A Dream of Honey: An Excerpt from Playdates with God

Below is a modified excerpt from my book, Playdates with God: Having a Childlike Faith in a Grown-up World, copyright 2014. Used with permission from Leafwood Publishers, an imprint of Abilene Christian University Press. All rights reserved.

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In mid-fall, as the goldenrod bend their heads low in the meadow behind my house—I visit the apiary.

It all started when I spoke at a ladies tea at a little country church in the valley where I live. The hostess served honey from her husband’s hives, and I was blown away. “It tastes like sweet clover,” I told her, as I sipped tea with my pinky raised. She smiled and nodded her head. This was entirely different from that syrupy stuff I buy in the bear-shaped bottle at the grocery.

Every day after that, I think about the bees. In the night, I dream of honey. When I awaken, I carry a memory of amber—a dewy sweetness on my tongue. I cannot shake the taste of it. So, I Google up local beekeepers and I talk to the state bee inspector on the phone and my father-in-law calls a friend of his who keeps bees.

“In the Bible, honey represents purity,” the Department of Agriculture’s state bee inspector tells me. “I think there must be bees in heaven,” he says.  I think about that little taste of honey from the tea and it seems to me that maybe a little piece of heaven is already here.

I read all the scriptures in my Bible about honey and I look up the original Hebrew in my concordance. The word used for honey in many of the scriptures refers to the distilled version of a watery sweetness that exists naturally. It is the refined essence of the substance—the richest part.

So. After weeks of waiting, when the goldenrod bend their heads low in the meadow behind my house, I visit the apiary. “That’s how you know the goldenrod is nectaring,” the beekeeper tells me. “The tops are so heavy they fall over.”

We walk into the apiary under a shower of walnut tree leaves. They float slowly to the ground like tiny canoes, sailing the air. I breathe in deep, thinking of honey. The farm smells like woodsmoke and decaying leaves. The sky is blue marble.

I hear the steady thrum of thousands of beating wings rise into that familiar buzz while we are still within a hundred yards of the colonies. The sound thrills me but I feel my heart begin to slow with the low resonance that emanates from the hives. He aims his smoker at the bees flying about the first hive. I watch him open the tall box-like structures and use his tools to remove one frame at a time. He lifts a frame, points out the shiny honey down in each little dimple.

The bees light haphazardly on my arms and midsection and on the veil I am wearing—they seem as curious about me as I am of them. I close my eyes and let the sound of their greeting fill—that low buzz pressing down around me. I know the smoke has made them docile, triggering them to consume as much honey as they can and slowing them down with the weight of it. They are afraid we have come to steal their golden treasure, and so they hide it the best way they know: inside their bulging abdomens.

He lets me take pictures of his bees, hunts out the queen for me to see. He is a good teacher—patient and kind. After he closes up the hives, he shows me his workshop. He makes beeswax candles and sells them. His wife has won numerous awards for baking with honey and her blue ribbons hang on the wall by the door. He teaches candlemaking classes and gives talks about beekeeping.

He tells me about how the honeybees make honey—this refining into the richest essence. He tells me how, after collecting nectar, the bees return to the hive and pass it on to other worker bees. These worker bees chew the nectar for a while allowing enzymes to break down the complex sugars in the nectar into simple sugars. This makes the nectar easier to digest as well as resistant to bacteria. The nectar is then deposited throughout the honeycombs of the hive. Here, water evaporates from it, making it a thicker syrup. The bees use their wings to fan the nectar and accelerate the thickening process. Then, the honey is sealed with a plug of wax and stored until it is eaten.

By us or them.

But listen to this.

The beekeeper tells me about the dance of the honey bee. When a bee finds a particularly lush feeding ground—a place rich with pollen or nectar—they return to the hive and by way of giving the other bees directions to this Eden…they dance. The Honey Bees dance to communicate where a good food source is. The way they dance communicates direction and distance. The distance is communicated by the shape of the dance. Direction is communicated by the angle a bee will bisect her dance with, with respect to the sun. The dance is like the face of a clock, with the sun representing twelve o’clock.  If the bee dances from six to twelve o’clock, this means to fly straight towards the sun; eight to one o’clock would mean fly just to the right of the sun; twelve to six o’clock, fly directly away from the sun.

And the honeybee is a brilliant mathematician. See, these little dances sometimes can take a long time.  So the angle of the sun will sometimes have changed during the dancing. The bee will calculate the change in angle based on where the sun is at the time of the dance.

