Seeds of Love

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

In the Bleak Midwinter

I am so sick of death.

It’s been a year of bereavement. Even before Daddy died we were mourning the cruel progress of disease, hearts fainting before the horrors of each new stage. There were bright moments of sweetness and light, to be sure, little triumphs of love and glimpses of a glory beyond our ken. But there were also moments I long to forget—and know that I never will.

In the midst of one of these more…challenging…seasons last spring, we found out that our darling Great Pyrenees and barn babysitter, Diana, was gravely ill. We brought her home from the emergency vet clinic with broken hearts, presumably to die. But after one night in the house, Di made a break for it—I found her at the barnyard gate, where her goat and sheep charges were keeping an eager lookout for her return. She wagged her tail with a pathetic effort, looking up at me with that gaze of hers that plunged right into my soul. Di and I had always had a very special relationship; from the very beginning she talked to me with her eyes, and I understood her.

“If I’m going to die,” she told me then, “I’m going to do it right here, in my barn, with my charges around me. Don’t make me leave my job until I have to.”

“All right, Di,” I told her, rubbing her silky head. “Have it your way.”

And she did. She rallied. God’s mercy and alternative veterinary medicine gave us hope. Our vet was cautiously optimistic, and I was determinedly confident. She started making her rounds again, patrolling the pastures and barnyard, and even frolicking a bit with our Pyr pup, Flora.

“I need a miracle, God,” I kept insisting. “I need You to let Di get well.”

Diana was the most valiant dog I have ever seen—her heart kept fighting, even after her body couldn’t. But at the end of May she gave up. And something inside of me gave up, too. We buried her on a hill in the eastern pasture—one her favorite spots, and one of the first places the sun touches in the morning. I’d never dug a grave before, and I know I wasn’t really that much help. But it made me feel a little less helpless to work beside my husband in the warm silence of that May night. Plunging that shovel again and again into that stubborn red earth with tears pouring down my face: it was the last thing I could do for her.

My Diana


Two weeks after Daddy’s funeral, I got the news that the wife of a childhood friend had been killed in a horrific accident, leaving three young children behind.

A few weeks later, my beloved housekeeper, Joan, died of cancer. For fifteen years of Friday mornings, Joan and I had kept this old place from coming apart at the seams, talking from room to room as we worked, tackling windows, woodwork, floors and cat hair with a rhythm that seemed almost choreographed. More than just a housekeeper, Joan was a dear friend and extra mother: I cannot tell you how many cans of Scott’s Liquid Gold we’ve gone through together—or how many hours I’ve spent propped against the kitchen counter taking a goodly dose of advice drawn from the wells of Joan’s practical wisdom. I loved her so much.

“I don’t know how to do Christmas without Joan,” I told Philip the other day.

(But there’s one thing I do know, and it’s that Joan would roll over in her grave if she could see the state of my heart pine floors. She took such pride in them, you’d think they were her own. I’ll never be able to maintain them to her standard.)

In November, Philip’s first cousin sickened and died rather suddenly. It was a hope-laced funeral. But another funeral.

I never want to see that stupid black dress again.


A few weeks ago found us racing our beloved pet Nubian goat, Puck, to a university veterinary hospital a couple of hours away. It was one of those maladies wherein every second counts—I could have kissed the ground when we finally pulled up in front of the large animal wing. The vets were skilled and confident, and set our hearts at ease; we hated to have to leave him, but we knew he was in the best hands in the entire state for the particular surgery he required. A week of persistent hope ensued, with twice daily calls from the doctor on the case, a few niggling concerns, and general reports of the sweetness of Puck’s disposition. Finally, I decided that he just needed to see me in order to rally enough to come home, so I filled up a bag with his favorite greens from the farm, cedar and pine, and headed across the state.

He did perk up when he saw me; everyone marveled at it. But, after all, Puck was my baby—I’d had him since he was less than twenty-four hours old, and, for all his—puckishness—he would let me scratch behind his long Nubian ears and kiss his Roman nose just as long as I pleased. In the evenings, we would walk back to the barn together, my arm slung over his back. He’s even been known to let me tie Christmas ribbons around his neck.

So, of course he was glad to see me, and I him. And even though the treat of the greens I’d brought had to be forestalled because of a second surgery the vets deemed entirely necessary that day, he knew I’d brought them. And he knew I was there. I got to spend a lot of time with him in his stall, and when the surgeons were ready, I was able to walk with him all the way to the surgery bay.

I told him I loved him. (If you’ve never had the love of a Nubian goat in your life, you’re missing out: they’re sensitive, playful, wise and loyal—and what’s more, they love you back.) Then I went to the car to wait.

As I waited, a dark anxiety crept over me. I thought of something a wise older friend once said: that she was learning to praise God, not just for deliverance from crisis, but in the very moment of crisis itself. It was worth a shot—the darkness was so suffocating I had to do something. So I thanked Him for everything I could think of. I prayed for everyone I knew who had known sorrow that year. I prayed for the refugee crisis and I prayed for my sweet, sick goat. I praised God for the comfort of His presence I had known in the past, and I praised Him—falteringly—for withdrawing that comfort.

And I remembered something—or, God brought it to mind, which is more likely.

I remembered back in May, after Diana died, how I’d wandered for days in a paralyzing fog. Daddy was doing so much worse I could neither believe nor bear it; my heart shrank from each visit with him. And then I’d come back home to a world in which there was no Di. It was awful.

I couldn’t pray; I couldn’t talk to God. I couldn’t feel joy.

I couldn’t feel anything, really, but this dull ache of sadness. And even that was blunted, numb.

One morning I went through the motions of a prayer time, but I didn’t know what to say.

“I’ve been mad at You in the past,” I whispered. “I’m not mad at You anymore—I’m afraid of You.”

The moment the words were out of my mouth it was as if something unfurled in my heart. I suddenly had this startlingly clear mental image of how I must have appeared to God at that very minute: balled up like an armadillo, curled imperviously around my own heart to protect it from further bruising. In an instinctive act of subconscious self-defense, I had rolled myself into a big ball of ‘No’.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t get to God—God couldn’t get to me. I believe that He respects our free will too much to violate it, even out of earth-shattering love. But He woos and He waits—which is incomprehensibly astonishing. And when the moment is right, He pulls back the tiniest corner of the veil between what we can see and what is real.

The pain is real, yes. But the joy—and the love and the heart of redemption behind it all—is more real.

Armed with this rather unflattering picture of myself, I began to see how resisting the “bad stuff” in life was essentially denying me of the “good stuff”—the tender mercies and comfort of God; hope, joy and peace; the tang of adventure and the sweet song of dreams. The psychologists all affirm it: shutting down to one emotion is shutting down to all—it’s why people wake up one day unable to feel anything.

It seems natural enough to protect our hearts from grief—to grimly endure or anesthetize with busyness or distraction or exhaustion. But to protect our hearts from grief is to protect our hearts from love. And that’s no way to live.

I had forgotten. I had forgotten that the opposite of joy is not sadness, but fear. I had forgotten (again) that joy and sorrow are twin eggs of the same nest. I had forgotten that love is always worth the pain—always.

I had forgotten that battered hearts are the most beautiful in the end.

And so, I sat there in the early light, with my hands open, whispering ‘Yes’.

