Homebound: From Mersea to Maplehurst, With Love (March 21)

Homebound: From Mersea to Maplehurst, With Love (March 21)

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. This season, as winter turns toward spring and Lent leans toward Easter, Elizabeth and I are writing letters, she beneath the pines and pecans, I beneath the hemlocks and maples. We will reflect together on our homebound journeys. We will explore the bonds of love and faithfulness that tie us, and not always easily, to these particular places and to the people sheltered within them. Please join us for an epistolary exploration of love, loss, and restoration.

Read Elizabeth’s letter of March 9 here. My response is below.

March 21, 2017

from my armchair near the window, with its view of soggy earth and snow

 

Dear Elizabeth,

I, too, have been traveling, though I have not left this place.

My feet were firmly planted in spring. The early daffodils were up and nodding their heads, and the giant magnolia tree was a haze of pink. The two forsythia shrubs in our front lawn were beginning to pop, like yellow corn kernels tossed in a hot pan. But last Tuesday the wind picked up and hurled snow, then ice, at our window glass. It’s so loud, the kids said. And just like that I found myself in a winter world. And not winter’s last gasp, either, but winter as dark and ice-locked as any day in January.

Today, the calendar says spring, but the snow is retreating slowly, and the growing tips of the daffodils look bruised. They remind me of that proverb once bitten, twice shy. They look as hesitant as I feel. A few new projects beckon, and I have felt some old dreams stirring, as if their time draws near, but can I trust the weather?

You write of seeds. You say they are worth the wait. Yet even the seeds I planted in those warmer February days now trouble me. I have a long row of sweetpea seedlings on my kitchen windowsill. They are overgrown. White roots are beginning to worm their way out of the bottoms of the tall peat pots. Yet I cannot plant them out while snow is on the ground. I worry they will end up feeding the compost heap rather than scrambling up the lattice prepared for them in the garden.

Because it is Lent, I have been pausing throughout each day with a prayer book. Recently, my prayer  book reminded me that March 25 will mark nine months before Christmas. On this day, the church celebrates the message the angel Gabriel brought to Mary. We remember how she said yes though she did not understand how such an impossible thing could come to be. How right it seems to recall, in these dark and muddy days of earliest spring, the seed that was planted within one young woman. The refrain for this week’s prayers is this: “On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

I can remember a spring morning five years ago. I woke with those same words already dancing through my head: “This is the day … let us rejoice and be glad in it.” The words startled me. I was living then in a wilderness place, desperate for hope, desperate for newness, and praying for a home, yet it seemed, if the words in my head could be trusted, that something had shifted.

The following day, Jonathan returned from a business trip. He told me he had been offered a job in Pennsylvania. We could move as soon as we found a home, and the home we found not long after was Maplehurst.

First, there is the seed, planted in darkness. Only later, new life, miraculous, impossible.

Sorrow and joy do co-exist, as you wrote to me, and that is never more true than while we walk this sharp edge between winter and spring.

When I began this letter, the sky was low and gray. Now it is striped with blue, and I can see the shadows of the maple trees. Perhaps hope is not such a foolhardy thing. The sun seems to say, This. This is the day.

with grace, peace, and, yes, hope,

Christie

Maplehurst

Homebound: From Mersea to Maplehurst, With Love (March 6)

Homebound: From Mersea to Maplehurst, With Love (March 6)

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. This season, as winter turns toward spring and Lent leans toward Easter, Elizabeth and I are writing letters, she beneath the pines and pecans, I beneath the hemlocks and maples. We will reflect together on our homebound journeys. We will explore the bonds of love and faithfulness that tie us, and not always easily, to these particular places and to the people sheltered within them. Please join us for an epistolary exploration of love, loss, and restoration.

Read Elizabeth’s letter of March 3 here. My response is below.

March 6, 2017

In my third-floor office, tucked up in an armchair near the window

 

Dear Elizabeth,

You write of pansies and roses and blooming cherry trees, and I imagine a scented floral carpet working its way across our country, south to north. I know a new season is on its way, but it is difficult to believe in spring while this bitter wind whips across my attic window. The temperature here at Maplehurst is predicted to fall to thirteen tonight. I am afraid that the swollen buds on my peach and apricot trees will not survive to bloom. Seasons do collide, as you say, and there are casualties. I am grieving the fruit we likely will not pick this July.

