Fiddle-heads That Know & Hearts That Are Still Learning

We’ve been waiting.  And finally, it’s here.

Everyday (for the last two weeks), Sparrow, still in her pajamas and with sleep still clinging to her wispy hair, has tromped down the hill to the creek in search of marsh marigolds.  The first of spring’s yellow-eyed wonders, these whimsical flowers litter the lowlands of our property.  Drawing from the river that borders one side and the dappling creek on the other, the marigolds manage to hug the ground yet touch the sun.  They are delightful and an object of Sparrow’s constant attention.

And a few days ago, they arrived.  She’s picked them by the hordes, every flat surface of our house adorned with a vase.  I relish in her obsession.

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And today, we took a much anticipated walk across the river in search of fiddle-head ferns. Until today, the river was too high to cross.  Certain that she would miss the glory of the fern’s unfolding, Sparrow fretted over the water level and even resorted to bargaining and pleading with us to ‘just carry her across’.  Somehow, she survived the perilous wait and somehow, the water level receded.  Today, we crossed and found, in abundance, the emerald heads of ferns tilting up and out to greet us.

She was obsessed and so was I.  I didn’t need to relish in her delight; I had my own.  A fiddle-head fern in its art of awakening is like a profound poem being scrawled on a page.

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So spring has come.  And we are in rejoicing.  We aren’t just rejoicing.  We are in the rejoicing.  It has somehow become us and we it.  So that we cannot separate our bones from its song, our way from its way.

And through this, we are drawn ever closer to the heart of the Creator, who made it all for His delight and instructed us to rejoice in it.  How simple a command: rejoice in what I’ve made.  How simple to obey.

And yet, I find myself tripping over an aspect of this.  The Bible is riddled with verses reminding us to rejoice.  Always, in all things, in suffering, in the Lord, in today, in truth, in His word, in our salvation.  I could go on but will stop short and conclude that it appears as if we are to rejoice continually, because of and in spite of everything. 

Fiddle-head ferns?  Easy.  Marsh marigolds?  Obviously.  Spring?  Effortless.  Sparrow & her effervescent zest for all things flora and fauna?  Like breathing.

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But praying for one thing and getting another?  I admit I’m still on the yellow-brick road to the Emerald City of Rejoicing on this one.

I do believe I ought to divulge to the reader what prayer and answer I’m referring to.  I hinted at it here but unless you are in my face-to-face community of friends and family, likely you didn’t know what I was referring to.  So I will tell you: I am pregnant.

Now, before you judge me and say under your breath, How can she find it difficult to rejoice in such perfectly wonderful news?  A baby!  New life!  allow me to share the back-story of my emotion.

Andy and I had been open to but not pleading for a second child for nearly five years.  In honesty, we always felt our family was complete as a unit of three but we felt uneasy about shutting off the possibility altogether.  That seemed too hasty and too short-sighted. So we said to ourselves if it happens, it happens.  If it doesn’t, fine. 

Those nearly five years passed by and lead to a conversation in which both Andy & I admitted to each other that we were ready to be closed to the idea.  After so much time never becoming pregnant, we felt it wasn’t in the cards for us to have a second child.  And frankly, we had great peace about that.  I dare say we even rejoiced in it.  We were blissfully happy, madly in love with our daughter and ready to move on to the next chapter of our lives (aka, the chapter in which we were parents of an independent, sharp-witted 5-year old as opposed to the chapter in which we were indentured servants parents to an infant/baby/toddler.)

So, (and I apologize if this is too much information), we agreed to use vigilant protection during intercourse while we looked into permanent solutions.

During this, we also determined that I had an abundance of free-time that would only grow as Sparrow did.   Believing whole-heartedly that time is a resource to be tithed just like money, we thought it prudent to ask God how He would like me to use my time.  So we prayed and prayed.  We fasted for many days.  We sought and asked for discernment.   I met with a dear missionary friend and talked about the needs in the over-seas mission field.  I researched various graduate programs awarding degrees in everything from Global Public Health to Seminary to Creative Non-Fiction and Poetry.  I reconsidered starting a wood-fired bread bakery.  I considered writing a book.  Writing songs.  Volunteering at the food shelf.  Starting a non-profit.  Pretty much anything.  And all the while, I day-dreamed about what the answer would be.

Well, friends.  God was faithful in answering our fervent pleas for direction on how to tithe my time.  Thing is, His answer wasn’t at all what I expected.  Nor was it what any where close to what I had day-dreamed.  And, to be dreadfully honest, I almost found His answer offensive.

