Perfect Peace

Pen in hand my words glide across the pages of my journal. I’m always writing but my words don’t always make it to my blog.  

I’ve been enjoying the summer, meditating on what’s good and lovely and making space for quiet reflection. It has been worth every moment of pulling away from my computer and my devices that bring me to places of constant information.  Most of which isn’t worthy of my attention. Even the news around the world has the potential to enslave and keep me in a trap of darkness where it can seem there isn’t any hope.  

A friend of mine said that while chatting with another friend this week they spiraled down the dark side of world news.  She told me she finally exclaimed, “No! We can’t do that. We will take action where we can but we need to remain hopeful.  We will amplify our happy and remain strong so we can persevere.”

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself spiraling down that same rabbit hole.  Thankfully I pulled myself out, as I realized my mind wasn’t in a good place, and planted my feet back on solid ground again.   

The daily news and the chaos of social media often fuels our propensity to lash out at anyone who holds a different view or opinion.  We no longer live in community with others, trying to understand with the possibility of even learning from one another.  The discord has pushed us into a ‘me and them’ mentality and we divide ourselves into tribes. There’s more arguing and less communicating.  Wanting to win debates takes precedence over kindness and that can make us look with contempt on anyone who disagrees with us.  All this makes me want to escape to a remote island far, far away.  

But instead I take walks to the beach near my house.  To get there I walk a wooded path and my mind clears, I feel lighter, free and in a better mood.

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Years ago after moving to the shoreline of Michigan, I met a friend who told me that going to the beach is full of negative ions and will lift my mood anytime I needed it.  Since then I’ve done my own research on negative ions … in nature only … not in the air purifiers that claim to do what nature does. I learned that nature (especially near water or after a thunderstorm) is full of the benefits of negative ions. But that’s a whole different topic. You can do your own research but I’m sure you know the calming effects of nature. It’s worth the walk.  

Another activity that’s been saving me from all the noise lately is an online community of women from all over the U.S. and beyond.  We are studying the book titled, “Waymaker” by Ann Voskamp.  

Using the acronym S.A.C.R.E.D., takes us on a deep dive into what gives us stability and direction…a compass, so to speak, that reorients us in our relationship with God.  

S  Stillness to Know God

A  Attentiveness to Hear God

C  Cruciformity to Surrender to God

R  Revelation to See God

E  Examine to Return to God

D  Doxology to Thank God

Stillness.  It has been my quest this summer and I have found peace in my sacred place, whether a quiet corner in my home or out in nature, especially my hikes to the beach.   

The peace I’m experiencing isn’t the absence of conflict or hardship but the presence of something much greater.  It’s Shalom. This Hebrew word, from the Bible, has been translated into the word peace but it’s so much more than that. Shalom is the presence of goodness, thriving, right relationships with God, ourselves, and others.  Shalom is living in harmony with all of God’s creation … it’s what God intended. It’s perfect peace.

You will keep in perfect peace

those whose minds are steadfast,

because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3

Many years ago, He restored Shalom to me in Jesus.  A bringing back to Himself but I must continue to work that out, because I am fickle. I carry with me the human condition and this summer there is more working it out and I will do that for the rest of my life. The working out is never finished this side of Heaven.

This is where I am, what I’ve been up to. Although Shalom can be experienced anywhere, I’m enveloped in it when I let go of any worldly attempts to find it. Stillness has been my soft spot to land, away from the maddening crowd and into the hands of Shalom, because peace isn’t a place but a person.  

The Good in the Hard

The path I walk daily is familiar.  My stride lands on well known ground.  It’s the easy way, the calming, breezy way. 

My path crosses another familiar trail. I always look to the right down the hilly terrain longing to step that way again but memories stop me.   

It’s a harder path, taking more effort to walk the inclines but that’s not what stops me.  

The way to the right is the path Bob and I always walked together.  My companion and I encouraging each other along the way. Talking about the events of the day.  Sorting through tough decisions.  Some days joking and laughing as we walked. It was the route we took together for exercise.   

We always enjoyed the scenery, the wild life near the creek and the beauty of our surroundings.  When we got to the creek, he would stop to see what he could spot.  He liked to watch for fish swimming near the surface of the water and turtles wandering close to the edge of the creek. He’d point out the beavers, ducks, swans and geese. I wanted to keep up our pace but he was full of wonder and it was contagious so we often lingered there before continuing our hike.   

