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?

For 18 Years Now (a poem for Jeffrey’s birthday)

In the young light
this morning, when
I stepped out on the porch
with Bon, a perfect half-
moon shimmered its
luster over the edge
of day

And I thought of
how we’ve had your
luminous heart for
eighteen years
now

how you
shine light into the
moments; how you shimmer—
give to us a piece of
the sky, burning our
half-moon days into
full, silvery bloom

Eucatastrophe: More Than A Happy Ending

We’ve been living the thang, friends, and time hasn’t waited for me to pause, even for a quick hello. So, here’s a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and an excerpt from my book Playdates with God: Having a Childlike Faith in a Grown Up World. Enjoy, and may 2017 hold many wonders for you and your loved ones!

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On the day after New Year’s Day I strip all the beds in the house. The laundry room floor is covered with sheets and pillowcases and mattress pads and I am thinking about the clean slate. Somehow I can’t stand to think of our dreaming being done in last year’s dirt—little bits of skin and dog hair and lint littering up the sleeping.

I stand in the doorway with bedclothes billowing and I see that the dirt of life—the dirt of my life—is a very robust thing. We do what we can to write our stories well, to live a good dream, but there is always the stuff of life—the unforeseen interruptions, the distractions, the dirt of everyday necessities.

No matter what I dream, the sheets will still need washing.

Yesterday was J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday and in honor of one of our favorite storytellers, I wanted to have a party. But our youngest had percussion practice after school and his brother had to tutor some classmates and it was cold and night came early and my body hurt from the New Year’s resolutions and a fall down some stairs. So my firstborn and I took Lucy Mae for a walk in the dark instead and I dressed her in a leopard print sweater. At least the dog would be dressed for celebration.

The evening walk is a heart exercise and especially in the cover of night it seems our senses are tuned to the eternal. Each step has a way of loosing the strings that knot us up in what we can see. I feel around inside of him with questions and he smiles more readily than usual and we walk slowly—even in the cold. On this night, I am thinking about how we enjoyed The Hobbit recently and I remember how Tolkien coined this term eucatastrophe.

Wikipedia tells me that he “formed the word by affixing the Greek prefix eu, meaning good, to catastrophe, the word traditionally used in classically-inspired literary criticism to refer to the “unraveling” or conclusion of a drama’s plot.

To me, eucatastrophe sounds like the happy ending, but to Tolkien, it meant more. It’s the way the hero’s fate is tied up in the entire story—it’s redemption in the end that the telling was building up to. It’s the happy ending only deeper.

Tolkien saw “the Incarnation as the eucatastrophe of human history and the Resurrection the eucatastrophe of the Incarnation,” Wikipedia goes on to say.

And I think about the stories he wrote, how they embodied this term eucatastrophe, and I wonder how my life can do the same. How am I living my life that leads this story to the great Eucatastrophe?

I am likely never to face trolls, or orcs, or goblins. I probably won’t be on a quest upon which rests the fate of earth as we know it. But there is always the dirt of life that rears up against me—threatens to waylay this hero from the happy ending.

Am I able to carry this ring?

I smooth down the edges of sheets and fluff pillows into plump resting places. It feels good, this clean slate. But one thing I know—one thing I’ve learned from Bilbo and Frodo and Gandalf and life … the journey is a continuous series of stops and starts. There are joy days and dream days and good storytelling. But there are also interruptions, frustrations, and the dirt of life. I must choose which parts of the story will define me. What makes a good story?

Andrew Stanton, the writer of the three “Toy Story” movies and other animated masterpieces, says it well in his TED talk The Clues to a Great Story:

I walked out of there [the movie Bambi at age five] wide-eyed with wonder. And that’s what I think the magic ingredient is—the secret sauce—can you invoke wonder? Wonder is honest, it’s completely innocent, it can’t be artificially evoked. For me, there’s no greater ability than the gift of another human being giving you that feeling. To hold them still just for a brief moment in their day and have them surrender to wonder. When it’s tapped, the affirmation of being alive, it reaches you almost at a cellular level…the best stories invoke wonder.”

Isn’t the best play the one that tells a good story? The play that evokes wonder? And shouldn’t we be doing this with our lives?

I will keep pressing forward, writing these pages. Because I already know how that eucatastrophe will unfold. I already know the happy ending. And it is steeped in wonder.

::

The above is a modified excerpt from Laura’s book, Playdates with God: Having a Childlike Faith in a Grown-up World, copyright 2014. Used with permission from Leafwood Publishers, an imprint of Abilene Christian University Press. All rights reserved.

If You’ve Ever Been Disappointed

 

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One morning last week as I did my early reading and light spilled over the frosted earth like a glass of yellowed buttermilk, two yearling does visited the meadow behind our house. The girls were wary, and when I moved to the window to watch them nibble the frozen grass along the fence line, they lifted their heads in tandem to study me—tails twitching behind. They soon surmised I was no threat and resumed their brunching, content. It was cold outside, below freezing, and I noted the thickness of their fur, wondered how it would feel to the touch.

Since then, I moon expectantly around the window as often as I can, hoping to catch another glimpse the little girls’ doe-eyed beauty.

