Once Upon a Farm in Iowa

He’d asked me a couple of times during my foolish, younger days, if I thought he’d been born yesterday.  I was getting older and realizing maybe I had thought so, back then.

It was 2013.  After trying to write something for Father’s Day gift, I came up with a list of questions instead.  I wanted to know his stories.  Too fresh off the keys, I let them sit a while and gave him purple calla lilies instead.  I mentioned it would be nice to ask him one day about life on the farm. Two weeks later we were driving the back roads of Iowa, to the lane I remembered as Grandma and Grandpa’s.

Lane

 

“There used to be a school house there.” he said, as we were halfway down the gravel path.  He remembered a performance of “Pop Goes the Weasel” at a special open house night and the excitement of new school shirts ordered from the catalog.  He’d looked forward to going, but it closed just before he was old enough.  With only a few shrubs and corn left in its place, he painted for my mind the bridge crossing a spring into a tree-sheltered space. There were willow trees and the enchanted school yard he played in long after it was vacant.  I could hear children’s voices through the rustling weeds.

Elderflower

 

Further on toward the house, the two red barns built on each side of the lane, like a gateway to the farm yard, weren’t there like I remembered.  The cattails weren’t lining the creek.  I was hoping to pick some for my girls.

Just before that place of the missing barns was a corner of field where grandma had a garden.  He remembered how he would go with her and help like a 4 year-old can and loves to do.  He had a few years there with her to himself while the older ones were down the lane at school.  I don’t know that I had ever thought of him so small.

Weather Vane

Farm House

 

The house was hollow; locked to us, but open to critters through the missing upper window.  I remembered the smell inside, the cuckoo clock on the wall, the plastic flowers blooming year-round, and the scary, hairless cat which held the toilet brush.  I remembered my grandpa in his pinstriped pajamas; the mud room with the enormous freezer holding meat they had raised just past the yard.

We walked out back and imagined the rabbit hutches and more trees than now.  In the shade he’d played with his brothers.  The oldest made impressive, miniature farm equipment and buildings.  When the rain came through, they had a bridge for navigating the creek that would form in the middle of their toy farm.

We followed the terrace along the cornfield behind and I saw corners I never knew.  One bordering creek separated into two and joined again, leaving an island full of trees and wildlife.  It was there that my dad traveled afar.

Traveling

 

We walked through corn that was once both pasture and baseball field when work was done.  Over the fence was the neighbor’s field where my dad would catch gophers.  Two front feet brought to the courthouse was 10 cents and the farmer would double it.

Baseball Field

Corn Leaves

Milking Room

 

There was a lot of empty space.  Lots of stories of “in this spot we did this” or “this used to be there.”  The hen house stood quiet with hay still in its boxes.  A hoop hung from the wall of the milking room, the makeshift basketball court.  There were no wild cats like I had found in bales of hay on visits as a child.

Stock Barn

 

We talked long, sitting and looking over our sandwiches and rolling fields from the top of the lane.  Singing birds and the swaying grass overgrown accompanied our conversation.

 

Iowa Horizon

Barns

“Farms aren’t like they used to be,” he said.  Livestock and fenced-in farmyards with families doing chores are a rarity and the fields are quiet.  Bigger operations handle the hogs and families don’t live on the land like before.  There’s a lot of space, a lot of empty.

As I reflected on that day in all that quiet left on the farm, in the spaces left wanting, there was something born that day.  My dad and his stories were born in me.

Dad

 

And I’m thankful for my God who sees voids and fills them, makes the unknown familiar.  He took chaos and deep, moved over it, and created.  And I’m thankful that His creation, which can happen by a word, in a moment, is still moving and filling and happened to us on a Once-Upon-A-Time farm in Iowa.

Once Upon a Time
Cute Dad
I love you, Dad.  

 

I’ll Always Love Them “Bigger”

 Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.  
Proverbs 14:10
 

Bleeding Heart

     My daughter told me tonight, with shock and shame on her face, that she hadn’t made me anything for Mother’s Day.  We moms always say we don’t need anything but a hug right?  I admit, there was a little twinge of the feeling of being “forgotten,” but it really is ok. She doesn’t know how much I love her and I can’t hold that against her.  I know how this goes.

 

Together (2)

 

     The longer I live and the more I experience, I am definitely more thankful for and appreciative of my own mother.  Yet length of days and the swell in my heart over my own children hasn’t allowed me to understand the extent of her love for me as her child.  I believe she will always have the upper hand and love me more than I can know.
     It’s bitter and beautiful all at once, the way life goes.  When my little doll face looks at me sad because she “forgot,” it’s not really a hug that I want.  She used to kiss me on the lips with a smile, love to cuddle, and let me tell her how cute she was.  But this can’t last forever.  She is meant to keep getting taller and moving farther.  I am meant to teach her how to do that well.  It’s bitter and she doesn’t see why because she can never know my joy.  All these memories coming from looking through my own heart, out of my own

eyes. . . 

Sabrina flower 2

 

     So Mother’s Day may not come with homemade gifts.  I’ll get some extra hugs and I’m happy for that.  And I won’t tell them that they can never know; I’ll always love them “bigger.”

 

When the World Weighs Too Much

    “ ’Sex,’ I was pretty sure, meant whether you were a boy or a girl, and “sin” made Tante Jans very angry, but what the two together meant I could not imagine.  And so, seated next to Father in the train compartment, I suddenly asked, “Father, what is sexsin?”
 
     He turned to look at me as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing.  At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor.  
 
     “Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said.  
 
     I stood up and tugged at it.  It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.  
 
     “It’s too heavy,” I said.
 
     “Yes,” he said.  “And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load.  It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge.  Some knowledge is too heavy for children.  When you are older and stronger you can bear it.  For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”  
 
     And I was satisfied.  More than satisfied—wonderfully at peace.  There were answers to this and all my hard questions—for now I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping.”                                              
                      ~ Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place
Airport
     Corrie ten Boom, in the early 1900’s, could not have known how this conversation would carry her through the heavy days of living in a WWII concentration camp.  While imprisoned at Ravensbruck, she recognized her inability to carry many loads and asked her father, God, to carry them for her, one by one.  Losing her father and watching her sister wither away in that camp, she was released alone, emerging with a deeper understanding of how much God loved her.  Even during her captivity, she recognized His unseen hand carrying not only her load, but herself as well, and many in the camp, among starvation, stench, and swarming fleas, heard of the Father’s love.  She spoke of this load-carrying love the rest of her life.
     Another thing neither Corrie, nor her father could have known, is the distance that simple, sweet conversation would travel.  One hundred years later, I am living in the suburban midwest.  I have an easy life and everything I need plus more, yet I daily find my soul in torment.  A look at my Facebook feed or the news headlines and all the different spins on one event will do it.  I have more voices shouting at me than I can humanly handle.  I hope it’s somehow a gift, but it certainly feels like a curse, that I am able to see two sides at once.  I wish they were more black and white so I could actually pick one.  Instead, I move through my days carrying a scale only I can see and feel, straining to weigh the cares of the world.
     I lay my head down at night in comfort except for the globe trying to squeeze in with me.  I’ve thought of Corrie’s father many times.  I whisper the question, “Carry this for me?”  Within minutes every time, the world fades away and sleep slides in without my knowing.
Epitaphs
     How kind a command we’ve been given, long before Mr. ten Boom, to “cast our cares on Him for He cares for us,” or “become like little children, for such is the kingdom of God.”  How else, I have never heard, can we be so privileged and loved to have our bags be carried?  Only by grace, the weight of the world is not my assignment.
     “And I am satisfied.  More than satisfied—wonderfully at peace.  There are answers to this and all my hard questions—for now I am content to leave them in my Father’s keeping.”  Without the strain, I can better hear the only voice that matters, and is known for not shouting above the rest.

How About Now?

When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are the days of auld lang syne, Pa?”

“They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said.  “Go to sleep now.”

But Laura lay awake a little while listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods.  She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the fire-light gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle.  She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.  

She thought to herself, “This is now.” 

