I know all too well the difficulty of looking at a blank page (or a blank screen) waiting for words to fill it up. An author is tasked with “originating” something from nothing, creating and constructing a story where none existed before.
So Jesus as Author takes us back to the origin, which is the Word, and the Word became flesh.
Our story is in the hands of the Author: the prologue, the characters, the climax and denouement. Each page, each ink stroke, every nuance of dialogue and action. As the finisher of our faith and storyteller of our salvation, no matter what the plot twist or crisis, nor even if pages are yellowed, the cover torn off and the binding broken from overuse, we are preserved and treasured, everlasting.
This is a date that stands out on my calendar every year. Whenever November 27 comes around, I think back to a very skinny freckled eleven year old girl who wanted nothing more than to have her own horse. Every inch of my bedroom wall had posters of horses, all my shelves were filled with horse books and horse figurines and my bed piled with stuffed horses. Everything but the real thing out on the small acreage we lived on. We had a small shed, not a real barn, and no fences, and though I was earning money as best I could picking berries and babysitting, I was a long way away from the $150 it would take to buy a trained horse back in 1965. I dreamed horsey dreams, mostly about golden horses with long white manes, hoping for that day when it would become real for me.
When the local radio station KGY’s Saturday morning horse news program announced their “Win a Horse” contest, I knew I had to try. The prize was a weanling colt, part Appaloosa, part Thoroughbred, and the contest was only open to youth ages 9 to 16 years old. All I had to do was write a 250 word or less essay on “Why I Should Have a Horse”. I worked and worked on my essay, crafting the right words and putting all my heart into it, hoping the judges would see me as a worthy potential owner. My family took me to visit the colt, a fuzzy engaging little bay fellow who was getting plenty of attention from all the children coming to visit him, and that visit made me even more determined. I mailed in my essay and waited.
On November 27, 1965, I got up early to listen to the program that was always featured on the radio at 8 AM on Saturday mornings. They said they had over 300 essays to choose from, and it was very difficult for them to decide who the colt should go to. I knew then I didn’t have a chance. They had several consolation prizes for 2nd through 4th place, so they read those essays, all written by teenagers and my heart was sinking by the minute. Then they said they were going to read the winning essay. The first sentence sounded very familiar to me, but it wasn’t until several sentences later that I realized they were reading my essay, not someone else’s. I leaped and shouted and woke up my whole family, including my dad, sick in bed with the flu, who opened one eye, looked at me, and said, “I guess I better get a fence up today, right?”
That little bay colt came home to live with me the next day. Over the next few months he and I learned together, as I checked out horse training books from the library, and tried every different technique in addition to joining 4H. By the time he was two, I was sitting on him, and by age three, I had earned enough to buy a saddle and was riding him on my own. Though he was not a golden-colored horse, he was my horse and I loved every inch of him.
When I went off to college, I found him a new home with someone who was able to care for him and he continued a happy life as I spent the next 13 years of my life living in the city. The horse dreams still swept me up as I spent hours in book stores poring over horse books and learning about various breeds. I knew I’d had my one special “gift” by winning my first horse, so the next horse I would have to earn on my own. I worked long hours, many nights and many holidays, earning what I could to eventually move from the city and own some land for a future horse and a future family.
Along the way, I found a farm boy also “stuck” in the city and together we worked on building our dream (his was NOT horses but he was gracious enough to honor my dream!). We bought our farm a full two years before we actually could afford to leave our city jobs behind to move there. In the meantime, I had opened a book in one of my many city bookstore visits, and there were my golden dream horses, running wild through green mountain meadows, their white manes and tails streaming out behind them. I bought that book in a heart beat, and began my search for the magical Haflinger. Within a month of our moving to the farm, on November 27, 1985, our first Haflinger joined us.
Twenty years separated my first horse from my second horse, but November 27 represents the date I was able to realize my dreams. As I was cleaning the barn this morning, after moving seven golden Haflingers out to their day time paddocks, I marveled at the privilege it is to work to raise these beautiful horses. They own me, heart and soul. I will do whatever I must to help this dream come true for others who have known that someday, there must be a golden horse in their future.
There is a basic lesson that all young horses must learn (and a fewer older horses must relearn) on our farm. It is to stand still when asked and move only when asked. This does not come naturally to a young horse–they tend to be impatient and fidgety and fretful and full of energy. If they are hungry, they want food now and if they are bored, they want something different to do and if they are fearful, they want to be outta there.