Yes to losing Daddy in such a slow and tragic way. Yes to the complexity of life. Yes to the death of my darling Diana and Yes to all the creatures I’ve loved and lost.

Yes to the fact that the seed of Love is shaped exactly like a thorn.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

And then the miracle happened: the sun started coming out again.


“Stay open,” I pleaded with my own heart, sitting there in the car, waiting for news of Puck. “Stay open—the love is worth it.”

Into that little capsule of pleas and imperfect praise came the sudden, sharp ringing of my cell phone: Puck hadn’t made it through the surgery.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so alone in my entire life. Even in all the heartache of the past year, there had always been a hand to hold—my husband’s, a friend’s, my sister’s. Now I was all by myself, in a strange town, with a grief that just felt like one blow too many.

I cried all the way home, back over all those hours and miles, in rain and rush-hour traffic—for my darling Puck, for Joan, for Daddy, for suffering friends, for the sorrow of the whole world. It’s a wonder my little roadster didn’t fly apart under the pressure of such grief. But it was all just too much. Blinded by pain and tears, I raised a wordless lament, pounding the steering wheel for good measure. But underneath, a rebellious little refrain was gathering, mounting to a final crescendo of agony:

This is not the way it’s supposed to be.

This is not the way it’s supposed to be. All this sadness and bad news and dying. All these anxious phone calls, wars, scary test results, car accidents, terminal diagnoses, ruptured marriages, dogs with cancer, infertility, prodigal children. We hate it, not only because it all hurts like hell, but because eternity itself is encoded in our hearts, telling us that things should be different—in fact, will be, someday. But that doesn’t seem to help much when we’re staggering beneath the bereavement of the way things are.

Of course we feel this way—of course.

But it’s only when we bare our hearts to the pain of this brutal paradox, that our hearts are fully open to the beautiful mystery: God sent His Son right into the very middle of this mess. He broke His centuries-long silence with a baby’s cry. Almighty God became helpless, humble, vulnerable to the hurts and evils of this world, so that we—and our hurts into the bargain—might be redeemed. What on earth does redemption mean but to get back all that is rightfully ours, not because we’re good enough, but because we’re loved enough? Not because we deserve it, but because it’s the way God wanted it to be all along. The story is clear all the way through the Bible: God doesn’t want our sacrifices and our stuff—He wants our hearts. And I believe that He is gathering up everything that has ever broken our hearts to make it all right again in our redemption. I don’t claim to know what that means, particularly this side of heaven. But if there’s one thing I’m not afraid of (and, believe me, there are plenty of things I am!), it’s that God will turn out to be less loving, less good, less tender than I always hoped He’d be.


I wept when I got home that night and found Philip and Bonnie, our Aussie pup, waiting for me on the back steps. I wept when I went down to the barn in the dark, into the goat stall that was now only Hermione’s and Perdita’s. I wept when I thought about Puck’s untasted Christmas greens, and about all the children to whom I’d have to break the news.



Years ago, not long after Philip and I got married, I was lamenting playfully with some of my girlfriends over my fierce sentiments surrounding Christmas.

“I cry when we put the tree up, and I cry when we take the tree down!” I chirped.

Everyone laughed, but a well-intentioned older woman in our midst spotted a teachable moment.

“Lanier, someday you’re going to have a lot more to cry over than taking down your Christmas tree,” she said.

Her words fell like a pall, and everyone stopped laughing. I was too shy to say it out loud, but mentally I replied, “Well, then, I’ll cry about that, too.”

She was right, of course.

But so was I.

Because if the buffeting of years has done anything, it’s deepened my delight in Christmas. It’s made my Dayspring’s visit more precious than ever. The candles on my Advent wreath blooming out against an early winter twilight reach some deeper, keener place that sorrow has opened in my soul. The dawn of a December morning baptizing the world with rose-hearted gold is almost too beautiful to bear, for I know what it points to.

For passed is yon dully night
Aurora has the cloudes pierced,
The Sun is risen with gladsome light…

And when we sit quietly in the barn in the evenings and listen to the contented clucks and grunts and hay-munchings of our animals, my heart kneels to the wonder of it all. O magnum mysterium.

The sheep love their Christmas apples!

Our hearts are battered. There is an empty chair at our table, and a bright spirit has gone out of our barn.

And, yet—strangely, impossibly—I have more to celebrate, not less.

A fragment of a verse has been humming away at the back of my mind this Advent season, so persistent I finally looked it up. Yet will I rejoice…

It comes from the book of Habakkuk, that singular little Old Testament tussle with the most bothersome question of all: if God is supposedly so good, why does He permit such awful things to happen? It’s a one-sided quarrel with God (I might know a thing or two about those), but after a series of complaints and honest questions, the good prophet wraps up his argument with one of the most beautiful assertions of faith in the whole Bible:

Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

Why? Because He is the God of salvation. Because God is not limited by appearances or bound by our circumstances. Because there is always, always more to the story—as George MacDonald said, “Good is always coming.” What the prophets saw afar off we now celebrate in present actuality: Immanuel. God did not leave all this brokenness unredeemed. He went straight to the very saddest thing of all—our separation from Him—and He made it untrue.


Sorrow isn’t meaningless, and it isn’t permanent. But it’s tempting to think He owes me something for all this sadness. Okay, I reason with Him, I know there’s beauty in the bad. Now do something good.

Which only goes to show how much I have to learn.

Last year's plum pudding


Advent, like grief, is such a keen time, loaded with expectations and longings for impossible things. Advent is audacious with hope; it is pregnant with miracle. Which is why, I believe, it’s also haunted with the inconsolable sting of the way things ought to be. More than any other season of the year, perhaps, we feel our loss and our lack; we grieve alike for things that are no more and things that never have been. We all want our own Christmas miracle, our own personal annunciation and supernatural fulfillment.

(I want my Daddy back. So bad I can hardly stand it.)

But when God comes to us bringing good, it’s usually not what we expect.

Jesus’s birth was exactly not what people were expecting.

And yet, God in Christ flung Himself over the chasm between the way things are and the way things ought to be. This yearly celebration of that fact gives all of us permission to acknowledge the paradoxes and seeming discrepancies of life—to open our hearts and hands to the life that is, to the gifts just waiting to be mined in our present circumstances. To the Light the darkness just cannot comprehend or overcome, and the Dawn that knows no setting.

Fra Giovanni was right: No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today.

So was Wendell Berrry: We live the given life, and not the planned.

And yet we will rejoice. We will rejoice and rejoice and rejoice because He didn’t do it our way. We will honor the re-routed life of an obscure young Jewish girl and we will search our own hearts for the least glimmer of such trust. We will drag live trees into our homes, knowing full well we’ll be cleaning up needles and sap for the next twelve months, and spangle them with some of the most beautiful and breakable things we own. (I mean, think about it—it’s gloriously ludicrous!) We will stand in drafty cathedrals choking over carols we’ve known all our lives while angels throng the air around us. We will wear ourselves out over holly boughs and flour and spices and prickly cedar and roses and cakes and casseroles and Yorkshire puddings as if our King were coming for dinner. We will remember more lighthearted days, when we thought things would be like that forever, and we will smile at our beloved ghosts and thank God that those days have been. We will cherish that bright sadness hovering over the crèche in the corner of the room, and lean into the Story all over again. We will step out into the frosty silence of Christmas Eve and look at the stars and suddenly find them brilliant, elongated, expanding under a quick burden of tears.

