Sunset, Good Friday

I’m sorry to have been so silent, friends.

For the first three months of this year, it was a silence born of utter extremity. I wanted to write, but there simply wasn’t time. Between the rigors of an intensely challenging class load, and the demands, the exhaustion, the decisions, the red tape and the long heartbreak of a terminally ill loved one, I didn’t seem to have a second that was not spoken for. It was a dark winter in many ways—lit, to be sure, with the grace of an unfailing Presence, but I’ll be honest: there were times when I didn’t know how I was going to make it. We’ve seen some pretty bleak hours of late, and Philip and I have exchanged more than one long look of quiet, weary despair. But I want to affirm something here, both for your encouragement and for my own remembrance: every single time I was more-than-tempted to lash out at God with an angry “where are You?”—every single time the waters started to close over my head—a strong arm reached out to grab me. I mean every single time. It might be a new, albeit tender, light cast on a well-loved Psalm, or the unlooked-for arrival of the red-winged blackbirds filling my winter world with song. The darker sonnets of G.M. Hopkins are forever endeared to me after this long stint in the shadow, and the music of Andrew Peterson and Eric Peters is more meaningful than ever. But here’s the thing: nine times out of ten, that rescuing hand was the grip of a friend. Phone calls, notes, grace-laden words, breathtaking acts of kindness—these are the ways Jesus has held me (and Philip, too) of late.

I remember one night in particular that just seems to epitomize the kind of instinctive, intuitive caring I’m talking about. We were hosting a dinner party back in February that I was too exhausted to attend, much less preside over. It was one of those days I just wanted to hide, I was hurting so badly. I was feeling many things: sorrow, weariness, anger over Daddy’s suffering and the complexity of the situation and the brokenness of the world. But mostly, I was feeling abandoned. The darkness felt permanent—like a long Lent, with no Easter in sight. Calmly, deliberately, I set the table and prepared my portion of the evening’s repast, all the while feeling like my whole body was made of lead. When the doorbell started to ring things got better, of course. Soon the rooms were snapping with firelight and conversation, and I remembered anew what good medicine good friends always are.

And then, my friend Katie walked in.

I will never forget the sight of her, standing there in my dimly lit hall, wrapped in her grandmother’s fur, a knowing smile on her face. She was dressed with characteristic Hepburn-esque style. And her arms were full of yellow roses.

“We’ve all had a long winter,” she said, gazing around at the other ladies who had clustered upon her arrival. “I just want all of you to know that spring will come. And that I’m praying for you.”

She then proceeded to pass out a ribbon-tied bouquet to each of us, handing mine over with a meaningful look. My thanks tangled in my throat and tears burned my eyes. But what I couldn’t articulate to her that night was that those roses were a tangible symbol of hope. A whisper from God that He loves me, that He knows how much I am hurting, that He cares, in ways I can’t begin to imagine.

And you, dear readers and friends, have been a part of that caring. I may not have managed to personally respond to each of your astonishingly generous notes, emails or comments, but I want you to know with all my heart what they have meant to me. I think we can’t imagine, until we’re hemmed in with grief, just how life-giving a kind word can be. So thank you—thank you for being a part of the way God is loving me these days.

Looking back, March was a physical impossibility. But, in the grace of God, I completed all my coursework (though I didn’t turn in one paper this term that wasn’t finished at 3am on the morning it was due!), and managed to sneak up to Nashville towards the end of the month to speak at a conference I was deeply honored to be a part of. Most importantly, however, after weeks and weeks of fear, uncertainty and excruciating decisions, we reached a resting place with my dad’s care plan that’s given us tremendous peace. God has provided for him in truly amazing and tender ways, and while I’d do anything to undo this cruel disease and make him well again, there’s no doubt that goodness and mercy are attending him through this dark valley. There’s nothing—absolutely nothing—natural about death: I’ve never seen that so clearly as now. But I’ve also never been so astonished at the particularity of the love of God. Jesus never asks us to cross a river He hasn’t forded or to face a foe He hasn’t already defeated.

(“I feel beaten,” I texted a dear friend back in mid-March. “You’re not beaten,” she answered right back. “Just bruised.”)

And so, in the midst of deep sorrow, April came in with its old flush of hope and promise. On Easter morning we greeted the dawn with a clutch of close friends, gathered in the west pasture on blankets and quilts, our mittened hands wrapped around steaming cups of coffee. Our hymns and prayers mingled with a riotous choir of birdsong and rooster crowing and peacock screams, as if the fowl of the earth and sky had all beat us to the glorious secret and were bursting their hearts to tell the world that He is risen, indeed. An enormous opal moon went down behind us as the sunrise cracked the rim of the east, and I watched the golden tide spill from the treetops with an answering warmth rising within me: ageless as spring; indomitable as the sap charging through the mighty oaks and walnuts overhead. It’s true, friends—He does make all things new: every Easter, every morning, every moment of this bewildering, heartbreaking, beautiful life. We’re walking a stony path, to be sure, but even when this chapter is finished, the Story won’t be over. And, in the meantime, I can’t help but notice that the verges of this way are starred with violets, and that the hedges on either side are alive with a music too jubilant for human speech.

