When Zondervan Called

It isn’t often that a publishing company gives this “author” a phone call.  For some reason or other I must have sent them an inquiry a few years ago, as they had my email address.  The charming customer service man asked how many manuscripts I had done or were in progress.

“Two are done, one in progress.”

“And are you looking to publish them….?”

“No, no, not really.  I am a most unmotivated writer.  My joy is in the writing, so…I’m already happy.”

“But your work…it could be shared more broadly, more people could read it, etc…Wouldn’t you like to see your work read by more people?”

“See…here’s the thing; it’s hard to entice someone with things that may make them happy when…they’re already happy.”

“Wouldn’t God want you to use your gifts for others?”

(to myself:  oh, I do believe He also delights in faithful obscurity)

Then the conversation got around to the real point; that I could get a discount on the membership for their Author Learning Center site.  That I could get tips there from pros and learn marketing strategy and how to promote my writing.  In only “fifteen minutes a day” I could be learning so much.  Perhaps.

“But, I’m learning Norwegian right now; that takes up my extra time.  My five kids need all the rest.”

He didn’t have a ready-made rejoinder for that.

I don’t believe that I’m a bad writer (likely wouldn’t do a blog if I thought I had nothing to offer), but I do grasp that I lack the ambition that my author friends have.  I have a knee-jerk reaction to promoting myself, marketing myself, and networking in general.  Writing is pleasant to me, so I write.

To hold my own published work in my hands…I don’t know.  I don’t know if that would make me more happy, fulfilled in a new way; I just don’t know.  Maybe it would bring a new joy into my heart; maybe it would tempt me to be insufferably proud and/or insecure.

I really loved rowing.  I really hated the regattas.  But, to be part of the club, I needed to participate in them and do my best.  Two times my double and I took second; once in the Chilean Nationals, and once in a regatta honoring the Chilean police force.  Then, in one of my last races, we won gold.  We pulled across the finish and realized all the boats were behind us.  There was a lift in my spirit; I was happy to have done well for my club.  I liked the joy of my team and friends.  But for me?  It really was better to set out for a good long row with no medals and no fanfare, quietly gliding over the waters next to pelicans and sea lions; working hard, but in obscurity, and loving it completely.

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I know that the regattas taught me things I wouldn’t otherwise have learned…I am sure attempting to publish my works would do the same, but I cannot bring myself to strive for that, at least, not now.  There is nothing that compels me; no inner drive, no dangling carrot, no sense of obligation.

And so, I write here, obscurely and delightedly.

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The Looser Weave

There was a time when we leaned back into couches and weren’t sure if we’d be able to get back out of them; our pregnant, rounded bellies sitting like so many beach balls in our laps.  There would be commiseration about heartburn, clothes no longer fitting, nausea, and exhaustion, but mostly we laughed and we dreamed.  I don’t know what the husbands spoke about.  I knew wonder and it grew and grew.

Somehow then we were in the thick of it, with babies and toddlers, and were in and out of maternity clothing on the regular.  Our toddlers grew into friends, our babies which we once rocked to sleep in their carseats with our feet while we played board games were tearing around, trashing toy rooms and pretending together.  We went from couples with babies to a whole vibrant community with shared memories stretching back years and years.

As kids entered grade school, one by one, the moms could catch their breath and look around.  Some decided to work, to find their purpose and passion in fields of interest to them, others had to work to support the family, others devoted themselves to educating their kids at home, others found home itself work enough.  Our worlds opened outwards as the kids grew, into new schools, new churches, new connections, new responsibilities, new stories.

Though we would get together as able, and delighted yet in the ease of being with those with common history, one could feel the looser weave.

I walked today with my baby and my toddler in a park where I’ve spent untold afternoons with friends and their little ones.  I settled a child on each knee and we watched ducks and a great blue heron beside a sparkling pond with cheerful fountains; autumn giving every tree a gilded, crisp look.  There wasn’t anyone to call to join us when we’d spontaneously decided to escape the house and Monday’s laundry.  There’s work and homeschooling and a billion busy things, and I understand.

But I miss them.  I miss journeying together.  I’m too old for the new moms, and generally, I think I freak them out by not hovering over my babies, by letting them climb high on the playground equipment, by letting them get frustrated and work through stuff. I find now that I talk to the grandmas, but often they’re on their phones, which is sort of funny, but mostly sad.

