Monday, October 24, 2016

Standing Firm through Shifting Seasons

Skies are grey today. The cold seems to edge in a little closer with each passing week. I look outside my windows and if I didn't have the testimony of green trees this past summer I'd be convinced that the majority of stark skeleton maples look to be dead. The yellowed underbrush and and perennial beds are giving into the browning and limping effects of frosty nights. The evergreens stand tall and proud, determined to hold their own through the oncoming winds of winter. Two rows of poplars tower like soldiers at attention in yellow uniform. I'll leave the silver dusty miller in until spring as it keeps it's own along the walk while all else dries off or flops to the baring ground. There are still purples and cranberry colors flashing about in defiance and one hardy white petunia against the backdrop of the red garden shed that appeared this summer out of it's own will. Funny thing is, it'll be the last flower standing and I didn't even plant it. For several weeks I've been enjoying the sight of the slow growing Mountain Ash. This past summer it seemed like it was going to meet it's demise to the ravages of a relentless sapsucker however I got the better of him with grocery bags flapping in the branches. The wounded trunk with weeping gashes looked sparse and the whole thing has leaned at a pitiful angle for a few years. Next its branches were nearly stripped bare thanks to the ravenous caterpillars that wormed their way into all things green and growing. To my wonder though, and the help of water, fertilizer, a few sprays of malathion; the leaves grew back, beautiful clumps of red berries hung all around. A few weeks ago I decided I was quite capable of figuring out how to stake this tree and give it the platform it deserves. I look out the kitchen window now and 'see the little tree that can', as I've dubbed it. It has sacrificed it's berries to the robins and blue jays that fly about the yard now in pursuit of winter stores. I'd say this little tree has been the best work in progress in the yard this summer.

There's one though that calls all attention, it boasts with leaves all ablaze. Hanna exclaimed yesterday " I just can't take my eyes off it." Oh I know. Each time I open the door my gaze is drawn to the captivating color that glows in the center of our yard. We planted it the same year as the 'little tree that can' but this one is a good fifteen feet taller; a good four feet of growth this summer. It's orange turning to red is brilliant and brazen against the dimming surroundings and holds out the longest of all. Though that color will fade too, the Canadiana leaves letting go, it's beauty lingers in thought. A rest for a season, a busy time of green and growth and then when all else is slowing it gears up for the final show. I look forward to it every year and invokes a feeling of thankfulness. The yard work can make one feel a little defeated by nature when the Autumn color can't hold on much longer, the leaves and berries falling to a carpet on the ground; and it certainly does not motivate me as the Spring start did; but that flash of fall red keeps breathing life into the sighing surroundings.

It's obvious by now that I love trees, I notice them wherever I go. Trees teach. Nature has a way of proclaiming the creation and the wonder of its Creator.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. 
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.   
Psalm 96:11-12 

I've had times this last year where I feel as though I'm in a season of Fall in my life. My spirit sags after frosty days of frustration and limps along when I give into debilitating disappointments. When I allow winds of change to toss my feelings to and fro. Who can rely on feelings anyway? Leaning a little too heavy to one side when mom guilt or failures weigh in. Sapsuckers and caterpillars? They happen too when we inflict ourselves with the comparison and control of social media, leaving wounds weeping with 'not enough' ? Its easy to allow resentment to cause a hardening off effect. And then there is fear. It strips the leaves of joy and character right off the limb, leaving the soul stark , running for cover from the oncoming winter, and it can so easily seem like all else around is standing tall and strong, ready for whatever comes.  Coming out of a postpartum phase this last year I can mark the seasons: a Spring and a hope with the beginning of a new baby, adjusting to newness of family dynamics. A Summer of tending and growing; wiping, changing, feeding, washing, cleaning, little sleep, long days and short nights. Fall follows, kids in school, the third a preschooler, baby not so baby anymore and sleeping through the night. Baby duties turn to busy tot running around. Husband has had a full plate this year and all around life has felt demanding. This season hasn't really slowed but maybe it's my heart that has and awareness to who I am or have been in the past years. I have felt the pressures of needing to be productive yet feeling empty, like my surroundings are grey and weather beaten around me. It seems as though the days of the last years I've done the what I had to do, but bigger projects too daunting, the want-to-do's falling by the wayside. Not feeling the liveliness that makes me tick, wondering where that streak of brazen flitted to and knowing I need to be rejuvenated. Like a depleted tree needs water and nutrients so need we the same. 

