Underneath The Rubbish

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Words.

They can be such flimsy, wasteful things on the one hand and killer knife blades on the other. I run to the backyard where I seek refuge amongst the sticks and stones.
No one sees tears here.

So much has fallen down this winter. Tree branches. The arbor. Me.

I climb over the dead christmas tree to get at some of the branches wedged between the fence posts. Some of the limbs prove too heavy for me to move to the burn pile. I will need the chainsaw.

I break smaller branches over my knee. The crack of the dried wood echos my own heart’s cry as I muscle my way through the mess of things here on the ground. We have all messed it up so badly, I think.

I have messed it up so badly.

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The knife edge of winter is still present in the spring breeze and I pace the yard to keep warm. There is so much to clean up I don’t know where to begin. I turn circles in the yard and in the twilight I see a little white orb blooming underneath winter’s rubbish. A dark countenance shrouds the petals trying to break through broken things.

There are just six of them. They look like jewelry. Delicate. Refined. Exquisitely white.

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No one.
No one but God Himself knew they were there.
Now I do.

I kneel down in my sorrow of a day gone south and push aside the dead things, and suddenly the words that spat in the kitchen only moments ago fracture and fall into an ash heap. Kneeling precedes repentance and, as I free one of the blooms from the clutches of a dead leaf, I hear His still, small voice whispering to me: This is you. 

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My vision blurs.
I gently wipe the dirt from these littlest of flowers and I smile because truth doesn’t always shout loud. Sometimes it comes softly, slowly like a petal opening up after a long hard winter.

It is in this moment God wipes the dirt off of me.

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Mud

I look out the window and there are flurries. Again.

My wool coat hangs close by in the closet.

I am still wearing gloves.

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The snowbanks edging the front lawn are covered in sand; small dirt mountains that pockmark the landscape. These dirt mounds line the sidewalks and fill the lot across the street washing the view from my front door in a brown blur.

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It seems like nothing ever changes. Everyday, when I look out the window I think the whole place is in need of a good scrubbing. My town is wearing her ugly dress.

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But, I am blind.

Blind to evidence….hidden evidence forming underneath the dirt-crusted snow. I cannot see it but I can hear it..the faint trickle of water somewhere. I stand quiet along the road like I’m in Narnia when someone says, “‘The witch’s magic is weakening.” And  (like) Lucy felt that deep shiver of gladness that you only get if you are being solemn and still.”

It is not until days later that I see what has been happening beneath the surface of things.
I see the evidence of water doing its work.
I see mud.

I am Lucy’s Edward when he realizes the spell of of the white witch has been broken and winter loosens its grasp for good.

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“All around them, though out of sight, there were streams chattering, bubbling, splashing and even (in the distance) roaring. And his heart gave a great leap (though he hardly knew why) when he realised that the frost was over.”

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The man sits in the road, just another part of the landscape in another place and another time where nothing ever changes. He hears, but he does not see. He was brought forth from the blackness of the womb only to remain in the dark. No blinding lights here. No squinting baby in his mother’s arms. That day he became destined for beggary.

But…God. But…mud.

The man hears voices.  He hears the word, Rabbi. The voices are asking this rabbi if he, the man, low and in the dirt, is a sinner. Or was it the sins of his mom and dad that kept the light from coming into his eyes?

As if all suffering must be the result of a wrong choice.

The man isn’t a novelty. Lots of blind people seem to show up alongside the road when this rabbi is around. Part of the furniture, really, the way these guys are talking like he’s deaf, too.

But, this rabbi didn’t step into the blue planet to make a connection with wood and nails.

Instead, He embraced wood and nails to make a connection with the broken flesh of humanity.

The Ancient of Days Person turns to a made-from-the-dust-person, connecting with the man face-to-face, sighted eye to blinded eye, getting low to the ground where the broken and blind live, and, with His back to his friends, He divides their very souls and marrow with these words.

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“It was neither that this man sinned,nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Then He makes mud.
Spit and dirt.
He smears it over the man’s eyes.
He dirties him up and then He tells him to go wash.

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See,  blind person, Jesus is Lord of all creation.

