Unplanned Season of Green

The end of August approaches and autumn hints appear: the sound of crickets at night, the slight coolness in the morning, the shortening of daylight, the back-to-school sales, the small flocks of birds hovering about, the lines of mum plants full of buds readying for purchase,  and the beauty of late summer blooms.

One can see that subtle change of color on tree leaves and corn stalks.  Yet, it’s hard to detect this year.  Green is the dominant color.  Green — at the end of the summer. It’s been wet and everything has kept growing.

People’s lawns are green.  Trees and bushes and weeds are thick with large leaves and new growth.  My outdoor hardy hibiscus didn’t flower as much or as long, expending too much energy into leaves and stalks and enjoying too much shade from neighboring trees that grew in feet and density. My coleus have taken off.  Flowers and sweet potato vines in my backyard flower bed have created a dense mosaic of color attracting equally colorful butterflies, bees and even goldfinches and an occasional hummingbird.  I even have to trim back the vines that threaten to suffocate plants underneath.

I could not have known this past spring that I would still be enjoying  springlike green at the end of summer.

This past spring I could not have prepared for the unplanned and painful end of a part-time job that allowed the beginning of a full-time job this fall.

I could not have predicted the sharp and quick decline of my sister’s health and her passing.

I could not have seen how plodding through the Old Testament (sacred scriptures that Jews and Muslims also revere which I find awesome) has given me a deeper love and understanding of who God is and how He really cares for me as individual but also that He cares for the vulnerable.

I could not have planned the surprised discovery of miniature eclipse shadows in  front of my home as I endeavored to experience the partial solar eclipse without traveling or special equipment.

In the spring I had already planned a trip to Canada for this month, but I could have not anticipated all the fun, blessings, surprises, insights, and memories with a variety of people those ten days had provided.

I know we “should”  plan and prepare, and I do. But I think is very much part of our western culture and not necessarily the correct way at times.

I remind myself continually that I need to hold my agenda and to-do lists and my “five-year plans” loosely.   I really do not know what tomorrow will bring let alone years ahead.  But I know that I can hold tightly to God who is just and good and perfect even though I really do not know what is going on or understand what He is doing (or not doing).

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll see green this winter.

 

 

Almost a Tree-Hugger

My childhood home sat near the dead-end of a street at the edge of town.  Trees surrounded the house and blended into a small wooded lot which led to a tiny creek and swamp.  Remnants of a fence on the edge of our backyard hinted of the division of town and country and legalized the boundaries of two different school districts.  But for us neighborhood kids, the sloped field beyond the fence became a fun hill to sled in winter and during other seasons an interesting place to explore with stretches of grass and weeds and even a man-made dirt bank that kept town drain water from eroding the land .

The trees became my friends. I played among them and in them.  I created little homes within the bark crevices and among their roots and allowed my imagination to make up stories of horses and other creatures which lived there and had exciting adventures.   Massive oaks with tons of acorns seemed to be in abundance but my parents had also planted young maples and locusts.  There were was also a scattering of dogwoods and even wild cherry trees.   The trees made me feel secure and cozy and the seasons provided endless variety and pleasures.  Spring spoke of life and beauty when buds swelled and burst into flowers and  leaves.  Muggy summer nights allowed sleeping outdoors and often we laid on our backs seeking imaginary creatures and people found in the outlines and shapes of the darkened trees.   But summers also brought scary thunderstorms that tore down limbs and leaves and forever implanted within me a fear and awe of wind power. Autumn brought acorn battle fun and endless heaps of leaves to play in. Winter stripped the trees bare, yet with white snow clinging to the dark branches a peaceful pure beauty appeared unlike any of the other seasons.

Trees also were the homes of birds and squirrels — creatures that even now I enjoy watching.

Somehow I felt trees had feelings.  As kids we would get live Christmas trees and decorate them. But then  I would feel a sadness when the needles began to drop and it was time to take down the decorations.  My mom would then drag it to the woods with our help as we got older (our dad worked a lot and wasn’t home much).  It looked sad and forlorn and no longer useful.

Then came one Christmas season when the town authorities decided it was time to make our dead-end street into a proper cul-de-sac.  More houses were being built and a proper circle had to be made.  Trees were cut down and I can still remember standing at the kitchen window and crying as I watched.  I felt  the trees were hurting and dying and I was mourning for them.

Being now older and wiser, I realize trees do not have feelings as humans. Yet my adult heart still smiles as I read (or watched the movies) about the Ents in  Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and about the Wood Nymphs in  C. S. Lewis’ Narnia stories in which the trees were like people.  Of course trees are still living. And I confess that we humans  have really made a mess of the world God has given us to take care of.    I agree that “all creation groans for redemption.”

I’m not going to argue about global warming or if we all must use clean energy , but what I do feel convicted of is that I have not been serious about taking care of the world.  I have spent most of my adult life in one of the most polluted countries in the world.  Now I am living in a much cleaner environment here in the USA.  But am I doing my part in keeping it clean?  What about all the plastic I use? The fertilizer and weed-killers for my flowers? Do I recycle? Could I use less paper? And the list goes on…

This world is not going to last forever, but God has given me a responsibility to take care of it.  And I want to do my part.

And maybe some day I’ll hug a tree, just because I do like them.

When There Is No Rain

Sometimes I don’t understand.  Well, actually many times I don’t understand.  I believe in God and I believe He wants me to pray to Him.  Yet sometimes He doesn’t seem to answer…in the way I would like it.  Sometimes my requests seem so simple and easy for Him to do… like making it rain.

Summer was brutal this year.  Temperatures rose and the sun beat down.  Leaves on my tough zinnias began to shrivel. Their colorful blossoms continued to bloom but the rest of the stalk suffered.  Other plants gave up.  I lugged water from my sink to keep the thirsty plants somewhat satisfied.   I knew how it was living in a dry area but Lancaster County, PA is not a desert.  We should get several inches of rain within A MONTH — showers and weather fronts dumping the wet stuff onto our happy fields, yards and gardens.  Happens yearly.  But this year it seemed like forecasted showers fizzled out or even bypassed my town.

Why?  I mean why couldn’t God allow the rain to come? As God the creator certainly it would be easy to nudge the rain cloud a mile or so to water my flowers.   And it wasn’t just me who liked perky flowers.  Farmers’ crops were wilting and everyone’s yards in my town were turning brown.

God, you can do it?  I mean a simple thing like that.  He could do it.  But He didn’t always do it.226076_10150163692053285_2849115_n

I KNOW having a drought in this region would not bring death to its inhabitants as it would  in other parts of the world. So it really is no big deal.  I can live with having sad flowers. They don’t look pretty but it’s okay.

Yet many friends and acquaintances I know ARE facing life and death issues:

Pain, grief, sickness and loss.
And in each situation God could do something about it.

Cancer. Alzheimer’s. Infertility. Disabilities.  Poverty.  Fear.  War.  And the list goes on.

He could heal the disease, allow the birth, provide the money or job, bring peace, reconciliation, comfort, guidance, solutions…

We pray, cry, question… and ask for mercy.   Yet it seems at times God doesn’t hear and the heavens are shut.  And I ask, we ask, and then  secretly wonder… is this the God of love?

Perhaps we try to comfort each other with the platitude that God is in control or that He knows what He is doing. I actually totally agree with this but what if a person doesn’t know God in an intimate way?  Hearing that a god  is in control of everything seems to admit that a sadistic being is delighted in harming and confusing His created humans, which consequently offers no real comfort or true explanation.  If anything it may fuel more anger and bitterness and disbelief.

The human part of me at times wants to turn away and follow many others who have become disillusioned with religion’s hypocrisy and false claims.

But the deeper part of my soul knows there is a God.  Yet this is not a god that can be understood by my limited thinking.  He is beyond any human comprehension.  Yet from what I see in His word–His revelation of Himself– He desires to commune with human beings.  His Spirit teaches me and inspires me to journey on in knowing Him.  I learn of Him as I read of Jesus, the God-Man who lived on earth, died and rose again.  So I seek after God even though at times I feel timid or even a bit fearful of what He could do or  allow in my life and this world.

Yet I am realizing that the more my heart  knows Him, and I continue to discover what He is really like, I can rest in His love for me,  even when I don’t understand what is going on. . . yes, even when  death, disappointment,  loneliness and unknowns become part of my life and. .  .  there is no rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gluing is Not My Thing

Copper colored bottles of craft glue sat strategically on tops of  folding tables.  Clusters of smaller bottles with cheerful glitter and beads also sat inches away from the bigger bottles. Sheets of every color of the rainbow stood in a neat stack a hand length away and smaller pages of flowery and wordy stickers laid happily about.

Crafts.  Anywhere, anytime, anyone.  Schools, churches, nursing facilities,  children’s clubs, women gatherings.  Any month or day but most prolific during the holidays.  And often connected with women.  It’s almost a given– if there’s any kind of a women get-together, there has to be some kind of craft.  Why?  Because everyone likes to make something. Right?

Sure, most women seem to like making some kind of craft.

But surely there are others like me who really don’t. We’re pretty much the silent minority and have to tolerate craft-time unless we can find an acceptable alternative (like cleaning up something).  I don’t like to glue. I don’t like fumbling with little objects and putting them on something else.  I personally wonder at times what I would do with the finished product anyway, yet I know for many that is not an issue at all and they’ll find a home for it somehow, somewhere. Perhaps just doing it is the fun part.

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It’s wonderful so many like crafts (and it’s great for craft businesses too). I’m somewhat in awe of those who really seem to get absorbed into making a craft or of those who can spend hours in a craft store. Stepping inside the door can trigger a flight response within me.

I am not totally ignorant of crafts (although I must say the variety found in the USA probably makes me appear that way as well as my general lack of involvement in doing crafts).

My mother spent a lot of time at her sewing machine. She made amazing quilts, crafts and clothing.   She knew how to put patches together using remnants of cloth and then pinned it to a big wooden frame that filled the basement of our childhood home .  But I never learned how to quilt. I really wasn’t interested in learning nor had the patience.

I did try various crafts.  I sewed clothes because I wanted new clothing. I did try knitting and even cross-stitching and  embroidery.  But I did not enjoy it and the push and stress to get it finished correctly zapped any sense of fun.

But the appreciation of beauty and art and music began at a young age and continues today .   Every aspect of life hints or explodes with color and variety: a new box of crayons untouched and in rainbow order;  store shelves with colored towels or bolts of material stacked according to hues or designs; fresh fruit and vegetables placed in eye-catching piles; flower gardens–both the manicured ones and the messy ones– and contoured farm land; mountains; wildlife; quilts and all kinds of  handmade items; paintings and drawings; interior decorating; dishes and plates of food; literary works; great music; drama; dance… and the list goes on and on.

I personally have always enjoyed drawing and sketching– even drawing and writing about horses when I was a horse crazy kid. More recently I’ve been experimenting with water-color pencils. I love the surprises of color they bring with water and a brush.  I draw. I don’t glue.   And I’m trying to write more too as well as have fun with flowers and photography. I will never be a master of anything but I can enjoy these things and perhaps delight others or encourage others to try new creative hobbies.

So where am I going with all of this?  Crafts aren’t for everyone but yet I’m sure many folk can create in different ways and are creating items of beauty that they may not even be aware of. I believe there are some ladies who really do not want to hold a glue gun or pick up a bead, but would rather play and experiment with words, musical notes, spices, a new exercise or dance movement, or something else?

Am I right?

 

 

 

Grief and Hope

Unexplainable … And almost uncontrollable.
Sometimes it happens. And you are not prepared.
In a microsecond,  memories deeply embedded in your heart are touched,
And the emotional strands of joy, sadness, grief and longing intermingle and engulf you.

All at one time.
And you want to stop and sob.

It happens.
And it happened the other day to me.

I was walking the path at a nearby wildlife management area where I love to frequent.
It’s the time of year of the massive yearly bird migration—snow geese, tundra swan and Canada geese stop by the large man-made lake on their journey north.
Bird watchers and nature lovers also gather every spring to watch them.
I chose a weekday, parked my car and began the short pleasant walk out to the viewing area. Earlier bird-watchers were already walking the path, as the pleasant honks of the waterfowl and the more melodious twitters of other wild birds floated through the air.
Quiet
Warm
Peaceful
As I walked by the stretch of an open meadow, a soft breeze drifted over the warming earth and the fragrant smell of fresh spring ground touched my nostrils.

Then it happened.
And emotions exploded within.
Thankfully no one was near me and my sunglasses hid the tears welling up in my eyes.
A strong sense of sadness, hope, peace, and ache filled my heart.
I just wanted to sit and sob.
But didn’t know why.
I quickly controlled my emotions as I walked, yet baffled by what I was feeling.

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The mixed emotions seem to stem from a variety of memories flooding my mind.  Emotions of a wide spectrum ranged from grief to hope.The smell had reached into the deepest hidden recesses of my memory banks.
The smell of fresh warm ground– missed so much over the decades living in Asian cities brought forth a sense of longing and homesickness even though I could now enjoy this smell every spring.

There was also a pleasant connection between farming and childhood days. Times of fun and games. I didn’t grow up on a farm but my parents did and most of my relatives were farmers, so many childhood memories include playing with cousins on their farms.  And there was also a field and farm right behind our backyard growing up. As children we would sled down through the field and hide in corn shocks.

For me, the earthy smell is also forever linked to spring announcing that winter is gone and the earth is warming up with life and creatures and plants. It announces the entrance of hope and life.  My heart soars as the season takes off and sighs with happiness that now every year I can enjoy the smells, flowers, fresh air, and wonder of Lancaster County’s spring.

However connected with the smell is a reminder of spring a year ago– the last season I spent time with with my mother here on earth.  At that time, I drove back and forth between my home and her home, and saw spring come forth in all its beauty.  At home I would work the ground and plant flowers releasing pent-up emotions before I would go back to sit with her or feed her.  The smell of the spring ground soothed my heart but also reminded me of her work in her garden and flower beds years ago.

The smell and place also reminded me of last year when I came for the first time to observe the tens of thousands migrating water fowl. Even though I had known of the place and the phenomena, I had never witnessed it before.  My heart was deeply touched.  I was reminded I would not be flying anywhere back to any place like the birds:   I had moved back to the USA and I was grieving.

Yet the smell also brought hope.

That healing, life, joy are still happening. And yes contentment and hope do exist.

And in the midst of tears, a deep realization that this is life. And that grief and hope can exist together.  And this God allows. 

Not a life absent of grief or sadness but a life that allows hope to exist with grief.  And that tears and laughter can happen at the same time.

Spring Rain

Threatening  clouds darken the skies.   Their grayness hint at the presence of moisture.  But would  drops even hit the ground? Winter in China’s arid north was long and very dry.  Very dry.  Months would pass without any precipitation.  Sometimes the nearby rugged mountain range appeared out of the clouds with patches of white.  But situated miles below, our plain would often only be whipped by the bitter cold winds that picked up and scattered dust, dirt and trash.

Would the clouds disappear again and dump snow only on higher elevations? Would they move on after teasing us by spewing out some snowflakes?

Then a dark spot appears on the sidewalk.

And another one.

And soon more.

Dark spots appear inches apart and then blend into each other.

And then, in seconds, the whole sidewalk darkens.

The sounds of drops, at first muffled and indistinct, increase in volume.

And even before the sound becomes audible, there is the smell.

The smell.

The smell of spring rain.

Fresh. Fragrant. Full of life and pureness and promise.

The spring rain has come.

To clean, to wash, to nurture, to give life.

The parched ground seems to cry with joy as it welcomes the moisture.

Plants layered with dust and grime wake up and their roots quiver with life.

The farmers look up and city dwellers grab rain gear.

And I smile as I open the window and breathe in deeply.

The spring rain has come.

And I am glad.

Surprised by Snow

No, I was not really surprised by seeing the snow but surprised and a bit amused by the thoughts and feelings snow has triggered within me this winter.

Okay, maybe I was rather surprised that the forecast of 12 inches of the white stuff turned out to be twice as much.  And then a week after the early spring prediction of the groundhog (Groundhog Day being Feb 2nd and important to PA folk), we got 6 inches of a very wet snow and presently are in the midst of an ARTIC air stronghold with a few more inches of snow coming tomorrow.  And I need to remind myself, we just had the warmest December on record with a few hardy outdoor flowers still blooming at Christmas time.

So what thoughts and feelings?  Well, I couldn’t remember the last time I was in the USA for a major snow storm.  I remembered people talking about storms and seeing some snow piles left when I got back one March.  But actually here?  I figured the last time was in January ’83 and my journal entry didn’t say a lot.  At that time we lived in the countryside with a long lane.  I even had an old pathetic car, but the snow and driving around in it didn’t seem to bother me.

So as this January storm approached PA, excitement welled within. I really didn’t know what to expect.  I have always loved the weather (farmer genes?) so  I followed with interest the storm on a phone app and made  sure I had done my grocery shopping early (yes I did get milk but skipped on the bread since I felt like I had enough wheat and rice products around).

And that Saturday morning… I was in awe. Everything was white and the snow kept coming and blowing.  The storm had inched further west and so we were going to get more– a lot more–than what was earlier predicted. About mid-day when I decided to do the first round of shoveling with about a foot already accumulating, the initial feeling as I stepped out was “Wow, this is a LOT of snow!”  I felt like I was in another world– an alien white land with strange white shapes around me.  As I began shoveling I was thankful it was the white powdery kind of snow, not the wet kind.  But I was also amused about how fast it came down. I worked about an hour and already there was an inch or more of snow on the sidewalk that I had first shoveled! All day as  I looked out and saw the snow blow and swirl and drift… I was fascinated.  Later as dusk settled in and another foot had fallen, I ventured out again and the quiet beauty and blue hues of the new snow spoke of another world.  How can our Creator God take something as cold and dreary as snow and make it so… so beautiful?

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Sunday’s brilliant blue skies and winter sun woke the world up to a dazzling winter wonderland.  The sunlight lit up snow crystals creating diamond like sparkles in the pure white snow.  As the sun began to rise higher in the sky and send its warming rays, the scraping of shovels and drone of snow blowers began to be heard.  I ventured out with others to shovel and uncover my car.  Over and over again I was amazed by the amount of snow… and the simple beauty of white cold.

As I write this I’m looking at snow still remaining from the Tuesday storm.  That one brought forth very wet snow that clung to trees.  I walk to my part-time job and loved seeing the trees and bushes with their coating of cotton-like white that day.  I love seeing the blue shadows spread over the white snow, and the wind creating dunes and designs with the flakes.  Icicles also hang in creative ways as they lengthen and glisten in the sun. Animals, rocks and plants create their own unique markings and patterns, hinting of beauty and wonder.

Yes, I am ready for spring with all the green and flowers and celebration of life, yet I realize that there are aspects of snow that I can enjoy as well… and even be surprised by.

But I am still hoping that the winter will be short and that spring will come …soon!

Beauty in Decay

Last year’s autumn memory is a blur of colored leaves, pumpkins and mums. I was busy and exhausted setting up my first home in the USA and I seem to only remember gawking at the gorgeous colored trees surprising me at every turn and the millions of pumpkins, gourds and mums of every imaginable color and shape for sale at every local grocery store or farm stand.

So this time around I am trying to make time to enjoy the autumn in all its splendor.  In Lancaster County PA,  fall seems to spread out for a few months, a much more respectable time compared to the few weeks that often occurred in the northern Chinese cities I once inhabited. There would be handful of days with clean blue skies, and spots of fall colors too: red ivy crawling up gates and walls, yellow ginkgoes with their exquisite fan shaped leaves,  and field corn or chili peppers strung up to dry.  Autumns in the south were rather non-existent with a semi-tropical climate but there was a decrease of humidity and also different array of flowers to enjoy.

Even though I would be quick to say spring is my favorite season with its indescribable sense of joy when life once more bursts from the ground and the intense beauty of flowers and spring green color meets every glance….

Yet I am noticing that autumn has a unique beauty that I am learning to appreciate.

Perhaps it’s a more subtle kind of beauty. But I’m finding it’s there.

It’s beauty not from new life, but decay… of life seeping away and death and dormancy taking over.

Yes beauty–greens, yellows, reds, oranges, dark purple, browns– all mixed together in trees and vegetation.  Splashes of color as if the Artist decided that one dark area needed just a brushstroke of color to surprise the world.   Often one tree alone carries an assortment of colors as if the Artist once again decided to mix the palette and not stick with a singular color.

Leaves– different colors, shapes, and even falling styles. Some floating. Others spinning. Some fall at the tree’s roots while others get carried far away in strong wind gusts.

And the seeds–walnuts, chestnuts, acorns, milkweeds, cones,  pods…  Some broken apart by squirrels or already buried deep in the ground.  Seeds that speak of a future life– beauty in decay and death.

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Yet sometimes it’s almost impossible to see the beauty. And sometimes death is fast and ugly.  Before I finished this writing a brutal killing frost came one night covering all exposed plants with deadly white.   Brown ghastly stalks with matted leaves and dangling heads of flowers were the remains of my zinnias.  Cheerful greens and reds of coleus plants were now brown. Death had come and I was not prepared. I did not realize how frost could destroy. I no longer wanted to look out at my flower garden in the morning. So, soon after the destruction I decided to take away the dead stalks.  Yet to my surprise I found life and beauty.

The zinnias had taken over my flower garden and hid the smaller flowering plants covering the ground. When the frost came, these plants were protected by the tall zinnias. As I tore away the zinnias, these smaller flowers showed forth their beauty and life.  So even in this harsh death there was beauty, there was life hidden.

This stirs my heart.

Even in death and decay, the Creator allows me to see beauty.  As if He is showing me nothing goes untouched or unnoticed. And even in death and decay there is beauty.

Messy

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What a mess! The autumn dream of a picturesque rock garden perched on the bank outside the back of my little rental had morphed into a tropical like mini rain forest. Record rain levels and my two week absence allowed millions of vine-like weeds to crawl up zinnia stalks in layers. Crab grass with their amazing underground root system took over other areas. Japanese beetles created lacy patterns on zinnia leaves and other insects poked holes in the sweet potato vines. Somewhere in this mess and chaos there were flowers — I could see them. Yellow daisy like flowers with a name I forgot– and now I know why people keep those tags– purple alyssum, red purslane, stone crop, …. Oh yes — verbena of different colors still hanging on and some even thriving in the damp soil. The placement of leftover stones from a house construction — those interesting flat ones used for the sides of houses to give the appearance of whole ones– kept the ground somewhat in place. Yet some of the plants were clearly sliding a bit down the hill.

Plants and flowers were not in an orderly fashion with that perfect amount and ratio of mulch about them I’ve seen in other yards. Colors, widths and heights of plants (now I know why they also have that information on those tags) were obviously not thought through — with giant zinnias blocking the flowers behind or plants crowding into others as they struggle for light, space and fight gravity.

Yet… in the green there were spurts of color.
In the tangle of weeds and insects, there was beauty.
There was hope.
Somewhere and somehow life and hope could thrive in the midst of messes and chaos and, yes, even in the loss of dreams and unfulfilled expectations.

This was not the  rock garden dream  I had in the autumn.
But here now in the summer there was beauty and a challenge and a hope …. And new dreams.

A year ago I came back to Lancaster County, PA after 30+ years overseas working and living in China. I knew re-entry transition would be very hard, and it still is difficult. Life has been hard. It has not fitted in boxes, lists, steps, expectations. It has been really messy at times and not neat and packaged at all.

But I do believe that God is somehow in control of everything. And also He’s involved in and with my life even though I can’t always see it or figure it out. And at times I do question what He’s doing — it just looks too messy or chaotic to see any good or beauty or purpose.

So, when I pull the weeds and see more of my flowers and even am insane to buy some more and wonder how they fit in or even if they’ll slide off the bank, I see beauty, hope and my soul smiles. I dream of what flowers may come back next year (I forget which are the annuals and perennials) and even though it may turn out messy again … there will be beauty.

Summer reality with the weeds, insects and flowers may allow for autumn dreams again and then new adventures and journeys in the months to come.

 

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