The Least of These

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Rising early, before sunrise, has never been an easy discipline for me, especially after working the night before well past sunset.  It’s always been a curiosity how waking just before a deliberately set alarm seems to be an unconscious attempt to avoid hearing the predictable “you’ve gotta get up” ringtone, annoyingly repeating itself until a sound sleeper complies.  The last day in October, after a restless night of waking several times before daybreak, was no exception.  Thankfully, I awoke before the “rise and shine” signal bypassed the airplane mode setting of my phone.

Cooler temperatures and more refreshing ocean breezes had recently helped dissipate the lingering heat and humidity of a summer refusing to move on.   In previous years, early September had not only meant Back-to-School time, but it had also brought a welcomed relief from the incessant summer heat of the most southeastern state of the US.  However, this year, Red Tide had been hanging about with its deadly algae blooms, causing fish and manatee kills, and numerous beach closures, after a major hurricane.  There seemed to have been a canopy of noxious air and irritants trapped by an invisible hand, making it hard to stay outside for long, much less enjoy fall festivities, as Trick-or-Treaters poised to brave Halloween, taking booty from treasure chests of teeth rotting, hyper-activity inducing candy.  Heading into November, one could only hope the worst of Florida’s summer was releasing its death grip and transitioning into a more welcoming mode for returning Snowbirds and seasonal tourists, who’d been keeping their distance.

On track to make my way back to work, after nightmares of not being able to clock in on time, I considered it was October 31st when the work of demons and divisive spirits stir their brew.  Opening the back door to let my dogs out in the yard, before I put my own mojo on to kick- start the day, I noticed something small and dark on the top step of the scallop-shaped stairs descending into the cool waters of a small inground pool guests have referred to as a “Texas-sized bathtub”.  This morning it appeared to be a Texas-sized bird bath for a seemingly frozen 8- inch bird with iridescent indigo feathers and a small hooked beak. Steady eyes stared back at me from a slightly turned head, though its body remained motionless until I bent down to look at it more carefully and determine whether it was dead or alive.  Its smalls eyes blinked and its hooked beak opened in silent warning, summoning all its strength to slowly spread saturated wings, revealing brilliant blue spots beneath the splayed tail feathers.  As I spoke to it calmly, telling the little bird I meant to help, its wings retracted and its beak closed, though it continued to stare at me.

Going inside to find my gardening gloves, an old hand-towel, and box where the bird might rest until I could take it by a wildlife veterinarian (not exactly on my way to work) but now a priority, I wondered what had happened to the small creature.  The dogs hadn’t made their usual dash to chase squirrels up and down the electric lines or up into palm trees, and they hadn’t seemed to notice the bird in the pool.  Could the small bird have intended to take a bath, but found the water deeper than imagined, or was the water too cold?

As I reached down around the bird with gloved hands, it didn’t struggle when I lifted it onto the old blue hand-towel.  It seemed to slump to one side, so I bunched the towel up to give it support.  Its feet seemed limp and dysfunctional; and as the bird’s breast became visible, I saw a small thin bodied black wasp hanging.  Pinching the wasp off the bird and smashing it with my sandal, I then lifted the bird to a shaded spot on a table under an umbrella.  It blinked and looked at me, but didn’t seem to be able to upright itself, so I gently bundled the towel around its limp body and placed it in a small box.

I found myself saying aloud:   “Lord, you care even when a sparrow falls to the ground. Please heal this young bird.”  I placed the box in another shady spot on the front porch where I planned to collect it on my way out the door, anticipating the unexpected event would make me late for work if I didn’t get moving.   As my Mom headed to the front door with her dog on leash, I called out to steer clear of the box on the porch.  (She later told me the bird seemed to be resting, as she’d left to walk her small dog.)

Periodically, I’d look out to be sure the bird was all right, but after showering and getting my lunch together and finally hurrying out the door, thinking I’d have to make a stop at the animal sanctuary, I turned to pick up the box but the bird was gone.  The impression of the body was still in the towel and only a small blue and white feather remained.  I quickly looked around the front yard, up in the sky and in nearby trees, but didn’t see the small bird anywhere; all the while my heart leaping inside me with gratitude and amazement.

Believe what you like, but what I thought and still do is that God healed the fledgling bird and it found new strength to fly away …. or an Angel came and took it to a safer place where it was given a new song to sing.  (An interesting fact:   Since none of us at work had a first appointment, all of the employees where in the waiting room as I entered, excited to tell the story about the rescue of a small bird and how God hears simple, heart-felt prayers in the midst of our busy schedules.  There was no fear or concern about what they thought when I said: “God healed that little bird….or sent an Angel to take it home!”)

 

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.”        (Matthew 10: 28,29)

 

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these ……of mine, you did for me.”  (Matthew 25:40)

 

According to Native American legend:  feather from a falcon symbolizes soul healing, speed and movement.  Hawks symbolize being able to see the bigger picture with spiritual discernment and clarity of vision.  The appearance of a hawk means to trust your inner guidance, gut instincts, and the evolution of a “higher self” calling you upward….to be keenly aware through observation, then act decisively when the time is right.

 

“If not now, tell me when?  If not now, tell me when?

We may never see this moment of place in time again.

 If not now, if not now, tell me when?

I see sorrow and trouble in this land. I see sorrow and trouble in this land.

And though there will be struggle, we’ll make the change we can;

If not now, if not now, tell me when?”

                                   (lyrics by Carrie Newcomer, “If Not Now”)

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Sky Above the Trees

Today has been one of those rare, invigorating, cooler days in Florida when sturdy breezes shake nappers from their slumber. The sun coming through even shade-drawn windows makes it impossible to ignore a prompting to get out and let wet hair be unruly, as it’s blown dry by nature, or take a brisk walk off a beaten path, before sitting undisturbed to survey others living their own momentary bliss. Cyclists spinning their wheels on paved walkways, dog-walkers gathering at fenced in playgrounds for their four-pawed companions to have a taste of freedom, kite flyers catching updrafts while steadying crosswinds as their airborne toys spin and dive, or a young girl in a large corral putting a well- groomed horse through it’s paces—-all a part of what makes a beautiful Sunday afternoon worth stepping out of a weekly routine.

It may not be everyone’s response to these vignettes of recreation, but I found myself singing songs welling up from some deeply guarded internal reservoir. Everything from “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” (Mary Poppins) to “There is within my heart a melody , Jesus whispers sweet and low: Fear not I am with thee, peace be still, in all of life’s ebb and flow.” (That one came from pretty far back in the memory archives!). Needless to say, there seems to be a random recall button in the juke box above my shoulders, in response to events in the most unexpected places and settings….not all because of a picture-perfect day at a park!

I’ve become aware though, after letting melodies run their course by phrases or in their entirety, I resonate on a different plane. I am not performing for anyone, or needing anyone’s approval. It’s more about allowing spontenaity to recover something of value when so many things in life require a cooperation to conform to and meet others’ expectations or standards.

An osprey gliding over a lake caught my eye as it descended quickly to snag a fish with it’s claws, then rose above the glistening waters with it’s next meal trying to wiggle free. A ball cap with a race horse’s name sat on the picnic table beside me where I’d paused with my dogs for a drink: “Carpe Diem” (Seize the Day) was embroidered in purple on the white crest above the brim. (A few years ago this horse had qualified for the Kentucky Derby when he won the Tampa Bay Derby.)

I sensed a need to be “fully present”—-soaking in moments that offer a restoration of balance to recover from the trauma of recent tragedies and unsettling world events.

Lyrics to another song by duo, Nathan & Christy Nockels, who recorded “Gloria” as Watermark in 1997, summarized the feeling of days like today:

“Wish I could crash like the waves or turn like the Autumn leaves, in effort to praise You.

Wish I could smell like the forest, a fragrance lifting a mighty chorus, in effort to praise You.

Wish I could roll like the thunder, to leave the earth below in wonder, in effort to praise You.