He is Lord of all the dirt and grime and muddied up places.

And He is Lord of the cleaning up.

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This is where we see the works of God. When we, the blind, the broken, the loneliest of lonelies, are changed from being just a part of the furniture, no longer not seen, but seen and see-ing.
We are known and we now know.

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It is only a holy connection with wood and nails that could accomplish this sort of thing.

Yes, we’ve been sin-dirtied. We’ve had mud smeared on us, but we’ve had a proper washing up and now His Spring is displayed in us.

We embrace mud season because we know it points to a promise.

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This is Easter.

The Right Complaint

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The complaint lies like a scratchy, woolen, too-heavy-for-comfort blanket over the landscape.

This New England, a place known for its blizzards and hurricanes, scrapes skin and emotions raw when the cold bites hard and long. Another round of snow, another slippery drive, another delivery of oil smacks hard against the weather weary.

Complaint becomes the language spoken here.

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There are two kinds of complaint that can spring forth from a man.

The first, and perhaps the most prevalent, grows in the soil of discontent.
It is the kind that believes a long line at the grocery store is an affront to our convenience and paying our dues at work or school, or life, is an injustice.
It is the kind that takes the weather personally.

The complainer’s theme song is entitled:

Why Me?
Why am I so cold? Why am I so hot?
Why do I have to park in the furthest parking lot?
Why are lines too long…they are such a pain.
Why do my white walls still instragram the stains?

Why me? Why me?
What did I do to deserve this sort of thing?
Afterall, I’m following Jesus, who is my heavenly king.
Why me? Why me?
I worked so hard all week, I have so many kids.
You’re asking me to serve?
Looks like I already did.

Why is she so skinny? Why is he so lean?
Why can’t I have at least one pair of pricey jeans?
Why can’t I have the upgrade? Is it five or number six?
Who will pay my tab if I get in a fix?

Why me? Why me?
What did I do to deserve this sort of thing?
Afterall, I’m following Jesus, who is my heavenly king.
Why me? Why me?
I want my kids in Gap, I need the latest phone.
You’re asking me to give?
I’m sorry, I gave at home.

It’s the Dawning of the Age of Entitlement, Age of Entitlement..

In the age of entitlement there are no sick kids, or broken down cars, or never-ending cold snaps, or serving in obscurity in the toddler room or the cleaning ministry. It’s the farmhouse sink, the cool blog, the prominent position. Like, Like, Like.

Yet, entitlement is just another filter to mask discontent.

Dislike.

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The second kind of complaint is actually a lament that germinates in the soil of belief.

It is a sort of holy complaint.
The complaint isn’t just about something, but a complaint to Someone.

Whereas ungratefulness and discontent are attached to the entitled complainer, it is Hope that is attached to the holy complainer. Hope cloaks this kind of complaint with the belief that God is not only listening, but He will act on our behalf because He is just that good.

What good father would refuse comfort to his child that screams, “Daddy, how long is this going to hurt? Make it go away!”

The hopeful lamenter believes that God is the author and finisher of his life. He believes that underneath the pain, the inconvenience and the obscurity lies an opportunity to see His majesty.

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March winds howl hard through the trees of our winter of discontent.
It happens every year, this last blast of north winds. It is the expected way of things in this part of the world, yet still we complain.

So what do we do when we are scraped to the bone, peeling and feeling abandoned in a white-on-white, winter weary season of hard things?

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We stand, we lie down, we moan with the psalmist:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

How long will my soul be in winter, O God? When will you come with your Spring?

The psalmist’s complaint to God is an admission of belief.

It is the posture of turning toward God, not away from Him, just like the child crying out in pain or confusion moves toward his father because really he believes his father will do something good.

An entitled complainer throws his hands up in despair muttering, “Seriously?”
The psalmist complainer throws his hands up in surrender saying,

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

Asking God to consider and answer implies belief that He will do so.

This kind of holy complainer stands against the March winds with hunched shoulders and frozen tears and says,

O’ Spring, though snow’s crust lay hard over thy field,
It’s simply God’s timing when winter must yield,
To the strength of your bud and your widening of  green
To the fragrance of lilies that wash over me. 

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This Lenten season I am seeing how Jesus embraced the winter of His soul as He walked toward the cross.

He, too, was a holy lamenter that day: “Father, my Father, why have You forsaken Me?”

Yet, for the joy set before Him, He endured the harshness of the wood and nails, the cruel winds of an enemy’s lies. He, the only One truly entitled, laid down His entitlement because He knew His spilled blood was about to bring forth an eternal Spring for you and for me.

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A Better Fifty This Valentine’s Day

The number fifty.

It stands for deliverance, for freedom.
God’s chosen number that cuts chains, breaks bonds.

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God declared it so.
That every fiftieth year His people would be released from their debt. Land would be returned to the rightful owners.

You were free to start over. Nobody was holding anything over you. Nobody was tying you down.

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It wasn’t enough for God to relieve your burden. To release you. To wipe away your shame. God declared a party. It’s as if He was saying, “Go ahead…laugh, rejoice, and do it all year long!”
This is Jubilee.

The number fifty.

God’s chosen number of days between the Resurrection and Pentecost.
Fifty days after Jesus breaks through the ultimate bondage; death, the Holy Spirit comes to empower us to live radically good. To step into the nobility we were meant for.

Yet, we are so easily ensnared.

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We have the keys.

But when we forget what we were made for; when we lose our way because we have decided to put away our compass, we actually believe that being tied down is a good thing.

We forget it was just a couple of years ago we wretched in our guts at the realization that three girls, tied down for another man’s pleasure, were hidden right under our noses. That year we feared for our daughters. This year we lend them our books.

We live in shades and shadows that make their own proclamation: that pain and chains and ropes and whips can bring us a pleasure we never thought possible. Human trafficking puts on cologne and a tie and the girl gives consent. Come this Valentine’s Day so many of our lovely, lovely girls will believe that consensual means everything is okay.

A young woman pumps her fist in the air when another fifty, shadowed and grey, shows up during the big football game. I watch as she turns to look at the middle-aged women sitting behind her to see what they will do as she shouts, “Ye-ah” when a different Christian comes on the screen. She whispers in the boy’s ear in whose lap she sits as the camera slides past a woman’s thigh and the closeness of it captures the tiny hairs shimmering gold.

It’s a beautiful shot.

Then…what looks like a riding crop meets girl skin.
And it’s oh so funny to the lovely young lady sitting in front of me.
I wonder what scars she could receive come this Valentine’s Day after dinner and a movie.

The enemy of our souls is a thief. He steals our hearts, our minds and our bodies by inviting us to live in the shadows of bondage and pain and he dares to call it good.

Coincidentally, some Jewish scholars are calling this year, 2015, a Jubilee year.
It is so like the enemy of our souls to try and run parallel to what God is doing.
It is so like him to get us to exchange truth for a lie.

But God.

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Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Jesus took every whip, every chain, every nail because He knows we are meant for something nobler.

We are meant to live in the light, not shadow.
We are meant to love purely…sacrificially, without pain, without chains.

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Jesus is our Fifty.
He is our Jubilee.

All Art Is Hard

“Don’t be a writer if you can get out of it! It’s a solitary job, sometimes a rather lonely one (who’s listening? you say), and it requires relentless self-discipline. The world is not waiting with baited breath for what you turn out. A writer has to be some kind of nut to stick with it. But if, like the psalmist, you say, “My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned,” then perhaps you will have to write.” Elisabeth Elliot

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Words are my color and there are days when the colors bleed a blur. Phrases tangle and knot and I am simply too tired to step into the hard work of de-tangling.

Ideas come into the imaginings, uninvited, and I fidget with the workings of them. With the details of life pressing in from all sides I whisper, Hush! I don’t have time for this. You will have to wait.

If I go days without writing an essay or a journal entry or even a crafted sentence, I am actually shamed by it. It’s like I’m not being true to myself when I am not writing. This is to my detriment.

When you are hard-wired for something and you are not doing it, you burn. From the inside out.

