A REFLECTION AND A BENEDICTION (INTRODUCTION)

Dear Reader Friends,

I have always loved the benediction at the end of a worship service. The benediction serves to close our time together, and to bless us as we “depart in peace to love and serve others.” Our worship service is a time to praise and thank God, to reflect on Bible readings and a sermon message, to pray for ourselves and others, and to gather and share a meal in community. The benediction then blesses us to take what we have received from Christ and our time together, and to go into our daily living, refreshed and ready for loving service.

What would happen if we were to look back at our workweek, our regular daily living, as a time of worship and reflection? How much would our lives change If we were to review any highlights or common themes that seemed to reveal new insights, lessons, or gifts from God in recent days? How might we deepen in faith and grow in love if we were to close out each week with a benediction – a blessing on what we have received, and a prayer to use what we have gained or gleaned for the week ahead?

I feel drawn to try this practice. Would you like to join me?

Each Friday, I will reflect on the experiences and emotions of the week, prayerfully seek any lessons or insights God may reveal, then offer a benediction to gratefully close and set aside that week, with a blessing to better live and love in the new days ahead.

I pray that my thoughts, words, revelations, and inspirations will be pleasing to God, and will serve to bless you, too.

Your Friend,
Karen 🙂



(Photo by Karen, Hurricane, WV)

WELL, AT LEAST…

When my loved ones and I are saddened by trials or misfortunes, I often find myself saying, “Well, at least…” and then naming a few reasons to be grateful.

While isolating during the pandemic, I would say to Jim, “Well, at least we have our nice cozy home and each other.” When plans fall apart, I cling to the hope, “Well, at least we can try again next year.” When I fail to achieve a desired outcome, I convince myself, “Well, at least I tried my best.” When I had cancer, I inwardly thought, “Well, at least I have had a good life… at least I was able to raise my family… at least Jim and I had a few wonderful years together.”

This may make me sound like an optimist, always looking toward the bright side of life. In reality I’m only trying to cheer and console myself, as well as those who share my frustration, disappointment, or sadness. Life can be so very difficult, especially in those times when our troubles cannot be resolved or reduced; when the only peace we can find is in holding gratitude for what remains.

But this morning I was deeply reassured and comforted by this awareness:

Even if we were to lose every earthly gift we have, even if we were to face our worst trials yet, even if we were reduced down to our very “least” – whether our possessions, health, loved ones, or life itself – we will STILL have God. In every circumstance, we can confidently say, “Well, at least we have God.”

And God is our best; God is our most! When we are down to our very least, we will still have our very most!

We will always have God – who is our primary, essential, utmost need. We will always have God – who is our source of power, comfort, peace, joy, hope, and love. We will always have God – who makes all things new, who restores and resurrects, who is life itself. In God, we have everything and more. For eternity. With everyone. Our amazing God is both the source and the reason for our peace, trust, and hope.

In addition, I have discovered that when I am down to my least, I can more clearly feel and see God’s “most.” My desperation opens me to feel God’s mercy and love more deeply. My grief moves me to rest in God’s comfort and peace more securely. My frustration leads me to cling to God’s power and plan more fully. Whatever life may bring, I can trust that God will make good, God will be my everything, God will remain my “most.”

I am reminded of Paul, who endured so many hardships and pain in his life, and yet he wrote,

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him… (Philippians 3:7-9a NRSV)

Whatever this day may bring, God will remain. Wherever our path takes us, God will go with us. Whenever we are reduced to our very least, God will always, always be our very most.

(Photo by Karen)

FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY: THANK YOU (AND FAREWELL)

Dear Kate and my FMF Writer Community,

THANK YOU so much for these FMF prompts, encouragements, and opportunities over this past year! I have loved the challenge, and I have appreciated how our community comes together each week to read, share, and support one another.

But, thanks to another honest and insightful blogger (who shared how difficult it is to write in five minutes), I recognized that I have not been “playing fairly.” As much as I try to keep the five-minute time allowance, I struggle with allowing my writing to simply “be” without further reflection and editing, and with having too much to say. 😉 For these reasons, I am going to take a leave from Five Minute Friday and write other posts instead. I want to foster the integrity of this writing community – as well as my own.

I WILL be by to read your posts and be in touch! You are forever in my heart.

