In Search of Greener Grass

In Search of Greener Grass

I’ve heard said that in the summer there are two colors in Arizona: brown and blue. The months of 110+ degree temperatures month after month, and the sunny blue skies tend to turn the AZ landscape brown.

St. John, USVI. Heard of it? Some of the most beautiful beaches, lush National Parks and snorkeling adventures and creatures that only God could think up! We were blessed enough to travel there this summer. A relaxing 10 days to escape from the AZ heat, our every day routines at home and to reconnect with my exhausted, worn-down, weary, school teaching husband; a great way to begin his summer break after the grueling school year.

The grass is greener on summer vacation!

Or is it?

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve seen the beauty in the pictures.

A cathedral of granite as we hike through the Baths

A cathedral of granite as we hike through the Baths

St john blog vista mare

Great Cruz Bay from Vista Mare where we met the best bartender–Taylor!

st john blog island time

Felling “Titanic” aboart ISLAND TIME where we met the Georgian couple

st john baths natl park

Here are some of our favorites-The view from Vista Mare where we met our new favorite bartender, Taylor, the boat trip on “Island Time” to see the Baths National Park of Virgin Gorda followed by cave snorkeling.

St john blog baths

On Island Time (the aptly named vessel we toured the islands on), we met a lovely couple. Well, not so much “meet” as admire from across the deck. They were about 10 years younger, perfect, pearly white smiles and bodies that proved they ate from the “Lite menu.” Later we saw her designer sunglasses couldn’t hide the tears that were slipping down her cheeks.

We later introduced ourselves and learned they were from Atlanta, Georgia. This vacation for her was about reconnecting with husband after her grueling school year as a professor at Emory University. They shared later the reason behind those tears. As we traversed the islands on our way to Virgin Gorda, they’d receiving a text that the door had been closed on their year-long attempts to adopt a child.

Circumstances can still find you on vacation.

There were a few things about St. John that I didn’t expect.  Ever heard of closing a beach due to bacterial build up? Heard of a sea urchin? How about sand fleas? No?  Well…I’m sure you’ve heard of jelly fish.

Evidence points toward my being a veritable jelly fish and sand flea magnet.

All places have their downside.

The exterior often tells very little of the condition of the inside.

We stayed at the Westin St. John and part way through our trip, early in the morning, the sound of lawnmowers awoke us.

We got so relaxed, where were we again? Was it lawn day in Arizona?

But, no! We’re still on vacation! We emerged from our room to witness the landscapers mowing the grass down to its base. The previous stretches of green were now brown.

Bummer.

It brought back thoughts of returning home to the heat of Arizona. Where, when summer comes, the grass areas are mowed down to the ground and re-seeded with a different grass; a summer seed of heartier, thicker grass that is better able to withstand the intense Arizona summers. It takes several weeks for the green to re-appear. And when it does, the new seed does pretty well in the scorches of the desert—as long as it gets watered.

So, as we grabbed our pool towels and headed out for the day, we left the brown lawn of the Westin behind us in search of sandy (and open!) beaches. As we walked along the newly browned property, we focused on the beautiful patches of bright yellow, orange and purple flowers, the bougainvilleas, the various types of palm trees: corkscrew palm, date palm, queen palm, coconut palm and all of it being watered by sprinklers that imitated rainfall.

In all, our time on St. John had its highlights. We experienced the peaceful serenity of swimming with a sea turtle (I still have dreams about it!). We read the books that had been collecting dust-(“Unbroken” for Keith and “Love Does” for me.) We soaked in every sunset from a different vista. We splashed in the pool, photographed all the wild life, tried every rum drink the island could offer and supported the local shopping economy. Keith even won a small jackpot at the tiny (awesomely air-conditioned) casino, and we snorkeled where Robert Louis Stevenson received his inspiration for Treasure Island. Pretty cool.

A couple days after the “lawn mowing alarm clock” had awakened us, we emerged from our room to a brand new looking green expanse! The watering, mixed in with the natural moisture of the Caribbean miraculously transformed the brown to green as if it had never been hacked down to near death! In just two days!

Maybe the grass really is greener on St. John?

Westin St. John with GREEN!

Westin St. John with GREEN!

Yet, all vacations must come to an end; time to return home.

Work, work, work, so you can get away to a vacation in a more relaxing place, just to return to work, work, work—as you hopefully plan for the next break.

The green, to the brown, to the green.

