And From the Kitchen…

And From the Kitchen…

Oh, how I love a plate of good food.  The catch is that, the better you become at cooking, the less fun going out to eat at most places is.  I thought of this as I proceeded to “fix” the bland guacamole at one restaurant, even going so far as to ask the waiter for some fresh lemon wedges.  A bit of salt, lemon juice, and hot pepper sauce later, there was a decent guacamole before me, but still not so near as good as homemade.  Not.  Near.

Make some:

Mash avocados.  Douse with fresh lemon juice (don’t even think of the plastic lemon full of bitter juice, just don’t), maybe one lemon for every three avocados.  Mince white onion, mix a spoonful of sugar into it and squeeze the mass with your hands (extracts the excess sulfur).  Pour hot water over the onions and let it sit for a bit.  Rinse thoroughly with cold water, pat dry, and add to the bowl (this is a latin american trick I learned living in Chile and it really lets the onions showcase their taste without overwhelming other flavors).  Mince 1 jalapeño and 1 tomato for every avocado used and add those too.  Mince cilantro, at least a 1/4 c. per avocado and add that.  Mix all that deliciousness together.  Now the salt…don’t skimp on the salt, you want to bring those flavors out into full bloom.  Test with a tortilla chip, to take it’s own salty quotient into the equation.  Taste, eyes rolling back and an involuntary groan of pleasure escaping.


Now going to authentic ethnic restaurants is rarely disappointing and most usually my reactions to what is set before me are downright comical.  I simply cannot stop sighing and exclaiming and groaning with delight.  I am Bob from “What About Bob?”.  I can’t help it.  When a tikka masala is creamy and spicy and exquisitely complex, when the jasmine rice is al dente and fragrant, when the naan is hot from the oven, and when the cucumber sauce on the gyro dribbles it’s dilly goodness down my throat, I am undone.  Can’t.  Contain.  The.  Joy.

But I am no thorough food snob.  McDonald’s french fries, when they’re piping hot and salty, are heavenly.  And there is something about spicy nacho Doritos inserted inside a turkey sandwich on a hot summer’s day that is just rockin’.  Don’t get me started the simple pleasure of Dr. Pepper in a glass with ice alongside pizza.  Or Butterfingers.  Mercy.

And now I give you my favorite salad, which is painless to make and is made nearly daily in our home to add zing to the meal:

Cut up some lettuce and/or spinach, cabbage, avocados, tomatoes, shredded carrots, julienned celery, whatever you have on hand, and throw it all in a bowl.  Chop up some green onions or garlic chives and add to the bowl.  Mince some parsley or cilantro or both and sprinkle that in.  Juice a lemon into a separate bowl and stir an equal quantity of a mild oil to the juice (safflower, sunflower, or light olive work great).  Stir about a 1/4 tsp salt in and get it emulsified with a mini whisk or fork.  Pour over the salad.  Test for saltiness; add more if the flavors aren’t zinging, or more lemon.  This zingy salad pairs so well with creamy, heavy, or cheesy dishes, awakening your palate every few bites with it’s zest and freshness.  My children fight over the seconds.  This pleases me much.  I’m so addicted to these flavors that I will order salads at restaurants with a side of lemon wedges so that I can make this (more or less) with the oil and salt at the table.

The downside to all this culinary happiness and productivity is that my children cannot be tempted by the offer of Hey kids, how about cereal for dinner? or Why don’t we just have some ice cream instead of making a big meal?  No, they will give me a withering look and ask plainly for real food.  So here’s the desperate quick fixes for those tired evenings when the palate is still annoyingly expectant:

Parmesan Pleasure-  Boil pasta just to al dente; nothing worse than a floppy noodle mushing about in your mouth (shudder).  Top with grated fresh parmesan, chopped tomatoes, salt, and a splash of greek dressing.  Comfort food for sure.

Pizza-tilla-  Spread pizza sauce on tortillas or english muffin halves, or crackers, top with cheese and whatever toppings you have on hand.  Bake until crispy and bubbly.  A bit of minced onion, diced ham, and pineapple on top amps the flavor Caribbean-style.

Tabla Supper-  Cut up leftover meats, chicken, cheese, sausages, and serve alongside chopped chunks of cheese, pickles, and crackers.  Mix honey and mustard together, get out some horseradish and honey and jams and lay out everything on a big wooden board and taste the night away.

