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June ending

I have made an effort to fly like the breeze in June, as I promised myself. Lest one think I laid around in my bathrobe all month munching on bonbons, let me clear up that misconception. There was work to do. Cooking and washing up. Laundry and folding clothes. Sweeping floors and cleaning bathrooms. Weeding gardens and paying bills. It is the stuff of life, and it had to be done. Before I sit with nothing to do, I will be transported somewhere else, maybe another planet.

But I tried to be less regimented and plan-oriented and allowed myself more spontaneity and relaxation.

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The breezy part of the month began on June 2nd which just happened to be National Donut Day in the United States of America. And I think, “What a great country this is!”

After hearing it announced on the radio, Sweet William and I wanted to honor this occasion. We just left an appointment, so we headed for Krispy Kreme where the line was long but the excitement was high. Krispy Kreme was giving away a free donut with each order.  A little girl in line behind me was focused on the confection with colored sprinkles behind the glass case. No amount of suggestions from her mother would dissuade her. I knew how that little girl felt.

I spent some time in hospital waiting rooms. They are places too familiar for me.  It was a time for me to comfort as I have been comforted. I hoped just being there would provide encouragement to friends who feel like family. We gathered to offer the gift of presence, holding on to hope after a loved one experienced a trauma no one could have expected. Sweet William and I pray daily for this family.

June 4 marked a holiday known as Pentecost, important in Jewish and Christian history. It gets little attention from my community of faith, which I find a bit sad.  I get the feeling that some denominations fear the word Pentecost, as if something weird is about to happen. If we deny the dynamics and power of the Holy Spirit, where does that leave us as believers? We cannot do this thing called the Christian walk on our own strength.

We welcomed planned and unplanned visitors in June. One morning while I was still sitting at the breakfast table in my nightgown and robe, a younger friend rang the doorbell. She came in and said she just needed a hug before she faced a trying situation. I held her and Sweet William and I prayed, for courage and a perfect strength that is always available to us who are weak. She went on her way, and I have faith in the God we love that she will endure.

I read a book called The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan. She took one year of her life and decided to be grateful each day. It made me happy just reading it. The author said it changed her relationships and her attitudes about her life. She didn’t write from a Christian viewpoint of giving thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.  She wrote from a non-religious perspective, simply trying it as an experiment. Her story affirmed the truth to me once again, that God instructs us for our good. He gives us guidelines, instructions and laws, that to some seem restrictive, but actually are for our freedom and good will.

Silence and solitude were also topics of interest this month. One book was about a man who decided to keep quiet for a day. That decision stretched into two decades without speaking words to anyone, though he did gesture to get his thoughts across. I just thought that was weird and didn’t finish the book.

Another selection, A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland, was written in a journalistic approach. The author reported on people through history who have sought silence and how solitude affects us. She ventured into her own experiences of silence at a cabin, on the dessert and in the mountains. It changed her in ways that surprised her.

By far the most intriguing book was called The Stranger in the Woods, by Michael Finkel. He wrote about a man who walked away from society in his twenties to camp in the woods of Main for 27 years. He did not have a conversation with another human for the duration.  That this “stranger” could exist in the rugged elements with camping equipment and stolen objects for almost almost 30 years was amazing, but that he did not have any companionship, nor any desire for it, seemed astounding.

Letting these books influence me, I decided to take a half day and spend it in solitude at the end of the month. Sweet William was going to an early appointment and then to visit his brother, so it was a good opportunity for me to practice quietness. I was set to begin, when the phone rang, and I heard the caller ID announce the familiar number of number one son. I reset my start time and answered that call. I had the nicest chat with my boy.

I played no TV, no music and looked at no internet. There is way too much noise on-line. This is my favorite quote for the month: “The internet before breakfast does NOT lead me into paths of righteousness, but into despair. “ — 

I found it harder to be quiet than I imagined. I am an introvert by personality (though I do tend to talk to myself and that became annoying).

I spent much of the time outside, just listening and enjoying the gentle sounds of nature. Listening was a more intense activity. I realized there is no true silence when there are voices from the neighborhoods, dogs barking, cars running on a nearby highway, and an inner dialog of my own mind.

Maisie was a little confused that I was not giving her voice commands.

I found it refreshing to be still for several hours. It was a good discipline for me. I would like to do it again. Perhaps fasting from words will make me appreciate the ability to express myself and to measure what I say and how it comes across.

One other media source worth mentioning that had nothing to do with silence is the movie The Resurrection of Gavin Stone. I got it from my Free Public Library (my favorite place for books and movies), and it was delightful. I watched it twice before I returned it. It is Christian based, well done, and funny. I recommend it.

