Visiting Books

Visiting Books

I sank to the floor in front of the claw-footed bookcase. Two out of the three doors are missing their glass, victims of dining room chairs thrust backwards. Now dust gathers on the shelves at the feet of my oldest books. I’d come to visit them.

There is inevitable mystery in this, I thought, selecting an old French Bible, carefully withdrawing it from its neighbors. It is unlike any other book I have. The leather is thick, and if left out, it swells outward. It needs neighbors to preserve its dignity. I gently touched the cover; who held it before me? What was their life like? What was the weather like the day it was made, the day it traveled from printer to shop; what did it pass by en route?

I took out another and another. I read inscriptions and examined doodles. “To my dear wife…”, “To my daughter…”

“Who were you?” I whisper, the fragile pages making a dry sound between my fingers. “Why do my own hands hold your book now? How did this come to be?”

There are treasures sometimes; scrawled sentiments in the margins, newspaper clippings, small strips of paper with notes. It gives me an archeological thrill to leave the things where they may have been placed, some in the early 1800’s, without being moved by another. There’s water damage on the pages; what happened? A leaking roof? A spilled cup of tea? Some smell of damp, some of wood fire. Of course I smell them. This is a thorough visit.

They’ll outlive me I think; that is the thing with precious antiques, that the older they grow, the more valuable and rare and dear they become. I’ll replace the glass, of course, to protect them. They’ll only be in my keeping for my life, but I’ll do what I can so another set of hands can visit them, another nose to read the bouquet of story they hold, another mouth to smile at the doodles.

The Saints Brought Closer, for the Littlest Hands

Oh my. This is a beautiful book for both introducing our littlest kids to Christlike conduct in their friendships and also teaching them about saints whose lives embodied these virtues. Isaac was really drawn to the illustrations and wanted to know more about these new friends. I love any work that presents the lives of the saints in an approachable way for kids, but this is especially good for the smallest of hands, focusing on what a Christian friends ought to do and be. This sort of topical focus with simple and direct examples really connects with young children! I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

With Hands Like Mine

Rage is tiring.  As a recent bout of asthma has reminded me, even anger requires strength, air in the blood.  I’ve been thinking about Haitians, about border patrol agents, about the Covid wars, and Afghanistan.   I’ve been taking deep pulls of albuterol into my heavy lungs and praying with rattling breaths.  I can’t do much in this state, so I’ve had time to think.

It’s just that easy to cry, you know; just now my eyes are stinging with tears over all that is sad and broken right now.  I don’t want mamas wondering where they’ll get diapers and milk for their babies as they shelter under a bridge.  I don’t want border patrol agents made out to be monsters as they do their work in a very frustrating and dangerous situation.  I don’t want families screaming at each other and severing their bonds over masks and vaccines.  I don’t want folks dying without their loved ones, their last words unable to be spoken because of a ventilator.  I don’t want nurses and doctors screamed at and mistreated.  I don’t want women and girls in Afghanistan to suffer loss of freedoms.  I don’t want my country to turn its back on Afghans who helped us at great risk.

Breathe.

I need to let the tears run, because it’s what they’re supposed to do; to let love take on a form that washes.

I don’t have the strength to flip tables.  Maybe even with lungs that would hold great draughts of air I couldn’t really.  But I can trust God with the things outside of my ability to help, and let go of the tables.  God is wise.  He knows our smallness, doesn’t he?  As a parent gives simple chores to their youngest child, so He reminds us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned, love our neighbors, give freely, pray, fast, worship.  He isn’t necessarily calling us to culture wars, power acquisition, nation building, and defending our rights.  We can’t even be sure we’re flipping the right tables.  We could be just spilling soup into the dust.

Anyway, my elderly neighbor needs company with his wife being in the hospital, and a beloved aunt got a cancer diagnosis, and many friends are going through the hell of divorce.  I can’t move their suffering, but what can my flesh and blood hands do?  I can make a supper.  I can send a card.  I can make time for conversation.  I can pray, and I can weep for them, my love going upwards and downwards and sideways.  I can even do that with rattling breath and powerlessness and smallness.  

