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Look at the Pretty Lights

Look at the Pretty Lights
(source)

Our headlights cut through the blinding darkness of the December night, illuminating the country highway as my littlest girl and I made our way home from church.

“Look at the pret-ty lights, Mom-my,” she called from her car seat in the back of the van. “Do you see the pret-ty lights? I like the pret-ty lights. Do you like the pret-ty lights?”

Like them? Yes.

See them? No.

At least, not like she did.

She, days shy of her fourth birthday, saw twinkly lights on the horizon and deemed them worthy of attention, of affection, of conversation. I, days past my thirty-ninth, noticed them and kept plowing into the night. I knew they were there. But she didn’t ask if I knew they were there. She asked if I saw them.

Acknowledging a thing’s existence is not the same as comprehending its presence.

So, no. I hadn’t seen the pretty lights. I’d glanced right past the glow they cast on the bleak winter landscape, overlooked that someone was celebrating, taken for granted that we have something to celebrate.

Seeing the lights required eyes concerned with more than pavement and progress on the season’s looming list—things to do and stuff to buy, clutter to clean and places to go. And those eyes were not mine.

They were hers.

Hers were the eyes of a child, eyes that came along for the ride while I did, while I bought, while I cleaned, while I drove. Hers saw beauty along the side of the road rather than racing ahead to the details of the destination. Hers attended to the small celebration in the now rather than fixating on the work of the later.

These days leading up to Christmas, these days of Advent, are not about pretty lights along the side of the road any more than they are about doing, buying, cleaning, and going.

They’re about watching. About waiting. About seeing Christmas for what it is.

And Christmas is a remembrance of what has been. That the long-awaited Messiah, Immanuel, God with us, left heaven to come to Earth. That he dwelt among men. And that he overcame the grave. It’s a celebration of what will be. That he’s coming again. And it’s an expression of what is. That once again, we are waiting.

Jesus called us to have the faith of a child. Children see the world clearly now, not dimly through a haze of details which cloud the mind as much as the eye.

Look at the Pretty LightsSo, look at the pretty lights. Do you see them? And look at the Light of the World. Do you see him?

Sharing stories at at Kelly’s Small Wonder and  Lyli’s Through Provoking Thursday.

Bridges Between

IMG_0828One fall, when I attended the University of Iowa, I went a few weeks between visits home. When my parents drove me to school, the fields were full  and green. When they brought me home, the fields stood empty. Even the combines and trucks had gone home.

Growing up in rural Iowa, I’d never experienced fall without seeing harvest, that gradual dismantling of the familiar, fertile landscape one field at a time. It was unsettling. I’d seen empty fields before, with the stubbly shave they wore between fall and spring each year. The problem wasn’t how they looked. It was that, while I was insulated in the city, fall had stolen in without me noticing. I’d missed it, and now I felt out of sync, like something was wrong in the world.

Twenty-five years later I can look back and recognize harvest for what it was, a long event that was part of my transition from one season to another, one that carried me from the verdant warmth of the growing season to the stark beauty of winter. According to merriam-webster.com, one definition of bridge is “a structure carrying a pathway or roadway over a depression or obstacle.” Another is “a time, place, or means of connection or transition.”

Harvest. It’s more than the gathering in of carefully cultivated bounty. It’s a bridge, a steady, unfolding process that I fail to notice until I miss it, one that spans the chasm between heat of summer and the chill of winter.

The measured pace of the seasons is a hidden bridge which carries me gently from where I am to where I need to be. It extends some space to prepare, not just to enter the coming season but to let go of the best parts of the one  fading away.

Bridge

Life offers other hidden bridges, simple, vital, nearly unnoticed parts of our days.  These are structures that carry our path, that support us along our road, that make the impassable way possible, that provide connection and transition. Stopping to look closely enough to actually see  helps me to understand these three for what they are. Gifts. Helpers. Graces.

Fatigue: That I want to do just one more thing before bed prevents me from either getting up when I should or being at my best for the people around me. That I get tired insures that I lay down for the rest I need. Fatigue furnishes a daily opportunity for fresh starts and new mercies.

Hunger: Because my body needs fuel, I get to pause, body and soul, not for only bread but also for breath. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner.  Hunger bestows three chances to pause between where I’ve been and where I’m headed next. Three opportunities  to gain perspective before launching into the next item on the list. Three occasions for thanksgiving.

Slow Fades: Under the influence of the hardest part of any season, I think that when I’m done with the season, I am done with the season. As in, I think I could switch from one hundred degree days to fifty degree days. I can’t. It takes time to shift between the long, hot days and the short, cool ones. My body isn’t ready and neither is my mind. The seasons’ slow fade offers transition time, a space not just for hello, but for goodbye.

