Blessed are the Homesick

It is midwinter, or nearly so, and we got a small dusting of snow last week as if God was saying, "It is winter and I'll prove it to you." The windows have been open the last two days though and the air has that damp, mossy scent of midwinter or, in the colder climate of my home, early spring when all the snow has melted. It has been hard to be content here this year and yesterday the day began folding in on itself before it had really begun. It was still dark outside and I was late for an appointment, my keys locked in the car and my husband nearly to work with his set. He met me last night with profuse apologies for locking them in there and I'd forgiven him before it happened. It wasn't him I was so mad at, it was all of the other things that are out of my control and how helpless I feel to change any of it. I read a checklist of sorts the other day, questions to ask when you feel, as the article termed it, dead inside. I don't feel dead inside, not in the least, but I do feel numb and cold and sad and really, really tired in a way I've never felt before. One of the questions was, "How much new are you facing?" I said to Nate later that night, reading that question felt the same as when I queried on social media about good mattresses to buy because we have struggled to sleep deeply this year, and my mother-in-law quipped, "It could have something to do with the fact that in the space of one year, you've had to learn to sleep in three different time zones." It was a moment of clarity for me, and the empathy I've longed for from someone else. "Oh. Three different time zones. I am tired, and it's not a tired a good night sleep will fix."

This isn't meant to be an excuse, though I know it sounds of one. It's more just a reminder to me that I don't receive the grace God gives in the form of common things like sleep or good coffee or a good cry on the back porch or a long bath. I don't receive them without their sniggling sidekick shame.

Last night after Nate's apologies about the keys and after I told him, again, it was an honest mistake (And by honest, I don't just mean not intentional, I mean, they were locked in there because he had tried to serve me by starting the car early with one set on that one snowy day and locking the front door with the other set.), we had a fight. We don't do shouting matches and stomped feet and slamming doors, but last night was the first time in our marriage I wanted to. I felt so misunderstood and unheard and unable to explain how deeply sad and tired I am about some things—things I'd beg you to not assume, because either they're not that complex and the joke's on me, or they are, and the joke's on you. The base of our fight rested on the premise of every fight known to man since those two feuding brothers in Genesis four: unmet expectations.

It is hard to learn the difference between good hopes and bad ones, godly ones and ungodly ones, righteous longings and selfish ones. Even the most righteous hope can be tinged with self-gain and even the nastiest longing finds its roots in the hope for something good and right. We love, Saint Augustine said, in a disordered way. We either want the right thing in a wrong way or the wrong thing in the right way and we press the longing for God farther and further down, until someone asks what we want, and we can't even answer straight because we're so confused.

Nate asked me last night what would happen if I didn't get what I want (in this case, a good and right God-ordained desire) and I couldn't answer. And when I finally did, I sputtered out words about knowing the theological answer but not being able to shake the unshakeable longing in my heart for what I know is right.

I woke this morning with the words from Psalm 68:6 in my head, "He sets the lonely in families," and then I read this from Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), author of Out of Africa, or, if you prefer—as I do—Babette's Feast and more.

Nobody has seen the trekking birds take their way towards such warmer spheres as do not exist, or rivers break their course through rocks and plains to run into an ocean which is not to be found. For God does not create a longing or a hope without having a fulfilling reality ready for them. But our longing is our pledge, and blessed are the homesick, for they shall come home.

I know there is a home out there, a place where we will eventually settle and be settled, and as much as I long for it to be somewhere on earth, it may not come until the earth is new and the kingdom of God is established on it. This morning, though, I am comforted by Blixen's blessing, "Blessed are the homesick," because there is a promise of God following it: one day, we shall go home.

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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. 

Is Blogging Dead?

Someone said blogging is dead, but what I hope they meant is the rat race of push button publishing and flurry response to response to response to response blogging is dead. No one can survive on that sort of writing, nor thrive, not the writer or the reader. I hope that kind of blogging is dead. But back in the early hours of the 2000s, when blogging still felt like a secret from the rest of the world, it felt so alive and made me feel so alive and I've been hoping to find that spark again. I emptied out my subscription/feed reader and started fresh, slashed my Instagram follows by more than half, stepped back from Facebook and Twitter (Forever? For a time? Who knows?), and in an orchestrated attempt to listen to the sounds I love most, I cloistered myself with the living bloggers. And by living bloggers, I mean the ones who are still writing about real life, waking to the perpetual morning, who could write a whole chapter about the way to slice an onion or the leaf they found while walking.

