Thus It Pleases God

I leaned back against the bathroom door, the cold from the tile floor below, hot tears running down my face above, my shoulders bowed inward from deep crying.  It was just an argument, an impasse of heated words, and expectations let down.  When I couldn’t cross swords any longer without fear of inflicting deep wounds with my fiery tongue, I retreated.

Like usual a small thing had lain atop a big thing and then both had exploded together, and one could mistake the heat coming from just the small thing.  I hadn’t even gotten out of bed this morning and we were deep into a conversation about finances, the upcoming private school bills, our revenue streams, and we talked ourselves into circles, without a viable exit point, without a hopeful stratagem.  The big thing was:  How do we send our children to their school and not fall into debt?  Is it folly to try to send them at all?  But we feel a peace in our commitment to send them, but we don’t have enough money to pay the bills.  So is God telling us “no”?  Or are we to walk in faith?

We already economize, to the point that I’m accused of living in the wrong century; we garden, preserve our food, keep bees, mend our clothing, make bedding, cook from scratch, buy our clothes and shoes and sports equipment secondhand, we have no tv, no cable bill, I often line dry the wash, I buy at discount grocery stores, we butcher our own deer, make our candles and soap, and on and on.

The school bill went up this year, as school bills tend to do, and tutoring fees heaped on top of that for one of our kids who desperately needs timely help.  Our narrow margin got narrower.  We had to tell our daughter that she wouldn’t likely be able to attend with her friends past eighth grade.  There’s a mountain of grief in that for her, and we hurt for her pain.  It’s hard to see a nearly fourteen year-old girl, just absolutely thriving, surrounded by caring and kind friends, and excellent teachers who have made a good impact on her life, and imagine disrupting that, and sending her into a school where she knows nobody.

Do not say, “this happened by chance, while this came to be of itself.” In all that exists there is nothing disorderly, nothing indefinite, nothing without purpose, nothing by chance … How many hairs are on your head? God will not forget one of them. Do you see how nothing, even the smallest thing, escapes the gaze of God?
(St. Basil the Great)

How can you find out if you are living within the will of God? Here is the sign: If you are troubled about any thing, this means that you have not completely given yourself over to the will of God. A person who lives in the will of God is not concerned over anything. And if he needs anything, he gives both it and himself over to God. And if he does not receive the necessary thing, he remains calm nevertheless, as if he had it. The soul which has been given over to the will of God is afraid of nothing, not of thunder nor of thieves – nothing. But whatever happens, she says, “Thus it pleases God.” If she is sick, she thinks: this means that I need to be sick, or else God would not have given it to me. Thus peace is preserved in both soul and body.
(St. Silouan the Athonite, Writings, VI.4)

Tears have rimmed my eyes the whole day, a whole day of aquarium vision.  There is a baby quilt to make, for this dear son who bumps and jolts about in my womb.  Fabric is another cost, it feels like a step down further into the hole.  I took the bundle of my husband’s worn-out or ill-fitting cotton dress shirts out of the yard sale pile and carefully cut out usable sections of cloth, filling a bowl with buttons for later use as I went.  One was the white shirt he wore as a smiling groom on our wedding day.  I cried as I cut it.  He looked like a prince to me; my breath caught when I saw him vowing his love to me, to me!  IMG_1413

The baby will have a quilt, not one of precisely chosen colors and patterns, put together like a textile symphony, blending in this way and that and harmonizing in this way and that.  But I will tell my son, when I wrap it around him that the quilt was born from hard times, and that each patch is a part of the years of struggle, but also joy.  I will tell him about the joy.  I will tell him how it won.



What The Wave Can’t Take

Sometimes the sermon isn’t scratching where it’s itching.  It was on marriage and keeping up the “puppy love” and such, and I looked at the trees dancing in the wind out the window.  It’s not that we’ve arrived when it comes to blissful matrimony, but it’s that we’re learning something else right now.  We’re learning about suffering and dying to self and having faith that the Lord provides when the bills stack up high.  And as it goes in the upside-down world of faith, we’re quite close, quite one.

We have to stare down a startling set of facts at present; the reality that this week we need to pay a bill for $1,800 for prenatal care.  Our tenant just moved out after not paying rent for four months, leaving us $4,000 short.  School taxes are due, which add a few more thousand.  We don’t have the sorts of margins in our accounts to absorb these figures.

