☕️ On Walking

A Saturday Caesura

While out on a walk one evening this week, I saw a little girl and her dad at the street corner ahead. She was learning about stop-look-listen before crossing. When they began walking, the dad’s stride was relaxed and casual, solid and sure compared to the skip-bounce tiptoe half-run of the daughter’s effort to keep up. He held her hand, providing an anchor that kept them together even though her child pace could never match his adult one.

As I watched them, I tried to remember if as a child I had ever felt the need to always be half-running just to keep up with the adult world. Even if I didn’t then, I think I do now. . . and it is exhausting.

I had another walking experience this week. It was a long walk, one that generally gets labelled as a hike, but at its core, it was still walking. Once we bushwhacked (a particularly challenging kind of walking) our way into the alpine, we could clearly see the final route to the summit. Striped of their cloak of trees and shrubs, naked mountain ridges can be deceiving, looking either easier or harder than they actually are. To one member of our group, this route looked daunting. She stopped, looked . . . and stayed stopped. Anxiety set in. Then doubt. In the end, the thought of not reaching the summit after working so hard to get this far loosened the fear enough to get her feet moving again.

So we encouraged her and we walked. No skip-bouncing half-running, just steady and sure walking even when the wind whipped around and through us. Look-step. Look-step. I walked and she walked right behind me, not looking left or right or up ahead– just looking at my feet. When I took a step forward on the slope, she stepped right behind me. Anchored this way to possibility rather than fear, she made it to the summit one step at a time across all the space that felt too steep, too rocky, too impossible.

So I’ve been thinking about how we walk through life and who needs us to be steady and sure. About who needs an anchor when the pace is beyond reach and the way seems too much of everything scary and daunting and impossible. The truth? Maybe there is the odd occasion where I am somehow able to be those things for someone else, but mostly (always) I’m the needy one.

The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand. Psalm 37:23-24

☀️ Rest

A Sunday Doxology

To the God who offers rest
from the weary weight
  of doing striving becoming,
from the surprising burden
            of emptiness—
Your invitation to come,
    to come
        to come
            to find
rest for our souls,
lingers
with a lengthening sweetness,
with a compelling hope,
with the undeserving promise
of your gentle, humble presence.

☕️Chore Day+

A Saturday Caesura

By default Saturday is chore day at our house. Between the two of us we did laundry, cleaned the floors and a bathroom, changed oil and spark plugs in the quads, set out the tomato plants, fixed the mini-greenhouse, planted beans and squash, repotted the succulents, sharpened the mower blade, mowed the front yard, discussed a front yard make-over, made granola, pulled weeds, and folded clothes. Ate lunch.

Then we pushed pause on all chores, tossed jackets, snacks, water, camera, binoculars, bug dope into the truck and went exploring. Did we see anything new and different and exciting? Not really.

Our outing took us into familiar territory, but sometimes the familiar is a welcome comfort, especially when the trees are all dressed up in sprightly spring green and the fields have freshly groomed faces and ponds sit quiet and still so the clouds can admire their reflections. We saw baby leaves on wild rose bushes and wild strawberry plants with tiny white precursers to tiny red berries. A pair of buffleheads glided, rippleless, along the edge of a dugout; a hawk perched in a tree watching, watching. The black bear turned out to be the open end of a big culvert. The cows in one pasture had babies; the horses in another had none.

Such ordinary everyday living and moving and growing, but did we come back feeling refreshed and content?  Oh, yes.

☀️Forgiveness

A Sunday Doxology

To the God who offers forgiveness

that flows as blood poured out

that purifies to snow white the cursed crimson stain

that knows not the boundaries of east and west

To the forgiving God,

gracious and compassionate,

slow in anger

abounding in love,

be humble gratitude and worship

from one such as I:

broken and wholly without merit.

______________

Isaiah 1:18; Psalm 103:12; Nehemiah 9:17

Eye of the Storm

My weather app declares: Winter Storm Warning

but if winter storms have an eye,

     we must be in it 

          for now

              because

there is a calm gentleness in

     the community of birds sharing the feeder

          the whitening molt of late autumn brown

                the swish of skis slicing the season’s first trails

     the sweep and glide of hawk and owl on patrol

            the steamy warmth of an earl grey latte

                  the deep soul-warmth of friends, once strangers.

