So Cold It Hurts (Part 2)


“Grief is the price we pay for love” ~ Elizabeth II (Queen of the United Kingdom, b.1926)

 

Once upon a time, there was a king. (You can read about him here.) Needless to say, he was not a good king. He was petty, unstable, and too heinously jealous to share his kingdom. A king in this time period had a lot of power, almost godlike. If you caught the disfavor of this king, it was often best to run and hide. Even a baby might be at risk from a king like this. In fact, many were, even his own sons were not safe from this king. Power in the hands of evil men and women is a fearful thing.

The name of Herod the Great has gone down infamously in history, like many before and after him. In the face of such overwhelming evil, sometimes it seems as if there is no hope, not even a hope of hope; but God always gets the last word. In the midst of the darkness and fear that characterized Herod’s reign, a tiny germ of hope was planted in the womb of a girl named Mary. This hope was greater than the darkness and evil of King Herod, because this hope had always been, from the beginning. This hope came before any man’s envy or malice or lust or pride. This hope was brighter than any man’s grief or suffering or hardship or humiliation or depression. This hope was everything. This hope was the world’s salvation.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” ~ John 1:1-5 NIV

I read a post on Facebook some time back from the Christian speaker Christine Caine that talked about overcoming discouragement, fear, worry, etc, by remembering (or perhaps realizing for the first time) that the power of God’s word is bigger still. Herod the Great could not stop God’s promise from being fulfilled. Herod Antipas (Herod the Great’s son) could not stop the fulfillment of Jesus Christ’s purpose, or defile it in any way. This was very encouraging to me.

I, for one, had a really aggravating end of 2014. As the time drew near for “Deck the Halls”, decking a human was looking more and more attractive. I am not overly fond of “Christmastime”….as in Martha Stewart, a gift for everyone, perfect house, have-to, need-to, shoulds. Christmas, as in the celebration of the birth of Christ I’m all about, don’t misunderstand. I also find that my children tend to test the flexibility of not only Santa’s naughty list but also my patience and love for them. The closer we get to December, the more the tempers flare, the mouths get mouthy, the chores are left undone, please and thank you are forgotten, and naturally, our bank account gets lower and lower. On years like this one, Christmas-ing is a sacrifice. I’m sure other parents can relate.

As things usually go, when your life is difficult, something will usually come along with a little sting to really grind home the point that you are not measuring up in one way or another. Whether it’s your family, friends, current or former classmates, co-workers, neighbors, housemates, or what have you, there will be friction between people of various kinds. Add to all of that the deaths, missed opportunities, regrets, and the rest of life’s sorrows, so much more poignant at the end of the year. The sharp edges in our lives often become most apparent at Christmastime. It’s not about that though…

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~ John 1:9-14

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So here we are in 2015…..sound of crickets. Yeah I have many of the same stresses as last year, some added, some taken away. It’s been months since I blogged, or worked on my story, or did any graphic design, or felt really inspired, or victorious, or joyful…Yes, this on again off again people person with a sunny outlook and Pollyanna-esque attitude has been in some serious doldrums socially, spiritually, familialy, personally…..you get the drift. Then in the midst of all of that, my beloved compy took a permanent trip to that lost pile of hardware in the sky. I kept thinking there would be a jolt of happiness, or joy, or love, or SOMETHING, but day after day I drifted, having cut myself off from all my friends in some crazed plan to hide myself from anyone that could hurt my feelings or judge me….I felt God to be distant, though it was never true. One day as I was yet again using my hubby’s compy and our tax return was miles away, something struck me and it was this:

This struggle that we face as Christians, or even just HUMANS, isn’t always glorious, victorious, comedy, tragedy, or even noteworthy; BUT it is our personal decision that every day we will try; every time we fall, we will rise; every failing meets with an attitude of I can be better! It isn’t hard to fight when you have a visible, obvious threat. But when we are feeling apathetic, forgotten, pointless, helpless, hopeless, friendless….our fight is with ourselves. It is then our duty to move forward because it is the right thing to do. God is never too far away. He is always waiting, peering down the road waiting for his child to come home, to involve him, to walk beside him. Now, this blog post is not meant to be about me, specifically, I just thought I would share a bit of my own struggles for a moment, because none of us are ever alone in this, even when we feel that way. ❤ Let’s get back into it now, shall we? 🙂

 

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Sometimes, the big bad stuff in our lives seems soooo big and bad that we get the impression that there is no hope. Many early Christians must have felt this way with the overarching power so many of the rulers of the day held over their lives. Many things we face in today’s world can feel pointless and overwhelming. Thankfully, when we are able to lift our heads during a rare ceasefire, we can see that the Bible is full of examples of people in all walks of life who faced impossible, ending, embarrassing, threatening, and damning situations. These circumstances felt too big, too difficult; but then the wall crumbled, the whale spat them out, the sun rose, the enemy fled, the stones never flew, and the grave was empty. God showed up, and their lives were better than saved. They were changed.

John the Baptist paid the ultimate price and won the ultimate reward. Herod had him killed, but Herod didn’t defeat him. The picture at the beginning of this post of a silver platter is meant to remind us of John. It is also meant to point to not only John’s victory, but the final victory of Christ after the empty cross. Sin and death has it’s time, just as every dog has it’s day. The final word belongs to God. Maybe, during this time of Lent, when many around the world lay down their comfortable routine in remembrance of that long ago sacrifice, it would be good for all of us to take a moment and reflect on the gift of an empty cross, and the hope it represents for each man, woman, and child alive today. No matter the filth, the darkness, the hate, the prejudice, the fear, the POWERFUL love of Christ can lift us out of any pit.

 

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” Revelation 22:1-5 NIV

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Run On Your Face


“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” – Inscription on the James Farley Post Office in New York City

Sometimes in a race, the glorious competitors have inglorious moments. Sometimes the supreme athletes trip and fall. Olympians have bad days too; but what sets a champion apart from every other athlete? Maybe those who win aren’t the most talented or the brightest stars in the sky (take that however you like and you will surely be right). Maybe a winner is simply the one who keeps going? Maybe the champion gets up again, even if he/she has to hobble the rest of the way? Maybe sometimes a race is won by crawling the last stretch. Possibly you can only win if you choose to crawl the last bit. Sometimes, all we can do is crawl, barely moving, injured, heartbroken, weeping, bleeding, shattered both physically and mentally. Help is near, and relief is in sight; but not just yet……not just yet… Right now, it seems too cruel that you would be expected to get up with your hurts so fresh, your humiliation so current, your failure so complete. I have faced this situation numerous times, naturally; we all do, and have, and will. One time, in particular, comes to mind, when I was 22.

I was in the middle of my marriage falling apart, outnumbered and out-gunned by my in-laws on every side. I was a confused, whimpering, cowardly, cringing, craven mess! I was used to someone else taking care of things. I had a toddler to think about; and I wanted someone to just FIX IT. My ex has mental issues that blew us all out of the water right around the time of my birthday. His poor family didn’t know what to do either. At one point our frequent marital spats were blamed, at another point, I was. However, writing truthfully about past hurts is difficult. Honesty doesn’t always allow us to remain solely the victim, good, well-intentioned, and put-upon. Looking back, I know that I was not to blame for the abuse or the mental breakdown. There was a history of “off-ness”. I didn’t always help with my own choices and attitude, though. One thing became apparent over the several years I dealt with my ex’s mental fluctuations: the mind is a mystery even in this day and age. How much of a person’s behavior is choice, or hormones, or mental imbalance? How much of our wits are a result of past choices and their consequences? This is not going to be a post about mental illness. (I am absolutely not qualified to write that post. I am absolutely qualified to tell you about what I went through, however, so I will.)

The particular incident I wanted to relate was a quite memorable encounter with my brother-in-law, whom I was staying with at the time. He and his wife took me and my toddler into their home. There is always a lot of friction when someone does this. The negative bits of everyone’s personalities often “outshine” the positives because of the inevitable stress of living with someone else who is unfamiliar and doesn’t have the same priorities or worries as everyone else. I recall sleeping a lot, which did not endear me to my in-laws, let me tell you. I was depressed (did I mention my toddler and I were newly released from a battered women’s shelter?), and I was also newly pregnant. I suspected at the time, but felt so overwhelmed already that I was avoiding actually dealing with the possibility. The queasiness coupled with the stress of the situation took 15 lbs off of my weight. I don’t recommend using that particular diet plan, to be honest. 🙂

One day, tired of my complaining and crying, and no doubt longing for his home to be his own again, he confronted me. He laid out some steps I should take to start picking up the pieces of my life and take care of my daughter. I continued to whine and cry and bemoan my fate, when finally he lost patience with me and threw away the paper he had been writing on for me. He basically said “Fine then, don’t listen to me! I’m done trying to help you!” Well, it hurt a lot, and for a moment I decided he was just a hateful person and didn’t understand why none of it was my fault, and the constantly rehearsed stream of why-mes started up in my head….BUT suddenly, I realized that I didn’t have to like what he was saying for it to be right. I realized I had no other options and that he WAS actually taking his time to try and help me. Even after I had this begin to dawn on me, it was actually physically painful for me to get up, go to the garbage, take out the paper, and walk back to him and ask me to help me. My shredded pride was a tough thing to choke back while I was still so hurt and angry. My wounded emotions screamed as I did it, BUT I DID IT ANYWAY.

No, of course, there were a lot of rocky patches as I used my own wobbly decision-making abilities and determination to struggle up the long hill toward self-sufficiency. Many nights I cried myself to sleep, and it was several years before I could finally break free from my rocky marriage; but it was a start. I faced down my own pride and hurt feelings more times than I care to remember, and still do, and will, gosh darn it, though I hate to even type that!

Sometimes, moving forward means we can’t just sit forever in one cushy hospital bed, or hidey hole, or friend’s house, or relative’s home and nurse your wounds forever. Sooner or later, we must all stand back up, even if we have to crawl for awhile first. Crawl, if you must. Weep if you must. Fear if you feel fear, but do not ever give in!

“You whom I [the Lord] have taken from the ends of the earth and have called from the corners of it, and said to you, You are My servant—I have chosen you and not cast you off [even though you are exiled].

Fear not [there is nothing to fear], for I am with you; do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties, yes, I will help you; yes, I will hold you up and retain you with My [victorious] right hand of rightness and justice.

Behold, all they who are enraged and inflamed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; they who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish.

You shall seek those who contend with you but shall not find them; they who war against you shall be as nothing, as nothing at all.

For I the Lord your God hold your right hand; I am the Lord, Who says to you, Fear not; I will help you!” ~ Isaiah 41:9-13 Amplified Version

It Is Well…


When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,

It is well, it is well with my soul. – It Is Well with My Soul, hymn written by Horatio G. Spafford, 1873

 

I feel for you. Maybe your day is going a direction you didn’t plan for, or you are feeling the dull thud of disappointment inside right now. I feel for you. Let me give you a little background… Today started off quite well. It’s my husband’s birthday. He’s sleeping in because he works at night. The older kids are off to school. The 2 little ones and I are enjoying a peaceful morning…but then…

The 4 yr old started calling in that tattle-tale tone “Mooooooommyyyyyyyyy! Look what the baby did!” I look up from my coffee. It’s not pretty. The baby has thrown her breakfast over the floor. Did I mention I fed my kids sweet rice with cinnamon, sugar and milk? Yeah, it’s not pretty.(Did I seriously expect something different? Come on it’s a toddler with a bowl of potential nasty-mess.) We shall be referring to this in the future as Rice-Pocalypse. Then, after I am just getting over my pity party for that, I decide I would treat myself to a bathroom break and getting dressed in daytime clothes before the kids get home from school. I think indulgent thoughts sometimes. I get the occasional wild hair. Well, you can stop shaking your head because I was appropriately humbled and chastened. When I returned to the living room, feeling quite accomplished and ready for whatever the day might bring, my toddler one-upped me yet again. My desk, you see, is a staging area for all kinds of wonderful things. Usually, I will admit, it is a class action MESS! I recently cleaned it. BUT my precious notebook with tenderly scribbled notes for a pet children’s story lay open precariously close to my cup of warmed-over coffee, as did my keyboard, mouse, and speakers.

Sometimes, I like to take a little trip back in time to the moment before something truly terrible happened and live for a blissful moment in the ignorance and innocence of that moment. However, as I faced the sweet, brown puddle that was growing on my desk, seeping into every nook and cranny and POURING out of my keyboard when I turned it at an angle, I came to a hard realization. All the heel-clicking, no-place-like-home wishing, time travel to the time of Morlocks and Eloi, or plugging my ears and saying “lalalalalalala” would help me. I don’t know if it was the coffee in the keyboard or the growing stain of it soaking into my precious story, but something inside of me sprang a leak and it started to trickle out of the corners of my eyes as I tried to sop up the mess. Again, I felt sorry for myself. Again, I grudgingly admitted that this could have been prevented. The crush of disappointment for the day I hoped for was heavy on my chest. I did a stand-up impression of Eeyore for a few minutes. But then, words gradually came into my mind that I have heard a million times at church and funeral services: “It is well, with my soul.” 

It is often ridiculous to me when the “peace that passes all understanding” comes my way in insane situations. While I was cleaning up the soul-sucking coffee spill, my kids were fighting with the door of the movie cabinet and the toddler was asking for food, when her breakfast had only just been distributed across the floor, mind you. All of the above was done at high decibels, I might add. Still, I felt the words “It is well, with my soul.” God really has a quirky sense of humor sometimes I think. Naturally, I tried very hard to remember if I’ve prayed for any kind of personal character growth and maturity for myself lately. I always have a very fuzzy memory when it comes to things I decide to do that will be good for me.

So, in spite of the hurricane that blew through my morning, much of which I could have prevented myself, I find that it IS well with my soul. He’s got my whole mess in His hands. He will never leave me or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6), even in the middle of a fit. He’s not going anywhere, and he can get me through anything I face, whether it is a serious tragedy or just the day to day million straws that break the camel’s back kind of days. In the words of one of my very favorite preachers, I had to get on with it already. I cleaned up the mess and shut down my computer because my keyboard may be headed for that ever-growing pile of electronics in the sky and wouldn’t work a lick. I also put My-Lady-mess-a-lot down for a blessed, blessed nap. Now I’m typing this on hubby’s computer and enjoying a bit of respite as I am reminded that God’s got this. The world continues to spin and my life with it. Time to put on the big girl panties and be thankful.

