Endings and beginnings.

I took my dog for a walk this morning, noting the silver slug trails scribbled across the sidewalk. The light of dawn made them shimmer and become almost beautiful. For the first time in several weeks, I felt inspired to sit down and write.

The flowers in the South are in full bloom, knockout roses scenting the air and daisies standing tall behind the monkey grass edging the flower beds. My potted plants struggle to survive due to my occasional neglect and I find myself flooding them in order to rescue them from the wilt. I have great dreams of gardening in the Spring when the weather is cool which quickly wither in the oppressive heat of Summer.

I haven’t written a thing since my retreat in May. It was three glorious days of driving through incredible scenery along the Ocoee River and through the Blue Ridge Mountains. I finished my novel (yay!) and wrote whatever crossed my brain in the moment. Pages upon pages were laid down-my way of figuring things out, straightening what had become crooked, and reconnecting with God in the quiet of a sheep farm in Georgia. It was heaven on earth. Then, I came home and hit a creative wall. Oh, I’ve started a few posts, scrolled mindlessly through social media and shared a few memes and photos, but nothing of substance has been produced due to various circumstances.

First, I started back to school and I’ll just tell you, College Algebra is hard. I’m a writer, not a math brain, so it is stretching and challenging me in a myriad of ways. Not all of them constructive. I have sighed, cried, and sought every way I can imagine to get out of taking this class, but the fact is it is a basic requirement of a bachelor’s degree and it is the only general studies course I didn’t take back in the early nineties. It’s been a long, long time but it has to be done. Thank God for my brilliant husband who remembers all of this stuff! He has saved my academic life!

Second, Summer has been busier than I would like. Last year I felt like we spent endless, luxurious days by the pool, reading and splashing and meeting neighbors. This year has been filled with appointments, camps, preparing my oldest to transition to college, a trip to the beach…and math! All of these things are good and necessary but I find myself just wanting to be home, curled up on the sofa with a good book. (But, I really need to catch up on laundry.)

Third, we had to say goodbye to our beautiful, majestic, tender-hearted German Shepherd. What we thought was an ear infection turned out to be advanced cancer. We didn’t have time to wrap our heads or hearts around it but we had to put him down. I can’t describe the heartache of holding that huge head, looking into his soulful eyes and telling him what a good boy he was as he succumbed to the anesthesia. We all were there, weeping, as my husband read a prayer over our dog and we let him go. Grief has hit in waves and our yard feels so empty without his 120 pound presence. He was a big boy with an even bigger heart and we hurt.

Fourth and finally, in our grief we couldn’t be satisfied with one little dog who was lonely and lost without her best friend. We watched Hollie mope around and lose all of her mojo and we knew we needed to bring joy into our family quickly. Yes, we got a puppy(!) and that has been good and right therapy. She is a Cavachon-a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel/Bichon Frise mix. Like someone told me who had recently lost a beloved dog, if I have to be sad, at least I can be sad with a puppy. We named her Clara June and she is a sweet, soft bundle of snuggles who is healing our hearts and teaching our Hollie about playfulness and the fun of pouncing on a toy once again. Hollie isn’t sold on her just yet, but she is making baby steps that direction. Hollie gives a killer side-eye, though. Her shih-Tzu expression is consistently sour mixed with a healthy dose of annoyed at this new little sister who is full of puppy energy. We have laughed a lot this past week and I am grateful for that. Puppy breath is good therapy.

So, here I am. I still intend to write about my retreat back in May. I have incredible pictures to share and stories of how God met me there but today I just wanted to stop by and say hi. I wanted to share a bit of real life that has been happening and just check in with you as July dawns and we in the South hunker down to endure the summer heat. I hope you are able to enjoy some long mornings. I, for one, have to get up early to enjoy my devotionals outdoors or else I end up being driven inside by the humidity and bugs!

God is faithful. He is near. He is moving in the good and the hard and I’m grateful to be reminded of that. I have felt more dependent on him in recent days, even in the midst of massive struggles to form coherent prayers at times. But He reminds me to cast all of my cares upon Him for He loves me.

I think we could all stand to be reminded of that, don’t you?

Happy 4th of July (if you are in the United States)! As we celebrate the country in which God has ordained us to live, may we be good stewards of the freedom we enjoy and use it for the glory of God and the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Retreating

It’s been a dream of mine for while, now, to get away to somewhere remote and just write.

No noises.

No distractions.

Just for a couple of days.

Because of the sweet generosity of my husband, who gifted me this very thing last Christmas, my bags are packed as I type.

As soon as I water my flowers and load up the car I will be hitting the road for my destination…an 1880’s cabin on a sheep farm in Georgia!

I am so ready and, to be honest, a little nervous. I’m a solid extrovert so this extreme removal from society and social media is going to challenge me! I pray the quiet of the farm will seep into my mind, allowing God more room and opportunity to speak.

I will be writing as much as I can hammer out, while cleaning up the novel I recently finished and preparing to send it off to an editor. I will also take lots of photos, documenting this unusual experience to mark it as a stone of remembrance, for I do believe the Lord is going to move over the next two days!

Oh, and remember that little thing called College that I started last week? In order to get away like this I have been doing algebra like a crazy woman.

Algebra.

It’s been almost thirty years since I was in high school and, y’all, college algebra is NO JOKE. (Thank the LORD for my amazing husband who remembers all of it! He has happily sat with me and talked me through negative fractional exponents and seventh root variables, preventing my mind from, very literally, melting) I asked him, the other night, why this is so hard for me (I may or may not have been on the verge of tears) and he said, in his calm, matter-of-fact tone, “Because you are a writer.” And then I was ok.

I don’t have to be good at everything. I just have to pass algebra so I can move on to the classes that spark my passion. I just have to pass.

All that to tell you, I will NOT be taking algebra with me to the farm!

So, with that I’m off to water the flowers and hit the road! If you think about it, I would be so honored if you would pray for me as I travel and leave my babes. They always get a little said when mama leaves, as do I.

Until I return, happy Memorial Day! And thank you to our men and women who gave all for our freedom. There is no greater love.

Stopping to Smell the Roses

It’s an intense season. I’ve been immersed in all things “end of school” and barely have time to breathe, much less write.

My firstborn graduates from high school in less than two weeks, which does not seem possible since he just started Kindergarten five minutes ago. But, alas, it’s true and we are about to launch a child into this world. Scary, exciting, emotional…I’m feeling all the variety of feels right now! (I’m ok. Really.)

My self-imposed therapy has varied…reading, writing when I have time, and long walks through our beautiful, Spring-cloaked neighborhood. The sun has browned my shoulders a bit and my feet are readjusting to the feel of flip-flops. Finches grace the new bird feeder out back and the roses are blooming. Creation declares His glory and it is outdoors I go when I need to be refueled. A long walk or run, podcast or music in my earbuds and a prayer on my lips as I commune with my Father is truly the best medicine.

So, this week is different. I have a post I’m working on that I’ll share soon but I feel the need to just enjoy the beauty of Spring today. I haven’t edited these photos at all, just posting them straight from my iPhone.

No filter needed.

Just unfiltered worship to our God who created the beautiful seasons.

Enjoy:)

My wake up each morning. Best alarm clock in the world.

The first rose of the season. Made my kitchen smell lovely:)

My daughter and Danny sitting with me as the day warms.

Horses in the pasture grace our front yard and, after a year and a half, I still want to pinch myself when I realize I get to see this every day. So thankful.

Beautiful One

Our neck of the woods is so beautiful. Tennessee has hills and trees as far as the eye can see and winter’s dull landscape is quickly being replaced by the brightest, tiny green leaves you have ever seen. Spring is here. The last threats of frost seem to be past and the garden centers are bursting with an abundance vegetables and flowers just begging to be taken home and planted in my garden or perched on my front porch.

