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August ending 2018

What can I say? August is just hot. And it’s going out like a firecracker. Except for a couple of days that teased us with cooler temperatures, we have endured. Because August is about enduring to the end. I’ve been thankful for a fully functioning air conditioner, cool clean water, and ice cream.

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Among the books read this month, one of special interest was Quiet,  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Susan Cain writes as an avowed introvert herself. She explored research and studies describing how introverts and extroverts are wired differently, how they function and cope differently, and how an introvert can thrive in a culture that often applauds extrovert personalities.

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As a child and teenager, I heard the comment more than once, “Peggy, I wish you wouldn’t talk so much.” It was meant to be facetious, because I was not talking. I suppose the person meant me no harm and hoped to elicit my participation in the conversation. But it didn’t. It actually wounded me, making me retreat even more into my reserve.

Growing up shy was painful sometimes, especially in junior and high schools. I have since learned to cope in a talkative, gregarious world. I’ve even developed the ability to speak publicly with a fair amount of confidence, though I over-prepare and sweat it out days before. My comfort zone is to be quiet and in the background. I suppose it is what makes me a good listener. I crave periods of silence and time alone when I can re-energize.

Quiet was revealing and affirming. It showed the positive characteristics of introverts  and how the world benefits from people like me. Understanding myself brings comfort and reassurance that I am OK after all.

I also discovered that I am an ISFJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, confirming my introversion and other personality traits. While I’m still trying to understand the letters and meanings, apparently I am not as unusual as I sometimes felt.

In August, it becomes obvious that the days are getting shorter, though it started on June 21. It isn’t nearly as hard to get up before dawn. My tiny wren in the little woods now sings at 6:45 am with fewer birds joining him these days. It’s the last songs of summer.

I had one especially busy week this month, with multiple appointments on six of the seven days. I began to feel stressed as the week progressed. I used to thrive in that environment, keeping all the spinning plates in the air without daring to drop a single one. They were not my best years. Without fully realizing it, I lived in a state of tension, trying to maintain a pace I imposed on myself, trying to please everyone, not knowing how to say “no.”

I’m walking a slower gait these days, pacing myself between activity and rest. I more carefully consider commitments. I plan down time after heavy activity. I enjoy and look forward to a Sabbath rest each week. But this week proves sometimes I forget.

This month I kept a “Done” list , jotting down tasks I completed during the day that never appear on my To Do list. Things like fixing a really good breakfast and cleaning up the kitchen after meals; washing and folding loads of laundry; practicing piano; watering the plants. It was an interesting exercise, seeing the value of everyday activities. I probably won’t continue the practice, because it’s just one more thing to do. And that I don’t need.

I’ve shopped the local Farmer’s Market this summer. My own garden has not yielded decent vegetables the past couple of years. So instead, I’ve enjoyed wandering the booths at the market and meeting people who do well at growing tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, peaches, fresh eggs and sausage from happy chickens and pigs. It’s my way of supporting the hard-working farm families in my area.

 

 

 

In the spring, I planted sunflowers around the lambs ear and white violets. The seeds produced well, stalks with multiple blooms. I pass them as Maisie and I walk, and they remind me of a friend whose husband died this year. As his illness progressed, she prepared a “Sunshine Room” for him with a sunflower theme to brighten his last days. I’ve thought of my friend as I passed the big yellow flowers. It’s been a long, hard summer for her.

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It’s a jungle out there in the garden, the weeds flourishing in the heat and unusual amount of rain. I finally took the weed eater to the garden and  sprayed weed killer with a vengeance until the yard looks relatively well under control as I write. There is still much to do to put the garden to bed for the winter, but I’m waiting for a break in the weather. Even with the weeds, late summer flowers are glorious.

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Sweet William and I have found ourselves cheering for our high school volleyball team. We got free passes for all the county sports events just because we are seniors. I love senior benefits. It makes getting older almost worth it. We will take our seats on the bleachers at several schools to applaud and support family and friends who play ball, and instruments, on the field and the court.

August ending means summer is ending. Children are back in school, parents are back on schedule, and big yellow buses create additional traffic.

