All Things New (A Springtime Giveaway)

All Things New (A Springtime Giveaway)

 

Winter does not give up easily. Not this year, at least.

For weeks now, winter has held on, as if digging icy claws deep into the frozen soil, deep into my heart, and deep into the whole wide world (yes, even in the southern hemisphere where warm winds blow but hearts still feel the chill of injustice or violence).

When the thaw finally begins, I feel as if I should shout for joy, yet I find myself angered by mud and mess. The ice is giving way, the green tips of daffodils are reaching for cloudy skies, but I want a settled beauty. I don’t want the mess of hard transitions.

I really don’t want to set my hopes on spring only to find the snowflake icon creep back into the ten-day forecast.

In the final pages of our Bibles we hear a victorious Jesus say,

I am making all things new!

How those words ring. How they lift my heart.

But then I look around.

The beauty of winter snow gives way to the ugliness of mud puddles, and I recognize that making new is hard, messy, sometimes back-breaking (always heart-breaking) work.

I could turn away. I could close my eyes to the mess that always does emerge in the middle.

Or I could hold my broken heart still, will my eyes to open wider and wider, and wait for that magic moment (and it always feels like magic) when something hard yet necessary finally breaks and a river is loosed.

 

A river of spring is set free.

 

I’ve never yet seen the precise moment. Always, I marvel: Did this leaf uncurl overnight? Did those tulips grow six inches in an afternoon?

Yet here is the wild thing about this particular magic: we helped make it happen.

 

We participate in spring.

 

When our hearts are broken, when are eyes are open, we don’t simply wait for spring. We join in. We dig our shovels into the dirt, and we help to release rivers of justice and peace. When the flood finally comes, I like to think we will turn to our Jesus and say, we made things new, didn’t we?

Together, we made things new.

***

In celebration of spring, whether it is firmly planted in your neighborhood or still just a dream and a prayer, I am giving each one of my newsletter subscribers a free gift.

Here are four more pages from the book of my dreams.

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.

In collaboration with the talented designer and illustrator Jennifer Tucker of Little House Studio, I’ve created four spring-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 nature, 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.

Something to remember: THREE WEEKS from today, the offer expires, and the prints will no longer be available.

Here in the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Here in the Valley of the Shadow of Death

 

On school “Career Day,” she sat at the back of the third-grade classroom. Her bright face was framed by two glittery barrettes. “What’s the funniest things you’ve ever written?” she asked.

“The funniest?” I said. Quiet settled around us like a fog, filling up one second, then another.

“To be honest, I tend to write about sad things. Those are the things that snag in my heart and make me want to understand them. I guess I write about sad things because sad things happen to all of us.”

She sat up straight in her desk and almost shouted, “My cat died!” She looked toward a corner of the room and then back into my eyes. No longer shouting, she said, “My grandmother died, too.”

***

On Valentine’s Day, our youngest will give her preschool friends paper cards covered in glitter glue and sparkly stickers. Her bedroom floor has become a Milky Way of pink and purple dust.

Valentine’s Day is also Ash Wednesday. That afternoon, Jonathan and I will gather four children and drive to church. “Dust to dust” and a cross of ashes on all our foreheads. Pizza dinner with our church family. Heart candies in pastel shades pulled from linty pockets.

Last year, I was not prepared for the terrible sight of a black cross on my little girl’s tiny, white forehead.

No, your heart says.

Yes, your mind insists.

This year, I am prepared. I know I will want to wipe it off. I will want to say to her, I’m sorry. But I will not.

Five years ago, she was born into this breathing world, and it is too late for apologies.

You are dust, Elsa Spring.

And so am I.

***

Christmas at Maplehurst was the glitter of snowfall. Epiphany was the sparkle of ice on the dark water of the neighborhood retention ponds. With my sister and her children, we feasted. We skated. We laughed, and though we did not talk about it, I know we also remembered.

Only two years ago, my nieces and nephews celebrated Christmas with their Dad in the house with the mango tree. Only two years ago, I celebrated Christmas with my parents, their grandparents. “We’ll slow down,” they said. “Maybe we’ll travel!” they said. We didn’t know we were all walking nearer to the edge of a cliff.

Each Christmastime, I find myself bracing for bad news. “What’s coming?” my body asks. “Nothing,” my mind says. “You’re only remembering.”

“Sorrow is always coming,” my heart insists.

***

The sparkle of Epiphany has been washed away by rain. There is no snow at Maplehurst, and the ice over the dark water is thin and broken. Now there is only fog.

