He told us to live abundantly.
He did not promise abundance.
He did say that joy would abound and grace would multiply.
And yet, living abundantly is not always easy.
I have recently come into an abundance of time.
It is actually a little disturbing.
So, I have started re-orienting myself in my safe place – the garden.
Blooming things provoke joy in me.
Grace being the interface between the Infinite Abundance, and the frail and finite - well,
Every garden is Graceland.
We’ve got just over a third of an acre, 16 thousand square feet, minus the house.
Living here before us; 13 mature trees, several large shrubs, a vine and some prickly pear cactus.
The ground is sandy and abundant with small stones – not clay,
and not the caliche concrete that causes gardeners here to despair.
It seemed to me to be ripe for enrichment. Good soil can be made from sand.
Then I put a shovel into it.
Our home is on what used to be a mesa overlooking the Rio Grande flood plain.
Of course, humans have built all over the plain, and on the mesa – out as far as the eye can see.
We are on the edge, between the two, and our lot slopes down.
When they built in 1962, they must have leveled the lot - somewhat.
My shovel found out how they did that. River rock. Tons and tons of river rock.
A compacted strata nearly a foot thick, found below 2-6 inches of decades of sand and dust.
It stopped my heaviest shovel with a crunch.
I could have left it alone and built on top.
But I am both curious and stubborn – this is known.
So, I got down on the ground with a trowel and started excavating.
Then I found the plastic. They put down a barrier under the rock.
To stop what imaginary weeds, I do not know.
Mostly shredded now by the years – but still there – now and forever.
So, one square foot at a time.
I have started hand digging, and ripping out plastic shreds and lifting rocks.
It helps that the rocks are beautiful.
Polished river rock, not from around here: quartz and jasper and granite, and I don’t know what.
It’s a treasure hunt.
A sifting that divides the land into soft root spaces and glistening pathways.
While I am down there, I am burying Alpaca Poo in every hole.
I am topping it with homemade compost.
The Book says the world started in a Garden.
Every spiritual lesson I have ever learned can be learned in a garden.
I have been in a liminal space. A waiting. A wondering what's next.
The ground itself has answered me.
RIP UP THE BARRIERS
FIND AND LIFT THE TREASURES
BURY THE SHIT
MAKE PATHWAYS AND PLACES TO PUT DOWN ROOTS
Jesus Sembrador - a parable
After the farmer sowed some tomato and lettuce seeds, quite broadly, he went to sleep. From his bed he heard a gentle night rain for it was the short rainy season. The rain made him happy. When he got up he went to check the seeds. Some had been eaten by the birds which he did not really resent because birds need to eat too. Some seemed to have settled on the nice patch of earth and were damp, and he knew they would germinate, so he pulled a few weeds and left them alone because they would be fine without intervention. But when he saw that a lot of them were sitting on some pretty bad soil, and didn't have much of a chance, and he repented, because he knew this was his fault.
So he picked some more weeds and he went over to his sister's place because his sister was a Good Shepherd, and he shoveled a bunch of sheep shit. His sister was glad to get rid of it. Then he went to his brother's place because his brother was a Good Carpenter, and he brought home a barrowful of wood shavings. He combined the three holy ingredients and let the rains fall on the pile. And the pile did compost. He dug the compost into the bad soil, and planted in a slightly more intentional manner.
In the fullness of time he and his siblings enjoyed some every good mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, because their mother baked some very fine bread.
And they said unto him "Bro - you are a Good Gardener!"
Orienting to a New Horizon
(caveat: the following are advices to be lightly held. Maybe they will be thinking prompts. What is below is not for the newly or acutely bereaved. Some of the ideas here may be useful after a while, but they are not a substitute for a medical professional or a grief specialist.)
So here you are. By design, choice, or luck - good or bad - you are facing a new horizon. Perhaps a cyclone has dropped you into a completely new land. Perhaps you are stepping out of a broken down Tardis. Perhaps you have packed your pirogue and slid into a great river. Perhaps the people are around you are loved ones or old comrades. Perhaps you are pursuing a new love. Perhaps you feel alone.
At first glance some things seem familiar or understandable, then the differences start popping up. Maybe too many differences. My new yard is lousy with tiny dinosaurs. But we do not have mosquitos or slugs. Everything is different, some things obviously beneficial, others not so much - a lot of the time I don't really know what is going on.
