Today when I awakened and looked out the window, the beauty of the morning took my breath away. The day was just beginning to ripen and the cascading sun warmed the colors of the earth and trees. Dew clung to each silvery leaf and the grasses stirred a shimmery song. I stood on the cusp of the day and felt the hope of morning awaken inside of me.
Standing there, bare feet wet from the dew-drenched grass, I remembered these lines from a poem by Rilke:
Summer was like your house: you knew
where each thing stood.
Now you must go out into your heart
as onto a vast plain. Now
the immense loneliness begins.
(Rilke’s Book of Hours, II, I)
One week from today I will fly to Haiti for a week of missions with Family Health Ministries. And though I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, it is stretching me a bit. Those who know me will tell you that I don’t often venture far from the hearth. I’ve never been out of the country—not even to Canada. Adventure, for me, is seeing how much the tomato plants have grown overnight.
I’ve always been content to be right here, to treasure the ministry I brush up against every day. I still feel this is my calling—to tend this life well, loving those I encounter each day, seeing the beauty in the ordinary moment. But lately I have been wondering about God’s people. I’ve been wondering about God’s world.
Pou Zanmi `m, Laura, he wrote in the front of the book. Bondye bene ou.
For my friend, Laura. God bless you.
And so I have been practicing saying God bless you, in creole.
Bondye bene ou.
Because this is the message I want to carry across the ocean. To know God’s people is to love God better. My heart is a vast plain and there is room.
There is room for more love.
On the way to school this morning, our youngest says to me, Tell me about your wedding day. The world shifts and I grow lighter and my heart leaps inside of me. Because thinking of you and the way our love was planted still does that to me.
Twenty years ago today, I tell him. The sky was as blue as your eyes. But it was windy. Somewhere there is a picture of Dad holding the skirt of my wedding dress out as it flapped in the wind like a sheet on the clothesline, just waiting for it to settle down so we could take pictures…
And I tell him about that day when we stood before our family and friends and God and made a promise to love each other forever. And when I return back home I get out our wedding album.
Oh, love, how could we have known on this day twenty years ago all God had planned for us?
We got married outside, at the farm, I told Jeffrey. Because Dad and I weren’t going to church at the time. I was still confused about my past. And Dad…Dad did not believe the God-story then.
As I look at our shining faces—twenty years younger—I think about that.
Dad did not believe the God-story then.
But he does now, Jeffrey had responded.
Yes, I said. In June it will be seven years.
Seven out of twenty years. Thirteen years of prayer.
What I didn’t tell Jeffrey was how we almost gave up. How you told me you didn’t think you could be the man I wanted you to be. How, because the differences in the way we believed, you thought maybe it was best to divorce.
Remember that, love?
And isn’t the way love endures nothing short of a miracle? A miracle that takes hard work. And not giving up. And a whole lotta faith.
I look at our shining faces—twenty years younger—and I see how our love story is really the story of God’s love. The way a marriage shapes a person is the way His hands mold—making us more beautiful with the lovely patina of time; conforming us to His image. And I could say a lot about the bride of Christ and the way marriage emulates His love for us and how a man should love his wife the way Christ loves the church…
I could say all those true and beautiful things about our love. After twenty years and in the looking back I can see how this story tells the Bigger Story. But I sit here in humble gratitude as I consider the way the pages have unfolded and I feel too tiny to set down words like that.
You have been God’s gift to me. He has etched his Love into ours.
Later, I will go to the jewelers and pick up my wedding band. I finally had it resized this week. Those few extra pounds and the stretching of this body from carrying our babies made that round gold circle squeeze a little too tight on my finger. Kind of the way it does around my heart. And to me it seems—this adding on to the golden promise you gave me—a sign of the way love grows too. It can be costly, but in the end—it results in more gold.
I wanted to write you a poem, but you said you would come home from work early so we could be together and I have a million things to do while I wait. Besides, Wendell Berry says it best. He wrote this poem to his wife on his sixtieth birthday. Pretend it says twenty? It captures my love.
