For the First Time in Forever {{#lifeinthetimeofcorona}}

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L to R, standing: Me, grandson Peter (14), Birthday Boy Bill (75), DIL Courtney Collins, Oldest (and tallest!!) grandson Hanan, 17, our son Aaron Collins, seated in front, L to R, Paul Silas (10. I think), Abigail (almost 13), our daughter Leah Johnson holding newest (very overwhelmed) grandgirl Mary Becca, almost 1 and lastly, Mr. Luke Ezra the Minion, age 8— at Point Defiance Park Tacoma WA

I wrote last week in this space about our first time back at church in like forever. Actually, it had only been three months since our last in-person gathering, but it seemed much longer.

It was wonderful. And weird.

Superlatives have lost their punch lately, if you know what I mean. #lifeinthetimeofcorona has added a shade or hue of excess, infiltrating daily vocabulary and leaving me somewhat immune to the power of words, especially Unprecedented and Never-Before-Seen. 

But sometimes the words fit.

There  is one First Time in Forever that is actually, factually true. My daughter Leah’s first child–Mary Rebecca Elizabeth–will be a year old next month. After pregnancy challenges over a five year period, Mary Becca’s birth still seems like a miracle, especially since my daughter was 40 years old when she was born.

Birthdays–whether you’re 75 like my husband or a year old like Mary Becca–are cause for rejoicing. But like all celebrations in this season of social distancing and quarantine, birthdays and family gatherings have had to morph into something new.

After quarantining and social distancing from March until May, our family was finally able to all get together in one place for a picnic and party to celebrate my husband’s birthday. But the celebration marked something more auspicious, in my humble opinion.

My son and his family of seven (yes, I already have 5 grands….), my daughter and her husband and newest grandgirl Mary, AND my husband and I were all able to get together last week FOR THE FIRST TIME. Our visits in the past have been with my son and his family, or with my daughter and her family, like a Venn diagram with my husband and I in the middle.

But this time we were all in the middle. ((Well, except for my son in law William who TOOK the photo. He was busy setting up the shot.))Image may contain: William E. G. Johnson, plant, outdoor and nature

Maybe because life is draining and difficult in so many ways lately, the simplest joys mean the most. I pray that will be lesson I take away from this time, no matter how long it lasts.

How about you? What lessons have you learned? (Or maybe you’re still in the process….). Let me know in the comments.

When You’re Drowning in Words

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My friend Kim and I were talking about words the other day. She mentioned a haiku she’d written, following the form of three lines of verse and a pattern of syllables- 5 in the first line, 7 in the second and 5 in the last. We discussed the simple fact that when you are limited by form it forces you to be concise. Word choices become intentional in order to convey meaning and evoke an image for the reader.

When I ventured out to my garden with this in mind, I took the above photo to discover via PlantSnap (my plant ID app) what this white-petaled flower was. My husband asked a neighbor who was renovating their yard if he could dig up the unwanted greenery–‘yes, of course’- and successfully rehomed them in my perennial bed.

I didn’t know what the plant was named and was delighted to learn something new.

Annual, family ‘lunaria’, common name ‘honesty.’ A plant named honesty. Well, that’s something to ponder.

It seems like we’re drowning in information in this #lifeinthetimeofcorona. Yes, that’s a hashtag; you can Google it.

Everywhere you turn online there is someone else with another opinion about What’s Really Important to Know Right Now. It’s overwhelming. Should I wear a facemask in public or not? How is this virus actually spread? Should I wipe down my plastic bags when I get home from the grocery store? And how long are we going to be asked to #stayhomestaysafe?

It’s hard to be brief when we want to communicate what really matters–we’d rather just talk on and on. Or maybe that’s just me. Experts in every field have an opinion to pay attention to these days.

The overwhelm is real, and leaves me feeling like anything I have to say doesn’t really matter. In a weird way I feel like I’ve run out of words… so many syllables swirling in the atmosphere, they’ve all been used up. Or the virtual air is overcrowded and my thoughts seem unnecessary compared to everyone else’s.

In this season of self-isolation and social distancing, my soul can feel squashed. There’s extra mental energy required to cope with simple daily tasks like grocery shopping or going to the drugstore, and I easily feel like I’ve run out of creativity of any kind. The subtle lie creeps in that seeking to create is a waste of time when people are dying. 

But creativity is often an act of defiance. To choose to find beauty in the middle of a pandemic–whether it’s noticing the way one enjoys the budding of spring or the joy in a baby’s smile–can feed the soul. Penning a few simple but purposeful lines to capture that beauty is a choice I’m willing to make anyway.

