Thank you for stopping by my blog.

I write day after day because I discover extraordinary lessons from ordinary life experiences. I record my visual portraits of everyday life filled with something sacred in hopes that my reflections might bring an insight that blesses my readers.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My tribute to my friend and nieghbor,Linda Calvert

My Christmas celebrations came to a halt yesterday.  My neighbor past away in her sleep.  Linda will have the ultimate Christmas .  She will be singing with the angels and praising God in the highest.  She will understand fully how the life of Christ was the light of her.  I can't imagine what joy she must feel basking in His glory  and His encompassing light .  I can only know she is walking on the streets of gold with Christ because she lived her live for Him and the family that He gave her.

Linda and Larry Calvert have been our neighbors for over thirty-five years.  I have a large front window .  Through this window, I have watched the Calverts' children play and grow.  We have gone through many snows together and helped dig each other out.  We have planted every spring and talked about these plantings and our expectations.  We have pruned every fall and discussed how this would help our plants next year.  As I have looked out my window through these years, I have watched Linda and Larry as a team.  I have watched them pack their van for a trips to Branson, the Smokey Mountains, and the Rockies.  I have watched them return and heard their enjoyable reports of their trips together.  In fact, through the years, the Calverts have made my daily journal entries many times.  They are the kind of neighbors that you dream of having. They are always there if we needed help, water, or other emergencies.

Linda and I loved sitting on the porch and looking over the neighborhood and talking of how things have changed or not changed. I must admit that I would have to coax her to stop and sit.  She was always busy with household projects or trips to town.  We considered it a blessing that several of the residence on our street had been neighbors since the early seventies.  We discussed Angie's upcoming marriage, her first baby, and her job.  We talked of Nate's diabetes and then his new fiance, wedding plans, job, and life in Indy.

We considered how blessed we were to have husbands that took such good care of us and were faithful to God and His teachings.  We laughed about grandchildren antics and aspirations.  We never tired of talking about her flowers and mine.  We reported our first hummingbird citing as well as how much we fed the local bird population.  We talked often of God's constant care and blessings.  We asked each other for prayer and knew that we would seek our Father's best for each other.

I showed Linda my first painting, and as usual, she was so complimentary.  She was always interested in my current projects or our trips, our son's activities, and  our new home improvements.  She was a pure, pure spirit.  I loved the gentle light that glowed within her.  She was calming to be around.  When she shared about Angie and Nate, it wasn't bragging but praise for how good God was to them.  She was never boisterous just kind and loving.  She demonstrated the love of Christ in her inquiries and her explanations of life's happenings.

Before Linda's heart surgery last spring, she shared that she was dreading it.  We talked of how doctor's were well trained now and how God would be holding her hand.  She recovered so quickly.  She was home and talking to us the very week of her surgery.  She said it was painful but manageable.  That was so Linda.  She liked focusing on the best, the light, the strength, and the joy in her life.  That is what I loved about Linda.  She wasn't critical but concerned.  She wasn't negative but positive.  She wasn't focused on worldly fashion, possessions, or money.  Instead, she shared her love for her family, her granddaughters, nature, and  God's beauty.  She was the right person to hang around if  I was feeling sad or discontent.  Her conversations gave me a lift, a smile, and a portion of her gentle light.

I will miss that light outside my window.  I will miss her sweet, childlike smile.  I will try to learn from her and not focus on grieving but instead on her wonderful life eternal.  God planted a beautiful woman in my life.  I know we shall meet again one day.  Until then, I will remember all her dedication to her  "workouts" at the YMCA, her love of retirement because she could at last sleep late,  her  fastidious attention to her church family,and her diligence in being Larry's handmaiden.

Yes, sweet friend, you will be missed.

When her bulbs bloom this spring, they will beckon a hello to me from Linda smiling down from heaven's gates.                  

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Simple Understanding

Last night I was playing with my 22 month old granddaughter,Ellis. We were playing with a wooden manger scene and replacing the figures in the manger. She would name the characters and then sometimes knock them over , so she could set them up again. Although this was a simple and familiar activity, I realized that this was as close as some of us get to the real meaning of Christmas. Just like baby Ellis, we look briefly at the Christ child and then lay Him down.

I have purposed in my heart that this Christmas will be different. I am trying to spend more time with the Christ child and less time being "busy". Why just this day that Ellis and I played with the manger figures, I had been so busy preparing gumbo, cleaning, and setting up play stations for the girls that I had not spent any time with Christ. Sure, I would send up small spontaneous prayers, but I hadn't taken time to thank Him for my wonderful family who would be gathering at our home this weekend. I had not meditated on Christ's gift to me this day. I was much like the inn keeper. I had no room today.

Playing with the manger characters, I realized how simple I was making the story , so a two year old could understand it. Ellie understands Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. She gets them in the right order. She mixes up the wise men and the shepherds. Suddenly, I realized she really did understand the order. The wise men brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were their best gifts. The shepherds were not kings, but they received the news first of the Savior from angels. Each were equal in the eyes of the Lord. Country shepherds and kings were of equal importance to God. So, let the figures line up anyway they want as long as they are worshiping the Christ child.

Falling on my knees and singing hallelujah is the best gift I can offer Him. A child has once again simplified the message. Of all our gifts nothing is better than our honest worship. Yes, baby Ellie, we are are all equal at the manger scene.

Our gift of praise is as great as the wise men who brought expensive

treasures. Let me continue to ponder the figures in my creche and allow God to teach me more of His glorious provisions and love.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Rehearsal

Christmas Rehearsal

Have you ever considered that Christmas is a life map? Christmas has all the temptations of life as well as the praise worthy components.

Think about that glittery package decked with a bright red ribbon so large it tumbles over the shiny foil wrapping. It looks like a treasure. Everyone o oohs and awes over the elegance of the wrapping. No one would suspect that inside is a worn pair of mittens. Isn’t that much like us? We bedeck ourselves with mask of makeup, svelte fitting undergarments to disguise our bulges, and expensive dresses to cover our flaws. We are a wrapped package to the eyes of the world. What is within? Have we weathered too many storms and our thoughts are always critical? Have we nurtured the bitter seed of divorce, rejection, despair , and it has grown massive and hardened our heart ? Does our velvet black cocktail dress hide our hurts?

Consider all the sweet temptations. We relish each plate of cookies or red velvet cake that passes our way. The fudge, the ribbon candy, and the caramels are just too much to resist. We eat and eat and submit to each temptation that comes our way. Is this perhaps a forerunner of our lack of discipline for the new year ?

The lack of budgets and savings create a charge card filled with gifts from every store in the area as well as Amazon and other well known on line sites. We buy and buy more. If we see a lovely silk scarf for our sister, we like it so much we buy ourselves one too. Yes, that gift of wine is nice for the hostess , but we add two to our pantry as well. It is a strange kind of generosity. If they will enjoy it, so will I. In the frenzy of black Friday, have you found the greatest bargains for yourself? Again, is Christmas shopping a test of our generosity versus our greed?

Families merge and traditions continue. There is so much fun for the children and warmth in family togetherness. However, how many times have we realized the Chevy Chase extended Christmas family is ours? We are struggling with Aunt Mary’s same stories of health concerns about her constipation. We can’t bare for our brother to boss and organize one more family function. We are at our husband’s throat because of all the stress of his family? Again, think about this as a dress rehearsal. Is God using this time to test our selflessness, our compassion, our loyalty to Him and His children?

As I have meditated on Christmas this year, the Lord keeps showing me each aspect of Christmas has been stolen by the enemy. What was intended to present Emmanuel with us has become a trial rather than a blessing. Apparently, movie makers have understood this for years and realized that tear makers are money makers.

