Guardianship

Water wheel
Jon Uriah

I woke this morning to my heart bursting.

With ideas, dreams, desires.

Within half an hour, a little too much caffeine was added to the mix, making my insides reminisce about the peaceful days of early July, when fireworks exploded outside the body.

I’m not sure what happened.

Just that, when I went to sleep, I didn’t have the same capacity I experienced when I woke up.

Which is good, because there’s a wide selection to choose from on the To-Do list: three jobs notwithstanding, the lawn needs mowing, the garden weeding, the tomato plant (which is fruiting!!) needs support if I’m going to taste any of that fruit….

My heart feels a little like that tomato plant. Like desire has grown too quickly for the strength of my spine, and its weight is just…sort of pulling me over sideways.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about placemaking and sustainability.

I did the obvious things in response to the cultural hype of zero-waste living: ditch-and-switch all things plastic for bamboo, single-use for reusable.

I must’ve spent close to a thousand dollars, renovating the externals of my lifestyle for long-term goals, and I’m happy I did that.

But now the Lord is taking sustainability into deeper regions of my soul, with a word over this season: guardianship.

Similar to stewardship, to investment. Guarding the good he continually brings to my life.

It also means, “leave no thing orphaned.”

All the parts of my soul should be mothered and fathered. And all the things I put my hand to I must claim responsibility for. It’s incomplete to jump on a gardening trend because growing your own vegetables is sustainable, but leave behind the parts of your own heart that need tending.

Here’s what I’m realizing: it’s not enough to participate in a lifestyle switch just to participate in a lifestyle switch.

You have to cultivate desire for it. You have to answer the why first, and then the how.

I want to stop buying bread because it comes in plastic packaging, which never biodegrades but pollutes our oceans, but how will I get bread, then? Am I ready to undertake making my own gluten-free loaves? Do I have the capacity and the desire to make this a sustainable switch? (Presently, all things cooking- and food-related are burdensome to me.)

Or will I burn out, because I’m also abandoning clothes shopping since I have a sewing machine (that I barely know how to use)?

The truth is, abandoning a convenient, consumerist lifestyle for intentional, sustainable living is more work, not less (whatever the minimalists propone!). It’s a lot of work to mix your own mayo and DIY your own lotion. Apply that same intentionally to your work, to your relationships, your dreams, and your future, and you could burn out quickly if you launch prematurely.

But if you walk with God, you might also wake to an exploding heart because maturity is coming quickly.

See, the best part about receiving a word from the Lord is that it always comes with the equipping intact. He didn’t say guardianship to me as the next thing to learn. He said it to me as the next thing to practice. 

He’s already equipped me with the ability to guard, cultivate, and steward through his Spirit.

Now, to the furthest reach of my desire, I get to participate with the sustainability of his heart. It’s less about making a list of all the switches I want to make and more about cultivating an unmanageable desire.

Because then he has to give me a capacity to match.

And, really, what’s more intimidating to our faint hearts? The stress over biting off more than we can chew?

Or the untameable growth of a desire that’s heaven-sized?

In the face of a God who will always outdo us in dreaming, we choose to belittle our desire until it’s more manageable. Which sidles up a little too closely to soul-killing duty.

I don’t want to cook meals because it’s my duty to sustainable living. I don’t even want to cook meals because it’s my duty to the earth, to my own convictions, or to the Lord who entrusts me.

I want to cook meals because it’s my joy. And if I don’t have joy there, something orphaned in my heart needs a guardian.

Good thing I have the best keeper–one who has promised never to leave me or forsake me. With him, everything is to my advantage, and every advantage is sustainable.

 

 

 

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Brick-a-Brack

watering can
PC: Glorin

I pass, for the first time, through the double-doors into the homemaker’s heaven:

Hobby Lobby.

Bright lights and long aisles and…instrumental Easter hymns playing over the loudspeaker?

Observing the 30-day devotionals and wall-hanging Bible inscriptions, I presume the owner is Christian.

Immediately overwhelmed by the size of the maze, I ask an employee to show me the chalkboard markers.

We pass rows of craft supplies, bolts of fabric, Easter bunnies and plants, picture frames and furniture.

