When Even the Ground Gives Way

The grace of God means something like:
Here is your life.
Here is the world.
Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.
I am with you.
~Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking in Beyond Words

What is it that goes on within the soul,
that it takes greater delight if things it loves are found
or restored to it than if it had always possessed them?

…The storm tosses seafarers about
and threatens them with shipwreck:
they all grow pale at their coming death.
Then the sky and the sea become calm, and they exult exceedingly,
just as they had feared exceedingly.

Or a dear friend is ill.…
All those who long to see him in good health

are in mind sick along with him.
He gets well again,

and although he does not yet walk with his former vigor,
there is joy such as did not obtain before when he walked well and strong.…
everywhere a great joy is preceded by a greater suffering.
~Augustine of Hippo from Confessions

The ghosts swarm.
They speak as one
person. Each
loves you. Each
has left something undone.

Today’s edges
are so sharp
they might cut
anything that moved.

~Rae Armantrout from “Unbidden”

(written 19 years ago today on the evening of 9/11/01 – with the ongoing events of this year, I find I need to remind myself yet again)


Tonight was a moment of epiphany in my life as a mother and farmer. This world suddenly feels so uncertain after the horrific and tragic events today, yet simple moments of grace-filled routine offer themselves up unexpectedly.  I know the Lord is beside us no matter what has happened.

For me, the routine is tucking the horses into bed, almost as important to me as tucking our children into bed. In fact, my family knows I cannot sit down to dinner until the job is done out in the barn–so human dinner waits until the horses are fed and their beds prepared.

My work schedule is usually such that I must take the horses out to their paddocks from their cozy box stalls while the sky is still dark, and then bring them back in later in the day after the sun goes down. We have quite a long driveway from barn to the paddocks which are strategically placed by the road so the horses are exposed to all manner of road noise, vehicles, logging, milk and hay trucks, school buses, and never blink when these zip past their noses. They must learn from weanling stage on to walk politely and respectfully alongside me as I make that trek from the barn in the morning and back to the barn in the evening.

Bringing the horses in tonight was a particular joy because I was a little earlier than usual and not needing to rush: the sun was setting golden orange, the world had a glow, the poplar, chestnut and maple leaves carpeting the driveway and each horse walked with me without challenge,  no rushing, pushing, or pulling–just walking alongside me like the partner they have been taught to be.

I enjoy putting each into their own box stall bed at night, with fresh fluffed shavings, a pile of sweet smelling hay and fresh water. I see them breathe a big sigh of relief that they have their own space for the night–no jostling for position or feed, no hierarchy for 12 hours, and then it is back out the next morning to the herd, with all the conflict that can come from coping with other individuals in the same space.  My horses love their stalls, because that is their safe sanctuary where peace and calm is restored, that is where they get special scratching and hugs, and visits from a little red haired girl who loves them and sings them songs.

Then comes my own restoration of returning to the sanctuary of our house, feeding my human family and tucking three precious children into bed, even though two are now taller than me. The world feels momentarily predictable within our walls, comforting us in the midst of devastation and tragedy elsewhere.   Hugging a favorite pillow and wrapping up in a familiar soft blanket, there is warmth and safety in being tucked in.

I’ll continue to search for these moments of restoration whenever I’m frightened, hurting and unable to cope.  I need a quiet routine to help remind me how blessed we are to be here to wake each morning to regroup, renew and restore when it seems even the ground has given way.

Terrible with Raisins

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This wasn’t just plain terrible,
this was fancy terrible.
This was terrible with raisins in it.
~Dorothy Parker

More and more of my clinic time is devoted to evaluation and treatment of depression and anxiety rather than sore throats, coughs, UTIs and sprains/strains.  An outbreak of overwhelming misery is climbing to epidemic proportions in our society.  A majority of the patients who are coming in for mental health assessment are at the point where their symptoms are interfering with nearly every aspect of their daily activities and they can no longer cope.  Their relationships are disintegrating, their work/school responsibilities are suffering, they are alarmingly self-medicating with alcohol, marijuana and pornography or whatever seems to give momentary relief.   Suicidal ideation has become common, almost normative, certainly no longer rare.

Things seem terrible.  And not just plain terrible.  First-world-problem-terrible with raisins in it.

We have lost all perspective about terrible.

Terrible is what happened to the Philippine people in the midst of the most horrific typhoon this month –losing everything from their lives to shelter to any means to stay warm, fed and secure, much less find medical care.
Terrible is what happens in numerous countries where political oppression sends refugees across hundreds of miles and borders to seek asylum in foreign lands.
Terrible is what happens when hundreds of thousands are dying from AIDs,  leaving behind their infected orphans to fend for themselves and care for each other.
Terrible is trafficking of human beings for power, gratification and money.

There is plenty of just plain terrible and most of us have no clue what it feels like.  We are so absorbed in our own scratches from the ubiquitous thorns of life, grousing about the raisins that pop up in our own version of terrible,  oblivious to the relative comfort with which we are graced daily compared to most of the world’s population.

Sometimes I think the best treatment for anxiety and depression has little to do with correcting brain chemistry or getting to the right cognitive behavioral insights to beat back negative thoughts, but rather to spend a year digging wells and latrines for those who have never used one.   It is spending hours caring for the detoxing or the dying to see what misery really looks like.  It is understanding how the fight for basic survival after an earthquake, a hurricane, a typhoon, a flood, a tsunami,  makes life even more precious, rather than thrown away as if it is something you can simply upgrade or exchange for a new version.

Maybe, just maybe, when we reach in deeply, even sustaining the scars that come with everyday living, we can look past the thorns to the fruit.  We may bleed getting to it.  Maybe then the raisins don’t seem quite so terrible after all.

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