Saturday, December 21, 2013

Shadowed heart

Shadowed heart.  senk 2013
Perception sometimes spurs inaccurate portrayals in our minds. They're persuaded by experience, nurture, and nature. The hardest pursuit is clarity in perception, especially when we grasp at an explanation that seems to shift under the weight of our words. But, when we turn to a vivid illustration, we often find illusions, instead.

Meandering through woods in nature, I'm always amazed by the dazzling sunlight that illuminates something I did not expect. Perhaps it's the shimmer of refracted light in a soft drizzle or the sharp twitter of a merry bird made more poignant by a day when rays like spotlights break through the wintry clouds or the play of shadow forming signs of love upon the waxy sheen of still-lingering leaves. Do you marvel at such splendor, friend? Or do you allow perception to negate the joy hallowing such moments?

Sometimes, we are so busy and so individually-focused that we forget the ways God connects our moments with those of others and with those of the world around us. Dare to let perception be influenced by a more positive approach - and may our smiles and words or actions of kindness far outweigh the doubts that formulate criticism in our lives.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

As dear as your own

Okra blossom.  senk 2013
I love okra!  It's fun to pick off thin, towering stalks.  Sliced, oiled, salted, and roasted, buttery and browned okra rounds vanish more quickly in my home than Venetian honey cookies - which is saying something! And the blossoms lull your second glance when you pass through the garden.

Now, okra stalks are browned and withered. Joey and Ezra helped me gather dried pods we save for seeds in hopes of okra next year. And the only vibrant green veggie still soaking up sun and rain vines on fence trellises: sugar snap peas. I love sugar snap peas!

Isn't the variety of life wonderful, friend? Each season brings savory delights for all the senses (of course, I'm favoring taste buds in this post). Here, in the Shenandoah Valley, strawberries and black raspberries just seem to taste better when I pluck them off plants in Spring; apples and pumpkins spice up Autumn for me. As a child, I wasn't as adventurous to try unknown foods. Now, I delight to sample the great wealth God has stored in a vast array of foods.  

Are you adventurous in the realm of the culinary, too? Do you delight in the variety God puts in the other senses, too? Or do stereotypes and biases bound your way and keep you on one side? Take a moment, friend, to consider a vegetable or fruit you've never tried before and learn to appreciate it for what it is. Maybe you'll find that applicable to the people you meet today, too, as well as the valued opinions others hold as dear as your own.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Driving along

Driving along Valley Pike - a thoroughfare over the years for Iroquois, German immigrants, and now a menagerie of Americans wanting to avoid Interstate 81 while still getting to their destination as quickly as possible - I met two fascinating creatures. One is rare to see in comparison with the other, which plagues roads daily...

Evening light angled into the Shenandoah Valley, spilled into the meandering North Fork, and hiked up Massanutten Mountain. Even in that waning light, I could savor autumn's craft as it lured the true color from tree leaves on either side of the road. As the speed limit dropped, I began slowing - to the chagrin of the car behind me. The rearview mirror revealed the tailgater, her quick smear of lipstick as she, too, glanced away from the wheel. Slowing down, I could still feel an imagined push from her direction, as if she were trying to use The Force to change the speed of my car. Or was I trying to use The Force to push her away from my car?

The passing lane was ending. With caterwauling wheel, her car catapulted past mine just moments before a large black bear perambulated across the route right in front of me. The timing was impeccable! If I had not slowed down, I would not have been able to stop with a tailgater behind me.

Have you ever been in that situation, friend? People are in such a hurry today - myself included. Instead of slowing down and enjoying the journey, we're focused on the destinations in our lives: checking off our to-do list, filling our calendars with too many activities, taking on one more responsibility. It is nearly impossible to rest and when we do, it's not the rest our bodies need. Instead of heeding limits, we push ourselves up to them and beyond. 

In an Anthropocene society, limits are meant to be breeched. A speed limit, for us, is not the maximum, but the minimum we should go. But, is this sort of thinking really helpful to ourselves and to others? What if we stopped skewing our perspectives of the speed limit and saw it not as a frustrating limit on what we can do, but rather as a reminder to travel carefully and take time to savor the journey as much as the destination? May God encourage you to slow down and savor the blessings in your life today, too.

Monday, October 28, 2013

To Sleep or Not to Sleep?

The stars are twinkling - reminding me of the cavernous room in which I once bathed in a Turkish bath.  Myriad stars were cut in the domed ceiling and I felt catapulted - by the steam, by the apply-scent, by the days of a foreign illness - into an empyreal realm. Some of the fellow travelers in the room began singing, which - instead of bouncing awkwardly off the bare walls - somehow projected into an almost holy chant. I imagined the centuries of bathers that came to this room and felt as if I was soaking up a bit of that history. It was surprisingly soothing.

And so, too, the stars and the wrap of night. But, I still cannot sleep. With the verge of ten weeks until baby's arrival, I'm finding myself more and more awake when the crickets crone and an occasional dog barks, when the cold creeps in and blackness presses on the windows. Usually my insomnia is self-inflicted. In college, I would just fall into bed around 3 or 3:30 a.m, having spent hours in the ceramics workshop savoring the glistening spin of the wheel or the smooth slice of tools as I carved a clay creation. At a summer archaeological field school, I would dance wildly across the grassy expanse near the excavation - listening to music through a headset and imagining the life lived in a Woodland or Mississippian Native American settlement, where waddle and daub abounded - all in careful cover of night.

It was only 5 years ago, really, that the problem of sleeping became an issue. It was self-inflicted, but not really. My newborn's sustenance demanded it. Every mother that has pumped breastmilk knows the best time to gather milk is after a good sleep - so, 2 a.m. and 3 a.m, every night for 12 months, I dutifully dragged myself out of bed to harvest milk. It was hellacious. But, it plumped up my poor-nurser and made him thrive. I still remember waking up in 2009 from a full night's rest in a friend's New York apartment and crying because I had slept through the night. Tears of joy; tears of pain.

Ezra was a gourmand. I still had to awaken at night to feed him, but only for a while. He enjoyed night-time sleeping as much as he enjoyed the creamiest part of milk, so that discombobulating haze that often accompanies periods without sleep only lasted a few months - not a year. Now, my body prepares itself for next year's encroaching transition.

Do you ever experience that question, friend: "To sleep or not to sleep?" Perhaps pressing issues tap at your mental synapses or an anxiety or illness draws you from a fitful slumber? Perhaps someone for whom you are caring requires nightly checks or a beloved pet necessitates a nightly parade? Perhaps creativity bemuses and ensnares you?

You're not alone. Consider the Liturgy of the Hours. Consider the Earth's slow sip of sun each day. Somewhere in the world, the wave of prayer is covering us. So, take a moment and help that wave to sparkle, even if it's in starlight. You may find yourself wrapped in a soothing sleep sooner than you know - one cast by a loving God.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Good Idea

My three-year-old jabbers constantly. He has so many questions, I can hardly keep up with them all. For a mommy who relishes in quiescence, this can often be a bit discombobulating. So, this past week, when the domino-effect hit our house in terms of a gastrointestinal bug, I felt something missing with a calm and quiet Ezra.

Poor Joey began the array of ickiness on Monday, late. Two days later, I was ready for the routine: holding a bowl while Ezra was vomiting into its silvery depths, even when mostly dry-heaves humped his back; delicately wiping the drips of diarrhea from his reddening, round bottom; smoothing golden hair from his face while he, utterly exhausted from exertion, slowly slipped into sleep. 

I was not surprised when merely a few hours later, I awoke in the middle of the night with the same illness. And it was horrid! I was thankful for a husband who could care for the boys while I tended to my own illness. As I knelt over the toilet, I remembered a mommy that once comforted me as I had comforted my boys just days and hours before. When I was a child, my mother's tender caresses, soothing songs, and confident care were the best and most reassuring part of the healing process.

As Ezra's health returns, his questions do, as well. During lunch recently, he asked - among the myriad influx of random questions - "Are you a good idea, Mommy?"

His comment made me pause. On the one hand, I thought, Am I a good idea? From my perspective there are more things I have done wrong in this life than right. My failures pile up around me and I feel incapable of pushing them back, of mending areas long-ago broken, of finding the path I am supposed to be taking. Do you feel the same, friend? Do you feel buried by the weight of doing things better?

In a capitalistic society, it's not always easy to do good while also trying to just survive. Our own family has so many challenges, it makes me shudder. So, am I a good idea? Am I doing what God would want me to do? I definitely don't have the answer. I try to use what God gave me to help others - but, I'm not always sure I do it well or enough.

These are questions we have to ask ourselves - as shocking as they might be to hear. Are you a good idea, friend? Are you balancing the areas of your life? Our time on Earth is short. How can you make more of a difference in a world that values your marketable worth over a more intrinsic value?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Twining Tendrils

senk 2013
During transitional Autumn, I marvel at the tendrils that roving gourd plants shoot out into the garden. Among dry and yellowed corn stalks, the leafy profusion of yams, and caged tomatoes still trying to yield tasty fruits, those green spirals invade. In the case of a wigwam my sons and I wove into the dying corn, those tendrils conquer, as half the little house has collapsed from the pressure and pull of it all. In the case of our walking paths, those tendrils coerce, as we now find little swaths of ground to use as stepping stones throughout the garden. Even in our yard, where those vines ripen into butternuts or birdhouses or pumpkins, the lawnmower tracks a trail around the encumbrance.

I find people treat relationships the same way - do you, friend? We avoid, we overlook, we ignore what we don't understand, don't want to know, or cannot change. Often our words and body language are used to conquer another, coerce a variant opinion, or shun someone until we know what to say (which often never comes). We malign. We belittle. We deride.

What if we were more empathetic? In our culture, we're taught to suppress emotion and pain, to "suck it up" or "let it roll off your back." But, when we do this, we ignore an essential part of what it means to be human. We have emotion and pain for a reason, and when we use them to communicate in ways that heal, uplift, and encourage - we reveal the beauty of communication, of reaching out to the other sojourners we meet in life.

