Up Down Touch the Ground

This is my morning exercise. This is the nesting of my mind, my attempt to straighten house and ready myself. I have done it in three three-hundreds for the kind souls who keep coming back to read more.

First, the Baby

People keep asking if I’m ready. I don’t know. There is a bassinet from Jesse, with a soft blanket from Jeanne inside. There is new cedar shelf on the wall and a knitted deer from Ruth on top. There are cloth diapers from my idealist friend and disposable diapers from the rest of them. Our bags are packed. I have swallowed the vitamins and peed in the cups and planted the vegetables. There are flowers in the window boxes and the corn has tasseled. I have gained over thirty pounds. I have caught the mouse. 

I have married a kind man. He is patient with me. He makes things beautiful. He says soon our lives will change forever. We will have another person with us for a long time, Lord willing. We will not run off so easily and get soaked in the rain anymore. 

Our time alone went by so fast. This is what every dying person says, given the time: It went so fast. Soon we will die a death together. We will come back to life with a baby, less sleep and a gravity and weight of responsibility unlike any we have known. Even in the ICU, you clock out. 

My friend Kimberly said when she went home with her first child, she couldn’t believe they let her just walk away with the baby like that. 

My friend Lore shared this quote recently, and I can’t shake it. Children are, like these other good gifts, a fruit that comes both from and to the deepest part of you. They are born of fellowship. They call out all the beauty and love you didn’t know you could have and all the ugliness that needs to wash away. 

Am I ready? Oh I hope so, but I don’t know. 

This was made by the ever inspiring Lore Wilbert.

Then, the Turkeys

We have new neighbors, a young family that has set up a weekend mini-farmstead, but they have a turkeys and the turkeys stay all week long. I have come to disbelieve in the domestic turkey, like the atheist disbelieves in God, which is to say, their existence is daily forced upon me and I resent it.

I would argue that there is just no need for the domestic gobbler when they live so contentedly, blessedly, in the wild. A wild gobbler is like a good preacher: he knows when to stop. He has love for the open air and respect for the lunch-hour. He knows his listeners will more readily chase the truth when it is bold and startling, like the pealing of a bell, then elusive, like a great hunt. This is art. 

This is also what it means to eat well, wouldn’t you say? To have some respect for your food. I no longer have respect for the domestic turkey, insidious as a peacock and not nearly as attractive. 

It is a fact that you don’t become neighbors in a true sense until you need each other. In the rural south, there is often a thread of violence in this, as in these actual phone conversations: 

My dog is running loose and he’s stupid but please don’t shoot him. 

If you see my dog, would you please shoot at him so he will come home? 

There is a rattlesnake in my yard, would you come shoot it?

And so in keeping with this, I plan to take the new neighbors cookies and a card. The cookies I must work on, but the card is ready: Hey welcome to the road! Here are some cookies. If you need any help killing your turkeys, please let me know. 

And finally, the Father

It is possible to live a steady quiet life and still feel like the human trampoline, to quote Paul Simon, flying, falling, tumbling in turmoil. The human heart is a landscape wide enough to hold the prodigal son in the pig pen, the elder brother in the bitter field, the distance between them… but it is too small to hold the father. This is what I am learning. 

To become like the father takes time, but more than time. It takes the initiative of the Father, the first love, the first move. Then it takes pain. Room will be made inside yourself, a place for people to grow. You will hurt to be touched. You will weep and leak and bleed. Lines will come out across your skin, wrinkles, veins, dark spots and white hairs, like words on a page: there was a man who had two sons. You will let them come. Every day you will become less like the woman in the magazine and more like home, recognizable in every frame, familiar. Son, you are always with me. They will know you by your hands, your feet, your side, your voice that will need to be heard every day, that will ever call out, will ever respond. You will not wait to give yourself away. You will not wait for them to grow better or wiser or more careful. All that I have is yours. You will let your youth be over. You will become like a map in the hand, used, pocketed, recalled to mind, forgotten.

Above all you will become easy to find. This is who the father is: He is. He cannot, will not, wander off, and neither can you. This is how you will die, for the children. This is how you will live. 