We are reminded continually this is a holy season. We must enter each task, each challenge, each celebration with the mind of Christ. He has created an opportunity for our light to shine and our discipline to matter. He has come not only as a babe in the manger but as our Provider each Christmas season. I am accepting the challenge of seeing Christmas as a test of my true self. Do I really have a heart for the poor? Am I rejoicing in all things? Am I showing compassion and love to my family? Am I able to set aside my selfish desires and find joy in giving and serving willingly? Am I really my neighbor's keeper? I cannot answer yes to many of these questions. However, looking at Christmas in this way has given me new understanding and trust in how much our heavenly Father has used Christmas to shape and mold me. I hear the phone ringing, perhaps it is another opportunity to rehearse for Christmas.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Manger is Empty but the Light is Still On

I have been reading The Manger Is Empty by Walter Wangerin.  His allegorical tales of the beauty and mystery of Christ’s birth have penetrated my heart.  As you who read me often,  understand that I love to meditate on the scriptures. I  try to put myself in Bethlehem the night of our dear Savior’s birth.  I enjoy visualizing Mary and Joseph and their reactions to Gabriel’s news to them.  I cannot know the details, but I understand the spirit of the words of the gospel depictions of that sacred night in the inn.  I realize that there was darkness all about the land. 

Man’s sinful nature had darkened the land and man’s heart.  We , mankind, needed a light.  Not a small candle, not a flaming chandelier, but we needed a light so bright , so immersing that it would reflect in our soul forever.  That was when God incarnate came to this earth as a tiny babe.  God chose a baby to communicate His message of love.

I know why.  Who is not allured by the cooing of a new born?  Who of you has seen the birth of a child?  It is at the very moment that babe takes his first breath that you ,the bystander, recognize a miracle. 

In 1970 , I helped start a school for teenage mothers at the YWCA.  I was called to be a part of this because when I taught at Central in 1969, pregnant girls were not allowed to attend public school.  Who needed an education more than a fifteen year old young lady with child?  I asked to help.  My superior was a fifty year old spinster with definite feelings about young girls out of wedlock.  I am not sure whether God put me there for me to nourish my  boss or nurture the young moms and babes.  I suspect I needed a little molding and purifying too.  My boss and I sharpened each other like steel against steel.  However, neither of us lost sight of our goal, which was to help the pregnant girl adjust to  motherhood and complete her education.  Retrospectively, I see how amazing that was.  We were both hard headed but big hearted.  We both wanted to make a difference in their lives.  I was called and she was assigned this new duty.  Together, with God’s grace, we built a mini school that facilitated education and parenting.

I would hear the phone at 2 a.m. and a soft voice would say, “ What are you doing Mrs. B?” 
I replied, “Just sleeping.  Do you need something?” 
“Yes, I am in labor, can you come to the hospital with me?”
“ Sure , I will be there shortly.”

It was the grandest opportunity of my teaching career.  I was chosen to be her encourager, or her birth coach, or her advocate.  Few father’s arrived to witness the birth of their babies.  Most of the fathers were long gone after the announcement of the pregnancy. Because of the moral embarrassment, many daughters and moms had become alienated.  I was just a neutral person who counted it all joy to witness the birth of a babe.  I heard the cry of the mother and tried to keep her focused.  When I heard the cry of the babe, I knew God was present. His light was there.  He breathed life into this little babe and made him whole.  I felt like the shepherds who witnessed the sky splitting open and allowing blinding light to guide them to the new babe.  Regardless of the circumstances, each birth I witnessed clarified my understanding of  a God so big, so miraculous, so creative that  I could not wrap my mind around His abilities, His gifts, His wisdom, or His ways. 

It has been many years since I was called to be a part of the birth process.  I did have one friend that asked me to come with her and her husband to be by their side at their first born son.  It still awed me how great our God is.

So, star of wonder , star of bright lead me to His holy sight.  I am praying that melody as I look upon the light given to our world.  Mary too was a young teen in a culture that did not accept births out of wedlock.  Both Mary and my former students were misunderstood.  Mary brought us Jesus supernaturally.  Jesus brought light into our dark world, our dark hearts.  The birth of a babe is a supernatural way to teach us of unconditional love.  Mary taught that.  My teenagers taught me that.  Most importantly, Jesus taught that for all the world to see, not just the wise men, not just Joseph and Mary, but all of us who cherishes the manger story each Advent season. 

Please share this story with your children, your grandchildren , and your neighbors and help them know the light that illuminated the earth two thousand years ago as well as today. During this busy season, take time to tell this old, old story and join in this Christmas season by bringing light to others.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Stop Stuffing Christmas

Stuffing Christmas into a Jar

I hear busyness. I see bustling. I recognize that so many folks are in a hurry up mode. They are busy trying to push all the Christmas celebrations into a jar. Push, push, push; get that list for today completed and go to the next list. Somehow, I just don’t think the Advent season is meant to be so “pushy”. How can we slow it down and make it meaningful?

First, does everyone need several gifts? Wouldn’t one needed or wanted gift be more significant? Most children get gifts from grandparents, siblings, and aunts and uncles, so that number climbs naturally. When we decided to limit our gifts to one nice one, or two medium priced items like a book or a favorite CD, my stress decreased immensely. I remember sitting down with hubby and saying, “We just don’t need to buy so many gifts. Our extended family of cousins gets so much." More is not Christmas. More turns into selfishness. That  year was one of the nicest holidays ever. We talked to cousins and sisters and asked them to take us off their gift list. They seemed surprised but relieved. Why? It simplified their Christmas too. We did this about fifteen years ago, and we have never missed those extra gifts. We gained family time, more game playing , and time to drink tea and listen to the powerful words of carols. Most important, we had more money to share with our "adopted" Christmas family.

Second, I incorporated cookie exchanges in my life. This was just an easy fix. I made one kind of cookie and shared. The other ladies did the same. We had a delightful assortment and wonderful fellowship. I still enjoy giving cookies to the neighbors and am not opposed to mixing a few store bought wedding cookies and chocolates to make my plates a little more decorative. Instead of spending hours decorating cut out sugar cookies, I turned it into a family contest. I make the cookies ahead and put them in the freezer. Then, when all the family arrives , we have the master decorator hour. In a little over an hour, those cookies are iced and decorated and a “best decorated cookie” award and a “most creative” award is announced. We have neighbors that help in the judging. Of course, younger participants are given extra points.

Third, I take time early in the morning to read a Christmas story, poem, or reflect on a few Bible verses. I actually read those Christmas gift books. I try to imagine how I would have felt on Christmas morn in war times. I imagine how uncomfortable Mary must have been riding a donkey on a cold night. I ponder how and why the wise men pursued the Christ child. This beginning thought of the day infiltrates my thinking all day. I like that. I am realizing what Christmas is, what happened two thousand years ago, and contemplating what my granddaughters' Christmas will look like in fifteen years. These thoughts create plenty of prayer material.

Just those three adjustments have made the season peaceful. I still have time to visit shut ins, make special cards for loved ones, bake our sons' favorite cookie recipe,or take time for yoga and walking. Slowing down the pace of Christmas actually gives me more time. I sing these words, " Son of God, Love's pure light. Radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth, Jesus, Lord at thy birth." If I take time to seek the King, I too discover the radiant grace.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Creative Memories

Creative Memories 

 During this festive time of year, I become  nostalgic.  I sit and stare at our Christmas tree , and I have flashbacks of  earlier trees.  I have always recreated the tree every year.  When we were first married, I made an elegant gold tree.  When the boys were small, I  trimmed  the tree with safe red and white peppermint ornaments and candy canes with cute red bows.  Then, I began my angel collection and covered the tree with angels....just angels.  The boys loved buying me a new angel for Christmas because I would unwrap it and add it to the tree immediately.  We would declare  it to be the fairest of all angels.

 I remember the tree that caused all the guys in my family as well as my neighbor Tom to gasp.  What had I done?  I covered the tree with peacock feathers and turquoise and green balls.  They just could not  comprehend a peacock tree and still to this day tease me about my creation.

 Of course, no two mantels have ever been the same.  Each year the theme of the Christ child is the same , but I address it differently on the mantel.  Again, my three guys could not understand why I went to such pains and hours to create a new mantel each year.  The fun is in the creating for me.  Creating new slants on the same theme makes my season more meaningful.   
  
The holy season of Christmas has always been about giving in our home.  We have helped over forty  families have a joyful holiday.  The circumstances have been different, but God has led me to them.  I have had to solicit help from friends and neighbors at times because my “joyful” included new floors, furniture, games, toys, bed linens, new outfits for all nine kids, and trees and lights.  We have piled houses full of pantry items and gifts that children put on Santa’s list.  Just like the tree, every year has looked different.  My guys have done little of the shopping but loved being a part of the cookie baking and delivering of the yuletide greetings.  We have shed tears together reminiscing the look on the grandparents’ faces when we explained we had paid ahead for drug refills.  We all cried when the couple called us  on Christmas morn and said they had received so much that they took some of their gifts and gave to the couple who lived under the bridge. 

 I loved including our Young Life groups.  They wrapped and gathered with such fun and frolic.  They wanted to be in on “giving”.  They too would cry after we delivered toys and food to a family that had hard luck and couldn’t have Christmas that year.  I get reports back from those kids who are now forty some.  They report adopting families  of their own because the joy is in the giving.   

Christmas is dancing lights, colorful packages, smiling gingerbread men, and a heart filled with the joy of helping mankind.  The blessing to us has been much greater than any of the blessings we have bestowed.  Our family has wonderful memories of the five little kids that just grabbed a gingerbread man and stared at us as we told the advent story.  They were stuck to those cookies and wondered why all these gifts filled their small living area. 

 We remember fondly of the “overstock” Christmas.   We had so many gifts that we filled our son’s jeep as well as our van.  We delivered them to the family and did our singing and gospel story.  Then, when we left after tears and hugs, we discovered we had a whole seat of food and linens still left.  I told our son ,"Let’s just go driving down Madison and see what God has for us. "  Conservative John has always been aghast at some of his mother’s meanderings and expectations.  He drove  and I prayed and asked God to reveal  to whom these items belonged .   It was cold and windy.  John had on his Annapolis masked  cadet face that showed little emotion.  

Suddenly, I heard God.  “John, stop right here.”  His response, “ Oh, mom.”  At the bus stop was a very large lady with a very thin coat.  I approached her and told her God had sent us with some Christmas surprises.    She began to cry and thank God .  “Lordy, Lordy, Lordy!  You have heard my prayer.  Thank you , Jesus.”  She showed us where she lived , and John and I delivered two baskets of food and a basket of new sheets, blankets, and pillows.  We even had extra money to put in her hand. It was a double blessed Christmas.  I saw water standing in those icey blue eyes of our son.  It was difficult not to react to such thankfulness.

 All these families have taught me that I too should be just as demonstrative in thanking God for His many provisions.  I too cry out, “ Lordy, Lordy, Lordy, thank you , Jesus.”  I am tearful when I think of my abundance of blessings of a faithful and dear husband, sons who are loyal to God and have integrity.  I am humbled to have been given such a wonderful daughter-in-law , who helps me prepare meals and willingly sees that I get to play with the granddaughters to my heart is content.  I am blessed with good health as they are also.  We have enough to share with others.  I cry out to God,  “ Thank you for a season that brings out this giving nature in so many.  "It is because we give , we can live abundantly.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hand to Hand

After the Retreat
As my readers know, I spent Saturday at a retreat. Monique led us in very worshipful stretches. Some folks are critical because we incorporate these yoga positions into our creative/spiritual retreat. We are very aware that Yoga is an Eastern religious practice. We do not participate in our stretches in that way.

Instead, we use the quiet reposes to focus on Jesus. We say scriptures in our minds. For example, after several cleaning breaths and sighs, she may say to us, “Be still and know that I am Lord. Ask God what He has for you today.” It is very centering. We clear our minds of bills, children’s demands, husband’s job losses,and anxieties of the day. We just “be” and breathe and seek God. It is wonderful. I could physically see the participants begin to relax as we continued these exercises. Some were new to stretching and holding, but all tried at their level.

Next, I shared with them what the Lord had revealed to me in my morning worship. They listened attentively and agreed we were pushed, shaped, and directed by our technology of today. I asked them to take a more ancient path. I said,” Today we are going to follow the cadence of nature. We will be quiet as the falling snow, and at times birth new understanding that comes as a spring blossom through all the ‘yuck’ we have stored within. “

Next we built our journals. I was so touched by the ladies willingness to reach within and find pictures and scriptures that really represented them instead of how society had labeled them. These were strangers coming together sharing intimately. They laughed and played like children with their stamps and colored markers. Monique and I were right in there with them. We felt the freedom to play, to take time to ponder, to just feel something.

As the ladies shared a few of their journal entries, I was so humbled at how transparent and truthful they were. They felt safe. Sharing laughter and tears, we became the body of Christ. We genuinely cared for each other. We were strangers just five hours ago and now were friends sharing hurts and holding invisible hands. It touches my soul to lead these retreats. I love that we stop our busyness and just hold onto the quiet of the day.

Afterwards and even now, I still hear the participant’s voices. God urges me to pray for these individuals. Perhaps that is why He has called me to present the gospel in this way. Through these retreats, I see evidence of how God has worked in so many lives. I hear testimonies of His provisions. I encourage and acknowledge their creative being. Together, we receive direction from the Holy Spirit. It is a magnificent time. I am grateful that He has given Monique and I this opportunity.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Walden's Pond

Walden’s Pond



"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." These words by Walden inspire me to live life fully. I, like Walden, do not want to come to the end of my days and discover I missed life.

I embrace this idea of living each day by various means. Sometimes living is sitting and listening to a friend’s hurts and concerns. It is taking a morning out to pray for those ill with cancer. It is walking through the golden leaves and feeling the carpet was laced just for me. Other days, it is reading poetry and pondering the earth’s pangs of destruction. Pondering is an important part of the day. It is taking a “time-in “as opposed to a “time-out”.

In this pondering state, I don’t necessarily meditate, but I do sometimes. I just take a period of time where I am not multi-tasking. I am just intentionally in a space where electronics and technology cannot control me. I don’t answer the ringing phone, look at a clock, listen to music, or check my texts. I just am. I am reaching into the deepest part of my knowing and pulling out a memory, a thought, a sound, a smell, or a dream. I begin to fondle it like a lover. I caress that memory and try to pull from it all the thoughts I can. I recollect how I felt when I sat by my father’s side. I can smell the cherry tobacco from his pipe. I can feel his gentleness, and hear his soft, low voice. I just stay there and reunite with that time in my life. If my mind tries to escape, I push it back into that day. If it is a childhood memory, I try to recreate the innocence in which I looked at life, at the little town where we lived, at the teaching given to me by my father. I embrace the presence of that moment and feel the warmth, or sometimes I discover a hurt with which I have never dealt. If it hurts, I may shed tears. If it is affirming, I may bask in that feeling of acceptance. I try to grasp what this moment in time taught me about life. Perhaps this is a whimsical activity to some. To me, it is becoming aware of those moments that shaped me, that formed me into the person that I have become today.

Oh, how I would like to go to the woods and live for two years as Walden did. He pondered how a pine tree’s odor permeated his pores. He observed woodchucks and made them into visitors in his lonely abode. He realized that morning was the most significant time of day. He said, “Let me have a draught of undiluted morning air. Morning air! If men will not drink of this at the fountainhead of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some and sell it in the shops, for the benefit of those who have lost their subscription ticket to morning time in this world. But remember, it will not keep quite till noonday even in the coolest cellar.” I am inspired by Walden’s affirmation of the importance of the morning air. Morning is the most blessed time of the day. We awaken clear minded and in an almost pure state. If we listen to the news, read the paper, or enter into any aspect of worldliness, the freshness of that moment is lost. We must breathe in that “undiluted morning air” and practice being in the presence of the Lord.

