Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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A season of renewal and hope

Wassily Kandinsky, Murnau: Top of the Johannisstrasse, 1908

Author and friend Reiner Lomb once shared a story about how surprising – and kind – the human heart can be.

Toward the end of World War 2, on Good Friday, some of his ancestors were expecting their tiny village to be overrun at any moment by U.S. soldiers. The German troops were retreating, and my friend’s family members, six adults and two children, were trying to decide whether they should stay put or hide in hills above the village.

In a previous war, their village had been wiped out in a similar situation, with every single person killed, so they were quite fearful.

They also had a family member who was a prisoner of war overseas, one with whom they would later be reunited, and who would become my friend’s father.

All they wanted to do was to be able to live their simple life in terrible times, during a war they’d just as soon had never happened.

They decided to stay in their home, and within hours, several vehicles pulled into their farmyard and U.S. soldiers climbed out and ordered them upstairs while the soldiers took over the lower floor of the house.

Photo: Nelson Ashberger

What my friend’s aunt, who was among those present, most remembers is how young these soldiers looked to her at the time. As she and her sister peeked down from upstairs, she saw that the soldiers were having trouble figuring out how to light the cook stove, and so, to her family’s horror, she bounded down to help them. (Her sister would later tease her that the only reason she’d done this was because those soldiers were so handsome.)

That weekend, they all eventually feasted together on the farm’s fresh eggs and the soldiers’ rations in a shared meal around that kitchen table. On Easter Sunday morning, the family came downstairs to find the soldiers gone, along with a basket of hard-boiled eggs that the family had colored earlier that week. In the basket’s place was a huge stash of chocolate.

“My family hadn’t seen chocolate for years,” my friend says, “and this, combined with how carefully the soldiers had left everything in its place when my family had expected them to ransack the house, gave everyone great heart, and the possibility of believing that maybe things would be all right after all.”

The miracle of his father’s return a short while later was the very best evidence of that, of course, and soon spring bulbs were blooming in the yard and, despite the ravages of the war, his family knew that they’d see green fields again.

It’s no coincidence that the essence of Easter – resurrection — is about restoration and renewal.

Whatever our faith, or lack of it, spring brings that glorious reminder that, no matter what has happened, no matter how long our personal winters may have been, the spiritual pulse of springtime always offers us a new beginning.

 

Adapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details:

https://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details-ebook/dp/B00B5MR9B0


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When giving is receiving

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Painting: “Wings of Freedom”
from Diane Kirkup / D. Kirkup Designs.

One year as the December holiday season approached, life gave me a precious experience in giving. One of the very last things I’d bought for my father the previous year was a Christmas tree. He’d been struggling to make peace with entering assisted-living care as he also entered the final months of his life. I was feverishly trying to create Christmas around him – in fast-forward — while my heart seemed to be simultaneously breaking in half.

My daughter helped me find an artificial tree, the very last one the store had, with twinkling tiny lights already attached. After my father died the following June, that tree and the box it came in got stockpiled, along with many other things I wasn’t ready to face quite yet. Finally, as the next Christmas neared, I knew it was time to pack it up, along with other things I needed to bring to the thrift shop. But it was very, very hard to think about taking it there.

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Find this design at https://www.etsy.com/shop/DKirkupDesigns?page=2 – or enter below for a chance to win.

The following day, I drove a car packed to the gunwales to the local secondhand thrift store, feeling the weight of the grief and sadness that had been stirred by sorting through so many of my father’s things.

Then as I was unpacking the tree from my car, they magically appeared — a kind-faced young man with his little girl clutching his hand. They came up to me tentatively and asked very politely whether, if I planned to leave the tree there anyway, it might be OK for them to take it.

I hugged them both spontaneously then said that, of COURSE, I knew that it would delight my father if they were to have it, and I hoped that they were going to have an absolutely wonderful Christmas. The best they’d ever had.

Then I noticed the woman who was with them, standing off to the side. I was thinking that they all must think me crazy when she gave me a warm smile and thanked me, and then the other two, still a bit stunned by my response, began thanking me, as well. Her smile reminded me of my mother’s, I have to say.

In a little book called “The Hidden Words,” Baha’u’llah says of divine design, “To give and to be generous are attributes of Mine.”

What a gift it is to us when life allows our giving to be the precise answer to someone’s need.

From Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details

Through Dec. 18, 2015 – Enter to win the trees pictured above and a signed copy of the book by sending an email to info@phyllisring.com with “Trees” in the subject line.

See more of Diane Kirkup’s work at: http://www.etsy.com/shop/dkirkupdesigns


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Families who learn that home is the whole world

My sister-in-law, Happy, and I share a piece of personal history: If it weren’t for war, we might never have been born, let alone been Americans. In my case, a U.S. Army officer fell for a British girl who’d barely survived the Blitz, Happy’s life began in Vietnam, in the midst of a whole other war.

Both of our fathers were Army career men. But while my experience of military family holds memories that tend toward nostalgia, Happy, who’s watched her husband deploy to Iraq, and, multiple times, to Afghanistan, experiences military life in more current and challenging ways.

It’s part of a subculture many know little about, which I finally came to recognize as my own when I saw Kris Kristofferson’s film, Brats: Our Journey Home, about growing up military. All of those years of seeing myself as a citizen of the world yet feeling like a misfit when I came back to the States suddenly made sense. Like any overseas living, the military takes you out of the culture you’ve known, immerses you in situations where you must find ways to get along with others then once you return “home”, things can never be quite the same, Our shared experience of military-family life in childhood is unquestionably a foundation in the bond my husband and I share. So are whole perspectives and ways of being that this experience forged in us. index

Happy once told me that gender equality is a de facto reality in military families because when your spouse is away for months at a time, every need your family faces comes down to you. Back in the days when my mother kept the home fires burning — or, more accurately, kept starting new ones in different places, that inescapable pattern of military life – she relied on the same thing that Happy does: an indomitable sense of humor. It’s vital in a life fraught with potentially immense ups and downs. It’s also proof that no matter what life throws your way, the stable stance of a good nature helps you keep level ground beneath your feet.

Each time Happy’s husband Will has deployed, she hasn’t wanted to answer the phone. She’s already had to live through the latest version of a harrowing conversation about what they’ll do if he doesn’t return. I remember my mother shuddering when a U.S. Army staff car arrived in our neighborhood, heading for someone’s home with ghastly news. You felt the most awful combination of relief and survivor’s guilt as it passed you by.

On the other end are the anguished days between that call that tells you the deployed family member is coming home at last and the day they actually arrive. It would almost be easier not to know, for the uncertain fear that torments you during those tenuous days, Happy says.

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Peden Barracks, Wertheim, Germany, circa 1960s. Once, the gateway to “home”, for my family.

The first night the refrigerator’s icemaker started making funny noises, her husband’s response from the floor above was a regular recon mission as he took the stairs slowly one at a time, freezing in place and braced for action on each one. Happy learned early never to climb into bed after he’s already asleep. He can’t help the inevitable fight-or-flight reaction that months of constant vigilance and inadequate sleep have trained into him. She doesn’t want to put him in a position like that. She knows how badly he feels afterward.

Families like hers make sacrifices while their loved one is in active service, and continue to make them long afterward. Many bide with situations a lot of us couldn’t begin to tolerate, and often do it gracefully and willingly. A lot of them don’t have enough money, while the service they’re rendering is truly immeasurable.

Military commissaries once had a slogan printed on their grocery bags that said: “Military spouse — the hardest job in the military.” Through the years and now, the generations, I find these to be some of the bravest and most generous people I know. LAFS6377506

Adapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details.

Find more about the book at:

http://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details/dp/1931847673/ref=pd_sim_b_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=1FYGVM9S5BGBZH2TJHR4


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The Light keeps a place for each of us

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Photo: David Campbell / http://gbctours.com

For two years in a row, I had the pleasure of wandering around the fairy-tale scenes of Germany in Advent. It’s a time full of the beauty and light that the Solstice brings, even as it’s paradoxically the time when our ancestors huddled near fires hoping their stored-up harvest would last long enough.

One December day, I made my way to the market I purposefully frequent for my own supplies. It’s a store that probably would have been put out of business by the much larger one built on the edge of town recently were it not for the one resource it provides that the other behemoth cannot: community.

Kauf2Every employee, without fail, says hello, even shares a thought or remark that invites conversation.

The aisles are narrow, yet we all seem to be able to find what we seek and, as if by tacit, unspoken agreement, move thoughtfully, so there never seems to be jostling or haste. Shoppers go to the larger store, if they’re looking for those things.

Customers wait patiently in the single check-out line, actually talking to each other, as the cashier assists the pensioner who moves quite slowly, and then forgets to retrieve his cane.

A young man leaves his place in front of me to run after him with it.

I watch their silent exchange outside through the window behind the cashier, who has also stopped to watch, along with the mother and toddler who are next in line.

Nobody seems to mind that this incident has brought everything to a halt.2501c71da8c20a0d6985117771781830

The old man’s face first looks startled, then lights like a sun. For an instant, it’s a boy’s face again.

The young man looks modest, then happy.

They part with a wave.

