I’m Moving!

Well, sort of. I’m not leaving my house or my backyard or my birds, my marsh, my community or my job. But I am moving Sola Gratia to a different hosting site.

I have a variety of reasons for making the shift, and if you’ve been a regular reader/follower here, I hope you’ll move with me!

It’s an easier switch for you than for me; all you have to do is follow this link and subscribe (it’s free!) You’ll find much of my previous writing archived there, and as I continue to jot down thoughts and observations from time-to-time, you’ll receive an email notification of any new content. I promise not to spam you with emails; my writing time has been quite limited lately, and I’m a slow process writer at the best of times!

A special thank you to all who have been faithful readers here over the years, to those who have found this space more recently, and to everyone who has encouraged me to keep writing. It is amazing how words and ideas can connect us. Thank you, thank you.

I will be closing this site permanently on October 10, so be sure to join my move before then!

☕️ Summer Projects

A Saturday Caesura

According to the rhythms dictated by the school calendar, summer has ended. Thankfully, it has been a summer of revitalization, of refurbishing and re-forming.

I began the summer by refinishing the dining room table and buffet we indirectly inherited from my husband’s grandmother. I spent hours and days stripping scarred and scratched varnish and sanding away residual stain that left the exposed wood a muddy grey rather than its true colour. What finally emerged is a faintly reddish-brown blend of light and dark wood grain (cherry wood, I think). The stain originally used to give both pieces a uniform colour actually masked the beautiful diversity inherent in the wood. What were simply pieces of old furniture now feel like works of art with their core essence on full display.

Rocks and compost revitalized the garden and turned a lack-luster flower bed along the east side of the house into a visual feast of colour and texture. The rocks, salvaged from a nearby river, form a large border, but also provide smaller pockets for clusters of flowers and a base for the plants that like to creep and flow like small green waterfalls. The rocks and flowers are so much more beautiful together than they ever were apart.

The compost – plant cast-offs, kitchen scraps, grass clippings – decomposed into nutrient rich soil capable of enriching the garden boxes where I planted spinach, lettuce, swiss chard, beans, a few beets and peas. These are all harvested now, but there are still tomatoes ripening on the vine and carrots waiting until cooler weather before I pull them up. The process of growing involves more than planting and watering seeds; it requires forms of death and decay as well. It is impossible for me to not see how growth in my own life requires a similar cycle.

I don’t usually think of clothes as dying, but they can certainly become worn out or fall out of fashion (a sort of death, I suppose). I had a few pieces that weren’t exactly either of the above, but needed something to make them fit better or make me want to wear them again. So the latter part of the summer found me at the sewing machine turning maxi-skirts into something a tad bit shorter or altered to a better “me-fit.” Or turning a shirt with hated cap sleeves into a sleeveless bodice to another redacted skirt; together they make a cute empire-waisted dress. I enjoy the creative act of turning a garment into something new – a way of extending its usefulness, of stewarding rather than simply discarding.

The greatest renewal of the summer, however, wasn’t the furniture or the garden or my wardrobe. It was my heart-soul-mind. In other words — me. I still feel a weariness that lingers, a grief that won’t ever be not-present, a deep concern for where we are all headed…but there have been many moments to remind me that my days are hardly bereft of goodness. If you have read much of anything I have written, you probably already know that those moments involve combinations of family and friends, birds and flowers, hiking and biking, and Noticing Walks and dirt and rocks and music and study and good books and sketchbooks and rainstorms and prairie sunsets and fields and mountains. The list is endless, really. And God is using them all to re-form me, to shape my heart into one that listens, one that responds in obedience and worship, one that pursues truth and wisdom. Unlike my summer projects, I’m sort of a life-long one. Scratch that. I’m not a project, I’m a beloved child with eternity written on my heart. Sola Gratia

☕️ My Life as a Misfit

A Saturday Caesura

Sometimes I think I should receive an honorary Masters of Misfits. Maybe even a Doctorate. My credited experience is quite extensive. For example:

