Saturday, July 15, 2017

An Ear Full of Hospitality

The value of stories has been woven into just about every part of who I am; I am motivated by stories. I am not speaking only of well-written fictional stories, but of real stories about real people. Eugene Peterson wrote, “Stories are radical acts of hospitality.” When I read this simple phrase a picture pops up in my mind: I see someone leaning in, looking into eyes and listening to the heart of another telling a story. How else can stories be equated with hospitality? If I am present to your story, listening and being with you in your story, I can be hospitable to you anytime, any place. Don’t you think?

I am not sure if I am writing about hospitality, stories or something else. Maybe I should first tell you how stories have their grip on me. It began with being read to, memorizing the rhythmic cadence of a rhyme and sounding out words to read. As a child it was the beautiful stories of hope and happily ever after buoying me up in the midst of a messed up family. My mind and heart were captured by words woven into stories. And at the time I didn’t see the value of my own story.

It was the true story of Jesus told in Vacation Bible School – His love for me – that drew me forward to His forgiveness and gave me real hope. Over the years I have been challenged, encouraged and strengthened by the true stories of God’s Word. As I grew in my relationship with Jesus I began to see value in my personal story.

Words fascinate me. I love reading stories of people who have overcome great difficulties and I love playing with words – writing real stories people can plop themselves into and find some encouragement along the way. Bit by bit I began sharing my story. It was in the tangled chapters of dysfunction and confusion I felt God inviting me into a place of healing, not only receiving healing but receiving a call to facilitate healing into the broken places of other people’s stories.

So when I read Peterson’s words I began to see in me a hospitable place. Kristen Schell, writer of The Turquoise Table, says, “. . . learning to listen and be present is paramount if we are to take every opportunity to open our lives and homes to others.” Henri Nouwen’s words confirm the link between listening and hospitality, “Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.” I have never considered myself as gifted with hospitality, but this gives me hope: hospitality comes in many forms and one is being present to others through listening.

Of course my job as a counselor requires me to lean in, be attentive and fully present. I know this doesn’t get me off the hook from offering other forms of hospitality, but it seems imperative I consider how well I am listening to those most important to me: my husband, family, friends and particularly God. I decided to ask my husband to rate how well I listen to him; he gave me an 8. I think there is a lot of grace in his answer. When asked if he felt I listened better to others he said, “Yes, but with me you have all the unspoken marriage expectations in there.” There have been times he has said, “You aren’t even listening.” When I am with family it is hard to say how well I do. Sometimes I am very attentive but in the family I am often quicker to interrupt and have my say in a matter. Some of my friends have told me I am a good listener; I can only take their word for it.

Sometimes I think I make people uncomfortable with my inquisitive nature and desire to learn about their stories. When a vulnerable heart lets go and shares bits and pieces of a tattered story my own heart leaps in response to make a safe place to hold their story. This all sounds good, but am I giving my dearest the same gift of hospitality? And what about Jesus? Does my heart open up to His Words – fully listening and believing the story He tells me of His love for me? Do I listen and participate in the story He tells of my life line by line and chapter by chapter – adventures of faith? I long to be hospitable most of all to my Savior in the form of listening; I long to be tuned in to His voice at all times. This requires me to spend time everyday in stillness, listening. I am certain I could fine tune my listening skills with all my loved ones.

So if stories are important to hospitality, then listening is as well. And whether or not you and I are especially gifted in hospitality we can all learn to listen better. I encourage you to develop a curiosity about other people’s stories; people have a deep need to be known. Kristin Schell offers tips for becoming a better listener in her book, The Turquoise Table. Here are a few:

  • Maintain eye contact
  • No interrupting
  • Don’t solve or fix the problem
  • Pay attention to what is being said
  • Don’t be afraid of silence

And sometimes use the phrase I have found to be helpful in counseling: “Tell me more.” The speaker will feel welcomed when invited to elaborate on his or her story. Telling our stories to a good listener can be healing. Offer an ear full of hospitality to someone today.



Some last thoughts about the value of stories. Philip Pullman writes, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” In Whispers of Rest, Bonnie Gray writes, “Your story is the portrait in which God’s light of love shines.”

As we come together in genuine fellowship, offering one another a place of hospitality, know that our shared stories are vessels for His greatness to shine through. So my challenge to you and to me, not only to offer hospitality by listening to others’ stories but to be open to sharing how God’s love has brought hope and healing into your own story.



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Embracing My Life In This Place

The pain draped around her story like a heavy, tattered coat. There was confusion and hurt and a desire to please. In the midst of these moments I began to realize how so many of us enter our adult lives with unrealistic expectations – ideals of what being loved looks like and expectations of a life perfectly wrapped in happiness and beauty. Once upon a time her story was my story; I am healing. When I was a child, adults would talk about keeping up with the Jones, meaning the neighbors next door; now we are trying to keep up with just about everyone on social media. I have begun asking myself why fitting in with people I don’t know well, or at all, matters? Why care if any of these social media folks are pleased with me?

