indecision

One of those days.

I thought I’d sneak away for a while, just me and run a few errands. Dogs have radar for this. So no matter how nonchalant or casual I was about it I couldn’t get past the hallway to the garage door. Somebody’s nose would appear as if to say, “you’re not leaving without us, are you?”

It’s getting to where it will be too warm for Lily and Lulu to go for rides with me. We will be having our morning walkies before the sun rises and after it sets. So no errands.

Today has been the same. Rain squall, then almost sun, then grey. All day it’s been trying to decide whether to just all-out rain or not.

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Since the beginning of the Lenten season from Ash Wednesday I turned off the television. At first maybe about a week I have withdrawals. Strange how I can get so used to the noise and nonsense coming out of a large piece of electronics. Then I settle in to the silence. I hear birds more, breezes, crickets even now that it’s warmer. I hear neighbors laughing and talking.

I hear life.

Funny how insulated I can be inside a house with artificial noise. Without it time goes more slowly, things become deliberate. My head is clearer.

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Well, comparatively so. I read more books. I made some wind chimes out of those really large sea urchin spines.

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I made a bracelet with shells I have been finding on the beach in the shape of a heart. I discovered these are the “insole” part of a seashell called a lady’s slipper, but when the outer part breaks away it leaves this piece

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so I thought they’d look pretty in a bracelet. I don’t wear jewelry. At all, ever. So if I make these I’ll have to give them away or something. And I have thousands of these shell pieces since I have collected them for years and they are everywhere here where I live, though I have never seen them on any other beach.

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But somehow the Saturday before Resurrection Sunday has me in its grip. I can’t help but wonder how those disciples and followers of Jesus must have felt. Here was the One they knew was Messiah. And He had died. They watched it. Well, John and some of the women. How dark, frightening that must have been. Jesus tried to tell them He would rise and live but I don’t think I would have understood what He was saying either, even if I’d been a witness to His raising Lazarus.

I know how this story ends. With joy! Victory! Life and hope. Newness.

But Saturday. Somehow it helps me to have this day, dark as it must have been because I know what happens.

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how much wood….

So Groundhog Day. That little rhyme most kids learn, “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”

Makes utterly no sense which is likely why it has survived generations and is so easily memorized.

Evidently this tradition really did begin in Pennsylvania, and the German settlers brought it with them. I doubt they brought their own groundhog since they are indigenous here.

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They are actually very cute and resemble prairie dogs to me, so I looked them up. They are all in the same family commonly known as ground squirrels which includes these two species as well as squirrels, chipmunks, and marmots. When I lived in New Mexico I actually saw a prairie dog colony in a nearby nature park. They are much smaller and thinner than groundhogs and very curious. When I lived in Tennessee there were groundhogs in the yard and they burrow a lot like giant moles. Kind of annoying especially if you’re trying to have a vegetable garden but we worked it out.

So apparently the famous groundhog in Punxsatawney did not see his shadow which folklore dictates indicates an early spring.

I doubt that.

Every year I buy a Farmer’s Almanac, the longest-published periodical in America. Not so much for the weather predictions because, well as close as their top-secret prediction formula comes in accuracy each year nobody can really predict weather.

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Or much of anything. But this little book has really interesting stories, odd-ball history and not so odd history about America and other places, recipes, gardening tips, birding tips… all kinds of stuff.

Interesting to note that Canada observes Groundhog Day. They celebrate it in Wiarton, Ontario. Coincidentally February 2 is also Candlemas Day, Jesus’ first visit to the Temple. The day Simeon had long waited and in his song commemorates it–

“Lord bid Your servant go in peace, Your word is now fulfilled. These eyes have seen salvation’s dawn, this Child so long foretold…” also known as Nunc Dimittis, paraphrased for hymnals by James J. Quinn, S.J.

What faith! Since a young man Simeon had waited, daily in the Temple for the Christ child. And he never wavered in his faith. What joy his simple faith gave him, knowing God is always faithful and true in His promises.

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favorite quotes: Day 2 of 3

3-day Quote Challenge, continued

“To thine own self be true….. ”      –Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 3: William Shakespeare

I don’t think there is much of anything more basic than this. I know my growing-up years were complete turbulence. I was the first-born of 3, the screw-up, not a mistake so much as mistake-maker. I learned everything the hard way. Sometimes those lessons took more than one pass. Eventually I learned in order to not keep everybody mad I could do and say funny stuff. Make them laugh, usually at me. This worked as long as I didn’t look too hard on the inside. Because people pleasers sometimes make others happy, or avert the argument or throw the barbs off. But even if we do, our lives, while doing all this performing are so hollow inside.

So this was my truth for years. My valley of darkness. It became such a conditioned activity I had no idea that it was within my power to stop. But just like Dorothy I had the power all along.

Just stop. I didn’t even need those ruby slippers to get back “home”.

It made a lot of people angry. I was called all sorts of horrid things– cold, selfish, thoughtless. And those words hurt. But then I remembered they were as much talking about themselves as they were about me.

It took practice. My valley of darkness became a valley of decision…. up until then I did my best at second-guessing, perceiving feelings, fortune-telling outcomes. I doubted, restructured, doubted again.
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Basically unanchored, so other-focused I had no perspective of my own.

“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6 NKJV)

And here I began to find my real truth. For someone who’d become so strong-willed, independent, self-reliant it took a long time and many losses. A marriage ended, parents passed away, yet one Constant helped me, each day, each moment become stronger,th.jpg more discerning, more faithful. He has never disappointed me. He always hears  my prayers. He has proven Himself true over and over. And I know without doubt that He is the only way, truth, life. (John 14:6)

I am nowhere close to finished. But without losing compassion, empathy or kindness my perspective has strengthened and become more realistic, more self-controlled. I take more time to listen. Life is less frenetic. Yes, I am much older now but wisdom is far more valuable.And thankfully more available. Or at least wisdom’s voice is clearer.

 

surprised by grace

Joyous Easter

  he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 25:8)

 

absolute horror, hatred           unimaginable beauty, love
defeat, shame           humility, victory
despair, darkness           brilliant light, hope

 

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

He nourishes
He strengthens
He guides
He heals
He loves
He is risen
He is alive

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eventually, life

We’ve had a few false starts to spring this year. More than once I’ve been fooled into running to the garden centers to see their latest flats of bedding plants, herbs and vegetables. And when I put them outside sure enough there’s a cold snap, even a couple of nights of late frost burning the tender edges of the leaves.

There are many plants that come up year after year bravely through the snow. Crocus, daffodil. This year I had a periwinkle that bloomed.

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Some of the little flowers seem so fragile, delicate and tender it amazes me that they are completely unaffected by such a forbidding chill

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The bracken fern emerge very gradually, at first tight-fisted, their little fiddleheads clenched against the cold

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gradually then the sun’s warmth unfurling those little green fronds that grip so closely to stay alive

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When I was little Sundays and church were a big part of my week. I looked forward to the friendliness and warmth, the bustle of families drifting into their respective Sunday school classes.

Children generally accept most things and question very little but I tended to be distracted easily so I can clearly remember some time after a particular lesson wondering why my teacher told us about somebody wandering around in the desert. Only later did I realize he meant Jesus’ 40 days being tempted by the devil.

And that was about the time I also realized that the ecumenical calendar was the same year after year. We spoke the same prayers, celebrated the same events of Pentecost, Christmas, Easter and the years were not flat, repetitive. It is an upward spiral.

The truth of those lessons and prayers reflecting the life and love of Jesus becomes clearer. I  paid attention. I hear His admonitions, His instructions, the meaning of taking up my own cross. The cross of humility, of selflessness, of love.

I hope one day those prayers take precedence over whatever smallness remains in me. Eventually.

“When they had brought their boats to land they left everything, and followed Him.”             —-  Luke 5:11

darkness

I have the same problem with Holy Saturday that I have with Good Friday. Good Friday? When Jesus is crucified? I could never see much good in it at all. People refused to see Jesus as Messiah. He made a lot of important people angry telling them the truth about themselves so they decided by killing Him it would make their unhappiness go away.

It didn’t.

Like a guy I used to work with often said, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Removing someone, moving to a different place will not change the person you are.

But Jesus could have, if they had listened, believed. So the same goes for Holy Saturday. What is holy about the death of a Savior?

When I was little like most children I was clueless about certain things. Church was a place you were polite and wore pretty clothes that you couldn’t make mudpies in. You could keep trying to destroy your brother during the week but not on Sunday. Or so I thought. Very thankful we grew up, neither of us destroyed the other and we are good friends.

But holy? The day after the man who was purported to be the Messiah dies? Savior of the world? He was the Son of God. Why did He die? Why didn’t He conquer the Romans?

Because He came to conquer our hearts. He came to overcome sin and death for us by sacrificing Himself on the cross so we by having faith that He is the Savior our own souls are saved. That was why He came. In love. Why that terrible Friday is good.