I am a hopeless sentimentalist—a hopeless hoper; always believing the best is yet to come, always holding out for a glimpse of wonder. I study the night sky patiently for shooting stars, search the clover patch diligently for the elusive four-leaf, linger long on the balcony by the ocean for a glimpse of the dolphin’s rounded nose to poke up out of the waves.

I’ve been disappointed too many times to name and yet, my spirit still gets its hopes up when waiting. I never seem to learn my lesson, often diving straight into hope from possibility without a second thought. God has almost cured me of wanting anything at all through the repeated blows of disappointment I have experienced over the years.

But not quite.

Recently, I suffered another disappointment and I’m having a hard time shaking this one. Even though I know there’s no simple answer, I’ve been asking myself “why?” a lot. I’ve caught myself wishing I wasn’t so full of hope. I’ve been asking God what I’m doing wrong, what I’m supposed to learn from this grief, and why does he always make me take the hard path? I tear up at the strangest times and find myself without words during my prayer time. I’ve been sitting in silence a lot. It’s quiet here, inside the walls of me. I have been touching the moments gently—feeling around inside my heart.

Romans 5:5 tells me, “… hope does not disappoint …” but I’ve been complaining to God about what I feel is a lack of truth in this statement. I’ve been identifying with God’s name for his people in Zachariah 9:12: “prisoners of hope.”

And still, I hope. I hope this disappointment was a mistake. That this thing longed for will be replaced by something of greater joy. That the reason for this “no” would be clear to me and I would feel grateful to be saved from whatever certain perils a “yes” would have brought.

Christmas is coming and this year my advent waiting feels almost desperate at times. For, lately it feels I am always waiting for a good that never arrives. This is what the word “advent” means, after all: arrival.

After some sleuthing around in the dictionary, I discovered that the words “advent” and “adventure” come from the same Latin root, advenire. But “advent” comes from the past participle stem of advenire, while “adventure” comes from the future participle.

I’ve always thought of Advent as a waiting for, but this startling etymology reminds me that this arrival we wait for is already past. Yes, we wait for the return of our Savior, but he has already come. He has already done the hard work that fills our hearts with longing—that fills our hearts with hope. He has arrived and dwells within our hearts, abiding and keeping company and strengthening us for the journey. Because even though he has arrived, we still wait for that day when all will be made right and his arrival will announce a new order of things. And it is the promise of future adventure that keeps our waiting so expectant, so alive with joy.

This is why hope does not disappoint. This is why my heart’s hopefulness cannot be quashed: Our hope is in more than earthly desires. Our hope is a person. His name is Jesus. There is much that can be said about this broken world we live in and how our lives are being made new by faith—minute by minute—how disappointment is a real and human thing … but I don’t have all the right words to say that just now.

This is the mystery of Advent, this already-but-not-yet our hearts understand better than our heads. I don’t quite understand it either, my mind almost grasps it but then it slips away as quickly as the light fades from the winter sky.

But the shimmer—this glimmer—of truth stays inside of me. This morning I touch it gently with my thoughts as I move to the window once more. I watch through the glass, my feet planted in warm, as the two yearling sisters emerge from the brush and sniff the remains of my fall pumpkin, broken open and discarded in the meadow.

The house glows soft with twinkling light and my heart floods with hope once again.

 

 

Giving Thanks: A Study of Light

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On Monday afternoon I went with my not-so-little Jeffrey and a good friend who also happens to be a photographer to take his senior pictures. We walked several blocks all over Charleston, stopping at mysterious places that seemed random to me but to my friend’s experienced eye held some special slant of beauty.  She’s been doing this a long time and makes amazing art, so I trusted her. I tagged along behind her purposeful steps, lugging off-camera lighting, a portable reflector, and sometimes discarded clothing from my son (“Layers,” I told him. “That’s how we’ll get the look we want.”)  At one point, as we stood on a quiet street in front of a colorful mural (only about a block away from my place of employment, but I never knew it was there. How do artists find these things?) my beautiful, talented friend stopped abruptly at the edge of the sidewalk while my son lumbered in the street.

“Wait.” She said. “Let me look at the light.”

She studied the sun play chiascuro over the patterned brick for a moment. “Okay,” she said. “Let’s go.”

This morning I rose before dawn and sat in my quiet place to watch the sun slip slow over the horizon—spilling grace on rooftops and frost-dipped grasses and washing the world in honeyed hues. As I reflected on all that I am thankful for, I remembered my friend’s words.

“Let me look at the light.”

I watched that amber glow bind up the rough edges of my every day world and I thought that choosing to give thanks must be a lot like looking for sunlight—illuminating beauty in even the darkest of life’s corners.

Isn’t this what we do when we engage in thanksgiving?

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come…No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God…It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens…to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens…(excerpt from President Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation, Oct. 3, 1863.)

Happy Thanksgiving, Beloveds. May you feast on the light of His love this day and always.

Don’t forget to leave a comment on this post Friday, November 25th, for a chance to win a signed copy of Kris Camealy’s Advent devotional Come Lord Jesus: The Weight of Waiting, a beautiful purple clutch purse, an Amethyst chip ring, and a lovely handcrafted Christmas ornament.

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