  • I enjoy my tea, but don’t care for the other three socially acceptable beverages: coffee, alcohol, and soda. I know; I’m weird.
  • I enjoy a good movie, but I don’t have Netflix, Disney+, or syndicated TV, so all those shows ya’ll talk about? I haven’t got a clue.
  • I love music but generally don’t listen to contemporary pop stuff, Christian, country, or otherwise. I would totally lose any ice breaker game involving song lyrics. But then, I usually lose icebreaker games because I find them awkward and socially stressful.
  • I don’t get my nails done or colour my hair. I rarely wear makeup. My fashion sense is always a few years behind or completely off what was ever considered “in.” I have utility hands, greying hair, a what-you-see-is-what-you-get face, and a functional wardrobe. Good enough.
  • I don’t watch (or follow) sports unless it’s one of my school’s teams. In regards to professional sports, I know only what my students tell me I should know, which usually boils down to who won (or didn’t). Good enough.
  • I am not, nor ever have been, a big-circle-of-friends person. I have a few beautiful, grace-filled friends that I treasure. I don’t hoopla-fest or party with them. We do small, simple things together and that is more than enough to sustain our friendships.
  • I earned my driver’s license without parallel parking, parking on a hill with a curb, changing lanes, going through a traffic light, or driving through a school zone. But don’t tell anyone.
  • In grade seven, I had to borrow cowboy boots when I was voted queen for the rodeo organized by the blink-and-you-miss-it community we lived in. A vote, by the way, which I initially thought was a joke because the other nominee was a local rancher’s daughter who owned her own boots and everything else a girl needs to be a bona fide rodeo queen.
  • When I was a teen, I decided that my career choice would have to involve animals because I was shy and awkward and working with people, well, it just wouldn’t work. Then I became a pastor’s wife at age 20, and I currently teach high school English with an Elementary Generalist BEd degree. There have been days (years?) when I have felt like an imposter.
  • I have no pets.
  • I have never owned a dishwasher.

There are so many ways that I don’t fit some expectation or standard or ‘normalcy’. And honestly, there was a long period of my life where I felt my misfitted-ness quite acutely. Fretted and stewed about it. Tried to be the round peg in the round hole without acknowledging that I was (am!) actually rather square.

I’ve since been learning that aligning my heart-soul-mind with what God says about me makes me increasingly aware that I am deeply loved, that I have nothing to prove, and that I am absolutely free to be who God has made me to be. Any changes that need to happen (they are ongoing and many!) are the ones that bring me closer to God’s vision for me, not to what others, society, or media set as the acceptance bar. Nor do I need to curate versions of myself that meet my own expectations of someone worthy or acceptable to God or others. I don’t need to pull out the coarse sandpaper and start grinding away at all my square corners. I can simply be content with my Charis-ness as intended by God.

I know that I am not the only well-credentialed misfit. But I also know that I am not the only misfit loved by God. I mean, just look at Jesus’ disciples — rough fishermen and tax collectors and doubters and betrayers. Hardly a collection of the upstanding religious and righteous. Hardly the type of people you would expect to be entrusted with something as monumentally important as the kingdom of God. But then again, you’d hardly expect that kingdom to be ushered in by a baby born in a stable who grew up to work as a carpenter in some backwater stick-town.

If I’ve learned anything through my journey as a misfit, it’s that the term only applies to me because I have assumed it does. God has other terms for me: beloved, redeemed, forgiven.

🌿 Echoes of Eden

Stripped of winter, the land relaxes,
makes space for life to rise from its dust.
I run my hand through grass, elbow-high,
each stem bending and then bouncing back,
its suppleness an overlooked strength.
No matter the push or blow, it flows
in graceful waves along the roadside
always moving, never uprooted.
In a nearby field, stalks of wheat stand
stiffly shoulder-to-shoulder, newly-
formed heads nod politely to the breeze.
In time, heads will sway, shoulders slacken,
giving way to the ripple and roll
of an ocean green and growing gold.
Green. So much green. But not only green.
Eye-shocking yellow canola fields.
Alfalfa in white, yellow, purple.
Globes of clover in purple, white, pink.
Wild prairie roses in pink, pink, pink.
Stripped of winter, this land is free to
breathe and bloom in echoes of Eden.

☕️ Grey on the Brain

A Saturday Caesura

It is a post-rain grey Saturday morning. On our fence to the south, three fat baby crows sit and preen and pretend to ignore a redwing blackbird who darts in to taunt them. To the east, the sun presses in behind the sheet of grey, adding some tentative texture to the otherwise flat sky. The views to the north and west are predominantly green-on-grey, lightly animated by the breath of a morning breeze.

I am grateful for time to sit and notice these very ordinary things.

The flurry of wrapping up a school year has left me looking wistfully at the apparent leisure afforded those baby crows. I certainly lack the energy of the mischievous redwing. It was an exhausting year, and my mind feels like the sky today, grey and flat and washed out. It was also an encouraging year, and my heart is bursting with the joyful colour my brain lacks. I am humbled by the notes, emails, and conversations with students who said they appreciated my class for all the ways it challenged, stretched, and encouraged them. Teacher-moments to treasure for sure.

But what to do with the grey-brain of fatigue? The brain that has read words and more words, but struggles to craft any of its own into meaningful thought. The brain that can create lists of things that need to be done over the summer, but then fogs in when it sees how long the list quickly becomes. The brain that easily clouds over with the drizzle of doubt and who cares if you feel like you have nothing to say because no one really reads your words anyway. Yes, what to do indeed.

I don’t have a fully defined answer because…well, grey-brain, obviously. But today, I am going to be entertained by baby crows and feel the breeze and listen for yellow warblers and gaze at the miracle of a growing garden and the brilliance of orange poppies and sketch something and maybe read someone else’s beautiful words and simply taste the goodness of the Lord in this oh-so-grey day.

And maybe I’ll do the same again tomorrow and the next day and the next day.

Gardens and Graduates

I started my tomato plants indoors weeks ago, initially keeping them in the relative warmth and southern sunshine of a shelf in the window above the freezer in our laundry room. When they outgrew the laundry room, I jerry-rigged a clear-garbage-bag-incubator/greenhouse in the east window of the below-room-temperature upstairs bedroom. The geraniums were similarly situated in the west window by my art table.

Later, once the sunroom by the front door actually felt like a sunroom rather than a walk-in freezer, I put the tomatoes there during daylight hours, and shuffled them inside at night until the danger of freezing was past. Every time I checked, watered, or moved them, I’d run my hand through their leaves to simulate air movement and encourage them to strengthen their stems in resistance. They’d need this strong backbone to withstand the winds that cruise along the south side of the house where they would eventually spend the summer months.

Even with all my care to harden off the plants before finally transplanting them under a homemade wire-hoop-and-plastic “greenhouse,” they weren’t as resilient as I had hoped. The cool nights and early mornings weren’t a problem because of the insulating cover. Daytime exposure to direct sunlight sunburned a few tender topmost leaves, but nothing too concerning. I had even anticipated the prevailing west winds and put a stake on the east side of each of the tallest plants.

But one day a blustery wind whipped at the plastic cover and left the plants brutally exposed. All of the staked plants survived because they had the support needed to keep their still-strengthening stems from bending and breaking. Three of the shorter, un-staked plants were not so fortunate. The wind was too much for their untried youth. They bent and broke at the base of their stems.

I’ve since provided a stake for each of the remaining shorter plants.

Now, a few windy days later, all of the plants have developed thicker, hardy stems. Their roots have found purchase. They are established and growing. A few have even begun to form blossoms.

Ninety-two graduates “walked the stage” at my school last Friday. I fear that there are few of them whose stems are still too thin, too pliable and prone to easy bending and breaking. I wonder if they have the right support in the right places, supports they can lean into, supports that will hold fast. The winds of life can be gentle, but they can also become unrelenting storms. I hope that these young people have deep roots and sturdy supports. I hope their stems thicken, firm and strong and growing. I hope they don’t break. I hope — and pray. ▫️

On Writing & Encouragement

I teach high school English which means I also teach writing which is probably one of the most challenging parts of my job. I won’t dive into all the pedagogical strategies I’ve tried over the years, but I’d like to share one recent experience.

The grade 12 class had just finished first draft writing and I wanted them to engage in some careful revision. I gave them instructions for a peer-feedback process that required them to ask for specific feedback on two aspects of their draft. Each student had to have four “feedback -readers” (plus me, of course), and to be a feedback -reader for four of their classmates. As we were organizing this activity, one of the students randomly asked, “Mrs. Crandall, can I be your reader?”

The question caught me off-guard for a moment, but I did indeed have a piece I had started working on with the hope that I could submit it to an online magazine. I once mustered up enough courage to submit a poem to them and was honoured that they accepted it. That gave me courage to submit another poem for another issue, which was also accepted. But I had yet to find the ‘whatsit’ to submit a pitch for an article. I tried once, labouring over a piece for a month before deciding it simply wasn’t good enough.

So, after a short beat, I told the student, that yes, she could be my reader. To follow my own rules for the assignment, I needed three more readers. Hands shot up across the room. I gave the four students a draft version of the piece I was considering, broke my rules by identifying not two but three areas for feedback, and then set to work earnestly revising and refining what was originally a post here on my blog. The stakes had just been raised…

The deadline to submit the piece to the magazine came before my class deadline for feedback, so by the time the four students had added their comments, I had already written the pitch, attached the revised article that I hoped was sufficient, taken a deep breath, and hit the send button. Their feedback, however, was insightful, honest, earnest. I was impressed. While their comments didn’t really have any impact on what I submitted, their willingness to engage with me made all the difference in actually making the submission.

Writing is hard work. Writing is vulnerable. But writing is also how many of us process life and sometimes we just need a little encouragement to keep putting words on paper or online or in other people’s hands. My students gave me a gift of encouragement, and I try to do the same for them and their words.

And those students, bless their hearts, were more excited and less surprised than I was when the article was accepted by Fathom Mag for publication in their recent issue on “Margin.”

☕️ Facing Hard Things

A Saturday Caesura

A new week began like most weeks do. The previous week with all of its ups downs and all arounds was, for better or worse, done. So here was this new week and you were grateful for the fresh scent of it, for the whiffs of promise wafting by on the first minutes and hours.

And then SLAM BANG BAM, you were flattened by a Very Hard Thing. Maybe you knew it was lurking in the shadows but hoped that ignoring it would make it go away. Maybe you saw it coming, but your last battle with a Hard Thing left you worn out and ill-equipped for this new Thing. Or maybe it wasn’t really a new Thing, just an old one returned to reclaim ground. Or conquer more ground. Maybe you didn’t suspect that this Very Hard Thing would ever exist in your life. And yet there you were, flat on your face, gut-wrenched, drenched in fear and despair. There were other emotions, too, but separating them from the messy mass enough to name them was an exercise for a calm and ordered mind, which of course, yours was not.

Too many people I know have been bowled over by Hard Things recently. While outwardly, hands, feet, whole bodies continued to propel through the Necessary Things, internal chaos churned and choked out hope and joy and purpose. Hard Things are…well, hard, even though their appearance, their weapons, their power are different for each of us.

I can’t tell others how to face their Hard Things, but I do know that Hard Things can be toppled over and stripped of their strength by prayer. I know this can sound like a pat answer dripping with “Christian-eze” and religious platitudes, but my lived experience keeps bringing me back to prayerful surrender to the God who knows All Things, has faced Very Very Hard Things on my behalf, and invites me to trust and rest in him for Every Thing.

It was through prayer that the Hard Thing of my week was replaced by a gentle and generous grace. Inner chaos settled into a quiet fatigue, then restful peace, and finally, gratitude and growth. Do I feel victorious? No, not really. But I do feel loved and seen and known and sustained. Sola Gratia.