We are makers, God’s poiema–His ‘made thing’. 

Even small bits of creating–trying a new recipe, writing a note to a friend, sending a text, beginning a piece of handwork, planting seeds–anything that honors and affirms life right now is an act of defiance, a way of using our words (and actions) to declare what really matters.

Let’s be honest. Let’s be makers.

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What’s in a Name? Only Everything {an Advent Post}

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There can be no manner of doubt a name is more easily remembered when its meaning is understood.  –A.J. Macself, from the Foreword, “Plant Names Simplified”

I forgot to plant my amaryllis bulb the week of All Hallow’s Eve. I wrote about the practice in my Christmas season book, how planting a crinkly, brown bulb with antenna-like roots can be a lesson in patience and waiting during the Advent and Christmas season. But I was too busy to remember. Goodness.

So, I potted the inglorious bulb the other day after soaking the accompanying ground-up coconut shreds in warm water, watching them miraculously expand and nearly overtake my 32-ounce glass measuring cup. Amaryllis duly snugged into plastic container, I pondered something while I cleaned up the mess in my sink.

What does ‘amaryllis’ mean, anyway?

I’m fond of learning the Latin for plant names, shrubs and trees. As an amateur gardener, I pride myself on the pronunciation and meaning of the various denizens of my yard and garden. And some of the names are not Latin at all, but simply named for people or a place.

Amaryllis. Well. I went to the bookshelf and took down my slim green volume of “Plant Names Simplified–Their Meanings and Pronunciation,” (A.T. Johnson, 1931, W.H. & L Collingridge, U.K.) No matter the book is missing pages 51-82, duly noted on the inside cover by me in July 2012. (It’s a very old book and was gifted to me when a friend found it at an antique store.) I needed only go to the beginning of this plant dictionary; I knew the A entries would all be there.

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Of the two names given to each plant, the first, which may be likened to our surname (or first name) is the generic, or group name. This can occur only once, as a group name, but the second, the specific (or species) name is only given to one plant of the same genus, as is a Christian name in a family, and may occur in many different genera. (From the Introduction).

The elegant amaryllis, I discovered, has only one name and is neither Greek nor Latin, but a “classical name after that of a shepherdess in Theocritus and Virgil, Greek and Latin poets.” I was pleased to find this entry as I’m an aspiring poet and also was taken by the fact that it is after a shepherdess. The final bloom of an amaryllis can nearly be equated with the crook of a shepherd’s staff, I suppose. And, there is the occasion of planting an amaryllis, during that season that precedes the birth of Jesus, our Shepherd.

I think about the name Christian, which “occurs in many different genera.” ‘Genera’ is of course the root word of generate and generations.

The generations of Jesus have continued for hundreds of years. and beginning with the first root of our family, that stump of Jesse-Jesus, will continue to grow. I am forever grateful to claim Jesus’ name as my own, and identify with the Christ, my Saviour.

The name above every other name.

The Light that is coming in the dark days of Winter.

Emmanuel–God with us.

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Things I’m Not Good At (or Why I Decorate With Books)

        “So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.” Romans 12:5, The Message Bible

* * * *

My sister Elle got all the creative genes in our family. She can watch a how-to show on HGTV and then shop at Home Depot for plywood, staples and vinyl covering, go home and 5 hours later, voila–she’s got a way cool headboard for her bedroom. She was a do-it-yourselfer before DIY was part of our current vocabulary.

I’ve seen her re-fashion fabric pieces into throw pillows, make a shower curtain out of a bedspread, design, sand and paint a picture frame, recover chairs. The list goes on.

Me, I decorate with things that make me happy--books, photos in small frames, fresh flowers from our yard, rocks I collect from the beach. There is no ‘decorating’ scheme in my home, simply moving things around in the seasons. Oh, and candles. I do like candles.

But imagining something out of almost-thin air then creating it to go in my home? Not me.

So not me.

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There is a great deal of freedom in knowing what things you don’t do, what you’re not good at. Being aware of what you can say “no” to so that you can say “yes” to the truest part of who you are.

I’m in a small book study group at our church, going through Shauna Niequist’s Bittersweet-thoughts on change, grace and learning the hard way. (Zondervan, 2010). I don’t need anything extra to read at this time in my life, but frankly, the content is perfectly timed.

In particular, the affirmation that it is okay to not be awesome at everything, because we aren’t meant to do everything.

It’s often easy to buy into the lie that says we should be like all those “other people” who have remarkable gardens, super-original clothes, the ones that knit or cook, bake, sew, decorate, craft, fill-in-the-blank. The enemy of our souls would like us to think we should be able to do it all, whatever that all is.

