December 28, 2009

A Soft Place to Land

A couple of years ago I discovered a special place in the woods that I call the moss trail. It's not a trail for walking on, but every now and then I can't help myself, I just have to take the detour and get my feet on that path . . . that soft place to land when I need a little extra support. I often notice many areas where animals have walked because the moss has been kicked up in places; maybe a deer, bobcat (yes, I've seen bobcats in these woods), or a fox were travelers here. And it makes me smile to think that even the animals can't resist this many-hued green pathway. The moss in the picture above is the most predominant variety on the path, but the beautiful sage green reindeer moss is abundant as well. I love to just set my gaze on the various green mosses and take in the natural colors on display before me. One day, while with my two daughters and husband, I showed them the trail for the first time. The girls loved it and wanted to explore deeper into the woods down the moss path, which was farther than I had ever gone before. To all of our surprise, the path went on and on. We passed large rocks, beautiful, old trees, and places that seemed untouched and untraveled. I had to smile as I watched my daughters literally lie down on the moss and revel in the natural beauty and comfort around them. And my oldest, who is very sensitive and easily frightened at anything, especially death, told me she wanted to be buried right there under the moss! Wow! For just a brief moment she got out of her fearful mind and entered into that beautiful S P A C E where there is no fear, no worry, only a pure moment of being in the present, graced by the divine. I'm glad she allowed her soul to shine it's radiant, true self in the moment, reminding me that we are so connected to the natural world but so often forget it. We are made of organic elements just like the trees, dirt, streams, and rocks. It's only natural that we should feel so at home and so connected while in the woods, or traveling through the desert, or on a mountaintop, or at the ocean.
"There is a great healing in the wild. When you go out into nature, you bring your clay body back to its native realm. A day in the mountains or by the ocean helps your body unclench. You recover your deeper rhythm . . . you begin to realize the magnitude and magic of being here. In a wild place you are actually IN the middle of the great prayer. "
~John O'Donohue, Eternal Echoes

December 6, 2009

Beauty Redefined

"The irony of being here is that sometimes it is precisely what you want to avoid that brings you further towards creativity and compassion."

~ John O'Donohue, Eternal Echoes

The past few years I've been challenged to redefine my idea of beauty. Beauty in everyday life. Beauty in my surroundings. Beauty in the face of another. I had this inherent belief that beauty is only what looks good, or makes you feel good and peaceful, or what pleases the mind, creating a sense that all is well and in its right place. If I experienced beauty, it meant I didn't want to look away from someone or something because IT DID NOT CAUSE ANY PAIN. And this can all be true of beauty. But lately I was first gently nudged, then shoved into understanding and seeing the other dimension of beauty and the unexpectedly generous supply of wisdom it holds. But it requires an often uncomfortable journey into pain--either physical, mental, or spiritual-- which I have too often avoided because I was afraid of "not being pleased."

A few things in particular stand out as I allowed beauty to be redefined in my heart. One was a relational disappointment in which I expected something from someone who had nothing to give me. I was forced to look at painful truths about myself, in what appeared to be rejection. In reality, it was redirection that was offered to me, which was beauty manifesting through the strength of another. I went through a "dark night of the soul" period, in which everything seemed ugly and empty, even myself. But after a while I started paying attention to what was going on inside of me. And I noticed that I was beginning to grow spiritually, in new and different ways. Beauty revealed itself to me in my emotional pain, as strange as it sounds. The pain I felt propelled me toward my Maker, seeking direction and comfort in Him.

Another way that beauty was redefined for me was during a recent bout with pain--physical pain. I'm a relatively strong and healthy person, with not a lot to complain about in the health department. But when I recently experienced an injury that left me in chronic pain for months (I'm still recovering!), it rocked my world. Needless to say I did not handle the pain well. Fear crept in, a few panic attacks were unleashed, and my mood plummeted. I wondered if I'd ever get better. But then my thoughts went to the numerous people who will truly live with chronic pain throughout their life, with no relief. I've often overlooked those who chronically suffer with pain because it was overwhelming to me. And it was easy to overlook those who hurt when I felt so wonderful. So this injury really opened my heart to have compassion for those suffering physical pain. This has been important to me since I practice Reiki (a form of energy work). I often help those with physical pain, as well as emotional issues. And I can only be helpful to my clients if I have an appropriate level of empathy. My empathy toward others definitely increased because of the pain I was in. The beauty of this lesson was only revealed through the pain I experienced. Not a fun process for me, but full of lessons and self-discovery.

I love the above John O'Donohue quote that reminds us that beauty is often found in the things we avoid. No one chooses to suffer. No one wants to walk into something that is seemingly "unbeautiful" and painful. But when we find ourselves in a situation that seems to be a struggle, we need to surrender to it and let it run its course in us and use the experience as a teacher. Then our surrounding darkness can be infused with a bit of light, which translates into beauty, and we can watch it transform us.

October 22, 2009

A Reluctant Heart

Have you ever had the realization that you're not as helpful a person as you thought you were? I'm in the middle of a wake-up call right now, taking a deeper look at my under-the-surface reluctance to be helpful to someone truly in need. I'm so ashamed, I have to confess. But this experience has made me look at other times when I have avoided helping someone because I thought someone else surely would, or because I was wary of getting too involved and, possibly, taken advantage of. Horrible thoughts, I know, but I'm wondering if I'm not the only one who feels this way at times. Sure, it's easy to help when I am not inconvenienced or pulled out of my comfort zone. But what about those other, more intimate situations when a person is seeking help? Well, let me confess here my avoidance to a dear woman's needs, then the blessing I received after "getting involved." Maybe it will help you look at someone in need (really look them in the eyes) with compassion rather than avoidance. Here goes . . .
I received an e-mail from a parent at my daughter's elementary school---a desperate mother who needed her daughter driven to school . . . and picked up, for an extended/indefinite period of time. She was given my e-mail by a person who knew we lived in the same area and thought it would be convenient to take her. I was reluctant to agree to the daily carpool, because it meant the girl arriving at 7:oo in the morning, hanging out with our family, and being subjected to our harried morning madness until we leave at 7:25. It also obligated me to help out in the afternoon, picking up her daughter and then meeting the mom and other children at a bus stop and driving all home every afternoon. I felt smothered already, even before accepting to help, so I simply ignored the e-mail, assuming she had other people to contact for help. But she persisted, until I finally agreed, during a desperate phone call one evening. During that phone call I learned the story behind her need:

She is a divorced mother of three children, all going to different schools. The mother is in school full time, working on a master's degree, trying to get a better job to raise her three children . . . alone. Her car had recently caught on fire, just as the new school year started. Now her extra money has to be saved in order to buy another car, which will take some time. I found out that she and her children walk about 2.5 miles before their school starts each morning (and again in the afternoon) to either catch the city bus (she and her son) or walk to a gas station where her younger daughter was getting picked up for school by someone else, who eventually stopped her services with no explanation.

So, I got involved. When I met her, all it took was one look in this woman's eyes, one look into her children's eyes, to see that NOT helping her was not an option. Her eyes were like my eyes; her children's eyes like my own children's eyes. Would I want to be ignored, passed off, or seen as a burden? Would I want my children to not be able to get to school? Would I want ANY major need unmet for me or my family? Of course not. Needless to say, I made an immediate friend in this woman. She's awesome, and so inspiring: in her strength, in her attitude, and in the grace with which she handles every unpleasant circumstance. She flows. She trusts. She is focused on a better tomorrow, a better future. She does not allow thoughts of scarcity (not having enough or not having needs met) to paralyze her. What a blessing for me to know her. I'm now fine with my role as driver for as long as she needs my help. We've bonded. I'm "involved." I got out of my "comfort zone" and headed straight into the unknown zone, where so much learning and growth and blessing awaits. And all it took was looking someone in the eyes and really seeing their situation as if it were my own.
The heart rock pictured above is particularly unique. It has two parts to it: the bottom is a piece of crystallized honeycomb coral; the top part (the heart rock) sits fused on the piece of fossilized coral. Two seemingly unrelated natural pieces have come together. This union is so special to me. It's almost as if the coral is "carrying" the heart rock. This is another natural-element example of how we are all called to carry one another in life. Doing so not only leads to a need being met--it also creates beauty. And in carrying another we also increase our opportunities of being carried when we are in need. The beauty of carrying and being carried by another changes us and reminds us that we are all united; we are all one.

September 22, 2009

A Heart Unto My Path

It had been at the end of a particularly emotional week for me when I came upon this heart, which is part of the natural coloration of the old cedar tree. I was surprised to have never noticed it before, because I pass it very often. Just as the saying goes: "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear," the heart appeared in my field of vision when it was the right time to hear its message. It illuminated my path when I was feeling concerned about some life situations. It sent the clear message that "All is as it should be" and that God is always mindful of me. I felt that even though my day had started out with a general sense of loneliness and lack of clarity, I am never alone . . . ever. Reflecting on the world of spirit, I began to remind myself of the invisible world that is always working and weaving in my life: the Holy Spirit and angels, all working to remind me Whose I am. And I'm constantly thankful for the natural-world illuminations, such as hearts in nature, to direct my thoughts to a higher place.

I also noticed the significance of the fact that my "found" heart was on a tree, a cedar tree in particular. In Native American traditions, the cedar tree was thought to have strong protection and cleansing properties for people. Also, the cedar is a tough survivor, withstanding less-than-perfect environmental conditions; therefore it can teach us to anchor ourselves onto a secure foundation and reach not only toward the foundation (which for the tree would be the ground), but to move up, stretching to new heights. A wonderful contrast of darkness and light. This darkness is not the sort to be wary of. The tree does amazing things under the surface of the earth. In the darkness of the soil, it creates, receives nourishment, and prepares to enter it's journey upward. Through these silent roots, so much is taking place in the darkness of creation. Through this dark silence, the roots navigate instinctively, running as long and deep as the tree will need for support. Growth is slow, but steady. To much growth above the surface, and the tree will not be properly supported. Too many roots and not enough action above ground never allows the tree to reach its potential, denying the animals and humans it's canopy, fruit, nuts, beauty, and wood. The ecosystem benefits when a tree has a harmonious balance of darkness and light, silence and growth. They are essential for the success and growth of the tree.

Light and darkness. A wonderful contrast because they actually work together to create life. So when I'm experiencing my "dark" days, I can now understand that they will be perfectly balanced with light-filled ones in which I will come away from the dark circumstance closer to God and, just as important, closer to my true self.

July 10, 2009

An Unexpected Match

This picture might appear a little confusing, so let me explain. I found the orange-colored rock in the woods and was drawn to it because it was half heart-shaped, reminding me of how I am incomplete within my own soul without God residing in me and restoring my brokenness. You can't see from the picture, but along the back of this rock, a crystal band runs through it, bright and sparkly. I only discovered that feature after I took it home and scrubbed it clean. Of course, I was pleasantly surprised and felt that the rock now had even more value to me.

The other rock, the gray one, has many large, deep holes. It's really interesting to look at structurally. And it makes me wonder what caused all those holes millions of years ago. Rocks really are ancient masterpieces and windows to the past because so much history can be revealed by the study of their composition. Rocks are timeless, really, because they carry a bit of all time within their makeup.

When I saw the large, gray rock, I had a feeling that my half heart-shaped rock just might complete some visual picture of completeness for me if I worked with it a little. And almost effortlessly, I joined the two, creating what you see above . . . a picture of wholeness. The craggy, orange rock was released from its broken, unfulfilled state and realized its heart potential by joining with another seemingly broken, gaping rock. I think the match is beautiful, actually, even though the textures, colors, and ancient journey of the two rocks couldn't be more different.

Kind of reminds me of how God uses His people to heal one another. We all come from different backgrounds and have different wounds within us (represented by the craggy and gaping rocks). He is still the orchestrator of the restoration, but by people interacting with each other, sharing their brokenness and uniting on this journey, we can find moments of beauty and wholeness . . . even if it's not perfect beauty or perfect wholeness, which will only be found when we move on to the new earth that awaits. So, the imperfect union of our souls suffices, as I believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg of what is to come.

