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 29, 2011

As Christmas Clears


     As Christmas Clears  
Each year I become a bit more melancholy at Christmas.  Perhaps it is a condition of age, but I realize how this season marks endings and beginnings.  I clearly recall the year my mom finally admitted there was no Santa Claus.  I was eleven.  I held on to the last little hope that Santa was real.  I believed my parents would never tell such a lie.
My friends on the school bus would chant, “ Santa isn’t real and if you believe he is; you are STUPID!”  Hearing this news caused my heart to collapse.  I got off the bus, climbed the long, hill to my home, and cried all the way. I burst into the door and asked, ”Is Santa real?” 
 
        My mother said her usual pat answer, “If you believe he is, he is.”  

“No, that is not an answer....tell me the truth.”  
 
       “ Sandi, Santa is a belief. If you want to believe, than do it, if not, don’t.”
Now that was not too reassuring, so I suspected the kids on the bus were the truth makers and my mom had lied to me all these years.
I went to my room and cried and cried.  I had lost a belief.  It was a horrible loss.  I then suspected my parents weren’t really my parents and God was not real. 
I realize most kids don’t have such a dramatic reaction.  With my personality, whatever I do or believe, I do it with vigor, intensity, and full commitment. It took my mom a couple of years to convince me that she was really my mother and the belief in Santa made Christmas more fun for children.  I asked her about God.
“Of course, God is real.  No one could make Him up,” she said.  That explanation just didn’t get it.  Doubting was my new middle name.  I listened to Bible stories at Sunday school and asked the teacher how she knew they were true.  My weekly inquiries must have exasperated her, but I just didn’t want to be bilked again.
This inquiring journey continued many years.  In fact, it is what saved me from a college professor trying to convince my Comparative Religion class that Creation and the resurrection of Christ were myths created by the Christian community. I doubted what he said and continued to seek the truth.  It was a long and difficult uphill path to discover my belief in Christ, His resurrection, the trinity, the presence of miracles today, the power of healing, and that Father God was truly my Creator.  It has taken countless hours of Bible study on my own and in groups.  It created the capacity to meditate and talk to God about what was real and what was not.  That false belief of Santa created in me the capacity to always have an inquiring mind.  
Here I am over sixty years later still confirming, studying, and inquiring.  I do know my beliefs and the reality of Christ Jesus. I chose to place little emphasis on Santa when the boys were small.  I think their grandma and neighbor encouraged their belief, but not me.  They seemed to have a healthy reaction when they discovered the truth.
 
       Santa suits are put to rest, and Christmas decor will soon find its place in boxes in the attic.  The rush of the holidays have calmed, and I savor the fun we had as a family coming together for tasty meals, cookies, and gingerbread men. We played card games, and sang to the melody of our youngest son strumming his guitar.  We giggled at the granddaughters’  “awe” as they opened their gifts.  At church on Christmas Eve, I dabbed at tears that rolled down my cheeks. These were grateful tears because I was sitting with my entire family.   As I listened to the reading of the holy story of the Christ child, I knew I had found the total truth.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Finding Christmas



Finding Christmas
Each holy season, I try to focus on baby Jesus and not the commercialism.  Now, in America that is difficult.  As you read in my last blog, I tried to find Christmas at the mall with disastrous results.  So,as I sat early in the morning in my "Jesus and my chair", I began to pray and asked God to teach me. I have learned my faith needs daily bread to survive.  On this day, I was having a hard time staying still in the chair while I learned God’s word.  I asked God, “ How can I have a better holy season?”  Many times, I ask  God a question , then, pop out of the chair to make a cup of coffee.  My ADHD tendencies sometime make it difficult for me to calm down and focus.   Quiet meditation is a challenge for me.  Anyone relate?
As I passed one of my manger scenes, I felt an inward nudge to pick up baby Jesus from the nativity display.  I carried it back to my teaching, praying, learning chair, and held him.  I felt a warmth like a big hug or a soft ,velour blanket might give me.  I sat and looked at the figurine, but it wasn’t an inanimate object anymore.  Instead, I could see in my mind baby Jesus swaddled and resting in a manger.  As a mother and lover of new babies, I would have asked to hold him.  I know I would.  I would have cuddled his small body to me, touched his delicate hands and kissed his newly shaped head.  I would have held him close and secure so not to hurt or drop him and feel his warmth against my body.  This was my commission this holy season.
I am to hold baby Jesus each morning during my devotion time and meditate on all the times He held me in my life. I mean He watched over me through hardships, grieving, emptiness, or deep hurts.  In these quiet times with the Lord , He has revealed to me times when He went ahead of me and created safe paths, or had a certain person be somewhere so I could talk to them. I was unaware. Yet, he was always there. He has shown me how He has used certain babies to teach me love , grief, and compassion.  As I think on baby Jesus throughout my day, I can't forget the morning teaching.  It is a Christmas heart message that embraces me all day.
One of the strongest messages I realized last week was Jesus was born to be crucified.  As I hold new babies, I never think their destiny would be to be crucified.  Yet, God sent Jesus to and knew His mission on earth was to be crucified for our sins. That is pure love in a depth I cannot understand. That deep of love is in a spiritual realm that I am still learning.
            However, I have found Christmas.  Christmas is in the manger of our home.  Christmas is in the name of Jesus to whom every man and creature must bow.  Christmas is in every Silent Night that I hear and remember in my life time.  Jesus was there.  Jesus is here.  And the Christ child will be in every future Christmas if I just take the time to hold Him, to thank Him, and to meditate on how He has held me through my mistakes and my obedience.  Now, I truly have found Christmas.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Seeking Christmas





Seeking Christmas
     I just could not get in the Christmas spirit this year.  Neither Denny nor I were enthusiastic about decorating.  That is so unusual for me.  I generally am the Chevy Chase model, who embellishes every table top available.  Our sons have teased me through the years that our tree was so fully dressed it might topple to the floor.  So, I went through the motions and adorned the tree, mantle, bookcase, and yes, some table tops.  Still, no matter how loud I played the Christmas music, I just didn't feel the season.
     Since we have trimmed Christmas to simplify and make it more focused on Jesus, I had little Christmas shopping to do.  I decided I would go to the mall, see the lights, look at Santa talking to the
children, and feel the bustle in the air.  This would get me in the holiday spirit. Quite the contrary, as I walked to my destination,  a woman  approached me and asked, " Are these your natural nails?"
      "Look at them." I said. "They are pealing from the oils and mineral spirits I use to paint. Do you think I would have fake nails that looked like this?"
      Not even listening to my answer she took my arm and pulled me to her kiosk.  She began vigorously buffing my nails.  I pulled away, " That hurts. Please stop."  She continued and then I said," I don't want a community file used on me.  Do you hear me?"  I stomped away and went to Bath and Body.
      Mistake number two.  You will not find the Christmas spirit there.  You will find chaos.  So many specials, clerks, displays only brought confusion.  After standing in line, the register lady said I had not matched my items correctly. "You must buy six of the same product to get the special price."
    "O.K. I will try again."
     Back to the drawing board, I assembled more "needed" candles, lotions, and fragrance bulbs hoping to have assembled my purchases in the proper sales' categories.  The purchase was much higher
than I anticipated, but I watched her put a ten dollar coupon in my bag.
    I asked, " Can I use that coupon now?"
    "No, that is for a purchase of over thirty dollars the next time you shop with us."
    "Well, could you split my purchase?  Ring fifty on one bill and thirty on another?"
    The clerk said this could not be done.  That comment brought my blood pressure up as well as my voice.  I loudly announced, " Well, just take all the items back.  This is a return."  I am sure the ladies behind me were exasperated.  It was the principle of the thing I thought.  The store manager arrived on the scene.  She too tried to talk me into using my coupon on another day on new specials.
    Again, with no smile, no Christmas spirit, I said,  " Give me back my money."
    The manager said,” Let her use her coupon now."  This process took the patience of Job.The clerk laboriously unrang and rang again each purchase.  She messed up.  Again, unwrapping each candle to scan, she did the process again.  The manager reappeared and instructed her how to do this.  The seething clerk rerang again.  About fifteen minutes had passed.  I was sweating and the ladies behind me were shooting daggers into my back and head.  Finally, the girl split the bills successfully and applied the ten dollar coupon to the candles.  I am sure Denny will have a lot of Christmas spirit when he is trying to match all those return, buy, and more return slips to theVisa bill.
      The frustrated clerk handed me my packages and receipts and stared hard and long.  The well trained manager returned to the scene and thanked me for coming to Bath and Body.  Now, I wish this was the end  of the story.  However, the entourage of ladies behind me suddenly realized they too could insist on using their coupon if they had a large purchase.  Chaos began. I left hurriedly.  I walked briskly to my car and thought, "Nope, this plan didn't work too well.  I not only didn't find 
Christmas, I disappointed Christ."  I returned home and recounted my day's journey.  No Christmas spirit found yet.  However, if you read my next blog, I will disclose how I found Christmas.








Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Salmon lessons

A short hike reveals this beauty outside of Seattle.

