A Few Things I Learned This Summer

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It’s been a while since I’ve written a recap of things I’ve learned. It started with Emily Freeman‘s invitation to join her in keeping track of the things. She started a monthly review over on her blog that has become a seasonal account. It’s not easy to recall the lessons but being intentional helps us see that we are always learning and sometimes the little things are the big triumphs.

  1. Henry and I were invited to participate in a wedding this summer. It was a privilege and joy to see the transformation and restoration take place in this young man’s life. The wedding was in Philadelphia which gave us a few hours to explore the city and wish we’d had more time. We spent an evening walking in the historic downtown and enjoyed the mixture of history, urban and northern scenery. Who knew?
  2. I took a break. I put blogging on hold and released myself from self-imposed pressures of social media. It was the best thing I did for myself. I realized (aka learned) I’d been focusing on the wrong things. I felt like I was chasing after approval and life isn’t meant to be a chase nor do I need man’s approval. (Still working on that one.)
  3. I discovered Tazo Chai Vanilla Caramel tea. Delicious!
  4. Art is saving my sanity. I am an over thinker. Anyone? The only shut off button for my mind seems to be busy hands. When I’m sewing or painting or taking photos my mind is focused on what’s in front of me. It’s deciding which color of thread to use and cutting the fabric straight. Or setting up a still life shoot or doodling. I’ve known this but when I cut back on blogging I rediscovered what adds peace to my life. And to the lives of those around me 😉 You can check out my photos on Unsplash, a free download site.
  5. I learned to make Apple Cider donuts. YES! First, cooking is not my gifting. I often find it confusing and stressful. But…..there are these apple cider donuts we buy every August from an Orchard in North Carolina. And We. Love. Them. The donuts and the orchard because there is just too much goodness there. This year I set out to learn to make them. My only criteria was they had to be baked. I ordered donut baking pans from Amazon. There is still a bit of tinkering to do with the recipe but it was a success! If you’re interested you can find the recipe here.

We are always learning something but it happens in such ordinary ways we forget the little strides we’re making. I’d encourage you to keep track of the lessons. Jot them down in your day planner or write them on the wall calendar. Make a “Learned” list in Evernote or tell Alexa to keep track but do it. (she says to herself) It’s a gift to yourself.

 

The unmistakable cross

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This painting is a mistake. It’s not what I set out to do.

We go to this place in North Carolina every summer. There is an old stone chapel with a stone cross on top. I’ve many photo’s of it as the setting is not only beautiful but conveys a deep sense of peace. I wanted to sketch it but I messed up. I drew lines where there weren’t suppose to be and suddenly it wasn’t what i wanted. But I didn’t want to give up. I’m trying to expand my vision of art, my abilities which have mostly been to copy, as closely as possible, whatever model I’m using. I need to push myself but the pushing is marked with hesitation and doubt.

Looking at the final outcome of this project gone wrong, I thought of the mistakes I make daily in life. And I thought of the cross that covers all of those mistakes. The cross that inflicted punishment and pain to the least deserving is the cross that erases my mistakes, that paints over them with colors of grace.

“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Triumphant Entry

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When I walked in the chapel there were white towels on the back of every chair. I didn’t know why but I knew they were a sign that someone was prepared for their participation and how proud I am that they take care of every detail.

I had the outline for our Palm Sunday service drafted before we left two weeks ago. I texted the dancer while we were away to make sure he remembered this was the week he was performing and E confirmed with me the song he was singing. We were in Georgia, they’re in Florida and despite the ability to text and message I felt disconnected. The notion came to mind that I was basically leaving the outcome of two key elements of the service to men who were messed up three years ago. The kind of messed up that drugs do to a person. Yep, these guys were in charge and I felt complete peace about it.

