We Are Waiting

Advent is upon us yet again.

The beautiful, strange and sacred time where we wait expectantly for Jesus, the Messiah.

Our wait for His birth is over.  He has come. The Word was made flesh and it dwelt among us, to the glory of God and His deep, deep love for humanity.

Did you catch that?  God, creator of the universe, is deeply in love with humanity.  So much is His love that His desire, His desire, was for Jesus, His son, to die on our behalf.

Ours should have been death.  Death, instead, was His.  Because of God’s deep, deep love.

But His is also life.  Eternal life.  Death, even death, could not hold Him.  Death, the inescapably cruel law that every living thing must abide by, was made null and void the moment His lifeless lungs drew breath.

When He opened His eyes, the ones death had closed, darkness fled.  Forever.

And all because of His deep, deep love for humanity.

If you are a human, His love is for you.  If human, His death was for you.  If human, His life is for you.

So what are we waiting for if He already came and accomplished His sacrifice for us?

We are waiting for His return.  Because He promised that He would.  And when He returns, every valley will rise up and every mountain be made low.  In other words, perfect peace will reign on earth.  Weapons will become plowshares.  Lions will frolic with lambs. Children will play with vipers.  Peace.  We wait, with longing, for peace. 

But here’s the thing: sometimes I think that we, as Christians, forget that while we wait we are to be ushering in this peace that we are longing for. 

He already gave it to us (John 14:27).  It is now ours to share.

As we careen toward Christmas, (all its good and all its bad) I’d like to reflect on Christmas hymns that cry out for God’s peace to reign.

How do these songs ignite in us a passion for peace on earth?  True Peace.  Not as the world gives (John 14:27) but as God has already given and will bring to perfection when He returns?

Peace should be spill from the lips of every believer.  But far too often, we spew its antonym.

Peace should guide us.  Instead, we are guilty of navigating by the dim light of conflict.

Peace should be our anthem.  And we should never cease its singing.

Because of His deep, deep love for humanity, I want to meditate deeply on peace.  Will you join me?

We simply cannot afford to do otherwise.

 

 

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Artifacts

Before he died, our neighbor Kjarem, who was born and raised just up river from this property, told us stories about the sordid folk who used to call our little strip of ground home. Among my favorites, are the tales of the bootlegger and his wife who lived here during prohibition.  Their tarpaper shack house sat where our chicken coop now sits, overlooking a wide elbow in the Flute Reed River’s slim frame. He made moonshine, some of the most coveted around. Resort owners drove long miles, 60 or more one way, to stock up on the stuff they knew would make their customers swoon. He was legendary. His wife, (I imagine her as dumpy woman with a disposition like a rusty nail) was laundress for the Naniboujou Lodge. Every day, she’d haul the sacks of soiled linens down to the river where she’d stand, knee deep in the icy water, scrubbing the bed sheets of rich vacationers till her arms ached and her fingers cramped. Jarvis said she’d get to cursing at him and his siblings if they swam when she was working because they’d churn up the water so bad it’d flow, all brown and silty, downstream to her. He said she’d yell so loud, they could hear her expletives over the sound of the rushing water. They were terrified of her and, at least the way I imagine her, rightly so.

That was nearly a century ago.  And now, here I am, pushing a baby swing where moonshine dripped like maple sap from copper tubes, ice skating where a woman worked her fingers to the bone, building a house on the soil of his eroded aspirations and her broken dreams.

I found this shoe the other day, half buried near the root of an unassuming spruce tree.  I’m not sure it’s a century old, but it might be. Did this shoe bear the stubborn weight of the bootlegger as he stood, tin cup of bitter coffee in his hand, watching the sun come up over the ridge?  How many times did this shoe walk the length of ground between his distillery and where his wife stood, watching her hopes disappear downstream with the dirty suds? Did he stoop to help her?  Did he I’ve found many things wedged in the clay soil of this property: paving bricks from 1918, canning jar lids made of porcelain, medicinal bottles from the turn of the century, porcelain milk pitchers. It never ends.  The objects of someone else’s existence, the artifacts of another human’s day-to-day rituals, turned to junk.

