Sketches: Dirt

Dirt

Gentle Reader,

It’s really hot. It’s stupid.

So, let’s talk: dirt. (Prompt submitted, once again, my my own brain).

I could have been a farmer’s daughter.

My great-grandparents owned a farm in Idaho, near but not quite in the panhandle, where there is a town named “Onaway” because it’s on-a-way to elsewhere. He played on a traveling baseball team part of the year. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse at one point. My dad and his four brothers spent many hours out at their place, forced to bake something every Saturday morning before being released to run through the fields and orchards, chucking rotten apples at each other and jousting on bicycles.

My dad’s first job, around age 14, was working for another farmer, driving tractors and moving big, metal sprinkler poles. The kind with wheels attached. (Google if you don’t know what I’m talking about). He’s the quiet sort, so it didn’t bother him to be out on his own, working in the dirt.

It doesn’t bother him now, either. Though the great-grandparent’s farm was eventually sold and it never worked out for my own parents to buy land and raise animals that would never be slaughtered because we would get too attached to them, he still works in the dirt. Mows the lawn, prunes the roses, plants trees. He hates the heat this time of year (as do I), but he finds being out there, taking care of things, relaxing.

Perhaps the funniest thing he’s done when it comes to dirt and plants was the time he allowed an offshoot from a rosebush to grow in the middle of the yard. Drove my mom nuts. She wanted him to cut it down. He mowed around it week after week, wanting to see what it would do. The fact that it annoyed her was just a bonus, of course.

My mom would always plant geraniums or petunias in pots, lining them up neatly on the stairs that led up to the porch. When I was about 13, I began helping her with the process, learning how to gently spread the roots and place them in deep, soft, wet soil so the plants wouldn’t go into shock. I found it very soothing – me, the not-outdoorsy, doesn’t really like to get dirty person, completely fine with plunging her hands into a bag of potting soil. If my memory serves correctly, one year, I think the last year we lived out on the two-and-a-half acres in the single-wide trailer, I did all of the geraniums myself. They always looked so happy in their terracotta pots, deep green leaves and red blooms reaching for the sun.

I turn to my own plants when I’m feeling anxious. There’s something immensely satisfying about chopping a woody rose cane to the ground. Nothing better than watching the vegetable garden spring from seeds to delicious food. I could do without having to weed, but even that isn’t bad when done in the morning, when it’s cooler, while listening to music or a podcast. I send the ladybug army in to eat all the nasty, destructive little creates. Sit on the back porch and watch the birds flit from tree to tree, the ones that we snagged at a giveaway because we bought our house at the wrong, worst time and had no money to put into landscaping. Admire the baskets hanging from the pergola, fresh vines draping over following a ruthless pruning.

The dirt, and what it produces, is delightful.

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Five Minute Friday: Thirteen

Thirteen

Gentle Reader,

Slipped into the chat near the end because my laptop wasn’t turned on and I sort of forgot that it was Thursday. Because my husband has been gone all week and my dogs won’t let me sleep. I don’t know what they think they’re doing, staying up all night. I give them before-bed treats. Tuck them in. Let them know they are safe. They don’t care. Their world isn’t right and they will let me know that they don’t like it.

Kate says: thirteen.

Go.

Thirteen was twenty-one years ago (next Friday). I wonder what my newly-teen self would think of me as I slide into the mid-thirties?

I think she’d be very surprised that I’m not a journalist. There was no other career she dreamed of. She would be equally surprised that I still live in the town which she thought of leaving. Her goal at the time, which she shared with exactly nobody (that I can remember), was to head off to New York and attend the Columbia School of Journalism. Makes me laugh now because a) I hate crowds, so why did I ever think I could live in a big city? and b) I’m a huge homebody/family gal who would never move that far away, unless God said “go.”

She would be glad to see that my teeth are straight, because she got braces that year and her mouth hurt all the time. She would like that I let my hair do its own thing now, because she brushed and blow-dried it straight every single morning (which never really worked; usually by lunchtime she had waves and ringlets popping up). My two fat, neurotic dogs would delight her. She would be quite pleased with my book collection.

