The Candles at Turl Street Kitchen

Evening comes on quickly in Oxford in November. The dark creeps in around 4 in the afternoon.

When David and I closed out our afternoons there, we sought out a little respite in a place pointed out to us by our friend Sarah: Turl Street Kitchen. Turl Street is one of the cross streets that runs between Broad Street and the High Street. It is rather narrow and always full of bicycle riders.

The restaurant was tucked in on the right side of the road as we left Broad Street and Blackwells’ bookstore. It was the kind of place you’d imagine in Oxford: small-paned windows, rough wooden pub tables, and a staircase that marched up the middle of the building. In the back was the coffee bar: a lighter space with a few high-top tables scattered about.

As dusk came on, we sought out those most modern of necessities: electrical outlets and free wi-fi. My eagerness to guide us around the town with an online walking tour, along with my incessant picture-taking, had mercilessly killed my phone. While “going dark” in Oxford was a tempting proposition, responsibilities back home (by the names of our five children) demanded that we keep the communication lines open. So we ordered two lattes and a slice of cake, and slumped down with our bags at a corner table by an outlet.

We took out a map, as tourists are inclined to do, and discussed our next day’s plans. As we chatted, a server walked about with a lighter and lit the white thick pillar candles on each table. There were no candle holders; not even a plate underneath them. The candles sat down unapologetically on each wooden table, where the burn marks remembered them. There was no fuss about anything.

Despite the small effort, the room took an enchanted glow because of those candles. The little bit of effort taken turned the space into a cozy residence, perfect for thinking noble thoughts and having profound conversation.

When I returned home from the UK, one of the first errands I took included a stop for white pillar candles. I wanted to recapture that moment and make it exist in my own home. Forget the fact that I didn’t have ancient walls, magical libraries, boys’ choirs, or Evensong…I could have the white candles from Turl Street Kitchen.

What is it about us that thinks we can recapture an atmosphere? What makes an atmosphere “just so” in a fashion that can, realistically, never be recaptured? The air and the mood, in that place have taken up residence in my heart.

What is a place that you have ingrained in your heart? What made it that way?

I want my home to be a place that is ingrained in my children’s hearts. Realistically, this is unavoidable. It will be part of them. I pray that those positive pieces — the tray with our initial, the smell of bread, and yes, the white pillar candles on the Oxford tea towel on the table — will stick with them more than the weak, broken pieces.

 

And Yet He (She) is Such a Man (Woman)

Well, who can believe Election 2016?! Really?!

It came to me last night that the feeling I’ve been having about this year’s Presidential campaigns is akin to a moment in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. As the conventions draw to a close, there is a kind of resignation that has settled over the nation. Here they are, our two major party candidates. And yet…

Mr. Wickham. He is the scoundrel in Pride and Prejudice (200-year-old spoiler, sorry). He’s handsome and charming. Yet his true character is revealed when he takes off in the middle of the night with the Bennet’s youngest daughter, Lydia, who has been convinced that she is in love with him.

Elizabeth and the family finally receive word that Lydia is fine, and that Wickham has agreed to financial terms to marry her. Naturally the family has to agree to pay him a hefty sum, but they are willing to do so to attempt to salvage their reputation. If they did not, the chances of the other girls being able to marry at all disappear.

There’s a moment in this scene where you see Elizabeth come to terms with the situation. She speaks to her father:

“And may I ask — ?” said Elizabeth, “but the terms, I suppose, must be complied with.”

“Complied with! I am only ashamed of his asking so little.”

“And they must marry! Yet he is such a man!”

“Yes, yes, they must marry. There is nothing else to be done….”

Of course, we learn later (another spoiler, sorry) that this is actually Mr. Darcy’s great moment of self-sacrifice for Elizabeth — and all comes out well in the end. All well, except for the Bennet sisters who now have a miscreant for a brother-in-law.

Look, I get that last night was a big deal historically speaking. I do. A woman was nominated by a major party. First time. High five, sisters. I want to be happy. I am happy, as far as that goes. America has finally caught up with Europe in this respect, for starters.

But we must elect someone this year.47_mrs_bennet_Pride_and_Prejudice

And yet she is such a woman.

And across the aisle….such a man.

*sigh*

Where are my smelling salts?

 

Things I Tell Myself: Be a Plodder

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The other day I was listening to a podcast about home education, a decision in life which requires more than a little long-term perspective. The guest, who had herself raised and educated six children at home, attributed much of her success to being a “plodder.” She said one of her friends called her a plodder after observing how she faithfully, day-in-and-day-out, made her plans and executed them. Her efforts were nothing flashy, but her consistency over the long haul meant that she reaped great fruit after a time.

I suppose this is nothing more than a retelling of the Tortoise and the Hare, but of course it’s true that “slow and steady wins the race.” All our extravagance and attempts at quick success cannot substitute for consistent effort over the long haul. We cannot make huge strides each day, but we can take one more step, try one more time, get up one more morning and do it again. All of these little efforts add up to more than we could ever achieve in one day of monumental success.

Plodders are everywhere, but you often don’t see them. They are quietly making progress behind the scenes while the whole world clamors for more attention. They get up early and unlock the church. They put the last few dishes in the dishwasher before bed. They show up on time. They take their vitamins and walk the dog. They make the hard phone call. They practice their instruments every day. They budget. They listen longer and think for a minute, then they get back to work.