Storms may swirl outside my window

       across my country

             around the world

                   in my own heart

But goodness and grace surround and settle me.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the Snow Reveals…

It’s a new year and I’m thinking about snow. And not because it is actually snowing (intermittently) after several days of cold too brittle for freshly formed flakes. No, I’m thinking about snow because I like the way it covers and hides the Uglies: roadside litter, dead leaves, brown grass, brown everything. It creates a pristine white blanket that sparkles fresh and clean. A new year often carries that same sense of clean promise; I’m not fond of looking at last year’s Uglies.

It’s a new year and I’m thinking about snow because it not only hides and cleans, it reveals. The Uglies may not be currently visible, but my backyard is hardly a glistening untouched rendition of white Christmas dreamscapes. No, my backyard and beyond are riddled with evidence of lives lived. Thoroughfares, interchanges, exit ramps, fence-crossings, and assorted detours carved out by pointy-hoofed deer and moose would befuddle even the most skilled cartographer. A private frontage road runs along a section of the marsh berm, thumped out by some rabbit road crew. Teeny-tiny paths imprinted by a gazillion teeny-tiny mini-rodent toes form scurrying connections between shrubs and bulrushes. A meandering single track across the frozen marsh signals that a lone fox is on a hunger-prowl.

I’m ever so grateful that I do occasionally see some of the critters that inhabit my backyard and beyond, but the snow reveals how little I actually know about the nature of their presence, their comings and goings, their patterns of movement and hunting or foraging. Snow even reveals where they burrow for shelter or crater their beds.

I’m thinking about snow as a new year begins because I wonder what my last year would look like if it was etched out like the intersecting freeways that have pockmarked and crumpled the pristine covering of snow around my home. What would be my most worn pathways – worry? grief? love? Where did I burrow most often – in work? in front of a screen? in prayer? If someone was observing my ‘tracks’, what would be revealed about my priorities, my faith, my fears, my weaknesses, my integrity?

As we step into the pristine newness of this year and each day it contains, may we give careful thought to the paths for our feet. May we pause at this crossroad of time to look and ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and choose to walk in it. *

May I live in such a way that my comings and goings reveal a life surrendered to the Giver of life, Creator of snow, Sustainer of the millions of sunrises that we group into days and months and years.

* from Pr. 4:26 & Jer. 6:16

Reclaiming the Kitchen Table

I just did a search on Pinterest for kitchen tables. No shortage of images here – everything from rustic worn farmhouse tables (totally ‘in’ right now) to elegantly decorated masterpieces (seasonally appropriate, of course) to instructions on how to paint, build, refurbish, or repurpose them as flowerbeds or doormats – well, maybe not those last two, but you know Pinterest – it’s not impossible.

NOT ONE of these images included any people at the tables.  I found that profoundly interesting.

I have recently had two very un-Pinterest-Perfect experiences with kitchen tables.

The first involved a well-used oval oak pedestal table with a veneer top badly in need of refinishing but easily disguised with placemats. There were people at this table – five adults besides myself, empty-nesters realizing that the Freedom 55  thing was never more than an ad gimmick. There was food, too – a potluck-style prime rib dinner. And candles.

The second involved a large rectangular table, quite new, with white cushioned chairs. It was a table worthy of Pinterest for sure, except for the fact that it also had people around it, munching on mozzarella poppers (with or without jalapeño) and pretzel chips- five adults besides myself, ex-teens realizing that the adulting ‘thing’ is actually harder than it looked. No candles.

Other than the food, which is quite common at most tables, there were other things being served at both of these tables: memories and ‘catch-ups,’ laughter and possible puns, comfortable conversations flowing from shared pasts now reclaimed to fortify the present. Interspersed with and undergirding all of the light-hearted camaraderie were the real reasons why these kitchen-table scenarios were beyond Pinterest-worthy of recognition.

