Satisfied with Small

 

 

Growing up in a large family with a dad who invited students over, my idea of a holiday meal is a groaning board laden with food, tables jammed up against each other with tablecloths dressing the wound between the two, good plates for company with everyday plates tucked in less conspicuous spots, windows steamed, a procession of mounded bowls, a continuous buzz of conversation, singing Doxology, and hours of clean-up for the poor souls whose names on the calendar rotation indicated dish washer and dish dryer. That was my normal.

Early in our marriage we continued the tradition and gathered friends like you would wildflowers: always room for a few more in the bunch.

As our family grows we have the possibility of expanding to 29, as we did for Thanksgiving, or contracting to a table for four. My preference is for big and boisterous. But—shock!—there are others to consider. 

As silly as it sounds, the first time we had one of our small holiday meals, I had a personal crisis. I was smiling and saying It’ll be great!, but the real me inside was stomping, banging pots, and feeding my misery. All sorts of traitorous thoughts ran through my head, the foremost being “Why go to all this trouble for a meal for five?”

A shaft of light, a tiny thought, was the game-changer. What if Mom could come, if she were your only guest? Would you do all you could to make it a special meal?

Serious? If I could have my mom at my table just once, I would plan for weeks to have the most splendid menu. I get all throat-lumpy just imagining the privilege of serving Mom a meal in my home.

The light shaft widened to a illuminating column: What if the Lord Jesus came to your little dinner? Would you be crabbing about all the work for a small meal? My Lord at my table? I would buy the best ingredients, take pains to make things lovely, be thrilled to my tippie-toes! I’d be nervous choosing the wine, but we’d figure it out.

Oh child, I tell myself, numbers-schnumbers. Cherish each celebration, great or small.

 

Musings of a Bibliophile

In my dream house, I would have a library: walls of floor-to-ceiling, glass-fronted bookcases. In reality I have six open bookcases and a woodstove, a dust procreator. Periodically I remove all the books, vacuum the top edges of them, wipe them, and cull out the books I don’t need to keep. It is my favorite cleaning project: old friends are fondly acknowledged, unread books are opened and sighed over. There are discoveries and dialogs. Yes, I talk to myself.

Here then, are my thoughts while cleaning and shelving books.

• What discoveries! Many books have Post-it flags dotted across the top; I found (and removed) other forms of bookmarks. One square of toilet tissue. A white plastic flosser. A register receipt. Bear that in mind if you want to borrow my books.

• I moved Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare from the Shakespeare shelf down to the kids’ books on the bottom. All things Greece gave up the glorious Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of The Iliad and The Wanderings of Odysseus to the same location.  Which prompts me to say how much I love the illustrations of Alan Lee.

• There is the problem of the Norton Anthologies. What if? I whisper.  What if? I repeat.  What if I started working through these, reading sections in between other books? I pick one up and flip to the last page. Page 2579. Well, that’s a happy thought, I conclude.

• I love the idea, and occasionally the practice, of deep reading. Reading through all the works of a great author. Ignatius Press has issued The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton. How I would love to own all 36 volumes! Seven are still to be published. But I have Volume 1 on my shelf; I remember the splurge of purchasing it at Twice Read Books in Chambersburg, PA. Even though I haven’t read all of Volume 1, I like to imagine having read all 29 published volumes.

• The internet has made so many reference books redundant. Take The New York Public Library Desk Reference. I imagine that every tasty bit of information (TBOI, for short) could be found online. But oh, what a glorious source of whimsical reading. And how many hours have I enjoyed between the covers of TNYPLDR. Browsing isn’t the same online. Alas, it is on the “out” pile.

• I couldn’t just dust the art books without some lookie-loos. Winslow Homer, I love you. 

• I’ve been called a Grammar Nazi a few times lately, a label I protest. This shelf, however, tells a different story.

 What tales do your bookshelves tell?

An Afternoon in a Graveyard

I’m eating my lunch in a graveyard.
Human seeds have been planted in neat little rows. Stone stakes label the crop.

~ N.D. Wilson in Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl

 

I like cemeteries.
The names, the epitaphs, the iconography, the quiet.
I like the sadness, the melancholy, the stab of pain, the bracing reality of death.

