Poison ivy, phone issues, a leaky sink, and tenacious weeds could have ruined my week. Lucky for me—life is bigger than bad moments, and free will is the true test of love.
There is an old oak tree that stands on the edge of our property, and every time I pass by, I offer a nod of respect and a prayer to the Maker of beauty and growing things. I’d noticed, of late, that several of the branches have died, reaching out like gnarly arms with not a stitch of clothing. Tracing the trunk with my gaze, I discovered that ivy vines had twirled around and were sucking the life from the ancient arboreal glory. So, I did the decent thing—got a pair of clippers and set it free from their death grip.
I didn’t notice any change at first. But the next day, the attacking vines on the tree drooped and the skin on my legs blistered.
AT&T kindly informed me with emails and text messages that they were doing upgrades, and my current phone was going out of business. Originally, I thought I had till 2022 to deal with the issue. Eons of time. Or not. Yesterday, I got a text message telling me exactly what disaster would happen (I’d only be able to dial 911 or 611—suggesting that from then on disasters would be my only option) if I didn’t switch to the new phone that they had sent me soon. I quickly set my tech-ready son to work.
Within the hour neither phone worked. I was Bilbo frantically patting his pockets for his ring!
Since it is summer, we have a garden. And lots of tasty things grow there. Including cucumbers. As wonderful as five cucumbers are, thirty-five can sit on the counter with an air of accusation: “What you gonna do now, eh?” So, I cleaned some canning jars, scrubbed the pot, added vinegar, water, and spices and tromped downstairs with visions of pickles dancing in my head.
Then I was hit with an atrocious stink. I looked around for a dead animal. Nope. Then I peered under the sink to the pipes I repaired last month.
There is a reason I have our plumber on speed dial.
The driveway and I have an agreement—the rocks stay put, and I drive cars over them. Unfortunately, no one told the weeds. Or they just aren’t listening. I have tried pathetic little weed killer spray bottles and got two-tenths of a millimeter cleared at a time. The other day, I saw a guy spraying his driveway with what looked like herbicidal big-guns. Normally, I avoid chemicals of all kinds. But enough is enough. I’ll need all-terrain drive soon to get into the garage if I don’t take action. So, I went to Rural King’s garden section and got a big bottle of something. I soon discovered that not all killers are the same. Helps to read the label.
My point? You’re very generous in reading this far in expectation that I have a point.
There happens to be medicine for poison ivy rash, and the itch goes away in time. The old oak will live another day and whispers thank you as I pass. My tech-magic kid calmed my racing heart when he got the new phone working, even transferring my contacts, thus the Earth continued to revolve around the sun. The plumber scheduled a date to fix the sink. I did get the cucumbers pickled, in case that was on your mind. For the driveway, I discovered the right tool for the job—a spray actually invented for the sole purpose of clearing out grass and weeds! And some people say that there aren’t miracles any more.
As I contemplated the reversals of the week—for good and evil—I realize once again, that freedom makes a big difference. In a true act of love, God gave me a will of my own. In a titled world of blisters, lost connections, broken pipes, and nefarious weeds, I get to choose how to handle each and every one.
And I’ve decided that my life is bigger—and better—than the bad moments.
Sitting in a relatively quiet room—the birds are chirping outside, the downstairs refrigerator is rattling, and the drier is whirling about—I alternate my gaze from myriad unfinished projects to pictures and paintings covering the walls to the well-tended jungle growing just beyond my porch.
In a conversation with a friend today, we shared the compactness of every waking hour. So much happens that our brains jump the tracks at little things. Even attempting to drive a well-known path suddenly seems like wandering among a menagerie of hidden influences.
It’s when we slip into habitual actions that images, memories, shoved aside I-will-deal-with-it-later emotional sucker punches leap in for the kill.
Don’t get me wrong. I love our wide and wild, varied, and far-reaching world. I even love texting. Especially the sheer fun of sending a string of ridiculous emojis. But the benefit of instant communication is the inherent danger of instant communication. So much. So fast.
My eldest brother, who—like me—remembers the days of landlines, snail-mail, and when there was such a reality as “long-distance” shared that he has to leave his phone in another room because the constant notice pings were getting too much for his nerves.
My daughter told me the other day that we humans have figured out how to grow meat in vats. Not from animals, mind you, just from cells of animals—replicated. Like something off of Star Trek. She was thrilled with the idea. “Think about it—real meat but no suffering animals!”
And a couple of young friends asked my advice on out how to get married with God as their witness without involving religion, since the religions they’ve experienced have been severely disappointing.
What do the last few examples have in common? They all happened when I was too busy to think about what they meant to me. My thoughts tumble over each other trying to sort out whether I am worried about meat vats getting married long distance without any religious affiliation.
So much needs to be tended to in a day. Like breathing in humid air that could smother a hippopotamus, formatting a Spanish version of one of my books, sending a goodies box to my dad, walking the dog despite attacking insects, answering multitudinous emails, viewing social media, checking the weather app in a vain expectation that it will now announce a cool front, and figuring out how on earth to get the chickens to quit laying on the porch steps.
When the sun finally decides to have mercy on my soul and hits the horizon, I’m weary, body and soul.
Unlike my November break from social media, I’ve decided, once again, to reign in the forces that play tug-of-war with my life without cutting anything off completely. Priorities matter. Sticking to those priorities may keep me sane. So, I don’t have to break away, so much as choose how I will spend my time, engage my mind, and grow my soul.
Recently, I celebrated another year marked on the calendar of my life. I am also considering how best to focus my energy and enlighten my soul, so I look back on my previous accomplishments and peer ahead into exciting new projects.
In our vastly changing world, we still follow an ancient path, searching for God, our proper place in family and society, and the meaning of our lives. Today, we live in a global reality little imagined in the land of Ur, though—made in the image of God—our souls have always held limitless possibilities.
In my OldEarth Encounter series, our world is viewed from a close-up Earth-bound, historical perspective but also from a distant, alien viewpoint. In the truest meaning of “Catholic,” the stories revolve around universal themes.
OldEarth ARAM Encounter—Humanity’s search for the one true God.
OldEarth Ishtar Encounter—Conflict between humanity’s need for God and our desire to be god.
OldEarth Neb Encounter—The price of chosen evil.
OldEarth Georgios Encounter—God as Father and Son and our personal reflection of those roles.
OldEarth Melchior Encounter—Marriage, parenthood, and the meaning of our Christian identity.
The first three books are currently available on Amazon, and the last two are near completion and will be available soon.
For the rest of April, I will take a break from creating new stories, My Road Goes Ever On reflections, and poems. I’ll start up again sometime in May. In the mean time, I am completing the work on the last two OldEarth books, reading my posts aloud for those who’d like to listen, (Just hit the Listen on Spotify button) and organizing my newest work:
My Road Goes Ever On II
Encounter—Science Fiction Short Stories II
It Might Have Been Short Stories II
I am also hoping to publish a collection of my poems at some point. Still have to come up with a name…
May our lives be blessed with God’s grace each day.
As a kid, I knew my mind. I honestly believed I had a mind. But as the world turns on its axis, seasons change, and all forms of world leadership, pundits, and professionals offer their expertise, speeding through high-tech revolving doors, I find that my mind isn’t always my own.
Pursuing academic excellence is a fantastic way to lose one’s mind. But don’t stop there. Try marriage, parenting, and—goodness knows—volunteer service does wonders for one’s “I don’t know what I was thinking” mindset.
School days taught me to think. To read different resources. To consider various points of view. I have a distinct memory of sitting in a comparative religions class in my Catholic high school wondering if the teacher believed in anything at all. Respect implied an open mind to every question. An honest consideration that the presented view could possibly be the right one. Then they send in the next contestant. And so, on it went. Historical perspectives. Religious tenants. Persecution complexes. Vapid voyeurism. Collections and chapters detailing human interactions—interior thoughts and earthly battlegrounds—all striving to touch the finger of God.
Marriage snaps the sinews of personhood, demanding a level of “us-ness” that no one can properly prepare for no matter what bride magazine one subscribes to. Right after impassioned vows charges the inner-scream-crisis between self and self-denial. Have a mind-full opinion? Certainly. But share cautiously.
Parenting starts with euphoria, travels through exhaustion, canters about introspection, chokes out, “I don’t know” well before the kids’ reach their teen years, and sits humbly on a kitchen chair while family and friends illuminate what they can’t possibly see.
Volunteer service offers a nice platform to rest wounded egos and tired minds. After all, what could possibly go wrong? Between serving in Chicago’s inner city, a barrio in the Philippines, various pro-life adventures, and community opportunities, I’ve discovered that mindfulness abounds in every situation. To serve with a mind is one thing. To serve with the heart—quite another.
I’ve often wondered, who needs to have a mind when there are so many to choose from? As for the heart, well, it breaks all too easily.
Last night, I received a call from a woman who is arranging her mother’s funeral, and she had questions about the burial details. As the secretary for the local cemetery, I answered what I could and directed her to other resources when necessary. This morning, a funeral home called with information concerning another burial this weekend. The name rings familiar though I don’t know the man who died. He was a friend of a friend, his passing a loss to many.
