Wake Up

One day, the world will wake up screaming.

It has created a nightmare from which it does not yet desire to escape, because it does not yet realize it is trapped in darkness. Light is a distant sphere, floating on the horizon, growing smaller and smaller as the world marches away with its back turned.

If only the world knew that the light is Christ, come to find His lost sheep. Yes, if the world knew, it would turn and run toward the light that would shatter the nightmare. Rather, the world runs away from the light, believing it is blinding, not realizing that this light cures blindness.

We the remnant, the ninety-nine sheep, flock behind Christ and follow Him into the valley, but our own lanterns burn with the feeblest light, smoking. We are a frightened flock—we are bleeding, broken, bruised, ill. Only the Shepherd has the strength to face the darkness. His light is our salvation as much as it is the lost’s.

My prayer this Christmas is that every soul would turn toward the light and run to Him. 

Simplicity

Simplicity does not necessarily mean a cabin in the woods (especially since a cabin in the woods is not always possible).

I believe simplicity is finding the One in all.

Yes, it is to find His face in beautiful people and His hand in beautiful things—but also in the ugliest people and the ugliest circumstances. How is this? Simplicity is the ability to look beyond the complexities that evil births to find what is good (and true and beautiful). And is not every person intrinsically good, created in God’s image? Can goodness not also be found in suffering? After all, did not Christ suffer to gain our salvation—a very great good indeed? All we need do is tear away the vines that hide the good: no matter how unaccommodating your boss may be, simply love him. No matter how demanding your job may be, simply acknowledge that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

Simplicity does not mean shunning every pleasure (such as a cookie or a new sweater), but simply being grateful to the One who is generous. Simplicity is desiring nothing, but also refusing nothing, as Saint Francis de Sales wrote. It is to receive everything He desires you to receive.

I live in a house that often smells of bacon and bread. We make goat cheese here, and homemade pizza, and heartwarming soup, and goodies too. Many insightful conversations unfold as we chop up this or mix up that on the wooden countertops, the dogs sprawled on the braided rugs beneath our feet. 

My bedroom curtains are white, the old window panes marbled with moisture, and the light falls on me in milky droplets in the morning. My feet touch down on a thick sheepskin rug when I crawl from bed. Often I find kittens curled up on my blankets. Four children hug me goodnight. 

As I drive over these hills in the darkness, windows glow like honey, and mist overflows from the hollows. As I walk through the woods, eagles call to each other. Amber-colored rivers slip by with nary a sound. Winter may be here, but still the ferns cling to the earth, to their color. If this island were enchanted, I know I would never escape.

Charlottetown welcomes me into its streets with lights and evergreen boughs and friends. And when kindred spirits and I break free from the city to the dunes, we dig our feet into the sand and tilt our faces to the sky. We are bedazzled by the Royal Jewels and cannot help but cry aloud, “May we keep them, God?” Ocean breezes whisper in reply, “They are yours . . . “ And I know they are. 

Beautiful things every day, beautiful things I truly do not deserve (if human, who does?)—but still He gives, softening the way of the cross with moss beneath my feet. Sometimes it is difficult to receive these blessings because I find myself asking, Why me? How should I respond to His love?

Simply, live fully the life He desires me to live.

That’s it. That’s simplicity.

A New Day

We go down to sleep, knowing a new day awaits us. Night is not eternal. But it must come for there to be day.

Snow has fallen and will continue to fall. Summer is lost to us; winter marches onward, its drumbeats shivering through us. Every day grows shorter, colder. But the world is not falling into bottomless darkness; it is not dying. It is only going down to sleep—to await a new day.

Until then, we cling to hope, even when the night seems hopeless. And then, in the depths of winter, Light will come to the stables of our hearts. We will finally see ourselves as we are—dirty, poor, cramped—and the choice will be before us: welcome in Light to make beautiful a mess, or shut the doors and enter into an eternal night.

We are awaiting the advent of Light, yes, but not passively. We must prepare to receive Him, to awaken to a new day, to enter into spring. For even if the world outside should remain frozen, we may discover that, within out hearts, summer is not in fact lost to us.

