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?

Friday, October 14, 2016

How to Get Your "Awe" Back

One would think we were giving birth to a child that morning when my husband shouted out, “It's coming out! Get your camera!” I asked, “Where's my camera?” He replied, “In your phone.” I think I knew that, I needed to know where I had laid my phone down. Scrambling for cameras was preceded by Jim's discovery of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, the second of three we borrowed from the Fennel plant in our backyard in hopes of observing the metamorphosis of a butterfly.

We had both been working intently on editing a book in our spare time. In the midst of our challenging schedule we decided to make space for three caterpillars to crystallize and become butterflies. We were not disappointed. Several times a day we would check on the caterpillars to see the changes in progress. Some days we just missed it by minutes. It was our second caterpillar, formed chrysalis, causing the excitement that morning. Jim saw the butterfly in the process of emerging from the crusty shell in which it transformed from caterpillar to butterfly. It emerged all scrunched up and little by little its wings unfolded.

Now one might wonder how two busy adults could make time keeping tabs on the life cycle of caterpillars. I have to say it was a nice diversion. Have you ever found, when you were buried in a project, coming up for air and doing something totally different can clear your head and refresh you? When I allow myself to take a little time to enjoy the blessings of life in all the tiny details it helps put things into perspective and I get my awe back.

Even as I write this I am so bound in tiredness it is a struggle to do anything productive; I am uninspired. It is in the middle of this fog when I most need to take a break and go outside, or at the very least watch an inspirational nature video. Check out this amazing story of a humpback whale.

You may wonder what I mean by getting my awe back. It means being present to enjoy the moment, an awareness of all things beautiful in the world and people around me, taking time to marvel at all this goodness, and being grateful. You can count on me turning negative if I don’t take time to live in wonder and grow in gratitude. These mini awe-inspiring experiences lift my spirit out of the doldrums. Not only does this help change my attitude, it also helps me focus on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (Phil. 4:8) when I allow myself to be present in these beautiful experiences.

Recently we had our house treated for termites. I was home the day Miguel came to do the trenching around the foundation. It was a nice day and I had all the windows and doors open. Eventually I heard whistling, then singing. This brought a smile to my face. Miguel was singing a beautiful song in Spanish, and though I did not understand the words I understood the melody. Pausing to listen brought some awe into my busy morning. What a lovely experience! It was the first time I had ever heard a stranger singing while working around my home. My spirits were lifted.

Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8, “if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” So when it comes down to it all these beautiful moments should move my heart to worship. The greatest awe factor is the Creator who designed all these beautiful details and moments for me to enjoy; it is sad to think I miss some of them when I am accomplishment driven and disconnected from my heart. I am ever so grateful for His patience toward me. He continues to bring moments of inspiration into my days even when I fail to pay attention.

It has been at least two months since I have posted; I miss writing and sharing with you. I would love to hear about the beautiful moments you’ve been given to wake up the awe in your life. Feel free to leave a comment below. And may you find your spirit lifted today and your heart in an attitude of praise.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Living Hope

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul
and sings the tune without words and never stops at all.”
Emily Dickinson

A lovely breeze blows in through the window of our guest room, and I hear tree branches rustling against one another as if celebrating something wonderful. And it is wonderful to have such a breeze on a warm, August day. It's peaceful and it seems sad to exchange this time to write about all the concerns stirred up in our world by the self-serving. So I won't directly address the issues choking out peace and pitting us against each another. We do get our fill.

Though it is important to stay informed and most of all to pray, I find myself saddened by the loss of hope. I find it extremely challenging to find the balance between staying informed and maintaining hope. You see, while I don't recommend Christians keep their heads in the sand (though how I long to), I do believe we have a responsibility to remind others this may be a chapter in the book, but it isn't the whole story.

What I am concerned about is how the political climate of our culture has us so tied in fearful knots, we may find our eternal view blurred. I do not mean to criticize anyone, just challenging the possibility our focus may be pulled to the wrong thing since we are up to our necks in the sludge of propaganda. Be informed, know what is going on in the world but live in hope.

