Last week I found myself wandering across a talus hillside in Colorado. Crumbling sandstone, wind-twisted junipers, and gatherings of sage brush repeated across the slope. My eyes were once again trained to the ground, searching for fossils, bones, any evidence of ancient life. Together Jordan and I crested each monotonous hill, turning rocks and scanning for anything important or unusual. I took pictures and scribbled notes about the unchanging landscape, while a frigid wind whipped my neck. I looked hopefully for unexpected signs of spring; perhaps a small desert flower amid the dust and barbed wire. I discovered that spring comes late to the high desert.
In the solitude and quiet of the desert my mind began to wander. I thought about the weather, Jordan, lunch, money, the Grateful Dead, insurance, Jonah, babies... Then my ambling mind fixated on questions, not in anger, but with sincerity. "Why am I here again?" "Why am I still doing this?"
Last year after losing Jonah I began working with Jordan in the oil fields looking for fossils. It was a blessing. It felt good to wander, to slow down, and to spend my days and nights with Jordan. I needed to be in a new place without expectations and memories. I needed time to think. "This is just temporary," I thought. "Just until my life is restored to what it once was...Just until I'm a mom again."
Roaming the Colorado desert only punctuated the knowledge that my return to motherhood still seems distant. Nineteen months after Jonah's death we are still just two instead of three. And like my thoughts we are still wandering.
As I pondered my purpose and place in the desert I picked up a wide flat stone. One reddish-brown stone among millions. I was drawn to the bumps and ridges dotting its beveled surface. I brushed my hand across its ripples, then turned it to discover the opposing side. I was surprised to see a perfect heart shape worn by time on its face. I wondered how it was formed. What forces of wind and water could have caused such symmetry? Why did the rock around it remain unchanged? Was I the first to find and see this graven heart?
I thought of the scripture in Ezekiel,
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.
I understood more deeply in that moment that a new heart and a new spirit do not come through a simple transaction. Our hearts are not simply traded and replaced. God's work on our hearts is more like the eroding and shaping power of the elements. Each mineral or grain of sand is removed by a drop of water or a gust of wind. Each miniscule erosion is replaced and renewed with purpose. Our hearts are changed one thought, one tear, and one trial at a time. We rarely understand what we are becoming, but God is shaping us. I could feel in that moment that He was shaping me.
I wrapped my stony heart in a blue bandana, and carried it with me as I wandered. I felt its weight in my hand throughout the day. With each step my own stony heart felt more submissive, more willing to accept the momentary chill of the desert wind. As I meandered through the junipers my thoughts wandered again. This time to a simple reflection. I pondered the new heart being carefully shaped by my creator and felt at peace as I began to climb yet another hill.