Lenten Reflection–We are Dust

magnified landscape of human skin

…He knows how we are formed,
He remembers that we are dust.
Psalm 103: 14

God remembers because He sculpted us from dust, gently breathing into our nostrils the breath of life, filling our lungs to keep us afloat while anchored to the soil. Though we are grateful for each breath that keeps us alive, we tend to forget how our daily journey returns us to dust, beginning with the parched and dying desert of our covering. Our skin sheds, flake by flake, returning to dust, slowly pulling us back to the ground where we were formed. With each breath we are closer to dust than the breath before, each more precious than the last.

His touch formed us. His breath fills us. His love anchors us.

He remembers. So must we.

magnified human skin cells

Shedding Some Light

I’m a bit confused here.

While more states, including my own, grant the legal right to marry to same sex couples, more and more heterosexual couples are rejecting official marriage that includes a signed “piece of paper”, preferring to bear their children out of wedlock. What one minority segment of U.S. society has fought hard for over several decades, now granted through society’s expanding acceptance and tolerance of diverse lifestyles, the heterosexual majority increasingly deems marriage worthless and to be avoided.

Can someone shed some light on what is going on here?

I’m all for celebrating legal sanctioning of personal commitment. I have seen what happens when there is no commitment to commitment. Without steadfast loyalty, dependability, predictability, and honoring of promises made, relationships flounder and fizzle, descending into selfish silos of an “every person for themselves” approach to life. I watched it happen late in my parents’ marriage as their focus became less on the inherent value of the union of two people who made vows before God to stay together through thick and thin, and more on what’s best for the individual when needs go unmet. Any divorce is heartbreaking and painful, but the implosion of a 35 year marriage is truly tragic and unnecessary. Ironically, their original commitment reignited ten years later as they married again for the last few years of my father’s life.

There are now too many scarred and scared young people unwilling to take the step of marriage, having grown up inside the back and forth visitation homes of divorce or in a home offering no significant modeling of long term emotional commitment. Even monogamous devotion to a new sexual partner is seen as unnecessarily restrictive, while an unplanned new life conceived within that relationship becomes too easily postponed until it is “convenient” for the unprepared parents. We have forgotten what promises mean, what stability represents to a relationship and children, how trusting obedience to the longevity of the union should trump short term individual desires.

My clinic day increasingly is filled with the detritus of failed and failing relationships. Too many of my young adult patients who describe symptoms of depression and anxiety struggle with whether they want to continue to live at all, sometimes expressing their misery in escalating self harming behaviors or anesthetizing with alcohol or recreational drugs. They describe the chaos of parents living sequentially with multiple partners, of no certain “home” outside their school dorm or apartment, unsolvable complications with half- and step- sibling relationships, and all too frequently financial uncertainty. Many grew up supervised by TV and computer games rather than being held accountable to (mostly absent) parental expectations. They are more comfortable with on-line communication than risk being truthful about who they really are with flesh and blood people they see every day. They fear failure as they have seldom been allowed to make mistakes and subsequently experience forgiveness and grace from those who love them. They are emotional orphans.

In short, they know little about how love manifests through self-sacrifice and faithfulness.

Keeping commitment becomes the light that illuminates our lives, as reliable as the fact the sun rises every morning.

At least on that we can depend.

Dust to Dust

Over the last several weeks on the farm we have been running low on wood shavings, the absorbent bedding we use to cover the horse stall floors in the barns. In the winter, the animals, due to the cold and rainy weather, spend a significant part of the week indoors, so their bedding is important for their comfort and for the ease of cleaning every night after we get home from work. The large truck load of shavings we had delivered into our shavings shed last summer was rapidly diminishing to the last few wheelbarrow loads so I called the shavings company we’ve happily dealt with for twenty years to request a new delivery. As is the case when local sawmills are slow in the winter due to less demand for lumber, I knew there would be a wait but it is worth it to get the perfect load: large fluffy shavings with no dust for a feather light and cushiony bed for our horses.

