spiritual life, women

The cure for fretting

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” Corrie ten Boom, Dutch writer and Nazi-resisting firebrand

It’s not so much that life comes at you fast, it’s that it comes in bursts. That’s what happened over the weekend — a sudden storm of quiet desperation that came from just everywhere.

There were three ladies at the farmer’s market. All mid-life. All at the point of tight-lipped, wrinkled-brow anxiety. There were the magazine articles. So many articles and all about the same thing. American women — the younger and the richer, the more so — are apparently drinking themselves into zombie states to simply cope.

There was the letter. Not that big of a deal, but enough to make me a bit fearful. I fretted about it through a lunch outing with my mom. I fretted about it on the road home. I fretted about it past the parking lot of yet another restaurant, until I saw yet another woman. This one was so burdened with food addiction that her feet couldn’t get close enough to each other to walk properly.

“What are you seeing?” I immediately heard in my heart. My response and a supernatural calm was just as immediate. “I am seeing the absence of hope,” I thought back. And, I kept thinking about it all the way home.

It’s true. Those who hope in government are disappointed and then some. Those who hope in religious organizations are disappointed or worse. Hope placed elsewhere is just as iffy. Careers can fail us. Parents can fail us. Spouses can fail us. Children can fail us. Our strength can fail us. Even the weather cannot be relied upon.

Hopeless? A lot of people must think so. That is surely what is at the root of most of humanity’s problems. Opioid addiction. Gun violence. Alcoholism. Eating disorders. Suicide. It all goes back to an absence of hope.

So, what do we do? Worry? Numb our despair with something? Make a better picket sign? Or, throw ourselves into the arms of a savior the Apostle Paul called, “the God of all hope?”

I vote for the latter. The cure for fretting isn’t a different world or different circumstances. It’s the One who can make us shimmer with hope and joy smack in the middle of right here, right now.

P.S. Dune Girl, my first e-book, is a romance on the surface, but the root story is about the God of all hope. If you enjoy uplifting fiction, it is on an Amazon Countdown Deal that begins 8 a.m. PDT (California time) Sunday, Aug. 12. The price drops to 99 cents that first day and goes up $1 a day until normal prices resume on Wednesday, Aug. 15. Details are under BOOKS on my menu bar. 🙂

gardening, spiritual life

Listening to the season

“Summertime is always the best of what might be.” Charles Bowden, American writer

Some people keep elaborate sports rosters in their head. Some know all the words to Broadway tunes or whom various Kardashians are dating. I know seasons.

It’s an internal game that started the year I was 22 and a brush with bad water nearly killed me. The very day I was released from the hospital, a job dropped into my lap that was too perfect to be anything less than God. Among many other qualities, it required me to be outdoors for long stretches, soaking in sun and especially lovely air that swirled from the beach to the dunes to the forest and back again.

A slow job, it allowed me the time to not only recover from the upheaval of illness, but to discover that God is never out of sync. Ever. I saw this in the change of seasons — 10 whisper-holy months of watching fiddle heads turn into proud fern fronds, summer-blue seas turn into cool steel come winter, lemon-yellow goldfinches fade into near invisibility to match the russets and grays of fall.

There was no randomness here. There was beauty. There was order. There was a resolute progression so breathtaking I fell in love with the God who would make such a world. That near-year, so set apart from the rest of my life, was the closest I have ever come to understanding the essence of God. And, it stuck with me.

To this day, I watch. So closely, I could probably narrow the time of year in my corner of Appalachia down to a window of two weeks or so without a calendar. Within my own garden, I might be able to get even closer. I have learned what a morning glory vine looks like from day to day to day. It’s true. The switch from high summer to late summer is settling in as I write. Glorious in its inevitability.

Homer Hickam, aerospace engineer and author of Rocket Boys, says he views math as one of God’s languages. I am a writer. That is not a language that I speak. But, that year in the dunes, God spoke clearly and distinctly and I liked what I heard.

If you listen closely, I imagine you can hear Him, too.

 

 

gardening, spiritual life

A good dose of ‘whatever’

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Søren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher and theologian

I had somehow forgotten I had a garden until the moment we turned the corner toward home and it came into view. Such was the power of a time of retreat that even this — this raucous gathering of blooms and butterflies — had left my mind for an entire five days.

Completely. There was not one moment of wondering, “Did my husband remember to water the ferns?” even though I spoke to him daily. I did not think of blogs or interviews scheduled before we left so as not to miss upcoming writing deadlines or when there will possibly be time to shop for school clothes.

