A Word on Wednesday: Devotions

Defined as ecclesiastical. A religious observance or worship; a form of prayer or worship for special use.

Devotions

I use my devotion time as reflection. Is it God, a higher power, a creator, or a deeper call to self that I am trying to reach when I devote this time? I can’t say, but the day goes better when I spend a few moment in the morning reading bible passages and other’s thoughts on interpretation of meaning.

My first introduction to devotions was a book of psalms I received as a gift in 2000, almost twenty years ago. I was working as a case manager at a home for unwed mothers. Coincidentally, I was a unwed mother myself. Unlike the people I helped, I was not homeless. The ministry, managed by the Salvation Army, was to provide shelter, support, education, and hope to women to break out of poverty and grow into good parents. The home these young women and their children lived in was called “The House of Hope.”

I was given a beautiful copy of “Psalms for Women: God’s Gift of Inner Beauty, Peace, and Happiness” published by Honor Books. This book is inscribed with lovely intention: “Blessings on you as you work at the House of Hope. We are glad you are a part of the beginning of this special ministry. We hope this book gives you fresh blessings from God.”

I received the book, thanked the giver of the verses bound in soft pink. Then, I promptly set it on my book shelf where it was forgotten for a decade or more. I did move it from house to house with my other books. When packing it, I gently felt the soft cover and reread the inscription.

It wasn’t until after I finished forty days with “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren that I read the book of selected psalms and practiced devotion. I would read a chapter each morning and write a reflection. Since then, I have purchased and practiced other devotions compiled by the same publisher and others. I’d like to say this is a daily practice. In season’s of my life it is.

And I sometimes fall out of the habit, but I am drawn to return again and again to the easy practice of fifteen minutes of refection. I continue to be drawn to Psalms. They offer instruction and inspiration for the day and life in general. In Latin origin practicing devotions is an act of consecrating by a vow, also, loyalty and allegiance.

So I practice my devotions, like millions of others. The practice does not yield shocking or immediate results. There is however, a gentle, gradual transformation that deepens my acknowledgement of God. This nod to divinity guides my thoughts and, at times, my actions.

Devotions require regular doses. It begins with one day, one page, one verse, one psalm. The wisdom embedded in the scripture is universal. Some days speak more directly than others. I find comfort in reading the words of the bible, which have been read by more people than any other book. I find connection to self, community, and, yes, even God.

“But all who humble themselves before the Lord shall be given every blessing, and shall have wonderful peace.” Psalm 37:11

A Word on Wednesday: Hollow

As a kid, a great disappointment was the hollow bunny that was part of the bounty of the Easter basket. I delighted in finding the basket under a table or behind a chair. I discovered colorful jelly beans, foil wrapped eggs, a carton of pastel-coated-egg-shaped malted milk balls, and a towering box containing a chocolate bunny.

Hollow

Each year, I hoped it was solid milk chocolate, but instead found an emptiness after biting off the ear. Nothing. There was nothing inside, just shadowed space of emptiness.

Some days, I feel my life is hollow. Void of purpose. Just window dressing.

Hollow, an adjective, is defined as having space or a cavity inside; not solid; empty, for example a hollow sphere. Its content lacking. 

On Easter Sunday, as an adult, I will rejoice at the empty tomb, the everlasting promise of salvation. The hollow bunny, of course, is unrelated. The hollow bunny is less than joyful. When I feel empty there is a longing, a desire to have more.

Though, I sometimes feel, I can perhaps be okay. Perhaps, I can feel contentment in hollow days as well as my days full of joy.

Hollow origins before 900 from Middle English holw(e), holow. In Old English it derives from holh, a hollow place; akin to hole.

A hole, something to chase down, as Alice did, and she found Wonderland.

A hole, something to be filled.

Hollow, though, can also mean a place where sheep graze. The hollow days are just a contrasting time and space. 

I could dare to look at the hollow bunny as a gift of wonder, how do they make that empty space without any openings on the surface? How is that thin coating in tact from creation to destination?
Not everything needs to be full. I could rejoice in what is rather than yearn for completeness. 

A Word on Wednesday: Encourage

        “So encourage each other and build up each other, just as you are already doing.”              1 Thessalonians 5:11 NLT

Encourage

The verb encourage means to to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence. It is to stimulate by assistance or approval. 

I am fortunate to have friends to who show up and build me up. I hope to claim I do the same for the circles of women in my life. My niece, age twelve, introduced me to a saying: “You got this!” I overheard her say it to her younger sister who was trying to complete a craft and was getting frustrated. Those three simple words: You Got This! was all it took for the younger sister to believe in herself.

Encouragement is something we are already doing, as identified in the scripture at the lead of this post. Rooting for one another reinforces there is plenty of room in the winner’s circle for all of us.

If you are finding yourself in need of a little encouragement, try listening to the following friend-praising songs: “I Get by with a Little Help from my Friends” by The Beatles and “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers.

A Word on Wednesday: Vocation

vocation

We are given raw tools; I wonder how to use these most prudently. The word vocation comes to mind. Job, career, or occupation don’t seem to imply enough of a fulfillment factor.

