Breakfast & the Battlefield

“C’mon were going out to breakfast,” Phoebe said. It was the last day I was staying with her family in the middle of nowhere central Illinois.

“But the kids, Alex?”

Phoebe shook her head and waved her hand. “They’ll be fine.”

We drove into town and ended up at an old haunt, a mom and pop diner. I had totally forgot this place exsisted. Phoebe was still reconstructing her life, as her and Alex’s legal separation ended. The bump Phoebe sported was proof their seperation wasn’t as seperate as the legal papers say they were. It was unplanned, but Phoebe and her prophetic gift knew this was in the cards years ago. 

“I hope I’m making the right decision by letting him come back. He’s changed, he’s good to me, the kids, he’s making amends, but I worry he’ll cheat again,” her voice trailed off as she gazed longingly at my mimosa.

I made the wrong decision by ordering huervos rancheros in a small farming town restaurant run by white people: it was an uncooked flour tortilla with scrambled eggs topped with tomato sauce. I was jealous of Phoebe’s breakfast of eggs, toast, and hashbrowns and her ability of getting pregnant with birth control.

“You have to go by the fruit they produce, but nothing is ever guaranteed,” I said. She knew I was fully supportive of her decision, to stay or go. If I were her, I’d have left and not looked back, but it was not for me to decide.

“How did we get here, Simonne? Why is marriage so damn hard?”

The weight of her words hit me like a sack of flour dropped out of the sky. I thought about my own heart wrenching struggles in my marriage and how it changed me and ultimately us. I thought about my friend who divorced a parasitic narcissist with an abusive streak a mile wide dressed up as a good Christian man. I thought of my other friend who appears to have the perfect marriage from my distant view, wondering if they found the secret that has elduded us, or if they’re as effed as we are and hide it better with their megakilowatt smiles.

“No one said it would be this hard,” I said barely above a whisper. “Problems, sure, thats life. But this – all this – why had no one warned us?”

“I don’t know, someone should have said something. I just never knew it would be this hard.”

I scoffed at those empty platitudes we shove on brides to be: never go to bed angry, laugh together everyday, put Jesus in the center and everything will be fine. Sometimes going to bed angry is better than having the same arugument an octive higher and an hour later. There are times when laughing is on the list below cleaning the grout in the kitchen after a long and tiring day: not happening. Jesus said He would be with us, not that bad times would be avoided by obedience and prayer. I doubt the second time Paul was shipwrecked, did he think, “Wow I must really be doing something wrong.” America with her prosperity gospel of smooth sailing and happy clappy Christians: gag me with a place setting.

Yet here we were.

We ate in silence. We both were fighters, women who followed after Jesus, and loved our husbands. We ate like we were gearing up for battle.

As we left the restaurant and headed back to the house, I reflected how on how Alex’s adultery changed Phoebe: she became less dependent on Alex and more dependent on God. Old Phoebe would have fretted over the kids and Alex for breakfast, but now she left him to be a father. Maybe something good came out of this mess.

I recently learned they’re moving to the east coast and will be within driving distance from me. They’ve decided to hit the reset button on their marriage by moving away from the cataclysmic damage. I’m excited to see where the Lord leads them in this new season.

And my heart is so full that I have a another Christian soldier so close to my heart and my city once again.

Splenic Ambitions

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)

I’ve always been the oddball in the various churches I’ve belonged to over the years, I don’t quite fit in, yet I have my uses. That has always been my story, even outside of church. You can look at my church and name the big players: you know who is the liver, brain, lungs, eyes, heart, hands, and feet. They’re all good and function well in their roles as we carry out the mission of Christ. I’m not a major organ. My existence on the margins wouldn’t make me a good eye, an effective liver, or a well tuned brain. I would not excel in those capacities. It’s not to demean; I know myself well enough that my strengths are not there.

In the body of Christ, I am the spleen.

You know, that small organ squished over by the stomach. The spleen takes out blood cells that have passed their shelf life and recycles their parts for other things. It’s basically a giant filter that sometimes goes rouge and starts collecting all the platelets, and when that happens, the spleen is removed. No worries though, the liver will pick up the spleen’s job without being asked. It also helps out the immune system, being part of the lymphatic system. It’s a nice thing to have, but its not essential for life. And that’s exactly what I am. 

It has perks, I have my own blood supply, hence why I can cause problems if there is trauma. I’m basically left alone unless theres an issue, no one pays me much mind. I send out help when it is needed (like fighting infections). I do my job quietly, and make sure the recycled cell components get used by other organs.

In a fetus, the spleen makes all the blood cells until the bone marrow is capable. At the beginning of projects, I find myself making sure it has a good running start. I’ve launched anthologies, hosted an intern, instituted a year long bible study, and take the initiative on things. Major decisions made in the church are never run by me, I don’t even know half of the inside information. I hear about conferences and retreats after they happen. Church life for me has always been like this.

Some people look at me weird. “A spleen?” they say. “But you’d make a great ear! Then you’d be visable and noticed!” Nope. I’m a spleen. I’d prefer to stay deep in the body cavity, thanks. “Well, then, maybe a gallbladder or bone marrow! Bone marrow makes blood cells, just like you did!” I’ve tried that, too. I was an ignored member of a team at a megachurch where no one spoke to me or bothered to get to know me. I smiled, I did my best at small talk, but they made it very clear I was not part of their body system. Looking back, it makes sense. I am a spleen.

Not many people get me.

I shine in the background, as the one behind the curtain.

I’m unique enough that you only need one of me.

I’m proud to serve in the capacity I was made to do.

I am honored to be the spleen in the body of Christ. And happy to serve a church that was in dire need of one.

The Prequel to Heaven

“Grandma Beth died,” my husband informed me. She was the widowed mother of a relative – I had never met her – but one of her cookie recipes was a staple in my kitchen.

“Oh no, what happened?”

“It was all very unexpected. The crazy part is when her daughter found her, they say she had been dead on the kitchen floor for almost four days.”

I blinked. Holy cow. That’s how I’m supposed to go. Statisticlly, someday I’ll be a childless widow who will be found when the neighbors complain about the smell of my decomposing corpse. But this woman? I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. She lived in the same town her entire life, birthed five kids (one of which still lived in town), had a score of grandchildren, friendships, and connections – and yet she died alone and no one knew for days. Not to say having someone there could have prevented her death – but I wish her story didn’t end like that. I thought those things only happened to us introverts without kids type.

Sometimes death comes without warning and you don’t have time to assemble your nearest and dearest around you as you cross over to the other side. 

Since getting our living will and last testament notarized earlier this year, I’m much more aware of death – perhaps more so than when I worked in the ER. It’s personal now and not just something that happens to other people or something to worry about someday. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen 65 years from now. I’m prepared either way.

My friend Ruth and I joked that we’d move in together when we were old ladies, á la Golden Girls. With my older husband and her single status, who would care for us and watch out for us in our twilight years? Neither of us have children.

It’s no longer a joke. It’s a jump plan. 

When the days come where living alone is too difficult to navigate, we’re becoming the Golden Girls and taking care of each other by living under the same roof. Even if Ruth marries and has kids and my husband lives to see 100, there will be room in my home and life to care for friends. All the Golden Girls had kids, yet they still needed each other in the day to day. The ability to live in community is so important and I don’t think that changes as we age. If anything, it exacerbates the need for connection. The ability to check in and and care for friends is paramount. Who knows what kind of world we’ll be living in when our hair is silver; I’ve already decided how I am going to live, come what may.

A lot of it will probably consist of sitting on the back porch sipping tea, musing over a Bible verse that has been read 1,000 times over the course of our lives, but today it has a new meaning. We’ll celebrate holidays and birthdays – we’ll be that house that is always open to anyone who needs a family.

I’ve already started living into these rhythms. We’ve hosted all sorts of people throughout the years – from a wayward Kiwi making her way back home to a sweet German tourist to a gay pastor to hurricane refugees without shelter – not to mention last year, my house seemed to be the spot for friends to process a divorce; I was happy to share my space for healing.

My guest room is always ready. You never know who the Lord will send your way in a moment’s notice.

Someday, my doors will propped open for friends who are recast as family when our lives wane into the sunset years. Instead of coming over for the afternoon, they may become permanent fixtures as we figure out this growing older thing together.

God willing, no one in my circle will die alone.

I won’t have kids, grandkids, or great-grandkids. I’ll have to rely on my friends to support me as well. We’re all in this together: might as well set out another chair and deal you in when you’re ready.

Frankensteining

“Don’t step there!”

I stopped in my tracks at my pastor’s sharp words.

“There’s a hole in the floor, step around the board or you’ll fall through.”

Duly noted, I stepped carefully around the board.