It arrived today while we were at work and I hurried outside in the dark after dinner to admire the shavings shed once again filled to the brim. As I got closer and turned on the barnyard vapor light, my heart sank. This was no load of shavings–typically aromatic curly remnant wood flakes. This was a building full of sawdust powder–way too fine, heavy in the shovel and extremely dusty. In short, it was several tons of a mess that I could not undo or send back and now have to deal with. What the sawmill had cast off as leftover waste product has become my ten foot high mountain of recycled regret.

This pulverized stuff is not fit for man nor beast. It gets into noses and lungs, irritates eyes and gets swallowed down with hay. I’m sick with disappointment. It was all I could do to haul it into the barn and watch the dust clouds go airborne as I spread it in the stalls. My poor horses wonder why I’ve condemned them to eat from a dust bowl. It is bitter irony that I’m paying good money for something that was to help me keep things clean when the reality is that it will make things so much harder to keep clean.

After shoveling a few hundred pounds of dust, I came back to the house covered in a veil of powder, my eyes itchy, my nose running, my throat burning. I can look forward to six months of this daily aggravation, but at least I won’t have to sleep in it like my animals. I can climb in the bathtub with water up to my ears and soak it off, at least until tomorrow’s chores.

Like times in my life when I must cope with being let down, sometimes those I have always depended on just don’t come through. Disappointment may cover me like a shroud, but I must wear it gently, not angrily. I’ll try not to stir up clouds of it wherever I go, eating and breathing disillusionment so much it hurts others as well. I can be perpetually grimy and disgruntled from wallowing in the stuff but that is not who I want to be.

Instead, I can seek out fresh air, breathe deeply, put on protective equipment and dive back in to do what needs to be done. Someday the mountain of misery will be made miniscule.

There will always be a bath to look forward to at the end of the day.

Barn Blaze

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

from “Let Evening Come” by Jane Kenyon

During our northwest winters, there is so little sunlight on gray cloudy days that I routinely turn on the two light bulbs in the big hay barn any time I need to go in to fetch hay bales for the horses. This is to help me avoid falling into the holes that inevitably develop in the hay stack between bales. The murky lighting tends to hide the dark shadows of the leg-swallowing pits among the bales, something that is particularly hazardous when carrying a 60 pound hay bale.

When I went to feed the horses at sunset tonight, I looked up at the lights blazing in the hay barn and went to the light switch to shut them off, but the switch was already off. Puzzled, I realized that lighting up the barn was a precise angle of the setting sun, not light bulbs at all. The last of the day’s sun rays were streaming through the barn slat openings, richocheting off the roof timbers onto the bales, casting an almost fiery glow onto the hay. The barn was ignited and ablaze without fire and smoke which are the last things one would even want in a hay barn. I could scramble among the bales without worry to get my chores accomplished.

It seems even in my life outside the barn I’ve been falling into more than my share of dark holes lately. Even when I know where they lie and how deep they are, some days I will manage to step right in anyway. Each time it knocks the breath out of me, makes me cry out, makes me want to quit trying to lift the heavy loads. It leaves me fearful to even venture out.

Then, amazingly, a light comes from the most unexpected of places, blazing a trail to help me see where to step, what to avoid, how to navigate the hazards to avoid collapsing on my face. I’m redirected, inspired anew, granted grace, gratefully calmed and comforted amid my fears. Even though the light fades, and the darkness descends again, it is only until tomorrow. Then it will reignite again.

The light returns and so will I.

Bookends

No matter
No matter what happens between the sunrise and the sunset
No matter what happens between the sunset and the sunrise
It doesn’t matter.

What matters:

the rise and the set
the set and the rise

keep coming
through troubles
and sickness
through loss
and sadness

earth
turns
to grant
a new start
a new day

settles
serenely
to offer
a peaceful sleep
a quiet night

matters so much
more than me
so much more
so much
so