Outside Annie and Adam's window.
   Last week Denny and I visited our son and daughter-in-law in Seattle.  As I sat in their living room, I enjoyed looking out the window at the well dressed hills of green fur trees contrasted against the golden leaves of the autumn trees.  Also high on the hillside were condos that looked like triangular bird houses.  Each morning I awakened to this picture painting.  I drank my coffee, and watched the misty rain make greener pastures and foliage.
    Seattle’s surrounding waters create a surreal landscape juxtaposed against the crowded high rises and condos of the city.  Puget Sound  is surrounded by scores of small islands. It is a sanctuary to explore, canoe, kayak, fish, or hike.  The wildlife include seals , sea lions, eagles, osprey, porpoises , heron, and so many wonderful creatures of  God.  I am intrigued by this area.  The Pacific holds treasures of cod, mackerel, flounder, oysters , and my favorite, wild salmon.  The salmon are hatched in the headwaters of Northwest streams, begin life in fresh water and spend two or three years in the ocean.  Then, they return to the river where they were hatched to spawn and die.
    The salmon’s journey reminds me of my own journey on earth.  I was birthed in an area that holds fond memories.  As I went upstream , I like the salmon have traveled into turbulent waters in order to discover my priorities.  No matter where I locate, I have an alluring device , a fondness, that calls me back to my family and  roots.  I still have the same taste buds that were developed early in  life. Many days I yearn for my mother’s buttermilk biscuits and slick white gravy.  It is still a very comforting food.
    When the salmon merge from the streams to return to their birth place, they rush, crush, and fight for reentry. Adam has reported that streams are totally filled with salmon. He can walk across  the stream to the other side by using the salmon as his bridge.  I, too, have experienced some rushing and crushing that has developed me into the person that I am.  The fast pace of the salmon’s journey forces them into unfamiliar waters.  I have been forced out of my comfort zone and into new situations that have made me stronger and more agile.  I , like the salmon, have needed others to follow, to mold, to create in me a new vigor and passion.  I am grateful to all those salmon in my stream.  They have shaped me.  I too love to return to my roots, smell the salt water, linger under the palm trees, and feel the sun upon my skin.  Each stream of my pilgrimage has instructed , warned, jostled, and satisfied me at different turns and tributaries.  I have lost loved family members and friends in the upstream battle.  Still, I continue to travel upstream until I can learn and do all that  my Creator  has purposed for me. I am thankful Seattle’s landscape and nature remind me my trek is filled with adventure and beauty along with the uphill battles. I am grateful for each day, each person, and each stream.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Leaves of Meaning




Copyrighted art by Sandi Baron


Each autumn season reminds me of one very special fall ten years ago.  Our youngest son, Adam, moved to Seattle that previous summer.  I was missing him so much.
  I am always humbled by the beauty of the color of the leaves and the response of the trees to shed on God’s cue each fall.  This colorful rhythmic pattern is evidence of our Father’s masterful plan. 
I taught our sons to enjoy jumping in the leaves when they were small.  Now I jump in the leaves with my granddaughters.  It is the right of passage to celebrate the oncoming holidays.  
I remember leaf collections were assigned as science projects in the fall.  Adam and I would tromp through our neighborhood, the woods, and the unoccupied back streets searching for each kind of leaf.  We would return, mount them as instructed, label them with the label maker, and gloat over our leaf knowledge.
However, this year there were no leaf trampers or rakers, or no leaf projects. I returned home and as I walked in the door the phone was ringing.
“Hey, Mom, I’m thinkin’ of fall...really miss the colors.”
“ No autumn in Washington?” I asked.
“Nope, just not the same kind of trees here. No golden coins flying through the air.”
“ Well, what was your adventure last weekend?” I asked.
“Climbed a trail.  Saw a bear.  Met a new climbing bud.”
“Oh, my gosh.  That sounds exciting.”
“Hey , Mom, send me a fall photo, OK? Gotta run. Bye.”
I had an idea.  I would collect leaves in the neighborhood and put them in a mailing envelope.  I started my journey by walking across the street to the Calvert’s and Hill’s yards.   They were outside visiting and I told them my mission and they entered in enthusiastically.
“Put in my red maple leaf.  I know he will remember playing in these red leaves,” said the neighbor.
As I reached the corner, I explained to another neighbor my project ,and he chimed in, “ Hey, tell Adam hi and this is my best sycamore leaf.”
I rounded the corner and walked past his middle school principal’s house.  I told him I was sending leaves to Adam, and he offered greetings and a perfect oak leaf.
Next, on the street was Adam’s former librarian, “ Here, take these two giant bronze leaves and tell Adam they remind me of him, shiny and bright.”
My collection was increasing as were the greetings.  It touched my heart how neighbors admired their leaves and gave warm salutations of love.  I continued collecting burgundy, gold, bright neon green, and golden leaves.  When I returned home, I added the greeting each neighbor had sent on the back of the leaf they selected.  
I mailed my package and waited to hear from Adam.
“Hey, Mom, my floor is filled with colored leaves.  They even smell like Indiana.  I really enjoyed all the notes from the neighbors.  It feels like autumn. This is the best gift ever.  I love you Mom.”  I hung up the phone and his words have lingered in my heart for ten years. So, I share this very special autumn memory as I realize the leaves are all gone, and now I must prepare for winter memories.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A New Circus


copyrighted art by Sandra Lee Baron
 "Bring ‘em on in ma’am,” the director said as he waved his hand toward the entrance hall. 
“ This way madam,” called the helper.
“Here I will help you with that elephant sized one,” as he reached and balanced his weight against the heaviness of the painting.
I could feel my heart beating as hard as when I was a child watching a three ring circus.  I was seeing the acts assemble.  My eyes gathered the views created by the bright colors of the artists' palettes.  Paintings were leaned on walls waiting to be judged by the curator.
“This one is magnificent,” I whispered in a low voice.  I was lost on the lighted path that led me to a tree gathering, trees of every hue and color.  A master’s hand painted each leaf with flare and each tree was given honor for its own beauty.
“Ah, look at this one,” I chattered.  A small child was perched on a stone wall seeing the wonderment in a playful squirrel.  The wall was alit with sunlight that created beaconing shadows. As I lingered in front of the painting, I wondered how the artist could create such a clear emotion in the eyes of the child.
Again I heard, “Come right in, sir.  Come this way. “ The passageways were getting more crowded as the hour passed.  One young artist carried a giant canvas covered with lush roses, pink roses that asked to be picked for pleasure.
It was a parade of art.  I was at the Richmond Art Museum last week.  As I entered my art in the RAM show, I watched other artist bring in their art creations to be judged.  The excitement, color, and happenings reminded me of a circus.  These talents were not displayed under a tent, but instead housed in the restored art wing , which displayed the fine architecture of the early 1930’s.
copyrighted art by Betty Ann Fraley

