Evening on Calais Beach

IT is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
The gentleness of heaven broods o’er the sea:
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder–everlastingly.
Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouch’d by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham’s bosom all the year;
And worshipp’st at the Temple’s inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.

–by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

I’ve been missing the gentleness of life lately. When is the last time I had a really gentle thought? When have the conversations in our house been quiet and peaceful, completely lacking in sarcasm or discontent? Why don’t I have these moments of calm, holy times quiet as a Nun, when the gentleness of heaven broods o’er the sea? We went to a small beach today, just to do something different. The girls enjoyed playing in the sand, but I was uptight because one of them waded too far and got water in her rain boots, and my son laid around on the merry-go-round, clearly not enjoying himself.

If the second part of the poem is correct (and I don’t think the theology is quite right), then my lack of feeling gentle does not mean God’s gentleness is far from me. It seems as if I constantly have to be reminded that God doesn’t leave me alone. He’s there, even when I don’t think He is. Well, then. I go through these ungentle stages of life. But the higher reality is always there, always gentle, always brooding o’er my present time.

From the Wiseblood Books Weblog

It is Wiseblood Books’ fourth anniversary. This small Christian press published my book of short stories, A Flower in the Heart of the Painting. The editor, Joshua Hren, wrote a nice article on Wiseblood Books Weblog. Here is an interesting bit:

And yet Flannery O’Connor, in spite of her crutches, gave us legs to stand on. She gave us, in spite of her bad eyesight, a vision. She raised some crucial problems: in literary works written in a world that lives as though God is dead, do we need to shout so that the deaf can hear, draw large and startling figures so that the blind can see? Does not grace feel like violence, sometimes, and is not fiction particularly capable of dramatizing the awful conversions that can come of such disruption? Certain things have changed a great deal since O’Connor’s time. And yet things have largely stayed the same. When we try to say “God” in contemporary fiction, should we fake a sneeze at the same time? Lest it actually sound as though we were narrating some of the eternal questions of religion—of the nature of grace acting upon human life, of the problem of suffering, of the sacramental dimensions of nature, of conversion—even here in the Year of Our Lord 2017.

I really don’t like Flannery O’Connor’s writing much, but I don’t like to admit it because she is Christian and writer at the same time. Plus famous! And not sappy romantic. I like what Dr. Hren has to say about her work… do her figures have to be startling so the people in this world, with their eyes covered up to all mention of Christianity, are forced to see Christian truth? Maybe so. Sadly so. And I hope it’s not always so. I hope mainstream fiction can embrace thoughtful Christian truth in a more subtle way without being pushed aside as “too preachy” or “old-fashioned.” Until then, there’s Wiseblood Books. Perhaps it’s not mainstream, but it is an outlet for Christian literature.

This weblog article makes it sound as if Wiseblood Books publishes all Catholic literature. I just wanted to add that my book adopts my Protestant worldview, as does the book of short stories by Robert Vander Lugt, also published by Wiseblood.

A little time to write

A little time to write, a little time to pray, a little time to prepare for the day…

I’m not normally up early in the morning, but this morning I am, probably because my husband forgot to set his alarm, therefore I slept straight until 4:30 am, when he eventually woke himself up, and I did not have to get up at 3 to shake him awake. A blessing for me, although probably not for him. At least I’ve reminded myself that I do something constructive for him besides pointing out the many ways our house is falling apart. I think he still better appreciates the hired girl who sincerely cares about his calves and cows. And the hired boy who brings him coffee and donuts at least once a week.

I’m going to pray while I have a little cry…

Dear Lord, I know You are the bigger reality. I know that you are using this strange life, this strange marriage to care for me and the children. I am thankful for the freedom to stay home and care for them. I am also thankful for the freedom to get out of the house and go other places. Please, Lord, don’t let this house fall around us. Help us figure out what is wiser–to keep the smoke alarms connected and working or to deal with chirping alarms in the middle of the night nine and half feet in the air. And help me to know what to do about the spot above the bathtub. And help Dean to fix the porch steps. It’s very discouraging to have someone over for dinner (which You know I hardly ever do) and then the porch steps break under them as they leave. Are You telling me it’s okay not to have people over? Or is it to point out that I married someone who doesn’t care about much?

