A walk into the woods

Andy Henry reminds us in this morning’s Fruit of the Vine of God’s message for us in the 23rd Psalm. Because even though we “read that psalm as a metaphor” it is possible to experience “its truth in a very literal way.” While visiting family, Andy took time for a walk. Went outside. Into “the woods behind my parents’ house.... I was literally walking beside gentle streams and literally resting in green spaces.”

This August, I parked my car and decided – in an attempt to get outside more – to walk whenever possible, even if it meant reordering my day in order to make time for moving from place to place. Newberg is a small town, but an errand here and there adds up. I cover between 2 and 5 miles most days. Sometimes more. And I’ve noticed changes. My breathing is slower. My thinking is less rushed, more creative. My head feels cleaner, clearer – like I can see.

This is what Andy felt in his own lived experience of the psalm: “I noticed my strength returning and my perspective expanding.” And he offers us a challenge. “If you were to write your own psalm or poem of God’s care in creation, what elements and experiences would you include?”

I’d write about the different angles of light. I’d write about a section of sidewalk where water pools in the rain. I’d write about a produce market that stays open late on weeknights. I’d write about the smell of cinnamon and fried dough from a Mexican bakery I pass almost every morning. I’d write about the sense that God is present with me in creation – about what it is to be with God and aware of God and waiting for God all at the same time.

Andy asks us to notice how God, the divine Shepherd, “knows where to lead us for the nourishment, guidance, and healing we need. God knows the ‘good medicine’ we need for the moment.”

This week, it’s my hope that God will lead you “to places of renewal and teach [you] the peace of wild things.” In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying a doughnut from that Mexican bakery. And I’ll be praying for you.

Eric Muhr

By giving thanks and grieving

Judy Maurer offers a powerful Thanksgiving reminder for us in this morning’s Fruit of the Vine. That first celebration, remembered in history and commemorated each year on the fourth Thursday in November, probably didn’t feel much like the meal most of us anticipate. There was feasting. But that feast came at the end of what had been called “the great dying” by the Wampanoag. From 1616 to 1619, this and other coastal tribes “had lost 50 to 90 percent of their people due to yellow fever or perhaps the plague – spread by European fishermen and traders.” Then, in that first spring after 102 pilgrims came ashore, half of them “were dead of starvation.”

Judy points out that “only Edward Winslow mentions what has come to be known as Thanksgiving: ‘At which time amongst other Recreations, we exercised our Armes, many of the Indians coming amongst us ... whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deere, which they brought to the Plantation.’” At the time of this reported feast, “only one family among the pilgrims had not lost at least one family member” and “Tisquantum (Squanto) was the sole survivor of his native village. There were many to grieve.”

It was a dark time.

Judy writes that she has friends for whom this will be “the first Thanksgiving since my husband (or wife or mother or sister) died. I just don’t want to ruin it all, remembering.” Others may have other griefs or pain they’re bearing, and our inclination is toward guilt. We don’t want to ruin the joy of a shared meal, of our time together.

Judy reminds us that we “are not ruining Thanksgiving by remembering. [We] are celebrating it the way it should be celebrated – by giving thanks and grieving.”

Psalm 126:5 offers a frame: “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.” Judy also offers this prayer: “Lord, we know you have our loved ones in your arms now. Comfort us until we come into your presence as well. Accept our grief as recognitions of their lives as a gift from you.”

Eric Muhr

Going to Grandma's house

Back when I was attending George Fox University, I would drive over the mountain from Newberg to Hillsboro for Thanksgiving with my family. But one year, instead of visiting my parents, I made the long drive to my grandma’s house in Talent, a tiny little town in southern Oregon, and spent the weekend with her. It was a good weekend, and my grandma wanted to know if I’d ever come back again. I thought about it for a minute and asked if maybe we could make Thanksgiving her holiday. I’d just come down every year. She liked that idea. So for 20 years now, I’ve been making the drive down to Talent for Thanksgiving with my grandma.

In those 20 years, my grandpa has died, and my grandma’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. So a few things have changed. I do all the cooking now. But a lot of things have stayed the same. We watch Lucille Ball on VHS. We play a game of dominoes each night while eating ice cream and listening to Christmas records. I make cinnamon rolls on Friday morning. And my grandma always asks, “Eric, do you think you’ll be able to come for Thanksgiving next year?” I always say, “Yes!” Which makes her laugh. And I get a hug. “Eric, I love you.” She says it every year while giving me a second hug.

I love her, too. No matter what I face each fall – a dark and stressful season for me – I always have time with my grandma to give me hope, to make me thankful.

I’ll be at my grandma’s house in nine days, and the anticipation has been slowly spreading outward, helping me to see so many other things for which I can be thankful this year. Last Friday, for instance, I got the corrected financial reports for October here at Barclay Press, and I took some time to consider the progress we’ve made since January.

We’ve reduced inventory by 17 percent, we’ve reduced debt by 13 percent, and we’ve increased our reserves by 3-1/2 percent. These are little things. Those reserves, for instance, are the result of just six people making donations of from $10 to $100 a month. But those reserves helped us pay our rent one month, and another month, they made it possible to pay off a line of credit that had come due. (If you want to be one of those people, just click on the Share Stories Change Lives link in the right margin, and donate through Paypal. I would be so thankful for more help!)

There are lots of other things I am thankful for this morning. A hike with friends to Tamanawas Falls on Saturday afternoon. A visit from my youngest sister. Cinnamon roll pancakes at the Blockhouse Cafe in Dayton. Last night’s supermoon.

And just nine days from now, I’ll be getting a hug from my grandma. She’ll be shouting about how much she loves me.

I can’t wait.

Eric Muhr