Category Archives: Nature

Connecting with God in the Hard Times through Praise

For the fourth Sunday of each month, I prepare and give the welcoming and introduction part of our worship service. I study the Lectionary Scriptures for that Sunday and prepare a short reflection and prayers as the introduction to the service.
I always start preparing ahead of time and try to listen to the particular Lectionary scriptures for that Sunday as if God is speaking to my own heart and situation. My Sunday in May was a few days after my husband’s surgery for lung cancer.
The first reading was from Acts 1 after Jesus ascended into heaven leaving his disciples praying together as they wait anxiously for the coming of the promised power of the Holy Spirit.
These Scriptures describe Christianity being born. The disciples are trying to learn to trust God even when they can no longer see Jesus. But when things are going badly, they still become anxious. Jesus has asked God to protect not only them, but all of us that follow him. So we, just like our brothers and sisters from the very beginning, can bring our fears to God. The followers of Jesus, not just in church on Sundays, but even through our internet connections, gather through prayer.
The second reading, 1 Peter, tells us to rejoice when we are sharing Christ’s suffering for we are blessed by the Spirit of God, resting on us. And after we have suffered a little while, the God of all grace will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish us.
Letting go of fear of suffering is a challenge that I often don’t manage until I’m overwhelmed. But, when I do, I have found that I can let go of my fear by praising and thanking God for all He has done for me. It is much better when I don’t wait for times of obvious blessings to praise and thank God. When I actually praise God in the hard times, I realize that then suffering can bring me closer to him. That praise particularly connects me to God. God doesn’t need praise, we need to praise God. It changes our focus and gives us a new perspective that opens our eyes to the blessings all around us.
Here are some generic possibilities for praise and thanksgiving in hard times that I included in my reflection and prayers for Sunday worship.
God, our father, we praise your glory. You are perfect beauty far beyond what I have ever seen. You are truth that transforms my faith and fills me with your Spirit. You are the life changing power of grace that gives me inner strength. You are perfect love that can heal my heart, mind, body, and spirit.
Thank you for the reflections of your glory that I see in the beauty of nature. Thank you for your Spirit increasing my faith by opening my mind when I seek your truth in the Scriptures. Thank you for grace that strengthens me when I pray in times of suffering. And thank you most of all for your perfect love expressed in Jesus that heals and opens my heart to You.

Since I am a devout coward and a congenital worrier, I often miss God’s call to praise and thanksgiving and have to become almost bedridden with the pain of Fibromyalgia before I remember to cast my cares on the God who loves me tenderly and unconditionally. But when I not only praise in such general things, but move on to specific large and small blessings, such as our children who give us such wonderful support, the plethora of bright red cardinals outside my window, songs of praise coming from within that lift my heart and mind to God, even strangers in doctors’ waiting rooms and people who connect with me across the world through blogs, that pray for us and I for them, and  perhaps most of all, the powerful surges of the sometimes forgotten tenderness I feel for my husband, then the grace of joy bubbles up from deep inside me and my heart joins my mind in giving praise to God.

Spring

Spring

Everyday Friends

Today, a cardinal flamed into my winter landscape,
igniting a small sparkler of joy within me.
But just as quickly it flurried off.
Perhaps I moved in my delight?
I felt bereft.
As if someone, a long lost friend
had merely waved and hurried out of sight.
I waited, watching hopefully,
so focused on the loss, that I almost missed
the quieter colored Titmice, with just their touch of blush,
fluttering in blue-grey swirls near-by.
An earnest squirrel chit-chided me
from a scarlet berried dogwood,
where silken vested doves were perched
like rows of mourners full of silent sympathy.
So, letting go of “might have been.”
I began to laugh at madcap chickadees
drag racing to the feeders.
And my heart was filled with the quiet joy of peace
to be surrounded by such friends.

A Place of Peace Where God Abides

For many years I sought
a place of peace where God abides.
Once I found it on a hilltop
under silent star filled skies.
And another time
in earth’s breathless silence
just before the dawn.
I found it sharing bread
with Christian sisters
outside of any church.
I’ve often found it in
the laughter of a child.
But with great chagrin years later
when I finally looked inside
I found my Doubting Thomas Twin.
But then, when I could finally
claim him as truly part of me
he taught me perseverance,
the key to everything.
And though it’s paradoxical,
he freed me from my fears
and became a place within me
where I can go for grace.
A place of peace where God abides.

