Oh my deer heart

deercollage

Maybe cute here…..but not when they do this!

Recently, a caught-in-the-headlights willy-nilly deer ran into my daughter. You read that right – the deer hit her. Well, not her but her car as she was driving home around midnight from her evening shift as a hospital nurse.

The stupid deer literally plowed into the passenger side of daughter’s car causing damage that necessitated a trip to the auto body shop.

It’s not the first time someone in our family, including myself, has tangled with those woodland creatures.  Blessedly, none of us ever were injured in these deer vs car collisions.

I know many people out there think the white-tailed deer that populate my neck of the woods are so cute and endearing. Bah. If you think that, you’ve never encountered the absolute scare-you-out-of-your-skin and make-your-heart-startle moment when they dart across the highway in your path.

According to some car insurance sites,  last year’s statistics show that my state is the third most likely place in the US to hit a deer and the odds are 1 in 57 that you will do so causing on the average about $4000 damage to your vehicle.

Oh, dear deer!

But you know what the positive side is? Your damaged car can usually be fixed. Yes, it’s inconvenient. Yes, it’s a pain to have to call your insurance company to report how that stupid deer ran into your car. But as long as the vehicle is the only thing broken, it’s fixable.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a broken heart could be as easily mended? Hammer out the kinks and dents. Slap a little putty on it. Prime and repaint. Or if the damage is more extensive, just get a new part like the new fender on your car. Voila! Good as new!

But it doesn’t work that way, does it? Just the other day while steeping my morning cup of hot tea, I noticed the little saying on my tea bag tag. Usually, I’m in a rush and don’t pay attention to the quotes printed on those tags, but I read this one and it caused me to stop and think.

What breaks in a moment may take years to mend.

Hmm. Wisdom from a teabag.

The emotional trauma we suffer from the words and actions of others isn’t mended in a jiffy, and in a moment, it stops us in our tracks just like suddenly spotting a deer as it crashes into you.

The damage isn’t always repaired even if we receive an apology for the wrong done to us. And if the apology and remorse from the one who broke our heart never comes, it can take years to ‘get over it.’

Or we never do. We never seem able to fix what’s broken, but I think that is by choice. Our own choice. Our choice to continue suffering in the pain of what shattered us. Our choice to allow what damaged us to overwhelm and defeat us.

“Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our lives.” ~ Unknown

 

I speak from experience. As a person of faith, I’ve found myself crying out to God way too often asking Him why he doesn’t heal a loved one’s broken heart, or why He doesn’t take away the pain betrayal causes in another, or rid the anger from my own heart over an offense, or….the list goes on and on.

It would be nice if God would just act like a genie and grant our wish for heart healing in an instant or wave a magic wand over the parts of us that hurt and immediately we would experience mending.

But He doesn’t work that way. Not that He can’t heal us in the blink of an eye because with God anything is possible. Jesus said so in scripture (Mark 9:23): “Everything is possible for him who believes.”

Yes, the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-encompassing God of the universe could easily touch what is broken and mend it in a moment, and sometimes He does. But I think He asks us to do some of the work…ourselves.

I think He desires for us to examine ourselves, examine our own hearts that may harbor bitterness and unforgiveness. I think He asks us to present our brokenness to Him with no strings attached, meaning we give it to Him and don’t snatch it back later so we can stew some more over it.

I think He lovingly disciplines us and, if we truly want to receive that healing, that mending, that repair of the heart, then we must open our hearts completely and fully to be filled with Him. Because only faith in a Savior can truly fill those gaping holes in our hearts. Can repair the damage done. Can make us brand new.

“He heals the wounds of every shattered heart.” ~ Psalm 147:3

 

The walking wounded are everywhere. Shell-shocked souls who have been hurt beyond belief, who are shattered by despair, emotional pain, broken relationships, and broken lives. 

They walk through this world with huge holes in their heart wondering if they will ever be mended again. So they turn to alcohol or drugs or sex or whatever ‘magic potion’ makes them ‘feel better’ for the time. 

