Twelve Weeks

A few years ago while our family was together I let it slip (it wasn’t really a secret, just something we never considered important) that Caleb was our only unplanned child; his siblings found this quite amusing.  We were half heartedly using natural family planning and surprised ourselves with a pregnancy when our first baby was only five months old.  It was a shock (shouldn’t have been) and a wonderful gift wrapped up in the same moment.  We loved him as soon as we comprehended the two pink lines.  I did my best to contain the news until the twelve week mark, but i was so excited about this unexpected baby.  Oh what a gift he was.  

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 We just passed the twelve week mark since his death and it seems to have opened the dam of grief and tears for everyone in his inner circle.  Most all of us have shared that this last week was unexpectedly tough.  I know I shared the same sentiment at the two month mark, but we are finding that time is only bringing more revelation of our loss and a greater intensity of pain.  Just as our joy and excitement grew as he developed inside the womb and the date of his arrival grew closer, the heaviness of our loss is increasing as his presence with us is growing further away with each passing day.  

They loved and championed each other so beautifully

 Every time I looked in the mirror the last couple of months of pregnancy I couldn’t imagine my body being able to stretch any more- but it did!  On and on the growing and stretching continued.  I couldn’t believe my body was capable of carrying such a  load. Sometimes I felt a bit claustrophobic with this huge belly I had to navigate through life.  I would walk into walls and furniture  and I struggled to keep my balance as my center of gravity was continuing to change.  There was no break from it- every move I made had to accommodate what I was carrying.  Work, home, sleep- me and my baby belly.

Now I look in the mirror and can’t imagine carrying anymore sadness; it seems impossible to feel more grief than I already have, yet it keeps growing.  Again, the burden feels impossible  at times and I desperately want to run away from it, but it’s a part of me and I have to learn to navigate through life with it.  I’m finding I need to make space for my pain- I can’t walk through doorways like I used to, I cannot sleep like I used to, I cannot plan my future like I used to. Strangely, there is a necessary nourishing involved, a respect the pain demands.  I’m learning to accept this, there is no running away and leaving it behind.  I’m rearranging life so there is more quiet, more time to sit with the pain and the sweet memories, space created for the processing my brain and heart are demanding.  

 Josiah was still a baby when I was pregnant with Caleb, so I often carried two babies at once.  It was challenging as my belly grew and I had to get creative, but I was alway strong enough to do what had to be done.   I’m learning again how to carry two different things at once, as there is also goodness, joy and sweet gifts in my life alongside the pain. It’s not so much switching gears,  as one never gets to set the pain aside in order to only feel joy.  Its more learning to accept the continual presence of pain while giving space to something else.  

Throughout my career I’ve worked with many chronic pain patients, and while some lost their existence to the loss, anger and addictions their pain pushed them to, others managed to live full lives by accepting it’s presence while pressing forward – not pain free, but also not void of joy and goodness. Some of these people are the strongest, most beautiful and compassionate humans I’ve met.  Instead of shriveling up and breaking down, they accepted the hardship, as unfair as it was, and grew to meet the challenge.  

Could never pass up a power tool!

I realize I’m never going to get over losing my son- I’m carrying this pain until the day I die, but I also have a life to live that has so much love and goodness in it.  Three weeks after Caleb’s death, his sweet niece, Selah, was born.  Holding her often opens the floodgates, as my heart and body vividly remember holding baby Caleb, and at the same time some of those tears are from joy of her existence and the perfect gift she is to us, especially during this season.  I can’t separate out which tears are which, they blend together as they fall.  When I cry with Erin, Caleb’s widow, most of those tears are pain for her loss, but mixed in are tears of gratefulness that he experienced such amazing love because of her.  When I cry with my husband and children, mixed in are tears of joy from our memories and the years we had with Caleb and the things we loved about him and the difference he made in our lives.  Since Caleb’s death we’ve been blessed with a beautiful daughter in law who is everything we wished for our son Josiah, and when I think about what an answer to prayer she is, my tears of joy for our new daughter are mixed with tears for our missing son.  I wish we were all together and Caleb was here to welcome his amazing new sister in law into the family and hold his sweet baby niece, but that will never happen.

