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.

every little thing

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I was thrilled to be part of the launch team for Deidra Rigg’s new book
Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are.
I devoured an advance copy about a month ago and have been itching to share a

quote which has continued to tumble around my brain and heart.
But this is simply one small aspect of this incredible work from Deidra.
If you ever needed a friend to help dust you off when you have fallen,
you need this book.
If you often wonder how you landed in the place you currently reside,
allow Deidra to share her own experiences with humor, wisdom and honesty.
Every Little Thing will help you discover how it is possible
to change your small pocket of the world simply by being you,
wonderful world-changing you.
Every Little Thing is available everywhere you would find stellar books.

*****

God is in the wilderness.
Go there.

You can trust him to meet you right in the middle of
your wild and worn and weary places.
Take off your shoes.
Tear off your pretense.
Skip over the polite conversation.
It’s you he wants.

Simply you.

~Deidra Riggs
Every Little Thing

Reading and writing has always helped me figure out who I am and

what I am experiencing.


These two activities work in tandem to help me make sense of my world,


allowing me to dig deep enough to hit the core of what’s going on.

None of our lives are experienced in isolation.

There are people we love, circling our hearts and when they hurt,

it creates shared suffering.

Add our personal realities to the collective realities of others and it is

no wonder many of us feel swamped by life.

When I read the above quote and allowed my eyes to linger on the word wilderness

I finally found a peg to hang my hat.

Granted I am not unfamiliar with the wilderness.

I have logged quite a few seasons upon its terrain just like many of you.

Past times seemed dark, quiet, lonely and hopeless.

This current wilderness landscape feels polar opposite.

Forward progress appears to be impossible.

I simply can’t “try hard” myself out of these confines.

About 7 years ago, I looked up every possible definition and synonym

for the word wilderness.

There was a definition for wilderness which fascinated me all those years ago

and instructs me today:

a part of a garden devoted to wild growth

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This definition sums up how I feel right now.

There is life and growth but there is also a lot of wild, massive tangles.

I see new blooms and others bent low, exploding with seeds for

another season and death can’t be hidden.

There aren’t  tidy perfectly symmetrical rows of flowers consisted of

concrete and absolute answers in this section of the garden.

Perhaps if I take a few steps backward, I will discover a garden with straight rows

nuzzled against the unruly plot of land.

The wilderness has purpose, there is undeniable growth despite its wild nature.

Weeds and blooms weaving themselves together isn’t necessarily the bad news I feared.

I just might be able to survive this section of my life garden.

Deidra’s words provided my mind with a new synapse to ponder good

rising from the wilderness.

She reminded me, I am not alone.

God is with me in every knotted length of this terrain.

He longs to meet me in the midst of my exhaustion and questions.

Most people would never choose the wilderness as their destination.

Yet God doesn’t say “see you later when you are on your way out of the wilderness”

and take a shortcut to the outskirts of the wilderness.

No, he chooses to plant himself right on the most uneven paths.

I am grateful to have read Every Little Thing because it is filled with wisdom

when you find yourself in the least likely and undesired places.

It’s a book of encouragement for when we fall down and desperately

need a perspective adjustment.

Tucked between the yellow starred covers,

I am confident you will come face to face with the realization,

it is possible to make a world of difference right smack dab where you are,

even if it happens to be in the wilderness.

 

 

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

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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.