Teaching a horse to be still is actually a greater lesson in persistence and consistency for the human handler, which means I don’t always do well in teaching this to my horses and they (and I) lapse frequently–wiggly pushy horses and a weary frustrated handler. It means correcting each little transgression the horse makes, asking them to move back to their original spot, even if there is hay waiting just beyond their nose, asking them to focus not on their hunger, their boredom, their fear, but asking them to focus only on me and where they are in relationship to me. It means they must forget about themselves and recognize something outside of themselves that is in control–even if I move away from them to do other things. The greatest trust is when I can stand a horse in one spot, ask them to be still, walk away from them, briefly go out of sight, and return to find them as I left them, still focused on me even when I was not visible.
I was reminded of this during our pastor’s sermon on the book of Exodus when he preached on the moments before Moses parted the Red Sea, allowing the Hebrews an escape route away from Pharoah and the Egyptian chariots and soldiers. In those moments beforehand, the Hebrews were pressed up against the Sea with the Egyptians bearing down on them and they lamented they should never have left Egypt in the first place, and that generations of bondage in slavery would have been preferable to dying in the desert at the hands of the soldiers or
drowning in the Sea.
Moses told them to “be still”. Or as our pastor said, he told them to “shut up”. Stay focused, be obedient, trust in the Lord’s plan. And the next thing that happened was the Sea opened up. Then the Hebrews rejoiced in thanksgiving for their freedom.
Thanksgiving, as it has developed over the years from the first historical observance of a meal shared jointly between the Pilgrims and their Native American hosts, is just such a moment to “be still and know” about the gifts from our God. Yet in our hurried and harried culture, Thanksgiving is about buying the best bargain turkey (or this year the most free range heritage turkey costing close to $100!), creating the most memorable recipes, decorating in perfect Martha Stewart style, eating together in Norman Rockwell style extended family gatherings, watching football and parades on the biggest flat screen TV, while preparing for the mad dash out the door the next day to start the Christmas shopping season.
Like my horses, I need correction when I start to agitate out of “hunger”–wanting to literally stuff myself full, or out of my boredom–seeking the latest in entertainment or satisfaction, or out of my fear–feeling the threats that surround us all in the world today. I need to be reminded continually that my focus must be outside myself and my perceived needs, and to be still long enough to know God is with us though we cannot see Him every moment. I do not do well at this. My horses learn much faster than I. I am restless, rarely taking the time to be still and acknowledge God who watches, waiting for me to settle down and focus on Him.
May this Thanksgiving remind me of my need for God, and my gratitude for His patient persistence in moving me back into place when I wiggle and fret and feed myself even when I’m really not hungry. May I remember that to be still and know God is the greatest gift I can give and that I can receive.
Ten solid days of rain can have its effects. It takes its toll in a variety of ways on the human psyche–the bleakness seeps into my brain, making my gray matter much grayer than usual. Everything slows down to a crawl and climbing out of bed to another dark day requires commitment and effort.
Managing barn chores and horses these days is a challenge. Despite years of effort to create well drained paddocks with great footing, there is no such thing when the ground is super saturated from unrelenting inches of rain, and when the barn and paddocks are unfortunately placed on the downside of a hill. Every bare inch of ground has become mud soup with more water pouring off the hill every moment.
Mud in all its glory rivals ice for navigation hazard. Yesterday it was a boot magnet as I tried carefully to make my way with a load of hay to a bit drier area in a paddock, and found with one step that my boot had decided to remain mired in the muck and my foot was waving bootless in the air trying to decide whether to land in the squishy stuff or go back to the relative safety of the stuck boot. Standing there on one foot, with a load of hay in my arms, I’m sure I looked even more absurd than I felt at the moment, and at least I gave comic relief to people driving by. I won’t say how I figured my way out, but it did require doing laundry later.
I remember quite a few years ago when my daughter was about 5 years old, I was busy with chores as she was exploring a similar muddy paddock and I realized I hadn’t seen her for a few minutes and I went looking. There she stood, wailing, with one stocking foot in the mud, an empty boot stuck up to its top, and her other boot so mired, she couldn’t move without abandoning it too. By the time I got her extracted, we were both laughing muddy messes.
The Haflingers are not averse to the mud if they are hungry enough. They’ll hesitate momentarily before they dive in to reach their meal but dive in they do. Those clean blonde legs and white tails are only a memory from last summer. Even their bellies are flecked with brown now. Later, back in the barn, as the mud dries, it curries off in chunks and I start to see my golden horses revealed again, but it seems they will never be truly clean again.
