Last season, we had cherry tomatoes galore, and I planted another round of those and also cucumbers and squash. But 2020 is strange, so a late freeze killed them all. I waited two weeks, and then tried again, this time adding zucchini and vine tomatoes as well.
They’re growing now, slowly inching up and out, thickening in the middle. I’ve been attentive, looking for wilting or discoloration, weeding to keep the ground free of competition, adding just the right amount of water. I want the fruit. There is something so strange in the desire, as if those green and red and yellow globular and oblong shapes of plump flesh can save me.
Last winter I buried our old pumpkins in a corner of the garden, and I can see the spread, wonder if they will hog the soil. My mint, rosemary and lemon balm are growing in the gaps and spreading fast too; they'll probably have to be curbed.
My oldest is fourteen, about the age when one desires to sever or at least loosen ties to family. He has been stuck with us since March. He needs to grow, but is being stifled. We’ve been playing ball in the street and yard, but I’m not a teenager anymore. I guess my cool factor has diminished. What!?!
My middle sons are two years apart, and competitive. They come to blows over the silliest things yet sometimes fall asleep side by side in embrace. They can’t get out of each other’s way, and don’t seem to try. Both have an abundance of scratches and scars testifying to their constant jostling and affection.
My youngest has begun to hit us with the Mutombo finger-wag and accompanying “No, no, no,” and when chastised, responds, “I’m not talking to you.” He is constantly playing with his Star Wars legos, and we’re pretty sure he thinks he’s the Emperor around here.
My wife has been working non-stop trying to make home a haven, cooking wondrous meals and ordering the house each day. I love her, I’m lucky, and I’m filled with gratitude.
But we get on each other’s nerves too, you know. I used to leave five days a week, and give her a break. So did the kids. And she’s an extrovert, so she’d sure like to see some new faces. I’m a loner, so I’d like to go find a green cliff on an island in the middle of nowhere for a few days. I might bring books. And Coffee.
We’re all still trying to live, still trying to flourish in our little container garden, striving toward the light, but we’re on top of each other, and whether we like it or not, we’ve been forced to look hard and honest at our weeds. They have to go. There is no room.
I learned a lot in my landscaping days with my dad (he would have turned 72 today-love you and miss you, Pops – memory eternal!).
I pulled millions (probably trillions) of weeds. If allowed to fester too long, weed roots become entwined with the plants you want to keep. Sometimes, despite your most surgical efforts, some of what is good is also torn, damaged. Pulling the weeds sometimes brings destruction. But left alone, weeds will consume everything.
This time is a drag in so many ways, some physical, and many emotional and spiritual.
Here’s to looking forward to a bountiful harvest.
When this started, I thought I’d write a whole novel. I remember seeing a lot of memes about folks dreaming of perfect bods or second and third languages, PhD's or decks and pools. That was before the cloud kept darkening. I hear people are snatching up pets for comfort. We’re just trying to get through.
I pray mercy for us all. There is little room to escape the honest look right now. We can’t hide from ourselves, and tough choices have to be made. Mainly, we have to surrender, and then there can be rest, and fruit.
“Take my yolk upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yolk is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:29-30
“But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” – Galatians 5:22-23
In several weeks, I’ll have to increase my vigilance around the plants. Scavengers will be coming for easy pickings. You’ll have to protect what you’ve gained, too.
Take care, and press on.
"Let's Be Friends" - A Review
Our contemporary Christian church era is one of skepticism, questioning, doubt and wandering. These strains take an emotional and intellectual toll on believers far and wide, and the reactions of individuals vary widely. Some leave the faith altogether, rejecting old ways as useless and false at best and corrupt and harmful at worst. Others are bewildered, and waver between belief and despair. Many churchgoers dig deep, doubling down on their traditions and building walls against anyone outside their own denominations. Anyone who spends a few hours scrolling faith discussions via Social Networks will come away wearied and pained by the spiritual drama of our time.
In Not All Who Wander (Spiritually) Are Lost (A Story Of Church), Traci Rhoades offers a refreshing outlook that both honors the best things within her own traditions and also encourages the reader to seek answers and joy among their brethren of various faith expressions.
The main storyline is a personal one, and the reader follows Ms. Rhoades from a small country Methodist church in Missouri, where the doors were always unlocked and she learned to pray as a little girl, to a megachurch in a big city and to church plants and everywhere in between. Along the way, she first encounters and then seeks out those traditions she’d been informally catechized to distrust. She finds out those prejudices were wrong, and much of her wandering is a purposeful search to find out how various groups love God.
This comes from a deep recognition that while her own upbringing is rich, she is missing some things that are ancient anchors of belief, that have carried the saints through all ages into greater knowledge and love of God. So she sets out, searching for these great treasures:
“If I’m being completely honest, sometimes I feel cheated by the faith of my childhood. It was life-giving in so many ways, but I didn’t learn anything about church history or ancient traditions…Crossing oneself, ancient prayers, anointing the sick, confessing our sins to another, lamenting…these acts are a part of our heritage too, and can add a richness to one’s faith.”
This book is not, however, a naïve cherry-picking of the happy. It does not keep the sorrow and hurt of life in general or life in church hidden. Rather, Ms. Rhoades makes it clear that she has been wounded, disappointed and disillusioned at times by individuals and collectives of those beside whom she’d lived her faith. Anyone who has been burned will immediately sense her sorrow. Yet, in the closing paragraph of the first chapter, Ms. Rhoades makes clear her position regarding these wounds:
“If you’re in the church long enough, it will disappoint you, I promise. The way I always saw it, that disappointment left me with choices. I could stick it out and try to make a positive change in the church I attended. I could determine the fellowship was broken enough I needed to find a new church home. Or I could ultimately decide God was to blame for the hurt and suffering, causing me to abandon church altogether. This last choice never seemed a viable option to me.”
One of the blessings of this book is that Ms. Rhoades has generously offered the stories of sixteen other wanderers. Most of these individuals have taken similar journeys, but some simply offer the stories of their own tradition, and the deep joy and harbor that they’ve known. Few authors would devote so many of their pages to other writers. Yet, for Ms. Rhoades, this is the story - multi-denominational voices singing in numerous and beautiful ways their hope and love for the divine.
It harkens to the beautiful meaning behind the iconography in some liturgical traditions she explores. By loving our neighbor, venerating their faith and humility, we’ve loved God. This is what Ms. Rhoades does again and again in the pages of this edifying book. The introduction is entitled “Let’s Be Friends”, and that is the spirit of the book and also in the dialogue one can find in Ms. Rhoades’s online discourse as well.
This is a book of hope.
The reader can almost hear the rising intensity of joy and longing in Ms. Rhoades’s voice as she brings the final chapter and epilogue to the joyous conclusion that perhaps we can find a way to love one another, offering and accepting gifts that lead us into great unity in the faith, and love for God.
If you wander, if you have been wounded in church, if you want encouragement in your meandering, and perhaps limping journey of faith, then Not All Who Wander (Spiritually) Are Lost (A Story Of Church) will be a balm to your soul.
For All the Queens
Last night, I had several horrible dreams. In one, I had a heart attack. Another had me leading my sons through a massive abandoned skyscraper full of aggressive monsters, and the third had me unraveling a predator’s plot against one of my sons. Pretty bleek and disturbing.
Bet I’m not the only one having bad dreams.
I woke in the dark, and the twilight of my consciousness was filled with Odysseus and his strange and seemingly endless journey, filled with obstacles and setbacks. The never-ending feeling of it all is familiar these days.
When I thought to put these strange mental wanderings down on paper, I wanted to consider all those terrible things, recall Scylla and the Whirlpool, the Cyclops and the Sirens, the Seductresses and Cannibals. We’ve got all that, too, all that suffering and loss.
Or, the Lotus Eaters, binging distraction until they die, forgetful of their dreams.
Grief and disappointment, self-made or inflicted, were real themes nearly 3,000 years ago too.
What about that time when poor Odysseus was sleeping restfully, nearly home, back to normal (whatever that is) and his greedy bonehead sailors pillaged his bag of winds and everything had to start all over. Seemed pertinent for today.
But this is a special and important day, and I won’t be asking the ladies to sit quiet in the back while I highlight some dude. I’d like to focus on Penelope, whose story is an important key for us today.
Odysseus was gone two decades, important ones for Telemachus, their son, and Penelope did all of the heavy parenting. Brave Odysseus, we always consider his perseverance, his determination to find his way home.
What of his wife, raising a boy on her own, fending off ravenous and groping suitors who wanted to use her and destroy her child. For much of the story she carries grief, thinking her husband has died.
Unlike Odysseus, who needed a little comfort from goddesses along the way, Penelope puts her son first, and forgoes her personal need for touch. She holds tenaciously to the long view, even when all hope seems gone.
Not only does Penelope raise a son and hold off the lusty young lads. She had to run a kingdom, by the way.
I’m privileged in the wonderful ladies of my life. From Moddie Kirk (‘Ma’ - my great-grandma) to Ellen Gartrelle (‘MaMa’ – my grandma) to Marilyn Leigh (my Momma) to my wife Jessica Maria, I’ve rubbed shoulders and hearts with a litany of strong, intelligent Queens, running their kingdoms with wondrous efficiency and patience, always with a dash of love.
I’m also a teacher of twenty-one seasons, which has allowed me to see up close the excellence with which so many teacher-moms have cared for the children of others while still loving and sacrificing for their own. I’ve been blessed to see many of these wise moms travel the valley of sorrow and anxiety with their sons and daughters, coming out the other side rejoicing. Cheers, ladies, and thank you – I’ve learned so much listening to your words and your hearts.
We’ve been asked to stay at home. No adventures or quests today, or probably tomorrow, and perhaps not even in a few weeks or months. We’re carrying grief, and fear is lurking in the uncertainty of the future.
We might look to Odysseus and emphasize slogging on until we make it home. Sure, but perhaps a better focus is on staying home, keeping the flame of hope burning indefinitely, no matter what may come. Perhaps we should commemorate those whose uncertain waiting is so valorous.
This weekend, one of our sons deceived us, rode his bike clear across town (don’t think my old West Texas hometown of Borger – we live in New Jersey, traffic capital of the US) with no helmet, taking roads that are dangerous to the wary rider, much less the invincible and reckless teen. For me, the disappointment was more about the deception. I mean, he was on an adventure, exploring, right?
For my wife Jessica, it was like a sucker punch. She kept replaying all of the ways he could have been harmed, or lost. There is a deep, soulful way a mother loves.
Mom’s have the wisdom to love past the faults, or, rather, through the storm of failings that inevitably come. Mom’s also know how to love in the darkness of unknowing.
Mom’s know how to be brave in the midst of sorrow. And, they know how to be tender. No one, sick as a dog, lying in their bed, is wishing for their Pops. Nope, we want Momma. We need her.
We need you now, Queens. Your example of steady under pressure in the face of indefinite ends is the road map. Thank you, and pray for us.
"Examine all things; hold on to the good."
-Saint Paul the Apostle