Island of the World

I do not remember the days when recipes were traded face-to-face, scribed by hand. Or the days when five jars of peaches were bartered for a sack of potatoes, when picnic blankets were spread beneath the sun and laid with pies and other goodies to feed the men after the barn raising, when young men and women gathered to dance away the evening in a barn-loft (and I mean real dancing, the kind that fosters respect).

I should remember those days—because we should still be living them.

But we are not. In an age when we are able to connect more than ever before—be it by phone, text, email, or Skype—we have lost our ability to truly connect. Anything done with the heart takes intent and sacrifice and effort, therefore we no longer truly connect because it is too easy to reach out to each other. Our communication has lost its quality. And thus community has dissolved, because community is formed through communication. We need community more than we think, my friends. I need it more than I once thought.

We have become islands. Perhaps I can live a sustainable life on my island, but it is the loneliest place, where one becomes entangled in one’s own self and knows nothing outside this web. I have lived this. I still struggle with this at times—but the struggle is good; it means I am seeking to reach out with the heart. Yes, it requires intent to arrange a coffee date with a friend; yes, it requires sacrifice to drive over on your day off and bake cookies with the neighbor’s kids while she recovers from an illness; yes, it requires effort to host a barbecue for a large family. But in turn, we find ourselves journeying alongside people who share the same joys and pains that we ourselves know, the same virtues and flaws. And sometimes we encounter joys and pains we have never known, virtues we desire, and flaws demanding our mercy. In this, the Body of Christ is revealed to us—every wound and every ray of light extending from those wounds. In this, we grow.

It’s not about the recipes, the homegrown food, the building of barns, or the good old-fashioned dancing. It’s about meeting Christ in those whom He has made in His image. And in an age when imagery is often assaulting us from every angle, we desperately need to seek out the image that is most good, true, and beautiful. Discover this image in the old woman come to sit beside you on the bench, in the child lifting his woodcraft to your eyes, in the grizzly man with an ancient story to tell. Listen to their stories and grow. Tell your stories and watch those around you grow. And perhaps one day we will find ourselves living no longer on islands but on the island of the world, watching together the horizon to see the ship that will carry us Home.

We Must Dream

I cannot help but dream. And dream big—dream foolishly even. Foolish, anyway, to those who do not believe God can make the impossible possible. I think many lose faith in their dreams because they do not have faith in Divine Providence, that mysterious hand that can work wonders in your life, if you let it.

Should our dreams fade with age, as so often happens? No, I believe they should not be abandoned for what is deemed logical, safe, and attainable, because our dreams point to Heaven, to something above and beyond ourselves. Yes, our dreams draw us toward those light-filled spaces, to where every good, true, and beautiful dream is fulfilled.

Should we not reach toward Heaven, though we cannot attain it in this life? We must reach, or what is there to live for? (Or rather, what is there to die for?) Just so, we must dream.

And so I do . . .

Happiness is a Goat

Well, I’ve encountered another unexpected stepping stone in the path that is life. I am spending my last month on Prince Edward Island on the little hobby farm. But perhaps that is not so unexpected.

Ever since I was a child, I have loved the simple life, but there was a time when I thought that my desire to live it out was unrealistic and I would eventually outgrow that desire, or at least be required to shelve it away within me. But I have since come to realize that I will never outgrow it, I will never be able to abandon it among dusty memories—because I am called to live it out. Something as unshakable as this can only be by design. Yes, once again, I find myself immersed in the simple life, unable to stay away, drawn like a moth to light. Here, I am fully alive. And God desires that we be fully alive. In that state, our every movement becomes energized, joyful, prompt. In that state, a goat can make me grin just to look at it.

If you let Him, God will indeed fulfill your heart’s truest (unshakable) desires. Not always right away, though. I think we often equate waiting with wasting—precious time wasting away—but if I’ve learned anything in my twenty years, it’s that time spent waiting can be more effective in moving you toward happiness than is leaping forward without God-given wings. Like a caterpillar within its cocoon, or a chick within its egg, emerge too soon and you will never have the chance to fly.

