Fragile Fortitude

The Lenten Rose is one of the first flowers to bloom in Spring. Lent, the season of the Christian liturgical year that leads up to Easter, begins in February. Often February is the coldest, snowiest part of the year in this area. Under the snow this hardy little plant will already be forming buds. As the temperature waxes and wanes with the coming of Spring the plant folds in tighter to itself or opens up to the sun. Finally it bursts open. It continues blooming for most of May. Already in January, as soon as the snow begins to recede, I start looking for the buds. Often they are covered over by dead leaves and other garden detritus. If I push this natural mulch aside I will find them – little messengers of hope.  

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I am impatient to move on into Spring. Our flowers are always on the late side of the season. We don’t get as many sunlight hours as many in our area do because of the way our house is situated. We brought the daffodils that modeled for this painting into the house while they were still buds. When they felt the warmth indoors they quickly began to open. I painted rapidly. Within several hours the blooms were completely open and my model looked entirely different. It was good to focus on that particular moment, to capture the unfolding rather than completely open blooms. Things are always unfinished. There is a particular beauty in that moment of beginning and promise.

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Prickly Purple

When I think of thistles, I immediately think of prickles. As a child, running barefoot and landing on a thistle was an impressive experience. Lessons were learned. The thistle has other attributes though. It boasts a beautiful flower that attracts bees and butterflies. Its seeds are a select food for finches and other small birds. Likewise, life has its prickles which can demand our attention. I hope to be able to look further to notice and treasure the flowers and seeds as well.

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Side by Side


house wren


The blue birds never came back.  Eventually all the eggs disappeared.  The chickadees vanished as well.  Poof!  No adults, no babies. The cardinal nest was abandoned without eggs.

House wrens moved into the bluebird box.  They made a very messy nest with sticks protruding from the hole in the box.  It’s amazing they can get in and out, but they do.  And quickly. They also scold.  There are four babies in the nest which we hope survive to fledge.  If all goes well that should happen very soon.

We are trying to disturb them as little as possible.

20160719_131618They do not play well with others.  I suspect them of raiding the bluebird nest and perhaps the chickadee nest as well.  I watched them chase off a Carolina wren who was examining the unoccupied chickadee box.  I would prefer the Carolina wren.  Oh well.

We did see some other fledglings. I was hoping for house finches.  Instead we got house sparrows.  They’re a crowded, noisy, pushy bunch when they all descend on the feeder at once. They’re not very pretty or desirable.  See how things are working out for me?

Oh, and can I mention that my husband broke his foot, which is only a small inconvenience and doesn’t have much to do with birds.  Although, come to think of it, he was working on a bird feeder project at the time.

Evidently I do not get a say in these matters.

Meanwhile, it’s the middle of summer.  The garden is lush.  The weeds are thriving as well.  Spring blossoms have faded.  Some of them have 20160719_131112disappeared.  New things are glorious.  The bugs seem to be getting in on the act as well.

I’ve been noticing that life and death exist side by side.  They’re not really opposite.  They’re just different points on the journey.  We only get so much say in the matter.  And it seems that we only get a little say in how it goes between stops.  It can be a very bumpy ride.

This is where I’m tempted to veer off into the state of society and current politics—how the varying, seemingly opposite sides of the issues are really just different parts of a whole.  If one part is broken the other part is too.  How we won’t solve anything as long as we try to divide the whole rather than bringing it together.

I’m going to spare you the details of that rant.  You already know the various parts.  You live your part of the whole.  If you don’t understand what I’m pointing at I’m sure you can find an article or blog somewhere which will be more than happy to explain it to you.  I’m sure you can find a different analysis or point of view as well.

Instead I want to reflect on how I live at my point in the journey.  How am I engaging with the natural course of life and death around me?  How am I engaging with the brokenness?  Am I able to find ways of loving the whole and the particular?

20160719_131436I don’t think I do very well with any of this.  I want to think I know best.  I want to have things “my way.”  The birds are one tiny example of how that works out for me.  Meanwhile, a very big hunk of my life is going my way.

My choice is what I will make of that.  How will I use it?  How will I honor death within life and life within death? How will you?  What do we need to notice to help us?  What practice do we find to fortify and support us?  How can we bring that from isolation into community? Can we do it side by side?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, which only goes to show something about me “knowing best.”  I’m sure that I do have a small portion of wisdom.  It’s only a small portion though. Not big enough for the whole of life or the whole of death.  It’s not big enough for the reality of their unity.

What I hope to do is to watch and learn.  I hope to see where I can fit in, where I can share my heart and where my heart can grow.  It’s not easy.  Perhaps it should be obvious, but it’s not.  It requires patience and faithfulness to my practices and lots of Grace.

I’d really rather just watch the birds.

Practicing Spring


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Blossoms appear in the land. The time of the songbird has arrived. The cooing of the mourning dove is heard in our land.  Song of Songs 2:12 (NOG)

Birds are waking me before four o’clock in the morning these days.  That is 20160419_170734both a happy thing and an annoyance.  Overall I choose gratitude. Especially as I drink my morning coffee while watching those birds chase each other in the mating dance. There are spats between species at the feeders. We see cardinals, house finches, song and chipping sparrows and more.  Of course there are robins searching for their worms. Special favorites, the goldfinches gleam in the sun. A mourning dove sits on the deck rail basking in the sun.