"He is like a tree planted by water,that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit."
Jeremiah 17:8  

Sometimes it's care we can do for ourselves like a tree that conserves energy for the changing seasons and sends strength into it's roots as it prepares to rest. I've been reminded in the last while that it's important to take time for the things that make us feel alive. For me that was being purposeful outside this summer and enjoy the yard, either through gardening or some fun things with the kids or having
a coffee in the morning sun. A surplus yield of apples inspired me to make some extra pies and offer them for sale. It seems minor but it took some mustered up confidence to venture out with that. Sitting down to write today was a choosing to help myself; sorting out my thoughts and connecting them to what's happening around me. Learning to say no is ok too, or maybe stepping away from social media for a bit. The best thing I've done for myself is to choose to be more consistent in reading God's word. It's not always a continuous stream, some days just a trickle, but there have been many penetrating moments of reminding me of who I am in Christ, how to remedy where I've falling short and how to keep growing.

Trees are added to a yard to create contrast and and to compliment what else is growing beside. They lend shade to that which needs protection from the hot sun, a wind break for shelter and a refuge for wildlife to live. Sometimes our care and rejuvenation comes from the relationships around us, those that God sends in to lend a hand or maybe encourage through words. My week started off somewhat grey and went to bed one night feeling quite discouraged. Help came in the morning through a friends prayer and text of this verse: 

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9

How timely that was for me and it changed the entirety of my week. That same day I was loading kids and bags into my car in the store parking lot, and a man came by in passing and simply said "you're doing a really good job!" He doesn't know that those words have stuck with me all week, reminding me that despite where I think my limbs look a little gnarly God sees the work in a whole different light. To the broken places he adds beauty. 

Any tree grower knows that a good pruning is done in one season so that in the following seasons it will be stronger and give a better yield. A young tree is pruned so that it's roots are firmly established, able to support it for years to come. Early sacrifice for later bounty. In raising children we can especially relate to that as much time is sacrificed to train and teach our children to become productive and grace filled adults. We are driven to do this because of hope, for what we have in the present and what we hope for it to become. That's what keeps us growing, reaching upward to greater heights with thankfulness in the sway and bend in life and a prayer in the wind. So do what makes you your unique you, your blooms are different than the other flowers in the garden. Find moments to be ablaze with color, shining so vivid. Your Creator cannot take his eyes off you. He looks out of Heavens door and smiles. Lend that color to the ones growing and striving around you. Shine and hang on to that which remains the longest; the steadfast love of God. That which no one can uproot, that no season can destroy; so that those who behold it may be filled with hope. That when winter rushes in after the fall, the love of God lingers and remains, and that whatever fury the winter may bring there remains a covering of grace, giving rest for the roots of our being and a renewed trust.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord
And whose hope is the Lord.
Jeremiah 17:7

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Road 72 North...and the search for hope

It's Easter Monday morning and I'm driving out of Austin to my sister's home, down the familiar 34 highway with it's bumps and the neighbouring yard sites I see in passing. The kids are with me and are unusually quiet, probably the result of a very busy Easter weekend. I'm quiet too; my heart's been quieted by the chill of death, a silence that settled after days of anxious prayers and the diligent searching done by our community in the wake of a missing toddler. I imagine many are feeling this silence after our lost one was found, a relieved thankfulness for closure and yet the finality crushing us all and so so much more for his loved ones.

With my soul quieted and hands on the wheel I begin to notice the silence of countryside. A misty fog is coming in over the land, it settles in the low places, it softly flows over the waters of the Pine Creek. The sun does not pierce, it's light glows gently through the high places of the bushes and trees, hampered by the morning mist. My breath slows and tears form, and I realize the beauty and the sadness of it all. It is as though the land is being laid back to rest. Road 72 North. In a matter of days hundreds of people were familiar with this area of the country, the roads teeming with search and rescue vehicles, news anchors, volunteers with helping hearts and hands bearing food, and passersby with lifted prayers. All of our attention headed to a small homestead only 1 mile west. The fields of frozen mud were awakened to the pressing onward of teams of searchers, neighbouring yard sites combed through over and again, the dense bushes and tree lines mixed with dead fall and brush were sought through high and low, the meandering creek with it's mystery of frozen sheets of ice, and places of spring thaw, the focal point of that first night. It continued for five days, the radius expanding in kilometers. The countryside alive with the anxiousness and desperation for answers. I can imagine the wildlife finding it's own hiding place and the birds retreating back into the high treetops, maybe holding back their spring song. The weather was uncooperative, up and down quickly with its extremes, much like our emotions. All those travelling this road, were also travelling with the hearts of the parents enduring a pain that we could all imagine we'd feel; as we hold our children closer now.