Anything for that quick fix which is anything but a quick fix.

My prayer is that those of us who know the way to be mended step out of our comfort zones, step out of our churches, step out of our Christian bubbles, and reach out to the hurting and share how Jesus can mend our broken hearts.

Because we’ve experienced it ourselves and with God’s help have leapt over the very thing that caused us to be wounded.

“A wounded deer leaps highest.” ~ Emily Dickinson

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

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Giving my best

blogIMG_1100This may sound odd in this day and age, but I’m one of those who actually likes ironing. It’s one of those household chores my mother taught me as a young girl that I truly enjoy.

Sounds crazy, I know. Who irons now days? Just grab everything out of the dryer before wrinkles set in and off you go. Wash and wear.

But for me, there’s something calming about setting up the ironing board, – given to us as a wedding gift 40 years ago – heating up the steam iron, and pressing away.

My mother was a homemaker; that was her occupation and she did it well. She took pride in her clean and orderly home inside and out, sparkling white clothes, and freshly pressed sheets, pillowcases, and linen tea towels.

Back in the day before permanent press when clothes were washed and often dried outside on a clothesline (which is another chore I still enjoy), doing laundry took the better part of a day.

If some articles of clothing became excessively wrinkled in the washing machine, I can remember my mom sprinkling them with water, rolling them up, and storing them in a special zippered plastic bag (way before ziplock bags became a thing)  in the refrigerator until she had the time to iron them later.

Mom taught me how to properly press clothes and household linens starting with my dad’s white cotton handkerchiefs.  They were easy to iron because they were square and flat. Next came ironing pillowcases and sheets. Back then, these items were 100% cotton and most folks ironed them.

When I mastered that, Mom let me try my hand at ironing our everyday clothes and from there I progressed to pressing Dad’s white dress shirts, which he wore to work every day.

For some reason, ironing clothes just didn’t seem like a chore to me, instead it was fun. Unfortunately, I don’t consider cooking the same way so Mom’s excellent cooking and baking skills did not rub off on me.

Papa can attest to this although he tries not to hurt my feelings about cooking not being my forte. Most husbands ask their wives why they can’t cook like the husband’s mother; mine asks why I don’t cook like my own mom did. But that’s a whole other blog post.

However, I thought about all of this the other day as I was ironing because I do still enjoy this task. There’s something so satisfying for me to press out each wrinkle and fold of the item being ironed making it look almost new and untouched.

A stack of items that needed pressed to make them look their best accumulated in my laundry room.  An autumn designed table runner for my dining room table, two small table covers that I had washed and hung out to dry on the outside clothesline, and a stack of linen hand towels awaited the touch of a hot steam iron.

The hand towels came from church. We have a time-honored tradition in the way we celebrate communion. Taking our reasons for doing so from the narrative in the Bible when Jesus gathered his 12 disciples together for the Last Supper, we not only partake of the bread and cup but also have a meal together and in humility and servanthood, wash one another’s feet.

We use large terrycloth towels as aprons to dry one another’s feet and small linen hand towels to dry our own hands upon washing them at the end of the foot washing ceremony.

I volunteered to wash all of the wet towels afterwards. The towel/aprons were unwrinkled after washing and drying, so I simply folded them up and stacked them ready to return to church.

But the linen towels were just a little rumpled with some of the edges turned up.  I could have easily attempted to smooth out the slight wrinkles with my hands and just folded them also, but something made me stop and decide to iron them instead.

The title to an old hymn – Give of Your Best to the Master – popped into my thoughts and the words and melody started playing in my mind.

Give of your best to the Master;
Give Him first place in your heart;
Give Him first place in your service;
Consecrate every part.
Give, and to you will be given;
God His beloved Son gave;
Gratefully seeking to serve Him,
Give Him the best that you have.

