a swift current of sorrow

I am exhausted from swimming in and out of the current. I long for a boat of bliss, to float above grief, to get out of the river.

I hold the world in the palm of my hand.

Controversy, babies, weddings, travels, lyrics, rants, politics, cupcakes, frustration,  outrage, joy, relief, accomplishment . . . an endless stream of emotion.

Sometimes, the world in my hand becomes too much — scrolling, spinning out of control. Every day a new grief.

Two weeks . . . an airplane full of 239 living souls disappears in a remote sea, an apartment building explodes in Harlem, a mountainside slips and buries a hundred people 60 miles away . . .

Two weeks of nonstop mourning, punctuated by loss after loss. Of longed for babies . . . of cherished mothers . . . of beloved grandparents, including my own.

In my hand, I enter the heartaches of friends, of family, of me.

How do we process life so quickly? Can we possibly feel so fast?

Caught in a swift current, barely keeping head above, I fight my way to the shore.

Can we stop here even an hour? To rest? To grieve? To pray?

How? How do we do this knowing? How do we feel the floods of sadness without drowning?

* * * * *

I am a feeler. I know this. Sometimes, I can barely stay afloat. If you cling to me too hard, we’ll both go down.

I want to hide in bed, pull covers over and stay . . . to submerge sorrow in television, in laughter, in nothingness. To give my eyes a rest, my head, my heart. Tomorrow morning, I will wake up and the world will be different. (Ah, but tomorrow has enough trouble of its own.) 

I am exhausted from swimming in and out of the current. I long for a boat of bliss, to float above grief, to get out of the river. Lord, help me back into the boat before I drown.

“We can’t absorb it all. We know too much, too quickly, and one of the worst effects of this avalanche of technology is the loss of compassion.” — Madeleine L’Engle, 1970

The only solace I know, the only way to keep my body in and my head above is a promise. And I cling to it for life.

Surely he has borne our sorrows, surely he has carried our grief . . . *

* * * * *

Some evenings, when I’ve used all the compassionate words I have to plead donations to help heal the hurts of a broken world, I have nothing left. I am hollow. And the most I can do for the ache of the world in my hand, is to turn it off and attend to what’s in front of me. To let the work of my hands, not my troubled mind, minister to my heart.

It’s an unusual afternoon . . . I walk in the door and the house is napping. So, I set to work, and I don’t mind doing the neglected chores. I tidy in silence, picking up scattered clothes and thanking God there is someone here to scatter them. I sip a glass quietly. I pray as I empty last night’s dishes and load the day’s mess. I cook a meal and set a table without a word, and I remember my grandmother’s voice announcing it was “time to take up the food” which meant to put it in serving dishes.

For a few minutes, a counter top is clean, a floor swept, laundry folded. Time and tide have stopped. And I have solitude and order.

I let tears fall again.

Here, in this quiet place, can we sit? Can we be still? Hush the words, the images, the world?

I cry out that my heart is full, is overwhelmed, is drowning. I cry for my family. For the losses of dear friends, of acquaintances, of strangers. For families whose loves are not buried in a cemetery in graves covered with flowers, but in the ocean, under a mountain.

And I feel Jesus’ mercy for this world, for all of us. For all the grief of all time carried on His back in one moment. I feel the gentleness of the One who knew my days before there was one of them, who gathers my tears in a bottle, who wept over the grief of His friends.

And in the cloister of my kitchen, He whispers that He understands. Because He feels it, too. And He holds out His hands to show me.

See? I have engraved you on the palms of my hands . . . **

* * * * *

His thoughts said, Before me continually is the grief of wounds, confusion, suspense, distress.

His Father said, Behold there is a place by Me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock.

Then, as a frightened child on a storm-swept mountain-side would gratefully take his father’s hand, and stand on a rock in a place by him, fearing no evil – so it was with the son. For he knew that though the earth be removed and the waters be carried into the midst of the sea, that rock by his Father would never be moved. And he remembered words about things that can be shaken and things that will remain. And though no small tempest lay on him, he said to the multitude of thoughts whose voices sought to disturb him, Sirs, be of good cheer; for I believe God that it shall be even as it was told me. For as His majesty is, so also is His mercy.

His Thoughts Said…His Father Said…, Amy Carmichael

* * * * *

*Isaiah 53:4

** Isaiah 49:16

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Jack Delano, photographer, 1941. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, [LC-DIG-fsa-8a3564]

 

repost: a light between here and there

the Grandma I wrote about in this post passed away today. she was an example to me of a love that endures at a time when I needed it most.

