Monday, July 29, 2019

Waiting Summer - A Poem

I've been determinedly reading through the Oxford Book of American Verse - a long project, and one I've questioned as the poets seem to become increasingly disillusioned and corrupt as one advances chronologically through the pages, but it also portrays a mental history of our nation that is enlightening. There are gems in those pages, and also glimpses of hell. When I finished the section of Hart Crane's poems (highly non-recommended) this morning, I felt inspired to write a fresh poem to lift my spirits and remind me that the world is beautiful and good under God. This one is about the hope that summer reflects to me.

Waiting Summer

Green this heavy
I only dreamed,
When east wind rattled the crying twigs
pleading the chill white sky -
How long?
'Til the red life blood of spring
Will make us live,
and robe us with a
weight of glory?

I scarcely dreamed
when the first gold shone
on the waking boughs.
That now was the
beginning of
It won’t be long.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Family Road Trip

It started with my visionary husband's idea for a mercy ministry that integrated financial advice and the gospel in a biblical way. Over a year ago, he decided that he wanted to get the curriculum and training from the Chalmers Center to implement in our church and community, and none of my "Honey, let's just do the raising kids thing for now" would phase him. Last year he wanted to go, and I said, "Please wait for next year." This year, the training was at a church in Normal, IL. He would take vacation time to go. Maybe I would go with him. Maybe the kids would go with us too. But this would be the summer trip. I did not want this trip to happen, but sound doctrine being the wonderful thing that is, I realized that my job as a wife is to help my husband fulfill his mission in life and not the other  way around. Since he had decided to do this, I needed to encourage and support him as cheerfully as possible, and not kick and drag, because that doesn't glorify God and it ain't fun for nobody.

I looked up Normal, IL. It appeared to be about as uninspiring as its name suggests. Our only summer trip opportunity - no mountains, no beaches, and no historic sites, just a mildly depressing, flat, midwest town. Then it occurred to me to check how far Normal was from Caleb's mom's house - where we had never yet visited in our seven years of marriage, because we'd been having babies all that time, and the drive is eleven hours. Waukegan was three hours away from Normal - and that became our trip plan. Take two days to drive to Grandma's house in Waukegan, with enough days at her house for Caleb to be with us before and after the class, the children and I stay with her while he drove to Normal for two days training, and then came back for Sunday and her birthday which conveniently occurred on the Monday before we left for another two day trip back. It would be an adventure, and I knew it would be utterly exhausting. I'm already tired from doing the three kids thing at home. But that made me pray about it a lot, which was a good thing. And the closer we got, the more I was determined to go, because I didn't want to miss that time together, however grueling it was.

When we told Caleb's mom our trip plans, she said "We could go to the lake!" I knew that she lived somewhat near Lake Michigan, but I didn't realize it was only six minutes away from her house. As I thought about it, the whole trip began to take on a new color. I would be able to relive with my children childhood trips to Michigan to my grandparent's farm, which was also not too far from the lake (on the eastern shore). Every summer time, my heart feels a compass needle pointing north, tugging me with longings for the region of my birth and of my happiest memories. I would try to be content to tend the garden in our West Virginia country home, only dreaming of aspens, pines and clear, cold lakes twinkling in the light of long northern summer days. Because of the way our trip plans had formed, these feelings had not been part of it before. I knew we would have to drive through Chicago to get there, and I didn't realize that the beauty of the north country lay beyond it. But Waukegan was beyond what I had expected in similarity to Michigan, and during that week, the children and I went to the lake three times - once with Grandma and the baby, and twice just by ourselves - and every time there was such joy and beauty in it and a refreshment of spirit hard to describe.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Easter Colors

This poem was written out of some womanly musings over Easter dresses and celebrations, reflecting on how we may try to show in bright and fresh attire our joy in the new life of spring and in the resurrection.

Shall I wear red-
Brave color of blood and battle?
Red life was bled of love
and war for me,
Til victory waked the dawn.
Was that dawn red?

Or was it gold -
Bright yellow of bright joy
When sun streaked opening sight
Into the dark and gaping mouth
Of gutted death
And sang into the blue.

Shall I wear blue?
Of sapphire pavement where he sits
Enthroned, my Lord once dead for me,
More vibrant than the cloud-strewn sky
Through which he flew.

