On growing up

 

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We were gathered at the kitchen table over breakfast, and I pulled out the bible for our morning family reading time.  As we were discussing that day’s reading, I asked the children something and Phoebe’s response was, “Well, I just don’t read my bible that often.  I don’t find I really have a use for it.”  Words that made my heart sink.  Is that what she sees in us, I had to ask myself?  Does she not see her father and I clinging to God’s word, making USE of it in our daily lives?  Where are we exemplifying it’s practical use and purpose?  I’m thankful she was being real and honest, and I think if most of us are honest, we don’t feel too much differently than she does.  We don’t read our bibles much because we don’t really see the use, right?  What good is it anyway?

But then the hard days come.  The shock of bad news, the financial burden, the unexpected need.  The broken heart, the anxious nights–and those of us who are Word-people find that only God’s Word breaks through these hard life realities.  Only God’s Word helps, soothes, and brings hope.  I hope I can show my children that there is nothing like God’s Word, like hearing truth that divides so perfectly (Heb. 4:12) and brings light (Ps. 119:130) and literally imparts strength to the listener (Ps. 119:28).

It’s been a hard few weeks around here.  I don’t only want to share the good in this little space, because of course you know it isn’t all good!  I’ve been feeling increasingly frazzled and stretched and overwhelmed lately, trying to juggle more than I ever have before and feeling at capacity, if not beyond.  I dropped and broke my camera which is a source of joy and also income for me.  It will cost as much to fix it as it would to purchase a new camera.  I was planning to open a little etsy shop this month but now can’t photograph the items I want to sell (I can use my phone, but it doesn’t do the same job as my DSLR).  One of the children had lice, resulting in a total house scrub down and a billion loads of laundry.  A few days after that discovery, the vet informed us Rose (our kitty) has fleas and so the house underwent another big scrub down, and despite my great dislike for the use of any chemicals, a terminix guy came to resolve the issue.  It seems to take a lot for me to break down and cry lately, but I cried a good bit that morning from equal parts exhaustion and discouragement.  Fleas + lice make one feel like a domestic failure (and I hesitate to share it here because it feels so yucky/shameful)!  Also, I think because “home” is so important and special to me and also my primary place of work, it hits hard when home is infested, you know?  Couple all of that with a baby who hasn’t been sleeping well and my own little bouts with insomnia lately, and you can imagine the toll that that takes.  Because of the cleaning and flea resolution, we had to cancel another family camping trip attempt.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about growing up, what it feels like to realize you are a grown up when all the while you still feel like that same child.  Our spot of earth is tilting away from the sun and my soul needs the reprieve, the wide open space of barren forests and quiet land.  Autumn comes and I hear the strain of the familiar song — geese crying out against an iron sky.  Leaves turning from green to ochre, rustling dry on the limb.  Hearing the geese, it makes me sing that song from my childhood by Michael Kelly Blanchard every time — A view out the window is just a piece of the sky.  The song triggers a memory and suddenly I am driving out with my family to Burnsville area as a child, hiking the Roan Mountain bald and drawing it in a notebook, trying to capture that fall glory with my 8 year old hand.  There’s the ache and longing to just be that child again when life was simpler and felt safer.

A few weeks ago I went to bed fighting anxiety and overwhelm over some pressing needs with our children.  I picked up my current read at the time, Rebecca Reynolds book which I recently shared on this blog, Courage Dear Heart: Letters to a Weary World.  I just so happened to be reading a portion that evening about watching our children walk through their own underworlds and rebellions and not trying to manage or methodologize life for them but to hang in that liminal balance of trust.

She writes,

“I wish I knew how to help kids understand desire for the Lord without also learning what it’s like to fill their bellies with husks left for the pigs.  I don’t want young people to take King Solomon’s approach, plunging into one futile experiment after another until they are finally exhausted enough to declare, ‘Vanity, vanity.”  If I could choose for them, I would give all young believers the way of Enoch, that dear old man who walked small and honest beside God until he woke up one morning and found that he was walking in his eternal presence.  What a beautiful way to spend life on earth!  ‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be Enoch, and his is the path I’d want my kids to take if I held the game controls of their lives.