This is not typical church talk, but I don’t go to a typical church. We recently acquired a decrepit abandoned building. I’m sure building inspectors have nightmares about buildings like this. Even I had a difficult time wrapping my head around what I saw.

The roof stopped being a roof quite some time ago and the water damage was catastrophic; mold and decay were everywhere. Animals had taken up residence and my body reminded me after working in the building that I should probably wear a mask: the intense migraine and the black stuff coming out of my nose wasn’t good.

The building sat vacant for several years, according to the utility company. It was as if these people just up and left; everything was still left in its place. Haunting, really. Nothing was packed up, nothing was put away. If you sat in the main office and ignored the inches of dust on everything and the mid-90’s computer monitor, you’d think whoever was there would be back in just a moment.

It was something straight out of a horror movie set, a church member commented. I agreed.

Like an old woman falling into dementia, this building’s demise had started well before complete abandonment. I threw out unopened junk mail post marked from 1987, school supplies, church items, children’s toys, random junk, obsolete books, rejects from a defunct rummage sale – it was all here – covered in dirt, mold, and bits of ceiling that caved in from the moisture. And that’s only the stuff I’ve found. My favorite find was the pristine box of audio reels from the 1970’s, yet I have no way of playing them.

In the end, the dementia won, ravaging this once beautiful building; it now belonged to the rats and the fungi. Her decline probably happened slowly, her condition chronic for years, before she drew her last breath when the lock turned for the last time. What was once a wellspring of life 100 years ago, had become an encased tomb filled with things no one would ever need in Heaven…or on earth for that matter.

There’s no electricity, so the hot Carolina summer is really felt in there. There’s no running water either. I’m pretty sure I missed my calling as a dramaturg, so I’m making up for that by going through all the things. I am in search of history of the building and any information I can find about its former inhabitants. I’ve found a few pieces, but I’m sure there’s more under the mire. I went into full genealogy mode and found its historical references online, but I want more than names. I want stories, and if I can find them, personal accounts.

Modern science can’t bring back the dead, let alone someone who’s mind and body were destroyed years earlier. Our church is firmly planted in the resurrection business and we’re going to revive this corpse into a beautiful healthy older lady again. It’ll take a lot of time, effort, and money – but we know this Guy – and He comes through in ways you didn’t think were possible.

I can’t wait to get back into that building to uncover her secrets.

4th of July of Yore

When I was a kid, in my world, the 4th of July was bigger than Christmas – I eagerly looked forward to it every year. 

The day would start early: our small town put on quite the 4th of July parade. I was up and ready to go by 7am, which was super early in those days. You could feel the excitement in the cool air of that summer morning. My dad, sister, and friend of the family who was like an uncle to me would park near the parade route and then walk to a perfect spot with our folding chairs. My mom usually stayed back to prep for the party.

The parade had a city marching band, color guard, police cars, fire engines, ambulances, horses, antique cars and tractors, as well as some oversized farm equipment. Cheerleaders, community groups, lavish floats – it was all here – and they often threw candy. My sister and I were always ready with brown lunch bags to collect as much as we could. 

After the parade, there were games and food booths in the community square. The foot races were my favorite and I usually won. The marching band would play more patriotic songs and water balloon fights would ensue once the sun got to be too much to bear. By 11, it was time to head home for lunch. The party was about to begin.

Lunch was an array of sandwich options to make your own sandwich. Every type of meat, cheese, condiment, several bread options, chips, and pasta salad – my mom sure knew how to entertain. My dad developed the best cooler the world for these parties: fill your washing machine with bags of ice and put pop and beer in it! Then when it all melts, drain and spin! 

People started to arrive and lunch was in full swing: my dad’s coworkers came, neighbors, and family friends – it was a full house. There were always enough kids for entertainment and every year was different. Sometimes we’d spend the afternoon at the neighborhood pool, playing in the basement, putting together a concert of patriotic songs, or playing croquet. Dinner was around 5, and you had your choice of a burger, hot dog, or brot – my dad was the grill master and my mom managed everything else. Guests would bring desserts and sides and they never disappointed. 

The fireworks didnt start until dark and it felt like it took forever to arrive. We’d drive to the local shopping center – this was the best place to watch – sometimes we’d sit under the bank drive up in folding lawn chairs. In later years, my friends and I would grab old bedsheets and watch the fireworks from the lawn of the funeral home. One year, the pyrotechnics got out of hand and lit the roof of a grocery store on fire. It was quickly put out with minimal damage, but it was the talk of the town for ages. In fact, you could still reference it today and someone would tell their perspective of the event.

After the fireworks, the party was over, all the people were gone. The kitchen was trashed. Everyone was exhausted. I loved every moment of it.

I miss celebrating the 4th in such a grand way. My parents don’t do the parties anymore. It’s too much work, my mom says, and she gets stuck with the prep, serving, and clean up, as my dad is too in the moment to really help. They’re in their 70’s now and they are slowing down. I used to go to Southport for their big celebration, but it feels weird now in this age of MAGA. Watching the fireworks downtown is fun, but it takes two hours to get home afterwards because of traffic. No thanks. Last year my husband and I went to Carolina Beach to watch the tourists set off fireworks illegally on the beach until the cops shut them down. 

It’s not the same as when I was a kid. 

And it will probably never be again. Yet I’ll always cherish the memories of those Independence Days of yore in my heart.

So the Past Walks into a Bar…

I waited for her on the quad of our alma mater.

I arrived first, feeling nervous. It had been well over 10 years since we last spoke heart to heart. How much had changed? Would it be all surface level banter? Would I tell her of my struggles and open my heart to her, like the old days? Or would she be a stranger, far too removed to share that old bond of friendship?

My old college roommate – a long lost best friend and a woman I once considered a sister – was meeting me for dinner.

“Simonne!” Out of no where, she sprinted up to me and gave me the biggest hug, nearly knocking me over. Deborah hadn’t aged a day, in fact, she seemed locked in time at 25, despite being almost 40. Her long blonde hair and shining blue eyes looked more of a college student than a married mother of three who had a corner office and her own secretary.

10+ years might as well have been a few weeks for all the difference it made.

We chatted with animation as we made our way to a local college hangout joint for dinner. I forgot how easy it was to talk to her and how she listened so intently.

No sooner had we gotten our food and we were already diving into the nitty gritty of our lives.

“I got an IUD and its been wonderful,” said Deborah. Then she chuckled, “Look at us, we’ve hung out all of a half hour and we’re already talking about birth control.”

It was quite reminiscent of our college chats. “Well, we decided to go the infertility route, and so far, that’s worked pretty well for us,” I deadpanned.

Our eyes locked and then we both burst out laughing. It was the first time I could genuinely laugh in the face of my childlessness. Once we stopped laughing, she touched my hand with sad eyes. “I’m so sorry that’s part of your story. What happened?” The whole unedited saga came out. 

She was silent, nodding as I finished my story. “Five years ago, huh? That was right about the time my marriage impolded.” It was my turn to listen with wide eyes. “We were almost destroyed, but counseling saved us. We’ve been a great team ever since.”

I shook my head in disbelief. What upset me the most was that we were both struggling with big issues and didn’t lean on each other because we lost touch. 

We left the restaurant and wandered around campus. We both are diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and empaths: I’m an Enneagram 9, she’s a 2. I told her how much her words of encouragement had an effect on me after college, by calling me out on my friends with benefits situation.

“Wow, I sounded like such a dick, I’m so sorry,” she apologized.

“No, it came from a place of love, you called me out on my bullshit,” I said. “I needed to hear those those words.”

She signed. “It still sounded harsh. But yeah…I could use a Deborah in my life now.”

I nodded. “Everyone needs a Deborah.”

I confessed I thought I was too clingy when we were roommates, constantly chatting with her at all hours about the boys I got myself tangled up with.

“Oh Simonne,” she said, “we were kids, we were just trying to figure life out. I never saw you as clingy or a burden. I always thought I was the bad roommate because I hardly cleaned and had stuff everywhere.”

I laughed. “I have no memory of you being a bad roommate or leaving a mess.”

It was so cathartic.

We stopped in at our old bar and it was still 2003 in there. We grabbed our drinks and we talked about the old days. I told her I lost touch with the boys of college, she mentioned my ex-boyfriend’s wife looks like a carbon copy of me; I found that quite amusing. She talked about her kids (“This doesn’t bother you?” “Nope, not one bit, keep going.”) and how she ran into one of our old mutual friends from the parties we hosted, and I told her about my writing.

A couple hours later, she had to go home. I was so sad to see her go. A part of me felt like we’d walk back to our old apartment and everything would be as it was. But it wasn’t. We were older and wiser; you couldn’t hide our battle scars since our days as students or the fact we had become more of our own. She was still the same old Deborah, but now she had this quiet widsom about her that wasn’t there before. Her confidence was obvious: it wasn’t hidden away like it was in college. I wonder what she would say about me.

Deborah stated that she is terrible at keeping in touch. I’m determined not to lose contact with her, now that we are caught up on each other’s lives. She is too beautiful of a soul to be lost to time again. Like Phoebe, Ruth, Madge, and Rebeka, they are the women I want by my side as I grow older.

If you have a Deborah in your life and too many years have gotten between you, reach out. A friendship may sail back into the harbor. Or it may not, but it’s well worth finding out.

Make Like a Plant and Leave

The hashtag #exvangelical is comprised of people who have left Christianity and some who are still Christian but don’t believe the Americanized gospel flavor we’ve all been seasoned with. Every time I see this hashtag, I think of David. He’s the reason I came to Christ, yet I don’t think he’d walk into a church today.

David was an outcast in high school and had no sense of self. I’m not even sure how we became friends. He had a crush on me, but I ensured we’d never leave the friend zone.

David went to a Christian conference and came back saved. I mean saved. Instead of being “on fire,” as they say in the Southern Baptist circles, this kid was his own little forest fire – slightly out of control and too hot to get close to. I remember telling him as an apathetic Catholic that it was great he found Jesus in his life (didn’t seem like a bad thing, really), but he needed to start acting like a normal person again. After a couple of weeks, he returned to normal David mode, but this Jesus thing stuck. I got curious about all this and ended up at a youth game night at church. This was the beginning of my story with following Jesus.

David had a vision from God on the bus home once. I was part of that vision, where God told David that He would take care of me. David shepherded me in my new faith and our friendship grew closer because of it. He wanted to become a pastor. Even our classmates nicknamed him “Rev” as he was never without his Bible and sometimes overstepped his boundaries with calling out someone else’s sin. “Simonne,” he’d say, drawing out the “onn” part. “What are you doing? You know where that can lead,” after I told him about making out with my boyfriend in the woods. I filtered most of that because I didn’t want his wisdom bestowed upon me. We were all virgins, True Love Waits was part of our church curriculum, and our drink of choice was Mt. Dew. Still, Rev David wanted to make sure we were living pure God-honoring lives. He was a one man inquisition.

I vaguely remember when it started. “I asked Pastor about it and he shut me down,” a dejected David shared with me. “He actually yelled at me, saying something about just accepting it on faith.” David wanted more information on the supernatural part of the gospel – demons, ghosts – stuff like that. Apparently at this church, questioning too deeply meant you didn’t believe correctly, didn’t have enough faith, or were trying to circumvent the pillars of the SBC. David was upset his questions were continually dismissed with some glossed-over church verbiage.

We left for college. David went to an ultra conservative Christian one. While there, he met Jessie, a preacher’s kid. They fell in love so hard it caused them to drop out of college and get married the summer after freshman year. Jessie was a few weeks pregnant when they walked down the aisle. I found this out at the rehearsal dinner.

Their marriage was tumultuous. They attended church here and there and then not at all. Jessie forbade me from contacting David. She had what I can only describe as a mental illness and two more kids later, she abandoned the family by hopping on a Greyhound bus to Pennsylvania to meet some guy she met in an internet chatroom. Once it was all figured out and the missing person report was trashed, David filed for divorce. The judge granted him full legal custody. Thank God.

David married again. Some years ago, David apologized for severing our friendship because of his ex-wife. I stepped away because I naively thought their marriage was more important than our friendship; now I would view it as a sign of abuse. I hoped it would restart our friendship, but it didn’t. The last time we spoke David wasn’t the guy I remembered. He had a faraway look in his eye and we only small talked for five minutes before he had to go.

On his social media profile, it says “Ask me” under religion. I’d like to someday.

Most Southern Baptists would just say he was never saved to begin with if he’s fallen this far away. I disagree. I believed his faith was real. Was David just a seed that fell on those rocky places? Was he all leaves and stem and no root? Did the church ever amend the soil for him? I don’t know. But I wonder: will he be reseeded? Will anyone water him? Is there anyone in his life with a big old bucket of spiritual compost?

I’ve always wanted to reach out to him, see how he’s doing, but I’m afraid that season of friendship had sailed. I don’t have that kind of access anymore. Decades later, I’ve changed, he’s changed – is there any common ground left, outside of the distant past?