My Grandma I wrote about in this post last summer passed away today.
She was, and will always be, an example and encouragement to me of a love that endures at a time when I needed it most.

Someday, I will write about that, but tonight, before I tuck myself into bed, I just want to go back to my earliest memories of her and smell those cotton sheets.

* * * * *

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. — Matthew 5:14

When I was a little girl, my parents packed us into their old, red Datsun mini station wagon and traveled north from Denver to Casper.

I don’t know how many times we made that trip to my grandparents’ house, or how many times we drove those hours at night. At eight years old, squished with my brothers in the back seat , the drive (which might be just four hours) seemed an eternity. Even with my dad singing cowboy songs.

Somewhere behind us, the lights of the city disappeared, leaving only black nothing ahead.

Miles and miles of darkness. No highway lights. No inside car lights. No light-up games. We floated through space.

Lone beacons in midnight fields, like bright stars, reached out with comfort  — and questions.

Who would live so far out in the nothing? Wouldn’t they be lonely? Where would they go to school?

Someone chose this solitary place. A rancher, maybe, with a thousand head of cattle. An oilman with a hundred wells. A lineman, quiet and content with the company of tumbleweeds . . .

Finally, we’d reach a rise and see, off in the distance, the white-blue glow of Casper. Almost there. Always, it seems, it was then I would fall asleep.Midland Pennsylvania at night

More than an hour from the first sight of city lights, through town and out again, into the dark countryside once more, was a country school in the middle of nowhere where my grandparents were caretakers.

Noisy vibration of wheels hitting cattle guards jostled me awake. A floodlight on a lonely road marked our destination.

Into the driveway, around the school, we coasted toward light pouring through the windows of my grandparents’ house, inviting us out of the cramped car onto the lawn and into the glow.

I can still smell the cotton sheets of the bed grandma had made up and waiting. Stretching my legs under the covers, I drifted into darkness again — the feel of the road in my limbs as the journey replayed behind closed eyelids.

This quiet home — a light, far from town, a shining dot on a dark landscape — was Grandma and Grandpa’s house. A place of wide open spaces and adventure and cousins and giant sprinklers and stories and jeep rides on scary back roads and arrowhead hunts and a refrigerator full of name-brand soda in cans.

There is a place for solitary light. A reason to live in the darkness between here and there.

* * * * *

I wonder how long we will live along this dark highway. . . in the daily-ness of nurturing, guiding, growing, of learning to be faithful in small things.

Because sometimes, I wrestle with the limits of my little light.

Sometimes, I am reduced to flickering – a candle wick bent, weary, drowning in wax. And I begin to envy the power of the luminous city, of the brightness that cannot be hidden. And I become a lamp, out of oil, puffing stinky smoke . . .

Sometimes, I want to pack up and leave the quiet place. To find significance as part of a big thing . . . cars drive past in a hurry from here to there . . . 

But somewhere, in the middle of the night, someone is searching. And a small light will illuminate his steps, even if just one step at a time.

On the journey through darkness, a solitary light marks the way: Keep going, you are almost there.

A solitary light gives comfort:  Traveler, you are not alone.

A solitary light gives courage — It’s possible to live in the middle of nowhere for a very long time.  

Even a solitary light holds back the night. Even a glowing ember can be revived. And a dimly burning wick He will not quench. 

This is the light God gave me.

 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:15-16

Sometimes a city, set on a hill. Sometimes a lamp, on a stand. Sometimes a flickering candle. But always light. Always and ever dependent on the Father of Lights for filling to fight against consuming darkness.

. . .  there is a purpose for solitary light. A reason to live in the darkness between here and there.

* * * * *

Since through God’s mercy, we have this ministry, we do not lose heart . . . .But we have this treasure, this light, in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:1,6-8) 

* * * * *

Thank you, Grandma Barrick.

of pride and pompousness, part one

maybe love does not boast means I don’t need to prove how much I deserve love

“Nothing is more deceitful,” said Darcy, “than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.”
– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

* * * * *

The cat and I found a bit of sunshine this morning. I, to trim an overgrown bush, which is bent on blocking my porch swing view of the trampoline, she to watch me wear out my arms.

We have learned, the two of us, to bask in sun while it is sun. Already, the spotlight has made its way across our patch of woods and shade covers all but a sliver of the sparkling grass.