To invest in a garden is to have your heart broken on a regular basis. The more you pour in, the more you receive, but the more you also have to lose. In the past year or two, I have focused my gardening efforts on “extending the season of interest,” as it says in one of my gardening books. This means planting the earliest blooming snowdrops and daffodils and the latest flowering dahlias and windflowers. This week has shown me that in addition to the great joy of more flowers I now also have an extended season for potential heartbreak. My early “February Gold” daffodils were a lovely winter surprise, but now they look, from my window, like a child’s toys left out to be ruined in the weather. I should have gathered them all up, but I couldn’t bear to erase every last bit of golden yellow from beneath the hawthorn trees.

I had forgotten how slow the shift from winter to spring can be (two steps forward, one step back). Home restoration is the same. I sometimes think that every project we complete merely highlights the decay that remains in new ways. If I paint a wall, the ceiling suddenly looks dingy. If I paint one radiator, the peeling paint on the others stands out more than ever. I recently painted the trim down our back stairs, but now the cracks in the plaster wall are all I can see (two steps forward, one step back). If I struggle to know where to begin, I also struggle to decide when, and where, to stop.

You write that the slow process of transformation shapes you, that it is formative. I agree, and yet I resent the slowness. If I could, I would snap my fingers – ta da! – and Maplehurst would be fixed, repaired, spruced up. This place, and everyone in it, would be healed. Made whole. But if I lost the process, what else would I lose? I know I would lose a great deal, though I am loathe to admit it.

Lent is indeed a sacred time. It is a season for active waiting. It is the season when I try to turn, deliberately, toward the source, like a daffodil turning its face toward the sun.

I set this letter aside when it came time to make dinner. Now a night and a day have passed. The cold did come. The daffodils no longer look like toys, but like debris that has been trampled underfoot. They are utterly wilted.

The bitter cold arrived with the first Sunday of Lent. In the morning, I read the Sunday paper and shook my head. I could not finish a single story because every one was breaking my heart. At church, we began our service, as we do every year during Lent, with a recitation of the ten commandments and a prayer of confession.

Now I recall what it is I hear when you say the name of your home Mersea.

Mercy. I hear mercy.

It is both prayer (Lord, have mercy) and statement (Lord, you are merciful indeed).

with love,

Christie

Maplehurst

 

Homebound: From Mersea to Maplehurst, With Love (March 1)

Homebound: From Mersea to Maplehurst, With Love (March 1)

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. This season, as winter turns toward spring and Lent leans toward Easter, Elizabeth and I are writing letters, she beneath the pines and pecans, I beneath the hemlocks and maples. We will reflect together on our homebound journeys. We will explore the bonds of love and faithfulness that tie us, and not always easily, to these particular places and to the people sheltered within them. Please join us for an epistolary exploration of love, loss, and restoration.

Find Elizabeth’s first letter here. My response is below.

 

March 1, 2017

From the kitchen table at Maplehurst, where a peacock blue, block-printed tablecloth is scattered with the crumbs of last night’s pancake supper

My friend,

As I write, Dr. B is smoothing down our old oak floors with an electric sander. It sounds as if an airplane has flown in through an open window by mistake, a mechanical bird looking for escape. Once the old finish is removed, he will soak the wood in a mixture of tung and orange oils. The dull, dry floorboards will absorb their own luster until they can absorb no more. Then the floors will shine for the first time in many decades, and my children will no longer gather splinters with their bare toes. He says the finish will take a month or so to cure. While we wait, the rugs will lie rolled up in the basement, and the house will smell like a grove of Florida citrus.

Dr. B is our doctor of old houses, and he does indeed have the healer’s gift. He came to us a year ago when Jonathan and I found that we had fallen into a silence more sinister than the usual quiet lull between house projects. This was the silence of rotted wood beyond our ability to repair and crumbling limestone mortar whose nineteenth-century recipe was a puzzle we could not hope to solve.