God is, nonetheless, very, very good.

Psalm 146

Praise the Lord.[a]

Praise the Lord, my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life;
    I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
    the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
    but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

10 The Lord reigns forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the Lord.

It’s a Great Day to Be New!


“If we’re growing, we’re always going to be out of our comfort zone.” John Maxwell

Right now I have a packet of seeds, several packets in fact, sitting in front of me on my desk. Have you ever looked at a seed, to simply marvel at the size of it? Even a very large seed, like from an avocado, is small when you take the time to consider the possibility and potential that lies inside. A seed on its own doesn’t usually give much of an indication of the eventual fruit of the tree or plant it will become. The majority of seeds are dry, sometimes withered, unattractive, and easy to discount, easy to overlook. I have never once felt hungry when looking at the seed of a watermelon or tomato or orange. I have never looked at an acorn or maple seed and thought, “Now that is some lovely shade.” There is a lot of time and work required to get anything of value out of a seed of any kind. Time……Work…..Time and work…….Hmmmmmmm…….. Did I lose anyone? 🙂

A funny thing about these seed packets is that they all look the same. They’re all about the same size and color. Some are slightly heavier or thicker, but for the most part, they are all the same: packets of potential. On the paper is printed the seed names, instructions for best results, and a hand-drawn picture of the expected plants lying dormant inside each one of them. (I love botanical prints, but that doesn’t really come into this post much. 😉 )

Each one of us, living on this Earth, is like a seed packet. Some of us contain the seed for great works, or beauty, or development, or discovery. Some of us contain the seeds to nurture and care for those around us, or lead, or inspire, or protect. Each of us, no matter what out outsides may look like, where we may live, what we believe, or who we love, or fear, or mistrust, have inside of us the seeds of who we were meant to be. Not all of those seeds will grow. Many will be poisoned by life and sin and choices of our own and others until we stop believing that there was ever anything good or helpful or wholesome or even worthwhile inside of us. Some of us will grow weary with the strange and capricious weather of the world and opt to not plant our seeds. Why risk the heartache and the long years of work and waiting to see if one or two of our dreams may come to pass? It’s too much to hope for. It’s too hard. Its too…..I’m not….They don’t care anyway. Who needs ________________ really?

STOP. Just stop and listen to yourself! What would have happened if the greats had said this and taken no and wait for answers to their burning questions?? Our world is a hard place to live now. Think about how much harder it would have been without the brave souls who paid the price necessary to plant their seeds! Do you think there’s no cost when you plant a seed? You just dig a hole, put the seed in the hole, cover it up with soil, and walk away?

What about the seed, leaving a safe place for the dark unknown, where there is mess and regular dealings with garbage, manure (to put it nicely), and all manner of threat from above and below? AFTER a lot of watering and sheltering, this most fragile living thing finally emerges weak, twisted, and STILL not anything like it’s potential promises. One seedling looks pretty much like any other. They are all delicate, sensitive, and easily discouraged or even killed. This is the fate of embryonic dreams. When we finally have the courage to go ahead and plant them, very often they seem to disappear and we wait an interminable amount of time for them to finally show some signs of hey-I’m-not-crazy-after-all! Patience is hard. We want what we want and we want it NOW!! There was no waiting involved in your imagination when the dream first come to you. There was no hard work or try, try, trying again. What gives? Now in the sick and weary world our dreams are held up for scrutiny and ridicule even by those we most love and that hurts very much. There are even times when we may forget what we even planted. (Wait, is this row radishes or rutabagas? *Author’s note: I will NEVER, EVER plant rutabagas in my garden. Also why is it spelled rutabagas when you pronounce it root-a-beggas? Anyway, moving on.*)

Some people would tell you that labeling your rows is just plain old common sense. I expect most serious gardeners would. I often forget to mark my seeds, or the kids move them, or play with them, or for Heaven’s sake eat them (who knows?)! I find this to be true quite a lot, and not only when it comes to the garden. I find myself distracted by life and the turmoil that comes with raising a big family, let alone dealing with my own inner turmoil and fears and sense of inadequacy as a woman, mom, and wife? I mislay my dreams and hopes and goals. Sometimes I mislabel them, like when I was still a single mom waiting for Mr. Wonderful. I labeled my hopes “Mr. Right”. I should have labeled them “Mr. Right-for-ME”. Alongside that goal, I should have also placed a marker for “Healthier, Happier, Self”.  That crop had to mature a bit first. (Take note, lonely single people.)

