Magnolia blooms permeate the view from my writer’s perch. The soft pink blossoms, illuminated by street lamps, beckon me to stop and appreciate their brilliance, my gaze soothed by a warm breeze, my heartbeat keeping time with the butterfly wind chimes. God answered my prayers for a sign with the gift of summer days to interrupt the winter blues.
I’d ask for a sign that I’d be a mom someday, so that I could enjoy my singleness now. Last week’s writing therapy typed me to the conclusion that my focus on the aim itself was misplaced. While waiting for that sign, I seemed to find God’s footprints in the sand, leading me out of my self-prescribed desert. After a few days actively looking, I was satisfied not that I had, in fact, gotten my answer. Rather, I had approached everyday moments as if they were a part of a blueprint directing my path; somehow, focused on these moments instead of the illusive dream of motherhood, life began to matter again.
Which is not to say that it didn’t matter a few weeks ago. I was just too discomforted by my own disillusionment to participate in everyday moments. Mom has suggested I might experience symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, where winter ushers in a slushy, grey cloud to reign over my mood for a few months. Last week, our weather fluctuated, and I felt my spirits brighten on the warm days only to awaken sullen and somber after a night’s frost.
Then Saturday, for Charming’s visit, God gave me a seventies-and-sunny February day to spend at the beach. We set up our chairs and a blanket at Fort Monroe, and we enjoyed the lazy sun reading our books, tossing the football, and walking the shoreline to its passable end. Some families were around earlier in the day, but the beach was pretty isolated by the time we left hours later. When we trekked up the shore, we saw other footprints in the sand.
Others had come before us. We couldn’t see them now, but there was evidence of their passing. I thought about the last week and a half since I finished reading The Alchemist and started paying attention to my everyday moments. I remembered standing on the shore in Spain over a decade ago and finding inspiration in a man and his daughter walking hand in hand, one in the water, one in the sand. I remember finding inspiration in the broken sea shells. I remember finding inspiration in the fact that I was seeing the Atlantic Ocean from the other side.
When did I stop believing that the world would surprise and delight me? In my youth, I found inspiration in everything. I’d churn out two songs a week with lyrics and piano accompaniment. I wrote hundreds of poems in high school. Dozens in college. A handful in my twenties. It’s been nearly a decade since I wrote a good song. Maybe I stopped writing because I stopped seeing the wonder and awe in everyday moments. Maybe writing about an uninspiring world was a natural road block.
Then, nearly two years ago, while driving east on I-64 after dinner at my brother’s, the sun was setting in the rear view mirror. I had the urge to write that Tuesday night, and I’ve been writing on my front porch every Tuesday night since. I’ve seen these magnolias bloom twice before. I know the azaleas will be next. Still, they surprise and delight me. The magnolias bloomed a few weeks early. The daffodil gifted at the Easter service last year sprouted and blossomed without warning.
Early on in my writing, it was my garden that dictated my manner of inspiration. The seventies-and-sunny Saturday gave us a beach day. The warm weekend gave me blossoms. It was the setting sun that pierced my grey cloud on that March Tuesday night. When the sun set on our beach day, I saw a collection of moments that mattered. Steadied on the possibility of God’s footprints in the sand, I saw that I’d looked around me instead of narrowing my vision on an uncertain future.
When the sun comes out, things grow. My magnolias and daffodils and azaleas. And me. I grow.
That beach day was an answer to prayer. Sunning myself with a Francine Rivers’ novel in my lap and Charming beside me, every worry and care slipped away. I knew this day was a gift. The weather will cool again; we’re far from the last frost of the year. I was determined to make the most of the warmth. You don’t waste a day like Saturday pining after children skipping rocks in the ocean.
But isn’t that what I’ve been doing with every today since this natural, overbearing, unwelcomed, maternal instinct first seized me months ago? I would look at the empty dining room table and wish it were overflowing with crumbs evidencing a toddler had been there. I’d never let my gaze shift long enough to observe the piano beside it begging for love and attention.
When we get a summer weekend in February, I stop to appreciate it. When my magnolias are heavy with blooms, I stop to appreciate them. If I considered every morning for the potential it, too, had to contain a surprise, would I not wake expectantly regardless of the heat index? Yet, I’ve discovered in these recent days of waiting for a sign that God interacts in my life in a personal way.
His footprints are sometimes unmistakable, other times nearly hidden by changing tides. It’s made me a better teacher. A half a dozen times in the last week, students have come to talk with me and I found myself really listening, trying to understand why this child was put in my path at this moment, hearing what she’s not saying. I can complete the dozen with interactions with strangers at Walmart and even my driveway, moments I think must have been there all along, but I wasn’t paying attention.
Fix your eyes on the prize. As a sprinter, I set my gaze just beyond the finish line. The stands blurred in my periphery. I couldn’t see my father there cheering me on during the race, but afterward, his face was the first I searched for in the crowd. To win, I had to shut my dad and everyone and everything else out. I might not have seen him, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t there, all along, supporting me every stride of that 100-meter dash.
I think that, perhaps, I’ve been treating my life as a sprint, focused on the prize: a family of my own. I let the sidelines blur. I wasn’t inspired because I didn’t see anything but my absent prize. The beach day was a prize, a gift I didn’t know to ask God for, but He interceded nevertheless. How many other prizes, gifts, signs, or omens have I missed because my face was set hard, cold, somewhere beyond the finish line?
When the sun comes out, I grow. And the truth is, the sun always comes up. It’s there, hidden behind the clouds, blurred with the sidelines. My beach day was a promise. Beneath the warmth of the sun’s rays, I could taste summer, and hope took hold of me. There are better days ahead.
The days in between, the cold days, they’ll attack that hope. They’ll remind me of the empty table, but I’ll sit astride the piano bench and lose myself in the gift of the music. The dreary clouds will taunt me with visions of unfulfilled dreams, but I’ll wake expectantly for an unexpected gift in an everyday moment the day will offer.
When the sun comes out, I grow. And when it doesn’t, I’ll follow the footprints in the sand to a new sunrise.