Summer of Faerie: “Fairy Wings” and “Reflection” by Rachel Donahue

Green woods

Summer here feels so right: bright misty mornings and cool blue twilights, woods thick and green with staghorn sumac and ferns, the smell of honeysuckle in the wind.

Years ago, a few professors from another school came to my college and gave a presentation about beauty and culture. They described a project in one of their core humanities courses: students had to do something to make the world more beautiful. One student completed the project by handing out red roses in the street.

“Some students tried to combine beauty and justice in this project, but we tried to make them focus on just beauty,” one of the professors said.

It made me wonder: what does it look like to combine beauty with justice? Justice is beautiful metaphorically, but practically, what does that look like?

These past few weeks have been full of pain, grief, rage, horror, and the desire to act. Our hearts are crying out for justice. Does beauty have a place here?

Maybe. I hope so – if beauty is for healing and not just escapism, for goodness and restoration, for reminding ourselves of the coming Kingdom that will right every wrong. Beauty is not a Band-Aid to put on raw wounds, or a dream to distract us from uncomfortable realities. It doesn’t fulfill all of the real needs of administering justice and restoring peace, healing wounded hearts and souls, creating or repairing relationships, and examining our own hearts.

But maybe the small wonders of Creation still have a place in a time of anger and fear. Maybe watching dust motes floating in a sun-shaft, listening to peepers chorusing at dusk, or enjoying the sweetness of wild strawberries reminds us of what we had in Eden and will have in the New Jerusalem: a world of beauty and justice, where people of every “tribe and language and people and nation” worship God together.

With that hope, I am excited to present some exquisite poems by Rachel Donahue, a writer and poet whose work has been reawakening me to the glimmering beauty of everyday life.

Fairy Wings

When a fairy with hands of blue
in need of help quick-comes to you
with sunlight in her hair
and a prim, expectant stare,
please be careful of her wings
when you lift her to the stream
so that she can flit away
when her hands are clean for play.

Reflection

A glimmer caught my eye.
Looking full upon it I saw (forsooth)
a sprite, dancing upon the ceiling.

It waved and shimmered,
and though we searched,
we could not find whence it came.

When I looked again,
the sprite had skittered to the corner
and was creeping down the wall,
still dancing ever so gaily
in the fading light.

As the sun passed the water table,
the sprite disappeared
and left us with quickened hearts
and the memory of her likeness.

Rachel Donahue

Rachel Donahue

Rachel S. Donahue holds a B.A. in English and Bible from Welch College in Nashville, TN, and has more than eleven years’ experience changing diapers. She and her husband, Mick, previously lived and worked in Spain serving people groups at risk of marginalization. They now live near Charlotte, North Carolina, where they’re both involved in the family greenhouse business while raising three sprightly boys and a sweet-as-pie little girl. Visit her website/blog at www.thedonahuedaily.com.

Her book,
Real Poems for Real Moms: from a Mother in the Trenches to Another, can also be found on Amazon or bookshop.org.

Summer of Faerie: Thoughts on Illustrations and Racial Representation

They read us tons of picture books in school: books about Johnny Appleseed, Jackie Robinson, Paul Bunyan, apple-picking, and a menagerie of animals. We would sit cross-legged in a circle on braided rugs, watching the teacher hold the book out so we could see the pictures.

We read fairy tales, my favorite: Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstiltskin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and others.

We read histories and historical fiction: books about the American Revolution and Civil War, Underground Railroad, pioneers, World Wars, and astronauts.

I read on my own, too: I still love the Hutchinson Treasury of Children’s Literature and got a copy for our library. I also bought a Treasury of Children’s Literature anthology and a Beauty and the Beast picture book by Max Eilenberg, illustrated by Angela Barrett. The magic of these illustrations overwhelmed me; I would sit for unnecessary lengths of time, studying the luminous colors and fantastic scenes. They opened a world of beauty, mystery, magic, and adventure I yearned to enter.

Illustrations from top left moving clockwise: “Snow White,” retold by Josephine Poole, illustrated by Angela Barrett; Beauty and the Beast, retold by Max Eilenberg, also illustrated by Angela Barrett; The Thorn Rose by the Brothers Grimm, illustrated by Errol Le Cain.

The fairy tale illustrations I loved had one particular characteristic: as tales from the United Kingdom and Europe, they usually featured, well, white people. I remember a fair amount of gorgeous tales with Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and other Asian characters, but most of the picture book illustrations I remember that featured people of African heritage were historical or realistic fiction about dark times in American history: slavery, the Jim Crow laws, and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

Illustrations from top left moving clockwise: “Prayer at Valley Forge” by Arnold Friberg; A Picture Book of Jackie Robinson by David A. Adler, illustrated by Robert Casilla; Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Renée Graef; “The Underground Railroad in Indiana.”

Illustrations shape our visual imaginations. I began to separate in my imagination the fairy-tale world of golden palaces and enchanted forests, inhabited by magical creatures and white people, from the real world of plantation fields, brick buildings, gray cities, cruelty, and injustice inhabited by white and black people.