C.S. Lewis said, “I would not know how to advise a man how to write. It is a matter of talent and interest. I believe he must be strongly moved if he is to become a writer. Writing is like a “lust,” or like “scratching when you itch.” Writing comes as a result of a very strong impulse, and when it does come, I for one must get it out.”

Some think that because you have a talent for something it must be easy. Dipping the brush, grasping the melody, pounding the nail, bending the steel.  Muscle and mettle are required. Those not willing to expend either of these Need Not Apply. 

All art is hard.

Even the prodigy sweats.
Even the gifted strain.

What is your Art? What makes you sweat? What makes you strain because you must get it out?

Do you sew curtains or sow seeds?  Do you string guitars or garden plots? Do you brush canvases, sweep workshops, squint through a lens, squint through a forger’s smoke?

When January braces cold and darkness is a regular part of the landscape the melancholy of winter will try to steal from you. It will try to steal your art; your hard-wired- gifted- from- God way to create what you alone were meant to create. You must fight back. Choose your weapon.

Paint something. Turn something on a wheel. Marry pitch and tremor.
Even when it’s hard.

And it is so very hard.
Truly.
There is the obvious work in getting it right and beautiful. But then there is the shutting oneself up to get it right and beautiful, away from all the daily goings on in an attempt to make sense of all the thoughts and ramblings and gut feelings about, well, everything in the whole wide world… and this means leaving things. It means leaving others.

This has been my wrestling match for over thirty years. Especially when I’ve come away from my children. The thief awaits in this place with words that go straight to the primal maternity core: What a selfish, self-seeking mother…who are you to take time for your art? 

But I have learned there is a weapon for this, too. Just put out the drumsticks and the video cameras and the notebooks and the measuring spoons and lots and lots of pencils and crayons and string and glue and fabric and broken down wood and see what your children will do with their art.

You  must remain diligent. You cannot let the details of life, the upheaval of routine or the month of January keep your art from being realized. You must do your art or you will burn down from the inside out.

The only comparison to Lewis I would dare to make would be that, like him, I must get the words out. Out and away, and hopefully, in that place away from me, there will be beauty…there will be art. Words are my art.  I am a writer.

For some inspiration read Luci Shaw’s Breath for the Bones.  You will be set afire again.

Breath for the Bones Are Imagination and Spirit: A Reflection of Creativity and Faith

The Day After

Paper crumples. Cinnamon roll crumbles. Boxes and bags, ribbons and tags, smashed and bashed, are tucked into the corner for now.
The bed isn’t even made. A morning routine chore as routine as brushing teeth. Come to think of it that didn’t happen either.
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It is The Day After.
The day after The Day we’ve all been running toward for the last four weeks.
The day after the angels heralded and the sky hallelujah-ed.
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All is calm. All is quiet.
Angels and shepherds have gone home.
After birth clean up is done.
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Has our Adventus journey come to an end?
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What now…now that the story itself has gone silent? With the exception of Jesus’ parents wanting to put His face on a milk carton when he was twelve, the narrative of the gospel does not pick things up again with Jesus until He is thirty years old.

Why the sudden silence?
Why, God, do You not speak at times?
You must know that so many of us are afraid of the silence.
It is hard enough when we don’t see.
But, when we don’t hear…
One feels…so alone.
One feels…obscure.
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This, society dictates, must be avoided.
It is why so many of us grip the device to stay wired and connected
All The Live Long Day.

We fill the silences with pings and dings and buzzes and vibrations because we cannot, we must not, be kept out of the loop. We forget that God is so different from us. We forget that when God goes silent it does not mean He has pulled the plug. We forget the He is still so very connected.

It is in the silences, in the obscurities that He sometimes does His best work.
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It’s all right there in one little sentence:

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Jesus was growing into the very thing God had promised from the beginning. What the angels proclaimed, the shepherd’s saw, the magi witnessed and what Anna and Simeon declared, took root and roots do their best work in the dark.

Thirteen little words expressing a life time of growing and favoring.
We forget the power of little words, therefore we can so easily forget the majesty of The Word.

