I sit here on a quiet morning, legs curled beneath me, laptop resting on my thighs nestled on the love seat. Across from me is my husband, book in hand, with our youngest cuddled close with the dog on his lap. This moment gives me contentment and happiness in the joy of the family I have built.
This house has become a home. It is more than a shelter from the elements and chaos of the outside world. It is an oasis of love where both comfort and joy live. There are shelves of curated books – poetry and historical fiction for me, crime fiction and thrillers for my husband, business for both of us, children’s books, and my collection of autographed first editions. We also have three bibles – an impressive family bible from my husband, my middle son’s confirmation gift bible, and my journaling bible.
We have art – fine, commercial, and homemade. My favorite homemade sign says, “In this kitchen we dance,” which a friend made for us because she found it endearing that we dance with friends at happy hours and had once revealed we embrace and sway at quite intimate moments in the hearth of the home.
Our family is growing and changing. Our older teen is in his bedroom at the end of the upstairs hallway. And further away our oldest is turning his own house into a home about two hours from us. I already miss my sons as young children with toys and sippy cups scattered around the house. These days, there are sports bottles and backpacks taking up space. Fishing poles, bows, and hunting totes round out the things I will outgrow.
There is a five-year plan my husband and I talk about. This plan sensibly includes ideas of downsizing, selling our house. This isn’t the first house we owned and it won’t be the last. With our next chapter, the empty next, approaching in the distance, I find myself thoughtfully looking at our material objects considering if they are keepers or something I can live without in a smaller more practical space. As it turns out, there is very little I need. My great grandparents quilt will travel will me to another home with a few other sentimental or otherwise valuable items.
I am sentimental, if that isn’t obvious from my posts, but I can let go of the objects that no longer serve their purpose. The bedrooms will be empty. The rec rooms free from gathered children.
I could be that person who holds onto the family home for the nostalgia of having raised a family here. I could hold onto those artifacts from passing childhoods. Save the space for holidays with grandchildren that may come.
The current plan is to let it go. To move on. To recognize house is just that; the magic of home is the view from inside. The bread broke and shared together. The cozy moments curled up with books or notebooks. The idle time watching television. The frenzy of preparations for the little things – school days and day job, and the big things – weddings, funerals, and holidays.
The memories of the home will be my husband teaching each of the boys how to tie a tie, the children working hard on homework or other pursuits, the meals prepared and shared. Home is not always as idyllic as this description, but this is home at its essence. The house, I have to accept is temporary.
A favorite author, Elizabeth Gilbert, uses “onward” a lot in her creed for living well. I have to agree, onward indeed. But not just yet, there are still more memories to be made in this home.
The state or fact of being present, as with others or in a place.
It’s easy to be distracted. Multitasking is a marketable skill. I remember being asked to rate my ability to multitask at an interview for my current employer. I looked each of the interviewers in the eye and said, “I don’t multitask. I find it most efficient to give my attention to one thing at a time.” Flashforward five years at day job, I have indeed lost my ability to focus, as the demands of my position come from all directions across multiple mediums. I used to have a smart watch flashing interruptions to the present with vibrating notifications, which I turned off after a few months as it was too much. It is hard to be present when announcements of urgency demand attention. There are competing priorities. It is important to discipline oneself to prioritize rather than scatter our attention. In the practical demands of day job, practicing presence improves productivity and relieves stress.
When we slow down and are present in the big and little tasks of the day, we open the way for the work of God to vessel through us. When we slow to the moment, we enrich the experiences that make up our day. Giving your presence is the path to joy. With this intention, we can live our best life. The best gift we can give to others is to be present. This is a gift we should give ourselves as well. Total awareness, that is the prize. Complete intentional focus on the present moment. Living in all of it. Breathe.
Ignoring or quieting the stimuli pulling us from the present moment opens us to live with joy and contentment. It reduces worry and anxiety. Mindfulness, meditation, prayer are opportunities we can practice to improve our ability to be present. With this commitment to the here and now, we can soak up the emotion and strength to own the day.
Of course there is a time and a place to multitask. It is unavoidable in our culture. We never leave home without our cellphones. Honestly, I sleep with mine on my nightstand. I carry it with me most hours of the day, tucking it in my pocket from kitchen to living room, to the yard. It is synced to my car display every time I drive.