Set goals for your dreams. Measure their growth in benchmarks. Keep track of your hopes and dreams. Never forget how far you’ve already come! You are a packet of potential! It’s up to you to show the world what you have inside!

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but [only] one receives the prize? So run [your race] that you may lay hold [of the prize] and make it yours. Now every athlete who goes into training conducts himself temperately and restricts himself in all things. They do it to win a wreath that will soon wither, but we [do it to receive a crown of eternal blessedness] that cannot wither. Therefore I do not run uncertainly (without definite aim). I do not box like one beating the air and striking without an adversary. But [like a boxer] I buffet my body [handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships] and subdue it, for fear that after proclaiming to others the Gospel and things pertaining to it, I myself should become unfit [not stand the test, be unapproved and rejected as a counterfeit].”  1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Amplified 

Phoenix Rising


“We draw our strength from the very despair in which we have been forced to live. We shall endure.” –  Cesar Chavez

Death, despair, desolation…the defeat you have faced is so overwhelming, you wonder how you can go on. All hope lost, all dreams shattered, even your friends have gone, you are alone with your pain, and the smoking ruin of your life collapses around you. You have lost everything.

When we are faced with a loss so deep, a grief so great, that we can’t seem to make sense of the point to even draw breath, we have come to the end of ourselves; and we have found out that we are not enough to fix it, to heal, to cope, to survive. So many people are faced with these kinds of situations everyday. The doctor’s report is in, the police officer at your front door with hat in hand, the judge’s sentence, the letter of dismissal, the empty place at the dinner table, the Dear John note; and we think that we have come to the end of the sentence and the end of meaning, and there is no more to be written.

It is so tempting to lie down in our ocean of grief, feeling betrayed and abandoned, and make the oh-so-easy choice to close our hearts, not only to the people around us, but to the possibility of there ever again being a possibility. We let the waves of sorrow wash over us, and we sink into the sea of misery and drown. Hope seems foolish at this point. Joy mocks us. Happiness, too, we’d like to cover with earth and let it fade, mouldering in the ground where our dreams have gone. There are no words to speak to such grief. Even time is an enemy, as the clock’s ticking eventually brings each day to a close; and then night comes, when we lie in our beds and think, and think, and think. We stare at the ceiling, but all we see is black. Our days are spent, looking past the real world, to the realm of memory and what might have been, where we stare, transfixed at the source of our grief, and all else falls by the wayside. We can sometimes be this way for long periods of time; and those around us (often also grieving) are afraid for us, and love us still, and miss us while we walk like zombies in this half-life that has claimed us. We might as well be buried along with our hopes and dreams.

But life goes on, all the same.

It is important to remember that life goes on after grief. It seems wrong; it seems unfair, but life continues and we remain for a REASON. Of course, we can make the choice to sit in the ash heap and sift through the rubble for the rest of our lives. We can succumb to our feeling of hopelessness and make it a reality. OR….we can make a different choice, and have a different fate.

“Most beings spring from other individuals; but there is a certain kind which reproduces itself. The Assyrians call it the Phoenix. It does not live on fruit or flowers, but on frankincense and odoriferous gums. When it has lived five hundred years, it builds itself a nest in the branches of an oak, or on the top of a palm tree. In this it collects cinnamon, and spikenard, and myrrh, and of these materials builds a pile on which it deposits itself, and dying, breathes out its last breath amidst odors. From the body of the parent bird, a young Phoenix issues forth, destined to live as long a life as its predecessor. When this has grown up and gained sufficient strength, it lifts its nest from the tree (its own cradle and its parent’s sepulchre), and carries it to the city of Heliopolis in Egypt, and deposits it in the temple of the Sun.”  Ovid, on the Phoenix Bird

The Phoenix does not only live on choice and expensive spices and resins, but it springs out of a nest of ruin. There is no re-birth for the Phoenix, until there has been a death. There is a time and place to deal with death, but that is not where the Phoenix lives.

“So when the new-born Phoenix first is seen,
Her feathered subjects all adore their queen,
And while she makes her progress through the East,
From every grove her numerous train’s increased;
Each poet of the air her glory sings,
And round him the pleased audience clap their wings.” Dryden 

Not only does the Phoenix rise from the ashes of desolation, but it is surrounded by scores of other birds because a Phoenix is a glorious conqueror, beautiful, remarkable, and rare. The Phoenix is an overcomer, and we are all encouraged by someone who overcomes. Against great, impossible odds, the Phoenix rises, strong, triumphant, and aflame!

Do not be drowned in your ashes. You can rise again to a brand new beginning! There is joy after grief, as surely as day follows night. You are alive for a PURPOSE. There is a PLAN. You can OVERCOME this sorrow, and be a light to encourage many people.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:9-31

Be Still and Know…


“There are times when parenthood seems nothing more than feeding the hand that bites you” – Peter De Vries

Blogging has become a very therapeutic  activity for me. Sometimes it helps me just to make sense of the world and my place in it. If I can encourage other people while I’m at it, then all to the good. Sometimes, however, my being a mom tends to get in the way of things I really want to do, like blogging, or learning to quilt, or taking a shower. I’m sure a lot of parents can sympathize with me on this one.

On 9/11, I had a great ( in my mind) blog post all worked out……..it somehow did NOT work out…..or even several days later, when a young, lovely girl here in our local high school that has a graduating class of less than 200, who took her life after school. I wanted to exhort, encourage, I wanted to say something profound and shed a little sunshine into otherwise dark and depressing times. My job as a mom took precedence, however, as wisdom reminds me….it is supposed to do just that.

Even though my family is warm and dry and well-fed and protected and all the blessings we hope and pray for our families to have, I often feel that  am missing out on something big, something I could have done, or said, or written, or experienced…. I know I am not alone in this, either. There are scores of books and movies about women (and men) who override this immediacy of parenthood and run off unshackled into the sunset to pursue their dreams. They live happily ever after, for the most part, in those stories. Why doesn’t everyone do this then? Why don’t we have generation after generation of orphans instead of these silently exhausted and stressed-out masses who find it difficult to have a normal adult conversation without recounting so-and-so’s bodily functions for the day?

Perhaps parents everywhere, on every continent, know the secret to being a parent and keeping their life’s light of hope still burning. Perhaps these parents have learned that there are not stretches of eternity….not in this life…..but seasons that are ever-changing, each beautiful for its own characteristics. Maybe they know that there will be days in the future when the little inconveniences and annoyances and heartaches we endure for our children’s sake (and sometimes because of them), will fade and leave mostly happy memories and funny stories in their place.  I try to remind myself this on days when I feel overwhelmed and want to run away and hide, after selling all of my children to the gypsies….or the circus….or maybe the bargain bin at Grocery Outlet. The frantic need for peace and quiet claws at me and makes my best intentions seem quite thin at other times. What I am left with is a simple verse out of the Bible:

“Be still and know that I am God…” Psalm 46:10

I must trust that my days as “Mommy” who wipes noses, tears and bottoms, listens to silly stories and book reports, corrects papers, and on the list goes, will one day change and I will be more like Dear Abby, giving advice and listening from afar. I will miss this and will probably not feel like doing the things I think I am missing out on now. Those things I’m missing, aren’t worth my time as much as these little adored human beings I am responsible to raise to giving, living, loving adulthood. In the end, I don’t think my most important work is being left behind. I think being a mom is the most important thing I will ever do, even when my wildest dreams come true, as some of them surely will. Let me encourage you, also, with this ridiculous stream-of-consciousness rambling that I am doing. God sees what you do, your children see what you do, others see what you do. A good parent is priceless. Don’t undermine your day in and day out job of teaching someone how to be an amazing human by doubting if it’s all worth it. It is. They are. You are. One day things will change. When they do, be able to look back fondly on memories of how you invested in these small ones who looked to you for everything. Be still, and know that He is God. You’ve got this; and He’s got you.

“God is our refuge and strength,an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’ The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Psalm 46:1-11

Fortune Favors the Prepared


You had better live your best and act your best and think your best today; for today is the sure preparation for tomorrow and all the other tomorrows that follow.  Harriet Martineau

Remember the story of the Ants and the Grasshopper? It’s one of my favorites. The foolish grasshopper only wants to play and laughs at the ants as they “waste their time preparing for winter during the warm summer months. They don’t get to enjoy themselves. They don’t have any fun. Soon enough the snow falls and the ants are inside their well-stocked homes, warm and well fed, as the storms rage outside. The grasshopper, poor thing, soon enough comes to realize that his playing has sealed his fate, and sadly freezes to death.

I am always reminded of this fable whenever the weather starts to change in preparation for fall. It is almost time for the kids to return to school. It is almost time to dust off all the soups and stews and cold weather recipes. It is time to start the yearly battening down of the hatches. Time to take stock of our food and the condition of our homes and automobiles and wardrobes has come. We still have the last little bit of summer in some places. We still have a little more time. There is still something to be said for hard work and the payments we receive for our investment in it.

This was brought on, in part, by a certain smell in the air and feel of the wind…..not to mention the fact that there was wind at all. Fall is on it’s way, and change is in the air, again.  A friend and neighbor posted something about her apple trees and tomato plants and preparing for their harvests. We used to live in a house with more apples and pears in the fall than we knew what to do with them. We miss them dreadfully now, of course. It would be wonderful to enjoy the same kind of bounty again.  (Hey, I’m always up for sharing.)

As we think about being prepared, working toward it, planning for it, we must eventually realize that there is more to our lives than our homes and cars and wardrobes and pantries. In the same way, there is more to a person’s life than their day in day out sleeping, eating, working, playing cycle. We are more than we are on the outside, and our insides could do with a bit of preparing as well. This doesn’t have to be the mule at the flour mill daily trudge many of us picture. Our soul and spirit’s preparing can be a wondrous journey full of adventure, discovery, and yes, challenging ourselves to stretch, stretch, stretch! Think of it as the beautification of the inside of yourself, which will eventually be so radiant as to shine out through the windows and give light to those around you.

In your relationships, your personal feelings about yourself and your ultimate worth, your willingness to forgive and be forgiven, and your views of God and the universe around you, your investments of time and study and working things through for yourself (or lack thereof) will bring fruit of their own. You may not ever learn the exact answers or gain perfect understanding in this life, but you can make a good start. Don’t leave the preparation of your inner self on the back burner until it’s too late!

And He said to all, If any person wills to come after Me, let him deny himself [disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself] and take up his cross daily and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying also].For whoever would preserve his life and save it will lose and destroy it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he will preserve and save it [from the penalty of eternal death].For what does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and ruins or forfeits (loses) himself?Because whoever is ashamed of Me and of My teachings, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in the [threefold] glory (the splendor and majesty) of Himself and of the Father and of the holy angels. ” Luke 9:23-26

 

Once Upon a Life…


“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” C.S. Lewis

I have always loved pretend stories. Fairy tales, tall tales, folklore, mythology, fables; they have enchanted me since I was little. As I have aged, like many others who share this love of fairy stories, I have seen grains of truth and life lessons inside these tales. Many, like Aesop’s Fables, have morals and lessons woven into their fabric. Other tales are presumably told for the love of storytelling. As we go through life, however, we learn that every story has a moral. Sometimes we see actions to emulate; and other times we might witness perils to avoid.

Our own lives are filled at times with goblins, enchanted forests, vile sorcerers, shining heroes, and the rest. What we can take away from this is that, unlike a pre-written tale where the actors have no say about its many twists and turns, our stories are peopled with those we happen upon as well as those we choose. Our actions have much to do with our ultimate conclusion, so much more than our initial story’s setting. We can all be working toward our “happily everafter”. The farther you have to go to reach this end, the greater the accomplishment, the more inspiring and harrowing your life’s tale will be. Who wants to read a story that goes from “once upon a time” to “happily everafter” with nothing in between or after? (Happily everafter takes some work.)

Many of the most popular stories have a great opening.  “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.” – C.S. Lewis, The Hobbit.   “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” – John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath  “Call me Ishmael.” – Herman Melville, Moby Dick. The very best tales, however, have a good ending.

Does not wisdom call out?

Does not understanding raise her voice?

At the highest point along the way,
where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gate leading into the city,
at the entrance, she cries aloud:
To you, O people, I call out;
I raise my voice to all mankind.
You who are simple, gain prudence;
you who are foolish, set your hearts on it.
Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say;
I open my lips to speak what is right.
My mouth speaks what is true,
for my lips detest wickedness.
All the words of my mouth are just;
none of them is crooked or perverse.
To the discerning all of them are right;
they are upright to those who have found knowledge.
Choose my instruction instead of silver,
knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is more precious than rubies,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.”  Proverbs 8:1-11

 

 

The Wisdom of Going Through


“Why is it that men who can go through severe accidents, air raids, and any other major crisis always seems to think that they are at death’s door when they have a simple head cold?”Shirley Booth

A week or two ago, I came down with a cold. I had achy-breaky fever and chills. I sneezed and felt the tingle of impending sinus infection doom. I was miserable. You know the feeling. It’s funny how we can endure so many things except when our own body or health is challenged. You eventually recover from these little things, with a new appreciation for all the time you spend NOT feeling this way. Sometimes going through is the absolute best thing for us. Like exercise, sometimes we have to push through pain and discomfort in order to be stronger.

I spent years as a single mom who worked and went to school online. (Talk about your “going through”.) It was hard. There were so many times I felt like giving up on my dream of improving my life and the lives of my children. I almost threw in the towel instead of being a good example and showing my children (and the many naysayers) that some things are worth a fight. Instead of this, however, I pushed through and pushed and pushed and eventually earned my AA in Business Administration. After a few more years, and becoming very happily remarried, I was able to return to my studies and earned my Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design. I have hopes of earning my Master’s and beyond one day. I will NOT reach these goals, on the other hand, if I begin to doubt that I can. My mind dictates the path my life will follow. not everything that happens to us is something we would have chosen, BUT we can learn the lessons we are meant to learn and come out better, stronger, and kinder than we were before the troubles came.