Ann Voskamp writes this about the importance of the hope habit, “Habits are small gears that leverage your life – and the habit of hope can resuscitate anything.” Can it? Can hope resuscitate this painfully twisted world, a world in which there is no safe place to hide? Can hope hold us up above all that seems to be going wrong, high above in the safe place of the Father's hand? Do we truly believe this world is temporary and our home is a place of eternal hope and peace?

Sarah Young's perpetual calendar, Jesus Calling, offers this, “Hope is a golden cord connecting you to heaven . . . Hope lifts your perspective from your weary feet to the glorious view you can see from the high road. . . . I am training you to hold in your heart a dual focus: My continual Presence and the hope of heaven.”

Our hope can never be held up by the right candidate, if there were one. In hope, I challenge myself daily to think on the truer story – His story. Our Father has not forgotten us. At this moment, we are all part of this difficult chapter in our world, but our focus must be on the war not the battle, on the Prize not the present. We must take the long-view not the short-view. Oh but we are to be battling in prayer – this is spiritual and not at all about first appearances or what it seems to be. The darkness in this world would so like for us to focus on the defeat we often feel in our flesh as we struggle upstream against the current of the world. But we are just passing through this mess as one might pass through a terrible storm crossing the mountains. Our focus must be on the pinhole of light we see guiding us as we inch our way through the black night of this world until the Light increases, until there isn't even a speck of darkness – until all is Light.

Do we truly believe in this Hope? Because if we do, I have to ask the hard question. Why does it seem we speak more about the enemy's works than we do of hope, a hope built strong from an eternal perspective. I care about the hurt, the damage and the losses suffered by those on the front-lines of the fray. But I want to be one holding up arms in prayer, focusing discouraged hearts on Jesus, the overcomer of the world, and encouraging others not to give up hope.

On August 9, 2016 John Stonestreet posted the these words on Breakpoint Daily:

Our deepest problems aren't political ones, and the state is not able to address them. Looking to the state for hope is always misguided, but every four years we seem to fall for it. . . . Look, the Church is not reliant one bit on the state to do the life-giving, Gospel-proclaiming, brokenness-restoring work God has called it to do. The Church is the most effective institution of social change, period.”

While living as responsible citizens on this earth, remember our real citizenship is eternal. Embrace Hope. Hold onto the “hope [that] does not disappoint us” (Rom. 5:5 NIV). Hold onto the “living hope [given to us] through the resurrection [of Jesus, God's Son]” (1 Peter 1:3 NIV). We aren't home yet and we have a responsibility to encourage one another, to help keep one another focused on what is real, the hope we have in Christ. Encourage one another to focus on: “whatever is true, . . . noble, . . . right, . . . pure, . . . lovely, . . . admirable, . . . excellent or praiseworthy” (Phil. 4:8).

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13).

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Hole in the Trunk

Last day of vacation so I decided to run out and pick up lunch. I was driving home when I saw a car with a gaping hole in the trunk exposing lots of personal property once hidden inside. And it was full of stuff, an ugly mess. I think I may have gasped at the sight of it; it was a bit shocking. Seeing inside the trunk of someone's car in this way made me consider what kinds of things I store in my trunk. Sometimes my trunk is filled for weeks on end with things I mean to donate to the thrift store. Other times my trunk holds the basics: back pack for work, car emergency kit, spare tire and a pop up bag for groceries, which rarely gets used because I forget it is there. I often have something in my trunk to return to someone. Putting something in the trunk seems to have a way of wiping it from my memory temporarily. If I have something of yours, you might check the trunk of my car.

While I was thinking about what people might see if my trunk was bashed open, it occurred to me most of us have an emotional trunk where we stuff feelings and memories we want to forget or don't know what to do with, things we don't want others to see. OK so I am a counselor and yes I have to tie the exposed trunk to our psychological mess. Please bear with me. I do believe a lot of what we try to ignore in our emotional trunks keeps us trapped and unable to live in freedom.

