Saturday, March 8, 2014

Week 45: Hanging In There!

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the
crown of life 
which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (James 1:12)
This captivating photo intrigues me.  How can such a huge tree survive and grow with all those exposed roots simply hanging there and stretched across a vast cavern?  Branches sprawl out like so many bony fingers grasping for life along the beach cliff.  It's twisted trunk mimics the human body in the throes of a long jump. Indeed it's been shaped and redesigned by its environment.  Redesigned by hardship - wind, rain, earth - yet . . .

I'm struck with the sheer raw beauty of this tree - so vulnerable, yet stronger than most to survive the harsh reality of its environment.  Survival . . . erosion . . . triumph over adversity.

I'd like to think that we can all endure, persevere like this beautiful tree.  Fraught with struggles, people and circumstances trying to thwart our progress, our purpose, our hope, our families, our very souls - too many times I feel like giving in or giving up.  Yet . . . this tree clings to life, even seeks life out and goes beyond reason and science to make a way. Am I making a way when there seems to be no way?

Strong roots yield a spectacular crown of life . . . lush greenery, vibrant life, an example to all to persevere, to cling to hope, to strive for joy!

Never give up.  Life is fragile.  Joy is constant.

The crown of life is promised to those who love Him and persevere.




Friday, February 28, 2014

Lest I Forget . . .

When I lose my way . . .

It's so easy to lose your way.  The darkness and night can be overwhelming sometimes. Distractions overcome.  It could be a stumble down a rocky path or a misstep, perhaps even someone who throws us off our true path--a foe, a friend or even a family member.  But many times, I'm my own worst enemy - forgetting who I am and who I belong to.  Have you ever experienced that?



I've heard this Jason Gray song over and over again on the radio and it just blended into the background noise of my car grinding down the road.  Then, all of a sudden this week, I heard something new - something meant for me.  Maybe meant for you, too?

Simple words -- deep meanings.
Powerful words -- powerful meaning.

In the mirror all I see is who I don't wanna be - Remind me who I am.
In the loneliest places - when I can't remember what grace is . . 
When I can't receive Your love - afraid I'll never be enough - Remind me who I am
When my heart is like a stone, and I'm running far from home - Remind me who I am

If I'm Your beloved, can You help me believe it

I needed a reminder - a way back - an encouragement.
'
In our feebleness, I don't think we want to be thought of as "beloved."  It's almost "too" good. Insecurities grip our hearts and make us think we don't deserve to be found; don't deserve the love. Yes, we don't deserve even grace.  Dare we hope for something so precious, so dear?

If I'm Your beloved, can You help me believe it.
Tell me, once again who I am to You, who I am to You 
Tell me, lest I forget Who I am to You, that I belong to You, to You


Thanks Jason Gray for this wonderful reminder.  Lest I forget . . .

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Winter's Cleanse

I can barely remember a winter like this one - for many it's been tough, cold, and challenging.  It's never easy shoveling snow, slipping and sliding on sidewalks and parking lots, or bundling up to brave the frigid temperatures. Fighting flu symptoms and head colds.  Our family has had our own challenges of trying to get by this winter.  Something went amiss with our well so we have had to carry water buckets up to the barn--trudging through the deep, deep snow.  We just haven't had the money to get it fixed and our electricity bills are staring us in the face--higher and higher they climb with no relief in sight.  Yes, it has been a challenging winter out on the prairie.  As we go up to the barn night after night, I try to remind myself as I tell Brinna that the pioneers so long ago had the same difficulties.  They, however, didn't have electric buckets for their horses or lights in their barns. At least we have those small comforts.

 

Despite all these things, I'm not one to normally complain about my circumstances.  Instead, I always try to seek after what I can learn through the circumstances or get a glimpse of God's work and wonder.  It's no different through this current snow storm.  I recently read another blog post from People of the Second Chance that spoke to the fact that snow covers up all the dirty things in life, but it's a false cover because the rotting leaves and dirt below, left over from the damp fall, are still there. Much like the rotting bits of sin in our lives, we can't cover it up with niceties and pretensions.  Only a thorough cleansing from the one true God can cleanse us from our sin.  What a marvelous thought - I'm still ruminating over that imagine of covering up my sin, wondering what sin I'm trying to cover up with my positive attitude or my smiling exterior.

I LOVE snow - even struggling through this overwhelming Snowmagedon of 2014, I still LOVE it.  It's beauty, it's purity, it's silent majesty all enchant me.  It covers our world with a chill - a frosty and creative reminder of the One True Artist we serve.

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11 NIV)




Saturday, February 1, 2014

Two are better than one . . .

The following passage from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 was chosen by my husband and I some 32 years ago to represent how we felt about our life together. My husband designed the cover for our wedding program featuring a cross and the three strands of rope representing our eternal bond with each other and God.

"Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart."

As I made my usual late night trek back from the horse barn, crunching in the snow and slip sliding around, I was reminded of many scenes of two romping through the prairie snow, slipping and sliding, falling, and tumbling, I thought of this passage and the importance of lifting one another up. We all slip and slide around, sometimes falling on our faces. But, what if we fall and there is no one to pick us up, to bandage our wounds, to carry us inside to the warmth of a fire? What if?

"The steps of a man are established by the Lord; And He delights in his way. When he falls, he shall not be hurled headlong; because the Lord is the One who holds his hand." Ps. 37:23, 24

For, it is better that we go through life with a companion—someone to lift us up when we fall, someone to work alongside us in faith, someone to keep us warm, and someone to strengthen us, someone to encourage and love us. Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.



I'm reminded of the following quote from the movie Shall We Dance:

“We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things, all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness.'"

While I don't agree with minimizing the value of one life, this quote does convey the importance of caring for another individual and the importance of keeping a promise to another human being—being faithful and being there through the good times as well as the bad – every day, all the time, even when it hurts.


What if we have no one to lift us up? God designed us to share life together—to be there for another. We need one another's love and care so desperately, especially in this mixed-up and crazy world. Don't let another day go by without being there for someone, without opening yourself up to the possibility of companionship—mutual respect, honor and love. And, be an example of respect and honor to someone whom God has brought into your life.

Be the heart.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Walls That Divide--Ties That Bind

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! (Psalms 133:1)

The walls that divide Christianity are numerous—sharp bricks and weighty stones of doctrine which too frequently we use to build walls of separation or cast at one another in ignorance, fear or selfishness; and yes, even hatred. Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees who sought to persecute an adulterous woman by saying “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7 NASB) He went one step further than most of us would by saying, “Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more.” (John 8:11)

Our Heavenly Father does not condone our sins, neither does he condemn us for our failures. Yet, how many stony words of condemnation do we throw at those of differing faiths instead of practicing godliness and sharing gentle expressions of compassion, tolerance, and understanding? It's a thought-provoking, teeth-clenching question for most of us. Recognizing the ties that bind us together as a unified community of believers is critical to help us move beyond our prejudices.

While not a staple in many Christian denominations, the Apostles Creed still provides a singular doctrine of faith which calls us to unity. While historians have researched its origins for centuries, most experts believe the creed dates to the first century – at least in some form, superseding nearly all of the modern-day churches, except the Catholic Church from whence it has its origins. The message of the creed is plain, simple, yet profound. It describes the trinity; the deity of Jesus Christ, His miraculous birth and resurrection; as well as the promise of eternal life.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Amen.

As children of God, do we truly believe in the communion of saints? The word “communion” infers we are in accord with other believers; that we have a deep fellowship, togetherness, union.

However, an intimate examination of our hearts reveals discord—deep-seated prejudices and long-standing fears of those within the body of Christ who adhere to differing belief systems. Needless to say, the body of Christ is not truly “in communion;” instead, it is fractured and broken.

Decades after his passing, the words of Martin Luther King still challenge us to live as one people in communion. His words speak to us, not only of racial unit, but of harmony among all brothers and sisters in Christ.

“When we allow freedom to ring—when we let it right from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual “Free at Last, Great God A-mighty, we are free at last.”