Burrito Rapido-  Mix a can of refried beans together with a can of chopped chilies and get it heating in a skillet.  Stir in shredded cheddar and some canned salsa.  Slap that savory filling into tortillas and serve with sour cream galore and more salsa.  Yum.

And so, here’s a glimpse from my kitchen, from my life as a groaning gourmand.  May your day be tasty.

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From Invincible to Vulnerable

From Invincible to Vulnerable

“Every time I look up at the sky I want to pray,” said Reuben as we stood in the morning dark at the bus stop.

His mop of hair still bore evidence of pillow-smoosh.  There was a tired raspiness in his voice.  His backpack weighed on his little shoulders.  He turns seven this week, him in his little Spiderman shoes and fleece jacket that is showing a bit more wrist than I was aware of.  Children grow whenever you aren’t watching.

I looked at my son, and I thought, “Whenever I look at my children I want to pray.”  Or at least I feel the urge to, feel the necessity of doing so.

“Maybe that’s why God didn’t have me die when I broke my head in Chile.  So I could pray.”

It takes a few seconds for me to remember how to breathe.  “He has great plans for you, Reuben, and He was merciful to me too, to not make me lose my dear son.”

He came close, so close that all I could see of him was wild blonde hair and a backpack on the horizon of his head.  “I wouldn’t have gotten to know Henri.  I wouldn’t have gotten to go to school.”  He weighed what he would have missed.  I weighed it too and found it unbearable to think of; how different our family would be without him.

“It should make you a bit more careful, you know, knowing how close you came.  You often do dangerous things,” I couldn’t help but say, appealing to this rare moment when he might question his perceived invincibility.  “Yeah,” he said and gave me a half smile.

Let me tell you how Reuben makes friends.  We go to a park and I see him scanning the assembled children.  Targeting the oldest and tallest among them, he goes and climbs to the highest point on the playground, shouts for their attention, and proceeds to jump off.  Wins a crowd every time.  He then dashes off yelling, “Come on!”  And they do.  I even overheard one older kid saying to his friend, “Let’s go with him, he does dangerous stuff.”

He’s seven and he has a ceramic plate in his head, has had stitches under his chin, and right now has a slowly healing broken pinky (because he keeps jamming it and re-injuring it).  His most treasured possession is his pocket knife.  He longs for the day when I’ll let him use my chef’s knife instead of the smaller paring ones.  He has an unnerving tendency of walking right down the middle of the road when we go on walks, just naturally drifting there whenever I blink.  I almost lost him once, and it seems he is bent on keeping up the suspense.

Oh yes, when I look at my children I want to pray.IMG_4654He’s seven on Friday, but yesterday he was born.reuben reuben4reuben2I know.  I know I can’t stop him from living life Reuben-style.  No matter what it does to my blood pressure, nor how many gray hairs it causes to sprout on my head.  reuben1

And truly, he does come by it honest.  The thrill of speed, of adventure, and yes, of danger.  Though I’m now less of a soaring hawk than a protective hen, in my childhood I had a distinct and thorough joy of riding hands-free on my bicycle (likely right down the middle of the road), of skiing as fast as I could straight down a black diamond slope, of throwing the throttle wide open on our four wheeler, delighting in the weightlessness I’d feel as my light frame would lift out of the seat when I hit a bump, being held in place only by my fingertips on the handles.  I lived the myth of invincibility with rigor, and fortunately for my health but not for growing in wisdom, with little consequence.  Oh, God’s mercy.

So I see it; the way our invincibility grows as we do into vulnerability.  As we see and experience tragedies, as we are hurt physically and emotionally, as we find that loving might mean losing.  As we become parents and find that our hearts no longer reside safe within our chests, but walk about on little legs that rush to danger.

So, I cannot get over what God did.

IMG_0004A little garden tomb we made during Lent, putting candles on the stepping stones and reading a devotional together each evening leading up to Good Friday, when we sealed up the tomb with a small clay caterpillar inside, wrapped in a cloth.  Easter morning the tomb was empty, the cloth neatly folded, and a butterfly rested in the tree symbolizing His resurrection.

God sent His Son knowing He would die a painful death out of love for us.  That is astounding.  Jesus went from being invincible truly to truly vulnerable.  For us.  I realize that as potent as my love feels, as thick and wide, it is a pale love compared to the Father’s.  Protective love has nothing on sacrificial love.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  -John 15:13

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  -John 10:11

I hold these thoughts in my heart as the morning light pours into the living room, as my baby within kicks and turns and Henrik snores softly in his playpen.  As I plan a party to celebrate my Reuben and his seven years of life.  I hold this awe that God, the only one to enjoy true invincibility, became vulnerable, became hurtable, and mortal.  From all-powerful to all-dependent on a human mother.  Astounding.

If I could I would put a protective bubble around my son, so nothing could harm him, so I would not have to experience the soul anguish of losing him.  But my love is weaker than God’s.  So much weaker.  He gave the son He delighted in to redeem us, His rebellious and unruly creations.  He lavishes love on the unlovely.  He at great cost extends us mercy.  May we awake to that marvel, may we be astounded.

Not Quite Prostrate

“I’m going to have to lay down.”

My husband’s eyes went wide, anticipating perhaps a bit of embarrassment for us both if I did so, right in the middle of the church service.  I weighed my options:  one, go to a back pew (assuming there was one empty) and lay down there with the risk that someone would be alarmed by the pregnant lady stretched out alone and would feel the need to intervene, two, go find somewhere in the lobby to lay down with the risk that someone would be even more greatly alarmed to find a pregnant lady on the floor, or three, stretch out right beside my husband on the pew and hope that any alarm would be mitigated by the proximity (and calm) of said husband.

See, I couldn’t breathe.

Standing or sitting there was an unbearable tightness across my chest, something I had woken up to, a small and closed-in feeling in my lungs.  Breathless.  I had to stretch out.  Now.  So I did.  And the sermon floated over me and I drew truth and air in.  I love to worship laid out prostrate, but this was not quite that, this was more a desperate flop, a bid for air.

It’s a vulnerable feeling, to be pregnant.  There are bodily discomforts which can strip one of the ability to walk well, to eat normally, to sleep soundly, to make it more than an hour without needing a restroom. There are fears about delivery, about the health of the baby, about whether the pain will swallow one whole.  Most of all, though, it is the inherent vulnerability of loving.  I have growing just under my skin a soul that I would die for, that I have surging waves of love for, and that is by no means guaranteed to me.  Maybe that is what miscarriage does to a mother’s heart.  Two cups are put before me, one bitter and one sweet, and I’m not told which one I’ll have to drink.  I wrap my arms around my swollen belly, I curl around that life.

We’re all vulnerable, though, aren’t we?  If we didn’t feel that way with our friends and family going through cancers of all sorts, or divorce, or other tragedies, the news would certainly fill in the gap with some harrowing concern.  I feel it each time the bus pulls away from the curb bearing three of my dear children away, away from my gaze and my protective arms to shield them from dangers, moral and material.  We are vulnerable, flesh and blood creatures, so easily snuffed out, so infinitely valuable.

“For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.'”

-Acts 17:28

Each breath, each contraction of the heart, each blink of the eye, each message sent zipping from nerve to brain, all of it held, by Him.  Enabled by Him.  And He is not a god of guarantees.  He doesn’t give us a contract for a long and healthy life, He gives us the invitation to love, for however long we are here, vulnerably like He does.

“In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”  -Job 12:10

Knowing our shared fragility, let us be unafraid to lay down, to be seen as in need, to be found vulnerable.  Let’s not be embarrassed.  Sometimes you just have to breathe.  And that can’t always be done sitting or standing respectably.  We have to set aside pride to find needed relief.  And laying down?  It’s so close to laying prostrate, so close to fully-laid-out worship and reverence and surrender.  In a fire you need to crawl below the smoke to find air.  In the spiritual walk, you’ll need at times to go low, to be humbled, to be seen on your belly and gasping.  Even our Lord found that place as he awaited the tortures to come on the cross.

“And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.'”

-Matthew 26:39

And do you know the miracle of it?  When you do lay down?  There and then you find the hands reached out in concern, there you find the prayers whispered over you, there you find the church at it’s best.  You find God in the caring of the assembled Body.  And also? You help others find the floor.  To find a way down where the air is, where the healing is.  They feel the soul-deep permission to admit their needs and their weaknesses.

I could stand for the closing song.  My lungs had been filled and the tightness had eased and I could sing again.


