Tuesday, May 28, 2013

If you need a word of encouragement in your wilderness

My deepest thanks to Southern Distinction Magazine for listing Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees and me in “Stories of Georgia,” a review of Georgia novelists in their just released current issue. I’m honored to be included.

 A couple of years ago, I wrote here about the summer our family spent zigzagging this country in a borrowed RV. The series called Dream Summer is here.  One of our favorite memories from that time is of visiting the Ingalls family homestead in South Dakota as well as the Mansfield home in Missouri where Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the Little House books.

The house in Mansfield, Missouri where Laura wrote the Little House books
 In doing research for another project recently, I came upon a quote from her, which I know I’ve read but had forgotten. She wrote, “We had no choice. Sadness was as dangerous as panthers and bears. The wilderness needs your whole attention.”

We face many kinds of wildernesses.

And as we traverse them, we are likely to encounter a plethora of predators.

Change is a wilderness for many. Letting go of the familiar to embrace the unknown can leave us feeling as if we’re heading out over a vast prairie without GPS, much as Laura and her family did. It’s scary. We grieve over what we leave behind, and we tremble over what may lie ahead.

But the wilderness needs our whole attention, for in it lies our future.

In the present upheavals are the building blocks of what is yet to be, and if we allow ourselves to get stuck in our grief, we will miss them.

Laura knew the wilderness.

She’d lived in uncharted land as a child, and then as an adult, she and her husband, Almanzo, faced distressing change, almost losing everything they had except their land to the stock market crash of 1929--a new kind of wilderness. What would they do with Laura in her sixties and Almanzo in his seventies? Through her writing, their daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, became their sole support in a depressed market.

According to one source, the Great Depression, along with the deaths of her mother and sister, may have prompted Laura to put down her memories of growing up on the vast prairie. Laura had established herself as a columnist for a local paper in the Ozarks some years before, but hadn’t written the column in several years. She hoped once more to make a little money through her writing.

In 1932, Harper and Brothers published, Little House in the Big Woods. Laura was 65 years old. Many more books in the series followed, and as we often hear, the rest is history.

Laura faced her new kind of wilderness with the same courage she’d had when teaching alone in a one-room schoolhouse on the prairie far from home. She simply used the gifts and talents she had. As she once wrote, “The real things haven't changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”

I heard the call to write long after many are already established in their careers. Often, I’ve wondered why God waited to clarify this for me, because here I am at a point, when some are closing their laptops and planning European vacations, still hard at work. Still feeling I’m just beginning. Still wondering about a breakthrough. Still praying as Beth Moore says to be smarter than I am, fearing I’ve lost too many brain cells to too much anesthetic in too many surgeries, which now take both hands to count.

I don’t have many answers, but I do have inspiration. Stories like that of Laura Ingalls Wilder keep me hoping through rough times and years of not understanding.  

In my own personal wilderness, Laura’s story is one that helps me fight the beast of discouragement, because her courage gives me courage.

One more quote from Laura, this one from The Long Winter, “Laura felt a warmth inside her. It was very small, but it was strong. It was steady, like a tiny light in the dark, and it burned very low but no winds could make it flicker because it would not give up.”

“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” (Hebrews 12:1-3 The Message).


Monday, May 20, 2013

If it feels you might fly right off and I didn't know

The blog I posted earlier today, “If it feels you might fly right off,” was written before noon today. I had to wait to post it until this evening because of a family visit.

Later, around nine o’clock, someone said, “Have you seen the news?”

I hadn’t.

When we saw what had happened in Moore, Oklahoma this afternoon, we were devastated. I was horrified that someone might think I was playing off this tragedy in my blog using words and phrases like spinning and flying right off. I had no idea. I had only checked the weather for this area to make a short trip and had no idea what was brewing out west.

I wrote this post before the events of today even happened.

However, I know this to be true. Even in the face of horrific events like this where entire elementary schools are leveled, I believe with all my heart that God still holds all things together. I don’t understand how, but I know it's so. If I didn’t believe it, I couldn’t face tomorrow morning. I turn once more to the words I used earlier from Colossians 5. And as my husband so wisely says, these words are not true because they’re in the Bible; they’re in the Bible because they’re true.

“We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. (Colossians 1:15-17).

Right at this moment, when mothers are crying over their children, and husbands are grieving over wives, and children are mourning over parents, and entire towns are wondering who’s left to pick up the pieces, God still holds everything together. But some of the pieces he holds in eternity, because his reach bridges from this life into the next.

There’s much we can’t see and much we don’t understand.  

We offer prayers for Moore, Oklahoma tonight that God's comforting presence be with all touched by this storm.


If it feels you might fly right off

I wrote  "If if feels you might fly right off"  before learning of the events in Moore.  Oklahoma today. Please read "If it feels you might fly right off and I didn't know" for furthur clarification.

Out of the blogging pocket for the last week or so, because of so much wonder.

We’ve celebrated with several family members who completed lengthy study for masters and doctorate degrees and  rejoiced in happy Baptisms.

Then there was the flurry of opportunities to speak and share about God’s work.

So many blessings, and yet at times, life has felt a bit overwhelming, a little crowded—

--and wearying.
Somewhere in the middle, there was this opportunity to take a walk and drink in the beauty of God’s handiwork.

Now, here we are, exhaling after feeling we've been strapped to the back of a 747 for several weeks, sitting at a kitchen table at a family member’s home watching a couple of finches dig into the birdseed outside--the concerns about getting it all done now just a faint memory.
Soaking in green and light, I saw a pileated woodpecker in flight this morning and went to bed last evening hearing the serenade of a toad.

The seasons of life, the jet days, and the bicycle days melt together, and through them all runs the thread of God’s presence and work.

“We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. (Colossians 1:15-17).

He holds it all together even when the world seems to spin a bit faster and we feel we might just fly right off it, but the gravity of His love keeps us on this whirling planet.

Right up until this moment.

Outside right now, a squirrel spins in his own orbit.

Doubtless, there are more spinning times ahead for us, too. But for the fraying and the splitting and the sometimes stuffing seeming to come right out, we know that no matter what happens, He holds us together.

Friday, May 3, 2013

If your attention is wandering and sitting in the catbird seat

I give my husband a hard time about hopping down bunny trails while on the internet and getting distracted by other time wasters.

I think I may owe him an apology.

In my defense, however, I’d been working all day long. So, maybe I needed a break.

Through the window just above my computer, I noticed a grey bird snatching a bit of suet from a new block I’d put out.

“Who are you?” I wondered as I reached for my field guide.

Hmm. Seemed there was only one possibility—a grey catbird.

Hadn’t seen him here before. Maybe he had a special affinity for the new suet.

That made me think of “sitting in the catbird seat.” Where did that phrase come from?

Here comes Peter Cottontail.

Turns out catbirds like to sit in the highest place they can find to sing. Sitting in the catbird seat means being in a great spot—having the advantage.

While tracking down the behavior of the bird, I noticed a YouTube video about catbirds.

Hoppin’ down the bunny trail.

Just had to look at that.


So, if you’re open to going a down bunny trail, you must watch this video from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This catbird mimics a wide array of other birds and frogs. When I played it, the cats went wild. I thought Wilbur was going to take off his tuxedo.

Though, I give my husband a hard time, often it’s the things we don’t plan which bring us the most joy. There are moments we need to shove everything else off the desk and make room for the unexpected--a grey catbird who sounds like a choir—a gift from God.

My Catbird’s out there right now pecking around in the suet, and his mate perches in the top of the peach tree. She’s high all right, but I feel like I’m the one sitting in the catbird seat.

“Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light” (James 1:17)
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