There is this singer/songwriter named J.E. Sunde and he sings songs that the world needs to hear.  One of them says “When all my striving is at an end, will the works of my hands share the same fate?” This is beautiful and humbling.  Because yes, they will.  Mine will, his will, yours will.  Someday, someone is going to find my cast iron frying pan, the button from my favorite jeans, my ice skates.  And they will build a house, a life, on the ruins of mine. I don’t want to sound dramatic here, but seriously, it’s all going to burn.  Or rot.  Or sink to the bottom of the lake.  Or end up in a landfill that eventually gets buried.  Including these bones of mine.

So, what now?  What is left? And here is where I don’t want to sound Hallmark-ish, but seriously the only legacy I can really, truly leave is the one that is comprised of things that aren’t going to pass away, those eternal, intangible things.

There is a chance that the bootleggers wife was kind, that she loved to laugh and sing. Maybe she cared for her widowed neighbor, and brought her bone broth during the long winter months. But if she did, Jarvis doesn’t remember. All he remembers is that she yelled, a lot, and seemed angry all the time. He doesn’t even remember her name.  And while I don’t pretend to know her life, her hardships, her heartbreaks or the hundreds of times her husband didn’t say a kind word to her, I do know that her precious time on this earth is gone and the few stories remaining (that I’ve heard) peg her as a woman with a disposition like a rusty nail. And from what I’ve gleaned, that old bootlegger husband of hers was no better.

Oh friends! Let these things not be said of me. Let it not be said of us! Instead, let us love boldly and sing while we go about our tasks, however dull, however painful. Let us walk in patience and in truth, uttering only kind words, words that restore and heal. Let us be balm, not briar: slow to anger and quick to love, just like our true King is. And when someone finds our shoe, a century from now, may they say “here is the shoe of one who walked, though imperfectly and with stumbling, the path of peace.”

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11/19/2015

Do you know what I hate? I hate that my language has no word for a sorrow that is presently felt but historically experienced. Do you understand what I mean? A word to use when you wake and drink coffee and get dressed and then realize it is November 19th and your sweet, heroic friend has been dead for exactly two years.

What word do I use when my husband, on our drive to church, says “What’s on your mind, my love?” ‘Heartbroken’ isn’t right. I did that already. ‘Distraught’ is too dramatic, ‘sad’ is too trite. ‘Angry’ is a pointless choice and ‘misery’ implies that no good thing has happened since she passed. Which isn’t true. Which, praise God, simply isn’t true.

So? What am I left with?  How am I to greet my friends on this day, my friends who also dressed and ate and even worshiped under the weight of this nameless sorrow? We say “hello” and “good morning” and “how are you.” But even in our talking, we have no word. We embrace, but then, we always hug each other. So even this is of no consequence, no comfort. 

We can see it in each other–this nameless, painful thing. We can sense it. In the way we button our children’s coats before they race outside after church. In the way we touch our babies’ fat cheeks and kiss their soft heads as we buckle them in to car seats. And when we take our husbands’ arms and turn to leave, we see it.

Because we are here. To do these things. To love our children, to cling to our spouses, to drink too much coffee and make frozen pizza for lunch and change the diapers and wash the dishes and sit down for the first time since morning because that’s what it is to be a mom. And damn it, Hannah, why did you have to die? Why are we doing these things without you?

We need a word for this. Because we know where she is and in that place there is no need for sadness and none for tears but still, we are the mothers who hug her children.

And we know that she is new, and whole and healed and so very much alive. We know that she is worshipping the Savior who loves her and gave Himself for her. Amen and amen. But still, we are the women visiting her grave site instead of her dining room table.

And we know all things will come together.  All things will be made right.  All things will make sense.  But still, we are the ones lost in a dichotomy.  Torn between rejoicing at her current state and raging at the death that snatched her.  Catching our breath at the beauty of our vibrant children and having our breath catch in our throats because death is very, very real.  Nurturing life in the face of death. Loving fiercely in the face of a fierce enemy. Making a simple dinner and mourning profoundly.

