Dust Storm

While ambling through my neighborhood this afternoon, gratefully absorbing the warm winter sunshine (and then peeling off my jacket) my mind wandered through the last week and I found myself stuck in a familiar “thought” ditch.  I’m continually dismayed at my lack of patience and grace.   Some days I feel like a piece of prairie during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s; a  little gust of frustration and my kindness swirls away like a dark cloud of dust, revealing the hard, dry ground underneath. If my life is a field (please go with it- I love farming analogies.  So did Jesus, I might add) then I have to admit that my topsoil needs some work.  It’s too shallow.

  There were two main contributors to the calamitous destruction of the Dust Bowl-  the relentless drought and a lack of resiliency in the soil due to severe clearing and mono cropping (native grasses had root systems that averaged five feet deep and many up to 15 feet, whereas the root systems of most annual cereal crops are only one foot deep.) Scientist estimate that 850 million tons of topsoil was lost during the “Dirty Thirties”, that’s an average of 480 tons of topsoil per acre!  One Sunday in 1934 became known as “Black Sunday” as three million tons of topsoil in Oklahoma blew away.  Kristin Hannah’s incredible novel, The Four Winds”,  and Steinbeck’s classic, “Grapes of Wrath” gave me a little peak into what it was like living in that period of history.  

A chart comparing root systems of North American prairie plants and  bluegrass. : r/ecology

   As a child, my “field” was full of deep rooted native grasses that nourished my spirit- imagination, solitude (usually while enjoying nature), friendship, simplicity, spontaneous worship, dreams, playfulness.  Somewhere along the way, I was convinced that mono cropping a field full of productivity would be a wise investment.  It required I dig out some beautiful shade trees and mow down the pretty meadows of wildflowers- no “wasted space” allowed. I wanted to be a good farmer and provide for the needs of my family and community, so I enthusiastically planted all the productivity I could fit in my field.  I didn’t know anything about soil health, the need for biological diversity and water holding capacity; I was just following the example of the apparently successful farmers around me.  Little did we know how weak and destructive our processes were.  

We are all suffering the affects of the “Covid drought”- first the anxiety, death and sickness that spiraled into ugly politics and non stop fighting.  So many fractured relationships and frazzled souls.  The ugliness of this season has mirrored the destruction of those awful dust storms.  Just like those devastated prairie farmers (and all farmers everywhere for that matter), I don’t have any control over the weather, but I do have a say in what crops I am growing and the methods used.  I’m learning the value of deep roots, rich soil and compost (making space for death and stinky things and allowing them to turn into something life giving and nourishing) in place of artificial fertilizer and pesticides (seeking identity by presenting a brushed up false self to the world, accomplishments instead of authentic relationship with God and others, work and striving in place of peace and contentment) that poison the land, water and ultimately all living creatures. 

This challenging season has motivated me to pursue habits that will help build deeper, healthier top soil that will nourish my soul and bless the people around me instead of filling their nostrils with dust.  I was recently listening to author Justin Whitmel Earley on The Habit Podcast.  He shared his story of an anxiety breakdown and explained, “It’s possible for your head to go one way and your habits to go another way, and there is a gap……..your heart will always follows the habit.”  I’m tearing out some of my field and interspersing with healthier morning and evening routines that include more scripture and less phone and news, daily sessions of silence, less work and more play (vacation coming in 10 days and several little trips to see friends this spring and summer), a book club with thoughtful people (this has been on my bucket list for years!!  Our first meeting is already on the calendar), even less social media (using a timer) and guilt free flower planting and beautifying of our property (I mostly have this one down already, but I still struggle with guilt when I’m not being “efficient”).  It’s a well known fact that pursing growth and change within community (perfect examples are AA and NA) gives us the best chance of success, so I’d be happy to support you and pray for you as you pursue healthy habits and I’d appreciate the accountability as well.  Please feel free to message me:)

The Mystery of Small

We had one day.  In the midst of managing a tired team of people through yet another Covid surge and the depressing winter weather of continual clouds and rain, we packed our camper and ran away to the Oregon Coast to spend one heavenly day where the forecast called for sun and 65 degrees in January!  The thunderous sound of waves, the summery smell of salt water and the infinite blue horizon saturated my senses.  The ocean has a way of simultaneously quieting my mind and stimulating my soul.  The sensory overload felt like a weighted blanket and I reflexively relaxed as I felt the heavy presence and goodness of God.  

