Friday, December 21, 2012

O Tannenbaum



Cold rain pelted down as we trudged through row after row of trees at the Christmas tree farm. The wind blew relentlessly, further dampening our spirits with each downpour. Our quest for the perfect tree was relentless, until we finally settled on a huge white pine.

Out came the chain saw as the tree was unceremoniously cut down. In my excitement, I thought it looked even bigger as it was carried to the trailer. But we finally had our tree!

Rain fell continuously all day, so the tree was too wet to bring into the house that day. Peering through the dark when I came home the next evening, I saw that the trailer in the driveway was empty. They had brought the tree in!


I walked into the house and immediately smelled fresh pine. Its heady scent was wonderful! As I went into the living room, I stopped in my tracks. This tree was enormous! How is it that the trees always seem bigger when we get them home? I walked around the tree, looking up and feeling astonished at its height, but secretly joyous, too. I felt confident I could make it into the most beautiful Christmas tree ever!


We always have to have a really big tree, and this one might just be the biggest one we’ve ever had. It towers into the peak of our ceiling, in all its wild and natural beauty. Even undecorated, I welcomed this beautiful specimen into my living room.

It’s never easy to decorate a tree this size, and the living room is filled with ladders as we try to drape lights over boughs more than a dozen feet off the ground. This tree tops out at more than fifteen feet tall, and there’s really no way to reach the peak to add a tree topper. That should dispel the annual argument of angel-verses-star for the top of the tree; there won’t be either one. It’s just too hard to reach!

Finally the lights are on, and the boxes of ornaments begin to empty. It will take most of my collection of more than 400 ornaments to make this tree look full. And believe me when I say it takes at least a few days to hang this many ornaments on the tree.


But with diligence, it’s beginning to look like a Christmas tree as cherished ornaments are unwrapped one by one along with the stories they hold. In addition, a few new ornaments are also added each year. Some treasured ornaments are older than I am. Others commemorate the first Christmas of each of our sons. 

Many ornaments are hand made, but the collection includes lot of glass ones, too. Three have broken already this year, slipping off the smooth pine boughs even as they were hung. It seems to be an annual ornament casualty count at our house.

Sometimes ornaments are given to me by friends and family, knowing that I have a large tree and might have room for some they no longer wish to display.

All are welcome on my tree, and the finishing touch will be to drape the garlands of beads and ribbons. To be honest, my first thought for decorating this tree when I saw it in m living room was to keep it a rustic woodland tree by simply stringing popcorn and cranberries in garlands to drape over the boughs.

While that design would have been simply lovely, it wouldn’t have been our traditional tree. You see, we really decorate the tree, putting more decorations on our tree than anyone I know. Each treasured ornament gets placed lovingly, proudly displayed for the holiday.

When the decorating is complete, I will share some more pictures. So, if you’d like to check back, you can see what the finished masterpiece looks like. It truly is a labor of love, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.



Well, I’d better get back to decorating my tree. I hope you treasure the simple joys of this holiday season; spending time with family and friends, and all of your special traditions. I pray the greatest gift you receive this Christmas is the gift of Peace, which comes if we keep our focus on the true reason for the season.



Many blessings to your and your loved ones. And a very Merry Christmas! 

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Best Laid Plans...


We sat around the Thanksgiving table, tummies full and satisfied, and contemplated our next Christmas Tree Adventure. We could all go the next day! The whole family was together, and after all, it used to be our tradition to cut our Christmas tree on the day after Thanksgiving.

No, we decided, let’s go on Dec. 8th.  Everyone will be home again so we can all go together, just like old times. While everyone made it home, Dec. 8th came and went with other projects taking up all the hours of daylight. So new plans were made for the following  morning to get our tree.

I awoke before dawn, excited and happy that we would finally go looking for our Christmas tree. I had made many calls to area tree farms, and scouted out the biggest fir trees. Unfortunately, the best ones were an hour away, and no one wanted to drive that far. It was raining, after all, with snow falling further up north. One son was too sick to go. And so on.

So a smaller group of us ventured out.  We weren’t told the truth about the size of the fir trees at the alternate place I chose to go, so we trudged around in the icy rain trying to find a pine. The rain gradually turned to snow, and finally was looking pretty, but by that time we were all soaked to the skin, frozen, and ready to go home. Without a tree.

You see, I had to get ready for performing in a concert that afternoon. And none of the trees met our height criteria. So sadly, we left without a tree. It was a quiet ride home.

I haven’t given up. We will get our Christmas tree. It’s just that sometimes all the best laid plans often go astray. I still have hope. I know I will find the perfect tree. I have to. It's my favorite job, and I won't give up.

The desire for a perfect tree has led us on Christmas tree adventures in four different states. Our first family adventure began when we chose a wild specimen in California’s Sierra foothills. It was the two of us then, and our firstborn son all bundled in blankets, trekking through the beautiful, mountainous countryside. We were quite adventurous in those days.

Our next adventures led us through long treks in the rolling Oregon hills looking for the perfect tree, now with two little ones in two. Over hill and dale, first carrying the little one and then, as they grew, letting them run on their own. Sometimes it took hours to find the perfect tree. But it was a wonderful family adventure.
  
The next state had us toting three boys along; and finally, back in our home state, I remember a very snowy December day when our last baby had to be bundled in so many blankets I could hardly hold onto him. It was snowing like crazy, and the trees were so laden with snow that we had to brush them off with our mittens to see what their shape was like. That was 15 years ago, and that baby is a teenager now.


Oh, there have been so many Christmases and so many Christmas tree adventures. I have gained a reputation for taking way too long to choose a tree, but it must be the perfect tree! And while I get chided for taking too long, they are the first to refute if the tree I choose isn't a big enough when I choose a nice ten footer!



So, back to the drawing board. We will get our tree. This week. I hope. With a tree that large, it takes time to decorate. I'll keep you all posted on our progress. And yes, of course I'll provide pictures. 


Until then, happy decorating (and baking and shopping). In all of our preparations, let's make sure to take time to prepare our hearts for the true Joy of the Season. However you celebrate, remember the reason for the season. We need to make time to focus our hearts on the Peace that this season brings. That will carry us through all of the best laid plans. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Art of Compromise


Today’s the day! The whole family is home and soon we will hook up the trailer and go on our annual Christmas Tree Adventure!

This year I’ve decided I want a large fir tree. A VERY large fir tree. So we are venturing up north, since fir trees really aren’t grown very much down here. I’ve heard scary stories of Christmas tree farms having dead or dying trees due to the drought this summer, so I hope our hour long trek will not be in vain.

In order to have this adventure today, I will have to miss the Children’s Christmas Program at my church this morning. This is heartbreaking for me, because hearing the children sing is like angel voices to me.

But we couldn’t get organized to get our crew on the road yesterday. And all the family is still here today. I woke early feeling the spirit nudging me to accept that sometimes you have to give up something in order to get something else.

Recently I had the opportunity to perform in a local production of The Sound of Music. The experience was fantastic, and I wouldn’t have missed it! But in order to sing as a nun I had to give up some of my regular singing gigs, namely church and the annual Christmas Tree lighting and caroling in my own town.

It was hard to let that go. And yet, if I hadn’t taken the initiative to try something new, I never would have had the amazing experience I had in this professional theatrical production. Now I see this echoed in my choice to be with family today.

I’ll have to get the crew up and on the road early, because I have another performance this afternoon in a nearby city, this time with my local Choral Union. This one I can’t miss. So, despite the fact that it’s raining instead of snowing, I still have hope. There are snowflakes mixed in with the rain, and hopefully, further north it will be all snow.

I’m actually really a bit unnerved that this metaphor for giving something up to gain something is meant to be much further reaching in my life. There is no way to know what the future will offer, yet I ponder it nearly every day. Perhaps this acceptance of change will help to free my spirit; to just live every day and not have concern about what I might have to sacrifice to get what I want.

But then, perhaps we are not meant to get everything we want. But I know that God truly does provide what we need. And He knows our need, even before we do. I find that a great comfort, don’t you?



