Last week, in a piece I wrote over at antler (On Writing: Ego, Insecurity, and the Life of the Beloved) I mentioned the 14,000 (or so) words I wrote in the making of Found. And the 7,500 of those words that I cut. Some of those chopping sessions were a bit more painful than others. Some felt like shedding a jacket when I'd gotten too warm. Others felt like slicing a finger off because it was itching. Either way, all those lovely words aren't there anymore. They're just jumbled together in my computer's hard drive, feeling lonely. So I thought it might be fun to spend a few days over the next couple of week letting you peek in at the parts that did not make the final cut.
This is top secret stuff, you guys. Don't tell anybody. (I'm kidding. Y'all go ahead and tell.)
March – Fourth Week of Lent
It’s March and the brief chill of San Francisco winter is over already. The sun is bright; the air is warming. The leaves that never fell off the tree are still green. It’s a spring unlike any spring I’ve known before.
I’m still not sure how I feel about living in a place where no one has to suffer through winter. How can you really feel grateful for new leaves on the trees and green grass and warmth on your skin if you haven’t been living with the constant chill and the yellow grass and broken branches reaching desperate toward the gray sky?
San Francisco is too easy.
I wake up at 8:30 on Saturday morning. Chris has let me sleep in and I’m reading in bed when he and August break into the room. “Guess what I just found on Craigslist?” Chris sings his words like they’re lyrics to a Jackson Five song.
“What?” I raise an eyebrow, dare him to order some new tool for the kitchen off the internet. We already have everything we need to create sausage from scratch and he is now perfecting the art of cocktail making.
He smiles. “First I want you to look outside at this beautiful day and tell me what you think we should do.”
“I don’t know. Go to the park?”
I’m still under the covers. Chris is sitting on the bed beside my legs and August is trying to balance on my thighs then jumping to land in my lap. Over and over. Every time his bottom hits my legs, I make a “gmmmph!” noise.
“I don’t know. Go to the beach?” I say.
“Nope,” he teases, then grins as if he can’t contain how happy he is on my behalf that I’m married to such a wonderful man.
“I thought we should go on a hike in Marin! And on our way, we should pick up a hiking backpack for August.”
I smile. “Really?”
Here’s the thing: Chris and I come from two very different worlds. In Chris’ family being outdoors meant playing tennis, sitting by the pool, and hoisting sails on a boat. In mine it meant camping in the mountains: fly-fishing, hiking trails, and sitting around a campfire.
In my young adulthood, pre-marriage, I fancied myself an “outdoors girl.” It was not in my plan to marry a guy who didn’t camp. (And while we’re at it, who didn’t play the guitar.) It was a joke at first. Our courtship was so intense and our connection so obvious, that the lack of the outdoorsy element was just something to laugh about. And then we got married and never went camping. I’ve missed that part of my life.
I can’t believe he’s come up with this idea. And even found the backpack on Craigslist.
“Why don’t you go get ready?” he smiles at me while August throws his body on top of mine over and over.
And like that, I’m out of bed.
We drive north across the Golden Gate Bridge toward Marin County. The sun glitters bright off its deep orange towers, shimmering down the suspension cables. And ahead of us sits golden mountains, hemmed in by bright blue water. The beauty here is overwhelming. How is it possible that the ocean and the mountains and the city can all live side by side? Chris and I quiet ourselves as we move on metal across the bay.
After a half hour drive, we arrive at a beach with a picnic lunch. And soon we’re fed and August perches in the pack on his father’s shoulders.
Being in the woods, walking along a trail, touching the bark of a tree, jumping over a stream—these things feel like childhood to me. They feel like home. I walk this trail thinking of that time four years ago when I made Micha’s Anti-Depression Plan, promising myself that I would spend time in the woods once a week. I think I followed through a total of three times.
I’m wondering why it feels so much easier to pray when I’m doing this. My prayers are small and simple as I walk behind my husband and son. I’m grateful for them. I’m grateful for the sounds. I recite poems I love, mouthing the words in whispers: “Glory be to God for dappled things / For skies of couple color as a brinded cow.” My feet crunch sticks and my very tall husband bows his head under branches while our 21-month-old shouts “duck!” with him and hides his face. All these sounds are enough in this moment. I’m happy. I wonder how long it’s been since I’ve felt happy like this.
