A PICTURE AND A POEM: LOVE

HOW DOES LOVE SPREAD?

Love boldly impacts
through diverse and delightful artwork
created in dark and dingy tunnels.

Love outwardly ripples
from pebbles of promise and possibility
cast on the waters of humanity.

Love gently covers
with blankets of care and concern
placed over the wounded and weary.

Love graciously flourishes
around festive and feasting tables
shared with the hungry and lonely.

Love tenderly sprouts
through seeds of hope and help
scattered upon the soil of earth.

Love openly reaches
with warm and welcoming arms
extended to the outcast and excluded.

Love widely radiates
from the infinite and intimate light of You
held within your humble vessels.


Photo by Karen, Atlanta, GA

A PICTURE AND A POEM: DISTRACTION

As I set out to walk today
I put my earbuds in,
hoping to ponder and to pray;
to meditate within.

My prayer began, “Be still my soul,”
but a train then rumbled by,
and angry dogs began to growl
while giving me the eye.

When the podcast called for silence –
three minutes – that was all
I went around a wooden fence
and this is when I saw

these two loose chickens near the street
both clucking in dismay.
I then admitted my defeat.
I wasn’t meant to pray.

Until this became the moment
when prayer transformed to mirth
with the joy of life, heaven sent,
to bless our days on earth.

God, I thank you for the laughter
when silence can’t be found.
Let my praise ring out hereafter
with every earthly sound.


(Photo by Karen)

EMBRACING EMPTINESS

Ah, these early February days, when (here in the northern hemisphere) I grow weary of the winter. I have the usual seasonal conflict of longing for spring – while lamenting that life passes too swiftly! These are the days when I feel a certain emptiness, a desire for something more. Of course, my first response is to begin considering…

Wouldn’t it be nice to get away for a few days?
Should we go to dinner, see a movie?
I need a new sweater…
Maybe I will head to the library for a few books.
Our walls could use a brighter color.

Any of these ideas – and others – will help uplift my spirit, break up the monotony of gray days, or offer respite and renewal. They are worthwhile ways to bring beauty to life.

But today I’m asking, “What if this moment is an invitation to embrace emptiness and simply wait… for God to fill it? What if this emptiness does not signify a lack, but an opening?” As I journaled about these thoughts, I sensed God saying this to me:

Yearning Karen,
Could this simply be your holy longing, that emptiness that draws you ever closer to me? Instead of questioning or seeing this as a detriment, embrace this emptiness and keep it open. This is an opportunity for you to wait on me, to trust that my goodness will fill your empty space. Regard this emptiness as a gift, a precious reminder that you will always have a holy longing for moreā€¦ for me.

EMBRACING EMPTINESS

not reaching for
but abiding in

not moving toward
but clearing away

not drawing closer
but remaining still

not seeking more
but surrendering all

not filling up
but holding space

Please fill me with your goodness, God.
I will wait.



(Photo by Karen)

A PICTURE AND A POEM: HIDEAWAY

The winter days are dreary, cold,
’til Sunshine comes to stay,
and she asks, so sweetly, kindly,
“Hey Grammy, will you play?”

We crawl into our hideaway
of blankets, couch, and chairs,
then choose whom we are hiding from –
fierce pirates, hungry bears.

When we imagine they’ve come close,
we giggle, unafraid
to let them know that we are here,
secure in what we’ve made.

She brings a book for us to read
but then we tell our own
stories of exciting days, of
adventures we have known.

Our temporary hideaway
helps shelter us from fear,
providing space for us to dream
new stories we’ll hold dear.

As Sunshine later heads for home,
blankets are put away,
I tuck these moments in my heart
to bless another day.

And God, you are my hideaway,
both mobile yet steadfast;
my refuge from the daily storms,
my fortress that will last.

I too, can shelter in your love
and, putting fears behind,
can dream a new unscripted tale –
the one you have in mind.



(Photo by Karen)

A SECOND LOOK

I’d recently heard a podcaster recommend a certain drama-comedy series, so I suggested to Jim that we watch it that evening. The first episode only annoyed me. I found the story depressing, the main character mean-spirited, and the language vulgar at times, so I chose to stop watching. But today I came into the den while Jim was watching the next episode to see if the story would improve. This time, something about the characters captivated me, and I soon sat down next to him. We watched through the end of Season One! I now understand the value and merit of the storyline and characters.

