Black Friday: Bittersweet

Bittersweet

This morning as the bacon sizzled in the pan, I looked out the bay window to see a large black crow flying over the meadow behind our house. Something about the slow way he pushed down on the air with his massive wings put a song in my heart. He was unhurried, dipping low into the frost-tipped grasses, lifting feathered body high against a gray day dawning.

These past few days have felt like an extended Sabbath and as Sabbath-keeping always does, a quiet celebration has been kindled in my heart.

Yesterday we feasted with our loved ones and took our traditional after-dinner walk. My mother-in-law showed us the wild vines of Bittersweet growing tangled all along her property. She decorated the dining table with it this year and it seemed the perfect thing. After our walk, we lingered long in each other’s presence, keenly aware someone was missing, feeling the joyful ache of love and longing all wrapped up in each other. This will be the year of firsts without him, and we cling tightly to what is left behind, finding comfort in being together.

Tomorrow, we make that long drive to drop our boy back at his dorm and already I feel lonely for him. These are the ways God is preparing my heart for Advent—this crazy mix of joy and grief. It’s a strange feeling, this hollowing out of all the stuff of the world I carry in me to make room for the divine.

Philippians 2:5-11 says that Jesus made himself nothing. Being in very nature God … he made himself nothing. (NIV). The NRSV says he emptied himself. It’s the Greek verb form kenóō“to empty”.

In Christian theology, we call it kénōsis—the voluntary emptying of my own will and allowing myself to surrender to the will of God.

He cannot fill me unless I am empty.

The world empties me when I am too weak to do it myself. Circumstances steal joy, hope is squelched and love runs out the door. And I am empty … empty.

The morning winks at me and the sky is heavy with unshed rain and I open my heart to this season. That empty inside is a tender ache—softer than before … sweet somehow. I let this mystery of my own becoming comfort and awaken the wonder. The wonder of waiting for a Lord who never leaves me.

The winner of my Advent giveaway is … Kelli! Congratulations, friend! I’ll be in touch soon.

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.

Satyagraha: a poem

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Art is the act of nonaggression. We have to live this art in our daily lives … Carry the poem away from the desk and into the kitchen. That is how we will survive as writers, no matter how little money we make in the American economy and how little acceptance we get in the magazines. We are not writing for money and acceptance, although that would be nice. Our deepest secret in our heart of hearts is that we are writing because we love the world … ~Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

Last Friday I rose from sleep and piddled as the sun lifted from a foggy bed. Morning chores, walk the dog, sit in study for a time. I didn’t open the paper or turn on the news. I didn’t lift the gaping white screen to check the email.

After a time of study, I picked up my journal. As is my practice, I penned the date at the top of the page.

9/11/15 …

My fingers froze above the page and I was unable to write anything more. My heart has been sitting shiva ever since. It is day seven and the pen is moving once again, but my heart stills each time I remember.

::

we wandered into
an unkind forest
they left their gods
on the sidewalk with
shards of glass and metal,
ashen skin. the earth
shifts when I say
your name.

you walk among the stars now
but I remember
a boy who rollerbladed between
the stacks—books
on every side

that night
you danced until
your skin glistened…
your dreams are the
rich soil of tomorrow
I carry the poem with me

we finish our days
with a sigh,
pick our way through
the underbrush by
the light of the moon

on the trees. moss grows
thick on stones and the fine
filigree of new grass is
soft on the ball of a foot.
your comet leaves a long
tail and I awaken
with this word on my lips:

satyagraha. satyagraha

Playdates with God: Paper Trail

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Today we bury someone I love and I am far away, unable to share in the tears and memories and the ways we hold one another during times such as these. I have been having trouble writing since I found out, wondering about the ways I spend the moments and questioning. I’ve tried to be more present with my family, tried to listen with my heart to all they say and do not say.

Scripture tells us there is a season for everything—a time to mourn and a time to dance. In my book, I share a story of when I did not feel like meeting with God; when the loss of a friend felt so unfair, so pointless, and too hard to let go of. I tell how the Lord held me during that time, and taught me how to dance again.

There is nowhere we can go that our God has not gone before us. Today I find comfort in that knowledge. In the end, it is the little things—like walking together, and eating together, sitting side-by-side, even writing—it is the little things that make a life. We do these things because our heart compels us to and this is how we honor the one wild and precious life we’ve been given.

So, I will write it all down. Again and again. And when my time comes, there will be a paper trail to follow to find me.

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

Playdates With God: Christmas Party

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Sonnet I by Ali G…
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painting by Puerto Rican artist Enrique Mora (just captivating)

There have been Christmas plays and Christmas concerts, Christmas parties and Christmas dinners, Christmas cards and Christmas shopping, and it feels like the good of the season has been crowded out for the busy. So on Friday, when something happens in Connecticut that makes the world stand still…the last thing we want to do is go to the office Christmas party. It feels wrong to eat and drink and laugh and make merry when there is so much loss. But these things have been planned for a long time and there are those who have worked with hands of love to make them happen and sometimes…sometimes the best thing to do is to be together.

So we go and I determine to see meet with God there.

And it’s not hard because our hosts are charming and the shining faces of friends feel like a warm place to worship. And even though the Name is not spoken; because I look—I recognize God there. We were fed in love and wrapped in conversation and the shadow that hangs over the day does not disappear but it becomes a part of the living and breathing and laughing and weeping that is life on this broken earth.

And as our host shows me around the house—sharing his extensive art collection he has painstakingly pursued from all over the world—his joy at these created things is contagious. And I am reminded of what Timothy Keller and Katherine Alsdorf say in their new book.

If we are to be God’s image-bearers with regard to creation, then we will carry on his pattern of work … we are to be gardeners who take an active stance toward their charge. They do not leave the land as it is. They rearrange it in order to make it most fruitful, to draw the potentialities for growth and development out of the soil …

So I let myself get lost in beauty—in swirling color and another’s joy in sharing his passion. And suddenly the world is kinder—broken, still … grieving, still. But kinder.

And I wonder if this is how we make it through–sharing love this way. Scattering beauty. This life is my little patch of land. I want to tend it well—stir the soil well for the planting. Redeeming the broken bits into something beautiful.

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.

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

The Playdates button: