This Land is Your Land

“The man who fights for his ideals is the man who is alive.”  Cervantes

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    Independence Day was (short of his own birthday) my grandfather’s favorite holiday. Last week, I attended a patriotic service at a local church. During the medley of the armed forces, feeling so keenly his absence and knowing how much he would have loved it, I realized that he held patriotism, or “love for the fatherland” as an ideal. He had five brothers in WW2, and he joined up as soon as he looked old enough. The army fed and clothed him. The army told him where to go and what to do and he obeyed because he clung to this ideal.

    But ideals collect barnacles. They get crusty with bad methodology and ugly with age. This often makes for what we call character, but it also makes for mistakes and regret. The trick, I think, is to check ourselves often, against the Scriptures and before others, giving them the right to chip away at the harmful appendages. That may be an overly simplified answer. I’m only twenty five— what do I know?

   I know I have ideals… and so do you, I hope.

   I know that my grandfather lived to see the stripping away of many barnacles- the false layers we think are so important. It was painful for him. He could no longer believe in what he called “the new army”, nor in the Republicans (a term hitherto synonymous with the elect), and – most painful of all- he could no longer believe that many of the things he personally did for his country were right. This hurt something fierce and I think for a while he thought the ideal itself was dead from this stripping, that this deep motivation of his life had all been a huge lie.

    But it wasn’t. Love for the fatherland, for home, is good, and the more local and specific this love, I think, the better. Pop loved the United States, but he especially loved Georgetown, Kentucky. He loved the rundown sharecropper’s cabin down Long Lick Pike. It was always there in his heart, fit to bursting to tell you about it, if you’d just stick around for a darn minute.

   Ecclesiastes says, “It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.”  I feel this first part. So often I cling to my ideal with one hand and in the other is… well, life. There in my little knotty hand is today— reality, sin and what I have to work with. Sometimes the frustration in this hand can make me despair of holding on to the ideals with the other. Or the earnest grasp on the ideals can make me desperate to forsake my hand on the present. Will I come forth with both of them? Will you? Will we see our ideals made flesh in our lives?  

    Maybe so, my brother-in-law would say, in a voice that sounds like probably not. Get used to disappointment, kid. But hold fast to those ideals all the same. Home. Marriage. Friendship. The Church. These things are good, and though ever defeated, they will survive all conquerors. Home will stand at the grave of transience and marriage at the grave of shacking up. There is something in them that is like God. What is superficial will fall away and the foundations may quake. When you see marriages fall apart and churches fail, when you can no longer be proud of your nation, when friends forsake you, when you must leave your own home to walk again as a stranger in a strange land, cling to them still, cling to them all the more, dear reader. Let the Lord define them. Fear Him. Then, at last, though you may be weary and ready to leave this old world, He will bring you into the land of ideals—

Into the land of those who are alive.

Table for Three

   My Nanny and I went to visit Mrs. Ruby the other day at the nursing home. She is one of the happiest people I know, while also being honest. She was born ninety-six years ago during a snowstorm in North Dakota, into a community of Norwegian immigrants. After the war, she and her husband returned there and built a house together, and she misses it.

    We brought blueberries, one of her many favorite things, and sat on the bed and talked to her. We talked, mostly, about her room, which, even in her pleasantness, fell from perfection as totally as the demons themselves. She has lived here eight years and it has taken her that long to tire of pretending that she likes it. There is not enough space for her few possessions, the door has no lock (enabling old men to wander in at all hours) and the windows overlook the congestion of downtown Augusta’s medical complex. She is not allowed to hang anything on the walls.

    “What would you say that was?” she asked, pointing to the one abstract and mass-produced picture.

    “Maybe goldfish?” I said, squinting, head cocked.

    “Hmph.”

    There was a mirror over the little sink, but directly in the middle of it was a large metal paper towel holder.

     “I can’t see myself,” she said, moving on, clockwise. “That blocks my face completely. I asked them to move it. They just smiled and nodded. I may be old and senile, but you have to be some kind of stupid to design something like that. But the worst, the worst, is the food. It’s horrible to see what they do to vegetables. It’s a massacre, that’s what it is.”