What lures me into the mud, enticing me deeper in muck that covers and coats us so thoroughly that it feels I’ll never be clean again? Whatever I want so badly that I’m willing to get hopelessly dirty to reach it, once there, it is tainted by the mud as well, and never as good as I had hoped. I become hopelessly mired and stuck, sinking deeper by the minute.
Rescue comes from an outreached hand with strength greater than my own. Cleansing may be merely skin deep, only to last until my next dive into the mud, or it can be thorough and lasting–a sort of future “mud protective coating” so to speak. I can choose how dirty to get and how dirty to stay and how clean I want to be.
It started with a one hundred year old church moving into a new building after an earthquake destroyed the old one. It wasn’t a congregation of great wealth or prestige so the new building, by necessity, was a simple rectangular design, the sanctuary paneled in light birchwood, the high windows with clear textured glass allowing floods of muted natural light to stream in even on cloudy days. It was a pleasant enough place to worship, well-lit and airy.
Then a new pastor arrived–a man well-traveled, well-read with a keen artist’s eye and a mind able to mix together a palette of history, colors and words. He could see what others had not in the empty canvas of the huge space. What he envisioned for the sanctuary was to enhance the worship experience through the illustration of Life’s passage, of people growing and changing in God’s glory. Any worshipper entering the sanctuary would become part of the woven tapestry of color cast by a series of stained glass windows.
Six large symmetrical panels of divided narrow vertical windows lined both upper outer walls leading up to the altar. In our pastor’s design, these were to become stained glass representations of the various stages of life from young to old. Our pastor recruited would-be artisans from the congregation to be the primary stained glass workers, teaching them how to precisely cut and fit the glass pieces. Each church member had an opportunity to choose and place a pane matching his or her stage of life, to become a permanent part of the portrait of this diverse church family. The new windows were constructed from back to front over the course of a year, all by volunteer effort, until the transformation was complete from simple functional space of wood and light to an encompassing work of art, inclusive for all who entered. Mosaics of colored sections represented the transition through life, moving from childhood in the windows at the entrance, on to adolescence, then to young adulthood, moving to middle age, and then finally to the elder years nearest the altar.
Rainbows of color crisscrossed the pews and aisles, starting with pale and barely defined green and yellow at the outset, blending into a blossom of blue, then becoming a startling fervor of red, fading into a tranquil purple past the center, and lastly immersed in the warmth of orange as one approached the brown of the wood paneled altar. Depending on where one chose to sit, the light bearing a particular color combination was cast on open pages of scripture, or favorite hymns, or on the skin and clothing of the people, reflecting the essence of that life phase. Included in the design was the seemingly random but intentional scattering of all of the colors in each panel. Gold and orange panes were sprinkled in the “youth” window predicting the wisdom to come, and a smattering of some greens, blues and reds were found throughout the “orange” window of old age, just like the “spark” of younger years so often seen in the eyes of the our eldest citizens.
The colored windows reflected the truth of God’s plan for our lives. There was the certainty of the unrelenting passage of time; there was no turning back or turning away from what was to come. Although each stage shone with its own unique beauty, none was as warm and welcoming as the orange glow of the autumn of life. Those final windows focused their brilliance on the plain wood of the cross above the altar.
Beyond the stained glass, as life fades from the richest of colors to the brownest of dust, the light will continue to shine, glorious.
We have fairly short hours of daylight here in the Pacific Northwest this time of year–only about 8 hours from sunrise to sunset and that little bit is compromised even more with the heavy cloud cover and the perpetual rain.
This morning it wasn’t raining for a change, so I moved the Haflingers out of the barn to their daytime paddocks, in the anticipation of a drier day and maybe a ray of sun now and again.
No such luck. The rains started within an hour of putting the horses outside, but we were headed off to a workday that would keep us away all day and the horses had no choice but to stand with their tails facing the driving rain, and their heads hunkered down. I felt badly that I’d left them “out to soak” so to speak, rather than “out to dry”. Wrong decision.
When it is still light out, the horses seem relatively content to stay out, even after their hay ration is eaten and there is nothing but raindrops to look at. But once the sun is down and it is dark, they are anxious to return to the light of the barn. They whinny expectantly whenever they hear the back door of the house open, or a car drive into the driveway. They are waiting in the dark, feeling more urgent with every passing hour. “It is time! Come now! Don’t delay! I’m ready for you to take me home!”
