Growing up, I was not fond of summer. Images that come to mind of summers during my school years: working in the garden – weeding, picking, and preserving the abundant crops; extra chores around the farm, since we had extra time; fighting with my siblings –all that extra time together produced tension during the sticky, sweaty, hot days and nights before anyone had air-conditioning.
My feelings about summer began to change several years ago, when our kids were in school. Summer offered a break in the busy routine of school and homework, as well as all the activities and obligations that seemed to run in time with the nine-month school calendar. Eager to make good memories for our kids, I planned numerous outings for our family, which usually involved camping in various beautiful locations in our little pop-up camper.
We explored many of Michigan’s state parks with their pristine beaches along Lake Michigan or cool forests further inland. We ventured into other Midwest locations in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, and Iowa – anywhere there was natural beauty to be found in the great outdoors. (Even in my little camper, I had a strong aversion to Kozy Kampgrounds with paved lots full of huge RV’s parked one on top of another.) Ten years ago, we went all out in our final trip to Colorado and the Rocky Mountain National Park. While I hold many stories of goodness, adventure, anxiety, exhaustion and awe from that trip, for now I will just say that 23 hours in a car with three school-aged siblings, who struggled to embrace such prolonged togetherness, and two teenaged foster kids, with all their unique challenges, made for quite a memorable trip!
The summer we went to Colorado was the year I began to pay attention to my need for rest and recovery, the opportunity for my body and spirit to relax after holding so much that needed my attention in the running of our family. Summer as we’d been doing it didn’t feel like “vacation” to me; it felt like one more thing that was a lot of work and required a lot of me. Chris and I began having conversations about how we could still mark the the time for fun that summer allowed our family without adding extra busyness…and we ended up deciding to sell our camper, stay home, and convert the back yard we never used into our own oasis: a refuge that offered rest rather than work, intimate conversations rather than rushed reciting of details, sacred space to bring beauty and stillness rather than a steady barrage of noise and flickering images. We were intentional in the design, seeking to surround ourselves with natural beauty rather than the neighboring houses.
I am still aware, 10 years later, of how much my soul needs this space and time for recovery. I still look around as I sit and breathe and am silenced with gratitude. And I’m not the only one in our family to noticeably change in this space. This spring my husband, the analytical, driven CFO, took great delight in watching the progression of the robin’s eggs in the nest tucked under our deck. The day the eggs hatched he spent a long time lying on the deck, squinting quietly between boards at the three tiny heads a few inches below. As he marveled at the details of their tiny bodies, I marveled at this man who was being invited into the miracle of creation…and wasn’t missing it.
I watch our children run and jump and splash in the pool, teasing and wrestling and playing and living fully. They’ve created more pool games than I can count over the years, requiring little more than each other, friends, maybe a golf tee and plenty of laughter. The fire pit brings a different kind of entertainment: the mesmerizing flicker of the flames seem to invite deeper conversations, provoke memories that prompt bouts of storytelling, even incite philosophical and theological discussions while smoking pipes. In those moments I have watched our boys become men, free to express and be in this sacred space who they have been created to be. Our daughter, too, has been transformed in this space. Her enthusiasm for the pool has never wavered. She is the first one in and the last one out, her skin a deep bronze by mid-summer, prompting her nickname “Esperanza.” And she has grown up from a toddler in her ruffled one-piece suit into a lovely young woman in her colorful bikini…and best of all, she is comfortable in her own skin.
Tonight we will sit and relax with dear friends in this space, celebrating the end of the school year for all our kids, savoring good food and perhaps a few umbrella drinks; and my heart that so needs and loves this place and all it represents in caring well for it, in honoring the rhythms of rest and play, will be happy.
Janet Stark is a woman learning to embrace her depth and sensitivity. Inspired by Mary pondering things in her heart, Janet writes about her experiences here. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband of 25 years, as well as her 4 children and 2 grandchildren. She is a life-long lover of words and looks forward to reading and sharing at Red Tent Living.