Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Got Books?

I've got about a thousand more priority projects I should be working on right now, but I keep going back to ideas for a potential course proposal I'm working on about the work of C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling. I think it's because I've been reading a lot of Lewis and Rowling again (and also MacDonald and some Tolkien).

One problem I keep coming up against: finding books I'd really like to read that are not in our county's main library system (one of the best in the country) or in the seminary library (which has a very good Inklings section). Given my complete lack of budget for books right now...no joke, I had to use my last book review income for bills and still have no idea how I'm financing the rest of the books we need for homeschool this fall...I really can't go out on a limb and purchase these right now, no matter how I might try to justify it. I'm trying ILL, but sometimes that can take months.

It dawns on me, however, that many folks who read my blog tend to love Rowling and the Inklings (hmmm....what a coincidence)! So I thought I'd throw out the titles of two books I'm looking for in hopes that some of you out there might have copies you'd be willing to part with for a few weeks, perhaps in trade for some of the other terrific books I have on my shelves. A geeky book exchange! Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Sort of harkens me back to my tween and early teen summer days when I would swap baseball cards with Wade and Woody, two guys who lived down the street from me.

So nobody gets my 56' Yogi Berra or my signed Brooks Robinson, but here are the books I'm looking for:

The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community by Diana Pavlac Glyer (Kent State University Press, 2008)

George MacDonald: Literary Heritage and Heirs, edited by Roderick McGillis (Zossima Press, 2008)

Got books? If you have these and are willing to trade for a few weeks, let me know. I've got a parcel of interesting things on my shelves, ranging from Anglican theology to Christian education to good fiction to literary criticism. If I don't need it to teach with this fall, maybe we can work out a creative exchange!

The Seventh Birthday

The sweet girl's birthday is becoming my "new way" to realize we're half-way through another year -- it used to be the approach of July 4th!

We had a lovely celebration on Saturday. After seven years, I am at last getting the hang of what makes a birthday celebration "just right" for my daughter. It has to do with simplicity and tradition: friends, ice cream, balloons, and of course muffins (no cake!) She loves the tradition I started last year, where we bring out her "birthday book," a scrapbook of pictures from previous birthdays. I didn't finish putting in all the 6 year old pictures until the morning of her 7th, but no matter. It was there to flip through and look at and marvel over, and that's what mattered.

Although we were missing some folks very dear to us this year, we still had a lovely day. And our precious little one really is seven...truly growing up, in all sorts of wonderful ways, right before our eyes. Thank you, Lord, for all your blessings on this family.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Why It Is Important to Edit" OR Just One Little Sound

So I just posted a review of a picture book. As I re-read my zippy little conclusion, I realized I had just written this:

"a fun picture book for all households who have ever had young picky eaters of kids with big imaginations"

I don't know about you, but I doubt picky eaters would find kids with big imaginations all that tasty!

I hastily changed "of" to "OR" and practically dissolved into giggles. Now I find myself humming Hap Palmer's wonderful song "One Little Sound."

Take the /r/ from rice, and the food is cold as ice
Take the /h/ from heat, warm it up and we can eat
Take the /t/ from tape and feed a hungry ape
Oh, what a difference, just one little sound

A great song: it not only works to teach phonics, but to remind writers of the importance of careful editing!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Oh My Aching Writing Muscles

While the sweet girl is trying out her muscles and learning new found skills in sports and arts camp, I'm at home trying to get through overwhelming piles of things to do. I can roughly sort the piles (like socks?) into categories like these:

~scholarly reading and fall course prep
~homeschool planning
~writing projects (research, actual writing)
~housecleaning and organizing

It's a lot easier to sort than it is to do the actual work, especially the writing.

That's because I'm discovering how flabby my writing muscles are. I thought I'd done a pretty good job of keeping them exercised this year, but now that I'm faced with some actual daylight hours (read: I'm awake!) to dive into projects that have been simmering on the back burner, I'm discovering how painfully slow I am right now at crafting essays and stories.

I'm also re-discovering how easy it is to let myself be distracted. I'm actively looking for venues where I can send some of my work (both work I'm writing now and things in the files ready to submit or re-submit) so I legitimately need to look through some online journals, read samples of other people's work, etc. It's fun, but way too easy to while away "just a few more minutes" reading instead of diving into the waiting projects. And far too easy to let myself fall into discouragement when I read an essay or story by someone else: I remind myself that good writing should enlarge my creativity and give me hope, not make me feel diminished when I inevitably compare my creaky prose to someone's final published draft.

