Archive for the ‘#10 -compost’ Category

compost dig 2

I know some women think diamonds are beautiful, and would swoon  over a big sparkling gift from their lover.  My lover gave me compost.  This is a GOOD thing!  Sinking my hands into rich cool black earth is my idea of bling and maybe I don’t swoon, exactly, but I do get very silly with excitement!  And when I think that this gorgeous soil was created from JUNK, my recycling genes just kick into triple euphoria.  Beloved JR layers on the yard clippings, chopped autumn leaves, ash from the woodstoves, manure from the neighbors, and then Roscoe goes to work.  Roscoe is our herd of 500 red worms imported a decade ago to chew up the junk and turn it into fine, rich black dirt.

Digging this beautiful soil into my vegetable beds this spring got me to thinking.  Into the bin goes all the waste.  The dead leaves.  The uprooted dandelions.  The rhubarb tops.  The dug up, out-of-bounds perennials.  The mowed grass.  The sh*t.  The ugly, useless, unwanted, unwelcome parts of the garden.  And, as it decays, it is transformed.  There in the dark, a miracle happens.

I’ve discovered that God, the Master Gardener, does the same thing.  In the compost bin of my soul.  He takes the rotten parts of me, and transforms them into something rich and useful.  The important factor, of course, is that I have to be willing to be pruned, and to have my ugly taproots dug out into the light, and to long to be renewed.  Then He kindly and patiently takes – my fear, for example, of everything, and shows me the pride hiding at the base of that fear – he takes the fear and pride into the depths of His mercy and grace, and transforms it into a powerful kind of trust that can become, in turn, a place for seeds of goodness to grow.  I can almost feel it, the Holy Spirit, like Roscoe, working down in the dark, replacing old lies with His marvelous Truth.  Isn’t this the very best recycling of all??!!?

spring boxes

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O sacred Head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down,
now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, thine only crown:
how pale thou art with anguish,
with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish
which once was bright as morn!

What thou, my Lord, has suffered
was all for sinners’ gain;
mine, mine was the transgression,
but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
‘Tis I deserve thy place;
look on me with thy favor,
vouchsafe to me thy grace.

What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest friend, for this thy dying sorrow,
thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever;
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love for thee.


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nativity on our mantel this Christmas

The countdown to Christmas: 5 days as I write this. Five more days of Advent, five more days of “Waiting”. In our Christian liturgical year, Advent is the season to wait, prepare, expect, hope …. For what? For the familiar story of the Birth of Christ?

In the secular calendar it is the time to bake, buy, donate, decorate, wrap, wreath, plan, party, give, get, drink, despair… As Christians, we would like to think that we have a different focus this time of year. I hope we do. But what are we waiting FOR? What are we preparing FOR? What are we hoping FOR?

hand carved olive wood from Israel

Maybe we are hoping for some little light to come on inside of us. Some flicker of adoration and recognition of The Holy. Some faint stirring of awe and worship alongside the angelic host. Some kind of connection to the reality that God is truly with us, that all we say we believe has a beginning somewhere, and it is Real. These strike me as good things to hope for.

Our congregation’s challenge for advent this year was to cultivate an inner quiet, a place of quiet rest amid the world’s busy-ness. Many of us took up the challenge to avoid the use of electricity each Sunday evening during advent — meaning no TV or computers; oil lamps and candles instead of lights (Christmas tree lights allowed!); quiet conversation and reading instead of video games… I have been glad for the encouragement to slow down, and for the encouragement of others as we experience this together. This focus has done its work in me, and created enough space for me to be still enough inside to begin to listen.

On Christmas, we celebrate the fact that one little baby’s birth into the world changed everything. I found that pondering the birth of Christ can blow your mind if you let it. On Christmas day, God Almighty, the Creator and Commander of the Universe, was content to suffer the humiliation of becoming one of us. Let it sink in. He was willing, for our sake, to suffer the humiliation of becoming one of us.

And to all who recognize Him, and receive Him, to them He gives the right to become children of God. We know and believe that through Jesus’ life and suffering and death on the cross, and by his resurrection, we are forgiven and purchased and redeemed and transformed, and that it is not for ourselves alone, but so that we may be His Body in the world. As He is birthed in each one of us, does this mean that He also gives us the gift, the right (the responsibility?) to suffer the humiliation as well? Is this, the gift of the humiliation of humanity, is this what we are waiting for?