Puppy love is the last thing I’m thinking about.  But money can’t be the first thing either.

I lifted Henrik up and out of his crib.  He was still asleep, his bum sticking up in the air, his little feet crossed, his cheek smooshed into the mattress.  As I lifted him, his legs squinched-up and his back arched in that way that the littlest of babies do when they’re picked up asleep.  It undoes me every time.  Cradling him close I carried him down the stairs, making sure of each step, because I never know when a Lego piece or a stray shoe could send me flying.

Henrik is bringing me my gloves as I type this.  He’s wearing these fuzzy blue fleece footie pajamas and a wool hat I made for him out of a thrifted sweater.  He’s gloriously cute.  All that blue makes his blue eyes radiant in the soft morning light.  Sometimes, when you can see the tsunami wave coming, it feels like God comes alongside and shows you some exquisite shells on the beach.  Um, God, shouldn’t we be running or something?

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” -John 16:33

The morning light is growing stronger, bold rays catching on the rungs of the dining room chairs, and wave or no wave, the laundry needs to be started.  Yes, God, I’ll keep walking with You, and I’ll keep noticing and appreciating the glory You pepper everywhere.  I’ll slip my hand into Your scarred one and trust that when the wave hits at least I’m not alone.  Never alone.




Common Romance

“Honey, I really appreciate that you installed that sprayer by the toilet for cleaning out the baby’s diapers.  I use it every day and am so thankful for it.”

We were talking about romance, see.

We were discussing how the way it’s framed in the media doesn’t suit our ways, not at all really.  Not that we didn’t try out that mold; he brought home flowers, wrote poems, we ate cheese and grapes by candlelight, and there were notes in his lunchbox.  But it always felt like we were painting someone else’s story on top of ours, a foreign element to our day-to-day loving.  What if, instead, we knew ways to express love and care and desire for one another all on our own?

Our children’s clothing lives in the laundry room when not on their little selves in cubby-type shelves that my husband built.  With four children, and one on the way, I can’t tell you how many back aches I’ve been saved by not hauling laundry up and down the stairs.  Dirty laundry is dumped right there, clean clothes put on right there, and I exhale with a contented smile that there is order in that area of my life.  No laundry languishes in the purgatory of baskets awaiting folding; it all goes right from the dryer to the shelves.  It’s glorious.

And my husband built it.  For me.  For my sanity and my back and it lasts so much longer than overpriced roses.

IMG_0415Every day as I do laundry my heart swells in gratitude toward him for making it so efficient and manageable for me.  He has used his giftings to make my life sweeter, less harried and more whole.  I’ve never seen a box of chocolates have such an enduring impact.

“Yeah, I try to write poems, but I just think they sound stupid,” he said while we talked about romance.

“Well, hon, you’re not a poet.  It would be like someone who doesn’t know how to bake trying to express love for their spouse by baking them cupcakes, and all they can offer is burnt ones that don’t taste good.  Sure, the thought behind it is touching, but it isn’t what their strength is.”

Which is why I don’t think we should put too much stock in what the media and the books say romance is like.  It may be just exactly what some couples love, and I’m happy for them (and so are Hallmark and Godiva and the flower shops).  But there’s no sense in squeezing ourselves into a mold that doesn’t fit.  A stuffed bear with a velvet heart pressed between its fluffy paws has no appeal for me.  But chocolate-covered strawberries…now those are another matter (I’m not completely nonconformist).

Romance can be as practical as not leaving underwear on the bathroom floor, as having dinner ready after a long day of work, as being the one to get up with the baby and make the coffee.  It is a daily dying to self and sacrificial loving of another.  It makes for an undercurrent in our lives of care, support, and love, which, in turn make marital intimacy all the more fulfilling and joyful.  It’s the exclamation point on the end of all that day-to-day love-choosing.

“I just don’t understand romance.  I’m just not a romantic person”, he said in frustration.  No, you’re right, dear, according to the books and the magazines and the movies, you’re not.  But you love your own wife well; she feels treasured and protected and cared for and delighted in.  All this builds trust and intimacy and peace and, yes, sexual desire.  Everything and more that the world says can be achieved through the right words, the right flowers, and the right paper heart full of chocolates.