I feel an unfamiliar conflict stirring up inside me, making it difficult to concentrate on the employee’s direction.

Excitement and inspiration (the endless possibilities of homed decorating!) colliding with something like…revulsion?

I pause briefly at an aisle that catches my interest, craning my neck to see to the top of shelving laid neatly with farmhouse-style goods. Serving platters and jars, kettles and bottles and baskets and spouts, all with distressed finishes, or that green/blue patina mimic of rusting copper.

My revulsion turns to anger. Someone is making a profit off somebody else’s insecurity and attempt to construct an identity through an aesthetic!

What someone would naturally achieve by living and laboring for generations on a real farm in the country is duplicated in a sweatshop in China for five dollars, then sold for quadruple to an American suburbanite who will change their theme in five years when the next trend emerges!

I’m all a righteous, red flush and rage.

Until I realize I am the one with the insecurity and constructed identity. I am the suburbanite, and the anger is the Lord’s.

Someone across the Sea is not making a fair wage in good working conditions so I can furnish a new house! This elusive home I’m trying to find and create, telling the Lord I will do it with him, but first not understanding what it is to be at home in his presence.

Not understanding the injustice done to others to fulfill my desire, which is a false identity in the first place. I’m compensating. A wooden chicken for the assurance that I belong.

Oh, Jesus, give me rest from this striving!

All that comes is vapor (Eccl. 11:8)…. And when we’re dead and gone, and the accumulation of our striving blown away with our last breath, all we’ve left is a crater-sized carbon footprint of the landfill junk that once constructed our worth.

What can I do against such reckless, pervasive sickness?

Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgement (11:9).

I pass, for the first time, through the double doors of the Earth Maker’s heart, and I find grief.

His grief over the system, my grief over missing his heart in all this. There is more of heaven’s will to be manifest on earth, in my life!

He’s preparing a place for me, the truest home. It’s available to me right now, in his heart.

Will I exchange my perfectly-curated, white-picket-fence, Christian-American dream?

After all, it’s just an illusion.

 

When I Need to Get Back

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I sit on the back step wrapped in a blanket, the steam from a coffee mug curling up my chin.

The sun is a happy smile strutting across the sky, looking this way and that, melting all winter blues with its cheery disposition.

Can I hang onto this sadness when spring is so pregnant with promise? 

The exhaust pipe at the back of the house emits an aroma of chicken and potatoes from Mom’s crockpot.

I’m suddenly twelve years old, cocooned in a nest on the dry portion of the steps, with piles of March snow still heaped in the backyard, and heaps of books and notepads and pens piled around me.

I’m filled with nostalgia, and an ache as deep as this year’s winter. A longing for home that is not of this world.

Jesus appears on the step below me, resting his head against my Afghan-covered knee, and I get the impression that the happy strutting smile is his. When I need to get back! That smile is the light left on….

I have so much to give you, he says–an observation, a promise, and an invitation all at once.

My sadness feels penetrable only by his sentiment–a lifting of the spirit–because it holds no condemnation for where I’m not, only hope and expectation for where I will be.

I want to receive all of it, I tell him in return, and I’m grieving because there is so much of my heart that would settle for a natural landscape, for a home in the physical. There is so much of me that doesn’t recognize the gift he is offering, that of himself.

My only promise for the spring.

To refuse him would be to continue in an internal winter. But how do I accept?

This conundrum: my connection to God the Father being Jesus, and my connection to Jesus being Holy Spirit, and my connection to Holy Spirit being my spirit, of which I am so unfamiliar!

A spiritual landscape planted invisibly in a natural one, and I would’ve settled for the natural one. How to see beyond the visible? 

I cannot escape this desperation for home, my own striving to work and earn and apply and secure and set up and maintain a rented house, when all he is looking at is my rest in him, so that I can become his resting place where, by his Spirit, he supplies all things.

I am the home.

He is the home.

We, together, belong.

How do I leave this effort in the natural to reside in the spiritual? How do I receive all Jesus wants to give me?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Does it start with the recognition that I have nothing, if what I have is in the natural? That God wants to move me to a reality where all I have is him? That to lose my life for his sake is to find it?

Does it begin with internal emptied-ness? Embracing the emptying because it makes room to be filled with the kingdom of heaven, which is spirit.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 

And this, the sadness.

The recognition that the process demands a mourning of many things, which may last  the long, dark night of the soul, but cannot swallow up the joy of the morning.

Night’s mourning, and joy’s morning.

It starts with the emptying of the sadness–my choice to lay down a mourning that has had its time–and begins with the filling of his happy, strutting smile–the choice to receive what he is waiting to give me.

Receive the comfort of his presence, by which I will encounter all the home I could ever conceive.

It’s starts–and continues to the end–with that childlike instinct, trust. Do I believe him, that his Spirit is in me and equips me to learn the kingdom of heaven.

He is infinitely patient, but the choice is ultimately mine: will I rest, and trust, even indefinitely, that the Lord will teach himself to me?

He’s gone away to prepare a home for me.

He’s promised to come back and get me.

Bedsheets

winter_by_jjuuhhaa_d1ai7qu
Picture: Juha M. Kinnunen

In my spirit, everything is white.

Like clean bedsheets. Like freshly laundered blankets and sheets and pillowcases whispering on the line.

Like light pouring through the window onto bare walls—not sunlight, varying in its golden tints, but plain, white light.

As this morning: the winter sky is overcast, though not slate-gray, but salt-white; and snow falls in the lightest, tiniest grains.

It is white above and white below,

and white coming through every opening to reach my soul.

Is this what it is to be a young wife?

White. Space. Peace.

Silence.

Clarity.

Like snowflakes, quietly, exquisitely in freefall. The white, the space, the clarity, the snow—they fall around me with purpose: a mercy-covering for the ground in the cold season, blanketing seeds long-sown that will emerge with life and color in the spring.

Mercy for the hibernation.

I am slumbering under a cloud of white blankets and sheets, stirring long enough to turn over and find your body next to mine—still a surprise.

I’m not yet used to the permanence of your presence, this home you have made in my deepest places… and at the same time,

the recollection of life before you is slipping away.

Breaking Limbs and Birdsong

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Photo Credit: Melissa Corvec

Last January, God showed me as a tree:

A towering shade tree, green leaves unfurled, branches hanging low.

I had picked the soil I thought I would flourish in, but he supplanted me to an open pasture and put down immovable roots beside a stream.

Here, birds are beginning to flock to my branches for refuge.

Chickadee. She lowers her core temperature to thrive in cold environments, congregating with those of her kind.

She stores her seeds and berries in a cache and calls, chickadee-dee-dee, to the other birds to feed them.

She is not shy to approach a human and eat out of his hands.

Chickadee, he called me. You eat your portion out of my hands and show the other birds where to get bread.

God showed me to a friend as a tree, but this time, “there is a limb growing out of you sideways.”

The limb is a necessary branch to the structure of the tree. It stems from my beliefs about God’s goodness. Rather, it stems from my unbelief about God’s goodness, because it’s growing out sideways.

It’s growing out sideways in the life I think I want to live–my own methods, my own definitions of what is good. I have to send all my nutrients to keep the limb alive, because the Gardener is not going to cultivate a dying branch.

The rest of my tree is suffering because of it. My leaves are wilting and thinning, my branches no longer strong enough to support the nesting birds.

“He wants to prune back, or break off, the limb,” she says, and I’m imagining him grafting the limb into the structure of the tree where it will receive the nutrients of the earth instead of my own effort.

I feel the breaking-off like the snapping of a bone. I feel the grafting of the limb like the resetting of a bone, followed by the slow, slung process of reforming.

If the tree is the integrity of my heart–that secret place where I join the honesty of myself with God–then I have come home where I was walking out on a limb.

excerpt from a yellow Legal pad
February 15, 2017

Unless a grain falls to the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit, and your death among the snows of winter buried a seed that has grown into a mighty tree. 

He supplanted you in your crystallized desire, broke you off like a dry branch and grafted you back in, to a tree planted by streams of water, for his namesake, for your joy.

Dance, oh feet, upon the muddy pasture! The ground is plowed and ready for planting. Participate in the sowing, so you may reap a harvest.

This morning I woke to the beckoning of a chickadee in the tree outside my house.

It reminded me of the word God whispered to me, the same January morning he showed me my tree: mercy like birdsong.