Go ahead, find some shoes and go out the door. You don't have to be gone long, just go. Ten minutes out, ten minutes back if that's all you can "afford" to invest today. But when you're out there, be all there! Be mindful of what you see and hear in your world.. Start listening with your eyes. You never know what you might discover. And if you won't take my word for it, here's a quote to get you motivated!
Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher." William Wordsworth
What are you waiting for? The weekend is whispering your name..."Come. Pause. Listen." Yes. You. Out.the.door.
A wise man recently told me – you need to learn to hear with your eyes (oh, Moshe Kempinski, the conversations I’ve been having with you in my head) so I decide to do that today. I wonder what will I see, what I will hear? I am choosing to be intentional about looking...
but I don’t really know what I am looking for...(and life is a lot like that, most days.)
I am walking in the most ordinary of places today, unlike my recent adventures in the intense and varied land of Israel. Oh, such a place, such a place. I’ll never forget the wonder of exploring Hippos...was that just three weeks ago?
To stand atop that mountain, with a bit of breeze lifting my hair, taking in a splendid view, wandering with friends or alone on a cardo (Main Street) that was centuries...no, millennia old?
Seeing where the columns fell in a row, here, here, here, when an earthquake shook the city... It is like a dream...thinking about it right now, I feel wistful, full of longing to walk there again. (Hippos was in my top two “wow” moments in Israel, along with Gethsemane.)
But I am not in Hippos anymore, I am back here in my rather drab spring-isn’t-quite-here-yet world, where I’ve walked hundreds of times. What can there possibly be to see, I wonder?
I don’t know what I’m looking for, I’m just looking, eyes wide open, ears too.
How many shades of brown can there be? Yes, bits of green are emerging, but overall, the landscape is underwhelming.
I notice the barbed wire fence needs repair near the creek...which means I have no trouble at all scrambling through to the interesting side. (Last time, the fence looked much better, and I looked much worse after I snagged my pants and ripped a red angry scratch in my leg.)
It’s the season of mud, just now, wedged here between winter that will not give up and spring that can’t find it’s mettle. The water along the creek is finally receding after recent rain and heavy snow raised the banks to overflowing.
I’m listening with my eyes, and I can hear the busy-ness scramble of life along the creek banks when I'm not here. Lots of small creatures, coming and going, stretching to reach the creek for a drink, creating little tracks through the grass, highways and byways leading to hidden burrows and holes beneath giant gnarled tree roots. Groundhog, squirrel, chipmunk, a skunk, right here, a few weeks ago, creeping across the frozen span.
Around the far side of an enormous stump, a startled muskrat hustles herself straight into the water and disappears. As I pause, birds flit from brush pile to the thorny hedge that is the perfect cover for song sparrows and nest building cardinals. Overhead, two red-wing blackbirds seem to be gossiping about me, pink hooded intruder; robin fuss tells everyone I’m here.
A flash of white grabs my attention...pure white feather resting in the mud.
I’m pleased with myself for noticing...but when I bend down, a bit of movement surprises me:
a honey bee, stopping for some water.
The creek is too fast for her tiny form, so she’s grateful for mud...me, not so much.
I take a few more steps, and the story of the white feather unfolds before my eyes. I'm hearing the scream of the hawk, the muffled piping of the lovely pigeon who became dinner. Now as the wind scatters feathers, I know the tree swallows will gather whiteness to soften their nests in a few weeks.
I climb up the bank and wander along the edge of the cemetery. I wonder about this enormous rock which I have never noticed before.
It’s probably eight feet by six feet, and I’m sure it’s always been here, but I wasn’t listening for its story until today. Why is it uncovered, all weathered and worn, right here in the middle of a grassy area just south of the grave stones.
And who etched this cross along the side?
I clamber through another broken down fence, and stooping, I spot the tiny blue brightness of corn speedwell.
Yes, it’s a weed, but it’s hard to argue with this kind of blueness.
A tree stump
with a half dozen gnarled roots reaching into the stream
is the perfect spot to pause
and let my soul finally
catch up to the rest of me.
I sit for a long time.
I realize I have missed this ordinary place in the weeks I’ve been “seeing the world,”
missed the opportunity to ramble at my own (slow) pace,
missed these familiar sounds -
and horses clip-clopping along the road
and wind whispering, "Welcome home..."
I whisper back, "It’s good to be home."
It's time to get back to the house now; neighbors rumble by in their carriage, waving. I pause once more, looking up through the branches of my favorite meadow tree. I don’t see it from this angle very often.
This is a tree whose stories I would love to hear. I’m certain this ancient oak predates all the European settlers who traveled to this area in the mid-1700’s. The first church in the valley stood right here in the meadow, and this tree probably stood in or near the church yard, hearing the preaching and the visiting and the laughter of children and the singing. Today it only heard the wind. And humming.
And what did I hear today, with my eyes?
I read the music,
and I heard the song of home.
This sweet and lonesome melody,
with interludes of long silence, stanzas of joy and lament -
it is my song.
And so, I sing.
HumminB (is home!)
Sunday was supposed to be April Fool’s day, but yesterday I woke up to a world in white, snow upon snow upon snow, maybe 6 inches! In the early light, I was watching birds outside my kitchen window...and before coffee, I’m never quite sure I can trust what I see.
I looked again.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one confused by the piles of whiteness. A disoriented Wilson’s snipe was sharing space with a robin on the driveway! (No foolin'!!)
I was tempted to complain...snow in April? But I knew it couldn’t last long, and truly it was beautiful out there, a winter wonderland. I'd be a fool to complain. In another season of life, I would have looked out into that beauty, longing for the chance to see the sights, camera in hand. So, why not do it?
I pulled on my purple coat and a warm ivory scarf, found my ready-for-storage snow boots and my favorite mittens, and opened the door into “pause.”
Somehow, snow muffles the ordinary noises of country life – leaf rattle was silenced, and traffic buzz from beyond the hill had been muted.
I was left to wander in snow hush and bird song.
A determined song sparrow warbled from the walnut tree, and everywhere, robins fussed and squabbled, trying to find perches on fence posts with six-inch snow caps. (Oh God, let me be the song sparrow...)
I made meandering paths with frequent footprints like this,
stopping “in my tracks!”
to look up,
So much to see,
in sparkle and shine mode.
I was wrapped in stillness and wonder. I discovered I was smiling and couldn’t stop. (But I didn’t really try.) I had not asked for this enchanting gift, but I was grateful to open my arms, my heart wide to receive it from God’s hand.
Job 37:5,6 God does great things that we cannot comprehend –
for to the snow He says, “fall on the earth...” (even in April.)
Soon enough, it’s time to return to the house. (and the coffee.)
That snipe has moved on (he wasn’t frozen in place as I had feared.)
Already, snow is falling in muffled thumps from branches and wires. By day’s end, the whiteness will be a slushy memory along the roadside, and maybe my gratitude will have melted away too. (I’ll work on that...)
But for these moments, I’ll choose joy, I’ll choose gratitude, I’ll chose praise.
Praise the Lord from the earth-
Fire and hail, snow and mist...
If the snow can praise Him, so can I.
Even in April. For snow.
O hushed October morning mild,
thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow's wind, if it be wild,
should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
To-morrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow,
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know;
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away;
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
For the grapes' sake, if they were all,
whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost-
For the grapes' sake along the wall.
"Begin the hours of this day slow," says Frost to October.
But, I say to you, if it's too late for you to begin slow,
take a moment to pause now, mid-day,
I’ve been trying to be more intentional about pause,
about figuring out what it means to rest…and then doing it.
(Or, in some cases, NOT doing whatever it is that isn’t restful.)
I’m recognizing how easy it is to neglect this kind of self-care, soul care. I want to be mindful every single day of the wonder of “the holy present,” but it's an unending challenge.
Ironically, this goal is particularly slippery for me to catch hold of on Sundays. Our household is deeply, (joyfully!) involved in the life/work of a faith community, and keeping track of “the holy present” can get lost in the shuffle of teaching, leading worship, preaching, connecting. Don’t misunderstand – it’s good stuff; it just gets a little crazy. And finding the way to pause and refresh isn't easy. Sometimes a nap just doesn't do it.
So, this week, we took to rambling.
My online Merriam Webster’s dictionary says a ramble is “a leisurely excursion for pleasure; especially: an aimless walk.”
Maybe our journey wasn’t truly a ramble, because we were in search of something. We just didn’t know quite what. But I think we found it.
We drove through autumn splendor, splashes of brilliant color that I didn't expect to see, not yet. (The first day of autumn isn't until Friday...and it still seems a bit like summer in my garden!? Oh, broccoli.)
Our original destination was the Stone Mountain Hawkwatch, but we missed the show for the day. “900 broad-winged hawks,” the spotter explained. His observation list continued:“four bald eagles, three ospreys, a harrier...oh, and ?? monarch butterflies.” (They migrate too! Individually, like the raptors, not in flocks like robins.)
But apparently the bird migration superhighway shuts down in the late afternoon, as temperatures drop and thermals cease so we watched but spotted only one broadwing who had apparently also taken a longer nap than he intended!
We thought we'd watch the sunset here, but the due west view was obscured by trees. And so, our destination of disappointment was the starting point for our next adventure. (I want to remember this life lesson...)
We rambled behind the Hawkwatch on a path I'd never hiked; now I know it's part of the Standing Stone Trail. So much beauty surrounded us.
And on and on and on...We stumbled upon a grand amphitheater from which to view the sunset. "Where am I," I wondered.
Seating options were myriad; the stadium was empty.
But you had to bring your own seat cushion.
And refreshments. Mmm. Sweet and salty.
Even without a sunset, the view was vast and varied. We were peering into the 'Shire as I've always imagined it, mellow and soft in the angled rays of deepening day. (Only our 'Shire was behind us...)
And then sunset.
And I've run out of adjectives.....let the sunset speak.
"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork." (Psalm 19:1)
The heavens declare...
God did this.
God is like this:
no two sunsets exactly the same,
and happening every minute around the globe.
From a certain perspective,
sunset is continuous.
My brain gets stuck right there, right here, and I simply breathe in deep.
The beauty.The peace.
The mystical tranquility.
The sun dips below the last cloud bank, the last mountain range. It's gone.
The soundtrack of Late Summer Dusk is playing, louder now -we're surrounded by crickets and cicadas and intense katydids. Shadows fall across the 'Shire. Time to head home.
Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
(from Bilbo's Walking Song in ch. 19 of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien)
It's much darker as we re-enter the wooded path, and I wonder about nocturnal creatures awakening. We encounter only two, a large toad probably soaking in the last bit of rock warmth, and a porcupine hustling out of..."oops, who are you??" and rapidly back into an impossible slim rock crevice.
Right here, right now,
the heavens are
telling the glory of God.
I want to keep listening...
Monday was a holiday here...
so, no long post, just a few photos from one of my favorite quiet place.
Remember where we started this challenge?
“When I admire the wonder of a sunset or the beauty of the moon,
my soul expands in worship of the Creator.
I try to see Him and His mercies in all these creations.” Mahatma Ghandi
So, we pause, we reflect, we bask.
We sit still in the wonder of His creation,
and the soul expands in worship of the Creator.
Come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
September 5 soul stretch brought to my life by Stone Valley Lake. HumminB
This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
This scripture is so familiar to me, my mind wants to head off in another direction even as I'm reading it.
But I am challenged to realize the fresh truth it contains for me this day. I think this is the psalmist's way of saying:
“Be where your sandals are!!”
He is urging me to live fully in this day.
I know how easy it is...
- to distract myself in anticipation or anxiety about upcoming days or weeks,
-to lose myself in looking back with nostalgia or regret.
No, he says,
stand with both your feet planted firmly in this day - the day the LORD has made-
and choose to find the joy in it.
This is all I have, the only place I can live my life today, in.this.day.
I don't even have a day.
I only have moments,
strung together like jewels
on my life's thin strand.
I want to choose to live in these moments,
to pause to say thank you,
to take a deep breath
and expand my soul in worship of the One who has given them to me,
the One who has given me this day.