Wonder what sort of yarn he was spinning here

.  I don’t want to miss out on the rest of my life, overcome with resentment of the pain I will always live with; on the other hand my pain needs a proper place- a healthy space where it can exist without crowding out all the other elements of living.  I’m a bit uncoordinated carrying both joy and pain, but I trust with God’s help I will develop the capacity to do so.

The Slow Soak

Friends have asked me to share my journey through writing.  This is a bit scattered and rough- just like my brain these days:) I am willing to share my thoughts and feelings if there is good to be gained from it.  If nothing else, you will know some of my personal process.  Grief is quite individualized as we are all thrown into it with different personalities, experiences, relationships and beliefs.  On the other-hand, grief is a universal experience.  We have all experienced loss (or will in the future).  I feel this process is making me more human, better able to connect with others who have also suffered similar pain.   I know the frustration our family and friends feel at not being able to “do anything” for our pain, as I have felt that same frustration many times as I witnessed the suffering of those I love and live amongst.  I want you to know that your presence does matter and your love does make a difference.  There is a soft cover of comfort just knowing you are there and grieving with/for us.  

Caleb and his Nina

 For nine weeks death has pinned me to the ground, taunting me night and day. I know he is not the true victor.  I know this is not the end of the story.   Redemption is coming.  But this hope feels weak and distant as I struggle to breathe against the crushing weight of his power.  Acknowledging the pain, finality and powerlessness in the choke hold of death does not mean I have lost faith.  I believe God is good and sovereign and is coming to renew all things, restoring all of creation to his original dream and purposes.  At the same time, death has stolen our child and we have absolutely no hope of bringing him back.  

Caleb loved his siblings and took good care of them. Here with Isaac and Grace

   My body and soul are stretched tight, slowly recovering from shock, my mind struggling to grasp the fact that he is gone.  He is never coming back.  I  repeat it over and over, “My son is dead.”  My brain is gradually comprehending these four awful words.   This is our new reality, not a bad dream I’ll be relieved to wake from.  Worst of all, there is nothing I can do about it. All the other difficult situations I’ve experienced in life had options and some semblance of power; I could work harder, seek help, embrace the pain in exchange for growth, adapt, change my attitude.  But death- there is no changing it, and there is no “everything will be OK” blanket to throw over it.  I cannot press on and tell myself I will someday contentedly look back and be glad for the lessons learned and the growth in my life.  Yes- my prayer is that we will grow and experience more of God through this, but that will never make me at peace with losing my son.  

Josiah and Caleb with Uncle Marc

  I can waste precious energy thinking about all the “what ifs”, I can shake my fist at God, I can cry and lament, I can run away or make major life changes, but none of these will bring him back.  Sooner or later I have to accept it.  I have to live when he is not. 

 I never imagined life without him.  He grew inside me, kicking all times of day and night.  I pushed him out of my womb and into my arms.  Before that joyous moment he already inhabited my heart.  He always will. 

  Caleb, I never intended to live life without you smack in the middle of it.  I don’t know how to do this.  I don’t want to do this.  

 I find it strange that I’ve been counting time in weeks, just like pregnancy.  There have been other similarities: the waves of pain that come and go with no warning, my desire for quiet as I breathe my way through them, the unnerving realization that I cannot stop this process- I can only submit to it and pray there is life in the end.  As my heart begins to feel the pain of his absence, my mind runs to memories of his birth, the first weeks of holding him and breathing in his innocent baby smell and marveling that he was mine.  The way he always wanted me  within sight and was easily contented with a touch or a kiss.  As he grew his attachment remained and he wanted to “help” me with everything- sitting on the counter to stir bread dough, opening doors with handles he could barely reach and carrying bags of groceries that weighed more than he did.  His love and attention nourished and expanded my heart.  I know he didn’t intend to, but he smashed my love soaked heart to smithereens.  

