As I step outside on this spring day, my eye catches the transforming landscape across the way.
For as long as my family has resided next door to Ray, the small strip of land between our driveways has given witness to the hand of our Creator. On Summer days, my first glance captured the vibrant multicolored blooms lining my black tarred driveway. Further up the strip, tomato plants, zucchini, cucumbers and giant sunflowers towered over anyone standing in their midst. Often our home was blessed with portions of this majestic bounty.
Ironically, as the fruit blossomed, his health withered. In the last five years, the strip of beauty gradually shrunk to a small rectangle. Patches of Earth spawning bits of grass spread where blossoms once lived. But not on the whole piece of land. Despite Ray’s fragile health, his passion for producing a bountiful harvest remained. His adult children now took on his role.
Once again, the symbols of Spring emerge. Traditionally, speaking, planting activity along his side of the driveway should be visible. But it isn’t. A few weeks ago. Ray died.
Much will change this summer. The blooms and the outdoor conversations will cease between us.I have written previously about those unfiltered moments between he and I. Ray resisted the longing arms of his Creator. Yet, God’s voice continued to speak-through the colorful display of nature dotting the land between our homes-and through neighbors. I’m not sure what decision Ray made at the end. We will never know.
Though death has occurred, God’s hand is still working.
Today, there is new movement across the way. Yes, the evidence of death lies blatant. His voice no longer calls to me as I venture out to get the mail in my bare feet; an act for which he would chastise me. “You need to tell your husband to buy you some shoes,” he would say with a slight smile. His blue chair in the driveway appears lonely. But the ceasing of one rhythm in my life has given way to a new one.
Laughter, the aroma of bbq, footsteps, and machinery compose the new beats. An audio soundtrack accompanies the visual changes. His son and grandson inhabit Ray’s home now; moving forward in steps of restoration and healing. The deterioration of health coincided with the deterioration of his home. Although his son, lived there, Ray resisted any transformation of his home. I suppose whatever bits of feisty independence remained were reaching to exert control.
Now, a beautiful new landscape develops. Outside, large machinery reshapes overgrown, dried, brush. New colors and textures emerge on a three dimensional canvas. One which flows inside as well. Fresh coats of paint bring life back into these old walls. Brokenness begins the journey to restoration. Both in things and in relationships.
As I gaze out my window this morning, I watch a neighbor transport tree trunk sections on a dolly across the street to his home. Until yesterday, the trunk, rooted in the ground, supported death. Life had ceased in the body attached to it. What will become of it now?
And then my mind made the connection: The hands of my neighbor, a skilled sculptor, will carve into the wood. Beauty lies beneath; anticipating it’s birth.
Tomatoes and blooms yield to new. different. hopeful.
“Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?” (Isaiah 43:19).
The master hand of the Creator is at work. That which is created takes new forms. The process is not yet complete. But what a privilege it is to watch it unfold.
Sometimes life doesn’t make sense. The reality of living in a world of brokenness washes over us on a daily basis. Yet, I think we are still caught off guard by it……and sometimes the depth of that brokenness challenges us.
In November 2015, Amanda Blackburn, wife and new mother, (her son wasn’t yet one years old and she was pregnant with their second child) was simply in the midst of her daily routines when an intruder broke into the home. Her husband of a couple of years, came home from the gym to find his beloved soulmate dying. She had been sexually assaulted and shot. Somehow, in the midst of their everyday tasks, in the refuge of their home, the life they knew was shattered.
I know this scenario is not exceptional. Sadly, the random taking of a life happens everyday, all over the world. People lose children, spouses, parents, friends unexpectedly everyday. Sometimes, the events are preventable. Sometimes they are not. Yet, because the we cannot fathom the pain endured by those affected, and because we know that we could easily find ourselves in their place one day, the gut reaction is to find reason. We grasp for control. We tell ourselves that if we can explain the incident away, then we can remove ourselves from “that place” of vulnerability.
As I read comments to the articles on Amanda’s murder, I noticed a thread in one of the discussions. Perhaps this young vibrant couple should have done their research before relocating from South Carolina to Indianapolis? Unfortunately, sin happens everywhere. And when you are a follower of Christ, you cannot go anywhere that will assure you of safety. And that’s the rub. Jesus never made safety a prerequisite for following him.
The Blackburns knew that: which is why they moved to Indianapolis. The Blackburns left their beloved church in the south to follow God’s leading to begin a new church in Indianapolis. According to the church’s website, “Davey and Amanda Blackburn moved to Indianapolis in January of 2012 with a dream and a calling to start a life-giving church that would connect with people who normally wouldn’t connect with church. (http://resonateindianapolis.com/our-story/).”
At a conference I attended, Rev. Raleigh Washington shared about his personal experience regarding the costs of following Christ. He and his family moved to Chicago to plant a church. The neighborhood to which they moved was one depicted by poverty and oppression. Violence, unfortunately, occurred on a daily basis. One day, his son was physically assaulted by another student as he got off the school bus. Friends of the family questioned Raleigh and his decision to move to a “dangerous” place. His response is etched in my heart and my mind. “My friends,” he said, “the most dangerous place to live is outside the will of God.”
That truth is uncomfortable. It’s no wonder Jonah jumped out of the boat. He feared going to a dangerous place. Which, by human accounts, it was. Have you researched the Ninevites? But this life isn’t about us. It’s about God and a bigger picture that involves us.
Several years ago, my husband was offered an opportunity to work in Florida. It sounded like a fantastic opportunity. He even would have traveled to the Bahamas occasionally. Our child was a toddler. What could possibly be wrong with this offer? We were ready to jump on it. But first, we committed to praying and seeking God’s blessing on this new move. And you know what? It didn’t happen. So we prayed some more. And we still didn’t sense God’s blessing. We had to acknowledge that, for us, Sarasota was a dangerous place to live. Not because of criminal activity. But because it was outside of God’s will.
Not all dangerous places look the same
So, let’s pray for the Blackburns. Their lives have been changed forever. Her family and friends are experiencing brokenness in its most intense Earthly form. But evil does not have the last word. Amanda may not be here on Earth. The expectations her husband held for how they would serve God together may have changed, but God’s revelation and purposes have not. This is the place to which they were called to live. And because of that, it is anything but a dangerous place.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” (proverbs 3:5-6)
As I step outside, my face stings from the chilled, blowing air pushing its way through my body.
My throat is caught off guard; attempting to take in air at a slower pace. Yet, the frigid heavy wind finds my mouth and forces its way in; making resistance difficult. A battle of the colliding forces entangles.
My scarf! Quickly wrapped around my neck, it provides a warm safe space to allow the life giving process inside to proceed.
ah……………….At once, the air flows out of my lungs and back in rhythmically. No longer stifled. I am surrounded by a fortress of protection.
Two years ago, I confronted an equally blustery wind. Blowing with blustery force into my soul. My lungs initially blindsided by the cold grasped to exhale. My eyes witnessing the unforeseen storm of sickness and epilepsy emerge in my teen son. Death of my husband’s beloved grandmother. Death of a dear family friend. Death of an aunt.
But breath is essential to life. The forces of death and life collide. A battle entangles. I fight. hard. I need a fortress of protection….and like the scarf, I find it right in front of me….and behind me….and next to me…..
Yahweh. The Holy Spirit. One breathing life into my humanity; One breathing life into my soul. Ruach and Pneuma; together awakening the physical and spiritual rhythms necessary for me to move forward to the next moments.
“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life,…” Deut. 30:19
(This post is written for the Five Minute Friday writing community. Come join us at www.katemontaung.com)
You might be surprised when I tell you that one of the sections of the newspaper that I glance over is the obituary section. What?! When I have this time to myself (which is precious), why would I spend a minute reading death notices about people I have never met?
Well, for a few reasons. I actually do come across the unfortunate news that someone I once knew has passed on. Beyond that fact, certain notices draw me in and remind me of that which we, in our culture, like to avoid: the reality that we are mortal. Everyone. Our families friends, and ourselves. At any moment, our lives may be affected in a very real way by the reality of death. Glancing over the obituaries reminds me to evaluate my priorities.
One of the rewards (probably not the right term) is learning about my companions on this journey called life. In those few words that represent a miniscule of someone’s life (and may not be fully representational of their whole character), I learn a lot about people. These are not descriptions of those who made headlines. Rather, these quick biographies belong to those with whom we interact and encounter in the daily rhythms of life. Sometimes, I am inspired to be a better version of myself; a more accurate image bearer of my Creator as I learn from them. Such was the case this past week.
As my eyes focused in on the tribute to her life, her career achievements jumped out at me. Margaret was a doctor who pioneered treatments for persons affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder in the 1970’s. Of course my heart skipped a beat because I am an advocate for families affected by autism and other mental health disorders. I’m always interested in those individuals who are seeking to make the world better for all of us by making new strides in this field of medicine.
It is particularly inspiring to know of persons who choose to work in a field that is a filled with cultural stigma; one that doesn’t result in immediate answers and demands a passion against the odds. And in the 70’s?
My gut reaction was, “Wow!” That woman joins the ranks of many people -both men and women; both prominent and behind the scenes-that put rubber to the road. They follow their passion to wherever it takes them.
The thing about courage is that the more we practice it, the more it shapes all areas of our lives. And that’s where the next few words seemed to jump out at me.