It appears that our attempt at mediating the bird box competition has been successful.  The chickadees go in and out of their box frequently, carrying unidentifiable bits of things in their beaks.  The bluebirds visit the new house.  The cowbirds seem not to appreciate the new feed we put out.  We see them less often.

bluebird resize

During the day the warm temperatures and sunshine lift my spirits.  Flowers are bursting into bloom. Ornamental trees freckle the neighborhood.  A redbud we planted last spring is about to bloom for the first time.  Tulips hold a unique romance for me.  This year they are abundant.


We’re developing a habit of evening walks in the new wetland park at the lower side of the neighborhood.  They’ve put in boardwalks and native trees.  There is a huge ancient oak that the children try to climb. Peepers sing 20160419_112733loudly and then suddenly silence when our steps draw near.


So Spring has finally come!  It will only last a few weeks.  I intend to savor every bit of it.


Sometimes our practices come in seasons. Lent was a season of challenge and waiting.  Easter found me still waiting.  Now sitting in silence, dog at my feet, watching the birds and flowers while drinking in the sunshine has become a spiritual practice for me.  The Creator speaks to me through creation.

Listen!  Do you see it?

Waiting in Trust

20160331_111529_HDR It’s April.  We’ve had a few days of sunshine just to tease us.  Cold and wind have returned.  Those who have planted are covering the tender shoots at night.  Those of us, myself included, continue waiting.


20160328_095029_HDRMarch was difficult for me as I’ve written before.  My kind husband took pity and took me to South Carolina for some genuinely warm temperatures.  Never mind that we didn’t see much of the sun. The temperatures were warm in spite of the rain.  When the sun did come out it was brilliant.  We were able to do bird watching and walk on the beach wearing only light jackets.  Flowers were blooming: azaleas, wisteria and jessamine.

Our dog was along.  She is a timid sort of creature when facing something new.  And she doesn’t like loud noises.  We weren’t sure how she would do with the sight and sound of the 20160328_092742_HDRocean.  She loved it.  She ran and ran until she could run no more.


How delightful to experience a weekend of Spring ahead of time!


Not everyone has the privilege to pack up and get away.  I have never done it before.  I might like to become accustomed to that possibility.  Nevertheless I needed to return to ordinary life.


Temperatures were milder when we arrived home.  We had a few lovely days of balmy weather.  It was wonderful!


However, the weather has changed with unseasonably cold temperatures and high winds.  We’ve had nights below freezing.  I’ve moved my pansies indoors!  As I write this the temperature is 40 degrees F outside with wind chills around 34 degrees.  In April!  What’s up with that?  I had hoped I’d be drinking something cold as I write this. Instead I’m having another cup of hot tea to warm my insides.


I’ve been looking closely though.  There are buds on the Redbud tree and the rose bush I thought might be dying has sprouted out all over.  Dutchmen’s Breeches have put out a few brave blossoms.  Goldfinches are showing themselves.  The Mourning Dove coos as the sun sets.  I’ve seen House Finches and Purple Finches.  I wake to the sound of Cardinal song.  A few Robins have been plucking at the ground.  I trust we’ll see a few more later.


Perhaps the most interesting sight has been the contest between Bluebirds and Chickadees for territory.  We have a bird box which has been up for many years and never used.  Last fall we enlarged the opening.  Chickadees IMG_20160408_185659 (1)discovered it.  I was enjoying watching them go in and out.  Then a pair of Bluebirds arrived.  They are gorgeous, dignified beings as opposed to the Chickadee’s darting style.  The Bluebirds perched atop the clothesline pole and watched.  One approached the box and looked in.  Suddenly there was a flutter of wings and scolding.  A Chickadee dashed at the Bluebird and drove it off.  This has happened several times that I’ve witnessed.  We quickly bought another box and put it up.


The Bluebirds have discovered the new box.  As of yet they haven’t moved in.  The Chickadees continue to use the one they claimed first.  It will be interesting to watch the drama.  I’ve also spotted a Cowbird pair.  The Cowbird lays her egg in a Bluebird nest rather than bother with a nest of her own.  Her chick will be larger and crowd out the Bluebird chicks who will die from a lack of the food the Cowbird chick hogs. The Cowbird and the unseasonable cold remind us that nature is not all romance.  Neither are we.


We need to beware the Cowbirds who want to take over from the tender, more vulnerable babes that wish to grow inside us.  We need to shelter from the cold.  We need to keep our tea hot while we wait.  Perhaps most importantly we need to watch the tender buds as they wait in readiness to burst forth.  It begins ever so slowly, almost imperceptibly.


Where are we finding hope?  Where are we budding?  Are we able to hang on a little bit longer in trust?


Perhaps this is the time to hang in there with our regular practices even though we cannot see the future growth.  Perhaps we don’t see the birds yet.  Perhaps we don’t see the buds.  Perhaps our regular practice doesn’t feel hopeful.  That’s why we have a regular practice.  The practice is in service of the growth, even the growth we can’t yet see.


Hang in there.  Watch closely.  And continue to make your tea and keep up whatever other practice you find meaningful­­– or at least had found meaningful. The days are longer.  Spring is coming.  Growth is happening.  Nurture trust.