wilderness

wilderness

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I love the month of June in the Pacific Northwest. It crests the horizon of summer with all the lushness and beauty of spring still in force. The vegetation encircles me, thick with growth, filling every gap in the soil, extending an invitation to linger and behold its glory.

Our maple tree blots out the sky, creating a natural umbrella over our sidewalk and pathway winding toward the front steps. The butterfly bush gently curves towards the brick archway over our porch.

Oh, and my blueberry bushes are loaded with berries from shades of the palest green to light lavender. As branches bend earthward every indigo hued orb beckons me to pluck and eat. 

Carl and I have a pretend tug-of-war between his wish to shore up drooping stems and clip away wandering branches whereas  I want every inch of growth, a billowing canopy of foliage. Our home feels sheltered by the natural world around it.

I love it. 

I welcome it. 

Maybe I feel passionate about the glory of June because I know July and August are around the corner. Rain showers will be less plentiful leading to crunchy, scorched lawns. My shoulders start to ache simply thinking about hauling a hose around to douse weary blooms.

There’s another plot of land I witnessed this week, different than my yard at home.  It’s a  corner lot that has remained empty after the leveling of a business. This dusty, dry barren land is enclosed by a chain-link fence. I’ve grown accustomed to this familiar sight, it’s become a fixture I often don’t notice. During a rare car ride this past week, while at a stoplight, I glanced across the intersection expecting the usual view but instead the fence was lined with colorful signs declaring Black Lives Matter, Justice for George, No Justice, No Peace, and other slogans. There were flowers and balloons woven and tied through the fence gaps. I sucked in my breath as my eyes hadn’t expected to land on this makeshift monument. 

As I brace myself for the conditions and requirements of my summer garden in the weeks to come, I feel the twinge of concern about this cultural moment, will it be a sustained movement.

We long for racial injustices to be ripped from its soil like the weed it is and be replaced by the lushness of equality and compassion.

 But in reality, we are still standing on ground which hasn’t been allowed to flourish circled by the beginning seeds of hope. I feel this hope beginning to take root in my soul but I remain cautious.

Don’t we all want our world to resemble the first garden described? A place which provides shade from harsh conditions and beauty to the eye, yielding an abundance of nourishment for all.

 So many people have newly immersed themselves in black history and terminology over the last few weeks. It’s natural to desire branches heavy laden with fruit, anticipating change, and a new harvest.  But it would be a mistake to believe a long-lasting harvest is possible after simply tilling the soil and scattering seeds. Slow, sustained work in every season is essential, especially during the harshest climates.

It might be discouraging to realize our world may resemble the second plot more than the first.

But I would suggest we are a people who are in the midst of the wilderness, one which may be defined differently than imagined.

wilderness: 

a part of a garden devoted to wild growth

an area where nature is left to find its own path

We are a people with a plethora of different opinions and viewpoints. I believe the wilderness expresses what this particular time in history represents. 

There are many people who have had their eyes opened during life slowing down during the pandemic and further by seeing the shocking reality of racial injustices. Four hundred years of history is being illuminated in such a way it can no longer be denied. This revelation for some is creating huge growth opportunities. For others, it is poking at them in a way that feels too uncomfortable to acknowledge or to slow down long enough to personally reflect. 

Envision America as circled by the fence of those who want to secure the current laws of the land and definitely do not wish to see or embrace the wild abandoned growth of others.  The ones who are stretching and processing are trying to tether their message onto the fence dwellers. They are crying, “work with us, be united with us.”

What remains to be seen is who will gain possession of all the remaining land still up for grabs.

Who will remain to keep fighting for justice and equality?

Who will keep speaking up even when words are rejected by friends, neighbors, co-workers, or family members?

Who desires to fully inhabit this time in history and not simply pass by?

I am hopeful. I also may have to admit Carl’s desire to shore up the drooping and trim away the excess might not be such a bad idea. 

Support one another in this fight. 