Without making a full disclosure of all we hide in our trunks, let's consider the bottom line: shame. Maybe shame isn't all, but shame seems to be the big white elephant we all stuff into the trunk and lock it in tight; we for sure don't want others to know how much shame we feel. Here is the interesting thing I have discovered in my work, most of what we are ashamed of aren't things we did wrong (though there is some of that). People are most often ashamed of things out of their control. The big snow ball of shame begins as a child by the things others did or said to us and it keeps on building from there. Shame is based on the lies we believe and shame paralyzes us. I love this reminder in Psalm 34:5 (NIV).

Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.

Brené Brown, an expert on shame, wrote, “Shame is that warm feeling that washes over us, making us feel small, flawed, and never good enough. If we want to develop shame resilience – ability to recognize shame and move through it while maintaining our worthiness and authenticity – then we have to talk about why shame happens.”

Oh no! We have to pull shame out of the trunk and into the open. Brown goes on to write, “Shame is basically the fear of being unlovable . . . There is a real fear that we can be buried or defined by an experience that, in reality, is only a sliver of who we are. . . . Shame needs three things to grow out of control in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment. When something shaming happens and we keep it locked up, it festers and grows. It consumes us. We need to share our experience. Shame happens between people, and it heals between people. . . . Shame loses power when it is spoken.”

Like me, many of you may be wondering: “Aren't we supposed to feel ashamed of some things?” Brown simply explains the difference between shame and guilt in this way:

Guilt = I did something bad.
Shame = I am bad.

We all have stories that have shaped us for better or worse. Shame can keep us from seeing any good, anything of worth in our stories. Shame can make us hide and pretend until someone rear ends our emotional trunk and our pain gets exposed. Ultimately we each have a choice in whether or not we allow our stories to be used for good or buried inside to decay and shame us. I am learning it is better to embrace the story I've lived, sift it for all the good God has brought from it, be a humble encourager of others from a truer place, than have my protective bumper ripped away and all my stuff instantly and violently exposed.

Peter Scazzero writes in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, “Our fear of bringing secrets and sin into the light, however, drives many people to prefer the illusion that if they don't think about it, it somehow goes away. It doesn't. Unhealed wounds open us up to habitual sin against God and others. . . . You see, even the worst and most painful family experiences are part of our total identity. God had a plan in placing us in our particular families and cultures. And the more we know about our families, the more we know about ourselves – and the more freedom we have to make decisions how we want to live. We can say: 'This is what I want to keep. This is what I do not want to bring with me to the next generation.'”

Of course we cannot make such healthy decisions without looking in the trunk at the things hidden away. We don't look to blame and we don't look to dwell; we look to expose it to the light and to be set free. Shame tells us not to look. Being whole and healthy requires us, not only to look, to sift through and expose our lives to the light of truth. It is only by truth we are set free.

All this to say opening our emotional trunks is not the same thing as exposing hurt and hurtful people on social media. We have dulled our senses from overexposure and do not realize this has the same effect as ripping open a trunk and exposing everything at once. This is not healing, not useful and is not without shame. Our stories aren't meant to be weapons. It is through the grace of God we are able to expose our wounds in a healthy way, bringing all the ingredients of our lives, and allowing our stories to be woven into His beautiful message of love and redemption to the world.

I find hope in the words of Henri J. M. Nouwen, “There are two ways of telling your story. One is to tell it compulsively and urgently, to keep returning to it because you see your present suffering as the result of your past experiences. But there is another way. You can tell your story from the place where it no longer dominates you. You can speak about it with a certain distance and see it as the way to your present freedom. The compulsion to tell your story is gone. From the perspective of the life you now live and the distance you now have, your past does not loom over you. It has lost its weight and can be remembered as God's way of making you more compassionate and understanding toward others.”

Maybe it's time to inventory your trunk. How are you doing as you sort out what is usable and what is not? Are you willing to give shame the boot so you are free to offer up the mess for God to use? If the idea is overwhelming, don't do it alone. We are to encourage one another and bear one another's burdens. Find a trustworthy person to buoy you up in the process.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Plant Ties

Balmy and hazy; a calming sort of day. I would like to throw out the to-do list and hunker down behind a good book or take a long nap. But things need doing and I've been marking them off at a little more leisurely pace, one at a time. This day is unlike the last two days, which have been hot, and it in no way resembles a week ago Sunday, the day my girls and I decided to go to a nursery.

On the hottest day of the season thus far, my girls and I decided to meet for lunch and browse through a nursery. We didn't know it was going to be so hot when we planned our outing. Due to scheduling issues, we celebrated Mother's Day on Father's Day and stood our ground with the crowd. We distracted ourselves with chatter about one thing or another while waiting to order our food in a restaurant without air conditioning. We served ourselves tepid water from glass coolers, devoid of ice, in order to stay hydrated. We sat at the children table, as all other seating was taken, and we visited through the long wait for a delicious lunch.

The nursery next door was the purpose for meeting at this particular restaurant. A hot sun poured heat down over us; though melting, we were not deterred from enjoying the plants, pots and farm animals. Warning signs about the turkey and the cow were photo worthy. Most of the plants were in the hot sun, but behind the farmer's house there was a gazebo and a few trees. We slowed down to enjoy the shade before viewing the succulents. All three of us appreciate plants, but we have developed a fondness for succulents; they are easier to grow here in the coastal desert. As far as I know no one before my generation, on either side of the family, has had an affinity for cacti. With a brother living in Arizona and the girls and I living in the coastal dessert, succulents have grown on us so to speak.

It was a day my grandma would have appreciated: the farm-like setting, drawers filled with seeds to be planted in the dark soil with hopeful anticipation and lots of plants. It's interesting to consider the various things that run in families. Families reproduce behaviors, beliefs, values, interests, mannerisms, genes determining health and longevity, favorite recipes, etc. The list is endless. Their are many things I see reflected in my girls passed down through generations of resourceful, caring women. But on this day it was the love of growing things that drew us back to grandma, the way she tied a straight row with string to stakes at end each of the garden. Grandma, and others like her, are the stakes to which we often find our passions tied. Grandma planted vegetables to feed the family, but flowers were scattered about for beauty; she was a practical woman housing a soft spot for a well put together bouquet.

In my mind there is a memory etched of grandma wearing a simple, cotton dress and canvas slip on shoes bent over freshly turned dirt dropping seeds in anticipation of a summer harvest. She planted, weeded, harvested, snapped, blanched and canned. The joy she took in having flowers is what was most pressed in my DNA. Like grandma, I love a beautiful bouquet. She and I had so many things in common, and a day at the nursery with my girls reminds me of how much I miss her.

After grandma died they found two little calendars like the insurance companies used to mail each year to clients. There were just a few lines for noting events on any given day of the calendar. Grandma had filled those two calendars full of the ordinary happenings of each day: weather, gardening, visitors, births, deaths, spring cleaning, baking, canning, the number in attendance at Bible study and when she hung clothes on the line. I was fascinated by how well documented her days were in such tiny spaces. I identify well with her need to keep track of the everyday things that give life meaning like the photos the girls and I took of our hot day at the nursery. It is interesting how such simple things, the memories we make and value deepen our connection to one another. Roots are deepened in the documentation of the memories.

There are many things I do, believe and enjoy that are linked to my grandparents. It is hard to find a good stopping place here. But I am left with so much fodder for future writings. That day I was blessed to share a similar interest with my girls, one that takes me back to hot summer days under the Elm tree snapping beans and listening to grown-ups talk about the weather. Do you find yourself surprised by shared interests with a relative you barely knew or one you've spent a lot of time with over the years? I would love to hear your stories.

