Wordless Wednesday: butterfly bush

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©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

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My shiny

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Distractions.  

Distractions prove to be an issue with a lot of folks, me included.  They cause a little blip in our path. They divert our attention from the goal. They sidetrack us and cause us to lose our focus.

Sometimes they are a well-needed diversion providing a respite during a difficult task. But all too often, distractions are just time-wasters that prevent us from accomplishment.

I’m usually a fairly focused person. Once I set my sights on a short-term goal, I stay the course until it’s finished. But those long-term aspirations? Not so much. I find I’m easily distracted by what some call oooh, a shiny!

We all succumb, I suppose, at one point or another, to those shiny things that call our attention away from the task at hand. Even Olympic gold medal winning gymnast Gabby Johnson admitted to losing her focus when she was quoted as saying, “It’s very tough for me to focus. I’m like: Look, something shiny! No, focus. Oh, there goes a butterfly!”

I started a long-term project a couple of years ago, and I’m sorry to confess that it is nowhere nearly completed. It’s actually gathering digital dust, so to speak, in a flash drive on my desk. Too many ‘shiny’ distractions have caused me to put that project on a shelf.

Why am I writing about distractions today? Because the past week’s photo challenge exhorts participants to capture something shiny which causes you to lose focus, something that attracts your attention.

So what constitutes a distraction for me? 

The most usual and often one is my oldest grandchild. She diverts my attention in a good way though because I adore her and love spending time with her just about every day.

My youngest grandchild lives too far away to be a daily diversion, but still, when I’m with her or looking at videos and/or photos of her, she certainly monopolizes my attention too for all the same reasons; I adore her. Those two absolutely qualify as my “shinies.” 

The negative oooh shiny is my iPad mini, and I’m a little ashamed to say that when it sits there with its cute, little flowery cover on my desk, it just begs me to open it up, tap on either a game called Trivia Crack or a jigsaw puzzle app, read an e-book on the Kindle app, and waste way too much time. Definitely sidetracks me.

But I have an oooh, shiny that occurs every day, an instance that causes me to divert my attention enough to stop whatever I’m doing immediately. 

Sunset.

It’s my oooh, shiny distraction. Viewed right off our backyard deck every evening, it causes me to pause and take a few minutes to watch the sun slide softly into the horizon.

Sunset grabs my attention on a regular basis.  It prompts me to scurry for my camera, step outside no matter what the weather is like, and start focusing with my eyes, my lens, and my complete concentration.

Then I store those images of my shiny things away on my computer and on rainy days, when the sunset is blurred or hidden behind storm clouds, I can click on those photos and gaze at their beauty once more.

Sometimes they even help me make connections to thoughts that become blog posts.

Ah, shiny things. I think we just need to stop and take a look at them, even if they are distracting, because you never know where they may lead. 

“Writers are magpies by nature, always collecting shiny things, storing them away and looking for connections of things.” ~John Connolly

©2017 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Time to say goodbye again

BlogScan_20170816 (2)I was a mother of three young children. She was the mom of three teenagers.

I was a newcomer to the Midwest. She was a bonafide Midwesterner.

I tended to be overly talkative and yelled at my kids. She choose her words carefully and was soft-spoken.

And she was my friend. Close friend. The kind of friend who would come to your rescue when needed. The kind of friend you could confide in without worry that your problem would be blabbed all over the community.  The kind of friend that felt like a sister.

Thirty-some years ago, Papa and I were new to the suburbs, fresh out of military life. He hit the ground running with his new career choice.  We purchased our very first house and started making it our home.

High on our list of priorities was finding a church where we would fit in and we succeeded, even though it was a small congregation consisting mainly of older folks. They welcomed us with open arms and we developed a solid friendship with a couple who just happened to live not far from us in the same suburb.

I don’t remember the exact moment Papa and I met my kind-hearted friend and her jovial husband, but oh, I do remember the many sweet memories we made with them.  Church gatherings, church camp outings, lots of dinners and birthday celebrations, backyard bar-be-cues, pumpkin picking, hay rides, and just visits between good friends.

My poised and lovely friend with a heart of gold and her fun-loving husband became some of our closest companions. They were abroad for a year when our second child was born, and we missed them terribly.  A happy reunion followed their return to the United States. 

