Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Monday, November 4, 2013

Thirty Days of Thankfulness #4: Fresh Baked Granola

Today I am also thankful for grace, for Jesus, for doctors, for a good boss, for sleep, and for my brother's laughter. But I only got a picture of the granola.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cultivating Gratitude: Slowing Down for What is Best

Sometimes the best thing I do in a day to find gratitude is SLOW DOWN.

With so much going on, the list of events and projects that I choose not to do is quite long, even though my calendar's days are still scribbled full of excitement! Suddenly I look at my gratitude notebook sitting by the computer on my desk and realize that a week has gone by without me adding to my list of blessings. Big oops. Then, looking back, I remember how much more I complained that week, how much more selfish I was, how much more quick to anger, how much more prone to forget to center my thoughts around the Word. Even bigger oops.

The minutes fly by, the days are a whisper.

Am I prioritizing my time correctly?

A morning begun with the Words of peace, truth, grace, and compassion is the recipe for a good day where I can step outside the little frustrations, handle the problems, and focus on the good. Bringing my attention to gratitude right away when I get up is the way to set the tone, because nothing brings my heart into the right place better than thanking Him for everything He has provided. I need to slow down so I can remember what is best.

For the next month, I'll be writing for NaNoWriMo, so blog entries here will be postponed until December. But writing down my blessings, Lord willing, is a priority that comes before any other writing. If I am grateful, then I am able to see the world and the One where they are meant to be. That is more important than anything.

~ Stepdad fixing the fuel lines in our car, saving us a ton of money we would have had to spend to fix it

~ Fall break, a chance to stay home with Harmony

~ Camping trip in the beautiful autumn weather

~ Catching a cold on the weekend, not the work week (is this really a blessing? at least I didn't have to miss any work and could focus on getting better!)

~ Sister enthusiastically preparing for NaNoWriMo with me

~ Gaining a great appreciation of Bach as one of my students learns new music

~ Knitting Harmony's winter hat in record time while recuperating from illness (see, getting sick this weekend had blessings)

~ Learning anew how deeply we are loved in Christ, even when we don't deserve it (Romans 5)




Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Cultivating Gratitude: I am the Ungraceful One

Sometimes the hardest lessons come from your own family. Those who are closest to you see the bare bones of your soul, and sometimes it just isn't a pretty sight. My lack of Grace to them, my lack of Grace towards myself, my lack of allowing Grace to work in my heart... it's only when I'm rolling around in the mud that I even realize that I've been knocked down once more by my dark side. Blindness to Grace is a terrible state.

Their Grace shown to me is what brings me back to my knees, oh-so-ready to kneel before the Grace-Giver and beg for renewal. And, you know, for the millionth or billionth time, my prayer is answered. Not harshly, not begrudgingly, but gently I am led back to the path. The words of the old hymn echo through my thankful ears- 'Twas grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

~ Flowers from my sweet neighbor, a surprise on my doorstep

~ Two home-made rubber band bracelets from a young student who wants me to keep up with the current trends

~ Baby kisses

~ A personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe. How cool is THAT?

~ Clean water to drink in my own home

~ Waking up healthy and happy between my daughter and husband

~ Getting a discount at the store where my sister works

~ Harmony and Em dancing in the kitchen, music blaring, hands in the air



Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cultivating Gratitude: Thank You, Mumford and Sons

When I honestly look at the state of my heart, it can be depressing. No matter how good I think I am there is always more "messed-upedness", as I call it, hiding (or not hiding) around the corner.

Roll away your stone, I'll roll away mine
Together we will see what we will find
Don't leave me alone at this time
For I am afraid of what I will discover inside

Last week I couldn't find gratefulness. Nothing particular was wrong. I was getting over a cold, Harmony was a bit fussy, and I could tell as I looked out into the morning light that my attitude was one of bitterness, defeat, and selfishness.

Darkness is a harsh term don't you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see

I first turned to friends on Facebook and asked them to tell me what they were grateful for. And, you know, the outpouring of blessings they listed was the initial jarring out of my ungratefulness that I needed. Secondly, I saw reminders all around my apartment, quotes and Scripture and hymns, that speak of What is True. Thirdly, the songs of Mumford and Sons invigorated my musician's soul while their lyrics brought me to my knees as they spoke of the reality of Love, both now and to come, both human and heavenly.

It seems that all my bridges have been burned
But you say that's exactly how this grace thing works
It's not the long walk home that will change this heart
But the welcome I receive with every start

Fourthly, I was drawn back to my list of gifts. Sometimes the notebook I write blessings in gets covered by papers and junk on my desk, and then I forget to be thankful. So the daily task of dusting off of my heart to find gratitude once more begins anew.

Stars hide your fires
These here are my desires
And I will give them up to you this time around
And so I'll be found
With my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul

Everything around me is full of reminders that I am blessed. Thank God for the gift of open eyes to see them! Or, rather, thank God for OPENING my eyes to see them. Every day is a new chance to be thankful. Every day brings a new opportunity to bow before the Giver of all good and acknowledge him.

~ Learning from the calm, organized, kind leadership of other women

~ Beautiful could-not-ask-for-better weather on the day of our church's anniversary picnic

~ Going to the Strange Folk Festival (after four years of missing it)

~ Enjoying the laughter and energy of Harmony as she learns to play hide and seek

~ Postcards in the mail from friends

~ New electric guitar that Chris won in a work raffle

~ Learning again the importance of not judging others (Romans 2:1-4)

~ My student Ana playing in Jason Vieaux's master class

~ Harmony waking up and coming to find me with a smile

*lyrics from the Mumford and Son's song "Roll Away Your Stone"




Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cultivating Gratitude: Loving Her Even When

It can be so muddling, this parenting gig. There are moments when Harmony and I cuddle together, gazing into each other's eyes, where I feel that I was made to be a mother. And then there are times when all I can do is walk out of the room, leaving my screaming child kicking on the bedroom carpet or kitchen floor, trying to calm myself down so that at least one of us doesn't lose our temper. In those instances of Harmony's rebellion the sad state of my heart tells me that I am not cut out for this. Somebody else needs to come take over; I obviously don't have what it takes to parent this child correctly, or I would not feel like screaming louder than she is and I would LOVE HER RIGHT NOW WITH PERFECT LOVE, even when she is flinging her tiny heels and fists up at me in defiance.