As the story progressed, we learned the reasons for the main character’s depression and the deeper meanings behind his hateful actions. I began to appreciate the kind friends and coworkers who cared for him, despite their own troubles. I savored the wisdom of a few sages who had walked similar difficult journeys. Best of all, I began to see a resurrection, a new hope restored in this troubled man. I felt joyful, even emotional, as his spirit began healing and he started changing his ways. In the last episode we watched today, he was making things right with those he’d hurt, doing kind deeds for others, taking new chances, finding new opportunities, and smiling more often.

I’m glad I gave the show a second look.

As I stood and returned to my writing desk, I suddenly thought: This is God. This is God’s love. This is God’s healing.

And this is how we are meant to live.

God always gives us the benefit of a second look. Yes, God looks at this first, current episode of our lives, but with the awareness of our previous ones and the insight for our future ones. God sees beneath our superficial qualities or blemishes because God looks at our deeper souls. God understands our flaws and frailties because God understands our histories, our wounds, our genuine stories. God sees our inner needs and provides healing, forgiving, uplifting power accordingly.

And through this comforting, accepting, second look – this loving gaze – we can see ourselves as God sees us, precious and beloved. In the wisdom of God’s deep and healing insight, we can discover our genuine selves beyond any superficial, overlooked, or previously held image. In the generous grace of God’s viewpoint, we can see beyond our current messiness and witness our own resurrection – both our wholeness and our holiness.

Then it’s our turn. God can also transform us into people who offer second looks. God can help us begin searching beyond the obvious; seeing beyond our preconceived judgments, moving beyond our usual reactions, growing beyond our status quo. Our second looks help us search for the real answers to such questions as…

Why is that man being so hateful?
What is that student trying to hide behind his bravado?
Is there heartache beneath that surly attitude?
Will I find any wisdom in those hurtful words?
Why am I feeling disgruntled today?
Should I reconsider this invitation?
What might I learn from this experience?

Through our daily resurrections, we can become tenderhearted, hopeful, helpful, generous, merciful, grateful people who are willing to take a second look, offer a second chance, and live the second life that God has so graciously given us.

Where might you take a second look today?


Photo by Karen

A PICTURE AND A POEM: SECURITY

QUESTIONS FOR THE LEAVES

Tucked into this sheltered corner
away from wind and rain
this little pile of withered leaves
brings questions to my mind.
How long have they been waiting here,
how long will they remain?
If leaves could speak to me today
what lessons would I find?

Are they content to gather close
and linger in this place,
to live each day in quiet joy,
allowed to simply be?
Or do they wish to take a risk
and leave this cozy space
to be tossed about, trampled on,
or scattered randomly?

Do they hold an inner longing
to leave this sheltered frame?
Does wisdom call them to the wind
with peace, and not with fear?
For life well-lived returns them to
the soil from which they came,
and the very wind that scatters
once brought them safely here.


(Photos by Karen)

THE SEASONS OF OURSELVES

Growing up near my grandparents’ farm, I soon learned how the seasons of northwest Ohio guided and governed their lives. In summer months, I’d see my grandpa, uncle, and cousins out tending the fields during the long days of sunshine. They woke early on market days and settled to sleep soon after the sunset. Autumn brought the last busy weeks of harvesting and selling, with my grandma canning vegetables for their own larder, as she called it. I imagine they were relieved for the restful time that the winter season brought. And sometime near the end of February, my aunt would find my uncle poking around the soil of her houseplants, eager to get back to the garden!

For most of us, the changing seasons may have little impact on the way we live our days. We continue to work the same hours, rest and rise at the same times, and keep our usual routines. Could we be missing some of the ways these natural rhythms and cycles enhance our wellbeing? How might we benefit from treating the various aspects of our wellbeing in light of their seasons?

A brief self-survey revealed these seasons in me:

My body is aligned with the winter season, as the aches of aging increase. My bones hurt when the weather is cold, so I’m walking shorter distances. When I can, I love staying in my flannel pajamas a while longer or remaining at home after dinner as the early darkness sets in. When warmer weather returns, I’ll once again enjoy longer hikes and more time outdoors, and become more active and sociable in the evenings. Sometimes I’m tempted to walk too far or push myself too long, but I’m trying to honor my body’s need for a slower pace and warmer space!

Yet, other areas of my life seem to be in different seasons. As I learn more about writing and have more time to write, my creative season feels like summer – abundant, productive, flourishing. This is my summer season to tend and toil in this craft.