In the end, don’t you think all we really want is to belong, to have a tribe of people with whom we experience meaningful connection? When it comes down to it, don’t we care more about being known and loved by those taking this journey with us than whether or not they are invested in meeting all our ideals? It is stressful for everyone when perfection is where we hang our values; friendships are no longer real or meaningful when we strive for or expect perfectionism. Healthy relationships have boundaries of respect wrapped up in grace. Wouldn’t you much rather have people enjoy being in relationship with you than perfectly please you?

Sometimes, like many of you, I focus on what is missing – that elusive, perfect life. I find embracing the life I’ve been given increases contentment, peace and joy. As I take steps toward embracing my life – one that doesn’t live up to all my expectations – I find more of what I truly need. Embrace is a word that has captured me in the past couple of months. A question I came across in a book study my sister and I did together was, “What do you want more of?” I knew instantly I wanted more meaningful interaction with the people who matter most to me, like my sister. I want to make it a priority to prioritize the people I love and long to know better.

The realization began growing, like a snowball rolling down hill, as one situation after another presented itself with opportunities to connect. But first I had to ask God: What is this life you have given me? I sought to discover what He wanted me to embrace and where He wanted me to invest my time. And then I found He led using the desires He had given me. He invited me to look at what’s available, not what is lacking. It began with spending time with my sister.

From there God gave my husband and I a wonderful opportunity to hike with my nephew, his fiancee and their baby. We met early in the cool of the day. They had packed a picnic and drove us to a canyon where we enjoyed surprises like an old cowboy dugout, wild turkeys strolling with a road runner, and genuine fellowship. Upon our return home from the visit with family in Texas my friend, Crystal, came to spend a weekend with us; saying she needed time with me. I had not been aware of my own need to be with her, but our visit left me filled and overflowing as we prayed together before she left.

In May I began reading Bonnie Gray’s book, Whispers of Rest, and knew I wanted to take this 40-day journey of rest with others. I opened my home and invited women from my church, as well as a new friend, to join me in experiencing more intimacy with God and deeper acceptance of His love for us. It has been a sweet time of heartfelt sharing and genuine connection. As I attempt to live life where I’ve been placed, God is teaching me to embrace what He has given, and I am experiencing more contentment. There is a place inside of me bursting forth into full bloom as I endeavor to embrace this life here on my street, with these people and in this community. I can’t fully explain it but I feel myself opening up and expanding.

Have you ever found yourself trying to adjust to a place and not quite figuring it out? Have you struggled with unrealistic expectations? How have you embraced the space in which God has placed you? I would love to hear about your experience.

Early summer reading:




What are you reading?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Child-Sized Me


Lately I have been thinking about how I was as a little girl; sometimes the things I remember surprise me. As adults we often leave meaningful and special parts of ourselves behind in our childhoods as we grow in our own self-importance. My first name, Julie, means youthful and I desire to remain youthful. I am not being unrealistic; I know I am growing old like everyone else and have to embrace the natural losses coming with age. But in these vintage years I find myself wanting to be more fully myself, and for me that means embracing some of the forgotten parts of the younger me.


I am absolutely relieved to leave behind some things – those things harmful to me, things Jesus has touched and healed. But even in my chaotic childhood home the little girl me had something the grown-up me has hidden from others, and sometimes from myself. When I remember the books I read and loved I begin to find her there out of doors dreaming up all kinds of beautiful stories. Isn’t it incredible how much life I had to live before I was brave enough to write and share my stories, wanderings and discoveries with others? Writing is a gift the child in me loved and shared. I was braver then.

I lived in my own imaginative world where trees and animals were my friends. Being out in the woods was the best therapy a hurt, lonely, little me could find. There in the trees or in wide open spaces I appreciated the miracles of nature. Beauty fed my soul and gave hope for stories with happy endings. In my grown-up world I have come to accept there are not always happy endings here on the earth, but I have also discovered treasures in the difficulties – the good gifts only a perfect, loving Father could give. And I suppose when I look back at the child-sized me, it was in the midst of dark days I first noticed, without realizing what I was experiencing, the seeds planted there producing hope and more.


It was there in the dark places God wove a hopeful, determined spirit as I delighted in the changes of the seasons; studied bugs, leaves, flowers and trees; asked questions; read books; pretended I was a mommy, an Avon lady or an astronaut; jotted down phrases and thoughts and listened to the elderly folks in my life. As of late I am reminded more and more of the little girl me and I seek to embrace those parts of myself hidden in life’s brokenness and busyness.

