Grace Like Rain

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I slip my glasses on so I can see my way into the kitchen.  With pen and journal in hand, I click the brew switch on the coffee maker and take a seat at the table to wait for my first cup of morning brew.

As I flip open my journal, I notice the sound of gentle rain hitting the window.  My eyes land on the sliding door as beads of moisture glide down the glass.

Dawn is trying to break through the darkened clouds.

I hear the ready ring from the coffee pot.

The Italian roast flows into my mug.  The rich aroma wafts through the still air.

Taking my seat at the table once again, I sip and write.  Sip and write.  Ideas race through my mind and out the tip of my pen.  On the blank journal page, I scribble words leftover in my mind from the night before.

I’m always thinking, feeling, trying to sort out what I envision in my writer’s mind.  Whether I have a pen, journal, keyboard or not it’s the way I’m wired.  My brain is always creating.

I close my journal and listen to the patter of rain.

Sometimes we need a dark day.  It pulls us in, it quiets our souls, we are hidden and alone, away from any commotion or communication.

It’s a necessary place to be at times–small and hidden.

The electronics beckon but sometimes we need to tuck ourselves away from TV, phones, computers–away from the “Look at me” world that we are living in.  The false realities of our day make us believe that we’re not fully alive unless we’re seen.

So here alone I ponder.  In this space, in the dark cover of morning I’m embraced in solitude.

I stop striving, contemplating, thinking, being distracted by my own thoughts and I quiet my mind.  I empty myself and it’s here that I’m fully alive.

In this place there is no communication with others, except with the Lord my God.  Here there is no pretense.  I am fully seen, fully known and fully loved.

Like the rain that saturates the earth, my soul is saturated in grace.

And like Mary I know that I have picked the better thing.

 …but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:42

Written by:  Nancy Janiga ©2015

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Amen to Wonder

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Years ago when my husband and I moved out of a large city and bought a house on a wooded 10 acre piece of property, my parents would escape from city life, several times a year, to spend weekends with us.  And once a year my mother would come by herself and stay for a week.  She called it her R&R.

We did a lot of hiking through those acres of woods and far beyond.

My mother saw beauty in everything.  Especially nature.  Everywhere we walked she seemed to be soaking it all in.  Those visits, the walks, the talks, inspired a deeper appreciation for nature in me.  Without her keen eye, I don’t think I would have picked up the extraordinary beauty in those ordinary places.

It was like she was inhaling the glory of God.  Everything held wonder for her.

As far back as I can remember, sunsets, the mountains, the valleys, every plant, flower and bird were a means to give acknowledgement to God.  When my sister, Judy, lived in Arizona my mother would return from trips to her house describing the majesty of God revealed in every mountain top.  There was a bursting forth from somewhere deep within her soul, like a release, at the beauty of it all.

When I was a child, even through my teenage years, I dismissed her sense of wonder and awe as a ‘mom thing’ and didn’t enter into it fully with her.  In my adulthood, I began to understand.

She could appreciate the created fully, because she grasped the deep love of the creator.

This past summer, while walking through an art gallery my husband and I spotted a piece of art that we were both drawn to.  We studied the painting, the colors, the depth, we envisioned it in our living room but left the gallery without it.

On another visit to the same gallery, the artist who painted the piece was there.  We talked to her and we began to see more deeply into it as she described the process, what inspired her to paint it, the methods she used and what she named it.

She remarked that her paintings aren’t complete until they are enjoyed, looked at with wonder, awe and eventually find a home.

That particular painting found a home.  Our home.  After spending time getting to know the artist, the appreciation for her painting grew deeper for us.

As my faith in God deepens, the more I get to know His love for all that he has created–especially His love for us–the more my eyes are opened to the beauty surrounding me.  I see creation through different eyes and I’m more able to savor the moments.

God gives us moments of wonder.  He has painted a world that many artists have tried to replicate but none can compare to the real deal that surrounds us everyday.

The long walks through the countryside with my mother–her naming the plants, pointing out the wild basil–picking it–rubbing it between her fingers to release its aroma–saying to me, “Here smell this, Nancy.”  Ah…she soaked in the moments and the wonder of everything.

God could have created the world in black and white but He chose to wash it with color.  Even in the depth of winter–when everything can look black, white and dull–He creates splashes of color for us to find.  I found it one morning on a branch in my yard.

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This year I want to say AMEN to wonder.  I want to recall the moments from the past that have inspired me and look for new ways to see the world and rejoice in the wonder.

Written by: Nancy Janiga©2015

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No Lists, Just Love

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He’s making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice, Santa Claus is coming to town…

Most of us have heard those familiar words many times.  The nice get a gift and the naughty, well…they don’t get anything or, if they’re lucky, they get a lump of coal.

As my husband and I were traveling down the expressway last week, my eyes caught a sign outside of a church facing the cars that were driving by.

 SANTA ISN’T THE ONLY ONE MAKING A LIST!

“What?!?  Did I read that right?  Santa isn’t the only one making a list!  That’s the message the church is communicating to those passing by,” I told my husband.

