My state of general wonder

Owen was filled with wonder at the flowers Aunt Peggy sent.
This photo was taken just hours before Jeff died, October 2016.

“Not until years later would I realize that my state of general wonder throughout this process, peppered though it was with fear and doubt, would help preserve my sanity through the events that followed.” Hilary Tindle

Sometimes I will hear or read a sentence that rings so true in my own experience that I feel I could have written it myself. That was how I felt when I read Dr. Tindle’s words quoted above. She was describing the open heart surgery she underwent as a young woman, long before she became a physician herself. When she sought medical help for what she thought was a routine complaint about feeling tired, she was shocked to be told that she had lived all her life with an undiscovered, life-threatening congenital heart defect that required immediate correction.

What Tindle describes as a “state of general wonder” has been a powerful ally for me. In fact, at 61 years and counting, I think that one of the best metaphors for my life is an image of myself being perched on a three legged stool. One leg would be fear and doubt, one would be conviction and determination, and one would be pure wonder, the memories of which go back at least as far as any others I can remember. Though that three-legged stool sits on the firm foundation of faith and trust, each of those three legs are closely related to the foundation, and have been integral to my existence.

The fear and doubt have forced me to rely upon what meager courage and critical thinking I can muster. As with any skill, these traits grow stronger with use, even when they start in complete inadequacy. The conviction and determination have enabled me to keep going even when I thought I would never last. But the wonder is arguably the best of all: a source of refreshment and delight, making it all worthwhile. Even in the worst situations, some part of my mind is awed by the complexity of human survival, and inspired by glimpses of grace and courage that hardly anyone else will ever know about.

I first noticed wonder partially offsetting my fear when Matt, as a tiny infant, had his first echocardiogram. The doctor was able to see and describe his beating heart (with large atrial and ventricular defects, and two bad valves) in amazing detail. Despite the dread of my baby’s impending open heart surgery, and our very reasonable fears for his life, there was a fascination of what might be possible that transcended the panic I felt. In a similar way, Matt’s developmental challenges opened my eyes to the stunning intricacy of “typical” early child development, which I had taken for granted with our first son. The therapeutic exercises and tasks that might have felt like drudgery became an absorbing new world to explore, and ordinary milestones became delayed but usually victorious crossings of one marathon finish line after another.

Despite the devastating sorrow of Jeff’s terminal diagnosis, and as painful as it was to watch all that he suffered, I was often carried away with wonder at his physical, spiritual and mental stamina. My awe of his exceptional nature has only grown over time, as moments that were lost to conscious awareness during times of urgency and crisis come back to me now in vivid detail, often without warning. These “flashback” experiences, which I imagine are common among survivors of anyone who fought a hard battle over several years, continue to flood me with grief and panic. But tucked amid the anguish and anxiety, there sparkles the ever-growing wonder at how blessed I was to be married to such an extraordinary person for all those years.

Wonder is not limited to traumatic situations, of course– and how thankful I am for the everyday moments that surprise me with humor, joy, beauty or mystery. The ability to notice and marvel at magnificent details, cleverly disguised as normal aspects of ordinary life, is a skill that most of us are born with, I believe. Just watch any toddler closely and you’ll see what I mean. But sadly, we often fail to cultivate that trait as assiduously as we do the more prestigious or marketable talents, and it tends to atrophy as we age.

Dr. Tindle is right, though– wonder is a sanity-preserver in bad times, and multiplies our happiness in good times. I encourage you to incorporate into each day a few moments to exercise your “state of general wonder.” Besides being good for you, it’s fun and remarkably easy, once you get the hang of it. As Marlene says, I wish you a wonder-filled day! Feel free to share some of your wondrous observations here.

50 Comments

  1. It’s amazing to come across wonder in our everyday life, plus I try to give myself the opportunity to experience wonder (large and small) as much as possible. How lovely to be able to find moments of wonder in your memory to act as an anchor when you are in danger of being swept away by sadness.

    • Thank you, Jan. We can multiply these lovely experiences by increasing our awareness of them. An anchor is a very good metaphor for it, because sadness really does tend to sweep us away if we have nothing to reach for. I appreciate your being here to share the wonder!

  2. Wow–I’ve got a title for your new book! We are waiting for it girlfriend. You have so much to share that has already helped many people. Why not put it in a book. I’ll buy it and I believe your blog readers would too!!

    • Renee, what would I do without your loyalty and encouragement? You are truly a gift that God put into my life “for such a time as this.” ❤

      • Ann

        I agree with Renee, it’s time for a book! Could be a compilation of some of your blogs, with photos and quotes of course. Or, a whole new endeavor.