I’ve been thinking about this. The gift that is offered to the world: the humiliation of becoming one of them.

Really?  As Jesus did, to be content to suffer the humiliation of becoming one of them??  Really??  I much prefer the comfort and dignity of somehow being better than them. At least I seem to think I do.  But it seems that here, at Christmas, God is inviting me to be willing, to be content to suffer to become one of…   And not simply becoming one; but as one, bringing also strength and hope. Having stumbled into God’s saving grace as a young adult and since then being guided by the gospels and good teaching in many churches, I understand the call on my life is one of love and service to others. There are many ways I try to live this out. Most of the time, with joy. Yet this is a new thought to me: bringing bags of donated groceries to the food pantry, I remain separate from them. Bringing meals to the sick, or doing an overwhelmed young mother’s laundry, I am still separate from them. Driving elders to their doctor appointments, I still remain separate from them. Piecing quilts for refugee camps or sending off school kits to the orphanage in Haiti, I am definitely separate from them. Dropping coins into an outstretched cup in the city, I am so separate from them. I am the one with something to give, the ability to do; they are the needy ones. Even Mother Teresa felt this. We are separated by the gap. When God sent his son to save us, he didn’t simply throw a life ring and call out to us to grab on. He jumped right into the swirling flood alongside us.

I’m not imaging that Jesus is expecting me to become homeless; but Lord, if you suffered that humiliation by setting aside your glory and becoming one of us, if that is how you loved us, then show me how to love. Slowly, like the wakening dawn, I realize.

Recently, I sat down with a young woman who was in deep distress. I was the counselor, she the counselee; there was the gap. In time she was able to tell me about sexual abuse by both her father and her brother when she was a little girl. As we wept together, I didn’t think about the gift I was able to bring – but I see it now. Because of my own story, my own suffering of molestation by both father and brother, my own humiliation, I was able to be content to suffer hers alongside. I was able to offer strength and hope, not from someplace “separate”, but as someone who also spent time in the swirling flood. With a humble, grateful heart, can I claim to offer thanks for the gift of suffering, if it allows me to be content to enter another’s humiliation? Is this a gift of love that we have to offer a hurting world? Can I say Thank You??

I know that all manner of good and important work is done because some of us have the resources and abilities to offer those who lack. This is a very good thing. And I believe that, as Christians, we also have been given certain, most likely unwelcome, gifts that allow us to offer a unique sort of love to those who are looking for it. The kind of love that comes only from being content to suffer (or to have suffered) the humiliation of becoming one of them.

I think of Peter, who brashly thought of himself as someone separate, unique — Even if everyone else goes, I will never fall away! he said – and was gently reminded of his desperate humanity by Jesus’ words to him: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have returned, strengthen your brothers.” Peter knew about temptation, about failure, about the humiliation of becoming one of them. He went on to write in his first letter, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer all kinds of grief. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith…may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” Even so, come, Lord Jesus. May I be content to let You be birthed in me.

Merry Christmas to all my dear friends and readers. Wishing you the truest riches of the grace of Christ, uniquely birthed in you.

part of our handmade folkart nativity

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Job said,

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”      -Job 1:21

I woke up this morning convinced that I would be able to smile again. I believed, in God’s mercy, the Bell’s Palsy would be gone and the muscles on half my face, which haven’t worked in 17 months, would be supple again, and spontaneously reflect the inner me to the outside world. The real me, a joyful me. Because we prayed last night. Real prayer, Holy Spirit prayer, boldly-approaching-the-throne-of-grace-in-faith-and-obedience prayer, laying on of hands with anointing by the elders prayer. But, no. The right half of my face is still twisted and unresponsive this morning, my eye still unblinking.

I know there is a temptation to question God – Why? Why me? Didn’t we pray right? Didn’t You promise?

Yet I find that my disappointment doesn’t translate into REAL doubting. I find my Hope and Faith stubbornly connected to something deep that I cannot name. Something deeper and more real than this life.

