Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dogwood Awakening

In the summer of 2009, we revamped the landscaping in our front yard, eliminating two annoying weeping mulberry trees and a lot of lava rock. In place of these horrors of creation, we created a grassy sward (sounds nice, though it's still a work in progress) and planted a dogwood tree. The tree is in memory of Keren, though I know that if we ever move, we aren't exactly going to dig up the tree and take it with us! But for now, it's our memorial tree.

I love dogwoods, but I've had a slight disdain for dogwoods in Michigan after spending my college years in the warmer climes of southeast Pennsylvania. In that part of the world, dogwoods are great, gracious ladies who in spring shake out their pink and white skirts with elegant flamboyance. They're a little like this picture, but even bigger.

In Michigan, dogwoods are delicate ornamentals, resilient in our cold winters, but fairy creatures that hide their beauty behind the flashier pears and crabapples.

The longer I deliberated on what tree to place out front, however, the more I returned to the dogwood. Maybe it was the romance of the legend of the dogwood, or maybe it was just that I love its beauty more than any flowering tree.

Our little dogwood weathered the winter of 2009, and in the spring of 2010 I started to scrutinize its branches to see what it would put forth. As a result, I discovered that the dogwood is more amazing than I ever dreamed.

The first thing I noticed were tiny woody nobs growing on the tips of some branches, while on others sharp points seemed to break right through the wood. It looked a painful process.
 Slowly the nobs grew, till eventually they opened to reveal the starts of the blossoms. Even then, though, they didn't burst out fully-formed like crabapple blossoms. Each flower unfolded its warped, but colorful petals with careful deliberation.

Meanwhile, the sharp-tipped branches forced out pairs of leaves, raised upward like hands in praise....

When the flowers finally unfurled, they displayed their colors with dignity and grace, their very blemishes a part of their beauty.

This literally took place over the course of a month last year. This year it went a little more quickly, but happened later in the season.

I have never seen anything like it. It amazed me how God had given us such a perfect tree to remind us of our beautiful, "imperfect" Keren. How He had created her to be one that blossomed slowly, letting us drink in every step of her development. She was warped and flawed in so many ways, and her successes came through excruciatingly hard work, like the dogwood blossoms breaking forth from tough wood. And yet like the dogwood leaves and blossoms, Keren lifted her eyes heavenward, seeing things we could only imagine.

I don't mean to portray her as a saint; she was just as human as any of us. Actually, I think her life and the awakening of the dogwood are quite a bit like me. I am a hard little tree with nobs and points at the end of my branches. But God is slowly, slowly helping me grow. He's prying open those nobs and unfolding beautiful, stunted blossoms that will someday be fully formed. He's opening those tiny, sharp points and making them soft, open hands lifted up to Him in prayer and praise. He's giving me the strength to weather the winter storms so that each spring I can put forth a little more show. And one day I might even be one of those elegant dogwoods of Pennsylvania.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Last week was full of spring. The kids and I walked to school each day, relishing the calls of the robins, cardinals and red-wing blackbirds. We caught sight of a mother duck with her ducklings, played "Pooh Sticks" on the bridge, counted the fish we spotted in the stream, and watched the dogwoods unfold their flowers. We breathed deep the fresh air and the fragrance of the crabapple blossoms, and stared up into the blue, blue sky. Even the dandelions in the field were golden treasures scattered on an emerald carpet.

One would think it was a perfect week. But the beauty in this world only reaches to a certain point in the soul, and when the soul is sore all the beauty in the world won't cure it.

My heart, mind and soul seem to have been aching all spring and I'm not sure what will be the cure.

On the one hand my objective brain can analyze the situation: The weather has been, for the most part, miserable this spring--cold, wet, gray. There are some big issues that I've been working through that relate to my posts over the past few months (note: no posts for almost two months), and there hasn't been resolution (except that Kraig and I know where we are on the issue, and we're together on it; can't complain there!). The kids have been hit with a number of spring bugs, and two weeks ago I was hit upside the head with a nasty cold as well that is finally getting better (and Kraig has just gotten it, lucky guy :( ). In the middle of that cold, I managed to pull off a major personal failing--one of those where you wonder why God didn't give you a nice, big nudge in the midst to let you know that you were about to make a royal mess of things. As a result I had an epiphany that while I may have learned the vital truth that we must "fervently love," I have still to figure out that others perceive love differently than I may show it. On top of this, I've been short with the kids, I miss Keren, I'm not writing, my kitchen (not to mention house) has reflected my state of mind, yada, yada, yada....

So yes, my objective brain looks at all this and says, "Loren, you are depressed."

Nice to know, isn't it? But immediately a chorus from my subjective brain takes off:
"Why, Loren? Why are you depressed? Is this a chemical imbalance? Do you need to see someone? Or is this all spiritual and you need to hand it to God to take care of? Remember, 'Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you!' How long do you think this is going to last? How long does it need to last before you know you need to do something about it?" Etc., etc., etc.

What I really feel like is what Paul cries out in Romans 7:24 after he has gone on about doing what he doesn't want to do, and not doing what he does, and that continual struggle between the heart that longs to follow God and the body that continually acts against it. "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" I deeply relate to the words from Andrew Peterson's song, "Hosanna," "I am tangled up in contradictions. I am strangled by my own two hands...." My own actions seem to turn around and trip me. I feel I'm floundering and failing at everything.

And yet even in the midst of this wallowing (there is a self-pitying giant rumbling beneath this) I know the unalterable truth. "Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!" That clarion truth-call cuts through all the webs around my soul, and my objective brain knows that I am caught up in lies when I could be singing praise along with the world burgeoning with spring about me. But for me right now, my song is "Hosanna," which appropriately means, "pray, save us!" I know the truth, but I'm not sure how to break free of the webs. I know only Christ can show me the way, and I'm not sure when He's going to show it. I am in a waiting period, utterly dependent on Him because I don't have the strength to fix this.

So in other words, I am exactly where God wants me.