When Life Begins

IMG_4643.JPGLife didn’t begin when the crocus burst open to the sunshine early this week, purple pinstriped petals unfolding to reveal delicate saffron orange stamen.

Life didn’t begin when the tiny green points of slender pointed leaves pushed up through the earth, slowly widening, curving into maturity.

Life didn’t even begin this spring when the lengthening of days and the moisture of melting snow and the warming of the soil caused the little white bulb to send hopeful little roots downward and slowly swell with the development of a plant at its heart.

No, life began last fall, when I knelt by the edge of a flower bed, when the holes were dug, and the hopeful bulbs were dropped one by one.  Seed and soil met, and life was conceived that chilly October day.IMG_4744 edit.jpgScientists have found that when this occurs in a human womb, a literal spark, imperceptible to the naked eye, occurs.  They also say that to dissect the event down to the exact moment in time when two separate entities become one is virtually impossible.  The fertile seed is dropped, meets fertile earth, and it is done.

It’s hard to imagine anyone feeling anything but awe that when fertile meets fertile in the depths and safety of a womb, in one split second there is life.  That just as that day when the earth went from formless and void to full of light, God speaks and something springs into existence that was not there the instant before. 

It’s even harder to imagine feeling anything but wonder that just as then, each time this happens, God beholds what He has made and pronounces it good.  That, regardless of messy, complicated or even sinful human circumstance, He always, without fail, in the business of redeeming the human race and loving their souls, one individually orchestrated, precious conception at a time.

It’s especially hard for me to imagine, when I listen to the sound of a tiny heartbeat fill the microphone in my midwife’s office, 158 beats per minute strong, and that little one gives a feisty kick back against the pressure of the instrument.  It’s a life beloved by God, spoken into existence sometime in January,  that will blossom forth sometime around the time of the next bulb-planting this coming October.

We can’t wait to meet you, Baby #4!IMG_4743.JPG“For You formed my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Marvelous are Your works, and I know this very well.

My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in secret, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all my days were written in Your book and ordained for me before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:13-16)

Little American Falls

IMG_4710 edit.jpgThe first time I clambered beneath the cedars trees along this steep muddy bank, we were eagerly experiencing the sights of our new neighborhood for the very first time.  On the recommendation of a dear friend, we drove up through the Bigfork State Forest, on a narrow strip of asphalt hedged by endless miles of black swamp water and stunted spruce.  There, tucked away in an obscure little park, we found the Bigfork River rushing it’s way to Canada across a set of Class III-IV rapids.  It was not quite Niagara Falls, but it was an exciting stretch of river that we could hear the thunder of before we saw it.  

Today, almost exactly six years later, I’m on the same narrow trail, and I find that little has changed since then, as far as the river is concerned.  It’s still flowing faithfully.  The rocks cradling it show no visible signs of erosion.  The tumbling water still curls over that one giant boulder out in the middle in exactly the same way.

The changes that have occurred have been in my own life, and I’ve brought them with me.  My firstborn clambers ahead of me on this Sunday afternoon, reaching sweetly back to offer me a hand on the “hard parts”.  She’s not strong enough yet to really help, but I pretend to accept her offer anyway, marveling privately at how quickly life flies by.  Last time on this trail I was six months pregnant with her, not even a year married. Now she’s out there confidently posing on the lichened rocks while I snap pictures and punctuate my sentences anxiously with “be careful” and “that’s close enough”.  My husband is back up the trail, holding the hands of her two little sisters, who we had only dreamed of at that point.  

On the other hand, one thing hasn’t changed about me.  Apparently, being pregnant, even for the fourth time, still has little bearing on my eagerness to bypass the safely situated visitor’s viewing platforms to get up close to rushing water.   

IMG_4726 edit.jpg IMG_4720 edit.jpgIMG_4687 edit.jpgLast time I was here, I saw the elusive woodcock for the first time in my life, exploding up at my feet from what had appeared to be merely a pile of leaves.  Today the only wildlife is the bed of fluffy foam caught in an out-of-the-way nook beneath the falls, looking strikingly like the back of a very furry animal as it bobs gently in the current.  I smile when my daughter asks worriedly with big eyes: “Mommy, is that a bear?”  “Go poke it and see,” I counter slyly.  She laughs out loud at herself when she discovers that it’s pure fluff.

As we climb back up the river bank, I note the mosses cropping up lush and verdant at my feet, and the first signs of life at the tips of the tree branches arching over my head.  Spring is just waking here, reminding me of a sleepy, groggy two-year-old toddling out to snuggle with me on the couch in the morning, or maybe the four-year-old rolling over in the cocoon of her favorite penguin blanket and blinking sleepily at the morning light coming through her window.  Everything still has that just-got-out-of-bed look, still a little rumpled and squinty-eyed.

The most showy are the pussy willows, who have clearly gone from stage 1, silky and pearly gray, to stage 2, fluffy and lemon-lime yellow.  Also lovely at the tips of the maple branches exploding into bits of red, more showy up close than from a distance. And then on the forest floor, I see the bravely emerging leaves of hepatica.  Leaning down to feel beneath the leaves, I find what I’m looking for at the base of the plant: the downy heads of flower buds just emerging.  A couple more days, and there will be wildflowers in the woods.IMG_4721 edit.jpgIMG_4677 editBack up at the picnic area, we shake what mud we can off our shoes and take a last-minute trip to the nearby outhouse where we convince the girls that it’s safe to seat yourself over a deep, dark, echoing hole receding into the unknown depths of the earth.  Then we head out down the winding dirt road.  Tired little people quickly nod off into belated naps, and the thunder of the falls fades into fiddle music cranked up to keep their parents from following suit on the journey home. 

It’s good to know that as my own life shifts and changes, a wild river running north is still there, doing it’s God-ordained thing and fulfilling it’s purpose pretty much the same as always.

“All the rivers flow into the sea,

Yet the sea is not full.

To the place where the rivers flow,

There they flow again.” (Ecclesiastes 1:7)

Spring Ice

IMG_8231 editEveryone around here seems to have spent the last couple months and weeks waiting eagerly for the ice to break up.  And by “everyone around here”, I mean us and our feathered neighbors.

The swans have been patiently spending their days here for almost two months now, two faithful white lumps out on the ice standing guard over their nesting grounds.  The eagles began checking in next, periodically soaring in to keep tabs on the status of the frozen mass obscuring their fishing grounds.  Then the geese arrived, honking in and out (far less devoted than the swans), and the ducks, squeezing in to paddle around the tiny puddles opening up along the edges. 

And finally, just yesterday, the loons arrived with their wildly haunting calls.  They never show up until there’s a long enough runway open for their lengthy takeoffs, so it this was the surest sign yet that ice out was imminent.  IMG_4490 edit.jpgIMG_8325 editToday, there’s a giant pancake of ice floating out on the lake, and around it’s edges, the waves are moving again for the first time since November.  The wind is shifting it from one side to the other, slowly crushing, consolidating and wearing away at the ragged edges.  I’m watching it recede before my eyes as the day wears on.  In a day or two, or maybe even by morning, it will be gone. 

I can feel the exuberance of the waterfowl in my own soul as I watch the lake come alive after it’s long winter’s sleep.  I, too, have missed the twinkle of sunny waves through the shoreline trees, the soothing movement of the ripples reflecting the colors of the sky, the energy of the waves driving before the wind, and the smooth glimmer of its liquid mirror on still evenings.  I think I am surely just as happy as they to know that the reward of our mutual long and hopeful wait is right around the corner.

But I wasn’t worried that it would come, because the promises of God are always true to those who wait for them.  That goes for the change of seasons, as well as a lot of other things too numerous to list here now.  It’s good to remind ourselves of that, especially right after Easter.  The story isn’t finished yet!

“Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:28)

Easter Week: Resurrection

IMG_3913 edit.jpg“After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

Suddenly there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, rolled away the stone, and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards trembled in fear of him and became like dead men.

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen, just as He said! Come, see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him.’ See, I have told you.”

So they hurried away from the tomb in fear and great joy, and ran to tell His disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” They came to Him, grasped His feet, and worshiped Him. “Do not be afraid,” said Jesus. “Go, tell My brothers to go to Galilee. There they will see Me.” (Matthew 28: 1-10)

And all I have to say is: Hallelujah!

Easter Week: Garden Tomb

IMG_9697 editDown in a garden in a rich man’s tomb,

Lies a man condemned to die;

Wrapped hurriedly in linen cloth

As the Sabbath eve drew nigh.

 

Most friends had long forsaken him,

But a devoted few stayed true,

Risking their reputations,

To bury a despised King of Jews.

 

Their tears fell bitter in the shadowed crypt,

On the newly hewed out stone,

For the beloved friend they’d lost.

For cherished hopes now gone.

 

Darkness falls across the land,

As grief-stricken they leave,

The haunting scent of aloe and myrrh,

Wafts through the olive trees.

 

Up in the city, along the streets,

Quiet rest of Sabbath reigns,

As still as His body, bruised and pierced,

Bound by death’s dark chains.

 

But the fans of palm are whispering,

Along the garden path that winds,

Echoes of hosannas sung,

More than memories on their minds.

 

“Wait and see,” they seem to say,

“The story’s not complete,

This One they begged to save now,

Does not lie here in defeat.”

 

Just as a kernel cannot grow,

‘Til it’s buried in the ground,

The requirement is death,

Before new life will be found.”

 

“But Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:23-24)

Easter Week: Last Words from the Cross

IMG_3787.JPGThese are the His last words, spoken from the cross.  Meditate on them as you remember the pain and agony He endured that day…not because He had to, but because He loved YOU.

“When they came to the place called The Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals, one on His right and the other on His left.

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:33-34)

“One of the criminals who hung there heaped abuse on Him. “Are You not the Christ?” he said. “Save Yourself and us!”

But the other one rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same judgment? We are punished justly, for we are receiving what our actions deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!”

And Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

“Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother and her sister, as well as Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” So from that hour, this disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:25-27)

“At the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice… “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34)

“After this, knowing that everything had now been accomplished, and to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there. So they soaked a sponge in the wine, put it on a stalk of hyssop, and lifted it to His mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished.” (John 19:28-30)

“It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over all the land until the ninth hour. The sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn down the middle.

Then Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit.” And when He had said this, He breathed His last.” (Luke 23:44-46)

 

Something to beautiful to listen to: “What Wondrous Love is This”

Easter Week: The Last Supper

IMG_2683 edit“It was now just before the Passover Feast, and Jesus knew that His hour had come to leave this world and return to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the very end….Jesus knew that the Father had delivered all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was returning to God. (John 13:1, 3)

“When evening came, Jesus was reclining with the twelve disciples. And while they were eating, He said to them, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray Me.”

They were deeply grieved and began to ask Him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?”

Jesus answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with Me will betray Me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed. It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

Then Judas, who would betray Him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?”

Jesus answered, “You have said it yourself.”

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, spoke a blessing and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is My body.”

Then He took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:20-30)

IMG_2684 edit.jpgI can only begin to imagine the range and depth of emotion coursing through Jesus on this night.

Urgency?  This was His very last chance to teach and instruct His disciples, and prepare them for what lay ahead.

Love?  He tenderly washed their feet.  He comforted them.  He prayed for them, and for all who would believe in Him thereafter.

Dread?  He knew that by morning, He would be arrested, betrayed by one of His own inner circle, turned on by the fickle crowds of Jesusalem, sentenced to cruel death.

Anxiety?  Later in the night, we know that He shed His first drops of blood not on the cross, but in Gethsemane as He agonized over what was coming.

Sorrow?  He told Peter, “My soul is consumed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:38)

Fear?  In His humanity, He asked His Father that He might be spared the agony that He knew awaited Him.

Abandonment?  He watched one of his inner circle walk out the door intent upon betrayal.  He asked his remaining eleven friends to pray with him; he found them sleeping.  Later, they would all run away or claim they never knew Him.

And yet, determination?  He told His Father, “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39)

“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? No, it is for this purpose that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name!” (John 12:27-28)