Cloud of Witnesses

I would consider myself, by nature, a cheerful person. I’ve always thought (somewhat proudly) that I am pretty level-headed and easy going, although in recent years (and after five children) I am starting to second guess that self assessment a bit. But all things considered, I don’t have a desponding personality, nor would I call myself a pessimist.

Nevertheless, if you have been following this blog for any length of time, you may have noticed a shift in the overall tone of my writing. As I myself look back over the last year or so, I can see that I am now more prone to paint in darker shades. Of course, it would have been difficult to wax despondent when blogging about doll-making or cake-baking. But since I have had to put those things aside for the time being, what remains for me to blog about is daily life. And daily life has been knocking us about of late.

It’s also, unfortunately, much easier to write when things aren’t going too well. A tale of woe is much more interesting to put on paper than a story about how everything is awesome. It’s no wonder books often seem to come to an end once things turn ‘happily ever after.’

I’ve thought about quitting the blog until I have something more encouraging to write- I wish perhaps, that I could tell you that we have made a ton of progress on the house or that one of the many difficult paths we have been treading has suddenly been made smooth. But it wouldn’t be true. Also, I can’t seem to give up the writing. So this is what you get.

As we have struggled along during this time, my continual prayer has been, “Lord, what do you want me to learn in all of this? What lessons am I to have engraved on my heart as I emerge (hopefully) from the other side of this rough patch?”
And some days, I feel as if I can glimpse a purpose to all of this craziness- sometimes sense the ways in which he is molding me to be more patient, more trusting, more faithful. And then there are the days when I just don’t make it through without throwing in the proverbial towel and going to bed in tears.

But I am privileged to be part of a wonderful church and in particular a Sunday school class whose teacher is remarkably gifted with words. He has the ability to paint pictures through stories that are at once funny, touching and convicting and he seems able to draw spiritual lessons from the most unlikely sources.
Yesterday, for instance, he was explaining to us how young men in the school where he teaches are trained to lift weights- how with enough practice and the proper technique, they are able to lift amazing amounts.
But with every student, there comes a point where they are maxed out. There is a moment where it becomes evident to those looking on that the limit has been reached, and it shows in subtle ways- turned in elbows- a leaning too far forwards- faults in training that might not show until the new and heavier weight was tried.
The same can be said for the spiritual life- when life becomes too heavy or unexpected burdens are added, we can suddenly see the faults in our training- the chinks in our armor, that we never knew were there.
This picture struck me forcibly, coming as I do from a background where I considered myself well-trained in spiritual matters. I always thought I was strong, but it has only been in the past few years that God has seen fit to start adding more weight- gradually at first, but then in ever increasing increments until my knees begin to shake and I cry out for mercy. I have begun to see how very weak I am. And each new trial seems to show not only myself, but also the devil all of my vulnerabilities and how he might prey on them.
I have listened to the tempter as he has turned my focus inwards, convincing me that I am alone in my struggles, that God has singled me and my family out for special hardships. He has taken the selfishness already present in me and expanded it in different ways. I have lately taken to wandering paths of self-pity before untrodden- my prayers that God would show me what he wanted me to learn barely audible.

As you may have heard, my birthday was last week and the celebration of that day left much to be desired. Thankfully, I managed to get a redo a few days later, inviting a few of my closest friends out to enjoy dinner with me. And as I sat there, drinking in adult conversation that can only truly be appreciated by those who spend long days with children, I was brought up short. For sitting around me were three women who have experienced, in the last several years, a remarkable amount of hardship and suffering- all varieties of trials and seas of sorrow that I haven’t even dipped my toe in. I watched them as they spoke and heard the evidence of the ways they have risen above their circumstances and each in their own way being witness to the mercy and faithfulness of God.

And there, literally staring me in the face, was the answer to my prayer.

“This is what God wants you to learn,” I told myself. “This is what he wants you to see. You have not been singled out for hardship, but instead have been called to join the ranks of those learning that painful but all important lesson that this world is not your home, but the place where you must live- by faith. And with those two words, the training of my youth kicked into gear and brought these others to mind.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Or, as the hymn that I had memorized before I knew what the hymn writer was even talking about-

Art thou weary, art thou languid, art thou sore distressed?
“Come to me,” says One, “and coming- be at rest.”

If I find him, if I follow, what his burden here?
Many a sorrow, many a labor, many a tear.

Finding, following, keeping, struggling, is he sure to bless?
Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs- answer yes.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…..

Dear Readers,

Next week (Lord willing) will be the beginning of a new era in the life of our family. And, as promised, I am starting the whole process (and hope to continue doing so) by sharing with you what we are about to undertake. The story of how we have arrived in our current difficult position is so long and convoluted that I cannot explain it all here, but along the way, I can’t count the number of times I have been asked the following questions-

“How is the house is coming?”
“What do you have left to do on it?”
“Is it at least livable?”
“Do you know when you might get into it?”

And perhaps the most frequent of all-

“Is there anything we can do to help?”

I hope to answer these questions in the following post.

They say hindsight is twenty-twenty, and if we had known eight years ago what was going to transpire in our lives, what with job loss and financial upheaval, family emergencies and unexpected moves, (not to mention another baby and another and another) we never would have bought the house. But wise or not, we did it, and against all odds, we are still the owners. As I posted before, we have reached the point where it has become necessary to do something desperate. This will be the last try. If we don’t succeed, we will at least know that we have done everything in our power, and we trust God to open another path for us.

So, you asked how the house was coming on? What do we have left to do on it? Well, here is where we are at-

This is the front of our house. As you can see it has lovely dormer windows and an enormous porch. The entire front of the house needs to be scraped, sanded and repainted. The windows (throughout the entire house) need to be replaced, and the hubby is custom building them himself. These are just two “small” projects that need to be tackled.

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This is me, walking around the exterior. You will notice that about half of it is painted a different color than the original yellow, and all the windows are boarded up. We have had to go to some length to keep the burglars (and pigeons) out.

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This is the yard. Oh man, I feel like I would be willing to live just about anywhere to call this yard our own- even a trailer. The trailer has not yet arrived, but will go in the back corner where the parking area is. The boys have already marked out the spots for their new forts.

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I just realized I forgot to take any pictures of the front yard. It’s a good sized front yard that we leveled out a few years ago and ambitiously planted bulbs and trees. The bulbs and trees are starting to bloom, which seems like a good omen.

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You ask if the house is livable? I’ll let you decide by showing you the interior.
It’s a little difficult for me to share these with you, because it makes me feel vulnerable, like the whole world can now see what a mess we have to tackle. But I’m going recklessly on in hopes of some really amazing before and after shots down the road.

When you enter the house you are welcomed in, not by one, but by two living rooms.
The left one (which will hopefully be a library)

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And the right. It already has a functioning wood stove set up, so we won’t freeze to death if we haven’t finished before next winter. There is also a piano. We have to warm the soul as well as the body, right?

As you can see, the entire house needs to be wired and sheet rocked before anything else can be done. You might notice lots of empty blue electrical boxes which once upon a time were wired and ready to go. But stolen copper is good money apparently. So all that has to be redone.

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Walk through that room, and you arrive in my kitchen, the size of which makes me feel a little giddy. It’s not quite ready for cooking, unfortunately.

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And such a large kitchen needs a corresponding dining room. As soon as we move over there, I am tearing down the plywood on these enormous window holes. It will be such a beautifully light-filled room.

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I’m not bothering to show you any of the four bathrooms, (FOUR BATHROOMS!) or the enormous laundry room, (LAUNDRY ROOM!) since they don’t look like much yet. There are two very large bedrooms on the ground floor- our Master Suite, of which it is hard to get a good angle-

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And the guest suite, which is currently home to eight years worth of our excess stuff. The reason it looks so jumbled is that it has been ransacked on a few occasions by a person (or persons) unknown. Whoever they are, I hope they are enjoying all my old books. (Grrrr). My first job will be to go through this room, reorganize and probably throw most of it away. Fun!

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All right, bear with me- this is a huge house. Let’s head upstairs, shall we?

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This is the view at the top- the door to “The girl’s room.”

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We have called it the girl’s room ever since we started on the house. I am so glad we finally have a girl to put in it! Although it does seem like an awful lot of space for one little peanut, who currently lives in this much space.

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To get to the boys room you cross this large open area we aren’t sure what to call- the den? The playroom? The ‘what on earth am I gonna do with so much space?’ room?

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20150317-224237.jpg Oh, but wait- it goes around the corner too, and ends in some secret tunnels Daddy built in, just for his boys.

