Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Do I Dare?

Oh, voice.

Tonight when Hope came to speak truth and work and light to our writing class, she told of an experience walking onstage and asking the audience if she was in tune, and the man with the famous brother said, "No, wait.  Stop.  You NEVER walk onstage not tuned and ready to go."  And I was thinking of the night we played the Grand Ol' Opry, and we were so green while the other performers had been doing this for lifetimes, understood that they were providing a service.   And our band walked out and had to plug things in, tune, adjust, and I remember Marty Stuart turning around to check on our progress with a look of seriousness that transformed the minute he turned to the audience.  He talked them up while we "got our act together" literally.  And then we played, and it went fine.  But the fact of the matter is that we weren't ready when we were called.

I want to be ready when I'm called, when I call.

Being a writer is like living on the edge of that stage and sometimes you're in tune and sometimes you're fumbling and your ear is frozen with some deep resistance to hear things correctly.  I equate this work with the kind that happens on steel beams above entire cities without a rope or a net, just your faith and a couple of things you picked up on the climb that others might or might not find interesting.

One thing I know and take comfort in:  I'm not alone up here.  So, we'll shout a song from this place and cheer each other for the courage it took to imagine, beyond the laws of gravity and depression, a home without a floor or walls to keep us in the movement God illustrated in the dance of atoms and grace within us.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Let Me Count the Ways I Love You

1.  Paul Simon.  There is a strong likelihood that a portion of my entire personality was composed of Simon and Garfunkel songs sometime during the 70's.  So tonight, I download the greatest hits and his newest album and whole evenings of deep breaths and sitting long and still and enjoying eating and words and peace and soul-feeding music suddenly start arranging themselves on my calendar.

2.  Nora tells me I'm "too busy all the time doing everything" and that she will try to do a few things so I don't have to "always be moving."  We're watching the sun set together; she puts her arm around my shoulder, squeezes me in strong like someone much bigger and older than five.  Suddenly she is protecting me--from this busy running and doing and "willy nilly back and forth."  I want to tell her that she is as wonderfully made as this sunset, painted and imagined by the same Spirit.  But she knows this.

3.  Writing my three pages tonight (an assignment I've given myself and my writing class), I discover ink, the texture and beauty of it, how penmanship is as unique as a fingerprint.  What does it mean?  I consider taking a correspondence (no pun intended) course in graphology.

4.  A rainbow falls from the window and onto the pledge Nora makes as a kindergarten student at St. John's as she signs her name:  four little letters spread out wide and jagged on the line, the one she commits to, the one that speaks of peace and God's love.

5.  No, thanksgiving is not "Pollyanna-ism" but at times, one of the hardest things I could think and feel to do.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Home Improvements: (Insert sound that Tim Allen would make on that show about power tools)

If you've been following this blog for longer than 8 months, you'll remember the infamous bathtub installation.  After putting in new flooring and painting the walls with some blue paint I had left over from Nora's room, finding a groovy shower curtain with owls and squirrels, and enjoying the results for many months, I decided to redo the whole shebang.  So Nora and I both grabbed brushes and rollers and ended up with this:


Saturday, January 28, 2012

I Don't Have It All Together But Sometimes It Feels Like I Do

When the laundry is cooling in the drawers, still warm, wrinkle free.  When the refrigerator is full again and the bills are paid.  When you're not runnin' on empty when you get into the minivan to run into town.  When you mop the floor and pay the bills and run the rent check out back and put it in the mailbox beside the grain bins.  When you file your taxes and buy your daughter a new toy.  When you register for kindergarten and pay for a couple of magazine subscriptions.  When you add two more children to your Compassion family.  When you've got your lesson plans ready and half the book read (the third time through).  When you bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, give thanks for it, eat it, and then wash the pan. When your little one is sick and the vaporizer is billowing steam and the children's tylenol is working and the warm wash cloth soothes her eyes.  When your friends are writing songs and raising kids and teaching classes and praying with you.  When the farm cats are fat and fluffy and two of them will almost let you pet them now after regular morning feedings out the back door.  When you've got poems in your hand and poems in your heart.  When you don't care about being famous anymore.  When you pile your hair up on top of your head and call it good.  When all you need is a little red lipstick and a packet of seeds.  When you feel Spring thinking about showing up sometime soon.  When none of your library books are overdue and you're current on your immunizations. When people stop into your office just to talk.  When you've woken and prayed and read and written. 

