photo by Kelli Campbell
“Whether we speak of poems or paintings or places, all art acknowledges an absence and dreams of something other, something more. Art is the material form of hope.”
– Christie Purifoy, Roots and Sky
I did not really know what those words meant when I wrote them.
Today, my family is confronted by a terrible grief and a great absence. My brother-in-law, my sister’s husband, is missing at sea. He is a Marine and a pilot, and his aircraft was lost off the coast of Hawaii last Thursday night.
His four young children are waiting for their Daddy to come home. Soon, I will travel to Hawaii to be with them.
I had other words, other stories, planned for these last days before my book is released into the world. Instead, you will most likely find only silence in this online space. I will share any updates on my facebook page and instagram account.
It is likely that many of you will receive my book and begin reading it before I return home to Maplehurst. The only words I would add to the words already written within those pages are these:
The book I wrote is not diminished by this sorrow. It is more true than I knew, and it has become, for me, an anchor outside this grief.
It is, quite literally, the material form of my hope.
If I once thought it was my gift to God then it is a gift he has given back to me. I can hold hope in my hands, even if I fail to see it in these circumstances.
Thank you for your prayers. I speak for so many in my family when I say,
“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning: great is your faithfuless.
I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.'”
– Lamentations 3: 19-24
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
“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
– James Joyce, “The Dead”
I want to write spring stories. I want to write glorious endings.
And why not? I am the storyteller. I am the one tap, tapping at this keyboard.
I know that others in this world are observing spring’s first blooms and taking walks on balmy nights. My snow-covered world is not the world in which everyone is living. I am winter-weary, and I want to move on to other themes.
But I have ceded control over my own stories. I have made a promise (to myself? To God?) to write stories rooted in my own particular place and this particular time.
And this place is snow-covered.
And Easter is still a long way off.
On Saturday I walked the halls of a large art museum. I listened to echoes. I stared into the deep brown eyes of a woman who died in Egypt thousands of years ago. Her funeral portrait is lifelike. It hangs at eye level. She looked about my age. We might have been neighbors, I thought.
After that, each work of art seemed connected to some soul. The silversmith who worked the bracelet. The painter who held the brush. The model who sat for hours. The dancers portrayed in silk. The anonymous ones who wove the tapestry.
Each room revealed more of the vastness of our world. So many people live on planet earth today, I cannot even conceive of them all. But add in every life in every place and each time for all of history? My small mind struggles to believe there is a God who has known and loved each one.
The end of the story is always the best part. It is the place where the messiness of the middle is resolved. The point where pain is redeemed and suffering fades into something beautiful. It is the place where I want to pitch my tent.
But I do not think we are always given that choice.
I keep seeing one particular crucifix. I encountered it in one of the museum’s rooms of medieval art. It was carved out of wood and out of anguish. The Christ figure was elongated and emaciated. Reaching tendrils of warm wooden hair seemed to say that this is pain without end.
This is suffering unfinished.
I drove long miles between the art museum and my house, and I thought about the crucifix. The carving was small enough to hold with one hand, but I wanted it to be bigger. I felt the heaviness of all those lives, like shades in every corner of the galleries. I wanted Christ crucified to be big enough to heal every soul for all time.
And I wanted it finished.
As I drove, snow began to tumble through the air. I could see it churning in the light of streetlamps and headlights. As it dusted rooftops and cornfields, I could feel winter settling back in for a longer stay.
We privilege endings, but we live in the middle.
This place is snow-covered.
And Easter is still a long way off.
When my daughter was small, she scribbled on paper like it was a paying gig. We hung her mini masterpieces on the refrigerator. We strung them on a line across the window with teeny, tiny clothespins.
We even framed a few of the accidentally stunning watercolors.
I say accidental because I am not a stage mother. Where some may have seen pint-sized talent and dreamed of art school, I assumed any child of mine would grow up to claim her share of my decidedly average artistic ability.
But it goes beyond the question of talent. I’ll be honest and admit that I am a mother of the dream-squashing kind.
I may not always voice my negativity, but when she said she would be President someday, I said “Hmmm.”
When she said she’d be famous, I said, “Well, I don’t know.”
When she said she’d have a picture hanging in a museum when she grew older, I didn’t say anything at all. Just felt a little sad. Because we all know that these sorts of dreams don’t come true. And isn’t it my job, as her mother, to teach her to dream a little more realistically?
I consider my own life. I am not the President. I am not famous. I will never have a painting in a museum.
But then I consider it some more. If I could have seen my today twenty years ago, what would it have looked like to me?
I have no doubt it would have looked too good to be true.
This husband, these children, our home. That garden, this book, my perch by the window, and even the mug of tea at my feet. I could have imagined a life with fewer shadows, but I don’t think I could have imagined a life more beautiful and more perfectly suited to me than this one I’ve been given.
Who is the wise one, and who is the fool?
The six of us join the crowd in the museum. This is Wyeth country, and the museum on the river is home to N.C.’s pirates, Andrew’s farmhouses, Jamie’s haystacks.
For the next few weeks, it is also home to an exhibit of local student art.
It is all so normal, so everyday. The reception with apple juice and cookies. The proud parents and grandparents filing past the wall of identical black frames.
I actually stand in front of that wall for a full ten minutes before I realize my daughter’s dream came true.
Here is her portrait of a pumpkin. One bright light in a constellation of black frames.
It is hanging in a museum.
It is an impossible dream. A wish upon a star.
An ordinary day.
I watched these old, old maples bend in the wind of that hurricane. Because they yielded, they are still standing.
That is how I want to live. I am more and more sure that art and beauty and love grow best not by raging against the wind (or the storm, the dark day, the hard, unasked-for circumstance). They come through yielding.
To yield is not to give up. It is not throwing up my hands in defeat. This yielding is more like being carried. It is moving with what moves and watching – always watching – for the One who does the moving.
And then singing of what I see.
The need to work this land to fit my wants
I yield. I vow no more to walk with plans
like gossip falling from my mouth. I choose
to go in silence, learning, in my sure
refusal, the truth that yields to yielding.
At Equinox, before the flood of light
sets water loose, I covenant to give
the downward rush beneath the grass its head.
I’ll dam no stream. I’ll dig no pond. Nor will
I plant willows to suck the wet spots dry.
My work shall be to say the nature
of Creation’s slow unfolding, to name what
becoming new has always been, to praise
what lives without my praise unto itself.
– John Leax