I realized, while hiking to Mosquito Falls (blessedly a misnomer—the mosquito part, that is), that Dan and I tend to take a lot of pretty ordinary walks. Rarely do our walks take us anywhere breathtaking or magnificent, in the grand, panoramic sort of way. We walk around the block. We hike the perimeter of the lake his parents live on, watching the pair of sand cranes pick their way through the reeds.
Even when traveling, we tend to choose fairly pedestrian hikes. Last week, while camping in the UP near Pictured Rocks (not a misnomer—quite picturesque, those rocks), we decided on a moderate hike to Mosquito Falls. It was listed among worthwhile waterfalls to visit, but it wasn’t the biggest or the most voluminous or the highest. The hike didn’t include any sweeping vistas. We were mostly bounded by trees, cool and mossy, with loam and stones underfoot.
As we walked (hike is even too grand a word for what we did), I pondered the soul-discipline that is the ordinary walk. Maybe, in the same way that summer camp spiritual highs aren’t all that useful in the end, hikes that culminate in spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime views don’t shape our souls the way daily walks do. For the better part of the past year, Dan and I took our walks on cracked sidewalks under trees with limbs hacked in half to make room for the power lines that ran past houses whose inhabitants didn’t bother to garden or even, on occasion, mow. And yet it was on that sidewalk that we held hands (we were supposed to be training for a run) and laughed in amazement at the tiny little line we’d seen that morning that meant we’d be parents.
I also realized, once we arrived at the falls, that waterfalls are places worth seeing because of the disturbances there. The boulders beneath the surface, the trees that have fallen—these disrupt the flow and create beauty. Who would’ve thought! Perfectly still water is boring. But water that is agitated, rippled by wind and troubled by stones—that water draws us.
There’s a metaphor sitting right on the surface, waiting for me to pick it up and take it to heart.
It’s complete madness and hubris to bring a new life into the world. What authority do we have to create? To call a life into existence? Living is much too fraught with heartache and hopelessness to bring forth life flippantly. Making a person seems not so much like taking a risk as giving a risk to another.
And yet! He will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground (Isaiah 30:23). From beginning to end, it’s not in our hands. The Lord is the Creator. We create, too, but only because he does. If he withheld his creative power, no new life would come into being and all existing life would shrivel up instantly.
Oh, Jesus knows how fraught with heartache and hopelessness this life can be. He also knows how full of beauty and delight it is! Meteor showers! Slimy black slugs! Plant propogation! What wonder! Backrubs and family breakfasts! What intimacy! Without existence, we’d never know any of that.
And that’s why, though I think we’re mad, I’m also eager for the life Dan and I have been given to bring into the world. We get the privilege of introducing this person to life: to Breathe Owl Breathe and ripe peaches and Lisbeth Zwerger. We get to show this person the soft, spreading moss that clings to the north side of tree trunks. We get to share molten chocolate lava cake. We get to read The Little House and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and sing lullabies that always bring sleep.
Dan and I will also get to discover so much anew. The curiosity of this person, his or her creativity and character, will introduce us to things we’ve maybe never known or noticed. New songs, new books, new constellations, new creatures, new kinds of love.
We are eager.
Dan’s grandfather passed away in mid-May. I offered this prayer at his funeral service.
Eternal God, shepherd of your people,
we feel the fleeting passage of life:
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades…
We give thanks to you for the flowers of the field while they last.
Thank you for the life of Howard Claus,
for his good humor, his steadfastness, his generosity, his love.
Thank you for the gift he has been to us,
for the chance we had to share this life with him
and to know him.
But now we grieve.
The grass has withered, the flower has faded,
and we are in need of your comfort, Lord.
Speak tenderly to us,
especially to those closest to Howard who feel his absence most acutely.
In these early days and weeks following Howard‘s death,
feed us like a shepherd,
gather us in your arms,
and carry us in your bosom.
Only there, close to your heart,
will we find refuge and strength in you.
Though Howard‘s death has felt as if the earth is shaking,
as though the mountains are slipping into the sea,
as though the waters are roaring and foaming,
you are our ever present help in time of trouble.
You stand forever.
Care for us until the day
when we will greet Howard again
and see you face to face.
In Christ’s name,
When God exhaled at Pentecost,
first came the wild wind,
and then you rested like a tongue of fire
on the head of each person gathered there.
Those tongues bobbed and flickered
and warmed the hearts of those on whom they rested,
the same people who suddenly spoke and heard
in a hundred different tongues,
familiar tongues, strange tongues,
each one bearing witness to the Son.
May you rest upon us always,
Holy Spirit, Holy Flame,
kindling in us souls
that burn with a desire to know you,
to tell of your work.
Make us brave,
make us articulate,
make us reflections of your light.
And with your Word, illumine for us our lives.
Blaze brightly, Spirit.
The photo at the top is a photo of our students taken during the final chapel sermon that Dan and I preached at Hope College. We love those people and that place.
I am just having too much fun not to show you.
If I skip writing in favor of photography and watercolors, I may never rack up 10,000 hours. But who cares? I’m not Writer, I’m Grace. And my love for this world is omnivorous. I’m a dabbler, not a master.
Dabbling doesn’t leave room for mastery in every area. Or even adequacy, to be honest. Each time I try something new, the master says, “Just ten minutes a day! Ten minutes a day and you’ll keep the words flowing / you’ll develop a more observant eye / your heart will stay healthy / your limbs will grow strong / you won’t lose your Greek / you’ll expand your vocabulary / you’ll have that Beethoven down in no time. Just ten minutes!”
Oh, but can you imagine that routine??
Ten minutes x a zillion well-intentioned activities = too many hours for my day.
So I settle for mediocrity. I dabble. There aren’t many things I do for ten minutes a day for more than two days in a row. Which makes me an unremarkable painter, a decent writer, a pretty good breadmaker, an average gardener. But I love them all! I couldn’t give them up.
I’d like to think that dabbling makes me interesting. That exposure to so many things has a cross-deepening effect. Each informs the others.
Though I haven’t been writing with as much discipline lately (certainly not ten minutes a day), I have been painting.
Nope, I have next to no idea what I’m doing. Don’t know how to mix colors or how to hold my brush, much less how to translate the loveliness of life into color and light and shadow and shape. That watercolor cyclomen up there? Give it a mauve mat and a gold frame and you’d have yourself a great piece of eighties hotel decor.
But getting to paint a quick sketch of the boots I bought with the birthday money from my grandmas and send it to them to show what I picked? Yep, it’s been pretty fun.
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We circle back around, now that we know what has happened. Jesus is risen, and we cannot contemplate forever. Like the women, like the disciples, we go, moving into the places that Christ has been, into the places his Spirit is. Christ’s life gives us life.
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Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
against an ungodly people;
from those who are deceitful and unjust deliver me!
For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
why have you cast me off?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because of the oppression of the enemy?
O send out your light and your truth;
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling. . .
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
Refuge: a strange word for Holy Saturday, when the stone of the tomb seems cold and mute, not a place to take refuge. A day when all we know is that you have cast us off, not that there will be a day when we shall again praise you. You sent out your light and your truth, but they were snuffed out on Golgotha. There’s no indication that they will ever lead us to your holy hill.
For now, we will huddle in the shadow of the tomb, mourning and waiting.
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And can it be?
Can it be that I should gain an interest in your blood?
That your death prospers my life?
That your hour of greatest poverty is also your hour of greatest prosperity?
That on this day of darkness, of despair and confusion, the light still shines?
The darkness, no matter how deep, cannot overcome it.
Praise to the Lord.
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The first rainstorm of spring.
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The buds for next spring have already formed on the branches by late fall.
I’ve been holding those words close these days, after I read them on a card at a friend’s house. The strange winter wilderness of not knowing still surrounds us. We can’t see the fruit yet. Not even the first green shoots. Just bare branches and blank sky.
But the little nubbin of life already exists. Sprouts and leaves and flowers and whole trees are ahead for us. God is calling us to flourish, though the reality of winter feels more real than the memory of last spring. Every year, we forget. Every season is brand new, again.
God designed the world to work this way. God prepares the trees for new life before they even go dormant. He knows what’s ahead. But he asks us to make it through winter before we can sink into spring.
Oh, we are ready. If we hear one little bird call, if the ground warms one more degree, if the sun shines for another minute, we’ll be ready to burst into bloom.
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