More Than Fine

TELL me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream ! —
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real !   Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal ;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way ;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle !
Be a hero in the strife !

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant !
Let the dead Past bury its dead !
Act,— act in the living Present !
Heart within, and God o’erhead !

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time ;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate ;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

The Psalm of Life – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)


Sometimes we need a reboot. There are situations and circumstances that bring us down. People will disappoint us. We will fail. In life, we have to know there will be good with the bad. It’s all wrapped up together in the package called LIFE. As we adjust ourselves, recuperate, and pick up the pieces, we learn, improve our understanding, and grow. As many people have experienced first-hand in the last few years, financial troubles can lead to desperation, despair, and giving up on dreams once held dear. It’s not that we can’t undergo trials without falling completely to pieces. There are times, however, when the road we attempt to take on the way to our dreams actually leads us nowhere. We actually need these detours to lead us to the places we need to go in order to be ready for the grand dreams we all hold in our hearts.

Maybe you’ve forgotten your dreams, or laid them down due to outside pressure or difficulty. Perhaps you’ve come to the conclusion that real life has no place for your dreams, or maybe even gotten the mistaken idea that the magical fantasy land of your dreams holds no place for you! I need to let you know right now that as long as there is life, there is also hope.

You are not finished. You are not defeated. Every moment is another chance, another choice. Don’t give up. You can do this!

“Oh! Teach us to live well! Teach us to live wisely and well! Come back, God—how long do we have to wait?— and treat your servants with kindness for a change. Surprise us with love at daybreak; then we’ll skip and dance all the day long. Make up for the bad times with some good times; we’ve seen enough evil to last a lifetime. Let your servants see what you’re best at— the ways you rule and bless your children. And let the loveliness of our Lord, our God, rest on us, confirming the work that we do. Oh, yes. Affirm the work that we do!”

Psalm 90:11-13 (The Message)

The Head and Not the Tail…

“My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet.”

Mahatma Gandhi (Indian Philosopher, internationally esteemed for his doctrine of nonviolent protest, 1869-1948)

There are times in life when we may need to change our situation for a time in order to fulfill our dreams; this is a common belief, that we need a big location for our big dreams. Some people think that when inspiration hits them, it is meant for them at another time and place. Other people think that they need to BE bigger, more important or more impressive in order for them to live out their big, important, impressive dreams. I used to think this too. Perhaps you do as well. Perhaps you have come to believe that small little you cannot ever see those dreams come true, those dreams that light your days with possibility like the sun and put a sparkle in your eyes.

Let me tell you right now that absolutely, unequivocally, and without a doubt, you are WRONG.

The dreams God plants inside us are, at first, seeds. There is some growing on our part that is necessary, but it is growing on the INSIDE that will actually get us ready for these dreams to come to light. Our outer limits (such as budget, reputation, economic resources, personal beauty, etc.) are much less limiting than we think they are. You see, if the Dream Giver plants a dream, He is well aware of what is needed for that dream to come true. God gives us dreams where we are for a reason. We may have to leave for a time, but we may eventually find ourselves walking familiar paths as we return to old stomping grounds and see the tiny green tips of our dream start to grow.

You are absolutely important enough right now for the dreams you carry in your heart. The reason is: Your dreams are not about you. Your dreams are not even FOR you. Your dreams are for everyone else in the world; and your dreams are all about God, the Dream Giver.

We are entrusted with dreams that require our care and time and patience. God has the resources and the wisdom to bring things to fruition in due time. Our job, then, is not to be billionaire, genius, playboy, philanthropist, or any such thing. God wants us, the very person with our very personality, experiences, and past, perfected to be the very best us for our very best dream. Nothing less than you will do. Everything else is beside the point.

If you will listen diligently to the voice of the Lord your God, being watchful to do all His commandments which I command you this day, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you if you heed the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your body and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your beasts, the increase of your cattle and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading trough. Blessed shall you be when you come in and blessed shall you be when you go out. The Lord shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways. The Lord shall command the blessing upon you in your storehouse and in all that you undertake. And He will bless you in the land which the Lord your God gives you. The Lord will establish you as a people holy to Himself, as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in His ways. And all people of the earth shall see that you are called by the name [and in the presence of] the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you. And the Lord shall make you have a surplus of prosperity, through the fruit of your body, of your livestock, and of your ground, in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give you. The Lord shall open to you His good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands; and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. And the Lord shall make you the head, and not the tail; and you shall be above only, and you shall not be beneath, if you heed the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you this day and are watchful to do them. And you shall not turn aside from any of the words which I command you this day, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them. Deuteronomy 28 : 1-14 (Amplified Bible)

The Emerald City, Now What?

