Where to Find Real Rest

Where to Find Real Rest

 

I sat in my hairdresser’s chair this morning feeling too worn out for small talk. Summer days at home with four children will do that.

She asked about my trip to Tuscany: “Did you bring home ideas for your writing?”

“No,” I said.

“Well, maybe,” I added.

*

What did I bring home from this spiritual retreat for writers?

Two bottles of olive oil. A duty-free bottle of lemoncello. Hard candies in pretty little boxes for the kids.

Also, a retreat journal full of prayers, epiphanies, and meaningful quotations from the likes of Henri Nouwen.

Your future depends on how you choose to remember your past. – Henri J.M. Nouwen

*

How do I remember my time in the Tuscan countryside of Italy? How do I remember those days lived in community, in a garden, around a table, surrounded by beauty?

I remember rest.

Simple rest. A total focus on the here and the now and the people right at my elbow.

The kind of rest I believe is available to those walking the Jesus way.

The kind of rest I rarely, if ever, manage to enter on my ordinary day to day.

*

What is rest? What is its substance?

It feels like being held. It feels like the absence of fear. It feels like no anxiety for tomorrow and a quiet acceptance of yesterday.

It feels like stillness.

It feels like freedom.

It is a spacious place.

*

I am a gardener who has never yet found rest in my own garden. Who can rest when mosquitos are biting, weeds are waving, and overgrown cucumbers are beginning to rot on the vine?

Who can rest when children are growing, my cellphone is dinging, and the cucumbers I meant to make into pickles are beginning to rot in the fridge?

I found rest in a garden in Tuscany because that garden wasn’t mine. It wasn’t my responsibility. Someone else made that place, and I had only to enjoy it.

*

If rest is a place made for us, where is the door?

In Tuscany, rest was a stone bench beneath sheltering leaves, a kind of green grotto within an enormous shrub.

Our word grotto is related to the Greek for hidden place, the same Greek that gave us our word crypt. That should not surprise us. “Blessed are the dead,” we read in Revelation, “they will rest from their labor.” In this life we sometimes glimpse the ultimate rest, but ours is only a glimpse, a momentary vision, for “there remains … a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9).

Man-made grottos, whether green and growing or stony and still, are often markers of gratitude: gratitude for some miraculous encounter or some answered prayer. Grottos shape how we remember the past. They tell us God is near. They say all shall be well. They hint at a reality we have yet to enter.

*

My own garden has no grotto, but, since returning from Tuscany, I have discovered it is possible to shelter within gratitude, as if leaf by leaf or stone by stone, I can be transported, not leaving my ordinary everyday but somehow sinking, a little more deeply, within it.

When fear or worry invade, I say Thank you for this and thank you for that and I find that the list goes on and on.

Until the list becomes a door.

 

 

A Winter Reset (and Giveaway)

A Winter Reset (and Giveaway)

 

Winter came early, settled in to stay, and shows no signs of an early leave-taking.

By Friday, we will have counted forty days since Christmas. The strength of the sun has grown, but I do miss those cheerful days of twinkle-lights and candy canes.

Still, I would not unwind time. Onward and upward. Spring beckons, though it is only a light far down a very long tunnel.

Now, we mark the traditional halfway point of winter. Friday is Candlemas, the day when candles were blessed for the dark days of winter that remained, the day when we remember Christ presented at the Temple and sing Zechariah’s song:

… the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Peace is a way, a path, a choice.

I am sorry to say that peace often looks anything but peaceful when we begin to choose it. In order to seek peace, we must sometimes fix our eyes on the light we only barely see, far down a very long tunnel.

Peace is a wholeness, a completeness, and a rightness. We seek peace and we pursue it when we walk toward–not away–from those things in our homes, our neighborhoods, and our world that are broken, incomplete, and wrong.

We are peacemakers, not peacetakers out to grab whatever we can for ourselves.

The good news is that we seek that which we have already received.

Jesus said,

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.

We cultivate seeds planted in us long, long ago.

 

 

Halfway through this long, dark season, I desperately need to remember all that is special and good about winter. Things like long books, warm fires, garden dreams, geraniums on the windowsill, and so much more.

I need a winter reset.

If you feel the same, I think this gift will help.

The third installment is finally here: it’s a Winter Giveaway!

When I first imagined the book that eventually became Roots and Sky, I pictured an old-fashioned treasure, something like the books I seek out in thrift stores and used bookstores. I thought my stories would be interspersed with seasonal tips and recipes and nostalgic pen-and-ink illustrations.

