Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Planning for a Fuller Life
Spring has officially sprung in Northern Virginia. Although it was rainy this weekend, was fairly blustery yesterday, and was below freezing last night (a random anomaly and the coldest night in the last couple of months!)), overall things are warming up. Or at least they would be if they had ever really cooled off! Since Winter never really showed up, spring has come all that much sooner, which means that blossoms are already giving way to green leaves. This phenomenon has particular significance for the cherry trees ringing the tidal basin in DC.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the original planting of cherry trees in 1912. That being the case, the plan was for an extra long cherry blossom festival this year in order to really call attention to the beauty and significance of the trees. Unfortunately, though significant effort went into planning the celebration no one though to check with the trees to see if their blossoms would want to attend. As it turns out, the cherry blossoms elected not to attend the festivities, but to rather come to the site of the party early as a special treat to locals and much to the chagrin of the thousands of people who had made plans to come and see them.
Each of the last three Sundays Alison and I went down to the tidal basin after church (except for this past Sunday when she had to go to work, so I went down on my own), enjoyed the lovely weather, and took pictures of the trees. It was a dramatic way to see the changes that occurred with the passage of a single week. Amongst the pictures we took was one looking through a tree, across the basin at the Jefferson Memorial. I took that same picture from the same place all three Sundays and it looks quite different every time.Check out my album "Spring 2012" to see these pictures and others demonstrating the beauty of spring.
As you will readily see in the first picture the buds are just starting to appear on the branches, in the second the blossoms have shown up in abundance.
In the third they are nearly gone completely. It is truly amazing how fast the entire atmosphere of the tidal basin changes.
The blossoms mean many different things to different people, but their greatest significance in my mind is as symbols of the value of life and beauty. Since that was a topic of an message I wrote two years ago when I was working on the mall, I won't spend much time on it here, except to say that the significance has not lessened in the past two years. If anything, it is even more poignant now.
We are called to live our lives to the fullest, and designed to bloom in beauty and wonder. None of know how long we have. Some of us may have another 80 years, while others a matter of days or months. But it shouldn't matter. We are all called to fill the world with life, color, and vibrancy, even if it is only for a fleeting moment. In the space of two weeks those trees were transformed from sticks with some little buds on them, to absolutely vibrant explosions of life, to a few petals stubbornly hanging on before they too fall to the earth. If we hadn't gone down on that middle Sunday we would have missed it. All the thousands of people who had made plans to attend the festival did miss it. We can make our plans and think that we know what the future holds, but the truth is that we don't know. Sometimes the blossoms show up early and if we aren't available to react to the unexpected we will miss the beauty and wonder altogether.
Quite fittingly the sermon this past Sunday was taken from James Chapter 4 and was all about our approach to life.
James 4:13-17Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
The truth is that we don't know what is going to happen tomorrow and we would do well indeed to approach life with the mindset James speaks of, a mindset which recognizes that God is sovereign and we live only by and through his grace and love.
Like the blossoms, we must face the reality of death by living our lives to the fullest in the time that we have, shining forth in brilliance and reflecting joy and love to those who gaze upon us.
These next six weeks are going to be pretty challenging for me as I both finish my first semester of grad school, and also enter into the beginning of the Civil War anniversary season. The first major anniversary is the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee, which is April 6-7. I will not be attending that event, but both the rangers I work with will be in Tennessee for a week and a half, which leaves me to take care of things in the office. The primary "thing" that will need taking care of is the design and development of a 35 page magazine that will be distributed to battlefields and other NPS and historic sites around the region in June. This magazine is something new, specifically designed to augment the sesquicentennial as a whole. We are doing the final review of the spring edition right now, but most of the burden for creating the summer edition (July/August/September) of the magazine will fall upon me.
So even as I am facing what appears to be a daunting task ahead I get to help to create something which will inform, educate, and help visitors to better understand and appreciate the sacrifice of so many young men on the field of battle in 1862. It is not only a responsibility, but an opportunity to participate in something bigger than myself. At least that's the plan. But as we know, plans are subject God's determination.