It’s true. Such is the power of retreat, particularly a retreat in which our daughters and I were so occupied with an oddly spiritual mix of games of red rover, soggy clothes and prayer that everything beyond what was happening outside the church camp grounds simply slipped away.

Thank God! How we needed that time apart from the news and daily life, even the joys of daily life. We were removed — not in spa-like self care or even quiet scripture reading and prayer. We were removed in a throw-your-heart-and-hands-in-line-with-God way. And, we were renewed.

If you have the opportunity to take such a break — particularly a church retreat or a mission trip that engages your body, mind and spirit — I urge you to take it. Seriously. Try it. You may come home zombie tired on the body level, but you will have a better understanding of life past. You will look at the problems of life present with a holy dose of “whatever.” You will have hope to head forward into life tomorrow.

New. New. New. Hope. Hope. Hope. He’s just that kind of God.

 

 

gardening, spiritual life

Making space

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Mother Teresa, Christian, humanitarian 

It may have something to do with having an old house with many nooks and crannies. Somehow, I have come to not only terms with other species sharing the space we call home, I’ve learned to enjoy them.

It’s not difficult at all to enjoy a neighbor’s small tabby, the one who makes figure eights in and out of our ankles during the weekly pruning session in the cottage garden. She slinked up and startled one of our daughters to do this just last night, to the extent our daughter was happy to put down her shears and spend a half hour twitching leaves in front of wee Phoebe’s determined paw.

There’s the chipmunk that has been living in the garden and garage for several years. We could trap her. We’ve done as much with other rodents that shall not be named. But, we’ve chosen to live with a chipmunk. It’s just the way it is. She’s remarkably tidy and doesn’t do harm, well, not much harm. One winter, she shredded my husband’s bicycle seat to pad a nest that we were never able to discover.

There is the occasional bird’s nest on the porch rafters or in the Boston ferns. One family of sparrows returns every year to a tiny cavity in our box gutters. Occasionally, one doesn’t make it out. That happened this year. There was a frantic scratching, then silence, then the scent of death. Our mixed-species dwelling is joyful, but it isn’t a fairy tale.

Most surprising is the tolerance I’ve developed for spiders. I still turn spiders found, say, in the bathtub when it is morning and I’m not wearing my glasses yet into nothing more than a dusty streak. In the garden, however, they have free reign.

One spider spent all of June living in our Boston fern, the same one that was home to a finch nest earlier in the season. We developed an understanding of sorts. When it was time to water the fern, I’d tap the container and start watering elsewhere. He or she then retracted any web that was stretched out between the fronds and hunkered down. I’d return, water the fern and, later in the morning, the web would be back. I would not have believed such a thing was possible had I not seen it for myself.

So it goes. We share this space, these tiny creatures and our family. Some of us holding deeds. Some of us holding gossamer. All of us made by God. All of us holding hope.

 

outdoors, spiritual life

The road almost not taken

“The best way out is always through.” Robert Frost, American poet, “A Servant to Servants”

We could easily have made a different choice, possibly the wrong choice. Call it Providence, call it an unknown mapmaker’s skills, call it a strong desire not to wind up on a Weather Channel disaster-in-the-woods special. Whatever made us keep going down that mountain earlier this week is something for which we are thankful.

The problem came about halfway down the mountain. We had reached the 5,000-foot-altitude summit by ski lift — no required skill other than the ability to sit quietly. As requested, we had informed the attendant of our plans to hike a cross-country ski trail back to the base rather than returning on the lift. We had followed the diligently-placed green blazes down a rocky-but-not-too-slopey descent for about a mile.

Then, trouble hit in the oddest of places. We emerged from the piney woods into a long, linear meadow. Soft grasses, wild blueberries, butterflies. All good, really good, until we hit bottom. There, at the low point of the meadow, we looked ahead in dismay. The trail ascended — rather steeply, to another summit that seemed at least a mile in the distance.

We stopped. My husband, veteran hiker that he is, insisted we check the trail markers to make sure we hadn’t missed a turn since leaving the woods. We hadn’t. We were on the right path. So, we had to make a choice — climb back up the rocky trail to the chair lift — with an exhausting speed in order to catch the last ride of the day. Or, keep going on a trail in which the only way down was up.

We hunkered in the shade for a moment, drank some water and checked our map. If the markers and map were right, there had to be point at which the trail would veer away from that second summit. We couldn’t see it. All we could see was up hill, all the way. But, the map and the markers and park personnel claimed the trail to home base was there.