Then the guilt is compounded when I remember that God loves us even as we turn from him.

Well, good thing I'm not god.

I am being taught a big lesson. Just because I am angry with my daughter in this moment does not mean that I do not love her. I still love her. I would still leap to her defense if she were to run out into the street or get knocked down on the playground. She is still my Bug, my Mininsky. It's not like she's even at an age where all her outbursts are related to me! Teething, frustration that her little hands and body won't do what she wants, confusion at the big world, hunger, thirst, the inability to communicate what she wants... the meltdowns that happen are many. I need to not take them personally. And that is why writing down the good things about our relationship is so crucial. When I am most aggravated, that is when I need to be reminded of how much I truly do love her.



The sweet curling up we do together in the mornings after she awakes.

Reading books by the dozen, or one book over and over again, as she wiggles happily in my lap.

Her huge smile when I come home from teaching.

The way she "helps" me cook and prepare meals.

How she jumps up and down on the bed when I wave the blankets.

Her observant, serious gaze when we go on nature walks.

Our dance parties while listening to "Mary Poppins" or "The Pirates of Penzance".

Her fearlessness in approaching stairs (totally freaks mama out).

The games of hide and seek we play.

All the little blessings. So many to be grateful for when it comes to loving who my daughter is and who she is growing up to be. The gratitudes turn me from frustration to compassion, as I am slowly taught how to conquer my own lack of patience so that I can help her develop patience of her own.

Thankful today for my girl.


~ Friends who show me grace when I make mistakes

~ Someone turning in my glasses unbroken when I lost them outside the studio

~ Lunch date with Chris using the gift card I won in the library raffle

~ The neighborhood's 100th anniversary, autumn festival, and parade

~ Safety after two extremely close calls while driving this week

~ Learning how to sing a harmony line on my own

~ God teaching me (slowly) how to walk according to the Spirit (Romans 8:9-10)

~ Learning how to wake up early so that I can have time to read, write, pray, and think before the day begins

~ A new soup recipe pleasantly tasty and easy to make

~ Learning to love my Bug no matter what



Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Green


Cultivating Gratitude: Prayers Answered and Unanswered

Each week I will be linking up on Tuesdays with Rachel at her blog, LusaOrganics-Clean, as she cultivates gratitude and invites others to join with her there!

The ways of prayer are mysterious. Sometimes I pray fervently for years that a particular thing would or would not occur/keep occurring, and the prayer is never answered. Other times I am shocked when I realize that a prayer has been answered and I almost missed it. And sometimes I rejoice when a prayer is fulfilled like a miracle before my very eyes.

Since I was eight years old, I've prayed to be freed from performance anxiety. Years of training as a music teacher and professional musician have taught me multiple ways to alleviate, work through, and compensate for this anxiety, but it always hovers in the background at some level. It is a frustrating, sometimes debilitating weakness that affects my vocation. And yet my prayer that I would conquer performance fears has never been answered in the way I would like.

One of my other weaknesses is lack of patience. This mostly comes out with myself or those I am close to, especially my family. It's one of the first things I remember my mother telling me I needed to correct. She warned me when I was very young that if I didn't learn to be in control of my temper and have patience, then I would suffer more and more as I grew up, because the older you get, the more patience you need. She was completely right. And I have suffered consequences as I continue to learn (the hard way) how much I need patience.

This week I realized again that my constant hope for relief from performance anxiety is still unrequited. The eighteen year prayer will continue on.

However, this week brought a breath of new life as I discovered that God has begun building reserves of patience into my character that I never knew were possible.

There's nothing like a teething toddler who refuses to eat or sleep to make me pull my hair out. Yet while there have been moments of frustration, patience has kept me calm, compassionate, and gentle. Ten years ago I would have said "this is not me, this mother quietly soothing her child instead of rushing out of the room screaming!" But God is good, and my prayer is slowly being answered.

Why my prayer for patience and not my prayer for help with performance anxiety?

Perhaps my anxiety is keeping me humble. Perhaps God is working change in my character in subtle ways that I don't see yet. Perhaps God knew that I needed to develop patience now with my daughter so that we can build a good relationship while she is young.

God is good all the time. All the time God is good. He is working out His plan, even when I don't understand it.


~ A 50% off coupon for a local thrift store, helping us buy cold weather clothes

~ Harmony's first guitar (for $3.50!)

~ The fellowship, wisdom, kindness, and prayers of our small group

~ Musical gathering in a friend's backyard, instruments everywhere, voices raised in song

~ My poetry being published by Kindred Magazine

~ Sister finally gaining new employment at a great workplace

~ Writing letters to the Compassion International child that I am co-sponsoring

~ The blessing of an all-day rain

~ Gently being taught by God how to have patience

~ Determination to build my house upon the rock, not on the sand (Matthew 7:24-27)

~ Fresh tomatoes from my neighbor's plants




Sunday, September 15, 2013

How to forget your One Word and then remember it again

Eager to shake off the laziness of the summer, I am about to dive into the book of Romans with the women in Bible study. Blithely I turn to Romans 1, settle in to my cozy nest on the couch, and begin to read: "... concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace..."

And a little light goes off in my head.

What was that again?

"To those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."

There it is.

Grace.

How easily I forget. How could my memory slip so far that I forgot about Grace being my Word for 2013? It must have been weeks since I thought about it. Ugh. So much for growing in holiness this year. But rather than wallow in guilt, I need to just get back on track, renewing my efforts to explore how God wants Grace to change my life.