When You Wake Up Failing

The man can talk a mile a minute, but my ears at 6:00 a.m. don’t hear that fast.  I hear “hongottagetupoversleptgetthekids”, and a vague sense of panic pierces the fog in my mind.  Panic is not the best emotion to awake to, and it set the tone for the morning.  We had exactly thirty-five minutes to get four children from conked-out, pajama-ed, hungry, and bed-headed to fully awake, clothed, washed, fed, combed, back-packed, and school-ready.

My husband received a withering look from me as he bopped out the door at 6:25 quipping that “the kids are all ready, bye”.  Catching the look he stood framed in the doorway.  “What?”

“Ready?  Right.”  I said it like a veteran, a seasoned and wise old soldier who knew that it was never that easy.  The war is always in the last five minutes, no matter how calm the morning has gone up to that point.

The clock was counting down and a very familiar scenario set in.  One son couldn’t find his shoes.  This is a son with chronic shoe loss.  We have worked with him tirelessly (never mind, we in fact tired of this very quickly) to develop a habit of putting his shoes right beside his sock basket each and every day.  Because the drama, oh the drama, is so unnecessary.  So he wandered around looking for his shoes, his little socked-feet an affront to reason and sanity and all things good.

Then comes the high-pitched panic tone in his voice which somehow triggers one in my own as the usual shoe-hosting sites come up empty.  Then the other son can’t find his jacket.  WHAT.  For the love.  See, there’s a whole little row of hooks just at kid height in their changing room.  For jackets.  Only for jackets.  Because of many tearful, panicky mornings when such things couldn’t be found.  This son has a tendency to exhibit a mournful, high-pitched wail when he’s frustrated.  I am incapable of hearing this sound in the morning without anger.  He comes out wearing a jacket that fit him two years ago and though the sight of his ill-fitting apparel is frustrating, I let it go.  And by the way, now he can’t find his backpack.

“BACKPACKS DON’T HAVE LEGS AND WALK AWAY”, I hollered, looking at the clock in desperation, as he insisted that he had set it down “RIGHT THERE” (in a high-pitched wail).  So we tore through the house looking for the missing backpack, crashing into rooms and out of rooms, all the while me muttering words like “ridiculous” and “miss the bus” and “really?” and some sort of low growl unique to me in the early hours before I’ve had coffee.

Turns out that sometimes backpacks do have legs and do walk away.  When one son thinks that he’s being helpful when he sees his brother’s backpack on the floor as he’s heading out to the car, thinking that it was forgotten, not realizing the confusion and thundering voices and panic that he triggered when he walked out with it.  So now I’m yelling at the “helpful” son and we’re piling into the van, because there is no time for walking to the bus stop.

We whip into a parking lot near the old stone church where an ominous number of kids are waiting for the bus.  Ominous because they’re high-schoolers and they always get there at the very last fashionable minute, so it means we’re barely making it.  “Go-go-go!” I cry, because we didn’t come this far just to miss the bus by mere seconds.  We run across the road and have one last tussle with a jacket that is half inside-out and should have been on the offending child ten minutes ago when he first was told to put it on.

I gathered my frazzled flock in my arms and prayed, “Dear God, please don’t let us have another morning like this….”

Kisses and hugs and I turned to the one son and said into his sad face, “Wow, sometimes backpacks do have legs and walk away.  I’m sorry I yelled at you”.  The bus arrived and there was no time to earn a smile of absolution, but he did wave to me from the window.  My shoulders slumped and I trudged back to the van, fully aware of my failings before the sun had even risen.

Before you tsk-tsk us for not preparing for our mornings better, let me assure you that their lunches were packed the night before.  All laundry was caught up and put away in their drawers/cubbies.  We had checked all their homework and all contingencies were thought to be covered.  But mornings like this just happen.  There is some diabolical chaos that erupts from sleep-fogged minds trying to complete very basic routines at 6:00 a.m.

And I screwed up.  And dare I say, I couldn’t find my shoes either?  Mercy.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.'”  -Lamentations 3:22-24

Oh I have so far to go.  I know that I can’t be perfect, but I do want to be better.  I want my children to see me being refined year by year, growing more patient, loving, and wise.  I want them to see a godly example of confronting frustration with a peaceful heart, a faith that can weather the blows of a morning-gone-mad.

I don’t want to wake up failing, but rather praying, praising.  I want to respond to missing shoes with grace and humor and patience.  I want to smooth ruffled feathers rather than ruffling them yet more in frustration.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”    -Philippians 1:6

So, taking hold of the promise that God is making something good and new within us, that regardless of our mistakes He is at work, let us hold on to hope, even when we wake up failing, even then.