At each table, every single person regardless of age, occupation, gender or hair-colour, brought something more: heaping containers of grief and confusion next to the pretzels, various bowls laden with hurt and discouragement surrounding the jar of sour cream for the baked potatoes. This is where the real feasts took place – not to gorge on the bitterness of these dishes, but to come together and season them liberally with honesty and genuine listening and caring and loving and fresh insights and perspectives, so that when we finally step away from the table a sweetness lingers long and deep. That the conversations spill over with tears or overflow into the living rooms only enhances the feast.

May they continue to spill and overflow into our lives – those spaces we literally and figuratively inhabit each day.

May we reclaim our kitchen tables for this kind of open, honest, searching, burden-sharing, praying-caring feasting that nourishes lives that are too often starving for purpose and clarity and hope.

May we sit around our tables and truly see and hear one another above the noise of daily living, the lies of depression and loneliness, the aching of loss and discouragement.

May we unapologetically fill our tables with the messiness of life because we care more about each other than some ideal of perfection; we are doing life together and Pinterest Fail episodes come with the territory.  We’re okay with that.

May our tables become places where grace is lived, extended, and embraced, not just said before a meal.

Let’s reclaim our kitchen tables for conversations that truly matter.

Place – Part 3: Kitchen, Junkyard, Canopy, Grave.  And a jumble of others.

As I’ve written about the places connected to “tidal shifts” in my life, I guess I’ve known deep down that the conversation would eventually lead here. Tidal shirts are just that – shifts. And while the ones in my life may have brought challenges, they were hardly negative. They were, and continue to be, life-giving and life-affirming.

But a tsunami? A tsunami doesn’t just rearrange or set a different course. It devastates, plunders, and creates wastelands of refuse and nothingness.

Suicide is a tsunami.

The aftermath of such destruction has a strange connection to place. We’ve all seen the haunting images of people combing through impossible mounds of rubble looking for remnants of place – of homes that no longer exist. Disaster discombobulates, so even a shard of china or a mangled toy is somehow able to encapsulate a whole house full of belongings, a whole lifetime of memories.

And so I, too, have wandered across a landscape razed by the effects of suicide, clinging to bits and pieces, shards of place that connect me to a life.

Some of the places I find are vividly intact.

▪️The corner of the kitchen where I answered the phone and his voice informed me (us) that he had attempted to take his life. A surreal panicky-calm answer-providing-question-raising never-to-be-forgotten conversation.

▪️The stark, institutionally-worn, suffocating room in the psych ward where we first visited him, the weight of our fears and our love pushing hard on our hearts and voices. None of us belonged in this place of purple pants and shoes with no laces and nurses with quiet, knowing voices.

▪️The old pink upholstered chair upstairs where he would sit for hours of months, physically and emotionally immobilized by an internal battle between life and death. The chair became a painful reminder that I later carted away. Sometimes even the most intact things we pull from the rubble are the least helpful to retain.

▪️The spot along Highway 97 where I was cycling when he phoned and I heard his voice for the last time. I stopped and stood overlooking a rusty jumble of seemingly derelict mining equipment – a perpetual boneyard that we had driven past countless times over numerous years.

I snapped this picture as we drove past it once again this past summer, with the smoky haze of devastating wildfires shrouding the distance and the fresh poignancy of my father-in-law’s funeral lingering from the previous day. Is it weird that I needed a picture of the spot where I leaned against my bike and chatted with my son about cabbages and broccoli from the garden?

I’m still clinging to the shards.

We returned home not long after that roadside conversation to discover our son’s body in a place it was never meant to be. Discover is an odd word to use as it generally carries the connotation of something positive and even exciting – a discovery! No, discover is not only an odd word here, it is the wrong one. Do we even have a word in English that correctly describes finding your child’s body?

So the car canopy/shelter became another place to reckon with. We originally bought it to shelter my car from snow in winter and that bit of usefulness and our strong bent toward all things practical made us keep it intact for a season. But because it also harboured the most vivid, gut-wrenching, heart-breaking memory of our lives, we eventually took it apart and threw it away. If only the memory that it housed could be dismantled and discarded as easily.

Other places reside somewhere in the one-and-a-half years between the phone in the corner of the kitchen and the canopy in the driveway. They remain a blurry, incoherent jumble, like so much of any space that has had a close-up encounter with a tsunami. A cramped doctor’s office, a stale courtroom, a sleek bankruptcy lawyer’s office, a railway track, a bench outside a grocery store, a jeep in an impound lot, a rest stop south of somewhere, an emergency room late at night, a drawer with a knife missing, the back door where I looked for a pair of white DC shoes every day when I came home from work and breathed a broken hallelujah when their presence meant my son was still home. Still alive for that day.

So many places out of all the places he lived and breathed and laughed and joked and worked and made music and stories and friends and memories during the 25 years before the tsunami hit.

When I took this picture of the place where I last heard my son’s voice, I felt my heart beat hard with all the emotions of that time and the events and years since. Was this really something I needed a tangible reminder of? It is hardly a scenic place – nothing remotely comforting about an industrial junkyard of unidentifiable equipment. But I snapped it quickly out the window as we drove by, timing it as close to the exact spot as I could. Then tucked my phone away. Done.

Now, as I look at it, I see something that my memory of that earlier time and place did not register. It is a junkyard, to be sure, but there is an orderliness there I overlooked. All of those rusty bits and pieces have been somewhere, done something, and now sit in tidy readiness for use again – either as they were originally intended, or perhaps to be repurposed as something else equally as useful. They aren’t discards after all.

Perhaps in the aftermath of the tsunami that hit our lives, in the 6 years, 3 months, and 3 days of sorting through the rubble, finding the memories we will always cling to and discarding the less helpful ones, I am finally seeing and feeling a sense of order. The objects that only made the wounds fester have been jettisoned. The accusing words from others that only tore wounds deeper and wider have been forgiven and put in a place belonging to all such untruths. Other places and memories have best been treated by letting them form scabs and then scars. They won’t ever go away, but they don’t have to carry so much pain anymore.

There are other places now.

There is a grave with a bronze marker cast with a precious name and a stand of trees and some inadequate words of love . The marker is set in a cement base crafted by the capable hands of a grieving father who continues to find meaning in the making of things. The flowers aren’t ‘real’, but they are replaced regularly as weather fades and tatters the old ones. Solar lights remind us that darkness is never impenetrable, and six small stones of remembrance form the beginnings of a border. I’ll find the seventh stone on a mountaintop somewhere next year and add it in August. And then an eighth one the year after. And so on.

It is a useful and quiet place of remembrance, but the place that means the most to me is the place my son, the place that ALL of my children, holds in my heart. It is a heart where, in spite of a gaping hole where grief continues to crawl from its bottomless pit, there is fullness and there is gratitude. And there is a growing sense that all of this – the bits and pieces left in our hands and hearts- they have been somewhere and now sit in readiness for use, transformed by grace for a greater purpose.

Place – Part 2: Beacon, Altar, Hospital

It had been a summer of meandering in and out of certainty, of feeling purposeful and completely lost. I was nineteen and tidal shifts were appearing in my life that brought spinning and spiralling, a jumble of thoughts and fears, and all of it needed to be sorted through and forced into some ordered perspective that would bring a measure of emotional calm. I ached for solitude and time – both of which were in short supply that summer.

So it was that a partially cloudy, somewhat breezy afternoon found me driving to the southern tip of an island. It may be that I envisioned it as a perfect place for a lighthouse, and the romantic symbolism of that enticed me. I needed light in a swirl of grey and black; I needed direction.

There was no lighthouse.

But between a cluster of ocean-view cottages, a small path led to a narrow strip of uneven beach, more rock than sand. At the edge of the ‘beach’ on a rocky knoll sparsely dressed in hardy sea grasses stood a light beacon. No great historic edifice, just a simple, very modern aluminum structure twenty or thirty feet high. A short span of ladder-steps for maintenance access led to a dome-shaped light protruding from the top. Non-aesthetic, but functional.

I sat at the base of that beacon and gave space for my soul to breathe. I prayed for clarity and direction, for the calming of the stormy roiling that had been tossing me about for several weeks. Waves from afar stretched their fingers into nooks and crannies near my feet; the pungent smell of salt and seaweed rode a brisk breeze that skimmed across the water to tease the stalwart trees standing guard around the cottages.

It took some time before the exposure to the open water and the rhythm of the waves began to bring a sense of settledness and a line of thought that didn’t run in impossible circles. But I needed more than calmness; I needed clear direction, an affirmation of which decision to make. I got neither. There was only wind and waves and rocks and grass and a beacon. 

But then I thought about Jesus on that stormy night with His disciples and how He spoke and the winds and waves grew calm. I thought about His statement that He is the light of the world, and following Him means freedom from darkness. As I reflected more, I realized that I didn’t need answers. I didn’t need to do anything other than trust that God had the answers, and as I followed Him, the way would become clear.

Thoughtfully, I tore a small piece of paper from my journal, wrote “I am Your servant” on it, rolled it tightly, and tucked into a small opening on the end of one of the ladder rungs on the light beacon. Somehow writing it on something tangible made my commitment more than just an emotional whim. 

I’ve never physically returned to that place but mentally I’ve made uncountable journeys back to that little stretch of coastline and a nondescript beacon that unknowingly cradled a slip of paper where I affirmed that whatever the cost, whatever the circumstance, I would choose to follow the One who promised to be my light.

A tidal shifting in my life confirmed a life-long commitment that day, but the reverse has often been true since then: I have made commitments which have led to tidal shifts in my life story

Each of those had a place of beginning, too.  

One nippy spring day, I stood in a church and spoke words of commitment to love, honour, and cherish the man who that day became my husband. Our lives changed forever with a simple but profound, “I do.” Like my commitment at the light beacon, there is a piece of paper, fancy and official. It sits in a file somewhere – far less important to our commitment than the daily actions that affirm it over and over and over again. We have chosen the path of commitment even though commitment has become a rather itchy-scratchy word in our world. It makes us uncomfortable at times. It stretches us. But it also strengthens and grows and enables and frees us. Thirty-six years later, we are still ‘I do-ing’ even though there have been storms from without and within that could have dissolved everything into a washed out ‘I did.’ 

Life shifted again on a sunny summer day when I woke up in a hospital room with big windows and looked into a plastic institutional bassinet where the morning sun lay warm and gentle and radiant on a tiny, beautiful baby girl. Over the next few years, two blue-eyed baby boys would fill out my motherhood. There are some official-necessary pieces of paper confirming these births, but my commitment to motherhood was indelibly etched on my heart from the moment I first found out I was to be a mother. The excruciating pain of childbirth is its own ceremony of commitment.

Loving my children is easy on the crazy fun days, in the delightful, melt-my-heart moments, through the tender growing times. It is a love that doesn’t even seem to need commitment – it just happens. 

Until it doesn’t.

Sometimes mother-love is a choice that requires the fiercest of commitments with absolutely no guarantee of a positive outcome. It is a love that hurts. Like childbirth. It is a love that gives and gives and gives, even when it isn’t enough to protect or save or generate happy-ever-after endings.  It loves even in the midst of monumental tidal shifts. 

So of all the places I have been, these three places serve as anchors of remembrance and commitment – to God, to my husband, to my children – and I need those reminders because I live so imperfectly. I waver and wander. My ‘I do’ sometimes sounds more like ‘As if!’ I am more selfish than sacrificial. I have fears and griefs and disappointments and scars that sometimes whisper (or shout) that commitment doesn’t necessarily deliver what I need, I want, I deserve.

And so I’m grateful for the tangible reminders that living a life of commitment is not about self-gratification or adulation; it is about a ‘long obedience in the same direction’ before an Audience of One. For life. Sola Gratia.



Photo credit: Gulf Island Tourism

Place: Rimrock and Mountaintop

Place has a way of anchoring us in the world. Most of us can recall childhood homes, special vacation places, that certain spot where we felt most comfortable eating lunch at school, where we were when news of tragedy reached our ears.  

I’ve been thinking a lot about place lately. 

My initial thinking formulated around a list of all the places I’ve lived and significant memories or feelings attached to each. It was interesting to see what rose to the surface in that process. I will likely revisit that list and those thoughts, but in some of my daily reading I came across a comment regarding places that are “linked to tidal shifts” in our lives. That phrase triggered a mashup of memory and images and took me into some deeper musings…

Exposed cliffs of crumbling rock perforate the hills along the northern edge of the valley where the unincorporated community of my childhood perches midway between hilltops and river-bottom. The most prominent cliff outcropping nearest our home was simply and appropriately called The Rimrock.

Like most children, my youngest years were spent exploring, creating, and imagining within the spaces immediately surrounding our home: the haystack fortress and snow bank mountains, the climbing tree, the woodpile, shed, and corral.

Horses and bicycles eventually opened up new territory, and my growing interest in wildflower identification lured me into the forests, pastures and glades that lay just beyond the northern perimeter of the community.  

These forays lengthened as I grew up, so perhaps it was inevitable that by the time I was in my teens, The Rimrock beckoned from afar. Following first an old ranch road, and then an overgrown skidder track, brought one to the base of the cliff – a challenge to climb straight up, but easy enough to navigate by circumventing it through the tree-lined slopes to the left.

Sitting on the edge of The Rimrock provided an expansive view of the entire valley – the height reduced livestock and vehicles to minuscule and muffled distant valley sounds. I generally went to The Rimrock with family members, occasionally with other friends, but the time that anchored me most to that place, I went by myself. I don’t remember why I was alone, why I even ventured there that day, but I do remember very distinctly sitting in the haphazard arrangement of straight-edged boulders that delineates the top of The Rimrock and gazing out across the valley.

Maybe that was the day I started to understand the power of metaphors. I thought about how my life to that point had been lived in the shelter and familiarity of that valley and my family, but now I was older and could see there was so much more beyond.  Yet, I did not want to minimize the significance of this place to the person I was becoming. I thought about how the cliff itself, for all its tumbled crumbling exterior, paralleled imagery from the Psalms – a tower of strength, a mighty fortress, a rock and a refuge. There was a sense of security here. I was deeply drawn to the solitude and quietness of this place on the edge, to the solidity of the rock beneath me, and to the richness of the beauty spread out before me.

I was on the edge of things in life, too, growing slowly towards the then mysterious and anticipated-dreaded world of adulthood. Sitting there that day reminded me that even though I would continue to live in the valley lands of many places that God’s perspective of my life was always expansive. I could trust him fully for the things I could not see.  

I had no idea then how much the tidal shifts of life would continue to teach me about trusting in the midst of the unseen and about hungering for God’s perspectives while fumbling and faltering through deep valley places.

Many years later, I have come to realize that place, while geographically specific, has had a certain fluidity in my life: I can see how that time on The Rimrock and its accompanying thoughts and emotions have developed over the years and is likely the underlying catalyst for my ongoing yearning and love for alpine spaces. Is it the geographical space I love most, or is it the deep connection to God’s expansive perspectives, bringing me to “a spacious place” (Ps 18:19) and causing me to “stand on the heights” that both renews and anchors my soul?  

As I have processed these thoughts over several months, I am more inclined to see that perhaps it all has less to do with place (although place has been and continues to be instrumental), and more to do with patterns of grace and rhythms of living out life within the context of God’s story. And right now the whole concept of seeing my life as part of a far greater whole, a greater purpose, fills me with joy. It sanctifies the ordinary, infuses the hard things with meaning, gives hope and confidence for what is yet to transpire.  

Rimrock and mountaintop perspectives are not eternal or heavenly; they are very tangible and earthly. But perhaps they are also God’s faithful reminder to me that He does see and know all things, that His ways and thoughts are beyond my knowledge or understanding but are fully trustworthy, and that the beauty and majesty that so thrills my soul are only a fractional reflection of His glory and majesty. 

Place may anchor us in the world, but it also provides rich and humbling glimpses into eternity.

Photo credit: A. Kruse