July 2013


These have been the busy times of going and doing. Rushing through the days, full and frantic and they are good, these days of spending. Spending the minutes like I’m filthy rich, pulling activity after activity from bottomless pockets. Generously paying out the time in friendship and service and fun fun fun.

Last night I walked with the dog, down the dirt road behind the house and through the neighbour’s fields of peas, pods drying already in the summer sun. I laughed out loud at the pup’s crazy up-and-down bouncy run through the tall crop and I listened to the grasshoppers rustling about and I took in deep breaths of quiet.

I came home thirsty.

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I hadn’t realized how dry I’d become. I’d been getting by on a sip here and a sip there. You too, maybe?

Today I’m visiting En Gedi.

Today I’m escaping and resting … hiding and drinking deep of those things that quench thirst. A little scripture, a walk, a few words tossed up on the screen. Some music, some lunch, some rest. A conversation or two, maybe. Or maybe not. Some bread baked and some laundry folded.

Green pastures and quiet waters.

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Today I need to stop and hold out my hands and receive.

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I love hearing an old person talk. I love the wavery, quavery, whispery quality of an elder’s speech. I love the direct, no-nonsense approach of so many of them. Like, time is short so let’s get to the point! I appreciate the wisdom of their years. I enjoy the back in the day stories they tell.

my beautiful grandma, Gladys Hanson

my beautiful grandma, Gladys Hanson

I remember conversations with my grandmother in her nursing home, me on the edge of the bed trying to keep track of two busy little boys. She in her big chair by the window, her mighty geranium plant on the table beside her overshadowing the room.

How many blooms does it have this week, Grandma?

She loved to drag out her old, bursting-at-the-seams photo album. She would page through it while we talked, sharing bits and pieces of the past. She told me about her Ma, and the old farm. About  the way things used to be and about the way things had changed. She had opinions about women and relationships and money and church. I loved that she was open to sharing her thoughts.

In the last few years, she was interested in the recording of things. She taped my mom and others singing with her. It seemed important to her to leave something vocal behind. Something more than the photographs.

As I grow older, I am recognizing how priorities and interests change. The farther I go, the more I treasure life and desire to live it well. I am thankful to older men and women who are willing to share their stories, their journeys, with me.

I am like my grandma in some ways. I, too, am interested in the story. The sound. It is important to voice things. To say them out loud. Stories are the glue of community. Being able to tell your story is a gift that you give. It is an opening of the door to others. It’s an invitation to relationship.

Johnny Cash is a good friend in our home. We all love his music and his story. Recently, we bought his last studio cd, American VI. It always moves me to tears to hear an old Johnny sing about how the grave wouldn’t be able to keep him down, and how death wouldn’t have victory.

In an old man’s voice, he sings out his faith and his confidence.

He gets to the point.

Ain’t No Grave … Johnny flips us off at one point in this montage. But, this is part of his journey. It is part of the truth of who he was, which makes the story of who he became so beautiful.

This is a repost of something I wrote a couple of years ago. Still love stories. Still love the sound of old people talking. Still love old Johnny singing his heart out.

A few weeks ago we spent a day fencing. We needed this fence. The goats needed more pasture. The pasture was sitting there, waiting behind the barn, but we couldn’t use it because the fence wouldn’t keep the goats contained or safe. So, we built a new one.

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There are few things more important on a farm, even a teeny tiny farm like ours, than a good fence. But really, I’m not such a fan. I don’t really like the way fences divide things up. This is mine and this is yours.

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I know why we need them. They keep the valuable things safe inside, and the dangers far removed outside. They keep the boy goat from spending too much time with the girl goats. They keep the animals from wandering away and getting lost or stolen or hit by a vehicle on the road. They identify what belongs to who. They establish boundaries.

There’s been lots written about boundaries. Healthy boundaries. How to say no, how to create your own safe space, how to live more freely within the safety of your clearly defined limitations.

But sometimes I imagine a world (a family, a church, a life) without quite so many of them. Where protection or identification or separation wasn’t quite so important, and where I put more emphasis on openness, sharing, and giving my life away.

