Do Dat Again!

“Do dat again!” is often the joyous plea of my Ari, my four-year grandson. It may be in response to me catching him and giving him “an uggy kiss” or chasing him while singing, Teckla says, a wrong version of “Papa Shark.” A few days ago, Teckla and I took Ari and his parents to see the Festival of Lights over in Roseburg. He loved driving through the park and seeing all the lights. As soon as we got home, he said, “Let’s do dat again!”

Although it is commonly observed that children help us rediscover the wonder in the world, we seldom dig deeper into the miracle of vision and joy embodied in their love of repetition. Children, however, repeat things not out of dullness or because they are stuck in a rut. G. K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy argues, rightly I think, that a child’s love of repetition is from an excess of life:

A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. The always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until nearly dead.

Indeed, Ari’s eyes and face glow with joy and energy when he cries, “Do Dat Again!” He loves a game long after I have grown weary or bored.

We saw this love of repetition in our sons when they were growing up. Anything we did two Christmases or camping trips in a row became a tradition they demanded we observe. Teckla and I were happy to oblige. We knew that traditions gave them security in a world awash with change and loss. One way to look at all the feast days and fasting days of the Old Testament is God giving His people good things to repeat that would help them know His goodness and stay anchored in His truth. Just as Israel’s traditions defined them as a people, our traditions defined us as a family.

There is something holy in the refusal to be bored with simple joys. A child is not bored because while playing the game, the pleasure of the game itself is everything. Winning the game has not yet become the only goal. There is no consciousness of how the game might win them admiration or whether they look cool while playing. Many parents have seen the sad moment when their child abandons a game or toy because of an older child mocked them for playing a “little kid’s game.” It is a kind of fall from grace—from grace of pure play.

Chesterton suggests that whole world expresses God’s love of repetition. Instead of seeing the regularity of nature as evidence of impersonal materialist world, Chesterton says it is evidence of Gods delight:

But perhaps God is strong enough to exalt in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. . . . It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

Being a grandfather has helped me grow younger. I play more—even when no child is around. Children rejoice in simple things because they are seeing them for the first time; I rejoice because I may be seeing them for the last time.

Ari, however, is already learning an important truth about some kinds of repetition. Some pleasures are destroyed by our desire to repeat them. Sometimes when playing hide-and-seek, Ari is delighted when I hide in a new and unexpected place—under a pile of blankets on the couch. He is so delighted that he exclaims, “Hide there again!” I do, but this hiding place is no longer new or surprising.

Many pleasures, as C. S. Lewis points out, are best not repeated. Our insistence on repeatable pleasures leads to addiction and slavery to fleshly sins. In Out of the Silent Planet by Lewis, the earthling (Ransom) is told that a “pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered” and that many pleasures need not be repeated because a pleasure consists of the anticipation, experience, and memory. There is world of difference between a childlike delight in repetition and childish demand that pleasures be repeated—it is a difference between heaven and hell.

 Even the love of tradition can lead to misery if we demand our present experiences live up to our past. Those with lovely childhood memories of Christmas can become vexed and depressed with the failure of Christmas to live up to those golden memories. One of our family’s best Christmas memories is one spent at an orphanage in Tijuana. A childlike love of repetition needs to be joined to a child-like willingness to find goodness in what is new and different. God’s faithfulness is unchanging and his mercies new every morning.   

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Watch Me, Pa!

“Watch me, Pa!,” is the frequent cry of my four-year old grandson, Ari. Occasionally, this makes sense because he really is doing something new or dangerous, but often he really isn’t doing much at all. And sometimes I am pretty sure he is asking me to watch before he even knows what he is going to do.

Teckla and I have done a lot of watching over the years: piano recitals, soccer games, track meets, wrestling tournaments, football games, concerts. Our four boys kept us busy watching. Whatever failures we may have had as parents, we watched.

I might be guilty of pointing out the obvious here. We all know kids try to make their parents proud. But I think, the cry to be seen comes from something rooted more deeply in our humanity. To be watched is not to be alone. We long to live a life that is seen.

When both parents have died, an odd loneliness comes. While going through some dark and difficult times this last year, I have felt their absence keenly. I have no one older than I who is watching, no one with the investment of love that Mom and Dad had. My tears and laughter are my own. Even though I have brothers and sisters who faithfully pray for us and Teckla is a wonderful source of strength, faith, and love, I miss having a parent watching me.  My mom often thanked God for His “watch-care” over us. I don’t know if that is a word, or just one she coined, but I miss her and my father’s watchcare over me. 

In this loss and sorrow, I have been helped by Paul and David, both of whom lived their lives before the eyes of God. A few times, I suspect, David wished God wasn’t watching. Even when David cried out, “Where are you, Lord?” he ends up putting all his trust in God. David lived and prayed like someone seen by God. Even when slandered and rejected by believers, Paul stood boldly as someone seen and judged by God. He knew nothing escaped His Father’s notice.  

I have answered the call to watch. I am still praying daily over all my sons and their families. Watching my grandchildren grow is a joy.

And I, of course, am not alone. God is with me. His watchcare surrounds me. No matter the content of my prayers, the cry of my heart to God is always, “Watch me, Pa!” And He does.

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Every Man an Addict

With his pants around his ankles and hands clutching his chest, he staggered down the sidewalk along Highway 101 in Coos Bay. Driving home from the college, I often see the homeless and the addicts that camp in the woods or sleep under the bridges. With disgust I mumbled, “Tweaker” to myself and kept driving.

 Almost immediately, what I had just done crashed in on me. First, came the realization that the man was someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone loved and perhaps mourned by others. Someone loved by God. Next, came shame for the way I had dropped the word, “Tweaker” on the guy. I used it the way racists use the n-word. It was full of superiority and dismissal.

We have used words of dismissal like this for a long time: drunk, wino, junky, acid freak, pothead, crackhead,  tweaker. Using these words are easy for me because I don’t really get addiction. I am one of those annoying people who will say, “Just stop.” I don’t smoke, drink, or use recreational drugs, so I don’t get it. Why don’t people make those they love more important than their addiction?

I have some understanding that addiction changes the brain chemistry, and until one has really felt that change, one can’t understand how hard it is to quit. This is probably why so many drug counselors are former addicts. Yet, I have friends, family, and even members of my Sunday School class who struggle with addiction. I live in a community ravaged by alcoholism and drug addiction. I can’t love Myrtle Point as God loves it unless I love addicts.

To my surprise it has been Paul’s letter to the Romans that has helped the most. In chapter seven, Paul describes what sounds like the life of an addict:

For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.  . . . For the good that I wish, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. . . .For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. (Romans 7:16, 19, 22-23)

Addicts know, I suspect, what it is like to be a prisoner of their body. They know the war between their body and what they know is right. In chapter six Paul asserted that everyone who sins has become a slave to sin.

I may not get chemical addiction, but I get sin and slavery to sin. I get wanting to walk in holiness but having my emotions and desires war against me. With Paul, and all addicts, I can declare, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” I have walked in the chains of sins and felt the shame of my inability to “just say no” to sin. I have made my sin more important than those I love—more important than the Savior I love. But it is not just me.  According to Paul, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” We have all been addicts of sin.

Paul begins chapter eight with good news, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” There is no condemnation for the sinner, whether a church kid or an addict, or a church kid that became an addict. In Jesus we find love, forgiveness, and the freedom to live a new life powered by God’s grace and Spirit. We should all get this. Addicts are not alone.

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When you read large hunks of Scripture regularly, you see major themes that you might miss during five-minute devotionals. This last year I have been clinging to God’s word like a guy lost at sea. During this time, I keep encountering a set of words I really don’t like: endurance, perseverance, patience, and steadfastness. Jesus uses them a lot. Paul fills his epistles with them. Today’s verse was Hebrews 10:36 which declares, “For you have need of endurance.”

The Greek word for endurance, hupomone, in one form or another appears dozens of times in the New Testament. It is sometimes translated perseverance and steadfastness. The hupo prefix is a preposition that means under, beneath, or beside. The mone part means to stay. The word expresses endurance as staying faithful under persecution or under a burden.

I am a little embarrassed that in all my years of Bible study, I have never done a word study on this hupomone, a word used so many times. More alarming to me is how familiar I am with a word used only once, in Romans 8:37: hupernikomen. Here we have a huper (over) instead of a hupo (under). Paul gloriously declares that we overwhelmingly conquer everything that might separate us from the love of Christ. We are more than conquerors!

It is probably right that this word appears on T-shirts and that we can get Christian fitness clothes with it. I like the word too. However, again and again God’s word exhorts us to persevere, endure, patiently wait, and remain steadfast. There is a lot of hupomone. We get hammered with it, but it doesn’t get on T-shirts.

Let’s admit it. It is hard to get excited about perseverance. We Americans like winning and winning quickly. We prefer football to cross-country—my apologies to my son who ran cross-country. It is hard to whip a crowd into a frenzy of patient endurance. We want to win and win now.

In writing about the American West, William Styron said that in the west there are boomers and stickers. Boomers are those who move from town to town looking for better fishing, logging, and mining. The stickers grow roots and cultivate the land. Sometimes Christians can be more like boomers bouncing from church to church in search of “the anointing” or the church where they “can be fed.”

The older I get, the more I appreciate hupomone and the stickers. I have seen anointed charismatic leaders who had a lot of flash but weren’t stickers. I like the leaders who have never cheated on their wives or stolen from the offering plate. The pastors who never get fed up and get out.

And let’s admit it. We often want to get out from under stuff. We long to escape—to be free of the burden of people needing us. Lots of people will encourage you to care for yourself, avoid toxic people, push away the folks that betray you, and not let anyone use you. Then there is Jesus who with eyes wide open washed the feet of Judas and loved him to the end. Then there is Paul who poured himself out in ministry even to those who challenged his authority and questioned his love. There are mothers and fathers who love and serve their sons and daughters even when they plunge into sin. They stay under the burden of love day after day, praying with broken hearts and tear-streaked faces.

I believe we are called to be more than conquers, to be hupernikomen. We are called to be overcomers, but I believe the under comes before the over. We stay steadfast under injustice, disappointment, and the heavy burden of love. We stay where God calls us and we endure. We discover love never fails if we never fail to love. We stay under until seated with Christ over all things.    

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The Leaky Pool

Our swimming pool leaks, badly. It is an in-ground pool, fifteen by thirty with a vinyl liner that has been replaced multiple times over the years. We are losing at least an inch of water each day. The end where it is leaking is about seven feet deep. I have tried to apply different patches to no avail; it is hard to hold my breath long enough to get a patch to stick. The bottom of the deep end is badly wrinkled, and the vinyl is brittle. This liner is done, but replacing it is expensive, more than we can afford right now.

This is all depressing, especially during a hot summer when we are staying home a lot. It is not a fancy swimming pool and came with the house when my parents bought the place in the sixties. It is a pain to keep clean and chlorinated. It has sucked up hours of labor over the years. Yet, the thought of losing it pains me. Letting it dry to a green puddle in a deep hole seems terrible.

My response initially was to surrender and let sun and leak empty the pool. But instead, I have run water into the pool for several hours each day. I have seen that when I can’t have the best, I sometimes grab the worst. I do this in anger and discouragement. The cost of the water doesn’t really compare to the cost of a camping trip we can’t take this summer. I run water into the pool and water table.

The bottom of the pool looks terrible—wrinkled and green with algae that can’t be cleaned off. The wrinkles are spreading. Clearly this is its end. Nonetheless, Teckla and I have gone swimming with our grandson dozens of times this summer. We mostly stay in the shallow end which we have kept clean. Ari, our grandson, has had a blast and is getting good at dogpaddling around. I hope we are making good memories for him. I have told Teckla that any day I go swimming with Ari is a good day. His laughter is everything. And as a fitting crown to the summer, we had a young boy get baptized in the pool in August.

So we have lived with a leaking pool and the most temporary of solutions. We are squeezing as much fun out of this summer as we can. Even if the pool is filled in because we can’t afford a new liner, we have grabbed some golden memories. We have redeemed the time.

We have not rejected what is good because we can’t have what is best.

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Nudge, Nudge

Along many Oregon beaches creeks run across the salt and pepper sand into the ocean. Recently, my grandson, Ari, and I were floating his toy boat on the small stream at the Kitchen Beach in Bandon. In most places it was only four or five inches deep as it carved its way to the crashing surf. The red and blue boat would float a little way and then ground out on the sand along edge. Ari or I would nudge it back into the rippling current and it would bob along happily until the current left it grounded again. We kept nudging it seaward.

I’ve read a couple volumes of systematic theology on the Holy Spirit, but I think this experience has given the best understanding of what it means to walk in the Holy Spirit. This says more about me than the value of the books I read. And it is probably God’s commentary on my experience, not my insight, that is instructive. You can judge.

First, walking in the Spirit is more than obedience. The boat was always in the stream bed, even when twirling in an eddy or aground in the shallows. The biblical images that express the Holy Spirit are wind and water, things that move and flow. Obedience is essential; it keeps us in the stream bed of God’s will as revealed in His Word. But walking in the Spirit is more. It means moving in the current, not stuck in the shallows.

Second, it is important to discern where the current is strongest. The river boat captains about which Mark Twain wrote knew every snag, sand bar, and rapid. They knew where the current was strongest. They could read the waters. For us this means sensing what gives God delight. On the beach, I looked for where the ripples of the current caught the sun. The beauty revealed the current. There was glory in the light. It took a lot of nudges to get the boat down the creek and into the ocean.

Third, only nudges were needed because I was fully committed to the stream and its direction. Graciously, God sometimes nudges us back into the current of His Spirit, but I suspect God wants us to be more than plastic boats. Like experienced riverboat pilots, we should learn to avoid the snags and sandbars; we should steer ourselves into the current of the Spirit throughout the day. The current, like God’s grace, does most the work.

For me this means nudging my thoughts and emotions into what God’s Word declares. It means choosing to hope when things look hopeless. It means choosing kindness over bitterness. Compassion instead of judgment. When I nudge my heart and my mind toward the truth, I soon feel the current of God’s Spirit.

I have gotten better at discerning when I am stuck or swirling in an eddy. Time spent in God’s Word has made it easier to make course corrections. Daily time in God’s Word has helped me quickly identify the lies and the compromises that I need to avoid. It is easier to swing back into the current of His Spirit when steering by His Word.

There is joy in the current. Being grounded in the shallows is both boring and depressing. We were created and redeemed to flow with the Spirit of God. We were made to move and feel the wind in our face. Prying ourselves out of mudflats steals our joy.

It feels like grace when the current catches the boat and moves it toward the roar of the ocean, one nudge at a time.


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Key, Pa!

In the dialect of Ari, my three-year old grandson, “Key” is “Thank you.” I have no idea why, but Ari’s gratitude is often expressed with a sweet, “Key, Pa!”

How much quiet joy his “Key, Pa!” gives me has been instructive. His simple gratitude is like pure gold—few things are more precious to me. What Ari says, almost without thought or effort, gives me such delight.  I am a shallow person, so I imagine God values our expressions of gratitude even more. One of the most surprising expressions of our humanity is our power to delight God with our gratitude.

A second lesson from my response to Ari, is that his “Key, Pa!” always makes me want to do more for the kid. I suspect this is also God’s response to our thanksgiving. Ari’s sweet gratitude immediately makes me think of other things that he would enjoy. Sometimes I get creative or just silly. I think our gratitude, even for small things, can release God’s creative love into our lives—and perhaps even God’s playfulness. Yesterday, Ari’s request that I play with him had me riding a stuffed dinosaur as I roared and chased him through the house. There was no point, no dignity, and great fun.

Some days it seems that God underlines Ari’s “Key, Pa!” I am old; disappointments grow on my heart like barnacles. There is no end to the list of could’ves and should’ves. It is easier to count the losses than the gains, the dreams broken instead of realized. It is easy to turn a jaundiced and cynical eye on the dreams of others. So I need Ari to remind me that gratitude is the key to so much–to relationship and joy. Ari teaches my heart to say, “Key, Abba!”

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He, However

These first two words of Luke 8:54 have been echoing in my heart and challenging my mind for several weeks. These words come at the end of the story of Jairus and his sick 12-year-old daughter—his only child. Jairus was a synagogue official, a man of position and respect. Yet he threw himself at the feet of Jesus and pleaded for him to come to his house.

God’s timing is terrible in this story. The crowd is huge and tightly packed. People are pressing into Jesus to touch the edge of his garment. People are being healed, but the going is slow. A messenger finds Jairus in the crowd and tells him not to trouble Jesus because his daughter has died. It is too late for Jesus.

Jesus, however, tells him, “Do not be afraid any longer; only believe, and she shall be made well.” When Jesus arrives at the house full of grief and lament, he says, “Stop weeping, for she has not died, but is asleep.”

Luke tells us they all laughed at Jesus because they knew she had died. Unlike most of us, they had seen plenty of people die. They knew dead when they saw it. Jesus doesn’t address their laughter. Luke says, “He, however, took her by the hand and called, saying, “Child arise!” She rose immediately and was given something to eat.

The word or the idea of “however” is powerful. Some translations leave out the word “however” that the NASB uses. Other translations say, “But he” instead of “He, however.” What has captured my attention is the juxtaposition of the people’s laughter and the words of Jesus. They laugh, but Jesus says, “Child arise!” They say she is dead, Jesus, however, takes her by the hand.

Although we are tempted to scorn the laughing crowd, we must admire their respect for facts. Aren’t many of us weary of Christians that ignore facts and trust in God? I know Christians who have been looking for and praying for revival for forty years without seeing their prayers answered. Maybe we should just face the fact that we are now experiencing as much of God as we ever will until we see Him face-to-face.

I also know Christians who are still seeking a God and church that can heal the sick, cast out evil spirits, and, like Jesus, raise the dead.  The fact is this really isn’t happening much of anywhere. Most big churches still have people who sign for the deaf and have ramps for those in wheelchairs to come and go from the services. Yes, some are testifying to disappearing headaches and backaches. But facts are facts.

I keep looking for a powerful visitation of God in Myrtle Point—one that would heal and save drug addicts. But facts are facts. Most addicts don’t get better, yet alone saved. Rehab seldom works. Three addicts who once came to my Sunday School class are using again. These are the facts that laugh at my hopes and prayers.

I fear I belong outside the house of Jairus. Jesus only allows Peter, John, James, and the girl’s parents to come into the house. Those who were laughing are kept outside. Facts are facts. Let’s be realistic. Our hopes for a church like the one in Acts are laughable. It’s not just that we are far from that, many don’t even want it. God’s people can’t even cry out for revival with one voice. My experience laughs at the very idea of a church brought back from the dead and full of the power of God to save and heal.

God challenges all of us to live with and by, “Jesus, however.” Yet, Jesus is the Fact that changes all facts. I have read the skeptics and the existentialists and the atheists. I have heard the shouts of the philosophers and pundits and the rebels.  I have listened patiently to the soft voices of commonsense, moderation, and dispensations. But I can’t get past, however, what Jesus did and said.

When our facts mock the power of God, Jesus steps forward as the Fact that orders reality and brings the dead to life. When entrenched sin, addiction, and bondage seem to have hopelessly enslaved those we love, Jesus, however, can set them free. Against all the laughter of the world, the tyranny of little facts, and our own curated collection of disappointments, comes Truth himself–Jesus who takes us by the hand and says, “Child, arise!”

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Still a Long Way Off

This phrase from Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son pierced my heart with hope. We are told in Luke 15:20, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him.”

Many parents have watched their kids move further from God instead of closer. Some move to “a distant country” before they ever move out. I have had adults in my Sunday School classes who had kids in prison or trapped deep in addiction. But the picture we have here is of a heavenly Father who is always watching the road and sees the returning son while still a long way off.

