Saturday, July 23, 2011

Barren to Beautiful

He makes beautiful things.
He makes beautiful things out of the dust.
He makes beautiful things.
He makes beautiful things out of us.

Out of the dust wildflowers can thrive. Out of the dust gems can be found. Out of the dust we were created. God isn't limited by His materials. What we see as something to sweep away can actually hold the potential for life in the masterful hands of the Creator.

All this earth...
Could a garden come up
from this ground
at all?

Earth needs to be fertile to sustain life. A womb must be fertile, too. Without fertility the farmer's fields remain only dust. Without fertility a woman's womb remains only dust. But diligent care and planning by the farmer and the woman can help foster fertility. But I believe that all this is done in good faith, inviting the Creator to extend His healing touch to bring what was dead to life. 

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

Every now and then I hear this song on the radio while I'm driving. And as I said yesterday there is life coming up out of the ground everywhere I look. The fields are now a patchwork quilt of greens and yellows, stitched together by ditches now colorful with wildflowers. What was once useless swamp land is now verdant farm land. The hard work across the generations, expertise of seasoned farmers, and the blessings of a gracious God have worked together to bring bounty to this corner of the world. And I have a dream that one day life will grow inside of me. The hard work of taking tests and tracking data, the expertise of seasoned doctors, and truly the blessings of a gracious God will someday bring life to my little corner of the world.

You make beautiful things
(You make me new)
You make beautiful things out of the dust
(You are making me new, making me new)
You make beautiful things
(You make me new)
You make beautiful things out of us
(You are making me new, making me new)
Every year this land is made new. Fresh seeds planted, fresh crops grow, fresh harvests are gathered. The seasons change, allowing the land to rest and nutrients to replenish. I am being made new all the time. Each day is an opportunity to be made new, be made better, be made more fertile. Not only for bringing forth new life, but fertile in my heart. This journey of infertility has ended up being about far more than bearing a child. This has exposed areas of infertility in my heart and my mind and my soul. Where doubt, fear, and bitterness reside there it is barren. Where my heart is hardened and my mind is made up there it is barren. Grace, joy, love, peace cannot grow in those areas, no more than life can grow in a barren womb.

He makes beautiful things.
He makes beautiful things out of the dust.
He makes beautiful things.
He makes beautiful things out of us.
~~ Beautiful Things, Gungor

No matter what happens I know God is making beautiful things out of the dust in my life. It is the deepest prayer of my heart that I will someday be able to hold something in my arms, something beautiful made out of us. Regardless if the day ever comes when I get to bring forth life the truth remains that God makes beautiful things out of the dust, and God is making beautiful things out of us.

If you've never heard this song you can listen to it here. It is well worth five minutes of your time to let the truth of this song wash over you and make you new. Praying for blessings and bumper crops in your life.

Poor Man's Flowers, or God's Hothouse

I'm a hopeless romantic. Not in the Sleepless in Seattle way, in the get carried away by dandelion seeds floating in the wind way. Stop midway through a sentence to soak up a sunset way. Slow down and notice the weeds way. Wait...weeds? Huh?

There's not much to look at out here where the wind blows. Some might disagree with me. I'm sure there are people out there that think miles and miles of flat fields dotted by red barns and silver grain bins are beautiful. I'm just not one of them. Not compared to the lush green hills and valleys where I grew up. But at this time every year a dazzling array of wildflowers spring up and spread across the ditches outlining the fields. Tall sprigs of Queen Anne's Lace reaching to the sky, entire fields of purple clover, thick patches of blue cornflower, bright sassy Tiger Lilies' peeking their feline faces out from the ditches, and their sister cattails growing up high. Today I drove past dandelions so thick I couldn't see the grass, just cheery yellow flowers taking over their corner of the world.

Perhaps the reason I am so enamoured with wildflowers is because I don't have a green thumb, pinky, big toe or any other apendage. Mostly everything I plant ends up dying, and if you turned over an already thriving garden to me I'd kill it. I love the idea of gardens and flowers but I'm not any good at getting past the theory of it all. Wildflowers don't require a plan and don't demand much to survive. It seems that no matter how wet or how dry a summer may be these determined flowers return year after year.

