It’s difficult to imagine any good from my prickly situation, but joy will come if I allow endurance to have its perfect work. Store up what I need, not in a fruitless panic, but steadily trusting the process of blooming in the desert. It may be a while before I see purpose in what I’ve stored, but joy will come. And every one of those gorgeous blooms will reflect the fruit and resilience of waiting.
I love the songs in Scripture. They have bound up wounds and resuscitated my weak heart when the burden was more than I could bear. We’d all be amazed to find out what’s covered up and bound to our backs. There are many loads, sometimes just an extra bag, that has sent this burro’s knees to the dust. It’s at this point I can’t seem to remember anything I’ve learned. I can’t see, get up, or even take another controlled breath.
But here is where the lyrics of songs and laments have made their way into my soul reminding me of what is true. Songs have such a unique way of speaking hard things into deaf ears. And like these light, provision-loving birds, a song will land and awaken what seems dead and show me where my rest is found.
A reprise is the repeated part of a song that seems to be so necessary to sing one more time if I’m to find my way.
“I have forgotten what happiness is. My endurance has perished; so has my hope. Remember my afflictions and my wanderings... My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end. The Lord is my portion, therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3, paraphrased)
What an unlikely pair, these two. One might think there’s nothing in common between this fierce brute with his horns and hard head and those flighty birds who seem quite a nuisance. But truth is their best life is in the company of the other. Here they set the terms of their journey together: One taking care of threatening invaders while the other provides the makeup of a nest. One kicking up the insects for dinner while the other cleans the coat. Seems like thriving on the plains requires opposites appreciating and gleaning from the strengths of the other.
I considered choosing a name for this piece from a list of dear friends I’ve had the privilege of knowing closely over the years -—people who were very different from me at the onset but proved to be the most amazing companions. I figured if I did use names, it would be a messy job clarifying who was the bison and who was the bird.
I catch myself day after day in a million little arguments and conversations on loop in my mind. I'm beating out the reasons, the justifications, and the formulas of all that is taking place, both in the world around me and within. I begin to feel quite accomplished in my observations and insight until something much bigger than me quiets me. There's nothing like creation to remind you of how little you know.
I'm reading through Job in Scripture. He was a man wrecked by unimaginable circumstances and (remarkably) by the words of those closest to him, the most intelligent of men. Job, who after running what he sees through every formula and reason in his genius, could only conclude that God had caused this. All of it. This expended man trusted that somehow the Almighty was justified and right in what He had superintended.
Then God spoke. He never told him the why, but confirmed Job was correct in his conclusion. God's ways were bound up in His wisdom and power which far exceeded anything that righteous man could see. It was just as David declared, "If I say, 'Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,' even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day."
God pulled Job away from his consuming analysis and created a show of His creation. He asked Job to explain the bizarre and the untamable, to which he had no answer. If those animals could not be controlled by man, how must one view their Creator? If those creatures and their actions could not be explained, how is it that man attempts to write God's ways within a formula? And still, if those creatures are both grand and awesome and always held together outside of man's power and sight, could not man trust the ways of the Almighty? "Behold, these are the fringes of His ways; and how faint a word we hear of Him! But His mighty thunder, who can understand?"
Again, I took it to canvas. The hem of His garment, the fringes of His ways — depicted as the always moving gold and red — are all that I can touch and see through the worn blue and shadow of my experience. What I know of Him is something, but it is not everything. What I can see is just light peeking through a curtain. Any reason I can grasp is just the fringes of His ways. It is His delight that I see what I see, but it is His prerogative and pleasure to work a grand work on the other side of the veil.
On a Colorado map, the route to the Western Slope looks like a series of flat green areas surrounding a thin blue line. That little blue line is the Gunnison, a large tributary of the Colorado River stretching 160 miles and the source of three large reservoirs. Once you pass Crystal Dam, the river descends sharply into what is known as the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
As we traveled westward, the river fell and its banks rose at an unbelievable rate. The Gunnison River falls at an average of 43 feet per mile, in some parts at 240 feet per mile. That’s an impressive plunge seeing as the Colorado River flowing through the Grand Canyon only drops at an average of 8 feet per mile. Eyeing the rushing waters beside and below soon became impossible as we progressed westward.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a small national park compared to most. It has two entrances — a north and a south with a massive breach separating the two. There's no bridge across the River Gunnison for miles.
With no one at the ranger station, we read the maps ourselves and decided on our hike for the day. Most wilderness areas categorize their hikes by distances and difficulty. BC of the G groups theirs into Stay-at-the-Top hikes and Descend-into-the-Depths. We chose to hike the north rim. Though we couldn’t descend, the hike was far from disappointing and it certainly didn’t suffer from a lack of risk.
After hiking for about an hour, first through feathery sage then into thick tree and rock patches, the trail led us to the edge. There was no railing, not even a No Hiking Beyond This Point sign. It was a sheer drop off.
From where we stood, we could see the other side, well, about the top quarter. Painted lines streaked diagonally across the dark canyon cliff standing so straight it hid its face from the light above. To get a better look, we'd have to go beyond where it seemed safe. We all took a few breaths, got on all fours, lowered to our bellies, and inched our way to the edge.