As I go back in my mind to the days of the little girl, here are some of the things I find to be true about her and true about me when I choose to embrace the truth about who God made me.





  • absolutely fascinated by nature – restored by being out in the woods, on a mountain or by the ocean
  • delights in making things, creating beauty
  • loves word play (not word games) by reading or turning a phrase – creating word pictures and rhyming words
  • observant and sensitive
  • loves flowers and bright colors
  • hopeful and imaginative
  • surprisingly bold for an introverted child playing the role of caretaker/pleaser
  • sentimental, and with this comes a place in my heart for valuing the good in the people I grew up around and with
  • love for and appreciation of the elderly
  • a free spirit – able to wonder, play and dream for hours without any other type of entertainment
  • loves learning without the need to be an expert, but purely for the joy of learning
  • feisty and determined – helps me keep moving forward when things get tough
  • love for animals particularly horses, puppies and kittens
  • traveled the world through books – fascinated by geography, folk tales and wild animals and their habitats

Connecting with these parts of myself are reminders of how curious I am and why I was willing to capture a slimy banana slug and take it home to share with my girls, or put a caterpillar in a jar to watch the metamorphosis from chrysalis to butterfly. Some things I have remembered about the little girl me has opened up places of creativity long forgotten. In growing up and leaving behind important parts of the child me, I found myself taking on others’ beliefs about the good in life and forgetting the delight I took as a child in these gifts.

When my girls were young we got a kitten. The adults in my childhood family did not like cats, and eventually I was convinced I didn’t like cats either. But after we got Sassy for our girls I began to remember how much I loved furry, purring kittens. I remembered the times I managed to get a kitten for myself as a little girl in spite of the adults’ inability to appreciate that a cat could be a pet and weren’t just for mousing. Recently spending more time with elderly people reminded me of how blessed I was to grow up with so many elderly people in my life. I learned to appreciate and value the elderly. Accepting my desire to learn doesn’t mean I have to be an expert but to let myself embrace learning for the surprise and wonder it keeps alive in me.

Your turn. Think back to the child you left behind. Are you surprised by anything? What are the things you do today that remind you of your younger self? Is there any freedom, openness or creativity you remember and long to embrace and live out in your life again? In case you find yourself a little put off by the idea, I am not talking about childishness but child-like qualities that are true of you and compliment the adult you. What influenced you toward good? What delighted you? What made you curious? How can you incorporate more of this in your life today?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sweet, Healing Words

www.whispersofrest.com

Once in awhile when I am reading a passage of Scripture, I like to put myself into the scene and imagine what it would have been like to be there. I ask myself who I most identify with and try to see the story from that person’s point of view. Recently I was reading Luke 18:15-17; parents were bringing their children to Jesus so He might touch them. The disciples were trying to shoo the people away as if Jesus shouldn’t be bothered with their children.

Jesus rebuked His disciples and invited the children to come to Him. Even now I tear up as I imagine myself as one of the children in this scene. What would it be like to run into Jesus’ open arms, to be held, prayed for and to see the love in His eyes? What a beautiful place to be – a child, fully freed to be with Jesus, receiving His love without reservation!

As children clamored to be near Him, Jesus said to the disciples and others standing nearby, “. . . do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

The parents brought their children seeking something for them which they couldn’t give without Jesus. Jesus invited – they went into His arms to be touched, prayed over and blessed. It began as an ordinary day for these children and in just a few verses their significance increased as He wrapped them up into His story. And when I place myself into this scene, I am a child running into His arms; fully myself – free to trust and rest in His love. To imagine myself as one of these children is such a comforting thought.

Whispers of Rest, beautifully written by Bonnie Gray, is a loving invitation to come like a child into the presence of Jesus and rest. This 40-day devotional gently takes us on an interactive journey to deepen our intimacy with Jesus. I found myself growing more aware of His presence, as well as His love for me. Here in the space of a daily devotional I experienced Jesus in His Word, through prayer and creation. Like a child wrapped in His arms, this journey helped me enjoy His presence without reservation and discover my identity in His unconditional love. Whispers of Rest will help you create space to know Him better and see yourself through His loving eyes.

Bonnie writes of her first time being among the redwood trees, “As I jumped off the bus with giggling classmates, I felt what half-pint Laura Ingalls might have felt. Happy. Free. I looked up in the trees and felt small and safe. I could breathe.” This is so often how I experience Jesus; I feel small but safe. And the more I get to really know Him the more freedom and joy I experience. Prompted to experience this safe smallness, and to deepen my relationship with Jesus; I walked out of doors, sat by the ocean with my girls, took photos of His creations, picked flowers and explored His whispers in a journal.