My cute cuddle bugs

 Week seven was from a chapter of the fairytale when the evil witch casts a spell on the land and it all turns into stone.  My daughter in law, husband and children each told me within a few days of each other that they were also feeling this way.  It started at my head, as I began to grasp what death has done,  and it’s working it’s way down.  My heart is numb, my arms are heavy, my legs are unsteady. I may look and act normal on the outside, but please don’t expect me to be “myself”.  That woman is gone.    I don’t yet know who will be replacing her.    I intend to make peace with her and carry on with life, but right now I am under the sleeping spell and I wish the bad dreams would go away.  

he was so stinking adorable!

The hellish reality is slowly leaking out from my brain into my heart.  It is been a slow soak of pain, like a light rain on a dry landscape.   This last week I’ve begun to feel as if I’m moving in slow motion.  Everything takes so much effort. People are beginning to ask gentle leading questions, with the hope that my answer will be an affirmative “yes, I’m feeling better and getting on with life again”.  But this loss is not a typical injury.  When one breaks a bone or has a surgery,  we call the day of trauma “day zero”.  Day one is rough, day two is typically the hardest and by day three the swelling is starting to calm down.  All that pain is from inflammation which is your immune system efficiently bringing in the troops to clean up and heal whatever is wrong. The body begins to heal the very second the trauma is over.  As a nurse I’ve coached hundreds of people through pain and could always speak with hope and assurance that their body was created to heal and their injury was in that very moment, even in great pain, healing.  But death is a bullet that keeps on tearing through the heart doing damage.  The trauma goes on and on.  I don’t know how this one heals.  My heart will be facing fresh trauma the rest of my life.  Last night as I was falling asleep I realized we already had our last Christmas with Caleb and it felt like a razor blade smashing through my sternum.  Every time a diesel truck drives by my lungs automatically suck in air. Every cute little blonde boy I see brings tears to my eyes.  When I hold his precious little niece, I mourn the fact he doesn’t get to love on her and encourage the development of her “naughty side” (cause we all know that’s exactly what he’d be doing).  Every special event in our family will be laced with the pain of missing Caleb.  

these two were so sweet together

The heart must have a special healing mode, somehow capable of working even while bleeding.  

No, I am not feeling better.  I am not adjusting or getting used to it. I am just beginning to feel it. My pain has just started to kick in.  Maybe for others the fact of his death soaked in, they cried and felt sad and then life goes on.  I understand- I’ve had that experience many times myself.  But this time is different.  I am fading.  Falling.  I don’t know when or if I will hit bottom, or what that even means.  I just know I’m free falling and there’s nothing to grab on my way down.  Maybe God will catch me before impact? I’ve asked my precious friends who have walked this dark valley what i should expect. When does the free fall end?  How does it end?  Does it end?  They have few answers.  This is an individual journey, different for each of us for many reasons.  All they can say is I am held and loved and somehow I will carry on.  i know they are telling me the truth, because they are still standing and I see their beauty. A beauty that came from  intense fire and pain that no one would ever choose.  Except God. 

Caleb and Erin during their dating years on a visit to spend to Christmas with us while we were working with YWAM in France

I am in pain; my soul is crushed, my mind overwhelmed and my body exhausted, but I am not in hopeless despair.  I pray that will not be part of my story, but if it is, I trust God to rescue me. I am leaning into his presence and love and trusting him to lead us through the valley of the shadow of death into whatever is on the other side.  I look forward to getting there, someday.  In the meantime, I cherish the loved ones and faithful friends who are circling around us, making space for our pain and processing, holding memories of our beloved Caleb.  We don’t want to lose the past, it’s all we have of him now.  

I’ve no snappy or tidy way of wrapping up these random paragraphs from the last few weeks, so I’ll leave you with this.  My gratefulness for your presence, prayers and love.  

Still Standing

When I last lived in Kona I was grieving the loss of our South Carolina farm and all the hopes and dreams we planted there.  I ended up spending all my free hours sitting under a certain tree at Old Airport Beach. I had no words for my disappointment so I just sat there soaking in God’s beautiful creation and learning to be quiet in his presence.  I began to refer to it as my “office” and my friends knew they would find me there. A few days after the life altering phone call brought the news our precious son had just died in an accident, I began to long for my tree in Kona.  I knew I needed to sit under it’s shade again, the tree where I learned to grieve with God. 

Continue reading “Still Standing”

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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