Yesterday, there was softly falling snow. Today, there is a hard rain hurling itself against the windowpane.
In my ears, the quiet shush of snow has always sounded like the voice I most want to hear. It has always seemed like the embrace of the One who is so often hidden from us.
But if the snow whispers I Am, this rain screams Why? Why? Why?
It is the unanswerable question the world keeps on asking. Why do terrible things happen? Why did this terrible thing happen?
To be honest, it’s a question I don’t want answered. At least not yet. If there is an answer, I know that I am not ready to hear it. The only question I feel able to ask is this: what happens next?
What comes after the nightmare?
The answer I’ve considered this week has surprised me. I am not sure why that is when I have felt it before. For me, what comes after the nightmare is a strange sort of peace.
I once watched my son begin to die in a suburban Florida frozen yogurt shop. Two bites in to his dairy-free frozen treat and some trace contamination caused his throat to swell shut. I realized what was happening in the same second that I realized I had forgotten to carry his epi-pen.
A stranger in that shop saved my son’s life when she pulled an epi-pen junior from her purse. She had curly, red hair and two kids by her side. I struggled to uncap the pen because my hands would not stop shaking.
My son recovered so quickly he didn’t even need to ride in the ambulance that arrived a few minutes later. But it took me longer to recover. It took a long time for my hands to stop shaking and an even longer time to realize that all the fear I had carried since my son’s first allergic reaction was gone.
I felt sad and guilty and shaky, but I was no longer afraid. I understood that I could never keep my son perfectly safe. I understood that life and death are so much bigger than I am. So much bigger even than the love a mother has for her child, and that both, life and death, are held in someone else’s hands.
Today, again, I am sad and shaky. Today, again, I feel guilty. Before, I felt guilty and ashamed because I had risked my son’s life through forgetfulness. Now, though I recognize it isn’t logical, I feel guilty that I still have a husband. That my children still have a father in their house.
But I am not afraid.
I no longer think that losing my husband or even my child to death would be the end of me. I could lose even this house, this hilltop where I have planted so much of myself, and still go on. I have seen how it is possible to smash into a thousand pieces yet remain, not happy, certainly, not well, or whole, but held. Sustained. I have seen how God carries us through the very thing we imagine we cannot endure.
It is written, “perfect love drives out fear” (I John 4:18). I have read those words and imagined this love like something familiar, something sweet like the candy hearts my children have been eating for days. But fear is powerful. Enormous. It takes a very big love to drive it out.
I don’t know if this love causes terrible things.
I don’t know if this love allows terrible things.
All I know is I cannot look at the terrible thing without also seeing love.
I hate the sound of this driving rain. I don’t like the questions it is stirring up. But though I still long for the comforting blanket of yesterday’s snow, I am grateful for any rain that washes all my fears away.
I am grateful to be where I am. Here, in the churning, foaming center of a great river of peace.
My youngest child is three years old, and every day she paints.
She paints lions and footprints. She paints me, and she paints rivers, roads, and bugs. For a while, she painted without giving much attention to the finished product. She would paint until holes appeared in the paper and then move on to the next. I would make a great show of laying the art out to dry, but she hardly noticed. Her focus was always already on the next creation.
Recently, that has changed. When I gather up her morning’s work, she cries out, “Don’t throw them away! I want to keep them!” Sometimes, she hunts for a magnet and tries to hang them on the refrigerator herself.
She recognizes these lions and bugs as the work of her hands, and she no longer lets them go so easily.
We all make things. I write stories, and my daughter paints bugs. My husband builds window seats and picket fences out of wood, and my son makes castles with lego bricks.
Making some things feels like wearing our heart on our sleeve or serving it up on a platter. This is true of memoirs. Sometimes this feels true even of our first attempt at sourdough bread when there are new guests at our table.
We are not all artists or writers, but most of us, perhaps all of us, create. We long to know that what we have made is good. Not perfect or ground-breaking, necessarily, but good.
Perhaps it shouldn’t matter what others think of our creations. Sometimes, we succeed in being philosophical. Some people just do not like the taste of sourdough bread, after all. But I do think there is a desire in each of us to hear the words well done.
Hearing those words is far less important than simply doing the work. It may even be that the creating matters more than even the thing we make. Which means that those words, well done, are something special.
They are a gift we give one another.
Here are five gifts given to me.
I hope they make you just that much more eager to read the work of my hands when it releases February 2. I hope, too, that you will seek out these creators. Each one has written a book (or more than one!) that means something special to me.
Each one should be confident that what they have done is very well done, indeed.
“When it comes to finding God in ordinary places, no one does it better than Christie Purifoy.
Her words in Roots and Sky met me when I was unable to connect with any other books.
Somehow her personal journey to find home turned into a spiritually informative pilgrimage for
my own soul. This book is hope for the weary and wandering, and Christie Purifoy’s smart,
grounding voice is a new favorite.”