“She jumped fearlessly into pools deep in caves”
Anyone who has jumped into a pool spontaneously knows there is an element of mystery combined with freedom once that leap is made. The water’s possible chill may shock at impact. Your stomach flutters as gravity takes it’s course. Yet there’s something to be said for knowing the refreshment that is brought will be worth the experience. I(side note: I am not advocating for jumping into water without any swimming skills and not being aware of it’s depth/or elements) To jump into pools in caves sounds both scary yet enticing. Plunging your physical and emotional being into something so beautiful, majestic, and yet unknown takes courage.
Courage that manifests itself in every part of your life
If you can take great leaps into these amazing physical creations by our God, surely you learn to not let fear become a blockade. You see the other places that you are called to leap into-and you do it. You do it because you know that, in the end, the experience will be worth it. For you and for those in your circles.
That is why, after reading Margaret’s brief summary of her life, I said to myself,
“I want to be known for jumping fearlessly into pools in caves!”
We just must embrace it. We must believe it.
What about you? What fears are holding you back from seeking fully the passions that God has placed on your heart?
Let’s commit to working on this together. Share your stories. We all need encouragement to take leaps sometimes, right?
I’ve heard many metaphors for life: seasons, ride, roller coaster. Each of those words gives a word picture to help us express and define how we experience day to day living. Sometimes, only one metaphor aptly fits your given scenario. As I reflect on the last nine or so months, riding a roller coaster best describes the sensation of breathtaking speed and long climbs of the events of daily life. In a previous blog, I wrote about the image of riding a roller coaster and how it applied to my life at the time. I have always felt more comfortable in the front seat because that way I can see what’s ahead.
Not feeling in control is an area of challenge for me. But sometimes, you don’t get the front seat. That fact was never more clear to me than this past year.
In October, my oldest son, Seth began having health concerns. His symptoms did not seem worrisome at first. As a mom, you always balance that “I don’t want to be paranoid” mentality with the “what if I’m ignoring something life-threatening” train of thought. So we waited.
Sometimes he seemed better. Sometimes he didn’t. Several visits to doctors resulted in more confusion as to the root cause of his symptoms. We heard the names of illnesses we can’t pronounce as well as being told that it’s all “in his head.” Remedy after remedy tried….and failed. More doctors, more time and energy spent troubleshooting; no answers. As fall ended, and more school was missed, frustration grew. It invaded family life. Siblings were feeling left out. My ability to home school became confined by doctor’s appointments and my diverted attention. Seth was growing sicker and I couldn’t help him. The ride was going fast, and I wanted off.
Finally, after mass amounts of blood work, and tests, there was a possible diagnosis: Reflux At least there was a name. And a bit of calm. But then in December, on an ordinary December evening, following dinner, my husband called me into the living room as we watched in horror as Seth began seizing. Not knowing what was happening, my reality of not having complete control hit me hard. What if he is dying?
Fortunately, he came out of the seizure after what seemed to be the longest 4 minutes of my life. After being admitted to the hospital, all tests came back normal. What?? Apparently, it isn’t unheard of to have a seizure with no answers.
But one month later, he had another seizure. And two weeks later, one more.
Now, I felt like I was clearly in the back car.
I couldn’t see where this ride was going. And neither could my family-my fellow passengers. As it would turn out, Seth would have two more seizures. We now added a Neurologist to his list of doctors. And more questions…with no answers.
With Seth getting sicker, his ability to attend school was nearly impossible. I was attempting to home school Lena, communicate with Seth’s school, return homework, carve out time for my husband and other child. My body longed for rest. fatigue prevailed. Congnitive functioning became difficult. Maintaining control over the situation gradually morphed into grasping for answers….and help. The mom in me wanted to fix it. But I couldn’t. I found myself in the most uncomfortable place for me on a roller coaster: in the back seat.
The backseat on the coaster does not allow the rider to see clearly what hill is coming up next. The ride may inch by for a while if the climb is lengthy. Or the climb is barely noticeable because the hill was so small. Therefore, preventing worked up fear for the drop on the other side.
In either case, being in the back seat position means I lose a sense of control. There may be unexpected climbs or stomach churning drops ahead. I can’t see them. But God, who is sovereign can. God, my Creator, who knows my fears, sees what’s ahead. And that is to whom I must look to rather than my own devices of resolution.
In the midst of the ride I was taking, new turns were around the corner: a family friend and my kids’ piano teacher died suddenly: young and full of life-leaving us all stunned. My husband’s beloved grandmother, an independent, 97 year old woman and light of the family and her community developed cancer and passed away within a month. One month later, Scott’s beloved aunt left this earth. And did I mention that somewhere in the midst of these twists, his company was bought out? What would that mean for us? And him?
I clung to Lamentations 3:22-24:
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”