What it feels like to be evacuated

Waiting. Waiting.

Watching the news, looking at maps, reaching out to neighbors, keeping a pulse on the communal experience of being evacuated…

Typically, when the course of life brings difficulty and suffering, it is fairly limited in experience – an internal struggle moving outwards or a finite external struggle moving inwards. Something that you talk with your close friend about, seek guidance or counsel about as you learn, grow, integrate – hopefully towards health. We all know that life, like the ocean, ebbs and flows. There are joyous “easy” times on the mountaintops where the soul soars and there are times in the valleys where darkness does not allow you to see the journey and joy is a chore. It is in these latter times that our inner self is exposed. The valleys are when we come to the end of ourselves and reach for the Divine.

Every morning at 7am, we watch the morning CalFire briefing, ears pricking at mention of the areas that are as dear and familiar to us as the back of our hands. Then we move on into this temporary routine we have created in a 21′ trailer on my brother’s property. With our 5 children and one on the way, we seek to create normalcy in a strange place. We attempt to be the stability that children need to feel secure while being honest with them about the fear and grief and sadness that we are constantly feeling. They have their own griefs – a favorite toy left behind, a book from their aunt, wishing they could sleep in their own beds, desiring to climb into their tree fort and daydream in the “old way”. My 10-year-old just wants to bake in our own kitchen.

I am not, by default, a very emotional person. I think before I feel. But in this time of evacuation, I find that emotions are taking me by surprise in any quiet moment. I think of our backpacking trips to Homer Lake and tears of joy and sadness leap into my eyes as I remember the crawdads jumping out of the water to the great delight of my children, who quickly popped ’em into the boiling water for supper. I think of our regular trips to Lassen Park, where my kids have logged over 100 miles of hiking. I think of the babies that I have delivered all over – from Mill Creek to Greenville to Indian Falls to Susanville and everything in between. Homes that were made sacred by bringing new life into them are now burning or gone or under threat. These flames bring waves of disbelief, grief, sadness, and a deep sense of irreplaceable loss.

When we were preparing for evacuation, I looked at my beloved home and there was so little that I wanted to take. But I think of the mountains that I grew up in behind Clear Creek and the woods where my kids create their pretend worlds and I am shattered. Helplessly, I wait to hear whether they will stand or be burned. Waiting, still waiting. How much more will be lost, will my home stand, will my 19 acres of old growth wilderness burn…..? And here, in this valley, I hear ancient words chanting through my soul to be at peace, to trust without knowing the future, to BE. So, I take a lot of deep breaths. I attend to my children with their own sorrows and joys. I raise a song of gratitude that a new life is growing inside of me in the midst of the chaos, not despite it. I have attended around 600 women in childbirth and gone through natural labor myself 5 times now, and I can resolutely say that joy comes in the morning, made all the sweeter by the struggle of the night. I try to hold on to the courage I have learned from childbearing.

So, in the struggle which is real and near and difficult, I pray for our communities. I pray for those who have lost everything and those who are living in fear of losing everything. I pray for peace and growth in the midst of the valley. And I pray for the storm to be calmed.


Fear-Frosted Veins

The cold wraps around me.  Like an unwelcome guest, it breaks through my skin and hits my bones.  Iowa excels, once it hits freezing it decides to keep falling, skydiving and hoping that the rope catches before zero.  I sky-dove once and was sore for days.  I didn’t feel immortal.  Gravity pulls, always pulls, towards solid ground as though it wants to consume everything into itself whole and entire.  The dirt stops it.  We don’t fall into the earth’s core because of dirt and earthworms.

I have hairs in my nose.  I forget about them most of the time.  The only time I remember them is when my breath turns to steam and comes rushing out of my lungs to gleefully greet the atmosphere only to be shocked motionless at my nose hairs. Mini icicles form in my nostrils, reminding me of their existence.  FEAR, like gravity, pulls insatiably towards the depths.  But earthworms don’t stop it.  It’s a sinkhole for the soul.  It will encompass you like the cold and seep into your pores, leaking by osmosis into your bloodstream.  It doesn’t belong there, but given the right permeability, it will let itself in without knocking.

Window frost occurs when glass is not properly insulated.  Most of the time the inside air and outside air know their places, neighbors that have conversations only in the warm Spring or Summer months, maybe even when the first chill of Autumn heralds and the novelty of it causes windows to fling open.  Frost breeches civil niceties.  It senses the warmth and moisture inside and in the cold of winter, creeps up the window under the pseudonym of Jack and makes pictures on the glass.  Most of them are pretty.

Fear is not pretty, but it does creep.  It doesn’t belong inside us.  It craves our peace – not to abide in it but to devour it.  It feeds on peace like hoarfrost, it makes our green souls aged and grey before their time.  Caring not for dermal layers, it dives deep into our veins with its icy breath and spreads like frost in the night.  Only it doesn’t leave pretty pictures.  It etches into the heart like a Blackhorned Pine Borer.  The borer rarely chooses healthy trees.  It chooses stressed ones, the kind that have low defenses to creeping things.  It injects larvae and they do their work, eating away at life.

Souls are trees.  Sunshine, water, roots in healthy dirt – these provide the nutrients needed for survival.  If the pine borer has taken a limb, it must be cut off.  Cut off the old man. Embrace the incensive power of the soul.  Find the rot and be rid of it.  Be thankful, always thankful.  Where you are not, you will find discontent and hungry larvae winding their way under your bark.  Cling to joy and in its warmth, the frost will melt.  Grasp to truth and the deadly pestilence will flee.  Angels will guard you, they will protect your toes.  That’s what the psalmist says.  Gravity will always pull and fear will always creep but the souls of the redeemed will soar.  In the moments of clarity, insulate your windows.


A Year Goes By

Time.  Time is such an elusive inconstant thing (and illusive, if you side with Einstein).  They say, “the days are long but the years short”. They say, “How did it get late so soon?” (okay, that’s actually Dr. Seuss, but he’s an authority in my book).  The point is, it would seem that time is vitally important and somehow, at the same time, frivolously unimportant.  Days into nights and seasons into years – all things come and go as the ocean waves.

Seasons.  I have found that the four seasons dance to differing rhythms depending on where you are.  You see, it’s mid-April and so I packed up our winter clothing last week.  Right now, it is snowing outside….silly me.  But in our recent home of Dallas, we would be in tank tops and shorts right now.  I find that here, in the mountains, Winter is greedy and driven to beat Spring into small bits.  In Dallas, Summer was always trying to come a little earlier and stay a little later.  So, it turns out, seasons are not constant either.

Children. I think children may be the most poignant and steady markers of time.  When I look at pictures of a year ago, I am struck by how much change has occurred in the lives of these small humans.  They have grown in every possible way, as though on an inevitable trajectory towards big-ness.  I look at them and I feel grateful for where we’ve been, content in where we are (regardless of the growing pains), and hopeful for where we are going.  As I sit here on this Good Friday, that’s also how I reflect on this Lenten season.  In the pain and struggle of humanity, love will conquer, as it always has.

I don’t often post a lot of photos, but in this full full year of moving from Texas to California, welcoming new people into our hearts and family, buying a home, raising and slaughtering our first hog, beginning a dairy goat adventure, failing and forgiving one another, and starting afresh in this beautiful place………you get pictures.  Enjoy!

IMG_5144Slightly unprepared for the cooling weather….


Jason hippie-ing it up at the Farmer’s Market


Sibling love, from hugs to being tied down in a rocking chair….


Our first attempt at gingerbread houses was…..well, it was.


2016, you were cracked

“The comedy of man survives the tragedy of man.”

I sit in my lovely rocking chair watching the snow fall hard and gently outside, warmed by the the ever-changing orange glow of the fire beside me.  My friend, a dear 93-year-old man, gave this chair to me as a gift.  His wife of oh so many years had rocked in it as he composed piano concertos in their living room.  It’s one of my most precious belongings.

I feel the warmth of the egg nog coffee in my hands.  I rock. I think.  The New Year always comes with a cosmic musefulness to it.  I allow myself to wander and remember.  This time last year, my internal world was crumbling.  Too much doing and not enough being.  Too long picking up other people’s pieces and imagining I was holding them together.  That weight became heavier than my frame could bear and in revolt, my insides raised a white flag with as much subtlety as  stampeding buffalo.  Even now, I feel the emotions swell within me as I venture to recount those months – but today, with a new year ahead, I take the time to be a part of the swell, to feel what I didn’t have the capacity to feel back then.  Each emotion is so vivid, strengthened by the suppression.  (Never be fooled, putting emotions into dungeons only gives them more strength, a loudening static deep within making it increasingly difficult to live in the present).

In the difficult months of the early year, I can now see how much beauty lay there as well.  My lover became a stronghold for me and our children as he gently dealt with all the details of our life.  He not only took care of our three children, but also did all the mundane things which make life move – the laundry, the shopping (guess who didn’t set foot in a grocery store for 3 months!), the toddler mediation, the baby rocking.  He let me (made me) rest.  Through those long weeks, he was directing me to “do whatever was nourishing in the moment”.  I would read a book until it became tiring, then stop.  I would sleep for hours in the midday. I would walk or run or roller blade whenever it struck me to.  In that valley, our friendship and marriage were fortified into a mountain.  We had luxurious amounts of time together as a couple and as a family.  We made a new family friendship that was fast and furious and deep.  We planned for a new adventure ahead.  These things were beautiful and good.  I want to remember that they were the result of the struggle because vision is so often found in the valleys.

In the whirlwind of Spring, we moved a couple thousand miles from Dallas to a place in Northern California you’ve never heard (though treasured by its 1,647 inhabitants).  We unexpectedly lived with my gracious parents for 8 weeks while Escrow was delayed and delayed and delayed.  We bought our first home.  We planted a Japanese Maple in the yard.  We got two milk goats and a hog.  Our goats ate the Japanese Maple.  We had the great pleasure of being a part of the community pulling together to support a Farmer’s Market. We sorely missed those we left behind in Dallas.  We soaked in the grandeur in the landscape all around us, a salve for the weary soul.  We harvested and preserved pears, apples, plums, potatoes, cabbages.  We weathered the morphic unrest that followed in the wake of the election.  We enjoyed a white Christmas. We watched the Cubs win the World Series for the first time in 108 years.  We have laughed and cried and laughed again.  We have found, yet again, that God is present in the valleys and on the mountains, though more clearly seen and poignantly sought when in the valleys.

While I cannot yet say in full honesty that 2016 was a great year, it was a year where we changed and grew and loved and stayed open – to ourselves and others.  It was a very vulnerable year.  Maybe that’s how years should be.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

              – Leonard Cohen


Going Home

Home is an illusive changing thing.  As a child, “home” needed no definition: it was a reality and a rhythm and an unquestioned state of being.  As a fresh college student returning for a break, home seemed like a shadow, still connected but I stood somehow separate and above – casting a past and projecting a future.  After traveling the world and returning home, the sense of familiar remained but seemed strangely floating and undefinable –  I interpreted this as a change in myself.  I had this unsettled feeling deep within that I no longer belonged in the place where I had become.  I remember a sense of fear at this discovery.

Many years have gone by, and at various times this creeping fear has surprised me by its reappearance in my life.  Sometimes it has been grippingly present as I wake in the morning, only fading slightly by the time my head hits the pillow at night.  My mind has groped for reasons, ways to understand this unwelcome feeling within, attempting to find coping mechanisms for existing in the present.

Recently have I realized that a longing for “home” has little to do with place and everything to do with self.   There is, within humanity, a desire to have a mummified self held safe and sound in a known location.  As long as we have that, we can travel the world, fall in love, change social groups, bring new humans in the world, change and be changed in nearly every way.  Then at Christmastime, when that bite of great-grandma’s pie hits your tongue *BAM* mummified self sighs with relief.  Home nostalgia floods the senses.  All is right in the world.

I’m in my thirties and after a long absence from the place where I grew up, I am moving my family across the country back to my mountains.  Only, there is no going back.  Our language reflects this idea that we can “go back” to places, but we can’t.  Nothing is static, not us, not home, not place, not people.  Nothing.  The mummified self doesn’t exist.  For the first time in my life, I am so very thankful for this.  I find it freeing.  I can embrace the change in my self and the change in the place and the change in others that is the reality of the present.

So, Home, I am coming.  But I am not coming back.  I am coming to discover you again, delight in the sense of familiar, resolve the awkwardness we will have when we find where we have both changed, introduce you to the small human selves that run around outside of me, and invite you to discover the love of my life who is inextricable to my self.  This family that I bring is more my home than any place will ever be, but I am so excited to watch you captivate and enchant each other.




This Thing Called Maternal

“No, you may not slide down the stairs with the scissors in your hand, honey” slipped easily and calmly from my lips.  This was spoken to the same child who put his 3-year-old hands on my shriveled stretch-marked postpartum belly yesterday and laughingly jiggled while singing, “shake the belly, shake the belly.”  What a fun new game for us…

Supported by my dear husband, my mother, my sister-friend, & my midwife-sisters, on July 30th I was delivered safely through childbirth for the third time.  I am always overwhelmed with gratitude as I lay in my bed staring at this complete human who just came out of me.  Somehow, I grew this thing, waited 41 weeks for the magic to happen, labored through the longest three inches of life and popped out a human.  The world is a wondrous place.

In the past two months, I’ve been a part of the miraculous emergence of 20 little ones. Women are amazing creatures.  The journey of bringing a child into this world is one of surrender and intuition. From the first waves of nausea to the last surge of contractions, we are learning to embrace the uncontrollable storms of motherhood.  The 9 months of pregnancy are simply a concentrated form of our redefined existence.  This thing changes us. These little people have heard our heartbeat from the inside and then we continue to give that heart to them as they tromp around with it on the outside.

I sit and think on the wonder of it all.  I offer thanks for the joy of life.  I hope that the delight I have now, during nap time, I will have the strength to preserve from 6-8pm (mothers of toddlers, past or present, will know what I mean).  Today I will embrace the now of rosy cheeks and tantrums and made-up games and sleeplessness and little giggles and mopping twice a day and Dr. Seuss.  Today I will bask in this blessed life I dwell in.IMG_3758



Blessings Abound

I’ve never written anything on my own birthday, as it seems somewhat pretentious to do so.  However, this year and at this moment I reflect upon all the years and moments that have brought me to this one.  The people, the joys, the trials, the friendships, the sorrows, the laughter, the tears, and the LOVE.  While I write this I am standing at my kitchen counter watching my two toddlers play ring-around-the-rosy on top of the kitchen table.  Jumping and giggling and falling down on bottoms is much more fun when it’s three feet off the ground.  That’s kind of how I feel about life at the moment – the falls hurt much worse but the fun is oh so much funner.  Yes, funner.  Before I had children I wouldn’t have left bad English in my posts.  But, I digress.

Today I count my blessings in shorthand. The LORD has been kind to me since before I can remember and that kindness has most often been showed through many of you.  So, here is my thank you to all of you who have walked with me on portion of this journey called life.  Due to the aforementioned children dancing on the table, my specific list is short and sweet.

Jason: thank you for keeping your sense of humor as well as keeping me, whether in humor or out.  You are a good strong man and you have become the sharpest iron in my life.  I am a new person in marriage, and while that feels foreign at times, I am very very blessed to be joined with you.  You’re also the most fun iron in my life.

Sophia: you are precious to me.  You are different than me in many ways and we are learning to dance a very complicated dance, you and I.  When I earn a giggle from you, it is sunshine to my soul.  I am thankful for your spirit and your stubbornness.

Augustine: you are delightful.  Though you are the most disgusting person I’ve ever seen at the supper table, your smile breaks through the smeared food and warms my heart.  I am thankful for your undaunted cheerfulness and ease with life.

Mom: I am grateful for a mother become best friend.  You have been my closest and longest advisor, admonisher, encourager, and companion.  I have no words to express the depth of gratitude I have towards God for seeing fit that you should raise me and befriend me.

The din in the background has increased and is no longer on the table but lapping at my legs.  Suffice all to say, I am blessed very blessed by God’s grace and mercy through those around me (literally and figuratively).  I pray to be as faithful to you all as you have been to me, that as I grow in age I may grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.


Blossoming Love

Oh, my dear little Sophia.  Three years old today and I can still feel the knitting of our souls and futures over nine months and the feel of my nose on your newborn cheek.  When you were born, you became part of my salvation.  One day, when you are older, I will tell you how, in your 1-week-old form, you were the ray of Light that the Divine hand used to dispel bitterness and bestow hope to my cracked heart.  When the waters of your baptism washed your head, they poured grace upon grace upon the dry soil of my life.ImageIn those early weeks, I never could have known how you would try me, make every night sleepless, grow a stubborness greater than mine, show emotions as freely and changing as a rushing river, or cause me to weep for the days when I did not know how to shepherd your heart.  But, I also didn’t know then how your chattering little self would become my closest and dearest companion through the days, that your insistence on picking dandelions for me every day teaches me to slow down and find weeds precious, that your giggle is priceless because it is earned, that your changing clothes ten times a day would bring me joy because you love color and find my earth tones boring, and that watching you care for those around you would bring me delight.

ImageMy dear girl, in the past three years I have sat by your death-side and by your bedside.  God has given you strength and sustained you by His Power to be a mighty little thing.  I praise and give thanks for all the unforeseen that has been and is to come in your life.  How I pray that as you grow in age, you would grow in Grace and in the knowledge and Love of God.  You are part of my salvation and I pray to always be part of yours.  I love you, my pumpkin seed.


Falling Leaves in February

Where I’m from, the leaves fall in the Autumn. Colors bright, they cling to branches, adding texture to the sky.  Then the first snap of cold sucks the life out of them and they fall, browned, to the ground.  It’s predictable, it happens every year around September.

If you’d been spying in our backyard today, you would have seen two mowgli-children jumping in an enormous pile of brown leaves, making snow angels and disappearing in the glory of them as the hungry heap swallowed them whole.  It’s February, this is not when leaves should fall.  To be honest, they probably did most of their falling in January and have been napping for a few weeks untouched.  However, this does not change the oddity.  Did they have amnesia in September?  How long had they been orange and red and glorious?  Had I missed out because I hadn’t expected it, hadn’t opened my eyes to see it?

As I loaded black bags brimming, it struck me that seasons are rarely predictable.  Sometimes buds pop up through the snow, sometimes leaves fall in February.  We have been in a transitional season of life here and we keep saying, “next week should be quieter”, “next month we’ll find routine again”.  But today, today, while raking dead leaves rotting, I realized I had missed their moment of splendor.  I heard the words of an old friend, “spend the afternoon, you can’t take it with you” (A.Dillard).  No, we can’t take time with us.  How often will I need to learn this lesson?  How many days will I spend rushing through the busy-ness and miss the changing colors?  The train of my to-do list derailed, I jumped in the pile with my laughing, dirt-covered children, hands reaching for me as I stared up through the leaves at specs of light – giggles in the now.  “How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives.”  (A.D.)

This, this living in the present, soaking in the waterfall of moments and noticing everything enough to give thanks for it, is not easy.  Discontent gnaws our soul and makes a whirlwind of our time.  Bitterness tamps our sin deep and hard, ready for a tiny spark to set off an explosion.  Worry steals our joy and leaves us thirsty.

God is the Divider of the firmament and He specializes in souls.  The fourth-day creation was good.  God spun light in the darkness, creating seasons and days and signs and years.  God, the Eternal Fountainhead of Wisdom, says time is good.  There is exactly the right amount of it and we are to let it mark our days, our seasons, our years, our worship.  Time is not busy, it is not rushing – I am the busy one rushing through it like a gorilla through a field of lilies.  When (or if) I stop and turn around, I wonder at the broken stems.  This is not embracing the gift of now nor being grateful at its goodness.

I confess the discontent, the bitterness, the worry that has climbed slowly like ivy up my heart, tendrils gripping their way into my soul.  And I receive the renewing streams of forgiveness that bring me to the ocean of the present.  These moments, this day bursting with life and light and color, this is the day which the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.  In this rejoicing, I find that time is amplified, its presence sweeter, its memories deeper.  This is the right season, whatever falls or buds in it, and this life of grace is good.


God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil

crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and bears man’s smell; the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black west went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs–

Because the Holy Ghost, over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

-Gerard Hopkins