I might wear blue
For it is what I have
Enough to walk forth into day
And sing with loved ones
That our loved One lives,
For it is true.

No color shall suffice
To show my joy
That all my love is risen from the dead,
Until beyond rainbow and sunset,
Tree and flower,
In newer life than Spring,
I walk with Him in white.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Power and the Glory

"Look! There's a little finger of cloud coming down! It's a tornado!!!!"
It is a calm, breezy day with wispy clouds in the sky, but my five-year-old son is unwilling to believe my assertion that he is mistaken.

"What if a star just came down and fell on the whole earth? What would happen?"

"Oh! Look at that gray billowing smoke in the sky. Over there! It must be a volcano erupting!"
I answer - "That's a puffy gray cloud. It might rain. But it's not a volcano."
I say it not because I'm a killjoy but because I believe truth is ultimately more satisfying than delusions. But this child will keep on looking for signs of wonderful disasters (not to mention appearances of supernatural beings and exotic animal species).

Lots of children are like this, especially young boys - I have early childhood memories of an older brother who made the same wishful assertions.  A real tornado or volcano in the dreamed-of proximity to our home could be the destruction of our whole way of life - and if there is anything little children don't want, it is the destruction of their way of life. But deep down they want to see something explode. People laugh about it, because for many the desire lasts long past childhood.  Evolutionary theory could perhaps contrive some explanation for the hunger for great scenes, but this hunger cannot jive with the idea that we exist merely to survive and perpetuate the species. We were created by God to behold the glory of God. Every little boy who wants to see something blow up spectacularly is expressing an undirected longing for his little heart's big Creator. That's just one of the reasons I think it is important to present the whole Bible to our children, and not just Bible character story books that tend to leave out the richly worded passages about God's character and actions.

I've been reading through the Bible to the children for the past year and this morning we read 2 Samuel 22. The volcano boy listened with riveted attention over his bowl of oatmeal as I read -

“In my distress I called upon the LORD;
to my God I called.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry came to his ears.
“Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations of the heavens trembled
and quaked, because he was angry.
Smoke went up from his nostrils,
and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him.
He bowed the heavens and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet.
He rode on a cherub and flew;
he was seen on the wings of the wind.
He made darkness around him his canopy,
thick clouds, a gathering of water.
Out of the brightness before him
coals of fire flamed forth.
The LORD thundered from heaven,
and the Most High uttered his voice....

I thought "Yes!". This is strong meat for my boy. There is nothing better I could give him right now.

The full-orbed character of God is all that is required to satisfy every longing of the human heart. We can only see all of it by reading all of Scripture, and our children need it just as much, if not more than we do. It is a great mistake to think that children's longings are more easily satisfied. Adults are far more easily pleased. Some days we just want to see our God as provider and praise Him for the paycheck. But the little guys are primitive and they want to see glory, and their childlike faith is ready to believe that God has all of it, which is good, because He does.

Several weeks ago, on a fresh snowy day, I was outside with my son and he posed the best of his thousand questions for the day:
"How does the snow show God's glory? Because it's not powerful."
I paused a bit then said, "It gives us a picture of God's cleanness and purity, and how he can cover our sins and make them disappear. The Bible says, 'Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow' when God forgives them."
He just looked up into the sky and seemed to think, while I strolled off to fill the bird feeders. My heart was glad, because once again I was reminded that God is sufficient for every longing of the human heart.

Let's not let our children be satisfied with Superman scenes on a screen, when they have a God who puts all the super heroes to shame. He can defeat not only our external enemies but the very sin of our inmost hearts. "Worship Him all you gods" should be written above the movie screens, and if it is not, we can remind our children that before the majesty of the Lord of Glory, their favorite super hero has no option but to bow down.

The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him
and burns up his adversaries all around.
His lightnings light up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD,
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory.
All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast in worthless idols;
worship him, all you gods!

Cotopaxi by Frederic Edwin Church

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Chesterton on Contentment

When I think of contentment, I think of the oft-quoted and at-one-time-stuck-on-my-mirror definition of contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs:

"Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God's wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” 

This is excellent. But the perspective of others can be helpful in rounding out what the experience of contentment looks like. Enter one of my favorite authors, G. K. Chesterton. 