Give of your best to the Master;
Naught else is worthy His love;
He gave Himself for your ransom,
Gave up His glory above.
Laid down His life without murmur,
You from sin’s ruin to save;
Give Him your heart’s adoration;
Give Him the best that you have.

What is my best to give to my God? It sounds crazy, but ironing those linen towels was my best. Folding them just wasn’t good enough even though they would be placed in a box with all of the other clean towels in the church storage closet and no one (unless he/she reads this blog) would know that I had ironed the ones I took home to launder. 

No, I didn’t feel the need to press them perfectly to receive recognition for doing so. I wanted to iron those pieces of cloth not for praise or glory for myself but because they represented doing God’s work and work for Him should be done to the best of my ability.

“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”  ~ Colossians 3:23 (New Living Translation)

You see, my mother also taught me to do my best at whatever I worked at. And both my parents taught me to always present my best to our God. Not because He demands it, but because He deserves it.

He deserves my absolute best. He deserves my respect and reverence. He deserves my praise and giving Him honor and glory. 

Because giving my best truly is so little in comparison to what He’s done for me and you.

Using a hot iron to press out each wrinkle and make sharp creases in each fold, and stacking those small linen hand towels in an orderly fashion proved to be a kind of worship service that morning.

And a reminder to always do my best for my Savior. I knew I was on the right track because the next Sunday morning during worship, we sang an old hymn after our pastor’s message.

What was it? Give of Your Best to the Master.

 “Do your best and let God do the rest.” ~ Unknown

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

The layered look

BlogIMG_1083(2)Fall’s arrived – my favorite season – and here in my neck of the woods, we tend to dress in layers during the months of autumn. 

Mornings start out crisp and cool with a little shiver in the air, but often by mid-day sunshine pushes that red vertical line up the outside thermometer. So we shed that outer jacket or sweater we put on first thing in the morning. And then by evening, we don it once again.

We peel off layers of clothing easily, but I wonder, how simple is it to shed the layers of who we are? You know, so that others see our true self instead of the persona we present to the world.  You may think you know me, but can you really see beneath my layers? How do you know I’m not just hiding underneath the layers that define me?

Every one of us human beings possess layers. And some of us really embrace the layered look so you don’t see that our lives are somewhat less than perfect.

I’m speaking for myself here and since this week’s photo challenge theme is layered, I thought I’d peel off some of my layered look publicly. Don’t worry, no nudity is involved here!

First off, I have many family layers. Who I am in respect to my familial relationships.  I am the daughter of my parents, granddaughter of my grandparents, sister to my siblings, sister-in-law to my and my husband’s siblings’ spouses, cousin, aunt to nieces and nephews and great-aunt as well.  I am a wife, mother, and now grandmother myself.

My layered look reveals that family is important to me too.

Social layers also exist when you look at me.  I am a friend, a confidante, an acquaintance. I’ve been a co-worker, volunteer, soccer mom, PTA member and president, and booster club member to name a few. Doing for others is one of my layers.

Schooling provided some more layers: elementary, middle, and high school student, high school graduate, college undergraduate, college graduate, on-line learner. Education and continuing to learn are also important layers.

In the world of work, my layers include having been a part-time sales clerk, summertime factory worker, English teacher, journalist/reporter/editor, technical editor, non-profit education director, and substitute teacher. I’ve been an employee, a team leader, and even a boss, and the most recent layer I’ve added is being a semi-retired person. Those layers tell you a lot about me.

Peel back a few more layers:  church goer, church member, Sunday School teacher, youth group leader, small group Bible study leader, church board member, deacon. You may think you know everything about me now.

Yet there are still more layers – amateur photographer, writer, blogger, social media user, online group co-leader, library user, real and e-book reader. The list might go on and on.

But when you peel back all of those layers, who am I really?  You may think I’m being very transparent, yet more layers exist that I haven’t shared. At my core, what is my identity?

I find my identity in being a Christ follower, a believer, a Christian not just by title but by faith.

