The Silence of God

 

fall leaves.jpg

I sit in silence on my back porch, contemplating.  The leaves are worshiping all around me in a kaleidoscope of color.  I sit and wait, for what? I do not know.  I am drawn inward to listen for words which do not present themselves. I have found in order to jiggle them loose, I must wait.  Sit.  Ponder.  Feel.  It is the feeling part that is most difficult these days.  I’d rather be numbed, than feel what is currently in the atmosphere.

Momentarily lost in my thoughts, I am drawn back to my porch by the sound of the leaves rustling.  The breeze is speaking.  I listen and hear pitter patter, like rain, only not like rain. I am curious at the ‘non-rain’ rain sound.  I take it in, recognizing the tones are different than the usual storms.  There are no hissing or dripping sounds, only pitter patter.  It is not water falling…it is the leaves.  They swish on their way to the ground. With the wind, the kaleidoscope is moving and changing.  Rogue leaves hang on for dear life.  They do not know it, but they are already done, the hanging on will not last much longer.  Others are falling with style, twisting and turning, like ballerinas in a dance with the breeze.  Some are kamikaze and appear to be trying to take out as many others as possible by crashing into branches and leaves.  On this day, the sun is out and the glow of the dying leaves is spectacular.  Their constant shifting creates a new design every few minutes.  It is mesmerizing.  I cannot look away for the beauty of it.  And yet…

My heart is silent.  God is silent.  Only the leaves are speaking as they drift downward.   The grief of our world is nearly overwhelming sometimes.  Like the leaves, it is a blanket that covers everything.  Vivid reds are like the blood of the innocents, spilling out and seeping into the ground.  Fiery oranges are the flames of disunity and discord that are burning up our world in hate.  Yellows are the joy we used to know, fading away…buried in the decaying piles already fallen.   leaves on the groundMy usual giddiness at autumn’s splendor is subdued by the death spreading across the world.  A car running people over on sidewalks in New York, followed by the shooting in Texas during a worship service.  War in other countries is killing innocents by the thousands and starvation is killing the rest.  Storms have stolen stability and life from people in several regions, and fires burn homes to ashes in others, lives going up in smoke.

The wind groans, the leaves fall. The rocks and trees which usually cry out praises are heavy with the losses from our sin-saturated world.  We are a fallen creation. Even those who don’t believe in sin are seeing the results of it now, and asking ‘What is going on here?’  Eyes are being opened to truth of what our world looks like when left to our own devices.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, and we all know it.  Deep down, our souls cry out for relief.  The crazy thing is, sin has been forgiven…all of it.  We need only to receive what was freely given and walk in grace, but we resist.  We wrestle and writhe and insist that we have things well in hand.  And the leaves continue to fall.  The silence grows.

The day when God is absent, when he is silent…that is the beginning of prayer.  Not when we have a lot to say, but when we say to God, ‘I can’t live without you.  Why are you so cruel, so silent?’ This knowledge that we must find or die…makes us break through to the place where we are in the Presence.  If we listen to what our hearts know of love and longing and are never afraid of despair, we find that victory is always on the other side of it.” Anthony Bloom

The silence at this moment is deafening…but, it is creating a longing, not for God’s gifts or his hand, or what he does for us…but for God himself.  He is a place a safety, love, and belonging.  A place of grace and acceptance.  The wind blows, the leaves fall, and in the silence…our hearts cry out.

leaves and bible.jpg

Advertisements

Fall is Here

shaft-of-light

The dogs pull at their leashes, and I think my shoulder will come out of the socket.  Dusk is approaching and with it the light is soft among the trees.  The smell of leaves which have fallen is in the air and I wonder how the trail got carpeted in just a few days. Each footfall brings a familiar crunching sound.  I breathe deep in the scent of fall.  Along with campfire smoke, I smell the freshly cut trees tossed to the ground by Irma.  The trail has been cleared, but the sawdust is fresh.  There is a breeze, which gives away autumn is here, with its slight chill.  Somehow fall snuck up on me this year, but then it is almost October so I should not be surprised. Coming around the pond, where the water is high and covered in leaves, we find a bench. Sitting, I take in the fading pink sky, the trees gently swaying in the breeze, and the green grass in a perfect little field nearby.  Deep breaths fill my lungs with sweet musty air and I exhale the stress threatening to overwhelm me lately.  More deep breaths and my shoulders begin to relax.  The dogs are ready to move on, so we continue back under the canopy of trees, where it is darker than you might expect, but more beautiful than you can imagine in the cool of the evening.