Fences have their places, I know, but so does vulnerability.

Mending Wall, by Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs.  The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side.  It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors.'
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors?  Isn't it
Where there are cows?  But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.'  I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself.  I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, 'Good fences make good neighbors.'

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I met Willow a couple of years ago, online. I don’t remember who commented on who’s blog first, but I do remember reading her words and thinking, this girl can write.

And, as an added bonus, she’s funny!

Maybe it was because she wrote about things that made sense to me. Family. Kids. Relationships. Messing up.

And she wrote about it all with humour and style, and always from the point of view of a (as she describes herself) recovering pharisee.

If you aren’t religious at all you might not know what that means. But if you’ve ever come across a religious person (like me), then you have met one.

Pharisees lived in Jesus’ day, and he was forever calling them out. Saying things like, Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, and calling them hypocrites. For what had happened was that in an attempt to keep the Jewish law, they’d become extremists, keeping the letter of the law but totally missing the intent. One of those, can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees kind of things.

It’s easy to slip into pharisee-ism. It’s easy to focus on the do’s and the don’ts, and to lose sight of the who’s and the why’s and especially, the One. It’s easy to become judgemental. To strain gnats. Yep, been there done that, and will probably do it again.Thank you, grace.

So… Willow’s book.

I was so excited to find out she had written her first novel, and even more excited when she said she would send me a copy of it. I received it in the mail, opened and read her note, and then put it on the shelf with the other beauties waiting for my attention once summer arrived.

And then it did. And I sat down one day last week and read Willow’s funny, funny book in one, gigantic gulp.

From the book’s back cover:

Facing a cataclysmic identity crisis, pregnant Haley is battling for her very life – her life as an eco-chic, vegan Christian, that is. She hadn’t counted on being thrust into a war zone when she agreed to leave her East Coast life and go with her husband, Rick, to the Montana outback for the summer. And she certainly hadn’t counted on attending a ladies Bible study in a smoky, rancid saloon. Rather than run from it, though, Haley decides it is her God-given mission to subdue and educate the redneck forces that discount her superior vocabulary and sophisticated hairdo. With no help from Rick or his freaky Aunt Win, Haley dives headfirst into her mission only to find herself sucked irretrievably into a maelstrom of humiliating mishaps.

With tensions mushrooming as fast as her belly, will Haley see that she is actually living out the reality of the scripture, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”? And just how many car explosions and massive wardrobe malfunctions will it take for her to realize that it is her own judgments of others that are boomeranging back on her?

This is a sweet and funny story. It’s the best kind of Christian fiction, well-written and self-deprecating.

So…

I’m giving away a copy.

I’d love to share Willow’s book with you! Because it’s a great book, and also because I appreciate all of you so much. Thank you for reading this little blog of mine. Really.

I’m ordering another copy of The Epic Undoing of Haley Ann Ewing today, to give away. Leave a comment on this post, if you’d like a chance to win this, and at the end of the day I will make a draw.

UPDATE:

THE WINNER OF THE BOOK DRAW WAS KIM. PLEASE EMAIL YOUR ADDRESS TO ME AT janellerosss @ yahoo.ca, AND I WILL SEND YOU THE BOOK AS SOON AS IT ARRIVES. CONGRATULATIONS! AND THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO PARTICIPATED. WE’LL DO THIS AGAIN SOON.

How do you eat an ice cream cone?

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With passion … how else? Mouth insanely open. All tongue and teeth and sweet drips falling off your chin. And, of course, wearing a pair of 3D glasses with the lenses popped out. Because passion is nothing without style.

Because life can be lived many ways, but it’s a pile more fun if you live it with passion.

Today, as I look around my wreck of a home – dishes and laundry and all those taunting jobs – my twelve-year-old reminds me that life really can be a passionate embrace.

So let’s make this Monday a mouth-wide-open, teeth-showing, ice cream-licking kind of day, dear Friend!