(Perhaps we will even steal down to a barn at midnight, if we happen to have one handy, just to see the animals kneeling.)

We will, if only for one miracle-laden feast of days, draw near to the greatest mystery of all time: God is with us because He loves us.

Dancing with Daddy at my Christmas party, 2005


Isn’t that just the astonishing thing about Christmas—that after all the centuries of hurt and brokenness and disappointment and despair, the world still turns itself upside-down for joy?

As the years pass, I’m less and less concerned about getting caught up in the trappings of the season for their own sake. More and more I’m thankful for all these very touchable, tangible ways to honor the mystery, to draw near with all my senses, to create a space—through ritual and tradition, taste, touch, scent, sight, sound—for eternity to intersect with domesticity.

It’s not just commercial to celebrate Christmas, or indulgent, or naïve. It’s brave, friends. It’s courage incarnate.


If you’re hurting this Christmas, know you are beloved of a God whose special concern is the brokenhearted.

If you’re rejoicing, don’t let fear have your joy, even for a moment.

And know that you, all of you whose eyes may happen to fall on these words, are dear to me. For you I pray on this frosty December morning, that, now and forever, your day may break and your shadows flee away.

"There is radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see--and to see we have only to look." ~Fra Giovanni

Feathers and Twigs

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine, and things pushing up and working under the earth,” said Mary.

~Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

It’s rainy and cold today, but there are violets in the grass and the cherry tree is a bower of pink petals. And though the morning dawned grey behind the faceless clouds, a chorus of birds welcomed it as though it were the grandest miracle the world had ever known. Which, of course, it is.

I have been exultantly busy around here: writing every day, eeking out poems, reading a dozen books at once. (I usually travel around the house with a stack of them. I mean, you never know if you just might want Malcolm Guite’s sonnets when you’re heading out to warm your bones in a fickle, fleeting swath of early April sunshine. Or require Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit when you’re stirring something on the stove. Or realize just as you’ve eased your weary body into bed that the personal narrative of the Altamaha River you’ve been savoring is…upstairs. That will never do. When it comes to books, one must be prepared for all contingencies.)

I have also been hard at work on a project I dearly hope to share with you in the coming weeks, a long, heart’s-labor which, after many years, is finally on the breathless cusp of fulfillment. Details will be forthcoming.

In other news, life is going along gently here on our little farm. Every creature on the place, from impatient humans to contented hens, is nearly mad with longing for spring in earnest. In the days of sunshine we’ve had, our irrevocably spoiled Nubian does, Hermione and Perdita, have flung themselves across the pasture in the early mornings, wild with the joy of all that is to come, bouncing and cavorting in sideways jumps, rearing up on their back legs to play with each other. It makes my heart bound to see them. I seriously have to wonder if there is anything in creation more elegant than a trim little long-legged goat sailing over a green field gauzy with mist and dew, Nubian ears flying, feet scarcely touching earth. We had quite a terrible scare with our lovely Hermione last fall, a gravely dangerous brush with a rare condition that could very easily have taken her from us. When I see her now, I see a living witness to the kindness of God towards His creatures. Indeed, His tender mercies are over all His works…

Adhiraj and Panav, the India Blue peacocks, have feathered out in full glory as befits the season. It really staggers me to see how beautiful they are: how shockingly blue those long necks; how dazzling the gilt-hued feathers with their perfect golden eyes trembling at each tip. We have to be very careful these days to close them up in the henhouse at night, lest they take to the treetops to shriek out their lovelornity every hour on the hour. Let’s just say that if there were a peahen within any distance of us, she would have heard them by now. Nothing daunted, however, they will preen and dance and bow and vibrate their spangled tails like gigantic fans in the hand of a nervous coquette—to anyone who will admire them. (The hens seem to be their audience of choice, but those heartless biddies will strut right past, pecking along at the ground, without so much as an acknowledging glance. Hermione and Perdita appreciate the display, however. And the princes know they can count on an admirer in me—I am their abject slave.)

We’ve taken up a new regimen around here, a grain-free, sugar-free (and lots of other ‘frees’) lifestyle that is literally changing our lives. My mental recipe file has been turned upside-down, and while I’ve always tried to prepare nutritious meals, I’m finding that the energy that has come to me with doing what is best for us has incited a whole new love-affair with good food and healthy living. I am intoxicated on flavors and ingredients and new vegetables I’ve never tried. Such lovely timing, with all this gorgeous spring produce to tempt one at the farmer’s market! I have found tremendous encouragement and inspiration combing my friend Caitlin’s breathtaking website, Roost. (I made her Brown Butter Strawberry Cake for Easter and it was, in a word, sublime.) She makes such a celebration of all these careful, intentional choices, and underscores my own passion for beauty in the rituals of daily life. Beauty is not just for special occasions; it is most beautiful in the workaday hours of a common life, in the small rites and ceremonies and touches and pauses wherein we acknowledge that our little existence matters in the midst of a whirling cosmos. Making beauty can certainly avow to God that we love Him—but, perhaps even more, it shouts into our timid hearts that God loves us.

(Another Caitlin-borne gift that I just cannot help mentioning is her introduction to the Tata Harper line of skincare. I have been an old-school rosewater-and-glycerin kind of girl from my teenage years—I routinely raided my mother’s refrigerator and spice cabinet as a girl, preparing concoctions promising that “roseleaf complexion” Anne Shirley was always talking about. It wasn’t until I tried Tata’s products, however, that I found that serendipitous blend of natural and effective. They are all botanically based, with lots of gorgeous oils and emollients that smell like a flower garden on your face, and I am completely in love. I’ve realized that, despite all my efforts towards natural skin care, I have basically trained my skin to rely on the stripping and smothering process of the typical American beauty regime. It’s taken my complexion about a week to adjust to not having such violence done to it. But it’s thanking me. And the morning and evening routine has been so sweetly revamped: another little ritual to anticipate!)

Goodness! Such ramblings! A bird feathering her nest with anything at hand…

Anyway, with springtime waiting in the wings like a bride, I’ve known a growing sense of peace with the rhythm of my days. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I’m no longer compartmentalizing my life into the sacred and the secular (much as I rail against that, I still do it), so much as just trying to offer myself holistically to God, entirely, like a bouquet, or a chalice to be filled. Perhaps it’s just that, at thirty-eight, I’m finally coming to terms with how God wired me and the lifestyle within which I can best know and love Him. Because, at the end of the day, it’s not how much we have accomplished that matters but how well we have loved, isn’t it? I’m learning (with such tender steps!) to give myself more permission to simply be myself; in the spirit of Mary Oliver (another tome I carry about from room to room) to simply “love what I love” and offer it to God as a prayer or a praise or a wordless song of love.

A blessed Eastertide and blossoming spring to you all. May we all hear God’s voice awakening us with this dear, old reborn world of ours:

“Arise, my darling;
My beautiful one, come away with me!
Look! The winter has passed,
the winter rains are over and gone.
The pomegranates have appeared in the land,
the time for pruning and singing has come;
the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
The fig tree has budded,
the vines have blossomed and give off their fragrance.
Arise, come away my darling;
my beautiful one, come away with me!”

~Song of Songs

(All that remained of the Brown Butter Cake after the Easter feast.)