After our little service we had breakfast on the patio: hot cross buns and cheese Danishes and mimosas and lots of candy—because if Easter isn’t a reason for a party, I don’t know what is!

Since Easter, I’ve been in something of recovery mode: between terms, and breathing a little easier on Daddy’s account, I’ve taken my days more gently, sitting out on the front porch for long stretches at a time, just looking at this miracle of a green and golden world overarched with kindly blue. I’ve tried to write, in this breath of calm, but the words simply would not come—my soul was still too tired. But after a few weeks of keeping reasonable hours, of sunshine and April rains and flowering trees (what miracle is that!—I wish I could sprout flowers at the tips of my fingers the way trees do!), the racing thoughts have stilled, the ‘panting feverishness’ has finally broken, and I feel like I’m picking up a bit of myself that I left behind nine months ago in all the haste of anxiety and emergency. There’s a new sweetness in the air, young from the dawn of time, and it’s stirring some of the ‘dearest freshness deep down things’ in my heart. I’m almost afraid to admit it’s happening, as we still have such a long road ahead. But I woke up this morning with an old and long-loved rush of enthusiasm, a fresh spring of creative energy and joy. I lamented in prayer that my words were not what I wanted them to be—not yet, not ever. Write anyway, the Lord urged.

And so, I’ve slipped into this space once more, to let you know that we’re allright, that, while the thorn is pressing in hard, we have the hope of a fresh crop of mercies with each day that dawns. And when we sit on the porch in the evenings, watching the sheep crop the tender grass or the peacocks put on a show of Arabian splendor, our conversation is laced with contentment, and we lift our wine or tea or San Pellegrino with thanksgiving.

Before I go, a bit of news:

Last weekend, we rescued my darling little kitchen garden from two years of neglect: within an afternoon, it went from a tangle of weeds to a proper little plot, planted with tomatoes, squash, zucchini and peppers. More delectables going in this weekend, but it’s really astonishing how much that one act of reclamation has leant its energy to our other endeavors. It really was one of the most redemptive things we could have done: every time I peer from the kitchen window, I’m infused with the reminder of the beauty and meaning snatched from ruin and decay that’s always at work in this world and in our lives—like a great secret running through our veins and urging life upwards through the soil of the earth. Come July, I’m sure I’ll be a little hot and bothered over slugs and squash vine borers—but that’s allright. There’s grace for all—even bugs and weeds.

Garden before.

Garden after.

Trinity term commences next week, and I’m eager to dive back into my Oxford studies. I cannot even begin to express how much I am loving my classes—in the midst of such a challenging season, it’s been a gift to have to compose heroic couplets, or read the Brontes, or write papers on the poetry of Wordsworth. I still can’t believe I get to do this—I never open my books without a whispered, “thank You.” It’s really just a tremendous experience. I love the way my heart begins to pound when I’ve encountered a new idea or a concept unfurls its potential before me. Really quite intoxicating.

A word on Poesy—I assure you, she has not been abandoned. Circumstances have rather re-routed her passage into the world, but I’m back on track with an updated release date in mind. Thank you all so much for your excitement over this project, and your questions: I’ll keep you posted.

And, finally, I just have to include the happy news that we have added a new member to our clan of Friendly Beasts: Flora Foxbane, the Great Pyrenees pup came to live with us back in January, and she has brought with her a world of merriment and altogether endearing doggie hijinks. She’s a year old now—we got her from a rescue organization, and we were her third home, not including the kind foster parents who took care of her until we came on the scene. To look at her, I absolutely cannot believe that anyone could give her up—she’s the goofiest, greatest-hearted girl you can imagine, and, when she stands still long enough, she’ll melt your heart with that soulful Pyr stare of hers. We’re completely in love, and Bonnie is beside herself with this new playmate. Diana the Brave is teaching her all she needs to know about being a proper livestock guardian (I’ve never in my life seen a dog with the work ethic of Di), and while the sheep are still a little leery, the goats have accepted her as one of their own. We absolutely love being a two-Pyr farm again.

That’s all for now, friends. Thank you, again, for your kind presence, both here and in your words, prayers and thoughts. I’m overwhelmed. God bless you all.

"What is all this juice and all this joy? A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning In Eden garden." ~G.M. Hopkins, 'Spring