Monday, March 28, 2016

The Day After (#SmallWonder Link-up)


The rain this morning sounds like sleet.  It’s the Monday after Resurrection day.  Plundered Easter baskets spew plastic grass on these old wood floors and the hollow chocolate bunnies have lost their ears and faces. 

The oldest boy is sick, again, even though he's already on antibiotics.  This winter he barely clears one hurdle before hitting the next.  Today I’ll call the Dr. and leave a message explaining the latest symptoms and we’ll probably head into the office again for more tests which will likely confirm a virus.  

Maybe this is how it always is, the day after resurrection and the day after that - the chaos, the mess, the uncertain way forward, this working out of our salvation.  This is not to say nothing has changes, but what has changed is still only the seed of what will be and we are, again, gardeners tending its slow and steady progress. 

*   *   *

We finally have a #SmallWonder button!  If you want to use it, simply copy the image, then add it to your post or sidebar with a link to www.afieldofwildflowers.blogspot.com.  



Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  


What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?  


That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  


While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  





Sunday, March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday: The First Day of Spring (#SmallWonder Link-up)


This post is loosely based on Luke 19:28-40, the gospel story of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem.  In preparing to preach on the passage this Sunday, I decided to spend some time inside the passage, imagining what it might have been like.  This story is told from the perspective of Simon the Zealot who I imagine being, along with Philip, asked to walk into town to fetch the colt for Jesus.  I can't overestimate how very helpful this practice was for me.  I hope you might also find some time this week to wander around inside of the gospel stories.

*    *    *

It felt like the first day of spring. Like everything we waited for was so close we could almost taste it.

We were close to Jerusalem. The closer we got, the edgier we were. Jesus was quiet. When we reached the Mount of Olives, Jesus turned to me and Philip. He chose us, and told us to go and look for a colt in the next village, it would be tied to a post and we were supposed to just walk up and take it.

How did he know this?

We didn’t ask. He chose us, that was all that ever mattered.  Jesus and the rest stayed resting under the shade of the olive trees. Philip and I walked alone.

When you were with him, walking beside him, it was like feeling the sun on your back – faith rose and blossomed. But with every step we took away from him, faith dimmed. Clouds of doubt rolled in.  Our confidence wilted as we walked toward the village.

We hardly dared to think, much less talk about what might happen when we reached Jerusalem.  Instead, his stories ran through my head. Everywhere we went he spun stories, painting pictures with words. I tried to make sense of them, but I couldn’t. Maybe I didn’t want to.

Bethany was small and dirty, like every other village, nothing special. The smells and sounds nearly knocked me out after the quiet walk through the countryside. It was hot, the sun was unbearable. I envied the disciples left behind, resting under the trees. The village seemed to go on forever. Women stared as we passed. Children ran up to touch our robes, then scrambled away laughing. We weren’t used to this feeling of travel, of being strange and out of place.

The further we walked, the more foolish we felt. Reason raised its head - why this village? Why a colt? And where? Where was it?

At the far edge of town, we heard it. A donkey brayed. I stopped mid-thought, put my hand out to stop Philip in his tracks. Again, we heard it, the screeching sound like metal grinding against metal. It came from somewhere to the right. We followed a small path through a thicket. Our steps slowed, nervously. Then we came to the edge of a clearing. An ancient stone house stood silent, a fire smoldered in a pit. Chickens pecked the ground. Off to one side stood a young donkey tied, just as he had said.

My heart leapt. Philip grabbed my arm and squeezed tight. Our eyes met wide with surprise and glee. It was all we could do to keep from laughing. Never before has the sight of a donkey been cause for such joy.

Giddiness propelled me. I rushed toward the colt. It skidded sideways, stretching the rope taunt. The colt erupted in a string of screeches, its lips pulled back, teeth exposed. I lunged for the rope, ready for a fight, when Philip again grabbed my arm.

“Simon,” he said.

I followed his eyes toward the house. A small man slowly emerged from the shadows. I pulled my hand back from the colt immediately. Behind him a woman and a small child peaked out of the doorway. Chickens squawked and scattered as he crossed the open yard.