Yet fear and compassion drive me to that desire as much as faith.  As much as I hate spiritual disaster, I know God can work with it because so many of my favorite writers have been there.  Lewis was an atheist, and he was likely immoral for years.  Dorothy Sayers had a child out of wedlock.  Chesterton left his childhood faith only to grow madly in love with orthodoxy in the end.  Bad choices can leave ugly scars I don’t want my children to have; however, God is a master of chasing wandering souls through terrible decisions.

This idea that darkness can be commandeered for good stands fiercely against most of the books I’ve read on raising kids right, and doing marriages right, and living life right.  Method manuals have filled me with guilt and fear, and some have nearly driven me mad with self-doubt.  But as much as I love my children, as much as I’m willing to give to help them, I’m not strong enough to be their savior.  God didn’t make me their choreographer; he made me their mother.  So whether they live robust, trusting lives, or whether they wrestle the Lord until he wins their hearts, I still need the living God to complete what he began in them.  If that involves a journey into the underworld, I have to trust the Father to chase them into the valley of the shadow of death.

My husband keeps reminding me that the fatal flaw of most writers is trying to make sense of things before they have come to their proper end; rushing a story is the dark side of the creative nature.  But when we try to jerry-rig the natural progression of events God has planned–either in our lives or in the lives of those we love–we aren’t trusting him.  We are trying to pull the moth out of her cocoon three days too early and then command her to fly when she cannot.  We are trying to compress billions of nuances of grace into six tidy paragraphs.  We are skimming over our first, giant, reptilian sins; rushing the crude lines of our faith’s first cave paintings; reading the CliffNotes on our early renaissances; bouncing over our nuclear winters of backsliding; and jumping straight into ‘They lived happily ever after.  The end.’…

When we are willing to depend upon a God who lives, forgives, redirects, and upholds, we begin to realize that we don’t have to frantically strain to rewrite the meaningless seasons of our lives.  We can cling to grace at the center and learn to preach the gospel to ourselves in small, honest ways.”

I had a small moment of panic in realizing I’m the adult care taking for these four little souls and yet feeling very much so like the child who still needs her own parents.  My dad brought me creme brûlée recently, just out of the blue because he knows it’s my favorite dessert, and later that evening after I put the kids to bed I realized I hadn’t really thanked him for it.  I found myself crying again, feeling seen and loved in a season where I don’t often “need” my parents like I used to, but then realizing actually I do.  Does that make sense?  I’m an adult now and things have changed yet there’s still this child in me who feels just like I did as a little girl.  I was once dependent and carefree, hanging in the trust that my parents would always come through and take care of everything.  Now I’m an adult with my own children and I’m supposed to provide that sense of security for them.  They view Brandon and I in this way, and yet I know the reality of how fragile our financial and emotional well-being is at times!  Sometimes when life presses in, I still want to run to my parents to bail me out, but it’s not their place any more.  We are grown, and our help is in the Lord.

I woke the next morning to these words by Emily Freeman in her podcast, The Next Right Thing, and was struck by the timeliness of them.  I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them:

“So what does growing up feel like?
It feels like torn lace, like smoke, like wedding mints melting on your tongue,
like distraction,
like worry,
like chasing but not quite catching,
or trying to remember but seeing only through foggy panes.
It feels like wider hips and thinner lips,
and laugh lines starting to show up around the curved edges.
It feels like sorrow and joy.
It feels like courage, and sometimes regret.
It also feels like freedom.
We are still growing, even though we’re grown.”

We are still growing up, even though we’re grown–and it is hard to feel like we have much to offer another who is growing up when we feel impossibly like we are still that small child ourselves.

I don’t have a tidy way to wrap all of these thoughts up into a neat bow or happy ending, but it’s just what I’ve been processing lately and I thought maybe someone else out there has been thinking about the same things.  About how hard it is to grow up and be an adult sometimes, how the load of it is far heavier and weightier than we ever imagined as children, and yet nothing has really changed–God is still the same God as He has always been and will be.  He will carry us all the way, and our children.  So here we are, going on from day to day, depending on God, looking to Him as a child, receiving from Him, growing as we go.

