How does your family bond? Where and when do you have your best conversations? How do you and your favorite people like to spend time together? What do you do when you want to unwind and relax with the people you love most in the world? What draws you all together? Is there anything you can ALL agree on doing? What delights you and your loved ones?
Jason – Jack – and Will all game – but I don’t.
Jack – Will and I all craft – but Jason doesn’t.
Jason – Jack – and I play a pretty mean game of Scrabble – but making Will play Scrabble with us would just be mean (he starts 3rd grade in two weeks).
Jason and I are voracious readers. Neither of our sons are readers at all.
Jason and Will are watching ALL of the Godzilla movies in order from the beginning! Neither Jack nor I had what it took to hang in there for every single movie.
Will and Jack build amazing creations with Legos – but honestly I am far better at sorting Legos than building with them.
Jason and I walk together once day (often twice a day) and have for years. The McFarland sons would rather ride scooters or bikes or swing or jump on their trampoline than go for a walk. They are their own men and that is cool with us!
But there is one thing that we ALL love to do either together or on our own. We love – love – love exploring outside. Exploring is very different than going for a walk or hiking. When you explore you go slowly. When you explore you look for creatures. When you explore you turn over stones – you peak under logs – you get muddy and dirty and you take your sweet – sweet time. Exploring means looking and listening and lingering – sometimes for hours.
Often when I want to spend time with my entire family doing something I know for certain we will all love – I declare an exploration expedition. Thankfully this takes very little planning and very little work. All I need to do is pack a backpack with water and snacks and announce we are heading someplace to explore.
The past few weeks have been busy at our house and the next few weeks are looking pretty busy too – but Saturday morning was perfect for an outing. So Saturday morning – I declared we were heading to the river. And before you could say – “The McFarlands are Lutherans” – the McFarland men were ready and waiting in the car with towels and nets and wearing the appropriate clothing. And most importantly they are ALL happy to be joining me on this expedition to the woods. All 4 of us love hanging out around the river.
(Having something we all love to do is such an incredible blessing. I don’t take this blessing for granted.)
Part of the fun and the joy of exploring is you never know what will happen on an exploration expedition. You never know what you will see or discover – but you do know there will be laughter and stories and discoveries and joy. (There may also be some bickering and some annoyances and some sighs and some eye rolling . . . we are very human humans after all and I tend to bug Jason a lot sometimes!)
Before we even exited the car Will had all of us in stitches with a perfectly delivered joke at his poor big brother’s expense. Thankfully – Jack has thick enough skin to roll with the punches of having an 8 year old brother and laughed proudly along with the rest of us. It takes real skill to deliver a great one-liner and Will is getting better at it.
And then we were off to the river. On part of the walk there I was treated to the wonderful feeling of my sweet 8 year old little guy’s hand in my own. (I wonder sometimes how much longer he will spontaneously hold my hand?)
I marveled at how different the trail felt when we walked this way on a similar family expedition in February of this year. This Saturday in late July the sky was blue – the field was green. There were wild flowers – birds and noisy insects. That wintry Saturday the sky was gray and heavy. The field was brown. There were few birds and no insects and no flowers. This summer Saturday it was abundant. That winter Saturday it was stark.
We passed what Jack – Will and I will forever think of as the “snake tree” where we first heard then saw a 4 foot long water snake!
Then we arrived at the river.
I wondered – what would we see this time? What would we discover?
The first thing we noticed was the change in the river itself. It was almost August. We haven’t had much rain. The river had changed since we had last explored its shores. The river was low. It looked so different. It even sounded different. There was a lot more shore to the Floyds Fork River these days.
But it was still lovely and inviting.
Jack and Will were immediately drawn to the water. Within seconds Will’s feet were wet and Jack had set off for the other shore to explore.
I began to wander and listen. I love the sounds of nature. The annual cicadas were making a racket and so were a multitude of other insects. I could hear birds calling and singing. And I was treated to one of my favorite sounds in the entire world – the sound of wind blowing through trees . . . I never tire of the listening to the wind whistling and blowing through trees. And then came my favorite sound in the entire world – my family’s voices.
Will had caught his first (of many) crawdad of the day! And Will was thrilled! Will and Jack caught a multitude of crawdads on Saturday. There were small – medium and HUGE crawdads. Apparently the lower the river – the easier it is to catch these pinch-y little dudes.
We always say a quick hello to the creatures we meet and then we immediately set them free. I worry about the psychological health of the creatures we encounter as we explore. I remind the McFarland sons from a very – very early age it is like them being caught and held up in the air by Godzilla or another giant monster. They would be terrified if Mothra zoomed in and grabbed them out of our backyard where they were playing and took them way – way – way up into the air! I bet the toads and crawdads and snakes they encounters feel exactly like this!!!
There were also a few snakes and some fish. But the highlight of the day were the tiny toads. Wow did we see tons of tiny toads. And they were so very adorable! Seriously so cute and so tiny and so blessedly abundant.
There were so many tiny toads in one area that Will dubbed it “Toadland” and has requested a return trip as soon as humanly possible! He had a blast chasing and watching and comparing these tiny toads.
My favorite sighting (other than Will’s beautiful smiles) was this butterfly.
We spent hours along the river. We chatted together. We were silent together. We were peaceful together. We listened and watched and laughed and delighted.
We didn’t solve any major problems like Covid-19 or world peace. We didn’t make any life altering decisions. We didn’t discuss anything particularly profound or noteworthy. We just were at peace for a while. And that was enough. That was good. That was a gift and a blessing.
Our time together in nature restored my world-weary soul. It served as a reset. It was a delight and a pleasure and a joy to be with my people for a while doing something we all enjoy.
I give thanks for moments like these in this broken – strange – messed up world in which we all dwell. They are the moments I return to again and again when life feels hard or overwhelming or frustrating or disappointing or on occasion downright infuriating. I remember the river and Will’s laughter and Jack skipping stones and Jason watching our sons and the sound of God’s creation and suddenly “it is well with my soul.” Or it is at least “a whole lot better with my soul” – but no one wants to sing a hymn called that!
Where do you go when your soul is weary? With whom do you go? Or do you go alone? What restores your soul?
Life is rarely easy-breezy lemon-squeezy but there are things we can do to care for ourselves and our loved ones. We can make time to restore ourselves. We can encourage those we love to care for themselves.
Trips to the river or exploring nature may not be the way you restore your soul. (Likely these are not.) But whatever it is that does restore your soul – remember to care for yourself. Remember to nurture yourself. Living through a global pandemic is stressful and we are far – far from the finish line! (Jefferson County is officially in the orange again and rapidly moving toward the red which means we have substantial spread of Covid-19 in our community and it is growing worse every day!)
You are all in my heart – thoughts – and prayers.
In Christ and with Love –