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Archive for the ‘#3 – seasons’ Category

JR at OBX

JR meditating at the edge of the ocean
Outer Banks of North Carolina

Why, I’m wondering, is it so difficult to.  just.  stop.  We’re winding down our wonderful vacation week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and I’m finally winding down myself.

Our very first morning, waking up to the sun rising over the crashing blue and white surf just off our bedroom deck —  I quickly wrapped myself in a soft fleece blanket against the brisk dawn ocean breeze, grabbed a pair of binoculars and plopped myself down on the deck, watching the gulls & pelicans & willets along the shore.  There was one figure – a man I think – with two dogs, far down the beach.  I watched a small doe, likely whitetail, make her way along the dunes until she gently ambled out of sight far to the south.  My heart skipped when I glimpsed a plume of spray offshore –  first thought = Whale!!  But then realized it was simply a pelican, dive-bombing for breakfast.  As I watched the big bird on the water through the binoculars, my eye caught a playful pod of dolphins, also cruising for their meal.  The sun, rising higher, spread gold across the misty morning horizon.  What else, what else?

I was watching all this quiet liveliness against the backdrop of constant ocean roar, and suddenly realized how busy I was inside — seeing, naming, scanning, searching ….

How automatic and natural that internal pace:  Looking for the next thing before I’m done noticing the present.  Even remembering ‘I’m on Vacation!  Time to quiet down inside!’  only underscores the reality.  I recognize that this internal pace is my own creation — my response to always more that needs/should/can/ought  to be done.  My list is long, my obligations scattered among the many hats I wear in our unscheduled, people-oriented life, not to mention caring for an old rambling farmhouse and keeping up with overflowing gardens.  Internally, I’m usually two steps ahead of myself, organizing and anticipating and tryingtogetajumponthings in my mind.  Funny though, that in the land of the living I move slow, quite slow, and transitions and disruptions are unsettling set-backs to my careful order.

Bundled on the  deck with my blanket in that early warming sunshine with the sky and the sea spreading out forever, I didn’t realize how thoroughly I carry my internal channel with me until I tried. to. stop.   And just be.   And not process anything, but simply pause, present to the unfolding day.

In the middle of the week — during one of our unambitious strolls down the endless and nearly deserted beach, there was a young family out for the day.  Dad was building sand castles with one small male child, while the other – a skinny, dark-haired boy of 5 or 6, was playing at the edge of the surf, mother nearby watching with protective amusement.  This seemed to be the boy’s first encounter with the sea – he was giddy with excitement – squealing and dancing and skipping and charging the waves and darting away again with screaming delight.  He was absolutely and thoroughly absorbed in the thrill, oblivious to mother, father, brother, seagulls, us, as he pranced on his tiptoes chasing back and forth the foaming edges of the surf.

I thought, how long has it been since I’ve been like such a child….abandoned to the simple, profound joy of being alive?  I can’t recall such a thing.  Perhaps never.  Certainly not in my anxious and terrified childhood.  Even now, strolling along the beach with nothing to do but breathe in the glorious fresh air, I can’t seem to resist the compulsion to stoop and pick up and organize the smooth, pretty bits of shell that catch my eye.  White ones today; purple and gray ones tomorrow; then pale orange ones next.  The black shells, I’ll wait for another year.  (Right.  I really think like this?!)  I certainly can’t enter that precious, un-self-conscious freedom while rabidly organizing my next task.

The struggle surfaced again while lazing in the hot-tub that evening.  Now — this is the first time, ever, that JR and I have intentionally taken such a vacation, with one goal:  To Relax.  We deliberately chose a place with no family and few people; lacking touristy attractions; miles of nothing to distract or stimulate; with broad expanses that invite rest; and with a hot-tub overlooking the ocean.  The plan was simple — sleep, eat, soak, walk on the beach, and sleep some more.  So, soaking there in the hot-tub at sunset, sky turning pink and lavender and waves glowing peach as they tumbled with lazy reach onto the shore, we mused together about faithfulness and idleness.  Relaxing in that hot tub, with NO ministry objective, felt unfaithful, self-indulgent, too close to sinful in fact.  Using up resources just to pamper ourselves, total unproductive idleness, especially when there is so much need in the world …. this is supreme selfishness, right?  This mantra is a relentless master.  And an unhelpful one.

