Home At Last

Home At Last

“I could not look upon the peaks of Ascutney, Killington, Mansfield, and Equinox, without being moved in a way that no other scene could move me. It was here that I first saw the light of day; here I received my bride, here my dead lie pillowed on the loving breast of our eternal hills.”

-Calvin Coolidge, (on visiting his home state of Vermont)

In Maine, just as the blueberries were nearing their peak, I stood with my family on top of Haystack Mountain. I’ve always had trouble when people ask me where I’m from in Maine, in narrowing it down to a town. What I’d like to say is that I’m from the view off of Haystack.

That July night, after dinner but before dusk, I stood with my mother and we pointed out the places. Off to the east, in Searsmont, it was easy to pick out the patch of earth that was my father’s land. Forty six acres in the back section had burned in a forest fire this spring; you could see a gray rectangle of trees that had been charred and blackened and wouldn’t be bearing green leaves again. Closer to us would be the vegetable gardens, with cucumbers, beans and maybe my father bent over some weeds.

I moved my gaze slightly northward and could see the gap in the trees where the road stretches away to Belfast on the coast. Somewhere there, out of site, rests Islesboro in deep salt water and in the far distance, its steady gaze over both the ocean and the inlands, stood Blue Hill looking back at us.

Bringing my eyes closer again, I could see the Kingdom, where Cram Pond stands quiet and still but remembers when the mills and houses and school stood along the river and filled its shores with people. Stories still echo over the water like the eeriness of loon calls. It’s where my grandmother was born, one of seven children, and where my great-grandmother ran and wept by the waterfalls when she lost her husband. The powerful rush of water still tumbles down, all these years after her tears joined them in their course.

Past the Kingdom runs the road to Morrill. I could see it tucked into the hills in the north, hiding my sister’s houses, my grandfather’s and the church where my husband and I were married. It’s there that my sisters and I used to ride our horses across the side of Frye Mountain, passing one grandmother’s house on Rowe Hill and coming out hours later just below the other’s on Morey Hill. Frye Mountain, like Cram Pond, is a place where stories lie thick. Thirty-seven cellar holes are left up there, with apple trees growing beside in a wilderness. There used to be beautiful old farmhouses, with water running from springs in the side of the mountain into kitchens, and with big barns housing horses, cows and sheep. Once I stood with my grandfather as we looked from his house to Frye Mountain; he told me that he could still remember when there was barely a tree over there on the side of that hill. Looking at the trees covering it completely like a thick, tucked-in blanket, I almost didn’t believe him, though the miles of stone walls where pastures once were tell the same story.

Past Frye Mountain to the northwest is Hogback Mountain. They say that many years ago, two of my great great grandfathers were friends and could bellow back and forth from where they each lived on the side of the hills, having conversations across the miles. There are still stories echoing. They echoed all over, from every direction, as I stood and looked out at the view from Haystack Mountain.

Following Hogback, and coming closer West again, my mother pointed out the place where her own house sits in Montville. We moved there when I turned ten. That same year one sister went off to college, one sister left to get married, and my mother got remarried herself.  She and my stepfather bought the Montville house together, and moved my little sister and me to a new town with a new school district. It seemed at the time like I had been torn from my roots; all that was familiar and loved had been left behind. Now, it blends easily into the landscape of home as seen from Haystack Mountain. Even the house itself sits in a place that echoes family history. When my grandmother was a girl, her mother a widow, they left the Kingdom and moved right to the spot where my mother and stepfather dragged me so unwillingly. When my grandmother came to visit us that first year, she told stories of when she lived just down the hill and used to walk to attend school in what is now the house across the street from my mother’s.  She said something like, “I’ve been right here in this room before. The lady who used to live here was a seamstress and she was doing some sewing for a little girl. She saw me going to school and thought I was about the same size as that little girl. She asked me to come in so she could size a dress.” And in that spot where I felt so far from home, my grandmother said, “I’ve been right here before.”

Leaving Maine, and the view from Haystack, was difficult this time. Sort of like when I was ten, and didn’t want to leave Morrill, my heart kept crying out, ‘but that is home’.  And I shed some tears, and I had some attitude about living away, and I finally decided that I didn’t have to be on top of Haystack to look back toward home. I started looking for the stories. I decided to research and write about those places, and was drawn especially to the forgotten and echoey places like Frye Mountain and the Kingdom that are so rich with history.