I want to feel grounded - this is my goal. I want to feel like I am at home. I want to be connected with my purpose. I want to be able to find my way in this new landscape. Fortunately I am old and wily. I have flipped my world before. I have learned a few tricks. None of them absolve me from the hard work of re-orientation. Nothing short circuits the time it takes. But it is really important to have a goal and some idea of how to get to it. Re-orientation starts with observation. It requires the acquisition of knowledge and skills with all the messy short-term failures that go with it. And it requires dedicated action.
The observation stage requires you to slow down and really listen and see. Be abundantly curious. There is research to do. Sometimes it is a nicely scientific process; observe, hypothesize, test, observe, document and adjust. Rinse and repeat. But sometimes it is way more random than that. You may need to talk to strangers. Lay down your easy answers. Ask lots of questions. Ask weird questions. Ask dumb questions.
If done openly and persistently, observation will lead right into knowledge.
Here are some things you might want to know:
Here are some skills you might want to work on:
Here are some possible actions to take:
This is a start. This is what Alivia and I are doing. Again. For the umpteenth time in this life.
We will be fully oriented again.
My dad grew up in the Thatcher Woods. His widowed mother worked 2 jobs, six days a week. His older brothers also worked. He went to school, but every other minute was spent running with what he called his “gang” in the forest preserves along the Desplaines River outside of Chicago. He lived wild all summer. He later claimed that he was saved by a scoutmaster and Sunday school teacher. This man gave organization to his native earned skills, and a moral compass. He also acquired a real compass – World War One US army surplus.
The first time I remember seeing this compass was in those very same woods some forty years later. Sometimes he would take me on a Saturday to do something - just me and him. Our family of five lived in a very small flat, and I guess taking the middle girl-child out of the mix allowed my mother the space to get some things done.
The woods were his classroom; he taught me how to walk quietly through the underbrush without breaking twigs (I was a noisy child – I think this was part of the ruse.) He taught me how to get close to a rabbit by walking silently in a large, but slowly shrinking circle that the bunny perceived as tangential. I learned the look of poison ivy and oak. He showed me how to find north/south by the moss on the trees and east/west by the sun. You had to learn these things before you got to use the compass. I learned how to navigate the woods on or off the trails. Eventually he put me and the compass on a path and gave me a hand drawn map. He said he was gonna drive around to another trailhead and wait – my job was to use the compass and find the right paths and meet him there. I was probably ten.
The process is called orienteering. It is a Scandinavian invented sport. I bet Boy Scouts in the 1920’s had picked it up. You use observations skills, knowledge about the land, a compass, and sometimes maps to navigate a complex terrain to end up at a specific goal.
I bet my journey wasn’t much more than a mile – maybe 2 at most. But it felt like the Oregon Trail. I did not see another person on my trek. There was at least one fork in the path and I made my choice by my compass and map. I did not get lost. Because eventually the the woods cleared, and there was Daddy, leaning on the Ford Falcon, waiting for me – a smile on his face. We went for ice cream. I have a feeling that mom didn’t get all the details of the afternoon.
I knew I was getting life lessons. But I had no idea just how far these lessons would stretch.
(to be continued)
On Orientation 1/3
We have been disoriented.
Ours is a willful, chosen disorientation, but we are befuddled none the less.
We have moved 1500 hundred miles.
We have flipped our climate from temperate-rainy-sea level to high desert extremous.
We now are tri-generational cohabitants.
We traded a solid middle-class income with benefits for temporary voluntary poverty and one of us is experimenting with being self-insured for health care.
We decreased our personal possessions by 80% in under a year.
We also cut the square footage of space we live in by 80%.
The totality of this is more than unsettling.
Yet we are so blessed to be able to have made these choices ourselves.
Because there are so many ways to get disoriented. Many of them do not ask your consent.
And some of them are hellacious. Unchosen loss, sudden loss, gradual but relentlessly dissipating loss.
And you find yourself: rocked, unsteady, discombobulated, dismembered, bereft, in shock, raw, confused, disoriented.
And maybe you want to know how to get back to the ground you were on.
Is it even possible?
Sadly, the answer is no. You will never again be that person that you were.
Disruption changes you.
And the possible choices may look like oblivion, perma-numb, walking wounded and/or re-orientation.
Re-orientation is very hard work. Depending on the magnitude of change, it is long work.
But fortunately, it is the path to stability and growth.