On this sunny afternoon, folks were demonstrating their ability to create beauty.  On exhibit were abstract autumn scenes, representative barns and fields, impressionistic trees, and life size portraits. Everyday life was interpreted by artist from their own view, their art vantage point. Each painter hoped to be juried into the show.  But, from my view, everyone was a winner.  The artists had captured moments of life and displayed them on canvas.
As a child I had problems at the circus.  I didn’t know which act to watch.  It was the same at the museum.  Every painting had worth and wonder.  It was a splendid day spent in color, space, and balance.  Each painting was evidence of the Creator within each of us.   Whether viewing the beauty or painting the subject, the Creator allowed us a glimpse into glory.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Creative Journaling



 I am teaching a class at the E.B. Ball Center.  I would enjoy sharing with you how to write your own mini- memoir.  You will begin a journal filled with photos, art, expression, and your favorite stories. Here is a brief description of what I will be sharing at the workshop.  Please check your calendars and call the EB Ball Center to register. (285-8975) I would love to share my passion for journaling with you.
CELEBRATING LIFE: CREATIVE JOURNALING       
 Oct. 18, 19, 20, from 9:00-11:00 a.m.                                                 
 Cost: $50

Learn how to quickly assemble life lessons, family stories, and document your truths in a creative journal.  Pass this down to your family to keep those family stories alive.

No time to write a lengthy memoir?  Try my artful way of recording your favorite stories. You will use colored papers, photos, writing, stamps and even pictures from magazines.  You will like this speedy way to record your personal stories.

Classes will include directions, ideas, journal prompts, and art supplies.  Bring a few favorite photos (copies would be best).  From these photos, you will write the story you would like to pass down to future generations.  Bring your most loved writing pen, and it will dance across your pages recording treasured memories.

About the Instructor:
I work with people and coach them to better understand their giftedness, talents, and interests. Part of that awareness is grounded in creativity. Discovering who you are through creative outlets brings new understanding of self-worth, God’s purpose for our lives, and how to reflect on the past to grow in the future.  I enjoy my role as a writing and creative coach. I encourage laughter, being free, and having fun. Participants leave with a light heart as well as confidence in writing, journaling, and creating.

I am currently a retreat leader nurturing creative and spiritual growth. I taught English and Speech for thirty-three years in local high schools.  I have a B.A. and M.A. from Ball State University, I serve on the committee for the Midwest Writers Workshop, and am a member of National League of American Pen Women and Muncie Art Guild.  I continue  to be a freelance writer and an oil painter. Creativity is my life and passion.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Writing My Memoir


Writing My Memoir
Copyrighted art work by Betty Ann Fraley
I am writing a memoir.  It is a bumpy ride, but I must follow this road to fruition.  Part of the difficulty of this task is well stated by Lynne Sharon Swartz, who said,”There's nobody out there waiting for it, and nobody’s going to scold you if you don’t do it.”
I write because I have a burning desire to record stories that teach life lessons and the morals of the years I lived.  The critic within replies, “ Who cares about your stories?”
I respond, “ I do.”  I want my children and grandchildren to know that my writing represented the truths I discovered as I followed my journey.  I want others to read and relate with the stories and realize a universal truth, understand the plight of the poor, and the benefits of obstacles.  In my memoirs I embrace the stories I learned from my students, my new husband, and my emotional truths learned as a first year teacher integrating the New Orleans schools.  We found valuable relationships in this Black community.  We learned love and hate, sadness and joy, hope and despair.
My book pulls back the layers of our first year of marriage and reveals some harsh truths and some open laughter.  Our students gave us ten years of experience in our first year of teaching.  I have to be truthful.  Sometimes writing is more painful than I anticipated.  Sometimes it is freeing.  The process is tedious and sometimes lonely.  I may get discouraged, but the drive within continues to “push” me back to the computer to write, reveal, recollect, and recount  this experiences in 1967.  
“Writing a book is like driving a car at night.  You only see as far as your headlights go, but you can make the whole trip that way,”  E.L. Doctorow That is how I write.  I can see an event that revealed a truth and gave meaning to my life.  I work the event trying to describe the emotions and challenges of just that day.  Just one day of my year of teaching in the inner city or one day in learning to live with a “permanent” roommate or one day of coping with my students' life of poverty,  physical and emotional illness, street fights , and daily hunger. 

