Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Walking on Water

July 15, 2009

While listening to classical piano the other day, I was transported back to 13 years of piano lessons on Tuesday with Mrs. Leming in her antebellum home. For just a second I pretended it was me in one of the many dreaded recitals. Mrs. Leming (who adored me) always said I had great talent if I could just keep my head out of the clouds. I was always second from the last in the recital, meaning I was always second to Becky, the best pianist I have ever known. I am sure Becky went on to greatness – she could have been the one on the radio. What happened to me? Before I could wonder about that too much, my cell phone rescued me. Ironically it was a friend asking me if I would play the piano for a funeral of a man who had left the world with no family and few friends. She assured me I was qualified. I felt so convicted I said yes on the spot.

It was a simple service for the man I will call Bill. Bill’s employer and friend for many years organized a fitting tribute to his faithful employee and friend. He told of his dependability and his strong work ethic and his love of coaching children. But he surprised the audience with sharing something that even he had just discovered. While sorting through his belongings, the employer ran across some poetry that Bill had written. Looking further, he discovered that Bill had sent his poetry off and had paid a music company to put it to music. He played one of the songs for us – it was all about the places where one finds God. It was beautiful and touching. Bill had not written just one, but several lengthy poems that I am sure one day will become a book.

It was like an unopened gift that had been wrapped for too long. It was a present from Bill, opened at his memorial service, telling us about the many places we can discover God. Obviously, Bill had found God and knew him well. And I wondered what might have been for Bill, had he allowed his gift of poetry to be heard while he was living. And then I looked at my own hands and wondered the same thing.

Each of us has gifts and talents that are to be used. It’s called purpose. For a variety of reasons, many of them never get outside of our dreams, but are tucked somewhere in our self-consciousness, afraid to go the distance, afraid to work hard, afraid to commit, afraid to fail, even afraid to succeed. We get busy and distracted with life, wondering what our purpose really is, and allow the daily routine to take us to boredom and stagnation. In reading the book If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get out of the Boat, the boat is defined as “whatever represents safety and security to you apart from God himself. Your boat is whatever you are tempted to put your trust in, especially when life gets a little stormy…it is whatever keeps you so comfortable that you don’t want to give it up even if it keeps you from the high adventure of walking on water, being in God’s perfect will for your life.”

Yes, there is much risk. But there is also much reward. We will never know until we step out in faith, trusting that inner nudging planted in our soul that excites us and makes us feel alive – the peace that goes beyond understanding. I can tell you my piano offering that day was very simple but I felt alive. I was humbled, knowing that there was more in me somewhere, but the risk outweighed the reward and I stayed safely in my boat. But I think it must have been exhilarating for Bill as he listened to his poetry in song for the first time in public. This was his time and I had the privilege of watching him get out of his boat and walk on the water. What an honor. What an inspiration. What a message.

Thanks, Bill.


I have to fight the self-pity that sometimes sits on one shoulder, digging its claws in hard, waiting to grab me and ambush me. Knowing grief will always be with me, the way I fight this facet of it is to stay busy with productive activities– oh, not going to lunch, shopping, or the movie …but writing has become my weapon. It just seems to be the outlet God has provided to see me through and for which I am grateful. I have to believe that he gives each one of us many different ways to fight the bad in life. Even if I have nothing to say, or share it with no one except my hard drive, the words become therapy. Words come from an energy that says, “Fight the self-destruction and self-absorption. Fight the temptation to return to the same unanswerable questions.” As Megan said to us on the day we were bringing her home from the hospital, “It is done”. And so it is done. Now I am left with deciding what I will do with what is done. I make a daily choice. You do too.

The other day I witnessed birds literally fighting for their lives. I remember the scene. My friend and I heard the frantic chirping of several birds while we walked. Peering into the wooded area, there he was – old Self-Pity himself – a huge hawk, hardly noticeable sitting very still on a dead limb (appropriate I thought). He occasionally turned his head, watching intently, for the moment to strike. On both sides of him were robins, taking turns screaming and swooping down in front of him, obviously trying to keep him away from their nest. This went on for several minutes. We did not wait to witness the outcome. Either the hawk gave up and left the steadfast defense of the robins, or he was able to invade and destroy the life they were trying to protect.