The other day, my calorie burning power walk dwindled to a meandering, soul filling ramble along our very ordinary creek. And God, oh God, it was exactly what I didn’t know I needed. I didn’t decide to slow down, it just happened incrementally, as the conversations in my head morphed from a lot of racket to silence.
I was overtaken by the glorious weight of pause, and I took a moment to check the time.
I was only twelve minutes into my walk, yet I felt like I had wandered into another realm. And all that had changed was me. My body, at first rushing along the path, had taken my soul to a place of stillness, and then, because it was such a good place, all of me took a deep breath and paused right there.
I tried to take in the gloriousness of the sky; even in a valley, my little valley within Big Valley, the sky filled my vision and took my breath away!
I felt the sun on my back like the friendly hand of God, palm down, and oh so warm.
I heard the best white noise ever, birdsong.
Relentlessly happy robins called, “cheer cheer-up,”
and a handful of red-wing blackbirds fussed, “congaree” ahead of me.
High above, a whistling mist of goldfinches danced from tree to tree, so carefree.
I felt carefree too; I was so still inside, I wasn’t even humming...
...which is how I came to see this muskrat before it saw me.
Sleek and brown, the secretive creature had ventured to the bank to gather grass for some nest business.
I stood motionless as it slipped into the water, gliding along the surface; then it disappeared in the murky depths with only a bubble trail to show the way home.
The stream sparked and spangled over worn stones, chuckling a little song.
Small blooming beauties dotted the banks, yes, every one of them a “weed,” and every one so lovely. I wondered if my eyes were the only ones that would ever see that violet smiling shyly beside a rock ledge. (Maybe not, as it seems "someone" else had already been nibbling the leaves!)
I stood absorbing the extravagance of creation all around me, and I remembered a phrase from some Scripture verses we’ve been memorizing:
(God) causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good,
and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45)
I’ve always thought this verse was stating the obvious. The sun shines on everyone, and the rain falls on everyone. Yes it does, ho-hum, what’s the next verse?
But this time I heard differently. Maybe it's not just about rain falling or sun shining;
it’s about the indiscriminate distribution of God’s reckless grace to every one:
His offer is for the evil and the good, for the righteous and the unrighteous.
And that’s a big relief to me, because some days I’m not sure which category I’m in.
I don’t think I’m evil, but I’m not so good either. Unrighteous? Well, that’s not my goal, but righteous…sounds a little presumptive.
All of which makes this verse more of a treasure than I had previously considered, because,
either way, He is pouring it all over me - sunshine and rain and the grace of His Presence.
I don’t have to know exactly who I am to receive what He lavishly gives.
I don’t have to know exactly who I am to stand soul deep in wonder.
I don’t have to know exactly who I am to experience the beauty, ordinary and extraordinary, that nods its head at me every single day.
But what I do need to do, regularly, is to be still and (begin to) know who He is,
this One who is the Source of all of this- sun and rain, muskrats,beauty weeds,birdsong, and so much more.
Psalm 46:10 Be still and know that I am God…
Be Still…To be still (Hebrew: raphah) – cease striving, let go, relax, desist. “the act of ceasing from something,” to slacken.
So it seems God is saying, “Relax already. Slack off a bit.” (Hmmm; have you ever heard this advice?! Instead of “try harder, do more,” just “slack off a little. Let go.”)
I think God is saying to release whatever it is that I am grasping so tightly that it has me in its grip.
You know, Let. it. go. (Oh dear. “Let it go” isn’t just Disney, it’s biblical. This could be a problem.)
And know that I am God. Know it. And, know Him.
Not like I know facts about plants and planets,
or the way I "know" information about some famous person, such as their most recent tweet or their least favorite food. For example, I know that George H.W. Bush famously quipped, “I'm President of the United States, and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli!” but that doesn't mean I know George H.W. Bush.
Instead, God wants me to know Him by experience, the way I know my friend is going to snort coffee through her nose when I tell her where I found my something-or-other that has been missing for weeks.
He wants me to know that He is God by experiencing life with Him, the way I learned to know, by ear, that my son was dragging a chair across the kitchen to access the chips in the high cupboard.
