When I was little and growing up, my favorite place of all was the Old Man’s Field, which was a homesite from the 1920’s, with a chimney pile overgrown with little trees. I would spend hours looking around, poking in the dirt for pieces of pottery and unearthing homemade bricks. Every now and then in the field I would find parts of a plowshare and old medicine bottles. It was my place. Everyone knew it was sacred to me, special. And then one day my dad bulldozed it. He cleared out all the scrub trees and spread the chimney pile out. He didn’t even ask me. I was so hurt and angry.
I remember Mama trying to reason with me. She said we wouldn’t have been keeping it the way it was, because it wasn’t like that when the old man was here. But it had been like that as long as I had been here. So I stayed away, so as not to see it torn up.
But then, do you know what happened?
I went back one day in the Spring. The ground was covered over with daffodils, the old-fashioned, sweet-smelling butter and egg type and snowdrops. They had been overcrowded and buried in the pile. Then scattered in the field everywhere were treasures, at least to me: I found his leather shoe soles and buckles and buttons and beautiful little cosmetic bottles and iron bed posts and many more plowshares and farming tools. It was one of the happiest days of my life. Garlic also came up in the field later that year, and canna lilies. I went back after that more often than ever before, sometimes every day, if only for a few minutes. I found that I could love that place as it was, at it is and as it be will.
I told my friend Rachel this story yesterday as we dug up the old iris bed, slicing the roots and tearing them apart. She said it was a good one and I’m inclined to think so too.
I have a new grandfather, and he’s just what one should be. I rode in his truck the other day and he, being a non-stop and lighthearted talker, had a special air of sobriety about him, as he took the opportunity of our aloneness to give me his advice for living. He said, when I am old, I will need something to dream about. He said people say pretty don’t mean much, but it does. He was speaking of firewood, but I guess it’s true everywhere. He said my life would go by faster than I could imagine, and he said he reckoned the most important thing he had learned was that, before you do something, you need to think about it.
I’ve been having the feeling like I need to do some thinking. I sit down to go about it, usually in the early morning, and I get up feeling like I never started. I feel, more than ever before, in need of blessing. I feel as if, very soon, something will be required of me, and I won’t have it. Like a debt will be called in that I cannot pay. I looked through the Bible for something new that I might be missing, and could not find it, so I took down an old journal this morning and read:
I feel so far from you because there is this big thing before me. It is in my way and I cannot see you.
I am nothing but a dry river bed for him to fill— but he will, he will.
She said it was when I most noticed the dirt that he was nearest to me, and so maybe I could not see him because he was so close.
“Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.”
Every few weeks there is a little loss I have to let go because it is already gone. God help me move forward.
I am greatly in need of solid joys and lasting treasures.
You will not pull the rug from me; there is no sword over my head. You have never treated me like that.
Lewis said it was our duty, as Christians, to be as happy as we can, and you know, it’s not a hard thing to do. It’s easy once you get started.
I’ve been talking to him since I was a little girl, and the things I asked him for, imperfectly, he has given me now, even while I am prayerless and distracted.
I don’t know what was going on when I wrote these things. I am both the same person and different. I have lived through many thoughts, but I have not lived past them.They come again. There are more to come, but it is a comfort to pass by the old ones and remember that life was hard but good, as it always is.
There were a couple friends dear to me, and one in particular, who found it a stumbling block that I should marry. I understand this, because I felt the same way when my sister married. You feel like they have gone where you cannot follow, and on purpose too. I know it hurts, but I wish that friend could see how I sit in bed in the early morning and search for meaning, just like I used to do, and how I long for God and feel afraid sometimes, just like I used to, and how I still incline my ear and long to hear from my friends who I love, just like I always will. It is true that there are new things for me now and I am distracted in a pleasant way, but all the old, unpleasant things are just as true as they ever were, and sometimes more so.
My husband asked me the other day what I missed most about being a child. I couldn’t think of anything at first, but the question stayed with me until I could remember. I miss not having to get dressed after a bath. We would get wrapped in towels and laid on the couch and could just sit there bundled up as long as we liked. I miss not having to walk. I was held a lot, even as a kid, as the youngest of them all. But mostly I miss my sister. I miss the closeness we had when we were all the world to each other. That’s just not the case anymore, nor should it be. I see the back of her head in church, and realize we have not talked in days. I used to wait for her to call, but now she waits for me, but then she has to go quickly and so do I. When we have time, we often don’t know what to say, there is so much and all of it beside the point compared to all the important things we apparently had going on as children.
