Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘grace’

The day after, Vermont residents watch in shock as water threatens the dam in Windsor

Every American who was alive at the time remembers where they were and what they were doing on November 22, 1963.  We remember, too,  exactly where we were on September 11, 2001.  And for Vermonters, we remember the day Irene came to town.

One year ago today, we were hauling in deck chairs and taking down dead trees in our little wood, preparing for the high winds that were predicted to be heading our way as Hurricane Irene barreled up the east coast.  The big winds never really amounted to much, but it rained.  and rained.
Vermont is  small state with a big body of water on either side: Lake Champlain to the west and the mighty Connecticut River to the east.  The lovely Green Mountains run down the middle of the state, and hundreds of beautiful streams flow down the mountains in all directions, draining away snowmelt and rainwater into the larger rivers and out to the ocean.  Vermont’s 250 towns lie along these streams, roads following the natural course of the green valleys.  When the rains of Irene hit, our already soaked landscape couldn’t absorb another drop, and the streams were overwhelmed with the torrential run-off that tore through every village and took away roads, forests, bridges, houses, farmland and the face of Vermont.  On August 28, one year ago, we were aware of the rain pelting outside, but had no idea of the magnitude of the destruction that was going on down the road.

Water Rising

Residents watch as their home washes away in Killington

Hillary Mullins, a writer from Bethel, VT, posted an article in an online local newsletter, Seven Days, describing her Irene experience.  I’ve shortened her essay for my post; you can read her full essay here.

WHEN IRENE CAME

When Irene first arrived — not as a hurricane but as a tropical storm — she didn’t seem so significant after all. The rain started Saturday night, and, yes, it came steady, but around here we’ve all seen rain like that before.  A thunderstorm hits, creating a flash flood in one area.

But even though we knew all this, even though we knew the land here is all ridges and river valley, brooks and streams pouring down from everywhere to merge, uniting in the river that runs through our village, we didn’t know the power of what was running at the level of our feet. We didn’t know what could happen if all those little waters — not just some here or there — began to rise….

A cubic foot of water weighs a little over 60 pounds, and 60 pounds on 60 pounds countless times meant the beast was unleashed and the waters were going where they wanted. Two miles up Gilead, the brook was the size of a river by noon, and what once was road became river, and what once was meadow became gully, 30 feet wide, all churning water and torn-up trees.

Finally, around midafternoon, I heard the news that Gilead was flooded and that, over on the other side of the River Street Bridge, they were flooded, too. But still I didn’t understand… I called my brother. He was working a long weekend shift at a milk plant up in St. Albans. His road home, he said, was supposed to flood later on that night.

“I’m on ’til nine,” he said, “but guess I’ll leave at eight, seven-thirty if I can.”

“Why not leave now?” I asked. “It’s only milk.”

Then I called to check on my two friends who live in a house this side of the River Street Bridge, the town side. When they didn’t pick up, I worried, but I didn’t panic. I decided I would do some cooking and try them again in a little while. I didn’t know that already, just a few miles down the road, a husband and wife had been running through their barn, desperately trying to unhitch their cows as the river came pouring in, trying to move the animals — many of which they’d raised from calves — to safety. Twenty-five were swept away by the water. Somebody downriver saw one go by.

I didn’t know, but all over town, all over whole swaths of Vermont, the same thing was happening: streams and brooks and rivers swelling to huge and terrible dimensions, churning like furies through the landscape and taking everything in their path: trees, roads, houses, trucks. Toys, tires, sofas, stoves.

Me, I was making ratatouille. Slice the eggplant, salt it, let it stand…I tried my friends over on River Street a second time. No answer. I sliced the squash, the onions, the garlic. Put in basil. And then, just as it was getting dark, the power went out.

I brought the emergency candles out, made sure I had matches on hand. I called my brother. “Just pulling into the driveway!” he said. “I’m home.” I went out.  This is when I began to know. But it was just a start. A few hundred yards down the sidewalk, I looked north through the trees, down onto … the kids’ playing fields, a large stretch of land. The ball and soccer fields weren’t there. Only lake was there. And I could not see where that lake ended…But, those fields were not a lake: They now were part of the river, and all the river was moving, and, though I didn’t know this because I couldn’t see it from where I stood, over on the main road north of my house, that river was running through the place we call the Dented Can Store and running through the plumber’s shop behind it, and running through the house of the woman who manages our post office; the river running a quarter of a mile beyond its usual banks through the fields and over the road and onto the other side, coursing through house after house, overtaking even the front row of the trailer park, shoving people’s trailers right off their moorings. And those people were lucky. Somebody else’s trailer washed away. Folks over on the other side of town saw it go under the River Street Bridge.