Continue to cut away old ideas and stereotypes and biases.

Allow time to digest new truths you encounter and learn.

Keep listening and asking yourself what is something only you can do to fight racism.

Everyone has a part and will look different from person to person. This is a good thing.

How I endeavor to fight racism will look different than someone else’s. A collective movement has many different facets, which enhances its beauty and value.

*****

May we be people of hope.

May we never tire of doing the good work of peace.

May we walk alongside one another in solidarity.

May we continue to offer a hand to those who simply want to stay on their own path.

May we walk in humility.

May growth create change for others rather than puff ourselves up.

May we long for the day when all the land is flourishing and yielding a mighty harvest.

May there always be enough blueberries for everyone. Forever. Amen.

 

 

Long Division

Long Division

I didn’t gain the clichéd Freshman 10 during my first year in college, I gained the Newlywed 15.

Carl and I spent our first two years of marriage in Minnesota as I attending physical therapy school. Carl was a medical technologist at the time and we envisioned endless employment opportunities when we traveled to the land of the Mayo Clinic. However we hadn’t anticipated the level of specificity of the medical community. It took Carl nearly a year to obtain full-time employment.

Godfather Pizza entered our story. Carl became a manager until finding part-time work in a virology laboratory. I attended 8 hours of classes, established library residency and spent evenings leaning over cadavers while Carl worked the late shift. We deemed our apartment the wedding cake. From living room, kitchen, bedroom to bathroom, each layer was smaller than the one preceding. Upon returning home from class and studying, I would often find a slightly warm cast iron skillet of Hamburger Helper atop our itty bitty stove. We seemed to always miss laying eyes on one another. Our days ended during the wee hours of the next day each smelling of formaldehyde and tomato sauce. We shared a Godfather pizza at the close of exhausting days and Carl always insisted we each eat half. We were equal partners in this ships passing life.

The dearest and generous of gestures helped pad my figure.

I wanted to decorate our apartment and pour over cookbooks. Carl wanted to do the work he loved and take his new wife out to a dinner using utensils.

I wanted to snuggle on the couch and be dreamy and I am sure Carl wondered if moving away from familiarity and family was foolish.

For two movie buffs, our first two years of marriage didn’t resemble any romantic comedy we had ever seen.

+++++

We moved to Portland, Oregon exactly 2 years from when we arrived in Rochester, Minnesota. During our final months, we experienced a record snowfall of 12 inches on the last day of April and on July 31st, we attended a wedding of a classmate in St. Cloud and were greeted with golf ball sized hail. It was time to leave!

After a few years we were able to buy a house. Not everyone in this life will own a home.
Not everyone will live in a home 26 years. I think we are an oddity. We are grateful. There are aspects of this house we would have loved to change but our children never wanted to leave this house. This house has been a persistent teacher. Five people and one shower, that will teach and provide endless lessons in patience. We have grown deep roots in our neighborhood.

One of the first summers we spent in this house, we would have conversations with neighbors. As we were at the beginning stages of learning to manage a home and yard, I would frequently ask neighbors with yards I admired tips to keeping weeds out of their flower beds. Without fail, the neighbor would pause, chuckle and not answer the question.

It was seriously annoying.

I wanted to know the secret but no one would offer the hidden knowledge.

+++++

Several years ago, I was asked to be one of a few speakers during the Mother’s Day service at church. I don’t particular enjoy public speaking. But after a little chat with God and telling him I hate feeling nervous, He countered my argument with asking if I could endure 5 minutes of jitters for Him?

I spoke about the 5 different colored and sized wooden ducks adorning our mantle at the time. A created visual reminder of my deepest desire for my ducks to be all in a row but the reality of life rarely allowing this scenario. I spoke of dreams deferred and the importance of being present in our lives even when, especially when, the arrows of trials land like a bullseye on your back.

I witnessed nods and exhales during those five minutes. I lived by those words.

