For the Bitter and the Sweet

Coffee on the veranda

I pick up my scorched oven mitts off the damp, October ground, leaving flakes of charred material and black soot on the earth to mark the spot. There since midnight, they are a testament to the previous night’s disaster. Bright red cloth contrasting with charcoal black. Stationary, since I threw them out the door, onto the step and then again onto the grass where I proceeded to hose them down until the flames subsided—all after they had caught on fire from the heat emitted from my oven burner. And this: because I had brushed the knob of the burner (ever so gently) as I reached into the cupboard for a bowl. Having sat back down at my computer to type, I was oblivious to the smolder, until smoke began to curl around the cupboard, up toward the ceiling: alerting me to the calamity.

If I had only:
Not wanted a cookie.
Not reached for the bowl.
Not brushed the knob.
Not left the oven mitts on the burner.

If I had only.

Life is wrought with “if onlys”.

This week has been a series of unfortunate events, a series of “if onlys”…or so it seems. There is always something to complicate the day. Be that arriving late for appointments, forgetting appointments, or scheduling too many appointments. Be that day-to-day complications like not enough sleep, sickness and low energy. Be that bigger-than-everyday complications like additional work meetings, late night projects, lost luggage, health concerns, and worries that go deeper than surface level. Add to the list, if you will: parenting issues, relationship issues, marriage issues. Life.

There is just always something.

How can we say thanks when life is just not what we want it to be? How can we say thanks when things are just not how we wish they were? How can we say thanks when we don’t FEEL particularly thankful for everything we’ve been given? Giving thanks for both the little things on our ever filling plate…along with the bigger things that make our lives chaotic and stressful?

Is it even possible?

I wake up in the morning to the smell of the charred remains of the previous day. Add to this, the cheesecake boiled over in the oven last night so I now realize that I have the pleasure of a pre-breakfast, ‘make-work’ project. I can now officially confirm that I will be late for church. And on the very day that I have to lead the singing.

I can feel the resentment rising within. Give thanks for this?

How easily I forget that gratitude is a state of the heart. A choice of the soul embracing life in its fullness, both the bitter and the sweet. Joel Osteen: “One of the main reasons that we lose our enthusiasm in life is because we become ungrateful..we let what was once a miracle become common to us. We get so accustomed to his goodness it becomes a routine..”

Life is hard. Of a truth: it is not easy. But it is always a miracle, a gift to have the opportunity to live.

The air in our lungs.
The roof over our head.
The clothes that cover.
The shoes that fit.
The water we drink.
The food we intake.
For the everyday, commonplace miracles of life.  For both the bitter and the sweet.
We are eternally grateful.

This thanksgiving I offer gratitude for the miracles. Everyday and otherwise. They are what cause me to remember how much I have.

And impress on me how much I must be grateful.

Notice Me

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Come look at me, they cry out. Little voices calling, tiny hands reaching for my own much larger one. Watch me on the money bars, the slide, the firepole. Watch me! Notice Me! See me!

A little one comes up to me, (I know not who she is), but she has a sweet innocent face and the clearest eyes—it is almost that I can see right through to her soul. And she is calling out to me.

Watch me, she says.

I watch.

I follow her little body as it rounds the Jungle Gym, makes its way up the stairs and ends up at the tippy-top of the Fire Pole. She glances over at me to make sure that my eyes are fixed on her. They are indeed. When she is sure that I will not waver in my gaze, she grasps the pole and wraps her little legs around securely. Woosh. She is down in a second and off and running to a new adventure.

To teach is to examine humanity at its rawest, most unadulterated form. Children are a study in innocence and purity. They are authentic and genuine. And what they want more than anything is for us to notice. They want for us to notice them, notice their antics, their comings and goings. To be attentive. To watch and consider their ways. To be mindful. To be aware of what it is they care about.

Children want us to see them.

We all want this, if we were truthful. We want to be seen. We crave recognition. My own child comes home from school today and says in passing that it is easy to get lost in the sea of bodies.

No one can really notice you for all the people, says the Child.

It takes practice to notice people. I have written the following and I stand by these words today:

“We are not taught to notice, we are taught to do. Told to get out our pencil and pens. Get out our paper, and write. Read. Discuss. Speak. Told to turn to page five and then fashion a paragraph. Told to answer six questions on page 32.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to act. Told to cut and shape. Mold and make. Told to fashion that school bus craft just as we’re told. Told to fold the paper along the crease. Told to colour in the lines.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to perform. Told to sit right, listen up, shut up, straighten up, fly right. Told to mind our manners, watch our tongue, keep it down, watch out.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to produce. To achieve, churn out, give up, construct and generate.
But we are not taught to notice.
Have we ever stopped to consider that noticing precedes doing? And yet, we are not taught that this act in itself is essential. We are encouraged rather to act. To get things done. To carry out both our will as well as that of those in authority over us.”

We must take time to notice. Our children are pleading for us to do them this one humanitarian service. We must notice them with our whole being, eyes and ears wide open. Watching them not with a gaze of half-hearted interest, but with a whole-hearted, complete understanding of the incredible gift of attentiveness and genuine care with which we’ve been vested.

Noticing takes time and practice. It demands our attention. We must be deliberate and intentional in our practice. But the pay off for our children in investing this service is mind-boggling.

Who can even imagine (can conjure up the images) the gifts that even one child could offer to the world someday…and all because we took the seconds, minutes, hours…took the time:

To really notice.

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Be a Noticer

“The real heroes anyway aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention. The guy who invented the smallpox vaccine didn’t actually invent anything. He just noticed that people with cowpox didn’t get smallpox.” — Augustus Waters, in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars

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We are almost there.
It’s almost that time of year again, Students. And while you’re probably not even thinking about sitting in class behind a desk, not anxious yet to trade in summer for fall: I am already there in my mind. It’s already happening.
I am already planning and thinking and wondering and hoping. I am already imagining you.
I wonder who you are, what makes you tick, what you like, where you live. Are you a morning person or a late-night owl; are you funny, are you loud? Do you have any fears of your own? Are you ready for this next chapter of your life to open wide and be written?
Who are you?
And while we might have never met, I do have one thing I want to offer you right now, before everything begins again and we are caught up in the surge of emotion that accompanies each given school year.
My biggest hope for you—what I want for you even before I have met you and come to know your unique personality and particular way of knowing, is that you be a ‘noticer’. A ‘see’-er of life.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to do. Told to get out our pencil and pens. Get out our paper, and write. Read. Discuss. Speak. Told to turn to page 5 and then fashion a paragraph. Told to answer six questions on page 32.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to act. Told to cut and shape. Mold and make. Told to fashion that school bus craft just as we’re told. Told to fold the paper along the crease. Told to colour in the lines.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to perform. Told to sit right, listen up, shut up, straighten up, fly right. Told to mind our manners, watch our tongue, keep it down, watch out.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to produce. To achieve, churn out, give up, construct and generate.
But we are not taught to notice.
Have we ever stopped to consider that noticing precedes doing? And yet, we are not taught that this act in itself is essential. We are encouraged rather to act. To get things done. To carry out both our will as well as that of those in authority over us.
Students, if I can ask of you just this: learn to notice the world around you. Learn to watch more carefully, listen more closely, feel more deeply, understand more fully.
Watch with both your eyes and ears. Use all the senses that have been gifted you.
Listen with both your ears and your heart.
Feel others pain and joy with compassion and care.
Understand that this life is not just about you—it is about a world around you full of people and living things that beg for you to notice them.
We have not been shown well, not really been taught how to notice the people and world around us. You can change this pattern, Student. You can be the one to do things differently.
One smart decision at a time.