Courage, Dear Heart

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Hey friends.  I finished this book, Courage, Dear Heart: Letters to a Weary World, not too long ago and wanted to share about it with you here!  Written as letters to the brokenhearted and storm-battered, in each chapter Reynolds strives to offer three things: words for our pain, the presence of a friend/companion in the journey, and hope so that we can run the race.

You cannot be human for very long and not feel some heart ache, some brokenness.  As you live and walk farther, you only gather more hardships along the way–no one gets through life unscathed.  Of course, life is not only about the hardships and there are rivers of joy.  However there are seasons where the grief and pain seem to swallow up all of the light and we aren’t sure that we’ll ever recover.

In my own life there have been a handful of excruciating seasons, most I can’t really share in this space.  One such season for me was in the first couple of years immediately following Phoebe’s diagnosis with Celiac disease.  Of course the shock of the diagnosis and its implications for lifestyle changes was one overwhelming aspect.  There was so much change so quickly, so much to learn about, such a huge leap in our grocery budget, medical bills from multiple procedures, etc.

Even now as I sit to write this, I am overwhelmed trying to explain the depths of what this journey has been like for us.  I’ve tried writing this post out a few times and keep coming up short.  There is so much, so many layers.  Emotional pain, physical pain, spiritual ramifications, financial strain–the way all of that hits a marriage, the way my husband and I process it all differently and then have to work through it somehow together.  The way it makes a mother nearly go crazy to watch her child suffer and to feel helpless.  Then there is the PTSD of sorts of having gone through something like this, and the temptation to live now in the shadow of the next shoe dropping.  It has been one of the hardest seasons to date, one I’m not sure I’m totally through yet and certainly not one I can fully unpack or process yet.  I was sharing about it with a close friend + confidant recently, how going through this has somehow fundamentally changed the landscape of my soul.

All of that to say, Reynolds book strikes a chord with the storm-battered and weary.  So many words have sounded empty and hollow and lifeless in this season.  Few seem to speak the language of the suffering.  Maybe only those who have walked through these kinds of dark valleys can speak the tongue of it, sending forth words to pull another groping traveler along.  Her words are honest, simple yet profound, hopeful.  It’s rare that a book will make me cry, but there have been time that her words have reached that inaccessible closed off part of my heart and helped to crack it open a bit so the pain can be released.  That is a gift, friends.

She offers permission to suffer, to be human–which we so desperately need when in the company of fellow Christians who often unknowingly communicate that we must be strong in our trial.  She offers a realistic view of what it looks like to be human and yet carry the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.  (What a mystery!)

I highly recommend it for those of you who might be in a trying time for one reason or another, needing letters from a fellow sojourner who can offer real hope and care and help you grope for God through the dark.  I leave you with this little excerpt from the introduction:

“In C. S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, young Lucy finds herself trapped inside a thick, enchanted darkness in which all nightmares come true.  Overwhelmed by fear, she cries out to the great lion, ‘Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.’

At this moment of desperation, Lucy notices a light.  She looks along its beam and sees something inside:

‘At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like an airplane, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was right overhead and was an albatross.  It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow.  It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them.  After that it spread its wings, rose, and began to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little to starboard. . . .No one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, “Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.’

So courage, dear heart.  I know you are tired.  I know the darkness is thick, and the way is longer and harder than you ever expected it to be.  But God sees you, he hurts with you, and he welcomes your honesty.  Even to the ends of the earth, he will lead you on.”

A special thank you to Tyndale Publishers for their complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions my own. 

first day of fall

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Last Saturday was the first day of fall, my favorite season officially arriving at last.  I had hoped to make the day an autumnal celebration, but as is so often the case things went differently than planned.  Philippa wasn’t feeling well, I had only gotten a few hours of sleep, and Brandon was working so the thought of pulling much together was exhausting.  Still, I was thankful I had a few things ready beforehand so we could still make it special.  The children hung a leaf banner for me on the mantle and I pulled out little baby pumpkins for them to paint, which we’ve done for a few years now.  I had hoped to plant some flower bulbs around our property but couldn’t muster the energy.

For me, the coming of fall is much anticipated, bringing all its beautiful colors, crisp air, and coziness.  I don’t mind winter and the cold short days one bit, in fact I crave it, but I know many people dread the long season of cold and dark.  It will be my first time planting bulbs this year, and it struck me a bit poetic, planting for spring now just before winter.  Planning and anticipating the season that will come because of the work of the season I’m in now.  These flowers need to overwinter in the soil.

I had woken up that Saturday morning with so little sleep behind me and another long day ahead, and I was fighting discouragement.  When I’m in that place, I should know better than to give much credit to my thoughts, but I was feeling overwhelmed by all I’m trying to juggle lately, I was feeling discouraged about this blog space.  I feel like I have less and less time to write, which is why I primarily began blogging (a space to share everything God teaches me along the way, a place to pay attention to His presence in my ordinary days).  I feel like my purpose in blogging gets muddled, and who really reads along anyway?  For so much work and effort squeezed into such little pockets of time, is it really worthwhile?  There is so much on the table, and so little I can feasibly give myself to.  Yet that very morning, God sent along some particular encouragement to keep going even if I can’t see where it is all headed.

You see, we do important work in our winters.  There are some things in us that simply MUST overwinter before the fruit is born.  We can’t rush the story.  We can’t see now where our faithfulness in this present season will take us.  We need to stop worrying about our destinations so much, and instead trust the process that will lead us there.  Be faithful here, plan for spring, hope for blooms, but carry on into winter.

This past Saturday was a much better day.  With the children, I planted a couple varieties of tulips, allium, and daffodils, along with some clematis plants a friend had given to us.  We will be eager to see them in spring, and will think often of those little bulbs all snug in the frozen soil throughout the winter.

“Gardens are born in winter.  Not only in fireside dreams, but also in the messy work of tending small pots on sunny windowsills.  And in the harsh work of planting early seeds in cold soil…

I long to see the glory of God in this place, to taste it even, but for everything there is a season.  These are still planting days.  These are the early days of small beginnings.  Days to sow, quite often in tears, hoping, believing, that we may one day reap in joy.”

-Christie Purifoy

Also, the maple pumpkin custard I made for dessert to celebrate the autumn equinox recipe was found here and it was easy and a big hit with everyone!

june girls in their dresses

DSC_0014DSC_0018DSC_0003 (1)DSC_0029DSC_0032DSC_0043DSC_0052DSC_0054DSC_0053DSC_0040DSC_0026DSC_0062DSC_0066DSC_0069DSC_0070DSC_0071DSC_0075DSC_0077DSC_0079DSC_0083DSC_0084DSC_0090DSC_0088DSC_0094DSC_0097DSC_0100DSC_0101DSC_0021I actually got up a bit earlier than usual the other morning, alone in the house, drifting quietly over creaky floorboards to brew coffee.  After a little bit of reading I grabbed my coffee and camera and headed out to the garden, drawn by the light sparkling on the dew in every square of fence.  There has always been something about the early morning that speaks to me, that peculiar early morning light.  With an infant in the house and unpredictable nights, my habit of getting up before the children to have some time alone and in the quiet of the morning has been in flux.  I have felt so harried and easily irritable and just plain worn thin more often lately, and I commented to Brandon the other night that I think it’s due in part to the fact that my day begins with a barrage of needs and chatter, etc. etc.  I always underestimate how valuable that morning time is for me and my own sanity, and what a big difference it can make in a day.  I think I need to get back to protecting that morning time, attempt again to get to bed earlier so the waking isn’t so hard, and to continually remind myself that one early morning hour alone does more for my soul than an extra hour of sleep does for my body.

I’m sharing a couple of finished knits here.  It was a rainy + cool June morning the other day, a nice respite from the summer heat and a good excuse to pull on a cozy shawl.   Brandon took a few photos for me of my pure shawl knit in O-Wool Local yarn.   Also, I knit a girl’s bonnet for a girl close to Philippa’s age so I asked her to model it for me.  (She was reluctant and had to be bribed with a couple of chocolate chips.)  Not to be left out of a photo opportunity, Phoebe soon arrived on the scene in her bonnet and cardigan (that I knit for her awhile ago) so of course, I had to take a few photos of her as well.  I suppose it was a day for the girls to put on a dress and some knits for pictures.

