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Holding the Fort(y)

canstockphoto25282880On this day, forty years ago, our first daughter burst into the world.

Meems, as we have affectionately called her, was blessed to have an entrance without complications.

Our obstetrician, upon hearing her middle name, burst into his rendition of the song Maria from West Side Story.

In the throes of labor, I found it only slightly amusing – but the memory now elicits a smile each time I recall it.

She was the first of our three beautiful gifts from God.  I am thankful for her and our other two daughters each and every day. (As well as for our three sons-in-law and our precious grandchildren!)

As I reflected on the passage of four decades, the word fortified came to mind. (Or should it be forty-fied?)

Hence, the definition….

~to make strong; impart strength or vigor to
~to increase the effectiveness of, as by additional ingredients
~to strengthen mentally or morally
Looking back on my fortieth birthday (which, incidentally, seems like yesterday), I have to admit there wasn’t a thought in my head about any type of fortification mentioned above.
The passing of years and the wisdom of age have changed all that.
We read so much about foods that are fortified with vitamins and minerals, among other things, due to the lack of nutrients in our soil.
And people add these supplements to their diets these in hopes of staying physically healthy.
Over the years, God has taught me about the reinforcements that help build a strong spiritual foundation.
 
Daily contemplative prayer, Scripture study, and a strong and supportive faith and friendship community have been the gifts that have invigorated my spiritual bones.
 Each of has our own favorite ways to fortify our hearts and souls.
 What do I wish for our dear Emily on her spiritual journey?
 ~That God will continue to strengthen her and inspire her.
~That she will feel His Presence in her life, and see Him in those around her.
~That His love will expand her heart, resulting in an even greater capacity for the compassion and wisdom she already has.
~That she will be gifted with relationships built upon unconditional love and encouragement.
~That she will be a mirror of His love to everyone she encounters.
Happy 40th, dearest daughter!
Thank you for fortifying our lives for all of these decades.
May God continue to bless- and fortify you – abundantly.
Be strong, be courageous,
    all you that hope in the Lord. ~Psalm 31:24
 

All Strung Up

IMG_1375I opened my eyes, and there he was.

Quiet, still.

Staring at me.

My saucer-wide eyes were astonished to see such an animal appear in our residential area.

Thankfully I was able to snap a photo before he sauntered away.

My encounter with the Ethereal Elk was brief; but the seconds that passed seemed expansive – and powerful.

During my daily prayer time since he appeared, I continue to remember that moment.

What struck me most was the tangle of ropes that hung from his rack.

Did I imagine that he looked helpless and forlorn, unable to discard them?

I so wish there had been a away for me to take them away.

My thoughts have churned about the jumbled mess that elk had to carry around.

And what God has shown me is that I have my own entanglements that need to be discarded.

Some of my doubts, fears and mistaken thinking have been part of my carry-on baggage for so long that they are in danger of becoming permanent accessories.

It’s time for some serious shedding.

Brené Brown, in her book, Rising Strong, talks about the stories we make up.

 We can actually become trapped in those stories – so deeply that our brains begin to compose a story (however untrue) that we expect to hear. (parentheses mine)

It would be so nice if there were a special “mind conditioner” that we could use to comb through our knotted thinking.

Alas, undoing our wayward thoughts isn’t so easy.

Here’s where we need God’s help.

Courage and determination may start the process, but He is the one who can unravel the twisted ropes in our minds.

And allow us to shed them for once and for all.

Imagine how would it look if all of us walked around with our gnarled strands of “stuff” hanging outside of our heads.

Quite an image, wouldn’t you say?

Indeed, we are all lugging something around that we would love to dump.

Unfortunately, the Ethereal Elk had no choice. He was stuck with his ropes.

But, thankfully, we are not.

I pray that, with God’s guidance, we can all be brave enough to determine what we can dispose of.

And in doing so, enjoy the peace and serenity that result.

 

 

The Incessant Thump

IMG_1291There’s a party going on at any given moment in Riohacha, Colombia.

Blasts of music throughout the day (and often all night!) are part of everyday life in this city.

And we’re not talking about background music, either.

No ethereal Muzak tinkling overhead in these parts.

The volume level of the throbbing bass is enough to make your heart shake, not to mention the hotel walls!

Personally, I loved it when music blared in the late afternoon, just as my energy was flagging.  Naturally, my walking then began to have a bit of a lilt.

And I would smile to think of the people having fun, wherever they were.

We went to Riohacha with an eye team of 62 people from the US and Canada to do a project with Medical Ministry International Canada .

As we begin our work each year, I ask God what He intends to show me during the course of our time of service.

And He never fails to answer.

Miracles were prevalent, as always. Cataract patients who hadn’t seen for many years had their sight restored.

IMG_1128When Maria’s eye patch was removed, she exclaimed in Spanish, “Brilliante!”, and thanked God in the midst of her tears.

