West Virginia Morning: Everything Under the Sun

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This morning, before the sun burned the dew off the grass, we saw three little spotted fawns exploring the meadow behind our house. Last night, our neighbor cleared out a small patch of brambly mélange and mowed down the unruly mess of goldenrod, queen Anne’s lace, and ironweed into a smooth bed of grass. The trio seemed to delight in the freedom to feel out their gangly legs, leaping about and staring over the fence at us in curiosity. I was reminded of the Cultural Mandate—God’s call to us to cultivate the earth, to make it more beautiful. Even our little deer friends appreciate the bringing of order to chaos. Who knew these dear ones were hidden in such a mass of brush?

Meanwhile, I still struggle to bring some order to my own tiny world, internally and externally. Our little town is having a city-wide yard-sale tomorrow and the band boosters are collecting donations for a fundraiser. So I’ve been picking through the attic and basement, looking through twenty years of “oh, I may need this one day” and “I hate to throw this out” items. Items I haven’t given a thought to until this moment. Strange how we hold on to things, is it not? And funny how a little time can give the distance needed to open the hand.

This morning, I started a new Bible study on the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s called Be Satisfied. I was scrolling through my kindle library and it caught my eye because … well, because I haven’t been. Yesterday, in conversation with a new friend, I found myself saying some things that surprised me when describing my life to her. Later in the day, as I reflected on our conversation, I knew I needed some good medicine. The kind of medicine only Truth can give.

Author Warren W. Wiersbe tells me that when Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes,

“he called himself ‘the Preacher’ … The Hebrew word is koheleth (ko-HAY-leth) and is the title given to an official speaker who calls an assembly … . The Greek word for ‘assembly’ is ekklesia, and this gives us the English title of the book, Ecclesiastes. … The word koheleth carries with it the idea of debating, not so much with the listeners as with himself. He would present a topic, discuss it from many viewpoints, and then come to a practical conclusion. …”

Solomon is arguing with himself. I’ve been doing a lot of this lately myself. It doesn’t make for good sleep. I heard a thunderstorm rush through this morning at five a.m. My heart and body were stirred enough to bring me to rise and watch out the window as our little valley received a good scrubbing. An hour later I grabbed my camera and tried to frame up a memory of rain. My lens kept fogging up and the heat was already creeping down my back and my feet quickly grew soggy in the wet grass. These days, nothing seems to go as I hope, nothing seems to measure up to the pictures I paint in my mind.

Dissatisfied.

In the introduction to Be Satisfied, Pastor Ken Baugh gives three principles echoed throughout the book of Ecclesiastes:

Principle 1: I will be satisfied to the extent that I see everything I have as a gift from God.

Principle 2: I will be satisfied to the extent that I notice what is going on in the lives of others.

Principle 3: I will be satisfied to the extent that I trust God during times of distress.

It’s too early in my reading to recommend the study, but I feel hopeful. The lesson this morning was only on the first three verses and already I’m encouraged. I’ll try to keep you in the loop about what I’m learning and reflecting on as I read and examine everything “under the sun”.

 

Garden Notes: Pinto Beans

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This summer my garden has been a lonely little plot. Between neglect due to family concerns, critter issues, and a rainier-than-the-norm season, my sweet little plantlets haven’t had much room to thrive. This morning when I walked Bonnie around the house, the withered pods of pinto beans caught my eye. Pintos are best dried on the vine but one glimpse of those yellowed husks told me I’d waited too long for picking. I dodged another summer shower to harvest them in. Then I sat at the kitchen table hulling the mottled beans and watching through the bay window as rain gave the back yard a good scrubbing. The papery husks split easily between my fingers and I dumped their contents onto newsprint to dry. I’ve always found the steady practice of stringing beans relaxing and soon fell into a reverie from peeling the skin off the pintos to the rhythm of rain.