While out walking yesterday, when I came to that intersection I turned right.  I started down the hill on the path we used to walk together but stopped halfway and turned back to the easy path.  At the top of the hill, I looked back again.  ‘It won’t be easy but you can do it,’ I encouraged myself. I tried again.  

Pushing myself to conquer the first incline, I realized how out of condition I was for this path. But remembered, in years past, when winter gave way to spring it was always difficult on the first hike. As we continued to walk that path, it became easier and by fall we walked it with ease.  

Yesterday I found it more physically difficult than my usual route but emotionally it was even harder. 

Tears I tried to push back welled up in my eyes.  I couldn’t help but feel a deep loneliness.  I missed the company of the one who walked this familiar path with me for many years.  Thinking back on the times we spent together on our walks, brought bittersweet memories to the surface.  

I knew with each step I was walking toward wholeness so I continued on. Not letting the ache dictate what I can or cannot do, I leaned into all my emotions. I felt the feelings and let the reality of what was wash over me. Being present in it is ok.  It’s the hard but healthy way. ‘I can’t let this undo me,’ are words I say often.  

Even in the middle of the hard I experienced something good.

Finally after a late start to spring, everywhere I looked I saw pops of color.

Sadness and joy can coexist.  I let both ebb and flow.  First one and then the other.   

When I returned home, I gave Bob his breathing treatment.   

While he finished the treatment, I blended a smoothie for him. Smoothies seem to be a good and nutritious choice to increase his calories as his appetite decreases. I handed him the smoothie and he put the tv on.

We’ve been recording the second season of “Searching for Italy” with Stanley Tucci and we watched the 3rd episode.  We always hoped to visit Italy someday so we are truly enjoying the scenery and culture of our ancestral land.

Bob hasn’t lost his wonder.  He points out little details in the scenery that I sometimes miss in this series.   

We still talk, discuss serious and not so serious situations, joke, laugh and pray together.  

I’d like this all to be a little easier but there’s still good, growth and conditioning happening on this hard way…just like there is on the harder walking path. The conditioning is preparing me for all the other hard places that may come my way in the future. I can endure, push through with God’s grace, and not allow any of it to become my undoing.  

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4;13

What have you learned or grown from while traveling down a hard road?   

Blessings,

Nancy

Shadows and Light

Last week my husband received a call from a long time friend.  It was someone he grew up with, graduated from high school with, went off to serve in the military with and someone who was a groomsman in our wedding.   

He hadn’t spoken to him in over a year.  While they talked, I left for a 3 mile walk.

When I returned, they were still talking.  

His friend was weary.  Very weary.  He could only see the shadows in life.  

Somewhere in the conversation the topic turned to Heaven and to the release and relief that Heaven will bring us from this world that seems to have gone mad.  

But one thing his friend said to my husband really got to him.  His friend’s words went something like this:  “I just hope that I can be good enough to get into Heaven.”

Bob assured him that it isn’t his goodness that will gain his entry into internal life with God, but what God did for him.  Bob pointed him in the direction of Christ and told him he’d email him some verses from the Bible. 

In that email Bob shared some verses from the book of Romans that is rich with the message of salvation.

His friend saw light break through his shadows and thanked my husband for his help and told him it made sense to him now.  They will talk again soon.  

All my conversations with people lately have had that same common reality.  Weariness.

The state of the world weighs heavy on them.  Then add their own personal hardships and life can seem unbearable.    

One morning recently I woke up at dawn and looked out my kitchen window.  I could see tall beech trees casting shadows but what caught my attention, more than the shadows, was the sun rising behind them.  In between the dark tree trunks, I saw light poking through.  There will always be light if we look through the shadows of life.  

I think of the lines from Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem”

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in

I threw open my window and allowed the breeze to catch my curtain, breathing in with the breeze to begin again and exhaling all that gets in the way of my peace.  