 One day at a time at my computer is all I can manage.  One day turns into a week of writing, editing, and rewriting.  If I just wrote one page a day, my book would be 365 pages long.  It is amazing what just working day by day can achieve in writing or discovering my own perseverance.  
My novel dictates my thoughts and my schedule.  I must leave dishes unwashed, my calendar blank by saying no to lunches, shopping dates, or even visits with friends.  I know this is a season.  As my book progresses, so will autumn and winter.  I am learning to deflect less important activities and not waste time.  When I try to watch mindless TV, the critic within reminds me I am wasting myself as well. 
My critic is the most strenuous boss I have known.  His praise is nil.  His criticism is loud and screaming.  It is strange how he guilts me into “keep writing”; yet, he doesn’t think my writing is valuable. Sometimes my critic discourages me, but he doesn’t stop me.  

I know I am writing  this story from my soul.  My soul is eternal, so it knows no time or space.  My heart reminds me why I must write. My head uses its creative source to get it on paper.  So, with my soul, heart , and head I must continue.    

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Color Escape play date with God



                                                      Copyrighted art by Sandra Lee Baron


Color Escape Retreat

As evenings cool, we are aware there is change in the air.  To accentuate and celebrate this change, my retreat partner, Monique Jesiolowski and I have designed a Color Escape Retreat.
It will be held at the Retreat House in Quincy, IN. on October 7,8 and 9. Yes, three days and two nights without kids, without hubbies, without ringing telephones, or dirty dishes.  This is a time to use God’s colors to communicate with Him.  The ponds and woods will be lit with the colors of the season.  We will learn how to use color and imagery to focus our prayers as well as to remind us through the day to continue our petitions and praises.  We will meditate and learn new body prayers using scriptures. Monique has designed body prayers to Psalms.  Again, our goal is to give you a spiritual style to take home that will keep you focused on God through exercise and prayer all through your day.
We have a special guest, Kristin Inman.  She will be using the freshest bounty to create healthy and delicious meals.  Her cooking skills are magnificent.  Your taste buds will be on retreat too.
Sandi has some special watercolor washes to teach you.  Then, God will autograph them with His words from Scripture.  We will be creating with the Creator.  
The nights will be spent in the newly built Retreat House with comfortable beds, silky linens, and fluffy towels.  All these things will be provided for you.  We just need you. http://www.retreatcampus.org/
If you register by September 23rd, we will offer you a discounted price.  If you have been to one of our retreats, we will give you fifty dollars off your fee if you bring a friend that has never experienced one of our inspirational workshops.
So, contact us, women who need rested and restored.  We are ready to reach, to stretch, to hike, to nap, to create, to pray, to just be as God intended us to be.  Come join us for a wonderful weekend on October 7,8, and 9.  The cost is $300 for lodging, food, creative supplies, and a serene landscape that will enable you to relax.  
Contact Sandi by email: sbaron8208@gmail.com  or 765-289-7049

Register at:  www.lamplightercounseling.com

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Queen Esther

copyrighted art by Betty Fraley
Queen Esther 

   

  I love the story of Esther as written in the Bible.  I am enchanted with her beauty, and her new found courage. Her heart is tied to her family roots, and their destiny is dependent on her.  It must have been difficult for Esther when suddenly the fate of her people was her responsibility. 

    The picture the Bible paints of Esther up to this moment is that she is a very compliant woman.  She was eager to please others.  Esther 2:19 explains that she continued to respect  Mordecai, her uncle who reared her, and follow his instructions even when she had become queen.  The picture I have always imagined was an uncertain young woman.  She was not mature and her beauty and sweet nature were her gifts.  She was timid and unsure of herself.  

    Through various circumstances, she was advanced to become the Queen of King Xerxes.  Esther had not told anyone her heritage.  Chapter four describes Esther’s time of stress.  When the king’s decree to destroy all Jews was published, Mordecai, like other Jews wept and wore sackcloths and mourned.  Haman, a high court official, had initiated this plan because he thought Mordecai had undeserved rewards.  Haman was determined to have revenge.  Because of the king's edict, Mordecai urged Esther to go to  Xerxes and beg mercy for her people.

The story continues with more stress, turns, and surprises.  I will share those in a later blog.  I just want to discuss Esther’s dilemma this week.

Many times I have felt unprepared for something God has asked of me. I, like Esther, did not have innate courage,or I didn’t think I did.  Then, God intervened and used circumstances, people, and timing to give me courage.  I was anxious and fearful to go  to Kazakhstan the first time. I worried about leaving my children and grandchild and never being allowed to return.  My heritage had taught me to fear Russians, and now God was asking me to go to their original land and share with their teachers some American strategies of education.  I didn’t feel prepared , and I didn’t know the language of the Kazakhs or the Russians.  God made the way.  The teachers I taught knew English.  I didn’t need to know their language; they knew mine.  I stayed in one of the Kazakhs' home and that family broke down any barriers I had about Russians and Kazakhs hating Americans. They extended the warmest hospitality I had ever received. God placed many translators in my path and made my way easy.  I just had to go. 