Many times we allow our disappointments and feelings of shame to shut our hearts from His healing presence. Yet even, and especially in these moments, we need Him and are invited into His presence. Encouraging us, Bonnie nudges us with her words, “Experiencing shame won’t keep Jesus from you. He wraps his healing love around you. Keep stepping forward.” The children in Luke’s story didn’t withhold themselves, heads down, eyes to the ground; they were brought, He invited and they went. You have been invited by Jesus to receive His rest. 

Come along with us on this 40-day journey through Whispers of Rest. It is my hope and prayer that you allow yourself to experience Jesus with a child-like faith and enjoy His presence in the life He has given you this day. When we throw ourselves into His sweet presence we find our stories make more sense wrapped in His grander story. So, bring your heart and mind to Jesus and be prepared to experience restoration, joy and so much more than you can imagine. www.whispersofrest.com

Friday, May 5, 2017

Lessons From a Sweet Pea

There is something to be said for volunteers; people and otherwise. Volunteers just don’t get enough appreciation. I know I haven’t been very appreciative of some of the volunteers I have encountered, particularly the ones in our backyard. Since we compost, we have different plants voluntarily grow in our yard every spring. My husband is thrilled when a volunteer shows up and I am skeptical. I want to know what it is and how does it fit in with the everything else. I love to plan flowerbeds and my husband likes to put plants in random spots. Our yard is a blend of planned and random but the hardiest plants seem to be the volunteers – the ones for which neither of us can take credit.

A few years ago we had to cut down our huge, old pine tree; the California Five Spined Ips beetle killed it. Just a little over a year ago a bush, a type we had seen on our hikes, started growing in the ground next to the stump. Jim looked it up. It is a Laurel Sumac. I thought he said it would grow to about six feet, but it keeps growing. It took our yard two years to recover from the loss of shade when we took down the pine tree, and since then I have planted succulents requiring sunshine. The Sumac continues to grow and has gotten quite large. I looked it up and it can grow up to fifteen feet.

Have you had unwanted volunteers pop up in your life? Sometimes it is the small, unexpected disruptions that throw me off. But it usually takes a biggie to usher in skepticism toward God, planting doubts as to whether or not He cares about me at all. Things like cancer, the loss of a loved one, an old car in constant need of repair draining every spare dime from the bank account, not being able to get pregnant, a fractured relationship – not all of these things are equal but none of them are the seeds of hope I planted for my future.

I find something of myself and how I view life when I am outdoors interacting with the natural world. The garden is wonderful place to allow the Creator of the universe to dig around in my soul and transform me. My grandma once told me she used weeding as a time of confession and prayer; yanking weeds mirrored the removal of wrong thinking. The best way to fight against persistent, wrong thinking is weed it out and plant right thinking by meditating on the truths of God.

It goes without saying that weeds are persistent volunteers, as you pull a handful, ten times as many sprout behind your back. After a truly rainy winter the weeds had a party and invited all the relatives to our yard. It has been a struggle to rescue our yard from their takeover. In an attempt to attack one large patch of weeds, Jim decided to lay a tarp down. There must be certain types of plastic for killing weeds because I looked out our window one day and the weeds had lifted the tarp off the ground; underneath it the weeds had grown stronger. Jim had created a green house in which the weeds thrived.

It reminds me about a question I was asked recently concerning an unresolved hurt – a hurt undermining trust in a relationship. The question was: Should I just put it in the past like others have told me or work through it to a resolution and healing? Sometimes we cover up deep hurt and we truly believe we won’t ever face these ugly things again. Hidden hurts store energy and volunteer to come up at the most inappropriate times, like at a family dinner when your brother says something that triggers a mess of ugliness. Consider whether or not you can just let it go without creating a green house for strengthening hurt feelings and making an emotional hot house.

Jim saves seeds from our Sweet Peas. Early this spring he planted dozens of the seeds. They grew, but he didn’t thin them out right away, so no matter how much care he gave them they seemed to have stopped growing. But in the succulent bed... that’s another story. Sweet Peas volunteered and are snuggled up with the prickly plants, and it certainly looks as if the Sweet Peas rule. Two years in a row a Sweet Pea plant has controlled the succulent bed with its beautiful blooms and leggy, messy vine sprawled out over the succulents like a giant net holding everything in place. In spite of its lovely, fragrant blossoms I find myself frustrated by its audacity to show up where it wasn’t planted/planned.

Sometimes our lives get choked by excess and captured by the unplanned. How do you deal with an overloaded schedule? What resources do you have for coping with an unplanned event spreading out over all your days making it difficult to remember this is only one chapter, not the whole of your life?
Nature is designed for recovery and so are we. Scientists have discovered our brains are capable of developing new neural pathways. We were designed for recovery, for healing. When a fire destroys a forest, over time new plants grow up out of the ashes. Some plants only grow after a fire and not before; it is the great heat of the fire that brings life from these seeds lying dormant and waiting. We don’t like admitting it, but beauty often bursts forth from our lives when we invite increased intimacy with the Father on a painful journey. As we come out of a dark place, one in which we have held tight to His hand, we are transformed. Beauty truly can come out of the ashes of our lives when He holds the ashes in His hands.
  