On our way, the windows are down and the sunroof is open to allow fall to follow us home.  The pink sky has faded to gray and it begins to twinkle with stars. The moon is looking down, watching over the domain beneath it.  Roads curve gracefully.  Three bears, two babies and a mama, stand in the road for a split second before casually traipsing back into the trees where they disappear into the shadows in an instant. The creek beside the road is singing to the approaching night, welcoming it to come.  Which it does, enveloping the forest and waking the nighttime creatures.  A deer crosses our path and we stop to watch her go.  She stops still as a statue and regally stares us down.  A moment passes between us.  We are in her territory so she does not run away.  She appears to be waiting for someone, perhaps her buck, to cross over to meet her.  We move along so she can be reunited with whoever is on the other side of the road.

Wind blows my hair in every direction.  My hand is out the window playing in the current like I used to do as a kid.  The sky has darkened more, making the mountains into shadows.  There is honking over the top of us.  The geese are headed south in their perfect V formation.  They are dark outlines against a charcoal backdrop.  We slow to listen and watch.  Another V formation comes right behind the first.  It seems they are ready to be on their way to wherever it is they go.  The wind carries them and they appear to be happy about that fact the way they are talking to one another.  By the time we arrive home, the sky is black and the stars have brightened considerably.  The moon has risen higher and is smiling a crescent smile. The crisp air heightens visibility and I bask in the beginning of fall…my favorite season of the year.

Enchanted Moment

michelle-in-front-of-yonah

It was an enchanted moment…a gift.  And I nearly missed it.

My brand-new husband peeked out of the curtains of our honeymoon suite. “Shell, get up and come look at this. It’s a gift!”

I was snuggled deep into the covers. My eyes were shuttered closed and happy to be that way. After months of wedding planning and finally being officially man and wife, I was in need of a lazy morning to sleep in.

I mumbled, in my best new-wife-but-leave-me-alone voice, “What is it?”

“Just come look!” came the reply.

“Can’t you just tell me?”

“No.  You have to see it to believe it!”  Then he whisked the curtains open and blinding light shined into the room.  Shielding my eyes, I sat up and took in the view of a snow-covered mountain, just outside our window.

I sat straight up in the bed, “What?  Snow!? How in the world?”

“I told you, it’s a gift!” his excitement was barely contained.  “Get up.  Let’s go!”

Less than a week prior, we stood in Frost Chapel at Berry College in Georgia taking our wedding vows.  To say the temperature was sweltering is an understatement.  It was 1986 and it was one of the hottest July’s on record with the longest number of consecutive days without rainfall.  When planning a wedding in the winter I thought of heat, seeing as the chapel didn’t have air conditioning, but I figured a stone chapel would cool down by 7:30 in the evening.  I was wrong.  The triple digit temperature only served to turn the chapel into an oven.  This sparked a last-minute effort to create funeral fans with our names and wedding date on them to hand out to our guests, who were dripping wet before they even walked up the hill to the venue.

My dream had always been to marry in February and have a ski trip honeymoon, but I was a teacher.  I could take 3 personal days during the school year for a trip, or have the whole summer.  We chose the summer…in the 1980s…when long sleeved, high necked, old fashioned, Victorian wedding gowns were all the rage.  People still tell me that our wedding was the hottest they have ever been in their lives.  I tell them, no one was hotter that day than me!  Hair falling.  Make up melting. I have pictures of me and my attendants standing over fans, dresses unzipped and off the shoulders, trying not to get sweat rings under our arms!

