Finding home in a garden

My mother asked recently what was blooming in my new garden, and her question provided the initial inspiration for this post.

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These yellow flowers have been blooming since we arrived here.

The beautiful early spring weather has also encouraged me to share some photos with you. While locals assure me this is too early—February can still bring freezing weather—spring is here nonetheless. I plan to celebrate even if winter resurfaces later.

I still find myself unsure about planting anything given our extreme drought, but I must tend the garden that surrounds me, coaxing it to be its beautiful best. Even if I don’t plant something new, the gardening chores—pulling weeds, picking up spent camellia blooms, trimming dead blooms—invite me to put down roots of sorts, to invest my time and make myself at home in this garden.

I’m excited to see what will spring up. Perhaps this is a tulip magnolia?

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Will this unveil itself as a tulip magnolia?

I’ve discovered mint, and the lavender continues to bloom in force. A variety of yellow flowers bring cheer as they open, and several camellias are showing off.

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The most prolific of the camellia bushes

Familiar plants remind me of home and remind me that this new home is not so foreign after all. There are unfamiliar plants, too: smaller, quieter blooms I cannot yet identify but welcome with eagerness.

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I carried my camera on this morning’s walk, hoping to capture the early spring in pictures. Cheerful birdsong filled the air, a hopeful soundtrack to accompany the beauty budding out on trees and along the ground.

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This tree started blooming a week or two ago and stopped me still mid-stride when I noticed its first blooms, stark against the dark limbs.

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Little purple flowers grow amid grass and rocks by the trail.

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My favorite moment came as I readied the camera to take a close-up of the purple ground-cover flowers. I heard the deep buzz—the kind that rattles your brain in a way a bee could only dream of doing—before I saw the motion. A hummingbird reveled in the purple flowers, too, and I just managed to click the shutter before it sped off, too shy of the dog and me to linger longer.

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Not my best shot but my favorite surprise of the morning.

Before I left Raleigh, one of my dear friends prayed for God to show off for me out here. This morning felt like God delighting in the early spring “garden” and wowing me with hummingbird moments.

Is it humanity’s origins in the garden that cause us to crave what gardens provide? Though not all of us enjoy the feel of cool dirt caked under our fingernails, God can speak to us and make us feel at home in the “gardens”—cultivated or wild—surrounding us.

Some of you may be grumbling that spring seems impossibly far away, but know that the earth is at work even under ice and snow, preparing a showy display of spring for you, too.

And all too soon, I imagine I’ll be wishing to trade places with you to escape the scorching heat and drought of this place. To shore up my spirit and embrace Jeremiah 17:7-8 (flourishing like the tree that doesn’t fear when the heat comes), I need to drink in these beautiful moments so I can call upon God’s showy, golden, thriving spring garden once it is just a memory.

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How do you see God showing off for you these days?

A prayer for Boston

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the bombings during the Boston Marathon, and media coverage has taken over with stories positive, hard, sad, inspiring, uplifting. I’ve struggled to contain my emotions this week as story after story describe individuals’ lives a year after two terrorists decided not to wait any longer to launch an attack on the city and on my tribe, my family of runners.

On Monday, runners will line up again in Hopkinton, bibs pinned on, shoes laced up, ready to run toward the painted finish line on Boylston Street.

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The finish line last year. It got a new coat of paint for this year’s race.

I love that this year’s race is the day after Easter, when we celebrate Christ’s ultimate sacrifice and victory over death through His resurrection. In many ways, regardless of faith, those who participate in the Boston Marathon on Monday are Easter people, too, celebrating resurrection: of a city’s pride, of a running community that would not let evil overcome it, of the human spirit that would not cave to fear and tragedy.

I’d like to offer up a prayer for all those running Boston and for all those lining the streets to cheer them on or keep them safe:

Almighty God,

Please be with the runners at Boston this year, both those I know and those I’ll never meet. Give them strength of body and mind as they take on this challenging course. Please also be with the police and medical crews who will protect the runners. Give them patience, wisdom and discernment as they do their work. Please also be with the race organizers and volunteers. Give them the ability to provide the runners with a wonderful, renewing experience. Please also be with the spectators who will cheer for the runners as they speed by. Replace any misgivings or anger or fear with joy and unity and a sense of jubilation. And, God, please be with those who cannot be at the race but long for the courage or the speed or the healing that would enable them to attend.

Please send comfort to those who mourn a loss of life or limb and with those who are trying to navigate a “new” normal. Please heal both the physical and emotional wounds of those traumatized by last year’s events.

Please cover the entire course with Your protection, and turn away all who are intent on causing terror or spreading evil and chaos.

I especially lift up the Hoyts to You, as they make their final Boston Marathon run together. May it be an occasion of joy and blessing for them after so many years of showing what a father’s love can mean in the life of a disabled son. I also lift up Scott Menzies and the other family and friends running in memory of Scott’s wife Meg. Please let them sense Your healing presence as they race where she had hoped to run. Please let the memorial for her near the 1-mile mark remind all who pass by to treasure their time here, to delight in life and to be kind to one another (and maybe also not to drive drunk or distracted).

Please send a gentle breeze – and if it’s in Your will, please let it be a tailwind, however rare for this marathon – and a perfect temperature for running. Please energize tired legs and mend broken hearts even as runners climb Heartbreak Hill.

Please, most of all, let good triumph on Monday. It is in Your son Jesus’ name that I make this prayer. Amen.

If you have family or friends (runners or spectators) heading to Boston and would like for me to pray for them by name on Monday during the race, it would be my privilege to do that for you. Please feel free to leave names and prayer requests in the comment section below.

For now, I’ll leave you with this Boston Marathon story featuring the Hoyts, an inspiring father-and-son duo who will run their final Boston Marathon together on Monday.

A big push

I participate in a women’s contemplative prayer group that begins with a time of silence during which we are supposed to listen for God, followed by a short teaching. This week’s teaching has left me sitting with a particularly challenging/unsettling/exciting quote:

The familiar and the habitual are so falsely reassuring, and most of us make our homes there permanently. The new is always by definition unfamiliar and untested, so God, life, destiny, suffering have to give us a push – usually a big one – or we will not go. (Richard Rohr, Falling Upward)

So I’ve been thinking about big pushes, trying to think of times we ask others to give us a push. Most of those times come in childhood:

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Swinging always seemed more fun when there was a friend or parent standing behind to push.

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Slides also presented good “give me a push” opportunities in childhood.

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I avoided slides like these when I was little. Too scary, too little control, too little known about what waited at the bottom.

These childhood pushes may seem scary (like asking for a push on a sled to fly faster down a steep, icy hill), but we also trust that the push will make whatever we’re doing way more fun.

As adults, we don’t ask others to give us a push as often as we do when we’re children at play. Perhaps that’s why “God, life, destiny, suffering” have to step in occasionally to do the pushing. To get us out of a hidey hole. To make us step out into something uncomfortable but right for us and others around us. To change us in ways we wouldn’t choose for ourselves.

For many of us adults, the push doesn’t seem like it will result in anything way more fun.

What has struck me over and over about the quote is the challenge to look at where I’m stuck in the familiar and the habitual and truly examine whether there is any false security. I’m also trying to acknowledge the ways God is pushing me to choose paths I wouldn’t if left to my own choice.

I remember my longtime church organist explaining his difficult decision to leave our church for another one close by. He had struggled with the decision for many months (years?) but finally submitted to God telling him to go. He didn’t like the push, especially at a time that our church was having a spectacular new organ built, but he got to the point where he knew that to stay would be willful disobedience to God. He finally accepted the big push out of what had been familiar and reassuring. We miss him, but I know he is a blessing to his current church, and I hope they are a blessing to him, as well.

Obedience is hard when there’s a big, uncomfortable push. Adam and Eve didn’t skip out of the Garden of Eden. Moses made God angry with his excuses at the burning bush about why he didn’t want to return to Egypt. While he was still the Saul who persecuted early Christians, the man who would become Paul didn’t want to believe in Jesus.

God has plans for us but has also given us free will. Because that free will comes wrapped up in stubborn hearts and minds in bodies, sometimes a big push has to happen to make us live into our best selves.

Looking back on your life, what big pushes do you recognize? How did they change you and bring you to the life you’re living today? How have the big pushes helped you live a better, more meaningful, flourishing life?

True love and running

One of my favorite stories from the Bible is the account of Elijah running through the desert for a whole day before collapsing under a juniper tree and asking God to please let him die. God didn’t let him die, but instead sent an angel to care for and nourish Elijah so he could continue on his journey to Mt. Horeb, the mountain of God. (To read more about why he was on the run, and what he experienced when he got to Mt. Horeb, check out 1 Kings 18-19).

My husband admires Elijah mostly for his great faith, but he also admires his running skills and likes to refer to Elijah as the original ultramarathoner. This past weekend, my husband joined the ranks of Elijah and other ultramarathoners who have run for a full day.

Yep, my own true love spent a little more than 21 hours running in the woods to complete a 100-mile race. It was dark when he started out and dark when he finished, but there was a whole day’s worth of light in between.

My true love on one of his laps of the 100-mile race

My true love on one of his laps of the 100-mile race

One of the things you’ll quickly learn about my husband is how important running is to him. It was his first true love, a love he found before he gave his life to Christ and an integral part of his life by the time he met me. Even when we first met, I had no idea how much running would weave itself into our marriage.

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Isn’t there an app for that?

Confession time, again: I’m addicted to my iPhone. But I don’t have a ton of apps. I have exactly 26 apps on my phone, including three game apps (no, Angry Birds isn’t one of them), a dictionary app and all of the apps that come preset on the phone.

Apple’s web site touts 425,000 apps for iPhone. So no wonder they’ve trademarked the phrase, “There’s an app for that.”

I got really excited about one of those 425,000 apps the other day. My Real Simple magazine this month told of a free app called Leafsnap that could help me identify trees using pictures of their leaves. Knowing how I love trees, are you surprised that I’d be happy to download that app?  Continue reading