 

twelve years strong

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We sat rocking on the porch, a constant cool breeze tinkling the tines of the wind chime hanging nearby and it sounds like a hymn.  A pair of mourning doves cooing over and over in the branches right beside us, near enough to touch, flying back and forth together to their nest.  Over and over, the cooing song.  We drank steaming mugs in the warm sunlight.  And I almost missed it, the significance.  It didn’t settle over my soul until today,  the symbolism of the dove.  A symbol of peace.  Peace, my word for the year.  Peace, the word God has been speaking to me repeatedly in scripture at the outset of 2018.  I came across these words today:

“Mourning doves represent peace of the deepest kind, soothing and quieting our worried or troubled thoughts, enabling us to find renewal in the silence of the mind.”

Did you know mourning doves mate for life, raising their brood together with devotion?  Did you know mourning doves typically symbolize the presence of the Holy Spirit, hope and peace?

What a kindness from God, to remind us that in this season of marriage and parenting which is so busy, strained, loud and tired, that He offers us peace.  There is peace to be had in Him even in the midst of these busy, blessed years.  That He is with us and desires to be more with us.  He has brought us through some very great difficulties in the last 3 years specifically, some things we couldn’t have anticipated walking through.  It’s taken a toll on us in some ways, but in others it has drawn us closer together.  We’ve had a lot of rich discussions about what it means to be a Christian, and we’ve leaned into that conversation in ways that make us both uncomfortable at times.  We’ve had to extend way more grace to one another than we knew we would need, and we’ve seen our own sin and ugliness more clearly.  But, I always recall the words of Eugene Peterson: Our sin is never meant to be the main event, but God’s work on our sin, His work which covers our sin, is the main event.  All of our brokenness has given us a deeper understanding of His love and unfathomable grace.  I feel held by Him and seen by Him.

Brandon and I went away for the weekend, our 12th anniversary weekend, to a cabin in the mountains a couple hours away from home.  We went there last year as well and had such a sweet time we wanted to return.  Our lives are a lot noisier than we could have imagined not that long ago.  Neither of us realized how much quiet we had in our lives before, and how much we need regular doses of it to be able to think clearly and calm.  Brandon even remarked that his job is constant noise, working in remodeling with tools all day long.  We so love this season of raising a family together, but both being introverts does make it very taxing at times, to have so little retreat and rest.  When we’ve gone away to this cabin or make any measure of space for alone time together, we always feel like we’re taking a deep breath after holding it for so long.  It’s necessary, essential somehow to our makeup.  And we remember each other, how much we enjoy being together.

These cabins that we escape to are meant for spiritual retreat.  I’ve gone away to this place before alone for a solo retreat, which was so incredibly healing.  Still, it doesn’t feel wrong to use this place as an anniversary retreat.  It’s something holy, this being married, and we need to remember that.  We need to remember one another, and we need to re-member: to be put back together again after so many of life’s trials and difficulties and distractions pull at us all year long.  We need to do this work before God, in a sacred place, and it is so beautiful and sweet to do so.  These little cabins feel like sacred ground, and every time I have gone I’m afraid God won’t meet me/us there again like He did last time.  But He does.  In that holy hush, He speaks.  There is nothing more that we need to restore and reconnect with one another than first reconnecting to God as individuals, and then seeing each other again with fresh eyes.  We find our way back to God and to one another in the particular and peculiar quiet of creation, drinking deeply of its abundance, and in words and reflection.

 

It felt like it was a huge process getting to the cabins, with a lot of traffic and stops along the way, but when we made it, we got right out into the woods for a few miles of hiking to a gorgeous waterfall.  It made the shift into a quiet weekend more immediate, getting out into the dusky quiet woods, seeing deer, many birds, a ring snake, and the usual squirrels and such.  We lose our sense of being bound to time without children and their schedules and demands, and we just did what we felt like doing rather than keeping an eye on the clock.  When we got back to the cabin from our hike it was dark and we were starving.  In the morning we took our time, lingering long over coffee and books and quiet, then went to the Wataugua River for some fly-fishing.

