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.
The moon drops one or two feathers into the field.
The dark wheat listens.
There they are, the moon’s young, trying
I stand alone by an elder tree, I do not dare breathe
The wheat leans back toward its own darkness,
And I lean toward mine.
~James Wright, from “Beginning” from Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose.
And the light shone in darkness and Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled About the centre of the silent Word. ~T.S. Eliot from “Ash Wednesday”
In my beginning is my end. Now the light falls… I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope. ~T.S. Eliot from “East Coker”
As we spend time with our young grandchildren, learning what it means to be a grandparent, we watch them discover the many joys and unending sorrows of this world. We must remember to remind them: there is light beyond the darkness, there is peace amid the chaos, there is a smile behind the tears, there is stillness within the noisiness, there is grace and mercy as old gives way to new.
The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised his baton.
In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself.
You hold your breath to listen.
You are aware of the beating of your heart…
The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens.
Too often we stand on a lonely edge of life, waiting, wondering what comes next. Advent is our time to come together in anticipation of the extraordinary moment in human history.
The moment of silent expectation suspended between what we anticipate will happen and when it happens is one of sweetest tension and longing. Many find Christmas to be an anticlimax to the build up beforehand. In the true spirit of Advent, that can never be the case. The preparation for His coming foreshadows the joy we feel when we find ourselves never home alone again.
We are able to hold Him close, see His face, hear His Word – Christ as God in flesh. He is with us, He is in us and our hearts, jubilant, beat like His, our lungs breathe like His.
God makes us happy as only children can be happy. God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be – in our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone; God is with us. We are no longer homeless; a bit of the eternal home itself has moved unto us. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer
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
There was an entire aspect to my life that I had been blind to — the small, good things that came in abundance. ~Mary Karr
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. —Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Planted pennies on days like today are like raindrops, just as plain and more than plentiful.
When I’m feeling dry and withered I only need to look up into gray skies turning amber and all the drops fill my overdrawn bank account, hydrating my soul, lost in wilderness.
The desert flows, my thirst is quenched by something so simple, so underwhelming, so enriching as pennies and raindrops.
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.
Now constantly there is the sound, quieter than rain, of the leaves falling.
Under their loosening bright gold, the sycamore limbs bleach whiter.
Now the only flowers are beeweed and aster, spray of their white and lavender over the brown leaves.
The calling of a crow sounds Loud — landmark — now that the life of summer falls silent, and the nights grow. ~Wendell Berry “October 10” from New Collected Poems.
Mid-October and we’ve already had our first hard frost – the leaves turned almost overnight. They are letting go, swirling and swooping in the breezes and pittering to the ground like so many raindrops.
A few more cold nights and they will be dry and crunchy underfoot; it is one of life’s great pleasures to trudge through leaves ankle deep, each footstep memorably rhythmic and audible. I would never be able to sneak up on anyone outside this time of year.
Nor do I want to. Instead I want to link arms, join hands, sing and dance in the leaves to celebrate these crisp and colorful moments.
Just singing in the leaves, just singing in the leaves. What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again!