Obviously, the father in Jesus’s parable was not an English teacher who had ruined his eyes grading essays. But even though I have poor distance vision, I understand how this father could recognize his son a long way off. This summer my son Claude and his family visited us here in Oregon. He and his wife and kids live in Illinois now, so we had not seen each other for a couple years. When we spent time at the beach, I noticed that even from a distance, he had the same walk. I knew it was him before I put on my glasses. Fathers know their sons.

Parents praying for wandering children should know that God has perfect distance vision. He not only sees them on the road; he sees them in pig land. He is full of compassion and will meet our kids on the road. I suspect God runs faster and certainly more graceful than I. His love is quick.

I imagine sin and hunger had changed the prodigal son. He had been herding pigs and eating with them. His personal hygiene was probably terrible. It would have been easy for his father to see only the ravages of sin–all that was not the son he had raised. Yet his father recognized him a long way off.

When he looked down the road, he didn’t see a sinner, a rebel, an addict, a failure, or a disappointment. He only saw his son. And he ran.

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Rhizomatic Faith

I fell in love with milkweeds in Kansas City. About a dozen species can be found in the fields and ditches. The bright orange of the butterfly-weed flashed like a neon light in a sea of prairie, but my delight was always the seedpods of the common milkweed. In the fall the big grey pods crack and release white, gossamer-winged seeds into the wind. A few lines from a Richard Wilbur poem helped me connect the milkweed seeds to my faith:

                                    Anonymous as cherubs

                                    Over the crib of God

                                    White seeds are floating

                                    Out of my burst pod.

                                    What power had I

                                    Before I learned to yield?

                                    Shatter me, great wind,

                                    I shall possess the field.

That plain and broken pods can release such beauty to the wind encourages me.

Recently, however, it has been the roots and rhizomes of the milkweed that have taught me. Several years ago I ordered some showy milkweed seeds. Milkweed plants are the sole food of the monarch butterfly caterpillar—one of North America’s largest and most beautiful butterflies. Their black and crisp orange wings fly high and far. Monarchs are amazing because of their north/south migration. They winter in Mexico and southern California, but their migration depends on milkweed for nectar and for reproduction, so I planted some milkweed in one of our flower beds.

In the beginning the milkweed did not impress. The first year the plants struggled and grew only seven or eight inches, so I moved them into the elevated growing beds that get full sun. There they grew a couple feet high but did not bloom. The third year they grew almost four-feet high and were loaded with blossoms and seeds. I have harvested the seeds and sown some around Myrtle Point.

Then came the rhizomes. This spring sprouts of milkweed came up throughout the growing bed even eight feet away from where the milkweed was last year. I have done my best to dig up and transplant the roots and long white rhizomes. To my dismay, I discovered the rhizomes going two to three feet deep into dirt. I could not dig deep enough to get it all out of my raised bed.

The good news, at least for monarchs, is that I now have about thirty milkweed plants growing along the back fence. The bad news is that every morning I must pull out new shoots of milkweed that are coming up in our beans and carrots. I have been persecuting the milkweed daily for weeks. The rhizomes are unstoppable.

Despite the bother, I admire these muscular rhizomes that push horizontally through the dirt and send up new plants in unexpected places. God has challenged me to have a more rhizomatic faith that pushes through the hard stuff, waits patiently for the rain, and produces new life in surprising places. More of my faith needs to be in the hidden places of deep repentance, gritty faithfulness, and earnest prayer.

Just as we can’t see the growth of the rhizomes, we can’t measure our own spiritual growth during hard times. It is the growth of the kingdom that comes from praying and believing when all we see is dirt. It is the ground-breaking faith of perseverance and endurance in the face of persecution. It is unstoppable. I don’t know if monarch caterpillars will ever find a home on my milkweed. It’s been several years since I saw a monarch fluttering across Maple Street. It is a long-shot—an act of faith. But monarchs are known as the wandering butterfly, so there is a chance. Like the rhizomes of the milkweed, they can surprise us with their beauty and hope.

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