Sliding Home

 

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Our small church, Wiser Lake Chapel,  once belonged to a summer co-ed softball league, along with 8 other churches and a few local businesses.  This was a traditional Thursday evening summer activity for the past generation or longer.  Couples met for the first time on the ball fields and eventually married. Babies attended games in back packs and strollers and eventually were catching at home plate.  Relatives going to different churches found themselves on opposing teams yelling good natured insults.  There were a few bopped heads, abrasions, sprained fingers and one broken leg as part of the deal.  Hot dog roasts and ice cream sundaes were the after-game rewards.

Yet nothing was quite as wonderful as how a team recreated itself year after year.  It was thrown together by our coach Brenda in a mere two weeks prior to the season starting, with the youngest members needing to be at least age 14 with no upper age limit; we’ve had our share of 70+ year olds on the team over the years.   Some ball players were raw beginners having never played catch or swung a bat outside of school PE class, and others have extensive history of varsity fastpitch in school or other community league play so meant business when they strolled out on the diamond.  It was the ultimate diverse talent pool.

A different dynamic exists in church league softball compared to Little League, Pony League, minors or majors when you watch or play. Sure, there are slow pitch teams that will stock their ranks with “invitation-only” players, reserving the best and most athletic so there is a real chance at the trophy at the end of the summer.  Churches like ours, a mere 150 people average weekly Sunday attendance, had a “come one, come all” attitude, just to make sure we avoided forfeiting by not having enough players week after week.   We always did have enough.  In fact we had more players than we could find positions for.  And we had a whole bleacher full of fans, dedicated to cheering and clapping for anything and everything our players did, whether it was a pop-up foul ball, a strike out swing, a missed catch, or an actual hit.  We loved it all and wanted our players to know they were loved too, no matter what they did or what happened.

I think that was why the players and fans came back to play week after week, though we hadn’t won a game in years.  We rooted and hollered for each other, got great teaching and encouragement from our fantastic coach, and the players’ skills did improve year to year despite months of inactivity.  We had a whole line up of pre-14 year olds eager to grow old enough to play, just so they could be a part of the action.

Why did it not matter that we didn’t win games?  We were winning hearts, not runs.  We were showing our youngsters that the spirit of play is what it is all about, not about the trophy at the end.  We were teaching encouragement in the face of errors, smiles despite failure, joy in the fellowship of people who love each other–spending an evening together week after week.

We are family; family picks you up and dusts you off when you’ve fallen flat on your face during your slide to base while still being called “out.”

Most of all, I see this as a small piece of God’s kingdom in action.  Although we no longer gather for church league baseball — the competition got too fierce and the rules too tight — we do gather for a pick-up game now and then, just to remind ourselves of who we are and what we are about:

Our coach models Jesus’ acceptance of all at the table, and embodies the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control.

Our players are the eager, the ambivalent, the accurate, the flawed, the strong, the weak, the fast, the slow: chosen for the game even if they were completely inadequate to the task at hand, volunteering to be part of each moment as painful as it can sometimes be.

The cheering from the bleachers comes as if from heaven itself:

Do not be afraid.  Good will to all.  We are well pleased. Amen!

We’re sliding to home plate, running as hard as we can, diving for safety, covered in the dust and mire and blood of living/dying and will never, ever be called “out”.

Let’s play ball.

 

 

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Overrun By Weed Creep

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…all I know is that we must cultivate our garden…
~Voltaire from Candide

 

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This year, once again, we’re late getting our garden in — there have been too many other things happening in our work and home life to even think about getting the garden in.  Starting a garden in June is not something I recommend to anyone.  It requires bushwhacking to make a suitable bed for the seeds.

Thankfully, my now newly retired husband — normally part-time farmer now full-time — was up to the job.

The weeds, never discouraged by cool rainy weather, have instead been emphatically encouraged. They grow with exuberance, happily seeding themselves, thank you very much. The garden plot had become a veritable forest to contend with before the soil could be prepared for seeding.

My husband set to work on the jungle on hands and knees, digging into the turf of weeds, loosening their grip, pulling them out, shaking off the clinging clumps of dirt from their roots and turning over fresh soil to dry in the sun under a fresh dressing of warm composted manure.  Along with creating multiple trenches for our vegetable seeds and starts, we planted prayers that there was still enough time left in the growing season to actually bear a harvest.

I admit there are plenty of times my life feels like our neglected garden plot.  If not kept tended, if not exposed to enough warmth and light, if not fertilized with the steaming loam from a well-composted manure pile, if not kept clear of the unwanted weeds that take hold and grow no matter what the weather conditions, there can be no harvest of value whatsoever.  I will accomplish nothing other than sustaining self-sowing weeds for the next generation to battle.

I leave behind a life unrecognizable as a source of nurture as it is overrun by weed creep.

Each year we’re determined to do better but we know we’re running out of time and gardening seasons. It isn’t just the resultant sore back and dirty fingernails that serve as reminders of the hard work of tending one’s life like one’s soil.  It is that burst of sweetness that comes from eating the first fresh peas, the sharp tang of a radish straight from the ground, the bowl of greens unsullied by chemicals, the onions, potatoes and squash stored away in the root cellar for winter consumption.

Most of all, it is the satisfaction of knowing we accomplished something wonderful with our own hands — guided gently by the ultimate Gardener who won’t allow a few weeds to overrun us.

 

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My Father’s Treehouse

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photo by Dan Gibson

 

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My father’s treehouse is twenty three years old, lonesome and empty in our front yard, a constant reminder of his own abandoned Swiss Family Robinson dreams. Over the years, it has been the setting for a local children’s TV show, laser tag wars, sleep overs and tea parties, even my writer’s retreat with a deck side view of the Cascades to the east, the Canadian Coastal Range to the north and Puget Sound to the west. Now it is a sad shell no longer considered safe, as the support branches in our 100+ year old walnut tree are weakening with age and time.

The dream began in February 1995 when our sons were 8 and 6 years old and our daughter just 2. We had plenty of recycled lumber on our old farm and an idea about what to build. My father, retired from his desk job and having recently survived a lymphoma diagnosis and treatment, had many previous daunting building projects to his credit, and a few in his mind that he was yet to get to. He was eager to see what he could construct for his grandkids by spring time. He doodled out some sketches of what might work in the tree, and contemplated the physics of a 73 year old man scaling a tree vs. building on the ground and hoisting it up mostly completed. I got more nervous the more I thought about it and hoped we could consider a project less risky, and hoping the weather wouldn’t clear enough for construction to start any time soon.

The weather cleared as simultaneously my father’s health faded. His cancer relapsed and he was sidelined with a series of doctor’s appointments, hospitalizations and treatment courses. He hung on to that hope of getting the treehouse going by summer, still thinking it through in his mind, still evaluating what he would need to buy to supplement the materials already gathered and piled beneath the tree. In the mean time he lost physical strength day by day.

His dream needed to proceed as he fought his battle, so I borrowed library books on treehouses, and hired two college age brothers who lived down the road to get things started. I figured if my dad got well enough to build again, at least the risky stuff could be already done by the young guys. These brothers took their job very seriously. They pored over the books, took my dad’s plans, worked through the details and started in. They shinnied up the tree, put up pulleys on the high branches and placed the beams, hoisting them by pulling on the ropes with their car bumper. It was working great until the car bumper came off.

I kept my dad updated long distance with photos and stories. It was a diversion for him, but the far off look in his eye told me he wasn’t going to be building anything in this world ever again. He was gone by July. The treehouse was done a month later. It was everything my dad had dreamed of, and more. It had a deck, a protective railing, a trap door, a staircase. We had a open tree celebration and had 15 neighbors up there at once. I’m sure dad was sipping lemonade with us as well, enjoying the view.

