Receiving the Sunset

The Practice of Receiving Love

The February sky put on a show last weekend!

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.


A Sunrise Surprise

Spotting Snow Geese at Blackwater

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…

Sunrise at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, 1/24/21, photo by me, Bethany Peck

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!

Photo by Michelle Peck

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!

Photo by Michelle Peck

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.

Photo by Michelle Peck
Photo by Michelle Peck
Photo by Michelle Peck

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.

It’s freezing at 7am in January in the middle of a marsh!

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.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
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!

Sunset at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, photo by me, Bethany Peck

The Thing About Lament

It’s been a week for weeping.

These days have needed lamenting.

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!

Zoom in to see the heron
Such a beautiful bird
Heron in his element hunting; me in my element, taking photos in nature
Sunset over Otter Creek Pier
#grateful
Glorious colors!

Joy of Every Longing Heart

A deep blanket of fog lay thick all morning Saturday. The afternoon sun burned it off, with the December day becoming mild and bright.

Morning fog lays low,
Lifts, allowing sunshine on
Streams of liquid light

Despite the beautiful weather, my weekend was battered with burdens. The sunshine could not keep me afloat. Nor a brisk hike. They were good for me, but not all I need.

I need the light of life.

Living waters of renewal.

And—love. Love, divine.

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Our sanitized Nativity scenes during Advent sometimes obscure some of the facts about the birth of Christ. Or rather, the weight of the incarnation gets lost.

This long expected Savior is God—come to this earth as human, as flesh and blood. Divine love came to save us, to save you and me. For love. To set us free from our sins and shame and fears and failures. It could only come from love, beyond our understanding; the divine love that is working out redemption through history.

This love flows from the Creator who loves me and cares for me, knows my every thought, my every burden. This divine Love sent his son to be born and die, that I might have life. That I would be filled with his love, steadfast, sure, and secure.

This love divine is a free gift to those who believe. It’s the season of wonder. Believe and be free, let love divine transform your heart. And if you do believe, lean into this love. I need to remember this, in every moment. His love is the hope and the joy that my longing heart needs.


Pour Over Me Your Holiness

It’s beginning to feel a lot like winter!

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.

Savoring every second at this spot of serenity (except for a quick selfie!)

Delight of the sycamore leaf

Simple delights show up on the way
Like a large leaf in winter to brighten my day

The gifts of creation can be seen all around
One first must be looking for them to be found

Life’s one long lesson to grow our attention
To the ways God is working to point us to heaven

It’s been a beautiful fall on the East Coast. I’m sad to see it go but know the winter is necessary. Stay safe, friends as we head towards the winter solstice. Spring will come again. ~ Bethany

A Sunset I’ll Never Forget

I still think about this sunset.

Exactly a year ago, on a quiet, forgettable November night, I went to the woods for a quick escape before the weekend set in.


Gray clouds hang in the air, low to the shore. The ordinariness of the evening matches the mood of my week.

I don’t mind the cloud cover, or the dampness, or the solitude. The cool air is cleansing, chipping away at the constriction of my chest.

As I allow worries, and work, and deeply buried wants to simmer, the stillness of the waters strikes me. There is depth to this blue bay. It is a place of peace, to release those burdens.

And so I open my hands, and my heart. I surrender my struggle and let go of my longings. I send them out into the sea, because I know the captain of my soul is watching. He is with me. In charge of the wind, the tide, the creatures chirping, and the sun that is setting, He is restoring my soul along these still waters. He most surely can handle the whispers of my soul. He is in control.

He most surely can handle the whispers of my soul. He is in control.

I realize my eyes have closed, in reaction to the restfulness that is flowing from my smiling face to my feet. I slowly open them to see colors emerging in a choreographed dance that begins to take my breath away.

Immersed in waves of the most glorious sunset, everything within me is lifted heavenward. The sun has long left the horizon, lighting up those heavy clouds with every shade of yellow, orange, blue, pink, purple, and red.

Those deep, still waters provide a perfect mirror for the masterpiece overhead, doubling all of its breadth and beauty.

It is absolutely stunning.

I soak it all in. This was not just a sunset but a spiritual experience.

I finally leave the shoreline, reluctantly, knowing that I am seen and loved, and worthy of great beauty.

An attempted photographic capture of each phase:

That sunset sticks with me, a year—a long, hard, painful year—later. Perhaps it even got me through the next terrible twelve months to come? How often my imagination drew on the goodness of the memory!

It was not something for which a screen could suffice, and I see now how it’s timing was perfect. I didn’t orchestrate that evening, I just showed up. I am glad I know the director.

I went back again this weekend, thinking I might see an encore. I find more loveliness and delight, but nothing like last year. But even simple beauty can fill one with wonder.

Another long, cold, and I’m afraid, lonely winter looms ahead.

What are the memories you will draw on?

Where will your imagination take you?

Trust that the quiet hand of providence will take care of you. He is an artist, choreographer, and conductor that we cannot even comprehend.

He turns a gray, bland night of clouds into a glorious blaze of colorful creation. He is continually writing the most beautiful story of redemption. I will keep choosing to let him be the author of my life—I hope you will too.

He turns a gray, bland night of clouds into a glorious blaze of colorful creation. He is continually writing the most beautiful story of redemption.


Attentiveness and the Fruit of the Spirit

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:

  1. 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!).
  2. Go for a walk around your neighborhood and leave the phone at home.
  3. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 method to reduce anxiety. It will keep you grounded and cultivate your ability to notice your surroundings.
  4. Meditate on the fruit of the spirit (or another meaningful Scripture passage).
  5. Spend some time in nature and notice the little things to practice attentiveness.

Blessings on October. I’d love to know your thoughts on the video, or other practices for paying attention in the comments!


Change in the Air

Pulled on my fall flannel, for the first time this year;

And jeans, snug and comforting.

After a quick drive, and a few steps, I’ve been transported.

Sounds of a chorus of buzzing bugs set my pace.

Deep breaths of fresh air filled my lungs, providing a new rhythm;

Calming my anxious mind and relaxing my body.

Soft and slow ripples in the water flowed towards me, a welcome to rest.

The lushness of summer’s greens has been infiltrated with reds and yellows.

Signals that time is moving to a new season.

Like the foliage before me, life finds a way of providing signs.

Am I walking slowly enough to pay attention?

To hear what’s in the whisper of the wind?

Am I seeking intimacy with my Creator to notice his nudgings?

With the aroma of change in the air,

The sun sets on another day.

A chance to reflect. To confess, to worship, to pray.

To welcome a posture of openness to God’s direction.

To be led by Him, looking for his signals; be they red, green, or yellow.

Every hard lesson after hard lesson, I find;

His way, especially in the waiting, is best.

Psalm 73

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.


Habits, Purpose, and a Life Well-Lived

Reflections on Summer Reading

I hope you had a safe and fun-filled Labor Day! I enjoyed the beautiful weather at Longwood Gardens enjoying the sunshine, flowers, and fauna.

With the unofficial close to summer, it’s time to write about my favorite summer reads! I have fallen behind on my monthly reading round-up blog posts —forgive me readers! (all 5 of you!) You can check out my April and May highlights, and below I’ll wrap-up my summer favorites in one post. Rather than review each of these books separately, I want to pull together the threads within them. I hope it’s helpful and edifying!


Summer Favorites:

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K.A. Smith

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson


“Habit formation is the process by which a behavior becomes progressively more automatic through repetition.”

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).

One concept I particularly liked was the relationship between habits and identity. Clear describes it simply: “Your habits shape your identity.” An example would be if one assumes the identity of a healthy person, it is easier to make healthy choices; of course, coupled with various other practices to establish healthy eating and exercising habits. But the way we think about ourselves does have a significant role in the way we act and order our lives.

Aside from reading the book, Clear provides many helpful resources on his website, and I’ve also been enjoying his twice weekly email newsletter. My critique comes from what I felt was missing. Habits are absolutely important. Healthy eating, living, exercising, reading, writing, etc. I for one, have been trying to increase and improve my writing this year and thinking through setting myself up for success with good habits is something important to me. But as helpful as Clear’s material is, it also felt a bit robotic and formulaic. Is there more to life than good habits?

I think yes.

A life of good habits with a lack of purpose is a life devoid of meaning.

Which is why I loved and highly recommend James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love.

Smith cuts to the core of the human heart, writing that our actions, behaviors, or “habits” flow from our longings and desires. We were made to worship and desire God, but our heart’s desires become disordered because of sin. Smith draws on the words of early Church fathers to describe this:

“You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Augustine opens with a design claim, a conviction about what human beings are made for. This is significant for a couple of reasons. First, it recognizes that human beings are made by and for the Creator who is known in Jesus Christ. In other words, to be truly and fully human, we need to “find” ourselves in relationship to the One who made us and for whom we are made. The gospel is the way we learn to be human. As Irenaeus once put it, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”

To put it simply, I am what I love. My habits – my lifestyle – flow from what I long for and love. Smith later invokes the Church reformers to illustrate this “worship”:

To say “you are what you love” is synonymous with saying “you are what you worship.” The great Reformer Martin Luther once said, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your god.” We become what we worship because what we worship is what we love. As we’ve seen, it’s not a question of whether you worship but what you worship—which is why John Calvin refers to the human heart as an “idol factory.” We can’t not worship because we can’t not love something as ultimate. 

Smith goes on to expose the idols of our age within secular culture and the church. And he poignantly shows how the sacramental gifts of the church should rightly form us.

“To be human is to be a liturgical animal, a creature whose loves are shaped by our worship…Christian worship, we should recognize, is essentially a counterformation to those rival liturgies we are often immersed in, cultural practices that covertly capture our loves and longings, miscalibrating them, orienting us to rival versions of the good life. This is why worship is the heart of discipleship.” 

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.

>>>p.s. I wrote an article this summer on our divine purpose within the creation mandate…I hope you find it edifying if you care to read!

In thinking about one’s habits and purpose in life, one can’t help but reflect upon what life might look like when we come to the end of our time here on earth. Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Gilead, does just that. I’ve had this book on my “to-read” list for a while, and found it to be an enjoyable and leisurely read this summer. 

Gilead records the stream-of-consciousness journal entries of a country preacher in his last days. Reverend John Ames writes to his young son about a myriad of topics, from family history, amusing life anecdotes, and especially his memories as a pastor.

Robinson’s writing is both conversational and lyrical. One of my favorite examples:

The moon looks wonderful in this warm evening light, just as a candle flame looks beautiful in the light of morning. Light within light. It seems like a metaphor for something. So much does. Ralph Waldo Emerson is excellent on this point. It seems to me to be a metaphor for the human soul, the singular light within the great general light of existence. Or it seems like poetry within language. Perhaps wisdom within experience. Or marriage within friendship and love. I’ll try to remember to use this. 

His 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.

What Gilead lacks in plot, it makes up for in droves with beautiful language, character study, and thoughtfulness. It is a reflection of a life well lived, and the desire to pass on a legacy to the next generation. It stood in stark contrast to me with Atomic Habits. As valuable as those psychological insights are, habits without purpose, and a purpose disconnected from the Creator, is meaningless. 

I highly recommend all of these titles! And perhaps I will get back into the “habit” of a monthly review, rather than quarterly. Enjoy and may your September be filled with good books and good habits 😊.