In addition to the summer seeding, most of Arizona also re-seeds the grass right before wintertime. Once again, the green summer grassed areas are mowed down to the brown, to be replenished with a lighter winter grass that thrives in the milder temperatures.  And then in the summer: mow, seed, water. And then in the winter: mow, seed, water, REPEAT.

Such are the rhythms and seasons of life. So where is the grass greener?

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”–Philippians 4:12

These words are from Paul. If you know the story, you know—HE KNEW.

He knew of green grass and parched deserts. He knew praises and prosperity, and also punishment and persecution. And yet, content? In all things, times and circumstances?

HOW? Had he been on St. John? Did he schedule lots of vacations and reconnecting time?

I think Paul knew the secret to green grass.  But it isn’t really a secret.

You’ve probably heard it before, because of its profound truth:

Grass isn’t greener “on the other side.”

The grass is green where you water it.

Do I think Paul enjoyed persecution, near death, shipwrecks, beatings, near starvation? No. But I believe he found this seemingly very elusive contentment in knowing there was a strength and sufficiency beyond his own carrying him on the journey.

When life circumstances dealt him some brown parched grass, he knew what to do. He knew “where to go.” And it wasn’t on St. John. He knew the place of the “greener grass” was at the Cross of Jesus Christ. He knew what was beyond his current circumstance. He knew the hope found at the Cross and had the anointing water of the Holy Spirit in his life that would supply the seed for whatever season he found himself.

HE knew of a HOPE beyond his circumstance.

He knew JESUS.

And he could go there anytime.

He knew, with the Holy Spirit in him, his exterior circumstances couldn’t take from him the greenest of grass- –At the end of his journey, he would be returning home. He knew Jesus awaited him there.

I picture Paul, hanging out with Jesus right now. In his trials and ordeals, he KNEW everything he went through would be worth it.

Please don’t misunderstand me on my St. John rantings. We too, count our blessings every day.

In spite of my jelly fish sting, a body covered in sand flea bites and a brutal return trip on American Airlines fraught with delays, a medical incident, no food and lost luggage, and even if we got a little homesick; we have contentment.

As we return home to our routines and the brown of Arizona, we reminisce on the beauty of the Baths, the white, silky sand beaches, the sea turtles…We think of that lovely couple from Island Time and pray for them, and Taylor, our Vista Mare bartender and his adventurous spirit and the other lovely souls we met on St. John.

As we watch the sunset from Arizona and think on our next adventure, I look over at my sweet, newly relaxed (and content) husband and know that, like Paul, we too will be home soon.

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Going Into the Darkness

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“Since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” Hebrews 12:2

It’s winter (I use that term loosely in Arizona!) but it’s 5 a.m. and it’s pitch dark. The path I usually run became so boring, I decided on an alternate route. It takes me in front of a deserted school. Who knew this road would have ZERO activity on it and not a single street light?!

It’s a deep, deep darkness.

Cold fear prickles the nape of my neck.

I can barely see the pavement in front of me and when a car drives by, the headlights blind me.

Even light seems treacherous when you are engulfed in darkness.

This dark, shadowy stretch of unknown is only about ½ mile. I know street lamps will light my way once I make it to the corner. “Will I make it to see those lights around the corner? Come to think of it, no one knows where I am this morning”… As these thoughts taunt me, a car blazes by and I nearly stumble over a fallen tree branch. –I pick my feet up higher.

I think about hungry coyotes, gnarly javelina, and other hidden predators as I suddenly recall every episode of Criminal Minds. –My breathing accelerates and I increase my pace.

I step further into the roadway in hopes that fewer things will trip me up. I nearly jump out of my skin as I hear the “crunch” of something off to my left. I focus on where the sound came from and see a dark figure walking what appears to be a dog.

Just as I am about to completely freak out, I come to the corner, turn and see the lighted street stretch out before me. –The pace of my heart and my running form return to normal.

Funny thing, this lighted path is where I let my guard down and stumbled up a sidewalk ramp. I scraped my hand and knee and jarred my back out of whack. Hmm…

Just like this run, you can be gliding by on your normal path and easily get tripped up by the human tendency to fall back into bad habits. And it usually hurts.

A few days later when I head out for my morning run, I head straight for the street with the school; the “dark and scary street.”

I tell myself, “If Lara Bowman can run in Colorado’s below zero temps, at 0-dark thirty, every day to honor her son in boot camp, then I can face this!”

I refuse to fear this time. I approach the black abyss and pray to God, “Protect Lara from freezing to death on her run and protect me from this fear of what could be in this darkness. Be our shield and go before us. Please light the way.”

The more I run that “shadowy run,” and refuse to fear that darkness, the stronger I feel.

Day after day, as Lara braves the freezing temperatures; motivated by her love and a promise, she understands how much farther she can push herself.

If we avoid our fears, or are not willing to do the work, we are held back from growing stronger and accomplishing amazing things.

Beyond protecting us on our running adventures, I believe that God honors each of us when we are courageous enough to face our own inner dark places. Whether it’s a past mistake, a recurring sin or addiction, or the associated worry, doubts and shame; if there’s anything making us stumble and keeping us from a full and abundant life in Christ, He will help us conquer it.

And, the more we rely the light of Christ to guide us through the darkness, the stronger Christ’s power can be revealed in us.

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 1 Corinthians 12:9

And this new power and strength is intended for the good of all. It not only empowers us to face the dark places in ourselves, but also emboldens us to help others struggling in darkness.

There are many people in desperate need of some light. They (and you) may not know it, but you might be the only light that they know.  You might be the person to encourage them through their dark time and get them back on their path.

And the hard work of getting through those dark places reminds us to treasure the ease of “walking in the light.” Remain vigilant for the sin and old bad habits that so easily entangle, (as well as those sidewalks that sneak up and can cause us to stumble when we get too comfortable!)

“Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.” Isaiah 60:2

 

May you be fearless and courageous as you allow Jesus to en-lighten your race.

REPTILE RELAY

LIZARD © 2004 Richard Soberka - http://www.photoway.com/REPTILE RELAY
Do you run alone?
Running along the succulent lined sidewalk of sunny Scottsdale, AZ this summer, I was thanking God that this was the last stretch of the run. The sun blazed out its 100 degrees already at 8 a.m. and I was enjoying the slight downhill of this last 1.5 miles of the run. I slowed to take a sip of the rationed remainder from my quickly evaporating water bottle (now approaching those 100 degrees!) and noticed I had a bulging-eyed admirer checking me out from the block wall.
I stopped briefly to study the approximately 5 inch lizard flexing his muscles in a two-, then three-pump push-up before he scattered down the brick wall to the shade of the small succulent bush. As I continued on my run; he followed and began to keep pace. I watched from the corner of my eye. My five strides matched up with his hundreds of steps as he stalked me; bolting from bush to bush that lined the well-manicured embankment of the Cactus Shadows housing development. I began laughing out loud as I continued on; for hundreds of feet, this lizard continued to keep stride with me!
I studied it closer, thinking this had to be impossible for this tiny creature to maintain this pace! Was there somehow another lizard hiding along the pathway, ready and waiting to take the next leg of the race? How could this lizard keep up? But he did!—I was amazed; he, so tiny and having to work so hard to match my downhill run; and me, advancing toward my own air conditioned shade and fresh, chilled water awaiting me at home, yet enjoying the moment with my new running partner. I would slow a bit advancing on the next opportunity for him to rest in the shade, but he would dart out once again and I was motivated anew to continue.
I thought back to the mile relays I ran for Arvada West’s high school track team. Each of the four girls on the relay team had to run ¼ mile at top speed as she transported a shiny aluminum baton to the next fresh-legged runner. What began as a featherweight baton and run-ready legs pumping like well-oiled machinery, at 300 yards would transform into exhausted, wobbly legs nearly giving out and handing over what had become a leaden encumbrance. The next girl then took over transporting the (once again) lightweight aluminum cylinder and, undoubtedly she underwent the same transformation at that 300 yard mark. This went on for each runner and ended with transporting that baton across the finish line to victory!
It would seem that my little lizard stalker had his own teammate with fresh legs waiting in the cool shade of those succulent bushes ready to take over for his endeavor to keep up with me. I laughed at the thought of how many millions of steps he (and his teammates) would have to take to catch me before I made the rest of the journey to my air-conditioned oasis.
I thought back to those Arvada West relay days and, what I loved most about the team was, even though each girl was exhausted after her own leg of the run, each girl would find enough strength to make her way to that 300 yard mark (wobbly, exhausted legs and all!) and cheer on her teammates.
About ¼ mile in to my reptile relay run is when my companion’s journey with me ended. I still had quite a way to go and I thought back to all those mile relays–without that girl located at the 300 yard mark, cheering when most needed, the journey seemed impossible.
My mind returned to the joy I felt during that little jaunt with my lizard companion and it carried me the rest of my way home.– It also struck me as so similar to the journey we have with God; I thought about His footsteps and that old story of the “Footprints in the Sand.”
Whether we see the one set of footprints or we see both sets of prints, we never run alone.
Whatever it is that you are carrying; a shiny baton, a nearly empty water bottle, the loneliness of heartbreak, the loss of a loved one, the burden of an illness; or, maybe you run from the shadows of shames in your past; there is One who can carry you on; One who will heal all your wounds and quench your soul-thirst. He cheers us from the 300 yard mark and every other lonely stretch along the way, providing laughter for the moment, a friend to help carry your burden when your body has exhausted its strength and, most definitely, He shows us the hope of an Oasis at the end of the journey.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 New International Version (NIV)
May your relay, your day, your journey and your life be blessed.

DIVINE IN THE DESERT

THE DIVINE IN THE DESERT

I have a friend who hates the desert—it’s extreme temperatures, the unfriendly cactus, trees with hidden thorns and landscape filled with animals and bugs that makes you go–”Hmmm?—What was God thinking when He created the hairy, snouted, smelly javelina (a.k.a. the skunk pig)? Or those seemingly death-defying, flying, hissing cockroaches?”

I have heard several unhappy desert dwellers say, “There are two colors in the desert—brown and blue.”

And when my flip-flops nearly melted as I walked across the parking lot the summer when temperatures approached 120 degrees—I get it.

Being from Colorado, I am used to beauty. The Rocky Mountains, soaring bald eagles, the four seasons that create and renew the landscape every year—I respond to Dumb and Dumber –“John Denver isn’t full of sh@*?”

However, after nearly 30 years there, with its eight months of winter, my new reply is, “You can’t shovel sunshine!”

“He holds in his hands the depth of the earth and the mightiest mountains. The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land, too.” (Psalm 95:4)

The desert is different. I am in awe of the extreme beauty in the desert; rugged and rough. Take, for example, the jumping cholla that shoots out spiny chunks of itself to ward off predators when triggered by vibrations. A plant with a self-defense plan against a smelly javelina or a burrowing bird?! Wow.

Right now in the desert, the “winter rains” have filled the desert landscape with a rainbow of colors. When I go out running, I witness blooms covering and spilling off of those thorny trees, callous cactus and barbed bushes bright with blossoms in every shade of the rainbow.

When I studied nutrition and holistic health, I learned that a plethora of these desert plants are components of many natural remedies. It would turn out that, living in these rugged extremes actually creates healing properties in the organism. Western medicine and science often attempt to chemically reproduce the healing capacities of these plants. 

Remedies are often found in the most unlikely…

When I moved to Arizona from Colorado, I remember driving down HWY 87.  Alongside the road, lined up in formation, stood a multitude of the cactus most associated with the Sonoran Desert–the saguaro. I later found out these massive structures are protected by law. Crews working to expand and repair the highway couldn’t just remove these prickly plants but had to ensure their survival.  If a person is found cutting one down or harming it, it is a felony offense.

According to Wikipedia, this special species of cactus are only found a few places in the nation and the Sonoran Desert boasts the most and the largest saguaro in the nation measuring at an impressive 45 ft high and with 10 feet across.

To survive the extreme desert conditions, this plant has adapted a system of survival. When it rains, it absorbs and sucks up into its body and woody internal system as much moisture as possible.  The saguaro swells and expands and stores away its life blood. It had learned from the desert droughts. As it swells and stores, it also blooms with its reproductive flowers and will often house the desert dwelling springtime birds.

The saguaro seems to understand life’s extremes; the droughts and the downpours. Because it takes nearly 100 years for a saguaro to grow an arm, when you see the portraits of the standard saguaro, with its two arms reaching out and up, stretching toward the sky, these giants have stood the test of time. With or without their legal protection, they not only survive, but these kings of the desert thrive in the parched, rugged environment.

And when the landscape around these dwellers is changed over time, sometimes (like the photo) they get by with a little help.

I think we have much to learn from this God-given example whose life-span nearly mimics ours. As we experience the extremes of life, suck up the goodness, it will be your lifeblood when the droughts come. As the landscape of our lives change, we will be protected. Our God is ever-present and He might just send help, cleverly disguised in the form of a friend, to support us when we have been shaken through to our very core. But the best example is, through the storms and the extremes, as we thrive and adapt and grow, let our own arms reach out and up and praise the very One that provides us with everything we need.

 

“Let every created thing give praise to the Lord, for he issued his command, and they came into being.” (Psalm 148:5)

Haboob

Haboob and palms

I just went on a lovely spring run in the desert. It appears the entire desert is in bloom: prickly pears sporting purple petals, trees covered in blossoms of yellow, pink and white, bottle brush in red, and wild flowers bursting through the desert floor in a rainbow of colors. Scents of orange blossom waft through the air and a junior bunny rabbit crosses my path with its white tail bouncing behind it. This would all be wonderful, except a rare, rather blustery, spring breeze is also flowing through the valley of the sun and, it just so happens, I am having the worst allergy season of my life.
I wipe at my sand paper crusted eyes, and hold my breath as I pass a young man trimming all the desert foliage and further adding to the “particulate pollution.” As I look over to the McDowell mountains, the haze of pollens obstructs my view, reminding me of the “Claritin clear” commercial. It looks like a hazy old romantic photograph or a doctored up “glamour shot”—I can barely see the outline of the mountains against the sky. Seeing very few of the usual dog walkers and joggers, I am certain that, had I had watched the news, I am venturing out in a “HEALTH ADVISORY” kind of day.
As I plug along, determined to burn off last night’s carb’s, all these pollens trigger something in me besides a histamine response. I think of sin. How it can cloud our ability to see things clearly; our ability to see truth. How sometimes we don’t even know how bad it is for us or how slowly it has creeped up on us and invaded our lives. Suddenly we find ourselves “in it.”
The subtlety of sin is like pollen. Some have an immediate reaction to it. For others, it doesn’t seem to faze them. But it seems to be seeping into our culture.
When did this happen? When did kids stop saying the “pledge of allegiance in schools?” When did it become a “holiday party” instead of “Christmas celebration?” In a world with pornography at our fingertips, violence splashed unabashedly in nearly every movie, and the “F-word” as common in conversation as allergies in the desert, I think we are all under attack.
Casting Crown’s lyrics from “Slow Fade” tell a haunting tale:
It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away
It’s a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
Daddies never crumble in a day
Families never crumble in a day

Oh be careful little eyes what see
Oh be careful little eyes what you see
For the Father up above is looking down in love
Oh be careful little eyes what you see”

When I first moved to the desert (some fifteen summers ago), I got sick: fever, chills, coughing, stuffy head, achy, etc., It lasted for days before I went to the doctor. No antibiotics for me. Diagnosis: Allergies. They told me everyone in Arizona either has them or will get them and I would just have to get used to it.
I didn’t accept that. A week later I still had the same symptoms. I got a second opinion. Antibiotics took care of it. After that, I took matters into my own hands. I exercised, ate right, took supplements and did what was in my power to stay healthy. I still occasionally will get ill. And, after fifteen summers, I now truly have those dreaded allergies. Some things are beyond our control.
Last summer, we had a record monsoon season. The term “haboob” became a part of every valley residents’ vocabulary. These massive walls of dust have been featured on national news and to see them coming toward you is very foreboding! Unlike the allergies and the winds blowing pollens, with haboobs at least you have a warning for these storms as they head at you like the wall of sand in “The Mummy.” I have just heard forecast of a possible haboob/dust storm for today.
Whether we are caught unawares in our sins or have had our lives disasters broadcast on national news, we don’t have to stay accept the slow fade of sin in our lives.
In Acts, The Bible tells of how Paul, a killer of Christians was transformed from his sins: “What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16)
We can come to the feet of Jesus, call out to Him and be washed clean of our sins and selfishness.
“Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7)
Although sin surrounds us, we can take matters into our own hands:
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8)
Usually after one of these massive dust storms, the desert is drenched in a monsoonal downpour. The streets flood with muddy waters and by the next day, the evidence of the haboob has been washed clean. All that remains is the news story and pools of waters in the washes newly afloat with ducks and geese.
Like a spring rain in the desert, dousing the pollens in the air and replenishing reservoirs, Jesus renews our lives. He sprinkles refreshing, cleansing, purifying water that is new life flowing through us.
I hope you never get caught in a haboob. I hope you never suffer from allergies. Above all, I hope you choose to not accept the slow fade of sin in your life and you will make the call out to Jesus.