I wonder if he considers himself an exvangelical. Does he read his Bible? Does he pray? Have his children grown up knowing the Lord? I can only speculate, but I think the answer is no.

I’m leaving the door open to the possibilities, praying once again Jesus will connect our lives.

Parable of the Grape Vine

“I am the vine and my Father is the vinedresser.”

Since becoming a vinedresser last year to a bronze magnolia scuppernong muscadine grape vine (or grape mom, as I call myself), I’ve learned a lot. I am self-taught, but I am now well on my way to a bounty of grapes for next year.

Last year my vine didn’t grape because it was young and not pruned correctly – I mistakenly thought I should hold back on the young plant. It made loads of leaves. Luscious, green, and healthy leaves without a hint of grapes. My neighbors said the plant was probably too young to grape, but it was really my pruning sheers. I pruned it over the winter in hopes of fruit. I ended up pruning it incorrectly for its size, but it prevailed.

Behold, fruit! This is all of it. Like a new Christian, it isn’t much, but it is something! In addition to the fetal grapes – it made even more leaves than last year – a few more branches too. Grapes come from new growth on old growth – its a delicate balancing act. You can’t have every branch make grapes. The fruit will taste bad because it’s limited resources are spread too thin. 

Sound like any Christians you know?

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

A proper grapevine will concentrate the grapes to the fruiting arms off the main vine – you have to cut back on the beautiful folage if you want grapes. The main vine trunk sustains everything – the fruit is on the on the braches – never the trunk. 

“As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

I read this verse in John 15 with fresh eyes and heart after taking care of a grape vine for two growing seasons. The Lord wants us to bear fruit, not folage. Fruiting doesnt just spontaneously happen like leaves: it requires removing things, even good things, to make room for the fruit. It requires direction and it’s a limited venture: grapes only come off the fruiting spurs on the braches. The fruiting spurs come from pruning most of the previous season’s growth. I know it sounds counterproductive to our Americanistic ideals, but I am continuously reminded that the way of God doesnt really jive with the way Americans are bred to live, think, and act. 

This grape vine is a tangile reminder that the gospel is alive, the Lord knows what we need when we need it. Only He can prune the branches where they need to be. Jesus is the trunk of the vine, sustaining everything. 

And if I’m really quiet in the garden, I can hear the Holy Spirit.

The Old Ways

Last weekend, something mechanical died in our refrigerator. The door was warm to the touch and the ice/water dispenser suddenly stopped working. We worried about an electrical fire, so we bought a new fridge – to be delivered in a week – and unplugged it when we weren’t home or sleeping. Two days later, I couldn’t plug it in without blowing the kitchen circuit. This fridge was over 20 years old and original to the house. It survived the original smoking owners in the late 90’s (it’s white but the handles are yellowed with nicotine) and the previous owners, who ran quite the heroin business, destroyed it on an aesthetic and biohazard level (how do you scuff and scrape the inside of a fridge and not clean it when its obviously filthy?!). It was ugly, but it functioned. 

Our new fridge is smaller and doesn’t have the ice maker or water dispenser. I will miss that, but then again, this fridge fits in better with our simple, minimalistic if you will, lifestyle. 

The old fridge didn’t have a filter on the waterline and God only knows what was growing in those lines undectected. I always thought the ice tasted weird. Now we’re moving forward with a Brita pitcher and ice cube trays. It will be cleaner with no more atrohpied ice cubes or questionable water. I’m more aware of my surroundings when I have to do something about them. I don’t see it as a burden, I see it as living purposely. Just like following after Christ.

One of my favorite bloggers, Lore Ferguson Wilbert, once wrote about the joy of pitting cherries by hand, even though it took ages and buying them prepared could save time for something else. She says,

“….but when everything exists to make our lives easier, faster, more automated, and less work, well, what else is there to do but commentate? We become merely observers of life and not partakers in it.”

Lore Ferguson Wilbert

There is something calming to me about slowing down and working with my hands, becoming a part of the work that needs to be done. Whether it’s weeding the garden, mowing my lawn with a cutreel, watering my plants via watering can, or evening putting away the dishes, I’m taking the time to become a part my environment and be still without rushing to the next thing. I am partaking in my garden, not merely observing it. When I tell people I make bread, their eyes light up, “Oh, you have a bread machine?” No, I kneed, prove for an hour, knock it back, then wait another hour before baking for another hour. They always look befuddled. Who has the time for such things? I can only think, “Who has the money for a bread machine and the space to store it?”

