Life Reflections at Panera

It seemed providential that the day set for my solo trip to town should fall on the same day that Daisy reached four months. A time to reflect, I thought, with four months of motherhood behind me. I had planned this trip for at least a month, thinking with longing of a morning to myself to think, plan, read, and otherwise refresh my tired soul. My dear husband was willing to watch Daisy, so that I could enjoy the time free from the (pleasant!) distractions of a baby girl.

Then, last night, I plunged into a swamp of doubt. Should I really be taking a whole morning to do this? Surely there is enough to do at home that would make this a selfish venture. Perhaps I don’t even want to go to town. But wouldn’t it be good?  Thankfully, my husband’s good sense prevailed. Yes, you should do this. Yes, this will be good for you. Just don’t expect it to solve everything or be perfect. Enjoy it with reasonable expectations. (He knows me very well.)

So I ventured out early this morning in the radiance of a new day. Under a clear blue sky, I drove into town to the local Panera, where I bought a medium coffee and a bagel with cream cheese, settling in a seat by the window with an armload of books, a notebook, and a pen.

Sifting through life at a table by the window

Sifting through life at a table by the window

Two tables away, a trio of gray-haired men enjoyed good conversation punctuated by laughter. One of the voices reminded me of a dear man from my college days, a retired pastor who loves to garden. The comfortable tone of their voices provided a peaceful background to my reading.

Read I did. I had pulled several old favorites off our bookshelf at home last night, longing to refresh my soul with their dear encouragement. Daily Light, with Anne Graham Lotz’s selections of Scripture, had been a gift from my mother thirteen years ago. Amy Carmichael’s Edges of His Ways came from the wife of my dear pastor friend who gardens. I had purchased Beautiful Girlhood–Karen Andreola’s revision of the Mabel Hale classic–back in my teenage days, and Susannah Spurgeon’s devotional thoughts, Free Grace and Dying Love, had been a recent gift from our pastor’s wife here in Virginia. Armed with these dear friends, I sat down by the window to read, reflect, and refresh my heart.

One of the first things I came across was the psalmist’s words from Psalm 131:

Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty. Nor do I concern myself with great matters, nor with things too profound for me. Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother… (vv. 1-2)

Yes, I thought. This is what I need. Simplicity and peace. I longed to clarify the roles I had as wife and mother–positions which, though fixed, often grow muddled in the waves of laundry, dishes, and diapers.

Also with me was a pile of notecards saved from the bridal shower given by my sister-in-law and a friend with the women of the church in which I had grown up. Each notecard had a room of the house designated, and the women had shared insights, encouragement, and tidbits of practical wisdom. After months of lying in a desk drawer, I had unearthed them the other day in a fit of organization. Now, I was encouraged by them this morning.

Being a homemaker means being a keeper of the home, wrote a mother of eight. Keep your home, but don’t forget to actually enjoy it with your family. Always keep your heart open, wrote another. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Whew! That’s what I needed to hear.

And so, with notecards, books, and an ever-scratching pen in my dear old notebook, my soul was refreshed. The sun shone through my window, and when those dear old men left, in went my headphones and I enjoyed the intricate beauties of Vivaldi violin concertos. Such peace.

Four months into motherhood–a lifetime to go.  My heart is refreshed from a morning by the window at Panera.

Every hour should bear on its fast-flying wings the witness of something said, or done, or thought, for You, my Master, or Your service. (Susannah Spurgeon, Free Grace and Dying Love)

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Christ in the City

The words came fast today. My heart was full, so I am posting a day earlier than usual. Forgive any errors or encumbrances in the words; they tumbled out, one over another, too quickly to carefully craft. My soul had much to say.

The sun has returned. After the steady rain of the past few days, this morning dawned bright and clear. I walked into the kitchen at 6:20 am, marveling at the light already spilling through the shades on our doors and window. It was as if the world was already radiant in the knowledge that the sun would come up today in all its glory. And so it did.

After doing a laundry load of cloth diapers and cleaning up the kitchen from breakfast, I took my geometry manual outside to the porch swing to plan for the class I teach. A cool breeze was blowing, and the birds were singing all around me. Peaceful in their pen, the alpacas leisurely grazed and ate their hay, while crows swooped over them, loudly discussing their morning business.

