Back to my roots

 

Old Man’s Cave trail, Hocking Hills, Ohio

 

 A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these, she said, is roots, the other, wings.

Quoted by Hodding Carter in “Where Main Street Meets the River”

We had our annual family reunion last week. It was full of pun-offs, adventures, and close living quarters. We feasted on fresh Carolina peaches, sweet corn and brick oven pizza.

A bodaciously awesome pizza, if I do say so myself!

I realized as I listened to the laughter and conversation swirling around the dinner table that our stories are entwined in so many ways. We share history as well as DNA. We share losses and joys. We fight to the death to keep the essential, clarifying, and off-debated Oxford comma. (See what I did there?)

We shared peaceful views at sunset. Hiking at childhood haunts. Competitive card games. And hugs. Lots of hugs.

Sunset at poolside.

The genealogists in the family (my mom being the most experienced) will share interesting bits of family trivia. Through years of research, Mom, (as well as my Dad and maternal grandmother) have uncovered when a specific ancestor emigrated to the US, what wars  they fought in, how they worshipped, and where they homesteaded. The ancestral “fan chart” is impressive with the names and dates going back to ten generations!

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Ancestral Fan-Chart created by my grandmother, Lura Morrow Hickox

For my daughters, I wish for them this same sense of rootedness and belonging. A place to be accepted and encircled with love. A reminder that they are loved and prayed for daily. A retreat from the world when its suckiness seems to out-weigh the promises of the future. A secure take-off. A safe landing zone. And enough love in their buckets to spill out into the world around them.

Our progeny: The Johnnie and The Gardener

It’s something I wish for all…  Not a wall. Not belligerence and hate. Not ridicule and judgmental scorn.

It’s really quite simple:

Roots. Belonging. Acceptance. Love.

The true mark of someone who loves God is one that demonstrates their rootedness in the Divine. And the fruit that grows from it.

Jesus said:

You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

Matthew 7:16-20 (NLT)

Perspective is Everything

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Somewhere over Indiana… I think.

That momentary darkness
A burst of blinding light
The morning walk around the neighborhood
A hellish commute to work
Perspective is everything

Finding a piece of the puzzle
Learning a new bit of my reality
Asking, for once, the right questions
Trusting God enough to wait
Perspective is everything

Rising above your circumstances
Walking on and getting closer to your goal
Seeing around the bend
God giving you hope to hang on
Perspective is everything

It’s worth it
You’re worth it
Hang on
Hold on
Perspective is everything

When less than perfect is… perfect!

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My travels today took me all over suburbia, from the newest neighborhoods with massive custom homes to the post-World War 2 bungalows. In the outer ‘burbs, there are many places where the agricultural community lives side-by-side with modern amenities. Driving on one back road, I chuckled at the sight of a herd of white-faced Herefords grazing in a field next to a large strip mall and posh tennis club.

And then, I saw this barn.

It was barely standing, with holes in the siding and the roof, and piled debris from the building on one side of the structure. (I actually did some fast and furious U-turns in order to go back and take a second look, and snap this picture.)

Directly across the street sat a “perfect” home with a wrap-around porch, vinyl siding, three-car garage and well-tended landscaping. (Even with the dregs of the recent snowstorm piled along the driveway and front walk, you could tell the hedges were clipped to perfection!)

Shack and Chic. Country and City. Cows and Suburbia. Dilapidated and Perfect.  The journeys they find themselves on are all different, and yet the same.

driving

Working in hospice, I become invested in the lives and needs of my patients. I listen to their stories, their questions, their philosophical reflections. I enjoy photos, listen to music, help write letters, and read Scripture to them. I learn so much. Oh, do I learn!

What you see on the outside can be deceiving. Inside the walls of beautiful homes, there are stories of great joy, worry and regret. Down the hall from a perfectly decorated game room, there is a hospital bed, or a countertop lined with bottles of pills. A camper may sit in the driveway, still covered in snow, the owner only dreaming of a drive to the Florida Keys.

Sometimes the contrast is quite striking. From outward appearances, they want for nothing: gourmet food, 24/7 private duty staff, gracious living with all the amenities. But once the door is closed and there is opportunity to share, there’s a different story. The ache of regrets and missed opportunities colors the few days a family may have.

In another home, you see there are needed repairs. It’s clear that the breadwinner is no longer working. The budget is shot after chemo and surgeries and hospitalizations, and there are grave financial concerns. The bills outlast the income, but laughter and joy color precious moments.

barn croppedOne really can’t tell from the outside what’s really happening on the inside. That family who looks perfect, is not…

And the impossibly dilapidated structure is actually quite beautiful…

And so, my chaplain’s heart stopped to wonder…

Do I see with an open heart and clear eyes what is truly going on behind the scenes? Or am I caught up in appearances and flashy “perfection?”

