Sunday, July 29, 2012

My Own Enchanted Forest

My childhood was populated with characters and places of fancy as I became more and more of a book lover with every passing year. Bilbo Baggins was my friend from early elementary school. Harry Potter and Ron Weasly and Hermione Granger were my companions from fifth grade on up, with their home of Hogwarts school never far from my mind. Merlin and King Arthur and the brave knights of the Round Table occupied my imagination the moment I learned their tales, and the Greek Gods have been my personal fancy since grade school. I  have filled my mind with magic and fantasy for as long as I can remember, but only on very rare occasions have I been able to experience it myself.

Last week it happened--my fantasies came to life. It started with a hike.

I didn't particularly want to go. I had just barely donned my navy blue and white bathing suit and was ready for a dip in the lake. Not that the lake was particularly inviting--the day was windy, the waves were choppy, and the water was chilly enough to raise goose bumps. However, I had gone to all the work to get into my suit and muster my courage to take the plunge with my brothers, who were also properly suited. However, my mother (according to my father) is generally the executive ruling body when it comes to planning and scheduling, and the order of the day was that we would hike first. So hike we would.

I somewhat unwillingly changed clothes and got in the car, groaning a little as I pulled myself in and felt my shins pang in response. I was still sore from the brisk hike we had taken two days before, along with some sprinting practice along the way on my part. I was regretting the sprinting two days later--my shin splints were haunting me with a vengeance, with my hamstrings following suit. Still, the order was to hike, and no amount of protest was going to change the order. So off we went (seven children, four parents, two grandparents, and a partridge in a pear tree), packed into two cars, ready to hike.

We were into the Olympic National Forest and on the trail within half an hour. The forest was unquestionably beautiful--I had forgotten how much so. Thick columns of tree trunks stood everywhere, a sky blue ceiling visible between their branches. Tapestries of tangled green moss hung from their branches. Dead logs lay on their sides, overgrown with lush greenery. The air was moist and sweet, the path easy and the walk not at all strenuous. A few times we crossed sparkling streams over log bridges (or alternate means if the kids decided to get creative).

At length we reached the river proper, deep and rushing, a good fifty feet in breadth. I clambered onto a rock overlooking an inlet of deep, dark blue water so clear and beautiful I instantly regretted my swimming suit drip drying back at the cabin. I wanted to dive off the end of the rock and into the perfect blue of the inlet.

I moment later I watched my brothers clamber to another part of the shore banked by high walls of earth. They didn't reappear. I followed them around, perplexed--and found the most beautiful little room I could have imagined. It was formed by the wall of earth curving around some of the rocks on the shore. Above, at the level of the trail, a tree grew at the edge of the bank, it's roots curling down over the exposed earth and around the rocks and boulders. There was something ancient about the place--something mystical and powerful, a kind of magic. I sat upon a rock draped in a carpet of soft moss and looked out over the river from that place, one hand placed on the nearest root of the tree, as though to hear the beating of an ancient, living heart within it. The river passed by, the tree loomed overhead, and I rested.

Eventually I climbed out of the chamber on the roots of the great tree, thinking my family might be ready to leave soon. They had not yet gone anywhere, so I began to explore anew, walking straight into the forest to see what I could see. I was not there a moment before the real world disappeared and a fairy land took its place. I was in and enchanted forest, creating my very own adventure.

I raced through the trees and over the undergrowth, agile as a deer and light as a dryad. I climbed to the top of a great boulder cloaked with moss and basked in the sunlight. I balanced across fallen logs on tiptoe and leaped over crevices to land softly in the moist earth on the other side. I climbed a rock wall to the crest of one of the tallest rocks and looked out over the forest around me. I felt like part of the woods. The wind blew, the trees grew, and Rachel ran and jumped and danced through the shimmering gold and green wonderland.

I was loathe to leave--I had never had an experience so close to the fantasies of my youth than that one. I wanted to be part of this fairyland, feeling my heart beat and body move along with the rhythms and patterns of those beautiful, ancient, magnificent woods. Unfortunately, all things must come to an end, and we soon had to return home.

Still, all is not lost. William Wordsworth shared a beautiful thought regarding his experience with a "host of golden daffodils" that I have practiced many a time. "Then off when on my couch I lie / in vacant or in pensive mood / they flash upon that inward eye / which is the bliss of solitude / and then my heart with rapture fills / and dances with the daffodils." Like Wordsworth did, I took the beauty I saw and kept it in my heart and mind. Next time I have had a hard day or find myself in "vacant or in pensive mood," I can close my eyes, let myself drift back in time, and remember the day when I raced and danced through my own enchanted forest. When I need to remember the magic of this hard world, I can remember that day...