Imagine Jesus in the silent season of His life.
Imagine living as the Son of God in obscurity.
How fantastically ordinary.
How fantastically brilliant.
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I cannot see what is happening in the dirt underneath the snow blanket in my backyard. I cannot hear the seedlings pushing pushing pushing toward spring when at last they will be revealed in all their flowering splendor.  

But I know.

I know that it is a matter of time….that time matters….silence matters….even obscurity has its good work to do…that in the fullness of that time I will see and hear again.

My Adventus journey has not ended with the lighting of the last candle. It goes underground for a season and I go with it, hopefully to grow in wisdom, in stature and in favor with God and man.
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Are You A Sign Of The Times?

On the fourth week of my Adventus journey I have discovered there are always signposts.
Signposts that declare who He really is in such a way that we must decide where we will put our feet when it comes to following Him.

John, the Baptist, a bolt of lightning on the earth with all his thundering about baptizing and repenting because a kingdom was nearer than anyone thought. All his pointing and beholding the Lamb that would away the sins of the world…all that baptizing and beholding to end in a beheading. A sign post, he was.

Paul, a man of bruised up, bashed up, bound up longevity always pointing pointing pointing to The Love That Came Down In The Flesh. He, too, lost his head over it. A signpost, he surely was.

When Love Incarnate was just eight days on the earth two sign posts stepped forward. Leathered and weathered with the longing and the waiting. What was written there…aged and faded.

Two signs of the times hidden away until it was the time.

Two people growing old and becoming acquainted with a quiet urgency, simmering, percolating until…..the Spirit whispers, “Now! Now is the time to go do this thing.”

So, the old man Simeon goes. There in the temple, this Simeon the signpost, speaking, declaring, pointing out that what he had been waiting for, the Consolation of Israel and the The Light of Revelation for everyone else, was right there in his arms.

This Jesus, all power and majesty and glory and the Savior of the whole wide world held against the breast of an old man who never gave up in the waiting was right here. Right now.

Then, for Mary, for all of us, the sword. There is always a sword.

“Behold this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed- and a sword will pierce even your own soul-to the end that the thoughts of many will be revealed.

Anna, a woman in the twilight of her days comes forward at this precise moment (how does she know?). She, a signpost of gratitude and declaration. She is launched on a trajectory of thanking God and telling everybody that the Redemption is here. Right here. Right now.

And so, Jesus.
He came as a sign, our Sign.
A sign that says for God so loved the world.
A sign that declares God is in the business of making everything right.
He was pierced so that we can be pierced with a Love Everlasting.
Jesus, our signpost that says, The Way to the Father: I AM.

Look Up

The third week celebrating The Coming, The Visit, is here.

My Adventus journey began this week with a question.

“So which candle is it?”

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Some say we’re supposed to light the Peace candle this week.
Others say it’s the Joy candle.

Pink? Purple?
What if I light the wrong one?
Will I miss out on something if I don’t celebrate….correctly?
What does this little detail matter if I end up with a greater measure of peace and joy in the long run?

‘Tis the season not to be derailed by the details.

Is the tree straight?
Did the wreath get hung on the front door?
Where is that recipe for the latest, trending cookie?
Is this the best little Christmas card ever?

I’m checking my list and checking it twice.
Three, four, five more times. Check. Check.Check.
Must. Get. Everything. Done.

The candles may be lit, but it is peace and joy that goes up in flames.
When we are derailed by the details it is peace and joy that are snuffed out.
Ashes, ashes….we all fall down.

It is the only time of year that we strive to bless someone with the perfect gift, try new recipes, re-decorate the whole house, shop ’til we drop, and put on plays and pageants and productions, all at the same time.

It is here that peace and joy can get lost among the packages all tied up with string.

Getting derailed by the details has its root in this one thing:

Forgetting.

Just simply forgetting that peace and joy are a Person.

We cannot and never will be able to conjure up peace or joy or real love or hope in anything else, no matter how beautifully it twinkles, no matter how heavenly it smells, no matter how many loved ones made it home in time for the roast beast.

The only way to know joy and peace and love and hope any time of the year is to know Jesus. To know Him is to hang out with Him.

A friend did a teaching once about losing Jesus.

She referenced the story when Joseph and Mary are making their way home after their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the annual Passover celebration. Three days into the journey home, Joseph and Mary realize they cannot find Jesus anywhere. At this time Jesus is around twelve years old and presumably didn’t need to be under the constant watch of his parents. However, three days without checking in proved disconcerting for Jesus’ parents, so when they discovered he was nowhere to be found, they did the smartest thing they could do:

They went back to the place they last saw Him.
In the temple. Hanging out with the smart guys talking about God.
About His Father’s business, like always.

This Jesus…is our peace. Our Prince of Peace
This Jesus…is our Joy…the tidings of which the angels heralded to shepherds one night.

Losing Jesus does not mean He is lost to us forever. In our humanity it may take a few days to recognize that we are joy-less, peace-less. We need to go back to where we last saw Him

When we’ve said yes to Jesus, we are never really without Him. He never leaves us, but like the shepherds watching their flocks by night and taking care of the details, perhaps we need to look up from what it is that we are doing.

When You’re In A Tight Spot

It’s close in here.

Re-arrangements. Re-groupings. Sometimes it fits…other times, not so much.

When life shifts the view changes. And that can make for one tight squeeze.

In the early morning hours sleepy bodies do the awkward dance between polite and annoyed. It’s easy to get bumped in tight quarters. One needs breakfast, another needs to make a lunch, and a third is trying to make their way to the laundry room to get a jump start on the piles building up in the hamper. A fourth, the littlest, needs a reminder to brush his teeth when the fifth one gets out of the bathroom.

It is a juggling, jostling, why was that left there; there are no more eggs….again; who’s turn is it to do the dishes, kind of place.

Words can be sharp here. Faces can frown quickly here.

It is a place where the pressing and the squeezing become a refiner’s fire that can sharpen us only in the best of ways if we let it.

We just have to be willing to go to the flames.

It is the second week of Advent and I am thinking of Joseph and Mary and their own re-arrangement, their own displacement.

So often their journey to Bethlehem looks so….pretty.

The holy couple, the two of them traveling alone against a tranquil desert backdrop seemingly lost in their thoughts about the baby about to be born.

No other travelers.

No one to share the road with, no one to whisper why must we go back to our birthplace to be counted by a paranoid despot?

No Roman Soldiers in the background showing their muscle. No one is doing the awkward dance of politeness and annoyed because everything is Just. Too. Close.

Yet, the narrative hints that Bethlehem was teeming, a town so full that there was no room in any of the inns.

Perhaps, then, the journey looked more like this:

Long lines of strangers piled up under the glare of soldiers making sure they tow the line.
Stuff everywhere.
On backs, on donkeys, on carts, and on wagons.
People smells.
Animal smells.

A woman who is nine months pregnant knows the pressure of her unborn child pressing down into her pelvis. To sit on the bony back of a donkey for miles, every bump and snag in the road sending spasms of pain through her body is not pretty. Did the pressure of her circumstances bring forth any sort of harshness from her lips? Or do the paintings of her have it right, instead? Ethereal. Blissful in blue. Immune to the human condition?

A man who wants to do the right thing, who allows himself to be caught up in a drama he did not ask for…does this man ever succumb to the frustration of not being able to secure safe lodging for his wife and unborn child by crying out, “Are you kidding me?”  “What is going on? This is so…..stupid!”

They were, after all, just a couple of humans carrying the divine.

Was the NO ROOM AT THE INN the last straw?
When all is said and done, straw for straw…when you’ve done everything you know how to do…when you’ve said yes to the hard thing…is this where you end up? In the back of a cave…tucked into obscurity? How is that for a tight squeeze.

It is what I am trying to hang onto when I light the second candle.
When I am squeezed it is an invitation to let go.
To submit to the refining work of God is an invitation to be who I am really supposed to be.

All the impatience and frustration comes to the surface and I get to decide.
Will I deny the work that needs to be done in my heart or will I give in to the flames and embrace the forging that brings me….just another traveler on this planet closer to being a human carrying the divine.