Discontent and a Dream Laid Out

I write in the early hours when the darkness is just yielding.  This whole past week I slumbered late, past the border of dark to light, and missed those writing hours as my body caught up on rest, and my gracious husband ushered our little family through the morning’s duties.  My heavily-pregnant body soaked up all that deep sleep like a sponge, and each morning I awoke mildly shocked at how much light was pouring through my windows.

I drove through my favorite stretch of farmland yesterday, drove real slow.  It gives me a bit of painful joy; joy in seeing the beautiful farms with babbling brooks and wide porches and cows and chickens and barns and sheets flapping out on the lines, pain in the out-of-reachness for us.  We were asked recently why we weren’t buying a farmette if that’s what we wanted to pursue.  That’s only a question that can be asked by someone who is used to having those kind of options.  Someone who probably doesn’t get to the end of the month and wonder how the bills are going to be paid.  It has the sting of asking a wheelchair-bound person why they don’t just walk.

I can usually let words tumble right off of me, especially if I’m high in the cycle of gratitude and contentment, but if I’m low, down there in discontent and despair, the words stick like tar.  I know they shouldn’t; I know they weren’t spoken to injure and gall me.  I know my thin skin is a perspective problem and a spiritual problem, and that the solution is never to stay in that place of sticky emotion.

So let me get a dream off my chest.  Because I carry it around with me everywhere and if you’ll oblige me, I’d like to lay it all down and show you the parts, give my arms a rest.

It’s a stone house, with deep window-sills and I’ve got my hand-dipped candles in pewter holders in each one.  Wide, uneven plank floors underfoot that squeak.  Come into the kitchen, where the wide hearth has a warm fire going, some of the coals scraped under a spider skillet where I’m simmering sauce.  There’s a rough farmhouse table in the middle of the room, with a crock of flour and pottery mixing bowls and a mason jar full of flowers from the gardens.  I’m there, kneading a mound of whole wheat bread dough and I smile at you, waving you to a stool beside the work table.  With doughy hands I fetch you a mug from a tall old stepback cupboard, crumple some dried mint from an herb rack overhead into it, and grab the tea kettle from it’s hook over the fire.

You look around the room and it’s all eighteenth century as far as the eye can see with just a few modern touches peppered-in.  Stand-alone old furniture pieces for “cabinets”, a deep soapstone sink over there by the window, cast iron and copper pots hanging around the hearth.  The refrigerator is tucked away in the walk-in pantry, along with any other modern convenience that interrupts the simple beauty all about.shortstory3 You drink your tea and I set the bread in a large wooden trough to rise.  I strap my baby to my back and lead you to your room.  White-washed walls and linen curtains.  A rope bed with a soft mattress and a handmade quilt that is lovingly frayed.  There’s a candle on your bedside table and a stack of old books.  There’s a washstand with a pitcher and bowl and a linen towel, and of course, a chunk of my homemade goat’s milk soap.  I leave you to settle in.

You go to that deep window and see me with an apron full of chickenfeed as I head out to the animals, a bucket in my hand to milk the goats.  You see the stone summer kitchen out there, don’t you?  You remember that that’s where I make pounds and pounds of soap each week to sell.  Sparkling light catches your eye from the creek that bubbles towards the spring house, and right through it, and out the other side.  You know I keep the goat’s milk there in the stone water trough for cooling.

You see my children wading in the stream, startling our ducks into a quacking frenzy.  You see the sheets on the line, and the verdant green of the grass, and how content the sheep look down in the pasture.  You see the apiary too, a dozen or so hives humming with activity.  You see my wide smile as I come back from the barn with a bucket of fresh milk, my eyes alight at seeing the children playing and splashing and living whole.

You can walk down the stairs now, you can leave my dream by the front door with it’s old cast iron latch.  You can walk on out.  Thanks for coming by; I don’t know why I needed you to come.  Maybe I need someone to bear witness to a deep ache so it doesn’t fester in the shadows.

And I’ll go out into my windy yard and ignore the piles of construction materials that have no home because we can’t afford to pour a concrete floor in our shed.  I’ll cut the tops off of the elephant ear bulbs and store them in buckets for next season.  I’ll give thanks again for every present and tangible and now blessing that I see.  And I will fight despair with praise.

