On February 2, 2021, my husband Nathan and I released a book of illustrated essays entitled Turning of Days: Lessons from Nature, Season, and Spirit. In a grand gesture of providence, Turning of Days released on the twenty-second anniversary of our first date. In the interviews that have followed, we’ve been asked whether this is our first project together. At first, I answered yes, because Turning of Days is the first time we’ve collaborated as author and illustrator. But I quickly realized that Turning of Days is not our first joint project—or even our first creative project.
This August, Nathan and I will be married twenty years, the ensuing decades have been full of collaboration, whether for dinner parties, local church ministry, domestic life, or the most creative project of them all, our three children. We have quite a history, and, in many ways, it’s this shared history that made this present work possible.
I feel the need to say this because I imagine it would be tempting to romanticize our work together; as if some deep passion or epic love story is the force behind our creative endeavors. It might even be tempting to believe that your creative endeavors would be catalyzed and actualized by finding just the right person—that in finding your muse, your Zelda, you too could create. But here’s the honest truth: Turning of Days wasn’t successful because of romance. This book is a product of history. It is the work of time.
Turning of Days exists because of twenty years of partnership, twenty years of getting to know each other, of building a life together, of bearing with each other’s foibles and failures, of celebrating each other’s successes. If by now we complete each other’s sentences, it’s only because we’ve heard each other repeat the same story over and over for two decades.
But our history extends beyond even the time we’ve been together. Our history goes back before either of us knew the other existed and was written, in part, by the choices of those who came before us. Choices that in God’s providence would make us the people we became and exactly the kind of people who would be drawn to each other. In this sense, writing and illustrating Turning of Days was the work of generations, the culmination of a hundred thousand choices of our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents before us.
Do not misunderstand: I’m not suggesting that this book is the purpose of those choices as if all their history was driving to this particular moment. I simply mean that this book would not exist as it does—we would not exist as we do—if it were not for a larger story that we were written into. And as such, collaborating on it was an opportunity to better understand our own lives and recognize why and how they’ve taken the form that they do. It was an opportunity to reflect on how history shapes the lives we’re called to live and the work we do.
In the end, Nathan and I were able to collaborate on this book, not simply because of complementary gifts, but because of complementary lives that began long before we ever had a choice in them. I suppose that’s why we dedicated Turning of Days to our parents, “who chose the land and raised us close to it.” It’s also why I decided to open the book with an essay on God’s providence as displayed in the song of mating tree frogs in spring (excerpt below). I know I run a definite risk of sentimentality with this essay, of seeing the world through dewy eyes, but please indulge me. I’m a middle-aged woman looking in both directions right now. Twenty years into marriage, I’ve had enough time to be able to look back and begin to make sense of the history I’ve inherited. But only twenty years into marriage, I’m also able to look forward and try to make sense of what will be my children’s history—a history that’s being written even now.
“See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come . . . Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.”
(Song of Songs 2:11–13)
Spring in Appalachia is a strange mix of hope and persistence. The dark, dreary days of winter do not go easily, and spring comes in on a dance of two steps forward and one back. But soon enough, the mud and slog and slosh are replaced by bits of green and yellow. The crocuses and forsythia bloom, and the trees bud with those at the base of the mountains coming into color first. And slowly, steadily, spring works its way up the ridges and crests in the same hues that, come autumn, will cause the hills to burst into full flame.
But like any lover, an Appalachian spring will flirt with you, testing and trying your commitment. One moment all will be heat and light with a cloudy chill descending the next. We only know spring is serious in its affections when we hear the faint, sweet mating calls of the tree frogs that make their home in our waterways. Weighing just over a 1/10th of an ounce and only an inch long, these “spring peepers” (Pseudacris crucifer) fill the evenings with an ever expanding chorus of hope. Spring is not yet here, but there’s no stopping it now.
And yet, as I’ve come to learn, an Appalachian spring is a particular thing, and the call of spring peepers is not universally understood.
I grew up in the mountains of southwest Pennsylvania, just over the border from West Virginia, but I spent my college years in the southern United States and found myself particularly homesick during the spring. What I knew to be a lilting waltz with a coy partner was, there, a quick step and one headlong plunge into the arms of the sweat and humidity of summer.
The spring of my sophomore year, my homesickness was compounded by a larger sense of alienation. My new friends and classmates had no reference for gray skies that give way to blue, frozen ground that gradually softens, or streams that run heavy with snow melt. And any mention of spring peepers was met with quizzical looks and the assumption that I was talking about baby chicks. Or worse, Easter candy. I was young enough to regard this as more than sufficient proof of my uniqueness, undeniable confirmation that I was alone in the world.
Until one evening.
I’d just finished dinner with a boy I’d recently met, and we were walking to the library where I worked. We were still getting to know each other, but in my current mood, I wasn’t interested in much more. He told me he’d been raised in the mountains of southwest Virginia, further south than where I’d grown up, but not so far south as to not know what spring should look like. Being testy, I decided to test him.
“You know what I miss most about spring?” I baited, “I miss spring peepers.”
His answer was immediate and sure, this slightly-awkward religion major dressed in mismatched hand-me-downs.
“Me too. Especially this time of night when they’re just starting to sing.”
Not too long ago, I drove this boy’s truck along a winding mountain road on my way home from church. It was already dark, and I could trace my headlights in the fog that hovers and crawls “on little cat feet” across the mountains. Approaching a narrow bridge that straddles a creek, I slowed, and I heard them. I heard those tiny warblers singing their chorus of hope and desire. I heard the sound of love in Appalachia.
If I’m honest, I never expected to live in these mountains. For that matter, I really never expected to marry. And never once did I guess that my first step toward my present life would include spring peepers.
Whenever I’m tempted to doubt God’s providence, whenever I’m tempted to think that I somehow missed the life I was supposed to have, when the hard times come and the pain bears down, I remember spring peepers. And I think of how God reveals Himself and His will. He doesn’t shout His plans from the mountains so much as He repeats them over and over in low, quiet songs that only make sense to those who know the significance of them. Like spring in Appalachia, His plans unfold in gentle, persistent ways—sometimes two steps forward and one back—but always in rhythm and always in time.
And I think of ancient Eliezer, looking for a bride, and how being in the way, the Lord led him. I think of how we all plan our steps, but God cuts the path. How He intermingles all the things that we consider inconsequential, all the things that have shaped and molded us, all our pain and all our delight, to bring about our good and make us the same.
So I idle the truck for a moment, there on the bridge, and roll down my windows to listen to the sound of an Appalachian spring. I listen to those tiny frogs sing of providence and goodness and drawing love. I listen, and for this moment at least, all my questions and all my doubts are silenced in the chorus. I listen, and then I make my way home.
Scripture: Genesis 24; 50:20; Proverbs 3:5–6; 16:9; 20:24; Romans 8:28–29
 Carl Sandberg, “Fog,” in Selected Poems, edited by George and Willene Hendrick. (San Diego: Harcourt Brace 1996), 37.
 Cover image by Nathan Anderson.