Find your aspens.

the monthly letter

Just a few times this year, I’ve let myself sit into the sinking feeling that we aren’t going back to the old way, the seemingly carefree world. And, a step further: to let myself sit in the realization that as much as Nate and I have put rhythms and such in place to lessen the impact of a tilting world for us and our kids … I’m still wearying of it all. I’m not impervious.

Last weekend was one of those times.

Park City, Utah, is on a short list of interesting places that are one quick plane flight away from our local international airport (whose only international flight is to Iceland). Since we only had 72 hours to slide away together, Park City became the spot for our 20th-anniversary celebration.

I closed the front door behind me on four teenagers bouncing between conversations about weekend plans and new school subjects, an almost toddler whose vocal cords are ever-resilient to the strain she must put on them to be heard above all else in this house, and two littler people whose love-hate relationship changes every ten minutes. And five hours later, we landed in the Great Basin after reading chapters (not merely pages) of books, only interrupted by intermittent whispered conversations on the plane.

I’d forgotten there was such a thing as uninterrupted quiet, as even the home-dark morning quiet afforded to every parent of teenagers is still always at risk. (Nate always says, about our children: “It’s not the quantity … it’s the spread.”)

As we settled into our rooftop view of the Wasatch Mountains, a sense of unsteadiness overwhelmed me. I felt shaky. Uncertain. Heart-unmasked. Feelings -- not normally given space along the shoreline of a full life and full schedule -- became buoyant, popping up to flag my attention, but not long enough for me to consider before the next one and the next.

Friends, I am someone who does not typically run from my emotions. I’ve spent enough time bottling them to know their force is much more positive when they’re addressed, named, and considered before (and with) God. And yet … here I was at the beginning of several days of quiet, overwhelmed by emotions I’d apparently overlooked in all this mess of a world.

If I’m here, I have to think you may be too. These are unhinged times.

Things that our hearts, minds, and bodies could endure years ago for longer stretches are aggravated by an ever-angered culture, wave after wave of unpredictability in what once were the most stable places, and under-examined attachments to our phones.

We are weaker than we think, and our hearts and bodies need a gentleness we won’t find in those things that kept us intact five years ago. Yet, at the same time, we’re still clutching our lofty ideas of what it looks like to follow God radically.

Our idealism and this weakened state cannot coexist.

Seventy-two hours away, and God used my agitated heart and the aspens to show me His way.

Do you know the sound that aspens make in the wind? Rather, the way the wind makes itself known in the leaves of aspen trees?

Nate reminded me on our first hike. “I love the sound of the wind in aspen trees. There’s almost nothing like it.”

For you city or valley dwellers: aspen leaves are small. Not broad like sycamore leaves, these leaves are little trifles. As we hiked through and around aspen groves near Park City, each time the wind picked up, their collective sound was equally insignificant — like the noise of a crowd of football fans applauding in the far distance. Unimposing, almost negligible. I would have missed it had we not started listening for it, but it alerted my senses as we did. (Senses that have been muted by the events of the past two years.)

I accidentally started to notice the often-unnoticeable on this hike. The wildflowers, the sound of the waterfall in the distance, the rustle chipmunks make through the underbrush. The wind. I focused on the small, waiting for that ephemeral applause again.

This is like prayer — these aspens, the sound they make when wind-touched, the unimposing power to alert … to awaken.

Prayer is a less likely choice among all the available options for reprieve. It’s not flashy. It invites a quietness in the soul that is vulnerable and uncomfortable. For it to be a real connection-of-heart to God, prayer requires traveling through emotion — what many of us consider mere trifles — to get there. It can seem to be an accessory to the soul and even to Christian Mission. Or for some, to the contrary, it seems necessary for missions — part of a protocol, a regimen. (But still not earthy.)

But just like the wind through those aspens — what seems negligible can awaken the senses of the soul. It can alert us to the need for His gentleness.

This human-driven world is harsh, unforgiving, cold, and calculating.

God is gentlepeacefulsincere.

He is everything my soul needs at this moment to find calm, to see clearly, to feel alive. And deeper: to feel known, know I am seen, and to receive the gentleness my interior life craves.

And accessing Him is much simpler than I make it out to be.

But my grand ideas about what a life of prayer should be are often what keep me from praying. I’ll wait until … I’m just too emotional to … this weekend I’ll carve out some time … I’ll set my alarm early tomorrow.

Sound familiar?

I want the chunk of time, the candle, the journal, the right state of heart — all while God is gently whispering … come to Me … now.

Try it with me today: a walk through the woods behind your house while you let your nervous heart … feel nervous before Him. Don’t wait until you’re settled. Make an already scheduled drive to pick up a kid newly quiet because you remove the AirPods and roll the windows. Tears over the kitchen sink while the faucet runs and you talk to Him. Seven minutes on the back porch with your Bible in your lap before you run to the next appointment, asking Him for perspective.

Find your aspens. Let Him speak to you in the still, small. Let the shy wind’s revelation in the leaves, the simplicity of it all remind your senses (as it did mine): He came for this moment.

Let’s not let our ideal of excellent, committed prayer lives keep us from figuring out how to stay heart-alive amid the world’s clamor.

Simple (re-)starts are underrated. 

{Over here this month in my private group SOAR, we’re going to be talking about how to grow this part of our interior lives — our small life in prayer — amid the great opposition that is the world outside and inside our front door. Join us if this resonates.}