First, by a 2 week long trip across the world to Japan. There my senses, mind, and heart were kept equally busy by the bustle of downtown Tokyo (lights, cement, octopus on a stick), the extremity and fascination of foreign cultural experiences (yes, everyone really must be naked in an onsen), and the unexpected glorious reunion with two precious friends I had had the honor of getting to know during my time in Oz.
By the time I came back bearing kimonos and Japanese teapots, it was time for Kentucky and I to start our summer job: working at the greenhouse.
The greenhouse was located almost exactly where the Hanwell's yard ended. It was a perfect summer job. Our duties consisted of tending the greenhouse plants and all of the humanly maintained plant life on campus. We watered and planted and weeded. We sprayed for bugs and rode around in the greenhouse van keeping an eye out for litter to be collected and disposed of.
Our coworkers were divided into equal parts delightful and obnoxious. The delightful ones were Hallelujah (Hallie, for short), Bob, and Polly. Polly was our boss. Bob and Hallie were older than our parents, but with child-like spunk and seemingly infinite capacity for merry-making. The obnoxious ones, on the other hand, were 2 frat boys who showed up late and hung over more often than not (Curtis and Shorty), and 2 grown men who acted like frat boys (Daffy and Devon).
It was a simple job, but it was lovely. Kentucky and I awoke before the sun and trundled to the greenhouse where Hallie would hand us each a cup of coffee. The three of us would then lean against the counter for a while, staring at the steam and waiting for the caffeine to kick in until Polly showed up to give us our day's assignment.
We worked together on our knees with our hands in the dirt. It felt like we were given new lessons from the Lord through His creation nearly every day.
Kentucky found a plant that had been deprived of water for too long and was withered, puny, and almost entirely brown. She was ready to pour a bucket of water into it's pot, when Hallie stopped her. She explained that a plant so deprived of life giving water could not take it in at all if too much was dumped on it all at once. She had to give it just a drop. And in a few days, it could handle a splash. It took some time before it was eagerly drinking up all we could give it without drowning it, looking lush and green and healthy again.
"It's like people and love." Kentucky noted. It was wisdom. And it was ours for the taking.
When the Hanwells and I look back on that summer, we smile contentedly and refer to it as "The Summer of Love". Between Kentucky and I giving up showers in favor of wearing our day's work of dirt and sweat into mountain picnics and rock-slide waterfalls with the fam, the addition of two more cherished friends to the house, bouts of poison ivy, and saving up for our much anticipated trip to Cornerstone at the end of the summer (a week-long Christian music festival in Illinois), it really was a summer of love for us.
When Scarlett and Banjo moved in, thoughts of Eddie were pushed further into the back of my mind because Banjo and Genvieve began conspiring to hook me up with Banjo's childhood friend, William, who was now a few years my senior and working as an oil rig diver.
I heard them plotting against me and sat down on the floor with my arms crossed, demanding to know what the big idea was. Banjo laughed heartily and said, "Oh nothing. I'll tell you what Will says when I tell him you are going to be his girlfriend!"
"What!" I shouted in blushing outrage, "Never!"
Two days later, a photograph of William appeared on the Hanwell's refrigerator exactly at my eye level, held up by magnets both heart shaped and lettered, spelling out the words "LOVE TRUE LOVE". I narrowed my eyes. He looked like Orlando Bloom. I never did like Orlando Bloom.
Outside on the back deck, I glanced imploringly at Kentucky for help when Genevieve and Banjo lit into giggling over how deeply in love they just knew we'd fall, but Kentucky only suppressed a grin and shrugged. Later she informed me that she was just glad it wasn't her they were trying to hook him up with this time.
A few evenings later, Kentucky and I were slumping on the couch, finally showered and wearing clothes we liked too much to work in, but content to just sit on the couch and drool. Genevieve stepped in, looked at us incredulously, and said, "Please tell me you guys have plans tonight."
We looked at her, yawning and shaking our heads no. "Go do something, you two! Get out of here and have fun! Please stir up some trouble! You better not come home before midnight!" She chased us out onto the front porch.
I wish I could tell you that we created some kind of triumphant ruckus, but our sleepy selves settled on going to see a movie. Pirates of the Caribbean (Part 2 or 3, I regret to say I don't remember which), in which Kentucky and I had to confess to ourselves that Orlando Bloom was actually quite attractive if he was wearing a bandanna on his head.
We then realized that William also typically wore a bandanna on his head and decided it best to never mention it again.
At some point, a chirping emanating from the wall behind the wood stove had us all convinced there were bats in the chimney.
One night, we became determined to get them out. As a visiting friend of the family was skyping long distance to a friend of hers in England, Jim tossed me some goggles and a pair of thick gloves to wear in case a bat tried to bite me as I tugged back the metal to look into the wall. When the rest of the family realized what was going on, everyone grabbed a makeshift shield and weapon. Jim had a baseball bat, Genevieve: a tennis racket and an over-sized couch pillow, Rosie put a paper bag over her head and wielded her hot pink electric guitar, and Josh simply used a nearby chair as both weapon and shield.
This is the state we were all in when Visiting Friend came around with her laptop and webcam to introduce us all to her (likely extremely confused) British friend. We stopped freaking out long enough to wave politely.
When I finally got a peek at what was making all the screaming racket, I collapsed on the floor, cracking up, and doffed my goggles and gloves. It was baby birds! A little nest of chimney swifts.
Sadly, we also found the charred remains of two adult birds.
It's not a great story, because though I tried for two weeks to keep those 5 little creatures alive, they all died. One at a time. Kentucky and Rosie buried them with me. Wrapped in aluminum foil like potatoes.
It was kind of hilarious because we all wanted them to live, even though they offended all the senses. They smelled absolutely atrocious, made hideous noises, were a terror to look upon, and stayed cold and clammy to the touch no matter how hard I tried to keep them warm.
We thought the last one, the strongest one, was going to make it, but no such luck. I still blame a certain incident regarding a very large Honduran man who believed that he needed more oxygen than regular humans and the day we spent driving him to the airport in Atlanta, GA, but I digress.
The morning I woke to find the last one hadn't made it through the night, I asked Kentucky to tell the greenhouse crew what happened. I needed a day off. I don't know why I get emotional about little things like this. I'm not even a vegetarian, so what gives?
I drove up the mountain, parked my car at an overlook, and followed a trail into the woods. I cried a little. I sat cross legged on a fallen tree with my journal for a while before heaving a sigh and wandering back towards my car.
A branch almost hit me in the face. I pulled it down and peeked over the leaves. There was a bird's nest in it. Empty. Not a bizarre find in the middle of the woods, but it was another time that I heard the gentle stirring of the Father's words. Yes, I had failed to keep my little chimney swifts alive, but His eye is on the swallow. Not even a bird falls without His knowledge. And this nest was empty. Why? Because somewhere it's former inhabitants were soaring.
He cared for my chimney swifts. Ugly, smelly, and offensive as they were. Loud, obnoxious, and coming with me into places where they didn't belong. Always squawking during moments meant for silence and prayer. They were unlovable, and He loved them. He cared because I cared. He cared because it is His nature to care.
So goes the Father's Love.
No matter how illegitimate I believed my feelings for Eddie were, no matter how I tried to hide them from myself and even from God, no matter how inconsequential in the grand scheme of things the state of my sore little heart was, the Father cared. I was (and am) His beloved.
And there has never been a single illegitimate thing about that.