I pray you will have the chance, as I have. It’s beautiful up here, my friend, simply beautiful.

Feeling Alive

Sitting there on the front porch, with a dog under each arm, I felt my throat close tight. Oh, how I love life on the farm, enough to cry for joy.

From Thursday to Sunday I babysat the animals on this little hobby farm—the goats, sheep, pigs, chickens, chicks, dogs, and cows. I awoke early every morning, six to be precise, honeyed light pouring through the windows. Tugged on jeans and stained boots and out the door went I, a grin on my face. With Ruby, Lucy, and Pickles clustering around my legs, their tails wagging, I marched to the barn with metal pails in hand. Soon enough, the rooster would be crowing, the goats and sheep bleating, the cows lowing. After doling out grain to all, I entered Dot’s pen with the pails, crouched in the straw, and began that most therapeutic activity that few souls are blessed to experience these days: milking a cow. Her baby, leery at first, soon enough settled into the straw beside me, ruddy beneath the glowing window. And for a time, the barn was filled with the music perceived only by those with ears to hear: one creamy stream after another singing into the pail, fodder being munched, rustling straw. I do not think I will tire to hear those simple, rustic notes.

After stripping Dot down to the last drop, then followed the awkward releasing of the animals into the pasture. Awkward because certain creatures (ahem, Rose the Jersey) are very curious creatures and like to stick their noses where they don’t belong, such as the sack that holds the pig feed—or the goat and sheep pen, darn it. Just as in learning to dance, toes were stepped on before the colorful herd was finally shooed out to where they would spend the day grazing on lush grass or dozing beneath the trees.

I mucked the pens, threw down dry straw, and refreshed the water pails. Afterward came the chickens. I was never pecked, but there were a few close calls—particularly from one large brown hen, made larger still when she ruffled her feathers and fixed me with a blistering glare as I reached to collect the eggs beneath her. One, two, three—six eggs I tucked into my pocket from the nesting boxes, and each one varying in tone: brown, cream, white, pale green, pale blue. And then, with the dogs and cats perched here and there to observe, I couldn’t resist the swing: a thick braid descending from the loft above, a board-seat fixed to its end. I sat, pocket bulging, and pushed off. In the dusky barn-light, I contemplated my heart’s desires as I swayed back and forth like the pendulum in a clock.

Back in the old farmhouse, chores complete, I poured myself a glass of milk, fried up some homegrown bacon and sausage and an egg, cut up a little tomato and cucumber, and sat in the sunny kitchen to eat the amazing food that makes all the hard work on a farm worth it. With a heart made happy to overflowing, knowing the animals were fed and watered and content, I then jumped into Wallace, the dogs barking good-bye as I sped away to find adventures on the island.

Red-and-white lighthouses, sandstone cliffs, barnacle-covered rocks extending into the ocean, mucky back roads (where a friend and I may have found ourselves permanently stuck but for a kind farmer and his green tractor), my first raw oysters, tea at a roadside café, seafood chowder and ice-cream by a quiet harbor, antiques and thrift shops in Charlottetown. Whatever I felt like doing, wherever I felt like going, with Wallace as my wings.

At noon, I would return to the farm to top up the blue tub with water, but then I was off again, not to return until evening, when I would again tend the animals. Supper and tea and cherries were consumed in the living room, where I treated myself to a movie (My Fair Lady is really quite funny). Bed was sweet—because the day had been full and good, but also because the next day promised to be the same. And the promise was true.

Wallace

Wallace and I, we’re gonna go places. He’s got a few dents, a few rust spots, half a door handle, and no air conditioning, but he’s solid. God willing, he will get me across the states to home.