Thank you, Kate, for your good work. You are a blessing to us all.
Karen 🙂



(Five Minute Friday is an online writing community. Each week, Kate gives us a one-word prompt and five minutes to write. You may find other posts or add your own at https://fiveminutefriday.com/2021/09/02/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-city/)

Photo by Karen, Maumee Bay State Park, Oregon, Ohio

NOTICE AND DISCOVER – GREETING GOD

NOTICE AND DISCOVER #7
Monday, August 30th

Now that school has started again, I have been making some adjustments to my walking route and schedule. Jim needs to prepare for his bus route early each morning, so I generally begin walking soon after he heads to the bus garage. I find that I love this earlier walking time. At this hour, the rabbits and birds seem to be more trusting of me, lingering near my path even as I come closer. I appreciate the early morning glow of the sky at sunrise, the quieter surroundings, the cooler temperatures. My pace is slower and more spiritual as I savor the solitude within me, the stillness around me.

Part of the joy of my route comes from greeting my neighbors – those walking or driving by me. I smile and wave to everyone, hoping to convey that I am happy to see them, to share this moment in our separate journeys, to bless them as we begin this new day. But this week, I have noticed that there comes a time when I stop waving. As the school traffic begins to increase, smiling and waving to every car would appear ridiculous, so I avert my eyes from the people and turn my focus to safely dodging the vehicles.

I wonder if this also happens with God. Our ever-present God is coming to us, one God-moment after another, as steadily as oncoming traffic during rush hour. But we cannot comprehend any of these moments until we pause long enough to seek out one. In the early morning quiet, when life is slower and we are mindful, we can more easily see and acknowledge God’s presence all around us. But when our hectic life keeps coming at us – or when our frantic selves keep coming at life – we begin to avert our eyes and turn our attention solely on our success or survival.

Life can come at us with full force, but God is there in it, too. My invitation for this week is to take small moments throughout the day to simply pause what I am doing and turn my attention to greet God; to stop still in the middle of my busyness and say, “I see you God, I am happy to share my journey with you, and I hope to bless you in this moment.” This practice will be similar to taking a quick snapshot of the life before me, then noticing where I find God’s presence in the details. I trust that in doing so, I will recognize God’s active presence and power more often and in new ways.

Does this invitation speak to your heart? How might you begin pausing more often to greet God throughout the day? Can you recall a time when you were not aware of God’s presence until you took a closer look at that snapshot memory of your life? With enough practice, could our attentiveness become a way of life, could our mindfulness extend into every moment of our daily living?

If you were to pause right now to greet God, where would you look first?


My prayers have been for you.

(This is the last post of the Notice and Discover summer series. I will be taking a short break but plan to begin a new series after Labor Day. Thank you, friends!)



Photos by Karen, Hurricane, WV

FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY: DESPERATE

http://FMF Writing Prompt Link-up :: Desperate

The times in my life when I have felt the most desperate –
when I have felt so very
brittle and broken,
tender and terrified,
frail and fearful,
lost and lonely,
confused and cornered,
sorrowful and searching,
helpless and hopeless –
were also the times I most felt your infinite and loving presence.

Thank you for the desperation that draws me closer to you.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13 NRSV)


(Five Minute Friday is an online writing community. Each week, Kate gives us a one-word prompt and five minutes to write. You may find other posts or add your own at the link above!)

NOTICE AND DISCOVER – BRIGHTEN

(NOTICE AND DISCOVER, #6)
Monday, August 23rd

When Jim and I first moved to our new home in West Virginia, our yard was bare and empty. Jim has since created landscape borders and planted bushes; now we only need some colorful flowers or trees to have a beautiful setting. But I am realizing – even as I hate admitting – that I am not a gardener. I love those vibrant greens, cheerful blooms, and shady trees, but I have found that even a few potted plants quickly become “bothersome” and I give them away.

So, I am grateful for the flowering beauty I find on my daily walks, planted by neighbors who are more dedicated to gardening than I am. These neighbors have created colorful flowerbeds for all of us to enjoy. By brightening their one small part of the neighborhood, they also brighten the route for walkers like me. Seeing the variety of bright colors brings such joy to my day!

However, each Friday my route takes me by the trash bins that have been emptied earlier that morning. Often times, stray pieces of trash have been dropped and left behind. I usually take a moment to pick up any loose garbage and toss it back into the bins, doing my small part to keep the trash from being scattered by the wind or squished by passing vehicles. This week, I “notice” that I am also contributing to beauty when I clean up these messes along the way. I may not have a green thumb, but I do have an able body to remedy a problem or ease a burden, to help make the world a bit brighter.

My invitation for this week is a reminder to be attentive to the small ways I might make the world a little better, brighter, and more beautiful. When the world can feel so heavy and I can feel so helpless, God is reminding me to simply do what I can. I sense an invitation to pour as much goodness and brightness as possible into my small part of the world. And I have two small ways of doing so…

How might I brighten my corner by adding beauty? Could I create a poem, send a flower, cook a meal, photograph a scene, walk with joy, offer a smile, reach out with kindness, share a good thought, play peek-a-boo, write a letter, elicit a laugh, lend a book, host a tea party?

How might I brighten my corner by easing burdens? Could I pick up trash, dry a tear, listen to a story, speak up, help out, send a card, carry a load, clean up a trail, donate food, offer assistance, care for a child, write to a prisoner?

Do these invitations call to you? Are you one who loves to add beauty, or are you one who tends to ease burdens? In what ways are you being invited to make your corner of the world a little brighter, a little better? With God’s help, our small but beautiful contributions will brighten our world, one smile at a time.

My prayers for you continue.



Photos by Karen, Hurricane, WV

FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY: TEACH

https://fiveminutefriday.com/2021/08/19/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-teach/


God of all wisdom,

As the students begin to go back to school, I long to become your student again.

Teach me how to be more like Jesus when the world beckons me otherwise.

Instruct me through your Good Word when I am seeking answers.

Equip me with your powerful Spirit when I feel inadequate.

Train me to discover new insights through the challenges of life.

Ground me in humility when my pride overflows.

Coach me when I need direction.

Guide me when my path is unclear.

Enlighten me when I am distracted from your abiding presence.

Reveal your strength to me by uncovering my weakness.

Demonstrate your lovingkindness by awakening my need for mercy.

Show your compassion to me by allowing and comforting my heartache.

Instill in me the deep desire to remain your faithful student, your devoted disciple.

Amen

~~~~~


(Five Minute Friday is an online writing community. Each week, Kate gives us a one-word prompt and five minutes to write. You may find other posts or add your own at the link above!)

Thanks to those of you who have read of our health concerns and included Jim and me in your prayers. His heart valve is leaking but is not an immediate concern at this time, and my lab results indicate no new cancer!

YOU ARE SO VERY GOOD

I am taking a break from the “Notice and Discover” series today, just to remind you how very good you are.

I had been reflecting on my blog posts over the years, noticing how my soul-searching has often sought new ways to deepen in spirituality, make a good difference, become a better person, or follow God’s will more faithfully. Spiritual contemplation naturally leads us to seek God, long for God, and desire to improve and please God. But today I sensed that I need – and perhaps you do, too – to be uplifted with the reminder that we are already GOOD.

The Book of Genesis provides us with some beautiful imagery about creation and God’s desire to be in relationship with us. Those familiar verses, Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…” (vs. 1:26) and God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good (vs. 1:31), assure us that we have been created by God, and God sees us as very good.

The tender words of the psalmist (in Psalm 139:13-14) also describe how we have been tenderly created by and in the goodness of God…

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

My gift for today is in knowing that God does not love us “anyway,” or “despite,” or “even so.” God loves us all “because.” We are loved and we are regarded as good, because we have been created by God… because God IS love… because we have been made the way God intended, “according to God’s likeness”… because we are all God’s children… because God sees us as good. God’s goodness makes us good! God’s love is never contingent; it is not contingent on our good behavior, on the depth of our faith, or on anything Jesus has done for us.

Oh, we will make mistakes. At times we will do or say things that are NOT good. And yet, we can trust that God still regards us as inherently good, beloved children. God knows us at our core, and God knows our full potential. God understands us – and the challenges life brings – and knows exactly how and why we went wrong. God then forgives us and offers us opportunities to learn and grow from our mistakes.

Our longing to deepen in faith, our desire to do what pleases God, and our yearning to follow the ways of Christ will not bring God’s greater love. However, these pursuits will bring our greater joy! Our longing and aching for more of God is a God-given gift in itself. When we seek to mature and perfect ourselves in faith and discipleship, we are accepting an invitation to the greater joy that comes with surrender. A joy that will not only fill us, but will then overflow out into our world. The world that God calls, “very good.”

You are so very good. You are shining lights in God’s eyes. Shine with joy today, dear friends. Shine on!

You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

(Psalm 16:11 NRSV)



Photo by Karen, Hurricane, WV

Bible verses found at https://www.biblegateway.com/

FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY: ACCOUNTABILITY

http://FMF Writing Prompt Link-up :: Accountability

I need you as my accountability partner, God.

Expect me to be present –
to bask in your loving glow.
Ask me exactly where I’ve been
when I have failed to show.

Call me to be responsible
to tend what needs I can.
Beckon me to higher ground
(but lend a helping hand).

Insist my faith be integrated
to match my words and deeds
and always keep me humble
so only you are seen.

But I thank you, God.

You forgive me when I let you down –
I’ve failed you many times;
you always keep your promises
when I have not kept mine.

You walk the path of life with me
and redirect my steps.
You remind me I am fully loved
when too often, I forget.



(Five Minute Friday is an online writing community. Each week, Kate gives us a one-word prompt and five minutes to write. You may find other posts or add your own at the link above!)

NOTICE AND DISCOVER – GRIEF

(NOTICE AND DISCOVER #5)
Monday, August 9th

If you are tempted to ignore this post, you are not alone! This was one “invitation to notice” that I accepted very grudgingly. 😉

This past Monday, Jim and I finished reading the book we had been using for our morning devotions, so I chose a new one from his shelf – A Year with C. S. Lewis – Daily Readings from His Classic Works. Turning to the readings for August, we found that the first week was filled with thoughts about grief; Lewis had written these after the loss of his beloved wife. Neither of us were eager to read these, so Jim turned instead to our daily email meditations from Richard Rohr. The topic? “The Devastation of Grief.”

“Oh dear goodness, God wants me to pay attention to grief and death,” I thought to myself. The timing is terrible. Next week, Jim is having additional heart tests for a few concerns, and later this month I have my annual check with my oncologist. But is there ever a good time to consider death? I reluctantly accepted the invitation…