After 5 years of nothing and 6 weeks of intentional avoidance, we were going to have a baby.

I can’t really express why this was so distressing to me.  But it was.  After holding out almost every option I could think of and saying pick one for me, God, the sovereign Creator of the universe chose the one thing I had left off the table and handed it to me. And forgive me for saying this, but I didn’t want what He had to offer.

I realize I can still do any of the afore mentioned things with a baby, albeit ever so much more challenging.  But, it was the principal of the thing that I struggled with.  I felt as though I had said: I can be anything, Lord! What do you want me to be?  And He (in His infinite wisdom) said I want you to suffer under the weight of pregnancy, the despondency of labor and the arduous, unforgiving and seemingly endless fatigue of parenting an infant….

when He was really saying I want you to be the mother of one of my precious, immortal souls. 

But I couldn’t see that at the time.  And, to be honest yet again, I am just beginning to see that.  It’s just in these days of spring, as I witness the world erupting with life and newness and the intended change of season, that my heart is able to understand that whatever my God ordains is right.  

He draws the fiddle-head from its slumber at just the right moment.  The marsh marigold opens at His beckoning call.  He has given the symphony of seasons a tempo and they have willingly followed since the beginning of time.  I have come to trust this.  Sparrow is learning this and trusting it, too.  Spring will always come after winter.  Always. Even if it appears hopeless.  Because He has ordained it, so it will be.

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So, little heart of mine.  If He is the Gentle Creator and you are but dust, does it not seem that what you too will awaken from slumber at just the right moment?  Does it not seem that He knows what you need and when?  Can you not trust the symphony He is making of your life?

Friends, pray this for me.  Pray that I will trust, in abundance, the workings of His mighty hand.  Pray that I will rejoice in His perfect ways.  Pray that, since I had the nerve to ask, I would have the grace to accept His answer.  Pray this for me, please.  And I will pray it for you.  We are all learning, in various degrees, what the fiddle-head already knows.

“You visit the earth and cause it to overflow; You greatly enrich it; The stream of God is full of water; You prepare their grain, for thus You prepare the earth. You water its furrows abundantly, You settle its ridges, You soften it with showers, You bless its growth. You have crowned the year with Your bounty, And Your paths drip with fatness. The pastures of the wilderness drip, And the hills gird themselves with rejoicing. The meadows are clothed with flocks And the valleys are covered with grain; They shout for joy, yes, they rejoice & sing.” Psalm 65: 9-13

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Confessions of a Gift-Reciever

I’ve had a bitter heart these last few weeks. Described as ingratitude at best and at worst as blatant disdain for the circumstances God has given me, I’ve allowed myself to wallow in self-pity believing I would eventually run the bitter well dry and resurface in search of joy. The problem with a bitter well, however, is that it is bottomless. There’s always another cup to draw up.

Yesterday, while driving along the largest body of fresh water in the world, my heart realized this about bitterness. I’d been drinking poison while clear, cold water lapped at my feet.

The God I worship gives His children good gifts. I know this to be true. Even when what I’ve gotten isn’t what I asked for, I cannot deny that my life has been testament to this fact. Even when the gift is grossly different than what I’d been pleading for, even when it hurts, it has always proven to be right. I am the beneficiary of His perfect giving.

And still, in these last weeks, I find myself cursing what I’ve been given. Driving along that endless lake yesterday night, the verse about fish and snakes, bread and stones came into my mind. It says “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)

I thought about this verse and I wept. I’d asked, even begged and then, in my foolishness and sinfulness and conceitedness, had the audacity to curse what I’d received.

In the remaining miles of my drive, I wrote this as a confession and plea for forgiveness. Fortunately for me (and you and all who call on His name) “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)

Ingratitude

The grave assigned to me held
Your body, Your bones
while I staggered by the cemetery gates
wailing about my life–how it wasn’t
the life I thought that I should have.

And everywhere around me
the trees awoke. Birds pulled
the sun closer. Snow receded
in song. You rose like a crocus
from softening ground, reciting
a poem about Love. There was dirt
in Your hair and nails but no sarcasm
in Your voice. I memorized
the stanzas, wore them like jewels
around my neck.

You turned to go. I followed, a hungry child
begging for crumbs. From Your pocket, You pulled
a beautiful loaf and, reciting
the poem, held it out for me.

Forgive the child
whose mouth is saying stone
while her hands are clearly holding bread.

