The Stories We Keep

One of the reasons I write is because I need to process things, to get ideas out of my head and on paper where I can begin to make sense of them or discover some new perspective. Although most of my “processing” remains in my notebooks, I write here because I want to invite others to think and ponder along with me. But we are more than just processors of ideas and questions and observations. We are storytellers and story-keepers. Our lives are anthologies of stories bound together and nestled into a larger, grander story whose opening line is “In the beginning, God…”

I keep stories that have changed my life or perspective, forged new growth or wisdom, or made me laugh or smile. Stories can do all of these and more. Above all, stories anchor me to my place in the world. From time to time, I want to revisit some of these stories, not because my life is anything special, but because, actually, it is. And so is yours.

I’ve done some housekeeping here at Sola Gratia. You’ll find a new page just for stories – some of mine, and hopefully some of yours as well. Soon you’ll also find a page just for Jots & Doodles — Volume 1 Issue 3 will be available soon!

So…pop over to the Story-Keeper page for a story about my brief stint as a Dr. Doolittle imposter.

☕️ Messes & Marvels

A Saturday Caesura

This morning I sat down and wrote some thoughts for this caesura. Thoughts about vulnerability and virus variants and stuck supertankers and murder and violence and other egregious acts against fellow human beings. I wrote a lot of words, but I don’t think they were very coherent. Sometimes I just need to dump everything on a page and let it sit there in a mess for a while. Someday when I will come back to the word-tangle, maybe there will be a clear line of thought that is worth unravelling.

So today’s caesura is not about those thoughts, but about some images from this week. Images like the tiny “hairs” lining the edges of a baby lupine leaf. The lupine is in my classroom at the moment, escaping the heat of the greenhouse until it’s warm enough outside to give it a more permanent home in my yard. I noticed the hairs because they caught the early morning light coming through the window and created a halo around each leaf frond. The glow drew me in for a closer look. Remarkable.

In true northern prairie fashion, it snowed on the day after the first day of spring and I don’t want to talk about how much it snowed or how horrible the roads were, but I do want to talk about how the snow is now melting drip by drip off the edge of the roof. Sometimes a few drops will drip in unison, other times in succession. They remind me of a hand-bell choir. I wonder what song they would make if each drop dripped a note on the scale. Would it be a lament for winter? Or an anthem for spring’s arrival?

The Christmas cactus I bought as a gift for a friend (that I never had a chance to see at Christmas because of Covid) still sits in my kitchen window. It bloomed this week. The brilliant pink blossom looked like an exotic bird from some distant tropical jungle, and even though Christmas came and went ages ago, this blossom was the best possible gift for this week. There are two more budding gifts and now I’m not sure my friend will ever see this particular plant.

Sometimes I need to leave my thoughts in a muddled mess of words on the pages of a notebook I can close and walk away from. And sometimes I need to leave all the messes of the world (beginning with my own heart) at the foot of the cross and focus on the small but extraordinary blessings each day contains. Often I can view the messes with more clarity and understanding when I filter them through the lens of God’s intended goodness for his creation.

☀️ Healer

A Sunday Doxology

“We are the world…

we are saving our own lives,”

they sang once upon a time,

but here we are still

fractured, aching, broken,

bruised, twisted, strained

because we’ve never been good

at saving ourselves.

You didn’t save yourself either.

You suffered and sacrificed

to save us:

pierced, crushed, oppressed, afflicted,

your wounds — our healing.

All praise to you who knows our pain.

All praise to you, the One who heals.

☕️ Gifts

A Saturday Caesura

The first story I remember writing was about a cougar. At the time, I was positive that it was the greatest story ever written. I have only vague memories of what I actually wrote, but I can guarantee it was everything you would expect from an elementary school student: sentimental imaginings, clichéd descriptions, and gaping plot holes. I remember this particular story because writing it made me realize for the first time that the ideas and pictures in my head could become words on a page, that writing wasn’t just about copying letters or spelling words correctly or answering study questions in full sentences. I’ve not given much attention to story-making in the years since that failed masterpiece, but I’ve developed a love for story-finding among the bits and pieces and images of daily life.

The first picture I clearly remember drawing was of a poster-sized blue garbage can with big eyes, an open lid for its mouth, and “Feed Me” (or something similar) written on its belly. It won an anti-littering-on-the-playground contest which was monumental to my little-girl-self, not because of the prize (which I don’t even remember), but because I realized that I could draw and that I enjoyed drawing. At first I mostly drew animals. Okay… horses. But eventually a charcoal cat and a moose and mountain goats and even a cougar. Later, I realized that drawing people was somewhat similar to drawing animals; I just had to change the shapes and features and lines and proportions and perspectives — in other words, everything but the actual drawing techniques. Even later, I learned that artists call pencil crayons coloured pencils, and now I have a glorious array of them. They are still my favourite art tool.

Over the years writing and drawing have been relegated to the When I Have Time portion of the calendar. I regret this. I realize now that what I lacked was not time, but a proper understanding of the gift they are to me. For the past several years I have tried to be more faithful in using these gifts. I write and draw nearly every day, even if it is only for a few minutes – a quick sketch, a sentence or two. From this habit, comes a new project: a zine I’ve entitled Jots & Doodles, which combines inked images from my sketchbook with poems and reflections from my writing notebook.

Jots & Doodles Volume 1: Issues 1 & 2

As a gift to anyone who happens to stumble across this blog, I am making each issue of Jots & Doodles available as a PDF download. They can be printed on a single sheet of paper and folded into a booklet (see instructions below). They are the perfect size to tuck into a card or a pocket or an envelope, attach to a gift or pin on a bulletin board. If they bring you (or someone you know) some encouragement, I’d love to hear about it!

Gifts are only gifts if they are given.

Source: https://tellingcambridgetales.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/how-to-fold-a-zine/

Note: please notify me if there are any issues with the download links. Thank you.

☀️ Lonely Places

Sunday Doxology

Praise to you, Lord of the lonely places of quiet solitude where you chose to withdraw for prayer. For rest.

I am drawn to these places, too, because I always find you there and am renewed. Restored.

But sometimes lonely places barge in the door, drop baggage on the floor and invade us with the deep ache of isolation, of exclusion, of being uninvited, unnoticed, unliked, unfriended…

Here solitude stings. Doesn’t soothe.

Praise to you, Lord, even in these insidious lonely places because your hand still guides us, your right hand still holds us fast. Because you are forever and always Emmanuel — God with us — we are never alone.

☕️ Snippets

A Saturday Caesura

Some weeks happen all helter-skelter. Undone to-dos, interruptions, diversions, uh-ohs, and not-agains. Normal stuff occurring with abnormal frequency. Even the weather tried to squeeze all four seasons into a single week. Life seems more manageable when everything practices distancing, takes turns, behaves in orderly and predictable ways.

My thoughts were helter-skelter, too. None of the usual slow mulling and processing of an idea, an image. Just snippets of this and that — some that stuck and some that slid away.

Snippet: I was riding my bike on the indoor trainer upstairs. I look out the window, but the scenery doesn’t scroll by like it usually does when I cycle outdoors. The neighbour’s house just sits there. So do the barren trees, the snow, the fence, the street off to the left. It is boring. But that day I noticed that the snow was pockmarked with little indentations, like a scatter plot with a cluster under one tree and a spray of them in all directions from there. Each indentation was where a sparrow or a red poll sat to munch on a seed from the bird feeder. The word that came to mind when I saw all these mini-dining spots was feast. A feast spread across a yard-sized table. I lingered on the word feast — it felt rich and welcoming.

Snippet: Dean always does the supper dishes as I clean up and put food away. One evening, an evening when I had after-supper plans of my own, the kitchen sink clogged when Dean tried to drain the water. What followed was well over an hour of checking sections of drain, ramming first the small snake and then the big long unruly one through pipes with strange angles until finally the water flowed, drained, disappeared like it was supposed to. My plans? Forgotten. Neither of us could have done that job alone. Sometimes love and commitment looks like wrestling snakes and unclogging drains together.