It was pitch black out tonight as I went to fetch them. We are in the process of rewiring our old barns, so our usual lighting of the path from paddocks to barn is absent, and the barn itself has only a couple lights working right now. I forgot to tuck a flashlight in my barncoat pocket so I was feeling blindly my way to the barn and then out to the paddocks to walk my wet, miserable, impatient horses back to the barn, one by one. They have been waiting, waiting. Knowing what is to come: a path back to the light, back to a dry bed of shavings, back to a filling meal. Content and comforted. Eager and excited to leave the dark behind.
I am waiting too, sometimes lost and miserable, often blinded in the dark. Waiting with anticipation, knowing, hoping for what is about to come. Watching for the door to open, the light to turn on, for someone who loves me and cares for me to walk right through the darkness to find me, and staying beside me, fetch me home.
Only then comes the comfort of knowing that once I’ve been brought into the light, darkness can not surround me again.
Grandma grew flowers–lots of them. Her garden stretched along both sides of the sidewalk to her old two story farm house, in window boxes and beds around the perimeter, in little islands scattered about the yard anchored by a tree, or a piece of driftwood, a gold fish pond or a large rock. Wisteria hung like a thick curtain of purple braids from the roof of her chicken coop, and her greenhouse, far bigger than her home, smelled moist and mossy with hanging fushia baskets. For her it was full time joy disguised as a job: she sold seedlings, and ready-to-display baskets, and fresh flower arrangements. She often said she was sure heaven would be full of flowers needing tending, and she was just practicing for the day when she could make herself useful as a gardener for God.
Visiting Grandma was often an overnight stay, and summer evenings in her yard were heavy with wafting flower perfume. One of her favorite flowers–indeed it was so hardy and independent it really could be considered a weed–was the evening primrose. It was one of a few night blooming plants meant to attract pollinating moths. Its tall stems were adorned by lance shaped leaves, with multiple buds and blooms per stem. Each evening, and it was possible to set one’s watch by its punctuality, only one green wrapped bud per stem would open, revealing a bright yellow blossom with four delicate veined petals, a rosette of stamens and a cross-shaped stigma in the center, rising far above the blossom. The yellow was so vivid and lively, it seemed almost like a drop of sun had been left on earth to light the night. By morning, the bloom would begin to wither and wilt under the real sunlight, somehow overcome with the brightness, and would blush a pinkish orange as it folded upon itself, ready to die and drop from the plant in only a day or two, leaving a bulging seed pod behind.
I would settle down on the damp lawn at twilight, usually right before dusk fell, to watch the choreography of opening of blossoms on stem after stem of evening primrose. Whatever the trigger was for the process of unfolding, there would be a sudden loosening of the protective green calyces, in an almost audible release. Then over the course of about a minute, the overlapping yellow petals would unfurl, slowly, gently, purposefully, revealing their pollen treasure trove inside. It was like watching time lapse cinematography, only this was an accelerated, real time flourish of beauty, happening right before my eyes. I always felt privileged to witness each unveiling as Grandma liked to remind me that few flowers ever allowed us to behold their birthing process. The evening primrose was not at all shy about sharing itself and it would enhance the show with a sweet lingering fragrance.
Grandma knew how much I enjoyed the evening primrose display, so she saved seeds from the seed pods for me, and helped me plant them at our house during one of her spring time visits. I remember scattering the seeds with her in a specially chosen spot, in anticipation of the “drops of sun” that would grace our yard come summertime. However, Grandma was more tired than usual on this particular visit, taking naps and not as eager to go for walks or eat the special meals cooked in honor of her visit. Her usually resonant laughing brown eyes appeared dull, almost muddy.
The day she was to return home she came into the kitchen at breakfast time, wearily setting down her packed bags. She gave me a hug and I looked at her, suddenly understanding what I had feared to believe. Something was dreadfully wrong. Grandma’s eyes were turning yellow.
Instead of returning home that day, she went to the hospital. Within a day, she had surgery and within two days, was told she had terminal pancreatic cancer. She did not last long, her skin becoming more jaundiced by the day, her eyes more icteric and far away. She soon left her earthly gardens to cultivate those in heaven.
I’ve kept evening primrose in my garden ever since. Grandma is inside each bloom as it unfolds precipitously in the evening, she wafts across the yard in its perfume. Her spirit is a drop of sun coming to rest, luminous, for a brief stay upon the earth, only to die before we’re ready to let it go. But as the wilted bloom lets go, the seeds have already begun to form.