Recently, our book club read “The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again” by Catherine Price. She also wrote “How to Break up with your Phone.” Both books highlight takeaways from her research as an award-winning science journalist. To have fun, one must be present and intentionally so. Of course, this is common sense, but the reminders in the book affirm the need for presence in our lives.
I also seek and create moments to be present with God. Removing the distractions, and allowing room for the creator to live in me, through me. He is the ultimate source of strength. This is true in the sacred place of a sanctuary or an intentional time spent on devotions or bible journaling. He is equally present in my secular moments of gathering with friends, working, making meals with my family, working out, even watching movies. God is omnipresent, and if I listen and watch carefully, I can feel Him.
“When someone has been given much, much will be required in return.” Luke 12:48.
Privilege is a word that has been politicalized. We do not think we have privilege; we think our good fortune is the result of our effort and own doing. Maybe we don’t have white privilege or rich privilege or special rights granted based on provisions granted by an authority.
The sixth definition of the noun is an advantage or source of pleasure granted to a person: it is my privilege to be here. Audaciously, I declare “here” to be earth. It is my privilege to be taking up space. As such, it is my obligation to give much in return.
I have been given a life rich with love from infancy on, thanks goes first to my parents and sister. Over time, others have grown to love me as well. Along, the way, I learned of the love the Lord has for me. This life and love is not something I earned, it was granted to me.
God creates life. He loves with mercy on all of us — believers, skeptics, and deniers alike. The responsibility we have is to praise him with gratitude for all that has been given to us.
Regardless of my boot straps and tenacity, which have gotten me through many a obstacle, I was given life and love. Therefore, we should not deny our privilege, but allow it to humble us. Allow ourselves to pay our debt with the simple task of thanksgiving.
What is broken cannot be fixed. However, we can be healed. Scars will form or causalities will be born.
Broken as an adjective is defined as reduced to fragments; ruptured; torn; fractured; not functioning properly; out of working order. There is not beauty in brokenness. There is beauty in owning our own brokenness and walking in that vulnerability.
We allow a few to see us in this state. While others witness and offer service to help, healing is an inside job. Our ultimate creator lives in us. It is vital to draw upon that strength and create a life complete with restoration.
We all have been broken. Some heal, some adapt with dependencies. The key is to give up the man made crutches and turn to the Lord. “For with man these things are impossible, but with God all things are possible,” Matthew: 19:26.
“We were created in the image of God so that we would be able to see God wherever we look,” Pastor Matt Sauer.
Our response to our very creation as a manifestation of God’s glory, God’s justice, God’s love, God’s creativity is to share this image of God with the world.
Response: an action of reply, as in words or in action. In biology, any behavior of a living organism that results from an external or internal stimulus. Ecclesiastical, a verse or sentence, phrase, or word sung by the choir or congregation in reply to the officiant.
Any self help book will begin with telling you it’s not what happens to you, it is how you respond. We can control our response. And that is where the work of self healing begins, to control our response. This general short hand is usually a response to a negative circumstance. It rains, learn to dance.
But our response to the good is more important. The good news is we were created in the image of God. And our response should be “Send Me Out.”
“I wanna be your hands and feet I wanna be your vice ev’ry time I speak/I wanna run to the ones in need in the name of Jesus/I wanna give my life away all for Your kingdom’s sake/Shine a light in the darkest place in the name of Jesus (in the name of Jesus).”
Fortunately, I received a gift of solitude the week between Christmas and the New Year. Solitude, noun, the state of being or living alone; remoteness of habitations as of a place; absence of human activity.
No day job. No friends. The family is skiing. It’s just me and dog. I surround myself with books, colored pencils, thin markers, notebooks, a pen, and the laptop where I write these words.
Creativity is easy in this place, a lovely cottage, in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Untouched snow covers the frozen lake. I sit in silence and listen. Am I listening to God or my own thoughts? I’m not sure. But it is lovely and restorative, a respite from the demands of the life I have built.
Day job offers several weeks of vacation. Other weeks, I have traveled, also a lovely use of time. But this week, I took just for me. I am cooking comforting foods, stew, soup, pasta. I made a red velvet cake this morning and will attempt the delicate icing this afternoon, a treat to share with my teenagers and husband to celebrate his most recent trip around the sun.
