West Virginia Morning: Witness

This morning the sky is the bluest blue and the trees dress early. I look out the bathroom window as I brush my teeth. I’m on the second floor, peering over the back yard, far into the meadow behind our house. From this bird’s eye view I see the maple is taking on her early leaf flocking, a soft magenta down where buds begin to unfold. And the pussy willow dons a cottony ragtop where the sun first touches her in the morning. All the fruit trees that hide in the meadow most seasons are beginning their conspicuous bloom. I run the brush through my hair and scramble downstairs, grab the camera and go out to stand under the earth’s awakening.

The coming of spring is nothing short of a miracle most years, but when spring arrives in mid-February? This is cause for celebration. I lose myself for a time in the slow-opening of a crocus, the way a branch offers a promise—prophesies.

I try not to think about the possibility of a late-season freeze. Isn’t this hope? Giving myself fully to this moment? Annie Dillard says, “ … beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” I am there. I am here. For just this moment, I will witness the miracle of spring.

West Virginia Morning: Red-shouldered Hawk

There is a pair of red-shouldered hawks mating in the meadow behind our house. This morning, as I poured the coffee, I heard the distinct key-yeear, key-yeear, echoing in the sky. I quickly put down my mug and moved to the bay, searched the sky for the wide-winged soar. I spotted him just in time to see him land in the top of one of the walnut trees, where his mate awaited. I watched for several breath-stopping moments as they stilled, side-by-side, communicating who knows what kind of intimacies?

Hawks are monogamous and red-shouldered hawks often nest in the same area from year-to-year, sometimes reusing the same bundle of sticks labored over strenuously in past years. As far as I know, this is the first year this couple have graced us with their presence, so I was careful to stay still, out of sight, in fear they might determine our little meadow a lackluster place to raise their brood.

I watched, barely daring to breath, until they departed—the male with his boastful cry, the female in smooth silence. Even after they left I continued to search the sky, willing their return, longing for a closer glimpse of feathered beauty. This is not the first time I’ve seen these lovelies. Last week, before we took Ted back to school, he came clamoring down the stairs one afternoon.

“Mom, did you see that guy?” he asked, pointing out the window into the back yard. There, perched in the maple tree, was the Mister, greedily eyeing all my little finches who were enjoying my feeder. He was so close I could see his red shoulders. I could see the individual feathers on his rusty breast. I must have swooned because I could see the precise moment he noticed me watching through the window. It was an almost imperceptible twitch of his eyebrow before the most magnanimous lift-off. Suddenly, I was the air under his wings, lifting, lifting, until full in flight.

This is what it means to be fully present in a moment. How can I keep my eyes from searching the sky?

About that Extra Five Pounds I Gained Over the Holidays

A reminder from the archives; because I need it!

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It’s still hanging around.

I can feel it, and I know when you hold me, you do too.

It was unfortunate that the elliptical broke mid-September and attempts to collect on that warranty proved fruitless. It became a monstrous clothesline—convenient for hanging jackets and sweatshirts on arms and pedals and console. And then the cold snap, with temperatures so low these running legs became paralyzed. Remarkable then, that my right heel bruised tender with plantar fasciitis, protesting with each step. We were sequestered inside with Christmas cookies and muffuletta sandwiches and that extra, unnecessary cocktail.

Those little treats remain with me, reminding of the making merry—echoing laughter around my waist. Sometimes hospitality means a second helping. And so around mid-December I began to feel it—the slight snugging of my clothes, a gentle softening around the edges of me.

We are getting back on track, of course we are. But slowly. There are more important things. Like the way you still think I’m beautiful. How you pull me close, and the way our bodies melt like wax together. It’s a thick kind of love that breathes under fingers, a love that sees beyond the skin, beyond the years, and peers back into the wedding day.

You still look at me with fire in your eyes, because you see the “imperishable” beauty that Peter talked about (1 Peter 3:3-6). And because you love me this way, I also can. I can love myself enough to feel beautiful, to see with God eyes and embrace beauty from the inside out.

I can love myself enough to embrace these extra five pounds. But also enough to take better care of this fragile vessel, this temple for the Spirit I carry within my skin.

So about that five extra pounds I gained over the holidays? I’m not too worried about them. They may be here for a little while longer. But I’m taking my eyes off the scales and looking through Love.

