Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Boys in the Band

Our trip to Peru in 2011 to visit our son and his family included a visit to Machu Picchu. In order to get there, we first flew into the city of Cusco high in the Andes mountains.  After we finished our tours for the day in and around Cusco and had dinner, we took some time to do a little more exploring of the Plaza de Armas—Cusco’s central square. Bordering the square are the Cusco Cathedral on the north and the Company of Jesus Church on the east, with various shops and restaurants on the south and west. As we had toured the Cathedral earlier in the day, we turned our focus to the Company of Jesus Church. The church itself wasn’t open to tours at the time, but there was a small room just to the north of the main doors that was open. When we walked past the room, we saw that they were having an arts and craft show featuring the work of local artists. I am drawn like a moth to a flame to these kinds of shows, so in we went.

Boys in the band cropAs arts and crafts shows go, this one was quite small. There were displays of jewelry and clothing on three long tables set up in a U shape in the back part of the room and more clothing displayed on a couple of hanging racks. The thing that caught my eye, however, were some shelves set up in the middle of the U towards the front of the room. Displayed on these shelves were pottery and other sculpted items. Because we were on vacation, I was keeping my eye out for souvenirs. I wasn’t interested in the kinds of things we saw at every market along the way, I was looking for things that were unique, things that I knew I wouldn’t find anywhere else. As I looked at the various items for sale, I kept coming back to a small sculpture of four musicians sitting on a bench. The musicians were sculpted of clay and painted with a dark brown glaze of some kind. The bench they sat on was made of what looked like pieces of scrap wood that had also been Boys-jugstained brown. My husband thought they were kind of ugly; I thought they were quirky and definitely unique. I debated back and forth about whether or not I should buy them. Even though the piece wasn’t very expensive, no more than about $20 if I remember correctly, I decided maybe I shouldn’t buy it. But I really liked these boys in the band—they spoke to me. Finally, in exasperation, my son solved the problem by picking the sculpture up and buying it. We took the piece back to our hotel room, and the longer my husband looked at it, the more he decided he liked “The Boys.” They now sit on the mantle of my front room fireplace; every time I look at them, they make me smile.

Boys-drumI think many of the blessings God desires to give us are like my Boys. They are out there, not really hiding, but not necessarily in plain sight, either. In order to receive these blessings, God requires us to seek them out, sometimes in out-of-the-way places. Often these blessings are in the events of our everyday lives. For example, my eight-month-old granddaughter has been trying to crawl for about a month now. It has been plain to see in her body language that she knew there was a way for her to get where she wanted to go, but she just couldn’t figure it out. She’s been doing the rocking back and forth on her knees maneuver for several weeks, but any movement was always in reverse. Then last night, her mother posted a video on Facebook of her crawling across the floor to get to the toy she wanted. There is such a sense of triumph in that 30-second clip. Like the Boys sitting on my fireplace, it makes me smile. And that’s a blessing. Watching her progress reminds me that I, too, can acquire the skills I desire if I just keep working at it. Being reminded of that principle is a blessing as well.Boys-flute

God’s blessings also come in the form of tribulations and trials. Understandably, these blessings are often the most difficult to recognize. I think back to 18 months ago when we found out that my husband had cancer. At first, the only feelings I had were disbelief and dismay. But as friends and family prayed for us, I began to feel buoyed up by those many pleadings in our behalf (See Praying for Peter Prostate). Though the outcome was still uncertain, I felt at peace and knew that whatever happened, things would be ok. This was a blessing for me on a couple of levels. First the comfort and calmness that I felt in the face of difficulty enabled me to go on with my daily activities without being overcome by anxiety and despair—a HUGE blessing for me. Second, the peace I felt was evidence to me that God knew me and was aware of my concerns and fears. I knew he cared about me and my husband and would sustain us through whatever the future brought. I had never experienced this before. In fact, in my limitation mindset, I had believed that either I couldn’t have these feelings or that God wouldn’t give this blessing to me. Learning that both of these perceptions were lies was another blessing I received in connection with that trial.

Boys-guitarThe other thing I learned about God’s blessings from the Boys in the band is that we must be willing to receive them; we must pick them up off the shelf and pay the price to make them ours. I know that far too often I see a blessing sitting on a shelf just waiting for me to claim it, but instead, I pass it by. In fact, I was told by a religious leader one time that God had many blessings to give me if I would just receive them. So what stops me from receiving the blessings God wants to give me? I’m not sure, but I suspect it has something to do with fear. Sometimes I am afraid the price for the blessing will be beyond my capacity to pay, and sometimes I fear that someone like me (whatever that means) isn’t allowed to have that particular blessing.

