Monday, November 14, 2011


Last night there was a storm. A fierce wind shook the house – toppling several pots and a fledgling Cyprus. It rattled the windows and beat against the doors, howling like an old dog wanting to be let in. Snug in our beds, Dutch and I heard the ruckus and clambered outside to find the patio turned upside down: the wind had sent the watering pots clattering down the stairs and knocked my collection of old birdhouses off the garden table. The umbrella above the sandbox was whipping about like a sailboat, caught in a storm, and Dutch swooped down to rescue it while I rushed to gather the window casements for the dollhouse which were skidding along the clay tile ground, about to fly clean off the balcony.

Then, this morning, we woke up to something remarkable: there was snow on the mountain.


For a desert-dweller such as I, few experiences can rival the shock of snow. ‘Shock’ may seem a strong word until one considers that yesterday I swam laps out of doors in 85-degree weather, wore a skirt and sandals to the grocery store, and made ample use of my air conditioner.

We’ve had nearly eight months of summer weather. That’s 32 weeks – roughly 175 days - of relatively uninterrupted heat and sun - of making juice popsicles and drinking iced coffee and generously applying sunscreen before going outside to weed the garden. You wouldn’t be surprised, then, that the very idea of snow sounds almost mythological. A magic powder which falls from the sky, bathing the world in white? Impossible. Cold, clean air which nips at the skin and causes one’s breath to come out in little puffs of smoke? The stuff of fairy tales.

But after raiding the winter closet and winding an hour up the mountain, sure enough, there it was on the ground: snow. I gave the girls a little tutorial on how to wriggle their unruly fingers into these strangely unfamiliar things called, mittens, before we emerged from our cocoon, like the Pevensie children when they first entered Narnia, into a strange new world of startling brightness.

We followed a snowy white path up a hill, haloed by ponderosa pines, their arched limbs locked in a permanent posture of suspense, either from so many years’ exposure to the wind, or the weight of snow. Their spindly needles looked like sea anemones or witch’s fingers, pointing us onward.

The girls romped and stomped ahead of us through snowdrifts, shrieking each time they sank unexpectedly into deep snow. At 53 degrees, I felt as though the very air around me had expanded – all at once I had room to move and breathe and be in! Everything – trees, bushes, logs, land, even people - shone with an unearthly light. I couldn’t quite take in the quiet purity of it all.

Audrey tramped ahead of me. When I asked her to turn around for a picture she sighed and said, “I really can’t because – I’m too busy.” Busy, indeed. Enraptured was more like it. I walked behind her, with Evangeline in my arms and my camera slung over my shoulder, under my own spell. The way the light reflected off the fresh snow was blinding. Icicles, which seemed to drip off the ends of every tree branch, sparkled like diamonds.

It was astonishing. If I had ever witnessed a winter landscape before, I had forgotten the experience - or had only vague memories which were nothing compared to the clarity of the vision before me. It reminded me of the time I walked into a Klimt exhibit at the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome. Every idea I had formed as to what the real paintings would be like was blown to bits in the presence of the paintings themselves - the replicas I had erected in my mind were shattered by the reality: the flat, two-dimensional images I had emblazoned on my coffee mug and hanging on my dorm room wall were instantly transposed by enormous canvases that glittered like Byzantine mosaics, embedded with precious gems - lapis lazuli, rubies, gold.

Dutch took the girls by the hand and crouched down on the side of the path. "Have you ever tasted snow?" he asked. They shook their heads, incredulous, and we each took samplings of the fresh powder. We savored its sweetness on our tongues, so fresh and strangely nourishing, and giggled uproariously, like a family of criminals, guilty of some great indiscretion.

It was enthralling to imagine what was taking place beneath the snow – the life underground; and as we walked back down the bluff I quietly relished the thought that this world which seemed, in all externals, to be “dead and buried,” was only asleep, crouched in a state of drawn out, if hidden, suspense, waiting to be ‘reborn’ come spring. Spring Our closest approximation to Rebirth.

I love the way God has woven into the fabric of the natural world, hints of the supernatural. The shocking change of seasons are – like golden leaves in fall, and snow in winter— but foreshadowings of the Great Change that will someday take place.

This is odd, in a way, because so much of the time my life seems static – a drawn out suspension of sameness. Or like a revolving door, it is marked by circularity. The world, caught in a hiccup, seems to greet me each morning with the same set of headlines: a sunny sky, a sink full of dishes, children who need food, clothing, and a bath before bed. I, too, feel the same. But for those occasional moments, after a shower, when I am pulling a comb through my wet hair and discover a stark white one, standing on end among the others, waving like a flag to remind me that, indeed, I’m growing old, I don't feel the change.

I don’t feel it; though I know it is happening all the same.

But isn't that the way it is with most changes? Those which turn out to be decisive, which seem to come upon us “like a thief,” have been evolving gradually, in tiny gradations, all the time, so that unless we are really looking for them we don’t notice they are there at all… That’s why the smallest decisions we make can have the greatest impact. They are rolling themselves into something great and unstoppable, like the ball of snow that formed the body of our snowman.

One day, not long from now, the change will burst forth, and I’ll discover that, somehow, in the hours between waking and sleeping, sunrise and car rides, I will have grown old. The tide will have turned – my hair will be all silver. A thought which sends chills through the hearts of many a woman, but not to me. While I certainly don't relish the idea of diminishing capacities, or fading glory, I have a reason to be confident: "for though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4.16).

Indeed, each neat little set of twenty-four hours propels me forward, on the conveyor belt of time, toward that other, more important Change. Soon - so very soon - the night will be over. Dawn will break, Christ will return, and we will all be changed: in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye. The bud will burst forth, the tiny green sprout will thrust its head above the soil: Spring will come. And those things which seemed irrevocably lost, or given over permanently to decay, will suddenly bloom again with a fragrance and beauty so sublime our greatest poets can only hint at it; the life underground will rise again, and be reborn; it will blossom and grow, not only for a season - but forever.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How can I keep from singing?

It was Monday morning, life as usual, only the events of the previous four days still had me in a daze, and I struggled to live life in the present... While backing out of a friend's driveway, the terrifying sound of crumpling metal woke me in a hurry, as I realized in horror that I had backed into a cement pillar, cracking it in two and bashing up my car in the process.

By the time we got home, I was tired. Tired enough to cry. Instead, I sat down on a bench outside the front door and let the girls enjoy the pleasant air. I don't know whose idea it was, but suddenly Evangeline was standing on top of a trunk opposite me, belting out lyrics which Audrey eagerly fed her from "off-stage." Suddenly our entryway had become Broadway, and I was being treated to a private showing of Annie - only the title star was roughly two-and-a-half, instead of six-and-a-quarter, and the lyrics to the song, "The Sun Will come out Tomorrow," sounded a little more like - "I'm ne-ver a-lone! I'm ne-ver a-lone!" (I have no idea where they came from, or what they mean, nor did I care - the girl was putting her whole heart and soul into the number, and it showed.)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bye-lo Baby

“Beautiful life, full of grieving…”
~The Innocence Mission, Into Brooklyn, Early in the Morning

Some six weeks ago I discovered I was pregnant. We spent those weeks in the usual way: joyously anticipating the birth of another child, and the addition of another member to our family. Pulling all the pregnancy books off the shelf gave me a secret thrill; and I relished the mornings the girls and I spent paging through one book in particular, “Beginning Life,” which uses real photographs to illustrate what is happening inside the womb during each week of prenatal development.

I cannot but smile now, when I recall the evening Dutch came home looking dog-tired; when we sat opposite each other at dinner, and commiserated about how we’d both felt thwarted that day. I said, “Well, whatever we did or didn’t do pales in comparison to what our baby did – which was to sprout arms and legs!” We talked of names, and Audrey clung to one of her old ideas, that we should have two babies, and name each one carrot. “That way,” she explained, “we could have two baby carrots.”

But then, quite unexpectedly, something went wrong. After only two months I became one of those awful statistics, proving that 2-3 in every 10 pregnancies end in miscarriage.

Driving home from the doctor, I cringed to think of telling the girls, who'd spent the morning playing with friends.... When they arrived home they found me sitting on the back patio, wrapped in an enormous pink blanket, listening to old hymns as water trickled into the pool. They ran to my side and embraced me as though I’d been away a long time.

When I held her at arm’s length, Audrey gave me a look I'd never seen before. A strange mixture of hesitation and interest. “There’s not a baby in your tummy anymore,” she said quietly, as if to relieve me the burden of wondering whether or not she knew. And Evie said, in her emphatic way, “Daddy told me that, and I CRIED.”

Some awkward moments of palpable silence passed, in which I attempted to stifle the flow of tears. Audrey walked to the edge of the patio and peered down into the garden. “Mommy," she said, picking at her fingers, the way she always does when in a state of contemplation. "Mommy, what would you think about if we planted some flowers down there?"

"Flowers?" I said, bewildered because we spent the last two weekends planting winter bulbs. "Okay... but why?"

Audrey turned to face me. "For - for saying goodbye to the baby,” she said, then twirled back around and pointed at a little bed of verbena, its tiny purple petals peaking up through a sprawling bed of green. “Or. Or - Mommy," she panted, excited now, "I know! What about those purple flowers down there? See them? We could name them our Goodbye Baby flowers.”

When at last I could speak I told her I thought this a beautiful idea... and marveled that something, someone, who was a part of our lives, and a part of me, for so short a time could have made such an imprint on all our lives … It may sound strange to say, but the fact that we feel so great a loss has come as somewhat of a surprise to me. A surprise which, I suppose, cannot be explained apart from the fact that God made us to love as He loves - even those things that seem too small to signify.

After the girls had gone to bed, Dutch said to me, “Do you really believe that this life, this soul, was a real…someone we will meet in eternity?”

I was a quiet a moment. At last I said, “If you and I, who are made in God’s image, care so much about this little life — is it conceivable that God could care less?” After all, what are we to God, but a little cluster of cells which is here today and gone tomorrow? Relative to eternity, all life is but a vapor. But God cares for us. “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance,” writes the Psalmist, “and in Your book were all written for me the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139.15-16); proof that the life which in our eyes ended before it had fully formed, in God’s eyes is complete – complete and fully known - from the moment it was borne out of the mind of God.

The night before it happened Grandpa came for dinner and while Dutch and I made milkshakes in the kitchen, he read the girls a story about a baby bunny whose future vocation is imagined, in turns, by each of its relatives. As I listened, my heart, which was already gripped by a sense of foreboding, swelled with longing, and I couldn't but hope that one day we’d all be sitting around our baby, exchanging similar speculations.

As the story goes, Baby Bunny did not want to be any of the things his family imagined for him. Instead, writes the author, "Baby Bunny sat in his basket and smiled at his bunny family. He knew what he would be.” I realize now that, in the same way, God, whose ways are infinitely higher and better than our ways, knew – has always known - just what this baby would be: not a mailman or a farmer or an engineer, but a child of the resurrection; where, like the angels in heaven, he can no longer die (Luke 20.34-38).

The following Saturday afternoon I was outside, losing my sadness in the assembly of a dollhouse for the girls when Dutch came and sat down beside me at the table. “How are you doing?” he asked. I couldn’t look up, couldn’t speak for tears; could only listen as he told me, falteringly, that he felt God had given him a name for the baby in prayer.

"What was it?" I asked.

"Do you want to know?"

"Of course," I said, half-choking.

We held each other’s gaze a moment. His blue eyes, normally so clear, were full of tears. His lips trembled, and his whole countenance bore a kind of world-weariness which was amplified by his unshaven face and rumbled shirt. "His name - " he said finally, "His name is Isaiah."


Isaiah. Oh, I thought to myself, in quiet desperation, I love the way it sounds! Suddenly, I saw a little boy sitting at my dining table with sleek brown hair and large blue eyes; I could see myself peaking at him from the kitchen, hear myself calling him, “Isaiah! Bring your plate to the sink and hurry, get your shoes on. You’ll be late for school!”

Late that night, I looked up the meaning of the name. In Hebrew it means, "God is salvation" or "it is God who helps me."

It occurred to me that there is a story about Isaiah in our Jesus Storybook Bible. I looked it up immediately and read it straight through. As author Sally Lloyd-Jones has it, Isaiah's name means, ‘God to the rescue!’ because the prophet Isaiah was chosen to convey the message of salvation to God's people in Israel: "Now, God let Isaiah know a secret..." she writes. "God was going to mend this broken world…” “…He was going to make all the sad things come untrue…” “…Even death was going to die! And he will wipe away every tear from every eye...”

This was the Secret Rescue Plan God showed to Isaiah: “Operation 'No More Tears!’”

Even Ms. Lloyd-Jones admits that it sounds like a fairytale which, as everyone knows, rarely come true... But this one did. Jesus, the Son of God and Creator of all things, made Himself small. He became a man, and died a sinner's death so that all men could become his sons and daughters; so we could live forever, clothed with the garments of salvation, adorned like a bride in her wedding ornaments, for the everlasting display of His splendor (Isaiah 61).

It is no small comfort to think that our littlest one is now experiencing in full the salvation we can only perceive through a glass dimly; he knows in the fullest sense that help which comes from God alone; and of course I relish the thought that perhaps one day – in that place of No More Tears, where all the sad things have come untrue – we will be given the chance of meeting.

“Long roads of orange groves
I try, try to see down.
Joyful arrival may be far, far away.
When will I see you coming so many miles?
It is too early to say.
Out in the backyard I will wait for a downpour.
The sky may open but it won’t be today.
When will I see you coming so many miles?
It is too early to say.
Oh down orange groves, narrow roads
I have been looking.
I am half in tomorrow and half in today.
When will I see you coming so many miles?
It is too early to say.”

~The Innocence Mission, Too Early to Say

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Life is running hard and fast ahead of me lately. Try as I may, I can't catch up. I needed a little inspiration to pick up my pen this afternoon... A glance at these pictures of my sweet niece, Jewel, romping up and down an Oregon beach, gave me a hearty helping of joy - and re-awakened my senses to the heavenly graces that surround me - graces that come to me, not in spite of the messiness of everyday life, but through it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Wave is Rolling

"The time of mistakes -
will it ever change to another time,
like a season when the snow
will slide off the house
and leave the house clean?
And a wave is rolling over
a wave is moving over
a wave is rolling over me, over me."

~”A Wave is Rolling,” The Innocence Mission

It was June 6th, Evangeline's second birthday. Her cake – two of them, actually – were cooling on the counter. Her presents – so lovingly wrapped and ribboned – were waiting for the moment when, having sung the birthday song, I would slide them before her smiling face, waving candle smoke from my eyes. I would look back and forth excitedly, between the laughing girl and the cake, as I sliced it into pieces, stopping now and then to lick my fingers clean of frosting.

But the moment never came…

Instead, the girls and I were outside on the patio. We set the outdoor table, swept the stairs and watered the potted herbs that line the landing outside my bedroom window. One of the plants – a shrub of Mexican Heather – had died over the weekend so I slid the pot away from the others, intending to repot it the next day. The chicken was nearly done. I stepped inside to grab a platter. When I returned, I caught a glimpse of Audrey through the wave of smoke that wafted up from the grill’s open mouth – a silver chain clasped in one hand, still standing on the steps, holding the broom.

Of a sudden – I heard a snap – and then a scream – and when I looked – Audrey lay on her back beside the sandbox, cradling her forearm in her chest as if it were a broken-winged bird. But she was the bird – and as I rushed to her side I pieced the story together: in those few moments when my eyes were turned, she’d wedged herself into the space left vacant by the dead plant, fallen off the three-foot landing, and broken her arm.

In the emergency room, the nurses told me not to worry. "We see this more often than you'd think," they said, and when Olivia’s mother arrived – a friend to lean on – she reminded me that “God was sovereign,” that "accidents happened." I nodded, trying to be agreeable, and raised a trembling hand to take a drink of orange juice, certain I would faint at any moment. My friend looked at me – with her eyes I felt her grab me by the shoulders: “Heather,” she said, “I won't let you blame yourself for this.”

But how could I, in good conscience, do otherwise? It was I who had failed to put the pot back after watering. I had left the step exposed and turned my eyes away –only for a moment – but that moment, that was all it took.

I could accept that God was sovereign – yes, of course – but.... wasn’t I also responsible? Equivocations and qualifications aside, wasn't this … my fault?

Having swallowed this conclusion, I was filled with bitterness, and passed a fitful night organizing my closet, weeping as I folded clothes. No one could console me – nor even speak to me! – as wave after wave of self-loathing crashed over me like waves crashing against a rocky shore...

The next morning I was confronted by an equally devastating realization: the circumstances of the previous twenty-four hours had unearthed my true beliefs about God. Before the accident, I claimed to believe that God was sovereign – that He was supremely powerful, governing the events of this world and submitting all things, even the most treacherous acts of willful violence, to His great and glorious plan.

But my response to this event revealed that what I professed to believe flatly contradicted the way I lived. Indeed, my actions proved that – when it came right down to it – I believed God was limited by my own failures. He was bound by my sin and shortcomings. He was in control –but only up to the point I’d slid that wretched pot out of place! At that moment, all responsibility, all power in the universe, was transferred to my shoulders – and Audrey was left to suffer the consequences of my failure.

But if taken to its logical conclusion, this meant that all people who suffered as a result of someone else’s actions – whether willful or accidental – were victims. Multiply this by the world’s population and what you get is a lot of very large, very powerful people – and one very tiny, very inert God.

My thoughts traveled back to the previous evening… We’d arrived home from the hospital and when I entered my bedroom it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the semi-darkness. In the corner, the little bedside lamp glowed, and there beside it, propped up on two enormous pillows, was Audrey. With her right arm bandaged from wrist to shoulder, her face bore a kind of pinched expression, a look usually found on the faces of the very old. She looked smaller and more fragile than she’d ever looked before and when I sat down beside her she clasped my hand and leaned forward, lifting her head with great effort. “O, let’s talk about our day, Mom,” she said, in a quavering voice.

“My hardest part,” she began, before I had time to reply “ – my hardest part was when I got that poke.”

"You mean the IV?"

"Yes,” she said, and sighed, letting her head fall back on the pillow, “the ivy."

“I know, Audrey,” I said, tears filling my eyes. “That was so hard. But you were so brave!”

“And do you wanna know my other hardest part?” she went on.

“Yes,” I lied.

“My other hardest part was when I was trying to sweep up that chain and - " Here she stopped and her eyes her trailed off to a place I couldn’t follow. “— I was trying to sweep up that chain and – I wasn’t being careful – and then I fell and I broke my arm!

“Oh,” she went on, lamentably. “Oh, I whoosh; I just really whoosh I was being careful. Now I’ll never build a sandcastle again!” The self-condemnation and despair in her voice rent my heart, and I couldn’t help but wonder – did God ever feel this way when looking down at me?

In the days that followed – all that week, in fact – I began to wonder whether part of God’s purpose in allowing this event to occur… was to expose my error. Ever the iconoclast, He had used this incident of a little girl falling off a step to shatter my false perceptions of His character - to bring my professed and applied beliefs into greater union, and show me who He really is, in a way that transcends mere intellectual ascent. For it isn’t enough simply to know something; over and over the Bible proves that knowledge in itself is meaningless. Faith, hope, and love are what matter. Faith that enters my being, and becomes part of me, changing my perception of the world, not only in an abstract and theoretical sense, but down on the ground, where there is confusion, the popping of gunfire, and so many wounded.

I began reviewing those passages in Scripture from which this idea originates: “The Lord kills and makes alive,” says the prophet Samuel, “He brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts. (1 Samuel 2.6-7). “See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who puts to death and gives life. I have wounded, and it is I who heals; and there is no one who can deliver from My hand” (Deut. 32.39). Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God also says, “The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand’” (Isaiah 14.24).

Because He is always good, always protective, and never punitive, the truth that God is sovereign is meant as a safeguard against the crushingly self-centered notion that I am in control – that I stand at the axis of the wheel from which the spokes of human events emanate and move. In a word, this truth is meant to protect me from the kind of suicidal despair that so often haunts us in the wake of calamity, freeing me from the delusion that I exist as an agent of change in the universe rather than a mere instrument in His hands.

This is not to say that our actions don't have consequences nor that God will not hold us accountable for our actions – not at all. God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are not mutually exclusive, but coexist mysteriously, like the moment when a seed falls into the ground, simultaneously dying and bringing forth the mystery of life anew. Jesus is frightfully clear about the extent of man’s accountability: “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12.36-37). Paul reaffirms this idea in his letter to the Corinthians: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5.10).

Is it, then, any wonder that Solomon should close his book of wisdom with an admonition to fear God? “The conclusion,” he says, “when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Eccl. 12.13-14).

This tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility is, I think, the great tension in which mankind is left to struggle: He is sovereign; but we are responsible. He is in control; yet we will be held accountable. At the end of every day, pain exists because sin exists; and I can be assured that any time I experience pain I am either directly or indirectly responsible for it. Yet I must be careful, lest I judge too soon those things which are only Christ’s to judge. As Paul says, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts” (1 Cor. 4.4-5).

“…It is the Lord who judges me.”
Four long months have passed since that June day when Audrey broke her arm. In the wake of my little shipwreck of faith, those waves of condemnation are being increasingly engulfed by even larger waves – waves of mercy, and of grace. I have grown both to hate my sin more than ever, and to fear God more than ever, recognizing that He is fully justified in allowing me to experience the consequences of my sin. But having grasped, just a shade more deeply, that God is not limited by any man - least of all me - I can rest in a way I daresay I have never rested before, believing – really believing – that, no matter what the circumstances, "God is for me;" whatever I may face in the future, all His plans and purposes on my behalf are always good continuously. He is now, even now, using my sin to sanctify me by producing a spirit of contrition, of brokenness, humility and dependence on Him, never condemnation (Rom. 8).

It suddenly occurs to me, somewhat abashedly, that perhaps I’ve been delving too deeply into matters which are beyond my scope and skill. I am just a laymen, mind you – a laywoman, actually – and far out of my depth. Like a child with her telescope, looking up at a night sky full of stars, I want to number them all but find I cannot count past a hundred. So I must say with the Psalmist, “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Psalm 131.1-2).

Although, this side of heaven, the line that distinguishes between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility will remain hopelessly blurred, there is one thing that stands out clear, like a shining light that will never be dimmed – and that is Jesus. The Savior Who lives. Having become a man and walked the dusty earth, with all its obfuscations and deprivations, its weaknesses and frailties, its pains and miseries, joys and exaltations, its darkness and evil and din, “He knows how we are made… He is mindful that we are but dust” (Ps. 103). And if Jesus is anything, He is merciful. I cannot but think of the criminal who hung beside Him on the Cross – that man who understood His sin, who feared a holy God, and cried out for mercy – to this man, Christ offered a place in Paradise – a share in the mercy which His death was, that moment, making possible. This He offered – this He promised – even before the deed was done: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Today. It is a promise that still stands, an invitation to accept His mercy still being extended to all mankind. In all matters, what matters most is whether I am striving to live a life of obedience to this Jesus – to direct my faith to Him alone. Failure will always be all mine because sin will always be mine. “But thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15.57).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Victory for Evie

It is terribly hard to describe the quality of joy which Evangeline's presence infuses into our home. Born with her mother's temperament, Audrey is sensitive, introspective, and sometimes sullen. Evie, on the other hand, takes after her father... She is one great ball of optimism - self-assured, demonstrative (and rather demanding) in her affections, and riotously funny. I am always amazed by the depth of her conviction that she can do things, no matter how impossible they might seem. Change the batteries in her toothbrush? "I wanna do it!" Put on her own bathing suit? "I can do it!" Push her own cart at the grocery store? "Let me do it myself!" Most of the time, she can. Or at least she progresses much further toward completing the task than I give her credit for. I particularly love her persistence in showing affection, convincing Audrey that - really, she is not so sad after all.

Friday, September 16, 2011


We made a mad/magical/marvelous trip to Disneyland last weekend, with Nanny and Ella and Kate, to celebrate their mother's birthday. After the fireworks show, the others went ahead, and it was just Audrey and I, making our way alone through the crowded park. I was still thinking about Cinderella's Castle, which had been resplendent below great popping bursts of pink and blue and white - Tinkerbell and Dumbo each took turns shooting across the sky to songs of dreams come true, sounds of merriment and exclamations of wonder. It was just about the closest thing to heaven I've seen. And watching it with Olivia's mother made me long more than ever to go there.

Audrey walked beside me, her hand in mine, wearing Evangeline's blue satin dress - the one with the full skirt, the sweetheart neckline, and the lovely tulle roses strewn across the bodice. A gift from Uncle Ry and Aunt Carrie. With her little white sweater snug around her shoulders I noticed for the first time that she looked very much like Cinderella.

When I told her so, she said, "That's what I was trying to tell you this morning!" Apparently I hadn't been listening.

"Yes, your blue dress and your white sweater - even your yellow hair - all match Cinderella."

"My yellow hair!" It was a thought that had never occurred to her. Her hand shot up to finger her braid in astonishment and then a smile of wonderment spread out across her face. "I never noticed that before," she said, very slowly and very quietly. A sudden gasp, as though she'd seen a spider. "But! But - our eyes don't match. I have brown eyes and Cinderella's eyes are blue."

"Yes, blue. Like Daddy's."

"Like Daddy's!" Another wonderful, revelatory thought. She touched her cheek. "But our skin is matching."

"Yes, you do have the same color skin."

Audrey looked at me very solemnly. "Me and Cinderella. We really have a lot in common."

"Yes," I went on, smiling, "and do you know what else you have in common?"


"Well, you both love mice and birds. You love to talk with them and play with them."

Audrey started giggling. "Yes, we do! We do!"

"And do you know what else?" I was thinking of the little family slogan that Dutch has begun to teach the girls, reciting it whenever they begin to grouse and shrink from cleaning up one of their messes. "We're Bakers," he says. "We work hard, we work fast, and we don't mess around!" Parroting him really does help to revive their working spirits, so I told Audrey: "Cinderella is just like you because she works hard, she works fast, and whenever her stepmother gives her an order she doesn't mess around!"

More laughter, followed by a sudden seriousness, as though Audrey were considering whether or not this were true. She sighed. "Yes," she conceded, "I am learning about that."

Saturday, September 3, 2011


It is an adage so old, it has become outworn: “'Tis better to give than to receive.” One of those “truths universally acknowledged” that we all know, but – do we really live it? And if so, how? I’ve only begun to learn… and one thing that is helping me is – sponsoring a child through Compassion International.

When, last spring, I approached the Compassion Table in the lobby of our church it was with the conscious intent to sponsor a child – to fulfill my obligation as a follower of Christ, and help provide for the widows and fatherless. What I did not intend – what I could not have imagined – was God’s intent for me...

The children had all been classified in terms of gravity of need, and so it happened that the Compassion Representative slid a crisply laminated piece of paper across the table to me. My eyes flicked past the red sticker labeled “urgent,” and I saw, for the first time, the stalwart face of Omary, an eight-year-old boy from Tanzania. A stab of something like pity pierced my heart: Omary stood on a dirt ground, his arms at his sides, his feet pressed together like a soldier standing in line for a drill. In his over-sized shirt and voluminous jeans, the too-big belt and army boots, he looked so … brave but also so … vulnerable, as though he were making a particular if unconscious effort to look presentable, to look worthy of sponsorship.

Though it’s only been a few months since we’ve begun our correspondence, I’ve already come to learn, in a deeper sense, how fatuous it is to give only money to worthy causes. Financial contributions can be tricky in the sense that they have the potential to subtly affirm our false perception of ourselves as “good people,” people who give… so that poor children in Africa can attend school, and receive basic medical care.

It is much more difficult to engage a child personally, to share myself – writing letters, exchanging pictures and artwork – and not just my resources, with the ultimate hope of encouraging the child toward Christ.

For example, do I really believe, and can I really say, that Christ is all Omary needs? That Christ is big enough to “compensate” for his relative – and by American standards – profound deprivations? Do I believe that if this child has nothing but Christ, he has everything?

Those are awfully presumptuous - even audatious and outrageous - claims to a great majority of people; and it is one thing to try and make this argument abstractly. But I am not writing to “the poor” in an abstract sense … but this person… this boy… this child. Omary. An eight-year-old living in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. A boy who has no father, to speak of. Who likes to play soccer. Who lives with his mother – a woman who is “sometimes employed.”