I hate death.
I hate the ripping and tearing, the long separation, the disruption, the destruction.
Death is my enemy.
I whisper John Donne’s words, “Death, thou shalt die.”

 

But.
I believe.
Weekly, we quote the Apostle’s Creed:
I believe in the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

 

Grief for Little Charlie. Grief for Little Charlie’s mom.

 

 

 

So personal: My Mother. Our Son.

A hollow emptiness.

Spring time is perhaps the best time to visit a cemetery.

 Spring’s blossoms sing an ancient melody ~
after death comes the resurrection.

 

Our favorite epitaph.

 Your life in five words?

Closing Thoughts

 

She is depressed.  The d’s—disappointment, discouragement, dejection, despondency, despair—plague her. And Death, the big D, is staring in the window, eager to devour. 

I longed to encourage her. I looked for the right words. I had in mind the last verse of one of the psalms, about hope.  Flipping through the psalms, it occurred to me that the closing thought of many psalms are precisely what we need to hear in the closing chapter of our life. The perfect orientation. The reminder of where our strength lies. Solid truth. Something to grip.

Here is a sampling:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. [23]  

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. [42]

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. [100]

In peace I will both lie down and sleep:
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. [4]

Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name!
The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me. [142]

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord. [27]

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever! [118]

I will thank you forever, because you have done it.
I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly. [52]

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. [124]

Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you. [33]

For he stands at the right hand of the needy one,
to save him from those who condemn his soul to death. [109]

O Lord of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you! [84]

Bless the Lord, O my soul! [103]

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord! [150]

Exile in a Cellular Land

When I travel, I inevitably get the request. 

“I need your cell number.”

Yeah.  I mean, no.  See, I don’t own a cell phone. 

I’m not morally, philosophically, environmentally, esoterically, aesthetically or fundamentally opposed to cell phones.

It started as a financial decision.  We really didn’t need a cell phone and not incurring that monthly charge was like having Weight Watcher bonus points in our financial diet.

It’s evolved into a game of How Long Can We Last? with a bonus round of Think of What We Can Do With That Money. The average monthly cell phone bill is $60/month.  Hmm.  That’s about 20 books (I buy them used); a good pair of sandals; an elegant dinner out. Or, if I bundle a year of not paying for a cell phone, it is two plane tickets to visit a sibling.

Not only does it save money, not having a cell phone saves time answering those “Wassup?” calls.  

I believe that cell phones make us (the collective us) less independent, less confident, less decisive.  And, while they are certainly more convenient, I believe they make us, dare I say it, less connected. 

I don’t want to be presumptuous. If travel were a constant in our lives, it would make sense   be wise to have the means to communicate.

I have a resident curmudgeon inside me: if I’m honest I’d admit it’s fun to be eccentric. I take joy pointing out that what seems impossible today was simply normal thirty years ago.  

One of the ironies of not packing a cell phone is that I lug around our laptop, allowing me to send and receive emails (and update my Facebook status) when I’m traveling.

We will pole vault over the digital divide when the cost and benefits of cell phones outweigh a land line.  I’m content without one for now.

After I wrote this, I read the quote below, which was just too rich to omit from this post.  It is from Matthew Algeo’s delightful book, Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure.

A cell phone isolates its user from those around him. That’s why people on cell phones are comfortable discussing, for example, the explicit details of a doctor’s appointment in a roomful of strangers. They feel like they are alone.

Pomp Is a Good Word

…and other one-sentence responses to the royal wedding.

Marriage is worth celebrating…with jubilant exuberance.

Joyful solemnity is just right.

Westminster Abbey is a gift to mankind.

I’ve never before seen a more beautiful veil.

I want to get married again so I can come down the aisle to I Was Glad When They Said Unto Me.

If you care about details, The Program is a must.

Happy to note that everybody sings the hymns;
I only spied one young woman who kept her mouth in a tight line.

The Queen was resplendent in her lemon suit; her smiles are (as glorious and as rare as) sunshine.

Pippa is a pippin!!

Did the Archbishop not have time to get a haircut???

Reading Dorothy Sayer’s The Nine Tailors helped me understand campanology, the study of bell ringing, particularly change ringing.

Interesting to study hands in this ceremony; I especially liked the Archbishop’s binding their hands together.

I am always tender toward the father of the bride when he walks her down the aisle.