The first time I met him he showed me photographs of his intricate, swirling plaster work. I admired them like I admire sculpture in a museum. It did not matter that our plain, Quaker-built farmhouse has no decorative plasterwork. The second time I met him he told me he’d been praying for one more old house to restore. Maplehurst was the answer to his prayer, but he is the answer to ours.

Here in Pennsylvania, a mild winter appears to be coming to an early end. I have seen the very first of the bright yellow daffodils called “February Gold.” Despite their name, they have never bloomed for me in February, until this year.

Soon, then, he and I will turn our attention outdoors. He to the red bricks in need of fresh mortar on the west side of the house, and me to the garden. Before I plant out sweet peas and dig in bareroot roses, however, I need to finish wallpapering and painting “Julie’s room.” For two years, our friend Julie lived in this room, but last month she moved out to a place of her own. I have chosen a pale, not-too-pink shade of pink for the sloped attic ceiling and walls, and a bold pink-and-blue floral wallpaper for the window wall at the far end of the room. Quite likely, we will call this bedroom “Julie’s room” forever, but I intend it to be a bedroom my two nieces can call their own each time they visit.

Perhaps I plant baby trees so enthusiastically because I, like you, live in fear that one of our ancient pines will one day topple down, taking our front porch with it. Restoration that peels back the ravages of time like layers of old paint is such a hopeful thing. But the restoration required of us in the wake of disaster, even a disaster as small as a broken pane of glass or the deep scratch my boys left on the banister, is a more daunting cross to carry. In my weariness, I opt for bandages that hide but do not heal. Months ago, I taped a square of cardboard across the missing pane of glass in the door to my potting shed. Now I can see that cardboard flapping in the breeze.

Restoration is beautiful to contemplate, wonderful when finished, but often difficult to live. In this season at Maplehurst, restoration is the bone-rattling sound of renewed floors. It is the rosy-pink glow of a bedroom decorated for young girls. It is also the note on my calendar reminding me that my husband will soon travel to escort our nieces to their Daddy-Daughter Dance.

To commit oneself to restoration, we must be willing to draw near to brokenness. Broken floors. Broken hearts.

Today is Ash Wednesday. Tonight, I will make the drive to church with my children. I will allow four soft, small foreheads to be smudged with a mark of sin and death. We are turning toward spring, toward resurrection, yet I worry: is restoration second-best? Is it always not-quite-as-good-as new?  When I study these many broken things, I know I want better-than-new.

The broken walls, of which Scripture speaks so often, are only partially rebuilt. The ruins have only begun to be repaired.

But the work has begun, and this gives me hope.

With gratitude for your listening ear,

Christie

at Maplehurst

*

You can find Elizabeth Marshall’s letters and more of her beautiful words here.

What Comes After Easter

What Comes After Easter

Maplehurst Magnolia

 

On Saturday morning, Jonathan and I woke up in the dark.

I took my time peeling back the covers. I debated whether or not to change out of my pajamas. Eventually, I wrapped myself in a bathrobe and tiptoed down the stairs. Outside, I stepped into my tall, rubber gardening boots and wondered if Jonathan was inside warming his hands by the coffee maker or outside hiding eggs.

A pile of garbage bags, bright white beneath the moon, lay where they’d been tossed up the cellar steps. That was my answer.

I heaved up one of the bulging bags and began tucking cold, plastic eggs into every extra-tall tuft of grass.

The moon was bright and full, drifting behind the top of a spruce tree.

Around 6:30, I heard a whisper on the dark, “I feel like I’ve stepped into a book.”

One of our guests for the weekend, an old friend from Chicago who finished reading Roots and Sky on the flight into Philadelphia, was up and out, eager to help hide eggs.

By the time we finished, my back ached, but I could tell it was going to be a beautiful day. My fingers were stiff with cold, but the air was still and the just-rising sun promised a swift warmup. When our friend left for a jog, Jonathan and I slipped back into the kitchen for coffee, the giant pink magnolia fluttering its butterfly wings behind our backs.

“I think this will be the prettiest day we’ve ever had for the egg hunt,” I told him.

 

It was. The most peaceful, too.