Beautiful January day on Oregon coast

  After finishing the last chapter of an excellent and timely book, “The Divine Commodity” by Skye Jethani, I slowly ambled through the sand contemplating what i had just read, the fact I turn fifty in a few short weeks and what I want to accomplish with the rest of my life. (I may force my body to take a day off, but my brain refuses.)  I struggled with the fact I inhabit a world that is all about “Big”; power, influence, money, popularity.  It’s assumed that any talent, gift or ability should be magnified (and commodified) as much as possible.  Sadly, much of the church is held captive by these same standards. If you can lead then you should be aiming to lead as many people as possible; if you can preach or teach then of course the larger the crowd the better; if you can sing then why not produce an album; if you can write then better start on that best seller. It’s unspoken that true talent should be magnified, and a gift that is poured out locally and not multiplied is a gift that is wasted.  

 We are a world of influencers and leaders all scrambling to gather followers so we can prove we’re doing something important with our lives.   After almost fifty years of dizziness on this “bigger is better” merry-go-round, I’ve begun to question the assumption.  Am I just questioning because I’m disappointed in myself? Have I failed to muster the discipline and courage to be all I could be?  Have I foolishly spurned opportunities and therefore missed a chance to make a big difference with my one, short life?  Have I disappointed God?  I cried these questions out only to have them swallowed in the noise of crashing waves.  

As I reached the end of walkable beach I passed some craggy cliffs.  Surprised to hear the faint flow of water a few feet away from the roaring ocean,  I stopped in my tracks, consumed with curiosity.  Turning towards the sound, I saw a small spring of water trickling down the sharp, towering rocks. The realization that a few gallons of water somehow managed to steal my attention from the Pacific Ocean made me pause.  That small voice (it has never been audible, but it bubbles out of my heart- not my mind) asked me, “if you were stranded on this beach, which of these water sources would keep you alive?”  “The small, trickling stream” I whispered back.  This powerful, amazing, massive ocean holding one hundred and eighty seven quintillion gallons of water would only hasten my death by dehydration.


Small stream in the cliff

God is the ultimate “BIG”!  His kingdom is beyond our imagination.  His power, goodness and lovingkindness we will never fully comprehend.  He is a million times more than one hundred and eighty seven quintillion universes, yet over and over he shows preference for small.   Throughout history, when He was going about something big, He chose small means.  Moses, David, Gideon, Mary, Israel, the widow’s oil, the boy’s lunch, manna, a lamb, a pearl, a prodigal, his arrival as a baby, twelve confused dudes.   

A small stream

In the same manner, it appears God wired our lives and spirituality to subsist on tiny conduits of power.  While it is possible to amass large quantities of attendees or followers,  emotion and enthusiasm, money and power and fame (these often end up blowing a fuse and catching on fire) the truest and best gifts in life come in small packages.  Intimacy, obedience, hospitality, contemplation, authenticity, faithfulness, prayer, solitude- these are the trickling streams that sustain us while we walk beside the deafening roar and temptation of bigness.  

My burning bush

Bigness in and of itself isn’t bad, but it is often deceptive, regularly destructive and frequently a thief.  We have all witnessed many who grew  talents, businesses and ministries so large they were swallowed by them.  The very thing we give our lives to nurturing and building can grow up and go rouge, sucking the life out us.  For those who find themselves stewarding Big, it is vital to have the character and discipline to not be fooled by it’s shine, but to continually stay on their knees and drink from the small life giving streams.  I no longer envy these people.  Theirs is a heavy responsibility.  

Thankfully, the vast majority of us are blessed with smallness.  For most of us, our influence will end within a couple of miles from where it began- in our home, school, church, place of work, neighborhood.   Only so many chairs will fit at my table, only so many people I can live alongside and be available to and love well, only so many trees and plants I can maintain ( I wish it wasn’t so!) only so many patients I can care for,  only so much knowledge my average mind can contain, only so opportunities I can take.  This used to frustrate me, as I was convinced if I could somehow increase my capacity I would live a fuller, more important, more impactful life.  