 

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Gleanings From the Syrup Season

There is a crystal clear sap hidden in the long, slender bone of a maple tree that holds the promise of a sweet, golden syrup.  This fact is reason enough for me to recognize and devote myself to the worship of One True God.

maplespilewildfoodism2That it takes hours of painstaking labor to haul the sap, patient and excessive hours of tedium spent over a wood stove and even more spent over a cook stove with sticky spoons and malfunctioning thermometers to behold a jar of syrup, is experience enough for me to realize the person this One True God has in mind for me to be is no where near the person I currently am.

IMG_8901To know that it takes 30-40 gallons of that clear sap to make one gallon of coveted syrup means I am learning to admit how much of me needs to be given to the fire before what is worthy can be revealed.

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But when it is finished?  The hours, the labor & stress & time & energy & minutia of an endeavor that produces a small collection of maple syrup, this small life of mine…Was it worth the cost?

I am trusting the answer to be yes.  

A million times & eternally so.

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And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  Phillipians 1:6

 

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When the Stars Chide and the Rut Welcomes

Near the end of the phone call in which I was canceling plans with a dear friend, I finally worked up the courage to say what I’d wanted to say from the beginning.  “I know it sounds odd, but the state of my heart is such that I can’t image sitting in a chair for any length of time.  Even if we do have plans to write a song and work on others.  I’m just too on-edge to be still.  Is there any chance you’d want to come over here and go for a walk instead?”

Actually, all I said was “Do you want to go for a walk?”  She is such a friend that I knew she’d infer the former explanation.

It was 8:00pm, long past dark and not a particularly convenient change of plans but she said yes.  I’m an adventurer at heart, she told me when I nearly kissed her feet upon arrival.  I appreciated her humility and her refusal to name the incredible kindness she was selflessly giving me.

So we walked.  The snowy road welcomed us with little fanfare and the sky, clear and filled with pinprick stars, didn’t rejoice over us but looked on with curiosity.  Why, the stars wondered, are those humans always tromping around, hashing out problems and ruminating obsessively over small matters.  Why do they worry so much?

(I wish somedays that I was a star.  Their only task in life is to be a light.  If creation is a symphony, the stars were composed early on and having been told to shine, have done so with fortitude ever since.  I too, am told to shine.  But I, unlike the simple star, have the curse of free will coded into my DNA.  I know I’m supposed to be a light but I am almost daily whittled down to a bare ember by the burden of over-thinking and speculation. Free will is great but oh, how it causes me to stray.)

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Maybe it was the cold air on my cheeks or the way my moon-shadow, always just ahead, compelled me to follow it, but I could have walked forever.  My feet could have continued on finding the next step until those obedient stars disappeared under the cloak of morning.  As it were, we walked for over an hour, taking turns being honest about how flawed we are, how we foolishly grasp and pine over untrue things.  She gave me her heart and I gave her mine.  We allowed our hearts to cry and moan before we scrutinized them, holding them up for comparison to the model of holiness we know to be their goal.   We offered them grace (abundantly because, let’s face it, my heart is light-years away from holy) as we’ve been taught to do by the giver of grace Himself.  We let our hearts feel the night air for a moment, let it remind them of how alive they are and then we  put them back in the protective cage of our bones.  I don’t know about hers, but my heart returned to its temporary home in this marred body a little freer, a little keener to the promise of eternity.

We didn’t come to any great conclusions or devise any fail-proof plans for not falling prey to our brokenness.  We just walked and received what the night had to give.

If you get the chance, walk at night.  Do it soon.  Walk with a friend or alone, whatever feels most necessary. Receive what that moment has to give you.  The stars may chide you, too, but that’s okay. You’re not alone in that.

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Before I hit publish on this post, I feel the need to apologize.  I’m always waxing poetic about the heart and light and redemption and grace and joy amidst sorrow.  The reader might start to think me one-dimensional, and, insult of insults, a writer stuck in a subject-matter rut.  And maybe I am, both one-dimensional and stuck in a rut.  But it feels like the rut I’m intended to be stuck in.   When I move about my day, those words, the heart and light and grace and redemption and joy ones, feel like oxygen.  Reality is suffocating and if being stuck in a rut means I am able to breath, I will gladly remain stuck there until my literal lungs cease to function.

And, as I see it, the alternative is to be stuck in the rut of reality and we all know what that entails.

So forgive me, reader.  Better yet, join me.  Misery may love company, but those rescued from misery, those learning (and relearning and relearning) to navigate the beautiful rut of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross, we love it even more.

