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.

 

when you feel like it all depends on you

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There seems to be a magic to these longer June evenings, where the light stretches long and we let the kids stay up a little later just to savor it.  This is our last summer before we start schooling, and it is sobering a little.  I was reminded earlier this week that we only have 18 summers with our children.  I only have 13 left with Phoebe.  I read these words by Ann Voskamp earlier this week and brim with tears.  Soon I will be on the other side of all of these busy childrearing years.  And so I make plans and ideas to really enjoy this summer together, most of them simple.  And the laundry overflows, the bills pile, the decisions need to be made, and the headlines scream news that breaks my heart and makes me feel helpless.

And we have dinner together as we usually do, and I laugh as I look over to see Noah pushing buttons on his pretend phone.  We have a “no phones at the table” rule, we remind him with twinkling eyes.  He says he is “just checking the Bible,” already wise to the powers of persuasion.

They bathe and get in their jammies, and then beg us to go out for a walk.  We relent, and I grab my camera as we head out the door.  Phoebe carries a bucket to collect her treasures (whatever flowers, pinecones, and leaves that catch her eye).  We head down to our little neighborhood lake to check on the new baby goslings, and are happy to see momma duck and all 8 of her ducklings.  We tell the kids to sit down and be quiet so we don’t scare them away and much to our surprise, momma duck brings all her babies right up the hillside to us.  They are peeping quietly and pecking around on the road and then promptly head back to the water.  It is such a sweet moment, all the children hushed in wonder.  It is as if momma duck wanted to show off all her babies to us.  This will be our third summer in this neighborhood and the first time there has been so much wildlife at the lake.  It provides a lot of opportunities to teach and observe and then go find library books and explore topics and questions further.

And I quiet my soul and praise God for the way He provides perspective.  My soul hungers for wilderness places, even ones as tame as our little lake, because I remember, I see again.  Getting up into the high places far from the noise of machines and man, as my husband and I did recently, gives perspective.  I see the city and houses lying far below, tucked into the hillside and valleys and I wonder at God’s perspective.  How small we all are!  How tiny our little homes and streets and lights and city buildings!  In the grand wide world, smaller still.  But then to get knees down in the dirt of my own plot of ground and wonder at how much is going on here without my involvement or help or notice — fiddleheads unfurling, birds finding food and shelter, trees growing leaves again, bees pollinating, ducklings hatching.  What a vast bounty is here, teaching me of the abundance of God through the incredible diversity and variety of creation.  The species of trees and flowers that I cannot even name or identify, the rain that falls on the mountain peaks dripping through the mossy ground into springs that form streams of water cutting down the valley and crevices, nurturing it all, slowly finding its way into my kitchen sink.

God is above it all.  God looks on it all.  God sustains it all.  God does not need my help in order to accomplish it all.  This land is a loud song of His abundance.  His creativity.  His ability.  His goodness.  His control + sovereignty.

This land is a loud song of my smallness.
My dependency.
My limitations.
My frailty.
My humility.

These are good things to remember.

And maybe you need to remember, too.  Even a small walk in your neighborhood or a nearby trail with the intent of noticing the small things, the hidden things that are growing and living without a hint of your involvement, can be helpful.  It can help loose the tight bonds of worry and fear and self-sufficiency, to a joyful restful dependency on a good God.

The laundry, the gritty floors, the decisions, the finances, the needs and the headlines: it all matters, and I am responsible to be a faithful with what He gives me, busy working.  But He holds me together.  It is all falling apart, but He holds me together.  He holds you together.

Do you not know? Do you not hear?
    Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
 who brings princes to nothing,
    and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
    scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
    and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

 To whom then will you compare me,
    that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
    calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
    and because he is strong in power
    not one is missing.

 Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?
 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
 He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:21-31

 

Listening For His Voice

Normally on Sunday’s if I post, I post only Scripture.  To quiet my voice and all others and let Gods voice ring out across the Internet.  Today I wanted to make an exception to share this powerful video with you.  Sara Groves speaks my heart language.  I pray that today you and I are able to be extravagantly wasteful enough to rest.  May you and I be faith-filled enough to rest.  When we choose to put aside our ever-present work and rest, we are in essence saying to God, “I know you will care for me.  You will provide.  You are in control, not me.  You are worthy of my dependency and my quiet, available spirit, rather than only my bustling and busy activity.  You are sufficient.  You are able.  You are enough.”

you get to be weak

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“Here, you get to be weak.  Out there you have to be strong, to rise up in the strength I give you.  To be strong for your husband, to be strong for your children.  To be strong for all of those who need you, who need Me in you, Me coming out of you.

But here, child, in the secret place of my Presence: you get to be weak.

You get to be held.

You get to be filled up.

You get to be ravished with immeasurable love.

I’m so in love with you.  I see you in your weakness and dirty with sin — I don’t mind.  Come here to me.  I alone can wash you, renew you.

Rest now in my love.

Quiet in my love.”

away together

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So, we spent the very last week of September as a family at one of our favorite getaway spots: Isle of Palms, SC.  This place was where Brandon and I honeymooned over nine years ago, and we come back to it whenever we can because there’s something about the power of place.  Do you know what I mean?  There’s something about certain places that help us remember who we are, what we love, why we are alive.  There are certain places that call us back to ourselves when we’ve lost our way, that call us back to the Lord when we’ve trailed off.  You see this all over the pages of Scripture, the importance of the Promised Land as the place connected with the Israelites identity as a people.  You see it in the way God had the Israelites set up monuments and stones of remembrance as they traveled through the wilderness so that when they visited these places, it would trigger for them memories and milestones in their walk with God.