At the top of my plans for school this year I have written in capital letters, “BE A PLODDER.” This sentiment is not to inspire mediocrity in myself or my children, but rather to inspire consistency, or, as the Bible observes it, faithfulness.

How is God a plodder? Where is He quietly faithful? His excellency is seen in the sun rising each day, the rain falling on the just and the unjust, the turn of seasons and steadiness of the tides. This is the quiet, common grace extended to all as a manifestation of His undiminished, extravagant glory.

But usually we are all too busy to notice.

Galileo and the Reckoning

Musically speaking, I grew up in the 1990’s. Natalie Merchant, the Indigo Girls, the Cranberries…these were all my favorites. There was no better anthem for high school and college life than the Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine”:

I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind

Got my paper and I was free

Or who didn’t love Natalie Merchant’s “Jealousy” in the wake of a bad breakup?

Does she talk

The way I do

Is her voice reminding you

Of the promises

The little white lies too

The music was bitter and cynical, and I relished it being that way. It was the tone of that whole generation.

Occasionally when I’m cleaning the house, in need of a shot of energy, I’ll turn on a Pandora channel with these artists on it. I find amusement in seeing if, while I’m scrubbing the bathroom sink, I can still sing Dolores O’Riordan’s entire descant at the end of “Dreams” without taking a single breath. I sound terrible, and the echo in the room only magnifies the horror, but I’m having fun and the bathroom is getting clean.

My children and husband quietly roll their eyes.

The other day The Indigo Girls’ song “Galileo” came on. If you’re not familiar with the song, it wrestles with the idea of reincarnation. The writer despairs that she will never “get it right,” and wonders if she’s doomed to repeat the same mistakes in lifetime after lifetime.

How long till my soul gets it right?

Can any human being ever reach that kind of light?

I call on the resting soul of Galileo

King of night vision, King of insight

In the writer’s mind, Galileo was the only person who ever got it right — he found the truth and was twice accused of heresy for it. He died under house arrest, and now his soul is at rest.

Until her friend brought up the idea of reincarnation, the writer thought her mistakes were only to blame on her childhood. But now, she says, she might need to look back further: “And now I’m serving time for mistakes/made by another in another lifetime.” Faced with this dark reality, the only hope is that, as a result of her failures, at least we’ll avoid a nuclear holocaust:

If we wait for the time till all souls get it right

Then at least, I know there’ll be no nuclear annihilation

In my lifetime

At the end of the song, the first line of the chorus repeats again and again: “how long? how long?”

As “Galileo” played in my house the other day, I heard my youngest son quietly filling in a background vocal at the end: “How long until the reckoning…”

He was repeating the closing strains of Andrew Peterson’s song “The Reckoning.” This song has become “mandatory thunderstorm listening” in our home, as Andrew witnesses a storm and calls to mind how the Lord promises to return and set all things right.

Immediately I was struck with the difference in worldview here.

How long until this curtain is lifted?

How long is this the song that we sing?

How long until the reckoning?

…I know you hear the cries of every soul tonight

You see the teardrops as they roll tonight

Down the faces of saints

Who grow weary and faint in your fields

And the wicked roam the cities and the streets tonight

But when the God of love and thunder speaks tonight

I believe You will come

Your justice be done, but how long?

hourglass-4-1312475-1599x2132Behold in stark relief the difference the Gospel makes: hope. Christians long for the end. We look forward to it, because we know the outcome doesn’t depend on us “getting it right.” Christ has gotten it right for us. Though the idea of a holy God returning to earth and exacting justice on evil might inspire fear, ultimately we are at peace because our lives are hidden in Christ.

Hope is at odds with cynicism. We cannot carry both at the same time — they repel one another. We must put one down. Lately I’m realizing how much I’ve been carrying cynicism around. It’s a security blanket for those of us who’ve been disappointed. If we don’t “get our hopes up,” we won’t be let down.

This ugly, dirty security blanket of cynicism prevents me from looking people in the eye. I am afraid of them. I am afraid of getting hurt again. Being lied and gossiped about again. Being misunderstood again. I am more like the cynical believer in reincarnation than I am the hopeful Christian.

Because I am fortunate in my friends, every once in awhile, a fellow Christian breathes new life into me with words of hope.

They then addressed themselves to the water; and entering, CHRISTIAN began to sink. And crying out to his good friend, HOPEFUL, he said, “I sink in deep waters, the billows go over my head; all his waves go over me.”

Then said the other, “Be of good cheer, my brother; I feel the bottom, and it is good.”

…Then I saw in my dream that CHRISTIAN was as in a muse awhile, to whom also HOPEFUL added this word, “Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole “; and with that CHRISTIAN brake out with a loud voice, “Oh, I see him again! and he tells me, ‘When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee'”.

-from “The Last Difficulties,” The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan

Oh, how I want to be Hopeful — to sink into the bottom of difficulties and see the good approaching! To bear the burden and not faint; to release the cynicism and speak hope to a fellow Christian, as so many have for me; to remind them of the Reckoning, when all things will be made new.

Come Lord Jesus! How long, O Lord?

Who’s Excited?

Livin’ In a Powder Keg and Givin’ Off Sparks

Brothers