Weekend Meditation: Come


With the quiet communities:




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Graceful Summer: Cutting Flowers on a Hot Morning


I like the idea of a cutting garden. It feels very Victorian, as I envision myself with a parasol and a full skirt and petticoat, scissors in hand as I glide across dewy grass. I imagine gathering fragrant blooms for the antique vase that sits on the Chippendale table at the base of the grand staircase.

Of course, I don’t have a parasol or petticoats. I cut flowers in shorts and turquoise flip flops. My house doesn’t feature a grand staircase either…or a Chippendale table.

I do, however, own an antique vase. It was my mother-in-law’s, and it makes me happy to fill it with vibrant flowers from my garden – scarlet bee balm, spiky Echinacea, wispy Veronica, sunny coreopsis. I don’t remember ever seeing this particular vase filled with flowers in her own house – I found it pushed toward the back of the upstairs hallway closet when I was filling bags for the Goodwill after she died. But it’s enough to know that it was hers.



I cut flowers in the early morning, before the sun sears hot and the blooms droop. I slide the kitchen shears from the butcher block, slip on my flip flops and head out the back door into the sultry, moist morning.
Clutching the stems in my fist, I step back into air-conditioned cool and lay them in a bunch on the kitchen counter. Then I strip their leaves into the sink, cut each stem at an angle and arrange the flowers one at a time in the vase. Sometimes I place the vase in the center of the  dining room table. Sometimes I simply leave it on the counter, in the midst of everyday clutter. I glide the sponge around the base of the vase, sweeping crumbs in my cupped palm. And I think of Janice.

Do you own anything that reminds you of someone you love?

Welcome to Graceful Summer, a new link-up community here on Fridays through the end of August. We're sharing stories about the smaller, quieter moments of summer - will you share yours, too?
1. Write a post about a quiet summer moment and link it up here on Fridays.
2. Visit someone else and leave a little comment love - you might get a new creatively quiet idea!
3. Please include the Graceful Summer button or a link in your post, so people can find us if they want to join in.





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Bad Knee, Good Soul

The knee is bad for a while, all puffed up, like there's a golf ball bean bag just under the skin. It doesn’t hurt. But it’s grotesque. The kids like to poke at it like a jelly fish that's washed up on the beach and then grimace, gleefully exclaiming, “Gross!” and “Ewwwww!” while begging to touch it again. When I look down at my legs exposed in shorts, the right knee bulges, the shape of a large egg.

I know what caused it: too many of Jillian's Shred push-ups down on my knees, girl-style, the worn Oriental carpet in my living room no match for the hardwood floors underneath.

But despite the hideousness of a goose-egg knee, I procrastinate visiting the orthopedist because I know a needle, a big needle, awaits. And I don’t like needles. They make my feet sweat and my neck turn clammy.

It’s exactly what I suspect. “We’re just going to draw out some of that fluid that’s built up in there, and then give you a nice shot of cortisone to help with the inflammation,”  the doctor says briskly, all sporty in his polo shirt and kakis. I’m reclined on the table, an absorbent cloth that looks like a mini mattress pad under my right knee. I turn my head to the wall; I don’t want to see the size of the needle.

A sharp prick; it doesn’t hurt, exactly. But my feet, and my palms, sweat nonetheless. “Try not to let it squirt out,” the nurse says softly to the doctor, a slip of gauze between her fingers, and I blanche, imagining the liquid that sat on my kneecap for the past six weeks shooting out of my leg like a geyser. Is there not a word more medical, more professional, than “squirt” I wonder to myself, hands clenched, fingers white.
I feel the syringe drawn, and I imagine the putrid liquid being syphoned from my knee. A second needle is inserted. “Here’s the cortisone now,” says the doctor, pushing the plunger. Just a second or two later, he’s applying the band-aide. We are done.

I sit up, swing my legs over the edge of the table, shake hands with the doctor, apologizing for my sticky palms. Right before the PA slides the neoprene sleeve over my leg, tight and black like a wet suit, I notice the golf ball swelling is gone.

I wish I could remove all the distasteful parts of myself like that, I think later, on the drive home from the clinic. Jealousy, greed, impatience, doubt, short-tempered yelling, pride and selfishness – a quick prick of the needle under the skin, and all my bad qualities would disappear, syphoned away, disposed into a waste bin.  Even I, with my sweaty feet and clammy neck, would take a needle for that – the chance for a clean slate, the ugly parts of me tossed away like medical detritus.

I don’t realize it right away. In fact, it takes me a day or two. But then, the knowledge hits me hard: I don’t need a needle plunged into my soul. I don't need my sins drawn out with a syringe. Because the fact is, Jesus already did that, just for me. He took a nail clean through to absorb my flaws, my sins, my very worst parts. And because of that, because of him, I’m left not swollen and bloated and foul, but clean and new.

My body may be broken, my mind and heart may be flawed, but my soul is made pure.

{And a little reminder...if you have a quiet summer story, stop by here Friday to link it up with Graceful Summer. I'd love to read about your small, sweet moment}

With Ann, Jennifer and Emily:




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Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: The Helpmehelpmehelpme Prayer


Ten years ago, on my first day back to work after a year and a half of being a stay-at-home mom, I greeted my new officemate, settled into my chair, switched on my desk lamp and turned toward the keyboard. Not even three minutes into my brand-new job, and I already had a problem…and it was an embarrassing one: I couldn’t figure out how to turn on my computer.

