This morning when I take Bonnie out I see the fog has misted over the hills that edge up against our little valley. I listen to the song of a robin. I watch a titmouse flit away before our stepping. I have a box of stale cheerios in my hands and I thread them one-by-one over the maple’s branchy fingers, as one would bestow a wedding band.

“With this ring, I thee wed,” I whisper to the naked bones of my beloved.

Beldon Lane, in his beautiful book Ravished by Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality, makes a strong case for the inclusion of trees in the Communio Sanctorum, the communion of the faithful.

The article of the creed pertaining to the Communio Sanctorum traditionally speaks of a fellowship (or koinonia) among God’s people—the ones who intercede for one another in prayer and deed. It includes those in heaven (the church triumphant) and those on earth (the church militant), and refers to a ‘communion in holy things.’ It focuses on the community of peoples gathered at table with the risen Lord. Theologians since Vatican II have asked how this communion extends beyond the church into the kingdom as a whole. The cosmic Christ of Colossians 1:15 summons all creation to a deeper unity. With leaves in his hair and seedlings in hand, he gathers great blue whales and whooping cranes, passenger pigeons and maidenhair ferns to join with human beings in a common song of praise to God.”

He says, “If Deuteronomy expresses concern that fruit trees not be harmed in the siege of a city (20:19), if the Psalmist speaks repeatedly of a tree ‘planted in the very house of the Lord’ (Ps. 52:10; 92:14), if we’re told that a tree grows in the heart of the New Jerusalem, its leaves meant for the healing of nations (Rev. 22:2), then why not recognize trees as participating in the company of the saints?”

I watch light arrive and touch the branches of my maple. She is warmed, lit from tip to bole. I think about her language, how she speaks as we do—as Lane says, “through a process of wind passing over cords or membranes like leaves.” I listen for her song and something in my spirit is at home. The trees have long been our friends—oxygen makers, shade-givers, root teachers … ah, these with the limbs always reaching for God. Beauty learns from her simple grace.

I stand beneath her, a child-bride, in braids and a white dress—born into this world dancing. Her nakedness makes me long to crawl into my Father’s lap, bury my face in warm skin.

Standing still in this way, I can almost feel the earth move under my feet; the very cells of my body tuned to the song of the cosmos. This is the gift of the small. I have no word to name my new year. I only know this will be the year of small, a year of noticing the seemingly insignificant. For God is changing me. What has worked before no longer quickens the heart. And so I turn my face toward this beautiful and terrible wind. If I am small enough, it will carry me far. Like the tree, I will not try to be anything other than that which I am.

Let this be the year, the lifetime, the month, the week, the day … let this be the moment of becoming what I already am.

31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Touch the Sky


The mornings are dark and trimmed with frost of late. On Tuesday I stood out back and watched my breath tendril up into the slow approaching dawn. The Hunter’s moon was on the wane, but still gave the appearance of being full and I could smell the light slowly undoing the night. The wind is beginning to loosen the leaves a little more each day and the hillsides lush with color are beginning to undress. Yesterday at work, I spoke with a patient’s family member who had driven up from Lewisburg to visit.

“How are the leaves down there?” I asked.

With a sad smile she said, “They are gone.” Then she spoke to her loved one about the blazing glory the Maples made in the back yard.

Grief pooled at the corners of his eyes as she gave to him her word pictures. This is what the deep ones mourn—not the loss of limb or weakness of body, but the theft of time. They grieve the sudden pulling of their lives out from under them; how they must abandon all that gives joy to tend to their physical needs for a season.

I try to return these moments to them, point out the beauty available right here, right now. The pulse of life still beats strongly under the roof of the hospital. The losses they have suffered seem to tender their heart and open its door wide to all the losses over the course of life. A rare few recognize the gift in their tears—this drawing near to the holy, to the things that matter most.

I learn from their bravery, how best to view the moments of my days. In autumn, the longing looms large, just as C.S. Lewis said. 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.

In my reading this morning, Diane Ackerman tells me, “One of the first words we think humans spoke, recorded in Indo-European as pleu, meant: It flies! It is an ancient longing.”

I long for flight of many kinds but mostly, I want to touch the sky, to scoop her blue in my cupped hands and carry it home. Is there a way to carry the sky inside of me? In his poem “Two Stranger Birds in Our Feathers,” Mahmoud Darwish says, “ … spread over me an endless blue wing … “

This is what I want too—to be lost in the ecstasy of a love so great I lose all sense of self but become one with earth and sky and sun and star. Overshadowed by mystery.

This is Love. This is Faith. I let these longings lead me deeper into the heart of God.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series.  I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. Don’t forget to stop by this post for a chance to win some signed copies of S.D. Smith’s children’s books. And stop by this post for a chance to win The Girlfriend’s Short Stack. 

Almost Empty

31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Two Natures





The milkweed pods have rent their hearts wide open, spilling feather-soft seeds into the wind. Everywhere we walk they hover in our midst—silky filament-clad aviators. Bonnie tries to catch them, taking great bounding leaps and biting at the air. But the more she chases, the more she disturbs the invisible current and the higher the seed cluster lifts into the sky. The milkweed seed is surrounded by a crown of silky hairs that act as miniature parachutes when the wind gives flight. These soft halos allow the wind to carry the seed as far or as close as it will. We stand, earth-bound, and watch it drift away.

When we were kids, we would break open the pods and strip the milkweed of her silk. We would stroke the soft tendrils and use them to decorate our mud pies and cakes. I know that if every seed found purchase, we would be overrun by milkweed, which can be invasive. Still, my heart smiles at the thought of the forgotten milkweed seed, growing up out of my mud pie. Perhaps the Monarchs would be happy at this too.

