Vacant Summer

I don’t usually write about summer; all the other seasons, yes, sure. But not summer. It is too hot and sticky, and contains too many memories of childhood boredom—me and my sister, wilting in the heat on a backyard swing set. On days it was too hot, when our parents were both working, we would find whatever we could in the kitchen to try to combine into some sweet treat. I remember one time using Hersey’s Chocolate Syrup and generic peanut butter to try to make a giant Reese’s in the freezer. Needless to say, it didn’t work but we ate it anyway, pretending it was good.

As the younger siblings got older and my mother worked out of the home more, I spent the hot summer hours gabbing away with my best friend on the cordless telephone indoors, and it was my job around 4:00 pm every day to make sure to round up the troops and clean up our giant, kid messes before anyone got home. Around 4:00 pm I yelled a lot; the other siblings didn’t seem to think it was as important as I did to tidy up before Mom got home.

I never really liked summer—it was boring to me; I am sure I got excited about summer when I was a kid, but I loved school with a passion and played at it in the off season. I wrote poems, played teacher, measured parts of my body at different time intervals to see how they grew throughout the summer months. I would often waste the time away shuffling decks of cards on my bedroom floor, alone and unbothered, counting numbers and finding patterns.

I did love the summer library time Mom would take us to routinely when we were elementary-aged; Mom loved the library, too. I could read books to win points towards prizes, and reading was something I did fast and furiously, I excelled in it. Looking back, it seems I needed to be graded or hit some sort of goal I set for myself to feel some sort of ease.

I have always hard time relaxing, a hard time with letting myself simply be. It seems my brain has always needed something to do, and it if it isn’t occupied, it turns on me—like a rebellious, energetic toddler.

That is why this present summer has been so interesting, so vacant.

___

I am sitting on the front porch on my day off, devouring the last fifty or so pages of a novel I bought last week. This mid-August day is oddly pleasant under the cover of the porch, and I can feel the first signs of Autumn in the air: the humidity has started to disappear, the sky is bright blue and clear, the breeze is strangely cool. I flip through my pages; the rhythmic squeak of my wooden rocking chair against the porch is deeply satisfying. I finish the novel and set it down to reflect. I stare at the front lawn, half of it green, half of it needing to be reseeded in a month.

I am vain. I just finished an amazing novel by a beautiful writer and all I can think about is how much my life has changed in the last four months. I also realize—in a flash of thought—that it has been ten years since I have had a time where I was not working over full time and/or (almost) full time and going to school. I am back in school for the first time in five years, but June through August I decided not to take a class and pick up again in September.

This is very strange… for me.

This is the first summer that has felt vacant in many, many years. Maybe fifteen of them.

I realize that most people did have to work through part of high school, through college, and full time during the summers (like myself). However, I chose to go to a private university where that felt like it was the minority. I also absolutely adored going to university, so I was the person who rejected the majority of extracurricular activities to work for money to support myself and study hard for excellent grades, and it paid off for me. I didn’t fool around, and got a great paying (but high stress) job the summer after college. I’ve pretty much felt stressed and overworked since 2004.

All this being said, this summer really feels like the first time I have allowed myself to rest my entire life.

___

It is my day off of work, and I move the spent potted plants from the front porch to a storing place in the backyard, where they can’t be seen; these plants are now past their season and look like dried, crunchy skeletons. Our new dog follows me back and forth between the front and back yards—loyal and true and obedient—moving back and forth with me carrying things. She is watching me perform this menial task expectantly, like she will be offered a treat for observing.

A giant brown grasshopper leaps onto the front of my shirt out of one of these pots that I am carrying to the back yard. I set the pot down in the grass and try to catch it. The colors on its body look like they belong to some bigger, more powerful animal—a buck, a mountain lion, a falcon. I get to gently touch it before it flies off my chest into the grass. I admire it’s large jump from a few feet back.

I see the same grasshopper the next day on the back porch—this is something I would have never noticed summers before this one.

___

This is also the summer that I have made a habit out of reading my Bible; I have made a real, solid routine of it, the first time since early high school.

Early in the mornings—before my workday with coffee and my breakfast—I get this luxurious time of sitting on the front porch while it is still cool out, reading the Word of God. Ancient words strung and looped together, woven back and forth, telling old stories that speak something to me today in present time: Jesus speaking and healing and dying and rising from the dead, David dancing, and Job pining.

It says that Jesus is the Word of God, the divine and glorious truth coming to life and walking among mortal, awful human beings. I am grateful for it—I don’t understand it really, but I wish I could reach out and touch Him, for Him to hold me close, to know Him more than I did yesterday.

