From The Silent Place

silenceIt may seem strange to speak of silence when one is a mother of four precious jibber-jabbering children, all under the age of eleven, in anything other than a sighing-longing way.  Amazingly, I am immersed in it (when Henrik deigns to nap, that is).

Since closing down my Facebook a while back, the reams and reams of information, quips, photos, and humorous bits which I plowed through each day have disappeared.  In their wake, silence.  I didn’t know how anyone was doing, or what they were doing, and no one knew my news either, unless I called, emailed, or got together with them.

My habits have been startled; before, when I’d read a particularly striking quote or passage in a book, I’d earmark it for sharing on Facebook.  I wanted to share the nugget I found and hear others’ feedback on it.  Now I read that line and am struck and I look up from the page.  I still want to share it, I still want to discuss it, so I memorize it.  I swallow it in and make it part of me, so that I can, by word spoken, share it.  I am chewing on words, rather than handing them off right away.

Also, “checking the computer” takes all of five minutes.  Reading and responding to the few emails that trickle in and catching up on the major news stories…and…..done. I close the laptop and look around.  There’s nothing more to see here, people, move along.

silence1  In the meantime, in this wider silence, I find myself quieting too.  Almost like that feeling when you step into a lofty empty cathedral and the quiet urges a stilling of the tongue, urges a listening and an awe.

What is God teaching me in this valley, this quiet, dark, valley?  I don’t know, but I beg Him in whispers for wisdom, humility, selflessness, and mercy.  For Him to burn out the weeds in my heart and plant life-giving things.  For all the soul-killing sins to be yanked into the spotlight and named that I might reject them full in the face, with no turning aside.  That sort of stuff.

And in this time, Baby grows in the deep, nearly the size of a kumquat, but with a soul as large as any, in the secret place.  And I pray to be a wiser, more humble, more gentle mama today, tomorrow, and when I meet this wee one face-to-face, smiling.

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EMM’s Sexual Abuse Prevention In Southern Chile

Video

It is a delight for my husband and I to see so many workers in, and headed to, Chile reaching out to abused and at-risk children. Eliana, the clown featured in the video, has truly stepped into her spiritual gifts in the past five years. I remember helping her sew her first clown pants out of an old tablecloth! Please remember this ministry in prayer, and if able, designate some funds to keep it running! You can give here: http://www.emm.org/donateform/projects-k2/item/765-children-at-risk-in-chile

Tomatoes, Church, and Sorrow

I tucked the tomato plants into the earth.  They were soggy messes after all this rain, and I bid them enjoy drier feet and all the manure I dug into the soil weeks ago.  The potato plants are peeking up above the leaf mulch.  The large chestnut tree we had felled last week lies forlorn across the yard, the leaves slowly curling and dying.  The bees have settled nicely, no longer sounding testy so I’m guessing that they’ve got their queen and all is well.

There’s a lot of good here.  Friendly neighbors, clean air, huge towering trees, birds, squirrels, flowers, life.  It seems flagrantly inappropriate to be sad, to behold all the beauty and feel heartsick.

See, church isn’t merely a social club, nor a solace, nor a support or crutch.  It’s not just getting together with like-minded people.  It’s standing together with God’s people, worshipping Him, and in the sacraments, standing at the place where heaven and earth mingle, where eternal touches temporal, Creator touches created, and the veil between the two is lifted just a bit.  Where Heaven becomes a bit immediate and less obscure.

We don’t belong to a church yet, though we’e visited quite a few.  I can’t remember the last time I had communion.  My son wants to be baptized.  We don’t know what to tell him.  My heart wants to run with him down to the stream and simply do it.  But our understanding is that this is something you do within a context of your church family, not solo.  I ask him to be patient; to give Daddy and I time to figure this out.

But this is wearing on me; we aren’t meant to live the Christian life alone.  How I long for Heaven, where we will worship together without the painful disunity of denominational differences, without our haranguing sins tainting every joy.  No more suffering and no more tears.

