When We are Fallow and Infertile

Screen Shot 2016-12-23 at 10.28.47 AM 'Tis the season for all the top ten lists. I thought of doing one but decided against, for various reasons. Writing, for me, has taken a different turn in this season and I've had to mourn the loss with tears, stalwart determination, and sometimes crippled fingers and thoughts. Last week I confessed in tears to Nate that one of the hardest parts of life this year has been how quickly the world turns and how my work has faded from sight, and how forgotten I've felt as time and people progress and we feel stuck. It was a good talk, a humbling one and a needed confession of my own sin. This week I've just tried to remember, remember, remember all that God has done in this fallow season.

Fallow is an agricultural term meaning, simply, to let a field alone for a period of time in order to restore its fertility. As I look over 2016, and the lingering parts of 2015, it's very easy for me to see all the death and none of the fertility. What have we borne? Nothing, even if you look closely, which I have been trying to do. And there is something inside of me—and probably inside of you—that wants to rush to cover over that sad statement with so many reminders of "All The Good Things!" But, just as those fields need times of fallow, of non-productiveness, of not bearing, and seeming to all the world and the field too, of having lost their ability to bear, God is still doing something in that neglected dirt. The platitudes we want to console or coddle with actually make what isn't happening less beautiful. If I look closely enough I can see God's beautiful sovereign hand in all of the seeming nothing. This may not make sense to you, it barely does to me in my cognitive moments, but in my poetic moments, those mysterious ah-has creep into my heart unawares and surprise me with comfort, joy, hope, and peace.

I take great comfort right now in not being able to know the mind of God, even if I try. For all my attempts to garner an explanation for what He has done and is doing with our lives, or to wrangle a glimpse of next year, or bribe my way into what I want or less of what I don't want, I'm humbled that the only show of hands is His promise of Love. He gives the presence of Jesus, as a baby, in a humble birth, and permission to pray "Our Father" even when He is off in Heaven and we are still here on dirt-encrusted earth, and the gift of His Spirit, comforting, helping, teaching, always quietly and sometimes imperceptibly.

God is doing something in the fallow field, so small, so magnificent, so intricate, and so miraculous, that it would astound me to know the details and so, instead, it just seems to me a dark, hardened, untended, infertile, and frozen acre of dirt. Planting will come, and someday, again, fruit, and then harvesting, but fallowing is just as important for the process as seed sowing and sun shining, it simply isn't as pretty in the meantime.

Thank you, Father, for leaving us fallow sometimes, but never leaving us, ever, any of the time. 

The Kind of Wells We Find at Home

I had promised myself to post more here these days. To be a hunter of beauty and a finder of joy in a season where everywhere we look are reminders of fracturing and fragility. I don't really believe that, though, I think. Lately I've been reminded of how whole and perfect and beautiful things are and are becoming. Staying away from the angry articles and interviews and response blogs and angry response blogs and retweeted tweets is helpful for that though. Eternity really is written on the hearts of men, but I guess sometimes we think hell is eternity and not heaven. I've been grateful for heaven this past week. I went home and on my way there I sent a text to Nate: "Where is home for you?" I asked. "If there's anywhere in the world that feels, smells, tastes like home, where is that, for you?" He responded a bit later. "Virginia or D.C., I thought, but now that we're here, it doesn't. Maybe Germany. Not Turkey. Not New Jersey. Not Michigan. Not Georgia. Maybe Texas, I lived there the longest. What about you?" I wasn't sure how to answer but as I continued to drive north and the bite of cold worked its way into my bones and the leaves grew more and more brilliant, I knew it was here, or at least here was the way to home. Eternity is written on our hearts, but earth is worked into our soles, embedded there with soil and leaves and tastes and scents of home. And so, I went home for a few days and it was lovely. New York in the fall always is.

While I was there I made it my aim to spend time with two women I love and with whom my time is always too short when I stop there for a few days. We had good conversations and talked about hard things. Mostly they talked and I listened but I felt my heart swell with love for both of them. And I also felt it swell with the kind of admiration I want to have for more people and don't. They are walking through hard, hard, hard things and doing it well. Broken, sad, hurting, questioning, but this is the kind of well I think more of us need to draw from. The deep and aching sob of hurt reaches down past the normalcy of everyday, the kinds of days full of predictable nonsense and unexpected joy. These wells are deeper than that and rare to find. I think of the book of Psalms, the 84th chapter:

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.

The valley of Baka, or Baca, means the valley of tears, and another translation says, "They make it a place of wells." This is what tears do, if we'll let them. They pool in us deep caverns of proven grace, proven character, and a proven God, and they become wells. Spring rains bring life and flowers and greens everywhere, but autumn rains pull the dead and dying leaves from their stark trees, making dead things seem deader. But the poet said once, "Be like the trees. Let the dead things drop."

The dead things, I find, for me these days, are feelings of shame, fear, uncertainty. It has been a rocking year, one I would never repeat if offered prizes of greatest worth. Shame has been my constant enemy and fear its close neighbor, tears have felt at times like my only friend. But if I can just let this valley of tears pool itself into wells, I know there is sustenance to be found there. I believe it with all my heart.

. . .

I was glad to arrive at the weekend with no knowledge of any election news, no interviews with famous Christian women, and a naive belief that God was repairing and preparing this world instead of breaking it. I dipped my toe into the latest for a minute, but found the well of my tears a better pool to swim in these days. Here are some beautiful things I've read this week:

From John Blase (whose poetry you should be reading, and whose letters to Winn you should also be reading): I’ll never forget that rainy day I wore my Scout uniform to school not knowing our meeting was cancelled. Those were halcyon days before group text messages and reverse 911s.

From Cloistered Away: Training sounds like such an intense word, but all it is: reestablishing the order and peace of the home. The goal isn’t to lead perfect lives; it’s to heed the red flags as helpful guides letting us know some things need to change. Today always offers a fresh start and new mercy. When life feels chaotic, here is what we do to cultivate peace in our home again.

From Literary Hub: Writing is facing your deepest fears and all your failures, including how hard it is to write a lot of the time and how much you loathe what you’ve just written and that you’re the person who just committed those flawed sentences (many a writer, and God, I know I’m one, has worried about dying before the really crappy version is revised so that posterity will never know how awful it was). When it totally sucks, pause, look out the window (there should always be a window) and say, I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing.

This quote from George Eliot in her Letters to Miss Lewis keeps going round and round in my head. I read it many years ago think of it every autumn. I hope you love this season as much as I do, and if you don't, I hope someday you do. Just because, no reason, just because. Below is a photo I took at home. I stood there and was reminded me of her Delicious Autumns.

Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love - that makes life and nature harmonise. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one's very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.

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