My guidebook for life, the Bible, tells me I am God’s handiwork:  “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)

When I placed my identity in Christ alone, another layer was added. I’m a new creation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV)

But what really astounds me is this. God loves me perfectly, unconditionally. He doesn’t love me because of my layered look, because of the layers I demonstrate for others to see.

His love isn’t based on my being perfect. It’s based on nothing but Himself. Who He is. The God of the universe who sent His only Son to die for my sin, in my place.

Perfect love.  Without any layers.

“Life is like an onion. You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.” ~ Carl Sandburg

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

While you wait

blogDSCN6837

Waiting for the sheets to dry

From the doctor’s office to sitting in traffic, we’ve all done our fair share of it. Waiting, that is. Depending on your level of patience, waiting can either be just a little blip in the road or a major interruption.

Waiting just happens to be the theme for this week’s photo challenge and I’ve found that I just don’t have the time right now to wait for an idea of inspiration to come to me nor do I have a few spare moments to think about a photo to accompany my words.

So, to keep you, my readers, from waiting any longer, I’m recycling a photo (above) and a post I wrote seven years ago not long after I began my blogging journey here on Word Press. Way back then, I shared my thoughts about waiting and you can read them by clicking here.

“You usually have to wait for that which is worth waiting for.”~ Craig Bruce

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Structure to build upon

blogDSCN0108 (2)I’m not a fly by the seat of your pants kind of person. Nope, I like to have my ducks all in a row and I will count them to make sure they are all there too.

Willy-nilly, I am not. I’m happiest when all around me is in order. This thing put away where it belongs. That thing relegated to the recycling or trash.

Clutter removed from the counters, the shelves, my desk, wherever I can see in plain sight. I want a clean slate when I look around.

A place for everything and everything in its place. That makes me feel calm and secure. And in control.  Because when my surroundings get out of control – and despite my intentions of having a spit-spot clean house, it gets pretty messy here – I feel out of control.

When my own little world isn’t in order, I can sense stress just surging inside of me, intensifying and ascending up my back and neck finally settling in my head like a ticking time bomb ready for a full-blown explosion.  

When I was a young mom with three active children, trying to keep my home orderly darn near drove me crazy. Seriously, how do you do so with toys, games, backpacks full of school papers, books, clothes dirty and clean, shoes galore, sporting equipment (and some of it smelled atrocious!), and all the accoutrements that come along with kids?

So to keep my sanity, I learned to just let some things go. Stop striving for perfection when it came to the orderliness of our home. And as I’ve aged… ahem…matured…I’ve even lightened up a good deal more. Well, as much as I can with a 2½- year-old grandchild in my home.

But what I realize I need, what truly floats my boat, calms my inner perfectionist, and keeps me feeling in control is structure, this week’s photo challenge theme.

My handy desk dictionary –yes, I still use a real paper-paged bound book called a dictionary – defines structure as a noun this way: 1. A complex entity. 2a Organization; arrangement. b. Constitution; make-up. 3. Something constructed esp. a building or part.

Words spoken to me over 40 years ago have remained lodged in my brain and rise to the surface when I think about that word – structure.  At the time I was a starry-eyed, idealistic college senior finishing a semester of student teaching in a junior high school classroom.

My supervising teacher – the 7th grade English teacher at this city school in whose classes I tried out my lesson plans – offered advice to me, which I’ve never forgotten, about launching my teaching career.

He advised me to start out tough, running a tight ship in the classroom with a lot of structure.  

“You can always lighten up, but you can never tighten up,” were the words Mr. D told me. He was right.

Without structure, where would we be? Our bodies certainly have structure in the form of all the bones that comprise our skeletal system.  Without that formation, we’d just be big blobs rolling around.

We take shelter and live in some type of building whether it be our homes made of cement, wood, or brick or even a tent. Without structure, nothing would stand to protect us from the environment.

