November has been a month of spectacular sunsets. This one was changing so quickly that my husband pulled into a pharmacy parking lot for us to capture part of it before it began to fade. I will always remember this sunset, given on November 6, 2017 – a day that an armed gunman walked into a small church during a worship service in Sutherland Springs, TX – a small town less than 2 hours from our home and killed 26 people, including children, a pregnant mother and the baby she carried. The tiny congregation is decimated and the building itself will be demolished. I heard the awful news after we left our own beloved house of worship that Sunday morning. I was filled with grief at the time I saw this sunset. It seemed to me a needed reminder that God is still present even in the presence of evil.
A week later a memorial service was held by the church’s pastor, who lost his own teenage daughter in the massacre. I wept when I heard that volunteers had gone into the riddled church building, cleared and cleaned the space, covering bullet holes and painting the whole space white. Twenty-six white chairs, each containing a rose, were set into the space, which people could visit during the day. Now the building will be entirely removed, replaced by a memorial prayer garden. As my own family gathered for Thanksgiving, and this week as we pulled out old familiar ornaments to decorate our Christmas tree, I am reminded of those families who will have empty places at the table and who will not have family members there for celebrating this Advent and Christmas. There may be some who, like me, begin to shop early and already have gifts for a child or parent who won’t receive them.
I would rather have simply written a poem about the beauty of a November sunset. Instead, I offer my remembering and my prayers in this season of gratitude and beginning again of Advent expectancy. Lament has always been a part of its story.
Recently I found this large bald cypress bathed in morning sunlight. Every ferny leaf seemed to glow. I wanted to capture that luminous image before the light changed. It is a birthday week for me so I have spent time considering what I have learned in these 77 years and ways I want to spend the time ahead.
I am grateful for light and the ways it touches and changes. I thank God each morning for the new light another day brings. I am grateful for being able to see this, grateful for grace to know that as light changes, new ways of finding and seeing it will remain.
“Defend me against the chances and changes of this life, not that I may escape them but that I may meet them with firm resolve; not that I may be saved from them but that I may come unscathed through them.
Defend me from discouragement in difficulty and from despair in failure, from pride in success, and from forgetting you in the day of prosperity.
Help me to remember that there is no time when you will fail me and no moment when I do not need you.
Grant me this desire: that guided by your light and defended by your grace, I may come in safety and bring honor to my journey’s end…” ~ Norman Shawchuck
In South Texas, Winter is often more a word. than a season of bitter cold. But many times a few days after we have celebrated Christmas, Winter makes a sudden, although usually brief, dramatic appearance screaming “Take me seriously!'” Citrus and tropical plants on our back porch did not survive our recent episode. We already talk of replanting, ordering seeds, replacing. But we also hope, waiting to see what life will come back. I am thankful for comfort and good food and warmth for our family, for good hugs and kind touch. I am thankful for talks beside the fire. I am thankful for home.
“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand, and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” ~ Edith Sitwell0
The roses which cover this arbor have a name and a story. The official name is now Peggy Martin. The nickname is “survivor.” In the middle of our final move away from this garden and home this past week. we had vivid reminders of the origin of this rose. Our area has been covered with the waters of a devastating, history-making flood. The Brazos River crested 2 days ago at a record-breaking 54.81 feet, As water surged from the river, entire neighborhoods were flooded and evacuated or stranded, roads rendered impassable, fields of crops and cattle inundated, and lives changed forever. There has been so much loss of property and livelihood.
The survivor rose is a symbol of this heartbreaking picture. In late August 2005, Category 4 Hurricane Katrina created this type of destruction in New Orleans on an even larger scale.Levees were breached, and 85 percent of the city was underwater. This rose was the only rose among over 400 antique roses surviving 20 feet of salt water over the garden of Mrs. Peggy Martin, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, Mrs. Martin lost her parents, her home, and commercial fishing boat in the storm. When she was finally able to return to visit their property she was heartened to see the lush growth of her climbing rose, a testament to its toughness and status as a true survivor.
Our roses covered an arbor which has provided shade and shelter for children playing, birds nesting, and a place for quiet respite. This too, reminds me of our present circumstances. We have witnessed the hospitality and shelter of our community. Our church is a Red Cross shelter, where many evacuees have received a place to stay dry and sleep, meals, and help from many volunteers. Our emergency responders have diligently and consistently worked to rescue, assist, and keep us all informed and protected as much as possible. Many have responded with generosity and caring in a variety of ways. Neighbors have helped both neighbors and strangers. As Mr. Rogers once said, in trying to help children absorb the impact of tragedies, we can look beyond to the helpers.
I am thankful for the Grace that enables us to be helpers, to offer peace to one another, and that hope remains.
This week I wanted to spend time listening to Christmas music, wrapping Christmas gifts and baking Cranberry bread. I did these things, but along with so many others , I struggled, shattered by news of more violence against innocent people , heartbreaking photos of grief-stricken families, terrified refugees, and the darkness of human hearts without hope and faith and love.
I have this pottery jar on my kitchen window sill. It has been shaped and fired and given as a gift of love. In deeper, mysterious ways, Advent is expressed hope, shaped and fired and given. In the darkest of times, this hope remains.
To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless. Gilbert K. Chesterton
Texas has received devastating damage throughout the state delivered by deluges of rain, tornadoes, and rivers out of their banks. 46 counties have been declared disaster areas. In our town alone, a severe storm system which produced more than 11 inches of rain in 11 hours began a week that finds the entire metropolitan area of Houston in the throes of historic flooding. Lives have been lost, homes destroyed, motorists stranded. Rivers continue to rise. The Brazos River, near my neighborhood, is expected to reach flood stage tomorrow. We have a good levee system here and should be OK, but two nearby communities which are near other stretches of the river are already evacuating. I pray for strength and peace for those who are suffering tragedy and for those who will face unknown trials in the next few days. And I claim hope, the kind of expectant waiting that provides strength and endurance and perseverance. .It is so needed for those in the throes of crisis now. It will be needed in the days to come as people who are hurt and grieving must begin to rebuild not only their homes but their very lives.
in the Jewish faith, blue is the color of hope, in Christianity, purple candles in the Advent wreath symbolize hope, a time of waiting and hoping. Others say green is the color of hope as it comes to us when spring is on its way, in hope and expectation of a new season of growth. I like that.
Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope! ~ Romans 15:13 The Message