Catfishy

One day, when I was little, I was fishing with a boy named Connor. I was not the kind of girl who had crushes. I was the kind of girl who had a rock collection. I didn’t like boys, not in that way. I liked to do things. For instance, I liked to catch fish and cut out their eyeballs and paste them on my forehead. And I liked to be with kids who were likewise creative. Connor was like this and catfishing was what we were doing. 

I did a lot of this. I didn’t have brothers and there was nobody but me to set the bait and manage the hook, so I did it all, and I guess I thought it was pretty tough stuff because people said so. Connor wasn’t a country kid like me, even if he did like to fish, and I guess I was thinking for a while that I could take his lunch money if I wanted to.

But that day on the dock, something happened I’ll never forget. Connor landed a big she-Cat, flipping wild as a Texas wind. He couldn’t hold it still, so in his city-boy tennis shoes, he happily, senselessly, stomped on that fish. He stomped once, proud of himself, and he stomped again. Then in a second, in a frozen moment in time, the beautiful slick, razor-sharp top barb of that giant Cat went straight into and up and through the top of his foot. There it stood, straight smack-dab in the middle and high in him, territorial, like the flag on the moon.

I screamed royal. Connor threw up, and then after further consideration, he threw up again. He was white. I might have been green. Adults came running down the hill, and someone grabbed the fish and pulled it off and someone (thrice blessed) washed the puke away. 

And then, and then, dear reader, do you know what Connor did? Connor went right back to fishing. 

After a while I did too, but I can still remember, looking out across the pond at the cattails, the existential ramblings in my little heart and if you care to know them, this is what I was thinking: So that’s a boy… and I’m a girl. We are mostly alike and yet we are remarkably, distinctly, totally…. different. The only thing that can explain this is that we must have been made special… made to be just this way.

I was glad I was a girl that day, and have been ever since. I was glad Connor was a boy, too, though I couldn’t for the life of me, at the moment, say why. 

My husband and I fish a lot together and we always have, in ponds and rivers and lakes and creeks and stagnant snakey pools. Fishing is what we mostly do when the work is done or tiresome. He is a serious fisherman, while I sometimes just lose my rod, aimlessly watch the water-bugs and eat all the food, but still he often makes me think of Connor, for without him, my days would not be near as lively, nor as tragic, not anywhere as comedic, as what happens in this world, in this wild and watching world, in this world charged and waiting for a spark….

When a boy and a girl go fishing. 

Somewhere In Texas

I have a friend who keeps a safe house in Africa for converted Muslim women. She often texts to ask how I am feeling these days. She wants to see pictures. My heart is continually stung by the loss those women have known. Most of them were given little to no chance, even from childhood, of a happy healthy marriage or of children. 

They look into me as a story they want to hear again. This kind of tender heart opens my own, more than anything, to the reality that I do not belong to myself. My existence is a gift to others. And a hurting heart that can truly marvel at the beauty of someone else’s life and appreciate the good another person has, is perhaps the highest evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work of grace in this fallen world. I do not have this heart in me, not yet, but perhaps I will be taught.

It is tempting for me to downplay the mercy to these women, to share with them all the difficulty and heartbreak too, so they will not envy me. But then I remember this child— this child they mostly care about— I did not create him or her. It is not my right to lessen his glory. Those beautiful little lips peaking out from the mystery, they belong to the God who keeps these women in a similar way: safe, tucked in, held close, seen and known only intimately, by those who love. 

Like my child, these women are small. They are hidden away, like a treasure in a field. But this can be a hard place for humans. The passing of time can feel like a waste and our safe-house like a grave. It is easy to wonder what we are for, when others seem to be for so much. But when I see this baby on the screen, even in the strangeness of his fragile, jerky skeleton, I can better understand how God sees us and that he would freely give the son he had enjoyed so long to us who did not even have the hearts to love him, is a story I will forever want to hear again. 

My friend Annie has gone on a road trip out west. She’s been sending me pictures of canyons and rivers and mountains I will likely never see myself. But for three days now I have not heard from her. She is somewhere in Texas, which feels like a distant star. I remember a time when I was worried about Annie. I thought she might be deceived by something and I talked to my sister about it. Oh don’t worry about Annie, she said, She’s got more sense than ten of the rest of us. This is true. It is also true that Annie has that tender heart that the angels gather around, like the crowds peering down through the clouds into the Grand Canyon. She is safe. She is somewhere in Texas enjoying the God who enjoys her. 