I listened to Chesterton's Miscellany of Men essays during some waking night hours over the last few weeks, and dozed off through a number of them that were a bit less than captivating (granted, the slightly dull character of a work of literature is a merit in my selection for night time listening), but while listening to The Contented Man, my mind gave a little thrill of connection. I loved Chesterton's thoughts on this. Here's some of it:

 “Content” ought to mean in English, as it does in French, being pleased; placidly, perhaps, but still positively pleased. Being contented with bread and cheese ought not to mean not caring what you eat. It ought to mean caring for bread and cheese; handling and enjoying the cubic content of the bread and cheese and adding it to your own. Being content with an attic ought not to mean being unable to move from it and resigned to living in it. It ought to mean appreciating what there is to appreciate in such a position; such as the quaint and elvish slope of the ceiling or the sublime aerial view of the opposite chimney-pots. And in this sense contentment is a real and even an active virtue; it is not only affirmative, but creative. The poet in the attic does not forget the attic in poetic musings; he remembers whatever the attic has of poetry; he realises how high, how starry, how cool, how unadorned and simple—in short, how Attic is the attic.
True contentment is a thing as active as agriculture. It is the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it. It is arduous and it is rare.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

I Do Repent

Today I took down one of the old hymnals in my collection, just to poke about in it and see what was there - a worn, blue 1923 Hymns for the Living Age. I do not know where I got it or if I have even looked at it before. I opened to this beautiful hymn of penitence:

Because I knew not when my life was good,
And when there was a light upon my path,
But turned my soul perversely to the dark,
O Lord, I do repent.

Because I held upon my selfish road
And left my brother wounded by the way,
And called ambition duty, and pressed on,
O Lord, I do repent.

Because I spent the strength thou gavest me
In struggle which thou never didst ordain,
And have but dregs of life to offer thee,
O Lord, I do repent.

Because I was impatient, would not wait,
But thrust my impious hand across thy threads,
And marred the pattern drawn out for my life,
O Lord, I do repent.

Because thou hast borne with me all this while,
Hast smitten me with love until I weep,
Hast called me as a mother calls her child,
 O Lord, I do repent.

~ Sarah Williams, 1868

I think the center stanza - the third - will give me the most food for meditation, because in its confession I see myself all too well.

Because I spent the strength thou gavest me
In struggle which thou never didst ordain,
And have but dregs of life to offer thee, 
O Lord, I do repent.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Vision of Christmas from Elizabeth Goudge

I've been trying to speed read a most delicious book - speed read because I bought it for a Christmas gift and I want to finish reading it first myself. (Books are the gift that keeps on giving!). The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge, is, like all of Goudge's wonderful books that I've read, full of entrancing beauty and profound reflections on the human soul. This particular book deals with a unique aspect of humanity in the history and journals of Mary Lindsay, a woman who struggled with mental illness. I didn't expect this book to prepare me for Christmas (in anything except the hope of getting it read before Christmas comes) but I found this gem of a Christmas dream in the story's excerpt from Mary Lindsay's diary:

I heard the clock strike five and I thought, Soon it will be Christmas and I shan't be able to enjoy my first Christmas in my own home. I was very sorry for myself. I thought, I can't bear it. I was lying on stones and the walls were moving in...The walls moved in nearer and as they closed right around, trapping me, I screamed.
I don't suppose I really screamed. What had happened was that I had fallen asleep at last and drifted into nightmare. I was imprisoned in stone. I knew then what men suffered who are walled up alive. But I was able to think, and I thought, Shall I scream and beat against the wall or shall I keep my mouth shut and be still? I wanted to scream because it would have been the easier thing. But I didn't. And when I had been still for a little while I found myself slowly edging forward. There was a crack in the stone. The hardness pressed against me upon each side in a horrible way, as though trying to crush me, but I could edge forward through the crack. I went on scraping through and at last there was a glimmer of light. It came to my feet like a sword and I knew it had made the crack, a sword of fire, splitting the stone. And then the walls drew back slightly on either side of me, as though the light pushed them. I had a sense of conflict, as though the darkness reeled and staggered, resisting the light in an anguish of evil strength. It had a fearful power. But the light, that seemed such a small beam in comparison with that infinity of blackness, kept the channel open and I fled down it. There was room now to run. I ran and ran and came out into the light.