I read lots of chapter books, too. The Dr. Dolittle books are funny, and sweet, and adventurous, but the first one has a peculiar scene: Dr. Dolittle and his animal friends have gone to Africa to help with a terrible sickness among the monkeys. While there, the crew is chased around by the local inhabitants, the Jolliginki. Prince Bumpo, the heir of this kingdom, strikes a deal with Dr. Dolittle: he will let Dr. Dolittle and his crew out of prison and get them a ship back to England if Dr. Dolittle can make him white. He describes why:

“White Man, I am an unhappy prince. Years ago I went in search of The Sleeping Beauty, whom I had read of in a book. And having traveled through the world many days, I at last found her and kissed the lady very gently to awaken her—as the book said I should. ’Tis true indeed that she awoke. But when she saw my face she cried out, ‘Oh, he’s black!’ And she ran away and wouldn’t marry me—but went to sleep again somewhere else. So I came back, full of sadness, to my father’s kingdom. Now I hear that you are a wonderful magician and have many powerful potions. So I come to you for help. If you will turn me white, so that I may go back to The Sleeping Beauty, I will give you half my kingdom and anything besides you ask.”

Dr. Dolittle agrees, and creates a mixture from his medical bag that transforms Prince Bumpo from a man with dark skin and brown eyes to a man with skin “white as snow” and eyes that are a “manly gray.” Prince Bumpo is thrilled and fulfills his end of the bargain.

Remembering and rereading this fills me with sadness – and shame. I remember that I didn’t question this scene at all when I first read it, though I knew racism was wrong. As a kid, I could not picture a black person living in the fairy-tale world of silver castles and green mountains, defeating dragons or rescuing princesses. 

(Note: In the The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle, Prince Bumpo returns. The mixture has worn off, and he has resumed his original appearance. He is a friend and companion in this book, though his characterization and the descriptions and dialogue surrounding him are horribly racist.)

My division between a mythical land of white people and a real world where minorities faced cruelties and injustice was, of course, wrong. Imagination and wonder are a divine gift to all humans. The Kingdom I ached for – a land of beauty, mystery, wonder, and adventure – is real, and it is the heritage of Christ-followers from every tongue, tribe, and nation:

Isaiah 2:2 (ESV): It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it . . . 

Revelation 7:9-10 (ESV): After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Isaiah and Revelation remind me: Elohim, the Creator-God who made all people, is our Judge. Our genetic differences are glorious signs of His imagination and creativity. We are accountable to Him for how we treat each other. 

How does this influence this Summer of Faerie project, an exploration of the meaning and magic of fairy tales? For one thing, every tongue, tribe, and nation has legends and stories of wonder and mystery; this investigation will be infinitely richer if it is global. I also found some more recently-published retellings of some of my old favorites with diverse characters. The illustrations are, frankly, adorable:

We need good, beautiful stories that are true; that shape our imaginations and open our eyes. More than that, we need God’s story: His tale of sin and the Fall, evil and injustice, hope and restoration in a Kingdom of light.

If you know of any other beautiful, culturally-diverse fairy tale picture books or fairy tale retellings, could you leave a comment with a picture or a link?

Summer of Faerie: “Winds of Change” by Matthew Cyr

Faerie Wind

It’s the end of May and beginning of June: one of my favorite times of year, when purple lilacs bloom, the new leaves rustle in warm winds, and it’s hot and bright enough to put on sunscreen and enjoy its cool, thick smell.

These days at the lake have “slid along so quiet and smooth and lovely” (Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). I’ve had the undeserved luxury of hiking in the green mountains, paddle boarding during my lunch hour, a few frigid swims, and continuing to research fairy tales and folklore for the Summer of Faerie project. I hope to post more about this later, but for now, I have found a few treasures:

  • Kate Forrester’s Celtic Tales, a collection of British, Irish, Welsh, and Scottish legends with gorgeous silhouette illustrations
  • J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Mythopoeia,” a poem I had heard of but not read (and do not fully understand yet)
  • Angelina Stanford’s fascinating research on how fairy tales retell the Gospel

This week’s Summer of Faerie post is a piece by Matthew Cyr, whose masterful craftsmanship I first encountered in The Cultivating Project (a seasonal online journal). Matthew’s prose reminds me of an enchanted forest, with layers of vivid imagery and root-deep musings that leave me pondering for days. This short-short story explores some of the strangeness and mystery of the world of fairy tales.

Winds of Change

by Matthew Cyr

Eyes closed, head thrown back, Ehelia danced among the maple whirlywings, whirling with them as they fell. Cirigan watched her from where he was seated on a fallen linden trunk, playing a rippling tune on his polished swan’s bone flute. Merriment played on his usually-somber face as he followed Ehelia’s fluid spiraling.

As the breeze quickened and more of the winged seeds took flight, Ehelia swept up those around her and flung them back up to be joined by fresh ones from above. Again she swirled them up as they drifted down to her, and again until the air was awhir with spinning wings that flickered in and out of the dappled sunlight.

In the midst of her laughter something caught at Ehelia’s attention, as if a movement from the corner of her eye or a sound out of place, half-heard. She came to a stop and looked toward the river where it ran unseen behind the yarrow-clad hill.

Cirigan stopped piping. “What is it, Irushili?” He often called her that, Shower of Laughter, instead of her true name, which meant Heartsighted.

