“Imagine the wilderness whooping for joy, the desert’s unbridled happiness with its spring flowers. It will happen! The deserts will come alive with new growth budding and blooming, singing and celebrating with sheer delight. The glory of Lebanon’s cedars and the majesty of Carmel and Sharon will spill over to the deserts. The glory of the Eternal One will be on full display there, and they will revel in the majestic splendor of our God” –Isaiah 35:1-2 (The Voice).
I remember long-time family friends from India visiting our family in Phoenix when their son came to the United States for college. We took their son up to the mountains to escape the summer heat before he had to register for classes. As we drove along the highway through the Sonoran Desert, saguaros stood as sentries along the highway, and prickly pears looked withered in the scorching heat. Suddenly, Dev laughed out loud. He said, “You call this a desert?! There’s so much life!” In his deserts, plants did not grow. There was only sand. Miles and miles of hot sand. One of India’s deserts is called Marusthali, which means Land of the Dead.
Just as I focussed on how hot and miserable desert living felt growing up, I have focussed on how miserable my spirit has felt this year. I have forgotten to acknowledge all the life growing in and around me–albeit prickly and somewhat withered. However, just as the saguaros house the cactus wrens and keep them safe and the prickly pears bear fruit that makes subtle jelly particular to desert palates, so my spirit houses life and nutrients that I have taken for granted.
Thanksgiving. It’s all about food, family and friends. My favorite holiday. I love gathering people around. When people enjoy my food and are happy, I feel fulfilled. My parents and brother made the trek to Colorado again this year. Laughter and chatter filled my kitchen as everyone helped chop, mince, season, stir and mash our way into a turkey feast! I allowed myself to sink into the enveloping warmth of familial ties. I remembered the joy of togetherness.
We took a drive up to a roadside attraction, Bishop’s Castle. During the drive through the mountains and small towns, my parents and brother basked delightedly in the unfolding landscape. I began to see my world through their desert eyes. Leafless aspens, mountains breaking the horizon, snow patches among the evergreens. Yes, beauty encompasses me all around my life. I remembered how I felt when we first moved here. Wonder and awe awakened in my heart. I remembered the joy of creation.
And I began to remember the beauty of the desert after a spring storm. The flowering cacti, the soothing smell of washed-away-dustiness, the chirping of the crickets and desert birds. Yes, even in the desert, beauty and life coexist with the painfully sharp cacti needles and parched-ness. Living with the desert in my bones and the freshness of the mountain life in my present, I can live with the paradox within my soul. And I can exclaim with the gratitude of hopeful longing and cautious expectation, “There is so much life here!”
And I begin to remember God smiling.
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