West Virginia Morning: Riches

“We are told to consider the birds,” my friend says to me this morning, after I’ve confessed guilt feelings for staring out the window at the spring doings of my bird community for a prolonged time. “I don’t necessarily think it’s a waste of time.”

Sometimes God’s messengers wear skin and they bear such tidings as to douse a parched soul.

I’ve been reading John Burroughs’ Wake Robin (this version is free on Kindle). It’s a collection of his essays about birds and it has me captured. His delight for our little wingeds is so evident in his writing. What I’ve been doing is reading his description of a bird’s song and personality, then going to my birding app and listening to his descriptions take sound. It makes for slow reading but it unfetters my heart so. I can get caught up in learning about the ornithological world. Thus, guilt. But sweetness too.

There has been a bluebird pair checking out my box for a couple weeks now. Last week I saw the male dive at a red-bellied woodpecker who was clinging to the side of the box. I think that sharp-beaked intruder may have scared Mr. and Mrs. Blue away from nesting there, for when I peeked in the door this morning there was no evidence of nest-building. But I still hold out hope. Every time I pass the bay window in the kitchen I must pause to study the box and its surrounding habitat. One must be patient to catch a glimpse of nest building. Bluebirds are shy and furtive birds. I’ve stopped filling the feeders near that area so the neighborhood does not appear too noisy. I so want them to build their home inside that little shelter. Bluebirds haven’t nested in that box for over ten years. Not since the first two seasons I put it out. The house sparrows have always been more aggressive, no matter how many of their nests I pitched out.

Everywhere I look the birds are frolicking, caught up in the magic of spring. A robin couple has built their nest in one of our maple trees out back. I watched them carry dried grass and leaves to and fro for days, it seemed. But they seem all settled in now. I caught them in the act just yesterday as I walked Bonnie around the house. We came upon them unawares and they startled apart, taking flight like two nervous teenagers.

I am behind on my spring chores. Just this morning I trimmed back my crepe myrtles, meticulously making my way through each woody branch. I was dismayed to see new growth already and worried my tardiness will stunt the bush’s beauty. But nature is so forgiving. My lilac bush is filling out with heavy blossoms. And last season I neglected to prune it after its glory faded. Still, this season: beauty. The back yard is filled with its heady scent. This world dressed in spring holds so many fascinations.

Yesterday, I read this:

If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.” ~Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Yes. So many discoveries waiting to be seen. This thought fills me to overflow. I may not be poet enough to call forth the riches in my life, but my eyes will notice. My heart will be glad. There is no poverty here.

Everything Over the Sun


Every morning I look out the kitchen window to the clearing in the meadow. I long for a glimpse of the spotted fawns we saw frolicking; I wonder about them: where are they? Are they safe? Will their spots disappear as quickly as the baby fat on my boys? Will they snack on the tenderettes in my garden tonight? I watch the golden rod bend over, heavy with nectar, and for the bazillionth time puzzle over how quickly time dissolves—like sugar in warm water—until all that is left is the memory of sweetness.

Last night, I took my son out shopping for some things he needs for his dorm. He begins his second year of college next week. Second year. When did that happen? I’ve grown used to having him home again. I’ve grown used to sweeping up his long red hair from the kitchen floor, to his shy smile greeting me when I return home from work in the evening.

So I wanted to buy him some better towels this year—fluffy towels to hug his body in softness when I cannot. He needs a new shower caddy and desk lamp, some underwear and perhaps a smarter pair of shoes—if I can talk him into it. So we set out on our quest only to be foiled by a terrible accident on the interstate. A semi hauling Resees cups east crossed the median and ran into another semi traveling west, erupting into a ball of flames. One truck driver was killed and several others injured. The interstate was closed for hours and traffic poured into our little valley—people trying to find an alternate way home. We were trapped in gridlock, stuck in a sea of vehicles along our little valley road. Instead of shopping, we pulled into a local restaurant and dined together, hoping the traffic would be cleared when we finished. As we ate, I prayed for the victims of the accident. I prayed for the truck drivers and their families, for those stuck in traffic. As I prayed silently, the sky opened up and rain thrummed the roof above us, poured down on the firefighters trying to extinguish the flames of burning diesel, on the people waiting in long streams of traffic, on our little valley that stood witness to it all.

We decided to try to find a shower caddy another day.

This morning, when I drove to work, all that was left of the accident was a mangled guard rail and some heavy equipment that must have been used to remove the debris. All along the interstate, for miles and miles, semi-trucks were parked along the side of the road—the drivers forced to sleep where they were due to a closed roadway. As I passed the site of the accident, trucks behind me and trucks before, I felt I was entering sacred ground. And these brother truck drivers stood sentinel, a testament to the fragility of our human lives.

In my Bible study this week, the author talks about how King Solomon uses the phrase “under the sun” a lot in the book of Ecclesiastes. As in “there is nothing new under the sun” or “the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me.” Wiersbe says, “It defines the outlook of the writer as he looks at life from a human perspective and not necessarily from heaven’s point of view.” Solomon was so wise and gifted. And I wonder if he was really saying that it is only when we take account of that which is over the sun can we fully live into this life we are given.

So many things under the sun can discourage and disappoint. A tragic accident, the way time slips through my fingers, saying goodbye to my boy again … All of these things matter. The things that happen in this life matter. They matter to the world; they matter to God. This life matters. We are not simply here to wait for a better way. Scripture tells us Jesus came so that we might have abundant life. But this life is nestled into a bigger story. These hardships in this life, when taken in context of the bigger story, allow our hearts to be prospered—to grow richer and deeper and abundant in love. But only when I am able to keep an eternal perspective—to think on things over the sun—am I able to feel the fullness of the sadness but also of joy.

When life feels meaningless, I will remember. There is a bigger story. And I am a part of it.

Playdates: How doing what you love keeps the living sweet

When we first met, you all would get together in your parents garage and play, remember that? The wives and girlfriends would pull up lawn chairs, clap our hands. Sometimes we danced. You did that for years—played for no one…for us…for yourselves and the love of the music. Even with the small eyes I had back then I could see it. 
You are most alive when you are making music.
Every February we’d have the Mardi Gras party an how you looked forward to that. A chance to play for all our friends and share this love that burned in you. Back then it was just four guys who’d known each other most of their lives—been through junior high and high school together.
Then Loren moved to Connecticut and you got John to play your bass and you started on rhythm guitar. I remember how you took lessons because you wanted to do your best. On your fortieth birthday you told me that all you wanted was to play music. I found you guys a gig and with John’s help got the rest of the band on board. It was a surprise, but you knew. I told you to take some cool clothes to change into and your shiny shoes. Then you and me and our two children piled into a limo and rode there in style.
You couldn’t stop smiling.
When Mark dropped out because of church stuff, it nearly broke your heart. He was just too busy. And then Steve took over the drums and it was good. Then there were two psychologists in the band. When Linda came along to add vocals—that made three psychologists. You found Dave when you played for the youth at First Presbyterian—remember that? He plays the keys like a crazy man sometimes, but you love it.
You guys have a made a little name for yourself downtown, and now Mark is back—playing harp—and Chris, who has been there all along, is leaving. Friday night you all played with him one last time and it was good. I sat in a booth by myself and remembered those lawn chairs—the four wives. I felt sad about one more change. So many things have changed. You have some gray in your hair now and our boys are as tall as you and along the way you fell in love with Jesus. Now you lead the praise band in church on Sunday mornings.
So many things have changed, but one thing is the same. My eyes are bigger now and I’ve grown so much smaller but I can still see it plain as day.
You are most alive when you are making music.
Have I said how much I love seeing you alive this way? How it fills me up, makes me whole to watch you spread joy like a song? Honey, keep making music until the end. Never stop. It makes God happy, I can feel it.
And I’ll always be there. Dancing to the music you make. Always.
How do you embrace the God-joy? Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

 he Playdates button:


Sharing with Laura Barkat today also: 

On In Around button


A few frail flurries fall and I sit, in this warm place…wondering.

My New Testament reading this morning is on the Year of Jubilee and I am thinking of freedom. I am thinking of a broken figure in a hospital bed, held prisoner by a body that once was taken for granted–a vehicle at will.

I think of brave words uttered from cracked lips, of a story telling long torment in an able body…and what it takes to realize the gifts we are given each day of our life.