   Visiting her in this place, even with the offering of blueberries, was not enough. Mrs. Ruby wanted out. The difference I’ve found, between girls and women, is the wherewithal to follow through.  I had all sorts of plans as a little girl. The plans continue to be hasty and ambitious, but results follow, and people even move in response, most of the time. It is so hard for the aged to lose this ability. It is a special, tenuous gift to be able to say, “Let’s get out of here and find some place good to eat!” and then accomplish it, in a matter of minutes. If this doesn’t seem like a marvel, you can neither remember your childhood, nor imagine your old age, and you’re missing out.

    So I found myself driving through lunchtime traffic with two of my favorite ladies, two delightful and fragile and trusting ladies, crossing the river bridge, getting a little corner table at Antonio’s and ordering pizza and salad. Nanny and I held hands and prayed, unable to get Mrs. Ruby’s attention, and then foolishly ate like Marines. For the next two hours, we sat and watched as Mrs. Ruby feasted. She ate the onions first, then the cucumbers with the dressing, then the pizza, picking it up with her hands, then the lettuce, all the while moving slowly, carefully, pleasurably, forgetful of us and absorbed in the experience. She ate it all, every last bit.

    I had just read that morning the verses in Deuteronomy about the Feast of Tabernacles. If there ever was a dispersed Israelite, living in a makeshift present, Mrs. Ruby is that one.  “Thou shalt rejoice in thy feast,” it says, and she did. With joy for what was— the home in North Dakota, the pheasants and moose, her own kitchen full of vegetables treated right, her husband and children. With joy in what is— the little table at a downtown pizza joint. And with joy in what’s to come— soon, a better feast than any she has known.

    There was a routine cognizance test waiting for her when we got back. The nurse had a list of mechanical questions. Can you spell ‘world’ backwards? Can you draw two octagons overlapping? Would you write me a sentence at the bottom of this page?

     Mrs. Ruby took it bravely on the chin. I thought of a few questions of my own. Could you leave your home in the vulnerability of your old age, cheerfully? Could you be bossed, herded and institutionalized and still have the heart to love blueberries and onions and cucumbers? Still have the pluck to enter the outside world and return again, unshaken? Could you wake up every morning in one of these unfeeling rooms and exhale thank you?

    As the nurse turned to leave, I looked over her shoulder at the clipboard. At the bottom, Mrs. Ruby had written in her clear, familiar script:

    It is a beautiful day to be in Augusta, Georgia.

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Go and Write

This Spring I went through an online writing mentorship with Lore Wilbert, one of my favorite writers. It was a momentous, unforgettable and tremendously helpful experience. I wish it had lasted a year!  I hope (true to the heart of mentorship) I came to resemble her in a small way during those twelve weeks. I think she plans to do another one in the Fall, so if you would like to improve in your writing, have an honest editor, and gain a friend, look out for the application on Sayable

My sister and her husband are living next door to us just now, and sometimes I join them for dinner.  (Sometimes I am even canny enough to catch dinner at both houses.)

    “Do you think the roast is tough, darling?” she asked him tonight.

    “No,” he said, then- “Well, what sort of animal is it?”

    And I guess the writing life has taken me for sure, gentle reader, as I didn’t remain mentally present for her reply, for thinking what an excellent intro this would be.

    These last twelve weeks, I’ve had the surreal experience of having a stranger look into an aspect of my life, an area where she has wisdom and expertise, and speak into it. I expected her to strip me down one side and up the next. And she did, in a way, but not how I imagined. What she did was as intimidating, but more memorable, and certainly more life-giving.

    She named me. She said, “You are a Writer.”

    There was joy in this moment. There was a leaping up to answer the call. There was belief, finally, for this woman with a well-tuned ear could have no motive to flatter me. But these at-long-last-gifts were quickly surpassed by sobriety. My own: Will I look back and think: I wasted this? And hers: Will you bury your talent in fear? Do you think God is a harsh master like the man in Matthew’s parable? What has He ever done to you to deserve such a thought? Who told you you were a bad writer? Who lied to you? she said.