Hope Springs Eternal

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
– Alexander Pope
image retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk

The ants are in my dahlias and they are killing my beautiful flowers. I bought the two small pots earlier in the summer on a whim— something to brighten my doorstep. I didn’t even know what colour they would turn out to be but was quite delighted when their copper tones began to peek from out of the foliage.  Now, these beautiful plants are being overrun with tiny little killers which crawl in and out of broken stems as if on a mission, while wilted blossoms droop in support of their fragile stems. I am no gardener, I am afraid. I love to have beautiful things surround me, but my green thumb is non-existent. I water and shade and protect from the elements, but when it comes to predators, I feel helpless to defend. I want to do something, but what?

A quick search on Google suggest pesticides, but there are also downsides to using these as well. What to do?

In spite of it all— despite the abuse and the odds racked against them: my poor little plants continue to suffer on, even boasting a few little bulbs that might withstand the dangers. These flowers refuse to bend and break in light of the certain outcome to befall them, if present conditions remain. They carry on. They endure. How lovely to be a flower and not know, not realize what’s coming next.

To not have to prepare for what lies just around the corner.

I talk to her and we circle around the same issues once again. The same heaviness clouding our conversations.  There is little to say sometimes when darkness overshadows. Life and all its accompanying struggles aim to kill joy, diminish our already dwindling supply of hope in the face of certain desolation. Fear, anger, rage, discouragement and despair try to crawl inside even while we fight for courage to persevere. We feel the presence as some kind of malevolence: as if it is a wave that will overtake us. Sometimes we believe that we are being destroyed from the inside out with little recourse other than passive acceptance.

We all need courage. But how is courage acquired?

We all need hope and expectation. But from where is that summoned?

We all need to know there is something worth fighting for. We need to believe that life is worth living. That there is purpose and meaning in our actions and thought. That there is something more.

But from where do we draw this resolve to believe?

I take it all in, the beauty of this late summer day. Wind blowing through the trees, clouds gently floating by. It all seems so idyllic until I turn by gaze back to my doorstep and these pitiful dahlias.

But nature has a way of replenishing itself. When grass dies, there is always new growth. When trees lose their leaves in autumn, new buds emerge in spring. When flowers die, new blossoms eventually appear. Renewal and revival are part of the process of life. In the very same ways, the soul needs to believe in hope just as the natural world aches for rebirth and new beginnings.

Some inspiration for today taken from David’s psalms.

Psalm 121 (NIV)

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from?

 

2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber;

 

4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

 

5 The LORD watches over you– the LORD is your shade at your right hand;

 

6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

 

7 The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life;

 

8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

And more comfort still…

Psalm 91 (NIV)

1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

 

2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

 

3 Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.

 

4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.

 

5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,

 

6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.

 

7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.

 

8 You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.

 

9 If you make the Most High your dwelling– even the LORD, who is my refuge–

 

10 then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.

 

11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;

12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

 

13 You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

 

14 “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.

 

15 He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.

 

16 With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

Like the wind and the waves in nature, I will carry on. Like the flower in spring, hope will always emerge from the blackness of the earth.

Courage is ours for the taking. Quitting is not an option.

Take heart, dear one.

Hold On

“When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on”
― Theodore Roosevelt

retrieved from woman.thenest.com

I am sitting at the back of the Bayliner, watching the waves gently rock us to and fro as we idle in the water. Husband is at the helm, and I am flanked by three of our four children. The Other is awkwardly sitting in the river with water-skis attached to her feet. She bobs like a buoy as she awaits the pull of the boat. The call comes for her to ready herself and I can almost feel her nerves—taut and anxious as she grasps on the two-way handle-bar. There is a split-second, a moment where we all are unsure. Will she gain the momentum necessary? Will she hold on? Will she right herself in time? Will she let go?

We pull ahead with a forceful thrust and she dives into the water, side-long or head first. I cannot recall. This, an unplanned entry either the route. The same procedure begins again. The boat pulling around in a circle while the tow rope slowly makes its way towards her through the water. Her arms reaching and then grabbing onto the tow line, holding on as if for dear life. The tense moment of waiting and then the lunge forward.

The boat pulls as if hauling a butterfly. But she again is unable to manage the propulsion. She slips and topples back into the water. (Thankful for a patient teacher in her Dad.)

This holding on and letting go is taking its toll, is trying her patience; but I can see that she is determined. Even when the drift takes us into murky seaweed. Even when she falls for the eighth time. Even when. She is discouraged but not deterred.

One more try.

She finally makes it upright after her ninth attempt, and we all cheer ecstatically from the sidelines. You can see even from a distance that she is very pleased with this accomplishment. So she should be. She has held on and we are moving forward through clear waters, nothing but sunshine and blue skies overhead.

Holding on is hard work, but it is worth it. It requires grit, stamina, tenacity and determination. We have to have resolve. And when we let go our grasp, it is just as crucial that we reclaim our former position and hold on that much tighter the second, third, fourth time around. Because life is not just about holding on—it’s about getting back up again after we’ve had to let go.

There is much to fight for in this life, much for us to fight for and hold on to:

-Our sense of purpose
-Our independence
-Our freedom
-Justice
-Relationships
-The future
-Our faith in Providence and humanity

Whatever the reason that you are still holding on, take heart and keep on keeping on. Don’t be discouraged in your efforts. Holding on is tedious, strenuous work, but it is worth it. Holding keeps us positioned, enables us to move forward, brings us closer to our goals. Holding is the most difficult thing we might ever have to do, but when we fight for what we believe is worth it, we discover something else in the process: holding on is beneficial for our character, too. In holding, we develop courage. And courage gives us hope.

Whatever you are fighting to find or seeking to reclaim, just hold on.

You’ll make it.

On Beauty in Sadness

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We spend much of our time pursuing happiness, joy, contentment. Peaceful bliss. But what of the experience that sadness brings? When grief descends upon us, enveloping with a haze of memories and emotions, do we try to escape its embrace? Do we turn our hearts from pain? Shelter our feelings from any knowledge of the unpleasant?

The sun blazes down. It is a scorcher of a day- 30 degrees in the city, where we find ourselves looking for one particular church. We are headed for a celebration of fifty years of married life, an occasion designed to praise the commitment two people made to forge a  jointly-lived life complete with its joys and sorrows. Complete with its highs and lows. But for today, of course, perspective is largely focused on the bliss. Attention is given to the delight found in exquisite beauty cultivated from meshing two lives into one.

These are for them the golden years. Just like the song says.

But there is something about the lyrics so sweetly sung by a daughter and her father that make me turn my eyes away. I find tears would come quickly- too easily, but for my attempt to re-focus my attention on the people around me. I scan the room while the duo at the front bring their song to a close. This music- it ignites within memories and feelings that are particularly tender and vulnerable today, a day marking another kind of anniversary. An anniversary within an anniversary.

Two months. Fifty-two years.

It suffices to say: it has been a beautiful day; but it has also been a difficult day.

I hear myself offering a word and the possibility for quenching the dark cloud: “I don’t want you to feel sad” I say to the one I love. But I wonder within the moment if this is truly wise. We must feel the melancholy that searing sadness and pain can bring. For grief is what helps us heal; it is what enables us to feel better. It is what enables us to find joy again. Rejecting those early feelings of seeming despondency so as to only accept the forced happiness we crave is to reject the necessary emotion that enables us to mend our broken hearts. Sadness serves a purpose that joy cannot: it is there to bridge the gap from one joyful moment to the next. Without the sadness, we are often stuck in stagnation. We are immobilized and halted.

We need to let ourselves feel.

Jonathan Safran Foer contends that “You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.” If we are to experience a life rich with emotion, we must allow our hearts to burst with joy when the moment decrees, and then break with sadness when we experience loss and pain. This is all part of being and becoming human. Allowing ourselves to be in the moment who we must be and yet enabling ourselves to become who we are meant to authentically be in response to what is happening in our lives.

This poetic Biblical passage says with eloquence what I am feeling tonight:

A Time for Everything

3 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. (Ecclesiastes Chapter 3: 1-9, NIV)

Everything is beautiful…in its time. Beauty in sorrow. Beauty in delight.

He has made both joy and sadness beautiful in their time.

Precious times, these years…

The other day, I left Alberton with four belligerent children and three others (people who were, incidentally, astonished by the commotion going on in our van). I departed the area absolutely stunned by the severity with which we battle it out over here in the Gard Household: it matters not where we find ourselves. Mill River, Florida, Dominican Republic- you name it. We fought there. Actually, we no sooner hover a toe over the threshold of the van and it is like a switch is turned on inside our brains that releases our inner warrior/dark side. Darth Vader has nothing on this family. We fight about seat positions. Fight about farting. Fight about burping. Fight about whether or not the sun sets in the west and rises in the east (maybe it does/maybe it doesn’t). Fight about music, about books, about universities that ten year olds wish to attend when they are 20.

We fight- and we do so incessantly. And because of this marvelous fun family fact, I can attest to our permanent membership in the infamous FightClub as members in good standing, with our family having the most experience tearing one another’s heads off/emotional collateral.

When I arrived home that particular day of which I write, I literally fell out if the van, a dazed expression on my face and asked my Husband, above the cacophony of noise, if he had missed us all that morning. His reply:

“Like the plague.”

He was not joking. Not even a little bit.

As I was a Kid Vid Cinema leader at DVBS all week, I had the extreme pleasure of waking my children up at what appeared to be twelve hours before daylight (hard to tell as we had no sun at all this week), coaxing them out of their warm, cozy beds (where in sleeping, they could not make any sound of retaliation/noise) and then driving my children plus three to programming at eight (or whenever) every morning- programming which I must admit that I personally enjoyed almost more than the children as I was able to exercise/hone my dance skills each and every day (to the absolute horror/disgust of my two oldest).

The best part of this experience was that this four hour stretch was a glorious time of no fighting. For four hours, my four children were not clawing each other’s eyes out, were not tearing one another apart. And even better, for most of that time, they were someone elses’ responsibility (so even if they did happen to fight, I could feign ignorance and complete unawareness of what was happening). You cannot even imagine what this opportunity meant to a mother like me who has permanent damage in her ear drums from shrill, ear-splitting screams.

DVBS, while similar to real school, is a wonderful opportunity for mothers such as myself to release their precious offspring into the wild, I mean world, for a few brief and precious hours; handing off the responsibility of breaking up their fights, following them around like a hawk, rescuing them from imminent danger, feeding them snacks, protecting them from injury and in general, basking in their presence. They also get to learn, discover and grow spiritually while there. Bonus! And in doing such (that is, releasing them/freeing yourself), they come to find themselves in the extremely competent and capable hands of other adults who do this kind of stuff for free. For any mother, it is a no-brainer.

Next summer, if our numbers haven’t quadrupled by word-of-mouth advertising I will personally sign on for therapy due to stress incurred from shock and surprise.

The fighting unfortunately does resume once the troops have landed back on home soil. I am sorry to say. We have taken to playing a particular hymn called “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love” at meal time. Thankfully there are different versions of the song because for quite a while (until we found an electronic version), Brian just sang it himself. He also has been working on “You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me Lucille” for those days when even the hymn won’t work.

He is learning extra lines of that one.

Interestingly, at bedtime- at the very last possible moment before the kiddos lay their heads on their pillows, there is a brief interlude of peace in which my mind goes blank and I forget any and all bad things that might have happened during the previous fourteen hours. This glorious experience is known as parental amnesia and it is vital to the proper functioning of any mother/father wishing to hang tight for twenty-five or so years of steady parenting and live to talk about it. (Relax: this extended time frame only applies if you have as many kids as me!) Parental amnesia has saved my sanity. It is the reason I poke my head into their rooms each night and say to myself:

“It really wasn’t all that bad of a day”…

…before waking up again the next morning to the precious sounds of kids yelling for their brother/sister to “get out of the bathroom- you’re taking too long!!!!”

Precious times, these years

Guard Your Heart

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Dear Daughter,
I watch you, bare feet running. Long hair swinging. Bright smile shining. Those slender legs that keep you chasing after baseballs, basketballs, volleyballs and bouncy balls. Those hands that touch the keys on our beautiful piano. Hands that swiftly know how to plait a braid of gold or twist a strand of chestnut brown into a bun. You are such a beauty. And I often think how precious you are to me. Right now. Right this moment.
But of course you always have been.
That beautiful baby girl I held in my arms the day after Mother’s Day, thirteen short years past. Tiny bundle of love. Little dark head, which I tucked inside a crocheted pink bonnet no bigger than my palm, two ribbons of pink gently tied beneath your elfin chin. Petite frame- so small that the health nurse wondered if you were starving. Your mama worried she wasn’t feeding you enough, so we supplemented and prayed it would be enough. So much to take in with a fragile baby girl cradled carefully in my arms.
I loved you then. I love you still. I love you even more.
That little toddler who waddled around our house, two fingers firmly fixed inside her little rosebud lips. White blankie trailing close behind. Always ready with an impish smile. That little princess, wearing tutus and fancy dresses and all things frilly and extravagant. The little diva, a girl who always had time for a show, but never wanted to get her own hair brushed. Singing, dancing, performing, entertaining- it was your business many an evening after supper dishes were cleaned and things settled down a notch. Her daddy’s heart wrapped around her baby finger.
That little girl. Where did those tender years go?
After all the gymnastic lessons, figure skating, swimming and soccer days have ended, the elementary school years passed, we are now left staring wide-eyed into the next phase of your life: the teen-aged years.
You are so loved- you always have been. And sweetheart, you always will be. You are ours.
You’ve always been so precious.
Darling Daughter, you are just too precious not to caution and advise. I want you to know that a mama always thinks of what lies just around the corner. And what I see is this:
All things shiny and appealing, but which are not always revealed exactly as they seem.
All things fascinating and interesting, but which are not so exciting as they might offer to be.
All things promising and thrilling, but which are not always as stirring as might have first been pledged.
All things previously prohibited and forbidden, but which now beckon to you with enticement and allure.
All these things- they are not always what they claim to be. There will be lies, false claims and misrepresentations. There will be promises made that might not endure the test of time. Words spoken that will prove to be short-lived and disappointing. Arrangements agreed upon that will not necessarily be followed through. This is the reality of the passage of time and growing up. It is part of the world we belong to: broken promises, shattered dreams and ruined opportunities.
Sometimes in the growing process the floor falls beneath us and our world seems to be caving in around us. This is part and parcel of growing older. There is always the good. But there is the bad as well.
In all of these growing pains, there is one thing of which I must insist. That is, you must work to always keep your heart from damage and harm. And darling, there is only one way to protect your heart. If you can covenant to yourself and to our God that this heart of yours is worth protecting, that it is truly as precious and valued as your daddy and I say it is- that God Himself has said: then you will learn the secret. The secret to nurturing a heart is to safeguard it against anything you know that could intentionally harm it. Guard your heart as if it were fashioned from the most valuable material known to humankind. For in truth- it is. It is the most important part of you. It is where your soul meets before God Himself. It is sacred and holy and precious.
It is the most precious place that lies within you.
Sweetheart, guard your heart as if your life depended on this very act of purposeful intention.
You are getting taller. You are stretching and blossoming into a beautiful young woman. You are no longer my little girl- now my teenager; and we are entering through passageways to different rooms that serve to welcome and greet us both. We are learning how to take this journey together, and I pray we will always walk side-by-side in this excursion. Pray that you will always walk by His side in this journey.
While I learn to let go of your hand little by little, you are coming to find ways in which to hold on to His hand more and more. A Hand so much greater than my own.
I love you now. I will love you still.
Guard your precious heart.
Love ,
Your mama

Dear You (For When You Need A Word of Encouragement)

“Most of us, swimming against the tides of trouble the world knows nothing about, need only a bit of praise or encouragement – and we will make the goal. “ – Jerome Fleishman

