#quiet · #seeingclearly · #shelterathome · #ShelterunderHiswing · Christmas · Eastern bluebirds · Moravian Love Feast · Spirituality · Wake Forest Lovefeast · Wake Forest University

Glimpses of Blue

Suddenly I am seeing flashes of brilliant blue all around.

If you read my last blog, Seeing Clearly, you know that I recently went through cataract surgery and had PanOptix implants. After a lifetime of blurry vision, the world is brighter! And one of my joys has been seeing bluebirds flitting through the air in our yard, swooping down to pick juicy bugs from the grass, then coming to rest on a tree limb or fence. They seem to be everywhere!

Chuck Porter, Flickr.com

Years ago we put up a bluebird house on the pole of our clothesline and each spring I gently pull down the front door and view the bright blue eggs nestled in their bed of pine straw and grass. We usually have at least two clutches each year and I feel like they are part of the family.

I thought that our bluebirds went south for the winter, but I read an article that said many Georgia bluebirds stay in their breeding grounds and are even joined by Canadian and Northeastern ones looking for warmer temperatures. I love the idea that our bluebirds want to stay near home and welcome their Northern friends!

I never knew so many were living in our trees and bushes until my eyes were opened. What else has gone unnoticed by me?

This Christmas season, despite the inconveniences of Covid, I don’t want to miss a thing.

I am resigned to the fact that my calendar is bare this December. I won’t be traveling to North Carolina to visit with family and friends or getting together here at home for social events. I am thankful that our son and his wife have been able to work from home and have been very careful about being exposed to the virus, so we will have them and our granddog Molly here for Christmas. But I know many who are forgoing seeing their children this year and others who have recently lost a loved one. Some are sick and/or quarantined. The risk of a “Blue Christmas” is high.

I am most despondent about not having the beautiful music programs this time of year. My church is doing a wonderful job of keeping as many traditions going as possible, but I will miss the excitement of a packed sanctuary with voices and instruments lifting to the heavens.

Online services fill in the gaps. Sunday night I sat by the Christmas tree and put in my earbuds to listen to the virtual Moravian Lovefeast from my alma mater, Wake Forest University. At first, I was put off by the empty chapel and the socially distanced musicians in masks. But as I listened in the quiet, I noticed that I heard the music much more precisely through my headphones. I could differentiate the sopranos and tenors and follow the musical lines. The strains of the brass band and majestic organ soared. Without the distraction of other people rustling around, the melodic strains came through in a way that touched my heart. Although the college has shared the service online for years, I never thought to join in until now.

Click here to watch the 2020 WFU Lovefeast on YouTube.

My prayer for this particularly still Christmas season is that I will take in the lights, sounds, and smells with a renewed intensity. When I read an Advent devotion, hear a carol, or bite into a sugar cookie, I want to feel that same spark of joy that excites me when I see the vivid azure feathers of the bluebirds. I want to bask in the warmth of the tree during my morning coffee time and glory in the cold air as I take my walks.  With more down time I want to listen for God’s voice to make this a time for spiritual growth and to be sensitive to ways I can reach out to others.

            How are you making Christmas 2020 special?

#shelterathome · Spirituality

Little moments

I was in the garden the other day picking a few end-of-season peppers when I felt a tingling around my foot, which immediately escalated to burning. I looked down and saw tiny dots crawling over my shoe and up my ankle. In a second I was at the back steps pulling off my shoes and socks.

” Fire ants!!”

If you live anywhere in the Southern United States, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, you know about fire ants. These teeny devils live underground and make mounds all over the yard. When the weather is dry, they retreat down into their tunnels and you may not realize they are there until you accidentally disturb them and they attack. Then by golly, you will be high tailing it to get away from these microscopic aggressors, because they can sure bite.

I do not understand how an insect so miniscule can cause so much pain. One of my questions when I make it through the pearly gates is going to be: “Why in heck did you create fire ants, Almighty God?”

Maybe God put fire ants here to remind us that the little things do hurt.

I think about the the wounded feelings I’ve had over a misunderstood text message or the off-hand comment that has cut me to the core. Relationships are damaged by a word spoken in anger or a sarcastic remark. Trying to ignore the small jabs we all receive is about as hard as ignoring those blasted fire ants.

I’ve been working on not letting the little things get me down. On the flip side, however, I am realizing how important little things are for bringing me joy.

An unexpected text message from a friend, a former student who recognizes me at the store, or a comment left on one of my blogs— these small perks make the difference between a normal day and a special one.

I’m taking more care about the details at home during this Covid time by putting fresh flowers on my table, splurging on the good smelling soap, and planting bright yellow mums in the garden. I’m slowing down to admire the colors of the sunset, to appreciate the sweet smell of fresh-cut grass, and to listen to the birds singing.

I was reminded of the importance of the little things by one of my neighbors the other day. A sweet elderly gentleman lives around the corner and is confined to a wheelchair. On pretty days he sits on his front porch and as I come by in my car, I always look for him. If he’s there I give my horn two quick blasts and wave. The other day as I was out walking, he was by the road with his son and we stopped to visit.

