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I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord; “plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

the CULTIVATING

journal

In Singing and in Silence

January 28, 2020



 

Bird Watching

In the grey swathe of a winter morning, I can see flitting and a flurry of action down at our chicken coop. I strain to make out feathery shapes, but I can only convince myself in my mind that the shapes are our chickens, arms tied behind their backs, running to catch a fleeing insect or inspect a remnant of yesterday’s scrap bucket. I think it’s them but something in me watches to be sure, because the coming daylight could be a signal for unwelcome guests to exit the coop. The furtive figures might also be predators, waiting outside the coop for the automatic door to release the morning’s feast.

We are losing eggs these days. They are pecked or poked and left inedible, some empty, others only slightly crushed in the nesting boxes of the coop. We can’t discern who to blame just yet. This is frustrating because four hens barely keep up with one teenage son, never mind the rest of the household wanting their baked goods and eggs over easy and french toast on the weekends. These four hens need to do the work of about ten. Production is down. The bottom line is not adding up for our little flock and we either need to add more hens to the coop or more chicken to the menu.

A few weeks ago our son opened the nesting box lid after dark to find something furry, not feathery, resting there. A silent skunk had entered the coop while the automatic door was open during the day, only to find himself trapped after dark with egg on his face. A quick wit left my son unscathed and some backwoods security removed the bandit. Didn’t we have proof now? Weren’t the hens exonerated from the charge of pecking their own eggs?

I don’t know. As the sun keeps coming up behind the clouds, the light outside has brightened to blue-grey and I now see four old hens, one rooster who doesn’t even crow anymore, running around like idiots after imaginary treasures. I suppose the joy of watching them, keeping them, and building precautions around their precarious lives could be enough to balance out the cost of their food and housing. The beastly things will cannibalize their neighbor and eat their own eggs, and still we try to protect them. Eggs or no eggs—chickens are entertainment. But I am still not certain of their innocence.

 

Morning Song

In some seasons I wake with a song on my mind. The day may hold a to-do list of undesirables, some known and visible and some indistinguishable from the shadows, but I wake with immediate hopefulness, nonetheless. Even the weather doesn’t matter—I love a foggy, moody day as much as one crisp and clear. Bring the rain. Blow a gale. To wake up singing is to be equipped for the day.

Other seasons I wake with silent dread, and my first thoughts are a mental list of the litany of things against me. It doesn’t matter how good life is; in some seasons everything is just bad and bad and worse. This dread makes all days the same, a bad attitude compounding an already undesirable to-do list. Dread pulls the highs and lows of normal life into a middle ground of a monotone verse no one enjoys hearing.

It’s taken me years to recognize and reconcile with the fact that my spiritual self goes through seasons; that there are ups and downs; that this is normal. Somewhere I had assimilated the idea that one had to be the same, always consistent, in order to be faithful, and these natural risings and fallings in my life were a trouble to me. Why did some days shine and others lurk gloomy and dark?

I don’t know why some days are raised with a song and others fall flat from the very first waking thought.  The same sun always rises, the same tasks await, the same people surround me with love and support and need, but my mood is inconsistent.

 

Resting in the Work

In my seasons of singing, bad things still come. Appliances break in groups of three, chores pile up, people I love still get sick. Cancer boldly stands in the wide open daylight of mid-morning sun and there is no cure, only a treatment that will cost your life for the rest of your life.

All these things are made bearable by an early morning promise of the Song that will carry us through, the one I don’t sing of my own accord.

Let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us, the psalmist says (Psalm 90:17 NKJV). “Splendor of grace” is one translation of beauty. In those seasons of dread, the only real work I can do is to rest in the letting, to allow the splendor of grace to form my vision and make beautiful every ugly thing my natural sight contorts. Shapes in grey darkness are not predators. Bumps in the night are not terrors. Phone calls are not harbingers of doom but bridges to conversations that wouldn’t otherwise happen; that need to happen.

When the full day has ripened and darkness rests for a time, the lights in our chicken coop go out. They’ll automatically come on again in deep, dark night. It would be poetical and lovely to make a metaphor here, but we set up the light for higher egg production, not safety or comfort for the chickens. It’s about squeezing all the eggs we can get out of those few hens, and what they need to keep producing in winter is some extra hours of daylight, so we fake it for them.

But maybe that is the metaphor, though it’s not pretty: There are seasons of dread where no song brings the day and no day brings rest, where you are weary and without reprieve from the twisted way you view the world and the way trouble silently lies in wait for you.

Sometimes the trouble is hard to identify. Are you at fault? What will the light reveal? You need a song so you fake it, get others to sing for you, tell Alexa to play something moody until you tire of it. There are ways through, and you are trying.

Establish the work of our hands for us. That’s the balance of Psalm 90:17, the outcome of letting the beauty of the LORD rest upon us.

There are many days when I can’t seem to change my own mood and I don’t want others to try. I work and strive and layer in some free time for good measure but it never measures for my good. Can I work harder? Will beauty come from my effort? Or can I just stop striving and be established in the work done for me, regardless of my own lack of productivity and beauty?

We wake with a song unintentionally or we wake with a mood uninvited, but all our ups and downs are evidence for our faithfulness, not against it. We notice our own fallenness. We return. The work of each day is this coming back to the One who establishes the work when it’s never enough, who gives the song with the clouds, who chases the bandits and makes provision for all the needs of our costly living.

 

We can rest, even though there may be skunks in the henhouse.

 



The featured image is courtesy of the inimitable Aaron Burden of Unsplash. We appreciate Aaron’s marvelous work and his tremendous generosity!



 

Tresta Payne

comments

  1. Kris Camealy

    January 29th, 2020 at 3:10 pm

    Tresta,

    I don’t have a henhouse, but it’s like you’ve been reading my journal… this was for me today, as I’ve been wrestling with my own ups-and-downs, and feeling like I should be able to manage it all better…thank you for this. I can’t wait to see you in March.

  2. Heather Legge

    January 30th, 2020 at 6:28 pm

    Tresta, wow this is beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever read your writing before. Thank you for sharing such thoughtful words. — Heather (your slow Thursdays friend)

  3. Tresta Payne

    February 6th, 2020 at 9:21 pm

    Kris – I would never read your journal ; ) but I know you are a woman spinning many plates and I appreciate all the work you do. It’s good to know I’m not alone in these ups and downs.
    Here’s to March!!!

  4. Tresta Payne

    February 6th, 2020 at 9:22 pm

    Heather, my Slow Thursday companion! Thank you for your kind words.

  5. Jen H.

    March 4th, 2020 at 4:09 pm

    Absolutely beautiful, Tresta!

    Thank you for blessing me today….

    Jen

  6. Tresta Payne

    March 5th, 2020 at 11:38 am

    Jen – thank you for the kind comment. I appreciate you reading and taking the time to give feedback! I’m so glad you were blessed.
    Peace,
    Tresta

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