In the Snow, Beneath the Pines

Gentle Reader,

You will notice that the variety of bodies is stunning. Just as there are different kinds of seeds, there are different kinds of bodies—humans, animals, birds, fish—each unprecedented in its form. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness. And we’re only looking at pre-resurrection “seeds”—who can imagine what the resurrection “plants” will be like!

– 1 Corinthians 13:39-41 (MSG)

I stood shivering in the cold, despite layers of clothing, my eyes, never of too much use in the darkness, scanning the yards ahead of me anyway, watching for any sign of trouble. My warm breath mingled with the frigid air, swirling clouds ascending to the treetops above. Weak lamps cast a pale yellow glow, unable to compete with the beauty of the stars above, but useful in their own way. Laughter and screaming filled my ears, never mind that they had all been instructed to be quiet. Panting and full of good cheer, a couple of teenagers fell at my feet, soaked to the skin but not seeming to mind.

I hadn’t planned to be there, in the snow, beneath the pines. Hadn’t anticipated earning a new nickname that I shall not reveal here because reasons. Hadn’t dreamed of climbing on a stage and lip syncing to “The Schuyler Sisters” with someone with whom I apparently share a brain. Hadn’t longed for sleepless nights. Hadn’t pictured myself in suddenly deep conversations. And certainly hadn’t, in any way, thought that I would be so thoroughly and completely embraced.

Drenched in love of the most wonderful variety.

All following hard on a year filled with harshness, with brokenness and rejection. I hardly know how to handle such acceptance. I’ve come to expect glares, frowns and tight-lipped whispers when I enter a room. Grown accustomed to the fear associated with knowing you’re being talked about – because you dared to disagree, because you went outside the accepted boundaries, because you aren’t perfect and wonderful and exactly what everyone wants you to be at all times. Believed that every bit of gossip and petty meanness was exactly what I deserved. Wondered if I really was that unwanted, undesirable and unloved.

So to have a group of people actually want you around… Encountering nothing but smiles and laughter…

Frightens and delights in equal measure.

Helping at a youth retreat is work, no doubt. My whole body feels it today. Neck aches from headbanging. Side of my hand throbs from pounding it on a table while shouting, “One two three four, JFK, FDR!” I’m not sure I will ever be warm again after giving my coat, scarf, gloves, snowpants and boots to people who claimed to have “packed everything!” Definitely had a moment when I thought duct-taping them all to the side of the lodge was a good idea.

But I’d do it again.

The things they said:

“You’re so fun and young, like one of us. But then we can talk to you about real stuff and that’s cool.”

“Would you pray with me for a second? There’s this thing going on…”

“You brought M&Ms? Hand ’em over!”

“Can I sit by you?”

“Ugh. Why don’t the boys shower? Their hallway smells like butt.”

“I frickin’ love you.”

“You are the prettiest!”

Makes a lady feel all bright and snuggly inside. The gooey, chewy center that she tries to hide all exposed but, for the first time in a long time, she’s okay with her tender heart beating loudly for all the world to hear. She is not trying to defend herself or be anyone other than the woman God so carefully designed and placed into this context. She wants to wrap her arms around all of them, teen attendee and adult leader alike, because she loves them so. She’s full of life, overflowing with it, and wants nothing more than to be a gracious, healing presence, soft and gentle and kind and warm. She hopes to be, empowered by the Spirit, a safe, comforting port in the storms, to provide the shelter of a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on for any and all.

For every compliment they gave, I had the joy of showering them with words of affirmation in return. I got to watch their eyes light up with wonder that someone saw good things in them, told them that they are smart and capable and a powerful force for good in the world. I got to watch them take steps, some microscopic but real, of belief. Belief in God, belief in themselves.

What a privilege that is.

Who am I, that this should be something I get to do?

I forget sometimes that this body of mine is fragiler than most. That’s the thing about walking around with an organ that’s doing it’s level best to kill you; when you get a reprieve from the pain, you feel energized and free and so you forget all the caution and warnings and go all in. I was blessed with a few hours’ release from the sharp stabs in my side. So I took all the hugs and knocking about that I could get. Then it came screaming back, a tangible reminder of my desire for resurrection wholeness, and I had to steal away for a moment to let the tears fall.

Then I kept taking the hugs and the knocking about.

It was worth gritting my teeth for them. It will always be worth gritting my teeth for them. Because they need a person, who isn’t a parent because what do parents know, to be present. To be willing to handle the discomfort in the service of true life and love.

I curl beneath a heavy blanket, dog on one side and coffee on the other. I know I have yet to truly begin processing all that I witnessed and participated in this weekend. My journal awaits, ready for the deeper notions and feelings, the things that I can’t write here but are safe before God’s eyes. It will soon come spilling out in sentences that make sense only to Him.

For now, this. Utter physical exhaustion. A glowing soul. Spirit full of love given and received. Mind entranced by thoughts of what might be next. Pessimism obliterated by optimism. Miraculous, divine and unexpected loosening of heart-knots.

Without doubt, supremely blessed.

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Sketches: Dirt

Dirt

Gentle Reader,

It’s really hot. It’s stupid.

So, let’s talk: dirt. (Prompt submitted, once again, my my own brain).

I could have been a farmer’s daughter.

My great-grandparents owned a farm in Idaho, near but not quite in the panhandle, where there is a town named “Onaway” because it’s on-a-way to elsewhere. He played on a traveling baseball team part of the year. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse at one point. My dad and his four brothers spent many hours out at their place, forced to bake something every Saturday morning before being released to run through the fields and orchards, chucking rotten apples at each other and jousting on bicycles.

My dad’s first job, around age 14, was working for another farmer, driving tractors and moving big, metal sprinkler poles. The kind with wheels attached. (Google if you don’t know what I’m talking about). He’s the quiet sort, so it didn’t bother him to be out on his own, working in the dirt.

It doesn’t bother him now, either. Though the great-grandparent’s farm was eventually sold and it never worked out for my own parents to buy land and raise animals that would never be slaughtered because we would get too attached to them, he still works in the dirt. Mows the lawn, prunes the roses, plants trees. He hates the heat this time of year (as do I), but he finds being out there, taking care of things, relaxing.

Perhaps the funniest thing he’s done when it comes to dirt and plants was the time he allowed an offshoot from a rosebush to grow in the middle of the yard. Drove my mom nuts. She wanted him to cut it down. He mowed around it week after week, wanting to see what it would do. The fact that it annoyed her was just a bonus, of course.

My mom would always plant geraniums or petunias in pots, lining them up neatly on the stairs that led up to the porch. When I was about 13, I began helping her with the process, learning how to gently spread the roots and place them in deep, soft, wet soil so the plants wouldn’t go into shock. I found it very soothing – me, the not-outdoorsy, doesn’t really like to get dirty person, completely fine with plunging her hands into a bag of potting soil. If my memory serves correctly, one year, I think the last year we lived out on the two-and-a-half acres in the single-wide trailer, I did all of the geraniums myself. They always looked so happy in their terracotta pots, deep green leaves and red blooms reaching for the sun.

I turn to my own plants when I’m feeling anxious. There’s something immensely satisfying about chopping a woody rose cane to the ground. Nothing better than watching the vegetable garden spring from seeds to delicious food. I could do without having to weed, but even that isn’t bad when done in the morning, when it’s cooler, while listening to music or a podcast. I send the ladybug army in to eat all the nasty, destructive little creates. Sit on the back porch and watch the birds flit from tree to tree, the ones that we snagged at a giveaway because we bought our house at the wrong, worst time and had no money to put into landscaping. Admire the baskets hanging from the pergola, fresh vines draping over following a ruthless pruning.

The dirt, and what it produces, is delightful.

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Five Minute Friday: Beauty

Skate

Gentle Reader,

Such a fun Twitter chatter tonight. The gif game was strong. The Office references flowed freely. Poutine and colonoscopies were discussed (the one does not necessarily lead to the other). The Norwegian curling team’s pants were admired. I was graced with honourary Canadian status. (See what I did there)?

I love these people.

Kate says: beauty.

Go.

I’ve so enjoyed watching the Olympics this year.

As a child I loved figure skating, my heart captured by the artistry of athletes like Oksana Baiul and Gordeeva/Grinkov. As an adult, I discovered ice dancing, which is like ballroom dancing and a skating rink got together and made something truly magical. In 2010 I watched as Canada’s Virtue/Moir and the United States’ Davis/White battled it out. In 2014, they battled again, but with a different (and, in my opinion, incorrect) outcome. Heading into the PeyongChang games, I was more than ready for the Virtue/Moir comeback and to be very #TeamCanada. (All the “noooo” in the world for France’s Papadakis/Cizeron).

