First Things First

How are things at your house? Here, some of the kids have already gone back to college, decorations are coming down, and leftovers have been mostly eaten. Yes, the tree is still up and fully decorated (and I think it’s still really lovely, see?)img_3333 but I’m hoping, with my husband’s help, the ornaments will be nestled in their bin by evening.

In the midst of putting away our collection of “snow”-covered houses,img_3334 I received a text from a dear friend. I’d received a few other texts earlier in the day–one from our local Juice Bar, another an address I’d requested–but this text was different. (more…)

Smoke and Fire in the Smoky Mountains

No photo needs to adorn this loss. It’s been in the news so frequently:

Out of Control fires in the Smoky Mountains and Surrounding Areas and Towns

And it raged on for days. While a good breeze and strong winds are sometimes a good and welcome turn in the weather, their timing in this area ended up having a disastrous influence on the fires. The winds exacerbated the flames and destruction spread with reckless speed.

Sadly, many of the homes in the areas were fully consumed down to their foundations, leaving only a lonely fireplace/chimney standing amidst the smoking dust. My cousin’s beloved green cabin was one of the casualties. In it mementoes and treasures were also consumed.

Then at last rains came. What a welcome they were, helping turn the tide of the remaining fires.

The fires have taken such a toll–both physically and mentally. When I first heard of the fires, my heart went out to all who were in the affected areas–the homeowners, the native animals, the firefighters. My prayers went up like the smoke with a request for rain and peace.

Then I remembered a favorite poem from years ago. I’ll share it here in hope that the perspective of this wise and historic Puritan poet might be a comfort to those who have suffered such a loss.

The poem is entitled “Verses upon the Burning of our House, July 10th, 1666.” Its author is Anne Bradstreet, one of the first female poets on what would years later become American soil. She was born in England in 1612 and immigrated with her husband and parents to the American colonies with the Winthrop Puritan group, settling in Massachusetts. There, she and her husband raised eight children and moved four times finally making a home in North Andover, Massachusetts. By then, many of her relatives (both older and younger than she) had passed and Anne herself was suffering from failing health, most probably tuberculosis.

It is this fourth house that burned to the ground. In the poem, she speaks of her loss and her memories, and she honestly recounts her regret. Even so, at the poem’s close, her pain and loss are overwhelmed by her faith in God and reliance on Christ. May God strengthen us to face loss with a similar perspective.

Be encouraged (and kindly be understanding of the 17th century speech and spelling):

“Verses upon the Burning of our House, July 10th, 1666”
 
“Here Follows Some Verses Upon the Burning
of Our house, July 10th. 1666. Copied Out of
a Loose Paper.
In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow near I did not look,
I wakened was with thund’ring noise
And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice.
That fearful sound of “fire” and “fire,”
Let no man know is my Desire.
I, starting up, the light did spy,
And to my God my heart did cry
To straighten me in my Distress
And not to leave me succourless.
Then, coming out, behold a space
The flame consume my dwelling place.
And when I could no longer look,
I blest His name that gave and took,
That laid my goods now in the dust.
Yea, so it was, and so ‘twas just.
It was his own, it was not mine,
Far be it that I should repine;
He might of all justly bereft
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the ruins oft I past
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast
And here and there the places spy
Where oft I sate [sat] and long did lie.
Here stood that trunk, and there that chest,
There lay that store I counted best.
My pleasant things in ashes lie
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sit,
Nor at thy Table eat a bit.
No pleasant talk shall ‘ere be told
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle e’er shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom‘s voice e’er heard shall be.
In silence ever shalt thou lie,
Adieu, Adieu, all’s vanity.
Then straight I ‘gin [again] my heart to chide,
And did thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mould’ring dust?
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the sky
That dunghill mists away may fly.
Thou hast a house on high erect
Frameed by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent though this be fled.
It‘s purchased and paid for too
By Him who hath enough to do.
A price so vast as is unknown,
Yet by His gift is made thine own;
There‘s wealth enough, I need no more,
Farewell, my pelf [money], farewell, my store [possessions].
The world no longer let me love,
My hope and treasure lies above.
Source: The Columbia Anthology of American Poetry (Columbia University Press, 1995)

“He Restores My Soul”

IMG_3198.jpgOur home has a small but lovely back yard and a wooden deck. I love the sound made when I walk across that wooden deck. Don’t know why! There are big maple trees towering overhead that offer bounteous shade and a sprinkling of autumn’s fall leaves. There’s a little table and two chairs, perfect for a quiet conversation. (We could enjoy some time together there, couldn’t we?) There’s a bench where I like to spread out my tea, my Bible, and my laptop. Here and there, flowers bloom in large pots. A rosemary bush scents the air. It’s beautiful to me. 