Perhaps I am avoiding the house. It is all at sixes and sevens — a phrase for which, out of curiosity, I have now had to consult the OED . . . or rather, the Wikipedia, as it appears there is an annual subscription rate of $295 for the Oxford English Dictionary.

And so, Wikipedia must suffice this morning for the meaning of the phrase, which is derived, roughly, from: a French dice game (6 & 7 being unlucky). Chaucer. Shakespeare. Gilbert & Sullivan. Which is pretty much the evolutionary path of all English words.

I suppose I am in an especially English mood this morning. Sipping tea because I’ve had far too much coffee. Imagining petticoats pant legs six inches deep in mud if I follow my flight of fancy down to the beach (which smells particularly of sulfur this morning). Wishing I had housemaids to right my messy house. Counting hours til I see my daughter in Whitworth University’s Pride and Prejudice. . . . and pondering one’s opinion of oneself

* * * * *

I wish I knew classical Greek. Really knew it. Lexicon skills only take you so far. Because I think there is a depth of poetry to the Love Chapter, and I am only skimming the surface.

Saul of the New Testament was a Jewish scholar. A Pharisee. Memorizer of the entire Torah. Expert in the Law of Moses. But God chose him, Luke says in the Acts of the Apostles. Chose Saul specifically to take the story of Jesus — whose followers he had persecuted to death — to the Greeks.

I read somewhere that the church at Corinth, to whom St. Paul wrote love is had become competitive. They bragged about their gifts and knowledge and enlightenedness. Exalting self — just like their city’s vain goddess, Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The worship of Aphrodite makes you realize why the Christ followers in Corinth needed a full, detailed explanation of love . . .

Which brings me back to Greek. St. Paul used a word here that most of us read in our Bibles as brag or boast. But this particular Greek word is used no where else in the New Testament, not even in any of St. Paul’s other epistles. It’s a word used by Greek philosophers and historians of gods and goddesses — translated into the English language (making the usual trek through Chaucer and Shakespeare) originally as vaunteth:

  1. a self display, employing rhetorical embellishments in extolling one’s self excessively

Vaunteth puts on a parade of self. 

In vaunt, I see the actions and words of the king of the humble brag — Mr. Collins (Pride & Prejudice), the pompous and stupid Mr. Eliot (Persuasion), the name-dropping Mrs. Elton (Emma), the preposterously selfish Fanny Dashwood (Sense & Sensibility), the vain and aristocratic Aunt Norris (Mansfield Park). Ridiculous, boastful caricatures.

I would like to leave boasting in an arrogant Aphrodite’s court and in the pages of Austen. I know vaunteth doesn’t belong in real life love.

Oh, but it’s there.

“Boasting is often a sign of my deep insecurity and need for others to validate me with their approval.”**

Maybe, sometimes, we pat ourselves on the back because no one else ever does. Maybe we were starved of praise by parents, teachers, coaches who didn’t want it to go to your head. Maybe we flaunt our accomplishments or beauty or talent or possessions because it’s the only way we’ve ever received attention. And maybe, sometimes, we’re entirely unaware that by inflating ourselves, we’ve eclipsed someone we love.

* * * * *

I’ve paraded myself with my own lips. More times than I care to confess . . .
Maybe love does not boast means you don’t need to prove how much you deserve love . . . because you are secure in the love of a God who loved even the formerly murderous St. Paul. You are loved because you are the beloved.

I think it’s lovely that don’t boast comes right after don’t envy. Love doesn’t try to make people jealous.

Sometimes, in this day of posting words everywhere, our boasts and milder “humble brags” are in our friends’ faces all the time. Things we used to keep to ourselves so quickly typed and out there . . . Sometimes, just asking ourselves why we are saying it stops the me parade.

Sometimes, though, we’re too sensitive, taking outbursts of joy as vaunting. I know I have. And I have to ask myself if I am envious because I’m competing, comparing gifts, discontent . . .

And I have to stop myself from getting up and taking a turn — my turn — about the room so that my figure may be seen to the best advantage.

* * * * *

** Dr. Ralph Wilson, Jesus Walk

how do I envy? let me count the ways . . .

Envy is hardest when all is wrong. When all the world has spring and you have winter. Endless, endless winter.

Raindrops trace paths down my car window.  Robins, undaunted, dot the lawn. I count six – their red vests striking against the mossy green.

