Cast Down

Damp paper pots, seedlings standing resolutely within,

Nestled into deeper dirt, room therein to sink their reaching white roots.

Sixty degrees under overcast skies; gray in the greenhouse.

Agitation, or just plain grumpiness, anyways

“Lord, help me find You, sense You, see You”

Watering can heavy against my palm, tilting and pouring

Currants, lemon, peppers, onions, radishes, lettuces, promise.

Into the house where the vacuum is humming and the mop is swishing across the floors

Johnny Cash on the record player and a board game spread out on the table

And my spirit a bit lighter, the day remaining gray.

Sometimes the soul casts about, feeling a want, a thirst, feeling bereft of a something, or a Someone.

Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him, Who is the help of my countenance, and my God.   Psalm 43:5

They’ve said that God never distances Himself from us, but that we distance ourselves from Him

Which may be true or perhaps

He withdraws to teach us to miss Him, to thirst aright, to feel the chill of gathering dark, when the Light recedes

As a parent pauses, the children struggling at this thing or that, not rushing in as heroes

Allowing roots to press deeper and for faith to find an answering

Can I trust the One on the other side of my hopes

Are You there and unabashedly loving, closer than my breath, every atom of me held together because You are?

The day continues gray but outside the birds are singing.

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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

 

The Strangest Mercy

I was glad for the bagginess of my bee suit.  Not only that it gives a buffer zone between my tender skin and the stabbing dagger-like stingers of thousands of honeybees, but because at six months pregnant, I still fit into it.  Now, I may look like an astronaut trying to shoplift a basketball, but I’m relatively safe and comfortable.

I waited until Henrik ceased his happy pre-nap shenanigans (i.e. throwing his blankets out of his pack and play, belly-flopping delightedly, and grinning at me over the top of the sides in a most awake-and-knows-it way).  When he finally succumbed to the nap, I prayed in a whisper that God would protect me as I went to rob tens of thousands of honeybees of their hard-earned honey (not all of it, mind you, just their spare pantry).

I got my smoker going strong on the most tailor-made-honey-collecting day ever (mild temperatures, little wind, and undiluted sunshine).  I don’t normally even inspect my hives without another adult at home, because I’d like to have some back-up if I get stung and have a reaction, but a string of cloudy days and conflicting schedules and a limited time frame in which to borrow an extractor meant that on this one sunny day, I was going in Lone Ranger.

I did Les Abeilles hive first (which is French for “the bees”), which is my older colony and quite a robust one.  This hive alone swarmed twice last May, forming two new colonies of sizable populations, while still leaving behind a great multitude.  I’d be harvesting twenty frames of honey off of them. It’s an intimidating thing to approach the home of thousands of stinging insects.  Worse yet to attempt to plunder their reserves.  I steeled myself for the worst, though I’ve yet to be stung in my two years as a beekeeper, I could just imagine that today would be my initiation rite into true beekeeping.  “Stung forty times, huh?  Well, you’re a true beekeeper now”, I imagined some seasoned beekeeper saying, while slapping me on the back.

I puffed the smoke into their front door and breathed the pent-up nerves out.  Let’s do this. I worked my way through, frame by frame, puffing with smoke (which tells the bees, ‘Hey, there’s a forest fire going on, you should probably chow down on honey because your home is going to be burnt up.’ or ‘Was that an alarm pheromone I just smelled?  No….I just smell smoke….I’m so happy now.  Nom nom nom.’).

I took each frame and gave a few swift shakes over top the hive, harmlessly dislodging the bulk of the feasting bees right back into their home.  Some get understandably irritated.  Wouldn’t you be?  There you are at the fridge, grazing on some cheese and reaching for the milk when all of a sudden someone picks up your kitchen and shakes you out the door.  And if you don’t fall out of the doorway, well then you are swept out with a giant broom. I hustled the bee-less heavy frame of honey to my wagon awaiting downhill, where I put it into a box and swiftly covered it with a sheet so the bees didn’t try to claim it again.  Repeat twenty times while sweating profusely from every pore on your body and keeping your smoker going, and hoping against hope that they don’t smell through the smoke haze the scented alarm that the guard bees are emitting, and you too could harvest honey!

Amazingly, no stings.  Not even more than a handful of fly-bys (when the guard bees attempt to kamikaze my veil in indignation).  I put the hive back together and said, “Thank you, ladies!” and carefully navigated the heavy wagon back down to the house.  I then repeated this with The Bee-Bee Boomers (my first swarm catch colony), and they too amicably allowed me to plunder their pantry.

There are twenty-seven frames of honey on my back porch under sheets awaiting extraction tomorrow.  And no painful stings on my body.  And the baby is still napping.  Mercy.

