Thou God, whose high, eternal Love Is the only blue sky of our life, Clear all the Heaven that bends above The life-road of this man and wife. May these two lives be but one note In the world’s strange-sounding harmony, Whose sacred music e’er shall float Through every discord up to Thee. As when from separate stars two beams Unite to form one tender ray: As when two sweet but shadowy dreams Explain each other in the day: So may these two dear hearts one light Emit, and each interpret each. Let an angel come and dwell tonight In this dear double-heart, and teach. ~Sidney Lanier “Wedding Hymn”
Today we will have a wedding (much much smaller than planned and socially distanced) on the hill on our farm. Lea and Brian had hoped for a different celebration of their marriage but 2020 has proven to challenge all expectations.
So instead, after a rainy rehearsal last night, we hope for a bit of sun today and warm hearts witnessing the union of these two precious people.
Our children and their weddings remind us of our own, of the covenant we made with one another and how God has blessed us over the years with the gift of Nate and now Tomomi, Ben and now Hilary and Lea and now Brian.
The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, he has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why.
The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bath or a football match, have no such tendency.
Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home. ~C.S. Lewis from The Problem of Pain
I am reminded every day, with every headline shouting bad news: this is not our home; we are mere wayfarers.
We tend to lose focus on the “why” of our journey on this troubled earth: so much of our time and energy is understandably spent seeking out safety and security, striving for a road filled with happiness, joy and contentment, as if that should be our ultimate destination and purpose.
Yet the nature of a fallen world leads us down boulder-strewn paths filled with potholes and sheer cliffs. Suddenly nowhere feels safe or secure.
We are now confronted with thousands of ill and hurting people world-wide, some dying before their time, their travels on earth ending abruptly. We wonder who may be next.
Will it be someone I love? Will it be me? He accepts our fear of the unknown destination, as He knows what lies ahead on our journey.
God in His mercy never leaves us homeless or without hope. We are called to be the gift to others who are hurting.
…just as He gifted Himself to us.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. ~Matthew 25:35-6
This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
1. What is the crying at Jordan? Who hears, O God, the prophecy? Dark is the season, dark our hearts and shut to mystery.
2. Who then shall stir in this darkness, prepare for joy in the winter night. Mortal in darkness we lie down blindhearted, seeing no light.
3. Lord, give us grace to awake us, to see the branch that begins to bloom; in great humility is hid all heaven in a little room.
4. Now comes the day of salvation, in joy and terror the Word is born! God comes as gift into our lives; oh let salvation dawn!
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you” when someone sneezes, a leftover from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying. And sometimes, when you spill lemons from your grocery bag, someone else will help you pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other. We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot, and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder, and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass. We have so little of each other, now. So far from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange. What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here, have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.” ~Danusha Laméris“Small Kindnesses”
No matter what the grief, its weight, we are obliged to carry it. We rise and gather momentum, the dull strength that pushes us through crowds. And then the young boy gives me directions so avidly. A woman holds the glass door open, waiting patiently for my empty body to pass through. All day it continues, each kindness reaching toward another—a stranger singing to no one as I pass on the path, trees offering their blossoms, a child who lifts his almond eyes and smiles. Somehow they always find me, seem even to be waiting, determined to keep me from myself, from the thing that calls to me as it must have once called to them— this temptation to step off the edge and fall weightless, away from the world. ~Dorianne Laux “For the Sake of Strangers”
Have you ever noticed how much of Christ’s life was spent in doing kind things – in merely doing kind things? … he spent a great proportion of his time simply in making people happy, in doing good turns to people.
There is only one thing greater than happiness in the world, and that is holiness; and it is not in our keeping. But what God has put in our power is the happiness of those about us, and that is largely to be secured by our being kind to them.…
I wonder why it is that we are not all kinder than we are. How much the world needs it. How easily it is done. How instantaneously it acts. How infallibly it is remembered. ~Henry Drummond from The Greatest Thing in the World
Kindness has always watched for me; I remember how it infallibly surrounds me.
I weep with those who weep, whether in fear, or separation, or frustration, or anger, or grief, or loss, or sheer exhaustion.
I weep to wonder why any one of us should not know the kindness and comfort of being held in the arms of the Lord who loves us as we are despite who we are.
This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
Kindness, gentleness Tender ardent zeal Endless graciousness Dependable and real
Pity, piety Patient, sure and true Goodness, faithfulness Love that’s always new
Beauty, loyalty Generous and kind Relentless tenderness Hope of humankind Hope of humankind
Who You truly Are We hardly can believe You know what we are Yet You refuse to leave
All Your wordless power Your Own mighty strength, Your matchless might Your Holiness, In kindness seen
Beauty, loyalty Generous and kind Relentless tenderness Hope of humankind Hope of humankind ~Michael Card
Sure on this shining night Of star made shadows round, Kindness must watch for me This side the ground. The late year lies down the north. All is healed, all is health. High summer holds the earth. Hearts all whole. Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone Of shadows on the stars. ~James Agee “Sure on This Shining Night”
And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response.
That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?” ~Mary Oliver
Everyone needs a reminder about the privilege of waking up still alive. Having had that opportunity this morning, I’d like to make a comment.
This has happened at least two times over seven decades, and yesterday provided a third reminder. The common theme is that each involved my driving to work in the morning.
Maybe that alone should tell me something.
Yesterday, my 200,000 + mileage 14 year old hybrid suddenly died while I was going 60 mph on the busy interstate on my way to work. There are not many options for a driver in such a scenario: no power steering to help navigate out of traffic, nothing but coasting to a stop in the safest place available. God’s hand controlled that moment as there was no car to the right of me, so I was able to ease over to an exit that I could roll down, with a spot at the bottom where I could sit with my hazard lights blinking until a very kind policeman pushed me with his car onto a quieter residential side street to wait over two hours for a two truck. Needless to say, I was very late for my clinic day but very grateful to show up at all.
My car awaits diagnosis and prognosis. I can tell you my diagnosis is “gratefully still alive.” My prognosis is: “still alive enough to make a comment.“
My first “dead car in the middle of a busy city street” story was forty years ago during morning rush hour when my ancient Oldsmobile decided to drop its drive train on a rainy steep hill in Seattle as I was driving to my neurology rotation at Harborview Hospital. God’s hand managed to hold my emergency brake in place until a police car with protective flashing lights appeared within seconds to park behind me while streams of highly annoyed traffic passed by. It took a tow truck only 15 minutes to remove me and my car from what could well have been a much bigger mess. Yes, I showed up late and grateful to my work day.
My most dramatic near miss was twenty years ago. I was driving into work on one of our county’s rural two lane roads, going the speed limit of 50 mph, all while in a grumbly mood and wishing I was heading somewhere else on a bright and sunny day. My mind was busy with the anticipation of my workday when I noticed a slight shift to the right by the driver in the car ahead of me. It inexplicably moved over the fog line and then suddenly I realized why, in a moment of stark clarity. A huge empty gravel truck and trailer rig was heading north, moving at the speed limit, the driver seemingly oblivious to the fact his huge trailer was starting to whip back and forth. As he approached me much too quickly, his trailer was whipping back to the center line, approaching me full force at a ninety degree angle from the truck, filling up the entire lane in front of me. I had no choice but to run my car off the road into a grassy field to avoid being hit head on by the still attached but runaway trailer. Only by God’s hand were there no deep ditches, telephone poles or trees at that particular point in the road. My car dove right into tall grass, which enfolded me, like a shroud of green, shielding me from a tangle of metal and certain death. It was a near miss, but a miss nonetheless.
I sat still, gripping the steering wheel, gathering my wits and picking up what was left of my frayed nerves from where they had been strewn, feeling my heart race from the sheer relief of still being alive.
I was able to drive out of the field and happily headed to work to do what I initially planned to do that day, abruptly made aware of the privilege of having a life to live, a job to go to, and a grassy field that rescued me.
It was only later, while calling my husband about what had just taken place, that I cried. Until then, I couldn’t stop smiling.
Now, I don’t feel the need for any more such events to remind me to make comments, other than: Here I am, still alive.
At lunchtime I bought a huge orange— The size of it made us all laugh. I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave— They got quarters and I had a half.
And that orange, it made me so happy, As ordinary things often do Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park. This is peace and contentment. It’s new.
The rest of the day was quite easy. I did all the jobs on my list And enjoyed them and had some time over. I love you. I’m glad I exist. ~Wendy Cope “The Orange”
I close my eyes, savor a wafer of sacred cake on my tongue and try to taste my mother, to discern the message she baked in these loaves when she was too ill to eat them:
I love you. It will end. Leave something of sweetness and substance in the mouth of the world. ~Anna Belle Kaufman “Cold Solace”
Each day brings something special to my life, so I peel it carefully to find what hides inside, all the while inhaling its fragrance then carefully, slowly, gently lifting it to my mouth to savor it, knowing only love, only loving, could taste this sweet.