Dear You (For When You Need A Word of Praise):

Encouragement is like a love letter to the heart. It instantly lifts. Immediately upholds the soul both in times of mundane living (when the senses have been dulled) as well as supports in times of acute need, where much more intervention is necessary. Encouragement is the Balm of Gilead- the universal cure for the heart’s pain and hurt. It heals, restores, enables, engages. Encouragement is both a consolation as well as a joy to the heart of the hearer. We crave these words of support as we strive to live and press onward in our ordinary day-to-day living- need them even when life becomes complicated and hard to understand. For what we really need is something to persuade us to just.keep.going. We need encouragement.

How we need them, those words of affirmation and confirmation.

I am standing there in the church kitchen wiping dishes, sorting the cutlery into neat piles. Forks, knives, spoons, serving utensils. Routinely wiping and sorting, wiping and sorting…when he comes to stand beside me, an older gentleman whom I am not ordinarily inclined to chat with. We stand for a moment side by side and then he turns to me and says something I am not expecting. I am actually caught off guard for a moment. He tells me that he reads my blog articles and that in the reading, they have somehow meant something to him; enough so that he feels the need to share this sweet word of encouragement with me in this tender moment. He also shares that he reads my writing quite regularly, which is just so touching I cannot keep from smiling as he talks. I have not expected this at all- was not really aware. Nor did I realize how very much I needed this little bit of nudging and support so as to encourage me and spur me on.

After he leaves, I realize that this private exchange had (between two acquaintances) might seem insignificant to anyone but me. I might have continued to think such if I had not opened my email account later on in the day only to find that I had received a message from someone I know not at all. A person who tells me that they weep even as they write the letter- a stranger to me, yet a person willing to bear their soul; in their hurt and pain, the individual expresses to me how the discouragement they are feeling has wounded their spirit. Has all but pushed the individual to make decisions that would change the course of their career path. And it is as if we know each other intimately, for the details of this story are so similar to mine that I could have written the words of this letter myself.

My heart reaches outward. I just wish I knew what to say so as to help lift this individual from the hurt they feel.

In the moments in which I read the words, recalling back to the moments earlier when I was myself encouraged, I start to wonder if what we all need in life is a maybe a cheerleader assigned individually to each and every one of us. An avid personal enthusiast who ‘likes us, loves us, cares for us’- regardless what happens to act as a roadblock in our day-to-day living. Someone who is there behind us as we go through our lives, quietly supporting our work and living, even if from the sidelines. What we need is a devoted advocate who works tirelessly on our behalf. Someone who is willing to champion our cause, form our fan base, work up our support channels. I know I could certainly stand a fan or two such as I have just described.

For is this not what we need so as to be encouraged- an individual supporter or a group of followers to stand behind us as we walk this life’s road? Is this not the ideal?

Certainly, if you take in social media at all, this aspect of forming a fan base with a multitude of followers would appear to be the way to go; for everywhere you turn, there is the call to show support and public praise. It seems to be the sought-after prize these days. Pages on Facebook asking for ‘likes’ or photos on Instagram asking for hearts. Twitter left looking for ‘faves’. We are a people in need of encouragement, driven to rack up our support systems so that it becomes almost a popularity contest; it seems we are willing to do anything to get votes, even to the point of outright begging for them.

Is this what we all need? A fan base based on likes, hearts or favorites? Do we really need the approval of the crowd so as to find encouragement and sustenance for our journey on life’s rocky terrain? And if so, how would one go about getting the numbers so as to make any difference?

If what we need is a fan base, or at the very minimum- A FAN: how would one go about convincing another person to be that fan for them? Persuading another to selflessly act in ways so as to uplift and encourage on a regular basis, as the need arises? And who would we ask- a father or a mother? A best friend, spouse or partner? And what would happen in their absence? Would a sibling fill in? It seems a monumental task trying to derive a consistent base of support from which to draw from when life’s trials and troubles get us down.