In his kindness, God revealing a glimpse of himself

   Consider how Jesus chose to live his life- focusing his few years on earth to loving God and leading the small tribe of people who chose to walk with him into God’s kingdom.  He did not write books, travel the world preaching or create a brand. He didn’t even start a 501(c)(3).   He lived a small (geographically and number of people encountered), faithful life and trusted his Father to do with it what He wanted.  I am encouraged to do the same, and leave the impact/influence/importance in the hands of my Father who loves me as I am-small, ordinary and always excited to spend a day at the beach.  

I’ve Seen Fire and I’ve Seen Rain

I’ve been giddy for days, obsessively looking at the weather app on my phone and smiling with relief each time the little white clouds spilling blue raindrops were still on the forecast for Saturday morning. Last night I could barely sleep, my ears anticipating the sweet sound of rescue, the joyous smell of nourished earth, the enveloping drench of mercy.  As I sit in the pre-dawn light and watch my trees and bushes and vines and flowers and garden soak in the desperately needed water, I am washed with so many emotions.  The plants reflect my feelings as most of the branches and leaves are dancing in the rain, some are trembling, and a few are frozen still, reaching up and begging for more. 

  Its been five months since we had rain.  That is not unusual for this area, but the cycle of unusual heat, drought and fire in the last decade has been a heavy burden that some of the land has been unable to bear, and it’s now desolate and even more vulnerable to the devastation of drought.  Last week one of the many uncontrolled fires was only one and a half miles from my friend’s doorstep.  She was packed and ready to run at a moment’s notice.  The fear and trauma was thick in the air, mixed with smoke that made it almost too heavy to breath. 

  Breathing.  This has been a season of slow, deep breaths that fuel quick desperate prayers.  I’ve found myself constantly coaching my heart and mind to breath.  In through the nose, out through the mouth.  Breath in God’s kindness, love and mercy- blow out the frustration, anger and fear.  I’ve never really paid attention to be breathing before, it was an automatic action of life, but as the atmosphere has grown darker and heavier I found the normal drive to breath was dampened; too often I was unconsciously holding my breath as I concentrated to hold back the natural negative responses of my heart to the ugliness around me.  Breathe.    

   As the drought continued, week after week, month after month, I did my best to manually water all these plants I had recently placed in the ground.  I promised them that soon the rains would come.  Some of them gave up and withered away as the sun scorched their leaves beyond recognition.  Thankfully, most of them survived- a bit scarred and possibly stunted, but they are alive and I believe the stress has built in some extra resilience and strength for the future seasons ahead.  The only plants I did not worry about were the old oaks in my backyard, the ancient horse chestnut in the front and the massive magnolia in the chicken yard.  These trees have deep root systems that have adapted to drought over decades.  As I fretted over my baby fruit trees and berry bushes, they stood as witnesses that all will be well.  They have seen worse and survived.  We will make it. 

My staff and our community have been pummeled by covid.  Just when we thought we could finally take a day off after many months of seven days a week work, a new surge came out of nowhere and the sickness and death doubled.  The fatigue floated in and covered us like a thick fog.  The grief and frustration were stifling.  Little fires began to burn, sparked by anger and fear.  The dryness of the season allowed any feeble flame to ignite all those around it.  Families and friendships became stressed, and with the ongoing drought, many have completely given up finding common ground and died. Now, even the smallest difference of opinion is enough kindling for a full-on forest fire.  Now, even the ancient sequoias are in danger.  We need this rain. 

  Thankfully, the rain is gentle.  The parched ground is slowly soaking it in instead of being washed away.  The steady sound of water washing leaves is also washing the disappointment and discouragement from my heart.  God is still good, and He is still with us and He still loves us.  We are going to make it.  In Him we have the opportunity to grow stronger and more resilient.   In Him, I can grow deep roots and resist the drought and fires that come my way.  In Him I can respond to the stresses of life with love.  Thank you, Father, for being with us.  Thank you for the rain. 

Raindrops on young grapevine

Shower, O heavens, from above,

and let the clouds rain down righteousness;

let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit;

let theearth cause them both to sprout;

I the Lord have created it.