Our modes of transportation all have structure from cars to buses to planes, trains, and ships. Without their forms, we’d all have to travel only by our own feet.

I’m no scientist, but I do know that there is structure in our DNA as well. If you’ve ever seen a drawing of a DNA molecule, you’ll note that there are two strands, a double helix, that wind around each other and resemble a sort of twisted ladder. Structure.

Our very lives here on earth revolve around structure. Twenty-four hours in a day. Seven days in a week. Fifty-two weeks in a year. Our planet revolves around the sun in an orderly way. All of it based on structure.

And every structure that exists also must have some sort of foundation. For me, the foundation of my structure is my faith. When I feel out of control and structure seems to be totally out of order, I pray. I turn to my guidebook for life, my Bible.

It’s the structure I build my life upon.

“Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being. Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.” ~ Saint Augustine

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

 

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

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

Here today, gone tomorrow

blogIMG_9860I have to be perfectly honest. This week’s photo challenge theme?

I had to look up the word to ensure the definition in my mind was correct. It’s just not a word I use in my daily life and I don’t even think I’ve ever used it in my writing.

Evanescent. Isn’t it an interesting word? A fancy way to say something is likely to vanish. Describe something fleeting. Transitory.

Much of this world can be categorized that way. We are surrounded by aspects which change so quickly and soon vanish. That green grass out there in my yard? In just a few months, the color will turn to brown and won’t reappear until spring comes again. Transitory.

The beautifully lush peony bushes surrounding my backyard deck and covered with bountiful buds? They will burst forth in a fanciful deep pink array, exude their lovely aroma, and then the petals will fall and they will be gone. Fleeting.

Short-lived. Just like that elusive fame that so many wish to attain. Why else would we hear that saying – he had his 15 minutes of fame – bantered about? Because fame can be so short-lived. Likely to vanish.

Evanescent.

Even our lives can be portrayed that way. We’re only on earth for a short time in the grand scope of existence. Some of us inhabit this earth for only a few years, some for a half century or longer, and some fortunate ones may live until they are 100.

But our one life here is evanescent. Vanishing. Fleeting. Transitory. Short-lived.

My Bible tells me: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  James 4:14 

And that verse reminds me once again of one of my favorite contemporary Christian songs by Casting Crowns.

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
A vapor in the wind
Still you hear me when I’m calling
Lord, you catch me when I’m falling
And you’ve told me who I am
I am yours.

We humans are evanescent, but the God of the universe is not. We are here today, gone tomorrow. But the Creator of all is not. We are temporary. He is permanent.

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” Isaiah 40:8

That’s why I never cease to be amazed that God, the Lord of all creation, the great I AM, the Alpha and Omega (the Beginning and the End), the One who is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (all-present/all-seeing), and omnipotent (all-powerful), cares about evanescent me and you.

Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name
Would care to feel my hurt?
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart?

Not because of who I am
But because of what you’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who you are.

Minister Charles Stanley wrote in his book, Turning the Tide: Real Hope, Real Change:  “Hope founded upon a human being, a man-made philosophy or any institution is always misplaced. Why? Because these things are unreliable and fleeting. They do not last. Rather, to be genuine and enduring, our confidence and hope must be rooted in God and His eternal purposes. You see, the Lord desires for us to base our faith on what is sure, immovable, unchangeable, and unending. So our Savior, Jesus, gives us the one thing that can never be taken away – everlasting life. Imperishable. Undefiled. Unfading. This is true hope – the unshakable confidence and assurance Jesus offers us.”

As alluring as the fixations of this world are whether they be fame or fortune, recognition or ratings, admiration or accomplishments, I don’t want to place my hope in those evanescent things.

Instead, with each moment of time I have on this earth, I place my hope in the Everlasting One who knows my name and I appreciate each evanescent occurrence that He sends my way.

Excuse me while I step outside and breathe in the aroma of blooming peonies.

