Endings, Or What You Learn That Can’t Be Measured. 

It’s the end of school year. That anticipation builds, the excitement hardly contained, the noise levels rise, and then, suddenly it is over. Everyone is gone and the ghosts of laughter and happy shrieks and frustrations are silent. There’s an odd sensation after school ends when everyone scatters. The emptiness and the noise that recently existed float against the walls, and trail out the doorways. The surging energy calms to an abrupt cessation. 
The sudden ending always seem strange to me. I’ve been a student, a teacher, and now a parent of a student and the endings still have that same feeling, mixed with excitement so strong its hard to stand, relief and long breaths, and then the odd empty feel when the action halts. This is my first year as a kindergarten parent. The end of kindergarten was different than I expected, but I shouldn’t have been surprised by it. 


We are prepared for the beginning of kindergarten, when our babies materialize into academic scholars, proficient in letter sounds and telling time; expert in the subjects of chick hatching and butterfly transformation. We work ahead to send them off to kindergarten. We’ve officially started them on this career that ends in thousands of dollars of debt and ownership of a black cap and gown in 16 or so years. We read all the articles to make sure they are ready for school. We’ve collected the tips on how to be the best kindergarten mom and how to stay strong when you wave goodbye on day one. We buy supplies, we get them excited, we make their lunch and write them the little note to put with the lunch. The first day comes, the tear gets brushed away, the pictures are proudly posted. Then we settle into our school year routines of drop offs and pick ups and lunches with notes. 
Then kindergarten ends. And I had failed to fully prepare for the end and the sadness, for the sudden anticlimacticness that seemed oddly similar to the day after I graduated from college. I distinctly remember thinking “now what do I do with my life?” Of course the answers (um, find a job) were there for me, lurking, and obviously she will go to first grade, not find a job. But the similar feeling lingers -everything we’ve been pouring our life into and looking forward to has ended.   

Kindergarten is pivotal. This is the time when small childhood ends. They walk into school alone. They have friends. They form bonds with people other than their parents – they have a teacher they will probably remember, at least vaguely. 

The night she graduated from kindergarten, in a mixture of emotion and exhaustion, she cried herself to sleep. She was heartbroken that she wouldn’t see her friends and teacher anymore. I realized in the days leading up to the end of school that small children have it harder than older children or adults when endings come. In kindergarten it’s harder to control your sense of loss. Kindergarten graduates, unlike high school and college graduates lack the ability to pick up a phone or send a text any time they wish. They (hopefully) do not have social media to connect with their friends. They are left dependent on their parents’ level of intro or extroversion. 
As she cried, I wanted to assure her that kindergarten is a drop in the bucket. I wanted to help her know that this is an easily surmountable sadness cured by a few good days at the beach. But instead, I told her about my own deep ache for the friends I’ve made and had to leave behind in various stages of my life. I told her about my wedding rehearsal dinner when I walked into a room with most of my dearest friends collected together and how I realized I would not see them after the following evening at my wedding. I realized I had chosen a new life that didn’t keep them in a ten minute radius. My heart crumpled as I entered the room. I fled the scene and sobbed in a bathroom for what seemed an eternity to my confused fiance. I told my sweet baby girl that we make amazing friends through our lives and then we say good bye to them too frequently,  but that they become a part of who we are forever. 


The part of kindergarten we can’t test and measure and quantify and see and understand is the truest and deepest part of us. Sure, we grow in academic and developmental understanding,  but we grow as people. We separate from our families and build relationships and learn independence. We have the joy of innocently blissful friendships, quick and easy forgiveness, and happy goodwill to our neighbors. We suffer thru good byes and changes. We live a microcosm of life in one fast year and suddenly we are ready for the rest of our lives. 
I haven’t seen many articles for parents about handling a sensitive child at the end of kindergarten. Most mothers I talk to tell me about their own tears at the end of kindergarten. But what about the child’s tears? What do we do to help them grapple with the quieted laughter and lack of “life purpose”?


