Your death blows a strange bugle call, friend, and all is hard
To see plainly or record truly. The new light imposes change,
Re-adjusts all a life-landscape as it thrusts down its probe from the sky,
To create shadows, to reveal waters, to erect hills and deepen glens.
The slant alters. I can’t see the old contours. It’s a larger world
Than I once thought it. I wince, caught in the bleak air that blows on the ridge.
Is it the first sting of the great winter, the world-waning? Or the cold of spring?
A hard question and worth talking a whole night on. But with whom? Of whom now can I ask guidance?
With what friend concerning your death
Is it worth while to exchange thoughts unless—oh unless it were you?

 -C.S.  Lewis  (To Charles Williams)


You Gotta Walk That Lonesome Valley


You gotta walk it by yourself,
Ain't nobody else gonna walk it for you.

(For Thou art with me.)

The last few months prickled with visitors.  They arrived in such quick succession that several batches tripped over the heels of the previous.  I do love good company, but, for once, the spare sweep of February seems just right.   Tasks undone still lie like so many cars in a pile-up, and I'm just now finding grit enough to tackle them.  These good children-- their laughter, their bickering, their questions-- fill my days.  And grief still finds ways to rush in unannounced and break me wide open.

When Dad grew noticeably sicker but before we knew his body fought more than a simple infection, I was several chapters into Sounder, reading a handful of pages each night while burrowed under the covers.  I had put it on Mildred's IHIP booklist in August but had never read it myself.  I set it-- and all else-- aside when leukemia announced itself.

A couple of weeks after God took Dad home, I picked it up again, and, that first night, tears stung when I read the words a mother speaks to her son:

But you must learn to lose, child.  The Lord teaches the old to lose.
The young don't know how to learn it.
I'm learning to lose.  The loss of Dad yawns large.  It's the largest loss I've faced as an adult, and the hardest lesson I'm learning.  I've lost loved ones before-- friends and relatives; my grandpa, grandma, and Aunt Shirley (who because of her Downs Syndrome was more like a cousin) died in a car accident when I was a young teenager. My Grandpa Johnson died when I was in college.   I've lost precious things before I even knew they should be mine to have. None of these prepared me for the loss of my father.  The dike is crumbling, and from here to there, all the other large losses wait. Each loss is its own lesson, and each feels like the first.
The boy was crying now.  Not that there was any new or sudden sorrow.  There just seemed to be nothing else to fill up the vast lostness of the moment. 
Still, the great Hope sustains (for we are not like those who have no hope).  Tonight I walked in the sharp February dark and thought of Dad starwatching on the hood of the car in summers gone. Orion loomed huge, stars piercing brilliant everywhere, and I felt infinitesimally small and utterly secure. The heavens proclaim the glory of God. I have nothing but joy for my dad, who is whole for the first time in his life.  I look forward to the day when we who love him have joined him. Yet still remain times of vast, lonely lostness, when death seems like nothing less than the bitter thing it is. The season of Lent approaches.  Our need gapes, but the Conqueror--our Deliverer-- stands nigh, with Life in His heel.

For the Second Time in Two Weeks

Hoarfrost turns everything diamond.

We Are Seven

I'm the middle child of seven, perfectly balanced between two older and two younger brothers, an older sister and a younger sister.  I admire each brother and sister for their varied talents and have always been proud of them, but never more so than at the calling hours for our Dad.  We stood for over four hours, visiting with the people who cared enough to form that long line in order to share stories and sympathy.  To my left, I overheard people who hadn't yet reached me talking with my older siblings, who would announce themselves as "Number 1," "Number 2," and "Number 3," and to my right I heard "Number 5," "Number 6," and "Number 7" talk with those who'd already passed by.

During the funeral ceremony the following day, a space was left open for people to share thoughts and memories of Dad.  After all seven children spoke, a few others came to the front to speak, and I was touched by what my sister(in-law)'s dad shared.  He spoke about meeting Pete and, because of Pete's intelligence and overall fine respectability (way to go, trickster!), his assumption that Dad was a wealthy, accomplished man. Then he came to visit my parents for the first time, in their little, yellow house in which they raised seven children, while forgoing luxuries for greater things. Poof!  It was obvious that Dad's lifestyle wasn't that of a wealthy man.  Sarah's dad, who through talent, hard work, and God's hand, has become a wealthy and accomplished man, looked at us and ended his reflection with the simple statements, "Gary was a rich man. I'm jealous."

