“Auntie La La, you got a boo boo?” Katarina greeted me tonight with a concerned series of toddler phrases as she pointed to my knees and proceeded to give each a healing kiss. I hadn’t noticed the array of tiny cuts until her genuine burst of compassion. This was the first time I lost at Kat’s new Why? game. I truly didn’t know.
Why did I have cuts on my knees? Had there been only one unexpected task involving intense manual labor in the past week, it would have been easy to pin-point. Spring break ran away from me on Thursday night, or perhaps it was carried off by the windstorm that shattered my patio table. With only a few days left before hitting the ground running until graduation, it was that “one more thing” to add to my to do list that crashed my internal computer.
My neighbor knocked on my door looking for his bucket that had blown away, gently asking me if I’d been out back before breaking the news apologetically. My friend Angel and I bought matching tables for our back yards two summers ago, just before the twins’ first birthday party. In fact, that’s the only time I can picture friends and family gathered under the umbrella, eating and swatting at flies. I’d hoped for more memories for that table.
Tables can be replaced though, so pushing aside the sentimental value of the table and the irrational preoccupation with this inanimate object’s inability to achieve a full life, I had to also look past the broken pieces of the butterfly candle globes from my high school graduation party. The theme had been, “Spread your wings and fly, our precious butterfly.” I can still picture my mom poised before the desktop computer in the den, designing the invitations and banners. That saying was her prayer for me.
In years to come, she’d morph my butterfly co-identity into a symbol of new life. I’d spread my wings, I’d flown, and I’d crashed in storms not unlike the freak one to hit my yard last week. Eventually, I came to see the wisdom in the verse Mom would reference in phone conversations, “He makes all things new, Laura Joy.” Staring out the open back door from my kitchen at the shattered glass and porcelain, nothing new remained.
Not even the rest of my seedlings. Earlier that evening, my friend texted me a little warning to cover my newly planted seedlings as it was going to dip into the thirties. I deduced she’d read my blog post last week, and no doubt, the seasoned gardener that she is, was hoping to save me from my inexperience. She won’t plant yet. There are too many cold nights ahead. I should have known better, but I still had half of my seedlings ready in pods, so I could replant in a few weeks without losing anything, really. It would be okay.
Friday morning, I awoke with plans to finish the last of my grading and clean the house. The broken table had all but crushed my spirits the night before, so I’d opted to leave the back door closed and save that clean up party for another day. I fixed some tea to sooth my allergy-raw sore throat and thought to move the laundry to the dryer before I started on essays. The basin was still full of water. I ran it again. It cycled until spin, then stopped and refused to drain.
It’s broken once before, and I fixed it after one Youtube video. I’d knock this out, then get back to my to do list… and as I pulled the unit away from the wall, I knocked over a bottle of beer I’d been saving for a friend. Perhaps that’s when I got the cuts Katarina discovered, picking up the shattered pieces and cleaning up dirty, brown beer-water mixed with whatever’s gathered under the washing machine and portable dishwasher over the past two and a half years.
Two hours and ten Youtube videos later, I’d ruled out every problem capable of being diagnosed. This broken washer-dryer combo superseded every responsibility pre-ordained for this day. I was consumed by the need to fix it, and Mom found a way of consoling me by funding a Craigslist replacement. Charming would be there Saturday to help with the moving truck. It wasn’t how I wanted to spend the last weekend of spring break, but this was happening.
By Friday afternoon, I put the kitchen back in proper order. I had a plan to fix that problem the next day, so I stepped outside to check out the one in the vegetable garden. I’d been warned, but it was too late. Half the planted seedlings had died overnight. As I turned my back on the garden, I walked purposefully toward the table where the rest of the seedlings has been awaiting planting. In the light of day, the shattered pieces of glass shimmered and sparkled like a glitter fairy had visited instead of a windstorm. They bounced off the fractured pods of dirt that used to contain markers. These plants were all dead, too, mixed in amongst the glass and porcelain.
A table where there should have held a family grilling out in the summer nights. A candle globe that used to mean I would be successful, that came to mean there was new life for me yet. Tiny little plants that I started from seed, life snuffed out before they could ever dream of a harvest. So much lost in a wind storm. It was just too much.
A deflated ball doesn’t bounce. The allergies, the table, the seedlings, the washing machine, the unfinished to do list… each took my attention, and with it, my air. Little by little. I wasn’t resilient. I was defeated, emptied, and I couldn’t bounce back. Even with Charming here the next day to help me out with the old and in with the new, I was miserable. Rational or not, perhaps I’ve been spending too much time in Old Testament prophesies lately, but I was questioning what I’d done to lose God’s favor. Like little Katarina, I was asking, “Why, God?”
By yesterday, my gym mentor Chuck told me I needed a change in perspective. He sent me to Fort Monroe beach to take a walk after our workout. I settled in on an outcropping of deserted rocks just as the sun was setting. I could not see a single seedling, but rather a foreground of rock and foliage encompassed by a vast expanse of sea and sky where I was suddenly as small as I should be again.
And there, amidst the changing tides, God breathed into the silence and filled me up again. I thought of the things I’d lost in the week before. Within an hour of putting the old washer and table frame on the curb, a couple of men loaded them effortlessly into a truck and carried them away. Metal scraps must be worth something to them. I remembered putting the trunks of the old oak tree on the same spot two years ago and seeing them hauled off to be used for firewood, or perhaps something else if someone had the right tools.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, they say. I’ve seen how man can take broken things and give them new purpose. Sitting atop the dunes, watching a full moon rise across the water, feeling the cool breeze intensify without the sun to mask it, I saw things as they were. They were small, but they were also symbols, like the butterfly, of God’s ability to make all things new.
My spring break misery, I suspect, had far less to do with the tangible things that were breaking than with my own personal failings. It was easier to focus my energy on fixing the problems I could see and do something about than the unnerving quiet of a vacation that gave me too much time to imagine the life I think I’m supposed to have at thirty-four.
I was grasping at straws for control in the chaos. When I stopped trying, when I escaped from the busyness and the noise and the to do list, when I sat still with a full view of God’s inspired, inspiring creation, I could only laugh at my futile attempts to control anything at all. The surface of the water shimmered like the broken pieces of glass I gathered in the yard on my hands and knees… ahh, that’s why I have those cuts, Katarina.
Not even three years old, Kat wants to know the “why?” behind everything. I think it’s human nature. I wanted to know why all these unfortunate things were happening to me. I asked God why, too, but He didn’t play the game. Instead, He reminded me of His ability to turn my trash into a treasure.
Only God can make shattered glass brilliant, glistening in the sun like the waves of the ocean. The glass, the ocean, me… all in His full view.