This last year, I’ve had the privilege to speak at schools about my children’s books. Bicycling with Ava provided an opportunity to talk about the gifts we each have: not just gifts of writing or drawing, but the gifts of putting numbers together, theorizing science, fixing things or nurturing people, standing up for others, encouraging or teaching.
I talked about how the writer and illustrator sometimes work together to trick readers into learning by counting cattails on a creek bed and goose feathers for pillows, learning colors through red, yellow, green and blue sheep. They learned new words for fun, too. As Ava struggles to make a decision on which hat to pick to hide her suddenly orange nose, she purses her lips, furrows her brow, and scowls. Did you know that a lip-purse + a furrowed brow = a scowl? My favorite children’s books are the ones that invite interaction in an unstated way. I wanted my books to me like that, too. LIke life, the details in the illustrations were not their by coincidence. There was a plan and purpose to the detail.
These Kindergarteners through 4th graders and I talked etymology, though they didn’t realize they were learning about word origins and history. For example, we talked about furrows on their grandparents’ farms, nestled next to mounds where seeds are planted. The furrows can be paths or narrow grooves, so big rains don’t wash away seeds or roots. Furrows, though, just aren’t in gardens and fields. Furrows can be on our brows when smiles turn upside down because of sadness, frustration, heavy or unpleasant thoughts. Try it – furrow your brown, making the space between your eyebrows crinkle and wrinkle. Now look at your neighbor and furrow your brow at them. Did you? Kindergarteners through 4th graders did – and had fun being tricked into learning something new.
Furrows are deep places – on our faces and in our hearts. Sometimes without the low places, the storm waters wouldn’t have places to go – and we would find ourselves washed away because of it.
Soil, furrows and hearts are a lot like you and me. When the soil is saturated, the furrow’s deepness provides an outlet, so as not to permanently damage the plant – or maybe the soul of you and me.
There’s been a steady stream of highs and lows this year. I used to think that when I mastered life, a steady, humming-along-the-highway kind-of-living would result. If I were only good enough, pure enough, Godly enough . . . . I would be able to manage the daily into just humming along. Right?
Sadly – because I wish I’d realized much sooner before I’d invested so much energy and time into a project destined to fail – there’s error in that kind of thinking – error born out of inappropriate expectations.
If I’d never furrowed my brow, I’d never have reached deep to realize my need for God. I wasn’t designed for a self-fueled humming-along-the-highway kind-of-living. I was designed to need God – to be filled up by God.
The inappropriate expectation is being replaced, awkwardly at first, becoming more dexterous day-by-day, to the expectation that, yes, there is joy in the highs, but there something just as valuable in the lows, something souly nurturing in the steady drizzle, sometimes torrential downfall of the challenges in the daily.
I might have been designed for heaven, but without challenges that fall like a soft rain, I don’t know that I would realize that. You see, experience is the best teacher I know.
Maybe I needed a Hannah-unconditionally-loved-by-Elkanah marriage,
or a Jacob-wrestling confrontation in which to surrender,
a Doubting Thomas faith failure humbled and won through Salvation standing before him – hands open, wounds revealed,
a mother-of-the-prodigal revelation waiting in faith for her son’s homeward walk,
a faith-is-the-substance-hoped for woman-with-the-issue-of-blood journey,
a crippled man standing-on-his-faith encounter
Billy Graham said if you want to change someone’s life, tell a story – share the experience of your faith. The experience that changes lives is found in the hard and soft of our challenges.
The soft and hard rains of this year have indeed softened the hard edge of the mound, softening into the dip of the furrow and because of it, I move with more grace from the highs into the lows and back up again.
Through the soft raindrops like challenges, from the mounds to the furrows and the muddy mess of of it all – because challenges just leaves degrees of muddy messes, I have discovered goodness in both – a soul-preserving nutrient that without both, my growth would be limited or stunted. The challenge without him leaves me shivering to the bone in a cold rain. The challenge with him, seeps inside this softened soul or runs off into the furrows, leaving my roots stronger, my growth more than I imagined possible.
A little sweet with the sour.
A little low with the high.
A bit of raindrop to soften the soul
and out of that, the blessings grow.
It’s been awhile since I’ve written, and I’m glad you haven’t forgotten your way here. This has been a year of big changes – leaving a 3-year-old job and launching 4 children’s books, a son marrying a beautiful inside-and-out girl, another son and sweet daughter-in-law’s second baby girl, one son steadying his step, a new high-schooler, a junior who is taking more college classes than high school classes, me teaching again since 2009 and, while loving teaching students how to strengthen their writing – and maybe discover wonderful things about themselves in the process, I am left wondering if God didn’t want me to walk through the classroom just one last time before walking through a door to a different way to fill my daily. All this has been drizzled with big and little challenges, expected and unexpected. To someone who likes a fairly regimented daily with time planned for the unexpected, I’m finding that every hour possibly contains unplanned tasks and adventures – meaning I’ve thrown the schedule out the window and am possibly free-falling into something unplanned and unexpected at any moment. I’m not quite sure I’m managing this with grace yet, but, at least, I’m not screaming (mostly figuratively) in terror at the chaos anymore. Right here at Blue Cotton Memory, it’s one of the places I come to just sit with God, talk over what’s going on, and tighten my grip on his hand, reminding myself that he is right here beside me, right now.
During this Christmas season, I pray that we feel your Holy Spirit wash over us, mingling with the challenges that fall like rain, settling to softening the hard planes of our soul ridges. I pray that we see these challenges as softeners that make hearts more tender, understanding deeply dimensional, and grow a love taller, with beautiful blooms that re-seed in the mounds and furrows all around us, and that maybe, just maybe, some of those seeds just might be carried in a Holy Spirit rain down the furrowed path into a place that needs your kind of love seed – and that more will be blessed by the growth in us than we ever imagined. Thank you sending us a savior, your son, to show us the amazing grace that can come out of a hard challenge.
(Illustration by Lynda Farrington Wilson in the January release of Where the Wild Winds Blow Fall and Winter).