Dear Lord, please just keep near to me and the children. Please help us to live. Help me to counteract the things Dean says to them. Give us love for each other. For You nothing is impossible.

Dear Lord, there is the sunset. It is maroon under blue, overlaid with the black lace of bare branches. People are driving on the road, quiet headlights going here and there. The first bird woke up. Probably the one above my bedroom window. I’ve become almost reconciled to them. They haven’t scratched through the drywall in eleven years. Perhaps they never will.

Please dear Lord, forgive me my despair. Your kingdom is about joy and hope. I belong to that, but I live here. It’s good to know that You wept, too. Maybe depression doesn’t always equal sin.

Thank you for being my God and making me Your people. May my family be Your people, too.

In Your Name, Amen.

And now to prepare for the day, make a schedule for the school week, think about what kinds of things I need to cook. I don’t know… somehow I’ll make it through. If you don’t mind, and if you’ve read this far, you probably care a little, please pray a little prayer for us, too.

Two Books

I’m reading my youngest daughter a book about a dog named Three Names, so I decided to name this post Two Books.

First is a book I haven’t read yet, but I’m seeing it everywhere! It must be that I need to read it. It’s called Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. It’s an old book, so I’m not sure why I’m seeing it pop up all over lately. Has anyone read it and enjoyed it?

Second is a book my son and I are reading, Children of the New Forest by Captain Marryat. We both had our misgivings before we began this book, but now my son begs to read it more often than I have it on the school schedule. I think he likes the hunting in it. We are not a hunting family, and he has a soft spot for animals anyway, so this may be as close as he gets to actual hunting. I like the book because I have no idea what is going to happen. It’s a survival story, but it also contains an element of revenge and upholding one’s honor. The main protector of the children has died, and now what? I don’t know yet. Maybe my son will ask for an extra chapter tomorrow.


Lean Not On Your Own Understanding

Do you ever get stressed out with your children and not realize it? I just realized that’s what has been happening to me. Thankfully, I have a lovely monthly Charlotte Mason book study to attend and mentally recharge for two hours. It’s good to go someplace where you are reminded to stay relational with your children, to fill their different needs, to build their character rather than their conduct. It’s wonderful to remember that I need to step out of the way of the Holy Spirit. Serve my children, give them what they need, be quiet and trust in the Lord. Lean not on my own understanding.

This is hard to do. Especially when the children are very loud and annoying. But if God can provide this little two hour break for me once a month, then that’s something to rejoice about. I tend to worry that these parenting things don’t work if both parents aren’t doing them. But then again, if I am doing something positive and relational in my children’s lives, that is much better than if I wasn’t. I’m doing what I can. I’m going to pray more about it. And maybe peace will come.

When I Was Young In The Mountains

When I was young in the mountains, we sat on the porch swing in the evenings, and Grandfather sharpened my pencils with his pocketknife. Grandmother sometimes shelled beans and sometimes braided my hair. The dogs lay around us, and the stars sparkled in the sky.

— from When I Was Young In The Mountains by Cynthia Rylant, illus. by Diane Goode (1982)

This beautiful picture book is very calming with its rhythmical repetition, its mellow pictures, and its description of a simple, old-fashioned mountain life. The theme of contentment builds through the pages, and I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book about contentment before.* It’s refreshing and thought-provoking at the same time.

My youngest daughter and I read this book as part of our Five In A Row curriculum this week. We made a graph, counting different things in the illustrations. We talked about contentment, but my little talk seemed completely insignificant. The book speaks for itself. We looked at pictures of the Appalachian Mountains, and that was lovely. Did you know there are Green Mountains and White Mountains? We ran across a picture of a Mohican longhouse, and that was interesting. We also talked about food and good nutrition, making a placemat to remind my snacky daughter that vegetables and fruit are important, too. My daughter enjoyed the picture of Mr. and Mrs. Crawford, who looked alike. She’d cover up the bun in Mrs. Crawford’s hair and say, “Now she’s Mr. Crawford.” Such lovely, happy people in this book.

*I’ve  just now thought of another book about contentment: The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. But that was a bull. It’s easier for a bull to be content than a person.