What are your places?  Places that for others are ordinary, but for you are profound, like balm for your soul amnesia?  I think for our marriage, Isle of Palms will always be a simple but powerful place for us.  It’s nothing special, really.  It’s quiet, home to only a couple of hotels, boasting a tiny strip of shops and restaurants, and a destination spot for more surfers and paddle boarders than big loud vacationers.  Which is precisely why we love it.  It has a quieter and simpler and smaller feel, and we’d rather see bare coast line and wildlife than a cluster of resorts or attractions any day. Plus its only a four hour drive from our home in the mountains of North Carolina.

This time was special because it was our first chunk of time off together as a family in two years (and Brandon’s first week off in two years, except for the week he took when Philippa was born, which you all know is no vacation).  Also, it was Philippa’s first introduction to the ocean!  She absolutely loved it, crawling straight into the waves, fearless.

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We also got to spend a couple of days with family, some time biking over to Sullivan’s Island and back, watching sunrises and sunsets, reading + painting alone on the beach, fishing, visiting our usual spots in Charleston, watching dolphins, running through the rain to Ted’s Butcherblock for lunch, staying up late to see the Super Blood Moon + capturing it (though fuzzy) on camera, experiencing the highest tides of the year on the island combined with the heavy rains from Hurricane Joaquin.  We stayed in a little yellow house and had to leave a day or so early because of the heavy rains + flooding.  We realized on this trip that it’s really not easy to go the beach with three children ages 4 and under and have the kind of relaxing vacation we were imagining.  The sooner we adjusted our expectations and communicated really clearly with each other what we needed to have happen to feel rested + refreshed, we enjoyed our time more.  The reality is, this season is busy and a ton of work, no matter where you are (maybe even more work when you’re not at home).  But it is still good and important for us to get away to a place that reminds us of the early days when we were brand new and so in love.  Somehow it always makes us fall in love all over again.  It’s a fight sometimes to really r e s t, but such a thing worth fighting for.

So now, I feel I can officially say goodbye to summer + hello to the glory of fall in these beautiful mountains we call home!  Yay!

The Discipline of Play

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Somewhere along the way I traded exploration, creativity, imagination for utility.  Somewhere along the way I decided usefulness trumps play.  When time is short, and the reality of the darkness of our world creeps in, and work threatens to suffocate, who has time for art?  Who has time for recreation?  Who has time for pleasure?  When my Christian brothers + sisters around the globe are losing their heads for their faith, how can I justify sitting idly and losing mine in a book?

I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great theologian and pastor in Germany during the Nazi regime, desperately fighting against the dominance of the Nazi mindset and theology, its putrid sectarianism creeping into Christ’s very church.  What a time to live in!  Believers during that time were facing intense persecution and the daily knowledge that their time was short, their lives were at risk.  Hardly was there time to waste when doctrines must be fought for and upheld, lives must be rescued.

And yet, even in the midst of this time of war, Bonhoeffer, who led + taught a seminary, regularly included recreation as part of the seminarians disciplined life.  Did you catch that?  He made sure they had time to P L A Y.  Who could possibly think about playing in a time of such great risk and suffering?

But the reality is, who can think at all if one doesn’t have the release found in play?

One of Bonhoeffer’s students said,

“Bonhoeffer wanted a genuine, natural community in the Preacher’s Seminary, and this community was practiced in play, in walks through the richly wooded and beautiful district of Pomerania, during evenings spent in listening to someone reading, . . . in making music and singing, and last not least in worship together and holy communion. He kept entreating us to live together naturally and not to make worship an exception. He rejected all false and hollow sentiment.” (I Knew Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p.155)

Sometimes when the world is spinning crazy and threats of war overwhelm, we must remember our humanity, we must still honor the creativity with which our Creator instilled in us.  He made us to be creative in His image.  He made us to be moved by music, to be triggered by the beauty of nature toward mediation on His divine attributes.  When we are tired and weary, we must discipline ourselves to play.

We must make art in the face of war.

And even in the weariness of our regular work, we must sabbath and refresh our souls.

Something God has been teaching me lately is to honor His creativity in me, the desires I have to pursue the arts.  It was more natural to me as a child; I have journal after journal of poetry, drawings + scribblings, and stacks of songs I had written from my younger years.  Then I “grew up” and gave all of that up in the name of maturity, adulthood, in the name of pursuing God.  Somehow I separated “creating” from true spirituality, no longer seeing it’s use in the Kingdom work.

But God is calling me to be a child again in my creating.  To honor the longing to write, to get back to the work of play.  Plain and simple play, play that isn’t for any purpose other than play.  No agenda, no hoped-for-outcome.  For a utilitarian like myself, this is a discipline!

So, yesterday, after the kids were napping and my household tasks were mostly done, I sat down with a paintbrush + paper.  I’ve never worked with watercolors before, never really painted much before.  It was humorous to me how many times I got nervous about what I was doing, afraid to “mess it up,” and literally had to say out loud to myself, “This is just play.  Just fun.”

This was the outcome (and, not pictured: a restful, happy me):

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Let’s take time to play, let’s discipline ourselves to play when all the world is telling us that only what is profitable, only what is measurable is valuable.

Who knows what we could create?  Who knows what beauty we might bring forth?

Finish the Day

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“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

(Borrowed this quote from this lovely blog, a good word for the late end of this day.)