I begin each day with writing morning pages of my wanderings. I sometimes begin by reading scripture and God highlights a specific word, thought, phrase or parable. I may have read this many times before, but it is in this morning time that I realize new truth and application to me life. I discover new goals for my life. I realize my shortcoming as God’s word shapes me in the mornings. It is in this molding and shaping that my life has taken direction. Just as in my pondering times mentioned earlier, I begin to wonder how I would have felt at the foot of the cross. I try to recreate the shouts and cries in my head. I see with my spiritual eyes Mary weeping, struggling, begging, and seeing her son dying in such an anguished way. I stay there in that vision. I pull myself back into the vision, the message, and the inkling within me. I stay there and ask God to reveal to me what lesson I am to learn. How can this truth make me really live life? I , like Walden, do not want to come to the end of my journey and discover I missed my morning messages. I don’t want to discover I missed my destiny. I don’t want to regret that I have not lived deliberately.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Play Date With God Registration

In just two weeks, Monique and I will be leading the one day workshop for women on November 13th.  We would love to have some of  our facebook friends join us.  Registrations are coming in , but we need you.  The first five ladies to register this week will get a bonus gift from me.  Early registrations help us plan luncheons and supplies better.  So, you will be rewarded next Saturday for helping us out. 

The day will open with scriptural yoga .  The retreat will teach women how to connect wtih God in more creative and spiritual ways.  The cost of $65.00 will include journals, decorative materials, and lunch. Reservations can be made at http://www.lamplightercounseling.com/ or by calling Sandi at 289-7049 or Monique at 499-1974.  Anyone attending should bring a Bible, a picture of yourself, and a yoga mat if you have one.  The retreat is held at the People of Praise building at 3300 W. Moore Rd.  We will have a relaxing yet productive time together.  We will peel away unwanted labels that we carry and discover how God sees us and made us.  Please join us for the day.  It will be a blessed one. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Trusting Your Father

                                                               A Picture of Trust
The African impala can jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover a distance of greater than 30 feet. Yet, these magnificent creatures can be kept in an enclosure in any zoo with a 3 foot wall. Do you know why? They must be certain where their feet will fall, or they will not jump.  I guess they have not learned trust in their development.

Whenever I look at this picture of my son and granddaughter, I think how Ava’s trust in her father takes away all fear. He throws her into the air (to grandma’s chagrin), and she expects him to catch her. She is assured that her daddy will keep her safe. John has proven himself to Ava time and time again in her five short years on earth. John has a very close relationship with Ava. They look alike and act alike. As I watch her actions and reactions, it is like rearing John again. She loves to do risky things because he has taught her that he will be there to encourage her, help her, and cheer her. She has assurance that her dad is her best friend, best provider, and safety net. She does not let fear entrap her if her dad is near. Ava is secure because of her love for her daddy and  his unconditional love and trust.

John has taught Ava trust. I believe this will carry over in her spiritual life. Since she has learned to trust her earthly father, it will be easier for her to trust in God. Trust has many benefits. According to scripture Psalm 37, one who actively commits himself to the Lord can expect these benefits:

• to enjoy safe pastures,

• to inherit the land,

• to enjoy peace,

• to be upheld by God,

• to gain an enduring inheritance,

• to live securely

• to never be forsaken by God

In verse 31, a benefit of trust is “not to slip”. This photo of a daughter being hurled in the air is an action shot of trust. Ava knows her daddy will not let her slip.

As I look at this photo, I think of how many times I have hurled myself into dangerous situations. I have put myself  in precarious positions. But, God has not let me slip. He has caught me and held on to me and brought me into safe pastures.

Psalm 31:5 in the Message version reads, “I’ve put my life in your hands. You won’t drop me; you’ll never let me down.” Both of these psalms free me of my fears and encourage me daily. These words provide an assurance that I will be caught in the hands of my heavenly father.

Today is one of those days that I needed reminded of how well my Father cares for me. I write this to share scriptures that create a strong base for my trust in Him. These words ignite my spirit. I trust because my Father has caught me and kept me from harm many times. I know His love is unconditional.







Friday, October 22, 2010

Creators create blogs...sort of

We are writers, after all, we write. Period. Generally speaking, we don’t do techie stuff. None of us really knows, no care to know, how the mysterious mechanics of the cyber world work. We only know that it all works and that it is important to the success of our blogging endeavors. nittygritty of writing.blogspot.com
I totally agree that bloggers thrive on writing.  It is our passion, past time, and purpose.  In our blogging group , we all agree on this principle.  What we can't agree on, is how is the best way to utilize all that blogger has to offer.  Those technical tricks are baffling. 

At my home, we had a blogging class taught by my friend, Jason.  He is so intelligent  and has may skills in computer science.  He is  productive and generous with his talents. Jason took time to teach my blogging friends some ideas on increasing traffic to our blogs.  He showed us how to link to other post, work on our page design, and how blogs are effective.  All of us were fifty or over, yet we were so eager to learn how to upgrade our blogs.

Jason's patient instruction made us feel successful.  Today we are attempting to apply those teachings.  So, I hope you visit again to see some improved postings and blog designs.

I need you to do me a favor.  When you visit my blog, will you become a follower?  You just need to look on the right side of my blog and push "follow".  If you arrow down on the kind of account button, you need to  push google account or any of the others on the list to which you belong.  I promise no crazy emails will come into your box.  It really helps me to have followers.  I am trying to get noticed by publishers or other writers.  If they see several people follow, they will stop a few seconds and view my writing.  Thanks so much for helping me in my pursuit to be a published writer.  Blogging is a way of communicating and sharing in our way too busy world.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Play Date With God


A PLAY DATE WITH GOD
ONE DAY WORKSHOP FOR WOMEN

Often our time with God is spent talking with Him and sharing our thoughts. This one day retreat for women will teach how to connect with God in more creative, spiritual ways. The day will open with Prayer and Scriptural Yoga. This will be followed by learning how to peel back the layers of labels that we carry and learning how to see ourselves as God truly made us. This will be done through various artistic expressions & exercises. (No artistic experience required)! Sandi and Monique are both Masters Level Instructors who have over 30 years experience combined; teaching, serving and leading others. They will lead you through a day of relaxation, fun, fellowship and a deeper understanding of who you are in Christ.
When: November 13, 2010, from 9am—4pm
Where: People of Praise, 3300 W. Moore Rd., Muncie IN 47304
Cost: $65.00 (Includes supplies & lunch)
What to Bring: Bible, 1 Picture of Self, Yoga Mat (if you have)

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT
SANDI BARON, M.A. @ 765-289-7049 OR SBARON8208@GMAIL.COM
MONIQUE JESIOLOWSKI, M.A., R.Y.T. @ 765-499-1974 OR LAMPLIGHTERCOUNSELING@YAHOO.COM


TO REGISTER, GO TO WWW.LAMPLIGHTERCOUNSELING.COM

Monday, October 18, 2010

Unweaving Rainbows




Unweaving Rainbows

I must confess. I have been a rainbow chaser for years. When I was three to five years old, I started my addiction. I remember fondly when my family and I would eat our lunch and a typical quick Florida shower would water the palms and flowers. Unexpectedly, my dad would look out of the window and suddenly leap from his chair.

“Girls, look, a rainbow. Let’s find its end.”

With this announcement mama, my sister , and I would jump into our Chevy sedan and take off to find the pot at the end of the rainbow. My sister and I would squeal with delight. Daddy headed toward Daytona . It seemed the rainbows usually clustered in that area. As a four year old, I just knew the pot of gold would be found. We sang, “ Do Lord” in harmony and "Jesus Loves Me". Dad sang in the choir and had a bellowing bass voice. Those adventures are some of my fondest memories of being reared in Clermont. We arrived at the ocean’s edge. We hurried out of the car to jump in the waves, and Daddy would announce, “ I guess we found our pot of gold.”

I still get excited when I see a rainbow. I run to my neighbors of thirty-eight years and make her view the sky with me. My husband knows I won’t give up until he too sees the magic of the rainbow. It is the symbol of promise from God that He will never totally destroy the people of the world again.

As an artist I marvel at the clarity of each color. The colors are separate yet merged. They softly bump into the next color. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet are all marvelously displayed . Many artist before me have painted scenes with rainbows in the clouds, over the mountains, and by the sea side. They too have hungered to capture the beauty.

In real life, the colors can be seen, however, only when the angle of reflection between the sun, the drops of water, and the observer’s line of vision is between 40 degrees and 42 degrees. In other words, you and I must be in the right place at the right time. Otherwise, we have no idea the rainbow is there because it is above our heads and view.

Think about it, the rainbow is there but we can’t see it. Doesn’t that remind you of faith? Hebrews describes faith as, “ the confident assurance that something we want is going to happen. It is the certainty that what we hope for is waiting for us, even though we cannot see it up ahead.” (Living Bible Heb.11:2&3) So, rainbows are there , but we must inhabit a very special position to see them. In this way, the contours of the miraculous and of rainbows are the same. Even though we can’t see them, they are there. It is a matter of perspective. .

Today rainbows have even more significance. They are like God. He is with me each moment. It is only when I am in the correct position that I can hear Him, know Him, and feel His presence.

As a child it took my father’s eye to show me the rainbow. As an artist, it takes my oil paints and creative spirit to paint a rainbow. As a believer, I need to be in the position of “now” to know He is with me. I thank my earthly daddy for teaching me to cherish rainbow moments. I thank my heavenly Father for inspiring my faith with them.

Photo by Carolyn Shelton

Thursday, October 14, 2010

May Taught Me Grace

May’s Grace
When I was a little girl in Clermont, Florida, May came to our home about three times a week to help Mama cook and clean. No, we were not rich; we were white. Because of the segregation laws in the forties, May could not come in the city without a designated job or purpose. She could work at our house and legally go to the grocery and pharmacy. Well, it was a little more complicated. My mama had to gather her groceries from May’s list. Mamma would pay for them, and then May would help by caring for me and our home. May’s husband was allowed to come and get her at our house and get gas while he was in town for a “purpose.” Of course, as a small child, I was not aware of any of these political policies. I just loved May because she was May.

She was making biscuits one day. I watched intently as her hands patted and rolled the dough.

“I am not eatin’ any of those nasty biscuits, “I declared.

“Now, why not, baby?”

“Cause your old black hands are making them dirty.”

With this, May broke into peals of laughter. “Oh, child, you will eat the most of all.”

“Nope, I sure won’t eat those nasty biscuits.”

May sat beside me. I felt her warm, round arm hug me. I looked at her apron full of her stomach and tucked my head. “Darlin’ let me see the bottom of your hands.” I opened my hands widely and showed her.

“Now, look at mine. What do you see?”

“I see flour.” I said.

She brushed her hands and sat her palms beside mine. “See child, mine is like yours. Mine is a little pinker because I am older. But, our palms and hearts are just the same.”

“How do you know what color my heart is?” I asked.

“Child, we all have pink hearts. In our maker’s eyes, we are all the same. We are His children.”

I always trusted May. She never got impatient with me and told me Bible stories every day. I asked her to read to me, and she would just answer, “Can’t.” Then, I thought she couldn’t because she didn’t have time. Now, I realize that she probably couldn’t read.

May shaped my thinking about God, about people, and about love. She helped mama by cooking and cleaning, but most of all she helped me. I loved just following her around and hearing her stories. She knew just how to tell a child a God principle without preaching. She just gave me grace. She made me feel loved just by being. I am so thankful that God sent May to shape me like Him. He used her adversity and turned it into a blessing for all of us. We loved helping May with groceries, clothes, and things at the pharmacy. She was a part of our family even though society saw her as less and uneducated.

May’s love and teachings have helped me realize that our culture pressures and yardsticks are often very wrong. May represented love. Cultural biases dictated hate. May loved from her pink heart. Society had no heart for African Americans. May had a permanent impact on my spirit. Society thwarts my spirit and even tries to control it. Sixty some years later, I still hear the teachings of May.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Noticing brings light


Noticing brings light


As you know, I am trying to learn to oil paint. I have been working all month on a canvas illustrating aspens in autumn. I enjoy mixing the oranges and yellows and splashing them on the canvas. However, the greens must be handled so carefully. I must focus and decide which green is needed. Do I need an olive green to tone it down or a lime green to highlight the forest?


My teacher, Bill Inman, repeats over and over, “Evaluate what you see in nature. Don’t just go with what you think you know.” I try to control my mind that pops into my mind's eye elementary images of what a tree should look like. I dismiss familiar images and search to create new, fresh scenes. Some readers may think, a tree is a tree, is a tree. I used to think that before I learned to put in shadows, highlights, medium hues, and believable shaped tree limbs. I had a predisposed idea of what a tree limb should look like. I would paint it on the canvas, and Bill would encourage me to rethink how a limb is crooked, incomplete, broken, or very small or large. He is teaching me to alter my preconceived ideas and paint forms from light and dark brush strokes. He is asking me to alter my thinking to create a believable yet interesting painting.

As I drove home from my art class, I thought about how I desire to see more of Jesus. I hunger for a closer walk. I yearn to know his character and his Spirit. How do I do this? I think it is much like learning to paint. I must dismiss my preconceived ideas on how Jesus looks. Instead,, I need to study scripture and discover how the disciples described him, how John described him in Revelations or how Nebuchanezzar described him walking in the fire with his Meshack, Abendigo, and Shadrack. How did Jesus react to others? To authority? To his Father? From these meditations I can discern who Jesus is. I must not lean on childhood Bible books that depicted him as a fragile man in a white gown. I , instead, must find my own definition of who Jesus is and what he looks like. It is a bit like painting. I must focus, evaluate, and then discover my own style and interpretation. God calls me to see Him more clearly each day. I am altering how I see Jesus.

I like the painting at the top of my blog. The artist rendition of the face of Jesus shows so much compassion. I believe this artist discovered his Jesus by studying and learning about him. I share this painting and my experience to encourage you to look at Jesus in the light He reveals to you today. Alter your preconceived ideas by finding new understanding daily.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Toad Tales


Toad Tales

It is time. I must write, reflect, and disclose my toad tales. Since I was a small child, I have been attracted to toads and frogs. Do you know the difference? Let me explain that frogs live by the water, jump high, are usually brighter green, and have a slimy, smooth skin. Toads don’t need to live near the water, are plumper, have big football shaped eyes, and run or takes small hops to escape. Their plump little bodies just seem cuddly and begging to be held. They are soft, and mushy. The feeling is similar to the shaggy, rubber balls sold at toy stores today. I bet the designer had known a toad.


I remember when I was pregnant with our first born, I would turn the back porch light on to attract nocturnal insects. Then, in my giant while nightgown that fit over my bulging belly, I would grab insects from the light and feed to the toads that lived in my ferns. It was my nurturing nature being fulfilled by timid toads.
When I garden, toads are my friends. They eat the bad beetles and menacing mosquitoes. Squeals of delight can be heard by my backyard neighbors. The reason? I have found Mr. Kudunk hiding under the golden nasturtiums. He hugs his dark, warty body to the earth. He is camouflaged from others, but not me. I grab him and tell him how cute he is. I give him a little squeeze and a kiss on his sweet, soft mouth and tuck him under the leaves of chard. He just makes my heart happy. I hope I have done the same for him. He is one of my favorite creatures made and designed by God.


Another delight I have discovered in toads is their wide low set eyes. They sometimes sleep with the lid half shut and half open. I observe them from my glider on my front patio. Here they prefer living by the splashing fountain and bayberry bushes. They hop, but not high like frogs. They move from place to place and sit and watch me as I watch them. We have a united community. They catch the mosquitoes, and I get to swing longer and watch the sunset.


I give ode to the toad. I value his design, his purpose, and his importance to the earth. For the world is a nasty place, it has fertilizers, pesticides, and pollutants that threaten his life. Toads have few predators. He is divinely equipped with skin that lets out a bitter taste and smell that burns eyes and nostrils of his predators, much like a skunk does. I relate closely to that offense. When anyone attacks my kids and loved ones, I too send words that might burn their eyes or even penetrate their hearts. They back away quickly. I am not proud of my sharp remarks, but please don’t threaten or degrade my loved ones.


One last eccentric pastime is naming my toads. There is Alford, Maria, San Lucia, and Gramps that I have cherished this summer. I call them by name when I pick them up and give them a hug. I don’t need a photo of Mr. Kudunk or the others because their picture in my heart will live forever.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Shadows



When Shadows Matter


As a child, I would walk quickly trying to trick my shadow. I laughed when my shadow grew tall and skinny. I played tricks on my shadow by sitting under the palm trees to hide from my constant partner. My shadow was my playmate and personal friend.

My Uncle Albert taught me about shadows. He was bald and entertaining to a five year old. He would show me shadows on the wall of a rabbit, fox, and alligator. I waited each afternoon to visit him and comb his hair. He just smiled broadly and sat quietly as I combed through his invisible hair. Then, he would tell me to look at the wall. Suddenly, shadows really mattered.

In my art classes, I have learned the importance of a shadow. It must be in a strategic place to make the painting have depth and believability. Creating shadows and light paths supports the artist’s vision. Shadows create form and value. Without shading and shadows a painting would seem flat and lifeless.

I have learned to respect shadows through the years. But, most importantly God has taught me the importance of shadows through His word.

God promises to use His shadow for my safe keeping. “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings” Psa. 17:8 Many a time I have visualized a giant wing over me, around me, and under me. I hid in its protection and prayed for mercy. I am intrigued by shadows and realize that even though I cannot touch them, they are real. I need only remind myself that I can’t touch God, but I know He is real. The shadow teaching reminds me of my need for faith.

We are told that our days are like a shadow. We are here today but will wither away like a fleeting shadow. I am reminded in this verse how fragile life is. I must make each moment special and beautiful, so it will be worth remembering. My shadow will flee, but my mercy and love will be remembered. “He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.” Job 14:2

I remember vividly the day I saw the shadow of death in Israel. The mountain cast dark shadows and created black ravines. I visually could see what David described as the shadow of death. It was vast, dark, and lonely. Each time I pray this verse, I reflect on the importance of that shadow. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psa. 23:4

I think about shadows often. His shadow gives me protection and rest. I desire to be in His shadow always. I yearn to be the apple of His eye. I realize that shadows are a blessing and important in our lives.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Loud Voices





Loud Voices

As Edna St. Vincent Millay said, “And the day is loud with voices speaking.” I often hear this line of poetry as I arise and try to organize my days’ priorities. When I was working full time and rearing sons, I always anticipated a day when no voices would make demands of my time. My expectations of retirement were long leisurely days of time. I have been retired ten years, and I still hear those voices.

The voices call to me, “Meditate, create, write, paint, garden, and sometimes clean.” I have listed these calls in the order I prioritize. Only one thing tumbles this order, when granddaughters can visit, when friends need help, when I hear God directing me to serve someone this day, this hour.

Meditation must start my day. For thirty-five years or more, I have begun my day with the Lord. Some days there is lingering with the Spirit and hearing His tender songs. Other days there is a word from the Bible that creates a new passion or understanding of God’s love, grace, or power. Often mornings are met with a random Bible verse that I view in a new morning light. I ponder and ask how I am doing at pursuing this truth or command. Early honesty is a must. I know that difficult verses are for easy days. Hard times and troubled days require simple verses that I can just cling and embrace. That is why I spend the first hour learning from God.

I tuck in each epiphany, new lesson, and awareness into a notebook. I reserve the right to pull out these many notebooks and review what God has highlighted. I understand that wisdom is built upon precept upon precept. Understanding of God’s character has taken me years, and I still know so little. Each day with God is graced with new meaning and understanding, and knowing His love. This is the consistent voice that calls to me early each day.

The rest of the calling is then prioritized. I sometimes just grab my paints and create a painting of God’s beauty. Other days, I begin by writing a blog or work on another piece of uncompleted writing. Other mornings after water aerobics, I just enjoy writing random thoughts from quotes or poems. The process of writing clears my mind and boosts my soul. I have kept a journal since I was fifteen. I guess that is why…to clarify my thoughts, inspire my day, and calm my soul.

Then, the voices begin to scream: bike ride, walk the dogs, clean the floors, visit shut-ins, cook dinner for someone, and hey, what about doing something fun with Denny today. The phone yells loudly as it reminds me of: board meeting, church meetings, and art commitments. The sweetest voice is the little voice of my granddaughters, “Mimi, can we come see you?” Those two little girls have dancing voices. I know our season is short. They will grow quickly, and I will no longer be so special to them. I am Mimi who plays house and dolls and does art projects. I must grab each opportunity because it will quickly pass.

I recognize that we all struggle with different demands each day. My neighbor points out that any of the voices that call to me bring a happy season. I am in a wonderful place and am so thankful for God’s provisions and grace. That is why I follow that first voice of the morning, my Creator’s.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Waiting for sunset


These are folks that assemble each night in Florida to see the sunset. As I too was a snow bird last year, I loved watching the sacred sunsets.

Each night I watched crippled, bent over folks shuffle through the sand to find a resting place. Suddenly, it hit me. We are all waiting for our final sunset. Each of us seeks, finds, creates, and inquires. Each person wonders what will happen in their future. Will they slip away like the silent sun behind the horizon? I guess deep down, all of us hope for such an easy passing into eternity. The sun previews each night how to slip away with dignity and rest for the night. The sun impacts each one of us. It provides the warmth needed for our food and existence. I thank God when I see sunrise each day. I am so grateful to see a new morn. I eagerly plan all that I want to do this day. I take not one moment for granted.

I begin the day studying scripture and talking to the Lord. I allow His word to shape me and direct me. I meditate on His love and sacrifice. I ask Him how I could bless Him this day. What person needs a meal, a smile, or a bit of encouragement? Which flower will He help me paint and see through His eyes and His creation? I ponder how I can end this day just like the sun. Have I given warmth or nourishment to anyone? Is there one last part of this day that I need to glorify God. Can I just "be" with Him in the garden and watch the sun slip into slumber? I never look at a sunset that I wonder will this be my last. Will Jesus call me or return? Sunsets are miracles in my mind's eye. They are day markers. They are symbolic memories. Each setting sun holds a dream, a day gone, and an expectation of what tomorrow will bring.


When Shadows Matter


When Shadows Matter


As a child, I would walk quickly trying to trick my shadow. I laughed when my shadow grew tall and skinny. I played tricks on my shadow by sitting under the palm trees to hide from my constant partner. My shadow was my playmate and personal friend.

My Uncle Albert taught me about shadows. He was bald and entertaining to a five year old. He would show me shadows on the wall of a rabbit, fox, and alligator. I waited each afternoon to visit him and comb his hair. He just smiled broadly and sat quietly as I combed through his invisible hair. Then, he would tell me to look at the wall. Suddenly, shadows really mattered.

In my art classes, I have learned the importance of a shadow. It must be in a strategic place to make the painting have depth and believability. Creating shadows and light paths supports the artist’s vision. Shadows create form and value. Without shading and shadows a painting would seem flat and lifeless.

I have learned to respect shadows through the years. But, most importantly God has taught me the importance of shadows through His word.

God promises to use His shadow for my safe keeping. “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings” Psa. 17:8 Many a time I have visualized a giant wing over me, around me, and under me. I hid in its protection and prayed for mercy. I am intrigued by shadows and realize that even though I cannot touch them, they are real. I need only remind myself that I can’t touch God, but I know He is real. The shadow teaching reminds me of my need for faith.

We are told that our days are like a shadow. We are here today but will wither away like a fleeting shadow. I am reminded in this verse how fragile life is. I must make each moment special and beautiful, so it will be worth remembering. My shadow will flee, but my mercy and love will be remembered. “He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.” Job 14:2

I remember vividly the day I saw the shadow of death in Israel. The mountain cast dark shadows and created black ravines. I visually could see what David described as the shadow of death. It was vast, dark, and lonely. Each time I pray this verse, I reflect on the importance of that shadow. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psa. 23:4

I think about shadows often. His shadow gives me protection and rest. I desire to be in His shadow always. I yearn to be the apple of His eye. I realize that shadows are a blessing and important in our lives.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Learning to drink tea



The Art of Tea

This is Ava, my four year old granddaughter; she is drinking tea at our annual toddler tea. We began the tradition at age two. Now, a two year old tea party is similar to a Cat in A Hat party. That is another post.

