Lucy woke out of the deepest sleep you can imagine with the feeling that the voice she liked best in the world had been calling her name.
The snowflakes started falling lightly at around 6 pm and fell all through the night. I woke up early to a full foot of snow, a white downy duvet thrown across the Beaver State.
Snowfall in Portland is usually slight and short-lived, but this Christmas blanket had settled in for a long winter's nap.
The world out our window was all dressed in marshmallowy white. I stepped into the backyard to snap some photos and my boots filled with snow.
When the Whippersnappers were little, they wanted to be the first of the neighborhood out in the drifted snow to make fresh tracks, snow angels or snappy snowmen. (That is, everyone but Kyle who has never once liked the snow, something I blame cranky autism for.)
You could call it competition, to be the first out to play, but I always thought it was to make impressions they could see as their own. Maybe that is competition. I really think it was clarity they were looking for. Later with snow-bitten toes warming by the fire, they looked happily over the rim of frothy mini marshmallows bobbing in hot chocolate, and smiled at the sight, so clear, of where they had been.
In the middle of this recent snow drift, I woke in the dark silence of a winter night wide awake. The clock read 3:14 am. Good grief! Roll over.
3:33. Roll over.
3:52. Roll over.
4:03. Get up.
At 4:06 am, I am sitting with a cup of stout coffee swirled with cream. I'm going to need it. Time seems to be standing stock still. Even the red clock on the wall by the fireplace is unmoving, hands stuck at 8:48 for a month or more. Today I will change the battery, but not right now. First things first.
I sat down to read, coffee in hand.
"Indeed before the day was, I am He."
Before the dawn. Prior to the day. I read it as not just this day, but Day. Ahead of the upheavals of the world, the political disunity between our borders and the demands of ordinary life - mouths that need feeding, appointments that needs keeping, the dog that needs bathing, floors that need sweeping, emails that needs answering and clock batteries that need changing. Ahead of all the worries that need worrying.
Before all that comes rushing in, I hold back the world. I ask time to stand still and consider what first? Who first?
Our hearts and minds are a canvas in the morning, maybe in some way all day, but nothing like first thing in the morning. At the start of each day, even deep places within me are quieted, ready to receive sights, sounds, impressions and happenings.
All of this billowy snow appeared as a canvas and got me thinking about the canvas of my mind. Even when the baby cries or the wind howls, a sort of hush falls over the world most nights. I wondered what are the first brush strokes on the canvas of my mind? What are the first tracks in the fresh fallen snow that is my heart?
Your first impressions might be the last of the stars at night, the morning light through the curtains, a musical alarm or birdsong, an arrow prayer, the wisdom of a Psalm, the few lines of a poem, a brush dipped in watercolors, a piping hot breakfast or the words, “Good Morning, Sweetie”, but please, let it not be email, Internet, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or bills – nothing with followers, trends, opinions, news or commerce.
With some exceptions, most days we really do get to choose the first brushstroke on the canvas of our minds, the first footprints in the snow.
I decided many moons ago to get my own feet to touch the floor and read my Bible before the demands of the day arrived. I decided it in college. I decided again when I began my first job and again when I became a mama. Every single time I became a mama, to one, two, three and to four, I had to re-establish the discipline and the delight. It might be two minutes, five minutes or fifteen. I might only take a breath prayer, brush my teeth or push the brew button for the coffee, but my own feet simply had to touch the floor before any little feet hit those hardwood planks.
That was my best chance of filling my heart with Christ, of hearing His whisper, of getting to first things first.
I'm not saying it was easy. Mostly it was sort of crazy, though not 4 am crazy. I'm not even saying it always worked. My kids seemed to have an uncanny sixth sense of knowing when my feet swung over the bedside. If not them, then the dog. (How do they do that?) It seemed especially looney at that sleep-deprived-mama-of-toddlers time to do anything to shorten my hours under the covers.
Yet, meeting Jesus first thing in the morning was one of the best patterns I ever established. Getting up early gave me a chance to decide before being decided upon, to choose before being chosen for, to find Joy and Wisdom where He resides.
I know you can steal these moments to reorder your heart and reframe life according to Scripture at night too. So please, give yourself grace if that works. But for me, by late in the day, I feel there are so many tracks in my mind, crissing and crossing, that I would not want to do my deepest thinking then. Still, take these holy, quiet God moments whenever you can manage. This sacred time has got to work for you. Just consider the first impressions upon your mind and therefore your heart and soul. Whose prints are first to mark up the day?
We all know about snow at the end the snow day. Between the boots, the sled, the neighborhood friends and the family dog, there were too many criss-crossing tracks to see the paths that belonged to our feet or the angel wings in the snow. It is all a muddied mess.
By the end of a string of snow days, we mamas might be tired of all the hats, mittens and snowsuits, on and off and dripping wet, we might be jumping for joy for the return to routine and school, but we understand that gone is the feathery duvet that made the world beautiful, quieted, possible. We know that to get back on the grimy road after the snow has begun to slush with all of the splatters of dirt, gravel and bus exhaust, is to see our way sullied again.
Of course, we know, at some point, we are called back into the world, into the neighborhood and the schools and onto the road, but may we at least begin with a view of where we are going and Whose prints we are following. We may at least take Joy and Wisdom for the way.
Look where we start when we start with Christ, so deeply established and solidly anchored, so dearly loved and finely crafted.
“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
I have been established from everlasting,
From the beginning, before there was ever an earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills, I was brought forth;
While as yet He had not made the earth or the fields,
Or the primal dust of the world.
When He prepared the heavens, I was there,
When He drew a circle on the face of the deep,
When He established the clouds above,
When He strengthened the fountains of the deep,
When He assigned to the sea its limit,
So that the waters would not transgress His command,
When He marked out the foundations of the earth,
Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman;
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him,
Rejoicing in His inhabited world,
And my delight was with the sons of men.
Rising early and letting Scripture be the first to my heart is a habit I kept through my kids' teenage years so I could start in Wisdom and have a chance of ending in Wisdom whatever the day might bring. To this day with some kids married and some kids in college, I still rise early before the house stirs. Most days I manage to resist doing anything before reading my bible. I'm not saying that to boast, but to say it can be done against all odds and with such delight like a child first to the snowfall.
Friends often ask me what in the world I am doing up so early. I guess I still want the chance to decide before being decided upon, to choose before being chosen for, to find Joy and Wisdom where He resides, to hear that voice I like best in the world.
I'd like to leave you with this prayer,
May those first brushstrokes on your soul canvas be awash with resurrected life, full of kindness and grace, sturdy to frame and feed the day, speaking to your soul of beauty, wisdom, possibilities and resilience, a whisper from another place and time that is holy, still and enduring. Oh, how I pray those fresh tracks are made by Someone who calls you by name and cares for you in all of your quirks and details, Someone who loves you and leads you with a voice you like best in the world. Amen
Now, I going to take a nap.