He who does not choose to suffer for the sake of truth will be chastened more painfully by suffering he has not chosen.

-St Mark the Ascetic

We in no way regret our decision to leave our home church, though we deeply miss our friends there, our community there, our family there.  The suffering we’re undergoing now is hard, but continuing on in that place would have been harder yet in a soul-numbing way.

So beauty is all around me and my eyes swim with tears.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  -Psalm 34:18

Lord have mercy.

Wisdom, Humility, and Facebook

It is not to my credit that I seem utterly incapable of making minor changes, but only large and drastic ones.  If I am told to favor my right foot, you shall soon find me hopping on my left foot.  If I am found to be absorbed in television, I will not own one for fifteen years.  Cold turkey is my modus operandi.  Maybe it is because I distrust myself exceedingly; afraid I may persuade myself soothingly back into bad habits and sins one reasonable excuse at a time.

My husband laughed at me yesterday.  I had asked him to “pass me my book, please”.  He laughed, “Which one?”  I had to laugh too.  Within my sight at present are nine books of all sorts of genres and depth, and I am reading them all concurrently.  It is my version of flipping channels I suppose.  Anyways, this morning I’d chosen “Water From A Deep Well-Christian Spirituality From Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries” by Gerald Sittser.  I read the following in a chapter relating to how the early monastics viewed struggle:

“The self always dies hard,” Martin Luther once said.  It dies hard because it resists giving up habits of mind and body that satisfy immediate desires but in the long run destroy the life of the soul.  However much it resists, the self must still die.  It will die as we struggle against the world, the flesh, the devil, and the darkness within.  We must submit to this struggle when it is imposed on us through difficult circumstances; we must choose to struggle when God calls us to discipline our appetites, resist temptations that threaten to undermine the good work he wants to do in us, and confess our egoism.

Immediately to my mind came the distractive nature of my use of Facebook, and more than that, how it “satisfies immediate desires” with joyful little red notifications, and successive “likes” to propel my ego through the day.  Note here, I am not vilifying social media, nor Facebook itself, only my own sin in seeking from it what I should have only sought in the Father, approbation.  Worth.

I reread that passage a number of times.  I wondered how it would change me if only God knew what I was up to throughout my day; to live as I’ve heard it said, “as for an audience of One”.  A spark of joy was lit within, which is a rather big deal in my current valley of darkness.  Would that focus aid me in deeper study, more attentive prayer, and more present presence?  I promptly deactivated my account.  Why I did not delete it entirely is because, again, I distrust myself exceedingly.  I cannot claim to know now what level the Father will allow or lead me in the future to interact via Facebook.  I only know that for now I’m called away.

It feels quite counterintuitive.  To be walking on a darkened road with a helpful and cheering friend, only to be told, “excuse your companion who has been helpful to you”.  The only way this would make sense is if God Himself wished to have me more to Himself.  Okay then.

Two virtues have been held before me as twin desires of my heart:  wisdom and humility.  They are often hard to hold within the same person.  Humility is such a flighty virtue, and, as I’ve heard it said, “once you think you’ve attained it, you’ve lost it”.  I wish to grow in both of these, and where can I go for them but to the Father?  Please pray for me; I do sincerely wish to grow, to become like Christ, to die to self, and to find all my joy in the Father’s love.

Are You My Mother?

It was a day like any other.  I felt the uneven lip of the curb through my threadbare shorts and my feet were gritty in my mismatched flip flops.  My hands were perpetually open and raised to the passersby, I droned on a monotone of petition.  It takes too much effort to put emotion into words that run on, unbroken, unchanged.  “Money please.  I need to eat. I’m so hungry.   Money please.”  I was six years old.

It was a day like any other, but a woman unlike any other.  She stooped down and looked at me.  I was looking at the air, waiting for a cold coin to be pressed into my hand.  I didn’t see people anymore, not unless they got close.  She was close.  I dragged my eyes from the air and looked into eyes that startled me.  Had anyone ever looked at me full in the eyes before?  She was old, her kind eyes framed by wrinkles that cascaded one over another, kind of like the piped waves of frosting on the wedding cakes in the bakery window that I’d look at to torture myself.  She had gray hair and it was long and braided.