Isaiah 45:8

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven

and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shallmy word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11

Twenty Nine and Counting

May be an image of Scott Leigh and Lalena Leigh and people smiling
Celebrating twenty fifth wedding anniversary in Italy

Today we celebrate twenty nine years of marriage. There may be thousands of miles between us right now, but we remain one. Our beginning was like living a fairytale. Most people don’t know this about me, but I spent the first eight years of life in speech therapy as I struggled to make many of the basic sounds of English. It was a mystery as to why I couldn’t speak. With professional help I was able to overcome this hurdle, only to awaken one morning at the age of nine with a muting stutter. To this day I have only met one other person who stuttered as terribly as I did. (A few years ago I watched the movie “The King’s Speech” and became quite emotional hearing someone who sounded just like me. ) Looking back, we understand that my young mind had succumbed to the severe psychological stress of abuse that I had spent my entire childhood stuffing. The next ten years were spent in a humiliating prison as I fought for the freedom of every single word. Because of the exertion of speaking, I learned to measure my words and only speak when it was important, and I embraced the role of being a listener. ( Now I talk too much- even though I made up for those lost years a LONG time ago lol) At the age of nineteen, I met Mr Wonderful. Unable to translate my pitiful language, he asked me to write my name down ( I couldn’t say my own name for ten years) and he patiently listened as I painfully stuttered my way through a conversation. He admits now that he didn’t really get much of what I was trying to say, but he was determined to get to know me. Then the miracle happened. Just a couple months into our relationship I was chatting with my mom when she suddenly stopped me excitedly exclaiming, “Lalena, do you notice anything different?” I paused, not sure what she was so animated about. “You aren’t stuttering!” It was true. Just as mysteriously as it had appeared ten years earlier, it left. I believe it was the protective presence of a man who purely loved me- or what Huey Lewis called “The Power of Love”. Our first year of marriage was difficult as I came extremely close to an emotional breakdown when the memories began to surface and overwhelm me, but my bewildered husband stayed by my side and our pastors came to our rescue. This was the beginning of a very long healing process, but through all those challenging years Scott remained faithful and so many beautiful friends and my family loved me to wholeness. All good stories, including fairytales, have challenge, conflict and loss at the climax. It’s the pain that sets the stage for the beautiful overcoming and redemption. Each of us has such a story, and we all need saving. I am ever thankful that I met Jesus at an early age; He not only saved my soul, He healed my heart and carried me through the fire. Then He extravagantly blessed me with a wonderful man to walk this journey with. For twenty nine years Scott has selflessly carried my backpack, shared his water when mine ran out and gave me both sleeping bags when I was cold. I can’t imagine anyone better to adventure through life with. I love you, Babe!

Cross Pollination

You can’t just pop a pear tree in the front yard and call it good.  True, the first day of Christmas your true love may surprise you with a partridge, and that partridge may very well prefer perching in your pear tree, but love and partridges do not produce pears.  You may be wondering what could possibly be better than love and lavish gifts of pompous poultry.  The answer may surprise you.  Variety.  Diversity. Difference.  In the natural world these crucial elements are brought by cross pollination.  

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Old Oaks

 We recently bought a 1940s home in a beautiful, old neighborhood in southern Oregon.  We spent months searching for a house with a bit of land, but there was none to be had (afforded) that would meet the needs of our family.  It felt like a sudden twist to put an offer on a “town home” and we’re still adjusting to the life of curtains on windows (we’ve always lived in the woods or country and didn’t worry about privacy) and traffic.  We are also relishing quick trips to Home Depot (only 1.2 miles away!) and walks in the neighborhood that take us downtown or to hiking paths in the hills.  I went from planning for two to four acres to just having .4 acres and I’m determined to squeeze all the life out of it I can with a permaculture orchard design. 

Within days of arriving we arranged for an arborist to come look at the two old ugly oaks in the backyard.  My first thought was to take them down to make room for more fruit trees; they are jagged and spindly and take a fair amount of coveted space.  The arborist identified them as a white Oregon oak and a black California oak and explained that they are senior trees losing their canopy as their life cycle is coming to a close, but they are still healthy and do not endanger the house.  Their root systems are also intertwined, so taking down one could damage the other.  We could see where a large portion of the black oak’s roots were destroyed when previous owners installed a swimming pool, but it somehow survived.  The white oak had major scarring from a disease that almost took it out years ago.  They obviously had suffered some major setbacks in life, but here they were, quietly standing guard while holding the secrets of the generations of homeowners before us. They probably witnessed the construction of every single house and road in this neighborhood.   As the tree specialist pointed out features I knew nothing about, respect and awe sprouted and quickly grew into admiration.  I felt a flush of shame for my reflex to chop them down. By the time I walked him to the gate, I knew I would not be parting with these two amazing creatures. 

