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Archive for September, 2021

Back in the spring a neighbor planted sunflower seeds in the gardens of many of the neighbors. They have grown tall and provided smiles throughout the summer.

Now it is fall …

Though still very tall, their stalks thick and strong, their heads are hanging, heavy with seeds that birds have begun to pick. Their petals drying into a crepey texture. The florets, who cover the seeds and provide the yellow or brown center color drying into weightlessness and blown into the air by the autumn winds.

Gotta say, as I stood looking at one the other day I found myself relating to this green giant in so many ways.

I decided to cut one down, for it was done in every way.

Though its florets had already all blown away, though it’s petals were a dry crepey mess, though it’s leaves were faded and sagging and, over all, it had seen better days …

it was heavy with seeds.

what possibility …

Those two words came to mind as I lifted the flower head from the ground.

Even now, in the autumn of a sunflower’s life, life remains in the seeds.

Within all of us are seeds that we sprinkle throughout our life. Some get planted, others blown away, other stolen by birds, some packed away in the dark. Yet, we all have the seeds to share, and we can share them right up until our final breath.

That is our only task, to share the seeds that give hope, possibility.

It is only God … ONLY God, who can make them grow.

So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

1 Corinthians 3:7

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I am not sure what is it about nature that can almost always realign my thinking.

Whether it is a beautiful azure blue sky in summer, tulips pushing their way through the warming soil in spring, awakening to snow falling in winter, or the nearby, yet out of sights calls of coyotes in the early morning hours of fall, my attention is immediately distracted away from whatever problem or stress that has been filling my mind.

Just last week my mind was muddled with whatever problems of the world I’d decided were mine. A power walk hadn’t lodged them. Washing a bathroom walls hadn’t pierced the walls around my thoughts. Deep breathing exercises just about made me hyperventilate. So I took my book outside, to sit in the sun and see if that would bring me back to a comfortable state of homeostasis.

As I read each word, my frustration level, with myself, was only growing until …

buzz, buzz, buzz …

I looked up to my hanging flower pot, and there a bee was happily doing what bees do with flowers

and I smiled

and I heard these words,

whatever is excellent or praiseworthy
think about these things

Now, I didn’t hear these words audibly, but from within a place that is beyond brain, deeper within.

Without conscious decision, I followed the instructions, thinking about that which is excellent and praiseworthy, counting my blessings … naming them one by one.

The list grew, and grew, and grew.

My eyes watched the bee dart from flower to flower, taking in the nutrients to live and grow and thrive as I was nourished by my memories of the excellent and praiseworthy things in my life.

I do not know how long I sat there,

book closed on my lap,

sun streaming in,

eyes focused on the little honey-maker

as my mind was being renewed with sweet thoughts …

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Autumn is here! Along with the seasonal pumpkin spice lattes, the chill in the air and the harvesting of produce from the garden, is the resumption of the need of a well updated calendar.

Busy, busy, busy …

that is often the theme for people in this season … depending on your current season of life.

In my current season, it is not so busy, but the most intense times of life are not so far from memory that I do not still feel the tension that still innately occurs as the days get shorter and much of regular life resumes.

But it is the memories of the years of busy, busy, busy that are weighing on my mind these sweater in the morning, shorts in the afternoon days.

The memories of taxiing kids, checking and double checking on homework, on whether everyone has what is needed for the day before driving out of the garage (only to realize that something was, indeed, left home … discovered after we pull into the school parking lot). Memories of practises, rehearsals try-outs and sleep overs. Memories of dreaming of a snow day … in mid-September … desperate times call for desperate dreams!

And now I am living the dream of a one color coded calendar, a vehicle that is refueled every second week, groceries that can be carried in the house in one bag and days that are slower, quieter (partly by choice, partly involuntarily).

And I wonder, did our life of busy, busy, busy …

teach them was I want them to know, to be.

Is there a better way?

I will show you the most excellent way … a better way …

1 Corinthians 12:31

This is how the chapter speaking about spiritual gifts ends. It is like a teaser for an upcoming movie! So, we can assume from that that what is to follow is ever better than these gifts which are given from God, to do his will in His church.

What follows is often only referenced in churches for wedding ceremonies. This is a shame, for I am not so sure that God intended that this most excellent, this better way to represent married love.

Of course, what follows it (1 Corinthians 13) is the “love chapter” (I cannot write that without hearing it said, in my head by the sultry voice of someone like Barry White).

So, now lets read it, with the chapter start and finish in the way :

I will show you the most excellent way … a better way ... if I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 12:31-13:3

What is Paul saying here?

It is pretty clear that what he is saying is that using our gifts, without the foundation of love for others is pointless. The gift is given by God, but the fuel to make that gift travel is love for one another.

So how does this apply to our busy, busy, busy schedules?

If we are filling the schedules of ourselves and our children with good activities, learning activities, giving activities, but omitting the love of God in all that we do … it is pointless and has no eternal value.

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For a few days now, my daily walk has not been accompanied by podcasts of messages by a couple of my favorite Christian preachers, but music.

The music is a bit different from much of my playlist, for the songs are long (like 7-8 minutes long, each one), with much repetition of lines in the songs. When I slip in my headphones and tie up my runners I am transported to the most beautiful sanctuary of worship within the beauty of the natural creation.

This daily, solo, worship service has facilitated my expressions of trust, love and hope in God alone. It has enabled me to escape the the me centered world I live, and live in. I can spend my walk time focused on the One who is really in control, the One who is always faithful, always with me.

And He alone deserves praise.

One of the worship songs that I have been using as a vehicle for my walking worship is the Doxology (praise God from whom all blessings flow).

It was written in 1674, by Thomas Ken, who had a fascinating life with positions in church leadership that had him mixing with the likes of Princess Mary (later Queen), King Charles 2 (and his mistress) as well as King James 2, whose Declaration of Indulgence, Thomas refused to read in church … and spent some time in the Tower of London.

His doxology was not printed publicly until after his death.

And today, over 300 years later, his penned praise to God is still sung, in cathedrals, churches, and along the paths and sidewalks of the Pacific Northwest.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Amen.

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Are you an if/then person?

You know, one of those who sees and seeks understanding of conditions and results.

I am, most naturally an if/then person.

If I study hard, then I will achieve high marks.

If I work with all my might, then I will be successful in my job.

If I sow good things, then I will reap good things.

The thing is … life isn’t always that predictable and it most certainly does not come with guarantees.

We live our lives as mere mortals, among mere mortals, in a fallen, sin-saturated world. Therefore, conditions and results do not always line up.

Students who study hard fail exams. Hard working people lose their jobs. We can sow good things in and around us and reap only that which is bitter.

These are the realities of living in this world.

Yet, this does not mean that we proceed through our days and lives with our knuckles dragging on the ground. Even when the if/thens of our life have faulty results, there can be joy.

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Nehemiah 8:10

There is a strength that comes, irregardless of circumstances, if/then failures and failed conditions. It is a strength that comes from choosing joy … but not just any joy. It is a joy that we skin-covered souls can only experience and achieve from one source … it is a joy that comes from familiarity with God.

When we look at the failures, pains and destructions in our lives compared with the love and mercy and redemption available to us in Christ … we have true joy at our disposal.

If we choose Christ, then we will have joy in Him … though all around us might fall.

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God,

when you speak, your whisper is as a megaphone to the ears of my soul.
You refuse to be unheard …
even when we think we have deafened our souls to you.
It is a human perception that we can silence You …
but you can not be quieted.

So, I will praise you.

For you are the God of all creation.
You, for eternity,
have been, are and will always be.
This, my God,
is your position,
and when I come to you,
this is what I must always remember.
For you are good and you keep your promises.
You have always been faithful to me,
so I know I can trust you.

So, I will praise you.

When we pray to you, we speak our petitions to you,
like a long list for Santa, or a Genie …
but you cannot be contained in a bottle or a season,
and you, only you, know what is best
for us.
Even that which breaks our hearts,
that which makes us wring our hands
and collapse on the floor …
even that which cannot, it just cannot,
be good

and I will still praise you.

But, you do not fail.
Your presence always guides me,
not to the destination of my choice,
not on the journey dreamed,
but to your ultimate destination,
with you.

and I praise you.

I cannot think of breath when I wasn’t aware of
your presence, your strength, your support,
your peace
… even in
the deepest waters,
the darkest shadows,
the loneliest journeys.

I will praise you.

Amen

This is my story
this is my song
praising my Savior
all the day long

I know it is well,
is the story I’ll tell

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“… I carried to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had let soften a bit of madeleine. But at the very instant when the mouthful of tea mixed with cake crumbs touched my palate, I quivered, attentive to the extraordinary thing that was happening inside me.”

Marcel Proust from In Search of Lost Time

What is it about a scent that can change you from the inside out, taking you to a place in memory, or of a memory never yet experienced?

That is what it was like the first time I inhaled (for great it was) the perfume of the Mock Orange blossoms. Immediately I had to have it, for its scent was too beautiful to deny myself this annually blooming shrub.

That was probably over a dozen years ago.

Since moving from our larger home, on a larger property to a townhouse on a postage stamp sized lot, the thing I have missed most, longed for most frequently, was my mock orange and its springtime blossoms that diffused in the air around, much to my delight.

So, this summer, in the midst of a heat spell, I purchased one, to plant in a pot on my minuscule patio.

I have fed it, watered it and protected it from the heat on the hottest of days. With each act of care, I dreamed of that moment next spring when nature would reward me with delicate white flowers, emitting the dreamiest of fragrances.

Just the other day I noticed something different.

It couldn’t be …

As I moved closer I detected what appeared to be flower buds on the top of the plant.

The plant in my previous garden bloomed annually, every year in mid May, calling my nose to a closer inspection. That was the only time it ever bloomed.

But here, in a pot, on my little patio, the most delightful of gifts was enfolding, blooming right before my eyes, sending its aroma up, into the air, beckoning me to come closer.

And I said thanks.

Thanks, not to this flower, but to its Maker, who knew how to speak love most clearly to the heart of this daughter.

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That is how it is written, in Sharpie, on my stainless steal refrigerator.

when i … then he

I wrote it on my cool appliance months ago, when I was (to quote Anne of Green Gables) in the depths of despair.

It had been a rough day (and we all have those to walk through). I had had an interaction with a professional that left me feeling misinterpreted, unheard and as though I was a system user. You could say it was a personal worst case scenario and I was feeling it all the way down to my bones.

So, I did what came natural … I sobbed my eyes out. Felt the depths of hurt with each sob that racked my body.

Finally, I had to do something else, for, though the tears falling were availing a sense of release, they were doing nothing for the tension I was feeling from my head to my toes.

So I went for a walk.

Now, if you were to see me walking that day, what you would have seen was a woman on a mission. I marched fast, each step landing on the sidewalk with great force. Eyes straight ahead, wide open, yet unable to really see anything, anyone else … for they were completely turned inward, focused on the pain I felt.

I remember trying to pray, but realizing that if God was to hear my heart, it would have to be through my inner groans, for my brain could not form the words, until …

I remember in my frustration to pray thinking I just needed something to repeat, to focus on … to get the focus off this agony, off … me.

when i … then he

Four words popped into my muddled mind and I began to recite them, over and over, for the remainder of my determined walk. I walked hard and fast and I spoke them the same, over and over. It was not the words, but their meaning, that propelled me, that, eventually, slowed my mind, my heartbeat, my pace. Those four words and my chosen humility in speaking their truth, not just with my tongue, but with my heart, my mind … brought me home (figuratively and physically).

The words I spoke, I rewrote into my circumstance, were words of faith. These were the words of the Apostle Paul. Paul was speaking of that thorn in his flesh, the issue that he had prayed and prayed and prayed that God would take away … but God did not take it away. Paul’s response is this:

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. That is why, for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

So, I may have done a re-write here on scripture, my chant

when i … then he

written in scripture is actually

when i … then i

The thing is … I was chanting the words in faith, not in sight. Paul had been praying, and growing, and stretching in this area of a thorn, for years (possibly his entire life).

I was in the moment, feeling ever so weak, simply praying, in faith that God would be my strength, that he would carry me, would flood my body and mind with the Spirit of peace, that he would be my advocate of strength.

and He did.

I love how Matthew Henry speaks to this passage (this experience with God in our weakness) :

When God does not take away our troubles and temptations, yet, if he gives grace enough for us, we have no reason to complain. Grace signifies the good-will of God towards us, and that is enough to enlighten and enliven us, sufficient to strengthen and comfort in all afflictions and distresses. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Thus his grace is manifested and magnified. When we are weak in ourselves, then we are strong in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; when we feel that we are weak in ourselves, then we go to Christ, receive strength from him, and enjoy most the supplies of Divine strength and grace.

Matthew Henry Commentary

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It’s a thing … a rather big thing,

if you look at social media posts on the first week of school.

Kids, all clean and smiling (real of forced), often standing in front of the door to their house, sometimes holding a sign recording the grade they are about to begin. Sometimes even parents … if they work in schools, because, let’s face it, if we work in schools there is a part of us that hasn’t moved beyond the glory days of school.

I have those pics, in photo albums and on memory sticks. I remember trying to acquire them … often with much insistence, schedule-juggling, bribery and the potential that we would be late for the first day of school (horror of horrors). As the years meandered on, the first day of school picture morphed into the first week(s) of school picture, for that one shot is a difficult one to remember, to organize.

I love those images and the memories they hold … not the memories of the battle to get them taken, but the memories of each child at the age represented. Heck, let’s get real here, they could have been taken in February of that school year and the cockles of my heart would still be warmed by the flashbacks my momma’s heart would experience glancing at the faces from past years staring back at me.

These pics are reminders of an entrance to a new phase of schooling, of life. They are markers along the schooling journey … they represent growth, change, development. They are also images that represent hard work, accomplishment and, for those of us who follow Christ, they are images that remind we parents that what is done is done in His strength, His faithfulness.

Like the Israelites.

They too had 12 markers, but not photos. These markers with twelve stones, representing the 12 tribes of Joshua. God himself told Joshua to create a memorial with a stone from each tribe. These stones were to be a reminder for all time of the miracle of their crossing the Jordan River.

Joshua said to them: “Cross over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.” And the children of Israel did so, just as Joshua commanded, … and they are there to this day.

Joshua 4: 4-7, 9

As a parent of now adult children, I look back on those first day of school pictures differently than at the time. At the time they were hurried images of my littles. Now I look at them and think of the faithfulness of God, who walked through each year with them, protecting them, loving them, challenging them, teaching them.

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In our neck of the woods, today is the day!

The day that summer break ends and school begins.

The new clothes are donned, the lunch kit doesn’t yet have that funky odor, the knapsack packed with binders, pencils and calculators (as one who spends her work days helping students with math, please buy them a calculator if they are in high school … there are only so many one can acquire in her desk drawer).

There is excitement in the air, as all things are new, fresh.

With this beginning of school there are so many other clubs, teams, lessons etc. that are also resuming.

Now is when students and parents are signing up for these extracurricular activities, with great anticipation of competitions, skills development and new learning.

And that is a good and fun part of all of these activities,

but …

Parents, there is something else that kids need. They need it this school year, but they also need it so that they grow to be healthy, well-balanced adults.

It’s margin … and it has little to do with money investments (although … there is certainly an investment angle to it).

Margin is best described in comparison to the margins we leave when writing on a piece of paper. We do not begin writing at the very top left corner of a piece of paper and continue to the bottom right. Instead we write in the middle, leaving a space, a margin, around our writing.

This is good writing practise … it is also a good life practise.

Parents, consider ensuring that there is margin around the to-dos in your kids days. Not just margin for sleeping and eating, but margin for exploration, discovery, wonder. Green therapy (being outdoors), playing board games together, reading a book, baking cookies, playing road hockey, taking the pooch for a walk.

These are the elements in a day that can refill their cups, instill the practise of life learning, remind them of one greater than them. It can give their brains time to rest, time to grow.

This margin is not to sit and just stare, solo, at a screen. It is time in their schedules to explore, to breath, to be nourished by the greater things, the things that lead us to contemplate, to ponder, to talk to God.

This margin will actually give your kids more … more energy, more productivity, more creativity, more capacity to learn, to live.

You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!

Haggai 1:6

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