Losing Sight of the Trail

The other day we were hiking up in the mountains where the air is clear and the clouds are so close you want to touch them and we lost the trail. We'd stopped to take in some rest and sunshine in a clearing and when we got back up we didn't know which way to go. I don't know about you but I feel like that a lot in life. I'll have a clear direction and then there will be a distraction, a break or a roadblock and the way forward isn't as clear as it was moments before. In life, as I did in this instance, its helpful to take a step back, closely observe your surroundings, look at where you've come from with an eye toward where you want to go and then peer around closely for a way forward. In time a path will appear. Thank goodness because three extra granola bars will only get you so far.

Take Action: Already applied this post to your incredible life dear reader? Great, see you again soon!

If you need help to dive deep, think of a problem you're facing. Go ahead and challenge yourself, choose a tough one. Now think about 3 things you've done or overcome in your past that were hard. What qualities or attributes did you rely on or cultivate to make it through those situations? Write them down. If you can't think of any ask a friend or relative to help you. Were you dedicated, quick thinking? Creative? Faithful? Now figure out how those attributes serve you in this situation and trust that they'll come through for you again. Now building on that sturdy foundation of your own personal growth, look forward to where you want to go and assess what other qualities you need to make it through this specific stretch of life. Do you need patience, ideas, bravery? Whatever it is confidently cultivate it (you can do it!) and let it lead you onward. The path is there you just need to find it again.

With love,

“His Hand is Stretched Out Still”

Yesterday I had the chance to go ice skating with Jessica.  Having only been a few times in her 7 years she’s still a bit unsteady on the ice.  She enthusiastically donned her skates and  I watched her stumble through the door to the rink and wait with anxious anticipation for the Zamboni to finish it’s job so she could begin skating.  Her initial enthusiasm quickly channeled itself into focused determination as she gripped the wall and unsteadily made her way slowly around the rink.  After a few minutes, I followed her out onto the ice, watching her strong little legs jerkily move along as she tried to master the feel of balancing her entire body on two very narrow blades and gliding on a very unforgiving surface.  When she was ready to leave the wall she took my hand and held tight, scooting one leg and then the other shuffling herself around the rink again and again.  After a while she began to let go at intervals.  Feeling increasing confidence in her steadiness, she would move a few feet from me, sometimes falling, sometimes skating and inevitably looking back to see if I was watching.  After a few laps of back and forth hand-holding, I began skating close to her holding my arm out.  I opened my hand and flexed my arm muscles so that my arm was strong and available to her.  I imagine watching me skate was pretty comical, partly stooped with one arm bent at the elbow.  It didn’t matter though, I wanted to serve as firm support for her when she needed it.  She grabbed on quite a bit but increasingly she could balance on her own.  A few times she skated farther from me and someone would come between us.  Other times she’d fall and look up at me with the tears that come from pain (knees+ice=hurt) and question why I wasn’t right next to her, why I’d left when she needed me.  I told her it was because she had skated on her own, she’d quickened her pace.  I thought about God, as I always do in my contemplative parenting moments, and how his support for us is the same.  He tells us his arm is extended, and that for all our faltering moments, His hand is stretched out still.  Just like I held my arm firm and steady, He offers his strength, support and solidarity as we learn new things, as we stumble, as we venture out and gain confidence in this thing called living.  And when we stumble and fall and look up blaming Him for His absence, he simply holds out His arm, helps us up and reminds us He’s never been far and that He’ll skate with us as long as we want Him there.  I love that about Him.

Take Action: Nourish your soul with a prayer today, gratefully acknowledge one blessing and ask to have the eyes to see His hand in your life.

Weathering a storm

When we moved into our house in San Antonio back in 2005 we planted two peach trees. We mark the passage of time by these trees and their annual growth and bearing season after season. Through the years we had a variety of critters take up residence in the trees and two springs ago a little mourning dove family assembled a fragile nest in the flat space between two branches of one of the trees. Over the course of a few days, the petite mama bird used the long strands of grass and twigs brought by her mate to weave together a simple nest where she could lay their eggs. Mourning doves are not known for sturdy nests and her weave was light but thick and seemed to be sufficient for hold the eggs as the pair took turns safeguarding them. When it was time to thin the peaches (That means removing some of the tiny green peaches when they’re growing too close together) we were careful to work quietly and gently around the nest as the dove on guard kept a watchful eye on us. We did our best to keep our barking dog and bouncing balls clear of the space those doves needed to carry out their important work.

