reorienting

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When life crowds in and all the pain and hurt breaks our heart, sometimes we need to escape.  I don’t know what it is about the wide open spaces, the heights, the familiar trails, the quiet of the wilderness and the piercing fresh air, but it truly does wonders.  We are facing some hard things personally and I asked Brandon last weekend if we could spend the day Saturday out hiking somewhere.  I didn’t have the energy to think about where to go, and somehow he knew just to quietly drive me to one of my favorite areas, Black Balsam and the Shining Rock Wilderness area.  We speak few words to each other, I knit on the drive, snap photos while hiking.  Mostly we just enjoy the respite from our every day landscape.  I think about place, and why familiar places can minister so much to our souls, all the memories sewn into the landscape.  I have been coming to these trails since my childhood, but mainly since my high school days when I first fell in love with backpacking.  I have come to these trails many times to be with God, to be in the wide open silence, the whipping wind, the other-wordly play of light and cloud.  Now we bring our children along as we go, feet tracing routes we know like the lines on our hands.  We hike most of the day, five miles in all I think, in which their little feet kept up with our pace with barely a complaint.  We get back to the car around 3 in the afternoon and eat lunch all piled in the hatch of the van, wet and muddy, tired but refreshed.  Souls reinvigorated.  I am so thankful for this little tribe of mine, the way we explore and sojourn together.  These children are so precious to me and I’m so proud of them.  I pray they learn to endure when the way is foggy and unclear, when the weather turns from sunshine to storm.

The mountains feel a bit like they’re moving under our feet and we find ourselves reaching out for that which is immovable and certain.  I can never express how profoundly grateful I am for the scriptures, for the God of the scriptures who is THERE, who speaks, who is unchanging and wholly Other while being intimately close, and for His word which is sure and will endure forever.

I turn to these old words from a treasured commentary by Walter Brueggemann called The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith:

“Land is a central, if not the central theme of biblical faith…There are no meanings apart from roots.  And such rootage is a primary concern of Israel and a central promise of God to his people.  This sense of place is a primary concern of this God who refused a house and sojourned with his people (2 Sam. 7:5-6) and of the crucified one who had ‘nowhere to lay his head’ (Luke 9:58).

A sense of place is to be sharply distinguished from a sense of space as has been stressed by some scholars.  ‘Space’ means an arena of freedom, without coercion or accountability, free of pressures and void of authority.  Space may be imaged as weekend, holiday, avocation, and is characterized by a kind of neutrality or emptiness waiting to be filled by our choosing.  Such a concern appeals to a desire to get out from under meaningless routine and subjection.  But ‘place’ is a very different matter.  Place is space that has historical meanings, where some things have happened that are now remembered and that provide continuity and identity across generations.  Place is space in which important words have been spoken that have established identity, defined vocation, and envisioned destiny.  Place is space in which vows have been exchanged, promises have been made, and demands have been issued.  Place is indeed a protest against the uncompromising pursuit of space.  It is a declaration that our humanness cannot be found in escape, detachment, absence of commitment, and undefined freedom.

Whereas pursuit of space may be a flight from history, a yearning for a place is a decision to enter history with an identifiable people in an identifiable pilgrimage.  Humanness, as biblical faith promises it, will be found in belonging to and referring to the locus in which the peculiar historicity of a community has been expressed and to which recourse is made for purposes of orientation, assurance, and empowerment.  The land for which Israel yearns and which it remembers is never unclaimed space but is always a place with Yahweh, a place well filled with memories of life with him and promise from him and vows to him.”

Yes, maybe that’s it.  When all is spinning, we need to return to places that remind us of who we are, where we are going, what is sure and unchanging.  Maybe returning to those places is what helps to reorient us to the God of the place, and the promise of His presence with us in all our sojourning.

we took to the woods

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The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

-Wendell Berry

stay with the music–words will come in time

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I have been blogging less because I have been writing less.  My life has been busier, my time feels squeezed straight out, and so my heart and soul have been busier too.  I don’t do well with this.  It isn’t how I was made to operate.  I do well with a lot of silence, a lot of hearing the wind’s gentle whisper in the tops of the pines.  I do well with long stretches of study, reading, journaling.  I do well with sufficient sleep.  I do well when I have “filled the well,” so to speak, and the words tumble out of the overflow.

This season is gloriously full.  This season has days that begin at 6 am with one daughter’s voice in the baby monitor saying, “That’s mine, Bee-bee!”  It has days that begin with missed alarms, beds that have been wet again.  Bills that are past due.  Phone calls that must be made, laundry that piles, schooling that must be attended to.  This season is a string of flight from one activity to the next, keeping the plate in the air that is just about to crash.  Most days now I feel dizzy.

I wasn’t made to do this kind of thing well.  It is a stretch for me, a place of deep dependency on a good and all-knowing Father to give me the strength and energy to keep from drowning.  My soul gets buried in the heap and pile of duty and need and serving.  It’s both okay and not okay.  It’s life.  I wouldn’t trade away these kids for a well-watered soul any day, but I send longing eyes to the heavens sometimes, like a wife to her lover.

There are all these words.  

There is all this pain.  

There is so much fear.  

There is such deep joy.

How can it all coexist here, in this frail flesh and blood?  It’s as much a mystery to me as the commingling of Holy Spirit with my common man, bound up somehow in my person.  What a strong God to constrain Himself, to bend low like this to me.

But the words are buried and the emotions need time to sift and process and simmer.  They feel far away, on some distant shore while I’m carried away on the current.  And I mourn.  I fear that maybe this fruitlessness means that nothing is happening internally.  I wonder if I am valuable to God only when I am producing.  I fear that maybe my voice will just fall silent.

I don’t know how to find my way back to my own heart, to the shape of my own soul.  But I have learned: trace the old roads, the familiar paths.  Go back to the simplest of truths and the ways that have found me before.  Put aside needless distractions.  Remember the rock from which you are hewn.  Walk trails from a different season.  Return to books that knew me and opened me before.  Be content with the haunting quiet.  Be content with simply being held and loved.  Allow myself to accept the fact that He loves me simply because I am His, not because of what I have to offer Him.  Settle deep into His words.  Experience Him here, in barren lands.  Remember: seeds germinate in darkness.

So I snap moments and I know they are important but I don’t know why.  I know there is an undercurrent below the surface.  I find things that remind me of who I am:  Walking the trail I used to walk in my college days, back when my soul was near full to bursting with words from God, words from theological books, words words words, filling up so much silence.  Climbing an old forgotten favorite trail with my two best girlfriends late at night in the gathering dark, sitting under stars cupping steaming mugs and sharing hearts in a small circle of light.  These scattered seeds, these heavy moments, weighty, full, quiet, their meaning and importance somehow deep, surely there, but out of my reach.

And this poem by Malcolm Guite, poet + priest, opened up something in my soul this weekend.  Something in me sings with it.  Tears brim.  Call nothing common.  Accept it all for good.  And so I am here, singing from this place, exactly where I am.

Singing Bowl
Begin the song exactly where you are
Remain within the world of which you’re made
Call nothing common in the earth or air
Accept it all and let it be for good
Start with the very breath you breathe in now
This moment’s past, this rhythm in your blood
And listen to it
Ringing
Soft and light
Stay with the music
Words will come in time
Slow down your breathing
Keep it deep and slow
Become an open singing bowl
Whose chime is richness rising out of emptiness
And timelessness resounding into time
And when the heart is full of quietness
Begin the song exactly where you are.

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

 

uncommon grace

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Sometimes we grow restless and we chaff and squirm against what has grown common to us.  Sometimes we rebel against our boundaries and we ache for other borders.  We beg for a change of scenery, for fresh springs.  This wasn’t the land of our choosing, or so we thought.  Sometimes in our leaving and ultimately in our returning we find again why we loved these mountains in the first place.  Maybe one of our greatest sins is that we grow accustomed to glory and call it common.

And then we find our way back, our way home again and we remember: these mountains hold all our stories.

Look, over there!  That was the place where we first met.  There was the river where we had that boating trip.    Over there is where you proposed to me.  That valley is where we fell in love.  We hiked that ridge on our first 21-day course together.  I grew up picnicking over that hill.

These mountains hold our stories, memories, like markers.  Reminding us, rooting us back in the greater story, God’s story, the over-arching story of His kindness to us, His faithfulness to us, His sovereignty over us.  These mountains that we buck against like enemies are strong friends rising up all around proclaiming, “He is good!  He is loving!  He was enough!  He will be enough again.”

