A Blessing Just to Be

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Before the adults we call our children arrive with their children in tow
  for Thanksgiving,

we take our morning walk down the lane of oaks and hemlocks, mist
  a smell of rain by nightfall—underfoot,

the crunch of leathery leaves released by yesterday’s big wind.

You’re ahead of me, striding into the arch of oaks that opens onto the fields
  and stone walls of the road—

as a V of geese honk a path overhead, and you stop—

in an instant, without thought, raising your arms toward sky, your hands
  flapping from the wrists,

and I can read in the echo your body makes of these wild geese going
  where they must,

such joy, such wordless unity and delight, you are once again the child
  who knows by instinct, by birthright,

just to be is a blessing. In a fictional present, I write the moment down.
  You embodied it.
~Margaret Gibson “Moment”

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I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.
~Jane Kenyon “Otherwise”

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On this day,
this giving-thanks day,
I know families who surround loved ones
fighting for life in ICU beds,
more families struggling to find gratitude
in their pierced hearts
from loss of a child in an overturned school bus,
or their gunned down police officer son/husband/father,
or their soldier coming home under a flag.

It is the measure of us, the created,
to kneel grateful, while facing the terrible
and still feel loved and blessed,
to believe how wide and long and high and deep
is His love for us,
we the weeping, the broken-hearted.

 

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Refusing to Pledge an Oath to Life

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It is…the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life…
The man who kills a man kills a man.

The man who kills himself kills all men.
As far as he is concerned, he wipes out the world.
~ G.K. Chesterton

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Suicide rates in the United States have increased by 25% since 1999.

Based on the anguish of the patients I see every day,
one after another and another,
over and over again I hear
a too-easy contemplation of suicide,
from “It would be easier if I were dead”
or “no one cares if I live or die”,
or “the world would be better off without me”,
or “I’m not worthy to be here”
to “that is my plan, it is my right and no one can stop me”.

Without us all pledging an oath to life,
willing to lay ourselves down,
to bridge the sorrow and lead the troubled to the light,
there will be no slowing of this trend.

…when there is no loyalty to life, as stressful and messy as it can be,
…when there is no honoring of the holiness of each created being,
…when there is no resistance to the buffeting winds of life,
only a toppling over, taking out everything and everyone in the way,
our sad and hurting world is wiped out by one suicide,
all people killed by one act of self-murder.

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When you’re weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all
I’m on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I’ll take your part
When darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

Sail on, silvergirl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine
If you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
~Simon and Garfunkel

Plunged into the Dark Abyss

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The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
Hate multiplies hate,
violence multiplies violence,
and toughness multiplies toughness
in a descending spiral of destruction….
The chain reaction of evil —
hate begetting hate,
wars producing more wars —
must be broken,
or we shall be plunged
into the dark abyss of annihilation.
~
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Strength to Love

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The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.
But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now
mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.
— J. R. R. Tolkien

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We forget that God is right there, waiting for us to turn to him, no matter how dire our situation.  We forget the reassuring words of his messengers: “Fear not.”   God always seeks to draw close to us — even in the depths of hell.
…it comes down to this: the only way to truly overcome our fear of death is to live life in such a way that its meaning cannot be taken away by death.  It means fighting the impulse to live for ourselves, instead of for others.  It means choosing generosity over greed.  It also means living humbly, rather than seeking influence and power.  Finally, it means being ready to die again and again — to ourselves, and to every self-serving opinion or agenda.

~Johann Christoph Arnold

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This week, bullets have been fired out of fear and anger by, and have struck down, people who look and are just like us.  Shed tears never need translation or interpretation, no matter what color cheeks they moisten.

Distrust and fear continue to impact our communities daily, settling like a shroud over the most routine activities.  So we must fall back on what we were told long ago and each and every day in 365 different verses in the Word itself: fear not.

Do not be overwhelmed with evil but overcome evil with good.

The goal of this life is to live for others, to live in such a way that death cannot erase the meaning and significance of a life.  We are called to give up our selfish agendas in order to consider the dignity of others and their greater good.

Cherish life, all lives, including, as is crystal clear from Christ’s example,  those who are so fearful, they hate and want to murder us.

Our only defense against evil is God’s offense; only He will lead us to Tolkien’s “where everything sad will come untrue”, where tears are no longer shed in sorrow,  but can only be tears of joy.

