Dear Diary, {Summertime Thankfulness}

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Our summer-soaked lives are humming along, not unlike the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird of yesterday, yesteryear. It hovered over the Day Lilies, right at eye level with my perch on my my porch swing. I sat silently drinking in the flash of green, flip of red, as this whirring wisp sipped the sweet nectar. We’ve had an usually mild summer, with the humidity staying south on it’s own vacation, perhaps. We’ve been swimming, mowing, ignoring weeds, and having bonfires with family. We’ve enjoyed reading aloud The Swiss Family Robinson together, hours of building with little plastic bits of the rainbow, baking, and riding bikes. Stories being acted out in the midst of chores, neighbors organic cows are here for a visit with a field of ours, so their own home can rest and grow a bit. Hours of dealing with fencing for that visit.  Roofs being fixed, Amish metal guy certainly must be delighted with us. Wood being fashioned into bows, arrows, and swords mixed with duct tape, paper bags, and moms expensive washi tape, whenever the regular tape gives out. Beef hot dogs and S’mores staples, crock-pot chicken BBQ, ice cream, and watermelon on an endless rotation. Summer days, sigh, sunlit and golden. The dirt and sweat are canceled out by the cerulean sky and marshmallow clouds. Rain and then cool sunshine-y days are a perfect recipe for lush green, trees, grass, and life everywhere.  We’ve seen family and friends, summer bringing parties, outings, camping, cabins, and reunions, so many it reminds me of the stars piercing the night sky. Speaking of the night, words cannot begin to capture what it is like here, deep into the country. I don’t have the camera equipment or where-with-all to begin to hope to ever capture it’s still, silent presence. Where the earth and sky meet is hard to discern, an endless expanse too immense for my stumbling words. Nature is an extension of our home and family, long walks along the wild-flower strewn roadways, my prayer room, the little streams and rivulets, my music. Drumbeats of rain, and melodies of the wind, this summer sits like a gracious gift in my mind. The stories I’ve personally read, longer expanses for reading given during these warm, sweet months, meld together with moments of relationship with my family and glorious Creation, a nod to my loving Creator. The words from Isaiah, The Holy Bible, poetry from Edward Thomas, a beautiful story of bravery, love, and children from Nevil Shute in the Pied Piper, all bring a richness and relief, a feeding of soul, to each day. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned my love affair with my huge clothesline. The lines of beautiful clean linens and towels whipped in the wind are a sort of art to me.  Our black cat running between them, his tail curling, his playful batting at them. They represent something to me. That immense beauty can be found in the small dailies of life. This is just the beginning of gratitude for this summer for me. The glimpses of precious people in my life. My oldest daughter curled on her bed working through book series, flashes of my own self, reminiscent of summers spent the same special way. My  oldest son and middle daughter faithfully tending their garden and chickens, fights and friendly discussions inevitably growing out of these projects, pecking away at frustrations and learning to love. My littlest, a pure delight to us all, his humorous actions, love of his books, blanket with bears, and glasses of milk. His early morning wanderings into my husband and I’s bed, kicking us, snuggling, and stealing my pillow. All the requests to guzzle my coffee (really creamer with a dash of coffee) and, “Please mom, it’s been way too long since you’ve made tea” reminders. My gigantic baskets of Amish-grown flowers on the deck, faithfully watered, and tended, so many lovely conversations around these blooming gifts with each of my children, and that midnight swing with my husband, the pepper-y smell of the geraniums, a special favorite of mine. We, of course, have seen our share of disagreements, spills, messes, and frustrations. The washer is leaking, we run out of gas, we snap at each other, we scrape our knees, we get stung by bumblebees. That’s life. But by turning the eyes of our hearts up in gratitude to all of the fireflies sparkling, the cake-candles blown out, wisps of smoke lingering, and the hands clasped together around the dinner table, we can rest.

We can rest in the love of our glorious God, we can rest in this moment, right now, and be glad.  I’m still holding on to summer, it’s not over yet, and I’m truly grateful.