 

 

 

 

 

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Trees of Wisdom and Strings of Light

Our weekend was particularly chaotic and emotionally heavy, passing by in a blur of too much sad news, run-down bodies plagued by winter’s endless viruses and cars stuck in the driveway when we needed to be on to the next thing.  By the time Sunday night arrived, neither Andy or I were surprised that we literally couldn’t see the stretch of highway that would lead us home, the only place we wanted to be.  Completely snow-covered and made worse by the continual falling of the same, the road was invisible. We drove blindly along, kept in line only by the scattered road signs that flashed in our headlights.   Our hearts, similarly lost, searched silently within themselves for some steadying assurance.

I went to bed pleading for renewal but doubting it would come.

My first thought, come morning, was that I could breathe.  I was strangely relieved and counted it as a mercy.  As a form of soul-medicine, Andy suggested that all members of the Schmidt household not leave the boundary lines of the property for the entirety of the day.  Eagerly, I obliged and, in fact, never got around to making the beds and ate artichoke dip for lunch.

Late afternoon, we went for a long snowshoe on the back side of our acreage.  I felt light, floating across the snow like a sigh.  It was the lightest I’ve felt in weeks; I rejoiced.  So often, I falter under the weight of my humanness, my stubborn skin like a lead jacket over my immortal soul and its longing to meditate on holiness and perfect love. It takes precious little for me to suffer under the reality of my brokenness, my pockets filled with the rocks of sadness, worry or fatigue.  My bones are a jail and, though the cell door stands wide open, I am often guilty of failing to see the obvious way out or, worse yet, willfully choosing to stay imprisoned.

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But, in this moment, my feet strapped by thin strips of leather to my snowshoes, I was so light even the snowflakes bore my weight.  I bid my heart follow my body and it did, best it could.

Under the snow that had fallen, all the spruce and pine resembled old men dressed in sweaters of hand-spun, un-dyed wool.  They were remarkable in their wisdom and Andy, who wisely knows to long for wisdom, remarked that he hoped he would one day appear the same.

I, too, longed to be like them.  In all the ways I am not, they are unshakable in their willingness to bear the burden of winter, to wait patiently and silently for spring and the promise of renewal.

Sparrow, sweet thing, wrote later that the trees greeted her like soldiers.  Friendly ones, she assured me.  Ones that fight for what is good.

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Sparrow had a few epic and hilarious falls along the way.  Our laughter joined the persistent twitter of the pileated woodpecker that seemed always just above us but never within in sight.  And, near the end, the haven of our house within view, we all flopped back into a small clearing to make awkward, snowshoed snow angels.

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Inside, standing over the stove stirring milk for cocoa, the breathing came even easier than it had when I’d first woke.  Mercy given to the unworthy yet again.

There was still the heavy news I’d learned over the weekend and the shrewd promise of more to come.  There was still the obligations of the week ahead, the pins that I’m always setting up just so I can knock them down.  There was still the colds we are getting over and and the stomach flu and sinus infections and body aches that everyone else seems to be plagued with and threatening to give away.  And that is just the reality of my small life. There are wars and rumors of wars.  Desolation and loneliness, depravity and suffering the likes of which I’ve never known and cannot begin to understand.

If I let myself dwell on it too long, I am defeated before I even declare myself a warrior in the fight for redemption and joy despite circumstance.

It’s too much, isn’t it?  My heart and I may have floated for a moment with snowshoes, but let’s face it, that’s a metaphor that doesn’t seem to hold up most of the time.  This life, this world and the curse it’s held under, is Philistine in enormity and just as skillful in its war tactics.  All of us, weary from days spent wandering the desert of real life can scarcely muster the energy to believe the victory we’re promised.

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That night, when all the rooms were quiet and all the objects in our house idle, I turned off all the lights except the string of Christmas lights above the windows.  In the dimness of this soft light, the furniture and books, the table Andy made and the unlit oil lamp on it, the unswept floor and the shelf of Sparrow’s toys, all seemed to flatten and fade into their own background.   These objects that make up my every day all but disappeared and I sat, alone and at peace in an empty room that asked only one thing of me: just be here.

I know sad news and physical ailments, cars stuck in the ditch and the overwhelming obligations of work, wars and famine are not the same as the over-stuffed green chair in the corner of my living room.  But in a way, they are.  If we can manage to turn off all the lights we are tempted to see by, all the suns and burning lamps that are not the true Light, the one radiating from the Risen King, I believe what we do not need will begin to fade away.  Not that the hardships will go away, but that we will fail to see the aspects of them that cause us to fret, fear and worry.  I believe if we see only via His light, our eyes will behold what truly matters, the Truth that is worth mediating on, the battle that is worth giving our precious energies to.

