Morning Has Broken ~

Here is what is new in the Atchley-late-summer garden...or, relatively new. Not to sound trite, but these are small harvests of pure pleasure to me:

Finally, after planting these by seed, months ago, the first blossom appears just this very morning...I had given up hope of this Morning Glory ever blooming. Isn't that how hoping in God is? The results, to quote Pilgrim's Progress, are always "longer than you wish, sooner than you think."

Candid shot (really!) of just a few of my Tools of the Trade...I snapped this just after planting some pots of rudbeckia this morning. Better to plant late, than to plant never! Hmmmmmm...isn't that also the way hoping in God is?

Apples, growing just alongside the stump of a plum tree. A plum that had to be cut down, years ago! A surprise blessing, from what seemed to us the sadness of long-ago storm damage.

My "reading girl" statue - through a mist of heirloom cherry tomato plants, whose harvest is, as of this week, full-force!

The last of the patio tomatoes. Not so "full-force" anymore.

Hand-made, "primitive" style tables, created by our retired neighbor, just for us, in our firepit outdoor "living room".

This week's newest sunflower! See the bee? (photo by Hannah Atchley)

Apples from "our" tree. Well...this tree is five steps away from the Atchley property line, and my retired neighbor Earl lovingly insists that we pick as much as we want, anytime we want. So yes. The tree is "mine". This harvest of apples is my harvest. A better batch of fried apples we never tasted! It so rocks to be me.

About a month ago, we wondered where our hummingbirds went. My husband, who loves to watch them, prayed out loud, in front of me, "Lord...please send our hummers back." Now, we have a Hummingbird Sighting every two minutes. Not even lying. They are everywhere, and fly disarmingly close to us, at all hours of the daytime. (photo by Hannah Atchley)

Our Mammoth-variety (we are growing about four different kinds!) of sunflowers finally opened their faces two weeks ago. Here is one of them. (photo taken by Hannah Atchley)

The Boys of Summer...

Nobody on the road,nobody on the beach.

I feel it in the air,the summers out of reach

Empty lake, empty streets,the sun goes down alone.

I'm driving by your house, though I know that you're not home...

And I can see you, your brown skin shining in the sun

You got your hair combed back, sunglasses on, baby

And I can tell you, my love for you will still be strong

After the boys of summer have gone.

Some things you can never have back. I used to complain (a little) about the full yard I seemed to have, every summer, for almost as long as I can remember. Our summers here at the Atchley House could have easily been entitled, "The Summers of Boys". Boys in the yard, boys in the trees, boys in the cul-de-sac, and the steady bounce-bounce-bounce of perpetual basketball games.

But school has started this year, already. And for the first time, I realized....this was it. This was the very last and final installment of the Boys of Summer.

For they are all becoming young men.

The tears flow, sudden and unexpected, like a summer storm, even as I sit here typing. My oldest boy has already faded away from the summer scene, having worked full time when school let out, for a couple of years now. Next summer, my youngest, I am sure, will be working full time - doubtlessly saving his money for the coveted Teenaged Ride.

I know. It is a different take, a different perspective on the classic Don Henley song. Lyrics and art can be pliable like that, sometimes. They can be re-interpreted. I won't hear the "Boys of Summer" in quite the same way, ever again. Summertime will never be the same, either. It will have to be re-sung and re-interpreted and re-invented...the lyrical beat of sunrise and sunset, and hot days, and no school, and popsicles will someday apply to future grandsons.

Freckled faces, dark tans, plastic sunglasses from the Dollar Store, water hoses full force, and all the shouting that somehow has changed from tenor into bass. It will vanish, and is vanishing before my eyes. I've never been one to be maudlin. I move from one season into the next rather seamlessly, compared to many. But oh, what I wouldn't give to be able to convince myself that the Boys of Summer - my boys - will still be out there in the sun, young and fresh faced and innocent....forever.

They will live on that way, in my heart. In that mother's heart of mine that aches, sometimes.

Oh yes. "I can tell you, my love for you will still be strong...after the boys of summer have gone..."

One of Life's Joys ~

This is our puppy. Two pounds of fuzzy fury, named Rambo. He's a silver teacup poodle, and has, with a sweep of his paw, changed the tenor of our household since he came. My manly husband melts into a smiling boy, each afternoon as he comes home from work. Rambo fills the void left by small children, who used to crowd the glass door every day when daddy came home. Now they are grown, and almost always gone when he drives up into our steep driveway. Our youngest son Isaac might be home, but he no longer squeals and jumps up and down, arms waving, yelling, "Daddy's home!!!"

He's going on sixteen, you see.

But the puppy senses when dad is on his way to home and hearth. I guess it is the daily phone call I get, "Hi Beautiful! I'm on my way home. Need anything?" (No lie. Every day. I am a blessed woman. It so rocks to be me!) Rambo must be able to observe and understand my voice and tone, whenever it is Tim, telling me he is headed this way. That itty silver bit of soft fluff will always skitter to the front glass door, and watch until he sees the old green mini van pull up.

Then, he jumps up and down, twirls, and barks loudly. There's no way around it ~ he has to be saying, "Pappa's home! Pappa is home!" That is not a stretch, nor is it overly imaginative. That is pure fact. It is a fact that never fails to put a smile on my husband's face, even on the worst of days.

In the words of a pastor's wife friend of mine, from rural Virginia, who met Rambo not long ago....(imagine a soft, southern drawl):

"This doggy's a gift from God."
"I care not for a man's religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it."
~Abraham Lincoln

"Dogs are our link to paradise. They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring - it was peace."
~Milan Kundero

Rejoice in the Lord Always, And Again I Say...

(my daylilies...)

Lately I am discovering that I may , one day, be called to account for every pure, but passed-by pleasure. I will stand before the Lord, accounting for "every idle word", and I believe I'll account for sins of omission. Could one of those sins of omission be all the joy I have omitted through worry and complaint? That is a sobering thought, because I’m also told that the Lord daily loads me with benefits. There is a level of living made fully available to me that I have yet to tap into. Life is a bumper crop, not mere gleanings. There is a fragrant, oily, heaping harvest of first cold pressed virgin joy! This oil of joy can anoint my eyes to view a sunset as though I once was blind, but now I see. This oil can make an ordinary meal into a feast.

The Jewish Talmud teaches that God takes note when I pass up an opportunity to partake of a pure pleasure. The Talmud is not Scripture, but certainly there is a wealth of Scripture exhorting me to gladness. Ecclesiastes 11: 9,10 states, “Rejoice, O young man in thy youth; and let they heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity (fleeting).”

Here, in the Scripture, Solomon actually advises me to greatly rejoice, to follow my heart wherever it leads me, and to fully appreciate every beautiful thing I see. Yet - “for all these things, God will bring me into judgment.” So what is to be my response to this? There are two criteria, only two rules, and I discover them right away: 1) Put away sorrow from my heart, and 2) Put away evil from my flesh.

Life is vanity and full of sorrow and hardship common to both sinner and saint. Trouble is not what identifies me as a child of God – everyone has trouble. Sanctification does not automatically make me a Jesus person – the Pharisees had sanctification down to a science, yet didn’t know the Messiah was eating and drinking amongst them. Being “sanctified”, in many a Christian’s life, is to merely have a firm grasp of the obvious. The Lover of my soul looks for more than this!

So what is this distinguishing mark, this evidence that shouts to the world, “I am His, He is mine”? The answer is simple, really. The answer is gladness. The evidence is the gladness I possess. Ecclesiastes 4: 7-10 says, “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepts thy works. Let they garments be always white, and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity; for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labor which thou takest under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest.” Earlier in Ecclesiastes (what an enigma-of-a-book!) Solomon the writer says things like “Sorrow is better than laughter, because it makes the heart better…”, and “the house of mourning is better than the house of mirth…”

Those thoughts can seem like a contradiction to all the other passages that speak so much of living joyfully. Actually, they aren’t contradictory at all. Solomon, when he speaks of the “house of sorrow”, is speaking of the close of life. This “house of sorrow” is a metaphor for the end – my end. The wisest man who ever lived is telling me over and over to consider my funeral. He implores me to use sorrow, when it comes, to my advantage, and he wants me to consider my death: Will I be able to look back on a glad life, a life well lived?

My life is my testimony, and my testimony is my life. My “testimony” is being written right now today. Once I hit the pearly gates, it is too late to write a testimony. In heaven, I’ll have joy. In heaven, gladness will be a foregone conclusion. The food will be great, the fellowship sweet, and the streets pure gold. It is only today, on this side of eternity, that I have the one shot to write a testimony with my life; a testimony to the goodness of my God. If I’m to obey the Lord, if I’m to write an incredible testimony, I’d better get busy living it up in this life, only remembering to put sorrow away from my heart, and evil from my flesh. Living within those two perimeters sets me absolutely free to experience life with eyes wide open, and the oil of joy dripping from my ears, eyelashes, nose, chin, and fingertips. It is an amazing revelation to discover! I am to make every meal a feast, keep my garments white, and my head anointed with fresh oil. I am to take pleasure in my marriage, and do everything with hilarious intensity. That is harder to do than it sounds.

