The Backyard

This past week was a joyous time for me.  I finally got the cedar-rail fence up, the flowerbed finished in my backyard.  For two months now, I have labored with piles of topsoil, fertilizer, grass seed, and weed killers to make the view I see from my window a thing of beauty.  Just in front of my porch is a small pond with ten always-hungry goldfish that happen not to be gold, but red.  My neighbor Laurie lovingly brought me heavy stones from out at Chickaloon where she worked. Here in Wasilla, our rocks are mostly round, so she found these, which are angular and the kind you need to create a perch for birds to land for a drink of water.  She and my friend Ellen got each one in place around the pool and made it seem like I was by some mountain stream.  My kids installed the water fountain and pump.  Two chairs I once made from 2x4s are now placed beside it so that anyone can just sit and enjoy a bit of respite and share the garden with butterflies, robins and my one squirrel.  A little paradise!

Long ago I would run home from school, quickly change my clothes and head for the backyard. There were about two acres of excitement there.  I would pass the apricot tree where I once broke my arm when a limb ladened with delicious fruit gave way and I went tumbling.  I got a whiff of honeysuckle and lilac as I passed the fence,  then ran down three wooden steps beside the garage and entered the world of my childhood; where I learned why chickens molt and how frogs emerge from polywogs.  There I bent my first nails trying to improve on the old barn, and where I discovered an ancient trunk with "stuff" nobody looked at any more but didn't want to throw away.  Every item conjured up mysteries and daydreams in my imagination.  Ancient stuff.   I remember seeing a yellowed newspaper which told of Abraham Lincoln's death--that old!  Then I would sit on a rusting tractor seat and play with baby horned toads and pet baby chicks.

What a joy it was when a friend showed up to explore it all with me.   We would "play like" for hours, making mud pies from mesquite beans and conducting funerals for our goldfish.  I even enjoyed my chore of bringing in the dried clothes I had earlier hung on the line--they smelled heavenly; so fresh and clean! 

Then I grew up. 

Thinking back, I believe it began that day I looked, and all of it was gone!  Our little town's water supply came from an artificial lake dug out of the West Texas prairie, and it had a dam which gave way one day during a torrential rainstorm.  It overflowed the little tributary streams with a devastating flood that I will never forget. As we stood on the banks above our backyard in the middle of the night, I can still see the floodlights and hear the screams as people, houses, cars--everything, was swept away...including our old barn, the chicken coops, the Lincoln newspaper, the honeysuckle and the lilac bushes.  My little friend also drowned.  Nothing but mud, muck, and debris was left. People were silent, stunned. 

As terrible a lesson it became to me--I learned a lot from it.  Foremost,  that nothing in this life is permanent.  It is always changing.  Eventually decay and events alter things, and that a lot of my greatest joys can be gone so suddenly, my hard work vanished as if erased off the blackboard.  Things that I treasured and captured me in rapturous joy can be swept away, never to be seen and admired again.  I would later wonder why I lost my little friend. Where was God?

My cycle of childhood was now gone,  and I had entered the "real world".

Now, as I sit here and write you, I know that what I have shared is all too familiar with each of us.  So many write me, from all over this planet--sharing their sorrows, despair, and hopelessness.  Some are standing where I once stood, on the banks of that swollen creek, watching everything they loved and  valued so much being swept away.  And it hurts so badly.

For a long, long, time I never was excited over a pollywog or cared to drive a nail in a weathered board about to fall.  I left my "backyard" and pursued other interests.  But  I found myself trying to find it--time and again.  From the ashes of life's struggles and disappointments, I would repeat my quest, little  realizing what it was I was really looking for.  Nor did I realize what I had left behind that was still waiting for me--and would be, all the rest of my life. 

God created us to taste childhood innocence.  It is a gift often overlooked and unappreciated.  But I believe we sometimes miss the point of that experience.  I have a sneaking suspicion that He purposely lets us have that time of innocence because He knows that we will, time and again in a lifetime of "growing up." stand looking at loss, tragedy, failure, and hopelessness.  There will be times when we might want to give up the struggle and live the rest of life as if nothing mattered anymore.

As I stood there that night and saw nothing but devastation--my backyard wonderland totally destroyed, I thought I left it that way.  And in one sense, I did.  But you see, it is never lost just because we grow into an adult; we ourselves allow it to go down the creek  with our lost hopes and dreams and join with the "adult" world of cynics and the disillusioned.  And over the many years of repeated sorrows and disappointments, life teaches us to lose hope. 

Jesus said, "in the world you will have tribulation--but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world". 

What did He mean by that?  How can His overcoming affect me and the tribulations I feel?

I think it is tied closely to what He also taught about children.  The reality of what Jesus spoke concerning His Kingdom suddenly was made real to me:  That He gave me that taste of childhood innocence and joy so that I might one day be drawn to discover "His backyard"--the one He seeks to create inside each of us.  But  the entrance requirement would be for me to  become as a little child--once again.  "For of such is the Kingdom of Heaven."

And thank God, I did find it. 

Disappointments,  tragedies and trials will continue to come---but my "backyard" is eternal, nothing can destroy it or take it away from me.  And I now understand that my little friend never left it either,  she just enjoys it in a different place.

It is only in His backyard that we find on earth what is in heaven.  Now, as I delight to discover His goodness and His mercies following me,  it is as real and as joyous as the times when I fell down on a mattress of new-mown hay and just laid there to smell its sweetness, when I cupped my hands to bring a little fresh spring water to my lips, and moved a rock to see what was living underneath. 

Even at age 70, my adventures have only begun...


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