Posted in musings

depression and hope in psalm 88

The Psalm for Compline on Fridays (Psalm 88) is one of the darkest in Scripture. The author is in intense agony, holding onto his faith by his fingernails, clinging to a truth he can no longer feel or see clearly.

The exact conditions of his suffering are not revealed; all we know is that he is close to death and feels overwhelmed by the anger of God. “I am reckoned as one in the tomb: I have reached the end of my strength,” he writes, and “imprisoned, I cannot escape; my eyes are sunken with grief.” I have considered, for years, that this psalm of all the Psalms most accurately depicts the anguish of deep depression, as it aligns well with the interplay between faith and mental illness that I have experienced in certain seasons of my life.

Looking at the psalm now, however, I am noticing far more hope buried within it than I had seen before. Even as the psalmist feels alone, abandoned, and rejected – even as he claims that his “one companion is darkness” – still, he is in conversation with God. He has not succumbed to the silence of despair. He protests, he pleads, he questions, he presents a case: so at some level he still trusts God to hear him and to respond. The darkness of his circumstances and the pain within him to not cause him to give up his faith or to turn away from his God; instead, he brings his suffering to his God and proclaims implicitly, even through his complaints, the depth of his faith and the fierce fighting strength of his hope.

Make no mistake, it takes ferocity, determination, and endurance to be able to say with one breath, “Your fury has swept down upon me; your terrors have utterly destroyed me” and with another, “As for me, Lord, I call to you for help: in the morning my prayer comes before you.” It takes hope with deep roots to persist through that kind of suffering. And yet the psalmist holds fast. Even in the darkness, even in the overwhelming flood of his anguish, even though he cannot honestly say that he believes a better time will come and that God will give him the help he desires, he has the strength to continue to cry out to the Lord.

It does not make a person less of a Christian, less a follower of God, to be so surrounded by pain and darkness that they cannot visualize or verbalize the realization of their hope, or proclaim the promises of God in faith. What reveals the hard, true core of their faith is that they hope enough to continue to cry to Him even when it seems that no answer or succor will come.

Posted in hikes

fall in arizona: lamar haines memorial trail

While in Flagstaff at the end of October, we took a day to hike around the aspens. I don’t think I’d seen the aspens in the fall before, and I was amazed at how brilliantly gold they were.

We hiked the Lamar Haines Memorial loop up towards Snow Bowl, and found it to be both beautiful and easy enough for the kids. (Actually, it was so easy that Limerick lost interest in it for part of the time… he isn’t happy unless the trail is letting him clamber over logs or boulders!) About midway along the loop there are some old buildings remaining from the Lamar Haines homestead, which Rondel especially enjoyed exploring, as well as a few lean-to style tree forts. Rondel could have stayed in the forest all day building with the loose branches.

One of the most unexpectedly beautiful aspects of the trail was the way the sunlight would catch the aspen leaves as they swirled down from the highest branches in the wind, like golden snowflakes settling softly to the ground.

While it would be difficult to visit this trail on a day trip, at least while the kids are still so little and struggle with long car rides, it is definitely a good hike for catching a glimpse of the aspens in autumn, and is easy enough for even the most casual hiker (though I don’t think the trail is quite smooth enough throughout the entire loop for a stroller, it is close). Hiking in the last weekend of October, we found that many of the aspens had already dropped their leaves – but as is evident from the pictures above, many of them were still in full golden array. My guess is that you could go any time from mid-October to early November and still see the fall colors.

How to get there: From Flagstaff, take highway 180 north to Snowbowl Road. Turn right onto Snowbowl Road and follow it for about 4 miles until you reach a pull-off on your right. There is no designated parking, just a short inlet with space on both sides. The trailhead is quite close to the main road, and is marked by a gate and two signs so you can easily confirm you’re in the right spot!

Posted in family life

independent writing

The boys were trying to be sneaky, scampering through the kitchen when my back was turned, hiding behind the trellised sweet potato vines when I said hi through the kitchen window, running into their bedroom when I peered down the hall.

(They’re not particularly sneaky, but they are very adorable when they’re trying to be.)

At one point Limerick crept silently into the kitchen and proceeded to stare at the water and ice dispenser on the fridge for several minutes, then disappeared again. Shortly thereafter, the boys appeared with the following note:

A piece of printer paper with the message, “PLEEZ MOM CAN U FILL UP MIE WATER”

Rondel needed more water and they wanted to ask in a sneaky way, so they worked together to figure out how to spell the words and Rondel transcribed the message (they had a dispute about whether “water” should be spelled with an “a” or an “o”, thus explaining Limerick’s mysterious visit to the fridge: he’d been checking the spelling (and proving himself right!)). They told me they didn’t know how to spell the word “you” so they just used the letter even though they knew it wasn’t correct 🙂

This is the first time they’ve used writing to communicate, besides a few happy birthday cards, and definitely the first time they’ve written without any external prompting. So I’m most likely inordinately excited about it and am looking forward to more notes of this nature!

Posted in musings, sqt

{sqt} – learning to pray (again) and celebrating a birthday

  1. One of my favorite short Harry Potter fan fictions, Sanctuary by Sheankelor, centers on a Severus Snape who is deeply, devotedly Catholic, and follows him through the war and its aftermath (Snape doesn’t die from the snakebite in this story) from the perspective of his parish priest and friend, who is also a wizard. The way faith is woven into the fabric of his life as he balances the demands of his dual role in the war – how it influences every decision he makes even as it remains hidden to protect his church community, how it is his source of strength when the strain of staying in Voldemort’s good favor is overwhelming (especially in the final year when even his former allies and fellow teachers are convinced he is against them), how it provides him with a pathway of repentance and renewal and lifelong conversion – it is simply beautiful, and utterly inspiring. If you like Harry Potter and aren’t averse to fan fiction I would definitely recommend it.
  2. Partly inspired by Sanctuary, and partly because trying to pray the liturgy of the hours on my phone proved to be too distracting, I used my birthday present from my Grandma to buy the one volume version of the liturgy of the hours, Christian Prayer. I think it is going to take a while for the structure of the prayer to become more natural, so that I can focus more on the substance of the prayer, but I love the ritual and beauty of it. I especially appreciate that the book contains not only musical settings for the recommended hymns (most of which I didn’t know and had to skip on the iBreviary app since I wasn’t raised Catholic!), but also has tonal settings for the antiphons, psalms, and canticles! It is so nice to be able to sing the psalms with a guide instead of making up something on my own and winging my way through it (especially since I am not particularly good at coming up with my own chant tones…). And I am hoping that I can make these prayers enough of a natural habit that I can begin to share them with my family, since they are ultimately designed to be prayed communally.
  3. In other news, Limerick turned five this week! It’s hard to believe he’s so old already when he’s still so small and snuggly sometimes – but on the other hand, it does make sense considering he can read fairly well and is comfortable with multiplication and division… but I suppose a bit of back and forth like that is to be expected in early to middle childhood. He’s expanding his interests a bit as he grows older, also: instead of just numbers, he’s now interested in numbers, the solar system, and climbing 🙂 One of his favorite games these days is to pretend he’s changing the size of the planet he’s on and acting like he’s experiencing the resulting changes in gravity.
  4. For his birthday, as he’d spent weeks resolutely proclaiming that he wanted no party, no presents, no people, and no cake, Paul and I took him to the Phoenix Rock Gym while my mom watched Rondel and Aubade. (While they don’t advertise this on their website, kids under 6 are only $5 for a day pass including gear rental, and it’s completely free to belay. So it was quite affordable for Limerick and I to take turns climbing with Paul as our alternate belayer!). He did so well, especially considering it was his first time doing that type of climbing. We spent about 2.5 hours climbing together – he would give a trail 3 tries and then take a break while I climbed one – and he got about twenty feet up several times but was a bit too nervous to climb higher. And he liked it enough to want to go back!
  5. Towards the end of our climb, another climber had a seizure and woke up extremely disoriented (he started fighting the EMTs and had to be restrained to go to the hospital 😦 ). It was really hard to watch. The man who was one of my closest mentors in junior high and high school was a rock climber, and passed away 9 years ago from brain cancer; needless to say, he had a lot of seizures along the way. So I was already in a place saturated with his memory, and then witnessed a reminder of the illness that left him vulnerable and hurting and ultimately took him away. And I felt so bad for the stranger suffering that day, and missed Mike so much at the same time, and thought about the man who represented strength and toughness and running the race of faith with endurance being so utterly helpless and out of control, and there was nothing I could do about any of it except to pray.
  6. It did leave me thinking about prayers for the dead. This is very much not a Protestant teaching, and it’s also not something I’ve spent a lot of time studying from a Catholic perspective. I understand praying to the saints – we know they are in heaven, we know God gives them the ability to hear us, intercede for us, and sometimes even respond to us. But most of the dead that we knew personally aren’t canonically recognized saints, although they very well could be in heaven rather than in purgatory – and that uncertainty makes me unsure of how to pray for them. At least I have the assurance, with Mike, that he was striving for Jesus and trusting his soul to the mercy of God. The pain of the death of a loved one without that knowledge must be so much sharper and more desolate.
  7. I suppose that in that case, as in the case of anything that seems hopeless or in the face of any call to despair, prayer is the only support we have left. It is the one unbroken thing in this broken world: because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans that cannot be uttered when our own words fail; because Jesus Himself stands before the Father on our behalf when our sin leaves us again in need of His mercy; because through the cross there is always an open door for us to come as supplicants, as worshippers, as beloved children into the holy of holies where God Himself hears our weak and feeble voices with understanding and with love. Of course the Apostle Paul tells us to pray constantly, when prayer is such a gift!