That’s how God wants me (and you) to know Him.
By relationship. By experience.
He wants me to spend time, lots of it, in His presence.
Of course, this means reading Scripture
and listening for His voice,
but I do think He might get tired of us doing only that.
What would it be like to sit with Him in the woodland quiet of a tree stand,
walk with Him along an ordinary creek,
or wander together through a city park?
Riding the bus with God might be a game changer. He would probably love to have lunch together.
What would change if I were to consider His unseen Presence by my side as I grieve or bake bread or change the sheets again or embrace a hurting child?
Sometimes my body may be moving, busy, doing what I need to do, and I might still be utterly quiet on the inside.
Everyone’s “be still” won’t look exactly the same.
But it will need to be intentional.
It seems stillness doesn’t just happen.
We have to choose it.
The wonder of the knowing is its own reward.
Be still and know that I am God.
Some of you may have noticed there have been long gaps between my recent posts. I haven’t sworn off of words or hit writer's block or anything like that. In fact, I’ve read thousands of words – at least nine books since Christmas, - since reading is one thing that is easy to do while lying on my back. Or stomach.
Words are swirling in my head. I find myself writing opening lines or supporting sentences in my head. I swap words in and out of phrases almost as readily as Youngest Mystery changes clothes when he’s getting ready for school. (“Looks like a clothing factory blew up in here,” I tell him, and he grins.)
The problem isn’t with words my brain can’t parse.
The problem is I can’t sit on my …. At least, not for very long.
At first, I was convinced that our chairs had gradually been getting harder and harder. And then I just could not find a way to sit any more. Not without pain. Lots of it, running down my left leg, squeezing like a vise that would not quit.
I had spine x-rays that showed something was amiss, but the Big Boss Insurance Co. felt it was important to prolong the agony a few more weeks before approving an MRI. (Who needs to be seen by a doctor, really? Just call the insurance company and go through their computer checklist. Forget clinical considerations. Yep, I'm a little bitter about this. I will try to get over it.)
So, I had ten days of steroids followed by some muscle relaxers, with a side of anti-inflammatory meds…followed by a couple weeks of physical therapy. I’ve learned to manage pain…because it’s still there. Except for where it isn’t. Tingling numbness haunts every step. (But I can still walk!!) And hooray for good pain meds.
Finally I saw an orthopedic doctor in mid-January, about 6 weeks after my initial GP office visit in Dec. He ordered an MRI stat, which is doctor-speak for a.s.a.p., which is insurance-speak for “we’ll let you jump through the hoops a little more quickly this time.”
I had my first ever MRI two days later. It wasn’t on my bucket list, and now I know why.
Picture a tube shaped coffin with one open end. They let me keep my feet sticking out into the room to prevent insanity, since the top of the tube was about 3 inches from my nose. Not that I could move to look at them…but it was comforting to know part of me was still free. I closed my eyes but unfortunately I could not close my ears. For thirty minutes, it sounded like cranky elves were pounding intermittently on the resonant exterior with ballpeen hammers. I lay there thinking, “This is modern medicine?” How about a few phones that aren’t quite as smart, and some medical equipment that is a little smarter?! With the average MRI costing $2600 before insurance kicks in, (http://time.com/money/2995166/why-does-mri-cost-so-much/) I think at least a smidge of the money from each scan should be reserved for sound barrier improvements or at least decent headphones. Those generic ear plugs they gave me didn’t even slow down the sounds that bounced through my head.
I returned to the doctor’s office for a diagnosis and “what’s next” visit last week. He was kind and thorough and clear with his explanation. A disc had herniated, meaning that part of the gel from inside the disc has pushed its way through the disc, compressing a nerve. “It’s like you have a big wad of gum, smashing against the nerve.” (at the L4, L5 vertebrae.)
And that’s why I cannot sit without pain, why my leg is numb, why I have lost the ability to lift my big toe. He knows what's wrong, and he knows what to do to fix it for which I am extremely grateful. So, if all goes as planned- (which would be a pleasant surprise)-next month at this time, I’ll be starting down the road to recovery.
