July Fog

An early morning July fog
Suffocating my surroundings in obscurity
My way is unclear.

Chapters closing ceaselessly
And predictability lies in the constancy
Of more confusion.

I clench my teeth
And claw relentlessly at my scalp
It hurts. It hurts.

My heart is tired
Refugees are not the only displaced
Where indeed, is home?

What is life?
A frantic rush to find a path
Yet all is vapor.

Stop.

The morning is glorious, though I have not a proper porch to sit upon and enjoy it. What does one call a detached set of five steps to get into the first door leading into one’s building? Whatever we’d like to call it, I am reclining (ha!) on one of said stairs, with my back against the side of the building. It is quite comfortable. The mourning doves are speaking this morning, which means rain. The probable rain must not be imminent, however, as the sky is beautifully blue. I have my second cup of coffee, and I have actually both showered and washed my hair already, which is quite an accomplishment, believe it or not. There’s a little over an hour left before I should leave for church, and life looks relatively okay.

‘Tis not always the case, indeed. I’ve just completed a busy and rather overwhelming week. I have been quite upset at times in the past week and also quite tired. I have been disappointed in myself. And such is the paradox of life. Such is the experience of being human. What is life? I asked one of my roommates. A vapor, we agreed. Which is actually biblical. 

Sometimes life feels decidedly unvapored. There are big decisions to be made. And unfortunately, we live in a world that requires us to make a living, rather than living. So, therefore, instead of a little cottage with a chicken coop and a garden (and a cat)- my abode consists of a shared apartment, a couple of raised garden beds, and these amazing steps, which need to be replaced in the worst way. Yet at the same time, even in the seeming bigness of life, it is so incredibly short. I find it hard to believe that I am really as old as I am, and I’d rather not meditate on that fact for too long. It becomes depressing, for in all these years that I have already had, what have I really done? Since I am quickly becoming vintage, why do I still feel so much like a child? And please, can we stop with the white hair? I’m not even thirty yet, and I’d rather not appear old before my time. The vapor. It’s moving too quickly. 

I’m not an achiever; I’m a dreamer. Yet, in the end, who lives better? Those who are always accomplishing, always doing, and always accumulating- or those who sit on the ancient steps and drink coffee, listening to the mourning doves? We could argue either way. But can we please, as a society, stop overglorifying the busyness? Can we please stop long enough to actually plant the seeds and read the books and hold the babies? We might find that we would become less stressed. And more happy. For what is the point of all the craziness? Is there a point? If not, what a waste it is to be running, running- all the time. 

Stop. Stop. Seriously.

A Blessing for the Little One

My life is about to undergo a significant change, as I live through these last several weeks of my nanny job. It feels like the ending of another chapter, although I hope the relationship strongly established with the little one will continue throughout the story of life. I hope I am a safe place for her to come to when her encounters with life need another person to speak into them. I hope she can look back at these past couple years and remember a happy toddlerhood.

A blessing for you, child:

May you continue to hold the earthworms when you dig in the dirt. May you notice the butterflies, the buttercups, and whether the faces of the flowers are opened or closed. May you eat violets and chives when you encounter them growing on the farm. May you cuddle kittens and feed chickens.

May you not get caught up in the endless busyness prized by modernity. May you discover the value of simplicity. May you surround yourself with several close friends, instead of attempting to earn the admiration of multitudes. May you prioritize the things that really matter and let go of the things that don’t.

May you search for beauty, truth, and goodness- and may you discover that the Source and Essence of all of these is God. May you continue to sing “Amazing Grace,” and when the day comes that you understand the words of the song, may you embrace the grace He offers. May you love in the example of Jesus, and may you see that real love is not the equivalent of tolerance. May you develop compassion and may your world be bigger than you. And may you always know that you are loved.

Thank you for loving me, child, and for your incredible sense of humor… for joining me in the senseless naming of stuffed animals (and blankies), for the times lately that you’ve put your head on my shoulder, for the unexpected things you say, and for all those conversations with Minnie, Claire, Levi, and whichever other creatures- for not only putting up with my imagination, but for adding your own.

I love you, Pumpkin.