For over the course of our short week at the beach, slowly opening ourselves to be aware of the present moment only and allowing ourselves to sink into the enjoyment of that as a gift, we began to discover, both of us, the response to our inner quieting was a deeper sense of worship.  There was no effort for ‘morning devotions’ in order to draw close to God; the growing stillness and presence in my heart seemed enough to allow more room for Him.  And we learned, JR and I together, the beauty of that kind of faithfulness.  For it takes a far greater Trust and Dependence to allow the ‘Blessed Controller’ to actually be in charge and to intentionally receive each moment as a blessing.  The temptation is to try to wrest satisfaction, safety and sense of purpose from life as if that were faithfulness.  The quiet and peace in my heart, today, is very different from the frenetic joy of my first morning at the beach.

Now, re-entering Real Life, taking up again the lists and obligations, we are gently trying to remind each other that it is really OK to continue breathing deeply, and to let each moment unfold.  My challenge will be to remember to abide here.  A handful of bits of colored shell, memories of the hot-tub and dancing at the edge of the surf  will be happy companions on this journey.

hot tub at the OBX

Ahhh

glass of shells=1

Just a bit of the beach

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I’m fretting about my lavender.  This has not been a typical winter, and I don’t even need my high boots to walk through the garden, let alone snowshoes, which by this time of the season are, normally, pretty much de rigueur.  These temps and snowfall seem to belong, maybe, in North Carolina, or perhaps Connecticut, but certainly not Vermont.  By now, it should be warmer in my freezer than outdoors, and I should require snowshoes to fill the bird feeders, and my parka should have its big furry hood zippered on for the winter.  But none of that has been necessary so far.  There are only a few inches of snow on the ground, and the temperatures will get above freezing again today and tomorrow, and for the rest of the week.  For the sake of my lavender, I hope things change…. I hope REAL winter comes soon.

Deep snow cover and consistent cold temperatures (by cold, I mean below freezing) are necessary to keep the lavender, and other non-zone-4- hardy plants, from heaving their roots.  Without the protection of a good layer of snow, if the ground begins to thaw and then re-freezes, and maybe does that several times, the roots of non-hardy plants will loosen in the soil and the nutrients will be pulled up into the thawed stems.  By spring the plant will likely be dead.  In my zone, it’s a good rule-of-thumb to cover these non-hardy plants with leaves or pine branches once the ground first freezes, but I have come to rely on, besides finding the best protected spot for my lavender, our winter weather to do the job for me.   I’ve lost many lavender plants over the years, but this one has survived, grown big and sprawly and generous, and I love it.  So, this year, with no winter so far to speak of, I’m worried about my lavender.

early morning thornbush

Once, as a young girl, some small grief had me undone, it seemed, to the depth and core of my being.  I don’t remember the incident, I wish I did, but it was some matter of injustice I’m sure.  I was a sensitive child (exquisitely sensitive, I now say…) and was deeply troubled by things that weren’t right.  My father found me weeping — I would go into his study and curl up in his big leather chair when I needed a good cry — and he did what he usually did when he found me there.  He simply sat quietly next to me and didn’t say a word.  Sometimes he would stroke my head, but not very often.  Mostly he just sat, as if he already understood.  When my shoulders stopped heaving and the sobs turned to heavy sighs, he would only say, “are you better now?” and his strength and warmth and kindness and the faint smell of his pipe tobacco would seem like the best hug in the world, and then I was okay again to go back out and face the world.

But this one time, I was aware of how keenly I was upset; and I recognized that my siblings and classmates, well, everybody else for that matter,  didn’t seem to ever become as thoroughly distressed as I often did.  Something must be wrong with me, I figured.  Something broken. This I remember: I wailed,  Daddy, how come I get like this??