When I accepted this position last year, I had no idea of what I was getting into. The logistics seemed simple enough. How hard can it be to bury a body? Little did I know. Seriously. We humans have an absolute knack for confusing ourselves and losing our loved ones. From attempting to locate bodies in unmarked graves using witching sticks (Not my idea—but certainly an experience I won’t soon forget) to submitting accurate records to the state of Illinois, I have learned the value of various kinds of knowledge.
My predecessor helps me with the records and relations between folks. The who’s who and how to negotiate unexpected inquiries. How many bodies can be buried in a site? Two—if they are cremations. And, yes, sometimes people are buried in the wrong place, stones reflect broken family connections, and the rows aren’t always straight.
The grave digger offers his expertise—allowing me the security of double-checking my records and getting the facts, if not the lines, straight. No, bodies aren’t buried six feet under. Cremations can be hard to detect even a day later, and mounds over a full grave can linger for years.
In the end, literally and figuratively, I have discovered that though knowledge of the facts may be etched in stone and measured in records, it is the heartfelt memories that hold folks together—inside and out. The truest truth of a person isn’t detailed in words or numbers, it is shaped in lives. Those we know and those who know us through others, down through uncountable generations. DNA and the embodiment of the soul start a winding process that bends through dates, events, joys, and sorrows right into personhood.
The truth of who I am involves my mind, but it doesn’t end there. I am not what I think or who I know. More than tears, screams of frustration, cries of delight, or even laughter, I find myself concerned less with the content of my mind than the character of my heart. Or should I say characters… No man, woman, child, critter, or composition has left me untouched. I am chiseled and etched by the God who made me and the personalities of this world—now and forevermore.
Trees, in their giantess of spirit, talk to me on a daily basis. Thank God, or I don’t know who I’d go to for advice.
It’s the end of a long day—a Monday to be exact—and as hectic, overflowing Mondays have the uncanny habit of following slow, afternoon-nap Sundays, I fight the desire to head out to the edge of my property and simply be with my dear friend. No words necessary. Oak always understands.
I wouldn’t have to go into the tedious details concerning the weird dream where I painted a dirty wall then promptly tossed a blanket over a messy box that really deserved to be cleaned out, but, in dream-world impossibility, the blanket would simply have to do.
No need to explain the emails. How does one respond to sincere attempts to communicate in a world where opinions rampage like charging horses in a medieval joust, and it’s frankly disloyal—perhaps even disingenuous—to cheer?
Gordian knot, you’re playing with me.
Today’s foraging through the shops demanded keen instinct—keep to the designated list despite the fact that items left over from the holidays were practically a steal. Who wants to steal holiday decorations when looking forward to spring? Yeah, sure, there’s always next year… But tonight’s dinner quandary demanded my attention more. Fruits and vegetables. A last stand between winter and spring festivities. That or admit that ol’ Oak and I have more in common than I’d like to admit in matters of girth.
Noon found me strolling. Oak greeted me, always the gentlefolk, waving last seasons crumpled brown leaves, rustling a soothing tune. I still had a story to write, online school plans to cajole, money matters with which to contend, and dinner to devise.
Oak didn’t mind a bit of it. The wind blew. Clouds scuttled. With plaintive meows, cats arched their back in invitation, and dogs raced like puppies. A red bird shot onto the woods, a blue bird flashed by, and an eagle soared. If I wasn’t one with nature, it wasn’t for Oak’s lack of trying. Steadfast par excellence.
Pasta with two kinds of toppings kept the kids’ bodies and souls in happy coexistence. Presently sage and citrus incense burn over the glowing heater while Henrietta hamster daintily chips away at her carrot. I am staring at dark windows, knowing full well that Oak is still and quiet this time of night. He doesn’t need to speak. He just needs to be.
Maple out my bedroom window wakes me each morning with waving branches, seasonally decorated. I’m waiting for the spring-fairies to visit. Any day now. Pines pierce the sky, tossing their still-green branches in see-what-I-still-have proud display. A forgotten nest sways, unbroken, a hopeful reminder of summer guests.
In a time-is-running-out reality dotted with doubt, my arboreal familiars offer more than words can say. They speak in rustles, rough texture, variegated colors, off-white tones, but most honestly in their very existence. To be is their way.
No proof. No judgment. No certitude or pride.
To have been created says all. Alive. Perhaps not always perfectly. Rot infests the best of us. But speak, they do well.
Advice is best offered after sampled, and so, I find it true.