~

The Second Coming

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“How to Prepare for the Second Coming”

by Abigail Carroll (Anglo-American, contemporary)

 

Start by recalling the absolute goodness of rain

and repent for every grumble you have ever made

about the weather (this will take approximately

 

forever.) Next, you will want to commit a theft:

with deft lock-picking and a shrewd hand, steal

back the hours you fed to the hungry god of work,

 

then squander them on hydrangeas, Wordsworth,

voluntary sidewalk repair. Teach a child to lace

a shoe (your child or another’s – any four-year-old

 

will do), and while you’re at it, set the alarm

for three, and fumble through the dark to the pond

to guard the salamanders as they cross the road. If,

 

having accomplished these tasks, you wish

to go on, sit at your desk and carefully design

a few radical acts of grace, by which I mean

 

murder (of a sort): you must willfully, passionately

kill the living, breathing debt owed you by those

who stole your goods, your rights, or the jewel

 

that was the beating muscle of your hope. Apart

from this, you cannot know the full extent of love.

(For precedent, refer to the cross.) Thrust

 

your nails into dirt and plant a few seeds (carrots,

radishes, perhaps); indeed, a get scandalously intimate

with the earth. After all, it is where you will live

 

when the lamb lies down with the lion, and the lion

has become your friend. And when the water

of the new world breaks, all is said and done (heaven

 

and earth made one as the prophets foretold),

you will lose each doubt to a song – which is

a kind of praise – and reap the good you sowed.

 

Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for

Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide, compiled by Sarah Arthur

p.234- 235

 

(this poem blessed me so much this past week. I’m adding it to my commonplace journal.)

~

 

 

 

Metaphoric Mountains, The Maytrees by Annie Dillard, and “The Magic of Ordinary Days”

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From somewhere, somehow, comes the idea that things that are hard are wrong. Or that rough days are temporary and not “real” life. The crunch under my dirty tennis shoes, one more mile, that late night conversation with family, exhausted, and one more dish, one more mess, spilled milk, rivulets swirling with dust from unwashed floor. Ignorance is bliss, they say, and I gaze at beautiful Instagram photos from mountain tops. The breath-snatching, far-reaching beauty in every direction, I am choosing to forget what it took to get there.  The climb, the stumbling, the sharpness, the gasping for air, these things are real life. I’m in denial, I’m doubting, I’m missing out on the beauties of this life, when I focus on the perceived unfairness, the lie of the serene life I’m must be missing just beyond my grasp.  Amy Carmichael, a beloved writer, put it this way, speaking on a verse from Ecclesiastes 8:8, The Holy Bible,

“No day, no hour, no minute when we can count on being out of the reach of the fiery darts.  Greek fire, as the Crusaders called it, used to terrify them because it burned on the water. There was no escape from it. There is no escape for us from the Greek fire of the enemy of souls. We have never been promised such escape. ‘There is no furlough in war’. ‘If ye trust not surely ye cannot be trusted!’ If we let our hearts ask for what is not promised – furlough from war –; if we let ourselves wish for it; if the inmost thought in us longs for respite from the conditions of war, or wonders why they are what they are, or why they are so prolonged; then we are not trusting, and we cannot be trusted with the spoils of the battle – treasures for others.” * (emphasis mine)

Lou Bigelow and Toby Maytree find each other and marry, Annie Dillard’s prose bringing their love to life in a Massachusetts town. Weary, sun-scorched, wandering, I chose The Maytrees off my small library shelf, because I have appreciated Dillard’s nonfiction.  Half way through, my delight is drowning.  Maytree is moving to Maine, with another local gal, Deary. No explanation, really. Just all of a sudden. This jarring twist to the narrative was clever, I suppose. But as I search for a foot hold, reaching one bloodied hand towards the next bit of rock to climb in my own marriage, my own pile of relationships, I wonder at those that quit. We exalt those that leave. We exalt those that change. What of those who keep at the same for their entire lives? What of those who “make mere loving their life’s work”*? Those mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters who grapple with the mountain side so they can share the vista at the top.