In Romans 1:20 we are told, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” God has many ways of revealing himself to us and speaking to our hearts, but in this verse, it is made clear that we should not be able to miss Him when we are spending time in the created world. During these beautiful spring days make time to go outside and meet your Father there. You will not be disappointed, as a matter of fact you may be enlightened. You may even discover a volunteer that brings new beauty, fragrance, healing and grace to your heart.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Remembering Gives Hope to Perspective

Seasons are not as distinctive in southern California as in other places, but we do have them. We had the rainiest winter since I moved here 6 years ago, and the results have been impressive. We live in a part of the United States where flowers bloom all year, but this year is the bloomiest (my word); the hills are layered in lush green and glorious golds. Looking out from the car window the beauty draws from me the most satisfying sigh of pleasure. Sometimes there are no words to describe how moved I feel by the brilliance of this well quenched bit of earth. Weeks before the calendar declared it, spring arrived in San Diego full force. And during these joyous days I have been involved in a difficult chapter of life: doing something I found unpleasant and stressful.

Some things I find myself involved with have seemed incongruent for the journey I am on. I mean have you ever been required to do something that will take you from point A to point B, but feel all the while like you are heading to point Z? In the midst of leaving what seemed to be a detour, I was challenged by Margaret Silf’s words (The Inner Compass) to: “Take a walk around the field of your life. Notice the blessings, the gifts and the fruitfulness, and give thanks to God for that ‘crop.’” I allowed myself to sit for a long time and remember the blessings, like blossoms, scattered all over the pathway of the life I’ve lived thus far.

In the quiet moments, I sifted through memories starting with my childhood. It was a comforting way to close the door on this current season punctured with anxiety and stress. I was overwhelmed with gratitude as I remembered the many ways God sustained me and enabled me to grow up. The experience pushed forth one of those pleasure-filled sighs absent of adequate words. I found myself sharing a little of this with some women from my church, particularly the more recent decades of going through divorce, single parenting and getting an education. One of the ladies asked how I knew what to do in the midst of it all. I didn’t, not until “my ears heard a voice behind me, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (my paraphrase of Isaiah 30:21).


The voice came during an ordinary task of mowing our large yard with a small electric
mower, adequate for the days when I lived in northern California. This required an extra long, orange extension cord from house to mower. I had to stop at the end of each row to flip the cord to the other side so as to not mow over it. Mow a row, flip the cord and mow another. In the midst of all this mowing and flipping I was pouring my heart out to God and asking Him how I was going to do it all: be a good mom, work full-time and go back to school to finish my degree. As I handed up my fears and concerns to Him I was handed back a thread of direction to grab hold, “this is the way,” and it helped me begin pulling free of my anxiety. When I tried to figure it out on my own it was a lot like the Towhee tugging at the Spanish moss on my faded turquoise metal gate. She turned this way and tugged, and then went to the other side and tugged; it was just too tangled for her to loosen even one small piece for nest building. But my heart’s cry to the Father loosened up a place in me so I might know the next step while standing in freshly mown grass.


I could go on for hours telling you all the ways God took care of me in the midst of the pain and brokenness of my life. I still had to go through so many hard things, but He never let it destroy me. Quite the contrary, He strengthened and transformed me. Remembering; it is important to stop and remember. There are places in our lives where we must set up markers for remembering how God carried us through. I needed to remember how He was glorified in those overwhelming and painful days of divorce, to see the trail of blossoms so hope is affirmed in me for this day. I have had a great deal of anxiety about the situation I find myself in; it just might be I need a good electric mower and a long stretch of grass that needs mowing. This memory reminds me He hasn’t forgotten me and He has my life all mapped out; I just need to give it over to Him and grab hold of the thread He hands me to get out of what looks to me a tangled mess.


I hope the Towhee finds the loose threads needed for nest building and no longer wastes time on the Spanish moss tightly wrapped together. While I rest and wait I work on nesting too. Every season brings out the nesting instinct in me, but spring takes it beyond the walls and into the yard where I dig, weed and plant. It is here hope is nurtured.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

There's So Much More in a Minute

My brain bounces from topic to topic trying to settle on one to write about with the intent of posting on my blog. Lacking a definitive theme leaves me a bit disconcerted; I read part of an article recently about how blogs without focus won’t sustain readership. This makes me think I am supposed to care about how many read my blog as opposed to who may be encouraged or befriended after a visit. Let me say this: I write first of all because I love to write, and this blog is a wonderful outlet. There is another reason I write. Of course I want people to read this blog but it isn’t as if I am selling something. I write so those who come here might find a sip of something cool to bring down the temperature of a tempestuous day, or choose a sweet morsel of encouragement to savor in one’s spirit, discover a soft cushion on which to relax – a place to discover they are not alone and find focus readjusted on beauty, inspiring awe and gratitude. I want this to be a beautiful gift enticing the reader to explore the mysterious relationship between God, self and the place they find themselves living this very moment.