“I always hear you give me a toot-toot when you go by,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “I appreciate it.”

Of course, my ingrained guilt snuck in and I apologized for not coming by to see him more often. We talked awhile longer and then I turned to leave.

“You come by to see me anytime,” he called after me. “But keep on giving me those toot-toots.

The toot-toots matter.

#shelterathome · #shelteringinplace · #ShelterunderHiswing · Spirituality

Withering in the Sun

I have a basket that I picked up for a dollar at a flea market and each summer I fill it with moss and plant flowers in it. This year I had an overabundance of purple, pink and blue impatiens so I planted them in the basket and put it in my flower garden in a sunny spot that needed some color.

Impatiens are a shade loving plant, however, and by the end of a week, they were looking frazzled. Despite watering, the leaves were turning yellow and the flowers had hardly bloomed. They were withering in the hot Georgia sun.

I moved it by the back steps under the cool shade of the magnolia tree and within a few days the flowers had perked up. They started growing and took on a rich hue. I think I heard them give a sigh of relief as they relaxed in their new spot.

My colorful basket of impatiens

Plants get stressed if they have too much of a good thing – too much sun, water or fertilizer can be just as bad as too little. The same is true of us—we all know that too much food, wine or sun can cause us problems. Even good things like exercise or being with friends can be overdone. Like my basket of impatiens, we need balance.

Lately I’ve felt out of balance with too much time at home. Even though I love my house and yard and yearned to spend more time there while I was working, this coronavirus has led to too long of a stretch without seeing something other than the beautiful view out my backyard. My usual summer trips to see family and friends in North Carolina have been put on hold and I will not get to run in the Peachtree on July 4th for the first time in fifteen years. The virus seems like a giant catalyst that keeps knocking out plans like an enormous set of dominoes.

Like everyone, I’m tired of it all. But since Keith and I are technically  senior citizens,  I can’t afford to be lax about social distancing. I have to keep asking God what he wants to teach me during this special time.

I was with a friend this week who is dealing with serious health, financial and family issues, yet always keeps a positive attitude. I mentioned that I felt bad to bring up any of my concerns around her and she said something profound. She said that each of us has our burdens to bear and that our problems are important to us. That was refreshing to hear, especially from someone who could easily have said, “You’re right, you have nothing to complain about!”

Let’s just put it out there — it’s okay to be feeling down occasionally these days. It’s a crazy time. But God is still there, and he has something to teach each of us.

This passage from James was read at my church’s service Sunday and caught my attention:

  My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4, CEB


        

This pandemic is definitely a test and it is like a college placement exam which goes on and on. In order to get through it, I need my faith to build up my endurance muscle. I need to listen for God to remind me what is important.

If I will allow God to work, James tells me that I will come out on the other side more mature and complete. And that is as important as a trip to the beach (maybe!).

Each time I pass the thriving basket of impatiens, I’m reminded to take a breather and let go of whatever is stressing me. I can rest in God’s grace and be thankful for all He has to offer me today.

#shelterathome · #shelteringinplace · grace · Spirituality

Continue in Grace

I love these crisp mornings we are having now when I can take my coffee, Bible and study book and do my devotional time in the rocking chair on my side porch. I relax in the quiet, listening to the birds and enjoying the beauty of the flowers.

My morning view.

I share my porch space with a mother bird who built her nest in the eave. Barn swallows love our protected porches for their homes and although I know they eat tons of insects, I don’t always love them. They are very territorial and have literally dive-bombed my head when I’ve been anywhere close to their babies.

But this swallow must be a different variety, because so far she has not tried to attack me. She flies off when I sit down and I can feel her watching me from a distance. When I leave she comes back to tend to her eggs. I don’t bother her and she doesn’t bother me and the relationship works out well.

I sometimes wonder who actually owns this house and yard. Does it belong to Keith and me or the birds, squirrels and other critters? In the mornings when I stay inside to read my Bible, the front porch swallows will perch on the transom windows and peer in at me. I imagine them saying, “Oh, I got a good sighting of one of the humans in their natural habitat today.”

In the evenings I can sit very still outside and the birds flitter around and don’t seem to know I’m there. I hear them rustling and chasing each other in the limbs of the magnolia tree and think about the whole world that is above my head.

For the most part, as long as they don’t eat my garden, we live peacefully with the birds and other animals in our yard. Right now I wish our human world felt more peaceful.

Ever since Adam and Eve ate the proverbial apple and started sin on its path, we have had divisions between us. Just when we think we have evolved and are coming closer to breaking down barriers, the horrific killings against Black men occur. And instead of bringing us together, the pandemic has cast light on more “underground” prejudices in our society- those against the elderly, the working class, minimum wage earners, Latino, Asian and other “non-white” Americans, the poor and those living on the edge.

I’ve been studying the life of Paul and I love reading about the early church. Just as we struggle with lack of understanding among each other, they had their prejudices and misconceptions.

For them it was the divide between Jew and Gentile. The Jewish Christians had been raised to believe that just being around a Gentile was unclean. After waiting for thousands of years for the Messiah to come, they did not want to share Jesus. The Gentiles who became interested in what Jesus represented did not want to become circumcised and go by the strict Judaic law to become a Christian. But Peter, Paul and some of the other disciples heard God telling them very clearly that Jesus had come for all people, no matter their color, religious background, social status or nationality.

One day Paul gave a sermon outside the Synagogue emphasizing that although Jesus came first to save the Jews, his forgiveness was for everyone (Acts. 13:38-39). The people in the audience were followers who were sincerely trying to understand all that he had said. They asked Paul and Barnabas for more clarity:

After the synagogue was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

Acts 13:43

Did you hear what Paul and Barnabas told the perplexed people to do? Continue in the grace of God. Those words jumped out at me this morning.

Right now we may feel discouraged and not sure where God fits into what is going on in our world. Continue in the grace of God. We may be confused about what our next move should be. Continue in the grace of God. We may feel angry and worn out from the struggle. Continue in the grace of God. We may be on our knees praying for our family members and our leaders. Continue in the grace of God. We may be aware of our own inadequacies and bias. Continue in the grace of God. That’s what we as God’s people have to do now.

Continuing in God’s grace will look different for each of us. It may involve a peaceful protest, sending a note to a friend, helping with a food drive, thanking a fast food worker, or spending time in prayer. It may mean sharing a porch with someone.

We may not have all the answers or be in a position to change the anger and injustice we see, but as we continue in grace, God will reveal Himself to us.

#shelterathome · #shelteringinplace · Corrie ten Boom · Spirituality

Humbled

Last week I had a pity party – a full blown, act like a three year old, sit around and sulk pity party. It was over a misunderstanding of a text message and was stupid. But for some reason I got down in this hole and decided I would just sit there for awhile, until Keith finally told me to get over myself.

While I was acting like my world was caving in, I was reading the Christian classic, The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom. Although it has been around since 1975, I’ve never read it. My friend Ge-anne Bolhuis had listed it on her FaceBook page as one of her favorite books and I remembered that I had gotten it as a free Kindle book two years ago.

I believe God puts certain books in my hands at times when He wants to talk to me through them and this was one of those times. He knew that I needed to read The Hiding Place last week, in the middle of this pandemic while I was feeling sorry for myself over nothing. I needed to be humbled.

Reading about Corrie and her family will humble you. They were devout Christians living in Haarlem, Holland during WWII, who put their lives on the line to help Jews and others stay safe from the Nazis.

Before the war, the ten Booms opened their home to many and lived their lives in an honest and sincere way. When their world was turned upside down, they never thought of not helping those around them. They didn’t make a big show of the sacrifices they made, but did what God put in front of them, caring without judgment for whoever came to their door. They saved many lives, but mourned the ones that they were not able to help, just as Jesus grieved over the ones who didn’t believe in Him.

What we are experiencing is nowhere close to the degree that the Dutch went through during the Nazi occupation. They had little food and items to buy, they lived in constant fear of their homes and businesses being taken over or that their young men would be forced to join the German army. Even owning a radio was illegal and Corrie struggled with the ethics of lying in order to keep one hidden. As the family became more involved with the resistance movement working to protect the Jews, they knew that it was inevitable that they would be arrested. Corrie even kept a “prison bag” packed for that day.

Yet I read Corrie’s story with an understanding that I would not have felt before this pandemic. Although not under military rule, my normal routines have been interrupted. Just like the ten Booms, parts of life that I depend on, such as going to church, visiting with friends and family or just everyday interactions with shop owners, have changed. Many people have lost loved ones and are facing severe financial problems. Life is uncertain and it’s easy to let ourselves get discouraged.

A Hiding Place changed my heart and taught me to look at everything in my life as an opportunity to share God’s love. In the concentration camp where Corrie and her sister Betsy eventually found themselves, they were able to keep a small book of Scripture hidden and held nightly services with the women in their block. I think about all the Bibles and religious books in my library and wonder what it would be like to only have a small book to hang on to. And yet these women risked their lives to be able to read and share God’s Word.

I also need to be thankful for all the situations in my life. Corrie and Betsy even found a reason to be thankful for fleas! (You will have to read the book to find out why!) It is hard to stay in a hole of self pity when I am thanking God for all He has done for me and all He has given me.

Corrie was already in her fifties when the occupation began, and she worked for the rest of her life to spread her story of forgiveness and love and to help those who had their lives torn apart by war. I need to remember that I’m not too old to make a difference!

If you have never read The Hiding Place, find a copy! It is currently only $1.99 on Kindle or you can find it as an e-book or audio book through your public library’s online catalog (since most of our libraries are still closed). I hope Corrie, Betsy, Nollie and the others living in the little crooked house will touch your life as they did mine.

Corrie Ten Boom quote: If you look at the world, you'll be distressed. If you look...