Monday, August 18, 2014

Top Ten Things I Miss About the South (So Far)

I love Oregon. I do. But, y'all ... I miss the South. Today, I feel homesick. Homesick for people and friends and familiarity. So, to help me grieve this loss, I'm compiling a list of everything I miss about the South (culture-wise, not people. I miss you all.). 

In no particular order (except the order I thought of them), here are the top ten so far:

Kraft just doesn't cut it, and don't even talk to me about Miracle Whip. You can't buy Duke's west of Kansas or Texas. My tomato sandwiches are suffering these days.

2. Real Barbecue.
As in, barbecue is specifically defined as pork, slow-roasted over a fire pit, pulled, and slathered in sauce. It's something you eat, not something you do to your food, or a type of gathering. Here, people have a barbecue, and cook burgers. I want to eat some barbecue. Real barbecue. Get me a bun, some slow-cooked pulled pork, mustard sauce, and a Cheerwine. Please.

3. Sweet Tea.
Of course we make our own at home. but this goes without saying: It just ain't here. But this was no surprise. 

4. Fireflies.
Nope. Not here.

5. Sir and Ma'am.
This is one of my favorite things about Southern culture. I appreciate the respect given to elders by these titles, and I'm never sure if I'm insulting people when I say this outside the South. I'm always afraid they'll take it ironically, not respectfully.

6. Friendly Strangers
People here are nice, of course. It's just not a thing to talk to people you don't know. At least, it doesn't seem to be. How people make friends, I have no idea. Maybe I'm just not in the right places with the right people to start stranger conversations.

7. Big Open Yards.
Privacy fences are depressing to me, and a little creepy. I don't want to hide in my own yard. But I think it goes along with the not-talking-to-strangers thing. Neighbors here aren't necessarily friends like they would be in the South. 

8. Cost of Living.
According to Zillow, many (if not most) houses in our town are $150+ per square foot. And usually for not very many square feet. That, ladies and gentleman, is ridiculous. Especially compared to the South. Also, don't get me started on groceries. Or gas.

9. Poison Ivy.
I mean, instead of poison oak. Apparently, I am severely allergic to poison oak. I'll spare you the graphic details.

Go to South Carolina. Eat there. Tell me I'm right. 

What about you? What do you love about where you live now, and what do you miss about your hometown? 

Sunday, August 10, 2014


It's Sunday morning, and instead of sitting at church, Jude and I are home. He's sitting on the floor with a coloring book, giving me commentary ("That is a sea star! That is a owl! It was a sticker. Uh-oh! Put it in the trash can! Coloring! You may coloring. You may have one sticker.") and I'm blasting Gustav Holst's The Planets. Andrew is at work -- of course. He has two days off this whole month. Well, four, but two of them he has to go to Portland for a class. 

When you go to a tiny church plant and your pastor and music leader (and almost half of the congregation) are both out of town, you have to cancel services. And when your husband is a surgical resident, you see him when you see him.

So, I thought I would take a little time and tell you some about our new home. 

The first week, I was given several warnings about Oregon. The most pressing warning (other than the mountain lions and the wilderness...) was to watch out for poison oak. Where I grew up, I knew about poison ivy, but poison oak wasn't a big deal, so I promptly forgot. And today, I am covered, pretty much from my face down to my knees, in calamine lotion. The next time I wonder Why is there an oak sapling growing in my rose bush? I'll think twice before grabbing it bare-handed. Lesson learned. 

But, other than the hazards in the flower garden, our new home is so lovely. 

This is the view from our front door: across the cow pasture to Mary's Peak. 

This beautiful garden is overflowing with produce -- way more than we can eat! I feel like I've gone back in time; I spend my mornings watering and weeding, and a lot of my evenings putting vegetables away for the winter.  Last night, Andrew crashed as soon as he got home, and I sat on the floor,  watching "Parenthood" and snapping beans.

Wishing the tomatoes would turn red already.

We have over a dozen fruit trees: plums, peaches, apples, pears... 

Lots of dirt and yard for a little boy -- such a nice change from our Virginia house.

And some really really big trees!

I am embarrassed every time I think about how frustrated we were in house-searching, and how many times we cried, "Okay, God! It better be good!" Because ... of course it is good. It is everything we wanted, and more. We could not have thought to ask for such bounty, for such a sweet place out in the country, so perfect for our little family. I believe God is good. Why do I doubt this every single day? 

A few weeks ago, we got Jude out of bed to see the biggest rainbow ever.

It went end to end across the field behind our house. Breathtaking.