Up ahead the branches hang so low that Chris is actually crawls on his hands and knees under the trees with our thirty-pound toddler on his back. I giggle at the sight of it. My sweet non-hiking husband with his hands in the dirt.
We talk some but mostly climb the trail in quiet. I listen for the whoosh of the stream and I think about everything there is to think about. Eventually, I’m reminding myself of the words I read from Henri Nouwen during one of August’s nap times this week.
“Fear is the great enemy of intimacy,” Nouwen said. “Fear makes us run away from each other or cling to each other but does not create true intimacy.”
Chris and August sing the ABCs and scream “duck!” together at the top of their lungs. I think about Nouwen’s words and it feels so clear here, on this mountain. I am afraid of God, I think. That’s why God feels so distant.
I’m afraid of who I am if I’m not a woman in ministry. I’m afraid of who I am as a stay-at-home-mom. I’m afraid I’m not valuable to the world. I’m afraid I’m lazy. I’m afraid I’m mediocre. I’m afraid I will fail my son. I’m afraid I’m a bad wife because I’m stuck in my own mind.
I’m afraid God doesn’t really love me if I’m not doing something important enough with my life.
There I said it. I look at my child up ahead. And he’s not important? I ask myself.
My self answers. You know what I mean.
I tell myself to shut up.
Then I pray. How much fear am I carrying? I ask God as I walk under the canopy of green, the soft afternoon sun spotlighting through the leaves.
How do I release the fear? How do I search for joy? I ask.
There is no answer. Instead, Chris shouts something funny from up ahead. And we’re laughing.
August eventually falls asleep and Chris and I are sure we can’t take it any more. We’ve been climbing for two and a half hours.
And then, the miracle: the forest opens up into a sprawling, pale green rolling meadow. We stop and gasp, stunned by the view from here. To our right is all ocean, miles and miles it’s flowing straight into the sky, all the way to Asia. To our left we see the bridge and that city we live in, twenty miles away.
We walk along the meadow thirty minutes further and then we finally sit. August wakes as we set the backpack down and Chris, exhausted, lies back and throws a sweatshirt over his eyes. He’s out.
So August and I sit together side by side, our legs straight out in the grass. We share a bag of dried dates.
We spend a lot of time together, this little guy and I, but usually it’s reading or building or playing on toys at the park. Usually we have a project or a plan. But, right now, here, he’s next to me like some tiny adult. He’s as content with the view as I am. This quiet moment together feels like a gift August is giving me just to let me know he’s a real person. Just to let me know he loves me.
August will be two in a few months and I know that marker is officially the end of his life as a baby. I’ve been thinking about that: how to let his babyhood go, how to view him as a boy instead. Maybe motherhood is a constant flow of deep joy and deep grief. It feels like since the moment August came out of my body and into the world, I’ve been asked to release more and more of him. It never stops and I know time will demand I release him little by little until he’s no longer mine to hold at all. Was it really just a year ago when I was nursing a crawling, babbling thing who threw that plastic ball with wild flapping arms? And here I am sitting in the sunshine on a mountain beside this child, sharing dates.
We stare at the ocean. “Who lives in that ocean, buddy?”
He means sea stars. We kneel down in the grass and I pick up a mama and baby roly-poly. We feel their shells and set them back on the ground.
We stand up and walk at toddler pace past wildflowers and August picks and plucks to his heart’s content. We get a better view of the ocean and when I pull out my camera to take a picture, my boy says, “Cheese! Sharks!”
I laugh and imagine the sheer earnestness in this boy to believe that the sharks might hear him and actually care enough to pose for a photo. I look at him, his golden head streaked with white blonde, his body squatting to search through the grass for treasures. Right now. Here. It’s only me and my child on this mountain in the whole world. Just our lives. Our lives held up to a Creator.
And there in that spot in the sunshine on the top of a mountain all the way across the continent from the places I still consider my real homes, I’m aware that God loves me.
 Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Pied Beauty”
 Henri J.M. Nouwen, Lifesigns: Intimacy, Fecundity, and Ecstasy in Christian Perspective (New York: Image Books/Doubleday, 1986), 18.