Bricks, Trees, and the Kingdom of God

Maplehurst

A few people have recently asked if this place feels like home yet.

I haven’t been sure of my answer. I know that it is home, but does it feel like home?

Lying in bed last night, I finally puzzled it out. It seems presumptuous to call this place – the old brick house, the long maple-lined drive, the falling-down barn – my home. I haven’t earned it yet.

The house has been here for more than 130 years. The farm for longer than that. The stone remains of the ice house and various other outbuildings (we’ve taken to calling them “the ruins”) testify to just how long this place has been cultivated, lived in, and cared for.

the ruins :: kitchen?

How can I waltz in and call it my home?

I need to sweep a few more floors, plant a few more trees before I can feel comfortable making that claim.

And we will plant those trees. We’ll wait for late winter or early spring, and then we’ll dig in four fruit trees. One for each of our babies.

We have plans for blueberry bushes, a few more maples to fill in the gaps, and I’m trying to decide exactly where to carve out the asparagus bed.

Did you know that asparagus can come back every spring for twenty years or more? Placing that bed is a big decision. It matters.

in the garden

Or, does it?

I can remember someone in the Christian circles of my childhood saying this: “The only things which last forever are the souls of men and the word of God.” I can’t remember who said it, and I can’t remember (or perhaps never knew) if they were quoting someone else.

I can remember, even as a kid, feeling the rift between how those words were supposed to make me feel (focused, committed, inspired) and how they actually made me feel (depressed, primarily). And now I know why: those words aren’t true. They leave out too much.

They leave out fruit trees and asparagus.

Clean floors and campfires.

Friendship.

Love.

Home.

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God is making all things new, and our lives, our daily this and that, are a part of that great project. This is an old place, yes, but it, like all other good things, is being renewed.

In God’s kingdom, the stuff of earth can become so much more. This is true of bread and wine. It is also true of bricks and trees.

at night2

Our bricks.

Our trees.

For His glory.

Amen.

Why We Wait

Pentecost Sunday was nearly a week ago, but I still feel stuck in that room. Waiting. Asking this question: how did they survive the long, empty days between Jesus leaving and the Comforter coming?

How did they endure being lifted up by the joy of a promise believed only to drop again into the discouragement of yet another not yet?

And why the gap? Why did they have to wait at all?

We do know that the wait moved them to gather together. I imagine the promise was easier to believe when they could see the hope in one another’s faces. When they could pass around their Jesus stories, like a platter of bread and fish. Stories multiplied into hope. And faith.

And I imagine they worshipped. Sang and prayed.

Was this what it was all for? Was their worship the reason?

Did God wait, strain with holding himself back, because he wanted to hear their songs?

“Call to me,” he had once told them. “And I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3).

Call. My husband tells me this word suggests something organized, something formal. Something created. Like a song. Like a poem. Something more than careless words tossed at the sky.

Maybe you don’t sing songs. Maybe you don’t write poems. But maybe you journal. Maybe you sketch. Maybe you take photographs or bake bread for the neighbors. Maybe you orchestrate elaborate finger-painted messes with the three-year-olds at church and maybe, just maybe, that is your call? Your song? Your cry for more of God?

And maybe that is the point of it all. The point of waiting. The point of living. To add our call to the many others until a crescendo of sound and beauty and worship rises to heaven and All is unleashed.

Then, just as it was that Pentecost when God’s church was born, wind and fire reveal the great unknowns.

What have we all been waiting for? To hear the mysteries of God’s glory in a language we can comprehend.

Those unsearchable glories we never even knew to seek.

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Why I’m Singing a Song That May Not Be True

just up the road

 

I have a picture in my mind, and I can’t seem to let it go. Maybe the picture has me and won’t let go. I honestly can’t tell which way it is.

I see God’s children in Egypt in the moment before he rescues them. I see them just on the verge of being carried away toward their true home.

They are standing, as God asked, with their cloaks tucked up into their belts, sandals on their feet, walking sticks held in their hands. They are ready. They are waiting.

They are also eating. Eating in haste, yes, but still eating. Roasted lamb can only be consumed so quickly, after all.

How excited they must have been. How afraid. Where did they get the strength to stand still, to chew and swallow, to wait quietly but in full expectation?

I want to know because I feel myself among them.

We are continuously arriving at new thresholds. What is on the other side? Sometimes we see quite clearly. A child’s birth. A new job. A move. Sometimes we see less clearly. We are filled with expectation, but … for what, exactly? We’re not sure.

And I’m wondering, given all the uncertainty, how to find the balance between readiness (bags packed, sandals on feet) and stillness (I will cook, I will chew, I will swallow).

We are asking certain questions in our house. Where will we be living this time next year? Where will our baby be born? In Florida? Somewhere new? How long will God ask us to live this in-between life?

I sat down in church this weekend, and the questions made so much noise in my head that I shut my eyes. I wanted to give them my whole attention. I wanted to listen to my questions more than I wanted to listen to Scripture. Or prayer. Or a song. So, I didn’t see the words of the next worship song flash onto the screen. I heard them.

There’s no place I’d rather be than here in your love

That startled me. In my mind, I heard new, much more insistent questions: can I sing these words? Are they true?

I don’t know if they are true for me. That, however, may not be the best question to ask.

Here is the question I am asking: how do I make these words true?

I sang those words. I’m still singing them.

They may not be a statement of fact, but I think that they are something better.

They are a prayer.

 

Because You are One Step Closer

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A birthday letter for one’s child should be a marker of all that a mother knows. For instance, on the day you turned three you had a scratch on your cheek and a bruise on your forehead. Your legs and arms were somehow both surprisingly long and impossibly tiny. You loved your balloon. You whined for more chocolate cake. You pronounced it so carefully: “choc-oh-lut.”

But you are almost entirely unknown. This doesn’t bother me or frighten me. At least once a day your father or I will laugh at you and say, “Who are you? Where did you come from?”

Your blonde hair sets you apart in our family. But it is more than appearance. Perhaps it is comparison. With two older siblings whose personalitites and interests have seemed long settled, you are less familiar. We are still getting acquainted. You are still getting acquainted with the world.

Or, perhaps it is a holdover. You were unknown for nine months before your birth. Boy or girl? We chose not to know. You were the little stranger born into the thoroughly familiar, the utterly known: our own bed, in our own apartment, in a city that felt like home.

There has been only one moment when I saw more. One moment when I seemed to glimpse the you that is still buried in your bones.

You were six months old. It was late at night. Your cough was so like a barking seal that we had no need to google symptoms. We could name it. By naming it we felt we had tamed it.

We had done no such thing. In the space between those known, nameable coughs your breath became jagged. Desperate. Each breath seemed just on the verge of not coming at all.

Your father spoke with the nurse on call, and I held you on the floor of the bathroom, your face hardly visible through the steam. I prayed for you.

So often prayer is just a desperate word or two. It hardly seems capable of traveling whatever distance lies between my mouth and God’s ear. But sometimes prayer takes over and I know that it does not come from me at all. It is more like a river, and I’ve just fallen in.

Sitting there, holding you, I was in that river and I saw something. It was as if that rushing river of prayer drew back the veil between known and unknown, seen and unseen. I saw You, the you that is never just a baby or a three-year-old, but the You that is every age, and I recognized how far away from me you would travel. I could see you bringing light into dark places where I would never go. It seemed to me, as I prayed, that there was a great struggle taking place in this ordinary, steamy bathroom.

Later, I recognized that this river of prayer was not my communication with God. It wasn’t my puny request for healing. A simple question to be answered “yes” or “no.” The prayer was God’s own roaring response to the darkness, the utter evil, that would end your life before you could do all that you were made to do. Or, more importantly, before you could become who you were made to be.

God wouldn’t allow it. Yes, the darkness was there with us, grasping at you as you grasped for breath, but God was shoving it aside. Saving you because we needed you. A “we” that includes so many more than just your father and I.

I don’t know exactly who you are or how far you will go. I do know your life will be beautiful, more beautiful even than these first three years. Your life will matter, more than it already has to your family. And I know you are one step closer today to the promise I glimpsed in that prayer.

You are three.

 

What Does it Feel Like to be Healed?

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I have prayed for healing.

I have prayed for symptoms to disappear because that is what healing meant to me, but deep within I have suspected that my prayers were somehow too narrow. Too limited. How, then, should I pray? Is true healing more than the absence of some symptom?

I prayed that my boy would be healed. I prayed that food would no longer squeeze the breath from his lungs. God heard my prayer. When his throat began to swell, and I had forgotten the epi-pen, a stranger’s hand reached out with the medicine he needed.

What does it feel like to be healed? It feels like being held.

I have felt the breath squeezed from my own lungs. For one long, hard month I have despaired of ever again feeling strong. And I have prayed for healing.

I prayed for breath when what I needed was hope.

This is not a less-than prayer. I do not redefine healing in order to make it seem more possible. Lungs are made strong, allergies do disappear, the cords of cancer and disease are broken every day, but God can do so much more than that.

His healing is not limited to our bodies. His healing is not given only to those whom doctors will pronounce well. 

To be healed by God is to know that death is a lie. That there is nothing to fear.

“He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.” Psalm 18:16

To be held in arms of love. That is what it feels like to be healed.

 

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