Witness: Why It’s Okay To Go Wild

 

On the way home from work I stop at the florist to pick up a bouquet. I cradle the damp tissue paper in my arms gently, like the precious thing it is, and hold it in my lap all the way home. The table needs some color, my heart needs to hold a piece of spring. Lately, I only want to be outside—to breathe in all that sighs and groans. I want to wake with the sun and sleep under the stars, dew and scent of lilac on my skin. Somewhere, deep in the woods, the doe beds down on a moss-covered thicket; the wood thrush sings her flutelike song. Do such things require a witness?

We made it through another “first” on Sunday. There was an empty chair at our table and love scootched in to fill the gap. Easter is all about the resurrection and I looked around at the people I love and was astonished at how life rises out of ashes. Wild. That’s how this makes me feel. Like I want to thrash out and rip and bite at the neatness of it all, to yell and scream and let the world know it’s not okay. It’s not okay to keep going as if everything is the same. I feel angry. Angry at the doctors who failed us in so many ways; angry at myself for missing too many moments; angry at this broken, fallen world because of the sting of death. I know this is not the way of grace but grief must have its own way.

It has not yet been a year since Ted passed away and I feel like I’m still waking up to his absence.

After Easter dinner was over and the family had all gone home and the dishes were still in the sink—after all that, we sat out on the deck and let birdsong soothe away the noise of an empty house. There were just the three of us, Teddy couldn’t come home this year—the first time ever in his twenty years he didn’t open his eyes on Easter morning under our roof. Jeffrey sat with his mom and dad and shared an Easter memory, a memory of sitting with his Papa in the living room while everyone else picked at dessert and sipped coffee in the dining room. “Papa was my refuge,” he said. And he smiled a little when he said it and it made my heart cry a little.

On Easter we remember, one day things will be different. This isn’t how it is supposed to be. The stone in our own hearts will be rolled away and grief will turn to joy. And all that wild inside me will bloom and go to seed and blow with the wind and color our world with love. One day.

I found a vase for the flowers. It’s a simple clear glass—leftover from some Valentine’s roses or Mother’s Day arrangement or some other celebration. And why not? Isn’t this a celebration too? Jesus doesn’t want us to wait for one day. He left the throne and entered our world—entered all this brokenness, all this mess. He is wild with love for us, wild unto death, wild unto defeating death. Wild. For me. For you.

He stands right beside us, he holds us in his arms and he whispers, You go wild, girl. You’re not too much for me.

This is the beauty of an Easter people: how we can feel joy and sorrow at the same time. How we hold onto a promise and feel a hope inside of us. How the wild in this world can be a thing of beauty—a stand that says, I know it isn’t supposed to be this way.

I think of all these things as I trim the stems of daisies and asters—white petals trailing in my wake. I dip the stems in the watered vase and shift around yellows and blues a little bit. Every little moment requires a witness. I cradle the memories in my mind gently, like the precious things they are.

Black Friday: Bittersweet

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This morning as the bacon sizzled in the pan, I looked out the bay window to see a large black crow flying over the meadow behind our house. Something about the slow way he pushed down on the air with his massive wings put a song in my heart. He was unhurried, dipping low into the frost-tipped grasses, lifting feathered body high against a gray day dawning.

These past few days have felt like an extended Sabbath and as Sabbath-keeping always does, a quiet celebration has been kindled in my heart.

Yesterday we feasted with our loved ones and took our traditional after-dinner walk. My mother-in-law showed us the wild vines of Bittersweet growing tangled all along her property. She decorated the dining table with it this year and it seemed the perfect thing. After our walk, we lingered long in each other’s presence, keenly aware someone was missing, feeling the joyful ache of love and longing all wrapped up in each other. This will be the year of firsts without him, and we cling tightly to what is left behind, finding comfort in being together.

Tomorrow, we make that long drive to drop our boy back at his dorm and already I feel lonely for him. These are the ways God is preparing my heart for Advent—this crazy mix of joy and grief. It’s a strange feeling, this hollowing out of all the stuff of the world I carry in me to make room for the divine.

Philippians 2:5-11 says that Jesus made himself nothing. Being in very nature God … he made himself nothing. (NIV). The NRSV says he emptied himself. It’s the Greek verb form kenóō“to empty”.

In Christian theology, we call it kénōsis—the voluntary emptying of my own will and allowing myself to surrender to the will of God.

He cannot fill me unless I am empty.

The world empties me when I am too weak to do it myself. Circumstances steal joy, hope is squelched and love runs out the door. And I am empty … empty.

The morning winks at me and the sky is heavy with unshed rain and I open my heart to this season. That empty inside is a tender ache—softer than before … sweet somehow. I let this mystery of my own becoming comfort and awaken the wonder. The wonder of waiting for a Lord who never leaves me.

The winner of my Advent giveaway is … Kelli! Congratulations, friend! I’ll be in touch soon.

Everything Over the Sun

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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.

Garden Notes: Small Harvest

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This morning when I rise and take Bonnie out for her morning constitutional I notice the dark lingers longer around the edges of the horizon. The days are already shortening and summer has only just begun taking root in my heart. My garden feels it too.

