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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Like many people in the world, my husband is a sports addict, and his favorite is football (the American one).  He waits with great anticipation for every season, and few things bring him more joy than sitting with chips and dip, a cat on his lap, and perhaps a little crossword activity while the game progresses

My viewing habits are way more high brow.

I am addicted to Outback Opal Hunters.

If you have never seen it, this Discovery Channel show follows several “motley crews” of men and women as they struggle in the Outback of Australia to find the elusive opal.  Mining crews come and go, businesses fail and thrive, friendships develop and dissolve, and through it all, the quest never changes.

At the beginning of my addiction, my husband would wander in the room and, in an uncharacteristic way, remark less than kindly that he couldn’t imagine why anyone would watch that kind of show.  And in my characteristic fashion, I would reply, “the same kind of people who stare at a screen while grown men run a small ball back and forth.” And of course, I had to add, for emphasis,

It’s my football.

For some reason, in the middle of the night last night, I began to wonder why this show.? What is it about their quest that pulls me in week after week, season after season?  Why do I get so invested in these people whose lives are so unlike my own?  Why do I root for their success.

And I think it has something to do with hope.

The land on which they struggle to eke out an existence is brutal.  The dust blown, arid and mostly empty landscape is broken up only by occasional torrential rains that make the land a sea of mud.  The heat is brutal, and the toll it takes on their physical bodies and their mining equipment is constant and extensive.

And yet they continue the quest.

Somewhere, out there in the ground, in the stones, a glimmer of hope resides, and it is the pursuit of that glimmer that keeps them moving forward.  Catching sight of that opal peeking through a rough stone causes outbursts of joy that rival the celebration at the birth of a first child. And I find myself celebrating with them, these total strangers who are so determined to never be deterred in their quest.

But there is something else deeper than the opal quest going on here, I think.

An elderly miner gets cancer, and his younger team member devotes his career to helping his friend still experience the joy of the journey at whatever level he can.  Equipment fails or gets stuck, and a community rallies to come help out.  Young people enter the field, and the elders come alongside to mentor and to lead.  Big emotions are displayed, and even bigger grace is given. In the constant struggle for survival, community happens.  And perhaps that is my addiction.

I am watching messy grace at work in people seeking tiny glimpses of hope in a barren landscape.

And I am a sucker for messy grace.

In reality, it is a messy world for all of us right now.  We are bombarded by violence, disease, war, weather, politics…the list is endless.  And then there is the battlefield of our own lives, often wracked by personal struggles and health challenges and splintered family dynamics.

But in these desert times, perhaps we, like the opal miners, can forge ahead, in spite of the conditions, leaning on our community, and focusing on the small glimmers of promise buried in the rubble.

It’s there.  I promise you.

Waiting hidden in the rough stones…

Waiting to catch your eye…

Waiting to bring you Hope.

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

It was the last Sunday of 2023 in this church of disorganized religion to which I belong, and only one child was present.  Even on a good day, there are only three.  The elders, however, are always there in full force.  We are a sea of white heads walking each other home in these desert lands.

But here’s the thing about these elders.  They are generally not grumpy.  They generally do not grumble about the state of the world today when their needs are not being met.  And, though mostly white, they do not flaunt their privilege or decry its loss.

I am sure that everyone here carries their own story of love and loss.  I am sure everyone is dealing with significant challenges and frustrations.  And I am sure everyone is probably doing their own share of gnashing of teeth over the state of the world today.  But as a whole, they are a joyful bunch.

And I think I know why.

They are too busy being the hands and feet of Christ to worry about themselves.

It seems that pretty much everyone I have met here is focused on meeting the needs of others around them.  They are hiking into the desert to fill up water stations for migrants, or going to The Wall to provide humanitarian help, or driving to centers in Mexico to teach English.  They display a generosity of spirit, and they laugh together vigorously and often.

Like all aging churches, however, there is a longing to have young families be part of the faith community.  Actually that has been true for every church I have been part of.  And in my experience, attracting young families has often meant finding the best social media campaign or the best curriculum to teach the correct theology or a packaged program that would somehow guarantee that young people would fill the church.

Really, we have none of those things here. But what we do have is a group of folks so focused on love in action that it pours into everything that happens here.  And that love spilled over on the last Sunday of 2023 during a children’s moment.

One little girl in her princess dress came forward to sit by the pastor.  And he let her know, after first acknowledging her beautiful dress to her delight, how loved she was by this congregation.  He let her know what the other two children who couldn’t be here were doing that Sunday, and he shared that he had a gift for her.

We were as spellbound as she was when he opened up a beautiful quilt…not just any quilt, as he explained.  It was created with her favorite colors, and it was patterned with rainbows and unicorns and all of her beloved images.  A soft pink edge ringed the blanket, which he placed over her shoulders, and when she stood, I think applause came forth.

Then our pastor explained about the other quilts created for the two absent children.  Each was also created with favorite colors and images, including one with dinosaurs and a hidden “Woody” from Toy Story.  Each could only have been created by quilters who knew what made each child unique.

Our only precious child that day, after receiving her gift, came and sat on grandma’s lap in our row.  She beamed shyly at the others sitting next to her.  I watched as she pointed out different images on the quilt, wrapped in its warmth.