I have never seen such a short man, he would’ve made Zaccheaus look like a giant. He had a grave and wrinkled face. He seemed coated with a lifetime of hard work and dirt. My heart sank. He would never let us have this animal. I thought of the sword at my side, it wouldn’t take much. But the woman and child, watched from the doorway.

Philip bowed in greeting and I followed. The little man bowed.

Braced for anger, his simple question disarmed me. “Why are you untying the colt?”

Why.

Why not, I thought. Why should we not take whatever we needed to overthrow the Romans? Why try to explain the unexplainable to this dirty man in his dark hut?

Philip’s hand was still on my arm. I stared at the little man, so solidly rooted to the ground and remembered Jesus’ words, “if they ask why, tell them ‘the Lord needs it.’”

Everything was always so unbelievably simple with Jesus, the simplicity itself was confusing.

“The Lord needs it,” I said.

The little man caught my eyes with his own and held them. I watched him measure the truthfulness of my words. I knew he likely guessed my thoughts about my sword, my urgency, and frustration.

Something in my eyes satisfied and he turned to the colt. He reached out and patted the animal, murmuring into its long ears. “Take it,” he said simply, then turned and walked away.

Our excitement grew with every step back through the village. We marched into the olive grove like victors returning from battle. The donkey brayed and bucked at the rope. Everyone gathered around shouting questions, slapping us on the back, startling the colt. “How? Where?” they asked.

“It was just like he said, just like it,” I repeated, grinning and proud forgetting the doubt I’d carried across town.

Then Jesus pushed in to the circle. He smiled at our surprise and delight. His tired eyes crinkled in the corners. His robe was wrinkled and dusty from resting on the ground.

“You did well, Simon,” he said, clamping his hand on my shoulder and fixing his eyes on mine. “You too, Philip,” he added. Like I said, he was like the sun, you know? And when he shone on you, it was something you never forgot.

Jesus took the rope and leaned in quietly toward the donkey. He patted it, whispered in its twitchy ears like the little man had. I think in that moment, the colt felt just as loved as we did, just as happy and full of hope and excitement. It stamped a foot and brayed flicking Jesus’ face with its ears and we all burst out laughing.

Peter pulled off his cloak and laid it on the donkey’s back. Nathan too, and Andrew, until the poor animal was draped with a rainbow of dirty robes.

It was time for Jerusalem.

I knelt right there in the dust and made a step with my hands. Jesus stepped and leaned while Andrew tried to steady the donkey. But the animal sidestepped and I teetered, pitching Jesus forward. His stomach landed with a thud on the donkey’s back, knocking the wind out of his lungs. I was so embarrassed, but Jesus pulled himself up laughing again and swung his leg over the side.

When he laughed, it unleashed something inside of us. We were like boys again, free and happy. Here we were, in the biggest adventure of our lives, with Jesus at our side and the wonder of it carried us all along.

Jesus led the colt toward Jerusalem, leaning to whisper again in its ear, scratching the coarse hair where the rope hung around its neck. Moving forward, a nervousness settled over the crowd of us again. Then we followed and with each step our excitement grew.

Thomas started the singing. His deep voice rose and the others joined in following the words of the psalm we all knew. The psalm of victory. I heard the words entirely new as we sang them there in the dusty streets out under the open sky.

I wanted, waited, all of my life for a King.

Here he was and here we were together, marching into Jerusalem. But not marching, nearly dancing. As much as I wanted it to be different, as much as I remembered the sword at my side and my dreams of a mighty king on horseback leading me into battle, I was happy. Happy with this fool of a man plodding along on a donkey’s back, this man who loved me.

I felt my love for him surge in my chest as we repeated again and again the chorus of the Psalm, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his steadfast love endures forever.”

I wasn’t the only one off pitch. Philip had no rhythm, not an ounce of tune, and we were an ugly bunch weaving our way into town, drunk on good news and friendship and the love we all needed. They heard us first (probably smelled us second) and women and children wandered out to watch us.

Such a strange parade. We sang at the top of our lungs, jostling each other, slapping shoulders and backs. Peter reached out and grabbed a boy in the crowd, swung him on his shoulders and Andrew jumped to reach a palm branch. Breaking it, he placed it in the boy’s hand and the boy cheered and waved like mad.

There’s something about a people, so beaten down with sorrow and fear, there’s little left to lose. Maybe this is what made them join us, welcome us, break branches of their own and join the singing, the dancing and shouting. Some stripped off their robes and laid them in the street and Jesus was there in the middle of it all, steady and solid as the sky.

Things got a little out of hand.

But that never seemed to bother Jesus. He got tired sometimes, needed rest and space, but he didn’t try to control us. He let us be however we were, welcomed us and that day we were happy and he didn’t bother to contradict.

But the Pharisees did.

It was one of the things they hated the most about him, the way he refused to control us. He didn’t seem to need to control anyone and therefore refused himself to be controlled. It bothered me too, if I’m honest. I couldn’t figure out how he might overthrow the Romans without taking for himself some measure of the power and control they exerted over us. But it bothered me less when I was with him, then it felt like I could believe anything and, if I’m honest, I thought he would change when we got to Jerusalem.

To the Pharisees, it was blasphemy, all of it. The way we sang and danced in the street, the image of Jesus on the donkey like some kind of street urchin playing king, it was all offensive. But mostly it smacked of disorder and freedom, two things they feared and fought tooth and nail.

“Rabbi, tell them to stop, make them stop!” they shouted.

Jesus turned from watching the dancing children, the singing men. I watched him meet the Pharisees’ eyes. My hand involuntarily drifted to the hilt of my sword. Jesus held the donkey still while all around him the crowd rose and swelled. There was amusement in his eyes and he smiled a sad smile.

“If I tell them to stop,” he said, “the stones you walk on will rise up singing and dancing. You cannot stop joy, my friends, cannot stop praise that flows like a river. Heaven and earth are being un-damned. We will sing and dance while we can.”

If we ever needed permission, we had it. We cheered and sang all the louder, “Give thanks to the lord for he is good, his steadfast love endures forever!”

It felt like the first day of spring, I tell you. Like everything we waited for was so close we could almost taste it. It was glorious.

//

It’s harder now, to talk about the rest. When we reached the inner edge of the Jerusalem, Jesus burst into tears and the words he spoke terrified and confused us. Confusion and fear followed us everywhere that week; it hunted us, hounded us.

For a long time, when I remembered Palm Sunday, I felt regret, embarrassment, how little we really understood.

But Jesus, he loved it. Now I know he carried our praise with him through the darkness that lay ahead. He focused on the memory of our singing when the crowds cried out for his death.

Jesus’ first desire wasn’t to change us. It was to be with us.

And his being with us, changed us, slowly into something closer to who he was, what he was.

I like to think of it like that – he carried us with him, our joy, our love, to the cross and we carry him with us, his joy, his love through every week ahead, singing and dancing or weeping in sorrow, we carry him, he carries us.


*   *   *

We finally have a #SmallWonder button!  If you want to use it, simply copy the image, then add it to your post or sidebar with a link to www.afieldofwildflowers.blogspot.com.  


Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  

What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?  

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  


Monday, March 14, 2016

The Power of Story (#SmallWonder Link-up)


This past weekend author and editor Andi Cumbo Floyd came and gave a reading of her new novel, Steele Secrets at our house.  You can learn more about Andi and her work here.  

Nine kids tromped up and down the stairs at random intervals, leaving a trail of fallen pretzels in their wake.  Adults sat in a circle of furniture listening politely and with interest to the author’s introduction. 

Someone fell on the stairs, someone else fed a handful of pretzels to the dog, and the kids continued to swirl as kids do, moving in clumps throughout the house.  Then the reading began.  The story slipped like spider silk from the author’s lips, spinning a web over the room as words danced from corner to corner. 

The children paused and grew still.  Drawn like magnets, their bottoms settled along the stairs, faces peeking through the railing.  As the story grew, my two oldest kids burst into the circle of adults.  First Solomon came and backed himself into my lap.  My arms settled around his middle like a seat belt.  How long has it been since he sat with me that way?  He stayed there through the whole chapter, tucked into me, even though his best friends from church and school were there too.  By the time we got to the part about the ghost, Sophia flew into the circle and belly flopped on the carpet.  

//

Story applies a centripetal force on its hearers, drawing us closer and closer to the source.  Even the most wily among us - children and adults - are not immune to its powers.  This is what I'm thinking of this week as we head into one of the Christian church's most storied times of the year - the power of story to draw us to the teller, to still our souls and bodies, to open doors we didn't know were closed.  

//

When the chapter ended, the reading ended, the spell broke and the kids scattered like dandelion fluff, consuming more pretzels, begging for another brownie and clamoring up and down the stairs again.  Almost as though they'd never stopped.   

*   *   *

We finally have a #SmallWonder button!  If you want to use it, simply copy the image, then add it to your post or sidebar with a link to www.afieldofwildflowers.blogspot.com.  



Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  

What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?  

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  

While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.  

Sunday, March 6, 2016

In Which I Put Myself in Time Out (#SmallWonder Link-up)


I was sick and tired, literally.

And it was Friday afternoon. 

I was a few minutes away from the end of my last lecture for the week, just digging in to the part where I talk about my personal connection with the text.

A few minutes earlier, during a brief break between lectures, I talked with my husband about my oldest son’s fourth strep diagnosis since November.  Thoughts of specialists, surgery and possible hospitalization swirled in my head. 

Did I mention I was sick?  And losing my voice?  Sipping scalding hot tea between sentences I relished the burning liquid that rendered my throat numb for a few precious seconds of relief.

Looking up from my outline I saw them.  Back row, middle seats, directly in my line of vision.  She leaned over his desk, they giggled and passed a paper between.  Continuing to speak I watched as she started writing on the shared paper.  I had a quick memory of the notebook passed between a friend and I during a year's worth of Spanish classes, page after page of words scrawled in large loopy letters. 

Thoughts about the application of the Hebrew bible’s prophetic texts stopped mid-sentence and I blurted, “Really?!  Passing notes?!  This is college, people!”

This is what it must be like to be an extrovert – words flying out unfiltered, unmeasured.

They both looked up, startled.  The rest of the class halted, confused. 

Then he did the worst thing possible, well, two of the worst things possible. 

First he shrugged his shoulders his hands thrown out to the sides.  Not a word was spoken, but his body said it all, What’s your problem, lady? 

His gesture added fuel to my fury and I prodded, “What?  That’s what you’re doing, isn’t it?  I can see you.”

Then he blamed the girl, threw her under the bus in his own defense. 

Oh, for shame. 

They were Adam and Eve, caught, in the garden and I was an angry God. 

I stared in disbelief, astounded at his defense, not the nature of it, but that he had the nerve at all to stand up before me, that he didn’t hang his head in shame.

I was done.  I looked at the clock. 

“Ok,” I said, “We’re taking a break.  We’ll come back together at 3:15.” 

I abruptly left the room, tea cup in hand.  Students sat stunned. 

I sank into a chair in the dark teacher’s lounge. 

This wasn’t the first time I snapped at students in the classroom – sleeping students, texting students, silent students who refused to throw their teacher a line.  But it was the first time I had sense enough to call a time out, to send myself to a quiet corner to reflect on my behavior. 

I sat in silence and a few tears, the ones I’d felt lurking all day long, sprang to the corners of my eyes.  Rather than blaming the students who were, by the way, just acting their age, I looked into my own soul.  I saw someone who was trying awfully hard to meet nobody’s expectations but her own. 

The truth is, I’m the kind of person who snaps, like a little dog, when cornered.  And I felt cornered that day – by fatigue, by sickness and the demands of parenting and my own high teaching expectations.  My self-imposed time out allowed me to see my snapping as an invitation to grace and compassion.   

I decided to throw myself a line. 

After my time out I went back to the class and finished the lecture.  We moved on, together, until our time was up.  Then I went home and recommitted myself to all the ways I know work best to keep myself from feeling cornered.  Mainly, I lowered my standards and got some rest.  I served myself up a healthy dose of compassion, so the next time someone near me needed grace, there’d be more than enough to go around.

