A Wing and A Prayer

IMG_20150419_080413Fifteen years ago we moved into this beaten down home. We knew the home would need a lot of TLC, time, and money, and in truth, it has taken all three.

For instance, when we first took up residence, the yard was a bare landscape, with only two pine trees in the back and lots of thistle in the flower bed (yes, one flower bed).  Surrounding the property was a broken down fence made up of picket, wire mesh, and another layer of picket.  The grass was spotty, gravel was used as landscaping cover, and a 12-foot tall street light (an ACTUAL street light) was shining brightly in the middle of the back yard.

After a decade and a half of hard work, planting more than two dozen bushes and 18 varieties of trees, we now have a beautiful oasis, perfect for hosting parties on beautiful spring days, sitting quietly in warm the evening shade, or sipping coffee in the cool shade of the early morning.

The change in plantings has also created a sanctuary for wildlife.  We now have squirrels raiding the feeder on a regular basis and bunnies munching on dewy clover.  We also can now enjoy for more than 30 species of birds of every shape and size: From speeding Hummingbirds to lazy Turkey Vultures.  From scolding Blue Jays to a comical pair of Mallards (named Fred and Ethel). From opportunistic Brown-headed Cow Birds to deadly silent Coopers Hawk.  Each one finds it’s place in the proverbial pecking order.

Beyond the visitors to the yard, we now have families taking up residence in Austin’s Acre.  This year, brooding pairs include House Sparrows, Robins, Grackles, Carolina Wrens, Mourning Doves, and a very loud and nervous pair of Chickadee. And as spring quickly turns to summer, I can only marvel at the wonderful wildlife that calls our yard their home. It is only possible because we took the time to turn the barren back yard into a heavenly hideaway for my aviary friends.

Star Gazing

17991487168I believe the soul is the very being of who you are.  It is the essence of your existence.  It is the principal of your presence.  It matters more than anything…and I mean, more than ANYTHING.  More than your job, more than your house, more than your car, more than your marriage, more than your family, even more than your dog.  And, if this is true, and I’m just thinking out loud, but if this is true…why do we waste time on things that do not feed our soul?  Why do we invest in things that distract us from becoming who we are truly meant to be at the very center of our spirit?

Why don’t we create a space in our life, our home, our work, our commute, and our relationships that feeds this soul, this part of us that will move from this world to the next even as our bodies lie rotting in the grave?  Why instead, do we seek to entertain and numb the senses?  Why do we stress about the money and the drive and the work and the bills and the, and the, and the?  Why don’t we look for ways to renew our soul, to feed the very core of our beings?  Why don’t we seek solace?  Why don’t we pursue purpose?  Why don’t we want wisdom?  Why don’t we ask for answers?

As I write this, I am attending a day-long personal Advent retreat.  I am sitting alone in a cloistered room in the upper level of this three-story, turn-of-the-century home studying the Christmas story and the Wise Men who so committedly pursued the star in the sky in order to see a king in a stable.  It was their purpose.  It was their passion.

This amazing home and the time “away” has giving me the opportunity to reflect on the “Stars” in my own life; those things which guide me into the presence of God.  They may be people, events, places, or even experiences.  And to be honest, as I’ve pondered this idea and searched for the guiding light of my life, I’ve realized that, sadly, I have very few.  Or rather, I am aware of very few: I suspect the stars are there but I’m simply unable to see them clearly.  I’m too distracted by the blinding glare of the false illumination in my world.

I am reminded of our trip to Yellowstone Park in 2009.  We were driving from one end of the park to the other and because of the heavy traffic and the great distance, we found ourselves shy of our destination very late at night in a high plateau in the park. There were no cities, no street lights, and no other cars for miles.  We were there, alone, in the darkness.  We stopped the car and turned out all the lights and sat on the hood, looking up into a sky that was unlike any I’d ever seen before.  Without man-made ambient light to limit our vision, we were able to see stars in a way we’d never seen them before.  The clarity and intensity of those heavenly bodies was breath-taking.  They spanned the night sky and left us at a loss for words, in awe of their scope and grandeur.

As I think about the search for stars in my life that leads me, I realize that there is no time in my life when I am not blinded by the ambient distractions a busy world.  Understand, I don’t blame anyone but myself.  I’ve erected the lights.  I’ve cultivated the distractions.  I’ve created the lack of space and time for careful observation and sky gazing.

The sad truth is that I fail to carve out time that is purely committed to this endeavor.  Instead, I fill my hours with television, movies, busy work, worry and games – as many distractions as possible, diversions of every kind.  As a result, I fail to feed by soul, exercise my body, and manage my physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

And so, it begs the question:  What would I need to do to renew my soul on a daily basis?  What space do I need to create that will allow me to find peace, discover grace, and feed my soul?  And if you are like me, and I suspect you are, what do you need to do?  What space do you need to create?

Let’s be honest; when is the last time you truly looked at the stars?

Owls and Squirrels and Peace of Mind

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My view this past week. Many thanks to the property owner who allowed me to hide among the trees and renew my soul.

Twelve days of vacation; I needed it more than I knew.  And it was glorious.  I had no real agenda.  There were no exotic travel plans. My greatest desire during my scheduled time off was to spend as many hours as possible sitting in the woods, waiting for a deer to wander past.  If my view was good and my aim was true, I would come home with meat for my freezer and a story to tell my family. Fully decked out in camouflage, I had my bow, warm gloves and a great hiding place.  I was ready.

However, I suspect the deer were on to me.  They spread the news.  They sounded the alert.  And much to my Bambi-loving friends’ delight, I didn’t see one deer during my entire vacation.  I didn’t see one in the woods, or beside the road driving back and forth, or near my neighborhood, or even in my dreams.  So, when people ask if I went hunting, I have to respond that I am anything but a hunter.  I’m just a guy who enjoys looking at trees and nature…and I’m okay with that.

In truth, while unsuccessful at the hunt, the experience was unparalleled in it’s impact on my heart and my soul.

Each morning I would leave my home at 5:15 and drive the hour-and-a-half to this fantastic piece of property that boasts deep woods, rolling prairie, cornfields, marsh and pond.  I gathered my belongings from the car and stood in the darkness, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the black.  I would then hike into the woods, allowing at least forty-five minutes before daylight.  Finding my spot on the bucket next to the tree, I would prepare my space, set my bow, hang my pack, and lean back against the strong Maple, ready to listen and wait.

One morning, in the darkness of those woods, I enjoyed Barred Owls calling their familiar “who-cooks-for-you” as it mixed with the Eastern Screech Owls calling back and forth.  Finally, with the brusqueness of an old uncle and as if to tell them all to quiet down, the Great Horned Owl made his presence known.  The woods once again became quiet.

The light rising over the Randolph County farmland illuminated a rainbow of colors on rain-dappled leaves and dew covered grasses.  It reflected beautifully off the small, lily-covered pond, as steam rose gracefully off the surface and into the chilled morning air.  The breezes blowing over the cornfields and up the hill created a song, a chorus of sound; a rustle of dry corn, the clicking of limbs high overhead, the rhythmic drum of the windmill as it turned in time with the wind.  The birds flying from tree to tree, branch to branch entertained and dazzled with their aerial acrobatics and enthusiastic calls and songs.  It was magical.

As the sun came up over the horizon, the rest of the woodland world came to life.  Squirrels chased one another and investigated the forest floor.  Two Pileated Woodpeckers called to one another and met in a grove of trees just forty yards from my position.  They shifted up and down large Hickory and then flew off in a rage, only to return and repeat the performance.  Canada Geese passed overhead in V-formations, honking furiously to one another as they prepare for their long flight to warmer climates.  Chickadee, Downy Woodpeckers, Mourning Dove and Nuthatch dotted the landscape, searching for breakfast and making quite a show.

No, I didn’t see any deer.  But in the end, I realized I didn’t need to.  This vacation was a retreat for my soul.  It heightened my senses.  It awakened my spirit more than I could ever have imagined or hoped.  Each day was a blessing and I’m so grateful for the time.

I’m a Mountain Man

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Mount Rainier, 2014.

If you were to give me a choice between a vacation on the beach, lounging on surf and sand, or a vacation in the mountains, hiking hill and dale, I would chose the mountains, hands down, without question, every single time.  It’s not that I hate the beach.  I love the ocean, the surf, and the birds.  But there is something about the majestic beauty of the mountains that calls to my soul. Perhaps it is the way they change in shape and form with every angle.  It might be the way they hide in a mist of cloud and fog one moment yet suddenly tower above you in the bright light of day a moment later.

A mountain is visible from hundreds of miles away and appears to be so close you can touch it, but the harder you try to find it, the further away it feels.  And, while climbing a mountain gives me the sensation of a slight heart attack, it also fills my heart with  joy: Flora and fauna surround.  Ice and snow turn into babbling brooks and gurgling streams.  There is no sound but that of the mountain, its inhabitants, and the wind blowing through the pines.  Ah, be still my heart.

Over the years we’ve found ourselves in the mountains all across this great country.  We’ve poked along the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains.  We’ve traversed the Rockies, scaling the Flatirons on Green Mountain and cogging our way up to the top of Pike’s Peak.  We’ve lounged in the Adirondacks, lost our breath in the Tetons and celebrated beauty in the Cascades.  Even with these adventures, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the possible heights we can explore.

You can keep your theme parks and big cities.  You can have the waves on the beach.  You can forget fancy hotels and high-end boutiques.  I’ll stand on a granite peak every time.  Sure, the air is thin and the climb takes effort; but isn’t that the truth about everything worthwhile?  We have to work to get there and in the end, when we take a moment to look down from the summit, it takes our breath away.

 

Day 288 – Church, Again

2013-12-08 ChurchFrom my childhood to the present day, church has played an important role in my life.  It is a place where I connect to friends, find a sense of calm, and meet my God.  It isn’t for everyone, and I get that.  Church also brings a sense of frustration for many.  History, disappointment and intolerance all make the church setting a challenge for some.

But for me, it is a place of renewal and hope.  Sunday mornings set a good tone for my day and it often lasts late into the week. 

We all need a place to find a center and a peace.  For me, on this day, that place is my church.  Thank you, God.

 

 

 

Day 276 – Sunrise, Sunset

20131125_075306Yesterday morning broke bright and clear and the day only got better as the hours passed.

Have you ever had a day when you accomplish very little and felt very good about it?  That was my day yesterday.  I awoke very, very early and traveled to the gym with my wife and worked out for an hour or so.  It felt good to be alive.

On my way home, I stopped by post office, dropped off some movies at the local Redbox and purchased some fruit and spinach (yum).  Once home, I started my activities of reading, writing, and school work.  I spent a large portion of my day sitting in my lounge chair watching Christmas movies (I start every season with Die Hard) and my computer on my lap.  And ya’ know what?  I’m good with that. I need down time.  I need to put my feet up.  I need to relax from time to time.

And that down time paid off!  Today I awake fully rejuvenated by the prior day of rest.  I can move both my arms again (read prior post), I already have a load of laundry in the machines, the dishes are clean and despite just starting it last night, I finished one of my favorite books of all time:  Charlotte’s Web.  It’s not even seven in the morning and I’m hard at it with a coffee mug in my hand, my laundry in the other, and a smile wide across my face.

Yes, this is going to be a great day.

Grace House

Dinner Table

There are a few places in my life that bring deep peace to my heart and soul.  When I enter the space, I find comfort and ease.  Some of these sanctuaries of solace include the obvious locations:  The Chapel in the hospital and my church auditorium.

Others are more obscure:  McGregor Park, Turkey Run State Park, The Rocky Mountains, The Library.  But one haven of healing stands out above all others.

Of all my precious asylums, our abode is my favorite.  Our house is nothing short of a retreat center for my spirit, a balm for my soul.  It is a residence of rest, a hearth of harmony, a quarter of quiet.  Our home is a dear and wonderful place of tranquility and renewal.

I’m not exactly sure what makes this place so magical to my weary heart.  It might be the way the light shines through the dining room window on a late autumn evening.  It could be the way the grass grows in the back yard, thick and lush even on dry summer days.  It is possible that it is the amazingly warm and inviting colors we’ve painted the walls.  Or, most probably, it is the love and trust we’ve honed over the past thirteen years in this a little, vinyl-sided structure planted on a cul-de-sac in a norther-Indianapolis suburb.

Whatever it is that creates the mystery of this mansion, this house is more than my home.  It is my sanctuary: A place of grace.  It is “Grace House”…my place of safety and strength. And I love it, dearly.

Life Together

Everyone needs a place to call their own.  Everyone needs a group of people who know them, support them and love them.  To quote the theme song from Cheers, “You wanna go where everybody knows your name.”

For my family, our church’s small group has been that place for the past decade.  We’ve fallen in love with these people over the years.  Through good and bad, thick and thin, we’ve shared life.  Together.  It hasn’t always been easy.  But it has always been good.

Last night was another opportunity to gather, laugh, study and pray.  It was another reminder of the privilege we have to share this time in our lives.  These are special people and I can’t imagine my life without them.

My Morning on the Patio

IMG_4016I’m sitting here on my patio, listening to the trickle of water from my fountain and feeling the cool morning breeze on my face.  This is where I want to be.  There’s nothing else I want to do.  I want to stay here all day.  I want to pretend that I have no responsibilities at all.

But that just isn’t how I function.  Instead, I’ve already made a to-do list of at least nine different actions that must take place today to prepare me for the rest of the week.  I’ve mentally shifted from restful Sunday morning to task-oriented Monday-through-Friday.  I have to make calls.  I have to prep equipment.  I must clean parts of the house.  I should wash clothes and clean my garage.

There is so much to do, so many tasks, so few hours in a day to get it all done…

But then, it will never all get done.  Will it?  Isn’t there ALWAYS something else on the list of Life’s To-Do’s?  Sure, I’ll do some things to make my next week a little easier.  But I don’t have to do it all in one day.  And after reviewing the list, I see that half of the items can be done another day.  One third of the remaining list will take little or no effort.

And in their place I scratch a new list:  Go to church, read a book, walk with my wife, play chess with my son, and meditate 15 minutes.  If I accomplish these items, I will have really done something great.  In fact, I would argue that this is a much better list and one I can easily live with on a beautiful Sunday morning.

Think Positive Thoughts

Another beautiful sunset in my back yard offered an evening of peaceful reflection.
Another beautiful sunset last night offered an evening of peaceful reflection.

I tried my first “Mindful Meditation” today.  I liked it.  I liked it a lot!  The gentle voice, the quiet moments, the guided imagery were all a good start to my day.

I always believed meditation to be similar to the scene in “What About Bob” when he is walking down the street, trying to reassure himself that all the world’s chaos and dirt won’t affect him.  Over and over he repeats the phrase, “I feel good.  I feel great.  I feel wonderful.  I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful.”  His tension rises, despite the self-talk.  Rather than convincing himself of his own  security, the phrase reveals his true anxiety and high level of insecurity.

To my surprise, today’s meditation was nothing like the movie.  It was less about me and the process of easing my tensions and anxiety, and more about others and their well-being.  I was guided to think about someone for whom I have warm, tender and compassionate feelings.  Immediately, my wife’s smiling face appeared in my mind’s eye.  The guided meditation led me to repeat four phrases to my loved one throughout the fifteen minute session:

1. May you feel safe.

2. May you feel happy.

3. May you feel healthy.

4. May you live in ease.

While the meditation asked me to extend these feelings to the other, “like a golden ribbon unfurling”, I really saw it more as a prayer, lifted to heaven for my wife, and then to my friend Dave, and finally to all those I know and love.

I thought this was wonderful.  After all, isn’t it our greatest desire that those in our lives might feel safe…and more importantly, BE safe?  Don’t we desire that they will feel and be happy?  Don’t we hope that each and every one will both feel and be healthy?  Of course we do.

But I kept landing on that last phrase.  May my wife live in ease.  I’m sure this doesn’t mean a life of wealth surrounded by footmen and maids.  It has nothing to do with power or possession.  It has everything to do with living with a heart filled with peace; each day a burden-free step along the journey of life.

And when my time was over, I really did hope these things for my loved ones.  I really did wish that each person would find safety, happiness, health and ease during their days.  I prayed that their hearts would be light, their souls free of care, their minds clear and filled with purpose.

At the end of the fifteen minutes, I opened my eyes and determined that, as much as it is in my power, I would continue to make these desires come true in their lives.

And oddly enough, when it was over, I did feel good. I did feel great.  In fact, I felt wonderful.