Maybe we need to let go of the tables and give our hands some good work to do.

 

 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

An Ode to Delightful Complexity

So, in a world where square pegs are being rammed fruitlessly at round holes and we must suffer the scraping pull of being painted with broad strokes, it is worthy I think to remember complexity, particularly human complexity, which defies neat categorization and mass denigration.

I give you my father. Raised on a farm in North Dakota, he grew up with a love for shooting good guns, driving fast cars, and he wore sneakers with the stars and stripes on them. He worked in lumberyards first in North Dakota, and then, when I was a tot, in Montana.

He is quiet about his faith, but it is deep. He eschews social media and technology as a whole as much as he can. He loves the smell of wood, his labrador dogs, watching the wildlife on the 80-some acres in the mountains where he lives with my Mom, and meat and potatoes three meals a day. He collects and restores old firearms, but doesn’t hunt much anymore as he gets so much more satisfaction out of watching the wildlife.

He’s been a lifelong Republican and a classic conservative. He isn’t loud about it; he isn’t loud about anything really. He’s not to be found standing on soap boxes and holding sway.

But hear this: he’s telling everyone to get vaccinated. He wore masks, he social distanced (okay, that was easy for him on 80 acres with an introvert personality), and as soon as he could, he got his shots. He called us kids up and asked if we’d gotten ours. Despite his reserved and unflowery nature, he is basically shouting his love for us. As he told me over coffee last week, “These people are afraid of ‘experimental vaccines’, but you know what? If you get sick with the virus, are you going to refuse experimental drugs to save your life?”

So…a conservative, gun-loving Republican is encouraging his loved ones to get vaccinated. I think he just jumped out of some boxes.

Complexity.

Like my pro-choice atheist friend who made me a remembrance necklace for my miscarried child. Like my xenophobic friend who made sure we had meat on our table during a hard time.

If you’ve ever commented on a post of mine and had a hearty argument with one of my friends, you may be perplexed at the, um, diversity of opinion, the colorfulness of the language, and the varying quality of civility expressed there. I’ve been asked many MANY times “Why are you friends with so-and-so?!?”

I will tell you. Complexity. The glory of God shines out of each person so strongly that their weaknesses, their brokenness; well, they cannot compete with that light. I’d have to ignore so very much good in order to focus on the shadows, and even then, haven’t I cracks, flaws, and darkness too?Let us hold tenaciously to encountering each human as complex, not as a deplorable, a libtard, a leftist, a Trumpophile, etc.

Meet every person you meet.

My father at 18.

Loose Cannon; The Struggle Towards A Prayer Rule

It isn’t that I don’t pray. As a mother of six children, I feel like prayer comes with my breaths, and not just when a son is barreling down our steep hill on a wobbly bike at a speedy clip. Not just when my teen daughter pulls away from our house in her own car, stretching her wings a bit further. Not when a Very Big Problem breezes through our front door and puts itself on the couch, immovable and menacing. No, not just then, but when washing dishes and pulling weeds, and over sleeping kids burrowed into their pillows.

It isn’t that I don’t pray, but I am an unruly soldier, see?

“Father, can you give me a rule of prayer?” I asked, not knowing how hard I’d fail at keeping it.

He told me to say morning and evening prayers. They aren’t long; they aren’t arduous. It is a beginning, not a feat. A starting place, not a finish line. “Okay; I’ll probably fail. I’ll try.”

So, I peer around the merlon with my bow tautly drawn, an arrow sighted upon the enemy. Releasing the arrow with an exhale I watch it strike the mark. There is nothing amiss with that. But when my general gives the command to fire, where am I? Asleep, slumped against the parapet? Daydreaming? My bowline slack, my arrows unfired? I wasn’t obedient to my General; I wasn’t a disciplined soldier. I couldn’t be counted on to be ready when He gave the command to loose my arrow. He knows the enemy better than I; that day’s beginning and day’s end need to be guarded especially by the arrows of prayer, that listening to the General is essential for my survival and the efficacy of my fight. That I must start and end my days fully in His presence, paying attention with mind and heart to Him.