This, of course, is not something I’m that great at.  If it were as easy as flicking a light switch in the rooms of my heart, sure.  But it’s not.  I’ve trained myself to see by the light of some pretty hideous and garish sources.  And they’re so pervasive and permanent, I’m positive I don’t recognize most of them for what they are.  But, oh, to see only by the pure Light of purity Itself.

Have you ever noticed that everyone looks lovely in candle light?  Take that same person (myself included!) and put them under the fluorescent lighting of a public restroom, and the picture isn’t quite as lovely.  The world too, in the soft glow of sunset looks serene and sometimes so achingly beautiful it seems it can’t possibly be real.  This, in my mind, is what the Light of Christ does for a scene.  Beauty is never more fully manifested than it is in this Light.

How, then, do we do it?  How do we train ourselves to see only by His light?  I’m afraid I don’t entirely know the answer.  But I do know that I want to learn and practice.  Let’s ask Him how to do it.  Let’s encourage one another, keeping each other accountable by naming the false light we see and recognizing when True light is shining.  And when we’ve found it, let’s linger there, memorizing it, writing it in song and lyric on the tablets of our hearts so that we will not forget.

So that when the darkness of the world’s light is all we think there is, we will remember the words of the song we long to sing.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:7

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On the Shore, We Shall Emerge

In many ways, I am my mother’s daughter.  We are joined by our tendency to spend hours in the kitchen and our propensity for crafts that involve wool.  Gardening makes our heart beat and our heads light.  We love butter and mud and wasp’s nests.  Baristas often swoon over how much we look a like. Waitresses say “you two look like you’re cut from the same cloth.”

We are always very polite and reply, simply, “Yes, it’s true.”  We never tell them we aren’t actually related.

Surprising as it often is for the unknowing, there is no blood between us.  She’s my step-mother and of no genetic relation. Oh, but we are among the lucky.  So tightly bound by love, even the features of our faces have forgotten where one ends and the other begins. This August, we will celebrate our 24th anniversary.  I am lost in my ability to comprehend where and who I would be were it not for her presence in my life.

Surely, I would not spend near as much time walking the pebbly shores of Lake Superior in search of intriguing stones or bits of wave-worn glass if it weren’t for her.  She is the impetus for my obsession with scouring the shallows for that which catches the eye.  I wrote a little poem about such things once.  It was in my days of self-loathing and general lameness so its not worth sharing in its entirety but I will parcel out just a portion for the sake of this essay.

There are trillions of rocks
in this small stretch of Superior shore
and for miles this cobbled landscape
rolls out like a narrative from the novelist’s
pen. Like Woolf, I am driven mad
by the chore of scouring endlessness
for small bits of beauty.  Every pocket filled with gray
before I clutch a glimmer.

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This weekend, a dear friend and I introduced my daughter to shore scouring.  It was a gorgeous day, sun like an unexpected but pleasant call from a long-lost relative, sky like a contented sigh.  We wandered from her house to the old dock.  Cloaked dramatically in ice, it stretched out as far as it could before tumbling haphazardly into the water.

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We intended to search leisurely for possible agates, smooth black worry stones or imaginative pieces of drift wood.  Initially uninterested, Sparrow poked at a patch of thin ice strung like a web between two stones.

DSCF0168But when I stooped to pick up a large piece of green (sea) glass, she perked up immediately.  She was quick to the obsession, shouting out with glee at each piece she found.  My friend and I were no less immature, exclaiming and pouring over each new find, our pockets delighted with the weight of our treasure.  It total, we found 38 pieces plus the 10 more Sparrow and I found the next day. Green, sea foam, pink, white, blue and brown; we found them all.  We were aghast at our profound fortune and the lake, with each small wave it threw on the shore, seemed to be laughing at us.  Silly humans. 

Maybe we are silly.  But sea glass (or lake glass, as it were) is magnificent.  Shards worn to nubs of translucent color.  Light you can hold in your hand.  Ice that never melts yet never freezes.  Treasure for trash.

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This last descriptor bears the weight.  The transformation of one thing to another is what makes sea glass so charming, so magical, so beautiful.   Once a bottle in the hand, then a shattered and dangerous thing lost in the lake’s deep waters, now a strange and lovely jewel on the ragged shore.  This story of transformation is my obsession’s true impetus.

And I cannot help but compare it to the story of humanity’s fragile heart.  To my heart and to your heart and to yours, too.

Tonight, Sparrow prayed simply this: Lord, love everyone and heal all the hearts that are broken.

