I have, in other words, no desire to go back in history. But I do yearn to see trees with greater clarity. I want to see them as my fellow creatures, called into existence by God, with a dignity and significance all their own. I want to realize that at the creation they were made to be trees, for Gods glory, and they have done so it is my race of creatures that refuses to abide by Gods word. I want to know more about chlorophyll and cambium layers and see in them glimpses of glory that shine with hints of a transcendent power beyond my knowing.

We didn't totally understand what Communion was. At least I didn’t. If it was magical to the Catholics, literally becoming body, and blood, and meaningless to atheists, a bizarre religious ritual, I suppose I fell somewhere in between. We read no books about Communion, took no classes to prepare, made no declarations of faith besides the act itself. Now I see the act is its own declaration, its own remembrance. But I didn't know then.

Seldom Suppress a Generous Impulse

When I was young, it struck me as strange that my father enjoyed giving so much, but years later, I am finally beginning to understand. He has become so accustomed to the thrill of working alongside his heavenly father to care for the needs of others that temporal goods have lost hold on his affections. As the earthly tent wears thin, he sees with ever increasing clarity the bountiful riches of God’s economy. One day, I hope that I will see it too.

. . . so much of what Doll taught me had to do with working around missteps — my own, and others’ — with flexibility and grace. And, posthumously, that she’s redefined the meaning of hospitality for me, so that I think of it not only in its traditional sense, but also in the day-to-day as I “host” my children, their friends, my husband, and our friends and family. Doll cared for and catered to her guests. She hoped to spoil them with the best of what she had to offer — a thing that, when translated, came down to great love and a capacity to supply equal amounts of comfort and whimsy.

Find the Good and Praise It

Like it or not, I have been fine-tuned since childhood to feel the weight of the world’s woes more than most, perhaps like you who read the Art House America Blog (or write for it). Luci Shaw calls it the poet’s curse, this heightened sensitivity to life’s joys and sorrows. We can’t not feel what we feel. I couldn’t agree more and yet the nagging question for me comes down to this: how do we find the good and praise it in the midst of so much suffering? How do we flesh out our callings with lives of deep joy and courage?  These questions haunt me year after year. I can’t promise much in the way of satisfying answers, only glimmers, a semblance of peace. 

When I look back on this year, I see a deep and abiding vein of grace that has brought me to the place I am now, safe, and I am so grateful for that. But it has existed in what has seemed mostly like a nightmare, so much like a nightmare that my memories of it are fragmented and disjointed, and the images rise up out of it like terrible fish out of a black pond. 

She straightened herself up, turned to face me, and put her right hand over her left — a portrait of dignity and poise. And then, with just the two of us in the room, she began to sing over me.

“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Mr. Ramsey. Happy birthday to you.”

Then she smiled, turned, and left the room.

And I wept.

I hold Jeanne’s book in one hand and Jill’s note in the other. It’d be nice to have them both here, but holding their words is nice, too. And I have the words that fill my bookshelves. Maybe someday my words will slowly settle again onto the page. Maybe I’ll unpack my life and see what makes it work like I did with the books I studied in school. Maybe this is my next annotation.

Sometimes I am frustrated with the way my denominational tribe approaches the Lord's table. (Sometimes I am frustrated with the ways single people are invisible in the church.) Occasionally I sneak off for what I call "a maintenance dose of liturgy," to a place where everything in the service builds to the table, and we literally approach it, getting up out of our seats and walking to it and holding out our hands. (Occasionally I sneak off to someplace where I expect to be invisible.) I did that a few Sundays ago. 

Hospitality begins with homemaking, and proper homemaking is always connected to hospitality. The slow roll of daily tasks, like scrubbing the toilets and sweeping the floors. The seasonal study of vegetables and how they might come together for a meal. The predictable safety of steady care among housemates. And then you want others — non-residents, the stranger the better — to enjoy what you enjoy. You want to extend to others whatever provisions and comforts belong to your household. Even introverts may find that it feels natural to make home in this way. Hospitality is the art of homemaking for people who don’t belong to your home. 

Don’t be surprised if you’re making bad art. Don’t be discouraged. And whatever you do, don’t stop. Keep making bad art. Not because you’re wrong about your self-evaluation — you might be producing some really awful stuff. But just because the thing you’re working on is a ripe mess doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to stop working. On the contrary, that might be both the worst time and reason to quit. I think you need to make bad art in order to make anything better. I know that’s been the case for me. 

I reach the tracks and look both ways, like the sign says, just in case, though it’s difficult to imagine a train without a decent amount of noise to warn its approach. 

I take my time crossing the tracks. 

I look down the east line and imagine what’s beyond the horizon, imagine myself on the Amtrak, one station away from the New Mexico border. Red lights flash, the bell ding ding dings, and my pace quickens.

I am momentarily weightless standing here in the waning night, loose from sleep and freed by unfettered rest. Is it even right to be taking my emotional temperature this early in the morning? Shouldn’t I be telling myself how I feel? Brand new day! Clean slate! Expect to see God’s goodness! His mercies are new every morning! I do believe this. But some days it’s hard for the message to sink into my gut. I need extra time to dress myself in that truth.

As much as motherhood has taken away — time to write, the ability to practice the piano without little hands taking over the keyboard ("Scooch, Mama”), the mental acuity to use polysyllabic words (or, some days, to finish sentences) — it has given me more. I have not lost myself in motherhood, as I had feared, but discovered myself. I don't just mean I've realized the beauty and joy of being a mother, but in and through motherhood I've grasped new ways of being creative. I learn creativity from my children, who are infinitely the same as and different from me; I learn creativity through my desire to create for them; I learn creativity simply by opening myself up to being something else.

Repairing the World

Even with the best hopes, the truest motives, we will get hurt, because the world is very messy. Stepping in, even with responsibility born of love, is never neat-and-clean. To take up the wounds of the world will wound us, as it did God himself — which is why the heart of our vocation must be the imitation of the vocation of God. Nothing else can so form us, nothing else can so sustain us. 

I used to desire, more than anything, to be useful to God. To be a good Christian. To change the world for Christ. To burn with the prophetic fire that lit Rich Mullins. But when my good works turned to ashes in my hands, I learned for the first time how precious it was to be wanted by God, apart from any usefulness I might have. Rich fought hard to grasp this lesson, and maybe if I’d been listening better I could have learned it from him while he was alive, but I doubt it: I had to fight for it on my own.

For the first time in my life, I did not know what was next. I only knew that it was time to lay low, rest, and wait. I was dried up inside and felt like I had very little to offer anyone around me. As it turns out, for the first three weeks of the year, I really didn’t have anything to offer as I was sick with a cold the whole time. I thought that I was going to start my sabbatical by doing all those things you never have time to do when you are working, like crafts and cooking and working out in the middle of the day. Nevertheless, my body was screaming at me to stop doing and start being. So I slept. A lot.

I believe that God honors our questions just as my dad honored mine. I believe that God stays with us, even when prayers and songs seem flimsy as paper angels. I believe that it helps to leave the hall light on when the questions come faster than morning. And I keep asking those questions because somewhere in the asking I find I am not answered but I am heard.

180 days. Four hours of instructional time per day. These are the only requirements dictated by the state of Tennessee. I was free to use curriculum or not to use curriculum. I could test or not. Unschooling appealed to me because it felt more sustainable; without a rigid plan I would be less likely to burn out. Even if it didn’t work, one year of unschooling wouldn’t kill us. And maybe it would be exactly what we needed to recalibrate and de-stress.

Waters of Refreshing and the Joy of the Heirloom Tomato

The watering came in unexpected ways. Sometimes the Lord’s refreshing comes through a change of scenery — the resting place of a vacation, a Sabbath day of ceasing our worry and work, a retreat at Laity Lodge. Sometimes it comes through a change of countenance — we are literally righted from the inside out, brought to clarity, given new perspective and strength. Sometimes we’re made compassionate again, given a new imagination and concern for people’s needs, or a renewed sense of meaning and purpose.