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.”

 

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.

How to Make Rain

She was angry with no intention to change. Her sister was mean and wrong. She wants to be right and others to be as well. But there would be, “no enemies at our table.” I pulled this out when they were smaller and forgot about it. The fighting had been escalating for months. I’ve read all kinds of advice. My mind and heart spin and don’t settle on any piece of it for long. I know no author is perfectly wise, but this reader is far less. Books in the hands of a foolish woman; I am unfit for this role.

I declare the study to be the new peace-making room, “There you will go to make peace before you may eat at this table.” At breakfast it was simple, laughter came quickly.

Later, before lunch, a bigger dispute broke out and the peace-making room was thick with hatred with no plans of departure. I intervened with questions, mining for the heart of words and actions. Both sides were hurt, both sides were stubborn, both had a point.

I was tempted to take the easy road. I could just take the iPad away from everyone. That would cover things up for a while. . . I closed my eyes and begged. “God, what do I do? What do I say?” I stayed there with eyes shut.

The girls were quiet, wondering if I had fallen asleep as I waited for something to bring out of this fight.

It was time pull out a book I had ordered two weeks before, but tucked away. I began reading as the one who refused to forgive sat in the farthest corner. Two pages in and she was closest to the book. Drawn in to the story of a man drawing circles in the sand, praying boldly for God to send rain.

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The story ended and I was out of things to say again. We were back where we started; one willing to reconcile, the other still couldn’t forgive, and me with my eyes shut and no clue.

So like the man in the story, I circled. I took her in my lap, imagined a circle of sand around us, and I told God I would sit there all day, all week and longer, until He rescued her heart. I declared that she was made to display the love and beauty of God and begged Him to restore her to that purpose. I demanded that evil would have no power over this house, that this child would choose to obey what was right and be free from its clinches. I prayed like I didn’t know who I was.

Then I felt them. Big drops on my arm as I held her tight, sitting on the outside, standing boldly on the inside before the throne of God. She broke like clouds over a dry and weary land; desperate for refreshing, hungry for release.

This led me to note a few things:

Written advice lead me to create a peace-making space and insist peace be reached, but it was God who met us in that place when we couldn’t figure out how.

Discipline and faith made me expect good things from my children, but it was God who broke rain inside our roof.

My daughter, who wrestles with anger, spoke the rest of the day of wanting to obey God and not be angry. Do I think she’s cured? No. Anger will likely be a default struggle for her, but her heart experienced a power than goes beyond mommy’s shadow. She saw God with us, reaching down to her heart. She heard a prayer for rain and felt it fall deeper than her skin.

Since that day, there has been more anger, but you know what else? I have heard through cracked doors, a little girl crying out on her own, begging God to help her in her anger.

This is what I’ve learned about prayer . . . it’s clinging, begging, drawing a line in the sand. Not to demand that God does what you want, but preaching to your own soul there’s no where else to go; that this is where you wait if you want to see great things. No one else is really listening. No one else can do a thing about your frailty or your child’s. It’s not wishful thinking, throwing pennies in a fountain hoping there’s “something” out there. It is life with God.

And this is what prayer does . . . opens your eyes to see Him move, rain sometimes falling on your head, affecting your soul with greatness, causing you to sing.

Worshipping Tired

We’ve succeeded at an earlier-than-usual bedtime, but I’m ready to collapse. I lean into the top bunk and she whispers, “Can you scratch my back?” I try not to let my face fall and my voice fails to hold in the sigh, . . . “Just a little . . .” I start in scratching and 5 seconds seems long.

For a moment I catch myself. If I knew this would be the last time I would hold onto it, scratching every cell and wouldn’t feel the tired, maybe.

The next moment I hear a whisper; a name so pure and untouchable, needing no vowels, a vapor on the tongue. We had just learned this Name at breakfast. “YHWH,” The Self-Existent One, needing no one and nothing, not even a nap or early bedtime. As we crunched toast, what surprised them reminded me. I am not the Self-Existent One. I need sleep; hours of it every setting sun. I explained there is only One with this name, and why it’s not me. Their faces softened as they saw some sense to the shortness I’m left with post 8:00 pm.

So there I hang over the top bunk, wondering if I should hold on and scratch forever. I scratch a little longer, run my nails a little softer the way she likes. But I know it’s not my place to pretend to be all she needs. I kiss her and remind her she is loved. I wonder why it’s so easy to rush through the moments . . . if it’s because eternity has been placed in my heart so I expect another day to always come . . .

And I know it’s ok when I just can’t hold on . . . because I’m not the keeper of forever, nor the keeper of her heart. That’s the job of a Name that whispers, in no need of sleep, freeing me from filling impossible shoes, to lie down and sleep in peace.

Tired

A Lousy Lover

This man showed up almost out of no where. He met me on the day I looked my worst and still talked to me.  I wanted someone to write me letters. He wrote real letters to my real mailbox on the same day every week. I promised my heart and life and followed him to his native island where I cried in grocery stores and stood lost in train stations. This man I loved.