Seeds of divisiveness and prejudice have been planted over centuries. Let us now uproot those obnoxious and prolific weeds and plant seeds of forgiveness and God's grace. Paul exhorted the Philippians to “be of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” (Phil. 2:2)

These are the ties that bind us together: the holy scriptures, God's merciful grace, and our common faith in one God, one Savior, Jesus Christ, and the power of His resurrection to save our searching souls.

"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all." (Eph. 4:1-6)

Walk in a worthy manner – Preserve the unity – Remember your calling.

One hope – One Lord – One faith – One baptism – One God and Father of All.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

52 Weeks of Writing--A Challenge for 2014

Looking Forward~

Around the first of every year, I think every pastor or priest I've ever known feels obligated to challenge his flock to set goals, to look at life in a new way, to start afresh for the coming annum. To make plans and keep them. Those sermons never cease to surprise me. While you'd think, who could ever say something new? How could I be challenged once again? What could I possibly learn? Yet . . .

Every year, I seem to hear life from a new perspective. I collect courage and hope as new companions along the journey. This year, however, was even more surprising for something special was heralded from the pulpit--and it wasn't only Pastor Pat's soothing, familiar voice--it was the voice of a caring Father. A Father who wanted me to know that what I had been hearing in my head for months on end was indeed His voice.

"O taste and see that the Lord is good . . . " - a simple phrase reverberating in my head and heart for oh so very long. But, what does it mean?

As usual with God's word, there are a multitude of meanings behind and within. Sometimes my mind wants to explode--wondering, analyzing. God's word is the breath of heaven--it breathes and heaves and declares and commands. Yet . . . all I need do is listen and rest and (that awful word) wait. Seems I've been doing a lot of that lately (years now actually).

So I'm sure you're wondering now, what did I take away from that December 29, 2013 sermon. Well, before the sermon even really started in earnest, here is what I wrote:

52 weeks of writings

Taste and see that the Lord is good

What verse did Pastor Pat share several minutes into his sermon? Yep, you guessed it: Psalms 34:8 O taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.

Personally, I don't like New Year's resolutions. They are trite, full of themselves, and under normal circumstances highly unattainable. Oh, and did I mention frustrating and downright demeaning?

Now that I've gotten that out of my system, I believe it's time to succumb to the triteness and get on with something that really matters. Writing. At least that's what matters to me and I believe deep down it's what matters to God because it is His gift behind and within. As Pastor Pat said, "we cannot change ourselves; only God can change us to the degree that we are willing to submit to Him." What will you do with your gift? Will you submit or succumb? Taste and see . . .

Aloneness

Frazzled, frayed, spiked points of uncertainty.

Standing out amidst the green jumble of prairie plant life, solitary against smooth life-filled leaves.

How have I been found in such dryness? Scratchy stems, withered from a barren life.

Inverted – upside down - opposite to the oasis in the middle of a desert - my life is much like this frayed pom-pom plant--dried out, solitary, yet somehow, surprisingly standing upright surrounded by the flowing river of prairie grasses. Yes, it's the dryness that creates this unbendable, sharp-edged spike.

Flexible, living, chlorophyll breathing round about, yet here I am withered, out-of-breath, desperately clinging to lifeless roots. Will the gardener come and, with one gentle tug, pull me from my fragility – making room for new growth and green life? Will he blow my wispy top knot, spreading seeds on the prairie wind?

I'm not so sure I have a chance this season. Will Spring be my salvation? Did the seeds find their destiny--their root? Like wild salmon fighting their way upriver, must I die so others will live? Is the prairie song the song of a Savior?

Aloneness . . . yet never really alone.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Ode to Poison Ivy

Ivy has been my constant companion these past several weeks. And, I'm sorry to say that despite the many times I try hard to avoid her, she pursues me like a true friend. She really gets under my skin – literally.

I've known Ivy for some twenty years now and she usually plans her visits in the heat of the summer when I'm most likely to sweat and swell. We meet in the cool of the forest while enjoying the prairie paths and then she follows me home. In her carefree, breezy manner, she also tags along with my little dachshunds, following them home, bringing an unseen presence into our lives. It's almost magical the way she appears and re-appears.

I'm amazed at my dear friend's stick-to-it-ness, her ability to love on me through my daily work schedule and then, oh how she keeps me company in the wee hours. When I'm having trouble sleeping, there she is spurring me on to more challenges.

My latest conversations with Ivy began about four weeks ago out on our little road that travels to the back pasture. I have to admit most of our discussionss are a bit one-sided with me ranting and raving while she demurely turns red before my eyes. The objective that Saturday was photo opportunities on the prairie. It was an enjoyable outing, winding my way through the prairie grasses, the trees, and all those little stands of jagged leaf green plants. Ivy followed right along, teasing me with her abrasive humor once we returned home.

Yes, that's my dear friend Ivy. I've come to respect her place in my life . . . and accept her annoying nuisances. She reminds me again and again that to be a friend we have to be vulnerable and willing to accept the good with the bad; the beautiful and the ugly. In sickness and in health . . . friendship, like a marriage, is about the coming together of two forgivers. Right?

Well, I don't think Ivy got that memo. While I'm willing to forgive her discretions, despite how tiresome they may be, I've heard no apology from her all these many years.

Monday, August 20, 2012

God is in the Details

Cicadias are deafening.

They seem to drown out the other evening noises. A tractor/mower, a weedeater, the rainbow colored power parachute guy who throttles by overhead nearly every night, the drone of I-70 several miles to the south, crunching gravel on the road, a barking dog in the distance.

As I sit alone on the patio, gazing out to the prairie hills, it's easy to appreciate the Monet glow of a pink sunset behind me and the early evening stillness.

This past week, leading up to the birthday day yesterday, I gave much thought to writing a blog for my birthday. But that would be a bit too much self-aggrandizement. I really don't like to be pretentious. It's not too cool, me thinks.

So instead, here I sit the day after pondering life on the prairie . . . and wondering really what is it all about. A cacophony of cicadas . . . burnt orange prairie grasses preparing for autumn . . .

. . .a beauty unappreciated by many . . . surprises every day if you look for them. And, that's the ultimate gift of the prairie . . . touching . . . seeing . . . feeling . . . movement, change, wonder. Much like life . . . we have to be open, we have to look for the wonder - seek opportunities to be amazed.

Details, details, details . . . they say God is in the details. And on the prairie . . . it is indeed evident.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

August 3, 1918 - A Mother Remembered . . . and Much, Much More

Ninety-four years ago my mother was born in St. Louis--the only child to a couple (one Irish and another French/Austrian--both first generation Americans).

I remember her today, and as always, try to spend the day reflecting on who she was as a person, how her character impacted mine, and how she influenced me. Earlier this year, I wrote about her in memory of the day she died (March 16, 1998).

Today, however, as I reflect on that special relationship between mothers and daughters, I would be remiss in not mentioning the greatest blessing to my life--my three daughters. My mother and I were only daughters--only children. It's not easy being an "only." You grow up playing alone, make-believe games with imaginery friends. And, now, as an adult, with my parents both gone, I feel it even more--the aloneness of no siblings. On the flip side, it also makes you more independent.

Now as a 50-something mom, I can sit back and realize that there is no greater honor and privilege than knowing my three daughters. Because His plans are true, God placed them here on this earth at their perfect time in history - He created them each with special and unique qualities like no one else on this planet. Their laughter, their warm hearts, their beauty inside and out humbles me like no other.

Each one was created for a special purpose . . . and they can do nothing to disappoint me--ever. I am so proud of the beautiful women they are becoming.

And, despite my insane nature right now, my three daughters are treasures sent from heaven. They are shimmering gems--lighting up my darkness on this day when I remember my Mom and our short 38 years together. I so wish that my Mom was here to see her darling grandaughters and experience the joy I do each and every day knowing they share life with me.

Side note: At the grocery store tonight, I made an impulse buy in the frozen food aisle--Stouffer's Mac & Cheese. I think it was sub-conscious, but when I got home I realized that my Mom loved Stouffer's Mac & Cheese. After my Dad died, she didn't cook as much and it was something easy for her to prepare to share with Meghan & Aubrey when they came to visit. Cheers to Mom--Brinna, Ron & I indulged in this sinful, carbohydrate-drenched side dish tonight. Just sad that Meghan & Aubrey missed the pre-celebration.