Now is when dull gray skies are hard. I want the sun to beat too hot on this hillside. I want to need water, and sunglasses, and shade.

I suppose that comes from living three quarters of my life in places where March meant something.

Here, March is just more of the same.

Interminable ashen dripping skies.

* * * * *

I wonder how much of my life I’ve wasted on jealousy.

Wishing I had, wishing I could, wishing I was . . . envious of people who had, did and were.

Even now I think I’m a little jealous of people who have backyard chickens . . . or a well-trained Jack Russell terrier, or a 4 wheel drive, or lovely, manageable hair . . . or people who can dance well, or have a faster metabolism than mine, or write whatever they want all day, or have a house with new bathrooms, or travel abroad, or live on a large sunny lot . . . or on a farm with a view of the water . . .

I have to dismiss jealous thoughts.

And sometimes, I have to fight them hard.

Jealous thoughts, unchecked, deepen into gnawing envy.

There’s always something.

Someone’s looks.

Someone’s talent.

Someone’s stuff.

Someone’s place in life.

Someone’s success.

Someone’s marriage.

Someone’s blessing.

Someone’s answered prayer.

* * * * *

Envy slips into loneliness and quietly plants daydreams: a different home, a different job, a different husband, a different life.

Envy stretches out evil roots to trip me as I walk. Envy distracts, divides, depresses.

Envy forces a wedge between and saws furiously at ties that bind hearts.

Envy is hardest when all is wrong. When all the world has spring and you have winter. Endless, endless winter.

* * * * * *

Ah, but this is the spring.

Beneath the gray, green unfurls greener. Beneath the mud, color pushes against soil.

Long before sun brings warmth and light, the growing begins.

Joy appears. Dotting landscapes. Filling fields.

Promises . . . under still dreary skies.

Signs of love, of hope, of new life. Signs I miss if I am constantly cursing the sky for what it is not.

Robins, daffodils, tulips, camellias — why should they care about the color of the sky?

* * * * *

I am thankful for robins.

I am thankful to breathe wet air instead of icy.

I am thankful for wild, waxy green evergreen bushes loaded with fat, pink-tinged assurances of beauty.

I am thankful for writers and books to help pass gray days and point me toward the smallest gifts of life — planting gratitude to choke out envy, cultivating thankfulness for what I have, for how God made me, for the life I live, for the gift of years, days, for house, for minivan, for naturally curly hair. Gratitude for children, for husband . . . all of us growing every day — all of us becoming.

This gratitude turns to contentment — the most powerful antidote I know for the rotting disease of envy.

* * * * *

The rain has had its say this morning. The sun is out now, demanding my attention. And I will love this day for the gift it is.

Love is . . . never jealous or envious . . .

— St. Paul

* * * * Spring 2
*

The unending paradox is that we do learn through pain . . . I look back at my mother’s life and I see suffering deepening and strengthening it. In some people, I have also seen it destroy. Pain is not always creative; received wrongly, it can lead to alcoholism and madness and suicide. Nevertheless, without it we do not grow.

— Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

* * * * *

How do I give up resentment for gratitude, gnawing anger for spilling joy? Self-focus for God-communion.
To fully live — to live full of grace and joy and all that is beauty eternal. It is possible, wildly.
I now see and testify.
So this story — my story.
A dare to an emptier, fuller life.

— Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: a dare to live fully right where you are

* * * * *

It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.

— Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

* * * * *

On rainy days Beatrix painted the everyday things around her: flowerpots, antique furniture, the interior halls and staircases. She once used the inclement weather as the backdrop for an unconventional view of Lingholm; with one side and the roof line of the grey stone house cast up dramatically against the opaque, rainy sky with the distant mountains shrouded in mist. She called it simply Rain.

— Linda Lear, Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature

* * * * *

Keep a gratitude notebook and write down what happens during the week. During this experiment, determine not to ask for anything, not to gripe, grumble, or complain about what you wish you had. While you’re experimenting, share with the people in your house why you’re thankful for them . . .

Remember, if you’re upset by what you don’t have, you waste what you do have.

–Linda Dillow, Calm My Anxious Heart

22 ordinary kindnesses to keep a marriage going

Maybe it’s not the once a week, once a month, once a year date that glues a fractured marriage together.
Maybe it’s the every day . . .

22 years ago, we were 22 . . . and we got married on a day that only “exists” (as one of my boys says) every four years.