Picture4

On that island four years later, a newborn cry filled a hospital room.  She slept on my chest and kept me warm.  She filled a desire I carried for 20 years.  I cried watching through a window as they pricked her foot and all 6 pounds protested.  I loved her.

The next I heard that crackly newborn cry, I knew a bit better how fast the little days go.  I didn’t care as much about sleeping through the night.  I loved the night feedings, held her more than the first one.  I loved her so.

The third little dolly found me at ease.  She was content and I was too.  She put the meaning behind “third time’s a charm,” and I loved her.

With every new addition to our family I worried, “I love them so much! Can I love another?”  Relieved, I found I could.  My love was big and strong.

In those days I asked questions such as, “How could someone leave their spouse?” or “How could any mother do horrible things to her children?”

Picture1

All the while I inquired such things, the people I loved were cramping my style.  I hurt them day after day with expectations.  They were there to love me and I was left disappointed.  I took to dreaming of places and people outside my walls and ceased to wonder if my love could still grow.

Buried by my incapability, I holed up in a bathroom, afraid to come out.  All the while I thought much of my love, one more vast was looming.  There in a small space its ocean washed over me, a frail and lousy lover.

My questions changed.  “How is it I’m still here?” I asked of a broken marriage.  When a mother popped a screw and hurt her children, making the daily news, I ached, “How did I stay my hand and not make the paper with my thoughts on a bad day?”

I saw that all the time I thought I loved, I was only looking for it.

Mysterious words I didn’t comprehend as a child became precious and beautiful. . .

Here is love,
vast as the ocean,
Lovingkindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life,
our Ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout heav’n’s eternal days.

and . . .

Thou our Father,
Christ our brother,
All who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other,
Lift us to the joy divine.

Picture3

May I be so scandalous to suggest you won’t know love until you know how lousy your own is?  I highly recommend approaching the keeper of all mysteries to know this one first hand.

I John 4:19  We love because He first loved us.

How to Keep a Memory

It was Sunday afternoon; I needed a nap.  I got everyone busy with something and found the couch.  Singing as she placed her beads, all was well in Emily’s world.  A quiet little tune, she made it up as she went.  I couldn’t make it out, but it was like the sweetest violin.

My heart swelled and shrunk at the same time.  “How can I catch this?  If I go get the camcorder, she will notice and come off of her cloud.  Lord, will you help me not forget this moment?”  I’ve asked that so many times, but I don’t recollect them all.  Many a moment has drifted away like smoke rings.

Sweet Moments

Moments like this one bring me back to the Tale.  How can I deal with good things lost without it?  If God keeps our tears in His bottle, remembering them, caring for them and where they came from, surely He keeps our joys.

The thing is, my joys don’t fit in a bottle.  If I count and collect, they overflow a chest.  Ever watched a child try to carry all their treasures and keep dropping them?  It’s a fretful thing.  They cry and worry; they can’t get it all contained and carried.

This is me, overhearing from the couch a heart overflowing, spilling into mine too full and small to hold more.

I can’t take it.  I cry; I worry.  So much goodness I can’t carry.

Could this be some of what He meant about being like a child?  The kingdom belongs to those that are like them . . . A child cries when she can’t carry all her blessings, but all is well when bigger hands come and scoop her up along with her trickling treasures.

Hats

She knows the hands that help and cries for them.

This is a moment I preach to myself.  I preach the Tale and am caught again.  My tension releases into the couch.  I may forget this moment, but not forever.   If the Tale is true, I have forever to recount the joys I’ve already seen.  These are just the works of His hands.  What awaits is the hands themselves, to wrap me up completely along with forever joy.

 What are your greatest joys you’re afraid to forget or lose grasp of?

You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

Psalm 16:11

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, 
where neither moth nor rust destroys, 
and where thieves do not break in or steal; 
for where your treasure is, 
there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:20-21

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Thirty-Five For a Moment

I swept the hair I clipped from my husband’s head tonight. The dustpan isn’t as full as it used to be. It’s peppery too, not all black. We’re in process; the process of aging. Every once in a while we say to each other, “Oh honey, I’m aging,” but the countdown began long ago, before we drew a breath.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In Japan with our first baby, nearly 10 years ago

It’s shocking to realize your skin doesn’t bounce back always when you rub lotion on it. Lines are slowly beginning to form and there is no way to stop them. There are certain things about life you have no choice but to let happen. There are other parts of aging you can join in with and embrace.

Last weekend, Hiro and I went away to a quiet lodge; the place where Arbor Day began. We had one purpose; to plan backwards from the end of our lives. We’d talked about it, read about it, but this was the first time we were actually doing it.

Lied Lodge

I was nervous. What if we couldn’t agree?

What if we’re too different and our lives will always cross and not travel parallel?

How do you plan a life anyway?  Especially when you believe there is a God directing your steps and you’re supposed to trust Him and not yourself?  How do you dream when you’re supposed to die to yourself? How do you plan financially when you’re supposed to give everything? It all confuses me. I want black and white and that’s just not the kind of relationship He offers.