 With newfound humility, I began to research how to incorporate the massive oaks into our permaculture plan.  Yes, it means less sun and space for newer trees, but there are quite a few plants that will appreciate the shade they provide in our hot summers.  I’m enjoying the challenge of including them and in the process I’m learning of their value.  There is great purpose for an old tree in a forest; scientists have found that the “mother” trees inoculate the seedlings with necessary fungi for their immune systems.  They warn the other trees of danger (such as pest invasions and disease) and share nutrients and water with younger stressed trees through their root systems.   They also store more carbon and protect the environment.  

There is something sacred about going full circle, the end making sense of the drama in the middle. The last chapter of a book often sheds light on the whole story, along with growth of closure and the gift of satisfaction.  I realized how often I want to cut things short and not allow the whole life cycle because it’s not “pretty” or what I expected.  I just want to get on with the next thing and skip the painful parting or the boring ending; making no time or space to soak in the lessons or the blessings. 

     As I admire the two old oaks in my backyard, I think about the strong, wise trees in my life.  I actually have several dearly loved friends in their seventies and eighties right now, most of them have been standing guard over me since my early adulthood. They have generously protected me with their shade and held me up with their roots.  I reflexively call to them when I need wisdom or comfort.  I dread the thought of them no longer being there.  Their traumas and scars have modeled how to weather my own storms with faith in God and perseverance.  Sadly, our culture often fails to value the beauty and strength of the generation before us, but I know I would not be where I am today without them.  As I water, mulch and give space to these giants in my backyard I will be thanking God for the old oaks in my life and praying blessing over this important season in their lives.  You know who you are.  Thank you for sharing your lives and your shade with me.  I love you so much.  

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.

Psalm 1:1-3

Roasted Beet Salad

I didn’t acquire a taste for beets until well into adulthood- a few years after I learned to appreciate sprouts and avocado.  I’m not sure what happened to me; I was roaming the salad bar at the hospital cafeteria (must have forgotten to bring my lunch that day) and decided to give those beautiful slices of burgundy a try.  It was a pleasant surprise, like discovering that grumpy co-worker is actually a really cool person and a good friend, you just have to be brave enough to try.

Roasted Beet Salad
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Israeli Salad

Israeli Salad

I don’t remember when I began making this cucumber concoction, but I fondly recall serving it in my tiny Kona kitchen to my Jewish friend, Anoushka, and listening to her become very animated with excitement over the memories these flavors resurrected. She lived many years on a kubbitz in Israel where they often ate a similar salad.  Turns out, it’s actually called Israeli salad!  I especially like to eat it with grilled salmon (back in the days when we were blessed to dip net and fill our freezers with Alaskan reds, silvers and kings), but these hot Tennessee summer days my daughter in law requests it with everything  (and I do my best to make her happy:)  As with most of my recipes, it’s super flexible and you can add/delete as you wish (our family has a love affair with cilantro and garlic, so we tend to go heavy handed with those ingredients.)  It’s really good after a day or two in the fridge, so we always make enough for a few rounds (if Erin is around it won’t last that long though.) The trick is to chop/dice as small and evenly as possible and carefully add the salt (for some reason it’s easy to overdo the salt on this one.)  I usually double or triple this recipe.

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This Little Light of Mine

So. Much. Noise.  I’ve been feeling overwhelmed with the cacophony of words and the underlying emotions- pain, anger, defensiveness, bitterness, hopelessness, rage.  The extremes crashing against each other, shaking me like rolling thunder.  But underneath the lightning bolts and cloud of voices I hear a gentle invitation to be present, to offer what little I have; my five loaves and two little fish.  Without Jesus they wouldn’t amount to much, but with His blessing, I pray my simple lunchbox can make a difference to someone.  I hesitate to hand it over, cringing at the criticism of my meager offering in this current stormy environment.

“Benefit of the Doubt” by Gregory A Boyd

The first book I read by Gregory A Boyd was discreetly snatched from my friend’s bookshelf (thank you, Dee Robbins) and hungrily devoured, with many long pauses as I digested the deep and nourishing truths he developed in “Repenting of Religion.”  I’ve just finished slurping and chewing my second Boyd book, “Benefit of the Doubt; Breaking the Idol of Certainty.”  I will definitely be rereading this book full of underlined mind bombs.  Every chapter filled my heart and mind like a full course meal- I’m challenged with how to share just a few appetizers.    

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