Ehelia had no word to give him back, but he followed when she started away toward the river.

Cresting the rise, she could see something heaped down by the water’s edge. She paused, then pushed closer. Cirigan crossed half in front of her and stopped, as did she. It was plainly a body, a figure lying as if spilled from a cup.

“Is that….” he began, without taking his eyes from the thing.

“Yes.” No cloud had passed over, but the sun-washed hilltop seemed to darken for a moment around them.

“I never thought… to find one outside of old tales. An Oulahlain.  How came it here? None have ever been near this place. ” His eyes narrowed slightly. “It still lives.”

Ehelia passed him, only half aware that she was drifting closer to the creature again. Cirigan twitched slightly but didn’t move to block her. She looked and listened and smelled, taking in the crude clothing, the mane of tangled hair, the shallow breaths.

Ehelia’s gaze passed on to the angry red scratches on the arms and legs, as if it had been plunging through thorn and thicket. The figure’s feet had scarcely stopped bleeding into the river as it whispered past. The tears in the thing’s coarse-spun garment looked fresh as well, and some of its shabbiness the mark of recent hard use and weather. 

“She was chased,” Ehelia said quietly.

“She?”

“She is female… and young, as they would reckon age. Little more than a child of her kind.” Ehelia didn’t try to unravel how she came by this surety, but Cirigan had known her long, and accepted it as truth without need of explanation.

“They’re dangerous at any size or age,” Cirigan said. “They all but destroyed our people. So few of us lived to flee here… and now again our place is found out.”

Ehelia made no reply, but the still air around her felt like a closed door. Cirigan turned to her, finally taking his eyes from the slumped creature to press Ehelia with his gaze.

“Where one comes, others will be drawn. If this one is hunted by its own kind, they that follow will be more and worse. They will bring the cold iron that slays our folk.”

Cirigan glanced back at the fallen thing on the riverbank. “Yet for it to return to its kind now might be more ruinous than if it remain. Could be that it will wander ever lost in the wilds instead…or a sleep be placed on it that it never wake.” He fingered the bone flute.

And now Ehelia turned to him. Her eyes, usually the pale green of the moon-moth’s wing, were like sunlight through young beech leaves. The floating tufts of cottonwood silk above the hillside seemed to slow in the air, and the river to further hush itself.

“None other will find its way here that we do not wish, “she said. “Our folk can keep the border.”

Like heat-shimmer off a sun-baked rock, she could feel the uncertainty rising from him, mingled with shame: none of their people would think to end a living thing before its time, but he had voiced the nearest deed to that.

“We must tell the others,” Cirigan said, his tone more subdued but still stubborn around the edges. “All must decide.”

Ehelia glided even closer to the strange figure till she hovered just over it. Under the burrs and dirt, the sleeper’s hair was ruddy-gold like a kingfisher’s breast, and fell across her eyes, hiding them.

The forest seemed to breathe again. Ehelia had made her decision. The breeze now wafted the cottonwood wisps into the river, which carried them past and on out of sight. A lift of air drew the sleeper’s hair away from her face, revealing a pale brow and lidded eyes. Oulahlain. The Unseeing Ones.

Soft, soft, like the feathered touch of a month’s antennae, Ehelia brushed the stranger’s eyelids with her fingertips. She whispered a few words that hung glistening in the air, like dewdrops on spider threads.

She knew without looking that Cirigan had vanished, as the figure shivered and its eyes sprang open. Eyes little less green than Ehelia’s own. The wakened creature drew back at the sight of her.

“Be at peace, Daughter of Man,” Ehelia said. “You are watched over, and none shall harm you here.”

Matthew Cyr

Matthew Cyr

Once upon a time, Matthew Cyr unearthed an ancient-looking early edition of The Hobbit in his elementary school library and has been wandering in Middle Earth ever since. He has a hobbitish appetite and prefers to keep a good book in one hand and good food in the other. Matthew is fascinated by the power of story to awaken us to redemptive Truth. Several years ago he took up a quest to own and read every book ever published by C.S. Lewis. He shares his home with his wife and daughter, three cats, and a smallish serpent who has thus far never instigated the consumption of prohibited produce. Some of Matthew’s writings can be found at thecultivatingproject.com.

Summer of Faerie: “Housing Problems” by AJ Vanderhorst

Spring has fallen upon us all at once this week: gray clouds have melted into clear skies, bright green leaves have filled up the woods, and the temperatures jumped from the 50s to the 80s. For me, this Memorial Day weekend is the real beginning of summer, when lawnmowers roar to life, lilacs fill the air with sweetness, and the heat of the sun fills your winter-harrowed soul.

After enjoying several creative collaboration projects with other writers for Thanksgiving and late winter, I wanted to do something fun for this summer. I toyed with a few ideas, but finally settled on a project called Summer of Faerie that was born from my love for fantasy and fairy tales. 

