Wednesday, June 23, 2010

One Thousand Summer Gifts

As so often happens, I was led to just the right thing at the right time.

A friend of mine sent me a link to a post she found helpful. She rarely reads blogs, so I thought I'd better go see what she was sharing with me. After reading that encouraging post by Ann Voskamp, I happened to notice her sidebar link to a Gratitude Community page. Curious, I clicked on it. Some time ago, Ann decided to start counting gifts in her life, things to be thankful for throughout her day. Her comment about her spontaneous experiment of keeping a gratitude journal? "Giving thanks for a thousand graces has changed my life -- to glorify Him in all things!" She shared the idea and many others have been blessed by participating in their own way. She includes her count of blessings at the bottom of her blog posts on Mondays.

holy experience

Well, it just so happens that for the past few weeks I have been intentionally noticing and journaling details and moments for which I am thankful, in keeping with my goal of Not Missing Summer. The blessings in things big and small, unusual and common, spiritual and earthy, pleasant and painful, planned and spontaneous, intentional and unintentional. The blessings in common things to clean, organize, eat, wear, enjoy, plan, play, create, mend and replace. The blessings related to the family I hug and hold and kiss...and clean, dress, feed, bandage, comfort, teach, and more. The rare things I find achingly beautiful–poignant reminders of a greater beauty. Reminders of the hope I deeply feel of a new heaven and new earth in which the redeemed will live, in glorified bodies strong enough to bear it, in the very presence of God. All the things the Lord has woven into my life right now. The daily gifts He has chosen for me. Once I started looking, it was like gathering in a ripe harvest of blessings all around me.

Writing it down helps me see God's story in my life–what He is teaching me, and how He is loving me. I write out half-formed prayers asking Him to let me live it well. My hope is to walk through my days with a heart of gratitude, practicing the presence of God right in the midst of busy daily life. Realizing that any steps I make towards this hope is by the grace of God, I like to write about seeing that grace, too. On my own, and very often, my senses and my spirit are quite dull. I'm sure those most often around me are surprised to hear I'm thinking these thoughts at all!

I've been enjoying keeping track of these Summer moments so much that I've started grabbing my journal and throwing it in my bag so I can remember and scribble in spare moments in parking lots and parks. I'm finishing most of my days jotting a few things down just before turning out the light for the night. For whatever reason, the Lord has blessed me with an upwelling of gratitude and peacefulness. I came into the Summer a bit desperate for some rest and deep cleansing breaths, and indeed rest has begun to seep into my bones. Gathering up blessings to write down has helped. Reading that others have been helped by keeping track of One Thousand Gifts was fun, too. Personally, I think it will be hard to stop at One Thousand.

Counting my Summer blessings...One Thousand Gifts or more.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Farming and faith

Farming takes faith.

In our neighborhood, the farmer who does the work in the fields around our house is a strong Christian believer, trusting the Lord to provide for his family. He shows remarkable calm in the face of wet and cold Springs, dry July, actual drought, impending hail, insect invasion or what have you. Whenever we talk to him, he has a cheerful peacefulness about the crops doing well, or well enough. We love watching him work. He has a predictable, steady work pattern and all of his fields are well managed.

Lately, I was also thinking about our common faith in seeds. That a kernel of corn or an old soybean dropped into a cold muddy field will spring up into a beautiful, green, food-producing plant is pretty amazing. It's an every day miracle. It's the type of thing no one would believe, except we've seen the evidence many times, even if we're not paying attention. I haven't gotten tired of showing our younger kids what happens when you put a seed in a clear cup with a wet paper towel. Just a little, dried out thing that looks like a rock, a sliver, a pebble, or in the case of poppy seeds–a little black speck of dirt. Add nothing but water, wait a few days, and the seed has fallen apart and a plant appears in its place. I mean really, how does that happen? The kids see it for the miracle that it is.

The first year we lived here, I was surprised to see that some of the farmers left their entire crop of dried out, brown corn stalks standing in the field over the winter. Being totally farming ignorant, it was a pretty sad sight. I thought maybe the crop had been ruined by drought and it wasn't worth harvesting. Six months of snow and freezing weather later, the ground dried out and here come the farmers harvesting their crops! Nothing could look more dead than those corn plants after a Minnesota winter–yet the Spring harvest contained millions of kernels of corn which would provide food for people and livestock with plenty leftover to plant again, with faith that it would once again spring to life.

Like this.

Or this (soybeans this time) right by our house. 

I found myself really thinking of kernels and new life over the past few months. I can't remember the last time that someone in our circle of friends died–then three died this Spring.

A 50-year-old wife and mother of four from our church died after a battle with leukemia. I had worked with her teaching pre-school Sunday school when Grace was that class, and she taught all of our children when they were 3-years-old.

A 78-year-old friend died of a massive stroke. Both Kevin and I found phone messages on our cell phones from him after he died, as he'd been looking for a 4-seater bench seat for the back of our van to replace our 3-seater. He'd found one.

And tragically and totally unexpectedly, a 24-year-old Bethel Band alumna and current Bethel employee, a young wife, pregnant with her first child, was killed while sitting in a traffic jam when a semi-truck hit her from the rear.

At about the same time as the Spring planting and near the time our first friend died, 1 Corinthians 15 was scheduled for me as part of the Bible reading plan that our family is slowly working through. A chapter filled with hope and the good news of the Gospel. The Apostle Paul, whom I normally don't think of as much of a parable guy, turns to a real life example of an every day miracle to explain the spiritual miracle of the resurrection of the dead. He writes that what is sown does not come to life unless it dies, bare kernels or wheat or other grain becoming a body of it's own type. He writes of heavenly bodies and earthly bodies. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. As always with Paul - sentences are helpful, paragraphs much better, entire chapters must be read to hear his progression of thought, and his letters (and the entire Bible itself) are to be understood in their whole. The whole letter influenced me towards paying attention to the kernels in the fields, the tadpoles transforming into frogs on the counter, the caterpillars transforming into butterflies before our eyes, and to the immortal souls of the people all around me–hidden in the tents of mortal bodies. So much mystery that we can't yet see or imagine, even with examples all around us. 

Hoping in the resurrection requires faith.

Lord, give us that faith that hopes in your Good News, and believes that seeds spring up into new life.

(I Corinthians 15 - English Standard Version)

The Resurrection of Christ

15:1 Now I would remind you, brothers,  of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

The Resurrection of the Dead

12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf? 30 Why are we in danger every hour? 31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day! 32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

The Resurrection Body

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
Mystery and Victory

50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Halleluia exhaled in every breath

 The January trees are fully awake, dressed in Summer garb, and waiting in their corner chapel.

Strong limbs raise a friendly wave
     and nod at passing clouds.

Whispered murmur, evening's breeze
     returns the cordial sign.

Currents of yesterday mixed with tomorrow
     weave comfortable robes of cooling mist.

Frog chorus antiphonies make echoes
     through the woodsy halls,
        while birds sing evensong
              over rhythmic insect buzz.

Grass, leaves, vines...a wild tangled green.
     Vibrant carpets. Lushness of life.

The atmosphere charged with tranquil vitality.

A dangerous peace
     that pushes out all unclean things
        and claims the space as
             holy sanctuary. 

The privilege, mine, to stand upon that hallowed ground.
Hallelujah exhaled in every breath.
The Spirit’s gift.


Hallelujah is a direct cry of joyful praise, meaning Praise Yahweh, 
while calling others to also join in joyful praise of our Lord.

Praise the LORD!
     Praise the LORD, O my soul!
I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
     I will sing praises to my God while I 
          have my being.
(Psalm 146:1-2)

Not missing Summer

This year I decided I am not going to miss Summer.

Last year, for a number of reasons, I managed to spend pretty much the entire Summer indoors. This year I've been intentional about wandering around outdoors at various times of day. Not walking for exercise, which I actually did last Summer with apparent obliviousness to my surroundings (I have a talent for gazing at the ground just beyond my toes during such walks)–but wandering, looking, seeking and finding.  Last evening, the rain had stopped and some teasing golden rays were shining outside the kitchen windows.  After staring absentmindedly for a few seconds, I exclaimed "Oh, I'm missing Summer!" threw my dish towel on the counter, and, vaguely aware of loved ones smiling at my outburst, I walked outside.

Breathing in deeply, I slowly made my way up the dirt road looking for details that have changed from yesterday–there is a lot to see.  My eyes were on green and flowers and bugs and dirt and stone.  Trying to gaze into the woods, at this hour veiled with deepening dusk just inches beyond the outer trees, I realized that the familiar trees of my Winter walks were completely obscured.  The smells were fragrant, earthy and unidentifiable.  The air heavy with leftover moisture, yet crisp with the new air moving in with the clear skies that would arrive overnight.  I went to my favorite corner, just out of sight of the house, with wetlands and woods all around, and stood still. Listening, feeling, gazing, wondering and praising.  A moment to capture in poetry. A gift of treasure for me.

It would have been more than enough, but unobservant me had failed to notice other treasure hidden in plain sight.  As I turned around to walk back home I suddenly saw the sky and actually gasped.  How could I have missed this in my walk down the drive!  My eyes had been all for the woods, and grass and green growing things.  Nothing but an old hayfield and soybeans to my right, after all.

But above the hayfield, the farm field and the distant wild woods of the amazing sky–dark and light warring together–explosions of purple and pink and blue and sailor's delight red.  Pure golden shafts reaching down to set the Western fields aglow even while our road still lay under the shade of passing storms.  The color reaching out from the light, from way over by the horizon into the dark clouds in the East for far more than 180 degrees, a huge bowl of sunset beauty.  The kind you want everyone to see.

Our hayfield is about 2 acres square, and I could see Lydia and Essie in our backyard on the other side.  I waved to them to come into the field for a better look–one look and 12-year-old Lydia was off for the camera.  9-year-old Essie and I met on the path.  We watched for a while, enjoying it together.

I'd like to say that Essie and I are kindred spirits, but in truth–I "try" to see beauty, and feel thankful for the capacity to appreciate God's glory in creation when I manage to notice it.  She is naturally drawn to beauty, patterns, and life of all kinds, has always loved everything in creation, and is gifted in observing it in unique ways and from surprising angles and also pouring it back out in an explosion of daily, original, artistic productivity.  She sees what others see, and also a lot of things that most of us miss.  I wanted to show her some of the things I had seen on my walk earlier so we went back past the purple wild flowers (and some new ones she pointed out to me) and laughed at the strange, huge fungus that had sprung up overnight that looked like a burnt squash. We did mosquito dances to avoid being bit, wondered at the strange ball of something green and hard with white dots that was hanging off an oak tree, and by noticing the tell-tale holes on a milkweed plant, found the first monarch caterpillar of the season.  We brought it home, plant and all, to watch it transform into a butterfly over the next three weeks.

As I stood again in our kitchen, setting the milkweed plant next to the aquarium of transforming tadpoles on the counter, I had just started thinking about writing about my enchanted hour after the kids were tucked in bed in just a few more minutes.

But my evening didn't turn out quite like that after all.

Just at that moment, another sound of Summer burst into reality.  The sound of happy boys playing in the last hurrah of the bedtime scramble turned into a painful cry–the type where I'm just about to say "Hey! I don't wanna hear that sort of screaming unless there's a lot of blood or the house is on fire..." just at the moment I look down and see a little boy's second toe twisted a bit, and bent sideways...where there isn't a joint.

"Um, Grace...go tell Dad that Ben's toe is, ah, bent sideways."

Within minutes Mom, Dad and 7-year-old Ben were headed to the ER, where I had plenty of time to think quietly about my evening while holding an ice pack on a sleepy boy's tender foot, or rubbing his back, or walking next to a wheelchair to X-ray.  Then doing a lot of waiting for the busy doctor to come reduce the fracture, buddy tape the toe to his big toe, and send us back home with a very cool foot boot on a very, very sleepy boy (accompanied by tired, and speaking for myself, crabby parents) in the wee hours of the morning.

Yes, this is my Summer.  I'm thankful not to miss it.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Listen to the wind

Listen to the wind. 

A morning wind, awake with the sun, 
     chasing rain and storms that thundered through the night
          but left no traces in the brilliant sky today.

A wind that greets the birds now singing with delight, 
     as if the morning were an unexpected thing.

A Summer wind 
     commanding lush, green trees to wake and dance today– 
          shaking lazy, gathered pools from vibrant leaves 
   to rain again in encore; 
        this time 
             down and down and down 
                   to woodsy floor. 

Clean and shiny verdant life now shimmers in the morning sun.

This is the sound of living trees rejoicing in their strength. 
I think I hear their voices…
     satisfied rumbles of roots that burrow deep in rain drenched earth; 
     sated leaves thrumming with life drawn up to the highest veins; 
     bark that creaks and cracks as sapwood bursts
             into a new and living ring;  
         whispered joys of 
              growing, reaching, stretching to the sun.  
                   The sun that is the lifeblood of the tree.

Can you hear that, too, within the clamor of the wind?

Listen to the wind. 

The type of wind that rolls from tree to tree 
     like waves upon the deepest sea.  
          The rolling and rolling that fills the world 
                from East to West and North to South, 
             but doesn’t stop to crash upon a shore.

The rushing through the grass 
     that chases little creatures 
           back down holes 
                 after ventures up to
      sneak a smell of new cleansed earth, 
               and sneak a peek at rain drops 
          clinging to the grass above their heads ~
                 which shower them instead
                          to drench their boldness.

Listen to the wind.

This is no Autumn wind 
     that rustles past and urges us 
         to sit by cozy, indoor fires 
              or run outside, 
     brisk amid the muted colors all around. 

This is no Winter wind 
     that whistles lonely tunes 
          or hollow wails 
               that make us shiver
           with the longing of our souls. 

This is no Spring wind 
     bringing tender wisps of hinted scents 
          to fill us up with hope of warmth 
               and living things 
           with each deep breath.

This is the wind of full-blown Summer, 
     of life and power and joy in all Creation.  

This day, a symphony of sounds
     and morning light on world so fresh and new. 
          Echoes of Morning in those days
            when all things were declared so Very Good.

And it’s early; 
     the house is still,
         with drapes pulled wide to greet the dawn 
                in all its light and sound and scent.

So I lie in my bed and listen to the wind.


Treasure from the Junk Drawer
copyright © Sara Shull
•All text and poetry by Sara
•Art illustrations by Sara
•Photos by Sara or the Shull kids
~~~~All rights reserved~~~~

Bible verses:
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV)