Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Valley

Mountain silhouettes beckon.
Rush of wind, adrenaline,
crunch of snow,
blast of sunset;
a moment of isolated wonder,
even revelation.
Mountain is mystery,
rush of feeling;
it is not a life.

Come down.

Sweet peas and roses twine
up from valley soil.
Mallards rest in winter safety,
babes toddle and walk.
In steady seasons,
patient ebb and flow,
waiting, watching, tending;
ancient roots mother still.


It has been a hard season, dear Reader. A season of single parenting, of sleepless nights with littles, of loneliness. A season of many miles, physically and emotionally -- and I hope spiritually. I have been drained beyond my ability to bear, and sustained by God's grace beyond my ability to express.

A growing season.

I had the pleasure of a small visit with my beautiful friend and mentor Beth. She sat and snuggled my baby girl and I watched my wiggly boy. After a time, she smiled and said, "It sounds to me like you have a good life."

A good life.

Not to boast or claim that I am or have anything special -- but realizing that I have been given an overflowing cup by my loving King, my Jesus who delights to turn water to wine and give sweet daily bread.

You, too, Reader. Our God gives good gifts. He gave us Himself -- all else is bonus. Beauty upon beauty. The extraordinary and the ordinary.

I live in a valley, a lush place in the shadow between two lines of mountain. And it's very true, Reader: the valley is the more mundane, perhaps, but it is also a haven, a safe and rich place. Life happens here in a way it cannot on the windy slopes of adventure.

It is good to climb, but it is also good to come down, to rest in the daily joys of a simple life. Because He has given it and daily sustains it: a good life. Let us give thanks and live.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Empty Pockets

It's been one of those mornings. One of those weeks ... months. I could complain, give you specific reasons why why, but Reader, I think you know enough about life to understand.

Just believe that it's ugly, and the ugly is me.

It has been a hard, hard season, these past few months.

I keep finding myself falling into prayer, a desperate, dry pleading, but no words come, no Scripture, no articulated heart-pleas. All my brain can bring forth the past month have been Psalm 23 and a mis-remembered line of that old Gadsby hymn: "Jesus the Lord my Shepherd is..." For weeks, this has been the only weapon in my spiritual tool belt.

I have dozens of other verses committed to memory, a horde of hymns and poems that serve as my support base and reminders of truth in dry seasons. Romans, Galatians, Hopkins, even Andrew Peterson -- but now, in this empty, lonely time, the only thing that comes when I reach is Psalm 23. Every single time, midnight or sunny afternoon.

Surely, if I were a better Christian, more mature, more fully immersed in the truths of the gospel and the Words of life, I would have more in my pockets than this. Right? Even pagans know this one. 

It feels weak, akin to saying I love hiking, but showing up for the Appalachian Trail in flip flops.

But... no Scripture is weak. There are no Words of Truth that fail to shine light into darkness. If Psalm 23 is what the Holy Spirit put in my pocket, then I must cling to it. And how beautiful that the Spirit has brought His own poetry to minister to this weary heart.

I'm tired. Tired of being touched, of being pulled, of being needed and yelled at and not listened to. Tired of whining voices and repeated conversations and no space to breathe, let alone care for my head or heart or body. Tired of giving more than I have, tired of dying, of wanting.

Deep breath.

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.

I shall not want.

Green pastures, quiet waters, the dark valley, the presence of enemies -- all at the Shepherd's leading. He isn't surprised or put off by that cup of coffee all over the floor, or by me when I burst into frustrated tears.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake.

This means sanctification. It means growth and change. It sounds lovely and serene, but I think the image here is not so much a gentle, meandering trail through the meadow, but more like the one horrible time I went mountain biking: a free-fall-slide down a steep gravel trail into a rocky, muddy creek at the bottom of the hill. Scrapes and bruises and holy terror because I'm being dragged through the mud of my own sinful rebellion, all the brutally ugly that I am inside being exposed and felt and fought, and then, hopefully, scraped away. For His name's sake.

Days like today make me question whether I actually believe what I say I believe, when no matter how many times I remind myself of the truth, my patience still snaps, my tongue still tastes like poison. This does not look like goodness and mercy, or a table in the presence of my enemies. This feels like hunkering down in the Enemy's own barracks and supping his slop.

If this season, this struggle against daily darkness is just that, a struggle against the Enemy himself, then God has promised a table, a feast for me here. He says He will feed and supply and care, so I must believe that, and fear no evil. Even here, perhaps especially so, my cup overflows. If this struggle is against the sin in my own heart, then it is the comfort of His staff and His rod, then I must believe that this season is goodness and mercy.

All I've got in my pocket today is a promise: The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.

It feels like I'm hopelessly wanting; but He is not. I must believe that.

And ... I'm not wanting, Reader. Suddenly, this tiny mustard seed, this moment of grace-given faith to believe this promise shows me this.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Courage and Dragon-Slaying

But Adam said, "Why don't you talk to my brother? Charles will be going. He'll be good at it, much better than I am."

"Charles won't be going," Cyrus said. "There'd be no point in it."

"But he'd be a better soldier."

"Only outside on his skin," said Cyrus. "Not inside. Charles is not afraid so he could never learn anything about courage. He does not know anything outside himself so he could never gain the things I've tried to explain to you."

-John Steinbeck, East of Eden.


Looking at my life now, I see a vastly different existence from anything I pictured. Of course. This is nothing new, nothing I haven't articulated before. Gardening on a farm in rural Oregon, married to a surgical resident, staying home with an incredibly busy and interactive little boy, feeling a little girl grow and wiggle inside of me. There is not a glimpse anywhere of the person I once wanted to be; no place for ambition or career or recognition. Not now, not anywhere on the horizon. There will be years and years of this, of tending the garden and making gallons of tomato sauce to can, of reading the same books over and over, of teaching little hands to measure and stir and wipe up messes, of splashy bathtime and sighs of relief when it's finally time to sit and be still. Years and years of loving this little one, and those who will be his siblings.

I come back to this idea over and over because this is the biggest, deepest struggle of my life. I do not want to serve. I do not want to die to myself, to put down this cup of coffee for the tenth time and play with Legos or puzzles or trains. Consistently, daily, I fight this fight. And though I know it is not unique to my own experience, this culture and the pretty picture-lives of social media sure make it seem like I'm the only mother who's struggling to mother selflessly, as though I'm the only one who's fighting myself still, the only one left on the other side who doesn't just love this job every single day.

It isn't this job that is the problem, of course. There is truly nothing I'd rather do; I've never been the sort of person who's always wanted to work at one special job, and it suits my personality to stay home to cook and read and play. It would wrench my heart to take Jude to daycare every day. I'm so thankful--beyond thankful--to be home. It's not the job itself that makes my sinful dragons roar: it's the constancy, the complete and utter lack of space for me, for what I want to do.

Doing this life, this residency-wife-and-mother life means many, many things, but it means mostly that I'm utterly aware that there are much bigger things than my wants, or my needs. My life is not my own these days. I'm responsible for maintaining a home in the absence of my hard-working husband, for doing many tasks single-handedly that are shared in most households. There's not much room in this life for books to read, for long, hot showers, or hours to wander around Target just because. There's not much fresh air for the Millie that I thought I would be at this point in my life, the one I think I should be.

And, in light of that, I'm finally realizing that that seems to be exactly the point. All my life, I've been aiming at this person, idea of my future self. And that person is certainly not this person, the one writing this. This unsightly person is unshowered, still in yoga pants (because those $*@$%!! maternity pants make me mutter things Jude shouldn't hear), with dirty dishes in the sink and toys on the floor. I'm not really sure of the last time I mopped the kitchen floor, or put the laundry away the same day I washed it. Andrew's working late, so I'm planning to make blueberry waffles for supper. This person cannot possibly be doing it right, be a good mother, a good wife. She cannot possibly be doing what she's supposed to do, cannot be living up to her potential.

Can she?

Ah. Here, reader, is the daily struggle.

I have a college degree that came with high honors, awards from my academic department. I am, technically speaking, a published poet. I was voted "most likely to succeed" by my high school graduating class. And, as I hold those things in one hand, I look into the other hand, this hand that is so full of this life, this mess, and I cannot see how the two are compatible. Should I be ashamed of who I am becoming?

No. Whoever that person was, that person who raced after admiration and honor, that person who wanted nothing more than to write well that others might praise her words, that person is now being slowly drowned in a sink of dirty dishwater. That person, I'm slowly seeing, is not me, not anyone that I will ever be. But it is, I'm realizing, who I think that I still want to be. My selfish, sinful heart yells this to me every day, almost every moment of every day. And so I have this same conversation, this same struggle, every day, every moment of the day.

Because, reader, I know, beyond any doubt, that this life I live is a life that was given to me. God molded it for me, continues to fashion it for me, and gives me no choice but to walk in the way He sets before me. And, looking at this life, I realize that nothing will change, not for a long time. Andrew will work long, hard hours for many years. Jude will be Jude, and our little girl will grow, be born, and she, and other children, will add yet more busyness and stress and responsibilities to my life. There will always be meals to cook and clothes to wash, for I am responsible for feeding and clothing. My circumstances are what they are, for many, many years. As they should be.

The only thing that is changeable in this entire situation is me.

I am the only malleable factor here, the only thing that is capable of changing, adjusting, bending, becoming. And as long as I continue to cling to an idea of who I think I should be (or worse, who I think that others think I should be), I won't bend. I'll break, and important things and relationships will break with me. And that, reader, is not an option. So, I must bend, must be unmade to be remade.

Like Adam Trask in Steinbeck's East of Eden,  I may learn courage, because I am so very afraid. My fear is a fear of losing myself. What if I utterly change, become someone new? What will become of my old self? What if I look like a doormat, a '50s housewife, someone without a brain or personality or ambition or ideas? How despicable, unrecognizable! This terrifies me. I don't want to suffocate.