For this Summer of Faerie project, I gave some fellow writers from The Habit the following prompt, inviting them to contribute: 

  • Short, prose fairy tale retellings
  • Faerie/fairy tale-themed poetry
  • Creative nonfiction about fairy tales in general

I had three suggestions for these works: 

  • Consider focusing on something other than romance.
  • Consider mythologizing your own region through this work – how can your hometown or city be just as magical as a castle on a mountain or tower in the wilderness?
  • Consider how we can meditate on the Gospel through thinking about fairy tales. G.K. Chesterton argued that “conditions” of fairy tales teach us a “The Doctrine of Conditional Joy” that parallels the truth of the Bible: “A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone.” (I’m quoting his weird and wonderful essay, “The Ethics of Elfland,” in his book Orthodoxy.)

Several writer-friends responded to the challenge, and the contributions so far have dazzled me. One of the first contributors was AJ Vanderhorst, who just released an amazing novel, The Mostly Invisible Boy. Enjoy!

Housing Problems

by AJ Vanderhorst

Hands holding teeth

Two parents with too many hobbies. Two parents with four crazy, precocious boys. We overlooked the low sales price. We overlooked a lot. We were a little desperate, well, more than a little. We needed someplace big and HOA-free and durable—and fast.

The missing background didn’t bother me at first and I’m a journalist at the Kansas City Star. At least I used to be. Go on, laugh. These things have a way of creeping up on you.

The house’s previous owner, a genial, raisin-skinned gentleman who gave you the impression of holding nothing back, told us the sprawling four-story place was built in 1915. We believed him. Not that we cared, because the house was gorgeous. Dwell Magazine with vintage swagger. You felt taller just standing in the shade of its colonnades. 

By the time I got around to checking, the origin story proved impossible to verify. No records on micro-fiche. No permits at KC Planning & Development—not that they looked very hard. For a while I dug around in the basement, hoping to find old documents in a forgotten corner. Believe me, there were plenty of those. 

Forgotten corners, I mean.  

When we knocked down nonstructural walls, which happened a couple times as we got moved in, I’d scan each yellowed page of newsprint while the kids sifted dust for arrowheads and shark teeth. Nothing.

Sometimes the clue you need is staring you in the face. In this case, the clue was: nothing. Absolutely nothing. 

Plenty of dirt on everyone else though. One rabbit trail through KC history gave me an inside track on the next door neighbors. They’d been accused of witchcraft in 1740, which, reading between the lines, was code for “really big jerks we don’t want at the barbecue.” That family is still here and they’re still obnoxious and I can totally see it. 

In 1911 someone’s rooster got blasted with a shotgun and buried in concrete for crowing at 4:59 instead of 5 am. I can’t help feeling neighborhood news has become a lot less interesting.

In the more recent past, I learned how mob “Boss Tom” Pendergast got his claws in the KC Code Department—and made it so crooked that today it still can’t stop citing and snickering long enough to look you in the face. 

But I found nothing on our cavernous brick house. Only the growing feeling, as I walked its wide staircases and traced the shadows of its vaulted ceilings, that it wasn’t normal. Which was fine at first. Because downtown thought our family, with its size and irrepressibility, was pretty weird too.

I formed a theory that an exasperated realtor had pulled the 1915 date out of thin air and slapped it on his deed of sale. There were no records of the behemoth’s original use. No tales of mobs it’d outlasted with its quintuple-thick walls. No reason given for its many secret crawl spaces. The deep gouges in its irreplaceable timber floors. Or its poured concrete roof. 

At the time, my most intriguing find was a sentence from an 1875 account of Kansas City’s stockyards: “The beef barons shipped their assets on the hoof, and herds of cattle, sheep and pigs overran the West Bottoms daily. This was a stark contrast to the more exotic, costly creatures that were rumored to arrive on the riverfront under cover of darkness.”

The “news” story gave me a prickly feeling behind my eyes. The feeling was hard to pin down as it scurried along my bones. I labeled it curiosity and tried to forget it. Curiosity isn’t usually so nagging. It doesn’t usually cause you to turn on extra lights and stay up late at night. 

But the story appeared next to an ad for “MAGIC medicinal TONIC for the FORTIFICATION of boys, girls and calves.” So I felt justified in dismissing it, or trying to. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I know this was my first mistake. Snobbery toward old news—news I stupidly wrote off because I could associate it with hoaxes.

Before everything happened, people often asked me for advice (free of course) about buying and fixing up old houses. Now, as the sun hangs in the middle of the sky and cocktail hour approaches, I know what I should’ve told them:

“Yeah, remodeling physical history is a nasty beast. But let’s step back. How old is the place? Is it too big? Just…Way. Too. Big? In a strange Hitchcockian way that gnaws at you slowly, offending your sense of proportion? Are there too many fireplaces? Do the quiet, twisting hallways send centipedes down your spine?”

That’s all the free advice I’d offer. But if they could afford to pay me for my time…and my scars…and my abrupt career change, I’d say:

Dragons. It just might be dragons. So point me in their direction and get out of the way. 

Business card for a Dragon Agency

AJ Vanderhorst

AJ Vanderhorst is a husband, dad and author who loves barbecue, as do all right-thinking people. His relationship with monsters is long and complicated. Visit him online at ajvanderhorst.com.

Easter 2019 and 2020: Willow Trees and the Water of Life

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

I wrote this post last year, but didn’t finish it in time to post it by Easter 2019. I post it this Easter with a few edits and an extra section.

Easter 2019

On Friday night [last April], as a [now former] coworker and I walked to the parking lot, she pointed out a willow tree whose leaves were beginning to come out. They were a bright yellow-green, hanging with a long, curtain-like elegance. “You can always tell where water is, when you see a willow,” she said. “You would not believe how much they need.”

A few years ago, I attended a women’s retreat in which one speaker walked through Jeremiah 17:7-8 (ESV):

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose trust is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit
.

The speaker emphasized how the tree spread out its roots to the water before the season of drought, so that when suffering came, it was ready.

When I studied the book of John in a women’s Bible study [two years ago], Jesus’s words in John 7:37 had a sweet ring to them: 

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’

It’s Easter Sunday: the natural companion of Christmas Day, but with a special grief and joy Christmas only promised. Christmas is a blaze of joy in the dark of winter, Christ entering the world as a child; something to be wildly excited over, as children usually are. Easter is the beautiful, terrible time when Christ entered suffering and death as an adult, something to grieve about (that He suffered) but glory in all the more. Easter is Christmas grown up.

I’m more and more assured of one thing: the only way to live a good life (good – but no life is perfect) is to love God, trust Him, and obey Him. If I can be deeply rooted in His goodness, drawing on the wellspring of living water, then I can survive anything.

Easter 2020

Where there is a willow, there is water. I am a year older than when I drafted the words above, sitting here in awe of all God has given me in 12 months. Now, I think the water metaphor I used above was somewhat simplistic, underdeveloped, but I’ll continue it: God has led me beside still waters, this year, shepherding me to a greener valley than I imagined.

Now, I can give you more context for last year’s post. Last Easter was an uncertain time:  I was considering either moving up to Portland, Maine, changing jobs, or applying to grad school. I was tired of my long commute, tired of being lonely and isolated, longing for community and meaningful work and direction.

One morning, light rain fell as I started driving up 95 North to Portland. At one point, I changed lanes and felt my car slide a little: the light rain was slowly turning to ice as I drove north. Eventually, I reached a row of red tail lights slowly shifting into the right lane: we finally crawled past a semi truck lying on its side, blocking the two left lanes, the guard rails between the sides of the highway smashed into curves beside it. A few minutes later, I passed a white minivan lying on its roof on the right side of the road.

I was an hour late to work and had a stress-headache. Over the next few hours, big, wet snowflakes fell on the city square outside, muffling the gray pavement and statue in the center. I typed the day away, prayed, and waited.

Three months later, at the end of July, I drove down a highway lined with golden black-eyed susans with a new job, new apartment, new roommate, and a new life.

I don’t write this story because it proves that God always wants to make us happy. This is Resurrection Sunday, when we remember the Messiah making peace by the blood of His cross. Our ultimate purpose is His glory – but He glorifies Himself in acts of grace to us in our present lives (like new jobs) as well as in eternity.

Where a willow is, there is water. In Scripture, water does two things: it represents life (eternal life) and cleansing. The Resurrection is Christ giving Himself for us so that we can be cleansed and have eternal life.

Living water…Good Shepherd…Savior. These eternal truths reveal themselves in my small, brief, mortal days as blessing and guidance; I am sustained by the wellspring of the author of Life, who died, was buried, and rose again. 

As believers, we are willows. Glory!

Genesis: Dreams, Schemes, and Sovereignty

I have been slowly reading my way through Genesis since January. The slowness is my own fault: I want to do the book justice, to ask difficult questions and ponder concepts as I never did in the flannelgraph teachings of Sunday School, bedroom-lamp discussions of nightly Bible story time, or even the whiteboard lectures of my college Bible classes. 

Genesis is rich and heavy, like gold; terrible and mesmerizing, like ancient temple mosaics seen through torchlight; sweet and beautiful, like a spring morning over an estuary; funny, like a family anecdote retold at every holiday; sad and horrifying in a faraway sense, like newspaper headlines of atrocities across the world. This story of the world’s beginning is full of wonders and mysteries, but the way humans behave is as relatable and familiar as gossip.

This reading has opened my eyes to human behavior in Genesis, particularly human scheming. From the very beginning, we have planned and strategized how to fulfill our desires outside of the will of God: Adam and Eve’s disobediance, Cain’s murder, Sarah’s reproductive substitution; Rebekah and Jacob’s tricks…we exercise our cunning and effort to gain what God forbade us to have, or promised to give us Himself in His own time.

Through all this scheming, the LORD is patient – and still fulfills His purposes. 

God is just. Adam and Eve suffered their curse. Cain is exiled. Jacob is tricked in turn by his uncle and his sons. 

God is merciful. He clothes Adam and Eve and gives them a promise of redemption. He protects Cain from harm. He blesses Jacob. He gives Leah, the unloved wife, children, including Judah (through whom Jesus Christ traces His lineage). 

God is sovereign. He uses our scheming to accomplish His will. Eve and a thousand other women’s pain in childbirth leads to the birth of His Messiah. Sarah did bear Isaac. Jacob’s sons became the clans of Israel.

God is loving. He forms intimate, loving relationships with individuals: Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Hagar, Isaac, Jacob, and others. He is gentle where man is harsh, good where man is evil, gracious and just where man is depraved. 

I had my own schemes for this spring, this year. The remainder of March was booked solid with fellowship or intellectual events; April and May were set aside for conferences I looked forward to. Thank God, I have experienced no real harm, danger, or loss through this crisis, as others have.

I have had schemes in past years. When I first graduated from college, I dreamed of working as an editor as a small book publisher somewhere in the green, quiet Northeast, of buying a little yellow house next to a river and surrounded by weeping willow trees. Later, I dreamed of moving to an apartment in Portland, Maine where I could get cinnamon mochas at artisan coffee shops on Saturday mornings and visit the islands on summer weekends. I am glad I had those dreams, and gladder that God has given me a sweeter, wilder adventure than my own schemes.

In the midst of human scheming and chaos and disobedience, certain people bowed their wills to God’s: Noah, who immediately built the ark when called to do so; Abraham, who moved his whole family to the Promised Land when God called him; Hagar, who returned to Sarai after running away and called God “El Roi,” or “The God who sees me.” 

I am a schemer and dreamer and complainer, but in this moment, as Holy Week begins, I choose to bow my will to God’s, surrender my reshuffled plans, and pray: 

LORD God, please rescue this broken world. Please let there be no more deaths; heal the sick; comfort the grieving; provide for those who have lost livelihoods or loved ones. 

And because you are sovereign, all-knowing, and love us unconditionally, I can say with confidence: Your will be done.

The Magic of Late Winter, Part VII: Guest Post by Elizabeth Giger

When the wheel of the year turned towards March, I expected storms, sleet, slush, and long gray days that seemed to last centuries. Instead, I received warm, golden days, cool rain and bright snow, and a global storm that made the month spin by like a pinwheel. When Elizabeth Giger first presented this beautiful contribution to my Magic of Late Winter series in late February, neither of us knew how perfectly it would fit these strange, turbulent times.

Elizabeth Giger is another writer-friend from The Habit community whose writing style has the sweet, profound clarity of a church bell ringing. Her work reminds me that in Christ, joy, hope, and truth are all one reality. Enjoy!

The Reality of Spring

Text and pictures by Elizabeth Giger

Reality.

All of creation conspires to teach us what is real. When God created, He carefully crafted the laws of nature to point toward reality.

Every growing seed points to the reality that we must die in order to bear fruit. Every autumn leaf points to the reality that in dying to ourselves, our true colors burst forth. Every new birth points to the reality that new life comes only after great labor pains.

All of creation shouts out God’s beautiful reality.

Today, as I look out the window on a day at the end of March and see this:

I am considering the reality that when the calendar says it is spring, when the crocus first peeps up from the ground, it is truly spring, even when it still feels like winter.

It still feels like winter in my own little world. The snows still hush the sounds outside my window. The skies still hold that steely winter-gray. There is even a certain smell that comes with the cold and the stilling of growth.

It still feels like winter in our larger world. As refugees stream out of war-torn countries, as friends fight deadly diseases, as families continue to grieve beloved ones who have died, it still feels like winter to me.

And yet.

I sit here on a Monday in March, contemplating the Holy Week that is coming soon:

The road into Jerusalem which led to the giving of bread and wine, a desperate prayer in a garden, the cross. The ghastliness of Holy Saturday and the knowledge that God was dead.

And then.

A weighty boulder moved easy like a feather. An angel wondering at anyone presuming to find Jesus in a tomb. A familiar voice: Mary.

Jesus.

Alive.

Resurrection.

And suddenly I understand what I am truly seeing out of my window on this day at the end of March, when the crocuses have peeped out their heads and yet snow lays heavy on the ground.

Spring is here.

It requires that I open my eyes to see what is really there. It requires stooping low to the earth. It requires being still.

It is the same reality that we see all around us in our larger world when we open our eyes, stoop low, and be still. The reality that the tide has turned, that despite the battle raging all around, the war has ended and God’s Spirit is little by little warming the air and thawing our hearts.

How can we be sure that God’s kingdom truly has come? How can we be sure that God has won the war and decisively defeated sin and death when we still see sin and death raging all around us?

The resurrection is our confirmation.

Yes, it may still feel like winter all around,

but the resurrection is our crocus.

Spring is really here.

Picture of Elizabeth Giger

Elizabeth Giger

Elizabeth is a writer and musician, writing weekly at MadeSacred.com. She holds a Certificate of Spiritual Formation from Lincoln Christian University. She also loves photography and art and enjoys weaving together words with visual art on her blog to create something new. She is a wife to her logical, programmer husband, a mother to four intense, warrior girls, a homeschooler, and a midwest girl who loves the sight of golden fields stretching to the horizon. She neglects housework in favor of reading as many books as she can get her hands on and loves to travel the world. 

The Magic of Late Winter, Part VI: Guest Post by Hope Henchey

Pictures by Hope Henchey

Friends, the natural world is changing from gray to green, chilly to warm, frozen to refreshed, but it feels like the human world has gone mad. This pandemic has reshuffled the cards of our lives. I pray for those who are sick, grieving, afraid, jobless, homebound, or lonely.

In the midst of grief and fear, I remember an ancient truth: the God who sits above the circle of the earth and inhabits eternity is our refuge – in pandemics or prosperity, peace or war.

The LORD God is our stronghold. I hope to honor Him by seeking joy in dark places and pursuing beauty through these gray days. Therefore, I am going ahead with the next installment of my Magic of Late Winter series, a guest post by Hope Henchey about late winter in Florida.

Hope’s meditation on the beauty and transience of this season in Florida stirred me like a dream of summer in the midst of winter. I love how she captures this season’s precious, fierce, fragile joy. Enjoy!

March in Florida: The Last Days of the Shire

Text and pictures by Hope Henchey

I’m a season snob, I’ll admit it.

If you ask my opinion of living in Florida for 22 years, the answer you get will vary widely depending on what month it is. You should ask in a month like March.

Those who live in colder climates might look to March with hopefulness of sunny days and fresh air. As a Floridian, however, I’ve already been enjoying sunny days and fresh air for the past few months, so I cling to March tightly as I watch the last specks of sand drizzle through the hourglass, signaling the season when my Shire will transform into Mordor.

March is so, so lovely. It’s the tail-end of strawberry season, which means those delicious berries are cheap, plenteous, and ruby-red ripe. Since we live only five minutes from strawberry fields, we actually eat strawberries at every meal. To continue with Lord of the Rings imagery, I devour strawberries in the same way the steward of Gondor murderously eats tomatoes. The juice drips from my chin like blood, but I don’t even care. It’s glorious.

March is a month when mosquitoes (“our state bird”, as we say) are still mostly gone, and the air is cool enough to enjoy all the local rivers, trees, and beaches. My favorite beach is Siesta Key, where the sand truly looks and feels like powdered sugar. Nearby is the gorgeous John and Mable Ringling Museum and Estate (yes, the circus guy) where my daughters enjoy savoring aromas in Florida’s oldest rose garden. On the way home, we like to stop by a delightful orange grove that sells soft-serve frozen orange juice. March days are full of such adventures.

Though we still might get sunburned if we’re outside more than ten minutes, the big ol’ Star seems more like friend than foe in months like these.

There is, of course, an uneasiness that pulls at my sleeve in March. I know that the hot half of the year is hurtling toward us, with its bugs and crowds and threats of heatstroke. Especially since I’m entering my fifth pregnant summer in nine years, I know that I have months of difficult breathing ahead since my organs get all squished up, yet the fourth-most humid city in America doesn’t seem to care. Even walking to my car feels like I’m underwater in a 100-degree pool. I dread that feeling so much.

But that’s the thing with seasons, isn’t it? We don’t get to control them. Unless we have the flexibility to chase around good weather, we don’t get to pick what season we’re in. I wish strawberries were always cheap and ripe, but the plants must die and be replanted and grow from seeds again. I wish the air could always feel fresh and delightful, but heat and humidity must come.

If I could customize seasons of life by sheer will, I would cut out a lot of the things going on in my life right now, issues that are heavier than hot weather or lack of berries. But the world is broken, and God has given me limits. I can receive each season as the blessing it is, given by God for His glory and my good.

There’s beauty in every season. Even summer holds things I love such as mighty yet calming lightning storms, Vacation Bible School, and lower prices on grapes. But while it’s still March, I’ll enjoy every last moment of blowing bubbles in our yard and gator-watching at Lettuce Lake Park and meandering downtown Tampa’s Riverwalk.

I thank Him for this season and trust Him for the next.

Bio picture of Hope Henchey

Hope Henchey

Hope Henchey lives in the suburbs of Tampa, Florida with her husband and four kids (fifth on the way!) She writes on her blog and microblogs on Instagram about homeschooling, RV living, theology, childbirth, and more @called.beloved.kept and @lightingfireshomeschool. She has written for Christianity Today and Daughter of Delight.

The Magic of Late Winter, Part V: Mist Maker

Mist on a pond
Photo by Gabriela Palai on Pexels.com

After a few weeks of delightful guest posts by Kimberly Margaret Miller, Loren Warnemuende, Reagan Dregge and Kristen Kopp, and Bethany J. Melton, here is my late winter story. I wrote it for the weather I dread the most – cold rain falling on melting snow, leafless trees, gray skies, and slushy streets – not knowing how golden and warm this March would be.

I rewrote the story to match this year’s milder weather. I post this in the middle of a pandemic that is shuttering gatherings and separating communities, scaring parents and (I hope) thrilling at least a few kids who suddenly have two free weeks to hunt purple crocuses and golden daffodils in the woods.

I post this now knowing that in fear or gloominess, boredom or grief, gray winter days or slushy spring mornings, the same God who spoke light out of darkness can speak joy and courage into us.

Mist Maker

On the quiet street, cold rain speckled the pale lawns and ran down the gutters of the shingled houses. Mist hung between the bare gray branches of oaks and thick robes of evergreens.

Inside a white house with black shutters in the middle of the street, Mae sat in the family room downstairs, leaning over her laptop. She wore a dark blue sorority sweatshirt. Her curly blond hair was tied up in a messy bun, and she wore a gold necklace hung with small pink beads.

