#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...
#shelterathome · #shelteringinplace · Mother's Day · Spirituality

Comfort Baking

During this time when everything seems topsy-turvy, I am finding myself pulled to activities that are concrete and easy to finish. I planted a small vegetable garden, pulled up the weeds around my perennials and have flowers to plant when this strange cold snap is over.

But this morning as I woke up to our North Georgia “blackberry winter”, I headed to the kitchen for some comfort baking. Perhaps you have felt the same need.

My mother loved to cook and on rainy summer days she would allow me into her kitchen to make a mess. The first thing she taught me to do was to put a piece of wax paper down to catch the crumbs and dribbles and keep the counter clean. We would pull out the pound cake pan, rub it with butter and then dust it with flour. She taught me to always crack the eggs into a separate bowl in case one was bad (in my whole life I think I’ve had one bad egg!) and to use the blunt end of a knife to level out the dry ingredients. If the butter needed melting, we put it in the top part of the double boiler and boiled water on the stove in the bottom part.

My mother with one of her creations around 1974.

When our son Adam was a toddler, Mama gave him a nice Kitchen Aid mixer. I would pull a chair up to the kitchen counter for him to stand on and we made box cakes and chocolate chip cookies. He loved the way the mixer made a vroom sound, sort of like a race car. Almost thirty years later, I’m still using that same mixer and Adam loves to cook.

The three old bananas on the table were screaming to be made into bread. I laid out my piece of wax paper and pulled out the mixer from the pantry. The stove heated up my small kitchen and I listened to NPR on my phone as I measured and stirred.

In this time when the smallest trip out seems like walking into a landmine, the clatter of measuring cups, the lightness of the flour and the simple act of breaking the eggs brought me back to a time when life was predictable and safe. Despite our modern conveniences, baking is still about flour, baking powder, salt and eggs.

I slid the loaf pan with the banana bread into the oven and gathered up the wax paper containing the banana peels and flour dust and tossed it into the trash. The warm water felt good as I washed up and the smell of the bread filled the house.

In my kitchen this morning, I felt close my mother, as well as my grandmothers and aunts, women who found their identity from their signature dishes and desserts. As a child I never appreciated the hours they spent planning, shopping, organizing and cooking the many daily and holiday meals that I ate with gusto. I wondered how many times they felt comforted from the routines of their kitchens during the times of uncertainty in their lives.

As we enter into this “new normal” phase, what is bringing you comfort?

My finished banana bread, ready to slice!

#shelterathome · #shelteringinplace · #ShelterunderHiswing · Spirituality

What color are you today?

Some days are yellow.
Some are blue.
On different days I’m different too.
You’d be surprised how many ways
I change on Different Colored Days.

My Many Colored Days, by Dr. Seuss

One of my favorite picture books is My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss. This is not your typical Seuss book with weird made up rhyming words and cats in hats destroying a house, but a lovely poem about emotions, illustrated in vibrant colors by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher.

You can listen to a read aloud here.

Children love this book because they are so in touch with their feelings, unlike us grown-ups who like to pretend we are okay when we are not. When I read the second verse to a group of kindergartners – On Bright Red Days how good it feels to be a horse and kick my heels! – they eagerly nod their heads, relating to how it feels to have that energy surging through them. Likewise, On Purple Days I’m sad. I groan. I drag my tail. I walk alone, brings the same nods, perhaps a bit self-consciously, as they all know that unhappy days come along too.

This book came to mind this morning as I woke up feeling gloomy. The usual ups and downs of life are still going on and I’m also struggling to deal with the creeping depression that threatens to overtake me as I realize that we may be living with the fear and anxiety of COVID 19 for many more months.

Some days, of course, feel sort of Brown.
Then I feel slow and low, low down.

Throughout my life, books have been a great source of comfort and I believe strongly that God puts certain books in my hands at just the right time. The other day a pile of books on the table in my bedroom fell over, revealing a little devotional book I bought a few months ago at McKay’s Used Books. The Prayers of David relates different episodes in David’s life and suggests Psalms that he may have written at that time. Hmm, maybe God wanted me to pick that little volume up!

The Psalms are the perfect part of the Bible to be reading during these unsettling times because they cover so many of the emotions we may be feeling – fear, sadness, anger, uncertainty – and assure us that we are not alone – kind of like Dr. Seuss. They let me know that it’s okay to feel whatever emotions come up.

Then come my Black Days. MAD. And loud.
I howl. I growl at every cloud.

Today the chapter heading in The Prayers of David was The Lord is My Provider, and I read this familiar verse:

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
    for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
     till the storms of destruction pass by.
Psalm 57:1

I love the image here of only needing the shadow of God’s wing to protect me. No matter what my feelings may be, God is still taking care of me. He doesn’t care if I’m “happy Pink” or if “Everything is gray” – He’s going to love me either way.

I know that God has me and my family under His wing. My worries are small compared to so many. He will take care of my needs.

Today is a day for hunkering down under the shadow of God’s wing and letting the storm go by. I feel quiet, introspective and slow, sort of like a fish in the sea.

Green Days. Deep deep in the sea.
Cool and quiet fish. That’s me.

Tomorrow the sun will be out and my mood will be better. Perhaps tomorrow will be a yellow day!

Then comes a Yellow Day and Wheeee!
I am a busy, buzzy bee.