Tuesday, January 22, 2019

"Underground" Systems

I often think of them as coming from another world and I’m not far wrong in thinking that. For most of their lives exist underground in the dark, secretive, cracks and crevices totally unknown to most of us. It’s only on those rare occasions, when conditions are perfectly matched to their individual specifications, that they burst forth into the world that we know and their time there and in that form is extremely brief.

In this part of the world, wandering about the woods, especially during the damper parts of the year, we are bound to come across them. Fungi, in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, pop up seemingly overnight from the forest floor, moldering leaf piles, or rotting tree stumps.
Unlike green plants, fungi do not need sunlight and are unable to make their own food, drawing nutrients instead from other rotting vegetation. What we see of them belies what we cannot see—a vast, complicated underground support system responsible for their colonization and reproduction.
In the case of a mushroom, tiny seed-like spores are carried by wind and water to the soil, where they burrow in and grow into long, multi-celled strands. Different types of these strands are produced, and the exact right ones need to meet and combine to form longer entwined strands that carry the full component of genes necessary for that specific type of mushroom.
These strands gradually form a small, tight ball of cells which grow upward and finally emerge into the air, taking on the shape of a mature mushroom. This adult fungus then forms spores and the entire cycle repeats itself.

The underground system of a fungus is truly amazing.  Before logging roads cut through it, a 2,400-acre site in eastern Oregon had a contiguous growth estimated at 1,665 football fields in size and 2,200 years old. This one fungus has killed the forest above it several times over, and in so doing has built deeper soil layers that allow the growth of ever-larger stands of trees. Mushroom-forming forest fungi such as this are unique in that their underground growth can achieve such massive proportions.

Human support systems might be compared to this. So much of what we do with and for others is not obvious; myriad small acts of assistance, kindness, and compassion combine with others, branch out and spread, often far from the original source. Surfacing and becoming apparent occasionally, this support system really is the life blood of any community. Behind every successful grown child, there are years of effort from caring adults; behind every recovering addict, there are miles of accompanying encouragement and intervention; behind every healing of a body, mind, or spirit, there are thousands of helping hands, loving hearts, and prayers.

But we are only the vessels, for beneath all this and deeper than any of us can fathom, lies a force greater than the combined efforts of all. We are each a small link in a vast system which surpasses all understanding. We need only trust and act. Yes, and celebrate the end results as they emerge out of the detritus of life. For this is the ultimate love.

 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity            ~ Colossians 3: 12 - 14

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

What We Think We Hear

It started out innocently enough. A well-intentioned comment was unfortunately misconstrued and WHAM! Hurt feelings. It happens to all of us.

Compared to my daily attire I was somewhat dressed up, wearing a newly-purchased burgundy red skirt with navy blue top and matching tights. I was pleased with this outfit and feeling a bit cocky, I guess. Then my husband made his remark: “Wow, you look like the Queen of England!” To which I quickly replied: “I do NOT!” Then I further explained that, although I had nothing against the Queen, I was not a stuffy, dumpy, little old lady, as I perceived her to be. Talk about insults. “No, that’s not what I meant.” he continued. “I mean, that skirt is a rich royal color, like what a queen might wear. It looks good on you—I meant it as a compliment.” Oh…

It’s not the first time my thoughts have jumped out of my mouth prematurely. I’m sure it won’t be the last. It seems to be a basic problem with human communication: what you think you say about what you think is not at all what the other person hears and thinks you said, because they are thinking their own thoughts. Thinking is a wonderful thing, most of the time, but it can and does mislead us. Accurately hearing what the other person is saying, if we are even listening, is critical. Because I am such a visual person, I know that I immediately picture in my mind what it is the other person is saying. I also know that I’m sometimes totally wrong. It helps to clarify by repeating what you think the person said before adding your own reply.