In the Space Between

In the space between emotional highs and emotional lows, that is where you discover the Lord’s will. For the highs may sweep you away, like a torrent over a cliff, and the lows may suffocate you, like too much dust. Cling to the peace that is born in the space between, the peace that remains hidden even within the highs and the lows. There, a soul finds its footing. Even should the rock be beset by a storm, you will not drown. Even should the rock be shaken, it will not crumble beneath your feet. For the Lord is greater than high waves and low rumblings.

In the space between, I know I am loved and I know I must love. For that is His will. My good is His good, and love is the Great Good.

Rainbow Valley

The children led me deep into the faerie kingdom of Prince Edward Island. Rainbow Valley, they call it. Beyond the crumbling cement slabs of the Broken Portal, following the creek that divides the slopes where cattle graze in summer, into the woods. We ducked beneath trees that bow toward the water that nourishes them, sometimes stepping into the gentle current, disturbing the minnows that splish-splash and a moment later vanish. Our young knight-in-shining-armor crouched in his rubber boots and prodded the aquatic flora, but the minnows are as nimble (and as shy) as the faeries.

Insects—or perhaps newborn faeries—rose and fell in the amber light bubbling through the branches. A stump woolly with moss beckoned the valley’s king to sit enthroned upon it, but he remained hidden as we passed by, perhaps watching us from a perch high in an evergreen. Ferns stroked our legs, webs clung to our hair—his watchmen, commissioned to pronounce us as friend or foe. We did thrust a stick into the pool to fathom its depth, as well as leave our prints in the mud, but Rainbow Valley is as beloved to these children as to the little folk. I am certain the king knows this, for the children have entered these sacred spaces before and have yet to be ambushed by thorn-arrows or acorn-cannons. I myself fell deeper and deeper into its enchantment the farther we journeyed.

Soaking in beauty is akin to praying for me. Among sleepy trees and chuckling water, truth and goodness come alive. Perhaps every person is drawn especially to truth, goodness, or beauty—and the one is a gateway to understanding the other two better. Indeed, in the beauty of Rainbow Valley, the truth that God is good becomes vibrantly obvious to me. Truth and goodness are not dependent upon beauty (I believe the truth that God is good even when I am walled up, far from the hills and woods), but wherever there is beauty, the other two always follow. They are a trinity, inseparable, but entities unto themselves. The Father and the Son do not need the Holy Spirit to exist, but by their love, the Holy Spirit naturally follows. One could say He is their love. And thus the three are inseparable, even as they are unique.

I connect especially with the Father (strong arms around me and His heart beating in time with mine), and He leads me to better understand the Holy Spirit (a lover’s whisper in my ear) and the Son (my companion along the lonely road). Like so, I connect especially with beauty. You may tell me that God is Love (truth), or show me that God is Love by your actions (goodness)—but I am struck by this most when I am sitting by the sea, or strolling through a meadow, or galloping on a horse. Beauty. Ruby-red apples dangling from a wild tree, a hollow in the creek’s bank, squirrels rustling in leaves—these are love-notes from Him to I.

And Rainbow Valley is overflowing with them.

Blood

Blood. Blood is always present when love reaches its climax, its fullest expression: husband and wife becoming one, mother laboring to give birth, Christ on the cross. And yet not everyone is called to bleed in these ways—but bleed everyone must, in spirit, if love is to be known.

A paradox it may be, but we bleed to preserve the life within us, like a serpent exposing its body to preserve its head. A man and a woman not yet married but desiring to be one must say not yet to preserve the life of their love. For to give themselves to each other too soon would wound, if not kill, their love—love that can only be lived fully and freely within marriage. Yes, it is a sacrifice, it hurts, together they will bleed with longing—but their blood will bear fruit. Every temptation surrendered to God is an opportunity for Him to infuse grace into their relationship. Not only does this strengthen them in the moment, but it also strengthens their future together, if God calls them into marriage. How sweet and joyful and pure will their union be for having waited.

To love anyone is to bleed—whether a child, a sibling, a friend—for when the other is wounded, you feel their wound too. Yes, their happiness becomes your happiness, but so too does their pain. But not to love at all—this would hurt far more. We were created to love and be loved. We cannot live without love.

In the end, everyone must bleed—whether for love or for not. We can suffer with Christ, or we can suffer without Him. With Him, there is fruit, there is the rainbow after the storm, there is resurrection. Every drop spilled is worth it.

Without Him, we bleed our life out but are not renewed. There is no fruit—none but depression, disillusionment, the gnawing sense that there must be more. Perhaps there is fleeting pleasure for the man and woman who do not wait, but there is no joy. Their relationship is not strengthened but weakened. All, however, is not lost—they can be renewed if they surrender their wounded love to God. But only if they surrender.

Why does the world choose to bleed fruitlessly? Because it does not realize it is bleeding. How, then, do we show the world the life it could (should) know? Simply, we must learn to bleed with it. Yes, as Michael D. O’Brien wrote in his novel Island of the World:

Love is the soul of the world, though its body bleeds, and we must learn to bleed with it. 

Only by suffering with the world will it realize that not all spilled blood leads to death.

Amo te

He sits on rocks where before him is nothing, nothing but the drifting fog that has always veiled the highlands. His feet, bound in deerskin, dangle over the crag. As the eagle cries overhead, his old friend, he wraps his arms around himself and hunches deeper into his coat—the coat of feral goat’s hide, crafted by the lass’s calloused hands.

The lass. She knew this wilderness before he did. Yes, she knew first the treacherous crevices where an ankle could be snapped, the ravines where one could fall and screams be silenced. She knew first the herbs that grow thick in the valleys, the goats in the heights that give milk if captured and tamed. She knew first the eagle, circling far, far above.

He remembers the day she first knew him.

Fire propelled him upward, ever upward. No wind was stirring in the valleys that day, the air almost choking in its stillness as he climbed, his bare hands chapped and bleeding from grappling this root, that rock. When he passed through a pool that had collected in the hollows—its edges darkened by the purple-flowering heather—icy water spilled into his boots where the stitching had broken. But on he went, for the fire yet burned. 

As he journeyed higher into the heights, the air began to stir, like a growing whisper. His face and hands and feet were stiff from the cold, and the wind began to seep past the barrier that guarded the fire. He felt it flicker. He stumbled. 

It was then that the eagle cried for the first time, descending from the fog to show itself like a black demon long haunting a soul. As he paused to look up at this lonesome creature, as lonesome as himself, he felt the wind strengthen—and the fire flickered again. When next he stepped, his foot slipped, and he fell. Caught in brambles, thorns tearing his scarf, the fire within went out.

He lay still, drawing the air into his lungs, gazing up at a sky drifting with fog as if with a bride’s veil. And the eagle circled, circled. It was no demon, he knew, but a guardian. It cried one last time, then ascended to vanish again. 

The fire would not carry him to the heights, he knew. He was spent, frozen to the marrow, ready to sleep the endless sleep. And yet he could not close his eyes. Upward, Upward, he must continue upward. But how, when he had nothing left?

He remembered the morning when he had stood at the foot of the great highlands, knowing he must enter them, must become lost to find—but to find what, he had not known. Now, as he rolled onto his hands and knees and looked up into the fog, he realized it was not he who had chosen to enter this place. He had been called.

Deep calling upon deep. 

As darkness sank the milky light, he rose again, for it had never been the fire that had seen him this far, but what awaited him above.

He saw the light, smelled the smoke and the stew, before he saw the lass. Where the wilderness sought to consume all into itself, she had built a fortress to survive its hunger—a stone cottage, mottled by moss but straighter than any root in the highlands. Smoke curled into the night from the chimney rising from the thatch. Honey light escaped to him from the cracks in the shutters. And over a fire in the dooryard hung a cauldron, steaming with the fragrance of the deer’s flesh. 

He did not see her until he staggered forward and fell to his knees by the stones bordering the fire. He heard something other than the hiss and crackle of the flames; he heard the softest gasp—the life-breath of another, the life-breath he himself bore. He looked up. 

She stood in the space between the cottage and a slope that soared to the stars, gathering socks from a line into a basket woven from branches. She wore a coarsely woven dress. On her head was tied a handkerchief as red as the wild raspberry, revealing wisps of the acorn-brown hair hidden beneath. 

She did not speak to him as he struggled to his feet, this stranger from below. But her eyes indeed spoke. He heard the words that had echoed to him as he set out from the known into the unknown, as he journeyed from fire into cold, as he rose again for the sake of love. Yes, he knew this now, knew he had bled for love. And now love would mend his wounds.  