If we buy into that argument, then the “this” that we should be doing, which is often the one thing we were made to do, gets lost.

We’re spread too thin trying to be something we’re not, trying to fit in where we shouldn’t be, trying to look like everyone else.

May I suggest that you do what Niequiest challenged us to do? Make a list of “Things I Don’t Do.” Her list included things like gardening, scouring flea markets, baking, making scrapbooks–definitely not in her DNA, although they are all the “right” mom things to do.

Niequist also added something intangible that she doesn’t do,
“I don’t spend time with people who routinely make me feel like less than I am, or who spend most of their time talking about what’s wrong with everyone else and what’s wrong with the world…”

* * * * *

Life is a constant decision to redefine our boundaries again and again, making them tighter and smaller, not so that we can live in a hidey-hole kind of place, ignoring the world and staying safe, but so that we can live in the freedom of being who we were created to be, where we are, doing what we have been gifted to do.

As the writer of Romans declares in the opening quote, “let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be.”

Maybe you’re a remarkable photographer that captures a world that some of us miss, adding to our lives by showing us what you see. But you definitely don’t do windows.

Maybe you like to run. For fun. Because you sense God’s presence when it’s just you and He together, pounding the pavement. But cooking is so not your thing.

Maybe you enjoy setting a beautiful table, creating a welcoming piece of art for others to enjoy while their souls and bodies are fed. But you haven’t weeded your garden for 6 months. And you’re probably not going to.

Lean into your list. Write down “The Things I Don’t Do” and then listen to what you hear in the spaces.

What are you free to do? What have you been created to do? Live into that.

And be ready to make a new list when the time comes.

Shaping the River Into Words

“My heart bursts its banks, spilling beauty and goodness.  

I pour it out in a poem to the king, shaping the river into words:”

Psalm 45:1, The Message

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Some people are artists who process their world through paint and pen, fabric, clay, paper. Thoughts become images or design, an expression of what’s inside or what inspires. Others are musicians, turning their experience or expression into lyrics and orchestration, poetry put to harmony and melody.

My experiences and ideas pour out in words providing a way to rein in my random, swirling thoughts.  Perhaps the swirling is because I am currently seated on the couch surrounded by other voices–poets and writers whose work inspires and informs my life. I am seeking for a way to borrow some of their expressions to describe my own because sometimes I’m not sure what I think or feel until I read it in the lines of another writer’s words.

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God gave me the Psalm 45 verse above many, many years ago when He confirmed my calling as a writer. I didn’t want to own it for many years, but I can trace the path of God’s hand on my life as a witness that this is so; I am beginning to live into that calling more each day.

~*~*~*

Psalm 34

I cannot tell a story more profound/than stars, a single blade of grass/a lilac breasted roller/painted by Your hand/all designed in perfection/for your pleasure

I ponder bones, flesh, blood/coursing through vessel highways/mechanics beyond human ability/eyes of sea green/topaz/aquamarine, variety for beauty’s sake/and glory shines.

-Karin Fendick, “Ashes to Glory”

~*~*~*~*

Life has been very ‘big’ lately; a new baby joined our family on Sunday night, a grandson turned 11 the same day (and he forgave me for wishing him a “happy 10th birthday” on his birthday card.) A dear friend is experiencing the gray days of loss as she mourns her father’s death and deals with her mother’s grief. My daughter is carrying her own kind of grief and seeking healing for the loss of yet another baby who has gone to Heaven, her fourth.

cropped-56a1f-dsci0354.jpgJune threatens to burst its banks with color and birdsong, skies the color of a robin’s egg and late evening views that put the most sparkling orange jewels to shame.  Sometimes it’s all too much to rein in, as if my senses can’t quite grasp the sights, colors and sounds. I need a better vocabulary to speak of what I see.

Perhaps you can relate.

Scripture tells us the skies have speech without a sound. Silent stars, magnificent, rolling clouds, cobalt blue sunrises. flaming orange sunsets shout with their own words, “there is a Creator.” After God made the world by His word He sent Jesus to become the living Word. John 1 says that Jesus ‘dwelt among us.’ How is that possible? How can the Word dwell among us, live with us or in us? I believe one way He does that is through what we say, speak, and write. Our words have power to bring peace to someone, to provide joy or comfort and create a way for someone to say, “that’s exactly the way I feel.”

“It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.”    -Anais Nin

I’m living in a more cautious place these days as I reckon with the power of that gift to open a window for others to see God in a different way or provide a vessel to carry their own expressions when life gets too big.

My heart bursts its banks as I pour out my words to the King who has entrusted me with this one voice I have. My prayer is I will carry it well.