It is in the moments we live, is it not? Whether or not I am aware of it, my life moves along with moments marching by at a steady pace. I can either find my rhythm to match those moments or time slips past without a backward glance. And if I don’t invest in these moments, I may miss something important. I have been reading a lot about rest, pausing, being present and opening up space for all that is truly important; and I am discovering the really important things happen in the small space of the sixty second moment.


There is a spark of hope lit inside leading me to believe I can somehow lure you, with a few well placed words, into following. Not following me as the writer of “Out of the Woods”, but follow me, another struggling human being, on a journey to find His presence in the ordinary space of a moment in time. The moment may be the hardest ever experienced or the most beautiful to behold, but always He is there revealing Himself to us – teaching us, transforming us and loving us. I bring you along, not so you will want to live my moments, as we often do through social media; I bring you along to inspire you to pay attention to the moments in your life.

A rather challenging task has been placed in my hands over the past several weeks. I admit that throughout the process there have been times when anxiety has had a choke hold on me and I nearly threw in the towel. The whole experience has motivated me to be more intentional about savoring moments shaken lose from an intense schedule. I have learned you have to take hold quickly or a few spare minutes will flit past like a hummingbird darting in and out for a drink at the feeder. Here are some of the ways I have delighted in the moments and made the most of my difficulties.

  • I let my senses do the work. For example, before entering my work place, I watch a hummingbird sipping from a Bird of Paradise while birds in a nearby tree sing lovely, good morning songs.
  • I gave myself to help my husband with weeding the yard after all the heavy rains. Standing back after only a few moments of weeding and enjoying cleared spaces lifts my spirit.
  • Planting new plants throughout the yard and in pots. Just a little here and there makes a big difference to me.
  • Organizing the day so I can take time to chop fresh vegetables and cook us a nice meal.
  • Stealing away for a few minutes to read.
  • Bringing order to my desk.
  • Take a minute to breathe in the delicate, sweet scent of the Pink Jasmine in bloom.
  • Pausing to feast my eyes on the beauty of hand made pots found at a great discount. The beauty reminds me of the fun of taking a pottery class with my husband. The colors lighten my mood.
  • Appreciating the strength of my husband’s hands and being thankful for him.

These little things take just a minute or two but it helps lighten my mood when I feel weighed down with the craziness of busy. I am reminded there is more to life than the doing and there is beauty and joyful moments all around to be embraced even when I feel I am pressed for time. Let these moments wash over and refresh you for all they are worth. They do add up. I also encourage you to plan for longer periods of time for rest, but when the day is busy, seize the moments. Pause, breathe and look around. What do you see, hear, smell, feel and taste. I would love to hear about the moments you experienced this week.

P. S. Since I haven’t been able to get a regular write/post schedule going, if you are interested in receiving my blog in your email please take a moment to sign up below.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Blustery Life

A cup of tea barely serves to keep me grounded on this windy, gray day. It is the sort of bright gray teasing one into believing the sun may peek out any minute. But it doesn’t and the gray presses down on my spirit pushing out the joy. I do what I can to find a sweet spot: drink Good Earth tea, read a delightful book, look for places to go on vacation, and then give up. It is challenging to keep myself braced against a blustery, fast-paced year pushing me so totally out of a comfort zone I may not recognize it if ever I see it again.

I feel like Piglet, in The House at Pooh Corner, being blown about by the wind right past Eeyore; and Eeyore shouts, “Good-bye. Mind you don’t get blown away, little Piglet. You’d be missed. People would say, ‘Where’s little Piglet been blown to?’ --really wanting to know. Well, good-bye. And thank you for happening to pass me.”

I do feel blown about, hither and thither, right past the small life I find meaningful. I am dotting i’s and crossing t’s to be able to do the work I love, and feeling oh so disconnected from people, missing all of you terribly. The life I keep trying to create seems to have been torn to shreds, blustery days whipping it about as I cling to any remnant I can of my normal life in hopes of not losing it altogether.

And to think I thought last year was busy. The details of all this craziness has become quite laborious in the sharing, so I will spare you; but I will say the challenges I am pressed up against are taking a toll. I miss having time to write, see friends, go to Bible study, take care of our home properly, work in the yard, spend time with my husband and so forth. I miss my normal life. I find myself saying in a small voice, “Is it ever coming back?” Will all my days be blustery ones? Will there ever be a gentle spring zephyr filled with the scent of jasmine and hours in a hammock under the tangerine tree listening to the song birds?

