seasons change

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One would think that after nearly forty times around the sun I’d be used to the circular pattern of the seasons. And yet I repeatedly fall for the illusion that the way things look or feel at any particular point in the journey is how they will remain.

The same helpless longing rages in my heart every autumn, as I watch the surrounding beauty fade into barrenness. The lush green landscape evolves slowly as the air turns crisp. Leaves cast off their chlorophyll, revealing hidden hues, warming up the world in a technicolor transformation. Just when I awake to the majesty of this miracle, the trees shed their leaves like tears, and begin undressing for the long, hard winter ahead. All I can do is watch. I try to soak it in, breathing deeply and painting the images into my memory. I clutch onto unrealistic hope. Powerless, all I can do is wait for the end to come.

This time around, I ache as I notice how nature mirrors life. A dear friend is struggling with a major life change looming dark on the horizon. She is preparing to say goodbye to her not yet sixty year old mother, who is in the last rounds of her battle against cancer. The waiting and the watching are so hard. Months have been numbered, options are few, and the brutal treatment that’s helped save her many times before may only be adding misery to the little time she has left.

My friend grieves that their remaining days are slipping away. And yet she is calm because her heart is surrendered. She is choosing to be grateful to the best of her ability. Her family is in a state of preparation, bravely talking about things that matter, voicing and celebrating how much they have loved their season together on this earth. There’s a rare beauty in how they are faithfully attempting to live with purpose and without regrets in this in-between space.

It’s commonplace and therefore easiest for us all to live self-absorbed, believing the lie that what is now is what will always be. The irony is thick: we are born dying, and yet change and death always surprise. Whatever bombards our senses in the current moment or fills our daily routine becomes our reality. Our worldviews are built around unmet longings or present responsibilities. Our perspectives are limited because we are nearsighted.

I remember well the endless days of monotonous early motherhood. Diaper changes, nap schedules, and tantrums consumed me. I got lost in my new role, despairing that my self was forever hopelessly entwined with my babies. I believed the lie that my own story had to end so that theirs could begin. But day by day, these little ones grew, changed, and became ever-so-slightly more independent. Which meant they were less dependent on me. I found some room to breathe.  My withered soul inflated slowly until I finally recognized myself in the mirror once again. What I thought was a permanent change had only been a season. It had passed, I was still here, and I was still me.

Life keeps happening, whether or not we pay attention. The merry-go-round keeps spinning until our turn on the ride is over. We don’t get to pick when the operator will push the button and stop. We’ll get queasy and frustrated by the motion unless we use a technique used by dancers, those who float through life with grace. The trick is to keep our eyes fixed on a single spot. Only then can we complete each rotation without succumbing to vertigo and collapsing into a pathetic heap.

We can’t freeze time or fast forward through the waiting or the hard. We can only weather the changes by fixing our eyes on the One who never changes, surrendering to the rhythm of the cycle: birth – growth – death – and resurrection. Paying attention to the gifts and yet holding them lightly, we live free: ready to let go of one season and able to move bravely into the next.

(This post was written in fall 2014. The seasons continue to change. The fullness of summer is now at hand, and I’m still trying to remember what I learned the last time around the sun.)

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sacred soil

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My clean hands slide into worn gloves still stained from last summer’s soil. I breathe in the earthy wet morning. It smells like the world is finally waking up. I fall to my knees and feel my jeans sop up the dew as I prepare to disturb the sleeping beds.

Assessing the damage, I notice the crunchy brown receipts of autumn in piles atop the mulch, pushed up against the house, left wherever they happened to land when the cold winds blew. Leaves and trash have intermarried with the mulch over these months of my indifference, making it hard to sift through the mess and leave behind what’s still useful.

My plan of attack involves chipping away at the dead sticks and tangled vines. Structures that once birthed ripe tomatoes or supported healthy green leaves now resemble skeletons lying wasted on the ground. The sedum cry out the loudest for my attention. Tall brown sticks, hardened and still standing, encircle budding green plants that are struggling to rise again. Without intervention, this new life will be stunted, suffocated by the prison of its past and unable to break through and become all it longs to be.

Plants have died in this humble garden, and yet they remain in place. Some of them come up easily with a gentle tug, but others need the sharp teeth of my handheld clippers to slice through their solid stalks and cut them down.

I adjust the tongs of my rake to a width that fits these spaces and gently gather debris into clumps on the carpeted earth. It’s almost time for the first mow of the season. Once I finish each section, I usher the scraps into tall brown paper sacks from the hardware store. It feels like I’m preparing to kick the past to the curb.

Spring makes resurrection hard to ignore. I’m struck by the realization that perennials prove themselves stronger than my black thumb each and every year. I don’t know why I’m surprised. I chose these flowers and shrubs specifically because I knew my own limits. I had experienced how my own laziness and neglect impact my environment.

After performing the grunt work of clearing space for a new year of growth, it dawns on me: the hearty flora has been reborn despite my delays. I’ve been pushing this task to the bottom of my to-do list since late fall. Yet my negligence wasn’t enough to prevent the beauty from rising again. It’s only prevented me from noticing and enjoying the new life. Cutting through the junk opens my eyes to the redemption of what was lost. This practice allows me to receive the gift awaiting me after the barrenness of the preceding season.

As I do my best to practice the craft of writing, there’s a saying ringing in my ears. This foundational wisdom is routinely taught in Composition 101: Show, don’t tell. It occurred to me as I dug in and tackled this long-overdue landscaping project that our Creator does exactly that. He uses tangible elements and nature’s cycles to get our attention. They are tools, helping us to connect the dots and understand His message. The heavenly Gardener is at work not only in setting and sustaining the rhythm of the seasons but literally illustrating His grace.

This household task I’d been dreading gave me fresh perspective. Intentionally and regularly clearing the clutter in my life is important, but thankfully it’s not a task I do alone. God is already at work in the midst of my mess, continually doing a new thing and miraculously bringing new life to dead places. The practice of pruning breaks off that which is unnecessary or no longer helpful, and frees me to abide more deeply rooted in Him. All He asks is my attention and cooperation. He’s the One in charge of transformation.

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