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As October ends

Each ending is a new beginning. I’m learning it evermore.

October felt strained, and I’ve been occupied, mind and body, with a flurry of matters. Reviewing my calendar page, I reflect as I examine it.

Journal pages record the stress of an expensive house project, days that were rushed as I went where I was needed and called, and our family’s effort at learning a new normal after death dealt a hard blow. It’s been emotional and turbulent, a difficult month.

While temperatures turned toward a fall climate, I made some small progress in the gardens that were neglected most of the summer. The tasks overwhelm. My body ached after a few hours, and I paid for it with restless nights.

I needed margin, and margins were thin. I felt the old tension of overcommitment, me running at a rabbit’s run. These days I prefer a slower tempo. An overly-full schedule does not equal the abundant life Jesus offered.

In spite of this, I was more diligent to write in my gratitude journal. Perhaps it is loss that makes us thankful for grace. I found myself looking for beauty in the midst of busy. I focused on the gift of relationships. I basked in the Presence of Jesus at a pause in my day.

As October ends with cold rain and winds that whisper winter’s chill, I am purposely evaluating my November. Each month gives me a chance to start fresh.

We enter the holiday rush, the press of activities, the pull to fill calendars to overflowing. Holy days meant for giving thanks for harvest and rejoicing over the long-expected Messiah have turned us toward excess, stress, and burdened hearts.

I want something different for the last of 2019.

Psalm 90:12 in essence offers a prayer: Teach us to reflect on the brevity of life so that we may grow in wisdom.

Brevity of life I know about. Growing in wisdom is what I long for.

As the day dawns tomorrow, I will begin it with the Lord’s promise, a whispered petition, and a meditation for my heart.

The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
    I will advise you and watch over you.

— Psalm 32:8 NLT

February ending 2019

Though spring is three weeks away, signs are evident in February. Frogs croke in the puddles. Birds sing early mornings in the little woods. Geese pair up and honk loudly. Fat brown rabbits emerge from holes and search for patches of grass. Buds appear on trees. Crocuses surprise me by the front steps. Day breaks earlier, just before we ruin the natural rhythm with daylight saving time.

Maisie celebrated her 4th birthday in February. Actually, we don’t know when she was born. I’m told she was found on the streets of Mississippi with a litter of pups before she was rescued and restored to good health. We gave her a birth date because everyone needs a beginning.

Sweet William and I watched a lot of basketball, cheering our home team. Our guys are doing well this season. With the approach of March Madness, we will wear our colors with pride.

I finished a project that languished on my goals list far too long. Today black and white photographs of our families hang on the wall. Generations are represented, history is framed, and grace is revealed on faces. God has been good to us.

Little Women Poster

My favorite movie this month was the 2018 version of Little Women, the March girls thoroughly modern set in the sweet familiar story. Near the end of the movie, when grown sisters gather in their childhood play room, I watched, misty eyed, and wished I’d had siblings.

Bathed in Prayer, Jan Karon’s latest book, is my pick of the month, and I was the very first to check it out of my library. Father Tim’s prayers, sermons, and wise counsel are grouped together according to each book in the Mitford series. Tender and sincere, the requests seek God’s mercy and strength, with large doses of the prayer that never fails* filling the pages. I’m inspired to pray better.

I cleared out a couple of file drawers that held too many papers I’d saved through the years. I went through the alphabetic folders one by one. The file marked Stress Management was full of articles and helpful technics, and I recall when my life felt stressed on a regular basis. I was always looking for something to relieve it.

Thanks be to God, I’m not there anymore. I threw away the entire folder.

A friend asked me to help her organize her quilting shop. She has a great space where she sews and gives classes to help people like me learn the art of making a quilt. She pulled everything out of cabinets and drawers so we could see what she had and decide what to do with it. I told her more than once that she really didn’t need to keep this item or that. We decided that it’s easier to get rid of someone else’s stuff than it is to let go of our own.

“Lo, the winter is past,” said the wisest man. It feels like it should be as February ends. But we’re not out of the wintery woods yet. I’m not ready to put away my warm snuggly clothes. But I can already feel my energy rising. I notice that it is still daylight when my last piano student leaves my house.

