What Lake Michigan has in common with my niece

The thing I like about walking at the lake every morning is the same thing I like about holding my newborn niece. They are made by God and not too different from the way he made them. They don’t expect me to say anything coherent to them.

Also these two created things are both constant and changing. I walk the same route to the lake every day. It frees up my mind to think of other things and to talk with God. When I get to the lake, it’s always the same in most ways. A depth of expanse rivaling the sky, it’s empty of complication or obstruction. It’s so deep, there are no plants sticking up in the middle and I guess I’m there too early in the morning to see boats.

The simplicity calms me. Even the path next to the lake is simple. One asphalt lane, on a bluff above the shore. One bridge across a ravine. One bench at the end of the path where I turn around and start walking home.

My one-month-old niece is another story. Her face changes from moment to moment; her sounds gurgle up in charming variety. But there is something pleasantly the same about her. It’s the familiar smells—her head smells just like my kids’ did at that age and so do her diapers. She responds to the same motions and sounds as my kids. Some day soon she’ll become so different I’ll forget all about holding her for an entire movie while she slept. I’ll forget the smell because it’s unlike any other smell besides that of other infants. Is it because she’s the cousin of my children that she is so familiar in her newbornness? Am I smelling my husband’s genes?

The lake has its changes too. One morning, it is hazy and there is no discernible line between the water and the sky. Another day, the lake is so bright with the sun that I can barely look in its direction. But these changes are suitable and not too surprising.

I walk the same way every day. I revel in the sameness of the lake. I rest in the familiarity of the way my niece smells.

As if from outside myself, I’ve noticed how much pleasure I’m taking in these two God-made things, and I have assumed it’s because I generally like nature. But now it dawns on me that I’m enjoying the calm that their sameness brings.

So little in my life is presently familiar. We’ve moved to a new state, which of course means a new house and all sorts of other new things. We now live close to two sets of family (including the sweet-smelling niece). We are just normal participants in our church, rather than being church leaders. Half the people in our neighborhood talk loudly on the phone in Spanish and the other people have professional landscapers mow their lawns. We fit into neither category and feel a little like live-in tourists. But we like it here.

Also unfamiliar is staying at home with my kids rather than sending everyone off to school/daycare so I can go to work. Exceedingly unfamiliar is having my husband home all day every day because he still does not have a job. Neither situation is actually unpleasant, but it does feel unknown.

All this lack-of-normalness has created a thirst in me for that which is known. No one knows the pleasure of water like a desert nomad, which I suppose is one of the perks of being such a person. This is one of the benefits of difficulty: to take pleasure in the things God made because you desperately need them.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. James 1:2

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