In deed and in truth

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Last month, I had the great privilege of interviewing one of my heroines, Andi Ashworth, upon the occasion of the re-release of her book, Real Love for Real Life by the Rabbit Room Press. You can find the interview here, and I really urge you not only to avail yourself of the gentle wisdom of her replies to my questions (questions I would have asked her if we’d been sitting face-to-face, so this interview really was a gift to me!), but to purchase and read and share her book, as well. (And while you’re at it, check out my friend Janna Barber’s heartfelt review.) Andi has a perspective on caring as a lifestyle that is truly revolutionary. She brings the most practical expressions of love out into the light—things that might otherwise be considered mundane or insignificant—and shows the opportunity they hold to communicate the love of God to the people in our lives. Her words were such a gentle challenge—at once a cup of cold water and a bracing tonic. I’ve said this elsewhere, but the offering of this book to a weary and care-starved world is a gift of care in itself. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Reading this book and conducting this interview have both made me think deeply about the application of these things in my own life. I’ve been affirmed down to a soul level in things I’ve intuitively felt, but have received very little cultural validation in. And I’ve been challenged to remember the preciousness of the lives that so beautifully intersect with mine, and to keep thinking about how I can love them in creative, concrete ways. But I have also been reminded, in a very poignant way, of the manner in which I’ve been on the receiving end of all this practical love. I am really quite honestly overwhelmed at the ways the people in my life have communicated God’s love to me. They have literally been the hands and feet of Christ in the moments of my greatest need.

But their gifts have not only shone out in the darkness; they have crowned the happiest moments of my life, as well, the most radiant example of which was my wedding day. Philip and I celebrated our anniversary this past week, and with it always comes the yearly remembrance of the astonishing ways that our people loved us during that time.

Indeed, their gifts reached back well into the earliest days of our engagement. I think I’d had Philip’s ring on my finger for scarcely a week when we decided that we wanted to hold our reception at our soon-to-be home, the beloved old farmhouse which he had occupied up until then with a handful of roommates. To be sure, the roommates were scattering: one was going into the Reserves and one had started looking at houses almost as soon as Philip and I started dating. But they were leaving eight years of blameless bachelor living in their wake. The house was fine and sturdy, and had been generally well-cared for, but it was going to take an enormous effort to make it livable to my standards (as in not smelling like dirty socks and paring the collection of sofas and cast-off recliners down to an absolute minimum), much less prepare it for a wedding. The place needed a complete overhaul, from the tip of her highest gable to her boxwood-skirted porch. And we had less than five months in which to do it.

When the idea initially seized us, it seemed the most natural, the most beautiful thing in the world: to host all our friends on the first day of our life together in what was to be our home. It was like something out of a book, something our great-great grandparents might have done. As soon as we started assessing the situation, however, and making lists, I was completely overwhelmed—to the point that I started second-guessing our dreams. There just didn’t seem any possible way that we could pull it off.

And we couldn’t have. That’s where our people came in.

As soon as Philip’s parents heard of our hopes, they literally rolled up their sleeves and got to work. I think Philip’s dad almost lived here with him over those months, quietly going about the doing of things I wasn’t even experienced enough to have thought of. Philip’s mother threw her gifts into the reclaiming of a beautiful, well-established yard that had seen nearly a decade of neglect. And I can’t tell how many times I would come here after a long day, ready for a long night of work on some project or another, to find the kitchen—my one-day kitchen—absolutely redolent with the aroma of a home-cooked meal and my soon-to-be mother-in-law beaming at me as she drew a pot roast out of the oven. There is simply no telling how those happy little suppers around a formica-topped table fed my soul during that time, and gave me energy to tackle my to-do list with a strengthened heart.

My parents joined the effort, as well. There was hardly a Saturday that this old place was not abuzz with willing workers; the ring of hammers and power tools were the rule of the day. And my mother was incredible: in between managing my social schedule—which had suddenly erupted into a happy mêlée of parties and showers and dress fittings—and assuring herself that my trousseau met the requirements of a proper Southern girl, and basically trying to keep up with the visions of a very starry-eyed, albeit opinionated bride, she was at the house, pulling honeysuckle vines out of ancient crepe myrtles and weighing in on paint chips and helping me plant my flower garden. My Daddy took about 87 sofas to the Goodwill; my brother cut grass and cut bushes and trimmed up all our liriope-lined paths so that they would be in full, green lushness for our wedding day. Among about a thousand-and-one other things, Philip designed and built a rose trellis in the side yard, through which our guests would pass (and we would enter our reception) and a friend gave us established rose bushes from his garden so that they would have time to clamber up the latticed sides.

It was all so amazing that I really think I was unable to take it in at the time. I was overjoyed and deeply, deeply grateful. But it’s in retrospect that the lump rises in my throat and the wonder burns my eyes with tears. Friends helped us pull up carpet, helped us paint the rooms, helped us move furniture and hang pictures. In essence, they helped us make a home, which is one of the most beautiful things a person can do for another. It was like a long, drawn-out house-raising. And there, in the midst of it all, was my groom, working day and night to prepare a place, not just for our wedding, but for us. For me. Even in all that sweet tumult of work and waiting, the precious image incarnate in Philip’s labor was not lost on me.

At my trousseau tea (and, yes, I am telling you, there are still some Southern girls who have trousseau teas!) just days before the wedding, a sweet friend asked what I had left do to. I think she was expecting a litany of final fittings and bridesmaids’ gifts and packing for my honeymoon. But when I told her I was planning on making curtains for the bathroom, she was incredulous.

“No,” she said, with as firm a look as I believe her kind brown eyes were capable. “No, Lanier. You are a bride. This week that is all you need to be. I am making your curtains.”

She would not leave until the fabric was safely in her hands, and as I passed off all those yards of white muslin, I felt like a physical weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It was an act of pure love, and, as such, bore the fragrance of God’s love to me. She gave me the gift of hours in my bridal week, for which I was deeply grateful. There is hardly a morning I do not think of it, as I pull back those soft drapes on the eastern light of a new day.

Philip and I are still incredulous about what happened here the day before the wedding. I had always cherished a dream that the people I loved would all have a hand in my Day of days, would each have their fingerprint, as it were, upon this most unforgettable moment of my life. But I had no idea it would be like this—folks descended on this old place from the four corners of the compass. I remember wandering around in a complete daze, marveling at all the activity, my ever-present wedding notebook hanging idly at my side. One extremely talented soul had been named artistic director of the affair, and he had taken all my Avonlea-ish visions and translated them into living reality. That day he presided over a small army of women on our back porch, up to their elbows in roses and shell-pink zinnias and hydrangeas they had brought from their own gardens. Some were arranging flowers for the reception tables; others were fashioning exquisite little nosegays of old-fashioned perennials for the wire cones to be hung on the ends of the pews at the church. I have a mental snapshot of one of my bridesmaids on the patio amid a sea of daylilies and Queen Anne’s lace which another friend had gathered from her pasture that morning, and just beyond her, a small army of teenagers throwing out fresh pine straw in all the beds around the house. I went inside and found my sister twining thyme and Russian sage into a curving letter ‘I’ to top our wedding cake, and saw one of her friends hanging over the stair railing, grasping a can of Brasso in one hand and an arm of our rather age-patinaed chandelier in the other.