“Lift the rock and I am there; cleave the wood and I am there; call for me and I will listen…”

From Brian Doyle’s One Long River Of Song

Startin’ Over

A familiar idea in the Christian dating and courtship world goes like this: find out the other person’s faults so you can either reckon with having to deal with them for the rest of your life or practice one of Paul Simon’s many ways to leave your lover while you still can. Something like that. The flip side is to be honest about your own sins, which is always a very good idea.

Without discrediting this, I would like to tell you something remarkable. In my experience of marriage so far, it is possible to start over. It is possible for all your failures and usual behaviors to not translate into every new and fresh morning. It is possible to be changed. It is especially possible, I think, when someone promises to love you forever.

The way I handle conflict now with my husband is completely different than how I lived in my family. It isn’t perfect. It needs a lot of work. But every time I sit there covering my face, unable to speak, afraid of being wrong or hurtful, I marvel at how much I have changed, and how suddenly it happened. For years I cast forth withering looks and spewed out things I shouldn’t have said, praying for grace to change, unable to make it happen. 

It is a fact in gardening that not all growing days are the same. The moon, the rain, the lightening, the cloud coverage, the genetic code of the little embryo itself, all that threatens growth, these things play out in a drama mostly hidden from all our searching. We can plan and figure, but in the end, we are dabbling childlike in holy things. They say the best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow, and so it is in marriage, too. We promise to be there. To see what happens. To come back again and again.

If you are dating and not happy, if you are unsure and unsettled, if you’d like to slip out the back jack, then I reckon you should. But if instead, you are in love with a person of character, but you are afraid of all the sins, yours and his, and afraid of all the threats and pests and diseases you know so well, remember, dear reader: You are a living thing, and so is he. You can be made well and you can bear fruit and you can find yourself uncertain of who you are anymore in the best kind of way. The old can pass away. A new thing can come. You can wake up one morning, startin’ over.

This is, after all, what mornings are for, and you were made for mornings.

Mother’s Day

For three weeks I have had lunch with my grandmother. For three weeks she has listened to me ramble on in quotidian details: doctors visits, camping trips, meal planning, the garden. For three weeks she looks at me sideways for awhile before she smiles and laughs and asks if I’m going to have a baby. For three weeks she gets quiet and shuffles around and looks away until she finally asks if I ever got married. For three weeks I’ve told her again about myself and all that has happened to me.

This is the woman who raised me. She loves me, she hugs me. She splits a sandwich with me. She is glad to see me and she knows I belong to her, but she cannot remember who I am.

We are without a church home. This is a new experience for me, but it feels something like my relationship with my grandmother. There are things happening on Sunday mornings: a drive, kind words, sermons, singing, communion, but there is nothing that feels like progress. I am starting over again, as a stranger in a strange land. I am both shaken and still inside, tired of explaining who I am, content to just have a seat, oddly at peace with these things.

I have heard it said that the Church is like our mother and so I think she would be slow to cast us out, but at the same time, mothers cannot always take care of you. Sometimes all you can do is visit every week and sit down in her house, whether she knows you or not. 

I want you to talk to me, my mama said the other day, please talk to me until I lose my mind. I smiled and said I would. But I know, if that happens, I will be talking to her still, and I will scrounge in her kitchen and make us a sandwich. 


My nieces call her Big Mama, and though she is a little lady, it suits her well. I am lucky to share a garden with her. Sometimes we over-plant each other and sometimes I pull up weeds she liked the look of, but we are in full agreement that the flowers should be given as much elbow-room as the vegetables (sometimes just a little bit more), no matter what the men might say. Here are some pictures from Big Mama’s spring garden from this early morning:

Free to Not Look Back

My great-grandfather Willie was not a good man. My grandfather never told me this because he was a storyteller. Instead he painted a picture of his father for me in many tales and none of them good, not a single one.