They shared our joy when our third child arrived, and their teenage girls became not only our little ones’ favorite babysitters, but special to us as we loved them like family. We still share that bond today with these three special women.

My friend, a devoted pre-school teacher/director, created so many interesting and fun activities for my children.  Carving names on still green pumpkins in our friends’ garden to come back later when the pumpkins were ripe and pick one that had your very own name on it delighted our children.  They loved going to our friends’ home. 

In her always thinking of others way, my friend saved my sanity on more than one occasion. Trying to care for three rambunctious children with a traveling husband and no family nearby sometimes proved exhausting and trying for me.

So I jumped at the suggestion she made that their family keep our three young ones overnight, so Papa and I could have some grown-up time and a night on the town by ourselves. I honestly am not sure who had the better time, our children or us!

It wasn’t the only time she came to my rescue. On my birthday, she took my children to her home so I could enjoy a little peace and quiet and while they were there, she helped them bake and decorate a cake for me.

Her entire family helped us move from our small house to a bigger one in another suburb of the city. They helped me pack our belongings, watched our children (even with chicken pox at the time) while we loaded up our household goods, physically helped us move furniture and boxes, and set up the beds so we could sleep in our new house that night.

Those were just a few of the thoughtful ways my friend and her family loved us. And I loved her back so much, not just for the ways she helped me but because of her servant’s heart and her sweet and kind personality.  

She was a lifetime kind of friend and her husband was a wonderful friend to mine. I thought I would have more time to spend with her and hoped some of her endearing qualities would rub off on me. But that wasn’t the case.

Papa received a job promotion/transfer that would take us from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest. Leaving our friends was extremely difficult for me because it was like leaving family.

Shortly before we boarded an airplane to our new home out West, we joined our friends for dinner in their home. They greeted us with a ‘goodbye, good luck, we’ll miss you’ sign (the above photo) and we departed with a few tears and promises to always keep in touch.

And that we did. We kept our friendship alive despite the distance. After six years in the west, Papa and I made the life-changing decision to quit the job, sell the house, and move all the way across the country to our home state to be closer to family.  And our Midwest friends graciously opened their home to us to spend the night there on our journey eastward.

We arrived at their home on a Sunday afternoon and they surprised us with a picnic with all of our old church family in attendance. What joy it was to visit with them all, and it felt like we had never left.

That was almost 20 years ago. Since then much has transpired.

A phone call shocked us to hear that my friend’s dearly loved husband suddenly and very unexpectedly passed away. My heart ached for her and her daughters and we grieved for our friend whose life was cut so short so soon after retiring from teaching. 

Our letters became once-yearly at Christmas time, but my gracious friend and I still kept in touch and with the emergence of Facebook, I and all three of my children kept contact with her three daughters.  

We even enjoyed a visit here in our home from my beloved friend a few years after her husband passed away. Again, it seemed like we had never been parted. Conversation was always so easy and so enjoyable.

She journeyed here to see us one more time with her oldest daughter and grand-daughter for the wedding of our oldest daughter almost five years ago – the last of our three weddings that year.

Seeing those friends step into our church prior to the ceremony brought tears of happiness to my eyes. I think that was one of the most beautiful characteristics of my friend – she loved making others happy.

It was delightful to introduce them to family and friends at the reception. An added gift was visiting with them the next day as well, reminiscing and just enjoying each other’s company as we always have.

You see time and distance never erases a blessed friendship. And like we do so often in life, I just expected there would be other times, other reunions, other opportunities to talk and share.  But that wasn’t to be.

My friend, my dear and special friend, recently suffered a massive stroke, and while we all prayed for her and her family, she passed from this world to the next last week. It grieves my heart that I cannot attend her memorial service this weekend to celebrate the thoughtful and loving life she lived, hug her three daughters and three grand-daughters tightly in person, and be a source of support for them like their sweet mother and grandmother was for me all those years ago.

Instead all I can do is pray for their comfort and peace, thank the Lord for the blessing that was my treasured friend, and be grateful that she is reunited with her loving husband and most importantly, face to face with our Savior.

And so, I must say “Goodbye again, my friend, for now. I will miss you. But we will meet again someday. Until then, you will always have a place in my heart and in my memories. I am a better person because you were in my life.”

“Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

©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

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