I began two different Bible studies this month. One I am preparing to lead in the fall. I am a class member in the other. I notice I am very different in these environments. It is interesting to recognize different sides of me.

As I lead a study, I am vocal and forthcoming, well-planned in how I present the topic and encourage discussion. As a class attender, I am quiet and wait for others to respond before I assert myself. The leadership role is out of my comfort zone. I recognize it as a gift from the Holy Spirit (that power source mentioned earlier) because my comfy security blanket is being unobtrusive and in the background. That just goes to show what God can do and wants to do with each individual. He gives gifts as He wills, not to make us proud or boastful or to make a name for ourselves, but to recognize the abilities and competency comes from a higher Source. It is really humbling.

June welcomed the beginning of summer, and it has been appropriately hot. The day lilies began blooming in their array of colors and shapes. Many of them were gifts from a friend who loves to share the bounties of her own garden. When the flowers bloom I think of her and am thankful for her generosity and friendship.

There were a few near perfect days this last week of June. I wistfully watch the month end. It’s been light and liberating to loosen my grip on the plan.

An email to a friend reflects my final thoughts: “I have been somewhat reclusive this month, enjoying home and the blessings God has bestowed on us. I’ve stayed inside when the weather was too hot, enjoyed rainy days from my window view. Perhaps life was meant to be more like this than the frantic way in which we spend our lives. Food for thought.”

Good-by June. You’ve been delightful.

 

 

Today’s musings

It’s been another busy week. I’m not sure how that happens when I plan for down time during December. But appointments and events and visitors and lunch dates and driving and preparations have been my lot, not to mention the everyday of keeping the household running as smooth as possible. There are always meals to cook and clean up, laundry to wash and fold, bills to pay, and the ongoing task of putting things in their places.

Life is just busy I guess, the daily-ness of living it out. When I stop having something to do, I guess I will just . . .  well, I don’t know what might happen. I pray for strength and a sound mind to keep pressing forward.

This morning, I sit quietly as is my habit, for as long as I can. My two cups of morning coffee have been drunk, the caffeine waking away my sluggish sleep. The gas logs flicker in rhythm to the candle flames of the glass jar sitting on the kitchen table. Maisie dreams on her bed beside me, and Sweet William’s soft snores echo down the hall from the bedroom.

I spot the stray cat sleeping on the cushioned glider outside while it is still dark. He is the scaredy-cat I’ve been feeding off and on for over a year. He disappeared for months and his reappearance this morning makes me smile. That he feels safe enough to sleep and glance up at me through the window that divides us makes me think maybe he will stick around for a while.

I begin to contemplate how I might provide a shelter from the weather for him (or maybe her; who knows with cats). I know I will leave food daily and a dish of warm water. He will reward me by keeping the mice away.

Darkness still shrouds this new day. Nights are long in December. I am already anticipating the 21st. It marks the beginning of winter but also when daylight begins to increase by mere seconds. The lengthening days renews hope. Hope for spring.

While cold temperatures, snow and freezing rain are possible in the coming months, perhaps even tomorrow, spring is coming. I will look for it.

Like the icy cold winter weather, this December has been fraught with sad news. Too much sickness, operations, deaths, heartaches. It weighs a soul down.

In contrast, we’ve had the occasions with friends as the gifts we have treasured. That people would give their most precious commodity – time – to fellowship at the table of communion is the present I value most of all.

As the dawning of this new day begins to faintly light the eastern sky, I am thankful for Jesus. In the middle of grief and pain, the uncertainty of the days ahead for us and those we care about, Jesus is the ray of light in a dark world. He is the constant Good News when we wonder what tomorrow will bring.

The birth of Jesus may not have been on December 25th, and it probably was not, but I am thankful we have set a time to celebrate it. His coming into our world, wearing a robe of flesh like mine, submitting to the frailties I experience, knowing pain and grief like I do, and being the overcoming Savior is cause to rejoice, to throw a party, to commemorate and be glad.

The fact that He came is the hope I need in a world that seems without.

Life on this earth will not last. My body is living proof that the years take their toll. My days are counting higher and counting down at the same time. But I have nothing to fear. Fear is contradicted by the joy that is offered to every person.

The message came directly from Heaven by an angel of the Lord. It was first delivered to a bunch of shepherds doing their job, living out their lives.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”  –Luke 2:10-11

The words are still valid today. In these morning hours while I wait for the world to awaken, an angel’s message brings certainty. A Savior has been born to me. He is Christ, Messiah, the Lord of Heaven, the Infant God, the One promised, the Deliverer, and my Redeemer.

No need to fear. The Word from God the Father has come down to earth, and He speaks love and forgiveness, mercy and grace, peace and joy. This is cause for great rejoicing.

His name shall be called Jesus.

nativity

 

In the quietness

Sometimes words fail me.

So it was last week. I had no words, no words to write, no words to say, no words I hoped would encourage or inspire. I was somewhat silent.

There is the ebb and flow of the ocean, and the ebb and flow of life. Waves bring the high tides and then they recede once again. The coming and the going. Seasons bring change, and change is always, always the constant.

It is appropriate to dwell in the hush, to break from the rush of chatter and babble. I make the effort to practice the discipline of a quiet spirit that I hope results in serenity in me. I pray for God to set up a guard for my mouth and keep watch at the door of my lips. The tongue can be a fire that sets a forest ablaze.

Sometimes I need to be silent and avert the burning.

I have never been the life of the party, the one person who lights up the room by her mere presence. I know people like that. I have friends with the bubbly personality that exudes laughter and fun. They lift spirits and bring lightness to any situation.

I’m thankful for those personalities, for those people.

I am of a different sort, the contemplative one who loves being with friends and family but who craves a calm space. Too much noise, clanging and clatter for too long, can overwhelm me, and I look for some place to escape, to pause and restore.

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While my week was one of few words, the ending was celebratory and festive.

Sweet William and I gathered with friends to rejoice in one has lived 70 years. Around the table, laden with delicious food and presents for the birthday girl, the conversation and laughter were just what I needed after days of stillness.

The very next day we were at an 80th birthday party for another friend. She was surrounded by her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and a tiny new great-great-grandchild. It was a loving family showering their affection on the one who has loved them all very well.

The house was crowded, and we squeezed around one another, observing and mingling with a family who celebrates.

To everything there is a season. A time to be quiet and a time to speak up. A time for solitude and a time to throw a party. It is the ebb and flow of life.

Last week brought both seasons to me. And it was good.

In the stillness

On a busy Monday, when everywhere we turn traffic will clog, when we have jobs to go to before vacation time kicks in, when we go from place to place and yet another place purchasing gifts on the list – it can be a challenge to find stillness in the rush of madness.

My list of tasks is long today.  I need items from the grocery that I should have gotten last week.  The dirty clothes pile is getting big and I really must do laundry.

I check my calendar and wonder how it got so full this week and if I will be able to accomplish it all.

The season is busy and blustery and time rushes and so do I.  And is there enough time to come and adore Him?

There is enough time . . . if I will slow.  Stop my frenzied thoughts.  Be still.

Sitting in the silence this early morning, I hear the ticking of the clock.  I realize I only hear it when all is quiet.  When I am quiet.

In the stillness, I sit and listen for His voice.

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Not just today

In my groggy waking, I remember it’s Thanksgiving Day.  I think of how blessed I am.  With coffee in hand, and Bible open, I read a favorite Psalm, one that reminds me to “forget not all His benefits.”  It’s a favorite of mine.  It spoke truth to me with assurances and promises at a place when my life was crumbling before me, verses I am still holding on to.  The verses speak again today.  And I cling.

I write more entries on my Joy List pondering gifts of hearing someone’s laughter yesterday and the very breath I breathe this morning.  God is good.  All the time.

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I still have cooking to do but I stop long enough to remind myself that everyday should be Thanksgiving, not just the fourth Thursday in November each year.

Soon all thoughts will turn toward the best bargains and are there enough lights on the house and how can I fit one more event into an already full December calendar.  We will steam-roll toward Christmas Day.  But will we stop to give thanks for the best gift God gave?

I hope so.  I hope in my busy days and weeks coming, I will pause and still myself to recall the very reason we call it Christmas.  The Child who came was the Christ and He gives us reason to celebrate.

Let us give thanks to the God who rules over this universe, who has power to crush and raise up, who loves overwhelmingly and everlastingly, who does not deal with us as our sins deserve but instead removes them and casts them away when we turn to His Son for forgiveness.

He deserves praise, thanksgiving, worship.  Always.  Not just today.

PSALM 103

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
    his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
    he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass;
    he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
    and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
    and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
    and remember to do his commandments.
19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
    and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his word,
    obeying the voice of his word!
21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
    his ministers, who do his will!
22 Bless the Lord, all his works,
    in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Stillness in trials

A young friend is dealing with harsh realities and the changing of her normal.  She is learning stillness in this trial.  Her email revealed her pain but it could not hide her faith.

As I consider her place, my thoughts go back to the year 1982, the Thanksgiving when my mother’s cancer diagnosis tookMother in 1982 over our lives.  She sat at the table that year barely eating anything because she had trouble breathing, but she didn’t want us to know it.  She didn’t want to spoil our holiday.  That was my mother.

