Eastertide {Ithilien House}

Leaning against the back door jamb on Easter Sunday, I laugh out loud.

The children are searching for the last of the eggs. Little fans of tulle and dapper shirt collars peek from underneath their winter jackets as they retrace their steps. I wasn’t watching carefully enough to drop hints, but every year the fathers seem to find one memorable hiding place that the girls and I grin over in the months that follow. The first year we invited friends over, we hid the eggs in our wee front yard, and Y found a way to balance one on our car door handle.

A cheer goes up from the pebble border around our garden. The last precious egg has been uncovered — literally.

Nick buried it in the rocks.

Later, gathered around two tables, we pray a simple liturgy — the Sunday table blessing from Every Moment Holy — all together with babes in arms and little ones clustering round, and we eat, and we talk. There is no agenda today but to enjoy each other’s company for as long as we can. This is our second year hosting this particular combination of families, and we love them.

I think back to Good Friday: how a sudden knot of tears rose in my throat as I watched Lucy receive communion, and again when Little Jo sang the Doxology beside me with all her heart and all the strength of her diaphragm. God’s faithfulness rang in my ears in the hush of that service.

And now, without any contrivance or planning on my part, signs of that selfsame faithfulness overlay the table. Red stripes on snowy white linens. Leftover baby blooms from Saturday’s shy hello to our neighbors. Blue flowers, for Homeward longing. We sit with our friends beneath the cross and metal figures that Y carved for me as a wedding anniversary gift, and an embroidered reminder that God’s eye is on the sparrow, and a framed exhortation to “. . . give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

It’s a table laden with joy.

*

In the first week of May, I scrub the bathtub with a vengeance. I’ve finally found a cleaning combination that works on this stubborn old thing, and it’s both a relief and a triumph — as well as a searing workout — to hang half upside-down turning the surface a sparkling white.

But as the sponge reaches the last concave corner a sob escapes me out of nowhere, and I set my teeth and lean my weight into the scouring until it passes.

Y’s dad has dementia, and it is spiraling downward in ways we never knew it could. My husband’s phone has become a portable firehouse alarm.

The next week will bring more stability, but for now the ongoing uncertainty casts a pall over our relentless calendar. Life insists upon trotting on between phone calls and appointments, between concerts and end-of-year exams and children’s events that we would not relinquish and yet cannot give our undivided attention, though we try.

I regularly forget what the date is, and when I check, I can’t remember what it will hold. Y discovers halfway through my jury service that I typed Lucy’s dental appointment into the wrong month.

But as I flip planner pages I realize — incredulously, but so gratefully — that it is still Easter.

And the recesses of my memory have something to say about the latter days of Eastertide.

It has always struck me as remarkable that when the writers of the four Gospels come to the most important part of the story they have to tell, they tell it in whispers. . . . The way the Gospel writers tell it, in other words, Jesus came back from death not in a blaze of glory but more like a candle flame in the dark, flickering first in this place, then in that place, then in no place at all. . . . It was the most extraordinary thing they believed had ever happened, and yet they tell it so quietly that you have to lean close to be sure what they are telling. They tell it as softly as a secret, as something so precious, and holy, and fragile, and unbelievable, and true, that to tell it any other way would be somehow to dishonor it. . . . That is why the Sundays after Easter are so precious, and precious because, in their comparatively subdued, low-key way, they seem not only closer to how the resurrection actually took place as the Gospels describe it but, more important still, closer to the reality of the resurrection as you and I are apt to experience it.

 Frederick Buechner, The Longing for Home, 142-144

I’m learning something about candle flames in the dark.

*

I have killed whole families of seedlings this year. Hapless red pear tomato and blue salvia plants have drowned or thirsted or baked to death, withering under my neglect. The once-grassy lawn in the backyard is mostly a crisp, interwoven slab of brown.

I lose patience with my children on countless days and hug them tightly afterward, and in the evenings I pray that these human souls will be more resilient in the hands of this deficient caregiver than vegetable starts.

Yet somehow the girls are growing. Sometimes I see it in moments that take my breath away, as when I spot a volunteer flower shoot coming up through the mulch.

During a car ride in February, as Andrew Peterson’s “We Will Survive” was ending, Lucy remarked thoughtfully that she liked the song. It was her favorite on the album, she said. I asked her what she loved about it.

“I don’t know… well, I think it fills me with hope. And courage. Like the kind of hope that says everything will be okay, and the wind will not blow us away, and that Christ is risen. That kind of hope. And the kind of courage where you know that anything can happen, but it’s okay, because no matter what, God is with you and you will be all right.”

I looked back at her in the rearview mirror, eyes brimming with love for this girl and the work of the Spirit dwelling within her. The kind of faith I want for her, I realize, will have to pass through fire to come to fruition, through trials and doubts and full-on refusals to give way to fear. But I also believe there is fruit here already from seeds that I’ve never had the ability to awaken or tend.

“But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through?”

“We do.”

– Andrew Peterson, Is He Worthy

May these two saplings “send out their roots by the stream,” I pray.

May they draw always from Living Water.

*

On the day of our region’s average last frost, Y and the girls sprinkle handfuls of white clover seed over the struggling lawn, and soak the ground.

Twenty feet away, the Endless Summer hydrangea I planted looks as though it’s being roasted and bleached by the sun, or a disease I haven’t had the time to look up. But there is a tiny cluster of a flower emerging between two winged leaves, and I stoop to look at it on every walk through the garden.

Every winter I forget. I don’t fail to remember that the flowers will bloom again or that the landscape will eventually turn green; I forget that these miraculous things and the cloudless blue sky and the sheer warmth of the sun will make me giddy with happiness. I forget how blithe and willing I will be to pack spontaneous picnics and let the sun beat down on the back of my neck while pruning. In the dark and early months of the year I hear the approach of life-after-death, borne on birdsong and chinook breath, but I forget just how alive that resurrection will be.

Every year, the Maker of the seasons ambushes me with delight.

*

In the last, long light of a May day I step out into the backyard. I pull on one gardening glove to pluck a sprig of woolly thyme out of the ground, and I bring out the camera to take photos of the lilac tree and the wall of greenery along the back fence, for remembrance on icy winter days.

As I snap away, Little Jo puts on her own small gardening gloves to pull dandelions, and busily collects them.

“Come and see my dandelion patches!” she calls, after a while.

She has placed each one in a tuft of grass.

Little flames of sunshine gold highlight the spots where green life endures, flickering here and there in the dead thatch.

Like Joy igniting where it has no reason to appear.

Like a Master Gardener bringing the brilliant reality of the resurrection home to a parched heart.

We survey her handiwork together, and I hug her. “It’s beautiful.”

And it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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