*   *   *

We finally have a #SmallWonder button!  If you want to use it, simply copy the image, then add it to your post or sidebar with a link to www.afieldofwildflowers.blogspot.com.  



Are you or do you have writer friends local to the PA, Maryland, New Jersey area?  If so, would you consider attending or sharing the information about the upcoming writing retreat to be held here at the farm house?  You can find more details under the Writing Retreat tab.


Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.  

What if we chose to deliberately look for the small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God? 

That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days.  

You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder.  Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.  


While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.   




Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Do Not Despair (Holes, Laundry, and Dead Mums)


Six boys scanned the yard from late afternoon until dusk.  They walked with their heads down, six pairs of eyes scoured the not-yet-green grass.  Each step bore silent anticipation, nervous chatter bubbled up around their listening. 

When the metal detector beeped, they cheered and rallied around, shovel in hand.  Not-yet-green turned muddy brown as they dug holes haphazardly throughout the yard. 

Holes, all through the yard; potholes, ankle-twisting pits, mower-wheel-swallowing craters.

That night, after getting groceries and returning a movie while listening to a radio talk show dissect presidential politics, my husband arrived home agitated.  He was in a state as he filled me in on the groceries, the politics, the hole situation.  The way he talked, our yard was a war zone, the site of asteroid and comet landings, a grand canyon of potential grass laid to waste by six boys and one shovel. 

It was dark out, I had no way to confirm or deny, so I accepted his wild eyed assessment at face value.  Holes, everywhere.  And politics on the radio on top of it all. 

We complained about our ruined lawn and ruined country, feeling old beyond our years and went to bed early.  But in the dark, our minds raced and nerves jangled.   

//

I opened the door to the bathroom closet today and found laundry piled knee deep. 

I shut the door tight and left the room. 

All day that pile grew in my mind’s eye – waist deep, chest deep, until I was drowning in it.  Add to it the pile a mile wide in the twins’ room, the remains of the stomach bug laundry waiting to be folded and there’s nearly enough laundry, I’m sure, to fill in a good many of the holes in our yard. 

//

Something about those holes and the laundry remind me of the dead mums I wrote about on Monday.  Last fall they were a riot of burnt orange and red, waving their hands in the air all along the side of the little house.  But then cold weather came and they died back.  Flowers rotted, leaves shriveled, curled, brown until all that remained were the ugly husks.  Those bare, brown bones rattled at me all winter long, untidy, a reminder of unfinished business and I stared back at them from the kitchen window.  There was no door to shut on them. 

At the first whiff of warm air and sunshine, I marched out to attack the brittle branches like they were my mortal enemy.  I cut my hands on them, eager for the pleasure of their demise.  Take that, mums!  I snapped and twisted, conquering one small corner of disorder as if its tidying might hold the key to life.

Mid-twist, though, I noticed what hid at the base of each frail and failing branch – small, ruffled, green leaves, the beginnings of next year’s joyful riot.  Here I was, like those boys, finding treasure in the dirt (minus a hole, of course).  I continued to twist and break, more respectfully now, looking no longer to rid us of the dead, but looking for signs of life. 

//

The morning after hole-mageddon, I looked at it from a different angle and with new eyes I saw more than holes.  I saw my son excited to impress boys his own age, thrilled to have an awesome toy for once, to be the envy, the star with a shovel in hand.  I saw the treasure in his delight and it made the holes less glaring.  Walking outside later in the day I was surprised to find most of the yard still intact.  It would take six boys more than one evening to dig up two acres of land. 

//

There’s so much to fear, so much to overwhelm in this life.  The bones of things unfinished rattle at us, hard work is easily undone and more hard work awaits.  This is so very true.  Fear looms large at night, in winter, in the mud-before-spring season of despair.    

Do not despair, little ones. 

God is always doing something new, do you not perceive it?

Go dig a hole.  Tend your garden. 

Do not believe fear's whisper in the night.  

The good work of our hands, the feel of the earth between our fingers, the labors of love for a household, these all remind us - treasure is buried everywhere.  Even, maybe, at the bottom of the laundry pile.  

Open the door, dig deep, look again, always.  Treasure is buried everywhere.  Do not despair.