The Curse of Possessions

I am attempting to have a yard sale today. Why do I have so crazy much stuff? We have recently acquired another roommate, and I also have tentative plans that have finally given me the necessary motivation to seriously downsize. Plus, I am asking the question: which do I want most- the stuff or the money I might get from selling the stuff?

Comparatively speaking, I don’t actually have that many possessions. Not that it’s a good idea to compare ourselves with others, but the average American probably owns far more than I do. Yet, even considering this, I still have too much. Why? Because it ties me down in ways that are less than helpful. If one feels that one couldn’t just pick up and move with ease, due to the amount of stuff that would need to be stored somewhere, it might be time to consider priorities. What is most important to me?

What are my weaknesses when it comes to stuff? Books, honey. And clothes. And when one has limited closet space, and no built-in bookshelves, well…. Also adding to the problem is the fact that I live in a small apartment, which hopefully will not be a lifelong residence. To put it in other words, I am not in a settled state. ‘Tis true that it would be nice to be in a more permanent kind of home, but ’tis also true that is not reality for me.

How much stuff does one actually need to live- and to live well? The answer is debatable. Yet I think I can safely say that most of us could live with less. Less stuff equals more freedom. Perhaps both physically and mentally. I am by no means a minimalist- goodness, I like my living quarters to feel cozy. But where is the balance between cluttered and cozy? We live in an age of accumulation. And possessions are dangerous things. The race of acquiring more and better can blind us to what life is really about.

Not to mention that the amount of work it takes to get rid of the stuff is just frustrating. Especially when one tries to have a yard sale and people do not deem it necessary to stop and rid me of my burdens. It worsens the annoyance level when everything had to be carried down a substantial flight of stairs. Maybe I should consider these things when I contemplate future purchases. Okay, there’s my rant for the day.

Own less; live freer. You’re welcome.

Tolkien Reading Day 2022

“Love and Friendship” is certainly a theme I can get behind 100%. After all, I am a most hopeless, hopeful romantic. “But that’s a paradox,” you might argue. Of course it is. I am a paradox.

I am going to suggest several passages from Lord of the Rings for you to read. The first is the story of Aragorn and Arwen in Appendix A. Their love story is one that spans many years, and Aragorn must first become King before Arwen’s father is willing to give her to him. If you are at all familiar with the plot of Lord of the Rings, you will realize that this was not by any means an easy thing to accomplish, nor did it even seem possible in many ways. As I was reading this passage tonight, I thought of the story of Jacob and Rachel from the Bible. Jacob had to work 14 years for Rachel. However, from the time that Aragorn first fell in love with Arwen to the time of their wedding was 39 years. Talk about devotion.

Their story is one of hope, yet incredible sadness and ultimately death for them both. Listen to this quote, speaking of Aragorn:

“His face was sad and stern because of the doom that was laid upon him, and yet hope dwelt ever in the depths of his heart, from which mirth would arise at times like a spring from the rock.”

Ah, the beauty of this. The undying love and the persistent hope of his heart…. And as for Arwen:

“…as [Aragorn] came walking towards her under the trees of Caras Galadhon laden with flowers of gold, her choice was made and her doom appointed.”

Is this not similar to the entrance of Solomon? (see Song of Solomon 3:6-11) And is this not similar to a woman’s dream of her lover coming toward her in splendid manhood? Love is such a crazy thing, honestly. What would we do without it, and yet, for crying out loud, what do we do with it? And to further confuse matters, what do we do with it when we are without it but still with it in our hearts? If you don’t follow, that’s okay; the takeaway, I suppose, is that it brings both incredible joy and unbelievable heartbreak.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

-C.S. Lewis
My hobbit house cake creation

It’s quite appropriate to have love paired with friendship for a theme. There are of course different kinds of love (romantic versus platonic, for instance), but friendship can come out of any of those relationships. Friendships are an aspect of my life that are vital. Absolutely vital. Some people find their friends within their family; other people’s friends are their family. And some people have a combination of the two.

There are unusual friendships within Lord of the Rings, for sure. And also closer than family friendships. Gimli and Legolas. Frodo and Sam. Gandalf and Aragorn. The bonds of friendship are so very strong.