 

As always when August winds down, I’m ready for fall. There’s a gently used, flannel shirt from a summer yard sale I want to wear. I need to raise the windows and let fresh breezes blow. I’m ready to snuggle under the quilt at bedtime and hear the night creatures instead of the constant whirring of a fan. The summer decorations  are being put away. Pumpkins are on my mind. I have a yellow mum blooming on the front porch with the promise of another whose colors will be a surprise.

August is a month of enduring, of getting through the summer and its persistent heat; of cutting grass and pulling weeds; harvesting the last of crops; and being ready to finish these jobs for the year.

There are things in my life that feel like August. They simply have to be endured. Some are niggling irritations; others are painful thorns in my soul. We endure grief, we endure health conditions, we endure a longing for those we love. We wipe our brow as we work through the struggle, and sometimes we cry. We pray for relief. The answer we receive most often is “Trust Me.”

On a video I watched recently, Jennifer Rothschild said something like this: “True contentment comes in the midst of difficult circumstances.” The Lord knows how I’ve sought to learn contentment and fought for joy.  She also said, “Thorn removal is not sufficient. Only grace is sufficient.”

Sufficient Grace. It is my song and my theme. I know it to be true. I depend on the Lord’s sufficiency and not my own. But sometimes I forget.

The beautiful and enduring hymn, It is Well With My Soul, reminds me to sing praise when the scorch of trials burn my flesh and weary my heart. Even when all my circumstances are not going so well, my soul can still be well. It is well with my soul, because I am safe in the arms of Jesus.

This is more than just enduring. This is victorious living.

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Sunday grace

Sometimes life takes a U-turn unexpectedly.

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We go about our days, attending to needs, keeping appointments, socializing with friends and colleagues. Then suddenly, we are knocked off our feet, a flash-flood event changing our landscape.

I vividly recall when it happened, more than once, to Sweet William and me. At one shocking declaration, I was glad for a door frame to fall against, lest I land on the floor.

What do we do when life throws a curve ball, twisting and turning out of control, and we cannot catch it in our hands?

Adrenalin kicks into the human body helping us fight for our loved ones and ourselves. Even as our thoughts do somersaults, somehow we get the presence of mind to think about what must be done now. Right now.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made by our Creator to respond to crises.

While we act as quickly as possible, we pray. We call on the faithful God who always has His eye focused on us, who loves us with an everlasting love, who has a plan and a purpose for all things.

We call others to pray because there is strength in numbers of the believers. We depend upon their prayers and their bearing our burdens, helping us carry a heavy-hearted load.

And we lean into a Savior who has already gone before us and prepared the way.

Life is uncertain and fragile. Amazingly crafted, we humans are still fallible. In one quick moment, we realize just how frail we are. Like a flower that grows and blooms we flourish, but this present place is not a permanent fixture. Not here on this earth.

Our hope and trust and confidence is in the eternal, things not seen with the eye or heard with the ear. We look to Jesus, fix our eyes on Him. When it all goes out of focus and we strain for clarity, He alone is our vision.

When life takes a tumble, when catastrophe strikes, when darkness overtakes and we cannot see the step ahead, we fall into the arms of Jesus, grasp his nail-scared hand, and trust Him to lead.

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart.
Naught be all else to me, Save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, By day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

 

Sunday grace

This morning I wept.

Over the death of my friend’s husband, her blog recording their three-year journey from devastating diagnosis to final farewell. Though they had prepared for this day, how can a heart get ready for this?

Over a different friend whose husband only had weeks from his knowing to barely saying his good-byes. Who tells us how to be equipped for such things?

Over known and worried-about diseases that threaten our peace, the wondering that gives no answers; the tests, therapy, surgeries that may provide some relief but cannot put us back together all new again.

Over things like time and space, differences and disagreements that separate families when family is the place we belong, where we find ourselves and become.

Over a world gone terribly wrong with hatred and anger, where seething erupts against the innocent and helpless.

Over those who cannot or will not believe that there is something better than this, that God sent His one and only Son for relationship, for the sake of love.

And my heart longs for Eden. For the beauty of the earth God had in mind in the beginning. This world does not feel like home, not in the shape it is in.

Then I turn to behold Christ alone, the fullness of God who came to live awhile among us. He showed us the Father, and it was glorious. His beauty out-shined the darkness, breaking the night with a dazzling light. His love was overwhelming, completely pure, unconditional and freely given.

