Friday, January 15, 2010


Every day, on the way to school, we walk by a small fenced-in retention pond. It’s a small, man-made oasis of life surrounded by the noise of rush-hour school traffic, the smell of the exhaust fumes and the loud honking of the impatient drivers. It is a home to numerous fascinating Florida wildlife, providing me and my children with some great on-the-go education, entertainment and inspiration, as we pause to admire their beauty and peculiarities. Over the years, we’ve seen new life being birthed and nested on the pond’s banks. Our hearts skipped for joy as we watched waddling baby ducklings race toward us in eager expectation of the fresh supply of breadcrumbs. We’ve seen its waters recede down to the small muddy puddle, the rest of the bottom exposed, dried up and cracked, its inhospitable bosom shooing ducks, wild geese, egrets, blue herons and tortoises away in search for another supply of life-giving water. Some of its inhabitants have survived the harsh conditions and came back, some have not. I see life and death intersect in this microcosm daily.

A couple of days ago I was alone when, with a corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of the body of a great blue heron laying on the frost-covered grass next to the nearby woods. We’ve seen him many times before, standing tall inside the pond, examining us with his unblinking eye as carefully as we were examining him. Yesterday morning, I turned aside to pay tribute to our nameless friend. His dignified head was folded under its enormous wings, his feathers ruffled by the biting wind, long legs outstretched, resting covered with millions of diamonds glistening in the morning light like a fallen hero, like an angel wounded in some invisible cosmic battle. I don’t know whether it was the sight of the dead bird or the weariness of the battle in and around me that stirred the cry inside my soul - the irrepressible longing for a place where cold, death, judgment, noise, comparison, pride and punishment cease forever.

Aaah, Lord.. I thirst.. I thirst for heaven… I thirst for heaven, Lord… I am tired of battle, I am tired of being questioned, I am tired of being compared, and misunderstood, and judged, and having to explain myself over and over again… I am tired of living with one foot here, on this cold, wintry, inhospitable earth, and the other walking in Your step. I am sad when something so lovely and majestic has to fold its wings… and there is a part of me which is envious of the rest it has entered. I am tired of having to dig myself out of the hole of inertia, self-pity and spiritual deadness each morning of each day, after so many years of walking with You. I am tired of ceaseless effort that living this life entails…

I stood there for a while in the ever-increasing puddle of self-pity, tears dripping down my face, when suddenly I caught a glimpse of a big blue splatter of the brilliant sky sprawled right in front of me. I have never before seen the pond from this angle and the image startled me out of my dirge.

My… oh my… This looks like… like a piece of… heaven… here, on earth…

I stared at the motionless water of the pond, reflecting, as in a mirror, the wordless glory of the crisp azure of the winter sky. There was nothing remarkable about this retention pond. It was no more than an enormous pot hole dug by human hands, created to receive the influx of the murky rain water during typical summer downpours, in order to prevent the streets and homes from being flooded. Its shallows are often littered by debris, carelessly deposited there by oblivious children and adults alike, periodically collected by the tired county workers, who also mow the weeds in summertime. And yet, its utilitarian ignobility was also interspersed, even invaded by heaven itself?! !?!! The best of all, my weary heart noted, there was no effort required… just motionless stillness which reflected the sky. No toil, no clever arguments, no defense attorney, no judge. Just restful, peaceful gaze upward until the heaven itself descends on earth and illumines its gloom, discouragement and hopelessness with its silent brilliance.

Monday, January 04, 2010

I was fumbling through my wallet, looking for the insurance card on the way to my first appointment with a surgeon, the morning rush hour traffic keeping a small portion of my brain engaged in the immediate. The rest was equally divided between the forefront of my mind - which was feverishly scrolling down a long checklist of things I needed to do, questions to ask, the practical consequences to consider; and the back – which was being assailed by another set of unspoken questions, fears and the what-ifs. As the light turned green, an old card fell out of the wallet and with the corner of my eye I caught the words I’d heard for the first time almost 15 years ago - a closing prayer of our wedding ceremony. I could almost hear the strong voice of the 88 year old saint, his eyes aglow with the visions of the invisible, calling out the unexpected benediction:

And now, may God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ give you

Enough trials to make you strong

Enough sorrows to make you human

Enough failure to make you humble

Enough hope to keep you happy

Enough friends to give you comfort

Enough faith to banish depression

Enough determination to make each day better than yesterday.

I remember hearing the prayer that day at the pinnacle of my romantic idealism and saying to myself, Wait a minute! What are you talking about?!!! Trials, sorrows, failures – I didn’t sign up for THAT! But, the words were spoken and there was no going back. Being young and inexperienced, I would NEVER have chosen such ‘blessing’ to start my married life – or start anything for that matter. But, the old saint’s wisdom trounced my naivety that day and his invocation became a backbone of our marriage and our lives for all the subsequent years, reaching across the decade and a half into my tormented heart today.

My life’s circumstances are not a random outcome of some blind fate. Its rich complexity is carefully measured by the loving hand of the all-wise God who manifested Himself as fully as we humans can take it, in His Son Jesus. He reaches down into the ignoble glob of my internal being and the resulting external mess and slowly, patiently begins modeling my mind and my heart, my soul and my strength according to the glorious design He purposed in His own heart. He knows the ingredients that it takes, the temperature of the oven and the length of time I need to spend in it to transform the what-is into what-will-become. Left to myself, I am weak, arrogant, insecure, stubborn, sometimes sub and other times super-human android, prone to depression and discouragement, criticism and loneliness. The trials, the sorrows, the failures are all necessary ingredients which chisel the hardened crust of my priorities, purify my motives and purpose, and soften my heart towards Him and others. I need them if I want to become like Him in love, in humility, in grace, in mercy.

And so, today, as the wheels of our Corolla start moving slowly on the way to the hospital, rather than fighting, or resenting, or sugarcoating, I want to embrace this destiny – the whole package – and thank God for the beautiful intricacy of our lives – brimming with happiness, trials, sorrows, frustrations, friends, love, faith and hope. Part of me wishes I could peek into the future and see what the outcome of this battle is going to be, because the suspense of not-knowing sometimes feels almost unbearable. But, perhaps the beauty is that we don’t know and in that not knowing a unique space is created – a treasure room in our hearts that can be filled with confident trust in the invisible God who knows and cares more than we can conceive.