Let us step outside for a moment As the sun breaks through clouds And shines on wet new fallen snow, And breathe the new air. So much has died that had to die this year.
Let us step outside for a moment. It is all there Only we have been slow to arrive At a way of seeing it. Unless the gentle inherit the earth There will be no earth. ~May Sarton from “New Year Poem”
Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next. ~Frederick Buechnerfrom Beyond Words
I don’t pay close enough attention to the meaning of my leaking eyes when I’m constantly looking for kleenex to stem the flow. During the holidays it seems I have more than ample opportunity to find out from my tears the secret of who I am, where I have come from, and where I am to be next, so I keep my pockets loaded with kleenex.
It mostly has to do with spending time with far-flung children and grandchildren for the holidays. It is about reading books and doing puzzles together and reminiscing about what has been and what could be. It is about singing grace together before a meal and choking on precious words of gratitude. It certainly has to do with bidding farewell until we meet again — gathering them in for that final hug and then that letting-go part.
We urged and encouraged our children to go where their hearts told them they are needed and called to be, even if thousands of miles away from their one-time home on this farm.
I too was let go once and though I would try to look back, too often in tears, I learned to set my face toward the future. It led me here, to this marriage, this family, this farm, this work, our church, to more tears, to more letting go, as it will continue if I’m granted the years to weep again and again with gusto and grace.
This is where I must go next: to love so much and so deeply that letting go is so hard that tears are no longer unexpected or a mystery to me or my children and grandchildren. They release a fullness that can no longer be contained: God’s still small voice spills down my cheeks drop by drop like wax from a burning candle.
There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. ~G. K. Chesterton
Those who know me, know I don’t care much for traveling. I prefer to stay home, but a near second best is heading home from where I’ve been.
Home can seem elusive and just out of reach for much of our lives. It may not feel we truly belong in any one place in this modern era of constant transitions and transfers. I’m a prime example of a truly ambivalent home body.
In high school, I could not plan a get-away from my home town fast enough, opting to go to college two states away. Once I was away, I was hopelessly home-and-heartsick. Miserable, I decided to come back home and go to school there instead.
Once back under my parents’ roof, my homesickness abated but the heartsick continued, having nothing to do with where I ate and slept. I wasn’t at home inside myself. It took time and various attempts at geographic cures to settle in and accept who I always had been.
Those who do move away often cast aspersions at people who never wander far from home. The homebodies are seen as provincial, stuck in a rut, unenlightened and hopelessly small-town. Yet later in life as the wanderers have a tendency to move back home, the stay-at-homers become solid friends and neighbors. Remarkably, they often have become the pillars and life blood of a community. They have slogged through long hours of keeping a place going when others left.
I did end up doing my share of wandering yet still sympathized with those who decided to stay put. I returned home by settling only a few miles from the stomping grounds of my homesteading great-grandparents, at once backwoods and backwater. Cast aspersions welcomed.
Now I get back home by mostly staying home. It takes something major, like a son spending the last decade teaching in Japan, now married with two children, to lure me away from my corner of the world once or twice a year. Getting away for a far away visit becomes a bigger effort as we get older, and coming back home is so bittersweet when hugging those loved ones goodbye. That is exactly what happened earlier today, as we sit at Narita airport waiting for our flight home.
I simply remember the assurance expressed so simply by Thomas Hardy in Far From the Madding Crowd, “And at home, by the fire, whenever you look up, there I shall be–and whenever I look up, there will be you.”
Home so sweet. We all long for it, sometimes with our hearts breaking, wherever it may be.
We live in a world of hurt. We are consumed with hatred for all that is unjust and unfair yet underneath it all we are people who are in fear and in pain.
We get angry at what we don’t like or don’t understand and that includes God.
We are a people struggling with a profound irritability of the spirit. We give no one the benefit of the doubt any more, and that includes God.
We ask God why He doesn’t do something about the suffering we see everywhere, or the terrible hurt we feel ourselves. We want answers, now, and that includes answers from God.
Instead He asks us the same question right back. What are we doing about the suffering of others? What are we doing about our own misery?
God knows suffering and hurt. He knows fear. He knows what it is to be hated, far more than we do. He took it all on Himself, loving us so much because His pain was part of the deal He made with us to rescue us.
