Every Branch Astir

Easter weekend descended upon our house with a stilling grace.

Good Friday morning began with our tradition of a very simple reading together, followed by the usual rumpus of little ones playing and parents tending to matters about the house. Later in the evening, we attended a quiet service.

Lucy and Little Jo’s comments peppered the softer flow of the day, and revealed how much they’ve grown since last Easter.

“Criminal? What is a criminal, Daddy?”

“Can we sing ‘In Christ Alone’ after this?”

“I know why this is called Good Friday.”

On Saturday, we spread armfuls of spring blooms on a low table and set to work arranging them into small bouquets — nosegays of Eastertide for the neighbors. We filled up the daintier jam and applesauce jars, and soon had to go rummaging in cupboards for tomato sauce containers, covering them with faux bois paper from Little Jo’s long-ago dol party. A slender belt of twine and a dark chocolate bar for each, and they were ready. The four of us set off down the sidewalk, arms full, petals and sleeves fluttering.

I’d wanted to make this gentle paschal salute for two years, but we were in for a greater surprise than our neighbors.

One neighbor opened her door and interrupted my half-shy gesture toward our house with a grin. “Yes, I know! You brought the cookies at Christmas! I’m Z——. Glad I got to meet you this time!” Another smiled — Gracias, gracias — and patted Little Jo’s cheek. Precioso. 

We left one bouquet sheltered from the wind behind a milk delivery crate, and debated where to position the next for the man who never seems to use his front door. And we returned home, happy and warmed by the sun and the faces that had shone on us.

The next day, as we pulled into our driveway after church, we saw the neighbor from the milk crate house on our doorstep. “These are for you,” he said, handing us a large cake plate. We came inside and took off the cover to find an Easter card, a box of imported chocolates, and two varieties of homemade cookies. We were floored.

A few days later, I picked up Lucy from school and came home to find a wrapped box of snacks on the stoop. I appreciated the flowers, so I thought I’d return the favor. — R. It seemed we’d placed his bouquet in a visible spot after all.

What more can I write about this deluge of generosity in return for a handful of blossoms? We didn’t anticipate this fresh display of unmerited favor. But thinking on it again makes me reflect on the hospitality of the people who live near us… and on how welcome it is for anyone to simply be known.

Easter Sunday brought friends both familiar and new to Ithilien House.

The children who used to totter about hardly knowing what to do with their baskets ran hither and yon through the garden this year, calling to each other and stopping occasionally to admire their spoils. We did have one tiny gentleman happily roaming the patio with confident toddler-steps as the fathers called out “hot” and “cold” hints regarding the last of the eggs. Lucy was tickled pink to find one carefully concealed in a downspout.

The rest of the evening was devoted to feasting and conversation, and much later, in a sleeping house, thankfulness for this chapter. For an Easter Sunday in which we were able to celebrate the fullness of life — with the kind of fellowship that we jubilantly anticipate sharing at a much greater feast someday.

Life, indeed, seems to be peeking and nodding from every corner and cranny these days. The waking trees, the new stepping stones in the garden making way for seed rows, the children who awake in the mornings and burst out in laughter together all astound me with pinpricks of joy. The flower shoots in their trays are waiting to take up their stations outside, while miles of pasture and lawn turn green all over town. I can’t bring myself to truly scold the bird who wakes me (momentarily!) with exuberant reiterations of the same six-note song at 5 in the morning. Sometimes I retreat to my own perch during the day, curling up in the reading chair with a light blanket up to my chin, to look out at the ocean-blue sky with its curls and puffs of cloud.

Something in my blood has been stirring awake. Perhaps the same thing that tells the ants it’s safe to come up and begin their work, and whispers to the sleeping cosmos seeds that it’s time to spring winged green leaves out of the earth. Whatever it is, it’s spreading into an awareness of the lives in my vicinity: showing me how I am positioned to love and know the dear people in front of me and around me. To relay to them everything I know of Love’s purest and inexhaustible Source.

Fill out your life, this stirring seems to say. “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”* And what could be more unmistakably providential than the people whose lives intersect ours?

There is a time to embrace and a time to refrain, times to open outward and times to seek solitude behind closed shutters. So long as I am able in this season then, and to the fullest capacity that I’m able, I want to fill out my every corner with truth and beauty and goodness — intertwined concepts I hardly knew three years ago but which have grown more precious to me since, as lighthouse beams of the living God. At the same time, as I’ve learned to abide in Him over the years, I’ve found with no small amount of surprise that He often works through me to usher in these things — through the deep-set ridges and avenues and oddities of which I’m made, rather than outside of them. I extend love in the simple ways that I know how to give it… and it yields far more than it ought.

It’s a gorgeous mystery.

The world is full of acts of wonder that stem from our individual propensities, when we each live as the makers we were created to be. I can’t help but think of a certain professor’s uncommon interest in Finnish mythology that spun into an epic beloved by millions. Or hosts of feasts that feed far more than the body. Out there is a valiant woman skilled in drawing the sword of the Spirit against anxiety, who works faithfully now to outfit others with the same equipment; another has “learned to kiss the wave that throws [her] against the Rock of Ages,”** and enables her readers to glimpse that Rock in roiling seas.

Our natural inclinations and life experiences are one thing, and a beautiful gift in themselves, but joined to the Vine, they bear fruit of astounding quality. In Him, we bring forth not something “other” but more truly and fully us, like the heirloom tomatoes our family bought and savored last summer. (I have never tasted anything so sweet and full of summer flavor in my life, but they could never have been mistaken for plums or watermelons or nectarines. They were every inch what only a tomato at the height of ripeness was meant to be.) In Him we come alive, branches burgeoning in every direction. We make, and it’s not child’s play, not a futile effort, but real — for a hand beyond ours is involved in the work.

So I think of the strivings of the saints: those who begin with what is theirs, and then endeavor to render to Him with great freedom and joy the lives to which He has called them. Lives in missions and ministry, yes, but also in the making of homes, the mothering of hearts, the scribbling of one painful draft at a time, the singing of songs to push back darkness, the prayers that happen on knees unseen. Some cook meals and write letters; others devote hours to study or to caring for the aging and the sick. Still others open doors during office hours, or faithfully operate one step in a manufacturing line.

Every one of these is a bud bursting with vitality, because they belong to us, and we to Him. Each natural talent. Each personality quirk. Each life circumstance.

Each one is a gift that may be blessed and broken with thanks, increased beyond our power so that our tender beginnings expand to the nourishment of others and the glory of the King. Like a little boy’s lunch of five loaves of bread and two fish, or six stone pots of water at a wedding feast. Like Easter flowers in jam jars.

And all of it shouts of life to the full.

 

 


*Jim Elliot

**Charles Spurgeon

 

3 comments

  1. Have you seen Godspeed: The Pace of Being Known? on Vimeo…some of what you shared here reminds me of it. Someone just shared it with me and it blessed me and I’ve been mulling over it ever since. Gorgeous words and photos, as always. <3 Amy

    1. Yes! Y and I watched it a couple of weeks ago, and I think the idea of slowing our pace to know and be known has probably been weaving its way into my thoughts. Your comment made me think tonight about how we might establish a more intentional rhythm at home, especially for the children… thank you, Amy. 🙂

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