I’ll let you know tomorrow how the annual Christmas Tree hunt comes out. Until then, my friends, happy compromises.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Climb Every Mountain


Photo of Mt. McKinley courtesy of Ed & Bunny Cooke

Sunday Scripture

and a

Song

 "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,
 from whence cometh my help.
 My help cometh from the Lord
which made heaven and earth."
Psalm 121: 1-2 (KJV)

One of my favorite verses, this time quoted from the King James Bible.
In the stage version of The Sound of Music, one of the Sisters quotes this passage before the Von Trapp family flees over the mountains. Though this isn't how the story unfolded in
real life, it does make for a great moment in the play. 
Climb Every Mountain


Subscribers please click on Hope to find to view this video. Thank You!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

An Attitude of Gratitude



It’s beginning to simmer. Do you feel it? The start of the holiday season and its hectic demand on our time. Already feeling pulled in three different directions at once, something has to give. Unfortunately what gives is my peace. I need to find it and get it back.

With so much vying for our time, how can we find a moment to cultivate peace? A moment is really all it takes. Just a moment to say thank you, to realize gratefulness in the simplest of things.

Turn on the faucet, and clear, fresh water streams out. Not everyone in the world has this luxury, so be thankful. The frig is so full of food for the holiday that it’s truly crammed. Oh, so much food to be thankful for!



My sons are home and my house is full, even if only for a couple of days. The two middle boys, now young men, still have the job of peeling potatoes for the holiday meal. What joy to have these six foot plus giants in my kitchen, when I remember them hanging on my legs in the days before they cast such a big shadow .


The pressure to make it all perfect has to give way to the joy of the moment. Savor it, for it will soon be gone to yesterday and the moment is gone. Take the time to look each one in the eye, and find out where they truly are in life today. Laugh and joke, and love.

Each day holds hundreds of opportunities to cultivate a grateful heart. Why is it easy to only see what needs fixing and mope or complain about what we can’t have? The best ‘fix’ may be an attitude of gratitude.

Finding opportunities in the everyday to be thankful, truly grateful, focuses attention on the positive instead of belaboring the negative.

As we gather to share hearth and home, and a feast that could feed a small village, I pray that the moments of gratefulness we share as we indulge in our meal and our fellowship will carry into the days that follow.

My prayer is for God to open my eyes to the littlest of gifts, those that might otherwise go unnoticed, and cause me to pause and give thanks for these moments in life. It really is the little things that make up a life of gratitude. And saying thanks is a prayer of praise worthy of our humble hearts.



Blessings to all, in the spirit of the season. May your lives be blessed with fruitfulness, and may you grow in appreciation for the little things that bring joy and appreciation for the moments in which we live.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Do Not Be Discouraged




Sunday Scripture

and a

Song



The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. 
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV


Listen and believe in this Truth
Sung by Meredith Andrews
Not For a Moment (After All)



Subscribers click on Hope to find to view this video on my blog - thanks!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

It’s the Little Things



Do you find God in the little things of life? I believe we need to be mindful of our situation in order to have the awareness to let the Spirit move us. If this sounds confusing, let me share with you what happened to me yesterday morning.

I decided to take the time to go for a walk. It was cold, just below freezing, so I dug out the array of winter scarves, hats and gloves. I brought along some extra clothes, and drove to a nearby park.

Listening to KLOVE while I drove into the park, a woman shared a cute story of how her daughter was outside as the hurricane blew in. She was out there shouting praises to God with all of her little voice. When her mother asked why, the little girl said, “Because the Bible tells us we should praise God in the storm!”

That story made me laugh, and sure enough, right afterward the DJ played Casting Crowns’ “Praise You in this Storm”. So here I am sitting in my SUV in the parking lot at Fox River Park, singing with all my heart, with my hands raised, praising God, and I see a couple walk by on a nearby trail. Hmmm, I wonder if they saw me. Oh, well. I kept right on singing.

It came to the part in the song that contains one of my favorite scriptures: “I lift my eyes unto the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth”.  And just as I am singing and praising God, a beautiful hawk flies into view, rising over the parking area, soaring low, right in front of where I was parked. He soared slowly, almost hovering, it seemed, and I could clearly see his markings as he faced headlong into the morning breeze. The moment seemed frozen in time, just me and this beautiful bird, and God filled my heart so much that I began to weep with joy. Powerful emotions of connectedness to God and all living things poured through me, and in those brief moments, I felt my spirit connected with the hawk and with God, and I felt great comfort.

I went on my walk, pausing at picnic tables and benches to soak up the morning sun and to pray for friends and family and others dealing with difficult situations.  My walk became a meditation, a connection to earth and sky. 

The three-quarter moon hung in the morning sky, though the sun was already bright; and a bank of soft white clouds framed the picture. It felt ethereal, and I gave thanks for this beautiful world that God has given us to live on.  I was filled with a sense of wonder and awe that we should be so blessed to have this beauty while we are yet on this earth.


The truth is, I could just as easily have stayed home on my computer and whiled away the hours. I’m speaking from experience here. But I am so glad that I chose to go for a walk with God in the morning. There are many things vying for our time, and we have to choose to make time for moments like these that nourish our spirit. 



If you’ve ever had an experience like this, a God moment, won't you share your story? If you would like to, you can post in the comments below so others can read it, too (you can even post anonymously if you'd like).

I think what makes a God moment is perhaps not that we were looking for God in that moment, but that He came to us, with a gentle nudge, a whisper in a glorious sunset, or a song to let us know that we are not alone, we are never alone. In that moment we feel a tremendous connection to Spirit, and the after effect is a blessed peacefulness.

Take time, make time, to be alone with your God. Pour out your heart to Him, and then be still. Answers may not come right away, but know that He hears us, and rest in the comfort of His love, for that is ever present.

I'll check back later to read your stories. Right now, I think I'll go take a walk.

  
Here is a link to a 'When We LIft Our Eyes' where I shared the scripture I mentioned above, along with a beautiful song by Bebo Norman. Or go to 'Praise God through the Storm' to hear Casting Crowns' "Praise You in this Storm" and enjoy a beautiful video.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Seasons of Change




Autumn leaves fall like rain outside my window. Fierce winds strip the trees of their Autumn splendor, carpeting the lawn in rich colors of the season.  The colorful canopies are stripped bare, leaving naked branches reaching to the sky. Why must the seasons pass so quickly?



The little boys who once played in the leaves are now young men finding their way in the world. Special family members who guided our lives for decades now whisper to us from Heaven.


All is as it should be, and yet, a lingering sadness can consume me if I allow it. But I know wishing for times gone by is a futile waste of my thoughts and energy. I cherish my memories, and treasure all the wonderful joys a lifetime brings.



It helps to keep myself in this moment, enjoying the dance of the leaves as they are freed from their summer perch. I will go out and crunch through the fallen piles of summer’s glory, now crisp and crackly and heaped ankle deep in the woods.



Every season has its beauty, and each moment of life is meant to be savored. If we are to live and love and grow as we amble along life’s path, we must pause to let the beauty of living soak deeply into our lives.






So rushed are we that we miss the artistry of the ever changing sky. Sunrises and sunsets mark only the length of days when we rush by them. 

But if we linger, and soak up the colors and the promise of a glorious sunrise; or pause to watch the sun slowly sink into a breath-taking sunset, our spirit is blessed.


Life is meant to be savored. Beauty, and love; friendship, and reaching out to those in need, these are the food for our soul. We must nurture who we are from the inside out. And this includes enriching our lives with these soul-satisfying moments. They are just as important as nourishing food is for energizing our physical bodies.

Energizing our spirit, knowing true peace, pausing to breathe and being thankful for the gifts of beauty, love, and life itself, brings our focus into the moment. The world around is ever-changing. What remains as our constant is our connection to self.


Mindfulness and living in the moment help us to slow the pace, just a little, allowing  time to savor the delicate beauty that is life. We must be purposeful in searching out those moments that rest our thoughts, and calm our spirit.