The old ways are dying. We live in a very automated age and I think it bleeds over into our churches and everyday lives, where we expect things that should to take time, to act like an HVAC system: a touch of a button changes things to your comfort level and the troubleshooting manual or repair person will get your system working again. Grief, doubts, job frustration, marriage problems, singleness – we expect a quick fix because everything else in life has two day shipping or can be deduced after a few queries in a search engine. But it doesn’t work that way. God designed life not to work that way.

I recently discovered the joys of a french press coffee maker. I’ve abandoned my screen filtered drip coffee maker entirely. Yes, it takes more effort on my part, but the taste is worth it. I have this coffee ritual now: boil the water in the kettle, pour it onto my coffee grounds, stir, then wait four minutes before pressing the grounds, releasing all the flavor and oils. Of course, I add my natural creamer with sugar and the result is pure heaven. I’d rather have a good cuppa that takes a few extra minutes than a fast meh one. Also, my old coffee maker is in desperate need of a vinegar bath; something is probably growing in the moist dark inner parts. I can soak every part of the french press.

Faster isn’t always better. Sometimes the slow old ways remind us to slow down and take in life.

Just like I made time for Jesus, I am also making ice cubes and refilling a filtered pitcher of water for my family. And now, coffee takes a few more pouring and stirring steps. It’s part of life here at the Dovecote, and I am proud to be a part of it.

Gardening Contemplation

Since turning to the contemplative prayer lifestyle, it’s changed other areas of my life which I never expected. Ah, but such is the life of a Christian.

In short, contemplative prayer involves meditation. It is taking the time to be silent before God and just be. It’s a chance for my soul to rest at the feet of my Lord. It goes further than just checking a box while reading the morning devotion. It means quality over quantity: reading a short passage or a line of Scripture and mulling it over in your mind for a few minutes. Sometimes it means unpacking the message, viewing the context from the view of someone in the passage, or asking yourself questions and how it relates to your treatment of others/God. Other times it’s imagining the sights, sounds, and smells that would accompany the words of Scripture.

It’s an anathema to modern American Christianity. It’s centering. It’s quiet. No flashy lights, no sleek messaging, nearly impossible to Instagram it. It is simply dwelling with Jesus. I use the Pray As You Go app during my lunch walk. It’s an English production and while it is backed by the Catholic Church, it’s so focused on Jesus, you won’t be able to tell it’s Catholic.

Following Jesus means you’re living a life of intention. For many Christians, Christianity is habit, not an intent. Contemplative prayer breaks you out of the typical Christian humdrum of bouncing across the surface instead of plumbing the depths – sometimes where the light doesn’t shine. I want the real Jesus, not this sanitized American version that comes with the “If you do X, God will do Y” formula. That is nothing more than a prosperity gospel dressed up for a middle class capitalistic society with education and money.

A fruit of my garden labor….my favorite garden flower, a Camellia (Corina variety)

I’ve become a better gardener since becoming contemplative. So many times we plant things and then life happens: days, weeks, months later we go to find them dead, diseased, or struggling to survive. We promise to do better and then we don’t. We don’t follow through. Our modern lives are filled with so many things that light up, ding, talk to us – not to mention cooking, cleaning, eating, sleeping, random household things – there simply isn’t time.

I disagree.

If you make it a priority, it’ll happen. But that’s just it: you have to want it and make time for it. Sometimes 10 minutes of contemplative prayer is better than an hour long Bible study. I do a quick survey in my yard at least once a day to see how things are going and address the issues straightaway. Beyond that, it’s a tangible way for me to slow down and take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the garden. I get joy from seeing my double formal Camellias carry on with green glossy leaves. My tea plants are flushing with new growth, although they’re still well below my knee. The bed I made around the water oaks with ajuga from my old house, white lantana, and a prized red azalea as its center piece always makes me smile – especially now that the ajuga is taking off. Pretty soon I’ll have to divide it up and give it away someone else.

That’s the beauty of the garden – I get to share it with others. Just like the peace and calmness I get from sitting quietly before Jesus, contemplating the finer notes of Scripture, savoring every new leaf and rejoicing at the flower buds.

Slow down, you busy Christians. This life Jesus calls us to is meant to be lived with purpose and love. Yes, sometimes life gets crazy busy – that will happen – but it should not be a lifestyle to maintain.