What I Need to Say Before ‘Thank You’

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Thanksgiving. I know it’s really important. Not the turkey or cranberry sauce and eating pie all afternoon… not even the Pilgrims and Squanto.  It’s the act of remembering, appreciating and being grateful. Being grateful to Him. It matters; it’s important and it’s good.

But I can’t just turn on thankfulness like a faucet. That deep appreciation and thanks isn’t pouring out of me right now.  And, he’s not an account in the sky where we need to deposit our yearly dose of thanksgiving before we carve the turkey and pass the mashed potatoes. He’s not the universe or ‘The Unknown God’ of the Athenians in the book of Acts. He’s Someone. He says, ‘I Am.’ He tells us about himself because he wants to be known… and he already knows each of us intimately. So, before I give thanks, I need to give honesty. I need to come to him with the questions weighing on my heart and making the thanks feel inauthentic. He’s real and I need to be real as well.

So, God, before I come to you with my thanks, I’m going to be honest and come to you with my sorrow.

Pressing down on me as I roll out pie crust is a weight of sadness for a woman I don’t even know well; we only spoke a few times. But her loss is so significant that just hearing about it has crushed part of me. Less than a year ago, we sat together after Sunday school and talked about her oldest daughter, just nearing school age. She wasn’t sure what she should do this year. We talked about the pros and cons of home, public, or Christian schools. And God, the whole time we were talking, you knew. You knew that a couple of months into her kindergarten year, that sweet five and a half year old girl would come home with a sniffle and be gone a week later. And it doesn’t make sense. It’s hard to get a thank you past the big, heavy ‘why?’. This doesn’t feel right. I don’t understand you in this.

But I keep going today with preparations for Thanksgiving. As I peel apples and make rolls, I’m thinking of another friend. We have her big, goofy dog in the front yard as a reminder that she’s not in a position to take care of him and that the future is unknown. It weighs on me every day; this feeling that things aren’t the way they are supposed to be. I bury my face in the thick fur of her sweet dog, with his tail that wags even when we’re pulling out porcupine quills, and I wish the world was just as sweet and gentle. And I need to tell you, Lord, that it just doesn’t feel right.

There are things that are so broken. I need to check in with my sister and find out if a little girl is at her house for Thanksgiving. This little two year old spent the first year of her life in my sister’s home and now comes back for visits. I am thankful that they have that time together, but, God, it still hurts. I know when my sister hugs that little one, they both remember their hearts have been broken a million times and will probably break a million more. The hardness of the foster care system and most of all the hardness of this world breaks people. It seems like you could do something. Like you should have done something already. It doesn’t make sense, Lord.

And God, I’m sorrowful because I’m so lonely this year. This is the first Thanksgiving I’ve experienced without a grandmother somewhere in this world. I want to hear Grammie B ask me what I’m thankful for and hear her say, like she always did, that she was thankful for her salvation and for all of us. I want to know Grammy J is in her kitchen today, sifting flour, baking up a storm of pies and mincemeat bars and getting Grampy to peel the apples. But they aren’t here. I know my grandfather’s heart is breaking today as well and I could just cry and cry. I know I need to thank you, but I want to tell you that I don’t like how this works. Death and leaving and being apart. It seems so wrong and I wish it wasn’t this way.

I also need to tell you about the guilt I feel when I even think of thanking you. I have a five and a half year old daughter as well. She’s so excited about learning how to make pumpkin pie this afternoon. She’s happy and chatty and she’s alive. I am so, so thankful… thankful it wasn’t my daughter you chose to take away. And, tomorrow, my family is going to be home together. Our own puppy will be looking for crumbs on our dining room floor and my husband, who makes me feel safe and understood, will be there with us. My baby will climb on my lap to put his fingers in the whipped cream on my pie and take it for granted that I’m his momma and I will never leave. I have so many reasons to be thankful. You have blessed me in every way. And the contrast between my thanks and others’ sorrows makes me feel those pangs of guilt. I know life isn’t ‘fair’. I don’t understand your ways, Lord.

And, God, I need to come to you with yet another emotion. It’s fear. As I think of all the good things you’ve blessed me with, like a home and family, bountiful food and healthy children, I’m reminded of how fragile these blessings are. They could be gone in a breath, a moment, with a missed stop sign or with a spark from the woodstove. Nothing here is secure. As soon as I start thanking you for these things I hold so carefully, I am reminded that you might take them away. I’m afraid because I love them so much. And, the reality is that when I look around at the hard things in life, I don’t completely trust you. Your ways just don’t make sense to me.

So that is the reality, Father. I have sorrow, guilt and fear. But you knew that. You are acquainted with all that’s inside and even before I say the words, you know them already. You know and you want me to come to you with them. Thank you for caring. Thank you for wanting to hear them just as much as you do my words of appreciation. Thank you for caring about me… right where I am. For real.

And this is when the real giving of thanks begins. We’re real together. Jesus is the ‘image of the invisible God’. We know you because you revealed yourself and your character to us in a way we could understand… as a human. And you were fully human… You wept. You were tired. You asked to be spared suffering if at all possible. And, you trusted, somehow in the mystery of the Trinity, that the character you have shared for all eternity, the Father’s love and justice, was enough to make the suffering, the weariness, the tears all worth it in the end.

You tell me it will all be made right. It is going to be okay.

For now, you are weeping with those who weep.

The reality of that is big enough for my sorrow, my guilt and my fears.

Thank you, Lord.

Yesterday, my baby came up to me and lifted up his arms. I reached down and picked him up and held him close. He wrapped his pudgy little arms around my neck and we rested for a minute, heart to heart. I was filled to the brim with love for the little guy, and with sudden wonder, I realized that he was feeling the same thing. He was in my arms, snuggled in and feeling love for me, too. We just held on for a moment, and thanks filled every fiber of my being.

That’s how I want to be with God this Thanksgiving. It’s good to count our blessings. It’s good to remember we have been given so much.

But, ultimately, the Giver wants to give us Himself.

I am so thankful that God isn’t just a power, but that he’s real and responsive and feeling. It means that I can come to him, lift up the reality of my heart and let myself be held for a while. I can rest in his arms and be thankful. Thankful not just to him or for him… but I can be thankful with him.

For I am sure that neither death nor life,

nor angels nor rulers,

nor things present nor things to come,

nor powers, nor height nor depth,

nor anything else in all creation,

will be able to separate us

from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

The Provision of Friendship

IMG_0500We had a booming year for cucumbers; there are jars and jars of bread and butter pickles and some experimental dills. Next to them are jars of green tomato salsa, green beans and a long shelf full of little sweet dumpling squashes.  On the floor, five gallon buckets with oats and wheat berries wait to be turned into fresh bread all winter long. This time of year, with nine of us at the table and snow days ahead, there’s a drive inside to have the pantry shelves and freezer full. Just like a mother mouse finding seeds in the brown grasses, I find myself pushing my cart through the grocery store with an eye for what will keep.

I think of my great-grandmothers; Isabella came on a boat from England with a store of knowledge. She knew about finding herbs and roots and how to make people well. I imagine her, with small Charles and little Lucy trailing along behind, studying the Maine woods; an early scientist identifying plants and a doctor tucking her prescriptions away in a basket or apron pockets. When Lucy was a mother herself and held my grandmother in her arms, it was still natural to look to plants for food and medicine. But, as time passed and pharmacies with strong, effective remedies grew, it didn’t seem valuable to hold onto these old ways.  So, this fall I turned to Amazon Prime and put in an order so that the cabinet would be stocked with children’s Tylenol and cough syrup and vapor rub. The pantry has cans of ginger ale and Gatorade for those seemingly inevitable belly hurts with little ones.  I know Isabella and Lucy would have been thankful for a storehouse of these simple things that I can take for granted, like a way to so quickly bring down a fever in a small, hurting child. Still, there’s a wistfulness inside that makes me long for a walk in the woods beside these grandmothers, bent over the leaves and digging in the dirt for roots and being taught some of the old ways.

We had our first snowflakes last week. They came down in intervals with a cold sleety rain. My husband says he’s making an appointment to get snow tires on the van. The children want to know where their snow pants and boots are and we locate tubs and make sure everyone has sizes that fit.  Everyone has grown a size or more since spring.

There’s a fire in the woodstove every day now. And, rows and rows of firewood neatly stacked outside ready for little boys to see how high they can stack it in each other’s arms and still make it up the porch steps and through the house without dropping any; little boys that are strong for their age and grin when I tell them, “thank you for keeping our family so warm.”

I think we’re nearly ready.

I love the sense that we are prepared and can face days of being snowed in and still be warm, with food on our table and hot cocoa in our mugs.

But, even with all the coziness and feeling ready for winter days ahead, the last few weeks have been hard for me. I know there are people who struggle with dark, hard, debilitating periods of depression. I’ve had days of feeling down and melancholy, but never to the point where I would alarm a doctor if I filled out a questionnaire. So, it was surprising to me how heavy I have felt. There were some days when I could barely function. My kids had half-hearted schooling and minimal mothering with movies to keep them quiet. A couple of times, after getting a bare bones meal on the table, I would go straight to bed when my husband got home from work. I had nothing to give, no joy in anything, no desire for anything except to be alone in the dark and quiet.

I think this began with an email I woke up to one morning. The words were from a close friend and her news was devastating. Not only did my heart break and bleed with empathy for her pain and anxiety for her future, but old hurts from my own life were broken open. Old fears resurfaced and the world that had seemed bright and full of kind people seemed dark and deceptive and full of evil. It overwhelmed me. I couldn’t pull out truth or Bible verses to lift the weight because everything seemed so meaningless. Why had God created a world with so much darkness to begin with? The presence of the darkness just swallows any joy in the flickers of light. I was heavy and dark and only desiring quiet.

But, with seven children busting through my bedroom door and begging for snacks or to be read stories, that desire to be still couldn’t be satisfied.  I’m sad to say that it wasn’t with joy that I tended to their needs but it was with a discouraged drag of my feet. It was overwhelming to see, when I stopped feeling the motivation to sweep or pick up, how quickly our house became a disaster of puzzle pieces and crushed food and random sticks and rocks from outdoors. The chaos made me want to retreat even more.

And, it wasn’t just from the kids and the messes that I wanted to retreat. I didn’t want to answer the phone, emails from friends wanting to make plans made me cringe, my husband picked up groceries on his way home, and I started day dreaming of how I would take a six month sabbatical from church. The darkness I was giving into wanted to isolate me. The darkness wanted to drag me into a place where I couldn’t receive love or hear truth.

A while ago I made a commitment to myself. It was shortly after we moved down this long dirt road and into a place where it would be easy to become isolated. I made a decision to listen to that voice that pops up sometimes and tells me to withdraw from church or friends or social interactions; to listen, recognize it and to do just the opposite. If I start hearing lies run through my head like…

You’re just tired… you need to take a break from church or having people over and spend time with just you and God in the woods and quiet….

No one really cares about you so don’t bother them with your troubles… you should be strong enough to handle it yourself, anyway…

Don’t call that friend… she’s so busy… there are more important things on her plate than listening to you talk about yourself… 

When I start thinking thoughts that if followed through would separate me from people, I know it’s time to send an email or pick up the phone. It can feel so humbling to send an email saying, “I am feeling really down this week. I don’t even know why… but if you get a chance to call sometime I could really use a friend to talk with.”

And, just like storing food on pantry shelves or medicine in a cabinet, I try to prepare for times when I barely have the strength to reach out. I try to give stores of friendship to women in my life so that they can call on me when they barely have strength as well. The truth is, this world does have a lot of shadows and murky areas, and we are going to feel the weight of sad things. And, we just weren’t designed to go it alone.

Our church is really wonderful about providing meals to people who are sick or who have just had a baby. I have had seven babies while a part of this church family and on average have received probably eight to ten meals each baby. Not to mention when I broke my wrist and was delivered lasagna five or six times (I’m not exaggerating… the kids started asking what kind of bread we were having with our lasagna instead of what was for dinner). Preparing meals and caring for people in this way is such a kind, wonderful way to live in community. But, honestly, this was so hard for me to accept. As an independent New Englander, I know I can plan ahead and put meals in the freezer and we can do just fine on our own. I always had the urge to say, “Thank you anyway, but we don’t need help. Don’t put yourself out on our account.” I’ve had to learn and be stretched and to grow in the area of receiving. Receiving meals and receiving relationship. It is so much easier to be the strong one offering a helping hand. But to accept the hand that’s offered, or to reach out and ask for a hand, is so much harder for me. It’s coming to terms with both my need and my worth. It’s admitting that I’m weak and believing that I’m worth helping.

Several times in the last couple of weeks I’ve needed to do both. The ladies in my church have a prayer group where we share requests through email. I sent off a couple of humbling emails. I have had to answer the phone and respond to emails and say ‘yes’ to getting together with friends, some of whom reached out just because I had admitted I was struggling. One friend brought me and my kids into her house for an afternoon and we shared the sweet medicine of laughter. She’s a friend that I have a big store of history and vulnerability piled up from years of truthful conversations, so I didn’t need to say much. She knew why things were hard and we could just spend time together pushing the darkness back and letting in more light.

