Good-bye, Winter!

Today was all about kissing Winter good-bye. We did not shed any tears over his passing.

We tramped joyfully up and down, snow overflowing our boot rims, feet wet with Winter’s remains, socks lost in boot toes, and pant cuffs soaked through. The woods stood drenched in sunlight under a brilliant blue sky, and we reveled in the promise of Spring. We envisioned the leafy canopy we know will come soon enough. There may be more snow in our future before those leaves umbrella our path, but we know Spring is rounding the bend, Summer close on her heels.

We stood on the high rocks and watched the slow progress of a very large ice slab, making its way down river. We were rooted. An island stood in the ice slab’s path. Would the ice be halted? Perhaps it wouldn’t survive a collision. We had to know.

Barely, imperceptibly, the slab changed course and escaped collision, skirting the island ever so slightly. Suddenly, it seemed to be speeding past, and we were off — running along the cliffs, chasing this hand of Winter being forced to release his hold on us. We had to know if he would slap the cliff in retaliation on his way past or go quietly. We clambered up the rocks, and I slid to the edge just in time to hear the gentle shushhhh of the hand brushing the cliff face in blessing as it hurried past.

We did not, however, let him off so easily. He has been hard on us these many months. Snowballs hurtled from our hands to sting him as he went. If he had not been so large and powerful, we might not have found such pleasure in it. Smack after smack. Chunk after chunk reverberated its pleasing spank of his icy skin until he couldn’t be reached any longer.

We watched winter float away as we celebrated his departure. The river cried tears of joy; and we blew our final kisses on the smoke of a maple sap fire, boiling its springtime sweetness as a yearlong reminder that even Winter is powerless to stop his passing.

Good-bye, Winter.

 

©Erika Rice

I Want To Be A Sarah

I want to be a Sarah. Yes, I like the name. No, I don’t want to change mine. Still, I want to be a Sarah. Let me tell you why.

Sarah, known as Sarai at the time, married a man who heard from God. And when he heard from God, the results were always radical. Crazy is what most people probably would have called him. The first record of God’s talking to Sarah’s husband resulted in a major move, far from family and normal life. Genesis 12:1 says, “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.'” Sarah was 66 years old when she left her country, her kindred, and all she’d known to go with her husband, believing God’s promise, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:2-3.

Ancient arched gates at Tel Dan. Entrance into Canaan along the trade route from Damascus

I have stood before the ancient gate through which they are thought to have entered the land of Canaan. I have looked to the northeast at the hills they traversed to get to the gate. I have looked to the southwest at the hills they traversed to continue on through the land. My eyes have seen the fertile lands they passed through, continuing to the south before stopping. Such beauty and bounty. It might be easy to stand at that gate and believe that it was worth the move. This promised land had much to offer.

NE to Damascus

 

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But Abram traveled on. He traveled further and further from his homeland, past the fertile places, the places with springs of water, green grasses and cool breezes to the dry and dusty, rocky portions of earth before stopping to build an altar to the Lord. It was there God spoke to him again and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” And still Abram journeyed on, and Sarah went with him. The place where they settled showed little promise, but it was there that God told Abram to look into the heavens and see the starry host, to count the dust of the earth and know that his family would one day be as innumerable as the stars and the dust. In that barren place, God promised to make him a great and mighty nation and all nations of the earth would be blessed in him. So Abram settled by the oaks of Mamre and built an altar to the Lord. All this time, Sarah was with Abram.

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Many more conversations would Abram have with God. More radical actions, more sacrifice would be required of Abram, and therefore of his wife. Both received new names to reflect God’s work in their lives. Genesis records for us the time Sarah grew impatient waiting for the fulfillment of the promise, and the time she laughed at the improbable way she was being asked to believe it could happen. Yet always she followed, and always she was faithful.

This is how Sarah is remembered in Hebrews 11:11 – “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.” And in 1 Peter 3:6 –  “Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.” 

Without being frightened by any fear. Sarah left home and family, she lived in strange cultures, she followed her husband to Egypt to escape famine, and when he concocted a strange plan to protect himself, she nearly ended up married to Pharaoh. She gave birth to a son at the age of 91, she lived in less habitable lands when her husband gave the prime real estate to his selfish nephew. Nowhere do I read that Sarah’s life was easy or predictable; but Sarah considered him faithful who had promised, and I can be her child if I do what is right without being frightened by any fear.

I want to be a Sarah.