Bill and I couldn’t get to the Canadian Rockies fast enough. Though skiing was out of the question, we knew it would be cooler there.  I packed my bridal trousseau of cotton slacks, summer sweaters, and canvas espadrilles, ready for a 70-degree honeymoon.  Awaking to snow was not in the plan, however, being southern born and bred we couldn’t pass up the chance to go out and play!  We went to the gift shop to buy sweatshirts and layered our thin windbreakers over them. Off we went, following a directional sign that said Mirror Lake.   I don’t think there where many other southerners at Lake Louise that day, because we had the trail to ourselves. Maybe they were just smarter than we were, but we didn’t care.  Young, in love, and surprised with the gift of snow in July, we embraced the moment fully. The flakes were coming down hard and thick.  They created a magical world unlike anything we had ever seen. Delicate masterpieces caught on my eyelashes.  We turned our faces upwards to catch them on our tongues. The pine branches bent with the weight of white wet fluff.  The mountainous views were in every direction as we climbed. It was breathtaking.

We arrived to discover how it came to be called Mirror Lake.  The reflection was stunning. It was an exact replica both right side up and upside down.  The heavy snowfall simply made it more like a postcard from another world.  What joy filled our hearts!  Just to be a witness to such beauty was beyond anything we could have imagined.  Then we saw another sign which said, Tea House with an arrow pointing to a continuation of the trail.  By this time, we were cold.  Our clothes even with the sweatshirts, were ill equipped for hiking in the snow.  My “cute” shoes were soaked through and without socks it became a problem, unless we kept moving.  We had no gloves, so our hands were in pockets.  The hoods of our windbreakers were up, but since they were not waterproof our hair was soaked as well.  The thought of a Tea House, some warm liquid enticed us to continue our climb.  Never mind that the sign had no mileage listed, or that we hadn’t seen another soul thus far.  It wasn’t long before we began to question our choice to continue, but each time we would wonder what was just around the next curve.  Each twist and turn brought us even more beautiful views.

When I wanted to turn back, Bill said “Just one more turn, then we’ll go back.”

Then, when he was ready to give it up I would say, “But we might be almost there. It can’t be much further.”

The sound of a waterfall in the distance gave us fuel to keep going.  The snow had stopped, and even if we never found the Tea House, the sight of a waterfall in such a majestic place would only make it more astonishing.  So, we climbed. As the rushing of the water increased so did our pace, mainly because we were cold, tired and wet.  We wanted to see it before we turned back.  When we saw the falls, we were once again overwhelmed with the gift of a snowy day.

In just a few more steps, the house came into view.  It was a thrill to almost be there.  It was still a bit of a climb, but the end was in sight…but so was the closed sign!  We were heartbroken. All that way, as beautiful as it was, and there was no hot tea waiting for us.  It dawned on us that we might actually be in trouble, as cold as we were.  We had depended on making it to a place to warm up, the sudden realization that we had to hike another 4.5 miles back down the trail without a rest was enough to bring tears to my eyes.  Bill wanted to continue to go up to the porch, look in the windows, and sit for a bit to overlook the glacier-fed Lake Agnes, which was the clearest water I had ever seen.  I made the case for turning back immediately, because to sit down when we were wet in the cold would not be wise.  He told me to stay put for a minute and he ran ahead to peek in the cabin perched on the lake between the mountains.  Much to his surprise when he looked inside there were people, who waved him in.

He cracked the door and said, “Can we come in just to warm up even though you are closed? We are cold.”

The man laughed and said, “I forgot to turn the sign around. We’re open.”

In minutes, our we shed our outer layers and put them by the stove.  We ordered hot tea, along with sandwiches on fresh baked still-warm bread.  I think it was the best meal I have ever had in my life.  Since we were totally unprepared for our hike, we were thirsty, and asked for water.  We were given a ladle to go down the to the lake and fill our cups with the clearest, best tasting water ever. We sat there looking out over the lake and snow-covered mountains amazed.  We were together, warm, dry, full of love for each other and grateful for our gift day.

Hannah at tea house

This week, our oldest is having a camping adventure through the Canadian Rockies.  She sent us this picture which is what triggered this blog.  Who would have thought 31 years ago, that our offspring would return to the same Tea House we stumbled into? In the pictures she sent us, she sits enjoying the food, the company of friends, and soaking in the same views we saw all those years ago at Lake Agnes.  It has served as a reminder of our beginnings and a snowy July day in an enchanted forest…that was a gift.

lake agnesfood at tea house

tea househannah in the mountians

In the Dirt

solitudeWhen I was a little girl, my dad used to take me on walks in the woods.  We would traipse around our property, sometimes not even on trails, just walking and seeing.  It wasn’t far, but to my little legs it seemed like miles and miles.  I learned a lot on these walks, not because he taught me exactly, but because I watched him.  I learned you can chew sourwood leaves in the fall, like gum.  I found out if you put your watermelon in a mountain spring it would be ice cold in time for the picnic the next day.  I realized to follow a stream provides water, as you walk through and underneath trees, which provide shade on hot summer days.  He taught me to be aware of snakes when I stepped over rocks and logs, and that not all snakes are poisonous.  He let me slide on a slick rock overhang into his arms over and over again.  Those lessons were learned through time together and shared experiences.

On the way back up the mountain, however, I was less likely to be enamored by the stroll through nature, because it had become a climb.  My little legs screamed to stop and my lungs agreed.  Dad used to carry me, but once I got too big for carrying, I had to stop and rest along the way.  I remember begging him to carry me, and I did not have the best of attitudes about it. I was tired and weary which translated into irritable, tearful, and cranky.

Fast forward to walks with my own children.  Going down the trail to a waterfall was all skipping and laughter.  Wading in the ice cold stream brought giggles.  Bill taught them about skipping rocks, and we picked wildflowers along the way.  Once we were at the bottom in the waterfall mist, their faces lit up at the magnificence and power of the water spilling down into the valley.  Then it was time for the climb back up. The trail was a switchback so there was steep incline followed by some more gradual slope, giving the illusion that it wasn’t exactly straight up.  However, little legs are not fooled by illusions.

Going into the second steep section the whining began, but there were four of them and only two of us.  They had all outgrown the baby backpack we had when they were little.  Carrying was not an option.  We encouraged, held their hands, and tried distraction techniques to get their minds off of the pain, “Was that a woodpecker over there on that tree?” or “Look at that beautiful orange flower.” To no avail.  By the next steep section, meltdown mode commenced for one of them.  No amount of, “we’re almost there” helped.  There was no consoling.  It was a sit-down-in-the-trail-refuse-to-go-any-further moment. Tears rolled down the face like the waterfall ran down the mountain and the frustration spilled out like a thunderstorm in the summer.

Desperate to keep the other three moving forward without incident (these types of outbursts can be extremely contagious in a family with four little ones), I moved on with the other three, while Bill waited for the first to cry himself out.  It was all that could be done.  He could not see the end of the hike was near.  He could not make his legs go any further.  He was weary and angry we wouldn’t carry him.  He was not climbing another inch.  Bill sat down in the trail next to him, while he flailed around in a full blown tantrum.  A father, just waiting, trying to soothe his child. In the midst of his tantrum, my son was not even aware that his father was sitting next to him in the dirt.  Once he became aware of it, he wanted nothing to do with him.  Every effort Bill made towards him was rejected out of anger.  It wasn’t until the patience of the father, sitting next to him, was evident that he finally relented and allowed a gentle calming hug.  Holding him, wiping the tears, quenching his thirst…not just for water, but for acceptance and understanding which only unconditional love can bring within the hard places.

Sometimes life is overwhelming.  Just like a child on an uphill climb, sometimes it feels impossible to continue.  It feels like God is not for me…and might even be against me…if he exists at all.  These dark nights of the soul are places where nothing is for sure.  All the neat and tidy spiritual explanations fall flat.  The heavens are brass, and my prayers blow silently away on the wind.  I am not the only one to ever experience this seemingly never ending dark place where brokenness is a companion.  I know others who walk here, who wonder and wait, and shake their fists at God at the same time they cry out to him.  I am a little girl who doesn’t want to walk one step further up this mountain I feel forced to climb. I want to yell and cry and kick and scream, “NO MORE!!” until I am carried, consoled, and soothed.  I realize that in order for peace to come, I have to allow my feelings to work themselves out. The volcano, which has been dormant for years, has erupted and it will release the built up pressure…once the explosion is over.