When I speak of vocation, I consider a secular definition: a strong impulse or inclination to follow particular activity or career.

However, I cannot ignore the divine call to God’s service. Not literally, as in a clergy, theologian, or philosopher. Yet, I consider my time should be wisely spent in service of a way of life consistent with the teachings of a loving and just creator.

Vocation originates in 1400-50 late from the Latin for a call or summons (vocātiōn). For years, I felt my spiritual vocation was to be a writer, though I rarely write about my chosen faith of Christianity. For the past 25 years, I have been a writer both as an occupation and a hobby. Yet, the point of the written word has escaped me. I chased (and reached) audience, money, and accolades through writing. I achieve an inner piece when I sit in my space with paper and pen or tapping away at a keyboard. Regardless, of how many words pile up in notebooks and Dropbox folders, I most often keep my writing as a pastime, something nice. Writing is a talent I have developed. However, I do not find it tied to a clear vocation at this time in my life.

There is the matter of 9-5. The days, the every-other week paycheck, the value I bring to the community as an employee. I go to work, coincidentally for a Christian hospital, and I leave my pen behind. I do bring my faith, but rarely aloud.

Here I am, decades after declaring myself a writer, still seeking to find vocation. To have my time spent following a path of certain work.

A Word on Wednesday: Wait

wait

Today is Ash Wednesday. We enter a time of waiting. A journey to deeper faith in our risen Lord Jesus Christ. It is an inward journey. A time to reflect on our barriers to living a fully Christian life. A time to anticipate that joyous news, while humbly remembering the sacrifice Jesus is about to make.

To wait is to be available or in readiness. Wait, as a verb, is ironically an inaction. To remain inactive or in a state of repose. In speech, we wait til or until something expected happens.

In living, there are endless times of waiting: for a plane, for an appointment, for the kid’s bedtime, for the waitress to come, for the school bell to ring. While we wait we can let time slip by slowly, impatiently, or time can pass quickly, preoccupied. How content are we really in waiting?

As a Catholic girl, waiting in lent was a time to spend weeks feeling less than. Less than Holy, less than worthy. I no longer follow this tradition. I do not give up my bad habits. I am instead taught to let go. To let be. To let God into my life.

I wait. I wait and wait. Am I waiting for God to show up, or recognizing that God is already there waiting for me to arrive?

A Word on Wednesday: Capacity

Capacity is not be confused with ability, but rather considered potential.

As a noun, it is the ability to receive or contain; the maximum amount or number that can be received or contained; the power of receiving impressions, knowledge; actual or potential ability to perform yield or withstand.
There is the urban myth that humans only use ten percent of their brain capacity. This has been discredited, but I think there is truth to it as a metaphor. I feel it in me. I am not living up to potential.I tell my boys to fill their lives with so much good that there is no room left for undesirable behavior. However, I know I fill my tank with things that do not lead me to a full and worthwhile existence.
To reach capacity, it is not so much that I need to fill empty space, but empty those activities, thoughts, and tasks that do not serve me well. I am living my best capacity when I have a balance of the following: sleep, spirituality, movement, achievement, movement, having a project, structured time, and time alone.
The ability is there, the potential is unharnessed.

capacity

A Word on Wednesday: Whimsy

It is easy for me to be contemplative, serious, and reflective. Being fun and carefree is a lot more intentional than natural for me.

It is my good fortune to have Whimsya dear friend who I associate with whimsy. Missy is the one with whom I can always laugh. She delights on the simple pleasure of living in the moment.

She always has been whimsical often wearing graphic T-shirts touting girl power, liberal slogans, or 80s bands. She encourages her teenage daughter to experiment with her hair and makeup making her look far younger than her clocked age. Missy also is the only person I know who has a chocolate tree growing in her back yard that blooms with actual candy every Easter morning.

The noun whimsy refers to capricious humor or disposition; extravagant, fanciful, or excessively playful expression. It is a fanciful notion or any product of playful fancy. It was first recorded in 1595 from whim wham.

This is not to say Missy is in the least bit shallow. She is my most trusted analyst on all things political. She works as an RN and fiercely advocates for her home care patients ensuring they receive the very best care and most genuine compassion. She is a loyal wife and mother of three.

Missy just knows how to have fun. She smiles at novelties, she sings loudly (and always on key) to show tunes or contemporary hits (never county). She grumbles knowingly at a pun and rolls her eyes at off color jokes with just a tisk tisk at the ignorant teller.

We can pass time happily with a game of sheepshead surrounded by anyone who knows “jack-of-diamonds partner.” In the twenty-five years we have been friends, I know I can count on her to help me get out of my head. She gets me onto the dance floor or karaoke stage. She’s right there with a pen and dabber at the bingo table.

As a mostly introvert, having a friend who provides regular doses of whimsy in my life is a necessity. During the endless days of Wisconsin winter a little whim wham is the best therapy for enduring til spring.

Thank you for being a friend Missy.

A Word on Wednesday: Feel

feel

Feeling is our translation of the touch sensation. We gather detail from our five senses; touch gives us feeling.

Feel, as a verb, and when used with an object, can mean the tangible described above to the abstract sensing that which cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched. It is the word we use as short hand for intuition — something feels right, something feels wrong.

It is interesting that one can only detect four feelings from the sense of touch according to science. Skin only detects cold, heat, contact, and pain.

Pleasure, then, is an interpretation. It is not a necessary opposite of pain or the absence of such. It is rather a mental dexterity of what the skin detects. Does rain bring you pleasure? A soft warm rain on a June evening still light by extended day and cold sleeting November rain at a darkened 5 p.m. feel different. One can imagine that the June rain feels good or bad depending on perception; same goes for the November rain.

Another definition of feel is the become conscious of one’s way by touching. Often, though we use feel much less literally and use it to describe being emotionally affected by real or imagined stimuli — feeling happy or feeling blessed.

We often feel reflexively without intention. We feel slighted; we feel overwhelmed; we feel angry. We feel perceptively, a gut feeling.

When common words become so ambiguous, I find seeking out the origin to be helpful in getting to the source of the word. Feel is derived from Old English felan “to touch or have a sensory experience of; perceive, sense (something),” in late Old English “have a mental perception,” from Proto-Germanic *foljanan (source also of Old Saxon gifolian, Old Frisian fela, Dutch voelen, Old High German vuolen, German fühlen “to feel,” Old Norse falma “to grope”), which is of uncertain origin, possibly from a PIE *pal- “to touch, feel, shake, strike softly” (source also of Greek psallein “to pluck” the harp), or from PIE root *pel- (5) “to thrust, strike, drive.” source

In Germanic languages, the specific word for “perceive by sense of touch” has tended to evolve to apply to the emotions. The connecting notion might be “perceive through senses which are not referred to any special organ.” Sense of “be conscious of a tactile sensation, sense pain, pleasure, illness, etc.; have an emotional experience or reaction,” developed by c. 1200, also “have an opinion or conviction;” that of “to react with sympathy or compassion” is from mid-14c. Meaning “to try by touch” is from early 14c. From late 14c. as “know (something) beforehand, to have foreknowledge of.” To feel like “want to” attested from 1829. source

I like to think I can keep my feelings to the tangible, but as a writer, a dreamer, a creator of worlds, I feel that which does not exist. That is the scary part of make believe.

A Word on Wednesday: Temporary

I think about my good fortune. That is redundant, good and fortune, together like that. But, I shall not digress. I think about my current abundance: family, security, necessities, love, and even luxury. I have to remember the context of my life and that this has not always been the case and will not always be the case. It is temporary.

My body, on this earth only. My possessions, to be sifted and sorted and discarded. My state of mind, fragile at best.

In the past, I have experienced scarcity, insecurity, longing, loss, and general disorder. My health has been strong and weak, currently an acceptable average.

To accept today and it gifts as temporary is an exercise in staying humble.

There is an expression, “to have great privilege is to have great responsibility.” I’m not sure who I owe this paying forward to. My future self, my children, the community, mankind, God? And there is the question: How much time is there to fulfill the obligation of wise and prudent living?

Temporary is an adjective that confirms the idea that lasting, existing, serving or being effective for a time only; not permanent.

It’s origin from the pure Latin, temporarius, equivalent to tempor- (stem of tempus) time + -arius, -ary. (1540-50)

A synonym is passing. The comforting words, “this too shall pass” are great in a time of strife. But, the time of joy also passes. Moments are fleeting. Like the light of a firefly, on then off again and then inaccessible altogether during the day.

I am again left with wonder of how can I make today count, what can be built that is everlasting. Christ’s love? This remains intangible. Can it be personified in me? Can it be put into the collective good? Am I strong enough to contribute? Am I audacious enough to try?

Are you?

A Word on Wednesday: Enough

When is enough, enough?

The word was a self-help buzz word of 2018, consoling women to be at peace with what she is. Period. As she is enough.

In this sense, enough is used as a pronoun: “an adequate quantity or number; sufficiency.” As a adjective, its most common usage in speech, enough means “adequate for the want or need; sufficient for the purpose or to satisfy desire; enough water; enough noise to wake the dead.”

It originates before 900 in several languages: Middle English, Old English, German, Gothic, Old Norsenogr, and Sanskrit. So many cultures identifying a word to express suitable, ample, sufficient, full, adequate, abundant.

The synonym and defining word that reappears and remains today is adequate. And, in many areas of life I agree, adequate is enough.

Yet, the word is not defined as a noun: I am enough takes a liberty of the word, it extends its meaning. In this context, it seems too similar for settling for the status quo. I agree in the sentiment of esteem-building gurus, but I choose the word contentment. This word is, in fact, a noun and better captures the sentiment “I am enough,” which has been shorthand for take it easy on yourself, love yourself, be kind to yourself, accept yourself as being enough.

The problem with enough as a self help word is it doesn’t speak to improvement. It doesn’t speak to growth. Adequate is fine. Accepting adequate income, happiness, shelter and so on is healthy. I see seeking, striving, dreaming, trying as suitable pursuits. The attempt is enough. The whole is evolving.

My friend Carrie Sue Barnes has another take on enough, as a lie. She has a strategy to embrace this fact and accept help. You may read about her thoughts on Enough.