Scientists have been amazed at how accurately the bee dance communicates where the food is. Isn’t this remarkably beautiful? So I start thinking about this dance. How this dance is the first step in the honeymaking—in the refining process. And—in our lives—isn’t the refining the conforming? This hard work of life the way He uses to make us more like Jesus? And, isn’t this God’s desire for us too—that we dance through the refining? That our lives represent the richest essence of humanity? That as we—do our work, make our art—we would dance through this refinement?

I think about the dance and how each dance is different for each bee; depending on where that bee is, what that bee desires to communicate. I wonder if conformity, in this sense, is what we look like when we join every unique part of ourselves with Jesus? This place where we are, what we desire to communicate, our work, our art—all joined as closely as we can with Jesus. We are united with him but we still retain our own unique qualities too.

Once, I read a pastor describe this type of conformity as the way his wife will conform her body to his on cold winter nights to help stay warm. This is what it means to conform to Christ, he said. To cleave to Him in thought, deed, and desire.

When I think of conformity in this way, it’s easier to imagine that each of us—while our life will be directed by God’s will as the life of Jesus was—will express this in different ways. The ways we worship, the ways we pray, the ways we bring glory to God…all will reflect the glorious variety and diversity in creation that reflects the very image of God. It is the very best of each one of us joined supernaturally with the perfection of Christ. Because our Lord is infinite, we can all look like him and yet look different from one another.

Conformed.

And yet free to embrace who we are.

Now that is something to dance about.

 

 

West Virginia Morning: Cricket Symphony (and a winner!)

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The Crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summers ending, a sad, monotonous song. “Summer is over and gone,” they sang. “Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.” The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days of the whole year—the days when summer is changing into fall—the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change. ~ E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

This morning, as I walked Bonnie around the house in the dark I was surrounded by a cricket symphony. We crept under the waning crescent moon hanging like a smile in the sky—Jupiter a shiny dimple on his right cheek. The Big Dipper stood up on the end of its handle, pouring starlight over our steps. I shivered in my housecoat under the cool of autumn, but the crickets kept singing. I tried to count the number of chirps per fourteen seconds to guestimate the temperature, mindful of Dolbear’s Law, but Bonnie would not cooperate with my calculations, pulling lustily on her leash to chase after one smell or another.

Fall has fallen in our little valley and it leaves me beside myself with joy.

Something about the slow-baring of the landscape creates more room in my spirit and I am enabled to receive the moments more readily as gift. The way the trees slowly release their leaves, blanketing the earth and burying her spring promises speaks love into my heart. I’ve been thinking about love these past couple days.

Early in the week I sent Teddy a Halloween care package. In it was not only a bag of his favorite fun-size candy bars, but some orangey lights, a light up jack-o-lantern, silly miniature hats attached to headbands, and various glo-items. Last year I was stricken with grief when I realized it would be our first Halloween without him. Our long-standing practices of visiting the farmer’s market to pick out the pumpkins and then waiting for precisely the right time to carve them seemed lonely and lost with him gone. So I sent him a similar package, a mother’s whim, filled with corny Halloweeny stuffs to share with his friends. He sent me a picture of a group of them, sporting the light-up pumpkin necklaces I’d included. It made him happy, I think, to share with his friends. And so, I thought I’d repeat the process. This year, the text came.

I got the package.

I waited, but that’s all it said. So I responded. Did you like the stuff?

Yes. He said. The lights are up.

The pumpkin lights up too, I responded.

It does! He said.

And that was it. No “thank you.” No “cool, mom.”

Nothing. Just silence.

Last night, I went to hear a lecture by Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning author Dr. Annette Gordon-Reed. She’s written a couple books about Thomas Jefferson and has extensively researched his relationship with Sally Hemings. Her talk was smart and poignant and really made me think about the ways we look at people and groups of people. At one point, a woman from the audience stepped up to ask a question. She commented on some of Dr. Gordon-Reed’s observations about Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings. You talk about the length of their relationship (38 years), that there is no evidence there was any other woman in his life during that time, and about the children they had together (I’m paraphrasing here) but what is keeping you from saying that they might have possibly been in love?

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Dr. Gordon-Reed took a deep breath. She alluded to the fact that this may have been true. “It strikes me as unlikely that he had a purely physical relationship with her for 38 years,” she said. But she was very cautious, going on to say, “It’s tough here because people will romanticize things and minimize the impact of slavery. And you can’t do that.”

