I’m taking time to notice these days. As I notice, I find ways to remember and celebrate by sharing here with you on Sundays.
For years we have been coming here to The Dells, driving through town, out into the country where we “get away.” We’ve seen the advertisements about the boat tour. Galen was here with his college geology class years ago. This area, noted for it’s sheer beauty and the unique geological formations went mostly unseen by us until this week. We took the tour.
Mostly I remember
a sense of contentment
breath deepening, slowing down
muscles softening and lengthening
Joy, and . . . peace.
Is it any wonder?
being in a place that shouts of God’s creation
fashioned for his pleasure and for ours.
I was reading today about “Nature Deficit.” A quick research of the subject led to research showing there are beneficial changes in our brains when we spend time in nature. It makes sense.
It’s more than the what I see.
It’s the shouting I hear.
A lovely paraphrase of Psalm 19:1-2 says it this way in “The Jesus Bible Storybook”:
The Heavens are singing
about how great God is;
and the skies are shouting it out,
“See what God has made!”
Day after day… Night after night…
They are speaking to us.
I pray you will notice the “shouting” today and on into the days to come.
Emotions – Can you trust them? “Yes,” says Marc Alan Schelske in his newly released book, The Wisdom of Your Heart – Discovering the God-Given Purpose and Power of Your Emotions.
Emotions he says, are given to us by the God who, himself, loves and has emotions. “They (emotions) are almost always telling us something true and important about our inner landscapes or outer circumstances.” We ignore them at our peril.
Marc, a pastor in a south east suburb of Portland, OR was living disconnected from his emotions. I was not so much disconnected from my emotions as much as overwhelmed by them, feeling guilt at their intensity, often believing I was “too much.”
Neither Marc, nor I were relating in healthy ways to our emotions. Both of us needed the same thing – to understand our emotions are the “wisdom of our hearts and to discover the God-given purpose and power of them.”
As did Marc, I learned God is in the pain with me. After two siblings died within 9 months of each other when I was 11 years old, I lived with the fear of losing someone I loved and at the same time buried the sadness of the ones I had lost. Twelve years ago, this November 8th, I lost my one remaining sibling. Grief for all the losses overwhelmed me.
With a wise, godly counselor, I have learned I do not have to be afraid nor be ashamed of my emotions, for example, my fear. For fear and faith can co-exist as my fear drives me to my faith. The same is true of deep sadness. God meets me there
I have found it true what Marc says so clearly: “Emotions are meant to bring to mind crucial information about our hearts and circumstances. Carefully handled, they are messengers of truth. Giving proper and appropriate attention to our emotions is one of the ways we learn and grow. It’s also one of the places the Holy Spirit works most deeply in our lives.”
This book affirms significant truths I have learned about emotions in my own counseling over these past years:
Emotions are one of God’s good gifts to us.
Emotions inform us.
Emotions are not bad. Yes, while they can be skewed by trauma and life experiences, they are not bad in and of themselves.
I appreciate and respect Marc’s openness about his need for a counselor to help him learn new ways of being. I have found helpful the practical steps he suggests when responding to strong, especially hard emotions that threaten to undo me.
The chapter, “The Inner Workings” covers the neuroscience of how our brain works, recent research that gives insight to this God-designed gift. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
At last – a book about emotions I can give to anyone – without caveats. It covers much of what I have learned in my own counseling and personal/spiritual growth over the past years and here it is, all in one place.
I underlined and when I didn’t have a pencil handy I turned back the corners – I know, I know. I just couldn’t help myself.
I recommend this book without reservations whether you are feeling disconnected from your emotions like Marc, overwhelmed by them like me, or you just aren’t sure and would like to make some changes. It could be the start to unlocking a God-given gift you didn’t know you already have.
Thank you Marc for all the personal work you did and the work of writing about your journey in a coherent, practical, vulnerable way.
