Category Archives: At Home

When the Leaf Comes Out of the Table

The table is tidy with a turquoise windowpane tablecloth, a bouquet of flowers from Farmer Larry up the road, and chickadee salt-and-peppers perched on the edge of a vintage red-and-white quilt square. Overhead swings the Celebration Branch.August 2015 422 (2)

This one is simply a bare fir branch (no needles) wrapped with burlap and ribbon and currently decorated for summer with crayon resist flowers, frogs, and butterflies, mostly made by the grandkids. It’s all very pretty, but I ache over what’s missing.

What’s missing is the leaf in our kitchen table. What’s missing are our daughter, son-in-law, and four children, who left this morning for their home and ministry to the Ojibwa in Ontario’s far north. Our family table has shrunk. The house echoes.  My heart echoes.

What do I do with the sadness?

For two splendid weeks our home has been abuzz with six grandchildren, sprinklers, water squirters, arms outspread in soaked clothing, giggles, foil packets of campfire stew around the bonfire, tea with sugar cubes, Kung-Fu Panda, backgammon, and popcorn.August 2015 131

For two wondrous weeks I’ve listened to my earnest daughter instruct her children with the teachings of kindness on her tongue, my patient son-in-law lead bedtime prayer and songs, and the kids jockey to pick and eat garden blueberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, and beans.

For two humbling weeks I’ve been enfolded in the holy ground of hubbub--gooey fingers, cranky naps, and bright mornings. I’ve slowed down, sped up, whirled dizzily, and sat in a heap to soak it all in, confess my selfishness, hear God’s voice, and see His face in the faces of others.

I’ve slowly unclenched the fists of my normal two-grandchild daycare routine and settled into the rolling back seat of a speeding satellite sent to unlock the secrets of love and forgiveness in the eyes of six tumbling, grubby, priceless children. My heart is full.

Which was why today, carefully orchestrated as it was, was hard. Very hard.

August 2015 008The adults decided to sweeten the bitterness with a trip to the bakery this morning. It didn’t fool the kids.  All the children in my car said they didn’t want to go to the bakery (and that’s a first) because they knew the goodbyes would follow.

Goodbye for a year–maybe longer. I’m with them.

My heart aches at going back to ceramic plates instead of paper–paper having been faster to clean up so all of us could squeeze in rides on the Green Machines, wading in the creek, and making crayon resists on the kitchen table.

I know goodbyes are necessary. My children have a God-breathed calling and so do I. For them, it’s clinging to Jesus while balancing family and friends as well as running a Christian school, church, and Bible study in a remote town to which there are no roads–only twin-engine planes or trucks when the lake freezes.

For me, it’s clinging to Jesus while balancing home, family, friends, daAugust 2015 212ycare, school activities, church activities, critique group, art, and writing.

All holy ground. So what to do with the weight of good-bye?

I remember the happy faces, shared activities, and time spent wrestling with and resting in, God. With each memory,  I feel the restoration of the visit, the touch of my daughter’s skin, the sound of her hymnal voice, the strum of her donated guitar. I remember.

Family visits are like that–for helloes and I love yous and renewal and strengthening of bonds, for making memories last until the next time God grants us leave to see each other again.

How about you? How do you make memories? How do you make them last?

In the next few weeks, I’ll share fun activities that made this family visit so wonderful. WAugust 2015 409atch for these upcoming posts: How to Make Custom Packets of Campfire Stew the Kids Will Love, How to Make a Celebration Branch, and How to Do Crayon Resist.

For now, I sit at the kitchen table and gaze at the Celebration Branch. I watch the crayon-resist flowers, butterflies, and frogs twirl in the breeze. I’m so happy for the time we spent making them. I guess that’s why, amidst the tears,

I have a big smile on my face.

Calisthenics 2–In the Locker Room

Feb-Mar 2015 018 (2)I’m still wrestling with the whole idea of spiritual exercise. I guess I’m expecting some sort of radiance–you know–like the glow of healthy skin during physical exercise.

So far it’s not radiance but dog poop on one child’s feet, another tattling, two melting down, and me trying to create a quick meal everyone will like when we’re out of cheese, non-grainy bread, and juice.  Which makes me wonder if I’m on the wrong track?