A Lament

Downcast eyes and tears and my heart like cupped, pleading,

beggar hands.

Have mercy on me, O Lord.

How long, Father, since I raised the cup to my cracked lips?

Since I beheld the mystery of Your broken body in a piece of bread?

I miss You, dear God, meeting me there.

My body is well fed and my soul is thirsty and hunger-stricken.

It feels like exile.  What are the words You can give to sustain me in this place?

Oh, God, be not long in coming for me upon the waves.

I see You there, on the waves, coming

and, I see the next frame, my face buried in the folds of your garment,

pressed achingly close, your strong arms ’round me.

But I never see the in-between, the rescue, or how long it was

between near-drowning and safe.

Give, Father, oh please, some driftwood upon which I can rest my head

’til You rescue.



About The Dying

Sometimes dreams can slip between your fingers like so much rushing sand.  A helium-filled balloon headed quickly skyward, the shocked child’s hand reaches to the ever-smaller orb in the big, wide sky, “Come back!”

There’s been a lot of back and forth about assisted suicide this week.  I felt a steady anger burn within my heart when words like “courageous” were spoken about the young lady’s decision to end her life on her own time clock, by her own hand.  No, thought I, courageous are those who face suffering and endure to the end, who take the lumps with the gravy, the sorrows of life with it’s joys, who don’t circumnavigate suffering, who don’t demand control.  Her decision smells of fear, not courage.  And her legacy?  To encourage cultural and societal acceptance of assisted suicide.  Lord, have mercy.

We are a society that doesn’t want to feel against our will.  So there’s pills for headaches, and there’s pills for our depression and there’s divorce for relationships gone sour.  There’s all sorts of psychobabble gaining traction about setting up scads of boundaries and getting rid of negative people in your life and the main message is that your happiness and personal fulfillment are worth any cost; that selfishness is really good and something you owe to yourself.  To your enthroned and sovereign self.

It came to me as I hiccuped back some emotion lingering from a good, hard cry, as I washed the breakfast dishes on this sunny Sunday morning, that maybe what we’re willing to die to is just as important as what we’re willing to live for.  What we’re willing to suffer for the sake of another, for the sake of something nobler, for the sake of God, that it just might be right there where God finds His seeds germinating within us, His image unfolding, just a bit.  It’s about the dying.

Jesus knows about that.  Death to his own understandable desire to not have to suffer the torture of crucifixion:

“Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”  Mark 14:36

He died to easier routes, to many temptations laid-out for Him in the desert when Satan came to test his mettle, and found it strong.  He lived a daily dying, en route to death, that we might live.  I think about that.

“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”  -Luke 9:23

Our culture says “me, me, me” and Christ says “deny yourself”, “take up your cross”, “follow Me”, unto even death.  Even a death of suffering.  Even a life made acutely painful through giving up dreams held dearly, sacrificing our desires for the sake of others, and letting go when our hands most want to grip tight.

It’s about the dying.  Which is also about the living.

“He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”  -Mathew 10:19

That somehow, some way, an unshakeable, un-loseable blessing is present riding alongside the pain, the denial of self, the suffering.  A life found.

Hands no longer full of sand, no longer gripping the balloon string,  hands painfully empty, yearning in the dying, and maybe it’s just then, that God can take our empty hands in His own and fill them unchangeably full.



The Work Of Our Hands

pomanderYesterday marked the beginning of the end of dignified walking.  I awoke to a sharp pain in my pelvis as I swung my legs out of bed.  It’s known in the pregnancy world as pelvic separation and is caused by a hormone known as “relaxin” (aptly named) which makes the ligaments in the pelvic girdle all loosey-goosey.  It means that when my legs aren’t moved in symmetry (which is, unfortunately, most always), there is sharp pain from the instability in the pelvis.  Hello, waddle.  Or even funnier, if I scoot sideways like I’m country line dancing there is great relief.  Feel free to laugh at that image.

I’d love to be attending to my gardens, but I simply can’t.  I need to prepare a blueberry bed by digging-in white pine needles to raise the acidity.  I need to dig up my elephant ear bulbs before first frost.  I need to prune my nectarine and apple trees.  I need to dig out a tree sapling that pretended to be part of the grapevine.  I need to prune back the raspberry and blackberry vines that fruited this year.  There are potatoes to dig, there are weeds to pull, and there is an unstable pelvis saying “no”.