I used to think a writer was just one who writes, but I have become less generous, I think, and believe now that a writer is one who withholds words from the public until they have gotten them right in the private. Having something to say doesn't mean it ought to be said, but saying it, like the poet said, makes it real. The sad predicament of all the saying happening is things which oughtn't have become real have become so and we have ushered ourselves right into a tragedy, just by the words we write and say and publish. We may disagree and I find I am okay with that too. Opinions are in plenty but listening is rare.

I met a woman a few months ago who wanted to be a real writer, to publish on the sites that circulate among the brand of evangelicals within which we both find ourselves. Those in the know would tell her to write for more, grow her platform, but I told her to be faithful with her small space, her blog. It has become a dirty word in many ways, coupled with churlish comments about "mommy" or "niche," while I think the problem is that blog became a word at all. I prefer to think of it as an invitation, read or don't. Your choice. But I want out of blasted pressure to perform tricks and jump through SEO shaped hoops. I told her in ten years those sites she wanted to write for would be forgotten, but the exercise of daily writing on her blog would yield fruit ten-thousand times—not just the book writing sort either, but the working out of her salvation sort. Be faithful, friend. I called her friend, even though I didn't know her because I knew the churning in her soul as near as I knew my own.

When I looked at the "blogs" I felt I had to be reading, I found a common thing among them: they were all instructive in some ways. Instructing me how to think, how to pray, how to be a church member, how not to be, how to think about the election, how not to think, how to be a friend, how not to be a friend, how to train kids, how to think about everything in the whole world that can ever be thought of. I was suffocating in the hows of life and forgetting to simply love, enjoy, and cherish the life right in front of me. Not to hedonistically drown myself in the throes of whatever today brought, but to stop and think, not of what everyone else thought I should be doing or thinking or saying, but what did God want to teach me in this single, solitary life?

This whole year feels like a waste when I cut and paste it next to the How Tos of most articles and blogs I was reading. I was a failure from start to finish. I did not think right, treat right, walk right, hear right, or see right. I measured my success by how much shame I felt when I went to bed at night and this is no way to live, and yet this was the way I saw many of my sisters living. Surrounding themselves with Pinterest and Blogs and Articles and Books and People and Photos and Friends and Ideas, but never stopping to think: within my home, within my family, is this helpful? Does this work?

Last winter a friend of mine told me if I ever wasn't sure what my calling was, or if I lost sight what I was supposed to be doing as a wife (since this has been the besetting struggle of my year: how do I do this?), to stop, look at my home, my husband, and say: what does it mean to look well to the ways of my household right now? And then to do that. It might mean caring for my husband actually means believing him when he says he loves me or says I'm beautiful. Or it could mean reading the Word rather than doing the laundry. Or it could mean making him healthy dinners every night and packing his lunch every day. Or it could mean weeping when I am hurt and laughing when I am happy. This concept has recalibrated me every day this year, sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small ways.

All of this I suppose is just a way to say to you that if what's in your eyesight when you look up is what everyone else is doing or thinks you ought to be doing, clear the way, friend. Clear the paths around you, unmuddle the simplicity of the gospel. It is Christ who cares for you and cares for your provision, far more than you can ever care for it. So let the dead things drop, find out what they are and let them drop. Maybe Sayable is one of those dead things for you. Go ahead, unsubscribe. I won't be offended, I promise.

I'm slowly, slowly coming back to a way of writing that I used to love. Sharing links to beautiful writing. Sharing books I love. Writing quietly in the still dark morning hours. Caring for the needs of my household means writing and reading what stirs my soul and mind, not draining it. Maybe blogging is dead. Or maybe it's just the frenzied way it's done that's dying. Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 7.59.18 AM

Here are some places I've subscribed to recently:

Food Loves Writing: Just some everyday things, words, photos, recipes. Thistle and Toad: Beautiful writing on really hard things in life and culture.  The Beautiful Due: Poetry and Letters to Winn.  The Rabbit Room: A smattering of music, poetry, fiction, and non.  Cloistered Away: Homeschooling mama with simple suggestions for life.  Deeply Rooted:  Words on faith, life, and family.

