when you’re trying to get your priorities straight

Like they all do, Opa Voskamp, he comes to the back door.

No one ever comes up the cobblestone walk to the front door off the porch, with its wreath and welcome mat and the empty hangers waiting in the front closet. Everyone just wants a common backdoor, the one off the garage, the one which purposely has no walkway at all from the laneway to the doorknob — a failed deterrent. Folks don’t mind at all walking right through sunflowers and hollyhocks to get to a back door.

To walk straight into the tossed shoes, the dropped bats and balls and shovels and gloves, walk right into the mudroom with its mud.

Right in through my laundry, my piles, my underwear and crusted socks.

I try to smile. Opa tries not to look.

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His own wife smelled of bleach their fifty one years of marriage. She met her sons at the back door with fresh clothes and a hamper, ready to take clothes smelling of sweat, cows, straw directly to the washing machine. You could bounce quarters off the stacks of linens in her closet. She lived for the kingdom; she didn’t home educate their nine children. I do, our six. I always seem to forget this minor detail. Does he?

I try to smile. It’s weak. I catch him looking at wrinkled jeans waiting the folding.

We hug long and I love this man, hunched frame, and I just close my eyes to the trail of papers and books across the counters, and he pats my back, takes a chair, mine, and I move to the other end of the table, serve the bowl of salad, pass the bread, the pork chops, and the children chatter, the men talk.

“You got that grain dryer wired this week, did you?” Opa asks between the mouthfuls, over children laughter.

“Yes, that’s finished up,” Farmer Husband pours water into his stainless steel cup, his Dad’s too. “And we got that aeration floor laid out in the grain bin at the other farm too.”

“You get a lot done in a week, don’t you?” Father smiles at Son, glints my way, and I warm with the gratitude, and Son shrugs his shoulders, smiles in thanks for the affirmation of a Father.

“Well,  I guess we just try everyday.”

Try everyday. I do. Really, I do. I laugh, shake my head. Who would know it, looking around here most days?

I get up to fill the pitcher at the tap, sapling child needing rewatering. Test the temperature with the fingers, then fill.

Who can see the spelling lessons? The breakfast made this morning? The next chapter of The Yearling read, the last child rocked early in the morning, the prayers whispered in the middle of the morning? I try in a week and a lot may get done, but the right things?  


Like water through fingers…

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I water this grove of children. The water pours.

I think how I want a crumbless, smudgeless, spotless house, a house with empty laundry baskets, empty sinks, empty garbage cans, with floors like mirrors and mirrors like water, and a pantry lined neat like books in the study and pies lining the counter like sweet children all in a row.

I want the (seeming) perfection all day that only happens at night when the whirl slows to a still and the six children sleep, their books and their legos, their papers and their creations, all finding their resting places too. I want a father-in-law who walks in mid-spin and sees what I have done with a day, with a week, and smiles his satisfaction.

I want things seen.

The seen things can be idols.

I am learning this.


Again, again I return to the story of Abba Paul, that desert monk who wove baskets and prayers.

While other monks lived close enough to cities to sell their handiwork in the markets, Abba Paul lived such a distance that the cost of transportation would exceed any profits from selling the baskets. Nonetheless, each day he collected palm fronds and worked as faithfully as if basket making were his primary means of support.

And come the end of the year, when his cave overflowed with long months of toil, he took torch to the work of his hands and the flames devoured and rose higher and cackled long into the night. Then, come morning, the heat died away, satiated.

And Abba Paul stood in the long quiet and the wind blew away the ashes of all his work.

Abba Paul’s products of year was made papery ash.


Sometimes we may have nothing to show for our work but much to show to our God.

Too often, sadly, I want product, others to see product, so they can see: I have worth. Stinking idols.

This, I think this is why I struggle to stop to pray at fixed times throughout the run of a day.  This is why I struggle to play and love and make kids memories and laughter the priority.  If I stop doing, will I have merit? Will I still exist if I stop the producing?

How do I forget that I actually exist more, fully, wholly, when I do that which I was made for? Worship. Communion. Love. Prayer, hidden and intangible, it is the day’s true product, it’s ultimate purpose. The things done in love, this the only work in our lives that will last forever.

So Abba Paul knew. The product is secondary…. Perhaps even pointless. It’s the prayers, the relationship, the love  while doing the work, that hold the meaning, the merit.  I have time to read another chapter, tell another story, make another batch of cookies because the process of prayer and love in our work is our only real product.

That process may not be seen when walking in the back door.

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Only the eyes of a stilled, seeking heart can observe things not visible.

“Are there any more potatoes?” A young son grins, lifts his empty plate, hopeful. I pile his happiness high, scoop out the last of the mashed spuds. Morning’s work complete and gladly gone.

The bowl’s empty.

I stack the dirty plates and children joke and I catch Tall Girl’s eyes, mouth for her to pass out the Bibles and she smiles and nods.

Again, today, I must: Slay the idol of the seen.


Today, a thousand times again today, I will preach the truth to this soul prone to wander. I will seek the affirming smile of Father, of these kids.

I’ll whisper the mantra that orders all priorities: 

Unseen. Things Unseen. Invest in Things Unseen.”

We sit, read Scripture, take the hand beside us, and the Farmer prays.

The hidden invisible is what the Holy Invisible seeks and dishes pile on the counter.

Unnoticed, the washing machine whirls its dirt away.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

~ 2 Cor. 4:18


Related:

What Really Withstands A Day’s Heat
Text is an edited repost

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