Making Room For Peace (A Series On Simplicity)

He stood, leaning on a shovel, taking a break from digging out tree roots in my neighbor’s yard. He was on one side of the split-rail fence. I was on the other. He looked past my shoulder, watching the chickens scratch and peck.

He said, “I like your chickens. Your home. It is like my country. It is like my home in Mexico.”


He’d been in our home for days. He and his team. Drilling holes. Snaking pipes behind plaster walls. Jonathan told me later what he said as they stood, talking, out in the yard.

He said, “Your home is so peaceful. It reminds me of my country. It reminds me of Vietnam.”




I doubt that a red-brick farmhouse in Pennsylvania looks like Mexico. It seems unlikely to me that it looks anything like Vietnam. But there is something about this house on a hilltop. This old house with its gardens and chickens and songbirds. Something about it whispers Peace. Something about it sings Home.

Most miraculous of all, to me at least, is that the whispers are louder than the noise of my four children (or my own responses to those children). Louder than brothers fighting or toddlers tantrum-ing.

Whispers so loud, so insistent, they make grown men pause. And remember.

And dream of home.


As long as Jonathan and I have been making homes together (whether a tiny apartment, a city high rise, a suburban split-level, or a century-old farmhouse) visitors have said the same thing:

Your home is so peaceful.

I have heard those words with gratitude but also with detachment. Because surely that peace had nothing to do with me?  It wasn’t something I created or controlled.

It was a gift. Always and only a gift.




Peace is not merely the absence of conflict or violence. It is a presence. It is a place.

It has a prince.

It is a gift. But like so many good gifts, it can also be cultivated. Like soil.

We can slap down some concrete and rid ourselves of all that bothersome dust. Or we can grow tomatoes. Or flowers. We can sow peace. We can water it. We can watch it flourish.

Like gardening, it is hard work. It is a daily discipline.


How do we cultivate peace? In our hearts, our homes, our communities?

I think we begin by making room for it.

So many of us, myself included, live with too much. Too much in our closets and too much in our day planners. We see an empty shelf, and we fill it. We stumble on an empty moment, and we pounce on our to-do list. We feel some hunger and we rush … to the pantry, to the television, to the computer.

And then we wonder why our lives, why our world, is saturated with conflict and worry. Loneliness and hurry.


Peace begins with simplicity. Is simplicity the soil, the water, the sun? I don’t know. My understanding is limited, my metaphor possibly faulty. I don’t yet fully grasp the relationship between the two, but they are related.

I think they may be more deeply related than I have ever known.

I used to think that simplicity was a lifestyle choice. I am beginning to think it is the only way to follow Jesus.

Simplicity is the way of the child. The way of a rich young ruler who says yes and gives everything away. Simplicity just may be the door to the kingdom of God.




I have in mind a series of posts. Not because I have learned “Ten Lessons” or “Five Secrets.” It is only that I am noticing patterns in my past.  Patterns that suggest it is possible to practice simplicity and cultivate peace with more deliberateness and passion.

And I want to talk about that here. With you.

I am more than a little bit afraid. Afraid of the price I must pay to walk this way. Afraid of sounding preachy if I talk about it.

But I am also hopeful. Excited, even. Simplicity is as heavy as a cross on my shoulder. But the kingdom of Jesus, the kingdom of the prince of peace, is an upside-down kingdom. And that heavy burden?

It is the light yoke, the easy burden of freedom.


Remember This: There is Glory in the Dirt

Last week, it snowed here at Maplehurst. Even after ten years lived in Chicago, I don’t think I have ever seen so much snow fall all at once. Granted, I left Chicago for Florida the winter before the once-in-a-decade, cars-stranded-on-Lakeshore Drive monster storm.

I remember that winter well. It was my first in Florida. Everyone I knew – neighbors at the bus stop, new friends at church – kept saying the same thing. Aren’t you glad you don’t live there anymore?

Which only made me want to cry. Because, no. The answer was no. I did wish I was there. In the snow. With my friends. In a place that felt like home.





But now I feel at home again, although in a new place, and there is snow, and I am grateful. Crazy-eyed from the pileup of canceled-school days and disruptions to my cherished daily routines, but still grateful.

The evening after our Pennsylvania nor’easter, I looked out the window just after sunset. I saw what looked like a deep and rising sea of snow. I could even point out small windblown waves. As darkness blurred the edges of everything, those waves began to rise and fall. And creep higher. Deeper. Or, they seemed to. I felt the irrational worry that seawater would soon be seeping in around the window frames.

It was strange and startling. It was also beautiful.

Twenty-four hours later, our long driveway had finally been cleared. I walked the length of it, from front porch to mailbox, and decided the scene looked just like a wedding cake. Thick white frosting smoothed to perfection, and a driveway sliced cleanly away.


I tend to see the world in layered images like these. The result of a lifetime of reading, I suppose. The trick, I’m discovering, is holding on to both. Acknowledging the truth of both.

Snow-covered field and rising floodwaters. A freshly-plowed driveway and a slice of wedding cake.

Maplehurst is like this, too. It is an old, gracious, crumbling-a-bit-around-the-edges house. It is the scene of our daily happiness and daily headaches. The place where children laugh, and I yell at them to take their fun outside. Outside! I say. You can scream at your brother all you like just please don’t do it under my feet while I’m cooking dinner!

Yes, I’m afraid you’ll hear exactly that every day at 5 pm.

Maplehurst is also our dream-come-true. In spiritual terms, it is a fountain. A blessing. The one place on earth that, for me, is nearest to the throneroom of God. There is a river and it flows straight through an avenue of old maple trees.

It is both, and I must see both.

The spiritual reality is likely the most important, the most real, but I can’t let it crowd out the rest. If I’m going to write honestly and live honestly, I can’t forget the ground beneath my feet. I can’t forget what 5 pm feels like.

And it isn’t only honesty at stake. It is also love. If I am going to love my neighbor well, I can’t stop seeing the dirtiness of my own patch of dirt. I can’t forget that we are all together in this land of muddy snow and headaches and 5 pm yelling.


5 pm is still quite a few hours away. In the freshness of a quiet morning (the children have finally returned to school, the baby is happy and miraculously occupied with toys too big to be a choking hazard), something new occurs to me. Maybe, the trick is not learning to hold on to two true things. Maybe, there aren’t two realities: one spiritual, the other temporal. Maybe there is only the one. Maybe I must learn to see without splitting everything in two.

Maybe, there is glory in the dirt.



“I am mountain, I am dust

Constellations made of us

There’s glory in the dirt

A universe within the sand

Eternity within a man

We are ocean, we are mist

Brilliant fools who wound and kiss

There’s beauty in the dirt

Wandering in skin and soul

Searching, longing for a home.”

–          from “I am Mountain,” by Michael Gungor and Lisa Gungor





So Close to Home

I grew up without winter. For the most part, at least.

Winters in central Texas were brown and chilly, but you never knew when it might hit eighty degrees. In December, we never bothered to ask for a white Christmas. Instead, I would secretly pray that it wouldn’t be so warm we’d need the air conditioner. Even at eight years old, I found air conditioning very depressing.

As a young girl I read every one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books repeatedly. But I read The Long Winter more than any other. It isn’t a pretty story, far from it, but something about the extreme cold and snow fed my soul. Even then.




It’s a truism that home is where you come from. Home is where you began.

I disagree. I think home is the place we’re headed. Home is the destination.

Here in my little southern corner of Pennsylvania, winter’s grip is fierce. Not Midwestern or New England fierce, to be sure, but strong enough to leave me feeling more than a little battered. More than a little caged-in.

Replacing the chickens’ frozen water with fresh, I feel like Laura Ingalls herself, but by the fourth trip out to the henhouse the literary novelty has quite worn off.




And yet I love winter.

Recently, I dropped the baby in her father’s arms and escaped out the front door with my other daughter, my firstborn. I don’t have ice skates of my own, but I carried hers. We opened the gate in the split-rail fence and we half-slid, half-stumbled down the sledding hill until we could cross the street to the frozen pond.

I stood in the snow, my toes slowly going numb, and I watched my daughter slice one foot and then the other across the ice. I said to myself, “This is Pennsylvania. This is our home.” The word Pennsylvania felt awkward. Perhaps I should blame my frozen lips. Or perhaps not. We are still learning the contours of this place and these people.

She circled the perimeter three times before I made her come in. I might lose my toes, I shouted.




My poor toes. They really did hurt, buried in snow like that, but it was a good kind of pain. Like the sharp, stinging realization that comes at the end of a very long walk. You know you’ve gone farther than you can handle, but it will be worth it. You are so close.

Three times around may have been too much. My daughter fell to her knees only part-way through our climb back up the sledding hill.

You’ll make it, I said. We’re nearly there.

Look! I can see our home from here.



*all photos taken by yours truly (with apologies to our talented, much beloved Photographer)



Advent (Day 10): Let Us Deck These Halls With Empty Space

On the first day of Advent, our church sanctuary was draped in evergreen.

Bare evergreen.

There were no shiny ornaments. There were no red or green ribbons. I looked at those unembellished greens and heard them say, “Not yet. Not yet.”

Our home looks much the same. Undecorated, except for the white pumpkin still sitting on the front steps.

It wasn’t intentional. Thanksgiving turned so quickly to Advent, all in a rush of visiting friends and family, that I couldn’t quite keep up. I found the advent wreath in the basement. The boys circled it with greenery. And that was all.




The world outside our walls has thrown on the glitz and made room for the glitter and every other year I have been right there keeping time with that fast Christmas beat.

Not this year. Not yet.

For more than a week, I’ve sat with bare branches, four candles, and a pile of Christmas books. Every other year I have rushed to fill in the gaps, to embellish the plain, and to pile on more. This year the Advent cry Come, Lord Jesus, Come has echoed in bare corners and across empty tabletops.

And I have heard something in those echoes. Something that frightens me.

I have heard as if for the first time the story of how God came and his own did not recognize him. Of how he appeared in a story crowded with a greedy empire, an oppressed people, and long-whispered promises of deliverance and restoration. A good story. A true story. And yet …

Living within the density of their story, God’s own people were unprepared for the ways in which God himself would turn the story inside out and upside down. They were unprepared to meet the Truth face to face.

And this is what I have heard echoing in the empty spaces of my house: who am I waiting for? Will I know him when he comes?


Year after year, I have rushed to fill the empty space of my fireplace with stockings. I have moved quickly to cover bare branches with ornaments. I have penciled in the calendar; I have filled the closet with gifts.

Year after year, I have greeted the Christmas season with everything I already know and all that I have figured out. I have said Come, Lord Jesus, Come to a face I find comfortingly familiar. A face with no more power to shock.

This year should have been the same, but a severe mercy and a difficult grace intended differently.

Without meaning to, I have decked these halls with empty space.

My prayer today remains the same. Come, Lord Jesus, Come. But this time, emptiness has made way for echoes. Bare corners have left room for the unknown and unseen.

And I prepare to have my world turned upside down by the King whose name I call.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.


Advent (Day 3)

On Thursday, we said thank you around the table.

We passed the big bowl with potatoes like mountain peaks. We passed the medium-sized bowl with its cranberry jewels. We passed the tiny, wooden bowl. Three times we passed that particular bowl, and three times we tipped in our little kernels of corn. With each kernel came a thank you.

I said thank you for friends, and books, and old maple trees. The little boy said thank you for toys. The bigger boy said thank you for Jesus.

And so we entered Advent on a tidal wave of gratitude, every thank you deeply meant.




But now it is so dark, and gratitude has slipped through my fingers.

Every good gift from this past year seems to have its tarnished edge, and I am weary. Weary of sifting good from bad, blessing from burden.

This old farmhouse is a promise fulfilled. We wandered, but He brought us home. But … the pipes leak, too many old maples were lost in a storm, and this is farming country – some days I can’t breathe for the manure in the air.

The baby is a good and perfect gift. Beautiful. Much loved. With her came depression. Two months of panic and tears. Now I tremble remembering those days and pray God, don’t let that darkness ever come back. And my heart is broken for all who live within that fog for years.

So many dreams are coming true, but they are being realized in dust and dirt and darkness. And some part of me knows the bigger story. It begins in a stable but ends with streets of gold.

There are no streets of gold in my neighborhood. There’s a diaper pail. A filthy chicken coop. Kitchen scraps left to rot.

But I am done with sifting.

Done trying to untangle the knots of good and bad, done naming one thing a gift, another a curse.

I am dust myself, but I breathe with God’s own breath, and I am using that breath to say thank you.

Thank you for all of it.

The mess. The smell. The compost under my nails, and the dishes in the sink.

I say thank you because our God has never despised the dirt, and he once wrapped himself in dust.

He is our God with dirt under his nails, and he is near.

God with us.


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