Time to look again for Grace in the little things and the big things.

Time to turn back to thankfulness for all that He has Graciously blessed me with today.

~ Red panda pajamas against the red high chair, a burst of color

~ Harmony reaching out to hold my hand when we walk

~ Successful fund-raising concert for Compassion International

~ Making new friends with the flashmob group

~ The return of migrating birds to my bird feeder

~ Fresh peaches and raspberries on sale at the store

~ Resting in the joy that I am CALLED to belong to Jesus Christ (Romans 1:5-6)

~ Beautiful rose-scented soap from a local shop, thankful for a gift certificate 

~ Getting back into a routine as the school year begins

~ The best Mexican food in the midwest for my birthday 

~ The fellowship, wisdom, kindness, and prayers of our small group

~ Our first camping trip as a family 

~ Beginning to memorize the entire chapter of Romans 8


~ The first hint of autumn in the air in the mornings

Looking forward to the growth and change of the new season

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Down One Thousand Gratitudes

This is how to begin appreciating the moments again, how I am settling back into listing one thousand things I am grateful for:

~ Realize that if you live in America and have a home, car, and job, then you are among some of the wealthiest people in the world. Even though we struggle financially, I still know that my family is truly blessed here in the U.S. compared to many in other countries.

~ Live deliberately with your eyes open, looking for the positive, the beautiful, the lessons learned hard, the interesting, the grace-filled peace, loving interactions, thoughtful times, refreshment. 

~ Be aware of what is happening NOW. If you look around, wherever you are, there's an extremely good chance that you can find something, at least one thing (if not many things), to be grateful for in your life. Try it.... what are you thankful for right now?

~ At the end of the day, even a day where everything seemed to go wrong, try to come up with at least three things you can hold as gratitudes. Did you have access to clean water? Give thanks. Did you drink coffee this morning? Give thanks. Did you have gas to put in your car? Give thanks. Were you surfing the web on your smartphone? Give thanks. Were you able to read because you had schooling opportunities as a child? Give thanks. Can you read a Bible without the government arresting you and dragging you off to jail? Give thanks. Can you walk safely down your street without being in fear of your life? Give thanks. Is there food in your refrigerator? Give thanks. Do you have time for leisure activities? Give thanks. 

~ Eventually, become more detailed. Give thanks for a poem read at an opportune moment. Give thanks for a prayer answered. Give thanks for a kind word spoken by a friend right when you needed it. Give thanks for discovering new depths of patience with your children. Give thanks for experiencing greater awareness of God's love. Give thanks for a beautiful sunset.

~ Write them down. When you are feeling like there is no point to getting up in the morning (we all have those mornings), take your list out and read what you have written. Be encouraged by all the blessings you have, and let it help you turn humbly, gratefully to the One Who Gives All Things.

~ Once you begin finding gratitude and being deliberate about seeking specific things to be thankful for, then your outlook may begin to change. Blessings appear everywhere. Just as there can be lovely flowers hidden in the darkest forest, in the hardest times, there are always blessings. We just need to train our eyes to see them.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Starting Again

Summer is a time of loose schedules, last-minute plans, sudden trips to the pool in hot weather, outings with friends in the morning, surprise trips to national parks. Needless to say, I am very much undisciplined in the summer. My last post on this blog was at the end of June, and I'm sad to say that my 1,000 gifts journal has taken a back seat since then as well. Time to say goodbye to the easy-breezy non-schedule of summertime.

Not that I have neglected gratefulness this summer! It is becoming easier to bow my head during the moment and give thanks for something, fully in the present. Those moments just weren't written down. Time to go back to my discipline of documenting these times of gratitude.

My official "school year schedule" starts again this week. Leading music for the Sunday school children, teaching guitar ensemble at the studio (along with the regular lessons that go year-round), leading the music at the women's Bible study and relishing our study in the book of Romans, a parents and babies group that I've been invited to join, the shortening days, the lengthening nights, the color on the trees. Time to settle back in to the welcome routine that brings order to our days.

Are you writing down your 1,000 gifts? Have you tried to begin in the past but let it fall by the wayside? Would you consider starting again with me?

May my eyes and heart be open to the presence and gifts of God today; may my heart bow in thanks to the Heavenly King in the midst of hard things. ~ Mighty Violet


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Blessings of the Lord's Day

Another week has gone, and I have been preserved
in my going out,
in my coming in.

Day and night are thine;
they are also mine from thee-
the night to rid me of the cares of the day,
to refresh my weary body,
to renew my natural strength;
the day to summon me to new activities,
to give me opportunity to glorify thee,
to serve my generation,
to acquire knowledge, holiness, eternal life.

Thine has been the vigilance that has turned threatened evils aside;
Thine the supplies that have nourished me;
Thine the comforts that have indulged me;
Thine the relations and friends that have delighted me;
Thine the means of grace which have edified me;
Thine the Book, which, amidst all my enjoyments,
has told me that this is not my rest,
that in all successes one thing alone is needful,
to love my Saviour.

But one day above all days is made especially for thy honour
and my improvement;
The sabbath reminds me of thy rest from creation,
of the resurrection of my saviour,
of his entering into repose.

I long for that blissful communion of thy people
in thy eternal house in the perfect kingdom;
These are they that follow the Lamb;
May I be of their company!

Give me in rich abundance
the blessings the Lord's Day was designed to impart;
May my heart be fast bound against worldly thoughts or cares;
Flood my mind with peace beyond understanding;
may my meditations be sweet,
my acts of worship life, liberty, joy,
my drink the streams that flow from thy throne,
my food the precious Word,
my defence the shield of faith,
and may my heart be more knit to Jesus.

~ The Valley of Vision, excerpts from the Lord's Day Morning, the Lord's Day Prayer, and the Lord's Day Evening

Very few people seem to follow the Sabbath rest pattern anymore. Set aside an entire day to NOT work?! How dare we even think of such a thing. Life is too busy for that. Yet if the Ruler of the Universe can rest, maybe a human could benefit from following His example. Refreshment for the week ahead, sweet peace from the work of the week past, reflection and meditation for the state of my soul, prayer and worship and love for the Keeper.

Sunday seems like a good time to gather up gratitudes of the week prior. May the day lift up my heart to see myself, needy, hopeful, tired as I am, in the light of the Light-Dweller.

~ Harmony's twelve-month doctor's appointment going well

~ Tomatoes on my plants

~ No more coughing from anyone; the sickness finally defeated

~ The first watermelon of the season

~ Thrashing around with the book of James, eager for insight

~ Beginning the book of Psalms once more

~ Lovely lunch date with my mom 

~ Misunderstandings smoothed over without arguments or discord occurring

~ Discipline to get up early

~ The start of the Love Notes project 

~ Water play on the apartment patio

~ Art time with Chris after Harmony goes to bed

~ Spring thunderstorms

Following the Path Where It Leads






Saturday, June 22, 2013

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Thy will is supreme in heaven and earth,
and all beings are creatures of thy power.

There is no blessing we implore but thou art able to give,
hast promised to give,
hast given already to countless multitudes,
all unworthy and guilty like ourselves;
Make us willing to receive the supply of our need from thy bounty.

Thou art the inviting one, may we hearken to thee;
the almighty instructor, teach us to live to thee;
the light-dweller, inaccessible to man and angels,
hiding thyself behind the elements of creation,
but known to us in Jesus,
Possess our minds with the grandeur of thy perfections.

~ The Valley of Vision, Seventh Day Morning and Evening excerpts

The end of the week. Saturdays always feel like the end of the week to me, yet Mondays feel like the beginning. Sunday is an amorphous day that shines a wonderful color I can't describe. By the time Saturday comes around, my soul is tired, my body is tired, the things of God have begun to fade in my mind. So Saturday is for wrapping up loose ends. 

On Saturday, after the toils of the week, my heart is usually at its most ungrateful point. 

But the blessing of renewal is at hand. My eyes will be refreshed to see blessings anew. It is a mindset of being open to grace, to approach the throne with bowed head. "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love," says one of my favorite hymns. Sometimes in relief, sometimes hesitating through selfishness, sometimes reluctant because of guilt, sometimes eager in joy, Sunday is the time to place my straying soul once more in the Keeper's hands. 

Looking back at the week, how much I have stumbled. But how generously I have been lifted up, blessed beyond belief by the Inviting One! I have fallen into old sins; but the more I give up my own desires, the more the Almighty Instructor gently gives me His strength to stand firm. When my sight is fixed on the perfect radiance of the Light-Dweller, my body moves in obedience to a beautiful love, knowing peace, finding patience, growing in faith.

Looking back at the week, how much I have been blessed. 

Looking ahead to the next week, how much will I choose to focus on the blessings, to let my life rest with the Keeper instead of trying to do things my way? 

Following the Path Where It Leads



Friday, June 21, 2013

Grateful, or the Opposite

We thank thee for thy unspeakable gift.

We are lost: but in it thou hast presented to us

a full, free and eternal salvation;
weak; but here we learn that help is found in one that is mighty,
poor: but in him we discover unsearchable riches,
blind: but we find he has treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

We hope in thy Word.

There we see thee, not on a fearful throne of judgement
But on a throne of grace
waiting to be gracious, and exalted in mercy.
There we hear thee saying, not "Depart ye cursed,"
but "look unto me and be ye saved,
for I am God and there is none else".

~ The Valley of Vision, Day Six Morning and Evening excerpts


One of the biggest decisions I have had to make lately is the choice to either be grateful or be the opposite: resentful, angry at the hard situations that occur, grumbling, annoyed, frustrated, worried, frantic. 


The baby won't go to sleep for hours past her bedtime? I can either throw her pacifier across the room and swear under my breath, or I can cuddle her close, breathing in the soft baby smell, love that I can spend time with my daughter, and gently soothe her into dreamland. (Both scenarios have occurred recently.)


Come home from a long evening of teaching to find that nothing was accomplished on the short list of to-do's I'd begged them to complete so that dinner could be quick to prepare? I can exchange sharp words, ignoring their arguments of why the tasks were not completed, or I can give a little grace, accepting their help to cook dinner and eat together happily a little later than usual.


Find out that we've spent more on groceries this month than we realized, and our bank account is suffering because of it? I can play the blame game and lie in bed awake all night worrying, or I can simply set better boundaries with our money, pulling the belt a little tighter to keep from making the same mistake again. 


Hard things happen. What matters is how we view them. What matters is how we handle the troubles, whether we choose to accept peace, knowing that we are in possession of the greatest gift of all that can never be taken, or choose to push God away, rejecting blessings because the hard things engulf our eyesight. 


Each situation in life is an opportunity to be grateful or be the opposite. Each moment is a chance to see God as either a harsh force ready to hurl mishap and judgement haphazardly, or the loving, holy, exalted Keeper of my soul sitting on the throne with grace in his nail-pierced hands. 


How are you choosing to see today?



Following the Path Where It Leads

The Start

The First Day: There was Evening, and There was Morning

The Second Day: Thy Bounty is Seen

The Third Day: Peace from the Keeper

The Fourth Day: Blessed be Thy Name


The Fifth Day: Faith for the Thousandth Time


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Faith for the Thousandth Time

Thou hast witnessed to us thy grace and mercy
in the bounties of nature,
in the fullness of thy providence,
in the revelations of Scripture,
in the gift of thy Son,
in the proclamation of the gospel.

Bring us into that state which attracts thine eye,
and prepare us to receive the proofs of thy love.

May we be rich in faith,
strong in faith,
live by faith,
walk by faith,
experience the joy of faith,
do the work of faith,
hope through faith.