Reader! This, this is the beautiful question! What if I do utterly die? Then, I will have finally been given what is best: I will, I pray, look like Jesus instead of a distorted, twisted version of myself. The Millie who looks even a tiny bit more like Jesus after years of this death is truly who I'd rather be, the mother and wife I'd rather have my family see and know, even if I am unrecognizable from my former self. And I should be unrecognizable, shouldn't I? A new creation. The former things have passed away. Behold, I am making all things new!

God is in the business of making all things new, for in this newness, this Jesus-reflecting, I will be who I should be, even if that means living a life and being someone I never thought I would be. Even if certain gifts for a certain season, like my desire to write, are for a past season, and never for my future self -- gulp -- then, all will still be well. If all things that used to be my own are gone in five years, all will still be well, for God is the one stripping them away. Like Eustace, I'm wincing in anticipation of the claws of the Lion who peels away the deep dragon-flesh. All will be well. Better than well...

... And just like that, I'm tested, pushed, bent: Jude is up unusually early from his nap, asking for a snack and a playmate. And the dragon is clawing, roaring, spitting fire. Just give me five more minutes! Let me breathe!

But no. The Spirit tugs my conscious-strings, speaks truth; this is exactly what I'm called to, more than this writing and thinking and sharing -- and I'm up and off, reader, to attend my own funeral. Smell my burning, hear my roaring, pray for my selfish heart, and praise the Father who loves us too much to leave us in our own filth and sin and stench. May I be beautiful, as He is beautiful.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Spring: Here, Now, Ever

As the surprising burst of sunshine burns through the clouds and makes the green grass even greener, turning the abundant drops of rain left behind to glistening points of light, the yearning for spring is almost overwhelming.

The Oregon winter has been much more bearable -- even enjoyable -- than I could have anticipated. Waking almost every morning to a fog-shrouded world, the peripheral fields of green rye cloaked in a thick, damp blanket of earth-cloud, even the faded old barn just across the driveway a thing of misty mystery. And the birds! From every direction, out of the fog, the sounds of abundant life, reader! The honks of late-flying geese, twitterings of small sparrows, distant echoing quacks from the duck pond down the driveway, great hoarse cries of herons from the hidden beaver pond, sweet, lilting okalalee of the nearby red-winged blackbirds. Here, in the green valley, in the midst of winter, I have been daily surprised by the life that thrives. Winter here seems no winter at all, but a haven against the harsh cold that touches the rest of the country. Here, the grass is green, the soil moist and rich, the wind, though chilly, is full of the sounds of living things, enough so to cause a sudden solemn stillness in my own heart almost every time I experience it.

And yet, reader, for all this surprising and daily joy, the sun breaking through the rain clouds makes me remember that there is yet more. Spring! I haven't seen a spring yet on our Oregon farm. I haven't seen the robins built their nests in our sweet gum trees, haven't watched the apple and plum trees blossom pink and fill with bees, haven't seen the calla lilies bloom behind the garage or planted seed potatoes with my own hands. But I will! And the desire for these beautiful actions and signs of life make my heart ache -- when? soon?

Even Jude asks almost every day if it's time to plant seeds.

Oh, Jude. And here is where I realize that, perhaps, I'm yearning for the wrong things. Because, reader, while I'm standing at the window, trying to find the right words to tell you how much I'm falling in love with this beautiful place, Jude is asking me to play pretend with him, to bake pretend bread with him, to build a pretend fire with him, to do a puzzle and name the different animals with him, sing a song or read a book with him. With him. I'm longing for a bigger life, a bigger idea, something intangible and important. And Jude is just asking for me. He wants me to do life with him, laugh with him, pretend to mix in the flour and cinnamon and sugar with him.

I'm looking beyond, outside, to the green horizon and the future, when the garden in my own home is growing rapidly and beautifully and asking for me to cultivate it, now. It is always spring in my home. There are always seeds to sow and nurture, weeds to wrestle out, flowers and fruit to smile upon.

The outside work is good, too; very good, even. The world is in desperate need of working and loving, of planting and sowing, of all the different gifts God has given us to use -- teaching, wisdom, leading, art, words, giving, serving -- to a big or small part of the world. And now, God has given me a very small part of the world to love and serve and give to. My longing for a bigger bit is born of foolishness, the idea that I have anything to offer, but without this small garden and what I will learn here, how can I hope to speak wisdom? I am not yet who I will be, and if I am unwilling to be here, to give myself here, to this small part of the world, how can I possibly think I will be able to ever give myself to a bigger part of it, if that is ever what I am asked to do?

Jude is valuable and wonderful, because God made him. He is a deep, desperate sinner, because he is a son of Adam, a son of Eve, a son of Andrew, a son of Millie. And he, and our other children, are the work given to me now, in this season. Regardless of what other gifts I might (or might not) possess, or how more important they might seem to my selfish heart, or to the world, this where I am, for many many years. And it is good. This garden of our home is for Jude to grow, and for me to grow. We are both planted and rooted here in this soil. We tend and love and teach and grow one another, here in our small part of the world.

Here, in this garden. How beautiful is the Spring!