Join me over at This Ain’t the Lyceum for the seven quick takes linkup this week – and if you have thoughts on prayer, please do comment with them; I would love to hear from you.

Posted in family life, wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday, episode 11: field trip to lowell observatory

Through a fortuitous combination of a Groupon deal for tickets to Lowell Observatory and my mom’s travel bug, we were able to travel up to Flagstaff for a weekend and take Rondel and Limerick to the observatory one evening while we were there, without worrying about a late night drive home or an overtired Aubade.

I had been to Lowell before, but not since before college, so I didn’t remember much, and it was of course all new to the boys. Paul and I split up near the beginning, and I went with Limerick who absolutely loved every inch of it. He sat through an entire 45 minute talk about the solar system, explored the old telescope through which Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto, and got to see both Jupiter and Saturn through the massive telescopes set up for public use. (He was so cute looking through them – he had to climb all the way up the ladder to look through the view piece, and he kept pausing to tell me about everything he could see: storm bands on Jupiter, the four Galilean moons, Saturn’s rings, and some of Saturn’s moons as well, until the observatory volunteer told him that it was time to let someone else have a turn 🙂 ). Lowell also has a large globe that can display in three dimensions images of various planets and moons, and Limerick enjoyed experimenting with that as well.

I think both boys’ favorite part, however, was the Solar System walk stretching through the heart of the observatory grounds. The walk starts with the Sun and has a sign for each planet along with two bronze markers in the sidewalk denoting the aphelion and perihelion of each planet’s orbit. The distance between the markers is all to scale, of course, and reveals just how close together the rocky inner planets are compared to the outer gas giants. We’d done a smaller scale model in our house, but when you have to keep walking and walking to find Neptune, because the scale is larger, it has more of an impact. We did the walk through twice, marveling at how elliptical some orbits were compared to others (Mercury, for example, has a distance of almost 24 million kilometers between its aphelion and perihelion, while the near and far points of Venus’s orbit are only 1.5 million kilometers different), and probably would have done it again if it hadn’t gotten too dark.

While Flagstaff at the end of October is cold in the evenings, it was definitely worth it to be above the city in the dark, clear air; the boys had never seen the sky so full of stars, and I was able to show them the cloudy glow of the Milky Way arching across the night sky as well. It made me think of how humanity must have seen the heavens throughout history: a tapestry of light spread wide above them, telling the stories of their people, singing the praises of God. For both science – the desire to learn, to know, to explain – and story – the desire to remember, to understand, to give meaning – are fundamentally human and find a home in the stars above.