Midway through the day, my mother had a meal of fried chicken and vegetables brought in for everyone, with leftover cakes from my trousseau tea, and lots and lots of iced tea. And just about the time we were all indoors and lined up to make our plates—it started to rain. I couldn’t believe it! An outdoor wedding reception was the only thing we had accounted for—there was no Plan B. I stood at the den windows watching the downpour in disbelief. I knew there was much more to getting married than a perfect wedding day. But I had never so much as considered the fact that it might rain! The faithful crew at our house, however, was undeterred. Nothing daunted, they simply finished up their lunch and plunged into a new round of tasks, trudging around in the rain as if there was not a thing in the world to worry about. My sister and another friend soaked themselves weaving ivy garlands and hanging them on the front gate; many of the women did the same, festooning the reception tent with curtains of tulle and ribbons with rain running down their faces and arms.

It rained again the next morning—June can be such a fickle girl in Georgia! I’m very much afraid that by that point I was too far gone with the joy of what the day meant to really care about the weather. (My mother knew she had lost me and my opinions the day before when she had innocently asked what I would like to put the dried lavender in, which would be distributed to our guests to throw as Philip and I left the reception. “Oh, I don’t care,” I said, with a wave of my hand. I think that was her first moment of real panic surrounding my wedding. From there on out, she knew she had to go on without me. ;)) I remember sitting with my coffee on my wedding morning, looking out at the dripping day, asking my mother rather absently why it was raining.

“I’ll be right back,” she said.

I heard her bedroom door close, and in a few moments it opened again.

“Your Daddy said it was going to be allright,” she told me with a brave smile. I little knew then how brave.

Quite frankly, that was enough for me. I floated on through the morning in a bridal haze of utter preoccupation. My bridesmaids started arriving, tripping daintily up the front walk under umbrellas, and the beloved friend that had agreed to do my hair managed to set me down before a mirror and get to work. Another dear one, who also happened to be our wedding coordinator, stopped by on her way to the church and repacked my suitcase (which was a complete mess) and the florist dropped off my headpiece. The whole house was a happy beehive of feminine industry, and there I was, useless and cow-eyed in the midst of it all. My mother came in when I was dressed, just as my sister was lowering my diaphanous veil, and her radiant face did not bear the least trace of the anxieties she had known that day.

It wasn’t until I returned from my honeymoon that I learned what went on at my house the morning of the wedding. A friend had procured some emergency cabana tents, and he and my dad and brother set them up in the rain. My mother had her work cut out convincing the cateress (a Southern maven of the old school, who had literally come out of retirement to do my wedding) that moving the reception to another site was not an option. Seeking our ‘artistic director’ for moral support, she found him on a ladder by Philip’s trellis, calmly wiring wild rose canes and blossoms over the lattice. Looking down at her with rain pouring off the brow of his hat, he cheerfully concluded that there was nothing more to do but press on and pray hard. (He actually pressed on so hard that he missed the wedding. I remember catching a glimpse of him at the back of the church when we were having our pictures made, no less dapper for his late drenching, smiling with all of us over the joy of the breaking clouds outside and the summer sunshine that was pouring in through the tall windows.)

Yes, it did clear up. The good Lord heard that host of prayers and was kind enough to part the clouds on our account. On the way to the reception, Philip and I saw a double rainbow spanning over our way. It was like a kiss from God. And when we pulled up before the house—our house—my mother-in-law greeted us on the front walk with the dearest words in the world: “Welcome home!”

So many memories from that day seem to swirl in a cloud of tulle and sweet peas and blushing organza. It was everything I had ever dreamed it would be—from the children in smocked dresses chasing each other under the trees, to the lemonade on the front porch, to the hot tea served from a dear one’s family heirloom of a silver service—because people who loved me had made it so. And in the goodness of God we danced on the lawn that day with our wedding party and sealed the vision we shared for the kind of home we wanted to establish: one that would literally overflow with the very love that had launched us into our life together. That love laid a hallowing touch on the smallest details of our day, and demonstrated to us in an unforgettable way that, indeed,

Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
…through the features of men’s faces.

Photo credits: Frank Gibson

Endless Summer

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

"Summer magic, the soft summer magic, drifts across the meadow. Summer magic, it weaves through the willow, right into your heart."~R. Sherman

I was properly horrified to glance at my feed reader and realize that my last post was three weeks ago! Where has the time gone? It feels like it should be May, and here it is the first day of summer. Philip and I have pledged between ourselves to be as intentional and aware as we possibly can in this sweet, fleeting season. I tend to idealize the summers of my childhood when there was nothing more pressing than a fresh stack of library books and the prospect of the neighbors’ swimming pool in a long series of afternoons that stretched blissfully out into forever. I have to make time for summer’s pleasures now—they aren’t just doled out like popsicles as they were when I was a little girl. But there’s something about a pleasure that’s deliberately created that has a magic of its own.

And the magic of summer is like no other.

Hearts grow dearer and heaven seems nearer, Winter dreams come true. Oh that magic, what wonderful magic summertime can do." ~R. Sherman

We’ve been taking as many meals as possible on the front porch these days. There have been a lot of quiet dinners, just we two, where we’ve talked long and low about the things that matter most to us over fresh summer vegetables and grilled delectables, watching the lightning bugs come out and the moon silver the front pasture and the trees around the house. And there have been a few joyous evenings with friends, mouth-watering seafood and ice-cold champagne and homemade ice cream. We’ve always been astonished at such times to hear the grandfather clock inside chiming midnight, the time has flown so happily. These are the hours that make summer what it is for me. Good company, good conversation, good food.

actually, a springtime breakfast on the porch. but the same general idea.

Last weekend we hosted some of our dearest friends for one of our ‘work-swaps’, and while we accomplished much during the day, it was tempting to stay up all night talking and catching up in the rocking chairs on the porch. We ladies managed to chat ninety-to-nothing over life philosophies and God’s latest work in our hearts while weeding the garden–and even during a bee inspection. But when the four of us starting talking books and Masterpiece Theatre and theology around the table, all bets were off. I’m ashamed to recall how many times I interrupted someone else in my zeal to introduce writers as diverse as P.G. Wodehouse and Dorothy Sayers into the conversation.

With the garden, my main goal has been to keep everything alive and watered in the uncharacteristically brutal heat we’ve had this June. The tomatoes are still green but promising great things. And I’ve planted my strawberries in wicker baskets hanging from shepherd’s hooks for a change, on the recommendation of a master gardener I met in England. We’ll see how the slugs and chipmunks like that! 😉 The brambles are all coming in nicely and they are succulent and delicious—provided I can beat the peacocks to them! Adhiraj and Panav have developed quite the taste for raspberries. It’s the first time I have scolded them for anything, and that is saying quite a lot. (Speaking of the peacocks, they have settled into their home here with a familiarity that continues to enchant us. One afternoon I was playing the piano in the front parlor when I had the uncanny sensation that I was being watched. I turned warily to look over my shoulder, and met the inquisitive stare of two peacocks, craning their bright blue necks as if to figure out what the heck I was doing in there making all that racket!)