One of my favorite things about returning home from a summer holiday is discovering what my garden has been up to in my absence. Sometimes I return to find the green beans overflowing the vines—ready to be picked and canned. Sometimes my tomatoes are so ripe the plants bend over from the weight of them. Cucumbers await pickling, summer squash begs to be fried up for dinner, and zucchini fairly overruns that little corner of the yard. Sometimes the garden is a happy thing to return to after vacation, like waking from a good sleep on Christmas morn—all these good things seem to appear overnight.

This year was not one of those times. When we returned from vacation this year, thoughts of the mighty Mississippi and the white sands of the gulf coast still lapping at our minds, I found my garden had been invaded. Last year I had trouble with bean beetles and a red-bellied woodpecker, but this year the word about my sweet little garden seems to have spread to all the critters. Deer and rabbits made short work of my bush beans—chewing them down to little nubs. My summer squash were all but obliterated, only a few spindly vines remaining. And my tomatoes? The birds had pecked holes in several, leaving me with a fierce longing for a BLT.

There was not time to grieve. I went on the offensive. I purchased one of those owl statues at our Home Depot and perched him high above my tomatoes, hoping to frighten off the birds and rabbits. I mixed up my milk solution and sprayed my remaining beans to deter the deer. I cleaned out the deadening squash and cucumber vines and fertilized the meager remains.

Then I watched.

To be a gardener means to be slightly obsessive, I’m learning. I haunted the bay window overlooking the back yard for the next few days. If the slightest movement stirred in the garden, I jumped on it. There seem to be less birds flitting about, but a few brave feathered ones have not been fooled by my new garden guardian. When I found more Romas with puncture wounds in them, I upped the strategy: Bird Block. This mesh lining is draped over the garden so plants are protected from hungry invaders. In theory. We shall see.

We’ve been home from vacation for two weeks now, and the garden is coming around. This morning I picked green beans—let the slow work of stringing and cleaning them minister to my spirit. The harvest will be much smaller this year but maybe that is for the best. We are still having trouble getting back into the routine after my father-in-law’s death. My husband tells me he is can’t seem to care about the usual things. It’s hard to mow the grass, do the laundry, get up in the morning for work … it’s hard to go on as if nothing has changed. Some dear friends have brought us meals every night this week. We have been held in love as we grieve. I feel myself growing soft and fat under their care. It feels nice.

This afternoon I am canning the green beans I picked this morning. Soon I will have jalapeños to pickle and can, and I hope, cucumbers. Time has a way of mending things. Time has a way of softening the wounds.

I’m so honored to be featured over at The Life Letter Cafe in an interview with David Miller. I talk a little about my faith journey and Playdates with God. I would love if you’d join us over there

 

Eulogy

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Our vacation was cut short a day, we drove a long fifteen hours in one chunk when we learned someone we love was in the ICU. We left white-sanded beaches, soft lilting waves, and sun-tilled waters to hurry home and arrive just in time to say goodbye, to weep with family and hold vigil together. We buried my father-in-law on Monday and time has taken a deep breath, creeping slowly as the things that matter most come to the forefront.

All the weeks this summer we’ve driven back and forth to the hospital and, in the end hospice, the Queen Anne’s Lace spilled over the edge of the roads we traveled, calling my name and spinning me into memories. This wildflower will forever remind me of this hard season of letting go when we held this gentle man in love.

The morning of the funeral when I walked the dog around the house I noticed the meadow behind our back yard is also stitched with Queen Anne’s Lace. When we first moved to our home, it was different—the meadow was tame. A retired couple owned the land and tended it meticulously. They kept it mowed, pristine, and often, when I would be pushing my babies on our swing set, the Mrs. would stop on her riding mower and tell me how my boys reminded her of hers.

Now the meadow is a tangled mass of trees and shrubs and Queen Anne’s Lace. It’s hard to tell what hides in all that underbrush. Somewhere in there are the apple and pear trees her little boys used to climb for sport. When I think of all that is hidden from our eyes in this visible world, it sets my heart on other things—things so precious, so mysterious—things we cannot touch or see. And I remember this: my father-in-law is free. And for this, I rejoice.

But still, I cry when I see the birds flock across the sky, the sudden lift of their wings birthing anew within me the awareness of my feet of clay—I am earthbound. Gravity holds me, but also all other things of this good earth cup my body tenderly; I move and breathe as part of entire system of things: the spiderweb, the pollen sifting through the air, the grass heavy with morning’s respiration … I am reminded that God so loved the world and when I walk through it I can feel this world he loves waiting, expectant, longing for Christ’s return. When death will lose its sting. But God so loved this world, and what we do in this life matters.

In the end, it is the little things—rocking a baby to sleep, walking together, eating together, sitting side-by-side—it is the little things that make a life. We do these things because our heart compels us to and this is how we honor the one wild and precious life—as the poet Mary Oliver calls it—this is how we honor the life we’ve been given. Yes, this life matters. My father-in-law knew this. He leaves behind a better world for having been in it. I will miss him, but I know this is not goodbye. We will meet again.

Of this I am sure.