And we’ve done a lot of the shoulds of marriage wrong.

Like date night . . . we rarely did/do date night. We were put-the-kids to bed-at 7-so-we-can-enjoy-the-evening people — before they all became teenagers. And now, it seems everyone has something going on always, and the nights we aren’t going five different directions, we’re so tired that going to bed at 9:30 is far more appealing than dinner out. (We do have date days now, now that we both have Fridays off — which is awesome.)

But somehow, as of the non-existent February 29th, we’ve now been married half our lives . . .

So, maybe there are more important things than a regular date night to make it in marriage?

Maybe it’s not the once a week, once a month, once a year date that glues a fractured marriage together. Maybe it’s the every day. And there is nothing more every day – more ordinary – than kindness.

But kindness is a thing you have to practice, I think. Because it’s all about tone, about truth and sincerity . . . and timing. Especially when you’ve had bitterness, selfishness, anger, and resentment between you.

And sometimes, the practice looks a little rough. You make mistakes. You misunderstand.

Like with helping . . . there’s a “let me do that” that’s genuinely kind and there’s a “let me do that” that’s frustrated and snarky. And sometimes, a tone isn’t there at all but just a figment of our own anger. So we hear a gentle “Why don’t you let me do this” as “You’ve failed so miserably as a mother, it’s best if I take over.”

We’re still learning, too, that sometimes you need to let it pass and let it be. That not everything has to be corrected, confronted, discussed. That it’s wise to overlook an offense. To make allowance for each other’s faults. That sometimes, it’s just better to not say a word til a mood has passed.

And that sometimes, kindness is simply doing the unexpected from your heart, sincerely, expecting nothing in return. 

Lately, I’ve been noticing the little kindnesses that are mending us. I’ll give you just 22:

1. Cleaning up the cat’s hairball mess in the middle of the night so he doesn’t step in it when he gets up early to make the coffee before he takes the oldest boy to zero hour.

2. Getting up early to make the coffee fresh even though the pot has a timer.

3. Driving the oldest boy to zero hour this year so I can sleep longer, drink coffee longer, or write longer before the day begins.

4. Putting down the book to listen while he divides errands for the day, promising to at least get the baggies we’re out of if I can do nothing else.

5. Going to the store late at night on his way home because I forgot the sandwich bags for the third day in a row, and the boys are tired of wrapping their food in parchment paper and packing tape.

6. Leaving him alone while he works on his car, letting him mutter without asking for clarification or doubting his skills.

7. Noticing my tire — because he’s like that about cars — and changing his early morning alone-time plan to take my car to town and fix the tire before I am even out of bed.

8. Sharing his hashbrowns even though I should have ordered my own –because I actually kind of did want them more than a pancake — but I always order poorly, and we both know it.

9. Greeting him with a happy hello and a kiss when he gets home (in the middle of dinner making) no matter what I have in my hands, unless it’s a knife, and then — he has informed me — I should probably put it down.

10. Taking the boys to get pizza because I’m working on something creative and meals have completely skipped my mind.

11. Doing the dishes because the one who makes dinner shouldn’t also have to clean up.

12. Dropping everything to wash the dishes 15 minutes before he gets home because I let the boys skip chores and it makes us all feel less stressed when there is actual counter space on which to eat when the dining room table is covered in projects.

13. Making the phone call about the bill because he knows I hate phone calls — especially about bills.

14. Surprising him by being ready on time for once so we can all ride together to church.

15. Getting to know the mood cycle but not letting me know he knows.

16. Giving him the benefit of the doubt that he did not mean it that way.

17. Hugging me gently and telling me it’s okay and when I’m ready to talk, he’ll listen.

18. Holding my hand while we walk down the street (even though we are still awkward hand-holders after 22 years . . . but it’s our anniversary so we at least have to try).

19. Smiling patiently for the twenty-seventh time because this picture is really important to me.

20. Indulging my whim and making homemade ice-cream when it’s so, so much less work for him to just go buy it from the store.

21. Keeping my I told you so to myself (which has maybe never happened, but I think he’ll appreciate that I at least think about it).

22. Appreciating his efforts to think of me more than of himself, and letting him know I do by being generous with the thank yous.

Ephesians 4:31-32 * Proverbs 19:11 * Colossians 3:13

22nd Anniversary

Kindness is needed in every relationship. 

What ordinary kindnesses are you practicing?