We can go on striving and tearing up the soil looking for something to grow, or we can surrender to what the Lord has done and is doing, looking instead for what is here, finding what is praiseworthy, finding all the gifts already around us.  We can go on striving, or we can be satisfied now because He is with us in this land that sometimes feel small and cramped.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
    you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

Psalm 16:5-6

 

(Planning to have a longer post up tomorrow with more about last weekend’s backpacking trip!  Stay tuned!)

preparations

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This blog post was supposed to go up last Friday, but we were so busy with preparations that it didn’t make it.  For the last number of weeks, Brandon and I have been planning a weekend backpacking trip alone together without kids to celebrate our tenth anniversary earlier this month.  We originally met working together in a backpacking program leading trips, and we have led many trips together, but never, even after all these years, have we gone backpacking alone together just for fun without some sort of programming involved.

Our life has grown so domesticated in these child-rearing years.  Most of my life is spent within the walls of our sweet home, and I love it immensely!  But it can feel terribly tame sometimes, and I can be lulled into complacency by the false perception of control that a domestic life engenders.  I can stay up late knitting by the light of a lamp or reading well into the early morning hours of the night.  I can turn on a tap for water, and throw dirty clothes in a machine.  I can have access to all the information I need or want at the drop of a hat via my phone, which is usually within a few feet of me at all times, or via the computer.  I can check the week’s weather forecast and the local grocery stores current sales and plan meals accordingly.  It enables me to run a tight ship when I want to and to feel on top of what I perceive needs to be done.

My days didn’t used to be so tidy.  The wilderness was so much a part of the structure of my days (being an Outdoor Education major in college) pretty much since high school, and it felt like second nature in my college days to read maps, know how to pack a light pack with bare minimums, to know the necessary knots, how to read the weather via the sky, etc.  I lived a life more dependent on the circumstances and conditions of nature that I cannot control.

I remember, too, how Brandon and I were when we led trips together.  The rhythm we found ourselves in, the way we worked like a well-oiled machine, the way he gently led and taught, and I supported and followed.  It’s how we fell in love.  Somehow in all the rat-race and the complete depletion that parenting can do to a couple, we’ve lost some of that.  We don’t have much financially to do anything really extravagant for this year’s big anniversary, though we dreamed of all sorts of ways we wish we could spend it.  What we both were craving was just a getaway, our first time away from the kids for a full weekend, and to be able to do it for next to nothing cost-wise.  I suggested backpacking, and the wheels began turning.  We wanted to hike this ridgeline, starting at the highest peak east of the Mississippi, that we hiked during a 21-day backpacking course we led in our early days of marriage.  We called it “the blacks” then, the Black Mountain range, and it is absolutely one of the most stunning areas in our NC mountains.  We had to sort of fly over this ridge during that 21-day course, and I was aching to be back there and camp on it, explore, and linger.

Most of last week was spent making last-minute preparations for the trip.  Brandon’s parents were happily willing to come and watch our three little ones for the weekend, which is a lot to take on!  Three kids ages five and under, two in diapers, and one with special dietary needs is not a joke!  So we were super stoked and grateful.

It was so fun pulling out our old now-ghetto backpacking equipment, checking everything and prepping everything, making lists and meal plans and looking at routes.  We wanted as luxury of a backpacking trip as we could have, while still being able to fit it all on our backs.  The process of planning and anticipating it was so fun, somehow breathing some new life into our marriage.  Having something to talk about other than battling insurance companies, bills and financial strain, tactics for dealing with children’s behaviors, petty arguments over who will take care of what, and so forth was really fun.  Having something to plan and orchestrate together beyond our usual lives, something that was just for us and by us, was relaxing and exciting.  We were hungry for the time and space to reconnect with each other.  We were hungry to experience God.

Friday afternoon, Brandon’s parents arrived and we packed up and headed out.  We arrived at the top of Mt. Mitchell in a full on blustery mist and drizzle, which developed into a full-on downpour.  Somehow, even though it wasn’t quite what we were imagining, we were ready for whatever the wilderness wanted to give us, ready to leave behind for a couple of days our tidy lives for a bit of adventure.  Phone off and camera left in the car, backpacks shouldered with grunts and moans, and we were off.

“He split the rocks in the wilderness,
And gave them drink in abundance like the depths.”
Psalm 78:15

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.”