I wrote the following poem as I thought about all the weary travelers: 

Oh weary traveler it is so hard

Not to see what’s wrong

In a world sick with imperfection

It’s easy to lose your song


You see the shadows

But you can’t see the light

Searching for goodness

It seems so far from sight


Peace is in this moment

Not in some other place

Breathe in and exhale out

Find what’s good in this space


A calm heart becomes reality

As the past and future you release

And the gifts you see before you

With each inhale will increase


Light and shadows always mingle

The world is full of both

You can’t have only light

If you want to see real growth


Look for the cracks in the shadows

That’s how God’s light gets in

Divine gifts you’ll receive daily

And peace will flourish from within

Blessings,

Nancy

It’s a Good, Good Day

It’s Good Friday. A day Christians reflect and remember. A day to consider and contemplate. It’s a day to rejoice, because without the cross there would be no salvation. Without the cross there wouldn’t be an empty tomb. Without the empty tomb there wouldn’t be a resurrection. Because of the resurrection, death has been defeated. Because He lives, we will too … forever!

It didn’t end at the cross. It only began there.

It’s Friday but Sunday is coming.

Happy Easter!

Blessings,

Nancy

The Next 3 Feet

There’s a lot going on. I’ve been reeling from the messy/busyness of life lately.

I found myself making mental notes and trying to figure out a plan of action for the next few months. The only problem was it happened at 3:00am in the morning.

Finally after tossing and turning for awhile, I got up and jotted my thoughts down on a piece of paper. I managed to get about 4 hours of sleep…maybe 3, who knows? It was a rough night.

At 6am sitting in my quiet home, I realized I was not just trying to set goals and put everything in order during those wakeful hours. It was more like mulling over the what, where, when, ifs and everything that could happen and how I would handle it all. I thought I needed a plan ahead of time and wanted to be prepared.

Bob got up and I said, I can do a lot but I can’t do everything.

He said, “I really don’t know how you’re doing it all now. I couldn’t do what you’re doing. Let me pray for you.”

I was deeply humbled by his words. This man who has endured so much on his long and complicated medical journey, who has been on the receiving end of countless prayers was reaching in my direction to help me. But that’s nothing new. He often does that for me and others as well.

Bob gave me a gift. It was the gift of being seen, known and heard. He gave me permission to be human. It was something I needed that morning and a big weight seemed to drop from my shoulders as he prayed for me. Ahh…the grace of God.

My fretting through the night (over what may or may not happen in the future) was hindering the gift of grace I needed at that moment. Trying to receive God’s future grace doesn’t work. That gift doesn’t come early.

I think of my friend, Bonnie, who lost her husband recently. She told me that the only way she can make it through this difficult season is by just taking one small step at a time and not look at the big picture. In her words … “I am learning that one day or even one hour at a time is much more doable. It’s too hard to think very far ahead.”

Living in the moment. I know it’s the best way to get through any day. I don’t have to worry about the future because God is already there. I don’t need to have everything figured out. He already does and there will be grace waiting for me to meet every challenge. These are words I often share with others but needed to speak them to myself again that morning. I reminded myself of all the times grace met me during past challenges.

Then later that day, I went outside for a walk thinking it would help clear my mind of any leftover intrusive thoughts. As I started down my driveway, I remembered a quote that I heard recently:

“To a man on a mountain road by night a glimpse of the next 3 feet of road may matter more than a vision of the horizon.” C.S. Lewis

On my 45 minute walk, I focused only on the 3 feet in front of me. Keeping my mind fixed on the moment, not trying to focus too far ahead or think about anything beyond the present.

As I walked, I saw thin blades of green grass poking through the soil. I heard birds singing, children playing and I greeted neighbors with a friendly hello as they passed by.

When I got home, I walked through my yard and noticed that my crocuses were blooming. Their delicate, soft lilac petals whispered hope.

My tiny crocuses didn’t labor or spin. The passage from Matthew 6 :25-34 about worry sprang to mind. Just as my Heavenly Father takes care of my spring blooms, He will take care of me.

Peace returned with an assurance that I would have what I needed with each step I took that day and in the future. God’s grace met me as my attention shifted from all the messy stuff of life to what was happening right in front of me.

I don’t know exactly where I’m going. I can’t see the horizon but I know God is with me now and He’s in the future ready to help me handle the next 3 feet when I get there. His gift of grace is waiting for me. It will be right on time.

God’s grace in the next 3 feet. It’s all I need and it’s always enough.

Blessings,

Nancy

Hope is Rising

I’m waiting for my crocuses to bloom. It should be any day now. They are the first bloomers in my yard. I can always depend on them to make their appearance by the middle of March. Spring holds so much hope.

