Shine your light in a dark world

While browsing a local retailer in search of Christmas gifts for my family, I overheard one woman tell another woman that this year, she is not going to put up a Christmas tree or decorate for the holidays, even though she has done that for years.

With the world muddling through pandemic fatigue, it has become apparent that although Christmas 2020 saw many people putting up their lights to help brighten the holiday season, 2021 may not see that same kind of celebration.

A quick scroll through social media, and one finds many in similar situations.

And here at 6 a.m. on the first workday of this week, I can honestly say that my own energy is tapped out.

I need another morning to sleep in. Another afternoon nap time.

But I am not alone.

I know that some of my readers are going through countless exhausting, heart wrenching, seemingly impossible situations.

Tired of carrying the load, the light of the Christmas season can seem to be too much to share.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a lighted holiday boat parade.

There were fewer lights on the shores of the lake to wave in return to the 94 happily decorated floating vessels.

The last time I visited this parade, several people donned wearable holiday lights and waved various lanterns, lighted swords, candy canes and reindeer lights.

This time was markedly different.

The vessels floated by and the crowd was silent.

Truly a silent night, I thought.

Maybe the crowd was in contemplation or deep conversation.

Suddenly, one woman turned on her cell phone flash light and started waving it to those who put so much work into their lighted boats.

It brought to mind a thought, even a challenge for myself that I wanted to share with you.

What can we collectively do to help make this a brighter season for others?

My thought wanders to the proverbial, every day greeting and conversation.

A cheerful hello and “how are you” – while waiting for the response and likewise responding – goes a long way.

Even better, that moment when we see a need and step up to meet it, even if we only have a little to offer can make such a difference.

Light beams a long way into the darkness, even if it is just a little light.

Maybe if we each bring our little light, the little energy, the little smile, the little embrace to this world, good intentions and kindnesses will shine like stars in the sky on the sandy shores below.

Selah. Let the Spirit of the season be strong within you.

A fragrant presence

As the chill slowly rolls across the Florida peninsula in this our first real cool air this year, sweaters are fetched and everyone tests their heat source to make sure it works without smoking the household out of its comfort zone.

Enter. We picked up a fireplace insert to help heat the house without actually starting a fire. (It is much healthier and no ash to deal with, nor sparks. Controlled by a remote, it keeps the living room and downstairs quite warm.)

And I thought of people and fragrance, and candles and warmers, and scented car bars and more.

How sweet it is to be able to smell again after having had covid months ago.

Once in a while, I get a hug from someone who has great cologne or perfume.

Yes, another weakness. It is actually part of my budget, lotion and perfume. No compromise there. Twice a year, usually during those large sales, I visit a couple of my favorite stores and stock up.

Now I have peppermint body wash and am delighted.

How could smell have such an effect? That just the smell of coffee, or scented candles can brighten my day?

I had a friend years ago who sold makeup for a special company and every time I saw her, she was beautifully put together and wore this fragrance that was invigorating.

I actually bought the bottle and eventually ended up selling the same products myself because I love them so much.

So why am I writing about all this smell stuff tonight?

Perhaps, more than anything, I hope that my inner spirit will be as the fragrance of Christ.

Lord, do Your work in me.

May you have a blessed evening, all. Know that God loves us.

Add that one to the list

The small cork board tacked to the wall is dotted with notes of to do items and reasons why we want to do them. And magazine clippings of waterfalls and hopes of traveling to intriguing places and community festivals.

Would you believe I have an entire shelf full of journals (some of which I may combine in typed form for my kids some day, just not now)?

Much of journaling is a purge of thought and feeling, pondering the what if and stewing in the oh I should have done that differently, peppered with the by the way I forgot that and yes, don’t forget to take care of yourself.

I have written prayers and written the answers to the prayers. I have questioned my existence and also praised God for it.

And I am in this season of hey I want to go see a splendid teapot race, I want my picture taken in front of real magnificent sunflowers, I want to paint rocks and finish writing the two books I am working on.

(Make believe counselor yawns and the glasses slide to the end of said nose. No not really. But maybe everyone needs a life coach. Maybe that is a good idea for me to pursue.)

Our church has a Stephen Ministry.

(Look up the concept .. Episcopals offer it as a way of tending the flock of parishioners through either trying times or maybe just because they need an ear, a voice, a sounding board that is impartial.)

I have used one before and she helped me for months to navigate a number of questions rolling through my head.

What I want to know is this:

Why don’t we talk? Why is everyone so bound up in hey let’s keep this all surface conversation (i.e. wow the weather is crazy lol, as one example.)

I do have friends where the conversation is two sided. I am blessed with my family and my bestie and a small circle of other super close trusted friends. I know I could call any one of them and they can do the same.

But I am talking about every day life.

Once upon a time, people talked a lot more than they do now.

(This is just my opinion. You may have a different opinion and perspective and I respect that because we are all different and perceive things differently. And we can grow by sharing perspectives. I have a couple friends known as my voices of reason. Not every friend you have needs to have the exact same life knowledge or approach as you to be a blessed friend.)

Anyway.

Some days I find myself longing to hear people share their true hearts and feelings, and stories of the past and dreams of the future.

Or maybe they are, and I am distracted, chasing the pondering of my own heart.

Maybe I just need to listen.

And then maybe I would hear.

Add that to my list of goals.

To listen more, and observe more, and let myself enjoy this moment of life as it unfolds.

Whether in the coffee shop, or nestled in a book over lunch, or on my knees at the garden shop checking out the half price gardenias.

I might be on to something here.

Seeking God in the chaos

Psalm 63:1 “O God, You are my God, Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You, In a dry and thirsty land, Where there is no water.”

Many words have been written about the noise of this current age.

“When I get home, I want it absolutely quiet,” said a woman I knew years ago.

“Quiet,” I said, “as in no music even?”

And she said that yes, silence is what she sought.

It seems to me that worship can be musical, loud, cheerful, mournful, patiently waiting, shouting, quietly meditating, dancing, art, cooking dinner and more.

Our world is moving at such a fast pace. Cars get angry when they have to wait in line, or traffic slows. Everyone is moving fast and the wheel of life seems to be speeding up with the pace of the pack, so to speak.

Then you draw into your quiet place at the end of the day, and “chill.”

Or do you?

When my kids were little, such quiet time only occurred at 5 a.m. It was hard to sit in the glow of the kitchen stove light with a cup of coffee and try to read my Bible and pray. Some days it lasted a whole hour. Other days, five minutes or a half hour.

What does your life look like?

Everyone serves someone. There are those you are either responsible for (moms and dads take care of kids, older children care for aging parents and so forth) or to whom you provide a mentorship. Maybe you have a job, community or church responsibilities.

But are you “on” once you are “up” in the morning, or does that take time?

As social a person as I am once the sun comes up, I admit that until I see that golden orb peek above the horizon, I am not truly “up.”

Or I might be up, just not ready to be social 🙂

Why is that?

The more you pour out in a day to the world and your family, the more you need to be filled up with the benefits of prayer and positivity before you head out to face the world.

There are some who tell me, no ma’am, I have my quiet time at night before I go to bed. And they give all their concerns to God so they can sleep.

Another tells me that for them it is a constant conversation with God throughout the day. Not a set time.

Whatever it is for you or me, or anyone else, the important thing is to somehow carve out time to seek God.

I find that when I hit a dry period, a thirsty period of my life, I ask myself when was the last time that I truly eliminated distractions so I could seek God.

In the mountains of West Virginia are a million little streams of crisp, clear rushing water. Just the sound of it soothes the frazzled nerves, rejuvenates the weary.

The streams beckon our souls. In the midst of our day, we are seeking God.

Swimming in the sea of humanity

As the sea gulls chirped at each other and hopped around on the sand, the beach started to fill up with people, it seemed, from all over the world.

Beach umbrellas and chairs, towels and coolers dotted the shore for as far as the eye could see. Listening to chatter in other languages, someone turned on some Latin music, and the celebration began.

Families gathered to smear sunscreen on each other, talk about their trips thus far, and sprawled across the sand here and there, some even taking naps in the middle of the day, while others enjoyed beverages and still others bobbed up and down in the waves.

This truly is the sea of humanity, I thought.

And I am in it, like a grain of sand among other specks on the sea shore.