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I remember going to a thing with an old boyfriend once. It was a fancy thing that required shoes, not Birkenstocks, and I’m pretty sure I was wearing a dress (don’t faint). I don’t remember the occasion, but boyfriend’s mom and her date were there too, and boyfriend’s mom’s date was a really good dancer.

Like, ballroom twirly stuff.

I am not a good dancer.

I grew up in a church that didn’t even allow instruments in worship, for heaven’s sake (pun-intended), and dancing was certainly not on the list of approved activities so, you know, I’m pretty much dance-challenged.

Remember Kevin James in that Will Smith movie where Will Smith is the cool dating guru and he’s trying to teach Kevin James to dance, but when Will Smith isn’t looking Kevin James does his white boy ugly dance thing? Well, I make Kevin James look good.

So, we’re at this thing and I’m trying to be all cool, nursing a glass of wine because I also grew up strictly non-alcoholic but I was young and trying on this Little Rebellion but I didn’t really like the taste, to be honest. So I sipped a bit and chatted uncomfortably with people I didn’t know who were sipping more than a bit, and then boyfriend’s mom’s date asked me to dance.

Gulp.

It wasn’t pretty.

I just couldn’t get my feet to do what my brain was telling them. Shuffle shuffle stumble apologize shuffle shuffle.

I wanted to do it. I wanted to glide around the floor effortlessly, dipping and swaying or at least not having to count out loud. In my head I could do it. I could see myself doing it. But … no.

Rhythm on the dance floor does not come naturally to me.

Rhythm, spiritual rhythm, is not natural for me either.

Religion is easier. Do’s and don’ts, and if you slip up and do the don’t, repent and start over.

But this whole thing of living a life that flows beautifully in the rhythm of spiritual practices and disciplines? It feels like I’m back on that ballroom dance floor. I can see the beauty in my head. I long for it to be natural and effortless. But I know I’m awkwardly stumbling around, bumping into things and stepping on toes.

This time, though, I really want it. I’m willing to take lessons and practice and endure the awkwardness of trying to do it better. To live it better. To dance.

Solitude. Sabbath. Lectio Devina. These are some of the new moves I’m working on.

Anyone else want to dance, too?

I was obsessed, a few days ago, with the idea of home. With going home, returning home, not forgetting home.

I think it was because there was a leaving home going on, and it was making me a little sad, to tell you the truth. It felt like the end of something that I would never get back. Too much change. Too much goodbye.

So I took pictures.

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I stopped on the highway, the last day my son lived with us, and I took a picture of the road, with our little farm in the distance, off to the left. Just a few trees poking up through all that prairie. It was just him and me, on our way home from whatever last-minute shopping we’d needed to do, and he’d laughed at me for taking ten pictures to make sure I got one that was just right, until finally I just went and stood right in the middle of the road and got the one I wanted.

The next day we packed him up and drove him away and left him in another city, in another house. And we all survived and life remains sweet.

But I’m still obsessed.

I take a walk down the back, dirt road and when I turn and start back I take another picture. Home in the distance, old white farm-house and paint-peeling barn.

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And I walk out to the barn with my husband, and I turn and take a picture. Looking back.

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I think that my obsession began out of fear. I wanted him to remember his way back, and I feared he might not. I didn’t want to keep him home, not really, but I wanted to know he’d be coming back. Yes, I think that’s where it started.

But truly, now, it’s something else.

I’ve realized, many many oh-so-many words later (so sorry, readers!) that this home is mine.

It’s mine to keep and share and clean and offer welcome.

It will be my children’s home in memory, but they will make their own spaces somewhere else. They’ll find people and walls and they’ll make and clean their own messes and I’ll visit them there. Bringing banana bread or brownies with me, to share.

And sometimes they will come back, to be with us for a while. It will be sweet and busy and full, and we’ll secretly be a little bit happy when they leave us in peace again.

I can’t quite imagine it yet, two noisy boys still here with us. But I know it will happen soon, and I will call it bittersweet.

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