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!
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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.
I didn’t set out to post advent reflections this year. I haven’t been following any Advent guide. I have been listening to the sermons each Sunday and paying attention to what God might have for me during this time time of Advent and the celebration of the coming King.
This view outside my living room window catches the play of the setting sun on the neighborhood, the trees and the sky when I got home.
Earlier I walked at the lake without my phone (camera). Well, actually, I did have it, but it was in my purse, in the zippered phone pocket right where it belonged, so I couldn’t find it!
As I walked, I began to pay attention, searching for words to create the picture of what I could not capture in pixels.
* * * * *
blue sky and sunshine
snow – like diamond chips
sprinkled over the ground
. . . beauty
traffic sounds muted
and clear voices carrying
across the lake
different kinds of
. . . stillness
trees bare except
evergreens – still green
leaves clinging to the willows
pods decorating the catalpa tree
. . . resting
covered with snow
silent until spring
. . . waiting
lake frozen in patterns
as if God was swirling the water
as the temperatures dipped
. . . art
breathing the clear crisp air
my mind calms
and considers the Advent of the
Christ-child, born to be
how he came
how still he still comes
to a drab, noisy, broken world
full of frenzied activity and
Oh come to my heart Lord Jesus
There is room in my heart for Thee.
May I be quiet long enough to hear of
Second Sunday in Advent
Comfort & Peace
On a snowy second Sunday of Advent, this year, the sermon was about Hannah, and Eli, the priest, who sees her crying in the temple and accuses her of drunkenness. She tells him why she is praying (she has not been able to have children).
BUT God sees, he listens and he is at work.
As I continued to listen to the sermon, these words came to mind and out onto the page of my journal. My friend, Shirley, calls this “praying at the point of a pen.”
* * * * *
Weeping . . . she pleads Watching . . . he judges her cries Weeping . . . she pleads Listening . . . HE hears He listens to her cries God sees God listens God is at work In this season in all seasons Jesus . . . Emmanuel God with us
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I had never noticed before the significance of Hannah’s response to the mistaken judgments of Eli, the priest. She did not cower in front of him. The temptation for me is shrinking back in the face of other’s judgement, going silent, retreating and accepting other’s judgements as truth about me. And in so doing, I lose my voice and shut down any hope of meaningful conversation taking place.
Slowly I am learning others’ observations are from their own perspective; they are seldom the whole truth about me.
And had Eli continued to judge her, I like to think Hannah would have remained undeterred.
Kelly Hausknecht Chripczuk and Small Wonder Link-up
I have always loved this photo – a beautiful sunshiny day at the Botanic Gardens. The slow drift of wet snow throughout the day yesterday into the evening reminded me of a visit to the Gardens after another snowstorm a number of years ago and my written response to the images of that day as I participated in my a weekly small group. My written reflections are below.
(The fact I am even out here this morning is a big deal. I’d rather stay up late and sleep in. Yet the rest of my world doesn’t cooperate with me, so I’ve been adjusting my sleep schedule. I do love the lake in the morning.)
I noticed and wondered, watching its progress.
Some days are like what is seen from the underside of the leaf: dark, foreboding, and unclear.
Oh to be carried safely on days like this.
Jesus, carry me on dark murky-water days. Let me rest in you like this oak leaf on the water.
On days when you feel far away, when I can’t find you, help me remember this. Those you send to me “become Jesus” to me. They are your gift, making it easier to see you myself.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 New International Version (NIV)
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Connecting this week with Kelly Chripczuk and Small Wonder Link-up
It’s becoming increasingly clear the last couple of years – the time I have left to live is less than the time I have lived (coming up on age 70, fifteen months from now will do that). In light of my musings (more like distress) about traveling this final leg of my earthly journey, I stumbled upon the poem, “Help Me to Believe in Beginnings” by Ted Loder, from his book, “Guerilla’s of Grace”.
Beginnings? are you kidding me, when right now, it seems like the beginning of an ending?
The following words in my journal from a couple weeks ago are shared below: (Highlighting is mine.)
“Help me to believe in beginnings
to make a beginning
to be a beginning,
so that I may not just grow old
but grow new
each day of this wild, amazing life
you call me to live
with the passion of Jesus Christ.”
“Help Me to Believe in Beginnings” Ted Loder, from Guerrillas of Grace:
How can I think of
a blink of an eye is
a month passed,
a lightning strike,
a year flown by.
when it feels like the
Choosing to focus on
the time I have
the time I don’t
is a choice.
Most days I make this choice.
Some days the choice is elusive.
Today is one of those days.
Happy birthday to Brenda Jane.
August 28, 1959 – August 28, 1959
August 28th, fifty-seven years ago:
I am 11 years old. A baby is coming, but the Doctor has been saying there is probably something wrong with the baby and if Mother “miscarries” it will be “God’s way of taking care of it.”
Four years and two brothers after praying for a baby brother, I am hoping for a baby sister.
Sadly my little sister is born too soon, the entire span of her life – seven hours between her first and last breath. The birth is difficult and my mother almost dies. Looking through the nursery window, daddy says the baby is so small he could have held her in his hand.
“She was “perfectly formed,” he says
August 28, 2016
We didn’t talk much about how we all felt in those days. That’s just how it was. Grief seemed to be a private thing. After the initial disappointment, I put my feelings into a box, shut the lid and placed it on a shelf. I had only told one friend, who already knew because her mother had told her. I told no one else.
Later, in conversation with my parents, I learned more of the burden of deep pain they carried quietly in their hearts.
And we know “perfectly formed” babies still die.
And now, I am the only one left after my brother Gordon died at age 49 in 2005. (My second brother Ronnie died nine months after Brenda Jane.) My little sister’s short life isn’t just a “fact” anymore. I miss her. I miss Ronnie. I miss Gordon. If even one of them were here, I wouldn’t be “the only one left.”
“Singing their song,” is now important to me.
“If their song is to continue, then we must do the singing. We have to find that special way that will allow us to sing our loved one’s song loud and clear . . .” Elizabeth Stillwell Grief Digest, Volume 2, Issue #4
This little poem came to me Aug. 28th as I once again sat in the quietness of remembering my little sister, Brenda Jane Longenecker.
Posting here gives me a way to sing her song. I also sang it HERE in 2011.
to Brenda Jane
How could I sing
your song, when you
came and left so soon?
How could I sing
your song, when I
did not know the tune?
Because the song
you would have sung
barely got its start,
the song I sing
for you is cre-
ated in my heart
Years I did not
sing your song,
did not know I could.
Wee One, I’ll sing
your song. It is
very, very good.
“You were perfectly formed,” Daddy said.
Psalm 139:13 – a big sister’s paraphrase:
For you created Brenda Jane’s inmost being;
You knit her together in our mother’s womb.
I praise you, because she is fearfully and wonderfully made.
I know that full well.
If you were walking Miami Beach along about 72nd and Collins Avenue last week, you just might have seen someone that looked a lot like me, sitting at the ocean, texting and thought, “Now isn’t that crazy – an ocean to see and she’s texting.”
Before you render final judgement, about me texting at the ocean, please keep reading and see what I was texting to my grandchildren.
Recently, Miss E and I were talking in the car about how sometimes God speaks to us through nature. He created beautiful things to show us how good and beautiful and grand he is – how much he loves us.
She said: “Oh, I love nature too, especially oceans and seashells…the ones where you can hear the ocean when you hold it up to your ear.” I assured her I would look for one and I would also send her a photo of the ocean. This morning I took that video with this message your Mom or your Daddy will read to you.
When I saw the waves this morning
“Jesus’ love is like the waves.
They just keep coming . . .
no matter what . . .”
the way your parents
will always love
Like I will always love
Jesus is always there.
He hasn’t gone away
even when he doesn’t feel close . . .
Just like the waves of the ocean…
He is there
of the day
And you will never be able to make US stop loving YOU!
Grandma and Grandpa Hiestand
( Don’t tell Miss E, we found a seashell big enough to hear the ocean for each family at the Shell Man, along the road down in the keys. Maybe it will remind of the ocean and the Jesus who always will love us and always be with us.)
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I am part of an online group of women who are what I like to call, “of a certain age.” I think it’s women over 50 and on this my 68th birthday, I am reminded I qualify with flying colors. Each week there is a word for us to ponder on or maybe even blog about. This week’s word is “sacred.” And I can’t help but remember this post about Sacred Spaces long ago and far away (Nov. 2010), so I am bringing it forward once again. These last years of care-giving, retiring and all that came along with that, changed my rhythms and I have had a hard time finding them again. It is becoming quite clear to me being open to new rhythms, instead of trying to impose the former ones is the way to start again.
Sacred Space: A time and place set apart for God and God alone.
Sitting this morning on “my rock,” under “my willow tree,” my eyes fall on the now familiar view across the lake – the new houses I have watched “grow.” I sense there is something special here, but I don’t think the houses are “speaking” to me today. It’s more because these houses, along with the willow tree under which I sit, tell me that I am in my sacred place once again.
The view isn’t what is sacred!
But seeing these familiar sights ushers me into
a settled-in feeling that says . . .
“Ahhhhh . . . .I am here Lord.
I am so looking forward to being with you this morning.”
these are places where I’ve
met you in meaningful ways.
engaged my heart with yours.
I have more than one “Sacred Space.”
Besides this rock, under the willow tree beside Lake Opeka,
there is the off-the-main-path waterfall at the Garden,
“my”corner table at The Garden Cafe . . .
the lakeside hide-away across from the Garden fountain . . .
mom’s chair, now mine and the crackling “Montana” candle . . .
And it occurs to me that it isn’t so much the physical surroundings
as it is the interaction I’ve experienced here
the times I have engaged my heart through Scripture
Places and experiences like these draw me back for more.
Revisiting this post helps draw me back to a rhythm. It will be a new one, not like the old, for much as changed. Sometimes it’s good to read your own words.