What a glorious holiday. As our Lenten time of somber reflections come to a close, we celebrate. We rejoice in the light of the resurrection on Easter morning!
It might be good for our own spirits, to remember after each period of darkness or suffering in our lives, despite all our unavoidable failings, that a kind-of resurrection can indeed follow. I know you’ve been inundated during Lent and Holy week with the readings of Jesus’ passion. Therefore, although those readings are invaluable, meaningful, and vital to the season, I have selected some less common verses for our monthly musings. Hopefully they will still represent the glorious theme of our most precious holiday.
Consider these short snippets from Psalm 51:
Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your loving kindness
In your great tenderness, purify me with hyssop
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me hear joy and gladness,
Hide Your face from my sins,
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
I’d like to share some of what I experience in those words. My ear catches on: tenderness, clean, joy, renew, spirit... These highlights for me God’s unconditional, unending, tender love, which gently washes our beings, forgives our sins, refreshes our souls, and brings us joy. As I ponder the verses, I see the image of a waterfall. The water is clean and refreshing; it falls from a hillside filled with green, healthy, vegetation into a small tranquil pool. The shoreline is filled with smooth pebbles. The scene is most welcoming.
Easter is the perfect time to celebrate a renewal and cleansing of spirit. I also take note that we celebrate it annually. Aside from treats and fellowship with family and friends, could there be another meaningful reason to repeat the themes of Easter? Certainly. Think about enjoying a good hot shower, or a warm soak in the tub. Do you come out feeling lighter, refreshed, a bit renewed? Well, I do. I also realize that as I move through the hours of my day which may include exercise, gardening, cooking, dog-playing, etc. I re-collect dirt and grime along the way. Similar to our physical nature, our emotional and spiritual sides experience that same phenomenon. We have times where we are fresh, renewed, optimistic and joyful; others where we are tempted to show aggression, or be angry, unkind, to judge, push, or be selfish. Just as we consider how traveling down the path of life can cause dust to collect upon our skin, so too can our flaws and wounds muddy-up our spiritual souls now and again. Isn’t it wonderful to know that we can refresh our spirits just as often and as purely as we can our physical selves?
Imagine each time we visit the Lord in prayer - our own symbolic cleansing pool - how the gentle waterfall of His kindness loosens the soot of our failings; we exit dripping and all that unhealthy grime falls away. Yes, each day, we’re able to clean our bodies, minds, and hearts. This imagery can help us know that when we trip over imperfection, we can get back up, rinse, shake ourselves off, and move forward. We can once again feel refreshed and renewed. I am grateful for Easter as one of the times when I am able to celebrate this marvelous kind of cleansing.
Here are snippets from Isaiah 60:
Shine, for your light has come,
the glory of the LORD has dawned upon you.
Though darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds, the peoples,
Upon you the LORD will dawn,
and over you his glory will be seen.
No longer forsaken and hated,
I will make you the pride of the ages,
a joy from generation to generation.
And you shall know that I, the LORD, am your savior.
No longer shall violence be heard of in your land,
The LORD will be your light forever
When I think about Easter (aside from bunnies and tulips) I think about the word glory and I see it as shining light. The imagery in these words is filled with yellow glow, dawn, and bright sunshine. I picture the empty tomb and know death is no longer victor. For me this translate into faith like this: when we trust God and find strength, we can let go fear, pain, or despair, even for just a little while. Each time, each year, perhaps the understanding of Jesus’ triumph can remain with us a bit longer and become more deeply embedded in our hearts. Without the threat of evil we could be free; we are free in Him. Although Jesus is the only one to fully achieve freedom from death, from fear, and from other human conditions, our faith can raise us up with Him. Through His example, we are able to love one another and our Father more openly, completely, genuinely, with more joy, and yes, light. I treasure this annual reminder of our ability to rise into the light. This particular time of year has long been difficult for our family. And, I know that many of us too often experience darkness: adversity, insult, hardship, loss, and disappointment. Still, on Easter, we can focus on the hope that always remains present, even in the air we breathe. We know that through His love and the guidance of His Spirit, we keep faith alive. That is the secret to rising above -- from the ground to the sky, from darkness into light. Whatever imagery we chose, let one word stand out in our heart: HOPE.
Here are snippets from Romans 12:
Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.
For in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function
Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: in prophecy, in ministering, in teaching...
Let love be sincere; hold on to what is good; be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Delight in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep
Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.
Live at peace with all.
One again I highlight keywords. At Easter, God proves His unceasing love and devotion through the sacrifice of His son; He gives us a part of Himself. He leaves us with Jesus’ teachings, His true word, His bond, and His Holy Spirit. There has never been a greater contract with a more perfect guarantee. The more I pray and attempt to focus on discerning God’s will, the more I find tranquility, despite the chaos of the world around me. For even at death’s door, Jesus asked His Father’s forgiveness upon humanity. Even as He suffered, He loved without hesitation or end. Just as we read above, we know we can conquer the evils of this world, using our unique gifts accompanied by His grace. With our eyes focused on the words of sincerity, fervency and transformation, we feel His covenant written in our hearts. Here I see the imagery of the Lamb of God, representing his promise of peace. We are all part of Him, part of the one Body that seeks life. It may have taken the greatest sacrifice possible, but we have been joined together in His resurrection. We remember how Jesus did it God’s way. He didn’t allow His own ideas or desires to sway Him. He was the perfect example. In doing so, He breaks through the barrier walls around the garden of Eden, erected so long ago. Our savior has opened a grand archway into Heaven. We can rejoice, leaning on our faith that we too may one day walk through that same gateway into heavenly peace and love.
