Juxtaposition

It’s Saturday morning and laundry load #2 spins while I enjoy a tea latte and rays of sun. More chores require my attention, but they are content to wait, to allow this day to unfold purposefully and leisurely.

I scroll through some pictures on my phone, thinking that it is time to delete a few.

And this one stops me.

Not because it is particularly unique or stunning – it’s just a little hillside path from a brief bike-hike a few weekends ago. At the time what caught my eye was the contrast between angled green foreground and horizontal purple background.

What stops me today, however, is the unintended focal point of the composition, the juxtaposition of two trees – one dead, one alive. One black etching on a background of green. One skeleton on a hillside of life.

And then I realize that this unassuming snapshot is actually a perfect visual metaphor for living with loss. The grief doesn’t go away. It is always part of the picture somewhere.

But only a part.

The rest of the picture teems with life that keeps reaching for light and anchoring in steep rocky soil and waving and whispering in even the slightest breeze.

Just because death exists doesn’t mean that life stops.

And because life continues, sometimes we forget to acknowledge that for many there is a resident grief-tree. A photobomber of life moments.

But maybe, just maybe, the presence of grief makes all the green-ness of life that much more meaningful and rich and appreciated.

By grace alone.

Memory Day

Today I extract the memories with care
Perhaps this year they’ll be easier to share

Memories

vivid and valued
fragile and fading
precious and painful

But once they lay on the table before me
adequate words to express them simply flee

So I enfold each one in love anew
and tuck it gently away from view

There is a place deep inside
where these treasures will always reside

A place where grief and grace meet
the rhythm of this mother’s heart beat.

Living In a Discordent World

The world seems so noisy lately.

So much anger, fear, mistrust, accusation, heartbreak, sorrow. So many words swirling madly in all directions, unanchored, unhinged. So many voices drowning out the steady quiet rhythms of our own hearts. 

Speaking definitively in support of OneThing can lead to a shaming attack for being anti-TheOtherThing. Supporting AllTheThings only increases the pandemonium with contradiction and a crippling erosion of integrity. 

Stick to objective facts, they say. Don’t respond based on emotion and personal belief, they say. But then objective facts somehow morph into alternative facts…and we keep spiralling into post-truth cacophony.  

So. Much. Noise.

Today, I am “aweary of this great world” and its deafening bedlam. 

In exploring the confusions of his own life, Augustine speaks of an unquiet heart seeking rest in its Creator. I feel the unquiet of my own heart and am drawn to this rest, to the Creator whose words still speak life, and who, as the Word, “became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth.”

Grace and truth. Yes, these words of quiet resilience and unwavering purpose speak a kind of stillness in the midst of the chaotic roar of -isms and schisms, memes and mantras, facts and phobias.  And in this stillness, I can know the God whose purposes are profoundly undaunted by all of the world’s noise throughout all of history. 

__________________
The Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare)
Confessions (Augustine)
John 1:14; Psalm 46:10

Somewhere in the middle

To the northeast hot dry winds breathe fury into a beastly fire that engulfs neighbourhoods and propels thousands toward safety and temporary shelter.

Only weeks later, slightly to the northwest, winds pummel heavy, sodden clouds, forcing them to release their payload in a pelting deluge that swells over banks and rips away roads and bridges.

Somewhere in the middle is where I live.

While the land around us felt the aching thirst of impending drought, we were far enough away to be spared the devouring hunger of the flames so devastating to our fellow Albertans.  The storm, however, settled in on its haunches for three days, haphazardly pruning our trees, and pouring itself into every conceivable low spot.  We were saturated, to be sure, but still only on the fringes of the real destruction an hours’ drive to the west.

Sometimes being in the middle provides a measure of safety.

Sometimes being in the middle, the in-between spaces of life, is messy and hard. “Middle-ness” is everywhere:  between hope and despair, expectation and reality, idealism and practicality, past and future, here and there, beginning and end.  I am a middle child, not the perfect middle usually associated with odd-numbered siblings, but a ‘middle’ none-the-less, sandwiched between an older brother and the sister next in birth order.  Society classifies me as middle-aged – no longer young, but not yet a senior either.  Sometimes it feels like the last twenty-odd years of my life have been lived in the middle –either in the middle of something really hard, or in the brief spaces between consecutive really hard things.  The pattern has repeated so often that as I sit here still catching my breath from the last Hard Thing, I keep looking to the horizon for ominous signs of the Next Hard Thing.  A perpetual middle-ness that has at times left me wary and weary. My soul resonates with Mark Hall when he honestly sings about living in the incongruous place between who we are called to be in Christ and the failure-ridden realities of the daily effects of sin – our own and others’.

Sometimes being in the middle is fertile space for growth and blessing.  For those of us living in the more northerly climes, the middle of the year means summer warmth and green growing things – that important space between planting and harvesting. As a school teacher, these middle months also provide a pace of days not measured by bells and marking piles.  What resonates most with my soul though is the fact that grace is also most at home in middle-ness – in that space between salvation and sanctification, though not wholly separate from either of them, it brings meaning and purpose to our existence here in the middle between what was and what will yet be.  It sustains.

Perhaps J.R.R. Tolkien was more insightful than imaginative when he wrote his epic saga of Middle Earth. Although my lived version is very different than his created one, I think there is a deep truth hidden in the reality of living somewhere in the middle.  We were created for greater things, but live with the daily pull of the lesser.  Earth is indeed only the middle ground, an in-between place where battles are fought and ground lost or gained, a place where hearts are broken and mended, a place where grace saves and sustains.  Ultimate victory, healing, and sanctification await beyond the middle – beyond this messy, hard, humbling, redeeming process of becoming what God has already made a way for us to be.

Somewhere in the middle is where I live.  With thankfulness – not the glib, trite, or even politely appropriate kind, but the kind that is fought for daily and arises out of submission to a Sovereign God – for what was, and is, and what will yet be.  Sola gratia.

 

 

 

Recirculating Problems

My trusty car, Maggie, developed a problem as soon as the weather turned cold. Actually, the problem existed before frosty mornings became the norm, but we weren’t aware of it until we actually needed a fully functioning defrost system. Although I’ve only seen the notorious London fog on cheesy detective movies, I could easily imagine myself in the thick of it when I tried to peer out the side windows. No matter how high or for how long I cranked the heat and the fan, the windshield had wide frame of frost and a narrow field of vision. Clearly, Maggie had problem. No pun intended.

It took some head-scratching conundrum-mumbling and an extended stay in The Shop while mechanical surgeons dissected Maggie’s Dodgely dash, but almost three thousand dollars later they discovered that the problem was a broken door. The little door that either recirculated air inside or allowed in fresh outside air was broken in the recirculate position. All that hot air I was blasting at the windows was just circulating around and around and condensing and freezing – the opposite of what I needed it to do. Blurry fog and opaque frost on windows aren’t exactly conducive to safe driving. Little broken things sometimes cause big scary dangers.

Sometimes life feels like a little broken door somewhere keeps us in recirculate mode. Although outer accoutrements might change, the same core disappointments, discouragements, hurts, and griefs keep going around and around, coalescing and creating a numbing fog that permeates thick and deep in our souls. It’s exhausting, this recycled living. We long for clarity, for fresh air, for newness in the midst of the reoccurring and wearying old. We wish someone would fix the little broken door and give us a chance to rest and recover. To defrost and defog.

But perhaps, just perhaps, we also begin to see through the haze and weighty blur that there are other things that keep coming around again and again as well. The presence of cloud or fog does not change the fact that the sun continues to make its rounds each day, the stars continue to spill their glitter across inky skies, and the promises of God continue to bring new hope with each faithful dawn.

And perhaps, just perhaps, we come to recognize that maybe the little broken door isn’t meant to be fixed. Not yet. Maybe being revisited by discouragement and grief keeps us revisiting the One who promises that He will yet make all things new. Perhaps we come to depend more fully on God’s providential perspectives when we are most mired in the foggy places of life because it is in those spaces that we are most aware of our own inadequacies and of His complete sufficiency.

Perhaps the broken little door that allows the recycling of hard things also recirculates the grace and strength to face them….again.