Summer in our South Indian city is no small production. Despite the oppressive heat this year, the trees everywhere are bursting with blooms and their colorful petals carpet the streets and pathways all over the city. My girls gather them and work them into braids in my hair or present me with little bouquets fit for some tiny fairy queen. The flowers are a trumpeting cry, a relieved exhale: Summer has come! Put down your pencils, your primers, your work. Set aside your studies, the tasks that have entangled you (or maybe imprisoned you) these last 10 months and play! Breathe! Revel in the world around you!
Amidst the firecracker show of foliage, there is a certain quiet and ease that comes with summer, even in the intense heat of April and May. Swimming Pool mornings. Summer camps. Barbeques and lingering around the table with friends because it’s too hot to be anywhere else and there are no deadlines or assignments.
I had big plans for our summer. As a homeschooling mom of five, I had researched every summer camp in town from music and cooking to sports and science. This summer was their opportunity for making memories and friendships and mine to take a break from the breathless pace of five little ones who are always underfoot. Any week without a summer camp to attend, we would spend by the pool or at the park, perfecting our strokes and dives and eating watermelon. This would be a season of rest for me, fun for them.
“The best laid schemes of mice and men go oft awry.” That’s Burns. “Man makes his plans, but God directs their course.” That’s Proverbs. But both are saying the same truth: All my plans for the summer were wonderful, beautiful, and good. But God’s plans were better.
This summer, in the first week of April, God planned for our sweet six year old Lily to break her strong little six year old leg in a freak accident on some monkey bars. That sounds harsh, but it was so loving. Painful, sure, but so good and so right.
Lily is my second child. She is quiet and silly. She is introverted and smart. She loves to swim. She does not like attention or crowds. I often fail to draw her out well because I am quite extroverted and she is content to be surrounded by the maddening fray of four sisters. She flies under the radar when there are chores to be done or penetrating questions to answer. Sometimes I miss opportunities to see Lily, but God sees Lily. And God knows what she needs. And God saw fit, this summer, to challenge her in ways that have tested her bravery, her character and have exposed so many areas where she needs to grow.
A six year old in a cast for 6 weeks is certainly not a profound tragedy, even if it is going to mean missing out on most of the fun we equate with this summer season. It is not the ultimate picture of suffering, but it is suffering, even if it’s only in a small way. Lily’s life (and all of our lives) thus far has been fairly uncomplicated. Her suffering is not a scenario I would ever choose for her; in fact I always try to shield my children from suffering. Yet the opportunity to point her to God in the midst of suffering is a powerful experience that I hope she will take to heart.
We talk a lot about it all. If she only knows that God allowed this thing, I think it might make her think he is cruel and unloving. To take her to the Bible and show her that throughout scripture, God not only allows and ordains the suffering of his people, but that he is not unmoved by it will draw anyone to the empathetic, compassionate heart of God. I remind her often that God himself suffered on her behalf and it is a truth that I hope will turn her from running away to running toward him. It will hopefully carry her through greater trials when they come. Because they will.
As for her selfish mother who has thought often and longingly of the quieter kids-in-summer-camp mornings around our home that will no longer be, I am learning a few things as well. I am learning that maybe I don’t need a break from the chaos that often feels like my life. Maybe I need to take a deep breath and lean in.
Lean into the fray, the meltdowns, the spilled milk and the sometimes-melodic-sometimes-dissident music that composes our days. Lean into the occasional falling apart that comes with children (and mothers) and bring it to my Father. Lean into him, the Father that sees not only Lily’s suffering, but mine, and longs for our hearts to be turned toward him in the midst of it.
The interruption of my plans this summer has taught me in a small way that suffering is a gift—a pause in life to halt us, turn us toward our Maker. The days are hot and the air is like an oven, but the trees bloom! What glory is that!? Like the flowers in the dead of heat, in the stillness of summer, lifting their arms toward heaven to sing in the only way they know how, perhaps this tiny window into suffering will teach my Lily to bloom wherever she may find herself in this grand garden that is the world. Maybe she won’t suffer much at all in this life. Or maybe she will suffer much. I pray that she too will lift her arms to heaven in the fires, in the kiln, and sing.
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