“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”

-Tolkien

This is a popular Tolkien quote, and actually one that I used in jest on my friend just the other day. But in context, the meaning could be considered stronger. These words were spoken by Gimli, as the fellowship set out from Rivendell. Elrond had just told them that each of them needed only go as far as he wanted to, save Frodo. This was not a forced journey, but one they chose. Though the fellowship did end up being separated into smaller groups over the course of their route, nevertheless, they remained faithful, with the exception of Boromir. And there did end up being a reunion in chapter 4 of Book 6: “The Field of Cormallen,” which is the second passage I suggest you read.

We see in this chapter the friendship that existed between Gandalf and the eagle Gwaihir as Gandalf requests his assistance in the rescue of Frodo and Sam. Then we see the touching account of Sam and Frodo as they wait for death: “hand in hand upon a little hill, while the world shook under them, and gasped, and rivers of fire drew near.” Yet it is still not the end as they suppose, and next we get to see Sam’s delight at waking to find Gandalf alive. This is followed by a reunion with Strider, turned King of Gondor; and at dinner, Legolas and Gimli are at their table. The remaining two members of the fellowship, Merry and Pippin, then appear to serve them, and thus, the fellowship is reunited.

I like the camadarie as they swap stories afterward, and the easy humor. It is not unlike my own experience this past week. I attended a two day mission conference that was organized by the school I attended in January. The sheer number of attendees was rather overwhelming for an introvert like myself, but one of the best things about the conference was getting to see again, however briefly, many of my fellow Winter Term students and the staff members.

Yet, there was sadness for me as well, for as good as it was to see them again, we are scattered now, and who knows when, or even if, I will see them again in this life. I spent five weeks of my life with those people, and in some ways they feel like my people, but we are separate now. This is going to sound cliche, but it’s something that isn’t really normal for me: in this respect, I could almost look forward to heaven. But of course I should always look forward to heaven! A Christian is supposed to, right? Perhaps, but the truth of the matter is that most of the time I don’t. I want to live, to get married, to have children…. I know this is a post about Tolkien Reading Day, but I am going to insert here a quote from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of the Island:

“Heaven must be very beautiful, of course, the Bible says so- but Anne, it won’t be what I’ve been used to.”

-Ruby Gillis

I can relate to Ruby Gillis in this cry. She is young and wants to live. She wants a husband and a family, as well as that which is familiar. The unknownness of heaven doesn’t appeal to me, nor does the thought of death itself. But if heaven means no separation from my people- it looks a little different. If it means sharing inside jokes and swapping stories- victory after a hard fight, like the reunion of Tolkien’s fellowship, I could get excited about that.

Love and friendship. It’s a very real, very human theme. It exists not only in the stories of fantasy, but also in the stories of life. We see so many stages of relationship in the context of Middle Earth that are also true in our world. The longing and sacrifice of Aragorn and Arwen, the simple, steadfast devotion of Sam- both in his brotherly love for Frodo and in his frank romance with Rosie Cotton, the love that Merry had for King Theoden as he watched him die….

I will include a link for the last reading I am suggesting here. It is a poem that Tolkien wrote for Edith, the love of his life. Thus may our Tolkien Reading Day 2022 move from the world of fantasy to the world of reality. And if you are inspired by Tolkien’s words, consider writing your own love poem. It might do your heart good.

Simplicity, Safety, and Love

What is it about Little House that speaks to our souls? I’ve been thinking about the Little House paper dolls I had growing up, and I knew they were still tucked away in the cabinet where our games were kept as kids. So, the other night, when I went back to the farm, I found them. I took them to work with me the following day, so my little charge could play with them. She’s old enough now for things of a more delicate nature.

There’s something about the beauty of the art, the recreation of this famous family. The paper dolls are like the illlustrations in the Little House picture books, which are also treasured possessions of mine. So, it’s good artwork; that is true. But I think I’d go further and say that there’s also something in the stories themselves which draws us.

Laura’s childhood was, in a sense, more simplistic than the lives we live today. She wasn’t constantly surrounded by a bombardment of news and the exhausting knowledge of what was wrong in the world. In many ways, her family’s life centered around basic human needs: food, shelter, and love. They lived close to nature, with Pa hunting for meat or finding a honey tree in the woods. Ma made hats, churned butter, and kept up the house. There weren’t competitive sports for the girls to be involved in or various functions many nights of the week. Neither of the parents were trying to climb the corporate ladder. As a couple, and as a family, the Ingalls worked hard, but they worked hard together.