        • Thank you, Ann, I’ve long harbored the intent to write novels, but in 2005 I wrote most of the novel I had carried around inside my head for years before that. I finished it in early 2006, but haven’t been able to make any sustained effort to get it published. Maybe one day I’ll go back to it; I’ve had uniformly positive reactions from the people who have read it. I appreciate the encouragement. My aunt asked me to make her a book of some of my blog posts, but the problem is that most of them are too long to fit on one page! I’d have to reformat it. There are so many books I could enjoy writing. I left my PhD program partly because I hated academic writing so much that it made me eager to go back to creative writing. I never seem to run out of ideas or words, I’m just too distracted to focus in on one thing for very long. It’s no accident that the one novel I completed was done, for the most part, in the only 4-week stretch I’ve ever gone without seeing Matt (he was at summer camp having a blast).

  3. I so agree with you. Most of us miss the wonder in everyday things including the tragedies of life. I’m always awestruck that we make it through and continue on to even more wonderfilled events. You just have to be open to them and not shut yourself off. You have been through a lot and weathered it well. Now you are an inspiration to those of us who are on challenging journeys. We figure if you can survive and thrive after all of that, we can handle this small stuff we get. Keep inspiring and have a wonderfilled week. Hugs, M

    • Thank you Marlene. I sometimes think that the “small stuff” is what does us in, because it’s so insidious and incremental. We often tell ourselves that our troubles are minor compared to (whatever), but the effects of numerous relatively minor stresses can be cumulative if we don’t make room for daily joy in our lives. I appreciate your encouragement because I feel that I’m far from inspiring most of the time. Thanks for being with me through all of this! Giant appreciative hugs. ❤

  4. Julia, I’m wonder-filled by your wonderful post. The beautiful thing about the three legged stool is that when any of the three attributes you described is lacking the other two make up for it and balance is maintained and holds steady.
    -Alan

    • Thank you Alan. I suppose balance could be thought of as the invisible fourth leg of that stool. 🙂 But even if one falls, there is always that firm foundation beneath to help us get to our feet again.

  5. Julia, you’ve been through so much, and for so long. I hope the ability to write and share these experiences helps you heal. I hope you’ll share an update on Matt soon. xo

    • Alys, I do find that writing of any sort– whether letters, blogs, or whatever– does have a therapeutic effect. Many years ago a close friend pointed out to me that I am one of those people who processes things through talking about them, but writing is even better since it is less demanding of other people’s time; they don’t have to read what I write unless and until they have time for it. Plus I have to put more thought into what I write. I wish I could do the same for speaking, but I’ve never mastered that discipline as well as I wish. Thanks for asking about Matt. I’ll talk to him and see how he feels about sharing some of his life here. He loves interacting with people but strongly prefers face-to-face contact. He doesn’t like talking on the phone, for example; he’s a lot like his Dad that way. But he is a bit less private a person than either Jeff or Drew, so he may be showing up here soon. 🙂 ❤ Did I sent you the photo I took of him with the puzzle you sent him for Christmas? it was truly fabulous and unique. I took several photos of some of the pieces. I've never seen anything like it. He got several puzzles but he chose that one to work first. I think he could tell it would be unlike any he had ever worked.

      • Ann

        I would love to hear about Matt too. Please tell him that he has a lot of friends out here.

        • Thank you, Ann. I told him what you said and it brought a smile to his face. 🙂

      • Julia, I don’t want to intrude on Matt’s privacy. I know you’ve blogged about him in the past, but please only share what makes sense to him. I did not see the photo of Matt with the puzzle, but I’m glad he enjoyed it. I bought a few puzzles as gifts at Liberty in Boulder Colorado. The pieces are fascinating and the puzzles, I think, fairly challenging too.

        • Thanks, Alys. I asked Matt yesterday how he would feel about my writing a blog about him. He seemed undecided, but not really against the idea. I asked him to think about what he would like to share with everyone, maybe about some of the art projects he makes or something similar. I’ll try to find where those photos of him with the wooden puzzle are. I may have taken them with my phone and then never emailed them to myself. I’ve gotten very bad about not keeping my SD cards cleared off and filed, too. At least excess digital stuff doesn’t take up as much three-dimensional space! 🙂

  6. MaryAnn Clontz

    What an expression of wonder on Owen’s precious face! I totally agree that a sense of wonder fills me to JOY! There are many favorites for me:
    Sunsets, ocean waves, playing in the ocean with grandchildren, rainbows, God’s Glory shining through the clouds touching the Earth, cloud formations, splash of colorful flowers, wild horses galloping, deer bounding through the woods, river rapids, waterfalls, babies “talking”, words, people enjoying being with one another, praising our Lord in worship….
    After I press send, I’m sure my list will continue to grow!
    Thanks for this lovely journey into wonderment!

