Serenity despite the din

blogIMG_0038A calm harbor such as this one ignites a spark of inspiration. At least, for me. 

If you are a regular follower of Mama’s Empty Nest, you probably notice this photo looks familiar.  Last week, on Wordless Wednesday, I shared the same view only from a different angle.

And that’s when Faith, Love, Soul, a kind reader/fellow blogger’s comment provided a little spark that flamed into a fire of inspiration for this post. She let me know the photo gave her a sense of peacefulness and calm. 

Serenity, you might say.  And those were exactly the feelings invoked in me as well from that picture and the one above. 

My human eye spied the photo op first and it appealed to me so much I had to try to capture it with my camera.  For an amateur and hobbyist photographer like me, when a photo op turns out exactly how your eye saw it, it makes you happy.  

But there is more to those pictures than meets the eye.

Peaceful. Calm. Serene. Tranquil. All words to describe the scenic harbor and hopefully, the way gazing at this image makes you feel.

But the scene behind that photo was anything but quiet and placid or peaceful and serene.

I took the photo during Papa’s and my vacation back in June.  We traveled northward to a couple of New England states, one being Massachusetts.

After touring Boston in excessive heat and blistering temperatures, we decided to cut that visit short and head out for uncharted territory, meaning places that were not on our original itinerary.

One of those spots was Plymouth, Massachusetts, where history tells us the Pilgrims first stepped foot into the New World after their arduous sea-faring journey across the Atlantic Ocean.

We found Plymouth quaint and lovely while we meandered through its streets to find the Pilgrim landing spot. When we located the area, it wasn’t exactly how we pictured it.

Congested, not with scads of tourists but with construction workers and vehicles surrounding this historical site on that weekday, it was anything but calm.  

Apparently, the base upon which Plymouth Rock rests had deteriorated and was in a vast state of disrepair. So workmen were in the process of pouring concrete around the famed boulder to form a new base.

blogIMG_0035.jpgPlymouth Rock itself was encased in plastic coverings to protect it, so what we viewed turned out to be an industrious construction site with all the deafening noise accompanying it.

Looking outward from where the Rock was housed proved to be a beautifully peaceful and calm harbor as shown in my first photo. 

But behind the spot where I stood to photograph the harbor, an overwhelming scene of hectic activity with workers, tourists, and policemen directing traffic, construction cones everywhere blocking paths, and the loud din of machinery, cement and dump trucks existed.

Stark contrast, that’s for certain.  What you see doesn’t always tell the entire story, does it?  I’m fairly sure that when you viewed my pictures, you never imagined all the chaos going on behind them. 

And that reminds me of life.  Sometimes it’s just full of turmoil and strife everywhere we turn.  So much noise and confusion that it quickly becomes overwhelming. Not at all how we pictured it to be — you know, calm, peaceful, serene.

But we can attain that sense of serenity even amid the commotion around us. It’s found when we seek the heart of God.

There’s an old hymn that explains it:

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God;
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.
Refrain:
O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God;
Hold us, who wait before Thee,
Near to the heart of God.
There is a place of comfort sweet,
Near to the heart of God;
A place where we our Savior meet,
Near to the heart of God.
There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God;
A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.

 

Peacefulness right in the middle of disarray.  Calmness in the center of pandemonium. Serenity inside of confusing bedlam.

All we have to do is call out to the Savior.

He gives us safe harbor from any storm. And within that safe harbor lies peace.

“He who has faith has… an inward reservoir of courage, hope, confidence, calmness, and assuring trust that all will come out well – even though to the world it may appear to come out most badly.” ~ B. C. Forbes

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

What could be worse?

blogIMG_0823You know what people say? Be thankful it wasn’t worse.

True enough because when life goes awry and problems befall, you can always think of situations that could be so much more difficult.

Kind of like the funny sign I photographed above at a little zoo one day. You might make the animals sick, but it would be worse to be eaten by them, don’t ya think?

When considering the worst things that might happen, that Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared” comes to my mind.

Apparently, when scout founder Robert Baden-Powell wrote that he meant that one should always be “in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.” I’d add when worse comes to worst to that definition.

Obviously, I was never a Boy Scout or even a Girl Scout for that matter, but be prepared has always been a mantra of mine as long as I can remember. 

I’m one of those proverbial “what if” thinkers.

What if the car breaks down? Make sure your cell phone is always charged when driving.

What if the car breaks down in a secluded spot on a sun-scorching hot day? Be sure to bring water with you in the car.

What if the hotel doesn’t have your reservation when you get there at 11 p.m.? Make sure you have your confirmation number and reservation information with you.

What if the GPS doesn’t recognize the direction you want to go? Be sure a road map/atlas is in the vehicle.

Be prepared. I try to be.

I can probably trace this trait back to my parents who grew up during the difficult era of the Great Depression and were married adults during World War II. I’m sure they taught me that lesson for trying times because you never know what’s coming down the pike. And they experienced that all too well first hand.

Save money. Be frugal. Don’t spend beyond your means. Don’t discard useful household items that can be used for other purposes. Always keep your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer stocked with food. Never let your gas tank fall below the quarter of a tank mark, especially in the winter season. Just a few of the be prepared lessons learned from my folks.

Because you never know what might happen. I mean what if?

No doubt growing up in the 60’s reinforced that be prepared way of living for me also. During the Cold War, school days were interrupted with air raid drills. I still vividly can recall sitting in my elementary school’s inside hallway with my face to the wall and my hands over my head.

Fast forward several years, Papa and I lived for over a decade in Tornado Alley. What if a tornado struck when the weather service issued those warnings? Be prepared, learn what to do should a funnel cloud be spotted.

And that readiness actually did help when a twister lifted up into the air and blew over my head one spring day.  I knew to get inside a walk-in closet, lie prone, and cover my  head until it was clear to emerge, unscathed and feeling very thankful.

Even when we lived in the Pacific Northwest, preparedness was on my mind. Each September at the beginning of the school year, we packed individual earthquake kits to send to our children’s classrooms.

You know, just in case. Because, what if an earthquake occurred when they were at school? They would have gallon sized baggies containing water, food, and some basic essentials.

Be prepared. Because what if the worst that can happen happens?

But see, here’s the thing. We cannot be prepared for everything that might occur. No matter how much we plan, how often we draw up a scenario to follow if the dreaded ‘what if’ comes our way, and how prepared we think we truly are, life and its circumstances have a way of knocking us for a loop.

Often, a giant loop. One we never saw coming. One that literally makes us gasp in alarm and causes us to think this is the worst that could happen.

No matter how prepared we attempt to be or how often we ask and answer those what if questions in our mind, we just don’t feel equipped to handle it.

Those are the times when I realize I just can’t manage on my own.

I can’t be completely prepared for everything that comes my way. I can’t outwit the what ifs of life, no matter how relentlessly I try.

When the what ifs turn into reality and even seem like the worst that could happen, I must turn it over to Someone most competent and powerful and yes, most prepared.

Because there’s something so soothing, so comforting about leaning on the everlasting arms of a loving God. Safe and secure from all alarms.

Even if I’m prepared for battle just like Proverbs 21:31 says – “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the Lord.” – victory over difficult times comes from putting my complete trust in God, no matter how suited up with armor I am.

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:13 ESV

I just might take a spill here and there that I’m totally unprepared for and fall flat on my face, but I know who will pick me up and who will grant me hope to carry on. His name is Jesus.

“You have to be prepared to take a spill.” ~ Shaun White

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Texture that sticks

blogIMG_0566A photograph. It’s a reflection of a subject with form and substance but the image itself is flat. A printed picture doesn’t have three-dimensional form like its subject, although it does have size. 

A photograph really doesn’t possess physical  texture though except on its surface be it glossy or matte finish. A photo can show you texture, but the picture itself just isn’t tactile; you can’t feel any textures. 

Take my photo above for instance.  You can see the upholstery of a chair has texture if you peer closely enough. Your eyes tell your brain that visually there are ridges and indentations in the fabric. But you can’t physically feel that texture with your own two hands and fingers.

This week’s photo challenge theme is textures, and since I’m not a very astute artsy kind of person, I’ve struggled with writing some worthwhile thoughts to accompany the photo I think personifies the challenge theme. 

Oh, I could dig back among the dusty corners of my mind, back — way back — to my days of being a college English major, and bring forth some literary definition of textures as in a composite of prose/poetry elements or an identifying quality of a story’s characters.

But my literary study days are long gone, and that kind of analyzing just never was my cup of tea. Honestly, I really wasn’t a typical English major, one to sit around and dissect and discuss a work of literature for its archetypal images or symbolic meanings.

Perhaps I’ve always been too much of a realist, too literal, which is probably why I ended up as a working journalist for a time. Just give me the facts and I’ll weave them into a story. I say what I mean and I mean what I say.

So why did I major in English anyway? Because I loved words. I loved to write. I loved to read. And I loved grammar. Unlike many of my peers, I loved the very structure of English. I enjoyed diagramming sentences because it was logical and made perfect sense to me.

Matter of fact,  a college class solely on structures of English was one of the courses I aced with flying colors along with all of my public speaking ones.

Writing and speaking. Those were my strong points – my make-up, my constitution, my textures if you will  – and they still are to this day.

I try to utilize those skills in whatever I do. For several years, I developed and presented educational programs in public and private school classrooms for a non-profit organization.

Using my tendency for dramatic flair in story-telling — probably why I wanted to be an actress when I was a young girl —  I could always tell when I attracted those easily distracted teen-aged students’ attention.  I worked hard to give them vital information about making healthy choices while entertaining them with a lively story. 

I surely didn’t want to come across as flat or one-dimensional in that endeavor back then. And I still don’t want that as I tell different stories in my blog posts now.

No, I want to have substance, structure, composition.  So I’m claiming this to be my texture: I’m a pretty decent story teller – either written or orally – who just so happens to be capable of logically putting sentences together.

That’s my story when it comes to textures. And I’m sticking to it.

“A good story, just like a good sentence, does more than one job at once. That’s what literature is: a story that does more than tell a story, a story that manages to reflect in some way the multilayered texture of life itself.” ~  Karen Thompson Walker 

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Take me to church

blogIMG_0251I’m a church goer. Raised in the church from the time I was a tiny tyke. Yep, my name was on the Cradle Roll (a list kept by the church of names of members’ young children) when I was a mere baby.

Sunday School attendee, that was me. The week of Vacation Bible School, you can bet I was there. Youth group follower when we had one.  Choir singer. Even occasional hymn player on the piano.

If the church doors were open, I was more than likely sitting inside, and one Sunday morning, I felt the stirring of something I couldn’t deny, tentatively vacated my spot on the pew, walked to the front of the sanctuary for an altar call, and gave my life to Jesus. Baptism followed shortly afterward.

And then came college years and church just didn’t seem so important. Every so often, I’d feel a tad guilty about not going to church and attend a nearby one on the outskirts of campus.  But my Bible collected dust and my prayers were few.

Matrimony commenced in church – the one I grew up in – where Papa and I stated our vows to one another. His career choice at the time (Army officer) took us far away from home and again church slid into the background of our lives.

For a time we attended one where we had been invited, where I even joined the choir, but eventually, we stopped going, feeling like we had nothing in common with those church goers and that particular denomination.

I guess you could say we occasionally church-shopped, visiting this church and that, but attending worship services became even more sporadic and once in a while, we just dropped in at the non-denominational military chapel on post.

Becoming parents changed that. Once we began having our children, we realized we needed to get back to church. We wanted our children to learn the same Sunday School lessons we learned as youngsters.  A career change and moving to another state prompted us to look for a church ‘home.’

And we found one in a small congregation that was mostly made up of elderly folks. They embraced our young family with so much thoughtfulness and caring, almost like surrogate parents and grandparents to us when we were so far away from our own families.

But eventually, we realized we longed to be included in a congregation of young families with children for fellowship and friendship. So we found another small congregation that fit the bill.

Our pastor there exuded sincerity and genuineness both on and off the pulpit. I sensed to him, faith was real, alive, and vibrant, and I listened with an open heart to his messages.

We joined that church and considered it a blessing to fellowship with others there and become involved in as many church activities as we could, even leading a fledgling youth group.

Choir, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School organizer, church newsletter, women’s fellowship group, married couples fellowship, you name it, I was a part of it.

But still, there was a part of me that yearned for something more.  More knowledge, more insight, more…. more of some intangible thing I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

We had lived in that area for eight years and were comfortable.  Comfortable in our home, comfortable with lots of friends, comfortable with our church.

And then – bam! Major changes came our way. A job promotion for Papa that required moving about 1800 miles away and an entire country’s length away from our families back home.  I was surprised, a little shocked, unhappy, and to be honest, even a bit angry.

I remember asking God over and over why this was happening. We finally felt ‘settled’ and now, we had to leave.  I took my question to our pastor, who always seemed tuned to God’s spirit speaking to him.

I’ve never forgotten the gist of what Pastor said to me that day.  As sad as he was to see us leave, he told me perhaps what I was searching for just couldn’t be fulfilled in our comfortable place in that church.

I never dreamed how right he was. It actually didn’t take us long to find a church family in our new state, new city, new home.

Becoming a part of that family of God caused me to realize that for most of the years I had spent in church, my faith was just comfortable, like putting on a well-worn old sweater that made you feel cozy and warm.

Not only that, my faith was disconnected.  It existed in my head but was missing in my heart.

It was a nice, pretty package tied up with a lovely bow, but inside was a box only partially full.  The box contained some knowledge about the Lord, some Bible stories, and Scriptures remembered, but there was no heart to it. 

There were good works and tons of busyness for the church, about the church, within the church, but no real life, no vibrancy, no honest-to-goodness personal relationship cultivated with a Savior that I said I believed in.

“One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.”  ~ A. W. Tozer

I had to be physically moved out of my comfort zone to be spiritually moved closer to my Savior.  I’ve heard this quote many times, although I don’t know who to attribute it to: “Sitting in a church doesn’t make you any more of a Christian than sitting in a garage makes you a car.”  

I love church, I do. But I love My Savior more and it saddens me when those sitting in pews, chairs, or benches inside a building called a church don’t demonstrate a vibrant faith. 

I’m not condemning them because I know exactly where they are coming from. I sat in those buildings called churches for many years before my spiritual life actually grew into a real and personal faith in Jesus Christ. 

While Papa and I were vacationing, I was drawn to a number of churches we saw in our travels and felt compelled to take photos of them, and I’m sharing them here with you.

blogchurchcollageBut now, I wonder how many of these beautiful churches are filled with people who are just like I once was. People who do church because…well, it’s just what they do. Because their head, not their heart, tells them to.

And lately, I even wonder how many churches are fairly empty.  According to some of the latest research, church attendance has fallen significantly. Why?

When this world seems even harder to navigate than ever and people appear to be searching for something, anything, to fill those huge empty holes in their hearts, why aren’t folks flocking to church, seeking a Savior?

Are we, those believers who are the church, failing? Do we reach out to those who need the Lord – those outside of our lovely buildings? Do we step out of our comfort zones? Do we embrace those who don’t look like us or talk like us, the ones who don’t even live like us? Are we truly the hands and feet of Jesus?

Because I believe that all of those seated inside those church buildings must venture outside to truly do God’s work. That is church. 

“Religion that is contained only within a church building is a weekend hobby, not a personal faith.” ~ James Lankford

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Yes, I can

blogIMG_9914Unlike that old Rolling Stones song, I really CAN get satisfaction.

And that just happens to be the weekly photo challenge theme: satisfaction.

Satisfaction comes in many forms and can be the result of hard work and sacrifice.

It can be the completion of a task that has hovered over you for so long that you feel utter relief at finally finishing it.

It can come from a winning season at sports.

Or a day off just resting and relaxing.

Or maybe it’s a family gathering where there is much love and good food to boot.

It can be physical, mental, emotional, or even spiritual.

Satisfaction doesn’t even have to embody success; it can develop from putting forth effort in trying. Satisfaction can result in just a job well done to the best of your ability.

When I think of satisfaction, a young blogging friend of mine comes to my mind. She is working hard towards a goal, both physically and mentally, and satisfaction for her is a series of small steps.  One step at a time.

Successful or not, she steadily moves towards her purpose, her ambition. And each step must give her satisfaction – not to stop but to continue her quest.

For me, I’m not one to want a lot. I’m happy and content with life. I’m pretty well satisfied.

I’m not in search of fame or fortune. I don’t write this blog for recognition or to make a name for myself, which is why I keep it pretty anonymous. I just want to bless and encourage others on my journey.

So many aspects of this life on earth give me satisfaction. My faith. My family. My home in the country.

Even little things like keeping weeds at bay around the shrubs and flower gardens.  Seeing the sweet smiles on my adorable grand-daughters’ faces. A blue sky and sunshine-filled balmy day. A fresh snowfall.

And don’t laugh, but office supplies make me happy.

All things satisfying in my book.

But there is something else that fills up my satisfaction bin. Capturing a photograph that I truly love with my trusty camera.   

When I see a perfect photo with my eyes and the image that I find, straight out of my camera with no editing, demonstrates exactly how I saw it and imagined how it would turn out, it gives me a great sense of satisfaction.

It doesn’t happen all the time. As a strictly amateur and not all that knowledgeable photographer, I’m often disappointed when a shot doesn’t manifest like I hoped it would.

But oh, the joy,  the satisfaction when it does!

“He who is not satisfied with a little, is satisfied with nothing.” ~ Epicurus

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

When Papa’s happy

blogIMG_0211This husband of mine, this empty nest Papa, this man I’ve been married to for almost 40 years, I know what makes him tick. He loves anything historical. And trains. And ships.

His fascination with things nautical possibly emerged because his oldest brother, 17 years older than he, served in the Navy for some of my husband’s growing up years. We even have an old photo of my hubby as a boy dressed in his big brother’s sailor clothes.

As a teenager, hubby joined the United States Naval Sea Cadet Corps, a program for students to develop leadership skills and learn basic seamanship, with some opportunities to become disciplined and self-reliant as well on an actual ship.  

The opportunity to spend two weeks one summer as a Sea Cadet aboard a Navy aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Mexico proved to be something he relished.  

So I’m supposing those experiences, along with spending every summer vacation at Atlantic Ocean beaches, had a hand in this boy maturing into a man who enjoys the sea and all the vessels that sail upon it.  Books, written by C.S. Forester about the fictional naval officer Horatio Hornblower, still remain some of my husband’s favorite reads.

Deep down inside this man, my husband, is a little boy who I think always wanted to be a sailor.  In college, he would have preferred Navy ROTC, but only the Army offered ROTC there, so he took that route instead.

This former Army man though has never lost his enchantment for the sea. I know he would love to learn how to sail, but this landlubber (me) doesn’t share his enthusiasm for such a thing. When we lived in the Pacific Northwest, he did experience sailing once with some co-workers and that really….ahem…floated his boat.

In our married life, Papa has managed to convince me to board an Oregon whale watching day cruise, several ferries on both sides of the country, New York City and Boston harbor cruises, and also some boat rides on the Mississippi, Allegheny, and Ohio rivers, but hasn’t yet talked me into a several day ocean cruise as a future vacation.

That one will be a hard sell because I’m more of a stay on the beach and listen to the surf than actually be in it or on it. When Papa and I developed an itinerary for our summer vacation this year, we made a bargain. 

While I enjoy history but am not quite as fascinated by museums and every display in them as Papa is, we agreed we would visit enough to satisfy him yet not overwhelm me.  And while I do enjoy the seaside as much as he does, preferably on the shore not on the sea, we also agreed to visit some nautical attractions as well.

It worked perfectly for us.

I’m happy to report this vacation satisfied both of our longings.  Enough military, history, and nautical venues for Papa and plenty of new experiences, sights, and gorgeous views to make Mama and her camera content.

Our travel schedule included several points along the Hudson River Valley including West Point Military Academy, Revolutionary War sites in Lexington & Concord and Boston, with side trips to Quincy and Plymouth, MA culminating in just the right amount of history for Papa but not so much that it bored Mama.

In Boston, we both enjoyed boarding the USS Constitution, the world’s oldest commissioned warship called Old Ironsides, and imagining all that had taken place on this mighty 200-year-old vessel.  

However, Papa was pretty disappointed that the regal sailing ship was dry-docked for repair work and the sails were off the riggings. He also satisfied his ship-loving side by getting to see the USS Massachusetts.  

During our visit to Mystic Seaport, CT, Papa participated in a demonstration that brought a huge smile to his face and pleased me to see him so delighted.  While touring the Charles W. Morgan, the oldest commercial whaling ship still afloat, we happened to be there at just the right time.

The knowledgeable guide on the vessel explained that it was time to hoist one of the sails and that he and the other guides needed help doing so.  My hubby was one of the first to volunteer. 

The guide instructed volunteers when to pull on the halyard rope to hoist the sail and when to let go.  He explained that he would sing a chantey, a type of call-and-response song, like those used long ago to coordinate the sailing ship’s crew while they worked together to raise a sail.

blogIMG_0107After he explained, he commenced singing an old seafaring chantey and each time he sang, “Blow, ye boys, blow,” the volunteers pulled as hard as they could in unison on the beat ‘blow.’

I don’t remember the exact chantey song he sang, but it might have been something like this one I found:

“A Yankee ship came down the river,
Blow, boys, blow!
 

Her masts and spars they shine like silver,
Blow, my bully boys, blow!

With each pull on the word “blow,” the sail rose higher and higher until it was aloft.

blogIMG_0112

The hoisted sail! 

I could tell from the look on my husband’s face that he enjoyed the experience immensely.

“Was it fun?” I asked him when the demonstration was complete. With that little boy grin on his face, he replied, “It sure was!”

And you know what? It was fun. I got a kick out of watching him revel in the experience of being a sailing ship crew member (even if it was only for a few moments).

Because when Papa’s happy, so is Mama.

“Happiness is like a kiss. You must share it to enjoy it.” ~ Bernard Meltzer

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com