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)

Pussy Willow V

IMG_8341 edit.jpgOf course it’s the most appropriate thing in the world that we look forward to the formal celebration of the Resurrection at exactly the same time we are watching the natural world around us spring from dead and dormant to vibrant and alive.

Outside the maroon points of tulips are pushing through the cold, sodden earth within inches of residual snow banks and the pussy willows are making clouds of lace above the thawing murky swamps.  The swans circle in daily, checking the state of the lake ice, and the robins are hopping around, drumming for earthworms.  Inside, I’m writing “buy the biggest ham you can find” on my grocery list, taking stock of white tights and practicing a new arrangement of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” on the piano.  Some of the most wonderful days of the entire year are almost upon us and, to me, the very air is weighty with anticipation.

Considering how I feel about it, I can only imagine how those last few weeks before Easter must have felt to Jesus Himself.  In hopes of catching a tiny glimpse of this, I’m planning to do something a little bit special on here this year.  Starting on Palm Sunday, I’m going to be posting daily for the week leading up to Easter, highlighting the actual Biblical events that led up to Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Some days I may just share Scripture, which we all know speaks for itself and requires no embellishment.  Some days I may add a few of my own reflections and thoughts.  It will be like an Easter devotional, a countdown to this upcoming highest and holiest of days and a sort of heart-preparation to bring deeper meaning and understanding to the celebration.

I hope you will join me!

“When they gathered together in Galilee, Jesus told them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and on the third day He will be raised to life.” (Matthew 17:22-23)

 

 

Harbinger

img_8262-e1525044489798.jpgI thought it was high time a robin put in an appearance, both in my yard and on this blog, but they took their sweet time this year.  I was hearing all sorts of sightings reported by friends and family, and I was seriously beginning to wonder if these little harbingers* of springtime were even going to show me their faces this year.  And if they didn’t, would it even really be spring?  I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that robins are about as quintessential to the advent of spring as pussy willows.

But, one bright morning this week, I heard a new yet familiar bird call through the window, and spotted a pair of handsomely erect rust-breasted worm-hunters running and hopping across the yard.  I melted a dark spot in the frosty grass sitting perfectly still until one (skeptically) got close enough for this shot.  So, just in case you needed reassurance, I thought I’d pass the news on to you that all is well, after all.  Spring really is here.

*Harbinger: “A person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another.”

How beautiful…are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7)

The Sound of Returning

IMG_8040.JPGEvery time I drive over the bridge there are more of them there than the last time.

The returning has begun.

In the car, though, you miss the sound of it.  On a blog, you do, too.  There’s just nothing that replaces the physical act of standing on the bridge, leaning into a square wooden beam, and immersing yourself in a few minutes of that wondrous cacophony of honking, quacking and trumpeting.  It’s the music of spring migration, and it’s enough to infuse any year-round resident who has weathered yet one more season of long nights and sub-zero temps with hope.

I heard them chattering in the church foyer last week, too, as the winter birds gathered round, tired faces relaxing into welcoming smiles for these forerunners of the much-anticipated annual migration.  The sound of the returning was never so obvious, however, or so beautiful, than it was in the swelling fullness of the opening hymn.

Welcome back, snowbirds.  It’s good to hear all your happy voices again.

“Even the stork in the sky knows her seasons; and the turtledove and the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration.” (Jeremiah 8:7)

“For, lo, the winter is past…the time of the singing of birds is come.” (Song of Solomon 2:11-12)

 

 

Cattail Glory

IMG_7553.JPGIn this season between seasons, when it’s not really winter but doesn’t really seem like spring either, the changes occurring in the natural world are sometimes very subtle.  Yet, I have learned, they are there.  Nothing is really sitting still.  Everything is silently, gradually, almost imperceptibly, readying itself for when it’s time to burst forth into newness of life.  It does require my camera and I to look harder on these days when a walk still requires me to wear the old winter hat and mittens, but the discoveries we do make of coming spring are only that much more triumphant.

Today I take note: The last of the cattails that have been neat little brown cylindrical sausages on sticks all winter are finally, after months of wear by wind and snow, disintegrating into downy halos of seed.  They are dying, giving up of the very last of themselves.  Soon the bare stalks will turn soft as well, bowing to the swamp below them nevermore to rise again.

But we all know that somewhere, in other bare nooks in the swamp, baby cattails will spring forth from the downy fluff these tired old stalks are releasing to the wind.  There would be no continuance of life if they held onto the gift they possessed; it is only in the letting go that life will go on.  They release the old, looking forward unto the new and better things to come—and in the late afternoon sunshine, it’s as though they’re crowned with glory.

“But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. .”  (Philippians 3:13-14, KJV)