We move into one day after another day as best we know how. We do well to remember our own pains and heartbreaks as well as our own joys and friendships. And we celebrate the tiny humans our children have become, knowing that there are many parts of growth that are unmeasurable. Learning to deal with the pendulum that swings between joy and pain is one of those unmeasurable growths. We won’t find a true grade of that sort on a report card, because that is a life long lesson that continues on year after year, making us deeper and stronger. 

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The Peony’s Soul

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Slowly, they bud, as the lilacs fade, as the days grow warm and long

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One by one, they pop open, bursting bright raspberry shades across the lawns

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They open wider, flinging ruffles and ripples across our paths

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They are generous benefactors, stacking pillows of pink and magenta in front of our eyes

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The slanting sun shimmers in the distance as the bowers of bright pink smile and bounce in the spring breeze

And if you look deeper, inside – as often happens in life – you find that more than the surface color and shine exists. Farther in, tucked away, only slightly hinted at, there lives a completely different color and texture, hidden from first view, but ever so beautiful and surprising as you peer beneath the garish surface of a peony.

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Hearing Voices in the Spring

Spring is the same year after year.  Flowers shoot up through the ground and bloom. Trees carry buds which flower and morph into yellow umbrellas and then into green canopies, lighting up against the gray, wet skies.  But the fabulous part of this whole Spring production is that while each Spring carries the same template, no two Springs are the same. No two daffodils are identical. Each year, the shining canopies of fresh leaves are unique.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about writing in my voice. By this I mean, whose voice I am really using as I write. Is it me, is it who I want to be, is it who I think someone else wants me to be? Or have I been avoiding who I really am, so that others can think I am someone that I really not.  Sometimes we work so hard to avoid being ourselves that we end up forgetting who and what really composes our true self. There’s a tight balance between the control required to produce quality work (in writing, in art, and in music,) and between being a voice or an expression that truly mirrors the soul within us.  Creativity is more control than it is wild expression. It takes time, maybe even years to stop writing or producing for someone else, to truly be oneself, but to meld the learning from others and the self awareness inside into a quality performance.

Take a child.  Children copy.  And then they make connections between what they copy here and what they learn there and what they think inside their own brains. And they often “think for themselves.”  At some point in life, what they (we) produce is a compendium of mirrored thought and original thought.  I used to think that every piece of productive, creative work had to be entirely original. Then slowly, I realized that artists everywhere form their identities, at some point,  by depending on others.  Some stay close to modeled templates, maybe improving or changing slightly. Some release themselves like birds from a cage and go off to build their own fantastic nests.

I’ve come to think there is nothing inherently right or wrong with either path, as everyone’s capacity for creativity is different. The important thing is to find, within one’s creative template, a voice so unique, so individual, that no one could be that voice but the owner, and then to keep that voice alive and heard.

Don’t stop your voice because it might sound like someone else’s voice.  Don’t chop off your tree branches because your neighbor has the same tree.  Don’t be afraid to produce and create and plant a new flower that no one has ever seen, in case they compare it to ones they have seen.  Just walk out into the fresh, flowery scented air, and breath and let your voice carry over the breezes.  Eventually it will find the perfect landing spot and erupt into a canopy that is the exact fit  for your universe.

A Little Spring in Your Step 

Leaves open and spread like umbrellas over the sidewalks to keep the showers from drenching. The sun rises early through the trees now, when the world is still and calm and fog can shift and dance down the fields and sunbeams can shimmer on flower blossoms.
The scent of lilacs floats across the mist. The fragrance follows me into the house sliding through the slightly opened window. I head across the lawn, to make the ritual spring sacrifice, the breaking of branches to gather in the lavender flowers with the magic, ethereal scent that defies a worded description. The purple bowers join me in the house in a white milk glass vase. The sun glints on stones in the early evening hours. We walk across roadways lined with the frivolity of dancing, discarded blossom. Leaves make designs with their sunny shadows across the paths beneath us. Pansies sit in watering cans, glowing, gleaming, glinting in the sunlight.

