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 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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Bread, Butter, Coffee, Joy

broken4It never takes all that much

to fill the soul to over-brimming

spilling joy

if levels be near the top; if the depths have risen.

But to that one

with empty cavern yawning

all good things fall soundlessly

to an imperceptible bottom.

Swallowed without digestion.

Oh, dear one

here I glory in my bread

butter

coffee

and baby’s sounds

while your tears fall on a sunny day right steady.

I would tilt my overflowing heart

and spill it into your famished one

but it doesn’t work that way, does it?

No.

Knees hit the floor and the ache in them is a holy pain.

“Fill, Father, where emptiness

and misery

and darkness reign.”

When He fills, dear one

you’ll know it

from

the startling green of an everyday leaf

the song that water sings meandering into the gutter

how the wind glides over your bare arms

as a caress

the shock of joy over simple bread and coffee

Almost like an assault upon your senses

the world in all it’s common beauty

smells, scenes, faces, all

is lit within, see it?

We were meant for such living, even

East of Eden

Even through a glass darkly.

Such is His signature, see it?

Joy.

Outside, Inside, and Deep Inside

I have been ever-so unavailable.  Not busy, just occupied.  With gazing in awe at all the winter-buried life bursting up and out of the ground; the rhubarb looks as though it is gradually going to take over the world.  The peach tree is covered in blooms and the strawberry leaves which have bravely remained a silent green all winter are coming alive and alert and verdant.

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I’ve been planting seeds and hoeing the earth and watching the earthworms wiggle.  The skies, oh the skies so mesmerizing as dark clouds crouch at the horizon and then run across the sky, whipping-up wind and sending sideways rain.  All this fuss and fury and beauty-blitzing after the sober quiet of winter; it’s enough to leave me slack-jawed.  Even if it would just be the magnolia trees, heavy with soft pink flowers, even then.

Indoors, the soap kettles are always being filled and emptied and cleaned and filled again. Soaps stand curing and piles of it sit waiting to be clothed and labeled.  My babies are fed, changed, and played with.  The Lord knows the laundry and I make quality time together a habit.

Truly indoors, below the skin and in the soul, the heart, the mind, another scene, another realm of duties and joys.  Radiant joy is there, gratitude and peace.  Also despair, and the prayers that surround it and carry it off as able.  Yesterday I fought despairing thoughts all through the day.  No one had died, I and my family were all healthy; it was just the disorganization and mess that had settled in my home that battered me.  From the attic to the cellar were vast evidence of lack-of-care:  discarded dirty socks, playthings left scattered, piles of papers, construction supplies, and on and on.  Familial negligence, some laziness, some sin; a mess.  I was overwhelmed and angry; “How can they live like this?  Why doesn’t anyone care how things look?  Why did they tell me they cleaned when there’s dishes and dirty clothes under their beds?”.

Then I remembered to pray.

And I simply started.  Started to clean, to organize, one drawer here, one corner there; staking a flag of peace and order in every conquered space.  And God led despair away from my side while I was cleaning; I hardly heard it leave.

On Hard-wearing Joy

IMG_2382I sit in the quiet hours of Henrik’s nap.  I should be canning tomatoes and getting the diapers out on the clothesline, but for now I let the stillness have sway.  Yesterday we celebrated Sophia’s birthday with a four-course meal on our best plates for her and ten of her dear friends.  There was an embroidery lesson, there was sparkle slime made, there were huge bubbles blown on a homemade wand.  There was the that daughter at day’s end thanking me for my hard work to make her birthday so special.

I melted into my bed last night, and my husband massaged my aching feet, and we talked in that easy-exhausted-contented way that we do after a big day.

Joy.  That is the word my thoughts keep circling back to.  How much joy is in this life we’ve been given.

IMG_2346A naked baby in an old enamel pot having a bath in a stained laundry room sink kind of joy.  It’s astounding, really.  We’re broke and I just crazy-glued my wedding ring back together because we can’t afford to get it repaired, but we’re madly happy.  God wraps joy in and through all our mess and holds us together.

IMG_2309 IMG_2323 IMG_2336 IMG_2298IMG_2409IMG_2441IMG_2407IMG_2384Yes, I am astounded.  Astounded by His mercy…by all this joy in the midst of day-to-day hardships.  Yes, our world is mad; outright brimming with suffering and violence and death.  How can I believe in God?  Because the world is beautiful too; outright brimming with joy and kindness and children and smiles and tastes and flowers and redemption.  How can I not?

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.

 

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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