And, I’m finding the stories. I’m finding that so many people have been right here before.

There are old family papers my grandfather collected in two briefcases with finicky latches, photos and newspaper clippings, letters and genealogies spreading over pages like branches or roots. A library archive of interviews about Frye Mountain were waiting like treasures in a mine; I’ve been pouring over transcripts that hold voices of a generation that is fast disappearing, telling stories of generations that they are the only ones who remember. There are maps marked with family names and old names on roads and corners and gravesites. Names copied from family Bibles, names from lists of men going off to war, names with just dates of birth and marriage and death. Names that are all we have left of each life full of stories. Names that tell us that so many people have been right here before.

Spending time with these names, and the stories that I have in pieces from times past, is helping me with my homesickness; maybe even by taking it to a deeper level that is truer. It’s reminding me that, despite how firm a stake in life we feel like we have as we work and entertain ourselves, we will only hold our place here for so long; day passes day and it wasn’t so long ago that others stood on these hills surveying the landscape. It isn’t so long before our turn will be past and others will take our place. And perhaps in a surpassing way, when we reach heights where we can see beauty and expanse, our hearts are moved by longing. There’s an echo in the air of a deeper, greater story. In a way, no matter where on earth we tread, as we strain our ears for the rest of the story, there’s a pang of homesickness in our souls. It’s okay to not be totally satisfied. There’s appropriateness in not feeling a sense of complete belonging. There’s a call in the air but it hasn’t been answered. It isn’t the time yet that we can finally say, with those who have gone on ahead of us, that we are truly ‘home at last!’

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…”

CS Lewis, from ‘The Last Battle’

Overcoming the Cold

The cold seems to make things quiet.

Outside, the evergreens are weighed down by snow that doesn’t melt; the maples and oaks each stand with arms outstretched and still as if in silent sentry. The only trees left with leaves to chatter when the wind blows are the beeches; they keep gripping them, even all curled and brown. The world is white on top of white with splashes of gray and glimpses of pine green. The chickens stay huddled in the coop and the only tracks we see near the house belong to the dog and the occasional rabbit. Most things are settled down somewhere, quiet.

We’re huddled down, too.  Sometimes we push through and layer and cover and trudge out. But we don’t stay long when it’s below ten degrees and the wind is picking up. The littlest one puts on someone’s boots and a hat on crooked, along with one mitten, and he pats my leg and points to the door. But I scoop him up and try to distract him with a book or a snack or something to make a mess with. The older kids sit near the fire. Two boys sit side by side on the rock hearth. One holds ‘The Return of the King’ and the other holds ‘Prince Caspian’. I think of Tolkien and Lewis an ocean and an epoch away, and something in me is proud of my boys. They are the type that could wear magic rings and do battle or walk through wardrobes and live in castles. We’re huddled together and dreaming bigger.

Something in me is quieter, too. This is what I dreaded in the fall; a cold, snowy winter with cancelled appointments and visits and church. And somehow it’s okay. Maybe because the seed catalogs are appearing in the mailbox every other day. Maybe because I’ve started planning and making sure we have everything we need for making maple syrup. Maybe just because something in me, deep down, has settled like the layers of snow from half a dozen storms.

Yesterday we woke to another foot of snow and an email saying church was cancelled. Before clearing the driveway, my husband helped me bundle little ones and put boots on the right feet. We strapped on snowshoes and loaded up the ice fishing sled with the ones too short to walk in the deep snow. It was bitter. In the woods the cold was biting but when we would come into the open it sliced through the layers with brutality. We made it only as far as the children’s Falkonhurst, a town they’ve created out of sticks and branches and forks in tree trunks. We peeked in each of their ‘cabins’ to see how well they were holding up, and then retreated back to the house to stand by the fire and thaw.

Today, I saw on the news that a woman just a little younger than me was hiking in the mountains not far away yesterday. By 3:30 in the afternoon she was somewhere on the ridgeline and knew she was in trouble. They tried to reach her but with temperatures reaching 30 below last night and unbelievable winds, they couldn’t. It’s one of those news stories that leave you aching.