I could snowshoe. I could hike or take the dog for a walk. I could nap. I could read. The possibilities of silent, solitary activities is endless. I will be rested and full of peace when the family returns invigorated from a day at the hill. We will break bread and laugh and enjoy each other’s company. Each of us taking advantage of this time away to bring to end a year and usher in a new round of possibilities.
The day begins with my youngest making espresso for the family, then they leave for the slopes. I pull out my devotions and set my intention for the day. Today’s verse was from 2 Timothy, “I remind you to fan into the flame of God.” It’s prayer, “Father, thank You for the gift of your presence that beckons me in from the cold. I place myself before Your fireplace; keep my heart kindled. Amen.
My thoughts upon this devotion is that God’s invitation to us never expires. There is a constant call to live in the Word, if we only take notice. The party of Christianity is unlike anything secular in this world. It is healing, warm, and soothing. It restores purity to our souls. It nourishes us to be strong and live in the light.
God is easy to see here at the lake. The vast beauty and calm are gifts from the Lord to give us respite. Thank you Lord for this gift of solitude to hear You as I welcome You into my heart.
In Wisconsin, the weather has turned cold. As I write this, the wind is blowing a cold rain. Leftover leaves are rustling. It is time to turn indoors. Soups, stews, and casseroles replace the grilled delights of summer. We must brace ourselves for the frigid January and February around the corner.
But first, the holidays! Thanksgiving brought sweaters, family, and gratitude to the front. It is my family tradition to decorate for Christmas the weekend after Thanksgiving. I leave the outdoor lights and wreath to my husband. But I drag out the totes of Christmas garb from the attic and turn our cozy home into an oasis of comfort and joy.
The noun decoration refers to something used for decorating; adornment; embellishment or embellishment.
Growing up, we celebrated St. Nick filling our stockings each December 5th. The stocking hooks are placed at the mantel. Five stockings are hung. A bright red one for our oldest, though he’s been out of the house for five years. A blue one for youngest and a green and red one for out middle son. There are two small burgundy and gold stockings for the parents.
We deck the tree with multicolored lights and together hang ornaments filled with memories. Each child has a box of ornaments. These contain St. Nick gifts of years past. There are the red apples from Grandma Ann, the chestnuts and bells from Great Grandpa Ed, sailboats and lighthouses from my husband’s earlier years. I bring out candles and pinecones and a crystal bowl of red balls. There are picture frames of Christmas’ past. I don’t go overboard, but put out enough to transform the house for the season.
My last step is the most sacred. I set up my nativity display. It is a Willow Creek set, which was given to me piece by piece from my mother over a series of several Christmas pasts. Baby Jesus is of course the reason for all the celebration. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the commercial end of December and the hectic frenzy of preparations.
By setting out the nativity, I am reminded of the promise and hope of my salvation. In the fragile infant lying soft in a manager in the transformative power of Christianity. Sure presents will abound, I may even chose to spend the time of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with my family celebrating a secular popular holiday rather than in a candle-lit sanctuary. In the moments leading up to Christmas, I give pause, I reflect, and I rejoice.
I am blessed.
I used to use words like fortunate or lucky. I did this to sound secular, and therefore not reveal myself as to ascribing to a Christian God.
But those words can only speak to circumstances, not to being.
Blessed is audacious.
“Consecrated, sacred, holy?” “Worthy of adoration, reverence, or worship?” The Blessed Sacrament or The Blessed Trinity.
Nope that doesn’t sound right.
“Divinely or supremely favored?”
Next, we come to a non religious use of the word: “Fortunate: to be blessed with a strong, healthy body; blessed with an ability to find friends.” But if you mean blessed in this secular way, why not say fortunate rather than blessed. Blessed sounds so “chosen.”
One of my coworkers at day job, often says “Have a blessed day.” to both her teammates and the people they serve. And when she says it to me, I have this certainty that she means she hopes I receive God’s blessings that day. Not because she is pushing her beliefs on me, but because she genuinely wants that for me and for everyone she encounters.
In this biblical way, blessed is a favor or gift bestowed by God, thereby bringing happiness. It is the invoking of God’s favor upon a person.
The following passage came up in my devotions this morning: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11.
This led me to think of the Proverb 16, specifically verse 20: “Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.
To accept that we are blessed, we must credit the creator for blessing us. Without that divinity, we can only hope to be fortunate or lucky. But those who trust in the Lord will be blessed.
I too hope for God’s blessings to find their way to every wanting person. So in the words of my coworker, “have a blessed day.”
A crucible is a container of metal or refractory material employed for heating substances to high temperatures. When metals are melted, they are prepared for transformation into different shapes and purposes.
My dad worked for nearly forty years at an iron foundry. One summer, I cut lawn around the plants. My crew leader made sure I visited my dad at his post on the furnace deck surrounding three glowing crucibles. I saw vats of bright red, burning iron, and I saw my dad on a ledge standing over it. He wore heavy, green overalls, steal tip boats, a face shield, and a hard hat. My dad used some tool I did not recognized to reach over that piping hot metal to skim off its impurities. He monitored and logged the temperature. He poured that glowing liquid iron it into buckets attached to vehicles delivering it to waiting molds. I don’t know all the details, and I’m sure there was a lot more to it than that. I just saw him concentrate — physically and mentally — at the dangerous job. He did this eight hours a day, week after week, year after year.
I respect my dad’s loyalty to the company; his loyalty was a means to his ultimate end – providing stability for our family. That company, which had produced 145,000 tons of gray and ductile iron castings annually — ranking it among the top ten independent foundries in the United States — closed in 2016 coaxing my dad into a much deserved retirement.
My dad worked at that foundry, so I didn’t have to. I was saved from this fate. My vocation is not so punishing on my mind and body. The demands are not so obvious. My life work will never be on par with the dramatic tangibility that only comes from working with one’s hands. I do not stand over a crucible.
The noun crucible is the same word we have to describe a severe, searching test or trial.
This is what author Sue Monk Kidd refers to when she says this: “Her crisis was the transforming crucible of her life. Crisis is a holy summons to cross a threshold.”
It is a comfort to me to think about the pressures of severe trials as a means of transformation, an actual summons to create. The use of the word crucible in this spiritual fashion is an interesting choice for Monk Kidd. She encourages us to use struggles as an opportunity to take something whole, break it down to its melting point, slag off the excess, and reset it.
When a crisis can be thought of as a crucible, we can tinker with the matter and create something new and purposeful. We only need the strength, mental dexterity, and loyalty to keep watch over it. We need to know where to go with the embers of possibility.
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58
In Wisconsin, the seasons change, drastically. The hardest transition for many is the end of summer to the start of autumn. It is hard to say good bye to fun in the sun.
With life being short and summer being shorter, I enthusiastically lather with sunscreen, sail with the wind in my hair, fire up the grill, walk after dinner, and sit at the patio where it is still-light until bedtime.
In September, we will lose 80 minutes of daylight. This is gradual, the sun setting two minutes earlier, day by day and accelerating as the weeks go by and we near the Autumnal Equinox. Already, I can feel the winds bringing in a cold front, snapping us out of basking in sandals and shorts to reaching for socks and pants.
Soon enough, my drive home from the day job will be with headlights on. Soups and stews will replaced grilled meats and vegetables for the evening meal.
For me, autumn means a return to pen and ink and tapping my keyboard. For me it means a welcome return to my well worn, soft brown sweater that I only wear in my office while writing.
Since July, I have dedicated little to no time at the writing desk. Over the past two decades, my writing has settled into a seasonal hobby. Reading more in the summer, writing with a bit of rust in the fall – often poems and essays, breaking for the holidays, tackling big work in the winter, and frenzied attempts to finish projects in the spring before the big break of summer.
A season is just one of four periods of the year, literally beginning astronomically at an equinox or solstice. Each with their own character of weather conditions and temperature. As the years of seasons pile up, there is a predictable rhythm, which is a comfort. I’ve been here before and here I am again.
Every time we transition to a change of circumstances, I recall Chapter 3 from the Book of Ecclesiastes, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” The Word goes with a list of temporary figurative seasons, “a time to mourn and a time to dance” for example.
There is reason to rejoice in each of our seasons. Go ahead and embrace your pumpkin spice, jump into a pile of leaves, pull out your favorite sweaters, hunt, or harvest. Ready or not, on the calendar, fall begins next week. Already, I have anticipated it’s arrival. Good bye ice tea. Hello hot chocolate.