A Time for Everything

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) The frost really did it this time, came and touched the tenacious flowers, made them wilt and nod their heads to say good-bye. It’s hard to see them wither, but now they won’t be needing so much of my attention. A few days ago, I pulled up the dying marigolds that had greeted me all summer long, every time I drove up the driveway. It reminded me of a poem I wrote after a fairly long dead-heading session toward the end of July. I hope it makes my readers smile, just like the marigolds did for me.

To Marigolds Mid-Season

I snap off your frizzled, faded heads

with a subtle crunch

like garden-crisp green beans.

As the last embers of a crackling fire,

your spiky seeds,

brown and black and beige,

splay out into the air

and float away.

Tossing another handful into the breeze,

I wonder where your offspring

will sprout next spring.

You stain my thumb a golden hue,

Line my nails with smudges of musky brown.

Even after washing,

the pungent earthy odor lingers on fingers and palms.

Not a scent

to delight my senses,

but your cheerful yellow spheres

brighten the landscape,

so I forgive you for that.

You are hardy,

and profusely bold,

yet humble with

amber beauty.

I will bargain with you.

If I deadhead your brown crowns,

and deliver water you so savor,

please stay abloom

till your counterpart, the sun,

slowly slips down autumn’s sky.

To Be “Like One Being Taught”

The other day I came across a note card that a kind and helpful colleague gave me on my first day as a college freshman composition and creative writing teacher. She wrote, “As English teachers we are blessed with unique opportunities to touch our students’ lives – often when we are not even aware of it.” Then she included this verse, “The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.” (Isaiah 50:4)

This verse holds a paradox, like a coin with two different sides. On one side is the “instructed tongue,” someone who’s been given wise words that will encourage and sustain others. On the other side is a person who is awakened every morning to listen and learn more. Teacher and student at the same time. Most days, I sense myself flipping back and forth between these two roles. And I like that. Even as I’m teaching a student, I am learning. About who they are, their unique learning style, about best ways to communicate a concept. In many of life’s arenas – the workplace, parenting, relationships – maintaining that balance between instructing and listening is absolutely essential.

I’ve been rereading parts of Luci Shaw’s “Breath for the Bones.”  At the end of chapter one, she explains how we are conduits for creativity. “In art and creativity, we make visible to others the beauty and meaning God has first pictured, or introduced, into our imaginations. In that sense we may each think of ourselves as a small extension of the creative mind of God.”  As He wakens us to listen “morning by morning,” we use our “instructed tongue” to help others. What we give is evidence of what we’ve been given and what we do, the result of what God has done in us. This is both humbling and honoring.

Whether it’s with actual words, spoken or written, or the work of our hands, we do have unique opportunities every day to touch others’ lives.  I am grateful to teach as one who is also being taught.

How do you see yourself as an instructor and as a learner as well?

Forget the Past. Do Something New!

Isaiah 43:18 "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new 
thing! Now it springs up. Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and 
streams in the wasteland."

November is familiar to many writers as national novel writing month, or a poem-a-day month,or NaBloPoMo, blog posting month. I was trying to decide whether to attempt this again and 
was sensing the familiar angst about my writing inconsistency and previous lack of follow 
through. And then I read Isaiah 43:18, "Forget what happened before. Don't dwell on the 
past." (My paraphrase) That helped me make the decision. So I am committing to a new thing. And I look forward to looking forward. 

November isn't typically the month for new beginnings, not like January and New Years Day, 
or April and the start of spring, or September with its new school year. But we are 
beginning a new season, a time for more thankfulness, more giving, and hopefully, more 
contemplation and reflection, a looking inward as we spend more time indoors.

It's hard to narrow this month of writing to a specific focus, though, so my blog entries 
might sometimes be poems, following the prompts of the poem-a-day challenge on the Writers 
Digest Poetic Asides site, or maybe a commentary on the Word a Day entry, or maybe the 
lyrics to or background of a favorite hymn, or even about some new craft or food I make. 

I'd like to be super organized and do something clever, so that every weekday has a specific
topic, but seriously? That extra pressure might take all the fun and spontaneity out of 
writing. The experts say that your blog should have a consistent focus and that you should 
build a platform so readers know what to expect. But irreverent as it sounds, what comes to mind is "don't should on yourself."