One of the saddest was of the day when one of his older sons, Ed, was plowing in the field. He messed up somehow and Willie took the whip to him. My grandfather said he would never forget that day. Ed simply put down the mule harness, stepped out of it and walked away. He never looked back.

Boy, Willie said to my grandfather, his youngest son, You step into that harness.

He plowed the field that day, but he left home as soon as he could. He spent his life wandering, but in his old age he made his lap a gracious and happy place for all his grandchildren to belong. There’s always room, he’d say, arms out. It took a whole lifetime of traveling to reach that big recliner, and to become what he always wanted. 

Though I talk a lot about staying, there are many good reasons to leave. The people of Israel knew all about them, didn’t they? And Jesus himself had good reason to leave us.

John Blase is one of my favorite poets, and he lost his father recently to COVID. In the first piece he wrote after the death, he said: at more than one point along the way I felt concerns were greater for COVID itself than the patients and their families.

I remember exactly where I was when I read that sentence. Not a day has passed since that I have not remembered those words, and it seems to me that we are all too prone to do this with many things. If anything, any cause or institution, however worthwhile to begin with, becomes more all-consuming and important than the people, their feelings and desires and gospel-freedoms, you have a monster and a killer and a sad mess on your hands. Do not fight for something like that, and do not give the precious days of your life to it. In such a case, staying can become an idol. There are times when leaving a place or a position or an opinion is the bravest and best thing to do, God help you. 

The first passage of Scripture I ever memorized by myself was John 14 where Jesus says In My Father’s house are many mansions; if that were not so, I would have told you, because I am going there to prepare a place for you. I was seven years old. I loved the way these words sounded together and I loved the idea of mansions inside a house, like a world inside a shoebox or a tree inside a seed or God Himself inside a little girl.

I believe the main calling for all of us is to create an open and hospitable place, as Henry Nouwen said, where strangers can cast off their strangeness, because that is what Jesus is doing right now for us, and for each of us, his children.

Christianity is thought to be an easy task, but I find it hard. I have known God to show his children glorious visions of what they can be and do— to open their mind to a place that seems perfect for them— a piece of land, a church, a family, an ideal, a peace—and then tell in their lives another story altogether. Our failures and mistakes and sins often take a part in this, but they are not the whole story. There are things that happen to us in this life. God is the Maker and the Teller. This is His right. He can make of us what we wants, give and take what He wants. 

I have a good friend who is hurt by this, and sometimes it is a truth that hurts me too.

Why don’t you stop believing then? I asked her, both of us angry. Believe in God, but just believe we make our own way and choose our own lives and futures and outcomes, if it would be less painful. Or stop believing in Him altogether. 

I can’t, she said. His sovereignty is inescapable to me. I’ve can’t unsee it. Neither can I.

Right now she is feeling homeless, and she is alone and empty. She is far from the place God has surely made for her, his beloved child.

As for me, I have a home of my own. I am happy in marriage and full of a precious baby, but even so God has uprooted me from an ideal I’ve long fought for. He has showed me too that this earth is not my home, not yet. Those words that were a mysterious comfort twenty-years ago, all bundled up in a water-bed with my first Bible in my hands, the spine full of cinnamon sugar from my breakfast, come to me now, like a little kick in the side. They have a home in me forever. They are strange words, a strange truth that has come to stay, to sit at my table and work alongside me, to rise up with me and to rest:

Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions; if that were not so, I would have told you, because I am going there to prepare a place for you.

Freedom Still To Stay

Two years ago today I wrote this about my friend Rose, and it continues to be one of my most read pieces. Rose is keeping on in the right good old way, imperfectly and often eccentrically, but what else would you expect from a redhead?  

Right now I am taking a break from weeding the raspberries, sitting in the shade with my back against the dry-stack wall my husband built from creek rocks. This job would’ve taken no time a year ago, but now my belly is tender and breathing doesn’t come easy leaning over. I am slower and need to drink and eat and rest more. This is because there is a new member in the community. I am learning that who I am has nothing to do with my waist size or the amount of work I can get done. Who I am was all along more about this new person inside than those other things.

We don’t know if the baby is a boy or girl, but we have names. Well-aged, simple names. My grandmother’s opinions swing drastically these days and though she liked the girl name at first, now she doesn’t. She literally scoffs.

