Thoughts, Ideas and Inspiration by Melissa Earley

Category: grief

Burnt Trees and Butterflies

I woke up feeling unsettled and uncertain. My emotions were raw. My eyes burned. My throat was dry. I tried to settle into my spiritual practice of reading while I drank my morning coffee, but I couldn’t focus on the page. My skin couldn’t contain my feelings. I wanted, I needed, to combust. I left my cabin to hike in the woods. 

But not any woods. For 360 degrees around me there were charred trees and blackened soil. Lodge pole pines had been stripped of their evergreen needles. Some trees stood without shame in their nakedness. Others bowed to the ground or leaned on neighbors. I thought I could still smell smoke. But it was probably my imagination. Or maybe, it was just the lingering odor in my hair and clothes from using the wood burning stove in my cabin the morning before. 

The East Troublesome Fire was first reported on October 21, 2020, near Kremmling, Colorado. Within a week, winds were as high as 60 MPH. The fire jumped Highway 34. Even without much fuel above tree line, it jumped the Continental Divide. When it was finally done, 193,812 acres of forest had been burned.

Still, on my walk almost a year later, there were signs of life. Yellow and purple flowers bloomed in ashen dirt. Carpets of green grass looked all the more verdant against fallen tree trunks turned to glistening charcoal. Miniature Aspen trees shimmered in the morning light, promising to turn gold when the air grew colder. First, I heard, and then I saw a small creek bouncing over rocks singing a song of hope. A single small yellow butterfly fluttered by, dancing in the sun.

Death gives way to life. It’s the way the world works. Broken hearts mend. Shattered dreams give birth to new inspiration. Even if we are not mended to be like new, we are wiser and maybe even stronger at the broken places. In the church we call it a miracle, resurrection. 

I rolled my eyes at the cliché. It is a trope, and it is true. 

But what is also true is that the trees burned. There is new life, but first comes death. We don’t get new beginnings without endings. What needs to die in me for something new to be born? What empty hopes, false selves, or rotted out beliefs do I need to set on fire so that latent seeds can sprout? 

I ease off the boulder where I sat to think and walked back to my cabin. I open and close my fists to try to unclench my heart. There is so much I resist letting go. I study my hands and suspect I have only been holding smoke. 

It’s Time to Create a Brave Space

These are the words I wrote for the Interfaith Vigil in Support of the LGBTQ community that was held last night in our community.

I am so glad you are here tonight. What you are doing here matters.

There are a lot of voices out there telling us to be afraid. Be afraid of the transgender person. Be afraid of the gay person. Be afraid of the poor woman and the Black man. Be afraid of the Mexican immigrant, the Guatemalan immigrant, the Syrian refugee. Be afraid of the Muslim. Be afraid.

I won’t presume to speak for other faith traditions, but I know that the Christian community has given the LGBTQ community cause to be afraid. We have painted our bigotry with the patina of piety. We have taken the words given to us so that we might know and share the heart of God and we have turned them into weapons that we have used against our LGBTQ neighbors. We have done harm. And I am truly sorry.

I want to find ways to counter the voices that tell us to be afraid. How do we silence the voices of fear? We replace them. We replace the voices of fear with a voice that whispers hope, a voice that sings courage, a voice that lets out battle cry of love.

I can’t guarantee that tonight will be a safe space. No one can make that promise. Not any more. But together we can create a brave space. A space where we show up. We show up with strong backs and confident grips, and knocking knees and sweaty palms. We show up with clarity of purpose and wobbly beliefs. We show up as people who know they are loved and as those who are desperately lonely. And we bravely claim and proclaim that all people are beloved children of God. Something happens when we create a brave space like that – we experience love – we experience giving it and receiving it. Friends, perfect love drives out all fear.

 

Thank you for being brave with me tonight.

What Got Left Behind

When my ex-husband moved out he didn’t want to take anything that was ours. He also left large things that were his. His dining room table. His treadmill. Like a refugee, he left with the things he could carry. For months I was finding things that he forgot – books on shelves and clothes in the laundry.

I hate the treadmill. It mocks me whenever I walk by it. It’s an exercise deterrent. It’s big, ugly and loud. It’s the machine equivalent of the guy at the gym who grunts and sprawls across the mat intended to be shared. I never used it. I wanted him to take it. He insisted he didn’t have room. No, he didn’t want to store it. He thought maybe I would want to use it. (Was that a crack about my weight? He had always appreciated my curves).

I was jealous that he could make a clean break. A fresh start. A do-over. I was left to clean up the pieces. Dissolve the bank accounts, forward his mail, change the answering machine. He got to pretend our marriage was a bad dream. I had to stumble over the artifacts of our life together.

I put the photo albums and hanging pictures in a closet. I threw out the random socks that had been mixed in with mine. I gave his dining room table to our church rummage sale.

When you’ve been wounded and the pain makes it hard to even breath, it’s tempting to purge everything so that there’s nothing that sits on your heart when you look at it.   But the ink drawings over the fireplace are from our trip to Seattle when we got engaged. The Greek tablecloth is from our honeymoon. His mother purchased the delicate creamer and sugar bowl when she visited him in Ireland, where he lived for a year in his 20’s. A few years back, he and I drove circumference of the Irish isle. Those are good, if complicated, memories.

I was planning to sell the treadmill but then I used it last week. It was handy when I didn’t have time to get to the gym for a full work out. I huffed a prayer of thanks and forgiveness to him in my head for leaving it.

Wonder Fully Made

 

Photo by Greg Metzler

Photo by Greg Metzler

I used to think it was the answers that mattered. I’m discovering it’s the questions. Answers are about getting the good grade, earning approval, meeting the expectation.

Questions are where the power is – and the risk. Questions can disrupt and unsettle. Questions take us into unknown territory. They create intimacy; reveal truth. Questions reflect the truth that every soul is a mystery and that God can never be boxed.

We religious types get it wrong when we think our faith is about answers and not questions. I am grateful to a former pastor of the church I serve who assured a now faithful member that figuring out exactly what she believed was not a prerequisite to being part of a church. “A community of faith,” he said, “is full of people asking the same questions you are. You will be in good company.”

I regret unasked questions. Not because my curiosity wasn’t satiated but because I missed the chance to bridge the gulf between I and Thou. I squandered the opportunity to stand with another on the sacred ground of their story.

Asking questions requires a promise. If I overstep, I will back out as gracefully as I can. If my asking makes something spill out I promise to find a mop and put up a caution sign on the floor. I promise to sit beside you on the shore of the lake that your soul pours out.

I regret not asking the questions that would have unmasked me in the asking. What do you see when you gaze at me? Why aren’t we friends anymore? Declarations of love and statements of hurt are questions in disguise: Do you feel the same way? Are you sorry?

I make up stories to finish unfinished conversations.  I write these tales in my head as I walk my dog and they are masterpieces. But they are not true. Accepting that some questions will forever be unasked and unanswered is part of letting go and moving on.

I am grateful to those who have asked me questions that helped my real self show up. What is stirring in your soul? Can you imagine being in love again? How are you…really?

Questions tell us that we are wondrously made because we are worth wondering about.

 

 

 

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