In the Secret Garden

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In the Secret Garden by Gustave Doyen (1837-?)

Wouldn’t it be nice to provide each of my children with a secret garden? They could retreat there, keep it a secret from whomever they pleased, or share the secret with whomever. They could cultivate it or let it grow wild. It wouldn’t matter which. They could skip rope through it. They could practice talking like their father (I’ll give the flurs a shur) or their mother (Fly, I’ve had enough! If you buzz once more I’m going to count) or just like themselves. They could get away from me when I’m cleaning and won’t read the next chapter of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (which they really want to hear!). They could do their math work there, and maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. They could learn some independence in a secret garden.

Really, though, I’m the one who wants a secret garden. It is just a dream right now. It wouldn’t work out in reality. But someday, in another phase of my life, perhaps I’ll have something quiet, natural, and lovely where I can go and improve my temperament. Or maybe it will always be in my dreams. Maybe it will be on paper, in a book or a poem. Maybe my secret garden will be a garden of pictures on the wall. Maybe it is anything that is restful. Maybe the point is that I don’t write about it, because then it wouldn’t be secret.

Fall Freedom

This afternoon, as I picked sticks off the lawn and watched my children doing some strange activity involving long branches and hordes of black walnuts, I decided my favorite thing about fall is the way everything frees up. Half of the cornfield across our driveway has been chopped, and it leaves me with a sense of relief, as if I’d been holding my breath while the corn was growing tall. Soon the weeds in our woods will die, and we’ll be able to ramble around the woods again. The leaves are just beginning to fall off the trees, and that opens up more space above. Even the temperature, dropping, seems to leave a vacancy where the heat and humidity once were.

Perhaps our calves felt it, too. At twilight four calves freed themselves from their fenced-in yard. We got them back in. But fall freedom is in the air!

Rich Davis and the 1-Minute Artist

I don’t remember how I came across Rich Davis, a Christian artist, but I’m glad I did! He makes fun things for kids (and adults) who like to draw. He has a new drawing book out called The 1-Minute Artist. You can find it here on Amazon. You can also learn more about the book at his website: http://richdavis1.wordpress.com/

We’ve had the book for about two days, and below are the fun results of my three kids putting together a scene of some of the items Mr. Davis taught them to draw!

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Although I didn’t take a picture of my scene, I also had a blast drawing from the book:) In fact, I’ve got an unfinished scene on the table now, waiting…

Thanks for the inspiration, Rich Davis!

Being Holy

With the first Bible study of the season coming up, I decided to reread some of the book we’re using, which is written by Nancy Guthrie. It tells about seeing Jesus in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Looking at the chapter about Leviticus (a rather boring book in the Bible) I realized how much I don’t even want to be holy. The Israelites in the Old Testament had their entire life structured for them so they could realize the importance of being clean and holy.

But my life in the New Covenant? I try to get away with the least amount of holiness. It’s as if holiness is a chore I want to get through with as quickly as possible. Church services: go there and get back home quickly. Prayer: short or my mind will wander. Bible reading: just a little so I can get back to reading A Portrait of a Lady. Teaching Biblical ways to my children: oh, well, I barely know how to do that; leave that to the Holy Spirit and the Sunday School teacher’s manual.

I’m reminded of the hymn “Take Time to Be Holy.” I really do need to take time to practice holiness. Or else I spend my time practicing selfishness. Or worldliness. It is so difficult to get priorities straight. I hope the upcoming Bible study season will help me along with these struggles, but ultimately, I know I have to ask for spiritual help from God, who can lift me up much more effectively than I can lift myself up.

Silence – Water Flames

Silence - Water Flames by Makoto Fujimura, 2015
Silence – Water Flames by Makoto Fujimura, 2015

Makoto Fujimura, a modern-day Christian abstract-expressionist, paints the most ridiculously extravagant canvases, using materials like gold, and this one also contains sixty layers of a special Japanese vermillion.

I am so thrifty (aka cheap) that I painted dry-brush in college so I would use less paint and could make my tubes last until the end of the semester. I still have some of those tubes. And I will continue to use them until they dry up or get too gooey or whatever old paint does.

How can Mr. Fujimura justify putting so much expense into his work? I haven’t been looking long at his art, but I know enough that some of his key words are sacrifice, sanctification, tears, silence, and grace. His work carries depth that perhaps couldn’t be expressed with normal paint. What is Jesus worth to us? What is the soul worth? These are unanswerable questions. Or maybe the answer is “More than everything.” That might be key to the richness of his work. Even a golden Fujimura painting can’t fully describe the beauties of Christianity. Even “Silence – Water Flames” with its sixty layers of rare vermillion can’t cover sins the way Christ’s blood can. But his works are the closest I’ve seen to expressing these things.

Thoughts about Home

School begins tomorrow for my healthy children. I have one sick child today. I feel like I’m returning to something. It is true we homeschool; therefore we spend our summer vacation in the same place we spend our school time, but still, I believe I was homesick most of the summer. This makes me wonder what home really is.

One aspect is the physical building and the land it is on. If pressed, I will say this big old farmhouse is my home, but if pressed even further, I will admit it’s even more my husband’s home and has been in his family (not mine) for many years.

Another aspect of home are the things we make ourselves comfortable doing. I phrased that carefully because I was trying to describe in one sentence why I was homesick for homeschool. For some reason I never got comfortable doing summer vacation this year. I think it had something to do with my total lack of comfort (and ability) working on the farm with my husband. I felt like since the kids are a little older now and I didn’t busy myself with school, I should be driving the mile to the barn and helping out more. There are still some good excuses not to. The kids really aren’t quite big enough to help much. We want to keep the van clean, which is tricky when I’m hauling myself and three children back and forth, all of us wearing barn boots and smelly clothes. So anyway, I never felt like I was doing the right thing. I always felt like I was doing the wrong thing this summer. But with school coming, the right thing is to do educational/relational things with my kids.

There is also my spiritual home, which is in a higher reality, separate from this life. I am a pilgrim on earth. Now, the word pilgrim makes me think of the Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower. But they came to make new homes where they could worship God in peace. It is true their new homes were rough and difficult compared to their old homes, but still, they eventually formed bigger communities, gained more aspects of civilization and comfort. So the Pilgrims eventually stopped being true pilgrims. Christians don’t stop being pilgrims until they get to heaven. All of this living in big old farmhouses and getting comfortable reading good books to my kids is part of a pilgrimage. It doesn’t even count as home, in that sense. Spiritually, Christians are always homesick. I guess that’s true for me, at least right now. Nothing seems right, exactly. Spiritually, my keel is uneven. I think I’m doing great with devotions and prayer one day and the next I’m unable to even think a full sentence to God. Does this make me feel better? Yes, it does make me feel better to write this stuff out. But it doesn’t matter so much. I’m still homesick. Knowing that my constant spiritual homesickness outranks the homesickness resulting from a bad summer does help me put things in proper perspective.

Summer of Anne Tyler

This summer has been my Anne Tyler book phase. I’ve gone through book phases most of my life. I remember my Michael Crichton phase (a gorilla named Amy!) and I had a John Grisham phase (lawyers can be interesting). My Jane Austen phase was fun, but all too quickly I was through her books. I’ve noticed God brings me to the right books at the right time. I love Anne Tyler’s writing, and I would say “I can’t believe I’ve never read her books before this summer” except I do believe it. God does these things for a reason. I can learn a lot of writing craft from Ms. Tyler, and apparently now is the time for it.

More for my benefit than yours, I’m going to list the books I read and write a little something about each one. I would do my usual quote, but I don’t have the books anymore.

If Morning Ever Comes: Anne’s first book, and I adored it, even though it did not take place in Baltimore! A male hero in a houseful of females.

The Clock Winder: I didn’t immediately like Elizabeth, the heroine, or any of the characters for that matter, but I did stick with it and was satisfied with the ending. The locusts at the end are very memorable!

Celestial Navigation: One of my favorites! It’s about an eccentric artist. The structure of this book is something I’d like to try: each chapter is titled by a character’s name and goes deep into that person’s conscience. It shows off Anne’s great ability to get into her characters’ existence.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant: Another book I had to stick with because I didn’t immediately like the characters. The owner of the restaurant, Ezra, is the most likable character, but I did not like how he never came up on top. He’s the type of person to be walked all over by his family. Maybe that’s the point. I read an interview with Anne Tyler, and apparently Ezra is one of her favorite characters.

The Accidental Tourist: The bad morality of this book clashes with the great writing. I have mixed opinions.

Breathing Lessons: This is my favorite. It’s about a lot of things, but among them is the marriage of Ira and Maggie, a middle-aged couple going to a funeral of a friend’s husband. I know this sounds extreme, but I’ve decided Ira is my second-favorite male book character, right after Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre.

Ladder of Years: Another middle-aged mom, and this one is very sweet. She does something spontaneous and can’t get out of it. I like the way life happens to her, and the way the story continues though almost nothing can be easily ironed out at the end.

Back When We Were Grownups: Yet another middle-aged mom, this time a widow. An introvert who ended up being a party-planner! I like how this job (which came naturally with her marriage) changed her over time. The birthday party at the end with the old family video seemed like such a good way to finish the book. I would rate this as my second-favorite Anne Tyler book.

The Amateur Marriage: This book seemed more historical, following the beginning of the marriage, but it does end up in the present when the main characters are old. I didn’t really like this book because of the way it treats divorce and unfaithfulness, but again the writing itself is admirable.

Digging to America: The only one I couldn’t finish. I don’t know why.

Noah’s Compass: This time it’s about an older dad, widowed and divorced, and he meets someone much younger… Again, the morality isn’t the best, but I did feel sympathy for Liam.

The Beginner’s Goodbye: This is one of the more memorable ones for me. Aaron’s wife is killed in a freak accident, and he has difficulty dealing with his grief. I’d say this is the most touching story she has written (of the ones I’ve read, of course).

A Spool of Blue Thread: Well, this is the first one I read, and the way she writes from the very soul of her characters captured me. I don’t particularly care for the plot in this book, but plot isn’t everything. In fact, in Anne Tyler books, plot is minor. Character is key.

Vinegar Girl: Brand-new Anne Tyler book! It is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Kate is a shrew all right, and she is tamed by the end. The real feat here is getting the reader to dislike Kate in the beginning and then slowly reel them into sympathizing with her. It might as well be The Taming of the Reader. I love the Russian hero, Pyotr! I’m glad Kate ends up loving him, too.

That’s all I read. I still have a few to go, but I’m taking a break. I have to concentrate on school for awhile. Does anyone else out there have a favorite Anne Tyler book or character?