To Tanya on My Sixtieth Birthday
I bring you aged a young man’s love.
Happy anniversary, love. I would marry you a thousand times more.
There have been too many interruptions of the quiet lately and I find I just want to sit at the kitchen table and watch my birds through the bay. I’m finishing up the sermon and it feels like worship as I sift through words and thumb thin pages.
Jeffrey has been running with me on the mornings that I don’t have to work. He is in earnest to grow and do good and his golden heart makes mine stronger. While these days seem to hurl by me in a blur, summer for him is a deep breath. I breathe deeper when he is with me.
Where in your life do you say, “This is living!”? If you don’t have something in your life that regularly inspires adventure, risk, and passion, beware. Because if you don’t, you will seek the counterfeit.
Every Sunday feels like an adventure to me now. It’s like surfacing from a deep pool and watching the heavens open up before me. As much as I have loved the Lord and church and Bible study all my life, I am asking myself…why is this so different? And I know it’s because my faith is being stretched. And I’m depending on God in ways I never have before. And this is the good news: the possibilities for growing my faith this way are endless.
Where are you leaning on God these days?
Just wondering. Because it sure feels good to me.
Here are a few of my favorite things this week:
I made this pasta salad for dinner with my mom last night. This dill dressing is amazing. And the avocado? Sooo scrumptious.
My neighbor gave me this tip to squirrel-proof my bird feeders: slinky! If you use a shepherd’s hook to hold your feeder, simply thread the slinky over top and it secure it by looping one of the wires over the hook. I have a double shepherd’s hook, so I had to actually wind it around the pole—which sounds laborious, but it didn’t take much time at all. Also, I used a staple gun to secure the slinky to my wooden feeder that sits on a pole. It sure is fun watching the squirrel try to get past this one! So far so good…
|See that little booger sitting down there? He can’t get up!!|
Jeffrey and I made this for breakfast this week and it was so simple and delicious. I’ve pinned it on my Pinterest page too.
And I can’t wait to try this with some old wine bottles I have saved. They will make beautiful vases.
Here is my [un]framed picture of the week:
We were sitting around a table overlooking the Frio River, listening to Jeffrey Overstreet talk about how artful story invites the reader inside—invites the reader to discover what the story has to say to them—when he paused and had us go around the table and introduce ourselves.
My friend Marcus was seated to my right, Claire to my left, but the others were new faces. There was a retired photographer, two persons of the cloth, a young college student, an elderly woman, and Jeannie.
When it was Jeannie’s turn, she spoke about the nonfiction books she had written over the years, about coming to Laity Lodge to write, and about her dear, dear friend Madeline L’Engle. Immediately, my shoes felt too big.
We all tried to pretend like it was nothing but all the while, I’m thinking…Madeleine L’Engle! When I was a girl, this dear woman’s books opened up a whole new world to me. A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet … Jeannie’s casual namedropping sent me into a reverie of wistfulness, remembering the joy of discovering a series of books that aroused a deep awakening in my young self. How I loved Charles Wallace and Meg. They taught me through their story that anything is possible. And who wrapped science around fantasy in such a way? I’d never read science fiction before. I didn’t know people wrote like that.
We took a break and I went to the restroom and was startled to find Lauren Winner washing her hands and Ashley Cleveland exiting the stall. What’s more, they greeted me casually, engaged in a bit of small talk before going on their way. Back at our open-air table, I tell Marcus.
“I can’t believe she referred to Madeleine L’Engle as her dear, dear friend!”
He shrugs his shoulders.
“And Eugene Peterson writes here all the time.”
“Eugene Peterson? Really?” I am a bit star-struck. “But that makes me feel so … small.”
“Why? I don’t understand that. That should make you feel special not small. You’re here too. Laity Lodge is for everyone.”
I tell him about running into Ashley and Lauren in the restroom.
“Right,” he says. “Because they use the bathroom too.”