Until I wanted the duck line formation reinstated.

+++++

 A few weeks ago, I saw couples walking by our house and pausing to scan the flower beds.

When the coast was clear, I walked down our front steps and looked for myself.

Disclaimer or reality check needed, our yard will never be featured in Better Homes and Garden.

Our yard has never seemed to get its act together at the same time, maybe it’s the owners.
Perhaps this explains the walkers staring in wonder.
Usually squirrels dig up tulip bulbs, the camelias start to bloom earlier than usual and bare spots abound where flowers never returned.

But this year, the tulips and daffodils are tall and proud before opening, the grape hyacinth planted nearly 25 years ago has leapt over or under brick in bunches, the daphne is waking up. The wall flowers never stopped putting out orange flowers despite snow and ice and as I round a corner shoots of lily of the valley are emerging.

It has taken over 25 years for this garden to grow and bloom in season.

However, the flower bed on the other side of the steps is a different story. It’s anemic. The tulips look bedraggled and the daffodils spindly. Similar flowers and grasses flourishing to the south are sparse in the north bed. Our maple tree, planted the year after we moved in, has made a part sun and shade north bed . The butterfly bush with deep and expansive roots is a playground and feeding stop for birds and appears to dominate the terrain.

+++++

In my 54th year, I know and admit:

I have wanted my life to resemble my own imagining and visions.

I have believed the sum of my days would be two perfect halves.

I thought the long division of my life would never yield a remainder.

My days will be composed of inclement weather in  seasons not of my choosing.

Weeds grow quickly and silently and must be pulled. There is not a lofty weed removal secret other than consistently doing the work.

For ducks to remain in a static row, someone or something must hold them in place. I am not this powerful or that someone. It takes strength to admit weakness and let go.

I have cycled in and out of times of wilderness most of my life. Wilderness is not an uncommon place to inhabit.

My yard has created a visual of my favorite wilderness definition.

 a part of a garden devoted to wild growth

My garden reminds me of the temptation to focus on barren places and block the view of the ground flourishing with growth and beauty. I am encouraged by the years preceding this vision when every glimpse seemed fruitless, empty and my thoughts were laced with the whisper of when? The whispered response beckoned me to risk waiting more than 5 minutes.

I thought God was pausing and chuckling at my expense.

Now I think He paused, considered His child, handiwork, masterpiece, then chuckled.

He chuckled because He could see completion, the hidden work I could never cook or dream up in my itty bitty kitchen of a mind. He knew the terrain of my life would one day make people stop and admire the view.

+++++

Dearests, if your life is filled with weeds and barrenness. If your life appears foreign in contrast to the dream reel in your head, I am sorry for the rocky and hard patches. A few people passed my dwelling place and allowed me to gaze in wonder at spring arriving in a small section of my chosen soil.

May these words help you see beauty in your life from a fresh vantage point.

that girl

that girl

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Have you ever asked someone a question and

the answer bore no resemblance to the inquiry?

This was my experience this morning.

While cleaning my bookcases this week, I discovered

a daily Bible from years ago.

The pages felt smooth and unaltered except for occasionally

there were underlines and notes.

This particular Bible poses two questions based on each reading.

I opened its pages and read.

I  decided to bypass words written some 8 years ago.

I wrote my answer in my journal then I put both the past

and the present side by side for examination.

There are no “right” answers to the first posed question only

different perspectives.

Based on verses encouraging

believers to grow up,

the first question asked what if God said to you,

“But there’s so much more.
Let’s get on with it!

what would you say?

This was my answer in 2006:

I need to remember that the wilderness is not all there is.
God is so much more.

It pains me and makes me weep when I type that answer.

Not because it is wrong and didn’t fully answer the question

based on the context but because that girl was hurting.

I remember that girl.

I love that girl.

She was a girl whose answer was informed by what her eyes

saw all around her.

She saw misery and desert and she knew there was more.

That girl’s faith was shaken because her formula had

been found lacking.