I wish you a happy, healthy, blessed Easter. May you know a clean, renewed spirit, keep hope in your heart, and grow in faith of His promise.
It is said that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Do you wonder about this expression? Most often it’s used to signify weather patterns. Have you ever noticed how the lion/lamb phenomenon seems to parallel our spirits as well? Looking more deeply, I find changes that accompany warmer temperatures often coincide with changes in our minds, hearts, and attitudes. We survive through a usually bleak, gray, cold February. Forgotten is the excitement we once felt as the first snowflake drifted to the ground or as we prepared for holiday gatherings, hot cocoa, winter sports, and snuggling under a warm blanket. By the end of February, our hearts long for renewal. And March is often our transition.
Add Lent, which usually begins in February, into the mix. Ugh. The whole notion of giving something up. Giving up? Who are they kidding? Don’t I “give up” every day? When will it be my turn to “get?”
Right? Have you ever felt this way? I am not sure I know many people who look forward to obligated fasting and guilt-based, self-imposed sacrifice.
However, Lent is not about “me.” Nor is it solely about the object I choose to give up. What I elect to forgo is not meant as deprivation; it’s goal is self-discipline. The idea is to get a taste of what it’s like to give for the sake of someone else. A small insight into what Jesus did for each and every one of us. He certainly gave the ultimate gift – His life as ransom for our own. We may also consider how new Lenten trends include not merely giving up our favorite drink or dessert, but of doing more – doing something extra. Perhaps adding prayer time or an additional mass to our weekly routine, visiting a nursing home, or spending a day helping a friend despite our plans to finally catch up on our own overdue chores. Perhaps it’s something internal like being more patient, giving up gossip, or avoiding quick and harsh judgement of others. These actions are not for the sake of suffering, as much as they are for the sake of bettering ourselves, our relationships, and our connection to God. These actions help us grow.
And with growth in mind, we return to the notion of transition. March indeed comes in like a lion and out like a lamb in more ways than just the weather. It does so in the spirit within our hearts, the trust in our faith, the joy inside our souls, the depth of our breath. Like birth itself, transition to new life can be cataclysmic. Even being reborn out of winter can sometimes feel like coming out of a hardship or loss…We pray for spring, for sunshine, for energy, for growth… we pray for a resurrection.
Let’s revisit for a moment the lion and the lamb. The lion typically represents qualities of strength, confidence, and leadership. Attributes of a lamb often include innocence, gentleness, purity, and sacrifice. Both have biblical references; both at times symbolically representing Christ. We easily identify with Jesus as both king and sacrifice, strong and gentle. Therefore, we may ponder the paradox. Is it possible to be both mighty and weak, or to be a gentle yet powerful leader? Of course. For example, I can think of several venues where I feel confident along with others where I feel inexperienced and timid. We are well aware of Jesus as a gentle teacher and at the same time, a strong, faithful leader. We feel His brotherhood and deep desire to love us. Yet we also recognize His expectation that we love our brothers and sisters just as reverently. We understand both God’s might and mercy.
Many human elements exist despite, and many times in, the tension between these two sets of characteristics. I believe this tension is the catalyst for transition; and in these transitions we discover what would ordinarily pass us by unnoticed.
Would we appreciate love if we never missed it? Would we perceive kindness if we’d never experienced struggle? Would we recognize the warmth of the sun if we never felt the cold? Would we know the meaning of sacrifice if we’d never witnessed fortune? Hmmm... Transition. Perhaps the changing weather patterns are good, healthy companion for the changing seasons within our being.
As we muddle through the darkest days, coldest, even the most empty days, possibly with a taste of sadness or desperation, we cannot help it: we long for hope. We consider the new life that comes with spring, and contemplate how appropriately timed is the season of Lent. We start with deprivation and ashes, only to be born anew with resurrected hope and hyacinth!
I reflect upon how fully I experience this again and again. When lucky, each time leads me to a closer relationship with God, a fresh insight, a renewed wisdom, and the means to carry on better and brighter than before.
The transition from winter to spring offers me optimism and anticipation. The paradox of two seemingly opposite symbols teaches me valuable life lessons:
When thinking about what we’re doing for Lent, let us look for action that will lead us closer to God. As humans we find many distractions that pull us away from Him. All He desires is for us to love: to love Him, ourselves, and others. Lent is a good time to reassess our values. As we move toward longer hours of daylight and warmer temperatures, it is a perfect opportunity to find an activity that brings us closer to truth and light. As we move out of the gray, cold skies, we may focus less on our dependencies or ambitions, and focus more on doing things that make us feel good about human essence. We use the life, the talents, skills, and even struggles we’ve been given, to make a difference in our family, community, country, or world.
Ask yourselves these questions:
Am I focused on my own suffering or my own success so much that I don’t notice what is most important?
Am I interested in deepening my relationship with my family members or friends?
Do I bring God into my daily routine? Do I recognize when He’s watching over me, and when He’s challenging me to grow?