Swinging gently on the porch swing, I quietly took in all the loveliness before me. Living in the Virginia countryside delights my soul. The country is home. I remember as a child always feeling so gloriously fulfilled when we went to my grandmother’s farm in Pennsylvania. Shoes came off as I ran up and down the hills and meadows. I always ended up in the milking parlor, boot-clad, aproned, soothing the ladies as they swayed in their stalls. I explored the fields, gathering wildflowers, wading in the ice-cold creek that came down from the mountains. I sat on the porch swing under the tall black walnut tree, reading or simply gazing through the leafy trees to the mountains. The aroma of the farm filled the air. It was peace, joy, fulfillment. It was home.

Now, newly-wed, mother to a darling little girl, I have been back in the country this past year-and-a-half, though now in Virginia. The two-lane highway in front of the house still has trucks going by, just like the farm, and there are horses and cows across the road. At night I hear the peeping frogs and the lowing cows. The farm fragrance still permeates the air. And I still see mountains through the leafy trees.

Our little home in the country has brought such joy. Washing dishes in view of the mountains is bliss. I love coming home to the smell of the barn, and opening the window in the kitchen brings in such pure, fresh air each day. It has been a dream come true to make our home here.

Now, though, our thoughts turn to the home we will soon inhabit. Come August, we will pack up our belongings and move to the big City Up North, where there won’t be cows or mountains or farm smell. Instead, there will be lots of people. Homes squashed together, wall to wall, and busy streets. Trees will be few and far between in our neighborhood, and I hope for birdsong—just maybe.

After all the fulfillment of this country home, how will my soul stay in the City? Physically, yes, I will live and work in our household and be a mother and wife in this new home. But sometimes I wonder how my heart will stay well when its soul-roots are steeped in farm air and mountain sight.

Then, amidst the little seedlings of fear, I remember God’s promises. He led His people out of bondage and through the wilderness. He made the bitter waters sweet. And He sent bread from heaven. He brings the weary rest, and He brings peace and joy to the heavy-laden. His promises are true in the country and in the City. He is Emmanuel. God with us. He will come with us to the City and will bring my soul rest.

And so, on this sunny morning, I savor my view from the porch swing. The sun bathes the grass in front of me with radiance, and the birds sing in choral majesty. These moments are precious, and I drink in their sweetness. I will miss them in the City, but the cloud and the pillar go before us. Christ will be with us. Christ is in the City. And He is my Shepherd who will lead me beside still waters and restore my soul.

Weariness and Grace

A new week has arrived, and with it, another rainy day. The steady pattering goes on outside while little Daisy and I enjoy a quiet day at home. It was a busy weekend, so the prospect of a rainy day at home together is especially lovely.

The past weekend was a whirlwind. Two young friends graduated from high school. A dear family here just brought back their adopted daughter from Africa. An old college chum of my husband’s came for lunch on Saturday. Hospitality, ministry, fellowship, celebration. So many rich things overflowing in the brief space of barely three days. In the moments between the excitement, exhaustion came. How does one carry on in the dear daily life God has given when so tired?

I thought back to all the mornings of waking up exhausted, struggling simply to get up and begin another day. Even with a little one who slept through the night early on, I was still weary. Four months later, exhaustion still rears its ugly head. Some mornings are a royal battlefield, where joy fights despair and Christ’s promises are a feast for a starving beggar. His grace prevails, but how am I to persevere?

The answer I have found? Embrace it. Don’t attempt to side-step the exhaustion, for it follows you wherever you go. Sink into it, rather, so as to surge forward in God’s good grace. Like the labor to birth a child or the grief of heart-aching tragedy, I accept the weariness so that I can surmount it by God’s grace. And His grace prevails!

So I take a deep breath and get out of bed in the morning. Stand up from my seat on the couch and begin the next load of laundry. Wake my daughter from her nap and carry on the daily duties and delights of mothering. His grace is sufficient for all my needs.

Christ suffered the full wrath of God in order to atone for the sins of His people. He died in order that we might live. So I take up my cross and follow Him, embracing the struggle in order to attain the victory. I carry on.

What about you? How do you persevere amidst weariness?