It is a new thing to me, and an important one, to be able to look back and really love what was, without loving less what is. God does not need to take from one bowl to fill the next. I do not love my friend less because I have a husband. I do not love my sister less because we have grown up. I do not love my single years less because I have a baby. Too much love and gratitude is never the problem, but only a wanting of it.
I’ve been told not to be precious with my words, but really, I don’t need to be precious with anything that is good. There is always more where it came from. And when more love and more faith, more than ever before, is called for, as it will be, it will be there.
Still I have not thought the thing I need to think, but maybe I’m coming close.
Here’s a story. When my grandfather was sixteen he found himself hungry, in trouble and homeless in his own hometown. There was an army recruiting bus coming through, and without saying goodbye to anyone, he lied about his age and jumped on it. He liked the army. He grew four inches taller because they fed him. But soon he became scared of soldiering. He became homesick and lonely. For the first time in his life he broke out in eczema all over his body. They moved him to a hospital and covered him with tar. When he recovered he realized he was not too far from home. So he ran.
They found him in his mother’s house in Georgetown, Kentucky. He was brought before the commanding officer. In a surprising turn of grace this man asked my grandfather to be his personal driver, an epic promotion from the brig where he was heading, and from normal soldiering. This would have been a perfect opportunity for my grandfather to say, thank you, sir, but I don’t know how to drive.
But learning comes slowly, change even slower and truth makes itself known faster than usual when you’re dealing with a stick-shift. Without a word of reproof, the officer just patiently taught the boy to drive, as if he was his own grandfather without much to do, going no where in particular.
Sixty years later, as my grandfather taught me to drive, he must’ve told me this story a hundred times. We all have stories like this, when life could’ve gone either way, when you look back to see how good came upon you like a big sneeze, and you were sort of ridiculous but obviously watched over, and precious. It is like waking up in the morning to find you left the front door standing wide open. We love this kind of story because it is a moment of clarity, a prelude to the day we’ll look back and see, not how much we earned, all our shining moments, but how He made good of our mistakes and gave us a future we did not deserve.He is able to do this, being Almighty God, and willing also, being a faithful Father.
I was in the kitchen making dinner when my grandmother called.
There’s a mob on the TV… she said, But that’s aways from here isn’t it?
Yes that’s aways from here.
I was comforted by her. She’s lived through so much. Mobs come, mobs go. Should this one concern her? No, it shouldn’t. It doesn’t. Then she talked about the tree limb that fell on the fence and what she had for dinner and how she used to make the best beef stew. Then she remembered Joyce Paulk, her neighbor when they lived in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, who made the best Brunswick stew and who now lives in a nursing home in Georgia, who still sends us all birthday cards and twenty-dollar bills every year, who we send packages to often, as she is in lockdown and lonely.
My grandmother lived through the great-depression, but this did not concern her either. She had a happy childhood filled with music and cowboys and horses and brothers. Her troubles were the death of her good friend, who died of tetanus from barbed wire and the death of her younger brother, who bled out in her mother’s arms on the way to the hospital. These things came to her and hurt and changed her. The crash of the stock market? It was merely an event that marked her time.
I hope most of the children of this generation will remember the pandemic and political mess in the same way. I know that children do not concern themselves with what does not concern them, and although it might seem too simplistic I’m beginning to believe this is what God would want from me.
He spent most of my roaring twenties remaking my hunger for glory. Teaching me blessed are the unambitious. Now I am learning that not only am I small, but that I am called to seek the small, which is all I can do really, or all I can do well. I am not omnipresent or omniscient or omnipotent. Not by a long shot. And when I try to be more than I am I end up slumming in subhuman ways as Chad Bird says.
When my grandfather would see me brow furrowed, disturbed, he would say, Hey, don’t worry about the mule being blind, just load the wagon. This was mostly silly and a way to make me take myself less serious, but he also meant by this, just do what you’re supposed to do, kid.
So it turns out God does not require me to know what’s going on in Washington, DC. He does not require me to hold a strong political opinion or knowledge about current affairs or even read the news. He does not require me to trust or endlessly seek out or particularly give a rip for any great person’s learned opinion on the myriad of anxieties that churn the internet. He does not require me to give lip in a public forum. He does not even require me to vote. He does not require from me any burden that he has not himself laid on me in his Word.