To Be or Not to Be a Curmudgeon? That is the Question of Age.

Sometimes the temptation to give up the struggle to not let old age torture us into a twisted version of ourselves is overwhelming. And while some of us may have been that way from birth or soured when old age put paid to our unrealistic expectations, I know from my own and my husband’s daily jousts with life, that for the naturally hopeful – running out of physical strength, mental acuity, and the illusion of better future possibilities – casts a funeral pall on hope. You really only have two choices to help you bear the reality and sadness of limits in old age: be angry about everything all the time or learn to focus on the beauty of God in the small things in each moment while reveling in the pure grace of laughing at ourselves.

This Life: Appetizers Only

During a Jungian inner journey in my late fifties, I had a very vivid dream. My husband and I were in a dining room on a boat on a river cruise. They brought us a series of small appetizers one at a time, which my husband ate with great pleasure, but I ignored while waiting for the main course. At some point, I realized there would be no main course. I was furious and went searching the boat for another dining room. When I found one, they only brought me an apple, which I threw against the wall in frustration. I went out on the front deck of the boat to see where we were going just as it began to go through a dark tunnel which became so small that I had to hunch down as we went through it. I felt total despair at first, but became hopeful when I saw some light at the end of the tunnel. Since then I have learned to delight in and treasure the small joys of life, while accepting the pain of failures and disappointments that are part and parcel of being an imperfect human being in an imperfect world. I used to live focused on the future with its possibilities, missing both the joys and the grace available in the difficulties of the present. At seventy-nine, I am pretty much running out of future! But since that dream, I have had many experiences, both joyful and heartbreaking that have become grace for me. Life is about spiritual growth from living in awareness and finding meaning in the whole reality of the journey, not ego or worldly gains or idealized scenarios.

Heartbreaks that have brought grace:

The pain of loss filling me with hate, but persistence in prayer freeing me to let go and accept not only loss, but mine and others’ flawed humanity.

Letting go of past ways of experiencing tenderness and intimacy and becoming open to new ways of feeling deeply cherished even in my helplessness and physical pain.

Accepting that one of age’s delights, sharing laughter with the one I love the most, has an expiration date, because it brings on debilitating coughing spasms due to his progressive lung disease, then finding peace instead in quiet moments of just holding one another.

Letting go of the need for understanding, so I can begin to love instead of need.

Sadly recognizing my own vulnerabilities in the generations following me and knowing the pain these will bring them, but beginning to see that God can bring them through to joy as he has me time and time again.

Knowing that life will not get easier, but believing that grace will continue to bring the fruit of love from both heartbreak and joy.

Appetizers on the journey this Christmas season:

The tree full of cardinals outside our windows, children’s laughter, babies’ smiles, hugs from my husband Julian, people being kind and friendly in a crowded grocery store right before Christmas, Americans’ amazing kindness to the handicapped, Christmas decorations, Julian sitting quietly in the dark enjoying his Christmas village, both Leonard Cohen’s Halleluja and Handel’s Messiah, getting to do the sermon from the molehill at our worship service on Christmas day, our son Mike’s photos and delightful descriptions of his students at the Cambodian orphanage for children born HIV positive, our son Chris getting an interesting new job and so many people in Dickson telling me how wonderful he is, my suicidal friend now ministering to others, seeing friends find new hope in the person of Jesus without having to buy into the hang ups of any denomination, Tylenol taking away all my pain for a while, my loyal friend Margie being a constant in my life, my sister-in-law’s mouth-watering fudge cake, my first cup of coffee in the morning, Christmas memories on face book, our son Steve’s humor and willingness to take care of us Aged Parents in bizarre experiences in foreign airports, all of our grandchildren and great grandchildren, grandson Josh and wife Paula and seven year old Eisley’s adventurous spirits, grandsons Jordan and Jake’s caring hearts and courage, Nativity scenes, granddaughter Hadley so happy wearing her Unicorn Onesie at Norman Family Christmas, granddaughter Emma and her BFF talking and laughing non-stop in the back seat while I drove them to the mall, getting freed from my temporary insanity of hating someone by saying a prayer for love and peace each time while writing it on over a hundred Christmas cards, our teen-aged granddaughter Sophie hugging Julian whenever she sees him and laughing and discussing great books with nephew David, the HO HO HO’s – my friends who are not afraid to color outside the lines, my very own fun super drummer boy great-grandson Aaron, our daughter-in-law Molly’s incredible ability to continue to love even those that bring her heartbreak, our daughter Julie’s infectious laughing attacks that we call “Julie moments”, eight year old Bella’s unfettered enthusiasm for life, memories of waking up to a snow covered world, grown granddaughter Carmen’s resilience and lightning quick sense of humor, the delight of making vegetable soup to share with sick friends and the poor, becoming friends with our fascinating and loving cousin Mary Eleanor, my ninety-four year old friend, Barbara’s children coming to see her in shifts from all over America this Christmas season, grown up great grandson Ryan still having good memories of going downtown with me before the stores opened to earn nickels by sounding out words on signs, some people actually responding to my blogs, being able to keep up with my best friend from High School and College on line, getting to know interesting and friendly people in Canada, England, Nigeria, France, New Zealand and other countries across the globe through the internet, my Study Club women friends, who have miraculously bonded across huge differences in religion, politics, age, background, economics and interests.

