Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Favorite Day

We tugged at our wet bathing suits, on our way to pizza. It had been a long day – a good day: “March Teen;” the day we celebrated Audrey’s fourth birthday. In the morning she sat around the wooden dining table, surrounded by friends, and ate a decadent breakfast of cold cereal, bagels with cream cheese, boiled eggs, fresh berries, chocolate milk, and orange juice. Afterward, the children opened presents before streaming outside to blow bubbles.

In the haze of afternoon Grandpa and Aunt Sommer took Audrey to the Gaslight Theater while Dutch and I and Evangeline went out hunting for an old piano – we found one, a 1929 Wurlitzer which, as we drove to dinner, was hid beneath a sheet in the entryway, waiting for Audrey to unveil it.

The sky was black and starless – the moon hung like a giant paper lantern in the sky, white and round and smooth. “The biggest moon in twenty years!” a little voice proclaimed in astonishment. “It’s the biggest moon in twenty years!” I turned around to look - Audrey was nuzzling Snowflake, the little toy dog Walker had given her as a birthday gift. “It’s for you, Snowflake,” she said ebulliently. “It’s just for you – because today is your birthday.”

She leaned her head back - her wet hair slicked back like a little golden helmet atop her elfin shoulders - gazed out the window, and sighed. The moonlight streamed in from outside, lighting up her face and forehead and I saw what looked like little white stars dancing in the brown oceans of her eyes. “O,” she said, to no one in particular, “this is my favorite day.”

My heart swelled; suddenly it was my favorite day, too.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dear Sweet Audrey Sophia,

Four years ago today, at one o'clock in the afternoon, my life was changed forever - because that was the day I met you. It was the day God gave me the great, glorious task of being your mother. Every day since has been made more beautiful, richer, and full of greater joy, because of your presence; and every morning when I wake up I am overwhelmed with gratitude - if a little mournful for lack of sleep - the moment your and Evie's bushy heads nuzzle into bed beside me.

Yesterday morning, for example, we we were sitting at the wooden dining table - you were eating "pop cereal" while I drank my coffee, a little bowl of blueberries between us, when you flung your head back and suddenly exclaimed, "Oh, Mudder - you're so kind to your daughters!" I smiled and told you I did try to be kind.

You put down your spoon and your eyes widened, a look of sincere puzzlement on your face. "Mudder,” you said, “you don't have to try!"

“Really?” I asked. “Why not?”

“Be-cause,” you said. “You're just kind. You don’t have to try."

While I struggled to suppress the bubble of laughter welling up inside me, you went on breathlessly, as if something even more extraordinary had just occurred to you: “And, Mudder," you said panting, "you have your king – Daddy, he’s your king - and you're the queen, and you have your precious daughters. So you don't have to worry!”

Then I did laugh, but it was a welcoming, appreciative laugh, and you sat back in your chair and beamed at me with pleasure. "How is it," I said, "that you, my little not-yet-four-year-old daughter, can speak to me so incisively?"

You shrugged and said you didn't know. I shook my head and said I didn't know either; and then we both laughed heartily.

Even now, as I recount the story, tears prick my eyes - and I wonder, how will I ever recover from the absence of you little ones, when, one day, God-willing, you grow up and are gone? I don’t know; but, as you suggested, I will try not to worry it - try, instead, to keep entrusting all of us to God, who promises to meet all our needs in Christ Jesus.

After all, tomorrow is a long way off. Today is your fourth birthday, and I am doing my best to simply enjoy your presence.

Friday, March 18, 2011

March Teen!

Tomorrow is March Teen - that is, Audrey's birthday. We've invited a few friends over for a "breakfast birthday party" - but I'm still lingering over these sweet vintage stamps I found to paste on her invitations. They just don't seem to make them like this anymore!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Do all little girls go through a unicorn phase? I know I did. I must have been five or six... I don't remember how it came into my possession - but I was the proud owner of a porcelain music box with a rearing white unicorn atop its smooth round pedestal. I loved to turn the little brass key on the underside of the box, then prop it on the white wooden windowsill in my bedroom - and watch it twirl round and round in the sunlight, its music wafting out the door and down the dark hallway into the dining room.

Audrey acquired the luminous "Corn" - as she calls him - from Nanny. She loves to put him in her butterfly net. They travel everywhere together, Corn and Audrey. And when we leave the house to run errands she drags her blankets into the car and makes a nest for Corn so that he can rest snugly while we drive around town because, "He really has to take a resty time! Otherwise, he'll be cranky."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Two Sisters; Part the First: the Go-getter

Image: John Singer Sargent, "Venetian Interior"

“Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat [still] in the house.” ~John 11.20

When Lazarus of Bethany – beloved brother to Mary and Martha, and friend of Christ – becomes gravely ill, and one doctor after another has wrung his hands in despondency, telling his sisters bleakly not to hope, both women know just what to do: they must call Jesus. They know Jesus is no ordinary friend – He is a Prophet, sent from God - and they believe His very Presence at the sickbed of their brother will heal him instantly. Thus they waste no time engaging a messenger: “Lord, the one whom you love is sick,” says he to Jesus.

They are simple words - yet robust in meaning: for they convey, with startling acuity, the sisters' profound confidence in Christ's love for their brother - a love so deep they need not mention him by name.

Then, after the message has been sent – what can they do but wait?

It is uncertain how much time elapses before Christ's arrival, but one can imagine what this waiting may have been like. Two sisters taking turns - Mary blotting her brother’s brow with a cool, wet cloth while Martha watches at the window, sweeps the stair. one ear cocked to the road, straining for some sound or signal of His approach… Hours pass, morning is swallowed up by afternoon, but still there is no sign of Christ. By break of day, Lazarus has grown worse; he is groaning and sighing and telling his sisters he cannot hold on.

Do they exchange anxious looks? Or avert each other’s eyes, choosing, instead, to ply their brother with assurances: “He is coming; He is coming. You must hold on.”

But Lazarus cannot hold on. By the time the sun has crested in the hazy, cloudless sky – it is too late. Lazarus's limbs have all gone slack, and he is resting – not in sleep, but in death. Midst their numbness and bafflement, their heart-hurt and weeping, these sisters must wrap Lazarus in a burial shroud; they must array themselves in grieving garments and attend his body to the tomb.

Three long days pass by with agonizing slowness. They may as well have been years.

Do the sisters privately exchange possible reasons as to why their Friend and Savior did not come? Surely they try to be generous; try not to give in to dark thoughts - yet all the while their feelings of disappointment mingle with feelings of betrayal, perhaps even deep, deep despair, as the question sinks deeper into the deepest hollows of their souls: why, oh! -- why hadn’t He come?

Meanwhile amongst the mourners there is a buzz: “Look; see? This man Jesus - He is not the Christ; He cannot be.” “Would the Savior of the World abandon His friends in their hour of greatest need?” “Would He who is said to be capable of anything do absolutely nothing to help those He claims to love?”

It isn’t until the morning of the fourth day that Christ is spotted on the road – “He is coming! He is coming!” someone shouts, “He is near to Bethany! He is on His way to the door!”

And it is precisely here, at this moment of great tension, that the essential differences between Martha and Mary are dramatically expressed. John tells us, “Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat [still] in the house.” The distinction is subtle but profound: “Martha…went and met…but Mary sat still…” (11.20, italics mine).

In the core of her person, Martha has interpreted her brother’s death as an accident which could have been avoided; an error which she must take it upon herself to rectify. In this small act of leaving home, Martha reveals herself to be the quintessential go-getter –literally leaving her house full of guests to go and get - first Jesus, and later Mary.

It may be a bit of a stretch but, on rare occasions, the word that is used for “went and met” connotes a hostile meeting, such as in Matthew 8.28 when the same word is used to describe Jesus’ encounter with two demon-possessed men who are described as “exceedingly fierce.”

Thus it is tempting to consider whether there may have been a note of hostility in Martha’s countenance when she rushed to meet Jesus. Could her first words of address - "Lord if you had been here our brother would not have died." - been laced with reproach? Might she have spoken them as an an accusation? “Lord if you had been here our brother would not have died!”

Significantly, after she speaks, Martha does not wait for Christ to answer. Instead, she says, “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you” (John 11.22). Pause a moment, and consider: what is Martha is really saying? Is this an expression of faith in Christ? Perhaps, in part.

But there is an idiomatic expression we “post-moderns” use to describe this kind of language: we call it passive-aggressive. Martha doesn’t come out and bluntly ask Jesus to perform a miracle; instead, she insinuates and implies. This could be because she doubts Christ's ability to grant her request; or perhaps she simply does not want to humble herself by asking Him for something she feels He should have done in the first place.

Then Christ says something remarkable: “Your brother will rise again.” Notably absent in Martha’s reply is any sense of wonder, awe, or gratitude. She does not respond in faith and submission – as do most recipients of revelation. In fact, Martha says nothing to indicate that she believes Christ is actually speaking to her present situation. “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day,” she says (italics mine).

It is the tone we have all taken when some poor soul tries to tell us something we’ve heard a thousand times and are sure we already know. We are polite but insincere: “I know…”

Martha assumes – without asking for clarification – that the resurrection to which Christ is referring will occur on “the last day,” the Day of Reckoning, when the Messiah returns to judge the world. Tragically, Martha does not really hear a single word Jesus is saying. In one sense, one could argue that she does not hear because she is not really listening; but in another, more heartbreaking sense, Martha literally cannot hear Christ - or even begin to grasp His purpose for her situation - because she is so utterly absorbed in her own.

But Christ – who knows Martha’s thoughts and motives before she herself does – is unrelenting in His pursuit of Martha's heart: “I am the resurrection and the life,” says Jesus, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

Christ's words are like a provocation, inciting Martha to believe that He is, in fact, the Son of God. But Martha’s reply is remote, even guarded: "Yes, Lord," she says, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” Martha gives intellectual assent to the idea that Christ is the Messiah and Savior of the world; but the Christ Who stands before her does not touch her personally; He does not penetrate into the world of her present pains and hardships.

If we put ourselves in her situation, this is not so hard to understand: for from Martha’s limited perspective, Christ has failed her. The gulf between her expectations and His provision is too wide, she cannot cross it. The burden of her suffering is too immense – she cannot lift or leave it. And so, like the rich young ruler whose great wealth crippled Him from following Jesus, Martha walks away. She walks away from the Living God of the Universe, and calls her sister, “saying secretly, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you’” (John 11.28).

Notice that Scripture does not say that Christ calls for Mary; instead, it says that Martha tells Mary that Christ has called her. But could Martha’s retrieval of Mary been a contrivance? Could this errand, this act of going and getting Mary, have been, for Martha, the last in a long string of tactics to get Christ to resurrect her brother? “Christ may have been unwilling to grant my request," I imagine her thinking bitterly, "but surely He will not deny my sister hers. For I know how much He loves her."

Here, perhaps, lies the real tragedy in the story of Lazarus and his sisters: for it is not Christ's failure to arrive in time, but Martha's failure to trust Him - and to believe that He loves her, no matter what circumstances may say.

How often, when tragedy strikes – or some relationship or hard-wrought endeavor, which I have deemed vitally important to my life – “fails” do I run direct to Jesus and demand reparations, begging Him to right the wrong, settle the misunderstanding, amend the oversight, and undo what has been done instead of trusting that the same God who spoke the universe into existence may just have a plan which - in all perfectness - He is in the process of unfolding?

"Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent that you may believe” (John 11:15).

"...to the intent that you may believe." God always has a purpose in every pain; and His purpose is always good. Rarely does He answer in the way we expect - but He always answers, and if we are willing to wait on Him, He will bring about a result that exceeds even our wildest expectations.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Springing for Spring

It isn't autumn season; quite the opposite, in fact, but one look at this evening's sunset and I was all whoops and cheers - dumb-founded and awe-struck, and driven to reread these lovely lines by Hopkins, in his aptly named poem, Hurrahing for Harvest. It begs repeating:

"Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks rise
Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour
Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, willful-wavier
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?

I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart eyes,
Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
And, eyes, heart, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?

And the azurous hung hills are his world wielding shoulder
Majestic as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet! –
These things, these things were here and but the beholder
Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart rears wings bold and bolder
And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Love Month

They say February is the Love Month. For us, it was the month of sickness and fatigue...as well as endless loads of laundry. Perhaps the one upside is that I got a lot of pictures of the girls in their pajamas; nevertheless, I am welcoming the season of Spring with open arms.