Sanctuary Places and People

Holy spaces, sanctuary places, safe people are already embedded into our real lives. On my morning walk through a nearby wooded area, there is a particular stretch of the walk that I call my sanctuary. The trees form an arch. Light filters through the trees in a way that takes my eyes up every time. No one is usually around. It feels peaceful, holy, set apart and full of God’s presence to me. I worship there regularly.

I have another sanctuary place or two at home. One is my red chair right beside my journals, Bible and devotional materials. In the warm weather, I can see the patio plants, hear the fountain and the birds out there. In the cold weather, I’m close to my fireplace.

I’m fortunate to have access to some dear friends’ lake home where I have another few sanctuary places…a screened-in porch, a deck with a lake view, another wooded walking place.    I’m headed there this week to work on an upcoming retreat I’m speaking at. I can’t tell you the anticipation I feel at the thought of five days of nature, silence, prayer, reading, walking, resting and writing.

I also have sanctuary people. Lovely people who I feel safe and open with. People who have shared lots of layers of life with me. These are the ones who don’t require small talk…we can spend time together that flies by and still not quite have said all that needs saying.

When I was younger and much busier, I wish I would have spent more time recognizing my sanctuary places and people and savoring them sooner. I wish I would have written them all down in a list and put a big “S” by each one. I wish I would have intentionally gleaned out the non-sanctuary places and toxic people or at least minimized my time with them.

In Jesus Always by Sarah Young, today’s entry, she imagines Jesus telling us to look for My unseen presence around you. The beauty of nature and the pleasures of loved ones are reminders, pointing you to Me. What does it mean to look for Christ’s unseen presence?

As I head to the lake sanctuary, I challenge you to make a list of your sanctuary places and people and schedule more time in those holy spaces.

  

Sparkles

In Texas, the past week has been horrendous with a major hurricane hitting our coast and flooding cities. Weather watchers now report that two more hurricanes are now gearing up. Our country is going through some things too. And, our world is teetering in several places on the edge of serious conflicts/wars. People are going through things as well. Tough things. Unspeakable things.

Every week when I write this blog, I have to acknowledge the tough things because that is the context in which we are living. It just is.

If I was left to my own feelings, opinions and media consumption, I’m pretty sure I would lose it and float off in a sea of anger and anxiety…because, well, the tough things keep happening.

Thank goodness, that is not the only input I have. Thank goodness, I journal, pray and read scripture and devotionals. I know it is a good practice for me because that discipline always offers me a surprising perspective.

Today, for example was about sparkles. Jesus Always by Sarah Young: When you are feeling joyless, you need to pause and remember: I am with you….seek to see Me in your circumstances….Keep on looking until you can discern the Light of My presence shining on your difficulties, reflecting sparkles of joy back to you. p. 260

Sparkles of joy…I did not see that coming. I’ve always been big on the whole Light of the world theme and that all will be made well in the end. But, sparkles? Now? In the midst of our current day messes, problems, worries and griefs?

And then I started thinking about all the recent sparkles: our one year old evacuee grandson devouring a warm buttered blueberry muffin; a cottontail bunny I saw on my walk; rainbows that draped the sky after hurricane Harvey; acts of compassion, giving and heroism for others; JJ Watts’ fundraising miracle; churches opening their doors, making flood buckets and doing disaster relief. Funny things and beautiful things and unexpected things. Sparkles.

A friend of mine faced major cancer surgery last week. She and I actually laughed on the phone the day before at a tiny bright spot in the whole thing that no one but breast cancer warriors would understand. Sparkles of joy.

I don’t know what you are going through. My guess would be that it is something tough, unimaginable or even unspeakable. The surprising word of faith is this: look for the sparkles of joy. It turns out, they are everywhere.

 

No Words: Just Prayers

So many things to feel right now. Last week (was that only last week?) began with an eclipse in North American that captured our attention for a while. That pleasantly distracted us from the difficulties and horror of Charlottesville before that. Then, seemingly out of nowhere Hurricane Harvey ripped into Texas and is still planted here, devastating communities and uprooting thousands and thousands of people.

For me, personally, the rest of life kept happening too. A son off to college and seeing him again after an intense 10 day boot camp environment. An empty nest that grieved me and freaked me out too. Officiating a beautiful wedding of people I cherish. Friends going through deep losses and more than difficult life situations.

Our daughter, son-in-law and baby grandson live 30 minutes from the coast of Texas. Their town, Dickinson, has been on the national news since Saturday. It is now under mandatory evacuation. It is still raining there.

My nest is no longer empty. We’ve added a couple of adults, a baby and 2 big dogs to the household. Seeing the devastation and upheaval on the news is one thing. When it is people and places you know, it is excruciating. Our daughter’s best friend is a nurse. She actually kayaked to work a few days ago. The hospital is understaffed, over full, rationing food. The staff is working back to back shifts with little sleep, no showers, all while not knowing about the status of their own homes.

If you think too long about the damage of the floods to the infrastructure, economy and health of this huge area, it is more than overwhelming.

One time, when I was in the midst of a health crisis, I had a nightmare that I was swimming in the deep of the ocean in the middle of the night. I could not see shore. The water was black around me. In the dream, I felt sharks bumping me. I woke up terrified and gasping for air. From deep in my heart came a scripture that I must have memorized along the way. I did not think of it. It just rose up inside me. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” Isaiah 43:2 Those words brought immediate peace and relief to me.

Today, I have so many feelings but not too many good words. Today, this scripture is a prayer in my heart for all who are touched by this hurricane or of pain and terrors of other types. God, send the comfort and reassurance of your Holy Spirit and give us peace. Amen     

The Fine Art of Embracing

Our nest is now empty. I know in an earlier blog I wrote about not calling it empty. I wrote bravely about calling it a wider nest that stretches practically all over Texas. But, right now, I’d like to retract that thought because the reality is, it is empty here.

We have three empty bedrooms…all still and quiet. Our laundry has decreased by 97% and I’m not even enjoying that. Our clocks tick more loudly…it’s weird.  At the grocery store, I nearly melted because I wasn’t buying the same things without a 19-year-old son eating here.

No one is waking me up in the middle of the night to tell me he’s home. His bed stays made. His room is sunny because I opened his black out curtains. It used to bug me that he left the shower curtain open all the time. It’s shut now 24/7, I should be gleeful.

He’s currently going through a rigorous ten-day tough boot camp environment preparing to be a part of the Corps of Cadets and Aggie Band at Texas A&M. My dad, his dad, his brother-in-law, brother and cousin all did the same thing before him. We all believe the Corps makes great leaders and we all know how hard it is.

We talked to our son a few days ago and he said it was harder than he thought it would be but that a text from his big brother had  helped him. I asked what the text said and he said essentially, “…to embrace the misery.” (Ok, it really said “Embrace the Suck” but I felt the need to make it sound better for my faith-based blog). Either way you get the idea. “Embrace the suck” seems somehow more aptly put and can really stick with you as a slogan.  As I was writing this, I realized there’s even a book with that title and hoodies you can get. Who knew?

Later, our older son explained his big brother text to me, “In short, it means you can’t think about all the things you could be doing; that will make you miserable. You are in a time where you’re going to be tired, stressed and getting yelled at. Embrace it and believe it’s going to make you better.  Be where your feet are.”

Sometimes I find it difficult to embrace where I am. That has been true in times of illness and recovery. It has certainly been true in seasons of grief. Sometimes I rail against a season of busyness or times where it seems my husband and I are working too hard or giving too much to everyone besides ourselves.

Sometimes it is when we need to make a decision but no clarity comes. I hate times of indecision, not knowing or waiting, don’t you?

Sometimes it is true in a season of emptiness, when the clocks are ticking too loudly and there is no laundry to do.

Could it be that there really is an art to embracing the place where our feet are right now? I wonder where you are and what needs your embrace?

 

 

 

Infuse Me With Peace

I walk every day. It is partially for physical reasons, partially for spiritual and emotional reasons and partially because my dog is addicted and will not let me do otherwise. She does not understand the concept of a day off from walking or rain or hot or cold. So, we walk.

Sometimes when I walk, I listen to silence. Sometimes, I listen to podcasts. Sometimes, I listen to Christian music. I can always get a soul-read on myself by paying attention to what I listen to. Lately, my soul has been thirsty only for music.

I’ve needed the music of my faith to guide me, to anchor me, to answer my prayers, to provide leadership to me in these trying times.

Our world is in conflict. Our country is in conflict. Our political system is in conflict. Many of our churches are in conflict. We are craving leadership, but who can we trust?

Sometimes I think it might just be me. Maybe I’m interpreting “how things are” in an overly negative way.  This morning however, even my local newspaper had a picture of the events of the weekend along with the headline “A Nightmare Scenario”.  Maybe it’s not just me.

I also know people who are personally going through difficult and trying times. They are living nightmares they did not choose to be in.  Other people, myself included, are just riding out normal life rites of passage that are not easy.

All these reasons are causing me to drink in the songs of my faith.

Everyone seems to be calling for statements, guidance and reassurance. I’ve tried to imagine if I had to issue some kind of statement right now, what it would be. No words seem adequate for all that is happening.

So, instead of issuing statements, I pray, for all of the above.

God, your ways are higher than my ways. You see all things and you know the layers, the complications, the history of all.

Help me now to be a loving, light-bearing citizen of this planet, this country, my family and friendship circles. Remind me again of what Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble…but, take heart, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

God, have you overcome hate? Because it seems to still live here. I don’t want it to live in me, but it does. Have you overcome racism? I see it and feel it and know it lives in me as well. I know darkness lives in our systems and that I’m a part of those sick systems. Have you overcome disease? Because it still seems to be attacking people I care about.  

It feels like too much. It feels like more than my heart can bear. It feels out of control and wrong.

And so I lift it all to your Light and ask that you guide my feet, my actions, my words.

This morning, on my walk, your song penetrated me, “Peace, peace be still. And like a child my heart obeys.” Infuse peace into my heart, O God. Give me an iv of it if you have to…not the kind of peace the world gives, rather, your kind. These nightmare days require your supernatural peace. I know I absolutely need it. Amen   

 

The Nest

When I was 7 months pregnant with our first child, I led a seminar in the church I was serving on “How to Cope When Your Kids Go to College.” I have a background in Pastoral Counseling so I guess I believed I was using that knowledge to teach. Now, I just think it is hilarious and I’m surprised they didn’t throw things at me for not knowing what I was talking about.

I remember talking about grief, change and how having a child move out alters your family system. I talked about finances and the demand college expenses places on families. At the very end, a man in the back and raised his hand and asked, “Is it possible this could also be very fun?” The teacher (me) and the rest of the class seemed frozen in time for a minute. We looked at each other and quietly decided that fun just might be possible.

Fast forward almost three decades and I feel more qualified to speak on the issue. We have successfully sent two children to college and in about a week we will drop off our third child there  We are about to experience an empty nest.

We have literally been parenting now for 29 years straight. We have had kids in our home that entire time. How incredibly weird it feels to look up, look at each other and say, “Wow, that was distracting.” And, “You look different.”  “What year is it now?”

This time, with this kid moving out it feels different to me. First, for whatever reason, he’s more pleasant at this stage of his life than the other two were. He’s talkative and interesting.  He will cook, mow and run errands happily with no expectation of money or reward. He’s musical and fills our home with piano and guitar music and songs of all types. He’s funny. Secondly, I’ve been able to spend his senior year not working so we’ve bonded. I’m going to miss him. I told him I got a job at his college in the dining hall just so I can see him at meal times. He did not think this was funny nor a good idea.  I loved the idea except for the hair net issue. Thirdly, this time the next will really be empty. No extra kids left to parent after this one.

Yesterday, at church, a lot of moms with kids this age were crying. We needed a support group or something. Some of the kids were too.

It is really hard after pouring yourself into someone and spending 19 years loving, protecting, worrying and hovering, to send them off. It just is.

How I plan to cope:

-I’m going to let myself grieve and acknowledge that I miss him.

-I’m going to stay appropriately in touch. Some soon-to-be college parents were talking about devising a communication code with their kids where the students will text SA if they are still alive. I’m going to ask for more than that, for my sake.

-I’m going to continue with all my healthy habits: exercise, journaling, drinking lots of water every day, yoga.

-I’m going to have fun with the guy I married.

-I’m going to focus on the projects in my life that give me meaning, purpose and joy. There’s so much need in our world, so many ways I can love.

-Oh, and I’ve decide it is not an empty nest, at all. It is just a bigger nest. My nest stretches from Grapevine, to Frisco, to Houston and now out to College Station. And actually my nest has more eggs in it than ever with a son-in-law and now, a grandson too.

-If all that fails, I’m getting a hair net and you’ll see me at Duncan Dining Hall at Texas A&M happily distributing scrambled eggs. It’s always good to have a back-up plan.

 

 

 

Their Faces

We are all still trying to enjoy and eke out the best last bits of summer. No one wants to think about back to school things but I have to bring it up because of their faces.

I’m talking about the faces of the school children and their parents. In our community we are less that three weeks away from our 6th Annual Connect GCISD Back to School Fair where the economically disadvantaged students in our school district receive full school supply packs, backpacks, clothing and a huge array of district and community resources all in a one hour stop.

I’ve seen the joy on the children’s faces when they select their own brand new backpack and when they receive a huge bundle of supplies appropriate for their grades. I’ve seen them when they see their principals and teachers there; their school nurse and other adults in the community. I’ve seen the relief on the parents’ faces too as their children are provided for and ready to start school, equipped to learn. The teachers and counselors faces beam as well because they know they won’t have to scramble in those hectic first days of school making sure all their students have the basic supplies to be successful.

Every year we get a little better at the fair’s logistics.  This year, over 1300 children are pre-registered. We know from experience, the children and their parents will show up. This year, for the first time, we are not scrambling through the summer to provide funds for the school supplies. Because of the fundraising efforts of the Women’s Division of the Grapevine Chamber and because of generous donations to Connect, all the school supply packs have already been paid for.  I love our community, by the way.

Our community vendors, civic organizations, police and fire, faith based organizations are all ready to serve these families. Dentists are coming with their toothbrushes; vision screenings will be done by the Lion’s Club (every year we find hundreds of children who need glasses). Families will receive information about parenting and the services of GRACE (Grapevine Relief and Community Exchange). Even children who qualify but didn’t get pre-registered will receive school supplies from GRACE at the fair.

Really, we just need two things:

1) We need elementary age new backpacks. The little kid backpacks are the most fun to buy. Drop them off between now and August 3 at the GCISD Administration office, 3501 Ira E Woods Ave, Grapevine, 76051  Last year some people ordered from Amazon and had them shipped to this address. Do that!

2) And, we need you the day of the fair, Saturday, August 5 from 8-noon at Grapevine High School. 18 and older please! We like every single family to have a guide who walks them through the fair. We will teach you how and make you comfortable. We want these families to be seen, to feel loved and equipped and a personal guide seems to be a great way to do it.  Sign up here: http://www.signupgenius.com/go/20f0b4eaeac23a5f49-6thannual or respond below and we will be in touch.

Last year, a little girl I know from the community, rushed up to me to give me a hug and showed me her new pink princess backpack. She said, “I saw my principal and my teacher from last year and they said they can’t wait to see me when school starts!” Her face was radiant. Faces are attached to hearts. That little girl felt loved and valued….and, I’m sure, ready to learn.

No one wants to think about back to school just yet, but we will, together, because of their faces.