messengers

messengers

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We had a rough week. 

It wasn’t related to the Coronavirus, but yet it was. The parameters established, although critical, can make situations more challenging and ladle stress on top of what already resided. The details aren’t important because I am confident at this crisis point, we can all fill in the blank regarding a hard circumstance compounded because of new limitations.

Today is better.

This past week when I was feeling a bit fragile and shaky, I paid particular attention to the words  read and heard. There seemed to be a repetition of words as well as harmony of theme.  I would have missed the impact of these words if I hadn’t decided to slow down, shunning stress and anxiety.

I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe what some might call a coincidence is simply a messenger or an invitation to pay attention. 

Over the years, I have practiced lectio divina which means divine or spiritual reading. Now before these Latin words cause you to glaze over, think of these two words as describing the posture you could take while listening to a friend. 

Imagine a friend sharing a piece of wisdom or insight. You listen and mull the words over in your mind. This is possible because you have made time, no hurrying or rushing to the next appointment.  You ask your friend to utter the words again and once again you listen, lingering over the words to see if they take on any new meaning. Without fear of redundancy or seeing rolling eyes, you ask your dear friend to say the words once more, because these are good words.  Your friend smiles, speaks the words aloud and now the conversation begins.

In lectio divina, you are the one who speaks the words aloud. You are the one who mulls and reflects and turns the words and phrases upside down until you are right side up. You are the one who initiates conversation with your Maker.

So many spoken words surround us on a given day. News reports, bad news, phone calls, words during a meeting, kids bickering over the remote control, or simply the people in your home talking loudly. 

How often do you read aloud, softly, and slowly?

When was the last time you heard words spoken over yourself, in your voice?

 What if you paused and considered what these particular words could teach or guide you on this particular day?

What if instead of reading words quickly and moving to the next task, you allowed yourself to linger over words over, over, and over again? 

How many epiphanies have been missed because of refusing to slow down and sit with words?

 Perhaps you might exit the time of lectio divina with a lighter heart, a new resolve, or with renewed hope. 

My invitation to you is to try lectio divina. 

I will guide you.  

Last week, I kept stumbling across two scriptures and a very well-known prayer. I heard the verses on podcasts and read them in books. The prayer was repeatedly posted by attendees in the chatbox of my Weight Watchers virtual meeting. Go figure.
I tend to rush over passages I know quite well. But when I read the words out loud and without hurrying, I uncover unmined gems.

Below I have included the prayer and the two scriptures I found great comfort in this past week.

Choose one.

Following these three options, I adapted the practice of lectio divina for you and have provided additional resources at the end of this post.

 

/1/

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

 

/2/

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4: 6-7 (NLT)


/3/

That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?  Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?  Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.  And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Matthew 6:25-34 (NLT)

*****

  • Find a quiet place. I realize this could be a challenge during this time. 
  • If you desire, a pen and journal can be helpful to have on hand to jot down any thoughts which arise. 
  • Take a few breaths as you anticipate the gift of this invitation. 

 

Read the passage slowly and aloud.

What words or phrases stand out?
What do you sense God is saying to you through these words or phrases?

Take a moment to listen.

 

Read slowly and aloud a second time.

From those words and phrases, is there an invitation God is extending to you?
How do these words or phrases apply to your life right now?

Take a moment to listen.

 

Read slowly and aloud for a final time.

Journal your thoughts, questions, concerns, resistance, desire to change directions, or simply speak these words and have a conversation with God.
What do you need from God?
What can you thank Him for?
What are you grateful for?

 

Well done, friend. 

You can practice with any passage of your choosing. I hope you will.

Keep listening.

*****

May we experience familiar words in new and fresh ways this week.
May the loss of familiar ways draw us closer to God who longs to settle our spirits.
May we breathe and allow our spoken voice to bring new revelation or gentle comfort.
May we slow down and give ourselves permission to be soothed by our Maker.

 

More about lectio divina.

I have used this journal over the years.

This book.

 

bookmarks of the past and present

bookmarks of the past and present

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Back in December when I started thinking about writing more consistently on this blog, it was a challenge to align my heart with my mind. My heart was completely on board but my mind kept telling me to not get ahead of myself. There was a faint whisper reminding me to look at the space between my posting history if I needed further proof of my lack of consistency.

My mind has been reluctant to admit this has been a sweet surprise to have posted every Monday since the beginning of January.  My heart swells and pumps an affectionate response of knowing it was always possible.

I thought from time to time, I would share an update or another thought related to a previous post or a short tip for living a slower life. These posts will be shorter in length and perhaps give the writer and the reader a little breather (wink).

/////

On Wednesday I finished the book from last week’s post. I choked up several times while reading the last several pages.  For those non-book enthusiasts, I won’t write at length about how the sentiments of happily ever after felt more applicable upon book completion. 

Last week, I was reminded of a piece I wrote for an online writing class I took in 2005. I started this blog the following year. I posted those words as my first attempt to share with others. So much has changed in 15 years but so much has remained the same. I am including a paragraph excerpt without revising it. There are sentence fragments and during this time, I loved using the ellipsis. Because this is my writing from the past resonating with the present.

There are many times that I feel as if my bookmark has fallen to the ground.  I scramble to pick it up as if by simply holding it in my hand, it will magically replace itself.  I rifle through the pages trying desperately to find my location. Where am I? If I backtrack needlessly, it is fruitless…territory already covered.  Lessons learned and vision restored. If I jump ahead of my place, I will only be skipping important details that are essential to any good story. Oh, it is so tempting to sneak a peek, just one juicy tidbit to keep my interest engaged, but that morsel will be all the tastier when it is revealed at the proper time.

Why had my bookmark fallen? At that time, our children were 16, 12 and 2. We were at the beginning of one of the deepest, darkest times of our lives. It was a prolonged season of loss, grief and immeasurable pain. I recall being asked to speak at church possibly in 2007 and expressing how it had been the hardest season of our lives. I would advise never saying those words because life can get even harder. The crush of those years has passed however I don’t know if anyone ever fully recovers.

I cannot count the number of people who are suffering today. They are people I know and others I won’t ever meet. To be honest, it is overwhelming. To them, life is not simply a book to be leafed through. It’s an assigned textbook too difficult to comprehend or desire reading. It’s not being able to articulate a sentence which has changed days and life as it once was. Many days, I can remember wishing to go back a few chapters, before our narrative changed.

I weep with you today. 

One hard reality I remember during our times of trial was how some people will come close and others will withdraw. Pain is uncomfortable. I will confess to wanting to help others but also not wanting to hover or intrude. I have learned drawing near even in silent presence is always better than quiet from a distance. 

I extend my arms toward you today if you are in a hard place. 

If no one knows your pain, text a trusted family member or friend. Don’t live in silent pain.

If you know someone in pain, reach out even if you feel you don’t have adequate words or might say the wrong words. Presence wins over perfection every time.

If you feel you have no one who can share your pain, my email is on the sidebar. 

You are not alone.

 

Long Division

Long Division

I didn’t gain the clichéd Freshman 10 during my first year in college, I gained the Newlywed 15.

Carl and I spent our first two years of marriage in Minnesota as I attending physical therapy school. Carl was a medical technologist at the time and we envisioned endless employment opportunities when we traveled to the land of the Mayo Clinic. However we hadn’t anticipated the level of specificity of the medical community. It took Carl nearly a year to obtain full-time employment.

Godfather Pizza entered our story. Carl became a manager until finding part-time work in a virology laboratory. I attended 8 hours of classes, established library residency and spent evenings leaning over cadavers while Carl worked the late shift. We deemed our apartment the wedding cake. From living room, kitchen, bedroom to bathroom, each layer was smaller than the one preceding. Upon returning home from class and studying, I would often find a slightly warm cast iron skillet of Hamburger Helper atop our itty bitty stove. We seemed to always miss laying eyes on one another. Our days ended during the wee hours of the next day each smelling of formaldehyde and tomato sauce. We shared a Godfather pizza at the close of exhausting days and Carl always insisted we each eat half. We were equal partners in this ships passing life.

