapting to new things takes time.
Let’s get started.
The Time It Takes
On Thursday, Steve and I raided the freezer searching for any little thing we could find that might satisfy a sweet craving. Sometimes I squirrel away extra cookies or a spare muffin, and we were desperate for something—anything—at the end of the day. I dug through freezer bags filled with leftover pulled pork and packages of sausage wrapped in white freezer paper. I found a small Tupperware bowl with vegetable soup, which will be perfect for a lunch next week, and I was happy to discover a bag of leftover brown rice that will help with dinner prep.
But then I hit the jackpot: a foil pan double wrapped in freezer bags.
“It’s Aunt Pat’s banana cake with caramel frosting!” I said. “I think you’ll like it. It’s so good. It was Mom’s favorite.”
“I’ll take it,” Steve said.
“But it’s frozen.”
“Who cares? It’s cake!”
Steve huddled next to me as I slowly unwrapped each layer of freezer bag and foil. The cake looked perfect. I grabbed a knife from the drawer and found it surprisingly easy to cut. When we each had a piece on a paper plate and were eating forkfuls covered in thick frosting, I tried to remember how long the cake had been in the freezer.
“I think it’s more than a year old,” I said, suddenly worried that it might have gone bad.
“It still tastes good,” Steve replied.
“And it’s not like there was any nutritional value to be lost anyway,” I added, taking another bite. Suddenly it hit me: “I think we’ve had this cake since before Mom died.”
I felt my breath catch and time collapse on itself. Mom was still alive when this cake was baked. It seemed like forever since I’d last held Mom’s hand and told her I loved her. So much has happened since she left us, so much of life I never thought would be possible without her. How could there still be cake from before then?
My hesitation wasn’t really about the cake, of course. It was about the months —and soon to be years—it’s taken to feel some level of normal without Mom. And I’m not there yet. When I put the cake in the freezer two summers ago, it seemed like a safeguard against losing her. If there’s still cake to eat, then maybe Mom can’t really be gone. But the freezer has powers that the rest of life lacks: the freezer can stop time. It can produce a perfectly delicious piece of cake 16 months after it was baked. Unfortunately, the rest of life just keeps on going. And the time it takes to adapt? Well, it takes as long as it takes. And sometimes it takes a painfully long time.
Last night, I dreamed that Steve and I moved into a home where I’d lived as a child. It was an A-frame house built into the side of a hill, with six acres of yard and woods to tickle the imagination of children and invite a sense of wonder even in the oldest adults.
In real life, the house held many charms: a connecting closet between the downstairs bedrooms, a storage closet in the upstairs balcony that became my playhouse, an upper loft in the point of the A that was my brother’s room. But it was also a dark and difficult place to call home: it’s where we lived when my parents divorced, when my grandmothers died, when my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, when I once tried to run away from home.
In my dream, the house held just a many horrors. The real trickle of a creek that ran through the holler out the back porch when I lived there between the ages of 7 and 14, become a raging river in my dream. And the water was running through the house, too, creating puddles and streams along the walls and on the floor. Mom was there helping us move—Mom at the age she’d been when we actually lived there. And in that weird way of dreams, I was older than her now. When I reached out to her, she held me as I cried about the destruction of the house. Strangely, I felt she understood that I was crying about all the things that had devastated my childhood home, too.
Again, time collapsed on itself. It’s been the strangest part of grief: remembering Mom at all the ages she’d ever been. I spent my last few years as her caregiver grieving the losses of old age, but it’s only been in these last few months that I’ve remembered—and lost all over again—the Mom I’d known as a child and as a young adult. When I went back to work at age 51, I remembered Mom’s own return to the workforce in her 50s. When I think about parenting our sons now in their 20s, I remember that Mom was already mothering young adults in her 40s, a whole decade before me.
When I awoke from the dream, I felt the tender pain of grief again.
It’s not just adjusting to losses that takes time. All the changes that come to us—even the joyous additions of new jobs and new homes and even new babies—can throw us off-kilter and leave us wobbly and uneasy. When I was younger, I embraced the chaos of a constantly changing life. But in hindsight, what seemed like simple adaptation to a new place or a new role was really just a shallow expression of an unlivable life.
Now that I’m older, and the trails of my thoughts are more established and the grooves of my habits run more deeply, I find change takes more time for me. I can’t course correct as quickly. I have to sit with my options longer. I have to walk around with a decision for a while before I actually decide. Then, I have to give myself time to reconsider, too. Often, my first choice is the right one, even if I have to try on others before I make it official.
Maybe this is the result of being older, or maybe it’s just part of learning how to really live. Because the time it takes for life to catch up to the changes—both those we welcome and those we do not—is the time it takes, even if that time feels longer than we’d like. It’s a way of understanding time that’s less about managing it or spending it, and more about ordering it and honoring it.
It’s the kind of time that the Bible often refers to as “the proper time” or “such a time” or Daniel’s “time, times, and half a time” (Dan. 12:7). It’s a time outside of chronology that can’t be counted or mastered. It’s the wisdom of learning to number our days aright, as Moses prayed (Ps. 90:12).
I wonder … what’s taking time in your life right now? How are you giving it time? What’s tempting you to rush through it? Have you ever given yourself too much time to adapt to change?
Keeping Time: Christ the King Sunday
Advent begins next Sunday, which seems completely impossible since we just celebrated the 4th of July. (At least that’s how it feels.) But even as we dust off our wreaths and order this year’s candles, first, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday tomorrow.
As someone who came to the church calendar later in life, I was always curious why we’d celebrate the reign of Christ in his Kingdom just one week before we’d begin our Advent waiting for the baby Jesus to be born incarnate. But then I learned that the church calendar is actually a perennial rehearsal of the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and reign of Jesus, with Christ the King Sunday actually falling at the end of the year and Advent beginning the new one.
Observing the church calendar, which sits askew of the Gregorian system we follow today, helps keep us aware that time is ordered differently in the Kingdom of God.
I wonder … do you follow along with the church calendar? Does your church? Has it benefited you spiritually? How?
I’m not sure why I’ve paid such close attention to the moon this year … maybe it’s the launch of Artemis that kept us waiting for months before it finally happened last week, or maybe it’s our gorgeous view of the night skies afforded by our new neighborhood. But for some reason, I’ve paid special attention this year to supermoons and the lunar eclipse and even the melodious names of the phases of the moon.
I love the connection that ancient cultures made between time and the moon, a connection that God ordained in the creation narrative when he said on the fourth day, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years” (Gen. 1:14). We still determine the date of Easter by marking the first Sunday after the full Moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox.
We don’t typically measure of our lives by the moon anymore, but by paying attention to the “lights in the sky,” we can orient ourselves to a different way of measuring time.
I wonder … do you pay attention to the moon? How does the night sky or other parts of creation help you to order your days?
How to Inhabit Time
How to Inhabit Time: Understanding the Past, Facing the Future, Living Faithfully Now is an important new book by James K. A. Smith. I’m in the middle of reading it now, but I already know that the next several issues of the Wonder Report will be oriented around Smith’s observations and thoughts about the ways we grapple with time. If you’d like to read along with me, I’d encourage you to pick up a copy at your local library or bookstore.
Well, you’ve come to the end of another Wonder Report. Thanks again for sticking with me as I take the time I take to adjust to all the changes life has brought in the past several months. It’s a privilege to share this space with you and to enter into these conversations together.
As always, if you’d like to send me a note or ask a question, you can hit reply and end up in my inbox. Or you can also leave a comment on this newsletter, which will live in the archive over on Substack. I can’t always respond quickly, but I always respond.
Until next time,