Hollyhocks

So off we went, first sharing our own dreams with each other. At one point he says in 10 years our first baby will be turning 20. Thinking of how fast the first 10 went . . .

Wow.

What do we want life to look like then?  What do we want her to be like?  We dreamed like there were no weeds in the world, nor in our hearts. We smiled at her, a vision of our imaginations.

flower

And we counted backward . . .

All the ways to invest year by year and day to day. What to change and what to continue strong.

We went through pages and pages, going from big to small. Disagreements were great discussions, different points of view were eye-opening, we fueled creativity in each other as we delighted in what may come as we grow older.

We returned with joy and hope and a realization that our differences and where we cross had sharpened us.

bench

Our journey to the park bench in Nebraska City was an action we took, directed by a loving God . . .

the plans we’ve made have made our eyes more open to see where He will redirect and show His hand . . .

and sometimes sharing your unadulterated dreams with another is like dying.

It’s painful; it’s raw.  You don’t how things will go when you take off the lid.

How much I wish I had known to do this 10 years ago. I remember reading about it, but it didn’t register. I had thicker, browner hair; he had wiry black that filled the dustpan, but things were very black and white to me then.

I sprinkled the peppered hairs into the trash, the color of age mixing in. By grace, the black and white understanding of my gracious God is newer everyday as my heart and  plans grow closer to Him. By the time we’re all white-haired my heart may just feel the youngest it’s ever been; waiting to stand, not dreaming, in the weed-less, ageless kingdom He’s been planning since the beginning.

When You Can’t Pray

We went out for a late night bite after the girls were in bed and left the restaurant with neither of us talking and me crying. The ride home was thick with silence.

He went to bed and I couldn’t. I brought my bible and some fiction with me to the couch, but couldn’t read. My mind was spinning and couldn’t fit any more words into the mix.

I tried to pray, but the argument just repeated in my mind. Thoughts were melted together and fast like I didn’t know what language I spoke. I stared at the air and groaned inside.

Then I remembered the Holy Spirit prays for us when we don’t know how to pray . . . with groanings, no less. Perfect. I asked Him to take them over.

In minutes, I witnessed the calming of the storm, waves becoming like glass. I was silent in words and heart. Didn’t know what to make of our argument, but I was ok.  I didn’t intend to sleep on the couch that night, but didn’t know another thing until morning.

calm

The next day I marveled at the love available to me, but ached for this earthly love to be put back together. We talked and uncovered a misunderstanding. We were colliding not out of stubbornness, just misunderstanding.

Even when it’s unintentional, we are both unable to love like we should.

There is much good in fighting things through and coming back together, but what a privilege to go to sleep not put together, not angry, but in a sea of calm; remembering the Maker of your soul is there and knows how to love it perfectly.

Without the waves I forget Who calms the storm and I’m thankful for the conflict to bring me back to the Love that is for us both.

Weighty

Standing up to Live

“How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live.”
~Henry David Thoreau

I know better than to think you are living each day to check what I’ve written here. But I have an undeclared (which is probably a problem) goal of posting here twice a week. I haven’t met that goal for at least a week now so I wanted to pop in and share why.

“When the cat is away, the mice will play.”

Feet

I’m the lead mouse when my husband is gone on business.

He’s not a drill sergeant, like many often assume, but he brings a sense of order to our home that I don’t naturally exude. Almost all discipline that I put forth in my life is due to his patient and kind direction in wanting to help me succeed in doing what I do.

When he came back last time, I was lost in a cloud of frustration and resentment. It took me a while to figure out what was going on with me. Sure, it’s hard to be on your own when you’re not used to it, but the problem was not the “cat” being gone . . .

It was my choices while he was away.

So I’m challenging myself, because I realized, on my own, that I need to get my big girl pants on and be responsible for the time I keep wasting and wondering why there’s never enough.

I’m trying to stand up from my bed early in the morning when there’s no one’s lunch to be made at 6 am (which is usually the only way I will get my fanny out of bed). I’m doing this so that I can live my life, not just have life happen to me.

I’m trying to see my children, whom I have chosen to stay home for, and be with them instead of feeling the pull to write my latest thought down or feel resentful that I wake to their needs every. day.

I love this writing thing. It’s the only place I can really figure out what I’m thinking and share with someone. When I don’t put forth the effort to use my time well, I don’t get time to write, my kids get all of my time by default, and things don’t end well. I don’t want to give them my time by default, I want to give it freely. I’m learning to do that, one step at a time.

This is not the blog to come to for 3 tips on time management, make-ahead sack lunches, or best app reviews. But I can point you to some like that . . .

Since my last wasted week of Hiro gone on business, I read Mindset for Moms by Jamie C. Martin. I think she stole the first chapter from my thoughts, I related to it so exactly. If you’re needing to reset your mind (which I’m thinking needs to be done as often as setting the table), give it a try, it’s worth the five bucks!