☕️ 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

☕️ 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.

☕️ Going in Circles

Reflection. Best of lists. Highlights. Anticipation. Resets and resolutions. So many rituals connected to the ordering our lives on the foundation of time. We live into chronology like we traverse airports on moving walkways, the past recedes as we are perpetually propelled forward. Life becomes a timeline, the significant moments labeled and dated, new years noted as harbingers of progress.

This metaphor works because it is not wholly inaccurate, but it falls short of explaining the full-orbed experience of life. Life, like time, is also cyclical. The hands on the clock circle round and round measuring minutes and hours. The earth rotates as it circles the sun, measuring days and months, seasons and years. My own life is better understood through recognizing its cycles than by resolutely marching down the number-line of accumulated age and years.

Progress occurs through returning again and again to perspectives that continually shift and grow or shrink as more learning and living inform my understanding and my choices. Growth is less linear, and more a circling back to build on what was before. Sometimes to scrap and start anew. Sometimes simply to try again. Sometimes to repeat what didn’t work last time only to experience despair or self-recrimination…again. Cycles can create ruts, and dangers lurk there to be sure.

And maybe this is why we often use the metaphor of “going in circles” to describe lack of progress, lostness, “stuckness.” We can certainly experience all of these at any given time, but what if going in circles could also mean building layers of learning, like the rings of a tree. Or patterns of beauty like the concentric circles of a chrysanthemum. Or habits of faith like the woven materials of a sturdy bird’s nest. What if going in circles means recognizing repeating seasons and being more intentional about how we cycle through them. Or, especially in our relationships with God and others, what if it means rotating on the axis of a deepening love, commitment, and understanding. What if going in circles is about growth rather than stagnation. What if.

As we spiral our way through the days and year ahead, may our circles be as wide and wondering or as narrow and tight and focused as needed to let our hearts be tilled, planted, and watered by God’s good work in us. May we return again and again to what is good and true and right, and turn away always from what is not. May our wounds gain another layer of healing. May our cycles of grief be buoyed by hope and comfort. May our ruts be filled in with the core layers of repentance, grace, humility, forgiveness, and belonging. May we collect treasures of joy and goodness in each loop and lap and curve. May we know above all, that the God who first ordered time into morning and evening, days and years makes “everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.”

I’ll spend the next years of my life circling back to ponder the implications of that last sentence. Which is exactly what was intended, I think.

Here’s to going in circles…

☕️ Lilies

A Saturday Caesura

Almost ten years ago, someone brought several potted lilies to our son’s funeral service. After everyone had gone home and the other bouquets of flowers had faded and withered, I planted the lilies beneath a cluster of trees in our backyard. It was an act of hope that they would survive the winter — that I would survive this loss.

Since then, the lilies have bloomed every year, and each year I have learned more about living with grief.

In preparation for this year’s Great Backyard Redo, I moved the lilies last spring — built a raised bed specifically for them, watched them bloom in early summer, and then worried that their roots would be too exposed to survive the deep freeze of winter.

I began looking for signs of life as soon as the snow melted this spring. For the longest time there was nothing. I started to consider that these lilies could actually die and the thought began stirring and renewing the grief that had brought them to us to begin with.

I began breathing again when they began poking up green.

They had survived another winter.

The lilies are now thick with golden blooms. The taller ones will soon add splashes of burgundy red and I’ll keep breathing in the beauty and breathing out gratitude that although death is inevitable and grief is inescapable, life is full of unfathomable generosity and goodness.

☕️ The Best, the Good… and the Ugly

A Saturday Caesura

Before Christmas, COVID-19 restrictions moved my students from our classroom to their homes for three weeks. We made the transition with resigned acceptance; for too many students extended time alone at home only leads to anxiety or depressive loneliness. To help curb the mental health issues that arose when we had to ‘go remote’ in the spring, I added a “What’s your best thing from today?” to our daily writing exercises. Every day for those three weeks we took time to look for goodness and joy and positive things even when we weren’t necessarily happy about our overall circumstances.

Just this week, our first week back in class, though not back in the classroom yet, a grade 12 student popped back in to our online video session after I had dismissed everyone to work on the day’s assignment. She shared with me that she found the daily focus on “Best Things” so helpful that she decided to extend the practice. She took an empty mason jar, dubbed it her “Best Things Jar” and has been using it to collect more Best Things, each neatly written on slips of paper.

Any guesses what this teacher’s Best Thing for that day was?

My frequent Noticing Walks, a (mostly) weekly writing habit of Saturday Caesuras and Sunday Doxologies, my daily time in prayer and Scripture are all meant to focus my attention, not only on Best Things, small blessings woven into the routines of daily life, but also on the Good Things of God, rich blessings etched with eternity in the human heart.

But noticing the good does not remove the ugliness from the world, or even from my own heart. And sometimes all that ugly looms large and ominous. It consumes.

So I’ve been pondering another aspect of noticing and paying attention: What do I need to overlook or ignore? This question is not meant to ensconce me in blinders, to box me firmly into a position of denial about the world or my heart, but it is a reminder that I do not need to wade into the ugliness or let it weigh me down with anger or swamp me under in despair. Instead, I can respond to the Ugly Things by following Christ’s commands to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind (best way to deal with my heart uglies) and love my neighbour (best way to respond to the world uglies).

If this first week of 2021 has taught me anything, it is that I need to pay attention to what I am giving attention to. I need to focus my noticing, set boundaries on what deserves or requires my attention, celebrate the Best Things, be deeply grateful for the Good Things, respond with love, prayer, and humility to the Ugly Things.

☕️ Friday Night

A Saturday Caesura

It is Saturday and it is a blue-gold one, one that holds all the mercies of a new day. Last night, in the fog of Friday Fatigue I struggled to find anything to write. So I focused on my surroundings, my place at that moment, and discovered much to be grateful for…

I am sitting lengthwise on the couch that keeps its back to the wood stove so that I have full view out the front window as well as the window to my right, the one that faces the sunrise each morning, the one where perennial sweet peas crowd round to peer in like pink-cheeked nosy neighbours. Tonight I am mostly peering out the front window, watching the chimney smoke fall in gentle breaths on the mottled yellow-green leaves still clinging to the trees hovering over the now-empty garden boxes. My Mother’s Day fuchsia sits atop the wood pile on the deck, its fairy-dancer blossoms pirouetting amidst graceful leafy cascades. The sun has set. Dusk unfurls a soft grey hush. The wind grows sleepy.

Inside, a floor lamp spreads its light across my page, burnishes warm hues in the bamboo flooring. I am warm, perhaps a bit too warm now that the fire is fully engaged. I could cast off the worn afghan and fleece sweater that cocoon me, but I don’t. I like the weight of the afghan — it anchors me to the couch, calms me. A pot of water on the stove sizzles a merry melody; an off-beat percussive crackle or pop from the fire accompanies the rhythmic whir of the fan. It is good to be home. It is good to bring another work week to a close. It is good to just rest.

And there was evening, and there was morning. And there was goodness in between.