Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Beyond Measure

I heard it unexpectedly on an ordinary afternoon.

The music was playing in the background while I studied, wrote, tried to understand hard things.  I wasn't listening to words or notes, just letting melodies soothe a weary soul.

But then I heard it loud and clear, as if He'd parted every thought in my head to make way for Truth to pass by.

What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near?

I stopped what I was doing and pulled up the music player to see who was singing Truth in the middle of the afternoon.  And I listened to words I'd been needing to hear for weeks.
What if Your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You're near?
What if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?
~Laura Story~
I know a bit about raindrops.  And tears.  And trials.

But it was the Truth of sleepless nights that resonated deepest.  Because I know about thousands of sleepless nights.  A body broken by too many years of illness.  The daily battle to overcome weakness and symptoms.  The never-ending struggle to defeat the urge to quit fighting.

For the past number of weeks, my treatment has been in transition and my body has been in rebellion.  This week I've felt the weakest I've been since my diagnosis 9 months ago.  And my heart's been heavy with the burden of an illness that always knows how to defeat me.

And in the midst of this hard week of humanity, these are the questions He's asked:  What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know I'm near?  What if a thousand days of weakness are what it takes to know the Strength Who carries you?  What if all this hurt, all this struggle, all these broken hours--what if all of these are My Mercies in disguise?

For days I've pondered, tried to put words to complicated thoughts.  And I've looked to the cross on a hill, seen the suffering and the loss, the death and the defeat.  I've seen it and counted it Grace.  Because isn't Christ on a cross--the linchpin of our salvation--isn't that God's mercy pouring down on all of us?

And when He asks all the what if questions again, I only have one answer to give.  If this is what it takes to know He's near, if this is what it takes to know the Strength Who carries me, if this is all the mercy of God raining down--then there is only this to say:  I am blessed beyond measure.

This week, only these...

860.  Blessings held in raindrops

861.  Healing found in tears

862.  A thousand sleepless nights

863.  A thousand strength-less days

864.  Knowing He's near

865.  Knowing the Strength Who carries me

866.  Christ on a cross--greatest mercy in disguise

867.  Being chosen to receive the mercy of illness

868.  Being blessed beyond measure by the God Who carries me, you, all of us

Friday, May 27, 2011

Garden Update: 'Koto No Ito' in Spring

When I first started my blog two years ago, I had high hopes for writing about my gardening adventures and posting regular updates on my beloved plants.  I even began a weekly feature I named "Plants of Promise."  And I managed to keep up with it for three whole weeks.

Now, to be fair, a whole lot of unexpected life happened around that time.  In particular, the painful uprooting of both me and my plants from the placed we'd called home.  And it would be many long months before any of us would settle in, find our feet, learn to breathe and grow and live.

But here we are, some two years later, and finally I'm back in the garden on a near-daily basis, checking on my plants and willing them to grow and bloom and thrive.  Which means it's high time for a little update on some of my most treasured plants.

Today I'm giving you a peek at my beautiful Koto No Ito Japanese Maple in all its springtime glory.  It's no secret that I have a bit of a love affair going on with all Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum).  I only own one, though, and it's the 'Koto No Ito' variety.  Translated from Japanese, Koto No Ito means "strings of a harp" and this reflects the tree's unique leaf shape, which is especially evident as the leaves first emerge in spring.

Dark pink sepals open to reveal bright yellow-green leaves with deeply cut lobes, draping off branches like clusters of strings.

Acer palmatum koto no ito leaves

Acer palmatum koto no ito leaves

Acer palmatum koto no ito leaves

As the leaves unfurl, tiny red-stalked flowers open in clusters.

Acer palmatum koto no ito blooms

Acer palmatum koto no ito blooms

Acer palmatum koto no ito blooms

As the season wears on, the leaves gradually open and broaden out a bit, their color deepening to a fresh green.

Acer palmatum koto no ito leaves

Acer palmatum koto no ito leaves

And all the flowers mature into tiny little samaras dancing in the wind.

Acer palmatum koto no ito samaras

Acer palmatum koto no ito samaras

Here is my little Koto No Ito with the leaves unfurling and the flowers just coming into bloom:

Acer palmatum koto no ito

Acer palmatum koto no ito

And this is about a month later when the leaves have fully opened and the samaras have formed:
Acer palmatum koto no ito

Acer palmatum koto no ito

My tree has survived some very cold winters these past couple years and seems to be thriving in its container.  In fact, it's currently in need of root pruning, as the roots are growing out from the bottom of the pot.  I'll likely transplant it to a slightly deeper and less tapered container in the fall, but trimming the roots will keep the tree at a manageable size for my little garden.  My tree isn't a lot taller than when I bought it about two and a half years ago, but the leaf canopy has spread out beautifully.  And I love to watch the wind whispering through my little maple tree, as its leaves are the perfect shape for dancing.

Stay tuned for more garden updates in the weeks to come!

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Revelation of Glory

Two years ago, I wrote down words on a page.  I even read them in front of a crowded room, shared pieces of a broken story.

But then I put them away, forgot they'd even been written.  And I went on to live months and months of soul-crushing grief.

The other day found me sifting through old writings, looking for words worth saving.  And I came across those I'd written two years ago when the breaking had just begun, the ones I'd written and forgotten.

Poetic lines still familiar, I could almost recite them from memory.  But as I neared the end, my breath caught in my throat and I stopped short.

Could it be that I had known then, nearly two years ago, how this story would turn out?  The answer I'd searched for all this time--had I held it in my hand from the day this journey began?

This is a mystery I've long wondered at.  The way our words sometimes speak more to our future than our present.  The way we need to look back after long months to understand what we really meant.

I didn't know then that brokenness could be sacred, that being broken was the only way to reveal His Glory.  Oh, I knew it enough to write it.  But I didn't know it enough to live it.

Because the breaking kept coming and I lost faith, lost everything.  I stopped believing in redemption, couldn't see how there'd ever be Glory in all this mess.

And all the while, Truth lay quiet and forgotten, words written with my own hand.  But really, they weren't my words at all.

They were His.

And He's carved them straight into me with all this heartache I've lived.  Now I know in the living what I'd only known in the writing that day two years ago:  God redeems brokenness.  And in the breaking, the Glory of God pours forth.


The silences closes in
And I wonder
If You are still listening
There is no whisper
Of Your presence
And I wonder
If You are even here

Do You love me less
When my doubts are too big
And my faith too small?
Do You ever grow tired
Of waiting for me to
Understand, believe
Move forward?

I feel farther from You
Than I've been before,
Weighed down by
The enormity
Of Who You are
And the mystery
Of Your workings

Things I once believed
No longer seem clear
But there's one thing
I don't question
One thing that
Breathes hope
Into this night

In all my life
You have never failed
To redeem my brokenness
And turn the ashes
Of suffering
Into the beauty
Of Your Glory

I stand here now
Full of doubt
And disappointment
But it is with
Great anticipation
That I await the revelation
Of Your Glory

~February 2009~

815. Homemade hamburgers and corn on the cob--taste of summer on a rainy spring day

816.  One more blanket finished--only two weeks in the making!

817.  Wind dancing in the birch tree leaves at sunset

818.  Days of sun coming more often

819.  House warmed by all the light

820.  Making headway in hard projects

821.  Kitty snore heard from across the room...

822.  ...while another cat chases after a fly

823.  This week feeling like summer when last week felt like winter

824.  Fish-stick sandwich falling apart, laughter at the dinner table

825.  Another day full of sun, tomorrow still to come

826.  Sitting in the yard working on an art project

827.  Having to move to the shade when it gets too warm

828.  Photographs of color turning into a wall of beauty

829.  Finally resting in my favorite chair after a long day full of life

830.  Glimpse of the mountain at sunset

831.  Cat splayed out on the floor because it's too warm for curling up

832.  Birds singing happily as night approaches

833.  Fourth day full of sun--can this really be happening?  Not just a gift, an all-out miracle.

834.  Sitting on the back deck to think, write

835.  Cats keeping me company through the screen door

836.  Scent of sun-baked lilacs drifting on the breeze

837.  Sandal-clad feet soaking up the sun

838.  Birds chattering in the sparsely-leafed tree across the fence

839.  Hand-me-down dressers with empty drawers...

840.  ...art supplies waiting to fill them up

841.  Late-night snuggles with the cuddliest of cats

842.  Lessons in the kitchen, even when it means failures

843.  Art projects piled high, waiting for the festival

844.  New baby born safely at home

845.  Song I still call "mine" two years later

846.  Dad and me trying to hang art on the wall, laughing and wondering if we'll get it right

847.  Success at last--art staying in place

848.  Laying out quilts and crochet blankets, preparing for the festival

849.  Whole evening spent breathing in art, beauty, God

850.  Fellow artists telling stories of creation

851.  Everyone marveling at all the beauty

852.  My own photography project stretching 10 feet long, surprising even me

853.  Creative vision turning into reality...

854.  ...and looking more amazing than I'd even dared to hope

855.  God Who is in all the beauty

856.  Coming home tired but so full of joy, hope, life

857.  Finding truth words tucked away in a journal

858.  Knowing redemption, God, Glory in the living

859.  God Who redeems.  Always Him.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pasta Primavera Recipe

Sadly, I've made a myriad of failed attempts at cooking lately.  I've been using a cooking magazine that shall remain nameless (who says you can't link to something you're not naming?) and the results have been, well, mostly bad.

Last week I swore off the aforementioned but entirely unnamed cooking magazine and turned to a much more trustworthy source--a stack of Cook's Country magazines I picked up at the Goodwill a couple years back.  This magazine is from the editors of Cook's Illustrated, and they're the same people behind my now-favorite cookbook, The New Best Recipe.  How could I go wrong?

Well, lots of ways.  But that's not the point.

I settled on a recipe for pasta primavera, something I'm not sure I've even eaten at a restaurant before.  But it looked yummy in the picture and the directions seemed doable, even for one as kitchen challenged as me.

And I was certainly not disappointed with the end result.  After such dismal dinners for the past number of weeks, this one was an absolute delight.  And the concept of cooking the vegetables right alongside the pasta?  Brilliant.  I will definitely be making this again.

And maybe next time I'll take a picture before I eat it all.  Maybe.

Easy Pasta Primavera

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped fine
8 ounces white mushrooms, quartered
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 can diced tomatoes (14.5 ounces), drained
1 cup heavy cream

12 ounces egg-enriched dried fettuccine [See note below]
1 pound asparagus, tough ends discarded, spears cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup thinly sliced basil

  1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot for cooking pasta.
  2. Meanwhile, melt butter in large skillet over medium heat until foaming.  Add onion, mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook until soft and browned, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir in tomatoes and cream, increase heat to high, bring to a boil, and remove pan from heat.
  3. As sauce cooks, add 2 tablespoons salt and pasta to boiling water and cook until just beginning to soften, about 6 minutes [See note below].  Add asparagus to pot and cook for 1 minute.  Add zucchini and cook for 2 minutes.  Add peas and cook until pasta is al dente, about 1 minute.
  4. Drain pasta and vegetables and return to pot.  Toss in sauce, cheese, lemon juice, and basil and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Serve, passing extra cheese at the table.
Makes 4 generous servings.

Taken from Cook’s Country magazine, 2006

Note:  I couldn’t find the egg-enriched dried fettuccine at my grocery store, so I just used 12 ounces of a 1-pound package of dried fettuccine.  The overall cooking time for my fettuccine was listed as 13 minutes, so I cooked it 9 minutes before adding the asparagus and then continued with the recipe.

Monday, May 16, 2011

This Is Spring

It's been a bit dreary here in the Pacific Northwest this spring.  Plenty of clouds, rain, and cold, cold, cold.  But ever so slowly, the garden is awakening.  Everywhere I look, I find tendrils of hope, of joy, of life.  And oh, it is beautiful!

This past week, an afternoon of rare and welcome sunshine gave me the chance to explore the garden and capture glimpses of God right here in my own front yard.  Can you see Him, too?

789.  One stem of bluebells bursting forth from another plant's pot

790.  Lavender buds promising a purple summer

791.  Leaves of the 'Floating Clouds' maple reaching out from shadows

792.  Memorial Tree awakening at last...

793.  ...its leaves unfurling like flames

794.  First blooms opening on the cutleaf lilac...

795.  ...with more buds still waiting...

796.  ...and leaves living up to their name

797.   Fern fronds unfolding like creatures from another world

 798.  Sarcocca bush laden with berries the color of midnight

799.  Leaves of 'Pandora's Box' glowing in the sunlight

800.  Fothergilla gardenii in full bloom

801.  Flower buds decked out in fuzz

802.  Trio of peony buds hovering in the shade...

803.  ...another dancing in the sun

804.  Ladybug stopping by for a visit

805.  Japanese maple leaves framed against the afternoon sun

806.  Hellebore bloom lingering long past winter, spider's web trailing off its petals

807.  Maple tree decked out in pink.  Pink!

808.  Leaves opening like fists unclenching

809.  Cotinus coggygria leaves opening like little cabbages

810.  Leaf shadows

811.  Five-fingered fern dripping with light

812.  Spring--always spring!

813.  God Who holds the world together, brings spring after every winter

814.  God Who holds me together, brings life after every loss

More gift counting for this week (773-788) can be found on my One Thousand Gift List

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Last Thing I Expected

Long months of
Plowing bitter hearts—
Yours and mine
—preparing us both for
Tiny seeds of
Forgiveness and

I planted in hope
But I waited
Without expectation,
Never fully believing
That you and I
Would survive
The winter

And then we did

As the smallest
Sprouts of life
Push up through the soil
I am at once both
Utterly exhausted and
Immeasurably grateful

~April 2010~

Monday, May 9, 2011

This Is Faith

The Hope Bird sat on my desk for a day before I noticed something odd about her.  A spot of glue glistened on her feet.

As I picked her up and looked closer, I realized that a tiny crack ran the whole circumference of her underside, another cutting straight across her tail feathers.

My heart sunk.  The Hope Bird had been broken before I found her.