Why does my life seem so small, so tunnel-visionly, so mundane, so “Martha?”July-Aug 2015 059

After I wrote Calisthenics 1, I looked for glorious ways to exercise my faith (the Holy Olympics? The Heavenly Oscars?) Instead, I found myself in what feels like the locker room of life–in the sweat and athlete’s foot and mopping after other people’s showers.

As if that’s somehow less…

I faced a grinning baby with a stinky diaper and his solemn older brother who also had a loaded one. To my shame, I told my daughter about her kids with the diaper needs–my girl who’s a missionary and currently battling an excruciating carpal tunnel.

But when I looked in her face, I saw her pain and exhaustion and longing. That’s when I saw You, too, Lord, hanging on the cross for me and for her. That’s when I thought about “…whatever you do for the least of these, you do for Me.” (Matthew 25:40)

I argued with You, I’m sorry to say. I argued I had dishes to do, and toy pick-up, and a child crying, and I wanted to ice my sore foot. I had a schedule to keep and isn’t orderliness Your way, too? What about margin and balance? July-Aug 2015 060 And You said,

Was it “margin” to go to the Cross?   

When I saw Your pain in my daughter’s eyes, I saw the connection between body and spirit. “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1)

Body+living sacrifice=spiritual act of worship.

I saw Your cross planted like a fence post in holy ground, with the failures of all Your loved ones nailing Your body to it, soaked in Your sweat and blood, people weeping around You, some fighting over your clothes, and You thirsty, with only vinegar to drink.

Your words cut through the layers to pierce my flabby heart. “I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought…” (Romans 12:3). Ouch.

When living sacrifices change stinky diapers they worship on holy ground before the One who made children and daughters and bodily functions and weakness and strength.

I realize again it is always and ever about You–about seeing You in the face of my precious daughter, in the grin of her stinky one-year-old,  and in the slightly worried look of her equally stinky and larger three-year-old.July-Aug 2015 001 (2)

It is seeing You in the beautiful mundane, in the calling to which You’ve called me today (and who has any day but today)? It is seeing that when I offer my body as a living sacrifice (not a complaining or half-hearted one) I’m standing on holy ground.

Holy Ground.

It’s not mist, or a pillar of fire, or a golden glow emanating from my path. It’s sweat, tears, and praying in the kitchen. It’s stifling the impatient answer to my husband and speaking kindly. It’s being mindful of the connection between bodily action and spiritual worship.

So today when I delayed a chore to push a fussy baby on a trike, when clock-watching furrowed my brow and planted a plastic smile on my face, I remembered Holy Ground. And I looked around and thought, This–this is it.

Then I whispered Holy Ground to the little guy and he looked at me with his big eyes and quick smile, like Baby Jesus in my arms saying, “There you go. You’re getting it now.”1526329_10152095290999214_2084605039_n

He giggled at the ride and suddenly I couldn’t get over the overwhelming feeling of Your Presence–like my chest could explode right there on the back deck. And the radiance I was looking for?

The radiance is You.

 

One,Two–Calisthenics for the Soul

Dear One,

Have you ever been in an exercise class? Or chased kids around the yard? Or tried for five minutes to copy every move a baby makes during tummy time? If you’re like me, it only takes a few minutes of strenuous exercise to let you know what kind of shape you’re in.

The gift of faith, like the gift of muscles, needs exercise, too. 2 Peter 1:5 says to “…employ every effort in exercising your faith to develop virtue…” I’ve been thinking about what that means.July 2015 067

To exercise muscles means to put them to use–to stretch them, to test their limits, to work up a sweat, to get the heart pumping,  and to burn calories. In other words, this is not merely to go through the motions, but to develop physical and even spiritual virtues.

“…but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1Cor. 9:27)

One motivator for me to exercise is to lose weight so I’m lighter and faster on my feet, with improved stamina, health, strength, and appearance. But one look in the mirror or a few minutes of soccer with the kids shows me I’m not very disciplined in this area.