She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now.  They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now.  It can never be a long time ago.   ~Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods

These last few months I have wrestled tired with a lack of margin.  Earlier this week I pondered how to make some of it happen.  Crunched up in the bathroom corner while Emily popped up over the tub between scrubbing and rinsing,  I read aloud these last words of Little House in the Big Woods.  They reminded me.

That 3-letter word led me to put down my lesson planning while waiting for the older girls’ art lesson to finish and walk through the trees . . . 

fall-forest

 

. . . and stop, rather than pass by a playground, though it’s about time to make supper . . .

 

park

. . . and we’ve had more sunshine and laughter this week because we are remembering,

and will need reminding again and again,

that it is now.

 

 

 

 

The Common Thread of Chaos

I watched my daughter’s piano lesson, her teacher talking through a song note by note.  They reach the end of the page and it sounds plain wrong.  She asks the question, “Why do we end on this note?  It sounds wrong, doesn’t it?  It sounds conflicted.  That’s because it is. This symbol here tell us that the song must repeat.”  

repeat

She demonstrates how the ending comes around to resolve itself and when it does, it’s obvious.  Even an untrained ear can tell; there is resolution.  “Such a beautiful thing how that works,” I think to myself, “a song demonstrating the need for and recognition of rest.”

Another day, I teach my girls the language of numbers.  Maybe not as obvious to the untrained, but the numbers want to be reconciled.  They must equal something.  We learn to balance the sides, even from the beginning with 1 + 1 = 2  The equal sign tells us there is something hanging.  What could it be?  This can be a struggle and so hard to make them agree.  It’s easy to decide it must not really matter.  Some of us just aren’t good at reconciliation right?  

math-board math-page

Yet another day, my children are curious about wind.  They ask me where it comes from and how it is made.  My simple response is, “Isn’t it amazing?!  We don’t know how it’s made or where it comes from.  We can’t see it, but we can see its effects.  It’s like God; we can’t see Him, but we see His effects.”  Every bit of my response mattering and truthful. 

Later, they ask daddy and he so scientifically explains that warm air is always seeking a place of lower temperature and will move to fill it, balance it.  That movement of the air is the wind.  I listen with admiration at the things he knows.  Maybe I heard that once in a science unit and it never came back around.  Maybe I’d never heard it at all.  No matter, I’m hearing it now.  

In every one of these conversations, I was taken back to what I had once read, in The Children’s Blizzard.  David Laskin wrote of a tragic day that marked history on the plains of The United States.  It was the story of farmers, teachers, and children caught up by surprise in a blizzard and frozen while at work in the fields or walking home from school.  As he explained the details of meteorology and the elements present to create such a storm,  he wrote and etched in my mind,

The atmosphere is in a constant search for equilibrium.”   

equals

I thought of the occasions a storm has blown through our house.  Everything shutters, the children bend low.  The roof seems to have been ripped right off our heads as the winds rush in, mocking our illusion of peace.  

kitchen-chaos

This kind of storm is no respecter of seasons.  This storm is me, trying to make something balance that isn’t so.  The mess that just happens when life is present.  I suddenly saw a common thread between myself and the atmosphere.  Whether we’re talking music, math, meteorology, or peace of mind, all creation groans for equilibrium.  

Vanity, vanity, it is; this chasing after the wind. 

Are we chasing after the wind? 

Are we the wind? 

Or are we wind chasing wind?

It’s tempting to think we are one with all that surrounds us, and in a way, yes.  We were made from dust and then a rib.  We are but a breath; a flower that blooms and is gone. So one could say we are one with nature, but what of it?  The winds are in search, and so are we.  

craft-mess

Somehow this brings comfort.  It reminds me even the gales and gusts are small.  This power we can see only by the leaves it blows and branches it breaks, is in need just as I.  It is searching.  As I trample over young ones in my care, carelessly spew words over those I love, and return again to a place of apology and repentant awe that I am capable of such destruction.  I see that searching force, whether in a soul or a squall, knows it’s not home yet.  

Standing in the congregation on a Sunday morning, honestly feeling the mundaneness of getting up early on a weekend and going through the motions of mustering up worship and attention to the Words, from devotion and commitment, I sing along,

“Sweet Jesus Christ my sanity,

 Sweet Jesus Christ my clarity . . .”

