Tuesday, September 28, 2010

So long ago...

Well, yes, I do realize that it has been almost three months since my last post. I could give you all sorts of excuses, but the truth is, the well has been dry and I have been trying to pull myself together.

Since my last post was about the hailstorm that shredded the beautiful corn plants in the fields and the flowers in my garden, tore down about a third of the leaves on the trees on our property, and ruined our roof, I thought I ought to tell you about the recovery of one sedum plant. As you can see from the photo above, it was completely stripped of its leaves.

I can't remember if I cut it back, although I believe I did. And over the summer, it did begin to grow again. The other photo is what it looks like today. Life over death; life wins!

In my zeal for making the garden look nice again, I overplanted all those 75% off annuals, and added a new tomato plant as well. Now I have a jungle outside of my front window, including a tomato plant that is trying to escape. It hasn't given us any sweet, red, ripe fruit for our table, but is bearing plenty of green ones. Soon I will pick them to see if I can ripen them in the kitchen, then tear up the plant. Maybe I'll tear up some of the other annuals as well to clean things up a bit, then buy a few garden mums we can enjoy until we get a killing frost.

I want to start writing about Karl and Jacob and Maggie again, but I am a bit afraid that I won't produce anything worth reading. A part of me feels empty without them always in the back of my mind. So maybe with a little TLC and time at the keyboard, I will "recover" just like my sedum.

I hope to stay more current with this blog, or start a new one. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hail Damage

Heavy with water, the sky was terrible and beautiful at the same time. Blues and greens swirled into updrafts and downpours, with spears of lightning criss crossing the changing shapes and colors... The meteorologist on the radio kept saying this was "a dangerous situation, with hail and possible tornadic activity" and that we should "take cover immediately."

Since we had foolishly gone for sandwiches in a town set right between our house and the storm, my husband drove as fast as he dared, hoping to get home in time to get the car into the garage and shut the big doors of the pole shed. I twisted in my seat to watch the sky, finally insisting that we stop for just a moment so I could try to shoot some photos with my cell phone camera. (That's one of them above.)

We made it just in time. The skies opened, the sirens sounded, and we headed to the basement with our laptops in tow so we could watch the radar, since the rain had obliterated the TV satellite signal. Soon we had the hail the forcaster told us about and soon it covered the garden with white.

Back upstairs (who could hide away when there was such a mighty storm to watch?) the hail pelted the roof, the trees, the flower garden that was just coming along, the corn and soybeans in the field. Leaves from the trees fell as fast as the hail did. None of our windows were broken, but the growing things outside were utterly shredded. According to the local newspaper, the areas on either side of our road were the hardest hit in the county. Crops ruined, lowlands flooded, muck and mud everywhere!

Now, several days later, the air smells like autumn. The corn is drying out the way it's supposed to dry out in September and October. There are dry leaves on the lawn, but it's too hot to do much raking. I cut back many perennials with broken stems and torn leaves. It kind of looks like fall, too. I find it terribly sad.

Last week I learned that two great saints from my first parish recently died within days of each other. Both were 96 years old, each had been a member of her congregation since she was young. I could tell fond and funny stories about each one of them.

When I first became their pastor fifteen years ago, I remember looking from one face to another in their women's Bible Study groups and wondering how many of them I would bury. As it turned out, many of them did die while I served as their pastor, and others have died since. It was a sad moment to realize that I wasn't there only to befriend them, but that I would be called on walk their last days with them. I preached resurrection hope at all their funerals; some with joy because they had been released from their suffering, all with sadness at losing them.

Yes, the leaves on the trees around here are pretty thin. Yes, my garden looks nothing like it should. Sadly, the beautiful corn is done for this year, since it's too late to replant.

BUT, the garden store down the road is changing from nursery to local produce outlet - all annuals are about to be composted, most of them leggy and spent. For 75% off, they sold me two boxes of plants that are in good enough shape that they might just bring some beauty and life back into the garden. Death doesn't have to win this one! (Does it ever?)

I'll keep you posted and maybe even share a photo or two of the garden once it starts coming along again.

Peace, health and good weather to you.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Lesson from Pansies

In Eddie's Wake, Karl receives valentines from the girls in his class who befriended him after his pals, Jimmy and Elmer had deserted him. But he also receives a really nice storebought card that had pansies on the cover, with the words, Pansies for Thoughts. It was from Jimmy and Elmer, who wrote on the back, We still think you're a pansey, Stern... Karl laughed at the card from his stupid former friends; he'd given up on them and could see how childish they were. But deep down, I think he was hurt, too.