When I was a college senior, stuck in Houghton student-teaching while many of my friends adventured abroad, I wrote John a letter in which I shared an epiphany.  That day, the teacher with whom I was paired had told me that the Latin root "com" meant "with/together" and "fort" meant "strength."  I was struck straight to the heart.  Comfort.  Com:fort.  I had always viewed comfort as an act of consolation when in truth comfort is an act of strengthening someone. 
It was a great comfort to stand shoulder to shoulder in shared grief and laughter with some of the people I most admire, to gain strength from them and to strengthen them, together.  I am honored to be one of the seven Johnson kids, and I am proud of the good people they've married, with whom I also stand shoulder to shoulder.

Mopsy has always joked that she grew us all big so that we could carry her from room to room when she gets old, and that night was the first time I felt her words, so light before, take form in a heavier reality.  We all carry one another, really, when walking seems too hard.  Com:fort.

*Thanks to Mrs. Doak for these pictures from her phone.

Because He's Everywhere I Look

I'm still not ready to write about Dad.  My "eulogy" at the funeral consisted of a few scraps of memory scribbled on a rag of paper and blurted into a microphone.  I want to give more but feel unable.  Words are too small a net.

Snow Fall

I looked out the window to see Luci all dusted with snowflakes.

When I stepped outside to take a picture, I heard the gleeful bellow of an escaped boychild, so I took a picture of him, too.

Corn for Popping

Anyone who visits us will be impressed by the amazing things our house holds.  Even more amazing is that we haven't paid a penny for most of them.  The generosity of others and keen eyes that scan the curbs have resulted in a house (too) brimful of free stuff.  One of the most impressive to join our company of Stuff is a popcorn popper that Dude saved from being smushed into scrap metal.  "I'll take that for my son!" he exclaimed to his coworkers who were sick of it sitting in the workshop (and that they'd gotten off the curb while doing town work).  His son (& Co.!) are so glad of his quick thinking.  We're also glad of Dude's superheroic ability to fit bulky things into his minivan.  A huge couch?  A popcorn popper?  A wooden hutch?  The bags of gifts that Mom O. wants to bring along?  No problem.

This is a fantastic addition to our kitchen because not only did we rent one of these machines for our wedding reception*, little knowing we'd own one someday, but also, and more importantly, 




We use it several times a week.

And it makes the most delicious popcorn.

*We also rented a cotton candy machine for our wedding reception.  I eagerly await Dude rescuing one of those.

Spin Me a Tale

The girls' storylines sometimes stretch over months, and since they've lived most of their lives without brothers, they've learned to carry all roles, which is why any time I see Susannah wearing her hair tucked into a cap, I know to refer to her as "Tom." Sometimes "Orphan Boy Tom," sometimes "Prince Tom," sometimes "Servant Tom," sometimes "Tailor Tom," but almost always "Tom."  (Annie turns into "Joe" when she tucks her hair into a cap.  Tom and Joe.  They're nothing if not original.)

Don't tell Tom, but with eyes like that, there's no way he passes for a boy, no matter how much it enriches the story.

Ezekiel: Sunlight: Candy Cane

My LIttle Inuit

I Think Babies are Born Knowing

that grins cover a multitude of mischief.

My View from the Couch


Oh, Yes

I also cut Zeke's hair super-duper short.  As you can see, he was practically bald for a few weeks.

Rain or Shine

If the children are awake when John leaves, they race him off to work while I wave from the warm indoors.  This race involves children in pajamas and winter boots (but only if we're lucky-- half the time it's socks or bare feet, even in snow).

I try to keep the girls from coddling Zeke overmuch, but sometimes zealous racing results in a snowy faceplant, and they trundle him indoors in a makeshift stretcher.  

Sunsets: In/Out

November: Luci Wears Her Red Coat

Ezekiel Tries to Help

He really does.

My Twins

In the last two years, I accidentally got matching shirts from different rummage sales, which, serendipitously, fit Pip and Annika this year.  They like to wear them on the same day, always.

I tried to take a picture of them at their request, but Zeke kept charging in from the corners like a baby hippo.

Good enough.

Better Than Cumberbatch

Ah.  A lovely young girl reads on the couch.


To Drop by Unannounced, Be Prepared with Hip Waders.

The deception of bloggy photography could lead one to falsely believe that my house looked like this for more than the two seconds it took to snap these pictures.


I was going to take pictures of all the rooms decked out for Christmas,

but after these few I stopped because it seemed so silly.  Really, so very silly.

The truth is, unless it's immediately after we've done our daily chores, most of the house looks like this.


And that's even when the girls aren't pulling out all the stops to make things like these.

It's nice to sometimes have an excuse for the mess, though.