BridgeAnd you? Are there hidden bridges carrying your path along right now, supporting you, making a way for connection or transition?

 

Linking at Kelly’s Small Wonder
and Lyli’s Thought Provoking Thursday.

Because Winter is Inevitable

aspen
Once, long  ago, before babies and moves to houses in new communities, I picked up the beginning of an understanding of the seasons—their rhythms, their tasks, their hard realities. Learning to be a mom to three babies while finding my way in three different towns left room for little else in my brain. I traded a loose grip on the concept of seasons for the clutching fist of survival.

It was not a good trade.

I forgot that seasons really do change. That whether delightful or dry, balmy or bitter, fertile or fruitless, they don’t last forever. That there is a time for every single thing.

SmokeysI still thought about seasons here and there. I even wrote about them. What I didn’t do was believe the truth of them, a truth that drifted around, unanchored, just beyond my grasp.

At least, that’s how it was until I woke up on the hard ground one morning in a tent in South Dakota to a bombardment of missiles launched by a pinecone-gathering squirrel. The squirrel didn’t forget. Because he is a creature of instinct and the outdoors, he knew. Yellowstone 2011 It was September and he was doing the work of the season—gathering pinecones and flinging them down from the tree in rapid succession. They landed on the ground, the picnic table, the tent, and the camper next door. Autumn, the season of harvest, of preparation, of gathering and storing what he needed for the winter, weighed on him. He went to work with the sunrise.

Cocooned between my husband and our littlest one, who’d woken up cold in the night and sought out somewhere warmer to sleep, I listened to the frenzied activities of the squirrel in the tree above as he prepared for the unavoidable days of winter. From the warmth of our double sleeping bag, I considered the cycle of the seasons and acknowledged my own.

Deep winter. There was no other name for it.

Above the Basin

Our babies had grown into big kids, but even years beyond what we hoped would be the last move, the bleak chill of displacement claimed my soul in the same way the afternoon cold settles into my bones and makes them ache. And this frozen season of the heart held on too long, so long that my emotional storehouses—reserves against times drought and famine—depleted to dangerously low levels. With little left to fight off an engulfing depression, I longed for spring, a spring so slow in coming I thought it might never arrive.

But it did.

It came quietly, meandering in soon after waking up to that squirrel. It came on the heels of a long breakfast with an old friend, several perspective-challenging days in the mountains with my dad, and a couple of space-making weeks in South Dakota with my family. It came slowly, spring, with its powers of restoration, and its light, balmy air that took the chill off my soul.

The squirrel gathered because his fields were ripe. He gathered because it was time to harvest. The physical world is tidy that way. The seasons come in turn. Winter, then spring, then summer, then fall. And then it begins again.

101_0915It isn’t so simple in the world of people. Our seasons don’t follow a predictable pattern. They don’t always come in turn. And because of the rich complexities of our lives, we sometimes find ourselves facing deep winter in one place and high summer in another.

What the squirrel didn’t know on that sunny September morning was that within the month his home in the Black Hills would be blanketed by two feet of out-of-season, blizzard-driven snow. Like him, I’ll never know when autumn’s abundance will end. But what I’m learning is that winter is inevitable, that it’s best to gather whenever and wherever the fields are ripe.

For everything there is a season

Linking with Kelly’s Small Wonder and Lyli’s Thought Provoking Thursday.

This post was originally shared at circlingthestory.com.

On Clearing and Cultivating

FullSizeRenderEight years ago, two months after we landed in a new place, spring unfolded like the twelve days of Christmas, each morning bestowing blossoms of a new color.

Crocus peeked over the winter’s covering of melting snow. Creeping phlox draped over the rock wall and tidy circles of hosta poked through the mat of the previous autumn’s fallen leaves. A small band of hyacinth and tulips held their blooms aloft near the cluster of tiny grape hyacinth massed at the base of a tree, a tree that revealed itself to be a redbud. Daffodils danced betwixt them all and even at the edge of the woods that is our backyard.

We’d received a gift, a garden–a mature garden–along with the house, one that someone else had labored to plan and maintain. Even though I don’t have the gardening gene that many members of my family carry, I recognized it as a gift because long ago Martha Steward told me so. Fifteen years, she’d told her TV audience, is how long it takes for a garden to mature, to get to that place the gardener had envisioned at planting time.

I love the idea of a garden. I planted an herb garden outside our first apartment. I’ve planted flowers at every home where we’ve lived. Once, I even planted a vegetable garden. But never have we stayed in one place long enough for our gardens to grow up.

