Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Poem I Left at Home: For Marnie on Our Tenth Wedding Anniversary


Earlier this morning I was trying to think about what I might write, what one thing begs to be said on this our tenth wedding anniversary. Something about the occasion seems to raise the stakes and put pressure on me and my words. I do this to myself, I know. I’m tempted to think it might be best not to write anything at all. Would silence be preferable to a failed attempt at being profound and poignant? It might be, but I know that such thoughts are wrong because they mean I’m more concerned about being seen as “good” at this, rather than concerned with saying something true to you on this day.

I opted not to write a poem – but I found one that started me thinking about our decade of marriage and the love we’ve nurtured across three states and among two other little people who demand their share of what we need to be giving each other.

The poem was by Wendell Berry (yes, the only poet I’ve actually read) and it was called “The Mad Farmer’s Love Song.” Romantic title, yes? It was a short poem and my intent was to reproduce it here for you. That plan went south once I left the house without the book – a fact that itself has meaning for me; meaning which I hope to share with you in a moment.

The poem basically said that when there is peace in the world and all the work has been done "then I will go down unto my love." And then it added a line that said that said something like, “and I might just go down several times before then.”

Love doesn’t wait for perfect conditions: peace in the world, all the work done, plenty of money in the bank, perfect health. There is something in us that wants all the pieces neatly in place, and then we can give ourselves to the business of loving another person.

But the last line of the poem seems to embrace reality and in doing so it embraces the way love and marriage truly are; we don’t wait for peace in the world and tidy conclusions to all the lose ends and complexities of life. We love now. We love in the midst of laundry and meetings and practices and home-repair. Just this morning you spoke to me of how complicated our days can be. Most of them are – but they are the setting into which the diamond is placed, the gift of life and love that God allows us to share.

On this day that marks our tenth year of marriage I know there is no time for waiting. I also know myself well enough to know how inclined I am to wait and anticipate the turns in life that will free me up to love you better. Maybe that means the kids being older, maybe that means being less distracted by my ambitions. I fear that too often over the past ten years I’ve waited and lost time in loving you as I should.

Leaving the poem at home was probably a good thing. The conditions for writing my thoughts were not what I had planned – not as smooth as I wanted to sound.

But I write for you anyway. This day is moving by quickly, as all the others have since we made our vows; days that have not slowed in the least since we welcomed our Son and moved to North Carolina and welcomed our daughter and moved again to Atlanta and bought our first home and continued to make a life together. Knowing how quickly ten years has passed, there is no time for waiting.

Today I am the “Mad Farmer.” I will not wait for peace in the world and finished tasks and all just right. I will go to you my love several times, often even, before then. I will speak my love to you at the risk of sounding plain. With these words I do so now.

Monday, August 28, 2006


“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV)

“I haven’t got time for this.”

That’s a reflex line when some inconvenience manages to stick its foot into the door of my plans. I use it for choice moments - when the sound of flapping rubber accompanies the violent shimmy in my car while I’m on the highway; when I wake up with that feeling in my throat that tells me I’m well on my way to a full blown head cold; when my best intentions to be careful with my cup of morning-drive coffee don’t hold up against sudden braking and the subsequent sloshing on my tie. These annoyances, minor though they are, usually get the line: “I don’t have time for this.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1 is one of the most familiar and beautiful lines of poetry in the Old Testament. The rhythm of the language and the profundity of thought endear it to us. But it is a disturbing verse of scripture. In our coziness with the words, the offense of what it says is lost on us. The uneasiness can be attributed to one word: Everything. For everything there is a season. “Everything” encompasses some aspects of life that I typically regard as a mistake or an aberration from God’s plan and purposes.

I can accept that God wills my joy and laughter, my efforts to build up and to plant, my embracing others and making peace - but are my grieving and weeping, my casting away and losses also included in God’s economy? The scripture answers “yes.” There is a season for everything. And everything includes all of those things of which I would readily say, “I don’t have time for this.”

