Every day we have opportunities to bring about God’s goodness through our words and actions. Our words can convey compassion, encouragement, or understanding for those who need them. Our actions can bring comfort, healing, or companionship for those who hurt or struggle. We become God’s love for others by speaking and serving in that love, and in doing so, we bring more of God’s kingdom here – for others and for us.
A song that inspires me to live this way is the song, “Let It Start in Me” by The Gaither Vocal Band. Each stanza describes God’s better future, and the refrain serves as our invitation to help bring that about. As we cling to the hope of one day experiencing “a dawn arising on a brand-new day” or “gold emerging from refining flame” or “thunder rumbling ‘cross the thirsty plain” we proclaim,
There’s a change a-coming,
Let it start in me.1
Along with our active, visible efforts, there are times when our inaction and silence can foster more of God’s love in our world, too. A mindful moment of restraint can become our best gesture of kindness and generosity. Each time we are tempted to participate in the interactions that come our way, we can pause to ask ourselves, “Does this need to go any further? Or does this stop with me?”
We may not be able to stop a problem, but we can stop contributing to it.
This week as I listened once again to the Gaithers’ beautiful song, some new lyrics came to me:
“Let It Stop with Me”…
There’s a word of gossip I heard someone say
There’s a finger of blame that points far away
There’s a voice of hot anger when we disagree
That’s an old way of being –
Let it stop with me.
There’s an urge to kick back when we have been wronged
There’s a grudge we have carried for far too long
There’s a neglect of another, a focus on me
That’s an old way of being –
Let it stop with me.
There’s a habit of adding more fuel to the fire
There’s an apathy keeping us stuck in the mire
because we believe this is the way life should be
That’s an old way of being –
Let it stop with me.
When might our better choice be to resist rather than respond, to refrain rather than react? As we enter into this new month, we have a brand-new season to become more present to the moments – and more mindful of our responses.
1 Let It Start in Me songwriters: Gloria Gaither, William J. Gaither, Dony Mcguire, Reba Rambo
(Photo by Karen)
While walking at Valley Park last week, I noticed this sign written in chalk on the post of a picnic table: Closer Meeting. Of course, I saw this as a sacred invitation to see what else had been written there! And the very first words I read brightened my spirit. “Have a great day! You matter!”
I smiled as I walked around to the other side of the table, grateful for the one who had taken the time to bless my day. What a sweet act of kindness!
And then I found these words…
“You suck.” After the initial surprise, I laughed aloud.
We can easily recognize that both statements say more about the one who wrote them than about me or any others. I was a random passer-by who happened to read their words, and not necessarily the object of their affirmation or scorn. Yet I admit that I readily accepted the first statement for myself, but quickly became defensive with the second one. I am quite sensitive about what others think of me. Criticism – even unintended criticism – can hurt!
There have been times when people have affirmed and appreciated me, and other times, well, not so much. Years ago, a pastor-friend wisely suggested that I first receive criticism as information, then take time to discern whether or not it applies. Do the words say more about that person and our relationship than about my character? Or do the words, however hurtful, offer any nuggets of truth that are helpful for my growth and maturation?
In the living of these days, there will be moments when we offend, anger, annoy, or frustrate someone – at times without realizing we have! As much as we may strive to live as loving, gentle, gracious peacemakers, there will be times when people think badly of us. And there will be times when we are not at our best, when we actually intend to respond with hurtful or vengeful words. There will be times when our words or actions might upset someone, and other times, our silence or restraint will do the same! We will not please everyone all the time.
What a gift to know that we are always, always, beloved by God. Whether we are striving at our best or succumbing to our worst, God’s gracious and merciful love keeps sustaining us, helping us, and yes, even correcting us. God’s love always remains.
What people say about us does not make us who we are. What matters most is what God says of us, and God calls each one of us beloved. When we learn to live in this awareness – that we are God’s beloved – we can become more patient and understanding with others, for we recognize that they are God’s beloved, too.
Even our harshest critics.
(Photos by Karen, Valley Park, WV)
My spirit has been comforted and grounded by a time of nestling in these recent years. Since moving to West Virginia, the rolling green hills have fostered a setting of comfort and security, beckoning me to nestle in their sheltering presence. A cozy, nurturing feeling seems to surround and protect me.
I have even found gifts in our “necessary nestling” of isolation during the pandemic. Jim and I learned to slow our pace, find joy in homemaking, savor time outdoors, tend relationships in new ways, and notice everyday blessings. Nestling has provided a tender, soothing space for our souls. In fact, I have become quite comfortable in this way of living – remaining mostly homebound, keeping community with those closest to me, living the days more slowly and contemplatively.
