That place called serenity

blogIMG_0334When you first see the word serenity, what thought comes to your mind?

Peace.  Tranquility.  Calmness.  That’s the pleasant path that word takes me down.  This past week, the photo challenge theme has been this word.  Serenity.

If serenity were a place, where would it be? 

For some, it might be seaside.  Basking in the sun on a sandy beach somewhere with the steady rhythmic roar of ocean waves lolling you to sleep.

For others, it might be standing on a mountain top after a long, strenuous climb just soaking in a magnificent view around you. 

Still others might find serenity in the midst of a deep wooded forest surrounded by grand towering trees where the only sound might be the gentle rustle of leaves when a whisper of wind comes along.   

Maybe serenity is found in your own backyard garden or thousands of miles away at your favorite vacation destination.  Serenity might not even be a real place but instead a spot that only exists in your imagination.

It started snowing this week, enough to accumulate a bit.  We haven’t had a lot of snow this winter season so far, not like some years.  Of course, winter isn’t ready to call it quits just yet.  Some of our biggest snowfalls in the last few years have descended upon us in February.

But snow silently falling on everything in sight gives me a peaceful feeling.  I love to watch snowflakes dance through the brisk, cold air and flit and float until they cover the world with that blanket of white.  I love to catch snowflakes and quickly inspect them to see if I can distinguish each different design before they melt from the heat of my outstretched, gloved hand.

There’s no doubt about it.  While some folks despise winter, I find solace in it.  I find peace.  I find tranquility.

Yes, I think you can find serenity in a season.  And for me, it’s winter.   Slowing down and hibernating a bit when the air turns cold brings a sense of peace.   A snowfall can turn a noisy, bustling day into one of quiet and solitude, temporarily bringing the craziness of life to a halt.   

blogIMG_4578Curled up under a fleecy throw with a hot cup of tea in the silence of an empty nest watching the world outside my window turn a fresh, clean white provides serenity. 

So can taking a peaceful walk on a snowy winter afternoon or evening, whether it’s here at my country home, down a wooded path, or even in a suburban neighborhood.

Serenity is where you find it.   I find it in prayer.  I find it in silence.  I find it even in the dead of winter.

What about you?  Where do you find serenity?  Is it a real place or just a state of mind?

“Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour.”  ~ John Boswell

©2015 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Just keepin’ it real

blogIMG_4960Life.  Sometimes it gets in the way of our plans.

If you’re a steady reader of Mama’s Empty Nest, you may have noticed I’ve been on a writing hiatus for the last couple of weeks.  The evidence is a lack of written posts with only two Wordless Wednesdays showcasing a couple of my photographs instead.

The hiatus wasn’t intentional.  I didn’t just decide to take a break from blogging.  No, instead life happened.  Real life sometimes gets in the way of blogging life.  And you might just say, today I’m keeping it real.

As soon as this new year of blank pages arrived, my calendar started filling up with events and appointments and lists of things needing accomplishment the way life demands and…well, you get the picture.

Both weeks found me trotting off to school as I was scheduled to substitute teach two and a half days one week and two days the following week.  One week I taught middle schoolers everything from language arts to science and the next I subbed in learning support and worked non-stop with students from kindergarten through fifth grade in reading and math. 

But wait!  Just like the infomercials on TV, that’s not all!  Bible study resumed, so a lot of reading ensued and thought-provoking questions needed answering.  Several meetings also required my attendance and church activities increased because in a weak moment, I said yes.  Not just to one new obligation but two! 

I agreed to become a committee member for a church commission responsible for education of our children, teens, and adults and then because one of the Sunday School classes desperately needed a teacher, guess who is now also teaching young teens in 7th and 8th grade?  I mean who could turn down that opportunity when one of the young girl students specifically requested me?

So that meant acquiring curriculum, and checking it out thoroughly, preparing lessons, and because there’s that teacher side of me that insists a classroom should be just as stimulating as the lesson, I rearranged the dull-looking church room, added some visuals, and made plans to enhance the space more while spending way too much time on Pinterest looking for additional ideas.

In between all of that, home chores to accomplish, phone calls to return, friends to check on due to illnesses or just because they were going through a tough time, prayer chain requests to lift up to the Lord, and to be honest, a little worrying done over the safety of my world travelers (who, by the way, finally returned home safely from their three-week grand African adventure), and concern for the health of my pregnant daughter also grabbed my attention.

When it came to carving out time to sit down and write for my blog, I thought that either:  a.  I didn’t have time  or b.  I was just too weary/distracted/unmotivated to think coherently let alone write a decent sentence.   If I did snag a little block of time and sit down at the computer, I found myself just vegging out by scrolling through Facebook to see what I may have missed in the lives of friends and family instead of writing a blog post.  Yeah, I know….not a productive use of my time…but mindless which is what I needed I guess.

And that’s where I ran across this little gem.   If you’re addicted to social media in any way, you may find yourself taking these inane quizzes that pop up on your newsfeed.  You know the ones.  What flower are you?  Or what kind of house are you? Or what country are you? 

I usually pass by those but every once in a while I fall prey to one and succumb to taking the quiz.    I admit they are pretty ridiculous and random and I’m fairly certain the answers you get are random as well.  But occasionally, the results of one of those idiotic quizzes makes me think “Hmmm, that kind of does describe me.”

I know.  Silly. 

If you’ve read much of my writing, there is one thing I do think that stands out.  I do try to be genuine.  I attempt to be frank and authentic in my writing and I’ll use that buzz word that seemed to be making the rounds for a while – transparent.

In other words, I try to keep it real.

Well, wouldn’t you know it?  During this ‘off’ time away from writing blog posts, I answered one of those Facebook quizzes  named “What four-letter word best describes you?”  (That sounds a little risky, doesn’t it?) The resulting four-letter word could have been any one of these: hope, calm, kind, love, or real.

And this is what I got:  “REAL. You are a very sincere and honest human being. You’re very much in line with your values, and you always try to be a better person for yourself and for others. As a person with integrity, you are principled and you keep it real like no other. You don’t just talk the talk, you actually walk the walk every single day.”

While I’m not totally convinced that description really does fit me,  as a believer in Jesus I do strive to be the kind of person described in the above paragraph. So, I could explain my blogging world absence by saying I was taking time to concentrate on so many other areas of my life or that I was just so preoccupied with activities and events, I just couldn’t find time to write.

But you know what?  I’m keepin’ it real.  The truth is that my life is no busier than yours is.    And I’m certainly not perfect, nor do I lead a perfect life or keep a perfectly clean, tidy house.  The trash can is overflowing, dirty dishes are piled up in the sink that also needs a thorough scrubbing, and the carpet needs vacuumed. That’s reality. 

But the truth is sometimes I just don’t feel like doing it all.

So why didn’t I write anything during the last few weeks?  Here’s the truth.  I just didn’t feel like it.   And that’s keepin’ it real.

“The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.” ― Laura Ingalls Wilder

©2015 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Climb every mountain

blogMtKilimanjaro

Son-in-law, daughter, and friend at Mt. Kilimanjaro summit

Okay, it’s confession time.  Mama’s not a big risk taker.  I like a little adventure for sure, but I usually play it safe.  It’s true that Papa is a little bit more daring than me, but I still truly wonder from where our adult children inherited their ‘adventure genes.’

All three of them have traveled to other countries outside of our own.  I have only been to Canada a couple of times, although Papa promises we will expand our horizons when he retires.  All three of them have successfully and willingly jumped out of an airplane to sky dive.  I’m definitely not planning that anytime soon.  There have been episodes of helicopter piloting and waterfall rappelling.  Um…no, not for me.

Mama seldom takes the path less traveled because she doesn’t want to get lost.  Give me a map and I’ll be fine but don’t set me adrift without directions.  But more than that, Mama just doesn’t have that sense of adventure.  Papa can’t even get me on a cruise ship.  Airplanes are fine but the thought of being on a ship out in the middle of the ocean sets my heart to racing and gives me visions of panic attacks.

So adventurous living might not be my forte but I do admire those who dare to be bold.  That’s probably why I hate to miss any episodes of TV’s Amazing Race.  And I enjoy exciting ventures vicariously through my own offspring as well. 

Some of you may remember that my oldest daughter and son-in-law are on a grand adventure right now.  They flew to Tanzania in Africa via Amsterdam (with a short sightseeing tour there) to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

Prior to their trip, I knew some basic facts about this mountain.  I knew it’s located in Africa and is the tallest free-standing (not part of a mountain range) mountain in the world at an elevation of over 19,300-some feet.  I also knew that it would take several days of hiking to reach the summit.

Now, this Mama has been to the mountains.  I’ve even hiked a little in some of them.  But the highest elevation I’ve ever been (not counting airline flights) occurred when Papa and I took a vacation to western Colorado’s San Juan Mountains way back when we were young whippersnappers. 

Hiking in Colorado mountains - 1979

Hiking in Colorado mountains – 1979

We drove from the flat prairieland of Oklahoma to places where the altitude gave me headaches.  Little did I know then that headaches are a symptom of altitude sickness.   We traveled by railroad from Durango to Silverton (9, 305 feet), by car to Ouray and crossed Wolf Creek Pass (altitude 10,857 feet), one of the high mountain passes on the Continental Divide.

I’ve been on other mountains in the Pacific Northwest like Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens, to Mount Shasta in northern California, through the Appalachian Mountains here in the east and recently to the top of Mount Mitchell in North Carolina (altitude 6,683), the highest point east of the Mississippi River. 

But I’ve never trekked up a mountain on foot like my loved ones are doing.  I’m extremely happy and relieved to say that they reached the Uhuru Peak on Kilimanjaro sometime early yesterday morning (our time) and after an arduous climb to the top, they began their descent down the mountain.

My ‘kids’ assured me that the trek up the mountain wasn’t technical mountain climbing, more like hiking several hours a day for a week through different ecological zones starting in a tropical jungle and going through the savannah and the desert, entering forests, and finally reaching the alpine zone above the timberline.  Click here to watch a video to see what a trek up Kilimanjaro is like. 

Well, I’m glad that I didn’t google information about this trip before they actually left as it would have made me worry even more than I did about their safety.  I mean this mountain is named Kilimanjaro (does anyone besides me hear that ‘kill a man’ part in there?

But seriously, I read daunting facts like these from National Geographic just yesterday that gave me a little pause for alarm:  the overall average successful ascents to the peak is 45% out of the approximate 35,000 climbers who attempt the trek yearly.  And that there are an estimated 10-15 deaths annually because of severe altitude sickness, hypothermia, falls or other medical issues.  And that my loved ones would have a difficult scramble over something called the Barranco Wall (click on that for another video).

Or that even though it takes the average person a minimum of between six to nine days to reach Kilimanjaro’s summit,  the real challenge is how altitude affects the body and the incidence of acute mountain sickness is high – a possible 75% of trekkers suffer from it on summit night. 

I received a text from son-in-law last Friday that informed us that they had been up to 17,000 feet that day and were camping at 13,000 feet.  So far the weather had been, in his words, “absolutely incredible.”  But as they faced the Barranco Wall the next day, he asked us to pray for our daughter who had a slight headache and loss of appetite (some symptoms of altitude sickness). 

Just like her mother, I thought, and then I promptly asked everyone I knew to start praying for her.  Other than feeling occasionally a bit breathless, our son-in-law reported he was fine and their friend traveling with them was also doing well.

We waited on pins and needles (and that was before I googled information or watched these videos) to hear from them again.  Yesterday early in the morning around 2:15, my phone awakened me with a text, again from son-in-law.  They had reached the summit which was “incredibly hard, especially coming back down.”  They still had three more hours to hike to get to the campsite from there and I spent much time in prayer for them.

On one hand, I was relieved but on the other hand, I definitely stayed on prayer alert until they got down off that mountain.  I’m grateful that they experienced a mountaintop adventure and achieved such a lofty goal. From there, they will go on a safari in the Serengeti National Park and do more touring around Tanzania before they fly back to Amsterdam, where they will sightsee once more, before finally arriving back home.

For oldest daughter and son-in-law, this grand adventure in life is a dream trip.  As the words to “Climb Every Mountain” from the musical The Sound of Music run through my mind, I can’t wait to hear all about this mountain dream of theirs that became reality.

 “Adventure is not outside man; it is within.” ~ George Eliot

©2015 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

A brand new page

blogIMG_4917It’s here.  It says so right here on my brand new calendar.  The one with empty spaces for each new day in this new year of 2015.  Two thousand and fifteen.  Two thousand and fifteen!

Wasn’t it just yesterday that the entire world worried their gigabytes off because the page was turning over to the year 2000 and all of those ‘experts’ predicted a major catastrophe as we reached Y2K?  Y2K, the year 2000. 

Well, of course the year 2000 arrived and passed by without a glitch. And here we are 15 years later welcoming in another new year. It’s true what my wise Daddy used to say that the older you became the faster the years flew by.  And we’ve just put another year on the back shelf.

What lies ahead is anyone’s guess but I know one thing.  We will fill up those empty spaces on the calendar with the everyday task of living if the Lord gives us a year full of new days.  But just living is not how I want to spend these blank spaced days on my calendar of life. 

I want to fill those days with wonder.  With joy.  With love.  With exuberance.  With amazement.  With opportunity.  With thanksgiving (yes, I haven’t given up that word yet).

In years past, I either chose or was given a new word for each year – a word that might manifest itself in some way to prove amazing or noteworthy as it worked its way through the pages of my life.  Sometimes I struggled with those words – the ones like peace, strength, growth. 

This year, I haven’t chosen a word nor has one come across the crowded desk of my mind for me to take notice.  Out of the thousands and thousands of words in my native English language, I haven’t claimed one for my own.  And not a word has settled upon me and laid claim to me either.

Instead perhaps I should choose a different word for each day of the new year.  After all, a new year – one that’s sparkling clean with no dings or dents, no marks or notations, no regrets or regressions – presents itself for new ideas, new revelations, new…everything.

I’m not one for making resolutions every year.  I usually fail miserably at them, so I stopped torturing myself years ago.  But even though I don’t make resolutions, I do have resolve.  And though my slate is empty right now and my calendar is clear for the time being, I know there’s one thing I plan to muster up enough resolve to do this year.

I will take each fresh new day as it comes and see what the Lord will show me on that day because even when I can’t be completely faithful, God is.  Morning by morning, new mercies I’ll see.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” ~ Lamentations 3:22-24  (NIV)

What about you?  How will you fill your new calendar in this brand new year?

“Every time you tear a leaf off a calendar, you present a new place for new ideas and progress.” ~ Charles Kettering

©2015 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Words Full Wednesday: New Year’s Eve

blogHappyNewYearWednesdays are usually my no words day here at Mama’s Empty Nest.  Usually I post a photograph I’ve taken that hopefully speaks for itself, slap a title on it that categorizes it, and add no other words. Voila! Wordless Wednesday.

But today I’m deviating from the norm.  It is, after all, the last day of the year.  We say goodbye to 2014 at midnight and hello to brand new 2015 at 12:01.

And today I find on this last Wednesday of the year that I do have words to convey.  So this middle of the week post will be a ‘words full Wednesday.’

The graphic I designed above boasts a citation that is in my well-worn quote notebook.  Supposedly, it came from one of the works of Greek playwright Euripedes.  Many moons ago, I took a classical literature class in college where we read many of the Greek classics.  I didn’t remember the quote at all or where it came from, so I wanted to do a bit of research to see if it even came from Euripedes’ pen.

As near as I can glean from a quick research scan (and I do mean quick), the actual quote is “Waste not fresh tears over old griefs.”  Some of the old Greek’s tragedies were lost or only fragments remain. Apparently, this line came from one of those.

No matter the source, the line speaks well for today of all days – New Year’s Eve.  Another year has passed which included some wondrous occurrences and some disappointing or devastating ones.  Such is life.

I spent a good part of this past year grieving over an old wound from 2013.  Yes, I wasted fresh tears over it.  Sometimes it haunted my dreams; often it consumed my joy during daytime hours.  Some days it just fired my anger into a red hot flame.

But you know what?  No more.  Was what was done to me right?  By no means.  It was unjust and no mercy or grace was shown.  But I refuse to let that grievous event define me any more.  I will not waste tears over old griefs any longer.  I’ve learned to put that wrong and the people involved behind me.  That doesn’t mean I haven’t forgiven them because I have, it just means I will no longer allow those circumstances to reign over my emotions and thoughts.

As I move forward to a new year of opportunity, I will not waste one more minute over this old grief.  It will stay in the past where it belongs.

What about you?  Is there something from the past that you need to let go with the ringing in of a new year? I pray you find the courage to do so and waste not your own tears over past griefs.  Let’s greet the new year with joy instead of sorrow, with excitement instead of disappointment, with opportunity instead of regrets.

Happy New Year!

“Drop the last year into the silent limbo of the past. Let it go, for it was imperfect, and thank God that it can go.” – Brooks Atkinson

©2014 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

Surprise, surprise!

Surprise from Australia

Surprise from Australia

The older I get, the more I like surprises.  Maybe it’s because life can get a little mundane once you’re sliding toward retirement years.  Or maybe it’s just because as you mature in age, you’ve witnessed enough that few things surprise you anymore.

Whatever the reason, I want life to still hold plenty of surprises. 

Just yesterday a surprise came in the mail.  And as I happily picked up that package – the one sent air mail all the way from Australia – I truly was astonished.  Tucked inside the bubble envelope was a sweet gift from our Australian friends, Susannah and Mat.  Surprise!  Packages of sprinkles to make fairy bread – one of their delectable treats they told us about – and an Australian cookbook that I couldn’t wait to read through.

Surprises.  I love them.  That’s why as we prepared for Christmas I informed our grown children and spouses that this year would be different.  This year Papa and I weren’t buying gifts off the lists.  This year we were going to surprise them by thinking outside the list box and gifting them with items we thought they would enjoy – gifts they didn’t expect.  And I think we succeeded by the look on their faces as they opened their gifts not knowing what was inside. It was so much more fun that way. 

The unexpected gift from Australia prompted me to remember the joy we shared hosting that lovely couple in our home earlier this month.  Getting that opportunity had been a welcome surprise.

And that caused me to think back over this past year (after all, it is coming to a close).   2014 has been one surprising year.

The year began with me still feeling deeply wounded and saddened over losing my job, yet by year’s end, healing from that is definitely taking place.  Surprise!

Our grown children amazed us with plenty of wonder in 2014.   Middle daughter and husband moved back to the home state and bought a house, then gave us the biggest surprise this year – the announcement that Papa and I would become grandparents in 2015! 

Son and wife also moved (a little bit closer) from New Jersey to the state on the other side and also bought a house.  Surprise!  Job changes for one son-in-law and our son were also unexpected and good surprises. 

Of course, oldest daughter and hubby amazed us with their plans for the grand adventure they currently are on – a trip of a lifetime – climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Surprise!

Other wonderful surprises included a trip to New York City with son and daughter-in-law as well as a restful vacation in the Blue Mountains of North Carolina with just Papa and me.  Trips to visit our grown children have been welcome joys this year.  And daughters blessed me with a home visit for my 60th birthday when we spent an amazing fun-filled family day in the city. 

And even though it wasn’t a happy surprise, I was shocked and astonished to lose our beloved calico cat, Callie, this year.  The sadness that enveloped me while losing our furry little friend stunned me and sometimes still does.

But surprise!  Son and daughter-in-law adopted a sweet Springer puppy named Barley and our house fills with laughter and puppy love when they visit.

Astonishingly, my life this year has been full of wonder.  I’ve enjoyed working part-part-time as a substitute teacher at a nearby Christian school.  Not working as many hours gives me more time to write and God has graciously provided our needs even without my former salary.  Surprise!

But some of the most amazing events have transpired this year with my Mama’s Empty Nest blog.  First, a blogging friend asked me to write an article for TRC (The Relevant Christian), an e-magazine.  Then something else astonishing happened; I became an online co-leader (with two lovely ladies who have turned into friends) for a Christian women’s empty nest community group with (in)courage.  The friendships made there have become priceless.  One of my blog posts, Life on Purpose, was featured on the (in)courage Facebook page on November 1 and I gained new readers from that. Surprise!

I surprised even myself by completing a goal of posting every day for an entire month when I tackled my 30 days of Thanksgiving last month.  The revelations and words that God gave me during that time astounded me causing me to be even more thankful, especially for the One who guides my life.

So as 2014 comes to a close, I have to say it’s been an astonishing, surprising year.  Some surprises were wonderful, some not so much.  But that is life.  And life is the best surprise of all.

“Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.”  ~ Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

©2014 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com