I think 13-year-old me would like 34-year-old me. And I like 13-year-old me. I didn’t back then. Everything was horrible because middle school is truly the worst time of life. Young me thought she was weird and stupid and ugly and awkward and that nobody would ever really like her. I see now that she was funny, highly intelligent and a loyal friend who just didn’t know how to choose the right people to be loyal to.

Gosh. Writing this hits a tender spot in my heart. Yes, young me, you are beautiful. Thirteen is hard, but it will pass. It really will.

Stop.

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Melted Chocolate Blanket

Melted

Gentle Reader,

I feel quiet.

There has to be a better way of describing the sense that pervades my body. Usually, all cells are on high alert, every neuron firing quickly, every chemical either too abundant or to scarce for equilibrium. Though one who despises feeling and has moments of wishing she could actually become a robot, I feel deeply, constantly and unendingly. Changes in environment give me headaches. A furtive glance from someone, anyone, makes my mind whir, attempting to discern the meaning. One stress-point away from panic. Code Red, all the time, always.

But today: not.

No hum in my brain, no throb in my veins, no ache in my stomach. It’s like I’m cocooned in a blanket made of melted chocolate. Not too hot, not to cold. Just right. (And, if such a thing existed, delicious).

It’s a wonder to feel this way. The husband and I were talking the other night about how we both have a niggling wondering in the back of our minds every moment of each day – Is this it? Will the world break out into war right now? Is someone pressing the button to launch the nuke? Those questions are not unique to our generation, of course. But they sure are exhausting.

Because we all want peace. We all want safety.

At least, I think we do. I hope we do. The screaming heads that make their way to the television screens and the Twitter streams can’t be representative of the majority – can they?

I sip my iced coffee as I look at the screen and wonder where this post is coming from and where it is going. That’s the thing with writing; the author doesn’t always know. My desire is to communicate…something to you today, something that I’m not sure I can find the words for.

The Psalmist says it best:

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

– Psalm 46:10 (NKJV)

We’ve heard this verse a million times. People love to quote it at those who feel stressed out. Be still, man. God has you. That’s true. That’s not what I want to talk about.

Rûm: to rise, rise up, be high, be lofty, be exalted

StudyLight

Exalt: to elevate by praise or in estimation

Merriam-Webster

So many people clamor for our attention. So many people want to convince us that they, and they alone, have all the answers. Pundits and lobbyists and advertisers and celebrities. People who, more often than not, have no actual expertise in the area about which they are pontificating. But they catch our attention. Because they’re loud and flashy and popular and we all want to be part of what’s popular.

Meanwhile, God doesn’t scream. He doesn’t strive. He doesn’t bully or push us. He doesn’t jump on bandwagons, make false promises or have to “walk back” anything He says. The lesson in confidence and identity is not learned in studying the biggest Instagram influencer or reading yet another self-help article (like we have time or attention for books these days. Yes, that’s me throwing shade. Go get a library card). It’s learned by looking at God.

He is who He is. He will do what He says He will do.

Period.

Let Christ Himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For He, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to His prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped Himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, He humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death He died was the death of a common criminal. That is why God has now lifted Him so high, and has given Him the name beyond all names, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, whether in Heaven or earth or under the earth. And that is why, in the end, every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

– Philippians 2:5-11 (Phillips)

I’ve read, quoted and written about these verses more times than I can recall. Can’t help but dwell on them again as I consider God’s exaltation guarantee. It’s going to happen. The time will come when He will be lifted up. He will be praised. There will be no more debate or questions. Everyone who was, is and has yet to be will hit the deck in adoration.

Isn’t it interesting that He waits? That He doesn’t go on a cable infotainment show to try to prove how great He is? God is utterly, completely, secure in Himself. Human opinion doesn’t rattle Him in the slightest. He’s just not…bothered by whatever the theological equivalent of internet trolls are. He keeps on loving, keeps on tirelessly working to draw people to Himself, keeps on unfolding the plan set in motion since before time began.

Meditating on this reality is, I think, where the melted chocolate blanket feeling comes from. If God is secure and I am in Him, then I am secure. My identity, value, reputation, gifts, talents, all of it. None of it rests on any person who is just as flawed, fragile and feeble as me. I do not have to attempt to dredge up a sense of well-being in this stupid, chaotic world by clinging to a brand or a place or a political party. People don’t like what I write, okay. My name gets dragged through the mud, all right. Someone does hit that bomb button, hello nuclear winter and Heaven.

Someone said to me recently, “What people want is peace. They think they want solutions to this or that problem, but the driving thing is the longing for peace. Only God can bring that.” 

Only God can bring the peace because only He is peace. In knowing and loving Him is found the strength, the iron will, the sheer cussed stubbornness to keep going. Preaching the words that glorify Him. Working for the things that please Him. Loving as He loves. Even when someone whips those words back at you like a cat o’ nine tails. Even when the job never gets done. Even when hate would be easier than love.

We have a chance to be truly different when we follow Christ. In fact, that’s kind of a big part of the point. Transformation isn’t just about Eternity. It’s about the here and now. No screaming, scrabbling or stabbing for us. Instead, let’s walk through this world with quiet dignity and grace, leaving footprints of mercy and justice wherever we go. Let’s embrace and live out our status as culturally dissident residents of an alien nation, illegal spiritual immigrants who won’t assimilate into the larger society. Not because we are reactive and hostile, but because we hold onto the peace of the melted chocolate blanket.

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Five Minute Friday: Way

Conversation

Gentle Reader,

Back at the chat tonight for the first time in over a month. How I have missed them. There’s an encouragement that only a writer can give to another writer. She gets it. He knows the struggle. Tonight this community of far-flung wordsmiths affirmed my abilities and told me to keep going. Because, you see, the temptation to quit is always there, but sometimes, on some days, it’s stronger. It’s been a mighty weight for awhile now. Just pack it all in. Fall silent.

I am so grateful for these people. They helped me push against that weight tonight.

Plus, where else can you talk about collecting spit and the joys of curly hair in humid weather?

Kate says: way.

Go.

Dang but do we live in a “my way or no way” culture. Which is odd, because we’re supposed to be all about tolerance and respect. Except the tolerance and respect really only extends to those inside the circle. Those who are the same. Somebody comes in as a challenger and forget it. The tongue-gloves come off. Verbal punches fly fast and thick.

No, this is not me claiming persecution. Christians in the United States haven’t the slightest idea what persecution is.

This is me stepping back and taking stock of the last month. I’ve written about touchy subjects. Spent hours thinking and talking about weighty issues. Reading – always reading – trying to find that place between being informed about current events and becoming utterly overwhelmed. All that, I don’t mind. I like it, in fact. Sign me up.

What I don’t like is hostility.

At this point I believe that all Americans, and especially Christians who live in America, should be made to take a logic and critical thinking class. This was one of the first courses I took during my first semester of college, way back during the time of the dinosaur. We spent hours learning the difference between modus ponens and modus tollens. Got into immediate trouble if we dared allow ad hominem to dance upon our tongues. Were introduced to the No True Scotsman and told to stay away from him. Our professor wrote sentences from news stories on the chalkboard and made us deconstruct them, forcing us to learn to appreciate a good argument or line of thinking, even if we ultimately disagreed with it.

Perhaps a political science class is in order as well. Preferably with a very cranky teacher who rarely gives anyone a grade higher than “B” and requires formal debates. No “because” in his class. You make a statement, you’d better be able to defend that statement, no emotional appeals allowed, and if you can site legal precedent, so much the better.

And definitely, absolutely, certainly theology classes. A lot of them. Staring with hermeneutics.

As I think about the events of the past weeks, I see that, above all, we have to remain teachable. Humble. Open to considering another point of view. Always remembering that none of us knows everything all the time.

Stop.

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