For further reading, consider these references:
One of the finest symbolic representations of Christ as a lion [which I have come across] is in Chronicles of Narnia. C. S. Lewis’ portrayal of Aslan is simple and profound – yet another tension of seemingly opposite meanings that when come together produce exquisite corollaries. I’ve recently reread two of the stories, and each time cried at the beautiful portrayal of love, sacrifice, courage, brotherhood, and mentorship. If you enjoy a bit of fairytale woven with Christian undertones, I highly recommend several in the series.
Ah, February, the month of red and pink, chocolate and roses, kisses and cards… The month where we celebrate St. Valentine and… love.
What is love? Kindness, understanding, respect, integrity… I can name many virtues that show love. But what is love? Don’t you find it hard to define with mere words? Well, perhaps not so much hard, as we’d each choose different words to describe it. Whole love includes many aspects. Some see it as caring, others generosity, perhaps attraction, or fidelity, maybe some would say care and concern. The online dictionary says, “an intense feeling of deep affection.” I find that a pretty good summary. Still, I’m not sure words alone can capture love’s true essence. It may take a page, or maybe, two..
Finding that special someone is one of life’s greatest blessings. Most of us can agree: love brings us joy. Often when we’re loved, we feel warm, safe, and happy. Those intangible feelings that we find challenging to verbally pinpoint are better known through experience. And love comes in many shapes and sizes.
Here are some examples of different types of love:
As we work to define love, perhaps we can describe how it’s expressed. Evidence of what love is might be seen every day in the actions of parents, spouses, siblings, friends, and neighbors. We witness couples holding hands on a stroll around the block; families spending time together at the park, cooking, doing homework and playing games; moms offering hugs or leaving a happy note in a lunchbox; sisters listening about the latest breakup or loaning a favorite sweater; brothers standing by each other in a dispute or encouraging the younger one play quarterback in the neighborhood football game; friends sharing laughter at their favorite ice cream shop or driving out to rescue us when our cars break down; individuals generously donating to causes; groups rallying, walking, or polar-plunging to raise funds to help an organization in need; our offering forgiveness to others, or ourselves when we, too, make a mistake; our counting on God when we’re more prone to doubt… Yes, we do certainly understand and witness true love in our lives all the time.
From scripture we hear again and again, love is giving; a selfless giving of oneself to another.
Consider the legend of the pelican: a mother pelican will strike her own breast to feed her young in times of famine, proving she would sacrifice herself for them. I recently saw a magnificent painting depicting this Christian theme (thank you Fr. Jason). More ancient legends describe how a parental (often father) pelican might strike its young, killing them. The mother will then sacrifice herself, covering the young in her blood for three days which brings them back to life. The pelican has long since been a symbol of Christ’s own sacrifice--His flesh and blood is consumed in the Eucharist; His sacrificial dying to save us; in the piercing of His side, His blood pours out over us; His resurrection from death in three days. These legends are referenced in many writings from St. Thomas Aquinas to Shakespeare. …Fascinating. *
There are many more examples of one sacrificing for another out of deep love. These illustrate the more extreme forms of love. Yet, love is also present every day, with all people, in ordinary events. There are three typical ways we can show love through simple giving: financially or by sharing things of value, giving our time, and giving personal energy and prayers. Each of us have different resources available to us, but we all have a great capacity to give and therefore, to love. Let us not ignore that we may love through modest actions like holding open a door, smiling at someone, or praying for them. Let us also never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit working through us, through our expressing kindness toward another human being; I’ve seen a smile change a life.
Naturally, we may find it easier to love those we know and care about. At least in most cases, it takes less effort to love family and friends whom we like and with whom we get along. It’s not quite so easy to love strangers, ourselves, the person who annoys, frustrates, or downright hurts us, and the person who takes advantage of us, puts us down, lets us down, or disrespects us. Is loving these others possible?
Like an action, love is a way of being, and, a way of living. If one of our goals is to live a life of greater loving, here are some ways in which we can show more love toward more types people every day:
You may discover how a pattern of such giving (and loving) often lead to rewards not just for the recipients, but for the giver as well. You may find more tranquility and a happier spirit.
Finally, remember the love of God is pure, unconditional, and everlasting. It is beyond even the most wonderful, joyful love we’ve been blessed to see at times in our own lives. There is nothing else behind or in front of God’s love; there is nothing it means or does other than to just be love. And it’s given freely to each of us every day!
No matter how you spend February 14th, I hope you feel precious and valued, warm and cozy as if snuggled in a soft blanket in front of a fireplace. May you always know the warm embrace of God’s amazing love.
Here are some love-ly stories I recommend all based on LOVE:
Love is exciting – I recommend the novel – Yankee Stranger
Love is forgiving and accepting - I recommend the book - For One More Day
Love is universal - I recommend the song - Really not that Different
Love is in everyday - I recommend the novel - The Wedding
Love is lasting - I recommend the song - Love Remains
Love is mysterious and transcendent - I recommend a movie - many, but my favorite is Hallmark Hall of Fame’s The Love Letter
Love is unexpected and surprising - I recommend the play - Beauty and the Beast
Biblical references on LOVE:
John 15:12 This is my commandment: LOVE one another as I LOVE you.
Ephesians 4:2 ...With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through LOVE...
1John 3:18 My little children, let us not LOVE in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
1John 4:7-8 Beloved, let us LOVE one another, because LOVE is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God... God is LOVE.
1Corinthians 16:14 Your every act should be done with LOVE.
