When we were in seminary at Candler we talked about growing edges. I came to understand my growing edges as practices that no longer served me well. Saying or doing these practiced things that now were getting in the way of seeing the world differently, of being in the world differently. One of my growing edges is a belief I (somehow beyond all odds) continue to hold dearly is: “what’s true for somebody else, is (should, ought to be) true for me.” And each time, each time, each time I am surprised to learn that this just ain’t true. And lately, I’ve been surprised. Again.
Yesterday’s Epiphany manifestation presented itself in this message: I am not a pine tree.
My father worked one job at the First National Bank in Mattoon for his entire professional life. My maternal grandfather worked his whole life for CIPS ( Power Company as lineman); my paternal grandfather was a lawyer in Groton and most of it was as city attorney; Aunt Sis was a 9th grade algebra teacher at Waterford High.
I grew up thinking I would have one career, one job that I would do my entire professional life. It would have a beginning, a middle and after a measured amount of time there would be an ending. Straight and true. Just like a tall, Georgia pine tree.
I am not a pine tree.
After exercising at the YMCA yesterday, I planted myself by a big, ole window. I was letting my heart catch up and stretching a bit. And just outside the window, there was this beautiful, old oak tree. Lying there and stretching, my eyes followed the branches up and out to the tree tips. And I was given a beautiful gift: I am not a pine tree.
As I stretched and breathed deeper and deeper, I imagined my life instead, as that oak. Solid, strong trunk rooted deeply in the ground reaching up to the sky. As my eyes followed the limbs branching out and up from the trunk, I was reminded of the branches in my life. All those times I thought I knew what I was doing/where I was going – and always, always something shifted and changed. For example, I truly thought when I went away to college after graduation I would come back to Mattoon and settle down, raise a family and teach PE for 30 years.
And here I sit in our home in Decatur, Georgia as Linda’s life-partner, a mother of two strapping and kind young men, ordained in the UCC and serving as a hospice chaplain. I am not a pine tree.
Spring is coming. Even now in the first week of February there are signs of spring. These brave, fearless daffodils remind us each year that we, too can hold strong and hold on. We too, can hope ourselves into something miraculous and beautiful. We, too can bloom where we are planted. How strong they are to push up and through the cold, dark ground and reach beyond what was before.
Stretching at the Y I was reminded that my journey isn’t my father’s or aunt’s. My course certainly has not been predictable. I, too was given strong and deep roots. My trunk is strong and for me, there are meandering branches. Limbs stretching up and over and through. I’ve felt the winter winds bow and so far I’ve been OK. I was not born to be a pine tree, God had something different in mind for me. And stretching at the Y, I whispered a great, deep, tearful prayer of thanks.
Change is so dang hard for me. I hate it. More often than I choose to say - I'm not a fan of change. This distrust, fearful anticipation of the unknown-ness of change has always been with me. Held me stuck. And the truth of the matter is: change is always with us, always with me.
Changes are coming for me. Some things I’ve thought to be constant are now shifting. Right here, right now I have no idea what my world will look like when the dust settles. Living in this in-between time is hard. I’m on-edge, cranky, short-tempered, fearful – especially with folks who matter to me most. I watch myself snap, crackle and pop at the folks I love. I feel powerless and reactive.
And almost by surprise, my spirit woke up a little bit today. Out of nowhere. Or perhaps out of somewhere – out of the core of me. And in that awakening I remembered that I’m not alone. I remembered that I’m not alone in it – this scary, uncertain, feeling-powerless time – I’m not alone in it.
My partner, Linda reminded me this morning that we’ve gotten through this kind of thing before, we’ve gotten through times of change and un-knowing. “And,” she said, “we’ll get through this one, too. We have more than enough, and we’ll figure out a way. “
Tonight driving away from work, my friend Susie talked me home. We talked about big picture and what brings life. She reminded me of gifts and graces, of margaritas and queso dip. And then I pulled in the driveway…
…there on a fence post 30 feet away sat a big ‘ole hawk. Oakhurst has our own personal hawk, and this was probably my neighbor. Just sitting there, calm as could be. I was snapping pictures as Susie and I continued our conversation. She googled hawks as messengers and this is what she found:
In representation to humanity, the hawk is called messenger, protector and visionary. Keen vision is one of its greatest gifts. Hawks see things others miss.
The hawk comes to you indicating that you are now awakening to your soul purpose, your reason for being here. It can teach you how to fly high while keeping yourself connected to the ground.
As you rise to a higher level, your psychic energies are awakening and the hawk can help you to keep those senses in balance. Its message for you is to be open to hope and new ideas, to extend the vision of your life.
The Hawk is an animal of flight. It soars through the air looking down, and sees everything. It has a larger perspective of what is going on down below. With its keen eyesight, it looks down as it soars through the air looking for its prey. It can see the smallest of creatures below.
The Hawk is known as a messenger, similar to the planet Mercury, for the hawk soars close to the Grandfather Sun, as does the planet. When you listen to the power of the Grandfather Sun or Wise Spirit that lives within, you are protected from all types of harm.
The Hawk teaches you to be observant and take a close look at your surroundings. It soars with the power to overcome difficult situations. It soars in circles over the life of the earth, asking you to circle over your life and view it from a higher perspective.
The Hawk has a distinct cry, one that most people are aware of. Its cry signifies awareness. If you hear the cry of the hawk use your intuitive ability to discern the message and seek the truth.
If a hawk has soared into your life, you require a higher perspective. You need to see the details of what is going on and look at the bigger picture. Take a look at your situation from above.
These are surely companioning words today for this part of my journey. A bird landing close enough that even I couldn’t miss it. A messenger to validate and lead my way into what is surely next. I am grateful and excited about the discovery (again for the first time) of my “reason for being here.” Dear hawk friend, I am listening. I will breathe myself into being open to “hope and new ideas, and extending this new vision for my life.”
This messenger came at a good time, the best time. What a gift – something bigger than what has gotten me stuck. Something reminding me to not be afraid – because still in me – there is power to soar. Thank you, to God and to my friend Hawk.
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.