With the rhythm and words, the stirring of the Spirit which is over the currents of the globe, rises up in my soul, waking and refreshing my heart. Those words become bigger than the space they encompass on the screen we are prompted from.  As I sing those words, I am swept up in gratefulness as I am reminded of my constant search for equilibrium; at how my waves have learned to heed his voice.  Through the many fluctuations between high and low, He has been my Counselor, my Prince of Peace, and has filled my low places with a different breeze.

heart-and-soul

We and the wind continue in this story, this longing for home.  The repeat sign appears again and again in the language of music to remind us, we are not yet at rest.  Do you wonder why you just can’t carry a tune?  Do you wish you would stop searching for that state of “just right”?  Consider that just as the winds wander in search over the earth, its force a testament to God’s power and beauty, how much so your living off-key is a testament to the same.  Don’t be afraid of that searching force feeling unsettled in your soul.  Let it open your eyes to the horizon.  Keep watching, keep listening, stay awake.  When that last note plays, when the revealing appears, even the untrained ear will know that resolution has arrived.  Life will equal peace.  We will be home and at rest.  The wind itself may have nowhere left to go because His glory will cover the earth, all low places filled, and end the song of all songs with that perfect, restful note, and calm the cry of chaos in our searching souls.

Tracing Memory

Scattered pieces of tracing paper graced our home much like the misplaced or missing socks were also doing. My girl had traced the lines of many a princess. This wiggly little one could magically sit, all dolled up, under the spell of paper and pen. Looking back at tracings from two years before, I saw a big difference. The ability to follow a line and obey the shape had become stronger. Lines more refined, she had almost moved on to drawing these beauties from memory.

Tracing got me thinking of how we had grown in learning how to learn. I remembered when this little artist would feed helpless—tracing the lines of my face, studying my eyes. A minimum of 1500 times we sat down to give and receive nourishment and in the meantime, trace faces. She memorized early the curves of my nose and lips, the boundaries of my teeth, the sound of my voice. In those earliest days, I was teaching her, unaware.

What seemed to be years away, hopped right into my lap: the school years. It was time to start learning! The first day came with no big fanfare; I don’t recall the date, but there we were “doing school.” I felt the need for our schooling to be run by a published list of lessons on a specific timetable and I was tense. Learning wasn’t quite as fun as I’d thought it would be . . .

Find my complete article, published earlier this week, over at Classical Conversations’ The Writer’s Circle!

Cabbage Lines-001

Whilst Every Day is Saturday

I had the privilege of knowing Ann Absalom during the brief 4 years I lived in Japan where she led a bible study at our international church.  Back in our home countries, we reconnected over Facebook about a year ago.  I came across these words she posted this past Saturday just before Easter and she gave me permission to share them here . . .

I have been thinking about Easter – how it is not really ‘good’ Friday until Sunday – how we won’t really, truly know until we see Him face to face on our resurrection day. Meanwhile we wait and we hope – we live in the in between – we have His promises that we have been born again, that heaven is waiting – that it is glorious, that He is there now preparing a place for us. We are given tasters of joy and peace by His Spirit who lives within us but the tasters are found amidst a life that is often difficult and hard, relentless and tiring. We are asked to trust His Word that He will rise on the third day and that we will rise with Him and we are encouraged to put our trust in that – to believe that He is now – in the time between Friday and Sunday – causing all things to work together for our good, that He is for us and that in the end we really will rise with Him and live for eternity in a place without pain and sorrow and tears.

Hollyhocks

 

But it is all unseen, it is a confident hope, but hope nonetheless. That is what makes it faith – that is what makes it so difficult for those who need to see and touch and taste and feel.

It is still Saturday and the voices along our path cry out on the darkest days ‘really, are you sure – wouldn’t it be easier simply to stop and give in? The voices cause us to ask ‘why me’ and to question His love and His compassion. But we look back and have decided to put our trust in the One who died in our place on Good Friday – we believe that He is God, that He paid our price, that He made it possible for us to walk through Saturday into a glorious Sunday. We have decided to trust and to wait and to hope in the Lord and as we do we hear His soft small voice call out ‘well done beloved child, well done – I am rejoicing over you with singing’.

