Kind of feels like we’re in a slip of mass hysteria. We’ll remember it by the Toilet Paper Commemorative 2020. But did you know that over 40,000 people die from car accidents per year in the United States, more than 95 people per day? It might behoove us to practice safer, kinder, focused, and more patient driving practices as opposed to mindlessly ripping the road up as if we’re in a video game and can’t get hurt or hurt others. Yet, today, panic over a certain illness has taken precedence as fear spreads fear among humans. Maybe we’ve watched one too many viral-zombie apocalypse movies—I don’t know, but there can be moments where the observational reaction is suffocating.
So as I was experiencing one of those high-anxiety moments the other day, I stepped outside on my back porch, looked to the skies and earth, and was struck at the normalcy of nature. It breathes, “All’s well here; life goes on greatly and without concern.” Birds frolic in the sky dotted with clouds moved by a breeze, as cheerful songs trill and chirp from those happy little beaks; dogs trot along, their tongues hanging in joyful slobber; rabbits are getting frisky; and the deer still tiptoe to the silver stream lapping refreshing water to quench a moment of thirst. Then they all move on their way to wherever they go and do what they do. These things of nature, they don’t worry about tomorrow. As the Word says—and the Word is life—tomorrow will take care of itself.
So, sure, maybe we humans take reasonable precautions, just as we should when getting behind the steering wheel with our incredibly well-washed hands. But maybe at this time we should strive more to do as the following scripture tells us. We go about our business taking one day at a time, our souls seeking after the Father, the only true balm, the only real soother, our only pure provider when the world has gone mad.
Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV)"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul”—John Muir
The forest is calling me--always calls me—and I can’t wait for life’s weather to let up a bit where I can head out to my sweet spots once again. As a lover of not only nature but literature as well, I can devour works regarding the wilderness experiences of others if I’m planted inside the home for long. A while back, I’d posted a review on Cheryl Strayed’s trek. Her memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, offered much to digest. Even better is Paul Stutzman’s Hiking Through. Never mind that I dream of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail and have lived vicariously by reading this author’s 5-month 14-state journey to complete the AT, his spiritual transformation brought me to tears. Just goes to show, as was pointed out, words have meaning. And our lives, purpose, aside from—and maybe because of—grief, heartache, choices, and possessions that weigh us down. What a stunning and freeing memoir! I highly recommend reading it. And then I urge you to get out in nature and let God speak to you and refresh you through his creation, the church of the mountains. See you on the trail!
The Brother's Keep series is now available in paperback as a compilation of novellas I-IV. 364 pages in this volume of allegorical Christian fantasy romance.
Coming-of-age amid fallen angels, mermaids, supernatural beings, and vampires has its challenges. But there is hope and beauty in these fairy tales, as well. See how and why.
A woman solo hiked the PCT. This is her engaging rite-of-passage memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. I could hardly put the book down, strong was my desire to gobble up every trail and survival detail. I love hiking, along with exploring the backcountry on horses, and primitive camping. While my own two feet have traversed sections of both the PCT and the AT (Appalachian Trail), I can only, thus far, live vicariously through those who have actually “thru-hiked.” Cheryl Strayed didn’t exactly hike through, having started in the Mojave Desert in California and finished at the Bridge of the Gods connecting Oregon to Washington, but she covered 1,100 miles on her weary, blistered, nail-less toes, having started out ill-prepared and untrained. That’s nothing to scoff at, by any stretch. That’s gutsy.
**potential spoilers below**
The writing is sharp and the storytelling vivid. I trekked into the pages assuming I could relate to the author as I, too, lost both my parents. I know what it’s like when your family unit sort of disintegrates due to grief; when the strong root is dug up, or the anchor is hoisted leaving you feeling adrift. Yet, I couldn’t grasp the author’s perspective on a number of levels. From her form of recklessness and promiscuity, to feeling a life force—though the size of a grain of rice—recognizing she was pregnant, and then using “I got an abortion” and “learned how to make dehydrated tuna flakes” in the same sentence. I couldn’t comprehend why her editors kept in the dalliance with “rad” man, as it had nothing to do with the story and certainly didn’t move it along. I didn’t understand why she unreasonably obliterated a solid marriage to a great guy, or how she expressed pain. And the incident with her mom’s horse, Lady: horrid. Choices, choices!
Still, her descriptions of nature when compared to her state of being proved starkly eloquent. When she hadn’t seen another human for weeks. When silence was tremendous. When she expressed that she was nothing to pebbles, leaves, and branches, yet they were everything to her. “Everything but me seems utterly certain of itself. The sky didn’t wonder where it was.”
When she did have encounters with other characters, they were interesting. Clyde’s words moved me while he said he didn’t believe in reincarnation when Cheryl had asked him. He said, “I believe we’re here once and what we do matters.”