I open up again, to the outdoor world, to the growing world, to the spring. I fling open windows, throw back curtains, pull up blinds, cast off sweaters, pull on light shirts. We all start over. Again. Like each year before. Its Spring, you are alive, go out and live, the breeze taunts us and the sun teaches us. Mud and puddles and green leaves and strong branches and blowing blossoms and bubbles from bottles with wands, and Little League, and the smell of grills, and skids of bike tires, and squeals of children, and the scent of lilacs and the sight of pink peonies starting to bud are the Pied Pipers of the Spring world. According to my daughter, even Curious George says that Spring is the time for being outside. Throw off the mess, the struggle, the pain, the sad. Go outside, see redemption foreshadowed in the renewal of life.

Today is the birthday of a friend who passed away last fall. A good friend, more than an acquaintance. One of those few friends they tell you about that you can count on your available fingers, who will change your life, stay in your life, and whose memory will make you smile when they unfortunately leave life too soon. A friend worth remembering. A friend who would be living well during the Spring and would be showing others how to live as well.

There is the comfort of the ritual, the familiar, the repeated coming of Spring. But always, drifting along the edge of the lilac scented mist is hope – dancing, spinning, twirling, and promising that New can come too. Something better, something different, something dreamed of, something healing, all wrapped up with the ribbon of the familiar, doused with the scent of memories, like lilacs in a childhood yard, flooded with the evening sunlight over a familiar road. A grateful combining of old and new.

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When Aslan Shakes His Mane

Sometimes we don’t realize how dark it is until light begins to hesitantly slide across the sky. We don’t realize how cold it has been until the thermometer budges slightly upward. We don’t know how tired we have been until we feel a pillow underneath our head. We don’t know how lonely we have been until we talk with a true friend. We don’t know how silent it was until we hear heart wrenching music. We don’t know how gray and drab our lives have been until something beautiful walks onto our stage.

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This winter was long. It was cold. There were frequent snowy days, messy days, and icy temperatures. My galavanting ways were kaboshed by Winter. Mentally, my aggravation level rose as I tried to convince myself that I was building a studio, growing a business, and yet each week the cancellations and postponements occurred due to weather leaving me feeling like I was treading water. My husband was gone for long, grueling days, leaving me feeling lonely, isolated, overwhelmed during certain hours of each week, adjusting to new schedules, new responsibilities, and taking care of two children. My motivation lagged, my brain played tricks, my energy and ingenuity seemed as if it packed up and left for Florida. I tried to stay positive. I was grateful for each moment with my equally restless babies. But we had moments. Our days. My daughter picked up the saying, “I’m going to lose my mind.” And then we just lulled in our temporary normal. We watched too much PBSKids and probably ate too many snacks.

Then the light changed and the days were longer in March. The first day the sun stays up later might possibly be my favorite day of the year, trumping even Christmas. Life springs up from it’s dark wintery grave. The shroud of afternoon shadows sidles away with it’s head is hung in shame. The week we changed the time was my most productive week in months. I actually finished my projects and wandered around wondering what I was forgetting to do, realizing I was temporarily caught up.

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This past Saturday, I walked into our neglected, brown backyard with my daughter. To my astonishment there was purple life growing right underneath my windows. Crocus were blooming in small hoards. I got a little too giddy at the sight. We stayed outside for awhile. She ripped open her sandbox and pulled off her shoes and socks.

My baby girl has been going to the windows and waving at the trees. When I take her outside, she looks around at the airy world with a quizzical wonder. My older daughter was born on the reverse side of the calendar. By this age, she had experienced lots of spring and summer days rolling in grass and sand and blue waves. This little baby has barely breathed in fresh air for the last four months- because the air would have frozen her lungs, heart, head, and soul.

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I feel alive again. The darkness is broken. The cold is easing. The light has come. The warmth is gaining a foothold. I want to live again. I want to think and talk and laugh again. I want to read and write and dream and invent and scheme. I watch the investments of the pre-winter season coming to term now. I didn’t realize just how lonely and dark and restless my winter had been until spring broke through and overtook the deadness.

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Light and life join together. We need light for life. Literally and figuratively. The wonderful thing about realizing how dark, cold, lonely, or fill in the blank, a period of life has been is to realize it is behind us and to see the strength we have received during that time. It it realizing how much brighter the light is after the darkness, how much more welcome the flowering life after the deadness, how much more treasured the friendships after loneliness. The brilliance of light is that it shows our need and illuminates our lives.

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Rescued

Last year I found instructions from Christina Fox on to make a Resurrection Tree. We have made our own modified ornaments the last two years leading up to Easter. As we have made the individual ornaments, we read through most the corresponding Bible stories using Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Storybook Bible.  The ornaments trace the covenantal stories of God’s rescue in the Bible- such as the Fall, the Flood, the near sacrifice and rescue of Isaac,the ladder to heaven Jacob saw coming down, Joseph’s cost of many colors, the Passover lamb, David’s crown. The stories of the manger, the woman breaking the perfume bottle before Christ’s death, the bread and wine of the last supper- the commencement of communion, the cross, the  empty tomb are part of this collection.

 My daughter has heard these stories for several years now.  I was thrilled when she saw the ram from Abraham’s story and she said,  “Mom, there has to be thorns around the ram because it was caught in the bushes.” I knew she was listening and remembering the stories when she could remind me of such details. We put our tree together,  tying the simple picture ornaments onto white, spray-painted tree branches and  placed them in a large glass candle holder. The girls love looking at the tree with its symbolic decorations and I like the visible display of each story showing God’s pattern of rescue. I love having it right in the middle of our living room where they can climb up and look at it and talk about the resurrection. It has a spring-like feel and as part of the decorations, we intertwine our faith into our every day life. I’m constantly stressing in a world full of bunnies and Easter eggs and chocolate and bright colors to make sure my kids know what we really celebrate on Easter.  I want my kids to participate in things like Easter egg hunts but I want to make sure that they can grow up distinguishing the differences between perfectly good fun and eternal truth.


I love that the ornaments on the tree focus on what Christ has done for us. I love that they all point to the cross, to the tomb. I love that each one of them shows that Christ alone is the way we have peace and a hope of heaven.  I remember, as a child,  reading and not understanding the story of  Jacob and the ladder. I remember reading the story later on and realizing that God was showing Jacob that the only way to get to heaven is through Him, that He was extending that ladder as a foreshadowing of Christ. I love that each of these ornaments shows a symbol Christ throughout the progression of Bible, that each one points to Christ as our rescuer.


We live in a world where we want to be rescued- from sadness,  from terrorism, from natural disasters, from cancer, from other sicknesses, from financial hardship.  I want to be rescued and safe from these things. While we long to be rescued, but often times were looking in the wrong places and hoping in the wrong things. We are looking at the Easter eggs were looking at the chocolate bunnies and we’re not looking to Christ.

Easter is that fantastic time of year  when we can remember exactly what Christ has done, that he has rescued us. We are reminded clearly that we live in that already/not yet, where we are rescued if we believe in Christ and we have future hope. One day he will come again and take away the sadness, and wipe away tears, get rid of the sickness,  of evil,  and of the things don’t have to be the way that they are right now.


One of my favorite Easter hymns is from the Gettys, See What a Morning. The hymn traces the narrative of Mary in the garden waiting for the gardener to tell her what has been done with Jesus’ body.  She is broken hearted and she is grieving. The story shows the human experience of faith.  I can picture myself as Mary, having come to say goodbye to a beloved friend, with an ache inside,  believing all hope has evaporated. And there in the garden, blinded with tears, she hears a voice saying “Mary” and there is only one voice who says her name like that.  Jesus is alive.  I can feel her ecstatic confusion- not completely understanding and yet wanting to believe the truth in front of her with all her heart. It’s a bit how may we feel today-  not completely comprehending the breadth of the work completed for us on the cross, but wholly  believing it,  putting all of our hope and trust in it because there’s nothing else to hope for that is as wonderful as the future Christ promises us. There’s no other religious story in the world where a God becomes a redeemer,  giving up his life for us to have life.

 My favorite line in See What a Morning is, “death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered.”

The only way Christ’s death makes sense is if indeed, He rose, if indeed, love has won and the power of death has been snapped apart.  Christ love is greater than Satan’s power. Christ has conquered Satan’s grip. This is our hope on Easter- Christ has conquered and we have been rescued. Thise stories drawn on our resurrection tree, simple enough for a child to understand, show us the greatest  promise in history – God’s faithfulness to rescue and redeem those who believe in Him.