And when Paul says he is unmoved by circumstance, I wonder if my sense of peace right now has fit itself around me because my ducks seem to be in some sort of row or if I've finally learned how to see God in every when, in every where.  Lord, still my vision in this direction, a way of seeing Your hand in mine the whole way through.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Dad's New Ride

Dad used to place his oversized motorcycle helmet on our heads and take us out on the back roads of Apple Tree Trailer Park.  The stream up in the blue hills ran clear and shallow, and we'd sit in the middle of it, the bike propped up on its kickstand near the shore.  I remember the sound of the engine growling, the smell of gas, the heat from the exhaust pipe radiating near our thin legs. 

Recently Dad purchased a new ride, and here he is with my niece Annie. 

Have any of you ever read that book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?  I've gone through it a couple times in my life.  I was reminded recently of that book, of how the narrator's attention to the bike is a metaphor for how to take care of yourself.  I have this dream of one day teaching a class where we all rent RV's and ramble around the United States taking in the slow memories that only unbearably long drives can create.  We'd camp at night and practice the art of campfire storytelling, and we'd keep a diary of our travels and our stories and our songs, as well as the best dutch oven recipes.

I'm not sure if this would technically qualify for college credit, but you never know.  I think there's something to learn out there on the road with the real air making your hair come alive in the wind, the sun written red on your skin, the bugs in your teeth, and the whole world moving underneath you one inch at a time.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

1.  Driving home from classes today, I had the strongest urge to belt out a number, the kind that rings up your inner diva.  I turned on the radio, and that song "Broadway" was on.  Perfect.  "...cuz I can play this here guitar..."

2.  Angel stopped by the office today.  She was in the first Intro to Lit class I taught at Concordia.  I can still see her dressed up as Mrs. Peters from that play Trifles.  She blessed my ministry back then, and I hope to be a blessing in hers now.

3.  There was a copy of the student paper in my mailbox today containing an article about my recent promotion to assistant professor.  I look hesitant in the black and white photo though I am certain about loving these students.  We talk of the difference between compassion and competition as it plays out in T.C. Boyle's Tortilla Curtain.  We steal poets' words and replace them with our own.  I still can't believe I get to do this job on a regular basis.  Thank you, God.

4. Nora is complaining of a sore throat, is restless in bed. I'm listening to the "female singer/songwriter" station on pandora with my headphones on and reach over to smooth her hair.

5. I've been trying to avoid my late night kitchen rade, one that usually involves a lot of cheese and something crunchy, like an entire bag of chips and a box of cracked pepper triscuits. Yes, I have an emotional relationship with my food. Don't we all? Tonight my appetite is telling me to take a little break, increase my sodium intake by about 400%, that these moments of downtime are as necessary as the others when I trick myself into thinking I'm being extremely "useful and successful." Ah...there's not much more we need to be other than what we were made to be, and that's as easy as it gets, girl.   Put that on your cracker and eat it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Just Counting Them

Hearing a song like gold in your friend's living room and "A woman like me sings the prettiest songs" wakes my heart in the middle of laundry and growing older

Nora's voice in the morning:  WAKE.  UP.  WAKE.  UP.  And then, "It's okay, mommy.  I'll just play with the kindle while you sleep in."

Coffee and Bible.

Watching Downton Abbey with Mom and Mike.

A warm dog asleep on my feet.

Getting to teach and write poetry tomorrow.

Mom looking over my shoulder while I write my blog.  Hi, Mom.  I see you there.  I love you.

All right, good friends.  Get some rest.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Live from New York, It's Nora!

Mrs. B has shared a couple of gems involving Nora and Mrs. B's son, the one Nora might marry.  We'll just have to wait and see.  Anyway, they're working through some fairly complex issues early in the relationship, so I foresee smoother sailing later on down the road.

