first day of fall

DSC_0208DSC_0215DSC_0217DSC_0218DSC_0220DSC_0221DSC_0224DSC_0227DSC_0230DSC_0231DSC_0236DSC_0238

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

DSC_0001DSC_0004DSC_0007unnamed-2unnamed-1unnamed-13unnamed-11unnamed-14DSC_0010DSC_0022DSC_0019DSC_0015DSC_0013unnamed-7unnamed-9DSC_0025DSC_0030unnamed-6DSC_0034unnamed-3unnamed-10unnamed-5unnamed-4unnamed-12DSC_0061DSC_0058unnamed-8

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

DSC_0013

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

DSC_0037DSC_0001DSC_0004DSC_0014DSC_0018DSC_0004 (1)DSC_0007DSC_0008 (1)DSC_0011DSC_0012DSC_0021DSC_0023DSC_0029DSC_0034DSC_0048DSC_0052DSC_0055DSC_0058DSC_0060DSC_0066DSC_0042DSC_0006DSC_0007 (1)DSC_0012 (1)DSC_0010

 

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

Affiliate links included in this post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

a hard thanks giving

DSC_0055DSC_0053

We live in an unfinished story.  So many loose ends, so many winding roads, so many threads that seem knotted and tangled or just plain torn out, and we wonder what it all means, where it is all going to land.  The unanswered prayer, the lingering need, the weary middle.  This is where we live most of our days.  This is where Thanksgiving finds us.  Many of us with hands held open: searching, hoping, waiting.  Asking.  Maybe this is where you are this Thanksgiving.  At the beginning of a new diagnosis.  The news of a job loss, an affair, a broken dream, a broken heart.  Maybe you’ve been walking a painful road for some time–you started out strong in faith, but find yourself now in the weary middle of it with uncertainty all around.

Brandon and I watched cheesey Hallmark Christmas movies the other night, and something in me broke open and poured out.  I tried to hide the tears, until they became wracking sobs.  Sometimes we are holding onto a pain so tightly, we don’t even know it.  We can’t feel it for the sake of just trying to survive it.  We want to be strong, we want to be faithful–all the while, I wonder if our Savior isn’t beckoning us to release and to receive.. to be weak and let Him hold us.  We are trying to race ahead to the finish and end well, to do it well NOW, but we can’t do so if we aren’t honest in the raw hurting of it.  We’re in the weary middle of it, the aching middle.  The end isn’t anywhere in sight.  What does it look like to be faithful in this place?
I’m convinced: God doesn’t want our feigned joy.  He doesn’t care about our unshakeable strength.  He isn’t interested in our perfect faith.  He already knows the state of our real hearts.  I’m convinced He wants us to give our honest, broken hearts to Him.
Brandon, totally perplexed with my tears waited for me to be able to speak, to explain.  It’s the grieving, the fear of the future with Phoebe.  The weariness of the battle for her health.  The seemingly little gains when I hope for some great turn-around.  It’s the weight of the unknown, the wonder over what pain is around this next bend.
She did blood work last week.. and I’m trying not to let this week be consumed with the waiting and the dreading of the results.  I hope to have the results before Thanksgiving, but what if they are bad?  In the 2 1/2 years since her diagnosis, we’ve never had good blood test results, we’ve never been given a “normal.”  Every time, it is crushing disappointment.  Every time it feels like condemnation–we still aren’t getting this right.  We still haven’t done enough.  So we wait for news.  Anyone else out there waiting for news??  Waiting for–longing for–good news?  And I shouldn’t let me mind go there but it does–what if bad news comes to us on Philippas birthday–will it overshadow her day?  What if it comes on Thanksgiving day?  Will we genuinely be able to give thanks with family when we will be riding out the inevitable low that comes after getting bad test results?  How do we live, truly live, and not just hold our breath waiting for the next disappointment to come?  How do we be human and yet somehow rise above our humanity?
I’ve seen it all week, how she sits under the spreading tree, the tree that we’ve been filling up with leaves of chalky words even as the leaves have slowly fallen from all the trees around us throughout the month, and I can’t miss the juxtaposition.  In the background, this tree, a record of grace, a turning of our hearts, our stubborn and tired and forgetful hearts daily back to thanks.  In the foreground, this girl, the one with the battle that threatens so many times to steal my joy and my praise.  In many ways it has quieted me, made me feel like a big fat hypocrite.  This battle has carved out a weak and broken place in me, it has humbled me, and when can a humbling ever be bad?  Painful, discouraging, humiliating at times, yes–but always fruitful, if we submit to it.
Can it be that even in this place we turn our hearts to thanks?  Can this be genuine?  What if this is the best place for a thanksgiving, this weary middle of the road?  This juxtaposition between so many good gifts and so many heart aches and questions.  What if we didn’t wait until we had the good news to give thanks?  What if real life is in fact that we hold in our hands all these things–“these patches of joy, these stretches of sorrow”–as we celebrate God’s goodness to us, knowing that even in the wounding, even when He’s broken our hearts with what He has allowed, we know that we know that we know He is good.  He is working it together for our good, for His glory.  What if the most beautiful thing we can do is exactly that: to give thanks when it isn’t easy, when we have to hunt for and remind ourselves of the many riches we have in Jesus?  What if we have to remind ourselves that God’s good gifts aren’t the same as the usual things we call good gifts?
“No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Ps. 84:11)
“No good thing will He withold. But how is this true, when God oftentimes withholds riches and honors, and health of body from men, though they walk never so uprightly. We may therefore know that honors and riches and bodily strength, are none of Gods good things; they are of the number of things indifferent which God bestows promiscuously upon the just and the unjust, as the rain to fall and sun to shine.The good things of God are chiefly peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Spirit in this life, fruition of Gods presence, and vision of His blessed face in the next, and these good things God never bestows upon the wicked, never withholds from the godly.”
-Charles Spurgeon