Saturday was a glorious day. Knowing we were nearing the end of the cold season, hope started rising up in me.

I walked outdoors. My sun kissed cheek lifted toward the sky. My eyes focused on the blue sky around the sun and I inhaled deeply finally breathing out a big sigh of relief. This winter-weary soul was ready to enjoy the 58 degree weather even if it was just for one day. The forecast revealed that It would turn cold again with snow flurries within 48 hours. I wasn’t going to let the day end without enjoying it.

I traded my walk on the treadmill for a nature walk and I was almost giddy with joy with each step that I took.

The trees are still bare, small piles of snow still litter the landscape but I could see grass and hear birds singing and that was enough to make me hopeful.

Even though not much is blooming or growing yet, I know that there’s something happening beneath the earth. In that darkness, bulbs are sprouting and getting ready to push their way through the ground. Acorns are turning into oak trees. Perennials are being nourished in the dark wet ground as their roots grow deeper. Preparations for the growing season are happening in places that we can’t see.

What appears to be dead is only resting, waiting and gaining more strength. Soon flowers will bloom. The brown grass will turn green. New birth; new growth will come again.

I think that’s why I love spring so much. It holds so much promise after a long winter.

Its similar to our Spiritual life after we go through a winter of the soul. It happens to all of us, in one way or another, in this broken world.

In the harshest of times when we’re in the wildernesses of a life experience, we can always be assured, though it’s dark and nothing seems to be growing, something is always happening.

In those dark places, just beneath the surface, that you and I cannot see, there is growth occurring and someday at just the right time it will sprout and we will notice it. Where there was once sadness, joy will return like a little seed growing in our soul. We may notice that we have more wisdom, courage, less fear, more faith, less negativism, more hope, less selfishness, more compassion … we are blooming in ways that couldn’t happen without the winter.

If we’ve prepared, cultivated, grown, bloomed, watered and nurtured the new growth, we may be surprised when the next winter of our soul appears. We may even ask the question, “How can something so cold and harsh happen again?”

Remembering that gardens know how to withstand harsh winters and that life is still growing under the snow is a helpful reminder that we too will survive another soul winter.

We’re always growing, becoming better but winter still comes to those flourishing places that we tended to in the past. Maybe lessons learned are growing deeper, roots are taking stronger hold, making us sturdier and stronger in our faith. We don’t see what is happening beneath the surface but something good is always happening in the winter.

Whatever the outcome, winter has its purpose and spring with all its new growth and flourishing always comes again.

Blessings,

Nancy

Adjusting my Sails

I sat at the lake watching the waves crash against the breakwater

Surrounded by the wilderness of winter, the lake shook violently

The angry wind grabbed ahold of the water pushing it forward

Relentlessly tossing it in my direction on the shore

I was mezmerized by the force that couldn’t be controlled

Sometimes lately I feel like I’m out in the middle of that big lake

Being tossed to and fro, back and forth, buffeted by the force of a storm

I’d like to go back to an easier place, I thought

But I caught myself and steadied my thoughts. I can’t go back, not even to yesterday

I knew that deep in my soul. And then I heard a quiet voice

It was The Still Small Voice speaking to my soul

“The only way is forward. Adjust your sails.”

There’s really not many new truths to learn in this wilderness storm

Only a repositioning, a growing deeper in lessons learned through other storms

I cannot control the way the wind is blowing

The way it’s pushing the water into giant, forceful waves

I can allow the fatigue, the weariness to undo me

Let my hope turn to despair and succumb to the storm

Give it permission to drown me in oppressive thoughts

Or I can choose to adjust my sails and catch the powerful breath of God

And allow His Holy Spirit to aid in moving me forward

I will not focus on the waves, the wind, the storm

I will adjust my sails

Blessings,

Nancy

*My photo was taken on the shore of Lake Michigan

The Quiet Season

Snow capped branches

like icing on a cake

glistening in the sunshine

in the morning when we wake

May the wonder of winter

and everything it represents

keep our daily attention

on the gifts that God has sent

There is a holy hush

in creatures great and small

that fills our colder days

with calmness in it all

As our eyes feast on the landscape

in the day’s silent solitude

we’ll drink in all the goodness

and everything that it exudes

Winter is the quiet season

when our soul can be at rest

freeing us from other seasons’ toil

and in the peacefulness be blessed

Blessings,

Nancy

(All the winter photos were taken by me in my yard)

What I know

One of my writing instructors, from long ago, often quoted Mark Twain. She’d say, “Write what you know.”