~~~~~

The days are growing shorter as we head toward the autumn season. My life is also heading into an autumn season, as I now have more years behind me than I have ahead of me. These passing years – along with Jim’s heart surgery and my previous cancer – have increased my awareness of the brevity of life. Sometimes I think about the things I will miss one day, even the little daily delights of life. And yet, I feel assured that in the eternal realm, I will find more incredible joys than any earthly gift can bring.

My only heartache about death comes when I imagine leaving my loved ones, at least for a time. Were I to lose a loved one, or they were to lose me, the deep grief of our temporary separation is the only pain I fear. Our relationships are the real treasures of this world.

~~~~~

I recently started listening to Mitch Albom’s podcast, “The Tuesday People” on my morning walks. Mitch shares the insights he learned from his college professor, Morrie Schwartz, as Morrie was dying. So I wasn’t surprised that his conversations were about death this past Monday – and I knew that God would provide some revelations for me in the listening.

The first episode was called, “Don’t Procrastinate Your Life Away.” From Morrie’s life, Mitch has learned to let the regrets of the past go, but also to not let new regrets pile up. In his introduction, he describes “those moments that give us pause as to how long we should put off the things that we really want to do…” and invites us to ask “What’s really keeping me from doing what I’ve wanted to do for a while now?”

The second episode was called, “A Tuesday People Retrospective,” and Mitch shared some highlights of Morrie’s best lessons. Morrie had gently advised Mitch to not wait to forgive someone, because there may come a time when it will be too late. Another lesson was in his description of his “perfect day” – he only talked of ordinary times spent with loved ones. His words that most resonated and comforted me were, “Death ends a life but not a relationship.”1

For these very reasons, I was blessed by my cancer. When we must face the possibility of death more fully, we don’t hesitate to do what is important, especially to make our relationships right. During that year of illness and treatments, a few relationships were forgiven and restored, new friendships were fostered, old friends were reconnected, precious words of love were shared, keepsake photos were taken, kindnesses were given and received. This was the best gift of all – to not have any lingering hurts, unspoken words, or deep regrets with my beloved family and friends.

~~~~~

My invitation for today is to never postpone loving and caring for one another.

Is there someone I have hurt who could use my sincere apology? Are there friends I appreciate but have not taken the time to let them know? Who might enjoy receiving a letter, call, or message from me today?

We may still need to be socially distant and careful, but can I find creative ways to connect with dear ones? Should I try to plan our family vacation (the third attempt) for next year?

At the end of this day, what will I have done to help someone else? How will I encourage, uplift, love, inspire, affirm, and speak my heart with the ones who are so important in my life?

How will I go to bed with no regrets tonight?

~~~~~

I hope my invitation also resonates with all of you. Please don’t put off spending time, reaching out, cherishing, and genuinely appreciating the people in your life.

My prayers for you continue.



1Podcast and quotes found at https://www.mitchalbom.com/tuesday-people/

Photo by Karen, Hurricane, WV