    I had read her piece on asking Jesus-like questions, penetrating deeper, searing cleaner than straight facts, but I wasn’t ready for them. Who lied to me? No one, I said quickly. But in long sad after-thoughts, I knew. It was me.

    The lies are born of fear and distrust. Fear of humility, distrust of God.

    I fear committing the thoughts of my heart to paper. There is some health in this fear. One thing that happens when you become a woman is you get invited to congregate with women. I have a quick wit and a much quicker tongue. I get in trouble- if not obviously and before all, then in my heart and in secret. I’ve learned that I cannot even go to breakfast with an old friend without praying over my words beforehand. But still, the spoken word doesn’t scare me so much. I can always end an awkward sentence with- you know?- and then shut up to hear if she does or not.

   But the written word is something else. It feels arrogant, even in approaching it. Or maybe the deeper truth is that it feels like it might be perceived as arrogant. There are so many good and worthy writers. This girl just likes the sound of her own voice, they will say. Who does she think she is? The self-love in me cowers from this. The sound of my own voice says to myself: Shut up.

    Is God a harsh taskmaster? These twelve weeks, I have been distant from him. Such a strange thing to do, after being given something so kind, like a name. But I’ve been nursing a bitterroot of hurt in me. Names given implies names withheld. The unspeakable comfort found in God’s sovereignty is unspeakably painful sometimes. The writing life means criticism. It means conflict. All I wanted was to be loved. But in my name was a cross, a call to come and die. Sitting across from a beautiful and dynamic young woman at breakfast this morning, speaking friendly to her with no regrets, I spoke roughly to myself. Suddenly I was aware of my weathered age as if it were an actual old woman at the table with us. You were Beloved and now you are Useful. One day you will be Not So Useful, that voice I love and protect so carefully said.

    But work, it has a way of keeping deep thinkers from digging a pit to bury themselves in. The breakfast meeting was over and the needs came bearing down, as they mercifully do. The day laid itself down for me to walk through. After dinner, I bathed my toddler niece and helped her into pajamas. She asked for a tea party, so quickly on the floor, we congregated as women, with the little cups and saucers. She handed me a wooden piece of cake and said gently, “This is my body, given for you, Sarie.” A harsh taskmaster? No. Not my Jesus.

    Who told me I was a bad writer? Why am I ashamed? Why do I long for a veil to cover my face again? This is not gospel living. Our ministry ought to be a wide-open and many-splendored thing. With unveiled face I was made to reflect the glory of the Lord. Yes, I will mess up. Yes, my faults will be evident. That’s the whole point. I will decrease. Until my dying breath, I will go lower still. But He will increase, and in his expanse, in his fullness, I find my courage.

    I am finding it even now, in my willingness to write these lines, though I left the gate open and the goats into the garden, though I forgot to do what I was told, though I frustrate those I love and spell words miserably wrong, though I am seen clean through for exactly what sort of animal I am, I will live like I believe the Lord is good. He has made me well. He calls me by name. He compels me to pray, “May I write truth as I live truth.” And wonder of wonders, he can even make it so.

  Who lied to you? As I walked back to my house in the dark, with the clouds covering the moon, Lore’s question came to me once more. This woman spoke to me, into me, because she first wrote bravely, initiating, communicating, reaching out and down, planting trees for me to eat from, this woman I know and don’t know, who calls herself “Lowly”, who hurts as I do, who in all these things reflects Christ, she speaks truth. She spoke it in my name. Yes, I am small. Yes, I still think I’m too hasty to write a book and too bashful to be a blogger. But I will live as I am written, and speak as I am called. I will trade my talents in humility and courage, grateful to the Giver, copying the Creator, as she has taught me. I will go lower than I have ever gone, but I will not be afraid.

     Oh Worm Jacob, Oh little Israel, Beloved. Go and write.

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Lightkeepers

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We stood outside the church and talked about life in a general way, relying heavily on each other’s imaginations to fill in and flesh out the truth. Our chief hurts were concerning others, and their stories weren’t ours to tell. At least not yet. Maybe one day, they will be like waters gone by, and easily remembered. But not today. Today they are like the walls in front of us, impenetrable and hard, looming over, blocking the light.

“Why, why are you so anxious?” I asked the question out loud, but to myself.

“Oh, I can tell you why!” Kimberly answered comically. “I’ve got a list!”

Laughing weakly, I imagined us neatly pinning our lists to the walls that we beat our heads against. A lot of good that will do us. This is heavy lifting. This is work for Jesus— and he tarries.

Just a few days before, I had been on holiday at the sea with friends. We must’ve looked every bit as appreciative as we were, as we hauled it to the lighthouse door.

“In all my years here, I’ve never seen three girls more eager to climb them steps,” the keeper said.

We were eager, as if we ran to see The Good News itself, coming home, at last.

When you’ve prayed about something for so long, it’s easy to start thinking you’ve done it wrong. Although I can improve my life and prayers, for sure, God is not waiting for an ideal formula or susceptible to my manipulation. And especially in the case of anxiety over someone else’s sin or troubles, and not our own, we have to accept it as a thorn in the side, a crook in the lot, something to be endured. Watching the horizon is hard, but that’s what light-keepers do.

Mrs. Alice held my hands in hers.

“She’s bossed me around all my life!” her sister yelled from the other room.

“And she hasn’t yet gone astray,” Mrs. Alice whispered.

“Let me tell you something right quick, Sarah. I don’t know what’s weighing on you, sweet girl, but you got two things to do. Only two things. You gotta love and keep on loving, and you gotta pray. That’s it.”

“None of your prayers will come weeping home,” my sister said, quoting a Puritan, who may in fact have been quoting his sister.

Maybe it will get better in this life, and maybe it won’t. But someday, all God’s fitful children will sigh deeply and turn over in their beds, straining their ears for trouble and hearing none, they will remember that it is no more, and smiling into the pillow, they will sleep like the faithful lovers of the shipwrecked come home.

 

the Early Rains

It has been the wettest season I can remember, and still after all these weeks, I don’t mind it.

It is good to see the pond full and to hear the waterfall of the spill-way, roaring from the house. We have a whole series of little pots and pans in the Carolina Room to catch the leaks, and at night, when I get still, the sound of the tink and splash is lovely to sleep to.

I’m going away for several days and I always get this desperate tug of homesickness the night before leaving, even for just a short time. So after chores and dinner, in my nightgown and rubber boots (my great-grandmother’s famous ensemble), I headed down to the creek to see it, wild and rushing, breaking out in new streams all over, one last time. And now I’m back and wet and I’m pretty sure there is something crawling on me somewhere, but it was grand.

I haven’t posted pictures from around here in a long time, so here’s a few from tonight, and this week.

I hope your world is wet, dear reader, but not too wet, and that you are dry tonight and happy. When you ask yourself, “Where am I?” I hope you can answer, “Right here.” and be glad to know it.IMG_0020.jpgIMG_0027.jpgIMG_0035.jpgIMG_0054.jpgIMG_0046.jpgIMG_0059.jpgIMG_0004.jpgIMG_0010.jpgIMG_0016.jpg

Freedom Also to Stay

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   On road trips when I was little, we’d eventually pass through a forgotten agrarian town with scattered well kept farms and a mom-and-pop store. “Look out the window, girls,” Daddy would say. “These are my people.”

    That’s how I felt in the fictional town of Port William, Kentucky, when I read my first Wendell Berry novel, Hannah Coulter, at the age of seventeen.

    I’m descended from the bluegrass state since the dawn of time, though uprooted in the last generation. My unconscious tongue still holds the hillbilly dialect (with tard for tired , pillar for pillow, harsh for hush). I grew up on stories of great floods, duels over bird-dogs, and many a much diluted ‘worter dranking party’ by the light of the moon. I heard tell of good Judge Barkley, Mr. Willoughby that owned the general store and pretty Miss Parish the schoolteacher (who could sure wear out a little backside with a peach tree switch). From my granddad’s lap, I memorized the recipe for removing freckles in a muddy stump, braced myself for catfish noodling, horse cutting and train jumping, and regretted this old world that forced a young boy to join a war just to get some peace.

