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.
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
* * * * *
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)
I love hearing from you. And who knows, you just might “meet” someone on here who becomes a friend, or someone you already know.
Connecting this week with Kelly Chripczuk and Small Wonder Link-up