A Prayer for Rain

My mind is clouded with smoke.  Embers of sadness pull at me, while the miserably hot, windy days continue to come and go.

Colorado is aflame.

The images of trees exploding instantly into flame haunt me.  Evacuation orders for entire towns make my stomach churn with worry.  And the images of over 250 homeless families, sleeping on makeshift cots, displaced with only ashes remaining of their homes and their entire life’s belongings makes my heart hurt.

Entire tracts of land, mountains and hills left with only a black, ashy scar of what once was.  Trees, grass and wildlife only a distant memory now, something we will not see recover in our lifetimes.

All I can offer is a prayer for rain.  I have no other option but to beg Him to quietly send moisture to fall upon our dry land, calming the smoke, the flames and the hurt.

Dear Lord,

Bless us with some relief from the drought, the fires and the smoke
That threaten these places we love, Oh Lord.
Cover this burning land with a blanket of your clouds,
Releasing raindrops to give life back to this dry land,
Let their cool wetness calm the smoke, the flames and the hurt in our hearts.
Fill our rivers, from trickles to streams again.
Quell the winds, even momentarily, to deflect the flames
To push them back in their tracks, instead of hurtling them forward.
Provide us with tools to put the roar of these fires out.

Bless, Oh Lord, those families who find themselves homeless,
Empty, heartbroken with loss and overwhelmed,
Give them hope that You will provide for them those things they need.
Bless them with sweet memories of their homes and land
And give them a sense of peace and renewal,
To face each new day with strength, courage
And gratitude for even the smallest of blessings along the way.

Watch over those fighting on the front lines,
Bless them with cool relief in the face of a scalding enemy,
Bless them with rest to reinvigorate them to continue fighting,
Bless them with hope that their fight is not in vain,
And as impossible as it may seem, give them faith that it is possible.
Hold them closely and keep them safe, Oh Lord, in their battles.

And with the fast fury of the flames approaching,
Remind us of Your powerful presence, and Your ability to calm them.
With the tall, billowing plumes of smoke,
Remind us of the hope You give us for the future.
With the temporary quieting of hot, unrelenting winds,
Remind us that all things are possible through You.
And with the feeling of overwhelming loss,
Remind us that all things grow again through you, Oh Lord.

Diagnosis Confirmed: Thinning Problem

Before you call Rogaine or sign me up for the Hair Club for Men as a special exception, let me clarify.

I knew this diagnosis was coming.  It was just a matter of time before I would display any symptoms.  When they finally showed up, they were more painful than I could have ever expected.

You see, I’ve found that I have a problem with ‘thinning’ the seedlings that have just sprouted in my vegetable garden.  To date, I have followed the instructions on the seed packets very carefully.  I diligently planted the seeds evenly (spaced with almost ruler precision if instructed), covered them with ¼” of fine soil and tamped it down carefully.  Just as the seed packets had instructed.

My beautiful (albeit DENSE) row of newly sprouted radishes!

However, now they are instructing me to ‘thin’ my seedlings as they reach 1” in height.

And it is painful.  I almost can’t bring myself to pull their little green sprouts from the rows.  They lived too, you know.  They worked hard and sprouted just like the others, why do they have to lose their hard-earned spot in my row of vegetables?

Why can’t they all just live and produce beautiful vegetables in my garden?   I know the obvious answer to that.  If I want my radishes to have any sort of radish root, I understand why it is I need to be thinning them out.  But that doesn’t make this task any easier.

Peas!

As I knelt down to carefully inspect them, I found myself comparing them like a judge at the county fair:

“This one has a notched leaf.  This one is smaller.  This one lacks uniformity.  This one isn’t quite as strong and green.  This one is not in the straight line of my row.” 

It worked for awhile, this thinning by what I’ll call “Natural Selection according to KT.”  But soon, I couldn’t see any differences in my beloved little sprouts.  They were all equally strong and equally green with equally perfect leaves.  I was quickly left with only the strong, and the picking became decidedly more difficult.  And I had made it about an eighth of the way across one row.

This ‘thinning’ project was definitely going to take longer than I had expected.

I also have to admit that it felt a little disconcerting to be that deciding hand, the final authority judging my poor little surviving sprouts, the ones I had so lovingly planted.  The ones that had made my heart skip with joy when I saw them first sprout delicately out of the garden soil.  Having the ability to grant life, and decide death wound up being a little harder than I expected.  And we’re just talking about radish seedlings here, folks.

Are there things in your life that need to be thinned, like my row of multiplying radish sprouts?  Sometimes it’s not easy to part with things.  Especially those things that you’ve toiled with, that you’ve fought for, that you’ve grown, encouraged and protected.  Emotions like pride and a sense of accomplishment can hold us back from the ‘thinning’ that’s necessary.  Without a little ‘thinning’ here and there, we are allowing those things to take over, pushing the other things in our lives aside.  By letting them sprout and prosper are we allowing them to eventually take over in the gardens of our lives?

‘Thinning’ is difficult, tedious work.  But just like my baby radishes that will swell and thrive with the new room for their roots, you may find that you are granting a little more space for the good in your life.  You might be giving your hopes and dreams just the room they need to take root and provide you with a bountiful harvest.

My darling row of radishes: BEFORE.

My darling row of radishes: AFTER (I think I made a little progress, don’t you? Now just another inch to go between them!)

Needless to say, my first attempt at thinning, didn’t go as easily as instructed on the seed packets.

Maybe it will just take a few more attempts by this amateur vegetable gardener.  Pulling a few more spry sprouts out at a time, until one day, my row will look like it has finally been thinned to perfection.  Let’s just hope I get the job done by July.  In the meantime, I’ll be poring over their little forms, looking for any slight bend, weak leaf, or yellowing stem.

Just a Spot of Sunshine

My cats are attracted to them.

Just a spot of sunshine is all they need.  A shining place to curl up and be embraced by the bright warmth, to be coaxed into a sleepy nap.  They have a knack for finding them —  those sometimes out-of-the-way spots of bright light that have been cast just beyond a chair or up next to a wall.  Or even on top of a turquoise flip flop.

Do you have a little spot of sunshine?  It may be a special place.  A pond lined with cattail bird roosts and fuzzy-budded willows.  A velvety chenille blanket, a mug of steaming coffee and a riveting book.  Or maybe an old truck, rusted on the outside, its aged seatcovers still scented sharply with gasoline and musty sweat on the inside.

Two spots of sunshine, in the form of my nephews.

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Maybe it’s a special person.  A grandson that hugs you with his whole being on legs that never seem to stop running.  A friend made long ago, separated now by years and distance, that you can start up with again right where you left off years ago.  Maybe that spot of sunshine is someone who can make you laugh and giggle, no matter the situation.

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Where are you drawn, like cats to sunny spots?  Where do you go to feel safely embraced with warmth and happiness? What is your little spot of sunshine?

My sunny spot consists of gravel paths leading through slightly raised beds, a blooming haven of bumble bees, hummingbirds and usually a napping kitty or two.  It is a place that feels like home to me.  I built its borders with river rocks, handpicked out of a big pile, leveled edge to edge, to create a meandering free form outline on the very back of my new home’s lot.  I turned the hard clay soil within these river rocks, then hand-screened, shovel-full by shovel-full, new soil to fill them up.  Then I turned the dirt again.

And as I planted my very first bare root peonies that fall, I also waged war on the weeds that had traveled to my new flower beds via the hand-screened dirt.  It was hard.  It was tedious.  But I knew in my heart that one day it would be a sunny spot for me, in more ways than one.

It’s my sunny spot all winter as I peruse my perennial plant catalogs, dreaming of all the possibilities that exist.  It’s my sunny spot in the spring as I watch what started as little seeds of hope last fall, curl a brand new leaf open to the sun.  It’s my sunny spot all summer as I relish in the fruits of my labor.  Flowers blooming, bees humming and beautiful energy rising from its colorful bursts, bouquets of fragrant blooms abound.  And it’s my sunny spot in the fall as I watch my hard working plants slowly cower down to rest, and I plant new seeds, tubers, rhizomes and roots of hope for next spring.

I’ve celebrated warm Friday evenings there with a beer in hand.  I’ve sat on its graveled path, crushed and broken, embraced by only coneflowers, bee balm and black-eyed susans.  Salty tears dripping onto the soil that gives these plants life.  I’ve smiled there and I’ve cried there.  But no matter the clouds in the sky, my little spot is always sunny.

Never underestimate the power of a sunny spot.

Those special places in our lives have the power to give us rest when beaten down. They have the energy to reinvigorate us, to help us rise up and conquer those obstacles we may have in front of us.

The also can have the calm presence to just encourage us forward, slowly, quietly and subtly.  Giving us a gentle hand on our shoulder to let us know we can do it, that life doesn’t always require us to fight with a roar, but maybe to just have the courage to continue on again tomorrow.

Searching for Signs of Life

It started with the red wine shoots of peonies, pushing up with Goliath-like strength from below the ground.  Raising whole areas of dirt above them as if doing push ups with the Earth itself.

It was this sudden appearance which led to my daily policing of the walkways through my flower garden.  Scouring, searching for signs of life.  I patrolled carefully and slowly, looking for any hint of green newness sprouting amid the dirt.

Have you ever sought one thing in life, and when looking closer, found something much different?  Sometimes the things we think we are looking for are simply the crumbs along the path leading us to discover things that we could have never expected.

I found my Raspberry Wine Monarda had been growing over the winter, with a much larger footprint in my garden than last summer.  I found myself feeling excited, then worried with its aggression, and thankful I had picked a fairly large area to plant it just a year and a half ago.  If I’m not careful, I may find myself with a flower garden consisting of only bee balm!

A humble daffodil stem suddenly pregnant with the swelling of a flower bud within one of its green leaves.  Then another appeared, then another.  I couldn’t wait for the birth of their yellow, double-ruffled offspring, their due dates surely just days away.

Spikes of purple Siberian iris leaves jut out in a large clump in the middle of my garden. Their sharp-shaped leaves cutting a bold silhouette against the blue spring sky.

Clumps of salvia began stretching their new leaves upward.  Beautiful, new zig-zag edged leaves as if cut out carefully with a pair of pinking shears.  I dreamed of the deep purple depth they add to my garden, their tall spires luring bees nearly all summer.

Like fluffy marshmallows halfway buried within the dirt, I spied the very tops of my Asiatic lilies pushing their air-puffed way out into the sunshine.

Max found my catmint clump sprouting new leaves and without restraint he began rolling, biting, sniffing and scratching at the plant’s brand new growth.  Such is the curious attraction between kitties and catmint.  Without the full dose he’s able to ingest and inhale during the summer months, the new sprouts didn’t sedate him into a sleepy, curled nap.  We’ll save those catmint induced naps for summer’s sluggish afternoons.

Even within the dense remains of last summer’s stems, I saw a brand new green curl of an Echinacea leaf squeezing forth.  I was already dreaming of their happy, summer blooms swaying in my garden with bees humming around them busily.

Around a corner I even saw buds on my Ash Leaf spirea bush.  Sharp, red-edged green leaves uncurling slowly upon branches still grey with winter.

That initial sighting of my first peony pushing up out of the dirt prompted a full-scale search for other signs of life within my garden.  Searching and expecting to find some things, and instead stumbling upon other discoveries seems such a fitting metaphor for the week ahead.  As we begin the final week leading up to glorious Easter, what have you found yourself searching for?

After Jesus’ death upon the cross, followers probably thought the search was over.  Despite taunts from the crowd, there was no visible miraculous rescue from his torturous death upon the cross, no angels swooping him up and into the heavens for all to witness, no ground breaking rumble of thunder to shake him free of the stakes piercing his hands and ankles.  It was all over. Nothing more to hope for.  Even Christ himself cried to God:

  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”      Mark 15:34

However, Mary and Mary Magdalene quietly sought out His fateful tomb three days later to prepare and anoint His body respectfully.  As they must have timidly approached the tomb that morning, with the sun still low and pink the sky, they were expecting to find a tomb blocked by a rock, shrouding the death of their beloved within.  They must have wondered, impossibly, how they would move that giant rock away.

But where they were expecting death, they instead found life.  In the form of a rock moved away, an empty tomb and a risen Christ, they found life that would be everlasting.

So during the upcoming week, may you seek and find new life.  An everlasting life through Christ, who died so that we might be forgiven.  Sacrificed so that we might be saved.  Betrayed, punished, beaten, humiliated, spat upon, taunted, cursed and crowned with thorns so that we might live eternally.  May this week inspire you to seek and find, to hope and believe that life continues, even when it may seem to have ended.

And just like in my little flower garden, may you search and be happily amazed at the life growing both around you and within you.  And may the hope of things to come, ever inspire you to continue seeking, for your reward lies in faith that there is life beyond this earthly garden.

 

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  2 Cor. 4:17-18

Awakening

From the slow slumber of winter, it’s awakening.  Nodding its groggy head with the newfound warmth of morning, yawning in tiny blooms of crocus.  It stretches its cramped arms of bark with new buds.  The world is awakening.

The first sounds of the returning red-winged blackbirds, chanting their happy chorus, reminiscing with each other about the anticipated arrival of clear, burbling streams, fuzzy cattail perches and country fields.  They flit about, leaving but a memory of a red wing in your mind, as you are left with only the sweet sound of their countryside harmony and their shadows flying low overhead.

In the fields, new baby calves shake on spindle legs, still wet with newness.  They nestle down in the rows of hay meant for feeding, hiding from the chilly spring air.  By afternoon they are playing, kicking up heels, teasing the tall grass on the other side of the fence.  Other soon-to-be mommas sway heavily up and down the fields, their bellies stretched to near bursting.  Soon the entire field will be alive with scampering babies playing hide and seek under the watchful eyes of their relieved mothers.

Near another fence, the soft, velvety muzzles of horses seek new shoots of grass low upon the ground blindly, with only the tender bending of short green stems to guide their craving mouths.  They steal them up before the stalks can stretch their new arms, relishing in the sweet freshness of spring.  They trot.  They run.  They, too,  kick their heels up in the warm brightness, celebrating the season’s return.

Up the blacktop road a ways, a fuzzy orange and black survivor of a caterpillar winds his way across the warm asphalt as if guided not by sight or sound, but by the last warm rays of the afternoon casting their heat upon the deserted road.  He inches his way across the double yellow line and disappears down the other side into the barrow ditch, escaping traffic and birds with their eyes out for a quick, insect meal.  Had the cold air of winter stunted his metamorphosis?  Maybe he had been awakened by the warm spring sun, desperately searching for his caterpillar friends, only to find they were gone.  Metamorphosed, wings dried and tested, flight plans registered, they had embarked upon their final lift off last fall.  He had somehow survived in his juvenile state, now longing for the instinctual cross continental flight he had missed with his fellow flyers.  With non-refundable tickets, he may find himself living out the second stage of his life in the same place he was born.

A tractor lifts up clouds of dust in another field, sounds of chains clinking and a diesel engine’s hum rising up in a swirl around it. Winter’s last remnants being dragged, and pulled, broken up to give way to spring’s new green grass.

Around another corner, a black and white patrols the fenceline.  This patrolman doesn’t have a fancy car, blinking lights or a radio system.  This officer is equipped only with a black and white tail, that when lifted, warns all in the vicinity to leave quickly.  A skunk.  His nose to the ground, he sniffs his way along the fence here and there and back, smell guiding his travails.  The return of his pungent smell as you drive along in the country is a sure sign that spring has come, with only sweeter days and warm sunshine ahead.

Prairie dogs, awakened by the recent spring melt which floods their shallow holes, stand at attention, whistling calls back and forth to each other.  They scurry low to the ground, standing straight up to chew on the end of a piece of last summer’s tall grass, throwing it over their furry shoulders when finished.  Others are head first into their holes, legs digging frantically, clouds of dust and piles of dirt rising up behind them.  There’s work to be done.

The world is awakening.  Slowly, slowly, the sun has beckoned us all out of our winter depths, and into the fresh, spring air with an enchanting, seasonal magnetism that cannot be ignored.  We are still timid, fearful of a late spring snow, and the bite of a cool morning’s frost.  Before long, winter will be but a memory, easily surpassed by green grassy meadows, baby robins hopping along the ground in search of worms and warm days topped off by nights scented with the purity of only coolness.  Nights where the blanket of a million stars above seems close enough to reach out and grab, where we’ll be tempted to steal a few galactic sparkles away into a lint-bottomed pocket, to be pulled out and remembered for always.  It is just beginning.

The world is awakening.

Spring’s Brave Dream

There’s just something about the first.  The first fuzzy bud on a branch.  The first green leaf uncoiling.  The first shoot bravely sprouting out of the ground.  The first sweet, swelling stem, followed miraculously by a first bloom.

Spring is full of firsts.  Miracles that seem to arise out of nowhere.

I had been taking note of my newly-visible crocus sprouts pushing their way out of the cool dirt.  I hadn’t been watching closely enough, it turns out, because without warning, the thin, grass-like stalks suddenly burst into beautiful purple bloom.  I hadn’t even noticed a bud.  No hint, no announcement, no memo.  They had completely succeeded in their failure to alert me to their impending fragile beauty.

Isn’t this sometimes the best surprise?  The ones you don’t even see coming, the ones that blindside you with their perfect simplicity?  There was no anticipation.  No time to even consider how beautifully they may bloom, or what shade of purple they may be.  They simply turned their grass-like stalks toward the sunshine and opened their hidden petals, reveling in only their own unfurling, unconcerned with the pressures or deadlines of anxiously awaiting gardeners.

When it’s your time, will you bloom happily in your garden?  Or will you give in to the worldly expectations surrounding you, blooming too early, being bitten by the cold frost?   Or will you wait just a little too long to follow your dreams, your blooms attacked and wilted quickly by the hot sun?

For fifty one weeks out of the year, they prepare.  Absorbing life from the soil around them, and dreaming of one day opening their petalled windows upward, allowing the sky’s brilliant blue to flood their delicate petals.  They dream.  They hope.  They have silent faith in that perfect spring day so far off, where they will have no choice but to bloom in celebration of the promise that is life.

We, too, have a promise in this life.  We are given seeds, soil and sunlight.  We are also given responsibility.  The responsibility to love others and to have faith in something invisible and larger than ourselves.  Like my crocus bulbs, we must grow and swell with love, hoping blindly that the day will come, when we will be hand-picked, lifted out of the cool soil to bloom in the glorious light that ends this life, and begins an unexpected brilliant new life in an eternal garden.

So take this time to prepare, to grow, to absorb and to hope.  After what may seem like an insurmountable lifetime of pain, hurt, frustrations and unanswered prayers, one day we just might awaken above these worldly afflictions, to find that we are abloom in a brand new place.  We may find that our humble week of bloom time will far exceed the months of frost, snow, rain, mud and heat we have endured.  All the pain and hurt will be worth it, for as we open our eyes to the world above us, we will have no choice but to allow the warm sunshine to penetrate our hearts.

May we all have faith that our day of full bloom isn’t far off, and is coaxed ever closer by our faithful growth, the slowly warming earth around us and the brave dream of sprouting into the unknown world above us.