Today on my midday commute from the office to the school I drove past a yard entirely overtaken with blue cornflowers. I thought it was beautiful, so natural and untamed. For some this would be a serious weed problem, flowers usurping the rightful place of grass. But others can see the beautiful simplicty of a yard entirely given over to God's gardening. In this sense I'd rather have my heart be like this yard of unkempt cornflowers. Compeltely submitted to God's design, growing like wild under His care, blossoming in a dazzling spectrum of colors, coming back year after year no matter the conditions, unplanned except by Him. This seems healthier to me than keeping a well-ordered, contained, restrained heart only growing under my own power--thriving when I'm strong, dying when I'm weak.

Wildflowers are a poor man's flower. You don't have to be rich to gather a few daisies and lilies growing wild on the edge of a field, all you need is love. I'd much rather have my husband take the time to pick a handful of flowers from our fields than simply slap some money down for flowers someone else picked and bundled. My favorite flowers are actually these weedy wildflowers--Lily of the Valley, Tiger Lilies, Daisies, and Queen Anne's Lace. I remember feeling so brokenhearted for the dainty and fragrant Lily of the Valley when I first found out she was considered a weed. How could something to sweet and simple be a weed?

It seems that wildflowers are hearty and self-sufficient. They don't require a perfect temperature or humidity level. But they do require a special eye to notice them, to choose them, to see their beauty. A rose demands attention, an orchid insists upon it, but a daisy bobbing in the wind is easy to overlook to all but the true romantics. The hopeless romantics. We're the type that don't need expensive hothouse flowers, we're the type that prefers the poor man's flowers, God's hothouse flowers.

Consider the lilies how they grow:
they toil not, they spin not;
and yet I say unto you,
that Solomon in all his glory
was not arrayed like one of these.
~~Luke 12:27

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Future Hopes of a Silk Ribbon Quilt

I love my new background. I chose it on the Fourth of July, when I wrote my last post, because it looked fresh, summery, and inviting. There's just something about old, careworn quilts that I love, especially quilts with stories. My family doesn't seem to be too big into quilting, but someday I will inherit a very old quilt made from silk ribbons. I hope I have this story right...(Mom, let me know if it's not!)

My great-grandmother lived next to a cemetery and in those days the ribbons were made from real silk, instead of the plastic stuff they're made of now. After a time the cemetery caretaker would take down the wreaths, and offer the ribbons to her. Mamie would take them and hand-stitch them into beautiful, soft silky blankets. One particular quilt she pinned a note to explaining that it was for her first great-grandchild. She died when my mother was just a child so this blanket was made with hopes for the future in the belief that the family tree would keep on going. My great-grandmother probably figured it would be a child of my aunt's, being the oldest, but it was my brother Adam in 1980 that was the fulfillment of her future hope.

It seems that families and quilts go hand-in-hand. Patches of clothes and bits of fabric, silk ribbons saved from the cemetery, stories in every piece, love in every stitch, plans and intentions for warmth and love to continue on.

And I think of my family as a patchwork quilt, sometimes a crazy quilt. I have a hard time defining my family. If you asked me about them I'd have to ask you 'which one?' With Mom and Dad being divorced I've got step-parents, step-siblings, even step-nephews in the mix now. Of course I have my brother, his wonderful wife, and his precious baby girl to count. I've got family on my mom's side, and family on my dad's side. I consider my in-laws to be my family giving me two more brothers, another sister-in-law, a niece, and a nephew, as well as many aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. And of course, there's my very own nuclear family: Curtis, Shiloh, Bode, and even Simon the Cat. We're a small family, and very furry, but we're a family all the same.

If I could turn my family into a quilt it would be colorful, vibrant, with many patterns and styles. My mom would be represented by soft pastel flowers, her sister by bright bold colors, my baby niece with little pink teddy bears, my 4 year old nephew with John Deere, my PapPap with corduroy sturdy and warm, my Grandpa with something red, white, and blue for his time in the Navy.

The pieces of a quilt don't all have to match or go together. By arranging them just right a mish-mash of fabrics can turn into a beautiful piece of art and love. The pieces of my family quilt don't all match or go together, but they're arranged just right, by God, in my life. When I finally abandoned the idea that a family is defined by only one certain set of criteria and simply let God shape and mold my family, or families, I was given a beautiful gift. A crazy quilt hand-stitched by the Ultimate Creator. He choose each person with care and placed them just right in my life, and I was placed just right in theirs.  Some of the edges are frayed and the pieces might not be quite square, but it's a masterpiece all the same.

Some people think that divorce means broken homes and broken families. And sometimes it does. I see a lot of that with students at my school. But in my case...God took all of us torn fragments, added some fresh new pieces (the next generation of my nieces and nephews) and made something whole out of it. My family might not look like the ones on TV, or like the people in the next pew at church. But my family is mine, patches and all. And like a warm cozy quilt stitched up with love, I appreciate it and value it very much.

Someday I will be able to pass on one of Mamie's silk ribbon quilts to the next generation, and my intention and my prayer is that something far greater goes along with it. I want the fibers of a family to be sewn up into my future little ones and my nieces and nephews--faith, love, acceptance, forgiveness, graciousness. These core values, the fibers of a family, is what brought all the pieces of my 'family quilt' together and what keeps us together. And its that family quilt, the one that isn't tangible, that is the real legacy.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Maybe They Knew Something We've All Forgotten

 A toast? Yeah. To high treason. That's what these men were committing when they signed the Declaration. Had we lost the war, they would have been hanged, beheaded, drawn and quartered, and-Oh! Oh, my personal favorite-and had their entrails cut out and *burned*! [brief pause]  So... Here's to the men who did what was considered wrong, in order to do what they knew was right... (Benjamin Franklin Gates in the movie National Treasure)

The fact of the matter is that the American Revolution was one of the craziest enterprises to ever be successful. For a disorganized and disagreeing collection of colonies to triumph over a well-organized and methodical empire is quite honestly outrageous. It shouldn't have worked. It almost didn't.

I'm not an expert and this isn't a history course so I'll spare you my rambling and excitable version of the Revolution. But it saddens me that so many people, so many Americans, don't really know the story of how it all happened. We toss around some names--Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, perhaps Adams--and the only date we all know is 1776, but we don't really know what it means.

I asked my students why we celebrate the Fourth of July. They shrugged, they hummed, they tried to change the subject. One finally said to celebrate our freedom. But they had no idea freedom from what, why freedom is so important. Why that one word is used to symbolize the American dream and spirit.

A quick perusal through Facebook shows post after post about the Fourth of July, let freedom ring, support the troops. I'm all for supporting the troops, and think we should thank them every chance we get.  But that's not exactly what Independence Day is about. That's why we created Memorial Day and Veteran's Day--to specifically  honor those who have fallen and those who have served to keep us free. Independence Day is to celebrate the declaring of that freedom, the throwing off of chains, to revel in freedom itself.

"I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance; it ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more." ~~ John Adams

Our founding fathers took great risks--personal and political--in declaring independence from Britain. Had they failed the consequences would've been devastating--personally and politically. I don't want to be part of making them into these mythological gods, larger than life, doing no wrong. They were men, in many ways ordinary men--farmers, lawyers, business owners--but they became extraordinary through their tenacious belief in doing what was right. They were thinking men. Each one contributing great thought, care, and passion into fixing what was wrong with their world. They weren't perfect men, but they were honorable men, brave men.

And their wives were cut out of similar fabric. Abigail Adams, Martha Washington, Martha Jefferson were women of amazing personal strength. Holding down the farm, raising children, minding the property with husbands gone for months at a time. In a time without phones, radio, vacuum cleaners, antibiotics, or Windex. And feminists want to call these women weak simply because they had no jobs outside of the home? These women were not kept down by men. Their men leaned on them heavily as help-mates, as the Bible says it should be. They were keen, educated, witty, strong, and brave women. My generation should take a page from their book.

And perhaps that's the ultimate point of this post. Maybe we should all take some time to dig into our own past, follow the thread of the American story back to the beginning. As a nation we need to shrug off this mind-numbing apathy and find out what being an American really means, and what it really took to create our nation. Perhaps we'll find some answers for our current problems. After all, if the Founding Fathers managed to pull off the impossible, maybe they knew something that we've forgotten.
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