About now, some of you are saying, “You think you’ve got it bad,” and others are feeling sorry for me. My woes are probably not worthy of either reaction, but I am lapping up the pity; it is so much better for you to be feeling it for me than for me to be wallowing around in this alone. In the gloom of it all I believe God has been trying to get me to stop all the striving and allow Him to break down walls and open doors. It is hard for me to get my head around the balance of letting go and the responsibility of required steps to move forward. I would love to just sit on a log and wait for things to get done right before my eyes, but I don’t think that is how it works. Where does one go for the perfect recipe between resting and responsibility?

At this moment I think of the Israelites busting up walls with marching and circling seven times around a city and blowing trumpets. I ask God how I’m to deal with the challenging forces in my life. A light finally sparked and lit up a neon sign of truth in my heart this week, and I was reminded: I am trying too hard to please people; and He has given me the power to choose and prioritize. It isn’t easy, but I began by saying “no” more to people whom I had given power over my future. LOL! How can anyone hold power over the future I had placed in God’s hands? Placing this calling and all it requires back into His hands, I am reminded this is His deal, not mine.

Then I opened up space for ordinary tasks. Chopping, stirring, cleaning, baking a birthday cake, weeding, planting and (the cherry on top) with the help of my husband, rearranging the living room furniture. We opened up space which allowed more light into the room. It is exactly what I needed in the living room and in my soul: space and light.

Spending time with the Father, seeking His face, has braced me against the strong winds of change. In the seeking I have strength to endure what my fragile, scared self says I cannot endure. Of course I have to return to look into His eyes several times a day for reassurance and to listen to His reminder He’s got this or I quickly slip back into striving and feeling as if I have been buried under a load of bricks.

What helps you put off working too hard to please others? How do you find your way through all the things you feel you should do to a place of strength taking the next step He has called you to?





P.S. Photos taken by my husband, Jim.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Piecing Together Community

Standing in front of the 17x20 inch friendship quilt, windmill blocks in gray, red and yellow; my husband says, “I am wondering if the names will last?” The names were of women I had built friendships with years ago; we all liked making quilts and collecting fabric. These women stitched together the blocks of this sweet little friendship quilt and signed their names. Whether or not the writing on the quilt fades, their names hold a precious place in my heart. This quilt is a reminder of the kinds of activities I found helpful in piecing together a community of friends.



My photo album has a page dedicated to this small group of ladies. There we sit, all but one, on the church pew in my little house in Antioch, CA. It brings a smile to my face. Where is Cathy B? It could be she is taking the photo. How sad that I didn’t think to trade places with her and get a photo with her in it. The quilt draped across us was the friendship quilt we pieced for Dori H.





Dori was wise; she chose a larger quilt for us to contribute to and it graced her bed for a number of years. We have all moved away from the Bay area. Cathy and I have reconnected in the past year since we live closer to one another now. She told me she still has her quilt, each block a bear, hanging on her guest room wall. Ladies, I think we need a reunion. Can we work on that?



Our fellowship was comprised of Cathy, Deena, Dori, Karen and myself. It seems we tried to meet once a month, and I only remember us gathering regularly just long enough for each of us to receive a quilt. At least I hope all of you got one. I am not sure whose idea it was, but I loved it! It was one of the ways I enjoy building friendships with girlfriends.



It wasn’t the first time I had a group of friends who gathered as such; it was like being in a club. When I was a child I loved the idea of having a club, so I started one; the old, abandoned chicken coop out in the woods at grandma and grandpa’s farm was the club house. Of course I was president of the club; I cast the deciding vote. It was short-lived, maybe because I wouldn’t allow anyone else to be president.



Growing up I left behind the club without purpose in the chicken coop (I know some of you are laughing) and started forming groups around shared interests. When I was in my 20s I found myself in a lonely place. So I invited all my new friends to gather with me once a month to do hand work and eat. Each month we took turns hosting and feeding the group. Each lady brought a project she was working on and we created while yakking it up. It was memorable for me. I loved those evenings of eating what someone else cooked, planning a special meal when I hosted, getting to know each other better and making progress on a project. It gave me a sense of belonging.



Another time the need for connection drove me to start a Bible study in my home. I looked forward to seeing everyone each week, breaking bread and encouraging one another in prayer. My friendships deepened. There were years of gathering with a few to do pen and ink or sorting photos and designing scrapbook pages.



