Infinity Within

Infinity Within
by Sarah Freymuth

Smoke rises into the night, plumes of flame in the barrel. Stars scattered across the sky; Milky Way bow tie stretched against the black. My friend Jordan and his pipe, sweet scent of tobacco. We scan the dark, silent water, which stretches on and on, shrouded in the back of his family’s home. I tuck my legs tighter under my blanket and lean into the cool air, hidden from me for so long. I am continually in awe that I am in this moment, this breath, atoms of afterlife colliding with the now. How his family so graciously lets me into their lives, gives me space to stake my soul about the water.

He takes another puff of his pipe, expelling smoke to mingle with the ashes rising from the fire. I’ve waited a full year for this, to say goodbye to my unfamiliar, wavering life and head north of the tension line, to a palpable quiet on Washington Island, a forgotten existence. To rest in slowness, nowhere to go, no thoughts to think that raise my pulse.

So many stars splitting open wide the night. He teaches me to spot Polaris: North Star. Guiding light. I count out the spaces and marvel at how ordinary it looks, same size as its brothers in the sky.

How is God no beginning? he asks. I nod my head languid, drowsy with the freshness of island, saturation of my soul. Without knowing, I am lifted to the place I crave, where my heart rests, refuels, simply is.

How is there infinity beyond us? I counter. Or within us, for that matter? Flutter of bats silhouette across the bay. Deep glow of liner headlights crossing their nocturnal course. Rhythm of life silken and subdued. Right as it should be. My neck strains to the cosmos, eyes drinking in stars that burn in flashes, leave streaks among God’s windowpanes. In this vast canvas, constellations come to life, bold and more beautiful than fables explain. Celestial beings bend close, caress our conversation and hearts eager to solve the mysteries of the universe. We dissect philosophy, the unfathomable things of life, endless realm of infinity, the wonderings of God.

My limbs slip further into the fabric of chair. I pull my arms in the pockets of my sweatshirt, which burrows around me in comfort cocoon. The yard, damp with dew. Another whiff of tobacco, cherry, and bark. Breaks in the quiet, questions asked which will get no answers. That is the way of this world; still, we examine and toss the deep ends of our minds into the night.

How in this expanse are we significant?

Such a canopy before us, such delicate design. Jordan dumps the remains of his finished pipe into the fire but holds onto the handle, transferring warmth from the bowl to his hands.

Sleep comes for me with friendly fetching, hand on my shoulder, stirring me to bed. Stars still slash across the sky, dilate my pupils with their escalating light before dissipating behind the curtain of the supernatural other side. Clues to my faith I thought I wanted to find sit undiscovered in the unexplainable tonight.

Again, my eyes stray to Polaris. Guiding light. Looking identical to the other dots glimmering above except for the truth of its location. Eyes fall back to the fire. One last lick of flame before it’s doused, fogging up the airwaves. My skin shivers in this new coolness, bumps curve my flesh, hover the hairs on my arms. Ink still drying the dark pool of ether. Heart drinks it in, wrapping within my undisturbed spaces. With slow consent, I rise and fold my blanket, inhale the deepness of grass, charcoal log, lake reeds. Pulse of embers rife with awareness. Ring of light marshalling the new moon. Smile stretches my lips in nature’s rouse to dream, high above and close within.

I do not want to lose this part of me—the still soul, the lover of life, the dreamer. I cannot waste away the wonder. Cannot squelch the significance rumbling deep beneath my breast, beneath the exquisite arc of proof that I am so much smaller than I hope, brighter than I imagine. The significance of my infinity among the earthbound swells, expands.

 

 

Fall Headshot

Sarah Freymuth writes at the intersection of beauty and the every day while grappling with God’s goodness when life projects otherwise. She is the communications manager for Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a member of Redbud Writers Guild, is the editor of Awake Our Hearts, loves a good cup of black coffee, and enjoys her simple Midwest life in Wisconsin. Connect with her at www.sarahfreymuth.com and Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Hope Among Thwarted Plans

Hope Among Thwarted Plans
by Rachel Britton

My husband turned the key in the lock. “We’ll live here for ten years at least,” he said as we stepped over the threshold. I smiled. After twelve months of house hunting, we had signed papers on the perfect home.