My platform right now? Simply to write something new every day. I won't be writing a novel 
this month, or even a poem every day, but I am committing to a blog post at least 5 days a 
week for November. 

The One who is speaking in Isaiah 43:18 is God; He is the one who is doing a new thing. My 
goal is to have eyes to perceive it, to follow the way that He opens up in the desert and todrink from the fresh streams He provides. 

I love these lines from the song, 10,000 Reasons, "The sun comes up; it's a new day dawning. 
It's time to sing your song again."  

Every day is a new day. A new opportunity to sing His song again. 

Soli Deo Gloria

Today I read a post by someone on a site called Soli Deo Gloria Sisterhood. The title brought to mind S.D.G (Soli Deo Gloria, Latin for “to the glory of God alone”), the inscription that J.S. Bach put on the music he wrote for worship. Then when I listened to one of my students playing Bach’s Invention #10  today, I thought about it again. Usually these “coincidences” mean I should explore a bit more. So I searched for and found a few of Bach’s quotes.

“The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” I’m sure Bach wrote and played music for personal enjoyment, but also because he had to. It was his job and I’ve heard that he had 20 mouths to feed. He was also one of the greatest organists at the time. Yet he was humble about his extraordinary musical gifts. He said, “I worked hard. Anyone who works as hard as I did can achieve the same results.”

Regarding his organ skills, he said, “There’s nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.”  Um, really, J.S.?  The key here (bad pun) is to learn and to practice which keys to push and exactly when to do that. Perhaps he had no idea how musically brilliant he was. Or perhaps he focused on giving all glory to God, and as a result, was refreshed in his own soul even as he desired that for his listeners.

I love those reasons for making music: to glorify God and to be refreshed. Daughter Aimie in Los Angeles sent a text today to tell me that she was listening to “ambient piano music” while at work. Her job can be intense and stressful, so she’s found some favorite pianists to listen to and wondered if I knew who they were or had suggestions for others. Just so happens, a couple students are working on pieces composed by two of the recording artists she mentioned. Such serendipity!

These contemporary pianists/composers may or may not have the same philosophy that Bach did, but because music was God’s idea, He can still be glorified through its beauty and the way it reaches into the human heart and soul.

May all who read this be blessed today by listening to music that uplifts and refreshes your spirit.

Soli Deo Gloria

Horripi – what?

Horripilation – that’s what!  Horripilation. Repeat after me – haw-rip-uh-LEY-shuhn!

Have you been feeling this lately? It’s a noun meaning “a bristling of the hair on the skin from cold, fear, etc; goose flesh.”  As kids, we used to call this “chicken-skin” or “goose-bumps.”

I saved this “Word of the Day” because of its reference to fear, but with this unseasonably cold weather we’re having, horripilation is a common occurrence. It’s one of those bodily reactions we can’t really control. I probably learned why in biology class many decades ago, something to do with conservation of body heat.

It shares a root with the word horror in the Latin verb horrere, meaning “to bristle,” and entered English in the mid-1600’s.  I’ve never heard it used, nor have I ever read it anywhere. But it’s fun to say and I will be looking for an opportunity to use it soon. :)

It’s fascinating that our bodies react to cold and to fear in a similar way, isn’t it? The skin’s role is to protect what’s inside the body, so it makes sense that our bodies put up this defense system when fear strikes too. I don’t have any deep, relevant, philosophical or spiritual truths to share. I do know that this sudden onslaught of “too-much, too-soon” snow is horrifying, though, when your geraniums and mums are still in their pots on the snow-covered porch and the summer-blooming bulbs that should have been dug up are now buried in the frozen earth.

Do you ever have a sensation of horripilation? Tell me about it. :)

“Let’s All Be Brave”

The title of this post is also the title of a book by Annie Downs and the most recent online Bloom book club discussion book. Some of the quotes were highlighted on the incourage.me site and the one that made me pause and think was this: “To see yourself the way God sees you is the first step in being brave.”

Right now I see myself as a bit of a failure. I just missed 4 days of posting, right in the middle of the month that was supposed to be filled with 30 days of habit-forming writing. I could beat myself up for not planning ahead and scheduling posts for the days I was gone. I could berate myself for lack of self-discipline and perseverance. I could be done and say to self, “Better luck next time!”  But beating and berating and quitting won’t win this race. A verse that jumped out at me on a devotional site today was “There is therefore now no condemnation…..”

So is that “the way God sees” us? Without condemnation, judgment, disappointment? No rolling of the eyes and sighing, “There she goes again!?”

If being brave requires a knowledge of how God sees me, then I need to know how God sees me. And how can I see like God sees? Is that even possible?

Then I was reminded of a little 32-page red booklet, “Who I Am In Christ.” It lists verses from most of the New Testament books with the heading, “My Heavenly Father says and I agree…” In the mirror of God’s word, I see the following: chosen, loved, sealed, accepted, holy, blessed, called, protected, redeemed, and the list continues.

In the Preface, the author wrote, “One of the reasons you may have lived with defeat, discouragement or low self-esteem is because you haven’t totally seen yourself through God’s eyes…As you spiritually feed yourself daily by reading the Bible,…God will show you clearly who you are as one who trusts and obeys Him.”

This, then, is how to be brave. Stop looking in the rear view mirror and letting the past dictate the future. Start looking in the mirror that God holds up in His Word. And know that God’s vision is always 20/20.

I Know Not…

I read 2 Timothy 1 again today, continuing beyond my theme verse for this blog, and when I reached verse 12, the music started up. “But I know Whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.” If you know this old hymn, these words in the chorus, which begins with an octave leap in the melody, will probably resonate with you, too. The words may be archaic, but the truth is eternal.

Verse 1 : “I know not why God’s wondrous grace to me He hath made known; nor why, unworthy, Christ in love redeemed me for His own.”  Sometimes I wonder why I was born in this country, with this skin color, to my particular parents, during this time period. Does anyone get to choose their birth date, ethnic heritage, location, parents? Of course not. We’re all born unworthy, having done nothing to deserve God’s grace and Christ’s redeeming love. Why did God choose me? (I don’t know, but I know Whom I have believed!)

Verse 2: “I know not how this saving faith to me He did impart; nor how believing in His Word wro’t peace within my heart.” God reveals Himself and we respond. I responded to His invitation as an adolescent and the first sensation I remember was a feeling of absolute, undeniable peace. His Word “wro’t,” or fashioned and formed, that peace inside me. How does that happen? (I don’t know, but I know Whom I have believed!)

Verse 3: “I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing men of sin, revealing Jesus through the Word, creating faith in Him.” There are several people I’m praying for, asking the Spirit to move, to convince, to reveal, to create faith. I don’t know how He will accomplish this, but when I sing the chorus of this song again, I am persuaded that He will. “He is able…”

Paul said, “Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)

There is a lot that I don’t know….but I know HIM.

On Letting Go

If you scrolled through Facebook today, as I did, you saw flags and military images and veterans’ pictures galore. I’m glad so many people remember and honor them for their sacrifices. Two years ago, our son came home, after spending almost five years in the Marines, on the day before Veterans’ Day. I was so grateful, so relieved. In anticipation, we lined the driveway with flags and waited eagerly for the sound of his motorcycle.

Many mothers have not had that privilege and as I was looking at the pictures today, my thoughts turned toward all of the moms who’ve had to say good-bye to their sons going off to serve. My heart silently cried for those for whom the good-byes were permanent. One never knows. I wrote the following poem when our son was still in training and his future uncertain.

No Strings Attached

You left your mark, or so they say,

the black flapping shred of flimsy kite

(or flag? Who can tell now?)  caught,

entangled in the tip of a tall pine,

out of reach.

I guess they still remembered you,

those witnesses of your kite-flying, free-spirited ways.

One of them spoke to me, saw the resemblance (or maybe the nametag).

“Do you have a son who went here?”

“Why, yes,” I smiled, curious, surprised.

“I was in his class…Part of his kite’s still in the tree… I was there that day.”

I’ll never know just where your footsteps wandered here.

But I imagine myself following the path

where you yourself planted your ragged, well-worn,

black and white Converse All-Stars.

Or where you rolled along, skateboard swerving in and out,

skittering pebbles between sidewalk cracks.

That it still hangs suspended, memorializing

Those kite-flying,

laughter-lifting,

thought-provoking,

friendship-finding days –

It is a miracle saved.

So I walk beneath the hallowed tree and ponder,

imagine the incongruity of a switched allegiance

to another kite.

Not the black and white Jolly Roger of your college days,

but the red, white and blue that commands your attention

as your eyes shoot straight ahead and you

train to defend your right

to fly a kite,

a remnant of your formation here in freedom.

I look up again. Eyes blurry, straining to see

black tattered fabric, settled in the crux of a tree branch,

resigned, unbending in the breeze.

I feel a snap in my heart,

Like a string too taut to stay grounded.

“Actions Speak Louder than Words”

Today my writing inspiration came from a text message I received from my daughter Aimie, who lives in LA. She gave me permission to use her words.

A verse popped into my head last night as I was falling asleep that is exactly what I need to remind myself. I googled it; it’s James 2:14-26. Faith without works is dead. As I struggle with finding a balance and being strong in my goals, it’s good to be reminded that until I do the work or move forward to take the steps, knowing God will help does little for the actual action. I need both my work plus faith in God’s power to achieve. I always “hope” things will happen or come together, but I avoid doing that work or letting go of my wants and selfish desires.” 

The Message says in James 2:14, “Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it?”  The metaphor in verse 18 says that faith and works fit together “hand in glove.”  I can look out my window and have faith that the weeds will go away, but until I put my hand in that gardening glove, go outside, get down on my knees and start pulling, those weeds will keep growing.

A speaker at a writers’ conference recently gave me a wake-up call by saying that God is always there to help us, but He’s not going to sit at our computers and type, nor will He physically send out the submissions. We have to do the work. Faith and work; work and faith.

The author of James also shares two examples of Old Testament people who DID something to show their faith: Abraham and Rahab. He calls it “that seamless unity of believing and doing” that truly counted with God. They both acted without knowing the consequences and took huge risks. Faith in action. Acting in faith.

What is God calling you to DO today to demonstrate your faith?  Do you just “hope things will happen,” as Aimie said? For too long I avoided faithful, consistent writing time. I had a myriad of good excuses.  I don’t know what the results will be now that I’m working at it, but that’s where faith comes in.  I’ve put my writing gloves on. How will you show your faith? What kind of gloves are you wearing?

Rejoice…pray…thank

I stumbled a little on this blogging path, took a step or two off to the side, but now I’m back on the trail. Yesterday was a blur of must-do activities and by evening, my mental energy was spent. One of the devotional blogs I follow always posts a Scripture verse on Sundays instead of an article by a featured author. Maybe I should do that on the days I simply have nothing of my own to share. THE Word always seems to speak where, when, and to whom God chooses.  That happened for me today.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 is a familiar passage often used during this Thanksgiving month. “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  I read it after writing my teaching schedule on this week’s calendar, making a to-do list for Monday (which always carries over into the rest of the week), as well as a list of possible meals based on ingredients already in the house. I thought about what volunteer work I’d have time for this week and who I might see for lunch, coffee, or a walk. Sometimes I stop and ask, “God, what do you want me to do this week?” before I fill up the days with seemingly urgent or nonessential activities. And then I read this verse – “this is God’s will for you.”

Which is…To rejoice? To pray continually? To give thanks? Not just to work or cross things off a cleaning or organizing list? Maybe I can actually rejoice while teaching, pray while cleaning, give thanks while preparing meals?

The Message’s title for this section in Thessalonians is “The Way He Wants You to Live.” Starting with verse 13, “Get along among yourselves, each of you doing your part. Our counsel is that you warn the freeloaders to get a move on. Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out. Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens.”

God’s will is more about a positive attitude, patience, kindness, encouragement, and not getting upset when someone gets on your last nerve (ouch!). What I do is probably not as important as why and how. This list from God’s Word is going to go on top of all my other to-do lists, “no matter what happens.”