It seems those lovely years went by so fast. There are times now when some fun idea for connecting begins to bud in my mind and quickly dies before bearing fruit in the struggle to find a slot on the calendar and squeezing it in. Yes, I still get together with others for fellowship, but so many don’t seem to have time to commit to a monthly gathering. It’s like we work, serve, sleep and start over. Making time for meaningful fellowship and having fun together seems nearly impossible these days. It’s sad. My life has be sweetened by these gatherings. Throughout the years I have had occasion to reconnect with women who were part of one of these groups and we always pick up where we left off.



There are times when each of us is presented a gift of spontaneity. For example, three women friends of mine were trying every which way to get together. One had to live out of a hotel while her home was being repaired. There were so many complications she couldn’t find a way to meet. So we decided to meet her at the hotel with picnic basket in tow. I purchased some delicious salad kits (as opposed to the not so delicious kind) and dark chocolate. I put it together in a picnic basket, along with my grandma’s depression ware plates. We had a lovely time on the lawn eating our picnic and visiting.



Working around such diverse schedules can be a challenge, but we have to think outside the box. What are some ways you have found for bringing friends together? How do you make meaningful connections when it seems no one has time? Not only do we need to take advantage of the moments presented to us, but maybe it is time we make more room in our schedules to build relationships. Really, everything we do for anyone is multiplied in worth by the time we have invested in building the relationship. What do you say, shall we try being with others more than doing for others?

P.S. Cathy is a superhero when it comes to quilting. When we first met she was working on this quilt. Cathy made this quilt completely by hand -- piecing and quilting. If I remember correctly, this was her ten year quilt. Thanks for the photos, Cathy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Corrective Perspective Creates Contentment

It was confession time. When I announced with frustration, “This is the year I was supposed to be working on becoming more content,” my husband practically choked on the water he was drinking. He knows how much trouble I have had accepting circumstances and focusing more on what I have instead of what I don’t have. It isn’t really about having the right stuff. Here are some of the things on my discontentment list, things I allow to rob me of joy and contentment in the present moment:

hot weather
high humidity
noisy neighbors
dying plants
a crazy schedule
unreasonable expectations for licensing

And there are things I am ashamed to mention. I let these kinds of things keep me wishing away my life for an ideal future, and it doesn’t exist people! A few things have set me on a corrective course. Again. When someone I love was diagnosed with cancer it gave me a new perspective. I mean really, how does hot, muggy weather compare to the difficulty of all the uncertainty cancer brings into a life.

As complaints rise to my lips like bile in the throat, the sign I had seen just ahead of me in the Walk for Alzheimer’s San Diego flashes across my mind. It was a sign bravely worn by a woman, one of many walking for someone they love(d). Her sign read, “I walk for my husband Mike. He has Alzheimer’s, age 66. Behind my sunglasses tears rolled down my cheeks as I cried for her, for her husband and the difficult challenges they both face. I come from a family of longevity; sixty-six seems quite young.

Today I want to live grateful; I just finished reading I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb. So now I tell myself this is just a noisy neighborhood, it isn’t the sound of bombs and gunfire that press one down with fear. It is all in the perspective. You see whatever it is that makes me dissatisfied with any aspect of the life God has placed me in turns out to be nothing compared to the things others face. But were I in a community of gunfire and bombings, God still wants me to find my contentment in relationship to Him, not my surroundings. I find this a bit tough, particularly when I consider those who truly suffer.

For so many of us, like me, discontentment nibbles away at us as we dwell on the least significant imperfections – the minor dis-satisfactions. I am not minimizing the importance of changes and difficulties many must wrestle down each day to find peace and contentment, but some are greater than others. I live a blessed life and it seems cruel and unkind when I am all down about the noisy neighbors or the hot, humid weather when someone down the street just lost a child or a woman in another part of the world cannot leave her home for fear of being attacked because she is a woman.

I love Alana Dawson’s illustration of how God brings life into the hard places. The situations that are cause for our discontent God uses for good in our lives. I found this encouraging and a good reminder to be open to see all He has provided and not all I want. Read her blog post at 


 
In Traveling Light author Max Lucado unpacks Psalm 23. He asks this question, “Are you hoping that a change in circumstances will bring a change in your attitude?” In his chapter addressing contentment Lucado reminds us we “need to learn a secret of traveling light. What you have in your Shepherd is greater than what you don’t have in life. . . . You have a God who hears you, the power of love behind you, the Holy Spirit within you, and all of heaven ahead of you. If you have the Shepherd, you have grace for every sin, direction for every turn, a candle for every corner, and an anchor for every storm. You have everything you need.” I want to live as if I believe, which I do, Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

We are flooded with the promise of a perfectly happy life if and when . . .

If what? When? It is a daily discipline to live the truth: in Him I have all I need. I’ve not discovered any other way of being satisfied. And you? Have you discovered a corrective perspective to the nagging itch of discontent?