HopeSpiritualitySymbolsUncategorized

The Saga Continues . . .

Re-building strength and stamina since my recent bypass surgery has been a primary focus of the last three months. Before “graduating” last week, I visited the small town of Winchester, Indiana twenty-four times for rehab. Somehow I managed to miss visiting Mrs. Wick’s pie shop a single time during that time, probably because I had a better offer from friends in the area!

As restrictions lessened each week, my activities at home expanded. The first day all the ice melted from our driveway so I could walk down to the small creek that runs through the property was an uplifting day! Soon after, I went “off road,” walking through the woods that surround our house.  The place has always felt like holy ground to me, and simply being out in it has a restorative effect. A few days ago while we were on a walk, Judi suggested we pull some branches away from the three ash trees that fell and blocked our driveway back in November. Back then we cleared the trees sufficiently for a car to pass, but left the logs along the side of the driveway to be sawn later. Further work on that project was delayed once I learned about my required surgery and advised not to overexert myself.

Now on the mend, it was safe to pull branches away without exceeding weight limitations for lifting or interfering with the healing of my sternum. As we cleared away the brush, I remembered that one of the fallen logs was partially blocking a small culvert that passed under our drive. During the last significant rain I’d noticed water pooling on the upper side of the pipe. The only good solution is to finish removing the log, but while I was there I decided to try and open up the passageway a bit more. On my knees, I reached beneath the log and pulled away the debris — leaves, twigs, and a bit of silt — that had accumulated as water flowed through the area. Satisfied that I’d done all that could be done until the tree was moved, I prepared to stand up. I glanced downward to my left where I was about to put my hand. Something grabbed my attention, looking out of place among the leaves. It appeared to be metal and circular; maybe the pull tab off a can or the upper portion of a key ring. Water occasionally brings all sorts of surprises when it passes through the area.  I’ve found a pink, left boot (too small for either of us!), a beach ball, and an occasional soft drink can floating through our property. Very little surprises me anymore.

I bent lower to investigate the day’s prize. My body tingled as my eyes recognized the object even before my brain shared the news with the rest of me. There, resting on an 8” square sheet of discarded tree bark was my wedding ring. You may recall from an earlier blog that I lost the ring during the month of November. (https://jaymarshallonline.com/rings-and-things) My last memory of wearing it was after coming home from lunch with a friend and placing it on the ring stand by the bedside. I was convinced it was in the house and had looked everywhere that seemed logical or feasible, and even a few places that didn’t! Since that day I’ve lived in hope that it would resurface but resigned myself to the fact that it would take dumb luck or an act of God to ever see it again.

As it turns out, my last memory of the ring must not have been the last wearing of it. Sunday, November 15th was a windy day at our house. I remember because wind sometimes brings down branches or an occasional tree across our drive. Like the time we left for the airport at 3 a.m. to catch a flight to Hawaii, only to discover the way blocked and the need to clear a path first! On this November morning, as interim co-pastors of a nearby Friends meeting, we had an obligation to meet and no time to fire up the chainsaw. Thankfully, the driveway was clear. However, when we returned home two hours later we were greeted by three trees fallen across the driveway. We turned off the car engine and walked to the house. After lunch I returned with a chainsaw and began cutting tree trunks into pieces that could be rolled out of the way until later. It was a good workout, especially given my reduced capacity that as of yet had not been diagnosed. Afterwards, we returned to the house, glad to be out of the 20+ miles per hour wind.

