Many Thanks

It’s felt a bit like Christmas, gift after gift, and joy to match.  Two friends who faced cancer were healed.  My foster niece will soon legally be my niece after years of waiting and uncertainty.  Two of our children won a school supply raffle.  Family stepped in to help with tutoring fees for another of our kids.  A friend blessed me with a large bag of fabric to use.  Another anonymously sent me a box of fabric as well (thank you, whoever you are!  So sweet!  You blessed my heart!).  Another friend enabled me to attend an amusement park with my toddlers, while yet another had my kids over for the day.  My son got to spend a weekend at a lovely lake house enjoying boat rides and all sorts of fun.  My husband plugged away at our cottage we’re fixing up in the backyard which will be my soap studio and a sometimes airbnb to help with school fees.  My mother-in-law helped me with running kids about, and took them on special outings one-on-one.  A cousin’s wife gave me black raspberries and eggs from her chickens.

There are always hard things happening; our prayer list is ever-full and growing, but too there is joy and peace and encouragement in the midst of sorrows and trials.  20664553_661313794073816_3145693829644866278_n

It’s All Unexpected

Maybe not everyone is so regularly startled as I am.

I came home from a ten day trip to find that my gardens had exploded with new blooms, clutches of green tomatoes, and dozens upon dozens of cymes of elderberries.  The grapes decided to indulge in a bit of conquest, leaping over the roses and aiming for the sidewalk. It reminded me of the children’s book character Mr. Tickle, who had extremely long arms and used them most mischievously, giggling at day’s end about his tickling pranks.  The sunflowers had thrown their orange petals back in glee and were waiting, swaying and smiling broadly.  I could almost hear them laugh; laugh at their own audacity and pomp.  A flower with a stem the size of a small tree!  The very notion!  In my mind they are the giraffes of the flower world; a small proof of God’s sense of humor.  I digress.

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So that was just walking in the main path.  Then I was assaulted by the sheer number of things, useful and good, that proliferated in my home.  Sturdy pots, a deep sink, machines to wash and dry, toilets to perform humble but ever-useful duties.  The prayer corner, a place that becomes more beautiful with time; this too is an astonishing sight after many days away from it.  There is where home feels most poignant.

It’s all unexpected and I looked about and in my heart the impression was, “Oh, so you’re all here still, I suppose!?  AH, you are so much!  How has this all come to pass?”

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My dear bird was wary.  For a number of minutes he stared back at me as I called to him in our familiar language of clicks and purrs and words.  Then his guard dropped and he pressed his warm little body close to the bars of his cage and purr-trilled back.  It was all unexpected for him, that he’d come home again and be with us all again.  He had no idea of return, of this remembered life being his again.  What joy!  I opened his door and he snuggled under my chin, rubbing his head back and forth.  “Pretty bird!”, he said.

There has been some healing in my soul though I was not aware of any particular treatment prescribed nor followed.  I used to expect too much, want too much; to my shame I truly did have an ugly expectation troll, grumping about in my heart, hollering about what I deserved and stomping around, ruining moments I should have been grateful for, should have enjoyed more.  Somehow he was evicted, and joy moved in, and gratitude. All is in reverse now; it’s a joyful pessimism of sorts…I expect life to be quite hard; I do not expect easy times and smooth ways, and yet, I am almost ridiculously happy with each and every good I encounter.  I do not lay claim to blessings, and yet I find them dumped over my head.

God is kind.  I don’t endeavor enough, I do not struggle enough, I am ordinary.  I did not merit any of this, but God gifts as He sees fit.  It’s all unexpected._MG_5001

 

Perhaps You Got Something Else

It is in this quiet, on this gray morning with gentle rain, that I open the door which is straining on its hinges and release some words, if for nothing else, to relieve the pressure of them within my mind.

“What is the matter?”, he asked, concerned, because I had withdrawn from conversation and was studying the design in the carpet.

“I’m sorry…I’m writing in my head.”

He understands without understanding, the way good spouses do.

My parents have been here from Montana, and I have been a sponge soaking up their presence, their words, their nearness.  When my rarely-verbose father begins to tell a story, we all gather near; we know it will be good.  And my mother, what a hoot.  We had gone to a friend’s reclaimed wood business to pick out slabs for some tables my father is going to make and she and I rode on the tailgate of the truck down from the warehouse to the storefront, holding on to the boards atop the pickup topper as Dad managed to find every low-hanging branch for us to duck and/or get our face washed by.  We roared with laughter, getting smacked with greenery.  Seeing her joy, silliness, and love of adventure is always, and ever, a gift.  Her and Dad are good people; they’re a matched pair,it’s hard to imagine one without the other to reference them by, to echo their characters back to.