On our next drive down that same expressway yesterday, I stayed alert watching for the sign.  I read it carefully thinking that maybe I was mistaken the first time but I wasn’t.  There in bold letters fastened to the large sign of the church were the words:

SANTA ISN’T THE ONLY ONE MAKING A LIST!

“If you want a gift, you better be good, because Santa is making a list and checking it twice and he’s gonna find out who is naughty and nice,” many parents sing the song and retell the story year after year.

It’s all in fun and I don’t think there’s one kid, that I know of anyway, that has been harmed or traumatized by the story of Santa.

But the message on the church sign?  I’m not so sure about that one.

Is that the message that they want the world to accept?  The message that God is making a list of all our wrongs and that we better be good or He won’t love us?  Is their message saying that we have to perform, do good works, clean up our act, obey the rules, or else?

I know there are thousands of good churches that communicate truth with love and I attend one.  I’m not implying that I know exactly the motive behind the sign but the perception comes across as God is making a list so if you’re naughty you better watch out!

We can shut ourselves up inside brick structures to make us feel safe.  We can hide behind programs, methods, procedures to puff ourselves up and think we’re secure because we’re us inside and not them outside.

We can point out the wrongs in others, forgetting who we are (or who we once were) and erect barricades of false security, we can have rules that make us harsh judges or we can have LOVE.

There in the manger on that quiet night long ago LOVE was born.  When we were the naughtiest LOVE came for us.  Jesus was born to die that we may live.  He took our punishment so we wouldn’t have to.

He knew our list of wrongs, all too well, and left His throne of glory and came down to rescue us.

We receive the gift; the greatest gift when we deserve it the least–we don’t have to be good enough to receive it.  All we have to do is accept it.

That’s the beauty of the gift.  God wipes our list clean in one swift stroke and writes across it PAID IN FULL.  Then slowly but surely we’re transformed in a way that rules could never accomplish. 

When we have LOVE, know LOVE, and extend LOVE our pointing fingers will come down.  Then the greatest gift of Christmas, who wrapped himself in love and is LOVE, can keep on giving…

Written by Nancy Janiga ©2014

Through the Winding Path

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Bob and I have navigated through the winding path of his illness for 3 months.  The twists, the turns, the hills, the valleys, the sudden stops, the ups and downs seemed to never end.  Then there were the complete rest stops and the times of waiting for days, sometimes weeks.   We have found that the waiting periods are often harder than moving through the craziness of the path before us.

Two days ago was the end of the first leg of our journey.

I awoke early that morning.  Too early.  I laid in bed waiting for the alarm to ring at the set time of 5:45am.  Then I felt Bob moving and heard him get up and walk out of the bedroom.  I turned off the alarm clock before it rang and got up.  Finally when both of us were ready, we grabbed our coffee along with the small spiral notepad that held our questions for the doctor and hit the road at 6:15am.

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As we drove, we talked about what brought us to this point in our journey and Bob said, “We are moving toward our moment of truth and we’ll finally have a clearer picture of what may lie ahead.”  I agreed.

We enjoyed the scenery of the glorious summer morning while music from the radio played softly in the background.  I realized how often we take the simple pleasures of life for granted.  Just looking out the window of our car there were reminders everywhere from the fireball of the sun coming up over the horizon to the green grass and trees lining the highway below.

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Neither of us said much for the next several minutes.  Then Bob finally said, “We are going to hear what we are expecting to hear or we may hear the unexpected.  It will be what it is and we will deal with it.”  I nodded.

As we approached the hospital I thought, This is it.  Here comes our moment of truth. 

We checked in, sat down and watched as others got up, one by one, to go into their appointments.  When we realized that everyone who was in the waiting area before we arrived had already been called in, Bob said, “I think we’re next.”  He was right.

Bob went through an examination and the Hematologist asked him if he had any new symptoms.  I took the small spiral notepad out of my purse and we shared what we had written in it.  Most of the concerns were things we forgot to mention or questions we didn’t ask on previous visits.  His Hematologist sat at a computer recording everything that we told him.  For the most part, Bob felt good and was symptom free.

Then the words we were expecting came out of the Hematologist’s mouth.  “Your bone marrow biopsy has confirmed that you do have Chronic Myeloid Leukemia and the treatment for this type of Leukemia is an oral chemo medication taken daily.”

It’s what his blood tests revealed over the past month and we had already accepted that diagnosis and did our research.  We were ready to tackle it but just needed that confirmation.

On the other hand, his biopsy could have revealed a much more serious type of Leukemia or even a different bone cancer.  They checked for anything and everything possible, but confirmed what they suspected and what Bob had come to accept.

The only other better news would have been that nothing was found but according to all his earlier tests we chose not to live in denial while maintaining our faith that anything is possible with God.  We still believe that.

However, Bob has cancer and his cancer is treatable.  It’s not curable but it is treatable and for that we are thankful.  Again, we maintain our faith in God and always pray for healing.

Having our path change direction is part of life.  We shouldn’t find that unusual.  What’s unusual is to expect life to always stay the same, to never have any hills or valleys or winding roads that unfold before us.