And I doubt I’ll even notice when they’re gone.

A Downy Epiphany

I awakened this morning—on Epiphany—with my lower back in full spasm. This has never happened to me before, so in ignorance I did not let it slow me down. The more I moved, the better it seemed, I convinced myself. I stretched and massaged and applied heat. I hauled baskets of laundry from the upstairs to the down. There was snow on the ground for the first time this season so I took my camera outside and snapped some pictures in the cold.

As I stood in my pajamas and boots in the snow, a downy woodpecker kept fussing at me from the Maple tree. She was trying to make a meal of the suet brick I had hung there weeks ago, but the thing was frozen solid. I watched as she pecked furiously with her short, sharp beak, to no avail. I went back inside and lugged the large bin of sunflower seeds out to fill the feeders, hoping she would indulge. I took to moving about stiffly, like a robot, and thought I was doing fine until I moved a certain way and the pain of it caused the whole of me to lock up.

I talked to my doctor and he ordered me to take it easy. Take some ibuprofen, he said. No lifting or vacuuming. I sat at the kitchen table watching the cardinals and snowbirds dip in and out of the feeders, trying to ignore the mountain of boxes stacked neatly at the bottom of the stairs—all the Christmas decorations waiting to be carried back up to the attic.

Epiphany. It means, “a sudden insight into the reality or meaning of something”. Its significance for the church is that God revealed the identity of Jesus as Messiah to those Gentile magi, instead of someone of prestige in the Jewish nation. We believe this was God’s way of showing that Jesus came for all—not just for one people—and really, this is the meaning of Epiphany—that the Lord of Lords reveals himself to each one of us in a unique and personal way.

The story of Epiphany is the story of us all—each on our own long journey through life. So this morning it seemed perfectly fitting that I should be down-in-the-back on this holy day. Forced into immobility, I was faced with the vulnerability and weakness of this body, my humanity—the very thing that Christ took on himself when he came into this world and lived among us. He came as a babe—weak and frail, vulnerable in every way. The wonder of it all fell fresh over me like the light of a new star in the sky, like the fresh-fallen snow in the back yard.

I sat at the table and I wondered and my back ached and I watched as the little downy female clung to the side of the feeder and filled her beak full of sunflowers.

 

West Virginia Morning: Advent Devotion

This morning there is no sun. The white sky fills with young light but there is no warmth. The thermometer tells me it’s seventeen degrees. I go out to fill my bird feeders dressed for a blizzard. When I come back in, I light all the candles and kindle the Christmas lights. Then I sit, beside the tree, with Bonnie wedged in the chair beside me. She is a good companion for the listening, and this is what we do—close our eyes and strain hearts to hear something, anything—that still, small voice.

Then I try to do some reading. Have I mentioned I’m having trouble reading lately? My hands ache to be busy and my body begins to feel squirmy and soon my mind wanders and the words float before me like alphabet soup. I keep trying, though, and this morning I gathered some of my Advent devotionals and read a little from Scott Cairns, who is one of my favorite poets. Then I read some Wendell Berry poems out loud to Bonnie, who was rapt and appreciative. But this Advent, this season of Light, I mostly have been practicing listening.

Early on in the Advent season I told a dear friend about my struggles with reading and she made some wise suggestions. “I think you need to not read any books at all,” she said. “I think maybe you need to listen.” She went on to suggest music, or poetry, or the Psalms. And then later, she gave me a tremendous gift. Every day she reads to me a chapter from one of her favorite Advent devotionals on Voxer. I listen to her readings each morning as I drive to work. The book is quickly becoming one of my favorites too. My friend told me she is reading for herself as well as for me, but as I listen to her rich voice give me words and stories, I feel treasured. I feel loved.

I spent so many years reading aloud to my sons. It was an act of love, a sacrifice. The gift of time is enough, but the gift of story? Nothing feeds my soul more. How good it is to be cared for this way.

After my Advent listening, I wash my son’s bedclothes and put clean sheets on his bed. Tomorrow I will drive all day to bring him home for winter break. There is rain in the forecast, possible icy conditions, but the thought of his company on the way back home warms me from the inside out.

These are small things but Christmas first came to us in the small, did it not? That swaddling babe wrapped in rags, sleeping in the manger. I am finding hope in the small moments this year, cherishing my small life. And I am learning that this is no small thing.