I want to have more babies.  I want to peer into little faces again; hear newborn squeaks and sighs.  How much joy and laughter is there, in the knowing of a person, brand new to the world.  I want to feel the kicks and squirms through my own skin, to carry a soul not my own but knit within me.  I’m not over it.  I’m not past it.  I haven’t moved on and held a garage sale and reclaimed my home.  It would upset none of my plans; my plan is simply to live.

My toddler put on a severe pout today; he pulled it on deliberately, like a heavy coat, and I could hear in my heart the sounds of an inner stream of laughter; one that is always flowing but not always overflowing outwards.  He teaches me in caricature; in his simple sins I see the roots of my seemingly complex ones.  A screaming fit?  Mine may happen inside, but what’s the difference?  Any size fist can be raised to shake at God.  He surely repents better than I do; in tears and real compunction.

What am I saying…only this; I’m not eager to hurry away, to go on to the next thing.  I am in a garden and I haven’t exhausted my wonder at all the flowers.  IMG_1146

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the Sound of Slicing Celery, and Other Reasons I Love My Work

IMG_1323  Perfectly ripe avocados in a simple lemon juice/salt/cilantro dressing.IMG_1597  Working venison together with pork and bacon for deer sausage.IMG_1283  Cooking over dead-fallen branches for lunch on an old oven grate._MG_5079  Putting up garden bounty._MG_5067 IMG_1050  Honey harvest from our bees, twenty-five pounds our first year.IMG_0966  Salsa and more salsa from our prolific tomato harvest.IMG_0444 Strawberry shortcake, need I say more?

“Why on earth would you want that?”, puzzled my husband with bewilderment in his face as I oohed and aahed over a manual washing machine.  “Do you know how much work that would be?”

“Ah yes, dear, but it’s the sort of work I like best.  And imagine the arm muscles I’d have.  No gym needed, and we wouldn’t need to depend on electric!”

Can you hear him sighing?

We were at Lehman’s, a store specializing in all things old-timey and non-electric (though they do offer electric items too, like a kick-butt dehydrator that I covet).  Dustin had surprised me on our way home from Montana with a trip to the store that I’d only encountered online before.  I danced around the aisles of wood-burning cookstoves and kerosene lamps in utter glee.  Everything in there is useful and well-made.  I was in pioneer-wannabe heaven.

I settled on 5 yards of cheesecloth, a butter paddle (for removing buttermilk from homemade butter), and a rapid laundry washer (which is like a metal plunger that washes clothes, sucking the dirt up and out, very useful when my kids come in covered in mud!).  My mother-in-law smiled as I happily showed her my washer.  “I tell people all the time that you were born in the wrong century.”  Yes and amen.

Dipping candles, working with my bees, gardening, canning, drying, sewing, and pinning out the laundry in the breeze; how do I have time for it?  I get asked this now and then, usually by someone who is shaking their head at me.  I turn the question around, “How do people have time to run their kids to five activities a week or keep up with a television show or work out in a gym or serve on committees and such?  We all make time for life-giving work, whatever type that might be, work that feeds our souls and nurtures our families and communities, we apply our hands to those tasks.”

It is far from drudgery for me to pull weeds for hours.  As my hands work my mind is free, free to think and dream and ponder and wander.  Then there are the tactile delights, like digging my finger into honeycomb and feeling the wax give way and how the warm honey and waxy bits feel on my tongue.  The feel of dough under my hands when it reaches that magic elasticity that means it’s done.  The way cold water seems to permeate to my very bones on a hot day of garden work.  Don’t laugh at me, but even the feel of the water slipping over my hands in sudsy glory while washing dishes holds a delight for me.  It is the work I like best.

Today the cucumbers needed attention.  So four quarts of refrigerator pickles are sitting on the counter cooling down on a folded tea towel while a 5-gallon crock of diced cucumbers, peppers, and celery sits in a salt brine for canning sweet relish.  I love the sound the knife makes when slicing through the crisp, cold celery.  I love the fresh scent of the cucumbers.  I like this work.  I am grateful that these tasks are mine to do, mine to teach to my children in time.

This is a rambling bit of gratitude about work.  Of course there are rancorous and irritating things to say about the work of my hands, but those are nothing but common woes, weeds among the flowers.  Will you perhaps think of what you love about the work God has given you?  Will you share some thoughts below?

A smile and a wave from me.