—Emily P. Freeman, author of Simply Tuesday
“I have been terrified of hope. Because if hope disappoints, does that mean God is also a
disappointment? Christie reminds us that hope, like dreams, is made of stronger stuff. She invites
us into a year of her life lived in real time in an old Pennsylvania farmhouse, chock-full of hope
and decay, promise and weeds, work and wonder.”
—Lisa-Jo Baker, author of Surprised by Motherhood and community manager for
“In Roots and Sky, Christie Purifoy paints an elegant expression of the church calendar—Advent,
Lent, and Ordinary Time—with great depth of thought, expression, and insight. Planted in the
rich soil of everyday liturgy, Roots and Sky is an astonishing, rhythmic work of unmatched
artistry. There is no doubt: this book is a must-read for the lover of the quiet, contemplative, and
—Seth Haines, author of Coming Clean
“This is not a book. This is a sanctuary. I met God here, in the hushed and unrushed space that
Christie Purifoy has so exquisitely created for us. With a lyrical pen, Christie lights the candles,
prepares the altar, and helps us see the sacredness of our everyday moments. Step inside and
—Jennifer Dukes Lee, author of Love Idol
“Roots and Sky is the best kind of read: it reached me, passively and deeply, as I got lost in the
pages. Christie ushered me into my own heart, through the back door, as she invited me across
the foyer and into the rooms and out onto the sprawling green lawn of her one hundred-year-old
farmhouse. God met me at Maplehurst, too.”
—Sara Hagerty, author of Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet: Tasting the Goodness of God in
Has turned a corner and is picking up speed.
The trees are racing to drop their leaves. Everything is sunset colored. Only the evergreen trees stand still and unchangeable. They do not rush about seizing the day.
I do rush about but mostly regret that by nightfall. Strange, how all the hurry never seems to amount to much other than a headache.
Now the days end in sudden darkness. We light a candle every night at dinner. We read Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, and we eat pumpkin chili or an orange lentil curry.
I ordered a stack of new fiction from my library before realizing I am really only in the mood for gardening books. Like this one. Or this one.
My good friend Amy served me this tea recently. I do not exaggerate when I say that the taste is astonishing. It’s a cup of tea even a coffee drinker would love. A steaming cup is a very good antidote to hurry.
Tell me, what’s slowing you down these days? It may be lovely (like tea), it may be awful (like autumn allergies or the way young children pay no attention to the new time on the clock), but I hope that, together, we can say thank you.
For this dark month is for saying thank you.
I am grateful to be sharing my words in new places. Today, I am at The Laundry Moms writing about motherhood and calling. You can read it here.
Have you read Wild in the Hollow, the beautiful new book by Amber Haines? I recently shared a few words about church for her “Wild in the Hollow” blog series. You can read them here.
At first, the wilderness appears wide open. It is unexplored. Who knows what wonders wait to be found.
When we first moved to Florida, we were eager to explore new roads. We caught glimpses of water – river or ocean – and we pressed on. But the river always remained hidden behind endless waves of Spanish moss. The ocean was a mirage, a blue spot on the GPS we could never quite reach.
The real ocean hid behind grassy bluffs or gated mansions. Park your car and pay your fee, and you’d find it. But it was not open to the wanderer. To those with a car full of kids who only wanted to drive and believe they were free.
Wilderness roads are straight roads. To meander without a plan across a network of straight lines will only lead to disappointment. There can be no circling back in some surprising way. There is only that moment of disenchantment, that moment when you agree it is probably best to turn around.
The wilderness looks like a spacious place. You cannot see the edges, no matter which direction you look. But there is no real spaciousness here.
In the wilderness, you wander but you are also hemmed in.
I grew up with the siren song let’s go for a drive. When my parents couldn’t take our squabbling for one more minute, they piled all four of us in the station wagon.
Where are we going? we always asked.
Crazy, my mother always answered.
Years later, heading out for a long drive became our favorite date. Especially in the spring. In the spring, you never knew when you might round a bend and find yourself slowing, slowing, and finally stopping to watch the wind dance in a field of bluebonnets. We’d park your pickup truck by the barbed-wire fence and roll down our windows.
All the better for watching flowers dance in a field we happily admitted we would probably never find again.
The roads are my favorite thing about my new home. This promised land.
They are narrow and curvy. They force a slower pace. You must stop at every bridge to let the car opposite cross first. You often find yourself caught behind horse-drawn buggies or herds of Sunday cyclists.
In this place, there is no scenic route. There are only the familiar roads, with their familiar beauty, and the turns you haven’t yet taken. The eighteenth-century farm you’ve never seen. The historic blacksmith shop you never noticed. The “ancient burial ground” half-hidden behind a brilliant maple tree. I lose miles wondering who might be buried in this “ancient burial ground.”