It is folly to use material blessings to judge how much God loves us or takes care of us. He would be taking care of us if we lived in a cramped apartment with no space -- but this time, He gave us physically over and above what we needed. We have a smaller salary than average residencies, and He proved us with gardens and fruit trees. We have a busy little boy, and He gave us a yard and ample house space. I'm home without Andrew a lot of the time, and He gave us a home in the country, where I feel comfortable and relaxed. All of these things we did not even think to ask for. Once again (and again and again), I am humbled by how foolish and thoughtless I am, and how sweet and gentle and giving my Father is. 

So -- when are you coming to visit?

Friday, July 11, 2014


Reader, I wrote this over a month ago, full of the sadness of a dear one diagnosed with cancer, full of the loneliness of being homeless and yet bitterly homesick. I am in my new home now, but still, the truth is there, I think.


The land that I will show you. A good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Streets of gold, gates of pearl, lit by the lamp of the Lamb. 

All throughout Scripture is a theme of homecoming -- or home-going, and the undercurrent of longing for that place of rest and plenty, a place of peace. Abraham was led by a God to a place he knew nothing about. Moses and the Israelites had forty years to ponder the sweetness of a rich land, a land all their own, as they journeyed from slavery to freedom through the desert of their grumblings. And we who are given the sign and seal of the blood of the Lamb are eagerly awaiting a New Heaven, a New Earth.

We feel the ache in our hearts that all is not right, that this world is not well, is not as it should be. When we blister and burn in the scorching sun, peel away ticks with horror and disgust, see relentless streams of impassive news anchors retelling stories of failing institutions and kidnapped children and bodies found in ditches, when our minds are set spinning by white-coated doctors, breaking to us diagnoses of our mortality, with words like Alzheimer's and autism and old age and most terrifying of all -- cancer.

All is not well! we cry. This is not right! We are sick, the world is sick! But we can fix it! And we sprint away to read self-help books and go to the gym with rigor and swear off meat and eggs and anything resembling a chemical. We visit Lifeway, go to yoga class, quote C. S. Lewis and forget to pray -- at least, I do.

These actions are driven by the desperation of fear -- and dear reader, they are in vain.

You and I, we are dying.

That dearly beloved one lodged deep in your aching heart, the one with the terrifying diagnosis, and you -- you both are dying, just the same. There is no difference on your medical record, nothing dissimilar about your heart or mind or cells: all of your charts read the same as mine: MORTAL. FLEETING. VAPOR. Maybe even you first. Maybe even me. And yet, as I type those words and look out the big picture window at the pecan tree gleaming and swaying with life in the Tennessee heat, my mortal, foolish heart does not believe it. Neither does yours.

But that dancing pecan tree, green with the promise of spring, makes my heart swell with life because we long for life, and life abundant. We long to live, to call a place home, to dig ourselves deeply into a place and a life, into people and things and the beauty of laughter and good food and fellowship -- to be at rest, to be truly at peace. And this longing is good, and right, because in Christ, we do not hope in vain. There is such a place. We ache for it, because without it, we are not whole. But because of Christ, we can be whole.

There is another tree, much much older and bigger than this southern pecan, in my new yard in Oregon. I have not seen it yet, but I have heard all about it. I've been told its trunk is over eight feet in diameter. I have heard the joy in my husband's voice as he described to me the green grass, the wide, wide yard, the fresh, rich garden soil he filled with seeds, the grape arbor, the rhubarb bush, the apple trees, the wood-burning stove, the wide den and the big windows full of light.

This is my new home, the home I am longing for and have not yet seen with my own eyes. I have heard of it, but I have not been there. And yet, how I long for it! How excited I am to see it, to root myself into it, to live and grow and love there!

I have had days, months, to long for this home, and even now, I still have weeks before I will see it myself, this green oasis of our little home on an Oregon farm, our own little promised land, prepared and given by the patient and gracious hand of our Father who loves and loves.

And this other home? The one in a new city, prepared in heaven with walls of gold so pure they are clear as glass? The one without any temple or church or even a moon, because all of those needs are filled in the presence of the Lamb, who will live there, too? This home is waiting, too, and I am longing. Oh, how I am longing! A city without fear or separation or anxiety or cancer or sorrow -- how I am longing! A home of such beauty, of such fullness of life that I could not comprehend it now -- how I am longing! A home where the dwelling place of God is with man and Eden not only restored, but perfected by the love of God in the sacrifice of His Son. Are you longing, dear reader? We have not seen it, yet we are longing for it, having heard of its glory and fullness and peace.

Red Mountain took an old hymn by Horatius Bonar and altered it, calling "All Things New." It pleads, "Come, for creation groans, / Impatient of Thy stay, / Worn out with all these long years of ill, / These ages of delay. / Come, and bring Thy reign / Of everlasting peace; / Come, take the kingdom to Thyself, / Great King of Righteousness."

We battle against death and hurt and aches and sorrows, against cancer and family disputes and child abuse and human trafficking -- and these are evils to be fought, worthy of our energy. We live in a world of brokenness and sin, powers of darkness that must be daily battled and struggled against by the grace and power of Jesus Christ. And we who bear the name of Jesus are called to bring the gospel of Light into this world of darkness.

But please, please, do not forget that these things shall pass. In some ways, in so many ways, they matter. Take care of yourself, of course, dear reader. Take care of others. Live a life of love, John says, because Jesus says. But. But. But this house, this town, this America, this church program, this idea or fad, this whole earth -- all these human institutions and ideas will fade. And only the gospel will remain. So let us cry that Word first and always, as other hurts and cultural issues come and go.

Your time here, the span of your days, is not contingent on what you eat or where you live or how well you follow all the rules or do your research properly. You have no idea the twists and plunges awaiting on this journey God is leading you on, so all we can do is hold out our hands to receive with the trust of a child, trusting in a good God who only gives good things. The stone you may see before you is no such thing. Jesus says so, more than once. A good God gives bread and water and wine, and life, and not only for your sake, but for the sake of all the world, of those you love and for His whole kingdom. It may crunch harshly on your teeth, it may burn like fire going down, it may even kill you -- but if it is given by His nail-scarred hands, if it comes from Him in love, then reader, it is good, because it is for good, true good, ultimate and lasting good.

So, rise, dear reader. Rise and go forth in hope. And think of home! Home is calling, Home is waiting, with such joys as are unfathomable -- because such joys are only present in the perfect, untainted presence of the Holy God. Live a life of love, of service, of thanksgiving. Live today, but long for tomorrow, for the green grass and sweet fruits and the Light of the Lamb awaiting you. No matter what lies before you.

Hope does not put us to shame, Paul says in Romans. Hope. I am hoping for a new home, a green home in Oregon and even more, a true home for ever and ever with my Lord.  No crying, no sorrow, no hunger or thirst or darkness or death -- all shall be satisfied by my Jesus, who is Love and Bread and Water and Wine, who is the Sabbath, who is Light, who is Life, and the Only Wise God.

Further up, and further in!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

On Nostalgia

As we gear up to leave Virginia, I find myself becoming more and more nostalgic. I am not sentimental, really, except when I begin to think about all the symbols and remembrances in life, and how some things are like other things -- I guess that's the poet in me. 

I was telling Lindsay and Emily the other day, as I was thinking about moving, that as John Green says in The Fault in Our Stars, "Nostalgia is a side effect of dying." And I think this is true. We become nostalgic about things and places and people and memories because we realize in these moments of change that we are so very mortal, and these moments of change remind us that our lives are short and these changes are little deaths. Our leaving Blacksburg is a little death. We may not come back here, may not see these dear ones again on this Earth, in this life. And so we become nostalgic, because we are dying, all of us, and we want to remember and hold this places and memories and people dear. 

And the same with our little ones. Parents can err on the side of being too nostalgic, of course, and not enjoy each stage for mourning the others -- but it is true in some ways. Jude will never be this naive, this young, this trusting and excited about life as he is today

So, what, then? Where is gospel in our living, in our dying? 

Everywhere, reader. We live today in the joy of the gospel, and take the joys and sorrows in the knowledge that Christ is risen, that the reason the Son of God came was to destroy the devil's work (1 John 3:8), and that He is making all things new. 

And here are some of our daily joys. 


Blessings to you, dear reader.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Leeks and Onions

Bear with me here, reader.

Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses. (Exodus 14:30-31)

Three days later: 
And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” (Ex 15:24)

Two months later:
 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out to this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Ex 16:2-3)

And again, still later: 
But the people thirsted for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Ex 17:3)

Andrew, Jude, and I are moving to Oregon next month. We currently live in Virginia, 2700 miles away from our future home, future friends, Andrew’s future job at the hospital there. We are busy with all the things that come with moving, plus moving with a toddler running amok in the house, moving almost literally coast to coast. Andrew’s brain is awash in details about moving trucks and plane tickets, and we have piles and boxes all over the house of things we desperately hope to sell at a yard sale this Saturday. Our house is in a constant state of chaos; clutter is just state of being right now, as much as it stresses me out. There’s just not much point organizing a desk drawer I will dump out and pack in a matter of weeks. We are ruthlessly purging, sentimentality thrown aside as we would rather have a little extra cash in our pockets than keep this or that and find place for it in the moving van.

But wait. Let me back up a bit – a whole year, really. To understand this journey, reader, you need to know how and why Oregon. Andrew, my husband, is graduating medical school in four weeks! Wow. He will be a doctor, and we are moving for his residency. A common condition. Except that our original plan, reader, was the absolute opposite of what we are doing now. Just like Jude was a huge God-imposed edit in our ten-year plan, so is Oregon. Andrew wanted to be an internist, do hospital medicine Scrubs-style, and we did not plan to move anywhere except closer to family. We had our eyes on western North Carolina, firmly sure that we would not be leaving the Appalachians we know and love.

But then.

Through a series of events we’ve almost forgotten already, but clearly God’s leading, in March of last year, with much prayer and trepidation, we decided to pursue Andrew becoming a surgeon. Since he will be a D.O. instead of an M.D. (explanation here if you aren't married to one), his options were limited to … anywhere in America except the Southeast. We looked to Ohio, Pennsylvania, anywhere we could be conceivably close-ish to family.

He applied to a program in Corvallis, Oregon for two ridiculous reasons: because he felt like he needed to apply to more programs (so it was purely padding a list) and because the people on the website looked happy.

But then there was an invitation to interview, which he took because it would be good practice for the programs he cared about. Except – he loved it.

So three days after Christmas found all three of us on an airplane, loaded down with Goldfish and books for Jude, making the trek from East Coast to West. We spent two and a half weeks in Oregon; Andrew got his hands (well, his gloves) dirty at the hospital, Jude and I wandered around town in the rain.

We didn’t fall in love with the town the way we wanted to. There wasn’t a magical moment, or any sort of clear epiphany from God, but we did fall in love with the church we found there, and with the people we met. And we saw that everything about the town and the community was so much more what we wanted than any other place we were considering. So, in a slow, tentative, undramatic way, we thought it would be best.

And now, one stressful Match Day later, we are preparing to move there. Three things that we never could have foreseen: We are moving to Oregon with our kid, for Andrew to become a surgeon. My twenty-year-old self is laughing hysterically.

Well, move… somewhere.

We have been looking for a place to live since February, and have yet to show anything for it except a long list of un-returned phone calls, unanswered emails, dead end after dead end. It feels like a Celestial Someone is screening our calls, cutting our phone wires, sabotaging all our efforts to Be Responsible. We have done everything that we can at this point.

And now, I, Israelite that I am, with fresh memories of rivers parting and the taste of manna still on my lips, am grumbling in the wilderness: “Lord, have you brought us here to be homeless?”

I believe; help my unbelief!

I know we will have a place to live, and that it will be right where God wants us to be, for the purposes of our friendships or our own growth, et cetera. But now, everything in me is fighting against my Inner Israelite. I have seen Him change my heart and my life, have seen Him provide over and over for us, showing us that this crazy new plan is what He has in mind for our family -- and I just want to eat leeks and onions. 

I want to say, “God, if you’ll give us a house, then...” – but that’s not faith, is it? It’s superstition. God is not conditionally good based on the state of my health or my son’s behavior or the walls I sleep in at night. God is good, no matter what. If we all three have to sleep in a one-bedroom apartment by the railroad depot, God is good and will take care of us. If we have four bedrooms and a fenced yard, God is good and will take care of us. If God lets the Babylons come, He is still good. If He lets His own Son be murdered, He is still good. He knows what He's doing, and He has much greater purposes than my comfort or materialistic ideals.

I’m so scared to learn this. I want to know God is good when my circumstances are good. I’m terrified to learn that God is good when I don’t see those external things as good, despite all the ways I have done so in the past.

But, come what may, God will be good. Remind me of that. No matter what. No matter what.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Cup

Some after-Communion scribbles:

The Cup

tide pounding, surf splashing,
brook racing, pulse throbbing,
juice dripping, blood spilling,
rain coming, sea rising,
milk-nursing, sweat sticking,
river parting, honey flowing,
oil running, blood burning,
water rinsing, ink scratching,


blood leaking, milk coming,
water washing, myrrh scenting,
wine brimming, well-drawing,
mud cleansing, sea calming,
perfume soaking, water purging,
wine sharing, sweat dropping,
blood pooling, blood clogging,
water washing, vinegar stinging,
tears sliding, water falling,
oil covering, rain crashing,


pulse beating, water springing,
wine gushing, honey flowing,