The Gathering Waters

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These past few days I cannot seem to shake this dis-ease—this disease of anxiety. It’s the feeling of the earth shifting under the feet; of doubt in all that I’ve known to be true. Our neighbors are hurting. We’ve given and donated and offered ourselves as available, but for those who’ve lost so much it can never be enough.

So I do what I always do when I feel helpless, I bury my nose in a book. A couple days ago I picked up Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow, a novel I’ve always wanted to read but just never have until now. Summer is for reading, and what’s more, for reading fiction, in my book; so I finally took the plunge. I’ve savored every word of Berry’s economical writing, loving his storytelling voice, which—and this came as no surprise for one well-familiar with his poetry—is warm and rich and lovely.

Last night Jeff had a late meeting and Jeffrey had plans with friends, so after I fed the one remaining boy at home (grilled chicken and vegie kabobs, outside dining on the deck), it was with a thrill that I spread an old blanket out under the shade of the lilac bush. The ground is almost dry now from the heat of the summer sun, the sky dripped blue over me, and I could hear the grasses in the meadows shushing. I carried a stack of books with me like I was going on retreat and read with the songs of Robins as a backdrop.

Turned out I only needed the one book, Jayber Crow. I settled deeper and deeper into the story of orphan boy turned man and it was just the distraction I needed. Imagine my surprise, then, when I turned the page and came upon a chapter titled, “The Gathering Waters.”

In this chapter, Jayber is trying to get back home to Squire’s Landing, Kentucky after taking a roundabout way through Louisville. He is on foot and Berry soon has him walking through one of history’s greatest flood stories, The Great Flood of 1937. In Jayber’s story, he safely crosses a bridge in peril, only to find himself with nowhere to go. A policeman directs him to the capitol building, where he finds warmth, shelter, a hot meal, and a place to sleep for the night among other refugees.

I was thoroughly tired, and I didn’t exactly lie awake, but I didn’t exactly sleep either. As soon as I shut my eyes I could see the river again, only now I seemed to see it up and down its whole length. Where just a little while before people had been breathing and eating and going about their old, every day lives, now I could see the currents come riding in, at first picking up straws and dead leaves and little sticks, and then boards and pieces of firewood and whole logs, and then maybe the henhouse or the barn or the house itself. As if the mountains had melted and were flowing to the sea, the water rose and filled all the airy spaces of rooms and stalls and fields and woods, carrying away everything that would float, casting up the people and scattering them, scattering or drowning their animals and poultry flocks. The whole world, it seemed, was cast adrift, riding the currents, whirled about in eddies, the old life submerged and gone, the new not yet come.”

As I read Jayber’s story, I knew I was reading the story of so many West Virginians. My heart was in my throat as I poured over each line, each detailed description of Jayber’s encounters. The scenes were so real, so fresh to me, and images flashed through my mind of mud-filled school buildings, cars atop trees, houses spilled out into the streets. Everything I’ve seen and heard on the news these past few days came to the forefront of my mind and my heart was stilled. Berry places his hero in the Great Flood of 1937, a flood—Wikipedia tells me—that seeped from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois, left one million people homeless, took 385 lives, and caused millions (billions by today’s standards) in property damage. This, during the Great Depression when resources for aid were scarce.

It feels like our little state has dipped back in time. We keep shaking our heads and wondering how such devastation can occur during this day and age. But this is what comes of a living scratched out in the shadow of these ancient mountains, a living born in the rich soil of river valleys. It is, as Berry wrote, “… as if the mountains had melted and were flowing to the sea.”

Cleanup will take a long time here. It will cost much, in more than dollars.

If you want to see more of what is going on here, here’s a little taste from the Weather Channel.

If you’d like to help with the recovery, check out these organizations.

The Red Cross
The United Way of Central West Virginia
Volunteer West Virginia
The Salvation Army

And please keep praying for our neighbors.

Playdates with God: Image-bearers

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The night before last, I had a dream that I had Alzheimer’s Disease. I was in a strange town, had parked my minivan along the street somewhere, and couldn’t remember where I’d left it. Nothing looked familiar and IT WAS TERRIFYING.

Last night, Jeff and I went to Mountain Stage to see one of our new favorite singer/songwriters—it’s one of the best playdates, seeing live music—and Mountain Stage always introduces us to amazing new artists (AWE-MAZING!), anyway, on the way home, I was telling him about my dream.

“For that little bit of time,” I said, “I knew what it felt like to have dementia. When I awakened, I had so much compassion for anyone dealing with that illness. I was terribly frightened.”

Ever since, I can’t stop thinking about it. This train of thought leads me to try to inhabit the many sorrows people deal with every day. Sometimes, the holiday season must feel like just another day to get through. The world is a broken place. We can still see the beauty through God’s common grace, but being human means living with frailty.

This time of year, we all get bombarded by charities. From the bellringers at the grocery store to the woman standing at the intersection with a sign, everywhere I turn there is a hand out. It would be easy to let my heart turn to stone and look the other way. But I hope I never do. We are the only creatures formed in God’s image. Yet many times I fail to see the holiness in the faces I meet every day. Here are some of our favorite organizations that remind me to open my eyes and see anew.

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World Vision

We’ve been sponsoring three children through this organization for many years now. I’m amazed at all the good work they do. One of our favorite gifts is to give something from their gift catalog in the name of a special friend.

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Family Health Ministries

This is the organization I went to Haiti with last summer. I witnessed first hand the many ways they are changing the lives of the people they serve.

