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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

We take to the de Anza Trail these cool, fall mornings before the rise of sun to meander in whatever random pattern suits us.  The sun, it seems, always lingers just below the horizon for more than its allotted time, and we are grateful for the sweatshirts brought out of storage for this autumn season..

As the sky lightens, a golden hue begins to seep into the landscape, often creating a halo of sweet light through the fur on our golden retriever.  The tall grasses glimmer with dew these mornings touched by higher humidity, and as the shafts of light begin to escape the sun’s embrace, a holy Light settles on the world.

This is a landscape that is hard to walk away from, though the morning’s “to do list” is ever present, requiring a checking of watches and coordination of plans.  But if time allows, as it did this day, we go back to the path around the lake, just now beginning to come alive with a few souls willing to fight off sleep and cold and come welcome the sun.

As we walked the path to our car this day, we noted a woman coming towards us, many yards away.  We could see her face illuminated by the first true rays of light appearing over the Santa Rita Mountains.  As she neared us her face suddenly exploded into a smile, and she waved vigorously at us and called out a cheerful hello that cut through the dawn.

My husband and I looked at each other. “Is that someone you know?” he asked.

I watched her approaching, still smiling broadly. “No,” I answered. “Perhaps as she gets closer, we will be able to figure out how we know her.”

We watched as her footsteps quickened, and her spirit seemed hungry for community.  Finally, she was within a few yards.  Coming to a stop under the protection of a mesquite tree, the sun was no longer in her eyes.

Oh, I thought you were Grace.

I have been obsessing about this case of mistaken identity since she spoke those words.  I think about the elements of our meeting.  A light so bright it obscured her vision.  A friendship so dear it engendered joy in its anticipation of an encounter.  A hunger to welcome the source obscured by the light but still known in a deeply personal way.

And then I wondered, what would it be like for you....for me...

to be suddenly mistaken for Grace.

Because here’s the thing about our encounter with the woman on the trail. She could not see our faces, obscured as they were by the sun’s rays.  But the anticipation of what love and acceptance she thought waited on the other side propelled her forward towards that Light, filled with joy.

In our current culture, it seems, people are more concerned with being the source of the light themselves, or at least have the light focused on their own faces, their own accomplishments, their own stories. Hungry for attention, the mission then becomes to have their own identity take center stage.

But no matter the cultural pressure, it cannot be our mission in this life to stand so that the light falls only on us.

No. It is our mission to place ourselves so that the Light shines into the faces and lives of someone else.  It is our mission to fill the air with the sound of someone else’s voice telling the story only they can tell.  It is our mission to have someone else walk away from every encounter feeling seen and heard and accepted to the core of their being.

And this mission requires a complete surrender of our own precious identity.

We have to hunger to be the one in the cheering, faceless crowd, always noticing and encouraging someone else. We have to desire not to be on the marquee, but rather only to be in the small credits at the end of the movie of someone’s else’s life. We have to get comfortable with standing in the shadows of the wings and not on center stage, and let the spotlight shine on someone else’s face.

Then, and only then, will we be ever mistaken for Grace.

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Only a few hardy souls venture out at dawn to walk the DeAnza Trail at Canoa Historic Ranch, especially this time of year. For sun lovers and cravers of warmth, the 49 degree starting temperature requires walking gear more common in a Northwest fall. Thus, we have this become accustomed to walking this trail alone.

But there is another hardy soul, a transplant from Alaska, who comes a little later dressed in little but shorts and a light jacket. For her, this weather is “balmy”, and having clothing that allows freedom of movement is important because of her job as a dog trainer and dog walker.

We can always spot her on the trail as she usually has 2-4 leashes with various dogs tied to them. The leashes tangle and untangle as each, at their own speed, revels in the smells of the desert trail. She calls them to her, always her voice encouraging and filled with gentle humor.

And then there is Ginger. Walking free alongside her.

When we first met Ginger, a rescued pit bull, she was afraid to even get out of the car of her new owner. Greeting anyone was impossible, so scared or scarred she was from her previous experience. Over the year we have been encountering her, we have seen her transform into a friendly, adventurous, confident dog.

Being loved well will have that effect.

Ginger’s confidence shone today as we approached the dog pack. Her entire wide face exploded in a dog grin, tongue flopping out one side. We thought she was happy to see us, but her owner, when she approached, drew attention to the clacking of rail cars cutting through the desert in the distance. Ginger was staring transfixed across the desert landscape.

It’s the train, she says.

Her owner, ever the dog whisperer, has been writing emails to the train company with a simple request. When you pass by the desert alongside Canoa Ranch, will you blow your train horn for my dog. Today, for the first time, the whistle blows, and we watch as Ginger’s grin explodes further.

Because Ginger loves trains more than anything, her owner says she often sits with Ginger by the wash in the distance for up to an hour waiting for a train to pass. Ginger will stare into the distance with an anticipation that is palpable. And she always knows when one is about to appear.

Ginger feels the vibrations of the coming train, she says.

I think about Ginger’s anticipation…her ability to sense when joy is inching closer. I think about her absolute trust that what she craves will be supplied. And I think about her singular focus on what matters most as she walks this trail:

The train is coming.

Sadly, my focus is often on the dangers in the desert and in life. I am constantly being struck by the venomous behaviors of human beings towards each other. My heart is stabbed by the needles and spikes of human cruelty. There is so much I do not understand.

And sometimes, I lose my capacity to register hope.

But this morning, I thought about Ginger, who like Jay Gatsby, seems to have an “extraordinary gift for hope.” Her hope is not deterred by circumstance or challenged by experience. She knows the train is coming, and she is willing to wait for how ever long it takes until her heart is filled to overflowing with its sound and motion. She is in the moment, feet firmly planted on the ground, eyes ever scanning the landscape beyond her vision.

And so it should become with me.

I need to attune my senses to what thrives in an unseen world and yet is ever present and ever available to me here on the ground on which I walk. I need to remember that the dangers around me are temporal and will never outlast what lives just beyond the horizon. And I need to focus my vision on that which I can not see but which is more real than the needle ridden landscape before me.

I need to attune my heart to the vibrations of hope in the distance.

And in these troubled times, I imagine you do too.

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

“People are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God,

speaking and being spoken to.” Dallas Willard

One of my dearest friends is a Woman Who Talks with God. She is not necessarily on her knees in a closet or screaming prayers from a corner sidewalk. She is conversational, I believe, in a way of someone who loves another with all her heart, soul, mind, and strength.

And more importantly, she knows she is loved passionately and without judgement by the One she loves.

Being soaked in this knowledge infuses her with an innate ability to love lavishly. Her metaphorical table is constantly being set with her best plates and drink glasses whenever she meets a new person. She wraps the stranger and the friend in a warm embrace and she listens deeply and comforts richly. To know her is to know love.

When she says in conversation, “I was talking to God,” you can trust she was, in that constant casual way of friends who, because they know each other so well, seek constant communion. The fact that God speaks back should surprise no one.

It never surprises me.

What does surprise me at times, though, is the depth of insight that she receives from the Creator of all things. There are times that the word spoken “just for her” is so profound that it transcends just her own life circumstances.

And I am still reeling from her last communication received in her life of prayer conversation.

My friend has been going through a relational situation for years with someone she loves with all her heart…someone whose life is characterized by issues beyond his own control in many ways. Someone for whom she would willingly give up her life.

Someone for whom she has literally endangered her own health and safety.

Because she has felt so helpless to know what the “right thing” is to do, she has been sharing her heart with God for a decade or more, wanting so badly to discern the best way through. She has not asked for the struggle to be lifted, because she is a woman who never gives up on anyone. A woman of great courage.

But she has sought counsel and direction from an omnipotent Creator.

A few days ago she shared that in her latest time of conversation, she kept asking for help in knowing how to proceed and kept listening for a answer that would help her best serve her commitment to love no matter what the circumstances. And God, as always came through.

You need to let him go, or he will never find his way to Me.

That was it. And that was all that was needed. Because this woman, whose capacity to love is limitless, would never have enough love to equal the love that was waiting in God’s embrace. Because sometimes human love is not enough.

And sometimes, the greatest act of love is to let go.

Ever since our phone call, I have been haunted by that Sacred voice speaking into my own life. Who are the people in my life that I love too much to release to a greater, more redemptive love? What are the situations that I seek to control out of the best intentioned love that need to be released to a universal source whose wisdom has no boundaries?

And what is it in me that is drifting in uncertain, treacherous waters that needs to be released to the One who calls the sea to be still.

As Rilke always reminds me, it is going to have to be enough for right now to love the questions…to let them permeate my heart and cleanse my soul.

But in my wondering, I was reminded of a conversation with an elderly woman of great wisdom years ago who had endured so much in her family. She shared openly of her struggles with various children and a less than perfect husband. I asked her how she handled all of her concerns. Her answer was immediate.

I put ‘em in a box and give ‘em to Jesus.

My friend has been given this insight. And since she shared her wisdom,

I am out searching for a large enough box.

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