Blue wisteria flowers hung over the doorway, forming a fragrant arch to our front door. My dream of a house covered with a well-established vine cascading with flowers had come true. A stunning chequered mosaic of small black and white tiles covered the narrow hallway floor, so typical of the Victorian and Edwardian era, fulfilling my love for this era. We were now proud owners of a delightful Edwardian house in a desirable London neighborhood famous for the residence of Maggie Thatcher, one of Britain’s former leaders, and its private schools.

Having worked hard to climb the career ladder of the BBC, and now with my nest pad, I saw the opportunity to take a break and start a family. A few months later with a baby on the way, we were settling into the community and ready to raise our family in this area of south London.

The Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote in To a Mouse: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

Ten months later I stood at Heathrow airport with my six-week-old daughter nestled in one arm, while I held onto an airport cart with the other. I watched my husband pile bulging suitcases and duct-taped cardboard boxes from the car onto the cart. A travel cot sat precariously on top. These were all our worldly possessions for the next three months.

A “sold” sign hung outside our little terraced home with the blue wisteria archway. Furniture and all our other belongings, having been professionally packed, sat in a shipping container making their journey across the Atlantic. A United States work visa had been stamped in my husband’s passport just a few weeks earlier. Now, we clutched one-way airline tickets to Boston—a city I had never visited, in a New England that I couldn’t believe would have anything in common with England besides its name.

Whereas other new moms were settling into freshly decorated nurseries, I was setting up a travel cot in one hotel room after another. While other proud parents were enjoying their new babies receiving the admiration of family and friends, I could only hang onto the passing comments of strangers. When other first-time moms could spend time getting to know their nursing babies, I was learning that nappies were called diapers, that prams were strollers, and that I couldn’t find a decent cup of tea anywhere.

In the midst of my turmoil and misery, I called out to God. I hadn’t talked to him for years. I sat on the floor in the bedroom of our rented apartment, my daughter napping in her travel cot, tears streaming down my face. I spoke only two anguished words: “help me.” In that moment I knew God heard my cry, for I felt an instant, overwhelming sense of peace.

In the years that have passed since that point in time, I have learned God loves me enough to thwart my plans in favor of his own. Even though I left my homeland behind, I gained a far better home for both now and the future secured by my heavenly Father through knowing Jesus.

We make plans with good intentions, but God has plans with the best intentions. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

 

 

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Rachel is a British-born writer, author, and speaker whose passion is to help others become comfortable and confident in their conversation with God. Her blog “Praying Naturally” offers an extensive library of free prayer resources to help you deepen and develop your prayer life. Rachel is wife to Colin and mom to three young adults. She cannot live without a mug of English tea. Connect with Rachel on Facebook.

Rain in the Desert

Rain in the Desert
by ST Chapman

I call them prayer walks. But are they really? I walk, I meditate, I plan, and I just appreciate. I imagine as I set out from my car that Jesus is walking with me. I invite him and of course, he graciously agrees to come along. And I start out ok. Remembering He is there beside me. But soon enough. Well, soon enough, I am planning my dinner, my schedule for the rest of the week, perhaps a future trip or event. And every now and then, I remember Jesus is with me and he loves me in spite of the distractions.

I used to be a runner, slow and steady. I would listen to music as I plodded along, mile after mile, with dreams of future marathons floating round my brain. I would picture myself strong and fast, even though I wasn’t either. But it didn’t matter. When you tell someone you “just did 10 miles that morning before work,” they rarely ask if you are fast. Or strong. They just assume that because you ran longer than they drove that day that you are pretty amazing. And the truth is, you really are.

But those days ended a few years ago when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease whose primary purpose is to attack my joints. And for me, the place that got the worst of it was my feet. The bottom of my feet. Tender, inflamed. Before the diagnosis, I thought perhaps I was just running too much. That maybe I had a running injury, that badge of honor that confirmed I was indeed an athlete. Laughable in hindsight, but there you have it. After three new pairs of running shoes, a new mattress, and a reluctant break from all things physical, I went to the doctor and learned that nothing was going to cure me. I would have this for life. The best I could hope for (and a definite possibility) was to find a medication that would alleviate the pain to where it would be more tolerable. And there was certainly the potential that I would run again. But it didn’t feel like it at the time, and it still doesn’t.

And so, I walk. And I am happy enough with this because I couldn’t walk much at all in 2019. I could walk through the house. I could, on a good day, walk the block to the nearby grocery store. But most days, I simply sat in my chair and waited for the medications to do what I was paying them to do. And it took over a year. I can walk now. A few miles at a time on a good day. But I can walk and so I do. With Jesus.

Today’s walk was particularly special. There is rain in the desert. In a place that gets 350 days of sunshine a year, a rainy day in the spring is a pearl in an oyster. There are different birds today, singing songs I do not know. The washes are filled with water, runoff from the towering rocks that hover over us like shadows from a cloud across a large open field. They form small but violent waterfalls, and the sound is deafening. There are flowers I haven’t noticed in days gone by and against the grey and muddled skies, the color is as vibrant as a celebration, perhaps Holi.

Rain in the desert is a gift. A quenching of thirst for a parched landscape that likes to think it is mean and hardy, but like the rest of everything on this planet, needs a few drops of grace now and again. This is when the desert comes alive, revealing secrets we can only glimpse when the water washes away the stains that hide a vulnerable and beating heart. It is an answered prayer, reminding us that better days are possible, if only for a time.

I feel the rain on my own face and do not hide. Instead, I take off my hat to experience all it has to offer. Like the giant saguaro cactus, I stand tall and unafraid and accept this cleansing, feeling my sins wash away as they did years ago in that baptismal. I taste salt, miles and miles from the ocean. I look over at Jesus and he is crying too. He knows.

And then the rain stops with the same suddenness from which it started and the desert yawns with false bravado, resuming its familiar rhythms once more. Like a tough guy, pretending he doesn’t care when his love walks away again. But if you pay attention and look very closely, you can see the tears still wet on his cheeks.

 

 

ST Chapman pic

ST Chapman lives and writes in Tucson, Arizona. One of her essays was recently featured in Just Between Us. When there isn’t a pandemic, she can be found traveling the world, meeting interesting people and writing about them.  You can connect with her at www.stchapman.com and Instagram: @stchapmanwriter.

Value in Brokenness

Value in Brokenness
by Elizabeth Singletary

As I entered the next exhibit at the museum, I was aghast at the broken pieces on the floor and appalled someone would destroy museum property and walk away.  When I attempted to pick up the broken pieces, I was stopped by the guard who exclaimed, “That’s a priceless artifact, please do not touch.”  While she continued talking, I could only hear the voice of the Lord telling me to see the value of the broken pieces in my life.  As the guard explained the significance of the broken pieces of the exhibit, I only heard the parallel of my life to the priceless artifacts.  What an awesome revelation!

In 2013, my crumbling walls were about to come down.  I had already lost a dear loved one, I was estranged from my family, long-standing friendships were over, and my career had become stagnant.  This was not expected at this late point in my life and feelings of hopelessness settled in.  Boom! The bulldozer knocked the walls down with a breast cancer diagnosis.  What do I do now with no barrier around me?  No close family, no close friends, a stationary career and no motivation.  Only one thing to do – cry.  After the walls came down, I cried and cried for days until some of the pain was released, and I took time to pray.  I asked the Lord to remove the toxins in my body and in my heart.

The cancer treatment encompassed the whole phase of healing for all my brokenness.  The first part was to accept the cancer diagnosis and all the sadness and disappointment that had occurred.  It did not matter how much I cried, none of what happened would change.  The next phase was to get treated.  No wound can heal well without the proper ointment and dressing.  I had to forgive from my heart not my mind.  I had to forgive myself, forgive others, and ask for forgiveness.  The third phase was to get past the hurt.  It was futile to hold on to sadness and despair when time had moved on.  The scars may still be there, but the pain dissipated.  The final phase was perseverance, keep it moving.  Each day was a new day filled with its own rewards and challenges.  It was a day that was different than the one before and a day that would never come again.

I would not have imagined the brokenness I felt from those heart-rendering experiences to become the nucleus of change in my life.  The value was in the lessons learned.  The value was in acknowledging my shortcomings and failures.  The value was in taking responsibility for my own actions.  The value was in opening my eyes to new possibilities and new experiences.  I feel more valuable today than I did before the diagnosis and the series of misfortunes.  Wherever this journey takes me, I hope it will be a legacy that will inspire others to find value in their brokenness.

 

SingletaryElizabeth

Elizabeth is originally from Boston, Massachusetts, and currently resides in Washington, DC.  Her most passionate pastime is reading and studying the Bible.  She began writing after recovering from breast cancer where she had uncovered some hidden talent at a community writer’s group.  She attended a “Writing for Your Life” writer’s conference, she won an honorable mention for a poetry submission, and she was featured in a workbook for writing a new form of poems called Grid Poems.  Elizabeth’s most profound scripture is 2 Kings 5 because of the lessons on humility, obedience, and respect. Connect with her at msesingletary@gmail.com.

When I Fear I Have Lost My Flavor

When I Fear I Have Lost My Flavor
by Deb Beddoe

Sometimes, discouragement knocks hard on your door and it takes everything in you not to invite it in to share a giant piece of chocolate cake.

Sometimes, you let it in. And you eat the cake. And the leftover spaghetti.

Sometimes, discouragement crawls into your bed and keeps it warm while you drag yourself to make breakfast and get kids to school and waits for you to return and pull the covers over your head.

Sometimes, it sits beside you on the couch and watches brain-sucking cartoons all day while toddlers run round in diapers and cowboy boots and stop all goobery in front of your face to wipe away your tears.

Sometimes, discouragement drives you to work, sits uncomfortably in your chair, stares at a blank screen . . .

When you’ve been sick and it’s gone on for a long time and no one has answers.

When you’ve been fighting battles with your child and every conflict throws failure in your face.

When you’ve worked overtime to finally get ahead and come home to a pile of bills that will set you way back.

When you can’t seem to find where you fit and no one invites and no one asks and no one notices.

When you finally let out the breath you’ve been holding only to discover your addict is at it again.

When you’ve said a thing and can’t take it back.

Discouragement knocks hard, relentless.

Discouragement whispers worthlessness and failure in your ear and says you can’t.

Discouragement spins a friend’s success or happy post into a jealousy or regret.

Discouragement infuses darkness with suffocating questions and tears.

Discouragement chokes out life-giving words and seasons speech with self.

Discouragement tells me I have lost my flavor and am of no good but to be tossed out and trampled.

Can salt be made salty again?

When I fear I have lost my flavor, I disappear

like Moses — into the sand and scorching sun

like Jonah — into the shade of a bitter vine

like a leper — bound by living graveclothes, followed only by a dog

* * * * *

Sunshine beckons me.

I find it on the trampoline in the haven of the backyard, soaking in noontime light and schoolday solitude.

I steel myself to the static shock of the ladder and climb up to lie down and sift through discouragement.

I hear nothing. No words of comfort.

But somewhere, below me, the tide is out.

A breeze passes over sun-warmed sand, mud, shells, carrying the sea to me and I breathe deep . . . inhaling a bit of salty air.

One day I will look back on this season. A season of physical breakdown, a season of letting go of a child, a season of wordlessness, a season of discouragement.

But I am not yet in the looking back.

* * * * *

Turn to me and have mercy, for I am alone and in deep distress. Psalm 25:16

Hear me as I pray, O Lord. Be merciful and answer me!

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”

And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” Psalm 27:8

* * * * *

This morning I remember the thing about discouragement.

How sickness, exhaustion, anger, hurt and loneliness open the door to it.

How it wallows in the past, thrives on lies, heaps on guilt, compares and finds wanting.

How it sucks everything into its mire and drains the world of sunlight and air.

How you could drown in it, whether sea or sand. How you need to be pulled out.

* * * * *

Grace has been shaken over my life.

Sometimes, grace sits beside me long hours in a waiting room.

Sometimes, grace draws me away from my solitude to get some lunch, shares tears over tea.

Sometimes, grace brings dinner, or calls just to hear my voice.

