She plucked a few “babies” and I picked a branch full of blooms for inside.
The splendid color praising a very sweet Saturday.
Rarely do I pass by the patch of grass shaded by pines and hidden by high fence.
The place of the flowers showing their brilliant display.
Yesterday, I was moved in a sweet heavy way by the nearness of spontaneous praise, the connectedness to another who felt the words of a song and proclaimed in a way that was personal, something they only knew, were fearing or taking hold of in renewed faith.
Once, I sat beside a woman with a jawline changed by the ravaging in her body evidenced by the cloth covering her head.
I felt her being comforted by song. I embraced it beside her. We listened together.
I touched her arm in a goodbye as we exited. I hope my look said “I care”, words felt unnecessary.
She’d surely heard them in abundance already I was certain.
Another time, I sat next to a man about my age who looked like he’d been a linebacker in his day. He smiled as if he’d been lonely when I asked if the seat was vacant and he made affirming sounds during the message.
My favorite part was his singing, his abandonment to the joining with others maybe better at singing than he or I.
He sang along.
He sang loud enough to be heard clearly, his one voice in the crowd of others.
One Sunday, I found a spot next to a woman who was large and strong and dressed up for Sunday in a way that said confident joy. Once the music began, I saw my first impression was accurate.
Because she sang like the old cliche’ “like no one was listening”, like maybe she understood what Maya Angelou felt…
like a splendid bird who had been set free from its cage.
Together, we were in an old country church with the windows up in August. She swayed and her swaying body made me sway.
We became secret sisters.
Reluctantly, I went to church last night. Sullen over feeling alone, burdened by answers not coming soon enough and vulnerable over what it seems God is calling me to that I sort of wish He wouldn’t.
I listened to a podcast on the way, one hosted by a woman who is learned because of her scholarly credentials coupled with the dilemma of serious illness, typically an honest and helpful voice, interesting.
She is a researcher, well read and well respected, a historian of religion.
She once believed in “praise and worship” and has now decided she doesn’t. She is now quite critical of what she defines as manipulative.
Although she misses the beauty of joining others in worship, she’s just not “taking the bait” anymore.
So, I stopped listening as I began to feel conflicted and that “critical spirit” that’s not beneficial began to creep in.
I thought of her jadedness. I can relate.
I felt sad for her. Her scary illness had caused her to become cynical, to be expectant of bad things, to decide maybe, after all, God is “not good, not great”.
I switched to music and listened.
One hand on the wheel on the crowded interstate, the other raised in agreement to a song about prayers, circumstances and healing.
Three or four years ago, I too believed most people were faking praise, were desperate for attention or just liked it when church felt more like a nightclub than a sanctuary.
Then, I landed on the second row from the stage because I was late. Pondering on my drive there, my ambivalence over my commitments and asking God to help me know where I belong.
God answered that day.
A thought, a word,
the Holy Spirit.
“You resist most what you need most.”
I need to feel connected to worship, I need to be led by vocalists and musicians to do so.
Not manipulating me, rather encouraging me.
It’ll be rare for me to be seen raising my hands. I’m more private, more quiet. I believe made “wonderfully” that way.
My personality of praise is more receptive, more being alongside the extravagant praises of others and with eyes closed, a simple opening of my hand, palm towards heaven.
In a way, I suppose, an exchange.
Freely receiving the goodness of God and privately, quietly joining others in a praise that says “Thank you”.
I’ll never stop singing.
Steadily, and mostly in secret places.
Being so grateful to stand so close to others made different by God’s design, that the praise they give, I get to join in.
A spirit of grace, love and mercy, one that’s not critical.
May what you’ve been resisting find you today, my prayer.
And another, let there be a song that beckons the jaded, the reluctant, the uncertain of us today.
Mid-September mornings are striated light on the thick green floor. The mysterious vine spills over, bent branches scattered with once purple blooms now fading to lavender.
The season is changing, the blooms done with their blooming and I’m torn between acceptance and longing for longer.
Does hope have a season? Will we need to wait for it to make sense again? Will I embrace the soul of hope and not pack it away like a summer dress, move it to the back of the closet, knowing it’s there and yet wondering if it makes sense?
I greeted someone this morning to ask a favor and I began with, “Good morning.” Ready to send the message, I paused and rewrote it
Adding, “I hope you’re feeling hopeful this morning.”
Hope is important to my friend and I.
Weeks ago, I typed a message more like an essay telling someone jolted by bad news that we don’t stop hoping, we don’t give up on hope.
We don’t “put off our hope”, don’t defer it like asking for more time to make good on a debt or commitment.
We don’t procrastinate hoping, I told her because that makes our hearts even more broken.
Instead, we keep hoping and we see the beautiful bloom, the tree of life.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12 NIV
I hope you’re feeling hopeful this morning.
“But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you. May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, “God is great!” Psalms 70:4 NLT
I hope you remember all the times you’ve seen hoping bring fulfillment and I hope you will believe, believe again or simply start hoping it may just be true.
Months ago, we reintroduced ourselves in the parking lot. They were a family. She had a baby in her arms and another on her hip. The oldest, a boy was clinging to her legs, locked arms holding with all his little might.
A man stood by. He allowed our brief catching up, listened as she answered timidly, not meeting my eye, that she was okay. I watched all of them pile into a tiny car and slowly drive away.
She was a tough one, struggled to make up her mind that life could be better. She didn’t stay long, only enough time to bring her tiny firstborn into the world.
Then, she left the shelter, starry-eyed over her aims to try to have a “family”.