We laugh but I am quieted a bit inside. Later, I walk down the road with my friends Verbieann and Ann (who has since become a New York Times bestselling author) and tell them the story. I turn Marcus’ words around in my mind.
Am I special? I mean, just because I haven’t held court with writers like Madeleine L’Engle or Eugene Peterson…does that mean there is no value in the words I share? My friend Elaine was recently at a conference in which the speaker posed the question, How do your words help solve the problem of pain? I’ve been thinking about that. Wondering. And I remember the young girl I was—wrapped in the pain of a broken family, uncertainty of self—and I know the question goes deeper than it appears at first glance.
Though Madeleine L’Engle’s story about a young misfit girl and her brilliant little brother and how they rescue their father using a tesseract and all the amazing things they encounter in the process…though these words may not appear to address the problem of pain directly, they surely helped to save a young girl who was drowning in it when she first encountered them.
I think about these things all these months after my conversation with my wise friend Marcus. I am learning to embrace myself as word-giver. It still feels fragile—I’m still self-conscious and clumsy. But when I look back, I see that time at Laity Lodge as a pivotal step in this acquiescence. Because Laity Lodge is for everyone. My time there was like a warm embrace; I was cradled in that canyon. Everyone there was someone special. This is because that riverbed and those canyon walls are saturated with the presence of God. Dan Roloff told us that the place was built to provide a place where people can encounter God. While there, I felt the breath of my Creator, I felt loved as a favorite child.
The truth is, we should feel this way no matter where we are, no matter what we do. But sometimes, gravity gets in the way and our earthbound nature blinds us to who we truly are. Laity Lodge is a place of transcendence for me.
We are gearing up for the retreat again this year. I’ll be there. Won’t you consider it too? There is a chance you could go for free. I’d love to meet you there. Would even share that table overlooking the Frio with you.
Keeping deer away, it said.
The notecard my mother-in-law left me last week.
Laura, after things dry off after a rain, mix a solution of ¾ parts water & ¼ part milk in a spray bottle. Spray all your garden plants. If you don’t have a spray bottle, just take your fingers and sprinkle the plants—must do this after every rain. It will keep the deer away.
My tenderettes had turned up nibbled down to the nub one morning. I called my mother and father-in-law. They are my gardening consultants.
It’s the deer, she said. They love beans!
She left me the card while I was at work one day. I don’t know why, but I didn’t do it.
The next day, I noticed that the tops of some of my tomato plants had been nibbled. And my hydrangea. I’m doomed to never see that thing bloom.
I still didn’t sprinkle the milk. I don’t know why. I just didn’t do it.
The next morning, I was incredulous.
Those boogers ate my tobasco peppers! I told my husband.
Sprinkle the milk, he said.
Well, I didn’t think they would eat hot peppers!
The milk, he said, emphatically.
I didn’t. Do. It.
The next morning, I was enjoying a cup of coffee at the kitchen table. The birds were frolicking happily at my feeder and I was lost in the flutter of wing and flash of gold. Then, on my periphery, something moved in the meadow. Something large and brown.
Slowly, I stood up from the table. The birds startled away in a poof of feathers.
It was a doe.
Breathlessly, I watched her move toward the fence, edging ever closer to my garden. I was ready to make a big ruckus. I could put a scare on a doe like nobody’s business. And then the little fawn appeared.
I sat back down.
She nosed her little muzzle up against the fence.
Perhaps that dear little creature needs those beans more than I, my clouded thoughts wondered.
The thieving duo disappeared into the thick underbrush of the meadow and I began thinking of vine-ripened tomatoes. Of homemade salsa and the snap of fresh-picked beans.
I sprinkled the milk.
While I was doing so, I wondered to myself…what took me so long?
Does that ever happen to you? You know you should do something, but you just don’t? You know it will make your life better, richer, more beautiful…but you don’t.
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7:15-20)
There is a simple solution. That sprinkling again. When I remember the sprinkling of my baptism…it keeps me from being nibble down to the nub.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord.—Romans 7: 24-25
With Jen and the Soli Deo Gloria sisters today: