Ever since I was a little girl, I have always liked a good storm. My favorites are the storms that blow in unexpectedly, the dark clouds performing a hostile takeover of a brilliant summer day. Watching the rain as it hits the windows, blurring the view, safe and warm and comfortable from the other side of the glass, preferably on the couch wrapped in a quilt with a book in hand is one of my favorite things to do. I have a fond memory of doing that very thing several years ago. I was very pregnant at the time and curled up as tightly as I could be with a beach ball growing out of me, and my children danced happily around the living room, totally oblivious to the fact that there were many unhappy people on the other side of our walls, whose Labor day had just been ruined. I didn’t care. I was grateful for a break in the heat and a break in the bickering that was the usual morning fare. I’m probably the only one in my family with a clear memory of that morning, but I like to keep a corner of it in one hand like a blanket on the days that are deceptively bright and sunny outside, but dark and ominous within. Over time, I have collected memories like this one, sometimes moments sometimes hours, and pieced them together one by one in a patchwork quilt that I can pull out on the coldest days.
There are all kinds of memories in my quilt. The day that I convinced two little boys that they should go out and play in the rain. I thought all little kids want to go outside and play in the rain, but not Seth and Eric. Up until then, dark clouds meant thunder and thunder meant lightning. And lightning is terrifying and unknowable and reason to run screaming into the house.
I decided it was time to introduce them to the glories of a good rainstorm. They were hesitant at first, venturing out a few feet at a time and then running back under the porch. After a while, however, they were asking for their swimsuits, racing down the sidewalk and dancing across the driveway. It was a happy moment for this mama.
Or there was the time that Tayleigh convinced me that Labor day was more than just a day with no school. A few years ago, the girls were trying to figure out why they didn't have school on Labor Day. And when we told them it was a holiday they were even more confused. They didn't know what colors to wear (such girls), they didn't know what festivities we would be attending and they couldn't figure out why no one was going to work. We thought about being all educational and looking up the background of Labor day and having a little history lesson. Except, do you know the history of Labor Day? It is not a history lesson for a 5 and 6 year old. So, we summed it up with "It's a day that no one goes to school or work."
Well, my 5 year old Tayleigh, every resourceful, thought about this for a little while and approached me. "Mom, if no one has to work on Monday, does that mean that I don't have to clean my room?" My first inclination was to laugh. But then I thought about it.
"Nope. You don't have to clean your room."
Then I decided that she was really on to something.
So What did we do that day?
pushed the kids on the swings
have, not one, but 2 picnics in the living room
take the kids to Sonic
rent a movie
let them play with their friends all afternoon
What we did not do that day:
Anything remotely resembling work.
Or my 30th birthday. When John turned 30 he got a truck. It was kind of a spur of the moment decision, and I didn't love it. He talked about taking me on a cruise or getting me some huge gift for my 30th birthday, but when it came down to it, it didn't make any sense financially to pay for a cruise when what I really needed was a computer and all I really wanted was a party. So, I threw one. I decided months in advance that was what I wanted. I didn't make John throw it himself, because, let's face it, if you want something done right, you do it yourself. I tasked him with the clean up of the back yard in preparation for it and I went shopping. It was perfect. I scored a fire pit at a yard sale, marshmallow roasters and white lights on clearance, and lots and lots of candy from the bulk bins at WinCo. For one night my backyard was full of friends and family, kids of all ages, everyone that I love to spend my time with. And for the pièce de résistance, a makeshift photo booth, manned by my talented niece. It was such an amazing night.
I’ve needed my quilt quite a bit recently. My dad passed away a few months ago, not unexpectedly but much too suddenly. This has been the darkest storm yet to cross my path. I don’t know, but like to think that maybe William Cullen Bryant had just lost his father when he wrote:
Ah! well known woods, and mountains, and skies,
With the very clouds!—ye are lost to my eyes.
I seek ye vainly, and see in your place
The shadowy tempest that sweeps through space,
A whirling ocean that fills the wall
Of the crystal heaven, and buries all.
And I, cut off from the world, remain
Alone with the terrible hurricane.
It was a hurricane. A tornado that swept me up and stripped my roots bare. I have had to hold on to my quilt for dear life, pulling it tightly around me, trying desperately to ignore the sting of pelting rain on my face, running my fingers over the stitching, comforted by the memory of a stormy day in South Dakota as my family drove from Mt. Rushmore to Wall Drug, an historic drugstore on the edge of the badlands, famous for their free ice water. About halfway there,
as if the hands
That held the dams had parted hold,
The waters wrecked the sky.
My dad gripped the steering wheel and turned the wipers up as high as they could go to no avail. My mom, however, was less concerned. She was enamored by the dozens of Wall Drug Billboards along the side of the highway, each one ending with the phrase “free ice water.” So enamored, in fact, she took it upon herself to read each and every single one of these billboards out loud. Mile after mile and billboard after billboard, “free ice water,” until my normally calm and patient father turned to her and announced: “I don’t know which is worse, you or the storm!” And my sister and I collapsed into giggles in the backseat. This memory, along with memories of a too long dirt road, planting flowers and tomatoes together, an apology after a burst temper, attending BYU basketball games, and a car stereo pounding classic rock so loudly that the car shook, kept me sane through the strongest of gusts. But not only was I able to hold on to memories, I created new ones that added strength. An unexpected sympathy card from a sweet ward member, a couple of pizzas in the fridge, a box of chocolates, the familiar faces of several wonderful women from the ward appearing in line at the viewing. My ward family was there for me, shielding me from some of the wind, keeping me from simply flying away.
Many of the memories in my quilt have not only kept me warm, but dictated how I would choose to raise my family. Dinner together every night. Family vacations together. Family prayers. Respect. A home full of good books. A commitment to education. A commitment to the gospel. Offering opportunities to learn and grow and opportunities to experience the consequences. Family Home Evening, no matter how short and insignificant, and we’ve had all kinds. Our favorite family night activity for years was a version of charades. We stuck pretty close to animals, with the boys pretending to be all things that growled and the girls everything else, until we branched out and Tayleigh stumped us all by being an Old China Man. And then my dad topped that one week by being a fly.
All these things, plus a constant, almost overwhelming concern for my children's welfare. I inherited that particularly fierce trait from my dad, best illustrated the night I was picked up by friends to go canoeing down the Jordan river. Dad wasn’t home when I left, but mom had given me permission to go with them, knowing full well the plan. She and I were both unaware that due to a particularly wet spring, the river was swollen and fast, but Dad knew and when he heard the plan, panicked. THis was before cell phones were ubiquitous, and so dad found my high school phone book and called the parents of everyone i was with, trying to find where on the river we were. No where, to be precise. Somewhere between the planning and execution stages, someone realized the river was a bad idea and we ended up at a pond instead. When I learned what my dad had done, I was humiliated--this was high school after all--but looking back, feeling the way I do now about my children, I realize I would have done the same thing.
Eden goes to her first day of 7th grade tomorrow. They tell you that kindergarten is hard, but that is nothing compared to Jr. high. As much as I would like to, as hard as I wish I could, I can’t take her out of the world, but I can give her shelter from the storms that are sure to rage around her. I can give her a quilt of her own to hold on to when the world is full of darkness and the road is full of mud. Even more impervious than memories, I can give her truth. The truth that she has a family who loves her. That she has parents who would do just about anything for her. And most importantly the truth that she has a savior who loves and knows her. That he can heal her broken heart and bind up her wounds. That he is her rock, her fortress, her deliverer. That he is her salvation, her defense, her refuge and her strength. With him and through him all things are possible. He is her foundation, that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon her, it shall have no power over her to drag her down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which she, and I and you are built, which is a sure foundation, whereon if she builds, she cannot fall.
So, tomorrow when Eden walks into her new and unfamiliar school and I hold tightly to my quilt, gripping the memories of her asking if grasshoppers speak spanish, bringing all her stuffed animal friends to her brand new baby sister and explaining to me that a scarf will help her keep her balance, I just have to hope and pray that I’ve helped her piece together a strong enough quilt, warm with memories of family dinners, family vacations and family prayers. I can’t keep her from the world. The world needs her beautiful light. Its a dark and stormy day out there.