And so I’m wondering–am I similarly pudgy in the spiritual realm?July 2015 062

Exercising faith must look something like exercising the body. If I exercise faith, I stretch it, test its limits, work up a spiritual sweat, and a faster heartbeat. I burn the fat in my soul so I’m quicker to answer God’s call to obey, love, risk, and lay down my life for others.

If I exercise my faith, I want to improve my spiritual stamina, endurance, and health to withstand the attacks of the Enemy and “to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13) as God continues to make me beautiful.

I’m shakin’ in my tennies as I write this . But I remind myself “…we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:16)July 2015 068 (2)

Like any rigorous program of physical exercise, the spiritual exercise of faith will have at least two results:

1. Sore muscles–physical muscles tear a little in strenuous exercise. That’s why they hurt. There’s a cost to spiritual exercise, too–a decision to tear away lesser practices for greater ones.

2. Stronger faith–in the healing process, muscles grow larger and stronger–if we persevere in the training.

Every spiritual training program will be as individual as each person’s weaknesses and areas of spiritual cellulite.  Just as distractions derail physical exercise programs, spiritual exercise is bound to meet with obstacles, too.

In fact, every time I determine again to begin a program of either physical or spiritual discipline, I find myself in a ferocious battle with God’s enemy and ours, the devil–a battle from which I often limp away–bruised, bleeding, and discouraged.July 2015 013 (2)

That battle is the test of my spiritual six-pack. How long does the Enemy fool me? How long before I remember he has no claim on me? That I’m not alone? That God has not and never will let go of me? How well do I know the character and promises of God?

How soon do I return to His path, and my discipline?

Do I know how to put on the full, protective armor of God, to thrust and parry with the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God–so that the Word Himself, this Jesus, fights for me? Do I have His Word hidden in my heart, thrust into my belt, my hand always on the hilt?July 2015 007

Lord–crummy as I am at sticking to a program of physical exercise and caloric restraint, I know I need Your help to exercise my faith to build my spiritual muscles and trim away the useless things I gorge on instead of You. 

I praise You for Your promise to us that “He who began a good work in you will complete it,” (Phil. 1:6) so we know that, while the choice to obey You in exercising faith is ours, You’ll transform our pitiful offerings and attempts into wholeness, beauty, and strength. Thank You, Lord. I love You.

 

 

Apple of His Eye

I c11034920_10153188937269214_2723384077591697003_nolor cardboard tulips on the kitchen table, sunlight streaming through lace curtains, illuminating dirty windows. I make a mental note to clean them tonight. Too much daylight makes glass streak.

I color yellow on the tulip edges so they’ll gleam under the black watercolor as though lit from behind, like my friend Wendy’s fat lambs in the late sun, glowing with halos through their fleeces.

I feel joyfully alive as I color, though my hands cramp and I must rest them frequently. Even the pain reminds me of the splendor of this mortality, that God made nerves to signal pain and pleasure, hot and cold, rough and smooth.

I brush waxy crumbs away and listen to birdsong. As a child I loved the songs of the Bible–the Psalms. Their truth and hope cut through all my pretend–joy, anguish, outcry, acquiescence, and rest–He is God of the real.

A favorite line became a life raft during the worst of the teen years–“Keep me as the apple of Your eye.” (Psalm 17:8)

I didn’t understand the imagery then. But despite feeling worthless and hated by others, I felt special to God–the apple of His eye. I saw myself as a literal polished apple–beautiJune 2015 019fully mottled, shiny, pleasing to hold.

Only later did I read the little footnote that said “apple” meant “pupil.”

The pupil is a hole into the eye.The iris surrounding it is triggered by light striking the optic nerve, and expands or contracts to regulate light as needed.

So if we ask God to keep us as the pupil of His eye, we ask Him to guard our spirits, to regulate His holy light of love and truth that we might always be able to see His path, whether in brightness or darkness. This is an amazing prayer.

The iris widens in darkness, to gather light into the pupil for illumination. Lord, when my soul is dark, open the iris of my heart to gather in Your light. You know how much I need it.

I need Your light when pickle juice spills on clean dishes, when I lock keys, towels, life jackets, and picnic in the car just as we arrive at the lake. I need it for my sore foot at day’s end when the little one wants me to stand and hold her for Rock-A-Bye-Baby.

