Sky, People, Road

 

Driving home around the edge of the city, I balance these three at once...the sky at sunset, the cityscape ahead, and the lane I'm driving in. I’m aware that most of life is this, holding the three together and allowing what I understand of them to shape my course.

The fantastical cloud formations out here in the midwest remind me that transcendent moments are here for those who want them, and helpful, and I do believe in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. In beauty that can’t be contained or quantified. In reality that is marvelous within the scope of our comprehension and without. In mystery that invites us in and opens us up.

Land, water, sky.

Daffodils, low tide, black holes.

The universe, mammoth and outward-moving, swallows my small self and her ambitions and concerns. We are unique, and also...there's nothing new under the sun. My life makes its mark and is absorbed.

And still we keep wanting to make that mark, don't we? However temporary, because we can’t shake the sense that Love expands our experience of time into something eternal.

"Eternity in a grain of sand." That makes all the sense in the world to me.

But front and center are the ones we love, the structures we inhabit, and the communities into which we gather ourselves. I love my people. I love them so much I think I might split in two.  Always and ever in my line of sight.

Friends and strangers.

You can hardly find 10 square feet on earth not filled with the songs of our aspirations, expectations, disappointment, celebration, worship, doubt, our hilarity. Can you imagine hovering just beyond our atmosphere and waving a microphone slowly over the earth, like Ed Sheeran enjoying the sing-along voices of his audience? 

I hear Dr. Seuss saying, “Oh, the voices you’ll hear!” Oh, the stories. Oh, the anguish. Oh, the laughter.

And now and then, silence.

But here I am. On this particular road beneath the whirring wheels of my car. I might see as far as I want to see, but I’m still very much right here on the edge of Nashville at this precise moment, heading in the direction of a small brick ranch on the east side. I’m mappable.  And so are you, wherever you are. Planted. Rooted, or trying to be.

We're obligated to make a choice and take a next turn. Live the one life we've got. Obligated might be too strong. Privileged?

The sky becomes a gift not by giving us an excuse to escape and stay gone. Its good is in giving us a sense of awe, perspective, and humility. In teaching us to pay attention--here on this very unfiltered piece of earth. It's the artist's job and the universal privilege of all of us humans.

I'm thinking aloud. I'm not sure what it all means. I guess I'm just still looking for how to best hold this one life, all the parts of it, together, and not let my vision be obscured by worthless things.

I'm trying to find my way to make something of my road that connects with people and points us to the sky, and back. 

 

 

In her right place...

I didn’t grow up with my hands in the dirt.  I never planted anything in any of the yards of any of the houses we called home over those years.  It was Grandma, who lived with us, who set roses in the beds.  Grandma on her knees in the same old paint-stained brown jeans she loved, with kneepads strapped on as age made bones tender.  One year, I bought her a little green garden cushion for those knees, and that was the extent of my awareness of garden life.

As young marrieds in Indiana, in that first house of ours--the yellow 1917 bungalow on E. 10th Street—some nurturing instinct kicked in, and we covered the chain link fence in blue morning glories.

Transplanted to the east coast, I dug a flat circle in the center of the sunlight, between towering pines, sewed seeds for a cutting garden. We love trying to call up blueberries, tomatoes, rosemary from this Carolina clay.

So these past weeks, we’ve celebrated the Great Return, the re-emergence of things buried months ago.  And I kneeled yesterday like Grandma did, thinning out and relocating perennial offspring to empty spaces elsewhere.

Sometimes I find myself standing there with dirty roots in hand, stalled by indecision…shade or sun?  Drought tolerant?  Deer-tolerant? How big will it get?  If I put this here, I can’t put it there…will I regret it?  Will it hate me for moving it?

(Not known for my decision-making skills.)

Eventually, I make the call and…hope for the best.

And my heart digs too, these days, at the bulbs of decisions made along the years.  The garden we’ve been working at since we met…the merging of two from before.  How exactly did we get to this particular place?  Is this what we expected to come of us?  I don’t remember why we made that choice.  Do we love it? Does it matter?

It’s true that some plans were uprooted here and there.  Some preferences changed along the way…certain climates turned out more or less pleasant than we’d thought they’d be.

One spring we blossomed blue instead of raspberry. Surprise!   Five offshoots. Surprise!

Some seasons we prepare for shadows, then find ourselves in 8 hours of sunlight a day.  In others that same sun beats down til our heads droop low.

Maybe you find yourself in the middle of a Home & Garden layout.

Or not.  Maybe instead you are one of those tucked back under woody branches, and the prospect of rescue looks bleak.

Do you seem to always be on the outside of the “Editor’s Choice” circle?  The one where all the "popular" flowers (zinnias!) are?

Maybe you said “yes” to something which meant a sad “no” to something else, and you felt loss...

My friend Karla has, as long as I’ve known her, has had her hands in the soil, adding to the beauty of earth with a little texture here, a bit of color there.  I long hoped some of her magic would rub off on me.

One day, it did.

She said:  I don’t worry about the arrangements too much.  I don’t have any kind of master plan.  I just dig a hole and throw in some dirt – if they don’t work, I move them later.  Mostly trial and error.

Crazy how much that freed me.  That bit of wisdom alleviated a great deal of pressure: just try something.

Why not try and see?  It's okay.

But I am further comforted to know that GOD doesn’t operate that way.  He knows in advance and He knows completely. The season of shadows will serve His glory and my good…which are permanently interwined.

The season of light also will serve His glory and my good…which are permanently intertwined.

And the elusive show gardens we stand outside?  Merely flats of topsoil carved by human hands…a far cry from the multi-dimensional-ever-blooming land of primavera we (His children) are destined for, and to which we (His children) already belong.

The gardener knows the soil.  He is a gardener on his knees, setting every rose in her right place.

for Good Friday: Calvary's Anthem

From The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions:

Heavenly Father,
Thou hast led me singing to the cross
where I fling down all my burdens and see them vanish,
where my mountains of guilt are leveled to a plain,
where my sins disappear, though they are the greatest that exist,
and are more in number than the grains of fine sand;
For there is power in the blood of Calvary
to destroy sins more than can be counted
even by one from the choir of heaven.
Thou hast given me a hillside spring
that washes clear and white,
and I go as a sinner to its waters,
bathing without hindrance in its crystal streams.
At the cross there is free forgiveness for poor and meek ones,
and ample blessings that last forever;
The blood of the Lamb is like a great river of infinite grace
with never any diminishing of its fullness
as thirsty ones without number drink of it.
O Lord, forever will thy free forgiveness live
that was gained on the mount of blood;
In the midst of a world of pain
it is a subject for praise in every place
a song on earth, an anthem in heaven,
its love and virtue knowing no end.
I have a longing for the world above
where multitudes sing the great song,
for my soul was never created to love the dust of the earth.
Though here my spiritual state is frail and poor,
I shall go on singing Calvary's anthem.
May I always know
that a clean heart full of goodness
is more beautiful than the lily,
that only a clean heart can sing by night and by day,
that such a heart is mine when I abide at Calvary.

Life Cost So Much

Santa Semana--Holy Week--is a week to weigh costs. Fuel is nearly $3/gallon, unemployment at 9%…the $3 coffee that seemed nothing a year ago we now hesitate or pass on.  We feel the emptying of the bank account as we pay utility bills, mortgage, car…

But this is a week to consider the price tag on our right to be spiritually Alive.  The cost of life…of death.  This week, the worldwide family of Christian believers remember a purchase made on our behalf.

I think maybe we flinch a little at the idea of things done for us…honestly, don't we prefer independence, strength, self-reliance, self-sufficiency here?

Our default: I can do it! And our medicine: You can do it!

When I wrote “Life Cost So Much” I was not trying to be obscure.

But try to capture the Great Story in a few lines of lyric, and you see the problem…

I had been studying with our church “Two Ways to Live” and reading Tim Keller’s The Reason for God and also the book of Ezekial, and was providing music for a study on the basic tenants of the faith.  I just wanted to express some of these truths, to walk through the story in song.