I am going to claim editing rights on her prayer, just for a moment.  Lord, thank You that You do love everyone.  Please, take all the pieces of the hearts that have broken and, in Your mercy and tenderness, transform each one into a jewel fit for the crown of Christ our King.

Friends, He is the maker of beauty from ashes, jewels from shards of glass.  Let your brokenness be lost in the deep lake of His love.  Let your brokenness be drowned in Him.  I promise, though the wave be rough, you will emerge as a delight on His shore.

“On that day the LORD their God will rescue his people, just as a shepherd rescues his sheep. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown.” Zechariah 9:16

 

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Otherwise

This last week, I played many slow paced games of Candy Land with my daughter who had fallen victim to a voracious case of the stomach flu.  Poor thing was so sick she never spoke about the delicious pictures of peanut brittle and suckers on the board as she usually does. She even went so far as to point to the ice cream float bars and say: those don’t look very good, mama.  My little lady was sick.  

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The next day, she spent countless hours playing Legos on my legs while I lay slumped on the couch like a heap of dirty laundry. She prattled on in conversation with her little plastic creatures, built multi-colored houses and stairways to nothing while all the smallest pieces disappeared forever between the cushions of the couch.  More than once, while my stomach drifted in and out of revolt, I heard her say to her Lego people, “Here’s the bucket if you need it, kiddo. ”

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The day after that, she and I tiptoed around the house while Andy slept fitfully between urgent trips to the bathroom .  He said he dreamt only of water.

The coffee pot sat empty.  The eggs our chickens had laid were stacked up on the counter beside the untouched loaf of bread.  The fridge was as derelict as a couch left on the side of the road.

And then, as if by way of magic, the turbulent, black clouds lifted.  The sky that peered back at us was so blue it nearly took our breath away.

The first night we were all healthy, we ate dinner at the home of some friends .  They, too, had had the stomach flu, almost in parallel with us and were likewise enjoying returned health.  We feasted on homemade pizza and to hear us, you’d think we hadn’t eaten anything so delicious in our entire lives. (It was really good pizza, to be sure, but by comparison to the nothing we’d had, it could have been cardboard with red paint and we’d have devoured it.)  It was a jubilant event.  We all pranced around their kitchen, laughing loudly and grinning absurdly.  Over and over we remarked how good we felt, how alive and how vibrant.

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And we did.  There had been moments during the dark days of illness that we each began to believe we would never feel well again.  Our delusions had us thinking this would be the new normal.  So desperate were those hours of retching and sweating helplessly under a pile of blankets that I honestly said to myself: Amy, cast aside your plans for the future, rid yourself of dreams because you are going to have the stomach flu for the rest of your mortal life.

Seriously.  That’s how dire it was.  So you can understand why, when we came out on the other side, our elation and relief was palpable.

And also a little bit embarrassing.  It was just the stomach flu and it only lasted 36 hours.

What I am realizing now in my wellness is that for some people, a debilitating illness or discomfort does become their new normal.  For well over a year, I watched a sweet friend, who I’ve spoken of often, deal with nausea and vomiting as a matter of daily course. And though it may sound like an exaggeration, I’m fairly confident I never heard her complain.

For some people, to hear their child say I’m not feeling well means they’ve contracted the deadly virus that’s been circulating around in their village.  And when their friend calls to say we’ve got it too, they aren’t responding with oh rats, Emily, I’m sorry. They’re saying please God, spare them, spare all of us, this cruel death.

I know that sounds dramatic but it’s true.  Even when I was face first in a bucket of my own stomach acid (sorry for the mental picture), it could have been so. much. worse.

But please do not think me pious.  It’s only in my returned health that I am able to say thank you to the One who has spared me, every day of my last 33 years, from chronic illness or deadly epidemic virus.   It’s only now, in these days of morning coffee and delightful daughters and creative, hard-working husbands that I seem to see with accuracy how fortunate and well I really am.

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And here’s what’s really embarrassing: I learned this exact same lesson the last time I had the stomach flu.  Approximately last year, at this time.  I think I was trying to learn the lesson here, too.  Sadly, I’ve managed to get the immensity of gratitude and prospective down but not so much the longevity of it.  I can’t seem to fully grasp it, at least not permanently and certainly not by my own feeble might.

I really want to, though.  I want to carry with me the realization that even the next breath I plan to take is not guaranteed but, rather, is on loan to me by the Giver of life.  I want to safeguard my heart from any inkling of discontentment with these good, good days because, in reality, it could very quickly be otherwise.

I will leave you now with a poem I love, one that speaks directly and honestly to what I’ve expounded on.  My prayer, like Habakkuk, is this: when days of otherwise come, Lord, whatever form they take and for however long they last, grant that a song of gratitude be found on my stammering tongue.

Otherwise

Jane Kenyon, 19471995 

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

 

 

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The Sorrow and the Psalm of a Snowy Day

Today, the snow fell in a whisper.  All morning, afternoon and into evening it covered everything with its grace.  The woods and the house, the front steps and the road, all shrouded in gentleness.

Walking in it, I felt as though a psalm was being sung over me.

I pulled Sparrow behind in her sled.  We made smooth tracks in the fresh snow.  I swelled with gratitude realizing our humble sled tracks might be the only ones the road saw that day.  No cars and no trucks, just the shuffling boot prints of a trudging mama, the scampering paw prints of an elated blood hound and the long, sleek lines of the sled.

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The gallant aspens that tower along the road’s edge wore their new garments stoically.  In each season, they are breathtaking.  But in winter, they are majestic and even triumphant in their splendor.  I wish daily to be among them and we often walk simply to encounter them.  Beneath them, I am so insignificant and that, for unknown reasons, is incredibly comforting.  They seem to breathe new life on me so that whatever worry I have vanishes.

But I digress.  We passed under the trees and I was calmed.  We approached a large hill and Sparrow, who thrills at any chance to sled, begged me to let her sled down once we’d reached the top.  I obliged her.

I was surprised by how much pleasure I derived from her single descent down the middle of our gravel road.   Watching, it felt as though the whole world was holding its breath for her.  It was a relatively small journey but it seemed to stretch on forever, her bright pink coat slipping further and further from me and my control and my protection over her. One part of me wanted to rejoice and one part could not help but weep.

And it was just a sled ride down a hill.  What will I do when this metaphor I’ve found becomes my reality?

We walked the rest of the way home, red-cheeked and dreaming of cocoa.  Clarence the wonder dog rocketed past us, following his brilliant nose down some rabbit trail of furry goodness. A raven flew over head, its wings making the same wooshing sound Sparrow’s heart does when I lay my head on her sleeping chest.

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At home, over the dreamed-about cocoa, Sparrow proclaimed “Let’s sled every day for the rest of our lives, mama!”  “We can’t, Sparrow,” said I to her quickly diminishing smile.  She followed with the predictable why and I went on to explain how spring comes and snow melts and how gravel roads are less than ideal for sledding. “Oh,” was her resolute and disappointed reply.

It struck me that she simply doesn’t understand the concept of fleeting. Things that she loves are permanent because she loves them and because, if they are happening now, they are always happening and will always happen.  Grandpa is always swimming laps in the pool, no matter the season.  The box of chocolates in the cupboard never runs out.  There’s a dance at the town hall every weekend of every year, in perpetuity.  Clothes she wore when she was 6 months still fit.  (“They DO fit, mama.  See?” as she crams her 4-year old body into a newborn onesie.) And mama’s tears over the loss of a friend are silly to her because “Hannah will be back soon, mama.”  As if Hannah had just gone to the store to get us some ice cream.

Everything about reality is fleeting.  Nothing gold can stay, as the famous Frost wrote. The bad and the good, the beautiful and the hard to swallow–it’s all in a state of departure.  So are we, for that matter.  Dust with a temporary name.

So what gives?  How do I go on living with joy when everything around me is vanishing, including myself?  Including my beautiful daughter down the long, snowy hill?

Deuteronomy 30:3-6 reads: God, your God, will restore everything you lost; he’ll have compassion on you; he’ll come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered.  No matter how far away you end up, God, your God, will get you out of there and bring you back to the land your ancestors once possessed. It will be yours again. He will give you a good life and make you more numerous than your ancestors.  God, your God, will cut away the thick calluses on your heart and your children’s hearts, freeing you to love God, your God, with your whole heart and soul and live, really live.  (The Message)

That’s what gives.  And that’s what we wait expectantly for.  He will give it all back, and more.  In the meantime, His psalms are being sung over us every moment of every lingering day, we just have to quiet ourselves long enough to hear their subtle tune.

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Posted in Truth, winter | 4 Comments

Gather Together All Who Are There

My friend Corrie said to me, “I’m going to make a teepee for my boys this Christmas.”

She’s a brilliant woman, immensely talented especially in the areas of sewing, drawing and baking.  She makes complicated, beautiful dresses without patterns.  She draws delightful portraits and really great dinosaurs.  She makes the best pound cake you’ve ever eaten. She stitched all the canvas for the yurt that she and her family lived in for over a year.