1 John 4:16 And we have come to know and believe the LOVE that God has for us. God is LOVE; whoever abides in LOVE abides in God, and God in him.
1 Peter 4:8-10 And above all things have fervent LOVE for one another… Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
Jeremiah 31: 3 With age-old LOVE I have loved you
Ephesians, Chapter 5:1-2 So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in LOVE, as Christ loved us ...
1John 4:12 No one has seen God at any time; if we LOVE one another, God abides in us, and His LOVE is perfected in us.
1 John 4:17 In this way, LOVE has been perfected among us… for in this we are just like Him.
1Peter 3:8-9 Finally, all of you, be of one mind, sympathetic, loving toward one another, compassionate, humble. Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but, on the contrary, a blessing, because to this [LOVE] you were called...
Romans 5:8 But God proves his LOVE for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
Psalm 36:5 Your LOVE, LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.
John 15:13 No one has greater LOVE than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Colossians 1:5 Faith and LOVE spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven...
Psalm 103:11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His LOVE...
Romans 5:5 ... because the LOVE of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.
1Corinthians 13:4-8 Love is patient, LOVE is kind. It is not jealous, [LOVE] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails...
1Corinthians 13:13 So faith, hope, LOVE remain, these three; but the greatest of these is LOVE.
WELCOME TO 2017
A new day; a new month; a new year. How marvelous it is when we get an opportunity to begin again. How often we look at life and wish for a do-over. With a fresh perspective, the new year can be an occasion for second chances, updated resolutions and new hope.
In preparing this month’s newsletter, I considered a strange analogy. Snakes! I’m not that fond of snakes, however their behavior fits our January emphasis rather well. Inspiration comes from many places. I’m going to fan the flame of this spark and see where it takes us, despite my dislike toward these creatures, especially up close!
As you may know, snakes shed their old skin. They do so as they grow in size. Their external coats do not stretch. Literally outgrowing this outer shell, a snake's body regenerates as a new skin forms beneath the surface. Often a swim in a nearby lake will help advance the shedding (shedding works best in moist environments). This shedding also provides a health advantage as in this process, snakes rid themselves of external parasites. Leaving a thin hollow image behind, the snake is born into its new self.
The growing snake is a good metaphor for this month’s musing. Like a snake, with a new year, we can expand into a new beginning. First, for the snake, the shedding is a form of growth. This imagery is quite fitting. As we experience life each day, we learn, we mature, and we grow. It’s a natural process to grow physically as well as emotionally and spiritually. I ponder my recent past and recognize this growth. I learn from mistakes; I will not leave the sour cream out of my coffee cake recipe again--that particular improvisation did not have a good result. I’ve grown spiritually with more regular prayers. Being exposed to a few new scripture verses has proven a deeper relating to bible readings than I had and had not previously known. I even grow stronger from disappointments. Nope, I’m not going to get that vacation; I found other ways to enjoy relaxing family time. I have grown in wisdom. Taking time to ponder and consider the larger picture has helped me be more understanding and accepting, for example with our country’s campaigning this year. A lot of ideas flew through media venues; with an attitude of acceptance, I look forward to a positive future. I encourage you to think about the past year, and the ways in which you’ve grown. Give thanks for the experiences (big, small, joyous, and painful) for the ways in which each has helped you grow closer to God, your family, friends, and as an individual.
Second, in the process of shedding, the snake loses parasitic life forms that may have attached themselves to it since it’s last molt. What unhealthy habits will you leave behind as you begin this new year? What junk will you remove? Might it be trash, or perhaps an attitude that holds you back? Perhaps fear, laziness, envy, or pride? There are many parasites that prevent us from growing into a best version of ourselves. We strive to become stronger, more aware, perhaps more kind and generous, or more tolerant and understanding. We long to grow wiser and freer from the challenges in life that stunt our potential. Sometimes ridding our minds and hearts of perceptions and mindsets we’ve grown out of opens us up to new joys, peace and hope.
Next we consider a good swim--a washing, cleansing practice that both refreshes and sloths off old dead layers. I can’t help but notice the parallel to baptism. For many of us, baptism means a purification. Consider these ideas:
Another good word for the meaning behind a baptism: regeneration--just like the skin on our snake. As the snake swims to loosen his no-longer appropriate outer layer, he is cleansed; dirt and debris wash away. Climbing ashore, he is ready to shed, ready for a fresh start, born again into the next phase of his life.
Although we leave our figurative old skin behind, we recognize the way in which it served us while we existed in that stage. Thinking back over the last year, I find accomplishments, successes, hardships, failures, joyous moments, disappointments and milestones. Each one is important. As I examine the most memorable with an open mind, I discover purpose and notate the way in which each has brought me forward. Each represents an event of learning and growth into the revitalized person I’ll become in this new year. Remember we are the same “snake” in our core. As we grow and “shed,” we simply become a newer, larger, more mature version of our same spirit. Our essence remains; in fact, our essence may even be seen as becoming more and more like our real selves. As we mature, we learn to shed those false pretenses we use to manipulate our surroundings. These masks act like a security blanket. We often use different ones in different stages of our growth. Anyone hear Billy Joel’s The Stranger playing in the background? Shedding our less appropriate outer shells, we uncover the valuable soul beneath. The stronger and wiser we become, the less we fear and the more able we are to show our true self.
May we value this time of renewal. As we declare our New Year resolutions, may we recognize our growth, shed our dead, false, old skins, and shine brightly with strength and hope for an even better year of love and devotion to what is good ahead.
It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it… forgetting what lies behind but reaching forward to what lies ahead. I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus. Let us, then, who are “perfectly mature” adopt this attitude. And if you have a different attitude, this too God will reveal to you. Only, with regard to what we have attained, continue on the same course.
Advent: One of my favorite seasons… Yay!
Advent is a special time of waiting, preparing, expecting, and hoping. It’s a wonderful season. I must admit, my husband claims to enjoy the week prior to any grand event (vacation, our wedding, special holidays, etc.) almost more than the event itself. He knows how to savor the spirit of anticipation. I’ve always admired that about him. For Christians, advent is the supreme time of anticipation; advent brings with it some of the most wonderful feelings and attitudes shared by humankind.
Expectations are healthy; preparing is wise. Filling our hearts with positive energy lifts our spirits so we find ourselves in better moods, having more upbeat energy, and conveying more optimistic outlooks. This looking forward with open, eager hearts brings us joy and satisfaction. Reflecting upon the coming of Christ is one of our most gratifying blessings. Jesus’ humanity profusely demonstrates the ultimate in love. I often speak about the love I receive from my dogs - it’s unconditional. How much greater and deeper is God’s unconditional love? The coming of Christ, the selfless gift of His life as given to us proves this beyond measure. How precious! Not just in advent, but every day, may we revel in the glorious feelings of being cherished by our Father in heaven.
We also remember Jesus’s words, “We know not when the hour will come.” Being prepared is good; yet it is more constructive to do so without rigidity. We plan best with an open mind. Because as we know, despite all preparations we can never be totally sure of anything (other than that life is finite, which is a different movement forward and a topic for another newsletter). We make arrangements for where we are heading, aware that destiny may have other ideas for us. Therefore we remain ready with both plans and the ability to adapt when or if necessary.
Here is an example: My family recently had a unique and intensely challenging day where many, many, things went wrong: health issues, fears, anxieties, getting lost, vehicles breaking down, house systems failing… all in the same 24 hours. I felt at my wits’ end. After one additional setback while desperate to prepare for a rough road including sudden surgery, I had an “ah-ha” moment. I can make all the plans and preparations for this impending event I want, but I still have to be ready for “life” (i.e. hassles, challenges, hardships, surprises, unpleasant happenings). Moreover, as I took a deep breath, I realized that one of the problems that same day (suddenly being without water) led me to comfort. Sure it was horrible. Yes, I panicked. Of course I felt desolation. But, in one quiet moment the next morning, I realized something. After a day that would take an entire page to explain (and so I won’t elaborate further), our neighbor came to our aid, offering jugs of water and listening. She lended a shoulder and then, she hugged me. I needed that. The water system failure led me to her. It wasn’t a disaster; it was a gift -- like an angel sent to hold my hand. I could see it clearly once the storm had started to settle.
I believe I was reminded of this simple idea: We look forward to good times; we look for lessons in others.
As I attempt to articulate all these thoughts into a sensible theme, I come up with the following: Life is most healthy when based on a tri-fold perspective. Becoming too enmeshed on any one side of the triangle bogs us down. We lose our joy and forget our purpose. When our viewpoint is skewed, it often leaves us feeling lonely, perhaps even hopeless. Grasping a more equal hold between the sides is a good way to move into and remain in a better place.
The three perspectives come from our past, present, and future:
While we relish in the season of Advent to celebrate the coming of Christ, may we also understand that each day in our life is a sort-of advent as well. We can rejoice in trusting His love, mercy, compassion, and His desire for us to seek Him through simple actions of loving one another. Love is giving, and Christmas represents the ultimate giving -- of God to humanity. Giving of oneself is intimidating sometimes, but rewarding beyond measure. I pray we hold the spirit of giving in our hearts now and perhaps all year long.
Knowing His words are encouraging us to be ready at all times, my wish for each of you is that the spirit of Christmas, with its peace, hope, harmony, and joy can remain with you a little bit longer each year, until it lives in your heart all twelve months. If this special spirit that blossoms in ourselves and others this time of year can shine a light when the unexpected happens; if we can recognize Jesus in others who reach out to us during those times, imagine what a wonderful life that might bring! Wouldn't it be magnificent if the brilliant attitude of advent’s anticipation could remain and sustain us?
God Bless and Merry Christmas!
November has arrived. Crisp air, falling leaves, shorter days, and pumpkin pies; a time for appreciation and thanksgiving, reflection on all saints, and remembrance of all souls, including our veterans. With all this going on what seems to be in the forefront, however, is Election day. I don’t know about you, but I find the negative campaigning exhausting, distracting, and depressing. Perhaps I can tie this all in together in some strange, yet helpful twist of ideas.
What I admire most about the saints is their humanity—their “normal-ness.” They were real people, not perfect, evidently flawed. Yet their devotion to others, to giving of themselves for the betterment of society, and to loving God has brought them admiration. Despite weaknesses, problems, doubts, and egos they were able to accomplish great things during their time on earth. How? Simply by treating others with love (which includes respect, forgiveness, compassion, and generosity). My point is that all of us embody both qualities: strength and weakness, acts of kindness and acts of selfishness, times of thoughtfulness and times of insensitivity.