Perceiving nothing in ourselves,
may we find in the Saviour
wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption.

~ The Valley of Vision, Fifth Day Morning and Evening excerpts

Talking with a friend last night, late late late over frozen custard, we pondered what it meant to stand strong in the face of any kind of temptation. "I'm pretty confident that my beliefs are firm," said my friend. "Even in the middle of a situation that would test my resolve, I would hope that I'd follow my moral convictions and overcome temptation."

"But what about the tenth time the temptation happened? The twentieth? What happens when our convictions are worn down, when we start justifying slip-ups in thought, then in deed?" was the next question.

We were silent, thinking about how weak we individually knew ourselves to be. Our conversation was about one aspect of character, but the greater implications affect my whole existence. When the going gets tough, will I stand faithful the tenth time I'm tested? The twentieth? The hundredth? Do I really have faith that can move a mole-hill, let alone a mountain?

Let's not count the past moments when my courage to stand up for what I believe has already been oh-too-easily cast aside out of fear, the desire for approval, uncertainty, laziness, selfishness.

This human mind-body of mine is frail.

The older I get, the more I realize that I am already more than worn down: I need wisdom; need strength; need hope; need change. I lean on the Spirit like the arm of a helping friend throughout the day, because my own spirit fails me too often.

I guess that's faith?

Today I am grateful for the Keeper, who gives faith to stand strong even the thousandth time I am tested.

Following the Path Where It Leads
The Start

The First Day: There was Evening, and There was Morning

The Second Day: Thy Bounty is Seen

The Third Day: Peace from the Keeper

The Fourth Day: Blessed be Thy Name


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Blessed be Thy Name

Every perfection adorns thy nature and sustains thy throne;
The heavens and earth are thine,
The world is thine and its fullness.
Thy power created the universe from nothing;
Thy wisdom has managed all its multiple concerns,
presiding over nations, families, individuals.
Thy goodness is boundless;
all creatures wait on thee
are supplied by thee,
are satisfied in thee.

Teach us to place our happiness in thee, the blessed God...
Thou hast attended to our happiness more than we can do;
Though we are fallen creatures thou hast not neglected us.

Let us judge our Christianity, not only by our dependence upon Jesus,
but by our love to him,
our conformity to him,
our knowledge of him...

knowing that thou hast said,
'I will never leave thee nor forsake thee'.

Blessed be thy name!

~ The Valley of Vision, Fourth Day Morning and Evening excerpts

I will be the first to admit that in the throne of my heart almost anything else EXCEPT Christ reigns on any given day. My own needs usually hold the rule; sometimes music is worshiped, other times my family, my career, the opinion of others. But why do I run after what cannot fill me or save me? If I try to rest my full weight on these things, they collapse, of course.

In the end, everything will fail. All that I've tried to wrap up my identity in will be broken, gone. Naked we came into this world. Naked we will leave.

Unless my identity is in Christ.

The One who holds the power of the stars also holds my soul. Frail, fallen, temporary being that I am, my life is his! There is eternal hope in those eight words: "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." What blessings of hope come from this assurance!

Blessed be Thy name!

Following the Path Where It Leads

The Start

The First Day: There was Evening, and There was Morning

The Second Day: Thy Bounty is Seen

The Third Day: Peace from the Keeper


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Peace from the Keeper

The universe with all its myriad creatures is thine,
made by thy word,
upheld by thy power,
governed by thy will.
But thou art also the Father of mercies,
the God of all grace,
the bestower of all comfort,
the protector of the saved.

Thy greatness is unsearchable,
Thy name most excellent,
Thy glory above the heavens...

We bless thee for preservation, supplies, mercies,
and to thee, keeper of souls, we commit all we are and have.

~ The Valley of Vision, Third Morning and Evening excerpts


At the end of a long day, my daughter relaxes her body completely in my arms when I put her to bed. She trusts me to hold her, sing to her, nurse her, sit with her as she drifts into sleep. Then it clicks: just as she finds peace in knowing that I am her protector, her comforter, so I can rest my soul in the hands of the Keeper.

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives; do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." The song-verse that we learned with the children in church this Sunday rings through my head. Today I wish to find this simple peace in knowing that the Keeper of my soul, the Keeper of the Universe, is in charge.

Peace for my soul.

Rest in His plan.

Mercy and grace.

Life daily sustained.

So many gifts.

Following the Path Where It Leads

The Start

The First Day: There was Evening, and There was Morning

The Second Day: Thy Bounty is Seen

Monday, June 17, 2013

Thy Bounty is Seen

Infinitely great and glorious art thou.
We are thy offspring and thy care.
Thy hands have made and fashioned us.
Thou hast watched over us with more than parental love,
more than maternal tenderness.

Thou hast made summer and winter, day and night;
each of these revolutions serves our welfare
and is full of thy care and kindness.
Thy bounty is seen
in the relations that train us,
the laws that defend us,
the homes that shelter us,
the raiment that comforts us,
the continuance of our health, members, senses,
understanding, memory, affection, will.

But as stars fade before the rising sun,
thou hast eclipsed all these benefits
in the wisdom and grace that purposed
redemption by Jesus thy Son.

~ The Valley of Vision, Second Day Morning and Evening excerpts

So many blessings. So much to be grateful for in my life; truly my cup overflows with good things. If only I could hold onto this feeling, this present knowledge, of how very blessed I am, so that whenever I have the desire to complain or grumble then those ugly thoughts will crumble under the weight of gratitude.

The Bible says that perfect love drives away fears. Perhaps gratitude drives away worry. And stress, apprehension, tension, and unrest. Pride too, maybe, because when I am honest, the realization comes that everything good I have is a gift, not made by me, not because of anything I deserved, but a beautiful blessing of grace by the eternal Gift-Giver, the Holy-Redeemer, the One who loves more than a father and cares for us more tenderly than a mother.

So many blessings.