This simplicity appeals to me, although often I have a too materialistic mindset. What would it be like to only have a few treasured possessions? To have the children be excited for candy and mittens in their Christmas stockings? We really have no idea in this stuff-crazed culture. Yet there is an appeal in it all- to decrease the amount of visual clutter in our homes and lives. It’s exhausting to have a lot of stuff, because the more stuff you own, the more stuff you are responsible to take care of. Or you can choose not to take care of it, and eventually you have a heap of senseless clutter.

While we decrease the visual clutter, how about decreasing the social clutter as well? We force ourselves to attend this event or that one, run to work and make flying trips to the grocery store, and have so many friends that it is literally impossible to keep up with them all. Therefore, do we really have friends, or are they mere acquaintances? Are we really living life well, or are we simply rushing senselessly from one thing to the next? And if it’s hard for us as adults to juggle this rat race, what about the children? I have a friend who recognizes that her daughter gets overstimulated, and I admire her for seeing what so few people seem to in America. I insert here also that this friend actually does live a very simplistic life, and her daughter STILL gets overstimulated. So what about the children whose lives are so full and so busy, and yet they are expected to be able to keep up with it all? It’s not fair to them.

Maybe then, it is the simplicity in Little House that appeals to us, both in a material and a social sense. But that’s not all. Laura felt safe as a child, and that too is appealing to many of us. Her parents were predictable. We do not see Pa and Ma arguing over finances or hurt feelings. I know they were human parents, and I’m sure they would’ve had disagreements, but that is not what Laura remembers. So, I think it is safe to say that when Ma and Pa disagreed, they did so in private, not in front of their children. In this kind of environment, there is stability and a feeling of safety. She trusted her father in a physical sense as well, knowing that he would protect her. When they were beginning their long journey west with the crossing of Lake Pepin, Laura writes:

“All around the wagon there was nothing but empty and silent space. Laura didn’t like it. But Pa was on the wagon seat and Jack was under the wagon; she knew that nothing could hurt her while Pa and Jack were there.”

-Little House on the Prairie

So Laura had simplicity and a sense of safety. I want to add one more rare and essential commodity. Love. In the progressive world we live in, love is often seen as a feeling, something that we cannot really control. Maybe we have a wrong understanding of love. Love certainly can and does involve feelings, but it should go so much deeper than that. Love equals commitment. Complete and total commitment. What does this have to do with Little House? I read somewhere that it is more important for a child to know that his/her parents love each other than it is to know that their parents love them. This could certainly be a question to debate, but there is something essential here. When children see that their parents love each other, it creates an environment of stability and safety. When parents are in a committed, loving relationship, a child does not need to pick sides. They don’t have to worry about the possible breaking of the family. They are free to be children, loving and being loved. The grown-up problems need to stay with the grown-ups.

There’s something about the old-fashioned way of life that I have loved since I was a little girl. My childhood dream involved living without electricity and teaching in a one-room schoolhouse. I’ll admit that I am an old soul. I don’t really fit into this world of technology and hurry and the shameless butchering of the English language. The idea of homesteading, with chickens in my backyard and sourdough fermenting on my kitchen counter holds a beautiful appeal for me. It’s not my reality. Yes, I do sourdough on occasion, but I have to fit it into a busy schedule (if you know anything about sourdough, you’ll know the process mustn’t be rushed). And no, I do not have chickens. My nanny job gives me a taste of that at the present; the little girl’s family has a farm, but I do not have chickens of my own. And since I live in an apartment in town, with a parking lot making up most of the “backyard,” I know without asking that my landlord would not consent to a chicken coop. Bless his heart, he’s already had to put up with two raised beds. One of which should be producing strawberries in a couple months, which I’m pretty happy about.

Me at Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri-
the home of Laura and Almanzo

My advice: read the Little House books to your kids. Provided you have kids, of course. And if you don’t have kids, read them to yourself. Or to any children whom you happen to have some kind of influence on. And remember the importance of stability, safety, and love in the lives of children. Well, in the lives of all of us, really, but especially for the children. May they grow up knowing they were loved.

Me Away From Home

It’s the end of the second week of the adventure. January is a good time to attempt the new and the slightly scary. For me, this looks like five weeks of study and dorm life, over three hours away from the place I know as home. It was time for change, an escape of sorts, and new perspectives.

Earlier today I video chatted with the little person I care for back in my normal life. She was munching a piece of bread, and it’s a universe away. In some ways, it does feel like a different life. Do I miss her? Of course.

I’m here among strangers, so many strangers. But the crazy thing is, there are quite a few of them that aren’t strangers anymore. It’s actually incredible how comfortable this space is and how many stories are being shared. And for a short span of time this winter, many stories overlap in this one place.

What am I going to take away from here, when I go back to my mountains in February? When I go back to spending my days with a four year old? When I’m back in the bakery with sixty-five loaves of bread on order? When I’m cleaning motel rooms or folding white towels in thirds and thirds again? When I return to my little kitchen, making random cakes that I end up eating way too much of? What pieces of these weeks are going to go with me?

Who am I? Because I’m me at home, and yet, I’m still me here. But then, who is me? Who am I apart from work? Who am I after severed relationships, relationships that helped to define me during so much of my life? Who am I when life is completely not normal? Is it possible to have an ongoing search for identity, an ongoing search for belonging?

There’s the me that painted a picture on Christmas Eve, despite the fact that I am not an artist. There’s the me that drove to Ohio to spend a couple days with my aunt. There’s the me that packed up my coffee mug and some clothes and my stuffed pumpkin spice latte and came to this place for the first time. But then there’s also the me that was sick in bed and missed all of my classes on Wednesday. There’s the me that has taken anxiety medication twice this week to make sure I got some good sleep. There’s the me that doesn’t trust God with my dreams and the me that is cynical, the me that struggles with forgiveness. There’s still the me that can’t sing and the me who refuses to play volleyball.

I want to take home with me: the knowledge, deep in my heart, that I am loved. What does it actually look like, in a practical sense, to live in the love of Jesus? What does it look like to live abundantly, rather than in survival?

I want to take home with me: new friendships. While I will confess to being a little homesick (already!), there’s another part of me that doesn’t like the idea of leaving this fellowship of people. There’s something pretty incredible about being surrounded by an atmosphere of encouragement, education, and yes, a little bit of humor.

I want to take home with me: a determination to continue to grow. I don’t know what this looks like-yet, but this daily intake of intellect is good. Overwhelming? Yes. But good? Also yes. However, my tendency is to not make learning a priority outside the structure of school. There are always excuses- too tired, too busy… you know.

I was hoping for clarity of purpose. But maybe, for the moment, I shouldn’t think too hard about that. Maybe? Maybe for the next three weeks I can just be. Just be and absorb and try to trust. And when God is ready, He’ll show me the next step. Because He is good, and He does love me. As someone told me last week, instead of trying so hard to get out of the valley, I can invite God to walk with me in it. He does, and He will.

The Christmas Miracle of Hope

Come and let us return to the LORD; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up.

Hosea 6:1 NKJV

Maybe the Christmas miracle is not a change in our circumstances, but rather, the beginnings of healing within ourselves. Maybe it’s not obvious, just more joy and peace. I don’t know what letting go and moving on is going to look like. No, it may not lead to reconciliation in broken relationships; they might stay broken. It may not lead to dreams coming true or chaos ceasing. But I will be okay.

Why? Because Emmanuel. God. Is. With. Us.

He is with me. And though people make wrong choices and genuinely mess up life, it does not incapacitate Him. It hurt his heart, so much worse than it hurt mine. A dear lady at church brought out this truth: His heart hurts too, and this was not His perfect plan. Somehow, it makes a difference knowing that God did not cause the hurt to be cruel. He’s not JUST caring about my pain, but He is grieving betrayal Himself as well.

Is there a way out? Yes. His name is Jesus.

Remember Pippin? His words when hope seemed pointless:

I didn’t think it would end this way.

-“Return of the King”

But Gandalf knew better.

End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass. And then you see it… white shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

-“Return of the King”

Death isn’t confined to the physical experience either. Death of expectations, of dreams, of relationships… these are all losses that must be grieved. But those “deaths” are not the end. And when we can finally see past the grief, there is indeed still hope.