Sometimes, grace comes to me in now grown children who bend down to wrap their arms around me.

Sometimes, grace comes to me in the arms of a husband who awakens to tears in the middle of the night.

Sometimes, grace is felt in the presence of a doctor who listens and sends you for labs and sees you again and again until…until.

Sometimes, grace becomes a permanent fixture on my nightstand, in the pages of survival stories of desert seasons.

When I fear I have lost my flavor, I remember.

Deb Beddoe WWF headshot

Deb Beddoe is an author, editor, bookseller, and pastor’s wife who lives in a little town on the Puget Sound in Washington State. She and her husband Dave have four grown and growing kids, two aging cats, and an embarrassingly large and misbehaved dog. Her book, The Heart of Recovery, is all about the role of community in recovery and the healing properties of compassion. Nature is her favorite place to connect (unless it’s cold) but online you’ll find her most often nurturing her creative soul @the_well_writer on Instagram.

The Artist

The Artist
by Wemi Omotosho

Each blade of grass is a brushstroke on His canvas.
His fauna of diverse beauty of many colours embroidered.
Nature in full swing tells of Him.

The glory of the Divine in shades of greens and happy yellows,
new life springs with His Spirit surge
as flowers bloom and saplings emerge
awakened at the Creator’s command.

Stepping forth from springtime’s grandeur,
the blazing sun marches across firmament of cornflower-blue at the Morning Star’s behest.
Trees clad in verdant hues as clocks of dandelions and floral flags sway,
paying homage in the incalescence.

Vibrant crimson and maroon set trees aglow
as the annual cascade of orange and gold
bathe the land in the dappled leaves of time’s passage.
The autumnal reflection of His power as winter’s chill drifts in.

Dazzling frost of glacial white,
fall from iron grey in a deluge of His love
as trees mourn their loss and creatures slumber
through long nights and shorter days.

Creation is wonderfully perfect in complexity.
Designed by an Artist undiscovered,
nature in full swing tells of Him.
Our God transcendent but with us resident.

 

 

Wemi Omotosho, PhD wears many hats as a scientist, entrepreneur, and writer. Currently, she lives with her husband and two children in London, UK. Wemi is active in her local church as a vocalist in the worship team, a bible study writer, and a coordinator for the PR department. In her downtime, she can usually be found with her nose in a book or writing. Her writings have appeared in (in)courage, Iridescent and Anchored Voices. She is in constant awe of God’s love for her despite her mess. She shares her reflections and poems at www.reflectionsinthemess.com. Instagram: @reflectionsinthemess. Twitter: @WemiOmotosho

Grace in the Growing

Grace in the Growing
by Ashlyn McKayla Ohm

Flowers must be fashioned from forever.

I am a writer, not a gardener, preferring to cultivate sentences rather than seedlings.  So I still cannot understand what compelled me to visit a gardening shop this spring and return with an armful of tiny plants.  Perhaps it was the nagging need to see something, anything, thrive in a season of life that had been grittier than granite.  Regardless, I sank my seedlings in soil and trusted them to time.

But it wasn’t long before I began to see the lesson lettered on their leaves—the sacrament of slow.  It was miraculous, to watch the sprouts gently lengthen, the softly swelling buds open like a kiss, the flowers unfold with pure perfection—all following the tranquil timetable of nature.  After millennia of making, God still fashions each flower as if He has all eternity to do it—which He does.  These are only common garden flowers, brief blooms who won’t last past the summer swing.  Yet He takes His time, painting petals.  Unworried, unhurried, His hands caress as He creates.

I watched and I wondered and I wished that I too could let myself grow slow.

This year has not been easy.  There have been drab days when the sun slipped silent and nights too dark to see the stars.  The story has featured dreams drawn dry and chapters I never chose.  And through it all, I’ve wanted to fast-forward, to wave a wand and skip over the scars and cut to the close, where all was well and flowers fluttered full-bloom.

You see, God’s been growing me, and for me, growing walks hand-in-hand with groaning.

I used to believe that the call of God would immediately catapult me into the humming heart of action.  No delays, no disappointments, certainly no disasters.  My work would be recognized, my heart would be whole, and my wildest dreams would be realized—immediately.  Instead, I am continually readjusting my timetable as God guides me relentlessly past most of my milestones.

I also believed that growing would be gracious—delightful dance, not painful pull.  Is it true what I’ve heard—that the root word of patience means “to suffer”?  And all my fragile flesh shrinks from the scalpel of suffering—the eyes straining to see the hope on the horizon, the legs heavy from marching through monotony.

A few years removed from my nascent naivety, I wonder why I never thought to ask why Christ was called the Suffering Servant, or how I could escape that title if I longed—as indeed I did and still do—to follow Him.

Growing is not glamorous.  Life is a good deal sharper than I had envisioned.  Most weeks, I wrestle weary.  Yet through all my complaints and confusion and contumely, the Master Gardener is still fashioning me.

And perhaps here is where the grace enters the growth.  Perhaps I should pray not for cloudless skies, but for the warmth of nurturing rains.  Perhaps I should try not to thrust myself forward but to dig myself deep into the fertile soil of His Presence.  Perhaps I should concentrate not on how leafy and lush the other plants are but simply on how I can continue to stretch toward His sky.

In a world of waiting, only humans demand that things spring into being overnight.  And only stubborn self whines to skip this season.  Lord of all life, forgive this feeble flower.  Keep growing me in the space where my pain and Your purpose intersect—with the quiet patience that shines in the eyes of all eternity.

 

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A passionate follower of Jesus Christ, Ashlyn McKayla Ohm finds her writing calling where her heart for God and her love for His creation intersect. Born and raised in rural Arkansas on the shoulders of the Ouachita Mountains, she’s most at home where the streetlights die and the pavement ends.  She finds joy in weaving words into messages of hope and healing and is forever grateful that God has given her the gift of not only exploring His beautiful world but also using her words to prayerfully draw others to Him. Follow her adventures at www.wordsfromthewilderness.com or on Instagram and Facebook.

Through A Glass Darkly

Through A Glass Darkly
by Sue Fulmore

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” I Corin. 13:12 KJV

We have a new mirror in our home. It is beautiful, round and gold-rimmed with some etching of leaves along one side.  The only problem is that it distorts what it reflects; in it I am not seeing myself clearly.  It’s not quite a fun-house level distortion, but untrue just the same.

Looking in a mirror, I wonder if it is possible to truly see ourselves or are we caught in the middle place of “seeing through a glass darkly”?  I notice the years are adding up, leaving their traces on my skin, in my hair. I observe that middle age has come upon me with a softening of my body. But I also recognize the essence of who I am cannot be seen in my reflection.  A mirror cannot show the love I hold in my heart, or the times this heart has been broken and mended.  My reflection cannot tell of my struggles to find who I am, the wrestles with doubt and insecurity.  This image in the mirror can never tell the stories I carry, the places I have been, the people I love.

Sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself reflected in a shop window, and do not recognize the person I see. This woman looks confident and sure of her purpose, sometimes she appears young even still.

I think of friends who have had health issues, and wonder how long it takes to recognize yourself again in a mirror once your hair is gone, or parts of your body are no longer with you.

When people meet us, do they see us as we see ourselves in a mirror or do they see someone else?  It is often surprising to hear other’s first impressions of us.  I wonder if they too do not see clearly, or if they, in fact, might see us more truly than we see ourselves.  In an unguarded encounter with other people, we might become a fuller version of ourselves than can be reflected in a flat sheet of glass.

Our friends and even strangers may be able to see a glimpse of the beauty that lies within us, that we are often blind to. They see the growth which we fail to recognize, they see gifts and talents which we are reluctant to own.  My friend can see the image of the Creator in me in ways I cannot.  When I see my smile with crooked teeth, she sees the smile that says, “I am so glad to see you” and her heart is gladdened.

Another is able to recall my faith when it seems to have slipped through my fingers, vanished in the mist. She can remind me of battles won, darkness penetrated, and days when my faith carried her. My friend recounts my faithfulness in mothering when all I see is failure and doubt.

Often, I find myself seeing only the missing parts, all that is lacking, and am blind to all that is good within. We suffer from negativity bias.  All the places we have found ourselves wanting, all the criticisms we have ever received get lodged in our hearts and cause us to see, not the magnificent creation we are, but one hidden under layers of shame and feelings of inferiority. Frederick Buechner asserts, “The original shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead, we live out all the other selves, which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather.”[i]

We need one another to remind us of our original shimmering selves. Could it be this is why we are called into community with one another?  It is our job to look one another in the eyes and say, “you are fearfully and wonderfully made”?  It is the duty of love to spend time searching, underneath the disguises we wear, for a glimpse of God dwelling there in the deepest self.

We know the image imprinted on us from the beginning of time is marred, we are not yet all we are designed to be.  But the Imago Dei is built into every cell of our being.  Every part lovingly stitched together to reflect the source of life and beauty. It is our sight that is faulty, the fog has become too thick, the image too obscured for us to see.  I need you to identity the family resemblances to our Father that I display.

This past year has highlighted ways we differ and community has become fraught with dissension and ideological rifts. We have allowed our differing views to tarnish the sacred in others.  Our ability to recognize the Divine in each other, and treat one another as such, is the only way forward.

Like a mirror, we can reflect back to one another the story of our true worth, clearing some of the darkness.  When I cannot find it within myself, you can look at me and retell the story of who I am. You can call to the deepest truest parts of myself to come to life.  Like Jesus calling to Lazarus to come out of the grave, we call each other to come forth, remove the grave clothes obscuring our faces, and move forward as a community of life-bringers to one another.

This side of the day when all will be made new, we gaze through the fog seeking to find a truer glimpse of ourselves. As we retell one another’s stories, we wipe the fog from the mirror.  We begin to “discover our true self and our calling within community”[ii].

I take the light I have to dispel the fog, and turn to you to light your candle and you turn to another and so on.  We light the way forward for one another until the day comes when all will be clear, then we shall know fully, even as we are fully known.

[i] Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets

[ii] David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself, pg 89

 

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Sue Fulmore is a freelance writer and speaker, seeking to use words to awaken mind and soul to the realities of the present.  Some of her work has been published at Red Letter Christians, The Perennial Gen, Convivium Magazine, Joyful Life Blog, and Asbury Seminary Soul Care Community. Like a prospector panning for gold, she uses her pen to uncover beauty and truth hidden just below the surface of our lives. She is the mother of two adult daughters and lives in sunny Alberta, Canada with her retired husband. You can find her at Instagram and www.suefulmore.com.

The Faces in the Trees

The Faces in the Trees
by Diana Gruver

We walked over to meet her dogs. Our daughter heard them barking, and in response to her insistence, I nestled her in the wagon and we walked down the lane. It wasn’t the first time we’d met a neighbor because of her canine obsession.

We paused by the fence. An apple tree, dotted with the year’s last fading blossoms, spilled over the metal links.

As we talked with our newly acquainted neighbor, I couldn’t help but peer into the yard. It was edenic. Behind the small fenced garden in which she sat, lush grass spread to stone steps leading to the back of an old brick house. Towering over it all was an old maple tree, which cast an oasis of shade with its wide spread. I could hear the gurgle of a small fish pond near its base.

“What a beautiful old tree,” my husband commented.

Our neighbor grunted. “There’s a story behind that tree, you know,” she said. “There was a different tree there once. Back in those days, the couple who used to live here went through a nasty divorce.” She shook her head for emphasis. “She secretly bought the house out from under him at auction. He was so infuriated that he came back later that night and chopped the tree down—and the one in front of the house as well.”

I thought of the angry fury of his ax, of how naked the whole place would have been with a stumpy carnage at its heart.

She continued. “But you know, these trees are pretty resilient. After he cut down the original tree, this one sprouted from the stump.” She gestured over her shoulder. “And you can see what it grew into. It’s so big now, I don’t know how we’d cut it down even if we wanted to.”

***

After I graduated from college, I spend a year living in a group foster care home. My tiny apartment opened into the main hall of the sprawling house, and my kitchen was often full of children and teens in various states of cooking adventures, sewing projects, homework, and heart-to-heart chats. When I think back to my time there now, I am immediately transported back to that kitchen, with its small, slightly wobbly, wooden table. Some of my favorite memories happened there.

In the name of decor, I carefully wrote out the words of songs and Scriptures and taped them to the pale yellow walls. The one I got asked about most frequently hung in front of the kitchen sink, purposefully placed where I would see it throughout the day:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

I needed these words held continuously before me. They were the words I needed to hear each time I heard another story of abuse or loss. They were anchors of hope as I witnessed the effects of trauma—and when I sat at that table exhausted and numb with my own depression. I needed them because they reminded me of the explosive hope of the Gospel—that I follow a God who brings life out of dead things. I needed a continual reminder that my hope isn’t only about freedom from spiritual brokenness, darkness, and captivity. It is also one of the ultimate, tangible restoration, redemption, and remaking of all things, in which justice and wholeness and joy will endure. As I walked among the wreckage of families and innocence and dreams, I needed to believe that resurrection was still possible.

So many times, a pair of dark eyes would seriously scan the words. “What does it mean, Miss Di?” they’d ask. And I would tell them. They’d heard plenty of people tell them about Jesus—usually pale-skinned Americans like myself, visiting for a week, intent on “making a difference for Jesus.” Just ask Jesus into your heart, they were told, and then you’ll go to heaven. But they didn’t just need a message about a God only interested in whisking them away after death. They needed a message about a God who was present with them in suffering. They needed a God who hated the injustice and cruelty they’d suffered—and sent his own Son to set in motion a Kingdom that would finally and fully eradicate all evil. They needed to know their ashes were not the end of the story.

There were plenty of things I’m sure I did wrong during my time there. I was young. I didn’t know as much about trauma as I do now. There were things I should have seen that I was blind to. But I think that maybe, just maybe, this was one of the things I did right. I was staring at ruins, at stumpy carnage. But with every conversation about the Gospel, every time they shared their dreams and we talked about how they could move toward them, every time we talked about finding men who would love them and not abuse them, every time they opened up about something from their past—I could hear Isaiah’s words. I could envision the roots growing deeper, I could see the little sprouts of new growth forming. Oaks of righteous. Strong. Deeply rooted. Welcoming and refreshing others under their shade. A display of God’s redeeming glory.

So on that day, in my neighbor’s yard, I couldn’t stop staring at that tree—because I saw their faces there amidst its branches. And I prayed it might be so.

 

 

Diana Gruver headshot

Diana Gruver (MA, Gordon-Conwell) writes about discipleship and spiritual formation in the every day. She is the author of Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints Who Struggled with Depression and Doubt. Diana lives in Pennsylvania, where she can often be found singing in the kitchen with her husband and ever-curious daughter. You can connect with her at www.dianagruver.com, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Promise

Promise
by Vina Bermudez Mogg

I bought a Meyer lemon tree
last Mother’s day
in memory of my mother.

Meyer lemons favor
a taste sweeter than the ordinary.

I placed this petite seedling
into a clay pot.
A clay pot like the one
she placed geraniums
in the spring.

This tree
carried one lone fruit
into the summer
yellowed leaves
into the fall
withered limbs
into the winter.

I feared my memories of her
would crumble
like these limbs
like her own memory
buried
beneath the brambles
of Alzheimer’s.

Sun warms the darkened
soil of grief.
From the pot of clay
not one, not two, but twelve blooms emerge!
Tender sprigs bend
toward light.

Hope flowers.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Corinthians 5:17

 

Vina Bermudez Mogg is restoring life through words on paper, paint on canvas and reclaimed wood in a century old cottage by the Puget Sound. Numerous stories about empty nesting, motherhood, Alzheimer’s and caregiving, and how it all relates to restoring a 1926 abode can be found on her website, vinabermudezmogg.com.

She has been published in an anthology of essays, The Wonder Years: 40 Women Over 40 on Aging, Faith, Beauty, and Strength, by Leslie Leyland Fields, Ruminate Magazine, and a variety of sites including thewritelaunch.com, Grand Magazine, redbudwritersguild.com, and is a creative editor for mudroomblog.com.

Vina’s loves are her husband and four children and three daughters-in-law, music, paddle boarding, and her cat, Bear.