Prepositions, Autumn, and Waiting

Red Leaves The tree across the street has started changing to red and it stands like a small flame against the darkening green of summer's maturation. It is strange, isn't it, how a tree proves its life by its death? We could learn one or two things from the trees.

The waiting grows heavy inside me. Today I talked with a friend who for many years prayed over the distance, spiritual, emotional, geographical, etc., of her family and today we rejoiced because all the immediate ones live within just a few blocks of her. Last week I talked with a friend who waited a long, long time for the baby who came not of her womb, but who came just the same. This morning a friend tells me the job she's been wanting is happening soon.

We're all waiting for something, aren't we? Funny how we order the waits, though. Certain what we're waiting for is holier or healthier or wholer or harder than what another is waiting for. He's waiting for his church to grow. She's waiting for her community to deepen. He's waiting for a plan to surface. She's waiting for a husband. He's waiting for his marriage to heal. She's waiting for home. He is too. We all are actually.

This year I have grown weary with the hierarchies and echelons of growth in the gospel. I have tired of the corner markets and church-speak. I have wished there were more places where Christians could be tired and weary and wait or even just be okay—knowing that their time there might be longer or harder or deeper than they knew. And that we didn't all rush to cheer them up, make them look on the bright side, try to rescue them from the depths of what God might be leading them into, keeping them in the shallowness of faith. An unchecked faith is not the faith I want to have.

I am not the girl I was a year and a half ago. I described depression to a friend of mine who lives with a sufferer of it: it was like feeling like a shell of yourself, knowing the inside must exist somewhere, but lacking the arms and hands to feel around for it. I talk in the past tense to her, but the present tense to myself. I remind myself that Christ in me is my hope of glory. Even if I never find myself again, Christ is in me, this I do know.

Maybe "myself" was never all she was cracked up to be.

. . .

I have hurried through my day, trying to order it by tasks which must be done and tasks which might be done and tasks which mustn't be done no matter how tempting they might be. Writing this is of the latter sort, but self-control is not my strong point.

Plans thwarted by a geographical mishap (I made an appointment for the wrong location) I am driving home and I see the red tree, redder than she was this morning. Or maybe it's the angle of the sun. It doesn't matter. She is dying. Beautifully. But still dying. It's more complicated, I know, but part of her is dying. A useful part of her, a beautiful part of her, and a necessary part of her—the yellow comes, then soon orange, now red, and then brown, and then, like the leaf I found in our back yard yesterday: dead. Autumn is a slow and brilliant death here on the east coast but only if you pay attention.

It is a necessary death but not an eternal one. It is a scheduled death and not an immature one. It is the mark of growth, of maturity, of another year come and gone. It is death, but it is not the end.

The leaves which will come next year (and they will come, mark my words) will be the same and so very different. Of their former selves, but not their former selves. It is like that with us: one day, eternally, but also right now: being renewed. Being built into. Being transformed. Being saved. Being.

. . .

I have grown heavy with waiting and most days I can't even articulate what I'm waiting for—this is the fog we have been walking through, arms outstretched, trying to feel around for something that feels familiar. So many wonderful strangers have put things in our arms—resources, people, pastors, contacts—but none of those things mean as much as the simple companionship of being known and loved just as you are without what you can bring or be brought.

This weekend we visited some deep and dear friends and one asked me about a traumatic event from last year, to describe it in detail. I shook, but I told it all. The next day, his wife asked me about two more traumatic events from last year, and I told her all of too. It was cathartic in a way I had forgotten, the way true friendship just asks for the story and not for the success.

It has been so long since I felt the freedom to just be sad and hurt and confused and a little bit dead inside—and not feel the need to produce something of it. I know the time to produce will come again, but right now is not that time.

And that's okay. It's okay.

Christ in me is the hope of glory and hope cannot disappoint.

Spring cannot help herself, she will come again.

. . .

I don't know where you are today friend, maybe you're farther north than me and autumn's death dance is further along in your life. Maybe you're in the dead of winter and the stark cowlicks of seemingly dead branches are poking you in every which way. I don't know. I want to encourage you with these lyrics, though, a song I have had on my mind much, Sovereign Over Us performed here by Aaron Keyes. Pay attention to the prepositions, though, that's where God is most at work.