We need a word for this.  Aren’t we desperate for it?

For a word that professes faith in the sovereign, relentless goodness of God while giving homage to the bone grinding mill we live in.  A word that articulates what it means to move on, to go on living well, while her death lingers in our pockets like a shard of broken glass. A word that can say, at the same time, it is well with my soul (because it is) and this soul of mine aches with the pain of losing (because it does).

What word is there, Hannah?  To say we miss you and love you and so much has happened since you’ve been gone and we think about you every day, even on the days when we never consciously think of you.

What word is there to sum it all up?  To concisely explain everything we feel?

Or maybe, just maybe, Hannah, there simply isn’t a word.  And maybe, just maybe, that’s okay.

 

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Ice-Skating, or What I Hope She’s Good At

She’s not very good yet. But I tell her that if she wants, if she works hard, practices, dedicates herself, she can be the best ice skater in the world.

Maybe an exaggeration but, honestly, humans are a capable lot, limited only by our drive. Choose a passion, a skill and if you want to, you can excel at it. And isn’t there something truly beautiful about a person, doing a task really, really well? Be it ice skating or bread baking, passion is a gorgeous thing. So, we encourage her in her interests. Because we want good things for her, opportunities and success.

But what if I said, instead “Sparrow, if you dedicate yourself to it, you can be the kindest girl in the world.” Or “Mercy can radiate from you if only you’ll practice it every day.” Or “Love, Sparrow, can be your native tongue if you discipline yourself to speaking it every day.”

You may not agree with me, but I don’t think humans are intrinsically kind. Or loving. Or merciful. Look around. Read the news. Ask a war veteran. Evil comes far too easy to humans. Evil, more than love, seems our bent. And if this is the case, we need to cultivate new habits. Ones that go against the grain of human nature. Ones that see the value in all people. Because, though we are not intrinsically good, we are intrinsically valuable. All of us. Equally. And, what’s more, we are all equally (and intensely) loved by the God who created us. Oh, how He loves us.

All of this is to say that I am aware. I see that I need to teach my daughter to “do justly and to love mercy” because we don’t come out of the womb knowing how to do it. It is a skill we ought to clammer after. An ability we should strive for. An ideal we should throw ourselves at. We need to practice these things daily. On our children, our spouses, our neighbors and, yes, our enemies.

If Sparrow is an Olympic skater some day, wonderful. But if she loves mercy and justice, speaks kindness and truly loves her neighbor, she will have found a passion whose beauty cannot be surpassed.

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Redemption Story

I think perhaps some backstory to the house building is due. Because if you don’t know the sordid details of this house journey, my epitomes and ponderings might seem melodramatic and self-absorbed. (Maybe they are?!)

We are not building because we want a new and better house. It’s not because we are adventurous. And it isn’t on a life list, a bucket list or even a “yeah, that’d be cool” list for either of us. No, we are building a house because we have to. Because, 10 years ago, in our 24 year-old haste, we bought a house we never should of bought. Single-pane windows, uninsulated floor (no sub-floor either), water pipes that always freeze and shatter. Not to mention too the cosmetic issues. And, yet, these complaints are like free chocolate when compared to the real issue: this house is on a determined trek for the river bottom.

Here, you see the retaining wall and the south-east post of our back deck. Both, clearly, are determined to leave the bank they’re perched on and, instead, reside in the river. This is not desirable for houses. And those single-pane windows that I’ve sealed with plastic every winter, they’re going to shatter one of these years, because of the twisting house frame. This, friends, is why we’re building a house.

When I think about how much stress this place has caused my beloved and I, how many fights and accusations and cutting words have been born of it, how much anger and anxiety and panic and irrationality have swirled around its rooms, how many tears have wet its floors…when I think on these things, there is no shred of joy left in the building process. Only resentment and frustration and a strange wishing for the walls to apologize for all the heartache they’ve caused. But walls don’t talk. And they certainly don’t apologize. And, in some ways, I think this took us by surprise.

Years ago, during a particularly manic time in our journey, a wise friend prayed over us. Not for answers or for signs (though we’ve got those stories too) but simply for “the property to be redeemed.” I remember having grandiose fantasies about how this would look. Truly outrageous ideas.

But it didn’t happen that way.

Instead, quietly, unassumingly, He has paved a way for this new place. At the expense of our time and money and energy and muscle? Yes.

But that’s okay. Because, it is far better to take part in a redemption story than to simply have one happen to you.

And in the meantime, my very mindset is being redeemed. With each course of logs that our new house gains, this house slips further away from me (literally and figuratively). And, in the losing, comes a heightened sense of what has been: two beautiful children, born and raised, more friends and neighbors for meals than we could ever count. Music, laughter, authenticity, hope. So many beautiful things have happened here. These mute walls could attest to it.

Yes, this house has been our home and, even as I write this, I realize this place didn’t need any redemption, my heart did.

And, in His mercy, He has done both.

 

Posted in homesteading, House, love, Truth | 3 Comments

One Timber At A Time

HEY!!  Remember how I said we were building a house?

Well, we still are and finally, FINALLY, it’s happening.

As of this moment, we’ve got a slab (with in-floor heat and plumbing, thanks to the wizardry and know-how of my husband and our generous friend)!

Andy will start stacking timbers next week.  A house!  We are BUILDING A HOUSE!!

Now, I know that the internet is chock-full of blog entries about house building. It seems like everyone’s doing it, doing it. Building their house and blogging it, blogging it. People thinks it’s clever but it’s not. (My mom used to sing a song to me when I was little and it went like this: “Everyone’s doing it, doing it.  Picking their nose and chewing it, chewing it. People think it’s funny but it’s snot.“) Sorry, couldn’t resist.

But seriously, it seems like everyone who has built their own house has blogged about it. So why am I joining the masses?

To be honest, I don’t really know.  Most days I think I should save my time and energy (and yours, dear, kind-hearted reader) and keep my pictures and ramblings to myself.  Do I really have anything new or worthwhile to say?

No.  I don’t think I do.

But I think God does.  I think God has commissioned this project and I think He has profound things to say to me through it.

And if I know anything about the Yahweh, it’s that His truths are worth sharing.

As a point of reference, Andy and I are leaning hard into Psalm 127 as we go about this exciting (insane?) project.

Psalm 127
A song of ascents. Of Solomon.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
    and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
    for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Children are a heritage from the Lord,
    offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
    are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
    when they contend with their opponents in court.

A few thoughts on this: I am so comforted by these words.  So often, especially in a county where a great number of people have chosen to build their own homes, we are confronted with comments like “Our marriage barely survived the house we built.” or “Good luck.  A few months in you’ll wish you’d never started.” or “So, you’ve decided to join the ranks of people who decorate with pink insulation?”   We refuse to have these stories be our story. Because of this house building, our marriage will be stronger, our relationships with our neighbors will be more authentic and beautiful.  And all points in time, we will be glad we started.  And when we are finished, even if there is some pink insulation showing, we will rejoice and we will give thanks to God

because we aren’t building the house.  He is.

In that first blog post, I called it “the house that Schmidt built” and while this is true…because, guys, Andy’s the one who has spent hours (read: days and days) at the mill cutting timbers and has poured over hand-sketched blue prints with more fervor than I do a bowl of ice cream…when it all comes down to it, we are fools if don’t let God do the building.  What does that mean?  Praying. Listening. Obeying. Even if it doesn’t make sense to us.

I could talk about this for hours.  About how I know I need to learn this.  Like really learn it. And not just for house building but for life.

I won’t expound much more now.  Just know that it will creep up as the process proceeds. It feels like the first word He’s given us and we are anxious to hear Him out.

And, as for those verses about children and quivers full of them?  Well, we aren’t planning to have anymore children.  So, we shall see what that means for the Schmidt’s.  Yikes.

Stay tuned, friends.  And to God be the glory.  Forever and ever.  Amen.

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Yahweh

Remember this, o heart: He is a fierce promise-keeper.

And His promises are
astounding,
radical,
miraculous,
unjustified
& very, very, very good.

And because He keeps His promises (without fail, every time, always, until the end of even time itself), He is to be trusted.

With your very life.

Remember this, o heart.

 

 

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Storm

I can barely finish a sentence these days.  Oh thief of motherhood!  When will you return my brain to me?

But, I did manage a short poem this evening.  Not a title though.  (That would just be too much to ask!)

As I parent my littles, I become more aware of myself.  Of the good, the bad and the really bad.  Recently, I’ve become acutely aware of how easily I believe lies and how easily those lies cause me to fear.  Everything.  You name it, I’ve feared it.

Sparrow is just tiptoeing into this realm.  And it breaks my heart. Every night, I pray a prayer of brave fearlessness in Christ’s name over her.   I didn’t have to do this a month ago.

And, one day, I will have to do it for Caleb.

Never did I realize that mothering is a form of battle.  A battle against everything that threatens to steal Truth from those that we desperately love.  Lord, grant me the strength to fight.

Beside a picture window, I nurse my child
while outside, summer’s first storm pummels
tree and grass and all brave wildflowers.
Near, two miles by my rudimentary count,
the storm wields a glinting axe blade
against a wooden sky.  With each reckless
swing, I startle, expecting
this frail human at my breast
to do the same.  But he’s asleep,
his small flinches from dream
not fear.  Like Jesus
on the sea-tossed ship.  How long
does it take the mind to deceive
the heart? How long until Hell
has chased Heaven from his memory
and he wakes, crying out?

 

 

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River-Like

Our river, the rambling one below the house, has finally broken free of winter’s tight hold.
We wait months for this moment and when it finally takes place, all the world rejoices. Or so it seems.

So long has the reign of ice and snow kept our woods starkly silent, that the river’s sound is almost deafening.  Outside, inside, all the ear hears is the rapid movement of water from there to here and onward.  A constant flow, purposeful and without ceasing.  See how rocks don’t snare it?  See how fallen tree limbs are either swept along or carelessly passed by?  See how it follows a course without question or fret?  Never does the river say, maybe life would be better if my bend went the other way. 

And for all these reasons, I could never be a river.  Even if I desired it, and I often do, I am in no way river-like.

Over tea and books the other night, Andy and I’s talk fell to one of the many decisions that looms over our family.  I can’t remember now what it was.  Maybe whether or not to continue homeschooling Sparrow.  Maybe whether or not to raise pigs this year.  Maybe whether or not to build a slab foundation for our new house or have

And of course, I started eddying around and around (my only similarity to a river) whatever the question was, making up my mind and promptly talking myself out of it.  I’m sorry, I said, I ruminate on things way too much.

Ruminate is just a kinder way of saying worry.  This, my husband’s stinging reply.

He didn’t mean to sting.  He was just being honest.  He was just being right.

Because I worry about everything.  Correction, I fret.  Correction again, I agonize.

I am not river-like.  I trip over rocks and break bones or worse, catch my ankle between two stones and render myself unmovable.  And never in my life (with the exception of my decision to marry Andy) have I ever been on a course and not, over and over, questioned the direction.

My husband is a river.  Somedays, I am washed away in his current and it is good.  In those moments, I don’t worry.  Instead, I am free to notice my surroundings: the sky, the trees and grass, the birds, my children, my friends.  I am capable of seeing the abundance that is my life.

But then some stone.

And I am stuck.

We named our son Caleb River.  Caleb because his biblical namesake was fearless. Regarding the occupying enemy of the promised land, Caleb quieted the raging worry of God’s people and spoke bold encouragement to them.  Because he had a ‘different spirit’, one that trusted the Lord wholly, one that wasn’t given to fits of fear.

And River because we want him to be river-like.

Luci Shaw, in her poem States of Being, wrote:

Better to be soft as water,
easily troubled, with
at least three modes
of being, able to shape-
shift, to mirror, to cleanse,
to drift downstream,
To roar when he encounters
the rock.

Oh, how I long to roar when I encounter the rock!  Instead, I whimper and succumb to its impossible strength.

If I were a river, I would know my Source and I would know my End.  And I would delight in the journey my waters took to get there.

And those stones would become my Ebenezer.  My remembrance.  My monument to God’s faithfulness along the way.

Oh, Lord, grant me a river’s heart.

 

 

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Flame-Maker

We have officially welcomed March into our midst.  Hello, dear friend, we said. I trust you’ve brought the promise of spring with you? 

Yes, said she.  But cold remains.  Winter, like a bell that rings from the steeple, echoes yet.

And so it does.  And so we wait and pull our stocking caps down over our ears and shove our feet into forlorn boots and mumble idly about how we miss the sun.

I admit, even though the UV index of said sun is higher than it was in February, its rays still feel painfully far away and unaffecting.  I struggle to find enough gumption to go outdoors, except to feed the chickens (who are also irritated at winter’s persistence) and to gather firewood from the shed.  Sparrow, too, loathes being told she ‘has to go outside because it’s good for you’ and will often beg to eat a carrot as an alternative because, in her mind, healthy things are interchangeable.

Once coaxed outside, though, she usually has fun.  I will hear her singing to herself or looking toward the river and doing random curtsies, as if the river were her dance partner and the forest, her ever-attentive audience.

On this particular day, she delighted herself in a game of collecting sticks.  Snapped off twigs, birch bark and balsam bows, gathered in abundance to make a pretend fire.  She was so busy and after an hour, had amassed quite a pile.  Clarence, hound dog extraordinaire, had lengthened the process by intermittently stealing sticks from the pile and carting them off to unknown locations.

I watched her, amazed as usual, at how exacting and full her imagination is.  Huddled over the pile (singing, of course), she rubbed her hands together and held them over the invisible flames.  And if my rational adult brain didn’t know better, I’d say she actually warmed herself.

It was beautiful to witness.  And I could have marveled all day at her, her flawless skin glowing in the brilliant light of thin air.

But then I remembered I had a lighter in my pocket.  An actual flame-maker.  And maybe I should’ve left her to her imagination.  Maybe I should have let her alone, let the spark of her mind keep the fire kindled.

But then again.  So I sat down next to her and, without a word, let the lighter’s tiny flame ignite a gnarled strip of birch bark.  And she gasped.  A gasp of genuine delight and together, we sat in the snow and watched the real fire blaze.

I have no doubt the fire in her mind was vivid.  But in her imagination, was there a symphony of intriguing sights and sounds?  Crackle and hiss of dried balsam needles burning. Twig tips shimmering like gold.  Ashy ribbons of smoke rising from the rubble like song.  Sharp, stinging taste that catches first in the nose and then in the throat. Heat that reaches out and finds your skin like a kind word finds an anguished heart.

Sentimental, maybe but oh, how good it is to experience the real thing! How much more, the flesh and the bone, over aberrations of the mind.

We sat with the fire until it was gone.  And then we went inside.  Flinging her coat and snow pants off, she clambered up on the counter and retrieved her poetry journal (yes, she has one) from the cupboard and found a pencil.  And this is what she wrote:

A Fire

We were once cold.  So we collected
and collected, sticks and bark
and ideas and soon, it was done.
My mama, with her hands, started
the flames and they burst, orange
on orange and we were very warm.

How I love her.  And how I love that, in her mind, I am the fire-maker.  Buttoner of buttons, braider of hair, scratcher of itches and maker of flames.

It is good to be viewed through the mind of a child.  It is humbling and very, very good. Because truth be told, I’m really not that great. But she sees me through her mind, through her beautiful child-like eyes, the one’s wearing impenetrable lenses of love.

And I’ll tell you what, I know these feeble, erring hands could never coax flames forth, but her love for me makes me feel like maybe I could.

Love is good like that.  Love makes spring in all the places winter threatens to reign. 

And because we’re a poem writing family, here’s mine:

Warmth

Slowly, the flames start, tiny tongues
speaking in a hundred languages
of love. How quickly then, until everything
is engulfed. A bright, emotive fire
with heat enough
to cut even the bleakest cold.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:34-35

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