Elizabeth and I are homebound. She, a writer of poetry and prose, is bound to Mersea, a 1904 white Victorian nestled in the historic district of a South Carolina shrimping village. I am bound to Maplehurst, a red-brick farmhouse built by Pennsylvania Quakers in 1880. We are both writers, wives, and mothers, but nearly twenty years and hundreds of miles lie between us. This season, as winter turns toward spring and Lent leans toward Easter, Elizabeth and I are writing letters, she beneath the pines and pecans, I beneath the hemlocks and maples. We will reflect together on our homebound journeys. We will explore the bonds of love and faithfulness that tie us, and not always easily, to these particular places and to the people sheltered within them. Please join us for an epistolary exploration of love, loss, and restoration.
Read Elizabeth’s letter of March 9 here. My response is below.
March 21, 2017
from my armchair near the window, with its view of soggy earth and snow
I, too, have been traveling, though I have not left this place.
My feet were firmly planted in spring. The early daffodils were up and nodding their heads, and the giant magnolia tree was a haze of pink. The two forsythia shrubs in our front lawn were beginning to pop, like yellow corn kernels tossed in a hot pan. But last Tuesday the wind picked up and hurled snow, then ice, at our window glass. It’s so loud, the kids said. And just like that I found myself in a winter world. And not winter’s last gasp, either, but winter as dark and ice-locked as any day in January.
Today, the calendar says spring, but the snow is retreating slowly, and the growing tips of the daffodils look bruised. They remind me of that proverb once bitten, twice shy. They look as hesitant as I feel. A few new projects beckon, and I have felt some old dreams stirring, as if their time draws near, but can I trust the weather?
You write of seeds. You say they are worth the wait. Yet even the seeds I planted in those warmer February days now trouble me. I have a long row of sweetpea seedlings on my kitchen windowsill. They are overgrown. White roots are beginning to worm their way out of the bottoms of the tall peat pots. Yet I cannot plant them out while snow is on the ground. I worry they will end up feeding the compost heap rather than scrambling up the lattice prepared for them in the garden.
Because it is Lent, I have been pausing throughout each day with a prayer book. Recently, my prayer book reminded me that March 25 will mark nine months before Christmas. On this day, the church celebrates the message the angel Gabriel brought to Mary. We remember how she said yes though she did not understand how such an impossible thing could come to be. How right it seems to recall, in these dark and muddy days of earliest spring, the seed that was planted within one young woman. The refrain for this week’s prayers is this: “On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
I can remember a spring morning five years ago. I woke with those same words already dancing through my head: “This is the day … let us rejoice and be glad in it.” The words startled me. I was living then in a wilderness place, desperate for hope, desperate for newness, and praying for a home, yet it seemed, if the words in my head could be trusted, that something had shifted.
The following day, Jonathan returned from a business trip. He told me he had been offered a job in Pennsylvania. We could move as soon as we found a home, and the home we found not long after was Maplehurst.
First, there is the seed, planted in darkness. Only later, new life, miraculous, impossible.
Sorrow and joy do co-exist, as you wrote to me, and that is never more true than while we walk this sharp edge between winter and spring.
When I began this letter, the sky was low and gray. Now it is striped with blue, and I can see the shadows of the maple trees. Perhaps hope is not such a foolhardy thing. The sun seems to say, This. This is the day.
with grace, peace, and, yes, hope,
Life right now is the first day of summer and the longest day of the year.
This is the day that brings us nearest to that time and place when “there will be no more night” (Rev. 22:5).
But even the night is brighter than most. As the ripe moon rises, it scatters the last few tattered clouds until it shines like silver in our faces.
“Look!” I tell my two-year-old nephew. “A strawberry moon!”
“Yes, Auntie Christie,” he says. “A watermelon moon!”
We wander down the avenue while fireflies come out to play. They buzz and snap. It is a fireworks extravaganza for the fairies.
My sister catches one in her hand, and we crouch, there, on the edge of the driveway, with firefly light in our eyes.
One more night, and I sit with my four children at a memorial service for a child.
The room is decorated with twinkle lights. We are indoors, but here is the night sky. Here are the summer fireflies.
After the songs, and the words, and the prayers, we step outside and into the setting sun. Everyone holds golden balloons on golden strings until – a whistle and a cry – we let them fly.
“These balloons are for you, Adam!”
“Balloons! For you!”
The kitchen is filled with balloons.
“Happy birthday!” they say. “Happy birthday,” everyone sings.
It is my birthday. It is my son’s birthday.
“This is the day, more than any other, when I confront the ties of love that bind me to the living and the dead. The old world and the new” (Roots and Sky, p. 174).
Death, where is your sting? What victory do you have?
You are so small I cannot even see you. You are blotted out by this bright summer light.
But, Life, oh, Life. You are so full. You are as weighty as the dropping sun. You are as sharp as the silver moon. You dazzle my eyes, and you break my heart.
Like the Israelites of old, when I see the fire and the glory belonging to the Lord of Life, what can I do?
What can I do but kneel with my face to the ground, saying, “He is good; his love endures forever” (2 Chron 7:3).
Three posts for you on my birthday:
In A Land of Small Wonders (written for Emily P. Freeman)
Why I Grieve On My Birthday
Why I Give Thanks On My Birthday
Officially, summer is still days away, but we are already knee deep in it.
The sprinkler is making its rainbow arc for Elsa and her two-year-old cousin. Even the big cousins have stained their t-shirts with grape-juice popsicles, and we are shifting our Friday-night, homemade pizza from the oven to the grill.
Everything is a little hotter, a little louder, a little messier. Everyone is a little happier, a little more relaxed, and a little more likely to lose their temper.
We’re still waiting for the last day of school and the longest day of the year, but summer has already arrived.
I feel incredibly grateful and more than a little nervous about the coming months. My kids will all tell you that their mother is not at her best when the air is humid and the house is crowded and the children are singing, “I’m bored.” Because, like afternoon storm clouds, time can hang a little heavy in the summer.
I am grateful for these words from Abby Perry. She is a writer who lives with her family in my Texas hometown, and she knows summer heat. She also knows that time is a gift and every season reveals the One who first established its rhythm.
by Abby Perry
Two little boys found their way into my bed this morning, snuggles turned to wrestling each time one felt the other had greater access to me than he did. They are Owen and Gabriel, whose birthdays at the end of summer will turn them 4 and 2. Their dad is out of the country for two weeks on a mission trip. We have Backyard Bible Club each evening this week.
Summer has begun.
We live in Texas, where it has been unseasonably rainy recently; the scorching weather holding off just a few weeks more than usual. But today, it is in full force. 90 degrees before noon and I am remembering what it was like to work long, hot summers at camp in East Texas, what it feels like when my legs stick to the chair at an outdoor wedding, what our air conditioning bill will soon be.
A husband out of the country, two little boys so dependent, so rosy cheeked in the sun. Gabriel, the youngest, has a neuro-genetic disorder that results in the need to wear braces everyday, his pudgy legs covered just below the knee to his toes. Owen asks to go to the pool and I fight immediate overwhelm, wondering how I will make it work with Gabriel’s schedule since he is only supposed to be out of his braces for an hour of each 24.
It can be hard for me to believe that the summer is a time for flourishing.
“Can’t I just take this season off?” I wonder. “Go quiet, hibernate a bit?”
I internally answer my own questions before I’ve even finished asking them. It is not hibernation that I’m truly craving, it’s rest. It is soul quiet, whether my hands are busy or calm. It’s certainty that I am thriving in my place, that I am where I should be, that I am contributing and not merely letting the days pass me by. What I crave is the confidence that I am redeeming the time given to me, with all of its caveats and demands, expectations and interruptions. What I crave is not something I can find by looking into myself, or by gazing at my calendar. It is not something I can conjure up through scheduled breaks, nor hard work, nor abounding family time, though each of those endeavors have great merit.
I wonder if you’re craving the same?
What we crave is something only to be found by looking upward. There is treasure we search for that is only discovered when we seek an orientation to the True North, when we remind ourselves of our position and protection under a good and sovereign God.
I glance at the Liturgical Calendar sitting near the sink and am reminded that it is the season of Ordinary Time. It is the season for ministry and discipleship, the season for hands to the plow and eyes fixed upward and forward, the glory of God and the service of others ever before me. The calendar reminds me that though I do not wake up each morning convinced of God’s sovereignty over time, nor go to bed each night certain of His goodness, His grace abounds all the more and sets a cadence for my days. He makes my paths straight, allowing me to be oriented to him, to set my pace by Him, to move my feet in rhythm with Him.
As we seek to live well in the summer months, through work and play, labor and rest, may we find ourselves certain of the infinite One who is not limited by the finite restraints we live within on this earth. May we exchange the complaints of the hurried heart for the gratitude of the surrendered soul, confident and joyful in each commitment we make, resolute when we need to say, “no.” May we carve out space for long evenings on the porch, kids making up games late into the night and falling into their beds with that outdoors induced exhaustion that produces the sweetest sleep. May we find opportunities to serve and to seek the peace and prosperity of our communities, our hands and feet guiding our eyes away from ourselves. And in it all, may we remember our desire to flourish and to see others do the same comes from the Giver of all good gifts, and that time, in all of its wildness and wonder, is one of them.
Abby is an old soul, a Jesus girl, better in writing. She is a pastor’s wife and mom of two boys, one of whom has a neuro-genetic disorder, which Abby writes about (among other things such as faith, liturgy, depression, social issues, and literature) at www.joywovendeep.com. Abby directs communications for a nonprofit organization and co-facilitates two community efforts – one promoting bridge-building racial reconciliation conversations, the other supporting area foster and adoptive families. She has a soft spot for books, podcasts, learning about human relationships through television and movies, personality typing, and pasta. Abby holds a B.A in Communication from Texas A&M University and is completing her graduate degree at Dallas Theological Seminary.
Twitter & Instagram @abbyjperry | Facebook Page: Abby Perry
For years, my children have sung the same old tired song. It goes like this: it isn’t fair, it isn’t fair, it isn’t fair.
I used to argue with them. I tried banning those words, altogether. But for the past year or so, I have said only this:
In our house, we don’t do fair. We do love. Do you want fairness or do you want love?
I heard the familiar complaint again as we sat around the dinner table Sunday night. My mind was elsewhere, my body tired, so I let the conversation take it’s course. The kids didn’t argue. They traded ideas with more civility than is typical. But they never could decide what a fair distribution of the baguette might have been. The baguette they had already polished off between them. Four pieces, each? Wait, no, that doesn’t work.
I hesitated before I spoke. I hesitated because I wasn’t sure if it was right to say it. I wasn’t sure if I could say it without tears. But I said it:
Do you think what happened to your cousins in Hawaii was fair?
They looked at me with wide eyes and said, No.
Do you think God loves you more than them?
They lowered their heads. They whispered, No.
No one at the table said anything for a long while. We know the truth, we hold it in our hands like the shell my daughter brought home from the beach, but that doesn’t mean we understand it.
While I was in Hawaii, I heard a young child cry, It isn’t fair.
And she’s right. It isn’t fair.
“Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?” Job 21:7
Why would such a good man, such a loving and much-loved man, die young? I don’t know the answer, but I know that the God of heaven and earth is something better than fair. He is love.
So many have asked. How are you? How is your sister? How are the kids? I can only speak for myself, but I think that we are all walking the wild, unfamiliar edges of a very great love.
We are discovering that God’s love is deeper than the great depths of the ocean only a mile off Oahu’s North Shore. We are finding that God’s love is higher than the mountains that climb like great green fingers to a crumbling, volcanic rim. We can see that God’s love is wider even than a rainbow so wide it embraces the horizon.
This loss, this sorrow, is enormous. It stretches out as far as we can see. But, there, too, matching it, overtaking it, is this love.
“Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” Job 42:3
Every day God gives good gifts. He gives those ordinary miracles of day and night, work and rest, bread and wine and laughter. But, too often, we receive those gifts as if we were waiting for the other shoe to drop. The irony is that when life is good, when life seems easy, too many of us do not feel loved. And we do not feel safe.
I have long believed that life is a journey of love. More and more, I am becoming convinced that some days are for love’s gentleness. Other days for its wildness.
There is evening, and we sleep in love’s quietness. There is morning, and our eyes are opened to love’s vast, almost unfathomable borders.
Today, we are wide awake.
“I am walking every day nearer to the edge. I committed myself almost with a running leap … but there is always this edge running through our lives and our days. … it is the cliff edge between winter and spring. The fault line between death and life. … I am realizing how frequently we are invited to dive into the unknown. To make a flying leap toward light and life and love. How frightening it always is. And how necessary. And also how well cared for we always are, even if we are never, at least not exactly, safe.” – Christie Purifoy, Roots and Sky
It is true that we are loved, but it is also true that we are not safe. Not in the way we take that word to mean. Shoes do drop. Suffering knocks on our door, but this isn’t because some cosmic scale has tipped. This isn’t because we have reached the end of God’s goodness. Or of our supply of good gifts.
To have your soul awakened. To have your eyes opened.
Those are also good gifts.
“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” Job 42:5
If you pray for us, perhaps you might pray for sleep. If wakefulness is a gift, it is one we cannot bear for long. We need at least a few hours when our eyes can close.
We need, sometimes, to forget. We need darkness, especially when, all day long, we cannot seem to stop staring straight into the sun.
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