Today, I just got home from a visit with another dear friend. Earlier this week I couldn’t imagine packing up all the kids and getting us out of the house and being energetic enough to visit. But I said yes. And, I’m so glad I did. More light came pouring in.

I finally feel like I’m coming out of that darkness that wanted to swallow me and isolate me. Some courage is seeping back in and some energy is starting to flow again. As it does, I find myself being so thankful. Not just for the stores of food to keep us fed or medicine to keep us healthy, but the store of community that God has blessed me with; friendships and a connection to a church family that has been tended and preserved through time.

One of the last things Jesus told his friends, after he had washed their feet and fed them a meal, was that he had a new commandment for them. “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. “

For a long time, the mark of being right with God had been holiness.  Jesus was drawing his people together and giving them a new mark. His disciples are known by their love for one another; the humbling, sacrificial, self-exposing, grace-extending love of Jesus pouring from heart to heart.

If you feel alone today, and like there’s a cloud or weight of darkness, please take the one little (though I know it can be so hard and daunting) step of reaching out and letting someone know you are feeling that way. I would love to have a cup of tea with you and hear your story, whether you are feeling strong and happy or whether you are discouraged and down. Since distance is an issue, sometimes the telephone or email has to serve as our virtual tea table. But those thoughts that tell you it’s a sign of weakness to reach out or that nobody wants to hear just aren’t true. God created us with a need for one another. He knew that in all seasons, the joyful bursts in summer, the cold and biting days of winter and all days in between, we do best when we are together. The love and truth and grace he wants to pour on you and me, he so often pours through the words or touch or listening eyes of a friend. My lesson this month has once again led to a prayer… may he give us the strength and the grace we need not only to give, but also to receive this kind of love. And, may He produce in us the commitment and authenticity to work and grow stores of this kind of friendship, which is more precious than any wealth of provision on pantry shelves.

 

Woman at the Well

We don’t even know her name. Ironically, she dreaded the walk to get water and now, even millennia later, we know her as ‘the woman at the well’. One day, close to noon and after the morning crowd had left, she picked up her jar and made her way to the deep well. As she came near, she saw a man sitting alone. He was obviously Jewish and a traveller weary from his journey. Perhaps she hesitated before approaching, knowing that as both a woman and a Samaritan it would be distasteful to a Jewish man to have her near. She was taken by surprise when he spoke.

Someone once asked me, “How do you do it? How can you be content staying home and scrubbing the toilet?” I don’t remember how I answered at the time. It was an honest question from a mother struggling to feel significant when she was home with little children all day. I think of her question often. Sometimes I think of it when I’m kissing the sweet smelling head of a sleeping baby curled up against my chest. Other times, it’s when one of my older children says something beyond their years and we share a smile. Today, it was when an old song came on the radio and my husband danced with me in the kitchen while seven little faces looked on with eyes wide open and laughed when we danced silly. I often think of it and wonder, “How could I want to be anywhere else?” But, I also think of her question when I’m washing the same dishes day after night after day; when I’m folding the same load after load of laundry that may or may not make it to bureau drawers; when I’m mopping the floors a few minutes before a troop of firewood gatherers come out of the muddy woods into the kitchen for cool drinks. Each day has repetitive tasks that could become drudgery. Each night I can fall into bed and think of little that I accomplished that won’t have to be done again tomorrow.

But, he meets me at the well. Whatever our labor is in this life, he doesn’t hold himself aloft. He humbles himself to whatever work we’re called to do and wants to commune with us there.

Right there, in the midst of washing dishes or cleaning bathrooms or reading the same story book or mediating the same squabble between siblings, he meets me. The truth read in the Word in the quiet of the morning is fleshed out in my attitude while I mop the floor or change a diaper in the afternoon. The mundane becomes sacred when I’m aware of his constant presence and intentionality.

Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water. She looked at her own jar and realized that to a Jew it would be unclean. She said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”

Once I woke up in the middle of the night with a new thought running through my head. I was thinking of some friends that we’ve gone to church with for years and who are going into pastoral ministry. They are taking seminary classes and preparing sermons. The thought was, “…the difference between you and them is that you are a woman. You can think about God and the church but no one will notice or care. You are seen as irrelevant.” Out of nowhere it seemed I was flooded with thoughts about life being unfair. ‘If I were a man, people would see me as significant and want to disciple me and think it was worthwhile for me to study theology.’ I fell back asleep feeling like a second class citizen in the kingdom of God. A few hours later, I woke to a little blonde head peaking over the side of his bed next to ours. When he saw that my eyes had opened, he gave me a huge ‘just for Mommy’ grin. What had I been thinking in the night? How had I been slighted? How could I have thought for a minute that God had made me something lesser when he made me a woman and a wife and a mother?

God calls us all deeper. Deeper into the Word, deeper into theology, deeper into understanding. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3) There are no second class children. He wants us all to feast.

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  Her thoughts were racing. Who is this man? He has nothing to draw water with and the well is deep. Where would he get living water? What water could be better than that springing deep from tradition? Does this man think he is greater than Jacob? Who can this be?

“Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’”

Her mind still racing, she remembers her thirst. She remembers the dread she feels as she carries her water jar to this place where all the women come with their jars and tongues wagging.

“Please… give me this water…”

Last week someone told me prayer doesn’t really matter all that much. “It’s not like magic. You pray and circumstances don’t change. Things will probably still  be hard.”

But I don’t pray to change circumstances.

I’m thirsty.

The news comes on the radio and I hear about rockets in Gaza and Ebola in Africa. An email from church shares the news that a friend and brother in Christ went home at forty-nine years old. A text message brings news of the red thread bringing a baby ‘home’ to foster parents who love her as their own and will only get to hold her close again for a few weeks before another heart-wrenching goodbye. A friend says she is losing the hope of ever carrying a baby in her womb as her heart has hungered for. My body is tired and the house is a mess and the moment comes when I lose my patience with a child and yell instead of parent.

I’m so thirsty.

I don’t pray to change circumstances. I pray to drink the water. I pray to let the truth flow into me and through me and well up into something that is life and satisfies and quenches the throat parched by the dirt of the fallen world. I pray because I thirst for Him. As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for the living God. (Psalm 42)

Jesus looks at the woman holding the empty jar and asking for water. She doesn’t want to come to this well again with her water jar and her thirst. He looks at her and he knows her. She doesn’t yet understand. He cuts through her desire for comfort and reaches into her heart. “Bring your husband.”

I decide I’m tired of being introspective. It’s not healthy. I’m going to pray for other people and I’m going to think about God and who He is. I don’t need to look at myself anymore. Isn’t that humility? To not even think about yourself?

But then, just as Jesus identified her deepest pain in order to reach deeper into her soul, God seems to want to reveal first, “This is what is keeping you from me.” He cuts deeper into the hidden places; using my own darkness to reveal his light. He shakes false humility by letting me know myself more and then with my heart aware raises my eyes to the light of the glory of Christ.

She’s lived with six men. She has tried to satisfy her thirst and found the drink bitter over and over again. And this Jew is telling her everything she’s ever done. He’s not jeering or throwing stones or trying to use her. He’s talking to her. She grasps in her mind for a response. How does he know these things? He must be a prophet. What can she say to this man?

“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 

She knows she’s thirsty but she’s afraid. Maybe he won’t mention the men again.

And he doesn’t.

He tells her mountains don’t matter. The time is here and the Father is seeking not to dwell on a mountain but in a people. He looks into her face and answers the question she didn’t dare ask. ‘You can drink. The Father is seeking you; a Samaritan outsider, a woman, a sinner. Come to me, and drink.”

She dropped the empty jar at the well and returned to town with a fountain welling up inside, overflowing with the news of the man who told her all she ever did and let her drink and be satisfied.

How do I do it? How am I content when dinner needs to be made (again) and the news reporter just said someone shot babies in an elementary school and there are floods and tornadoes and crying fathers and seven people that grew in my womb and into my heart are breathing the air of a broken world?

There are times I don’t do it well. I’m anxious and depressed and parched. But he still seeks those who are thirsty. He meets me at the well again. And as I look at him, my grip on the empty jar loosens and it falls to the ground. There’s a peace that surpasses understanding as I leave the still water and drink the water that flows from a place that isn’t broken; a place where a Lamb sits as both King and Shepherd guiding his people to springs of living water. I drink from the river of comfort that flows out of a place where God will wipe away every tear from the eyes of his children.

“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”                 Revelation 22:17

Looking Into the Fog

With homeschooling and being together every day, all year long, I wouldn’t have thought it would be such an issue. But, it’s why I almost always start school by the beginning of August. The summertime squabbles had hit our house hard. I stood in the kitchen, the drizzle outside finally slowing down, and realized we had been indoors and I had been playing a referee for the last two hours. I could hear from different corners of the house various children arguing over toys, how many people could fit on the couch and where they should keep their feet and whether or not calling someone ‘mean’ was name calling or just being accurate.

I needed to do something. Fast.

“Everyone out to the cabin! I have something I want to show you.”

The cabin has been my retreat for quiet and prayer.

Walking through the rustic wood door is always something like coming home. Upstairs is a loft with three small beds while downstairs in the one small room there’s a bed and bureau, a small table, a few chairs and a woodstove. A grandmother quilt covers the full bed and a great-grandmother quilt sits carefully folded on a shelf my father-in-law built. The cabin is full of his handicraft made from scraps of wood he scrounged from around the property during his visits. Last time, to make some shelves, he said to one of the boys, “Do you think your father would mind me stealing this board?” In reply, the ten year old said, “Well, it’s not really stealing since you’re just moving it from one spot to another.” He’s taken scraps from one place and made little treasures in another. My mother-in-law carried the chair cushions home one summer and brought them back reupholstered with extra material for curtains and a wall hanging. After each visit I find new little touches of paint or wood or material. There are touches from my own mother as well. One of her oil paintings hangs on the wall along with her sun hat left on a hook. I keep kindling wood next to the stove in an old washbasin she gave me. When I was four and there were hard times and no running water, the basin was where she gave me Sunday night baths. After my mother’s visits, I’ll often find a book on one of the little tables. Last time it was a book about an island off the coast of Maine and after she left, I sat holding it in the doorway while I watched the children swimming in the pond.  As I flipped through pages of verse and photographs, I could almost smell salt water and feel the rocks and sand and I could have been sitting next to my mother in the doorway of another little cabin on a point on Islesboro.

The children all piled into my little sanctuary and suddenly it wasn’t so quiet.

I grabbed the Bible from the top of the bureau and tried to hush the chatter. “I have a story to tell you.” The promise of a story quieted them down though a few arms and legs were still restless and there was the occasional protest from someone close enough to be nudged or thumped.

I began. “Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She was three years old and lived with her Mommy and Daddy and three sisters.”

I reached up on a shelf and took down two worn puppets. “This monkey and this lion belonged to her. She would sit on her parent’s bed and she believed they were real. They would talk to her (sounding a little like her mother and father) and she would try to feed the monkey bananas.”

The kids laughed and said they knew who it was as I put the monkey and the lion in the hands of my seven year old. I reached for something else on the shelf. I took down a picture of the same little girl sitting in an old fashioned baby buggy with her two older sisters standing next to it. I told the kids some stories of the fun these sisters had, including some wild baby buggy rides and of how gullible the little girl was and how she always believed the big sister who tricked her over and over with the same joke. I handed the picture to my oldest daughter and reached for another. I took down a framed picture of the girl a little older, holding a lead rope and with her little sister sitting on the pony named ‘Molly’. I told them stories of these sisters and the pony and they laughed and I could see in the eyes of my little girls that they were longing to be there on that sweet Molly.

Next I took down a cross stitch of a little house and the words, “Joy be with you while you stay and peace be with you as you go.” I told them about the girl grown older and in college. She didn’t know what she would do with her life but deep down inside she wanted to love a husband and children and to have house with a guest room where people would come and stay and she could feed them and make them feel safe and happy. So, in between writing term papers she would sit on her bed and cross stitch and wonder what might someday be.

After putting the cross stitch in some little hands, I took down more handiwork that had a picture of a house and the words, ‘God Bless Our Home’. I told the story of going to Maine for Christmas and my grandmother telling me that she had a neighbor make a picture to match the one she had hanging on her wall because she thought I’d like it. But, then after she got it from her neighbor, she lost it and had been looking for it everywhere. So, she decided to give me the one from her wall and wait until the other one showed up to replace her own. I held in my hands the little gift from my grandmother, and with a familiar heaviness rising, I handed it to one of my little girls.

There was one more child and I looked around the room for what I should have him hold. There were more items that I had placed there to remind me of our family and the history that gives me roots and steadiness as I pray and hope. But, instead of those, I reached up and took the clock down from the wall and placed it in the hands of my nine year old.

I told them each to hold the items I gave them and think about them and the stories I told while I read them a poem. I turned to the book of Ecclesiastes.

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

 

I looked in their little faces and told them how precious each time is. That they shouldn’t waste a moment being angry with each other because this time together, where we live in the same little house and eat dinner together each night, is going to pass away so soon. Every moment together is precious.

I looked at my little boy holding the clock and asked him how much time had passed since I had handed it to him. He did a bit of math in his head and said it had just been some minutes.

“Will those minutes ever be here again?”

Like it usually does, the weight of the lesson fell on me. The kids were soon off again, playing and laughing and bickering, while I stood for another moment in the cabin.

The minutes are moving too fast. 

Before I followed the children outside I pulled out the bottom drawer of the bureau where I keep stacks of my old journals. I reached way down to the bottom and pulled out one with a Minny Mouse cover. I stepped outside where I could watch the kids play, thankful that the rain had stopped.

Opening the cover I read the first date. I would have been thirteen, just a year older than my daughter is now. I remembered opening the cover for the first time, at my sister’s house, after just hearing that Molly the pony had been put to sleep. With a sad smile, I saw that my first entry was a poem.

You were the pony next door

Though to me you meant more

In my heart forever

Remains a great treasure

Which is the memories of us

Of undying friendship and trust.

Though your happy days here are over

I wish you in heaven a field full of clover

I will never forget you

My love and friendship is true

Your kind, friendly eyes

Hid no secrets or lies

Your great heart we could never tame

Though you were kind without shame

You carried us all

Fat, skinny, large or small.

I was both laughing and crying inside as I read the last line of the poem. I still grieve in poetry though I’ve given up on rhyme.

I read the rest of the journal, seeing this little girl that isn’t me and yet was and the stream of consistency in who I have been and who I am now and wishing I could go back and save her from some of the choices she was about to make.

I ‘fell in love’ several times my eight grade year but I never loved any of those boys with the same intensity with which I loved the horses named Thunder and Shawnee or even the dog, Bendyl. I read the page I wrote after sitting on the bleachers talking with a friend. This little girl and I both talked about how our boyfriends kind of grossed us out. We didn’t even really want to hold their hand, especially in the hall at school. We wondered what was wrong with us. I wanted to go back and grab that little girl out of that middle school and give her some Breyer horses to play with and a couple of gerbils. I prayed a silent prayer and thanked God for the gentle growing up my children are getting.

Mostly, the pages were about horses and friends and true love always and every now and then an interesting historical tidbit like the dissolution of the Soviet Union. A few pages were a little harder to read and again, I wanted to go back and snatch her away.

I didn’t remember thinking much about God or ever reading the Bible back in those days. So, it was with surprise that I came to a page and read the words, “I’m not so mad at ____, anymore. I read in the Bible about not fearing man because they may be able to hurt your body but can never touch my soul! Not that ____ ever hit me. He just has no power over my soul. Only the Lord has that key!”

What? How could this little boy-crazy girl that only went to church on Easter with her grandmother have written down, twenty three years ago, the truth that I thought I was just finding now? The very same verse even?

Suddenly, tears were streaming down my face.

He was there.

I had wanted to reach back and save the little girl writing in her journal when she was lost and being used because it felt like she was so alone.

But she was never alone.

In the weeks leading up to my thirty-sixth birthday this month, I often found myself singing a few lines from Stevie Nick’s song, Landslide.

“Well, I’ve been afraid of changing

‘Cause I’ve built my life around you

But time makes you bolder

Even children get older

And I’m getting older too

Oh, I’m getting older too”

I have strongly been feeling the, “Oh, I’m getting older too” part. I’ve also been afraid of changing. I’m dreading my children getting older. I love it right now.

And, I don’t know that I’ll love it in the future. It’s likely that bad things are going to happen. There are going to be goodbyes and I don’t want to say them. Even if there are good things they might mean bags will be packed and tickets bought and planes boarded. I don’t want any more changing.

I’ve built my life right here.

I can’t see what is ahead. It seems like at some point in their growing up, I have a conversation with each one of my kids about whether or not you can walk on a cloud and what it would be like to be inside of one. A little voice says, “Can you see anything when you are in there or is it all white?”

Sometimes when we’re eating breakfast, since we’re quite high on a hill, we can look out over a valley and see the fog rising off of several lakes and ponds. Some mornings we see a heavy fog settled below us and then head off in the van to run errands. On the way to town, we pass through the ‘clouds’. I remind them of how thick and solid they looked from a distance, but when we’re in them they’re just wisps and we can see ahead of us. It’s just from afar that you can’t see.

And I think, isn’t that just like life?

I’m afraid because I can’t see what is ahead. And, because this is a world broken, there will be things that will break. My loved ones seem so fragile when I look ahead into the fog.

But just like there was someone behind me bringing that little girl the truth she needed to get her through, there is someone there in the fog ahead of me. And, from where he is, he can see clearly. He’s already there.

The only thing that overcomes the fear of the future and the inevitable change is to build my life on what doesn’t change and to fix my eyes on the one who is and was and always will be. There is something solid to stand on because there is something that will never change.

I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 8:38)

I am going to savor each precious moment of now. This minute is passing and it will never come again. There is grief in the passing of moments but there is something to cling to with hope and expectant joy as we look ahead. There is a love waiting that has carried us through the past and is strong enough to carry us through whatever lies waiting in the fog.

He’s already there.

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Another Beginning

Right Now

I’ve really been struggling with how to begin. This is one of those stories that weighs and pushes and won’t let go and won’t be forgotten until it’s released. So, I am just going to start with right now.

I just did the dishes and made sure teeth got brushed and read ‘Little Rabbit’s Loose Tooth’ and gave seven goodnight kisses. I talked with my husband about work and licensing the dog and made chicken salad for his lunch tomorrow with the leftovers from dinner.

My life is all about ordinary things.

This is a Tuesday, so tonight I gathered my Bible, my journal and this laptop and I made my way across the yard to the cabin; the tiny house for company and for quiet.

And, this is where the ordinary stops.

It’s been almost two years since I stood by the woodpile and felt the pleasure of God. One day I woke up with a letter in my mind that I felt compelled to write. As soon as my feet hit the floor I was writing it in my journal and I would write sentences between getting the kids breakfast and finding shoes and feeding the dog. When it was done I typed it up, attached it to an email and then came the moment when I couldn’t bring myself to send it. It took me over two weeks and some encouragement from a friend and mentor before I could bring myself to hit the send button. Insecurity was bubbling over as I thought about my words showing up in email inboxes. I left the computer and stepped outside to get firewood. That is when an unexplainable feeling came over me. There I was doing the ordinary thing of getting wood for the fire, and I suddenly was wrapped in a new sensation that felt like the pleasure of God. It was like he was smiling at my obedience.

I don’t think of myself as charismatic in my worship of God. I like things that are solid and orderly. I like to read and study, to be still and ponder, to hear wise people; to find truth and know it before I feel it. I don’t put a lot of stock in feelings or dreams or impressions. I love Christianity because it is verified by history and great thinkers and you can savor deep, satisfying theology that comes in heavy books and is laid out in letters and words and chapters. I love truth that can be found and sorted out and lined up and applied. Its orderly, it’s trustworthy, it’s solid.

But, God isn’t a theory. He isn’t a philosophy.

He says, “I Am.”

So, that is why I’m here tonight. Because I have another story that is pressing up and in and won’t let me forget it even though I keep trying. I have to remind myself why I’m writing. It isn’t to convince anyone or to teach or to promote myself. It’s to pour out my journey of faith the way it really is regardless of whether or not it sounds sane to others. It’s not to be right but it’s to be honest. It’s peeling back the self-protective skin and exposing the raw reality of my experiences of seeking and being sought. It’s because I believe that ‘He is’ and the pleasure of God is more satisfying than accolades from any other voices. So, this is the story that wants to be shared, and it begins with the same letter I sent two falls ago.

The Letter

To my precious sisters in Christ,

Since we moved to this hill in the ‘wilderness’, I’ve spent more time with my eyes turned skyward. Our home is open and full of windows facing the west so I find myself pausing often in my work to gaze at the sky. During the day the expanse calms my spirit. The sky is so big and my worries so small. At night when I pause to look up, a billion lights peering back make me gasp for breath. For a moment I feel exposed, finite and vulnerable. There is something about seeing this space between me and the stars that reminds me of our Maker’s power- that even makes me afraid.

And then I remember, “As high as the Heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.”

This God who is so powerful that it makes me tremble to look at his creation, let alone himself, actually loves me with a love as great as the height of the heavens. Just a taste of this love does something to my soul. I hunger for more!

When God created humanity He breathed into us His life; He made us in His image so that we could be vessels that hold and reflect and delight in his glory. Even in this fallen, shamed woman there is something calling out for restoration- that part of me made to delight in God and to be delighted in by him longs to have its purpose fulfilled. And that is the beauty of the love of God… that it is not a passive love. It is a love that reaches down from its holiness and enters into our darkness. That fear when I look into the night sky is the feeling that I deserve to be crushed by the weight of that glory. I am condemned by the way the image of God in me has been broken and turned inward so that it seeks to find and reflect glory in myself instead of in the only worthy God. Jesus, being in the very nature God, let himself be crushed in my place.

How great is the love of Christ to allow that condemnation to fall on Himself so that I can stand and gaze uncondemned. Instead of feeling the shame of exposure I can surrender to his covering. He makes my heart a habitation for his spirit, wraps me in his righteousness and beckons me to draw so near that I am drawn into oneness.

My soul longs for me to abandon myself to this truth and to abide there.

And my confession?

The truth of what he has done should make my knees bow before him and my mouth confess he is Lord. My response needs to be prayer. But I have so neglected the privilege of prayer. “I’ll pray for you,” is too often a polite response instead of an honest promise of action.

Recently, as the leaves have turned, mostly fallen and our first year in the woods turns colder, I’ve had some days of loneliness. I started thinking of activities that could fill my time and connect me to others. I decided I was really lacking vision concerning why God decided to place me here. So, I prayed that he would give me purpose and a vision and that he would show me how to avoid the pitfalls of loneliness and connect to others, especially to my sisters in Christ.

His answer was different than what I expected- it was simply “pray”.

On our property is a little cabin. In the little cabin is a wood stove. What I need to do is to kindle a fire in that stove and to expect God to kindle a fire in my heart.

So, practically, I asked Jon, “Can I go?” He said, “Go.”

So, I’m committing.

Tuesday nights you will know, Lord willing, where to find me. I’m going to kindle a fire in the stove in the cabin and at 7PM I’m going to head out and pray he lets me be an offering on the fire of his Holy Spirit. That He would meet with me and burn his love for others into my heart and that I would offer it back in intercessory prayer.

Will you pray with me? Will you pray for me? I know my little cabin is too far away on a little dirt road in the wilderness to ask with expectation that you would join me physically (though you would be so, so welcome!). But, regardless of that, I so desire to have you a part of my communion with Christ. I want to pray with you in spirit and to pray for you. You are going to be in my heart as I strive to seek his presence more intentionally than I ever have before. Please let me know if you have a burden I can carry into that presence.

And, please pray for me to be consistent. One night a week… just a few hours… but I know how hard it is to pray for even ten minutes. ‘My spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.’ It is a battle. But I am so convinced that this is real… that He is real… that he wants to be with us. His love is what arms us to fight self and the enemies of human souls. His love is what is calling out, “Come… bring your small spark and let me light the fire!” Jesus, please fill us with the faith to call back, “Here I am, Lord, bring your flame!”

With expectation!

Lara

Experiencing God, Experiencing Fear

That first Tuesday found me in the cabin, having kindled a fire in the old woodstove. I sat on the bed with my Bible and my grandmother’s hymnal and I began to pray. Not many words came out before I had to stop. I have had times when I’ve felt overwhelmed by God’s holiness or his love or his comfort. I’ve experienced feeling his nearness when going through something challenging or even beautiful times like the births of my children. I’ve been comforted by the knowledge of the presence of God many times. But, this was different.

I was afraid. I was overwhelmed, not with the intellectual belief in the omnipresence of God, but with an almost tangible sensation. There was a presence that was as real as if a friend had walked in and settled himself in one of the chairs. Instead of comforting it was terrifying. My first prayer that night was for this to stop. I didn’t want to offer myself on the fire of the Holy Spirit. This meeting was too much. I felt like I was going to die. But, as I cried out for distance, it felt like my prayer was answered. It felt like the Spirit drew back and I could breathe. I still experienced a more real and powerful sense of his presence with me in that place but it was gentler. I spent the next few hours in prayer and it felt like a conversation with a living, hearing, present Jesus. I poured out my heart the way I would to a trusted friend. My Bible was open and while I never heard an audible voice there were times of quiet when I felt like he was impressing things on my heart.

I left the cabin and I still felt overwhelmed by my experience as I climbed into bed beside my sleeping husband. There was a lingering fear.

Long before these days, shortly after I became a Christian in high school, I had a dream that has always stayed with me and brought me comfort. I can’t say whether it was from my subconscious or from God but it was beautiful and memorable and a gift regardless. In the dream, I stood on a sloping hill next to a large tree with overarching branches that were full of green leaves. I was either praying or singing or both and there was a feeling of complete satisfaction and joy. I was worshiping God and it felt like I was doing what I had been made to do. It was as if I was completely well. I’ve thought that the dream was a little taste of what Heaven will be like. That worshiping God in a pure and complete way will be the most satisfying thing possible.

But, the dream after the first night in the prayer cabin was different.