Our lovely Vermont is slowly getting back on its feet again after Hurricane Irene. Or, rather, back on its roads, which in Vermont is the same thing. The roads connect us, small towns and villages, through the green hills and wandering valleys. Crews have been working around the clock, dump trucks full of rock from the granite quarries rumble through town, going where the commercial trucks are temporarily prohibited from traveling, in order to drop their load at the feet of the giant yellow excavators. These in turn maneuver the great chunks of rock to rebuild the vanished riverbank and provide the foundation for a new roadbed. We were told initially that it would be months before the road from here to the NY border would be passable again, but this morning JR had to go into Rutland/Fair Haven, and the road was open all the way – jerkily and still one lane in many spots – and it has only been three weeks!  We rejoice!

For three weeks ago, Vermont was stripped bare, in too many, many places. Charming brooks, streams and rivers turned into raging brown torrents, scalping fields and woodlands. Rambling cornfields were laid flat, buried in thick muck and mud. Trees, large and small, were ripped away and smashed up against old wooden bridges, carrying them away in the deluge. Trestles, farms, bucolic valleys, erased. The pretty calendar-face of Vermont was changed, despoiled, and her lovely smile was gone. Quiet and peaceful pastoral scenes were replaced with ravaged miles of muck and debris; and the thick, choking smell of wet clay, in your mouth, in your nose… Constant sunshine seemed to mock her destitution, paralyzing for a moment our connection to what we had known, what we had taken for granted. Vermont suffered her own case of Bell’s Palsy.

For Vermonters depend on Vermont, it is part of what makes us, well, us. Losing her face is like losing her soul. At the same time, this disaster revealed something truer, deeper. The soul of her people. And her healing is happening, right here before my eyes. Power, communication and access restored; the newly homeless provided for; mud and debris being hauled away; grants and loans for reclamation and re-building made available, including folks to help with the process; businesses rallying and re-opening for the autumn tourist season; neighbors gathering with music, food and festivities… Yes, healing is happening. Vermont’s true face is being seen.

I continue to hope and pray that my face may be healed. And in the midst of my frustrations and loss I am slowly making friends with a deeper me, a face that the world may not see, but that I am coming to know. Standing in the aftermath of the devastation from Irene, confused and angry, I had to remember the words from Job: “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?”  What I see around me, this life, is not all there is. Indeed, it’s not even the most important part of what is. I have learned this with my face, and I see it in Vermont. Perhaps sometimes it takes separating us from what we take for granted as essential, maybe even a brutal stripping away, to allow a dearer, more naked truth to emerge. And isn’t this grace too?

Well may this body poorer, feebler grow!
It is undressing for its last, sweet bed;
But why should the soul, which death shall never know,
Authority, and power, and memory shed?
It is that love with absolute faith would wed;
God takes the inmost garments off his child,
To have him in his arms, naked and undefiled.
-George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul, 1880

cleaning flood-mud caked canning jars from a friend's cellar

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We woke up Monday morning to a perfect blue and green summer day.  Sky was crisp with brilliant puffy clouds, the air fresh and crystal clear, the song sparrow and phoebe having their usual friendly morning conversation.  Our power was out, so it was that eerie kind of quiet, and the rumble from the brook was still loud, but diminished from the night before.  The night before it roared and thundered and sounded like a million freight trains as trees and boulders and debris catapulted through the swirling brown torrent, and our flooding wasn’t too bad.  But now, it was a beautiful morning.

We brewed our coffee with our camp stove, and then decided to drive into town to find cell coverage to make some calls.  Where our brook cuts out to the main road and passes through culverts and under bridges – that was when we got our first glimpse of the destruction.  The road was simply gone in some places, cars slowly making their way past on one lane.  A neighbor’s driveway bridge was demolished – twisted and torn with logs and uprooted trees smashed against it.  Parts of the road were still awash with the brown, mucky water.

In town, the mood was somber, neighbors wandered in shock.  Eyes were glazed, expressionless, quiet comprehension dawning about the enormity of the devastation as folks learned of friends and loved ones whose homes had washed away, businesses flooded and torn apart, beloved historic covered bridges destroyed, some communities totally isolated from the rest of the world with all roads in or out impassable and with no phone or power.  The bright, clear blue sky and fresh, fresh air seemed bizarre, like wait a minute, aren’t you paying attention??!

on Route 12, Woodstock

Hurricane Irene ripped through Vermont, a state with stately green hills, pristine valleys, contented cows, and laced with charming brooks, streams and rivers,  turning those bubbling brooks into weapons and wreaking violence on the landscape. Even in those communities unaffected by the storm, everyone is traumatized by the incomprehensible magnitude of the damage.  It will be years, and maybe not even in our lifetime, before Vermont returns to “normal”.

Vermont’s Public Utilities Company knew the storm was coming, and crews from Texas, Illinois, Missouri, and Ontario had begun arriving by Saturday.  Before the rains had stopped, convoys were heading out as the calls came in.  Some crews were building their own roads to access power lines when town crews were busy elsewhere.  Power across the state has been restored in record time, crews working around the clock.  Within hours, road crews and heavy equipment volunteers were creating detours, making roads safe and passable, re-moving debris.  There is a long way to go, but the cooperation, willingness and determination to pitch in and get Vermont up and running again is evident in every single community.

It is uplifting to read of the many, many volunteers and small acts of kindness extended to neighbors and to strangers.  Well, no one is a stranger this week.  A notice is posted, and the town turns out with work-boots, leather gloves and shovels to help dig out the flooded elementary school.  A family with two middle-school boys riding in the back of their pick-up truck spends the day distributing water in 10-gallon plastic containers.  A man from out of town shows up, and walks the street with his shovel over his shoulder, looking for someone that could use a hand.  A woman on horseback volunteers to carry a bag of needed medicine across a swollen stream where the road is closed, delivering to someone she has never met.  Neighbors and strangers arrive to help a farmer milk his suffering cows by hand, for without power he cannot use his milking machine on his large herd.  A man with a dirt bike offers to take a young man he doesn’t know to check on his grandparents who are stranded far on the other side of a road which is no longer there, without power or phone. A mail person walks her impassable eight-mile route on foot to deliver her mail.  A Pastor visits the Red Cross shelter set up in the High School gym, just to sit and listen.  The stories and tears tumble out.

Vermont is a plucky state, and we will rebuild, and we will move on.  Yet the trauma and tragedy and devastation all around are real and leave their mark.  Vermonters celebrate their stubborn independence and gritty determination of self-sufficiency.  Yet to survive this trauma requires cooperation and receiving help in the midst of vulnerability.  Vermonters are strong.  Yet my prayer is that out of this tragedy may come the kind of brokenness that leads to a yielded strength, the honest sort of humility that Jesus finds precious.  I’d like to share something my beloved JR wrote, as he absorbs the physical violence done to our beautiful towns, and considers the violence that has been done to his own soul many long years ago:

Over time, I have made an on-going choice to stay in Vermont despite the normal hardships associated with long, harsh winters and short growing seasons.  The difficulties are predictable and expected, and my capacity for resiliency and adaptation and creativity have been stretched and deepened in ways that softer locales would not call for.  But this…  This is an assault, and my simplicity and innocence have been violated.  The sense of calm and rest that I draw from so deeply each late summer has been cut off in violence.  Suddenly, I am older in an unwelcome and surreal way, and my capacity to trust in old hills is shaken beyond counting.  Visible sorts of daily graces, the kind derived from living in beauty, have become grotesque.  It would appear that, if I am to again rest within at all, that Something more solid yet than Creation must be sought and found. 

Nickel Mines was a horrible and senseless violation of a beautiful and innocent community.  But there was a perpetrator with a face, someone who could be held responsible and then forgiven.  But this…  I don’t have access to the grace that comes from finding forgiveness, because there is no one with a face to be responsible or forgive.

The images and videos of the wreckage and loss are a graphic of damage already sustained over long years in the otherwise calm water of my soul.  What now is seen has been so, without exaggeration, for a lifetime.  When is something beyond repair, and who decides to make the call that others must then live with?

All the famous attributes of gritty determination and stoic pluck are enemies of what is being revealed beneath and within.  Ancient road beds are undermined, familiar ways of traveling are impassible, and a new and living way must be found – or else being an island, isolated and cut off, is a fresh and selfish choice; anger and defiance the only tenants.




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