It seems to go one way or the other. We don’t always get the choice of the outcome. One thing I do know is I will fight that which wants to destroy me. But like the hawk, it sometimes can be hard to recognize. What about you? Do you allow dead limbs with destruction to stay within your reach? Do you flirt with danger? Do you go around ignoring the dead branches that are diseased and threaten to break and destroy you? Everywhere we look there is destruction in families, relationships, and our world.

Birds instinctively do the right thing – over and over. Why don’t we? I think it is because we have this thing called human nature (self) and the power of reasoning that birds don’t have. We have all these reasons why we are weak and unable to fight back. We become the victim and all of a sudden it is not fair. So we blame others or God and eventually we give up in despair. We have no hope. It is self-destruction at its best. We do it to ourselves and we project it on to others. Often we pretend not to see it and then it creeps in– just like the hawk, barely moving, just waiting for the moment of vulnerability to attack. We ignore the important fact that we have been created in the image of God and that he has a plan for our lives. Not only our lives, but he charged us to look over his creation and to care for it. While I watch and am drawn to it, creation cares for me, teaching and offering sound principles for living – Godly principles. Amazing.

Let’s be robins. Do something to fight that which wants to destroy. I am speaking to myself, of course. Jesus said that in this world we could count on having trouble, but to know that He overcame the world. He also said to come to him when we are weary and tired and he would give us rest. (He did not say that he would take away the trouble and sometimes it can be very tiring). He said to look destruction in the face and that through his power he would ultimately destroy it once and for all. I am counting on those promises and trusting all of them.

The Chinese House of Pizza

Trusting God’s Word When the Menu is Unclear

Traveling a rural highway in South Carolina we drove past the sign. The building was uninspiring with no cars in the gravel parking lot. Dr. Feelgood and I laughed at the images the words created: pizza with bamboo shoots, wontons stuffed with mozzarella, sweet and sour anchovies. Nothing sounded appealing. I imagined it to be some kind of a marketing ploy – get the parents in for Chinese and offer pizza for the kids – a something for everyone kind of place. But I have such conflicted mental taste buds that I cannot appreciate the creativity of the proprietor. This was certainly not what I wanted for lunch. Even Duke’s Barbeque sounded more digestible than hot and sour pizza.

Funny how we have ideas about food combinations and it’s hard to adjust our mental palate. We balk at trying something that offers a new flavor experience. Like the road side vegetable stand that offered so many colors of heirloom tomatoes – beautiful to admire, but I do not want to eat a purple tomato. Tomatoes are red. And I like bacon with eggs, but Blair reminded me that when she studied in Costa Rica the daily breakfast was eggs with black beans and onions which she grew to appreciate.

Sometimes we are forced to look at things in new ways. In June 2007 (two years ago this week) we were looking at illness in frighteningly new ways. We were coming to the realization that Megan was seriously ill. She had been tested for everything imaginable and was diagnosed with the worst of the un-imaginable – Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a terminal disease that is extremely rare and affects mostly older people. Even her doctor tried desperately to make some treatable diagnosis “fit” her symptoms. Nothing made sense. We looked with unbelieving heads and hearts at what had been put before us. It was an awful combination with the bitter taste of death. Stunned with disbelief we brought her home to wait for a miracle.

The words in scripture held me together. I believed God would cure Megan. I trusted his timing as I claimed his promises. I could wait. Others prayed and together we waited, watched, prayed, and pleaded. And somewhere in the waiting the focus shifted from what I wanted to what God wanted. I don’t know where or how that mysteriously occurred. God did it with grace and love while I kicked and screamed. Specific passages such as Psalm 91 gave me the hope that God would for sure; provide his angels to protect Megan, that she would be sheltered from the storm under God’s feathers. I thought that meant she would get well. Then she died and the same verses transformed in meaning. God did raise Megan up on angel’s wings and take the pestilence from her. He allowed her to watch him destroy the disease as he rescued her.
I am disappointed that God did not give Megan a longer life - for me. But learning to align with God’s will has provided a new level of trust. I did receive His will as I gave up. Every night while Megan was waiting for God to rescue her we prayed “Thy will be done”. Did we mean what we said? Did we trust the meaning? If so, there is freedom in this life and scripture helps us to understand. But some days the words can be as perplexing as the Chinese House of Pizza. They might not make sense and trust is the only thing to do – especially when you are hungry.

Maybe we should have at least looked at the menu.