But on a recent visit to my hometown in Northwest Ohio, I felt my soul expand as I walked along the wide-open fields, under the immense blue sky, upon the flat country roads inviting me onward. I grinned as I recalled a childhood moment when I stood facing an open field with two cardboard “wings” under my arms. Knowing nothing about aerodynamics, I was certain that if I ran quickly enough, I would soar – at least for a few seconds! My childhood soul felt limitless, with no boundaries to my imagination.
Were the fields inviting me to soar once again?
Have I become too comfortable in my nestling? Is it time to begin racing across the open fields of possibility, to chase after the hopes and dreams once set aside? Is it time to run toward my full potential – pursuing the inner longings that God has placed within me? Is now the time to soar?
I sense that an invitation has been extended that I feel ready to accept – to more fully enter into community, consider new opportunities, and actively share God’s love.
Our prayerful nestling times with God can help us find courage for our fear, clarity for our confusion, and inspiration for our complacency. Abiding in God’s nurturing love will prepare and encourage us for all the adventures that God and life will offer.
We will be ready to accept these new invitations to live life abundantly – to serve, to strive, and perhaps even to soar.
(Photo by Karen, Curtice, Ohio)
Last week, I participated in the hope*writers Instagram Challenge; each day we created an Instagram post from a one-word prompt. I hope you are uplifted by the photos and poems I submitted.
Bless you as we begin another new week!
The sign before me read, “Dead End”,
the gate had blocked my way;
the fog then served an invitation:
Pause and regroup today.
Oh, I know a path will open,
an answer will soon be clear,
and I will journey forward –
But for now I’ll remain right here…
Dear precious little one,
I see the world anew
as you transform daily moments
into treasures just for you.
You give me fresh perspective
and help me clearly see
the sacred in the small things
through your enthusiastic glee.
As you immerse yourself in life
you show me I should, too,
and so my soul becomes re-freshed.
Oh my sweet child, thank you.
We have shared delightful times
of bubbles, bikes, balloons
but now attention turns from me
for Mom is coming soon!
Their hopeful expectation
is shining in their eyes
as they set all other things aside
and wait to be surprised.
For the one who loves them so
will soon come into view;
the one whose tender care for them
will gladden them anew.
May their example teach me, God,
how to anticipate
the ever-present love you show
if I just watch and wait.
May my hopeful expectation
be shining in my eyes
as I set all other things aside
and wait to be surprised.
(This painting of Jesus on the Mount of Olives was a gift from my favorite watercolor artist – my dad. I love how the painting depicts Jesus waiting for me at the point where the path begins to turn – the inspiration for my poem today.)
As we journey through this life
you beckon us to follow;
your love will lead us through today
and into each tomorrow.
So when I travel paths unknown,
may I bravely take your hand,
and learn to trust your guidance
as we go around the bend.
For though I simply cannot know
what the future holds for me,
I can still move forward
when I know you’re holding me.
Through the seasons and the cycles,
every turning of the tide,
all creation sets a pace, with
times to act or to abide.
Through the dusks and through the dawns,
every ebb and every flow,
a sacred rhythm is revealed:
times to pause and times to go.
Teach us the rhythm of your song,
when to sing or when to rest,
when to dance or to hum quietly –
that others may be blessed
by the beauty of the music
by the rhythm of our days
by the sound we make together
in a life of lived-out praise.
(All photos by Karen; the last photo is Lake Erie at Maumee Bay)
I had never experienced anything like this before.
For about two weeks (after a case of Covid) in July, I was quite depressed. This was so unusual for me! Oh, I have felt discouraged and melancholy at different times in my life, but I have always held to the hope of a brighter future. I am generally an optimistic person; my faith, my writing, my contemplation, my walks in nature – and probably a healthy body chemistry – help to keep me uplifted and hopeful. I usually consider my trials to be teachable moments, my uncertainties as potential adventures, my sorrows as conduits for increased compassion.
This time was different because I felt such a sense of futility and despair. I found myself asking, “What’s the point?” far too often. The feeling was quite unsettling and at times, frightening. Jim even admitted that he was becoming concerned for me.
Perhaps my struggle was largely from the malaise that lingered from my illness, but there were other events that had also impacted my spirit. I had recently decided to leave my part-time office position, consider myself retired, and focus on my writing. The slower pace and the lack of writing progress brought me down. I began to feel a lack of purpose that results from too much self-reflection and doubt.
