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

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

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 

Between Two Gardens

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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

Coming Alive Again

It’s a crazy mixed up world we live in.  All you have to do is turn on the news to realize that.  Then there’s our own personal challenges added to the mix.  And…well…that can make us feel overwhelmed.  But there’s still beauty to be found in the middle of the broken.  My camera helps me seek and find it.  I’d like to share another poem that I wrote, several years ago, that was just published.  Go figure…just published after all these years!  Another surprise for me.  I thought I better hurry up and post this since spring is going to shift into summer soon…

Coming Alive Again

1

In spring there’s a freshness

and a beauty unfolds,

all that was sleeping

awakens for us to behold.

daisies

There’s a sigh of relief

that winter has ended,

even the birds are aware

of all that is splendid.

woody

Woodland animals awaken,

peeking out their faces

slowly at the beginning,

from their resting places.

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Everything comes alive

like a rebirth,

a sense of anticipation

fills the whole earth.

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Dormant flowers rise up

to feel the sun’s warmth,

brown grass turns green

and color comes forth.

colors of spring

Gray skies become blue,

clouds look like marshmallows,

a tapestry on the ground

that is no longer fallow.

clouds

A colorful picture

and a marvelous sight —

when the world around us

is no longer black and white.

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Written by:  Nancy Janiga

All photos taken by: ©Nancy Janiga

In Our Trouble

honey 6xxx

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

Trouble.  Jesus promises us trouble.  He didn’t say you might have trouble or there is a possibility of having trouble.  He tells us we will have trouble.

His words are recorded at the end of chapter 16 in the gospel of John.  Right smack dab at the end of His teaching to the disciples–which was meant to prepare them for His impending death and resurrection–He tells them what to expect and that it wasn’t going to be easy or comfortable.

He taught them but they really didn’t get it.  He also promised them a gift…the gift of the Holy Spirit.  When they received that gift after His resurrection, they understood and they received power to live as overcomers.

Jesus overcame death through the resurrection.  And His followers will too.  “But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

But what does all this mean for me today in the here and now?

In my present situation, it means that when the doctor tells me that I will be my husband’s nurse–post bone marrow transplant–and there will be daily infusions to give him in his chest catheter, flushing the 3 lines with saline and heparin, taking his blood pressure, temperature and watching him closely for signs of disease…I tremble!  This is trouble!

And I cry out to God and I overcome my fears, not by bailing out, but by sticking in there with the help of the Holy Spirit.

When I am at my weakest, when I feel helpless and I look at Bob who is even more helpless, this is trouble!

And I cry out to God and somehow I’m uplifted and given strength that I could never muster up myself.

When I say, “I’m not capable for this task.  I’m not a nurse and if I wanted to be a nurse I would have become a nurse,”  and when I fear doing new things and organizing and administering 13 medications, preparing food that Bob can tolerate, keeping the house fit and sanitized for a transplant patient, and transporting him to hospital visits, I miraculously don’t cave under the weight of it.  Humanly, I think I will.  But I don’t

God knows ‘I can’t’ but through Him I can do all things.  Just like Philippians 4:13 promises.

And in the midst of the trouble there’s even moments of repose, quiet and deep peace.

It doesn’t always come easy but it comes.

God is good in the midst of trouble and in our weakness He is strong.  And that’s how we overcome.

Blessings,

Nancy

(The above photo was taken in our home away from home near the hospital where my husband is being treated.  I have been photographing indoor scenes since I don’t get out in nature much.  My camera is my companion on this journey.  I thought I’d have to give up my photography but how could I?  It’s a gift from God, and all that I photograph are reminders of the small delights and simple pleasures that I have to be thankful for).

When God sends messengers

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My husband, Bob, has been in the hospital for a little over two weeks. He’s already had 4 rounds of intravenous chemo and they just changed his oral chemo med tonight. The oral chemo targets the Chronic Myeloid Leukemia.  The intravenous chemo targets the Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.  The CML mutated into ALL but the CML still exists.  The doctors tell us that both cancers have the Philadelphia Chromosome, which makes his condition rare and difficult to treat.  Since they don’t have much data to fall back on with this rare combination, his medical team came up with what they are referring to as a “hybrid treatment plan.”

He’ll receive round 5 of intravenous chemo this Thursday.

All his blood counts are in the range that the doctors expected them to be this week and overall his doctors are happy with how Bob is responding.

About 4:00pm yesterday, Bob’s chemo nurse told him that he would be receiving another chemo drug by injection on Friday and that his doctors would explain more about it in the morning.

Bob wasn’t expecting to receive anything on Friday so the news was overwhelming and hard for him to hear.  He slipped into depression.

I wasn’t there when he heard the news. I returned at 5:00pm.

I usually park in the parking garage but decided to go in the emergency entrance when I got back to the hospital.

As I entered, there was a man sitting in a wheel chair by the door. He looked at me and asked if I was a volunteer. I said no. He asked, “Do you work here?” I replied, “No, I’m on my way up to the 5th. floor to visit my husband. The man asked, “What’s your husband’s name?” I responded, “Robert”. “Can you give Robert a message for me?” he asked. I nodded. Then he said, “You tell Robert that I’m praying for him and to keep the faith!” I smiled, thanked him and told him that I’d definitely give him the message. As I approached the elevator, he yelled out “You both keep the faith!”

How can we not keep the faith when God sends messengers (perhaps even angels) to encourage us daily?

Bob’s words after he heard the message? “Our God is good. He is reminding me that He’s right here with me and He’ll never leave me.”  His spirits lifted.

Peace returned to Bob’s heart and he rested well last night.

Blessings,

Nancy

(I snapped the above photo from Bob’s hospital room)

Breaking up the Unplowed Ground

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It’s been a long goodbye this week.  I’ve had to say goodbye to loved ones traveling cross-country to start a new chapter of life in a new place.  It’s been a bittersweet separation these past few days.

My emotions range from being hopeful, happy, excited and then sad and lonely all at once.  Then there’s worry and anxiety close by to turn my world upside down.

Letting go.  It’s hard.

I spent the last few months in my garden.  Weeding, working the soil, planting.  It’s therapy.  And the therapy became a blessing as I have anticipated this week for some time now.

I worked the soil, in a large planter on my deck, trying to release a stump leftover from a shrub that once grew in the pot.

I dug, pulled, chopped, yanked.  Little by little the deeply embedded roots gave way to my prodding and poking.  Bit by bit I tossed the entangled roots until I got to the stump.  I dug a little more and released its grip.  It was finally gone for good.

Adding more potting soil, it was ready to receive fresh new plants.

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My heart can feel that way sometimes–choked and clogged by a number of embedded emotions that need uprooting so that new growth can sprout.

It may seem easier to let them fester, ignore them or even wallow in them but if I want to flourish, both emotionally and spiritually they need releasing.

It’s funny how God can speak to me in the most unbelievable ways.  Yesterday it was through a Persian poet born in 1207.

I opened a magazine and these words popped out at me:

Do not worry that your life is turning upside down.  How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?  Rumi

Ok, God.  I hear you.

I wandered through my garden today and noticed the beauty.  There are flowers blooming everywhere.

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The hard work this past spring produced an over abundance of growth.

I know It’s time to work the unplowed ground in my heart too.  I sit quietly, flipping through the pages of His unshakable and reliable word.

Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns.  Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts…   Jeremiah 4: 3-4a

Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.  Hosea 10:12

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I’m doing the hard work of pulling out some of those deeply rooted roots and weeds in my heart, because I know that to see new growth and flourish I must first dig out the worry and anxiety.  I have to uproot the wanting to hold on tightly when it’s time to let go.

And you know what?  The more I work at this uprooting process the more I’m seeing evidence of joy and peace sprout once again.

What do you need to uproot today?

Blessings!

Nancy ©pensandjournals.com

Spreading the Kingdom

Today I’m sharing a piece that I wrote last August.  I believe it’s a timely message for today too!  I hope you find some inspiration and truth in this post.  Blessings to all…

Pens and Journals

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So I was reading the Lord’s prayer today.  You know the one that Jesus taught his disciples.

“This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…

Then I stopped.  What caught my attention is the part that says ‘your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’.

If Christians throughout history have prayed those words and we have prayed those words, you wouldn’t know it by the headlines.  I don’t see it in the news.  If his kingdom is coming and his will, at this time in history, is being done where is it?

I see war, talk of more war, prejudice, hate, violence, heartache, shootings, looting, abuse and the repeat button gets pushed daily.

Our Prince of Peace, more than likely, is weeping…

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