Apparently on that day while sawing, unknown to me, my ring slipped off of my finger. Since retirement almost three years ago, less stress, better eating habits, and a more active lifestyle have contributed to shedding a few pounds – enough so that my ring was a bit loose. I knew that, but had no idea it had reached the point that it could escape without notice. But it had. From midday on November 15th to 10:30 a.m. on March 30th, that ring had laid on the floor of the woods by the culvert. We had a mild winter, but even so during that time the ring endured rain, sleet, snow, and wind. It resisted the power of a leaf blower used to clear away the leaves that carpet the driveway during late Fall. During the recent rain, it would have been submerged in the pond of water that pooled around the blocked culvert. Had it been washed into the culvert, that would probably have been the end of it because even if it passed through to the other side, that end is covered by riprap. Had a squirrel or other animal spotted it, it might have wound up in a nest somewhere, as once happened to a padlock key. Yet, somehow it remained secure, hidden, and out of sight until such time as I was attentive enough to spot it.

I don’t know which is more amazing – that the ring survived its four month campout or that I noticed it on the ground. Seeing what is right in front of me can be a tricky business. Send me to the cupboard to get a bottle of vinegar on the bottom shelf to the right, behind the honey; I’ll likely look and insist it isn’t there, only to be proven wrong. On the other hand, I’ll spot the possum peeking out from behind the grill after it sneaked into the garage while the door was open, even after others have walked right by it and never noticed.

Not many things leave me speechless, but recovering this ring now ranks among them. When I managed to call Judi over to show her my discovery, I couldn’t help but notice how large the smile on my face felt. Maybe this was just dumb luck, but it feels more like a miracle to me. Mind you, I’m careful about using that term, not wanting to cheapen God’s intervention. It took a collection of little decisions to put me in an unlikely position to see what needed to be seen. The decision to walk through the woods. From there the decision to pull branches away. Then, spotting the blocked culvert beneath the tree and deciding to clear it. Then focusing on just the right spot and noticing the different colored circular pattern atop the underside of the weathered, brownish bark. I later remarked that if it was just my lucky day, I should have bought a lottery ticket on that occasion!

This ring has now survived a night in the YMCA parking lot 20+ years ago and a 4-month winter camping expedition, not to mention being caught and snagged by countless do-it-yourself projects in between. Apparently our wedding vows aren’t the only thing with staying power in this marriage.

This 4-month ordeal has had me thinking about the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and the lost son. Initially the search was frantic, with a sense of urgency like I imagine the shepherd had when he left his flock to look for the lost one, or when the woman tossed her house upside down seeking that single coin misplaced somewhere in her home. After a while, the frenetic pace slowed. It was no less urgent or troublesome, but a certain resignation settled in. At that point, a person can try to dismiss it from their minds and move on, adding the lost item to a list of memories. Or realizing the matter is beyond one’s control, like the father in the parable of the lost son one can simply wait in the hope that that which is lost will one day return. That is where I ultimately wound up. Having no better option and refusing to forget about the ring, I simply waited in hope. Life had to move on, but hope was never extinguished.

Hope is an interesting word. In some ways, it encourages denial and that isn’t always a healthy habit. It is often employed as an optimistic synonym for “wish,” a usage of convenience but lacking conviction and commitment. With a meaning sometimes described as archaic, “hope” can become more resilient, communicating the idea of “expectation” or “trust.” When it moves into the realm of theology, “hope” is placed among the theological virtues where it is anchored in the expectation that something difficult could in fact be possible with Divine assistance. Especially intriguing is the phrase “hope against hope” – reportedly coined as a paraphrase of Romans 4:18 which recalls that against all hope – that is, when the future seemed impossibly bleak — the patriarch Abraham believed that his future would unfold as God had promised.  Hope against hope encourages tenacious hope when there is no justification for doing so other than a dogged faith that refuses to crumble.

The important things in our lives need more than faint wishes and light hope to keep them alive. They benefit from a determination that refuses to yield, even as we continue on with the demands of life. For you never know when that which was lost will suddenly be found. Like a prodigal coming home. A coin turning up. Or a ring at your feet, waiting to be noticed.

Further Reading

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“This is destined to become a new Quaker classic with its depths of insight on call and discernment.” — Carole Dale Spencer

“… the book is a rare and much needed Quaker-specific how-to manual for embracing our individual calls to ministry …” — Windy Cooler

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