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It starts out as a cheap date. A continental journey without the cost of airfare or the stress of packing. Wrapping my artsy self with a luxurious half hour steeped in juices of creativity… slipping unseen into beautiful gardens and interior living spaces, while secretly pretending they’re mine.

My virtual escape takes place in the library, a bookstore, or on rare early mornings at LOWE’s by the magazine and book rack—while the Preacher hunts for plumbing supplies or plants in need of nurturing.

But I’m not the only one standing at ease or sitting on a bench—courtesy of an observant employee—transported, thumbing through pages of possibilities…

for a brief escape, carried to houses and gazebos and lands faraway.

Beautiful, cozy, the gentle beckoning of peace… all captured in picture perfect settings. No weeds, no mess. No clutter or responsibility. Just endless visions of loveliness. Contentment. Dreams fulfilled.

I’ve been to a few photo shoots… watched stylists enter the front door, with arms full, tote bags bulging—with my eyes wide, taking in the gorgeous array—

Lemons for a crystal bowl on the glossy granite counter top, extravagant peonies in a milk glass vase;

thick slabs of homemade pound cake on Old Roses English china, miniature tarts on a crystal cake stand, dripping with the reddest, ripest strawberries and graced with a dollop of whipped cream—just a dollop;

fresh-squeezed lemonade in Grandma’s Depression glass pitcher;

teacups and saucers propped and ready;

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furnishings rearranged as morning sun streaming through kitchen windows, glistening on polished silver forks and spoons, lending the sparkle of promise—a glorious day in the country.

These are the images I carried for too many years to count, of a life I hoped someday would be mine.

After more than two decades, someday arrived.

Our family lives the dream of country life in this old house, where just behind the back fence a seasonal creek meanders around gently sloping hills and rugged ranchland. The winding road at the end of our drive heads in one direction to the Sierra, and in the other, to the Golden Valley.

A steepled church over a century old sits on a hill at the edge of town. Grave stones mark the beginnings and endings of faces now forgotten, leaving only the reminder of Genesis 3.

In the spring wildflowers, roses and hydrangeas, irises, honeysuckle and peach blossoms splatter the landscape with color, across the hills, around the yard.

Artichokes grow in gopher-proof boxes beside chives and varieties of summer squash, where bumble bees discover sweetness from tiny flowers, and rustic stone steps and rock walls outline patches of grass.

Golden and garnet jewels drop from our trees when autumn breezes chase away summer’s haze.

And winter’s chill drives us indoors where family and homey comforts refresh body and spirit.

In rare moments of calm I’m able to slip away from the whirlwind of family and ministry life, and enter the dream. My feet step into the chalk drawing, and I’m transported where time stands still.

I lounge on the swing overlooking creek and hills, serenaded by nature’s buzzing, by the whir of hummingbirds, the croaking of tiny frogs welcoming spring…

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Hold impromptu picnics on the grass…

Linger awestruck below the canopy of glistening stars.

Yet, on most days this dream house and surrounding beauty fall short in bringing the abundance of peace I had envisioned.

When viewing magazine spreads of other country settings, I saw the serene romance of home—an illusive quality missing then in our tired single-wide mobile home pulled onto a section of hard desert ground,

far away from two-story brick dwellings on shaded tree-lined streets, from grass and swings and slides and the laughter of children, from pastoral cottages along lonely winding roads.

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But my earthly dreams came with unexpected unlovely bits from living so close to nature, with bugs and dirt and piles and all the ordinary stuff of life.

I realized, just as abrasive personalities of actors are left backstage, what remains unseen and beyond the reach of the camera lens are sticky fingerprints, mounds of laundry and sink-fulls of dishes, accumulating dust and dog hair, gopher holes, septic problems, cobwebs, mold on back room window frames, ants in the pantry, tarantulas in the hallway, lizards and garter snakes and the occasional bat hiding in dark corners.

Having spent so long gazing on the illusion of unblemished beauty, on staged and glossy images of meticulously landscaped slivers of paradise, I believed Heaven was close within my earthly grasp. And failed to remember that living in our personal spaces breeds litter, no matter how luxurious those spaces are. Meals require preparing, grass must be mowed and toilets beg cleaning.

People and critters and schedules take their toll on our abodes, whether spacious or plain. And regular maintenance is needed where humans call home.

To be continued…

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