Trail of Tears

May 11, 2009

I t is good to be home and return to routine. On my morning walk, I found myself quickly letting the pent up tears spill, revisiting in my mind much of the last two years, struggling with so much and wondering what to do with all of it. I have been in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains attending a writer’s conference. It was upbeat, informative, challenging and encouraging.

As I met new people, the routine follow-up question was asked, “What do you write?” I experimented with safe answers such as “I write non-fiction –the daily life kind of stuff – gardening, relationships, personal struggle”. Or “I write memoir”. That sounded vague enough to avoid telling my painful story. Or, if I was really feeling honest and safe, I said, “I have written a personal journal about the death of my daughter.” For the most part, I kept the tears in check. I tried to act professional. I even had business cards printed and exchanged them with other writers. It all felt so grown-up – like I knew what I was doing. Maybe I would write a book, but first I had to be able to talk about it without crying. Agents and publishers don’t keep tissues on their desks like grief counselors. It is a true story that I still find hard to believe– a story in which I still do not want to be the narrator.

The drive to Asheville is pretty spectacular. Once you get out of Atlanta, you head north to the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Then as you wind further north, there you are in the midst of misty green. As I returned home through those magnificent mountains with foggy thoughts of my own mountains to climb as a writer, I thought of the Cherokee nation, forced against their will to leave the land they loved and to traverse through famine and hardship to some unknown territory. The journey itself became known as "The Trail of Tears" or, as a direct translation from Cherokee, "The Trail Where They Cried” In one of the saddest episodes of our country’s history where over 4000 people died, lives were torn apart, displaced and left to their tears on a trail to uncertainty. (This is me, I thought.) There is a legend that says an Indian chief prayed for comfort for the grieving mothers who were losing their children to death and starvation. Following his prayer, a white rose began to spring up every time a tear fell to the earth and supposedly to this day the Cherokee Rose, my very own Georgia state flower, still blooms along the Trail of Tears - life and beauty rising out of pain and sorrow.

Each of us has our own trail of tears. If you tell me you do not, I will not believe you. All who are in touch with life have been displaced by something– emotionally, physically, socially, and spiritually. We have been forced to travel a trail of uncertainty. And the legend rings true - when tears are spilled and prayers are offered, something good happens in the midst of sorrow. I love this folklore image of tears bringing forth a flower on the road of sadness. How can good come from such pain, we continue to ask and ask. One thing I learned at the writers’ conference was that everyone has a story to tell. Some are true and some are imagined. But all good stories should offer some kind of reconciliation to the reader. Name the problem and then offer a solution. Change the reader.

The Cherokee tribe did not get to the Oklahoma territory overnight. There was no express route dotted with five star hotels and Starbucks, but they had a chief who sought a higher source for help. And following the little signs of life along the way that bloomed encouragement, they stuck with their journey, learned new ways to live, and told their story to their children with memories of life past and hope for the new territory to come. I’ll be looking for those signs of life.

Good Grief!

May 11, 2009

“Oh, that I had wings like a dove!”

A budding artist gave me a set of handmade notecards with this quote written on them along with the stamp of a dove, wings soaring. I looked up the quote in Psalms (55:6). The Psalmist is having such trials that he laments that he would love to escape, fly away, and be at rest. We know it’s merely a rhetorical comment. We don’t have wings and we cannot fly. But wouldn’t it be nice some days to escape from our worldly woes. We run from the daily things that make us crazy. We put off and worry and wonder. We busy ourselves with the unnecessary to keep from doing the important. If only, we say, we could just fly away! It is something Dr. Feelgood and I do often, “fly away” to the golf course to escape, to grieve quietly as we play a round of golf, work on our swing, watch the wildlife, admire the beauty around us, and visit with fellow golfers. It’s good grief – beneficial, the counselor says. It will help us in remembering who we are as individuals and as a family. Several weeks ago, when we witnessed the five white doves flapping their wings over us, I knew then it was a good place for us to heal. It was sort of a sign from Heaven that all will be well, that we can rest, that we will be able to somehow live without a daily live dose of Megan.

And so on Mother’s Day, I was surprised that the day did not bring tears or sadness. Many days do, but Sunday was a good day – no, it was a great day. I somehow felt a shield of protection around me, holding me together, strong and sure-footed. After church, I got to choose what we would do as a family. So I took full advantage of getting my way and decided that what I wanted was for the four of us to go to the escape place together - the golf course. I packed sandwiches and secretly hoped that the four of us would have another visit from the five white doves.