June 16, 2009

Keep on Tryin'

In early spring a mother bird persistently built her nest under our carport. Upon her first attempt at building, the bits of pine straw, twigs, and dried-out grass easily blew away. I couldn't imagine the mother bird ever having success at building a sturdy base upon which she could complete the nest. I think the first few attempts failed, actually. And I thought to myself, Good grief, give up already! It's obviously NOT the place to build. Try somewhere else. But that bird kept at it. I remember one morning as I headed out the door--noticing the bird making yet another attempt--there were once again only a few starter pieces to the nest. But by the next afternoon it appeared complete. I was astounded! How could she go from those poor first attempts to absolute triumph seemingly overnight?

I learned that nest building is instinctive; birds cannot not complete the task. They rest when their hard-wired building impulses have been satiated through completing the task. Birds even instinctively know what building materials to use: mud, spider webs, caterpillar silk, leaf mold, plant fibers, and saliva, which are then intertwined with twigs, leaves, grass, and/or straw. Hundreds of trips are made from their building site to various places to gather all of the supplies needed. All done with a beak! . . . pretty resourceful, if you ask me.

I started wondering what instinctive behaviors I have, besides the basic ones: survival, sleeping, eating, language acquisition, sense of right/wrong, and so on. I wanted to think outside the structured scientific definition of "instinct" and look at what is unique to me. What instincts do I have (even though scientifically they might not really be instincts)? What is hard-wired into my being that I try to fight or deny as being a part of me? Well, an obvious one is the creative flow. I'm hard-wired to unleash my creativity in various ways: writing, decorating, gardening, even parenting. Yet so often I lack the confidence to let the creative process flow. I stifle it. I think what I create isn't good enough. I undersell my natural skills to myself and others. Or I become envious of others' skills that are seemingly better than mine . . . creating the comparison game, which only paralyzes me from any creative action. Instinctively I know that being creative resonates with my being. But my human nature fights the process out of, well, I guess you'd call it insecurity. Or fear of failure. Or fear of not being good enough. But the birds don't play that mind game with their nest-building. They get up, perform their God-given instinctive duties, and get it done.

Even with my poor first attempts at something, I need to remember that those early efforts always lead to the next step. Thus the opposite is true as well: No steps lead nowhere. And that's not gonna work for me. Each attempt at the creative life builds momentum to propel more energy into the next project. And as a whole the constant movement is all a success. The failure only lies in the lack of movement. The "frozen moments" as I call them. Or "creative paralysis".

Again . . . nature always sends us such simple messages about how to achieve inner wellness. By the way, the momma bird in our yard went on to have two baby birds. One flew away with ease and dignity; the other bird took days and days and DAYS to get the whole flying/worm catching thing accomplished (it was quite a sad sight to see, actually). That poor momma bird was just as persistent with her (rather large at this point) baby as she was with building her nest. She tirelessly fed it worms and encouraged it to fly, only getting a weak attempt from her baby to try these things on its own. Hours and hours (believe me, I had nothing better to do than keep up with this, so I know) were spent following her "big" baby all over the yard, while it simply hopped everywhere, waiting to be fed. After five days there was triumph. The birds left the yard, and the circle of life continued: the baby bird finally succeeded in flying.

Just like that momma bird who stayed the course for her baby while it was developing its skills, God is here for us as we stumble through our weak attempts at accomplishing our life's mission. And then one day it clicks in us. We get it. We are confident enough to carry on with the instinctive skills for which we were created to use in this world. And help was always by our side . . . in the form of many things God chooses to use: people, angels, nature . . . . Just keep your heart open to the encouraging messages around you.