“Well that’s gotta be the oldest name in the world,” she said, “I mean, wasn’t that the first woman?”  The name is not Eve, dear reader, and so the answer is no.  

There is something I want to tell you. I never thought I would write a book because I didn’t have a subject. There was nothing I could say that someone else couldn’t say better, and maybe that’s still true, but I do have a book inside me now nonetheless. I know what it is, and what its name will be. It will take time, because it needs me to live longer and steadier and slower, and maybe suffer, maybe many years. But I can feel it moving inside me sometimes and I know it has life. I wanted to let you know, as many of you have let me know you are there and listening, even to tell me when I spell a word wrong, as I am prone to do. 

The book— it is an old simple subject, maybe one of the first ideas, and I know I will go about it imperfectly, but God doesn’t seem to withhold anything from us because of this, does he? Or else I would’ve have two good things to rub together. 

Yesterday, Mama hurt her back and on the way out the gate Dad called and asked me to check on her as soon as I could. So I walked to their house in the early morning, carrying a load of laundry because our dryer is broken. She needed a cup of coffee and a breakfast of leftovers from the meal we made together the night before. “And one other thing,” she said, “would you do me a big favor?” She reminds me so much of her father with that dramatic lead.

“Go down to the spillway and get us some minnows for the rain barrel.”

“Right now?” 

“Yeah if you don’t mind.” Apparently she could rest easier in the back knowing the minnows were busy eating the mosquito larvae. 

And so I began this day carefully taking my round self down the broken steps to the pond, crossing the dam to the spillway, where the minnows and tadpoles and snakes and turtles live. It was cool and lovely and it occurred to me that without a woman’s peculiar anxieties and household cares, I would not be here. Without my willingness to be sent, she would’ve had to suffer in her worries and the mosquitos might have taken over the world.

My life is small and I move sometimes according to my own desires, but often according to the desires of other people. This is true for you as well. We are all members of one another. This is an obvious blessing sometimes, but it can also be frustrating and painful. I guess a big choice we have in this life is how graciously and contentedly we will fill our place and if we will do it with love and forbearance or not. 

I have been sitting here too long. These raspberries will be come and gone by the time I’ve thought through these things and the baby is pushing against the confinement of his place. Soon there will be more freedom for this child, and more anxiety for us. There will be rules and expectations and dangers and lessons. In time (let me say it while I can) there will be freedom to go. Freedom to go free and blessed, but there will be the freedom also to stay and the freedom to come back home, though they’ve gone a thousand miles.

The Simple Thing I Have to Say

“Creatures, I give you yourselves,” said the strong, happy voice of Aslan. “I give to you forever this land of Narnia. I give you the woods, the fruits, the rivers. I give you the stars and I give you myself.” from the Magician’s Nephew

I heard a man say once that he had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened. They could put this on my tombstone, but I wish they wouldn’t. I have apprehended trouble. I have taxed my life with forethought of grief, as the poet said. Yet I walk back to our little house in the dark of the early morning, in the unseasonable warmth under the lightning in the sky and know myself abundantly looked after. The clouds are covering the moon and it is too dark to see the ground, but I know it. I’ve walked this ground for twenty-eight years. I used to have a sandbox down this hill. The lights are on in Harestock. That’s where I came from and where I’m going. The Bantam rooster in the chicken tractor is warming up his chords for crowing. He is the lone rooster in the flock now and slower to get started, but once he does he will keep going ’til the light is settled.

Harestock is the home I have made with my husband. It is a one-room cottage, still unfinished in many ways, but then so is every place alive. By the lightning, you can see the samples of blue paint we have tested on the rough-sawn siding, and just the infancy of landscaping: a rose called Pilgrim trellised under a hickory tree, a newly planted dogwood tree, a stone-lined bed of Iris, a raised bed of strawberry plants, red buckeye trees under the oaks, and a cedar post supporting a wisteria vine. I know it is foolish to plant wisteria. It is more foolish still to steal wisteria, yet this is what we did. You had to get creative with dates in the year Twenty-twenty, ask anyone. 

A year ago this April we got engaged on the hillside where we thought we would build a house some day. That was my dream as a child, but as I sit here now in the place we’ve made, our own child alive and kicking inside of me, that is not important anymore. It is possible for dreams to change without any sadness. By chance Ruth was gleaning in the field of Boaz, the verse goes and nothing was the same for her again. God uses that phrase in our lives more than we know. There is another verse that says, surely goodness and mercy will chase after me all the days of my life, and that chase after part He seems partial to, as well. If they wanted to put that one on my tombstone, it would be alright. 

As I reach the house it starts to rain softy, but the tin roof makes it sound like the work it is and justifies just sitting down. There is already something being done. The rooster stops his crowing and leads his girls back up into the roost. He has a tin roof too and feels the same way I do. I have myself a breakfast of milk and cereal. My sister opened our little gas refrigerator the other day and said so I guess this is living on love. She didn’t know about the bag of boiled peanuts in the freezer. 

The simple thing I have to say about marriage after seven months is that it is very very good. I know it can be hard too, as this is often spoken of. But I think all the talk about the sanctification in marriage is overkill. Sanctification is coming for you, child, regardless. I think the warning label tied to marriage comes from a reserve in love, in case it turns sour and hurts us even worse for having spoken so highly of it. Despite all the songs and stories, I was afraid to expect love and even now I am still often afraid to acknowledge it. But I am learning that if you don’t speak in this life you are wasting it. 

In the Spring, if you go into the woods with an owl call and blow it, the male turkeys will gobble in response to the sound. They call this a shock call. And once one gobbler starts, many more will take it up, just like roosters. They are not afraid. They are loud because they are happy and the world feels good to them, and because they are a little crazy in love. They are loud because they were made to speak up. 

In the span of history, I’m not sure these years will make the books. In view of the life of the earth, Harestock may fall to the ground and be no more than an odd high spot on a slope. And yet this full year and this little house I find so hard to keep clean, and all the funny moves of a human being inside of me, they are the God of the Universe chasing after us, surprising me with joy in return for all the trouble I’ve suspected, taxing my life with a burden of gratitude, so that in the end my tombstone would most truly say: she didn’t say thanks near enough

Still Gardening

I cannot remember not having some of the basic woodworking skills, said Robert Wearing in The Essential Woodworker. I have not read this book, but merely this line over my husband’s shoulder.

But it’s a wonderful thought, isn’t it, that we could give our children such inherent knowledge? That, like a native tongue, we could give them not only wisdom, but skill, and this just by living in fellowship, without even trying.

Perhaps sometimes we will use words. Osprey, we might say, pointing to the high bird circling the pond, and they will see in time how it is a different creature from a buzzard or an eagle, but we do this as a lover of the world, and not as a lecture, and not really mindful of them, as impressionable children, at all. Perhaps we cannot remember not knowing the osprey, or perhaps we had to learn this ourselves, but either way we want them to know it too. As Robert Farrar Capon so famously said, a silent lover is one who doesn’t know his job. What better thing can you give a child than love and a great capacity for love? God has made this an easy thing in the abundance of His love all around us.

But then sometimes, we won’t be saying anything, yet just watching us loosen the tomato roots and bury them deep with epsom salt, will be, not only what plants this knowledge in them, but keeps them gardening year after year, no matter where they may live and what changes in their lives. One day looking back they may realize that they didn’t know a lot of things and were confused and lost more than once, but they knew how to plant tomatoes and they knew their ospreys from their eagles, and bits of truth like this make up a big part of our joy in this life and give us moorings stronger than we know in uncertain times. 

I think perhaps the best and most useful education there can be is in a true knowledge of yourself, who you are and what you were made for, and then in a foundation of useful, nourishing skills and finally, in the ability to learn and gain whatever knowledge you may find yourself lacking. Perhaps there are other things but those seem primary, and looking back in my not so distant childhood, all the real education I had was from my parents and grandparents, and not my school. 

Yet for a time, I was meant to be the chubby kid gagging on her toothbrush and dreading the eternal day of classes and bells and heavy books and uncool tennis shoes and nothing decent to eat and a glorious headache by the end of it all. I am glad God wrote this into my story, as it obviously seemed best to him, and I’m gladder still that he cut the cord and tied it off. But there are many seasons in life we do not pass by so easily.