Adhiraj and Panav*

Hermione and Perdita, the Nubian doelings, are the delight of my heart. We could watch them at their antics forever—though Perdita attempted such a fancy caper yesterday she actually sprained her ‘ankle’ and consequently was prescribed a day of ‘stall rest’. Needless to say she was not too happy about it, but the little hoof was much better today and she’s sporting a fancy pink wrap just in case. It has been so much fun to see those little goats assimilate with the rest of the animals. The sheep were not so sure at first and tried to bully the newcomers. But Puck, their enormous big brother has been gentleness itself. He follows them around, as if to assure himself that they really are goats. And when they are confined in their pen from time to time, I’ll catch him reposing right against the fence on the other side, as close as he can get. My Great Pyrenees, Diana, has been a darling, as well. I watched her in the pasture the other day, napping in the shade near where the goatlings were grazing and then heaving herself up to move closer again every time they edged farther away.

Hermione and Perdita love their new quarters in the barn. Hermione thinks that the manger makes the nicest bed, while Perdita prefers the platform of the yet-to-be completed haydrop.

Let’s see…we’ve had our first honey harvest this summer. We were literally giddy over the taste of two years’ work, although, when it came right down to it I felt rather bad about stealing from the bees. They have really done all the work and I am so proud of my girls. But there was just nothing to compare to that first sample of liquid gold: it was the soul of all our spring flowers infused into one toothsome bouquet.

Ophelia, pre-shearing*

And where have all the other days flown away to? Hoof trimmings and vaccinations and shearing (the sheep didn’t recognize each other for days, silly babes). A jaunt to my beloved Jekyll Island in May. Books read and book club meetings. Mucking and painting and renovating and cleaning and the thousand and one daily things that make up the making of a home.

La mer a berce mon coeur pour la vie...

And writing! Oh, my goodness, I’m writing like crazy this summer! Hoping to finish the rough draft by the end of August, but we’ll see how it goes. I don’t want to frighten the muse away by demanding too much of her.

And thus concludes the most random post I’ve ever written here. All this to say I’m still around, and that I hope you all have the dearest, most magical, summery-est summer of your lives. God bless!


"Summer's lease hath all too short a date..." ~Shakespeare

*photo credit, Griffin Gibson

sweetest distraction

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011


Meet the newest member of our family, our beautiful Nubian doeling, Hermione.

Afraid I’m going to be a little occupied around here, what with bottle brigade and romps in the yard and stroking those gorgeous Nubian ears. And I may or may not have had her in my lap at the breakfast table this morning…

She’s a week old and already a diva. Now we’re just looking for a playmate for her, as it’s really best to raise them in pairs.

But she’s rapidly charming the socks off all the rest of the family:

Philip just missed the full-blown kiss

And Puck? He nearly jumped out of his black knee-boots in surprise. I wish you could have seen the distinctly goat-ish double take–he all but rubbed his eyes with his hooves.

She’s nothing short of a gift to us all. And we love her to utter distraction.

Notes on pruning from a novice

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

"Remain in Me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me." ~John 15:4

It was a brilliant but brisk winter day, and I was none too sure I wanted to brave the cold with my clippers and shears. But the calendar would not be denied. For it’s a cardinal rule of gardening here in God’s country that pruning must needs be effected no later and no earlier than Valentine’s Day. I’d as soon lay a rose bed to mulch under the nose of the right reverend George R. Briggs, or sow the least summer seed before Good Friday, as trespass so serious a decree. I won’t even speculate as to what garden calamities might come of such an aberration, as I’ve never been brazen enough to hazard it.

But this year was different. Or, at least, it seemed so, as I stood in my warm den with a mug of hot coffee and contemplated the exchange of my shearling slippers for the cold comfort of the Wellies waiting outside the kitchen door. More dispiriting, still, was the overflowing mess that the brambles had profligated themselves into over the previous growing season. When I had taken myself in hand at last, fortified against the elements in coat and gloves and armed with loppers, I stood before the trellis, thoroughly and uncompromisingly stumped. I was too lazy to go all the way back into the house for the aforementioned George R. Briggs and his unambiguous instructions on Pruning for the Home Orchard. So I did what any level-headed gardener would do: I went after the roses.

Roses are much more straightforward, and I have a longer history with them. Roughly one-third off the climbing varieties and more-than-you’d-think-at-first-go off the others. Nothing too challenging. But as I worked, I noticed a strange frustration growing on me. Or, more accurately, in me. The fact is, the whole idea of pruning was rather a touchy subject at that particular moment in time. I had been reading in John 15 about abiding in our Lord the Vine, and the Father-Vine Dresser Who takes it upon Himself to prune the branches so that they bear fruit that is undying and everlasting. And I had fretted with Him in prayer that very morning about the disparity between that lovely and simple condition and the sense of fractious feverishness that had begun to steal into my own life of late.

Yet again.

Old foes of haste and hurry; the siren wail of the urgent and indispensable; the choking burden of choices and expectations. In short, I was right royally overwhelmed. And beleaguered with the problem of what to do about it.

Oftentimes we see His hand at work in our lives, lopping off things which we have no control over, and even as we flinch under the shears, we trust the love that guides them. But, just as often, He may hand the clippers over to us, asking us in faith as under-gardeners, to have a go at our own lives. To act on the promptings He’s been nudging for some time or to recalculate the cost of a particular endeavor. I really believe that personal assessment and regular, routine ‘fruit inspection’ is an indispensable part of a disciplined spiritual life. It doesn’t speak very well for my discipline, then, when I recognize its necessity only after my garden has gotten rather out of control.

But I recognized it that day as I was working away in my own tangible little vineyard. And I stopped in mid-cut and the clippers swung idle in my hands.

Okay. I said it out loud. Is there anything You want me to see here?

And if I sounded a little miffed, I have to think that God doesn’t mind honesty as much as He does self-reliance clothed in pious speech. I was frustrated. And He knew it.

I finished up with the roses and then I went and contemplated the brambles again. Half of the trellis is set to blackberries and half to raspberries. But it was such a tangle you could hardly see where one ended and the other began. I seriously entertained for a moment the thought of leaving them to themselves, taking a year off. But only for a moment: the memory of last summer’s berries, warm to bursting in the morning sun and so abundant I could feed them to Puck through the fence without reserve, won the day. I took off my coat, as this was serious business, and pushed up the sleeves on my hoodie.

And as I confronted the confusion of shoots and canes, a bit of wisdom came to me. At first I attributed it to the honorable George. But I now know it to have come from a much nobler Source.

Dead things first.

The string of words became a little motto as I looked closer among the canes, sorting out those distinctly brown from among the winter-silvered green. And it was amazing what clarity their removal brought. So many of the tangles resolved themselves as the dead vines were cut and dragged away. I was humming the phrase to myself like a little pep talk as I hunted the next candidate when, suddenly, it hit me.

Of course! Dead things—old encumbrances; old entanglements. Old sins and old habits and old regrets. Old, toxic thoughts about graceless-living. In short, the very things Christ has set me free from and which I, like the Apostle, tend to carry around with me like a dead weight. “I know You’ve dealt with this in the only way possible, Jesus, but let me haul it around a little longer just to prove how sorry I am.” And it’s amazing how cunningly those worthless things accumulate while our back is turned…just when we think we’ve seen the last of them.

“Let the past sleep,” says Oswald Chambers, “but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ.”

Dead things don’t need to be analyzed, critiqued and disputed over. They are obvious and they need to be hauled out from among the living things and tossed on the burn pile.