The staggered start times for the egg hunt helped. From his perch on our stepladder, Jonathan made sure the younger hunters had found their first egg before he cried “ready, set, go” for the next group holding easter baskets and paper bags in excited hands.

Some kids found too many eggs, some found maybe not quite enough. One neighbor brought her pet bunny on a leash. Another neighbor wore full Easter Bunny costume and posed for pictures with wide-eyed kids.

I think it was the best egg hunt yet.

Now Easter has come and gone, and the world outside my window is responding with greener grass and tulip tops. The climbing rose over the vegetable garden arbor is suddenly furred with tiny leaves.

 

I should feel hopeful. I should rejoice. The tomb that held Jesus is empty.

But all our other tombs are not.

 

Neighborhood Egg Hunt 2014

Easter eggs on the lawn

 

By Easter morning, the golden perfection of the previous day had vanished. The sky was low and gray, and a sharp, cold breeze had penetrated the kitchen. We didn’t light a fire in the woodstove, but we thought about it.

I assumed Easter would be the climax. After months of heartache, we gathered with our friends and neighbors on a perfect spring morning. But instead, Easter itself felt anticlimactic, as if the only thing to do now was wait.

 

Resurrection is a great promise for tomorrow, but what about today?

 

I have thought about that question all week.

I thought about it while I planted out violas and alyssum in the flower garden. I started those seeds under grow lights in the basement about a month ago.

I thought about it while I sat in a chair beneath the magnolia tree. In that spot, the chickens are noisy, the cat I am allergic to insists on jumping into my lap, but the air smells like honey.

I thought about it while I spread fresh wood chips on the paths between the beds in the vegetable garden. I even thought about it when Elsa brought me a handful of daffodils. She’d picked them, “for me” she said, from beneath the baby apple trees. The stems were too short for a vase, so I tucked them into my tiniest drinking glass.

One afternoon, I pulled up a recipe for dinner on pinterest, but another of my pins caught my eye. It was a graphic my sister Kelli made for me with one of her photographs and words from an old blog post. It said:

“We are not waiting for resurrection. We are living it.”

That is the truth I’ve been searching for all week. That is the truth I’ve been living all week.

The empty tomb isn’t the end. It’s the beginning. It is new life for me, today. It is hope for this world, today.

Shawn’s death isn’t the end. Not for him. Not for those he left behind. We ache. We grieve. But already we have seen beautiful things begin to grow in the emptiness.

Spring is a perpetual season. Its eternal roots lie within the very first Easter, like the few golden daffodils I tucked into our scarred, wooden cross. Jesus was a seed, planted in death and sprouted in resurrection, and that seed has been growing ever since. Because of Jesus, the Christ, who was and is and is to come, we are living a spring with no end. – Roots and Sky

 

All of the photos in this post were taken by my sister, Kelli Campbell, April, two years ago.

 

 

 

Life Right Now

Life Right Now

Maplehurst Magnolia

 

Life right now is all about watching the giant magnolia tree over our chicken run slowly unfold its blossoms.

Life right now is also a forecast of cold and (though I refuse to accept it) snow that might put an end to these pink petals over the weekend. In other words, life right now is beautiful and hard.

Life right now is discovering that a few of the rafters in our roof were resting on air, the original chestnut beam having rotted away long ago. But life right now is also our new friend, Dr. B. (“Doctor of Old Houses”), who promptly left his scaffolding, drove over to his own old house, and picked up a replacement chestnut beam he had handy.

Right now, I am reading books by the bow-window in my bedroom and watering seedlings that sit beneath grow lights in the basement.

I am loving Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. While at work on the novel that would become the Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See (yes, he’s that Anthony Doerr), Doerr was the recipient of an award to live and write for a year in Rome. He found out about the award the day his twin sons were born.

Writers begin as observers, and Doerr models this beautifully. This is a memoir of Rome, of parenthood (and insomnia), and the writer’s craft. It is also a book that gives me hope. As readers, we know that during the period Doerr writes about he is engaged in a creative effort that will succeed beyond anything he can imagine. And yet, Doerr struggles with insecurity, doubt, writer’s block, culture shock, and the exhaustion of parenting infant twins.

