Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Take a Moment. Yes, THIS moment. Please?

I'm learning to prioritize in a new way lately. Now that Harmony is here, there is little time for all of the creative projects I love. If I didn't make time for SOME creative output, though, I'd go crazy! Right now, there are three baskets of laundry waiting to be put away, the dishes from last night's dinner are still in the sink, and I haven't taken a shower yet... but doing a bit of writing and thinking are what will keep me sane for today, so that's what I'm taking the time to do right now. And Harmony is still asleep. So I have a few minutes. Maybe.

Anyway, she's adorable and all that, so she makes this newly hectic schedule totally worth it : )

Blogging has seriously fallen by the wayside, as I expected it would. Writing in my journal (yes, I still write with a pen and paper too, I'm that old-fashioned) has also taken a nose-dive. But counting my blessings has not! One thing that this list-making of gratefulness has done is open my eyes to how much I have to be thankful for, all the time, even when things are hard.

Being sick for weeks and weeks is hard. Yet when I wanted to complain, my mind (or maybe conscience? or the Holy Spirit? Yeah, probably that) would bring a positive blessing to counteract the negative thought.

I still complained.

But the blessings continued to multiply.

And the Lord blessed me by making me see them.

My journal where I keep physical remembrances of gratefulness is back on the coffee table. It takes only a few seconds to record a moment. So that's what I'm doing again. Not so I can feel proud of achieving a goal... it's so I can be humbled by the goodness given to my life, even when I think that things are rough.

Can I encourage you to take a moment today and think of three things that you are grateful for?

Gratitude really changes everything.

Here are some of the highlights since I last posted here:

Hand-me-down clothes from generous friends

Seventeen days of Olympics

Renewed energy after being sick

Sleeping for four hours straight

The gift of perspective as I walk through the years

Harmony's first laugh

Preparing to delve into the book of Hebrews

The peace found in trusting the promises of God

Sweet neighbors moving in next door

The joy of Dr. Seuss newly discovered for Harmony

Skillet apple pie on Sunday; a new tradition

Knowing that I am "crowned with glory and honor" (Psalm 8:6)

Cold weather finally, a welcome break from the drought

Beautiful botanical garden free for morning walks

God gently teaching me to not live my life in fear

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Moment of Grace

I was driving to an appointment this evening, along one of my favorite stretches of road. The roads here can be large and industrial, or like this one, winding and wooded. I had my windows rolled down, the cool evening breeze blowing into the car. There was banjo music on the radio, the sun was setting into that golden green color, and as I turned the bend in the road, I saw them: two deer.

It was just a second where the deer looked at me (and who knows what a car moving at 30 mph looks like to a deer); but it was a moment where my brain said, "Stop! This is what Beauty looks like... this is the world God has made for you to enjoy... enjoy it!"

on the way home from my appointment, I "saw" these moments, too...

... a favorite song heard with new ears...

... the moment when twinkle lights are turned on, transforming darkness into delight...

... the hope that change and growth really are realities and not just a dream...

... and yet, the sweetness of accepting things just as they are...

... the thrill of driving a gorgeous road (has to be one of my favorite things; if I had all the money in the world to burn, I'd do it by driving scenic highways and byways)...

... Honey the dog excited to welcome me back...

... my church building, beautiful in the evening twilight.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Time to Hope

Lyssa reminded me that I hadn't posted here in a while... it's true. And I don't have the same life changes as she does to counter as an appropriate excuse. Sometimes it just feels like I'm moving from moment to moment without really stopping... that's been the whole point of this blog. To stop, to look, to rejoice. I haven't really made an effort to stop and rejoice in what God has given.

The last few months have been full of a lot of joy and sorrow and even a little healing for my soul. A few things I am thankful for...

... a friend's new child, born to parents who love her, who already are anxious to provide her with a safe, happy, challenging life...

... the opportunity to see far-flung friends, to travel and to host friends, to fellowship and to cry without fear, to feel safe and loved...

... generous and unexpected gifts, given out of a desire for growth and the use of gifts...

... a safe place to talk, to grieve, to process...

... baseball...

... small moments of hope...

... new ideas, the desire to write, the need for perseverance - Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Before You Were Born

I am always in one of two opposite states of mind lately: either I am completely at peace with still being pregnant, or I am impatiently frustrated that the baby isn't here yet. Tomorrow the little one will be full term at forty weeks; while I'm not counting on him/her coming on the due date, every day is still full of anticipation that it might be THE birth-day. Keeping myself occupied with small tasks, relaxing hobbies, and everyday routines is the best way to not worry about the baby coming or not.