I had the wrong song cued up and made a total mess of it on screen as E’s voice led them to worship. No matter, I saw some rise spontaneously and hands waving with emphasis as they sang

Holy, holy, Lord God Almighty
who was and is and is to come

E’s voice was full and big and sounded like it was made to sing these words and I was pulled in by the spirit that was moving throughout.

Sean’s been doing a monologue throughout Lent called The Simon Peter Chronicles and this week was stirring as the words reached out and pointed to our our weakness and convicted our pride. I never expected the lines of these 4 minute vignettes to be memorized, but he has. Every word as he looks us in the eye, every word he makes us believe has come from his heart.

I heard some of the men wondered if these white hand towels signaled there was going to be feet washing going on. It would be fitting this time of year. The scripture flashed by on the screen, the one where Jesus took the towel from his waist and used it to the dry the feet of his disciples as he knelt before them. He knelt, this servant leader.

T and D walked in, one in military uniform and the other in fatigues, both having white towels at their side. One took their place up front and the other in the back in a kind of face off.

I had read the lyrics to this song, Never Wave My Flag. I’d sampled the sound. T told me how he thought this was a song for them, a song to not give up, to not surrender to hardship and addiction and I said, ok.

But this, this was more than I could have imagined. This was powerful. This was an experience. This is something you need to see.

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2 flags

This was a room full of 100 people waving their “flags” represented by white towels from our sorting room. Don’t miss this point. These towels were someone else’s leftovers, discarded items, unwanted by them and these became our white flags to wave in the face of difficulty and say, we are not defeated.

On the day that represents Jesus coming to Jerusalem in triumph, the beginning of the hardest journey of his life on earth, His surrender to the will of His Father was not one of defeat. Because of Him, we can surrender, but only to Him.

He is our triumph. He is our victory.

Throwback Thursday {Not the Same Granny}

Bertha Lee Audra McFarland aka Granny

I’m not the same granny. Not the same as my Granny, the one who never had to consider what she’d be called. She was Granny. I don’t suppose she and her peers ever discussed the other options we new grandparents do today.

I don’t have jelly jars in my cupboards that serve as juice glasses nor do I have a bottle of Jergen’s lotion on the sinks edge. My cupboard holds Princess cups with sparkly things floating between plastic layers and Santa- shaped cups with green straws coming from his hat.

with 3 of her grands in the mid 70’s

No, I’m not the same granny.

My generation decided we’d rather be Nana or Grammy or Meli or Ree-Ree or Noni, or MeMe (pronounced MayMay because I decided so). Yes, I am MeMe. It came about late one night as I rocked the tiny newborn grand, patting her back trying to soothe her back to sleep. She was making those soft noises, cooing her words to me, and we talked there in that darkened room.

“What do you like?” I asked this precious girl who was already our princess. “Nana?” Nothing. “Noni?”, nothing. “Or Abuela, or Mimi?” nothing. “MeMe?” And she cooed. Her answer. Yes, she had decided I would be MeMe. I am not the same granny.

Our Princess meets a princess

The wonder of a child never changes

My Granny made Barbie clothes for me. Crocheted tiny purses I would hang on Barbie’s unbending arm and dresses  sewn from scraps. She let me watch Dark Shadows on her small black and white t.v. and took me to the womens meeting at church with her. She never said the word sex. Ever. I heard her spell it a few times though.

I download books and games on my iPad for our granddaughter. We use glue sticks and paper punches to make pictures. We painted her feet at Christmas to make a reindeer picture. And we have a 50″ high-def screen to watch the Disney classics on blue-ray.

Sesame Street goes digital

The toys and rules have changed a bit. We wouldn’t dare lay a baby on its tummy these days (or so I was told by a niece) and every electric outlet has a cover on it. Cabinet doors? I still can’t open them for the safety latches.

But we love. We love in that same old-fashioned kind of love that never goes out of style.

We love more carefree, without the burdens of young parents, the same weight we carried when we were new parents.

We laugh at their missteps and are patient with their searching for direction.

Maybe I’m the same granny after all.

This post was originally published on Living in Grace{land} February 24, 2012.

It’s been right in front of me

It was a restless year, last year. I was searching for something but didn’t know what. I joined an on-line writing group and while the young women were nice and gracious, it wasn’t a fit.

I took another on-line class (so much safer than face-to-face meetings, you see) for art journaling and learned some interesting techniques but there was a spiritual depth I felt lacking and I wanted, I needed to be guided. I was searching.

Another class that seemed to have too much angst and an attempt at working the 12 Steps of AA though I don’t drink. At all.

Then Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection on-line class and looking back I see the searching I was so caught up in to not even notice I’d felt a bit lost.

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I was wanting to be someone else. A writer, an artist, things that occupied daydreams in my youth knowing I didn’t have the discipline or talent to follow either. Still, I kept the measuring stick close at hand and it continued to remind me where I fell short. How I couldn’t write like her and didn’t have the creative vision like her and her. And when that wasn’t enough I told myself ‘some of these young ones need to get on with life and quit whining. Life is hard sometimes. Move on’. Ugly thoughts from a selfish heart.

It’s not that I don’t have anything to do. I was just hoping I could be someone else. I didn’t want to be the manufactured version I felt I’d become. Dress like this. Go to these meetings. Think like this and don’t say that. Some of that was real but some, rebellion setting in when you don’t want to be who you are.

I started reading. And listening. I journaled through the Gifts of Imperfection with friends I held hostage to look at my art and words. I didn’t demand anything from them except to open the email and I tried so very hard not to hold back. They were friends. Trusted. True. They knew me and now they know me more.

I found a few blogs that touched those tender places in my heart and I heard these words: Your mission is right in front of you. Honor it.

I’ve painted and crafted and now photography and writing are taking over that part of my brain that needs to create, needs to be refreshed. I can still do that. I can work to hone those interests but today, those are not my mission. They are not the mission God has placed in front of me.

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memorial chapel stained glass

HOPE CHANGE logo

He has set me in the midst of people who need hope. People who need to experience grace and mercy and equate those words with God. I thought listening to their stories wasn’t enough. I thought showing up and learning their names was small and me? ….well, I could do important things. But there is nothing more important than loving someone who has lost hope, of showing up when they thought they weren’t worth the bother.

It’s become more than I could have imagined, this serving others who, in turn, teach me more about grace and mercy and hope than I have learned from pages in a book. When I thought I was serving them they are serving me. Their honesty has shown me my fears and their brokenness my lack of repentance.

And it’s been right in front of me. Waiting for me to see, to hear His call anew.

Linking up with SheLoves Magazine for their monthly topic: honor. 

Such Extravagance

Church. The building, not the people. Church in a rented space in a strip mall; in a very old two-story house with peeling linoleum floors and creaking stairs. Once our church had been a funeral home, a place to remember the dead and now, it was a place to raise the dead in spirit.

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Holy Land Tour  Greek Orthodox church

 

Holy Land Tour

 

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Our church buildings have seldom looked like a church. No steeples or tall spires. Some had folding chairs rather than pews. The look almost always, sparse. Modest. A pulpit, a table called the “holiness” table and always, always, always, the mercy-seat. The altar. The place to humble yourself before God in prayer.

We were walking through the Vatican in Rome several years ago. Our tour group moving too fast for me to take in all the beauty. The ornate detailing and art wasn’t just in the Vatican but, it seemed, in every cathedral in Rome. Gold, marble floors and marble sculptures and stained glass that streamed light in a way it seemed heaven was shining  right down. It was a lot. Too much, I thought. I would have sided with Judas when he chastised Mary for using expensive perfume to pour on the feet of Jesus. Such extravagance, wasted, when it could have been used to feed the poor.

Holy Land Tour

Henry's iPhone pics

Israel tour

Nazareth

Last month we were in Israel and again, the churches were magnificent. The chandeliers dripped from the ceilings in the Greek Orthodox churches as gold painted frames hung heavy with paintings centuries old. I’ve been in museums with less. This wasn’t modern culture but the ancient traditions carried on. In days long ago when people lived spartan lives this was their church. I didn’t get it. It seemed to gloat in the face of their lack.

This was their museum, she said. Their education. This was their solace, their sanctuary from the day-to-day. Our tour guide was smart, this one. As she instructed us in the less obvious.

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Holy Land Tour

We had seen the dryness of the surrounding desert. We had glimpsed the nomadic life of the Bedouins and remember at one time, in that time, there was little beauty and much toil. I could see the dirt floors and imagine the smells of sweat that couldn’t be washed off with a daily shower. How the dust must harden like a scab and the escape the beauty of this house of God would offer. To know this beauty was lavished on you by a loving God. Yes, that is comfort from a hard life. That is worship.

I was critical of beauty being displayed in church. I was ignorant of the importance of that beauty. Of what it communicates about God, about his loving nature, his pleasure and joy to share such artistry. I failed to get how His story is told in the stained glass images. The Gospel message in pictures because few could read the words from the text.

Times are different. We are different. Not better, not worse, just different. The stories of our faith are told through multi-media. Projected on a screen, played from the stage by the worship band. Coming together still provides the solace from the week. Not the dusty grime of old but a calm for the harried pace of working parents just trying to get from Sunday to Sunday where they can exhale for a couple of hours.

The beauty once found in the buildings must now be carried in us. His beauty, in us. His radiance in kindness shown. His colors shown in our laughter and tears. We use to sing this old chorus that tells the true story:

“Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me

All His wonderful passion and purity

Oh, Thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine

Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me”

Black Friday {my way}

I usually join in a Five-Minute Friday link up but today, Lord-willing, we will be on the road driving back from Thanksgiving spent with the FL Panhandle Hudsons. The following was on my mind and it seems a good time for some change of pace writing. 

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I just wrote a long email to some friends. Really long. It included an excerpt from a blog I read by a writer who said what I couldn’t but wanted to so that added to its length and I wonder if they read it. Will they open, glance at how far they have to scroll down and say, later? They have busy lives, I know that. Maybe they’ll skim it or maybe, just maybe, they’ll wait until they can soak in every single word because they know the words are from me to them.

That’s what I did with letters from granny. She is the first one I remember getting a written letter from. That’s all we had in the days before technology had taken over our time, rushing us from lingering over a well-written word and pushing us to spill our lives into 144 characters or less.

My daughter talks to our grand about writing to me one day and I wonder what I’ll say. I don’t remember much of the content of the letters from my granny. I just remember she wrote. To me. My name was on the envelope I got to open. Her writing was hard to read as she never mastered the art of punctuation. It would often take a few attempts at one sentence to decipher what she was trying to say. Now, I’m more concerned about writing in a hand legible enough for our granddaughter to read. Little is written in hand anymore and I generally think that’s a good thing.

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I peruse my Flipboard each morning with the blogs I’ve bookmarked for reading. Some are daily must-reads and some, quite frankly, are skimmed or skipped because of the lack of brevity. Rachel Held Evans, I love your voice but really, most of them are just too long for my mornings.

But from a friend? I will linger. I will save an email to read when I can soak in their tone and let my eyes move across each word shared from their thoughts.

Those emails are too few. I know our lives are moving fast these days. And the faster they move the less we share and the more we keep stuffed inside and, really, I don’t think it’s about time but it’s about us. Our fear of speaking those words close to us. I know it’s hard but I also know it is freeing. And that is why I write. It’s why I write here and why I have this small circle who, unless they change their email, get these wordy, rambling emails from me being all kinds of crazy, touchy-feely, wordy, me.

5-Minute Friday {truth}

Linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker for 5-Minute Friday. Today’s word prompt is Truth. Y’all, this was a hard one. Truth is, I did some editing this time, as in this is a second draft. I beg your grace.

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I am searching to live this truth I believe.

I have measured myself by the world and there is no truth in that. It has left me lacking and smaller than. Left me with feelings that are lies and standards that are false. I don’t like the numbers I see on the scale so I don’t get on it but what does the scale measure? It doesn’t measure truth. Not the truth that I am loved, I am valued and I am enough. Not because of how I look or what I do but because I am beloved by God.

Truth is, I don’t always feel lovable.

Truth is, I have some stuff I still need to let go.

Truth is, despite of my less than feelings, my imperfections, my comparisons and numbers on a scale, I am enough.

It’s God’s love for me that gives me value, that gives me worth. That makes me precious beyond measure.

Some days I can’t believe this. But it is still truth.

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pledge

 

To join in the 5-Minute Friday blogger flash mob, click here.

 

Heart singing

They weren’t pews but not chairs either. Some kind of wooden folding seats with two hooked together. Were it not for a photo of my 5-year old self sitting next to little brother  I’d not remember what we sat in that makeshift chapel in the early 60’s in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

The building had seen other uses and been condemned is how the story was told. It became the first Salvation Army outpost in that small town south of Little Rock. A chapel that wasn’t a chapel but I remember Sunday nights in that small building. Sunday nights were different because the songs were faster and there was a lot of clapping. It was the old hymns and the people loved singing them. It seemed every week we sang “I’ve got a mansion, just over the hilltop…”

In concert with Phil Laeger

In concert with Phil Laeger

The platform was cleared for the grand piano to take center stage. This chapel, large, light-filled, padded pews. A departure this week, a joining with the congregation down the street, graciously hosting our guest and allowing more room than our little place.

In concert with Phil Laeger

This week, fingers commanding every key, a voice that is more like a heart singing and we’ve come together expecting more. This is why we gather. This is why the Word tells us not to neglect the coming together as a community.

A voice behind me sings out, not a note in key, but their heart was full of joy and I know his voice was like an angel as it reached its intended destination. I looked at faces and many looked absent in some way and I have no idea how this was possible except to know how many times I am absent in this moment. Focused on the mechanics and time more than being open to a moving from God.

In concert with Phil Laeger

Something about that singing when I was a little girl stayed with me. In a condemned funeral home, songs of praise and promise rang out from feeble voices and proclaimed life. It wasn’t the skill but the hearts because I knew they were singing with whole hearts.

In concert with Phil Laeger

In concert with Phil Laeger

A row of little ones were behind me. I am the older one now. They don’t know the songs, aren’t old enough to read the words projected on the screen but paged through the books as if they could. Just listen, dear children. Just listen to the hearts around you. Hear the ones singing with their hearts because this is the music of love.

5-Minute Friday [lonely]

Deerfield Beach

Got five minutes? Let’s write. Let’s finger paint with words. Let’s just write and not worry if it’s just right or not. Write for 5 minutes flat for pure unedited love of the written word. – Lisa-Jo BakerGO!

Sitting in our quiet home, alone but not lonely. Not today. Not most days. But I know lonely.

Being the new girl in school throughout most of my life, that’s lonely. Being the new girl anywhere is lonely.

I’ve sat in conferences surrounded by thousands and felt that feeling. Alone and unknown.

It doesn’t sound Christian-like to say I’m lonely when I believe in a God who is always with me. It’s not him, but me, who distances myself from acceptance and being, feeling, part of.

Our writing class leader started a prayer thread on our group page and I heard voices of the lonely. Lonely calling out, how long God? How much more? Because we all want to know that belonging. To me, belonging feels like everything is alright and that’s just not true. Not real.

It’s up to me, whether I feel lonely or not. Whether I choose to allow others into my life, to my heart. I am surrounded by people who care and today I am letting them in. Today it’s better than being that lonely girl I was.