I don’t have to fight this climb. I focus and bask in today’s work upward. I choose to be glad in the forward motion, be it icy rain on my face, warm sunshine flickering overhead, the cutting ropes around my waist, the pack pressed sweaty to my back.  I’ve been given the gift of life. It’s not easy, acts of faith, this deep trust.  Things worth fighting for are never easy, that breathtaking view that C.S. Lewis said was “higher up and further in”*.  In contrast to the Maytrees, Olivia Dunn, in the movie, “The Magic of Ordinary Days”*, is dumbfounded at the love that Ray Singleton, his family, and neighbors, shower on her, a stranger, and her unplanned baby. The beauty of this story is that these people make a choice to love. They don’t reject, give up, or complain under the unfairness, inconvenience, or shame of taking on this steep, unfamiliar mountain. They keep climbing. Ray keeps reaching forward, quietly, faithfully loving, even when many would have long ago quit, left, or just needed “a change.”  Isn’t that a picture of Jesus Christ? It wasn’t easy to die in relative obscurity. His life was full of hardship and hate. He didn’t sit around pinning and waiting for things to get easier.  He went about His Father’s business, Love spilling from every bloody step He took.  Hard isn’t wrong, it’s real. Hard is brave, trusting, and true. Hard brings us to those glorious mountain tops.

~

 

Thou Givest, They Gather, by Amy Carmichael, p.116-117

The Dean’s Watch by Elizabeth Goudge, p.122

The Maytrees by Annie Dillard

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis, p. 202

“The Magic of Ordinary Days” Hallmark Hall of Fame, 2005

 

‘Late and Soon’ {Living Education Retreat 2017, Part 2}

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{Beautiful gift given to us by our LER friends – “Keep cutting back until there is peace in your home.” – Nancy Kelly.  Design by – Charlotte Mason Living}

Part 1

Breakfast is being made, cheesy scrambled eggs, and I’m still feeding on the Living Education Retreat*. I’m a simmering soup after the weekend of sharing Charlotte Mason’s philosophy and practices with my fellow learners. My husband is getting an earful and my children are like, “Yes, mom, we know. Charlotte Mason, blah, blah, blah.” All in good humor, of course.  A thread, a main phrase seems to be emerging in my mind. It is the line ‘late and soon’.  I’m trying to wrap my mind around how that and other ideas tie together in a beautiful whole, taking it deep into my heart. I remembered in our Charlotte Mason book study having read it in the volumes, discussing it with my dear friends, and then stumbling again on it in a Wordsworth poem. What’s with Wordsworth lately popping up? Anyhow, here is the poem,

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

 

I went searching for when Miss Mason uses this Wordsworth line in her writings and I found it in her School Education, p. 27.

“We ought to do so much for our children, and are able to do so much for them, that we begin to think everything rests with us and that we should never intermit for a moment our conscious action on the young minds and hearts about us. Our endeavours become fussy and restless. We are too much with our children, ‘late and soon.’ We try to dominate them too much, even when we fail to govern, and we are unable to perceive that wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education. But this form of error arises from a defect of our qualities. We may take heart. We have the qualities, and all that is wanted is adjustment; to this we must give our time and attention.” – Charlotte Mason (emphasis mine)

As I thought on the retreat’s theme of Simplicity, the beautiful times of sharing on math with Marcia, a poetry immersion with Karla, contemplating truths from Charlotte’s volume Ourselves with Joy, the beautiful why’s behind handicrafts with Amy, and all the main sessions with Nancy, Art, and Jeannette, ‘late and soon’ and “keep cutting back until there is peace” started to come alive to me.  What Wordsworth, Mason, and all my lovely friends at this retreat are saying to me is that I can be at rest, narrowing and aiming my focus, not getting too grand, too distracted. I often become inwardly “fussy and restless”, inwardly focused on my inadequacies, inwardly focused, instead of an upward focus on God, and an outward focus on others. I become too grand in my own eyes and of course, weary if I start to drift into thinking that everything rest with myself!  Nancy’s quote ringing all the more true here, “Inner reality that effects our outward lifestyle.” I often let the “cares of this world” to choke out the simplicity found in a Christ-centered focus, in life and in the education of my children.

The wonderful idea of “cutting back until there is peace” extends for me, not only out into the daily practicalities of my home and schedule, but an inner culling, a careful removal of all the dross of self doubt, condemnation, fretting over my children, and faithlessness. This isn’t really about me, it is about faith in Almighty God.

“Education, like faith, is the evidence of things not seen.” – A Philosophy of Education, Charlotte M. Mason, p. 29.

“This great recognition resolves that discord in our lives of which most of us are, more or less, aware. The things of sense we are willing to subordinate to the things of spirit; at any rate we are willing to endeavour ourselves in this direction.” Parents and Children, Charlotte M. Mason, p. 275. (emphasis mine)

Through the conversations, singing fireside with Bobby and Amy, the wonderful lunch discussions with Ami, Barbara, Shauna, and countless others, lingering after small groups, chatting, crying with one another, and the late night talks with Carla, the beauty of this mindset, this feast, shone forth even clearer. Spending time with my daughter and other young adults, enriched, and listening to their panel, looking back over their experiences in this life-giving educational path, all just swells in my heart and mind.

Pausing my typing, my three year old son approaches with Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and says, “Book?” I wrestle my brain out of it’s lofty rumination 😉 , my heart melts, and we share this book together. The Supreme Educator, the Holy Spirit, the God of all Creation, of the “sea that bares her bosom to the moon” is for me and with me. He is my Source, He gently leads those who have young, in Him I live, move, and have my being.  The winds howl for hours, flowers gathered, we easily can get out of tune, but “…once the intimate relation, the relation of Teacher and taught in all things of the mind and spirit, be fully recognised, our feet are set in a large room; there is space for free development in all directions, and this free and joyous development, whether of intellect or heart, is recognised as a Godward movement.” Parents and Children, Charlotte M. Mason, p. 275.

 

 

*{Charlotte Mason was a British educator. We enjoy her philosophy and methods of  life-giving education in our home. The Living Education Retreat encourages parents on this journey.}

~

 

 

 

 

 

 

Expansion of Heart {Living Education Retreat 2017}

 

The rustle of pages can be heard here, with an occasional mouse click breaking the stillness, or my imagined stillness with six dear children present. The notes and ideas that expanded my intellect and heart this past weekend breathe around me. Swirling, turning, and watering deep. Gathered together on the edges of a lake of shining waters, northern Iowa, kindred spirits drank from a fresh well of thought at the Living Education Retreat*. My thumb holds the edge of a page with William Wordsworth’s poem, “Ode to Intimations of Immortality”, thinking on the beauty and implications of an childhood rich with ideas. He penned,

“But for those first affections,
Those shadowy recollections,
Which, be they what they may
Are yet the fountain-light of all our day,
Are yet a master-light of all our seeing;
Uphold us, cherish, and have power to make
Our noisy years seem moments in the being
Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake,
To perish never;
Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavour,
Nor Man nor Boy,
Nor all that is at enmity with joy,
Can utterly abolish or destroy!”

{poetryfoundation.org – in case you want to read the whole of this beautiful poem}

I turn to Matthew 6:22-23, The Holy Bible, rereading the verses shared and thought over, contemplating Charlotte Mason’s poetic form of this very section in The Saviour of the World, meditating on the line, “See to it that thou keep the single eye”, flipping to read alongside of this Miss Mason’s thought on Mansoul in her Ourselves, page nine. I look closer at the painting of Fortitude by Botticelli that we were given, thinking over our discussions and thoughts on this, reflecting on what does it mean to keep the single eye. How does this effect the education of our children, really the whole of our lives? It comes from the idea of a singular focus on God and others, Nancy Kelly sharing that as an, “Inner reality that effects our outward lifestyle.”  A single eye “looks on the thing to do, not on herself as the doer.”  My note pages flip, and I look up at the screen at an essay by Charlotte Mason titled, Simplicity. A pointed, sharp look at reorientation of ones heart focus. A doing the thing right in front of you, rather than trying “to reform oneself.” A freedom from anxiousness, as anxiousness is really a focus on oneself.