There are so many broken situations in our lives. We see them everyday and do nothing about them. We pass them on the street; we avoid them in our homes; and we even overlook them in our own hearts. Take a moment to really consider your motives, your actions, and especially your words. Among the jumble, God's there twining in a very different way: not to invade or overcome, but to guide and to love.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Water lilies in a pond.  senk 2013
My children love creative play. They've used pillows in lieu of stepping stones and water lilies to traipse about the room-filled pond. A chain of books becomes the extra train track line they do not have; a simple tube becomes a bug catcher (complete with comfortable accommodations for whatever critter they plan to "capture"); a colander and shipping box become a robot costume. Joey and Ezra are so imaginative in daily life.

But am I? And are you, friend? When something breaks or you find yourself wanting a particular thing either for home decor or for work or for an enhanced educational opportunity or for whatever life experience you are planning, do you find a creative way to make it happen or just get what you want?

If you're like our family, we cannot afford to simply get what we want - even when we do just that. My children's mindset challenges me to think more creatively about a household or personal need. What resources do I already have that can be used just as well as a newly purchased item? When I am ready to buy something needed, do I try to save for what will be healthiest for my family and for the environment or do I just go for the cheapest thing available?

There are so many questions we often overlook in the moment. Consider the challenge of incorporating imagination into the day - and see what you may be missing, too.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Just as grand

Waves crash along the shore.  senk 2013
"I never really realized before how stress seems to slip away by the sea." A paraphrase of my husband's comment rings in my head at the end of a long day. Joey and Ezra are finally in bed, Russell is wrapping up at work, and I have a few minutes before truly resting. 

Often, I consider the daily routines of homeschooling mommyhood and custodian of the home to be like the constant push of waves. But, despite the beating, waves also massage and comfort.

While at Virginia Beach in early August, Russell worked hard reviewing SOL-questions while the boys and I visited various historical and botanical hotspots in the area. Russell's true time to rest was while playing with the boys on the beach: building sand castles with Joey, acting like a sea otter with Ezra, hunting shells or tracking sand crabs with flashlights, savoring the slow slip of sun in the horizon as color splashed into the sky, and feeling waves crash upon his legs along the beach. It was wonderful to see the stress slip from his shoulders after a long day indoors, thinking.

Friend, do you often feel so battered by the day's events that it's hard to really relax? What helps you peel the burden back and feel at ease in your surroundings?

We often feel there is so much work to do, we don't have time for leisurely pursuits. But, if we don't enjoy the beautiful gifts God has placed in our paths, we'll soon be a source for bitterness and unkindness, rather than the hope He wants us to spread. So, be idle - even if for just a moment - and watch the sunset's glow, sip a warm sweet chai while crickets croon outdoors, or find that peacefulness that can restore the bit of you that's burdened.

Work is important, but so, too, is sharing in an inspiring moment that's just as grand with God.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pottery lures

Pottery pieces made by students in the Parks & Rec "Pottery in the Park" class I'm teaching the next two weeks are drying along two wooden benches on the front porch. Sculptural pieces, mugs, serving dishes, leaf bowls, and even a few hand-thrown pieces are at various stages of the drying process - some were already dry enough for the first firing.

A warm breeze blowing the wind chimes nearby, I surveyed the pottery pieces. As I lifted the driest works of art to carry them to the kiln, I noticed movement on the support of the cedar bench. Hard-at-work, two potter wasps were constructing a complex of pot-shaped mud nests for the little ones soon-to-be housed. How delightful and amusing to find their presence at just such a moment!

And yet, I have not always been delighted or amused by the presence of their cousins in the family Vespidae. While cutting transects across a heavily wooded (and poison-oak/ivy/sumac infested) site many summers ago, when I worked for an archaeology firm, I dug my shovel into not one, but three different yellow jacket nests. My shovel became an over-sized swatter and the crazy dance I did would have made anyone laugh. I also recall the year I pumped breast milk for my stubborn newborn, who split my nipples trying to nurse and was hard to keep awake while feeding. That summer, after plenty of months to get a routine for pumping, our house was invaded by ever-appearing paper wasps. I kept the vacuum at the ready until we saved enough to call an exterminator, whose vicious spray somehow deterred their appearance after that.

At the time, experiencing painful moments is not fun. I'm certain you, friend, have noticed the same thing. And yet, often, with time's steady roll, we can more easily see the strength or courage we've gained through such an experience - learning to harbor hope in even the most uncertain of situations.

May you feel a wave of hope today in whatever difficult situation that tramples through your life's journey.  And may the unknown positive possibilities in that situation present themselves, too.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Love abounding

In "The Cloister Walk," Kathleen Norris shares, "in matters of the heart... there is no right or wrong way to do it, but only the way of your life." I recall meandering through desert roads in Joshua Tree National Park - experiencing the expanse of dry sands and scrubby brush, only to find sprouts of lovely yellow flowers here and there. Even in an environment that exudes harsh reality, there is such beauty and life abounding.