To complicate matters, everyone is different when it come to speaking one’s mind. Some of us are more articulate than others; some write their thoughts better than speaking them. Then there are those who think others can just read their minds…

With another new year beginning, many are making resolutions to improve themselves or their lives—or at least considering making those. More recently, it’s become popular to choose a word for the year, with the intention of focusing on that as a way of improving oneself. I don’t do well with resolutions, but I do like to set a goal or two for the year. Although I reach those with varying degrees of success, it gives me something to aim for. I also like choosing a word or statement and in past years have chosen listen, focus, and one step at a time as my word(s) for the year. This year, I’m taking my words from the 1989 book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Dr. Stephen Covey. In it, he stated:
"If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood."

I think I have my work cut out for me, but that's good because I like challenges. Whatever method you choose, I hope that you also will seek some way to improve your life in the coming year. Secretly, I really would like to appear as dignified as the Queen of England. How about you?
Do you see someone who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for them.    ~ Proverbs 29:20 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
 As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”      
~ Isaiah 55: 8 - 9

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

What We Think We See


When venturing out these evenings, I am mesmerized by lights. Recently, long lines of cars filled the late autumn darkness with what seemed like a thousand glistening spider webs, awesome in their perfection. White, bluish, and red, they appeared as the frozen, steady glow of large individual sparks from a giant Fourth of July sparkler. Honestly, they’re hard to describe in their brilliant uniqueness. And it’s all because of my “new eyes.”

I distinctly remember the small room and hallway; it seemed like a whole new world to my left eye. No one told me that my vision had darkened, yellowed, and become blurry THAT much. Possibly they did, but I hadn’t believed them. I thought I could see just fine; could still read, if the light was bright enough; could still see traffic signs, if I got close enough. I’d put off the surgery for a few years, knowing it was just a matter of time before I’d really need it. The eye doctor told me that everyone, if they lived long enough, was likely to develop cataracts. Also, that the procedures had improved over time, there were choices as to what kind of lens to have put in, and that the success rate was high. I didn’t fear the surgery, but life was busy, and I just couldn’t be bothered. When I finally decided to go ahead, the results were more than I ever expected.

After the second surgery, my right eye took longer to heal and focus. During the first long week of recovery, the thought occurred to me that I might never see well through that eye again. There was always that slight possibility, of course, but I clung to the hope that all would end well. Fortunately, it did, and I was greatly  surprised by the vision I now have: objects in clear focus both near and far; colors that look pleasingly different from before; overall, a brighter, whiter world. The new artificial lenses in my eyes allow me to see all this, BUT, bright lights shining directly at me (including the myriad stars in the night sky…) appear with these magnificent prisms of light radiating out of them.

Life is full of risks, and sometimes we have no option about taking them. Often, however, we can choose and must carefully weigh what’s at stake and if the risk is worth it. This year, during this season, I contemplate what vision really is and wonder: What if Mary had never believed the angel and had run away or Joseph had rejected her as she was, unborn child and all? What if the journey to Bethlehem had never been taken or the innkeeper had found room for two more? What if the shepherds had hidden in fear or the angels had been out on strike? What if the Magi had miscalculated the position of that one bright star or had done exactly as King Herod requested? What if we find we don’t really believe it at all? What is it we think we see and does or can that vision ever change?

My faith journey, as perhaps yours, has been long, meandering, and evolving. I’ve taken some wrong turns and come to some dead ends, hit some slick spots and lost control. I’ve had to stop to re-fuel or just take a rest, but I’ve kept going just the same. For I know that I’m not the main driver; the light continues to shine, directing and guiding my trek through this thing called life. Sometimes, it even appears as a giant sparkler, giving me joy in the darkest of nights.

This season, I wish the same for you.

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the  light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."   ~ John 8: 12

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Spring in the Greenhouse

Thinking back to my childhood, I try to remember what first signaled Spring to me those many years ago. I remember snow – lots and lots of snow. Piled high along the edges of the streets where the snow plows had pushed it, stained dark gray from the dust and months of shoveling, it often rose higher than my head. And then, almost unperceptively, it became a soggy brown slush that was fun to splash through, but not so much when spewed up from beneath a passing car. It ran in dirty rivulets down street gutters, disappeared into corner drains, carrying with it the muck from a long, frozen season. As hillsides, yards, and gardens again became visible from under the sodden blanket, new green growth gradually pushed up. Most of all, I remember crocuses – brilliant splashes of deep purple and sunny gold against dark, soggy earth.

In our greenhouses, spring arrived early. Entering them was like arriving at some other, more exotic, part of the world - warm, humid, and sweetly scented. The heat was generated in a huge, gas-fired boiler in the basement which heated water that passed through cast iron pipes that ran under each of the long, wooden benches.
Photo from homedepot.com

The benches were filled with dark, rich, soil and tall carnations of red, pink, and white. To this day I love the white ones best because of their spicy, cinnamon-like scent. There were also potted plants set on flat wooden platforms on top of some of the unplanted benches.

 Photo from flowers-in-world.blogspot.com
I can picture the pink and white azaleas, magenta cyclamens, calceolaria with their purse-like spotted yellow and orange flowers, daisy-like cinnerareas, and row upon row of Easter lilies. The super-sweet smell of the lilies trumped all the other scents as Easter neared and their number increased. Many began to sport brightly-colored foil wrappings with satin bows, lined up like so many spotless children ready for a birthday party.
Photo from plantsrescue.com
These plants all needed care – weeding, fertilizing, watering, and occasional pest-removal. The daily watering increased the humidity, which caused the single paned glass houses to fog up with the still frigid air outside. The heat and humidity were in there all year long, as were some of the flowering plants, but the lilies only came around Easter time.
 Photo from writeopinions.com

We could, and did, bring plants and flowers into our house most any time we wanted, which was a privilege and a luxury that I now know I didn’t appreciate at the time. We always had an Easter lily and a lovely spring centerpiece for our dinner on Easter Sunday. Even though it sometimes snowed then, signaling that winter was not “quite” over yet, it was always Springtime at Easter inside our home. If I close my eyes and remember those times, I always smell the sweetness of the lilies.

No matter what date it fell on or whether it snowed again, Easter always ushered in Spring. We knew that it was only a matter of time before tulip and daffodils sprouted and bloomed, followed by lilacs and crabapple blossoms. The snow finally disappeared altogether, the air warmed, mud dried up, grass turned green and grew tall. The morning came when we awoke to the familiar song of the robin, back from its winter migration and by evening we’d hear the mournful cry of the mourning dove perched on the power line above the back alley.
Photo from flowerspictures.org
Everything was fresh and new again – sun, warmth, growth, flowers, scents, and song.
A stimulating renewal after a long, frozen winter.
To me, this truly signifies what Easter is all about.

For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.            Song of Solomon 2:11-12

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


A wallop catches us
Off guard
a card, dealt under the table
Unfairly, perhaps,
A nasty slight of hand
Strong enough to numb
And cast us abroad
Into an endless sea of fear and doubt
Tossed about
Helpless to do anything but
Barely hold our heads above water
It may be bad news, a crushing loss,
Circumstances that lay us flat
Render us unable to even clear our mind
We find
We have no idea who we are or where we’re headed
We struggle – aimlessly, even fiercely -
But to no avail
For the headwind is strong and we…
Clearly, we see
Are not strong enough nor brave enough
To weather the storm alone
This storm, anyway
They say to “let go and let God”
And yes, it may be best to
Let go of all that we cannot control
With the final goal
To be rid of worry, fear, and fitful tossing…
What of the times where you stand a chance
To gain a foothold, a toe hold, a sliver of hope-hold?
With a glimmer beyond, hold on for dear life
With all that is in you and know
That others reach out to hold on to you
With love, caring, hope, and faith
We hold on to each other because
That is what we are meant to do
And HE holds on to all of us
Who seem to need a reminder of this

 There's an opportune time to do things,
a right time for everything on the earth...
A right time to search and another to count your losses.
A right time to hold on and another to let go…
Whatever was, is
Whatever will be, is
That’s how it always is with God
  ~ Ecclesiastes 3:10-11 and 15 (from The Message)