I remember easy thanks giving.  Good years, joy mixed without much sorrow, years where praise and joy welled up with ease.   It feels strange to me now, after being in this place for so long.
I don’t know what your “hard” is this Thanksgiving.  Maybe it’s a broken relationship.  Regret over the past with consequences still playing out fearfully in your present.  Maybe it’s financial loss or strain, maybe it’s sickness.  Maybe it’s that shocking diagnosis, maybe it’s that wayward child that still hasn’t come home.  Maybe it’s that loved one battling an addiction that cuts you to the core.  Maybe it’s a lost loved one, a lost child.  Maybe it’s the way you keep returning to that same old sin that bewilders you and leaves you feeling helpless and hopeless.  I don’t know what it is, but I know some of you are out there, too, some of you for whom giving thanks this year in this particular season feels hard, maybe even feels a bit fake, a bit like a slap in the face.
So when its hard to give thanks, when we are hurting and there is brokenness, when there are questions and a howling ache, then it is a hard thanks that we give.  It may feel hard to give thanks, but we do.
In these times, Lord, we bring a sacrifice of praise to You.  You know, you already know.  Nothing is hidden from Your sight.  We are so thankful we don’t have to clean up and come in pretense before You.  But we do come in holy awe and wonder that somehow, some way, even in the hard, we still can give thanks to You, we still get to give thanks to You.  We have life.  We have breath in our lungs.  We have Christ in us, the hope of glory.  We have another day, therefore we have hope.  This story can still finish differently than we fear.  But even if it doesn’t, we have You.  You in the midst of all, You, our shield + exceedingly great reward, and You at the end of it all.  You to look forward to, fulness and completeness and final satisfaction in You and with You, our forever home.  So we draw strength–miraculously, we draw strength to praise You and in our praising you, we find we are again strengthened for the road You have called us to walk.  Strange, this–how obedience to You in our “hard” feels not burdensome but life-giving.  Strange–how we feel filled up, renewed.  How in our “giving” to You, somehow we still walk away the beneficiaries.  We think we are giving to You, yet all the while You are giving to us–yes, you are not able to be outdone.  Wild grace, Jesus.  Wild grace.
Shame on us that we lose sight of You so easily in this wilderness, but we do.  And You know it, You who put on flesh and lived as one of us, tempted like us.  If we can’t find anything else to give thanks for, we give thanks for You.  That we get to know you, to walk with You, a testament fully to Your faithfulness, not our own.  We give thanks that in the middle of your biggest “hard,” You endured, fixing Your eyes on the joy set before You, and because of that we get to have You with us in all of our hard, too.
So we sing on, even if it is a broken hallelujah, because You are worthy and because You have loved us well, and will love us till the end.