Through these difficult days when I could not feel hopeful, I am grateful that I never felt alone. Even in my sadness, I truly felt the love of God and of those who love me, along with the love I feel for all of them.
Fortunately, this depression eventually waned. In these weeks since then, I have been wondering about those who feel the futility that I had but may not sense the love that is surrounding them. I have been concerned for those who may not be aware that they are beloved children of God and are never alone. I have been thinking about those who question their purpose without realizing that God’s purpose is to love them completely.
Depression can hit any of us, even people of deep and abiding faith. I am sharing my experience today because I hope it will help anyone who is feeling as I did. Through my unexpected time of despair, I humbly learned how essential love is. When faith and hope have fallen away, love still and always remains.
Today, may you know how much you are loved by God. You are important, worthy, valued, cherished, and significant – not for what you have done, nor for anything you need to do, but simply because you are God’s precious child.
And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
(Matthew 28:20b, NRSVUE)
(NOTE: My reflections are NOT intended to replace the need for professional help in times of depression, but solely to share my experience of God’s love. If you are feeling depressed, please find the help you need. My prayers are for you.)
Photo by Karen, City Park, Hurricane, WV
Bible verse found at https://www.biblegateway.com/
Last week, our 17-year-old grand-dog Lacy was gently put to rest. Our daughter had rescued Lacy from a shelter fourteen years ago and she quickly became a dear and faithful companion. We especially grieve for our daughter and her family, but we feel our own sadness, too. A few years ago, Jim and I kept Lacy for a few months while our daughter was relocating to a new home, and we grew very fond of that sweet dog. We took several daily walks, snuggled on the couch, spoiled her with treats, and enjoyed her loving presence. We truly missed Lacy when she was reunited with her first love – our daughter – in their new home.
I was fortunate to spend a day with Lacy last week. I spent much of the time patting her and telling her how much she was loved, my tears flowing for her and all who have come to love her.
On the day that Lacy crossed, I quietly sat on our porch, feeling worried and sad for our daughter and son-in-law as they accompanied Lacy, and for our grandchildren grieving at home. The grief was almost overwhelming as I recalled so many tender moments. But then, I happened to look up and saw this cloud formation in the sky – the clouds resembled our Lacy, now frolicking happily across the heavens, with ears flying and joy on her face!
Life is a sacred mystery we will never fully understand, but life is filled with reverent and wondrous moments, especially in that private, precious, and profound passage from live into love. I do not know exactly how God works, but I do know that my life makes more sense, offers more beauty, and holds more hope because I feel God’s presence in it all. Our hearts may be sad, and yet we feel something more… something holy, mysterious, peaceful, and beyond all knowing… in the presence of Love that will always remain. Always.
(Photos by Karen, August 2022)
Some time ago, this boulder had the words, “Lord God Jehovah Returns May 21, 2011” stamped onto it. I noticed it last week while walking in our daughter’s neighborhood in Ohio. The words are now faded, but I thought about the certainty this person must have felt while having the boulder inscribed and then placing it in this prominent location. I also wondered why this person wasn’t embarrassed enough to remove this (now obviously incorrect) rock.
But then I asked myself, “What would my boulder say? Have I ever felt that certain about anything regarding God and God’s ways?”
My image of God has evolved and expanded over the years, from a judgmental father figure in the heavens to an infinite source of love and life. I have come to understand that when I try to describe God or explain God’s ways, I immediately limit God to my human capacity. My love for God is necessarily filled with reverence, awe, and wonder, because I cannot comprehend the mystery, the glory, the incredible power of this infinite source of being.
I do believe that Jesus gives us a human glimpse of God. I believe Jesus when he describes God and teaches us the ways God would have us live and love. I believe Jesus when he assures us that we are all God’s beloved children. So, even as I believe that God is beyond our comprehension, I also know that God has also humbly become one with us – not only through Jesus, but also through the Spirit, through one another, and through all of creation.
My boulder would not have a predicted date for God to arrive. I know with certainty – I feel with certainty – that God is already here; God is already surrounding us, among us, and within us.
If I were to emblazon a boulder with my statement of certainty, it would simply read:
God is infinite Love – and is with us right here, right now.
Thank you, God.
(Blurry photo by Karen, Alliance, OH 🙂 )
This morning I began a new game while walking at Valley Park, a little challenge for myself. When I came upon a rabbit nibbling clover near my path, I tried to walk past without disturbing it. Then, down near the pond, I did the same with two ducks that were resting nearby. Granted, these animals dwell in a public park and are accustomed to having people around, but I still felt a certain sense of glee when I was able to walk by without disrupting them! On my return path I came upon the rabbit again, and it hopped along with me for a short while, as if to indicate that we were now comrades for the journey. I thought about St. Francis and his tender care for God’s nature and creatures.
I believe all of creation is crying out for us to walk more gently upon the earth. To stop trampling and begin enriching the soil. To stop destroying and begin healing the environment. To stop possessing and begin stewarding and sharing the earth. To stop hurting and dividing and begin helping and honoring one another. To stop fearing the future and begin changing the present.
How might we begin a new game, one in which we challenge ourselves to do less disturbing, disrupting, dominating, or dividing? How might we challenge ourselves to unite together with God, with nature, and with one another for the good of all? How might we challenge ourselves to walk more gently through this day, upon this earth?
Perhaps our first step is to begin walking more gently with ourselves.
Today, may you take some time to consider the miracle of you, to look upon yourself with awe and wonder. May you be gentle with yourself, for you are beloved of God. And may gentleness fill your spirit and lead you out to walk more graciously, softly, and tenderly… upon this earth… among its creatures… beside one another… and united with God.
“…walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.“
(Ephesians 4:1-3, NRSVUE)
Bible passage found at https://www.biblegateway.com/
Photo by Karen, Teays Valley, WV
We have had a delightful summer of fun getaways and regular responsibilities, but these middle weeks of July had remained relatively unscheduled. I happily anticipated using this time to focus on my writing projects, with plenty of uninterrupted hours for reflection and serious effort. Instead, I found myself drained and depleted, uninspired and unable to write any words that I felt were worth sharing.
To overcome this empty feeling, I began asking God for the inspiration and determination to persevere. Then (to help God with my request 😉) I began listening to numerous podcasts, hoping to glean one helpful insight. I began reading books, hoping to find an uplifting story to share. I journaled often, hoping to clarify my inner thoughts and longings. This morning I told Jim that I was feeling desperate; desperate to fill my thoughts and spirit with something that would guide or inspire, something that would help me keep writing.
Some surprising questions suddenly came to me…
What if my lack that draws me to God is a holy invitation to something new?
What if my prayers for perseverance or determination have been misguided?
What if God wants to fill my emptiness with something else, something completely new and different?
Other prayers soon came to mind. How often could my prayers be short-sighted? How often have I assumed to know what I need? When I feel frustrated or irritated, I tend to pray for peace and patience; what if God is ready to fill me with courage or motivate me to action? When I am sad, I usually ask for trust and hope; what if God knows I need compassion or wisdom along with these? And now, when I am praying for inspiration and perseverance – what if I am being invited to rest in God’s loving presence instead?
May I learn to regard this emptiness as a gift, as an invitation to let God fill me with what God deems best. Trusting that the Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26), that God loves us with an infinite love, and that God knows exactly what we need, I can simply bring my emptiness to God without a specific request. May my sole expectation be that God will fill me – and maybe even surprise me – with every goodness that is found in Love alone.
Photo by Karen (Anna Ruby Falls, GA)
I was well prepared to wait for my oil change and vehicle inspection – I had my cell phone and a good book to help pass the time. But my attention was drawn to an adorable little boy and his mom who were waiting at the shop, too. The young mother patiently answered the child’s many questions as she snuggled him into her lap. They told stories and played guessing games; their mutual joy was visibly evident. I had to chuckle when their vehicle was ready, for when the mother happily told her son that they could now go to his favorite play center – he protested! He wanted to stay in the waiting room!
I came away with a fresh perspective that morning. Can we learn to regard our times of waiting – whether for appointments, answers, occasions, recoveries, or brighter days – as opportunities to bask in God’s tender and attentive love? Can we learn to embrace this waiting time with God, instead of merely enduring it? Can we learn to slow our pace, draw close, settle in, ask our questions, and share our stories – until the appointed time, until things are in place, until we have healed, until the work is done, until we are ready?
For every uncertain or unproductive time, we have a sacred waiting room available, a quiet space in which we can rest and abide in God’s love. Each moment of waiting can become an opportunity for us to be still with God, rather than an obstacle for us to overcome. We can remain faithfully present to what is – if we recognize that God’s presence is included in what is. When the time is right, we can then move on with joy and gratitude for our time together…
and perhaps even wish we could stay just a little longer.
(Photo by Karen)