The weeds sprang up that first spring with the same vigor as the flowers so, gardening gene or no, I went out to pull them. One side of the garden, the side across from the living room window, had few intruders, making it easy to work my way along the long stretch of green. But as I got further away from the window, the weeds grew thick and the hosta’s tidy circles gave way to a tangled jungle.

While I may love the idea of a garden, the years have proven that I don’t like the practice of gardening– the watering and weeding, the deadheading, the continual care. And while the gardens in my mind come straight from the pages of Martha Stewart Living, Victoria, and Midwest Living,  the actual work of my hands resemble those not at all. My herb garden lacked the magnificence of the ones in the magazines. My flower beds look neither vibrant nor lush. And my vegetable garden? Great with child when I planted and comforting an inconsolable infant during harvest, I’ve not taken that road again.

When a friend admitted she had “romantic notions” about gardening, she gave me words to understand the rough break between the lush gardens in my head and the ones that languished in my yard.

I waded further into the garden, past my romantic notions, pulling up plants of suspect etiology until I reached the farthest and most neglected end. There, in the shelter of the unfurling hosta, mass plantings of delicate, low-growing bluebell and lily of the valley broke the wall of green. Here were jewels I hadn’t set out to discover and without the practice, the work, of gardening, I’d never have cleared away the weeds that obscured them from view. I’d never have known they were there at all.

Spring in a new place, whether that place is a locale or a perspective, is like that, revealing what’s buried beneath winter’s snow, under the soil, behind the weeds. It challenges the romantic notions which stand in the way of tending, of progress, of discovery. It invites us out, beckons us to clear away the weeds and cultivate the land, wherever–or whatever–that land might be.

FullSizeRenderAnd you? Might you find little gems tucked within an untended wall of green in your life? 

All Because of a Little Fire

After the Burn by Courtney Celley/USFWS                                                                                                                                                               Source

The springtime landscape in rural Iowa wears a mosaic of ever-deepening swaths of green broken by plots of freshly turned fields and charred black ditches. Growing up, I saw the burns and wondered why people, including my farmer-grandparents, endured the stress of trying to contain a fire they’d set themselves.

They serve all manner of useful purposes, these controlled, or prescribed, burns. They break down dead plant material and return nutrients to the soil. They help with reseeding. They even control ticks.

My dad explained it to me when I was young, but it wasn’t until my family and I took up residence in the country that I began to understand. A long strip of grass lines our driveway. It bears the marks of once being a flower garden–a rosebush lost in the jungle of tall grass, a peony, clumps of black-eyed Susans, and a sea of towering, sunset hued lilies.

After we moved here nine Februarys ago, the melting snow revealed a tangled mass of the previous year’s grass. So we burned. We burned that year and the year after and the year after that, and while it wasn’t beautiful, it was uniform and green and sprinkled with blossoms.

And then we got bees.

They live just beyond the strip of dilapidated garden. When their first spring rolled around so did the mat of long dead grass, but we didn’t feel comfortable burning. For three years, a little fresh greenery but few flowers emerged through the snarl of brown grass. It was ugly and depressing.

So last spring we burned.

Bees orient themselves to the sun, leaving the hive only after sunrise and returning by sunset, so we waited for the sun to disappear, soaked the hive, and struck a match. The grass, cured by days of withering sun and drying wind, carried the fire from one end of the garden to the other while my son hovered over it with a hose.

We discovered, as the flames opened up space where the dead grass had been, interesting bits in the ashes: singed but living lilies, the charred remains of a  poison ivy vine, a couple of pop cans left behind during some day of outdoor work.  Our cats, always after a meal, crouched as closely as they could to the flames, watchful and ready to pounce on any unfortunate–and to my way of thinking, unwelcome–field mice displaced by the heat.

The fire consumed the remains of the grass, the trash, and the vine. It exposed the pop cans and the mice. What it didn’t do was destroy the lilies. And of everything we saw when the flames cleared, only they belonged in the garden.

The fire burned right over them.

It’s the same with us. Fire consumes and exposes the decaying remains, the trash, the weeds, the litter, and the vermin that clutter our hearts and our souls and our minds and sap our strength. It eradicates the things we don’t want and makes space for the things we do.

Not that that kind of heat is easy. The fire burned hot enough to keep us at a distance. Only after it passed by could we get close enough to examine what it left behind.

Spikes of green poked through the charred soil within days, the first hints of what became uniform waves of grass with a few black-eyed Susans around the edges. The lilies, singed but unharmed, stretched toward the sun and presided over the driveway. All because of a little fire.

campfire

And you? Might the heat you’re experiencing be opening up space for something important by burning away the things that don’t belong?

 

 

Sharing this week with the writers at Small Wonders, Thought Provoking Thursday, and  Weekend Whispers.