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Read Aloud West Virginia

One of my passions. Helping children fall in love with reading will change the future of the world.

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College Summit

I believe education is one of the keys to helping many of the problems our world faces. College Summit is dedicated to helping make sure every child has an opportunity for higher education.

Some other organizations I haven’t worked with but read wonderful things about:

Help One Now
Mercy House Kenya
Compassion International
Pure Charity

And one more we may add to our giving list this year:

Alzheimer’s Association

What are some of your favorite ways to give back?

I’m going to take a break from the Playdates linkup for the remaining Mondays in December. Have a wonderful Advent Season, beloveds. You are all gifts to me. I’ll see you back here in January.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

Laura Boggess

What to Do When You Have a Love So Big…


This morning we send out the Christmas cards to our sponsored children. We are late this year—the trip to the Canyon having created a glut in the schedule. I make a mental note to call WorldVision—ask about the timing of these things.
I sign the cards the way I always do: We love you…and I finger the picture of Romedan that came while I was in Texas. He has changed so much since we first chose him. Over the years, we’ve watched his smile grow in photographs. I tuck the school pictures of his white-skinned American brothers into the envelope with his card. For his safety, I cannot tell him that Jesus loves him. Instead, I tell Him the Lord loves you, and I pray Jesus will make himself known to this little boy who has so much of my heart. 
I tell the boys that I would rather send baby chicks than money. Aren’t these baby chicks cute?I say. Why not a goat? Jeffrey asks. Don’t you think goats are cute? But I check the box for the monetary gift because I know there are others who will know better what kind of gift my children need. 
I pray over the envelopes. Of the three cards I send, only one bears the name of Jesus. Christmas without Jesus? There is an ache in my chest that starts as a low thrum and grows until it hammers my ribcage and springs a leak at the corners of my eyes.
When I was in the Canyon last week, Chris and Ann asked me when did you begin to write? How did that whole thing get started?
It felt like a foolish story—about Jeffrey’s first Thanksgiving. How we danced together and he giggled his baby giggle. He wasn’t quite yet two and did not talk much but that was when he first said I love you to me. I had to ask him to say it again, it so took me by surprise. And he did. And I was overcome. I asked the Lord that day, What do I do with this kind of love? Where do I go with this? And the Lord put a story in my heart about a mama and a son. I started writing it down in secret…it was too tender to share.
God used that story and the process of writing it to woo me to Him. I felt His presence on the page. I still do. But it wasn’t until I shared it that it was able to bless others.
I finger the latest picture of Romedan and I feel my heart swell again. And I ask God that same tried question: What do I do with this kind of love, Lord? Where do I go with it?
The kitchen is quiet and the sun streams through the bay and soon we will share the feast of Thanksgiving with our family and we will be emptied out and filled all at once.
And I lick the envelope to send love over miles and seas and deserts and mountains.
Won’t you send love too? There are so many ways to help. We sponsor our children through WorldVision--it’s just how it worked out for us. Perhaps you are looking for a different way? Here’s a wonderful project my friend Dena is helping with. And there’s this from Deidra. And Compassion is always a beautiful option. Today I am thinking of how blessed I am. I want to be a blessing too. 

Give Gratuitously

Give gratuitously, he says, and I can’t stop thinking about it. He’s talking about love but I’ve been watching my community give and give and give these past days. So many still in need and after mom calls I can’t help thinking that maybe it’s easier to give gratuitously to people you don’t know—people who don’t know you. No fallout from that.
Love is messy.
 
Everytime it happens I say to myself, I say, Never again, but when tomorrow comes I find I’m ok from the bruising. They say what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger but I say it makes me softer. And love becomes a free fall and I just lift my arms and scream happy the whole way. My former pastor told me once, when we were going down one of those crazy water slides with the youth, she said, It’s more fun when I scream.
I think I’m done holding it inside. I don’t need to look cool anymore. I don’t need to vie for good opinions. It is this imago Dei carried in every face I meet that keeps clamoring after me now.
I can’t just walk on by. I have to look again. Every time.
The Holy is there.
Give gratuitously, he says. And I’m still trying to figure out what it means.

Playdates with God: Love in the Mail

The frost is thick on the grass in the mornings now and I stand on the porch with Lucy Mae and watch my breath move out of me. It becomes part of the atmosphere and I imagine that it carries love and my love travels on the air over miles and miles of land and sea.
I cannot go to Ecuador—only in my prayers. I cannot travel to the far reaches of Africa. Though my heart visits those curves on the globe every night…To the Great Horn in Ethiopia where a young son carries a picture of me in his shirt pocket. “So I can keep you close to my heart,” he wrote me once. And down to the Southeast in Malawi, where two young girls dance and dream. One wants to be a teacher—and she keeps good marks in school. The other likes to draw and she sends me pictures scratched out with pencil on small bits of paper.
How I love these children. And each night, my boys and I pray for them and so many like them who live in poverty and want. I cannot go and see the light that shines in their eyes. At least not now. For now I am stuck in the pew.
But I can send little pieces of my heart to them. A t-shirt with our football team’s logo for Romedan. New sketchpads and colored pencils. Colorful hairbands for Bunaya and Evyline. Photographs of my boys—their American brothers. 
The packages should  arrive in time for Christmas.
And love. So much love I send to Africa.
Will you please join me in praying for my friend Ann and the other Compassion bloggers who are in Ecuador this week? They carry so much love along with them. 

How do you embrace the God-joy? Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. And come tell us about it.

Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

Sharing with L.L. Barkat today also: 

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