June 3, 2009

Living Water

Last month I spent the morning with my dear anam cara friend, collecting rocks in a creek near her childhood home. My friend is in her '70s, so it's always special for her to return to her roots and share the area with others. According to her, things haven't changed too much over the past sixty years in the rural area where we were, so I was able to see a snapshot into her early years as a girl in the creek we were in. We parked the car in the shallow part of the creek, put on our rubber boots and gloves, and started searching for any rocks we wanted to take back with us, big or small. (We love rock collecting!) While wading through the water--getting off-balance at times because of the current--I was lulled by the sound of the water flowing and it quickly cleared my mind from all the internal chatter I had arrived at the creek with. I was able to let go of my oft-worrisome stream of consciousness and let the natural stream of water provided by the earth fill my senses, providing a much-needed mental break for me. Even the trees blowing in the wind echoed their own memory of the water that has nourished them since their days as saplings. Their leaves rustling reminded me of ocean waves, gently building in power and volume, then easing off, only to complete the cycle of mimicking the sound of ocean waves again.

Focusing on the water element all morning while combing the creek for rocks brought all sorts of water symbolism to mind. For instance, water itself is a wonderful example of a transformer. It changes shape to fit the environment it is in. If water is in a well, it runs deep into the earth at the source. If it is poured into a container, it will take on the shape of that container. If it is allowed to flow and spread, then it will do so, as in a creek. This reminds me to be flexible in life, yielding and bending and adapting to the life situations that arise in which I often tighten up and fight against, not allowing things to just happen . . . not surrendering and trusting God to be in control of each moment.

If you stop to consider that our bodies are approximately 80% water, then each of us basically operates as a mini ocean, full of water, salt, and oxygen, with everything constantly flowing and and maintaining life within us. Without water, there is no life. Likewise, without Jesus, the Living Water, there is no life. Through God's promise of the Living Water He provides for us, which is Jesus, we have hope that we will always have life . . . eternal life. And we will be eternally restored.

For now, though, it is enough to simply be on this earth, with a dear friend, in a creek, collecting rocks, listening to the ocean-like sounds of the leaves rustling. And when the water from the creek starts to fill my boots after taking a step in an unexpectedly deep spot, I welcome the elemental feel on my skin as a reminder to allow myself to adapt to situations with ease and fluidity.

WATER . . . . the ultimate healer, purifier, transformer.
JESUS . . . the ultimate healer, purifier, transformer.

April 26, 2009

The Lily of the Valley

Two years ago my mother-in-law dug up a Lily of the Valley plant for me to put in my garden. I was excited to have this delicate little flower in my shade garden, but because it is a relatively small plant, and its blooming season is quite short, I missed the blooms on it last year. It blooms right after the daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips . . . so I just forgot to "stay tuned" for this spring flower to make its debut. All that I saw last year was the greenery and dried-out flowers. Then this year, I forgot I even had the plant! But the other day I was planting some hydrangeas . . . and then there it was . . . the Lily of the Valley in full bloom! Without even remembering to look for it, I somehow instinctively made my way toward it. Just as it is often the case with my relationship and connection to Jesus. I know it's there . . . I intend to check in . . . but I get sidetracked, or I temporarily forget what's there and go on to other things that grab my attention. But my soul instinctively remembers the connection I will always have to Jesus. And when I lay down my jumbled thoughts that distract me and tap into my soul's longing, I always seem to reconnect with what I often keep buried in the dirt: Jesus. And He deserves so much more than laying dormant in my heart like a bulb in the dirt. He deserves to sprout within my heart and extend into the world. And I'm worthy of Him living through me as well!

Jesus is often referred to as the Lily of the Valley for many symbolic reasons. But I'll share my favorite reasons why this flower links so closely to Him:

With their heads bowed toward the ground, Lily of the Valley blooms represent the humility that Christ modeled. I struggle so much with this, being very stubborn and strong-willed at times. I constantly remind myself that humility is not weakness but the highest form of inner strength. We can most effectively serve others when we put away our false pride and humble ourselves. I love one definition I found for humility: "the absence of vanity." That about says it for me.

Lily of the valley, I learned, is an extremely fruitful plant. One root can produce fifty bulbs! That's a lot of lily! Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, He bears much fruit, and He glorified the Father by doing so. I am called to do the same. To bear fruit in His name by how I live my life and how I love others. This often produces a ripple effect in the world. As one good, humble deed often leads to other good deed by applying the "pay it forward" philosophy.

Another fact I learned about Lily of the Valley is that it exceeds other flowers in whiteness. This links to Jesus in His purity. In His lack of sin. And it's only by His purity that we are made clean and pure. I used to struggle with the teaching that we are truly made clean--white as snow--in God's eyes by His grace through Jesus. It's mind-boggling that anything so dirty could ever come clean again (although I've seen pressure washers do some good cleaning!). But I just have to come to grips with the fact that there are just some things that are true no matter how well I understand them. And becoming pure is one of those things.

Humility. Fruitfulness. Purity.

Such wonderful symbolism from a little plant like Lily of the Valley. God always seems to get His message across in the simplest things and in the simplest of ways. He really doesn't work through layers of obscurity and confusion . . . He quietly plants His seed within us and lets the answers unfold through our experience of the world, but only if we care to notice. That's the key. Because it's always our choice to listen or not.

March 11, 2009

Broken Open

There's a large rock in the woods where I hike that is half buried in the middle of the trail and could easily be mistaken for a tree root. It caught my eye one day because the end that juts out of the ground has a circular/ring pattern on the tip. Nothing too impressive though. I often wondered if it might be some type of fossil, or just an unusually detailed edge. But it was too large and embedded to really look at. I'd notice it every now and again, but it was no show stopper. Just a little interesting, that's all.

And there's another rock I love on the same trail (see the picture at the top right corner of my blog page) with a cut-out heart shape in the rock. It's not too large, and it's easy to pick up. But that rock belongs in the woods. I would never take it. I love how the seasons frame it beautifully as it rests upon the ground, seemingly unchanging. It's a reminder of all the joys that can be found in nature.

But last weekend I passed the site of both of those rocks, and they were GONE! The cut-out heart rock had been lifted up from the ground and taken. Whereas the larger one had been hacked at and crudely dug up . . . evidence being that shards of the rock were sitting in the fresh hole. For some reason this really bothered me. I felt personally invaded. The things I had grown used to seeing and expected to be there were carted off in the blink of an eye.
On another day I decided to see if the rocks had been discarded off to the side, so I looked around in the woods near the area. While I never found the cut-out heart rock, I did discover something special about the larger one: First, I went to the large hole and rummaged through the fine shards. And to my surprise I found a heart rock with a crystal band running through it (see the picture above). While the person was hacking away at the rock, a quarter sized heart rock had formed (and been left behind unnoticed!). How cool! Then, a few feet away by the edge of the trail, I noticed two large remainder rocks, which were part of the large one, that had obviously been tossed aside. I looked at the rock chunks and immediately saw two hearts within them (see picture below). Suddenly I heard my message loud and clear . . .

Like a parallel in my life lately, the large rock literally had to be broken open and removed from a comfortable place of rest in order to experience the true beauty that lays just on the other side of complacency, apathy, and "good enough". There are some things I've held on to for too long, afraid that by facing the pain of releasing all that junk, it might be worse than simply holding tight to it. But over the past few years, I've slowly allowed myself to be broken open--actually it's more like I started with a crack here and there before I surrendered to the renewing and cleansing act of being truly broken open. I still surrender daily to God what doesn't work for me with the belief that God's plans are so much better for me than the plans I had fabricated. My plans included the beliefs that a certain person or thing would satisfy me, not to mention all the "stuff" I thought I needed to be fulfilled. Also, being broken open releases me from my old patterns of behavior and patterns of interacting with people that were not helping me to fulfill my purpose. It's scary to offer up ourselves to metaphorically be hammered at, or pick-axed at, or dug up from the comfy, soft earth we have positioned ourselves in. But then when would true beauty be discovered? Beauty will always be found through the humble act of being broken, experiencing the dark night of the soul, and having the courage to come through it, knowing you are not alone. God is the Creator, Breaker, and Restorer.
It is so!

"Even a STONE . . . could show you the way back to GOD, to the SOURCE, to YOURSELF."
Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now

February 23, 2009

Ancient Messages

Have you ever heard of a brachiopod? Well, I hadn't until this past fall. I came across an unusual shell fossil deep in the woods one day and asked a fellow fossil-lover what it was. He smiled and told me a few things about brachiopods and that the particular one I had shown him was between 300 and 500 million years old, dating from the geological era of the Cambrian period to possibly the Permian period. Brachiopods (two-valved marine creatures) lived millions of years ago in shallow seas. One side of the shell has a depression in the middle, and the other side has a raised ridge down the center, making brachiopods only symmetrical if you cut them down the front in the middle, but not if you take apart each side of the shell. I love these fossils. More important, I love that I can hold in my hand something so ancient that once was so full of life. This particular brachiopod was connected to our ancient earth before humans roamed the planet. Can you imagine just how magnificent these earlier days of earth must have been?
After I found my first brachiopod, I started seeing more deep in the woods--I only noticed them where I expected to find them. But one day I happened to look down at the edge of a gravel road and saw a whole brachiopod fossil among the chopped rock. I realized that I never would have expected to find one in such an "unnatural" environment. After all, gravel doesn't seem like anything natural or ancient. But it is . . . it comes from the broken-down, millions-of-years-old rocks. Even though we use it for our roads and such, its source is the same as any rock. And all rocks are VERY old.

This got me to thinking . . . again. Sometimes I gloss over things that are of value. I only expect to see valuable things in certain places, so I've trained my eye to NOT see the valuable things of life in the unexpected places. By living in this narrowly focused way, I miss out on so much beauty and joy and growth. I love the John O'Donohue quote: "Many of us have made our world so familiar that we do not see it anymore." Everything deserves a second glance, a gaze even. The gaze allows our hearts to open a little more and let something that is often times unnoticed get a second chance to shine, to share its truth. The gaze slows us down and allows us to connect to our world in a more intimate and connected way. If you look into someone's eye's long enough, for example, you can't help but feel connected to them in a way that makes words virtually powerless. Eyes connect . . . the gaze connects. It activates the heart and soul. If we really take the time to stop and look at something or someone, we will hear a message or learn something that is valuable to our life. God will use that moment of connection to speak. That small moment of the second look, the extended gaze, will hold much power and importance. Try it. I know you'll be amazed at what you really see and how your soul is touched.

Finding beautiful, ancient fossils in unexpected places also reminds me to never limit God. Don't expect to only find Him in the usual places: church, funeral homes, and such. God is everywhere. He is in the leaves that fall to the ground in autumn. He is in the nurse who comforts a patient with cancer. He is in the handicapped person who is longing for human contact. He is in the marriage that has become unraveled but is finally coming back together with humbling honesty and forgiveness. He is in the coffee shops of the cities among friends, who get together for a moment of confession. He is in our greatest achievements and our most disappointing failures. Gaze into the present moment and see where you find Him in any given situation. His presence will not disappoint. It's only we who disappoint ourselves by not letting the holy and divine reach into every moment.

January 23, 2009

Together Alone

LAO TZU (570-490 BC)
Each season the trails I frequent offer a completely new look. I don't really have a favorite. Winter is great because I don't have to worry about ticks and snakes. Spring has so many blooming surprises popping up nearly every day. Summer allows for the trees to display their canopy of leaves, providing a true cozy-forest feel. And fall is magnificent with its brilliant colors and the leaves that fall like snowflakes.

As I walk these paths, I am reminded of how the seasons mirror our spiritual and physical journey. Spiritually winter symbolizes stillness, silence, and often the experience of "the dark night of the soul." Physically it reminds me of the reality of earthly death and slow movement. Spiritually spring symbolizes renewal, answered prayers after a dark time of waiting, and hope. Physically spring shows me the reproductive nature of the flowers, plants, animals, and all of life. This rebirth fills me with increasing energy and hope for the days ahead. Spiritually summer can feel like God is right by my side, even though He never left. Faith is brought forth again within me, allowing me to get into the flow of my spiritual side. Physically summer represents energy, productivity, and movement. Spiritually fall calls me once more toward introspection as the energy slows down toward stillness once again after the harvest of my spiritual pursuits have been brought forth. Physically fall reminds me that everything in this physical world has a birth and death cycle, which can often bring much emotional as well as physical pain. And then on to winter again, to experience the dark night of the soul . . . stillness . . . and silence within.