When God tells Moses to relay a message to Pharaoh, Pharaoh hardens his heart. Time and again Pharaoh relents only to change his mind and demand even more work, more bricks, less provision. So for the 9th plague God tells Moses to “stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.” (Exodus 10)

Imagine. A darkness so deep, so oppressive, so blinding you can feel it. I have a hard time imagining what that is. Feelings are quite sensitive. Some more than in others, but we all feel. There is the dark when you wake at night from a sound sleep and stumble to get a glass of water. The dark that is in your mind when you know there will eventually be light. The darkness that can be felt is heart darkness. The dark of hopelessness. A darkness that may even take the breath out of your lungs? Maybe.

When I worked in northwest New Mexico I visited a monument in Arizona called Canyon de Chelly. It is not federally owned and has existed for more than 5000 years, home originally to Anasazi tribes. If there was anyone else at the canyon the day I visited I never knew it. The silence there, even when the dusty desert winds blew, was so profound it had a presence.

That must be what darkness that can be felt is like. A sinister, empty presence. A void but one that, having no structure, nothing tangential can still touch you, consume you. So by Holy Saturday, Jesus had died, He was buried. The disciples and other believers must have been terrified. They hid. Their hopes were shattered. Jesus had told them He would destroy the temple and raise it in three days but even though they knew He often spoke in parables who would have suspected He meant Himself? Not me, had I been there.

This is part of all He did for us. He took our sin, the certain threat of death to the cross. He took the inevitability of separation from God. He remained in the abyss of that terrible dark alone. He and His Father were separated in what must have felt like eternity.

So maybe this is why it’s called holy. It was His sacrifice for us: that He endure what God sent Him to save us from.

Thank You God.

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broken Love

So I was driving somewhere this week and the radio station I happened to be listening to was asking what people were planning to do with their loved one for Valentine’s Day. One woman said she and her husband never planned anything for Valentine’s Day. Their marriage was one in which their love is such they do not need a special day to show it.

I’d never heard that one before. Impressive.

So much hype comes with days like this– birthdays, anniversaries, remembrances. It doesn’t have to be like this.

After my divorce I was a complete mess. There was a comic strip I used to read, “Beetle Bailey”, this scrawny private in the military constantly being beaten to a pulp by his superior, Sarge. The comic would show this with a flattened remnant of an individual, feet and hands sticking out oddly, a few teeth gone.

That’s what I felt like.

So with whatever was left I decided to self-destruct. I became involved with some unsavory characters. I drank too much. Even though I had a child and managed to look respectable I also struggled hard to dig further into the hole I found myself in. Not sure how bleak I hoped to make it but one morning I woke to see my son standing in the doorway to my bedroom. At that point I realized what I had been doing. Ignoring that which was important. Living in a black pool of anger and resentment regardless of any cost.

So  as I walked into each new day I functioned. I cooked, I cleaned, I took care of my son as far as my brokenness would allow. Hoping no matter what I said or did he could know that the brokenness was not his fault. Hoping he could know love despite the personal chaos I had created. I kept an orderly home, worked, paid bills on time, for all intents and purposes things looked fine. Normal, whatever that is. But inside I was a wreck. No order about my thoughts, just survival. Life. Later in the year my son was visiting his father. I found myself reading a little religious magazine I’d subscribed to but never read. I kept the issues I received bound in rubber bands. No idea why. And one day I came across them.

It was a sunny, fresh day. I took them outside to my condo’s little patio and unwrapped the rubber band. I sat in the warm sun, taking them one at a time I read through each one. Each telling me no matter what God loves me. That His Son died an undeserved, humiliating and unimaginably painful death because my pitiable human life is such that I cannot come before my Creator on my own.  Because of His incredible love His sinless Life died for my sinful one. No matter how bleak, how dark, how distant, how bad. Before I was halfway through reading these little booklets I was in tears. A complete mess, but a good mess. It was the old me, the stubborn, angry, bitter me melting before Him Who came to save me. It was me realizing, understanding maybe for the first time ever that there was nothing I could do or be to make myself good, acceptable, clean. It was me seeing this One, this Perfect One who came to this planet to save all people from self and sin, and He was holding His arms out to me, His heart open as it probably always had been but I never saw it. And in Him I saw true hope.

I walked into those arms. I have never felt lost again. I have been alone but seldom lonely, wrong but He is always quick to forgive when I come to Him honestly and tell Him everything. I have been sad from rejection, from hurt but He has always comforted me. I have been afraid, maybe of something I imagined but afraid just the same and He has given me courage. He strengthens me, nourishes me, refreshes me, guides and instructs me, sustains me.

His love has been since before this world and will be, forever. And He won’t ever let me go.

So even though today or any day I find myself at a place of fogginess where I can’t see the road clearly in front of me I know He is here. I know whatever direction I take, wherever I go He will be with me.

I won’t be perfect. But life will be ok. And it will be right. And true. And real.

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For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39