The complexities of emotions layered one on top of the over make it tricky to get to the root, which is the feeling that God has abandoned me.  What feels like a forever climb has left me in the dirt, wallowing around like a 2-year-old, unable to see my Father sitting next to me waiting.  Brokenness is a messy, ugly, dark place…but it is a real place.  People live here, not by their own choice, but by circumstances outside of their control.  That’s the rub with this place…there is no control here. Death, abuse, disease, rape, injury, loss, divorce, heartache…no one is immune from the pain of life. Life=loss. When my legs will no longer hold me up, I fall and cry out to God for rescue.

I am double minded, believing I am abandoned by him, while still receiving provision from his hand. I feel alone, despite his presence right next to me. I try to block him out since I no longer believe in him, only to find myself praying with desperate cries that he really exists.  I feel I cannot function, all while continuing to put one foot in front of the other. The dark night is a pretty mixed up place.  It is not depression, nor is it despair. It is more like losing the core of who I am, and questioning everything I have ever known…all while still knowing it.  Kinda.  I am rambling, in search of words and talking in circles.  Sorry about that.  One thing I know (maybe) is that when I am in one of these dark broken places I find out things…truths, that I might never grasp had I not sat down in the first place. So while I am groping around now, there will come a time (I hope) when my tears will be dried and my thirst will be quenched by the Father who sits next to me…in the dirt.

Rainy Sunday Morning

The rain is falling, gentle but steady.  Slow enough the birds are still singing and the herbs in my garden still have their faces raised.  There is a squirrel on a branch just a few feet from where I sit on my porch.  He has found a clump of leaves just over his head and he is still as a stone, crouched underneath his tail, which he uses as an umbrella. On occasion he flips it down to remove the accumulated water, but then it is right back up over his head.  A crow is laughing at the rooster, who crows in the distance.  The drips fall on my roof, inviting me to a lazy Sunday morning of reading, writing, and sleeping.  A chatter erupts to my right and it sounds as if two birds may be in battle over a worm.   The trees are full of leaves as spring moves into summer and the greens deepen, which causes all the light on my back porch to have a green tint to it.  It is a cool morning, and damp but still peaceful.

Here I wait on words to come.

There are none of any consequence.

Just the sounds of the rain, trees, and animals wooing me and calling me to listen.  All nature worships… even when I cannot seem to find that place…

Lessons in the Storm

michelle-in-front-of-yonahThe storm rages.  The thunder rolls, bounces off the mountains, and returns like a boomerang.  The ground is moving. My usual porch writing spot does not feel safe, so I withdraw into the house.  The walls tremble and shake at the vibrations. Pictures rattle. Even as a lover of thunderstorms, I am on edge with the intimacy of this storm.  When they get this close, my stomach ties itself into knots with the memory of the destruction one lightning strike can do. In minutes, life as I know it can be undone.  Burned up.  Flooded.  Damaged beyond repair.

I push those thoughts away.  They lead nowhere.

Instead, I settle in by the window to watch the storm.  The trees blow and appear to be dancing to some unheard beat.  The rain is steadily creating puddles in the grass so that after the storm, the birds can more easily retrieve the worms. The thunder rolls away after a few anxious moments and the wind dies down momentarily.  The rain is steadfast as it slides off the trees which creates the hissing and pattering sounds I dearly love.  The trees are partially dressed, just changing into their green gowns for spring.  The leaves unfurl and turn their faces up to receive the gift of water from the heavens. They open themselves up fully as they drink.  I can almost see them expanding as I watch.  The newborn leaves, which appear to be so fragile, are in actuality quite strong.  They play in the storm as if it were a gentle shower.  I would never know from watching them there was any danger at all.  I want to be like the baby leaves; open to receive gifts from heaven provided to me in the midst of the tempest and trusting the storm will not destroy me.

The next round of thunder arrives to taunt me and laugh at my silly notion that there can be peace in the storm. It rumbles and shakes.  It knows the power all its loudness has over my heart. The rain picks up into a downpour and with the deluge comes the wind, back to display its power with the swirling and bending of trees.  The lights flicker as if to bow to the pressure of apprehension which is rising once again.  The storm is forcing itself on the mountains, creating a battle-like volley of sound.  What I realize is the back and forth noise isn’t back and forth at all, it is all coming from one source.  The echo is what makes it feel as if there is a battle.  In reality, there is no war, only thunder puffing itself up to be heard. The infant leaves know this.  They are not afraid of the bully.  The birds know it too, and they wait for the thunder to blow itself out.  It seems to me that all of nature knows and patiently waits for a new day.  Am I the only creature who does not know the truth, which is that storms come and go in cycles?  Or do I simply forget that after the destruction comes resurrection?  Always.

Lessons in the storm.

True North

north-star

A star peers through my window as I drive.  It is luminous, and for the past few nights it has been capturing my notice…almost calling me to pay attention.  Whispering a message through its repeated appearances throughout the countryside, I pull over to listen. I gaze at the seemingly stationary star, and as I do, I think about the old world ships which navigated uncharted oceans by starlight.  While there were no maps for the sea, the sky was charted in great detail.  With the North Star as a guide to true north, all the other directions were easily discernable.  Find Polaris, and you could find your way.  When the captains needed direction, they looked up.

Sitting under the tutelage of my star instructor, I get the message as clearly as the night sky. When my world is off balance or when things are unclear, I need to find my true north.  If I fix my eyes on the stresses and uncertainties of my life, I will get lost in the darkness.  There is a vast sea all around me that is not marked and the only way to navigate it is to look up, and keep my eyes on the one who knows me better than I know myself…the one who created the star he uses to instruct.  Suddenly, I find courage that hadn’t been there moments before.  It rises up, like the heavenly hosts above me as I gaze into the night sky.  I realize I cannot lose my way when I depend on him and therefore, I commit to fix my eyes on the Lord, who is my true north.

north star rotation.jpg

It occurs to me then that I am not the only one who needs this reminder.  Our world is divided.  Our friends and families are tearing one another apart.  There is chaos. Negativity oozes off of screens and into the streets. Disrespect has a stronghold.  It seems a storm is brewing and the future is uncertain.  The swells are growing bigger on the ocean and we have lost our way.  We have forgotten that the sea is uncharted, but the map we need has been provided. We have only to look up to the heavens to find our bearings and remember where we are. One star of hope directs us. He is the unchanging one…the one who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  As long as we can see him, the waves can churn and crash all around us, but we will not lose our way.  We can fix our eyes on him and find the courage we need to get us through the storms and darkness. The Ancient of Days is not movable by the whims of men.  The rest of creation revolves around his stability and faithfulness.  Sometimes the winds blow hard, and other times the sea is like glass.  He is not surprised by either, nor is he moved from his throne in the heavens. He has not forgotten or abandoned us.  We need only look up at our star instructor to remember how to find our true north.  From there, courage leads us home.

An Interlude

IMG_3519.jpgFrom my first footfall, the tension I had been carrying in my shoulders started to evaporate.  As my steps continued across the bridge, the water rushing underneath transported my cares away from me like white water over the rocks.  I paused to breathe it in.  Fresh air caressed my lungs, and the slight breeze tousled my hair as if to welcome me home.  The sun shone down, filtered through the bare branches of winter trees, who seemed a bit confused by this 70 degree February weather. A few buds were evident on otherwise stark skeletons.

Muscle memory took my legs over rocks and roots, and once it kicked in, my mind began to clear of the incessant worry that has taken up residence in the past month.  The crows overhead laughed together as my countenance began to change.  It was as if they could read my mind and were overjoyed to see the smile appear at the corners of my mouth.  A red cardinal crossed the path in front of me in pursuit of his wife.  She stayed just enough ahead of him to keep him interested, and the two chattered like an old married couple might do. On the lake there were diamonds flung across the surface, dazzling in the late afternoon sun, and a family of mallards was calmly making their way across the water.  The v rippling behind them cut through the glassy shimmer, giving away that their legs under the surface were working furiously, even as they appeared to glide smoothly on the top.

Soon I was in my usual rhythm making note of all the changes since last I walked the lake.  Like a reunion with a dear friend whom I haven’t seen in a while, I noticed newly downed trees, fresh gravel, and underbrush that has been cut back over the winter.  I thought, “Wow.  You look different! How long has it been since we have seen one another?”  In response the wind whispered, “Too long.”  And the wind was right.  It has probably been months since I last had a good trip around the lake, and it shows in the load I have been carrying, but with each step it got lighter. Half way around and I was practically skipping.  My heartrate increased with the exertion.  My heart was applauding and thanking me for this long overdue interlude from daily stresses. It continued its ovation until I stopped at the end, for a rest on a picnic table.

IMG_2517.jpg

By the time I made it there, my body was weary but stress free, my mind was empty of the “what ifs” that plague it in hard times, and I was at peace.  This allowed me to lie back and listen to the forest like hearing a great song on the radio or a classical symphony…only better.  The concrete table was cool on my overheated back.  The pine trees above me looked like pinwheels with branches that stuck out in a circular pattern. The sun was starting its descent which made the breeze a bit chilly, and that made my cool down go quickly. If I had started earlier in the day this would have been a nap, instead I soaked in the beauty until I got too chilled to stay any longer.

IMG_7303.jpg

Why is it that when things get difficult the first thing I cut out of my life is the thing that helps me most?  I will never understand how rapidly I forget the benefits of hiking when I am stressed.  I know that time is the real reason.  In seasons of stress, the urgent takes precedence and there is nothing that can change that really. You do what you have to do. However, now that things are a small bit settled, there is nothing stopping me.  Closing my eyes, I could hear the babbling brook calling me to come and stick my feet in, before my departure back to real life.  “It’s February.  When will you ever get to creek-walk in February?” it called.  I smiled and said, “Another time. Maybe, when I come back… tomorrow.”

img_8881

Web vs. Cocoon

michelle-in-front-of-yonahI have always been intrigued by spider webs.  They are so delicate, yet so strong.  The intricacy is breathtaking…a work of art really.  To think that an eight-legged creature created a web that lasts through storms and catches its food boggles my mind.  I have walked through enough spider webs when hiking to know that they are sticky.  They wrap around my face, and anyone watching me would think I was a crazed karate champion from the way I move to try to get them off of me.  Something about the idea that I might have a spider in my hair makes me more than a bit uncomfortable.  Yet, when I chance to see a web before I walk through it, I observe the detail in awe.  I have been known to allow a web to stay outside a window so my kids could safely watch the process and life of a spider.  We would watch the making of the web, and how the spider can walk on the tiny little threads even though any other bug would get stuck.  We saw the spider sit to the side feeling for vibrations and waiting for its meal to arrive. We watched it spin its prey into a cocoon-like formation with great skill and dexterity.  Sadly, we even watched the prey slowly cease to struggle and eventually give in to its fate, while the spider cherished its conquest.  It was a learning experience to see how diligently a spider takes care of its web, because in truth, the web is its life.  From building it, to patching it, to all the waiting and then a burst of diligent activity a spider is an amazing, though deadly, creature.

spider

Then there is the caterpillar, which is another amazing creature. How many of those have I captured in jars to attempt to watch the life cycle? Eating until they have had enough, then spinning their own web of sorts.  They hang out in there, but instead of a death trap, as with the spider, their cocoon is a place of transformation.  Truly a place of rest where they allow nature to do its thing.  When the time is right, there is a great struggle to get out of that small capsule of change. In my childhood all my caterpillars died from being in captivity, so my own children were required to release them after a few hours of observation.  Instead we went to the butterfly house at Calloway Gardens to see them up close. It takes longer than a child’s attention span will allow for a butterfly to be “born.” But if you had the time, you could watch them push and move against the outer shell of the cocoon until it breaks open and they climb out.  They hang there, waiting for the blood to fill their wings and eventually they spread them out to dry, and then finally take flight.   It is another beautiful process which nature uses to instruct me.

caterpillar

So what is the difference between the cocoon of death, and the cocoon of life? Both are used for survival.  Both are spun by bugs.  Both are strong enough to prevent movement and escape.  Yet, one produces a butterfly and the other produces a corpse.  One is a death trap and the other is a place of new life.  The difference is that the caterpillar selects a hidden place, and then waits. It does not strive, or toil within its shelter.  Transformation happens at the appointed time.  Release comes through struggle and freedom follows.  The spider, on the other hand, lives in survival mode, always.  Checking the web, and continuously struggling to keep it intact.  It produces a web that entices its prey and traps it.  It is constantly working and even at rest, it is waiting to pounce upon whatever creature happens into its web next.

I prefer to be a caterpillar in a world full of spiders.  I want to hide myself away within the cocoon of God’s love for me, knowing that at the right time transformation will happen and I will fly.  I do not have a desire to be on constant look out, nor do I want to build a web in which to trap things.  It is too much work to keep such intricacy intact.  I cannot bring myself to create corpses so that I might live.  I refuse to suck the life out of others, but choose instead to allow God to nourish my soul. I choose life over death, freedom over lies. Many would argue that the spider has all the power, and to some degree that may be true, but the caterpillar has all the freedom, and to me, it is worth the wait.

butterfly

A Solitary Journey

snow-pathWhen I was a kid, I remember listening for the snow. At some point in my young life, I had realized that it eliminates some sounds and insulates others.  The quiet produced was a sure sign that freedom was mine, and that the next day would be full of frolicking and fun.  I trained my ears to hear it, so I wouldn’t have to get out of the warm bed to look out the window.  Sleep was restless because a snow day in Atlanta is like Christmas, it doesn’t come very often. In the night, I would roll over and listen for the silence.  I didn’t even have to open my eyes.  If I heard the absence of suburban noise, my eyes popped open and I ran to the window to see if I had heard correctly.  Gazing out over the yard with a blanket of snow sent thrills up my spine.  To wait for daylight was agony.  Yet, there was something about the solitude of those waiting moments that I kind of liked.  The quiet. The sense of peace.  The fresh undisturbed blanket of white glowing in the streetlights.  All of it seemed quite like a postcard in my mind.

Those brief glimpses were short lived back then. I scrambled to find my snow gear as soon as the sun was up.  The laughter and shouts of my neighborhood friends broke the spell, and we spent most of the day riding flattened cardboard boxes down hills. On our brief breaks, hot cocoa awaited us in front of glowing warm fires where winter wear was draped all around trying to dry. After putting fresh newspaper in our shoes to protect our feet from the cold, we were off again to create snow angels and tiny snow people.  We didn’t know that other places had sleds, snow boots, and enough snow to create an army. We made do with what we had, and it was magical.

snow wood walk.jpg

Now, I relish the solitary moments more so than my younger years.  I find the undisturbed snow comforting somehow.  I find solace in the solitude. It is a place where I recognize I am alone on my journey, but that is not the same as loneliness.  It is more a realization that the life path I am walking is my own.  It’s just me and God. Friends can support and encourage one another in our travels, but none of us can walk another’s road. Walking in freshly fallen snow is stark, but clean.  All the clutter and dirt is covered so that there is a fresh perspective.  I find this to be such a powerful picture of the truth that my walk is mine alone.  A path just for me. A solitary journey. In the snow morning moments, I contemplate these things.  It is my way, to go deep.

snow lone skier.jpg

I feel as if 2017 has started off heavily for so many.  Each life event seems solitary as friends and family navigate different types of crisis moments. Each person on their own road.  Each person finding their way as best they can.

The blanket of white outside my window beckons:

Come walk with me.

Listen to me.

There is peace in the quiet.

There is depth in each step.

Be filled on this solitary journey.

Close your eyes and listen to the silence of the solitude.

Let it restore your weary soul.