Although I don’t understand it all, there are many things I know as absolutely true from personal experience. I have seen His glory in friends being healed, in myself being healed. I have heard the voice of God, have obeyed, and seen astounding things come to fruition because of steps of faith. My heart has changed—so much bitterness and unforgiveness that was buried in it has been healed completely. I have seen financial and occupational provision given freely to myself and others, unexpected money that helps just make the bills, a perfect job that resolves financial need—things out of absolutely nowhere. I have seen my husband, by Jesus’ name, released from a stronghold that lasted over a decade. I don’t pretend to understand it all—I can’t—but it is real. I have seen it. I have fallen in love with a God who is not dead, He does not sleep, He does not quit. He works hard, He provides continually and gives freely.

___

I have a plant that I call my “monster plant.” It is in it’s third season and it grows like a crazy weed that someone fed Miracle Grow. This Autumn Sedum blooms pink at first, and as the small, delicate buds mature, they become a fiery blush. It takes on the color that make-up blush tries hard to be. The bees, flies, wasps, and butterflies all adore this monster plant. It must be filled with sugar.

Two tiny, plain butterflies hover and land, hover and land over one of the blooms. They flirt with one another—bouncing back and forth over each other—and I wonder if they will get around to committing while I am on the front porch reviewing the plant’s growth from my chair. It would be nice to have more butterflies around.

I have trouble not earning everything on my own, like when things are freely given to me; I think it is how my brain was made, I am a worker and a thinker and if I didn’t lift a finger to earn my keep it is no fun for me. I have trouble resting. But maybe this is everyone. This also may have been why I didn’t prefer summers as a child and would rather be working my mind in school—that, or it was the horrid East Texas heat and humidity. Probably a little bit of both, honestly.

This vacant summer has been filled with resting; the season began with lavish gifts of provision from a loving God, and I have been puzzled on how to receive these gifts gracefully and accept this restful season of my life all summer long. My brain runs hard, asking itself the following questions over and over—it’s trying to resolve, look for patterns, learn something quick: what did I do to earn this time and these gifts, what could I do to repay it, how could I try and rest more, could I fill my time with something more productive than mentally resting, what if this slow pace is the rest of my life, who will I be if I am not successful by our culture’s standards, will people accept me if I decide to live more simply, will I be seen as stupid not to chase the American financial dream, what if I don’t have enough money when I am old, should I regret leaving my last job, no—that place was so heavy and dark but what’s next, will I fail at transition?

Whew. Rest brain. Take deep breaths and lay down your hefty load.

The Bible says over and over that God is faithful to His people—amidst the confusing Old Testament wars and sacrifices, the poetic Psalms and Proverbs, the kind words of Jesus and His heavy self-sacrifice, the directives of Paul and his love for his brothers and sisters. Over and over and over and over and over God is faithful, He provides—and ultimately, He provided for our restoration into His love through Jesus. I cannot earn it. I should just rest in it.

God will be faithful, He is always faithful. I have read of it in the Ancient, Living Word and I have seen it with my own eyes in present day, in my own family and household. Will I be? When He calls me to be obedient to a season of rest and receiving, will I calm down and accept it for what it is?

I have a hard time just accepting what I have been given without earning, without working and sweating and toiling for it myself… because I am prideful. I want to prove myself to everyone, showing everyone everything I have earned by my own two hands.

The sun is setting slowly, as the late summer sun does, and the mighty, early evening cricket music plays. Here I am, staring at this beautiful monster plant that grows as aggressively as an undesired weed, and the bees and the butterflies drink it all up, all the sugar. They swarm it, hover over it, stay with it contentedly. I water that plant and make sure it lives, I was the one who dug a hole in the hot sun and put it there in the first place, and they are not hesitant to enjoy it all. They didn’t earn it, they didn’t put the work in to helping it grow, and they lavishly enjoy every last drop of it without complaining—without being so gosh darn prideful. Those bees, those awful wasps, and the beautifully adorned butterflies do not have the ability to provide themselves with such a sweet, fragrant, gorgeous feast. They don’t even have fingers to lift.

However, it is there for them—freely given, more beautiful and sugary sweet than they could have ever imagined, and they rest on it. They enjoy it while it is in its season.

I never hear a peep out of those hovering insects. I love watching them, I love helping the plant grow so the butterflies come and sit. They never complain or doubt or get angry that they did not put the plant there for their own enjoyment, and they never complain that they did not work for it and earn their right to enjoy it on their own.

I want to be simple like them, good at resting and enjoying what’s given.

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