Slowly into the dirt

You see things in the country you’d never see in a stiff city neighborhood. Beyond the broken vehicles and houses on last-legs, the eyesores that community covenants and HOAs don’t allow, you can see the world as it really is—tending toward disorder, prone to chaos. It’s a reminder to intervene and tend the garden, take dominion, rule thoughtfully—because houses and yards and vehicles and pets and whole families fall right down like the fragile things they are if we just leave them alone. We need to help things live and thrive as long as we can; then we need to help them out of this world graciously, gracefully. 

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There is a cow by the side of the rural highway that died, presumably of natural causes, over a month ago. It just fell over right by the fence, laying down to this world next to passing cars and trucks and school buses. The owners, rather than getting their tractor and hauling it out of sight, rather than digging a grave, chose to leave it where it lay.*

I first noticed it on my drive to town early one morning because it looked as though snow had covered it, and there was no snow anywhere else. Cows and horses look so awkward in a horizontal orientation, legs sticking straight out, and I always wonder if they are sleeping or actually dead. But I’ve never noticed an animal powdered in this way, like snow on the peaks. We’ve decided the powder must be lime to help with the smell and keep the buzzards away. We’re not true ranchers so what do we know? But we are watching it, noting its progress into the soil, its still white-powdered-hide shrinking over jutting bones like a dust sheet covering the furniture in a forgotten room. At some point I imagine it will be just bones and the owners will haul them away, the show will be over, and the next powdered-cow I see will not be this novelty next to the highway. I’m not sure if this is the most gracious way to help a carcass out of this world, but it must be more convenient. It’s certainly a slow process.

These kinds of things are topics of conversation for us.  Did you see the dead cow? I’m watching it diminish on my weekly treks for groceries and the six thousand basketball games we attend, our normal January life passing normal December death each time—death and life passing by, one always waiting for the other. It’s normal because things are daily dying and there’s nothing new about that. But it’s not normal because we tend to hide away the death-part of life, and seeing that carcass slowly melting into the landscape every time I drive to town is like an uncovering…the way of all things is just slowly into dirt. We don’t talk about the dead cow daily, but you can bet that when the bones and hide are finally removed someone will mention it again. We’ll notice its absence.

The busy world doesn’t care about a dead cow next to a rural highway, slowly processing itself into dirt. Truthfully, I don’t actually care about it either, but it’s temporarily interesting and a good metaphor for what we do with nature and natural things. We can over-tend or under-tend; reveal too much or cover too much. And when we make mistakes, which are a natural part of being human, there’s a certain way to handle them, to cover without letting grace be an excuse; to reveal without letting justice be a weapon. I suppose it’s all a balance and I’m never doing it perfectly, but I am embarrassed for our mistakes. 

In the end, I think the owners of the cow made the right decision. 


*There are no dead cows in this picture. You’re welcome.

Make Up Your Mind: A newsletter for those who want to read, think, and listen better

On our last visit with my grandpa, we sat in the living room of his well-kept, single-wide trailer, and listened to his stories. This was not the same house I used to visit as a child, with its collection of trophies from his car racing days, and the cupboard with poker chips and playing cards next to the dining room table. But it was the same hulk of a man, shrunken slightly in body but still large in spirit. My grandpa was a logger, a log truck driver, a mechanic by necessity, and always ironically gentle for his large size. The only injury I ever sustained in his presence was whisker burn. 

He talked to us about his car, the cancer, and the likelihood that he would come up short of his 100 year goal. And then he recited poetry. It was a painting on his wall that spurred his memory of The Village Blacksmith, by Longfellow. I don’t know if he’d been assigned this poem eighty years ago as a little school boy, ragged and tall among a dozen siblings, or if he’d heard a rendition of it in a song some years later. But at ninety-one years old, it was still with him. 

I’d never heard grandpa say anything in rhyme, or talk about books or art or learning. He was a salt of the earth, blue-collar guy, who’d made a life the honest way and probably learned what he needed as he went along. At eighty he was still driving log truck. At ninety, we caught him up on a ladder trying to show my husband a spot on the roof that might be leaking. And anytime anyone in the family got a new car, he would light up like a kid at Christmas to talk about what was under the hood. All the things he’d ever done or learned or been interested in or concerned about were still with him, layered in his years like strata, telling a story.

I want to live life like a student, learning what I need as I go and being surprised at ninety by the beauty of a poem—or at least, the beauty of a memory that can hold so tight. If I can make it to ninety, what will still be layered in me? What will be worth reciting?

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“If I were asked what education should give, I would say it should offer breadth of view, ease of understanding, tolerance for others, and a background from which the mind can explore in any direction.” ~ Louis L’Amour, Education of a Wandering Man

I am still pursuing my education. If it were only information we needed to live life like a student, there would be no excuse for not having this breadth of view L’Amour is talking about, like a wide-angle lens on the world. The problem is rarely ever not enough information, though. It’s sorting that information into what I might need, could find useful, may be interested in, or should let go.

Sorting information is all of our jobs, everyday. Deciding what is important is part of exercising discernment, and “people without discernment are doomed,” according to Hosea 4:14. As student and Information Sorter I need the discernment of a Christ-centered mind, one trained in focus and observation. I need words to correspond to thoughts and thoughts to correspond to truth. And I need to see the beauty in the bombardment of information, because the world is full of beautiful things missed by busy people.

Being a lifelong learner is not about being busy, adding one more thing to my list. It’s maybe the opposite of that, because learning requires me to stop what I’m doing doing doing and observe. Be still. Listen to the stories. It’s a slow process, one without end but not without goals.

I am sending out a newsletter this Saturday with two goals: accountability and encouragement. I need the accountability of announcing this project and sending this monthly newsletter, as I seek to make up my mind with things that point me to Christ and a stewardship of the resources He’s given me.  If I make it to ninety, I want to have something of worth to surprise my grandkids with.

The second goal is to provide encouragement for you as you sort information and make up your mind with the true, the good, and the beautiful.  The newsletter will be full of links to resources; my thoughts on current reading, listening, and watching; and a look at my specific plans as I track my learning each month. In turn, I will be encouraged by your participation and suggestions.

Words are important, and the focus of my learning is on using words better—in thinking, reading, writing, and speaking. If you’ve read my other posts about what I call my "Homeschool MFA" program, this newsletter is inline with that. It’s just my way of organizing myself as a student of life, and has nothing to do with homeschooling, itself, except that homeschooling has kept me in the game as far as learning goes. It wasn’t until I started teaching my own kids that I really caught hold of the benefits of lifelong learning—pursuing knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, even after my formal schooling was finished. That’s my Homeschool MFA.

This newsletter is for anyone who is still curious about life and the language we use to live it. Nothing is wasted when we live life like a student, with all our experiences and memories layered in us for all our years. Come learn with me! 

Conflict in Church and At Home

“Every story needs tension to be good.” – ND Wilson

Every family has conflict. It is an inevitable part of living life with other sinful beings. Our family has gone through big changes in the last few years as our kids have reached adulthood, one by one. Having children so close in age was exhausting when they were young, but it’s a different kind of exhausting as they mature. There are emotional taxes for everyone and a fair amount of conflict.

My husband and I have never disagreed very much, but we surely have differences of opinion and the occasional argument. However, we realized several years ago that our children never saw us argue. One day,  we realized we had failed to teach that disagreements are normal and ok by the looks of silent devastation on our children’s faces when we had an argument in the van. It was one of those inevitable moments of childhood when the pedestals of parents wobble just a little. It was a good, hard lesson for us all. 

We still do most of our arguing in private, because that’s just polite; but since that day in the van, we have made a conscious effort to model good arguments and grace in front of our kids. We know each other’s body language, we interpret the sideways glances and silent pauses, and we have gotten smarter about timing.

Continue reading this post at Morning by Morning.