It makes me wonder how love percolates in my life; and perhaps posing for you the same preponderance. For me, I often focus so much on my shortcomings and failings that I forget there are more ways in which my life reveals love than a realize. During a recent shopping trip, a familiar store clerk exclaimed, "The boys are such a delight!  I love to hear them sing." She then went on to praise me on how well I interacted with them and harbored such patience with them. While I thanked her for such kind compliments, my inner-self could not help but protest. I would put patience on a long list of characteristics I am in constant need of learning and re-learning.

Do you have such a list, friend? Does it seem to grow daily? Perhaps if we focused more on what unique ways we touch others' hearts and provide for their needs, we'll be able to experience more love for ourselves and for others, too. It's difficult to love when we don't know how we'll be received - but that is precisely why it's so important to love. So, let's put aside our insecurities and smile, looking forward to the next person God plants in our lives.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Open Window

I'm often amazed by the quick, cool breeze that sets the curtains soaring like kites through the open window. Although corners of the room fill with warm air, a comfortable stream flutters tablecloths and dangling runner-ends. But, it doesn't just bring a delectable chill that sometimes sends me wrapping up in a shawl. Sounds and smells (at least most of them) are just as comforting.

Bagpipe drones and swift jigs filter through the screen, along with tinkling metal chimes and thudding wooden ones too. A multitude of tunes from chirping birds add dazzle to the day. And, then there're the softest sounds: leaves waving wildly as if to bid adieu to day and the swiftest beat of hummingbird wings, whose beaks dip nectar from delphinium.

Lavender's purple tufts sit nearby - so my nose detects. And, have you smelled the puffy mimosa flowers, ripe and cheery fuchsia-pink? Occasionally mock orange drifts through the window - though most the blossoms are spent by now. And even honeysuckle's heady scent is more memory than reality. Tomato greens send my tastebuds to dancing as they imagine the sweet, ripe heirlooms that I'll soon hold in hand, along with the yellow squash, zucchini, and cucumbers we're currently harvesting.

I'm more amazed at how I would miss these natural beauties upon going inside if the window was not open. Do you often wonder what you're missing, friend, as I do? Let's both hold on to the hope that we don't take too much for granted. Let's savor the sweet breeze inside, as much as outside.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Refreshing Evening

I am so thankful for rain. It helps the sugar snap peas, spinach, onions, beans, okra, tomatoes, potatoes, yams, bell peppers, popcorn, sweet corn, and smattering of other delectables in our garden grow a good yield from summertime labor. A nightfall rain helps us, lulled by the droplets on a tin roof, sleep peacefully. And, a thunderstorm on a hot day not only clears out the scalding temperatures, but also brings fabulous porch entertainment. But, on an evening - not too hot, not too cold - after a long spell of rain, it's just as refreshing for it not to be raining.

Instead, the air is full of drones and piping while Russell plays the shuttle pipes, gleeful words as Ezra reads a simple book, and tap-tap-tapping while Joey creates chains of pipes on an iPad game. Cricket and bird songs sift in through the opened window-screen, while a tractor hums in the distance. It feels like such a cozy ending to the day.

Friend, do you find your day ending in coziness or do the pressures leave you so winded and tired, you let this part of the day with family or friends slip through your fingers. Do you dance a jig or play a game or read books together or savor the delights of a summer garden as hummingbirds sip nectar from delphinium trumpets or sweet scents waft by from fragrant roses or honeysuckle? What ends your day well? A cup of mandarin orange tea? A splash of paint on canvas? A poignant journal entry?

I remember living in Athens and taking strolls through the streets in late day - before the sun descended, but feeling the comfortable closeness of night's purplish hue. Healthy jasmine, whose soft white blossoms seemed steeped in lovely scents, grew in The Athens Centre, where I studied with my classmates. Just passing the building would bring an aroma that simmered a smile to your face, no matter what mood you carried. And, in the plateia where I lived in The Met, a little shop always carried my favorite ice creams: tiramisu and mocha, too. A kind smile and an extra ice cream treat always welcomed my visits. Days that held these sorts of joys were always refreshing. I looked forward to the evenings as much as the days - and I hope this is the same for your life, too, friend.

May this evening refresh you. May memories delight you. And, may the road ahead look more hopeful, too.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Life-filled delights

Ezra enjoying honeysuckle nectar. senk 2013
June's vibrant blossoms bring delightful smells and a feast of colors to savor. On a recent walk, the boys' tastebuds were awakened to the slight, but sweet, flavor of our non-indigenous honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). We picked buttery buds from their vining masses, nicked the tips, and pulled out long stems. 

Joey and Ezra delighted in slipping drops of the honeyed water on their tongues. Soon, they were foraging honeysuckle themselves, having learned the simple craft of gleaning nectar from the trumpeting flowers.

Joey clutching clover and sipping honeysuckle. senk 2013
Friend, when was the last time you took a moment to enjoy the littlest of splendors found in the outdoors? Do you sit on the porch or by an open window to enjoy the cascade of rainfall on a cozy day? Perhaps you drove or walked to the perfect sunset-watching spot where you live and saw the splendid splash of color that lit the sky at the sun's descent? Or maybe, you walked through a canopy of trees dropping silken flowers or drizzling their autumn leaves?

Take a moment today to enjoy something simple that's all too easy for you to take for granted. And share that joy with a friend or two - especially if they're new to the delight! And feel a deep sigh lighten your spirit, too.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The soul's healing

Ezra observing tree rings. senk 2013
An English proverb states, "The soul is healed by being with children." Honesty and innocence are just two such child-nurtured qualities that promote healing in the soul. My heartiest moments derive from being around children: whether as a parent, a tutor, or a friend.

There is such beauty and wonder surrounding children. Of course, this does not mean that it's always easy to be around children. Parenting and teaching are difficult! The very act of raising children - whether it is your own or someone else's - molds you as much as it molds the child. But, even amidst the chaos, the exhaustion, the lessons in patience and kindness and selflessness, etc, are little gems that prove the impact children have on our souls.

This morning, Ezra put all his energy into a dramatic and full hug and kiss for me. He was so focused in showering me with his affection that his arms shook from effort. In showing such love, he bumped his knee. "Ow! My oval!" he said holding his offended patella. Later, his arm grazed the skillet as we were cooking some pancakes. He grabbed his arm tightly and said, "Ow! Please don't do that skillet!" Both times, he sought his mother's kiss on the sore spots for them to feel better.

But, do we seek out opportunities to allow the light-hearted healing of a child to enter our day? Do we focus on their misbehavior, their unkind words, their attitudes, the mayhem and mess they create? Or, do we deem more important when they cause our smiles to radiate inwards, impressing something glorious upon our souls? 

Friend, how do you view children? And, how do you view others? Are you often timid and untrusting, like I am? Do you fear the negative outcomes of relationship so much that it deters you from having those child-like qualities that can bring healing to your soul? Dare to look at your day in a more light-hearted way and encourage your radiating smile to flicker across the faces of those you meet, too.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Greater courage

senk 2013
Fronds in the undergrowth of a forest often look like satin apparel. Smooth and shimmering an iridescence of greens, nature's natural style surpasses anything simmering in man's mind. And yet, I wonder if from a bug's perspective, the landscape would appear as Christo and Jeanne-Claude's artwork. Their soft plumes of cloth, sometimes organic, sometimes repetitive gave perspective like the petals, leaves, and berries of nature's silver limbs, stretching as strings or stilts upon which to weave an ephemeral structure.

Christo once commented to critics: "I think it takes much greater courage to create things to be gone than to create things that will remain." And so, too, is it so in nature. In some parts of the world, seasonal rains bring a flourish of flowers that last only a matter of moments when compared to the year (or years) that fall between the lush display. In other parts of the world, the seasons flip through changes in the landscape so that the soul seems to yearn for fluttering green leaves in winter and for the drip of crystalline icicles in summer's strangling smolder.

And, this is so, too, friend, for those beautiful moments in life. When I consider encouraging words, heartfelt expressions, the splendor of happy events, the delicate joy of a child's trusting smile - of all those moments that exude a beauty that bursts into fireworks and is gone - I am reminded of the great courage it takes to recognize and savor those moments, and so, too, to let them go - not with a dismal outlook or regret, but with an inner joy that holds steady.

I wish this for you, friend. May an inner joy carry you from season to season and allow you to savor opportunities, when they do occur, where beauty cannot be bottled up.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Strawberry blossoms

Strawberry blossoms. senk 2013
Strawberry blossoms still linger on the plants near the kids' sand and water table. Most of them are now small ecru-ish green fruits that seem to double in size every time I look at them. And several are blushing under the sun's attentions.

As I dream of strawberry waffles or berry-filled crepes with a sifting of soft sugar, I also consider the aesthetic enjoyment I have had from my plants. So often, we are so focused on the final form or the most emblematic purpose of something, that we forget to look for a spot to sit and simply enjoy the process of "becoming." Now, I'm not talking about sexual beauty. Hollywood and media focus so much on that, it really is quite degrading. In American culture, we too often forget there is a beauty beyond youthful splendor and vigor. There is a beauty that drenches the soul and resonates with those heartfelt realities - like the scintillating laugh of a tickled toddler or the purr-like reflex mumbled while nibbling a well-made meal or the plump tears that tread trails of empathetic emotion from face to face during those numbing life events.

Do you recognize those moments, friend? They're the ones tucked in your memory - maybe swept aside, but not forgotten when we really stop and think. Often, they are jumbled amid the routine of day and tossed here-and-there by time's torrential progression... which makes stopping along the way to savor life's beautiful presence so much more important.

So, friend, find a bench or a stoop or a cozy spot of grass, and savor unrealized moments in your daily life that God has woven there. Dare to really look into the eye of a stranger and proffer a radiant smile; think compassionately before you speak; stifle your own fears and invite someone to walk more slowly and more intentionally with you today. You'll be thankful for the spirit-filled fruits that develop, and so will others.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Spring silhouettes

Silhouette of spring's new fronds.  senk 2013
Mountains, purpled from Winter's frosty touch, now slip root first into woolen frocks that exude Spring. Silvery limbs catch webs of new leaves, which dip and flutter as the breeze pulsates. Spring silhouettes everything - a transformation that runs as deep as soul.

I find myself longing to be drenched in light, too. Like candlelight dribbled for my own shadow portrait, Spring seems to soften features that are glaring in the mirror. But, I want the light to shine deeper, yet. I long to swallow it up so that even my Jonah persona has light by which to see.

Yes, when Spring really arrives, I long to slough off that part of me that's sea-beaten and drearied, apathetic and just tired. Does this resonate with you, friend? Are there times when the molting process seems like a great idea for starting afresh?

And yet, God does proffer that for us. A joy, seasoned but still soul-deep, really does exist - not one centered on lifestyle, but on relationship. When we open our hearts to the only one that is ever there for us, we're buoyed by something greater than ourselves. Something that the seasons seem to know intimately.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Vibrant relationship

The direct rays of morning light enhanced the patina of the back-porch post. Atop the post, a female cardinal perched. She seemed to be enjoying the view: small, newly-emerging leaves scintillated on silver trunks to one side; to another, a constant expanse of blue mountains supported a cloudless dome. Nearby tiny white blossoms bristled along a spirea's shoots; grass tufted into mounds, which wild violets, dandelions, and hyacinths meliorated.

Unexpectedly, the cardinal's vibrant red mate came and fluttered just below her perched position. For a split second, their beaks touched as she took the offered insect. Then, he darted off as she gobbled up the treat.

Such perceived tenderness is rarer in nature (and human nature) than we would like to admit. Does such a scene evoke as much sentiment in you, friend? Do you hunger for that kind of deep relationship in your life?

In our cultures, we often try to fill such a yearning with empty and unfulfilling promises. We put too much on a mate, a friend, or even on ourselves. There is only one relationship we can foster that compares to such selfless love. Will you consider how God is wooing you?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Merriment and awe

Hiking trail marker.  2013 senk
Pyramidally-shaped spruce trees stand in their verdant regalia along a hiking trail that meanders near a campground of Shenandoah National Park. Nearby deer rest or graze while flicking their tails as blithely as country drivers do their waving hands. While I savor the texture of bark upon tree varieties, the warm compression of sun on my face mingled with cool brushes from mountain breezes, and the melody of nature's unsupervised symphony, Joey rollicks.

"Ah! There's another one!" says he, spying a slash of powder-blue paint upon a silvery trunk. This manmade stand-out reminds me that we are, indeed, on the right track - even if my mind has wandered.

Friend, do you find moments when something in your purview (whether a person or an event or a symbol) draws your attention back to your purpose?  Perhaps they're those eureka moments when you, too, think Aha! Or, instead, maybe they're more panicky realizations that your hydra-esque schedule needs pruning. Regardless, may your day bring opportunity to focus on that which seeps inspired meaning to your life. May you turn from task to task with merriment and awe.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Reflected hope

Reflections are amazing. Earlier this year, polished granite provided a reflection of my now-5-year-old Joey that sent my mind into contemplative motion. But, to set the stage: imagine a slight breeze - cool enough for a jacket, yet not enough for knocking knees and shivering shoulders - while you watch the gentle roll of water as if in a streaming aqueduct. At one end there is a fountain, at the other a rectangular pool, and in between long runs of channeling that cascade down a slope. The natural tendency for anyone near a pool of water - and especially a cascading pool of water - is to find something that can navigate the very water you admire. 

Reflection near cascades.  senk 2013
Cascading fountain.  senk 2013
And so too, did Joey. He snatched a leaf or two blown from seemingly nowhere, but that had landed on the stone steps near at hand, and happily tossed them to their fate upon the surface of the water. Three or four drops awaited these nature-made boats as they slowly descended to the final pool.  The slopes were so slight, that one run took more than 10 minutes. And yet, Joey stood stalwart and watched the delicate leaves take plunge after plunge. Each time they reemerged, an act for which Joey harbored hope.

Joey's leaf afloat upon the water.  senk 2013
And is it not so, too, for us, friend? Even in the most stressing and trying of situations, do not we wait and harbor hope - longing to see that reemergence of something that cannot be beaten or stifled? Something that exudes beauty and truth and passion for life-giving opportunities.

So, even when the immediate seems longer than a dark corridor and as uncertain, too, remember the reflection of a little boy watching a loved leaf as it navigates churning water. And, harbor hope, too.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Recreating the serene

Pond at Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. senk 2012.
Joey has recreated a water garden in the living room. Plump pillows serve as stepping stones, which meander in a circular path about the house. Grandma's no-sew blankets are now moveable boats, gliding about the non-rippling, wood-laminate pond. Little plastic fish - blue and red, yellow and green - having been tossed to-and-fro by my fisher-boys, inhabit the pond's depths. And the air is full of giggling and singing, instead of the smooth whisper of water.

