Wednesday, November 17, 2021

In the Middling

I could call this photo “Miles per Life,” quoting myself from the last time I turned the age of a speed limit. But 10 years on, I don’t think that phrase quite works with such little numbers. There have been so many more miles than 45.  

For my 45th birthday, I wrote myself a quick little poem, as I did for my 35th (you can find that one here). I’m sharing it below for all of us in the vague realm of middle age.  

As an adjective, “middling” means average, moderate. As an adverb, it means fairly, moderately. And though I’m not necessarily a fan of average—or adverbs!—I like the idea of navigating this life moderately. Grace to us all as we try.

 

Middling 

 

Ever lover of edges

and brinks,

I don’t know what to do

with middles—

the center 

the belly

of life.

 

The softness scares me—

far from either hard

start and end.

 

One friend just gave birth.

One friend just died.

Give and take.

Maybe life is in 

the “and” of grace. 

Friday, October 22, 2021

Five Wise Things

Beneath Baker Mountain on our recent road trip
I’m writing a book on the first year of marriageit was a wild ride! Besides the “primary research” of experiencing matrimony for the first time, I’ve also researched by reading a lot of books. A lot. And most all of them were filled with gold. In fact, I dog-eared so many pages, I couldn’t even make a stack of the 30+ books—it was too lopsided.  

I’ve since gone back through, freed the folded edges, and typed up some of my favorite quotes. My wonderful problem right now is deciding which of the 20-pages of quotes to include!

 

For now, I’d love to share five wisdom-chunks that will likely make it into the final draft. May they bless you the way they’ve blessed me: 


 

“I believe one of marriage’s purposes is to teach us how to forgive.” 

 

—from Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More than to Make Us Happy?  by Gary Thomas.

 


“I thought of how helpful it would have been to have learned, early on in my marriage, that not every problem can be solved and not every irritant can be negotiated away, that a good marriage is a mixture of delight and disgruntlement, that unhappiness comes from expecting it to be otherwise.” 

 

—from It Takes One to Tango: How I Rescued My Marriage with (Almost) No Help from My Spouse—and How You Can, Too by Winifred M. Reilly.


 

“[T]he best way to work on ‘us’ is to start with ‘me.’” 

 

—from Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, & Switzler


 

“The trick to achieving the kind of connection you want is to develop the advanced relationship skill of binocular vision, the artful ability to see your partner’s perspective as well as your own.”

 

—from How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It by Patricia Love & Steven Stosny

 


“Marriage is the perfect opportunity to improve yourself. No other single setting in life can form more character.”

 

—from Two Become One by Dr. Harold R. Eberle

 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Peace Like That

 

I’m a metaphorical girl—I see connections everywhere. This year, I learned the word apophenia: the tendency to look for connections among unrelated things. I’m pretty sure I have a not-so-mild case of it. Whether through simile or metaphor, I am constantly comparing unlike things to better understand abstractions. 

 

In fact, here’s a metaphor: our marriage is a fascinating case of apophenia!

 

Which brings me to rivers. I spend A LOT of time on rivers since I married a man who loves them. And this spring, I’ve wondered about that metaphorical comparison of “peace like a river” in Scripture (Isaiah 48:18, 66:12).  Spend time on even a single river, and you realize that rivers are varied: once section might be placid as a pond. The next might be a white-water “boulder garden” your husband inexplicably wants to kayak through. 

 

Peace like which part of the river?

 

Like all of it. Like: peace in all the river sections, from frog water to Class V rapids. 

 

And peace in the snags—the fallen trees and root masses that accumulate along a shore. They can impede progress. But they can also create little eddies of stillness out of the fast current and give you a place to pause before you continue your journey. I kid you not, I had that snag realization by a river one morning, and that same afternoon, Jared and I got into a massive snag-fight. We got caught on the jagged edges of stuff we’d let accumulate along our shore, but once we pressed through, we found a pool of peace. Someday, we may even remember that there can be peace in the snags, too. 

 

I have an old hymn stuck on repeat in my heart: “When Peace, Like a River.” That song has always held power for me. It was originally titled, “It Is Well With My Soul” for its famous refrain: “It is well, it is well, with my soul.” But I didn’t learn why it was so powerful until last fall, when our friend came for dinner and played us the song on his guitar, telling the back story. 

 

Horatio G. Spafford wrote the hymn in the nineteenth century. He was a prosperous businessman in Chicago. He and his wife had a son and four daughters. Things were going well—until they weren’t. They lost their son to scarlet fever. Then, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed all of Horatio’s real estate, wiping out his life savings. He decided to take his family to England to try and start over. Right before he planned to leave, a business deal arose that could help his family, so he decided to send his wife ahead of him with their daughters. 

 

The boat carrying his family shipwrecked. His wife survived, but all of their daughters died. As soon as he received the news, Horatio took the next ship to be with his wife. At one point on the voyage, the captain told him they had reached the spot where his children had drown. And there—in the place of deep loss and sorrow—he wrote a hymn of peace. Here are the first lines:

 

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

 

Refrain

It is well, (it is well),

With my soul, (with my soul)

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

 

That man’s understanding of grace takes my breath away. It makes me game to learn the currents of peace like a river. 

 

I want peace like that. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Flower it Forward

 

The thoughtful Del Rio Vineyards offers our little valley a big gift: rows of U-pick zinnias below their hillsides of vines. 

The only catch? For each bouquet you pick for yourself, you pick two for others. "Flower it forward." 

I like this double-happiness approach to "pay it forward." Not just singly, but doubly. 

Thank you, Del Rio, for reminding us to give more than we get. I'm excited to deliver these bright gifts. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

All of the Above


On one of the rare weekends this summer we weren’t camping, my husband and I attended our church’s outdoor service. We sat beneath an umbrella on a beautiful morning, the sky broad above us. Our friend, Niesje was leading worship. Before beginning a song about bringing Heaven to Earth, she reminded the congregation that, with God, anything can happen. 


God often speaks to me in wordplay (I like to call Him the Wordsmith). As Niesje spoke, I heard in my heart the phrase “all of the above.” Such words and phrases usually arrive simultaneously with layers of meaning, and it can take me a moment to unfurl them. One layer to “all of the above” was Heaven, as in: all of what is higher, all of what is possible. At that moment, beneath the expansive sky, I was reminded of the vastness of possibility. 


But “all of the above” also referred to that pesky option on multiple-choice tests. 


I was never a good test taker. I could study, and I did—hard. But because I didn’t have the knack of knowing what test makers expected, I spent way too much time trying to memorize things instead of learning their context and how they worked together. 


When required to answer essay questions, I could “show” my work and explain nuances, which helped. But for multiple choice tests, there is just one right answer. Pretty black and white. Unless there is the shades-of-gray option D: All of the above. 


In school, I loved and hated “all of the above.” It meant there was more than one correct answer (which I secretly believed about most everything). But it also meant I’d have to know the subject well enough to know that A, B, and C were all correct, too. 


That Sunday beneath the Heavens, I recognized that I’d been slipping back into old patterns of limited, either/or thinking—of believing I’d have to choose just A, B, or C. I was reminded that God is big enough to be both/and—even big enough to offer an alphabet-length set of options and for all of them to be possible! He is big enough to offer all of the above.


I was recently reading about dialectics, which is basically a fancy way to say “both/and” thinking. It’s the paradox of seemingly contradictory things being true, like feeling sad and hopeful at the same time. In other words, there is usually more than one “correct” answer—or at least more than one way to arrive at it. 


Life will throw tests at us—both essay and multiple choice. But it helps to remember that God offers more answers than any test key. It also helps to remember that He is not sitting around in Heaven with a big red pen, waiting to tally our mistakes and write a low score across our lives. In fact, I have a feeling God isn’t really into tests. Humans? For some reason, we seem to like them. So here’s a test on subject matter I’m trying not to memorize but to learn, to embody: 


A. God is not a test maker, waiting to fail us


B. God is love, and love is BIG: bigger than our closed either/or thinking and bigger than our most open and noble imaginings


C. He invites us to dream with Him and Heaven—to get to know Him well and to embrace the mystery of what we do not know


D. All of the above

 

 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Brief Beauty


So brief, these.

So long from seed to blossom

then so quick to drop their petals.

But worth the pink while.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Of literature & Landscaping

 

I am being lazy on the literary front by not writing something fresh for this post, but all my spring creativity has been going toward landscaping!

So for this month, I'll just say: I am delighted to have won an Oregon Book Award for my poetry collection, Hope of Stones. It was far more rewarding than making my own mulch! Immense gratitude to everyone at Literary Arts for honoring these poems and to dear Press 53 for publishing them. 

Here's to words and wheelbarrows and wonder,

Anna