So when she announced her teepee plans, I’m not sure why I didn’t believe her.

And when she called me and said “The teepee is done!  Come over for a teepee tea party!”, I’m not sure why I envisioned a tiny teepee, one the size of a small two-person tent or a fort you’d make out of a sheet and clothes pins.

Actually, I know exactly why I thought these things.  I thought these things because if I announced plans to make a teepee, A) it wouldn’t happen and B) if I someone how managed to follow through with my intentions, the resulting structure would be pathetic.

But Corrie is not like me.  Thank goodness.

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I cannot describe sufficiently the delight I experienced when I arrived for our tea party. My delight was more when she poured, not tea, but hot chocolate from the tea pot, the homemade kind like I drank every day in Italy.  Nearly as thick as pudding, she could’ve told me it was a pot of melted chocolate bars and I would have believed what she said. Sparrow was so pleasantly overwhelmed by the taste, she guzzled her cup, managing, in the excitement, to get chocolate on her forehead.  I, while a bit more outwardly polite and careful with my cup, was just as ravenous in my heart.  It was delicious.

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Corrie spent five solid days at the town hall, lost in the hum of her sewing machine, to complete it.  She and her husband erected it by moonlight, the pale birch poles joined together at the top like long lost friends.  It was truly a labor of love, one well worth the effort.  Her boys were positively beaming with pride at this thing their mama had made for them. Somehow, too, their backyard seemed proud, or at least more content, having, in contrast to a bare, wintery landscape, this beautiful thing with which to gather all the laughter and joy of our rosy-cheeked children.

And the teepee was magnificent.  Stooping down to enter the arched doorway, the world behind me disappeared.  The wind fell from my skin and the cold left my bones.  Even though there was only a 1/4 inch of canvas between me and everything outside, I felt protected and hemmed in from the wide expanse of winter that loomed just beyond. These months of cold and dark can be daunting but, standing in the teepee’s center watching my daughter’s cheeks flush red as a mountain ash berry, I sensed peace and a swelling of love for the present moment, however cold, however dark, however trying.

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Thank you, my red-headed, artist-friend Corrie.  Thank you for using your hands to create something exceedingly good.  A thing built up instead of torn down.  A thing that binds up and hems in.  A thing that protects.  A thing that welcomes the visitor into its peace.  A thing that gathers together all who are there.

May the same be said of you and me.  May we be a shelter for those that seek.

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Posted in Community, homesteading, winter | Leave a comment

The Graceless Act of Mourning

Last night, my sweet friend Hannah lost her 15 month war with colon cancer.  36 years old, fiercely beautiful and filled with a renegade love for all she met, Hannah Marie Irvin’s life defies all description.  Words fall painfully short.  Below, then, is a brief letter to myself, one that is intended to serve as a guide as I navigate the days, weeks and months that are to follow her recent death:

I will not sugar-coat my words.  Though the one I grieve for spoke only kindness.

I will not speak insipidly of joy or force its presence into my heart, though the one I long for now has no care, no thing to fill her mind but Joy itself.

I will not face my reflection, whether in mirror, window-glass or a dear friend’s eyes, with stoicism but will permit myself to sob, gracelessly and unbecomingly.

I will not placate my sadness with empty tasks or mitigate it with busy-ness .  Rather, I will commit myself to the art of mourning.  I will rend my clothes and sit in the ash of sorrow. I will greet my sisters and my brothers with a heart-broken kiss.  I will grasp their hands and wail.  This, I will say, this seems too much to bear.

I will not utter unanswerable questions that start with why.   They are not mine to know nor mine to ask.  I will, instead, sing small songs that are slow to modulate out of the minor key.  I will delight in the dirge and find comfort in the lamentation.

Still, I will not curse the sky, with all its wide, blue infinity.  It is blameless.

I will not speak of fairness or its counterpart.

I will not close in around this ache but remain foolishly wide open. Splayed and vulnerable, ready to receive, knowing pain, in all its tragedy, has an opposite.

I will not call my God anything but what He is: True & Relentlessly (though often Incomprehensibly) Good.

I will linger under the stars while they tell me their story: what it means to be known and named and numbered.  What it means to have infinite worth.

I will believe in the intimacy these stars share with Christ himself.  I will believe that if they, soul-less and mindless, reside in the care of a Master who never sleeps, then maybe I do too.

Then maybe she does, too.

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Posted in love, Truth | 8 Comments