sitting on the back porch the welcoming sounds of birds mixes with the edgy sounds of man and machine. windows open mean the sounds will follow me inside-even the bird songs make it through, soft as they are. the tea whistles and i cringe in fear i’ve ruined my quiet. i laugh a bit at the irony of the thought. but the birds and man and machine do not belong to me, nor do they require anything from me. it’s both voluntary and hidden, my response to their presence.
June is here. school has ended. mornings have slowed.
my front garden is wild with columbine and pansies that i didn’t plant. well, that’s not entirely true. when we first moved here i had planted pansies in a pot for the front step-they grew well there so i repeated the process the next year. but the squirrels and their constant overturning and digging and dragging them off finally had their way and i stopped altogether, throwing out the pots, now chipped and cracked from all the abuse. a few years back i received a columbine plant as a mother’s day present. waiting a bit too long i did nestle it in the ground, a lone beauty in a sea of unkempt attempts at making something of the plot of land i’d been handed.
but this year, my columbine, she has sisters galore. they stand tall towards the back as though they are watching over their young pansy charges.
their beauty invites me in to pull up all the thorny weeds and dandelions. i’ve been pining for a real landscaper with a real eye for composition and real knowledge of planting to come and give me something to work with, to joy in, to welcome me home. last night, for the first time in the 7 years we’ve made our way here, i walked the path to the door gazing at this bed freshly weeded and breathed;
my soul is weary from a long winter. spring arrived out the windows and moved into summer, yet my soul struggled to take notice or nourishment. aware of the bone deep fatigue all the while life buzzes around i have been paying attention. “this is why missionaries have furloughs” i tell myself. “you are not that type of missionary” i respond. and there is truth to those words. but the need for a ‘furlough’ of sorts is real along with the understanding that it will look its own way. so i’ve been sitting with myself, stealing moments when they come, gently requiring nothing of the time. no figuring things out. no formulating plans for a different way of living. instead letting the anger pour out, the sorrow, the loneliness, alongside the amazement and joy and beauty. allowing repentance to do it’s lovely work and security to come from being seen by the One who knows my frame.
I have always imagined gratitude as a kind of discipline. It is a practice. A choice. I still think this is true. However, I begin to glimpse a long-buried and misguided assumption. I have believed that the practice of noticing good gifts in my life would widen some sort of divine exchange. As if noticing the gifts and giving thanks for them could bring me more of what i noticed.
These days are dark, and I sometimes think I glimpse floodwaters rising. Yet because of November’s emphasis on gratitude, I cannot help but lift up my eyes to the mountains (Ps. 121:1)
What if gratitude is more about seeing the face of God? Of locking our eyes on his and remembering where our help comes from? Perhaps gratitude is not only a discipline but also a gift, one we are given in special measure just before we pass through the door to suffering.