There is strength within the sorrow There is beauty in our tears

And You meet us in our mourning With a love that casts out fear

You are working in our waiting You're sanctifying us

When beyond our understanding You're teaching us to trust

Clear Dances Done in the Sight of Heaven

I have dreamed of doing laundry for a long time. I dreamed of a washing machine near my kitchen, the table piled high with his and hers and theirs, the backyard with a line strung through it, billowing sheets and hand-towels and discreet underthings with the sun bleaching everything to near new. I dreamed of what that laundry meant and how it would be proof that life had settled and moved into a rhythm, not an easy one, but a known one. The poet, Richard Wilbur, says, "Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry / Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam / And clear dances done in the sight of heaven," so I cannot help myself for romanticizing it. Since I first read this poem I knew that if Love ever called me to the things of this world, this was the thing I wanted to be called to: nothing on earth but laundry, his and hers and theirs.

I think of this today and every day now because we live in a rental house where the laundry is tucked in a narrow closet in a small back room upstairs, where the doors aren't level and never stay opened or closed, depending on what I want them to do. And where the washer, and the dryer above it, are barely large enough for a single load of hand-towels. The dryer finishes with a buzz so loud you can hear it on our back porch and front porch too. And the floors aren't level and so for 45 minutes while the washer cleans, it also shakes our home near to falling apart. Every day I wonder, "Will this be the day it comes crashing through to the kitchen below?" This is not the laundry I imagined doing with my life.

I cried hard today on the phone with my husband. I knew I would before he called, I knew if he mentioned a certain string of words he is prone to mentioning these days in a certain order that all the things inside of me would break and be nudged out of their crevices and I would cry.

Richard Wilbur wrote also "The soul shrinks / From all that it is about to remember, / From the punctual rape of every blessèd day," and I used to think I knew what that meant. Before the laundry of my life—and not my dreams—became reality. I imagine rows of people lining up to say in my general direction, but not to me, "I told her so." I falter. I fall.

This is not the laundry I imagined once: the sort billowing on clotheslines in the backyards of cabins or farmhouses or small bungalows; the sort worn by people who knew a hard day's work, but knew how to rest too; the sort where the lights and the darks never landed in the same heap in the corner of the closet, and where they always landed in baskets and not heaps in the corners of the closet to begin with.

This laundry is loud and hard and long and mixed and never ending. It is everywhere and always and all the time. It is folded and put away and then tomorrow it is in need of wash again. It never ends. It is the "punctual rape of every blessed day" and today I break with it. The washer is pounding itself into the wall again and the dog is barking downstairs and the door won't stay open long enough for me to hold a basket and go out of it. There is work to be done for others and work to be done for myself and I am still wearing the shorts I pulled on at 5:47 this morning. I have not brushed my teeth. I have had three cups of coffee and three wide mouth Mason jars of water and the dog won't stop whining and my husband and I are disagreeing in a frustratingly agreeable way and now the dryer is buzzing three times at me and I crumble because this is not the laundry I imagined.

I bring the basket of clean clothes into our closet and pull the necks of shirts over the cedar hangers. I catch a scent different than detergent. The scent of my husband. His dress shirts hanging above with a new rule instated by me: wear your shirts more than once because I cannot make laundry my whole life. I gather them in my hands and pull them close and inhale. The smell of work and soap and laundry and him, my love, my thing of this world.

Love does call us to the things of this world and it looks more like "clear dances done in the sight of heaven" than I thought it would. Quiet faithfulness, echoing silence, long days, little praise, the presence of God and a puppy and not much else. This was not the laundry I imagined, but it may be the laundry I needed.

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World BY RICHARD WILBUR

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys, And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple As false dawn. Outside the open window The morning air is all awash with angels.

Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses, Some are in smocks: but truly there they are. Now they are rising together in calm swells Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

Now they are flying in place, conveying The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving And staying like white water; and now of a sudden They swoon down into so rapt a quiet That nobody seems to be there. The soul shrinks

From all that it is about to remember, From the punctual rape of every blessèd day, And cries, “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry, Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

Yet, as the sun acknowledges With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors, The soul descends once more in bitter love To accept the waking body, saying now In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises, “Bring them down from their ruddy gallows; Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves; Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone, And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating Of dark habits, keeping their difficult balance.”