There’s just one problem:

When on the deck, there is NO internet connection!

(Cue thunder and threatening music.)

This might not seem like a terrible turn of events, and—in the big picture—it really isn’t. But at the moment, it was.

First, I grumbled, but of course, that didn’t do any good!

Then I decided to be pro-active and tried to s-t-r-e-t-c-h the internet booster out onto the deck. Sadly, the connection lines weren’t long enough. Technologically foiled!

So I took the only option there seemed to be. I closed the laptop and just sat there–on the bench, sipping my mug of hot tea.

img_3199

Have you ever felt like God just lit up His will in neon lights right in front of you?

Well, there weren’t any neon lights on the deck, and there was no special message in the Cape Cod towns written on my mug. It was Psalm 23, the Lord’s Prayer; it flooded my mind, especially verses 1-3:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”

Last week was close to overwhelming (although I’m sure it wasn’t the “valley of the shadow of death” David writes of in verse 4 of Psalm 23). I did, however, feel like I was barely keeping my head above water. Have you had weeks like that? Not that I wish that for you, of course, but I hope you can empathize! The activities were mostly good ones, but they were numerous:

  • Work
  • Grocery shopping
  • Meal prep
  • Bible study
  • Walk the dog
  • Run errands
  • Clean bathroom
  • Paint upstairs trim
  • Purchase fall plants
  • Plant fall plants
  • Pick up ordered items
  • Help a friend
  • Tutor students
  • Do laundry
  • Entertain friends
  • Write letters
  • Make phone calls
  • Do Sunday school preparation and
  • Clean rug (Our dog got sick on our family room rug—bring on the baking soda.)

There were some hard decisions in there, too. Throughout the week, I had prayed and prayed for direction and for peace, and I prayed that wordless cry of the soul that wells up from deep inside you, accompanied only by tears.

But this was different. There were no tears now.

I sat.

I took a deep breath of fresh air.

I watched a small nuthatch at the bird feeder.

I watched a hummingbird seek out one of our last geranium blossoms.

I felt the soft breeze drift over me, gentler than cashmere,

I heard the rustling tree branches overhead.

I heard the plunk of hickory nuts falling on and rolling down our neighbor’s roof.

I smelled the sweet, complex scent of my tea. (Sloane Tea’s “Heavenly Cream”—seriously!)

I released the worry and stress I had worn like accessories, increasingly added throughout the week.

I loosened my grip on my list of self-imposed “to-do’s” and thought about what was really most important—to love the Lord my God with all my heart, with all my mind, and with all my soul and to love my neighbor as myself. (Matthew 22: 34-40)

Now this isn’t brain surgery, but once I took my eyes off that list of self-determined to-do’s, I could sense the complete sufficiency of Jesus which superseded the whole list. Decisions and priorities became clear.

The Lord restored my soul.

Only then, did I come back inside, jot down some notes, and then pop back out and snap a couple photos.

Now it’s time to give my Mom a call and text a couple of college students. Then, I’ll make a second attempt at rug cleaning! The laundry, painting, and planting can wait for another time.

May the Lord restore you, too, dear friend!

For Deeper Insight. . .

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Mass Market Edition - By: W. Phillip Keller I heartily encourage you to check out A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, by W. Phillip Keller.

It’s an eye-opening book that unpacks the 23rd Psalm in an accurate, contextual, and most meaningful way. (It is also undoubtedly one of my favorites!) It makes a wonderful gift at Easter or anytime.

It’s available in many formats. Here’s the link to read more about it and purchase it at Christian Book Distributors: A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller