It’s been a lovely spring so far! I have been soaking up lots of glorious sights – blooms, blossoms, and beautiful scenery.
I’ve also been blessed to be very active – with lots of hiking and adventures with my dogs. We’ve discovered new trails, along with the joy of favorite trails re-discovered.
With the weather getting warmer, we’ve also enjoyed swimming! Well, the dogs have enjoyed the swimming, and I greatly enjoy watching them and attempting to capture videos of their hilarious antics.
We’ve visited our favorite spot a number of times as the sun is fading. Last weekend was a stunning sunset. It was the dogs’ first time back swimming in the Bay since last October (?) and they didn’t miss a beat. Their swimming ability always amazes me.
It occurred to me this week that it’s been exactly four years since Hunter got hit by a car. And yet, on Saturday he hiked over 6 miles with me, and on Sunday he swam, and swam, and swam. I am so incredibly grateful he recovered from the accident and injury!
A remembrance like that, brings a flood of gratitude. Life has been quite difficult in those four years since, and my dogs, Hunter and Scout, have been some of my greatest blessings.
It’s hard to understand our trials, suffering, challenges. I believe God wants us to ask the questions, but to remember not to “lean on our own understanding.” I certainly can’t make sense of it all, and am continually learning to lean into “trusting the Lord with all my heart.”
But what I do know – is that God is with us in our trials. He is always present and will never leave us. Nothing can separate his love from us. That love has been the rock that has kept me afloat.
He also provides. And for me, these precious dogs have been an incredible provision that have brought me so much love and comfort when all else has been dark and lonely. And they have provided so much joy, fun, and laughter!
So today, I am grateful for a pup that survived a car accident, and for the joy that my two pups bring me, that has helped me survive the trials of life.
Gratitude doesn’t take away challenges, but it sure feels good, and gives perspective. In this season of new life and blossoming, may we all be filled with gratitude and the grace to go on!
Family time in the mountains is always a good thing. As the year mark passed on COVID, I could not be more thankful for time spent in the woods my loved ones. There’s something about the mountains, especially at springtime, when new life is ready to burst.
Mountains surround me
I breathe in air, crisp and clear
My gaze lifts, upwards
The first blooms begin
Tree buds are ready to burst
Life renews, again
Clouds and fog roll along
Sunshine breaks, painting the sky
Peace flows from above
May spring continue to abound in beauty, whether you’re on a mountain top or not!
It’s been a beautiful winter…as I wrote about last week. This first week of March in Maryland was still quite cold! And yet, there was a feel of spring in the air, with the upcoming week having a forecast of temperatures in the low 60s!
It was a weekend of more snow geese, on a frigid Saturday evening in Pennsylvania, still with snow on the ground. It was definitely representative of my gratitude for what this winter has been in discovering new pursuits and delight in nature.
A Sunday hike with sunshine brought thoughts of spring. I’ve also been starting to see daffodils shoot up in my neighborhood! The first sighting stirred something within me—my longing for spring. It’s felt especially poignant after a year of hardship, not only with COVID, but personally, after a year of back pain and surgery, which prevented me from experiencing spring last year.
I’ve been thinking of that for a few weeks, and working on some words to reflect it. Enjoy, and may the hope of springtime feel strong in your heart!
The sidewalk led me around the familiar neighborhood, Strewn with vestiges of February’s ice and snow. The sun set slowly behind me, While the near full moon shone brightly ahead. I rounded a corner and saw a neighbor’s flower bed, still with a few spots of snow, With shoots of daffodils starting to emerge from the soil. Something stirred in me, seeing those stems, Pushing through the earth, starting their journey above ground. With the sting of the winter winds gone, and birds chirping in the distance, A few deep-seeded tears came to the surface, Reflecting an ache and a hope; A longing for spring, For spaces long dormant to come alive.
I’ve been bundled in sweaters, scarves, and coats for months, a welcome relief from the cold, A blessing I don’t overlook. Home has cocooned me, protecting me from the elements, But the long dark nights keep me inside and isolated. Now I long to shed these layers and let the sun shine on my skin, to relish in a gentle breeze and soak up the warmth of rays of light. To embark outside my four walls and explore the outdoors, Free and unfettered. Alive and attune to the natural world around me.
So intense is this desire, I wonder what’s wrong with me, Or where this is coming from. Is it just my penchant for pretty flowers? The exhaustion from shoveling snow? The lack of sunlight? Perhaps just my seasonal, and otherwise, depression. And… Or… Is there something within our souls that is simply drawn to renewal? Of songbirds, Warm breezes, Blooms, And butterflies?
I don’t want to wish the winter out of existence. There’s great beauty to be found in it; I see this looking at the delicate intricacies of a small snowflake, Or moonlight shining through a frozen forest of snow capped trees. But it’s not just the beauty. Acceptance of the season, and all of the necessary things that are happening, Has allowed me to make peace with the winter. Even in the hibernating, the quiet, the darkness, There are meaningful things taking place; And the rest, is restorative.
The cold cannot go on, though. I am thankful for the wintering, And acknowledge growth gained. But the human heart is wired for winter to end; The hope of spring is deep within. And so, I don’t want these longings to languish; To become numb and frozen, Okay with an endless winter; Because bulbs are no good if they stay buried.
Thus, in this transitioning time, I welcome the gratitude for winter, And the peace that comes with its acceptance, And I also allow my longings for spring to be piqued. I start looking for signs, Harbingers like the daffodils, And the pure happiness of a chorus of cardinals. As they start to appear, and make themselves heard, My spirit lifts and my heart feels lighter. This is hope, in the watching and the waiting for springtime.
Newness and life alive is on the horizon. This is what we were made for; Each season has its place, And the fall and winter will come again, But it’s the regeneration that sings a sweet song to my soul. The hope of springtime fuels the spirit; Without it, how to go on? It’s coming. And so I wait, I watch. I keep walking the path in front of me, Seeing those shoots press further above ground each day. The daffodils will be dancing soon.
God allays our fears in ways we don’t always expect.
Going into this winter, I was worried about the long, cold nights combined with continued COVID cancellations and isolation.
But the Lord brought an unexpected delight in January and especially February—snow!! We received an above average amount of snow in Maryland, making for some beautiful scenery and lots of fun exploring and playtime! Even the cold temperatures kept the snow around, allowing for hikes through the woods with glorious sunshine on the snow!
The freezing temperatures plus the tide created an amazing icy landscape at my favorite place along the Chesapeake Bay.
And then there’s home. It’s hard for me to believe these gorgeous scenes are right in my backyard.
I’m incredibly grateful. Life has been far from pretty, but God has given me natural beauty and the value of home for moments like these.
What a beautiful winter it has been!!!
And now we turn to March, the month of transitioning weather in Maryland. While the winter has been wonderful, I’m feeling hope for spring in my heart.
So here’s to gratitude, for beauty even in the dead, icy seasons. And here’s to newness, springtime, and looking for beauty even in the little places.
I’m not a morning person. Never have been, although I always aspire to be one!
This weekend though, I got up for the sunrise. And it was worth it. But it was more than just the sunrise…
My sister and I did a weekend getaway on the Maryland Eastern Shore; we wanted to explore Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, a waterfowl sanctuary for birds migrating along the “Atlantic Flyway.” It seemed like a great place to combine hiking, nature, and opportunities for photography. And it did not disappoint!
The sunrise on Sunday morning was incredible (as was the sunset on Saturday evening!).
I am so thankful we pulled ourselves out of bed at 6am not just because of the sunrise, but for the rare sighting of a massive flock of snow geese. It was a beautiful sensory experience of sight and sound! It also happened to be about 30 degrees, so it was definitely freezing – but worth it!
The sight began as what looked like a giant floating line of white in the crisp blue waters of the marsh. At a closer glance, one could see that it was actually a massive flock of birds floating together on the water. It was beautiful, but after being up so early for the sunrise, we were also ready to get on our way for some coffee and breakfast!
After watching for a few minutes, we started to leave. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted some movement. That’s when the giant wall of snow geese began to take off. And what an incredible sight!
A larger portion of the geese formed a murmuration, a swarming behavior of movement, while other smaller flocks broke away, forming into a V formation and heading off into the rising sun. These beautiful birds breed on the Arctic tundra, and then migrate south to places like Blackwater during the winter, foraging for wood in wetlands and muddy agricultural fields.
Nature is truly amazing!
I’m still thawing out from lots of time outdoors in below freezing temperatures this weekend, but my heart is warm from the natural experience and memories.
The entirety of the morning, waiting and watching for the sun to rise and birds to flock, brought to mind Psalm 130, words that my heart has held closely this past year. Verses 5 and 6 stood out as I shivered on the wetlands’ observation deck, waiting for the sun to peak through the dark morning’s wispy clouds.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; 6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
Patience and waiting are a discipline. But with them comes gifts. Practice may not bring perfection, but it will bring peace. And maybe even a rare bird sighting!
One aspect to explore is the gift of creativity. Art + Faith: A Theology of Making by artist and author Makoto Fujimura is an excellent read on these cold January nights to dig into consideration of mankind’s ability to imagine and create.
Humans were designed to create; at the most basic level, consider the wonder and awe of procreation. Beyond that, at an even more intrinsic level, is the commission God gives to Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden, to have dominion and stewardship over the earth. Starting with Adam’s role to name the animals, the Bible shows how God gifts humans with creativity to explore and create and think and build.
I think creativity can sometimes be a “buzz word,” or something that we think a person has or doesn’t has. But, I don’t think that’s true, especially if we expand the concept to the constructive and cultural possibilities of people. Of course we’d consider a painter like Fujimura creative, but so too is the architect who designs a new school, the doctor who diagnoses and cares for a patient, the teacher who comes up with an innovative lesson plan, or the data scientist who analyses numbers to find a strategic solution.
Leaning in to the giftedness we have is living a life of embodiment. This book has been an inspiration to me to foster and tap into my own creativity. This weekend that meant setting aside a few hours to dust off my watercolors and pour some creativity into a painting. While I was moderately pleased with the final product, it was the process and the experience that gave me more joy!
My challenge to myself this year, and any reader who may come upon this, is to find ways to declutter from the distractions of modern life and get to making, whatever that might look like with your gifts.
Creating and making is good for the soul and glorifies God!
Need some inspiration? Spend time with the Master Artist in Creation!
The thing about lament…is that it is anchored in truth and hope.
“Believers in Jesus are called to walk the path between earthly brokenness and heavenly restoration. Lament is our song for this journey.” – Mark Vroegoep, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy
A lament for our world, for our country, for our community, or for the circumstances of our own life, is anchored in God’s word, in his redemptive plan.
Almost 500 years ago, Martin Luther wrote “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” Singing this (masked, of course) in church this morning, this stanza really struck me:
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God has willed his truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him.
If anything, this week, and the start of an new year, should call us to to our knees in prayer. God HEARS our prayers—faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains.
Our lament should always lead us to sing out in praise, because while we may weep for brokenness around us, we know the Lord is in control, and that he is working all things for redemptive purpose. No matter what, our God is a “bulwark never failing.”
Nature is such a gift. These are the scenes that centered me and drew me closer to God this weekend! Enjoy!
COVID, of course, dominated the New Year’s Eve discussions, with essentially everyone toasting to leaving 2020 behind. Flipping the calendar doesn’t mean changing the circumstances though. But it is a great opportunity for reflection and resolve for 2021!
It’s okay to acknowledge how hard 2020 has been. So many people have suffered and lost loved ones. That is a tragedy. But the isolated “social-distanced” living we’ve had to accept has also been a tragedy. I’m not intending this post to be a dissection of government policies over the pandemic; others can do that! But I do think we all must acknowledge that a disconnected lifestyle is not the way we we are supposed to live.
We were made for an embodied existence.
Humans were created with not just a soul, or a mind, but a human body, to be lived out in relationship, the truest reflection of the Creator’s image.
Our bodies are incredibly important, not just how care for them, but how we interact with others. We quite literally need human connection.
A very simple example is from a story I shared this past summer—a gentle touch of the hand from a kind nurse on my arm gave me peace and comfort during a painful cortisone injection I had to get in my back (not fun!!). It was so simple but it not only reassured my anxious body but my distressed emotions as well.
2020 was unique for me in that I was not only experiencing the loss from the lockdowns, but going through the aforementioned physical injury and recovery, learning much about my body. This also coincided with a few classes in theology for my graduates studies in which I researched and wrote on embodiment…this is something that I have been thinking, experiencing, and praying about all year, and why I wanted to write more about it to start 2021. There is so much richness to theologies of the body and embodiment—its truth is a great good to share with the world not only because it is the best way of living for human flourishing, but because it points to the Gospel.
As I played with my niece this Christmas, I was able to marvel at the simple beauty of embodied living. Babies depend on their mother and father to live. And they learn by playing. How can we not see how important our embodiment is? The beauty and mystery of the incarnation was real for me in a new way this year as I soaked up the goodness of life lived abundantly in my body.
Running through snow and along slippery ice with my dogs.
Hugging my sister tight after a year of absence.
Hands covered in cookie dough and rolling out pie crust.
Silly rounds of charades with my family, filled with laughter.
Delighting in sweet and savory treats of tradition that fill my belly with goodness and my heart with warm memories and remembrances of loved ones long gone.
Fingers on ivories for Silent Night as my niece taps away off key notes, her little mind soaking in my presence.
An embodied Christmas was a balm to my soul after this painful year.
I am resolving to live an embodied existence as much as I can in the coming year. It’s not only what my body, spirit, and soul needs, it’s how I best reflect the image of God.
I write this not as someone who has it all figured out—whether during COVID or not. No, I write as one who has failed at this and been failed by others in it. I write as one who is learning, to instruct myself, to humbly share whatever wisdom God speaks to me on this. I am writing this to encourage myself and others to embrace an embodied existence in this new year!
Blessings in the New Year and cheers 🥂 to 2021!
Feel free to share ideas for connecting and embodied living in the comments. 👇🏼
The written word kept me afloat in 2020–both reading and pursuing my own writing.
I’ve read some wonderful books, and have had more time to review them throughout the year—making this exercise a bit easier as the final day of 2020 rapidly comes to conclusion! Going back through my book journal is like remembering old friends—reminiscing on enjoyable experiences, lessons learned, and wise words taken to heart.
My fiction reading varied widely from classics, Pulitzer winners, Austen-fan fiction, action dramas, psychological thrillers, and modern mysteries.
As for non-fiction, I gravitated towards theology, spiritual formation, psychology, with a bit of history thrown in. I also read several titles on cultural engagement and bioethics for my master’s degree.
I hope these notes are helpful! Several below have longer reviews that are linked. And feel free to leave comments on suggestions for 2021!
• This likely wins the prize as my favorite book of 2020. Doerr’s writing style is captivating and the reader can’t help but come to know and love the characters he has crafted. The vulnerable and sweet Marie-Laure. The eccentric, PTSD-suffering great-uncle Etienne. The maternal, precocious Jutta. And her brother, Werner, a sensitive, thoughtful boy, a dreamer, who “sees what other people don’t,” whose “soul glowed with some fundamental kindness,” caught up in a war he wants nothing to do with. —> Full review.
• I listened to this on Audible which was quite enjoyable. There are so many timeless themes in this classic that traces the character development of Edmund Dantes, who was imprisoned unjustly for years and makes a daring escape, fueled by his thirst for vengeance but ultimately relenting to forgiveness and acceptance. A favorite quote from the end—“All human wisdom is summed up in these three words: wait and hope.”- Edmund Dantes
• Reverend Ames’ letters reflect on the intricacies of the human soul, the purpose of life, and his wrestling with deep theological questions. One thing shines through: he loved and served his family, his wife, his son, his parishioners, and his town, well. —> Full review.
• This book spoke to me in so many ways, bringing me to tears many times. I resonated with the main character, Kya Clark, known as the “Marsh Girl,” and was cheering her on as she rose above her harsh upbringing, educating herself, and opening herself to love and belonging.
• I waited way too long to read this Austen classic, the last one of hers I hadn’t read. It lived up to its expectations, with complex characters and a sweet friendship between sisters that withstands many trials. The wit and insight into human character of Austen is unmatched, in my opinion!
• This ended up being a very timely book to read during the pandemic and quarantine, as we have all been suffering from social isolation. It illustrated how checking in on people we care about can quite literally be life-saving. This time has also revealed the plague of loneliness and the dreadful effects of trauma and lack of social connections. —> Full review.
• I came away from The Splendid and the Vile with a profound sense of admiration for Churchill and his leadership and courage during a dark time in Europe, and yet with a healthy sense of his humanity, such as his irritableness, penchant for fine cigars, and his quirk of wandering 10 Downing Street in just a dressing robe (or less, as told in a humorous anecdote of an encounter with President Roosevelt later in 1941!). —> Full review.
• This book was convicting, but also beautiful and freeing. The habit-forming gifts of the church are a special grace from the Lord to mold and shape our hearts, so that we can truly become the creatures with a purpose we were meant to be. —> Full review.
• This was a well-researched and worthwhile read. Cain provides a wealth of research and social commentary, critiquing the way our society – particularly American culture – overvalues the “extrovert ideal” and how much of our educational and workplace settings are organized around extroversion; when 1/3 to 1/2 of the population are introverts. —> Full review.
• “What if days passed in ways that feel small and insignificant to us are weighty with meaning and part of the abundant life that God has for us?”
This is the fundamental question posed by Tish Harrison Warren in her thought-provoking book, Liturgy of the Ordinary. She relates our every day practices, such as making the bed, losing our keys, answering email, drinking tea, and sleeping to the life-giving liturgical practices of the church. She challenges the reader to allow God to work in and redeem every moment, especially the ordinary ones. —> Full review.
• Benner writes beautifully about the steadfast and love-changing love of God. He asks some very provocative questions and points that brought me to tears as I dismantle false views of myself and iron to the acceptance of God’s deep and abiding love.
• I highly recommend this book if you are interested in a more compassionate approach to life and our human bodies, rooted in Scripture and brain science. It is a gentle reminder that the way God created the human person and intended for us to be in relationships with one another, is a beautiful thing. —> Full review.
• I found Atomic Habits to be extremely practical and helpful with ideas and strategies for becoming a creature of good habits. Clear’s thesis is that tiny, consistent—“atomic-size”—habits aggregate to big life changes. His four laws of behavior change are a helpful framework to form healthy habits: make it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying (these can be inverted for breaking bad habits). —> Full review.
Christmas is coming soon as night falls on the fourth Sunday of Advent.
The anticipation has felt a little more near this year with a snow fall and a cold snap that has kept the snow and ice from melting. When I look out the window and see my landscape bathed in white, I feel the closeness of Christmas a bit more acutely.
The snow as a harbinger of Christmas has been a kind blessing, especially as so much else this season has not been the same. I flipped through photos from this day a year ago, and was reminded of memories and celebrations traipsing through a decorated D.C. with colleagues and friends and a holiday dinner date with my sister, in 2019.
Who knew what was coming in 2020, then? No one. I certainly did not. If we knew the suffering that is soon to ensue we would not choose it. I would not. And yet, my year of pain, has brought much gain to my soul. While the weight of struggle still feels heavy, the freeness of release and the reliance on trust beyond myself has changed me in ways that I know are good.
2020 has been a year of life, interrupted.
But Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, who came to this earth in human form in the humblest of ways, is still Lord.
That is the crux of Christmas—that God came to dwell with humankind. The incarnation and the Trinity are great mysteries of the Christian faith. We cannot fully understand but we can fully know it is true. The life of Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, is real. His death and resurrection are historical events. Christmas is not just a feel-good time of fairytales and lights, it is a time when every person must reckon with the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and choose to make him Lord of their life.
He is not a distant king or an unfeeling god. He is our Creator, who came to earth, in human form to rescue us from the sin and shame which separates us from him.
What child is this, who, laid to rest, On Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, While shepherds watch are keeping? This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing: Haste, haste to bring Him laud, The babe, the son of Mary.
He arrived as a baby, to live and know the life we live in our bodies. He knows our pain.
He was born to give us second birth. By his physical wounds on the cross we have been healed.
He came to save all those who believe. His resurrection promises resurrection for our redeemed bodies, too.
Jesus is Lord. That is good news!
My Advent reflections may have rambled a bit these past weeks, but I have taken the risk this year to write from the heart, in hope that others might know. And even so, I don’t write for the “clicks” but rather to witness to beauty and the truth of God, no matter the audience. Well, my affinity for alliteration has wound its way into this series too, but they are words that God has written on my heart as this hard year, for you and for me, comes to a close:
I often write of the peace and comfort that my relationship with God brings me. And yet true Christianity is not a therapeutic religion. God will change your heart and his consolations are many. But it does not mean a carefree life. Oh no, my friend. Trials and tribulations still come. This Christmas season I pray that you, dear reader, know Jesus as Lord, the King who came to save us. Our trials may not leave, but He alone, will never forsake us. He is with us in the waiting.
After many attempts and pieces of popcorn, this was the best I could do as our digital Christmas card! But it’s 2020 so I’m just grateful and glad I am still laughing and smiling!