I write fondly of this beautiful, crumbling old house, but the actual crumbling makes me want to run away crying.
I crop and edit my instagram photos to emphasize beauty, but the truth is often a whole lot less beautiful. The truth is original wooden windows layered with paint. There are rotting sills and decrepit, ill-fitting storm windows. The truth is decay around the roofline soffits. The truth is window shutters so deteriorated I worry they’ll turn to dust if we remove them for repair.
Last week I stood on the lawn with a local carpenter. We craned our necks toward rotted wood three floors up. He heaved a deep sigh and said, “Honestly? I wouldn’t know where to begin.”
He told me some houses are like Hondas. You go to the shop, you buy a new part. But my house was a fancy sports car. Every replacement part costs more and is harder to find.
Is our home the shelter version of a foolish, midlife crisis? Because that isn’t the life I would choose.
The life I would choose is safe and sensible. It’s modestly priced. It’s manageable. Never overwhelming. In this dream life my sister and her kids live nearby. Showing up in the gap (the great and terrible gap) where Shawn once stood, would be easy and natural.
Life would be easy and natural.
In Roots and Sky, I write that “I am living an adventure in stability. Mine is a pilgrimage in one place” (184).
When Jonathan and I arrived at Maplehurst with our three kids (and one on the way), we didn’t only feel called to come. We felt called to stay.
Jonathan is an engineer, I am a writer, our kids tug us in the direction of a dozen different hobbies and interests, but together our life as a family is about place-making. Together, we are cultivating a place; we are tending it, transforming it, and sharing it with others.
I always assumed our faithfulness to this vision would be tested. Perhaps I would resent the chickens and the gardens and wish for a summer-long road trip instead. Perhaps I would grow tired of canning tomatoes, cooking for others, and changing bedsheets for guests twice in one week.
Now, almost four years in and with this house on the cover of a book, it isn’t weariness but fear and desire that have caused me to question all of it.
This house needs more than we have to give.
What if we can’t keep up?
My extended family needs more than we have given in the past.
Shouldn’t we put their needs first?
While I was in Hawaii, someone asked if I would be willing to move to live nearer to Kelli and the kids. It broke my heart to say it, but I said it.
I may be willing, but it still doesn’t feel like my choice. Or, if it is my choice, I will not choose to ignore the voice that has, for so long and so consistently, whispered only one word: stay.
We came to Maplehurst with vision. We knew our future was planted in this place. Yet the strange thing about vision is that sometimes you carry it around like a pair of eyeglasses in your pocket. The weight bouncing against your leg is the only reminder of everything you cannot yet see.
After the carpenter came two craftsmen. One loves old windows. One loves old plaster. They salvage the parts, or they make them with their own two hands.
I stood with one, our necks craned three floors up, and he said, “This isn’t a house. It’s a home.”
And I knew then he saw what I had seen, what I wanted to see again. Not rotting wood or peeling paint, but a home open enough for neighborhood Easter egg hunts and reunions of family and friends. A home spacious enough for nieces and nephews to spend every summer here.
A home powerful enough to draw us all away from the sensible and the manageable and on toward something much more terrifying, much more beautiful, and altogether more abundant.
The record of post drafts here on my blog dashboard tells me that on January 14, 2016, I was working on a new installment in my occasional series of book recommendations, These Farmhouse Bookshelves.
I never finished that post, and I didn’t read anything for a month.
I want to finish that post, but I can’t finish it seamlessly. Everything is before and after for us right now, and so much in our lives is sorting itself out around that dividing line. I feel such compassion for our before selves. They are innocent and unseeing, and it hurts to think of all that they didn’t yet know.
Still, if I could go to them and give them some message it wouldn’t be anything earth shattering or even all that original. It would be only the well-known words from Frederick Buechner:
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
When I began this post, my before self was still waiting for snow to fall at Maplehurst. This has been the mildest and strangest winter anyone around here can remember. Three feet of snow fell while I was with family in Hawaii, but now I have seen the tops of the daffodils emerging a full month early.
With no snow outside, Elsa and I enjoyed Snow by Cynthia Rylant. Actually, I may have read it to myself a few times after Elsa fled my lap. It’s that good.
It captures everything I love about snow and hits that perfect blend of truth, poetry, and accessibility. I am often frustrated with the more self-consciously beautiful or poetic picture books because they aren’t concrete enough to grab my child’s attention.
If you’ve ever read a book to a three-year-old you know they can’t hear the line “the snow looks like ice cream” without interrupting, “Where’s the ice cream? Where, where?”
Poetry that doesn’t rely only on direct metaphors is a great thing in a picture book. Is the best snow the snow that comes in the night or the snow that sends you home from school? There is poetry in that question even a three-year-old can understand.
My before self had also begun reading a great new book called To the Table: A Spirituality of Food, Farming, and Community by Lisa Graham McMinn.
A book about “eating with more intention, compassion, and gratitude,” I would recommend this book to everyone who enjoys Michael Pollan’s Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, or Fred Bahnson’s Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith.
The illustrations and recipes that accompany each chapter are delightful and there are discussion questions that would make this book perfect for a book club. This book is full of rich spiritual wisdom and well-researched information, but it is a lot of fun to read, too.
A year and a half ago, I wrote a blog post about family and friendship.
