Tuesday, May 24, 2011

books and other good things {blessings abound}

tonight I am . . .

laughing again at Jamie the Very Worst Missionary . . . love her.

happy after a nice evening walk with the family and a good (but interrupted every four seconds) conversation with my husband.

thankful, after reading this post on Simple Kids, for the awesome friends I have who are all of these things.  What would I do without them?

excited about possibilities for the future . . . one that could mean a plane, different time zones, no children and two best friends, another that could mean something like house arrest for the next 20 years but for some reason I really want to do it anyway.  This is why.

looking forward to Sam's first horse riding lesson tomorrow.  I found a great groupon deal and she is beyond excited.

wondering what book to read next.

I don't have a lot of time today (time seems to be nearly extinct lately) but I wanted to pop in here while I can to review what I've been reading. . . .  Really, I need some book suggestions.  Since reading Berry I can't seem to get into anything else; it has been a lonely week with nothing to read.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

I finally read the last book of the Steig Larsson trilogy.  It was rather . . . jarring . . . after the quiet world of Port William.  I'm not sure if I was more critical of the book because of how shockingly it contrasted Wendell Berry, or if this just wasn't his best book of the three- either way, I didn't enjoy this book as much and by the third book the story line was pretty predictable.

Hannah Coulter

Once again, another gift from Berry.  The story is told by Hannah Coulter, twice widowed, of her life in the beloved Port William community.  I am always impressed when an author tells a story from the voice of the opposite sex, but Berry does an impressive job describing longings and joy of life from a woman's perspective, however, the voice didn't feel to me as aching or transparent as Jayber Crow.  Plenty to love about this book- one that I want to own and read again.

One of the endearing- and puzzling- qualities of Berry's stories about Port William- especially this book- is his almost naive optimism of the town, and the seeming impossible warmth and selflessness of his characters.  He writes with great affection for the Port William "membership," with no bitterness or condescension- I greatly respect him for this, but it seems impossible, too.  Coming from a small town, I wish I had his faith in community.  I did not experience the king of loyal and affectionate community in the small town where I grew up that he describes- although I have in other places I have lived.  There are times, reading Berry, when I have this urge to return to my small town to experience the magical sense of place that he writes of, and yet I'm not sure that I would find it- (here I have written of my own small town experience) I aspire to his hope and belief in the goodness of people.


A gorgeous book of poetry by Berry, another one to own and love.

Imagination in Place

I am nearly finished with this.  It is definitely more . .. cerebral . . . than his fiction, and requires more mental energy.  The theme of these essays is the connection between a literary work and the place it is conceived, a concept that I had never thought about before but will no doubt now ever influence my thinking about art and creation.

Oh, and one of my posts was recently featured on storybleed!  Thank-you Heather!

Friday, May 20, 2011

living loveliness- let it go

The sun is shining today for the first time in weeks, but today I find myself in the basement- the place where I go with arms full of dirty laundry and everything that stinks.  Today I am hiding out here in this cold dark place in my soul.  To be honest I have been here all week.

I was hurt this week.  The kind of cold, shocking hurt that takes away your breath.

And it is not for lack of trying that I am still here, still shaken and hurting.  I want to shake it off.  Truly friends, I am drawing on all of my resources of love and grace, quoting to myself every verse on forgiveness.  I lie awake at night begging God for that mysterious power to forgive, to let go, to love love love.

And this is what I know:

I have no love in me, no kindness, no mercy or grace apart from Christ.

I have no ability to forgive- it is supernatural.  All I can do is hope to forgive, desire to forgive, and in the way that He has given it to me in the past-- slowly, eventually, one day, I will find that I have forgiven.  I am still waiting and hoping for that day.

I know that this is the stuff of faith.  This hurting, this wrestling, this trying and failing to love is the real grit of what I claim to believe.   My love for Christ is only revealed by how sincerely I love others.

There is no "unfriending" in Christ; no hardness, no revenge, no record of wrongs, no root of bitterness.  We are not given the option of isolation. There is only vulnerability, gentleness, peacemaking; bear all, believe all, hope all, endure all.

This is what I know:  I know that prisoners reside in basements. Grace throws open the windows, grace pours into every corner.  I know that there is no freedom, no deep resonating laughter, no green glory of life in basements.  I must find my way to the light again, however painful it may be.

I know that Christ was wounded, that I wounded him, and with every wound he just opened his arms up wider and wider, letting the whole world in.  I must open wide my arms too.

I know that I have life
only insofar as I have love.
I have no love
except it come from Thee.
Help me, please, to carry
this candle against the wind.

-Wendell Berry, Sabbaths, 2005

living loveliness- give the mundane it's beautiful due

For some reason Blogger lost my most recent post last week, so here it is in case you missed it:

The big things come so quietly, these secrets we must stop everything to hear.  To here.  The big thing?  It is no more than the next thing.  This holy work; it is in the details, the slowness, the rhythm.

Two years ago I wrote a post called May Flowers, about the happy season of busy that I was experiencing.  "The earth is scattered too", I wrote. "for right now, maybe too much is okay."