James Middleton’s reading of Romans 12 is among the best Scripture reading I’ve ever heard.

Who were the women dressed like nuns?

BRAVO John Rutter!!

The hymn re-harmonizations and descants on the last verses give me goosebumps.

I miss my nephew Will, who could tell me the name and title of every VIP.

The organ and the trumpet are instruments well suited for majestic sounds.

I am all for a renaissance in millinery fashion: look at those hats!

The aerial shots, especially which show the cruciform architecture, make my spirit soar.

Blake’s Jerusalem never fails to move me.

Everyone sees what they want: a skeptic sees things skeptically; a believer sees faithfully.

The Ubi Caritas took me back, with happy sighs, to my Latin class. 

I love the phrase: lost in wonder, love and praise.

Horses and carriage trump motored vehicles for first choice for the Queen and Prince…I like that!

God Bless Your Marriage, William and Catherine.

A Godward Life

John Piper’s A Godward Life: Book Two  reads like a blog.

His keen interest in life brings a wide variety of topics to the table: poetry, ethical dilemmas, reflections on his parents, letter to his wife, vignettes of people in his life, meditations on suffering, mental health tips, and commentary on current events. He reaches back to Augustine, Bunyan, and Luther, reflects on David Brainerd, and writes about contemporary heroes like Josef Tson. 

Each reading is close to three pages; this is a book which can be read in small sips or large gulps. 

Piper brings perfect pitch to his writing.  It is not smarmy or cheesy; dry and dusty; or heavy and didactic.  His exuberance for God’s glory brings a patina of grace on each page.  His humility keeps him from self-focus while maintaining a personal and genuine voice.  Above all, John Piper is a pastor. He teaches us how to pray, how to think and how to live.

Life, well lived, is like writing a poem. And therefore it is hard, very hard. A sloppy prose or an unintelligible, free verse life would not be as hard. And the effect would not be as great. God is beautiful, and the life that expresses his glory should be beautiful…Beauty and truth and compelling depth come by painstaking thinking and trial and praying and self-correcting.

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Everyone Needs Help Sometime

“It’s okay…I’ve been there before…Everyone needs help sometime…”

Deana was calling our store’s adopted “Christmas family” to get specific items they needed.  The person on the other line was overwhelmed.

Hearing Deana’s side of the phone conversation took me back to a time when one of my husband’s colleagues showed up on our doorstep with four or five bags of groceries.  It was 1983 or 1984.  My husband was teaching high school, I was home with a baby. We didn’t have two dimes to jingle in our pocket; it was a paycheck to paycheck life. 

Then the flu flattened us. The fridge had free space on every shelf. It was all we could do to make a fire, wrap a blanket around our shoulders, and stare at the wall. Dave Steen, a legendary high school baseball coach, called to check on our Thanksgiving plans. He listened to Curt’s explanation and heard the unspoken pathos between his words. 

And the next day there he was on our front porch.  Cheerful, matter of fact, generous.  Paper bags spilling over with groceries.

I felt embarrassed, relieved, exhausted, awkward, thankful, humbled, uneasy, shy. Reluctant to admit that we needed help and yet incapable of arguing otherwise.  
How grateful I am for that Thanksgiving. That pitiful, miserable, rotten Thanksgiving that turned a corner when our front door opened.  Admittedly, it’s easier to be thankful for hard times when they are in the rear view mirror.

Any of you been there?

Everyone needs help sometime.

Get Used to Neglect

 

Goodbye, my most neglected garden.
I gave you precious little attention,
but you faithfully rewarded
our small times together.

Even as you age and decline
you graciously dish out goodwill.
The Swiss chard, Italian parsley,
lettuce, sunflowers remain.

I live in a state of perpetual hope…
the promise that next year I’ll do better.

Next summer there’ll be no weddings,
no babies, no trips, no books?
May it never be!

Get used to it, dear garden.
You are a minor delight of my life.
I need you, I do.
But I’m an undependable friend.

Next year we’ll get it together, won’t we?
I will magically morph into a Gardener
and you will mysteriously develop rich, loamy soil.

Sweet dreams!
Soon you will warm yourself with a quilt of leaves
and a comforter of snow.

Sleep well, my quiet companion.
Remember: next year!
Next year.