But God has time for them. What’s more, God has reasons for them. This is a hard truth, but one which brings us good news if we’ll hear it. It means that nothing in your life is wasted. Nothing. The realities you woke up to this morning may be a source of joy for you; they may be a source of anguish. Whatever they are, whatever they feel like – they aren’t wasted. To say there is a season for everything means that God ignores nothing.

Prayer: I thank you God that nothing in my life is wasted – even the circumstances that seem like a total waste to me. Teach me to trust you in every season of life. Amen

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25).

Some time ago I was to attend a Monday meeting at the church that would include lunch. I’d been to these meetings before and knew that the lunch would be good. Usually we had a sandwich on whole wheat bread along with a serving of fruit.

On this particular Monday I was running a mid-morning errand that took me right by a Krystal. My wife doesn’t care to eat at Krystal, so being alone in the car at this place and at this time presented a rare opportunity for me. It was, as Presbyterians are fond of saying, divine providence. The meeting would not convene for more than an hour and besides, Krystal burgers are so small. This wouldn’t really be a lunch, but a mid-morning “snack.”

I pulled into line at the drive-thru, making my way with great anticipation to the raspy little speaker where I ordered my snack – four Krystals, fries, and a medium diet Coke. The aroma of those warm little burgers was like incense, turning my car into a chapel for junk food lovers. I ate my snack as I drove back to the church.

By the time my lunch meeting rolled around, the fruit and whole wheat bread sandwiches looked pretty lame in light of my mid-morning snack. A perfectly good and healthy lunch was being offered to me, but I didn’t want it. I was full. I had traded a good meal with Christian friends for the greasy processed stuff eaten in the lonely confines of my car. Having filled myself with fast-food, I wasn’t able to enjoy a truly decent meal.

What the world calls “satisfaction” is really more like being full of junk food. It’s a kind of fullness that takes away our appetite for what is best and good. C. S. Lewis is often quoted as saying that God faults us not for wanting too much, but for being satisfied with so little. We glut ourselves on what the world offers, and then find that we have no appetite for God. When we are Solomon-like in obtaining possessions and pleasures, denying ourselves nothing, our hunger for the Holy is quenched.

Real satisfaction comes from God and involves God. Solomon rightly knew that it is good to eat and work and be satisfied – but without God it isn’t possible. So how’s your appetite?

Prayer: God, in my own search for satisfaction, the options around me are so alluring. Cause me to hunger for you today and help me to seek you as the source of true satisfaction in my life.

Monday, August 07, 2006


. . . My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11).

What we delight in one day, we despise the next. Go figure.

We put in the time and get the degree only to realize that our study earned us a piece of framed gothic script. The real world grades on a different scale. We’re not through with hustling to stay at the head of the class.

We get the dream job and find it’s not so dreamy. After a while we start to look longingly at a different place or a different title. We toy with the resume, casually scan journals and papers for “the next chapter” of our lives. Tuition and mortgage keep us anchored, but a part of us envies Tom Hanks’ character in Cast Away.

The same happens with the things we own. We grow tired of what we have because we’re convinced there’s something better, faster, more improved, better located. Sadly, relationships are not immune. We interpret well worn familiarities as incompatibility. We start believing the lie that someone else is out there who can truly understand and love us. We are restless, literally without rest. Like Solomon, we’re fickle. We take delight in “all that our hands have done” on one day, and then finding those very same things meaningless the next.

The rest we seek, the rest that seems so absent in Ecclesiastes, isn’t found externally. We don’t obtain it by doing something different or going somewhere different or meeting someone new. It’s worth noting that when Jesus said “come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest,” he went on to say clearly that in coming to him we would find rest for the soul (Matt. 11:29).

Rest is a spiritual reality before it is a physical reality. It is an inward condition that manifests itself outwardly – in our demeanor, in our work, in our families. Maybe successful people aren’t the ones who work hard, but the ones who can work hard and all the while be at rest.

Prayer: Gracious God, remind me that nothing will happen today that will catch you by surprise. I praise you that are sufficient for my every need and every yearning. Teach me to rest in you. Amen.