So, I ordered a pelvic support belt yesterday morning while chair-bound.  Yes, I am going to be actually manually pulling myself together.  Until that blessed relief arrives, my creative endeavors are limited to what can be accomplished sitting.

I had to wonder last evening, as I lay in bed with my pregnant belly covered in bits and pieces of whole cloves, how many husbands go to sleep with their wives beside them making pomanders.  Round and round the orange the cloves marched in staid procession, each puncture releasing a waft of orange scent.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while; making these early American fragrant Christmas decorations, but had never gotten around to it.

“It’s amazing how strong that smells,” said my dear husband as I poked cloves into the orange.

“Yeah, and it’s supposed to still be fragrant for years if it dries nicely.  I’ve wanted to make these for a long time”.  I poked in more cloves and the thought came quick:  there are so many things I want to make.  I looked at my husband.  “What do you want to make?”

He looked puzzled.  “You know, like Tom really wants to make a wood canoe?”

“Yeah…I just don’t really have anything I want to make.”

How very different we are.  I have a list a mile long:  paper kites, red ware pottery, tinctures of all sorts, hundreds of soaps, handmade papers, chair caning, basket weaving, mosaics, etc.  I want to learn how to do everything.  Which is why I was poking an orange with cloves at ten at night while he enjoyed some peaceful, well-deserved, rest

“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

peppermint mochaI find great satisfaction in making things, whether it be pie dough massing between my hands or cutting thick bars of soap or stringing a batch of words together.  It all brings me joy; the disparate parts becoming a new whole, a useful thing, a thing of beauty.

While not everyone has this impulse, or, ahem, compulsion, to create, I hope that each does have that deep satisfaction in their work.  For my husband it is taking boxes of fittings and lengths of pipe and with them providing clean drinking water and waste removal to countless homes and businesses.  Ever thought of how much of a blessing it is to be able to flush away waste?  To be able to shower in fresh water to your precise temperature preference?

I imagine the particular joy of an accountant, having all the numbers tabulated, filed, and organized.  I picture the satisfaction of a surgeon, having implanted a new organ in the place of a failing one and seeing it come to life.  And the farmer seeing his hay stacked high in the barn and the nanny soothing the baby to sleep in her arms and the grocery bagger slipping the last tidily filled bag into a cart.  Do we see our work as a blessing, as a joy?

I hope you do.

Even if you have to walk sideways or endure any other number of impediments or hardships.  I hope this day that you can feel the satisfaction of work done well.


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.




Not Unsinkable

Titanic“I thought her unsinkable, and I based my opinion on the best expert advice available. I do not understand it.”

-Philip A. S. Franklin, vice president of the International Mercantile Marine Company

I shied away from the dream that lingered on the fringe of consciousness.  In it the news had come out that two bodies had been found deteriorating in a major aquifer.  For some reason I was among the first to know that both bodies were infected with the Ebola virus and that the water for many cities was now contaminated and being consumed by millions.  It was the beginning of the end of life in the United States as we knew it.

I called a friend of mine that same day, Monday, and told her my disturbing dream.  We agreed that we hoped it wasn’t prophetic.  Tuesday morning, with coffee in hand, I sat down to read the news.  “Ebola Confirmed in U.S.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that we will stop it here.”

-Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Now, I’m not spending my day today painting a sandwich board with “The End Is Upon Us!” emblazoned across the front.  I don’t feel afraid.  But I feel aware, very aware of the fact that the CDC’s confident bravado is an unwise posture.  It feels like a big brother puffing out his chest, being the strong man of the hour, and attempting to quell the fears of his younger siblings with his cocksure confidence and swagger.

The Titanic was a pretty amazing ship; it had all the latest technologies.  Our hospitals are pretty amazing too; staffed by well-trained, competent staff.  But there are still icebergs.  There are still errors, which we’ve clearly seen in the communication break-down which led to the patient infected with Ebola to be sent home for two days with antibiotics when a staff member was made aware that he’d been in Liberia.

Pride makes us more vulnerable.  Pride says, “Not here!  Not on my watch!  That happens, over there, in those less-educated, more superstitious cultures where people act in ignorance.”  Oh, America, when will you learn that pride weakens us?  That humility and vigilance are the correct responses; that puffing our chests out just makes us full of hot air?

We are not unsinkable.  Let us pray that God would have mercy on us and forgive our arrogance.