Further along in my notes, I glance with fondness at the snippets of beauty and wisdom, remembering especially the fond conversations with my fellow learners. I now turn to a little gift for myself, that I picked up at the retreat. A small, beautiful book, Charlotte Mason and The Great Recognition, edited by Nicole Handfield. As I soaked in the essays, I found myself astonished that in between the covers of this little book was the essence, the theme if you will for me, of this year’s retreat. Charlotte’s thoughts on the Great Recognition, along with others, all beautifully arranged for better illumination and encouragement. The Holy Spirit as the Giver and Supreme Educator becomes a freeing truth to all, to me, a single-eyed devotion centering on our Lord Jesus Christ releases us from our burdens. Even educational burdens. Mothering and relational burdens. He is on our side, He knows all that we need and all that our children need, without reservation, abundant, above all that we could ask or think. This touched me, “We rejoice in the expansion of intellect and the expansion of heart and the ease and freedom of him who is always in touch with the inspiring Teacher, with whom are infinite stores of learning, wisdom, and virtue, graciously placed at our disposal.” Parents and Children, Charlotte M. Mason, p.276 (emphasis mine).

I glance at the piles of books, the open computer folders, take a deep breath, closing my eyes. (Well, in theory. They are still open, for ease of typing. Maybe it’s my inner eyes.) I remember the glorious morning devotions at the cross. The simplicity, quiet, and gentle cadence of lovely thoughts being shared. My heart and mind are at rest, refreshed and expanded. May my lantern shine and reflect the Supreme Educator from this day forth. ~

 

*{Charlotte Mason was a British educator. We enjoy her philosophy and methods of  life-giving education in our home. The Living Education Retreat encourages parents on this journey.}

Feather

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There’s a little feather here. Along with crumpled receipts, crumbs, my broken necklace, coins, and randomness of life. The feather is rumpled, small, surprisingly sweet. She gave it to me, a tinge of excitement on the edge of her voice. “Look at this teeny feather, Mom! It’s for you.” In my hurried, distracted state, I stuffed it there. Funny how it touches and reaches for me now. Little feather dream.

~

What Readers Wear

My frame wears its carbs, irritatingly. My mouth wears its feelings, unfortunately.  My thoughts wear their reading, hopefully.  Ideas, places, people, shock, beauty, disbelief mingle throughout our daily conversation.  The ink on countless pages have grown, shaped, given, asked, answered, and switched on the light. Now, a home library and a half later, a shoe-full of children and I, enter these worlds together, adventuring and stretching. Prayerfully, our wearing the stories of others will overflow true beauty, compassion, thankfulness, and understanding.  My heart wears an ache of gratitude.

~

St. Martin’s Church, Bowness-On-Windermere {English Memories}

Once Upon an England Trip

A favorite memory of our trip was visiting the beautiful, vast churches. I’ve been reading a bit more about them and I wrongly assumed that the bigger they are, that they are then called cathedrals.  This is another article I found fascinating about the construction of ancient churches and meaning behind some of the symbols. My children and I really enjoyed reading this book about cathedral construction, fascinating and quite astounding. I’d love to dig deeper into this study, anyone have any favorite books on the topic? I’d like to research old churches that are in America as well, although 241 years will never compare to Europe’s ancient structures.