Throughout her talk, she continuously reminded us that Sally Hemings was “enslaved.” She never had the freedom to refuse a relationship with Thomas Jefferson, whatever her feelings for him were. She was fourteen years old, scholars believe, when their relationship began. That likely means she never had the opportunity to fall in love with another man, to flirt, to feel that wild fancy-free feeling of attraction.

We will never know Sally Hemings’ feelings on the matter, because she remained silent. She never spoke about her relationship with Jefferson, for good or ill. Likely, they were very complicated. But I left the lecture with this thought impressed upon my mind: To love, to truly love, we have to be free.

And yet, how many things in this life hold us captive? As frail humans, we are subject to so much brokenness keeping us from freedom. Addictions, insecurities, dysfunction, our tangled-up-messed-up histories … Not one of us is free to love in the ways we were created to love. Some of us are freer than others, but all have some strings pulling on our hearts, enslaving us to our fallen nature.

There is only One who loves perfectly. Only one who is completely free and has done the work to assure our freedom. But in this already-done-not-happened-yet kind of freedom, we still wait. We wait and we wonder.

Freedom. I’ve had glimpses—kingdom glimpses that set my heart on fire. But really, I have no idea what it means to love. But I am learning. And one day I will know.

Yesterday, I read Teddy’s less-than enthusiastic texts about my gift-package with a little feeling of let-down.  Then I let it go.

The winner of my book book bundle giveaway that includes Shelly Miller’s Rhythms of Rest, Lisa Whittle’s I Want God, and Emily P. Freeman’s Simply Tuesday is Jen Martinson! Congratulations! You are going to love each one of these books. I’ll be in touch soon!

I Went to Nest Fest and All I Bought was a Bunch of Books (so I’m giving them away!)

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We drove five hours down I-77, outrunning the rain, driving between mountains, watching the leaves go from patchwork back to green again, then landing where the sun shone bright on a field-full of artisans and musicians and writers and creatives of all types. We went to the big white barn. I knew my friend Shelly would be there, and Lisa, and Emily. That’s why I went—to see some friends. And before I even walked the grounds I ran out of cash because I bought so. many. books. My only regret? I didn’t buy more books. I wish I had bought Tim’s newest book—a beautiful Christmas story that seems to celebrate his love for his three “pixie” daughters, because amazon tells me they are out of stock. And I wanted Edie’s book too—I loved her Lenten devotional this year. And Logan was there and Myquillyn, of course, and so much loveliness!

Sometimes, I need to run away to find my way back home. You? Autumn fills me with the wanderlust and a road trip always cures the ill. Jeff came along with me—my favorite travel companion. He sees a lot, that man. Just sits back and watches. You know what he said to me after watching me hug on Shelly for a time, then sit at Lisa’s feet to catch up, and soak up some wisdom from Tim? “You need to write more,” he said. “It’s clear how happy this makes you.” He knows I’ve been struggling with words lately. We’ve been wrestling with the question of time and I’ve gradually arrived at a place of acceptance. Acceptance that my time needs to be invested in other things for a season. But he knows it makes me sad. Because, writers gotta write, right?

The next best thing to writing is rubbing shoulders with some special writers. So that’s what I did this weekend. And because writers need readers, to celebrate beautiful YOU, my dear reader, I’m giving away some books. I have a signed copy of Lisa Whittle’s newest book I Want God, a signed copy of Emily P. Freeman’s book Simply Tuesday (my favorite go-to book when I’m feeling very small), and a book that Shelly Miller was supposed to sign for you but didn’t. I discovered too late that she forgot to sign it.  But … her sweet hands held this book, I promise. So that’s a copy of Rhythms of Rest, not signed, but touched by the author. One lucky reader will win this awesome stack of books. Just leave a comment for a chance to win. If you share on social media, let me know and you’ll get extra entries for each way you share. Winner will be announced on Friday, 10/28. I’ll leave you with a few random shots from Nest Fest. xo

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The Loneliest Star

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Yesterday was the first day of autumn and I can feel the way the earth is moving. Our two hemispheres receive the sun’s rays equally for a spell—night and day stand side-by-side, neither one outreaching the other. We call it the equinox—from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). Only it doesn’t feel equal to me. The morning is slow in coming and evening slips down over the horizon too quickly. The sun is stingy with her light and the days bleed moments before we can wrap them up.