Grey Skies and Neat Piles

It rained yesterday. Heavy grey morning skies opened wide as afternoon came, pouring down rain upon rapid-growing grass and bright blossoms. Steady rain, dripping, puddling, drenching the earth. It came and came, hushing all the afternoon sounds in its quiet rush. I watched from my window as a little bird found shelter on the swing under the overhanging porch. He and I, sheltered, looked out on the wide wet world with contentment, peaceful amidst the outburst of the clouds.

My little Daisy and I delighted ourselves amidst laundry, cleaning, and baking. She sat observantly, talking with her eyes and her tongue, as I worked from room to room, rectifying messes and organizing chaos. Prospective future renters were coming, and I wanted all the little corners and crannies to be presentable. Floors were vacuumed, clothes sorted, and piles straightened. How is it that the easiest way of containing clutter is simply to present it more beautifully?

Creatively camouflaging clutter (aka plastic bins with no other place to call home).

Creatively camouflaging clutter (aka plastic  storage bins with no other place to call home).

Now, another rainy day. I woke up to grey skies and dripping eaves, feeling the same slowness in my own spirit. The soothing patter, though, quieted my heart as I began upon the tasks of the day, and with little Daisy’s cheery smile, I take joy in the work before me. The biweekly batch of homemade yogurt is solidifying as I write, and the neatened piles remain neat thus far. It is a good day.

What blessings the Lord sends down each day, raining them upon us as He does upon the earth. What blesses your heart today? And how do you manage to de-clutter clutter?

N.B. Those of you who have read Little Women carefully will understand the nom de guerre I chose for our little daughter.

The Fragrance of Grace

It is the season of honeysuckle. The fragrance of its tiny blossoms hovers all around us in the air. I walk past a cluster of bushes in the neighborhood and breathe in its perfume. Sitting in the car at a stoplight, windows down, the aroma trails in from a nearby bush. Its beauty even greets me as I walk out the door of our home.

Freshness, loveliness, and simplicity—I desire these very things for my own daily life. The past few months have been so abundantly full of blessings as we’ve welcomed a precious little daughter into our home. Fresh life brings with it lovely joy and beauty, and with it, comes the need for simplicity. My days have been full of little sounds and little smiles rather than the written word. A great delight, indeed, but the need remains. Deep joy, pressed down and running over, must at last be expressed in writing, and that is what I hope to do as I resurrect this little blog from its dusty corner. Telling tales of God’s faithfulness, provision, and blessing. Sharing joys of motherhood and daily life. Dreaming dreams of future days. All these things are an aroma of grace, an encouragement as together we press forward toward glory.

For now, back to the delightful duties of home life. A new batch of ginger cookie dough is waiting for me in the refrigerator…

A little tidbit of loveliness from this spring...

A little tidbit of loveliness from this spring…

Into a New Year

Well, my dear readers, you have much reason to chide me over my long absence from this blog. With over two months of silence, I have fallen down upon my resolution to write faithfully, but oh! the life that has been lived in these days, weeks, and months. Sometimes it is simply a matter of living, then writing when the dust has settled and the heart has grown.

Our little life out here in the country has indeed been full of growth and changes. During the last part of the year, our thoughts were full of seminary and where we would make our home for the next four or so years. We visited another, bigger seminary up north, and the decision between our two choices stretched us greatly. Now, my dear husband is writing essays and finishing an application to that big school, and we are waiting on the Lord for His guidance. As we pursue this option, there is much that we don’t yet have in our hands, but what better opportunity to keep our hands open before the Lord, waiting for His gracious provision!

And then came Christmas… so much joy, so much life, so many things! We had the great joy of returning home to our families for an extended time of visiting, which brought such refreshment to our souls. Those ten days were full of family time, fellowship with friends, delicious food, dear gifts, and so much more. We came back to our little apartment very much overflowing with blessings!

Now, a new year… one which promises many changes. Weeks and days are rapidly dwindling as we await the birth of our precious little daughter. Diapers, onesies, and baby things have flooded our apartment, and my days at home are spent making room for this new little family member and her needs. Even as I grow increasingly more weary and weak, the promise of new life lies ahead!

What a blessing it is to live in the good and gracious providence of God. In Him we have hope, joy, strength, grace, peace, and, most of all, His presence in daily life. Onward to a new year of glorifying and enjoying Him always!

October

It flew by, as on wings, that most favorite of months. As leaves grew brilliant and temperatures dropped, and as that unmistakable tang of autumn met us whenever we stepped out our door, yes, in that most wonderful of times, we lived.