Given the mood and flavor of current events flooding our eyes and ears, I’m focusing this month on some of the less than perfect aspects which I personally find difficult. For example, disappointment. Think about how others might have let you down. It happens to us all; we participate on both ends of such situations so several examples may come to mind. For me, this feeling of disenchantment happens most often when I feel harshly judged or unjustly criticized without opportunity to show my intentions or what makes me, me. Have you ever been judged? Did you feel it was a fair assessment?
Many biblical passages reference criticism of others, while not recognizing our own, often similar, flaws. [Here are a few examples you may wish to explore: Romans 2:1-11, Matthew 7:3-5, James 5:9, Luke 6:37-42, James 4:11-12. These offer gentle reminders to look with understanding and heart. It’s easy to find imperfections in others. These readings recommend we become slow to judge and suggest we discern with compassion.]
Unfortunately, assuming and accusing are popular human traits. If I explore deeper to consider a possible “why” I might conclude that sometimes we wear blinders; perhaps we react from a place of pride. Someone may make assumptions after a quick glance or based upon the word of someone else, without knowing the whole truth. Don’t get me wrong, constructive criticism can lead to growth and self-improvement, yet I shall leave that subject for another newsletter. The bottom line is that we [and they] may judge someone or something with limited information or from a perspective of darkness.
We humans are complex individuals. Often there is not a single right answer. Sometimes there’s more to a circumstance than right vs wrong, good vs bad, democrat vs republican. I know how I feel about this election and what outcome I think will affect our nation in a positive way. Despite the rhetoric, the promising of anything to win, and the casting of blame, I can discern what is presented to me, and attempt react to the facts without bias with an open mind and a hopeful heart.
The key is to be open to a variety of perspectives, to differences in ourselves and others, to appreciate each’s successes, and to understand each’s shortcomings. A desire to do good, to love one another as we love Jesus, and to do to them as we would want done to us… it is that mindset that helps us move closer to God, and toward a stronger society. Honesty, reliability, concern for the people, wisdom, dedication, being genuine… these are ideals I will be hoping for and looking for in our next leader.
Regardless of outcome, I realize the saints used their gifts to help others. I can pray our elected officials will do the same. In the meantime, I can also do my part here and now. I propose that each of us continue to walk tall, hold firm to our core morals, stand up for what we believe in (loyalty, responsibility, devotion, integrity, kindness) and make our own difference. It is often said, the devil does his greatest work when people sit back and do nothing. What if we could be someone that makes a difference too? That’s all the saints did—they affected other’s lives in positive ways.
Despite the constant bombardment of negativism, we can concentrate on making a positive difference by loving those around us. Maybe I won’t look at my coworker’s flaws, or hold my family member’s weakness against them. I might hold the door open for a stranger pushing a stroller, or carry groceries for an elderly person, or rake leaves for a sick neighbor. There’s plenty of good to be done through everyday actions. It’s what made our saints noteworthy and what makes our communities, and country, strong. We can affect through simple deeds, working hard, cherishing loved ones, and helping one another. It starts with tolerance and acceptance. While still being true to ourselves and our values, we can cast off our tendency to judge, accuse, or condemn, and open our hearts. Me, you… we are the key; our basic beliefs matter in all this. Disagreement and debate will arise; conflict will occur. Will we react with respect and move forward or will we undermine those with whom we disagree? When I feel respected and valued for my perspective, instead of convicted as wrong, inferior, or ignorant during a dispute (large or small), the whole experience turns into one of growth instead of one of hurt or upset. I pray for each of us that we may react more often with an open mind, eager to know the whole story, and make wise choices filled with understanding.
When we think of others, let’s remember that along with shortcomings great qualities exist, unique talents, given by God. This is the commonality between the saints, our families, friends, coworkers, and even our candidates. Just like our neighbors, these candidates are human beings. Hopefully their strengths guide them to lead and benefit our country by their participation, in whatever way comes to pass in the next few days, months, and years...
God Bless America
As autumn sets in, I feel a sense of panic. We took on an outdoor house renovation this summer that has gone awry several times, causing delays and angst. Crisp, clean, and chilly air surrounds me and I fear our deadline is upon us. Due to regulations for the products we’re using, our work cannot be accomplished in colder weather. It’s a complicated situation. Whatever isn’t finished must wait until spring, as we worry over significant winter damage…
Work and worry. These two words are all too familiar. They often go hand in hand. Occasionally, I become overwhelmed. I feel desolate. I may even shift toward despair. Concern floods my anxious mind. Why can’t things work out as I prefer? Why is the universe opposing me? Does it not understand my needs and desires? Have I been forgotten?
Deep inside, I know I’m not forgotten or abandoned. I am not isolated or alone. What a simple, almost obvious yet profound, revelation a time of apparent hopelessness! Family and friends surround and support me, while God and His angels walk beside me—all the time, each step of the way. I don’t see Him. I can’t touch Him. But, I know He is there. This core truth sustains me in difficult times. I can cope; I will persevere.
The inspiration for this month’s writing was not fully my own. I must confess, a recent, well-timed reading gave me such joy and comfort that I wanted to share it.
While writing The Bricks and Sticks of Life, I had little time for “pleasure reading.” So, I discovered the world of audio books. For a long trip, I obtained “The Horse and His Boy,” by C. S. Lewis. If you’ve never read any of The Chronicles of Narnia, or Lewis’ other well-known writings, I highly recommend them. As you may know, Lewis’ fictional books are metaphorically spiritual. I find them wonderfully engaging, entertaining and a venue for reflection.
The narrator’s accent and voice inflections for various characters is well done. My lengthy trip flew as I enjoyed the tale. Early on, a young boy fears for his life. The visitor causing his trouble arrives on horseback and leaves his horse outside. The boy, accustomed to having animals for companionship, wanders over and talks to the horse as if thinking out loud. Surprisingly the horse responds! The boy learns that he is a special horse, who was captured and sold into servitude. The horse longs for his homeland.
Wishing to be free of the bonds that keep them from achieving their true potential, they decide to run away together. On their journey, they encounter many adventures. There were times I almost held my breath, hanging on each word. As they meet and conquer their own fears, the two learn and grow. Not only do they find what they seek, but they also discover that they are not alone. Again, I don’t want to spoil your opportunity to read it, so I apologize for being cryptic…
In the end, details are disclosed about how they were guided and cared for. Even during times when bad things happened there was cause. The “bad things” led them where they needed to be.
I have to say, the revelation gave me chills. God is represented in a beautiful character. He motivates both the boy and the horse to further fulfill their destiny. That scene brought an emotional swell into my chest. The metaphor clearly demonstrates that someone or something higher watches over us always, but especially in times of fear, despair, and strife.
When I know that fact, when I trust it, I can let go some of my worry, relax from feeling overwhelmed, and rejoice in a warm embrace of love. I may not physically feel the arms, or hear the words, but I know it reaches my spirit. And that’s what counts!
Enjoy your long weekend and remember that you never walk alone.
Originally for September’s newsletter, I considered talking about work or school, since it is after all, Labor Day weekend. However, this month, I’d like to talk about loss. Yesterday, my husband and I lost our last of four Labrador retrievers as he joined his brothers in heaven.
Although those four could be a bit overwhelming, the pups have been an important part of our lives. Sitting next to one another with streams of tears spilling out of reluctant eyes, I felt pain—real pain. I knew this dog had been my husband’s best, and I mean best, friend for over fourteen years. I knew there would be a hole in his heart, in our house, and in the daily routine. My gut wrenched.
Meditating on that feeling of pain, and no stranger to losing loved ones, I want to say that grieving is a part of life. While we exist on this earth, we will experience a wide range of emotions. Unfortunately, grief is one of them. We don’t have to hide it; we don’t have to deny it; we don’t have to make excuses.
With a heavy heart, I looked at my husband—a six-foot, two-hundred-fifty-pound tough guy. He cried; he allowed himself to appreciate his grief. And, in a weird way, it helped. Sometimes society encourages us to look and act “okay.” It seems inappropriate and uncomfortable to cry or to show sadness. While I don’t think these expressions should rule our every day, having time to feel hurt from loss or misfortune is healthy. Remembering that is important; feelings are important. Working through feelings instead of avoiding them is how we grow as a person.
We miss all our dear family members. Still, there is hope. Precious memories live in our hearts. Dreamy visions, reliving joyful times, focusing on special moments, and recalling silly habits are ours and cannot be stolen away. Memories represent some of our most valuable belongings. Here are a few more things I believe:
This next paragraph may sound a bit far-fetched, but let’s leave our minds and hearts open….
Within an hour after this sad event, a large deer appeared in the front corner of our property. Not so unusual, right? Well… kind of… Typically, we see a group of does walk through the back yard in the silent hours of dawn. We’ve also see two bucks, again in the early morning or late evening. I can’t recall ever seeing a stag near the front rock formation, mid-day, while we were only two hundred feet away and quite evident. The buck was unusually large, with broad antlers. He stopped and stared at us. We stared back. A minute passed. Finally, I spoke, “Look how big he is, see those antlers?” My husband agreed. I sighed. “I know this sounds nuts, but that’s a sign. It’s just like Dad to let us know he’s with us, feeling our hurt, with something so big and obvious. Yup, our doggie is in heaven.”
You might be thinking, what a stretch, but… what… seriously… what… what if? I have felt a few of my lost loved ones. I see them in numbers, signs, billboards, and commercials. I feel one in sunshine when the breeze is just right. A familiar scent startles me for another, rarely, but certainly. I might hear a perfectly timed special song playing about another. In all these I am confident my special someones are with me.
I prefer this idea, to trust in this what if, to have faith, over a total forever loss.
I admit this notion won’t stop grief; it won’t fill an empty gap or deep crevasse, but it does make me feel better. I feel sad, then I remember, just enough to find strength and carry on.
When we grieve, perhaps we might also focus on heaven and on our special someone(s) truly being with us in spirit.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
- Psalm 46:1
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
- Matthew 5:4
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and of a sound mind.
- II Timothy 1:7
Note: This is a deer from our yard last fall; when I get a shot of the deer we saw today, I'll add it.
Ah, welcome to the “lazy days of summer.” I wonder where that expression came from. When I look around, I don’t see people being lazy. No, instead I see many of us scurrying around, mowing lawns, planting and pruning gardens, organizing day trips to the beach, packing for vacations, attending baseball games, and completing necessary home repair while the weather cooperates. We rush and we hurry. We squeeze in a trip to the market. We get that paperwork filled out on the last day before the deadline, and maybe tidy up the house.
Lazy? Who are they kidding?
Well… I believe there is something important to the idea of lazing in the summer sun. Heat innately slows us down. So, what if that has a purpose?
Typically, I enjoy at least a handful of lake outings each summer. However, this year I am unable to go. I have to say, I miss it. On the lake, I read, I rest, and I relax. There are no distractions. I can’t see the pile of laundry and decide it needs to be washed. I can’t pay the bills or run errands. On the boat, not much other than the glowing sun can reach me.
I really like being out on that lake. I think it’s because I’m forced to slow down.
I have my husband to thank for my coming into this understanding. He literally taught me how to take a breather. For a person with high energy, always on the move, actively doing, it was an unexpected discovery. I remember that awakening, when I realized we could sit together at home and do nothing but enjoy a movie. Chilling on the couch was new to me! Yet, slowly I grew to appreciate those times, as well as days on the lake, where I unwittingly escaped life’s many chores.
What treasure did I uncover in this revelation? Why was this downtime so appealing?
I’ll tell you. For me, it was like recharging my internal batteries. Resting, in whatever way we prefer, is like adding wood to the fire of our spirits. Our flames are able to shine again, free from the circle of ashes attempting to smother our light. Resting renews, regrows, and revitalizes us!
Being lazy once in a while is not only healthy, but necessary to live full, happy, and productive lives. Let us not forget, even God rested on the seventh day. And if He is truly our mentor, there is reason for His example, and cause to appreciate it’s worth.
Was He tired and weary from His efforts? More likely, He was pleased. Inspired by grace, perhaps He stood back to savor in satisfaction the fruits of His labor and what existed all around Him. And, that is my recommended goal for myself and anyone who needs to stop and appreciate small moments of just being: together, quiet, content—on our couch, at a favorite place, or amid nature. Following His example, let’s schedule those occasional breaks and take a few moments to refresh our minds, bodies and spirits.
Here’s to a bit of hanging out on a lounge chair, hammock or towel in the sun when we could be doing a hundred other things. As the rays of sunshine caress our skin, I hope we feel its message of warm love from above.
Those duties and concerns can wait for just a few hours.
What do you think when you think about the month of July: sunshine, swimming, summertime music, bar-b-que, and fireworks on the fourth?
My two favorite Fourth of July celebration memories include the year I spent it with my son at the park. He was six. We packed a picnic, played Frisbee, and ran around all day. Finally, when the sun went down, we listened to the band and sat on the blanket together feeling warm, close, and content.
My other best fourth was the time I spent it on the lake. Along with family members, we swam, rafted, and walked the shores. We dined on hoagies, chips, fresh cookies and licorice on the boat. At dusk, we played cards atop the cooler, then wrapped up in sweats and blankets, and from our pontoon steady seats, witnessed the biggest, brightest fireworks display ever.
July is a time to celebrate independence. Why stop and celebrate? Freedom is something we all seek innately. Humanity has sought it from the beginning of time, all the way back to ‘The Apple.’ As toddlers, we want freedom from that annoying playpen. As adolescents, we covet freedom from our parents’ gaze. As adults, we crave freedom to live where we want, how we want, and with whom we want. Daily we make choices about what foods we eat, where we go, what we drive, who we see, and so much more. On occasion, we may even desire freedom for ourselves so badly that we seize it at the expense of someone else’s freedom. We attempt to acquire it by fighting enemies; making laws for “rights” we feel are vital; or fleeing. All of these grant us some kind of freedom by affecting our environment.
When we deny what happens to us, or try to force things to go our way, we remain confined mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Much time and energy is spent working to control things out of our grasp. However, acceptance of certain steadfast circumstance can lead to clearer recognition for things we can affect—things like our attitude, knowledge, career choice, home, and with whom we chose to spend time. I hope to learn to better let go of things I can’t change and trust God to guide me in things I can.
Often, the more we know about a situation, the better we are able to deal with it. Quick assessment about someone or something without knowledge can be damaging or hurtful. What freedom might we gain if we avoid assumptions or judgment? What if we could learn and grow through deeper understanding? This is not our instinct. We prefer to find a reason why someone said or did something that hurt us. When we’re left out or badmouthed, is there a way we can avoid the obvious cause (a nasty person) and see if there could be more behind the motivation? Although it is a challenging perspective, it is one I believe ultimately will help us be happier.
How hard is it to forgive those, who for reasons we don’t understand, intend to do us harm? Yet we know that holding a grudge often weighs more on us than the object of our upset. It’s hard, but I try to believe there is a cause I don’t understand. This relates back to our second key above. If I’m able to find some understanding, some cause, some empathy, then I can let both it and them go.
More importantly, we should learn to forgive ourselves. We are human and destined to make mistakes. We fail, become embarrassed, hurt, lose, and fall. This is how we grow, learn, and stay humble. While still striving to do our best, if we are willing to grant ourselves forgiveness, we can be more free. Remember, our Father in heaven continually extends His mercy and forgiveness upon us.
This July as we reflect upon our lives, may we be kind to ourselves, remembering we are human. Let’s seek understanding. Let’s focus on things in our control. When we’re scared, we’ll pray for grace, trust and hope that things will work out as they should. May we find the keys that unlock true freedom.
I will personally work to achieve these goals this month. Consider using the image I've created for this post as your July desktop background of inspiration.
Lillian Corrigan uses writing to learn, inspire and encourage both others and herself. No stranger to devastating, life-altering hardship and loss, she's begun working as a motivational author.