The bottom line is… we can never truly know what is going on in the human heart. I have learned this, to my embarrassment, when I make an assumption without taking time to really listen and absorb the facts.

Tonight I look around at our warm and inviting home, cats purring the couch beside me and many “creature comforts” at my disposal. Life is not perfect, but it is pretty darn good. May I not take that for granted.

Thanks be to God.

Evening Prayer

  

  

From the New Zealand Prayer Book

Lord it is night:

The night is for stillness.

Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.

What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done.

Let it be.

The night is dark.

Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you.

The night is quiet.

Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us, and all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.

Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities.

In your name we pray.

– Amen

Soft Falls The Night

Soft Falls The Night

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Soft falls the night
and in the deepening dark
I hear the peeping of the frogs
the softening whine of crickets
and the palms rustling and rattling in the breeze.

The noise accelerates,
as if to beg.
Perhaps the sun will slow its course
and give a few more moments of daylight.

But no.
The darkness spreads
and for a moment,
I forget the light will return,
the sun will fill the eastern sky
and poke into our windows.

The Light will come.
The Light WILL come.

Soft falls the night
and I
stand in wonder, watching, praying, worrying
for those who forget
the dawn.

Dragon Repellent (And other ways we face our fears!)

Many, many years ago, one of our daughters would wake up in a full-blown panic, calling for us:

Mommy! Daddy! Dragons! Dragons!
Mommy! Daddy! Dragons! Dragons! 

Tears on her face, she would curl up against us, while we tried to soothe her. She didn’t want to sleep WITH us, as much as she wanted the dragons to ‘go away.’ We had little success in persuading her the dragons had left until she fell back asleep.

This happened on and off for a couple of months. It was exhausting for all of us. Nightlights. Music. Aroma therapy. Stuffed animals. We would go a couple of nights and then… BAM. Her pediatrician noted it and said that it was a part of brain development. She wasn’t sleep walking.  It wasn’t night terrors. It was probably just “bad dreams.”

Except, these were not dreams from her perspective. There were dragons under the bed. And they hid when we came in the room. And they only came out at night… At one point, I even tried opening the window and shooing out the dragons before bedtime. (Yes. I was desperate. And pregnant.)

Funny thing, there’s nothing in parenting books about “dragons”…

Finally, I had a fit of inspiration. It was after we had come back from a camping trip and we used a lot of insect repellant. And there were no dragons. Hmmmm….

Before bed one night, I produced a can of “Dragon Repellant.” (It was actually a room deodorizer spray with a conspicuously hand-written label on it. Whatever. She was 3 and a half. It worked.) I sprayed the room and then under the bed and announced that the “Dragon Repellant” would keep the dragons away.

And, it did!

Since those early days of parenting, there have been other fears and tears that no amount of “repellant” would keep away. Gradually, we have all learned a lot about conquering fear. Or rather, allowing the Spirit of God to be a source of confidence, courage and coping. We read verses and learned songs. And mostly, we admitted when we were afraid and needed God to help us.

Isaiah 41:10 (Common English Bible)
Don’t fear, because I am with you;
don’t be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
I will surely help you;
I will hold youwith my righteous strong hand.

Joshua 1:9 (CEB)
I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Romans 8:14-16 (CEB)
All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.” The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children.

There is a healthy kind of fear. It allows us to retreat and evaluate our safety. That can be healthy and life-sustaining. The fear that God battles for us is very different. It is the kind of fear that paralyzes and causes us to retreat from growing, or pushing past personal pain.

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The fear that God conquers is a fear that limits us.

It is a fear that binds.
It blocks.
It takes away our willingness to try something new.
It puts up artificial boundaries.
It creates barriers between us.

It’s been a constant growth experience as I face fears of different kinds. Of learning what kind of courage it takes to speak my mind. (Or to be silent and pray.) To express an opinion. (And to stand up to opposing ones.) To ask hard questions. (And to accept that we won’t agree on the answers.) To take a risk on a new venture. (Or use wisdom and decline.)

What’s so funny about all this as I face my own fears is that people have told me that I inspired them to try something new. And I laughed. Because, well, in the back of my mind, I am quaking in fear, praying, and fearfully spraying “Dragon Repellant” at all of the things that worry or scare me. I’m trying to have faith that conquers these fears.

And even in my fears, God hears and answers. In the saddest, angriest, darkest, most fearful moments, God has been there. I am grateful.

The Light dawns. Hope returns. Blessed be.

Blessed be the Name...
Blessed be the Name…
Matt Redman wrote a worship song years ago that reminds me…
Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name.

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise.
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord…”