Perhaps my cold could help me to be more motivated to clean my house, eat healthy, drink water, wash my hands (for my sister in nursing school), and get good rest. Perhaps the next time I hear a friend is sick, I will be more compassionate and know how to ease their suffering a bit (temporary though it may be). Perhaps when I hear of people (or their loved ones) suffering chronic or terminal illnesses, my heart will go out to them, instead of a cold should shoulder and judgement, and I will be able to turn my attention toward thankfulness for all the pain I have NEVER had to suffer. It is only reasonable to expect us to learn something. We are reasoning beings, after all, are we not?

Maybe more than our immune systems or personal goals should be made stronger when we endure something unpleasant, tiring, irksome, humiliating, etc. Maybe what should be strengthened is our determination to reach out to others and encourage them as we have been encouraged. Maybe this strange life we all have to live on this strange planet and in these strange bodies with other strange beings is simply getting us ready for the ultimate strange destination of our souls?

“…Then he took hold of the man’s right hand with a firm grip and raised him up. And at once his feet and ankle bones became strong and steady, And leaping forth he stood and began to walk, and he went into the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking about and praising God, And they recognized him as the man who usually sat [begging] for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement (bewilderment, consternation) over what had occurred to him…” Acts 3:1-26 Amplified (selected, read the whole passage here)

Echos of Eden


Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

– Nothing Gold Can Stay, by Robert Frost

When spring rolls around every year, I find myself wanting a garden. Not just any garden will do, either. I want a magnificent Eden, full of the vast array and color spectrum contained in nature. I want plants to look at and plants to eat, preferably all of them beautifully arranged and accessible.  I can definitely relate to Tolkien’s Hobbits when they are described as loving all things that grow. There is just something so satisfying in watching things that you have planted grow from seeds into full maturity as plants or various kinds. My son once grew a single tomato plant from seed that was still growing,  producing and flowering at our 3500 ft elevation when we first started getting frost. (It was a Pompeii tomato, in case you were interested.) Gardening is interesting for all ages. Is it maybe because we began that way?

There are a lot of folksy sayings about when to plant this or that, how to tell if your garden is doing well, when to harvest, etc. Growing food, flowers, or any kind of plant really, just seems to be party of our basic nature. There is such a huge movement toward going green, getting back to nature, organic self-sustaining living, and on and on. At the same time that we are moving away from older ways of doing things and modernizing, it seems many people are realizing the wisdom of looking back to former generations’ wisdom and ways.

It seems to me that if we are realizing the wisdom of doing certain things for ourselves again because it worked well once and still works now, we might want to consider many of the other things that were once standard operating procedure. Things like loyalty, honesty, fairness, justice, and unselfishness might seem outdated or passe, but these values were once just the way things were. It was just the way people behaved. You could count on it like the sun rising in the morning. Perhaps, instead of bemoaning the cruelty and insane selfishness that seems to be the daily diet served up by the evening news, you can be someone who makes a difference for the better. Maybe, if we all lived our lives in parallel to another old-fashioned concept known as the Golden Rule, no matter what the color or preferences or beliefs of the people you encounter everyday whether in person or online (those online avatars represent actual people just like you and me, after all); maybe if we remembered that our ears were made to always be open, but our mouths can actually close from time to time (and should); maybe if we listened to our grandmothers and Thumper’s father “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all”; if we all acted the way we say we want everyone else to…..we would all live in a much happier world overall.

The next time you are tempted to think of something as “old-fashioned” and therefore no longer valid, remember that many of the things we are missing in this world were voted out, modernized, or made unpopular a little bit at a time, until we all learned the bittersweet lesson to be careful what we wish for. Sometimes we get it, and it is a good thing, true. Hand-in-hand with getting our way are the consequences of getting our way, however; and all the political filibustering and campaigning and white-washing and spin-doctoring in the world cannot make things different (in reality) than they actually are. Until we reach a day when “the former things are passed away”, we might just take a look backward from time to time at some of the tried-and-true and see what we’ve been missing.

At any rate, I went online and ordered more seed and plant catalogs than I can possibly use this season. We are in our own home at last, only renting, but nonetheless I want to be able to dream my Hobbity dreams and plan and imagine my perfect garden. I always daydream about a space MUCH bigger than the one I am actually able to use. I don’t ever accomplish the things I imagine, but I go on imagining all the same. Maybe a lot of us just need to find a place like Eden inside of our imaginations where we can go and walk when things get a little too modern and impersonal for comfort.

Thus says the Lord God: In the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities I will [also] cause [Israel’s] cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. And the desolate land shall be tilled, that which had lain desolate in the sight of all who passed by. And they shall say, This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited. Then the nations that are left round about you shall know that I the Lord have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I the Lord have spoken it, and I will do it. – Ezekiel 36:33-36

 

 

Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay. – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19977#sthash.Wt06AMf6.dpuf