"Look! Water lilies," says Joey. And, I imagine the water gardens and fountains at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, VA or the little lake teeming with water lilies at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, VA. The inspiring flora and landscapes in these gardens creates the kind of serene atmosphere of which we all need more exposure.

Are there places that impress upon your heart, too, friend? Perhaps an art museum or unique boutique or coffee shop that exudes life's essence for you? Or rather a moment deep in the woods or atop a hill's crest or by a cascading rill? There is also that serene moment between people: a shared experience, a returned smile, words from the heart shared and received. Have you had that today, friend?

If not, take a moment to recreate the serene. Let pillows plop where they will and hoist off into blanket boats - all for the sake of life.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

So heaven can breathe

It would have been a beautiful day to have been born. Sunlight flickered shadows across the road even though the morning began with weeping. After noon, when the crying finally ceased, God peeled away the thick coating of clouds so that heaven could breathe again. And the shine lit the day like gleaming Mount Parnassos.

I remember roaming the stony streets of Delphi, with its treasuries and tholos tomb in ruins after so many years of physical and cultural weathering, and feasting on a purview of golden mountain as the dying sun cast a final gaze upon it. The landscape was familiar, yet foreign, too. Like the Moon's feel to the Earth, perhaps. Or the glisten of a fetal sac born too soon.

August 25th. Neil Armstrong died that day, too. His famous first steps resound around the world; a feat my lost child will never make. Today, I should have been touching tiny toes and kissing a newborn's head. Today, the shrill cry of new life should have burst from my womb. Today, tears of joy should be pouring down my cheeks. But, instead, I smile despite the shadows that spread thick inside; I hold my boys close, despite the empty void a new baby would have filled; I continue the Tuesday routine despite my body's vertigo as if it felt an appendage that wasn't there.

March 12th - what joy it should have held! Do you have days that hold close grief, friend? Perhaps you've lost a child or a parent or your best friend? Perhaps you've felt the wrenching of a sibling's hatred toward you or lack of love from a parent? Perhaps you were raped or beaten or unfairly incarcerated? Perhaps you've felt the true pangs of starvation or witnessed the slow death of such a one? Perhaps you've held the hand of a teenager whose tried to cut her life away or laughed over wine with someone that survived the Holocaust?

No one can answer the whys of life. No one can stifle the pain and anger and grief that strikes us again and again. But, unless we know the agony, how could we possibly understand the joy? Could we have compassion or hope if we did not know their opposites? Friend, I pray most ardently that you don't become desensitized. May hope and compassion always triumph over the parade of Rated R we throw into our societal and cultural Coliseum. May the long shadows of your life be balanced by the light that defines them.

Monday, March 11, 2013

God provides

I am often amazed how well God provides, even though I shouldn't be. Perhaps some would say life is full of coincidences, of luck, of fortuitous happenstances. But, it's more than that. No matter how desperate life has felt, God has always provided.

During leaner months, when simple food staples have run out and we're waiting a few days for a paycheck, God always seems to send an unexpected gift or meal our way. My mother is a conduit for this! Even though I don't tell her our needs, she always seems to send us a loaf of homemade bread or a bag of bananas at just the right time. Another friend, who happens to share my mother's name, gave us a bar of homemade soap the very day we had run out of the commodity. Even more recently, I was considering the spring purchases I was going to need to make. Among my list were new hats for the boys. The very day I made that list, my NYC buddy sent us a care package with tons of goodies - including floppy summer hats for the boys.

Most people think that teaching in the public schools is just grand - after all, teachers get two whole months off for the summer! Yet, consider - teachers are 10-month employees. So, it's more like they're laid off for the summer. Teachers with families often need to find other jobs to compensate for those summer months. And, as Russell considers his options, God again proves to be more faithful to us than we often are to God: for, he's already lining up bagpiping gigs, which we did not expect.

Do you have moments like this, friend? Moments that seem inexplicable, save that Someone is weaving your life together in ways you could not possibly imagine? Dare to consider what may seem inconsiderable to you, even if it goes against the grain of popular culture. After all, we're not all the same. And, God already knows that.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Floating mid-way

For Joey's birthday, five helium balloons - brightly-colored stars - sparkled in the light and seemed to spread good-cheer all about the room. Once fresh, over time they began to leak helium and sagged, floating mid-way from floor to ceiling. Now, a quick blast with the hairdryer excites the molecules enough to perk up the balloons and return them, if only momentarily, to their plump and joy-filled state.

But, is it not so for us, friend? There are many times that I feel hopeful and excited, only to allow the world's worries to form tangible weights in my life. Most often, it is those most dear or those whom we hold in the highest esteem that deeply scar us. Perhaps a comment or lack of love? Perhaps a broken relationship or negative criticism? Perhaps a wound covered over that never healed? The cause can be easy to pinpoint when we really stop and think. The worst part is the amalgamation of events, completely unrelated, that creates a painful void: one first to affirm the doubt you feel in yourself.