As I was reading through the Psalms last night, a particular passage from Psalm 71 leaped to my attention.

For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from before my birth;
you are He who took me from my mother's womb.
My praise is continually of you.

While certainly making use of poetic language, these verses make me ponder God's incredible plans that He has for us. What joy there is in trusting the God who cared for me even before I was born!

86. A dining room table from a garage sale, big enough to seat guests finally

87. Witnessing God's powerful mercy working in a man's life at church

88. Surprise of extra money coming from an unexpected lottery ticket; God works in mysterious ways

89. The blessing of being a two-car family

90. Dried herbs sweet-smelling

91. An entire day spent with Chris

92. Wonderful books and dvds to rent at the local library

93. Em getting a job within a few days of job-searching

94. Tasty pregnancy tea (iced) from Cheryl's Herbs

95. Our church beginning a summer of memorizing Scripture together

96. Extra hours at work for Chris when his schedule is sparse

97. Evening walks with Chris in the cool almost-night air

98. Watching a documentary about Michelangelo with church friends

99. Beanbag pillow making our bed mattress more comfy, as pregnancy makes sleeping difficult

100. New baby raccoon visiting my patio!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Coming to Rest in "Mystery"

Most people like a good mystery. At least in stories or movies, as long as the mystery has a definite solution to provide closure and satisfaction at the end. But what about real life mystery? What about the kinds of mystery that involve our own lives, the mysterious questions of "who am I", "what is my purpose", "why do these things happen to me"? Even deeper than that is the question "is there Someone out there who has planned these Mysteries, and knows the answers to them"?

I've been pondering "mystery" this week. Our church has been meditating on the first fourteen verses of Ephesians, with verses nine and ten being used as a passage for memorization:

"In all wisdom and insight God has made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth."

It's a relief to realize that some things are MEANT to be a mystery, because in spite of my imperfections and mistakes and confusion, God has a purpose for all things in His perfect wisdom. Even if I can't understand all the ups and downs of my life, there is comfort knowing that "for all those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose."

71. Surprise gift card from grandparents

72. Learning to focus on the sweetness of my blessings by deliberately choosing gratitude over resentment in the tough places

73. The love of my Heavenly Father

74. Five bottles of my favorite barbecue sauce on sale for less than a dollar each

75. Finding a surprise stash of yarn for sock-knitting that I'd forgotten about

76. Date night with Chris seeing Shakespeare in the Park: Othello

77. Rainstorm cooling the air

78. Bedroom organized and rearranged, with bassinet all ready

79. Midwife visiting our apartment for my prenatal appointment

80. Raccoon friends from the forest

81. Messages of reassurance from God when I lie sleepless

82. Alec's beautiful guitar playing at the benefit concert

83. Fresh vegetables at the Soulard Farmer's Market

84. Good wishes from everyone for my and the baby's health

85. Chris's employee discount card at the grocery store

Sunday, June 3, 2012

With Thanksgiving

I've been meditating on the book of Philippians lately. Two passages have been standing out from chapter four. Here is the first:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. 

Reasonableness can also be translated to mean "gentleness", being "considerate in all you do", "gentle spirit", "moderation", "gracious attitude", "humility", "fairness", "modesty", or "forbearance". I don't see much of those virtues in myself, partly due to my stubborn personality and partly because I have not made it a priority to submit my will and desires to the Holy Spirit, who has been given for my edification. I've been pondering a lot what it might mean in different areas of my life to be reasonable, especially in my interactions with others.

Here is the second passage that has resonated with me:

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 

Again the emphasis on giving thanks is making an impact on my heart. How often I approach God simply with petitions or even demands for what I think is best. Yet that's not the way our prayer relationship with God is designed to be: prayer and supplication WITH THANKSGIVING. And from that position of thankfulness to proceed into worship, communion, application, pleas for mercy, wisdom, truth, and much, much more.

56. Final medical tests for prenatal care coming back clear

57. Lavender plants blooming

58. My eyes open to seeing and rejoicing over many blessings

59. Dress shirts that actually fit Chris at the Burlington Coat Factory

60. Surprise mixed CD of music from a fellow blogger I've never met

61. Our church's talented music director

62. Hearing one of my favorite British musicians on the radio in the car

63. Second knitted baby sweater complete

64. Singing thankfulness for God's blessings at small group

65. My mother joining me in the capturing of one thousand gifts

67. Delicious new baked beans recipe

68. Little girl's silly faces

69. Back issues of Real Simple magazine given free by a friend

70. Knowing that I am deeply loved not only by my family, but also by Chris's entire family

Monday, May 28, 2012

Expanding My View

It's funny that Heather wrote of her gratitude list this week seeming centered around her senses, especially food. I was going to write the exact same thing about my list! Once I noticed that many of my blessings were food-related, I tried to expand my vision a bit. Food is lovely and wonderful (especially when I'm pregnant) but there are definitely more things to be thankful for.

After completing my final week of teaching, it was hard not to write "MATERNITY LEAVE, SO GRATEFUL!!!!" over and over in my gratitude journal! I really love being a music teacher, but these past few weeks have been exhausting. I am definitely ready for a break as I prepare for and enter the transition into motherhood.

The Psalms have been drawing me in lately. They make a huge connection between seeing God's character better and falling into praise and thanksgiving because of it. What a beautiful cycle: I call upon the Lord, find anew that God is truly good, glorify Him in gratefulness, draw closer to Him in love... call upon the Lord, find anew that God is good, glorify Him in gratefulness, draw closer in love...

O Lord, I am your servant... you have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving 
and call upon the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord!
~ Psalm 116:16-19

41. Green knitted class cozy

42. Handmade bracelets from a sweet student

43. Internet access right in my own home

44. The neighbors strumming guitar and singing on their porch

45. Blue and brown yarn on my knitting needles

46. New clover blooming in the grass

47. Thank-you notes to write

48. Five seasons of the Antiques Road Show for free online

49. Parking underneath shade trees in hot temperatures

50. Mother sparrows feeding their babies at our feeder

51. Crunchy apples to satisfy my fresh fruit craving

52. June, July, and August of no teaching!

53. Books on tape gifted for the Little One; memories from my childhood re-awakened

54. Home-made strawberry smoothie for breakfast

55. Comfy brown skirt that fits no matter how big my tummy gets

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Taste and See that the LORD is Good

It seems like a lot of my list this week was centered around my senses, especially food. There is a sense in which too much of my life is centered around food, or around my own desires, my wants and whims. So, I've been thinking about the idea of self-denial, of blinking the sleep from my eyes in order to see better what has already been given. Maybe even to see what I am lacking and must open my hands for the Father to fill. Yet, I also see here little tastes of what is good and beautiful... of God's greatness, goodness and generosity to our creature-ness...

...a glass of wine at the end of a hard day...

...the spicy smell of basil plants...

...thirty-six years of my family (Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!)...

...the sharp bite of crunchy gingersnaps, memories of my Mimi...

...opening a new book...

...the spicy heat of salsa and pork... good gifts to dear friends...

...a good movie late on a Friday night...

...morning coffee with Lyssa, excitement for Pip's arrival...

...walking long distances again after resting my sore knee for many weeks...

...His body and blood are real yet spiritual gifts, the mystery of His table...

...encouragement to prepare for difficulty, to to grow strong in the Lord...

...the smell of apricots ripening...

...God's Word, the power of life and death, resting in my hands...

...the smell of freshly baked chocolate cake...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Renewing My Strength

Even after reading a review that expressed several hesitancies about Ann Voskamp's book "One Thousand Gifts", I still believe that there have been more benefits than detriments in following her journey, at least for me. The best and foremost thing that has come from reading her book is my increasing awareness of how very much I am blessed every day. Always keeping on the lookout for what I can give thanks turns me towards the One Who Blesses. As a result, I am more drawn to pursue my relationship with Him. I want to see His goodness and love in all of my life, not just at church on Sunday morning or when I'm reading my Bible or when I'm feeling particularly "holy". What a joy to see God's hand in the little and the large!

My life right now is full of good things. Cultivating a life of gratitude is one of the many ways the Shepherd can use to gently lead me in paths of grace when times get rough, as I know they will at some future point. Nobody's existence is perfect or easy. I thank the Lord for the times of peace, though, when He renews my strength with blessings.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall.
But those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles;
They shall run and not grow weary; 
They shall walk and not faint.

~ Isaiah 40:28-31

26. Our first printer/copier machine

27. Frozen York Peppermint Patties

28. Basil growing in my herb pots

29. Husband studying the book of Joshua at the men's group

30. Guitar ensemble's final concert of the season at the retirement community

31. Clear notes from the mandolin

32. Baby birds singing to be fed in their nests

33. Air conditioning in the car

34. Happy dreams about the baby

35. Not having to set a wake-up alarm

36. Pancakes with boysenberry syrup

37. Last week of teaching before maternity leave begins

38. Conversation with my love during breakfast

39. The blessing of memorized Scripture

40. Friendly dog at Starbucks

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Little Things

Thankfulness for unexpected and mundane things this week...

... the feeling of completion and contribution at the end of a work week...

... the dappled and speckled red, orange, and yellows of a fresh peach...

... clean water to drink, ice water to quench deep thirst...

... sharing yard work with my dad in the dusky evening...

... a sweet gift of local honey and a hand-knit jar cozy to cover the jar (I'll drink my water and honey-tea from the jar once it's empty)...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Journey Into Joy

"There it is- the secret to living joy in every situation, the full life of eucharisteo... I would have to learn eucharisteo- learn to live it fully. Learn it like I know my skin, my face, the words on the end of my tongue. Like I know my own name. Learn how to be thankful- whether empty or full. Could the list teach me even that hard language? Over time? Gratitude in the midst of death and divorce and debt- that's the kind of language I've got to learn to speak- because that's the kind of life I'm living, the kind I have to solve. If living eucharisteo is the key to unlocking the mystery of life, this I want. I want the hunt, the long sleuth, the careful piecing together. To learn how to be grateful and happy, whether hands full or hands empty. That is a secret worth spending a life on learning." ~ Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

This year has been a journey for me into the meaning of Trust. Although I have been learning how to trust in many different ways, the main focus has been giving up my worries, fears, and pride so that I can come to fully trust in God. Because when I try to rely on my own weak, foolish self, nothing really works out well in the end. What is the point of learning Trust? To find relief from fear by relying on God's strength. But even more than that, to experience fullness of joy. Only love and perfect trust can bring true joy. I don't seek to replace fear with a feeling of power or dominance. Instead, I want to encounter the kind of joy that Paul talks about in Philippians 4:

"Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ."

Not be anxious about anything? That sounds wonderful. Complete, utter peace? That sounds even better. I want to "live fully", as Ann Voskamp writes, by letting go of my failures and worries. Rejoicing is a way of reaching with both hands for love. Joy comes from experiencing love. What kind of things should occupy my mind, then, if those are the sort of thoughts I wish to occupy my heart and mind with? Paul goes on:

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

The Lord of Hosts meets these standards completely as nothing else can. However, there are many small things in this life that can give us just a tiny glimpse of the joy yet to come. Learn to place my Trust in God... let Him take away my fears... draw closer to Him through prayer and the Word... taste  the depths of His love... and WITH THANKSGIVING come to Him. That is the definition of eucharisteo: "thanksgiving", also combining the Greek words "charis", grace, with "chara", joy. Thanksgiving brings gratitude, which turns me back to the One Who Provides.

This list of a thousand blessings, big and small, is part of my Trust journey. It is a delving deep into giving thanks for grace, blessings, so that I may draw closer to the Source of Joy.

1. Cold, clean drinking water in my sink 

2. Windows open for spring breezes 

3. A friend who is set on fire for shared gratitude 

4. New bathroom floor that doesn't leak 

5. Sleeping in on a Friday morning 

6. Chipmunk friend on the back porch 

7. Beautiful mother visiting for Mother's Day weekend 

8. Forest-friends themed bedroom for the baby-to-come 

9. Extra income from the garage sale 

10. Closets and rooms cleared of junk 

11. Family helping in times of need 

12. Fresh blueberries in pancakes 

13. Sharing words during church about God's grace in transitions 

14. New orange-autumn paint on the wooden toy box 

15. Sauteed onions sizzling in the cast-iron pan 

16. Nursery all prepared for the little one, just waiting to be occupied 

17. Antique store treasure hunts (successful) 

18. Celtic green place-mats 

19. Apple juice with ice when I am parched 

20. Substitute teachers for my guitar students during maternity leave 

21. Cool early mornings in May 

22. Biographies of true Christ followers 

23. My favorite black pen 

24. Husband sleeping peacefully 

25. Sweet flavor of Ovaltine for a glass of milk

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Open Places in Which to See

"With memories of gravestones, of combing fingers through tangled hair, I wonder too... if the rent in the canvas of our life backdrop, the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see.
To see through to God.
That that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endlessly crave." From Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts.

One of the Big reasons I wanted to start this project was because of this quote. Because this has been a soul-wrenching year in which I have seen the truth of what Voskamp writes. That the deep, dark places that seem scary and fearful are in fact places where we can see the grace of God. That is something for which I am truly thankful. I didn't think that I could be thankful for the heartache and pain... but this turns out to be a good place in which to see...

... the color orange...

 ... the possibility for joy in dark places...

... the beauty of honeysuckle dancing on the air...

... soul-nourishing laughter shared with good friends...

... the delight of curling up in a warm bed...

... the wonder of chickens...

I look forward to seeing and experiencing so many more things in which to delight and give thanks!