A plus B didn’t add up to C.

God coupled with being good had not led to a pain-free life.

At that point, she didn’t know that she could change her

line of vision, adjust her focus.

She didn’t know it was possible to see Jesus in the

wastelands right beside her.

She forgot that Jesus had endured the wilderness stripped

of resources but God and His Word.

It took her awhile to not be so myopic.

Day by day she learned to lengthen her vision

by applying her eyes,mind and heart to His word.

How appropriate that today I literally wear progressive lenses,

helping me see close-up and faraway.

A constant reminder I see only in part but

God sees in totality.

We know only a portion of the truth,
and what we say about God is always incomplete.
But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother’s breast,
I gurgled and cooed like any infant.
When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

We don’t yet see things clearly.
We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist.
But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright!
We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us,
knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness,
we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation:
Trust steadily in God,
hope unswervingly,
love extravagantly.
And the best of the three is love.

I Corinthians 13: 9-13 (MSG)

Had it not been for the wilderness, I wonder

if that girl would have sought to find the Savior so

intently and desperately in the word.

That girl helped this girl to begin to visualize God from

a different vantage point.

She laid the ground work in learning how to

“get on with it” and grow up in God.

I am grateful for her and although my vision and perspective

is still often faulty, I am so blessed God never abandoned me.

He always remained.

He gently brushed my tear lined cheeks and

whispered,

“There’s so much more, child.

There’s so much more.”

God,

help me to remember,

when my capacity to believe is limited by

what I see and I deem it less than,

that you are with me always.

Even the wilderness place becomes

greater than I first knew because

you inhabit it.

Thank you for loving that girl

and this girl just the same.

Amen.

kept by walking

kept by walking

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I blame the gravitational pull of my mattress.

I was determined to keep my walking date with myself on Saturday.

I slept later than I wanted perhaps not longer than I needed.

As I pulled on my shoes, I noticed a few dots of water scattered

upon finger smudged panes.

Dismissing my thoughts of “it’s going to pour” or “gosh, it’s colder outside than I realized”,

I instructed my feet to step away from the house.

We have the pleasure of living two short blocks away from a city park complete with a

sunken rose garden.

I decided to circle the park a few times.

As you probably surmised, the heavens opened with applause at my

triumphant bed defeat with pelting rain.

As I neared the rose garden, the covering of trees spreads out and

I felt every raindrop multiply and the wind force pushing me back to

my starting point.

Only 5 minutes had passed.

I hadn’t worked up a sweat.

It was too cold actually.

I should go home and choose another day, my mind encouraged.

I kept placing heel in front of toe.

Once I reached the far side of the park and would soon re-enter the

intense weather chamber, I noticed the expanse of fir trees.

I looked down at the paved portion of my path and realized the cement was dry.

Not one droplet of rain had been allowed to penetrate the earth below.

I tilted my head back and gazed at branches imitating a cathedral

of hands interlocked in prayer.

This was a place of protection.

A sanctuary of peace from the storm.

Maybe I should walk back and forth along this untouched road.

I’d be warm and dry and less tossed about by mighty gusts.

My feet kept walking.

Often we feel unprepared and an ill-equipped match for the prevailing winds.

My park circles reminded me of the inevitability and strength of storms.

Storms wrestle us from our slumber and announce their presence.

We must keep walking.

Each step leads closer to the prized destination.

We may question our resolve to keep moving

until

the height,

the length,

the width

and

the breadth

of God’s arms

encloses us,

shelters us,

protects us,

speaks peace over us,

comforts us,

and simply is present with us.

He reaches into the waters which threaten

to drown and

clasps His spirit with ours and

gives us strength to keep in step with Him.

He is the most welcome respite in

times of persistent onslaught.

We will get wet.

We will be chafed by the wind.

We may feel we are circling a path in a cold

wilderness but we are not left alone.

We must keep walking.

It’s the only way to get home.