©Erika Rice 2014

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv. Self-proclaimed as “The City That Never Sleeps”, it’s name is a combination of two words and two ideas. Tel, meaning ancient, and Aviv, meaning spring, combine the old and new. The Jews have returned to this ancient place, but the city is built on modern ideas and lifestyles.  Tel Aviv is Israel’s center of entertainment, education, fashion, finance and politics. The apartments are small and overpriced. The streets are narrow, the traffic thick and close. This much I learn from my tour guide, Susan.

Tel Aviv is also the launching pad for bus load upon bus load of Holy Land tours.  Pilgrims, as tourists to this place are often called, lay their heads on Tel Aviv hotel pillows for their first sleep in this awe-inspiring land. Most have been awake for far too many hours, or even days, and can’t be trusted with any responsibility or further information.  Wake-up calls are pre-scheduled for every room according to tour request, and instruction is given to keep awake until at least 9 p.m. The body clock needs resetting, and early bed time will result in a long nap but not an overnight refueling. This much I learn from experience.

Of course, there is always confusion about time when jumping several hours ahead and losing a night of sleep.  I heard tell, today, of one traveler who forgot about resetting her phone’s clock before setting the alarm. Unable to keep her eyes open until the suggested 9 p.m. bedtime, she had been happily dreaming for quite some time by then. When her dreams turned on her and told her the bus was leaving without her for the morning’s tour, she awoke with a start at 5:30. Relieved that it was thirty minutes before the wake-up call and thankful for the extra time to be prepared so as NOT to be left behind, she turned on lights, rummaged through her suitcase and showered. It was only after her preparations were nearly complete that I was able to ask my roommate if she realized it was only midnight. Oh, what a sinking feeling. Instead of all night, she had slept only two and a half hours. Deflated, she turned off the lights and put her head once more on the pillow.  Apparently, this is an all too common phenomenon.

Tel Aviv may hope to leave a very different impression with their motto, but I have no doubt that it lives up to it’s reputation; and little wonder with so many weary and confused travelers from around the world. The City That Never Sleeps.

 

©Erika Rice 2014

Pack Light

I’m standing here buying toothpaste, mouthwash, and pocket journals. There’s a suitcase lying open at home on my bedroom floor.  My packing instructions say, “Pack Light. Do not take more than you’ll for-sure, no-doubt-about-it-need! […] Lay out all the clothes you think you will need on a bed, then pack half of those and put the other half back in your closet.” I’m not even sure where to begin with what I need.  How can I put the other half back? I have an electrical adaptor set out. My waterproof Israel North and Jerusalem map is beside it. Soon I will choose my shoes. I thought I would pack one good pair of walking shoes, ignoring the directions to put half of what I think I need back in the closet when it comes to shoes. But then I read to pack two pairs, twice what I think I’ll need. It’s all a bit complicated.

Which is why I’m standing in a Walmart pharmacy aisle buying mini-size essentials. It just seems safe. Especially now that I’m confronted with a variety of travel-sized containers. I like options! I reach for the larger tube of toothpaste. I’ll be gone for two weeks, after all. Ooh…and I can even buy twice as much mouthwash for the same price. I’ll be sure to have enough! Then “pack half of what you think you need and put the other half back” flashes through my mind. To be clear, that directive was related to clothing. The instructions told me to be sure to pack enough of my regularly used medicine-cabinet items for the whole trip. So I add the larger travel-sized bottle of each of my toiletries to the cart. But I don’t stop thinking – thinking about how my freezer never gets below half-full, and my closet seems a little smaller every year, and my pantry too often holds an expired box or two of something; thinking about the sentence in the travel hints that says, “If you just think, ‘Oh, I might, somewhere or sometime need this’…you won’t, so don’t pack it.”

No one wants to run out of essentials in a foreign land. Discerning what is essential is the sometimes tricky part. It’s good to take stock of what I need and make sure I have enough. But as a stranger and pilgrim in this land, with my eyes on a Heavenly city, I can’t afford extremes. Everything I pack is my responsibility, my load to carry. I don’t want to be weighed down with more than I need. I tend to pack with reserves, prepared for every scenario. How wise and full of foresight I think I am to bring a little more than I know I need to be sure I always have enough. But I have a sneaking suspicion that more often than not I need to put the other half back, and trust the One who supplies all my needs according to His riches in glory. Pack Light.

 

©Erika Rice 2014

Simple. Or Not.

We’d been driving for what seemed like hours. Maybe because it had been hours. The atmosphere turned white, every last, loose snowflake not cemented to earth by former winds hurtled to the four corners by a vicious iciness; our sight often blinded to the road ahead.

We endured these conditions for the promise of what lay ahead. A reunion. A celebration. A ceremonial expression of self-denying love. In other words, a wedding.

Simple folk, simple setting, simple service, simple vows. Vows to love, honor, respect, in sickness or health, for richer or poorer, to have and hold till death. Beautiful.

Simple.

Or not. Maybe more challenging than any bride or groom can fathom at the moment of speaking. Simple words to say. Costly promises to keep. A journey just begun – construction to be encountered, maintenance to be done and sometimes brutal conditions to be endured. Endured for the promise of reunions, celebrations, expressions of self-denying love and the wedding of all time.

Again we’ve been driving for what seems like hours. In fact, it has been hours. The winds are mellowed, the snow at rest on my particular highway. Cousins, aunts and uncles, however, are navigating storms and facing unknowns on their own stretches of road. As we all head for home, our prayer is for joy in the journey, excitement at each milepost, eager anticipation of what lies ahead, amazement at the unexpected bends in the road, and a sweetness and rest in our arrival.  We pray to be awed by beauty, strengthened by storms, humbled by hardships, and captivated by love, enduring to the final destination.

 

©Erika Rice 2014

The Thing About Gifts

My husband, wonderful, thoughtful man that he is, gave me the gift of a lifetime.

And I confess, I balked. I didn’t automatically receive that gift with gratitude. In fact, I said I was going to have to prayerfully consider whether or not I wanted that gift. You see, if anyone was going to give me a gift of that magnitude, then I had a grittier dream in mind, a different type of gift altogether.

How like my selfish heart to believe that I had any right to dictate the details of a gift! I shudder to think.

It’s a good thing I prayerfully considered that gift. It gave me a better perspective.

I didn’t drop hints, make reminders, leave around flyers or in any other way bring about what I was being asked to receive. It was handed to me on the proverbial silver platter. It represented years of hard work and planning on the part of my husband, sacrifice of his own needs and dreams, was made possible by his character and had finally found its fullness of time in the way of opportunity. Suddenly, I’m overcome with love and gratitude for the one who went to all that trouble for me!

Here’s the thing about gifts – a gift, by definition, is something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone; something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without its being earned (dictionary.com). And just like that I realized that the best and truest gifts are the unexpected ones, the ones I didn’t place my hopes on or build a dream around. Because anything I desire that much, I will put effort into getting, even if that effort is only a dropped hint in a child’s ear on the off-chance they’ll tell their father.

My husband is a master of best and truest gifts, surprising me with gifts I would never have thought to seek on my own. And when I truly receive, I gain unexpected pleasure.

I think I was given a glimpse of the Heavenly Father.

 

©Erika Rice 2014

He Keeps on Giving

We are buried here. Up to our armpits. A bitter wind whips the stuff into dunes across the yard and fields and bites my skin as I push my way out the door. The minute I manage to clear 5 steps in front of me, I am back indoors for my camera. I want to remember the way the golden light plays across the textured fields and casts shadows in the wind-blown, white waves. My fingers ache from exposure as the pink snow-dust hurries from the amber, blushing light. I’m pushing daylight now and after a quick warm up of the fingers, put my shoulder to the business at hand.

As I struggle to right the eight-foot ladder and plant it in the four-foot drift under the eave, I am thankful the backyard view greeted me first. It occupies my thoughts as I stand on a roof in knee-deep snow. I’m motivated to work up this sweat in subzero wind by previous experience with ice dams and the indoor waterfalls they create when allowed to grow. Icicles are destroyed at my hand and the roof cleared in short order. I gingerly step down the ladder, grab my roof rake and trudge back around the corner of the house. I am arrested. Dead in my tracks. The horizon holds a glorious sunset. And I yell to the wind, “Oh, God! You just keep on giving!”

 

©Erika Rice 2014

The Gravel Road

On January 28, 2011, I wrote the following thought:

If I had seen the whole road before beginning the journey, I’d have chosen one with fewer potholes. But if the wheels of my self-reliance hadn’t come off, I never would have been awed by my miraculous rescue.

I don’t remember the circumstance that prompted me to write those words, but the thought has remained and comes frequently to mind. I am learning to give thanks for the potholes while I enjoy the ride, knowing I’ve already been rescued.

 

©Erika Rice 2014

Where the wheels of self-reliance fall off in the potholes of life and I see my need for rescue