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.
I wrote these words exactly one year ago. Today, we will carve pumpkins, adjust costumes, and pull the old decorations from the basement. The boys made a scarecrow last week, but he still needs a pumpkin head.
The kids are so much taller, and Elsa is old enough now to refuse the costume we chose for her. But so much is the same. These words are still true.
My friend looks up toward the trees and says I had forgotten how graceful dying can sometimes be.
I follow her glance and know that she is right. I, too, have forgotten. I remember autumn through snapshots. Which means, I remember the brilliance of that one sugar maple down the road. Or, I remember the startling red of a Burning Bush shrub against a deep blue sky.
The snapshots help me to remember true moments, fiery moments, but they do not give an accurate picture of the whole.
Autumn, taken as a whole, does not look like clear, bright brilliance. Here in my corner of Pennsylvania, it is gentle. Faded. It is burnished gold and copper. It is gray clouds and wet pavement.
This autumn world does not rage against the dying of the light. It smolders, quietly.
Christians like to talk about Halloween on the internet. I have usually abstained from those “conversations.” So much depends upon context. Like the context of our own memories. Like the context of our own communities. Often, the internet is a conversation without a context.
Here is a bit of mine. In the church of my childhood, Halloween was ever-so-slightly taboo. We wore costumes, but we wore them to collect candy at our church’s “Harvest Fair.”
As new parents, we discovered the great adventure of escorting a temperamental two-year-old ladybug down city streets. We stole her candy when she wasn’t watching, and we hugged our neighbors. We tried to catch the eye of their over-tired Dorothy or Scarecrow. To tell each one we had no idea it was them.
Still, decorating my home for Halloween always seemed like a step too far. Until we came here. Now we live in the farmhouse on the hill and how else can we entice our neighbors and their children to climb our hill, to receive our gift of love and candy, but with a few smiling ghosts and candle-lit pumpkins?
Context. It changes things. Changes us.
We live in a culture that largely ignores death.
Our children no longer walk to church through churchyards dotted with graves. Our own church is that rare thing with its own cemetery, but it is all the way around by the back door. My children often ask to walk that way, but I am in a hurry. Another time, I say, as I rush them through the front door.
I am sorry for this. And so, this year, I am grateful for Halloween. I am grateful for the space it opens up. I am less grateful for the gory zombie poster set at a child’s eye level at the local Wal Mart, but mostly I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about death. About dying. About our baptism and what it might mean that we have already died with Christ.
Which is, to say, we will have a conversation about living.
Soon, we will bring out the plywood grave markers my husband made last year. Our kids painted them gray with black crosses and the letters R I P. We will tuck them near the crumbling stone foundations of the old farm buildings, and we will drape them with twinkly lights.
As we outline a path for candy-seeking neighbors, my daughter will ask me again about those letters R I P. And as darkness settles, and the lights begin to flicker and gain strength, she will tell me, It’s beautiful.
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.
Just the other night, I sat on the front porch and wished I had a sweater. The calendar may still say August, but, around here, summer is definitely tipping over into fall. Our weekly delivery from the local CSA orchard is shifting more and more from peaches to apples.
My daughter says, “I smell fall!” I tell her, “I can hear it,” curled, yellow leaves crunching under my feet.
During our two years in Florida, I missed autumn most of all. We still had summer (beautiful but long). There was spring, just more gradual and gentle than any northern spring. Our first year there we even had a winter, of sorts. But there is no autumn in Florida.
Each season has something important to say. Right now, the world is still very green, but, when the wind blows and the air suddenly fills with yellow leaves, this truth is revealed: there is no escaping death.
This is a season for dying.
It’s also my favorite season.
Maybe that’s because it tells me that death is a lie. We may imagine death as the end, but in fall we know that this dying is leading us toward a blaze of glory. In dying, we are walking toward beauty.
Our new home is beautiful. In the evenings we go for drives through a vibrant green, rumpled-quilt sort of landscape. There are creeks, tunnels formed by trees, old stone, Quaker farmhouses at every crossroads, and road signs that say, “Caution! Horses and hounds.”
We drive for the beauty, but, in honesty, we also drive to put our 3-year-old to sleep. Put him in a bed and he’ll stay awake for hours. Put him in a carseat, no matter the time of day, and he’s snoring within minutes.
A sleep-deprived preschooler isn’t my only frustration. There are also allergies. And asthma, that same nemesis that kept me bed-bound all last winter in Florida.
Nearly every breath I’ve taken in this new place has hurt. The baby doesn’t wake me up at night, but the coughing does. And I wonder, why this serpent in my Eden?
But, if death is a liar, so is trouble of every kind. Sickness, disappointment, difficulty: they all say God is not so good.
Here is something wonderful about having walked through deserts and having enjoyed the good, green places: Paul’s words in Philippians 4 finally make some sort of sense.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
He is the secret. Our God of peace.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter if this jar of clay has failing lungs. It is Christ who lives in me. Lives!
And nothing touches me without passing through his hands.
So I can live unafraid. I can live grateful.