The flesh – my flesh – would often rather sulk. It would rather whine. It would rather be lazy, because, after all, joy takes effort sometimes. My flesh would rather grouse about the lack of love or joy in others’ lives. My flesh would rather feel noble. Proud and haughty as it is, my flesh would rather haul around heavy burdens in an effort to justify its own existence. I mean, who REALLY lives as though his or her only purpose in life was "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever?" There is not near enough melodrama in that doctrinal creed. I simply must borrow trouble from some place in order to give my life meaning and purpose!

Life in a fallen world makes it easy to get my share of it. Meanwhile, if I’d only take the yoke of Christ, and learn of Him, I’d develop a meek and lowly heart and find rest for my soul.

You do know, don’t you, that if it were me instead of Jesus in that wilderness, tempted by the devil, I’d have thrown myself from that highest pinnacle. Oh, the mileage I could have gotten out of that one leap! All my friends would have been deeply impressed with my courage in coming back from that sort of trauma, that sort of test of faith, however self inflicted it would have been. They might have even sent an offering to help with my rehabilitation expenses. Then I could have written a book about it: “My Leap of Faith – My Subsequent Therapy”.

Forget merely standing firm on the Word of God, and, after 40 days tempted by satan himself, modestly leaving the wilderness to have dinner. I’d have gone for the agony and ecstasy of hitting rock bottom, baby! Years of attentive, compassionate counseling, followed by a book contract is more appealing to me than a quiet victory. But then I read Solomon who said that a living dog is better than a dead lion. So I decide to “save the drama for my mamma” and go back to enjoying the life God gives me. With a shrug of my shoulders, I choose the path of the true disciple: which is to take each day exactly as God gives it, do what He asks me to do, offer up thanks in every circumstance, and take joy by effort and force, when necessary.

I know.. that sounds too simple to count as obedience to God. Yet, to the Hebrew people, one of the prime indications of the fear of the Lord was the gladness exhibited in the life!

Here is a Biblical command: “Serve the Lord with gladness.” Heaving a ponderous sigh, I realize it is high time I took the Lord seriously. It is high time I truly feared Him. His Word also says, “Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you.”

But…doesn’t God realize that once I cast ALL my trouble on Him, then I have no troubles left in my possession? What would I find to talk about...the mere goodness of God? Isn’t that rather boring in comparison to a grand jump off a high cliff?

What if I actually leave behind the rudimentary things of the faith, getting beyond the “firm grasp of the obvious”, what if I truly begin to mature in Christ? What if I….take joy!

It Is GOOD To Be Me...

(my daughter Hannah, and her boyfriend Justin)

(Hannah and Sarah-opening gifts from loving grandparents-matching diamond necklaces)

I am still savoring the memory of a long dinner table at Carabba's (a chain restaurant, Italian, full of darkly stained wood and twinkle lights, with a wood burning pizza oven)...

...fourteen family members crowding the table in the back room we had reserved - each one laughing, each one loving the other. I felt brimful of joy, celebrating my twin daughters' 21st birthdays. We toasted their past, present and future, just by being there, in the moment, with them. We finished a long, lingering dinner with birthday cake, gifts, and hugs all around. What a season of Harvest I am in!

The character "Nacho" in the movie Nacho Libre said, "It sucks to be me!" All personal fears and healthy introspection aside - it is so fantastic to be me lately! I don't always like what I see in my own heart, and I want to pull every weed that threatens to make me barren and unfruitful. But that is only because the fruitful places are so, so satisfying. I want more of this rather charmed, blessed-and-highly-favored kind of life. It certainly has never "sucked" to be me.

I sit here, wanting to convey the very opposite of Nacho's sentiment, fingers poised over the keyboard searching...I've been wracking my brain to think of one word, a verb, that can mean the opposite of "sucks". Why is it, our English language can come up with negative slang like that, but there is no ready, tongue-in-cheek, joy-filled phrase I can quickly grab, to tell you how utterly sweet my life is these days?

It "glories" to be me.

It "shines" to be me.

It "smiles" to be me.

It "sparkles" to be me.


In the end, only one word comes to mind. A word that my teen and twenty-something children would identify with. It would not be the word I would choose - I'm far too artsy. It takes zero creative genuis for a middle aged woman to speak the language of, and partake in the frenetic activities of the upcoming generation. That requires no sense of hard-won personal style. It takes no unique spark whatsoever - you simply follow the lead of your children, all in the name of "relating to them". I can find more thoughtful, delightful, creative and appropriate ways of relating to my children, ways that do not blur the lines between youth and the seasoned elegance of age...

