This weekend I was blessed to travel to Idaho to celebrate Elise’s graduation with a Masters in Social Work. I have known Elise since she was 3 when I was her nanny…. She is now a married 28 year old with a passion for life and helping others, and it has been a beautiful thing to watch her growing into this strong, courageous, loving, funny young woman! We had arranged that she would pick me up from the airport, so when I landed I called and texted and got no response, so wandered outside to wait for her. She then called me from her mom’s phone to say they were about ten minutes away, so I sat on a bench to wait.
As I sat there I noticed out of the corner of my eyes a woman holding a piece of paper up in front of her face as though to shield her eyes from the sun. “That’s odd,” I thought, as it was dark outside, and not too bright. But the woman stood there, and then took a step or two towards me. I kept my eyes on the traffic, not sure of the car I was looking for that would hold Elise, and the woman inched her way closer to me, face still shielded by the piece of paper. Ten minutes had passed by now, so I looked even more intently at the cars pulling up to pick up their passengers. Still no Elise. Then the woman sat down next to me. I looked over to smile a welcome at her, and check to make sure I was safe…. And that was when I saw it was an old friend and colleague of mine, Paula, who I had taught with 15 years previously, and someone who had been Elise’s teacher for seven years! I jumped up and threw my arms around her, shocked and surprised, and heard laughter from behind the pillar where Elise and her mom and husband were hiding!
The week before I had suggested Paula hop in a car with Elise’s mom and join us, but she had responded that she was too busy preparing for the new school year, but instead, she had just decided to surprise Elise and me by coming! What a joy, and a weekend filled with laughter, love, memories, tears and celebration followed.
I think the Divine can be like this…. Sneaking up on us when we least expect it, coming towards us in disguise, waiting for us to recognize them, and, ultimately, filling us with joy, love and laughter. But how often we ignore Her, or shy away because we don’t immediately know who She is. We edge away on the bench, we turn our face, we even stand up and walk (or sometimes run) in the opposite direction, all because we are not curious about the unknown, or fear-filled about what is not easily recognizable.
The Psalmist reminds us that wherever we go, the Divine will always be there to surprise and guide and love and find us, which I find such a reassurance! The Voice translation of the Bible phrases it this way:
Can I go anywhere apart from Your Spirit?
Is there anywhere I can go to escape Your watchful presence?
If I go up into heaven, You are there.
If I make my bed in the realm of the dead, You are there.
If I ride on the wings of morning,
if I make my home in the most isolated part of the ocean,
Even then You will be there to guide me;
Your right hand will embrace me, for You are always there.
Even if I am afraid and think to myself, “There is no doubt that the darkness will swallow me,
the light around me will soon be turned to night,”
You can see in the dark, for it is not dark to Your eyes.
For You the night is just as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are the same to Your eyes.
No matter if we are in the light or in a place that feels dark, the Divine is there, ready to embrace us and guide us and love on us. Our only job is to recognize Her through the layers of disguise and pain and fear and exhaustion we see with.
In these coming days I invite you to open yourself to be surprised by God! To smile at a stranger on a bench and see it is One who loves you. To feel the light surrounding you, even if you feel you are in a dark place. To observe the One sneaking closer to you and welcome the Presence and embrace. For these encounters lead to laughter, love, memories, tears and celebration!
May you be so blessed!
My heart has been broken this last week watching the news. From shootings to ICE raids, where innocent people, mostly people of color, have been targeted, children have been left without parents, and lives have been destroyed or traumatized. As a response, many of those in power point fingers of blame to others, including parents seeking a good life for their children, or laws that they, themselves, have weakened, leaving compassion and empathy seeming far, far away.
Questions, along with images and sounds of children crying or begging, have been haunting me. Questions have ranged from a helpless, “What can I do,” when the need is so, so great, to “How can ‘those’ people not care, not do something, allow this to happen.” And I find neither of these too productive, as both feel like cries from the depths of grief, and I would rather turn away from the news than feel this, but know that we have to stay aware. We have to feel. We cannot look away.
So what CAN I do? And, maybe, what can you do?
Last week I helped with Vacation Bible School at church. Toddlers through fifth graders came together to create, learn, play, worship and eat. Older youth were there as volunteers alongside the many adults around. Skin tones varied in color, accents were different from one another, learning abilities varied, and taste in food was individual. Yet this community of infants through grandmas (and probably great-grandparents), gathered in harmony to bring kindness and love and compassion to our little part of Minnesota. During the week I got to witness a quiet, shy girl from Puerto Rico grow more confident and come out of her shell as she felt this welcome and love into our community. So much so that on the last night when the kids were asked if they would read something for the closing worship in front of parents, she was the first to volunteer!
Last week an older woman where I worked got tangled up with her walker and fell. She was in pain, laying on the cold floor. So I sat with her, praying and rubbing her back gently, checking to see if she needed a blanket or a hand to squeeze as we waited first, for the nurse, then the security guard and finally an ambulance to arrive. And all the while she was thanking each person who came, and feeling bad she was being an inconvenience, lying there with her broken pelvis.
And last week I prayed, (or, more accurately) pleaded, with God to show me how I could help in practical ways. “Send me to El Paso or Mississippi,” I said. “Make a way for me to go to the border and make a difference,” I asked. “Find ways for me to change laws,” I reluctantly suggested, for politics is not my strong suit. But all I heard from God was, “Keep doing good, sowing love, showing kindness, being open and vulnerable, right where you are.” “It’s not enough,” I cried. “It’s all there is,” God replied.
This conversation threw me right back in to the words from the Talmud: "Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
So, wherever you are, I invite you to stay open, broken wide so it sometimes feels raw as you bear witness to the injustice in the world. To pray and listen to how God is calling you to respond. To be thankful, to shower grace and kindness into the world, to watch and learn from the children, to look for beauty, and to respond with the most love you can summon, in big ways and small. For, I believe, these will ripple out into the world, changing it love drop by love drop.
I was walking with Gibbs yesterday in a spot where we have walked before…. A neighborhood park with a trail around a lake. It’s a pretty spot, with lots of wild flowers surrounding the lake, goldfinches and cardinals flitting about, dragonflies searching for their next meal and a mix of shade and sun. There is nearly always a breeze there, making it pleasant on even the warmest of days, and a creek that Gibbs can jump in to cool down if he gets too hot, and lots of other doggy smells for him too.
Yesterday, we walked in the opposite direction from the way we normally go, and something new caught my eye. On one side of the lake there are a number of old oak trees creating a tunnel to walk through. We were wandering slowly when my eyes fell on the bark of these trees. Ruts had formed, up to three inches deep, and created an unusual pattern of light and dark. When I went closer I could see the life they supported, from ants nestling in the furrows to easy footholds for the squirrels; from water collected in the pockets to birds pecking at the bugs. And I imagined the growth that occurred for these furrows to appear, the decades of growth and regression, the expansion and contraction causing the folds and creases.
As I marveled at this, I was glad that these trees did not just shed when their skin grew too tight. The fact that they were able to split wide open and stretch and form new bark over and over again, yet hold on to all they had been before seemed to me a reflection of humans. Often, when we go through times of transformation we try to be like a butterfly emerging, leaving the chrysalis hanging, empty as a tomb. We are tempted to reject what came before as unnecessary to what the ‘new us’ is. But in reality, all that has come before in our lives is still there, folding and creased and, maybe even, scarred looking. We don’t shed the past, but rather incorporate it into the new. And beauty is formed!
As you continue to transform and grow, allow the ruts and folds and creases and scars to stay, showing the shadows of life, providing nourishment for others, giving some an easier foothold on their journey, creating still pools of water to reflect by. Don’t try to leave the past behind… It’s there, the good and bad, the light and the heavy. But crinkle and wrinkle and pleat together all you are, all you have been, and stand proud of where you are now. Split wide open, allow the new growth the room it needs, fold it into the old, and repeat, over and over, decade after decade. Allow the desire to eradicate the pain from past to go and wear it with pride, transformed into something good for all the world to see. For beauty has, indeed, formed!!