As much as we know this truthful reality in our heads, it’s still hard to change course when we have to, but letting go of expectations and moving into acceptance is the healthiest route to take.

If we don’t let go of unrealistic expectations, it will rob us of our joy.  Not being able to bend with the curves or adjust our course is worse than facing the rough road ahead.

There will be some challenges in our future but who doesn’t face challenges?  We will face them together and in the midst of those challenges there will be many things to give thanks for.

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Today I’m giving thanks for Bob’s primary care doctor who saw Bob without an appointment in April when he showed up at his office unannounced.  I’m also thankful that he ordered a CBC test when Bob wasn’t due to have it done for 7 months and I’m thankful that he pursued more tests when the first one came back abnormal.  I’m also thankful for the team of specialists that have taken great care of Bob this summer.

And then there’s the people we love — our family and friends who have remained a constant source of strength as they kept in touch with us non-stop and often assured us of their prayers.  The encouragement has lifted our spirits more times than we can even count.

When I think back, it is obvious whose fingerprints have been all over the circumstances of this journey.  In and through our winding path, up the hills and through the valleys I have seen the hand of God.  Even in the waiting, when it was difficult, we were held by the mighty hand of God.

We have now reached the end of the first leg of our journey and we are getting ready for the second leg.  The second leg will be the treatment phase and I will be at Bob’s side to help him but not without the help of the one who has brought us this far.  We have seen God’s hand in this from the beginning and he won’t let go now.  He hasn’t brought us this far to leave us.

Written by: Nancy Janiga ©2014

A Beautiful Fragrance

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Beneath the bay kitchen window, of my childhood home, there was a patch of Lily of the Valley.  Lush green leaves covered the ground and every spring their white bell-shaped flowers grew up on tiny stalks. 

Once our windows opened up, gentle breezes wafted their fragrance around our kitchen table.  All of our meals were surrounded by their sweet scent.

Playing in the front yard or just walking past the flowers I would catch a pleasant whiff. Often I’d kneel down next to the lily garden and look closely at each white bloom. I adored them.

Throughout their growing season, a small vase in our home held a bouquet.

Today, I’m still in love with the tiny beauties called Lily of the Valley.

Along the hillside in my yard they bloom. Like a cover blanketing the earth.

Each spring I wait in expectation for their arrival.  I weed and rake and glance toward them while taking care of other plantings in my yard. First the green emerges and in no time the delicate small flowers with their bold fragrance appears.

The hillside is an ideal place for them. There they are free to run wild weaving in and out of the trees and bushes.

At their first appearance, I’m ready with my shears. I clip a handful and place them in a vase.

There isn’t a scented candle or potpourri that could compare to the fragrance that fills my home from one small bouquet of Lilies. There isn’t a centerpiece that compares to the elegance it brings to my kitchen table.

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On a beautiful spring day this year, I gathered a bunch for a bouquet and placed them in a vase.

Then I went to my linen closet and pulled out an embroidered tablecloth that I recently purchased at a second-hand store.  I draped it over the table placing the vase of flowers in the center.  Instead of my everyday dishes, I pulled out a few pieces of china and stemware from a cabinet.

On special occasions, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, my china and stemware have graced my table.  In recent years, it hasn’t been pulled out much–not even for holidays.  These days everything has gotten casual–even special occasions.

But that particular day was different. My lilies were encouraging me to make a table transformation.

My husband, tired from laying hardwood floors in our living room all day, walked into the kitchen and announced that he was going to shower before dinner.

He glanced at the table and then at me with a puzzled look.

I smiled.  He smiled and walked toward the bathroom.

My unpretentious breakfast nook transformed into something elegant after placing the vase of lily of the valley in the middle of the table surrounded by china.

I reveled in the beauty.

Why couldn’t we eat our leftover pulled pork on china, I thought.  And so we did.

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After cleaning up the kitchen and putting the dishes away, one thing remained…the scent from the lilies. It remained throughout most of the house for several days.

In the midst of the often messy circumstances in life there’s still beauty around us.  Sometimes we have to look for it, be aware of it but it is there mingled with the messy.

Sometimes it’s refreshing to create beauty. Just like our creator beautifies us.

I was pretty messy when he came after me. He’s far from done with me but I’m a cleaned up version of what I once was.

If Jesus is at the center of our lives, like my lilies graced the center of my ordinary table, he will make something beautiful out of our ordinary lives.

Paul writes that followers of Jesus are the fragrance of Christ that spreads everywhere and an aroma of Christ to God. (2 Corinthians 2:14-15).

When I think of fragrance, I think of a beautiful scent. To those God is seeking it will be irresistible but to others…maybe not so much. There’s no way around that fact.  The fact is not everyone will appreciate the fragrance.

To me a beautiful fragrance isn’t judgmental, pushy, or demanding. It is pleasant, kind, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. That sort of sounds like God doesn’t it? (See Psalm 103:8)

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5: 1-2)

The fragrance emanating from the lily of the valley that filled my home for several days was a good reminder of what God has done for me and what the very essence of my life should be for him.

Written by: Nancy Janiga ©2014