    • Mary Ann, I have been thinking of you so often and intending to sit down and send you a card. Matt always reminds me to mention you in prayer, even though you are written down on the list so we can’t possibly forget. 🙂 It tells me that he is thinking of you, and we keep praying for healing. You favor a lot of the same wonder-filled experiences that I do. Perhaps that’s one of the things that drew us together. Just as with my friend Renee, I knew the moment I met you that here was someone who would always understand my enthusiasm. It’s such a blessing to know people who celebrate life every day! Remember we love you and are praying for you.

      • MaryAnn Clontz

        You & Matt are in my heart & on my mind everyday, also! Thank you both for praying! I feel God’s Love through my mighty Prayer Warriors!
        Yes, I did forget my dolphins, seals, otters & other spectacular sightings when we walk the beaches in Monterey & Carmel CA!!!
        Sending much love to you & Matt!

        • Thank you, Mary Ann. I hope you are doing well. I keep setting little things aside to send you you– photos, clippings, quotes etc. So often I will think “Mary Ann would love this.” 🙂 I just don’t seem to get around to getting them sent. We love you and will keep praying for health & happiness for you in 2018.

          • MaryAnn Clontz

            Yet another thing we have in common: little piles of “projects” (not wanting use the word tasks here) to get done. Such a happy feeling knowing you have a “pile” just for me!
            Maybe I can attack one of my projects, today!
            Being tired is my only side-effect in this process.
            Sending much love!

            • Mary Ann, just before I got this comment from you, I had set a couple of small items I was saving for you– along with a card– on my kitchen table, the “DO THIS NOW” area of my endless piles of “stuff to do.” Yet sadly, I STILL have not mailed it…but maybe soon! I hope you won’t be disappointed by its insignificance after all this buildup. 🙂 But at least it’s fun for me, and hopefully for you. Praying for an extra dose of energy for you today! We love you. ❤ ❤ ❤

              • MaryAnn Clontz

                My heart is “happy”, as I read this!

                • Thank you Mary Ann! Your happy heart is a gift that keeps on giving!

  7. Chris

    Julia, I think you’re a wonder, and a wonderful person! 😊

    • Oh Chris, thank you! That’s so kind, and I really needed to hear that today. 🙂

  8. Jack

    One of my most important learning experiences in life was taught to me by a pastor friend who said many years ago that life was “a get to, not a got to.” Slowly, very slowly, over the years, gratitude has washed away much of the burden that insisted life was more burden than joy. That magical gift of wonder has taken root and grown as a result.

    While I’ve not experienced anything as significant as the loss of a spouse or of a child, fate has nonetheless done what fate does…show me that I’m not in control. Good move God!

    • Yes, it’s always a great relief to realize that most of it never did depend on us. Or as Anne Lamott wrote, “It helps to resign as the controller of your fate. All that energy we expend to keep things running right is not what’s keeping things running right.” I like that phrase: “get to, not got to.” So true, and often fully appreciated only in retrospect. Just think how many common sentences can be transformed simply by changing from “got” to “get” — “I’ve got to cook dinner,” “I’ve got to stay home with my kids today,” “I’ve got to call my friend,” “I’ve got to get back to work.” As soon as I finish these comments, I get to empty the dishwasher. And believe it or not, I actually do enjoy that task…

  9. Dorothy

    Thank you Julia for your wonderful words. You express your thoughts so brilliantly. It is now two years and a couple of days since Neil died and I’m finding when I feel sad and alone at times I look back at all the great and precious times we shared. Neil like Jeff was very stoic throughout his final years, never complained, even when he suffered from horrific pain in the last week of his life. Such a strong will.
    Loved the picture of Owen. My youngest daughter Vanessa, Mum to Dexter who turned 5 in July, is unexpectedly pregnant after a number of miscarriages and is due in July. Currently she is living in Stuttgart Germany and the family will return here late in the year. There are many wondrous things to be grateful for, like an unexpected kindness from a friend, and especially nature. I love gardening and often surprised at the beauty of a new flower. Do you know of Queen of the Night? They only bloom at night once a year and have the most heavenly perfume. I had four out a month ago and two more about to bloom this week. They are quite amazing. I think the beauty of the earth and our faith enable us to move forward in love and wonder.
    Love from ‘hot down under’
    Dorothy

    • Dorothy, I so appreciate your kind words. It is good to hear from you. Congratulations on your new grandchild! I know you are looking forward to having them closer.