Snippet: my writing and art have happened in snippets between the demands of teaching school, but each snippet of time has been soul-nourishing. After a season of questioning why I write or draw, I’ve started a project that seems like a perfect fit for my “jots & doodles” and it has renewed my vision for being a faithful steward of the abilities God has given. I’ll share more about this project next week!

Snippet: Because our annual teacher’s convention this week was virtual, I had a rare opportunity to go for a weekday lunchtime walk and on my walk I met a girl who was walking her puppy. Puppies are adorable. This puppy looked like he had a significant share of Jack Russell genes and had no concept of “stranger danger.” He was full-body wiggles and tongue-slapping smiles and isn’t-this-the-BEST-day-ever and can-I-be-your-BFF and isn’t-life-just-GLORIOUS! And I walked away feeling exactly all that but with the wiggles on the inside, smiles sans the tongue thing.

Snippet: I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Ps. 27:13

☀️ All Things

A Sunday Doxology

Praise God for all things.

All things, God?

Barren trees with branches blown

down haphazard on dirty snow?

Skies of grey upon grey upon grey?

Leftovers for lunch and supper

and supper again?

Renovation dust populating

every. single. surface?

Cold hands, dry skin, tired eyes?

Relentless wind

and unanswered prayer?

It’s easy to praise you for every

blessing that feels like a blessing —

retune my heart to praise you

for all the things that don’t.

☕️ Hope is a thing with leaves

A Saturday Caesura

It’s been cold here lately. Cold enough that all school buses were cancelled one day, several buses refused to start on other days, and most days my truck tires thump thumped squarish for a few kilometres before they softened to round again. Cold enough that the number of layers I had to wear outside and the number of times I had to refill the bird feeder in a day were roughly the same. Cold enough to earn the ranking of Extreme Cold by those who are officially tasked with determining such rankings.

It is an extreme act of hope to think about gardens and flowers and seeds and greenery when it is February and bitterly cold and there is not a patch of rich brown earth visible anywhere. Thanks to the recently repaired greenhouse that is attached to the science wing of our school, the hopeful thinking has turned into hope-in-action for a few of us who are particularly fond of gardens and flowers and green growing things.

So, in the middle of the day, after teaching writing craft and grammar and literary analysis, after supervising my portion of the lunch break, after processing emails and recording attendance, I escape to the greenhouse, incubator of summer, oasis from the cold and the flurry of the day.

First, the planting: tomatoes, peppers, herbs, rudbeckia, lupin, soapwort, geranium. I hold the seeds, tiny shades of brown, in my hands and taste sun-warm sweetness, see splashes of blossoming colour. I smell moist soil, feel its earthy coarseness, watch as bitter winds shove pale drifts of snow against the glass window-walls.

Then, the watering — a careful and faithful misting done with far more anticipation than a simple daily routine usually merits. And then on a particularly cold day, there is sprouting and green and jubilation. A cadre of icicles clings outside, peering in and perhaps wishing they could have contributed to the party, while we possess the evidence of our planting and watering as if the resulting growth is our doing alone: “My tomatoes are up! Look at my herbs! My lupins!!”

But of course, every sprout is the miracle it has always been, and we are blessed to be part of nurturing a life we can in no way create.

This week’s lunch caesuras in the greenhouse have been devoted to transplanting — moving seedlings from tiny pots into bigger ones where they can grow deep and tall and strong. It is gentle work, this handling of tender shoots and tentative roots. One more step in the patient acting out of a hope for what can yet be in a month, two months, a summer, next year.

I return to class with dirt under my fingernails. The weak afternoon sun slants through the classroom windows, slips across the desks where even more tender shoots with tentative roots sit, ready, needing all my hope-in-action efforts, too.

☀️ Blessings Keep Flowing

A Sunday Doxology

Praise God from whom

all blessings flow:

A warm home during

Extreme Cold Warning weather

lasting for days on end

Birds that flit and fly and sing

even in Extreme Cold Warning cold

Untouched snow and cloudless skies

Sunrises and sunsets and sun dogs

Bowls of chili and cups of hot tea

Conversation, laughter, prayer

with my husband of forty

Valentine’s Days

A day of Sabbath rest

days of goodness

weeks of hope

years of grace

Praise Father, Son, Spirit.

Amen.