I wondered if I'd been a fool not to notice the broken places before I'd bought her, a fool to pay money for a bird held together with glue.  But I only wondered for a moment before I knew this:

The Hope Bird is me.

I, too, have fallen, broken apart, pieces of me snapping clean off.  And I've lain on the ground, shattered and defeated, believing I'd never survive, never be whole again.

But from that place in the dark recesses of life, I've looked over at the Hope Rock, still whole and held together, and I've waited for the Breaker and the Healer to gather up the shards of a life and make something beautiful out of all this pain.

And this is what I hadn't known before.  This is what He wanted to show me that day I found the Hope Bird in a little town far from home:

This is faith:  Hope carved into the Rock.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).

Hope has been my companion since the beginning of my recovery nearly eight years ago.  And I've held onto it like a treasure, letting it whisper joy and promise into a life that once knew neither.  But it wasn't until the losing and returning of my Faith that I discovered something I'd been missing.

Hope and Faith were never meant to be separate.

I'd had Faith since I was just a little girl.  I was certain of things I did not see--that there was a God, that He'd paid the price to redeem me, that life with Him was the only life worth having.  But I was still a child when the breaking began and Hope slipped away before I even knew what it was.

And when Hope finally found me in my early 20s, I began to hope for things I'd never even dreamed before.  I hoped that this God I loved was a good God.  I hoped that He would never abandon me, no matter how worthless I felt.  I hoped that He could make something beautiful out of the mess of a life I'd lived.

But I was never sure of any of it.

When death came and Faith left, Hope still carried me through days pitch-dark with emptiness, but I wondered if I'd ever believe again in the God I'd loved for a lifetime.

Now I see what I haven't wanted to see before.  I needed to lose my Faith in order to truly find it.

God carved Hope into His own hands the day He ransomed me from Satan's grip.  And when I build my life on Faith, I build it on the Rock of Him, the One with Hope engraved right on His Heart.

And I still fall and break apart.  But He never does and I just wait here on the ground for the Hope God to gather me up and fit the pieces back together.

I'll still bear the scars of being broken, cracks running across the pieces of a life.  But they're not a record of destruction.  They're the evidence of Love that heals and holds together.

Just like the nail scars in Hands that died to reach me.

Yes, this is Faith:  Hope carved into the Rock.

And that Rock is the only place to build a life.

727.  Afternoon chat with a friend over extra-spicy chai

728.  Sharing a free lemon square, both of us puckering from the delicious tartness

729.  Another blanket finished, last ends woven in

730.  New art project beginning, colors of sunshine taking shape

731.  Friend's first knitted sock, finished and fitting perfectly

732.  Rain drying up before the drive home

733.  Finding clarity in a complicated task

734.  Peeking underneath the chair before pushing back from the table, checking for sleeping kitties beneath

735.  Blog comments from a friend, filling up my inbox

736.  Hard tasks completed, one more step taken down the path of treatment

737.  Leaving the house without a coat--and being too warm in a sweater

738.  Afternoon drive with the sunroof open

739.  Blanket of beauty taking shape faster than expected

740.  Hunting through photographs of color, choosing the perfect ones for the project at hand

741.  Waiting all day for a surprise package to arrive on a friend's doorstep...

742.  ...and then finding out it arrived at exactly the time He wanted it to all along

743.  Reconcilliation after hard years apart

744.  Love stronger, truer after the storms

745.  Digging out old poems and finding Him speaking the same

746.  God Who doesn't leave, even when I beg Him to

747.  God Who breaks with Love, heals with Himself

748.  Long hours of sleep after too many nights without

749.  Dad who cooks at 60% power, makes me laugh until it hurts

750.  Not being the only one to make mistakes in the kitchen

751.  Only two extra hours of work, not four

752.  Scent of cucumber-melon lotion lingering all day, catching me off guard

753.  Cloud rim around giant circle of blue--ocean in the sky

754.  Tree branches waving in the wind--evidence of the invisible

755.  Mother's Day tea date with mom and siblings

756.  Tasting sips of everyone's drinks

757.  Wandering through a street market on a Sunday morning in May

758.  Buckets of tulips in pink, orange, yellow, and happiness

759.  Vendor selling tea and sips of joy

760.  New tea tucked in my purse

761.  Riding home with the top down and the sun up

762.  Wearing sandals to church--first time in long months

763.  Patch of road covered in pink cherry petal snow

764.  Safe passage through hard evening of ministry

765.  Ending the day with a cup of the best chai I've ever tasted

766.  Finding words and quiet hours to write them in

767.  Hope Bird broken before I found her

768.  God speaking truth through the brokenness

769.  Losing my Faith

770.  Finding the Faith I've been needing for a lifetime

771.  Hope carved into the Rock

772.  God picking up the pieces, building me into beauty