My youngest then had reached the stage that the baby is now, fourteen months or so, the time when they begin to feel more like a child and less like a baby, and with each of my children at this age I have experienced the feeling of raising my head, looking around, getting reacquainted with the world and myself again.  The nausea and exhaustion of pregnancy have passed, the sleepless months of newborn, the post-partum, the family growing pains and adjustments.  Life feels once more as life as usual, and without realizing it I find myself thinking about what's next.  I didn't know, two years ago, that what came next was a third child (though now I am so unspeakably grateful), and so at the time I was throwing my energy into plans and dreams; a part-time job, a new writing venture, and a small business with a friend.  It was a thrilling time for me, and then it all came to a screeching halt when I became pregnant and I braced myself for another round of hyperemesis.

Along with the fear of being sick was this selfish stubbornness that didn't want to give up the many things I was doing that seemed so important.

This time, it's different.  This time I find myself clinging to this fragile limb, wanting just to remain here, to be present and aware, to notice what is unfolding right in front of me.  I don't want to miss anything about where I am right now.  To love deeply and be deeply grateful.  To pay attention.

It seems to be the theme of what I am reading and learning, from people like Ann and BerryRuth who survived the earthquake and blogs about how she clings to what is real on the the other side of tragedy.

It's really not about whether to work or not work, to be on facebook or not be on facebook, all questions that I wrestle with.  I think it's more about being present, wherever you are.  To value people- every person- to treat people with great tenderness and compassion.  I think it's about bringing redemption to whatever you are doing; the slow, honest, quietly unfolding kind of redemption.

As the children grow and my world opens up just a little I am content to stay right here.  I want to live carefully and quietly, reverently; whatever that means.  I am learning to give the mundane it's beautiful due.

Yes, our lives are sewn on occasion with a texture of joy unmistakeable, the foretastes. But many days, if not most hours, reek of repetition, a mundane rising and falling punctuated with what the old hymn writer penned as 'seasons of distress and grief.' The relief you are charged to bring to our souls in times like these is beauty - nothing more, nothing less. It is your only duty. Give up all other ambitions for the dross they are. Give the mundane its beautiful due. at Dirty Shame

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Heaven enough for me

What would be the perfect day?

I'll sometimes dream, thinking of a day past or future: a place in the mountains, a cup of coffee that never cools, a view of the Mediterranean . . . a quiet, warm green place with enough books and lovely thoughts and a few friends, witty and wise . . . an endless meal with conversation pouring like wine, old and complex.  Here we linger, for days, in wonder and reverence; a certain sorrow that swirls in the wine but tastes like hope on the lips.   Our sentences drift away at the end.  We speak to each other both with words and with silence and with that light in the eyes, the deepest kind of laughter.

I am dreaming of Heaven, perhaps.  My reverie never lasts long.

There are diapers to change, disasters to avoid.  Voices and tears and touch, constant touch.  Keeping me rooted firmly to the earth, all day long, are these personalities and needs; daily needs, daily meals to prepare, the smallest lessons to teach.  My work is daily and small and eternal.  I kiss the cheeks of immortal beings.

And though I may wish for those places of solitude, or the perfect day that is perfectly balanced with all of the things that feel like Heaven, I am pulled back to earth, back to this day and this practical, earthly work.

And it is Heaven enough for me.


O saints, if I am even eligible for this prayer,
though less than worthy of this dear desire,
and if your prayers have influence in Heaven,
let my place there be lower than your own.
I know how you have longed, here where you lived
as exiles, for the presence of the essential 
Being and Maker and Knower of all things.
But because of my unruliness, or some erring
virtue in me never rightly schooled, 
some error clear and dear, my life
has not taught me your desire for flight:
dismattered, pure, and free.  I long
instead for the Heaven of creatures, of seasons,
of day and night.  Heaven enough for me
would be this world as I know it, but redeemed
of our abuse of it and one another.

(you can read the rest of the poem here).
Wendell Berry, Leavings

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

living loveliness

Sometimes I blame it on my first-born, perfectionist tendencies, other times I think it stems from the youth-group girl, performance-driven legalism I keep trying to shed, or sometimes I think it is my INFP Idealism.


That bothersome, underlying sense of guilt.
A feeling of having forgotten something, but not being sure what it was.
A perpetual effort to do better next time . . .

Really, it is this question that keeps me awake at night, continually wondering if I chose the right things, if I wasted time, if I am living well:

What will you do with your one wild and precious life?

I am a stay-at-home-mom (gratefully, joyfully so) and my days can be what I make them.  Often I find my days rather blank and I grow anxious, my mind swimming with possible ways to use the time.

A mother's days are bent around the mundane: to wipe the nose and fill the cup and teach, again, how to be kind, to tie the shoe, to live well.

And this is what I am learning, on my quest for how to live, for how to take Life by the shoulders and wrap both arms and legs around it:

The mundane is what matters most.  

When finding myself fretting, the answer always is to simplify.

In all other matters, the answer usually is to simplify.

First take care of the spiritual, then you will know how to take care of the natural.

Let loveliness be my guiding priority.

. . . more to come on what I am learning about living loveliness.