“Right now a moment of time is fleeting by! Capture its reality… become the moment.” ~ Paul Cerzanne

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Reflecting on the blessings

blogIMG_1006Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard once wrote:  “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Just yesterday morning, I visited for a short time with one of my dearest, long-time friends. The one who’s constantly in my prayers because of her serious health diagnosis about a year ago and her latest brush with a dire emergency that almost cost her life.

Since she was in the area for a short visit with her mother, we sat in my friend’s childhood home on the same living room couch where we spent many hours in the past chatting with one another as young girls, teenagers, and young adults. If the seat cushions of that couch could talk, they would divulge countless stories of our times together upon them.

Often when my friend and I converse, we spend much of the time reflecting. And yesterday was no exception.  In many ways, my visit reflected the past, the way life used to be.

And since I brought my Little One (granddaughter) along with me, we glanced at even more reflections of our childhoods past when my wee one played with some old toys that have called this place home for numerous years.

As we were leaving, we walked outside onto the front porch to say our farewells. And that’s when Little One spotted my friend’s mom’s bright green gazing ball resting on a pedestal in the yard. 

Little One was absolutely fascinated by it and laughed at her own reflection in the ball.  Over and over again. And then at our reflections as well, going round and round the shiny orb never taking her eyes off of those images she spied within it.

It’s ironic that this week’s photo challenge theme is reflecting when I’ve been ruminating over that word – one which evokes a couple of meanings in my mind.  Of course, there’s the obvious one of an image being mirrored.  And then there’s the one that connotes thinking or seriously considering.

Like thinking of and seriously considering the past. Similar to my little one circling that gazing ball, often my mind goes round and round those reflections of times gone by. Over and over again.

Reflections of the way we used to be.

And that phrase prompts the ongoing radio in my mind to play an old song by The Supremes:

Through the mirror of my mind
Time after time
I see reflections of you and me

Reflections of
The way life used to be
Reflections of
The love you took from me

And even though that song expresses a sad tale of lost love, happiness ripped away, and painful reflection, I find valuable reminders in those lyrics.

Through the mirror of my mind
Through these tears that I’m crying
Reflects a hurt I can’t control
‘Cause although you’re gone
I keep holding on
To the happy times
Oh, when you were mine

Isn’t that how we so often view yesteryear? We attempt to remember only the pleasant moments and the joyous occasions when we reflect on times past. We keep holding onto those memories and that helps us through the present.

And that’s how my friend and I recall our childhoods.  Contented times, hours of fun playing together as children, sharing secrets and dreams as teenage girls do. Easy times of no responsibilities, no earth-shattering worries or occurrences, an idyllic age really.

Through the hollow of my tears
I see a dream that’s lost

Reflecting back now as adults, many of our hopes and dream for the future did not come to fruition, but some did.  And we both have had a blessed life, but not one without struggles and difficulties. This last year, my friend’s life has been a complete upheaval. 

In you I put
All my faith and trust
Right before my eyes
My world has turned to dust

In one consultation with her doctor, my friend’s world seemed to turn to dust. And it just kept splintering into pieces, one experience after another sawing its way through her strength leaving mounds of accumulating sawdust. 

Procedures, medications, treatments, hospital stays, medical emergencies, more hospital stays, therapies, home health nurse visits. At one point, when I sat beside my lifelong friend in the hospital, she confided her weariness over not having a normal life.

But here’s where my friend and I differ vastly from the song lyrics. Because instead of putting our faith and trust in another person (because honestly, we humans do let one another down often), we put our faith and trust in God.  All of our faith. All of our trust.

Because He never forsakes us. Never lets us down. Never stops loving us. He is the Great Physician. The Healer. The Savior. The Lover of our souls and Listener to our prayers. The One who is granting my lifelong friend’s desire to start to feel “normal again.”

So instead of singing “reflections of the way life used to be,” I believe I will change the song lyrics to “reflections of the way life needs to be; reflections of the love God has for me.”  And for my cherished friend.

“Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” ~ Charles Dickens

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com