P.S. Laura Ashley Smith, my daughter, gets the credit for the charming turkey photo.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

June Gloom

(Written June 1)

It's gray this morning. Again! In San Diego we have a saying, “May gray, June gloom”. And it has been gray! I sit here wrapped in a blanket. The temperature in my house is 68 degrees and the humidity is 89% and trending upward. People around me, who love being cold, do not notice the humidity; I am sensitive to the moisture in the air – the dampness that takes what could be a nice, warm 68 on a dry, sunny day and chills it down to something requiring a blanket, sweater and leggings. I resist the temptation to turn on the heater this first day of June.

Today I interview for an on-call position; it includes overnight shifts. On this gray, damp, chilly day I am weighed down with concerns of how unfitting this world is for one wired such as I. Yes, we all have to spend a lot of life living outside our comfort zones. In general I tend to be a bit too aware of how I cross wires with the culturally designed models for living. Of course those of us who follow Jesus are certainly strangers passing through; all this is temporary. I am relieved to know the tight-fitting, uncomfortable sometimes hard to bear places I find myself in will one day be left in a heap of dust on this earth while I move about in forever freedom.

So many people face difficult changes beyond anything I've experienced; diseases or events draining all normalcy from the everyday for months and years. Sometimes these experiences require the development of a new normal to be built around the continuous breach in one's life. My anxiety is over something very temporary and yet I dread feeling as if a large chunk of life will be cut away leaving a gaping hole behind in a blur of busyness. I have to ask myself if I am spoiled, or like many others just struggling with change. Change can rock the boat and tip me out of my safe space until I am in over my head and gasping for a few minutes to slow down and breathe; needing to find space for inhaling some calm and rest instead of a vacuum induced panic.

Everyday I find myself drawn to people who remind me of God's faithfulness and His immeasurable grace for each moment and each situation. I leave you with this link to Emily P. Freeman's blog, where you will find encouragement as you go through the kinds of changes leaving you in a gray, damp place of forgotten awareness of His sustaining grace. Look for 7 Days of Still Moments, by Emily P. Freeman.

Friday, May 27, 2016

A Bit of Child's Play

The end of May seems to be right smack dab in the middle of the second busiest season of the year for us; the first being Thanksgiving/Christmas. It is the season of graduations, Mother's Day, birthdays and Father's Day with an occasional wedding thrown in the mix. I am feeling desperate for a vacation. This year due to a couple of unplanned events we have gotten a late start on deciding the what, when and where of vacation. As we jockey for a position between co-workers' vacations, we penciled two possible options on the calendar from which to give ourselves a week of renewal. One of the seven-days-in-a-row time frames has a family event attached to each end of it. Then we have to wrestle with the idea of missing one or book ending our much needed week with celebrations. Those of you who know my husband and I know we like to be at family events, but rarely mix these gatherings into a recipe for vacation.

Vacation means something different for everyone. When I was a kid it mostly meant parents took a week off of work and did projects around the house; we didn't go on vacations. Summer vacation was a reading fest for me; it was a time to roam outside and daydream. Childhood summers were filled with helping my grandma in the garden, snapping beans and pitting cherries, visiting cousins in Cincinnati, family reunions and going to the county fair. We didn't go on trips, but I dreamed of seeing the world one day.

Not only have I not seen the world, I haven't even left the continent of the United States and I dont have a passport. No pity here. I have taken vacations though. You know, gone places and done things. I rarely do a stay-cation. I like to get out of town and mill around someplace with which I am unacquainted. I love tucking away the part of me that cares so much and rest. Resting for me is reading, discovering quaint shops, used book stores and lovely little hikes. Discovering unexpected treasures apart from the plan is one of the best parts of a restful vacation.

One year Jim and I drove north on the coastal highway, a beautiful experience; at one point I spotted a whale spout, then another and another. We finally pulled over and watched for spouts as my excitement grew and awareness dawned; the gray whales were migrating north. I loved the idea of joining them. That particular vacation was packed with all kinds of adventure and, to my husband's surprise, my greatest joy was in seeing the whale spouts off the coast and the feeling of connection to the whales' migration.