Yesterday I walked outside, barefoot. The sun was shining and the grass was cool and soft under my feet. I took a deep breath, noting the sweet scent of hyacinths still lingering and the Cardinal in a nearby tree sang his song for me.

“Thank you, Jesus,” I whispered. “Thank you, God.”

Nasturtiums popped up from the soil, awakened by the warming sun today. A couple of squash seeds have poked their happy heads up as well, a perfect accompaniment to the Roma tomatoes that will rise within the steel cages. I’ve often read that one is nearer God’s heart in a garden than any other place on earth. I don’t know if that is biblical but I do know a garden was man’s first home. It’s where we were intended to be. Our hearts long for soft soil and green leaves. Dirty fingernails and scuffed knees are the hallmark of a happy gardener, of which I am one.

And in the breeze I hear Him whisper. Not audibly, exactly, but almost so. He allows me to feel His pleasure through no work of my own and gives me respite from the hectic pace of this season of life. My children laugh from upstairs and I’m sure I heard my daughters singing.

Dear Solomon, surely you were consumed with love during the early days of Spring…

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,
for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away.

Song of Solomon 2:10-14

Why is it so hard to be still? Have you ever set a timer, intending to pray for ten or twenty minutes? It seems the second we try to sit our minds race with all the things we “should” be doing and we struggle to focus, much less commune with the Lord. A million distractions surround us, sucking hour after hour from our one short life, yet we cannot talk to God for more than a few minutes without growing restless.

Yet we must. We must stop and, literally, smell the roses. We must say “no” to the distractions and put away the things that rob us of intimacy with our Maker. Taking the time to be still and let the knowledge that HE is God, that He is the Lover of our Soul and there is no one else like Him, seep into our very bones is absolutely vital. He deserves nothing less. It is a battle worth fighting and fight, we must.

Because we cannot live…truly live…without Him.

Take a walk. Go for a run or even sit in quiet with the Bible open and nothing else to distract you. Determine to develop the discipline of daily stillness before the Father and watch as your heart tunes better to His. Listen as His whisper grows easier to discern and enjoy the refreshing this time will bring to your relationship with God. It will affect everything, especially your interactions with friends and family for we can only offer what we already posess ourselves.

My kids know, if they awaken early, where I will be. They will steal into the room and grace me with a kiss before padding downstairs to eat breakfast or, sometimes, they will sit quietly as I finish my time with the Lord. But it took years for me to develop the discipline to do this consistently. I finally did, though, and I’m so grateful. I’ve learned to steal moments throughout the day, listening to music (The Rabbit Room being my favorite source of life-giving music) and podcasts to train my mind and direct my thoughts toward things of the Kingdom because, if I don’t, I will find my thoughts directed everywhere else.

And, now that it is Spring, I go outside. Barefoot. I watch the hills come alive and the rebuds bloom, knowing the God who created every beautiful thing also created me.

You are altogether beautiful, my love;
there is no flaw in you.

Song of Solomon 4:7

Your Father calls you his “beautiful one.” Live forward into that truth, for that is who He says you are.

 

When Quiet Won

It was so quiet that I could hear the fluttering of the birds’ wings. Newly filled feeders had invited them near and in droves they came, red-winged blackbirds, nut-hatches, cardinals and sparrows all vying for position and dominance over the provisions that had been carefully hung from hooks and branches.

The sun shone in all it’s glory, framed by a baby blue sky and not a single cloud. The distant pond’s surface rippled gently, a deep and dark blue disguising the teeming life swimming beneath.

I almost missed it. I almost stayed inside, turning on the TV because spring is wreaking havoc on my allergies. Sniffles and nosebleeds and coughs, oh my! I almost let a sinus headache win, but I didn’t and I’m grateful, for what is more healing than the sun?

What better antidote to a cold or the blues than bright skies gently beckoning our eyes upward and onward?

What is more lovely than the scent of hyacinths breaking through the most clogged of noses as they open green arms wide and declare the glory of God in the deepest of perfumed purple hues?

“In quietness and trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)

I have a hard time with the “quiet” part of that verse. My days are filled with bustle and noise and when it all dies down my mind struggles to find a spot to sit. It runs in circles and tries to fill the silence with whatever is close and convenient.

But today the quiet won and as I sit on my porch, the colorful garden flag fluttering in the gentle breeze and the turquoise windmill that my daughter insisted we snag at Lowe’s spinning in delight, I hear Him whisper.

In the beauty of creation he reminds me that I am his beloved.

In the stillness He smiles upon me and fills the long pause with the laughter of a child in the distance, wafting across the pasture with last season’s tall grasses waving their golden stalks and the little horse shelter awaiting the summer wildflowers that will surely come.

A distant dog barks a friendly warning as a bumblebee whizzes by and there it is again…the laughter of a child.

Unbridled joy.

Winter’s Promise

In the midst of Autumn I was on my knees for hours. Several bags were strewn haphazardly atop the fading mulch as I dug hole after hole. One hundred fifty tulips, daffodils and hyacinths were all nestled carefully, spaced just-so and put to bed for the winter in the hopes that they would reward my efforts with colorful bouquets dotting my gardens come spring.

As winter progressed I would study the ground with a frown. It just hasn’t been that cold. Winter began with frost but quickly warmed and, well, I just haven’t needed my heavy coat that often. It’s been cold and dreary, but not freezing. Don’t bulbs need six weeks or so of below-freezing temperatures in order to be triggered to grow and bloom?

January came and went and I still didn’t see evidence of life. I feared all my planning and digging had been for nothing but mole-food. The flower beds, hosting spent seed pods and straggly bare rose branches that didn’t quite take hold last year, stared back at me with forlorn emptiness. The gray days trudged on, one after the other.

In the words my favorite singer/songwriter:

“..and the sky in Nashville, it can bend you low ’cause the winter here is gray, without a trace of snow.”

“You Came So Close” by Andrew Peterson

Sigh.

As February arrived I began to peer more closely, daring even to move the mulch around a bit with my foot in hopes of uncovering a green shoot. Sure enough, in the back yard near the fence, I finally spotted a bit of green sticking up about an inch above the mulch. Once I laid eyes on it I picked up more dotting the bed around the base of the dormant redbud. I smiled and clapped my hands like a little girl. Spring is coming! It’s really coming! And if I can keep those dumb rabbits from eating them all (because the battle is ON now) I might just have tulips blooming along the front sidewalk! (Any advice on rabbit-proofing my front flower beds is welcome.)

I never get over the significance of the changing seasons: The dying of winter, the dormancy of cold months and the waiting, longing for warmer days, the fear that the promise will not be fulfilled until the moment the first shoot pushes through hard, dry winter ground and fresh green spears of daffodils stand in bold rebellion against the monochrome gray of winter’s landscape. Spring is light pushing back the darkness, hope’s refusal to be silenced, life conquering death.

Spring embodies everything that is the gospel. I, for one, do not believe that is a coincidence. God has planted his message in the very fabric of creation. During the most dreary and dark days of winter life is awakened and emerges triumphant, heralding the lush beauty that is soon to follow. Even when the sun is setting at 4:30 in the afternoon, there is movement and intention underground as the earth prepares, once again, to declare the glory of God with vibrant spring color and summer blooms .

Spring reminds us that what we are living now is only temporary. We have cause to hope because, in all of history, there has not been a time where winter did not turn into spring. Not one. Even the Ice Age eventually gave in to the greening. On the darkest of days God is faithfully preparing the fulfillment of his promises, out of sight but ever near. Spring is His reminder that we can trust Him.

And don’t we need that reminder now, more than ever? As the world spirals deeper into darkness and the headlines read worse by the minute, are you tempted to lose hope? Take a look around. Move the grayed mulch aside and peer closely. There it is, my friend.

A Simple Advent

We began today, though it doesn’t “officially” start until December first.  But I know me, and I know us.  Life happens, schedules get tight, and we struggle to finish what we start whether it be a devotional, project, or “school” book.

I’ve purchased many advent devotionals over the years, bought every “memorable” ornament, tree, and wreath there is to make this season count.  This year, though, I’m going back to basics.  Like so many things in my too-busy life I’m paring us down, starting at the beginning and revisiting an old favorite that brings back beautiful memories of the days when all five of my babies gathered ’round the warmth of a winter fire and listened with wonder to the stories that just happen to be true.

We read the first few pages of “The Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sally Lloyd-Jones this morning over hot coffee and before a crackling fire.  I’m down to three kids in our morning time, the oldest two having grown and moved on to other things, so I savor these hours and pray they will last longer with these three.  I opened the book, now worn and with binding beginning to fray, to “The Story and the Song” and read the words slowly, carefully, wishing I had the author’s lovely British accent and determing to make the reading beautiful for my children.  The familiar words felt like home on my tongue and I slowed down as I came to page 17…

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story.  And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name.  He is like the missing piece in a puzzle-the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

My voice broke over these words, tears spilling from my eyes and my heart bursting with gratitude for fresh understanding…revelation, even…of the Christ.  That Jesus would become a baby.  That He would give countless clues all through History that we had not been left to wallow in our sin, but were so very loved that the Son of God had already planned to descend here before we even knew we needed Him…I could barely speak.

“Are you ok, Mom?”  My son’s soft voice broke my concentration.

How do I even answer that question?  I am more than ok, I am free.  I am saved, gloriously and forever seated with Christ in the heavenly places!  I am forgiven and beloved and, oh my sweet ones, how I long for you to realize this is true about you as well!

He came.  Jesus came and lived the life I could not live, died the death I deserved to die. He is the center of my story, and of yours.

“…So in Heaven and earth and below, every knee would bow in worship and every tongue would proclaim that Jesus, He reigns with the angels. Son of God, Son of man.

Hallelujah!”

From the song, Gather ‘Round, Ye Children, Come by Andrew Peterson

We too easily complicate things in an effort to make Christmas beautiful. We too often forget the simplicity of the Gospel of Christ.  But, today, I was reminded of why I am who I am and why I do what I do.

For the sake of Christ and the Glory of God.

Keep it simple, my friends.  Remember and celebrate the Advent of Christ with all of your heart, and without all of the fluff.

The stories are true.

Gather ‘Round, Ye Children, Come.  Listen to the old, old story…

 

Of Autumn and Rest

I took a short drive this morning.  The speed limit is 23 here in our neighborhood.  Not one mile higher.  The teenagers find it binding, I find it delightful.

I love being forced to slow.

Rounding the wide curve, with the pasture to my right, I spotted a neighbor.  Woolen hat pulled low to his eyebrows and two dogs fighting for position as he walked, a bounce in his step on this blustery Autumn day.  He waved and smiled, his cheeks revealing lines created by years of practice.  Such a genuine joy in his face that I couldn’t help but return it.

I was on my way to the gym where I would push and pull and sweat and, strangely, love every minute of it.  But the drive leading up to my session was devoid of stress, beautifully lined with orange-bedecked trees showing off just a little longer.  The horses huddled, two-by-two as the wild wind blew their manes and tails, creating dramatic poses from what would have been simple still-lifes.  The tan one lifted his handsome head and watched me pass by.  I wished I had a few carrots with which to treat him.

I prayed this year for Autumn, that it would be long and not too hot, not too cold.  I selfishly believe God made it perfect just for me.  It is, truly, the most beautiful and bright Autumn I have seen since moving to Tennessee and that is saying a lot.  Tennessee Autumns are generally lovely, but often too short.  Not this year, though.  Autumn came gently and has stayed a nice, long while.  She doesn’t need to hurry on my account, I assure you.

The cooler temperatures energize me.  Daylight savings has come and gone and now the sun sets early, just after 4:30 in the afternoon.  It makes the evenings feel  long and lures me here or to my notebook to write.  I start putting words to page and find myself editing, reshaping the stories and searching for just the right words, knowing they are out there somewhere.

The wind is howling and rain beats against the windows and I give thanks that, despite the stresses and strains of my day, a storm is blowing in and washing everything clean.  Both outside and within me.

And that is a much-needed gift.

Why am I rambling like this?  Well, I have some advice…I hope you will take it:

Step outside today.  Look up, letting your eyes focus as far away as possible.  Notice the clouds, the stars, the way the birds dance before they settle on the highest limb.  Listen to the wind, the train in the distance and the leaves bouncing along the sidewalk.  Let your senses rest and be still.  Wave and smile at your neighbor, then call your friend just to see what she is doing.  No agenda, just easy conversation.  Spend time counting blessings and maybe even write them down.  You’ll need them later, when the blessings are harder to list.  Talk to God about silly things, small things, because He cares about even those things.  Isn’t that incredible?  Breathe and sip tea while unsorted socks wait patiently in the laundry basket.  They aren’t going any where, I promise.  Then walk into the next thing, the awaiting tasks, refreshed and more able to focus because you took that Sabbath moment and gave your Creator a chance to do what He does best…Make all things new.

Hearthfire and Frost: Finding Joy in the Gifts of Autumn

It did this mama’s heart so good. All seven of us, together in the same room as Daddy lit the first hearthfire of the season and we marked it with a feast, a liturgy and laughter.

Chicken pot pie was the main dish, an easy dinner that brought everyone to the kitchen. Green beans were served alongside chopped salad with hot bacon and the grease drizzled all over the lettuce before the ranch dressing even had a chance. Crusty bread cleaned our plates and then, with mugs of hot chocolate and marshmallows, we gathered. Us, who have been too often fragmented. Seven people leading seven busy lives, four of whom are often in different counties during the day or any given evening.  But this night, we were all seven piled into our living room with only five seats and that made it cozy. And sweet. One squeezed in close beside her sister in the rocking armchair that squeaks. Another stretched out on the rug, warmed by the first Autumn fire.

Together, we read the prayer. Eyerolls were, miraculously, few and far between. The leather-bound book of liturgies, a new-ish family treasure, was passed hand-to-hand as each person read a paragraph then placed a log on the fire. After more than a few giggles and a couple of quickly-dampened arguments, not to mention younger ones fearing the hot ash that leapt from beneath the flaming logs as the new ones fell into place, the first hearthfire of the season was beautifully ablaze and no one was in a hurry to leave.

We sat, talking and gesturing, then belly-laughing as our oldest told a wild story and it hit me hard that this is likely his last Autumn at home. Next year he will be in college. Come next Fall, he may just be visiting and everything will be different. He will be different. We will all be different.

I willed myself not to allow tears to form and almost succeeded. I looked upon my family, my whole family, with deep joy and gave thanks to Jesus who makes all things new.

We went to bed at peace with the day, the smell of smoldering coals filling the house for the first time this season and anticipating the first frost in the morning.

Sure enough, I was awakened by a blaze of pink illuminating my bed. I parted the sheer curtains and gasped as the sky exploded in beauty, mist rising from the still-warm pond and dancing in the barely frozen air. The grass was gray with frost and sparkled in the first light of dawn.

My soul delighted in this gift and, again, I whispered a prayer of thanks to my God who knows how much I love a golden sunrise. In moments like this, I’m sure I’m his favorite.

A Welcome Visitor

The poetry bug has freshly bitten and I have enjoyed stretching my creative muscles, finding new words and new ways to express the things that wander through my mind.  Here is one…about Autumn, my most favorite of seasons which has, at long last, arrived in Tennessee.  As the beauty of my surroundings increases in color I find myself turning away from my desk to take it all in with windows open, of course, and birdsong as the accompaniment to my early morning devotionals.  What a gift with which to begin each day!

A Welcome Visitor SS

Blessings to you as Autumn continues it’s beautiful march across our land.