Signs of Life Day One

My first thought upon hearing the alarm song at 7 a.m. (“Across the Great Divide” by Nanci Griffith) was – Absolutely not. No way it is time to wake up. Nope. – and then I hit the snooze button.

But then I heard Chuck shuffling around the room, and then I heard the faucet turn on and off in our bathroom, and the realization hit that it was indeed time to start the day. Oh how I wish I could welcome the morning with more fervor! Because what does a new day mean if not new opportunities, a new start, a new collection of choices to make? Waking up each morning means I literally did not die in the night! It means I get another day with my husband, another day with my children, another day living this life I’ve crafted alongside others.

After a kiss goodbye, Chuck was out the door and I was settled in the dimly lit library where we do school each day and I work on freelance assignments. This was the view from the window, and I welcomed it heartily.

Good morning, I said to no one in particular. Maybe it was to God, or maybe to myself. Either way, it was a moment of recognition: This is a new day. I welcome it, and it welcomes me.

Before I opened my book and began the morning ritual of reading, I picked at the potted plants in front of that same window. I’ve been teased for my plants – mercilessly, I might add – but at this very moment I decided I’d no longer care about being teased. I love them. I’m coming out as a lover of indoor plants. I love fiddling with them and repotting them and seeing how they bend towards the sunshine. 

It is the tiniest of pleasures, and the impact it has on anyone other than me is zero. This is fine.

The day quickly paced towards breakfast and school and chores, and soon I was on the phone with a Methodist minister in West Texas talking about death. I’m working on freelance piece about life after death according to five major religions, and I’ve already interviewed an imam and a director of a Hindu temple, both of whom were gracious and patient with me as I sought to spell words correctly and understand concepts foreign to me. But the conversation with the Methodist was old hat. I know this language, I’ve studied this doctrine, yet I still asked questions as if I knew nothing, and I didn’t let him off the phone until I asked what he thought about animals in heaven.

You know, because animals!

He said: That’s a good question. It would make sense to me that animals are in the new creation. Are all the dogs I’ve ever owned gonna be there? Will we all live together? (he laughs) The vision is that the lion will lie with the lamb, and that may be metaphorical for other things, but I believe there will be no more devouring. We’ll sit in peace together. I can’t say all dogs go to heaven, but if there’s going to be a tree of life, there’s probably going to be some birds in it. It would be strange for there not to be animals because they’re a beautiful part of creation. God created the animals and said it was good. How could He all of a sudden say they aren’t good anymore?

Makes sense to me.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

An escape to the mountains and a new blog series

Part of my freelance work involves contributing to an online outdoor magazine. I get do to what I already love, snap a few photos, and get paid for it.

I welcomed this month’s assignment with open arms because I haven’t craved solitude this badly in months. The last time my soul was truly at rest was that weekend I spent at the monastery, and since I can’t skip off to Trappist, Kentucky, retreating to the Great Smoky Mountains is the next best thing.

The timing of the assignment was ideal because I’ve made a grave mistake of internalizing stress from the political discord among friends, family, and even my church. How quickly we devolve into groups and sides, easily forgetting or ignoring all that common ground between us. Most of the time I find social media to be this magnificent connector of time and space, a way for Army brats like me to see many people and places at one time.

But lately, Facebook, in particular, has been a cesspool of despair and outright cruelty. Desperate for relief, I unplugged on Saturday and ran off to the mountains alone.

From the desperation grew a desire to draw closer to God, to dig my feet into something stable. Strangely, I unearthed some vintage Steven Curtis Chapman and drove teary-eyed listening to the playlist from my most formative spiritual years.

Once I was parked and fully unplugged, I started to climb the steep hill in front me – Chestnut Top Trail. Leaving the music in the car, I meditated on the sound of rustling leaves and the crunching of twigs beneath my feet. I climbed and lamented. I hiked and cried.

Thankful for the perfect weather and the mostly empty trails, I hiked for five hours straight, until my legs were dead sore and two nasty blisters were fully formed. Around each bend was something beautiful, so even as my body said, “Time to turn back,” my heart was saying, “I wonder what’s on the other side of that knoll.”

I drove to a second trail – because why not? – and walked painstakingly two more miles into the Great Smoky Mountains.

I wanted to keep going, and I would’ve kept going, but I knew that no amount of time would’ve been long enough. I could go another hour and still crave ten more. Something else had to change.

It was only when I came upon these tiny mushrooms growing out of a fallen tree, it hit me: I can’t rely on these tiny escapes. Monks and mountains can do only so much. No, I need a revival in my day-to-day. Instead of one big AH-HA, I need lots of little awes.

In the words of Steven Curtis Chapman, I need to see more signs of life to prove that despair and division are not in charge.

But how to accomplish this, I asked myself. Is it realistic to expect little wonders on the mundane hamster wheel of everyday life?

Maybe. If I look hard enough, then maybe.

Thus became my goal for February: to post a daily Sign of Life, whatever that is in my world. Maybe I capture Jeremy and Jackson in laughing fits. Maybe I see something blooming where it shouldn’t. Maybe I meet someone whom I can help, or someone who can help me, or maybe there’s a sunset so large and vibrant that I absolutely must show you.

I’ve not mapped this out yet, but I know there’s something tangible here.

Maybe you’ll join me?