silence

Silence is a gift
Time and space to think
To breathe,
Deeply

In the silence
My heartbeat thunders
A reminder
To be thankful

Silence sings, a chorus
Of crickets and frogs
Flames crackle
In the dark

I am still
In the silence
Leaning, listening
For the voice
In silence

~René Morley

transplanting

We went to the nursery tonight for green things. We returned with a truck load. This is not our normal mid-May nursery run for geraniums or petunias to accent the landscape. This project entails uprooting and digging deeper. It’s time.

Framed by split-rail fence at the back corners of the property, sand cherries and hydrangea bushes are out of control. We’re going to try blueberries and grapes there — two varieties of each. Sweet. The plants we purchased are loaded with tiny green fruits so this year’s harvest looks promising already. We can only hope our resident feathered friends are willing to share.

And in the front, along the brick walkway, an oddball barberry and sickly spirea will soon be history. A dwarf Alberta spruce, a pair of compact spirea shrubs, and a variety of astilbe will soon take their places. We’ll add some big rocks for interest. I’m sure the Hubs is just dying for a chance to retrieve and recycle castoff fieldstone. And if not, I know he’ll be a good sport about it.

We’ve lived on this property for more than 25 years and, well, sometimes it takes more than pruning and fertilizer; sometimes it takes transplanting to keep things fresh. Oh, how satisfying to remove the overgrown or spindly and replace with vibrant and healthy.

I can’t help but notice the parallel as we join into a new church fellowship, transplanting ourselves, so to speak. One of the motivating factors has been to make an impact on the local community (remember Tony?); this church is all over that! But deep in my heart I have been pondering my role with the next generation in my own family. The as-yet unborn grandchildren can count on me for significant investment in their lives. Deep and strong roots in my faith are essential to our family’s landscape. I don’t ever want to stop growing.

The stark reality is that the best I might hope for is to be reaching the half-way point of my life. The first half has certainly been fulfilling and I have few regrets. But, God-willing, it was only the first half! I hope and pray the last half counts for at least as much.

Psalm 92:12-14

But the godly will flourish like palm trees
and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.
For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house.
They flourish in the courts of our God.
Even in old age they will still produce fruit;
they will remain vital and green.

~René Morley

wide wings

My very best friend in fourth grade remains among my dearest friends today. We now live several hundred miles apart but for a decade it was a 1.5 mile hike. Often, J and I would walk or bike one way or the other; sometimes we’d meet in the middle.

Between my house and hers was a lonely backcountry road, unpopulated until the outskirts of her tiny village. At about the half-way point there was a sketchy stretch that cut through a swamp. Murky black water, green with algae and thick with brush, no doubt s-s-s-snakes! and other undesirables, lay on either side of the narrow, shoulderless road. It gave me the heebie-jeebies, even in broad daylight. I always hurried through, relieved to crest the hill on the other side and return to civilization.

One lazy summer day as we were walking toward her house and nearing the swamp, a red car passed, slowly. My invisible antennae popped up: too slowly. Too slowly! We were youngsters — ten, maybe eleven, years old. Suddenly I felt extremely vulnerable.

We seldom heard about child abductions back then but my mother had narrowly escaped a stranger under similar circumstances, decades prior. I knew that story well. A heartfelt obligation to return her brother’s bicycle was her salvation. Otherwise, she would have climbed into the car to help the “nice man” find his “little boy, gone missing.” No one had ever warned her otherwise.

But I had been warned. My antennae quivering in alarm, I crept ahead to peek around the bend in the road. To this day I am surprised I had either the foresight or the courage. (Was there an angel pressing me on?) My antennae nearly launched me into outer space when I saw the trap!

The car was turned 180 degrees, so as to be headed back in our direction. Stopped in the middle of the swamp, the engine was still running. The hood was up. The man appeared to be fixing something. He was standing there, by the front of the car. I must have stifled the urge to scream because I am still so inclined, thirty-odd years later. I carefully crept back to my friend.

J had yet to be convinced of the danger but alas, she was an innocent. We were some distance from my house. The only thing that occurred to me was to hide in the ditch. She conceded and we did, hoping the grass was sufficient cover.

It wasn’t long before we heard the hood slam, the door shut, and the tires turn. We held our breath as he drove ever so slowly past our hiding place. Amazed to remain undiscovered, we lay still for some time, barely breathing. When it finally felt safe, we scooted back to my house as fast as our legs would carry us.