And relate we do, my children and I! We are close, even though I'm no Facebookie. I have a Facebook page. I promise you, however, that there is a large difference between my Facebook page, and that of my teenager's. They don't look anything alike. I don't send pots of virtual herbs, or little buttons, and accept no applications, so don't feel badly if you never get a virtual trinket from me. In addition, something inside me feels sorry for anyone, of any age, who "rates" a friendship, as in "who is the coolest" . My fifteen year old does it, but even my 21-year-olds find it a tad bit pathetic. Ranking precious people in your life, is a sad concept for a twelve year old to ponder, much less a grown woman. A Mother in Zion would never. I watch over my youngest children in the Facebook/Myspace world - it is the real reason I even have a presence there. Life is not all about "Me, Myspace, and I".

So it is with a sense of reluctance I borrow some Young Slang. It is the only word that, honestly, really fits what I am trying to say:

It so rocks to be me!

Well, it does. If you have a better word, do suggest it. Being me is the best, because patience is having her growing-up work in me. I have no need to be younger, richer, or better than the rest. Patience does make you "mature and complete". Henri Nouwen said “...patience means willingness to stay where we are and live out the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.” I am learning to love life as God gives it. THAT is why it rocks to be me.

This present season, this present day, this very moment comes to me "trailing clouds of glory"...brand new, baby-fresh. This season, once passed, will be personal history, with only the memories to mark it. This day, once the sun sets, will consist of random impressions, neurons firing in my brain, recalling scent, emotion, flashes of sights and sounds. All that will be left of this day are words written in a journal, and a blog entry. This day will also leave behind the fruit of every word I spoke from the time I awoke, till the time I go back to bed. "May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, oh Lord!"

I will never live this day again. It contains a gift or gifts that God intensely desires for me to open and learn from. Most of His gifts are educational, in some fashion or other, even the seemingly frivolous gifts like puppies and cherries. No one else can live my life with me, experiencing this blessed and favored thing called "being me". No one else is in my skin, no one else but God Himself is, in reality, part of the fiber of my spiritual being. So if I don't tackle this day's joys as they skip past me, who will taste them, touch them, see and hear them?

It rocks to be me. I am so grateful for these present moments. God is good. Tell me....does it out-and-out rock to be you? You ought to know it! Believe it. Live like it.

A Childhood Game

"Sheila Atchley - take three giant steps!"

"Mother, may I?"

"Yes, you may!"

Remember that childhood game?

A nameless fear has been gripping me of late. It is the fear that some situations will never change. That a relationship will never change. That a child will never change. That I will never change.

There, I said it. I named the fear. And the light that naming the heretofore nameless brings, dispels the darkness.

I always see my weaknesses and besetting sins in all their disgusting glory. They are as plain to me as the hair on my head, as near to me as my own beating heart. And I am afraid of them. I am afraid I will never change, never be the mother I dream of being, never make any progress, not even when I see so vividly exactly where I want to go.

I do see where I want to go. Sometimes I get glimpses of the Sheila Atchley the Father is designing. I see she whom the Father is still busily creating, and I want to BE HER, to the depth of my whole soul. I want to be her right now. Oh, how I want to change.

But I want it to be simple. I want the progress to come lightly and easily. And instantly. In reality, my distance is usually covered inch by tear-soaked, will-relinquished inch. Change comes too slowly. Fear taunts me, telling me that, sure, I will finally change - but one month, one week, or one day too late.

Once in awhile, though, there comes a Fresh Wind. I read, just today, that wind is "hope on wings". Once in awhile, there is a Real and Present Grace. I hear the voice of my heavenly Father - warm, inviting, having all the time in the world to give to just and only me:

"Sheila Atchley! Take three giant steps!"

"Oh Father....may I?"

(could it be true? three giant steps, instead of one wretched inch? can I really wake up tomorrow, and be different? will I really see transformation in this area of my life?)

"Yes, you may!"

And suddenly I am able. Yes I may, and yes I can, and yes I DO! Because He loves me. Because He is still holy. So the gnawing fear that makes my stomach feel like a stone, dissolves. Tense muscles in my forehead and face, soften.

Three giant steps are enough to bring peace. For now.

Spiritual Truths, Illustrated in the Butterfly Garden...

If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things are passed away; behold, everything is made new! II Cor. 5:17

The Black Swallowtail, just by being alive, testifies to the power of God.