Juniper and myrtle trees and me

juniper tree
A Juniper tree

The author of Isaiah 55 was not writing to me. This poem was directed at Jews living in Babylon, after years of being exiled from Jerusalem. Now they were allowed to return to Jerusalem, but after years of longing for the homeland of their grandparents, there just wasn’t much of Jerusalem left to compel them to return. It was going to take some seriously hard work, and mean leaving behind the life they had cultivated in Babylon. The author calls the Jewish people to come home: “My people, you will go out of Babylon with joy. You will be led out of it in peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song as you go. And all the trees in the fields will clap their hands. Juniper trees will grow where there used to be bushes that had thorns on them.  And myrtle trees will grow where there used to be thorns. That will bring me great fame. It will be a lasting reminder of what I can do. It will stand forever.”

But even though this was not a letter written to me, like any good reader or lover of story, even if it wasn’t intended for me, I can’t help but interpret it for me.

Late 2017 and 2018 was a time of exile for our family, or so it felt. And I spent a good part of the last year somewhat on the outside of the land of plenty I believe God has for me. I got somewhat comfortable in this place. And I don’t think that was wrong. After all, when one is forcibly exiled, you can’t help but resettle where you land.

However, lately I’ve been feeling God is calling me to move forward. Not backward to where we were, but forward to a place He has set apart for me. It is not a place that is flowing with milk and honey… yet… for there is work to be done. I truly don’t know what this place will look like, where it will be, how it will be different from where I am now. Perhaps to the casual observer, it won’t look much different at all. But the word that has been impressed on my heart these last few weeks as I look toward a new year is FORWARD. The time has come to move forward. To view myself not as one exiled, but one invited in to something new.

Today, I move. Forward. The mountains and hills may not burst into song, but I might.

Happy New Year, friends.

Ponty and me

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If there’s one thing the professions Mike and I chose can guarantee, it’s that our kids will one day experience the joy of driving an old beat-up car around town. But I’m only being slightly sarcastic about the ‘joy’ part. I may not have thought it was funny at the time, but driving a clunker (“Ponty” the Pontiac) through high school, college and early married years has given me some hilarious stories to recount now, as I live in the less-joyful Land of Car Payments on the Minivan.

There was the time that I saw my car get towed away twice in one week at college. Then my sweet parents drove me their car to use while they got mine fixed, and while I was driving their car, IT broke down and had to get towed away.

Or how about when my car wouldn’t turn off one night when I got back to my dorm. The key wouldn’t turn or release, and it would. not. turn. off. The entire campus police arrived in full force, and eventually had to disconnect the battery. Another tow.

But I think my favorite (aka, most mortifying) car experience was after Mike and I got married. We were living in an apartment complex, and on Christmas Eve, we drove to my parents’ house in Mike’s car, leaving my car at the apartment. When we got back home in the evening on Christmas Day, our neighbors opened their door as we unlocked ours, balancing our Christmas loot at the top of the concrete stairs.

Them: “Umm, is that red Pontiac Sunbird your car?”

Us: (Nervously) “Yes…”

Them: “So, it went off all night last night. Like, the horn went off and wouldn’t stop.”

Us: “Are you serious? Did someone break into it to stop it?”

Them: “No. After a few hours, sometime after midnight, it stopped.”

Us: “Oh. My. Gosh. We are SOOOOO sorry!”

We slunk back into our apartment with our tower of gifts and tried to keep a low profile for a bit.

Until a few days later, when I discovered the problem again. As I backed out of a parking space, my horn started honking uncontrollably. It wasn’t like an alarm sound, but like a steady, horrendously loud sound. It was only when I turned the wheel a certain way, which I discovered as I pulled some Austin Powers maneuvers trying to get out of the lot without triggering the Horn That Could Wake the Dead.

 

At least this time, it didn’t require a tow.

A clearer reflection

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I used to brush my oldest daughter’s hair every day. But now, at nine, she’s starting to take a little more interest in her appearance. Thankfully we’re nowhere near the “hours in front of a bathroom mirror” stage, but we’re finally at the “understands the basic premise of hygiene” phase.

Only one of the four of us is a morning person, so we usually wake with just enough time for the girls to put on their uniforms, head downstairs for fruit and kefir, fix hair, and take a bowl of dry cereal to the car. I still have to fix Lily’s crazy curly hair, but now Amelia brushes her own.

Today I noticed that she wasn’t running off to the bathroom to brush her hair, but instead, was using her reflection in the kitchen sliding glass door. I praised her for her ingenuity, and she shrugged and said, “When it’s dark outside, I can see myself better.”

***

I’d venture to say that none of us wants to experience the dark side of life. But the truth is, darkness comes to us all at one time or another. But when there’s Light inside of us, we can actually see ourselves better in that darkness. It’s in those dark times that we see ourselves reflected most clearly. What we’re made of. What’s inside of us.

And the even better news is that this reflection is just a glimpse of what’s to come. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

If you look around and see darkness right now, I’m your people. Let’s commit to focusing on the Light that’s inside of us instead of the darkness that surrounds us. If we do, I think we’ll like what we see staring back at us, because it’s made in the image of God. A God that we can’t know fully right now, but who fully knows us and loves us all the same.