These are just a few parts of the wonderful collage of my life that bring me seasons of joy in what sometimes momentarily seems like the “cesspool” of life. 

Perspective : Poverty and Affluence

When you’ve lived as long as I have, you’re a walking history book of sorts. I’ve known six generations of my own family, been through five wars involving America, personally experienced both affluent times and scary times of scarcity, lived in big cities and in back woods’ ‘hollers,’ and traveled to fifteen foreign countries, some of them several times. My father’s family were very wealthy until the depression. Then they lost everything. There were nine children. The older ones experienced all the trimmings of affluence, summer homes and homes abroad. The older boys became Vice Presidents of their father’s company and the girls were debutantes. But, the younger ones had to make it on their own. Though as one of the younger ones, my father didn’t get to finish college, he eventually became an editor of a big city newspaper. This didn’t make us rich. I grew up living in apartments. And in my younger years I was frighteningly aware at times that we lived close to the precipice of poverty. But a newspaper editor has a certain amount of status and connections. One senator, who eventually ended up President, in his early political years asked my father to be his press secretary. Speaking and writing English properly were important in my family. My husband’s father on the other hand grew up seriously poor in a large family. His English was not always perfect. He worked from a very young age, put himself through college, and became a very successful lawyer.  He knew several American Presidents, even had Jack and Jackie Kennedy to brunch at his home. My husband, as the youngest of five, grew up affluent in a house with twelve fire places, that later became a private school. We ourselves have experienced being reasonably affluent. But through a combination of circumstances and timing, we went through some financially challenging times.  Those included an unforgettable night with our whole family out in the snow.  My husband was cutting down a tree,  while the rest of us passed logs in an assembly line for the wood burning stove, both to keep us warm and keep the pipes from freezing.

There are some things I have learned from the rich variety of my life experiences.

Ancestors do not define us.
Money doesn’t make us virtuous, but poverty doesn’t either.
Neither does knowledge make us wise.
Adversity can, but does not necessarily, strengthen us.
What we mean is more important than how we say it.
Ultimately, what’s inside us will matter much more than our circumstances.
There’s a difference between smart people and intelligent ones, but I need to learn from both.                                                                                                                                                                       I delight in talented people and am actually most comfortable around people who march to a different drummer than the majority.                                                                                                     I  have grown to particularly appreciate people who have persevered and become compassionate through seriously hard times.
I am enriched by any kind of beauty whether in nature, art, music, people, or things, but don’t need to own them to experience joy from them.
I have enjoyed having money for extras in life.
However, I am most grateful for the enlightenment that comes from experiencing a taste of the limits and fears that go with poverty, but also discovering the possibilities in the wider world that come with affluence.
And now at this age, there are two characteristics that I value more than anything else: simple kindness and the humility to laugh at ourselves.