The police report dead-ended and I repressed the frightful memory. But years later, driving down that road, it all came rushing back. I slowed where we hid and shuddered, appreciating the unlikely outcome. Even if the ditch was much deeper then, and the grass thicker and longer. Even though we were just kids. It was not much of a hiding place.

There is no doubt in my mind that we were protected from evil on that day. Incredibly, from the first time I allowed myself to fully revisit the memory, it includes an additional detail. In my mind’s eye, I see our niche in the shallow ditch covered by mighty wings.

This imagery has remained vivid for two decades. These are not the wings of a flighty songbird. These wings are like a shield. The feathers are long and layered so densely as to be impenetrable. They are mottled shades of gray and brown, melding into the scrub brush and dried grasses. They overlap slightly but are plenty broad to conceal what lies beneath. There is no hint of refugees in hiding here. This is a secure shelter, a safe place, a dry and warm haven.

When my children were little, I made up a simple tune to help them learn Psalm 91:11. He orders His angels to protect you wherever you go. I’ve often hummed it to myself, drawing courage from a promise I know — I know! — to be true. I’m so thankful for wings wide enough to hide — be they wings of angels or of God. I know that fledgling faith flourishes beneath.

Psalm 91:1-4

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection... [Read more…]

~René Morley

morning

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Morning has broken;
Sister Sun spreads her silent glow,
Mist rising quietly on the river as
Brother Moon slips off the horizon —
But not before playing hide ‘n seek
Behind the clouds, between the trees.

Those birds! noisily greet the dawn;
Turkeys warble from somewhere deep,
Geese honk here, honk there,
Songbirds swoop and swirl, singing
Good morning, North Country!
Good morning.

~René Morley

grace

A couple of weeks ago, I stepped back in time by returning to the small country church where I grew up. In some ways, it seemed the same: walls of light oak paneling, rows of heavy oak pews, durable pine green carpet, a registry posting weekly attendance and offering, and a gentle Jesus with a 40-watt glow smiling down upon the tiny choir loft. Although familiar faces had aged and some names eluded me, there were many warm and welcoming embraces. It felt like coming home.

In other ways, a lot has changed. The music was a refreshing mix, assisted by modern technologies and melodies. A dynamic pastoral duo, soon expecting baby number three, is at the helm. Pastor C led the choir and worship before ushering an encouraging quantity of wee ones off for their service. Pastor Z delivered his message in the isle, illustrating on a whiteboard, infusing energy in his enthusiasm. He spoke clearly and directly, with the confidence of a shepherd minding his flock.

Pastor Z’s subject was the difference between a disciple and a Christian. The latter is a name for those who’ve associated with a theology. It’s easy to call yourself a Christian. Disciples are few, by comparison; it requires deeper commitment. A disciple loves to model the life of the master.

I’ve read how Jews of the time of Jesus were mired in the Levitical law. There were 365 things they were to do and 248 things they were to avoid.* Who could possibly hope to get it right, day after day? But like a cool, clear stream in the desert, Jesus refreshed the landscape. There are only two rules, He said. (1) Love God with your whole heart, soul and mind. (2) Love your neighbor as yourself.

It’s that simple.

Even so, Christianity has diligently continued to create lists defining right and wrong, good and bad, us and them. We can’t seem to help ourselves from splintering off, rules in hand. Some are more rigid or rigorous than others. Some sects make new rules to get around old rules. Regardless of their intent, religious rules tend to have a stifling effect.

And it’s maddening, all these theological lines in the sand. Except for a few foundational tenets of the faith (e.g. the holy trinity, the power of the resurrection) there is a lot to differ about. But nothing, at least to me, much worth the trouble.

More importantly, it is not what God intended. Jesus said, “Follow me. Be my disciple.” Those who do are set free in the journey. Sweet deal. Those are God’s terms. We need not try to redefine them.

It’s not about lists. It’s about love. The difference is grace. You know it when you experience it. Drink deeply of this Living Water.

~René Morley

*Outrageous Love: a love that seeks no reward by Sheila Walsh (J. Countryman, 2004)

w00t!