Odd, this love, since I’ve never glided across the ice or even pushed my foot into an ice skate. Never had the opportunity. Now, because I have to live in a protective bubble at all times, I can’t go skating, no matter how much I want to.

Thus I content myself with watching men and women defy gravity and tell stories with blades strapped to their feet. It’s art. It’s sport. It’s thrilling.

That’s the beauty of the Olympics, I think. All the politics and doping aside (really, guy who does curling? You had to use drugs?), the world is treated to 10 days of good fun. Competition and elation and heartbreak and the reminder that we’re all the same, no matter where we come from. In a world fraught with increasing and constant tension, this beauty, this space, is necessary.

Stop.

The Virtue/Moir programs. Watch them both. There will never be better ice dancers.

Also this, which is the most Canada thing to ever Canada. Dude is gold-medal winning ice dancer who gets worked up at a hockey game. I love that.

scott-moir-womens-hockey-gold-medal-game-refs-video

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Five Minute Friday: Steady

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

I’m a country girl, born and raised near woods filled with hidden creatures and disappearing streams. The sound of owls hooting in the night draws up pleasant childhood memories of smoky barbecue and badminton and fat slugs. More often than not during the hot summer months, dirt gathers beneath my nails, evidence of yet another battle with weeds. The prairie on which I’ve lived for nearly a decade is ringed by ashy blue mountains, like those found on picture postcards. Ten minutes in one direction and one runs into a river. Ten minutes in the other, a lake.

My people – pioneers and farmers and horse thieves – trekked across thousands of miles in wagons or on foot. I know. The history there is complex and at times truly awful. No truly pure saint has ever lived this side of Eden. Still, I can’t help but admire the grit and moxie it must’ve taken to pull up stakes and leave the familiar behind, in the dust. To square your shoulders and press on, toward the hope of something better.

For all my love of London and New York, I could never live in a city. Give me the open spaces, the land where crickets cry.

Doing the link-up thing with the sass machines and the moustache crushes. We pontificate on the prompt: steady.

Go.

I’ll be 33 in roughly six weeks. There is now officially a Stacy London/Rogue of the X-Men/Anna from Frozen (pick your fandom) white streak in my hair. I guess I’m supposed to feel bad about both of those things. That’s what the vague, faceless mass called “society” tells me. Start shaving a few years off my age when asked and scurry off to the salon to hide the follicular evidence.

Why?

See, any day that I haven’t been told that I have cancer or that I’m in need of a transplant or that I’m dying is a pretty good day to me. Why should I waste time and energy worrying about age or hair color or wrinkles or whatever else it is about which I “should” be worrying? I have so little energy anyway. I’d rather spend it in other pursuits. (Not throwing shade at women who dye their hair or spend money on anti-aging treatments; I could not care less. It’s just not my jam). Besides, after experiencing the horribleness of waking up in the the night with a pounding heart, in the midst of a panic attack, anything I can definitively choose not to be anxious over, I will.

Maybe I’ll feel differently a decade down the road. Doubt it. If men become “distinguished” as they age, then so do women. Let’s reject the idea that the fairer sex decreases in value and significance the moment we slip past age 21. (Oh, there’s nothing that could entice me to be 21 again).

Time beats a steady rhythm, one we cannot pause or change. It is out of our hands. A thing we cannot control. All the creams and dyes and lotions and potions and injections and diets in the world will not stop the passing of the days, weeks, months, years. The body grows old. It breaks down. The very steadiness of time creates unsteadiness for skin and bone, muscle and organ.

How comforting it is to know that there is One outside the steady and the unsteady, One who is not ravaged by changing seasons, One whose eyes never grow dim. He is light and fire and radiance and goodness and beauty and mystery. He sits, enthroned, never to be toppled. He knows the number of hairs on our heads – white or otherwise. He determined the length of our lives long before that steady time even existed.

Yes, we age. We break down. Wrinkles and glittering strands and dimmed vision.

And yet – somehow – He builds us up. For the break down is not a winding down, but a winding up. An aching walk toward the Forever Place, the Eternal Home, where pain and sorrow exist no more.

Perhaps we’ll have polka-dotted hair and plaid skin there.

We won’t care.

Stop.

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Photo credit: Daria Nepriakhina