We are all so much more fragile than we want to believe.

Maybe that’s a strange thing about a cold winter. It shows us things about ourselves. We see how dependent we are on that shrinking firewood pile next to the house. But then, we feel tough as we rush out to grab the next armload. We’re kind of dipping back and forth between feeling like dependents and conquerors.

Sometimes faith feels like that, too.

Another news story made my heart ache today. Twenty one men lined up along a distant shore. In the photographs, you can see the waves rolling in behind them. Twenty one men on their knees, the only words on their lips being, “Help me, Jesus.”

And they were conquerors.

Somewhere inside something has settled in me. It makes me quiet. Prayerful.

This world is cold. There is such a thing as evil and it wants to kill and destroy. It wants to whisper lies. It wants to numb us to what is true and put fear and hate in our bones. It wants to make our temperature the same as that of the world in a winter chill.

But that’s not all there is.

Last night I woke up and heard the wind battering the house. My husband and I were nestled close under the weight of wool blankets. I knew the woodstoves were probably getting low as it had been several hours since they had been loaded and the dampers shut. I thought of my little ones upstairs and downstairs and my husband asleep next to me, all waking up in a few hours. I took the plunge into the cold air and tended the fires.

This winter I’m getting more settled in my need to tend those fires.

“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:8-9)

The cold of this world wants to creep not just through the walls of our house, but wants to creep into my mind and my heart.

The cold wants to numb my affections for Christ; to have me doubt that my faith will be sight someday. The cold wants to chill my marriage with little resentments here and there that go unspoken and unforgiven. It wants to bury my joy as a mother in the mundane tasks that seem more important than snuggling and listening and speaking kindness into little hearts. The cold of this world can make me weary.

But Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

The cold doesn’t have to numb and chill and bury and weary. He has overcome the cold.

It’s okay to grow quieter; to be stilled by the cold. But it needs to drive me to tend the fires.

I tend the fires of my faith by drawing near to God; to have a heart that is not quiet toward Him but quiet before Him. It’s opening up the damper when I pray with honesty and rawness. It’s placing seasoned fuel in the fire when I open up the Word and read it until it is saturating my soul more than the drafts that come from circumstance. It’s stirring the coals and blowing fresh oxygen onto the flames when I don’t let snowy roads or a chilled heart keep me from reaching out to loved ones however I’m able. And, as I obey, I can watch the flames leap up and warm my heart so that I don’t give up and so that I can pour the warm harvest of the Holy Spirit into the cold world, starting with those closest to me.

Father,

Thank You for the reality of life beyond this cold world. I know this season of separation is so brief… Only You know when we each will breathe our last breath and what our first moments in the reality of eternity will be. Please let us live our lives close to You so that when that moment comes, it is just a continuation and increase in the intimacy we have grown to experience here. Let us not grow weary in doing good while we have the opportunity. Please let me love my husband and children well while we’re close together in this small house in the middle of winter. And let the love that You grow here, in the quiet and stillness of these woods and of our hearts, overflow into the lives of those we love in other places, and those who we don’t know yet but will love Someday.

Amen

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The Wave Song

She grew up outside of the fog. Where her house sat, there were fields of cows and fields of grasses growing tall for hay. Always surrounding these were hills covered round and green by the tall pines. But on the way to town, before they came to stores and to the only stop light, she would see it; a cloud starting to lift below. The ocean was just ahead; a bay cut deep into the rocky flesh of mid-coast Maine.

In the heat of July and August, sticky sunscreen would be packed beside Italian sandwiches and she could play for the day on the shore. Even before she had words, the waves made poetry deep inside; they lapped against rocks in a steady rhythm that said ‘this is so big and you are so small’. Over and over and over again, the tide coming up unrelenting (stealing shoes if it could) and then releasing its grip on the shore (leaving shell-treasure in recompense).

In school, she sounded out words to tell the story of a sea-witch and wound the tale around with waves and weeds and dashed wickedness. When she turned in her paper, she watched from her desk as her teacher read it, saw her smile and leave the room with the story still in her hands. And the girl wondered and didn’t know.

Little Lara at the Beach

Later, she didn’t have to sound out her words anymore; they were emotions decoded and thoughts sorted and composition books were stacked under her bed. In her first creative writing class, teenagers sat in a circle and she read her poem aloud. When she looked up, her teacher had tears streaming down her face and left the circle for tissues. And the girl wondered and realized that words aren’t just for her to sort but that they connect and stretch across space and bring people close.

In college, the girl would drive her car to the ocean. She sat overlooking the bay and wrote poems about sailboats and the wind and being on the shore. One night she stayed with a friend in a little house where she could hear waves and smell salt. In the morning she woke to the thudding sound of lobster boats. As she scrounged for breakfast, she watched the pretty sea gulls circling over the boats and scavenging as well. She scribbled out a lobsterman poem and, even though a Mainer all her life, as she thought of them pulling traps out in the chilly morning, she realized she was just a tourist at the sea side.

That fall she met a boy with hair bleached blonde from working all summer on the ocean. He called sea gulls rats and didn’t think they were pretty at all. He teased her about her little bay with the gentle waves and showed her the ocean where the waves were wild and crashed and where when you look out into the ocean it was like looking up at the stars in the sky, seeming to stretch on and on for infinity.

Soon, she started writing poems with a ring on her hand and delicately put the word ‘fiance’ in her prose whenever she could make it fit. There was marriage and moving far from the ocean and a baby was born. She held the new little one in her arms and again, felt the wave song swelling up inside, “this is so big and you are so small.”

The boy knew his wife missed the cow fields and hay fields and before long they had a farm and a farmer’s family; half a dozen babies trying to help pull weeds and mend fences. She was so happy she forgot all about the ocean and the stories. Her hands were too busy for pen and paper. The ocean was only thought of on those hot summer days when they stacked hay bales and longed for a cool sea breeze to dry their sweat. Sometimes, when the hay field was past due for mowing, a light summer wind would send rippling waves through the grass. She’d catch her breath and for a moment, as she watched the timothy bend and bow and lift again, she was beside the sea again. A poem would start to swell like a wave but then there was lunch to make and a baby to put down for her nap and the sheep had broken the temporary fence and were in with the cows. Her thoughts didn’t need to be sorted as much as the laundry waiting in piled baskets.

But then, came a summer of breaking on the farm. The boy and girl sold their animals and old farmhouse and their farm kids became kids with tree forts and hatchets. Their new house sat on a pine covered hill with big windows looking west. So, she would gaze over the rolling hills below and into the big sky above with her back turned to the ocean. She didn’t think about waves or salty air, but she thought about miles and dirt roads and stars in the sky. The miles and the dirt road would sometimes taunt her with their song, ‘you are so alone, so far away’. But every now and then, the stars would whisper to her the wave song, ‘this is so big and you are so small’. Slowly, a swell of stories started to rise inside her heart. Sometimes she walked with her children in the woods and told them stories; a fairy named Perchance had been blown away from fairy land during a storm (when she didn’t listen to her mommy and come inside) and was now wandering about the woods. She was shy but lonely so she loved to follow children and would sometimes leave little gifts in the trail for them. And the farm kids turned woods kids would walk with quiet feet and try to catch a glimpse. They would look in stumps and under leaves and they would find Perchance’s gifts of acorns and shiny rocks and funny shaped sticks.

And the girl-now-mother-in-the-woods started filling her journals again. She even wrote a poem or two. But she was still looking west out her windows and the dirt roads still taunted her with loneliness. She remembered how her teacher had cried and how her words had gone out of her heart into someone else’s and connected them with strings of understanding. She decided to share her ‘walk in the woods’ and would sometimes find a story pressing in and out. So, she would take her heart and put it into words on a computer screen and when she pressed ‘share’ somehow her words bypassed the long dirt road on their way to other screens and into other hearts. And sometimes, words would come back to her. Sometimes other hearts would be put into words and a wave of connection and love would swell.