It will always be Saturday whilst we live on this planet – Saturday with its trouble and trial, it’s pain and its doubt but Sunday is just around the corner – hang in sweet and precious child of God He is waiting to greet you with open arms.

 Wisteria

Post Easter Thoughts

So we’re back in the “In-between;” the “Already and still-not-yet” of this life hanging between the down payment of the bride of Christ and the final appearing and wedding feast of Heaven and Earth together again.  I have no well-pondered thoughts, but I miss posting so I’m sharing some photos from our celebration this year.  I’ve been thinking for a while now that Easter lacks a focused beauty and coziness like we experience at Christmas.  So, I got my sister and mom to go in with me to make a little more of the celebration and this is what we ended up with . . .

Branches Easter Butterflies Table Branches Tomb Easter Cake

I don’t usually pull these kinds of things off because I’m not willing to stress myself out to make things picture-perfect.  And it wasn’t.  The day before I thought I should’ve planned some kind of special breakfast so I got up early the next morning and whipped up a REALLY fast coffee cake recipe and fried some bacon.  How can you go wrong?  Only the table we sat at, with a tablecloth covering the scratches and candles glowing in the middle was tidy and it was delightful.  The rest of the kitchen had clutter and dirty dishes.  And I didn’t sweat, I let it go.

When I was tempted to think “poor me,” for having to get up earlier than everyone else in order for anything beautiful to happen, I thought of the work God has done to give us His abundant beauty and rest.  It is hard work to feed people multiple times a day, keep a house clean when 4/5 of us live in it all day everyday, and just plain being a distract-able person in general.  In the scheme of things it is so small, but I was reminded that nothing is ever free.  Yes, His grace is free to us, but it was not free for Him.  It costed.  And though His grace is free, our lives are not free from the debt of service–not to secure His love, but to carry it out, to incarnate it right here, right now.  So I was tired, but I was joyful as I sought to serve my family in creating beauty that could bring a little of God’s beauty to our senses.

Oreo

And our sweet Oreo died this past week.  She died suddenly and quite traumatically for us and on cue, rain and thunder rolled in as Claire began to dig a grave.  We cried many tears over this 5-pound fuzz ball and felt the groans of creation in a small way, on our own little piece of earth once again.

Death’s Creepiest Thing

A little delayed for the season, but I couldn’t make this one happen before October 31st . . .

I enjoy the season of autumn as the cooling air calls people in to warm soup, hot chocolate, blankets, and fires on the hearth.

Soup

What I do not enjoy so much about the season is the ugly side of Halloween. My children are less effected as they grow up, but they generally haven’t enjoyed the store and yard decorations, though they can’t seem to stop looking at them. In this season I’ve dealt with night-time fears over something ugly and I’ve been in a fight for the right imagination in them. Still, I’m intrigued by Halloween. I’ve seen and heard of traditions similar to “All Souls Eve” in Japan and Mexico (sans the costumes and candy), and I’m sure there are more elsewhere; essentially, days of the dead.  I’ve spent a little time searching out the beginnings and beliefs behind these traditions, and frankly it’s confusing.  In the end, it’s obvious, they have to do with death and souls of the departed and the belief of living on after the shriveling of their shells.

At some point, a church holy day collided with the dark side and some of us aren’t sure what to do with this “holiday.”  Some boycott Halloween altogether and don’t do costumes or trick-or-treating.  There are harvest parties meant to be an alternative, either to protect our children from nightmares or to free our consciences from somehow associating with the wrong father, worshiping the very one we’ve been rescued from.  A harvest party sounds better; non-creepy, kid-friendly . . . a celebration of abundance (maybe of candy more than corn and squash these days).  I admit, I would rather have pumpkins and squash lining my mantle and porch steps to celebrate harvest than skulls and spooky things. But have we overlooked something on the safe side of the season?