He buries his nose in the scarf binding his neck, its raspberry-red hue burning into his mind in the moment before he closes his eyes. It smells like her. His lass.

Many years he has now lived in the highlands, coming to know this place as well as she, but still—deep calls upon deep. The echo rings on through the heights and valleys of each other’s souls.

Amo te, amo te, amo te . . . 

In the Highlands

Once again, I find myself on Prince Edward Island.

It’s surreal to be back. Everything is very familiar: the red dirt, the rolling countryside, the water, the people, as if I never left. And yet I feel that my memories are from a year ago, not merely two months past. Almost as if I never truly left, but somehow managed to misplace the memories from between then and now. Strange, yes?

I really don’t know what comes next . . . and I really don’t care that I don’t know, because I do know I am where I am meant to be, even if the world is a little foggy at the moment. Eventually the fog will lift and I will understand. Until then, it’s an adventure, a true adventure—risky but not reckless, as long as I remain connected to Christ. My lifeline is prayer; prayer is what keeps me from stumbling off the pathway to be lost in the fog.

Still, sometimes I wonder if I’m a little crazy. But then I think, No, right now I am called to be a wanderer, and if I decide to reject this calling, that would be crazy. Yes, what’s crazy is not to set off in the direction He points. Does He not, after all, know where every pathway leads?

I am in the highlands, staff in hand, satchel on my back, wind against my face, fire in my heart. I don’t know what awaits me above, but I climb. I will climb until there is nothing left in me. Only then, when I have bled for Love, will I find what I have been called to find.

Insignificance

Insignificance

to be saint

for Him

We are called to be fruitful, but also little. How can I do much good without much pomp?

Seeds. Seeds are little, very little, but have the power to transform the face of the earth (both literally and spiritually). I try to plant seeds as I feel called: I post a blog, I prepare a meal. Do my words speak to souls? Are my sacrifices in the kitchen appreciated? Oftentimes, I do not know and never will. Yes, I desire a forest to grow up by my toil—and a forest may well grow up—but it is likely I will never see it. Such does not mean I have not been fruitful; it simply means I, in the world’s eyes, am also blessedly insignificant.

But sometimes I do know. In those moments, I witness saplings push their way up from the soil I tilled and sowed and watered. I witness them reach for the sunlight, for heavenly things. But if I were to dwell on the saplings, I would cease to scatter seed, and my shadow would stunt the new growth. I must move on. For pomp would kill as surely as any blight would.

I like to say that a very selfless act is to plant an oak . . . because you will never live to see it in its glory, a hundred years from now. In truth, a young oak is quite scrawny, even ugly. But still you plant it. Why? Because you know that you, in your present insignificance, can begin something very significant indeed: fruit to come. You may never be acknowledged on this earth as the one who planted that awe-inspiring oak—yes, your name may be forgotten—but in Heaven your name will be remembered forever.

Because sainthood is the sowing done not for recognition, but for God. 

Loneliness

Loneliness

to be home

with Him

Yes, I have been blessed to call many places home . . . and yet something in me knows they are not home—I merely call them such, because they remind me of the place where my soul was born. They are like a letter from a beloved—it is something that brings his face to mind and heart, but he himself remains afar.

I am a stranger and a sojourner in this world, thrust onto a plane that humanity was not originally intended to walk, and my innate memory of Home will not let me forget this. I know I belong where the Lord and I may walk side by side, hand in hand. Here, I am alienated from His touch. Yes, I am lonely for what should be.

Sometimes, even when I return to the most familiar place on earth, the place where my family lives, I feel as if I am floating above reality, unable to truly absorb what I am touching, seeing, hearing. I want to to enter fully into reality, to appreciate fully every moment. But if I could, I know I would become attached to finite realities. Yes, we were created to live fully, but in our fallen state, life on earth is partial delights, partial dreams, partial existence.

But these partialities cannot end in misery. Even though our flesh may be dying, God desires that, within ourselves, we know life in abundance. He asks us to be drawn deeply into the partialities, into the beauty, truth, and goodness found in creation (be this the family farm or my family themselves), not because they will fulfill us, but because hidden within them we find their origin: Christ in His fullness.

Yes, there are moments when the loneliness lifts—just enough to warm an aching soul. And I realize, it isn’t about where I am, but who I’m with. Yes, I belong with Him . . .