Almost as soon as I began writing, I realized that the story I needed to tell was simpler and leaner. Those first four seasons at Maplehurst were more quiet and watchful than busy and industrious, and the book needed to reflect that.

But the idea of offering more–seasonal stories, tips, recipes, and beautiful illustrations–has never gone away.

Last summer we celebrated five years of cultivating home in this Victorian red brick farmhouse.

I can’t think of a better way to mark that anniversary than by finally giving you the more I imagined so long ago. In fact, I plan to give you more (and more, and more, and more). I have four gifts planned, each one arriving with a new season.

In collaboration with the talented designer and illustrator Jennifer Tucker of Little House Studio, I’ve created four winter-themed pages from that book of my dreams.

They are free for every one of my email subscribers to download and print.

One comes from my kitchen, two from the garden, and one from my bookshelves. Each page offers something practical and beautiful wrapped up in my own lyrical point of view.

I’m planning to print and frame mine, but they’ll do just as well tacked to a bulletin board or tucked into a garden journal or recipe box. Feel free to share this post with friends who might like to subscribe and print their own.

Simply click the subscribe box below, enter your email address, and a confirmation email will be sent straight to you. Confirm your address, and you’ll be taken to the link in order to claim your download.

If you are already a subscriber, check your inbox. Your link should be waiting for you.

Here are two things to remember:

One: TWO WEEKS from today, the offer expires, and the prints will no longer be available.

Two: Spring won’t keep us waiting forever. Look for my spring giveaway in April.

 

Writing Books in a Time of Crisis (An Announcement)

Writing Books in a Time of Crisis (An Announcement)

 

My children returned to school this week.

Monday morning I took their photograph on the front steps and wondered if anything in creation grows and changes faster than a child. Of course, I know the answer is yes, many things.

The dahlias in my flower garden need only one summer to grow from potato-like tuber to five feet of sunset color. Strange mushrooms beside the wood pile require a scant few hours of darkness. The baby ducks my sisters gave me as a birthday gift in late June now wander the yard with a heavy, side-to-side waddle and consume twice as much food one week as the week before.

Right now, the whole world feels shot through with urgency. Zinnias are on a mission to bloom and dry and drop their dusty seeds. The American political landscape has become so tumultuous I hold my morning paper at arm’s length, nervous about what new controversy may have erupted overnight. A hurricane parked itself on the landscape of my childhood and young adulthood, and if I had had a thousand boats I would not have been able to rescue every person I know by name who was watching floodwaters rise.

I can’t keep up. I can’t keep my grip. Not on the children. Or the issues. Not even on the tomatoes growing in my garden. Too many drop to the ground and rot before I can bring them inside. A few more turn to puddles on my countertop before my husband, pizza-maker extraordinaire, can cook them into sauce. But what is a tomato puddle compared with a one-in-five hundred-year flood?

Who has time for small things and slow things when it feels as if the world is spinning faster than ever before?

A world hurtling from grief to grief needs speed and rescue boats. But I have only the slow work of placing one word upon another.

No boats. Only books.

*

I am writing another book.

In this story, this imagery, and this message, I feel as if I have tapped into floodwaters, and I am so grateful to the folks at Zondervan for partnering with me to shape these waters into something beautiful and meaningful.

But the protracted and plodding work of writing and publishing has left me feeling as if I’ve stepped out of a fast-moving river in order to bury my head in a backwater eddy. Every day, I must remind myself how much words matter.

Speed has a way of devaluing our language. In a crisis, we grab the first word close at hand. We don’t trouble ourselves over nuance or precision.

This is unsustainable, and if we don’t resist, we can undermine our true identity and our purpose in the world.

Who are we? We are those who “have tasted the goodness of the word of God” (Hebrews 6:5).

But too many of us are still hungry. Too many of us have forgotten we were ever invited to feast.

*

I suppose even rescue boats require time to build. Compared with dahlias and ducklings, boats and books need much more than a single summer. The helpers and rescuers may leap into action, but they do so on boats that have been built and maintained with care. They do so according to plans that have been prepared and practiced over decades.

Rescue is also a kind of discipline.

The world is saved through slow work (raising babies, restoring buildings, writing books). The world is saved through the quick and ephemeral (preaching sermons, delivering water). There is urgency, but it is not for every one of us on every single day.

