We went to see the poppies on Monday before they all die in the California heat. It was a really, really hot spring day of 90 degrees so my sister and her boyfriend and my daughter all stood under a giant beach umbrella that just happened to be in the trunk of the car. We felt silly at first and then later didn’t care because the shade felt so good. We stopped at the bathrooms before hiking the trails at the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. It was already beautiful (the poppies, not the bathroom). It was there that I first spotted the group of nuns dressed in head to toe habits.
We started off ahead of them but were traveling at a 2 year olds pace which is just slightly faster than a tortoise. We had to keep stopping because her sunglasses and her hat both kept falling off her head. Then her shoe fell off. Then she needed a snack. Then some water. You get the picture.
The nuns caught up to us in no time and asked how old Violet was and what her name was. I told them that we were expecting another girl in September and they said they’d pray for us all. It was already super sweet of them to spend time talking with us.
Up the mountain we went. I watched the nuns as everyone either wanted to take a picture of them for Instagram because it looked so juxtaposed against the blue skies and orange fields or stopped to tell them about something hard they were going through, like a death in the family. Every child they passed got delighted in and every human got warm smiles and first name introductions. The vibe was retreat-like where everyone was generally relaxed and receiving the free gift nature had to give.
We originally had planned to take a small loop that my daughters little legs could manage on her own but we took a “wrong turn” (if there ever is really such a thing in God’s perspective) and ended up on the steepest, longest trail. We were running out of water, the sun got hot and my daughter refused to walk. Carrying a baby in my belly and an almost 3 year old on my back underneath the shade was bearable only because the view was so spectacular that it kept feeding my soul.
When we mounted the summit I left my daughter on a bench in the shade with my sister’s boyfriend and walked about thirty feet up to the very, very top of the mountain. I saw a bunch of people taking pictures of the view and then realized that people were singing. I looked to my left and saw four nuns praising Jesus and all creation to the tunes of “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace”. Tears streamed down my face as I realized how great He and His beautiful creation truly is.
It turned a beautiful place into a sacred space. The crowed and I joined in as best we could and we had an impromptu worship service on the mountain. The amount of peace and joy I felt allowing it all into my heart healed more than I knew I needed. It boosted my faith. It restored my love of all people. It humbled me and reminded me that I have so much to be grateful for. My sister who was on the hike with us had cancer the year before. The two years prior to that she had an untreatable kidney disease. The medication she took we think caused the cancer and the chemo healed it all. I praised God that she was well enough to go on the hike when there were previous times that she had gained 50 pounds of water weight and had to be pushed in a wheelchair or she was so weak from chemo that she didn’t leave her room for days. Additionally, the baby in my belly is a “rainbow baby”. We lost a baby exactly a year ago this week. Praise God for how GOOD He is. He has done a lot of restoring in our family this year.
Traveling back down the mountain we got to know “the sisters” better. They shared that they were Carmelites. I continued to observe how servant-hearted they were and asked God to show me how to be filled with the joy and patience that they seemed to exhibit more than anyone I’d ever met before. Later that night I looked up the Carmelites and learned about them. They often read the Bible using the practice of Lectio Divina.
When I looked up what that meant I found a suggestion that has been helpful for me in my daily bible reading since that day. First you read the text to see what it says. Then you read it again and ask, “What is scripture saying to me personally?” Finally, you read it a third time without thinking, and just let your soul absorb it. I have been more deeply engaged in my bible study time and have felt it reach me in a new way by practicing this method. It helps me to slow down and actually meditate on the scripture. I have also found myself remembering what I read more often because it feels so much more personal.
Meeting the nuns that day reminded me that when we leave our churches on Sundays and our homes every morning we are entering the mission field no matter what we do for a living and where we live. There are people out there who are craving to be seen, smiled at, and met with love. Spend time with Jesus in scripture today and when you walk out the door remember you’re on mission.