Nature knows the seasons. Sometimes I think the animal kingdom has something I don’t. When the river rose from days of rain, we drove to the bridge to see how high it was and felt anxiety rise with the water. The geese on the lake across the road were not concerned. They continued to do what geese do.

Granted, they don’t have the same understanding as I do. Yet I have knowledge of the holy, the God who feeds the birds and the geese, who controls the wind and rain, whose promise to be with me no matter the situation gives me reason to rejoice.

I gaze at the pictures of my family on the wall, some of them I never met. There lives confirm God’s plan, His grace, and His redemption, and they have left their fingerprints on my life, in some way or another.

The sound of singing is in the air, the birds sensing a change. The season of winter will pass and spring will follow. Because God has purposed it to be.

He is fully trustworthy. My life is in His hands. The faith of my fathers resides in me. I have no reason to fear.

* The prayer that never fails: Thy will be done.

Say good-bye to Thanksgiving and hello to Christmas

Let the Christmas music begin! Sounds of carols on the radio echo through the rooms this morning. I pulled no less than three dozen Christmas CDs and cassettes (remember cassettes in their chunky little plastic boxes?) from their hiding place deep in the large old radio cabinet turned music center, and I’m ready for the next season to begin. Music is prime at the Wright House.

Thanksgiving is complete, a two-day event for me and mine. Having extended family with which to gather makes Thanksgiving my all-time favorite holiday event. When you are an only child and neither parent is alive, there is a feeling of being an orphan that only another only child could understand. Surrounded by my cousins and their young comforts me. So I do not rush the season of Thanks in all its togetherness and food, glorious food.

Perhaps you are among those who want the house fully decorated in red and green with trees blinking twinkle lights before the guests arrive for turkey and dressing. Go for it. We can still be friends. But not me. There are pumpkins and autumn hues still gracing the mantel and front door this morning. There are a few leftovers in the frig waiting to be enjoyed one more time, attesting to our Thanksgiving meal.

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Just because I’m not decorating yet doesn’t mean I’m not thinking Christmas thoughts. I did a little Black Friday shopping yesterday from the comfort of my kitchen table, my favorite way to shop. While I’m only now listening to Christmas music through the sound system, my piano students and I have been playing carols since October because that’s what musicians do. As we prepare for a December recital, notes of Silent Night and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen are dancing in our heads and through our fingers.

Red and green may not be my primary colors yet, but I’ve been on the lookout for bargains and making a gift list. Last week I stopped for a little browsing turned shopping. I was really looking for half-off sales of fall pumpkins, which I found by the way. As I was waiting in an unusually long check-out line, with one lone checker, the woman ahead of me looked as though she were on a shopping spree with her baskart full and overflowing. The line grew longer behind me as I watched the baskart being emptied of its contents.

Another employee finally came to open a second register and announced, “I can take someone here.” The woman who was last in my line quickly scooted her cart right over there to be first in this new line. I was a little steamed since I’d been standing there a bit longer than she had. Maybe several minutes longer.

Other people moved to the faster moving check-out line, and a couple of them asked me if I wanted to go ahead of them. Bless their courteous hearts. I stayed where I was, figuring if I moved behind all the others who used to be behind me, it would take me as long.

By the time it was my turn to lay my purchases on the counter, the young woman checking and bagging was a bit frazzled. And I was too, feeling cheated of my rightful place in the process and frustrated at those who think of themselves more than others.

At that moment I realized I had a simple choice, to continue in my exasperation or to attempt to be patient. It wasn’t the checker’s fault that someone had a hundred or so items to purchase (slightly exaggerating here), nor was it her fault this person was trying to use a summer coupon for one of her items. None of the events were her doing as she was just doing her job to the best of her ability.

As I was finishing my purchases, the Holy Spirit reminded me this is the season to practice patience and kindness, especially with retail workers. I was in retail once, and I recall dealing with an unhappy public. It’s my turn to give those who are waiting on me a little slack, to understand they may have been on their feet a really long time today, to appreciate the fact that they would like to be home with their families also in the season of holiday rush.

It is not only those in retail who need a gentle approach, but also fellow shoppers, drivers on the road (though some be crazy!), and with my regular people. After all, the proclamation of “peace and goodwill” is no less important in 2017 than when it was first told to a group of shepherds.

As we close the Thanksgiving celebration, let’s not forget how much we have, how blessed we are, how good God is.

Take the challenge with me to practice patience, kindness, and gentleness with those we meet during a busy and stressful season. Spread some joy and share lots of love. Smile at everyone. We never know what someone else is enduring right now. Let compassion and understanding be our motivation to show the world that the peace of God really is available in a world filled with bad news.

I believe it will increase our enjoyment of the Christmas season. Jesus came in the midst of a troubled culture, a world in strife, a people distressed, offering Himself in the most vulnerable way. He asks us to serve one another as He served while on the earth.

It was for love that Christ came. We can be His love extended if we really want to.
  

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P.S.  For those who are just thinking about getting ready to decorate, like me, here are some helpful thoughts before you begin from the Lazy Genius Collective.

 

October ending

In the first week of October we took a much-anticipated trip to see our dear ones. I brought my Carpenters CDs so I could sing along.  It makes the miles go faster and keeps me awake.

This is the music of my youth, and I remember what my life was like by the lyrics of each track. “It’s Yesterday Once More” as I recall my life flying by.

Though the distance is long, the faces that come out the door to greet us are the ones we want to see. I never mean to cry, but I do. We spent the time just being together doing simple things: playing games at the kitchen table, visiting a coffee shop and some thrift stores, watching movies, talking and laughing. One evening we went to new/old-fashioned soda fountain where I experienced my first Egg Cream, which by the way, does not have eggs or cream in it.

Maisie was in dog heaven with the family’s two spaniels to romp with. The first day she kept looking at me with a dog-smile as if to say, “Thanks for bringing me here.” Playing is her favorite thing to do.

Our grandson, the youngest of our three grands, prepared pancakes for us our last morning. He patiently stood at the stove frying one large cake at a time until all were fed. Then he fixed one for himself and sat down with us. I commented on his kindness, and he said, “That’s what mom does.”

Two deaths this month hit me hard. I found out about them while we were traveling and away from home. I had wanted to see both of these friends one more time and was planning to be in touch when I returned. We never know when we will look at a face for the last time. It makes every interaction with each person important.

With the cold weather sweeping in, I moved outdoor plants inside the house and garage. Some tender perennials would not survive if I didn’t shelter them.  It’s the task that  follows a clean-out of the garage to prepare for them to sit by two windows where they will reach for the sunlight during the winter months.

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Maisie and I walk the lane and I smell fall. It’s hard to define, but I know it when it’s in the air. It’s a mixture of mown grass, musty soil, and wood fires burning. I breathe in long and my senses tell me the changing of seasons. The  leaves are scattered in the yard, the red twig dogwoods look especially red, and berries cluster on branches, food for the birds. Darkness settles early in the evening, and I find myself wanting to snuggle in and drink hot cocoa.

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Unusual for us home bodies, we traveled again at the end of the month to the  state of Mississippi, the place of Sweet William’s birth. The youngest daughter of his deceased brother was being married, and it was important for us to be there. We caravaned with Sweet William’s older brother and his wife.

It was a time of remembering for all of us as we drove familiar roads around town and saw the house where Sweet William’s parents once lived. On another street we passed the home of his favorite aunt and uncle, all now gone from this earth. Life is brief at its best, like grass that is here today, then withers and blows away tomorrow.

We visited and had lunch with his 93-year-old step-mother who still gardens and irons. She is a sweetheart of a woman, and we cherished time with her.

The wedding on Saturday evening was lovely and the bride was beautiful. She and her sister kept saying they were glad we made it. And so were we. It was one of those times when showing up was what really mattered.

Image may contain: car, sky and outdoorPhoto by Louise Wright

This quote came home to me from The Art of Simple: “I show up because I believe in the power of presence. Life is really freaking hard–but we don’t have to do it alone.

The latter trip was perfect for enjoying the glow that is Autumn. I needed a box of 64-count Crayolas to help me describe shades. As we drove through the corridor of trees on Natchez Trace the colors were brilliant. Forest and olive greens, burnt orange and mellow gold, mahogany and bittersweet. It could not have been a better weekend for peak beauty.

Travels done, we arrived at home-sweet-home, unpacked, and washed clothes. I caught up with messages since I’d been off-line and disconnected to internet for three days. It was a bit of relief.

Settled into my regular routine, I discovered another of my good neighbors will be moving soon. It was only a week or so ago when the for sale sign appeared in their yard, and I expressed my  sad feelings about that.

Image result for seminon realty sign in yard

They sold their house quickly, even before the first open house. I’m happy for them; this is what they wanted and prayed for. But my little world is changing quickly, and I have to adjust. I want what is best for them, the will of the Lord. And so we pray for them and for the new neighbors who will be moving into our quiet community. I hope we can be friends.

With the ending of October we merge into the two busiest months of the year. Holidays and celebrations will abound. If we aren’t careful, we will blink our eyes and it will be next year. If we are not purposeful, we will miss the most important part: time to focus on family, an opportunity to listen with the heart, a chance to look at faces we love and be there, very present, with nothing else on the agenda.

Filling our lives full is a cultural temptation. But it doesn’t mean we will experience the pleasure of it. Perhaps we should think carefully about the activity level and our commitments in the coming months.

A full life and life to the full are two very different things.

http://holleygerth.com/faith-missing-out/

As the holiday season approaches, I don’t want to rush through it. I want to savor the smells, the sights, the sensations. I want to enjoy the people who sit with me at the table and around the Christmas tree. I want to really be there in all of it.

Don’t you?

 

Just ‘be’ this Christmas

My sweet friend, Robin Howe, visits today at Strengthened by Grace.  She is a wife, mom of two blond-haired darling girls, and servant of our Lord Jesus Christ.  She blogs at I Get Up Too Early.

Listen as she describes her Christmas this year.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year . . .

Christmas is my favorite time of year.  It is also the most stressful.  I know I am not telling you anything you don’t already know.  But I think it helps me to just put it out there, acknowledge the craziness. Adding birthdays, a new niece, anniversaries and family in from out of town, this December is more than a little hectic. 

Yet in the midst of the madness, I find myself not feeling exhausted, but exhilarated!  I love the hustle and bustle.  I love the mall and crowds.  I love the electricity in the atmosphere.

I also cherish the quiet moments in the living room sitting in front of our Christmas tree.  It is so peaceful to snuggle on the couch with my family and just “be” for a moment.  Strangely, it always seems so much easier to do this during the holidays, when days are short and schedules and full.

Maybe because we make time for it.

Maybe because we want our children to have great memories.

Maybe because we want to cling to this time of year knowing January is just around the corner and life will be back to normal.

Maybe because it is in the quiet that we stop thinking about the gifts we need to buy and the parties we need to attend and focus on the true reason for the holidays.

Hope

Love

A fulfilled promise

The Savior

This Christmas I choose to allow more time to just “be.”  Be present.  Be grateful.  Be intentional.  Be the hands and feet of Christ to everyone around me.
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But I want this to last longer than December 31.  I want it to last throughout the year and every year. May we cherish the gift of rest and peace found in Jesus this Christmas, and let’s make the choice to carry it through the year.

Breathe in, breathe out

Whenever I start a new Bible study, you know I just have to write about it.

A beautiful group of women and I began Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe study which is helping us to a better understanding of the Sabbath.  Being a “good little church girl” who practically cut her teeth on the pews, I should know how to do Sabbath.  Right?  Not necessarily.

As a Christian, I’ve always worshiped on Sundays and considered it our “day of rest,” though I can tell you sometimes it’s been anything but restful.  I’ve spent many a week, Sundays included, going full force, never really pausing to take much of a break.  I’d go from one task to the next, from one appointment to another. There was a time I actually took pride in how much I could accomplish and was constantly tweaking my time management skills to see if I could be more efficient.  Really I was trying to see if I could squeeze in one more thing.

That was when I learned about stress.  It became the catch word in those days.  We were running fast, accomplishing more, climbing the corporate ladder, often leaving the really important things in our dust. We became workaholics, addicts to our behaviors.  Eventually we began to run out of steam.  We became sleep deprived.  Relationships languished for lack of time together.  Oh we talked about quality time over quantity time, but it was more of an excuse to keep doing what we were doing. Instead of trying to do less, we just wanted to know how to manage our stress better.  There had to be a secret way of continuing our rat race without falling over from pure exhaustion, spent and fully depleted.