The milkweed is in the genus Asclepias, named after the Greek god of healing. It was named thus because of the many folk remedies it is party to, but as I watch the seed drift higher, I feel a different kind of healing in my spirit. I want to learn from the milkweed seed. How to be so light? How to be lifted by the wind? It’s not in my nature to give myself away like this.

In rest and flight, the milkweed is a thing of wonder. The way the seeds are lined up in neat rows when they are within the pod—like the feathers of a bird—reminds me of the beauty and order that can be found in nature. But when the pod ruptures and the seeds are given to the wind, I am taken by the wild unpredictability.

These two natures—order and unpredictability—have been at war inside of me too during this season. In the almost-empty nest, I have struggled against the urge to hold on—not only to my children and the old ways, but to being at the center of their lives. The more I chase this drifting crown, the further it lifts away from me. Every day is different than the next. I want to grab the rent open heart of my pod and pull its leathery sides together—contain these seeds that cling rakishly by one thin strand—waiting for that devil wind.

But when the wind breaks its thin hold and carries it soundlessly heavenward, the beauty of this sudden abandonment creates tightness in my throat and I know this is the way it is supposed to be.

I must hold hands with wildness and order and let the drifting seeds gather light the way a dewdrop does in the morning.

To listen to this story, scroll all the way to bottom of the page for the audio recording. And forgive my raspy voice? I’m still recovering from this cold. 

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. Don’t forget to leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a cool giveaway.

Almost Empty

West Virginia Morning: Cicada Song


This morning, I fill my feeders to the brim with black oil sunflower seeds, whispering a blessing over my feathery visitors as I move silently through what Frédéric Gros calls “the undecided blue hour.” I have been watching through the window for the better part of an hour as a Downy Woodpecker creeps and clings to the dead branches of our plum tree. We have been talking all summer about hiring someone to clear away this sad reminder of the harsh winter, but still, it stands—naked in its death, branches slowly giving way to the brittleness of time. The woodpeckers have found it inviting and for this reason I am in no hurry to cut it down.

The Downy flits away to the meadow as I draw near. I watch his retreat—that undulating flight the woodpeckers are known for. He disappears into a nearby tree and I can hear his familiar pik, pik, complaining about my invasion.

“I’m sorry,” I say, to the sky. “I hope you like this little treat.” I fasten a suet cake into the holder that dangles from the dead tree.

My Audubon Field Guide tells me the Downy is recognizable by “…its habit of tapping on branches hardly thicker than itself.” I smile as I pass under the thin branches of the plum. I’ve often thought of it as an umbrella, the pliable branches cascading down over the earth it grew out of.

I will miss this tree.

Over by the coneflowers I find an empty cicada shell. Every evening we are lulled into letting go of the cares of the day by the steady thrum of the cicada song. I stoop and study its casing, the memory of membrane on its abdomen. “Thank you,” I say, to the empty eyes.

So many songs belong to nature. This life contains so many different worlds.

Yesterday, on my way home from work, a large foreign object appeared seemingly out of nowhere in the air and crashed into my windshield—on the driver’s side, right where my head was. It happened in high-speed traffic and so fast that I couldn’t do anything but brace myself. The window was shattered and I was covered in glass. I was only a few miles from home so I limped my van on down the road in a state of shock, I think.

Life feels fragile.

There has been a lot of talk lately about online community verses flesh and blood community. I am glad for the conversation. It is good to look closer at the different worlds—to look deeper for the good of each and leave the undesired behind. After my windshield was shattered, I stayed unplugged the rest of the evening. I only wanted to be with my family and celebrate our life together. This doesn’t diminish the community I have found online—it only informs it, defines it better, I think. We should never stop learning, never stop looking deep, always asking questions. We shouldn’t shy away from what we don’t understand; but listen, study, learn.

A hummingbird does a flyby so close to my head that I feel the air from its fast-moving wings on my cheek. I duck involuntarily and the little bird is gone in a flashing moment—time on fire.

Today I am giving thanks to God for a strong windshield and good auto safety standards, for my family and all the small moments we share, for my online community and my flesh and blood community who both prayed gratitude at my safety, and for all the different songs of nature. Life is short. We will never live long enough to learn about all the different worlds out there. But I will keep trying.


Light Stalkers

When we walk down to the creek now, the air is sweet with the scent of honeysuckle. The boys still have a few more days of school left but already the spinning earth whispers, freedom in our ears. Each passing moment weighs heavy with anticipation.
We sit out back at dusk, toes touching under the table…letting the slow coming on of night drip cool into these last hours. The wind is whispering over the meadow, stirring bushes and bending low the trees. It skims my skin, lifting with it the remnants of a tired day and for a moment I think I’m dreaming. But then, he sees it too—from the Maple—this faint winking.
It’s the first fireflies of the season and this quiet return always creates a celebration in my heart. After the initial welcome, we sit still and enjoy the show.
Isn’t it something how everything old is new again and we can greet the familiar like royalty in those first moments of recognition? Each winking light lifts the heavy and my body remembershow these critters usher in the summer—the way the sun lingers longer on the hills, the steady music of the peepers, and the later bedtime as we chased the lights.
I sit and wiggle my toes over my man’s…think about the amazing way the world is designed…how the Almighty gives us seasons so we’ll remember the beauty that we so easily forget when we face it every day.

I look at him from under my lashes and the beauty of our life enters quiet into my heart, like the slow turning of the seasons on a dewy night in late spring.

with Lyli today: