I wandered the shoreline, watching the evening progress through several stages of beauty. The cold of the night contributed to a sensory experience, as I soaked in the crisp air, the colors, and the calls of various birds on the water and in the woods.
Back in my car, the heater blasting as the last vestiges of color faded, I sat for a few minutes thinking about what it is that makes a sunset experience so powerful. After all, I go to this spot frequently to watch the setting sun, shouldn’t it get old?
It doesn’t; it may not be quite as memorable with the colors each time as it was this night (or like THIS STUNNING SUNSET I wrote about last year), but it’s always meaningful. It is a gift, which must be received, with me giving nothing in return. It’s a practice of learning about and receiving God’s love.
To sit and observe the sky, Somersaulting into glorious colors, Is a precious gift.
It’s a liturgy of learning to be still, Of welcoming peace, A practice of receiving love.
As the shades of a setting sun unfold into beauty, All I can do is watch and wait; No where to go but to be present.
This moment is real and true; I am safe and secure, In my space and in the Father’s love.
An evening experience for the senses; So that my soul can rest and receive, The love that is mine, is coming, and that I am becoming.
God’s love is steadfast, enduring, redeeming, and never-ending. As a child of God, I can’t earn it or lose it (just ask the Israelites). It’s so easy to be conditioned through our culture (🙋🏼♀️) that God loves us because we are good, achieve, or do the right things. He desires for us to follow him in obedience, don’t get me wrong! But that doesn’t earn his love; rather, the outflow of a heart that abides in him should be a life of faithfulness. Ultimately, he loves you for who you are, not for what you do.
This can take a lifetime to truly live out, I believe. To rest securely in his love, and not our own control. That’s why each sunset, as a practice of receiving love, is such a gift.
Here’s to becoming a professional sunset-watcher, basking in the light of God’s love!
A song to consider for the week, from Koryn Hawthorne, “How Great,” on the theme of God’s love!
“Grace I don’t deserve Forgiveness I can’t earn For this I will praise you. Love that covers all Love that makes me whole, For this I will praise you.“
As I wandered the woods this weekend, the wind whipped, and the chill cut to my bone. But beams of sunshine and a brisk pace brought warmth to my face and core.
With the trees completely bare, except for a few pines and holly plants, and the leaves crushed along the trail, I was aware of the death all around me. Gone is the vibrancy of summer; it has broken down into this necessary phase of the seasons, the rhythm of renewal for the flourishing of the forest. For new life in spring time, death and detritus must come first.
The woods in winter, is a place of death. Like the world, without Jesus.
As I walked, the Christmas song that danced through my head was one of my modern favorites, Breath of Heaven, by Amy Grant.
Breath of heaven Hold me together Be forever near me Breath of heaven Breath of heaven Lighten my darkness Pour over me your holiness For you are holy
I came upon one of my favorite spots and was struck by the contrast—a little pool created by a mini cascade of fresh water before it forms a creek on its way to the bay.
Watching this little waterfall, was a perfect moment of serenity. Of peace (an answered prayer from last week). The sound of the constant flowing of streaming waters felt true and holy and life-giving.
It was a reminder of gratitude for the living water that is the gift of God.
The spirit of God, the breath of God, is like a well-spring deep within the hearts of those whose believe.
“Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”” John 4:13-14 NIV
There is too much death and destruction in this world to live without this living water. Even the good things won’t ultimately satisfy; they won’t quench the soul’s thirst for God.
This living spring, signed with a seal at baptism when water is poured on the body, is a renewing source. A well of rest and regeneration, supplying the soul with a source for sanctification, each and every day.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV
In the wasting-away woods, the wilderness, and in this world of woes, one needs Jesus.
This Advent season, if you are looking for rest and renewal, strength and serenity, hope and holiness, draw on the living waters of Christ. It is a well that will never run dry.
And all of a sudden, Advent is upon us and Christmas is right around the corner.
The mild weather this weekend allowed for a few hikes crunching through fallen leaves, as waning light led the way through bare trees, and across cold creeks.
The nice temperatures were also a good opportunity, apparently, for many to put up Christmas lights. As I drove home from the woods on Sunday evening at dusk, my neighborhood was adorned with house upon house of Christmas lights. It was lovely!
As Advent begins at the end of this difficult year, there was something about these lights appearing tonight that moved me and brought tears to my eyes—tears filled with sadness but also great hope. Tears of gratitude for the simple beauty and tradition of twinkling lights upon trees, sparkling reindeer, and light-lit nativity scenes.
I’m feeling the tension this year. Isn’t that what waiting is about? The tension between the here and now and what is to come, for whatever we are waiting.
As I joined with my fellow, spaced-apart congregants in a masked but no-less meaningful singing of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” this morning, I was feeling the tension. The tension of those minor chords, noting the lonely exile, and the longing of Israel for its promised Savior, Emmanuel.
I was feeling the tension of the joy of the knowledge of the incarnation, with the weight of the sorrows of this present world, as believers everywhere await the return of the Lord of Might, once and for all, setting all things right.
The tension of waiting is weighty, filled with grief and groans. It pushes and it pulls, punctuated with joy and goodness along the way. All along, it’s underlaid with longing.
But we have the light.
O come, Thou Day-Spring Come and cheer Our spirits by Thine advent here Disperse the gloomy clouds of night And death’s dark shadows put to flight Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel Shall come to thee, o Israel
While I have been feeling the tension, I am praying for peace this season. For myself, of course, for my community, this country, the world. But true peace only comes from Jesus, the one we await in Advent. Christ came, “through the tender mercy of God,” to show the way of salvation. He came as the day-spring, like a rising sun,
“to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.“ Luke 1:78
The light illuminates the pathway of life, as we live as exiles, again, in a world filled with gloomy clouds, and dark shadows of death.
The day-spring lightens our loads, and lifts our tension.
The light leads the way.
Emmanuel, who has come once, and will come again, is the prince of peace.
He is the light of life and love, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Peace and blessings as we wait together this Advent, in the year of our Lord, 2020.
Emmanuel, who has come once, and will come again, is the prince of peace.
Oh what a year it’s been. Here I am smiling on my birthday last year, with no idea what 34/2020 would bring!
Yesterday on a pre-birthday outing, I visited a winery with a dear friend. I have always enjoyed wineries, but this time the spiritual symbolism was jumping out at me.
The vines and branches.
The pruning process.
The grapes and the wine-making.
It’s been a year of crushing, to a degree, for all of us. For me, I’ve been pushed to the brink with physical pain from an injury that sent me to a surgeon. Have persevered through physical therapy, trusting that the daily imperceptible changes add up to full healing. (And praise God, they have!!!)
Through it all, the pruning has been hard. And yet, I know it is for my good—and for God’s glory. That I may bear much fruit for him.
Through this, I have also been learning the value, rather the necessity, of dependence. My family has always been a rock to me. With COVID, my injury, and other challenges, 2020 has showed me, more than ever, how much we need each other.
My parents are especially my heroes! Godly, loving, supportive parents are an incredible blessing and I am eternally grateful for mine!
An abundant grape vine requires care and pruning by a master gardener. Likewise a fine wine does not become so on its own. It is a process—many people play a role.
As I hit 35—an age between two decades—I hope and pray that the work the Lord does in me always points to him. He is in control and his loving-kindness never ends.
As a new year unfolds for me, I pray that his love also flows forth!
Thank you, dear readers, for following along this year! It’s been a joy to spend more time on this blog over the past year.
What a Justin Bieber Music Video Taught Me About Paying Attention
I cried over a Justin Bieber music video. 2020 really is wild.
Watch to the end, when the distraught couple are invited in the “direction of a warm meal.”
Hopefully you made it to the end! It might be understandable if you didn’t…human attention span is decreasing. It doesn’t take a study to recognize our modern dilemma of constant bombardment of information, technology, social media, etc.
The illustration of attentiveness in this video struck me as a beautiful antidote to the noise. I was caught up in the plight of the young couple – burdened by job loss and family abandonment – when a kind soul, who surely is juggling his own trials, notices the homeless pair and invites them to his home. The kind, selfless, non-judgmental hospitality portrayed is beautiful!
I was touched and challenged by this song and video – if I slow down, and pay attention, what might I notice around me?
Every human has a story, with unique wounds and wisdom. If we listen, we can both love and learn.
Every human needs love. We were created by love and for love-in relationship and community.
Every human has a story, with unique wounds and wisdom. If we listen, we can both love and learn.
Ultimately, attentiveness displays kindness, goodness, gentleness…does this ring a bell?
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22, ESV)
These characteristics exude Christ and attract the human heart, opening the door to God’s love – the love we all most desperately need. If there is anything we need next month, I’d say it’s definitely attentiveness with the fruit of the Spirit!
As we continue through a very hard year, and a divisive season as we head into October, I want to challenge myself to pay attention – to notice the humans around me (including when it’s me!) who are hurting and in need of love. Will you join me?
Here are a few specific ideas for practicing and forming a spirit of attentiveness:
Text a friend going through a trial to check-in, and let them know you’ll follow up next week (or invite them to coffee!).
Go for a walk around your neighborhood and leave the phone at home.
The rumble of thunder from a summer storm. The waves of cicadas buzzing each morning and evening.
This weekend, on a leisurely stroll, I came upon some peaceful sights. They were not the most stunning scenes— in comparison to my days on the water or hiking or traveling (remember when we could travel?!). But they were welcoming and lovely, even in their imperfection and messiness.
The beauty of a butterfly—with a broken wing no less—brought much joy. The happy—albeit disheveled—black-eyed susan’s stirred delight.
The blessing of a quiet walk sparked a smile of gratitude.
Seasons of suffering make these simple things—even a simple step outdoors—all the more sweeter.
Seasons of suffering make the simple things all the more sweeter.
I’ve been day-dreaming about wildflowers. They show up in unexpected places on adventures with my four-legged companions.
‘I will believe in my beauty even if no one else sees it’ That’s what the wildflowers whisper These lilies dance to the music of a soft breeze No one is watching or listening But me An interloper and yet also welcomed in their presence I marvel at them in their solitary splendor In a landscape of a hundred shades of green Their fire burns brightly They are free To simply be, Beautiful
I will believe in my beauty even if no one else sees it.
My slice of the world, off the Chesapeake Bay, is a sanctuary of peace and serenity for me (and my dogs!).
There are so many beautiful natural wonders across this nation. Just visit a national park, one of our greatest treasures, and you’ll see!
While we’ve been living through a very hard year, and having just commemorated Independence Day, I’ve been reflecting on America’s greatest treasure—our Constitution and the revolutionary foundation of the Declaration of Independence, that every person is created equal.
It is a profound tragedy that we have not always lived up to that founding ideal, most notably with slavery and the ensuing treatment of black Americans. Women have had to fight for the right to vote, as we marked the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment earlier this year. And the cause to which I have devoted many years, ending the dehumanization of the preborn child, and the mass slaughter by abortion that has snuffed out the lives of over 60 million American babies before they have even had a chance to take breath. These are only a few examples.
And yet, it’s important to see our current day through the eyes of both a historian, and a theologian. America, sins and all, has been the most revolutionary nation on earth. Prior to 1776, nation-states were comprised of subjects not citizens and most claimed a divine right to their sovereigns. And even today, in some of the most powerful nations, the freedom of individuals is sharply curtailed. This is obviously just a very broad brush stroke of history (a longer analysis HERE), as I attempt to simply point out that the ideal that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is truly astounding, especially when you view it in its historical context.
As Americans living in the 21st century, we should absolutely continue to work towards securing those founding ideals of the right to life and liberty, and the guarantees of our Constitution, for every man, woman, and child. And as Christians we have an even higher calling to live obediently to God first and foremost, and to love our neighbors. I like how author and philosopher James K.A. Smith puts it in his book, How We Love:“Our engagement with God’s world is not about running the show or winning a culture war. We are called to be witnesses, not necessarily winners.”
From a theological perspective, until Christ returns, there will always be trials and tribulations in this world as a result of sin. There will always be discord among men and women, within and among nations. We can’t achieve utopia; we must be prudent and realistic. However, God does teach us about seeking “the welfare of the city,” about pursuing justice, mercy, and righteousness, about caring for the poor, orphans, and widows. One day, in the new Kingdom, all will be made right.
Until then, we have our work ahead of us. And I, for one, will continue to criss-cross America the beautiful to find restoration and strength for this journey from the natural and healing power of creation!
I was at the hospital yesterday for a very minor medical procedure. My doctor was great and compassionate (after cycling through several not-so-great/helpful ones), and the nurses were too.
Even so, the procedure involved two very large needles and my lower back; not so fun, no matter how minor. It was relatively quick, thankfully, but did involve pain. About halfway through I regretted not taking the Xanax that was offered me, with all the anxiety stirred up!
Noticing my white knuckles gripped to my head rest, as I was laid out helplessly on the operating table, one of the nurses gently rubbed my shoulder and arm. It was soothing and calming; I swear I could hear the beeping of my heart rate monitor go down as her compassionate touch reassured me.
It was such a simple thing—probably even standard procedure for the nursing team there—yet it made such a difference in my experience during a stressful and painful moment. Compassionate concern. Empathetic human touch.
Compassionate concern. Empathetic human touch. These things make a difference.
There’s a lot going on these days—so much it can make your head spin. I worry about our country’s mental health as a whole and as individuals. I pray we can remember that we are all human. Every one is hurting, has burdens. The comfort from my nurse was a reminder to me to pay attention – sometimes (especially now) even a simple smile or kind word at the grocery store can be a counter-cultural act of love.
Even a simple smile or kind word at the grocery store can be a counter-cultural act of love.
We can also pay attention to ourselves and how to be kind and compassionate to our own body and mind (we forget that far too easily!). The little things we can do for ourselves to stay grounded make a difference too. (I wrote more on this in my review of Audi Kolber’s book Try Softer.)
Some of the little things that helped me through the stress and pain of my hospital visit:
• A pina colada slurpee (yes they exist). • A page-turning novel. • Snuggles from my pups. • A pink sky at sunset. • A favorite playlist.
May we pay attention to the needs of others and and ourselves. The little things that we do, with love and kindness, matter.
The little things that we do, with love and kindness, matter.
May was a month of hits and misses with the books I read. Several of the novels I read disappointed, and the length of my historical nonfiction pick, didn’t leave time for many other options. Yet, the three I wrote about below were all fantastic reads in the month of May!
• Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode by Aundi Kolber • The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode — and into a Life of Connection and Joy
Aundi Kolber’s Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode — and into a Life of Connection and Joy is a breath of fresh of air, especially during a collective season of stress and uncertainty.
Kolber posits that a life of connection and joy can be found when we “approach life with more self-compassion,” just as Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves, so that we may see ourselves as God does: “as someone with infinite value who was created to be loved.” When we live with that truth as our center, we are able to face challenges and own our own story, which in turn enables us to have more compassion and empathy for others.
Along with this theological backdrop, the foundation of the “try softer” approach is found in the science of neurobiology – exactly how God created humans: “when we understand the physiology of our bodies, we can be empowered to try softer with ourselves.” Kolber explains brain and body physiology in a way that brings a great deal of light to how our body handles, processes, and stores anxiety and trauma. She also explains attachment theory, boundaries, and emotional tolerances, all with helpful practices to move through the challenges we face in these areas.
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.
That’s not often the reality, as trauma and brokenness mar us, but there is a way of living that can lead us back into the place of belovedness.
“During our hardest, scariest times—whether our bodies feel stressed and jumpy or sluggish and slow—God is there to reassure us that we are not defined by our best days of our worst days. We are his beloved.”
The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz
I’ve enjoyed several of Eri kLarson’s books and this highly anticipated January release was no different. Larson brilliantly blends journal entries and letter correspondence with his historical account of the first year of Winston Churchill’s time as Prime Minister of England during World War II, May 1940 – May 1941. This approach personalizes the central characters—historical figures who quite literally impacted world history, or orbited around those who did—which has the effect of making them more extraordinary and yet more accessible.
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!).
The book recounts the battles in the air between the Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force, and the death and destruction that ensued. I’d been familiar with some of the stories of the London bombings, through literature and history lessons, but this book provided a stark look at the devastation the Nazis inflicted on London from the air, and the pervasive sense of fear they wrought.
“The persistence of the roads and the increasing destruction also had a darker effect. Wrote novelist Rose Macaulay, on Monday September 23: ‘I am getting a burying phobia, result of having seen so many houses and blocks of flats reduced to piles of ruins from which people can’t be extracted in time to live…Harold Nicolson had a similar fear, which he confided to his diary the next day. ‘What I dread,’ he wrote, is being buried under huge piles of masonry and hearing the water drip slowly, smelling the gas creeping towards me and hearing the faint cries of colleagues condemned to a slow and ungainly death.’ Many Londoners began complaining of gastrointestinal distress, a condition called ‘Siren Stomach.’”
The Splendid and the Vile helps one to understand what the constant threat of bombing, along with the imminent fear of invasion, did to the British psyche during World War II. It was a fearful time, and part of Churchill’s genius was his ability to empathize with the suffering—he himself was often at danger during the bombings—along with his oratorical gift to bolster the courage and perseverance through. Just one example of many is a February 1941 address: “We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither this sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down.”
Of course the history of World War II is vast. The Splendid and the Vile provides a singular look at the Battle of Britain, the first major military campaign to be fought entirely in the air and a critical front in the war, as well as a personal portrait of one of the 20th century’s great leaders.
“In the end, London endured, albeit with grave injuries. Between September 7, 1940, when the first large-scale attack on central London occurred, and Sunday morning, May 11, 1941, when the Blitz came to an end, nearly 29,000 of its citizens were killed, and 28,556 seriously injured.”
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
I was expecting more of a lighthearted read in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, but what I found was a novel of much depth and insight into human relationships.
Eleanor, at first a seemingly typical albeit a bit eccentric millennial, lives alone and has little social interaction beyond her 9-5 job. Her friendship with Raymond, a “slovenly” colleague from IT, drives the story, as Eleanor slowly opens up to a world of social connection, and with that, the ability to face the past that haunts her and holds her back.
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. As Eleanor describes it:
“These days, loneliness is the new cancer–-a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.”
Yet Eleanor Oliphant provides hope, as Eleanor allows friendship to seep into her. “I suppose one of the reasons we’re all able to continue to exist for our allotted span in this green and blue vale of tears is that there is always, however remote it might seem, the possibility of change.”
I actually listened to this through Audible, which I found highly enjoyable. The reader was very talented in bringing life to Eleanor and all of the characters, and since the setting is Scotland, the accents were very entertaining! Overall, I’d throughly recommend this book!