Building. Tending. Praying.

Summer is doggedly hunting down its ending, turning on me just as I was settling in. I flipped the calendar and caught the sun still sleeping at 5:30am, caught the grass refusing to green and the tomatoes all of a sudden blushing overnight. 

My current summer routines are not what I thought they would be. Shocker. I had big plans for the “extra hours” summer would give me and the wide-open mental space I would have. (It would be humbling to go back through the summers on this blog and see myself learning this lesson again and again.)Turns out, summer keeps the same hours as winter and just adds extra light, and I distract myself with the same things, get caught up doing the same things, and tell myself the same things.

I forgot to project reality into my visions of summer.

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The kids in my home who are mostly adults are coming and going with their own schedules. If I still had some semblance of control over their lives, I’d plan for all their jobs and activities to coordinate better. Instead, they leave on the half-hours between 6:30 and 8:00 a.m., each needing more coffee or food and each deserving a little conversation, and they return at all hours of the day and night. Dinner for two? For three? For seven or eight?

Flexibility is the new “consistency”, because nothing is consistent except the need to be flexible. 

My routine is not a routine anymore. The schedules do not follow a pattern. I need the ability to dive deep into my own work at a moment’s notice, to surface intermittently on demand, and dive back in again as soon as possible. 

On top of the staggered stop and start times of the majority of the house, I still have one child who needs summer and fun and someone other than mom to stare at all day. I gave him the option of listening to me read-aloud a book from his curriculum this coming school year, or playing a game with me. He chose cards, which is fine and normal and good. I could have insisted on the read-aloud to make myself feel better, but summer-life needs the freedom of childhood. 

Gone are the days of my schedule-making. Gone are the days of my dictatorship. Everyone here has opinions and preferences and a life, and this is exactly as it should be, I remind myself. 

As summer winds down, so does our summer with them, which is what I'm really thinking about. I love fall. But the changes that are coming this fall are ones I can't fully anticipate, different than all other falls before, out of our routine and even my ability to plan for.

Last week, our oldest daughter was feeling overwhelmed by her impending fall schedule and by all the loose ends she is unable to tie up in her life.  The solution for her was to go back to that tree she fell not far from and get herself a planner.  She found one under the shining glory of a display in Marshall’s, all decked out in scripture and tabs and spiral binding. “I know the plans I have for you…” the cover declared, a play on words of biblical proportions, but also a comfort to her. She is not so jaded yet as to see the cliche. 

A hope and a future is not a cliche, but I see it twist before me like it’s a promise of perfection here on earth. I get it mixed up. Build houses and plant a garden and live and pray for the peace of the foreign land you live in (CURRENTLY. RIGHT NOW.), because you’re going to be here for awhile —  my paraphrase of Jeremiah 29.

Make order and beauty in the place you are.

Deal with what you’re dealt.

Stop looking for the next thing.

Don't listen to the prophets-for-profit who tell you God couldn't possibly intend for you to have hard times, difficulties, disordered plans.

The order we’re seeking is continually following the laws of nature and descending into chaos, only to be ordered again. That’s the cycle. The future and the hope we are given might not be as entirely orderly as we think, might not be all about ducks-in-a-row and predictability, seeing how God has fitted us to be chaos-managers and those who seek order. 

We are led to disappointment by the false prophets of perfect planning who would tell us that once everything is ordered, we’ll sail smoothly. Building and tending and praying all involve the ordering of things that are out of order, and this is our unending vocation here.

It could be a long captivity in this chaos. 

The future and hope of Christ is all things ordered in Him and by Him. I live in small seasons, up close to chaos. I stand in summer and see it fleeting. God stands in summer with me and sees all things working together, chaos filling in the larger borders of a pattern that might one day be clear to me. 

He knows the plans.

No Better Place Than This

The place we live is just a dot on the map, a nowhere place where not much happens. Every morning, the sun is generously slow to rise over the mountain, and the only sounds are the creek and the cows and the school bus. Every night, we see a sky full of stars and no street lights. There are about five hundred people here—mostly loggers and farmers and millworkers. Rarely do you find fancy degrees or white collars in our valley. We are people with roots, people with traditions, people who do things because they’ve always been done.  This is the kind of place where everyone waves to you on the road, and your best neighbors walk in the front door without knocking. It’s also the kind of place you could turn off the cable and internet, unsubscribe from the local paper, and live on in oblivion. The world could destroy itself, and we’d be the last to know out here on our dead-end road. 

I’ve lived this rural life most of my forty-two years, but there were times when I thought another place might be better. There were times when I felt like going and making disciples could only mean moving away, and I waited for that call to point us to a big work somewhere else, somewhere more important or more needy. But God showed me his kingdom is not just somewhere else, but here in this valley too.

Read the rest at Morning by Morning. 

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All shall be well

Last summer we spent two days and a night on the beautiful Umpqua River, fishing and floating during the day and pulling up to shore in the evening. At a glassy, wide spot we anchored and fished, passing snacks and bait between boats and vying for the hotspots where the fish were biting.

Above us the rural highway wound round bends parallel to our lazy river. I looked at the cars as they passed; people had places to go, and my life was still, wide, glassy as the river. I felt fixed to the earth like a pin on the map and glad for the excuse to stare at the world—my favorite part of fishing.

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As I sat in the boat, looking up at the cars, I wondered about the people. Were they heading somewhere fun? Leaving somewhere interesting? Or were they fighting—themselves and each other and the world around them? Did they see me on the river and wish for a life that made time for such things? Were they overwhelmed with life?

I’ve been in all those places.

Staring at the world can be overwhelming sometimes. Everyone is coming from someplace and going somewhere else, on the highway above the lazy river and in the store and even at church on Sunday. Everyone is carrying their whole story carefully in them. We are all a sum of everything behind us and our paths run too parallel, not really crossing, not really connecting. The fixed points between us are small and the boundaries of our little kingdoms have few bridges.

I don’t mean to say that I wish I knew everyone better, but I am curious about the inner-workings of others. You have a whole interior self that is unknown and cannot be known by anyone but God, and that self affects who you are to me, who I am to you. There is more to you than just how you intersect my space and time, but I tend to only see you in relation to me—you are the person in front of me in line or passing me in the aisle or next to me in worship. 

Finding a fixed point to see the world from reminds me that my moving and doing and being are not making this world spin. It goes on and everyone goes on and every encounter with another person is the merger of two stories. Or millions of stories. 

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I am reading through Brother Andrew’s The Practice of the Presence of God again. He says that we can’t ask for God’s help unless we’re with Him, and to be with Him means we practice the "holy habit” of thinking of Him often, so I’m practicing. When I think of Him lately, I realize that I am with Him, and this is different than realizing He is with me — which is how I’ve typically thought about God

The earth is the LORD’S and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;
— Psalm 24:1

When I acknowledge that He is with me I can lose a sense of wonder in the world. I am bringing God into the mundane tasks and tension, but it’s better because He’s with me. I am scared in this world but it’s ok because He is with me. I can go confidently into darkness because it’s all light to Him and He is with me.

It feels too me-centered to be right, too much my world and my agenda. 

But when I am with Him, I am both fixed and moving. I am in His kingdom here on earth among His people, His image, fixed in His presence and a traveller in His world. He is the host and I am in awe of what He presents to me. 

Being with God may not seem any different than God being with me. It may seem like simple rephrasing. But thinking of myself in this position puts me in His kingdom and makes everything here more sacred, more treasured, deeper and richer and worth knowing. I am allowed to discover His world, to anchor in the river and be in awe of what He's doing.  To stare in wonder.

The world and everything in it is His, not mine, and when I'm tempted to freak out over circumstances, I remember that all shall be well. All manner of thing shall be well, because I am in HIs kingdom and not the other way around.

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring 

Will be to arrive where we started 

And know the place for the first time. 

Through the unknown, unremembered gate 

When the last of earth left to discover 

Is that which was the beginning; 

At the source of the longest river 

The voice of the hidden waterfall

And the children in the apple-tree

 

Not known, because not looked for 

But heard, half-heard, in the stillness

Between two waves of the sea.

Quick now, here, now, always-- 

A condition of complete simplicity

(Costing not less than everything)

And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flames are in-folded 

Into the crowned knot of fire 

And the fire and the rose are one.

 from T.S. Eliot's poem "Little Gidding"