Broken

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We stood in the remnants of Juan’s home in Concepcion, Chile.  The walls tilted in wildly.  Tears ran down his cheeks; he had built this home with his own two hands.  Raised his children here.  The earthquake took all that away within minutes.  Unlike his neighbors who were crushed by debris, his family survived; they would live another day and make a new home elsewhere.  But, for now, there was just a lot of loss, a lot of grieving to be done.  How do you gather up the fragments, leave your beloved neighborhood, where people know your name and whose children played with yours, where the banter at day’s end was familiar and comforting as old slippers, broken-in just right?  How do you start over?  “Are you afraid to be in here?”, I asked Juan, because I certainly was afraid; the walls and ceilings bulged and sagged threateningly.  “Yes, I am afraid.  This could collapse at any second”.  Staying wasn’t an option.

It was Sunday, a day I had dreaded.  For the last time as a member, we slid into our pew and opened the hymnal.  Words stuck in my throat and I just found my eyes wandering to faces, to backs of heads.  I counted our losses, person by person.

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We left our church yesterday.  We didn’t sneak out the back door (though it was tempting).  We didn’t storm out either.  We got up front with our pastor and we shared a short letter:

Dearest Friends and Family,

We have a hard thing to share this morning.  We are leaving Landisville.  This has not been an easy nor a light decision to make.  You have been our community for many years.  You have nurtured us, you have sent us.  When I think of all that God did in Chile during our time there, I just thank Him for you; without you we could not have gone and made disciples.  We thank you so much for your generosity and support.  

There are issues being debated here and in the broader Mennonite Church that we do not believe are debatable.  Melodie Smith, now Melodie Dum, said recently that within the church there is room for diversity of belief on homosexuality.  There certainly may be room; the church may be like a large bus with a seat available for everyone, but if the bus is headed to New York and God has called you to Miami, it doesn’t matter if there’s a seat for you, it is not going the way you must go.  

Getting off the bus has all the pain and sting of a separation.  Please forgive us if we have offended or hurt you in our journeys together.  Our sincerest aim was to be a part of you, not to part from you.  We love you and will miss you.

Our assignment in Honduras has been postponed indefinitely as EMM does not send “homeless” missionaries.  If we find another church family who, after we have been rooted-in with them and knit together, agrees to send us, then we will have that hope of going.  If not, the monies you’ve invested into this vision will go toward sending others, but it will not be wasted, that we can be sure of.  Please pray for a family to be sent to fulfill the role in Honduras, one that could bring such blessing to so many.

In closing, I ask for your prayers; our family weeps at the loss of you.  Please pray for God’s Spirit to direct and guide us.  Please pray for our children, for whom transition has been the default of their young lives, that God would be their firm place which never shifts nor changes.  Please pray that God would give us hope in this time of trial. 

I was too afraid to look up as Dustin read.  My eyes blurred and I examined the wood grain of the podium.  I didn’t want to see the hurt, confusion, or ambivalence on those beloved faces.  Some would be glad to see us go.  Some would be offended, as if our leaving were a judgment on their staying.  Some would be quite sad.

We were outspoken, see, on both our love for people with homosexual dispositions AND our love of God’s Word.  We didn’t believe that stepping towards anyone in love involved a stepping away from the Bible and it’s teachings.  We believe that practicing homosexuality is a sin, just as adultery is, just as lying is.  We don’t vilify it as the worst, nor ignore it as unimportant.  We don’t want our own sins to be accepted, neither do we do anyone else that injury.

Maybe we weren’t in the minority, but we were quite alone in speaking openly.  It is odd to feel like a radical when you’re simply agreeing with orthodox Christian beliefs, which have been held true for millennia.  It is strange for the Bible to be treated as so pliable a thing and for human sympathy to be heralded over love.

We tried for three years.  We met with leaders, we prayed, we shared.  We waited semi-patiently.  Then it seems, our decision was drastically hurried up by several important turning points in the Mennonite church.  Eastern Mennonite University announced a listening/discerning time to see whether they would allow practicing homosexual professors.  One of the conferences ordained a practicing lesbian.  Our own church hosted a play about a man and his son who has just come out as gay, inviting viewers to laugh, to cry, to be confused.  Sure, it was a story, but it was clearly a platform; to continue this “dialogue” which so often has felt like a dogged monologue.