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Oh, and then there is this room. Just an extra, you know, for whatever.

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But the best of all, is of course, my own especial room, to do whatever I want with. There will be a lock on the door and much crafting within.

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So then you asked, “When do you think you might be able to move in?”

Well, I hope you have seen that we have a looooong way to go before this house can become a home. That is obviously the scariest and riskiest part of this whole venture. There is simply no guarantee and no timeline in place. All I can really say is, the sooner the better. Which leads me to your last question-

“What can we do to help?”

Oh friends, the time has come for me to be very transparent. This is not an easy thing for me.
There are two things that we need- skilled labor and money. My hubby is one of the most skilled laborers I know, but he is one man and he is finite. If he must, he will build this house one inch at a time over the next twenty years. Obviously, this is not ideal, and we would like to be able to hire out most of the work. But without going into financial detail, we are stuck. We don’t have the money to finish the house, and yet we cannot keep the house if we do not make this last effort. We have prayed so long for an answer to this conundrum, but it has seemed insurmountable. My hubby has worked tirelessly over many years now to build his fledgling business, and has accomplished amazing things. But it is a fledgling business still. I would like to build my own business as well, but cannot without a larger space.

Then one day a friend suggested that I just ask people for donations.

I snorted- I scoffed- my pride recoiled at the suggestion. But the idea wouldn’t leave me alone. A thousand objections arose, but still it nagged. I wrote my family about it, asking advice- they said I should do it. I still resisted.
Then one night, before I went to bed, I asked the Lord to make it clear what we should do. Before I even closed my eyes, a message pinged on my ipad. It was a facebook friend, not someone I am particularly close with, but someone who apparently had been thinking of us and our situation. She simply asked if I had ever considered setting up a fundraiser so that people who would like to see us get into our house could donate. Stunned by the timely message, I asked her if she had been talking to my family at all lately. Perhaps they had mentioned the idea to her. She said no- that the idea had just popped into her head.
Well folks, what would you do?
I caved.
So without any more hemming and hawing, I am here today to ask if you would consider helping us reach our long-awaited goal by donating to the following site.
http://www.gofundme.com/pctz2w

And of course, if you are not in a position to help financially, any and all prayers would be most welcome!
We (and the children) thank you!

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Desperate times……

Well folks, I’m not sure exactly how to go about writing this post.   I guess the best place to start is to refer back to this post that I wrote long ago, at the inception of this blog.
It’s simply the tale of a certain house that we own, and that we have been trying to get into for many years now.
We have attempted time and again to push forward and finish the project, but have been continually hampered by circumstances (time, money, logistics etc.) Each fresh attempt has ground to yet another halt. So many people have wanted to help, but it was so difficult to know how to let them, and if we should put more money into it, when every time we have, someone has broken in and robbed us.
And so we have tried to make the best of living in our tiny house in the Projects- still hoping, praying and, working towards that day when everything would line up just right for us to finally finish and move in.
And I am here today to tell you that we still have not reached that day.
But we have decided to move anyway.
Lord willing, in about six weeks, we will be moving onto our property and into a trailer, where we can be on the spot to make one last ditch attempt to finish our house.
Now I know that many people will think this is a crazy plan.
And guess what- it totally is.
But we have talked and prayed long about it, and we are at peace with the decision. I am actually excited at the prospect. Don’t get me wrong- I am well aware that it ain’t gonna be no picnic.
But I am excited because we will finally be out of our tiny house, and though we will be sleeping in a trailer, we will be spending our days in an enormous (though unfinished) house. My boys will be able to run free in a huge yard, instead of being confined to a yard that literally hems them in with barbed wire. We will be in a neighborhood that has parks and places to walk without fearing for our safety. Daddy will be close to work. (and mommy much closer to her sister : ) There are so many other reasons that we feel that, as insane as it might sound, this is the wisest thing we can do right now.
But most of all, I am excited because we are literally stepping out in faith, trusting that since God has allowed us to keep the house for so long, that he will help us to finish it. And even if nothing goes according to plan, and we lose the house in the end, there will finally be some closure to a burden that has long been weighing us down.