The white sand clung to my legs that I had carefully smothered in sunscreen (to no avail, I still am red as a lobster.)

So instead of trying to brush it off, I played in the sand with my hands.

It was like sugar.

How it reminded me of baking as a kid. And how I loved equally making sand castles.

Somehow I must make more time to go to the beach. My happy place, indeed.

The salty air is good for all things that need healing.

Tonight, I will sleep, knowing I swam a little in the ocean.

“Vitamin Sea,” my youngest daughter calls it.

Time with God

An antique lamp illuminated the bedside table where my great grandmother’s Bible rested. But she did not rest at night until she had, as she said, her “time with God.”

Every night, she read the Bible, and prayed for her family, and thanked God for the day. She was widowed many years prior, and she slept in a twin size, adjustable, hospital bed because she had numerous heart conditions.

She was active in her church, and Saturday night was a busy evening, preparing Sunday dinner for an after church spread, ironing church clothes and setting the table.

Prayer was folded around her day, every day, from sun up to sundown.

Her kitchen table was a welcome sight in the morning as she drank her coffee and read the paper and her edition of My Daily Bread, a free devotion book that churches distribute to their masses in order to help guide their quiet time.

It would be decades before I would come to see the fruit of a dedicated quiet time in my own life.

I was pregnant with my second son, Aaron, when I started having those times with God, and it is interesting that he is also the child who has been actively, non stop, working in the church in some capacity since he was a teenager.

Presently, I have two devotions a day.

After listening to an online devotion by Rick Warren, I put on contemporary worship to listen to and use to praise God as I get ready for work.

Night time devotions are shorter.

Everyone has a different approach to their time with God. One lady I know says she prays in the shower because that is the only time she is alone. Another goes for a walk with worship music in her headphones and that is when she prays, as she takes care of a husband whose health is failing.

Anyway, today was a great day. Had some fellowship time after work with one of my spiritual mentors.

Also took some time to get a haircut and get my nails done. Vain? No. I just like feeling put together. Then my head is free to deal with the other parts of my life.

On another whole side note (and yes I changed the subject three times), I feel grateful tonight for life, and my senses of sight, sound and smell. These are all things we take for granted, right?

May you be blessed as you explore your own quiet time with God.

The children grow up

“I can’t believe you have kids in their thirties,” a precious lady said to me tonight.

I laughed and said yes indeed, I am blessed.

And my mind wanders this evening.

How the babies grow up, make their own lives, and call sometimes. Once in a while, they visit. As life has it, most families are scattered all across the globe and only get together on holidays. Or special events.

I am so thankful this year, that I was able to visit my baby who moved away, and she was able to bring her sweet hubby to be and youngest baby to Florida to meet the rest of the family. I do miss her so much. But we talk. And always have a connection even though we are miles away.

I am thankful that my other little granddaughter who lives with her dad keeps up with me on Instagram. I have not seen her face in three years in person. She left as a little girl and is now a young lady. So fast.

I am thankful for all the rest of my babies who still live in Polk County, and their families, so I cannot complain lol, that I never get to see them. My boys call me often. It is a cool thing to hear their voices and know they still love their mama. And my youngest is up for a tea party, or a nail day, any day. She came running with flowers, groceries and a card a few months ago when I was sick with covid.

Time marches on. And sometimes I wish we just all lived on a large piece of property (wouldn’t that be cool, a homestead), but unless you inherit the farm so to speak, that is sometimes rare.

One of my aunts is a widow. Watching her deal with my uncle’s death has impressed on me the value of your family connections and friendships. She has a rich social life. The one who remembered birthdays. The one who went to Tupperware parties, bought wedding gifts, and always sent me the coolest little things when I was a kid. She loves literature, especially children’s literature. And all things up and bright. Another aunt of mine is likewise joyous. Neither of them live near me. We talk when we can. Or when I can. And I realize that sometimes when we feel like life is speeding by, we are the ones who seem to be moving that hand of the proverbial clock.

