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

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.

Hot Flashes and Hard Truth

While the rest of the world has been falling apart, I’ve been growing personalities.  It’s a full blown case of the three menopausal faces of Eve.   Woman number one is sweet and cuddly because she’s just come off a session of spontaneous combustion and is shivering from the evaporating sweat, number two cold heartedly cuts off my bewildered husband’s affectionate embrace screaming, “you’re so hot!” (he used to like it when I said that) and number three has no idea what the hellOkitty is happening here.  The southern saying “she’s a hot mess” has become my reality as I self-incinerate all day and all flipping night long.  I don’t really wake up in the morning, I just give up trying to sleep through the insanity.   

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A Cloudy Masterpiece

One of my favorite things about living on the island is the way everyone falls in cadence with the sun.  Being from the far north, I’ve lived my life fixated on sunshine (usually to the point of neurosis by mid-January), but it was always too little or too much, never something to we could consistently count on or structure our actives around.   It’s as if I lived my life surviving on months of meals comprised of a few breadcrumbs, then gluttonous belly aching feasts; now it’s three square meals a day.  

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A Whale Tale

Finishing the last page of Graham Cooke’s book “Crafted Prayers”, I quickly packed my bright orange beach bag with a bible, notebook, pen and water bottle and headed to my office (the tree on Old Airport Beach who’s shade I’ve come to rely on).  I was on a mission to listen to God.  Following Graham’s advice, I was going to ask God how to pray (scripture says Jesus and Holy Spirit intercede for us; instead of just praying out of our emotion or assumptions, we can ask Him to reveal His will in the situation and pray alongside them) for my daughter and the children of several friends; over the years I have been blessed to have compassionate people come alongside as I vulnerably shared our struggle with mental health, many of them facing similar mountains.  We’ve naturally come to connect our prayers for our children, holding up each other’s arms like Moses’s brother and friend did during a battle.  

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Sharks and Internet Dating

it’s not what you think it is!

The snorkel mask was fogging up from my barely contained hysteria and hyperventilation as we swam around the corner to the cove that serves as the fabled home to a tiger shark.  Local talk says she’s lived near our favorite snorkel spot for many years.  Earlier this month Scott met her accidentally; well, he sighted her and then booked it back to the beach before a formal meeting could occur.  

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Wag your Tail (a Lesson of Submission)

Last night our seven-month old pound puppy, Denali, aggressively snarled and hurled at Chena, our six month old Great White Pyrenees shepherd sweetie. This was the fourth random, snarling session in the last 2 months and really unnerved me.   Denali was separated from her mother and siblings too soon and put into a stressful shelter environment before coming home with us at seven weeks old.  I didn’t realize the challenge we were taking home, too caught up in her sweet puppy eyes.  All along we have struggled with her lack of boundaries and I often recognize the confusion on her face as she tries to figure what we want.  She has a hankering to be the alpha, and her howling (literally) protests to my dominance are sometimes quite entertaining.  But last night was the breaking point.  I had a surge of fear thinking about what could happen with this loose cannon of a dog.   My darling daughter sobbed huge tears as I honestly processed with her that we were going to have to get rid of Denali if she continues to be aggressive. (She has already had to give up two dogs due to our moves out of country and I HATE to put her through the pain again, but we HAVE to be a safe place).   Denali hasn’t hurt anyone- it appears to be all growl and bared teeth, but we can’t take the chance here.

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