My father could be a fierce person, very scary.  I didn’t always recognize his love, but I think I always recognized his wisdom. This time, his answer was gentle.   Because you have a deep soul, he said.  You feel everything more deeply.  It is not a bad thing, because it means you can feel joy more deeply too.  And I knew he was right.  He took me to the window, and we looked out on the bare winter trees and the snow on the ground, and the gray winter sky.  He said to me,  It is winter now,  cold and dark.  But summer will always come.   There are many seasons, but there is only one sun.  You may feel the depths of many things, but you have only one heart to feel them with. 

For my lavender, a good winter is necessary for strong blooms in the coming summer.  I wish us all the joy of blooming.

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was within me an invincible summer.”  Albert Camus.

in my backyard, winter as it should be...

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Do you ever have moments where delirious joy just bubbles up and takes over? Your chest is barely big enough to contain your heart? Worship and praise tumble out without words but sound a lot like laughter? It surprised me this morning…. Gladness simply from being alive.

I was sitting in my morning chair on the porch, sunshine on my face, my eyes closed, listening to the family of phoebe’s babbling away, the cardinal boasting from the top of the oak, and suddenly the quiet breeze carried a thrush song from down in the woods, beautiful and eerie. At the same time the breeze brought the sweet scent of the newly opening Concha d’Or lilies and when I breathed deep to take in that spectacular, powerful perfume, heaven came with. I was aware of all the senses, from the taste of warm coffee to the sun to the songs and smells, and it overwhelmed me with joy. Moments before I had been praying for dear friends and family, and my cheek was still wet from a few shed tears. The sun magnified the passion on my cheek and in my heart. More than my body could contain.

This brief moment this morning stirred me with wonderment. I remember hanging clothes on the line yesterday, stretching wet sheets in the hot sun, and heard myself belting out the refrain “I-EE-Yie will always love You-oo-ou”. I most certainly didn’t rival Whitney, or dear Dolly, but in God’ ears I’m confident it was pleasing. (One reason I’m grateful we don’t have near neighbors out here in the countryside☺) Sometimes I can’t help but sing hymns while I’m working around the house — especially hanging out clothes, for some reason. Praise and thanksgiving and unexpected joy just happens. And this morning with the sun on my face, I marvel at the miracle.

Because, not so many years ago, I was curled up in a ball, terrified to be alive, terrified to be with people, terrified to wake up in the morning, and I had two young children. Chronic depression and anxiety had been with me all my life, and really didn’t know any other way to experience being alive. Sadness and exhaustion and emptiness was normal, but I managed to keep up appearances. How JR suffered for me and with me….

My anguish was a daily prayer and cry to God: Why?? Help me help me. I had tried to commit suicide several times in the past, mostly a scream for help I understand now. Receiving the truth and person of Jesus Christ had probably saved my life, literally, and provided Hope. There was One who loved me. Yet, still I battled the depression. I curled up with the Scriptures, especially the Psalms, and let Jesus be my Counselor. At the bottom, at the worst time, my only lifeline seemed to be clinging to Psalm 27: “I would have despaired, unless I believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord…” I clung on, and waited. Hope was my only hope in the midst of my despair. I WILLED myself to believe that, someday, in my life, I would see and know God’s goodness.

I believe now it was the Holy Spirit herself, willing within me, and moving mountains. Courageous intervention from friends, medication, finally enough sense of safety to be willing to share my story and ask for help, all these things aided to bring me up out of the pit. And set me on a high place. A place where quiet joy is a true habitation. Where I enjoy simple things and find myself singing in the sunshine. or the rain.  Where the bounty of the earth brings deep satisfaction. Where the Holy Spirit continues to enliven and surprise me. Where the companionship of Jesus is rich and real.

I am humbled in my joy this morning to remember something the Vicar said in Les Miserables: “The most beautiful of altars,” said he, “is the soul of an unhappy man who is comforted, and thanks God.” Sometimes, the gratitude bubbles up out of nowhere and takes me by surprise.

Clematis & Star Gazers

single yellow Hollyhocks

Lovely scented Lily

Black Raspberry

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