Archive for the ‘hope’ Category

[This was written in May, but I’ve been a little slow posting. And then the site was misbehaving. So my apologies for a post on spring, when it’s now the middle of summer…]

Spring is probably my favorite time of year, because it is a time of new beginnings. Plants shoot out from the earth, changing the bland winter landscape. Leaves open up on trees in a million different shades of green. Flowers bloom in whites and pinks, yellows and blues, reds and oranges, then drop their blossoms like multi-colored snow onto the ground. Everything is growing, and it feels like I can grow and change, too.

I plant my garden in the spring with the perennial hope that this will be the year I control the weeds. This will be the year I get the rows mulched early and have a garden that looks like something in a gardening magazine. Yeah, it never works out that way—those nasty weeds always invade. But in the spring, it all seems possible. Even after years of experience, that hope never dies.

Hope. It is the one thing that keeps us going. Hope has sustained me through this long, long past year. Hope that the virus will be overcome, that isolation will end, that we will be able to see our sons, daughters-in-law, and grandsons. Before long, that hope will be realized. Our airline tickets are purchased, and I can hardly wait to wrap my arms around those I love. Just a little longer to wait. [And it was a wonderful visit!]

Hope can sustain us through difficult times. Not just isolation, but sickness, loss and grief, all kinds of tragedy. As Christians, we have the greatest hope of all, one that will take us beyond this life. I am so very grateful for that Hope, celebrated each spring at Easter.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” – Desmond Tutu

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snowy-woodsSnow falls silently in the darkness, covering the ground, piling up on the bushes, coating our little Honda Civic in the driveway. In the morning it still falls, creating a fantasy world of white. On Facebook everyone posts pictures of their yards and streets. Children rush out to build snow people. I walk in our half-acre woods, camera clicking, trying to capture the beauty before it melts or blows from the trees. Snow covers the mud and dead plants of winter. It muffles the sounds of cars and trucks—those few brave enough to venture out onto the slippery roads. Peace flows through me as I drink in the fresh beauty.snowy-street

On the second day, no more snow falls. Skies clear, temperatures dip further below freezing. We walk on our quiet dead end road, enjoying the blue skies and the white fields and yards. I throw out extra sunflower seeds for the birds. My husband chops wood for the fire—at least we can keep our living room warm. Then we settle in to work, relax, and watch the squirrel in the feeder (as does our cat) and the birds fighting over seeds.

squirrel-at-feederThe third, fourth, fifth days… Cold, windy, white—we take our walks, but hurry back in to sit by the fire, watch some football, go online, maybe get some work done. The woodpile diminishes. Where the sun hits the roads, ice melts or gets torn up by tires, only to refreeze later in the day, more slippery than ever. Meetings are canceled. Church is canceled for the second week. My husband’s concert is canceled. The snow becomes dirty near the roads, marred by footprints in the yard. Wind blows it from the trees. Where is that pristine beauty we saw just days before?snow-on-fence

Beauty comes and goes. It flits into the everyday with glittering wings, inviting us to stop and marvel. When it stays too long, the magic is lost and it becomes ordinary—or even an annoyance. How sad—because each day has a little bit of splendor hiding within it. We may have to search, may have to keep our eyes open. It is much easier to see the ugliness and focus on the darkness. But these times of beauty give us hope and keep us moving on, even in dark times.

footprints-in-snow“…Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely…dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8 NASB)

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Sunset, 2012The year comes to an end as the sun sets, a little brightness showing through the gray clouds. Isn’t that how it seems to go? So much bad news in the paper each day, so many sad stories online, so much anger and despair in the world. And yet still the light shines through, giving color and beauty, bringing hope. One year fades into the sunset, but dawn comes again with the brightness of a new day. Another chance. Let’s make the most of it.

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The years just keep rolling along, and spring arrives, more or less on schedule, about this time every year–and about six months earlier or later in the southern hemisphere–moving around the world and never holding still for long. We get a couple of days of warm weather, and everyone is out mowing lawns, some for the first time this year. Pollen is in the air, fertilizing trees and flowers, bringing sneezes and congestion to the allergy-prone. Smiles spring up with the flowers and sunshine.

Dreams of vegetable gardens and flower beds stir in my head. Perhaps this year I will keep the garden weeded. Perhaps this year I will get everything planted on time. Perhaps this year…

In the springtime, all is possible. Soon enough reality will set in, and I will remember how hard it is to keep up with flowers and vegetables and, most of all, weeds. But for today, I prefer to hold on to my fantasies. Springtime is a time for dreaming.

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Is it really Spring? The calendar says so, and yet I wonder. The other day the wind whipped through the branches, and dark gray clouds swept across the sky. The lone varied thrush that spent the winter here still pecked at sunflower seeds under the bird feeder. Shouldn’t it have flown north by now? And back East, snow was falling.

 And yet daffodils are in bloom. The first tentative blossoms are opening on our early rhododendron. Flowering trees in the neighborhood are bursting into pink and white. The signs are there—perhaps a bit later than last year, but definitely there.

 As I drove to the store, I looked up to see a flock of ducks or geese—hard to tell which when I’m trying to keep my eyes on the road. I immediately wondered if they were flying north. As I glanced up, I could see the flock constantly changing shape as some birds dropped back and other birds led briefly. Nobody seemed to want the leadership. Instead the flock drifted about in a big circle, going nowhere in particular.

 I guess it’s that time of year. Winter hasn’t quite left; spring hasn’t quite arrived. We are stuck in the middle, not sure what to expect. But we have hope. Spring will come. That much we know from experience. Although it may be hard to believe on cold, dark, dreary days, Earth is still revolving about the Sun, and the seasons continue in their usual pattern. We can have faith that warmer, sunnier days are on their way.

 And for my southern hemisphere friends, that means fall is coming—and I hope it brings a refreshing coolness after summer heat. Up here in the cold North, we would be happy to trade places, at least briefly.

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Vine Maple

Autumn paints so many trees in bright gold, orange, and red. However, my favorite—and one of the earliest to change around here—is the vine maple. When we drive through the hills or up to Mt. Hood in September, the yellow and red of vine maple leaves peek through the dark evergreen firs and the other deciduous trees still wearing summer green. They add a spark of brightness to the forest, a hint of changes to come.

 The end of summer brings a trace of sadness, as warm days fade and autumn rains begin. Thoughts of a cold, wet Oregon winter play through my mind. But those vivid vine maple leaves chase away dismal memories and remind me that fall is a beautiful time of year. And after fall comes Christmas. After that—well, no need to think ahead too much. Why fret about winter when the woods dazzle my eyes with color?

 Colors add so much to life. Springtime greens and yellows, summer flowers and blue skies, autumn leaves. Even winter holds a few lingering holly berries and the bright yellow of the winter jasmine grown from starts my grandmother gave me. When life’s storms come, these bits of brightness give hope. And so I share the colors of the vine maple and the promise it gives that change can be beautiful.

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Beach Clouds

Had it really been months since I’d been to the coast? It almost felt like coming home as I walked down the street to the roar of surf in the distance. The open sand and expansive sky beckoned me. Amazingly enough, the sky arched blue and clear overhead. Only a few wispy clouds drifted above the ocean, and a thin layer of gray hovered over the hills behind me, still hiding the early morning sun.

 Slowly the earth turned, and the sun began poking through the dark layer of clouds. Fingers of light stretched across the sand. Brightness shone out from behind the darkness, reflecting on the wet sand. Hope shining through pain, bringing peace with its beauty.

 Later, clouds began to move in from the east. Altocumulus clouds, puffy little bits of gray-white, spread across the sky like patches of cotton. Rain would likely be coming—the forecast had predicted it—but these clouds only brought more beauty. Calm, dry weather is a precious thing on the Oregon coast, and I basked in the glory of sun, clouds, and ocean. The cool air, the smell of sea, the play of clouds and sunshine: all brought with them a love too great to be overwhelmed by any darkness.

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As the last shriveled Gravensteins fall from our tree, something unexpected is happening. The apple tree is blossoming. Sweet white flowers are opening up here and there on the tree—not the full-fledged bloom of spring, but something I have never seen at the end of summer. What is going on here?

 Perhaps it’s the odd weather we have had. Cool, damp weather hung on until July. Then we had a week or two of summer, before cool mornings returned, followed by pleasant, but not particularly summery afternoons. I have had to close the windows at night recently, something I rarely do in summer. Perhaps this weather has confused the poor apple tree into believing that spring returned ahead of schedule.

 Still, I rather like the contrast of fresh new blossoms coexisting with shriveled old apples. For those of us who are closer to autumn than spring—okay, maybe already into autumn—it gives an offbeat message of hope. Life needn’t be all dried-up apples. New ideas, new projects, new avenues for creativity can come into our lives at any age. What new blossoms might I nourish in my life?

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Yesterday was solstice–winter solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere, summer solstice in the Southern. I admit, I prefer winter solstice to summer, because it means the daylight hours will be increasing. I don’t like getting off work when it is dark. I can’t get outside to work in the yard or take a walk with the dog. And I’m getting to the age where I don’t care to drive at night if I can avoid it. So I feel shut in at times, a bit out of touch with the world of nature. But the solstice brings the promise of more sunlight, even though many months of rain–with perhaps some snow and sleet thrown in for the fun of it–still loom before warm weather will arrive.

Summer solstice, on the other hand, not only means that the daylight hours begin to wane, but also that the hottest months are still ahead. And heat limits my time outdoors almost as much as darkness. If it were up to me, I would lengthen spring and fall and shorten the cold and the heat. Of course, it’s not up to me, so I try to appreciate all the seasons. And now I sit in my quiet home, enjoying the lights on the Christmas tree, glad for the warmth of the heater and the woodstove, thinking about making Christmas cookies. I have gifts to finish making–cinnamon rolls and cream cheese braids and the calendar that my dear aunt expects each Christmas. I have some work to finish. And in just a couple days it will be Christmas, which comes with a promise that no other day can match.

So how about you? What do you think of solstice?

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Oct-Nov, 2009 063The sky had cleared to blue after a wet night. Sunshine on the autumn leaves lured me outside. Time to clean up the garden. I pulled out the pole beans, the tomatoes, the pea fences overgrown with grass.

 I was beginning on the corn stalks when I heard the familiar chatter of bushtits. Bushtits are little nondescript birds—mostly gray with light brown on the top of the head for males. They generally travel in flocks and are one of the most energetic birds I know. These particular bushtits were dancing around in the alders near the garden when I first heard them. Then they swooped down into the garden. Three of them lit upon the tomato cages I had just stacked against the fence. Perhaps they were looking for weed seeds I had missed when cleaning off the cages. Another half a dozen settled in among the dried corn stalks, flitting from one to another, pecking here and there, cleaning out whatever insects might be hiding in the crevices of the dead plants. They were in constant motion, as bushtits generally are, twittering cheerfully as they hopped about.


Bushtit by Bill Walker

 After a few minutes, they flew off into the alders, a gray swarm of motion. Bushtits never stay in one place very long. I went back to cleaning out the cornstalks. Halfway through, I ran out of energy, leaving the rest for another day. Oh, well. Perhaps the bushtits will return and be glad some corn is still standing.

 Plain though they may be, bushtits never fail to make me smile. I wonder if Emily Dickinson had these little birds in mind when she wrote:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all…

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