For all of us, life can feel impossibly difficult, but this book reminds me that no matter how each individual day feels, our days are adding up to something beautiful and meaningful.

I also recently finished Addie Zierman’s new memoir Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark. On the surface, this is a memoir about one mom’s rather desperate road trip escape from Minnesota’s winter toward the beckoning sunshine of Florida’s beaches.

Zierman brings her two young sons along for what turns out to be more of a search for the light of God’s presence than southern sunshine. The faith of her young adulthood was fiery and intense, but that kind of faith flickered and dimmed long ago. Zierman hits the road in search of a God who often seems hidden and silent. Whether or not you relate to Zierman’s phase of life or the trajectory of her spiritual journey, I recommend this book. Zierman is a gifted writer, and this memoir is incredibly well crafted. Once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down.

***

I recently shared my writing in a few new places around the web.

First, I wrote On Tears (And Other Blessings) for my friend and fellow writer, Sara Hagerty. I have given Sara’s first book Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet to more than a few friends (and sisters).

Second, I shared some family stories in a piece on love and grief for my friend, Mary Bonner. The day I sent this reflection via email turned out to be the day Mary’s mother’s health suddenly declined. She didn’t read my words until she’d returned from her mother’s funeral almost two weeks later. By then, the words I wrote were for her, but perhaps they are for you, as well.

The first Roots and Sky online book club continues! Laura Brown is leading a thoughtful discussion, and you can even find recordings (two so far) of me reading chapters from the book. Here are week one (thresholds), week two (testimony), and week three (winter).

“Without habit, the beauty of the world would overwhelm us. We’d pass out every time we saw – actually saw – a flower. Imagine if we only got to see a cumulonimbus cloud or Cassiopeia or a snowfall once a century: there’d be pandemonium in the streets.” – Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome

New Website, New Book, New Year (+ A Gift For You)

New Website, New Book, New Year (+ A Gift For You)

Blue Sky at Maplehurst

Here at Maplehurst, 2015 ended with a solid month of rain, fog, and strangely warm weather. 2016 has dawned with sunshine and blue skies. On this, the first day of a new year, it is easy for me to believe what has always been true: God’s compassions never fail. They are new every morning.

“New” is the drumbeat of creation. It is the song of heaven.

This is always our reality, though there are seasons when the beautiful new is hidden by fog.

I am especially grateful to feel the pulse of the new after all the gray days of December. I am grateful to be sharing a few new things with you on this first day of a new year.

There is, as you may have noticed, a new website design. Thank you to Dan King of Fistbump Media for the new look and, even more importantly, a new blog subscription system. If you already subscribe to my blog posts, you should continue to receive them, but in a more timely, more readable format.

If you have never subscribed, you can enter your name and email address in the popup, or simply scroll to the bottom and find a signup form there. I promise never to share your email address, and I don’t blog frequently enough to flood your inbox. I like to call my approach “slow blogging.” Or, sometimes, “quality over quantity.” Though I appreciate your politeness in not mentioning those writers who do manage to offer both.

There is also a new book. In just a few weeks, on February 2, Revell will publish Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons. You can read more about the book on my book page (see the links at the top of my website). And, if you haven’t already, I hope you will pre-order a copy for yourself and perhaps a few to give as gifts.

I am glad to give a gift to each of you for supporting this book before it releases. Once you’ve pre-ordered, simply send me a brief note (yes, it’s the honor system!) at this email address: rootsandskybook[at]gmail.com. I will send you a link to a high resolution file of the following image, free for you to print. It is suitable for framing. It is also suitable for thumb-tacking to your bulletin board. Really, whatever.

Roots and Sky Quote

I hope you like it. I hope it makes you hungry for spring. Spring is always sweeter when we’ve longed for it.

The quotation is straight out of Roots and Sky, and the image was captured last spring by my friend Chelsea of Chelsea Hudson Photography. She also took the photograph for my book cover and is responsible for the new author photos you will see sprinkled throughout this website. If you live anywhere near Washington D.C. or Baltimore I highly recommend Chelsea’s work.

Happy New Year, friends.

I hope, whether your eyes see fog or sunshine, you can feel the newness of heaven pulsing through your veins.

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