I was dying. It was hard to breathe. I was lying in a hospital bed with my two oldest sisters talking quietly on either side of me. Somehow I was also the tree from the ‘Heaven dream’ of long ago. But there was a steady, strong wind blowing through the branches. I was dying and simultaneously, the leaves were being blown off the tree.

I woke at 2 AM and was sure that I was going to die. I felt like the presence of God that had been in the cabin was going to take me with it. I was going to be pulled out of this life.

A New Invitation

Our church has a women’s prayer group that exchanges requests by email each week. Several weeks ago, when facing some things that were making me anxious, I asked them to pray for me concerning fear.

And, that is when this story started unexpectedly stirring in my heart and mind.

For a long time, I didn’t understand my experience of fear that first night in the cabin or the dream and so I pushed them to the back of my mind. I thought I had been naïve to ask for such a deep level of intimacy with God in prayer. I wondered if it really *was* God or if it was my imagination or something darker. And, while I like to think I don’t put any stock in dreams, the dream did leave me shaken and I didn’t want to think about it.

I had been reading through the book of Luke and shortly after my friends started praying for me I found myself in the 12th chapter. In it, Jesus has a lot to say to his disciples about fear. He said we don’t have to be anxious about our physical needs being met or about defending ourselves before others or about preserving our lives. He said there is only one thing to be afraid of. “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” The only thing to ultimately fear is the judge of our souls.

But the very next sentence Jesus spoke tells us more.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

And again, he tells us, “Fear not, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”

The only One to be afraid of is God. According to the words of Jesus and through what he accomplished for us, we don’t have to fear God. He will never forget us, we are of great value to him and he has been pleased to let us call him ‘Father’ and give us the kingdom.

There is nothing left to fear.

I thought I understood this when I wrote the letter to my prayerful sisters in Christ. I didn’t realize that I was expressing the battle of my life. God answered the cry of my heart that night long ago, and gave me the gift of opening my eyes to what holds me back in my relationship with him.

John Piper, in ‘Desiring God’, wrote, “The deepest and most enduring happiness is found only in God. Not from God, but in God.” There is a draw, a longing, to experience God in the way I did in the worshiping dream from long ago. There is something in me calling out in response to his call and wanting to be fully surrendered; to be made whole and complete and to experience the ‘deepest and most enduring happiness.’

But, in order to do that, I need to be like the tree in my second dream. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35) Like the wind in my dream, the Holy Spirit will work steadily and powerfully to blow away all of the pride of self, the fear of man and the panicked desire to cling to safety and comfort that is my grasping effort to save my own life.

I am such a fearful person. And, if it was just the discomfort of living with fear that was its affect then maybe it would be easier to just push it to the back of my mind and live with it simmering rather than face it.

But, I am convinced that what is keeping me from a more intimate, sure and faith-filled walk with God is not that he is unwilling to show himself to me. It’s that I am holding back. My fears are keeping me from drinking in the great, lavishing love of God toward his children (1 John 3:1).

Once again, I feel him calling me deeper and calling me to invite you to come along; to face fear and battle against it with truth. I’m praying for the faith to hear him calling out ‘fear not’ and the grace to trust, deny fear, and follow after him.

Camp

I took the key down from the nail where it’s hung for decades and opened the door just as I’ve done a hundred other times.  As I took a step inside, my chest felt heavy and I fought back tears, not because it was different, but because it was so much the same. The yard sale finds on the shelf beside the novels, the rugs on the floor, the pillows on the couch, even the silly talking ant from ‘A Bug’s Life’ that the kids love; they were all there. It’s as if they didn’t know things had changed.

I used to find the ‘sameness’ of camp every year comforting. Even when I was a little girl I recognized it. When I was ten years old a dozen things changed in my life.  My two oldest sisters moved out, one to go to college and the other to get married. My mother also remarried and bought a house with my new stepfather meaning a change of neighbors and schools. Even my dog had to be put down. I felt like I had been shaken out of everything that had seemed steady. I remember walking through the same door to camp that long-ago summer, sitting down on the couch and noticing some plates hanging on the wall. They had pictures of a fish and a bear and a deer and I thought about how I had seen them my whole life and with a sigh of relief, I realized that camp doesn’t change.

Before we made the trip last week, one of my younger sisters cleaned and vacuumed. She filled the bowls on the counter with candy and treats so they were just the way they always had been. When I set the key down beside the bowl filled with ‘Devil Dogs’ and Hershey’s minis, the tears broke through.

It’s strange to me how food and grief go together.

The kids all came running in with their sleeping bags and backpacks and chattering voices and stopped short when they saw me. The three year old turned back and I heard her say to my husband, “Mommy’s sad! Mommy’s sad!”

So, I breathed deeply and dried my tears. I reminded them that this was the camp that belonged to my Grammy and they understood and the chattering started again and I got busy helping with all the negotiations of who sleeps where.

I’m thankful for how children and life go together.

The first night at camp was hard.  Jon slept in the middle of the sea of wiggly sleeping bags and told stories into the night so that the baby and I could sleep more peacefully in Grammy and Grampy’s room. I didn’t pull back the covers of the bed that Grammy might have been the last one to make, but slept on top with my head on one of her pillows. I saw some sheets and a decoration left on her bureau like she had been working on something and moved on before she finished.  Her camp shoes sat behind a chair next to the wall, the soles worn smooth. Her hairbrush sat in a basket.  I thought of Grampy, who says that nighttime is always the hardest, and heaviness pressed in around my heart as I closed my eyes and slept.

Many mornings I wake up with something like a theme song for the day in my head. Sometimes it feels like inspiration, sometimes it feels like a little joke from my subconscious. When the baby was teething a couple of months ago, and I hadn’t had adequate sleep for days, and the children had been bickering more than usual, I woke up with ‘a little ditty about Jack and Diane.’ My first conscious thought of the day was, “Oh yeah, you know life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone…” But, thankfully, that first morning at camp, I found myself singing the line of a different song as I woke.

Jesus has overcome

The grave has been overwhelmed

The victory is won…

 Until I got home tonight and searched for it online, I couldn’t remember the rest of the song. (It’s Chris Tomlin, ‘I Will Rise’.) But, those few lines were what I needed that moment. It was the reminder that death isn’t the end. I know there is something beyond the grave because I know Some One that has passed through it. The victory is won.

Last summer some work was done on the camp’s foundation. Grammy isn’t here to help with the landscaping but Grampy said he’s trying to do things the way she’d like them. He planted some perennials and showed me where he had started some flowers from seed. One of the neighbors at camp had included a package of forget-me-not seeds in a sympathy card and Grampy planted them this spring. They are starting to grow, just little seedlings when I saw them yesterday, but those forget-me-nots are making their way up from the soil next to the bleeding heart plants.

Flowers and grief and life seem to all go together.

