The burning of the fields awakened me from a sleep that felt more like a daydream. The sweet smoke found its way into a single window obscured by curtains, and moved through a sliver of moonlight into the stillness above me.
I’ve lost count of the times I have laid in similar beds, in similar rooms, with similar dreams outstretched before me. The stories gathered in my mind as I breathed in the incense of the season – a reminder of so many stories of significant things delicately balanced against the moments of stark nothingness. I was here again, on foreign soil, holding the hands of the hurting. It is a place I was introduced to a decade ago, when corporate longings ebbed and desire for something more flowed. Time has taught me much about what it means to give dignity to the discarded, what it means to live in a world that resounds with the chorus of a beautiful/awful song. This time, I even brought a mission statement with me, inspired by four weeks of asking new questions about purpose and likening myself to water and learning what moves me to action* – “I embrace, create and inspire vibrant and restorative hope.” That statement seemed so good, so right, when I had begun the journey. I watched as those around me wept as they heard the song in government homes and garbage dumps. The questions came at rapid pace about how to hold brokenness and beauty together in the same hands. Our hearts stretch to contain it all, and one never negates the other, I said. In this life, pain and joy strengthen each other.
I believe that. I do. It is deep within me, this belief that all is redeemed, that there is no time which is not made worthy. In everything there is a season, I said. Right now all looks scorched, but the good season is coming.
In the quiet and the vapor that night, though, there were more questions than answers in my own heart about justice and grace and mercy. For every moment of restoration, there was another moment when gates closed behind terrified teens with no family to call their own. For every child able to stay at home because their family had been given opportunity, there was a child being rescued from unimaginable abuse or being told, “the damage is too great.” I only saw the steps not taken, the words not spoken, the moments of personal struggle, the failures of systems and governments, the hope I carefully questioned. All felt singed by the smoke of “not quite there, and offering so little.” I was taught as a child that life was a rather straight-lined, nose-to-the-grindstone series of battles followed by blessing. But childhood fables of “strive hard and strive long to ensure you strive no more” success are quickly shaken to their core when battles and blessing reveal their Kingdom-on-earth dance. Significance has a mighty warrior voice, and this night found her screaming out to believe her own words – to see the blooms in the beautiful season.
Watching the tender vapor above me, though I would have been the first to tell others they were there, I saw no blooms at all. Instead, I felt like the smoke itself.
In Guatemala, the hillsides are sewn together in patchwork beauty. Even precariously perched gardens yield their bounty year after year. The fruit of the vines travels to souls who will never know its origin, to become life and health and restoration to them. Even the plants within the quilt are a patchwork milpa garden – corn rises tall to protect tender shoots from harsh sun and wind, avocado hedges against predators, tender melons and squash enrich earth below. There will be the fruit needed for the present moment and the grain for the difficult days to come. Each will surrender to the harvest at its own pace – not a single bountiful moment but a series of bloom upon bloom. None can be forced, or all will be damaged.
In the Guatemalan gardens, there is always blooming. Always.
The sweet smoke is speaking in the darkness: yes, love, there is always bloom to be found. Just look.
And there is also always rest. And always burn. They are always together.
In Guatemala, the pieces shift like puzzle tiles on the hillsides. The land blooms its harvest plenty. The land rests to replenish. The land is set ablaze to nourish future harvests. The land blooms again. Every piece contributes to life and to each other.
Each happens within the squares of the patchwork. Look on the hillsides, and you’ll see brilliant green next to deep brown next to fire. It is the green we long for, the blooming days of fruitful labor and contribution. I crave the blooming seasons, celebrate them, encourage them to last and last. But there is no bloom without the burn. There is no restoration without the rest. And there is no life without each happening together at the same time within the patchwork of our lives – the bloom, the rest, the burn.
As the vapor tripped on moonlight above me, I saw you and I and those we meet as all three, a garden of milpas ever-rotating, always preparing for the next blooming, always preparing for the next rest and rotation, always ready to be set on fire. Our lives are not separate seasons. Rather they a patchwork quilt of seasons within seasons. Fruit and soil and flame. We are beautiful moments next to sabbath breaths next to anguish. We are laboring well, we are struggling mightily, we are learning to be still.
The tears fall easily for me these days, you know. The push-pull of next steps and a siren call to some greater purpose stretch against the quiet kindness of a life set in obscurity. The fable of well-ordered storylines taunt a woman who desires her adventures to be spontaneous yet well-structured. Bloom is the what, I whisper. Bloom gives hope to others. Bloom fits well in a first-world life.
That night, the third-world smoke spoke.
What if our greatest offering to others is more than the fruit we give – what if it is also the grit of the raw dirt, or the fragrance of all that’s being burned away in our lives and carried in smoke through the windows of those longing to breathe in hope of better lives? How might our days change if we celebrated with the same vigor and stretched out the same arms to the transformation of our dross into gold, of our tares into fertilizer for the blooms of future days? What fruit might we surrender to the patchwork hillsides in our hearts – the blooms coming in their season, the quiet of the soil, of the match being struck to set us ablaze. What if the bloom is the promise, the rest is the gift, and the burning itself is the blessing in the battle?
Bloom, rest, burn. That’s where true hope comes to life.
Oh God, let us embrace that hope – let me embrace that hope. Today, I want to bloom, rest, burn.
Are you ready to join me in embracing the hope of the patchwork hillside? Let me know and I’ll pray for the blooms, rest, and burn in you.
*If you are interested in learning more about the On the Path workshop on personal mission statements, message me and I’ll connect you to Idelette McVicker.