Children and adults with strabismus (crossed eyes) had the gift of having their eyes straightened – and no longer had to feel self-conscious about their appearance.

IMG_1134Ilona was thrilled that she would no longer would have to endure teasing from her classmates.

Thirty-two patients were fitted with prostheses for otherwise empty eye sockets. The results were dramatic, and their lives were changed as well.

The stories are endless.

One young man was brought in by a woman who had taken him in at age 7. He was deaf, and he had very poor vision.

This young man was 17 years old, and had never had a pair of glasses.

Imagine how different the world looked to him when he first put them on.

Sometimes God appeared in the smallest ways.

One day as I was trying to carry three cups of coffee, I heard a voice asking if I needed help.

IMG_1293After I said yes, I looked up at a man smiling at me who had only one arm.

Alexander graciously took one cup from me and delivered it to my co-worker.

My eyes welled up with gratitude for his generous help.

During our two weeks, the music played on.

What I came to realize is that the everpresent booming bass was merely a representation of God’s heart…beating nonstop, bringing light and life.

It was as if He wrapped His arms around the people of Riohacha and our team, and He was so very close that we could hear and feel His heartbeat.

God’s loves ripples through every project and every patient.

And we never know how far and wide the effects of His Presence will be.

What we do know is this…that the reverberations of God’s heart will never cease.

His steady beat will go on.

And I pray that we are always able to feel it.

I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart. I will tell of all the marvelous things You have done. ~Psalm 9:1

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The MMI team will return to Riohacha, Colombia,  January 14-28, 2017, as the need for vision care is great. Volunteers are always needed, both medical and non-medical. For more information, visit the MMI Canada website: http://www.mmicanada.ca/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Present Tense

canstockphoto28940300Life in today’s world requires multitasking in order to process the  information that comes at us from all directions.

Just being can be such a drain – not to mention all of the doing that is required to stay constantly connected.

At times, the minute-by-minute communication punctuating our days, though affirming  – (we are worth keeping in touch with!) – can also be a drain on our focus, even anxiety producing. (What if I didn’t respond quickly enough?)

We are training our brains to continuously anticipate the next thing.

Why can’t the present moment be enough?

My word for 2016 floated in – and remained. No other word surfaced as I considered my guiding intention for the year.

Presence.

Plain and simple.

Just thinking the word brings calm, and invites me to exhale.

Two of the many definitions of presence resonated with me:

  1. the fact or condition of being present
  2. something (as a spirit) felt or believed to be present

For this oft-distracted damsel, living in presence is a perpetual challenge.

(Truth be told, the words for this post came in spurts – between making breakfast and doing laundry!)

I think God is asking me to be relentless in my pursuit of presence. 

He is inviting me to be awake to the world and the people around me, fully embracing each moment.

Noticing, as opposed to anticipating…what a concept.

This would certainly a be worthy departure from my task-oriented regimen.

I am guessing He will nudge me when the pull of messaging mania threatens to dominate.

God is also beckoning me to spend more time in His Presence.

When I begin my day with quiet moments of prayer and reflection, I do feel an inner peace that imbeds itself into the hours.

Both time and my soul expand as the day unfolds.

I am so grateful to be aware that God is always here, willing and ready to be with me.

His Presence is life-giving, illuminating.

How God will weave presence into my life this year?

I hope to notice every nuance…..

It is through gratitude of the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up. ~ Eckhart Tolle

Do you have a Word For the Year?  Please share!

 

 

 

 

 

Sitting Strong

IMG_0001When resilience became my guiding word for this calendar year, I anticipated that many layers of its meaning would be revealed as the days unfolded. Throughout the course of 2015, God has certainly provided a plethora of opportunities to put my own pliancy to the test.

But some months ago, my eyes were opened to the multitude of women in my life whose resiliency is awe-inspiring.

The short list includes my sister Geri, who has overcome lymphoma, more than a handful of friends who have become recent widows, and others who have been faced with health issues and/or family situations that have required resolve and stamina well beyond their usual reserves.

But the woman who has been bravest and most resilient in the face of the challenges before her has been my amazing, beautiful mother.

Mom’s quiet strength was always a calming element in our home. When Dad worked the long hours that two jobs required, she managed the household and emphasized strong values that kept my sisters and I in line, and (for the most part) out of trouble.

After my youngest sister left for college, she got a job as a receptionist at a local hair salon to fill the quiet days at home.

That was the only time I remember Mom sounding a bit down in the dumps, which is quite remarkable.

At age 53, Mom faced the difficult transition of leaving a small town where she had spent all of her life. The prospect of living in a major metropolitan area without the safety net of family and lifelong friends was daunting – but Mom had the uncanny ability to pick herself up and move on without complaint or regrets.

Not only did she adapt to city life, she then began a successful career as a property manager of large condominium complexes.

Pretty amazing, at her age.

She was smart, savvy, and very efficient at her job. And well-loved by the residents of her buildings.

Mom was one who didn’t call attention to herself – but her lovely countenance and inner radiance were admired by many.

She was a woman of few words, but one who loved the printed page. There were well over 200 books on her Kindle – and those were read just in the past few years.

Her computer, in her later years, was her connection to the outside world.  And she was quite the whiz, emailing all of us regularly, forwarding jokes, and playing Words With Friends.

Mom’s biggest challenge arrived in the form of a gradually debilitating illness – one that eventually confined her to a wheelchair.

She ultimately had to express her words in writing, her vocal chords immobilized by her condition.

I know she had to be so discouraged, and even angry, about the changes in her body that she couldn’t control.

But Mom, in her inimitable style, endured her illness with grace and dignity, until she finally had to rely on others for her daily needs.

Her strength in the face of adversity and her unwavering calm spoke volumes.

In her final days, Mom’s illness overcame her – but her peaceful passing came with an overwhelming calm and radiant light.

She was my friend, my encourager, my inspiration, and an example of fortitude and courage. The loss of our precious matriarch, who deeply loved her family, will be felt by all who loved her so.

My beautiful mother is now wrapped in the arms of the angels and our Lord in heaven.

Her resilient spirit will sit strong at the core of my very being..forever.

For I am the Lord your God Who holds your right hand, and Who says to you, ‘Do not be afraid. I will help you.’ ~Isaiah 41:13 (NLV)

An Apology to My Body

IMG_0528For a pianist, long fingernails are an impossibility. When clicks are heard along with the music, out come the clippers.

But once in a while, it feels so lovely – and indulgent –  to have polished nails.

Since I love to cook, my hands are water-drenched throughout the day – so my infrequent manicures have had a short and often traumatic life.

Until I was introduced to the long lasting luxury of gel.

Whoever dreamed that polish could withstand regular abuse, and last for weeks?

And so, I indulged, before our daughter’s wedding, and a week at the beach.

When it was obvious that the polish needed to be removed, I tried the usual remover.

Nothing much happened.

I realized I needed the heavy duty stuff. But even that didn’t work with just a cotton pad.

So I did what I have seen the professionals do – soak the nails.

I just happened to use a plastic glass.

Big mistake.

The polish peeled off, all right.  But the remover also ate the plastic.

Horrified, I wondered what effect this toxic junk had on my body.

It’s amazing that it didn’t eat away my skin.

Or did it???

So while I’m thinking about the bodily dangers of harmful substances, what things should we steer clear of that can disintegrate our souls?

…Anything that interferes with love, kindness, and compassion, for starters.

And our minds…continually presented, sometimes invaded, with seemingly innocuous ideas and opportunities, that, left unchecked, can poison our attitudes and spread like a virus.

We should be more mindful of the negative influences in our world.

Much is published about toxic chemicals and their alarming effects.

Less ink is given to mind and soul pollution.

I guess it’s up to us to engage in our own crusade.

No more gel manicures for me.

And I am continuing to reinforce my shields that deflect less visible toxins.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. ~Romans 12:2 (NLT)

The Dressed Rehearsal

canstockphoto28114244“What are you going to wear?”

Haven’t you asked someone that question before going to a party, a wedding, or just an ordinary get-together?

In my younger years,my mind would spin through countless combinations of “just the right” outfit and accessories. (God forbid my purse was the wrong color or size!)

Thankfully, one of the gifts of aging is that the priorities of the past hold much less importance now.

What prompted these thoughts was an upcoming family wedding, and the excitement surrounding it – and fond memories of rehearsal dinners, always such intimate, poignant family times.

To rehearse: to drill or train (an actor, musician, etc.) by rehearsal, as for some performance or part.

I got to thinking….

How does one prepare for their role in a marriage?

And when, if ever, do the rehearsals begin?

All hopes on the wedding day is that this is the start of a life marathon – two kindred souls stepping into the future with joyful expectancy.

To be sure, along with the glorious moments and remarkable achievements of any union come the obstacles, challenges and conflicts.

You can’t truly appreciate the summits if you haven’t spent time in the valleys.

If the perfect ensemble is paramount for a lifetime of a thriving relationship, what would the best combination be?

For starters, grace, mercy, and compassion go well together.

Designed with love, of course, and the perfect accessories of faith and hope.

All available in the ready-to-wear department.

God’s fashions are always affordable – and they never go out of style.

Truth be told, over the long haul, wear and tear is inevitable.

My “daily dress” has more than a few stitches here and there, and even some areas of major patching.

But its softness and imperfections wrap me in the comfort and warmth of decades of living and loving, repairs and all.

So…what are you planning to wear these days, wherever you are in your life travels?

I hope that you will add a few God-designed elements to your wardrobe.

You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. ~ Colossians 3:12 (GNT)

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