My sister used to be a seamstress. She learned in high-school but it became part of her and she loved it. She worked for awhile making custom drapery, gave classes and made her own clothes, including her wedding dress. She has lived many years now without a sewing machine or fabric or even a good pair of shears. She is living in a camper with three small children and no extra room for this knowledge, but she said to me the other day, with tears in her eyes, please don’t give my fabric away. I didn’t intend to, but neither did I understand what it meant to her, and how she dreamed of sewing again one day and giving that to her daughters. The thought that this good thing that she was and worked to become, that she reclaimed from our grandmother and all the generations of women before her, might just be lost, was tragic. I can understand this, because I feel the same about writing. 

I know there will come a day, and soon, even this summer, when I will wonder if I will ever write again, and I’ll love my life but hate the limitations of body and soul that bind me to live ever as an amateur, merely a lover, grateful, but never good at what I am doing, never able to accumulate being and become great, but just walking on, often shedding unnecessary raiment on the way, simply satisfied most days to get comfortable laying down, simply doing whatever most needs to be done. But I know that what God does with water, how the streams flow to the river and the rivers to the sea, how the rain and the snow fall to the earth and fill the secret springs (these things I learned as a child), he does even more so with his sons and daughters. 

My sister called and we were talking about seedlings and how ours were getting on. You know, she said, I think I will always garden…. I mean, no matter what, no matter what else changes and where I should live or go or do, I think I will still be gardening. 

Yes, I said, I think I will be too. 

This certainty is a gift from our childhood. It is a rare and special thing, and something more, a comfort. 

If I cannot bear to be like the father who did not soften the rigors of the far country… then I know nothing of Calvary love.

Amy Carmichael

I have seen enough of death to know that sometimes things get easier when a person dies. It’s just the truth. But then there are some people, a certain type of man I think, who, even though he suffers long and hangs by a thread, as long as his heart beats, he holds the world in place. He is feared and respected as long as he breathes. My grandfather, emotional and silly as he was, was a man like that, and nothing, nothing got easier when he died. Four years later, we are still suffering from his absence. Just a few moments of him here with us again would part our troubled waters, but this cannot be.

Our favorite dog, in the last few years of his life, would have days when he was mostly normal except he couldn’t lift his head. We called it a head’s down day, and we were all a little sad on one of those. 

When my grandfather left this old world, as he often teased he would, he left my grandmother to head’s down days. There are some people who just need someone else, plain and simple. Need is not the same as love, but I think to be happy to both need and be needed by someone makes up a lot of our love in the long run. She needed everything he was. She needed someone to decide what was right and who was right. She needed someone to hang up the phone. She needed someone to roll his eyes and shake his head. She needed someone to wink and say Ree baby, why don’t you come on over here. She would run from him most of the time, but he was also the one she would run to. 

I just don’t know anything anymore, she said. And when I do know something, I know it’s not right. I tried to imagine how this might feel, and it was truly the worst feeling in the world. We would have done all we could to spare her from this. Even now, we imagine sometimes we still can. But as she is dying by living into her limits and frailty, so are we. We cannot fix this. The best we can do is stay with her, whether she knows we’re there or not. 

The good thing about being raised a Christian is that the Scriptures easily come to mind. The bad thing is that you can suppress them as old news, a flippant answer, as so many cliches. It is hard to know if you should bring them out in suffering or not. And so I think the Lord sometimes must bring us to a point where it’s simply all we have. We reach back and pull them out. We smooth the pages and shine a light. We read now like a traveler reads his map.

So I found a notepad in her house and in big print, dividing the letters equally with the blue dotted line between the two solid ones, just like she used to do for me, I wrote the verse from Philippians 4: The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

She read it many times. The peace of God, she said. 

She loses papers easily, but that verse has stayed around her little white recliner for weeks now. She had gone over the words with a pen. She has written beside them: 

God is near to the brokenhearted. 

It is not my place, nor in my power, thank goodness, to keep her from this truth, but I know I will try again and again, for her and for many others… And I will learn it myself in the trying, for we are not given two heavens, but one, and we are a long way yet from there.