Despite our best efforts to protect the nest, they were subject to forces beyond our control. If you’ve lived anywhere in South Texas  you know that the area can experience some mighty storms. There was one morning in particular when I sat nestled in my cozy morning space, when lightning lit the dark sky, rain pelted the windows and wind howled around the corners of my house. I thought with some angst about that little mama bird and her eggs, just 20 yards from me in distance but experiencing dramatically different conditions.   As the storm worsened, my awareness of her heightened as I thought about that seemingly flimsy nest and her small weight. It is customary for the mother mourning dove to take the night watch, and I wondered if she’d flee to safety to save herself from being lashed by the rain and nearby leaves or if she’d stay with her eggs, offering them her warmth and protection while anchoring the nest with her small but steadying weight. As the storm raged with even more fury I was sure that even if she had stayed that surely her delicate bulk wouldn’t be enough to counter the strength of the wind and rain and that she and her nest would come to ruin. So much had we invested ourselves in this little bird family that I thought about donning my raincoat and venturing out to check on her but I realized that short of holding up her nest in a thunderstorm (which would put my own safety in danger and probably cause her more distress than the actual storm) there wasn’t a lot I could do for her at that moment. So with a realization that immediate intervention was not the needful course of action, I sent all the strength I could spare to that mama bird in the middle of a fierce storm.

In the morning, shortly after the sun rose and the skies cleared, I hiked up my pajama bottoms and ambled out through the wet grass to the tree, expecting to find some degree of disaster. Instead what I found was a serene mama mourning dove sitting on her nest. Upon further inspection I was surprised to see two tiny beaks reaching out as well. It was not just eggs that she guarded but barely-hatched baby birds! Despite the ferocity of the storm, that little nest along with it’s steadying mama held and it was enough to keep those little birds safe. Delighted at her strength, fortitude and resilience, and determined to support her in some way, I rushed back into the house, grabbed the birdseed and refilled the bird feeder, making sure to spill some extra on the ground.   For a few short weeks afterward our family joyfully watched those little birds grow. There were times when we glimpsed them stretching and craning their necks around in the nest on their own. As the tiny birds grew and a parent returned with food there were times when we wondered how all of them were going to fit in the nest without one of them toppling out but balance was achieved and nature ran her course until the nest was empty and they finally ventured out on their own.   The nest served it’s purpose to support the growth of the fledglings and the mother and father had served those little birds by providing an anchor, balance and nourishment when it was needed the most.

stewardship and potty training

Today I started potty training my 2.5 year old. It went really well considering he had zero interest going into it and I only had to scrub poop off of my carpet once. As I did said scrubbing, I found myself thinking about the uncelebrated task of teaching a child to use a toilet.  On any given day I might have a real chip on my shoulder about having to be the one to mess with the mess that was before me.  I have been known from time to time to wonder why tasks like this fall upon my shoulders and not, say, my husband’s. If I allowed myself, I could get really worked up about spending the day inside directing bowel movements while my husband (really just in my mind) receives accolades all day for his hard work in medical school and his PhD.

My work may feel so trivial at times, but the truth is, as long as Steven and I are each being our best at doing our best, our work is equally important. There is a quote that David O. McKay, a previous leader of my church loved that says, “What E’re Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part.”  I love this quote too. I don’t believe the Lord cares so much about WHAT we are doing so much as HOW we are doing it. I also know that this is not just a personal mantra to pacify myself as a stay at home mom, but pure and simple truth, because it’s also been my experience that we’ll find much greater happiness in this life (surprise!) by focusing more on the how than the what.  We can find this promise also in the parable of the talents. In Matthew the lord gives 1, 2, and 5 talents to his servants. The servants who were stewards over the 2 and 5 doubled what they had and received equal praise. The servant with only 1 said he was “afraid” so he simply hid his talent and was rebuked.  The naughty servant wasn’t rebuked because he had only been given 1 talent from the start and everyone made fun of him, he was rebuked because he didn’t do his best with even the little he had. I find myself at times not being the best steward over my seemingly small-in-the-eyes-of-the-world tasks because I fear the world outside of my home more than I should. I spend too much time concerned with WHAT I am doing and whether or not it’s important enough than HOW I’m doing whatever it is I’m doing. It’s part of digging into this life that I’m working on.  So, the next time you come to my house, I’ll still just be scrubbin’ poop, but it’ll be the best scrubbed carpet I can muster and I’ll be darned if there’s not a smile on my face. 🙂

The Strawberry Leaf Parable

A few years back I sat in our county extension office Master Gardener classroom.   It was a simple space.  A few long windows shrouded in dusty shades dimly lit the front of the room.  The laminate tile floors supported lab-type tables wide enough to accommodate two people, which were lined up in three columns from the front to the back of the classroom.  Posters with bugs, ants, flowers and water conservation reminders graced the walls in a haphazard manner.

As I sat next to the friend who had convinced me this was a good idea, I watched our classmates file in.  My first observation was that 26 year olds like myself were not the target market for this class.  When my turn came, I timidly introduced myself as a homemaker with an enthusiasm for gardening and a love of learning.  Others carried with them the titles of landscaper, designer, horticulturalist, teacher or lifetime gardener.   I felt small, and very self-conscious, knowing myself under-prepared for this venture.  But as this and subsequent classes began, I found myself soaking up the material.  It all seemed relevant to my small new garden spaces at home and I sought out every opportunity to utilize my new-found knowledge.  After almost 3 months of copious note-taking, I was starting to enjoy increased confidence and even mastery of some of the concepts.  I was delighted by my thriving plants as well as my correct answers.  Though still intimidated, I had also developed some comfort with my classmates; many of whom had decades more experience than me and intricate, beautiful knowledge about nature that I only dreamed of.   This perceived acceptance left me feeling brave enough to take in my very first leaf.  You see, in a Master Gardener class, time is devoted each week to seeking the advice of experts in contemplating possible plant ailments.  These soil sages would offer diagnoses and information on rehabilitation when you would bring them a piece (leaf, stem, fruit) of your floundering plant.  My very first leaf was a heart-shaped, rough-edged, deep green strawberry leaf.  It had become mottled with tan dots and had shadowed with patches of maroon.  Certain that I could be assisted in saving the plant, I carefully cut a few leaves, gently wrapped them in damp paper towel and sealed them in a small plastic bag.  When the time came to withdraw them and present them for diagnosis, I hesitated only for a moment before thrusting them into the hands of my trusted tutor.  He took one look at them, front and back, handed them back to me and told me the plant was merely dying because it’s growing season was over and the weather was too hot.  Certain he misunderstood the variety I was dealing with, I explained to him that I had only just planted these strawberries a few months before and that I expected them to bloom and produce fruit through the summer.  He smiled and explained that in this southern climate, strawberries are to be planted in November, kept warm during winter and only expected to produce fruit through about May.  He reiterated that my plant was dying and went on to the next leaf.  This edict came at a time when I was struggling daily under the weight of several heavy burdens.  So when he issued the advice, instead of simply making a gardening note in my November calendar, I submitted it to myself as further evidence that I was out of my league, didn’t belong here and would never be able to learn all the information requisite to be the kind of graceful gardener I had hoped.  It was fortunate for me that I sat in a room with some seasoned folks who regularly offered the following advice: “You have to kill a hundred plants before you can become a master gardener.”  For perhaps the first time, my mind opened to the realization of how much one can learn when mistakes are considered valuable.

The Pest Control Parable

Last summer we had an ant dilemma.  It began with a few ants parading in around the back door but quickly escalated into ants emerging from every crevice in the kitchen and pantry.  At that point, we determined that our efforts were no match for the foe we were facing so we called in an expert.  A kind and grandfatherly man showed up on our doorstep the next day and he proceeded to patiently and systematically address the inroads the ants had made.  The process began with a few kitchen bait traps and as the ants began to move and shift we resorted to a whole-house approach.  This caught me by surprise and one day I remember sitting at the kitchen table feeling defeated and anxious about what our pest control hero was finding as he dug into every closet nook and filthy bathroom corner of our home, baiting and trapping the ants that were troubling us.  I was relatively certain he was upstairs cursing me under his breath for having to dig through my messes and for my neglect of what must be routine maintenance in most homes.  After sitting in my shame for a few minutes, I remembered 3 things about his last visit. 1) He said that in his 30+ years in the pest control business he’d seen it all and there was very little that would surprise him.  2) In our conversations, he had always been respectful of others, even when describing worst-case scenarios.  3) He was kind.  And even though that didn’t change the state of my medicine cabinet, it did give me pause.  When I remembered who I was dealing with, the scathing judgments I had attributed to him began to melt away.  I realized that we were both committed, regardless of the cost, to achieving the same end result. I found a measure of peace in the knowledge that my cluttered bathroom cabinets may not be the anomaly I thought they were.  And I wondered if, after years of working elbow-deep in grime, you become less shocked by it are thus able to be even more efficient and compassionately focused on the restorative work at hand.

It was brought to my attention that this entry deserves a post script.  As I contemplated the above-referenced experience, I was jarred by the familiarity of those feelings of inadequacy.  Inevitably, when I find myself at odds with heaven I am embarrassed and ashamed at the state of my spirituality.  I am hesitant to approach Deity with the dusty corners of my soul because I anticipate the Savior offering me disappointment or consternation as I detail my shortcomings and ask for His assistance to clear away my failures.  I think it’s an age old, universal aspect of mortality-the immediate inclination to withdraw our imperfect mortal selves when faced with the grandeur of Heaven.  But when I really give it some thought and remember what I know about Jesus Christ, I remember that there is no disobedience or pride that He’s not intimately acquainted with.  He has seen it all and what’s more asks, perhaps even begs, us to bring Him more of whatever “it” is if that means easing our burdens.  He will never, not even for the grossest misdeed, be surprised by anything because His whole life was devoted to understanding us.  My realization at the kitchen table reminded me of the gracefulness of what He’s really offering.  He simply wants me to ask for help, for anything, no matter how big or small and He will immediately and kindly dive in with me and help me to work my way back in whatever ways I have strayed.  I recall his absolute compassion and kindness towards everyone who approaches Him for help, no matter the distance, no matter the deed.   And as soon as I choose to approach Him and let Him help me, I remember, again and again, that it’s simply love and compassion that He issues to the penitent, not guilt and judgment.  The point is that when I’m distanced from Him, even just a little bit, my memory of those characteristics is cloudy and it can be hard for me to feel brave enough to approach Him.  Thus, I continually seek to know Him better so that I don’t mistake what He is offering.