We haven’t had much time to rest since returning from our family holiday. We went straight from joy into grief and our spirits are so tired. Summer is taking her last gasps and we feel her passing with regret. So many things have been left undone because our presence was required elsewhere. We would not have it any other way, of course. The time spent grieving and loving together has deepened our understanding of life—our hearts have been stretched further than we could imagine. But all the while we reel with a loss of home. Our roots have been lifted out from under us. It feels scary, unbalanced, this knowledge that loss might come again unbidden. We long for the ordinary, for things to go back the way they were. We long for the safety of home, that comfort that comes from all that is familiar and good.

When my boys were little, in their preschool room was a large plastic bin filled with pinto beans. The children loved to dig their hands down into the beans, all the way up to their elbows. The beans were cool and smooth, too small to be a choking hazard, and easily cleaned up if spilled. The children delighted to scoop and pour, making the sound of rain as the beans tinkled into bowls or cups or the backs of toy dump trucks. I remember tiny fingers combing trails through beans as I peel away the dried skins of my pintos. I caress the smooth shell of each bean and drop it into the pile. I scoop the dried fruit up in my hands when I am done, rejoicing in the coolness of each tiny circlet.

Who would believe the life nestled inside such an unassuming little seed?

My troubled little garden is helping me find my way home again. Pinto beans and cornbread are a thing here in West Virginia. When I was a girl, how I would tire of this common meal. But somehow? I know these beans I have hulled today will taste better than any I’ve ever eaten.

Garden Notes: Small Harvest

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This morning when I rise and take Bonnie out for her morning constitutional I notice the dark lingers longer around the edges of the horizon. The days are already shortening and summer has only just begun taking root in my heart. My garden feels it too.

One of my favorite things about returning home from a summer holiday is discovering what my garden has been up to in my absence. Sometimes I return to find the green beans overflowing the vines—ready to be picked and canned. Sometimes my tomatoes are so ripe the plants bend over from the weight of them. Cucumbers await pickling, summer squash begs to be fried up for dinner, and zucchini fairly overruns that little corner of the yard. Sometimes the garden is a happy thing to return to after vacation, like waking from a good sleep on Christmas morn—all these good things seem to appear overnight.

This year was not one of those times. When we returned from vacation this year, thoughts of the mighty Mississippi and the white sands of the gulf coast still lapping at our minds, I found my garden had been invaded. Last year I had trouble with bean beetles and a red-bellied woodpecker, but this year the word about my sweet little garden seems to have spread to all the critters. Deer and rabbits made short work of my bush beans—chewing them down to little nubs. My summer squash were all but obliterated, only a few spindly vines remaining. And my tomatoes? The birds had pecked holes in several, leaving me with a fierce longing for a BLT.

There was not time to grieve. I went on the offensive. I purchased one of those owl statues at our Home Depot and perched him high above my tomatoes, hoping to frighten off the birds and rabbits. I mixed up my milk solution and sprayed my remaining beans to deter the deer. I cleaned out the deadening squash and cucumber vines and fertilized the meager remains.

Then I watched.

To be a gardener means to be slightly obsessive, I’m learning. I haunted the bay window overlooking the back yard for the next few days. If the slightest movement stirred in the garden, I jumped on it. There seem to be less birds flitting about, but a few brave feathered ones have not been fooled by my new garden guardian. When I found more Romas with puncture wounds in them, I upped the strategy: Bird Block. This mesh lining is draped over the garden so plants are protected from hungry invaders. In theory. We shall see.

We’ve been home from vacation for two weeks now, and the garden is coming around. This morning I picked green beans—let the slow work of stringing and cleaning them minister to my spirit. The harvest will be much smaller this year but maybe that is for the best. We are still having trouble getting back into the routine after my father-in-law’s death. My husband tells me he is can’t seem to care about the usual things. It’s hard to mow the grass, do the laundry, get up in the morning for work … it’s hard to go on as if nothing has changed. Some dear friends have brought us meals every night this week. We have been held in love as we grieve. I feel myself growing soft and fat under their care. It feels nice.

This afternoon I am canning the green beans I picked this morning. Soon I will have jalapeños to pickle and can, and I hope, cucumbers. Time has a way of mending things. Time has a way of softening the wounds.