I figure, I’m young, I’m free, I’m able—why not? And so when the time comes, I will hop into my little ’98 Corolla, equipped with music (some folk, some chanting monks, and a medley more), audio talks, a rosary, homemade muffins, and whatever else to occupy the many hours ahead (this may include a companion), and off on an adventure we’ll go. From Prince Edward Island to New Brunswick, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, all the brutally long way to Saskatchewan—something like that. We’ll putter through lush summertime country, popping into whatever antique shop, attraction, or café that calls my name. I’ll meet hard-to-forget characters, try new foods, sigh at dazzling views, gulp the sweet air rushing in through Wallace’s windows, and hopefully not find myself lost in the many cities I must navigate. But maybe losing my way will be essential to the adventure, yes?

In the meantime, Wallace and I will explore this island together—its back roads, quaint towns, red beaches—until I am content I’ve discovered as many of its freckles and smile lines as possible. Ah, I know my heart (a heart I pray is becoming a braveheart) will be crying to the sky, FREEDOM!

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Abba

As I was quietly washing dishes, I looked up, out the kitchen window to a forest drowsy with green-gold sunlight, blanketed with fragile wildflowers, and I had a moment with God. I felt that we smiled at each other, our hearts bursting. I love you so much, I told Him. It was a moment where I wished to embrace Him.

And then this thought arose: can I not embrace Him? I do not doubt that He desires to embrace me too. Must we wait until Heaven, though? I realized then, standing there at the sink, that He does indeed come to me in this life, with manly arms and manly smell—and even manly whiskers.

He comes to me as Dad.

I think I understand now, my father, why you so often are driven from your office chair to find me, to hold me and kiss my hair—it must be God’s love for me welling up and overflowing through you. Yes, through you God’s heart can beat against my own. Through you, He can laugh at my humor and express His own (even be it as zany as stuffing marshmallows into your eye sockets), wipe the tears from my cheeks with His thumb, tell me I am truly beautiful and that He is beyond proud to call me His daughter. You are His doorway to me.

I know that not every girl’s father is an open doorway. No, not every girl has felt God’s embrace, heard His belly laugh, or received His affirmation. But you, you will not leave me to wait until Heaven, because you are truly Abba to me.

Remembering Eden

Green hills and Gouda cheese, spontaneous friends and warm ginger cake. God is generous indeed that one memorable day be followed by another:

As we yelped at the June bugs buzzing around our legs, we found ourselves digging our toes into sand and pushing with all our womanly might—because the truck too was digging itself deeper and deeper into sand. Alas, attempting to be covert little rebels by moonlight had backfired; we would not be driving onto the beach. But after discovering four-wheel drive, we three were outta there—and giddy with pride to have extricated ourselves from that foolish situation.

Where the great and beautiful dunes slope down to the beach, we worked on a fire, huddling close to keep the breeze from huffing out our matches. Seaweed doesn’t burn well, we discovered, but luckily we had “stolen” some cardboard from a dumpster on the way to our encampment (ah, such rebels). Drawing our legs up, we watched our fire struggle to live as we munched on chips and rhubarb muffins. We discussed grand human problems. And when the stars began to flaunt their brilliance, we lay back in our sleeping bags to ponder the greatness above—and the greatness at our feet, ever rushing against the shore.

I will tell you, I would sleep every night by the sea, if I could. Cradled by the sand, caressed by a salty breeze as warm as a mother’s touch, serenaded by the waves—I was soothed to my core. I slept like a child. At least, until it began to rain.

Even still, as we retreated to drier ground (namely, a house), I loved the world. Draped in my sleeping bag, passing barefoot through the dunes and prickly scrub, I kept glancing over my shoulder to watch the thinnest crescent of peach edge above the horizon. Sheer loveliness it was.

I think I loved that night as much as I did because something in me recognized that I was in my natural habitat. Yes, my soul was remembering Eden . . .

A Thread

He hangs over the abyss—the world below that is black fire and smoke and ice. Darkness itself has seized his soul and pulls down, ever down, toward the place where he would be consumed, utterly devoured. He has nothing left; his strength has been sucked into the fathomless pit, his cries engulfed by the wailing that echoes deeply, eternally.