Guardian of the Emerald City Gates: Who rang that bell?
Dorothy, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, Tin Woodsman: [all four together] We did!
Guardian of the Emerald City Gates: Can’t you read?
Scarecrow: Read what?
Guardian of the Emerald City Gates: The notice!
Dorothy: What notice?
Guardian of the Emerald City Gates: It’s on the door – as plain as the nose on my face! It… oh…
[does a “tisk tisk tisk” expression, goes inside door for a moment]
Guardian of the Emerald City Gates: [Guardian hangs the notice and goes back inside]
Dorothy, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, Tin Woodsman: [Reading notice, all together] Bell out of order, please knock.
[Dorothy knocks]
Guardian of the Emerald City Gates: Well, that’s more like it! Now, state your business!
Dorothy: [Dorothy and friends, all together] We want to see the Wizard!
Guardian of the Emerald City Gates: [gasps] The Wizard? But nobody can see the Great Oz! Nobody’s ever seen the Great Oz! Even I’ve never seen him!
Dorothy: Well, then how do you know there is one?
Guardian of the Emerald City Gates: Oh, you’re wasting my time!
[starts to close the window]
Dorothy: Oh, please! Please, sir! I’ve got to see the Wizard! The Good Witch of the North sent me!
Guardian of the Emerald City Gates: Prove it!
Scarecrow: She’s wearing the ruby slippers she gave her.
Guardian of the Emerald City Gates: Oh, so she is! Well, bust my buttons! Why didn’t you say that in the first place? That’s a horse of a different color! Come on in!

Well, after some time of persevering and hoping and working and not giving up, you will eventually reach the place where your dreams are taking shape before your eyes. However, this is not where your happily-ever-after starts. You may be rather disappointed (because we have all had this idea in our heads at one point or another) to find out that when our dreams begin to come true, it will mean yet MORE work.

So you’ve gotten that big promotion, but your new office is quite a commute, do you stay put or do you uproot your family and move? So you’ve finally met Mr. or Miss Right, you plan to get married, but they have kids and so do you, as well as a past, families who may or may not approve, etc. Will all of those issues just dissolve when you get married or, along with this captivating soulmate, are you now facing issues you hadn’t anticipated? The list of situations can go on and on beyond these couple of examples. We want things in our lives but we don’t always count the cost to get there or the cost of staying there.

Do you remember when Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Cowardly Lion all got to the Emerald City? They thought their problems were solved, their dreams were fulfilled, and at last they were safe from that dreaded Wicked Witch of the West. To their dismay, they found that, not only was it difficult to get into the Emerald City at all, but the Wizard turned out to be rather frightening, demanding, and asked them to do the very thing they would like to avoid: go back and see the Witch again! What in the world was he thinking?? The Wizard didn’t just want them to pay a polite social call. He knew they would have to sneak into the Witch’s castle, get past the Witch’s guards (and flying monkeys). He knew it would be dangerous and scary, and unfamiliar. He wanted them to bring him back the Witch’s broomstick, which means they would have to kill her! Dorothy and her friends were terrified at the thought of going back to see the witch, but if they wanted the Wizard’s help, and they desperately did, they would have to do as he asked.

There are many times in our lives when our success may seem lopsided. We might have some of our wishes fulfilled, but not all, or not in the order that we had planned. There always seems to be more work involved in winning the prize than we had anticipated, and there are many things from our past (fears, issues, people) that we will again be forced to face. We might begin to wonder if it’s worth it. Wouldn’t it be far easier to just stay as we are, getting by, but not really being challenged, not growing. We’re not excited, we may not even BE exciting to be around anymore because we’ve lost that special spark, but improving our situation and walking through that looooong field of poppies to the Emerald City just seems like too much hassle.

If you have ever felt this way, as I have, let me share with you a gentle reminder: there is no avoiding the Wicked Witch of the West. Eventually, she will find you, and usually when you are least prepared. Isn’t it a better idea to face her and decide for yourself when and how you will do battle? Yes, I said battle. We are all of us in a battle for peace, freedom, happiness and even our very souls. As we march about our daily lives, doing good, working hard to be better men and women, being patient, being kind, forgiving, we are striking out at an age-old enemy who is jealous, who believes we took something we shouldn’t have, who hates us and wants nothing more than our destruction. This enemy has many names, but for now, let’s focus on our story and see what happens…

The friends finally confront the Witch in her castle, and they are completely out-matched by the witch and her forces. Things appear hopeless, but then one brave act of Dorothy’s changes everything. The Witch is defeated, and they have the broomstick with the blessing of the soldiers who for so long have been forced to do the bidding of the Wicked Witch against their will. After more work and searching, and of course walking (does no one even have a ponycart in Oz?), they solve the mystery of the Wizard, who turns out to be very kind, if blustering. He helps them to realize that the seeds of the dreams they hold in their hearts were with them all along and only needed to be cultivated in order to grow big enough to see. Dorothy eventually gets home again, and learns to be thankful for the many people around her who love her, and everyone ends up a little wiser than they began.

Your dreams may sometimes seem like a lot of work and time and trial, but they are just as worth it now that you have realized this as they were when the first glimmer of them sparkled in your eyes. Don’t give up on these dreams. You will never be the person you were meant to be if you decide against the trials and frustrations and hard work in favor of a padded and safe mediocrity. The world will miss out as well, but not as much as you will personally. The Yellow Brick Road may lead through dark forests and dry valleys, but all that is necessary is for you to take one step at a time. Now come on! Put on those Ruby Slippers and join me!!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” Jeremiah 29 : 11-14

Beauty for Ashes

“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crown-less again shall be king.”  J.R.R. Tolkien

These are tough times when many have seen dreams dashed and hopes shattered. There is pain and struggle as people struggle to overcome or re-build their damaged lives. It is really unclear how many people are actually affected, because the hearty, proud and stalwart bread-winners of our country do not like to admit that they cannot help themselves out of a hole when they fall in one. Patience and understanding are at a premium these days, as well as compassion and HOPE.

Today I read an article which broke my heart. It was from a fellow-blogger who was discussing the reasons behind Sesame Street having to cover the issue of food stamps and childhood hunger. (You can read the article here.) The fact that this is even a question for any child SHOULD be heart breaking. Sadly, many of us have become immune to this issue, and many, many others. We give up, we discount our ability to help one, or two, or three or a few. Now, however, the problems are knocking at our own front doors like the Big Bad Wolf. Where do we turn for sympathy? Who do we ask for help?

It is discouraging for many of those who suffer from lost income, surprise medical conditions, crushing debt, hunger, homelessness, and the overwhelming feeling that they might not make it to see the fulfillment of their dreams. It is discouraging for these people to see and hear their more fortunate friends and family relate stories of shopping sprees, vacations, new cars, new houses, and promotions at work. There is so much trouble all around us, our sensitivity is incredibly crucial for those who are facing troubles that genuinely make them wonder how they will pull through this new test.

For those who have or are facing these kinds of trials, there is hope even in the midst of your suffering and confusion, and your dark night will have a dawn. Don’t you dare give up!!

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.                                                                                     

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.
Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
    foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
    you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
    and in their riches you will boast.

Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.

“For I, the Lord, love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
    and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
    and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
    that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up
    and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
    and praise spring up before all nations. Psalm 61

In the Palm of Your Hand

“We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”

Charles R. Swindoll(American Writer and Clergyman, b.1934)

If you only took the time to understand how much you can accomplish with a moment. A single choice, when added to and built upon another choice and another, effects such change in your life that it can only be outmatched by the changes that single choice first started in you, yourself. We are more than what we eat. We are also what we do and think and say and believe.

If your mind is full of walls and barriers and obstacles, your words will tend to highlight the things that make it difficult for you to succeed. Your actions mirror the things that you think and talk about. For all intents and purposes, you ARE the terrible things you think you are and are trapped by walls impossible to climb, break, or otherwise escape… but it doesn’t have to be this way.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Thomas Alva Edison  (1847-1931)

The Underground Railroad, was a network of people who helped many slaves find their way to freedom. It was dangerous, frightening, and also illegal. Sometimes, in order for us to overcome hardship in our lives, there is a certain amount of struggle. The brave individuals which were able to escape and begin new lives believed that it was worth the risk, worth fighting for with their lives.

I have been reading about struggles of women and other vulnerable groups in other countries who have fought for the right to freely and safely walk the streets, speak in public, drive, hold a job, raise their children the way they deem best, and many other things those of us in the West take for granted. These things have been denied to them for a long time. The act of public protest and dissent is often like stepping in front of an oncoming train. There is a lot of suffering and pain, even to the point of death. These courageous individuals also believe that some things are worth a fight.

“I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” Abraham Lincoln (16th US President (1861-65), who brought about the emancipation of the slaves. 1809-1865)

Is there something standing before you like a wall, dark and forbidding, which you think you can never overcome? It may seem impossible, it may seem frightening, it may seem foolish to even hope. However, MUCH has been overcome in the past, MUCH is being overcome in the present, and MUCH will be overcome in the future. Do you realize that there is no difference between those who overcome and those who stay shackled in life (sometimes literally)? The only thing which changes the outcome is choice. You can make a choice. You can make a couple of choices. You can make many, many choices. After you do this, changes begin to happen, in your life and in yourself. You are only a few choices away from a different life if you so desire.

“Life is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more” Anthony Robbins

You have a gift which you may not realize you have. You have, in the palm of your hand, the gift of free will. This is not the gift of someone else’s free will, but yours. This gift is more precious than most things you can name, and with it is a responsibility to choose what is right. Choosing between right and wrong is elementary, though many seem to choose wrong in spite of this.

The gift of choice also means we must choose what is right for us. If your dream is to do something that your friends and family have never done, something that shows your talents, then it is not only desirable but your responsibility to choose to do the thing which makes you happy. None of us are supposed to live our lives as drudges, stumbling around miserable and inept in someone else’s idea of “the perfect life”. I, for one, am not good at things I don’t enjoy, and even some of the things I DO enjoy are hard work for me. But I press through the difficulties (not always with a good attitude, I’ll admit), because of the glimpses I have seen of what awaits me on the other side.

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3 : 10-14

“The Way is Shut”

“Living is strife and torment, disappointment and love and sacrifice, golden sunsets and black storms. I said that some time ago, and today I do not think I would add one word.” Sir Laurence Olivier (English Actor, Producer and Film Director, 1907-1989)

What do we do when the road reaches a dead end? Where do we turn? How do we go on when disappointment after disappointment overshadows all our brightest hopes and dreams?

It can be so tempting to give up when we look failure in the face and see its empty eyes staring blankly. Sometimes we will fail, and that is the simple truth of it. Failure is as blind as justice, and just as impartial. Just as natural disasters strike people of all kinds and characters, failure, too, sits in all our paths eventually. Then our dreams seem so foolish. The pessimists seem to rule the day. Our hopes evaporate into the blank, still air. There we are, fallen on the pavement with our skinned hands and knees, bleeding, hurt, humiliated, and confused. What went wrong? How did this happen? Why can’t I win??

It is never a pleasant posture to be in when we find ourselves on our faces in the dirt, instead of soaring through the air like Icarus and Daedalus. Although, if you remember correctly, they had their own disappointments. They also found their faces in the dirt.

“Ones best success comes after their greatest disappointments.” Henry Ward Beecher (Liberal US Congregational minister, 1813-1887)

Sometimes, perhaps, it takes a failure to point us in the right direction. Every great inventor and innovator has dealt with numerous failures on the way to ultimate success. Maybe one reason for this is that every discovery lies somewhere outside the realm of the known. The direction is vague, if we have a direction at all. Sometimes, all we have is a fuzzy sense that there must be a better way, or better idea, or better life. When we fail, we are made aware of our limitations. If we know the problems, we can work to fix them, after all.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” Martin Luther King, Jr. (American Baptist Minister and Civil-Rights Leader. 1929-1968)

Many, if not all, of our world’s greatest and most inspiring figures have faced crippling failure and humiliating defeats on the way to ultimate victory. If we are able to look past the gravel embedded in our scraped hands and knees, we will see the powerful truth behind every failure we encounter. Failure should not send us running for cover. Every failure is a lesson. Experience may be a hard teacher, but it DOES teach us many things. Time spent on the ground can help us to clarify, for ourselves, if this goal is worth the fight. Every time we stand back up again, we grow stronger. Every time we stand back up again, we demonstrate our faith and perseverance. Some things, are simply worth the work.  