We Are Up to this Moment by Anne Lamott

You can probably guess how I feel today, exhausted, in despair, and like hiding from it all. But my Good Dog Lady Bird and I are about to go hiking, and nature will heal us, sustain and renew us–for at least an hour. I’ll take it! Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” and the divine electrical field of love and beauty will all but leave my mouth hanging open in awe. I’ve said before that if birdsong were the only pooof that there is another, deeper, wider reality, it would be proof enough for me.
Then I’ll go hang out with some sober women, many of whom have had decades of sobriety and slow jerky-jerky resurrection; some of whom will only have a few weeks. All of them know exactly what the end of the world feels like, and maybe feel it in different form, but for every one of us, the end of the world was where new life began. Hitting bottom was the beginning of everything beautiful and true and full of integrity in our lives. We’ll stick together, get each other lovely cups of tea or bad coffee, eat our body weight in cookies, and get through another hour in gratitude. Someone will be sure to remind us that we thought we were hotshots when we first got sober, but we helped each work our way up to servants. And that is the path of joy.
Then I’ll go see the oldest woman in my galaxy, who is 93, and beginning to show it. I will sit with her and share the Grace of not not spouting platitudes or bumper sticker thoughts. I’ll just listen. I’ll tell her how much I love her. No one can make her laugh like I do. Ram Dass said that ultimately, we are all just walking each other home, and this is what she and and I do together. In two Sundays, she will become the newest member of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Marin City. I will go crazy with happiness that day. You can come too!
Then I’ll pick up two short crazy banshees from school, and my house will become monkey island. For three hours, I will be under constant threat of severe Lego injury. We’ll over-eat, because God came by earlier and told me that this was Her will for me: “Strengthen me with raisin cakes, comfort me with apples. And M&M’s.”
Then my son and the man I love will arrive, and I’ll bet you hundreds of thousands of dollars that there will be delicious, nourishing food tonight. Wow. That is just not true for much of the world, so before they get here, I am going to send money to Oxfam, and Tyranny Watch, and Doctors Without Borders, designated for poor Americans. On my honor. This is the Drive Through ATM way to feel hope again, because you are providing it.
Molly Ivins said that freedom fighters don’t always win, but they’re always right. I’m going to write that on the mirror. It is written on my sad old heart. We don’t know what the future holds–we really, really don’t. During the Vietnam War, Zhou Enlai was asked what he thought about about the French Revolution, and after inhaling on his Gauloise said, “Too Soon to Tell.” We think we know what the future holds, but we are a tense and irritable people. However, we DO know who holds the future. So buckle up, practice radical self care, serve the poor, and rest up for what awaits us. We are up to this moment.

Moments of Wonder

An illusion haunts us, that a long duration, as a year, a decade, a century, is valuable. But an old French sentence says, “God works in moments.” We ask for long life, but ’tis deep life or grand moments that signify. Let the measure of Time be spiritual, not mechanical. Life is unnecessarily long. Moments of insight, of fine personal relation, a smile, a glance–what ample borrowers of eternity they are!
Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The Commandments: Humanity’s Keys for Survival/The Beatitudes: Our Handbook for Freedom to Love

I’m pretty sure that law and the concept of sin and consequences were created to try to help us live in the groups we need to survive and prosper. Society is a two edged sword. It keeps us from having to do everything for ourselves from fighting off wildlife, planting, harvesting, to creating clothes and shelter, thus giving us time to think, create, explore, and ask questions about the why, not just the how. But, since humanity is a work in progress…..the old adage, that there’s both a goody and a baddy to everything, holds true for society. Society helps us survive physically, but it also challenges us to learn to love.
The commandments were first of all, simply practical. The laws were aimed at keeping us alive, both as individuals and humanity, long enough to become loving. Whatever the Intelligence called God is, that created and nourishes life, it lives within each of us. It is a source of grace to become more loving, than competitive and combative. And we are like cells in a body. Each of us not only affects those closest to us, we affect the whole for better or worse, even the generations following us.
Self-honesty and understanding, rather than guilt, are the beginning of learning to love. And those take courage and grace. The divorce rate makes it obvious we haven’t become enough like Jesus to even love those closest to us, never-the-less those different from us or even “against” us. The commandments are the basic tools of survival for society. But, Jesus showed us the next level through teaching and living the spirituality of the Beatitudes. They call us beyond the fundamentals of the Commandments and just survival. They call us to freedom, the freedom to love others.
Caring is prayer. Prayer is in the intention, whether expressed in words, thoughts, feelings, candles, symbols, acts of kindness, or forgiveness. There is power in prayer. But both wisdom and love are needed to use the power for others, to understand that all creation, without exception, is one.
Jesus is a turning point in humanity’s journey. He fleshed out a love that sacrifices for not only the weakest physically, but the weakest spiritually. This is not survival of the fittest.
His resurrection also illustrated that this life span isn’t all there is. Jesus is the living example of the potential of God’s grace even within our own humanity.
His resurrection shows us death is simply a door to eternity. When we believe this, it gives us a very different value system than death as the finish line. And His openness and love for all show us the way to overcome the finality of death.