Outside My Window

The coolness of the riverbank,
And the whispering of the reeds
Daybreak is not so very far away
Enchanted and spellbound,
In the silence they lingered
And rowed the boat as the light grew steadily strong
And the birds were silent
As they listened to the heavenly music
And the river played the song
The wind in the willows and the piper at the gates of dawn
The wind in the willows and the piper at the gates of dawn…
                                        -Van Morrison-Piper at the Gates of Dawn

This morning I was up at 4:30. Alone in the early morning hours, I’ve learned to appreciate the stillness before the busyness of the day begins. It’s my time to read, think, write, and pray.

Sitting at my desk thus, I heard an owl calling. I quickly turned off the inside lights and opened my window to better see and hear what was going on outside. I sat in anticipatory calm, the coolness of the pre-dawn breeze a gentle balm to my heart and mind.

A second owl began to answer the first and so began a most welcome opportunity to apprehend the beauty and gift of God’s greatness in creation. As my eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness outside, I was thrilled to catch a glimpse of an owl in flight, skimming high in the treetops and silhouetted against the imminent break of day.

What a gentle mystery is the owl’s call! It is a mingling of enchantment and nostalgia, the solemn longing for something just out of reach. Other birds’ songs are quite eloquent to be sure, yet straightforward in their expression. But the owl, reluctant to reveal too much, reserves a secret reservoir of insight and sagacity for patient souls intent on deciphering what it is he is trying to say.

Twenty minutes or so passed. One owl would call, the other would answer. Captivated by the present and afraid I would miss the miracle if I were to surrender the moment too soon, I waited, listening and spellbound.

As the sky blushed pink with morning, the owl lifted effortlessly from its resting place and glided eastward just as the mockingbird sang its exuberant welcome to the dawning of a new day.

 

Pleasures Pure

Pleasures Pure
by Terrie van Baarsel

I want to live where hearts are beating
Where time is short and life is fleeting
Where laughter dares and cheeks are ruddy
And children sing and boots are muddy
From loving, musing, romps through rain
That end in warmth of hearth again.

I long to rid my heart of worry
And dance to life and never hurry
Stroll through orchards born of earth
Grown from seeds of love and mirth
And pluck ripe fruit, bite right in
And let sweet juice run down my chin.

I want to drink of love’s new wine
So deep and rich in taste, divine!
Then toast the hues of morning sun
And never being weary, run
‘long winding paths through forest glades
’til shadows fall and sunlight fades.

I want to dance in autumn leaves
Feel the bite of winter’s freeze
And riding emerald springtime swells
Recall a child’s lost summer spells
Her mirrored dreams of salt and spray
And sea-kissed skies o’er holidays.

And yet, just to share a cup of tea
And gaze into the eyes of thee
And sing this moment’s joyous song
And know ’tis here that I belong
Desiring naught but ties that bind
Secure and free, at the same time.

The Lesser Light

THE LESSER LIGHT
by Terrie van Baarsel

The greater light commands the day
Its voice goes out
The world spins
And all humanity hears
But men dream in darkness
Old women and babies listen carefully then
For the lesser light speaks too

Profound is the mystery
Sad and beautiful
Radiant and hopeful
The moon shows forth its phases
It waxes and wanes
Inspires and influences
An enduring witness
Hushed and somber
To times and the end of time

Having no light of its own
The lesser depends upon the greater
Its splendor is borrowed
Its image a reflection
But how magnificent is the muting
And elegant the wounding
Of ether and myth
When glory dispels obscurity
Befriending lonely sky

Density and mass press down
Yet weightless are the shadows
And winsome the wonder
Of gossamer and fairy wings
‘Neath earth’s great satellite

The stillness shifts and trembles
Perplexing the poets and purveyors of gloom
But we follow dainty pipers
Lost in fancy and pleasant reverie
For even the tuberose blooms at night

Taste and See

Last week was a bit stressful for me. Worry was the main culprit. Anxious thoughts and fret fests conspired to deliver me to the edge of panic.