    So yes, I felt at home in Port William, sure enough, but it was more than merely romanticism for the olden days, for the earnest native tongue of Wendell Berry called me not to the past, but to the future.  “I wish I could tell you what to do,” my Mama’s often said. “But I’m afraid all I can tell you is what not to do.”

    In the same way Hannah Coulter and Jayber Crow instructed me. They told their beautiful, heartbreaking stories, and then waited to see what I would do about it. I was itching to do something, that seventeenth and eighteenth year.

    “You’ve gotta go,” my parents said, but I knew it wasn’t because they wanted me to, but because it’s what everybody did. We millennials heard it everyday. You can be anything you want! Anything! The president? Yes! An astronaut? Yes! A home-maker? Um, no. You see, I had just recently acquired freedom from public school. And I wanted freedom, but I wanted freedom, mostly, from what everybody did. I wanted freedom from the American dream of moving up, from specialization, from endless accreditation, from well-paying prisons, from disassociation, from homelessness, from street-lights, conditioned air and city water. I knew what I didn’t want. But what did I want? I wasn’t sure.

    Until I met the Branch Family of Port William.

    “Every one of them seemed to have a perfect faith in the education they got outside of school, which they didn’t even call “education”. Out of school, they learned what they evidently thought they needed most to know: to keep house, to raise a garden or a crop, to care for livestock, to break a mule or shoe one, to fix a motor and almost anything else, to hunt, fish, trap, preserve a hide, hive a swarm, cook or preserve anything edible, and to take pleasure in such things. To learn things they didn’t know, they asked somebody or they read books. They were a lot like their friends the Amish. Compared to nearly everybody else, the Branches have led a sort of futureless life. They have planned and provided as much as they needed to, but they take little thought for the morrow. They aren’t going any place, they aren’t getting ready to become anything but what they are already are, and so their lives are not fretful and hankering. And they are all still here, still farming. They are here, and if the world lasts they are going to be here for quite a while… They survive and go on because they like where they are and what they are doing, they aren’t trying to get up in the world, and they produce more than they consume… It doesn’t seem to bother them that while they are making crops and meat and timber, other people are making only money that they sometimes don’t even work for.”

    “If I had ‘venture capital’ to invest”, said Hannah Coulter, “ I would invest it in the Branches.”

    In the context of the Port William stories, this rootedness was more than just a earthy ideal that I am naturally geared for (though that’s the truth), it was clearly the way rural America maintained their land, preserved their families, and perhaps most importantly, retained their sanity. The abandonment of the agricultural small town destroyed Western culture and ushered in the tyranny of our modern state, not to mention the tyranny of the modern mind. This I came to believe at eighteen, with the crusading spirit that defines that tender age and you can only imagine the result. I had no venture capital, but I had my life ahead of me and many acres of good, responsive land. (“Ain’t nothing wrong with it,” Burley Coulter would’ve said.)

    I’m glad my parents once said, ‘You’ve got to go’, and then when the time drew near, ‘You can go’, for, like Jayber Crow, “in my freedom I pointed to Port William, like a compass needle points north”, only my ‘Port William’ was the home I would try to make and bless, God helping me.

    “Maybe I could stay,” I said, mind made up.

    “Maybe you could,” they said, and we all grinned as if we had good sense.

    So this bit of earth in the foothills of South Carolina, with it’s mottled sandy loam and red clay dirt, with the hardwood hill tops and mountainous gullies, with the old homesites and Indian trails, became mine and there are few things in this world I’m more passionate about.

I heard a history teacher say once that when the Pilgrims landed here there weren’t any jobs…. just lots of work. That first year brought dairy goats, bee colonies, a garden expansion and pecan orchard. The following years have been no less visionary, if not always viable. Right now, I look out the window across the pond to see the Longhorn cattle herd, circled and surveyed by (merciful heavens) a border collie.