The next morning, the morning after the flood, was strangely lovely, a perfectly sunny and soft, end-of-summer day. All over our town, people were waking up and seeing what would have to be done. Roads and sidewalks and driveways were gone, entire fields layered under two feet of mud. This side of the River Street Bridge, their house thankfully spared, my friends were shoveling soggy bedding up out of the goat pen. On the other side of the River Street Bridge, neighbors were lining up to help the people whose places were wrecked, carrying out chairs and tables, armfuls of coats and books.

So far, the recovery bill is $733 million.  And we’re still rebounding, all over the state.  There are still many in temporary housing, farmers who have lost their livelihood, some roads still unpassable.  Repairs on both of our local covered bridges won’t be completed for another 12 months.  We have to drive a long way around to get into certain parts of town.  But one of the things that made the tragedy of Irene remarkable was the way that communities, in every part of the state, pulled together.

Our Covered Bridge

FLOOD BOUND:

There were many towns completely cut-off from the outside world; isolated islands, every road in or out was washed away, power and phone lines gone.  One such town tells its story, as Marion Adams, an Emmy nominated videographer and resident of the little town of Pittsfield,  reveals how the tragedy changed her home town and the people in it, in her documentary entitled Flood Bound.    Along with 36 residents of Pittsfield, she tells the story of rallying to overcome adversity, the building up of a community, of how isolation and ancient grudges were healed in the aftermath of the storm.  It is a very personal, compelling story — the result of a community pulling together, described as “the best kind of disaster you could have”.  As neighbor unselfconsciously helps neighbor, the final comment on the tragedy, in the words of one local resident,

If humanity could be like this, there would be nothing wrong with this world.”   Indeed.

 

((The documentary FLOOD BOUND was aired last weekend on Vermont Public Television,and is currently only available on DVD,   but THESE CLIPS are certainly worth watching!))

ONE YEAR LATER, and now another hurricane, Isaac, is bearing down on New Orleans, having already lashed Haiti, leaving devastation in its wake.  I struggle, maybe like many of us, with the images of the horror of so many tragedies on our planet.  And struggle, too, maybe like many other Vermonters, who might just be a little bit self-congratulatory about our own heroic response to our own flood trauma, and squirm when we must ask ourselves “Who, really, is my neighbor?”

 “What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied, “How do you read it?” 

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”    But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Tent City in Port-au-Prince after Isaac

Who is my Neighbor?

 

Read Full Post »

I just want to be clear – I have nothing against bugs for the most part.  In fact I generally find insects very fascinating and typically have my little bug lab going on my kitchen counter all summer long.  Beloved JR says he doesn’t mind, really.

I guess I come by this this interest naturally – my grandmother was an entomologist, even discovering a new species of colembolla, which was named after her.  She got married before she finished her doctoral thesis, though, which, in those days, in 1915, was the end of that.  I will probably write more of her another time – she was a spritely character.

So, bugs.  I watch them.  I watch them hatch, I watch them eat, I watch them poop, I watch them mate, I watch them lay eggs.  I also squish them, when necessary.  I carry my ‘bug bucket’ with me into the garden (maybe another post on this, too, one of my can’t-go-without garden tools) and don’t hesitate to handpick any manner of bug that is abusing my perennials.

EXCEPT Tomato Hornworms.     I HATE Tomato Hornworms.

These grotesque creatures are the most camouflaged creepy insect, and you never, NEVER see them before you almost touch them.  Enough to make you jump right out of your skin.

I’ve learned to look for the signs, like de-nuded branches and half-nibbled baby green tomatoes and the tell-tale little black droppings on the leaves below.  I’ve learned to search assiduously – before I begin picking the fruit, so as not to be surprised.  When I find the critters, hiding in plain sight along a little leafy branch, I can’t bear to touch the icky things – besides, they cling tenaciously to the branch and it becomes a tug-of-war.  So, I pull out my handy garden nippers, hold the bug bucket underneath, and just snip off enough of the branch so that the whole thing – worm, twig and all – drops Plunk! into the sudsy water.  Easy-peasy.

Unless, after harvesting at least half a dozen juvenile-sized hornworms, and double-searching to make certain you haven’t overlooked any, you begin to pick the ripened tomatoes – even popping a plump red cherry one in your mouth, warm & juicy & delicious like nothing but a fresh ripe tomato can be – when POP! There is the Mother-of-all-hornworms right at your nose!  *** S H R I E K ***

When I finally caught my breath, I was able to comprehend that there was no way this huge hornworm and the branch on which she(?) was hiding would even fit in my little bucket.  It would require a different sort of mega-method.  And I couldn’t even bring myself to imagine what that might be, I was still trying to keep my stomach from turning inside out.

That’s when I called over my personal handy Hero.  To my knowledge he has never worn a cape, but my beloved JR obliges me by dispatching troublesome little rodentia and slimey rotting watermelon with equal chivalry, and he was willing to help out this damsel in distress.

