19 September 2008

Resting on Grace, part 2

I promised the story of my front porch chairs, newly enthroning me as I eat my fruit salads in the early-autumn evenings.

A friend of my father's gave him two old camp chairs--or perhaps he found them at Goodwill--wooden folding framwork complimented by thick, faded red canvas fabric to make the seat and the back.

He was particularly fascinated and delighted by their design, but because my mother didn't care for them and because one of the chairs had ripped fabric, he was never able find a suitable place to use them on a regular basis.

My parents recently moved, and I became the fortunate heiress of several treasures as they packed their boxes. As I visited them in their new home in a new state, Dad took me out to the garage, attempting to send me home with more of the things they couldn't find places for.

I stood in amazement. How could he be offering to part with his precious camp chairs? But that he was, saying, "Now that you have a sewing machine, you could get new fabric and fix them."

Without realizing it at the time, I heard in that moment one of the central themes of grace in our world: Sometimes you have to give something up in order to restore it. In giving me the chairs, my father gave them their only hope of survival, the chance that I would take pity on them and sew them some new seats and backs. Which is, in essence, what we all must do with our hearts, giving them up to our God to be created new.

Meanwhile, I had the dusty old wooden frames and some idea of what kind of fabric to look for. I eventually made my way to the fabric store, and browsing through the bargan scrap bin, found a piece of denim sturdy enough and big enough to do the job. And rather than the $4.37 I thought I would have to pay, the clerk gave me a discount and I got it for just about $2.50. A bargain-lover's favorite kind of shopping trip.

I finally finished the project, got rid of the junky chairs that used to occupy the porch, and called Dad as I sat in one of the chairs to tell him they were done. I knew he'd be pleased to hear it.

"Well, cool!" he said. "Now you can give them back to me for Christmas!"

"I don't know..." I said. "You're certainly welcome to come and visit them..."

18 September 2008

Resting on Grace, part 1

This September 17 post, Grace Around Grace, got me thinking not about my wooden table, but about my wooden chairs. The table itself was a gift, yes, a grace given as I finished college and moved into a nearly-empty house. But around the table--Oh, these graces, as well as their story, hold me up each time I sit down.

Their story began long ago, when my childhood front porch, an expanse large enough for us to pretend it was a platform, sat void of chairs. My mother wanted, I think, a bouquet of wooden chairs, each one different in shape and color. We children, likely influenced by our father's skepticism, thought this an odd idea indeed, and it never bore fruit.

She did get a few wooden chairs and paint them white, but her bouquet of chairs still rested in her imagination, waiting for the proper time.

Fast forward ten or twelve years to the day Mom and I stood in the yarn aisle, choosing the colors for my afghan. I was finishing school, and this twenty-something young lady had become much less the tom-boy of her youth. Bouquets of color suddenly made sense. How could life be any other way?

I had become so much of my mother over the years as my understanding of her grew.

I began with three colors: vivid turquoise, lime green, and yellow. Mom suggested a warm color, and the brightest pink seemed the best. There was a catch, though, because she had always taught me to group things in odd numbers...and salmon joined the mix.

Those moments decided the colors for my whole house before I even knew where I would live.

I had bedroom furniture, but nothing else. Mom found a little round table and one old wooden chair for me; Dad reluctantly offered one of his favorite Goodwill finds from beside the wood stove in the garage where he would sit next to the fire just for fun, or to cook his food over its top (a winter-time barbeque).

Then Mom planted an idea in my mind--I'm sure it was she who did it: to paint each chair (I eventually acquired three more from Goodwill) to match each color of my afghan-in-progress. The idea sprouted, and as I bounced it off several (married) friends, the response was always the same:

Do it now, before you're married, or you'll never have another chance.

Whether they were right, I have no idea, but I proceeded with the paint idea anyway, one color at a time. One friend even gave me a gift certificate to a local paint store to spur me on.

The colors had to be specially mixed. I took my yarn pieces with me to the paint section, held them up to the paint chips, and asked the sales representatives to please mix the colors as close to my yarn as possible. I showed up to church and school board meetings, my hands a bright wash of spots. And finally, the chairs were done.
Here you see the first two chairs, the turquoise and the green, reflected in one of my mirrors, also gracefully bestowed out of an aunt's garage after ten years of hiding. You can see from the yellow ladder that the paint spilled over from the chairs to other old wooden things.
Isn't that how grace works, spilling over and touching everything in our lives, never really ending where it started?
Although my little home is now well-furnished, five little yarn swatches still ride around in my mother's purse, ever ready to advise her in the gifts she considers sending my way.
Since every piece of furniture I own has a story of grace, perhaps this will be the first post in a sprinkling of posts on the topic. At the very least, I must also tell of my front porch chairs, which were my dad's delight before he gave them to me, again out of the garage.