But God is good to widen my focus to see the table He has set before me. I realize I am hungry for a different point of view. What I’m craving is an eternal perspective.

Take the story of Elijah, more specifically the part in 1 Kings 19. Elijah is fresh off a mountain top experience after defeating the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and yet he flees to the wilderness after a death threat from Jezebel. Elijah is so downcast that he pleads, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

The LORD responds by sending an angel who prepares food and drink for Elijah and says to him:

Arise and eat, for the journey is too much for you.

First, I confess, the journey is too much for me. It is too far and too arduous. It is often scary. My need is great and I suspect yours is too. We all enjoy times of rejoicing and seasons of ease, but the human condition is such that we must endure suffering, too. Or sometimes even worse, we watch our loved ones struggle. Difficulties are part of the journey.

What we need is sustenance and nourishment to help us see past our present circumstances and give us strength to endure. And so the words of the Angel are truth and wisdom.

Arise and eat.

Elijah eats the food prepared for him and continues in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights.

There is a kind of feast in Scripture. No dietary restrictions here; you can indulge to your heart’s content. Jesus is our daily bread. Take and eat. Return again and again to the table and partake of His goodness. Savor the Gospel. Mercy excites the taste buds. Redemption satisfies the appetite. Relish the long-lasting flavor of forgiveness and grace. Fill up on the love of God. This is stick to your ribs food. Taste and see that the Lord is good.

And when you are full, see if dessert is not a sweet, sweet foretaste of eternity.

By His Grace and for the Gospel,
Terrie van Baarsel

 

 

I Am Not Tall

I am not tall
But my legs work fine
They are long enough
My feet are well grounded.
I am not pretty
But don’t tell the man who’s loved me
Crazy
For more than thirty-three years.
I am not clever
But I’m no fool
When I don’t understand
I know who to trust.
I’m no gourmet chef
But dinner is on the table
Hot
At the appointed time.
I am not smart
But I am curious
I question and read
I know House Finches eat oranges
And recently discovered
That a flibbertigibbet
Is a flighty, excessive talker
A flibbertigibbet, I am not.
I’m not an intellectual
Do not ask me to do math
But I know about Plato’s Cave
And Pascal’s Wager
And I am certainly all in
On the existence of God.
I am not rich
But I’ve stargazed in Zion
Skated on frozen canals
And gathered seashells at sunset
Along the shore of the North Sea.
I am not famous
But my friends and family know me
I can pick up my own groceries
Without causing a stir.
I’m not elegant
I can bait my own hook
And spit.
I am no leader
But I can serve
Or follow.

I wish I could say I’m never anxious.
I wish I could say I don’t worry.
I wish I could say I’m always kind.

I am not brave
But I know how to pray.
I’m no angel
I am a child of God.
I am not young
But I can walk forever
Unless through deep sand
In the heat of the day.
I am not tall.

Five Years

 

“Some say of temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into glory.”
–CS Lewis

Yesterday marked five years since Mom passed away. I do miss her terribly some days, longing to hear her voice or touch her hand, but time has done its work smoothing over the sharp edges of her absence that cut so deeply at first.

But on the anniversary of her passing, I labor to turn my thoughts to happier days with her and to recall her as she was before she got sick. I’ve come to realize that although it’s good to remember Mom, the better way to mark the 18th of March is to fix my thoughts on the present and the future. Mom is present with the Lord now and her future is secure. I will see her again, unencumbered by sickness or the limitations set on us by time and mortality.

I wrote the following piece several months after Mom died in 2013. I post it again now as a way of looking back, but also as a way of looking forward to a better day.

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  1 Corinthians 15:19

I love looking at pictures of my mother before she got sick. In those photographs she is how I remember her, happy and surrounded by family. If I had known how much I would miss that part of her life, perhaps I would have paid more attention, taken less for granted. Somehow, these images on paper console me. Bittersweet, yes, but a comfort nonetheless, and some days I need the comfort.

My siblings and I were privileged to be with Mom the last few hours of her life. In waiting, we experienced the most unlikely pairing of impatience and dread. It was hard to watch her suffer, hence the impatience. It was tough knowing she would soon leave this world, hence the dread. This would be the moment we most feared and the moment we’d been waiting for, the moment we would always remember and the moment we would long to forget. A perplexing contradiction of emotions where reality bit hard and we bled pure helplessness.

In a romanticized version of death, the dying patient appears at rest. In her final moments she is able to utter her last words and squeeze her loved one’s hand. In that account, people weep softly and say that dying is just a natural part of life, that one must accept it as such. But I found death to be painful and heart-rending and devastatingly unnatural. Death has claws and fangs and knows no finesse. The scars will not soon heal. Watching your mother die hurts.

I have questions. Mom could not articulate, but she was able to cry out. What was she trying to say? Was she thirsty? In pain? Did she know we were there? (I do think she did know, by the way.) Some questions, I don’t dare ask others because I know they don’t have the answers either. Why burden them with that? Some mysteries are best left for God to unravel, or not, as He sees fit.

There are also certain memories of those last hours that will remain unspoken. It’s as if to do so would somehow cheapen the recollection, devalue the treasure. I will keep them to myself, take them out now and then and examine the facets, scrutinize the details, and relive the most distressing and beautiful hours of my life.

To an outsider, there was nothing about Mom that would have been attractive that night. But we were not outsiders. We had years of history with her. We were her babies. She had labored with us and loved us and kept us safe. She was our mother, our teacher, our confidant and friend. She had agonized with us in our struggles and celebrated with us in our joys. Our being there was inextricably tethered to a specific context and saturated through and through with what our time on this earth together had allowed, a lifetime of memories bound up in the unbreakable bands of maternal love. No, we were not repulsed.

We leaned in.

We drew close to her because we loved her. We tried the best we could to give comfort. (Oh, how she had so often comforted us!) But, One leaned in closer than all the rest. One leaned in because He loved her more and better than all the rest. Jesus was with us that night, as real and as sure as the room we were standing in. Jesus leaned in with a blood-secured love for one of His own and first-hand experience in what it meant for Mom to suffer. His wounds spoke to her wounds, and He leaned in with the power and urgency of a Savior able to save. In dying, Mom let loose of my hand and was plucked away from death to life by sacred Hands that will never let her go.

Death is ugly and raw, but faith implores me to plant my feet and stand. I know that my Redeemer lives. Someday, all sickness and death will be banished forever. The misery and suffering we face on this side of Heaven are temporary, momentary and light compared to what awaits us in Glory. Part of that lightening is that Mom will be there waiting for us.

“And I’ll be waiting on the far side banks of Jordan…
And when I see you coming, I will rise up with a shout,
And come running through the shallow waters reaching for your hand!” *

I miss you terribly, Mom. But, someday I will lean in to where you are and join you in singing praises to our King.

…He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.  Revelation 21:4

By His Grace and for the Gospel,
Terrie van Baarsel

* Far Side Banks of Jordan, by Terry Smith

At Home

Home beckons. The door is always open. No need for pretense, home is where you are known. Home is nicely worn in, easy and intimate. It bids you to tarry, pull up a chair and make yourself comfortable. Home is an open invitation, stay as long as you like as often as you like.

Home is a refuge, a trusted covering. Loyalty stands, resolute. Trust never sleeps. Vulnerabilities are protected and instabilities shored up. Home is where love casts out fear. Home is where another always seeks your best.

Home is where the din of the outside world is shut out. Peace lives here. There is no striving to make your voice heard. Even words unspoken are readily understood. Home is where the struggles cease and the battle is over. Lay aside you troubles, you are home.

Home is full and rich, a joyous melee of loved ones and laughter, music and motion. The blessing of a happy home will not be contained, nor should it be. For home is where life begins and hope triumphs. Home is the blessing that begets other blessings.

Home is where we learn to love. Here, love covers a multitude of sins. Home is loving and being loved, because of and in spite of, at our best and at our worst. This is love without border or condition. This is the foundation, the history, the heart.

To my husband,
Much time has passed since we first met, the intersection of our lives being the most singular gift of God’s Grace this side of Heaven I will ever know. From that gift, came countless others. I still believe I am the luckiest woman alive. I’ve tried to put into words what this means to me. Here is my best attempt:

For thirty-three years we have built our life together,

And I am at home with you.

Happy Anniversary!

Blood Moon Manna

About a week or so ago, as my daughter-in-love and I were leaving with the kids for a trip to the beach, I accidentally backed into her car. Not just any car, their new (to them) car. A beautiful car with nary a scratch nor dent. A car that my son and daughter-in-love were so happy to have purchased. A car that fit and served their family’s needs perfectly.

To say that I reacted poorly would certainly be an understatement. I was mad at myself for being so careless. I felt sad that I had damaged their car. Oh, that sickening CRUNCH! When the reality of what you’ve done is solidified.

My struggles with sin and failure over the previous few days welled up and spilled out, a mixture of anger, frustration, helplessness, and tears.

Of course, my son and daughter-in-love responded graciously. My husband (as always) reacted calmly. But I was not about to let myself get off so easily. I beat myself up pretty good over it.

About 5:30 the following morning, I received a short text from my son: “Blood Moon now if you’re up.” In this case, it was a super blue blood moon, a total lunar eclipse. Yes, I was up and soon positioned myself outside on the balcony to watch.

The morning air was not uncomfortably cold. It was still dark, but I could hear the world around me beginning to stir. I thought about the people starting their work day. How many of them would completely miss the astronomical wonder unfolding above them?

I thought about the kindness of my son’s reminder. I thanked the Lord for him and my daughter-in-love, for my husband, my other two children, all my grandchildren, and for the undeserved Grace and privilege of being a wife, mother, and grandmother.

I remembered what I had been reading earlier that morning about how the children of Israel complained to Moses, “…you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” I thought about God’s gracious and miraculous provision for them, Manna. I thought of my own grumbling heart and how the LORD had always  provided for me in spite of it.

I tried to imagine our solar system, the planets, sun, moon and stars all following their appointed course. My imagination wondered at the immensity of the universe and marveled at the power and wisdom of the One who created it.

I thought about the grandiosity of the Great Artist’s rendering unfurled above me, His canvas the dark morning sky, His subject the moon, His brush dipped into the richest of purples and reds to paint a celestial masterpiece no mortal could ever hope to duplicate.

…all things were created through Him and by Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
(Col 1:16,17)

I felt small sitting on my little balcony, my life a tiny speck in the grand order of things. I realized I had come outside hungry of heart, but how long can a soul go unfed in the glorious presence of such a God as this?

When I look at Your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (Ps 8:3,4)

And so it came to be that my soul was put at ease. I rested then, my hunger satisfied and my heart warmed by peace that passes understanding.

This, my bread from Heaven. Blood Moon Manna.

Ordinary Thoughts on Ordinary Life

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I looked forward to this last Christmas. Mainly because of shopping for and giving presents to our grandkids. But there is a conundrum attached to gift giving. A puzzle I am never able to completely solve.

No matter the money spent or the thought that goes into choosing presents for loved ones, I always feel as if it’s not enough. It’s impossible to translate love into material goods. We try, but it can never work. It’s just that gift giving, humanly speaking, can only ever come up short at least from the giver’s point of view. I’m always a bit let down at not being able to adequately express love that way. And perhaps there isn’t enough money in the world to do so.

Which brings me to the greatest Gift of all, Christ taking on flesh and dwelling among us. That is God’s incomparable Gift to the world. With the Incarnation in mind, that God can view my pitiable efforts to please Him (my giving gifts to Him if you will) through the lens of Grace for His Son’s Sake; that is the greater mystery. For what can a beggar offer the King of Kings?

In Christina Rossetti’s words:

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what can I give Him:
Give my heart.

And now comes the new year.

Even if you aren’t the kind to make resolutions, it hard not to see the new year as a new beginning, a starting over of sorts. And who doesn’t need a “do over” now and then?