Now when you are going on vacation with someone else it is no longer just about what you need or want. My husband and I like similar things, but the differences do stretch me. He likes to go help someone (selfishly, I just like helping myself) and he likes to see things more than I do and with more intensity; he is task driven. For me, vacation isn't a task, it is an attitude of being present with myself, with him and in the moment. It is chill time even when family factors into the experience. And I love just being alone with my husband and no one else. Part of the dilemma of planning our vacation is agreeing on one in which we both have our needs met.

I do love going and seeing. I love road trips, but I miss summers off and just being a kid. Fortunately at this time my schedule is somewhat flexible, but I have some extra work pressures right now related to licensing. So just in case I don't get enough of the kinds of things I need on vacation (How can I, it is just a week?), I am making a list of ways to insert mini-vacations into my summer. I will have to discipline myself to work these in, but me thinks this may work in conjunction with my efforts at Sabbath rest. Here are a few things that give me a dose of the good ol' summer time kind of relaxation, as well as remind me of my grandparents.

  • Nurture potted plants on the patio and throughout the yard. Even planning on a herb pot outside the kitchen door.
  • Reread childhood favorites like:
    Professor Diggins Dragons by Felice Holman (Has anyone else read this one?)
    Up the Road Slowly by Irene Hunt
    Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
    Heidi by Johanna Spryi
  • Sketch and color
  • Blow bubbles (I know some of you are laughing right now, but bubble blowing is calming. Maybe you should try it.)
  • Sew a fun project (nothing necessary or serious)
  • Make a picnic like grandma: fried chicken, potato salad, sweet pickles, cheese, and sugar cookies
  • Visit the nursery that has farm animals
  • Eat ice cream at the beach
  • Better yet, make homemade ice cream
  • Fly kites

What are your vacation plans? What are the summer time activities you find relaxing and reminiscent of childhood summers?

P.S. Photo looking through the gate at my grandparent's home was taken by my niece Kadi J. Love.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Need Rest? No Excuses Necessary

The fast pace of the opening verse in Jonny Diaz's song, Breathe, expresses well the day to day style of living we find most common in our culture. But when he sings, “Breathe, just breathe. Come and rest at my feet And be, just be” the words seem to hang, suspended in air; the pause is palpable. I long to stay suspended in between the fast pulsing verses right where the pause eases me down into a soft, restful place.

In her book Sabbath Keeping, Donna Schaper says, “Not to keep sabbath is like receiving a beautiful gift and forgetting to say thank you. It is like staring at a banquet and complaining that there is nothing good to eat.” For me it might be like believing there is never enough time for renewal while wasting time depleting my energy with mind numbing activities.

Several years ago I invested a chunk of time studying Sabbath rest (the fourth commandment) because I was in great need of rest and curious if it was still relevant; so few people practice it these days I had begun to think it had gone out of style. Is the commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy meant for us modern folk with our increased sense of importance? I believe The Ten Commandments are for all time, so then remembering the Sabbath must still be relevant. Besides have you noticed four verses are used to cover the fourth commandment while the other nine require one verse each? I don't believe this means it is more important, but I suspect it is because it would be the easiest for us to rationalize ignoring it.

But what does it mean to remember the Sabbath, keep it holy and rest on the seventh day? And how does this translate into my life in this day and age? Interestingly I was pressed to study the Sabbath rest just a few years before attending graduate school, a time when my schedule was stretched beyond anything I had ever experienced or believed I could manage.

Fast forward through a graduate degree, including an internship while working full time, to a career change, two moves and a wedding; I married a man in ministry. All of these changes had turned my routine inside out. In the midst of all the changes while attempting to regain some form of equilibrium, my Sabbath rest thinned out and without notice disappeared. I had become oblivious to what rested and renewed me; when overwhelmed I found a culturally acceptable means of escape: social media. Ugh! I soon found myself both frustrated and bored as I escaped stress by zoning out on the Internet. How had I become so disconnected from rest and renewal? How had I gotten off course?

As a counselor I come across many articles on mindfulness: a way of staying present and focused. Recently, a longing grew within me to be more present to the presence of God and more attuned to what He desires from me in the moment. I've returned again to the discipline of Sabbath rest and discovering ways to make adjustments to my week so I can experience a deepened awareness of God and renewal.

Keeping sabbath is a decidedly different way of living: it is deeply counter-cultural. It is living out an intentional witness, a resistance to the way things are. When we live differently, we live with God,” writes Donna Schaper. It is true: to live the way of God is counter-cultural. In Romans 12:2 Paul tells us “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Donna's words challenge me: “We say 'no' to a scripting of our life that is without play or rest or grace. We say 'yes' to a life that is grounded in God's grace, and then we receive more than we could ever have imagined of rest and play. For sabbath keeping allows us time to love, and thus restores to us the joy of our salvation.”

I have to ask myself:
  • Without pause how will I know if all I do is for God or for me?
  • As Jesus multiplied a little boy's lunch to feed 5,000, can I trust Him to multiply my acts of service on the six days given for work? It isn't all up to me, though sometimes I act like it.
  • Do I want to restore the joy of my salvation, or do I want to grind my teeth and harvest bitterness from burn out?

As I return to a routine revolving around a Sabbath rest I experiment with what slows me down and refocuses time on God, relishing in the week's accomplishments. Without stopping to enjoy the completion of tasks, we are driven to do more, thinking we've done less. Does that make sense? It does to me. We take for granted all we do not stop to appreciate.

What kinds of things do you do to create Sabbath rest? What activities are restful for you? Some things I find truly restful: reading, watching a movie with my husband, sitting outside and listening to the birds, a walk in the woods or by the lake, planting flowers, or drawing.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Mother of the Year

When I was a teenager living in Colorado Springs, our youth group decided one Mothers' Day to vote for “Mother of the Year” and honor her during the Mothers' Day service. We voted by ballot. My brother and I confessed to one another we voted for our mom. When Mothers' Day arrived and the time had come to announce the “Mother of the Year”, our mom was chosen. Mom was surprised, but so was I. How wonderful it was our peers, without knowing her as we do, also saw her as the one to honor that year. For some reason we never had another “Mother of the Year” vote, so in my mind mom still holds the title in a particular church in Colorado Springs.

She was, and still is, the woman who notices those on the fringes in need of a friend. It was from my mother I learned to reach out and befriend the person ignored by others. Mom is a cheerleader for the one facing a hard thing and she prays. There has hardly been a holiday when a stranger didn't join us for a meal, someone lonely and in need of my mother's love and care. This is a woman with more ideas than days, energy far greater than most young people, and a great ability to laugh at herself. And she has given herself much to laugh about. My mom, my friend.

It was her prayers and determined encouragement that carried me through many hurdles. As the child who probably baffled her most, I am grateful for the ways she stood by me and believed in me. We are in many ways different, but we share the same passion for homemaking, the hurting, and for relationships. All three of her children inherited her appreciation for antiques. Her faithfulness to God and her loving, good intentions had a marvelous influence on the decisions we made to live for Christ.

Today my seventy-five-year old mother is driving home from Colorado Springs; she has been on an unusual journey. In early April my husband and I made the long drive from San Diego to Hereford, Texas for my step-dad Alton's funeral. It wasn't unexpected. We were relieved for his sake because he had suffered much the last months of his life; and he suffered bravely. Still it has been sad.

Jim and I planned on staying with my mom for a few days and to help her take care of things, but the time was shortened. Two churches Alton served over the years held memorial services and wanted my mom to attend. So with her van packed with mementos and clothes for every kind of weather, she took off for, what my husband lovingly calls, “The Alton Tour.” Mom drove to Fort Collins, Colorado for service one, and then flew to Cincinnati, Ohio for service two. While traveling she made time to see family and friends. And today, almost three weeks later, saturated with fellowship, she is going home. Home to a different life, a life without the man who poured love and adoration into her brokenness, the man who insisted she see places and entertained her on the journey with his wit and books.