Wish I could fall like the summer rain, and every drop would sing Your name, in effort to praise You…

But I’m such a limited creature, and my words can only paint so many pictures….but I must try…”

Today I was reminded of a larger sky above the trees, and how important it is to give ourselves permission to be more than cogs in a work machine; to go fly a kite, catch a breeze with a sailboat, or imagine what it’s like not to be earth-bound.

There is a sky above the trees, where spirits soar and songs keep them aloft.

When the Train Whistle Blows

Trains, and memories etched in my mind of experiences and stories whose subjects included trains, had been floating in a cloud above me for days, waiting for a saturation point to release them like a gentle rain.   Picking up a book this morning, intent on recovering from a super-bug I hadn’t banked on catching, my cue to find an undisturbed space and time to write, looked back at me from a page I had started reading in a new chapter :   “Allow me a train metaphor,” author Madison Taylor began, “….the mind is used to being stuck on a certain track, and the writing process takes you off that track and on to a new one.  On the new track, you will find the answers that you need in order to get to the station.” (Unmedicated, pg. 51).   No more delays leaving this station, I thought, so I packed a couple of hydration drinks, collected my writing tools, dog leashes and two dogs to go with their water bowl, and headed for the car.  I had to get far enough away from all the construction work, traffic congestion, helicopter noise from a nearby military base, and conversation-starved people to give my thoughts a chance to congeal.  (I don’t sit or think well in concrete jungles where even complete strangers seem to approach as if you’re their long-lost buddy.)  I wish I’d had a shirt to caution unwanted intruders:

I’m sick! Don’t bother me today….and besides, I’m THINKING!

Working in a spa where a train track runs behind the building has resulted in an interesting phenomena, I HAD been thinking.  The “woosh” of tension leaving rooms as trains steadily rolled along their intracoastal route, within yards of the building, was noticeable.  Though out of sight, the muffled “clickety-clack” and gentle vibrations of each train’s passing, seemed to serve as a reminder that everything comes and goes, like seasons, rolling past, heading somewhere new.  The mere thought of a destination beyond a darkened room, if one could just “get on board”, added quality to the assurance. (The Universe knows I’m ready to get on board one of those trains soon, so maybe I’m just creating the interpretation, you say?  Welcome to the world of creative writing and progressive thinking!  To stay in one place and be content with sameness equates with stagnation and eventual death for some of us in this world.)

One of my favorite scriptures from the New Testament is John 3:8 , addressing spiritual rebirth and how the Spirit of God blows through peoples’ lives in different ways, effecting visible change whose long-term effects cannot be foreseen:

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

I’ve thought about trains in this way too.  We don’t always know what station they’re coming from or their ultimate destination, but we see and hear the effects of their coming and going, and we are somehow changed.

Some say this passage gives credence to a wanderlust or gypsy-spirit, endorsing rootlessness.      I wonder how the Disciples of Jesus would feel about that interpretation.  They might agree, since they left all to follow a Teacher they recognized as greater than themselves, to do the will of a God they couldn’t see, but whose power they were experiencing.  If the goal is to be “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17), implying action, as well as a place seated in the heart and soul of its host, “taking root”, doesn’t always mean staying in one geographical place and never moving beyond it.

Another memory of trains from my youth comes from a Grandfather’s love of trains.  In his lifetime, he told stories of riding on stock trains between Texas and California during WWII when his future father- in-law, George Washington Brumley, was the largest supplier of pork to the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet.  (Evidently it was a kind of test to see if he was worthy of the daughter he was proposing to marry, because this also happened with one of my grandmother’s sister’s suitors!)  Descriptions of walking across the top of cars to check on livestock, and riding in the caboose with other train-workers on the circuit sounded like great adventure to my formative mind.  Later in his life, he’d invested in toy train tracks, train cars, and villages displayed on a ping-pong table in a loft above a garage.  He delighted in making a steam-whistle blow as the engine pulled it’s scaled down load in large circles, sometimes navigating sharp curves.  (A right-of-passage for his grandchildren was being handed the controls, along with instructions to take care and not go too fast, so the payload wouldn’t derail!)

It was also wonderful when schools let out for the summer, and my siblings and I would ride with our mother on a passenger train from Illinois to Texas.  Eating in a dining car, sleeping in berth-cabins, and putting our patent-leather or saddle-shoes in a little hallway cubby before bed to find them newly cleaned and polished the next morning, enhanced a feeling of privilege.

As a pre-teen, living far from the place where those fonder memories had their origin, my parents’ rented house with a large unfenced backyard, also had a train track behind it.  The trestle, rising high above the mown lawn, had provided a challenging hill to climb, while underneath a cement bridge section, a shady stream with crayfish and minnows provided hours of after-school entertainment when we’d catch and release them back into their free-flowing habitat.  When no one was looking, we’d follow the train track’s cross-ties as far as we dared—-sometimes to a little “Whistle-Stop” store—once a small train depot.  Other times we’d walk along the rails like a balance beam, always listening for the distant whistle of an engine’s warning.  Adrenaline producing vibrations, felt in our feet, became a fine-tuned warning to get clear of the tracks and slide down the steep embankment to the safety of our backyard.

In the years to follow, it would become a place associated with danger, because drug dealers and addicts cruelly demystified the creek under the overpass with their darker, clandestine exchanges.  Then the train’s allure for me was totally lost the evening a beloved dog didn’t follow us quickly enough descending the trestle.   She had been sniffing at something and lingered behind, long enough to be hit and killed instantly, not by a train, but by a motorcyclist who’d appeared from the brush, gunning his motor to race along the shoulder next to the tracks.  Misty’s limp body was enough to make me start having nightmares in the second story Cape-Cod bedroom where I tried to escape the sorrow thru sleep.  But after the tragic loss of our beloved family pet, whenever a train or motorcycle barreled down the tracks behind the house after dark, a depressive dream-state trapped me in the top of the house as it seemed to sway and bend towards the ground, paralyzing my cries for help, while its pendulum motion swung back to the roof, before it’s next elastic arc sent me back down to the ground.  From that point on I wanted to get away from the mind-numbing drone of trains, motorcycles, and household discord.

Before High School graduation, on a family trip to western Europe, Eurail passes enhanced our mobility between several countries for weeks.  Backpacks, instead of suitcases, had been welcomed on buses, as well as the trains, taking us on an incredible sight-seeing journey with stops to see friends and family, occasionally.  There’s nothing like being rocked to sleep by a train, a conductor waking you up to check a passport, and receiving a new stamp at another country’s border.  The only stop that cast a somber mood on our group was when a couple of those stops included Concentration Camps where the Nazis regime had delivered railroad-cars full of people to workcamps and extermination chambers (now museums).  In my sorrow and through some kind of communal guilt that came with a German heritage, I  was thankful my memories of trains had been much kinder.

Fast forwarding to a time in my adult life when my own family of six lived near a commuter train, Amtrak connected the suburbs with our nations Capitol, and the Light-Rail saved us in downtown areas where parking spots came at a premium cost, if they could be found.    Trains also became a friend when taking breaks from section-hiking the Appalachian Trail.  I’ll never forget seeing New York City from a train window, after getting off trail, following an extended time in the woods.  It was like waking up to a more benevolent form of travel, still regarded in some cities as a valuable form of public transportation.   I was gaining an understanding of trains as passenger-friendly with the added luxury of “wiggle room” not found in planes, and the benefit of sight-seeing from huge windows as diverse scenery rolled by like a movie. There was a certain romance gifted back each time I rode the rails to and from a destination.

Trains and their whistles had been given some of their innocent allure too, when my Grandad who loved trains taught me a mournful song, “Please Mr. Conductor, don’t put me off this train”, as a child.   Later in life, my own Dad, whose eclectic taste in music always intrigued me, introduced me to contemporary folk-singers and songs-writers.  One song in particular resonated with my spirit, then as it does now: “Morningtown Ride” by Malvina Reynolds.  Written the year I was born, it is a lullaby of reassurance to children in uncertain times.  (Malvina was also well known as the writer of “Little Boxes”, a social commentary poking fun at the standardization of the American Middle Class.  Now I understand why my Dad used to sing it with a note of sarcasm in his voice.)  Only recently I learned she was also a political activist, born in San Francisco (1900) and a resident of Berkeley, CA until her death in 1978.   Never the less, “Morning-town Ride” remains one of my favorite songs to hear or sing at the end of a long, tiring day, in uncertain times.

Train whistle blow’in

Makes a sleepy noise

Underneath the blankets

Go all the girls and boys

 

Rock’in, roll’in, rid’in

Out along the bay

Heading now for Morning-town

Many miles away

 

Driver at the engine

Fireman rings the bell

Sandman swings the lantern

To show that all is well

 

Rock’in, roll’in, rid’in

Out along the bay

Heading now for Morning-town

Many miles away

 

Maybe it’s a rain’in

Where our train will ride

But all the little travelers

Are snug and warm inside

 

Somewhere there is sunshine

Somewhere there is day

Somewhere there is Morning-town

Many miles away

 

Rock’in, roll’in, rid’in

Out along the bay

Heading now for Morning-town

Many, many miles away

 

     A few years ago, while living in Kentucky, I visited a town called Paris in Bourbon County, initially built and occupied by people who developed the railway system instate to accommodate the movement of coal and livestock. (Bourbon and Thoroughbred horses are a part of Paris’ history, as well, so trains most likely moved them about too.)  In one part of Paris there is an old railroad bridge arching over a road descending past a fork of the Licking River.  While driving the road on one occasion, a train blew its whistle and a conductor waived from the engine— a friendly gesture I once recalled seeing as a child.  It was almost as if the train was asking for a second chance to be considered a “friendly” relic of history.  It made me think about references to trains in songs, and about preachers who admonish their listeners to “Get on Board the Glory Train” (bound for Heaven).  In any event, trains represented forward movement and work to get to a new destination.

 

Now, a different kind of train has arrived and new tracks of a different sort need to be lain.  Receiving news from a close friend fighting for her earthly life against a silent disease, she is preparing to step out of the comfort zone of one station and get on board a new train of clinical trial protocols.  She is a pastor, who has faced all of her life challenges with a positive outlook and faith inspiring many.   In a recent writing, she referenced God’s promise to give people a “hope and future”—a new destination,  if you will.  She suggested that we are not always put on the track we had imagined for ourselves, but that grace is given for times we need to be at a resting place, before being given a push to forge ahead. (OK, Pam, I paraphrased.)  She believes in a “kind God who takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into radical life-change” when needed.  The premise being:  God knows the how and where of our journey and the new destination.  She further interprets Jeremiah 29:10,11 to remind herself and those following her posts: “God will not abandon me, but I might not have the same future I had once hoped for—-but it will be okay.”

Etched in my mind from multiple readings of the classic childrens’ book:  The Little Engine Who Could when I was a young reader and then years later read to my own children, the benevolent engine with a simple hard-work ethic, backed by her friends, made the biggest of challenges surmountable.  Somehow the virtual memory-cloud above me isn’t so daunting as before, acknowledging the past, and allowing a refreshing wind to blow new thoughts and possibilities into air space we share.  Sensing the Universe is preparing a time “When the Train Whistle Blows” again, I choose to stay open to a new course, towards a “radical life-change”, and a new story-line for those in a friendly caboose behind a cheery Blue Engine to write about.

Reclaiming a More-than-Middle-Aged Body

Much of my youth and young adult life, gymnastics training and coaching dominated waking hours when I wasn’t studying to maintain an Honor Society status. No less was expected. And as hard as I tried to deliver, there was always a feeling of “falling short” coming from some internalized, elusive standard of perfection. After becoming a mother, those previously held standards, especially with regards to staying “fit and trim”, fell by the wayside. I no longer chose to keep food journals, count calories and submit to weigh-ins, although there remained an unspoken desire to achieve and maintain a degree of health, whether or not a coach, judge, athletic trainer, or internal voice of condemnation approved. I was free of it –for a while at least.

Less punishing forms of recreation, like gardening, hiking, walking my dogs, or horseback riding filled the spaces once dominated by the vigilant and unforgiving voices ingrained from my youth. For years it had been a deliberate choice to reject organized groups, exercising to please others and earn a particular body-type to be considered “good enough”. So it was an unexpected curiosity, while walking my dogs at a park, to be intrigued by a small band of women with state-of-the-art strollers designed for walk/run outings. On more than one occasion, I’d seen them jogging around the park’s field and pond, pausing intermittently to follow a leader prompting specific muscle group workouts. They were all tuned-in to fun music with words of affirmation and encouragement as their guide. It was easy to appreciate their efforts and wonder: “Where was this kind of group when I was managing with four small children?!”

Granted, a few decades ago I had been involved with a wonderful home-schoolers collective, —an essential part of my support system at the time. I had also made a conscious habit of loading up children, accessories, and coolers to go on day-adventures to parks or for field trips, if not simply taking long walks with four small children, who rotated between available backpack or stroller space, if not running alongside our little parades. However, this group of ladies seemed particularly dedicated to the process of “taking back” their bodies after having had children, and they seemed to be having fun doing it together. I found myself drawn to them and their mission, while challenging my own sense of well-being.

(As a Licensed Massage Therapist, I’ve found joy as a professional in sessions with pregnant women, as well as new parents coping with new stressors. It is a sacred trust. An affirmation. An investment in a new generation. I‘m continually amazed by the beautiful and unique atmosphere created by women bearing and caring for formative lives; or young parents learning to be selfless and other-centered, while maintaining their own identities and adult relationships.)

Giving in to a prompting on one of these dog-walking-at-the-park-days recently, I asked to join one of the smaller groups to test my presumed level of “acceptable” fitness. “Just for fun”, I’d thought. Let’s just say finding a place in the shade to tie off my all-too-ready-to-take-a-break-from-the-heat dogs, was the easier part. After an hour of trying to keep up with these “FIT4MOM” ladies, I was ready to find a place in the shade next to my furry children and stretch out for a long afternoon nap! The take-home lesson for me was not to stop moving until I could shower and recline for a while before work! Also, not to drink a “Bullet Proof Coffee” concoction before exercising in the outdoor heat. (It was the first time I’d ever felt nauseous since early stages of pregnancy, decades ago! Empathy – 1 Reality check – 1 )

In retrospect, part of the reclaiming-fitness motivation came in the form of being able to laugh out-loud at myself, as I tried to keep up with a group of women half my age or younger. Perhaps the most freeing part was knowing my effort wasn’t being judged by anyone else’s score or approval. They laughed along with me and only had words of encouragement in response to my participation attempts. As one of the ending meditations suggests, it’s about creating space to let go of what no longer serves us, leaving room for what inspires us to grow.

Yes, I signed up for a few more get-togethers with these inspirational Moms, as my work and budget allow. Why not? I am the mother of 4 young adults, and I’m still trying to keep up with them! What better way than to pursue a fitness advantage?! I guess you could say I’m taking advantage of the youthful energy in a new “Village”, trying to navigate a “More than Middle Aged” Mom ‘s course. Be patient with me, Ya’ll! I’m coming from behind! Keep moving forward! FIT4MOM is one on our side!

Anyone interested in more information regarding FIT4MOM programs may reference/contact:

www.fit4mom.com

Rebekah Coates, Space Coast (franchise owner)

rebekahcoates@fit4mom.com

321-591-7648

Confessions of a More-than-Middle-Aged Mom

Some people think living in Florida is the end-all, as a place to retire and bathe in the sun to forget about harsher realities — that Paradise is simply here for the taking—-a Magical Kingdom– so “jump right in”. As a reluctant resident of the state over the past two years, living through two hurricane seasons and hotter-than-Hades summers, already not a fan of ocean-front living and negligible elevation changes, I can only say the faulty concept of “heaven on earth” in Florida has been further shattered by the carnage of more “guns blazing”.

There is an unspoken premise that moving to a place like Florida automatically improves one’s health, ignoring the topic of skin cancer (the silent killer) and disclaimers that “applying a good sunscreen and covering up” will help prevent melanoma —-wait, I thought “Paradise” was about wearing less clothes and being less restricted. Add to this the reality of a terrorist who sprayed bullets into a crowded night club not long ago, followed by another school shooting, both resulting in the tragic loss of lives. In the aftermath, it’s hard to appreciate complacent attitudes adopted in Paradise by those who would choose to ignore the need for more than “hopes and prayers” in resolving harsher, communal realties.

It’s reassuring to see people walking, jogging, cycling, and frequenting a myriad of gym facilities offering the latest and greatest work out options in Florida. It’s good to have reason to believe people are fighting for better health, clearer minds, and a platform from which to be participants in a better community. The question I ask myself and would ask others:

What are we doing with our improved health and clearer minds?

Are we perpetuating a myth and simply indulging in a Paradise that’s a bubble-world waiting to burst when the next shots are fired at innocent victims?

I will be the first to confess, walking my two dogs, an occasional drive away from the monotonous flatlands and predictable heat in Florida, and reading books, have sustained me. Even the necessary work I do to try and stay afloat in an economy where inflation and residential congestion are encroaching, has its momentary “escape from reality” benefits.

And it’s no surprise to me when people take to the open road, seeking out new adventures and awe- inspiring views, and places where solace can still be found. Honestly, I want to join them.

But I find myself asking: What am I doing to help stem the tide of violence and evil that seems to be advancing on corners of “Paradise” valued? For some that’s Florida- the Sunshine State for retirees and vacationers, and those trying to serve them. For others, our National Parks. Still others, the health of an environment in which we all live.

The confessions of this More-than-Middle-Aged-Mom have been exposed. So then, as Frances Schaeffer, a Theologian once asked, considering the problem of evil and the possibility of being catalysts to positive change in our world: “How then shall we live?” Complacency and silence are complicity.  Take-away lessons from spiritual leaders I find myself paraphrasing from memory, combined with personal notes made in bulletin margins, suggests:

Start where you are, offer what you have with love, and it will be enough; if for only one, make a difference like a pebble tossed in a pond. The ripple effect will take it from there. Then rest for a while to recharge, and consider “hopes and prayers” find their needed applications through transformative action.

“Home” for the Holidays

Perhaps more than any other year in the six decades I’ve been around for Christmas holidays, this has been the strangest and most challenging.  And it seems, this year, I am not alone in this perception.  While some families spend time and hard-earned money (or credit to be repaid in the new year) to be with family and friends, this year I find myself “being still” where I am, considering how others feel who may not have the time, energy, resources, or resolve to celebrate in the traditional, conspicuous way.

Perhaps being an “empty nester” has something to do with the feeling of being detached from festivities, but it’s interesting how my path has crossed others in transition, dealing with similar sentiments, looking for some kind of comfort to “muddle through somehow”, as a popular Christmas song suggests we are capable of doing.  Spouses or parents have passed away and “gone to their rest”, the separation of parents and their children by choice or court orders, unfavorable medical diagnosis, and pre-occupation with chronic pain have knocked some off their donkeys.  Instability in governmental leadership and upended economics have all done their part in shaking foundations of hope and comfort as “real news” jockeys to displace “good news”.  (Monday night football is no consolation for peace-seekers, either. One more loud-mouthed, opinionated neighbor, who feels a need to broadcast his prognostications, may put me over the top on Christmas Day.)  I pray for grace and mercy to come out ahead of the game, content to just finish reading a book behind closed doors and windows.

Perhaps the absence of children and the passing of loved ones, who once made the season special—even magical– has something to do with it, but there is more to consider.  Perhaps it has as much to do with songs during the holidays being “white” or “snowy”, while living in a one-season-fits-all climate—-no thrill there or firesides glowing, unless you crank up the A/C and bundle up in cheap purchases from Goodwill (where everyone from colder climates made donations of winter clothes when they moved to Florida).

