life

The Magic Hour

I remember summers as a kid growing up in Ohio. The days were hot and muggy. And long.

Darkness didn’t usually set in until almost 10 pm, and that meant a lot of time was spent outside in the sunshine. There were a band of six of us boys, all close in age, who whiled away those daylight hours together. We built forts in the woods, swung from vines, played with fire and generally acted like we were living in the early chapters of Lord of the Flies.

I remember running and shouting and hitting things with sticks. I don’t remember many moments of stillness, of quiet. But there were a few.

At the edge of the woods we often played in there was a field full of weeds and wildflowers and sweet-smelling clover. I remember one day picking wild raspberries in the woods and crossing that field on our way home. As we stepped into the clearing the sun seemed to hang just above the tops of the trees on the far edge of the field, and our shadows fell long on the grass.

And suddenly everything was brilliant with golden glow.

Every blade of grass seemed to stand out in sharp relief. The trees that bordered the field turned a vibrant green as if they themselves were emitting a neon glow. The wildflowers became like jewels dotting the landscape. In the air, every speck of dust and every flying insect sparkled as they caught the light, filling the air with diamond dust.

We stopped. We were quiet and still.

The world seemed reborn, alive in a way I’d never known. What had seemed ordinary and commonplace when we had passed through it an hour ago was suddenly enchanting and new. Every rock demanded our attention. Every weed deserved mention.

Our pause must have been momentary, but in our boyhood rhythms it was the equivalent of an hour. A magic hour.

That’s what cinematographers and photographers call it. The Magic Hour. Or sometimes The Golden Hour. It’s the day’s last hour of sunlight, and it makes the ordinary extraordinary. I must have seen it before that day, but that was the first time I’d really taken it in.

Even now, there’s nothing like a windows-down drive during the last vestiges of daylight; that kind of magic on a daily basis is good for the soul.

I feel as though, right now I am living in a creative magic hour, so to speak. Everything has come alive for me. Everything I see inspires me or sparks me. I’m moved and motivated. The world seems reborn, alive.

I don’t know how it began. I don’t know when it will end. I don’t know if it’s just a moment, or a season, or a new reality. But I’m going to take it, and revel in it, and thank God for it.

Thirst

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I’m feeling the weight of melancholy today. I woke up with it hanging around my neck, weighing down my eyes, scattered on the floor, splashed on the walls, hazing up the air around me. It’s not new. Maybe it’s the curse of the creative person, or maybe it’s the curse of all those who live under the fall. I don’t know. But it snuck up on me. I stood in the bathroom staring at my face in the mirror, seeing only the scenarios playing out in my head.

A handful of emails I’ve marked as unread in my inbox, all of them asking difficult questions for which I don’t have the answers. A mental list of projects and ideas and thoughts to jot down, all with little boxes absent of check-marks. A sick wife who will single-handedly juggle two kids for most of the day. And this sort of crushing feeling that I’m far behind in a race I didn’t know I was running.

(Sigh.)

Blink it away. Shrug it off. Hum a tune, and push it to the edges. Save it for a rainy day.

That’s what I’d normally do. But today I’m looking it in the eye. I want to see it for what it is.

I have had good days lately. Good weeks and months, really. A long stretch of good work and seeing God work. A good look at who I am, and who God is and hearing his voice. In fact, of late I have experienced an intimacy with God and a regularity of hearing his voice that is brand new territory for me. So this morning should probably come as no surprise.

A few months ago I started drinking more water, a result of one of the silly pacts I make with myself on a regular basis.

Wake up without hitting snooze. Ride my bike instead of driving. Eat more green things. Read more books Read a book. Seriously…any…book.

Some I follow through with, and some I don’t. But I have been drinking more water. I’ve discovered that the strange byproduct to consuming the amount of water that I really should be, is that I’m more thirsty. (Or maybe not more thirsty, exactly, but more regularly in want of water.)

I used to be able to go for hours—half a day even—without water and then suddenly think, “Ooh, I should probably drink something. Maybe a Coke!” Terrible, I know.

Now I can be completely lost in whatever is in front of me, but as my throat goes dry and my eyes get heavy I suddenly realize that I haven’t had anything to drink in the last hour. My body knows what I need before my mind takes notice.