Sometimes the girl even started to feel wise. When she wrote she would pray and have the Words of the Master of all Words by her side. His Word came in like a tide at the ocean; where there was once a tangle of weeds and rubbish the deep waters would come and rest. And then, as the tide receded she found it had taken much of the debris and left behind treasures of truth glimmering for her to pick up and make her own. She started longing to share these treasures gleaned from the deep tides rolling over her soul. This longing could possess her; she craved the tides and the washing and the sharing and the hearts being strung together with strings of wisdom. She started wanting to spend her day stringing together words and checking and rechecking them.

But she was still a mother and a wife and a housecleaner and a schoolteacher and… on and on it could go. One night, she and the boy sat face to face with their New Years’ sparkling cider in their hands. And, they talked about the year ahead and she knew there was more to do than she could ever, ever do. She looked at this boy whose hair was brown now and who worked so hard and she wanted to do whatever she could to make their life happy in the woods. So, she decided to cut out the words and the stories and the sharing. She would make her hands busy with dishes and laundry and school books and diapers and do it without the distraction of the stories pushing up and in and out.

And she tried. She put schedules in place and made her hands as busy as they could be. And her house was a bit cleaner and she thought, ‘Yes… this is right. This is what I needed to do.’

But at night, she started dreaming of the ocean. The waves woke her from her sleep and she was thirsty with desire to be standing on rocks with salt air blowing her hair and wild waves crashing below.

And, neither the girl nor the boy was happier in their tidier house in the woods. After a while, her heart sank with this knowledge. She could do and do and do and do and do and all the while there was more. One day, she took an old board and painted the words, “Our home, a place to BE” and hung it on the wall. And, throughout the day, she would look at the crooked letters and wonder how to ‘be’ and how to let others ‘be’.

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And all the while, she prayed that the Master of all Words wouldn’t wash over her with His tide. She couldn’t bear to see the treasures shining and know she had given up stories. They were the only thing she could think of to let go because dinner needed to be made and children needed to be snuggled and socks needed matching. But she didn’t need to write.

Though at night, she kept dreaming of waves and sometimes they were gentle and sometimes they came crashing down and made her afraid.

Just before she sank down under the weight of the doing and the crashing waves, the Master of All Words gave her counselors kinder than those of Job. One was on her way to the ocean, and gave her the gift of listening and belief and confidence in her stories. Another wrote from the desert, and sang songs over her like the tide washing up and over and around, strengthening and stilling.

And the girl knew. She needed to write. She needed to weave stories while walking with her children and write love letters to her husband and to let the Word wash her and speak it back in ways that connect her to people beyond her long dirt road. She needed to let go of ‘doing’ her writing with its checking and rechecking and trying to be wise and to just ‘be’ and write like she inhales and exhales. She wouldn’t write to teach but she would write for healing and to love. She wouldn’t worry about her grammar or style or being pretty for other people… she doesn’t have time for all of that. But she would write like she was standing by the shore and listening to the waves crash.

And, while her windows still face west, she’s holding tight to something better than the ocean welling up inside. She has the One who thought of the seas and spoke them into being with His Word. She has the One who looked at the crashing waves and told them to ‘Be Still’ and they quieted. So, she can listen to His song in her heart, and write to and through and for the One who calls out, over and over and over again, ‘this is so big and you are so small.’

A Beautiful Church

There’s a little Baptist church in midcoast Maine that makes me catch my breath when I walk through the doors. I’ve never been a member or even a regular attender but there is a powerful wind of memories that meets me as soon as the doors swing open.

When I was a little girl, I would come through those doors once a year wearing a pink, flowery dress and an Easter hat. I would sit close to my grandmother and she would hand me peppermints during the sermon and quarters to place in the offering. I still remember one of the sermons. The pastor enthusiastically told the story of Jesus using whips to drive the money changers out of the temple. Close to thirty years later I can still picture the pastor waving his arms and feel my shock at hearing that the same Jesus holding little lambs in my storybook Bible could use whips and turn over tables.

Yesterday, I didn’t hear much of the sermon when I visited the little church. I paced in the back with a fussy baby and noticed that some extra pamphlets from my grandmother’s funeral the day before still sat on a table. For so long there had been two strong grandmothers in that little town and for the second time in three years I had come home and to this church to gather with family in a goodbye. Beside the table where the pamphlets sat were double doors leading to the sanctuary. I remembered how my sisters covered the little windows with white paper on my wedding day so that my husband-to-be wouldn’t catch sight of me until the wedding march was played and the doors were swung open.