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It was 2006.  I was at one of the lowest points of my life.  Financially strapped.  Emotionally drained. The future was uncertain and looked rather bleak. My insecurities filled a bushel basket.  I crowned myself “the Queen of Part-time Jobs,” working four or five of them at one time just trying to make ends meet, and perhaps to keep my mind busy so I didn’t have time to think about the state of my life.

I was the proverbial candle burning at both ends.

Enter the Sabbath principle.

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The Spirit of God convicted me about the way I was living my life.  I was acting like it all depended on me.  There had to be a change.  I determined, with the Lord’s help, to try honoring a rest day and chose Sunday after church (church was one of my part-time jobs from 7:45 am to 12 noon).  I decided I would take the remainder of the day to rest, relax and refresh.

The first week, I prepared for the challenge.  I did everything I could on the Saturday before, scurrying around to finish as much as possible before bedtime.  By Sunday afternoon, I closed my day planner, turned off the computer, and refused to do my regular work.

It was challenging that first day because I was not used to doing “nothing.”  I was a work horse who was chomping at the bit to accomplish something even if it was a load of clothes thrown in the washer, a drawer that needed organizing, phone calls to customers, or papers to file.

Instead, I read.  I napped. I leisurely watched a movie.  I walked outside. I visited with people in my neighborhood.

By the third week of this new routine, I began to look forward to my Sunday afternoon.  My mind rested along with my body.  I realized the world would not stop turning and I could still get a lot done in my six days of working.  It was life changing really.

Since then, I’ve made the effort to honor the Sabbath principle in my week.  I’ve not done it perfectly.  I am prone to try to do too much and fill my schedule too full.  I know that about myself and often have to pull in the reigns of this work horse.  I have to guard my time when I could easily fill it with too many things.  Even too many good things can become burdensome.

I have found the gift of rest is exactly that – a gift.  God knows how we are, that we push to the limits. That we try to do it all.  That we think we are invincible.  That we tend to depend on our own strength instead of drawing from His.

As believers in Christ Jesus, we are free from the burdens of regulations and rules.  But sometimes we ignore the principles God has given us for our good.  And a Sabbath rest is good for us.  We need it.  We need the space, the balance.

We must remember that we are not in control and the world does not depend on us.  We do better with rest, sleep, and a little down time.  God is the one who never slumbers or sleeps.  He is the one who carries the weight of the world on His shoulders, not me.

Honoring Sabbath puts things into perspective.  I see myself in light of a great and powerful God.  He asks me to work well on six days, then stop and rest awhile.  It is wise.  It is healthy.  It has rewards we often overlook.

A Sabbath rest will look differently for each of us.  But it is something worth considering, worth incorporating into our week and our lives.

Will you take the challenge?  Will you give yourself some breathing room?

Breathing in and out – it is good for the body and the soul.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

For all my musician friends out there. {smile}

stop, rest

A merry little Christmas

nativityWhat if Christmas was not so big, over-the-top extravagant? What if it wasn’t so stressful, so exhausting, so full of the highest of expectations?

What is Christmas was . . . little?

The first Christmas was anything but extravagant but it was everything challenging.  A road trip on foot.  Nine months pregnant.  A town bursting with visitors.  And no room for tired travelers.

Was there a midwife for Mary?  Was hot water available, extra bedding, or a friendly woman’s voice who came to take charge?

Having a baby was nothing unusual, nothing special in Bethlehem.  It seemed very small, insignificant yet this time it was the ordinary done in an extraordinary and marvelous way.   It was the turning point of all history and very God entering the atmosphere of His created ones.

People went about their business as usual.  There was hardly a ripple in the day other than one more couple looking for a place to rest after a long journey.  Nothing new here.

Yet angels sang and shepherds came.  Kings trembled and wise men brought gifts and prophecies were being fulfilled left and right.

Ah yes, it was a night of wonders.

Can we simply celebrate this ordinary becoming extraordinary without killing ourselves with activity? Can we slow down long enough to hear the good news and peer into the manger one more time?  Can we just come, bow down and adore him?

Can we make Christmas small enough to be joyful again instead of so large it labors and burdens us?

Can we try it this year?  I want to.  A merry little Christmas filled with incredible awe at the infant God.  Yes, that’s what I want for Christmas.