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

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

In This Stillness

In the stillness of the breaking dawn

With a book and morning brew

Sitting calmly within this silence

When everything starts new

*

The light and shadows dance

With gentle movements across the room

There’s peace here in this moment;

Another day for hope to bloom

*

In the newness of this day

I pause in gratitude

For all things great and small

With a thankful attitude

*

As the sun rises again

There’s another chance to see

All the special, wondrous blessings

That God prepared for me

*

Living in each moment

With an awareness of little joys

That’s what I’ll do on this day

Blocking out all the other noise

*

Every day with each new dawn

There are countless gifts around

To lift me up above the hard

With joyful moments to be found

©Poetry and Photography by Nancy Janiga

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

Lament: The Doorway to Blessing

Me:  God, I’m angry.  I need help dealing with this.  

God:  You’re not really angry.

Me:  What? You are all knowing.  You see me, know the circumstances I’m facing and you’re telling me I’m not angry?

God: You don’t have to hide your feelings from me.  I want you to be vulnerable and authentic.  

Me:  Huh?  I am being vulnerable.   

God: Today you finally stopped carrying this alone and brought it to me for help.

Me:  Yes, I need help with this anger.

God: So why are you angry?

Me:  You know how I’ve been hurt in that relationship. There’s so much that I don’t understand and after all these years of friendship to be treated like an enemy is hurtful and makes me sad. I tried to reach out to talk but she shut the door on all communication.

God:  Ah, so you’re hurt and sad?  Have you read Psalm 55: 12-14?

If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God. Psalm 55: 12-14

Me:  Tears flow …

God:  My door is always open to you. Read Matthew 5: 3-4 and mediate on those verses for awhile.

I come before the Lord empty.

Spiritually I’m destitute.  I’m not strong enough in my own strength to handle this. I need Him. I open my bible to Matthew 5: 3-4:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

There’s no room for anger, unforgiveness or pride, not even a little wiggle room.  

I humble myself, I’m truthful about who I am and what I’m feeling.

Lacking what I need, I open my hands. I’m ready to receive.

This is my vulnerable place.

My mind flashes back to when I first came to Jesus years ago. I was finally truthful with Him about who I was.  That was the door to salvation.  

He swung open the door and welcomed me in and here in this present moment He does the same.

That vulnerability that brings me to God comes through what the Bible refers to as lament.

Lament means: “To express sorrow, regret, or unhappiness about something.” Or: “A passionate expression of grief or sorrow.”

Jesus’ first sermon goes counter culturally to what our world says we need in order to be fulfilled and lamenting seems weak.

But God shows me, in the first beatitude, that being poor in spirit brings me blessing and that His kingdom is mine.  

I read it again: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. Matthew 5:3

That’s present tense.  That means right here; right now.  

Honest lament and being truthful with God is the doorway into His presence and that doorway leads to His kingdom … on earth as it is in Heaven.

I share my hurt, sorrow, confusion, grief and I am transported above this painful circumstance.  

I’m free to grieve.  I’m free to be vulnerable.  It’s ok to not be ok when I’m in His presence.  

I mourn my loss.  I read Matthew 5:4 again. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”.

I am comforted, at peace and spiritually full. This is what it means to be blessed.