Though broken, the earth still reflects God’s magnificence in mountains and rivers, giant oaks and tiny wildflowers, in birds and bees and babies’ faces. I recognize Him in each kindness and smile, in the tender words and a loving heart.

Though broken, the world will be renovated, renewed, redeemed.

One day the weak will be made strong. The restless will find peace. The sick will be made whole. The broken will be mended. The forgiven will receive a glad welcome. The questions will be answered. The tears will be wiped away. And we will be home.

Sunday grace.

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As the storm gathers

Sweet William and I have the weather channel tuned throughout the day. We check the latest updates of Hurricane Irma.

We have friends and family who live in Florida, Alabama, and our concerns for them give way to breathing prayers during our daily activity. And not only for them but for others in the path of this storm. Some have left looking for higher ground and others choose to stick it out. We pray for mercy.

A little closer to home, a different kind of storm cloud gathers and swirls over lives. Our prayer list is long with those sick and with needs beyond the ability of medical professionals. Some things can’t be helped with a prescription.

While we rejoice with those who rejoice, we weep with those who weep. We feel their suffering to some degree. We identify with their pain. When we have felt the sting of adversity, we cannot turn away in deafness to the heart cries we hear.

There is a time for laughter, rejoicing, and celebrations. I love those seasons.

There is also a time for tears. We must give ourselves permission to participate in both. Hiding our tears is not a sign of strength, as we have been made to believe. The strong cry and they are the better for it.

May we bear with those who need our support and prayers, holding them up to the Father of all comfort.

May we rejoice with those who celebrate and be happy for them.

May our hearts be tender to our fellow man and do for them what we can.

The One who calms the storm is also the One who can calm His child in the midst of the storm. We trust Him no matter the weather.

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The glory of today

It is a practically perfect day in my old Kentucky home.

Late last night I sat on the deck, the blustery wind blowing in what is today’s low 60 degree temperatures. Humidity moved out and gentle breezes are left this morning. The sky is blue with puffs of cotton ball clouds.

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I sit long this morning, the second pot of coffee brewed and in my cup. The yard could use some attention, but it is a practically perfect day. I will “waste” the morning in quietude, contemplation, writing in my journal, and pondering life.

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But my heart hurts today. A cousin died this week. Sweet William and I will attend a funeral tomorrow, and a young husband feels like half his body has been torn away from him. Two children are left behind, and they are too young to be without a mamma. I know that feeling.

The young woman who died was born the same year as my son. And how does a mother deal with that kind of loss?

My cousin’s struggle with cancer was hard-fought and faith filled. Yet she is gone and we are left with our grief. And our questions.

Life is hard.

I talked with a friend last night, one who is closer to my age. She also battles cancer. I listened as she expressed concern for her husband and for the grandchildren she loves. She fears she will not see them grow into adults. She faces the uncertainty of her life with courage. I admire her for that, for her openness as we talk about the days ahead.

She probably does not see the strength that is in her right now. It is the strength that is made perfect in weakness, when the power of God rests on a life He holds in the palm of His hands.

I visited another friend yesterday. She is dealing with a different grief and struggle. We drank coffee and tea, chatting as tears filled our eyes. I shared my own battles and my crises of faith, hoping it might help. She texted later that it had.

This morning, as I recall painful experiences in my life, I see opportunities God has given me, just this year alone, to offer an understanding heart. My heartaches identify with someone else’s heartache. And I wonder if this is part of the redemptive process?

The comfort I was given from the God of all comfort is tenderly held out to another through shared experiences, the sweetness of His Word, and the promise of hope.

And do I see some sort of beauty rising from my ashes? Is this a way God redeems the hard places that tested my endurance, when I felt like there was nothing in me to go one step further? Is this the chance to give my testimony that the strong arm of the Savior was holding onto to me all along, when the rope I tied a knot in to hang on for dear life frayed to its very end?

I recently read again the story of Lazarus, his sickness and then him dying while Jesus waited days, not responding to Mary and Martha’s appeal to come heal their brother. His actions seemed callous, uncaring. Haven’t I felt that way about Him myself?

” . . . it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it,” Jesus told the disciples (John 11:4).

How often I am self-focused, centering on my pain and my problem, left wondering why this is happening to me. After all, isn’t it all about me, even sometimes?

What if the road, strewn with rocks and entangled with thorns, where we are led to walk is for the glory of God? What if these times are meant to point to a higher power, an omnipotent, all-knowing God who has a plan so enormous that we cannot possibly comprehend? What if these things we wish had not  happened or would go away are like arrows pointing us to a Savior who took on our flesh and blood and walked the hard places Himself and says to us, “I know. I know how you feel,”?

What if this life I live is about the glory of God?

Jesus preached an upside down gospel, after all. He said things like the first shall be last. Love your enemies and do good to those who hurt you. If you want to be great, then serve. Give to others without expecting anything in return. Forgive. Love. Believe.

He was the Master who stooped low to wash dirty feet of those who would betray, deny, run away, and lose their faith. Jesus lived a contrary-to-what-we-think kind of life.

If I could begin to see with spirit-eyes, beyond the present suffering and into another dimension where death becomes life everlasting and tears are wiped away for good, perhaps it would change things for me.

If I could grasp the finite-ness of my earthly days and compare them to what comes afterwards, perhaps I would be less concerned about the cares of life and the problems here that trouble me so.

Perhaps I would arise each morning with the hope of seeing God’s glory in the daily events of an ordinary day.

My cousin seemed too young to die. There was too much living yet to do. Yet this very day, she lives in a way I can’t even fathom. She sees what I long to see. She knows things I want to know. She understands what I wrestle to understand. Her faith has become sight and the questions, they don’t matter any more.

And I am envious of that.

I want to see the glory, to perceive beyond the surface and into the deep things of God, things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined. These are the things God has prepared for those who love him.

I pray to see His glory, to endure with faith today and live with hope for tomorrow.

Lord, show us Your glory!

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Long hot days

I’m a morning person, but I’m having difficulty rising while it is still dark.

Yesterday was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Actually, it still had only 24 hours but daylight lingers more than any other day and it seems longer.

The sun has beaten down on us lately. Yard work must be done early. The heat melts me and weighs me down, sweat trickling into my eyes. Even walks with Maisie feel hard, the humidity of a Kentucky summer making the air thick.

Sweet William and I have a list of serious prayer concerns we remember daily. I consider those who must feel the heat of blazing trial, draining their strength and sapping their energy. When all one can do is sit and wait beside a loved one in a hospital bed, the day stretches long and tiresome. Medical professionals busy themselves tending the patient. But families often sit. And pray. And wonder how long.

Heavy hearts endure what feels like an endless season. We long for a break, a change, some news that it soon will be better. Sooner not later. Where is the cool breeze that relieves the burning frustration, the what-if questions, the whys of this situation?

We need a cool drink of water for the parched spirit.

The seasons sometimes seem endless, but they come and they go, changing in diminutive increments. We must believe that relief will come.

We must believe that God is near, that He has a plan, that He is working.

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This morning the clouds moved in. Soothing winds started to blow in the tops of the trees. A gentle rain began to fall. Temperatures cooled. And the earth is watered.

Even so, may it be for those who long for their thirst to be quenched.

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Sunday grace

The heat bears down on me, almost unbearable. I search the sky for a cloud, for rain, for a reprieve. But the sky is clear and blue and cloudless.

Sometimes a cloud is what I crave.

Summer stretches long. It is the season of play and fun and lasting daylight. Darkness brings short bursts of cooling and rest. Rain showers water the earth and leave the air damp, the skin sticky.

This year I long for relief.

Summer can be long burning days, and I can forget that this too shall pass. The autumn season awaits its entrance, its signaled appearance, its glory and grace.  But it seems far away.

The oppressive trial sunburns my heart, and I look for respite.

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“Let us cross over to the other side,” Jesus told His disciples. A terrible storm disrupted their voyage, and they thought death was imminent. They forgot their Rabbi’s assurance of certain arrival on the other shore.

Sometimes I forget too. Oh me of little faith.

Endure with patience, oh my soul. Look to the Light, the One whose radiance burns away chaff, leaving the wheat to be planted, to be fruitful.

Summer is the season of breaking up fallow ground, of laying in the seed that must die in order to live and grow. Then comes the harvest. It takes the summer heat to produce the bounty of reaping.

May it be so. In me.

Sunday grace.

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