At least my writing log makes for amusing reading!

I'm also discovering it's easier for me right now to go back and forth between kinds of work: the practical, nitty-gritty work of household tasks (so pleasurably measurable...there's the "J" in my INTJ personality type) and the more ephemeral work of getting well-crafted sentences onto the page (harder to see immediate returns or quantify your sweat equity!). So it was that I turned with some relief to bandaging the sweet girl's scraped hand and getting her a popsicle when she got home this afternoon -- yes, she was covered in paint, dirt, and scrapes, but filled with enthusiasm over the day's fun adventures.

When I look into her smiling face, I find myself tapping into that enthusiasm and remembering something important I don't want to forget: writing is fun and I love to do it!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Images of Life and Growth

Near the end of George MacDonald's The Lost Princess, there's a fascinating chapter where Rosamond is tried in the "chamber of moods." She has shown some soul growth, growth in kindness, love and self-control, and is on her way from being a "mock" princess to a "real" one. But the Wise Woman knows she still needs testing, situations in which she can try her patience.

In the last scene, she discovers a beautiful young girl with a lap full of flowers. When the child throws a flower down on the ground, it magically takes root and blooms. When Rosamond goes to touch or pick the beautiful flowers, however, they wither. She cannot touch the living flowers without killing them, in part because she has a greedy desire to possess them rather than to simply admire their beauty and let them live.

That notion of giving life instead of death is powerfully portrayed in the image of the growing or wilting flowers. Poor Rosamond comes to realize how desperately tired of herself she is, how awful it is to be "a creature at whose touch the flowers wither!" Only when she has lived through that despair, repented of her greed and learned to touch the flowers gently (without plucking them up) do they begin to not shrink from her touch. Indeed, when she touches them with love and gentleness, she is astonished to see that the flowers actually begin to grow. Rosamond becomes speechless with joy in the face of such a transfigured flower, which mirrors her transfigured heart.

I keep thinking about the potency of this simple story image: green and flourishing plants and flowers show life and growth while wilting or drooping plants and flowers show death and barrenness. It's an image that's used to great effect in Shannon, Dean and Nathan Hale's graphic novel Rapunzel's Revenge, which I just finished yesterday.

Rapunzel is a wonderfully funny and fascinating retelling of the old fairy-tale. The Hales have moved the locale to the Old West, where Rapunzel uses her long braids of bright red hair as a whip and a lasso. She's a girl on a rootin-tootin' quest: to free her real mother and revenge the many years stolen from her by evil "Mother Gothel" the woman who took her from her real mother when she was just a little girl, and who eventually imprisoned her in a tall tree when Rapunzel refused to acquiesce to Gothel's plans to turn her into the Gothel of the next generation, a tyrant who reigns over the surrounding peoples by withholding growth from their land if they don't do as she bids.

Yes, the people in "Gothel's Reach" live a miserable existence. The land is becoming dry, barren and cracked. The few patches of vegetation that are left are quickly wilting. Gothel has gotten hold of some serious "growth magic" (it's not her own magic) and while she can use it to grow things, to nourish and provide, more often than not, she uses it to withhold growth. What an evil character! Even in the places where we see she has grown things, she often uses them to stunted purposes, like the tall tree where she imprisons Rapunzel. When Rapunzel fails to submit to her wishes by her sixteenth birthday, Gothel uses her anti-magic to withhold food from Rapunzel. Fruits and vegetables that used to magically appear for her to eat no longer show up, and the tree itself starts to twist closed. Small wonder Rapunzel has to find a way to get down.

I've barely recounted this story -- there's lots more adventure, especially once Rapunzel hooks up with trusty sidekick Jack -- because I hope you'll check it out and read it on your own. Nathan Hale's illustrations are terrific and add so much to the already terrific storytelling by husband and wife team Shannon and Dean. But I did find it fascinating that within a space of just a couple of days, in incredibly different kinds of novels written 133 years apart (The Lost Princess was published in 1875, Rapunzel's Revenge in 2008) I should find the same potent growth imagery used to similar effect.