And all at once the magic will be there once again, as fresh and shining and inspiring as the very day I found it--there in the forests and the riverbanks of Washington.

Thanks, my friends... .'til next time.

Olympia National Park--my enchanted forest. Isn't it beautiful?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Everyday Miracles

I've said over and over again on this blog that magic is everywhere. I've said the same about love and beauty and blessings. Well now I'm about to add another - miracles are everywhere, too.

One of my favorite stories about a miracle is the story of the man born blind in the New Testament. Jesus annointed the man's eyes with mud and commanded him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. That particular pool was way down at the far Southern end of Jerusalem--based on context, probably the farthest possible water source from the man's location without going outside the city walls. Yet in spite of the inconvenience the man did as the Savior commanded him. He made his way through the crowds in the streets and around the temple all the way to the pool of Siloam and washed--and his sight was restored. He later testified of his healing before the Pharisees, who in the end cast him out of the temple,essentially excommunicating him from the Jewish community. The Savior comes to the man and reveals who He is, whereupon the man worships Him and promises to follow Him. I love this story because there are two miracles in it--a man's sight is restored and a strong testimony is found.

Another miracle that is close to me involves healing also, but by different means. It's a story I have heard hundreds of times about a tiny baby girl who was born with a heart defect, unbeknownst to her parents. At about a week old she began to show signs of being unwell, but no one realized how bad it was. Her mother decided to take her to the hospital, and because the baby's grandmother wanted to come but had to get to the airport soon, she chose an appointment at two o'clock that afternoon. She got there to discover that the normal pediatrician was away and an older, more experienced doctor was subbing in. The doctor recognized the baby's condition at once and had her raced to Primary Children's Medical Center, where she was placed in the care of the most skilled pediatric cardiologist in the state (and possibly the whole western United States). The baby's parents later found out that if they had picked the later appointment their daughter would have died, and that if the normal pediatrician had been there he would probably not have caught the problem in time. The baby survived--it was a miracle. And an even greater miracle is that she had no complications at all, grew up normally and in good health, and is now attending college and enjoying life and even writing her own blog. You've guessed by now that all those miracles were my own--and I am grateful every day for the blessing of my own life.

I hear about miracles every time my father tells me about an adoption he has performed or a life that has been turned around and made whole. The gift we humans have to make choices and improve ourselves and our lives is and incredible miracle. Every time my father tells me that someone graduated from the drug court program I want to cheer. I have seen people in Dad's courtroom on a few occasions whose lives have been ruined by drugs--and even though it was only a few times it was more than enough to make an impression. My most distinct memory was of a woman pleading with my father that she just wanted to be a mom to her kids, but who just couldn't stay clean. I also remember my dad telling me once that he had never met a drug addict who didn't want more than anything in the world to quit and be free of it, but it is such a hard process. When your body becomes so dependent on something, it is a long, hard, uphill fight to try to let it go. So every time I hear that another drug court student has conquered their addiction and graduated I cheer for joy--it is another miracle.

Miracles don't have to be big, though--I had a small one myself the other day. I was feeling very downhearted. I had called the Jerusalem Center earlier that week to ask about my placement on the waiting list, and I had finally found out a few days after that I hadn't moved at all in nearly three weeks. I was discouraged and more than a little stressed about the situation. If I don't get into the Center for this Fall, I'm not sure where I'm going to live this Fall. I sent a text to my best friend, who got initial placement for the program and is preparing to go in August and who probably knows me better than anyone outside of my family. I said simply "Could you give me a call when you get a minute? I need some help with not stressing right now." I wasn't expecting to hear back from her for a while, perhaps not until the next day--she has work often, so I didn't know when her next free moment would be. As such I was considerably surprised when, less than two minutes later, my phone rang and I picked it up to hear Katie's familiar voice on the other end, filled with concern and demanding to know if I was alright. I assured her that I was and told her what was wrong. Katie has been part of my plans for Jerusalem since the begining--she was the brains behind our Arabic learning marathon during Winter semester, and she had been there for all of the anxiety of the application process and the wait for our letters to come. It meant more to me than she knew to be able to talk to her right then--possibly the only person in the world who knew exactly how much the whole Israel thing meant to me. The fact that she had a few minutes to spare right when I needed a little encouragement (to say nothing of the fact that she was willing to give them to me) was a miracle to me.

So it's true--miracles are everywhere. Our bodies work and function perfectly, each system working together with the whole. Our planet is the perfect distance from the sun for all the beautiful life that thrives here to take place. Birds fly and flowers blossom and smell sweet. Sunsets turn the sky a hundred different colors every night. Children are born and live and grow and create. Heavenly Father loves us and watches over our lives.

So many miracles--I can only stand in awe.