Promise

The birds sing the heartiest before the sun lifts above the blue line of the horizon, right outside my bedroom window. And to awaken to birdsong is to awaken to wonder—wild, sweet notes pealing through the dark. Hope opens like a flower unfolding in the sun. Every year I forget this—how spring shifts the heart, how the stone is rolled away.
Yesterday evening I prepared my little garden for planting—tilling in a new layer of topsoil, breaking up chunks of earth with my fingers. I have broccoli and onions, some different varieties of lettuce, and kale, all ready to be covered over with a blanket of soil—put to sleep in preparation for a new awakening.
Every spring, I am the seed. It is the painful breaking open, the reaching through the dark that yields the fruit that feeds, after all. But this morning, I look out over the meadow behind our home and see how it has flowered. The seeds the birds have dropped over the years have grown into a lovely orchard of pear trees, all frocked out in lacy blossoms. I remember a time when the meadow was mostly grasses—well-kept with only a couple apple trees, three pear trees, and that prickly chestnut. Time and neglect have made her a new place, and the meadow is flushed out with brush and thistle now; hints of last year’s wildflowers whispering against young saplings. The goats have made some progress around the perimeter, but her midsection is still a wild place.
This morning that wildness sings to me and I am taken by the way the pinky-white blossoms break up the twiggy undergrowth and weave beauty through the monotony.
This morning I look out over the meadow behind our home and see that this spring I am the blossom. I am this fragile, translucent beauty that takes wing with the wind—carrying the memory of the breaking open in my skin, leaving behind a sweet perfume and the promise of plump fruit.
Be a gardener.
Dig a ditch,
toil and sweat,
and turn the earth upside down
and seek the deepness
and water the plants in time.
Continue this labor
and make sweet floods to run
and noble and abundant fruits
to spring.
Take this food and drink
and carry it to God
as your true worship.

–Julian of Norwich

Holy Wednesday: Alabaster Jar

Today I planted kale, broccoli, and onions in the garden. A gentle breeze blew all day and the trees with their skeletal green bristled softly. It’s holy Wednesday.
Wikipedia tells me this day is sometimes called Spy Wednesday—though this is news to me—referring to Judas’ agreement to betray Jesus. Tradition also holds this as the day we remember the sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears.
Another day of contradictions. Another day of bemused wonder. Thirty pieces of silver. An alabaster jar.
Who is this Jesus who even forgives sins? The one who lets a sinful woman weep over his feet and dry his skin with her hair?
It is dark now and I stand at the window looking up into a glacial sky. The white that covers dark blue is the same one that brought the rain through earlier. The rain that gently quenched my newly planted seeds and bulbs. There is no moon and it makes me sad. I hope it is a star-drenched sky tomorrow for our Maundy Thursday service.
My heart is breaking slowly with each step we take toward the cross.
Earlier this evening, our church had its annual Easter egg hunt. The boys are too old now, but they help hide the eggs before going downstairs with the youth to stink up those tiny rooms off the fellowship hall with their growing body smells and do all the things that teenagers do. I send them with their father and while they are gone I go for a run.
It happens after the fourth mile. The air is lusty with scent from all the blooming trees. And sorrow overwhelms me. It might just be the thick velvet layer of yellow pollen that covers our valley right now if I didn’t feel this twisting in my heart. And I remember his words on the road to the cross…Do not weep for me, he said. And shortly after that: For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?
The trees are green lace with leaves unfolding and the world is wet from the rains that just passed through an hour before. A sob catches in my throat and I know we Christians are supposed to claim the joy but I can’t help it.
I’m so sorry, Jesus,I silently say. I’m so, so sorry.
The wind picks up and all around me is white as I run through scattered petals shed free. My tears fall thick and my alabaster jar is in shards, silently drifting with the breeze.
With my sweet friend Jennifer today: 
  
And with the lovely kd:
JourneyTowardsEpiphany

A New Song II

She is barefooted, sitting on the porch when I arrive. I’ve been trying to get over to see her for a month—ever since her birthday. She’s a blessing to me because she lets me bless and Helen and I have been doing this for a while now.

Several years ago my women’s circle adopted the women of Helen’s circle—we put their names in a basket and each one of us from the “younger” group drew out a saint’s name. Some are with us no more and some have moved away and some just never did follow-up. But Helen and I have fallen into a rhythm and I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t have Helen to write to, to think about, to surprise with a sit under the Mimosa tree.

Today I bring her a hanging basket, dripping gold and violet. When she sees me coming up the drive she says—in that grumpy way she has, “You don’t need to be wasting your money on flowers for me.”

But she surveys the petunias and gestures to a hook dangling from the porch roof.

Put them up there, that’s a good place for them.”

I hide my smile and do as she says.

Helen and I are sitting on her porch, in the shade of the Mimosa tree and she shows me her swollen feet and talks about her latest doctor appointment. She talks about the ants on the picnic shelter around back and tells how a wasp got in the house this week too.

My mind never wanders when I’m with Helen—the way that it does all day long…wandering from one thing to another, ticking off the to-do list. There is something so precious in being with her and I always feel time pull the emergency break as the wheels of my mind come grinding and squealing to a stop.

She is a fascinating lady and she never runs out of things to say. She once told me about a trip to Dubai she took when she was younger (I’ve never been to Dubai. I’ve never been out of the country or even out west). She also still is the chairwoman of the Community Cupboard—the local food pantry that she helped get started back in 1982. She drives across town two days a week to oversee that benevolence.

“I don’t drive anywhere except around the valley anymore,” she says, as she catches me up on Cupboard doings.

But the thing about Helen that draws me to her is how much she is who she is.

Her mind is wily and bright and she has a handful of girlfriends she likes to spend time with and if they neglect her…she gets mad. She expects to be treated like someone special. Because she is. There has been no slipping gracefully into the twilight years for this gentle lady. She likes to laugh and keep up on things and stay busy. She still talks about her husband like he is alive sometimes but there is no feeling sorry for the self in her.

We sit on the porch and the sun is moving up her swollen feet and I am sweating in jeans and long sleeves. We listen to the breeze blow through the bushes and when we are still, that’s when I hear it: the sweet song of a Meadowlark. My eyes scan the Mimosa tree, the Oaks in Betty’s yard next door and the Sycamores out back. But he doesn’t want to be seen—just wants to woo me and Helen with his lyrical whistle.

I cock my head to the side, close my eyes and listen. I can’t see him. But he’s announced his presence in the sweetest of ways.

Helen and I? We are not alone.

Ever.
With my sweet friend Jennifer today: 
  
And with the lovely kd:
JourneyTowardsEpiphany

A New Song

The last piece of business in our morning meeting I remind the team that it’s the first day of spring. They asked for announcements and I can tell by the heaviness in the way they breathe that they just don’t know.
Spring is here.
Some are already leaving—slipping out the door to see that first patient—but I say it anyway. I let the words drop among the sound of chairs scraping floor and paper shuffling.
So tuck a new song in your heart, I whisper, touching the tips of fingers to my own. Eyebrows raise and so do the corners of lips and the air gets lighter and spring blows soft through the room.
Not everyone hears but the ones who do already flush with the new and they tease as they head out into the busy.
Sing us a song,they say and I laugh my way back to my office.
Can they hear it? This one in mine?
A couple hours later the song goes quiet and another therapist is keeping the patient I need to see and I stand in the hall with my list.
Just fifteen more minutes, he says.
A glimpse of gold catches my eye.
I’ll be on the patio, I say.
I sit in the sun on this first day of spring and my shadow lays flat on the concrete. There are two bumblebees darting in and out of the raised bed gardens and I close my eyes to their gentle hum. It’s the song, come back to me.
When the patient comes, we talk about dreams—about how they change and sometimes that’s good and we imagine what it looks like to dream from a wheelchair. Not too much different, we decide.
Everything changes, that dear heart says. Then we talk about the One who never does. And I tell about the new song—about the making new and how it can hurt.
And I think how brave the flower is to open to the light, to risk the soft womb of folded petals. Those bumblebees dart among and above us, doing whatever it is they do. And I give honor to the bravery of that round face lifted to the sun…here on the first day of spring.

::

This week’s memory verse:

with the amazing Jen:

 
and dear Michelle too: