A Handful

I looked for something that could fill me in 2021, but I came away with a handful of air more times than I care to recount, because as it turns out, I was looking in the wrong places. The answer, of course, was that Jesus should satisfy me, ultimately and deeply, like an everlasting draught from a sweet mountain stream.

Yes, of course.

But what if I didn’t know where to find the stream, or even where to look? What if I knew the truth in theory but had no idea what it was supposed to feel like when it filled up my heart and washed through my veins?

I felt empty, and if I’m honest, I still sit up in bed each morning looking for something that can really fill me. But the grace on the banks of this new year is that I’m finding it little by little, drop by drop, in places I didn’t expect.

I think I’ve been waiting to feel Christ’s fullness in a great surge over me. And while it’s true the cross was a tidal wave of grace, the way I realize that grace and let it seep into my hard heart takes longer and is slower. It’s more like a stream than a crashing wave.

I remember a quote Kathy Keller read in a podcast I listened to last summer:

“God doesn’t hand out grace in a lifetime supply. …None of us has a lifelong stockpile of grace, but we can look forward to God’s faithfulness over a lifetime, offered to us one day at a time.”

~ Betsy Childs

In 2021, I found grace one day at a time — in the hard work and beauty and little wars and victories over my sins. And like everything else about following Jesus, I’ve learned there’s a paradox: that fullness in him first comes in knowing I’m empty and need grace. To reach the water, I have to kneel down in the grass on the bank. But see, that’s where I really get drawn into Jesus, because he bent down as a servant and emptied himself so that from his fullness, I could receive grace upon grace (Phil. 2:7, John 1:16).

So here at the year’s end, I’d like to consider just how full my hands in Christ Jesus really are. This post is a handful of quiet moments that drifted by in 2021, but that filled me, bit by bit, with God’s grace upon grace.

~ winter ~

New Year’s morning, 2021, that found me sick and in need of a Physician, and how I always find the grace I need on the green couch in Mom and Dad’s room

The time I was crying over my sins, then heard “I’m no longer a slave… I am a child of God,” muffled and coming from somewhere in the house

When Barrett John came into the world long after dark, and we played games and dress-up while we waited for him

The Sing call when I told them I was having trouble writing things that pleased people, and someone said: “If you want to write about home, then write about home”

All those cold, sunny afternoons in Papa Larry’s front garden, and especially the day I walked up the cul-de-sac, where the men had set up a card table in his driveway and were eating cornbread and gumbo soup

The day Clara shared Sarah Willard’s blog with me, and I found a friend in her writing that actually changed my own

How Gentle and Lowly was a feast I didn’t know I needed

The afternoon it snowed upon snow and we shoveled the pond in the middle of the blizzard, then leaned our shovels against the fence and tramped home with cold toes and running noses, where Mom had dinner warm and ready

When I woke up extra early on my twentieth birthday — a Sabbath — and the house was dark and quiet, and I wrote

~ spring ~

Walking across the yard one day in March, when the wind came right down my overalls

How my study of Jesus’ present-ness in Hebrews coincided with Easter, so that I was arrested with the reality of resurrection blooming in every corner

The week Mrs. Brenda and Mr. Bill both hired me, and I felt like a true gardener

April 1— the afternoon I drove Papa Larry out to the Nature Reserve, where thousands of daffodils were blooming down the hillsides, and where he perched himself at the top of one of them, catching up with Helen

The kid named T.J. at the pool in Branson, who made me a little more like Jesus by teaching me how to listen

When a windstorm whipped off the Lake and quite literally blew me off a rock

That time I saw a lady leaning over the freezer at Aldi, wearing a Prairie Days t-shirt, which was my very favorite event at the Nature Reserve as a kid, and how we struck up a conversation about the beauty of that place

The afternoon I held Elanor Ruth in the kitchen and dinnertime sunlight filled the sink, and the idea of motherhood came to me as something really beautiful

The Sunday night the family all randomly came over and it poured rain, so that the house felt like Miss Twiggly’s tree

~ summer ~

The summer that brought vegetable gardening and spiritual gardening, when I started unearthing the root of my selfishness

The afternoon I saw Mom working over the washing machine, and God gave me more care for the domestic details of life — the dinner prep and babies and boys’ lunches to be packed — and how I began to see my womanhood as a strength instead of something I had to work around

The night the light lasted a long time and the sand was hot, so we canned our volleyball game and played cards at Sonic (which were gritty and sweaty)

Typing out an email on my phone to Papa Larry as the sunset burned over the highway; how I didn’t know it would be the beginning of The Cape Cod Letters

When I watched the waters move over Niagara and realized how little my idea of grace was

The morning I eased up the stairwell of the Red Lion Inn as Trent played gently on the Steinway in the lobby, and the music rose with me and faded down the carpeted halls

How we ran down the street toward the sea, before any of our suitcases had been unpacked

When I stood at the bow of a ship as it skipped the waves of the Atlantic and the wind hurt my ears, but I imagined it was the Dawn Treader and thought, “This is something I won’t ever forget” (and I haven’t)

The evening I rolled down the hill like old times (though I didn’t remember it hurting that badly)

When I scheduled a coffee get-together but only Natalie and Leanna could come, so we spent the morning together, and how we had no idea what was in store

How I learned to love people better, even when they run or hide, when my love isn’t near strong enough and I don’t feel like doing the hard work of it; how I learned that “love… bears all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).

~ autumn ~

How Papa Jay weed-eated the pond banks on his 86th birthday

The Sunday Jerry dropped the shaker just before worship started and dove after it, but then caught my violin stand with his foot and drug it across the stage, and I was laughing too hard to stop him

When Switchfoot came out onto the amphitheater stage and Joel grabbed my knee, and how I felt so little in that place of so many souls, and I wondered at how God could love us all

The night my siblings and I waited in line to ride a coaster, and I met eyes with a teenage girl, and instead of judging her, I felt Jesus’ love for her

How I kept finding God’s grace at the end of my wonderings and wanderings; how I’ve tried so hard to make sense of him, to know more about him, but the truth is that I’m known by him and can rest in that

The night we sat with Papa and Mema at dark, eating dinner and brownies, hearing their stories about the work they’d done a long time ago

The day in November that went just as I hoped: when I spread woodchips over the garden, then met everyone (including the kids) for “Truss Day” at the new house on the hill, where Dad grilled hot dogs, I rolled around in the grass with Bennett, then we went home to watch the boys process the first deer of the season

That Sunday morning when Communion found me feeling dry, and I realized the Bread of Remembrance isn’t for people who always remember, but who forget and need to be reminded of what the fullness of grace tastes like

Some wandered in desert wastes,

finding no way to a city to dwell in;

hungry and thirsty,

their soul fainted within them.

Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,

and he delivered them from their distress…

Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,

for his wondrous works to the children of man!

For he satisfies the longing soul,

and the hungry he fills with good things.”

~ Psalm 107:4-9

This post was inspired by Lizzie, whom you’ve probably seen gracing the comments of my blog. Her ttmmh post, “2021 – a good gift” made me want to gather up and reflect on these little, good moments from 2021. (Thanks, friend.)

4 thoughts on “A Handful

  1. Wow, It was wonderful to share the small parts of your whole year, and I really enjoyed picturing you in each one. Your writings bring me such joy!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. i love you and this so much.
    this line especially.
    ‘And while it’s true the cross was a tidal wave of grace, the way I realize that grace and let it seep into my hard heart takes longer and is slower. It’s more like a stream than a crashing wave.’

    it’s beautiful to see how God shows his kindness to his children.

    Liked by 1 person

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