on birthdays and finding joy

DSC_0036DSC_0037DSC_0002 (1)DSC_0007DSC_0012DSC_0013DSC_0015DSC_0024DSC_0033DSC_0028DSC_0037 (1)DSC_0040DSC_0041DSC_0042DSC_0044

My birthday last week was a fairly ordinary “workday” for me, and also not the easiest day with the children.  I found myself scrubbing toilets and floors, folding laundry, settling sibling disputes, feeding hungry mouths–all the usual work that fills my days up to the brim.  Of course there is a part of me that wants to just rest and be free from all work for a day (unrealistic), but then I also don’t mind taking care of these little ones that I love so much and this home that keeps us all together.  I share my birthday with my mom, so my gift to her this year was to buy a few skeins of yarn for her to choose from so that I could knit her a shawl.  She picked the color I had had on my mind for her, a rustic-y soft light red called Bergamot, and helped pick out a shawl pattern.  I wanted to wind up her yarn on our birthday and cast on.  I realized as I began knitting it that I was knitting this exact pattern just about this time last year on a road trip to upstate New York with Brandon’s family as a commissioned shawl for a friend.  How funny and coincidental to be knitting it again at the same time a year later.  It’s such an enjoyable pattern–all knitting and yarn overs and no purling!

I had planned on making a yummy dinner for my birthday since Brandon would be working a normal work-day and since we never really eat out with Phoebe and her dietary needs.  I wanted to make Against the Grain’s Pesto Prosciutto Chicken with a GF pasta on the side, and creme brûlée for dessert, which is my favorite.  The dinner took longer than I expected and once I got it in the oven, the kids and I and Brandon decided to go for a walk while it baked.  It had been raining and we had felt a bit cooped up.  The kids splashed in all sorts of muddy puddles so B bathed them quickly when we got home while I finished up dinner and it was late and nerves were a bit raw by this time.  My dinner didn’t look at all like the lovely cookbook’s pictures, which is always annoying, but it was still delicious.  I had made a creme brûlée earlier in the afternoon and infused it with culinary lavender because I love love love lavender especially in desserts.

We lit candles and I turned on french music because somehow everything felt like a french sort of dinner, and we ate at nearly 8pm.  I had some cards to open, and then B put the finishing touches on the creme brûlée, the kids sang happy birthday to me which was the best part.  The fuzzy photo of me with phoebe is the only such picture I snagged on this day, but its worth including since this is me, turning 33.

I had received word in the afternoon that Brandon’s grandfather had died.  He had been in the hospital after some falls and other health issues so we knew it was coming, but it still felt so soon.  Sadly we weren’t very close with him, but it’s still surreal and strange to consider death on your birthday.  Probably quite healthy.  Really that’s what we’re all marking–here’s another year, gone.  Another year comes–bringing me closer to my own end.  Time is passing, time is coming.  Let’s stop and celebrate and remember and pay attention.

We quickly got the kids to bed, then got cozy for a movie of my pick.  We watched “Florence Foster Jenkins” which was so interesting and funny and also a little sad (based on a true story).  I cried and cried at the end.  I don’t want to spoil the movie for those of you who may want to see it, but I will say I commiserated with the protagonist (Meryl Streep).  She loved music and in her mind she had a beautiful singing voice, but in reality her voice was terrible.  She pursues singing and her husband tries desperately to protect her from the truth of her real performance.  It makes you wonder: Is this reality that we know of ourselves the reality others know of us?  Aren’t so many of us afraid that maybe everyone is really laughing at us and about us behind our backs?  What if we are really quite terrible at the things we think we’re good at, at the things we most love?

I’m sure it was the combination of watching that movie, it being my birthday, and also processing the news of Brandon’s grandpa’s death.  It made me think and wrestle a bit with life, with the things I love and spend time on, with my role as a stay-at-home mother.  I sometimes wrestle with this blog.  I don’t know why, it seems so silly in the light of day.  I love sharing our little life here.  It helps me keep track of things, our lives little record for now.  I’m not sure if I’ll do it forever.  It’s important to reevaluate frequently what I give myself to.  I enjoy taking pictures and capturing these fleeting moments.  I’m thankful to have a space to write and share with you whatever God seems to lay on my heart.  I’m not trying to “make it big” or be somebody, I’m not making an income doing this.  I don’t mind it being mostly small and personal and shared with those few who happen to find this place on the internet and with whomever it resonates.  I leave it to God to use it as He chooses.  But then sometimes I doubt myself.  Are my motives wrong, self-serving?  Is this a huge waste of time and a distraction?  Is it too personal to share our family life so openly in such a dangerous and dark world?  My blogging has brought occasional criticism, but mostly I feel it from my own inner critic.  Brandon is relentless in support of it, which is always so odd to me because he is so anti social-media-anything.  Anyway, for whatever reason this is where my mind went after watching that movie.  Wrestling with the silliness of my spending time photographing, knitting, writing words, creating.  Who has time for all of this when you have little ones and when the world is full of pain and need?  Am I spending my life on what really matters?  Are my little endeavors to bring beauty and joy and even occasionally to write words–are these small endeavors mattering?

I crawled into bed and picked up my book and opened to these words.  (The author was sharing about finding a little resale boutique in her neighborhood, a beautiful little gem and yet she went in and found herself to be the only customer.  She imagined being the store owner, the way the woman had attractively laid out her wares, rearranging and bravely taking a risk to run this little business that wasn’t really garnering that much attention.  She wondered if the woman got discouraged on the days when there was no business.  What makes her think things will work out?  Why does she return to it day after day?):

“She returns to what she loves to do, because she loves it and she can’t not do it.  She goes back to the joy of pursuing her passion.  Because its not likely that anyone is coming in and exclaiming, ‘I’m so glad you’re here!  I’ve been waiting for you to sell secondhand clothes in this space all of my life!’  It’s not likely that anyone is affirming her passion or holding her hand through those moments of sheer panic.  I’m also pretty certain people aren’t stampeding to her door to say thank you or to make spirit tunnels for her to run through at the end of the day after she’s vacuumed the floor and locked up for the thousandth time.

This is what I’m getting at: joy isn’t in the response of others based on what we do.  Joy is in doing what God created us to do and has given us to do.  Joy is in pursuing with faith and abandon the passions God has laid in our hearts, and doing them in his honor.  We serve for the smile on his face.

And joy begets joy.  When we serve God with joy, we in a round-about way encourage others to serve God with joy.  Artists appreciate another’s art, joy is derived from another’s joy, and passion feeds off and grows from another’s passion.

So whatever you’re doing–homeschooling, event planning, cake baking, medical research, substitute teaching, diaper changing, coaching, putting words out into the world, or yes, running a small boutique–do it with joy as unto the Lord.  Don’t look for appreciation from others or a spirit tunnel at the end of the day as an indicator of whether or not you’re on the right track.  Look to God, who created you to be a creator that flings tangerine passion and joy into the world.  He is smiling as you do what you do for him.

There is no mold, no one right way of showing Jesus, for where the Spirit is, there is freedom.  He has made us each different, combining us all to make a collage, a collage that when you step back and look you suddenly see: it’s Jesus!

Different mediums.
Different brushes.
Different strokes for reaching different folks.
You there, with your unique talents, passions, and gifts.
Go in freedom.
Tell them about Jesus with your life.
Do it with grace and tangerine joy.”

-Christine Hoover, From Good to Grace

Isn’t that so sweet of God, to speak right to what I was struggling with at the long end of the day?  He affirmed me, affirmed His love for me, affirmed my freedom in Him, affirmed His smile over me.  What more could you ask for on a birthday?  I hope you are encouraged, too, dear reader.  Whatever you do, do it for Him, do it as unto Him, do it with joy and gusto and don’t worry about the response or affirmation or notice of others.   Take risks.  Live boldly.  Be brave.  Be a pioneer.  Follow where He leads.  When we get our eyes off of Him we get into all sorts of trouble, don’t we?  It’s His good-pleasure over us that we’re after, it’s His approval alone that matters.

At the end of the Florence Foster Jenkins movie, after criticism about her singing voice, Florence on her deathbed said:  “They can say I can’t sing, but no one can say I didn’t sing.”

So, sing, friend.  You go on singing, and I will too.  His ear is tuned to hear our voice.