Is Christ big enough for him?

In my attempt to tell him so, in language that is so feeble and imprecise, I realize in new and deeper ways that if Christ is big enough for Omary, He is big enough for me, too. In the act of reaching out to one poor child I discover my own spiritual poverty - and the wealth which God has made available to me in Jesus Christ so that I can say, with confidence, "my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4.9).

In his first letter to us we learn, through a translator, that Omary likes to play with toy cars “although for now his car is lost.” I am struck by this one word – car – for it reveals the stunning fact that Omary has only one car; and this car is lost. Yet his letter brims with gratitude, generosity, and child-wonder: “He says he is thankful for your sponsorship…” “He is asking how are you?” “He says he is thankful for your love…” “He says he invites you in Bagamoyo…” “He asks you to pray for him to be an obedient child and who respects people…” “He says he will pray for you to be peaceful…”

Omary – thankful? For our love? But what have we given him? Only $25 a month to go to school, and be treated at the local clinic.

I feel ashamed, to be thanked for such a small gift. Humbled, that God would allow me to give what He has freely, and quite undeservedly, given me. Resources, which I can take no credit for (1 Cor. 4.7). Which have been granted to me, in large part, by nature of the fact that I was born in a very particular part of the world, at a very particular time in history. For what was America, but five hundred years ago? Hardly a place on the map…

Civilizations rise and fall and are forgotten. But here I have an opportunity to do something which will last forever – to give to some-one who will last forever. And do I? Will I? Yes, of course I will. Because to sponsor a child is not to give a gift; it is to receive one. In fact, I think if it were up to me I would change the words to that old adage: for giving isn't just better than receiving; giving is receiving. And I cannot but stand in ever-widening circles of awe and wonder that in giving me the gift of Himself, Christ would chisel space enough in my heart, and time enough in my days, for a little boy whose life and love I would otherwise most suredly never have known.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Surf and Sand

My computer has been on the fritz for nearly three months... Many of my photographs from our California Road Trip are trapped on its hard drive but I managed to grab a few - including a few here that feature Morrow Bay and the Getty Villa - before it went back to the repair shop. Few things soothe my soul so much as seeing images of my girls fully engaged in the beauty of God's world...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Child's Prayer

It was a quiet afternoon. I sat on my bed, sorting books while Audrey arranged her dolls on the carpet beside me.

“Guess what Audrey?” I asked.

“What?” Her head popped up over the edge of the bed.

“Ella and Kate are coming home in two days!”

“Two days?” Her weary eyes widened.

“Yes, two.”

Suddenly her eyes glazed; she looked away, abstractedly, then sighed. “O,” she said, turning her eyes back to me, “and Olivia won’t be with them?”

It was half a question, half a lament - one little note of protest, testing the finality of the absence she had learned to call 'death.'

“No,” I said, my voice quavering, “she won’t.”

That night at dinner Audrey prayed: "Dear Jesus, thank you that Ella and Kate are coming home soon. And please help me and Evie to be patient about having our princess dolls. And please help Becca and Brice to be patient about seeing Livia again. Because I know they still cry.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011


In a word. In a moment. In my heart forever.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Paper Happy

After my dear friendBetsy featured some photos of Carrie and Ryan's invites on her blog, their suite was featured on 100 Layer Cake and OH SO Beautiful Paper. It was such a privilege to be able to translate my love for Ryan and Carrie into something touchable and visually stimulating; and I'm happy that other people were inspired by it, too. Carrie works at a travel agency and both she and Ryan have traveled extensively so the travel theme was not only inspired by my sisterly confidence that they will "go far" together, but by their mutual love for seeing the world.

Credit goes to Betsy for acting as the project's "artistic director," and to our friend, Sarah, whose own over-sized wedding invites first inspired me to try to put together something unique for Ryan and Carrie.

I should also mention, for anyone eccentric enough to try something like this, that the paper for the liners was purchased at Cavallini Papers. I ordered several different travel and vintage-themed papers - one with old passport stamps and stickers, one with vintage world maps, and another with vintage stationary - and then, because I am totally nuts, selected which one to use based on the color scheme of the stamps and the biography of the person, if I knew any part of it!