I can say with St. Paul that the good I should do, I do not do. Or I do it so hit and miss that I am unreliable at best.

I want to be a reliable soldier; I need to be one. Please pray for me.

In the Midst of My Days

I was almost hit by a truck tonight.

I took a walk to enjoy the brisk, chilly air and was halfway across a street at a crossing when a truck from a busy street whipped in, not seeing me at all. I was glad of my sturdy shoes as I was able to break into a run just in time. Safely on the curb I turned to look at the driver. She had stopped and was just staring at me in horror. I said nothing; I did not trust my words to be good ones, and walked home, shaky but whole.

Two hours ago I received an icon of Archangel Michael in the mail. I am grateful for the protection of the angels who’ve rescued me numerous times from bears, a kidnapper, a knife-wielding assailant, ships while rowing, and kidney failure, to mention a few.

Let us thank God for our breath, for our bodies which still have time to repent and worship.

I Keep Them

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In my heart

If you would look

You’d see a baby who only lived a few minutes after birth

And her brave and hurting mother singing amidst her grief

You’d see

Dear friends in crisis, with no rescue coming

You’d see cold Texans

And worried mothers at the border

And my elderly neighbors with memory loss.

They are there and I keep them.

They are to make free use of my tears;

They have rights to my prayers.

I cannot help, but I keep them

I keep them in my heart.

Like With Cats

Like with cats

Give up the chase

But rather be

The one that offers love

And has made

A pact with self

To never weigh on the scales of the heart

The measure of love received to love given.

There is no transaction here

I love because of love in me

Not to get at the love in you

I know the conquistador

A heart wishes to be

Expanding territory and demanding tributes

Taxing the conquered, occupying, ruling.

I would have you free.

Disinterest is not un-interest

It is interest without transaction

Here is this love, and I go.

So, the cat

She is feral-born and flighty

I pet her and walk away

While others scoop her up

And she stiffens and seeks escape.

This cat

Sleeps at my feet, follows me into the bathroom

Swirls through my legs as I cook

And we each give, you see

Without an equation.

And so, with people,

We cannot chase them

If they need to go, they need to go

And the love we bore

We can let the wind take it

Let it blow layer by layer to them

As we turn and go.

Echo and Rock

Echo and Rock

According to mercy

The children of God

Run, laughing into woods

Echo pursuing

Ducking under branches

Reaching to touch the lips still wet

With breath

That sent it forth

Smashing through

Colliding with the rocks

Who sent it back

In play, in volley

Will you make it back to me again, Echo?

Taunts the ageless rock

Born to wear lichen

Face shearing and calving

As pass thousands of years

But Echo ever visits

And for chief delight

The rock like a batter

Internally winds up

And cracks the faithful Echo

Back to the lips still wet from breath

And waits.

Strands

Strands

It is within this moment, see

All moments reach backward

And squeeze the hand

Of the one that came before

The other hand extended

To pass the baton of Present

To find itself now Past, 

Now bearing story.

So, as I said

It is within this moment

So brief and soon to fade 

To eye’s reach and skin’s touch

That so incongruently

We may, at any point

Ungrasp and unreach

Stretch time-loosed hands up

And pierce eternity 

Prayer, unbound by locks

Of minutes, hours, years

Flies outward, upward

And God inclines His ear

Speak, child

Love comes to meet you

I keep watch over the words

That come out of Time.

You are learning the way Home

The gossamer strands you tie to Me

Follow them when you die

When the dark huddles over you

And eyes no longer serve

Feel for the strands

And follow them out of Time

Bidding Past farewell and 

Say

I’m sorry 

For all the good I didn’t do

And the love I didn’t live

And shake free of Time’s tick and tock

And upend your pockets of numbers.

Gather forgiveness for what the locusts ate

And

In that moment, come.