The daily chore of Kindergarten carpool is a thirty-five-miles-per-hour roller coaster. Gypsy Lane carves a path through the forest. Schoolhouse Road curves along the edge of a steep hill. I can see sheep and a fast-running creek down below.
Old stone barns and shabby farmhouses and that one crazy place with the alpacas. Every single day I forget where I’m headed.
Every drive, every errand, feels like a Sunday afternoon drive in God’s country.
On the hard days, and in the hard places, I sometimes resist gratitude. To “give thanks in all circumstances,” can feel like shutting my eyes. Like pretending.
But giving thanks has nothing to do with renaming a prison a spacious place. It is only the grateful acknowledgement that God never leaves us behind. He always comes back for the lost sheep. He always makes a way.
These days, I am looking back. I am remembering and giving thanks.
Thank you, Lord, for the hard, straight roads that led me here. Thank you for the wilderness.
Thank you, Lord, for the Promised Land. This spacious place where every road leads somewhere new.
I tend to think of seasons as four separate compartments to the year. Like nesting boxes in graduated sizes.
I forget that they are more like the Lego blocks in my son’s latest creation. Interlocking and overlapping. Difficult to pry apart.
Recently, I stood over the sink and ate a peach. It tasted perfectly peachy, and the juice ran in rivers down my right arm. Like a sunset, melting.
I held the fading summer sun in my hand, and watched gray clouds hauling themselves briskly across an autumn sky. Yellow leaves somersaulted across the grass.
I also tend to think of prayer in separate compartments. Like the paper trays I keep on my desk.
There is the inbox and the outbox. There is a spot marked urgent and one for the less pressing overflow.
If I think long enough, I can assign each prayer a neat label. Answered. Unanswered. Ongoing. Expires in five days. The paper trail of prayer is clearly defined. Requests move in one direction. Responses in the other.
But of course prayer is nothing like my paper tray. Of course, of course, I tell myself. Of course it is so much more like standing in a chill autumn wind while you hold summer in your hand.
The truly astonishing thing about prayer is not that our prayers are sometimes answered. The thing that never fails to startle me, to wake me up and scatter the paper piles of my mind, is that even the prayers themselves are given.
First, the prayer like one falling leaf.
Then, the answer, like the taste of that sweet peach.
On Friday, I breathed out the heaviness of the whole week with the thought It has been a long time since someone prayed for me.
That sort of thing was once a regular occurrence. I lived on a cushion of tightly knit community, and I rarely went more than a week or two without someone reaching out a hand. Someone holding out a prayer.
But two cross-country moves in four years have disrupted so many once-regular things. And every so often I let myself feel the jagged edges. Every so often I lean into them and breathe my own jaggedness.
Which is one way I know to pray without ceasing.
On Saturday a friend drove thirty minutes to come sit on my porch. While our children played, we talked. And we prayed.
She reached out her hand. She gave me her prayer.
I responded, with surprise and with gratitude, Amen.
Which came first? Like chickens and eggs. Like seeds and flowers. Prayers and answers are a puzzle I hope I never solve.
The world is loud and terrible this summer. It is as if the entire planet has tilted on its axis and dipped us all in nightmare.
The grass outside my bedroom window is dotted with yellow maple leaves. I don’t know if this is because summer is already ending or because the largest and oldest of the maple trees is dying. Perhaps it is both.
Land and growing things are broken, nations are broken, bodies and minds are broken. And we respond by shouting at one another.
I indulge in shouting some days, but, mostly, I respond by retreating into silence.
When my children explode over cracked Legos and the last popsicle, I struggle to stay with them in the noise. I want only to slip away, to climb the steps to my bedroom, to sit in the curve of the bow window noticing yellow leaves on the lawn outside.
The world grows louder, and I grow quieter. Sometimes, this feels like wisdom, but I know it is also weakness.
It requires strength to share our stories. To risk being misunderstood.
It requires faith to tell small stories. To believe that what seems to be inadequate is of value.
When my fourth child was born, my body struggled to make milk for her. The hormonal peaks and valleys of that process seemed to switch a lever in my brain.
I became depressed.
I had so many reasons to be happy, but depression sucked all emotion from my mind and filled the emptiness with anxiety. I can remember sitting in my comfortable, soft rocking chair, holding my baby, and trying to remember why I had once cared about babies or repairing old farmhouses or ordering seeds for the spring garden or anything at all. I could no longer remember why it mattered if any of us ever got out of bed.
When I stopped trying to nurse my baby, and the last of my milk dried up, the depression lifted. A severe mercy.
It meant that I knew happiness again.
It meant that I knew sadness again.
Healing looked like a renewed capacity for both joy and sorrow.
This morning I read these words from Psalm 105:
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
And I remembered what had happened to me after my daughter’s birth and knew that I did have a song of praise.
Thank you, Lord. Thank you for healing me enough to grieve.