      Just recently when we had single-digit temps and lots of snow or ice, I was wondering what kind of weather you might be having that day in NSW. Thanks for telling me about Queen of the Night, which I had never heard of. Michael (who comments here) knows a lot of interesting plants; perhaps he’s heard of that one. I looked it up and the blooms are gorgeous! But from what I found, it looks as if they prefer tropical climates. Do you keep yours indoors in winter? I wonder if I could get them to grow here in Virginia? I love highly fragrant flowers. We have ligustrum around our deck, and I’m told some people object to the heavy scent, but I love it. They require a lot of pruning because they grow fast and can be very invasive, but I hate to get rid of them because of the scent. It is so sweet and heavy during blooming season that I smell them as soon as I step out the door, and the bees obviously love them. So do the birds, who build nests in them. The leaves stay glossy green all year round. Thanks for being here with me to share the challenges of widowhood and faraway children and grandchildren. Your courage and faith are an inspiration to me! Sending you love and cool breezes (no icy winds today 🙂 ) from chilly Virginia!

  10. Harry Sims

    Even though we have never shook hands;
    Thank you my Wonder-ful friend.
    Harry

    • Harry Sims

      ps i Hope you dance.

      • I’m too klutzy for ballet so I pretty much dance through life.

    • You’re welcome, Harry. I’m sending you a virtual handshake. 🙂

  11. Dorothy

    The Queen of the night is outside all year. Our coldest days might only be 10-11 degrees C and minimum probably gets to 2-3 degrees C during winter as we live in the lower Blue Mountains. I don’t think it has ever snowed here but further up they have a few falls a year. I don’t know the ligustrum you have only have a more common variety here which is classified as a weed. I looked it up and it looks lovely. I have star jasmine, a vine, which has glossy green leaves all year and lovely perfume. It’d be great to be able to grow Queen of the night indoors (I don’t know if you can) as when it flowers I have to take a torch as it is fully out around midnight! But worth the effort. 🌞

    • WOW, a true “late bloomer.” I have heard about Moonflower vines that bloom at night, but I’ve never seen one. How romantic to go outside and enjoy the scent and flowers under the stars. Next time I’m at a botanic garden I’ll try to see if they have a Queen of the Night. The star jasmine sounds lovely too. I looked it up and found that it’s hardy in zones 8-11; I’m in zone 7, but it also said it would work well as a container plant in cooler regions. I’ve had good luck keeping my hibiscus and mandevilla vines alive through winter in containers, so maybe I should try a star jasmine. Having the blooms indoors would be scent-sational!

  12. Good morning, Julia! It seems we need to be wonder-full (? Full of wonder!) to notice the wonderful!
    Blessings to you, and thanks for sharing wonderfulness!

    • Susan, we do. Some days I wonder where my wonder went, but most of the time I can manage to jump start it with at little inspiration. Art, literature, animals, flowers and photographs are all great inspiration. Thanks for being here to share the wonder with us!

  13. Patricia

    Julia, even though the icon for your blog is right next to the one for the Upper Room, it has been a very long time since I’ve read your beautiful words. I’m so glad you seem to be in a good place. I don’t know what I would be like if I couldn’t feel the wonder of all the ways God shows love.
    I want to reiterate the idea of someone’s comment above that you should be writing a book. You have so much talent and your story is so worth telling. I know you think the blog is serving that purpose, but what if the profits from a book could do even more to help this worn and weary world.
    Sending love your way,
    Patricia

    • Patricia, thanks for being here. I totally understand how hard it is to make time for reading blogs, because it seems I hardly ever get around to visiting even my very favorite ones lately. I so appreciate your kind words of encouragement about writing a book. I love writing and can never seem to give up on the idea of doing more of it, so perhaps I will settle down and try it in earnest one day. If so, I will be grateful to you and others who helped me hold on to the dream. Meanwhile we are doing as Michael Blake advised, “keeping a relationship with the written word” and each other through this blog. Thanks again for stopping by and letting us know you were here!

  14. Carol L.

    Julia, Though I am not a frequent commenter, I derive such encouragement from your writing. The wonder that entertwines the losses of life seem best viewed “the next day” and your giving of hope that I will see it (like you) is a shot in the arm, just what I needed. Thank you for sharing. On mission for wonder-filled days!