I’m so honored to be featured over at The Life Letter Cafe in an interview with David Miller. I talk a little about my faith journey and Playdates with God. I would love if you’d join us over there

 

Welcome Summer

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Last night I dreamed I was back in college, in that old apartment on Walnut Avenue. Clothes were strewn across my bedroom floor, draped across the bed, piled up in corners. One of my friends sat on my bed and I reclined next to him, asked about his wife, his new baby. I was the me I am now—this woman quickly approaching fifty—but my heart was young and carefree. As I looked in my friend’s eyes, I knew I was old, but I felt beautiful and hopeful, as if time had no power over me.

When I awakened, I puzzled over the contradiction the dream posed.

“Why would I dream such a thing?” I asked my husband as we carpooled to work this morning.

Then I remembered. Today is the first day of summer. The summer solstice happens when the tilt of the earth’s axis leans closest to the sun, and we enjoy the longest day of the year.

I suppose if I think about it, I would say my college years might represent the summer of my life. If summer represents freedom and possibility, a time of dreaming and discovery. But the beautiful thing about the dream was that even though I was in an earlier time, I was the same age I am now. And felt the full impact of my gathered years as beauty.

I’m sitting with that for a spell. Letting it trickle down inside of me and drench my young heart—that heart with eternity written into it. The dreaming is not done with me yet.

 

“lean in a little more, honey,” says
the sun, glowing. and the night
scatters as light is sown gently

in the morning, this dream awakens
words so strong they are heard
underwater; scent of crushed flowers

the wind as stiff as stone, ushers
a sudden rain and clouds drift soft
into velveteen

amidst the tumbling
songs of robins.

Defends Territory by Singing (A Lesson From the House Wren)

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This morning, when I went to the garden to pick my breakfast greens, I decided to check the nesting box. Sure enough, no one was home, so I swept out the mass of sticks and twigs left behind by the last brood. As I scooped the branchy mess aside, I was surprised to find a soft cup of grass and feathers at its center. I had seen a House Wren frequenting the box early in the season, so when I went back inside, I read up on their nesting habits. I did a google image search and several pictures came up almost identical to the abandoned habitat I tidied up earlier. Curious, I read some about the House Wren. As I munched my egg and kale scramble, this fact caught my eye: “Males defend territory by singing.”

How winsome, I thought, wondering at a world where turf battles might be handled with a song. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes the House Wren’s voice as “effervescent” and the Audubon Guide to North American Birds says they sing “a rich bubbling song.”

What if? Maybe we can’t solve the world’s problems with a song, but what if we could learn something from the House Wren?

Later in the day, when we were walking down the little country road we frequent on our traipsing, I said to my husband, “I’m trying something new.” “What’s that?” he asked, as a car sped by—way too fast and way too close to our persons. “Slow down!” He growled loudly, at the quick-disappearing tail lights of a SUV.

“Well,” I said, “I’m trying to look at people with eyes of love.”

“Eyes of love?” He queried, as we crested a small hill (careful to stay on the side of traffic we were visible to on the way up, then crossing back over to walk facing traffic again on the way down).

“Yeah, like, instead of getting angry, I’m going to try to love instead.”

He looked skeptical.

“So, when a car comes by us too fast, I’m going to try to look at their side. The driver could be a young kid with little experience—I can see Jeffrey driving too fast down this road,” I said, referring to our seventeen-year-old son. “Or, someone so caught up in their own stuff they’re not even thinking about how they endanger pedestrians when they fly by.”

“Um-hmmm.” He responded.

“I’m going to think of myself as their teacher. I have to find a way to raise their awareness. With love. Maybe give a little gesture.” I motioned with the palm of my hand facing down—a symbol to slow down.

“I’ll give them a gesture,” he muttered, under his breath.

I laughed, and right then, a young girl in a white compact car came careening down on us. I felt a flash of righteous indignation, then caught myself. I pushed down on the air beside me with the palm of my hand and searched for her eyes through the windshield. She slowed down. Sorry, she mouthed sheepishly, putting her hand over her mouth to signal her remorse. I smiled at her through the window.

My husband rolled his eyes.

I thought I heard a song from the meadow grasses as I watched her taillights drive away. A rich, bubbling song.