Exploring where life and story meet!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Unanticipated blessings

Did you ever get a blessing you weren't quite sure what to do with or even sure if it was a blessing at all?  I tend to be a far too practical person, if it doesn't have a use or a place, it is gone; I do most of my shopping at the thrift store and gape at the price of new socks.  This being said, I've recently had to reevaluate my strict practicality.  I have china, I admit it, we registered for it when we got married, because that was what you did back then, and some impractical people actually bought us some.  I try to use it on occasion, just for fun, but it really doesn't see the light of day much, happily I have cupboard space enough that it can lurk forgotten most of the time, but part of me wonders why we have it, why so much money was 'wasted' on it to begin with.  Then my grandmother decided to complete the set as our christmas gift (yes, it is April and we just got it in the mail, don't ask!), which now forces me to reevaluate my old thinking patterns.  Why am I so reluctant to receive the gift that is given?

It is not that I want something else instead, I usually can't think of anything I want or need when asked for gift ideas.  Why does everything have to be useful or practical?  Why do I have such a fear of things that are pretty or nice or something other than a necessity?  Why can't I spend a little money on a nice sweater rather than having apoplexy that it didn't cost a buck at the thrift store?  Deep down, it is the attitude I have been fighting my entire life: I'm a worthless loser that doesn't deserve to live, let alone own anything nice.  And that's the attitude God is trying to root out of my heart and replace with the idea that I am valuable, so valuable that He'd die for me!  It is quite a contradiction, this idea that nobody wants me yet my acknowledgement that Someone made the ultimate sacrifice for my sake.

My attitude is certainly countercultural, most Americans love their stuff and feel that everyone ought to adore them just because they exist, yet neither is it the attitude I was meant to have.  It is not humility but rather self-abhorrence inculcated by a lifetime of abuse and neglect.  If I ever loved anything, it was taken away and given to the favored sibling or just gotten rid of or used against me; I learned very quickly not to become attached to anything and that I was undeserving of even the barest necessities, I still have a sock I stole from my sister in 1989 and have been wearing ever since.  And you wonder why I balk at the idea of owning china.

But I was not made for poverty or abuse or neglect, I'm an adopted daughter of the One who made the Universe and everything beyond it; I'm a co-heir with Christ!  It is unfortunate that my young life was so vacant and starved of everything that makes life bearable, but that is not my future.  This is not prosperity gospel, I am not saying follow Him and you'll get stuff, rather I am saying that I cannot look at myself (or any other soul) and say, 'you are worthless and undeserving of even the smallest pittance.'  It is that attitude I must root out of my soul, that I might be willing to accept the blessings that are given to me with a grateful heart, even if I don't really understand them at the time.  And that's a gift far greater than even the nicest dishes.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


It's one of those dreary, grey rainy weeks that usually drape the soul in gloom, but as this is the first moisture we've had in months, and with the growing season just around the corner, I don't think there is anyone, at least locally, who can do anything but smile at the weather.  It is strange to see the plants setting leaves and buds, the birds starting to nest, but still there was no sign of rain, but their faith was unshakable, they did what they were designed to do regardless that the farmers were grumbling that maybe they shouldn't plant this year for it would undoubtedly be a drought.  There is certainly something in the command to have 'faith as a grain of mustard seed,' I always assumed it meant to have even the tiniest modicum of faith, as in the size of the mustard seed, but perhaps it means to have an unshakable faith like all the birds and seeds and plants that prepare for spring, even when the season looks treacherous or late.  If they waited until the conditions were right to get busy, it would be too late, if they are to succeed and flourish, they must have faith and step out even when the conditions look questionable.  It is rather sad that the mustard seed sometimes has more sense than we logical and reasoning people do!  But then, for a mustard seed to enact its 'faith' it must stop being a mustard seed, it must cease to be, literally burst asunder, that the plant within might grow and thrive and live.  Perhaps it is that we are scared of dying rather than a lack of faith, at least dying to ourselves or letting go of what we think we should be, but like the caterpillar and the unhatched egg and the seed, there is far more potential within us than we can even begin to imagine, if only we have the faith to take that first scary step into the unknown lest we remain forever a seed.

It is cold and wet and gloomy outside, as if nature mourns the loss of something, but that is simply my personification of it, for in very truth, she is a bride preparing for her wedding day, though right now her mood seems that of a recent widow.  There too is a lesson, out of gloom and sorrow and cloudy, wet days, joy will come again, the sun will shine, the plants will bloom and the birds sing, and they will do it all the brighter for days like this, so too with the soul.  Right now life is sometimes gloomy and sad, grief is not far off, but it is getting easier, occasionally the sun breaks through the clouds or I glimpse a bud about to break forth into leaf or flower, and I know that spring will come again, even if it is not as fast as I would have it.  The rains come in their season, as does sorrow in our lives, but so too does sunshine, new life, and joy.  So I will smile at the rain and know it is not forever.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Out of Context

It always drives me batty when someone uses scripture out of context in support of or against something with which it has absolutely nothing to do.  But then scripture isn't the only battered and bruised victim of quotational indiscretion.  Memes are particularly bad (do you know how long it took me to figure out what a meme was, no one could just say it is a picture with a caption or quote on it, they always give some long drawn out psychosocial babble in explanation).  There are several circulating about books and libraries and the love of reading attributed to Jane Austen, originating with Caroline Bingley in Pride and Prejudice, but the original context is that Miss Bingley is trying to impress Mr. Darcy who had just complimented Elizabeth on her apparent love of reading, Caroline has no true interest in or love of books, so it is a little ironic that others quote her in support of their own love of books.  I also cringe whenever I see 'goodnight, sweet Prince,' as nursery decor, as those words were spoken to Shakespeare's dying Hamlet.  The same goes for Noah's ark themed baby decor, yeah the animals are cute, but the original context of the story is God's judgment on a depraved humanity, that is certainly a great theme to welcome baby home!

So in that vein, I'd like to introduce you to my own out of context revelation: we are all divinely commanded to be entomologists!  Yes, we are all bound to study insects by the Divine Will!  What, you are not an entomologist?  Shame, shame!  What else can it mean, I quote: 'look to the ant thou sluggard, and be wise!'  There you have it!  Yes, this is a joke, so please don't run off and apply for a master's in entomology unless you truly have an interest in it.  I had a friend who did that, and while spending your life collecting butterflies in the rainforest would be way cool, she discovered that most people in that field end up studying crop pests or becoming exterminators.  Kind of like quoting Caroline Bingely above: I love bugs, and now I will devote my life to killing them?

Monday, April 4, 2016

The three joys and world peace?

There are really only three things that need concern the human race: stories, gardening, and nature.  Think how much more happy and content everyone would be if they just submitted to those three disciplines on a regular basis.  We might perhaps end war and poverty and hunger!  But alas, we are all too human and even within those distinguished disciplines it would be rife with conflict: who has the best or edgiest story, who has the biggest tomato, I found that rock formation first…has it not been so since the foundation of the world when all mankind had to worry about was stories, gardening, and nature?  They hadn't even invented weeds or autocorrect or no trespassing laws back then, paradise indeed!

Yes, it is spring, or it should be, soon, I hope.  The difficulty with living in a northern climate is that you need to cram the last two into about three months of the year.  Yes, I can grow things in the house, but that is rather limited and while I can get out and tramp the wilds in all seasons, spring and summer offer the nicest weather in which to do so and usually the greatest variety of species, new growth, and fair scenes to observe.  Thus stories (written or read) must be pushed aside during those short, blissful months whilst the other two disciplines are observed to their fullest.

I pity the man who takes no joy in any of the three, no wonder life is so dull and tedious to so many, for we have forgotten man's natal joys, wherein we can utterly forget ourselves and thus draw closer to others, the world about us, and even the One who wrought us.  It puzzles me how so many want to live 'green' or save the earth or prevent climate change or whatever the current buzzword is, yet how few have truly experienced the natural world or wish to, they take no joy or particular interest in it, save perhaps an occasional nature documentary or a trip to the zoo, and a vague feeling of pride at being eco-conscious.  A miser is one who has money but will not spend or use it, it is also the root of miserable, can the same be said of non-monetary concepts?

I was at a state natural area the other day in which all these great sandstone crags were sticking out of the ground, surrounded by ancient pines, quite striking, but there was a sign that said, 'please don't touch the rocks as you might cause erosion of the delicate stone or damage to historic markings.'  I found that sadly in line with our modern sensibilities towards the natural world: look but don't touch!  Does not the wind and rain in a single season wash away far more than my momentary touch?  Why is the graffiti made by people a hundred years dead more 'historic' than something done today (I am not saying we should intentionally defile the stone, just questioning the logic behind their reasoning), which in a hundred years will be likewise historic?  How can children come to love something they cannot touch and interact with?  How will they learn to protect what they cannot love?  Let us not raise another generation of eco-misers!

The natural world is not some delicate flower that will shatter at the merest touch, but rather it is wild and dangerous and beautiful and vibrant and it calls to something deep within each of us.  It is not comfortable and scheduled and predictable and safe, therefore it is way outside our comfort zone, and a refreshing escape from the banality and meaninglessness of our technology saturated lives.  The same can be said of a good story.  That is what it is to live, not merely to exist as our 'look but don't touch' culture would have it.  So go live a little, be it picking up a book or a hoe or a feather, but taste and see that it is good, as it was designed to be!