The capacity to perceive and the willingness receive God’s blessings is something I’m still working on. In my head, it all seems like a “No duh!” proposition, but my in my heart I’m still at the rocking-back-and-forth-on-my-hands-and-knees stage, wanting to move forward but not quite knowing how yet. Fortunately, I have both God and the Boys in the band to cheer me on as I continue becoming who I am yet to be.

Of Faith and Ivy

When my two oldest children arrived home on the last day of school of 1985, they, their younger sister, and I got into our Chevette while my husband climbed into the cab of a U-Haul truck filled with everything we owned. We all waved goodbye to the house we had lived in for the previous six years, drove to McDonald’s for dinner, and then headed out of Jeffersonville, Indiana, to move back home to Utah.

Six weeks after arriving in Utah, my husband had a job, and we started looking for a house. On the day we were to look at houses with our realtor, we were, by some miracle, running early. Being early isn’t unusual for my husband, but it is nearly unheard of for me. With some time to spare before our appointments, my husband, on a whim, turned down the next road we came to. The third house in had a for sale sign in the front lawn, so we stopped. The house was obviously empty and had been for some time. We really liked what we saw from the outside, so when we met with the realtor, we told him about this house, and he arranged for us to look at the inside. There was just something about the home that spoke to us.  So we bought it.

The house had been foreclosed on and had been empty for about two years. As you can imagine, it needed work, both inside and outside. We started working on the yard as soon as we moved in in September. The first order of business was to get the front yard in shape, so we killed all the grass, put in a sprinkler system, brought in some topsoil, and put down some grass seed. We also planted some ornamental bushes in front of the house and along one side of the yard. Additionally, we got some ivy starts from my parents and planted them under an existing Chinese Elm tree and lilac bush as well as around our newly planted ornamentals.

The next spring we quickly realized our landscaping had an unwelcome visitor—a bumper crop of the perennial weed-kind of morning glory, also known as bindweed. There is nothing remotely attractive about this noxious weed. The rope-like vine quickly invaded everything it touched. It climbed up the trunk of the Chinese elm and snaked itself around the branches of the lilac bush. It attacked the bushes we had planted, nearly choking them to death. This plant was a monster, so I took on the challenge of getting rid of the stuff. But, no matter how far down I dug, I couldn’t get to the end of the roots. Of course, if you didn’t pull out the whole root, the vine just grew back. I don’t remember whether or not we used weed killer on it; if we did, it didn’t work. I finally decided that there must be just one giant morning glory plant growing underneath the entire neighborhood, and it was indestructible. I even considered the idea that the only way we were going to get rid of the stuff was to wait until the earth was cleansed by fire—nothing else seemed to be working.

IvyMy battle with the morning glory went on for several years. During that time, the ivy starts we planted took hold and began to cover the ground. (I know, I know—some people see ivy as a weed, but I like it.) About the third or fourth year in, I realized that there was less and less morning glory to battle with; the ivy was actually choking out my agricultural nemesis. Today we have a lush carpet of ivy growing underneath the pine tree we planted in place of the Chinese Elm. It also frames the lilac bush and other ornamentals and covers the railing across our front porch.

I’ve long thought about my battle with morning glory in the context of my battle with fear and doubt. Often my fear seems so deeply entrenched that I despair of ever conquering it. I know my faith should be stronger than my fear, but I can’t seem to get to that point. Recently, however, I’ve come to the understanding that I have been going about this the wrong way for a very long time. In my mind, I had this unexamined assumption that I had to get rid of the fear before I could plant and nurture faith. But that’s not the lesson of the ivy. What I’m realizing is that, while I can’t allow the morning glory of fear to run rampant, I don’t have to wait until the ground is clear to plant my ivy of faith. If I plant, nourish, and nurture my faith, it will eventually crowd out the fear. It is impossible to nurture my faith and fear at the same time. If all I focus on are my fears and doubts, I cannot nourish my faith. Conversely, if I focus on growing my faith, I’m not nourishing my fear. As both aspects are always there, it’s simply a matter of what I choose to focus on.

In my prayers lately, I have been asking the Lord to make my faith stronger than my fear, and I can truthfully say I have seen a difference in my perspective. As I look for evidence of faith-focused thinking, the fearful thoughts get smaller and smaller. They are still there, but they aren’t controlling my life as much. I’m also using this practice in my battles between pride and humility and between envy and meekness. God, in his great goodness, is helping by applying the true Miracle Gro of mercy to my tender shoots of faith, humility, and meekness. Between the two of us, I expect to have a pretty good harvest—in a millennium or two.

Image Credit: http://www.ivy.org/gallery/walterm.jpg