sustenance

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Lately, as I’ve been walking on the trail near our house, under the guise of exercising the dog, I’ve noticed the dry leaves. The ones that have been “released” from their service to the tree. I’ve watched them fall from the canopy while I walk, I’ve listened to the crunch of the leaves under my feet as I plod forward. Amused, I’ve enjoyed the times that Jasper thinks that the animated leaves, caught on a breeze, are little animals to be hunted and tracked, only to find that, when he finally catches up to one, it is just a dry leaf.

Jasper doesn’t seem to mind. Once he realizes that it is just a dry leaf, he moves on, his nose directing him onward to the next thing. He continues to trot along, his head to the wind, waiting for the next scent, or leaf, that will catch his attention and lead him to something new.

Just a dry leaf. And yet, just a few weeks ago, that leaf was working very hard to sustain the tree. To help to feed it before the cold winter ahead. To stretch itself out to the sunlight, providing the tree with needed growth and life.

At times, I think we can all feel like one of those dry leaves. Our energy spent. Our hope lost. We’ve given all that we can, and we can only hope that our efforts to sustain have provided growth and energy for the times to come.

I think it can feel that way when we send our children off to college. I’ve been contemplating this since I’m now living with an empty nest. And yet, changes in my life of late have given me so much hope. I’ve started painting. I’m finding time to enjoy the changing seasons and the spectacular autumn colors. The empty nest is agreeing with me.

Now that our kids are both off at college, I’ve been able to enjoy a bit of freedom. I’ve allowed the winds to carry me, just a little bit more than I’ve been able to before. Like Jasper, I’m looking to the next thing. Today, I reflect on how much of my energy has been focused on sustaining our children. Until now, I’ve expressed sympathy and love when they’ve been bruised and battered by forces outside themselves. I’ve held them tenderly when they feel as if they are hanging by a thread. I’ve watched them stretch and grow and begin to sustain themselves, as if they have put down roots and are now creating the seedling of life in their own world.

My love and support of my kids is still very necessary. It will continue forever. As I watch them stretch and grow, reaching for the sunlight, I realize that I am so proud of these young adults. Each day is a new opportunity for growth, for a toddler, or a teenager, or a college student, or an empty nester, or a grandparent, or an elder. Each time I am aware of this, through the grace of God, I am astounded, and grateful, and aware of being fully alive.

Today, I give thanks for the spectacular autumn that I am experiencing. May I continue to sustain and to let go. May I continue to appreciate and to live fully.

I invite you to do the same.

All good giving and every perfect gift comes from above.

-James 1:17

coming home

After two days of working in the yard, I found a place to sit on the steps leading up to the back door. My muscles were sore and I was physically exhausted. As I held the glass of ice water in my hands and paused to look at the fruits of our labor – the table and chairs cleaned and set out on the patio, the annual plants in the pots, the shrubs and perennials trimmed and cleared – it occurred to me that in the past 4 years I have not had a chance to sit and savor the beauty of my back yard. I’ll be receiving my masters degree in a couple of weeks (the fruit of many hours of hard work, as well!) and during these recent years the reading, writing papers, and going to class has been the primary focus.

As I surveyed the yard, I noticed that a tree right near the patio had four years worth of new growth, something I had not paid attention to lately. The peonies we planted a few years back are thriving in their spot. The patio chairs are more worn than I remembered… because in my mind’s eye it seems as if we just brought them home from the store, when the reality is we’ve had them for more than four years.

It sounds strange as I attempt to articulate it here, but my awareness as I sat on the steps became focused on coming home. Coming home does not necessarily mean walking through the threshold of the door of the some physical house somewhere.

Coming home can mean having lunch with a friend I see once a year or less. When we are in the other’s company, somehow it as if no time has passed. We could be sitting on a park bench in a city far from our homes, in a place neither of us has ever been. Each of us knows the rhythm of the conversation, neither of us feels awkward, and we know each other’s souls, even if we would not articulate it that way.

Coming home can mean giving something up for Lent, and, once Lent is over, we are aware of its recent absence in our lives, and we savor and appreciate that thing for a week or two, but eventually, it as if we never left it behind.

Coming home can be something as profound as hearing and understanding your wife’s voice after she suffers an aneurysm. My friend who walks beside his wife during her recovery is very aware that his wife has not yet returned to their physical home. I would guess, though, that seeing her progress, hearing her voice, and feeling wonder at the miracles he witnesses in her recovery feels a bit like coming home.

Coming home can be as simple as an “I love you” at the end of a long-distance telephone call.

In the Emmaus story, at the end of the day, the two people invite Jesus into their home, and this is where they recognize him. They have been with him during the seven-mile walk, and they do not know it is him. They have heard him interpret the scriptures. They have described to him their despair. All of this took a long time! But they do not recognize him until he has come home with them.

For me, I feel a sense of coming home when I write for this blog. Every post is still uncomfortable for me. Every word is tentative. Most days, finding my voice here is difficult – it as if I don’t know where it is or how to find it. And yet… When I find my voice here in a graced way on a particular day, I am acutely aware that it is right, and true, and meaningful. This coming home is, for me, a coming home to God. I am comfortable here. I know God’s presence in each word, and God’s grace comes through loud and clear. I come home to the reality of God’s grace, and it is good. Not because I make it so, but because of this grace.

He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them.

-Luke 24:29

resolution

It’s almost time to take the Christmas tree down.

This saddens me. Our Christmas tree turned out beautifully this year, having evolved over the years. When we were first married, I was adamant that only things that came from nature (albeit artificial versions of them, if necessary) would hang on the tree. Pine cones, berry garlands, Christmas balls covered in red berries, dried apple and orange slices, raffia, icicles, and little red cardinals were among the items in the boxes I brought up from the basement every year. As I’ve refined my tastes I’ve begun to include grape vine balls covered in glitter, ornaments that look like ice-carved stars, white snowflakes in various sizes, and my own personal favorite, dozens of glitter-coated balls in red, gold, and brown. A beautiful angel in a white flowing dress finishes the display.

Why do I enjoy the tree so much this year? Perhaps the reason is something very complicated. I could view it as a parallel to our marriage, evolving and changing, maturing and relaxing. Or perhaps the reason is something as simple as grace.

This morning, as I sit in the dark family room enjoying this tree one last day, I think about something I observed earlier this week. I hold in my mind the image of hundreds of birds, moving in concert, as the sky turns from afternoon blue to dusky orange to deep red, and then to darkness. This image is something I’ve seen many times before, and every time I see it, it takes my breath away. This display of nature, of hundreds, maybe thousands of birds, their bodies appearing as shadows against the late afternoon sky, is grace. The birds, their wings churning up and down, fly as one large body from one side of the road to the other, a giant cloud of life and movement, until they stop to fill all the branches on three or four tall trees. Here, their silhouettes on the bare winter branches make the trees appear to have sprouted thousands of leaves.

The beauty of the first tree is that I had a hand in creating it. The beauty of the second tree is that all I had to do is pay attention. In nature, God created this amazing display for me and anyone else who noticed. Today, I ask God to continue to whisper, asking me to take notice. I resolve to listen to God’s call to appreciate the little blessings in my life each day.