St. Martin’s was the very first we visited and holds a special in my heart because of its simple beauty. I wrote something on my old blog home about what these grand churches meant to me and I’m trying to wrap my mind around the loveliness of the history, tradition, and memories that these spaces evoke. Entering, I was immediately struck by a cool, damp, earthy smell. I was engulfed by a hush and reverence, the vastness was so inspiring, lifting my heart toward God. My footsteps echoed as I walked through these places, reading plaques, meditating and praying, thinking through the history of the people the built, lived, worked, and died surrounding these central places of village life. I thought on the unfortunate horrors done in the name of religion, the beliefs and doctrine that shaped countries and kingdoms, all of it swirling and building awe in my mind. I found the lives of the people buried in the crypts fascinating, one could spend hours reading and absorbing.

St. Martin’s was a beautiful beginning and I will share more of the historic churches we visited later on in my trip.

~

 

 

Monday Ponderings {June 26}

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Many were the tears shed by them in their last adieus to a place so much beloved. ‘Dear, dear Norland!’ said Marianne, as she wandered alone before the house, on the last evening of their being there, ‘when shall I cease to regret you?  – when learn to feel at home elsewhere? – O happy house! Could you know what I suffer in now viewing you from this spot, from whence perhaps I may view you no more! – and you, ye well-known trees! – but you will continue the same – No leaf will decay because we are removed, nor any branch become motionless although we can observe you no longer! – No; you will continue the same; unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion, and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade!  – But who will remain to enjoy you?’ – Marianne Dashwood

Sense & Sensibility

Jane Austen

p. 17

(I can identify with these sentiments so much, especially since our move last year. A place, a home, a particular moment means so much to you, and when you leave it or are far removed by time and memory, you grieve. I love this so much as I contemplate the importance of sense of place, an extension of belonging.)

~

Supreme Beauty

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There was a leap of joy in him, like a flame lighting up in a dark lantern. At that moment he believed it was worth it. This moment of supreme beauty was worth all the wretchedness of the journey. It was always worth it. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” It was the central truth of existence, and all men knew it, though they might not know that they knew it. Each man followed his own star through so much pain because he knew it, and at journey’s end all the innumerable lights would glow into one.

Gentian Hill

Elizabeth Goudge

p.208

(emphasis mine)

~

Kingdom of Opposite Tale: Part 2

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Part 1

Soul crouches, cowers in the crevice. It covers its ears. It doesn’t want to take on the path right now. The swirling opposite stream’s Siren call is loud today. Tendrils of a whisper float to Soul, “Just give this foolishness, this outmoded path up. Ease, tranquility, softness, and beauty are yours, Soul.  Just calmly step over.” Soul traces the tentacle scars on its arms. The edges ooze, pus and pain mingle in its mind.  A beautiful face is now in the crevice, swirling and hovering near, slender finger beckoning. Soul is tempted. Why face the mundane road of thou-shalts and whosoever wills? Why feel the bruise and pain of this Kingdom of Opposite? Soul decides to just hide from it all. There is no danger in this crevice. After all, it’s still on the path. Soul leans nearer and stares harder. Siren’s lustful song is longer, mournfully louder. Cringing, Soul remembers. Eyes of its mind shut tight, forgetting again, fighting to remember. Its eye strays toward the path. That blood, a watering of red, on the dusty trail beyond its resting place. Startled, Soul stretches forth one leg, creeping back, faith seeping into its doubting heart. It can’t be. What is that small piece of greening hope in the barrenness? It shuffles closer and peers down. A curling, swirling vine is growing from the red stream.  Something sprouts in Soul’s heart.  Hearty, simple, brave, little vine.  Beauty among dry bones, Soul muses. It pulls itself up, brushes itself off, straining eyes ahead, following the swirls and twists of green.  “One must look hard for beauty in this Kingdom, but isn’t that the very essence of True Beauty? It comes up through the hard places, the lost places, the gruesome places of our path.” Soul speaks these truths out loud, telling itself, drowning her voice, watering the little seed of its heart. Soul starts forward, following the Vine wherever it may go, a spark of beauty leading it onward. It begins again with one step.

~