The dearest and generous of gestures helped pad my figure.

I wanted to decorate our apartment and pour over cookbooks. Carl wanted to do the work he loved and take his new wife out to a dinner using utensils.

I wanted to snuggle on the couch and be dreamy and I am sure Carl wondered if moving away from familiarity and family was foolish.

For two movie buffs, our first two years of marriage didn’t resemble any romantic comedy we had ever seen.

+++++

We moved to Portland, Oregon exactly 2 years from when we arrived in Rochester, Minnesota. During our final months, we experienced a record snowfall of 12 inches on the last day of April and on July 31st, we attended a wedding of a classmate in St. Cloud and were greeted with golf ball sized hail. It was time to leave!

After a few years we were able to buy a house. Not everyone in this life will own a home.
Not everyone will live in a home 26 years. I think we are an oddity. We are grateful. There are aspects of this house we would have loved to change but our children never wanted to leave this house. This house has been a persistent teacher. Five people and one shower, that will teach and provide endless lessons in patience. We have grown deep roots in our neighborhood.

One of the first summers we spent in this house, we would have conversations with neighbors. As we were at the beginning stages of learning to manage a home and yard, I would frequently ask neighbors with yards I admired tips to keeping weeds out of their flower beds. Without fail, the neighbor would pause, chuckle and not answer the question.

It was seriously annoying.

I wanted to know the secret but no one would offer the hidden knowledge.

+++++

Several years ago, I was asked to be one of a few speakers during the Mother’s Day service at church. I don’t particular enjoy public speaking. But after a little chat with God and telling him I hate feeling nervous, He countered my argument with asking if I could endure 5 minutes of jitters for Him?

I spoke about the 5 different colored and sized wooden ducks adorning our mantle at the time. A created visual reminder of my deepest desire for my ducks to be all in a row but the reality of life rarely allowing this scenario. I spoke of dreams deferred and the importance of being present in our lives even when, especially when, the arrows of trials land like a bullseye on your back.

I witnessed nods and exhales during those five minutes. I lived by those words.

Until I wanted the duck line formation reinstated.

+++++

 A few weeks ago, I saw couples walking by our house and pausing to scan the flower beds.

When the coast was clear, I walked down our front steps and looked for myself.

Disclaimer or reality check needed, our yard will never be featured in Better Homes and Garden.

Our yard has never seemed to get its act together at the same time, maybe it’s the owners.
Perhaps this explains the walkers staring in wonder.
Usually squirrels dig up tulip bulbs, the camelias start to bloom earlier than usual and bare spots abound where flowers never returned.

But this year, the tulips and daffodils are tall and proud before opening, the grape hyacinth planted nearly 25 years ago has leapt over or under brick in bunches, the daphne is waking up. The wall flowers never stopped putting out orange flowers despite snow and ice and as I round a corner shoots of lily of the valley are emerging.

It has taken over 25 years for this garden to grow and bloom in season.

However, the flower bed on the other side of the steps is a different story. It’s anemic. The tulips look bedraggled and the daffodils spindly. Similar flowers and grasses flourishing to the south are sparse in the north bed. Our maple tree, planted the year after we moved in, has made a part sun and shade north bed . The butterfly bush with deep and expansive roots is a playground and feeding stop for birds and appears to dominate the terrain.

+++++

In my 54th year, I know and admit:

I have wanted my life to resemble my own imagining and visions.

I have believed the sum of my days would be two perfect halves.

I thought the long division of my life would never yield a remainder.

My days will be composed of inclement weather in  seasons not of my choosing.

Weeds grow quickly and silently and must be pulled. There is not a lofty weed removal secret other than consistently doing the work.

For ducks to remain in a static row, someone or something must hold them in place. I am not this powerful or that someone. It takes strength to admit weakness and let go.