So, remember the next time you find yourself choking on dust and picking rocks out of your wounded pride, remember that this fight is not over yet! You are still here! You may not be standing yet, but you will stand at the last, no matter what.

 It is God who arms me with strength
    and keeps my way secure.
 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
    he causes me to stand on the heights.
 He trains my hands for battle;
    my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
 You make your saving help my shield,
    and your right hand sustains me;
    your help has made me great.
 You provide a broad path for my feet,
    so that my ankles do not give way. Psalm 18 : 32-36

A Secret Garden

“Mary Lennox had heard a great deal about Magic in her Ayah’s stories, and she always said that what happened almost at that moment was Magic.

One of the nice little gusts of wind rushed down the walk, and it was a stronger one than the rest. It was strong enough to wave the branches of the trees, and it was more than strong enough to sway the trailing sprays of untrimmed ivy hanging from the wall. Mary had stepped close to the robin, and suddenly the gust of wind swung aside some loose ivy trails, and more suddenly still she jumped toward it and caught it in her hand. This she did because she had seen something under it–a round knob which had been covered by the leaves hanging over it. It was the knob of a door.” The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett.

As a child, one of my favorite books was The Secret Garden. I would sit close to my book shelf, or on my knees huddled up close to it, as though, with my little body, I was walling in my own secret garden, and discovering secrets right along with the main character in the story. I loved the secret part, well, more to the point, I loved the discovering of secrets, and special places to go and be alone. I loved the idea that this marvelous place, which had been locked away because of someone’s pain and sorrow, was being enjoyed and revitalized again! No longer was the garden going to waste!

Mary had thought it must be different from other gardens which had not been left all by themselves so long; and indeed it was different from any other place she had ever seen in her life.

“How still it is!” she whispered. “How still!”

Then she waited a moment and listened at the stillness. The robin, who had flown to his treetop, was still as all the rest. He did not even flutter his wings; he sat without stirring, and looked at Mary.

“No wonder it is still,” she whispered again. “I am the first person who has spoken in here for ten years.”

She moved away from the door, stepping as softly as if she were afraid of awakening some one. She was glad that there was grass under her feet and that her steps made no sounds. She walked under one of the fairy-like gray arches between the trees and looked up at the sprays and tendrils which formed them. “I wonder if they are all quite dead,” she said. “Is it all a quite dead garden? I wish it wasn’t.”

I have always loved gardens. There is something really akin to magic in the way a shriveled, dried-up seed can go into the ground, and over time, with care, sunshine, and proper watering, up from the soil spring wondrous things to eat and smell, and look at, and climb, and build things out of eventually! Some seeds take more care than others, naturally, like the more delicate, specialized ones. The rarer the plant we hope to cultivate, the more attention we will need to give while we are raising our little seedlings. Try as we might, some climates just won’t allow us to grow all the things we would love to grow. I live in Washington State. It is a wonderful place to grow many things. Unfortunately, bananas, oranges, avocados, mangoes, and other tropical fruits need much more heat and sun than this climate can provide. Therefore, if my heart was absolutely set on growing these kinds of plants, I would need to move to a place that would allow for them to flourish.

“Mary was an odd, determined little person, and now she had something interesting to be determined about, she was very much absorbed, indeed. She worked and dug and pulled up weeds steadily, only becoming more pleased with her work every hour instead of tiring of it. It seemed to her like a fascinating sort of play. She found many more of the sprouting pale green points than she had ever hoped to find. They seemed to be starting up everywhere and each day she was sure she found tiny new ones, some so tiny that they barely peeped above the earth. There were so many that she remembered what Martha had said about the ‘snowdrops by the thousands,’ and about bulbs spreading and making new ones. These had been left to themselves for ten years and perhaps they had spread, like the snowdrops, into thousands. She wondered how long it would be before they showed that they were flowers.”

Several years ago, my heart had a kind of spring. There had been a different plan. It wasn’t supposed to end up this way. I had been in the line for “Happily Ever After”, hadn’t I? How, then, did I end up here?? I was a bitter, angry, defensive single mom of four small children. Smiles and jokes on the outside, I had also spent a lot of time and effort power-stuffing my pain in a closet in some forgotten room in my heart. Bewildered and betrayed, I had locked people out of my life; and locked away my hopes and dreams as well. My soul curled up in a little shivering ball and I felt all alone. It was in this silence that I began to understand something. We all have a secret garden of sorts. What we hide inside the walls depends entirely on the specific person we are; and maybe even more, it depends on the specific person we are trying to forget we are.

“Look along th’ twigs an’ branches an’ if tha’ see a bit of a brown lump swelling here an’ there, watch it after th’ warm rain an’ see what happens.” He stopped suddenly and looked curiously at her eager face. “Why does tha’ care so much about roses an’ such, all of a sudden?” he demanded.

Mistress Mary felt her face grow red. She was almost afraid to answer.

“I–I want to play that–that I have a garden of my own,” she stammered. “I–there is nothing for me to do. I have nothing–and no one.”

“Well,” said Ben Weatherstaff slowly, as he watched her, “that’s true. Tha’ hasn’t.”

He said it in such an odd way that Mary wondered if he was actually a little sorry for her. She had never felt sorry for herself; she had only felt tired and cross, because she disliked people and things so much. But now the world seemed to be changing and getting nicer. If no one found out about the secret garden, she should enjoy herself always.

But even a secret garden cannot stay hidden forever. More than this, it should not stay hidden. The best thing in the world for us to do when we have spent a little too long grieving and licking our wounds, deep though they may have been, is to open the windows and doors and let in some sunshine and fresh air. It is important for us to allow the spring to come. It is unseemly for us to allow winter to rein forever in our hearts. There is too much to be done, getting ready for the new life of plans and dreams, the seedlings of hope to be letting our ground stay fallow and unused forever.

“Mr. Craven got up and began to walk slowly across the room. ‘A bit of earth,’ he said to himself, and Mary thought that somehow she must have reminded him of something. When he stopped and spoke to her his dark eyes looked almost soft and kind. ‘You can have as much earth as you want,’ he said. ‘You remind me of some one else who loved the earth and things that grow. When you see a bit of earth you want,’ with something like a smile, ‘take it, child, and make it come alive.’ “

In a way, I had to give myself permission on the inside of myself, to let my hopes and dreams see the sun again and breathe a little. Great tragedies in our lives have a way of making us want to close all the shutters and stay inside. Our nerves are still jangling from the recent blows we have suffered. Tears still stain our cheeks, and our emotions are yet very raw. There comes a time for us all, nonetheless, when we have to step over the threshold and get on with it. A dead end of sorrow is not our destiny. Deep as the wounds are that we have most assuredly suffered, we must not let that be the end of it. You see, jaded and confused as we are in our suffering, we have never been alone.

“The place was a wilderness of autumn gold and purple and violet blue and flaming scarlet and on every side were sheaves of late lilies standing together–lilies which were white or white and ruby. He remembered well when the first of them had been planted that just at this season of the year their late glories should reveal themselves. Late roses climbed and hung and clustered and the sunshine deepening the hue of the yellowing trees made one feel that one, stood in an embowered temple of gold. The newcomer stood silent just as the children had done when they came into its grayness. He looked round and round.

‘I thought it would be dead,’ he said.

‘Mary thought so at first,’ said Colin. ‘But it came alive.’ “

There is hope, you see, for even the most dried-out, lifeless hopes and dreams. There is no reason to keep the secrets of your ultimate fairytale dreams and castle-in-the-sky wishes locked away, forgotten. Your garden was planted by Someone other than you. His desire is that He can walk with you there in the cool of the day, pointing out this blushing flower over here, that enchanting tendril of vine over there, and show you a new perspective and wonders at every turn. This secret garden belongs to you, but the world as well. With the treasures inside of these walls, you could quite possibly feed the souls of many.