 Now this blog is really about my mom but I couldn't write about her without saying something of what she is going through today. It seems weird to think of mom without Alton, but this new chapter will one day become the new norm, though we will never forget the man who stuck close to her side for nearly 24 years. My mom can be amazingly resilient and resourceful. Her children are watching to see how she writes this chapter; she always surprises us. We will be close by to support her.

I am praying for her today as she makes the six hour drive home and for the next chapter of her life. Mom, may you fully embrace the love and care others have for you as you go into a different sort of future. We are all here for you. Jesus is here for you. Happy Mothers' Day to my mom, “Mother of the Year” every year!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Word Doodles

My mind can't seem to knit threads of thought together to form a tight essay of one subject for anything. I have started more than once to try and pull my scattered mind back into a sensible straight line. I am done fighting it. So for now I will try and pin down as many jittery thoughts as I can, my form of doodling with words. I hope you don't mind. I've done a few chores, supper is in the oven and we have a few minutes to chat.

Yesterday was date day at our house; it usually falls on Wednesday. We spent most of the date outside, except for a quick visit to the library where I was lassoed by a book titled, The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball. It is a true story about a New York City girl becoming a farmer, marrying one, both. I don't know which came first, but she writes “As much as you transform the land by farming, farming transforms you. It seeps into your skin along with the dirt that abides permanently in the creases of your thickened hands, the beds of your nails.” I was captured!

As a country girl I have a longing for space, a garden, a few goats and chickens; a story like this grabs my attention and holds it. I am not planning on taking up farming but I love the idea of it. I grew up next door to my grandparents; they were farmers. I believe I lived in the best world ever; I had such wonderful farm experiences without all the chores. Though grandpa needed our help every now and then to round up a cow or sheep that had strayed, for my brother and me it didn't feel like work; it was great fun. In early spring we would get a call one morning before school announcing the baby lambs had arrived. We raced out of the house, down the road and to the barn for our first glimpse of the newborns before the school bus came.

So what do I do with this country girl pent up inside of me? I take her outside. After our date and taking a peek at my library book I went out to give our new plants a sprinkle of water from my bright, blue watering can. Earlier in the week we planted the most delicate ice plant on the little hill against the gray stucco wall in our back yard. I was drawn to the cheery, violet colored, daisy-like bloom and can not wait to see the hill covered with them.

The sparrows have been carrying on all afternoon and the wind brushes against the wind chimes and the lovely woodwind sound soothes me. My husband transplanted a small volunteer orange tree into a pot. The pink jasmine I've wanted for so long is blooming profusely. All this inspired me to open the vegetable drawer and use up a few items, before they perish, to make quiche. Sparrows chirped profusely, wind chime sounds, chopping vegetables, the sun beginning its descent and I feel wrapped up in a secure, warm space. I have often wondered how I might bring into my current life bits and pieces of things I miss from other lifetimes. It seems I do so without giving it any thought; it comes naturally to me.

Like the daffodil buds tucked into a cobalt blue vase on the counter top. I have been looking for daffodils for a few weeks. Finally, I found some at the grocery store today. I chose the ones with the tightest buds and hoped like everything they would bloom. Daffodils always remind me of my grandma. Grandma worked a full time job and came home everyday to make homemade meals, tend a garden in summer, made quilts or afghans for newborns and brides and the list goes on. No matter what she always had her flowers. Flower beds dotted their property and daffodils, narcissus and hyacinths burst forth every spring to tempt a granddaughter into coveting her own bouquets.

In amongst the week's angst and cheerful, cozy moments my great niece was born. It just so happens I have plane tickets to Texas for next week and I will get to meet her. Babies, flowers, farming and quiche; sweet blessings tucked in the middle of a world gone mad revives a calm inside of me reminding me of the hope of Spring, of resurrection and of eternal life.