My daily routines look more like the autumn season. I’ve begun surrendering a few “leaves”, as I’ve retired from my job and volunteer ministry. I’m now busy filling my emotional and spiritual larder with mindfulness in my tasks, joy in homemaking, tender care for others. I notice my soul gently maturing, softening, releasing, for an eventual winter season, the resting time of old age and beyond.

And springtime? My grandchildren are sprouting fresh joy! I want to tend and nurture my grandmother role as a mentor and friend to my grandchildren. I want to savor my time with them, encourage and honor their parents, learn new ways to support them all.

Understanding the different seasons of ourselves will help guide our decisions for wellbeing. What aspects of our lives need the rest of a winter’s pause? How might we find more time for our summer areas of abundance and productivity? Do we have something to surrender and allow for new growth? Do we have something that needs our patience until its proper season? What might need just a few finishing touches to be ready for harvesting? What is our greatest need as we restock our larders?

Recognizing that some seasons are decided for us (for example, the year-long summertime schedule of careers, the unexpected winter rest of an illness), how might we balance ourselves in other areas? We can honor each different area of our wellbeing with the rhythms of its season.

Thank you, God, for the seasons of the earth and for the seasons of ourselves. Give us the wisdom to appreciate, attend to, and honor every season of our lives.


(Photos by Karen)

A PICTURE AND A POEM: SHINE

Let your light so shine for others
this is my daily prayer…
to radiate God’s lovely light
through hope, and love, and care.

But my lamplight is a small one,
often shining just on me,
and at times it’s bent and broken
so the light is hard to see.

Please shine your light within me, God,
reveal how I may grow
in your bright and loving kindness
so others see your glow.

For you are able to do more
than this lantern of my own.
I need your power and your strength
for love more brightly shown.

I may be bent and broken, but
your perfect light will shine
each time I let your love flow through
this faulty lamp of mine.



(Photo by Karen)
“Let your light so shine…” is from Matthew 5:16.

LOOKS LIKE RAIN

WHAT DO WE DO WITH THE SIGNS?

I had originally intended to use this photo for a reflection on negativity and pessimism, using Looks Like Rain as a humorous post about leaping to the worst conclusions. Instead of appreciating the blue sky on a lovely day, we could focus on the only cloud and worry about rain. But then I recalled a few times in my life when I discounted some seemingly insignificant signs that ended up being really important (such as minor health issues that indicated my eventual cancer diagnosis).

What might be the best way for us to consider the incidents that capture our attention – the things we notice and then wonder if they are signs of something more to come? Whether these signs might be related to our weather, health, vocation, or other discernments, how might we regard them with the wisdom of Jesus’ instruction, “Do not worry about tomorrow”?

Perhaps these incidents can best serve as “You are here” signs. You may have seen these indicators on maps of hiking trails or layouts of buildings; they show us where we are in relation to our larger surroundings. When something catches our attention, we might consider it an invitation to note where we are, to assess how we are feeling about being where we are, and to open ourselves for greater awareness about where we might go or what we might do from this point. The things we initially notice may not give us direction, nor necessarily foretell a certain future, but they can invite us to pause and be fully present to what is.

In the wisdom of Christ, we can learn to regard these incidents without optimism or pessimism, but to say, “Here I am, God!” This will help to keep us from fearing or worrying about tomorrow – but also from ignoring or discounting what may be important – as we remain attentive for more information to come. Our prayer could be, “If I am called to do something more with what I have noticed, please show me and guide me.”

As we walk along in the joy of a beautiful day, we can see a cloud and run for shelter or grab an umbrella. We can also ignore every cloud and eventually find ourselves in a storm. Or we can be present to the moment, grateful for the day, watchful for the future, and aware of God’s presence with us through it all.


(Photo by Karen)
“Do not worry about tomorrow” is from Matthew 6:34 (NRSVUE)

A PICTURE AND A POEM: GROWTH

The barren tree stood silently
yet spoke to me of pain,
when branches once were cut away
and only stumps remained.
But now new shoots are growing forth,
while reaching up and out.
The stumps became the firm support
for all new growth to sprout.

When my best dreams are thwarted,
when obstacles impede,
when criticism cuts me down
and I’m ready to concede –
may I keep on reaching upward,
seeking your holy grace,
until new growth begins to sprout
from my strong and sturdy base.


(Photo by Karen)