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One Little Word: Hope

On MLK day 2017, I feel nudged to write. The problem is I have so few words today.

I’m finding myself in a season of disappointment around some extended family things; some things in our country and the even Cowboys losing a heart breaker last night. Strangely, everything seems connected/heightened and intensified  by social media. I even found myself this week tweeting a member of congress a word of encouragement. I’ve never done that before but it seemed like the right thing to do.

So in these days of confusion, anxiety and disappointment what is the good word?

I found it today delivered to me, once again in a devotional: Psalm 33:22, which reminded me that hope comes from God. Hope doesn’t come from tweets or any one leader. It doesn’t come from what my relatives are doing with their lives. Hope doesn’t come from what I can control or do or say. It comes from God.

When I find myself disappointed, it is usually because I misplaced hope. I put my trust in the wrong place, the wrong people, the wrong outcome.

MLK himself also delivered me a word today, “We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.”

There will always be finite disappointment as long as there are people around I suppose.. Today, for me, there are also deep breaths and a little reminder that changes everything: to trust just in God, our infinite hope.

MLK, thank you for your vision, your leadership and courage….and this Word.    .

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New

For several years now, I’ve chosen a word to guide me in prayer, study and focus. This was not my idea. It is a different kind of Spiritual Discipline suggested by the work of Rachel Olsen and Mike Ashcraft. You can read more about it at http://www.myoneword.org.

At the end of each year, I start making a prayerful list of words that simmer to the surface of my consciousness. I believe God guides this process.  Past words for me have been Radiance, Enjoy…last year’s word was Release. That one was powerful. I released a ton of clutter, my overbooked schedule, a ministry position I’d held for almost 2 decades. I released stress. In the wake of all that releasing, I found so much room to concentrate on the gifts and joy in my life.

My word for 2017 surprised me. It is so simple; so short. I chose the word New. When I told my husband my word, he just stared at me blankly. At first I thought he was thinking, “new? As in new year? new month? new? How boring!” Actually, now that I’m writing this I don’t at all know what he was thinking because I didn’t ask. For all I know he was just trying to figure me out yet again.

As happens when you choose a word, things start catching your attention. Today is only January 2 and already several scriptures have danced in front of me, aligning themselves with my word. Revelation 21:5: “Behold, I make all things new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!.” And this line in a devotional, “I am working newness into your life.”  Jesus Calling Evening by Sarah Young.

This morning I did a word study on this little word, New: fresh, what has not been known or seen before, unfamiliar, untouched.

Yes, it is simple, easy, short and I’m so excited about it. It will be my guiding word. Where will it lead? That is yet to be revealed.

This morning when I walked, I noticed how fresh everything was after our morning storm. I stopped and watched the water rushing by in a creek. The sky was the brightest shade of blue. Everything around me, new. 2017…new.  Yes! .

 

Barely There

Themes for me this year: Removing clutter in order to focus. Going small to be able to see. Downsizing schedule and scope to allow more spiritual space. Having a tiny Christmas.

In the quiet space of this morning, I remembered an infant’s touch. Isn’t it amazing how from the minute a baby is born they know how to touch?  I remember as I was parenting my three children marveling at how physical parenting was. All that constant touching, holding and changing of clothes and diapers; all that drool and contact. You can’t get away from it. You can’t stay clean. You just allow yourself to be one with the child and all that comes with them.

The touch of a newborn…the way the baby wraps a tiny hand around your finger.  The baby can’t hold you there, you are stronger. You can barely even feel it really. It’s this gentle, soft, subtle phenomenon.

It reminds me of some other things. Like being outside when the sun comes out on a gray day and you hardly notice it at first and then you feel something a tad bit warmer on your face. You look up. It’s light. Stars do that. They don’t seem to be there as the dusk heads into darkness. Then, there they are, one after the other; age-old beacons of light and hope.

God went tiny, gentle, subtle, small and star-like for us. When God wanted to grasp our hearts and souls, God touched us like an infant does. That’s it.

Our world is so big, loud, scary and just overblown. Every day, assorted media reports sadden, anger and terrify me. My own life and vivid imaginings do too. Sometimes my heart cries out wondering where God is in all of it.

And then, in a way I can sometimes hardly perceive, the brush of angel wings, the warmth of light and this tiny sweet infant touch, holding me.

The quieter I am, the more I see. When I am still, listening, waiting and open, I feel God’s gentle hold on me. I pray it for you, too, this Christmas; that somewhere in the noise and activity; the much-ness of it all, that you will stop, breathe and feel the newborn hand, barely there, holding you.

A Tiny Christmas

Right now I’m looking at a vintage manger scene I have.  It is about 4 inches tall and has just three figures in it, a camel, Joseph and Mary holding the baby.  The baby is about 1/4th of an inch long.  It is the only decoration I have in the room. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve looked at it with wonder this year.

I keep thinking about all I’ve put out in past years to decorate. I couldn’t focus on anything because I had everything. Now I just keep looking at this tiny quarter-inch baby and it fills me.

Our first grandson was born a few months ago. He was 8 lbs. and 6 ounces, but tiny. I stared forever at the littleness of his pinky fingernail. I don’t even know how any of that works that we begin so tiny, but are pre-programmed to grow.

When God wanted to interject change into the soul of our world, God went tiny. I’m choosing tiny this season too.

I plan to be a tiny bit more rested and refreshed. I want to care a tiny bit more about others’ needs. I want to pray a tiny bit more; write a tiny bit more. I want to savor the sights, sounds and smells of the season a bit more. I want to light one candle and let that be enough.

So much about Christmas is big and loud and overdone. This weekend I was at a store where they ran out of shopping carts. The store was filled with people with every shopping cart the store owned. The people were filling the carts to overflowing. The line to check out looked like Six Flags, weaving to and fro several times and then still almost halfway through the store. Everyone had too much stuff. They are going to take all that stuff home and wrap it up and give it to other people who are going to have too much stuff.

I crave tiny. A quarter-inch baby is plenty to look at and have change my life. Thank you, God, for going tiny.

 

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Milestone Moments

60 years. My parents celebrated 60 years of marriage this weekend. I know, that’s a lot of years of marriage. We chose a low-key celebration at their home. All four of their children were present for the day, which is rare, along with some significant others and a few grandchildren. We played games, ate their favorite barbecue, remembered a few stories together, teased each other and then played more games.  My family is like yours, awash in family dynamics, so we had all of that going, of course.  We had a family meeting to talk about the future which was brave and important and something I would recommend every family do.

Our different resentments, issues and decades long baggage were all present and accounted for. Through the day, we had tears, tension and laughter.  Some of us were hot and would crack a window secretly until other people figured it out and were freezing. We repeated the window thing all day.

We asked my parents to please tell us the secret to marriage. My dad said the secret is just two words, “Yes Ma’am.” I like that. Then my mom chimed in and said the secret was respect. I like that too. She still calls my dad her boyfriend and repeatedly tells us how much she likes him and how cute he is. She made a couple of clear, heartfelt speeches telling us how much she has loved her life, her work, her travels, her children, her grandchildren and great-grandson. Alzheimer’s evidently took the day off for this anniversary milestone, so imagine that.

60 years takes you through so many seasons, so many dynamics, so many homes and jobs and friends. 60 years presents different challenges at different times and my family has weathered a few.

Almost everything these days makes me feel grateful, blessed and amazed. Milestone moments highlight the blessings.

We all looked at their wedding pictures. They still have the cake topper from their wedding cake. Some of us did little photo collages and put the pictures on Facebook or Instagram so others could see our celebration.

My husband’s grandmother always used to remind me that I was rich, rich, rich. On Saturday it felt like she was so right.

Room, Space, Beauty…

I’ve been so focused on stuff and space these last months. Today is the first day in well over two months that I’ve been home without workers here and without needing to either move items into my house or back out of it due to our remodel project.

After losing our kitchen for a while, our den and living room, our bedrooms and bathrooms, I’m celebrating space. I didn’t realize how important it is to me to have my chair, my table right there for my coffee, my patio, my journal where I can find it. I realize now, I like having a bedroom, a computer hooked up and family pictures to look at. I’m also celebrating closets instead of clothes in the garage.

My daughter gave me a sign with a quote from Elsie de Wolfe that reads, “I will make everything around me beautiful-that will be my life.” I’ve spent time these past months making room and space in our home for beauty. I have donated carloads of things to now let someone else enjoy. I’ve given away big pieces of furniture. I’m making room for beauty.

And then, I make this speech every year, I simplified Christmas yet again. No need to keep reading if you are the person who loves all your boxes of decorations and you love putting out each and every decoration. I’m not writing this for you. Carry on, with joy!

I’m writing to those of you who dread putting it all out and packing it back up. I’m speaking to those who feel they should hold onto a decoration because Aunt Marge gave that to me and so on. Here’s my advice: just don’t. Just do less.

I feel like women bear most of this holiday burden.  We tend to be the decorators, the bakers, the list makers, the shoppers, the event planners. We do all these things plus our jobs,  our parenting and our work in the community. I have long believed this is TOO MUCH for many of  us.  We should stop.

In past years, I’ve downsized all kinds of what I previously believed were holiday musts. This year, since I had just purged and moved back into my treasured spaces, I felt I simply could not now haul box after box from the attic and put it all out in the name of decorating for Christmas. So I didn’t. We have a tree. We have some Christmas dishes to eat on. I have whole rooms that used to have all kinds of stuff that now just don’t. The room I’m writing in right now has a single manger scene in it. I love it. The spaciousness of it all is beautiful to me.

One of the whole points of Christmas is making room for something new to be born. Isn’t it strange how we over-decorate, over-buy, over-hype and then the baby is relegated to  the stable out back?

Room. Space. Beauty.  Here, I can breathe now. Here, I can  watch and wait. Here, I can light one little candle and let it be enough. Here, I will see what new-born gift God has for me. Room. Space. Beauty..

Six Days Later

I’ve wanted to write since last Tuesday’s momentous election.  I really have. I’ve had so many thoughts and concerns, just like you.  I’ve read too much, watched too much, seen so much since that time. I’ve disconnected a little bit. I’ve walked a lot. I’ve talked to friends and relatives. I couldn’t find the words to write. Or, I had too many words, some of them not appropriate for a blog, so I knew that wouldn’t do. I just needed to let some things simmer until I could articulate something.

One of the more amazing realizations of the last week for me has been a humbling understanding that not everyone sees the world like I do. It floors me that this is true. Not all Christians agree with me. We do not have the same values. Not all women agree with me. Not all white people think like me. I am humbled by realizing this. I sort of thought we were all one big happy family. We are not. I am now, six days later, feeling humbled by this.

No matter how you voted you have to agree we are in for some serious changes and that is hard for all of us. We do not know how this will turn out. Six days later, I’m aware that change is coming.

I was so stunned by the election’s outcome that it disoriented me for a while. On the day after, my daughter sent the Thanksgiving menu. I actually thought, “We are going to still have Thanksgiving?” I’m better now. Of course we will have Thanksgiving. Six days later, I’m still grateful for so much.

Six days later, I realize how much I need my touch points. I need to hang on to that which grounds me and gives me hope. I need to rely on routines and rituals: prayer, journaling, exercise, music, home, family, friends, nature. Thomas Merton put it like this, “If you yourself are at peace, then at least there is some peace in the world.” Six days later, I am working at being at peace.

Saturday started as a gloomy day for me, but I went ahead and tied up my tennis shoes, leashed my dog and headed out for a touch point walk. We found ourselves accidentally in the middle of a 5K to raise awareness for a disease. Once you are accidently in a 5K you can’t get out and so we walked. Little girls in tutus walked by followed by little boys in super hero capes. Old people ran by (how do they do that?) I saw people of all colors. Moms and Dads with strollers. I saw people who were clearly of different faiths. I marveled, “Look at them, all of them, out here raising awareness.”  Some had shirts on in memory of someone who had died from the disease.

Later, I engaged in another touch point, planning our family’s weekly menus and buying groceries. In front of the store, teenagers were collecting food items for the hungry. Shoppers were coming out of the store in droves with extra bags of food for those in need. It surprised me. I actually said out loud, “Well would you look at that” to no one at all except myself.

Then, the coach from my son’s high school football team sent an email with pictures. A third grade football team had disappointingly had their opponent forfeit the last game of the season. They had no one to play them. The coach called on his players to suit up and come “play the little guys to make their last game memorable.”  These big high school football players, who only the night before had played a play off game themselves, suited up, playing these little boys on a beautiful fall Saturday morning.

Six days later, I still have no good words. I feel humbled. I feel the changes coming. I feel the need to engage in those basic touch points. I am ready to have Thanksgiving. And, I still see good people who care, doing good things all around me.

Our country is torn and anxious right now but it is the same country where people do 5K runs for others, where the hungry are fed and where giant high school athletes care about little boys who just want to play football.  Thank God for that. Touch points.