The path we journey on represents a physical as well as spiritual voyage. All of humanity is walking this path together . . . alone. I love this contradiction! Together/alone. Together/alone. We all have an individual identity that separates us from one another, a purpose we are meant to fulfill in life, an ancient message we are trying to remember. But always know that we are part of a whole . . . united. Yes, we take our earthly voyage in seeming isolation because no one really knows the workings of our minds and souls. But by remembering that we are part of One Source, it allows us to pay attention to the people around us and see that we all have the same goal: becoming reunited with the One Source.

Often I get so narrowly focused by only looking at my path. The way it winds and straightens, taking me through all four physical and spiritual seasons. I need to be aware of my surroundings and do a 360, looking for others who might have stumbled off the path, or who are falling behind, or who are too weak to go on. Those people are there. Heck! I'm often there! If I become aware, I will see that I'm not all alone on this path, though often it's easy to have tunnel vision and let my sense of momentum keep me from looking around at who might need some attention.

God is in all of the "off the path" details. Some of His most miraculous works are done "off the path," wouldn't you agree? "Off the path" might look like sitting up all night with a friend who is detoxing; or confronting a business partner about his white-collar crime, offering to love him through his repentance; or providing a safe place for a child who you know lives in danger, possibly putting yourself in harms way while finding a solution to the problem. "Off the path" is not often found in church. It's in the most unexpected places. So be an open channel to let the work of God be done through you. You will thank God when a divine encounter comes along, filling you with a peace and a knowing that that person was sent to do His work . . . to help you on your path. It's all part of the cycle, the circle. We will all need help; therefore we all must give help.

Remember: The goal is not to get to somewhere on our path. The goal is the path.

"Though we share this humble path, alone

How fragile is the heart.

Oh give these clay feet wings to fly

To touch the face of the stars.

Breathe life into this feeble heart

Lift this mortal veil of fear.

Take these crumbled hopes, etched with tears

We'll rise above these earthly cares."

Loreena McKennit "Dante's Prayer"


January 6, 2009

Fall at Your Feet

"He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him."
Luke 17:16
The subject of feet came to my mind the other day as I was trail running. The leaves from fall have completly covered the trails, making it a bit treacherous to run (often large rocks or tree roots are buried just under the leaves). Any unexpected, uneven landing upon the trail can quickly turn an ankle or foot, resulting in a very painful sprain, or worse. Add three days of rain to the leafy, rocky trail-stew, and you might as well walk most of the way if you want to avoid injury . . . even with the right shoes. But I had walked long enough. And I was needing to exert more energy. And I was willing to take the risks . . . and not surprisingly, I turned my foot on a rock--but not too badly. Enough, though, to slow me down and take notice of my limitations that day. I was grateful not to be limping, grateful that my foot stabilized quickly, grateful that my feet could carry me yet again on the trails the next day without much more than a light ache. My feet take a lot of abuse and strain, but they are very powerful, taking me though a day, a month, a lifetime. My feet allow me to move forward, take action, and come running toward the ones I love. They also remind me of the humble acts of servanthood demonstrated by Jesus and many others in the Bible.

The Bible mentions feet often throughout both the Old and New Testament. I did a search for feet on and was surprised not only to find the disciples washing Jesus' feet (serving), but Satan being crushed under our feet by "the God of Peace" (empowering): "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you." Romans 16:20. When I realize all that I am able to do through God's strength, I am so comforted. My strength alone is so frail. And if I ever think my strength alone is sufficient, I am painfully reminded of how human and unequipped I am to do battle on this journey.

I love Psalm 40:2: "He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand." To me, this is a promise from God of redemption and salvation. The slimy pit represents my sin. He rescued me from that part of my life. He then takes hold of my feet and sets them on a rock, better known as Jesus, the Rock of my salvation. Jesus is the anchor where my feet will settle, without getting sprained, twisted, or snared. Notice that the word "stand" is used after Jesus has rescued us. The scripture says "a firm place to stand" (not sit). There is no shame in the rescue and redemption and former sin. There is only a God who is proud of my coming home to him, who wants me to stand tall in his love and grace.

And for that kind of love, I should gladly and eternally


in humble praise and thanks.