Do you feel like giving up?

It is something I have to ask.

Do you want to live?

I stare out my window and I ask myself this question.

What does it mean to truly live?

To feel each passing moment in my marrow, detect the pull of gravity on my spirit–measure each turn of the earth with outstretched arms? How can I hear a moment call for calm solitude or clamor in wait of raucous celebration? How to be present in each heartbeat and feel each wisp of breath travel through my nose–move through my body as it is carries life into my unknown places?

Today, I need a map. I am lost–all turned about in this thing I call living.

Yesterday, I asked the boys, “What if today is the best day of your life and you miss it? What if you miss it because you are thinking about tomorrow? Or the next day?”

We were taking LucyMae on her Lenten walk–our constitutional these forty holy days. We missed our promise earlier, so we  walked in the dark–light from neighbors’ windows peeking out at us.

Their moon-faces and shadow-mouths laughed and under cover of night the tide of their laughter sweeps over me and I know. I know they never would miss the best day of their life.

Children have a way of catching joy and carrying it out into their lives.

Why don’t we?

What if everything you knew and understood was pulled out from under you in a single instant?

The Year of Jubiliee came after seven years of Sabbaths. Seven times seven years. In the fiftieth year, liberty is proclaimed. Debts are cancelled; land returned to its original owner, countrymen who are slaves are freed…

I know that Jesus is our Jubilee. He came to set the captives free.

But there are no answers for lost days here. Only questions.

These empty eyes, these silent muscles do not know about the arcana of Jubilee.

So I bring it.

I come alongside. There are words. But presence is all that is necessary.

And the Name, unsaid, fills the room.

I feel each passing moment in my marrow; detect the pull of gravity on my spirit–stretch arms to feel the earth turning. I hear this moment call to me–it whispers all that is required. Each heartbeat ticks the seconds, each wisp of breath breathes life.

Do you want to live?

The Jubilee is inside of me. Sometimes I give it away.

My work is sacred.

Like a Freight Train

When bellies are fed and chores are done, Saturdays are for walking.

Showers moved through early today, scrubbing everything down and sending the creek a ‘babbling.

We step out.

The sun comes over us like an ocean wave, washing us in her amber glow.

We head down toward the bridge, soaking in this feeling of leisure—pure joy in each step. I have never seen them more relaxed than at these times, my two growing boys. I feel it too—tension leaving my body, mind slowing to be right here, right now.

A flock of bird startles overhead and we all crane necks to watch them soar. I feel my heart lifted, carried on wings. Leaves sway in wind, droplets of rain sparkle in grass. A white cat stares at me through neighbor’s window.

I hear the train approaching in the distance…whistle announcing this rude disruption coming on. It draws near with loud rattle of cars and scream of rails. We, all three, turn and give attention.

My Little Man waves, reminding his mama of a small me, searching these passing boxes for the man in the caboose. But he’s not there, and we walk on as the noise of passing years recedes into the surrounding hills.


One would think my heart would forget by now, but I cannot hear the sound of rattling cars without thinking of him: old friend who lost his life on metal rails. The mystery of his death haunts me at times like these, but lately, the mournful sound of the train whistle brings something else also.


Strange, it seems, that the very thing that took him from us can bring him back to life so vividly.

A roaring, screaming, moving memorial to my friend.


We’ll never know what he was thinking the night he died, what drove him to such an act of hopelessness.

He was young.

If given the chance, would he do it again?

It reminds me of something John Ross said last night—about a Dobson family moment he heard on the radio.

“Parents are always asking kids, ‘What are you going to be when you grow up? Who are you going to be?’ But no one asks them, ‘Who are you right now?’”

If someone had asked, would it have mattered?

I have invited God into this sorrow but the peace that accompanies this healing does not keep me from missing my friend. Or from a longing to still that kind of silent pain that can take a life in such a way.

Never mind.

Can’t change the past.

But maybe…maybe we can learn from it.

I look at my boys.

They are throwing leaves over the bridge, watching for them to come out on the other side.

Who are you?

Heart beseeches.

Who are you now?

I lean over the edge of the bridge, join in this simple game.

In these golden moments I feel that they will be with me forever.

Surly I cannot exist apart from them.

And in the distance, a train whistle blows.