The next time I saw her, she was running the register and she saw me before I saw her. Face down and eyes of a child who’d been discovered in the wrong, she tentatively said hello.
Again, “Is everything okay?”
“I’m working here now and I like it and the babies are okay.”
Smiles and see you soons were exchanged.
Yesterday, she sat on a pale pink bicycle, its basket loaded with groceries. I hurried up to see her. We talked about her bike, how much I loved it, old fashioned cruiser, no gears, simple and sort of cool.
She told me she needed it for work and how she’s not too far away but had been missing work, just came back after her daddy passed away.
Her face was stoic. He had been in a bad car accident and he never got better. I told her I was sorry.
I noticed the box of “Nutty Buddies” and thought she better get home, but she kept talking and the resolve despite her grief and trials was in her eyes, meeting mine and wide opening up with determination.
She told me she’d seen another of the shelter’s residents, this woman I thought had successfully moved on in work and raising her daughter.
She told me, “No, I don’t know what happened.”
“Well, I hope I see her too.” I said as I thought of how I wished she’d been able to stay stable, to stay in the “better than before”.
We said goodbye and I watched her cross four lanes of traffic towards her home.
I wondered about the man/father of the babies. I wondered about the other woman who has fallen back into hardship. I wondered if I should have driven her home.
For a second, I thought about the one I thought would make it, the old language of programmatic inputs and outcomes and for another second, I felt I’d failed her.
Then thought of a word God woke me with a few days ago, “shifting” and how everyone grows and then maybe dries up, withers and then along comes a little grace and rain and look it’s breaking through the hard earth, the left alone to rest soil.
We shift to better in a moment, an hour, a day or sometimes after a long hard season of barrenness or mistakes of our making.
Acquiescence, a beautiful (even if reluctant) acceptance that may not make sense to others, but brings light and peace, resilience to our faces.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7 ESV
“Blue Ribbon Girl” was painted a few years ago to remember the college girl who left art and after a bit of life and shifts, is finally home.”
A family of seven walked the trail together. Up ahead they kept in a slow rhythm, a man, a toddler, a few adolescents and a woman with a stroller.
One looked back, heard my catching up to them. The man smiled and commented on the humidity. The woman pushing the stroller I noticed was empty, corrected one of the children about something. Her voice was loud, her face so serious.
I smiled and looked back at the group, told them,
“My children laughed when I tried to be mean, I was never good at getting their attention that way.”
The girls and boys looked at me and stayed in step with their mama who added in a way that her children know she can be “mean”.
Not in a fearful or threatening way, I sensed the children understood.
It’s a matter of how we’re made, how we convey our truth.
Job argued defensively with his friends and with God for whole chapters and yet, never disrespected or disavowed his Father.
He was quiet, but strong.
Distraught, but not demanding.
Frail, but not frightened.
The Book of Job is poetry for the introspective and honest. It is comfort amidst woe.
It is quietly strong.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” 1 Corinthians 13:1 ESV
Quietly strong, a tone I love.
In the mornings, I find a smoothly writing pen and I write the names of my children side by side, circle them on their own and then add an embrace of a larger encircling together.
A quiet practice.
Strong and soft, unwaveringly committed.
A way of trust.
The way I know.
Wisdom found in quiet confidence.
“God understands the way to it, and he knows its place.” Job 28:23 ESV
With the songs and sermon, prayers and passages, I had church today while I painted.
The thought came to do both just as I’d decided to stay home. You’ve been running, racing and getting to do lots of things.
You’re learning, that kind of running will catch up, put you in slow motion.
Take your peace away.
Funny thing, I’d never painted while “going to church”. But, I felt compelled to do it and so, I listened as I prepped tiny canvases for color.
Just as I’d listened to a new take on an old favorite, Psalm 139. Whole house silent and I heard it differently, more clearly.
The Holy Spirit’s presence.
My soul knows it very well.
I wrote just these words beside my name in the margin. This beautiful psalm is one we read to remind ourselves we are known beyond our mind’s comprehension by God who made us.
Mostly, I’ve read this psalm to remind myself of God’s intentional love and to confirm that I’m here on purpose, not an accident.
Today though, in the quiet, I saw a little deeper meaning. God knew and knows that it’s our soul that guides and informs us, that the things we need to “hear” from him, we will hear with the nudge of conviction, correction and the deepest of joys that can’t be described in words, only the pure reaction in our core/our soul. Some say gut or conscience.
How do you describe the most intimate joy of being surprised by the ease of something you feared would go wrong?
How do you describe the peace in an unexpected emotional response to something as simple as a hug from a child?
A greeting at the door with a flower and a request for a jar?
How do you describe knowing what God wants you to know that you’ve been avoiding or are afraid it can’t possibly be true?
It’s close to impossible to fully convey the soul.
That may be why David ended this Psalm this way. Sort of a brave request of God.
I’m often afraid to ask such a question.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” Psalm 139:23-24 ESV
Because God knows all the beauty of us, He also knows the ways we get wrong.
Since He knows us so very well, wonderful creations, complex and complicated, we can trust that we’ll see the parts we sometimes get wrong.
If we’ll simply ask Him.
We don’t have to be afraid of the answer. It will come gently. After all, our Father is the maker of our very tender souls.
Today, I took my time, walked outside to breathe in the coming season, check on the mysterious morning glory and just because.
I stayed home.
Remembering lunch with my daughter and son on Saturday, rounding out my birthday celebrations, I recalled the sweetness of togetherness and the ways they’re so very different and deciding that’s quite okay.
My hopes for them, always been the same, are the very evidence of that very thing, hope.
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:14 ESV