My baby was getting louder so I made my way to a side room where a lady I didn’t recognize was working in the nursery. After we spoke for a few minutes she asked me my maiden name and when I told her, her eyes lit up. “I went to school with your father… I used to be a substitute teacher in your kindergarten class and bring in my guitar and sing. Do you remember that? You were so shy! It’s nice to see you are talking now!” We laughed and I vaguely remembered the guitar and the songs and the shy little girl.

My three year old heard there was Play-do and snacks so we made our way to the Sunday school class in the basement.  On the stairs I met a man holding the hand of his own little boy. There was a greeting and a brief memory of being seventeen and decisions that felt so heavy and confusing. Later, as I saw his sweet wife walk by with a new baby, I smiled and thought how God is kind and forceful and we don’t really choose but He moves and He purposes and He creates.

My little one finally fell asleep so I carefully eased into the back pew.  My husband sat with my newly widowed grandfather and a row of our blonde headed children. I remembered sitting in the same spot one Sunday as a teenager and not being able to hold back tears. I didn’t even know why I cried. A sense of something too beautiful for me to own overwhelmed me and loneliness welled up as the hymns were sung. It was surreal to remember and see through time the pew, both full of my people and the girl that I used to be as she sat in the wave of loneliness.

After the service, my eight year old boy asked about the old, cast iron bell that sits in the entry. It used to hang in the old church that burned down. In that old church his great, great, great grandparents used to come and sing and pray. Tucked away at home, I have a poem my great, great grandmother wrote to their beloved pastor when he was ill. She used to pray and write and listen to the bell that my little boy stood longing to ring.

I love history and small towns and feeling like there are roots that twist from the blood in my veins into the buildings and soil and old bells.

Nearly every Sunday for the last twelve or thirteen years, my growing family has made our way to another New England church. This church is in a college town and most of us are from someplace else. When I look around at the congregation I don’t see extended family, old friends or teachers. There are no ghosts of me as a girl. There isn’t even a church building with a bell and steeple, just a high school auditorium rented for the day.

In the Old Testament, before Jesus walked as a man with fishermen and sinners, God’s people built a temple where they could worship. God’s Spirit dwelt in a special room deep in the temple called the Holy of Holies and a thick curtain hung to separate this dwelling from the people. God was too holy to approach. Only once a year the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies in order to sprinkle blood of atonement at the mercy seat.

The day Jesus died on the cross, when He said ‘It is finished’, the earth shook and this curtain of separation split down the middle. Jesus, being holy himself and the only completely sufficient sacrifice, was able to do what no amount of ritual had been able to accomplish. The Spirit drew near. Now the church heard the words, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”  Instead of separate and impenetrable, the Holy of Holies became the Christian heart.  Instead of looking to a physical temple or a church building, we look to the people God has chosen and we see him abiding in their midst.

Some Sunday mornings I don’t want to go to church. I’ve thought it would be nice to worship alone and I would feel more near to God in the woods and the stillness and beauty of the trees. But, God hasn’t made his Holy of Holies out of wood or boards or branches or blue sky.  He’s made it out of people.

Part of me says that there’s no way this can be true. I’m a Christian and I know that I’m not holy of holy. I see other Christians and they aren’t holy of holy either. I still see God in the distance waiting for me to clean up my act. Out of the corners of my eyes I peek to see how other Christians are doing and judge us all according to the progress we’re making. The progress we’re making on the road that isn’t there.

God isn’t far away. He’s with his people.

And Jesus is passionate. The same zeal that made him fashion whips out of cords and throw tables to cleanse his Father’s house consumes him. It’s what nailed him to a cross where the blood flows and gives us something better than roots. He gives us grace and breaks the curtain.

He loves us. He’s passionate about us. When we get that, it changes us. Suddenly we are the holy of holies. His Spirit abides and overturns our old nature so that we love him and we can love each other.

His church is beautiful and it’s not because we’re perfect or because of the white steeple or because of history in the pews or because we like each other.  It’s because we’re His, and He’s in us and we belong to one another. It’s because we’re all dressed in grace and where there is grace and His Spirit, love flows. We are tied by blood that isn’t in our veins but that washes our hearts and calls us to look to the cross. His church is beautiful because we are singing the same song and clinging to the same message.