Between now and then...and on that day (March 5)....and for the days beyond, I'll be grateful for your prayers. Some of you know that our family already had a “back surgery” experience last summer involving Max. As the doctor sees it, this procedure will be much less involved than that one, so that I’ll be in and out of the hospital in a day followed by a few weeks of recovery. I’m hopeful that there will be pain-free sitting in my future, but I’m not holding my breath that it will be anytime soon.
I am again choosing to trust God
in the timing and outcome of this experience,
believing that He is always at work
even when I cannot understand precisely what He is doing in my life at any given moment.
His faithfulness through the years
is the foundation on which I stand…
even when I cannot sit.
And in the meantime, I'm choosing to see the beauty around me, right here on Hickory Lane...
(which has been gloriously easy a few mornings recently!)
It was time for the annual anniversary canoe trip down the river. (Has it really been thirty three years?) Yes, thirty three years of married life, but how many canoe floats? We haven't figured that out yet, but it's been quite a few... we've been celebrating this way maybe twenty years? And we're still loving it. And wondering how many more trips we'll make together...you just never know. (I do know that in the next twenty years of canoeing, I'm going to be even less help unloading that beast than I am now...) But the ride itself never gets old. Oh, some sections are very familiar (this is where we usually see an eagle; we go under the railroad bridge at the first arch) but the variety intrinsic to the river experience precludes boredom. It's a lot like marriage that way. So, in honor of the wedding tradition of "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" I'd like to tell you about our trip last Thursday.
Something old...that'd be us! :) And the River. And our canoe. Which is also, technically, something borrowed, although we've been storing it indefinitely for someone who never ever uses it or comes around or lives in our county...for at least 15 years.
Something new...Well, for starters....
And then the mist was gone, the sky was blue, blue, blue, (something blue again, and continually for the rest of the day!!) It was a picture perfect James Russell Lowell day. "And what is so rare as a day in June? Then if ever come perfect days...." We drifted and paddled along the winding river, sun on our backs, sun on our faces, as the river meandered east then west. I must admit, some days it's easier to be where my feet are, and this was one of those days. We had no plans, no meltdowns, no projects, no schedule, no decisions to make.
But that doesn't mean our day was in any way boring! It seemed there were always little batches of excitement bobbing to the surface of our day, new joys to discover as we meandered down our old familiar route.
Bird watching has always been a part of our river experience, and we were thrilled with our eagle glimpses...we added green herons and orioles, wood ducks flickers, kingfishers, and cardinals to our list of "old favorites." The tattle tale grackles clucked and fussed at us all day long (they'd be considered a lovely specimen if they were a little more rare, and a little less annoying!) We had a new experience observing a family of kingfishers, two adults mightily squawking over two fledglings. What a racket. (Usually the kids are noisy and the parents are quiet, but this situations was quite the opposite!) Another first: this little flock of somewhat bewildered looking common mergansers, which were not at all common to us! (new again!)
For lunch, same old, same old wonderful hoagies...but from a new source, since our usual haunts weren't open at too-early o'clock! We pulled our canoe up on shore in a tiny town (Newton Hamilton) and clamored up the bank to a tiny store. We stretched our stiff legs, visited the necessary, and gathered our necessities. Old fashioned, kettle cooked potato chips for one, tortilla chips for another. (Oops, lime?!? tortilla chips. Definitely new! A first, and probably a last. Why would you do that to a perfectly fine corn chip?)
And along the way, we enjoyed the same old wonderful vistas. Nothing we hadn't seen and experienced a dozen times before, and yet, still breath taking, made more lovely by it's steady presence year after year after year.
The day drew to a close, and we topped off our celebrating with mouth watering sundaes, same old hot fudge for me (on orange creamsicle ice cream, definitely new and worth repeating!) same old "as much peanut butter as possible" for him. And then, we headed home. I followed that faithful old truck across the mountain, deeply grateful for God's grace, new every morning, steady until nightfall, day after day after day. By his grace, we were homeward bound, no u-turns. Happy Anniverary, Max. Thursdays are for thankfulness...
I'm finding my way beyond the maze of the "middle" years