After such strong and severe simplicity, I returned to my brambles with a considerably lightened heart. I wondered if I’d see anything else worth pondering when my glance fell on a shoot that had sprung up from the trellis with all the energy of summer-past, and rooted itself in the middle of the lawn. And the funny thing is, the more I looked, the more I saw of the same thing: far-flung branches arching off the original site so that they had toppled to earth and put down roots far from the vine and from the rich soil I had prepared for them. What well-intentioned canes they were, fat and sleek and many yet bearing the scarlet banners of last year’s leaves. I almost apologized to them as I tugged them out of the ground and cut them back to a reasonable length.

But they had to go, of course. They would steal all the energy from the fruit—not to mention make a wilderness of my backyard. They are the stuff of scanty harvest and exhausted resources. The things that stretch us beyond our means. That make us feel, as Bilbo so wisely observed, “like butter scraped over too much bread”.

After that, it was the real heart of the matter: the strong, healthy canes, the ones that were growing where they were supposed to and had borne last summer’s berries. And these were the toughest of all. It’s always hard to convince myself that I’m really supposed to cut them back that far. But as I set to with my loppers, three more little thoughts came wafting to mind and settled in my heart:

~Every single shoot needs scrutiny.

~Pruning is always more severe than I think it needs to be at first.

~It gets easier.

Like I said, I’m a novice. But it certainly gave me a passel to tuck away and pray over. I want to learn from the Master Gardener. And I want a whole lot more than a freezer full of berries by this time next year. I’d like to think there was some fruit that remains, unspoilt and unchanging, to the glory of His Name.

This rush of wings afar

Monday, December 13th, 2010

"Tell us, ye birds, why come ye here,Into this stable, poor and drear?""Hast'ning we seek the newborn King,And all our sweetest music bring." ~ Charles L. Hutchins 1916

I had been looking for them for weeks, from the first real shock of cold weather in early November, expecting at any moment to be brought up short in the midst of a day’s round by the sound that is at once the most wistful and the most exhilarating I have heard in nature. To be arrested with the wild, sweet declaration of change in the air and the turn of the seasons. To be held fast and fixed in a spell of wonder that is the yearly migration flight of the sandhill cranes. I remember so many late afternoons in autumn, the yard around us violet with gathering shadows and the day’s last gilding just ebbing from the treetops as we stood with heads thrown back in a compliment of complete silence, watching the tiny black mass swirl and mount its heavenly way before pressing southward in a somewhat ragged ‘V’, always cherishing the jumbled cacophony of cries that must be deafening at close range and yet has about it all the poignancy and the bewildering exactitude of change ringing at such a distance.

They have always been a herald, a harbinger that electrifies me with aliveness and anticipation, and I love them for it.

But they have never been so late, in my memory. And I hadn’t realized just how intently I’d been listening for their glad tidings until it came.

It was one of those days that every second seemed to count. Every hour so carefully planned so as to press the last oil of productivity out of every moment. A day of loved preparation, no doubt, but ever teetering dangerously in the balance between ‘bustle’ and ‘huffing about’. The last sugar cookies were cooling on the racks and I was just measuring out the ingredients for gingerbread when I stopped as if I’d been tapped on the shoulder and caught my breath over that familiar ache of joy. I set down the jar of molasses and flew out the kitchen door, into the keen chill of a December afternoon, and whirled about, searching the sky.

I think I felt them before I saw them, in much the way that a person senses observation. For just as I turned in their direction, they appeared with a gliding sweep above the proud hedge of hollies that border the kitchen yard. At first I was too fascinated to realize that I had never seen them at such close range: their bodies were grey, not black as they always seemed, and I could even make out the darker tips of their enormous wings. I wondered wildly for a moment if they were going to land in our pasture, until it became obvious that the slow and solemn circle was on the ascent. Perhaps they had taken off from the watering hole out front—had been there for quite some time while I was inside and all oblivion, up to my ears in flour and colored sugar!

I stood transfixed as they mounted heavenward, as stately as a liturgical procession, with the occasional bird-shout of praise for good measure. And as they reached a certain height and came into a level with the slanting rays of the departing sun, an absolute miracle transpired. Each time the wheeling throng passed through the light, a wash of pure glory set them ablaze, running over them like the ripples of some heavenly watercourse, so that every wing was ‘sheathed with silver’ and every feather a flash of gold. On and on they soared, higher and higher, passing from shadow to splendor in a recurring parable of unearthly beauty.

Light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death…

Soon after they forsook the charmed hold of light, and in a matter of a breathless moment or two they had unfurled themselves into perfect formation. And like a giant bracket with one leader at the fore and two lieutenants flanking him on either side, they passed swiftly over my head in reverent silence and glided away towards the south. I was shaken as I went back into the kitchen and regarded my late occupation. It seemed almost silly to reassume something as earthly as the baking of cookies after so heavenly a benediction. And yet, not silly. Sanctified, somehow, in the purifying glow of this holy Advent which appropriates all willing things unto itself and makes of a flight of birds or a flour-dusted kitchen a sacred thing and an intersection of the lay and the liturgical.

Philip and I later talked long by the fire of why I was so moved: why the advent of a flock of birds would bear such a palpable weight of glory to my waiting heart.

Why their shrill, metallic cries would seem the very voice of one calling in the wilderness.

“It’s because we see them every year,” he said, “and we know what they mean.”

That is precisely it. It’s that same paradox that Lewis talks about in The Screwtape Letters in speaking of our thrill at the change of seasons juxtaposed with our love of the familiar:

He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme.

And that is precisely why Advent is such a present promise and Christmas a yearly miracle. If our own hopes and longings are a recurring theme, how much more so is God’s everlasting “Yes!” to our eternal “Why”?

The ‘Yes’ is Jesus, of course: Jesus in a manger; Jesus on a cross; Jesus coming again with power and great glory.

Jesus coming in familiarity and great particularity to our present need and thrilling us with a hope that defies reason.

The sandhill cranes were not late, any more than the God Who made them is late with the delivery on His promise. I’m so glad that they mingled themselves with my expectation this year and that Advent is the season they exulted over with their jubilant song.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Celestial fowles in the air,
Sing with your notes upon the height,
In firthes and in forests fair
Be mirthful now at all your might;
For passed is your dully night;
Aurora has the cloudes pierced,
The sun is risen with gladsome light,
Et nobis puer natus est.

Rorate coeli desuper, William Dunbar 1460-1520

Angels and shepherds, birds o' the sky, Come where the Son of God doth lie; Christ on earth with man doth dwell, join in the shout "Noel, Noel." ~ Charles L. Hutchins 1916

And so, it commences…

Monday, November 29th, 2010

The brightest, most blessed season of the year. My heart has been leaning into it for weeks, friends. But the miracle of the first dawning of Advent never ceases to catch me off guard–can it really have come again? The earliest tasks of the season always bear with them a certain tender awe. And always the sweetest amazement that He actually came…

Caspian lends his aid to the Advent Wreath

" do Him honor Who's our King, and Lord of all this reveling..."