“And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.” 1 John 4:14-16

Home and Forever

I’m sitting here as the snowstorm starts and I’m reading messages from home. They say things like “hospice starting” and “deteriorating faster than expected.”

The children are all waking up and getting breakfast and squabbling. The baby nurses while I read and he kicks contently. Life is awake and loud and busy and my grandmother is going to die soon. I just want to be still and quiet and cry. Most of all I want to be on a different hill. I want to walk through an always unlocked door and see a fat dog and a very fat cat and hear my grandfather say, “Well, hello there!” and I want to hug my Grammy.

And as if things couldn’t get any harder, I have to make whoopie pies today. It’s been years and a few weeks ago my husband mentioned he’d like them. My ten year old earned a dessert and game night and he remembered. “Mom, I think I want whoopie pies for my dessert night tonight. I don’t know what game I want to play. Maybe that one with the pile of cards you have to get rid of… what is that called?”

Skip-Bo.  Really, Lord? You want me to make whoopie pies and play Skip-Bo tonight?

I remember waking up. The tick of the grandfather clock was loud and the gong every hour made life feel safe and predictable. No matter how early I walked in the kitchen Grammy was baking. I remember whoopie pies on the counter and then wrapped in plastic wrap and some large ones placed in the mailbox for the mailman. Years later they made their way postage paid to my house too far away.

When Grammy finds out you like something you will have an endless supply. There have been years and years of hamburg soup. We would drive and drive and walk through the door with children dispersing through the house with toys and things for little hands to play with in corners and behind doors and the quiet house would be loud and Grammy would tell me to sit down and there would be hamburg soup and I would be eight years old again and nothing had changed and everything was home and safe and unending.

I don’t want endings. I want home and safe and forever.

The kids are asking why I cry. The baby laughs as he looks at me and pinches my cheeks.

Grammy hasn’t held the baby yet. He was born and I dread the long drive and I should have gone anyway. I have to tear myself away from what should have been and remember what is. He hasn’t been through the door at Grammy’s house but he’s part of there.

My sisters sit and look at photo albums with Grammy. Albums full of parents and cousins and aunts and babies and all of us. There are so many stories. Some to make you laugh, some to make you cry and some you don’t mention. Stories of a family; real and hard and sad and beautiful. There are faces of people that are away now. Maybe I feel especially part of them because I am away. Grammy’s only sister, her only daughter, her oldest grandson, my other grandmother who was her dear friend and so many others. I feel the ache of being away from Grammy and feel myself there even though I’m physically far away and I wonder if that’s how it is for them as well. Only I’m aching a goodbye and they are aching with an impending welcome.

Someone needs help with their word problems. Something about a dog chasing squirrels on a Tuesday and I want to tell the boy that it doesn’t matter. There is life and it is precious and there is Heaven and it will be here so soon and squirrels on a Tuesday and how to add don’t matter. But, I don’t say it. I read the problem and we talk about it and it matters.

I’m going to cry sometimes today and I’m going to wish I were sitting on the couch with my Grammy and that the grandfather clock hadn’t ticked so fast. I’m going to wish that time could stand still and I’m going to wish that it would be over and that it would finally be safe and together and home and forever.

I’m also going to do what Grammy always has done and what mothers and grandmothers always do. My heart is going to ache with love that sometimes feels painful and my hands are going to be busy with love that mops floors and reads stories and laughs at things the three year old says and cheers with the baby when he claps his hands and smile with tears in my eyes. And this afternoon I’m going to get out a recipe copied from a card in my Grammy’s recipe box and the jar of Marshmallow Fluff and baking cocoa and I’m going to make whoopie pies. Tonight I’ll sit down at a table that’s full of somebody’s great grandchildren and play my grandmother in Heaven’s favorite game, Skip-Bo, and eat whoopie pies and think of my Grammy on a hill in the same snowstorm that’s sending down flakes out our window. I’m going to hold close the babies that are part of me and part of them and know that they are both near and we’re together and there is something that is already forever.