Yes, friend, we can find some hairdryer-fix that momentarily covers the limp in our gait. But, how much more powerful would it be for us to fill the void with God's presence? Pain's slow simmer, when placed into God's hands, can yield a more radiant, more lasting, and more fulfilling hope and joy than we have ever known. Will you put your doubts and desperations before God? And, in doing so, let the spark of True Light bring greater meaning to how you live, even when your spirit sags mid-way from floor to ceiling, too.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Harsh Beauty

Shenandoah Valley's subtle blue ridges, further softened by fuzzy pines and emerald cedars and rustling deciduous trees, have always brought me inspiration. Patch-worked fields, spotted with the silhouette of cows or drizzled with verdant crop rows, interweave with little burgs and stretches of southerly-facing white farm houses or red barns or even the slow sprawl of various developments to create a cozy area where life simmers. Sometimes it's loud and streaks across the sky like a male cardinal or wild canary; other times, that life surprises you like the waterfall around the bend on a hiking trail.

Often, no matter where we live, the beauties of that place are so mesmerizing that we forget other places hold different, but just as bonny, inspirational views for us. In Meteora, the elegant heights of monasteries on tall, bleak rocks still haunts my mind's eye.  There, too, is the melding of ancient with modern in Athens, Greece; the intricate trails and cityscapes from NYC's Central Park; the simple view from a turret window of birds nestled on a roofline in Cincinnati's Ludlow area; etc. The Mojave desert views, flora, and fauna are far different from Massanutten Mountain's sleek peaks, but no less beautiful. Instead of towering oaks and pines, smaller Joshua trees dotted the landscape, creating an other-worldly feel. Piles of jagged rock mimicked the intermittent cairns that mark rugged trails there. And yucca spikes and scrubby brush whisper tales of the harsh beauty forming from the clash of opposites.

What memories mingle in your mind, friend? Let the beautiful ones overpower the painful ones and inspire a smile today. Then, consider how you can share that experience in a positive way for a positive result.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sticker Parade

"Stickers," Ezra says in a semi-sedated drone. Then, as if awakening from the trance that turning pages in a book affords, he exclaims, "I have stickers on my pants!"

"Do you want a sticker, Mommy?" And, with determined effort, he comes up to me and plops Jupiter on my arm.

"Save some of your stickers, love," I say, glancing down at a wedge of cheese and a centipede that have joined the parade on my arm.

And then, I feel the weight of it. No, not of Jupiter. Nor the empty weight of an Ash Wednesday fast. Nor the chill the resides in my feet on a cold, cloudy day. It is the weight of being a mommy.

Children are delightful and bring such joy, but there are those sticky moments of molding a child's character amid the whines, will'nts (as Ezra says for will not), and wild places that need pruning. For every success, there seems to be myriad more moments of apparent set-backs. And yet...

And yet, is not that life? What would life be without the set-backs or challenges or practice that living requires? Perhaps you, too, would be quick to say Save some of your stickers, love. But should we? Or rather, should we encourage our loved ones to give them away? To share in life with those they love?

So, my prayer for you, friend, is that someone lavishes love on you today. May Saturn or a snail or even strawberry shortcake plop on your arm today.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Wavering Rings

Ripples ooze across the pond in such a way as to mimic the murky tar in its depths. It's as if someone just tossed a pebble or a vagrant cloud squeezed a small smattering of rain droplets onto the water's surface. Shock waves ripple from that point of contact and radiate a series of wavering rings. Those points of contact seem to come from nowhere, though. It is an invisible hand that plucks them into action, at least according to my limited sight.

Odoriferous excavation pits at Rancho La Brea in Los Angeles, California, have yielded some remarkable finds over the years: the Californian saber-toothed cat, the Columbian mammoth, the dire wolf, et cetera. And yet, when visiting this fascinating destination, I could not help but consider those rippling rings. Near the Observation Pit, where a natural-light well garnered cob-webs, its ornamental grate seemed to imitate the idea of those pond wavers. Imagine being stuck in tar: your body as the point of contact and exerting awkward rings across the water's surface. Without a helping hand, you would not get out. You would feel like the zebra, which Ernest, Fritz, and Roberta of the 1960 film "Swiss Family Robinson" find, caught in dense mud on an uninhabited island.

And yet, how often do we really feel that way in life, friend? There are times when we feel stuck, perhaps in a relationship, in a job, in a habit, in expectations, and with no helping hand. And yet, so often we are too afraid to ask for that helping hand. Our own hubristic perspective quiets the voice, with which we could call out for a friend; it slaps the hand, with which we could reach out for help. Do you feel this way?

If so, know that you are not alone. God cares about you. There are people that you may not know well, yet, but whom God has placed in your life for just such a time. Be brave and be bold and admit that you cannot always do everything yourself. Let others show you the love that you need.