I had just returned from a reunion with my parents, siblings, and our (many) children at my parent’s home in Kansas City. I wrote about how hard it is to live far from family and to see them so infrequently. I wrote about that emptiness, and I wrote about the special ways God fills that emptiness.
Now my after self knows that was the last time I would see my brother-in-law Shawn. Soon after that visit, my sister and her family moved to Hawaii.
Of course, that small blog post means so much more to me now, but I might not even have remembered it if a book had not been waiting for me when I returned home from Hawaii.
The Gift of Friendship: Stories That Celebrate the Beauty of Shared Moments, edited by writer and photographer Dawn Camp, is a collection of reflections by Christian bloggers. Dawn has gathered meditations on friendship by bloggers like Lisa-Jo Baker, Tsh Oxenreider, Jennifer Dukes Lee, and many others.
My post is there, too.
And I have yet one more reason to believe that though the future is, mercifully, hidden from us, it is never hidden from God.
You are each invited to an online book club for my book Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons.
Hosted by writer and editor extraordinaire, Laura Brown of the website Makes You Mom, the discussions will take place each Wednesday during the month of March.
Makes You Mom is a literary website that celebrates motherhood and welcomes anyone whose life has been shaped by a mom.
I will show up occasionally to answer questions, but I will not listen in or interfere in the discussion. Laura and I want everyone who participates to feel free to ask their hardest questions.
You can find more information about the book club here.
It is difficult to know where to begin. It feels as if, together with my family, I have lived whole lifetimes since I last wrote in this space.
We prayed for rescue, but Shawn did not need to be rescued.
Perhaps those prayers were for ourselves.
So many of you prayed with us. So many of you wrote words of love and encouragement. You delivered meals, not only here in Oahu but to my husband in Pennsylvania and to my youngest sister’s husband in Washington. You sent gifts (even a big cardboard box packed full of tissues!). Quite a few of you left your own families and flew hours to be here with us.
You showed up. And through you, God drew near.
I can’t tell the whole story yet. We are still living it. Also, so much of that story isn’t mine to share. And yet I can say this: when you observe suffering from the outside all you can see is the suffering. Despair can feel like the only option.
Having sat, for two weeks, on the inside, I want you to know that despair doesn’t feel like an option. Peace is too real. Hope is too bright. God, the Ancient of Days, has drawn close.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4:8
Shawn Matthew Campbell’s death on Thursday, January 14 came as a shock to all of us who knew him and loved him. But what happened that dark night did not shock God. We have seen in a hundred ways how he was preparing us for this though we never guessed what was coming.
In December, I was asked by a writing colleague to contribute a series of three devotionals for a website called The High Calling. Over Christmas, I regretted saying yes to that request. I resented the time I needed to give to writing when all I wanted was to work a little longer with my father on our giant Christmas jigsaw puzzle or make one more batch of dairy-free Christmas cookies with my son.
I chose three passages of Scripture seemingly at random and wrote up three brief devotionals. A week or so later, I responded to my editor’s request for headlines and offered a few suggestions.
And I forgot about it.
A day or so after my arrival in Oahu, my father mentioned that he had heard from an old friend. Apparently, this friend had read something online and found it meaningful. Looking up the name of the writer he discovered me and my connection with his friend, my Dad. Knowing what we were all experiencing, he sent an email wondering if we had seen the piece online.
I had not seen it.
I had not known that my three devotionals, meant to be read over Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, had been published on Thursday, January 14.
I did not know that the headline I had suggested had been accepted.
I did not know that the Scriptures I had pulled from my Bible without any sense of direction would be the verses we would cling to. The same verses we would print on the bulletin for Shawn’s memorial service at his local church.
The final headline for those devotionals reads: Why Today Is So Good.
When I found out, I wept. I cried, because it couldn’t be true. I didn’t want it to be true, but I couldn’t deny that it was true. Hadn’t God given me the words before I ever knew what they meant?
We believe it. We don’t understand it. We are still rocked by loss and grief, but we see God’s goodness everywhere.
God is still good.
Some of you will be reading this with my first book nearby. Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons releases today, Tuesday, February 2.
For months, friends have told me I should plan something special for this day. They said I should find some way to mark the occasion. Something I would always remember.
I thought their advice was good, but I never did make those plans. I am not sure why.
But now I see that God always knew what I would be doing on Tuesday, February 2, 2016. He knew I would be on a red-eye flight from Honolulu to Seattle and from Seattle to Philadelphia. He knew I would lose most of the day in a blur of time zones and jet lag.
He always knew.
And though this is not the plan I would have made, I do not resent it. In a way, I am relieved that there will be no party or celebratory drink. There will probably not even be a way for me to know if you are reading this post or sharing it or leaving a comment.
I will spend most of the day in the air, and I will think of Shawn. Of how kind he was. Of how much he loved to fly.
Of how glad I am to have called him brother.
“I kneel in the dirt in a cathedral of maple trees. My trowel is almost useless in the bony soil, but I persist. While Lillian holds her baby sister on the porch, I bury 250 bulbs. Their names are prayers: daffodil, tulip, crocus, and scilla. They are papery. They are dusty. Like little more than a bag of onions.
But I am a believer. I know they are like the beautiful souls of those who’ve gone before. I will see them resurrected in the spring.”
– Christie Purifoy, Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons
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