The Gunnison that had so eluded us for miles and miles we could now see, not just hear. We had to hang our heads over the edge to put it in our sights. It was waaayyy down at the bottom — the only piece in the crevasse bathing in light. In a dreadful way, it looked exactly like the little blue line on the map. My stomach turned and I could feel the nerves in my neck and jaw shudder with warning. I glanced to either side to see my kids' faces and curled fingers in that unguarded place. I reached out and gently touched their backs, at times holding their shirts, as they looked over that which was so unsafe, that which was so awesome and beautiful.
Every trail on this side of the rim led us to what was considered an "overlook." The danger was real, but we were not there to hike the top. We wanted to absorb the realities of what was below — the breathtaking effects of moving waters that had cut through seemingly immovable rock.
In working through the realities of our circumstances, now nine months later, I was drawn to create this piece of that particular moment on the edge. Despite all our management plans and trail mapping, our path has continued to open us up to the edge. No rails. No warning signs. Just a nudge that whispers, "Look over." My gut tells me to respond out of fear. I want to either backpedal or work to create my own kind of bridge across a dark canyon of unknown.
With all the stomach turning at these overlooks, I'm learning (slowly it seems) to just get down to my knees and make my way to the edge and breathe. There is a river flowing that has been cutting and making a way since the beginning. The realization that One has never changed in His moving is so powerful when compared to the haphazard paths I convince myself are immovable. I'm drawn to look over and rest assured that the unknown has something fixed about it. All is dark and painted except the river far, far below my reach. It's terrifying and beautiful. This piece speaks to that reality.
"Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it." Genesis 28:16
20 ounces of gold
Our family was boondocked about 15 miles from Grand Teton National Park. We wanted to drink in the full majesty of the Tetons, but impending weather threatened our plans for a mountain hike. The clouds had completely engulfed the peaks. I was disappointed. Instead, we took to a lake trail that allowed us to penetrate the surrounding forest.
My heart was already beat up. Recently, work opportunities had been upended and my husband and I were wrecked on the inside trying to find other means for stability. Just the day before, we had walked through Jackson, Wyoming as observers only, afraid to spend a dime, shaking our heads no every time the kids looking longingly at something this town had to offer. It twisted something inside me. All I knew to do was "do." We took to the trail, hoping to perhaps see a moose. I just wanted to beat the dew-covered trail with questions (more like a tantrum), sweat some disappointment, and hope for some mental relief.
About two miles in, my son pointed out a few berries hidden under a leafy bush. The kids swore they were huckleberries and not the poisonous kind the ranger warned them about. They took a few and ate them. I kept walking, not wanting to be stopped so long by the distraction, but I was alone. They were laughing behind me, yelling out new discoveries of berries on either side of the trail. My daughter pulled out a container from her pack and began tossing in the blue and purple berries. I sighed. We didn't have time for this.
I stood there for a long while watching them graze from bush to bush. I was aware of my own unyielding fear and pain inside, but I didn't want to exhale. I didn't want to smile. My heart was bruised, but their tongues were tinted blue. Looking all around me at the dripping leaves almost touching my legs, I slowly lifted the soaked branch near my knees to uncover berries hanging there like a hidden treasure, all shiny and full and covered.
We forgot our hike. We forgot our fear. We saw the gift. We wove ourselves on and off the trail among the bushes. A berry in the container. A berry in the mouth. Soaking wet from the waist down, washing me all over. Hands wrinkled and bruised blue and purple. Slowly, slowly the ache inside gave way to consuming a treasure I did not deserve. I laughed so hard that it healed. I ate until I was filled.
We stuffed every container we had. Twenty ounces of gold we packed out that day.
It was a sacred day. A moment made for us. The reality of seeing and receiving something so rich and undeserved converted that trail to holy ground.
Blessing unwinds the tangled soul. It straightens a crooked, disappointed heart. It washes the filth.
"Rain in abundance, O God, you shed abroad; you restored your inheritance as it languished; your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy." Psalm 68:9-10
Refuge is found in a place where the soul can rest. At times I have become somewhat distracted by the flow of our culture in a pursuit of what seems to be valuable. Many believe your refuge is secured in a place of comfort, success, or exceeding the status quo. I've been wrecked by this pursuit and was reminded that the safest place to be is sometimes undesirable and even uncomfortable to the world around me. I have found "home" to be different than what many may define as safe and good. The cactus wren seems quite confident and content to find refuge in a dangerous and beautiful place that provides her with both ample sustenance and protection. This is where she sings.
mixed media on canvas, 12x24, framed
From the Fence
Along miles of road, fields are hemmed with fences putting a boundary between me and icons of all that is quiet, worn, and beautiful. Golden wheat guarding a weathered silo fitted to a humming farm. Cows meandering toward new grass, keeping an eye on tipping. Sun setting on a fulfilling day's work, hay stretching their shadows to rest.
mixed media on canvas, 8x10 each, framed
Stained glass windows from my church growing up, holding magnificent spider's webs on the outside and beautiful ties that bind on the inside. This house was as much my home as the one across the street. Only One can take broken people and arrange them in such a way.
mixed media on canvas, 12x12, framed