Tea has brought meaning and reflection to me. As a child in the South, I loved watching my mother’s friends come for tea. Their large brimmed hats laden with flowers and jewels made them look beautiful to my five year old eyes. I watched as they sipped from my mother’s china cups. The table was adorned with fresh flowers and a starched white tablecloth. Matching napkins trimmed with delicate lace lay on their laps. It was a magical moment as I heard their laughter and chatter. I dreamed of having friends with pretty hats and gloves just like Mama.

I have drunk tea with friends who visit just to disclose their heartache. Many a cup of tea tasted salty because of the weeping we shared. Other times, I have served tea to giggling ladies who had stories to share about the travels we had together. Photos, stories, and tea magnified our travels. I have shared a warm mug of tea with my sweet husband. No fancy napkins were needed. We just embraced our cups with love for each other. .

Memories of drinking tea with my Kazakh friends bring joy to my heart. Their tradition is priceless. They take time for tea four to six times a day. They share their admiration and praise for the gathered guest.. I cherished holding their blue and white cups with no handles. Just as the tea warmed my hands, their hospitality embraced my spirit. Tea in Kazakhstan is not only a tradition but a process. The host fills each cup carefully asking if guest desire sugar, tea, or more hot water. She then passes the cup to the visitor at the farthest end of the table. It is in this ritual that each guest is honored by the other guest. The process continues until cups have been handled with care. Toasts are given to each guest recalling their gifts and contributions. This immediately establishes a positive ambiance. Soon, all are sipping and laughing about the day’s journey.

It is this history that spurs me to host toddler teas. I want my granddaughters to know the importance of tea. We have pretend teas on almost every visit. Even Ellis at eighteen months drinks imaginary tea with us. She will be introduced to her formal tea gathering next summer. She will be two and ready for a tea mate. My inheritance to the girls is to recognize that filling a cup with tea brings warmth and friendship on the simplest of days.

Learning to paint



Blue Lady
When I painted this lady, I used all ultramarine blue to lay her on the canvas. I just started painting and watched her appear. My sister was visiting and giving me painting lessons. I loved how sister would guide me carefully through each layer of painting. She would watch me design and paint. She sat on the porch with me and watched me, and then she would go in the house to watch TV. Then, she would return and peek at what I was doing.

Betty Ann has painted over sixty years and produces magnificent art works. Perhaps this is why I never tried to paint. I knew I could not paint like her. She had always been the artist in our family. I was the writer and the teacher. Now, in my sixties, I am trying to be a painter. She had encouraged me for years. I just was too busy rearing children and teaching school. Retirement gave me time for the plunge into oil paint.

I was trying a new technique I had studied on this blue lady. I painted her in an impressionistic style but decided to give her eyes detail and focus. When I would get stuck, I would call to my sister. “Sister, come look. Are her eyes too far apart? Are the shadows right?" I thought she would have blue eyes and suddenly I had painted them brown. I tried to make her have long straight hair, and it turned out curly. My sister just laughed and told me that someone was guiding my hand and my artist eye.

It was reassuring to have my sister available for questions and critique. I had lost my fear of not being able to paint as well as her. I replaced it with a hunger for her knowledge. She had training and skill that I needed. She was willing to offer it and help me learn my way around a canvas. This day was such a warm memory. I love my sister dearly. She is six years my elder, but no one knows that. We are still two girls playing, laughing, and creating.

When I was five, Betty Ann would have art lessons on our front porch in Florida. I loved watching her draw the things her teacher suggested. Mrs. Hoight, her art teacher, would gently suggest and show Betty where shadows should be. She explained that painting was just using light and dark to form the desired images. Now, sixty years later, Betty was giving me a porch lesson in painting. What she had learned, she was sharing with a new artist. My sister’s instruction was filled with wisdom and laughter.

The day of the blue lady painting taught me to love my sister even more. The day brought forth a painting that seemed to pop out of the canvas with such ease. This opportunity was provided by God. I just trusted God to move in me. I know my own skills and talents are limited. I must rely on Him when I paint because I get stuck and don’t have my sister on the porch to help me. I learned that porch day that my sister wasn’t my competitor but instead my advocate. My paintings were not going to look like hers because I had one year of experience and she had sixty. I relied on God and asked for His help. Each time I approach a new canvas, I remember my porch teachings at five and sixty-five. Both brought me pleasure and learning. However, best of all, the lesson taught me art expression is a gift from God. We are made in His image. He finds pleasure when we learn to create.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Neighborhood Circle

My Neighborhood Circle

I have lived in my neighborhood for thirty-eight years. I have walked the circle path for thirty years. I know every drive way, each landscape and flower and tree like the back of my hand. Countless steps record memories of new babies being born on our block. Other steps remind me of the day I heard weeping in these streets because three teen boys were killed in an auto wreck on their way home from school. My memories include neighbors that moved out of our addition and new ones that chose to live here. All these mesh in the paths of my brain. I pray walk and talk to God about their different needs. Each time I walk a familiar “neighbor story” surfaces for a few seconds. Children have died, moms have been abandoned by husbands, and in the last few years three men in our small community have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Husbands have gained jobs and new opportunities that moved them from my circle path. Other families have lost their jobs when the economy turned for the worst. Many have battled cancer, heart conditions, and other illnesses.

Many of my former students now own these homes. It lifts my spirits when I pass by their homes and see how well they are doing on their earth journey. They frequently call out to me, wave to me, or stop me to tell me their latest family news or prayer request. These are the perks from teaching thirty-three years in the same area.

Tonight was especially warm and humid. I decided biking might be cooler than walking. I made numerous stops. First Jake had such a long face because school was starting already. Next, I passed Angie, who I taught 28 years ago. She looked the same to me, just a little more like a mom than a teen. We reminisced about past teachers of English at Delta. We laughed that she now had a senior there. The full circle of life was apparent to me as we talked of her days at Delta.

Next, I saw my neighbor, Ivy. He has been in Iraq the last couple of years. I have been faithful to pray for his safety and health. There he was standing on his driveway as I biked up his street. I stopped and gave him a long hug and thanked him for risking his life to protect our country. Tearfully I welcomed him back. He said all of our prayers had sustained him.

Then, I passed another teacher friend who had borrowed my recumbent today. She loved her ride to Gaston with her dad. She is convinced that she needs a recumbent bike. She was sneaking to a neighbor’s to engage in a playful trick. Her eyes sparkled as much as when she was a teenager.

These are my neighbors, my former students, my friends, and my inspiration. There are people in my neighborhood that need a hot meal, an invitation to our simple patio outings, or just a smile and a wave. These long walks have shaped me in many ways. Granted, they have strengthened my heart, as well as made me grateful for such wonderful neighbors. On my block, there are five families that have been neighbors for over thirty-five years. We really care deeply for each other.

Face to face friends and neighbors are essential to my character and daily life. God has graciously surrounded me with so much love and support. I guess that is why I keep walking the village circle. I am just blessed and shaped by my neighbors.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Naming Holy


Naming What Is Holy

Today I use paper bridges to give praise to Holy. The creamy blossoms on the pear tree represent perfection. Each intricate petal creates a glorious designed flower. The flowers reveal the shape of the grandiose tree. That is holy.

The crepe paper daffodils blowing in the breeze wave to observers. Cadmium yellow horns blow the message that spring is here. Dark green stems contrast the reality of beauty.

Water colored tulips reflect the palette of a master painter. Soft peach hues outlined by deep apricot touches the heart . Lovely gentle pink designs highlight the royal purple plush petals growing side by side. This is holy.

I am humbled as my eye records a series of redbuds , tulip, and magnolia blossoms. They are instant beauty to my eye. I am in awe of their Creator.

Each day, each moment, each spring creation is new and a reminder that there is revived hope. Today’s spring sunshine is recorded in my soul. Today is holy.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Graciee', the mother owl


I can see vividly the horned owl sitting proudly upon her nest. She spins her head to hear my squeaky voice. Her large round eyes look at me with that open eyed stare. I take endless photos of her and her babies. I am enthralled at the high nest she has chosen. Yes, she stole an osprey’s nest and laid her eggs. She took her high rise condo from the ospreys.

The ospreys did all the work. They carried the sticks and moss to build a large , comfortable nest. They had not suspected that Graciee’ would occupy it. Graciee’ has a reputation in the mangrove forest. Even the bald eagles fear her. She is a mighty warrior and hunter. She is known for her aggressive spirit and toughness by others who occupy the sky. She has shown her power and strength and can trespass where she wills in the trees and forest.

I see such another side of Graciee’. She sits hour after hour protecting her young. She spreads her wings to keep the harsh wind from whisking them from the nest. She is the shadow that keeps them cool from the radiant sun. She is a nurturing mother by day. By night, she fetches food for her babies. She kills the small terns, splits them open, and takes the babies their warm hearts. Her ways are not my way, but she provides as she is designed.

Graciee’ taught me many lessons this month. She knows her destiny, her design, her given territory, and her responsibilities. Sometimes her ways seem ruthless, but they are the law of survival. She abides by those laws to make a way for her offspring. They too will learn these survival rules as they grow and become mature owls. Right now, they are sweet little fur balls. I love looking at the dandelion looking heads with large,dark round eyes. I never tire of spying on them and chuckle at their comic look.

Graciee’, as I have affectionately named her, still sits on her nest. She sits much higher now. Her multicolored and patterned feathers are apparent to observers. Her horns are silhouetted against the bright azure sky. She is higher because the chicks are growing rapidly. She is uncomfortable, but comfort is not her priority.

Thank you, Graciee’ , for you entertainment and life lessons. You have helped clarify life’s destiny for me. We have the same Creator. He cares for us both. His design for her is so different than mine; yet, we are alike in many ways. I was ruthless to anyone who tried to attack my young ,be it disease or mankind. I loved caring for our sons but grew tired and weary and uncomfortable. I didn’t steal a nest, but I stole time from others. I chose warm breast milk instead of warm tern hearts to nourish them. However, mothers around the world make such sacrifices to feed their hungry young. My little owlets are long gone from the nest as Gaciee's will be in spring. I taught them survival through Christ Almighty. Christ reveals through nature His ultimate plans and provisions. Ahh, I have learned so much through embracing nature and tucking away her teachings.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Imagination

Today, as I walk through the mangroves, I watch a pair of blue heron basking in the sun in the still waters. The bay waters gently nudge the sand as the pair stand ankle deep in the teal water. They are tall and elegant and so content with their surroundings. I am certain they are not aware of their extraordinary elegance, but they look at each other with an accepting look.

Since I am walking with my husband, I look at him and receive an equal look of contentment and acceptance. I imagine the herons are gazing at us and thinking that we are a mated couple just like them. We are shorter and stouter, but we have similarities. We too chose to become a lasting couple. The heron is watching his mate protected by the mangroves. I have always known that Denny protects me. Sometimes, it is a protection from too much detail about finances, other times it is easing me into a tragedy that has happened, and I have always known he would give his life if someone endangered me. This type of trust occurs after many years of marriage and knowing each other’s strengths. I, like the female heron, feel safe when I am with my mate.

We stop to sit on a fallen log and watch the seagulls diving for prey. The terns remain wing to wing even when they are on the beach. They feel protected by their numbers. When one takes flight, all of the others follow. I sense they know more about unity than I ever will. The flapping of their wings create a clapping sound. I imagine them applauding praises to God for their intricate creation.

Denny reaches for my hand. He holds it without saying any words. We just sit in the sunlight appreciating each other and the rhythm of the wild life around us. We are not hunting food. We are not even seeking anything from each other. We are content as we are. In our peace and harmony, I taste with love all that is good.

As Isaiah 26:3 states, “Thou will keep him in perfect peace whose imagination is stayed on Thee.” I have discovered through the years that nature echoes God’s ideas. It is His imagination that created these lovely creatures, this protective forest, and these soothing waters. My best lessons come through earth's embrace.

.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Just Call Me a Mangrove

Call Me a Mangrove

Today as I walk through the mangrove forest, I realize that the mangroves closest to the beach line are red. Their curved prop roots are often in the water. They fringe the coast to help absorb the fury of coastal storms. I am always amazed as nature teaches me how things “should be”.

If we are in a storm, we need “prop roots” too. We need encouragement, compassion, and protection. We need for friends to be there to absorb some of the fury we are enduring. God will be with us, but He uses people to extend hands and love to others. Just like the mangroves, we have multiple purposes.

I notice as I walk that many animal species live in the popped up roots. Small birds nest in the higher branches. These roots provide shelter and protection and every day habitats. I think to be a true companion; we too need to provide every day habitats of laughter, understanding, and help to our neighbors, spouses, and buddies. The mangroves seem to know their purpose well and function each day in their destiny.

So, my new motto is, “Just call me a mangrove.” To live as a mangrove is a serious commitment to mankind. I will try to meet this call.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Awkward is Good

Today we walked through the mangroves on a sandy path. I felt as if I were in the garden of Eden. This was just how I remembered Florida as a child. There were very few people on the path or the beach. We followed the ocean for three miles stopping by to see the big blue cranes waiting for a fish dinner. Next, my husband and I came to a fork in the road and joked that on this sunny afternoon, we had to choose which sandy path to take through the forest. As we walked further, we saw a giant, sloppy nest in a dead tree. Inside, there was an owl with her babies. I was so intrigued how she had stolen the nest of an osprey and laid her eggs and now was nurturing her babes. She had recycled.

A bit later we observed another osprey nest, just as messy. They just sling together kindling and moss and create a large, loose nest. Inside we heard the chirping. The babies had hatched and were demanding food. It reminded me that babies everywhere rule the world. They demand and adults find answers.

As we wandered out of the mangroves, we saw signs that asked we not wade in the shallow water because various Gulf terns were nesting. They were sitting on their eggs and finding food. Their legs seemed tiny and thin, and their feet large and misshapen. However, those legs could race across the water.

Small egrets in a nearby area were also nesting. I envied their long and graceful bodies. . Their legs were so thin and their beaks so long. Their over sized feet seemed unfitting. Yet, their unique shape was strength. It made them agile, fast, and they could grab prey in a second. Next, a group of pelican appeared on the post. Everyone is amused at their awkward composition. Those beaks appear to outweigh their body.

I suddenly realized that my fragile areas could be my strengths too. Perhaps my need to feel comfortable made others feel comfortable. My lack of understanding of numbers, manual directions, or detail gave me opportunities to seek more. These weaknesses actually create a hunger in me to learn more and research the things I do not know. As I continued to walk, I realized how many of my weaknesses had given me opportunities to succeed in life. Just like the egret, I was perfectly designed.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Essence of Time

Today I have been pondering time. Time is elusive. I seldom meditate on it because in a moment it is gone. Gone are free fairs, free prizes in detergent, and free air and gas station services. Double features were a common occurrence in my youth. The time of freebies has expired.


Time can speed by so quickly that I can’t remember when the party began. A day at the beach steals time and leaves me wanting more. A simple walk through pine scented woods give me an embrace that lingers. Watching dancing clouds forming figures in the azure sky helps me recognize the absence of time. Sitting with a dying relative creates a lingering and the realization of the stopping of time.


How many times have I said, “ That just seems like yesterday.”? Actually five years had passed. That time was like the mist of morning: unmarked and undefined. This leads me to wonder if there is some bookmark in my brain that holds special days and allows me to reach them quickly but diminishes all the searches in between those days.


Entertainment definitely speeds up time. Boredom almost stops time. Yearning and envy waste time. Intentions stall time and often result in losing time.


Quietly the red orb slips into the sunset creating a time framed picture in my mind. Many of these time frames lure me into singing, dancing, remembering, and tearing. Time has shaped me, taught me, disciplined me, and humbled me. I tend to let go of times of thunderstorms and dark nights. I nurture times of delight.


Time unfolds mysteries and wraps me in harmony with God, nature, and wisdom.