There’s wisdom in that. We really can’t write what we don’t already know. Even fantasy and fiction draws from our own life experiences.

I’ve been at a loss for words lately. I know things. I have stories to share but they’re obstructed.

Is there a creative roto-router? You know…something I can use to loosen up and smooth out this damed up, constricted pathway that hinders my words?

Write what you know…

All I know is what is happening within the four walls of my home.

It’s been a difficult 6 months here. If you’ve been reading my blog, especially pre 2018 and before I took a 4 year hiatus from this community, you know about the medical journey my husband, Bob, has been on and my role as his caregiver.

The last month has presented some new challenges for us. One particular hard day in December, Bob sat on the sofa struggling to breathe. I walked over to reposition him and I tripped over his oxygen tubing. He’s never needed oxygen before so this is a new fixture in our home. My foot caught the tube and before I knew it I was flying across our living room and landed on both of my knees. The hardwood flooring didn’t cushion the blow.

I sat there and wept, criticizing myself for being so careless. Then Bob wept. We were both exhausted. Thankfully I didn’t break anything and when I managed to get up, I grabbed my Bible and sobbed, we need to pray, Bob.

As I walked toward him a 3×5 card fell out of my bible. On it were the words:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

It’s a familiar verse that has helped Bob and me through some tough spots over the past 6 years

I hadn’t read it recently but it was just what I needed…what we both needed.

Bob said, “That’s God. He’s letting us know that we’re not alone.”

Two days later we received a card from my daughter-in-law’s aunt. We’ve only met her once but she sent cards to us after Bob’s bone marrow transplant and again after his open heart surgeries.

This one was precious. She wrote a lovely hand written note saying she was thinking about both of us and that our journey helped her and her husband stay positive during his journey through cancer. Sadly, he passed away last year.

At the end of her note she shared her favorite verse that she clung to and recited throughout the day to stay calm and hopeful during the most difficult days of her husband’s battle. It was the same verse that fell out of my Bible … Isaiah 41:10.

So this is what I know. God is listening to our prayers. He’s still with us in this struggle and telling us not to be afraid.

Blessings,

Nancy

The Gift

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, I sang as I lit the candles on my table.

I noticed the E had slipped off my peace sign. As I went to straighten it, still singing the words of that familiar Christmas carol, I thought about how the E in PEACE could represent Emmanuel.

There’s no real peace without him.

No peace in our hearts.

No peace in our relationships.

No peace in our world.

No real or lasting peace can be found anywhere else ~ O come, O come Emmanuel.

We often talk about that first Christmas and the gift we received through the babe in the manger.

The perfect gift given that no other gift could ever outdo or outshine.

Emmanuel: God with us.

As I fixed the E, I thought about how I was bringing (or not bringing) Emmanuel into my family, my relationships, my little corner of the world and beyond.

I don’t want to just receive the gift. I want to give the gift.

But I know I can’t humanly do that unless I invite the gift into my own life and not just once but everyday. O come, O come Emmanuel.

I need him here, now … right where I am.

Bob and I have conversations about this as he struggles with his health. We’ve talked about how we need Emmanuel to come daily into our situation. We have sung or just recited those words as a prayer often through the month of December… O come, O come Emmanuel. Here now. In this present moment. God with us. Emmanuel.

We’ve also examined ourselves in the days leading up to Christmas to make sure (as far as it depends on us) that we have given the gift of peace to others in our lives, offering forgiveness, asking for forgiveness and extending grace and love to others. O come, O come Emmanuel.

The broken parts of the world around us can only be mended as we carry the light into the dark. Emmanuel, the light in us leads the way.

These are the gifts that mean the most to us this year. The gifts we will give and hope to receive.

How about you? What gifts can you give to others? How can you bring Emmanuel into your life and into your relationships this Christmas? Real peace comes from the Prince of Peace. It’s that settled feeling deep in our souls that we are right with God and others.

Image: mindful christianity

Some gifts can only be wrapped in love and given in peace.

Blessings,

Nancy