I cut a little stem off of Grammy’s rose bush in front of camp before we left today. I’ve never tried growing a rose from a cutting but I’m going to attempt it. It sat sticking out of a water bottle in the console on the long drive home. Like a little birthday gift from Grammy.

When I was growing up, I was happy to have a summer birthday because it meant that I got to celebrate it at camp. When I was a little girl some relatives would gather and there would be presents and singing and Grammy’s marble cake. Even when I was a teenager I would invite friends to celebrate with me at camp and we’d play music and swim in the lake and still Grammy would send over a marble cake. This year, I woke up at camp on my birthday, and I knew that there would be no marble cake. This year, even if the camp is the same and sits steady on its new foundation, something has changed. Something has shaken.

But there are still unshakeables.

Jesus has overcome

The grave has been overwhelmed

The victory is won…

This morning the loons were calling as I woke up. I quietly put on a swim suit and tiptoed past the still sleeping bags and made my way out of camp and down to the shore. I love mornings at the lake. Everything is still. It feels sacred to be the first one to break through the glass-like water and send the first ripples of the day into the lake. This morning I waded in slowly, remembering past birthdays and wondering about the year ahead. I stopped when the water was up to my knees and I looked out over the blue to an island and then to some tall pines standing on a hill to the east. The sun hadn’t quite reached over their topmost branches.

I thought of all the people, here and gone and young and young once, that this place has meant something to. And I thought of the One who knows us all. I prayed. I prayed for them and for me and was thankful for Him. The quiet of the water became the quiet of my soul and I whispered the words, “Into Your hands I commit my spirit,” and I dove headlong into the water.  As my face met the surface once again, the sun was just rising over the tops of the pines.

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The Farmer Poet

The Farmer Poet

Most of the farmers I know are poets. There is poetry in dirt and seasons and calves being born and butchering day and manure and seeds and cold mornings with cows bellowing and the itch of hay chaff in the linings of a pair of well-worn gloves. You need to have some lines scratched on your soul to keep going with the sun rising and rain clouds on the horizon and where the seasons are always changing and before they do you need to have hay in or fields turned or fences up. You have the makings of a poet when something in your drudgery is beautiful to your soul and when your helplessness doesn’t keep you from doing the next thing.

I remember an old, blue Leyland tractor, the doors to the cab wired shut for double protection against being bumped open. Four of us could fit when it was time to ted the hay; little boys with baseball caps and t-shirt tans standing on either side of me. I focused on gears and getting the speed of spinning forks just right to spread the rows of hay into fluffy piles to dry without beating them into dust.  The clacks and rumble would put the baby strapped to my chest to sleep and I would feel her breathe and the sweat would stick us into one, round, flesh again. Once in a while a boy would point and shout about a bird or that he wanted to get out the next time we came nearest the house so he could run to the cool basement and retrieve a popsicle from the big freezer.  Mostly though, thoughts just jostled around in our minds and often even there a quiet settled. A quiet that is hard to achieve when you wake up early to pray and you remember about the phone call you need to make before noon and that you are low on milk and maybe the kids will be okay with toast instead of cereal and what will you need to print out for the history lesson today? While the tractor made circles, my spinning thoughts, like the drying timothy and clover, fell into rows of order and rest.

We planted a huge garden in long rows on the farm. At the end of June I stood in the middle of a mass of overgrown weeds and searched for rows and vegetables and paths.  Life was everywhere but it was choking out what was planned and worked for and supposed to be in jars in the pantry come fall. I cried overwhelmed, frustrated, disappointed tears and knew I couldn’t catch up. On the first of July we had strawberry shortcake for my birthday and then headed out to the garden where my husband pulled weeds and chubby hands pulled weeds and I pulled weeds with a baby in one arm. And there was a path and sun on tomatoes and a heap of weeds to compost.

This spring I planted a little raised-bed garden here in the woods. There were ample sticks to mark my rows of onions and hills of squash and even though the soil is rocky, I have hopes for jars in the pantry this fall. This little garden patch feels manageable. But, as I planted seeds in rows I remembered something a friend said recently. ‘Gardening is just another form of dependency.’ We plant seeds but we are at the mercy of the Life-giver to make them grow. I think of how the same brown dirt grows a deep, purple-red beet, a firm white potato, and leafy, green lettuce. This is a deeper magic than can be conjured with a watering can and a hoe.

A little boy asked if he could help and I gave him a row of beans to plant. He took a fistful of seeds and worked his way down the row. There were more rows to plant but he’d had his fill and happily bounded off to ride his bike. I was left alone with the packet of seeds and thought about how this is a hobby. If the beans don’t grow there is the grocery store and they’re cheap to buy and nine year old boys used to plant beans or else they went without. For a minute I wondered if I should call him back.

When I became a mother I didn’t have time to read for pleasure. There were parenting books to read and how-to-have-happy-perfectly-lovely-successful-children manuals. And the sun shone and the rains came and I was crying overwhelmed tears on my bed and I knew that children don’t grow in neat rows and around us and in us there’s a wildness that makes me afraid the harvest won’t be what I had once dreamed. I don’t have the deep magic to make people grow and the manuals don’t hold the right spells either.

Seven times I’ve been handed a baby, like a seed, fresh and new and unknown. And, each time, my heart wanted to break through me and cover them with fierce love like a thick, rich soil blanketing them from the elements. But soil is just a place to grow roots. It is stretched and moved and changed in its nourishing of the new life.  In the love and the breaking and the helplessness, my children have grown me into a mother-poet, leaning hard into the only Life Grower.

There are days when I feel overwhelmed. Like the weeds are going to take over. There are nine of us growing together and there are messes and hurt feelings and school work that sits unfinished along with the dishes. Daily I’m aware of my powerlessness to change hearts or to force kindness or to speed up maturity or to make our lives neat and orderly and safe.

But, a mother-poet leans into the deep magic of the Life Grower.

The lines scratched on my soul are changing from ‘keep them safe’ or ‘’raise good kids” into ‘tend them faithfully’ and ‘love them well’. It’s the knowledge that the only thing I have to offer is the gospel that I still need myself.

The gospel that makes me a mother living moment by moment by moment leaning into grace, offering grace, pleading for grace. It takes me out of the ‘what will be’ and into the ‘what is now’. It is the prayer and the grace to understand the seasons. To know the time to shelter, to plant, to weed and to water; to keep them close and speak truth and discipline and to shower with loving-kindnesses. And to know the seasons to let the plants break through the soil; to bear the pain of release over and over and over again. It’s learning to trust, to do the next thing, to lean hard into the Life Grower.  That Great Poet writing His story, bearing His fruit, reaping His harvest, in each of our farmer-mother-child souls.