The world is always spinning, always moving, shifting, and changing. Right now I feel the curl and curve of it beneath my feet, and, occasionally, I stumble.

But for the next few months, I will go on stumbling back to this chair and back to this overcrowded desk. I will do this because I believe when Jesus said “my words will never pass away,” he invited each one of us to root our words (our conversations, our social media posts, our books) in the Word. The same Word through whom all things were made and all things are being newly made.

See! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

Even now our language, full of grace and seasoned with salt, is being swept up to play its part in a new creation.

 

 

 

 

A Summer Gift For You

A Summer Gift For You

 

When I first imagined the book that eventually became Roots and Sky, I pictured an old-fashioned treasure, something like the books I seek out in thrift stores and used bookstores. I thought my stories would be interspersed with seasonal tips and recipes and nostalgic pen-and-ink illustrations.

Almost as soon as I began writing, I realized that the story I needed to tell was simpler and leaner. Those first four seasons at Maplehurst were more quiet and watchful than busy and industrious, and the book needed to reflect that.

But the idea of offering more – seasonal stories, tips, recipes, and beautiful illustrations – has never gone away.

This summer we will celebrate five years of cultivating home in this Victorian red-brick farmhouse.

I can’t think of a better way to mark that anniversary than by finally giving you the more I imagined so long ago. In fact, I plan to give you more (and more, and more, and more). I have four gifts planned, each one arriving with a new season.

 

First, summer.

 

In collaboration with the talented designer and illustrator Jennifer Tucker of Little House Studio, I’ve created four summer-themed pages from that book of my dreams. They are free for every one of my email subscribers to download and print.

One comes from my kitchen, one from my flower garden, one from my vegetable garden, and one from my bookshelves. Each page offers something practical and beautiful wrapped up in my own lyrical point of view.

I’m planning to print and frame mine, but they’ll do just as well tacked to a bulletin board or tucked into a garden journal or recipe box. Feel free to share this post with friends who might like to print their own.

Simply input your email address to the subscribe box below, and an email with a link for the download will be sent straight to you. If you are already a subscriber, check your inbox. Your link should be waiting for you.

Here are two things to remember:

 

One: Summer is fleeting, and so is this gift. Two weeks from today, the offer expires, and the prints will no longer be available.

Two: Autumn follows fast on summer’s heels, and my fall pages should appear some time in September.

 

 

P.S. Because I couldn’t decide which I loved best – full color or black-and-white – I’m giving you both. I am also giving you the recipe page in two color options. Feel free to choose one or print all. Enjoy!

Gardenbound: A Maplehurst Tour

Gardenbound: A Maplehurst Tour

 

A garden, unlike a house, is never still. It is not an object but a moment. To observe a garden, one must catch it like a butterfly in a net (but please do let it go again. Beauty cannot be preserved or it ceases to be itself).

 

 

When I give someone a tour of the gardens here at Maplehurst, I catch myself crying, “Oh, if only you had seen the daffodils that bloomed last week.” I am like a mother pouring over baby photos while the child who was that baby tugs at my hand, begging me to play another round of Candyland.

My heart inclines towards nostalgia, and I am easily tangled in the past, but today’s garden is only for today. I must pay attention or I’ll miss it, and there are no encores, no second chances.

Why keep a garden? Why grow flowers? The arguments against it are persuasive. A garden will keep you tethered because to plant something is to make a promise: I will clear the weeds from around you, I will bring you water when the sky turns dry. I will not walk away.

But there are worse things than being kept at home because someone there needs us. The word “homebound” alludes to difficult and heartbreaking realities, but it also speaks of the way home can hold us and keep us steady. And to live as one “bound for home” is to live as a pilgrim sure of the welcome that waits for us.

 

 

Right now this garden flows as swiftly as a swollen river. By mid-summer, its movement will have slowed to a trickle, though it never does stop.

The gift of a garden is that it brings movement and change to the still point that is our home.

In spring, I lift my eyes from washing dishes, feeding children, folding laundry, and all those tasks that keep me tied, through love and obligation, to this place. I lift them toward the open window, and I say,

Look! The world is new again.

 

 

Elizabeth and I are homebound. She, a writer of poetry and prose, is bound to Mersea, a 1904 white Victorian nestled in the historic district of a South Carolina shrimping village. I am bound to Maplehurst, a red-brick farmhouse built by Pennsylvania Quakers in 1880. We are both writers, wives, and mothers, but nearly twenty years and hundreds of miles lie between us.