Now all these years later, the treehouse is tilting on its foundation as a main weight bearing branch is weakening. We’ve declared it condemned, not wanting to risk an accident.  It remains a daily reminder of past dreams fulfilled and unfulfilled as I look out my window. Much like my father’s body, the old walnut tree is weakening, hanging on by the roots, but its muscle strength is failing. It will, sometime, come down in one of our frequent fierce windstorms, just as its nearby partner did a few years ago.

The treehouse dream branched out in another way. One of the construction team brothers decided to try building his own as a place to live in his woods, using a Douglas Fir tree as the center support and creating an octagon, two stories, 30 feet off the ground. He worked on it for two years and moved in, later marrying someone who decided a treehouse was just fine with her, and for 16 years, they’ve raised five children there.  The treehouse kids are old enough to come work for me on our farm, a full circle feeling for me.  This next generation is carrying on a Swiss Family Robinson dream that began in my father’s mind and our front yard.

I still have a whole list full of dreams myself, some realized and some deferred by time, resources and the limits of my imagination. I feel the clock ticking too, knowing that the years and the seasons slip by me faster and faster. It would be a blessing to me to see others live out the dreams I have held so close.

Like my father, I will some day teeter in the wind like our old tree, barely hanging on. When ready to fall to the ground, I’ll reach out with my branches and hand off my dreams too. The time will have come to let them go.

 

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Preparing Through Parable: For I Was Hungry and Thirsty

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31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Matthew 25: 31-46

 

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The final parable of Jesus prepares us to enter Holy Week, as we once again become the crowd shouting the mixed messages of Palm Sunday.

Jesus arrives to Hosannas as a King with glory, laud and honor, not at all treated as the “least of these” on that Sabbath.

Yet within days he was rejected, betrayed, sold for silver, convicted and punished as a common criminal with the assent of those who had earlier welcomed him with such warmth.

So who are we to become on this day?
Do we claim adoration but  in reality practice rejection?
Do we give him a kiss that ultimately is his betrayal?
Do we protest when he washes our dirty feet but argue about who among us is greatest?
Do we prepare a glorious meal but then offer up only vinegar?
Do we throw our cloaks down at his feet, dress him in an elegant robe but later strip him naked to cast lots for the clothing off his back?
Do we rescue him from his unjust captivity or do we turn the other way when he is flogged, beaten and crucified?

Who are we – his people, his family, his church – during this week to come?

We are clearly told: we feed the hungry, offer drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the lonely and care for the sick.  We are his hands, his feet, his heart, his spirit on earth.

Let us never forget.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand. He prepares me with parable.

 

 

 

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Preparing Through Parable: Therefore Keep Watch

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“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Matthew 25: 1-13

 

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We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.
~ Czeslaw Milosz “Encounter”

 

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We do not know the day or the hour and must not be lulled by the routines of daily life; it could be tomorrow or the next day or maybe yesterday and we were passed by.

Each moment is a gift, like the flash of a blossom or the transparency of a rabbit’s ear, pulsing with each heart beat as blood flows and sustains.

Blood is shed, just as blossoms shed, covering us all.

Keeping watch.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand. He prepares me with parable.

 

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fallen sakura petals in Tokyo (photo by Nate Gibson)

Preparing Through Parable: See For Yourself

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Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
Luke 21: 29-31

 

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I can see it for myself: tender twigs are sprouting with new growth, buds are opening into a kaleidoscope of colors, winter is giving way to spring.  This parable predicts the “see for yourself” event at the tomb in just a little for a week —it describes life coming from the still and the dead.

Just keep watch: it is happening before our eyes.  You can see for yourself!

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand. He prepares me with parable.

 

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Preparing Through Parable: Many Are Invited

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 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Matthew 22: 2-14

 

 

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When the invitation comes,
(and it has),
we don our finest,
prepare ourselves to
arrive hungry,
starving for the feast to start.

The celebration will be
beyond imagination,
as if heaven has come to an earth
drenched completely
in clouds of pink.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand. He prepares me with parable.

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