Perhaps rather, what we really need so as to lift us from the slump of life’s ho-hum, everyday living is not so much a fan or fan base but this: to be ourselves the encourager, the one behind-the-scenes following and ‘favoriting’ the work of another: the fan of another person who needs a quiet word of encouragement or a humble nudge of approval. So that the work that person is found to be doing can then be acknowledged in some way; so that the life that person is living can be recognized and known. What we all need as a discouraged people is to be the followers of others in our lives so that the one’s we are quietly supporting from the sidelines are shown that THEY ARE TRULY VALUED. So that the people in our lives are shown that they are worth our time and effort. When we offer praise, isn’t it interesting how the focus of our emotions becomes less about us and more and more about the significant others in our lives? It seems that much of our own discouragement is dissolved just by our decision to be an encouragement to others.

What we truly need so as to be encouraged ourselves is to BE an encouragement to others.

Life can get people down- it’s a tough world out there and a hard place to navigate sometimes. Without people in their lives who truly see them for what they are worth, people can tend to forget the intrinsic value inherent in their being. That’s our job- to remind them. Without people in their lives who care and hold out for the best, people can so easily throw in the towel. That’s our job- to support them. Without people in their lives to offer comfort and solace and cheer when hardships seemingly overpower and overwhelm, people can forget sometimes that there are answers for the predicament that life’s trouble and pain pose. That’s our job- to offer that word of hope.

Because if we truly want to know how best to bring ourselves out of the weariness and discouragement we so often feel as people, the best way to do to this is to be ourselves an encouragement and advocate for others. It’s the antidote to discouragement.

Being that word of encouragement ourselves that others so desperately need is the way to refocus our eyes on what really matters, lifting our hearts in the process.

So to that dear One Who Is Struggling:
Be encouraged. Know that someone out there cares.
Be confident. Know that someone believes in you.
Be inspired. Know that someone stands behind you.
Be hopeful. Know that your life was created for a purpose.
Believe.

And know with all your heart that I’ll be standing by as your number one supporter.

Wonderings {on gratitude}

What would our prayers be like if we focused them around the things, people and situations in our lives for which we didn’t feel overly grateful? Thanking God for the things we’d sooner we DIDN’T have…rather than asking Him for things we DON’T have and want/desire.

I wonder.

Would we then appreciate more the difficulty and trouble we see as obstacles in our lives, viewing these instead as blessings in disguise? Would it make us more grateful? More appreciative? Would we realize that these difficulties are things that make us and shape us into beautiful people, stretching our hearts so that they can hold more love?

I wonder.

Would that gratitude that was grown and cultivated cause us to give more love? To be love to those around us- even to the ones we are ungrateful for? I truly wonder.

What would happen if we were grateful for things like the following:

Snow and other weather related annoyances
Dirt and mud and soggy grass
Messes (both large and small)
Chores
Work/employment/jobs
Inconveniences (make this one personal)
People who rub us the wrong way
Mundane activities (you name one)
People who offend us
People who challenge us
Financial issues
Health and its challenges
Marriage and its complexity
Relationships and their intricacy
Pain and its hardship
Loss and sorrow

What if the pain in our lives was there to teach us gratitude and how to offer words of thanks for each and every moment we’ve been given…as if everything we’d been given was a gift? For is it not?

We are owed nothing. We come into this world naked. We leave the same way. What happens in between is ours to use as an offering of gratitude, as we can. As we are able. So that we can grow in grace and understanding. So that we can grow in compassion and empathy. So that we can reach out to people in our circles of influence and show those people care. Trouble is here in our lives so as to move us toward something. Might it move us to love? Move us closer toward the Author of gratitude Himself?

Might it cause us to be a grateful people?
Making us mindful of who we are, what we have and what we can give as an outpouring of our gratitude.

Might it open our eyes to a whole new way of living?

“I want to see beauty. In the ugly, in the sink, in the suffering, in the daily, in all the days before I die, the moments before I sleep.”― Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

And echoing these beautiful words, I say: I want to be grateful.

For today, for all my tomorrows and for each day that leads towards always, even after that.