And more people ask “What’s this one about?” than any other.  At the risk of saying too much, here is the place from which I wrote.

Death is easy, you don’t know you’re a ghost, The fee is taken out nice and slow…

It’s about the living dead, by which I mean humans who have not yet realized what we were born for, spend their days pursuing a sort of emptiness that does not sing.  In a way, a broad sketch of all human history, our childish insistence on wearing a crown not sized for our heads, certain we know better than our parent how to manage things.

Wisdom warned us but our flesh was strong…

It’s about Him telling us what we needed to know, giving what we needed for life from the beginning.   And us rejecting.

It’s the later part, the part where His children needed rescuing and He paid the debt we’d incurred by rejecting.

Life cost so much, life cost so much…

It’s the invisible Laws we have a hard time believing exist much less understanding, Mysteries that are before us and beyond us.  Things far more real than anything we’ve yet seen or experienced, and the true meaning of Justice, and the answer to I Deserve... .

Send us a king, send us our King…

It’s the late dawning desperation of humans everywhere through all time that oh, I do need what He said I needed.  I do need to come near, to listen, because nothing makes sense or means anything without Him in the picture.  I truly do not know how to be alive and be human apart from the Creator.

It’s about…the very tangible torment He opened Himself to repair the damage we’d done.  The great personal price He accepted to resurrect us.  How free is Grace?

Someone paid for the damage…

Tim Keller points out that if someone backs out of your drive, running into your gate and garden wall, there are real, actual damages that must be paid in order to restore the gate and wall. “Either you or he absorbs the cost for the deed, but the debt does not somehow vanish into thin air. Forgiveness, in this illustration, means bearing the cost for his misdeed yourself.”

And the Father told us all of it long ago.  He told us we were dead, reminded that dead people can’t raise themselves up.  That resurrection would be a critical heart of the plan.

Dry bones, breath breathed, open graves, dead brought to life, Lazarus, Christ himself, our own future…the imagery is pervasive and effective in Old and New Testaments.

Ezekial 37: They say, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.”  Therefore prophesy and say to them: I will bring you back to the land of Israel.  Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live

How else do you explain all these open graves we’ve got?

How do we explain it?  Joy in emptiness?  How do you explain the forgiveness of deep offenses?  Peace in tempest winds? How do we explain the always-returning green hope buds of this Life?

Someone must have paid…

Inhale

Truthfully, I inhaled.

On the blacktopped road, late spring, early evening, I rolled windows down, drew in the honeysuckled air and felt alive.  I could have been 7 or 70 or any number of years in between.  There’s just something about 75 degrees, blowing in through the car window at dusk.

I joke that I’m a nicer person in spring and summer, but I'm sorry to say it’s not really a joke.  I am nicer.  It’s easier to exude warmth when I feel warm, and easier to be light when I am actually in the light.

And it’s easier to exhale grace and peace, when grace and peace are the oxygen we breathe.

In his book, The Peacemaker, Ken Sande writes:

“Peacemakers are people who breathe grace.”

I want to learn to forgive.  I want to be able to imagine a “side of the story” different from my own and to say, “I’m sorry” without choking.

What I tend to do is hold my breath and count the injuries.  Or run to the people or places that affirm my perspective, and there take in…what?  Bitterness.  Self-righteousness.  Judgment. Complacency.

But I want to be a real peacemaker, so I will have to learn where to go for grace.

And here it is:  We must go to the Living Word and meditate on the most scandalous story of grace ever told.  We return to our own scars and failures all graciously dressed, bandaged, and covered with new cloth.  We seek out the sages who unfailingly ask us to point to the evidence of the Creator in our lives, yes, even mid-winter.

And at the end of a May day, we roll down the windows and breathe deeply the ever-returning beauty lavished on a turned-away world.   Spring keeps coming back!  Every year she saves us from the cold and dark.  Restores joy!  And we, surprised, say: Yes!  You have come again afterall!

No matter what we’ve done or failed to do in the months of her absence.

And the branches we were so sad to see bare shoot out longer, greener and fuller than before the frost.

The return of the sun is God’s grace exhaled over us.

The truth is, we must inhale.