And, it was. Right about the time our legs were feeling it — anyone who’s skied this trail has our deep respect — there was a sudden opening into the woods and a rocky-but-entirely-doable descent. We were back at the cabin in time for dinner.

What a life lesson for our family! Sometimes, the road ahead looks discouraging, even impossible. We have to make a choice — go back to what we know, no matter how difficult the path of return, or keep going into what, to us at least, is the unknown. Unless we’re headed down a road to destruction, I’m thinking that, more often than not, we would be better off to keep going.

Let the water of God’s Word refresh us along the way. Let the light of His Word guide our path like the best map ever made. And, let us be plodding on, step after step after step. He’ll surely lead us home!

gardening, spiritual life

The sole source of joy

You are not a human being in search of a spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being immersed in a human experience.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, French philosopher, priest, scientist

They will soon be here. A bit like a monarch, but think bigger stripes and black and white instead of black and orange. Zebra swallowtails are one of my favorite parts of high summer.

I had never seen one until we moved to this house, where a cottage garden designed with butterflies in mind attracts such a variety of species we should probably put out a chart for passersby. It’s not just monarchs and zebra swallowtails. There are tiger swallowtails with bold swashes of yellow and black,  shimmery coppers, cabbage whites and — best name of all — great spangled fritillaries.

They’re all beautiful, but the zebra swallowtail especially caught our attention, not only because of its beauty but because it’s a sure-fire sign that pawpaw trees are somewhere in the neighborhood or in the surrounding woods. The pawpaw — a creamy, tropical-looking fruit sometimes called the hillbilly mango — is the sole food source for zebra swallowtail caterpillars.

The sole source. No pawpaw, no zebra swallowtails.

Church lady that I am, that puts me in mind of an unusual list that appears smack in the middle of the New Testament, in the book of Galatians. The Apostle Paul called the list the Fruit of the Spirit. Depending on what translation of the Bible you might have, it includes such things as love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control.

Most of us would like to have such qualities in our lives (or at least we wish the people around us would exhibit such traits), but it’s not like you can go shopping for joy. You can’t drink it in or inject it into your veins. You can’t even whip it up through some kind of self-help program or an attempt to control the circumstances of life. As I remember telling our daughters when they were younger, “There’s a reason Paul didn’t call this list the Fruit of the Good Girl. You just can’t get there by yourself.”

No pawpaw, no zebra swallowtails. Pawpaw is the sole food source. No Spirit of God in your heart, no Fruit of the Spirit in your day-to-day life. God is the sole source — the soul source as it is.

So, if you’re looking for joy, looking for peace and love and gentleness, consider where you’re looking. God’s not playing hide and seek with anyone. He’s right here, right now, ready to be found.

 

 

 

 

gardening, spiritual life

A not-thirsty land

“Rainy days should be spent at home with a cup of tea and a good book.” Bill Watterson, American cartoonist

It is morning and it is raining, the puddles outside the window looking more like September than high summer. The same weather system that is keeping parts of America bone dry has sent a conveyor belt of summer storms to Appalachia in the last four to five years. The sporadic deadly flooding side of our weather is what makes the news, but the change also plays out on a daily scale.

Neighborhood dads practically sprint for their mowers if there is so much as a half-day break in the weather. Last week, a business trip caused my husband to miss one such gap. The rotary mower (that I’m no longer strong enough to push given the thickness of the lawn) couldn’t handle the job. He weed whacked the entire backyard.

House painters, stymied for at least four years, seem to have given up this summer. One house that was partly painted during a week-long dry spell last fall remains partly painted — one side finished, two untouched and the last spotted with primer.

Boating parties can still make it to the neighborhood grocery story. A tributary to the Ohio River that usually runs dry in patches this time of year is so swollen, boaters pull their kayaks onto the grass at the edge of the parking lot, leave them in the care of a raucous band of ducks, and go in for ice cream or Starbucks or whatever.

It’s odd, isn’t it, how changing weather, changing climate affects living things so differently? Some too dry. Some too wet. Some too close to water. Some too far away. We drag our feet against such weatherly-climate changes, with our rotary mower and our tiny cars and so on. We do our best to dig in our heels against the downward spiral of moral climate, too.

Do we really have any choice? Whether we’re bleaching the mildew off our porch walls in Appalachia or converting our toilets to salt-water flushes on Catalina Island, we simply must have hope in God. Hope. It’s water in a thirsty land. Sunshine in a not-thirsty one. It’s ice cream on a creek bank and a strong string trimmer. Hope and God will see us through whatever is ahead.