There was a time when people were more in tune with the rhythms of nature, when the sky was their clock and calendar. We see this evidenced in ancient man-made structures such as the Intihuatana Stone at Machu Picchu in Peru. This unassuming stone structure has been shown to precisely date the equinoxes and other celestial events. The word intihuatana means “for tying the sun.” The shadow the stone casts tracks the journey of the sun across the sky throughout the year.

The night sky, too, announces autumn, with certain constellations moving into prominent view. But also, there rises in the southern sky what some call the “Loneliest Star.” This star, also known as the “Autumn Star,” or the “Lonely One” is thus called because it is the only bright star in that part of the sky this time of year. Its formal name is Fomalhaut, which comes from the Arabic Fum al Hut, meaning “mouth of the fish.” Fomalhaut, the Lonely One, is the brightest star in Piscis Austrinus (the Southern Fish).

Last night, I went outside and stood facing south and searched the horizon for the brightest star. Fomalhaut did, indeed, look lonely in the broad expanse of night sky. As I stood under that twinkling canopy, I felt a kinship with the Lonely One. I have spoken before of the longing that autumn evokes. That sweet yearning pulled at my heartstrings urgently as I stood alone among the song of cicadas and crickets. Sometimes this feeling of emptiness can feel big enough to swallow me whole. The urge to fall into that well of darkness is strong at times.

In Romans chapter 13 the apostle Paul says, “The night is nearly over. The day is almost here. Live in the light.” He is telling us we have a choice to make. Spiritually speaking, in this tired world, it’s not yet day, and it’s not quite night: both are right here, within our grasp. Two ways of life. And even though we may have chosen the way of light, the darkness is still very present—clings to our skin like the damp air of night.

I think the ancient people, with their keen awareness of the rhythms of nature, understood the dueling forces of dark and light much better than we. I’m trying to notice the rhythms built into this good earth more. I feel the lightness of each leaf I see fall from my maples in the back yard. I study the way of the honeybee, knee deep in the goldenrod. I watch the birds and butterflies shed a new season as they flock southerly.

But I am earthbound—no winging out of this for me. Still, I make a choice. A choice to see this longing inside of me as something good, something made of light. A longing for life the way our good God intended it to be.

Autumn

on the bright wing
of morning
I touch the hem

of dawn;
soar through stardust
and dew as light

spreads like
spilled milk, slowly
blinding the eyes

of heaven, light
upon light,
trembling like

a bird preparing
for flight. my body
blooms until all

the sky and I are
one diaphanous
blue wing.

West Virginia Morning: Autumn Longing

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This morning, when I ventured into the back yard, my ministrations were discovered by a noisy Blue jay. As I peered into each blade of grass, studied each fallen leaf, he swooped above me mimicking the call of a crow. He couldn’t hide his vibrant feathering, however, and soon I knew his secret.

“You cannot fool me,” I chided, as he leered down from the Maple tree. “What is it you want?”

But he only continued his throaty croaking.

The light arrives sooner each day as the earth moves in time with God’s symphony. Yesterday afternoon, I lay in the hammock as a moist wind blew through, stirring the trees. The poplar in the meadow behind me let down her golden hair and as I reclined, wave after wave of curling leaves blew over me. As that tall tree let loose her locks, I felt myself let go as well.

Autumn stirs the longing.

This morning I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’s words in a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves,

“I think almost more each year in autumn I get the sense, just as the mere nature and voluptuous life of the world is dying, of something else coming awake. You know the feeling, of course, as well as I do. I wonder is it significant – in stories the nymphs slip out of the tree just as the ordinary life of the wood is settling down for the night.  Does the death of the natural always mean the birth of the supernatural?  Does one never sleep except to let something else awake?”

In autumn, when the leaves sacrifice their life that the roots may be better nourished … this beautiful death reminds me of a greater awakening.

Oh, the wisdom of the seasons! If only I could open my hand and move through this slow dying with such grace. Isn’t this the way to move through the moments? With the awareness of that thin wall separating the seen from the unseen?

The poplar tree shall be my mentor. The God-made rhythms of this world my guide. Each passing year of this slow-dying finds me all the more alive.

I’m taking the time every day, to invite God into my ordinary, to notice how life responds to his presence when my heart is open to him. It’s a practice that inspired a book. And I’m sharing in community with the 31 dayers.  You can find links to all the posts in this series so far right here.

31 Playdates with God