How to Know You’re in the Right Place

thistles1

Our property is 2 1/2 acres right in the middle of town. Having such a large parcel in a neighborhood setting means that our little farm shares a boundary with at least a dozen others. Which gives us just as many relationship opportunities in managing the fence lines.

A couple weeks ago when I was out mowing I noticed a patch of thistles that only needed a week of hot weather to go to seed (see upper left corner of photo below).

mowing

They were rooted on the other side of the fence, but–since the neighboring parcel is an empty lot, and they were leaning over the fence, and (I told myself) thistles don’t know or care that there’s a fence there–I knew they were my problem to deal with.

I headed out early one morning, suited for battle: fully covered, heavy boots, thick gloves, and a long pair of loppers. It was darn hot and I was more suitably dressed for shoveling snow than for hard mid-summer labor. My eyes burned from the sweat dripping and my fingers ached from the thorns (which still found their way through two pair of gloves).

A voice in my head protested, “This is miserable!”

But then another quieter voice, gently said, “No it’s not. I’m enjoying this…This is grace.” The second I heard it, I knew it was right. It was counterintuitive, but it was true. I was enjoying it. It was grace.

To be able to work, after so many years of illness? To labor with my hands, after months of lying on my back? To mix my sweat with the dirt of God’s earth, after such a long time of being able to do nothing but rest? This was grace.

thistles2

My body knows rest. I know what it is to sit in bed and not be allowed to do the least bit of housework. I know what it is to lie on the couch and watch someone else make dinner and put the kids to bed. I know what it is to sit in the garden shade while someone else sweats over the digging and planting.

When that part of me insisted that I was enjoying wrestling with a patch of thistles, I realized that I had spent so long in forced rest that to work, to move, to sweat, to dig, to pull, to struggle felt like a gift. To be healthy and strong enough to be out in that field, to have the opportunity to create some beauty, that was a gift.

I continued to hack and haul away thistles, sweating and sucking the needles out of my fingers. I contemplated how strange it was to find joy in a task that was so miserable and realized that this. This. Is how I know I am in the right place. This is grace.

Gardens: New and Old

The past two weeks at Butterfield has been spent getting things sorted out in the garden. We arrived just as spring transitioned to summer and there was a lot to catch up on–weeding, mulching, planting, weeding, harvesting, watering, weeding, mowing, weeding….

We got the last of the main season crops planted last week, just in time for the summer weather. And while I find a lot of satisfaction in having gotten the job done, it’s never very satisfying to photograph (or to look at photographs) of a newly planted garden.

So this week I’m sharing photos of a neighbor’s garden. We took a field trip last week to visit their goldfish pond and see the waterlilies.

lilies-and-toes

After a long day of pulling weeds and planting starts in a bare vegetable plot, it was refreshing to spend an hour in a peaceful garden that has been lovingly tended for decades.

Ruby-and-Pearl

As I looked around at the blooming lilies, the rustic urns, the bubbling fountain, the well-planned potager, the trellised wisteria, I felt as if I’d stepped onto the grounds of Beverley Nichols’ post-war English garden at Merry Hall (someone else out there loves these books as much as I do, right??).

Pearl-and-Daniel

Jonathan

There’s a comfortable feeling that comes with working a piece of land over many years, of knowing a plot of dirt so well that you know exactly which corner stays wet the longest, which bed has the most shade, and which wall gives the best wind protection. I knew every corner of our tiny plot at Meadowlawn. It’s this familiarity that I miss the most–in the garden and in life in general. Relocating a family is full of newness, which is equal parts exhilaration and exhaustion.

As much as I long to have those deep roots and abiding knowledge of place, I’m reminded that in life, like in the garden, these things don’t happen overnight, or in a week, or even in one growing season. They take time. Gardeners have a saying when referring to newly transplanted plants: “Sleep, creep, leap”. They mean that the first season a plant will appear to “sleep” and not really put on much growth at all as it deals with the stress of being transplanted and gets comfortable in its new surroundings. The second season it will begin to “creep” and put down some tentative roots and a little bit of growth. The third season, “leap” is when it really takes off and begins to settle in and bloom and grow.

lilies

Perhaps this same philosophy applies when transplanting people? There is so much about the process of putting down roots and growing shoots that informs the actual relationship between a person and a place. Whether it’s tomatoes or oak trees or children there’s no way around it…these things just take time.

I’m so thankful that we have neighbors who invite us over to share in their bounty, while we spend the season investing in the future of our own.

kiddos

Lilacs and Rhubarb

I had a really hard time figuring out where to begin documenting this new chapter at Butterfield. I spent the afternoon uploading all the photos off of my cameras from the past few months. I decided I’d start at the beginning.

Lilac4

These photos are from our last trip here, at the end of April. Butterfield was all lilacs and rhubarb. We bought the property in winter time, so were curious to see what spring would look like. What would we find coming to life on this land we owned?

Turns out this venerable tree–which in winter was nothing more than a gnarly, twisted, clump of sticks–is an ancient lilac.

Lilac3

Lilac2

It’s worthy of naming, don’t you think?

Lilac1

The vegetable garden that the previous owner had cleared was gone to weeds. The kids helped me (okay, I bribed them to help me) clear out the worst of them to make space for sowing a few seeds.

VegPatch

Unfortunately, I didn’t have long enough with the irrigation system to figure out the best way to use it, so while the seeds may have sprouted at one point, they were all dead by the time we came back. No worries. I’ve got it all worked out now. I think.

Fortunately, the rhubarb grows whether it gets watered or not. We found two giant plants back in the berry patch all ready to be harvested.

rhubarb

Most of it went into the freezer to wait for the strawberry harvest, but there was more than enough to make a simple rhubarb crisp. Actually, I made three. Thanks, Martha Stewart.

recipe

Christopher spent his entire week, 12 hours a day, installing wiring and outlets. His studio-office will be on the third floor (I can’t even believe that we have a house with three floors. I was at IKEA buying supplies for the house and purchased 5 toilet brushes for our 5 bathrooms. I think it was then that I realized we have a large house. I digress.) The electrical that was there was inadequate for use as a graphic design studio, and what was there wasn’t working anyway.

The previous owner returned for the week to assist Christopher, which was an amazing act of generosity. He’s spent years working on the house and knew which walls were best for running wires from the basement, exactly where to punch holes, and where to look for junction boxes in the attic.

CStudio2

And Christopher got to work right away, setting up a photo shoot for a client. This is the biggest studio space he’s ever had, and there’s actually room to leave photography equipment set up. It’s like me having a place to leave my loom set up (which there’s also room for, but that’s another post).

CStudio

Faithful to Fill

The kids and I recently read the story in Chronicles about Elisha filling the widow’s jars of oil. It struck me this time that God filled each of the jars she brought to Him; no more, and no less. Elisha told her to borrow jars from her neighbors, but he didn’t tell her how many. That was up to her. Would she gather as many as possible? More than she could carry? Even though she might look ridiculous to her neighbors who knew she had nothing to put into them? Or would she be discreet and only borrow a few?

The fact is that God filled every jar she brought to Him. Scripture doesn’t say what would have happened if she’d brought more or less (have you noticed God always stubbornly sticks to what IS?) But I like to think that if she had brought more jars, God would have gone on filling them. Certainly this is consistent with the God I know.

When I started this blog (5 years ago? Really?!) I wrote about how God delights in filling empty things. At the time, I had an empty heart and an empty spirit, and, as I’ve brought each of them to Him over the years, He has faithfully filled them to the brink.

Now, He is setting our feet on a new path. One with lots of space to fill. 2 1/2 acres and 6,000 square feet to be exact. I’m the widow who has gathered more jars than she can carry and is bringing them to Him with simple trust. I mean…would you look at this place?!

landscape

In all honesty, our family outgrew our current house a long time ago. We organized and purged our way to eking out a (mostly) comfortable existence in our tiny bungalow on a small downtown lot. We never felt called to do anything different. It worked for us.

But recently we began to feel tugged in a different direction. God put in our hearts a curiosity about a new state, a new people, and a new longing for adventure that could only be described as a Pioneer Spirit. We made ourselves open to this calling, curious to see where it would lead us, and found ourselves buying a gorgeous property in a sweet little town almost before we knew what was happening.

After so many years in such a small jar that has already been filled, the thought of this giant Edwardian home on acreage makes us giddy. I feel a little like Sarah, laughing (from joy? disbelief? wonder?) when she finds out her womb is filled.

We’ve named the house Butterfield, which has historic significance to the neighborhood, but appealed to us immediately for other reasons. It brings to mind milk and honey. Richness and growth. Joy and Life.

new-house

So as we start this process all over again–gathering our jars, bringing them to God, peering curiously into what he chooses to fill them with–I hope to resurrect this little blog space into something that others can share in. Even as we move towards something new and exciting, we move away from the unique and very special family that God has raised up for us in our old space. We move away from the fullness, and into the emptiness. And sometimes the emptiness gets pretty lonely. God is faithful to fill, but always in His own timing.

It’s a blessing to us to have a means of staying connected, a source through which to channel some of the old fullness into our new lives as we wait for the new jars to be filled. I think of a strawberry plant (I can never get away from garden metaphors) that grows on a runner attached to a parent plant, drawing sustenance from the mother until its roots are deep enough to feed itself. That’s what we need. And I’m thankful for those of you who provide it.

 

On Motherhood

bathtub

“I can understand how [motherhood] might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it.

“How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about arithmetic, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone?

“No; a woman’s function is laborious because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.”

G.K. Chesterton

Requiem

“Beware of refusing to go to the funeral of your own independence.”
Oswald Chambers

I highlighted this line in my book years ago. I knew there was something in it for me, something that I needed to understand, but it always eluded me. But this year as I read that line, I understood. And I offer this requiem for the funeral of my independence.

It died years ago the moment I gave myself and my life to God. When my desires became His desires. And when I crucified my old self with him and arose fresh and new born. Alas, even after rising anew, I snuck back to the cross and reclaimed those parts of me that I didn’t want to let go of. They were dead, to be sure, but I wasn’t ready to let go of them. Independence was the first one I reached for. And I continued as if it was not dead.

 Of course my reclaiming it did not resurrect Independence. It was dead, is dead, whether I acknowledged the fact or not. Whether I chose to attend the funeral or not. But I felt more comfortable having it with me. And I thought that somehow, by not admitting that it was dead and reattaching it to my reborn self, that it would be resurrected too.

Needless to say, this isn’t what happened. My Independence hung off of me like a revolting dead thing.

(I have a mental picture of Huck Finn swinging a dead cat.
“What’s that you got there, Huck?”
“Dead Independence.”
“Say, what’s Dead Independence good for, Huck?”)

Having reclothed myself with my Independence, I went about my new life with great fervor and good intentions. I didn’t use my Independence for “bad” things, like I did in my old life. No, I was a new person! I used it for “good” things. I used it to buy spiritual books that I couldn’t afford. I used it to make gifts for loved ones that I didn’t have time to make. I used it to write moralistic homilies that I didn’t understand. Independence might have looked different in my life, but it still stank.

I have carried around my Independence with me for years, doing all kinds of good things that God never asked me to do. As if He was an AP English teacher handing out extra credit.

If my Independence had taken a different form it would have been easy to condemn and put off. If it had looked like pettiness, or pride, or meanness, or selfishness, I would have been first at the funeral to mourn its death. Most of us are willing to attend the funerals of things that we wish were dead.

But my Independence took a more “helpful” form. It looked like support, love, compassion, sharing. It was meals delivered, gifts bought, hospitality offered. And weren’t these the very things I had been reborn to?

Yes.

And no.

“It is the things that are right and noble and good from the natural
standpoint that keep us back from God’s best. To discern that natural
virtues antagonize surrender to God is to bring our soul into the very
center of its greatest battle…It is the good that hates the best.
Oswald Chambers

Even if it is something good. Even if it’s something right. If whatever it is arises from my own Independence, it is not God’s best. By choosing to do the thing that originates from Independence, I am not choosing His best.

The meals were cooked and delivered with love, but I fed my own family cold cereal for dinner because there wasn’t time left to cook for them. The gifts were bought and given with the purest intentions, but our mortgage payment was late because there wasn’t enough money for both.

There is good, and there is best. And today I’m laying my Independence to rest, and so too all of the good things that I do out of it. I’m choosing to seek God’s best for me.

Which might mean less “good” for others, which sounds so wrong and makes me want to take up the dead cat again!

But I trust that God’s best for me, is God’s best for everyone. And so I attend the funeral.

Musing

I like to keep a little something inside my head to turn over and over during Lent, to quietly contemplate and study all the facets from different angles. Here’s what I’m musing on this week:

To Keep a True Lent
Robert Herrick

Is this a Fast, to keep
the larder lean?
And clean
From fat of veals and sheep?
Is it to quit the dish
of flesh, yet still
To fill
The platter high with fish?
Is it to fast an hour,
Or ragg’d to go,
Or show
A down-cast look and sour?
No: ’tis a Fast to dole
They sheaf of wheat
And meat
With the hungry soul.
It is to fast from strife
And old debate,
And hate;
To circumcise thy life.
To show a heart grief-rent;
To starve they sin,
Not bin;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.