I was handing him my clippers to remove the whole branch, when he suddenly reached in and took hold of that revolting monster with his bare hand.  I. FREAKED. OUT.  By the time I quit flapping around and had stopped hyper-ventilating I was half-way across the yard and JR had already successfully wrestled the beast into oblivion.  I’m so thankful he wasn’t laughing, because non-violent, peace-loving me might have punched him one.  What he did was, he came over to where I was twitching and emitting rapid little squeaks, and wrapped his big arms around me and said, “I’m sorry.  Next time I’ll warn you to look away first.”

It took a few moments to calm down.  Quite a few.  This morning, warily cleaning out under the overgrown daylilies, I actually picked up a slimy slug with my fingers and deposited him into the trusty bug pot.  And I gently remembered yesterday, and JR, and I smiled; and I thought of how God looks on my irrational fears, and His arms are always there too.  But I haven’t been back to the tomato patch.  Maybe I don’t even need to put up any more sauce this year anyway.

“Do not be afraid of sudden fear…For the Lord will be your confidence.” (Prov.3:25)

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

bountiful Bee Balm

I need to eliminate my monarda.

Wait, that’s not exactly accurate. I WANT to eliminate my monarda.

No, wait again.  If I don’t eliminate my monarda, I’ll be sorry.

I was happy to plant it, seventeen or so years ago, when I was first putting in the perennial border garden. I was digging up whatever looked like a flower struggling to survive in the overgrowth that was the yard at that time. We had just moved into our old farmhouse, vacant for the past decade, and I was trying to make sense of what I found growing under the tangle and trying to create order from the chaos.  I adore the scent and the burst of pure passion of these firework flowers.  I carefully transplanted a small clump and nursed it to vitality, adding more and more perennials to my new garden. Most of the plants were stragglers I found buried in the weedy tangle of the old gardens and others were gifts from friends who were cleaning out and dividing old plants and more than happy to share with me.

Do you know what sorts of plants your friends divide and are happy to give away?? Those that are invasive and have begun to take over their own gardens! I was glad to receive anything at all, so merrily planted monarda, lysimachia, campanula, evening primrose….

I was new to flower gardening, actually, and had a lot to learn.  I soon learned that these pretty plants wanted to take over the world.  They sneakily send out their tendrils beneath the surface in every direction, popping up new plants in the most unexpected places, like in the middle of the iris patch, or between stones in the garden pathway, or under the clothesline.  Too late I learned that if I pulled up the wayward plant like a weed, ten more would spring up from the remaining roots.  Now my beautiful, sparkling magenta monarda is simply TOO MUCH and has gone TOO  FAR, invading EVERYTHING!  I’ve tried everything I can think of to contain it , and now must do something drastic.

I don’t like to admit that I have harbored invasive tendencies in my soul as well.  Nurtured and nourished secret demands and judgments and vows that started out, perhaps,  in response to a hurt or an unmet need of my own.  Unspoken, unvoiced and unknown even to myself, but powerful nontheless:   I deserve your attention and understanding; if you slight me, I will unloose an arrow of unkindness from my lips to pierce your soul….   If you hurt me like that again, I will withdraw from you in cold silence….   I am so disappointed, and you can be sure you will know it.
Yesterday I had a fight with my beloved JR.   Well, it wasn’t truly a fight, but we hurt each other.  We didn’t intend to; but we didn’t intend NOT to, either.  Our tender places and prides got in the way.

I was impatient with disappointment — he said he would do something and didn’t follow through.  At least not on my timetable.  My good longings got tangled up with gnarly roots of disappointment and impatience, and what sprouted wasn’t pretty.  He was hurt, and I was hurt, and  thus we experienced yet another opportunity for repentance and grace.  After 30+ years of marriage, we have faced plenty of such opportunities, and have learned the art of the “Do-Over”.    But ‘Why, O Lord?  Why do I do what I don’t want to do, and fail to do what I truly want to do??’  I deeply love this man, and DON’T want to hurt him.  Haven’t I tugged at these same old roots enough?  Haven’t I tried diligently to eradicate these old tendencies?  Disappointments happen, but unkind impatience is not a lovely response!

I’m so grateful for the Spirit of Christ, who forgives both me and JR equally and equips us to say “I’m sorry, I don’t want to hurt you.  Let’s try that again.”  But:  Am I grateful for the keen opportunity to experience this amazing grace, yet again?  If all  these ugly old roots were expunged, maybe, yes, I would be happier and nicer to live with.  But would I miss the sweet aroma of grace?  Would I perhaps slide into smugness and a different kind of pride?

Meanwhile, my Bee Balm invades my Baptisia, and I don’t know what else to do except dig up the entire garden and replant ONLY the non-spreading perennials.  But, dilemma:  I LIKE the Bee Balm, and I would miss the wonderful aroma and the butterflies and hummingbirds it attracts. What in the world did Eve do in the Garden of Eden??!

Read Full Post »