Puck's already sporting his Christmas best

the Advent Wreath on Sunday afternoon, all anticipation

We fetched home our Christmas tree on Friday, after a jolly search (and I was so overcome with the rightness of the one we found I hugged it on the spot). I’m very particular about Christmas trees–and even more so once we get them home. We have as many traditions for the preparation as for the actual decorating. 😉 But as my tree has to last and be lovely from the first Sunday in Advent right on through to the last waning moments of 12th Night, I can’t be too lavish with my care. For one, we never carry our tree on the top of our car–think of all that wind rushing over it and drying it out! (But I’ll spare you the details of the homeward journey, involving a tree trunk on the console of the Explorer and an eighty-pound dog in my lap! ;)) As soon as we get it home it receives a fresh cut and an instant immersion in what Philip calls my ‘tree brew’: a recipe that has miraculously guaranteed a fresh and fragrant tree throughout the duration of the season. It originally came from the Fermilab website and even though it’s a little extra trouble I absolutely swear by it. Here is the recipe, if anyone is interested:

Two cups Karo syrup
Two ounces liquid chlorine bleach
Two pinches Epsom salts
One-half teaspoon Borax
One teaspoon chelated iron
Hot water to fill two-gallon bucket

Fill a two-gallon bucket with hot water to within one inch of the top and add the remaining ingredients. Stir thoroughly, dissolving ingredients. Set aside.

With a saw, cut an inch off the bottom of the trunk of your recently purchased tree. Try to make a level cut.

Immediately stand the trunk of the tree in the solution and leave for 24 hours.

Keep the remaining solution. Place your tree in a tree stand that contains a well for liquid.

When the tree is in its final resting place, use a plastic cup to pour solution from the bucket into the tree well. Fill the well.

Every day without exception, “top up” the well of the tree with the solution from the two-gallon bucket.

(Note 1: We cover the well of our tree stand with a screen of hardware cloth, just to keep any curious kitties from sampling the brew–I can’t think it would be good for them.)

(Note 2: While this recipe is indicated as a ‘fire-retardant’ on the Fermilab website, I am making no such claim-I am sharing it as a preservative and fragrance-enhancer only.)


And so, welcome to Advent, dear ones. My prayer for you all is that it may be the sweetest and the holiest you have ever known.

p.s. Here is a fabulous Christmas piece that I thought you would all enjoy. It’s written by our dear and talented friend (and husband of my darling writing partner), Luke Boggs, for The Sunday Paper last year. Enjoy! 🙂

A Passion for the Season

p.p.s. I just want to take this opportunity to make sure that you all know how very much the mere fact of your being here and reading these words means to me. And the words that you share in return absolutely overwhelm me. I assure you, though I may not be able to reply as extensively as I would like to, I read and cherish every single comment and kindness you have sent my way. I am humbled by your grace and your graciousness and I am inspired to press on by the way that you put me in courage with your words. And I do not exaggerate in the least when I say that you are the best part of this chronicled experience online.

Thank you, friends…

A Time to Keep

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

animals who act like it's Spring

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.

~George Eliot

lettuces in the cold frame

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

~John Keats, Ode to Autumn


Every leaf speaks bliss to me,
Fluttering from the autumn tree.

~Emily Bronte

October mornings

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stained
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou mayest rest
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

~William Blake, To Autumn

blue clouds of mist flowers

All-cheering Plenty, with her flowing horn,
Led yellow Autumn, wreath’d with nodding corn.

~Robert Burns, Brigs of Ayr

the barnyard raj

I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.

~Nathaniel Hawthorne

a new baby (her name is Hetty)

Desperately trying to keep–to fully live–these fleeing hours and days of the year’s tender flourish, mostly by heeding Hawthorne’s advice above. Counting up what I love, what makes my heart glad and makes each day’s beauty so lucid and real.  Opening my eyes to see, not merely look. Catching at the gossamer strands of the poignant season as they fly and weaving my praise in a pattern of wordless joy…

God bless you all in autumn’s gilding as His touch sets the world aflame…

A Harrowing Tale

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

I felt like the villain in a Gothic novel.

I had stormed the castle gates, hooded and veiled, and thrown the guards into confusion with a diversion of smoke. Right to the very heart of the fortress I plied, past those who fain would shield their queen to the death, into the sacred quarters of the monarch herself. Sweeping the sentry aside (albeit gently), I took the lady captive and spirited her away before her subjects half-knew what was happening.

It was then that the rush of peril abated somewhat and the high adventure of the thing started to break down. All I can say is that it was a good thing my husband was working at home that day.

“Philip!” I shrieked, running towards the house, gloved hands cupped carefully over the prisoner. “What do I do now?”

It had seemed so easy in theory. The books had all made the process of re-queening a hive so simple and straightforward. And, as I realized now to my supremely wounded sensibilities, utterly, utterly heartless.

We put her in a jar and set her on the counter. And we looked at her. So very beautiful with dainty wings all out of proportion to the long amber body and one small white spot where the apiary had marked her for the benefit of novice beekeepers. We knew what we were supposed to do. What the books would tell us we had to do for the sake of the whole hive and the new queen that was waiting in a box in the dining room to assume her throne. But there was just no way that either one of us could do it. Nothing so senseless as that.

“I could take her in the car when I go out later and release her,” Philip said.

“It has to be a good three miles away,” I replied, my eyes still bent on the bee, struggling against her invisible walls. “To be safe.”

Last summer we had weathered a fiasco of virgin queens in a failing colony that rivaled any of the treacheries of the Stuarts and the Tudors. We captured one swarm only to have a rash of micro-swarms break out later in the day all over the yard as various bees swore their allegiance to the newly-hatched queen of their choice. We couldn’t risk that again, or the very real danger of the bees taking matters into their own hands and doing away with the new queen in the presence of the old one.

And while the nearly-empty brood frames confirmed our fears that “Mary Mac” just wasn’t laying, her former service to the colony demanded—in our minds , at least—a nobler end than an unceremonious squashing. More of a riding off into the sunset. Or perhaps a wild colony of queenless bees…

At any rate, foolish or otherwise, we took her for a ride and let her go. Offered the choice between wise-and-cold-blooded and foolish-but-merciful, I’m going to stick with the latter any day.

The next day we returned to the pillaged hive and placed a small box with a screened top on the floor between two of the frames. Then we closed it all back up again with a prayer that the bees would accept the new queen as their only hope of making it through the winter. Today I went back in with a pounding heart. I removed the super and peered down into the hive body. The little box was covered with bees but their attitude was unclear down in the dimness between the brood frames. I lifted it out into the sunlight and held it up close to my veiled face. There didn’t seem to be any hostility there—the bees were strolling over the surface of the queen cage with apparent indifference to my impertinent proximity. I took off a glove—carefully, hoping no one would notice—and gently pried the screen from the cage, tapping it as I did against a frame of brood that I had laid across the top of the open hive. Out she came, gasping, no doubt, from her long confinement, and instantly the bees were upon her.

I held my breath and prayed out loud. This was the moment of truth. Either they would receive her as their new monarch, or they would instantly fall upon her as a usurper, ‘balling’ her and putting an end to matters within moments.

Were their movements gestures of acceptance? Were they cleaning and preening her—or attacking her? Being the greenhorn that I am, I had absolutely no idea. I picked up the discarded cage, making ready to put her back in should things turn ugly.

But then something incredibly beautiful started to happen. As the new queen stumbled over the bees and brood of the frame, the workers all fanned out around her in an unmistakable dance of welcome. They circled her like the weavings of an ancient rondeau and fluttered their small wings in welcome. I seriously could not believe my eyes.

And I find it hard, so very hard to believe that someone could not believe in a God of order and beauty and breathless creativity after looking into a beehive.

I do not so much rejoice that God hath made me to be a Queen, as to be a Queen over so thankful a people. ~ Elizabeth I