Nora:  What's your superpower?
D:  I don't have a superpower.
N:  Yes.  Yes, you do.  Everyone has one.
D:  I don't have one.
N:  But you have love.  That's a superpower.  God gives everyone a superpower.
D:  I don't have that one.
N:  Yes you do.  (crossing her hands over her heart)  Look in your heart.  That's where it is.
D:  I still don't have it.
N:  Okay, we're just going to have to talk about this again when we're grown up.  That means you have a lot a lot a lot a lot of time to think about it.

And another:

D:  I want to be spiderman when I grow up.
N:  Okay, but you can't use your spider powers in the house.
D:  But I want to use my spider powers in the house.
N:  Okay, you can use your prayer powers inside the house and your spider powers outside of the house.
D:  But I want to use them inside the house, too.
N:  Well, it sounds like you are just going to have to decide what is more important to you.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Bad Hair Day is A Good Hair Day

Sometimes we get the sense that we're feeling our way through each minute like a woman pushing fabric under the needle of her sewing machine, stitching it together without knowing what we're making, how it will look in the end.  We'll just take it a stitch at a time and do our best to make sure the stitch holds firm, is even, not so loose it falls apart in your hand and not pulled so tightly that it cuts off the air in your lungs.

I don't necessarily subscribe to the idea that our lives are meant to be lived so they will improve from one day to the next.  And I have a complicated answer for why this is, but I won't try to explain just now.  The short answer is that oftentimes our idea of "self improvement" does more damage than good to what fragile thing God makes in us, the person who is meant to feel, close and real and raw, whatever it is that He allows to happen in our lives.  Perhaps instead of "improving," we simply come into form under the Sculptor's hand, emerge from the frozen marble one chip at a time until we are rendered.  Not "better."  But simply closer to the vision God already has, always has known of us.  Sometimes we're so busy trying to improve that vision, we get lost in that criticizing mirror.

And that's why I'm going to stop looking in the mirror.  No.  Really.  I'm serious.  Just check out my hair tomorrow.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


At night after our bedtime stories, Nora and I sit with the kindle in hand and search out pictures from the last 24 hours on earth, flipping through, talking about everything that happened today, not just here but everywhere.  I say the names of countries like some new song she's never heard before, tape the free map of the world we got from our National Geographic subscription to our wall, and point out where we are, the size of it all.  We talk of how God is there with each one of those souls, made each natural wonder, and will still hear our prayers whispered tonight, quiet words from two little ladies on a farm.

There is a picture of a group of men and young boys huddled around a fire, hands outstretched.  Where they live, winter has brought fifteen degrees below zero to their doors, though many don't have doors, so they huddle close to the fire.  Nora and I are quiet, thinking.  A life so different than ours...

How can we be sufficiently thankful for these gifts, each one a glowing thing that warms and heals?

Nora complains of her knee aching, growing pains like the ones I had as a child that kept me up twisting from front to back.  I warm the rice pack Mom sewed her for Christmas, elevate her leg, and place the warm bundle on her knee.  I see her relax a little, shoulders released into the pillow, head taking its weight down.  

In church Nora brings her dinosaur and I have to remind him to be quiet while Pastor is talking.  He speaks of the kingdom, and I get the sense that we're all a little unsure as to what that will be like.  I know there will be warmth.  The kind that clings to your eyes when they're closed, burning orange as you lift your face to the full sun.  The kind that hums through the walls of this house, blowing through vents and into the rooms in which we move.  The kind you find in the small, precious ember you feel glowing inside you at this very moment, the same one that glows now around the world.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Thoughts on Grit

You've got it in your teeth.  It rises from the road when the horse gets loose and takes off for the hills.  You've got it when the wind howls and you're smiling into it.  You've got it in your pocket after collecting stones for skipping.  You've got it between your toes after walking down the beach counting sand.  The shovel is covered in it from things you've buried and holes you've dug to plant something living, like the bulb of the iris, an underground eye that opens in April.

See, I didn't feel like writing for a couple of days, sitting here scared of being public, afraid I'd say the wrong thing, that it would come out wrong, but I'm back again.  I'm not saying I never give up because I do.  I've given up lots of times.  But for the majority of the trip, I've stuck it in, not because I was brave or strong or anything like that but because others have lifted me when I needed the help up, including you.  Sometimes I was so scared, I sat up whole nights ready to hand the job over to someone else, someone I thought might be more qualified to be me.   But then I found something here writing these pages:  I'm not alone.  Far from it.