Perhaps by adapting our lifestyles to mindfulness, we can slow the pace just a little bit, and capture the beauty of the seasons of our lives before they too quickly pass by.


If we offer a thankful heart when beauty touches our lives, we can, for that moment, slow down the passage of time.

Savor the moment, and capture the feeling. The peace will stay with you long after the moment has passed. And nestled deep in your spirit, it will help to heal the rush of life passing by too quickly, like the dizzying swirl of falling leaves.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

What Do You Hunger For?


Sunday Scripture

and a

Song

I believe God puts a hunger in each of us that cries out against injustice, with a desire for what is right to prevail. I believe we are meant for peace, and that our purpose in this life to is to ease the suffering of those around us. 

If we are to live rightly, then we must honor our deepest desire for a world where suffering and hatred would cease; where the oneness of all living things would be honored and cherished. And I believe this begins within each one of us.



"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled." Matthew 5:6 (NIV)


"Blessed Are the Ones" by Audrey Assad

Subscribers please click on Hope to find to view this video on my blog site.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Absolute Truth



Unseen forces pull at my heart, putting thoughts into my head that tell me I should be dissatisfied with my life.  Does this ever happen to you? Things seem to be going along swimmingly, and then something happens that causes me to feel angry or neglected. 

I become overwhelmed with angry feelings, and words slip through my lips that should never have been uttered. Is there any hope for me to gain control? Am I destined to be the unwitting pawn in this game of emotional chess?

I believe there is an absolute truth in the reality which we live, and that Truth comes from God alone. So many forces vie for our time, our talents, and our resources, and we can feel pulled in too many directions. Sometimes I feel myself become weary of trying to please everyone, and wonder, “what about me?” 

I have come to realize that this is the time to check my focus. Just whom am I trying to please? If I can keep God as a constant on my radar, then I don’t need to push beyond where I sense His Presence. 

When I am challenged, the first thing I should do is ask, how can this please God? How does this serve Him? Is what I am doing worthy of His glory? 

Too often I run off on my own, taking on too many tasks, or fighting my own battles, when all I need to do is turn my thoughts to God, and I am calmed. Sometimes I feel embarrassed that I forgot, again, to come to Him first.

When I keep His Presence in my heart, the power of His Counselor, the Holy Spirit, is always just a thought away, with answers to help me and guide me. It’s so simple, really. I make it much harder than it needs to be. 


The absolute truth is God’s word, and His work in my life. If I can keep my focus where it needs to be, on Him, and not on the ways of the world, I won’t be tempted by the unwritten desires of my heart. 

God will fill me with His love and peace, and the forces that would compete to destroy my serenity are vanquished. 


It takes effort to slow down, and to connect with God on every thought. But soon it becomes habit, and it would feel awkward to make an important decision without persistent prayer. When joys touch my life, my first thought should be gratitude to God. This connection is an endless cycle that keeps my focus where it needs to be, and honestly, brings out the best in me.

As hard as it is to do, when I get angry and lose my composure, I need to stop and pray. It seems to be a constant battle to control my sensibilities. And I want to feel in control. 


I have learned that the only way to be in control is to surrender my free will to the One who knows me better than I know myself. God would never steer me wrong, and He always knows my need. It is empowering and freeing to know that I can be in control simply by asking for God’s help. 


Take the time to open your heart to Him. Tell Him everything on your mind. He already knows, but coming to Him in this way assures your trust in Him. Pour out your feelings, and even in the depths of despair, you may know a peace beyond understanding. God is worthy of our time and attention, and He is waiting to hear from us. 


Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Refuge in a Weary World


Sunday Scripture

and a

Song

"Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
    for my hope is in him.
 


He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress where I will not be shaken.
 My victory and honor come from God alone.
    He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.


O my people, trust in him at all times.
    Pour out your heart to him,
    for God is our refuge. "

Psalm 62:5-8 (NLT)

****************************

Enjoy the beautiful piano accompaniment in this introspective song by Audrey Assad 
"O My Soul"


Subscribers please click on Hope to find to view this video on my blog site. Thank You!