I have cycled in and out of times of wilderness most of my life. Wilderness is not an uncommon place to inhabit.

My yard has created a visual of my favorite wilderness definition.

 a part of a garden devoted to wild growth

My garden reminds me of the temptation to focus on barren places and block the view of the ground flourishing with growth and beauty. I am encouraged by the years preceding this vision when every glimpse seemed fruitless, empty and my thoughts were laced with the whisper of when? The whispered response beckoned me to risk waiting more than 5 minutes.

I thought God was pausing and chuckling at my expense.

Now I think He paused, considered His child, handiwork, masterpiece, then chuckled.

He chuckled because He could see completion, the hidden work I could never cook or dream up in my itty bitty kitchen of a mind. He knew the terrain of my life would one day make people stop and admire the view.

+++++

Dearests, if your life is filled with weeds and barrenness. If your life appears foreign in contrast to the dream reel in your head, I am sorry for the rocky and hard patches. A few people passed my dwelling place and allowed me to gaze in wonder at spring arriving in a small section of my chosen soil.

May these words help you see beauty in your life from a fresh vantage point.

a meandering path

a meandering path

A short time ago, I wrote a post about how God can be trusted.

Somehow three hours later, I returned to my default.

I slid off the edge of trust and into an abyss of mistrustful thinking.

Once again I couldn’t grab any sense of control with my fingers and my thoughts wandered everywhere but towards truth.

It was painful, crippling and humbling.

Not only do I need to practice what I preach but read what I write and believe it.

I am grateful this spiral didn’t last long but was a reminder of how quickly I can return to faulty and familiar ways.

*****

Three times in this past week, my eyes came upon words which helped me to recover, reminded me of where my trust should reside and provided comfort despite my propensity to tumble.

The Word

“I have not spoken in secret,
In a corner of a land of darkness;
I did not say to the descendants of Jacob,
‘Seek Me in vain [with no benefit for yourselves].’
I, the Lord, speak righteousness [the truth—trustworthy,
a straightforward correlation between deeds and words],

Declaring things that are upright.

+++Isaiah 45: 19 (AMP)

This verse was a good reminder of how God speaks words of truth directly.
He is not playing hide and seek with His people.
If I am actively listening for His voice, I will and for my benefit.

A STUDY

My God does not speak in whispers and accusatory hisses.
My God only speaks in promises. He only speaks over me.
He is a promise-maker and a promise-keeper.

His language is promises.
To hear God speaking, we must become familiar with his promises.

+++Hannah Brencher (from First Be A Follower)

When I am overcome by fear or struggle, if I reflect, the words circling my mind are not affirming, life-giving or encouraging. God’s words are full of promises not defeat.

A STORY

I’m a reader but  when I suffer a book slump, I have found reading middle grade fiction, especially fantasy, snaps me out of my book fog. I picked up Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow from the library last week.