The Path Home

I’m sure I first fell in love with my husband on a walk in the woods. Which walk I can’t say because there were so many that first summer. We’d pull on long sleeves and pants over our shorts before climbing on his motorcycle (no need to mention the motorcycle part to our kids!) and then be off. Most often our trip would partly consist of being jarred uncomfortably along a dirt road leading to a far part of the woods in northern Maine (north of Bangor anyway). There was the memorable ‘appliance graveyard’ hike where we wound ourselves through a plot of old refrigerators, ovens and other remnants left to rust in the woods and ended up on a boulder in the wilderness as the sun set and darkness settled. Then, the coyotes started howling and we howled back in a conversation only they understood.

Often on our adventures we would look for a mountain to climb and then sit victorious at the top, looking west as the sun set and watching the stars come out. We’d see the distant glow of light from a town far away and feel like we were somehow separate from the rest of breathing, drudging humanity; closer somehow to the coyotes and stars. Maybe it was the effect of sitting with someone who was gently being revealed as the man I would be united with for life, or the stillness in the cooling air, but those moments after the sun set seemed to stand still. They were miniature eternities where time seemed peeled away and I felt that all that had come before in my life and all that would follow, even for generations, was surrounding us as we sat together. They were moments when we would speak in whispers even though there were miles stretched between us and any other listening ear.

But then, a breeze would break through with an extra chill, or a mosquito would bite and one of us would have to look at our watch and time came back.  We would have to make our way back down the mountain.  Always without a flashlight we’d start back down the rocky, often unfamiliar trail.  He always led the way and I remember being thankful for his white t-shirt reflecting the little bit of moonlight on a particularly dark night.  Ours was an unordinary falling in love.  He didn’t hold my hand until the following winter when he placed a diamond on one of my fingers.  So instead of a finger grip, my eyes stayed fixed on this man as we made our way down.  With the night closed in around us, in a far and unfamiliar wood, I just kept moving one foot in front of the other.  There were stumbles, branch scratches and the occasional fearful shiver when I thought about the dark trail behind me. But my eyes kept searching and fixing themselves on the man I trusted leading me home.

Years have gone by, babies born, boxes packed and unpacked and here I find I’ve followed him into the woods once more. The trees surround our cabin-house and we can watch the sun set over distant hills in the west. Instead of just two adventurers there are nine of us now and someone often speaks the words, “Let’s go for a walk in the woods.”

This is a sweet, happy, busy life we’ve been blessed with. But this isn’t all.   I have unwrapped countless gifts in this life.  I have been blessed with the fulfillment of nearly all the dreams I had as a young girl.  But strangely I’ve found them wanting.  The greatest joy in this life is dulled by the brokenness of living in a world where sin and death have entered in.  Its the pain of holding a great treasure in your hand only to watch it fading slowly away.

This life, with all its blessing, is being used up.  We can grasp it only to have it slip through our fingers. My hope isn’t found by looking at the great gifts in my life though I am deeply thankful, beyond words, for each one.  My hope comes from remembering that I’m not really home yet.  I’m on a path where even my dearest, most beloved friend can’t blaze the way. 

Ultimately, the journey my soul makes through this life is not one I make as a wife or a mother or a sister or a friend, but I am journeying on this path as a follower of Jesus.  He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”   His road home isn’t always what I would naturally choose for myself or for those I love.  Sometimes I think there must be some other way.  I start looking for hope in some other place but always there is emptiness and a darkness when I turn my face away from Him.  Its like trying to satisfy my thirst by eating sand.  I get more parched and long again for the life giving water.

I can’t escape that I am a believer.  A questioning, praying, stumbling, fumbling in the dark, believer.

But he keeps calling and there is grace.  “Light is sown for the righteous and joy for the upright in heart.” (Psalm 97:11)  He calls me, covers me with his own righteousness and lights my way.  This gospel is simple and hard and so often I feel like I can only see a glimmer.  It’s a bit of light springing up along the path like a seed that was sown.  It’s the encouragement to keep following.  It’s the seed of light that grows into faith and blossoms into joy.

So, here I am, just starting to share my journey, hoping that those little seeds of light in my life might send a glimmer of hope to another soul like me, in a far wood but on the path leading Home.