Seconds later, he reappears inside the store just as I’m arriving at the cashier. He shows no sign of expecting anything other than heading to the end of the line.

I have so little German – mainly a smile, and enough words to thank him, and tell him that his place in line has waited for him, right here, as I point in front of me.

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Photo: David Campbell / http://gbctours.com

His face is a precise reflection of that sun in the old man’s.

My heart feels as though all time, and all happiness, are here with us in the perfect oneness of this moment. There is enough light in us never to leave anyone in the dark, nor cold or hungry, or lonely or forgotten.

What a bonus comes home with my shopping bags – the very Spirit of the Christkind, the Christ Child.

It didn’t cost me a thing. Yet how much poorer I’d feel without it.


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The gift of holy curiosity

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Photo: D. Kirkup Designs

Gleanings found here and there:

I live with the people I create and it has always made my essential loneliness less keen.

~ Carson McCullers

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.

~ Albert Einstein

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Photo: David Campbell / http://gbctours.com

Resting in the spacious flow of loving awareness — which some call God — we discover that we already have, right now within us, everything we could possibly be looking for. This is what the Hindus call ananda, and what Jesus called ‘the peace that passeth understanding.’ Our needs and wants are the illusions …

~ Russell Targ

How can we live the generosity that the Earth continues to teach us?

~ Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee


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Eulogy for a tree of Life

 

"Green" by digital artist Lauren Chuslo -Shur

“Greens” by digital artist Lauren Chuslo-Shur

Last week, I spent time with the big, old, now-dead ash tree, a towering skeleton in our yard, its bark sloughing off in sheets.

If ever there was a physical metaphor for vanquished life, embodied sorrow, this was it.

Yet how deceiving appearances can be. There was so much more here.

Since it would be gone by the time we returned a few days later, I wanted to make my goodbyes, express my appreciation.

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Photo: Nelson Ashberger

For all of those years of shade, all of the homes it has provided for so many living things. For how its leaves have nourished the soil, and for not once creating any damage to property, or others, despite the great number of intense storms it has endured; the weight of snow and ice it has borne.

Yes, my petty thoughts noted, it was difficult to grow tomatoes out there under all that shade.

But the blessings this relation of ours from the plant kingdom has showered are not only numerous but, more humbling, so often taken for granted, day by day.

In a way, as the stage of its death has played out over a span of time, it feels that there is sadness and grief, former burdens carried by hearts like mine, that this decades-long companion is bearing away with it when the workers and their equipment take it down and haul it away. Israel 139

Even its final act is service: heat for our neighbors in some future wintry days.

I read recently that the denizens of the natural world, the trees and their brothers, streams and their sisters, all expend their energy to offer up what benefits others, yet never make use of it themselves.

This reality is the most timeless of the gifts my Ash brother leaves behind him.

 

 

 


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The gift we’re glad to see returned

Palm Canyon Trail

Painting: “Palm Canyon Trail” by Judy Hughey Wright.

I once heard someone describe how, while traveling on a bus in Africa, where many roads look like something Americans would reserve for all-terrain vehicles, he’d had an unexpected encounter with the power of encouragement.

As the driver navigated the deeply rutted road, the passengers would repeatedly, and with great enthusiasm, cry out a phrase that sounded like “ay-kushay.” As the American man watched more carefully, he realized that this was a kind of cheer they made each time the driver successfully avoided a pothole.

His story brought to mind the friends I made when I lived in China. Seldom have I seen people work as hard, or live with so little. In addition to showing a generally uncomplaining and positive attitude, they demonstrated something whose effectiveness finally makes sense to me. As they’d wave me on my way, they’d unfailingly call out, “Do your best,” “Take your time” or “Enjoy yourself!”

It wasn’t until I got back to the United States and no longer heard these things that I realized how much I’d appreciated such sources of encouragement. They had a lovely sound to my ears — and my heart. And they were empowering.

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Painting: “Parched,” by Judy Hughey Wright.

To “encourage” each other, meaning literally “to give heart”, is one of the most timelessly beautiful gifts we can share. Perhaps the very scarcity of encouragement in daily life is what has so many feeling weary, fearful, and uninspired. Parched, even.

Another good reason to cultivate encouragement is that its opposite, discouragement, tends to breed complaint and criticism like weeds. Falling prey to these leads nowhere new, and feels bad.

But surprisingly, practicing encouragement instead doesn’t require much more effort, other than willingly letting go.

Then there’s that surprise bonus of choosing encouragement and offering it freely: it mysteriously begins to feel like receiving it yourself, at the same time.

I love just when divine wisdom maximizes things in that very generous way.

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Adapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details

http://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details-ebook/dp/B00B5MR9B0/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=