I need it when I throw out burned eggs because there were FIVE emergencies while I tried to cook them, and everyone is crying because they’re hungry. I need it when the little ones I love wear body braces and face serious surgeries.July 2015 014

I paint black watercolor on my tulips and the waxy color springs to life in relief.

In addition to gathering light, the iris also limits light to protect  the pupil. But some protection is up to us. If we look directly at the sun, its brightness can burn the rods and cones at the back of the eye to destroy our vision forever.

Some people wish for more light, for the light of all knowledge, like Adam and Eve. They want foreknowledge of their futures–poverty, riches, and the day of their deaths. But I don’t want to know. I don’t trust myself with that much light.

I fear I’d turn every thought inward towards how to serve and preserve myself, how to keep instead of how to lay down my life, and thereby miss the joy and pain and real of the present. I want to live all the way here.

I want to watch my granddaughter’s face as she tells me about her new song, her dance steps, how she made a fairy dust necklace for her baby sister who cried because it couldn’t really make her fly.July 2015 048 (2)

The sun shifts. I hang my painted tulips on the tree branch above the kitchen table with frogs, butterflies, burlap, and grosgrain ribbon. The kitchen lies in shadow. I marvel how my eyes adjust. The light has fallen to the other side of the house–perfect time to clean the kitchen window.

Father, clean the glass of my heart. Help me see clearly. Keep me as the apple of Your eye. Hide me in the shadow of Your wings.

 

Even Caterpillars Speak

Tim has gone to work and Lara is still sleeping. I take the dogs out and tell myself today–today!–I will sit down with God to bow my head in His beauty and kindness and love. It has been too long. Even a day away from Him–how can I know I’m going the right way?

Sometimes I think for God to have a relationship with me is like me trying to have a relationship with caterpillars. I’m so big they can’t really see me. They certainly can’t understand me.

They bumble along and I watch over them, trying to put them in the path of food andJune 2015 026 (2) water and trees to climb, keeping birds and mice from devouring them, or the red-headed ants from turning them into larval snack bars. I divert them from crossing asphalt to oblivion.

Sometimes they head towards the clearing–bare dirt–where bulldozers move stumps and branches into piles for burning. Perhaps the caterpillars don’t know the cut green is already dead, that the parched soil holds no sustenance and no future for them.

The caterpillars stubbornly go their own way, not realizing they must stay in the living green where morning dew, rye grass, and maples rise. They don’t know they must climb higher to weave a temporary tomb and sleep in order to become butterflies.June 2015 010

So I put obstacles in their way to turn them from destruction they cannot imagine. I move them to where they think they don’t want to go. They are terrified of me, though I have only good planned for them. They writhe and twist in my hand, trying to get away.

That is me in the Lord’s hands sometimes–writhing–frightened and senseless as a worm, forgetting He has only good for me and for you.

When I had to give up my farm I was disconsolate. I fell into deep mourning. And my husband, who had been the catalyst for the move, came to agree with me it had been the wrong choice.

But, as our eyes gradually opened to the dew and green around us, to the new heights we could climb, we also agreed that in everything we had never left God’s hands. 

We came to see that, beautiful and healing as the farm had been for me, the move was necessary because of our stubborn hearts. The move kept us from a greater devastation–the destruction of our marriage.June 2015 036

Had we, in humility and reverence, addressed long-term marital issues while living at the farm, the move might have been averted. But the farm was big enough we could bury the truth and go our own self-serving ways, to the death of our vows.

So God took us to a smaller place where we could no longer escape the grave of lies. He is a God of truth, not a God of hiding. Like Adam and Eve, He searched out our runaway hearts and sent us from the Garden.

He led us into a relational wilderness where we had to speak truth to each other to forge a new life; to remove deep thorns we’d pretended didn’t exist, to learn how to listen, to hammer forgiveness and love into a strong shelter.

When the truth has been buried so long, exposing it releases a stench.For us, it stank of loud voices and deadly silence, slammed doors, bitter tears, despairing prayer.

And then, the little kindnesses began–times of red tulips and hauling trash cans, times of stumbling to learn how to nourish each other, to touch our deepest needs, to climb higher and join with God in His butterfly work of everlasting transformation.June 2015 022

And now, beginning to shed our caterpillar skins, we face new challenges and new opportunities for trust.