Of course, this has implications for everything that I have been building with my little business over the last couple of years. Climbing Vine will have to go on hiatus for a while, which is difficult for me, especially since it seems like, with just a little effort, I could add a successful cake-making side to the business. But reality has struck lately, as I try to juggle so many hats. My current house seems to shrink by the week, making running a business here more and more difficult, I might almost say impossible. But there is a craft room of prodigious size waiting for me in another location, if only we can get there.
And we are going to do our darndest.
So pray with us as we begin this endeavor. I will be continuing to blog if possible, and hope to keep regular updates of what is happening there. I also hope to keep writing if I have a second. But if you want a doll (or a cake) let me know. It might be your last chance for a while.
But don’t despair- I’ve noticed that climbing vines are hardy plants that transplant very well.

Sticks and stones

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Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever had someone take one brief glance at your life and work and decided it was up to them to let you know what was wrong with it? Has anyone ever jumped to hasty conclusions about you and then assumed the absolute worst? And has anyone ever used Scripture against you in their judgement?

This kind of scenario has happened to me twice in my life. Once in college, and then again just last week. Twice have I had someone actually sit down and write a list of grievances against me, and then either read them to my face or send them to me in an email. Both lists were for very different faults, which I must admit is slightly depressing. But my first accuser, all those years ago, at least knew me fairly well, and there was just a lot of misunderstanding that had occurred. My last week’s accuser was a complete stranger who had stumbled onto my blog, and after a cursory reading of my ‘About’ page, made some super-sized assumptions, and decided it was time someone stopped me.

This stranger realized, looking at my creations, that the patterns I have based my dolls on came from a book they recognized. In other words, they knew the patterns were not my own. So they had words with me.
I will not post the entire message here, but here are some of the phrases that were used.

Reappropriation of intellectual property without permission.
Bad form for not crediting the original author. (Pretending I had developed all the patterns myself)
Blatant disregard of copyright laws.
Theft.
Placing myself in danger of countless lawsuits, etc.
And my favorite-
A willingness to bet that all of my other work was stolen as well.

This person was kind enough to tell me that they thought I had a lot of talent, but hoped in future, that I would develop enough as an artist to no longer engage in theft to make a little extra cash.

And then it was all tied up with a neat little Bible verse, and sent to me in plenty of time to ruin my whole day.

“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”

Well.

There were tears. There was angst. There was self-justification, anger, and confusion. There was a lot of time spent asking my hubby for help in how to respond to these accusations. My first reaction was of course to defend myself- to make a long list of all the reasons they were wrong and I was right.
I mean, clearly they hadn’t read my blog all the way through, or they would see where I have not only credited the creative minds who have inspired me, but also worked for the greater part of a year to alter those inspirational techniques and patterns and make them my own.
They hadn’t followed me on Pinterest, or they would see how I have been in contact with the author of those books.
They couldn’t have taken a look at my shop where I clearly do not pretend to have developed the original patterns myself. (although there are many new patterns that I actually have developed myself)
And I am certain they have never taken a look at my email inbox to read the sweet and generous permission I received from the author in response to my frantic email, making doubly sure that it was okay to be doing what I was doing. She reassured me that everything was indeed above board.

I did write this person back, as charitably as I could have, (I think) and then tried to lay it all to rest. But it is difficult. Those words continue to rankle in my soul, to make me doubt myself, to make me burn with anger.

I say all of this, not to declare my own righteousness or to cry aloud “How dare they say that about me!” And as tempting as it is to run this person down and wrap myself in the comforting blanket of the commiserating outrage of my friends and family, I am trying to look at all of this from a different angle.

The fact is, what I do here in this little corner of cyberspace, I do publicly. And the fact is, I am terrible at dealing with personal criticism. Of course, that message was a little more than criticism. It was more like a defamation of my entire character, which in times past was a much more serious thing to do. People didn’t used to drop the term ‘thief’ so lightly. But laying that aside, I need to remember that this strange thing called the internet is remarkably public. I need to be prepared for any and all kinds of comments and opinions. I always figured that in starting a blog about sewing and cooking, I would be fairly safe from criticism and hateful words. But having been on the internet for most of my adult life, I should know better.

People will say what they want to say. They will take things personally. They will read into things way more than they should and put a spin on words that were never meant to be spun. They will make a controversy about the most benign topics. They will think it is their duty to tell you what they think you need to hear. And yes, they will rarely do any research before they accuse. This is the world we live in. And full disclosure, I am not entirely innocent of such folly myself.