And that’s what it is.

It’s not because I’m some wonderfully intuitive bee-whisperer.  It’s not because of me.  It’s one of God’s strange mercies for me, for this day and the other days past of hive inspections and honey harvests.  It implies nothing about tomorrow, or the next day, the next harvest.  No promises for a sting-free future.  But a mercy for today. I’ll take it.  I’ll give thanks and thanks again. For every strange mercy, giving thanks.

Give Us This Day

daily…our daily bread.

Help us to not ask for tomorrow’s bread, or next year’s bread, or a promissory note for a lifetime’s worth of bread.  For bread security.

Just, let us awake each morning, finding that your care has not slacked.  Finding ourselves unforgotten.

daily1Food for the stomach and words for the soul.  In this time of rupture and grief, how very many biscuits and loaves and baguettes of sustaining words have been given to us.  How many arms linked together and hands reaching to catch us when the floor gave way.

Invitations to churches, to dinners, to communities.  It is overwhelming in the best sort of way.  It is like setting out on a journey, armed with a bit of bread and a bit of cheese, and being called in to a neighbor’s backyard barbecue feast.  And then another neighbor’s.  And then another’s.

Amazing.

Daily bread and surprising bread.  We are being sustained and cared for.  I gave birth to one of our sons in Chile, far from the supportive care of family.  I remember how vulnerable I felt.  And then the midwife drew near.  She kissed my cheeks when the pain came hard.  “Esta bien, mamita, esta bien”, she’d murmur.  I melted into that comfort.  I didn’t feel vulnerable; I felt mothered.

I feel the same now.  It doesn’t take away the pain, but frames it within bounds; it tells the pain that it is not the end of the story, nor the narrative of my life.  It is a passing thing, scream though it may.  It will be endured alongside the love and care of others; it will be borne in empathy.  It will accomplish its work within me and through me, and good will come of it, because God is not in the habit of wasting anything.

And again that verse from Isaiah….

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.”daily2

It’s Just The Astonishing Appetizer

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This place, these cabins in Chile along Lake Llanquihue, it has the most magical light.  We would descend upon this place all tired and ministry-worn, we’d come to be renewed and refreshed.  It did not disappoint.  There’s a wood fire-heated swimming pool.  There’s plantings of all sorts of native flowers and trees.  There’s blackberries growing wild, and wind-whipped waves thrashing across the lake.

We cooked in the tidy little kitchens, everything seeming homier and cozier with all that wicked wind tearing around outside.  We enjoyed comfy couches and a television and the novelty of being away.  We swam in the warm waters, we ate heartily, we walked along the blue lake and watched how the light shifted.

This was our place of shalom, our place of peaceful rest, of restoration.  The food seemed to taste better, the colors made to appear deeper, and the scriptures sunk into our hearts with weighted intensity and purpose.  There were no beggars at our gate or phone calls ringing or meetings or obligations of any sort other than the parental kind.  Beautiful gift of God.

 I know Heaven is beyond what my mind can conceive of, but I think I’ve experienced some lovely foretastes.  They cast my heart in eternity’s shape, they aim me aright.  They enable me to say to Suffering, “You’ll not always be with me; I’ll hold your hand and lean into you for what you’ll teach me and how you’ll make me ever more like Jesus”.  To say to Discontent, “Of course you are here, for I was never made to be satisfied with life’s fare”.  To say to Worldly Goods, “You are not my aim, you are an empty promise, you are a food which when eaten, causes hunger”.

God scatters his beauty like invitations, not that we fall in love with the creation, but with the Creator, the Artist, the Maker of all that jaw-dropping splendor.  That we read the promises He whispers in the smell of rain, the embrace of a grandmother, and the fierce red of a tulip.  God inviting.

It Can All Rage And Yet…

It can all rage ugly and hurt and rending,

And yet,

Here and there, pockets of deep peace,

And glory,

And joy.

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Dipping candles yesterday.  What a peaceful, contemplative craft.  Talk about slowing down.  The barely susceptible progress made with each deliberate dip made me think of spiritual progress; that I should not despair when it looks as though I am not growing spiritually.  If God has promised to complete His work within me, He will do it, He is doing it, though I see the changes only through the lens of years.ImageImage

A morning spent drawing with my son.  Gregorian chants and the fifteenth century choral music wrapping us in beauty as we deliberately sketched and colored, slowly.  A thousand thoughts pinged through my mind, on heresies currently rending the patchwork quilt of our church family, leaving my eyes reddened and my stomach hurting, on Ukraine, the tumult and the suffering and my prayers seeming so small against all that.  But for all that inner noise and clang, I had to apply pencil to paper, and eye the lay of the feathers, and the attention brought a borrowed peace.Image

Playmobile ships, stuffed animals dressed as soccer players, presidents, and babies, riding “the train” (a.k.a. the couch).  All his little conversations and sound effects and stories.  I feel the joy of childhood filling up the room and my grown-up worries have to retreat for a while.Image

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It can all rage and yet the seeds still germinate and the nasturtiums still reach for the sun.  And my God is sovereign and good.  And I’ll praise Him in the pockets of peace and in the turbulent places too.  For Christ is our peace, and Christ is portable.

 

On Flailing

It can feel like he bursts awake; that going from sleep to wakefulness involves crossing a painful threshold of sorts.  This is exacerbated by awakening strapped-in in his carseat.  Total silence, then piercing wail.  His bald head turns tomato-hued and his nose breaks out in a sweat.  Then the hands, the flailing.

I go to him all murmurs and soothes.  I go about unfastening his five-point harness, threading his flailing arms through the straps, worming him out of his winter coat, all while he protests the event of waking, the nature of straps, the empty feeling of his belly, and all griefs in general.  It would be a very quick maneuver if he wouldn’t flail about.  Sometimes he flails his arms right back into the straps and sleeves like some magical reverse Houdini trick.

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“Be still and know that I am God.”  -Psalm 46:10

It’s an easy verse to remember, but easy to forget too.  I flail.

Have you ever seen an adult flail?  Maybe they were trying to ward-off a piece of wedding cake to the face or a dive-bombing bee.  When we are surprised or frightened our arms jerk about wildly, like they learned an awkward form of kung-fu while we were sleeping.  I find it more amusing than I probably should.  Also, people tripping, that too is funny.  I digress.

How about an emotional or spiritual flail?  Have you seen that?  Have you experienced that?  I know I have, and I know in my bones that it isn’t the slightest bit funny.

“Flail” has two meanings, one a verb and one a noun.  To flail is to, as we would expect, wave about like mad.  As a noun, a flail is a stick with a swinging part on the end; used agriculturally and, notably, as a weapon when used with a spiky iron ball on the end.  Both cause punishing impact; one for separating wheat and chaff, the other for brutal violence.

How do you respond when you’re falsely accused?

How do you feel when you discover a friend has betrayed your trust?

How do you react when that diagnosis comes in and it is the very worst of news?

How do you feel when “I do” turns into “I don’t anymore”?

Do you flail?

Do you sort of wish you had a flail of the weapon-variety for exacting some revenge?

“Be still and know that I am God”.

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My prayer bench.

Some people just really need to have the fire extinguisher right on the kitchen counter.  Or the pepper spray in the purse.  That’s what having a place for prayer right in my home feels like.  It’s where I can go and be safe, be covered, be held.  Be still.

We hauled that old bench home from Chile in a cargo crate.  It isn’t pretty.  It’s all sorts of mismatched-whatever-from-wherever boards.  It was clearly a utilitarian piece; in fact the man I bought it from was using it as a workbench (atop it sat a respectable dresser with its varnish drying and also pooling onto the bench).  When I told the man I wanted to buy the bench you could see him try to smother the confusion that someone would want the old bench and not the shiny dresser atop it.  “Gringas…”

I need that place, I need it to be in my visual orbit.  Because even if I’m not leading a busy life, I am perfectly capable of living an ignorant one; not tapped-in to God, His whispers, His shouts, His love and leading.  I can go about my own way in an alarmingly easy fashion.

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A dear friend once said words so very wounding.  And they weren’t true words, they were sort of flailing words themselves, weapons and wild swinging, meant to hurt.  I flailed right back; dark anger poured up my throat from a boiling heart, and words that sliced flew out my lips and struck back.  If I could have been still after she had wounded me, if I could just have sat with my injury and let God hold me…if.  But I flailed and we both bled and the wounds never healed right and the friendship was a broken thing, no matter how we tried to avert our eyes from the scars.

If Henrik knew on waking that I would come for him, that his belly would be filled, and that there was no reason to panic, would he still flail, would he still turn red and cry out?

If I know at those moments of horror/offense/anger/fear that He will hold me, that He will guide me, that He will fill me and heal me, why do I yet find my arms flailing and my stomach dropping, and my faith so very fragile?  How much easier for him to draw me close if I weren’t thrashing about?

“Be still and know that I am God”.

When I get Henrik out of his carseat, and I scoop him up into my arms, and his cheek lays plush against my shoulder, and his last shuddering cry fades to peaceful breathing, right then he remembers, he remembers that I came before and I came this time, and someday he’ll learn that I’ll always be there and will no longer fear.

And when all the worsts rear their ugly heads and my forehead comes to rest on my prayer bench, I remember the same and dare not to fear.