Small Things

The first snow of the year came on a Friday. There wasn’t much to it, really, just enough sparkle to pretty up the place. Most of it was gone by noon, except for a few places in the back yard where the ground had frozen overnight and daylight hadn’t hit hard enough to melt anything. I will have to wait until Spring for all that.

The trees in front have shed most of their leaves and when dawn breaks, I can see the hard outline of the branches against the gray blue sky. The hydrangeas and lilies have been cut to the quick and the old wooden tub where the herb garden grew has been put out back.  Leaves crackle underfoot releasing the scent of the earth and musk. Milkweed stand burst open, yawning white tendrils shiver in the breeze. Black eyed Susans bend thin, leafless. Yellow mums that were blooming on Monday froze on Thursday. Everything is getting smaller now.

I feel small, too.

My wedding ring swirls around my knuckles now that the humidity of summer and autumn has gone. I usually lose weight in the winter, noshing on roasted vegetables and drinking lots of hot tea. The ice cream store is closed now, but I’d rather eat a biscuit drenched in Barry’s Tea this time of year anyway.

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Just days before that first snow, I’d hiked up my britches and finished up the raking, putting piles of tiny pine cones in the wheel barrow. The tines of the rake scraped the ground hard. I lifted the rake and there in the debris was a tiny bird’s nest. Barely big enough to hold a walnut.

Perfectly round. Intricately woven.

What little bird could have made it?  Even the sparrow makes a bigger nest.

It is a marvel to me; how something so small could make something so intentional. So artful.

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I think of other small things and the power that lives within them.

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Salt.

A flame.

A child.

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A smile.

One. Kind. Word.

I’ve pulled the last of the geraniums from the window boxes. They’ve become hollow, gaping.  Like me, they need a re-filling. They need a promise. They need to be filled with a tangible hope that all has not gone to ashes for nothing.

In a landscape washed in browns and grays,  I look for red. My eyes narrow over the fields on Rte 11. They have become practiced in spotting winterberry tucked back into the swamps.

I love these little scarlet orbs, their blood-redness shouting against the dead things, “There is life here, still.” 

Sometime in late October I begin looking for them. This year I scan the fields near Quaker Ridge Road. Nothing. On my way back through town I eyeball both sides of Jordan Road. Barren. I think maybe the birds have gotten to them already. Finally, I spot a small bush tucked into the marshes not far from my house. I hurry home to get rain boots and branch cutters. Back in the woods and wading through mud and ice, small branches snapping back in my face, I lift the cutters as high as I can possibly reach and snip my winter bouquet. I grab some evergreens before heading home to fill the window boxes with something pretty again.

I go through this every year…looking for something beautiful in the decay. For weeks I anticipate the berries and wonder, maybe there won’t be a good crop this year. Maybe I will be too busy to get into the woods and I will miss them.

Then, suddenly, they’re there.  It’s as if they’ve come on the scene all at once, in all their red-coated glory.

I think about waiting and how small it can feel. When what you want takes a long time coming the waiting can shrink down into this thing that becomes a part of the fabric of your life, such a piece of the furniture of your soul that you forget when it finally arrives you will have to do some re-arranging.

You will need to make room for what’s coming.

This is Advent.

Adventus.  A Coming. A Visit.

He was so small, The Ancient of Days and The Lifter of my head, unable to lift His own when he came. His coming, His visit, had been foretold for so long that it became just another hope taking it’s sweet time getting here. For many it was easily missed.

Yet…Three Kings.

Three wise men narrowing the eye.

Scanning the heavens. Remembering the prophecies. Looking at both sides of the road.

Did they wonder if they had missed it? Did they ever think that maybe the timing was off? Yet…they kept looking. They kept moving forward.

They kept preparing for a holy visitation.

Red berries splashed against the bark of trees speaks of what happened when another red orb splashed against a splintered cross. They are a reminder that the One who said He is The Way, The Truth and The Life has come.

Advent helps us to look. It helps us to prepare. It helps us to truly believe before seeing.

It is the only way to wait for anything. It is the only way to celebrate the power of small.