But what he does require from me there is a heap. A gracious plenty. A lifetime spent, given away, used up, kaput. A life patterned after his.
My husband and I are going to have a baby, Lord willing, in the summer. Well we have a baby already don’t we? But right now that child is being kept in a very special way, and it’s a comfort to know he or she is safe from me, for the time. Safe from my failures. But soon that will not be the case. What do I want my child to have? The answer has come back by different roads: Peace. Peace of heart. Peace of conscience. Peace with neighbors. Peace with God. Peace in, what looks like, troubled times.
Much of this will be out of my hands. But a mother does impact the peace of her baby’s heart, I think, in many ways, and so how do I become less anxious? It is a sweet riddle to know that I must become more like a child.
Children cannot help the grief that’s laid before them, but neither do they thirst for a knowledge of evil that is beyond them. Children mind their own business. They do. They love their places. They make house. They care about the opinions of those blundering hairy old souls around them, even though they are nobodies. They don’t know who’s a nobody.
And so in the start of this new year, I asked myself questions concerning local faithfulness. I thought they might be helpful to you too. I want to make it very clear that I do not bring them as that person who loves to bring a question to which he already has a well-formulated answer, but rather as an honest searching out of myself. How well am I really loading the wagon? Not so hot most days. I’m sure there are many more questions to be asked, and maybe you can see some blind spot of mine here…. Rejoice they are not yours! These are not meant to be lived out all at once or independently of others. They are not meant to imply that we should not support foreign missions or care very deeply for the persecuted church or that is is wrong to be very political or that God does not have a redemptive plan for the nations. I could think of more caveats, but thankfully my readers have never required that from me. This is simply a practical working out in my own life of 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.
The emphasis on food may be because I have been incessantly hungry.
These are difficult times. I have heard more than one woman say they do not think it wise to bring a child into the world right now. And certainly I would not create a beautiful fragile human and deliver them to the media or the steps of the oval office. But God creates, thank goodness, and delivers humans unto trembling, confessing, able parents and gives us all tender hearts with a hole the size of his own self and then he promises to come and make his home there forever and ever, there in that little bitty heart he loves, if we will trust him.
And so I think it is always a good time to be born, because there is always, always, hope.
And so here are the questions, dear reader. They are for me and maybe for you, if you will have them:
Have I made the place I live a more beautiful, productive, homelike place? Do I know the plants and native animals around me? Am I familiar with the lakes, rivers and creeks? Do I know the history of the place? Do I have enough food to feed my household without going to the store for awhile? Do I have enough food to share with my neighbors? Do I know my neighbors? Do I take them gifts of food? Is my home open to them? Do my neighbors have my number and know they can call on me to help them?
Do I know the local poor? Do I know the local widows? If there are local farmers, do I know them and support them? If I have enough land to grow or raise my own food and food to share, am I doing so? If able to do so, do I choose and support small local businesses? Do I have more or as many local friendships than long-distance or internet-based ones? Do I do anything that frustrates my neighbors? Do I participate in the life of my local church? Do I ever behave rudely or self-seeking to those around me? Is there an abortion mill close by? Can I minister there or support those who do? Is there a nursing home close by? Can I minister there or support those who do? Is there a prison close by? Can I minister there or support those who do? Do I enter the home of the sick or chronically ill? Do I bring them gifts of food or send notes of encouragement? Do I make myself open to the children God would give me?
Do I make an effort to give whatever skills or gifts I have to my community? Do I look around and notice what is happening around me? Am I prepared to respond in an emergency? Do I quickly respond to anyone in my local community who reaches out or asks for my help?
Do the opinions of those I know personally matter more to me than than the opinions of those I don’t? Or am I a long-distance hero-worshipper and a short-distance critic?
Do I remember and honor and forgive my parents? Do I make an effort to actually physically care for my parents or grandparents? If I am long distance from them do I frequently call, send notes and gifts of food? If I am close by do I visit them often and meet any needs they may have? Do I remember my family stories? Have I asked my parents, grandparents good questions about their lives? If I am married, do I do all the same for my husbands family? Do I remember and show love to my siblings? Do I pray for my enemies and those who hate me?
Do I see the world around me as the main theatre of my life, the focus of my thoughts, words and duties? Am I at rest with being as unseen as an unborn child? Am I at peace?