My parents each live in other places. Mama dwells in my home state of Indiana. My Dad lives in Florida. Each are aging as gracefully as they can. I think to myself, my goodness where did time go. It is getting away from me. And yet they each chose to live where they do. And have their own lives. I am heavily involved with Mama. Daddy prefers to talk once in a while. He likes to read and watch the news, and when we do talk, he is an expert on all sides of politics. I love my parents and wish I knew when I was younger how valuable the lessons were they imparted to me. Maybe I would have been a more kind and attentive child. Or maybe I was and am not giving myself enough credit.

Time.

I guess that seeing my friend Roslow’s old obit (my former editor at The Polk Sun) who passed away two years ago today, made me think of time and what all I want to do.

And let me not forget my bestie. She has walked through some tough stuff with me. She is the only person who ever met my sister (or rather, my sister’s grave), met my perpetrator (his grave), my great grands and great great grands, and grands (their graves.) She has met all of my family and loved them all. She bought teddy bears, diapers, holiday gifts for my kids’ children. She motivated me to finish college when I felt like giving up. She taught me how to be bold, or rather, how to tap into the inner boldness she said I already had. She helps me consider what others are going through when they are brutally unkind (sometimes life is like that, and that is well, just life, right?) Because of her, I have learned much about life and people, and how just because something does not work out the first time, it might work out at another time.

“It just wasn’t God’s timing,” she says.

She was the one who read the Bible to me when I had a faith crisis. She played Christian music, showed me funny skits with cats and dogs, and in countless ways, showed me and shows me that goodness still exists in this world.

I am so grateful.

No, I am not sad as I write this blog. But making my lists of goals and dreams.

And I am not going to give up on my writing. Sometimes it terrifies me to be transparent with people. Like maybe if I am, they will think I am too much.

Too loud. Too cheery. Too bouncy. Too analytical. Too creative. Too wordy.

So here I end with this thought .. that life is precious, family and friends are everything, and yes, you can aim for and reach the stars if you keep trying.

And if Roslow were here, he would tell me I changed my topic three times and should end with an offer of food. If he wrote it, it would read “and there will be hot dogs.”

Teetering on the edgy of edge

The sunrise was beautiful and jet trails scribbled their journey across the horizon as I haphazardly dumped all my work gear on the driveway to search for my keys.

Seriously?

I have a certain routine, and usually place all of my work stuff in one place, and place my ID badge, keys, belt and work phone all in my “go” bag. And my uniform and shoes are laid out. Lunch is a cinch because I have in mind what I am taking.

But this morning, I woke up and all morning felt like I just could not get one thing right lol.

Couldn’t find just basic stuff. Had my quiet time before work, but this morning I sat in the living room, snuggled with my coffee and stared like a bug eyed squirrel into open space as the sun came up.

Sweetness, the coffee finally kicked in and I thought hey I got this day handled forthwith.

Seize the day, they say. It will be fun, they say.

I dropped things I was holding. (My peanut butter crackers wrapper in the elevator. Thanks to the kind soul who retrieved it for me.)

Have you been there? The one day out of a thousand where it seems like you cannot get it together.

Later in the day, I met a sweet lady who makes teddy bears. She is known as the “teddy bear boss” in her teddy bear making group. How adorable is that? How she chooses to spend her time, helping others.

And all of a sudden, my day got better.

Peppermint.

You might wonder why I chose peppermint candy canes as the photo for this blog today.

Peppermint is a smell that soothes me when my nerves are frazzled. Just being real here. Everyone has a frazzled day or two here and there, and mine was fuzzy indeed.

So I thought the visual of candy canes might do the trick.

Aromatherapy, they say.

Anyway.

My day got a lot better and I thought about various things going through my head. And how there is nothing wrong with hope and positivity, and how healthy that is, even, to pursue such things. How it is good to encourage yourself and believe in yourself and also to believe in God and His power to hold you when you feel like all the crackers are crumbling, even if they really are not.

Side note here. Someone said there was some sort of solar flare or solar storm.

Well there you go.

The keys buried in the bottom of my bag seemed almost relieved to be rescued thereof.

Tomorrow is Tuesday, and I have already decided it shall be a Happy Tuesday. How shall we celebrate just being alive?

Let me know what you do to celebrate your ordinary day tomorrow.

Maybe by all of us sharing a little light, the world will be a brighter place.

Is God Relevant?

“When kids come to our church youth room, they find a place where they can kick back and fellowship, enjoy a soft drink, some snacks, play games and listen to music.”