I've travelled Road 72 all of my childhood and teen years. A long, gravelly road connecting the highway to the farmyards in the miles beyond, a main road for most in the area, but generally travelled with everyday purpose and not much pressing on the heart. I've been down it daily on the school bus, to town, church or friends with my folks, of course a little too fast and independently when driving on my own at sixteen, and maybe a little too late when driving with my honey. Only once did I drive it in dread of what's to come, the day I drove my mom to the spot my Dad lay down with his last breath, not knowing how we'd find him. And then coming home down that road to an empty aching spot at home and in my soul. I cannot relate to the pain of losing a child, I'm sure a mother knows no such a heartache as that. The parents of Chase, who's name is known to so many now, will come home after his funeral to a very empty spot, a large gaping hole in their heart. Their lives and grief have been displayed so publicly and yet they have to face a new kind of lonely back at home. Their yard site was laid flat with hundreds of footsteps, more than 30 000 volunteer hours stretched across the land and it is only the small set of rubber boot footprints and the hours spent with a little tot who loved being out in the yard that they will long for.  A hard road to travel.

I left my children with my sister for a few minutes and took a little drive down the road. I needed to take in that silence and listen. I took pictures and and they can't even do justice to the morning air. A couple days ago, on Good Friday, a few of us drove to a yard site that had been heavily searched, close to his home. We felt the fading hope, the air of desperation. And I was reminded of the fact that it was Good Friday and the road of despair that Jesus walked to his death. The hopelessness of it all, but he pressed on for only He knew the closure and awakening that was to come. At the time of his death there was a darkness that covered the land for hours and suns light faded. Jesus cried out "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" After this it was cried out by a centurion " Certainly this man was innocent!"' and it goes on to say that the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, returned home beating their breasts.' We have all returned home too, beating our breasts over a little innocent boy, so young to be gone.  We've prayed, sang songs, beseeched our God, the family and loved ones have beat the drums and committed his spirit to eternity; finding some closure.

I felt a nudge to drive back to that old yard site and go down to the creek. The fog had a hard time laying down in the sheltered area and the sun shone through the trees. The ice on the water sparkled like diamonds and the flow was just a soft rippling. Hard to fathom that these waters claimed the breath of a little boy. The silence was over with a chorus of birds in the trees, I heard cracking in the bush and knew the wildlife was out of hiding. A different feeling from two days ago. Much like the feeling I imagine that the women who went to Jesus' tomb felt when they did not see his body and found angels instead who asked " Why do you seek the living among the dead?He is not here, but has risen.'' There must have been something different in the air as they looked around the place of His death, which had been surrounded by darkness only days before. In the midst of their grieving, they marvel in unbelief at the angel's claims and wonder how it could be so. Jesus met them on the road, spent time with them while their eyes were kept from recognizing  Him, he listened to their hearts and later that evening he revealed Himself when he broke bread with his disciples. They were astonished at his presence and then he vanished from them. "did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?...The Lord has risen indeed!" He appeared again and said to them, "Peace be to you!"They were startled and frightened and He said "why are you troubled and why do doubts arise in your hearts?See my hands and feet, that it is I myself. Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures and said to them" Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations." While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy." (from the book of Luke)

It so hard to find any joy in all of this, for our hearts are blinded by grief and questions and it's hard to recognize Jesus in the fog. When He lifts the fog we see that has been along the road beside us the whole time. He has been searching tirelessly and weeping along side the hurting, given strength for the duty and diligence of our professional patrols and searchers, bonded the hearts of our community as we've loved our neighbours. He hears the unbelief and the criticisms of social media and points us to look at our own selves and the futility of life no matter how hard we try to keep accidents from happening. He takes up life again from the dead and carries the spirit of that precious child safe to his loving arms. He breaks the bread of life with us and nourishes us with healing and strength to carry on, just as the crowd was given nourishment to carry on at the search site. His family may cry why for a long time, there may be no answers for a long time. I hope we all will continue to pray as fervently as was prayed days ago that in time the fog will be lifted, that they can travel a new road, paved with healing and a hope that cannot be lost. The memories of their sweet boy will forever be etched in the road of their heart, there will be reminders, like bumps, that will always surface mingling pain and memory together. The land and the waters will cry out his name for a long time. And in those moments down the road I hear to how the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. Psalm 19:1 And there is hope.

For Easter is celebrated in vain if Jesus had not been resurrected to give us hope. It is a celebration of praise that we do not have to be alone in the pain of death but can rise to a new hope. I heard on Sunday that one can only live four minutes without air and only seconds without hope. Thank our God that death is defeated and that he brings his little ones with love into his sheltered wings. And deal kindly with those suffering the pains on earth and give them hope by continuing to walk along the road beside them. So that they may again hear the birds in the treetops sing their songs.