16 September 2008

My Shepherd, part 2

Another hymn I've committed to memory is a slightly different setting of the same Psalm. I should say the words, coming from the Scottish Psalter in 1650, are slightly different. The tune on the other hand, Brother James' Air, is rather sprightly while the tune from the part 1 entry is soft and sweet. Both are supremely delightful. I hope you enjoy, as I do, the subtle differences in the verse, bringing the focus to different words and phrases.

The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want. He makes me down to lie,
In pastures green, He leadeth me, the quiet waters by--
He leadeth me, He leadeth me, the quiet waters by.

My soul He doth restore again, and me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness e'en for His own Name's sake--
Within the paths of righteousness, e'en for His own Name's sake.

Yea, though I walk in death's dark vale, yet will I fear no ill,
For Thou art with me, and Thy rod and staff me comfort still--
For Thou art with me, and Thy rod and staff me comfort still.

My table Thou hast furnished in presence of my foes;
My head Thou dost with oil annoint, and my cup overflows--
My head Thou dost with oil annoint, and my cup overflows.

Goodness and mercy all my life shall surely follow me,
And in God's house forevermore my dwelling place shall be--
And in God's house forevermore my dwelling place shall be.

15 September 2008

My Shepherd, part 1

From time to time, I memorize a hymn, and pass time in the car or doing housework by sining as often as I can.

When life is troublesome, the hymns come to mind to spur me on in "giving thanks in all things". When life is brilliantly fine, the hymns enhance my happiness, bringing words of praise to my speechless lips. A friend of mine even sings herself back to sleep when she tosses and turns in the middle of the night. Nothing quite drives the darkness away like a solid, faith-inspiring song.

There are two hymns I enjoy, both settings of the 23rd Psalm. The first is sung to the tune "Resignation" from Southern Harmony, 1835, harmonized by Virgil Thompson and then adapted by Melvin West in 1984 (which is the version in my hymnal). The words are an adaptation of Psalm 23 by Isaac Watts.

My Shepherd will supply my need,
Jehovah is His name.
In pastures fresh, He makes me feed,
Beside the living stream.
He brings my wand'ring spirit back,
When I forsake His ways,
And leads me for His mercy's sake,
In paths of truth and grace.

When I walk through the shades of death,
Thy presence is my stay.
One word of Thy supporting breath
Drives all my fears away.
Thy hand in sight of all my foes
Doth still my table spread;
My cup with blessings overflows,
Thine oil annoints my head.

The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days.
Oh, may Thy house be mine abode,
And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest
While others go and come;
No more a stranger or a guest,
But like a child at home.


441. Phone conversation with a dear friend--understanding and being understood, completely.

448. The flower-bearer, who has brightened my office many times, welcoming me into her world and introducing me to as many of her acquaintances as possible.

450. Invitations, even when I can't accept them.

453. Crafting, creating, sharing, eating, analyzing in the midst of a farm with another dear friend.

454, 455. A full moon in the east on the night's drive home, and the same full moon in the west on the morning's brisk walk.

11 September 2008


The night before the wedding, maidens rounded a table, beautifully set. Flowers, lace, candles, depression-glass plates, and heart-shaped sandwiches carried to a park silently, deeply honored the morrow's ceremony.

One among us already married, one to be married next day, and the rest without plans specified. The conversation covers common, every-day things--where we work, where we're going to school, what journeys we're embarking upon from this day forward. Yet a sense of the profound colors our words, knowing that tomorrow, two lives will be forever united.
A bridesmaid's brother has made the cake frosting, we've sewed our dresses back together and prayed around the bride. She breathes deep, puts aside stress over last-minute details, and basks in the day.

10 September 2008

Of Gardens and Garbage

The ends of these end-of-summer days bring the glow that only comes during long, nearly-autumn sunsets. It startles me to see the world that way, my garden positively radiant and my near-by garbage can especially out of place in evening's dying breath.

Yes, the light simultaneously catches my breath at the rightness of my garden and the wrongness of my garbage can.

It's a surprise I expect, wait for, linger in. After all, it's right, absolutely correct, for the garbage can to be wrong and the garden to be right.

In my inner world, though, the one where my priorities sit neatly arranged, the light's autumn glowings cast a few shadows I didn't expect, bring out more garbage cans than I remember bringing in. It's hard to tell, but some of the very priorities that have been most garden-like to my soul begin to look the opposite, as if they are in the earliest stages of a metamorphosis, or at least a change in hierarchy.

Or perhaps they've simply been hit by autumn's first frost, unexpectedly, without any warning, and patiently await the gardener to empty the beds, weather the winter, and start fresh.