Click HERE to find Marc’s book on Amazon
A few thoughts and an image on the weekend –
(“Noticing” at Lake Opeka)
Jesus, Do you have something here for me today? As I sit down here beside the lake I realize something. I used to come and simply be quiet for a while when I arrived. Now I find myself sitting down, picking up in my phone and cruising through All.The.Stuff. I think I’ve been missing something. In truth, I’m sure of it. I put my phone away and notice the leaves riding the wavelets, heading out into the lake except they are not heading anywhere. rather, pushed right on past me as I watch wondering how often I fool myself into thinking I am moving ahead when in fact I am drifting because I am too distracted to notice
The other day at Lake Opeka, when I asked my 9 year old granddaughter if she understood what the word “perspective” meant, she quickly replied, “It’s how we see things.” I am not sure I even knew the word at her age, much less what it meant.
I explained how if we only sit on the east side of this lake, we will be certain it is shaped in a rectangle. And if we sit only at the south end, we will be sure it is round, like a large farm pond. And this would be based solely on our “perspective.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
This Lake is the quiet corner of my life
a sacred space where
occasionally (ok, almost never) I see the morning sun
and most often the later afternoon
or setting sun
She is viewed most often from the east side
from “my” Weeping Willow Tree
sitting on “my” very own rock.
Occasionally the view changes
as I retreat to the south end
in search of shade or a place to park.
It was one of those times
on the south end
I noticed the mystery of
This lake is
or round —
depending on my
And on that day two years ago
gazing at my “round” rectangular lake
my thoughts drifted to
God’s perspective –
fuller/wider/more complete than mine
because he sees all perspectives
While not a new thought to me
it left me strangely unmoved.
I noted my resistance
giving myself time to simply pay attention
(I have learned these feelings tell me
something needs attention)
* * * * * * * * * * *
I continued to note this resistance over the next couple of years as I moved from my Willow Tree on the east side of the lake, to the one of the Willow Trees at the south end. This week down at the south end looking at this “round” rectangular lake, I mulled over in my mind this curious resistance to the thought of God’s perspective. Why didn’t this truth comfort me?
And I opened my journal and penned these words as I began to process what I was coming to understand:
“He sees and knows far more than
me who only sees what her eyes see here and now
who knows only what she has experienced.”
As I continued to journal, I thought about how, growing up, I was taught to “Trust God’s perspective.” — the admonition to trust accompanied by the implication we would then “Be OK.” (At least that is what I “heard.” And in those last two words, the message to me was: “Fear, sadness, anxiety are evidence of a lack of trust of God’s perspective.” And I understood, contained right there in those two words (“Be OK.”) was the source of my resistance.
Marc Alan Schelske points out in his recently released book, (The Wisdom of Your Heart ) emotions are given to us by the God who, himself, loves and has emotions. “They (emotions) are almost always telling us something true and important about our inner landscapes or outer circumstances.” We need to pay attention.
With help, over these past years, I have learned I do not have to be afraid nor be ashamed of, for example, my fear, for fear and faith can co-exist as my fear drives me to my faith.
* * * * * * * * * *
Today I took two grandchildren (including the 9 year old mentioned above) with me to the lake, showing them from the east side how the lake is shaped like a rectangle and when we walk around to the south end, it will look round. As we made our way to the end of the lake along the east side, stopping along the way as children will do, they kept watch on the lake, Young Miss exclaiming as we walked south, “I can’t believe this.”
As we stood at the end of the “round lake” that we knew was in actuality a rectangular lake, we discussed perspective and what I have learned about it – ours and God’s. She seemed to get it.
At lunch Young Miss, 9 years old, told her Grandpa the heart of what she had learned at the lake. After explaining the wonder of perspective and how the lake looks different depending on where we are, she put it all together in these twelve words:
“God sees the whole perspective.
And he is with us in ours.”
We then reviewed together the truth that sometimes what we experience from our perspective hurts. And we get to feel the feelings we feel.
She got that too.
And so am I.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
You may notice I used present tense in that last sentence. It’s still harder on some days than others to believe my perspective is not all there is — even on the hardness of those days, I am learning (present tense) Jesus is with me in the hard and I can receive encouragement and comfort from others on the days when it is hard to believe what I see is not all there is. For that I am grateful.
This week I’ve been mulling over the words to this old hymn, “Be Still My Soul“ by German author, Katarina von Schlegel.*
On occasion, I wake up with a song on repeat in my brain. It’s not surprising to me when this happens as God often uses music to speak to my heart and this time was no different. The particular lyrics playing over and over that morning were these seven words — “In every change, he faithful will remain” — again and again and again.
So much change in the world at large
so much change in my world
and in the world of those I love.
unsettling, whether it’s
anticipated and longed-for
unexpected and unwanted
large or small.
Galen and I have experienced seasons of the winter/spring/summer/autumn variety at Chicago Botanical Gardens. There have been other seasons/life changes where it was and some days still is hard for me to experience the truth of these words. Again and again, God brings me back to the truth of these words through those who encourage me, hold my faith for me, are Jesus-with-skin, and yes, a godly counselor who has helped me untangle the tangled threads of change.
As the song continued to play in my mind, I couldn’t help but think of the scenes we’d captured at the gardens and as I played with the photos that help me remember, this image emerged. Sharing it here with you helps me “Remember“.
Now “Celebrate” this truth with me here in this space this weekend.
(A similar experience with this song focused my attention on the importance of stillness in “Be Still My Soul” – click HERE)
* Very little is known about the author, Katharina von Schlegel, born in 1697. Over the next 100 years it was translated by Jane L. Borthwick, a member of the Free Church of Scotland. In the early 1900’s, David Evans, an organist, choirmaster and music professional matched it to the tune of Finlandia, Op.26, which had been written by Jean Sibelius in 1900 for the Revised Church Hymnary (London, 1927) and later was used in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. for The Hymnal (1933).
If you are a bit like me and are fascinated by the history and development of lyrics and music into songs we sing in worship, you’ll find more HERE about this song.
To listen to and see the lyrics for the rest of the song, click HERE and listen to Kari Job‘s rendition of this simple song, profound with truth. .
Remember – to call to mind again.Creating a visual helps me do this.
Celebrate – has to do with rejoicing/praising/ marking an occasion with others.
Today, on Sunday, I Remember and Celebrate with you, my readers.
You can read about Remember and Celebrate by clicking HERE if you are new to the blog.
Dear Little Sister Brenda,
Today, August 28, you would be 59 years old. Since you came and went so fast, all in the same day, I know nothing about you. All I can do is try and imagine. Daddy was the only one who saw you. He said you were “perfectly formed.” Often I have wished I could have seen you. I’m sure you were beautiful.
I’ve brought along a couple items so we can celebrate your birthday together – some goodies I imagine you might like.
First, though let me tell you about our brothers, Gordon and Ronnie.
Sometimes on days when I am remembering our brother, Gordon, I slowly eat a sweet, crunchy-gooey Rice Krispy Bar. Carol, his wife, made them for him. Yes, Gordon married a Carol (Yeah, two Carols is confusing.) Carol added extra butter and extra marshmallows. Naturally, Gordon liked hers best. Maybe you and I would both be making sweet, crunchy-gooey-Gordon-approved Rice Krispy bars! By the way, two of your nephews, Scott and Gerald married women named Jill. And people would have confused you with Brenda who was my business assistant for eighteen years. Brenda claimed she was you, coming back as a princess to make my life easier. Which she did!
Gordon also loved Candy Corn – dried out and rock hard. He was funny like that. He also liked Carol’s Blueberry Muffins, but he picked out the blueberries first. Yeah, I don’t get it either! The year after he died, Mom and Dad and I were visiting Carol in Montana on Mother’s Day. We stopped over to visit Carol’s mother who gave us a brown lunch bag with dried Candy Corn she had bought around Halloween the year before, and put aside to give Gordon the next spring – rock hard and just right for him. It was a little tradition she and Gordon shared. Every fall I buy Candy Corn and save some for the next spring. I enjoy it fall and spring. (He loved Skittles, which I don’t like – not sweet enough for me. Sadly, it was the only food he had in his pocket when he was lost. The searchers found Skittles along his trail. )
Ronnie – I don’t remember a lot about him, because he died at age 2 ½. It was nine months after you were born/died in the same day. We have a family story of how Ronnie loved cheese – never wanted to stop. One day at dinner, he had had enough, according to mom, who told him “no more cheese.” My cousin, Janet was sitting next to him and he conspiratorially whispered in her ear, “Ja, Ja, Chee, Chee.” We stifled our laughter. No, he didn’t get any more cheese. Cheese and Crackers were a frequent snack at our house, which, of course, Ronnie loved. So when I celebrate Ronnie, it’s with cheese and crackers.
You’ll notice this is all around food! Mom was a good cook. How she did it with so little, I’ll never know. Daddy loved to eat it. He always knew the best brand of ice cream and he loved it best with pretzels. So it should come as no surprise, what I brought to celebrate your birthday has to do with food! I had no idea what you’d like, so I’ll just imagine.
Today, I’m sitting by a small lake where I often come. I have 70% delicious dark chocolate to share. Only 1/2 a bar because I’d eat your share (since you aren’t here to have the other half). I opened an individual bottle of Pinot Grigio – a white wine. In case you haven’t had Dark Chocolate and White Wine where you are, trust me, this is a good combination. Actually, I just checked. A Red Wine is recommended with Dark Chocolate, but what do I know? I do know I like this combination on those rare special days like today.
And so I savored the taste of a white wine paired with the 1/2 bar of dark chocolate and thought of you sitting here with me. Yes, together celebrating your birthday. I can only imagine – just imagine, what fun we would have.
Then I poured out the second half of the bottle. It didn’t seem right to drink your share. I sadly watched it drain out of the bottle and onto the stones by the lake. I’m glad to know I do have you, Brenda, my only sister and sad not to have you here with me. I think of you often and once a year I celebrate your birthday. Sometimes I release a balloon. Today I raise a glass and taste the bittersweet richness of dark chocolate.
I think you would have enjoyed the chocolate and the wine. Most of all, I think you would have enjoyed being with me.
I love you and miss you more than you can know.
Help calm my heart, Jesus. Dad died four years ago today. I reckon the uptightness I feel about all the things I want to get done this week, wondering if I have enough time and fretting that I am indeed running out of time, keep me distant from the fact this is May 16, 2017 and so I breathe in and out and allow myself to feel and connect with what is true for me today. My brain is roiling – and so I pick up my pen and start to write.
I miss my Dad’s presence in my life
that stage of life that wasn’t shouting
“You are losing them”
when they were timeless, ageless.
You didn’t have to think of losing them
because they would always be
Then comes the inexorable march to
decline and you start to hope it happens
soon because you know it can’t get any better.
And even they want to “go home.”
Then the relief when it’s over
a curious blend of grief and gladness
with more gladness than
Because you know the difficult
end-of-life struggle for them, for you
and you want to be careful who you say
it to, because they might think you just
didn’t want to take care of them
anymore, and you knew you
couldn’t and now they are safely
After a while, you start to wonder about your own
death. And you fear for your children
going through the same process
with you if you live a long life
leading to a gradual
And you don’t want them to.
you pray for your children
knowing they will travel their own
journey with you, entrusting Jesus
to be present with them as he was
with you when your parent
You start to know and believe
this is part of the life we live
our souls wrapped here in this flesh.
and gradually you come to find comfort in
Psalm 116:5 (MSG) knowing
“When they arrive at the gates of death,
God welcomes those who
And after a while, you decide to share your journey even though some might not understand, because others, maybe even your kids, will experience something like you did and they can know there is nothing wrong with them. It’s part of life/death/dying and rising again.
Those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time might remember me writing about my difficulty attending my first Ash Wednesday Service. Since writing this, I have also buried my Dad. I still haven’t been to another Ash Wednesday service. I will spend time with Jesus each day and see where we go together. And I have ordered “unhurryUp! into Easter: A Lenten Pilgrimage,” recommended by a couple good friends from last year who know about my uneasy relationship with Lent, especially Ash Wednesday. I originally wrote this in 2012.
And no, my cactus has not bloomed again in February!
* * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * *
This year on Ash Wednesday, I rejoiced in an “out of season bloom” from the cactus on my windowsill as God’s gift of Life and Beauty to me on a day that is to remind us of our mortality.