And Cheryl’s mom having cancer that consumed her before she reached 50. I understood the tragedy of it. And the painful truths that came also from the mom’s mouth, about how she never got to conduct her own life—to be in the driver’s seat. She always did what someone else wanted her to do. The most uncomfortable sentiment, “I’ve always been someone’s daughter or mother or wife. I’ve never just been me.” Sorrowful authenticity is a killer.
So, you see, Wild was a weighty, ugly-beautiful book. Hard to rate. It’s like life, you take the good with the bad—which I suppose is the theme of this chronicle. Although I’m a different-thinking person from that of the author, with a contrasting belief system and grief display, and I didn’t quite see in my mind a “healing” take place, I admire Strayed who “strayed” and wrote for us a compelling memoir to digest.
On an early morning walk this week, a great white heron flew in front of me. I felt the flush of wind from its powerful wingspan—it was that close. I might be misidentifying this magnificent creature, but I do know it was not a color-morphed junior—the thing was gigantic and entirely white, no black legs or darkened bill. I suppose I should have been startled by its sudden presence, but I stood in awe as it glided across my path at eye level and then soared skyward. I could have been envious of the bird for its freedom and fearless flight. Instead, I wondered curiously what the view was like up there over the treelined marsh in this Sweetwater valley of Tennessee.
I grew up mostly (or mostly grew up, haha) on Fidalgo Island in Washington State. I used to hike to a couple special spots just to watch the heron(s) in complete harmony with earth, water, and sky. I’d sit for hours as one would move in stately silence, fish with purposeful patience, pass from complete focused stillness to the majesty of commanding aviation in a blink. Strong birds. Confident loners, I somehow took comfort in watching them. Never before have I seen a white one, though, so this unexpected recent encounter was extra special.
There’s an inclination I have to read symbolism in everything, see a spiritual sign beyond the physical, spot an allegory. Probably stems from my Judeo-Christian background, and this nature is quite strong in me. My sister/BFF says that I walk between two worlds. Because it’s true, my mind and heart were heavy and I was seeking God that morning. Though my feet were firmly plodding forward on the path, my cognizance was somewhere else completely. So now I ask what, exactly, is the Lord saying to me? Herons in Hebrew culture represent long-suffering, wisdom, and protection, are forbidden to be hunted or eaten. Early Christians believed herons shed red tears when under stress and their emblem came to represent Jesus’ agony of sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet somehow there seems to be more here, something else I’m not perceiving.
“The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”—Romans 8:26
Or maybe there wasn’t meaning in that encounter at all. Maybe that moment was just meaningful in that the heron was neat to look at and nothing else hinges there. Maybe I read too much into things. Except, as the week continues to churn, images of the white heron paint my mind in pure flashes and I’m inspired and hope-filled and utter thanks to the Lord. Regardless and always, God is sensitive, compassionate, merciful, and good. I trust him. And I certainly appreciate that he created that standout heron.
Now back to my chips-n-salsa which I also appreciate. You see? Two worlds, lol.
A problematic social issue, a unit called to respond.
A man struggles to right his wrong.
“If I had said ‘no’ instead of ‘yes’ when they asked me to do this thing, then maybe I would have turned out a hero instead of what I’ve become.
We were trained, hired with the promise of a good wage, to take care of a problem, to get things under control. As a man, I needed to succeed for myself, for my family living in a cycle of poverty in the sertão, the backlands. The earnings proved excellent, and far outweighed the promises made by the controlling peasant guerrillas. But the other part of it… If I knew then what I know now…
I can’t live with myself…
I can’t live.
If I could take it back. Everything I’ve done--
Ach, who could do such things? And if one could, then who would forgive such things?”
This is the story of one man's dark path to redemption.
Lately, I’ve been feeling as if moving underwater through life and had to take a break from routine. So, I’ve been absent from here for a bit. In the interim, a friend shared with me the following film of an underwater artist. Took my breath away. One of the most beautiful presentations I’ve seen, it's proven hard not to replay it constantly. I’ve had dreams of dancing underwater, but I think my day will be in Heaven when I know I won’t drown. Interestingly, this video has helped me as a writer. More on that development will be revealed at a later time. For now, please enjoy this all-encompassing masterpiece.
When I touch base with somebody who I’ve earnestly prayed for, or have been praying for his/her specific situation, I tend to have high expectations. I expect to hear that they are flourishing. When I learn otherwise, that is, more challenges and unexplained struggles have arisen, I may not express my instant reaction but I feel disappointed. Immediately, I start questioning God. “What’s going on here, Lord, am I not praying hard enough? You can move mountains if you want to…I’ve asked you to!” What I forget and, due to my dogged nature, what I need reminded of, is that it’s not about me. The reasons for unanswered petitions, or for circumstances to continue on without a royal ironing out, that is, chaos is still reigning for an individual for who I’ve invested prayer, could be numerous. What I’ve noticed is that when God moves, it doesn’t just affect one person or situation. Rather, numerous are affected on multiple levels. Could be a timing issue, could be a variation in an intended path. Might be a spiritual blockage like an unaddressed grudge, could be that somebody else unforeseen needs to come into the fold and be touched through the condition. James 5:16 tells us, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
As I, feeling deflated, dwelled on these considerations, I decided I needed some fresh air. Determined to take a walk, I opened the door to sudden bad weather. “Wha? When did this storm move in? It was nice just thirty minutes ago!” Then I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me, saying to my spirit along the lines of, “What I give you when I give it is sufficient to weather the storm. I am your GPS. I am your weather app. But you cannot control the storm. I do.”
Gulp. Fair enough. Yes, I tend to want to control situations. And yes, I am a human with huge error, relentlessly stubborn, forgetful, and often weak. I needed the recap: God is sovereign. So, when things transpire differently than what I personally desire, I am reminded that prayer is a tool and a precious gift. It’s also a form of obedience. That’s right, I don’t control diddly-squat. And right now, I’m relieved. Right now, I’d hate to think how things would indeed turn out if I had the control, with my shortsightedness…can you imagine? *cringe*
God is sovereign. Hurrah for that!
I’m an introvert. Ever since my toddler days, I’ve experienced individuals who tend to make introverts feel as if they are weird, wrong, or incapable. My preschool teacher used to address her concern to my mother that I would sit contently in the corner and work puzzles rather than interact with other kids—the horror! Even today, at age 47, still enjoying puzzles, if I explain to somebody why crowds exhaust me and I prefer solitude to a gaggle, or a few close friends to a drove, I hear the same phrase, “Keep working on it, you’ll get there.” My reaction is often silent, yet in my head I ask, “Get where? I’m already here.” There is such a misconception about introversion, even more so today in this extremely extroverted culture. Introversion is not a social anxiety or disease that one needs to get over or improve. It’s a personality trait. Introverts and Extroverts perceive, address, and pursue things differently. We may have the same goals or desires; we just speak different languages. To confuse things, some linger in the middle between introvert and extrovert. If you don’t know for sure, it’s worth figuring out. Daily life could be so much easier with a little understanding.
In terms of Christianity and the modern church, there is even black and white disparity for how we are expected to love and have community with others. There is a reason why there are so many spiritual gifts tests available. Heed them! Because God didn’t wire us the same way, so we shouldn’t be expected to operate in the polar opposites capacity if we weren’t naturally equipped to function in that manner. I do believe there are times when God asks us to go beyond our natural realm. He gives us what we need when we need it to fulfill that particular commission. But I feel an ultimate purpose for our lives is to see clearly by walking in truth, grow in how He’s gifted us, reach out to others in our specified manner according to our divine gifts and/or skill sets. Extroverts, to my understanding, are good at verbally reaching out by lively conversation and engaging with others, while introverts might discreetly send a card, email, or touching song link to the individual on his/her mind.
God most often calls me to deep waters to pray and intercede, meditate, worship, and write. Another person might thrive leading a room full of energetic children or hosting an event. I wouldn’t expect to stick a people-person in a place of solitude for a great length of time and watch them flourish. They’d get through the situation, perhaps, but it would be somewhat of an affliction. I’ve learned this through my son who, though we are very close, is my polar opposite. He’s as much an extrovert as I am an introvert (an INFJ, to be specific) and I’ve learned a lot by watching him grow. So…the same goes for an introvert when asked to do something out of an ordinary characteristic for them, which I’ve also had more of than a healthy share.
There is beauty in the diversity of gifts, which seem to conjoin personality traits. We are various parts of a body meant to work together as one. Introversion is not a disease, it is not fatal, it’s a part of the body, and it has its specific, healthy place in life and in God’s kingdom.
Romans 12: 4-8
“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”
For the first time, I’d experienced a debilitating writer’s block. Part of the problem was that I had too many things going at once. Spread in different directions, digging into numerous genres and projects, I was suddenly staring at the computer, numb, with no flow, zero movement. It’s as if I’d lost focus and motivation.
Meanwhile, several acquaintances asked what my current work in progress was, so I shared about my writing block dilemma. A good friend put a question to me bluntly, said, "In terms of writing, Tessa, if you died today, what would you want to be remembered for?" And just like that I gave him my answer. He said, "Then stop wasting time and get to work."
That verbal smack in the face was exactly what I needed (thank you very much). A reminder, a single push sharpened my focus, renewed clarity of purpose and aim when time is valuable.
This honing perspective proves a good application if you’re struggling with any vocational motivation, really. Use it as a kick-start. If you died today, what would you want to be remembered for?
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…”—Colossians 3:23