Following the Path Where It Leads

The Start

The First Day: There was Evening, and there was Morning


Sunday, June 16, 2013

There Was Evening, and There Was Morning

O Lord, we commune with thee every day,
but week days are worldly days,
and secular concerns reduce heavenly impressions.
We bless thee therefore for the day sacred to our souls
when we can wait upon thee and be refreshed...

O God, we bless thee, our creator, preserver, benefactor, teacher,
for opening to us the volume of nature
where we may read and consider thy works.

Let us not live uncertain of what we are, of where we are going.
Bear witness with our spirit that we are thy children;
And enable each one to say, 'I know my redeemer'.
Bless us with a growing sense of this salvation.
If already enlightened in Christ, may we see greater things;
If quickened, may we have more abundant life;
If renewed, let us go on from strength to strength.

~ The Valley of Vision, First Day Morning and Evening excerpts

How many times do I feel piety on Sunday morning, then wake up on Monday to snap at my husband, sigh over the dirty dishes, grumble about changing diapers, and complain as I anticipate the challenges of the week ahead? How I desperately need to learn how to live each day, all day, confident in who God truly is and who I am truly meant to be.

Religion can be an outward show at a prescribed time, a forced way of behaving for others to see. I don't want to just be a Sunday morning believer. Real love for God is keeping the mind and soul fixed on him when it is most difficult, when I most want to serve myself. It is letting Him be my every-minute Teacher. The Spirit whispers, "is this love?" and the walls crumble, leaving my heart tender and defenseless.

What am I?

A child.

Open.

Looking for greater things.

Waiting.

Growing.

Blessed.
Following the Path Where It Leads

Here is how it Started. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Start

Thy mercies have brought me to the dawn of another day.
Vain will be its gift unless I grow in grace,
increase in knowledge,
ripen for spiritual harvest.
Let me this day know thee as thou art,
love thee supremely,
serve thee wholly,
admire thee fully.
Through grace let my will respond to thee,
knowing that power to obey is not in me,
but that thy free love alone enables me to serve thee.

Here then is my empty heart, overflow it with thy choicest gifts;
Here is my blind understanding,
chase away its mists of ignorance.
O ever watchful Shepherd,
lead, guide, tend me this day.

~ The Valley of Vision, Morning

~ My first Mother's day

~ Peace with enemies for those whose ways seek to please the Lord (Prov. 16:7)

~ If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31b)

~ Pentecost, the most beautiful Sunday of the year, hearing the Word spoken in many languages during church

~ Visiting my favorite Missouri State Park, Elephant Rocks

~ A visit from Nick before he is deployed

~ Harmony walking and running

~ Sister moving in with us

~ Listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit

~ Keeping my temper

~ Learning humility when I need to apologize for wrongdoing

~ Finding a favorite CD that I thought had been lost

~ The best dinner I've ever had the Melting Pot

~ The joy of sharing a popsicle with Harmony and Chris at the Farmer's Market

~ Sweet forgiveness from my family when I stumble

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Wedding Feasts and First Dances

A dear friend was married this weekend and I was honored to be a part of her bridal party. These are moments that are full of joy and delight and an almost ecstasy as you watch your friends enter into a new journey that opens new insights into their hearts, new moments of glory, new depths of sin, old wounds and battle scars, and ultimately points them back to the hope of an eternal wedding feast when the Church is presented as a beautifully adorned bride, brought before the Lamb and arrayed in a stunning righteousness that is His own and His alone to bestow... I am thankful for the wedding dress that is mine to wear forever...

... for a grandfather who grew roses and was the first man to bring me flowers, who cultivated a love of plants, flowers, and digging in the earth...

... for rest and sleep and quiet places that restore my soul...

... for small steps towards wholeness...

... for a day off work...

... for renewed friendships and the time and ability to invest in them...

... for roses...

... for the English Country garden sitting on my kitchen table; for peonies, mums, hydrangeas, wildflower beauty...

... for the opportunity and ability to give good gifts to friends...

... for clothes that fit and a body that begins to make more sense to me...

... for the Cupid Shuffle and boldness to join in at least once...

... for free art...

... for the man who boldly initiated a dance and then patiently tried to teach me how to dance the waltz...

... for friends who are willing to help me move...

... for good yet simple foods...

... for the color green and coffee and beautiful gardens...

... for rolled down windows and evening rambles...


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Learning to Let Go of Time

Lately God has been teaching me to give up my time.

I savor the golden coins of my waking hours. Much of my time is carefully designated into a weekly/daily schedule so that a small part of my day, the set aside, scraped together, intentionally saved minutes when I can be alone, is available in order to do the things that bring me life: poring over my Bible, pondering and adding to my list of one thousand gifts, writing in my journal, writing online, penning letters by hand, creating art, knitting, reading a book.

Joy and refreshment come from time spent with others. Family time, friend time, husband time, mother-daughter time, sister time. And even though I am by nature an extroverted person, my heart's true means of revitalization comes from these golden moments of aloneness. Perhaps if I was more spiritual, I would find that simply communing face to face with God was the complete source of my soul's renewal, but I find (and hope) that, as Francis Schaeffer said, I use my creativity "to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself."

Time is precious. It slips away. Since becoming a mother, I am even more aware of how time flies, as my daughter crawls, then walks, then talks within a year. Alone time becomes a priceless gem! Tasks take more time with an almost-toddler. Getting ready to leave the apartment is an arduous process, one that used to take a few minutes, and now can stretch into half an hour, what with re-filling the baby's bag with necessary items, one more diaper change, getting water bottles and snacks, trying not to rush tiny curious hands through the process, enduring the inevitable tantrum when she is put into the car seat... it takes a while.

Everyday tasks, my loving family, events with friends, conversations over cups of tea, grocery store runs, teaching students, and all the rest... sometimes it feels like my time can't be stretched any further.

Then God tosses a surprise into my serene plans.

A car breaks down.

A friend needs help.

An illness crashes plans for the week.

The baby, teething, refuses to sleep at night.

Sometimes good things, sometimes hard things make my plans spin, whirl, and settle again into a new pattern.

I used to resent this.

Now I am learning to accept it.

In the midst of this truth slowly blossoming in my heart, God (once again) sends a timely message straight to my ears in the form of a man's words spoken from a pulpit: "Humility is this: letting go of what you know, your own agenda, to hold onto what you cannot control. Humility does not give up; it gives over; it is a transferring of confidence in strength in myself to confidence in the strength of the Lord."

Is this what you're trying to teach me, Lord?

I try to cling to time. Sometimes I feel like Gollum stroking the One Ring: "My precious, my preciousssss... must be in control of my own time! Mustn't let anything disrupt my plans, precioussss. I neeeeeeds that alone time! I neeeeds that careful schedule!"

And yet the Word says, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you."

Pride, inner self-sufficiency, tends to put my own thoughts on the throne. Letting God use my time according to his purposes puts the crown back on Him.

Humility is working its way into my soul, a smaller view of my own importance. A loosening of my hands on the time that has been graciously bestowed upon me. And yet I know that in the Great Dance of Life, I am considered to be of utmost value. Why else would the Creator of the Universe send his only Son to die for me? So there is comfort in the love of Christ even as he gently lifts my eyes from staring down at my busy calender and up towards his purposes.

Thank you, Lord, for the blessed gift of time.

~ Springtime rain making the world green again

~ Keeping my temper through a long night of Harmony teething

~ New herbs, flowers, and tomato plants growing in pots on the patio

~ Green smoothies from mom's place for Harmony and I to enjoy

~ Hearing GRACE over and over again this weekend, just as I need it the most

~ Finding perfect summer clothes for a shockingly low price at the new thrift store.

~ The beautiful completion of the study of Hebrews with the women at church

~ Rejoicing in hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:2)

~ Harmony beginning to walk

~ Making it safely home in the car through rain-flooded streets during a stormy night

~ The re-opening of the farmer's market for local produce

~ Generous gifts of hand-me-downs and toys for Harmony from friends

~ Joy for those who plan peace (Prov. 12:20b)


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Surprise!

It was a huge surprise to find out that our blog was nominated for the Liebster Award by Under the Big Blue Sky! Honestly, we didn't think that anyone really read this blog.  Life has been very full lately as we traverse the seasons of warm weather, walking babies, demanding jobs, and church celebrations of Easter. Although the blog hasn't been updated much recently, we were encouraged to see that someone still cared : )  As we find our way back into posting our thoughts and blessings, it is a good outward motivator to remember that we are part of a larger community! Thank you, Jennifer, for giving us a loving nudge.



Here are the rules of the Liebster Award:

     1. Proudly display the Liebster badge!
     2. Thank the person who nominated you.
     3. Share eleven random things about yourself.
     4. Nominate eleven blogs/bloggers worthy of the award (who also have less than 200 followers).
     5. Answer the eleven questions asked of you.
     6. Pose eleven questions to your nominees.

Because this blog is written by two authors, the random facts and questions will be answered separately. The blog nominations and questions given to our nominees will be shared together. Heather is getting back into blogging at Sparky's World and Alyssa blogs at Playing Life's Guitar.



Eleven Random Things About Alyssa

1. I am very blessed, and constantly thankful for my blessings, but my written List of 1,000 Gifts is currently only at 186. Time to get going once more!

2. I enjoy sci-fi stories. My husband and I have been occasionally watching season three of Star Trek: Voyager. We always skip episodes that sound too depressing!

3. I only listened to classical music (by choice) until I was almost fourteen years old.

4. Someday I mean to become more proficient at identifying birds and bird calls; my knowledge right now is rudimentary, but I would like to know all the midwest birds, at least. I used to know the northwest birds, since that's where I lived until age eighteen.

5. From the time I was eleven years old, I used to sit on the rooftop of my house to read, look at the clouds, and think. There is something about rooftops that provides new perspective and calm. (Thank you, mom, for not objecting!)

6. Although I enjoy being close to large bodies of water, boats are not my friend. And not because I get seasick... it freaks me out to be ON the water.

7. I am joining the ranks of thousands of parents (probably millions) who have the book "Goodnight, Moon" memorized.

8. We have sporadic dance parties in our house.

9. One summer I made money by picking wild huckleberries that grow in the mountains of Idaho and selling them to local fruit stands. It was quite time-consuming, but they are highly sought after, so the price was great!

10. Someday I would like to start a school.

11. I earned the bronze and silver Congressional Awards in high school. Didn't make it to gold, though, because I was too focused on music by that point.


Eleven Random Things About Heather

1. My earliest musical memories are Delta Blues and Broadway musicals and Sunday School songs. This pretty much sums up my personality.

2. I am a rabid St. Louis Cardinals fan. While that is no secret to my friends, most people who are learning about me are utterly surprised that I love sports.

3. I've lived in three states that all touch each other (Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma).

4. I finished high school at sixteen and started graduate school at twenty-one. Since then I've realized that I may not be all that smart.

5. I met Alyssa her freshman year of college and my second year of graduate school. What a blessing she's been to me in the intervening years.

6. After studies in English, history, and theology, I now work in payroll in the fashion industry and am a professional paper ninja (administrative assistant).

7. I've had a pen/pencil/marker in my hand since I learned that they helped me "say" something... that is, at two, I was writing on walls and in books and still find my toddler-ish scribbles in books.

8. My secret fantasy is to be "discovered" by someone and start a new career as a world-famous singer. Or a movie director. I'm not picky.

9. I've never broken a bone.

10. I might prefer being a country mouse over a town mouse; I have not yet decided which I like best. But the possibility of chickens weighs heavily in my decision...

11. One day I will teach at the school Alyssa founds. But I will probably teach classes like History of Baseball I and II, and Intro to Film Viewing. And "How to Journal" will be my favorite class to teach.