In the meantime, if I want to continue using the internet as a great way to reach a lot of people, I must learn to develop a thicker skin. It’s a package deal. These things will happen. And painful and unjust as those words were, they were a good reminder for me to be careful in all that I write and say and in all the work I do. I should strive for integrity, remembering at all times whom I represent.

But above all, I must remember the Merciful One to whom I am finally answerable, and be at peace.

It’s not your business to succeed

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When I was in high school, I was required to write a lot of essays. We were given a topic to address, and then had to come up with some sort of thesis, supported by well reasoned arguments and then sum it all up neatly in a sentence or two. I was never very good at it. I have always loved to write, but my writing has always tended towards the long and meandering story, not the succinct and informative essay. So I struggled along for a while, getting C’s and B’s, until I stumbled upon a book on my dad’s book shelf entitled ‘The Quotable Lewis’.
It was simply an index of memorable quotes of C.S. Lewis, arranged by topic alphabetically. If you wanted to know what Lewis thought about something, you just looked it up. More often than not, there would be a clear, concise statement on the topic, written in his inimitable style. I started using quotes by Lewis to help jumpstart my essays, and they helped me focus my thoughts. At first I was worried that it might be a kind of cheating, but my teacher didn’t seem to mind, and my grades started to go up. I kept at it.

I stole the book from dad when I went to college and used it there occasionally as well. I did finally return the book, once I discovered that Google could do the same thing for me, but I still often find myself asking, “What would Lewis think?” when perplexed by certain issues.

For instance, I’ve been thinking a lot about success lately. What it looks like for a Christian, what a Christian should be succeeding at, and how it is measured. I go through occasional periods of discontent with my house-wifely lot and even sometimes feel wildly ambitious. Sometimes I dream of writing a best selling book (or creating an award winning blog : ). At others, I want to get back to my music and to the concert stage, make recordings and devote myself to singing. And sometimes, my sights are set a little lower- making my little business a success. All of these ambitions have, at their core, a desire to glorify God with my gifts, and of course, make a little money.

But most days, I see my life as it really is. I’m a stay at home mom of five, struggling to keep up with housework and homeschool, trying to be a help to the hard working husband who fights to put bread on our table. Shouldn’t I be trying to succeed in this arena, above all others? And what does that even look like? My children aren’t geniuses, my house is a mess, and we certainly aren’t wealthy. I so often feel I am failing, and find myself calling out to God- “Prosper the work of our hands, Lord!” I often ask him what I am doing wrong that is getting in the way of my success.

In wrestling with these questions, I remembered my old habit, and decided to google ‘C.S. Lewis on success’. I was unprepared for the first link I found. It was a quote from one of his letters and it simply read,

“It is not your business to succeed, but to do right. When you have done so, the rest lies with God.”

This was astounding to me, and raised more questions than it answered. It’s not my business to succeed? After thinking a while, I took it to mean, not that success was bad, but that it is not a goal in itself. After all, C.S. Lewis was very successful in his lifetime. It was a liberating thought, and a terrifying one. I can leave all in God’s hands, (blessed thought) but at the same time, I must relinquish all perceived control over my future, and that of my children. ( a seemingly impossible thought)
And then to cap it all, he says instead of worrying about succeeding, I must simply do right.
But what did he mean by right?
I’m a good enough Presbyterian to know that nothing I can do is right, but I also know the Bible also requires me to do right.
And what does it mean to do ‘right’ when the baby won’t stop crying, or when the sky won’t stop raining? When the dentist finds four cavities and the car won’t start in the morning? Or when you have a choice between two good things, and either one might be life altering? I was going round and round in circles over these and other questions until my hubby gently suggested that I was overthinking the whole thing. I took a deep breath and decided to search a little more. Then I found this, also from his letters.-

“Remember, He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see the picture, so quietly submit to being painted.
This means keep fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station, (You really know quite well what they are!) asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone.
You are in the right way. Walk in it- don’t keep looking at it.”

So then, Lord.
Let me submit quietly, and patiently to being painted. Let me not be always trying to look over your shoulder to see what is coming next, or how well I will ‘succeed’. And let me not say, like my three year old being told to have patience,
“Okay. I will wait. But I’m still gonna hafta cry about it.”

Story Time

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I started this blog to sell some clothes, and I warned you I didn’t know where it would take me.  Every time I have started to post some pictures of my son in a dress, or to share a favorite recipe, I am tempted to forget about it and just tell you a story.  I like telling stories.  I think I get it from my dad.  I remember every night when he would come home from work, he wouldn’t just tell about his day- he would weave a thrilling tale of restaurant management intrigue or hilarious wait staff ineptitude.  There were tales of how he once dropped an ice cream sundae on a bald man’s shiny head, or a skillet of sizzling mushrooms in an old ladies lap.  Once, because his boss had told him to at least pretend like he always knew the answer to a customer’s question, he promptly responded  “oyster’s eggs”, to  the question “what is a caper?”  Before dementia began to set in, he could make a great story out of the most mundane things, and when he shared stories of the things that were important to him, his passion was infectious.   He loved history of all kinds and could tell the tales of men and women dead and gone just as easily as if it had been his own story.  He wanted us to remember what they had done. He didn’t want us to forget where we came from.

I have been thinking a lot about my dad lately as his memory falters and he now finds it difficult to string a cohesive sentence together, let alone tell a tale of his childhood.  My older sister has asked us to compile a list of all the things dad taught us about life for his birthday in a few weeks.  My dad taught me that it is important to know your own story.

I grew up in a great church, and our pastor was, and is, an amazing preacher.  I still listen to his sermons as often as I can via podcast, and I heard one the other night that struck the same chord. It is important to know your own story.   The sermon came from an unlikely passage- Numbers 38.  You know, one of those passages of Scripture that you breeze  past to get to the more interesting stuff?  It is just a list Moses was told to write of 42 places that the Israelites camped at as they made their way through the wilderness to the Promised Land.  I would post the entire sermon here if I had the space, but in short, he asks the question, “why is this list in the Bible? Of what use is it to us?”

He makes the point that though the list of places means little to us, many of the places meant a great deal to the Israelites.  Here the Red Sea parted, there the water poured from a rock, and over there, they bowed down to a golden calf.  God wanted them to remember what they had learned in these places.  But there are also places mentioned where we have no idea what happened, and as far as we can tell, were not memorable to the Israelites either.  He continues-

The significance of this too is not so difficult to grasp.  Life is like that, is it not? A Christian life is always like this, a pilgrimage through the wilderness of this world. We can recall  times of the Lord’s drawing near, of leaps forward in  faith and obedience. We remember those crises in our lives:  when we were converted; when we met the man or woman who was to become our husband or wife; when we sinned in some shameful way; when we experienced the nearness and power of God in some  great measure; when we were overcome by joy.

But as soon as we look back upon the moments that are indelibly inscribed in our memory, we realize that the rest of our past is mostly a blur. We cannot summon it up so well. Our past is punctuated by noteworthy moments but  those appear in our memory only as events separated from one another by long periods of forgetfulness. Most of our life is not a mountain top; nor is it a deep valley.  It is neither euphoria nor despair, but simply the living of days during which nothing significant seems  to happen.

We remember occasions of grief and a sense of the Lord’s mercy that came to us in our time of  trouble. But, of course, we are consuming fifty-five gallon barrels of the Lord’s mercy and grace every day of our lives. We remember his answering our prayer to give us that good job, but, of course, he has provided for us what we  need for life and happiness every day of our lives.  The crossing of the sea, the water from the rock, the quail  for the complaining people, these simply  illustrate in memorable ways what is always happening and what is always true in the life of God’s people.

I’m not sure why these 42 place names made the  list and why others did not. But I think it is beyond doubt that the list was composed for the sake of Israel’s collective memory.  In the Bible memory is a spiritual  duty and forgetfulness is a principle sin of God’s people.  You are not going to behave the same way, or believe the same way, or love the same way, if you have an active recollection of those times of the Lord’s great work in your life. You must remember what the Lord has done for you.  It is how  faith is kept fresh and powerful in the heart.

It is remembering the journey that keeps the journey of your life a living thing in your mind. Otherwise it is apt to become nothing but a meaningless succession of days and nights. And believe me, parents especially, nothing is more fatal to our children than for their  parents to think of their lives in that utterly uninteresting way.

Every moment of your life is chocked full of real consequence, supercharged with eternal significance. It is the active recollection of where you have gone and what God has shown you and what he has  done for you and how he has loved you and provided for all you need, that turns your daily round into a  great story of a pilgrimage, a great adventure full of exploits, over which and through which is found the presence of the Living God.