Yesterday, Nora got stuck in the grocery cart at the Pac n' Save.  I guess she's too big to ride in the top part now.  So, I was trying to lift 65 pounds straight into the air while she was screaming, and her legs weren't budging.  And I think I looked at the sky for a moment asking God to help me and then there was a man there asking if I needed a little help, and boy, did I ever.  So he lifted from one end and I lifted from the other, and Nora got out.  Now, it seems funny when I think about it now.  I can see the headline already:  Child Stuck in Grocery Cart Removed by Local Welders, Mother Vows to Read More Parenting Books.  But I'll be honest, I cried after it was all done sitting there with my head on the minivan steering wheel saying all kinds of unkind things to myself about how I need to lift more weights because I need to be prepared for these kinds of things in the future.  I felt like I'd lost my grit.

But, you know what?  I think God made each one of us with a healthy dose of grit, enough to last our whole life through and it comes in the form of people helping each other, not from anything we produce on our own.  I mean, check out this town moving a barn.  The barn always ended up flooded, so the family looked into having it moved professionally, but the estimate was sky-high.  So, someone did a bit of math and looked up the population number on the sign in town, and decided they could do it themselves with some help from...well, everyone they knew.


So, if you feel like your barn is always flooding or if you get your kid stuck in a grocery cart, give your neighbors a call.  We'll help you move it.  That's true grit.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

God at Work

People writing. 
Hearing your folks laughing in the living room while you fall asleep in your bedroom.
Friends with generous motives.
Friends who will argue with you.
Your kid giving you a kiss.
Chuck Norris endorsed laundry soap.
Playing ukulele while the kids play with kittens.
Moms eating lunch off of the leftovers and sandwich order mistakes. 
My mom's chili.
Making a coil pot with Nora.
Loading a banjo into your car.
Feeling less nervous about teaching.
Students who write better than you do.
Buying groceries.
Finding love all over the place.
Realizing that you could start the broccoli seed next month.
The peace that passes all understanding.
Worship that grows from love.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Just a bucket full of love.

Tonight, I crawl into Nora's daybed, half of me hanging off the edge because she's decided to tuck about eight stuffed animals in beside her.  We read Tarzan and a Mercer Meyer about getting big, about Daniel and the lions.  I like to read my own books beside her, snuggling until she falls asleep.  There are probably parenting police out there who are going to arrest me one day for not allowing Nora to fall asleep by herself.  I honestly wouldn't mind the ticket.  I doubt Nora is going to want me to read her stories and snuggle when she's 14.  I'm going to live it up now.  Maybe when she IS 14, she'll be more likely to come talk to me about, well, you know, all the stuff you need to talk about at 14.  It's overwhelming.

I'm juggling between two books right now (not counting the Bible, which is always on the nightly reading list).  The first is called Woe Is I (a grammar book).   Grammar has always been one of my biggest insecurities next to just being insecure in general.  I actually like to have specific insecurities.  It helps me narrow down my amazon search terms.   Anyway, the other is called Deeply Rooted (about the disappearance of the small farm in America--another thing that makes me feel insecure because, you know, I live on a small farm and would rather avoid disappearing).  So, I'm reading beside Nora as I try to assimilate everything I'm learning about who and whom and the governmental regulations that allow corporate dairy operations to qualify for "pasture fed" status when all they have is a patch of grass in front of their office, and I'm thinking Nora might have fallen asleep when I hear her small voice.  She's singing.  I lean in closer:

Just a bucket full of love helps the sweet dreams come round, sweet dreams come round, sweet dreams come Row-ound....

She's rewriting that song about sugar and medicine from Mary Poppins.  This child, the one with the golden smile as she crawls into bed, this child is loved, and I'm hearing it now as she drifts off to sleep beside me.

I worry about this "broken home" more than I have admitted here on this blog, but tonight, I know for certain there is something Nora has in ample amounts: love--from all the corners of her life.  There's nothing broken about that.  Not at all.  I want every kid to have that, including all the ones who have grown up already, all us broken folk crawling into bed.  You are loved.  You are loved.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

20 Stories

I'm saying goodbye to a friend no one imagined would leave here so soon.  I never expected to see him again, this life being so far from where it used to be, but I loved knowing he was here, writing poems, living and loving, exchanging the occasional facebook hug or song.  He was a sweet, sweet friend.  Such a gentleman.  And he always spoke kindly to me with a heart so large I felt just fine anytime I was around him.  When I was pregnant, he asked how it felt.  I told him it was like you'd swallowed a live trout and you could feel it in your stomach.  I remember his expression, horror and delight.

This world changes when someone leaves it.  The feeling of it is physical, like your heart has just been dropped 20 stories.

And I am trying to prepare myself for my Grandma Smith going on.  We found out last week that she has breast cancer, and there is not much that can be done at her age.  I keep thinking of going back and deleting this though I know she could use your prayers.  She is much better at this than I am.  When I talked to her on the phone, she was calm, ready.  I'm not so much yet.

Sometimes it hits you:  how there is no walking away from this life.  This is it.  The pain of it, the joy of it, when it's hard and when it overwhelms you with the fragile beauty of it all, the kind I saw waiting as the train passed and the sun set and I had to lower my eyes because the heart I saw there was the gentlest, most powerful I'd ever seen, and it made me shy to be so loved.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


When she sat me down at the piano after she'd set the timer on the oven to 30 minutes, she pointed at the keys and said, "You'll have to learn the names of each of these keys."  Then she got up, and I looked down as my 10 year old shoulders slumped under the impossible request, placed a single finger on middle C without knowing what to call it yet and pressed down:  I'll call you Bird that Carved the Cliff with Wings of Water.  The one beside it:  Sister who brought the moon down in a mason jar, drank it full and ran away to a big city until your parents found you and brought you back.

And when I played three of them together, they were called The Sadness I Couldn't Name Until I Heard the Sound of It Lifted From the Wood.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I find myself

in the pieces they let me see.  In the open spaces of courage.

How vulnerable I felt until you said the same thing.

About cleaning the floor and learning how to fall without wings.

I walked up the stairs but only because He carried me, set me down on the other side of stage fright.  My bridge over troubled water.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Counting Them Again (The Garden is Full of God's Goodness)

Nora paints blue a piece of driftwood shaped like a heart, wraps it, and gives it to me today.  "Are you crying the tears of joy, Mommy?"  Yes.

The nervousness of the first day of class.  Thanking God each time I feel it, thanking Him for the chance to grow beyond where I am comfortable into a space filled with His love and the people He has called, is calling.

A fruit bowl placed.  An apple eaten.  A chore chart and Nora helping herself to her own healthy snack drawer in the fridge.  Little things with big repercussions. 

Time flying at the Bronco Spur as I prepare.

A gift sent from a friend, something to listen to that will keep my heart focused tonight as I try to sleep.

Sleepytime tea.

Preschool teachers with immense patience.  Mothers with immense patience.

Teaching Nora the difference between sweet words and sour words.  A spoonful of honey.  A tiny drop of vinegar, which she spits out immediately.  We eat our words, bitter or sweet, as they come from our mouths, leave their taste in another's heart.  I see her connect with the idea, and it is put into practice the rest of the day, a day filled with honey.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Must Be Ephiphany

From the devotions on Genesis and the Light split from the darkness.

Nora picking Genesis in her Bible to read, and I flip ("accidentally") to the page where the wise men follow the star, more Light.

And Pastor's sermon about spiritual light.  "You can hide in the closet, but don't forget, it's God's house."

And walking to the sink and suddenly feeling a glowing warmth on my heart, closing eyes as God's sunshine illuminates the inside.

Two minutes later, the radio plays a song with these lyrics (I kid you not):  Let the sun warm your heart.

Let the Son warm your heart...

A showing forth.  God with us.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Counting Them

A Saturday cake recipe from Maryjane farms.  The blueberries settling to the bottom are some kind of magic.  Finishing the day with the last load of laundry spinning now.  Watching cooking shows and folding.  Jotting recipes while matching socks.  Thinking of ways to incorporate more fruits, veggies and exercise:  fruit bowl, here we come.  Realizing how much better I feel if I simply stand up a little straighter. Talking to Nora about God.  I ask when she has felt warm and safe, when life is easy.  "An easy life is a hard life," she says.  I know exactly what she means.  Waking to watch the sunset.  Bible study and compassion epiphanies (thanks Renea, for the book that keeps on making itself useful in my life!)  Just one more class to polish and I'm ready to go (I think).  A gardening class in February to look forward to.  Talking to my Grandma Smith for over an hour and half tonight and how much I have been blessed by her.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


"Nora, there is enough light on in the room.  You sleep with your eyes closed anyway."

"But I'm scared."

"There's nothing here to be afraid of."

"The floor is too dark."

"Nora, you won't be able to sleep with the light on."

"But I'm scared."

"Okay, but it's going to be too bright."

I turn on a lamp, and she closes her eyes.  And I know I've reacted the wrong way--impatient, huffy, disbelieving.

She was scared.  I should have addressed this.

"Nora, I was really cranky just now.  Can you forgive me?"

She sighs, heavy.  "All right.  I'll forgive you.  But stop being so cranky."

Point taken, dear one.  I'm still learning.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Another Tooth Bites the Dust

I'm not going to worry.  I mean, it's completely normal for a five year old to have already lost 5 teeth, right?  For her six year molars to appear a little early?  She's just...mature for her age.  

I had to check her birth certificate just to be sure there wasn't some mistake.  Nope.  She's definitely five.

Usually the tooth fairy is flat out broke, but luckily she has four bucks in her wallet.  Back when I was a kid, you'd get 25 cents per tooth.  I can remember a week-long period when I actually considered removing my own teeth as a way to purchase an Easy-Bake Oven.  True, I would have been the only 7 year old with dentures, but at least I could bake my OWN CAKES.  Absolutely worth it.

Nora is a professional tooth puller now.  There's no squeamishness at all.  She just reaches in, twists, spits the blood in the sink, asks for an envelope and gets into bed with the little pearl of a tooth tucked safely under her pillow.

I think every mom probably remembers every baby tooth that she holds in her hand at some point down the line.  Teething is a painful experience.  I mean, just think about it.  I'll include a paragraph break here, so you to have enough time to consider the process adequately.

When Nora was particularly uncomfortable, I'd take one of my good cotton napkins (clean, of course), run it under water, ring it out and put it in the freezer.  In an hour there would be a frozen, gingham napkin sculpture, crinkled and stiff, ready for gnawing.  Nora loved them when she was teething.

Anyway, I'd better look for the four dollars I seem to remember having.  If they aren't there, I'm afraid Nora will have to settle for a check.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Giving Thanks

Lunch dates at the country club and easy, warm conversations meandering through new relationships, sewing them together, brothers and sisters in Christ.

Mom's way of playing with Nora and the books she and Nora have written when I return home about friendly sharks and making friends.

The space I'm sitting in at the library and the shelf of magazines I can check out and take home to read  like a treasure chest:  Grit and Horticulture and Garden Design and Country Gardens and Garden Gate.  The fireplace and the low gong of the grandfather clock and I wonder how many have made this a little getaway as I have.

How bread turns golden and how fields look like waves and for thinking about what I want to do in my classes this semester, my plan to learn with them.

And for sentence fragments, the luxury of a comma splice, the incomplete

For freedom.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Just Looking for Patterns Here (Or Logic Lessons with Nora)

Around lunchtime:

Nora:  Mommy, do men have driver's licenses?
Me:  Well, yes, though some of them probably shouldn't.
Nora:  Then why don't they have purses?
Me:  Good question.

While brushing her teeth for bed:

Nora:  Well, if they don't have purses, then where do they put their driver's license?
Me:  They put their money and everything in their wallet.
Nora:  Oh.  (Pause.)  And women have to carry lipstick.

Problem solved.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Year's First Harvest

When Nora and I pulled up the drive, leaves swirled distractedly across the gravel.  Two cats ran up complaining that we hadn't fed them at 8 AM that morning, the usual breakfast hour for farm felines.   I put the car in park, turned the key and glanced up.  The shop door was banging open and closed in the wind.  I usually don't fiddle with anything in back as I figure if the guys left it that way, they probably meant to leave it that way.  But all the trucks were gone and the shop's interior was dark.  "Be right back, Nora."  I got out, careful to hold the door while I opened it in case the wind tried to blow it from its hinges, and walked through the mulberry trees where the ropes from our hammock hung empty down the trunks waiting to be lifted into usefulness again in Spring.

I thought of the knots I'd learned to tie this year and felt a curious sense of strength there as if knot tying would somehow equip me against some sort of antagonist--primarily the antagonist who said I didn't  know how to tie a knot.  Well, yeah, actually I do.

I shut the shop door with the sense of anonymous helpfulness one gets from doing a deed no one will know about and as I walked back to the car, I glanced to the side of the garage where Ila had planted most of her asparagus.  "It gets the most sun there of anywhere," she said.  When the colder weather began to show up, I planted a rosemary bush there and threw a few handfuls of cilantro seeds into the mix, kicking dirt over them with the toe of my boot, the kind of planting practice that relies more on the hardiness and will to live that God inscribed in the seed than in any belief that I could somehow make it grow if only I had the right tools on hand.

Green.  It caught my eye in the same way a movie with a summer landscape all green and glorious will tear me up in winter, longing.  I had noticed the day before that my strawberry plants were coming up, that clover and lamb's ear were appearing around the front steps.  The rosemary bush was looking good, like it had been in the ground long enough to take hold, find a home there and hunker down for the long freeze, but what really interested me was the bunch of cilantro I found, close to the ground, fanning out, green and familiar.  I kneeled down and pinched a leaf to taste.  Yep.  That's cilantro.  And this is January.  I wondered at the thickness of its stem, the way it was clinging to the ground rather than growing upward as it usually does in the summer.  It's staying warm, I thought.  Keeping low to the ground and fanning out to gather the warmth of the earth and the sun's rays falling into its open, leafy palms.  And aren't there times when conditions require us to lay low, hunker down, grow against our own grain so we might catch the warmth that would keep us alive?  Lord, teach me to be comfortable with the unfamiliar so I might grow beyond the small vision I have of myself into this vision, the one You have always had in mind for me, my palms open and receptive, boldly green and thriving.

When I had us unloaded, I ran back out with my kitchen scissors to snip off the growth.  Again, I felt that small strength inside me peering over the edge of the wall I've been living behind, and it seemed to be telling me about how I know how to identify plants now.  My first month on the place, Ila walked me around pointing everything out in quick and indefinite flutters of her hand, "You can pull that" or "You can just cut that off there."  I had a pencil and pad with me, which may have looked ridiculous.  You don't need to take notes for this kind of thing.  This is something you know from living it.  And this seems like another truth:  we can't know our lives until we've lived them.

And that's what I see now in me, the way God is growing me up enough to tie knots and shoo the possums and bury the unfortunate farm cats and know the difference between a good thing and a weed, and even more than that.  I know what they call themselves, and I'm learning what He calls me.

Nora and I were sharing our dreams with each other tonight.  She confessed she didn't want to go to sleep because of bad dreams.  She spoke as if she were much older.  "I had this dream when I was about four.  There were two tunnels and down one were all of these things that looked good, like things that you would want, but once you went down that tunnel, you got stuck at the end on this big ball that had all these spikes on it."

I'm speechless thinking of temptation and excess and our own willful impulse to direct our own wanderings, following our bliss only to find that each thing we desired was a trap.  How can she be so old?  I can only think that the Holy Spirit has been teaching her for longer than I had guessed.  I don't try to take what she's said and turn it into a lesson or interpret it for her.  She seems to already understand what it means, why it was a nightmare.

And as the year comes to a close, there are paths and choices and turns I wasn't expecting (the end of a marriage and the beginning of a job I pray God helps me to do), knowledge I didn't know I needed, what roses eat, how to move the earth with the toe of your boot just enough to trust that all will grow and change as God intended.