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!

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.

Busy Bee

September has been a busy bee and Jeff tells me I have been grumpy and I know it’s all about the busy and the noise creeping in the time I keep. The words won’t come because I haven’t slowed enough for them to catch me and in the evenings I am limp with tired.
And the other night I lost it with the boys because they wouldn’t pump gas for the van, and “can’t you just show your mamma that you care in some small way?”
“But you should know,” Jeffrey said. “You should know that we care about you.”
“And how should I?” I felt the Spirit tug my heart; ask me to mind my tongue. I should know better. This type of whine is just the thing that shuts off their ears. But I can’t stop. “How should I know when there is no outward evidence that you care? All I ask is for a little help. You didn’t even make your beds this morning. All I have to show that you care is your dirty socks. And you don’t even turn them right side out like I’ve asked you to a million times.”
It’s a long evening after that. Jeffrey cried and Teddy wouldn’t talk. But he made his bed the next morning.
“I think I need to go to the doctor,” I tell Jeff. “I just haven’t been feeling well. This tightness in my chest…”
He makes the sympathetic noises but out of the corner of my eye I see him yawn and he knows.
We need to slow down.
But not yet. Because September isn’t over and the rich blessings keep pouring in.
In the morning I stand under the round eye of the moon and gape at the light coming over the horizon. It spreads out like a blanket and still the words won’t come. At night I stare up at the crowd of blinking stars and remember God’s promise to Abraham. And this waist feels too small to birth a nation—too small to carry this family. Too small to birth a difference at all.
In the late morning I gather the last of my tenderettes and I string them by myself in the kitchen. My fingers remember this work and my mind busies in the quiet of the crisp snap of beans. My dad’s birthday is coming up, I remember. And then I forget. And then I remember again, and that’s how our relationship is. I am feeling forgotten too.
Last night we sat on cold bleachers and watched our boy play in his first “marching” band performance.
Aren’t they just so cute in their own little band section? I kept saying to my friend Janet. I didn’t really watch the game because I kept my eyes on one not-so-little boy with drum sticks. And I let myself be all there. Right there. No where else.
When we left the field I looped my arm through my husband’s, sinking into his warm in the cool of night.
“I like going to football games with you,” I said.
And he laughed. It sounded good.

Love Letters: A Poem

the way the dogwoods burn
red in the fall
and the maples wave
roasted sienna. poplars
in a state of undress and
the way the hills
flow gold and
gamboge. the way
the wind smells–
all chimney smoke and
rich decay. how the
sky folds blue into
the daylight hours. the
sound of paper leaves,
skit-skit-skitting across
sidewalk.

love letters to
my heart.

linking up to L.L. Barkat’s In, On, and Around Mondays today. Join any day!

Apple Pie for Dinner

We have apple pie for dinner and I don’t care.

It is time. Past time, really.

She is pregnant—heavy with fruit and we harvest late, letting nature have her choice before we do. Some of our pickings have already been tasted by crows or squirrels or another sneaky creature that sat high in her branches and nibbled delicately.These fall easily when the tree is shaken, but Jeffrey has to go after others.I toss the discards over the fence or balance them precariously on the posts– remembering the deer that come to spy.

He is no stranger to the tree and she cups him gently–swaying leaves brushing cheek like a mamma. It was he who wished for her, longed for her until one day he said to me–the mamma who can’t resist planting love, I want an apple tree.

We found a dwarf variety and planted it on the side of the house. Just right for this suburban family.

He remembered the days when we would take our basket to the meadow and fill it with sweet rounds and plump pears and wildflowers along the way. Now the meadow is sold—fenced off– the sweet woman who owned it retiring in a personal care home and her meticulous grasses grown wild and wily up around the trees.



I would never make it on the prairie, I tell Jeff, as I roll and peel and search for the perfect recipe.

He just kisses the back of my neck.

When it takes all day to make a couple pies, who can think about dinner?

We had apple pie for dinner. And I didn’t even care.