Alyssa's Nominees for the Liebster Award

1. Ugly Green Sofa - I knew her when I was growing up, and she often makes me think deeply.
2. The Discipline of Passion - an online friend who loves photography, creativity, and her children!
3. Gray Matters - a soul sister I'd love to meet someday and chat for hours about life, food, and God.
4. Messy Lab Studio - she's got amazing artwork and celebrates Freak Flag Fridays!
5. A Chase After Wind - she makes everything into an intriguing story. And she just had a baby!
6. Studiobeerhorst - his art and thoughtful writing are like a fresh glass of springwater.

Heather's Nominees for the Liebster Award
7. Team Bradley - my friend has a great sense of humor.
8. A Little Alana - meet the next Martha Stewart. But kinder and sweeter and Southern.
9. What the Hart Likes - she introduced me to Essie - and be sure to check out her Etsy store!
10. Toads Drink Coffee - fabulous reflections on life and faith.
11. Life is the Teacher - Lyssa's other blog, I learn a lot from her.

Alyssa and Heather's Answers to the Questions from Under the Big Blue Sky

1. If you could visit any country, which would it be?

A: Ireland! Every person I know who has been there says that it is gorgeous. Plus, I have ancestors from Ireland, and so does my husband, so someday we'd love to go : )

H: It's a tie between Wales and Brasil. Wales because it is where my family is from, it is beautiful, and it is green. I love green. Brasil because it has always held a mystique of something different from what I grew up with, it seems like it is a vibrant and celebratory culture, and all of my Brasilian friends have been amazing.

2. Who was the one person who had the greatest impact on you growing up?

A: Definitely my mom. She home-schooled me, put up with my craziness, and encouraged me to pursue my dreams of becoming a musician and teacher. Now she's an amazing grandmother to my daughter, and an invaluable resource as I set out on the journey to home-school my own children.

H: There were a lot of people in my immediate experience, but someone who has radically shaped me and the way I want to live is Edith Schaeffer. She taught me to see that every person is important, that every thing we do has eternal value, and that beauty is something to we can enjoy. I look forward to having tea with her in heaven.

3. What is your favorite meal?

A: Either spaghetti from a restaurant called Vince's Spaghetti in California (where I haven't been for over ten years) or my mom's home-made tacos!

H: Anything Mexican. It is the food that feeds my soul. But Alyssa's mom's tacos are pretty high on the list of favorites.

4. Where to vacation: by the ocean, or in the mountains? 

A: I'm torn! I like the beach, but don't like deep water... I love the mountains, but there has to be a river or lake nearby. How about mountains by the seaside?

H: The mountains by a lake. The ocean can be nice, but I love the trees because the are alive. And they are green. I love green.

5. What is one of your favorite books?

A: My favorite constantly changes according to what I'm currently reading, but I'd say that right now my favorite is "How Children Learn" by John Holt. I usually have about ten favorite books ; )

H: There are too many to choose from. But one that continues to haunt me and make me laugh is "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. It might seem prosaic to some, but it was and is life changing to me.

6. Who would you call a hero?

A: Someone who sacrifices a part of themselves to serve or benefit others. My first guitar teacher, Kelli, is a hero to me, because she sacrificed so much of her own time and energy for over a decade to help me become a guitarist, musician, teacher, and better person.

H: My parents, who have spent thirty-three years caring for a special-needs child. Or the men and women who risk their lives every day to protect and heal us. Or anyone who gives away their time and energy for the benefit of others.

7. Cat or dog?

A: Cat!

H: Dog!

8. What is an occupation you would love to try?

A: If I could start over, I would love to be a gypsy and travel around the world sharing music and stories!

H: I'd love to try and be an architect, creating living spaces that are both beautiful and functional.

9. Favorite way to write: notebooks or computer?

A: I take notes, keep a calendar, do my bills, write a journal, and make lists on paper. I do my creative writing best on a computer because typing keeps up with my fast-paced thoughts; my hand-writing gets too messy when I write quickly.

H: Both. I love the fact that notebooks require time and thought, almost a focus on each word as they flow from the pen; but a computer allows me to see the big picture.

10. Sound or noise you love? Sound or noise you hate?

A: Harmony laughing! Nothing beats my baby's laugh : )  But I hate it when she screams in pain, especially when I can't see what happened if she's out of my sight. We're in the mobile stage so there are constant falls and bumped heads.

H: The rain falling on the roof, the wind in the trees, laughter, Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" or the Prelude for Bach's Cello Concerto No. 2. I hate the sound of yelling and anger, of rude and insensitive people, and anything high-pitched and mechanical.

11. The song you listen to when you need a lift?

A: There's no particular song, but when I need a lift, I'll listen to the albums "A Day Without Rain" or "In Memory of Trees" by Enya or "Tree of Life" by William Coulter. Or just put the radio on the classical music station.

H: It depends on the reason, but a few contenders would be "Into the Mystic" by Van Morrison, "Forever Young" by Bob Dylan, "Bad" by U2, "The Sands of Time are Sinking" by the Indelible Grace group, "Laundry Room" by the Avett Brothers, and Bach's Prelude for Cello Concerto No. 2. And I need to sing to all of them. Even Bach, I just try and mimic the notes. But honestly, most music lifts my spirits. I love music.



Eleven Questions for Our Nominees

1. What is your earliest childhood memory?

2. What is your favorite quick snack?

3. Describe yourself in less than fifteen words!

4. Is your cell phone old school (basic talk/maybe text) or new school (smartphone)?

5. What is the most beloved piece of art hanging on the walls of your home?

6. What is your favorite type of cheese?

7. If you could spend one day in your own history, which day would you choose?

8. What's your drink at Starbucks (or not-Starbucks as the case may be)?

9. Three bands or musicians you'd love to see live?

10. Are you an Early Riser or are you a Night Owl?

11. Tell us what you are grateful for today!