Goodbye, Old Friend

Yesterday, I was returning home from Rice Lake, a weekly drive I have made hundreds of times over the past dozen years. Time and repetition have created familiarity. For all its seasonal changes, the contours of the landscape have become a part of me. Just north of Chippewa Falls, I always look at a certain field, a shallow bowl protected on two sides by a ridge of mixed hardwoods. I once saw a black bear sitting in that field eating corn. I have hoped to see him again, though I never have.

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Further north, a horse farm is nestled in the hills. I often wonder, how many horses do they have? I have never been able to count, but each season, new foals join the group. They chase the older ones through the large pasture, sparsely dotted with large round bails.

I cross three rivers. Typically calm and unassuming, when bitter winter air presses down upon the water, they breathe blankets of fog into the atmosphere. Though a visible reminder of the cold, these low clouds are welcomed beauty.

Although I have come to love each of these scenes, they have been casual companions. Not so this barn; she has been a true friend. Whether driving north or south, I have always looked at her. On the rare occasion I have had others ride along with me, I have always pointed her out with fondness. My office wall features a watercolor I made of this barn. Though I never shared this with my wife, I once toyed with the idea of finding out if this homestead was for sale. Okay, more than once.

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Yesterday, as I drove home, I saw a pillar of gray smoke rising through the raindrops. I suspected it was the burn pile that is often smoking in the afternoons. Yet, as I rounded a curve on 53 South, I saw what was left of the barn–my barn–smoldering on the ground. I knew it was coming. The house has been gone for several months, yet I was filled with sadness and a sense of loss. My old friend was no longer.

How does one develop a particular affection for something inanimate? Why had this barn, a skeleton really, had such a hold on me? Why this farm, and not another? I cannot truly say. Partly, I believe, it projected wisdom, strength, and beauty. It represented for me a lifelong love of farms, but more importantly, for the farmers I have known and loved–my grandfather Wilfred, my uncle Paul, my uncle John–many of them, like this barn, now passed on.

We don’t love generalities, we love specifics.  We cannot love creation without recognizing that we live in a specific place. We cannot love humankind without loving particular people. We are embedded in specific families, communities, and cultures at a particular time in history. This farm has been a part of my story over the last dozen years and has been imprinted upon my heart. Other people and other places, some known only briefly and some known for a lifetime, also exist there. They are a part of me.

And so I say goodbye, old friend. Thank you for being an important part of my life.

enCOURAGEment

A couple of weeks ago, a friend challenged what he perceived to be my lack of courage. He suggested that fear was driver for a recent decision I made. Historically yes, I told him, I have lacked the courage to do hard things. As a natural-born people pleaser, I have historically avoided conflict. I’ve done whatever was necessary to not kick the hornet’s nest, but sometimes the hornet’s nest needs to be kicked. He was right in identifying that fear has been one of my primary motivators, and I told him so.

What I did not tell him was that the decision that he thought lacked courage was probably the bravest thing I’ve ever done.

This morning, I was thinking about encouragement and it dawned on me for the first time that the root word for encouragement is courage. I don’t know why I never realized that before. So  I began to ask, what then is the process of encouragement? Who is an encourager? Encouragement is the process of telling others that you believe in them; it is communicating that yes, you believe they can do something difficult. That you have faith that they can step bravely into the unknown.

My friend Larry wrote a book on Encouragement. It’s a book about coming alongside other people, entering their battle. But encouragement is not simply telling others nice things about themselves. It is not simply saying, “everything will be okay” because maybe it won’t. Perhaps encouragement is saying, “I know this is hard. I cannot do this for you. You may be entering into a space where you will be hurt. You are walking into the unknown. There may be traps and pitfalls and difficulties. Perhaps even death. But I believe you and I am for you.” Encouragers ask would you rather die on the right battlefield or live comfortably on the wrong one. Courage involves entering into places and situations that we would rather not. An encourager says, “I am with you.”

Encouragers ask would you rather die on the right battlefield or live comfortably on the wrong one.

Life is not made up of pleasantries, pleasures, and constant positivity. God never said it would be. Life here can be filled with pain, hardship, and relational breakdown. Despite our titan efforts to avoid pain, or to pretend it away, it still comes. It is unavoidable. The question that each of us must face is “will I step into the pain, into the darkness, into the battle?” Will we follow God into the unknown? Are we willing to do it afraid? Are we willing to be called cowardly even in the midst of the most courageous thing we’ve ever done? Are we willing to be told we lack character when it is from a place of integrity that we are acting? Are we willing to go it alone if necessary?

Thankfully, encouragers never leave us to ourselves. Even if we must step into the confusion on our own, encouragers are behind us whispering, “I am for you.”

If we are honest, the way ahead is unknown for all of us. No one knows what tomorrow may bring. We are all faced with confusion and uncertainty. That is a necessary part of life under the sun. But when we’re afraid, we must notice the encouragers grabbing our hands and reminding us, “You’ve got this. I believe in you.”

A full search into our own soul causes life to begin, not end. And then it’s as if we’ve never lived before. Dark nights may not go away, but they hold the promise of a bright morning. This world’s sunsets become another world’s sunrises. And joy comes into sight.–Larry Crabb

Beauty, is above all, a manifestation of grace, of abundance and generosity. It’s the reason why God placed flowers on the earth: to have little voices calling to us constantly about grace.-Dallas Willard

Jehovah Shalom

True peace is found not
in the absence of conflict,
but in its midst; not
on sunny days
but in storms,
for peace is not
a function of circumstance
but of being
held by the One
who is Peace.

Always in Beauty

From my book, Soil of the Divine

Morning breaks forth after cool night,
like a child from the womb
sometimes noisily
sometimes with barely a sound
but always in beauty.

Whether coiffured clouds
or baldheaded sun,
the morning’s emerging light
and blanket of dew
remind of God’s mercies
each morning made new.

From the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.
-Psalm 110:3

If we cultivate the art of inner quiet and develop habits to nurture the mind’s green fields, we will hear the melodies of heaven. – Suzanne Rhodes

Awaken Me

O LORD,
Omniscient Creator, willing Redeemer, ever-present Sustainer,
the glory of goodness and the vastness of beauty
flow unendingly from your throne.
You attend to every detail
upholding the cosmos
moment by moment
breath by breath
and yet I fail to see.
I dull my senses
living in the mundane
failing to notice your manifold works
the pervasiveness of your beauty.
My interest is lukewarm.
I neglect your presence in the sensate world.
Teach me, O Spirit, to attend with wonder
to the expansiveness of your creation
remembering that you, O LORD,
are present in all things beautiful.

Awe came upon every soul–Acts 2:43a

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