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)
(This is the last day of Sarah E. Westfall’s Instagram challenge, #liturgyofthesmallthings. Her invitation is to find reasons for hope in our everyday lives.)
When I am hiking on wooded trails, I often imagine the pioneers who had to forge their own paths as they journeyed into new frontiers. (I especially think of Mary Ingles; when Jim and I first moved to West Virginia, we found a trail named for her. We then read her story in Follow the River – an incredible journey of courage and survival.)
When Jim and I hiked a few days ago, we started early to avoid the heat of the day. We soon discovered that we were the first ones to travel the path up Meek’s Mountain, because we encountered lots of spider webs that had been created during the night! The webs were barely visible in the darkness of the woods, so we often walked through them. We were uncomfortable, not only from having sticky webs on our heads and arms, but also in regretting the damage done to the spiders’ habitat.
About halfway along the trail, we met a friendly, smiling couple who declared, “We cleared the webs for you!” We laughed together as I assured them that Jim and I had done the same. The rest of our hike was much more enjoyable because of this couple who had cleared the way.
Today my hope is found in my gratitude for all the people who have gone before us. I am thankful for all the pioneers who opened new frontiers, made scientific discoveries, created beneficial systems and structures, sacrificed for our freedoms, led to greater understanding and knowledge, and worked for social justice and equality. We can never know all the pioneering people who have quietly cleared the way for us, who have fostered our own success and well-being. But today, we can be thankful and hopeful because of them.
In a timely follow-up to this reflection, yesterday I listened to Krista Tippett’s “An On Being Listening Party – Celebrating 20 Years” of the On Being podcast. There were a number of excerpts of inspirational interviews from the past. In one interview, the question was asked, “Are we being good ancestors?”
What if our sole purpose in life is to clear a path for another’s well-being, to leave a legacy of love, to open new frontiers of understanding and community? My hope today comes from my renewed determination to be a good ancestor – even in some small way – for the generations to come.
Are we being good ancestors? My hope today comes from the way I see others asking this same question.
(Photo by Karen, Valley Park, Hurricane WV)
(This is the third post inspired by Sarah E. Westfall’s #liturgyofthelittlethings on Instagram. Sarah invites us to notice the smaller moments of hope in our everyday lives.)
I could not help but notice the dramatic sky on my morning walk today! The contrast of dark clouds against brighter blue patches and rays of sunshine provided an interesting walk with lots of reflection.
Today my hope is revealed by this reminder:
Life is a contrasting mix of darkness and light, sorrow and joy, trouble and serenity, futility and progress. Through these contrasts, life becomes a beautiful, challenging, rich, and delightful journey toward greater wisdom, faith, and peace.
My hope is found in the awareness of God’s gracious, loving, healing, helping presence through every storm and sky. My hope is felt when I sense God’s tender, comforting love throughout my daily living.
My hope is found in unexpected moments, too. Just as I was entering my second mile, the darker clouds joined together to shower me with yet another gift in contrasts; the uncomfortable drenching of my shoes, clothes and hair – and the joyful cleansing of my soul.
May abundant blessings shower on you today.
(Photos by Karen)
For Andrew – a friend forever.