I did not think too much about my golf, but swung away, watching for wildlife, enjoying Blair beside of me, helping me to check my yardage and tell me the pin placement. I think we both learned a lot! And Owen and Mike did what guys do – walk along the rough, dodging snakes while looking for lost balls. Well, it’s important where we play – they retrieve all the ones I lose! But this day was different - I did not lose balls. That steady and strong feeling went with me around the course, making a par here and there, and never having the dreaded blow-up hole that occurs way too frequently. And when we finished the round, I surprised myself and everyone with me with a record low score.

I wrote back in the winter that grief was like snow-skiing. And now I find similarities to golf as well. One day I am strong and confident. One day I am weak and disabled and just want to “fly away” and hide. One day I make very few mistakes. One day I make nothing but mistakes. And I am realistic enough to know I will return to triple digits on the golf course, just like I know the grief-ometer will go sky high some days. But to have a low score for my grief as well as my golf on Mother’s Day? Well, that is definitely some good grief!
I love it that the end of the Psalm reads in verse 22, “Cast all your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you.” We all have cares, we all want to fly away like the dove, but we have a promise that we will be sustained –no matter what our circumstances, held by the power of Almighty God. The Psalmist, after listing all of his troubles, ends the chapter by saying to God, “But as for me, I trust in you.” It is what gives us rest when we can’t fly away.

Know Who You Are

May 4, 2009

The lessons from bird-watching just keep being offered up outside. Yesterday, at least ten cardinals swooped in front of me on the golf course. This morning as I left the neighborhood to work on a “Megan-inspired project” yet another bright red cardinal gave me his stamp of approval for my day. These are just little signs along the way of grief, giving a bit of encouragement and hope. Maybe it is because these days I get up actively looking for it –looking for ways to make the day brighter, fight the loss, find the good. And consistently and without fail, God provides beauty and humor and lessons through his gifts in Nature in our world.

Larry, Curly, and Moe – the baby robins outside, are growing up and the nest is getting crowded. In the five minutes or so that I watched them today through the window, I see that there are in fact, four, so I will call the new one Extra! They have something that looks like pre-feathers and their bodies are now in more proportion to their beaks. The mother has her work cut out for her. While she teeters on the edge of the nest, nudging one to get up, she is holding another one down with her foot, then she moves around the nest, trying to coordinate and balance her big family. She leaves to get food and the brave one hops up in her place and prances around the rim of the nest, just to fall back on top of the others when he sees her returning. In many ways, they are a lot like puppies – or children. Some are calm, some are busy, some are risk takers, and some are late bloomers.

But tragedy has struck again. My young neighbor found an injured adult Robin between our properties. I wanted to be as upset as he was, but my adultness kept those worries concealed. I diverted his attention to the four baby robins and I assured him that there were two parents and if one was not to return to the nest, then the other one would take the responsibility of getting them airborn. Then I showed him the wren’s nest and we listened to the squeaking of yet a third nest of fledglings in a birdhouse. He went to his home assured (I hope) that all birds were safe. I went inside and cried for the loss.

As my eyes kept wandering outside during dinner, Dr. Feelgood said I was getting a little overboard on the bird thing, but I could not help feeling sad for the bird that I know now did not survive. But the good news is that the other Robin shows little signs of grief, but continues to feed and care for the four in the nest. When he first returned he seemed a little lost and agitated being left alone to carry on the task of parenting. I guess when you are a bird, there is no choice but to instinctively do the right thing. We humans, blessed with higher cognitive abilities have the power of reasoning and are influenced by outside forces that tell us to give up, get depressed, run away, shirk our duty. We are encouraged to turn inward with sympathizers. We are reminded that life is not fair. I heard a friend speak the other day about integrity. He said, “If you know who you are, then you will know what to do”. He said that when we know who we are then we can live the lives for which we have been created. He said we could carry on in the midst of life’s tragedies and uncertainties. I wonder if he is a bird-watcher. Birds obviously know who they are, for they continue, regardless of their circumstances, to live out their lives, doing what they have been created to do – again and again. That’s encouragement.

Good Deeds

April 27, 2009

I am looking out my window at a robin’s nest in a hawthorn tree where all is busy. We have babies! Not one, but three little gray fledglings with huge daffodil-colored beaks. I have named them Larry, Curly, and Moe! As I peer at the nursery through my binoculars from the kitchen, one keeps flopping over, but the other two are strong. I am trying to be a good neighbor and limit my outside gardening to give them space during this crucial time. This time last year I remember a whole nest being destroyed before hatching and I am imagining this could be the same robin, recovered and starting over. She seems to know me. We “talk” and share some serious eye contact.
And I also remember today that it was this time two years ago that our Megan was “taken from her nest” and put on medical leave from her job as a teacher. When the doctor asked her to write her name and address on his tablet, she smiled and took his pen, but was unable to make a mark on the paper. He asked her how she was managing to do her job and she replied, “I have lots of people who help me.” She never returned to the job she loved. She never was able to deliver her notorious little gifts she liked to give her colleagues for all the good deeds that were done to help her at a most difficult time.

Whether it is doing a good deed for a robin by staying out of their way or a friend who is in trouble, good deeds make us feel better about life. But I heard a story the other day that made me give a little more thought to the subject. A man who was making a neighborly effort to clean up an unsightly park was given a court citation for having some mulch delivered to the property. It was a perfect example for the phrase he quoted “no good deed goes unpunished”. You know how that works – you let someone get in front of you at the traffic light, and then the light changes and you are the one who has to wait – again - for it to change. Or, I read about a boat owner suing someone for using his boat without permission to rescue victims in distress during a hurricane. You you’re your own examples, but I thought to myself, “What a discouraging way to live”. Isn’t there more to life than looking for ways to punish others for doing good deeds? I hope so. And I hope I am never accused of punishing a good deed.

I know that even if good is sometimes punished, good will always prevail, just like light always overcomes the darkness – even though some times can get pretty dark. We all know that good deeds are remembered and honored much more than they are punished even though we like to twist our language to create clever comments. Maybe for my purposes today, the phrase could be restated “No good deed is ever forgotten”. And I have lots of those examples. To name a few, I have not forgotten those school colleagues who cared so lovingly for Megan. I have not forgotten the art students who compiled a beautiful keepsake book for our family. I have not forgotten the prayer warriors who met weekly for 15 months. I have not forgotten the thousands of daffodils that were planted in Megan’s memory. I have not forgotten the “Megan’s Closet Coat Drive” that will continue to serve children. I have not forgotten my neighbors who stood close, along with doctors, friends, and pastors. I have not forgotten Megan’s friends who continue to stay close and share their lives with us. I have not forgotten the many letters I still read. I have not forgotten that at her ten year high school reunion, her classmates remembered her. I have not forgotten two strong children and the ever present Dr. Feelgood. I will never forget.

Good deeds are good. Good deeds are remembered. Good deeds inspire us to look at life with fresh eyes, fresh hearts, and fresh understanding. 1 John 3:18 says “Let us love, neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth”. I’m wondering….have you done your good deed for today? Take a risk on being punished.

Lucky’s Gift

April 20, 2009

I can hardly bring myself inside to write this morning. The garden is like a magnet, drawing me to come outside and enjoy a spectacular spring day. The rain has washed away most of the pollen in Atlanta and the irises and roses are about to make their 2009 debut. The Lily of the Valley, Spanish Lavender and Dianthus are wafting their fragrance to the passer-by and I decide to compromise, pick some, and bring them in to my desktop. Each bloom is so different, so perfect, so fragrant – gifts for today.

Last week I wrote about seeing five white doves. You fellow “bird watchers of the soul” responded and affirmed my wondering about them being a gift from God – on the wings of a dove – a snow-white one. One friend wrote and said that right before the wedding of her daughter a white dove appeared in their garden. Another friend’s sister wrote from far away “God blessed me with a white dove on our back deck when I returned home after Mother’s death and I always felt like it was so rare and special – it was my gift from God”.

I suppose some of the gifts we appreciate the most are the ones we least expect – the surprise present wrapped in memory, tied with thoughtfulness, and offered in love with nothing expected in return. It’s like the unexpected offering of an engagement ring to a beautiful young friend. Or like the gift of a new friendship formed, surprised with affirmation and a sealed with a sense of closeness. It is the gift of a phone call or note from an old friend. But like the white doves, many gifts are given freely and only the one who is looking with an open mind and heart, can be the recipient.

I received such a gift Sunday morning. We had been at the beach and were packing to come home, but one enthusiast said, “Let’s go shelling one more time.” So we filled our coffee mugs and walked down to see what treasures were waiting for us. The beach was wide and calm and the birds busied themselves, moving along with us as we all searched for sea treasures. One bird – a spotted gull of some kind –hopped slowly and stood very still as we rummaged around him. He seemed to be comfortable with us near by. Looking closer we discovered he had only one leg and my friend aptly named him “Lucky”. I kept up my shelling, filling my pockets, but I kept returning to the gift that was being offered to me. Lucky was a real survivor. I needed to know him better.

How could Lucky, a bird with only one leg, be a gift? Obviously, he had met with opposition at some point, but had managed to recover. He looked healthy enough. He was part of the others who had flown in to feed and rest. I felt sorry for him though. He was different. He didn’t move as fast and watched more intently. Somehow his misfortune made him seem more serious to me – more thoughtful, calculating his next step – or hop. I kept waiting and hoping that he would fly off, giving me assurance that he could still take to the sky, soar over the ocean, but then I wondered what his landings would be like. I had to laugh at myself.

I can’t help it - grief makes me daydream. Grief makes me relate to loss of all kinds. Grief makes me feel like Lucky, one-legged bird. Everything has changed. Life is harder just to do the day-to-day routine stuff. It’s harder to stay balanced and it’s easier to fall down, so we move slowly, gingerly, staying with those who care and watch out for us. Sometimes we just position ourselves in the “still” mode and life moves on around us, giving us space and time to heal and find different ways to live. I guess the question becomes will we ever fly again? I don’t know, just like I don’t know if Lucky could fly after losing his leg. I guess that was not the message I needed even though I really wanted that bird to fly and fly well. The gift for me was that Lucky was standing just fine on his own. It gives me hope – “the thing with feathers” – my daily dose from a bird named Lucky.

Power Outage

April 14, 2009

For a few hours, losing power in your home is not so bad. You can write letters by hand (how novel) and work through the paper stack. You can still cook with a gas cook-top, so there is no excuse for dinner. You can walk the dog and work in the garden. You can clean your house. You can write on your laptop until the battery is gone. You could take a nice quiet nap (I wish I had thought of that one earlier). You can have dinner by candlelight and listen to the evening birds instead of the air conditioner fan. And when after 24 hours you awaken to still no power you can treat yourself to coffee made in your seldom used French press (ooh-la-la!) before you turn to the daunting task of cleaning out the refrigerator.

We take it for granted. And we depend on it to provide conveniences and luxuries that we have gotten used to through the years – like dishwashers and hair dryers and garage door openers. But a lot of the conveniences electricity provides sometimes takes away the charm of the simpler life – candles, one-skillet suppers, conversations in the dark, no alarm clocks, and although I admit I constantly was listening somewhere in my mind to hear the familiar hum return, there is a definite charm to silence. Silence gives you time to think – or not think without disturbance.

Dr. Feelgood and I witnessed in silence a beautiful sight last week on the golf course. It was Good Friday, but it had been a bad week for me in general. I was missing Megan. It seemed I was having my own “power outage” throughout the week with little energy, little hope, and little strength to keep trudging through this grief process. I had just finished about the 100th book on grieving – this one by Paula D’Arsy who says that the “power outage” or bad times are a real good sign that healing is occurring – that one is moving through it and not stuck somewhere in the process. I hope she is correct.

But back to the beautiful sight. We were finishing up on the last hole and I just happened to glance up. I motioned to Mike and there above us were five – yes, five – snow white doves circling above us. They lighted on the clubhouse and watched as we finished and then took flight. Now, I have never seen a snow white dove, but I do remember the song,
“On the wings of a snow-white dove
He sends His pure sweet love
A sign from above
On the wings of a dove.”

I asked several people and no one had ever seen white doves at the golf course. Was it a sign from above? I read that often white doves are bred and trained for something called “White Dove Releases” where they are let go at special occasions like weddings or memorials, and the smart birds then return to their homes. I like to think they were delivering us a message, sending us “His pure sweet love, a sign from above on the wings of a dove.” My heart is always softened by the beautiful vulnerability of nature – the total dependency of creation waiting for God to reveal himself. The Bible speaks of doves – one returned to Noah with an olive branch as a message of found land, doves were used for sacrifices, and a dove descended on Jesus at His baptism. And so why would God not allow nature to speak to us when human words, books, and therapy do not always work. A bird sometimes can say more words to me than Webster, just in their dependency, and their varied and constant message of hope. Just this week, I have spotted three nests outside my door – all different, all singing a different song. Not everyone will make it, but they work hard in their obedience to creation. Their power does not run out. It is in looking up to see what is being offered. Five white doves above me said, “Look at my wings, waving down pure sweet love from above. We will be together again. All is well!”

I am grateful for those five white doves. Nancy Guthrie says in her book, 52 Weeks of Hope “Gratitude plows up the ground for God’s peace to grow.” Time to reset the clocks, recharge the phones, and get gardening, I suppose. But I could not close without sharing this with you:

On the Wings of a Dove
Do not come to my grave and cry
Look up instead toward the sky
For wings of white as they fly by.
Don't come to stand and weep or bring
Dying flowers. Instead please sing
A song or feel the autumn wind
As is blows past your tender cheek.
That is me. I am not asleep.
I'm in the rain on summer days.
I'm with the children as they play.
I have not gone so far away.
Look among stars shining at night.
See me riding on rays of light
Gently brushing leaves. Watch a flight
Of Snow White Doves. They always tease
My soul, and then so softly weave
It through clouds of white, over seas,
Under the breeze, and far above
The trees, knitting like yarn my love.
I'm there on the wings of a dove.
Do not visit my grave and weep.
I am near. I am not asleep.
~ by Sandra van Riper

The Weathervane

April 7, 2009

A mighty wind is blowing this morning, a real test for my newly installed rooster weather vane perching permanently on the roof. This rooster has been in the garage for several years, waiting for some brave installer to secure him high on the peak of the roof. My original thought in purchasing it was pure whimsy – a quaint reminder of a simpler time, a timetable of nature, offering a little charm to my home and garden. But it really works! I can hear it from my desk, moaning and droning as it spins and turns. Today as I have checked it periodically, it is pointing directly North, meaning that North is the direction from which the wind is blowing –and I can attest that yes, the North wind is, in fact, cold and blustery on this April morning.

Because I really don’t know much about them, I researched a bit and found some interesting but probably useless information about weathervanes –but then maybe you will get a question playing Trivial Pursuit (a game that Megan loved). The word vane means flag or banner and supposedly there are writings of weathervanes as far back as 3500 years, but the Greeks get most of the credit for their creation. And then a papal edict in the 9th century required every church in Christendom to be mounted by a cockerel (or rooster). This symbol was a warning for the people to recall Peter's betrayal of Christ (John 13:38) "I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times". , And while these roosters were at first not intended as weathervanes, they were eventually combined with the weathervanes that already dotted many steeples to create the familiar rooster-shaped weathervane common today. And if we had lived hundreds of years ago in our young country, we would look up at the sky, study our weathervane, and decide that as long as these winds persisted, winter was still around and we should wait until the winds change to plant our crops or sow the spring seeds. We would wait for direction from nature.

It is often direction that we need and are in search of, but sometimes we go in the wrong direction. Things happen that distort and confuse and we just spin round and round slowly wondering what to do. Whichever way the wind blows is the way we go – sort of the path of least resistance. It is much easier to “go with the wind” at least for the short term. Sometimes we do not realize how hard one direction might be, so we turn and go in another, losing our bearings altogether. Peter is a good example of this, like the early church reminded on the rooftops. He waffled often in his ministry with Jesus and yet Jesus said gave him his new name which meant “rock” and said “follow me”. Peter often shifted in his direction, wimped out, and spoke without thinking. Most of us can relate to Peter. Maybe that is why he was chosen. He was real with human tendencies. I am sure when Jesus told him that he would betray him right before his death, Peter probably thought that was absurd. But scripture says when that in fact happened, Peter wept bitterly. The story doesn’t end there though. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to certain people – the women, and to the disciples where he spoke specifically to Peter. He asked him three times if he loved Him. Peter responded three times that he did love Jesus. And Jesus then said, “Feed my sheep.” Scripture tells us that Peter went on to be one of the greatest evangelists in the early Christian church.

Is there a lesson from his life? Maybe that it is “better to be a follower who fails than one who fails to follow”. And as Christians experience this final week of Lent, coming in repentance of our failures at the foot of the cross on Good Friday, followed by the good news of Easter Sunday, may we all sing one of Megan’s favorite hymns “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” with new meaning, with a revived direction in our lives to follow…and not forget. My weathervane will be a reminder.