I was stunned as a large mega-church youth and college leader showed me their enormous youth room. Much larger than the youth rooms I visited elsewhere in my own teen years. (You know, back when dinosaurs walked the earth. Lol.)

Yet the concept was still the same. Keep up with trends .. we are at this blessed place in history. Technology, transportation, fashion, entertainment, even occupations have changed drastically in the last two hundred years.

It has been said that trains of thought have polarized greatly. Many studies and statistics say that while there are a large number of Believers in the United States, not all of them are gathering to fellowship, while pastors and youth leaders wonder why this is occurring, the pandemic beside.

Church attendance and participation in service clubs has wained over the past twenty years, I am told, by those who manage those organizations.

Is God still relevant?

Is He relevant to me? Is He relevant to you?

Relevant .. relatable, necessary.

Surrounded on all sides by a Jesus believing family, I memorized scriptures as a kid.

And I craved a relationship with the Lord. My prayers were full of the God blesses, etc.

The “be with” prayers. Be with those who are suffering. Be with those who have lost their way. Be with those who feel empty and don’t know why.

Why is God Relevant?

It seems that those who believe in God really, really believe, and those who don’t, really, really don’t.

A long time ago, someone told me that trying to win the world by admonishment or accusation would never work.

“But your testimony, your story, no one can dispute. And when they see the light in your eyes, they will know.”

They have seen God. The God of all creation, the Almighty Author, the fantastic Painter of all things beautiful. The Creative Musician Who sings over us as we sleep.

Lord, we seek You. Right here, wherever we are. There is no place on earth where You cannot be found. We love you so much, and seek Your Presence in our lives.

Psalm 104:1-2 (New King James Version) “Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, You are very great: You are clothed with honor and majesty, Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment, Who stretch out the heavens like a curtain.”

The Coffeehouse Jesus and Blue Jeans Rock

The chilly drive on the Indianapolis interstate dumped us out in inner city Indy, where my Dad found a parking spot amid spaces covered by hard packed snow outside a storefront coffee house usually frequented by the homeless and those just seeking a touch from God.

Already dark outside, the trunk of the car was almost a welcome sight, as Mama unloaded her guitar, Dad grabbed his bass, and together, they made a second trip for the amplifier and microphone.

Mama was in the house.

The Watch Night service, as it was called in those days, started around 7 o’clock, with supper around 8.

As congregants waited for the midnight hour, to pray in the New Year, one person or group after another would bring special music, share testimony, or pray.

Dressed in my blue corduroy jumper dress and tights with a striped turtleneck, I wrapped my winter coat a little tighter because it seemed to be colder at times.

Then it was our turn to sing.

Shedding the long coat, I followed my parents to the front of the room, surrounded by maybe thirty people, seated on barrels and metal folding chairs, drinking coffee and leaning on wagon wheel tables.

This was my first time singing with Mama and Daddy, and I was so nervous.

“Throw Out the Lifeline,” was the song we sang. My voice was sometimes strong, yet I struggled.

Applause and cheers loudly followed and I found my eight-year-old self questioning whether my “performance” warranted that.

Hours stretched on, with songs and hymns, and bursts of encouragement, and soon the midnight hour was upon us, where we prayed in the New Year, asking God for His blessing.

Jesus met us in the worn down coffeehouse, a Haven for the searching, comfort for the weary, light and warmth for the distressed.

I often wonder what Jesus would look like if He came to us now? Would He have long hair and ride a skateboard? “Hit me up on Facebook,” He might say. “Send me a text, day or night, I mean it. I am here for you.”

I like to think that He would be as relevant and approachable to us now as He was then, even though “our God dwells in inexplicable light.”

A lifetime has passed since that night.

I went on to join an adult church choir at nine years old and continued singing in some form or fashion even to my life now.

The performance has changed to worship and seeking that familiar Presence, Who moved with grace among the group who sought, some with tears in their eyes, their Savior.

I am so grateful for His love. He sees past all my shortcomings. He holds me when I can’t see my way. He gives me a hand through difficult days. He scatters His glory across the sky to show me there is hope, yes, in this life and beyond.

Selah.

Lord, You are our hope, and we love You so much.