    I will turn twenty-six this year. I am a farmer, a gardener, a housekeeper, a caregiver, a barber (yes, like Jayber) and if I live as long as him, I guess I’ll have become a gravedigger, too. It hasn’t been easy. (“It was far from perfect,” as he said, “because I was far from perfect.”) But it’s the truth that anywhere I might have gone, I’d have taken myself. There is no geographical cure this side of the resurrection of the dead.

This is my story, in part and thus far. It’s descriptive, not prescriptive. If I were to prescribe anything, it would be simply this: Just as sure as there is freedom to go, there ought to be freedom, also, to stay.

    And if for some reason you don’t want to stay… don’t read Wendell Berry.

 

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Look and See

The roots and bulbs and seeds were tired of waiting, and as there was no lion-of-winter lurking outside to hold them in, Spring has come early to the Southeast, and that’s quite alright with me, the Robins, the mosquitos and everyone in-between.

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Here are native wildflowers you can find right now, near rivers and creeks and rock ledges that hold a little water, with thanks to my earthy Mama who frequently called me out of the creek-bed when I was little, collecting rocks and catching frogs, to make me see what was blooming on the banks.  She said I’d want to know one day, and now that day has come.

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Behold the lovely Trout Lily (Erythronium Americanum) of Liliacease, the Lily Family.  She’s the reason we first drop down into the woodlands to flower-hunt in the Spring, hauling cameras and identification books, usually on the rumor that someone somewhere has already spotted her.  One of my favorite things about wildflowers is the foliage.  With cultivated varieties, they concentrate on the flower- the bigger the better- often to the detriment of the leaves.  The Trout Lily is so-called for the mottled basal leaves, similar to the speckled trout.

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These are the flowers of the Round-lobed Hepatica (Anemone Americana).  They are very light purple to violet, the stem is hairy and the foliage is round and lobed, just like the name says, however the foliage is notably and strangely absent this year.  It could be the premature Spring-  but hopefully the leaves will come up soon and all will be well.

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The petite and subtle Early Saxifrage could be passed by without notice as it clings to slopes, ledges and rocks.  The name Saxifrage in the latin means “rock-breaker”.

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The above two pictures are of False Rue-Anemone, not to be confused with Rue-Anemone, though they are both in the Buttercup Family.   This is a rare find, only found in basic-mesic forests.

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Spring-Beauties, or Wild Potato (Claytonia virginica) bring the first cheery mass of color to the new year.   There is a little tiny potato attached to the root system that is good to eat, although the quantity needed for a meal would require many hours of preparation, but still it’s good to know!   If only we could find a tree with sap that tasted like gravy, I’d happily be a woods-dweller.

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Now here’s a special one.  One of the easiest of the Spring-bloomers, most commonly called Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) it also goes by many other names including Red Puccoon, Red Indian Paint, Turmeric, Snakebite and Pauson, which indicate all the myriad uses of the plant, from the dye and paint made from the juice, to the acrid powder of the dried root, to the highly toxic properties of the foliage.  It is in Papaveraceae  (the Poppy Family) and contains a compound, sanguinarine, that inhibits plaque formation on teeth and was harvested many years for this purpose.  It is now produced by a larger, faster-growing plume poppy.

The foliage of the Mayapple and Trillium are unfurling, with the blooms to join the late-season wildflowers, like Shooting-Star and Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

But right now (this very minute–get your boots on!) there are so many other lovely things to see, like moss, lichen, fungi and the dry golden leaves of the beech-tree, holding tight, adding to the beauty as long they can.

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So go outside and look and see!

The Rainbabies

The last two mornings have begun for me with a walk across the way to check the cows. They are pasturing in the Old Man’s Field just now and that’s my favorite spot.  There is a hardwood hillside overlooking the field and you can see for miles up there, all the way to the little white church my mother was baptized in. There is a glorious beech tree, and majestic white oaks sloping down to the old home site, surrounded by mule plowed terraces now planted in pines.  The ground is fertile and pushes up white rocks.  I love this place in every season. I love it even in the rain, sometimes most in the rain.

For it was raining this morning, cold rain, blowing sideways, heavy all around, clinging to the eyelashes, soaking the hair.

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We have two new calves and more on the way. They are very strong and happy.  Do they think the world is always this cold, I wonder?  Won’t they be surprised when summer comes?

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I didn’t like the cows much at first because they aren’t as friendly as the goats and horses, but I have come to love them for their wildness and they’ve come to expect me coming ’round I guess. Our deal is simple: I don’t get too chummy and they don’t kill me. I tried to make a deal like this: I’ll take your picture if you don’t mess with my pecan trees, but they weren’t interested.

IMG_0033.jpgA line from a favorite book, Jayber Crow, ran on repeat in my mind on the way back home (perhaps because my mind was as frozen as my body and it stuck, like a record, until it broke free at last by the incomparable balm of not one, but two, cups of English Breakfast):
It had been raining, and it was still raining. It was going to rain.

And in this good world of insulated coats, wood burning stoves, Christmas check-lists, neglected books and thirsty seeds… so be it.

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(My friend Emily may perhaps read this, and may be glad  and much relieved to know that I am three very happy chapters into the book she loaned me all those months ago.)

A Very Great Adventure

“So let’s wash out all the wish business.  It never helped anyone to solve any problem yet.”   -C.S. Lewis, in a letter to Sheldon Vanauken

We smiled as Laura skipped rocks, sending them gently across the smooth surface of the water. That’s what I should have done with my cares.  I could have tossed them away from me, to watch them bounce, or comically land kerplunk.

We were walking along the lakeside, managing the affairs of the world, Laura, Annie, Rachel and I, as only young women can do, not concerned with the movement of armies or affairs of state, but with pursuits of even more magnitude— what would happen to us, to our friends, to those we loved.  We had it all nearly sorted out, until it occurred to us, watching the white billows of the sailboats fill and spill in the distance, that we had as little control over the future as we did over the west-northwest wind, whipping around us.

I shivered and said, “I wish I could be old for just a few minutes, to look back on what happened, to know a few things ahead of time.”

“No,” Rachel said decidedly.  “Not me.”

I looked at Annie, like Emma looking to Mrs. Weston, like a classic little sister. She said nothing, and her face was kindly, but I knew it was badly spoken.  So often, in those little hasty side comments, I learn my weakness.  Faithless?  Who, me?

Rachel was right.  I can imagine many good reasons now why a glimpse into the future would be a bad idea.  (Just read Macbeth, right?!) But more than this, I know God wants– delights in– whole trust, happy trust.   Besides, as a wise man once said: you have to let the Storyteller tell the story in the way He wants to tell it.  This life is not about collecting data, it’s about light coming to darkness in a sequence of events, in the very point of need.  When Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome walked to the tomb early Easter morning, they, too, were full of cares and questions.  Who will roll away the stone for us, so that we might care for the horribly dead body of our friend?  They arrive to find an angel, who has not only rolled back the stone, but shaken the earth around it, and the Beloved Body has walked away, risen indeed.  Had the women known exactly what was going to happen, they would not have fretted over the stone’s removal, and yet the astounding goodness of the good-news and humorous irony of our earthiness and frailty in the face of Almighty God would not have been seen.  The story would not have been as good.  And people who ask stupid questions would not know what good company they are in!

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I don’t want to be a young woman wishing she were an old woman already.  I don’t want to be scared of living.  But it is comforting to remember that in most good stories the characters come to a point of feeling that way, frightened to go on, doubtful the end could be good.

“I wonder what sort of tale we’ve fallen into?” Sam asked in The Two Towers.  “I wonder,'” said Frodo.  “But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale. Take any one that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.”

I came across the Lewis quote at the top the other day, and it sent me into a manic spree to find these of his below.  I’m working on letting the waves come, on losing sight of the shore, on letting the Storyteller tell His own story, for goodness sake, always remembering, in both joy and sorrow, that the best is yet to come.

