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

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

Before The Sun Goes Down

Saturday was World Kindness Day. It’s celebrated on November 13 every year to educate people about the importance of being kind to one another, yourself and to the world. It’s great to be reminded of the importance of spreading kindness but what a difference it would make if we put it into practice every day. I like the lyrics to the song Put a Little Love in your Heart:

Think of your fellow man

Lend him a helping hand

Put a little love in your heart

You see it’s getting late

Oh, please don’t hesitate

Put a little love in your heart

And the world will be a better place

For you and me

You just wait and see

Another day goes by still the children cry

Put little love in your heart

If you want the world to know

We won’t let hatred grow

Put a little love in your heart

Take a good look around

And if you’re looking down

Put a little love in your heart

Hope when you decide

Kindness will be your guide

Put a little love in your heart

(Put A Little Love In Your Heart: Songwriters: Jackie De Shannon/ Jimmy Holiday / Randy Myers)

Click on the video below of a few of my sunset photos, put your sound up to hear a sample of the song I referenced (by Al Green and Annie Lennox) and then scroll to the end of my post:

God is love. 1 John 4:8

Not just on World Kindness Day, but before the sun goes down every day let’s think of ways to spread love through acts of kindness and even to those we may feel don’t deserve it. Being kind will do their hearts good and in a mysterious way bless us as well. When others are a recipient of a kind act, it usually spurs them on to do the same for someone else. Let’s start a chain reaction and put a little love in our hearts today and remember to be kind daily.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4: 7-8

Blessings,

Nancy

The Splendor of Autumn

It’s November and autumn is still very much alive here. This month, known as the month to give thanks in the U.S., holds many things to be thankful for and one of them, for me, is the beauty of this season.  There’s so much to love about autumn.

Autumn in all its splendor

When leaves begin to sparkle

All dressed in pretty colors

We look in awe and marvel

It’s when nature puts on its best

To deliver up a show

Trees stand stately before us all

And in the sunlight glow 

Acorns scattered beneath some branches

With a crunch under our feet

The sights and sounds are marvelous

Before everything falls asleep

We can sit among the wonder

Or walk a tree lined path or lane

Wherever we go or whatever we do

The trees are here to entertain

Take notice in each moment

Don’t let them pass you by

Be present in all the blessings

Look up at the color near the sky

The red, orange, yellow and brown

Against the backdrop sky of blue

Is a gift for all of us to accept

In every different hue

At the end of this spectacular show

It will end so gracefully and slow 

While leaves loosen their grip, dance and sway 

They’ll reveal the beauty of letting go

The breezes will carry them along

Like swinging cradles in the air

The trees will take a final bow 

And for the next season, they’ll be bare

Seasons always change and winter’s up next

But this beautiful show will return

For every year in a well ordered plan

Leaf colors will again brightly burn

Poem and Photography by: Nancy Janiga ©2021

 

An Anchor in the Storm

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. Hebrews 6:19

Since my husband, Bob, became critically ill 6 years ago, I’ve been referred to as his anchor. Mostly by his medical care teams and by his friends whom he confides in about what direction my role has taken in our marriage.

Being a caregiver to a spouse who has been hospitalized at least 12 times in 6 years with many of them being 1-4 week hospital stays has been daunting.  

At the beginning of this journey, I knew that the only way that I was going to be able to fulfill my calling as Bob’s caregiver was to make sure that I took care of myself as well.

That becomes difficult when you feel the pressure to be the anchor of the family. The one who keeps the ship (so to speak) stable, secure, supported and free from floating erratically in the wind of the storm, keeping it in our safe harbor protected from invaders … or in our case, pathogens that can infiltrate the weak and vulnerable one on board.  

The anchor is lifted when we have to sail to another medical procedure, treatment or check up and anchor in that harbor until it’s time to return to the safety of our home. Anchor down. Our life once again lived in our isolated stable environment. It takes its toll at times to be the support in turbulent times.

God knew long before I knew that this was going to be a difficult storm.  One that would not be over quickly or easily and that Bob would be on deaths doorstep several times and I would be called upon to buoy him up and hold our ship steady. Miraculously his life has been spared time and time again and most recently when a palliative care/hospice physician released him from his care with the words, “Not time yet.” God knew and His plan prevails. How grateful I am to still have Bob here with me.

At the outset of his illness I knew that part of taking care of myself was remembering that I wasn’t capable, in my own strength, to be an anchor.  It was too heavy for me. When I tried, when I became overwhelmed, I needed someone to help lighten the load. God provided everything that I needed in Jesus and through the harshness of the forces coming against us He became enough.  He is still enough …

  • Enough to plant a deep faith in me
  • To show me daily what I need to add or subtract from my life to keep me in His peace
  • To supply the desire and strength to walk 2-3 miles most days to keep my body and mind healthy
  • To provide me with good nutritional choices to make balanced meals
  • To bring me resources to help keep my mind and emotions healthy
  • To give me gifts and hobbies to use and enjoy
  • To move in the hearts of family and friends to call or text me when I need encouragement
  • To show me who I can share my deepest thoughts with
  • To have good listeners available when I need to talk
  • To lead me to friends who won’t judge my words or emotions
  • To keep me from sharing too much so I don’t become a burden
  • To encourage me to share my story to help someone else
  • To reveal to me the good in the hard
  • To fill me with joy and all the other fruits of the Spirit

Enough, enough, enough…He is always enough.

And definitely enough to help me take on this assignment with grace for such a time as this. I feel deep in my soul that this is my best work. A deeply spiritual work.  A job here on earth with remarkable meaning and purpose.  A holy work. This job of taking care of someone who relies on me as I rely on God is truly holy work.  I have to be mindful of this daily and to practice the presence of my Lord and talk to him throughout the day and not just during my designated prayer times.  He is the anchor of hope and the anchor of storms.  

That’s not to say Bob doesn’t rely on God.  He does.  I could never take that number one place in his life. Nor would he want me to. Bob has a solid faith, his soul is healthy and strong but his body is weak. Our anchor, our God, our all in all, is the one anchoring our lives in this storm.

Blessings,

Nancy 

Beauty for Ashes

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

It was a few months into the global pandemic and her husband left her for another woman. With a wounded heart and two young children holding onto each of her hands, she tried to muster up the strength to move forward.

Then came her cancer diagnosis. Suddenly the path ahead became a mountain to scale.

It was as if she was traveling through an ash heap of burnt up memories, promises and lost dreams.

Surgery, radiation, ongoing treatment and sorrow filled her days and I imagine trying to be strong for her children only made the load heavier.

She’s a woman of faith, a photographer friend who gave me permission to share a little bit of her story here.

She set her camera aside for awhile. She told me that she didn’t have the strength to pick it up anymore and her passion for photography was gone. Her brokenheart didn’t have room for it anymore.

But God. But grace.

He’s been showing her that beauty and sadness can coexist. He’s given her strength and the desire to pick up her camera again. She’s sharing her art and the beauty she creates but sometimes the titles or captions on her photographs reveal her not so beautiful emotions … her unseen wounds.

I wrote a comment on one of her instagram posts when the sorrow of her words didn’t match the beauty of her photograph. “This is art (I wrote)…when beauty and sadness occupy the same space. It is possible to have both together.”

And it’s true. Isn’t it?

I thought about how that could be a metaphor for life. In the deepest of sadness there will always be times of encouragement. It can come from God in many ways but one way is through the beauty we see around us and even through the beauty we create.

I’ve noticed that most of us have an innate desire to create. That takes on different forms but think about yourself. What are your interests? Do you like to cook, bake, paint, draw, decorate, garden, craft, tackle home improvement projects … ? Also trouble shooting and coming up with new ways to handle a difficult situation falls under the umbrella of creativity as well.

We were designed by ‘The Creator’ and we were created in His image. Therefore, we must have those same qualities in us. Right?

I think we were all designed to be appreciators too. When we notice the beauty we see in our environment and appreciate it, we become people of gratitude. Writing down something we’re grateful for in a notebook or a journal at the end of the day can help shift our focus from our problems and alleviate some of the stress we’re feeling. This is especially helpful at the end of a hard day.

I was happy to see my brave friend capturing beauty again and creating art. Her sadness isn’t gone, her emotional and health struggles are still there but she’s managing to scale her mountain while trying to keep her mind on …

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy– think about such things. Philippians 4:8

Seeking the good through our trials, being able to see the beauty in spite of our battles, and trusting that the mountains we scale will produce spiritual strength and ultimate growth will help us persevere. The outcome …the strength; the growth … that’s a wonderful gift from God. He recycles our ash heaps and gives us beauty.

That’s grace. That’s mercy.

Blessings,

Nancy

A Jewish prayer/blessing I heard recently and find myself repeating often lately: Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the Universe, through whose word everything comes into being.

Grace in the New Day

There’s grace in the sunrise

when darkness slowly fades away

and joy in the moment 

when I begin a brand new day


When the sun lifts up higher

covering the sky with more light

I see billows of clouds form

on a blue background so bright


Walking tree covered pathways,

listening to birds’ sweet songs

I hum with their singing

as I stroll peacefully along


My eyes spot wild roses

weaving in and out between trees

and I revel in all the beauty

of everything I see


Butterflies zigzag through bushes 

as they frolic around

with some landing softly on leaves 

without making a sound


On my path there’s dappling of sunshine

that streams from between leaves on high

and in the quiet of the morning I breathe

in and out with a sigh


It’s a long sigh of gratitude

from somewhere deep in my soul

that helps me appreciate God’s creation

and makes me feel whole

Nancy Janiga

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. John 1:3

Between Two Gardens

butterfly ©

We live between two gardens

but at times it’s hard to comprehend

that what was lost so long ago

will be restored to us again


All the good and lovely things here

and the beauty we behold

are only glimpses of the remnants

left from the paradise of old


We long for more of all that’s good 

in that once beautiful garden space

but now we only know in part 

with scripture assuring us of that place


With our eyes of faith we can see it

as if it’s on a distant shore

so we’re not consumed by darkness here

for on that shore there is no more


God’s promises through Jesus Christ

make everything so clear

as we share with Him life’s bleakness

and verbalize our fear


We gain a deeper understanding

when we do not handle life alone

and seek Him and His Kingdom first 

with our gaze fixed on our forever home 


This hope will keep us steadfast

as we rejoice in Him and what will be …

a new heaven and a new earth 

and someday with our sight we’ll see

Nancy Janiga

Revelation 21