Our pastor helped us through the leaving process and we so valued his wisdom.  In emails back and forth, he asked if this was the only reason we were leaving.  I responded:

About cause for leaving; the debate about homosexuality is the surface manifestation (and to us a particularly disturbing one) of a deeper issue; sort of like the blue coloring of a bruise, the injury being actually under the skin.  How pliable we think scripture is is under there.  How we interpret scripture and whether we take into account two millennia of the church’s conclusions on sexuality, immorality, gender, and suffering.  Sometimes I imagine pre-schism unity as a thick trunk, then branching off into Rome, then branching again smaller yet post-Reformation, and then splintering yet more into denominations and then tiny twigs where we keep extending out our particular interpretations ad nauseum, are we not near to breaking in this persistent, growing, uniqueness?  Are our beliefs to be so very shifting and transient, like the culture’s?  I feel the strength of the tree so very much less under my feet each year it seems, the farther out on the twig we go.  But these are harder things yet to share on a Sunday morning with a shocked congregation taking it in that we are leaving them.  Roots are more tangled than the plants above them.  So, yes, it is too simplistic to say that disagreement over homosexuality is the reason we’re leaving, but it is the most tangible present reason; it’s the coloring over the injury that marks the spot of distress.  If the knot of contention were switched to questioning whether the miracles of the Bible actually happened, I dare say the bruise would be much the same; it questions the same thing, the veracity of scripture and whether we are compelled to take it plainly.

Juan and my teammate Bekii Kisamore and I bowed our heads in prayer.  Tears made wet trails down Juan’s face and hit the rubble-strewn floor.  “This, this is what people need”.  He then led us to his yard and showed us his “hope”.  A beautiful copihue vine with full, generous blooms, snaking up the crumbling wall of his neighbor’s home, where the couple died clutching their small child in their arms.  It was a “sign of life” for him, and he brought it water from the countryside to keep it going while all else was in ruin.  He shared cuttings with us, he shared his hope with us.

broken3We nurtured our little copihue cuttings, kept them in water and planted them in our yards in southern Chile, a constant reminder that God invites us to hope in the midst of ruin.

Our decision to leave our church meant that we had lost not only our community, but our vocation as well.  To be sent, you need a sending body.  Our beautiful dream came crashing down and I am still reeling from that.  I don’t know how to live without a dream.  I feel like I’m flailing, like the floor has given way beneath me.  If not for the peace that God has given us that we are obeying His voice, I do not know how I would go on.

There is just enough light to know that a path is before us.  I cling to this verse from Isaiah 30:20,21:

Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

broken4Please pray for us as we grieve.

The Work Of My Hands

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It was right there on the prayer card, the one with us smiling with a squirmy one year-old Sophia in our arms, Edison inside my not-quite-showing-yet belly.  The verse at the back, the one out of all of them that we chose:  “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us– yes, establish the work of our hands.”  Psalm 90:17.

Because, you see, we had no idea what sort of work we’d actually be doing out there in that big wide “mission field”.  There were vague ideas about helping a local church plant, or reaching out to rural people in the Andes or on the islands, or both.  We knew only that we were called, we were “sent ones”, and we had at least a mustard seed of faith that God would indeed establish the work of our hands.

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I had no idea that my hands would be calloused and bloody and ripped up weekly.  I didn’t know He’d call me to row, to insert myself into a local rowing club so that I could reach out and be a friend to the youth there.  I didn’t know He’d start a Bible study through it.

He gave us all sorts of work.  But this post isn’t about the big Work, it’s the about the small work, the hidden work.  The every-day-always work.

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It’s the rubbing of fat into flour; making all those pieces come together into a new thing, a hot pie.

It’s the joy of bathing a baby.
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   It’s organizing the toys.  Again.  And being glad even with temporary shalom.

It’s being a bed for a sleepy, womb-missing baby.

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 It’s tying up herbs for drying.

It’s writing.

And here, right here, is where my throat constricts and the dams threaten to overflow, you see, I’m over-abundantly blessed by the work I’ve been given to do.  Those dirty dishes I need to wash?  It means WE ATE TODAY!!!  The laundry that needs folded?  It means that we were clothed and had clean water to wash with.  The floors that need vacuumed?  It means that there’s a whole galloping herd of happy children living here, leaving trails of hard-won dirt from their adventuring feet.

There is so much joy everywhere and a lot of it can be found in our work.  Where do you find joy in the work established for you?

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