    • Carol, I am so happy you enjoy my writing. Yes, so many things are clearer “the next day” or as one of my favorite verses puts it, Let the morning bring me word of [God’s] unfailing love.” (Psalm 143:8) I hope today and every day will bring you many wonder-filled moments and hours!

  15. raynard

    Julia, if you ever decide to do your book, I’ll brush up on my ” voiceover movie trailer voice ” so it can be an audiobook” See ( cough a cough” In a World, I digress) Do you remember my wife’s late aunt Ella’s Dog Gypsie? She was the chiwawa. She passed away last Wednesday afternoon. My wife had her cremated Friday. She almost made it to 19 years old but she went blind and other health issues came into play. Mary spoke of putting her down before but I believe it was her last connection with her aunt and it was a challenge that we knew we could overcome. Last night we were part of a murder mystery dinner. It was lots of fun and I got a plaque for” Best Costume thanks to Mary who worked on it for about a month. Pictures are posted on Facebook.I don’t see” any signs of spring and” there is the talk of snow tomorrow. I heard on the news the only state that doesn’t have an outbreak of the flu is Hawaii.” Calgon take me away err I mean ” Carnaval Cruise” I digress

    • I do remember you telling me about Gypsie. I’m sorry you lost her. WOW, 19 years old is very old for a dog. I was trying to remember the names of the other two that used to live with you – were they Oliver and Bijou? Do you still have them? I think those mystery dinners sound like so much fun. Jeff and I went to a play at the Kennedy Center called Shear Madness where the audience gets to participate in the play and decide “whodunnit.” It was a lot of fun. I went to your Facebook page but couldn’t find any pics of your costume. Whose page are they on?

  16. Sheila

    Good Sunday afternoon, Julia. Wonders never cease! Haha. 💛 We’ve been in the “tin condo” for a few days and enjoyed the different setting, especially with Jack. The wonders of Willow Tree are the natural elements of the forest, the lake, the deer (and other critters) and even the darkness. Back to Garden City and the wonders here are just as magnificent, right down to the ocean’s background music. I always find enjoyment watching the egrets in the marsh grasses, as they fish the brined waters, so patiently. The sunsets this time of year are so beautiful, although we’re fogged in at 428 today. I have enjoyed reading your post and the comments so much. I agree, you’re the wonder, my friend. Love and hugs to you and Matthew! ♥️💙

    • Aww, thank you Sheila. You know, I think being fogged in at the beach would be so much fun! If it wasn’t too cold, I think sitting out on the Verandah with a hot cup of tea (or maybe some “Foglifter” coffee 🙂 ) would be a great way to spend a few hours. Come to think of it, I would love any kind of weather at the beach. Except maybe hurricane weather. Anyway, I loved living on the central coast of California, way out on Vandenberg AFB, because every day was pretty much the same year round…the mornings would be foggy (which the flowers loved) and then by noon the fog would burn off and the afternoon would be mild and sunny. The evenings would be pleasant and beautiful, and after sundown the fog would roll in again. It only ever rained about two months of the year, but the fog kept all the plants healthy and happy. Thanks for being here and giving me all these quick imaginary escapes to Willow Tree and 428! ❤

  17. Ali

    I love this post. I have never thought of a traumatic event as a potential to employ wonder. This is wonder-full! I am generally good at wonder, but dreadful with medical fear. I’m wondering if you may have just given me a wonderful technique? Thank you!

    • You’re welcome, Ali, and thanks for stopping by. Medical fear is a tough hurdle for most of us. It’s hard for me to imagine now, but I used to have a terrible phobia about having blood drawn from my arm. I didn’t mind finger sticks, but the idea of having a needle stuck on the inside of my elbow made me crazy. It was literally the thing I most dreaded about getting married, because back then you had to go get a blood test to get a marriage license, and you couldn’t get by with just a finger stick (I asked around beforehand trying to find some way to get out of it). Then when I was pregnant, at some point or other I ended up watching a film about childbirth (probably as part of some sort of prenatal class) and I remember thinking– at about 8 months along– “Is there any possible way to avoid this and still end up with a baby?” 🙂 So I totally get it about being fearful of hospitals, doctors, etc. and I do find that it helps to focus on something– anything– that is cause for amazement or at least gratitude. That tactic works equally well now that I’m way past the fear stage and into the sorrow and/or impatience and/or weariness phases of how I see medical care.

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