“This is bad,” Jonathan says, driving our car toward church on Sunday morning.

“Ice would be worse,” I say. I mean it to be comforting, but the words slip away, and we are both quiet peering ahead along a road we can no longer see.

I turn toward my sons seated at the back of the minivan. “Remember, you may notice some of our friends at church crying. We are sad right now, and it’s okay to be sad. Do you have any questions?”

They have no questions.

Or maybe they do. Maybe it is only that they know by now their parents do not have the answers. At least, not the easy ones they may want.

These past two years, grief has visited family and grief has visited friend after friend, and though these four children are mine to care for, I cannot protect them from sorrow. I cannot pretend this world is different than it is.

If they must know sorrow, I pray, let them know comfort, too.

***

I’ve always imagined Lent as a season of subtraction. We do without. We live with less.

But the word itself is an old word for spring, and spring is a season of more. In spring, there is a very little bit more every day—more light and more life, as if joy were a buried seed and this is our one chance to watch it take root and grow.

Lent is related to lengthen, and this is the season of lengthening days.

I tried to explain all this to my kids at dinner, but I failed. Shrove Tuesday they love. “Let’s eat all the pancakes in the world!” Elsa said. But Lent? No, thank you. Though my boys were less polite than that.

Maybe that’s why I kicked them out of the room halfway through our post-dinner reading of C. S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian. They disrupted our family reading with laughter instead of their usual bickering, but that somehow made it worse. As if anything were more fun than listening to Mom read about lions and dancing trees.

Still, I wish they’d been there. I wish we could have talked about the turning point in this story, and how it all began when Lucy recognized her failure and stopped trying to defend herself. “I’m sorry, Aslan. I’m ready now,“ she said.

“Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan. “And now all Narnia will be renewed. But come. We have no time to lose.”

***

Come! We have no time to lose.

Time is flowing on, but time is also moving backwards. This is the meaning of renewal.

Renewal is spring made visible, but it is also winter undone. The tangled threads of the past are set right. Our mistakes are rewoven. Even the power of death itself has begun to be unraveled.

And we can participate.

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke … (Isaiah 58:6).

No doubt, I will long for some shortcut. No doubt, I will want to guide my children toward some other path. I will wish for them some easier way unmarked by grief or hunger or unanswered questions.

I will want to keep them comfortable, but comfort isn’t always our friend. Still, I think I’ll keep a few of those leftover candy hearts in my pocket. A little sweetness to share along the way.

***

What will we see when the fog rolls back and we arrive at Easter morning?

Perhaps not sunrise. Perhaps we must still wait for that. But even though we go on walking in the valley of the shadow, the sky above is pierced with starlight.

Look at that! we’ll say to one another. This night is more like noonday (Isaiah 58:10).

Then we will turn to our companions on the way, shining with so much reflected light, and we will say to one another: Remember that you are stardust, remember you are on your way home.

 

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.

 

A Terrible Beauty (Autumn Giveaway)

A Terrible Beauty (Autumn Giveaway)

Elsa Spring at Maplehurst, two autumns ago

 

 

It’s like the difference between the blue of a puddle and the blue of the ocean, this difference between the autumn of memory and autumn itself.

All year long, I say with ease, “Autumn is my favorite season.” I say it for the color of the leaves and the apple-crispness of the air. I say it for planting bulbs and going for long drives on country roads in search of our favorite old sugar maple trees. I say it for back to school and the holidays nearing, but every year I forget that vast expanse between the idea of autumn and the encounter with it.

To borrow words from W. B. Yeats, I forget that every year, on or about the end of September, a terrible beauty is born.

I begin to remember when the yellow leaves of the walnut tree rattle down on the metal roof of the old red barn, and my delight is mingled with dread. The dread is bewildering. Isn’t this my favorite season?

Why do I feel both glad and afraid?

 

I live in the pastoral paradise of southeastern Pennsylvania. Bridges are still covered and sized for horse-drawn buggies. Fieldstone walls meander in rhythm with the song of brooks and streams. Old stone farmhouses with leaded windows sit snug against hillsides, protected from winter winds for hundreds of years.

The beauty of this place is sweet and easy. It is a beauty resonant of home and safety, shelter and cultivation – at least, until the trees wake up and begin to blaze.

We say we want pumpkins on the porch and a gold shimmer on the trees, but we forget that this beauty won’t only warm us, it will burn us, as encounters with the deepest, truest things always do.

Every year, autumn beauty – that unbearable fire and glory – breaks my heart a little more completely.

Another Irish writer, Edmund Burke, gave us his treatise On the Sublime and Beautiful in 1756, just when colonists in these parts were busy building the “brave brick houses” spoken of by William Penn. According to Burke, beauty originated in love while the sublime had its roots in fear. It is the difference between a green pasture dotted with sheep and a snow-covered peak, terrible and tall.

It is the difference between my home in late summer and my home in fall.

 

I think I am afraid because in no other season does time seem so swift and so cruel.

No sooner have I spied the first color in the treetops and shuffled the first golden feathers beneath my feet, than the limbs are bare. The landscape bleak. As Robert Frost once wrote, “… leaf subsides to leaf. / So Eden sank to grief, / So dawn goes down to day. / Nothing gold can stay.”

Spring’s color may be just as lovely, but it goes easy on our hearts, tapering out slowly into summer greenness until one hot day we realize that the circle of the year has shifted, and we are somewhere new.

 

Autumn is simply one season of four, but it isn’t a safe season. Autumn reminds me of Aslan of Narnia, “He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

We can avert our eyes, shield our hearts, and try to keep this beauty from breaking our hearts, but winter will come whether we do that or not.

Floodwaters will rise.

Hurricane winds will blow.

The earth will tremble, and we will suffer. If anything is certain in life it is that we will suffer. The only question is whether we will suffer well?

There will be terror and there will be beauty, and some days, the line between the two will blur completely, and all our certainties seem up for grabs.

It helps, I think, to enter the barren season with eyes still full of glory.

 

The poet T. S. Eliot famously wrote of “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.”

What will I shore up against the coming ruin of winter?

So many fall delights.

The beauty of this coming season may be terrible, but fortified by small beauties, perhaps we can bear it with more ease. Delights like apple crisp flavored with chai spices, a melancholy old novel, a bouquet of dahlias on the table, and, yes, a pumpkin on the porch.

 

 

Just in time for this new season: an Autumn 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.

This 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 autumn-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 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: Autumn is fleeting, and so is this gift. TWO WEEKS from today, the offer expires, and the prints will no longer be available.

Two: Winter follows fast on autumn’s heels, and my winter pages should appear some time in December.

The Longest Days

The Longest Days

 

Summer days are here: fast, bright, and hot.

We wake early but find that the sun has already beat us to it. These are the longest days, and they start without us. I sip my morning coffee and make my list. How is it possible to feel so behind at 6:30 in the morning?

Summer to-do lists are like none other:

Pick the snap peas while they’re still tender. Cut the sweet peas before they wilt. Visit the u-pick berry farm. Make freezer jam. Write that magazine story due tomorrow. Carve a dent, at least, in the email inbox. Write that check and mail it. Help the boys catch fireflies.

Summer priorities are topsy-turvy. Ripening strawberries and fat peas are things of urgency, but I’ve forgotten where I left my laptop. Was it two days ago, I last used it? There’s an important professional conversation I need to have, but I’ve missed the phone call twice. The first time, I was at the creek with the kids. The second, I was picking cherries.

An afternoon storm rolls in, the kind of summer storm that is all sound, little fury, and I think Lord, I love summer.

The boys start fighting (again), and I pray, Lord, let me survive the summer.

*

Summer days are so long, we have more than one second chance.

Here is one, and here is another. We explode in anger. We apologize. I make them hug. One shrugs. One runs away. We laugh. And we do it all again, three or four times. I maybe cry once, and then I tell my kids how I used to fight so terribly with my sisters I made my own mother cry.

Summer is crying mothers, and fighting kids; summer is fat, sweet strawberries, and lightning crashing like a cymbal on your head.

Summer is more, and more, and more.

Summer is magic.

*

Summer days run fast and hard until evening. Then the summer sun slows, almost stops, and you can hardly tell it’s sinking. Summer evenings taste like forever. I could finish that to-do list if I wanted, but urgency fades in the evening. Why didn’t I realize sooner? These are the longest days, and there is time enough.

Swift, swift times flies, but still there is enough for what matters: porch rockers, bubble wands, watermelon, one last visit to the new trees with a watering can.

The kids watch a movie and stay up too late. You and I walk in the meadow we made when you decided to stop mowing the grass.

There is time enough.

Stop running.

Summer is here. Why don’t we sit a while?

 

 

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!

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