But really, I think, she was wrapped in love.  Love that takes the time to find out what your favorite colors are.  Love that knows that rainbows and unicorns are your secret best friends.  Love made tangible in a quilt created by artists who sent a message loud and clear.:

We see you.  We know you.  We treasure you.

Yes, we outnumber the children by about 100 to 1 in this little church in the desert.  But the children who are here get to experience first hand what it is like to be loved deeply just for who they are from a group of grandmas and grandpas who have the gift of giving love lavishly to all.  No program, no curriculum…just love made visible.

It was that kind of Love that wrapped itself around this child, created stitch by tender stitch.

And it is that kind of Love that is wrapped around each of us by the One who knit us together in the womb and calls us by name.

A love that knows us in the deepest part of our being,

and a Love that will bring us all home.

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Before safety was on the front burner of adventure companies, a traveler could bike down Haleakala volcano on Maui right after sunrise.  During our first visit, that sounded like a grand adventure, and so one morning a guide picked us up at 3 am, and off we went into the dark night, bicycles in tow.  After a frosty and foggy ride for the first part of the trek, the sun burst through, and the trek down the mountain gifted us with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding countryside.

That would be expected.

But what was unexpected  was the symphony of smells.  Pineapple fields assaulted the air with the smell of ripe fruit.  Breezes carried the salt air across the road. And then, rounding a corner, the road turned through a large grove of eucalyptus trees lining each side.  In an instant, the air was soaked with their singular scent, filling up my lungs with a thick, damp, rich smell of my childhood.

I was home.

I thought about that eucalyptus grove today. Almost two years in the desert now, I am beginning to realize that perhaps it is not the desert landscape itself that engenders a feeling of home for me here.  It is the nostalgic smells that permeate the air.

I walk through the birding trail along Patagonia Lake, and beneath my feet scrub oak leaves litter the ground.  Stepping on them releases the pungent smell of my childhood in Salinas - the scent of San Benancio Canyon, of hikes on the Monterey Peninsula, of the newly developed park my brother tended to in its infancy.

I drive through the foothills of Rio Rico, windows rolled down, and the air is soaked in that leaf smell, and the smell of occasional evergreen, and the smell of dried autumn grasses which catch the wind and are carried across mesquite dotted meadows.

And I walk the frost dusted fairways of a golf course this and every morning, noting the solitary eucalyptus tree, its size indicative of longevity, and I find myself moving to stand at its base, hungry for the smell of my childhood.

Here in this desert, I have recently learned that the smell of home might be even more important for those who are far removed from its comfort. You see, recently when the little town of Sasabe, Sonora in Mexico was caught up in the violence of a cartel war, many of its citizens fled the town, forsaking their homes and all their belongings in order to protect themselves and their families.

They did not just wake up one day and decide to “make a change”.  They were living their lives in a beautiful sleepy little border town, raising their families, sending their children to school, sharing meals with each other around simple tables. And then gunfire erupted in the streets, and kidnappings started, and the school was closed.  And so, they fled.

Christmas Eve day we help moved a family of seven who had fled that violence into a two bedroom trailer.  Because they came with almost nothing, Tim and I set about thinking about what they might need to set up a new home.  After all, what good are donations of canned food if you don’t have a can opener.

But then I began to wonder about what might feel most like home on this holiest of holidays beyond just basic needs. So, we got a little tree and some presents, and I wanted to prepare a Christmas meal with all the trimmings, some small gesture of welcome to lighten the load. But I only knew American traditions, so I began to research what meal might be part of a Mexican Christmas celebration.

My research led me to the tradition of having pozole, a celebtratory Mexican stew,  which I had never heard of.  One thing you may not know about me is that I am not a recipe follower…I make things up as I go. But I searched high and low for all of the very specific ingredients, and I followed the recipe meticulously and let the stew simmer for almost a day.

The next day, with the warmed pozole in a crockpot safely plugged in their new kitchen, a group of us moved in their scant belongings and supplies. When we had finished unloading the car, I called mama over to the crockpot. Dad and the children stood with us in the postage sized kitchen, curious what was in the pot.  Mama came to stand next to me to peer in, and I lifted the lid releasing the aroma.

One whiff, and her face exploded into joy.

Her whole family began laughing, and for one moment, we were all filled with joy with her.  There were no beds, few personal belongings,and not really enough room for such a large family.  But they were together.  They were safe.

And the smell of pozole made this trailer a home.

When we arrived back at our own home, I opened the refrigerator and realized I had not done any shopping for our own family, and all the stores were closed.  But we had a few frozen Stouffer’s spaghetti dinners, and we cobbled together a meal not fit for a king, but fit for two people who had just experienced where true joy comes from.

The next morning, Christmas came.  In the pre dawn hours we walked our dog on the frosty fairway once again.  I stood beneath the solitary eucalyptus tree on the side of the fairway and stared upward into its enormous canopy.  The smell drifted down.

I was home again.

And I hoped this immigrant family was experiencing the same thing, in a new land, in a new dwelling, but with the aroma of home still in the air to comfort them.

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