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)

A Simple Recipe for Spring

IMG_8148.JPGStep 1: Bathe everything in a very generous amount of warm sunshine.IMG_8060-01Step 2: Wait for an awful lot of all this to melt.  Allow it to soak in thoroughly.IMG_8136.JPGStep 3: Enjoy the results, springing up from the sun-soaked, well-watered, nitrogen-infused happy earth.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
            And do not return there without watering the earth
            And making it bear and sprout,
            And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
            It will not return to Me empty,
            Without accomplishing what I desire,
            And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”

(Isaiah 55:10-11)

Emerging

IMG_3594It’s the best part of spring, that brief period of time when life begins to reemerge from the bare branches and brown earth.  The world is exploding almost visibly with life, and I hardly dare blink lest I miss something.  Everywhere I look there are buds bursting open, leaves unfolding, new scenes unfolding and an unending number of discoveries to make.

Across the lake, that first cloudy mist of soft green is enveloping the poplars, contrasted stunningly against the deep evergreen of the pines.

There are the gardens to examine, where I eagerly check to see if my plants survived yet one more winter, greeting the ones who do like long-lost friends.  The ones who were just planted last year and have just passed the big test of surviving their very first Minnesota winter create the most excitement.  Sometimes, I’m disappointed (never mind, foxgloves, we’ll try again); other times I’m pleasantly surprised (hello, strawberries!).IMG_0518Then, there are the woodsy pilgrimages to make, traditions dating to my childhood, like going in search of the dainty lavender and white hepaticas that are so absolutely quintessential of a Minnesota spring.IMG_0743IMG_0741And, if I’m paying attention and watching my step as I go, there is almost always something new to discover.  Something unexpected, like the strange forms of emerging horsetail at the edge of a gravel country road.  Or a pair of sandhill cranes, flapping their half-graceful, half-ungainly way out of the maze of last year’s cornstalks.  Or a fisher bounding across a lonely, narrow, backwoods road, stopping just long enough to glance back at us curiously.IMG_0494Beauty in the expected and familiar; beauty in the unexpected and unfamiliar.  Truly,

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

But I must say that I think this may be especially true in the spring.

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