Something sacred happens when we put aside our to-do lists.
Spring came late here in Maine — two days after Mother’s Day we were wincing at snow squalls.
So much more delicious, then, our proofs of spring when they arrive: maple helicopter-seeds forming on new branches; the great rushing roar of the dams overrun with melted snow; spring bulbs pushing keen bright blades through last year’s crumpled leaves.
This past week the wet chill let up for a morning, and I had coffee with my best friend while my five-year-old daughter and my friend’s six-year-old son circled his house spying all the new spring things. They shrieked barefoot in cold mud and the yellow sunshine that poured through fresh-budded trees.
One of the loveliest things that day was the complete openness of the scarlet tulips tucked along the foundation the length of the house. They were spunky, shiny, saturated. Our spring explorers could not resist, and snap-snap-snap, picked one for each hand and did as children have done for millenia – ran and brought them to their mothers.
Our older children worried – should they have picked the triumphant, welcoming flowers? But my friend and I smiled and shook our heads – “they’re here so briefly,” she said. “Let them enjoy.” We sent the tulip thieves to find water and a vase.
We turned back to the conversation – an ongoing one about motherhood and daughterhood and creativity; gift and love and who God made us to be.
Specifically, that day was the question of creative pursuits. Parents, whose time is so accounted for – who never experience completion at their work of raising – often long for a space to create and live their passions in work not directly related to home and children.
For many of us, there is an inherent guilt in any time taken away from the family, and even more so for something that serves no other purpose than “just” the expression of the creative heart of the dad or mom. There are lessons to teach, sticky fingers to be washed, bacon to be brought home. If I want to do something beyond all this, it leaves me at least feeling I must produce, make good on that time, to justify why I did it at all.
I ask it of myself every time I steal a few hours to write – did I make the most of my time? Is this pursuit of mine even worth pursuing? What do I have to show for it?
Hidden in those questions is a basic human fear – What if I am not good enough?
What if writing — or whatever it is for you … bow hunting or crafting or weight lifting — what if we shouldn’t have put so much time in these (even if it is barely any time at all)? What if we “waste” all that time by not getting better, doing more, being more? What if at the end of the day, you “left” your family for what was no more than (for my writing anyway) a re-arranging of words?
These thoughts pressed on me as I walked from our conversation back to my car, calling my children from the crooks of trees they’d climbed and holes they’d dug. I looked toward the house and saw, initially with horror, the tulip bed. Not two or four, but almost all the many tulips had been plucked. Something didn’t compute, though – the soil was still lined with brilliant blossoms.
As I got closer I saw the kids had taken empty milk bottles and filled them with water, and placed a tulip in each – and put them BACK in the garden. The stalks drooped emptily next to jars of bright water and red tulips that had been loved within an inch of their life.
What had they done? Why bring them back to where they started? All they’d done, really, was rearrange the flowers. What was the point?
Two muddy, shining faces approached me. “Did you see?” they asked with reverence. “Did you see our flowers?” They took me in grubby hands dragged me closer. “Look at them. See them. Smell them.” They were buried completely in the experience of the tulips, to their every sense. “And mama,” said my daughter. “Didn’t God make just THE MOST BEAUTIFUL FLOWERS?”
And this, said my heart, is why we take time away for creation. Even if all we do is rearrange the flowers. That act, of diving into their scent and texture and meaning – of taking them in our hands, even if we put them back wrinkled, speaks to us of God — more than if we had never plucked them at all.
Mamas, papas: create! Don’t be ashamed to do what you love. Whatever delighted your five-year- old heart – say yes to it for a few moments and find Him there.