So much of our soul's growth or stunting shows itself in whether we bestow things that nourish and help life flourish or if we try to grab and cling selfishly and thus end up bestowing death. What sort of person do we want to become? Someone who helps nourish life or thwart it?

More on soul growth and stories soon...this is a topic I find myself stumbling on everywhere right now, and thinking about a lot.

Never Too Early To Plan Your Wedding

For some reason, the sweet girl was thinking about weddings last night.

"Could people decide to have a really short wedding?" she asked me. "Could they just kiss each other and then go have cake?"

And a few minutes later, still thinking about the cake part, obviously, she gave a little sigh of dismay. "Do you have to have cake at your wedding?" she asked, because (as everyone who has ever met her for more than five minutes knows) she DOESN'T LIKE CAKE.

"Of course not," I assured her. "When it's your wedding, you can plan the celebration the way you want it. You could have pie! You could have ice cream!"

"Oh!" she exclaimed, a little gleam in her eye. "Then I think I'll have milkshakes!"

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Random Early Summer Musings

The sweet girl seemed to grow three inches today, not in physical stature but in maturity. She decided to do sports camp, something she's been going back and forth about for weeks. She loves art, so the afternoon camp was a given, but athleticism is not her strong suit. She was a little nervous about the camp, but decided to give it a try. I was so proud of her when she got home and announced "Sports camp was a challenge...but it was fun!" Proud that she did it, proud that she recognized it was a challenge for herself, but that hard things are worth doing. I don't think I had that much awareness or perseverance when I was her age.

Even at six, almost seven, she still loves to carry her comforting "cloth" (an old soft piece of cloth she uses as a lovey). She mostly enjoys sleeping with it but has gotten in the habit of carrying it certain places (like church, for some reason). Mostly these days the only time she really seems to want it is when she's feeling tired or if she's feeling a bit nervous about something. I knew she was going to want to take it to camp, but I also knew there was no way it would fit in her shorts pocket or be something she could keep track of (she also tends to drop it and forget it once she gets comfortable in a situation). She seemed to feel extra vulnerable when I told her gently that I didn't think she could take it. Thankfully God gave me wisdom and I hit upon the idea of giving her a much smaller torn piece (of the same material) that I had saved in a drawer for just such a time as this. She tucked that little piece in her pocket and was just fine. She now calls it her special "baby cloth" for sports camp!

The evening found us out on the bench near our sycamores enjoying some quiet time. She grubbed around with a stick in the nearby rocks and the little patch of garden by the parking lot, and I finished reading George MacDonald's The Lost Princess and enjoyed listening to our urban birds (a noisy crow and some starlings that have a nest nearby). On our way back into the house, we were totally thrilled to discover not one, not two, but THREE precious baby rabbits scampering about and munching greens in the big tangled mess of grape vines at the end of the sidewalk. I don't think I'd ever seen rabbits this small up close! We dubbed them Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail ("but they're gathering grapes instead of blackberries," said my knowledgeable little Beatrix Potter fan) and decided Peter must be off somewhere in Mr. McGregor's garden!

The work on our building, by the way, is pretty much complete. Today they replaced the streetlamp that used to be right beneath our window. I was very saddened to see the old one go as it was old-fashioned and had a wonderfully Narnian feel, especially in falling snow. Now we just have an annoying, glaring light that makes weird shadows on the sidewalk.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

First Grade Art: Degas Dancers

On the eve of arts camp, I thought I'd post another of our art projects from first grade year. The month we studied Degas, we drew ballet dancers with chalk on dark construction paper. Another great project idea from the Usborne Art Treasury. I joined in on this project, as you can see from the photo below.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Under the Rafters

I live just down the road from the seminary where I graduated eight years ago. I still teach in their online program. If anyone had told me I'd be walloped by emotion by this past weekend's homecoming event, I would have chuckled. Homecoming? That's what you do when you go back to visit places. We never left!

And yet in many other ways, we really did. Anyone who has ever been around academic communities for any length of time knows how quickly and completely they can change, at least every few years. Pretty much all of the students I studied with (4 years) and all of the co-workers I worked with afterwards (3 years as part-time staff) have long since gone. The faculty is almost entirely different from the one I studied under. Although I am still very blessed to be connected with the school (I love teaching in their distance program, where I have had the privilege of guiding some amazing adult learners and continuing to learn and grow as a scholar and a mentor) my life for the past five years has been in a completely different season.

When we realized it was time to leave seminary, our daughter was two. I was still finding my way into parenthood. Our daughter was going through a really difficult year (that's a story for another time). We went through an incredibly long season of unemployment, of vocational blankness, of questioning whether or not we'd been wise to go to seminary. Once we realized, once and for all, that God was calling us to stay in this area, our work and ministry lives began to revolve around our church and other local organizations.

I was still on campus fairly often to use the library or to attend adjunct training, but there were days I felt a bit like one of the Hogwarts ghosts. I'd slide through the walls, invisible, because almost anyone I ran into was no longer someone whose name I actually knew or who knew my name. I'm exaggerating, but only slightly. The grief I felt over such displacement dissolved after a while. I found I could take the sweet girl to play on the seminary lawn in the evenings and it was okay, a lovely place to play, a place with some good though fading memories. This past year I was able to get plugged into a homeschool co-op group with some of the newest student families, which put me on campus once a week again. The main connection I share with these ladies and their kids is homeschooling, but I enjoy listening to them talk about their classes and their spouses' study schedules and the new professors. It makes me grin a bit to remember some of my own student days.

But in the past ten days, D. and I have both been on campus more than we have been in years. A conference last week, a homecoming (the first of what they hope will be an every few years event, I think) and we found ourselves attending lectures and dinners and hanging out with some people we'd not seen in years (except on Facebook!). It was all good, but I found myself overwhelmed with emotion during a couple of the lectures.

Oddly enough, I think it was because of where they were held. Newer classrooms, renovated since we were students, are now used most often, but for larger events, crowds get moved into a multi-purpose area in one of the old buildings. I had almost every single one of my classes in that building, the majority of them in that room (or the smaller classroom in the corner). Sitting listening to someone speak on theology and church history, standing to pray evening prayer, what moved me in my gut was the fact that these were the same windows, the same rafters overhead, that I had studied under a decade ago.

Weird, I know, but we human beings are strangely visceral people. It was when I looked up into the rafters that I was flooded with memories, not just of people, but of the joy of learning and reading and writing, the whole passion I felt during that season of study. Two professors in particular helped formed my ability to think, read and write theologically, to think with my heart. Sitting in that classroom, I felt tremendously grateful to them, and for the ways that spiritual and intellectual formation still enriches my life. I may still not fully understand why the Lord brought us here and the very different ways he has guided our path since we first came (oh how different our lives are now from what we imagined we were being prepared for!) but I think I have a newfound sense of peace and trust that nothing experienced in this past twelve years has been a waste. It's all there, ready to draw on, "life and food for future years."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Lewis Reviews

I just posted my review of A Reader's Guide to Caspian: A Journey Into C.S. Lewis's Narnia over at Epinions. This is an excellent "guided tour" through Prince Caspian penned by two devoted Lewis scholars/researchers/teachers: Leland Ryken and Marjorie Lamp Mead.

I'm on a major Lewisian reading kick right now, working my way slowly (note-taking as I go) through Lewis' An Experiment in Criticism, reading a number of Lewis related essays, beginning to re-read Planet Narnia, and watching the Prince Caspian film (for the first time since the theater). I'm hoping to do more writing about Lewis in the coming weeks, both review work and notes for a possible course proposal.

I also realized, when I posted this evening, that over the past few years I have slowly built a small but growing body of Lewis-related reviews at Eps. He is such an important writer of my heart. I linked to several of my other reviews in tonight's post, and some of those links take you to others as well. I'm a bit frustrated that the wonky search engine there does not always yield my actual reviews when you type in certain book titles (as I discovered tonight)...so for now I will just keep linking!

Parents, Kids and Jesus

Hat-tip to Janet at Quoth the Maven for putting me on to the very funny (and sometimes profound) blog "Stuff Christians Like." I clicked over there last night and read this wonderful post "Asking Our Kids to be a Mini Jesus." Does the daily walk of parenting teach us more about the love of God? Definitely worth a read if you're a parent, and maybe especially if you're not.

And oh, did it bring back memories of the toddler toothpaste wars...

Friday, June 05, 2009

Prose You Swallow, Prose You Follow

I'm extra hungry this week. That's because the sweet girl and I are reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy aloud.

Farmer Boy is the third book in the original Little House series. It tells about a year in the life of young Almanzo Wilder (who would grow up to marry Laura). How much fun she must have had talking to Almanzo and his family as she prepared to write this book! Like all of Laura's books, it's filled with vivid descriptions of daily life and activities, in this case the daily activities of a busy farming family in northern New York in the 1860s.

The family works very hard, including the children, so it's small wonder they eat a lot of food. And boy, could Almanzo's mother cook! I had almost forgotten how hungry I get when I read the descriptions of the table laden down with all the good things she made for them to eat:

"Almanzo ate the sweet, mellow baked beans. He ate the bit of salt pork that melted like cream in his mouth. He ate mealy boiled potatoes, with brown ham-gravy. He ate the ham. He bit deep into velvety bread spread with sleek butter, and he ate the crisp golden crust. He demolished a tall heap of mashed turnips, and a hill of stewed yellow pumpkin. Then he sighed, and tucked his napkin deeper into the neckband of his red waist. And he ate plum preserves, and strawberry jam, and grape jelly, and spiced watermelon-rind pickles. He felt very comfortable inside. Slowly he ate a large piece of pumpkin pie."

There's a solid, workmanlike quality to Wilder's prose. I keep getting a picture in my head of someone carefully building a brick wall, layering each brick with care, spreading the mortar in between with a trowel, scraping off any excess that slops over the cracks. She uses simple subject/verb sentences, and isn't adverse to repetition and listing things. It's a noun-heavy kind of prose, with crisp verbs and an occasional strong adjective (and not always the one you're expecting either -- I love "sleek butter"). This is true whether or not she's describing good food, harsh weather, or how to make or clean something.

Her descriptions of food always feel vivid, but I think it's Farmer Boy where they really stand out because there's just so much food. There's no getting around it: Laura's family was poor, especially in comparison to the wealthy land-owning Wilders. The food descriptions in the two books particularly highlight that difference. I can still recall, years ago, drinking water and eating dry bread (well, as dry as I could find it) while imaginatively entering The Long Winter, the story of the harsh winter during Laura's teenage years when her family almost perished from cold and hunger. Who can forget the howling of yet another prairie blizzard, the painful grinding of seed wheat to make bread, the twisting of hay for fuel? Wilder is as good at describing scarcity as she is plenty.

If the brick wall image doesn't work for you, try bread. I used to love watching my mother bake bread: the careful lining up of ingredients, the mixing together, the punching down of the dough, the rising of the dough beneath a cloth. All the careful steps to make something substantial and nourishing. Laura Ingalls Wilder's writing feels like that to me: thick, crusty, substantial and nourishing, carefully put together from time-tested recipes. Nothing fancy, and yet somehow it feels and tastes like a work of art.

If I'm thinking a lot about prose style this week, perhaps it's because I'm turning to a very different writer late in the evening. While the sweet girl and I are munching on Wilder in the afternoons, I'm sipping a delicious frothy beverage in the evening as I read George MacDonald's The Lost Princess.

I've read some MacDonald before, but can't recall if I ever read my way through this particular story. It's a fairy-tale, a parable, and the way MacDonald uses language couldn't be farther from Wilder's use of language, though they are both wonderful at evoking a sense of place and painting vivid pictures in your mind. But while Wilder describes things with her eyes wide open, noticing and recording exacting detail, MacDonald seems to describe what things are underneath, as though writing with his eyes closed. You can almost hear him murmur under his breath as though the words follow a tune he's making up as he goes along. He suggests and compares as often as he tells.

"In a little while she unfolded her cloak and let the princess look out. The firs had ceased, and they were on a lofty height of moorland, stony and bare and dry, with tufts of heather and a few small plants here and there. About the heath on every side lay the forest, looking in the moonlight like a cloud; and above the forest, like the shaven crown of a monk, rose the bare moor over which they were walking."

Walking through a MacDonald story I am struck that the landscape feels less solid. It's almost always bathed in some sort of light, moonlight or sunlight, affecting how we see (like an impressionist painter who goes back to the canvas to paint the same object or scene again and again, in different seasons and lights). The words meander. MacDonald doesn't mind advancing ahead a few feet and then stopping and swooping back a few feet more. Like someone sewing a back-stitch, he'll stop a sentence somewhere, go back and pick it up in the middle, then pop the needle back through right where he stopped. If he's a forest guide, he doesn't stick to a straight path, but runs off into detours, some of them inexplicable or even a bit wearying until you realize he's led you right to a bright wildflower several feet away (you just hadn't noticed it) or pointed out a animal hidden in the shade.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the second paragraph of the very first chapter of The Lost Princess where he separates the words "it came to pass one day that, in the midst of a shower of rain that might well be called golden....something happened" by over fifty phrases/clauses separated by commas, dashes and various other forms of punctuation, and once even a complete jump from prose to poetry as he stops to admit he's "stealing" some lines from Coleridge. All of this to describe what the golden rain looked, sounded and smelled like, as though he couldn't possibly imagine anything more important at that point in his story than to just stand there and linger, along with you, in this golden rain. It's like working your way through a sentence in a Pauline epistle (which I hear is even more fun in Greek) realizing that the flow of thought just goes on and on, like a babbling brook, one that you eagerly follow even if you sometimes lose your memory of where you started and have to go back to the source and start again.

Comparing Wilder and MacDonald is an odd exercise, I guess, because they're going about their art in such different ways and writing such different kinds of stories. But it's enjoyable for the mere sake of comparing, and for the beauty of realizing how much one can love both kinds of writing for what they are.

I love the breathless, meandering feel of MacDonald -- even just imagining reading that opening sequence makes me laugh, knowing how anyone listening will be almost quivering in anticipation (as I was the first time I read it) by the time we got to those two little words "something happened." He makes me want to follow him on that winding path deep into the magical forest drenched in moonlight, where I know owls will hoot and small creatures will scurry across our path and we'll stop to listen and to watch.

But I also love the substantial, solid feel of Wilder, where each sentence builds on the next as bricks in a wall, raindrops in a barrel, ingredients in a recipe, accumulating in ways that make sense, where the end of a chapter leaves me as satisfied as someone who has just eaten a piece of crusty homemade bread warm from the oven. And dripping with "sleek butter." Of course.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Constellations and Sequences

"Why is this cup constellating?" the sweet girl asked me tonight at the dinner table.

"Why is it what?" I asked.

"Why is there constellation on the outside of this cup?" she asked again, tracing the wet drops with her finger.

"Oh!" I said. "You mean condensation!"

I do love our daughter's way with words. She uses them so boldly, even when she's not quite sure if she's got the right one on the tip of her tongue.

One of my other favorites, which she used to say quite regularly, is "sequences."

You know, sequences...those bright shiny things you use to decorate clothes and purses.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

First Grade Art: Water Lilies

Since we're in our last week of school, I'm starting to pull together some notes and pictures from the sweet girl's first grade year. I want to keep these things together with some samples of work from her narration notebooks, so we have a good chronicle of the kinds of things she learned and did this year.

So don't be surprised if I'm posting a few more pictures than usual in the coming days, especially artwork samples.

Here's one from just a week or two ago. We were learning about Monet, and did a tissue paper collage of some water lilies. I helped cut some of the shapes and laid down some of the glue and a few of the tissue paper pieces (S. always complains of sticky fingers) but she did much of the work on this herself. She especially loved tearing the different colored papers into strips and layering them on top of each other.

Monday, June 01, 2009

"Lost and Found"

Right as I finished posting the frustrated post below, I began listening to a favorite song from Robin Mark's "East of the River" CD. A friend passed this recording on to us a few weeks back and I've been falling in love with it during the past week. There's one song in particular that's speaking volumes to my heart right now. I thought I'd post the lyrics here, because this is the kind of perspective I'm praying for in the midst of difficulties.

Sometimes I feel like certain songs or poems are written as though God had me in mind when he touched the poet's heart with certain words. Have you ever felt that way? For instance, I'm so very thankful for the reference to "pavement" in the first stanza here, as it connects the whole song even more deeply to my life and experience right now. In fact, that whole first stanza puts me in mind of a moment I had years ago when we first moved to our little town. I was having a hard time making the transition here, as you might guess, and was absolutely startled one day to find the sidewalk not far from here sprinkled with small silver angels. A shopkeeper had spread them out like confetti, just because...

I still have one of those tiny angels. I've kept it for almost twelve years.

"Lost and Found"

When the rain falls and it somedays will
Then the pavement under my feet
Sparkles silver and gold, in reflected light
That I otherwise wouldn't have seen

And when the storm comes and the strong winds blow
I will bow my head to push through
And every step that I take I will watch and pray
To be sure my foothold is true

So Jesus don't you keep me from that storm
I want to walk that sacred ground
For You are Master of it all
And I am just a lost and found

And in the dry place,
in the wilderness,
When Your Word seems so far away
Then I will think of my life, and I will
bless your name
For your promises never have failed
And when the night falls at the end of days
I will lift my eyes to the heavens
Where we will shine like the stars
in reflected light
In Your presence forever and ever

Lost and found, lost and found
I am but a lost and found
But can there be a sweeter sound than
singing with the lost and found

(Robin Mark, 2007)


Ready For That Vacation...

We started our last week of school this morning, but oh my, am I ready for a vacation. And it has almost nothing to do with being tired of school (though both the sweet girl and I are ready for a break from routine...we seem to be wrapping up well).

Remember my post from a couple weeks back, about my struggles to live in a city? I had one of those days where city was pressing in on all sides and just exhausting me.

Our landlord decided on this week for the workers to come and strip the bricks from the top part of our building. There's some sort of oxidization (i.e. rust) problem, and they're breaking the bricks off from the top of the building down to the top of the window-frames. I have no idea whether or not the bricks will get replaced, which may mean the outside of our building will look even more forlorn and dilapidated than it does already. I'm trying not to mind, reminding myself of how much we enjoy the good space within.

In the meantime, we have a huge scaffold across our sidewalk. We have to duck under it to get in and out of the house and the foreman of the project has issued a friendly caution that we let them know when we come out or at least check overhead so we don't happen to catch bricks on the head. And of course, for most of the day they were pounding and hammering at the surface of the building, breaking the bricks off. I've been struggling with headaches since a minor migraine-like episode last week, and let's just say continual pounding for hours didn't help today (they may bring the electric hammer tomorrow...oh joy! which at least has the advantage of getting the job done faster). They're right at our front windows...we had to close the front blinds this morning because otherwise the workmen would have been right there during out entire math lesson ("Mommy, I feel a little bit distracted..." said the sweet girl. Huh. Wonder why?)

I decided to have the sweet girl skip her rest time (hard to rest with all that pounding) and we went out to run errands. I guess I was hoping to escape "city sounds" for a while, but motorcycles, a bus, and an angry and quite possibly drunk man (we get that a lot round here) really didn't improve the atmosphere much. I just kept feeling tired and more discouraged.

Part of my discouragement is our difficult financial situation which continues to get harder. Pardon me for mentioning it (and I'll spare you details) but we could use much prayer. Our long-held ministry positions and patchwork of part-time/self-employment jobs (sans health insurance, which we pay out of pocket) has had us running a really long deficit. We're trying to be wise, but each month the squeeze gets worse. I knew this summer was going to be difficult, but I thought the worst of it would not hit till July. The way we get paid, June should have been slightly less anxiety-ridden. But go figure, it's still awful. I spent part of the morning trying to wrestle with the numbers and see our way clear, but it remains a fog. So awful that the debt hole is beginning to feel not like a mere pit, but a Mars-sized canyon (yes, we've been reading solar system books again). First of the month is always hard for me because of the frustrating hours spent trying to figure out the bills.

And this month feels particularly hard because I just can't see any way we're going to be able to cover any summer vacation (much less the things we *really* need, like groceries and gas!). Normally I would not be whining about the fact that we can't get any vacation. I'm aware of how selfish that sounds, especially in a world like our's! Last summer we got 2 1/2 days, and I remember being determined then that we would find a way to make sure it was a bit longer this year. But with a shortfall every month, there is no way to do it. And I am just having one of those days when my longing for -- beach, rivers, mountains, fields -- anything not covered in concrete! is just acute.

So please forgive this post. I know the weariness will pass; refreshment will come (it always does somehow...God is good, all the time!). I'd appreciate prayers that I'd be open to it when it does come, not bowed down with heaviness. And grateful for prayers that I will survive a week of sledgehammer sounds on our walls.