All you need to know about the plot is the main character, Morrigan, believes she is a cursed child but she has been rescued from the family and city which gave her this identity. She must conquer a number of trials to be granted admission to the Wondrous Society.  At this point in the book, she fearful her patron will not be present for her last trial. She has the following exchange with Fenestra, an enormous feline or a Magnificat (stick with me).

~~~~

He’d promised her. He’d promised.

Just like he promised to take you to the Nevermoor Bazaar, said a little voice in the back of her head. And look how that turned out.

But this was different, Morrigan told herself. This was her trial. The big one—the one he’d sworn he’d take care of, the one he’d said she didn’t even have to think about. She’d done her very best not to think about it, but now what? She couldn’t do it on her own. She didn’t even know what her talent was supposed to be.

“Fenestra, please!” she yelled, and the cat turned to glare at her. “What’s he doing, where did he go?”

“He said he had something important to do. That’s all I know.”

Morrigan’s heart sank. More important than being there for the most important day of her life? More important than keeping his promise?

She felt wrong-footed. Seized by the sudden terror of her predicament, she entirely forgot why she had been looking for him in the first place.

She was on her own. She would have to do her Show Trial without him. She was on her own

Morrigan slumped down into one of the leather armchairs by the fire. Her whole body felt as if it were made of lead.

Fenestra stood up suddenly and appeared above Morrigan’s armchair, bringing her enormous furry face down to the girl’s eye level. “Did he say he’d be here for your trial?”

Tears pricked Morrigan’s eyes. “Yes, but—“

“Did he tell you he’d take care of it?”

“Yes, but—“

“Did he promise you everything would be all right?”

A few hot tears spilled down Morrigan’s face. “Yes, but—“

“That settles it, then.” With a placid blink of her huge amber eyes, Fen nodded once. “He’ll be here for your trial. He’ll take care of it. Everything will be all right.”

Morrigan sniffled and wiped her nose with her shirtsleeve. She squeezed her eyes shut, shaking her head.

“How do you know that?”

“He’s my friend. I know my friend.”

+++from Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

When faced with struggles, ask the following questions:

Am I all alone?

What do I know to be true?

What true words can replace my words of fear,insecurity or lies?

Who am I? Who does God say I am? Does each answer agree or contradict?

Can I trust my Friend today?

May we each continue on the path of complete and continuous trust in our Maker, but may we also accept grace when we meander.

Amen.

 

an open book

an open book

 

black twist pen on notebook

On a stunning late June afternoon, our daughter Courtney became a wife.

Spoiler alert: It was the most amazing day sandwiched between two equally wondrous days of celebration.

Our family won’t easily forget the joy of witnessing love by raising glasses, cheering, dancing and feasting as our family enlarged for the better.

However, the months leading up to the big event were filled with countless sleepless nights.

Not because of attempting to lasso a budget although the rope often felt out of reach.

No matter how I tried, I could not envision what or how this day of days would look or feel.

Since I couldn’t visualize those 6 hours, I threw myself into list making during my waking hours and sadly my sleeping hours also kept a tally.

My sleep was compromised simply because my mind was restless for a glimpse of the future.

One night in late January, sleep seemed pointless due to my overactive brain, I left my pillow behind and entered the darkest gap between night and morning and tucked myself under the dining room table before my journal.

I wrote in bold letters:

ALL THE THINGS THAT CONCERN ME

I wrote it all down.

There was nothing too insignificant or monumental that wasn’t scribbled on two pages.

I laid every care, fear and worry upon the lines of that open book, like a prayer or a hyperventilating plea sent in the direction of heaven.

Then I went to sleep.

I would like to report to never having another night of tossing and turning.

I did but the space between waking and falling back into dreamland was narrower.

For the majority of my life, I have trusted God.

Trust has been reflexive like a doctor’s hammer tap below one’s knee but often a whispered hope.

This summer was one in a collection of remembering the God I trust.

Sometimes my trust in God has put the emphasis on my actions instead of tilting the weight off my shoulders and witnessing the character of the God, who can be trusted.

*****

When I was young, my mother taught me to thread her needle.

After I mastered this skill, she showed me how to tie a knot on thread draped through the needle’s eye.

I remember watching her fingers, thumb and thread and it seemed the most mysterious display, especially when my clumsy hands tried to duplicate the feat.

Two thread lengths tethered only by the eye of a needle, each side placed between my thumb and second finger, as they slid back and forth until a knot formed.

At first it seemed improbable, impossible.

A folded piece of fiber remained uncontrolled.

But after practice and failed attempts, knot making became automatic.

I wouldn’t give a single thought when presented with a needle and thread today.
But if I dare to  pause long enough to observe the reflexive movements of my hand, I still marvel when a knot appears due to the gentle gliding of two parts of one hand.

I believe in the God who knows how to thread the pieces of my life through their appointed spaces.

I believe in the God who expertly knots every dangling fear, insecurity and worry.

I shudder by how easily I grow accustomed to his handiwork, some seen and often more shielded from my view, all accomplished by the rubbing of his fingers to and fro over my life.

*****

During the final moments leading to the wedding, I was given time to spend with Courtney in the balcony area of the venue. I looked at her and decades of prayers flooded my soul and were placed alongside my love for her. We spoke, we laughed and desperately tried not to ruin our make-up. It felt like an eternity had passed once I walked down the stairs to see the procession lined up, excitedly chatting as they waited for me. I took my place next to my tall son in the front of the line. I was certain the sacred space with Courtney had put our schedule in jeopardy but I lifted my eyes to the wall clock and it was exactly 4pm.

When does a wedding start on time?

That day.

I am not writing to share how God crossed out or put a check mark beside every one of my journal full of concerns, yet He did.

I am writing to admit none of my sleepless nights accomplished anything but darker under eye circles.

I am writing this because although it sounds cliché, God is never late or too early.
In fact, His timing is impeccable.

I am writing this not because God gave us the most brilliantly happy day, yet He did.

I am writing this because He pulled out all the stops for a brilliantly happy day in the midst of a multitude of sad days past, present and undoubtedly in the future.

He gave us merriment hemmed in beside the hard places which have taken up residency in our lives and seem to have no intention of hanging a vacancy sign.

I want to whisper and shout about my days to God, knowing no utterance is too trivial for His hearing.

I want to be an open book.

As I surrender my lists to Him as an act of trust, the privilege is mine to see the God who can be trusted to gently slide His hands across each strand of my life and affix it to Himself.

It seem improbable, impossible.

In His mercy and kindness, He ties knots of faithfulness all over the threads of my life.

Each one is a full stop in the story of me, allowing me to pause, stare back in wonder of the God who can be trusted.

 

Photo by Mohammad Danish on Pexels.com
of superheroes and ladybugs

of superheroes and ladybugs

I rescued a ladybug last week.

Since I am confident I won’t be featured in any upcoming

superhero blockbuster, I will share the details here.

While driving home from completing my last errand,

I noticed a small orange hump on my hood.

Naturally I slowed my speed to ensure a safe ride for my hitchhiker.

Once securely parked in my driveway,

I inspected the front of my car.

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A ladybug had hitched a ride and the landing appeared to be less than ideal.

I was positive it perished at impact yet when I ventured a poke,

the ladybug’s legs were catapulted into motion.

She split her polka-dotted shell in two and prepared for lift-off only she remained

hood-bound.

After several attempts at flight, I decided to coax her onto a leaf.

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Slowly the ladybug began to cling to the leaf.

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There she remained as I cradled ladybug and greenery in my hand.

The corner of the leaf was just enough stability.

Well as much as I adore ladybugs, I needed to move along.

I placed the ladybug and the leaf on top of a bed of leaves.

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I left my sweet little ladybug passenger to find its way home.

I went inside because I had things to do and one rescue a day met my

minor league superhero quota.

Several hours later,I surveyed the garden and

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ladybug, ladybug flew away home.

Now I may joke about having even an ounce of superhero blood in me,

but I am well acquainted with a true Rescuer.

He is the who has found me on those days when I have taken a nasty spill

or even when life has hit me squarely in the jaw.

When I have grown tired from keeping a death grip against whatever happens to be

moving my life at warp speed,

He rescues me.

He bends close and assesses the damage.

He tenderly hold me in the warmth of his hands

and deposits me in a bed woven by his security and protection.

Unlike me, He is not so wrapped up with worldly things that he

abandons with merely wishful thinking.

I never escape his watchful gaze.

He waits with me until I have strength to sit,

stand or

even fly.

Without a camera, the trail of the ladybug

from my car hood to plucked leaf to hand

to bed of safety might simply be a cute story.

Perhaps a different lens is needed to color

in our life stories.

Each day there is an invisible thread stitching a trail from the Father to you.

Look for the thread.

Witness the Rescuer.

He is the all-powerful one who tethers you to himself

when you lose your grip.

His rescue abilities obliterates quotas.

Aren’t you glad?

Let yourself be rescued.

Allow him to fly you home.