This is the season for pansies in my garden. It's cool enough that they grow nicely and stay compact; not like the way they will bolt and grow crazy once it gets hot. Then I will sadly pull them out and wonder if there is a greenhouse around where I can buy pansies to plant in the fall. (Maybe I should start my own from seed...)

The fun thing about these flowers, though, is that they reseed themselves and sometimes come back the following spring. So when I cut off the spent blooms during the growing season, I don't throw the flowers in with the compost. I either leave them in the garden or scatter them at the edge of the lawn.

My grandmother loved pansies, and I think I inherited that from her. I try to plant some every year. Once, when I had a patch by the back door of our house, I noticed the deep, deep purple that colored the inside of one of these sweeties... and I thought, "Ok, God, just how do you do that? Where do you get that color?"

That was a long time ago, in a diffferent place and time and life. But I just noticed the same thing the other day. The rich, deep purples and blues just blow me away; it's like you could fall into the color of eternity if you stared at it long enough. How can anyone walk by without noticing?

Despite whatever junk is going on in my life - and often there's plenty - God can still bring forth something amazing like a pansey, with all it's regal, velvety color. It puts things in perspective, somehow. God hasn't given up on us, on me. The Creator is still creating. I think the adjective is steadfast.
Until next time...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

"Now the Green Blade Rises..."

Two weeks ago, we burned "the Triangle," a patch of field bordered on two sides by driveways (both of them ours) and one side by the town road we live on. We intended to do a burn, as we do every couple of years to give our expanding collection of prairie wild flowers a head start in the race against the weeds and grasses. But this year things got exciting when the fire went faster than anyone expected.

But nothing that wasn't supposed to burn burned, and we had a big black patch between our driveway and the yet-to-be-planted corn field. Over the last few days, however, green has returned little by little. Yesterday it rained, and now the whole patch is kelly green; the charred grasses from last year are nearly swallowed up by new life. (The photos above are sort of "before" and "after.") This just about always happens when there is a grass fire, but it still seems like a miracle to me. Green returns, in spite of what we do.

The windows in our church santuary were covered with black sheer-ish curtains for Holy Thursday and Good Friday. All decoration had been removed from the church, and last night the environment was spare and grim, as you might expect. Some of the windows face west, and on a good evening you can watch spectacular sunsets from your seat in the church. Too beautiful, too distracting for Good Friday, indeed, so the windows had to be covered.

But last night, as the service went on, the sunset was so bright that you could still see it through the curtains. Dark a day as yesterday was, though, the darkness of failure, despair and death could not hide the beauty and brightness of the setting sun. Darkness is swallowed up by light in spite of what we try to do!

It's too late for me to be up writing this; the sun rises tomorrow at 6:49am and I will be with other believers at our outdoor sunrise service, celebrating the truth that the Light of the Risen Christ always trumps the darkness.

And not just the darkness of night, the darkness of failure, of confusion or despair... but the darkness of death. Death now becomes the portal to life eternal, where there is always light... where there is nothing but peace and joy.

So, even with the hard things in our lives, the sad things, the irritating things, we are bold to proclaim: "Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Words from a Cave

Today I am going to try to sit still for long enough to write. Since the last
time I wrote, there have been more family crises that I've needed to tend, but I will spare you all the details. It has been stressful enough that I forgot the address for my own blog! I sadly admit that other than emails, this is the first thing I've written since my last post.

Today, I hope to get back on track...

Last week, we were fortunate to attend the opening of the Dead Sea Scroll exhibition at the Saint Paul Science Museum. The Scrolls were discovered in 1947 by a shepherd who was looking for a lost goat in a cave near the Dead Sea. The scrolls had been hidden maybe 2000 years ago in pottery jars... The find was extraordinary because the scrolls contain ancient Jewish manuscripts, mostly biblical.

We snaked - more like crawled - our way through the exhibits, then came to the darkened room that held the fragments of scrolls. I could recognize the Hebrew lettering, but as I learned in seminary, there were no spaces between words and no vowels. The letters were tiny and barely visible due to the low light necessary to protect these ancient treasures.

My feet ached by the time we got to this room, and seeing the fragments themselves was almost anticlimactic. But when we exited the dark room, we saw a display of orginal pages from the much more recent St. John's Illuminated Bible. Color and words we could read and understand! (If you're not familiar with the St. John's Illuminated Bible, you can learn more at http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/stjohnsbible/stjohns-exhibit.html)

Seeing the St. John's pages inspired and invigorated me! Both the words on the Dead Sea Scrolls and those in the St. John's Bible convey an important message. Both will undoubtedly stand the test of time. But they are both writings. Words set down on paper or parchment.

It all humbled me, a twenty-first century writer, who composes not on paper, but at a keyboard, who wrote a story about a boy who shoved all his bad feelings into an imaginary cave, then found love and redemption in a glorious dream-cave. A nice enough story, but one that will probably not stand the test of time. But while I am humbled, I am also feeling ready to being writing again. We all have stories to tell.

The violets above are from another year... but with any luck, they'll grace our brown garden again soon.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Points of Light in a Dark Time

Sister Anne in "Eddie's Wake," one of the two real theologians in the novel, says to Karl, "God doesn't always keep bad things from happening to us, Karl. Of course God cares about you...and all of us. It's how God takes bad things and makes something good of them that matters, and how God never, ever abandons us."

I have been spending the last week or so trying to think of something positive to write here, at a time when life feels so dark and my spirit cries out for a release from all the tension and stress I am feeling. Maybe you noticed that I edited my last post a few days after I wrote it in an attempt to make things sound better than they are. The truth is, I feel terribly low, and am unable to focus on writing fiction (or much else), which only adds to the sorrows.

My Mom is staying with us for a couple of weeks, confused as to where she really lives or in whose bed she is sleeping (mine) or whose clothes are in "her" closet (mine). My brother is as stable as he gets, separated from me and from Mom by the whole state of Wisconsin, big old Lake Michigan and the U.P. of Michigan; but he needs some kind of support, too. It's not the way I would like to see either of them living their lives. I am not one prone to tears, but they are sure close to the surface these days.

This morning I had an appointment in the Cities, got a late start from home because Mom decided today would be a good day for a shower, something she couldn't handle yesterday. I planned to take US 61 north, but when I got to the turnoff, the road was blocked by a snow truck and several cops. I was forced to turn the opposite way and drive several miles before I could stop or turn around. I learned that a propane tanker had tipped over due to a patch of ice, so I frantically called the clinic to see if I could get a later appointment. "Latoya," the woman who answered the phone, sounded a little gruff at first, then ended the call by saying, "You be safe, now." It took me a while to realize what she had said, to realize what a gift it was.

A walk through Target, not finding the item I needed, but picking up a few other things for the house - and a new scarf - but not dropping a lot of money. A visit with my kindly physician and good friend, whose compassion for my pain reminded me why I drive all those miles to see him. Sharing a church meal with other friends, amazed at how loving they all are to Mom. The promise of coffee with another dear friend tomorrow, someone I've deeply missed for the past three months.

These are all points of light, and they made my day end way better than it began.

I've learned an important lesson: never withhold a small kindness, because you may have no idea how it may turn someone's day around, how it could be the only thing bringing light to a heart that hurts.

I'm thanking God for Latoya tonight and remembering the driver of the propane tanker. I sure hope he's OK.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Musings on Family Dilemmas/ Family Dynamics

Maggie Stern, furious with Jacob Denver, stood with her hand on his upper arm, staring directly into his eyes. "...I believe when you're in a family and one person is sick or weak or hurt, everyone else works for the good of that person, no matter what it takes, because if that person isn't well, no one else in the family is, either."

Yes, I know Maggie came from the deeps of my...head? heart? spirit? laptop? She's wise and sounds like the kind of mother, daughter, sister and wife I want to be. I love her - I love the idea of her and I love many of the ideas she has. But these days it feels like I'm living out her words in ways that are not very healthy.

What if the person who is sick, weak or hurt keeps hurting or damaging the others? What if that person drags everyone else into his or her illness, so that attempting to take care of or help that person only makes everyone else sick, weak and hurt? And is it right for everyone to work for the good of that one when doing what might appear to be good is really more like enabling and co-dependency?

I have to wonder what Maggie would say to this, but I'm too tired to try to figure it out. If you know her, if she resonates with you, what do you think she might say? I'd like to know. I wish I could share a cup of tea with her and ask her myself.

RE: the photo above: Here we are in the middle of winter, when blue sky and sunshine is a treat, when the sight of green grass, budding trees and blooming tulips seems light years away... Even so, I found some beauty a few weeks ago in the gray and cold.

And the hours of daylight are getting longer. The earth is turning and hope hangs on.