Something shifted on the global axis. and personally, in my world. Our national sense of security was forever shaken.
InOctober 2001, a severely damaged tree was discovered at Ground Zero, with snapped roots and burned and broken branches. The tree was removed from the rubble and placed in the care of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
From the charred and broken tree, signs of life and hope emerged. Under the watch–care of thecrew, the Callery Pear Tree began to thrive. After its recovery and rehabilitation, the irrepressible tree was returned to the Memorial in 2010.
New, smooth limbs extended from the gnarled stumps, creating a visible distinctionbetween the tree’s past and present. Today, the Survivor Treestands as a living reminder of resilience, survival, and rebirth.
A few years ago, on the cusp of becoming an author, I visited the New York Memorial for 9/11 with my editor. We walked by the tree and celebrated its survival; two stunned strangers in a strange landscape igniting a friendship beside the signs of unnatural life. When did your towers fall? What signs of life are emerging from the debris? Make a list, and inventory of the new branches, new leaves? So many upheavalslately. And yet. And still. That hushed and tranquil tree stands in Manhattan. In the spring, it’s the first to bud and the last to lose its leaves in the fall. Your root system is stronger than you think. The network of support all aroundyou is a social mazeof amazingness. Arich tapestry of connection.A matrix of life. We, like that tree, are a living narrative of joyous entanglement.
By Tonya Jewel Blessing from the Bible study, Soothing Rain
Chris and I live in the bush. To get to our home a four-wheel drive vehicle is required. The road is rough, rutted, and extremely sandy. The other day as Chris and I were traveling, Chris muttered just as he hit a large rock, “Hold onto your bosom.”
Several days after Chris’ comment, I was visiting with a woman in one of the local townships who speaks Sotho. Conversing was limited. The woman was sitting under a tree washing dishes, and I was sitting on a log next to her.
The elderly lady touched her partially exposed breasts and then pointed toward mine. It’s not uncommon to see mammaries in South Africa, even at church.
I’m not sure what my friend was saying. She might have been asking if I have children, telling me that she needs a bra, asking my size, or even indicating that she needed food for her orphaned grandchildren. When I didn’t respond, she talked louder and, like my car ride, held onto her bosom.
Sometimes we just need to hold on. Life can get bumpy, and the ride can get tiresome. Sometimes the rockier the road, the more thrilling the destination, thrilling so that we shake our bodies with laughter and need to hold onto “the girls.”
In Colorado, the road home would sometimes be rough and rutted also. We never know what we will see because of a rut, or from the top of the hill, or what lies just beyond the bend.
I was teaching a class of second and third grade gifted readers a number of years ago when during group reading time one of the students read aloud the word “bosom.” He then proceeded to explain to the others what the word meant. It was very titillating for the children and caused me to laugh out loud.
Over and over again in Scripture, we see rocky and rough life paths producing miraculous and thrilling adventures.
We serve a great God. He is with us on the rough roads and the thrilling rides, so get ready to hold onto your bosoms.
Questions for this devotional/conversation starter by Sue Summers.
Life can indeed “get bumpy.” Summarize a time in your life that was especially “bumpy.”
Some of the women mentioned in the Bible are Ruth, Esther, the widow at Zarephath, and Mary, the mother of Jesus. Select one of these women, locate and read the story about her situation in Scripture, and then summarize her need to “hold onto her bosom.”
Read the story of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, in Genesis 17:1-19. Explain how this story fits with the comment: “Over and over again in Scripture, we see rocky and rough life paths producing miraculous and thrilling adventures.”
Why do you think God chooses “rocky and rough life paths” for us? Explain your thinking.
During worship, our church sang, BE THOU MY VISION by the 8th Century lyricist, Dallan Forgail. The subject of the message was worshipping God in our daily work.
The words hit me like they never had before. Goading me from the perspective of a fairly unknown author and editor in today’s market, struggling to find the needed footholds, the lyrics of this ancient hymn reminded me of my priorities and of the substantial rewards offered by the Lord.
To show you how almost every phrase or thought in the song became animated for my soul, I’ll highlight the phrases for you.
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art Thou my best Thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight; Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight; Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower: Raise Thou me heavenward, O Pow’r of my power.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise, Thou mine Inheritance, now and always: Thou and Thou only, first in my heart, High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun! Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
So, I’ll ask you, writer, or new author without a “platform,” how do you see your writing?
Is writing your passion, like a spiritual enigma?
Is writing a hobby?
Or, is writing your life’s work, your career?
Frank Viola advises that a writer who is not willing to invest in marketing and publicity to boost their products to the intended audience is only a hobbiest. But, even a hobbiest seeks out models and YouTube how-to videos for patterns and best practices.
People do invest in hobbies. They buy tools, a table, the supplies, and sometimes we invest to see where the market lies for their products. But, a hobbiest doesn’t really expect to see a profit from doing something that passes the time in interesting and enjoyable ways. A hobbiest, though, can also leave a legacy of the things made for others.
Some people also invest in a career if they are entrepreneurs or just good and loyal servants of a company. College diplomas are earned so that a person can prepare for the prerequisites of work and learn the elements of a career.
But, sometimes a passion is a thing we give ourselves to without any expectation of reward. We call this attitude altruistic or philanthropic.
Insert Foot In the Comedy Door
I have a friend who needs to pay for her property and way of life, suddenly, after divorce. She doesn’t have office skills or a college degree. She has some acting and comedy skills, and she had been writing and practicing her schtick.
She invited me to listen to a staged comedy routine she was required to perform as a final assignment for her comedy class and provide feedback. She was preceded by six people whose routines were so vulgar that I wondered whether I could continue to watch and wait for her turn. The atmosphere caused me to pray for her strength and buoyancy.
When it was her turn, she spoke from her own life and perspective without bitterness. She displayed a flowy hand movement and there was an elegance about her. She did not cuss or use sex, genitalia, or potty jokes like the others had. She was dignified in her storytelling. Her jokes were original. I called her on her way home to congratulate her and give her my perspective. Her courage. Her persona offered something unique to build on.
She was crying behind the wheel. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” she said. “I had fun, I felt like I was funny and people laughed, but when it was over, I was alone. The rest of the performers were eating and drinking together, and I was alone, so I came home. But, you know what? I want to be righteous. And, I think the Lord was honored.”
My heart lept for her. I am confident that God will make a way in or outside of this wilderness called comedy clubs.
Drinking from an Empty Well?
I want my writing and my business of publishing to be a big part of my legacy. Sometimes, I’m willing to sacrifice income by putting my books down to .99 cents while investing in a promotion. But I don’t like to devalue my books by leaving them at that price or by giving them away for free. Others are willing to hand out their books or booklets for free. They post their writings freely on social media hoping to minister to someone that day.
Sometimes I struggle with the idea of regular writing for business or even part-time income when the present costs and sacrifices are more than I want to give. Oftentimes, the costs are far more than I have to give. If I try to drink from an empty well, the hope is futile. In that case, there is no decision to be made.
Sometimes I struggle with the idea of writing for spirituality because my own spiritual practices are non-quantifiable. They may be very different than others’ ideas and practices.
Then, when my work is ignored or rejected or marginalized, I wonder if I have the spine to withstand these disappointments. They return my goodwill and investment like a bucket of dust from an empty well.
From Whom Do We Seek a Reward?
There are earthly rewards promised in Scripture to those who do certain things.
We can read about the rewards of faithfulness, and the rewards of self-denial, and the rewards of integrity.
Some rewards are miraculous like when God comes through for a King who is faithful and obeys the Lord beyond reason or by denying other’s ungodly counsel.
I read about Ezra’s situation today in the book named for him. Ezra was leading back the remnant of God’s people to Jerusalem to build the city and the temple. King Darius had ordered that he be given everything he needed to finish the work. In the course of their correspondence, Ezra proclaimed, “The hand of the Lord will protect us.”
The journey for Ezra and his people was monumental. They hadto travel about 900 miles, a trip that would last three orfour months. The journey wasextremely perilous. Travelers in Bible times would often meet withrobbers, and Ezra’s group carried with them large amounts of gold, silver, and valuable vessels (Ezra 8:25-30). Ezra realized how helpful it would be to have aroyal escort of soldiersand horsemen to protect his vulnerable people on their arduous journey. No doubt, the kind King wouldhave granted such arequest, even as Nehemiah later enjoyed the benefits of a royal escortfrom this very samemonarch (Neh. 2:9). And yet, Ezra was too ashamed and embarrassed to make such a request (Ezra 8:22). Why thehesitancy? It wasbecause God’s Name was at stake. Ezra had already told the King that the hand of God was upon them andthat God would take care of them (Ezra 8:22). To ask for help at thispoint might send a message to the King thatthey didnot really believe that God could protect them. So instead of asking the King, Ezra proclaimed a fast and asked the King ofkings to protect them (Ezra 8:21,23). God wonderfully answered: “The handof our God wasupon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy andof suchas lay in waitby theway” (Ezra 8:31). They safely arrived in Jerusalem (Ezra 8:32).
The Blessing of Keeping a Holy Vision
Christian authors and writers write to present themselves and their material in such a way that the name of the Lord is not dishonored. Sometimes, they are unsure of how to go about this and make mistakes, but as God did for Ezra, who ran to Him with a petition for provision and protection, the Lord will continue to be faithful to His children today.
He will provide.
He will see us through.
Though the journey may be perilous, God’s hand covers us.
Whether we appeal to a king or appeal to an audience, when we appeal to the Lord, He is faithful.
Honoring our Maker and our Redemer is always the priority and over-arching goal. Even when we write about perilous times and situations.
Moses authored Psalm 90. His prayer is “May Your work be shown to Your servants and Your splendor to their children.” It is when our intentions make it into our handiwork and products produced that things begin to happen. When writers are writing to display God’s handiwork, Moses’ continues:
New International Version
“May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.”
New Living Translation
“And may the Lord our God show us his approval and make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful!”
The Lord does see you thinking, processing, writing, editing, publishing, and He sees you closing that circle by pursuing the need of others to see, read, or hear what you have written. He is actively ordering your steps and delighting in your journey. Psalm 37:23 says, “The steps of a man are ordered by the LORD Who takes delight in his journey.”
May the blessing of Moses give you a great heart for the journey.
May the prayer of Ezra remind you to dedicate your embarrassments to the Lord for His redemption and honor.
May the lyric of Dallan Forgail, create a deep stream from which you will dip your refreshment. No matter what, may the Lord be your inheritance, now and always. May He be your dignity and your delight. May He be your shelter, your high tower, and your undergirding power. May He be your wisdom and your true word.
I’m engaged in a move from one house to another, and I realize that I am also attempting to embrace the silence of springtime.
Twittering birds and peeping peepers are the loudest consistent noises I hear as I am carrying boxes to my car. My mind goes to the quietness of my friends and family during this season. I walk my new puppy at my new house and I continue in the silence of springtime.
Good and bad things happen during quiet moments.
Everyday things happen in contemplative silences.
That being said, some of the most persuasive people I know are the quiet ones. Laura, one of my best friends in Pennsylvania, is not only a good listener – I’ll say this, she asks brief questions, and listens for the long, drawn-out, weepy responses – but she also uses her persuasion of love to help me through some of the most difficult moments of my life. She exerts her time, her muscle, her car, her ideas.
Quiet people are often a stabilizing influence in a world jangling with noise.
A Spanish proverb says it like this:
abre la boca solo si lo que vas a decir es más hermoso que el silencio
(“Open your mouth only if what you are going to say is more beautiful than the silence.”)
Silence helps us understand ourselves. We can be fully present and connect with others. When we are stuck or confused, silence brings us little epiphanies. Silence can be a life–long friend. But we need to pay attention to it. For some of us, solitude is water to a parched soul; we must have it. For others, solitude is too deep, too sad, too isolating. But it can be a shared place for hunkering down and listening.
Perhaps the most important thing we bring to another person is the silence in us, not the sort of silence that is filled with unspoken criticism or hard withdrawal. The sort of silence that is a place of refuge, of rest, of acceptance of someone as they are. We are all hungry for this other silence.”
– RACHEL NAOMI REMEN, AUTHOR
Silence is a patient friend. Waiting always, watching over your comings and your goings, hoping you will join the hush and wonder.
Here’s what happens during just one minute while you remain quiet:
255 babies will be born
Your Heart will pump 83 Gallons Of Blood
A hummingbird will flap its wings 4,000 times
A single woman will move all her earthly belongings heavy, precious, difficult to look through, to another home, alone
31,600 tons of water will flow over Niagara Falls
1,800 stars will explode
A widow will be laying in a clinic, will be waiting for a doctor’s report and advice, will be looking at her bare toes and a pile of clothes
“Well, I wanted to catch you on your morning walk. I woke up wondering whether the chorus of spring peepers was singing around the lake yet.”
“It’s not quite warm enough. It’s only supposed to be 63 degrees in Erie today. Maybe next week.”
“Really? We’re supposed to have another blizzard this weekend.”
“Well, that’s a Rocky Mountain springtime for ya. Once we hear them, we will have three more freezes – then, it’s truly spring!”
“The coming of the peepers foretells three more freezes?”
“Oh yes. There’s the onion leek melt, the sweet pea melt, and one more – I’m having a memory melt right now.”
“Ah, ‘Singing Spring’ comes in notes and melts, like your book.”
“None too soon.” I’m huffing and need to hang up on this conversation in order to accomplish this morning’s walk.
“Hey, I woke up in one of those post-dream phases, the phase where you’re not asleep but not quite awake, either.” But, my friend also has to go. We say our ‘goodbyes,’ and my thoughts turn inward, dredging up memories, I mean, really distant memories – from lifetimes ago. Mostly good ones. These memories came from this morning’s dream.
A recent National Geographic study polled people around the world—including more than 600 featured in just one study—who say they experienced a new phenomenon: coronavirus pandemic dreams.
Science has long suggested that dream content and emotions are connected to well-being while we’re awake. Bizarre dreams laden with symbolism allow some dreamers to overcome intense memories or everyday psychological stressors within the safety of their subconscious.
The study concludes,
The virus is invisible, and I think that’s why it’s transformed into so many different things.”—Deirdre Barrett, Harvard University
I agree with Deirdre. The virus is invisible, and I think that’s why it’s transformed into affecting our dream state.
I keep hearing about the virus. I have lost friends to it. But, we never really see it, do we? Most of us are prevented from seeing the worst of it, even with our loved ones.
This next season of social isolation comes with a promise of a new vaccine. It’s a trade-up.
So as I was saying, I was dreaming of my childhood lunchtime trade-ups. I was in one of those post-dream phases where you’re not asleep but not quite awake, either: the best time to rein in the edges of your dream and frame it before it is erased by cornflakes and coffee and morning light.
I remained as still as possible to capture the details.
We were all back in elementary school. As dreams rarely make sense, my classmates included pint-sized versions of people I have known throughout my lifetime, even my grandmother.
No matter that she was in grade school a full 60+ years before I was; dreams are like that.
So as dreams go –
We were out on the playground. It was recess and lunchtime and a cluster of us were sitting cross-legged in a circle near the swing set. I remember there was a teeter-totter there, too.
We were trading lunches.
Two Twinkies for a homemade cookie.
Bologna for a PBJ.
An apple for a Hershey Bar … (is that a fair trade, really?)
A kid named Robert was in the circle, and he had a liverwurst sandwich. This detail rang true – there really was a kid named Robert in the first grade whose mom packed a liverwurst sandwich nearly every day. Maybe his mom had told him how the iron in it would make him grow up to be a muscle man, but Robert seemed to like it and rarely traded it out. He probably wouldn’t have very many takers, anyway.
I mean, liverwurst.
It was only a dream, but it had real slices of reality sandwiched in.
Maybe you, too, shared lunchtime negotiations back in the day.
You got rid of those vegetables and Mom was none the wiser.
We are almost always alert to something better out there. Trading.
Those murky-dream-drenched lunch swaps – snippets of real memories rising to greet me during the Great Sequester of 2020 and continuing through the springtime of 2021 with the promise of a trade-up. Is there a better vaccine to conquer our isolating fear of the real thing?
Trading lunch is metaphor-speak for what many of us are actually doing these days.
Opening our lunch pail, assessing the situation, and looking up to see what tastes better on that day. Negotiating a trade, pooling our resources, helping each other survive the “liverwurst” of life.
What if we traded sorrows for singing with a chorus of peeps?
Worry for watching the patterns. What is God doing?
Anxiety for trust in the available flavors and coming flowers.
News grazing for cloud gazing.
Swollen ankles for walking the dog.
Despair for Curiosity.
Trading trauma for a sweet pet whose fur accepts our tears.
These are good swaps, life-giving, even.
Switching out the bologna for iron-rich blood, if not liverwurst, then ribeye; trading the mundane for the moment you will savor and return to for a tasty reminder during a day of scarcity.
There’s a song lyric from a favorite musical that goes like this:
The clouded sun shall brightly rise,
And songs be heard instead of sighs.”
What a glorious swap!
A chorus of songs rising up to conquer the gloom – a goofy, ravaged, joyful mix of imperfect voices rise in natural praises every day.
Gathering momentum, drowning out the cries and making sense of the sighs.
I know the swampy spring peepers will lay bitsy eggs, attaching them to vegetation in shallow waters. They may hatch in four short days. Their dream state will end in an energetic wetland chorus.
I rouse myself from my sleepy knowledge-memories to walk amongst the happy spring peepers, now camouflaged, who are not beleaguered by any virus. Their chorus will come melodiously and noisy overnight, regardless.
Crisp late-winter Lake Erie air has done its job. My lungs are woke. My stomach rumbles.
Do you know that 24 hours before the Spring Peepers are singing under the tell-tale ‘X’ marking on their backs, they are wee black tadpoles swimming underwater? Full metamorphosis takes an uncanny 24 hours!
Oh, Get ready!
We will wake from this dreamlike state one day, looking to each other for guidance into the light of a New Normal. We will add our voices to the chorus frogs.
Pass me the Corn Flakes, I can hardly wait.
Kathy Joy is the author of Singing Spring, one book in the Breath of Joy seasonal coffee-table series. This month, her children’s picture book released to the public, Will You Hold My Story? This Shell Silverstein-esque story features the adult idea of listening to a child’s tales in a Mister Rogers-esque neighborhood.