Otis & Friends 1I’m Otis, Prairiewoods’ favorite squirrel, and I’ve taken over this blog for 2016 in honor of Prairiewoods’ 20th anniversary. You’ll hear from me or one of my friends each Friday.

My friend Marianne Abel-Lipschutz is back to talk to us about the huge battle between war and peace on the relatively small plot of land known as Prairiewoods. Who knew such a huge, world-impacting decision could be made in Hiawatha, a small town in Eastern Iowa?

Prairiewoods engages everyday wars. When I turn in off of Boyson Road, I breathe a sigh of relief and raise my white flag with hope. Safe again! Fresh troops arrive in the parking lot. Dinner aromas drift out the kitchen windows. Quiet intent calms my anxious heart. As a place of peace and transformation, Prairiewoods is a haven of opposition. Here surrender is better than fighting, giving in overturns giving up, and joining hands reverses the appeal of going on alone.

My drive to Hiawatha lasts about an hour but it took me over a dozen trips to realize how different the ride could be. Busywork started when I got in the car: catch up on this overdue phone call, reach out to this lonely friend, agonize over that hard decision, remember to schedule appointments. After a while, I saw these as war strategies I used to defend my life. What am I working so hard to defend my life from? I didn’t have a good answer to that question.

I learned to fold up my to-do list and click the phone to vibrate. I turn the radio off. When I release the tension and give in, the day opens ahead of me. My eyes wander from the highway as I drive south, taking in the seasonal changes in the woods and farm fields. By the time I arrive at Prairiewoods, less noise and chaos clutter my heart and mind. Open readiness is an option for the daily drama of life.

Fall Trees 18_smallA stroll on the savannah or a wander in the woods tells me the same story over and over again. No matter how I see it—in metaphor, allegory, or simple fact—the astonishing testimony of God’s work in our world is right there in front of me. The real mustard seed, the grisly bundle of thorns, the weeping sap shining on tree bark, the river of life flowing south, the garden, the sunlight penetrating my shadows, the serene connection beyond knowledge. Love changes everything.

The Prairiewoods driveway is a battle line drawn in the asphalt. My loyalties belong with the armies of a loving God who calls me to retreat, a clear signal of loss and failure that is radical at heart. Daily struggles can be transformed more easily when I admit the battle is not mine to fight. My best days here declare my unconditional surrender.

—Marianne Abel-Lipschutz, program participant