Yesterday my sister completed her college education. She beat the odds — lots of odds. Do you know how many people start but fail to complete college? To say nothing of moms with three children attending numerous institutions of higher learning in several states over nearly two decades? Not many. Reality check! (Or this. Or this.) U.S. completion rates are a national tragedy but .. MY SISTER DID IT! Words cannot express just how proud I am of her.

Tonight we’re going to celebrate. She’s in Virginia and I am not so we will celebrate virtually. We’ll start with a glass of white wine in each state (okay, maybe two) as she unpacks a couple of boxes. Inside are a series of surprises I shipped last week.

She’s out for a run right now so it’s safe to spill these beans…

There are a few unwrapped odds ‘n ends. There is a money belt, per Rick Steves, to secure valuables in pick-pocket territory. (Sure, he’s goofy but he’s also proven right.) A bundle of Redkin shampoos and conditioners in handy foil packets, courtesy of my stylist. The Rick Steves’ 2012 Italy guidebook with an especially nice section on Rome. (Hotel Smeraldo requires current copy in hand for the discount.) The movie “In Her Shoes” with Cameron Diaz. And a selection of sweet and nostalgic tunes for such a time as this.

There are a few gift wrapped items, too. Mini-shortbread cookies and dried fruit nuggets packaged with the Royal Caribbean logo, just for fun. A huge quasi-classy Royal Caribbean tote bag. A bottle of Victoria’s Secret body lotion in some exotic scent. And a home-made travel journal.

That last one is my favorite. It’s so analog. I started with a small spiral bound notebook and added little maps and notes about the journey ahead. I sketched out some walking tours. And included some thoughts about what my sister means to me; sometimes you don’t figure that out until years after you last shared a closet, clothes or a bedroom.*

So, yes. We’ll soon embark on A. Big. Trip. in honor of my sister’s awesome achievement. I can’t wait to begin scheming excursions on Crete and in Athens, Greece; in Ephesus, Turkey; on Sicily, Italy; and especially to return to Rome! I’m going to plot a path a couple thousand years behind the apostle, Paul. In between, we’ll sail the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, enjoying sweet sunsets. No doubt she’ll lap me in her morning runs as I’m walking off dessert and frosty concoctions. With any luck, my daughter and her son will join our celebration.

Seems this is the ~year of celebrations, eh? Two chids’ weddings. A new job. Two special sister trips abroad — the first was in March. Come November, the Hubs and I will celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary. That’s an awesome thirteen-month ride. W00t!

Just for my sister, I’ll say it again: w00t! That’s w-double-zero-t — w00t!

~René Morley

*And again, this is why I love Terri Hendrix’ “Sister’s Song”. Listen in…

storm damage

Winter returned, just for a day. One heavy, wet snowfall and twelve hours of slicing wind served to remind us that this is the North Country. I suppose we might have forgotten, so mild was winter and so lovely this spring. We might have been swayed into believing, for a moment or two, that we live in an easy place of blossoms and blooms. But, no.

Early this morning I went out to survey the damage. Small mounds of snow still lay in shady spots, placed like stepping stones in the garden. The purple azalea was almost bare, surrounding mulch littered with delicate blossoms. The creeping phlox was wilted, thin stems a sickly green, blooms flattened. The storm didn’t last long but the damage was done.

My garden girl looked on, nonplussed. She’s seen everything. She knows that it was just a blip on the radar, this storm. And that the soil needed a deep drink. And though blooms have suffered, roots are strong. Plants will survive, perhaps hardier for the experience, to blossom again next season.

Sometimes I forget about the bigger picture in the cycle of seasons. Bright blossoms this season matter less than the longevity of the plant and amount of fruit born over time. Storms will come and storms will go. Sometimes they hit hard and, for awhile, their impact is too obvious. But the greater test is measured by steady growth, day in and day out, season by season.

Indeed, there is plenty of evidence of growth in progress, though the cold will linger awhile. My Japanese cherry trees are bulging with buds, bearing abundantly twenty-some years after a mother’s day planting. Kim’s astilbe and Kelly’s bleeding hearts are coming ’round! Grandma Lucia’s peonies are fleshing out into foliage, setting up for sturdy stems to bear the weight of bountiful blooms, bigger than my hand. Mini-lilacs planted in memory of my dad are filling out nicely. Irises, lilies, and lupine are standing strong. We’re moving on, my garden and I.

~René Morley

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