When I was thirteen or fourteen, my family left the mega-church we were in and moved to a very small ‘recovery’ church, and we stayed there for four years. The move was embarrassing. This was a church where people really had problems, and it was assumed that if you went there, you had problems too, which of course we did. It was in a strip mall in an ugly part of town. The carpet might have been green or yellow. The worship band was under-qualified. There was nothing cool about it. There was a large poster in the sanctuary with the Twelve Steps of Recovery, but I only remember the first one: I am powerless, it said.
There was a beautiful woman named Amini. She had been mishandled in the most vulnerable relationship a woman can have, but I didn’t know this at the time. I just remember, one night in a small group, someone was talking about step one, and she leaned in and whispered, this is good and all, but you still gotta give God something to work with.
I think of Amini every new year, and every Spring-time. We are, of course and no doubt about it, totally dependent on his grace for every moment. But I can’t help but think God smiles on those who, in every seed catalog order, every pile of index cards scratched with Bible verses, every reading plan, every playlist and every earnest, bright-eyed intention, try to give Him, for heaven’s sake, a little something to work with.
That is how life goes–we send our children into the wilderness. Some of them on the day they are born, it seems, for all the help we can give him. Some of them seem to be a kind of wilderness unto themselves. But there must be angels there, too, and springs of water. Even that wilderness, the very habitation of jackals, is the Lord’s.
I gave my sister Gilead by Marilynne Robinson years ago, and this was the quote she wrote down. I found it one day in her house and was surprised. It wasn’t one of the many lines that stayed with me. It didn’t seem to me like her little daughters were in any sort of wilderness, but then I am not anything like their mother, and I realized she must think many things she doesn’t say, and she must sometimes be afraid.
Many times this week I’ve thought, I won’t worry about my baby when we reach the second trimester. In just a couple weeks, I won’t worry anymore.
But then I realized that, if the Lord is willing, and the child lives on this earth, I will have a fragile, transparent, wailing newborn with a floppy head and then this child will dwell in this very land with mosquitoes and viruses and sharp-cornered coffee tables and unkind people, and he or she will get hurt so often and survive and shake it off— or not. I realized, then, that I will have to either give this child to the Lord every day or be a total wreck of a woman.
My friend, Mrs. Barbara, sent me a blanket and said she prayed over it, for the baby, and I also realized then that to pray for someone’s child is the kindest thing you can do for them. There is no comfort on earth from musicians or poets as sweet as a praying friend, and to know that someone really prays when they say they will, is the truest form of faithfulness.
He tells me he’s given me more than enough material for a lifetime of stories, which is true. I don’t write about him often, because I don’t know where to begin. He is the kind of man folks look at and to and for. “What’s your dad think?” is a familiar question. Sometimes I tell them and sometimes I know it would be best if they didn’t know what he thought.
Women either love him or hate him, but they can’t ignore him. He can say the sweetest, most poetic things, and then he can offend you in ten words or less. It is hard to write about him because he is such a perfect character. His kind are better in fiction or remembered posthumously, perhaps, but then God goes and writes them into our every-day. You look out the kitchen window, and there he stands before you, white beard and red skin, in cowboy hat and Carhartts, with a pipe out the corner of his mouth and a rifle slung over his shoulder.
“Hunting something?” I ask.
“Always,” he says.
Captain Dave was the kind of man who could have taken over the world with ten sons, but the Lord gave him two daughters, who cried as often as girls do, who quickly exposed his faults and who had tempers just as open and obvious as his.
He is a local legend: the oldest, longest-running, most successful fishing guide on the lake. The only guide, to my knowledge, who doesn’t fish on Sundays or curse or play country music. He has been many things in his seventy years, but today he is mostly a grandfather who always reaches out his hands at the dinner table and often cries when he says grace.
I remember sometimes at night he would come kiss us goodnight and sing an old hymn, and I thought what a man this is, my daddy, so burly and loud and rough and covered in fish scales, gently singing:
Bringing in the sheets
Bringing in the sheets
We shall come rejoicing
Bringing in the sheets
And I would dream of a cowboy, with a handle-bar mustache and a brace of pistols, hanging clothes out on the line.
It seems like yesterday Mrs. Ruby was asking me if I had a boyfriend. I was probably twenty-five. No, I said apologetically. Well don’t be in any hurry, your life will change soon enough, she said. And though she always did have the air of a prophet about her, I remember thinking, You don’t know about me, Mrs. Ruby. I live alone in the land where nothing changes.
My first reflection on this memory was to think what a silly girl I was. I was mostly happy and this was a passing morbid thought. But the truth is, I was a deep thinker and facing reality. To know now how quickly everything did change is to only speak to the surprising wonder that sometimes falls upon this old world.
Praying for a dear friend this morning, I asked that she would get past a heart-breaking time, then stopped myself. I had said something like that the other day to a wise woman. No, not past, she said, through. So I took back what I said before, and prayed her through this time, that such tender compassion would rain down on her and make her an even more welcome home for the weary than she was before, that there would be such a sweet deep healing inside that she would be glad for the wound, and that this surprising reversal inside herself, this good news of the Savior-King, would be surest thing in her life all her days, come what may.
Christmas is a fragile time, as it should be. My parents house doesn’t have central heat, nor does my own house now, and so you find yourself in a coat and hat in one corner, only to strip down to your long-johns on the other side of the room. You chase the sunshine coming through the glass and lie down in its puddle while it lasts.
This is tender Christmas-time: In my memory, it is melting your house-shoes on the wood stove, huddled too close. It is running into the kitchen to hug your grandmother’s backside. She gives you a bowl of drippings because she says everyone should be as round as she is. She is soft and this sounds good. It is dancing on your grandfathers feet to Nat King Cole. It is taking great care to reposition all the nativity characters to face the baby Jesus after someone moved them around again. It is singing dramatically over the bannister, God bless the rulers of this house and let them long to reign! It is the little chocolate behind every paper window.
It is, in time, a keener awareness of familial brokenness and loneliness and the passing of these memories into shadow. It is the courage to resurrect all the good and make new traditions, the effort to stand over eighteen eggs for three hours, to make gifts with what you have, to walk in the outside world until your nose freezes over. It is now to me, the sweetest time of comfort, knowing that the Savior came as a baby to save my own baby, and that he honored the fragile mothers everywhere by needing one desperately, like the Lord of the Universe never needed anyone before or since.
We said we wouldn’t tell anyone about the baby at first. It is nice, sometimes, to have a secret. It is much nicer, I think, to give the secret away. So the day the baby’s two-chambered heart started beating, my own heart was so full, that I went into a baby store, just to walk around for the first time, not as friend or cousin or aunt, but as mother and I told a complete stranger the news. She rejoiced. A wonderful thing has happened to you, she said, which is true. My baby is wonderful. When are you due? July, I said. My son was born in July, and out he stepped from a rack before us, embarrassed to have been a baby nine years ago. Once upon a time, on a cold rainy November morning, his little heart started beating too. He lowered his head to me, in an awkward sort of bow, and moved away, embarrassed again by such an old fashioned gesture, him, so cool in his spiked hair and Nike hoodie. He honored me, because of the baby, but not my baby.
He honored me, whether he knew it or not, because the Lord was a baby, hidden deep in a young woman’s body two thousand years ago. This Baby belongs to everyone who seeks him. He lives still to swallow up all sorrow and to usher in a new and glorious morning.
And so wherever you are, Christmas is for you, and I wish you through it, that you would consider it and wrestle with it, and not let it pass you by, until it bless you. My dear readers, Merry Christmas. Like Gladys Herdman in my favorite Christmas story, hear me saying, HEY! Unto you a child is born! And feel the jab in your ribs, because the days are shorter than ever before and the nights are too long without the gospel and sometimes even with it, but not for long, not forever.
My mama worked full time when I was growing up, as a forest ranger for the Corps of Engineers. Every other Friday she had the day off and she would be at our school, volunteering for the teachers, filing paperwork in the office or making copies for the classrooms. I know this was the last thing she wanted to do, but she knew that when you do this your children get treated better. It’s just the truth. She couldn’t be a PTO mom, but she would do what she could to be present in our lives.
With both our parents still working, my sister and I homeschooled ourselves through high-school. We loved it and learned so much more than we would have otherwise. My sister is a homeschool mom now, and I expect, given the chance, I will become one too. But in the human heart, there is always a tendency to imagine your choices reflect a superiority of self. I heard a mother say once, “I homeschool my children because I love them.” We all say things in ways we don’t mean, and if she heard herself, she’d probably take it back.
Having grown up, and seen both sides now, all kinds of moms and ways of rearing, it seems to me that motherhood, like the Christian life, is chiefly a matter of the heart. There is no substitute, and no thwarting, real love, but this you will find in the most unexpected places, and sometimes not where it should be. As the great Rich Mullins said, there’s a wideness in God’s mercy I cannot find in my own. He is a designer, after all, not a manufacturer.
