encouragement for mothers

Making History on Harvester Island: Our First Flushing Toilet!

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Harvester Island sign.jpeg


Big things have been happening on our fish camp island this week! No, not fish, which have yet to show up. And yes, every night a gorgeous flaunting of God's glory. But this week----more!  I have a short video to show and tell.  



I still can’t believe it.  It’s in my writing studio where the Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop is held. Several times a day I’ll go peek in and marvel at it.

I did nothing to install this technological wonder. It was these guys who dug the trench for the pipes. It was my husband who did all the engineering.


Duncan Micah and crew--sewer line.jpg



We’ve entered the brave new world of the turn-of-the-century.  I am used to being behind a century or two. For ten summers I carried all our water, up a hill, up a steep set of stairs. For twenty summers I washed our clothes in a wringer washer. For two winters out here, I washed them outside, rinsing by hand, hanging them out on the line, prying them crackly and frozen from the line, carrying them in like pieces of wood. I washed my 6 babies in aluminum tubs in the banya, the Russian steambath. I took them out fishing with my husband and me. We all do whatever is needed, no matter what.




And now, 40 years since I came, we have a toilet. God is good.


It will likely be the only toilet on this island of multiple buildings. We don’t have enough water for more than one. I don’t mind our two outhouses, surely the fanciest outhouses in all of Alaska , featuring spectacular views, original artwork, curtains, an entryway, an extensive magazine library, and Maggie's Farm flyspray.

new outhouse-outside.jpeg
New outhouse--inside.jpeg


God is good. 


And God was good that hard cold winter we were building our house, carrying every piece of lumber from the beach up the hill on our backs, the winter when we didn’t have even an outhouse. And God is good not because it was easy, but because He put it in our hearts to do this, and he blessed us with strength and joy, and he bound my husband’s will and mine together to settle this island, to make a house and a home here, to fill it with children, to work the fishing nets together. And every blessed wrenching step of the way, God was good because He didn’t let us give up. He didn’t let us give up on this island. On our children. On each other. Though so many times it would have been so much easier to walk away from it all.


We’re not done building. We have one last building to go. We’re building it for our grown-up children, who will all be married in the next year and who all come to visit. We’re building it for writers and retreaters. For God, who changes lives here. Especially mine.


new building.jpeg
(View from the new building)

(View from the new building)

HIWW-2016 on Earls beach.jpeg



None of this should have happened. But when I was a teenager, living in a house with closed doors and unheated rooms where no one was welcome, God burst in. He swept into this sparse heart with one rickety chair, and he set up house. A couch, a soft bed, a large open table where all were welcomed, and so many rooms, a mansion of rooms, where so many children would live. He has done it. 


Family--us all hugging on beach.jpg
Hearts of rose petals in pan.jpeg

And now among all these rooms there is one with a flushing toilet and it makes me cry. 


Because we have not done any of this perfectly or even well at times. At times we utterly failed, and our house should have come crashing down. But it didn’t. For long.


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I'm writing all this to you, reader, because maybe that's you hauling the water or the bucket of fish up the steep hill. Maybe that's you right now, with babies on your back and you're strong with love but you're tired. Maybe you're in the middle of building and there are too many rooms. You know it is impossible.  

It was for me, too. There are a lot of rooms, and babies are heavy, and hills are steep but God is capacious and bountiful with a wild plan for our lives. He pours out more upon us than we can bear at times, but it will be good. It will become good if you don't let go of the bucket, or the baby or the load of lumber on your back. 

Tell Him you're tired. And believe these words:

Why would you ever complain, O Jacob,
    or, whine, Israel, saying,
“God has lost track of me.
    He doesn’t care what happens to me”?
Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening?
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
    He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
    And he knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired,
    gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
    young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
    They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
    they walk and don’t lag behind.       ---Isaiah 40 (The Message)

God is building something magnificent and unimaginable right now.

Through you.

And if He can make a toilet flush on Harvester Island,

He can do ANYTHING! 


boys running on spit in wind.jpeg

What has He done for you?

California Wildfires, Windmills+A Final End to The Mother's Day Wars

Don’t take away my flower. You know, the one you stand up for in church on  Mother’s Day when the pastor says, “Would all the mothers stand?” And a flower, usually a carnation or a tulip, is handed out by a frilly-dressed little girl or a cute little boy.


A Mother’s Day war is brewing over that flower.  There are women in every church whose gut aches and bleeds because they can’t stand to take a flower.  How can we keep hurting them, people are asking. Some are calling to end this barbaric, thoughtless practice.

But there are so many reasons I will fight to  defend that one tiny spray-painted carnation that I’ve stood to receive and then gripped all through church in my hot mother’s hands for the last 24 Mother’s Days. 

I was reminded of one reason this very last weekend, when I drove  with  my husband literally through wildfire for one of my sons.  He just graduated from college.
 We flew down from Kodiak to southern California--more than a little jaunt---for the weekend of celebrations. Two days before the ceremony a fire broke out next to Highway 101 in Camarillo Springs, and quickly spread. We set off for Santa Barbara early, knowing some of the highway had been closed.   

Our four hour drive turned to seven. We drove past three other fires, two of them right down to the highway we were driving on. We missed the baccalaureate. ( But not graduation)

But this is why I want my flower.  This is what mothers do. We drive through fire. Two mornings later, when I drove past windmills at 6:00 a.m. with theirs arms spinning already in the wind---we know that is us as well: 

women who   ceaselessly turn and spin and make energy and food and love out of storm and wind.  We light up houses. We fuel bodies and cars.  We go through fire, through flood, through famine and feast.

We go through years with so much emptying and spinning  and fueling, that one little flower placed in our hands can crumble us to pieces. 

But those firing shots at Mother’s Day in church are right: we are not the only ones who do this. Fathers sacrifice and uncles and friends and teachers and neighbors .  .. .   

And what of the mothers who have lost a child, who have had yet another miscarriage, who can’t get pregnant at all, whose son  has just gone to jail, whose daughter has just run away? What about the mothers who did not have mothers themselves, who long for a mother’s love that never came, whose mothers  left them, whose mothers never said ‘I love you”? What of them?  Don’t they deserve a flower too?

Of course.  Let’s give them all a flower, every woman.  Is the world short of flowers? It is only short of hands to present them. 

But most of these women need more than a flower. They need  a mother. 

Maybe that’s what we should be doing on Mother's Day.  Instead of giving each other flowers, maybe we should be giving each other mothers. 

Older women, look among the younger women. Who needs help? Younger women, look among yourselves and to those younger: who needs your ear or your arms?   

I’m not trying to ruin Mother’s  Day,  to heap yet more service upon women already overlooked and overworked.  I’m saying, take your flower and then look for someone who might need your  mother’s heart: a pure heart, a wise heart, a heart ready to love the motherless.    

No more debate and volleys about what pastors should and shouldn’t do this Sunday.   Give a flower to all. Be a mother to someone without one. 

As best you can.  

As God gives strength and love.

And He will.