2012 was my first experience of living the Church year within a church community, although I have been experiencing my own Lenten meditations and readings for the last 4-5 years in my personal quiet times. Ash Wednesday ushers in the season of Lent. Ruth Haley Barton explains it this way: “As we receive the symbolic gesture of the imposition of ashes on our foreheads, we acknowledge our human finiteness and mortality. No matter who we think we are, receiving the ashes reminds us that, “You are dust and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). This is not meant to be morbid; it is just meant to limit our grandiosity and help us to stay in touch with the real human condition we all share.”
With anticipation I attended my first Ash Wednesday service last year – an opportunity for me to live into this new experience. As it turned out, this first venture into Ash Wednesday was difficult for me. I was troubled – no, angry at death, angry at having it front and center. I was sad, once again tossed around by a wave of grief I didn’t expect as I grieved the losses I have experienced. The last thing I needed was a reminder of my mortality. I am all too aware of my mortality and the mortality of others. I also felt bad – maybe even a little guilty at my responses.
Months later I shared this with David Fitch, one of our pastors who helped my understand my reactions. By the time Ash Wednesday rolled around last year, I had been living my own “Ash Wednesday.”
August through early January is marked by the death anniversary and birthday of my mother and the three siblings I have lost – Gordon, Ronnie, and Baby Brenda Jane – These times are always days I stop to “remember.” Sometimes they are harder than others, but I always remember. Being in a service that focused on reminding me that I am dust and will return to dust sent me to a sad, dark place. I am all too aware of my mortality. David helped me see I had been having my own Ash Wednesday and reassured me that I did not need to feel shame about my reactions.
Had I been able to hear God speak that night in the Ash Wednesday service, I think I would have heard him say: “I know…I understand.”
So when I was greeted on this Ash Wednesday morning by the exquisite beauty of the cactus that has never bloomed this time of the year before, I was comforted. While we are mortals, Christ is our immortality and that is enough for me.
I suspect I will again attend an Ash Wednesday service, but for now, I am OK letting God hold me and comfort me on days when I am reminded of my losses, telling me He knows and understands, attuning Himself to me.
I love that about the God I love and serve.
I go for walk, looking for beauty on a dreary cloudy day in a strange neighborhood while on a girlfriends’ weekend at a hotel.
By the time I wind around the hotel, to the back corner of the parking lot, I have all but given up.
“Lord,” I say,” there doesn’t seem to be any beauty in this dreary suburban landscape of buildings and parking lots devoid of grass or trees.”
“You just haven’t looked long enough,” He Gently responds.
And then I spot it – a park bench leading to a path along the hotel property and parking lot.
I’m thinking this looks hopeful – hopeful that is, until I am standing at the beginning of the dreary-looking dirt path. In some places it’s downright ugly.
A few steps later, I spy it – beauty, at its best – bright blue berries gracing the dark evergreen of the Juniper bushes lining the pathway on one side . . .
. . . and on the other, tall dried stately grasses left over from last summer, filtering the view and dulling the roar of cars and trucks whizzing by on the busy highway.
The path continues, becoming more picturesque as it continues to wind along the edge of the property, the still-busy sounds of the highway to the east, muffled even more.
Rounding the corner I am treated to the unexpected sighting of a lake with a willow tree standing guard in her winter nakedness and a sign that says “No Fishing, No Swimming, No Wading.”
Thankfully, it doesn’t say “No Looking.”
My twenty-minute walk stretches into forty. Arriving back at the hotel entrance I notice the dried grasses and the bright red berries on the tree I’d ignored on my way out the door forty minutes earlier.
Seeing with new eyes, I murmur on the way in, “Thank you, Lord, for this beauty, reminding me of your ever-present presence.”
* * *
The beauty I saw that day, lingered with me throughout the next week as the clouds remained hidden and the days continued gray and dreary as they had for days before and one day, I added “Find Beauty Today” on my to-do list.
Here is what I found later that day.
Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to look for beauty before we convince ourselves there is none to be found.
Where have you found beauty lately? I’d love to hear from you.