Rather than acting as a preventative to thirst, drinking more has actually made me more thirsty, more desiring of what is good for me.

Lately I have been drinking deeply of God’s presence and his word and his work in my life. And I think this morning’s melancholy is a case of my soul knowing what I need before my mind has taken notice. I’ve been drinking more, and I’m getting thirsty faster.

Maybe I shouldn’t try to shake this thing off. Maybe I should heed the thirst of my soul and go get a glass.

The Owls

Before Finnden was born I knew I wanted to create something for his room. Something special. Something no other kid in the world would have. Something that, years from now, he could look back on and say, “My dad made that for me. He loved me before he knew me.”

For Finn I created two prints that hang in his room, geometric ABC’s and 123’s. Many nights before he goes to bed he insists on stopping at the framed ABC’s on his wall and hearing us sing the tune as he points to each letter. There’s nothing so gratifying in the world as that.

Since we’re expecting another little one in February, I wanted to create something equally as personal and special for her space as well.

(As a second child, I can attest to the fact that most second-born children generally get considerably less…um…excitement surrounding them. Now understand, I know it didn’t mean that I was less wanted or loved, but…well…the newness wears off. The second one isn’t the first. First birthdays. First steps. First teeth. It’s all been seen before. Snapshots alone are proof of that. For every one picture of me ages birth through about six there are fifteen of my older brother before the age of one, drooling, sleeping, and generally being a bump on a log. But it was all so new.)

All that to say, I wanted to create something for the new baby.

I’ve had a very cool, gnarled branch I’d happened upon (for free) that’s been sitting in my garage awaiting inspiration for a few months. Add to that the fact that Karen and I are a bit enamored with owls lately, and I had the impetus for a project.

(Yes, I know owls are trendy right now. I don’t care.)

I’m not the best at hand-sewing, but with a little patience and the determination not to quit, I came up with something I hope she will treasure for a long time. And something that will remind her that she was loved long before we laid eyes on her.

(Her arrival will be sometime this week. Pretty excited about that.)

The Pace of Wonder

We all lament the pace of our lives. Despite our best efforts to slow down it seems we often crowd so much into our lives that we cannot settle, we cannot enjoy, we cannot slow, and we certainly cannot stop. Whenever my son, Finnden, is trying to pretend he is not getting sleepy he overcompensates by rushing from one thing to the next. He turns into a bit of a maniac, bouncing about endlessly, shifting from one leg to the the other, shouting for no discernible reason, and generally being terribly disobedient. Sometimes I feel like that manic child.

But today I was fascinated to watch Finnden playing with his wooden train set. I helped him lay a track that coursed through the barren wheat-field of our living room carpet, and as soon as I connected the last piece I was ready to set a battery-operated train engine on it, press the button, and watch it go a few rounds.

But not Finn.

Finnden wanted to push the train. Forget the buttons or the speed. He wanted to slowly connect other cars to the engine and fill them with their cargo. He wanted to painstakingly push the lumbering train around the track, head lying low the ground, watching every slow turn of the engine’s wheels from eye level.

When he came to the windmill he wanted to spin it. When he came to the mountain, he slowly chugged up its slope and down the other. When he came to the crossing, he pressed buttons and listened to the noises and opened and closed the gates again and again.

I watched in amazement as it took him a full half hour before his little “choo-choo” had made it all the way around the little track. Such concentration, such deliberation, such wonder and enjoyment.

Certainly, we all need to get better at learning the things we should shoulder and the things we should refuse. But if we’ve mastered the word “no” and have not learned to slacken our pace a little…well…

There will always be things that compete for our attention. There will always be ideas or engagements or projects to which we cannot say no. There will always be deadlines and work to do. But when we discover wonder it is as though time stops even when it hasn’t. When we are captivated by what we have in front of us and around us—peering into things from eye level, attending to the details, enjoying the process—we will suddenly find that our business can become quite endurable, even enjoyable, like a child at play. Perhaps the only way to slow down is not to find more time but to find more wonder, to find more play, to find more enjoyment in the things we encounter along our way.