And that must account for the absence of words. Because sometimes words can’t cover a time of such deep joy … such life.

For one thing, there were the apples. Bushels and bushels of apples. I now have canned applesauce, canned apple butter, frozen applesauce, multiple apple crisps … oh, how delicious the tart, sweet fragrance of a fresh apple, even after one has peeled and quartered more apples than she cares to count!

Here and abroad, we also savored family. My mother and sister visited in the earlier part of the month, and we joyed in their presence. Visiting an apple orchard on the most blustery and busy of days, watching the alpacas, playing games, talking … their company was so sweet. Later in the month, we squeezed barely a day out of our overflowing travel schedule to meet up at home, laughing over dessert, running after nieces and nephew, talking across the table at the bagel shop. It was so fleeting, so dear, so deep.

And the walks. Oh, the overpowering joy of the air, the sky, and the leaves … going out on starlit nights, walking in the neighborhood at dusk, feeling the crispness of the air. What joy it was to be alive out there in the freshness, the ever-changing beauty of the fall season. Chronicling the falling of the leaves from the towering tree down by the old farm. Driving by the creek and seeing the brilliant leaves floating on the water. Watching the fields grow golden-glorious in the evening sunshine. It made one’s heart hymn and praise all glory to God.

Then, of course, the future. Coming days, journeys, seasons. Looking ahead even as we rejoiced in the present. We visited a seminary and began thinking through the next step of our marriage. Meeting professors, reuniting with dear friends, worshipping with the body of Christ, we savored our time in another community. Thinking carefully, we drove home talking about houses, children, music lessons, and how we might live this new season of life. We dreamed beautiful, exciting, challenging dreams.

And in the midst of the old and new seasons, the changing of Nature’s guard in preparation for Winter, we relished each day, treasuring its moments of joy, communion, and satisfaction. The more this little bundle of joy grows within my womb, the more we see the closing of a chapter as we begin a new journey with our little daughter. And even as the leaves have now fallen and the air is now cold, so too we rejoice in the season before us, for it is good. All that the Lord does is exceedingly good, and in that, our hearts rejoice.

Peace …

Rain falling outside in the darkness of the evening.

Windows open to let in the fresh, cool air.

A sweetly-scented candle burning on our kitchen table.

Hazelnut coffee shared with friends in our home this afternoon.

Reading C.S. Lewis curled up on our bed.

Nourishing potato soup as a pleasant evening meal.

A clean sink after all the dishes of the day.

Leftovers in the refrigerator to draw from during the week.

Time to spend reading, thinking, and preparing for another week.

The memory of a uplifting conversation with a friend at church.

A quiet heart.

All glory to God for the rest and joy and peace He brings to us on His sabbath day!

When the exterior peels off…

In the midst of my delightful day at home, I took the time this afternoon to finish processing the bushel of apples I had gotten over the weekend. On Saturday I had made four and a half quarts of homemade applesauce, with two apple crisps in the next few days for get-togethers, but my goal was to make a little more applesauce to freeze and to have a few bags of sliced apples in the freezer for future desserts.

As I lined up my peeled apples on the counter, I thought about how insignificant they all looked without their skins. The various bumps and bruises became much more obvious, and the misshapen lines of peeling distorted the beautiful roundness they once possessed. They were now to be cut and cooked rather than kept on display!

At the same time, though, I realized how much I’ve been feeling like a not-very-nice peeled apple. These past few days and weeks have been a time of exhaustion, much hard work, and sickness, and the exterior of joy, calm, and peace that I cherish has been peeled off again and again. All of my raw needs (those bumps and bruises, so to speak) have been revealed in painful detail, as once more, as ever, I stumble towards Christ, crying out for His mercy.

My dear husband has been faithful to remind me of the need to persevere in godliness even when I don’t feel the wonderful optimism by which I love to spend my days. Feeling cheerful and excited about life is not the reason by which I live. Christ the Savior is my hope of glory, and it is by His grace I walk, in seasons of joy and in seasons of struggle. He is always faithful!

Meanwhile, I have applesauce in my freezer, along with two bags of sliced apples destined for future apple crisps. The Lord is gracious to continually provide such delightful little joys each day. May He do the same for you today!