On her laptop screen, Mae clicked on the field next to YEARS OF RELATED WORK EXPERIENCE and entered a “0.”

Her email inbox lit up. She opened the email from a company she’d applied to three weeks ago: 

Dear Ms. Newman,

Thank you for your interest in the Project Manager position. We have decided to pursue a candidate whose qualifications are more suited to our requirements.

Sincerely,

Hiring Manager
New England Design Co.

Mae stared at the email for a moment, and then opened an Excel spreadsheet labeled “Jobs” and colored row #19 in gray.

Upstairs, a baby wailed. A door opened, and Mae heard her sister’s low, soothing tones. A moment later, a light set of footsteps pattered down the stairs, and her niece, Rachel, came in. She wore a red sweater with a picture of a brown bear, and her ash-blond hair was half-braided.

“Sammy’s crying,” she announced. “Mommy said to come ask you to watch me.” 

Mae put down her laptop. “Poor little guy,” she said. She looked down at her laptop, and then outside. “Wanna come on a walk with me?” 

Rachel looked out the window and wrinkled her nose. “It’s gross out,” she said.

“Nah, this is one of the best times of the year,” said Mae, getting up and setting her laptop on the coffee table. “I’ll show you.” 

After bundling up, they left the garage and squelched through the backyard, through the back gate and into the woods.

Mae let her big hood slip off so the rain fell freely on her hair and face. “Your mom and I used to pretend we were mermaids when we got our hair wet,” she told Rachel, who giggled. 

The woods had barely changed since Mae left for college: the ashes of autumnal bonfires in center of the clearing, the stump full of woodpecker holes, and the leaning fir they called Old Giant. Sticks and golden-brown pine needles littered the ground. 

Mae took Rachel on the old path through the thicket of leafless thorn and blueberry bushes, green and gray, spreading like waves across the peaks and gullies of the forest floor. She pointed out memory-haunts: “We used to hunt for letter boxes with the Flame-wings under those logs. We built a fort around that tree. Here’s where we played bows and arrows with the Green Singers…”

Rachel asked a few questions, but mostly chattered as they neared the pond. They turned right into the opening in the trees and braced their feet against tree roots to get safely down the hill.

The spruces and oak trees were shades of brown, light green, and gray around the still surface of the pond. The water was dark, half-covered with a thin layer of ice melted into slush. 

“Come see,” Mae said, gesturing to Rachel. She led her niece to the pond’s edge, where tree roots stuck out from the eroded earth and disappeared into the water. 

From this angle, they could see a misty shape above the ice: a castle with spiked towers like the tops of pine trees.

“Oh,” said Rachel. 

“It’s a reverse reflection,” said Mae. “The real castle is underneath. The Lily Queen let us swim down there sometimes to see it.” 

“Can we…?” Rachel asked, looking from Mae to the pond.

“No, sweetheart, it’s too cold to swim,” said Mae. “But if we’re quiet, the Mist Maker will put on a show for us.” 

Rachel took in a low, excited breath and held it. Mae squeezed her hand as new shapes formed above the pond: two girls chasing creatures like winged foxes, a fir tree transforming into a tower, a boy riding a sea serpent.

They watched things remembered or longed for rising from the warming air, the melting ice, the thawing soil, the waking earth.

The Magic of Late Winter, Part IV: Guest Post by Bethany J. Melton

Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

Late winter here in New England has been much milder than past years – dry and golden, with some warm days that bring hints of spring. Until the vernal equinox, however (I love the sound of those words together!) I don’t want to let myself celebrate yet. I want to soak in the beauty of chilly nights and bare trees while it lasts.

This post is by Bethany J. Melton, a writer from the Midwest whose words have the quiet, meditative beauty of morning mist on a lake. Bethany reminds me to cherish the time we have now, as the tiniest leaf-buds begin to swell on the trees and the last snow-mountains dwindle.

Thank You, Winter Woods

by Bethany J. Melton

I walked fast enough that the March rain didn’t seep deep into my skin; slow enough that I didn’t miss the beads on every winter limb. I’d said, “Only up the hill and back,” but the neighborhood was asleep in the mist this afternoon and I smiled into its silence.

I took Edgewood to its end—the circle turn-around encircled by forest. The woods breathed in the rain and I breathed in the woods. Wet leaves and sweet bark. I stopped when a bubble slipped from a limb and ran down my finger. I rubbed the water into my palm—a bit of March to carry home.

It’s me and the trees at Edgewood’s end and they lean in, their limbs entangled overhead. They’re naked and they know it. Like a rude onlooker, I’m gawking. I can see every knot, every crook, every vine. Some limbs are black and blunt against the white sky. Others are spindly.

All are motionless, waiting for me to pass.

I do, finally, and leave them their privacy—the privacy of the wood and a dripping creek and staring squirrels. It’s a privacy I sometimes crave, too.

Thank you, March trees.

We can tell every tree in winter without reference to foliage by its mode of growth. So study them, in some spare moments… They will repay—they are in the right place as beautiful as rocks. They have a nobility of growth which is usually entirely overlooked.
– Beatrix Potter

Bethany J. Melton

To read more of Bethany’s writing, visit her blog, Bethany J’s Journal.