Fighting a Harder Battle

Mostly, I want to be kind.
And nobody, of course, is kind,
or mean,
for a simple reason.

~Mary Oliver from “Dogfish”

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.
~Plato

Our mare Belinda has a two decade history of fighting the hard battle of being consistently on the bottom of the mare hierarchy. She is unusually shy, very submissive and never one to stir up trouble in the herd. Most of the time she simply wants to disappear so the other mares can’t see her to bully her.

I’ve watched her over the years to learn how she copes day in and day out with her low status. She is clearly more clever than the higher-ranking mares who lord it over her, reminding her of their rank.

In the mornings when the mares are turned out to pasture from their individual stalls, I always open Belinda’s door first so she has the option to walk out to pasture ahead of the others if she chooses. Instead, she’ll stand waiting at the open door, watching the other mares leave their stalls and pass by, then follow behind them out to pasture keeping a safe distance between them and herself.

Once outside, she’ll stand at the water barrel just inside the pasture gate, and pretend to drink water for several minutes (I’m convinced she doesn’t actually drink a drop) while the other mares wander into the field to find their preferred grazing spot.

Once the others are clearly settled, she joins them at a safe distance. Then the worst bully will approach her, just as Belinda has started to eat, and will start to groom Belinda’s withers with her teeth. This is a clear invitation to be scratched back, so despite being hungry and clearly fearful, Belinda mutually chews/scratches for at least ten minutes with her mortal enemy. I’d like to think this is their brief truce in the battle for status every day; one clearly has a need and wants Belinda to comply. Belinda is more than willing to set aside her own needs if it means keeping peace in the herd.

At the end of the day, Belinda stays up in the field until the other mares have returned to the barn and are back in their stalls with the doors latched. I know she counts the number of doors she hears closing because she will refuse to come in from outside and return to her stall until she hears the last door closing, knowing it is then safe to some into the barn.

The first thing she does returning to her stall is to drop a pile of manure right inside her door. It is her claim of “mine” – no other horse here does that, since they would have to walk through manure to leave the stall, but for Belinda, it is a way of saying if for some reason the closed door isn’t enough to keep her secure, the pile of manure at least marks her territory.

She does not always have a peaceful night alone in her stall as I would expect. Her stall floor is churned and messy in the morning, as if she continues to be on the move even in the darkness, or perhaps she is a mare having nightmares.

I know her long life has been one of constant worry and vigilance despite always having access to plenty of food, a safe place to rest at night and always being part of a community, though not one that has supported her.

She reminds me that everyone, especially the lowest on the totem pole, deserves kindness because I cannot possibly understand the battles they are fighting, both day and night.

And they deserve respect: to simply survive, they are much smarter than I am.

 

A Joy So Violent

She lay on her back in the timothy
and gazed past the doddering
auburn heads of sumac.

A cloud – huge, calm,
and dignified – covered the sun
but did not, could not, put it out.

The light surged back again.
Nothing could rouse her then

from that joy so violent
it was hard to distinguish from pain.

~Jane Kenyon, “The Poet at Ten” from The Best Poems of Jane Kenyon

I have a mare who journeyed as a foal
from overseas alongside her mother,
a difficult immigration to a new life and farm,
followed by the drama of weaning and separation,
then introduced to a new herd who didn’t speak her language
so she couldn’t always understand what was being said.

She was shy and fearful from the beginning,
knowing she didn’t belong,
worried about doing the wrong thing,
cringing when others laid back ears at her or bared their teeth,
she always hung back and let others go first,
waiting hungry and thirsty while others had their fill.

What she did best was be a mother herself,
devoting herself to the care of her foals,
as they became the light of her life
though still covered with the cloud of not belonging,
she grieved loudly at their weanling goodbyes.

Still, two decades later, in her retirement,
she is shy and submissive, still feeling foreign,
as if she never quite fit in,
always letting others go first,
concerned about making a misstep.

I think of her as an immigrant
who never felt at home
unless she had a baby at her side~
to live alongside one to whom she finally belonged:
how does one measure the pain of true joy and love
while knowing the violence of separation is inevitable?

thank you to Lea Gibson Lozano and Emily Vander Haak for their photos of Belinda and her babies

Life Steps Almost Straight

We grow accustomed to the Dark —
When Light is put away —
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Good bye —

A Moment — We Uncertain step
For newness of the night —
Then — fit our Vision to the Dark —
And meet the Road — erect —

And so of larger — Darknesses —
Those Evenings of the Brain —
When not a Moon disclose a sign —
Or Star — come out — within —

The Bravest — grope a little —
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead —
But as they learn to see —

Either the Darkness alters —
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight —
And Life steps almost straight.

~Emily Dickinson

So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.

The world asks of us
only the strength we have and we give it.
Then it asks more, and we give it.

~Jane Hirschfield from “The Weighing”

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question
the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.
On the one hand, we are called to play the good Samaritan

on life’s roadside;
but that will be only an initial act.
One day the whole Jericho road must be transformed
so that men and women will not be beaten and robbed
as they make their journey through life.
True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar;
it understands that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world,
can well lead the way in this revolution of values.
There is nothing, except a tragic death wish,
to prevent us from reordering our priorities…

~Martin Luther King, Jr. from a speech April 4, 1967

We live in a time where the groaning need
and dividedness of humankind
is especially to be felt and recognized.
Countless people are subjected to hatred,
violence and oppression which go unchecked.
The injustice and corruption which exist today
are causing many voices to be raised to protest
and cry out that something be done.
Many men and women are being moved to sacrifice much
in the struggle for justice, freedom, and peace.
There is a movement afoot in our time,
a movement which is growing, awakening.

We must recognize that we as individuals are to blame
for every social injustice, every oppression,
the downgrading of others
and the injury that man does to man,
whether personal or on a broader plane.…
God must intervene with his spirit and his justice and his truth.
The present misery, need, and decay must pass away
and the new day of the Son of Man must dawn.
This is the advent of God’s coming.
~Dwight Blough from the introduction to When the Time was Fulfilled (1965)

I weep to see such bitter divisions still exist in our country,
an echo of over fifty years ago
as we fail again and again to learn from past errors.

Here we are, groaning divided once more,
walking this Jericho Road together.
We cannot pass by our brother, our sister, our child~
anyone who lies dying in the ditch.
We must stop and help.

The world asks only for the strength we have
and so we give it,
but then we are asked to give more
and so we will.

We must illuminate the advance of darkness
even when, blinded as we are,
we run forehead-first into the Tree
which has always been there
and always will be
because of who we are and Who loves us.

It could be you or me bleeding, beaten, abandoned, dying
until Someone takes our place
so we can get up, free and forgiven,
and walk Home.

Maranatha.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

With great power there must also come great responsibility
~The “Peter Parker Principle” from Spiderman Comics (1962)

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
Luke 12:48
b

This line, the final conclusion to the parable of the wise and faithful servant has become a modern mantra – thanks to Spiderman, the Supreme Court, Winston Churchill, President Obama and Bill and Melinda Gates.

Yet no one actually quotes the entire New Testament parable itself that ends with this very concept.

The story Jesus tells in Luke 12: 42-48 makes us wince, just as it is meant to:

42 The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.4“The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

The same story as told in the gospel of Matthew ends with “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Somehow that part is left out of Spiderman’s story and is a bit too close to home for those in power and those with immense wealth — like Peter Parker, we know all too well the reality of just how fragile and weak we really are despite our perceived Spidey powers.

We don’t have a choice in the matter if we want to live in Him as Christians, identifying by name with the Son of God who gave up everything for us.

We owe much when to us much has been given. U.S. Presidents can learn from the wisdom of Spiderman, remembering Who actually spoke it first.

To Be Interruptible

We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always easy to penetrate. The real labor is to remember to attend. In fact to come awake. Still more to remain awake.
~C.S. Lewis from “Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer”

I’ve worked hard in my professional life to be interruptible;  my patients, colleagues and staff need to be able to stop my momentum at any time to ask a question, get an opinion or redirect my attention to something more important.  As a physician, it is crucial that I remain prioritized from outside my field of vision as I don’t always know where I’m needed most.

In my personal life, I struggle with interruptions happening outside my control.  I feel imposed upon when things don’t flow as I hoped or planned– after all,  this is MY life.

Yet…

God interrupts.  God interferes.  God intervenes.  God intrudes.  God intercedes.

As He must because He is God. And I must be ready, accepting, answering His grace with grace.

It is HIS life living within me, His plan, His timing, His priorities.

Not mine.

Never mine.

A Bright Sadness: Ardent Striver After Beauty

We live in an imperfect world, with imperfect characters to match. Our imperfections should not keep us from dreaming of better things, or even from trying, within our limits, to be better stewards of the soil, and more ardent strivers after beauty and a responsible serenity.
~Jane Kenyon from “In the Garden of My Dreams”

Beauty is always right outside my back door, whether it is growing in the soil, unfurling in a misty dawn moment or settling into an early twilight serenade. 

It heals me after an imperfect day and an imperfect night’s sleep.

Today I want to be different. I will strive to be a steward for serenity, striving to find beauty in all things, aiding its growth and helping it flourish.

Never perfect but I’m not giving up.  Never perfect but serene with the responsibility of always trying, always wanting to be different than I am
and change my little part of this world.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:2

I don’t wanna hear anymore, teach me to listen
I don’t wanna see anymore, give me a vision
That you could move this heart, to be set apart
I don’t need to recognize, the man in the mirror
And I don’t wanna trade Your plan, for something familiar
I can’t waste a day, I can’t stay the same

I wanna be different
I wanna be changed
‘Til all of me is gone
And all that remains
Is a fire so bright
The whole world can see
That there’s something different
So come and be different
In me

And I don’t wanna spend my life, stuck in a pattern
And I don’t wanna gain this world but lose what matters
And so I’m giving up, everything becauseI wanna be different
I wanna be changed
‘Til all of me is gone
And all that remains
Is a fire so bright
The whole world can see
That there’s something different
So come and be different; oh-oh I know, that I am far, from perfect
But through You, the cross still says, I’m worth it
So take this beating in my heart and
Come and finish what You started
When they see me, let them see You
‘Cause I just wanna be different, ye-ey

I wanna be different
I wanna be changed
‘Til all of me is gone
And all that remains
Oh is a fire so bright
The whole world can see
That there’s something different
So come and be different
I just wanna be different
So could You be different
In me

Songwriters: Micah Tyler Begnaud / Kyle Lee

On Thin Ice

Walking in February
A warm day after a long freeze
On an old logging road
Below Sumas Mountain
Cut a walking stick of alder,
Looked down through clouds
On wet fields of the Nooksack—
And stepped on the ice
Of a frozen pool across the road.
It creaked
The white air under
Sprang away, long cracks
Shot out in the black,
My cleated mountain boots
Slipped on the hard slick
—like thin ice—the sudden
Feel of an old phrase made real—
Instant of frozen leaf,
Icewater, and staff in hand.
“Like walking on thin ice—”
I yelled back to a friend,
It broke and I dropped
Eight inches in
~Gary Snyder “Thin Ice”

We are surrounded by divisive opinions about all manner of things — how we should live, who is privileged and who is marginalized, who we should believe, who we cannot possibly believe — these battles of words hog headlines, scroll the bottom of our screens, blare from classrooms, city squares, radios and podcasts.

Continual conflict, literally a splintering crack creaking with our weight, occupies too much of the world’s scarce resources, while compassionate people stand stranded on the frozen lake of political emotions.

The trouble with such overheating in the middle of winter is that we all end up walking on too-thin ice: both those who are far too overconfident in expressing their own righteous views and opinions about how much more they know than others, and those of us who passively listen and judge between the blowhards.

We’ll all end up breaking through the ice, thoroughly doused by the chilly waters below.

Lord, have mercy on us,
show us your Light,
blend the division between shadow and dawn,
help us recognize the cracks creaking beneath our feet,
compelling us to fall to our knees,
before you
and you alone.

We Are No Longer Alone: The Breath that Lifts My Weary Wings

Oh, God, I am heavy
with glory. My head thunders
from singing in the hills.

This night will come once.
Enough bright lights.
Enough shouting
at the shepherds in the fields.


Let me slip into the stable
and crouch among
the rooting swine.
Let me close my eyes
and feel the child’s breath,
this wind that blows
through the mountains and stars,
lifting my weary wings.

~Tania Runyon , Angel at the Nativity”

What a night for an angel!

Even when you’ve been God’s messenger carrying news of this impending birth to earth, the reality of it astounds.

Then it’s’s all over but the shouting, and there was plenty of noise that night. The shouting continues to this day and is not always celebratory. The divisive voices of those who believe in our Savior’s birth have become angry and vindictive. It is enough to make an angel weep.

Let us not drag angels into the pigpen with us. Let them fly high, singing of peace and gladness and good will.

In the meantime, we are stuck in the mucky mire of disagreement. The breath of this dear Child will lift us up and renew us, strengthening us for what is to come.

He knows He would find us wallowing in the mud, so He came looking for us there first.

Once coaxed out of the mud, only then will He take us to the mountaintop.

To Shut Out the Immensity

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He loved mountains,
or he had loved the thought of them marching
on the edge of stories brought from far away;
but now he was borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth.
He longed to shut out the immensity in a quiet room by a fire.
~J.R.R Tolkien from Lord of the Rings 

 

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I am so high in the windy sun,
On the rock-boned back of the highest thing,
That the mountains under me, every one,
Are but wrinkled gestures …. westering.
~Thomas Hornsby Ferril from “One Mountain Hour”

 

 

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Surrounded as we are in the northwest by so much raw and rugged beauty, I’m easily overwhelmed.  My breath catches when I turn my face to these monoliths of stone and ice.

There is no sound up there except my heartbeat.  No birds.  Even breezes are silent with no trees or leaves to rustle.  Twenty foot walls of snow.

I am content to gaze at these peaks from afar, now and again to visit awed at their feet, to listen for their stories of near-eternity.

I always retreat back home chastened.

So infinitesimal among such immensity.

 

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Preparing Through Parable: What Will It Cost?

 

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.

33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
Luke 14: 28-33

 

 

 

I am reminded I must grasp what material possessions I have loosely:  I must be prepared to let go when the time comes.

This is hard for someone like myself who plans things out carefully, works hard, yet despite all that effort, is left feeling unfinished and bereft.

Even in the most dire circumstances:  I let go of what is meaningless and grab hold and hang on tight to a Savior sent to rescue me from myself.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.