Before the weekend was over, she was in the hospital having fluid drained from her lungs, the first of several times during the coming holidays.  It was the beginning of the end of her earthly life.  And it was the beginning of the changing of my normal. The changing of my world.

I could not imagine my life without my mother.  I was 32, and he was still my best friend.

That Thanksgiving ushered in a change in me, and it sent me on a search. I had to face all the things I thought I knew about prayer and faith and believing.  My mother was dying, and I could not change that no matter how hard I tried.

It was a journey of several months that took me to God’s words about faith, about trusting Him even when I don’t get what I desperately want.  I learned in that process that the greatest faith is trusting Him even though.  Even though the fig tree is bare.  Even though the cattle stall is empty.  Even though the fields do not produce a crop. Even then, He is God and He is good and He is deserves my worship.

It was one of the hardest trials of my life and a lesson of stillness, resting the results with the Father who loves me and knows what is best for me and for those I love.

I try to figure out what others need and pray that for them.  I ask for my needs when I pray.  I am specific and sometimes I am vague.  I often feel like my prayers are feeble.  Yet I find peace in this: God knows what I need before I ask; the Holy Spirit intercedes for me according to the will of God; and Jesus my Great High Priest, has gone beyond the veil of the Holiest place to provide mercy and grace for every need.

One of my favorite authors, Jan Karon who writes about a small town called Mitford, often quotes in her book about “the prayer that never fails.”  She is referencing these simple words, “The will of the Lord be done.”

Some may disagree, that instead we should utter commanding prayers and believe to receive what we want.  I think the pathway to stillness is trusting a mighty God who can do the impossible and who will do what is best for me, for Sweet William, for my Tulsa family too-far-away, and for other family and friends.

I still get specific when I pray.  More often these days, I finish with “Your will be done in all of it.”  In my feeble way of expressing myself, God sees the deeper needs and knows how to accomplish His purpose in it all.

Your will be done, Father.  If it was good enough for Jesus, then it must be good enough for me.

Today  I am listening to this:

Learning to be still

We spoke it last night and then again this morning as I sat with four precious Christ-sisters digging into what Matthew had to say about Jesus.  It is the challenge of being still.  Jesus had that quality about Him.  He was never intimidated by Pharisaical questions or attitudes.  He was never deterred from his course.  He was never flustered in the middle of the unexpected.  His was not a reactive lifestyle but a purposeful mode of living.

In a chaotic world, how do we learn to live like that?  How do we still ourselves?

I am typically not a still person until lights are out and my head finally rests on the pillow.  I am moving and shaking most all day.  Let me clarify that I am not necessarily being productive in all that moving around.  Sometimes I’m just here and there, flitting from one small project to another, cleaning up one mess then another.  And if my body is not moving about then you can be sure my mind is going 65 miles an hour.

I wonder if I know how to be still.

I learned to do things.  Pick up my toys.  Put away my books.  Clean my room.  Iron my clothes. I was taught to work hard, finish the project, study to get good grades.

Who taught me to be still?

Growing up I was taught and observed Christian disciplines.  When I visited my aunt and uncle’s house, I saw my Grandpa Lockard in his bedroom sitting in a comfy chair reading his Bible.  My mother gave me devotional books to help me cultivate a daily connection with God, and my dad was an example of praying every single day no matter what.

I have learned that I need a quiet time with God every day, and I have chosen the mornings.  But how do I practice being still all day long?

As my sisters were preparing to leave this morning after our study, we determined to practice being still. We are on a mission to learn stillness.  It will be quite a challenge as we enter what is for most of us the very busiest time of the year. The Thanksgiving-Christmas Rush starts like a slow-moving locomotive around October then picks up speed and barrels down the track at breakneck speed and nobody better get in the way. Because this train’s moving!

Wouldn’t it be different to spend the next few weeks with patches of stillness thrown into our days? Wouldn’t it be peaceful?  Wouldn’t it change things?  Wouldn’t it change me?

I am determined to learn how to be still before the Lord, to know even more than I do now that He is God, that He is in control, that He has a plan for my life and for those I love, that He will redeem the ugly and make it beautiful, that He does hear prayer, that He is more than enough for whatever I need.

“Be still and know that I am God,”   It’s an invitation from the Ancient of Days.  “Come and know me.” What God is like that?  What kind of God made Himself small enough for Mary’s womb?  What kind of God put on skin like me so that I could be transformed into being more like Him?

Yes, what kind of God is this, calling my name, bidding me to come?  This is an invitation I cannot refuse.

Will you join me?