About a month ago, one of my closest friends had a dream. She wandered down a long, long driveway to find a house for sale. As she explored the property, she decided it was just the right house for us. The wind whispered in the tops of the trees, and it sounded like the word “jubilee.”
In eastern Pennsylvania, we drive down a long, long driveway to explore an old red-brick farmhouse. The owner has left a printout of the home’s history on the desk in the parlor. Reading it, I discover that the man who bought the property about 50 years ago was named Charles Day. I imagine telling my father, Mark Day, and my son, Thaddeus Day, that this house is returning to the family.
We make an offer. We try not to let our hopes rise to impossible heights. We mostly fail.
We walk the quaint downtown just a few miles from the house. Jonathan picks up a flier. In September the local golf and country club is hosting a benefit for children’s food allergy research. It feels like a sign. Your son will be safe here.
That’s when we spot another sign; large, lettered, and solidly real: “Gluten-free Bakery,” it says. We push open the door, hear the jingle of the bell, and wonder, “Gluten-free, maybe, but can they also handle dairy-free?”
We taste the most delicious gluten-free, dairy-free rolls we’ve ever had. Vicky shows me baguettes. Pizza crusts. Tell us they deliver bread to neighborhood restaurants. We can take our boy just down the street for a hamburger with bun. He’s never sat in a restaurant and eaten bread. Never.
Then. Oh, then. I almost cry. Unprompted, Vicky wipes the rice flour from her apron and says, “We can make birthday cakes. Gluten-free, dairy-free. Birthday cakes and cupcakes.”
She doesn’t know about the last cake. All those special ingredients. All the time. For a shared birthday cake that looked lovely and tasted awful. Not even the six-year-old, accustomed to the taste of rice flour and bean flour, liked that cake.
“Where are we?” I ask Jonathan. “What is this place?” Both of us with eyes wide.
It’s time to eat. We decide to skip the hamburger place. We can always go there with the kids, we know. Let’s try the Italian. We’ve never stepped foot in an Italian restaurant as a family, know we never will.
Jonathan opens his menu and says, “Look.”
I stretch my neck, see where he points. “What kind of small town is this? A u-pick apple orchard a few minutes in one direction, a gluten-free bakery a few minutes in the other. What is this place? Heaven on earth for the Purifoys?”
The menu says proudly, “We serve gluten-free pasta!”
Maybe, just maybe, this place is home.
Unless this is your first visit to my blog, you know that I’ve been in waiting mode almost since the day, two years ago, when we arrived in Florida. One of the very first posts I wrote was called On Waiting.
Two years ago, I didn’t know what I was waiting for. And, sometimes, waiting is like that. It is a heavy weight. An ache. A question: what now?
But God was present in the waiting. Every day there was water seeping from desert rocks. Food dropped, fully-prepared, on the desert floor.
Occasionally, I even spotted the cloud by day and the fire by night. Spring wildfire season in Florida meant that once we followed a narrow column of smoke the whole twenty-minute drive from our church to our house. Another evening, we followed a full moon made blood-red by reflected fire. That fiery moon hovered in the center of our ash-covered windshield for the long, long drive from a downtown theater to our home. Whoever said that metaphors aren’t as solidly real as flesh, blood, and bread? Those old Bible stories are still alive, you know.
God has been water and bread, fire and cloud for us. And, slowly, so slowly, he filled in the emptiness of waiting with vision. I still waited, but I could see something of what it was that I waited for. This waiting was less desperate but more impatient.
Even hopeful, expectant waiting is difficult. I have wearied of the waiting. I wearied of it long before I knew how heavy it would become.
This winter I got sick. Florida’s pollen season came early and fiercely, and my lungs failed. I spent weeks lying still beside my bedroom air-purifier focusing on each breath. On the worst day, the day that found me back on the doctor’s examining table desperate for new asthma drugs, I found out that I was pregnant. Such surprising, beautiful news, but it was hard to hold on to my belief in an unseen baby while my body tumbled down into an even darker hole. Now nausea and exhaustion kept me pressed into my pillow more tightly than even the asthma.
And I waited. For hope. For healing. For breath.
I waited for God to show up, and I expected fireworks. I imagined an end to my waiting something like a switch clicking from dark to light. When will he come, I wondered. Tomorrow? The next day? How long, Lord, how long?
This morning I sat in the lovely light of a college chapel for a presentation on lament. Lament like that of Psalm 13: “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”
I’m in Michigan for a writer’s conference, and it feels strange and beautiful to be enjoying again the midwestern spring. Daffodils and tulips. Redbuds and soft, green grass. Unfortunately, the beauty also means that Florida’s pollen has followed me northward. In the busyness of travel I forgot to take my little, pink asthma pill. During my first day at the conference I could never quite escape the pain in my chest and the breathless anxiety that is like a sharp, metallic taste in my mouth. I remembered the pill this second day, and I could enjoy, a little more easily, the cool, wet wind and the rainy sidewalks plastered with petals.
One of the presenters in this session on lament, a songwriter, asked his audience of writers to sing. And, so, I found myself breathing out these words, my own tune-less voice supported by all the voices around me: “The One who gives me breath. He is my Shepherd. I shall never be in want. I shall never be in want.”
The One who gives me breath.
He is my Shepherd.
While I waited for fireworks, for the coming of God like thunder and lightning, my Shepherd slowly, almost imperceptibly, brought me from a sickbed to a chapel filled with the light of a midwestern spring. He did this so that I could know: He is the one who gives me breath. I shall never be in want.
Perhaps my waiting isn’t over, but I know that it is ending. One seed planted in darkness and emptiness is now a fully-formed child, prodding me from within. And I believe that this new life is not the only seed that God has planted in these waiting years.
The true end of my waiting will be, I think, like the coming of spring itself. Subtle. Slow. Until I find myself singing a God-given song and wonder, “When did this happen? How did I get here?”
“How long, Lord? … How long will you hide your face from me? … But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”
I’ve been so sick for so long that looking back over the past few months is like staring into a dark tunnel. I’m just glad to be at the other end.
I’m a little too worn out to fully analyze the experience. Maybe some things are meant to be endured and survived rather than understood.
Still, I do know that there is a metaphysical, spiritual conundrum that we never quite escape in this life. C. S. Lewis called it the “problem of pain.”
Why do we get sick? Why do we hurt? And, hey, if we’re going to ask these questions why not go all the way … why do our babies get sick? Why do so many children suffer?
Of course, I don’t know how to answer those big questions. Does anyone? Lewis himself offers a bounty of wisdom, but it isn’t as if even he lets us off the hook. We won’t find the ultimate answer in a book. I believe we’ll find it one day in a face. Jesus’s face. But, I haven’t yet looked into those eyes, so, for now, it’s all hope.
Even if we can’t fully answer the “problem of pain” on this side of life, I don’t think we’ll ever get close if we ignore the little problems. The everyday pain.
When Jesus said to pick up our crosses and follow him, I don’t think he was telling us to suffer in silence. To just shut up about it already! Though, I admit, I sometimes picture him rolling his eyes in response to my whiny prayers. But, in my mind, it’s a fond exasperation.
That picture – of someone picking up their cross and following – is kind of nice, actually. As if Jesus were telling us that even our pain is a part of the story. Even our pain matters in some way. Pick it up, bring it along, I’ll take care of it, he says. Maybe today, definitely someday, it will be dealt with.
I won’t forget the tears you’ve cried.
So, what do we do in the meantime?
I’m not sure, but for the first time in months, I’m taking a good look around.
By the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel I can see blue skies. I can feel a warm breeze. And the scent blowing across my face is the heavy sweetness of backyard orange blossoms.
Here is another moment that begs not to be analyzed. It’s meant only for joy.
I’ve been sick and in bed a lot (Florida’s motto should be The Pollen State) and dreaming of everything I want to do when I’m feeling better. You know, practical, productive activities like cleaning my house, making dinner for my kids, and organizing my desk.
I kid! I’ve actually been dreaming of the wonderful and utterly nonessential. Things like making my own sourdough bread and picking a bouquet of teensy flowers for my daughter’s dollhouse. Oh, and writing out my favorite recipes to fill an antique recipe box. Why? Because it’s prettier than my binder full of recipe clippings, that’s why.
Illness has stripped away my ability to be energetic and efficient, but I am not daydreaming about regaining my productivity. I am daydreaming about Folly.
The capital F is important. Do you know about Follies? Those small architectural oddities which dotted the landscapes of eighteenth-century British aristocrats? If you’ve seen the latest film version of Pride and Prejudice you know what I’m referring to. Elizabeth and Darcy exchange words when they take shelter from the rain in a miniature reproduction of a Greek temple. That is a Folly with a capital F.
It serves no purpose. It has no point. It is as if those who built them said, “I am going to create something beautiful. And, then, I am going to look at it.” That is all.
We can easily criticize the Folly (and the one who built it) for its ridiculousness. Its wasteful extravagance. What is the point? What does it do? Aren’t there better uses for your time? Your money? Your life?
I have no desire to defend those eighteenth-century aristocrats. Is it a coincidence that this century ended in revolution or the threat of it all around the globe? Probably not.
Lying in my sickbed, however, I find a lot to like about the idea of Folly with a capital F. Folly, as it appeals to me, has more to do with beauty than foolishness. It means acknowledging that life is not Life if it is all efficiency, productivity, and utility. It must also make room for beauty, creativity, whimsy, and delight.
For homemade sourdough bread. For handwritten recipe cards. For tiny tabletop bouquets bestowed on a family of dolls.
For embracing the Creator in whose image we are made.
“How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.”
I’d love to know: what is bringing you delight during these late winter days?
It’s another dinner conversation with the little people, and you never know where it will take you. This night the middle child suddenly recalls the Christmas boxes we filled months ago.
Who opened those boxes, he wants to know. Who’s playing with those toys? I don’t know, I tell him, but I’m sure it’s a child far away who might not have opened anything else on Christmas Day.
He absorbs my answer and says, “I’m glad we’re not poor.”
Oh, honey. I’m glad too. I can’t imagine facing dinnertime with an empty cupboard. Every time I dole out another of the boy’s pink asthma pills ($100 for the bottle with good health insurance!), I wonder how some parents do it. I imagine them holding out for the really bad wheezing, hording those pills like gold.
Oh, honey, I’m glad we’re not poor.
But there’s something I don’t like about his comment. Something that doesn’t feel right. Am I sensing a bit of “us vs. them”? As in, we are the ones who fill the Christmas boxes (thank you, Jesus), and they are the ones who open them? Yet I know that when it comes to Jesus’s kingdom, we’re all in it together. No “us vs. them.”
What did Jesus say to the rich young ruler? Give it all away, then come follow me. But, he couldn’t do it. Can I? Will my kids?
I’m not asking my kids to give it all away. I’ll keep on giving them gifts as long as there’s still money in the bank. But, there are a lot of ways to be poor, and maybe it’s time to teach a few of those?
To be poor is to know that you don’t have what it takes.
To be poor is to know that you’ve got nothing worth standing on.
The poor in spirit give it all away because they know it was never really theirs. The poor in spirit willingly let go of everything in order to stand on the Rock. They know that money, good looks, good health, good behavior, none of it is as strong and steady as that Rock.
Oh, my little boy, I’m afraid you’re wrong. We are poor. Maybe not in our bank account (though who knows what tomorrow holds), but we are poor. We aren’t good enough. Or strong enough. We’ll never have it all together. But, there’s One who was and is and always will be.
He is our treasure. Our pearl of great price.
This is the kind of landscape I’m dreaming of. Cold. Bleak. Beautiful. Beautiful because there is not a drop of tree pollen for miles.
It seems that the trees here in northern Florida are trying to kill me. Maybe they have no such intention, and it’s only that my lungs have misunderstood. They think the thick yellow dust swirling through the air is reason enough to close up shop. I try to convince them otherwise with pills and inhalers.
It’s been a long month, and pollen.com tells me I still have a ways to go.
I’ve never experienced anything quite like this. It’s left me feeling nostalgic for Chicago’s concrete jungle. Living there I did do some sneezing in springtime, but this? I’ve never known anything like this. I’ve always said that I’m a winter person. That I need that season of cold, sleepy hibernation. It seems my body agrees. There’s always something blooming in Florida, and, apparently, my lungs have had enough.
For now, I’m sticking close by my bedroom air purifier. I have time to be inspired. Time to write. Somehow, though, I’ve found the life of the bedridden to be less than inspiring.
Still, whenever I open my Bible I find promise after promise of healing. Who knew God had so much to say about healing? Now I know, though the promise of it belies my reality. So, I’m holding tight to the promise and waiting.
“Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal.”