Resolved, to take each day in 2018 as a new opportunity to love God and others in word and deed. To remember that people are more important than projects. To seek out and take the greatest pleasure in the simplest of moments. To cultivate a grateful heart. To continue learning and growing. To remember that God is always working in a multitude of ways and to trust more fully in His Sovereign Goodness.

Now these are some grand and sweeping resolutions, aren’t they? I am sure to fail. Still, His Grace is sufficient. May the LORD remind me of that in the thick of the battle when struggles, disappointments and frustrations present themselves, as they surely will, in the year ahead.

I was thinking the other day how there comes a time in everyone’s life when certain dreams and aspirations must be let go. And if the time is right to release them, the letting go offers more relief than grief. Lofty goals weigh more heavily as time passes and become burdensome. Not that we should or even can live without purpose, but rather wholeheartedly and without reservation appreciate the marvelous and miraculous gifts that come our way in ordinary life.

… there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his labor–this is God’s gift to man.      Ecclesiastes 3:12, 13

 

 

 

 

Memories of Grandma and Grandpa Jarvis

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My fondest memories of Grandma center inextricably around her kitchen. I cannot imagine her, even now, without her apron on. Grandma enjoyed cooking and baking for her loved ones and she was good at it. Now that I’ve raised children of my own and often have my grandchildren underfoot in the kitchen, I marvel at Grandma’s patience toward us. I remember standing on a chair and “helping” her to measure out a teaspoon of this or a dash of that. I always felt welcome in Grandma’s kitchen.

My earliest memories of Grandma and Grandpa are from when they lived in a small trailer on one of Grandpa’s construction job sites. I seem to remember it was quite out-of-the-way, a good long journey for a four or five year old girl to travel. I remember bumping along in our big tank of a station wagon, the sound of the tires crunching on the gravel road, and finally arriving at a padlocked gate that Dad would have to get out of the car to unlock.

The trailer was small, by no means a mobile home by today’s standards. There was a low, wooden porch in front and creaky wooden steps that let you inside. It had a small, enclosed room added on to the side for extra storage. That’s also where Grandma kept her sewing machine. Quilts, pajamas, play clothes, dresses, sixteen grandchildren and many others benefitted from her talent for sewing. On one of our visits there, my sister and I wore the brown taffeta Easter dresses Grandma had made for us. They were beautiful dresses with fitted bodices and full skirts. They made the most wonderful swooshing sound and were perfect for twirling around in. Years later, I remember seeing scraps of that same brown taffeta sewn into the design of one of Grandma’s homemade quilts.

One time, I remember staying overnight there with Grandma and Grandpa. I was by myself, my little sister being too young to stay away from home. The weather was hot. I remember the sound of the swamp cooler in the background working to cool us off. To stave off the heat, Grandma made me a big glass of iced tea with lots of sugar. I can see myself sitting at her little kitchen table, stirring and stirring to watch the sugar swirl around in the bottom of the glass. It’s odd, but I vividly recall the smell inside of their trailer. Because it was parked in the middle of a construction area, the trailer smelled of dust, which I’m sure permeated every crack and crevice available. At night, when I lay in bed, even the blankets and pillows smelled of dust.

Another time, I went to spend the night and go fishing with Grandpa the following morning. My recollection of the fishing excursion has faded, but I do remember going out the night before to gather crickets for bait. Grandpa carried a fly swatter and I carried a jar. There was a small shed next to the trailer with a light to illumine the way. Grandpa would slap a cricket with the swatter, and my job was to hold the jar while he scooped the stunned creature inside. I felt extremely important and trustworthy. After all, my small hand held the key to the next day’s successful fishing expedition.

I remember Grandpa’s big, rough hand around my own, leading me securely through the night. I was safe. If I were an artist trying to recapture this scene, I think I should paint it on an immense black canvas, as if from the vantage point of the summer’s nighttime sky. Radiating up through the darkness would shine a very bright light, the silhouette of an old man, a little girl, and the very warm glow of a memory.