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up
    and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
    and you have healed me.
O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
    you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
    and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
    and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
    “I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O Lord,
    you made my mountain stand strong;
you hid your face;
    I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cry,
    and to the Lord I plead for mercy:
“What profit is there in my death,
    if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
    Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me!
    O Lord, be my helper!”

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
    you have loosed my sackcloth
    and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever! Psalm 30: 1-12

Quirks, Raincoats, and the Smell of Fresh Papaya

I have a daughter who is bright, nerdy like her mother, and a budding photographer. On her way to school this morning, we had a chat about this unexpected gift that is developing in her. I, myself, had for a long time cherished the hope of somehow being a photographer; but it was somewhere further down the list of dream job priorities than “famous-singing-princess-astronaut”, so I have let that dream fall by the wayside. Beside the fact that, unlike my lovely daughter, I have no innate talent in this direction, photography is something I have learned to appreciate as a spectator, as I have many other things I have held up for inspection along the way to becoming an adult.

We all have our talents and quirks and knacks for things. All three of my sisters as well as my mother have an amazing talent for home decorating. They know how to put things together. They have the ability to tie pretty bows on things. I do not have either of these abilities, but I have many others. 🙂 I know many people who like to do the same things, but the levels of ability vary with the person. We are all unique. In fact, our individual talent sets, abilities, and tendencies are so distinctive that it could almost be compared to each of us having our own personal culture or language.

For example, I have this certain raincoat that I bought out of necessity when I was expecting my last child. It is long, belted, and bright turquoise. It’s also about 4 sizes too big for no-longer-pregnant me. Nevertheless, I LOVE this coat! For one thing, the size of it means I can wear bulky clothes underneath it without getting that “bunched up” feeling. I once wore it for Halloween with my huge rainbow umbrella, caked-on “Endora” eyeshadow,  a messy bun, and a plush cat toy sticking out of the pocket. Nothing says “crazy cat lady” like a get-up of that caliber, am I right? Still, to this day, I love to wear this enormous raincoat. It makes me happy sometimes, to simply go against the grain of what most people think of as desirable or normal. Who’s life is this anyway? Again, we have another example of unabashed uniqueness.

Let us consider a freshly-opened papaya for a moment. I have always thought of papaya the way I do other tropical (and to me exotic) fruits, like guava, cocoanut, pineapple, mango and dragon fruit. They are out of the ordinary treats from far-away lands. They are to be loved ad savored above such paltry and common-place things as apples and oranges, puh-leese! (Some of my childish ways have hung on a bit into adulthood, I’m afraid. I DO love apples and oranges, to be clear.) But one day I had the opportunity to visit one of our local markets that boasts a rather large ethnic section. So, there was the papaya, looking strangely other-worldly, foreign, and therefore desirable. 

“What a treat!” I thought to myself. “I will surprise my kids with this exotic delight!”

OK, so my exact wording may have been slightly different. My memory is somewhat fuzzy on that account. So I brought it home and told them of my wonderful idea. I told the about the exotic and rare treat I had in store for them. Their eyes lit up. After all, if Mom thinks it’s a wonderful thing, it must be, right?

I made a big production out of getting a cutting board and a big shiny knife. And as I expertly cut the football-sized fruit down the center, a dreadful smell filled the room. They were surprised alright. Maybe it was just the seeds, I thought. The kids wrinkled their noses. I tried not to wrinkle mine, and laughed off a nagging voice at the back of my head telling me that things you put in your mouth should NOT smell like week-old garbage. Nevertheless, I pressed on with the task of cutting large wedges of papaya for myself and my children. OK, I lied a little bit just there. After that smell, I was quite prepared to shamelessly use my children as guinea pigs and make them go first.

As anyone who has ever had fresh papaya will know, the smell did not diminish with the removal of the seeds. Now with the smell of fresh papaya filling the house, the kids took turns trying the papaya, and finally, so did I. Hastily apologizing to my children for making them eat something that tasted like rotting meat, we pitched the entire thing into the garbage, had a good laugh, and proceeded to eat, instead, the several ripe mangoes I had also purchased that day.

Curious to know more, I looked up “papaya stink”, or something to that effect, on the internet. As it turns out, the smell is completely normal for ripe papaya, as was the reaction of myself and my children. This is just more proof to what I’ve been saying all along; we are all unique, which is a really generous way to describe the first person who ever smelled a papaya and decided to go ahead and eat it anyway.

However the stories of our lives go, we are individual as snowflakes. We were each created to fill a special place. Though it may seem random and chaotic the way we are tossed out like jacks in the world, it is rather the serendipity of the Creator, who loves us as the distinctive, colorful, oddities that we are. He sees us as we really are, and His delight in us should be the end of the matter.

 Sixty queens there may be,
    and eighty concubines,
    and virgins beyond number;
 but my dove, my perfect one, is unique,
    the only daughter of her mother,
    the favorite of the one who bore her.
The young women saw her and called her blessed;
    the queens and concubines praised her. Song of Songs 6: 8-9

The Chosen Road

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost (American poet, 1874-1963)

That is a poem I memorized and took to heart when I was a junior in high school. For all the many varied and diverse roads I have traveled since then, I think I would have to agree with Mr. Frost in some regards. There are many thing you could have done that you chose not to do, and those things, taken together with the things you chose to do have shaped you to be the person you are today.

Some roads we find in life are straight and sure, free from debris and any visible threat or danger. They stretch on and on with little change or drama. Many people travel these roads, for mile upon uniform mile. These roads can seem tedious, and surreal, like you’re not actually going anywhere at all. After one hour, two, five, ten, the distance seems as distant as it did before. It seems you’ve made no progress at all. You sometimes think this MUST be the wrong way. You should have gotten somewhere by now, right? Eventually, though, you find that it was the right road after all; and thank goodness you stayed on track all the time it took! These roads seem to take up the majority of the journey.

Other roads are full of bends and sharp corners and shrubs in the middle of the path. There can be downed trees, or rock slides, or animals in the road! There are cave-ins, pitfalls, potholes, and brambles to fight our way out of and through. This road can be exciting, but it is never safe to let down your guard completely. It’s enough to make your hair turn grey! So much to see along the sides of the road, but you dare not take your eyes from in front of you! This is white-knuckle-way, Baby! You’d better fasten your seat belts here! Thankfully, these roads don’t last as long as they seem they will .

Still other roads we take are much slower, over roads that meander from side to side, and up and down over hillocks and through meadows. It’s so easy to get lost on these roads, and no trouble at all once it’s happened. These kinds of roads are full of change and surprise, but rounding a corner brings something delightful and new, some new perspective to consider. On these roads we encounter sunny glens, foamy river rapids, mountain peaks, the scent of orange blossoms, and enchanted forests we want to get lost in and never come out of again! Traveling down this road is never a trial or, unfortunately, very long.

“In the name of the best within you, do not sacrifice this world to those who are its worst. In the name of the values that keep you alive, do not let your vision of man be distorted by the ugly, the cowardly, the mindless in those who have never achieved his title. Do not lose your knowledge that man’s proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.” Ayn Rand (Russian born American Writer and Novelist, 1905-1982)

The path you are traveling leads to a place you have never been before, the future, that unknown, strange, and mysterious thing. Don’t think that the ways you have been down up until now are the ONLY ways. That would be as silly as saying the people you have known up until now are the ONLY people. It  may seem, at times, as though you were fenced in, prohibited from choosing  any other road but the ones you have already traveled. Just keep in mind, that sometimes to get somewhere new, you have to hop a fence, or swim a river, or climb a mountain. There is a lot of work in making new roads. Think of new sights, smells, flavors, feelings, loves that you will never know until you build those roads.
“When all’s said and done, all roads lead to the same end. So it’s not so much which road you take, as how you take it.” Charles de Lint (Celtic folk musician and story teller, b.1951)
No matter what road you have had the fortune, or misfortune, to travel, always there has been someone who walked the same road or a more difficult road. You are not in this world alone. No matter what the catastrophes and terrors and tragedy, there are many who have overcome these obstacles and lived triumphant afterward. Your road can be as new as your very next step. This life is full of another chance, and another, and another. The road you finally travel, is the road you CHOOSE to travel, and none of us has to walk alone.

“In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances, to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’ “They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill. They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water. I will turn all my mountains into roads, and my highways will be raised up. See, they will come from afar —some from the north, some from the west, some from the region of Aswan.” Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. Your children hasten back, and those who laid you waste depart from you.”  Isaiah 49: 8-17