While the crowds pushed past we sat and looked at one another.  Without words she offered me her aged hand, opening it like a beggar and waiting.  I gave her mine and we stood.  She spoke simply, “I need a daughter and you need a mother.  Will it suit you?”  It was all too surreal to protest, so I just nodded.  We climbed the stairs to her apartment and I was surprised to find her rooms overflowing with people.  I knew some of them, other beggar kids, a local drug dealer, some teenagers I’d seen living fast.  They turned at our entrance.  They smiled.

I was given a blanket and a toothbrush and the woman went to a large closet and rummaged through bins until she found me clothing.  She seemed radiant as she brought an armload of clothes to me.  Why was she so happy?  Look how many people she was already caring for!  “Go and enjoy a long bath and then you can put on these and see what fits.  The girl’s bathroom is down the hall to the right.  I’ll make supper early; I’m sure you’re hungry!”  She turned then to go to the kitchen, but stopped suddenly, coming back to me quickly.  In a low whisper she asked, “Have you bathed before?”

“No.”

She didn’t seem surprised.  “I’ll show you what to do and then leave you to it.  When you’re done washing, I’ll comb your hair out and trim your nails.  Just call for me, my name is Mama.”

An hour later I felt five pounds lighter and my fingertips tingled where the long jagged nails used to be.  My hair felt soft and it smelled good.  My clothes were soft too.  Was this Heaven?  Mama was kind and loving and imperfect too.  Sometimes she lost her temper with her many responsibilities, sometimes she doubted that she’d be able to put food on the table for all of us sons and daughters.  Sometimes she’d see another beggar near our home and she’d turn away, overwhelmed.  I didn’t judge her; the rest of the people never even considered bringing ones like me home at all.  She was just one woman, after all, and she did her best.

She made sure we were educated, she clothed us, she tenderly drew our stories out of us, celebrated our victories, and got mad at our lies and meanness.  She prayed for us; oh man did she ever pray.  What our home lacked in beauty, it made up for in joy and rich memories.

A courier came to our door when I was sixteen years old.  I remember that was my age because Mama had just celebrated my ten year anniversary of being adopted into the family.  Celebrated with a big fluffy cake and everything.  He gave her a letter addressed to me, and we all sat down as I read it out loud:

“Dear Lenora Winter (Winter was Mama’s last name, I’d never known my own),

Your real mother lives just across town.  She is ready to receive you at any time of your choosing.  Her address is below.

Cordially,

Anders Simm, Secretary of Marie Knox”

My real mother?  She lived?  Why hadn’t she ever come looking for me back when I was living in cardboard boxes and begging for bread.  Real mother?  Ready to receive me, but won’t actually come and introduce herself?

Mama’s eyes narrowed.  “Lenora, you’ll have to do as you see fit with that bit of news.  Just know that your family here loves you and you’ll always have a home here with us.”

I stared at the paper.  Something moved within me; what would it be like to find my real mother?  To feel connected to a large extended family that went back through the ages?  To be no adopted orphan, but a real flesh and blood relation?  A day later I stood outside the gates to a splendid mansion and I rang the doorbell.

I was ushered into a grand hall and portraits, gigantic beautiful portraits decorated every wall.  I walked past the watchful eyes of my ancestors.  I wasn’t sure how I felt when I looked at them.  Some strange mixture of comfort and unease.  Large doors opened before me and there stood a magnificent lady.  Very regal and very ancient, she threw her arms wide and bid me come.

I awkwardly hugged her.  She really did seem to love and welcome me, but hurt kept crawling up my throat when my eyes would meet hers.  Why had she not looked for me?  Why was she glad to receive me, but not to seek me out when I needed her most?

She smiled at me and said, “Welcome home”.

I spent a few hours with her.  She read me the family history from big leather-bound books that lined an impressive library.  She explained who all the portraits depicted.  She introduced me to the warm and loving brothers and sisters I had.  They were beautiful and ordinary and joyful.  She showed me my room and asked me to change for dinner.  A lovely gown was all laid-out across my bed.  Such finery, such beauty.  She’d almost left the room, but paused and came back to my side, something weighing on her mind.

“I must tell you, my daughter,” she said seriously, “that if this day you sit at my table and share my bread and wine, you may never eat with your former family again.  This will be your only place of nourishment, your new and true family.  Though your former family meant well, they do not know how far wrong they are in their beliefs and table practices.  Do you agree to my terms?”

“What?” I exclaimed, “Never share their table again?  Why?  They are the ones who adopted me, who picked me up from the street corner and loved me, filthy and lost as I was….abandon them?  They may be wrong in some ways, but they are right in others.  I cannot do as you have asked.”

She sighed.  “But I am your true mother and this is your true home.  I hope you can see that someday.”  With that she turned and left.

I left the gown where it lay and walked back out the long hall, the eyes of my ancestors watching me from painted faces.  I went home to Mama and she embraced me.  I went to my bed and curled up into a ball.  I wept.  I had no idea whose claim on me was valid, but I knew whose hands had reached out to me.

……

A reflection in short story about my recent research into the Holy Orthodox Church, which has a strong claim about most accurately reflecting the practices and beliefs of the early church.  Growing up in the cradle of Protestantism, however, it is hard to swallow the things which the Orthodox Church asks of me.

Swarm Day

I couldn’t see them, but I could hear them.  Tens of thousands of them way up high.  I shielded my eyes with my hand and searched the branches for the tell-tale clump.

” A swarm in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon; but a swarm in July is not worth a fly.”  -mid 17th century beekeeper’s proverb

Well it was May and half my bees were twenty-five feet up in a tree.

My neighbor had come over with a startled look in his eyes.  “Um, do you have a bee suit?  Because there’s, like, thousands of bees up in my tree.”  Good golly.

“I’ll suit up.”

Somehow I said it like I capture large rebel clumps of stinging insects all the time.  By the time I’d donned my veil and jacket the bees had absconded.  I could still hear them, but where?

The sky was full of them, buzzing to beat the band; I’d never heard them so chatty.  There was a tornado of them above my head, gradually touching down on a blessedly low holly tree in my yard.  I approached with a box at the ready and a rake.

By now the plumbing company next door was forming a small crowd of tough guys gawking uneasily as I approached the noisy mob.  I had studied swarm collection.  In a book.  Don’t you just love when written words need to be fleshed out in real life movements?

I put the box below them and gently began knocking the clump down into the box.  The air erupted with humming inquietude.  I have never felt so mesmerized in my life, seeing the writhing many-membered mass flowing like water up the sides of the box, coating it like a blanket.  When I had the clump into the box, minus the ones filling the air around me, I taped it shut; a maneuver made quite complex by the fact that I’d brought along heavy duty packing tape which would not rip off.  I had to bite it to break it, meaning I had to leave my bee veil open a bit to access my teeth.  This earned me a very confused bee in my veil!

I lifted the heavy humming box to the other side of the yard and watched the airborne swarm.  They settled on the same spot on the holly tree and formed another sizable mass.  I needed to make sure I got the queen they fled with, so I got another box and repeated the operation again.  Oh how the air hummed.

Meanwhile calls were being made to my beekeeping mentor Tim.  Desperate calls about a used hive or nuc that we could buy tonight.  You see, bees don’t keep long in boxes and they deserved better than that.  Tim had one hive left, Dustin sped off for it, an admiration for my mad swarm-catching skills lighting his eyes.

As soon as the new hive arrived I started up my smoker and headed out to my downsized original hive where the ladies were enjoying a bit more elbow room.  I took three heavy frames of honey/pollen/capped brood out to put into the new hive to make it more enticing for the swarm, swapping in new frames from the new hive for the ladies to fill.