But he will not fall, he will not be consumed, because by a thread he hangs and is held aloft. It is almost invisible, so fine is this thread, but it is there, pale and shimmering in the darkness, like an anchor in the sea’s bluest depths. By this is he connected to Light, to the world above that is milk and honey and warmth.

He has nothing left—nothing but a thread, and it will not be broken. And this is his consolation in the desolation: no matter how great and terrible be the forces that seek to swallow his soul, he will not be lost, because the power of One is stronger.

Freedom

As I lay on the rock by the sea, I felt that my cheek was pressed against the warm breast of Christ. How I longed to remain there, a part of the island, listening to its heartbeat (which is the sea sighing on the shore or rushing against the cliffs). But just as John the Apostle was torn away from his Beloved, so too must I be.

What is it about Nahant that God should always kiss my face when I am there? Why is my heart divided between that place and dearest Canada? Why does it feel like home?

—~—

We explored, my sister and I, the haven I came to know so well last fall. We stepped barefoot through pink blossoms, scavenged for sea glass, dangled our feet above volatile waves. Grinning, we mounted bicycles and pedaled onto the mainland, following the coastline to breathe the salty breeze. We tried on summery dresses in the shops, splurged on frozen yogurt, shamelessly snapped pictures of the houses we loved. And we ended every day with our hair curling from the humidity, our faces flushed from joy and the sun.

In the airy spaces of a cathedral we witnessed a bishop lay his hands upon the heads of ordinary men and, by the Holy Spirit, transform them into the person of Christ. It was as simple and as powerful as it was two thousand years ago in the dusty land where the Savior lived—and my dear friend now among that age-old brotherhood of priests. Ah, how wondrous to receive the Eucharist from he who I met in Spain.

Beneath stained-glass windows we feasted on European cuisine, bellowed Irish ballads, and stumbled through line dances in celebration. Not since I was a child have I enjoyed a reception as much as I did that evening.

Celebrations continuing, we found ourselves crouched on boulders, prying with primal gusto into lobster that had only minutes before been live, now cooked to scarlet in seawater, dipped in melted butter. Such is how I first tasted lobster last summer, and how good is God to give my sister the same experience, on the same beach no less? By the brilliance of a burning Christmas tree and a wicker chair rooted from garbage, we laughed and nibbled on dark chocolate and sang into the night, while beneath the moon the water receded from the shoreline.

And because summer is too short, on the hottest afternoon we found ourselves leaping to our feet and racing down the beach into wicked-cold water, clothed and why not? We may have gasped and shrieked and gasped some more, and though we never dove under a second time, we never regretted diving the first. On sun-baked rocks we stretched out to muse on the mysterious ways in which life unfolds, intertwined with sufferings and blessings alike.

I think, though, that my most treasured memory is that last morning, a seamless memory from the evening before, because we never slept but remained awake to await the dawn. Barefoot, we were present when the world is most beautiful but most rarely seen. Softest blue light lit the sea. I sat on a bench above the beach, gazing upon the water below that could be a mermaid’s sparkling lagoon, my head resting against the mother and friend who is my kindred spirit. I will never forget her words: Even when you are away, 40 Steps is still a beautiful beach . . . Even when we are apart, we still have a beautiful friendship.

A few hours we slept by the sea, warmed by the naked sun, lulled by gulls. I laid my palm against the rock and wished to never leave. Yes, when away from that place, my heart strains toward it.

Because home is where you feel free.

Darn Technology

Well, at long last, my website and email are up and running again. For the past three weeks or so we were experiencing some maddening technical glitches, but it looks like things are working again. If you contacted me in that time and did not receive a response, it wasn’t because I was ignoring you, be assured, but because your email was lost in cyberspace.

Stay tuned—finally I am able to post a blog on my trip to Nahant!

—D.