A few mornings ago, I heard an interview on NPR with the poet Mary Oliver. Speaking of the experiences which inspire her poetry, she said, “The world doesn’t have to be beautiful to work. But it is beautiful. Why?”
Some questions don’t need to be answered in order to open our eyes. There is wisdom to be had just in the asking.
We tend to think of the world’s pain as the senseless thing. The meaningless thing. But what of the world’s beauty? Whatever did we do to deserve autumn leaves? The smell of a campfire? The honey-wine taste of a pear?
This is the view from my window. With apologies to The Photographer (who I’m sure can look at this shot and know exactly how I should have tuned my camera settings), it’s a view to make you catch your breath.
Sitting in the chair by this window, I notice just how tired I am. And I can hear the boys fighting on the other side of the house. And then the baby starts to cry, and it’s time (again!) to fiddle with formula and plastic feeder bits and bobs because my body is fundamentally broken.
But, all I can think is “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
My bed faces a set of three windows. The glass is so old it’s wavy, and the autumn colors outside look like they’ve been spun through a kaleidoscope. Sitting there, I can still hear those boys fighting, and I can see the fearsome dust bunnies lurking in every corner of this room, and, oh, I am so, so tired.
But, again, all I can think is “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Following a season of drought, my life today is one of excess. I am too tired. I am too happy. I am so disappointed. Those boys are too loud and will they ever learn to play without fighting??
But, it’s the beauty I can’t get over. The over-the-top, cup-runneth-over beauty that is everywhere in my life right now.
So, yes, I am tired and my house is dirty and I wish I had the time and energy to cook all those mouth-watering recipes I just pinned on pinterest, but I open my eyes just the tiniest bit, and the only words I can think of are these:
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
She was born on September 12 at 4:46 in the morning – two weeks before we expected her but not a moment too soon.
Here are the things I will never forget:
In a new home with no family or friends nearby, we were not alone. Not unprovided for. At eleven p.m. I admitted I might be in labor. The kids were all asleep (the three-year-old only just), and we called the one person we knew best in this new place: our realtor.
I wasn’t sure that this was really “it,” but I didn’t want to bother her at 3 a.m., so we called. She came. We worried some – what if the three-year-old woke up, and we were gone? What if he found a stranger in our room?
But what point is there in worry?
Jonathan said he had been reading the Bible that evening. These words from Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
We knew then that he was with us. All night, he would be with us. And so we let go of worry and walked.
Too soon for the hospital, I thought, so we walked, up and down the drive, the milkyway just visible between the branches of so many old, old maple trees. We walked, I decided that yes, maybe this was real. Maybe it wasn’t too soon, and, at one a.m., we left for the hospital.
I felt foolish as we checked in. It’s still early! I’m just fine! And worry sometimes crept back in: will she be able to feed the kids breakfast? We have notes posted everywhere about our son’s allergies, but it’s complicated. What if? And will she be able to get them on the bus? And the three-year-old, will he panic? Cry for Dad to be there, making pancakes, as always?
But, we let it go again, and things moved fast and faster. The nurse said, “Just rest. Let me know if you need me.” Barely ten minutes later rest sounded ridiculous, and I yelled, “She’s coming!”
And she came. And she was beautiful. And we were stunned.
Jonathan left us an hour later, left us tucked into our room together, and he was home before anyone in the house woke up. Yes, he was there, making breakfast, when everyone came in, rubbing their eyes, to hear that they had a sister. That her name was Elsa Spring.
“Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come.”
Song of Songs 2:10-12
A big house with open doors. Four seasons of God’s glory.
Community. Hospitality. Roots planted deep.
This dream is big, and we’ve dreamed it for so long. Maybe that’s why I imagined fireworks. Cymbals crashing. An arrival announced with lightning bolts.
But even big dreams are realized in little ways. A morning. An evening. Another morning. It seems that trust and faith are still necessary even after the dream’s inauguration.
The old farmhouse on the hill fills up with our stuff. It’s good. Also overwhelming. We visit a local church. It’s good. Also underwhelming. Is this the place? The place to dig deep? It’s hard to say.
Our first Sunday is also the day for the church’s once-a-month family picnic. We hesitate. Potlucks are danger zones for our middle child. But, they’re grilling packaged meat, and we can check the label. There are big slices of watermelon. So we stay.
And it’s beautiful, this place. A playground shaded by trees. Meadow grasses leading down a wide hill. There’s a small, bubbling creek. A fishing net and a bench just to the side. The kids wade and play and can’t believe their luck. This is church?
The man across the picnic table tells me about this place. Native Americans long used this hillside for their winter rests. Returning from summers spent on the plains, they came to this spot. They took a break from their wandering, and they took that break here. By this water.
The creek, he tells me, is no ordinary creek. You can’t see it, but there is a river here.
The creek that bubbles up just below our table is the beginning – the very small beginning – of a big river. A few miles away this water holds barges, he says. But it all starts here. This is its beginning.
Later that same day I read these words: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10).
I haven’t felt like rejoicing. Too tired. Too hot. Too pregnant. Too much to do. But, I know now that our dream has begun. It has taken shape. Made us tired with the work of realizing it. And that is very, very good.
It is the end of the first day, and we sit on the porch. No chairs, yet. Just us, here, on the steps.
There is a full moon high in the sky, and it is God’s joy for us.
Because the work has begun.
When you leave the desert do you kick the dust from your feet? Forget what’s behind and look only toward the future?
I’d be tempted to say yes except for the view framed by my metaphorical rearview mirror.
For two years I felt myself to be living in a kind of prison. Not a harsh bread and water only kind-of-prison. More like these words from Psalm 139: “You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.”
Hemmed in by God, prevented by him from pursuing my usual pleasures, my long-held plans, I was given only God himself. Felt only his heavy hand.
Have you felt how heavy that hand can be?
God loves us, but he can weigh us down till we can hardly bear it. Till we can’t bear it.
But, if his hand is heavy, his voice speaks comfort.
I can remember reading the Bible and feeling like those Israelite wanderers. But I worried – maybe this was no desert? Maybe I just needed to learn contentment? Gratitude?
Perhaps this wasn’t a profound spiritual experience – maybe it was only my own bad attitude?
I sat in church and wondered until a young woman I hardly knew (a woman who did not know the question I was asking) turned around and spoke to me. In the brief space between worship songs she said, “I think God wants you to know that he will not leave you in the desert. This will not last forever, and he will lead you out again.”
Ever since I’ve clung to those words: “This will not last forever. He will lead me out again.”
And those words were true. He is leading me out. I know now that not all prisons are hideous.
This is what I see when I look back: something beautiful. A perfect plan. A gracious way.
And this is what I say to the One who led me there: thank you.
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.