As heralds of “Peace on Earth” proclaim what must be believed without the benefit of seeing —otherwise known as Faith—-some of us are asked to reconcile being alone with the promise of never being forsaken, while too often feeling “forsaken” and more alone than ever.  This prompts me to “wonder as I wander, out under the sky” how the Shepherds felt minding their flocks by night with campfires for warmth and sturdy wooden sticks to keep wolves away.  Probably they felt alone and unappreciated (except by the sheep, of course), in what may have been thrift store garb.

Passing empty parking lots of stores and restaurants as I left work on Christmas Eve, earlier than usual, I marveled at the fact so many establishments had decided to close both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. ( I  still wonder why they feel a need to reopen at all until after the New Year, but I’m ignoring the thing called “end of year sales to increase the bottom line” before the tax time “Reason for the Season” crunch.  Surely beasts of burden and stable hands can clean up a messy afterbirth, so let the return items and New Year’s sales roll us into recovery, after new deductibles for open heart surgery have been paid.)

I  observed police officers directing traffic in and out of church parking lots with glow sticks, but no Santa hats.  I wonder if they felt alone or detached as record numbers of drivers in sanctified car-pools followed their stars home. Neighborhood Christmas lights were the next best source of affordable entertainment for souls looking to find colorful glimmers of light in the world.

A passage from the New Testament of the Bible came to mind, as I thought about a young woman met who was excited about a baby developing in her belly, and other women going through transitional times in their lives requiring them to release their children, or look for new reasons to move forward in their lives alone.

“The whole creation has been groaning, as in childbirth, right up until the present   

   time…even as we groan inwardly for redemption”.           (Romans 8:22)

 

I’m coming to terms with the “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams” song-lyric, as a reality, until we are finally “at home with the Lord” in our heavenly dwellings.

How wonderful it will be to “owe no man anything, except the perpetual debt of love, one to another” (Romans 13:8). 

Until then, perhaps we’ll find our place in “tribes”, among those who are

          “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing,

           and yet possessing everything.” (II Corinthians 6:10)

 

Wherever we find ourselves, here’s hoping a sense of “Home” will tap us on the shoulder or settle in a comfortable corner of our memories, as comings and goings carry us through the holidays and into a New Year.

 

The Truth about Love

When someone says “I love you”, what does that mean if, on the heels of it, they go off with another intimate companion and  maintain contact with former lovers, paranoid they will be found out and have to bear the consequence of secrecy?

When someone says , “I forgive you”, and thinks a peaceful cease-fire has finally been negotiated, but then their actions launch a dart aimed to hit squarely at the heart of a  freshly healed wound…..how can there be hope, renewal, or restoration with that person?

Finally, an understanding of complete release into the hands of God…..for whatever “Karma” follows…….becomes the kind of surrender to stubborn, complex and unchanging spirits that grants ultimate Freedom….no longer bound by soul ties born of deception and half-truths.

“For freedom Christ has set us free….submit not again to the yoke of slavery…’ is the only promise I hope to know.

I would rather cast myself on the mercies and provisions of God than among men or women who are deceivers and destroyers of all that has had the potential to be good, true, and of good report.

You, who appear to some as a Shephard and guide…..I no longer know your voice as one recognizable to be trusted or followed. It has taken too long to know that walking away and apart is the only solution. I hoped beyond reason. I dreamed one too many dreams you have dashed.

The truth about Love is that it is not just words of endearment, a firm embrace, the gift of a head-covering, or even a kiss. Love is an act of kindness, promises kept and a singular focus that does no harm to the Beloved. What you have offered is not love.

Once again, I set you free. Once again I purpose to look forward only, and walk in a new direction. No one is worth the searing of conscience required to maintain duplicity and divisions of the heart.

The Truth about Love is: It will ultimately heal and restore the hope deceivers and their accomplices fool-heartedly destroy.