And how could we endure to live and let time pass if we were always crying for one day or one year to come back- if we did not know that every day in a life fills the whole life with expectation and memory and that these are that day?      – from Out of the Silent Planet

This is a very great adventure, and no danger seems to me so great as that of knowing… I left a mystery behind me through fear.           –  from the Voyage on the Dawn Treader

To reject the wave… to say to Him, ‘Not thus, but thus’— to put in our own power what times should roll towards us… That would have been cold love and feeble trust. And out of it how could we ever have climbed back into love and trust again?   – from Perelandra

He raised his head and roared, ‘Now it is time!”…. And as he spoke he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them.  And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after.  But for them it was only the beginning of the real story.  All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.     – from The Last Battle

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Good Grief, Charlie Brown

Come now, my friend, how can you say, like a bird up to his mountain I should fly away? All hope is gone. This is the end. Now retreat’s the only course that you would recommend. My friend, your counsel of defeat is like a coal. It burns my soul. (Psalm 11, My Soul Among Lions)

In the evenings, Pop would talk. The darkness was heavy; anxiety would find him. He could hardly move those last few weeks.  Can you imagine the madness, especially for a strong active man, of sudden immobility in the dark?
So he would talk, a little wildly sometimes, and I was there each night beside him.  Toward the end the fear was palpable, like an unwelcome guest in the room.  The old, like the young, are simpler. The nightmares were horrible but understandable.  He had seen war.  He was in war again. He was wounded in a trench, they had left him here to die.
When he heard my voice beside him, I would enter into his narrative.  I was a fellow soldier, his mother, his wife, myself, just a young girl… it changed and it didn’t matter.  I was with him.
Will they come for us?  He asked.    Yes.
Will you stay with me?
Yes. And Jesus is with us.
Yes, he said.

Well, everyone who knows me knows how I have missed this old man.  All the memories from those last months, every single dear word and the supervision of slow death…. I am still sorting it all out.  He was a precious friend, residing for twenty-four years in the interlining of the innermost circle of my heart.  He went to Jesus and it was good.   Even still it is true that I have mourned him every day and despised the sin of the world that brought separation with the fire of a thousand suns, and this grief blinds me sometimes to the sweeter truth.  This world is too heavy for me.  My brow is furrowed and my little lips recede into my face.

Then, mercifully so:
There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.   (Tolkien, The Return of the King)

I wish I could stop neatly here, but honesty compels me to say:  before I get to the light and high beauty moment, I am always found in that forsaken land of Mordor.  I have come to realize (to my shame of course which doesn’t help the situation) that I am generally a melancholy soul.  I am a woeful combination of a bleeding-heart and crusade-spirit, making me a comical real-life version of Lucy from Peanuts, alternatively giving psychiatric advice and hitting people in the head with a football.

The problem with Fixers is that they need to be fixed.  If I speak a counsel of defeat to my own soul, how can I offer words of life to my friends?

I read in a Calvin commentary years ago – “In thinking of the future, it is best to prepare for the worst, to lay in for the long siege.”
This is solid wisdom that I need to hear, but I have found that on either side of truth there is a chasm of error and a handy-dandy catapult with free rides from one pit to the other.  Mine is an aimless, indulgent and immature generation.  As Zack Eswine said in the book, Spurgeon’s Sorrows:
“… when we find ourselves impatient with sadness, we reveal our preference for folly, our resistance to wisdom, and our disregard for depth and proportion.”   However if I am, in response, morose and defeatist concerning the problems that plague me most (that is, my own) I have surely missed the boat of God’s good truth.

My friends and family have been so kind to let me grieve.  No one has rushed me, but I know myself that it is time to look up.  I will still miss Pop everyday; I told him I would (and he was pleased to hear it!) and he told me in return things I will cherish all my days.  And now?

Now I preach to my soul.  Now I cultivate joy.  Now I read Scripture like a traveler reads his map.  Now I strive to think, when the truth is dark and depressing:  My friend, but you forget the Lord is on His throne, and we’re His own.

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