With that realization, we trade our pain for hope, our fear for trust, and our hatred gives way to His sacrificial love. Only then are we ready to respond to His call.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.. 1 John 4:18a
Renouncing fear We stand in your glorious grace. When the oceans rise and thunders roar I will soar with you above the storm Father, You are King over the flood I will be still and know You are God from “Still” Hillsong
On Halloween day in 1985, I packed up my clothes, a roll up mattress, grabbed one lonely pumpkin from our small garden, locked our rental house door for the last time, climbed in my car and headed north out of Seattle. I never looked back in the rear view mirror at the skyline after nine years living in the city. My husband had moved to Whatcom County two months earlier to start his new job. I had stayed behind to wrap up my Group Health family practice in the Rainier Valley of Seattle, now leaving the city for a new rural home and a very uncertain professional future.
Never before had I felt such exhilaration at breaking through one wall to discover the unknown that lay on the other side.
I knew two things for sure: I was finally several months pregnant after a miscarriage and two years of infertility, so our family had begun. We were going to actually live in our own house, not just a rental, complete with a few acres and a barn.
A real (sort of) starter farm.
Since no farm can be complete without animals, I stopped at the first pet store I drove past and found two tortoise shell calico kitten sisters peering up at me, just waiting for new adventures in farmland. Their box was packed into the one spot left beside me in my little Mazda. With that admittedly impulsive commitment to raise and nurture those kittens, life seemed brand new.
I will never forget the feeling of freedom on that drive north out of the traffic congestion of the city. The highway seemed more open, the fall colors more vibrant, the wind more brisk, our baby happily kicking my belly, the kittens plaintively mewing from their box. There seemed to be so much potential even though I had just left behind the greatest job that could be found in any urban setting (the most diverse zip code in the United States): an ideal family practice with patients from all over the world: Muslims from the Middle East and Indonesia, Orthodox Jews, Italian Catholics, African Americans, Cambodians, Laotians, Vietnamese. I would never know so much variety of background and perspective again and if I could have packed them all into the Mazda and driven them north with me, I would have.
We started our farm with those kittens dubbed Nutmeg and Oregano, soon adding an ethnic diversity of farm animals: Belgian Tervuren dog Tango, Haflinger horse Greta, Toggenburg goats Tamsen and her kids, a few Toulouse geese, Araucana chickens, Fiona the Scottish Highland cow, then another Haflinger Hans and another, Tamara. I worked as a fill in locums doctor in four different clinics before our first baby, Nate, was born. We soon added little brother Ben and seven years later, sister Lea. We settled happily into parenthood, our church community, serving on school and community boards, gardening, and enduring the loss of our parents one by one.
Thirty four years later our children have long ago grown and gone to new homes of their own, off to their own adventures beyond the farm. Our sons married wonderful women, moving far away from home, our daughter teaches a fourth grade classroom a few hours away and we have two grandchildren with the third expected any moment.
A few cats, two Cardigan Corgi dogs, and a hand full of ponies remain at the farm with us. We are now both gray and move a bit more slowly, enjoy our naps and the quiet of the nights and weekends. My work has evolved from four small jobs to two decades of two part time jobs to one more than full time job that fit me like a well worn sweater 24 hours a day for thirty years. With retirement looming, I’m trying out a three day a week schedule and the old sweater doesn’t fit quite so comfortably.
My happily retired husband finds he is busier than ever: volunteering, serving on boards and being a full time farmer on our larger 20 acre place of fields and woods.
That rainy Halloween day over three decades ago I was freed into a wider world. I would no longer sit captive in freeway rush hour bumper to bumper traffic jams. Instead I celebrate my daily commute through farm fields, watching eagles fly, and new calves licked by their mamas. I am part of a broader community in a way I never could manage in the city, stopping to visit with friends at the grocery store, playing piano and teaching at church. Our home sits in the midst of woods and corn fields, with deer strolling through the fields at dawn, coyotes howling at night, Canadian and snow geese and trumpeter swans calling from overhead and salmon becoming more prolific every year in nearby streams. The snowy Cascades greet us in the morning and the sunset over Puget Sound bids us good night.
It all started October 31, 1985 with two orange and black kittens and a pumpkin sitting beside me in a little Mazda, my husband waiting for my homecoming 100 miles north. Now, thirty four years and three grown children and three (almost) grandchildren later, we celebrate this Halloween transition anniversary together. We’re still pregnant with the possibility that a wide world is waiting, just on the other side of the wall.