You do what Moses did and write up your list and read it again and again until you know your own story and you find it rising up to meet you at every turn in the road as you wend your way through the wilderness of  this world to the Promised Land.

I would like to take up that challenge and maybe share a little of it with you.

Clothing as a spiritual metaphor

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I said before that sometimes I feel as if I were born in the wrong century. More often, I feel like I was born in the wrong country. Pardon me while I ramble for a bit. I am trying to unravel some thoughts.

Late one night, when I was about eight, I sneaked a flashlight under my covers to finish the last book in a series I had been devouring. When I finished the book I closed the cover, and crawled out of bed. I went to the kitchen to find my mom, forgetting that there was a group of adults over for the evening, all laughing and playing Monopoly. They stopped and turned to stare at me as I stood there in my pajamas, feeling totally embarrassed. I finally found my mom’s eye and could contain myself no longer. I burst into tears declaring, “Oh mom, I want to live in Narnia!” I don’t remember what happened after that- probably some amusement and some confusion. I think my mother thought I was crazy as she hurried me, sobbing, out of the room.

The book I had been reading was of course The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. Many children have been affected in the same way by the Chronicles of Narnia, some even going so far as to take a hatchet to the back of their parents wardrobe, hoping to get into that magical land. The Last Battle gripped me hard as a child, and still does today because the majority of the book is a nightmare of a story. Nothing goes right- all the plans to save Narnia end in disaster. And just when you want to slam the book in despair, you see that the upheaval suddenly rights itself and all that was dark has become light. It is I think, the most compelling view of heaven I have ever read.

Many of you know that years ago we suffered the loss of our only daughter, Hosanna. She would be seven years old this month if she had lived, and I always think of her at this time of the year. We never got to see her alive, and after she was born, the nurse brought her back to us, dressed in a tiny handmade dress and a little knit hat that someone out there had lovingly made and donated to the hospital for cases such as ours. I had never thought to prepare anything for her. I was so grateful that someone had. I have been asking myself lately, as I work on dainty little dresses, why I feel compelled to do this kind of work. Am I trying to fill some kind of void? Why spend so much time and energy on mere clothing that will be stained and torn and outgrown in a few short months? Is clothing really important in the big scheme of things?

I remember sighing audibly at a church baby shower for a little girl just a few months after Hosanna died. I looked at the piles of pink and ruffled frocks and tried not to imagine how my own little girl would have looked in them. A sweet friend sitting next to me noticed my dejection and gently suggested that I try to imagine what glorious clothing my baby was wearing now. I have thought of her comment often since then, wondering what kind of clothing we will wear in heaven, and why, when Adam and Eve were perfect and naked in the garden, we will need clothing at all in the afterlife. The scriptures certainly mention our being clothed in heaven. And they are full of other clothing imagery as well- the taking off of the old life, and the putting on of the new. As a metaphor at the very least, clothing seems important.

But coming back around to Narnia, we see that Lewis takes that imagery and runs with it. We read as four children must pass through a wardrobe and clothe themselves in furs (a bit too big for them yet, but put on nonetheless) in order to enter Narnia. We watch as Narnia shakes off it’s winter robes at the coming of Aslan. Edmund significantly leaves his furs behind when he goes to betray the others. Aslan’s glorious mane is shorn off at death, only to return in resurrection, scattering beams of light. In a later book, Eustace must have his dragon’s hide torn off by Aslan, because all his clumsy attempts have been useless. But Aslan does not leave Eustace naked- he gives him new clothing. It is not enough to be stripped of your sin. You must put on Christ and his righteousness as a garment. Narnia helped me to understand this.

The fact is, I was born in the wrong country. I was not made for this world, or Narnia for that matter. All these longings to be conformed to the image of God, these desires to be in that ‘other place’, to change beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and a garment of praise for the spirit of grief- even an eight year old girl feels that pull. My daughter went straight from this life to her true home. She never had to read the allegory of Narnia to help her understand what God is trying to prepare us for in eternity. She never had to ask to be clothed in Christ’s righteousness. But we must take the longer road. We enter through the wardrobe, put on those heavy furs, and push on through the snow, looking for Aslan, waiting for springtime.