Posted in family life, hikes

fall in arizona: see canyon spring trail

When we hiked part of the See Canyon trail this summer, I noticed a lot of maples along the trail – and maples mean red leaves in the fall, so I made a mental note to revisit the trail if possible. We went back on October 19, which was probably on the early end of the colorful season, but the trail was still absolutely beautiful and we were all excited to see the changing colors.

The maples weren’t the only color, either – the oaks were a stunning brilliant yellow, not yet turned to their more subdued brown.

I collected a handful of leaves as we hiked and brought them home to preserve. Do you have a favorite way to preserve leaves? My mom has a few that have lasted over twenty years, and when you hang them on the windows the light shines through them. They’ve been some of my favorite decorations my whole life – but none of us remember how exactly she preserved them! I dipped this set in beeswax, and while they definitely aren’t the same as my mom’s, they feel and look quite nice, I could easily use them in a wreath or centerpiece since there is no excess edging as there would be with something like contact paper, and the kids can touch and play with them if they want. It was really simple to do, as well – I just melted the beeswax in a double boiler, dipped the leaves in so both sides were coated, let them drip dry for a few seconds, then set them on wax paper to cool.

Since the trail didn’t change from our hike in August, all my thoughts (and directions!) from then still apply 🙂 We did, however, go down the standard See Canyon Trail for a short while on this hike, instead of trekking all the way up to the spring, and that was a beautiful area of the forest as well. Aubade took another nap but at least this time we brought the hiking backpack, and Limerick got a bit cold but he was ok using my jacket. All in all, I still love this hike and would go back again in a heartbeat when the kids have the endurance to manage the whole canyon!

Posted in family life, hikes

hiking with littles: wet beaver creek day use area

It is good to simply be – to be present, to be at peace, to be free.

This is something I try to give to my children: freedom, space for wonder, opportunity for exploration and self-determination, time to be young and wild among the wild things of the earth.

Chores, deadlines, busy schedules, impatient adults – they all can make it hard to leave no stone unturned in the quest for interesting bugs (not to mention that riparian areas tend to have much more fascinating bugs than our urban desert backyard!).

Home is good, and safe, and stable – but unless you go out adventuring you will never stumble across pools to wade in, rocks to splash, logs to climb, and leaves as big as your head.

And when you begin, you may find that every bend in the river is calling you forward, over boulders and brush, through shadow and sun, to discover the unknown ahead.

Or perhaps it is the curve in the path that beckons, as it winds through the grasses underneath an archway of leaves.

The wild around you may make you feel small, dwarfed by the solid rock beneath your feet and by the broad, tall trees rising overhead, in whose roots alone you could take shelter.

Yet it is that same grandeur and size that makes overcoming those wild obstacles such a meaningful feat, such a source of delight and satisfaction – no worksheet or artificial task can hope to compare.

You learn to ask for help when the problem is too large to handle alone; you learn to stretch and bend and serve when your friend needs help that you can give. And in the serving, you come to find joy, and in the receiving, you find joy as well.

And when you cannot find the trail that others made, you go where beauty and danger call, where the challenge and reward are equally great, and never count the loss of what might have been for the thrill of the wandering.

How to get there: As you may have guessed, we didn’t exactly follow a trail on this adventure! Instead, we used the Wet Beaver Creek day use area as our base and spent five hours exploring the surrounding area. To get there from the valley, take the I-17 N through Camp Verde, exiting onto the 179N toward Sedona at exit 298. Almost immediately, turn right onto FR618 and follow for 2.4 miles until you reach the day use area on your right. There are several one-lane bridges, but the road is paved the whole way. The day use area has no fees and a couple port-a-potties and picnic tables.

If you do want to take an established trail (and I’ve heard this one is good, although I didn’t locate it until we were leaving), you won’t need to stay on FR618 quite so long, instead turning left into the Beaver Creek Work Center and parking near Bell Trailhead. This is a 3.5 mile trail leading to a swimming hole, so it’s probably better for older kids.