       Esther had to go to court without being summoned by the King. This was punishable by death.  She risked going because Mordecai instructed her to do this to save all Jews.  
Now, my issues were not as important or stressful as Esther’s.  Yet, I had to take a chance.  I too was a people pleaser, and I didn’t know the courage within until God gave me the opportunity to serve in a new capacity.  Both Esther and I were women, who knew what was required of us.  I learned from this Bible story a lesson  on how God cares for us.  He intervenes for us.  He is fully capable of what happens in our “real” world.  Because of Esther’s story, I knew God would make all provisions needed.  He did.  For this I am grateful.  Thank you Queen Esther for teaching me to trust and take that first step.  I knew God would take the second one.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Pureness of Simplicity

Copyrighted art work by Sandi Baron.  " The Bequeathed Barn"

    There are moments in my life that are cherished because I took time to stop and hear the sounds of the birds, feel the embrace of the breeze, or smell the scent of fresh cut hay.  Old barns call to me,
" Come sit by my side and take a moment to know yourself and the meaning of today."

    Another such pleasurable moment is when I slip under linens that have absorbed the sun and fresh air while drying on a clothes line. I am delighted when I see an Amish clothes line holding bright blue and black frocks.  I remember distinctly the clothes lines in Israel.  They were outside the apartment windows. I would look four stories up and there would hang colorful quilts outside the owner's window.  Clothes lines provide a visual amusement, simple but lasting.

    I enjoy singing and hearing a guitar or banjo player pluck favorite old tunes .  The rhyming words sung by the player invites all to sing.  In a pub in Ireland, I felt so welcome because of the minstrels and their Celtic melodies.  The musicians had no high tech sound systems or elaborate stages.  The Irish were passionate about their music, and this created happy hearts for those who listened and joined in the songs.  We became one with the music and the musician.

    Because of our explosion of technology and scientific discoveries, our society is convinced that something must be complex to be significant.  Our culture advocates that the more sophisticated the process, the better the product will be.  Our whole lives have become computerized.  We talk to answering services more than we talk with people.  Now, I respect the ability of a phone to do all that our smart phones can perform with their various apps.  I think that I Pads are convenient and quite nifty.  My computer is my best friend.  But, all these gadgets make our lives so busy that time passes quickly.  I can only stop time when I choose to enter into a simple act like singing or smelling fresh linens.
   
    The Bible uses "simplicity" to mean purity, sincerity, and generosity.  These things relate to our
soul. All have to do with singleness of our soul.  Paul feared the Corinthians' minds would be drawn away from the simplicity that is in Christ."  (2Corinthians 11:3)  In my technical world, I am afraid that I too may be drawn away.  I spend many hours writing, posting, reading blogs, and face book.  Google has become my leader and teacher.  Google finds me recipes, famous quotes, definitions, and lost friends. I could be isolated with my laptop and not even reach out to another living person.  That is truly being drawn from the simplicity of Christ.

    I must keep my heart guarded and my soul fresh as line dried laundry.  When I become blurry or confused , it is because I am seeing double.  I see and hear the world's direction and feel the tug of Christ simultaneously.  Then, I stop and singularly focus on Christ. I ask Him what I can do for Him this day.  I seek holiness.  My Creator has put holiness into my soul.  I just need His presence to activate what is within.  My goal is to know God in everyday experiences.  He matters.  His direction keeps me directed.  Just like the Celtic singers engulfed me in their music, God engages me in His word, His presence, and His direction.  I am refreshed by the simple act of sitting with God .










    


Wednesday, August 31, 2011


  How Great Thou Art

"How Great Thou Art" is an old hymn  familiar to us all.  In the fifties Billy Graham used it in all his services across the world. This made it the number one popular hymn.   
When I was a child my uncles played  this hymn on their banjos and guitars and sang it with their country twang.  Even when only five years old my heart grew larger for the Lord when I heard those words and that melody.
As I grew into a teenager, I anticipated the glory I would feel as mom’s brothers and sisters would pick and sing an improvisation of this tune.  Last Sunday, this hymn took on new meaning and significance.  Our minister, Matt Carder, began a series on the hymns and started with this one.  At the close of the service we sang this song and worshipped God.
Suddenly, I was lifted into a surreal place and was watching my last sixty years of listening to “How Great Thou Are. The Spirit showed me how my Uncle Mason played this song, and it permeated his heart and soul.  Mason was not a believer, but he strummed this hymn so frequently that it became part of his theology.  Uncle Mason died an early death of cancer.  I remember my mom saying how he hummed the hymn through his radiation and chemo treatments.  
Each of Mama’s nine brothers and sisters were a part of our Sunday night singing and picking sessions.  Each of them were shown to me in a vision last Sunday.  This song is what brought them to faith.  Even though, their chosen paths were somewhat wayward, they eventually came to know Christ. This old hymn was the significant pull to their hearts.
In this vision, the Spirit showed me how when we sang this song, the women who were with child would also benefit.  The music filtered into the uterus and prepared the child’s spirit to become a believer.  My aunts would sing loud and cry hard when these lyrics were sung.  As a child, I knew we were in a different realm of music, but now I know we were in a pure state of worship.  Perhaps I was one of the infants in uterine that absorbed those words into my soul.
The vision continued and I saw each of Mama’s siblings and offspring touched by this song.  Although long and rocky paths, each sibling and their offspring came to know God in a very real way and became believers because of the power of this song.  
The Spirit showed me there was one verse that had not been shared on earth.  When we gathered in heaven, we would sing that final verse together.  It will be a final dripping from our hearts of our theme song.  These memories and vision assured me God is our Creator and musician.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Life Lines