Squash

I have a picture on my wall of my girls one past autumn.  They were sitting in a pile of orange, brown, red, and yellow leaves we had just gathered.  As they sat centered in shriveling colors, death was the backdrop behind their youthful faces. Every leaf that falls, every squash and gourd picked, is severed from its life source in this lovely season of harvest. Life has ended, yet their colors decorate our lives for a while. The squash finds its way to our tables in soups, breads, and pies and their dying pulp feeds our flesh for a season. Call it Harvest, not Halloween, but it’s still a season of dying.

IMG_6631

Only a world which knows death can keep walking without surprise at what is happening to the leaves. It has become normal. Things are supposed to die. But really? We don’t really believe that. Maybe the gore is there to remind us of how ugly death really is. It’s the ugliest, smelliest thing there is . . . when it is final and hopeless.

And only a world that knows hope can admire the colors which come in the process. Harvest shows us a death that gives life. The leaf returns to the earth, but the tree lives on. The seed must die to produce the next yield. I must die to myself to find where my life really is. There is dryness, crackling, pain, and in the end, beauty and new life.

Picture3

We live and move in a world of death every single day.  One doesn’t have to look far, even if you don’t watch the news.  We buried a tiny mouse in our back yard three weeks ago.  It was sad and ugly (the experience, not the mouse). It mattered because nothing is supposed to die.   Death is ugly and no one will argue but death itself. And just as crazy as believing in the living on of souls, is a crazy promise to which I cling:

“Since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead . . . and . . . The last enemy that will be abolished is death.” *

But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” ” **

Death has been collecting the debt of this world from the time we fell from the world that knew death not.  But it has already been severed.  Its colors of dark and ugly are simply lingering as it dies slowly and surely.  The One who bought our victory has plunged to its depths and awaits for all to see what He has done . . . given us victory.

Picture2

So with a clear conscience, my children wear costumes and we move among the world that has come to know death, collecting candy in jack-o-lantern buckets . . . because we have the light of life and nothing to fear.  We walk along with neighbors present and neighbors past, knowing that any light, however small, will always overcome the darkness.

I cannot spend my life worrying about the obscure ways holy days might collide with the darkness because I am meant to be a light in it.  And if the few images of death scattered around the beautiful colors are scary now . . . wait until death dies and the ground can no longer contain those who have shriveled before. They won’t be walking like zombies, but rather fully alive like we’ve not yet seen; in the world that knew not death. This is the imagination I instill in my children.  And that, my friends, is possibly the creepiest, most colorful thing death will ever see as it breathes its very last.  

*I Corinthians 15:21

**I Corinthians 5:54,55

 

A Blog of Few Words

I wish I could remember where I recently heard or read this:

“The fool speaks because he has to say something;

the wise man speaks because he has something to say.”

I’ve also heard when one wins a million-dollar lottery, the first thing to do is “become a millionaire.”  Most people who win huge lotteries end up losing the money very quickly because they lack the mindset or wisdom that would have gotten them there without that lottery.  The money falls through their fingers without the skill of knowing how to live with much.

These remarks have simmered in my mind since I made the decision to step back from blogging last October.  I needed to become a millionaire!  Rather, a master of my domain (as in home, not web address) and maybe even a writer. I wasn’t doing my most important roles well.  I knew I could do exponentially better with the time that was slipping through my fingers like quickly acquired riches.

I had a wordy post ready to share back then and never felt like following through.  So here I am checking into a dark and empty auditorium, wondering if this microphone is even on. Like that clumsy squeak piercing the emptiness, I’m stepping up to say, “I’m still here!”

I’ve been asking the questions, “Do I have to say something or do I have something to say?” and “How do I order the minutes in a day to get it said?” I think I’ve become more skilled than I was last fall in the daily management of life.  Writing is still something to figure out.  This blog will remain on the quieter side until that ever gets settled.  One thing I’ve frightfully concluded is that this writing thing isn’t entirely my own idea.  I’ve tried to get away from it and, for some reason, I don’t think I’m supposed to so I’m choosing to obey.

If I ever must leave here for good, I will say so.  But if it’s just plain quiet for a while, it’s because I’m working at becoming a mother in multiple facets since acquiring such fortune 12 years ago, chiseling away at mental marble, or just letting things sit until I truly have something to say.