Elizabeth and I exchanged a few “homebound” letters over Lent. The nature of a letter is to communicate over a distance, but the season of Lent introduced other distances – there was the space between winter and spring, the break between longing and fulfillment, and the chasm, so like a tomb, between death and new life. But what is Lent, after all, but a kind of long homecoming? It is a practice of return and a way of erasing distance.

Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them (Psalm 126:6).

For Elizabeth and I, Easter has meant trading the distance of letter writing for the intimacy of a visit, first with a home tour and today with a tour of the garden. 

Here is our invitation to Elizabeth’s garden at Mersea.

 

 

These Farmhouse Bookshelves (Reading Gardening Books in a Blizzard)

These Farmhouse Bookshelves (Reading Gardening Books in a Blizzard)

The view from my window is more January than March, thanks to a late-season blizzard.

The worst of the storm hit north and west of us, but we still have more snow, and colder temperatures, than we’ve seen all winter. Yet more snow is driving hard past my window, but the wind is scouring our driveway clean. I am glad since Tuesday’s heavy, wet snowfall damaged the snowplow we attach to our tractor mower. Of course, I write “we” in the most generous sense because my contribution to clearing snow is keeping the children out of their father’s way.

It’s a strange day to browse my favorite gardening books, but this is the middle of March, and I must keep faith with the angle of the sun, no matter the peculiarities of the weather.

 

 

The literary letters Elizabeth and I have recently exchanged here on the blog have had me giving a great deal of thought to the epistolary genre. As a form of artistic creation, it is centuries old, though today’s epistolary novels are perhaps more likely to include email transcripts than handwritten letters.

It is not a form you tend to see in garden writing, but exploring the form these past few weeks has reminded me of the quality I most appreciate in my favorite gardening books: that is, the singular human voice writing from a particular time and place.

My preferred gardening books are written by gardeners who love their own plot of earth and know it well. It is tempting to think their advice might be of only local importance. The needs of my own garden will be very different from a garden with rocky New England soil near the salt-air of the ocean. Yet I find precisely the opposite to be true. This may be one more case of greater love leading to greater wisdom.

Here are a few of my favorite garden books, just in time for spring. These are not exhaustive and impersonal garden reference books. These are more like letters from a gardener, or better yet, missives from a particular plot of cultivated earth. I hope they inspire you to better love the ground beneath your own feet.

    • Henry Mitchell is one of my favorite garden writers. Usually he makes me laugh out loud, but he often surprises me with eloquence and emotional insight. For many years he wrote a garden column for The Washington Post, and it is these columns that make up collections like The Essential Earthman and One Man’s GardenHis style, geared toward local Washington D.C. newspaper readers, probably comes the closest to the intimacy of the epistolary form.

    • Tara Austen Weaver’s memoir Orchard House is a perfect example of why I prefer the personal rather than the encyclopedic approach to garden reading. I am easily overwhelmed by lists of plant varieties, but when Weaver praises a particular variety of homegrown strawberry, I find that I want to plant and taste nothing else. This is a lovely memoir of growing a garden and healing a family.

    • If you enjoy Michael Pollan’s approach to food writing, you will love his gardening book: Second Nature: A Gardener’s EducationIt is another well-researched book filtered through Pollan’s everyman voice and his particular gardening adventures. Flipping through my tattered old copy, I’ve decided it’s time for me to reread it.

    • I do not recommend Katharine S. White’s book Onward and Upward in the Garden to many people. If yours is only a casual interest in garden writing, this may not be the book for you. However, if you are at all intrigued by the idea of an experienced gardener and knowledgeable writer examining seed and plant catalogs as a reviewer would study a just-released novel, then you might enjoy this book as much as I do. Here is another enticement: Katharine was the wife of E.B. White, and her descriptions of their Maine garden helped me to see Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan in a fresh light.

    • The Living Landscape by Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy leans more toward the encyclopedic, but this astonishing account of the importance of native landscaping for our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of our planet is told through from the perspectives of scientists making important observations in their very own gardens. I used to think that native plants were a nice extra, but Darke and Tallamy have transformed my thinking. This may be one of the most important garden books you read.

    • If you love keeping fresh flowers in your home, I highly recommend the beautiful just-released book Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzakein. This book is practical, gorgeous, and inspiring.

I’d love to know: do you read garden books?

And if you’d like to read a little more from me, here is my latest post for Grace Table: “Sunlight, Shadows, and a Supper Club.”

 

 

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