copyrighted art of Betty Ann Fraley





Life Lines
Since all of life is filled with lines, I discovered to use them for my betterment.  As a young mom, I hated grocery lines with the children.  All their “being good” was used up and long lines meant  lots of saying “no” to  the candy located at the check out.  Then, one  of the guys would have to urgently go potty.  The youngest one would wiggle in the cart seat and begin to cry.  Of course, the register tape would break, the lady in front of me would have a million coupons, and my feet hurt from teaching all day.  I just wanted to get out of the place and go home.  Remember those days?  After one such incident, the Lord pricked my heart on the way home.
Internally, I heard him ask why I had not used that opportunity for Him?  What?  I didn’t have patience to even serve my family.  At that, I remember giggling and saying to Him, “OK, I give, we are your family. Show me how.”
 He taught me through Osborn Chamber’s devotional, My Utmost For His Highest. Chambers said, “ A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer.  God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, but our Lord continues to stretch and strain, and occasionally the saint says, ‘I can’t take any more.’  Yet, God pays no attention; He goes on stretching until His purpose is in sight and then He lets the arrow fly.”
That analogy has helped me so much.  Later on in any line, I learned to use the time to teach my children, whisper to them, or show them how to observe others and be grateful for those around us.  Line time became a relationship time. Now, it wasn’t perfect, but it sure improved my line expectations with our little guys.
  As I aged, life became fuller and more hurried, and I would feel frustrated waiting in a bank line, a doctor’s office, or a retail line.  Then, I would visualize myself being stretched for a purpose.  I would turn to someone near and begin to ask them about their life, their problems, and God would use me. The wait was fulfilling. I was experiencing holy love, and they were being splashed by grace.  
Lines continue.  Now, they are waiting with my husband, my granddaughters, or by myself.  God has taught me so much during these “waiting times.”  He taught me to pray at red lights, sing favorite hymns while stuck in traffic,and to be grateful for my blessings while waiting at doctors’ offices. Whether the line is short or long doesn’t matter.  It is God’s time, and I am His bow with His directed arrow.




Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Practice Wonderment
“Oh, for the wonder that bubbles into my soul” D.H. Lawerence
Recently, I was visited by my granddaughters.  Ellie is only two but teaches me so many life lessons.  She is dressed like a ballerina; she thinks she is a ballerina; and the big blue bow in her hair restates, “ I am a ballerina.”  She is not old enough to attend a class, but her big sister takes lessons.  Ellie has only been allowed to observe.  Yet, she is a ballerina in her heart and mind.  The art of ballet has bubbled into her soul and made her one.
In wonderment, children are our best teachers.  It is their natural state.  We seem to lose track of wonderment as we age. We become a bit calloused, jaded you might say.  Oh, yes, another wedding, another sunrise, another dinner party, another birthday present.  Our attitude is detached and uninvolved.
 Something happens to our sense of surprise.  We take life for granted and expect this dinner to be just like the last.  We all remember those faces of toddlers as they experienced peas for the first time.  Out those new veggies came creating a green, slimy chin and a sidesplitting facial snarl.  Baby was surprised and we laughed.  That is how our daily lives should be lived.  We can recapture the sense of amazement at any moment. All it takes is to open our taste buds of living and make our world come alive.
For one minute, stop, listen, and recollect.  What do you hear where you are sitting?  A groaning ice maker, the soft hum of an appliance, or a clash of trash as the garbage truck picks up on your street.  Listen.  Anything new you hear?
Try really noticing what is around you.  Ellie always points to the smallest spot on the floor and says, “ What’s that MiMi?”  I have to really look to see what she sees.  Often it is a piece of fuzz, a broken lead from a pencil, or even a dried leaf.  The point is: she notices it.  She is looking for a surprise element on an ordinary wooden floor. 
 As I write this, I see a recent wedding photo from Adam and Annie’s destination wedding.  I see a fifteen year old wedding photo of John and Christine.  Life is changing right on my bulletin board.  I look at these familiar photos and discover Christine carried roses and daisies.  Annie carried lilies and roses in her wedding bouquet.  One arrangement is pastel and the other vibrant oranges and yellows.  Even how they held their wedding flowers revealed a bit of their individual personalities.  It is amazing what I can see in those photos.  I am like a magnifying glass searching for clues ,and I find answers to new questions.  
We can touch wonder in every moment of our day if we just slow down and see, hear, touch, feel.  We are all ballerinas if we just take time to think like one, see like one, and become aware of our surroundings.  Ellie helped me capture wonderment, and I am once again thankful for the familiar, the ordinary, the normal.  Thanks to her I see new light and understanding.  Wonderment creates gratitude.  Thank you, Ellie.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Embracing the Ordinary

Copyrighted art by Betty Ann Fraley



George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old : we grow old because we stop playing.”
I am the first to admit that I have a childlike spirit that enjoys playing far more than working.  However, I notice that our sons learned early how to turn their work into play.  Adam embraces the rocks, trees, and waters in Washington.  It is his playground whether he is on a project for EPA , or he and Annie are escaping to the wilderness to dodge the business of Seattle.  He  posts photos from a canoe trips that echo the beauty of the mountains reflecting in the waters.  The newlyweds take their dog Sedona on hikes with them and embrace the natural to find the extraordinary.
I was walking and skipping a little too yesterday.  Dobie, my rescued mix breed, and I were taking our daily walk around the neighborhood.  Now, I have been doing this over thirty years.  ( All my dogs were walkers. I wonder why?) You would think I would have inventoried every home and lawn and be bored.  But, each walk I discover something new that brings joy.  On this day, Dobie and I saw a young teen doing a masterful drawing on the sidewalk.  He was using colored chalk and turning it into pundit art.  He created a new scene from a familiar one.
Our oldest son’s daughters teach me to embrace the commonplace and just play freely.  We take a chipped and worn tea set and celebrate English high tea.  With my granddaughters, Ava and Ellie, I can put on a  crumpled hat and become a monster. A cast off pink crinoline evolves me into a famous   dancer. I can put on a crooked smile with a tattered vest and bring peals of laughter as I try to walk our imaginary tight rope.  We love playing babies, dress up, and making a routine into an exceptional story.
Sometimes I have discovered swirling, laughing, or just swinging helps me reclaim my youth.  After doing a quick little arabesque, I picked up Patti Digh’s book, Four Word Self Help.   She chooses four words to instruct  the reader on simple wisdom.  Four varied words which help simplify my life.  Playful meditations that turn my complex world into a simple reality. Today I am taking time to see the angels in the  white fluffy, cloud formations. I drove four miles just to  visually enjoy a field of cadmium yellow sun flowers.  I just finished sitting on my glider singing Jesus Loves Me.  These  activities  resurrect the child within.  Somehow a mediocre day  just shifted into an exceptional one.  

Friday, August 5, 2011

Laughing at Myself

Laughing at myself, want to join me?
Tonight I called the Keurig technical support line.  My fancy coffee pot just won’t work.  It is about a year old and should not have quit so soon.  I explained this to Jonathan , the polite customer service man.
He started out so positive.  “Now, Mrs. Baron, let’s try a different outlet.”  I obeyed.  “Now, let’s fill the reservoir with water and power up.” I once again followed directions.  Each step the directions were more difficult for me to matriculate.  Finally, after about a half of an hour, I asked Jonathan, “What do you do all this time while you are on hold and customers are doing your suggested remedies?”  
Jonathan replied, “ Oh, I am answering customer emails and doing other computer tasks.”
I replied, “ Wow, you have time to read a whole book by the end of the day.” 
“Well, Mrs. Baron, honestly most folks don’t keep me on hold for thirty minutes.  Have you found that gasket yet?”

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Soul Work for Writers

Soul Work

Soul work comes in various  forms through different people.  I recognize God's mercy to me because He has sent so many friends and set me in a family that has shaped my soul.

Recently.my meditations are on soul shaping.  I marvel at God's constant interventions even when I am so unaware.  For example, I have been working on the Midwest Writers Workshop .  The event was last weekend.  Each monthly meeting is focused on how to make the next workshop better.  It involves monthly meetings  discussing finances, speakers, authors, agents, and what sessions are needed to meet the needs of aspiring writers as well as published authors.  Sometimes the meetings are filled with laughter, and we munch on cookies made by Barb, one of the committee people.  Other meetings drag on as we get snagged on a detail or budget need.  However, by the time the end of July roles around, we have an organized program, gifted speakers and agents, and tasty food to inspire the participants.  As they walk through the door for the intensive sessions, my heart feels warm and my emotions are high.  I marvel who God sends each year.

I think of the specifics that are involved.  The participant must have this weekend free, have money to register as well as lodging and transportation.  They are hand picked.  This year we had more than a hundred new folks and many  repeaters.  The returning veterans are like family.  We hug and celebrate the beginning of a new understanding of writing, publishing, and  progress.

I have been involved as a participant for over twenty years and have been on the committee the last three years. I never realized when I attended as an eager student how much went into the planning .  Now, that I am on the other side, I perceive that helping the writing community is such a privilege and gives me so much fulfillment.  We hammer away at the statue each month molding it into an art form.  We spend endless hours discussing, writing, searching the internet, and planning.  At the end of this building and organizing process, an opportunity is created for writers. The process brings forth a statue like in the photo.  Many hours are needed.  Many hands are used especially the hands of Jama Bigger, our director.  The sculpting tools are not chisels, but instead, the minds, words, and hearts of the committee.

I know that this is like God's work on our soul.  We make choices.  We pray.  We write, reflect , and meditate.  We study  God's word, and ponder His part in our  own story.  His intervention and grace creates soul growth.  He sends friends, books, movies, and family to use as his "faculty".  Simple objects and gentle folks mold our souls into the image God intended. We are His "workshop" .  He forms us into His image.  All of us are writers involved in life.  God gives us opportunities to share His love through our words.  Soul work.   I realize that my husband  helps God mold me.  Do I know the person ahead of me in a long line just might  be there by God's design?  Soul work is happening each moment of my life.  I realize how much God cares for me.  "He will perfect that which concerneth me."  Psa 138:8

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