The next post on this blog will describe a process of finding a new center.
The Spiritual Discipline of Re-Orientation, if you can handle that language.
A behavioral and psychological process of re-rooting, and regaining vigor, if you cannot.
Providence - Moving version
SO I was in a bit of a Lament yesterday.
I am alone in my house that will not be my house in a few days. After 30+ years.
And yet I will be living here for another 26 days - because the buyers love me and want me to get my cash but not be inconvenienced.
There is so much to schlepp and clean.
And fourteen of those days will be eaten by my job. Which came by surprise when I was at my lowest and in 13 years has paid all my bills and debts and will provide for a plausible retirement. I work with good people, some of whom love me, and say so, and are grieving my departure.
The yard is big and growing grass and weeds and flowers at a wild pace on this vernal equinox.
And the yard is being taken care of by a man named Angel who keeps it beautiful.
Jesus told the rich man to sell all his goods and give the money to the poor. I decided to cut out the middle man and simply give most of my stuff away to the poor. I have been carrying large things down the twisty stairs to the garage to find new people. Everything small is going on a table marked "Free - Take it" - They are. I need to get rid of 80% of our worldly possessions. It has been hard to see some of it go.
My neighbor next door got free from violence a two springs ago when we called the cops on her old man who was in the middle of trying to kill her or something. She had some rough days and then joined a Pentecostal church and is doing better. Last week she told me that she was using her spare bedroom to help women leaving violence, she came with a helper to haul away an entire bedroom or two.
Her helper is one of the women she is helping. Her name is Christina. She cleans and paints to make cash. She starts on Friday.
As Christina and I and the neighbor were laughing about providence. Two girls with Mormon Missionary badges came up and said " We see you might be moving - is there anything we can do to help you?" The five of us had an impromptu praise session and a brief bible study on the topic of riches.
This morning I was wrangling Orville's garden bench off the front porch.
A man was walking by.
He smiled at me and said "Woman, what are you doing?"
I said "What woman has always done. What ever needs to be done, with or without the help of Man."
He took the other end.
Beats me why my whiney lament seems to be heard sometimes. Beats me why it should be heard amongst the anguish of 50 million Ukrainians and a lot of others. He says He is with them like He is with me. Beats me. I'm rich. It is well known that the rich are clueless.
All Hearts Clear
New Year’s Eve 2021
Some years I write Christmas cards, some years I write a birthday letter, this year I am going to write a letter and mail it to everyone who sent me a card. I hope you are glad to hear from me.
It is my birthday and I am 64. Apparently, they still need me, and are still willing to feed me. I spent the entire day with, or speaking to people I love. Such good luck!
I am well, better than I have any right to be. My children have grown into people that I admire and respect. I am in love with my best friend, and she is here with me. I have a grand-daughter and she is the distillation of generations of strong women – can’t wait to see what she becomes.
I have been blessed beyond measure with work that is meaningful to me, continuing with the school for teenage school rejects. But my favorite work this year has been a writing project with a group of men you will never meet, writing a small book you will never read. They live in the Oregon State Penitentiary and we have been contextualizing the trauma healing work of Dr J. Eric Gentry for the incarcerated population. They have been in lockdown for 22 months so we work for about an hour, most weeks, whenever a chaplain has the time to get us a phone connection. That work is almost ready. But I don’t think I will get back inside.
I was born on a cusp, a transition, the liminal point between years. I feel it tonight. I do. We are on the edge of some big transitions. Early this Spring I am going to lay down my work with the high school. We will sell this house – my home of 32 years – and move to New Mexico. I am not ready to stop working, but I am ready to do different work. We will live with Emily, Chris and Nia, and have shared responsibility for the house. Nia is 13 - I look forward to being her creative co-conspirator.
Alivia and I have retired from church work. We have spent the pandemic trying to downsize. So much stuff! An attic, a basement, a garage, five bedrooms, a studio. Early on in the planning I figured we needed to divest of 80% of the stuff we own, and learn to live on about 40% of the income we have had these last few years. The first part of that has turned out to be a lot harder than the second part. I am attempting to wrestle a blessing out of the process. I am pretty sure this is a spiritual process, maybe a spiritual discipline. I will let you know how it goes.
Alivia will be in Albuquerque by Feb 20. I will be there mid-April.
We can already receive mail at:
9920 Greene Ave NW, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87114
Please update your Christmas card list – Thanks - Peggy