My mama was perfect for me. She was stretched thin. She would wake up singing the Steven Curtis Chapman song well the day is just begun and I’m already running late… but she woke up singing. She would bring me coffee and cinnamon sugar toast in bed, then she would spank me with the hairbrush for refusing to brush my teeth. She taught us all the plants and trees of the forest and to revere our grandparents. She didn’t tell us Santa Claus was real, but she didn’t say he wasn’t either. She read out-loud to us as often as she could, and she didn’t pile ambition or expectation on us or ever wanted us to be especially good at anything, but she loved what ever small thing we accomplished. She never told me I was beautiful, but she would put the fear of God in me if I was unkind. She asked for my forgiveness more than she encouraged me to ask for it from others. She wasn’t better than your mother, at least that’s certainly not what I’m here to say. But she, in all her strengths and faults, even in all the TV dinners and episodes of Murder She Wrote, was perfectly suited to mother me, God helping her.
I called her this very morning, too sick to lift my head. She walked over in the 28 degrees with a plate of eggs and potatoes and cup of weak coffee. She sat me up in the oversized chair, put no pressure on my day, and told me to stay inside awhile and write, of all things.
There was a short period of time when I thought growing up meant doing without your mother, but now that I am one, however fragile, I see that she will always be giving herself to me, for as long as she can, because this is what she was made to do. She will receive her greatest joy in this, which is good, because I will continually need it. I think of my friends who have lived many years without mothers of their own, and I marvel at their strength and understand more their sorrow, and I know they would say it is a good thing to be able to live without, but it is a better thing to see what you have, while you have it, and be intensely grateful for it. I feel that way this morning. I know she will read this, so, Thank you Mama. You have been a wonderful mother, a true friend and surely the world’s finest neighbor, and you see I still, sometimes, listen and do just as you say.
I was greatly, happily, distracted this year. I didn’t read the news at all and I didn’t go looking much for anything. Most everything that brought me joy jumped in my face, because it simply had too. It felt like a very old fashioned year, because the people in my life alone occupied my thoughts, but some of these things are indeed shareable, and so I have come to share them.
My dear friend Annie, creator of my own mule above, has kept me up-to-date on her remarkable work, and you can see what she has for sale here. If you like cowboys, you will love her shop, and if you don’t, well why not?
Annie was one of my bridesmaids. I hadn’t seen my fiance for many days before the ceremony, and I, sequestered in a separate house from everyone, was anxious to know what was going on. Most everyone teased me saying things like, No I haven’t seen Andrew anywhere or Yeah, I saw him and he looked real worried. But Annie would come to my side and tell me everything, describing it perfectly and if she didn’t tell the whole truth, she only made it sound better than reality, which is her nature and the most likable fault you ever will find on this earth. She also held my dress up during my long walk through the woods and picked many a Sweetgum ball and pinecone out gently, with as much care as she puts into her art.
Someone else I want you to see is Ruth. She is a long best friend and neighbor, and makes the most exquisite patterns here: http://redearthdesignstudio.com. If you knit or crochet or know someone who does, you ought to see these. She is brilliant and the most committed craftsman(woman?) I know. She was also a bridesmaid and she sang for the ceremony, which is how I always imagined it would be.
And finally, my friend Kimberly, though a busy mom of seven, farmer and butcher (yep, that’s right!) has made time in her life for art again, which gives me hope. She does paintings on commission and sells her work here: https://kimberlybouchersart.com I mail many cards and her bird series have been my favorites this year. I used to think women were prettiest in their twenties, but Kimberly is one of the many women who have shown me different. There is something about an honest woman in her forties, wise and tender-hearted, become who she was meant to be by love, necessity and gifting, that is, I think now, more lovely still. This also gives me hope as I find gray hairs and am now unable to button my jeans.
Unlike previous years, there were only a few books that could hold me sufficiently to be remembered, but that just made them all the more better. I list them at the bottom with a couple of my favorite lines.
I know this was a hard year for the whole world, with my friends in Kenya and the UK feeling the same sort of confusion and fear as I did. I have nothing new to say about these things, except this:
I called the local nursery this morning to ask if they had dogwood trees. “Yes,” the old man said, “pink and white.”
“And you’re still open in the cold?” I asked.
“Yes, ma’am. You see, what’s wrong with public America is they don’t plant in the wintertime. Public America doesn’t think about dogwoods until they see them in the spring.”
“Alright,” I said, “what about cypress trees?”
“Yes, ma’am we have those. We have big ones mostly, because public America doesn’t have the time or the inclination to wait for a d— thing.”
I’m on the same page as this old man, and my advice is: Don’t be like public America, friends. Buy young trees, plant in the wintertime and be thinking about dogwoods. You can read into this what you like, but I mean it quite literally, as he did.
from Upside Down Spirituality by Chad Bird:
On 1 Corinthians 13, Lovely, poetic words, right? Almost hymn like in tone. But why is love patient? Because it often endures the beloved behaving stupidly and selfishly. Why is love kind? Because it suffers unkindness and meanness from the one loved. Why does it not boast? Because love often weathers humiliation from the very one to whom its heart is devoted. Why does it keep no record of wrongs? Because if it did, there would be little time for anything but score-keeping and sin-tallying. This chapter on love is also the quintessential chapter on humanity’s lovelessness.
We step into the vocations of husband and wife; we don’t create them, shape them, or redefine them according to our whims and preferences. And thank God we don’t. We’d make a terribly defective product…. When we marry, we step inside an ancient, divine structure that’s bigger and older and more stable than our love or feelings or commitment. It’s also an ideal place, this divine house of marriage, to be a blessed school for sinners.
From Handle With Care, by Lore Wilbert:
To love in this way, to touch, is to risk brokenness, making mistakes, getting it wrong. But, as I said in the beginning of this book, there is a gospel for that. We cannot live lightly on this earth, but must tend the unruly garden we’ve been given– others and ourselves.
As I let the bread settle on my tongue and let the wine pool around it, I remember… I am just this body, mind, and heart right now and I am not the Christ. But I have the Christ…
From So Brave, Young and Handsome, by Leif Enger:
You are no failure on a river. The water moves regardless- for all it cares, you might be a minnow or a tadpole, a turtle on a beavered log. You might be nothing at all.
Why was I a slave to sentiment when it failed me so reliably?
And from Virgil Wander, by the same:
His merriment was unhitched from his success.
So Rune fell in love– ‘like rolling downhill’ was his tender confession.
A couple years ago a man walked away from my life saying it was unlikely that I would receive another offer of marriage. Although this reminds all the Austen fans of the artless Mr. Collins, I must admit this man was wise in many ways, and what he said was absolutely true. If there was a man in the world for me, there was only one. Who could say where he might be and what he might be doing?
But just a year later I stood in the small-town square of Abbeville, facing him. “So how do you want to go about this?” he was asking me. I had no clue. “You tell me,” I said. So we went fishing. We fished in every place fish were and some where they weren’t. When it turned colder, we went hunting. For deer, and then ducks. This was last Autumn, and we are married now. We caught 12 river cats on set-lines on our honeymoon, a bushel of blue crabs, and a flounder.
The other day we were sitting in a deer stand together. I was eating a bowl of stew, and he thought this was crazy but he wanted some. A text came in from an acquaintance, asking the question, “How did you choose your husband? What qualities should I look for?” I passed it to him to read and he whispered out of the corner of his mouth, “You don’t choose a husband.”
I didn’t choose Andrew. He might think he chose me, but it was really a divine conspiracy. He went from being a man I didn’t know, to the man I was ready to marry, in a very short period of time. I realize I still don’t know him very well, though I wake beside him. I wanted to marry a Christian and a kind man. I wanted to marry a man who wanted to marry me. Simple, right? Impossible. This was a job for my Maker, but it had been a long time since I mustered the faith to ask him. I had grown tired of asking, and the likelihood of him saying no was too painful and I felt like I just needed to move on. I didn’t have much hope. When the thought was pressing I would pray something like, God you see me, you know me. Yes, he did and he does. He gave me what I knew I needed and what I didn’t know I wanted, and, I suspect, even more I haven’t discovered yet.
Yes, he knew me. He knew I would love a man who would make cane poles and cry like a hawk and moo better than an actual cow, who would take me into the woods and the swamp and try to describe the heart-rush at the sound of ducks flying overhead, who would laugh at me and teach me things and who I would hear whistling from a long way off, who would count out all 86 of the watermelon seeds he carefully spit out and plant them, who would make me nervous every day, who would read aloud to me and sing along to every song on every radio station, who would fall asleep instantly, even in a deer stand, and wake up to point out the buck I completely missed in all my steady looking. I didn’t know myself alone. I didn’t know what I would love, and what simple, even silly, things would delight me in a normal guy, being himself.
All these months I have found our love story difficult to write about. Sad tales are generally accepted, but when you share joy it is likely that someone somewhere might be hurt by it, especially in a year marked by such sweeping stress. We are all secretly afraid that there might not be enough happiness to go around, and that we will perpetually be that kid that gets left behind. I know, because I’ve felt that way myself. It stings, and I don’t want even one reader to feel it. It would be better, I think, not to write at all. But then I remember the power of stories, even love stories, in my own life, and how they gave me hope and taught me to see myself as caught up in something big, even an adventure. As Eugene Peterson said, We enter a world we didn’t create. We grow into a life already provided fo us…. We must be aware that we are living in the middle of a story that was already begun and will be concluded by another.
You can’t be left out of this story. If these words find you hurting, I hope you can believe at least that you are a beloved part of His good creation, and if you can’t, I recommend going fishing. They say young anglers love new rivers the way they love the rest of their lives, and I think there is little on this earth that lands hope in deep down things like casting out a line, but hey, maybe that’s just me. Maybe that’s just us.
Growing up, girls get a lot of marriage advice. Don’t settle. Be patient. Pay attention to the way he treats his mother. You’ll attract what you expect. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. All that’s true. Don’t marry for money. True as well, though not the huge problem we thought it would be.
One I often got was, Don’t marry someone expecting them to change. But I have come to see this, at best, as a half-truth. You could say more truthfully, Marry someone expecting them to undergo a great sea-change, as you will, no doubt, yourself. For there is more to be remembered in us than can be seen, and more to come than we are comfortable imagining.
I changed the minute I met the man I’ll marry soon. I’ve changed since that time, and I will change still, if God is gracious. He is changing too. This might seem terrifying if you are paying any attention. I have heard of systems of courtship that try to nail the specimens down to a board, all but torturing confessions out of each other: sins, gifts, strengths, weaknesses, insecurities, personality type, political position, denomination, baptismal stance, distinguishing scars and marks, and how you will respond in every theoretical situation under the sun.
Some of you may have had all this down before marriage, but honey, not me. And even if I could know truly what my strengths are today, would they be the same in ten years?
I have no distinguishing scars, but please, just give me time.
I was talking to a friend the other day who was going through medical school with her husband, planning to become a doctor as well, when suddenly, she changed. She decided she wanted children. So she quit school and they moved closer to extended family. Now she’s spending her days remodeling an old house. She sent me a picture of freshly painted green kitchen cabinets. I didn’t know I was good at this, she said in all seriousness. She is not the same woman her husband married, but he’s never seemed happier. He didn’t seem like the wanting-a-housewife type. He didn’t marry her expecting a change. But somehow, somewhere, they did. Who changed first? Or maybe the one-flesh thing really works like it should sometimes.
This doesn’t mean that you wake up one morning with a different person, but rather that we are more than our current opinions and strengths, and that God’s plan will expand our narrow confines and enlarge our hearts, and that Christian marriage not only has the power to withstand this, but will even cause these changes, as you are seen so completely by someone and someone who loves you.
As Mike Mason writes, in The Mystery of Marriage,
“This is what makes marriage such a thrilling enterprise: that it has power, much more than other more obviously disruptive forces, to change the entire course of a life. Some people go into marriage thinking that they will not have to change much, or perhaps only a little bit along the lines that are perfectly foreseeable and within their control. Such people are in for a rough ride. Then the terrifying and inexorable process of change sets in, they dig in their heels and refuse to budge, and the ensuing tug-of-war wreaks havoc in every department of their previously comfortable existence.
Marriage, even under the very best of circumstances is a crisis— one of the major crises of life— and it is a dangerous thing not to be aware of this. Whether it turns out to be a healthy, challenging, and constructive crisis, or a dangerous nightmare, depends largely upon how willing the partners are to be changed, how malleable they are…. So be prepared for change! Be prepared for the most sweeping and revolutionary reforms of a lifetime.”
So if you, dear old reader, would like to tell me something about marriage, let me hear it and now’s your chance, for in a month to the day, beside a duck pond in Orangeburg, South Carolina, I won’t ever be the same again.