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A Father’s Dream

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photo by Dan Gibson

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My father’s treehouse is over twenty years old, lonesome and empty in our front yard, a constant reminder of his 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 a 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 something a little 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 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 now they are raising five children there.  They are getting 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 time slips by me faster and faster. It would be a blessing to see others live out the dreams I have held so close.

Like my father, I will 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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When Sad Comes Untrue

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Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?
~J.R.R. Tolkien from The Return of the King

The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.
~J.R.R Tolkien from The Fellowship of the Ring

Yet again unspeakable terror strikes down ordinary people living their lives–once again our soil is soaked with the blood of our sons and daughters, our sisters and brothers.

In our minds, we want to rewind and replay the events of a tragedy in a way that would prevent it from happening in the first place.   We want to bring the dead and injured back to health again.  The major devastating earthquake becomes a mere tremor, the flooding tsunami is only one foot, not over thirty feet tall, the terrorist hijackers are prevented from ever boarding a plane, the shooter changes his mind at the last minute, lays down his arms and calls someone for help with his overwhelming distress and anger.

We want so badly for it all to be untrue.  The bitter reality of horrendous daily suffering and sadness all over the earth is too much for us to absorb.   We plead for relief, beg for a better day. What has happened to the world?

Our minds may play mental tricks like this, but God does not play tricks.  He knows and feels what we do.  He too wanted to see it rewound and replayed differently so He came to us to know our grief and sadness, to weep with us, to suffer for us, to die to end such evil.  And because of this, because of a God who came to dwell with us, was broken, died and then rose again whole and holy, we are assured, in His time, everything sad will come untrue.

Our tears will be dried, our grief turned to joy, our pain nonexistent, not even a memory.  It will be a new day, a better day when love is greater than anger, dissolving our grief – as it is written, trustworthy and true.

May that be a day when we can no longer overwhelmed with evil but we will overcome evil with good.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.
~Revelation 21: 4-5

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A Renewed Dawn

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(for my father on Memorial Day)

It was only a part of what we knew about you-
serving three long years in the South Pacific,
spoken of obliquely
only if asked about,
but never really answered.

We knew you were a Marine battalion leader,
knew you spent too many nights without sleep,
unsure if you’d see the dawn
only to dread
what the next day would bring.

We knew you lost friends
and your innocence;
found unaccustomed strength
inside a mama’s boy
who once cried too easily and later almost never.

Somehow life had prepared you for this:
pulling your daddy out of bars when you were ten
watching him beat your mama
until finally getting big enough
to stand in the way.

Then Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian beaches
bitterly bloodsoaked
battles won,
to be restored and renewed
as vacation resorts.

We let you go without knowing
your full story–
even Mom didn’t ask.
You could not share the depth
of horror and fear you felt.

It was not shame that kept you silent;
simply no need to revisit
the pain of remembrance.
It was done, finished, you had done your duty.

So as we again set flowers and flag
on your grave,
reunited with Mom after years apart,
I regret so many questions unasked
of your sacrifice beyond imagining.

Sleep well, Dad,
with Mom now by your side.
I rejoice you have wakened
to a renewed dawn.

 

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Teardrops in Our Eyes

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Some things are very dear to me–
Such things as flowers bathed by rain
Or patterns traced upon the sea
Or crocuses where snow has lain . . .
The iridescence of a gem,
The moon’s cool opalescent light,
Azaleas and the scent of them,
And honeysuckles in the night.
And many sounds are also dear–
Like winds that sing among the trees
Or crickets calling from the weir
Or Negroes humming melodies.
But dearer far than all surmise

Are sudden tear-drops in your eyes
~Gwendolyn Bennett — Sonnet 2

We human beings do real harm.
History could make a stone weep.
~Marilynne Robinson–Gilead

 

 

Created with the freedom to choose our own way, we tend to opt for the path of least resistance with the highest pay back. Hey, after all, we’re human and that’s our excuse and we’re sticking to it.

No road less traveled for most of us–instead we blindly head down the superhighway of what’s best for number one, no matter what the means of transportation, what it costs to get there, how seedy the billboards or how many warning signs appear, or where the ultimate destination takes us.

History is full of the piled-high wrecking yards of demolition remnants from crashes along the way.

It’s enough to make a stone weep and so we weep aplenty.
Certainly God wept and probably still does as we are very dear to Him.

He knew what He was doing and thought it good at the time.  Perhaps it still might be.

 

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