This time, there is a unity of shared joy as we go hand-in-hand writing the next chapter in the story of our lives, as we speak truth to one another about differences and needs, as we rest in God’s hands and seek His direction–as we prepare to stretch the trustworthy wings of the future He has graciously given us.

How do you see your relationship with God? What has He done in your life to give you new wings?

 

 

 

Healing Spaces

Tall grasses lacy with seed tickle my fingers–beautiful if I weren’t a child again, hiding from my mother in fields and swamps. That was a long time ago, I remind myself. Then the field daisies fling me back to our wedding, and the priest who said we hadn’t a chance.

Why tell myself only the bad stories? Is this part of the grief process?

Down at the creek, I search for the water ouzel–God’s little joke–a bird that flies underwater. I often see her hop on stones, study the chattering stream, brave the current. She folds her wings to dive–sleek, black, and small. But the creek is empty today and terribly low.

The world’s splendor whirls and chirps about me but I shut my eyes.

In the house I unload tomato soup, apples, and milk, forgetting to give thanks. I set the last roll of paper towel on the laundry shelf. In that motion God brings a shaft of light into my darkness. But I don’t see it that way at the time.

At the time I see the shelf support break, the board tilt, the contents slide. I see paper towels, bathroom cleaner, and laundry spray bounce on the washer and hit the floor.

I don’t need this, I say, resentfully. Of course, I’m wrong. God knows exactly what I need. None of the bottles have spilled, I think, so I leave the mess for later.

In the laundry room, a slick puddle pools on linoleum. When my Cookie takes off his boots for dinner, he remarks on the stench that crept in so slowly, I hadn’t noticed.

Do not dwell on the past. Behold–I am doing a new thing (Is. 43:18-19).

I discover a leaking bottle of pine cleaner behind the dryer. In a room too small to move the appliance, I wonder how in the world I will clean under it.

Water.

I pour glasses of it on the slanted floor. It dilutes the pungent oil streaming down. I pour and sop with the paper towels I just bought. I listen to the soft voice of God Who sent His Son to pay for my mistakes, to sop away the stench when it creeps into my soul.

Water is the universal solvent. Given long enough, it can dissolve stone.

In Me, you are already clean. You need only to wash your feet (John 13:10).

I dip the feet of my heart in God’s today forgiveness through Jesus. I bow in thanks for …whatever is true, whatever is good, whatever is lovely…(Philippians 4:8) to God who redeemed both my relationship with Mom and our marriage–by fire first, then by water.

True, good, lovely…OldCompBackup 3501

My mom walked the long grasses of our sheep pastures with her grandchildren, happy, her hands brushing the lacy tops going to seed for the next generation, for new life. She said she loved me.

True, good, lovely…

My non-farmer husband wrestled sheep, llamas, pigs, along with tons of hay, and fenced the healing spaces of pasture on the farm he bought for me.

True, good, lovely…

He prayed beside me as I slid the loose skin of my dad’s hand back and forth over the too-large knuckles, over the bones of his departing soul. After, on a healing expanse of beach, Tim watched me sieve sand through my fingers again and again, loving me in the wait.April 2015 093

I nod to myself and resolve to walk the field with new eyes and a washed heart, to smile at my husband putting a window in a shed.

I brush the grasses and daisies with my hands and breathe in sunshine. I realize the fields and creeks have always drawn me, not from fear, but because here I see God’s hand and feel His presence. I find hope in the breezes, the quiet, and the splendor of His creation.

He makes healing spaces even in the mess.

Where are your healing spaces? Where do you find hope? Where do you wash your feet?

The living creek rushes over rocks, melting the roughest edges first. Nothing can stand against it. The water ouzel dives deep, seeking caddis fly larvae or minnows. She stays under a long time, rises, and dives anew.

June 2015 007Do you see her? Do you hear God’s quiet voice in your mess?

I fold my wings and wash in the healing spaces of His grace; I dive fearlessly in the wide expanse of His love. Like the water ouzel, I rise full.

Step in with me, dear one. It’s a big creek.