Then it was time to attempt resettlement.  I poured the boxes of bees into the new hive and they looked like so much writhing chocolate frosting blobbed generously atop a cupcake.  “How do we get them all in?”, asked my husband, nervously.  “I…I…I don’t know.  I’ll try brushing them down into the frames.”

I swept the mass up the sides and in, adding a puff of smoke over top to stimulate them to chow down on honey and call the place hive sweet hive.  I got the inner cover and the telescoping roof on, parking the bee-coated boxes right up to the front ramp.

We watched in amazement as they began a slow but steady advancement into the hive.  JOY!  Hundreds of dollars worth of beautiful bees were marching happily into their new home.  We laughed and rode the afterglow of the huge adrenaline rush from shepherding the swarm in.

By nightfall they were all tucked into the hive.  This morning they were taking their bearings, flying in looping circles in front of the hive.  This afternoon they were busy drawing out comb and sipping at the rain water puddled on their front porch.  This evening they were coming home with pollen.  Glory.

 

 

One Breath Away

When hundreds of high school girls are stolen in Nigeria.  When a ferry sinks full of hundreds more young ones in S. Korea.  When a woman gleefully films the murder of her unborn baby, covering all that carnage with incongruent smiles.  When a plane disappears right out of the sky and there are no answers and not a scrap to tell the story.  When a baby passes out of this life before even a day has passed, we all hold our breath.

Do you feel the trembling darkness, how it climbs up the throat and chokes us?  How we shake our heads in a sort of numb muteness and how any words we try to wrap around the horror seem obscenely plastic and useless?

onebreath1Reuben fell through the air.  I’d been ready to catch him coming down the slide from the tree house in Chile, when inexplicably he turned and ran off the back side.  His head struck a car battery and his eyes rolled back and his body went limp while my whole soul howled “NO!”.  I can’t even type this without my heart constricting tight and my shoulders bunch painfully in remembered horror.

Emergency room.  Scans.  Throwing up blood.  More scans.  Emergency surgery to remove crushed bone and put in a ceramic plate.  You can’t stay with him, ma’am.  Dustin pulling me out of the room crying, seeing my baby on that big bed with all those tubes and him crying for me, so scared.  Oh, God.

There was a moment there, on the floor outside the operating room, when it came to me really clear, that I’d love God even if He took my son home.  But I cried and sang out my deepest mother’s prayer and pleaded for his life, singing, “Give me back my son”.  Give him back to me, oh, please.

The next day I was allowed at his side and was rewarded with a smile as he discovered the buttons that moved his hospital bed.  Glory, alleluia.

“If prayer is a force at all, it cannot be possible to pray without something happening.”  Emmet Fox

If we really believe that prayer makes something happen, doesn’t that sort of change everything?

Many of my friends decided to stop reading and watching the news.  They couldn’t handle the weight and load and burden it is to see the world’s pain and violence and terror, writ large and loud across a screen or page.  They said they were protecting themselves, focusing simply on the people in their lives day-to-day.  I understood, but I think an opportunity was lost.  See, what if prayer really makes a difference?  Not just for the friend who lost a baby, but for the Nigerian school girl wondering what tomorrow will bring and whether she’ll be sold or raped or killed?  What if God wants us to see so that we act, so we respond, trusting that if He asked us to pray, there must be some use to it?

onebreah

What if tragedies don’t have to leave us tongue-tied, or worse, saying all sorts of silly Christian-eeze nonsense, assuming we know why God allowed it.  What if we actually had some effective work to do on behalf of the hurting?

Because we do, and it’s only one breath away.  Hurry to your knees, then, and I’ll hurry to mine, and we’ll give our breath and our time, reckoning it true that God listens and acts and is pleased that we’re finally loving someone else above ourselves.

“We must begin to believe that God, in the mystery of prayer, has entrusted us with a force that can move the Heavenly world, and can bring its power down to earth.”

-Andrew Murray