Life is different on the east coast; many times I am out of step with cultural norms or ways of reckoning.  Many times my lack of university education shows and I feel shame, almost as though I wear a scarlet letter “U”, for “uneducated”.  I am always around my betters, and I know it.  Being around my parents reminds me, however, of the goodness from which I spring; of the generosity of spirit, the adventurousness, the good humor, and hard work ethic.

Once, in a self-pitying frame of mind, I was comparing my background with that of an English novelist friend.  Where he had been brought up in London, taken from the age of four onward to the Tate and the National Gallery, sent traveling on the Continent in every school holiday, taught French and German and Italian, given access to bookstores, libraries, and British Museums, made familiar from infancy on with the conversations of the eloquent and the great, I had grown up in this dung-heeled sagebrush town on the disappearing edge of nowhere, utterly without painting, without sculpture, without architecture, almost without music or theater, without conversation or languages or bookstores, almost without books.  I was charged with getting in a single lifetime, from scratch, what some people inherit as naturally as they breathe air….

How, I asked this Englishman, could anyone so deprived a background ever catch up?  How was one expected to compete, as a cultivated man, with people like himself?  He looked at me and said dryly, “Perhaps you got something else in place of all that.”

Wolf Willow, Wallace Stegner

 

I watched as my three older children charged upstream through the swift current.  They had found a fishing lure and attached line and were hunting a good stick to tie it to.  They spent the next hour fishing in the clear stream with their hodgepodge pole.  Their Grandpa told us how to best remove a hook if they got snagged, and that launched him into a related story.  I watched the smoke go up from the campfire and let his rich voice paint a scene in my mind, and I was glad for what I got, “in place of all that.”

 

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Even The Grays

It has been a week of clumsily wrangling table cloths and bedsheets over my flowering peach and nectarine trees in a futile attempt to save them from freezing into fruitlessness.  It has been a week of hunching over an old kerosene heater at midnight in the greenhouse trying to coax some robust heat out of it to keep the seedlings from certain, cold death.  It has been a week of washing poop out of underpants with a toddler who has no interest in potty training.  It’s been a week without a single order for soap and all the questions that can kindle.

It has also been bright.

Mr. Mango, our beloved parakeet, has begun making word-like utterances, much to my over-the-top delight.  Tobias has learned how to grin mischievously.  My daughter comes home from her long bus commute with a handful of poems she writes on the way; often springing from topics she’s learned about that day in history class.  Sunflowers, dahlias, and coxcombs are coming up in the seed trays, lifting their leafy hands up to the sun.  My boule bread has been turning out quite good, and we’ve cut down on our food bill via creative means.  My bees are still alive.

My daughter was asking me about hair dye.  She wanted to know why I rarely use it (I highlighted my hair in Chile, oh, six years ago or so).  I fanned out a handful of my hair in my hands.  “Look at all the colors.  Browns, blonde strands, copper.  Yes, gray too.  I don’t want to miss this, from bright to dark, even the grays.”

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It may not be a fashionable look; I may look older than I otherwise would, but I find some delight in looking my age, my thirty-six years of life under the sun.  I make no argument against dyeing of hair; just saying that I like to watch the march of time of browns and blonds and grays, right on my own head.  I don’t want to miss what the transition between youth and middle age looks like; I do not want to look perpetually young in anything but my childlike delight in life.  I welcome my years; would that I could kiss God’s feet in gratitude for all they’ve held.

As regards these days of both trials and blessings, I feel the same.  It is me, yes, bent over the toilet, swishing feces out of underpants for the third time in one day.  It’s me!  It’s also me that gets to hold my dear son, all cleaned up, and teach him the names of colors, and hear him mispronounce them, and smile all the way out to my ears.

I’ll take these days, these bright ones, and grays too, with great gratitude from a full heart, for God has dealt kindly with me.

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The Older I Get

It’s pie dough between my fingers and I’m tucking it under, slowly working my way around the dish.  I find it beautiful; the way the fat and the flour and the water do a half-dance and leave a lot undone; swirls and whirls of color which become airy pockets, flaky crust.

It’s his laugh as I push him in the infant swing under bronze fall skies; an identical giggle each time I catch his eye on the forward swoop.  He doesn’t tire of it; he can’t get to the bottom of the novelty, and neither can I.  The older I get, neither can I.

How many times have the November-defiant roses stopped me in my tracks with their unseasonable magenta pink?  They keep raising their audacious faces to the sun, to the short-lived fall sun, and they say, “Who cares?  I’ll bloom yet.”

_MG_4741 And the older I get I agree with the roses.  Who cares?  I’ll bloom yet.  I’ll enjoy, I’ll see, I’ll live, who cares if the mums have come and gone and the grapevines are shriveled and dry?  There’s still sun, see?

And there’s still swirls of fat in the pie dough and YouTube compilations of cats being afraid of zucchinis and children, oh dear children, saying all sorts of things, and you’ve just got to tilt your audacious head back and laugh from your very marrow.

The older I get and the more dear ones I’ve seen tucked into their graves, the more I encounter with joy those honest pleasures of life, pedestrian and exquisite.  The warm feeling in my throat after the first swallow of coffee in the morning.  Flipping the pillow to the cold side and sinking into it.  The warm cheek of a sleeping baby against my lips.  It affects me so, this novelty of living; of tasting and smelling and doing and being.  What a lark it is to have a body and to move it about in the world.

As I get older, I am the child with a bulging bag of piñata loot, hopping with joy, and I am oh-so-thankful.

Wishing you and yours a very alive, very lived, Thanksgiving.

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Mine to Give

“Go and pick every apple you can reach,” said the old man, passing a basket to his grandson.  The young boy looked back over his shoulder where the orchard was busy with workers, most on ladders, all with overflowing carts full of fruit.

“Such a small basket?”

“Go”, he said, nudging him.  The boy bounded off to the first tree, and though he circled it, and stood on his tiptoes, there wasn’t an apple within reach.  He looked back where his grandfather stood with eyes closed and face tilted toward the fall sunlight.  Shrugging, he skipped to the next tree, his basket so light.  Again he circled, he stretched, none.   A dozen more trees.  A dozen after those. The workers higher up smiled and winked at one another and teased him about his empty basket.

The boy’s bottom lip protruded and his little muscles tensed and he looked angrily towards his grandfather, far off, who still stood enjoying the warmth of the sun, oblivious.  He gripped the basket’s handle tighter, and tighter yet, and in a fit of frustration, he dashed it to the ground.  It bounced away, so light, so empty.  A nearby roar drew his eyes; a worker dumping a large basket of apples into his cart.  He looked at the boy and winked.  And smirked.  The boy marched over to his basket, hot tears stinging his eyes.

“FINE…JUST GREAT.  I’ll try to find some stupid apples in my stupid basket even though all the stupid apples are so stupid high”, he huffed under his breath.  Then there it was, peeking out from behind a clump of leaves, an apple.  He gathered it angrily, but began looking closer at the dense clumps of leaves.  Maybe some more were hidden that the other workers missed.

An hour passed and he had worked his way through the whole orchard, and to his misery, he had only twelve apples.  He trudged his way back to where his grandfather stood, all of his excuses and complaints rising up his hot throat.  As he neared, his grandfather opened his eyes and smiled.  He looked into the basket and smiled again.

The boy misread the smile; he reacted, “THERE WERE HARDLY ANY APPLES THAT I COULD REACH!  Why didn’t you send me with a ladder or something?  All that for just twelve apples?!”

His grandfather’s smile faded and solemnly he asked, “Did you bring me what you could reach?”

“Yes”, huffed the young boy, by now a little embarrassed about his hollering.  “I brought you all that I could reach”.  He felt miserable, and he kicked the basket with the toe of his shoe.

“Well done”, said the grandfather, watching as his grandson’s shoulders relaxed with the affirmation, “Let’s go”.

The boy climbed up into their truck, the basket riding alongside him.  The small cab was soon filled with the sweet fragrance of the apples as they bumped along the dirt roads.  Instead of driving to his grandfather’s home, though, they were headed into town.

“Where are we going?”

“There’s a family that’s in need, lots of kids to feed.  We’ll take your apples there.”

The boy felt miserable all over again.  Such a small offering after all that searching and walking.  If only he’d had a ladder and a bigger basket, he could make a real difference.

They pulled up to a small house on the edge of town, three kids out playing on the grass with a tattered soccer ball.  As his grandfather turned off the rattling truck, more kids erupted from the house, followed by the mother with a toddler on her hip.  As his grandfather talked with the woman, he stood awkwardly with his small basket, eyes on the ground.

“My grandson brought a snack to share together,” he said, nudging his grandson and gesturing that he should pass out the apples.  The littles toddled over first, their eyes alight with happiness, “Apple!  Apple!”  He filled each set of dirty, cupped hands.  Then kids his own age came too and gladly accepted the fruit, biting in ravenously.  His basket was getting lighter again; he hoped there were enough.  When the hands had all been filled, there were three apples left.  He turned to the woman and offered her the rest.

“Oh, no son, we eat together when there’s food,” she said, reaching into the basket and taking one for herself and plopping the other two in her guests’ hands.  They all sat down on the grass and a chorus of crunching and satisfied slurping filled the space between them.  The boy felt his heart grow warmer.  They began kicking the ball around, and the boy joined in and they passed a number of hours in a rousing game.

As dusk neared they said their goodbyes and climbed up into the truck with light hearts and a light basket.  They rolled the windows down and felt the cool fall air on their faces as they drove home.

“Grandpa?”

“Yes, son, what is it?”

“Why didn’t we bring a ladder and a big basket so that we could bring them lots and lots of apples?”

His grandfather smiled, “You have to give what you can, even if it’s small.  It’s no use wanting a ladder and a big basket and a wagon and all that stuff if you just don’t have it.  You have to find what is yours to give, and then just give it.

“We can’t change their circumstances; we don’t have the means to, but we can be kind; we can offer what is ours to give, just as the orchard manager let us glean from the ones the harvesters missed.”  He grinned, “And weren’t those the sweetest apples you ever had?”

“Yeah, yeah they were,” said the boy, as the truck bumped over the ruts and his heart grew ever warmer.

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My house is a wreck and we have dinner guests coming.  My back is in pain, and I can’t undo the wreck and make it pretty and presentable.  I’m stuck in this humbling circumstance, but the Lord spoke it to my heart, “Give what is yours to give.”

So I will not give a tidy home, nor a presentable yard; I will not give a good impression, nor my ego a soothing boost.  I will give a warm meal, I will give my smile, I will give my welcome.  I will give what is mine to give.

What About This Joy?

How is it that the light of midday in August falls flat and heavy; it seems to near bake even the greenest of grass into a sickly hue by it’s unrelenting glare.  My toddler shifted on my lap, beyond squirrely.  My baby twisted and grunted and bucked around his grandma’s lap with the vigor of a newly mobile seven month-old.  The older three wandered around, a mix of listlessness and wildness.  It was forty-five minutes until the next tour through the historic Rockford Plantation; too little time to go grab a bite to eat first, too much time to hope for consistently decent public behavior out of my crew.  We sat on the long backless bench in the shade of the wide front porch, there on the periphery of history, and the light fell flat and heavy.

What about this joy?  Even there, baking in the heat, and hoping the baby’s cloth diapers would hold out long enough, and wondering how on earth I’d keep my littles from getting obnoxiously loud in the quiet museum of a home we were soon to tour; this joy, this bubbling mirth, just below my skin, pulsing through me steady.

Tonight too, facing the sink piled high with cooking pots and greasy dishes, I was all smile within.  Even as my toddler threw his unwanted food right onto the floor, onto the clean floor and rice went flying.  Even as my soul was awash with sorrow over the latest Planned Parenthood video, deeper than the surface storms of annoyance, anger, and despair, there it was, and is, joy.

I know it is the Lord’s doing, and I thank Him, acknowledging that it is a mercy, a grace.  There is something within me now unbroken.

I would call it joy, or this….light; it is love, and I feel held in it.  Much to the annoyance perhaps of my dear ones, it started when I began learning about Orthodoxy; when I began experiencing the Church in it’s liturgy and it’s people.  Something broken became unbroken, and the love of the Lord and the presence of Christ moved from my head to my heart.

I’ve had a dream without sleeping, and I don’t remember when it was, but it’s clear in my mind.  I’m in the sea, black waves rising like mountains, thunder and lightning crashing, swimming hard to keep my head just above the swallowing water.  I’m so tired and so scared.  Then through the peaks of the waves I see a man in a boat coming toward me.  I know, in the way one knows things in dreams, that it is Jesus.  He’s wearing a rough brown robe and there’s peaceful determination on His bearded face.

The scene switches and my face is pressed tight against a coarse fabric and arms encircle me securely.  I am held by Him.  I feel the waves rocking the boat beneath our feet and I burrow my face into His chest and breathe.  I am rescued, found, safe.

I didn’t get to see the rescue; I didn’t get to see how I went from near-drowning to held-safe.  Gratitude, soul-deep gratitude and strong peace, and arms locked around me protectively.

I would never have guessed that it would be Orthodoxy that would bring the knowledge of God’s love for me down into my heart as an experienced love.  But it did and I don’t need to know why it was this way for me.  I am rescued, held, loved; that is enough.

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