Our little wren-bird came along and is so sweet.  She was a bit fussier than usual, but still very easy to have along with us and mostly quiet.  I didn’t get as much knitting time as usual because she was in arms more often, but I did a lot of reading.  The cabin had the book by Lauren Winner, Wearing God, that I’ve wanted to read for some time and had forgotten about.  It was fascinating and I read a good chunk of it, and now have it on hold at the library so I can finish it.  I must say, though, it is really one I want to buy and have on hand.

B and I have taken to gifting each other a traditional anniversary gift (using a list like this one here).  Last year was represented by “steel” (and B gave me a steel knitting needle).  This year was linen and silk.  I struggled a bit for what to give him in that category, but had felt prompted to revisit our vows.  Brandon and I wrote our own vows rather than saying traditional vows, which was special.  However, I don’t remember this many years later what it is we wanted to commit to specifically.  I felt like we need our vows to be visible, a regular reminder of what we have purposed and promised.  So I decided to paint our vows on a couple of canvases (linen, sort of?) to hang in our bedroom.  They turned out pretty close to what I imagined and I’m really happy with them.  Brandon appreciates gifts like this, so I think he was happy with them, too.  It took a lot of digging to even find where we had our vows stored away.  Reading over them again sent me in a tailspin of memories.  Oh, to be a new bride with all the naiveté and infatuation!  Yet I can’t help being grateful to be waayy beyond that now, with 12 hard-won years under our belts, and to still love each other a great deal, and a great deal more honestly.

Brandon gifted me with a couple of skeins of yarn (I’m wanting to try a brioche shawl, and am thinking the Marley Shawl by Andrea Mowry), a driftwood Lykke circular needle (I’ve had my eyes on Lykke’s for so long!  I can’t wait to cast something on!), and a new pair of lululemon leggings, which I so desperately need and love.  He said he forgot to check what year 12 represented on the gift list, but I wasn’t complaining.

We also decided to attempt to invest a bit more intentionally in our marriage this year, and came up with a “12 for 12” list, a bucket list of sorts for this year, with 12 dates or things we want to do together before our next anniversary.  We haven’t quite finished the list but we are trying to do some bigger goals and some smaller, more feasible things: run a benefit 5k, go to a concert, mountain bike at Tsali (where I’ve wanted to bike since high school), read a book together (this is actually something we’ve never managed to do!), camp out at a favorite mountain bald, build something for our house together, etc.  I’ll share more about this list as we go, I think.  I’m hoping we continue to make time for it, for each other, for our marriage and investing in FUN together because life can be bleak and exhausting if we don’t intentionally plan in some fun.  If you have any ideas or suggestions for us, let me know and it may make the list! 🙂

It’s true what they say–the older I’ve gotten, the less I feel like I know.  But if I’ve learned a few things about marriage, one nugget is this: it really does get better with time.  Are you in a hard season, friend?  HANG ON.  It gets better.  Are you in a good season?  It gets better!  Of course, there are exceptions to that rule, of course there are circumstances that can end or alter a marriage irreparably.  But in the usual sense, in an ordinary marriage that has seen and survived hard days, I am astounded time and time again how good it can be!  How it can keep getting better, sweeter, richer.  How the time invested and the obstacles overcome seem to give us such a depth of intimacy I couldn’t have imagined.  We’ve seen so much road together, it’s been so unexpected.  No one on earth knows me and my interior like Brandon does.  He holds so many of my secrets, and I his.  So many people say about their spouse, “If I had to do it over, I’d marry you all over again,” and I’ve honestly felt like I don’t know if I can say that.  That sounds horrible, I know, but it’s because I’m such a big chicken and I’d be too dang scared of the hard things we’ve faced together in marriage!  I’d selfishly want to protect myself and probably be a hermit somewhere.  But, oh, what I would have missed out on!  As C. S. Lewis says, “to love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.  Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  To love is to be vulnerable” (The Four Loves).

Don’t be afraid to commit to love.  It is terribly inconvenient and challenging, but there is no greater avenue to experiencing and understanding God than to love another person and give up your life for them, to both receive and extend forgiveness time and time again.  To be made into the image of Christ together with another, as one.  There’s nothing like it.  Many of you know exactly what I mean, right?!

May God root our marriages more deeply in Him.  May He make this year sweeter than all the rest.  May we not be afraid to give ourselves to love, true love which lays down its life for another.  May we find Him in each other and through each other in ways that continually surprise us.  May we never grow weary of the good work of love!  And may He hold us together when we are falling apart.  He is able.

 

let there be space for beauty

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I tore at the dirt with hands and spade, pulling out clump after clump of daffodil bulbs almost angrily.  What a waste, I thought.  Who needs flowers in the soil when one could grow herbs and lettuces, zucchini and beans?  Someone planted all this beauty that is in the way of all my productivity.

It’s the indignity of need and desperation–to tell you that utility trumps beauty.  What good purpose does beauty serve, anyway?  What good purpose?

And so I felt virtuous and proud, eliminating all those wasteful flower bulbs and filling the soil with vegetables and herbs instead.  I had chosen the more sensible, practical thing.  Surely this would be more life-giving.

I’m reminded of those planting days every time I see daffodils pushing through soil.  To think of it now, I chuckle a bit at my foolishness.  Chuckle and also mourn, because it’s a narrative I still find myself listening to sometimes.  Yes, there is still the need for lettuces and beans, zucchini and herbs.  But let there be space for beauty.  For flowers that make our hearts sing.  For color and scent that exist for nothing else but to be enjoyed.

Let there even be space for fallow ground and weed, emptiness and void.  Not everything must be about producing.

january

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A fresh new year—the ending of one year and the beginning of another makes us all pause, take note, consider, evaluate.  Even when we don’t want to, don’t have the energy to, or don’t believe in setting goals, intentions, or making resolutions–somehow we still in some way find ourselves reflective.  Even when we’re afraid all we say we will change and do and accomplish will inevitably fail, and all the ways we plan to better ourselves might end up like last year’s plans.  We still find ourselves wanting.  New Years resolutions–aren’t they filled with wanting?  And there’s nothing really wrong with that in some ways.  It’s natural for us to want to improve, change, increase, grow.  It’s good and right.  It’s the natural way for any living thing: to grow.

Yet I sometimes hear in all our New Years talk a lot of discontent.  We chatter on about the things we want to attain for ourselves this year, the things we think we need to have to be happier, more comfortable, more seen and known, contented, successful.  In this I think we have to be careful.  Yes, let us reflect, let us learn to number our days–but not for our own glory and renown, but for God’s glory and the sake of the kingdom.  Let us evaluate where in life we have gotten off track in regard to His purposes for us, and endeavor to readjust.

Gratitude is good and right, too–seeing what we already have, seeing all the gifts of God’s grace, seeing how far He has brought us and trusting Him to carry us all the way Home.  Remembering that truly we need far less than we think, remembering that our happiness comes not in our feeding our fleshly desires but in denying them.  In letting God fulfill us, satisfy us.  Remembering that if we are discontent today with all the bounty we have before us, we will still be discontent tomorrow even if we attain more.  Remembering that God alone is our good, our portion, our inheritance–and if we are in Christ, we always have Him, and that is enough.  There is always joy available to us, there is always grace as long as we have breath, there is always the opportunity to be content.

In the years before I was a mother, I often would spend a portion of New Years Eve and day journaling about the big moments of the closing year, and the things I felt God had done in me and in my life, and then recording where I found myself at that present time and the scripture I sensed God was highlighting for me for the coming year.  This season of motherhood and being late in my fourth pregnancy makes finding such uninterrupted time for journaling scarce.  Instead of feeling “behind” because I don’t have all my reflections and thoughts in order by the first of January, I’ve been taking the whole month of January as a time of reflection.

It’s been a sweet month in that way.  The rush of the holy holidays behind us, children’s birthdays done for a year, and now stretching before us a string of ordinary days.  Back to our common life.  Mornings spent mostly at home working on school, house work, small projects here and there, organizing, cooking, playing in the mud and snow, trips to the library, neighborhood walks, books on the couch, pizza on fridays.  Weekends spent cramming in as much time with daddy, to-do list items crossed off before baby comes, running errands, worship and rest.  There has been a lot of journaling, listening, reflecting in the early morning quiet, when the world is still hushed and dark and I sit with the scriptures and coffee.

But the beginning of this year was also hard.  Brandon worked the first two weeks straight without taking a day off, working late into the evenings, and it took a toll on us both.  During that time I was also sick with a head cold, as well as some other body grievances, and felt pretty wiped out and depleted.  Phoebe has had some major setbacks in her appetite and eating, which has caused me to do a good bit of revamping our usual staples, recipe testing, and recipe hunting, which is all very exhausting.  I’ve had my share of breakdowns over the last month, nights when I just end the day in a pool of tears.  So yes, January: back to the ordinary, which can be sweet, but also can feel like a slow plod forward with a summit far off in the distance, obscured by clouds.  Sometimes I feel like I’ve lost my way and can’t remember what my course is supposed to be anyway.

It’s never too late to step back and take time, take stock.  Even if in your January there wasn’t much time for it, February is as good a time as any.

There are a few extra-biblical resources I would recommend to you if you’re looking for a few books to help you along the way.  These particular titles kept coming to mind throughout this past month, books that have grounded and inspired and set me on course.

  • The Songs of Jesus: A year of daily devotions in the Psalms by Tim Keller
    I believe this is the third or fourth year I’ve read through this devotional daily.  Some years ago I was studying the Psalms and bought this resource to help stay saturated in them, and I don’t know that I’ll ever really graduate from daily reading the Psalms.  This  book is helpful in that it is short and entirely feasible to squeeze in when you literally have moments to read before little children’s feet hit the floor.  It’s also one I frequently read aloud to Brandon or the kids if they are up early snuggling with me.
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene Peterson
    I read this years ago in college but am curious to re-read it lately.  This concept of our Christian lives being “a long  obedience in the same direction,” the endurance and seemingly slow returns of the Christian life rings true for me lately.  The world seems to be spinning ahead faster and faster, and we are a people more entitled and impatient than ever.  Yet if we do not remember and return to this reality, that our Christian lives will look more like a long obedience in one narrow direction, I believe we will lose heart and fall away.  We need encouragement in our endurance!  Also, this book happens to center around the Psalms of Ascent:  “I knew that following Jesus could never develop into a ‘long obedience’ without a deepening life of prayer and that the Psalms had always been the primary means by which Christians learned to pray everything they lived, and live everything they prayed over the long haul.” (Peterson)
  • Your Beautiful Purpose by Susie Larson
    This book, combined with Emily Freeman’s book below, were two that gave me permission to pursue some dreams and passions and desires of my heart, to make room in my life for creative expression (this blog, photography, knitting, reading) and to see God’s purpose in it.  The two books together seemed to have a conversation in my soul that helped me discern more of my purpose, which was incredibly freeing and fruitful.
  • A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman
    See above. 🙂
  • Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love by Jerry Bridges
    This one came to me a few years ago in a terrible season of battling a besetting sin.  I needed to understand how God’s grace was literally transforming me when I felt that I was making no headway.  This is just one of those books I think any Christian can benefit from reading at any time, but particularly those of us who just can’t seem to get beyond moralistic living, those of us who always come to God with our performance in our right hand, whether for good or ill.

I know many people choose a “word” for the year.  I find God often seems to choose a word for the year for me, a scripture.  (Sometimes I think we are skeptical that God speaks to us in this way, but I have found that if I ask Him to give me a word (scripture) over the coming year, a focus, a truth that He is planning to weave into the fabric of my life in those days–and then I wait for Him to answer–I find that He has always answered.  His primary means of speaking to us is through His Word, and He loves His Word (see Psalm 119) and delights to answer a cry from a heart hungry for His Word.  I think we can be confident that praying this is praying in accord with His will (1 Jn. 5:14)).

He seems to highlight and repeat a certain scripture to me, something that speaks to a current need or struggle or question.  This year, the word “peace” came up in my soul so unexpectedly.  We live in tumultuous times, yes, but in my own home and heart, there is a cry for peace!   And then, this scripture came up time and time again, everywhere I turned.  It will be my focus for the year 2018, and I leave it with you, too, as an encouragement onward in your own race!  I hope that in this new year, you and I both find ourselves walking a bit more closely with Jesus, growing in grace.

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever, Amen.”
Hebrews 13:20-21 esv

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