Panic, self-doubt and shame washed over me as I frantically searched the keyboard and the monitor for the on switch. “I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do this,” I berated myself. “I knew I shouldn’t have applied for this job. I knew I was going to be a total failure.” I swiveled toward my officemate, who was busily typing. “Um, can I interrupt you for just a second?” I asked. “Ah, this is kind of embarrassing…but I can’t figure out how to turn on my computer.” In the brief moment before she pointed to the switch on the black tower under my desk, I glimpsed hesitation slide across her features. I could tell she wondered if I was going to make it.
As it turned out, that question was the first of many to follow in the days and weeks as I settled into my new job. I inquired about the printer, the location of the microwave, the proper formatting for news releases, where the supply closet was located, how to sign my timesheet, the extension for the IT department. I asked what felt like a relentless stream of questions, and although my officemate and other coworkers were remarkably patient and gracious in offering help, after a while, I began to feel ashamed by my seemingly constant need for assistance. I didn’t want to ask for help anymore. I felt like the answer window was closing, and it was time to figure out the rest of it on my own.

I remembered those humbling and terrifying new-job fears and insecurities yesterday when we read Psalm 124 in church. And I thought about how grateful I am that God’s answer window never closes.

“Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 124:8)

The prayer I utter to God most often is this one: “Helpmehelpmehelpmehelpme.” I know. It’s not eloquent. It’s not fancy. It’s more than a little self-centered. Frankly, it must get a little old to be God and hear me mumbling the same pathetic prayer over and over. But what’s simply amazing is that God never stops offering help.  He hears my desperation, he hears my panic time and time again, and he doesn’t ever turn away. He never says, “Michelle, your grace period is over. It’s time to figure it out on your own.”

I may not hear an answer to my plea for help right away. I may eventually hear an answer that differs from the one I desire. But I know I can keep asking. I know he listens. And I find so much comfort in that.

What's your most frequently uttered prayer?

: : :


Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community, a place where we share what we are hearing from God and his Word.

If you're here for the first time, click
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Please also try to visit and leave some friendly encouragement in the comment box of at least one other Hear It, Use It participant. And if you want to tweet about the community, please use the #HearItUseIt hashtag.

Thank you -- I am so grateful to have you here!



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Weekend Meditation: Home



With the quiet ladies...



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Graceful Summer: Mornings on the Back Patio


Only half-awake, I fill my mug with coffee, grab a pen, my notebook and the Bible, and pad across the cool tile to the French doors. Nebraska humidity, dense and heavy, hits me like a thick, moist curtain as I step out of air-conditioning and onto the back patio, the damp concrete cool under my bare feet.
It’s still, save the warbling of the house finch and the crisp chirp of two chickadees, one in the white pine, the other answering from across the street. The sun glints like rhinestones through the sprinkler spray. I tuck my feet beneath me, brush an ant from the tabletop and open the Bible.

I read verses better at this early hour, more slowly, because I’m sleepy. And the boys stay tucked in their beds a bit later during the summer, letting me linger into a longer, slower rhythm. Later, as the sun slides above the picket fence, a boy or two might join me for breakfast.

It takes a few trips back and forth from the kitchen to the back patio: a second cup of coffee, toasted cinnamon raisin English muffins or bowls of Life, sliced strawberries in glass-footed bowls, white grape juice, silverware and napkins. But it’s worth the extra effort.

The neighborhood yawns and stretches. Dogs bark, one joining another, an anthem to suburbia. Breakfast done, the boys now on to Mario Brothers and the Wii, I stack empty plates and glasses on top of the Bible, slide open the screen door and step into the cool house.


What's your favorite way to spend a slow summer morning?

Welcome to Graceful Summer, a new link-up community here on Fridays through the end of August. We're sharing stories about the smaller, quieter moments of summer - will you share yours, too?
1. Write your post and link it up here on Fridays.
2. Visit someone else and leave a little comment love - you might get a new creatively quiet idea!
3. Please include the Graceful Summer button or a link in your post, so people can find us if they want to join in.




Click here to get Graceful in your email in-box.
Click here to "like" my Facebook Writer page. Thank you!

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Five Horses, a Cowboy and a Creek: A Tale of Holding On


“Come on…it’ll be fun,” I cajole. “All you have to do is sit there; the horse pretty much does everything else, I promise.”
I really don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, but I make my best case to Noah, who is gravely skeptical about the adventure. Soon the four of us stand in the middle of a dusty corral surrounded by the snow-covered Tetons and a herd of whinnying horses, most of them with their noses in a feed trough.

“This here is Minnie Pearl,” says the man with the scuffed boots and the faded cowboy hat, gesturing to a brown horse with a ragged tail, a smear of dried mud on her hindquarters. I place my left hiking boot in the stirrup and with a grunt, swing myself into the saddle.

I’ve only been on a horse one other time in my life, as a Girl Scout at horseback riding camp. That was 30 years ago. Suddenly, for all my enthusiastic talk about “how fun it will be,” almost-42 seems a little old for this kind of thing. Minnie Pearl is higher than I imagined, now that I’m sitting on her back. I grip the saddle horn with both hands, reins clenched in my fingers, and I feel scared. Especially when I see my kids perched straight-backed and solemn on their horses. “You okay ?” Cole, our guide, asks, turning to Noah, who follows on ‘Lil Blue behind him. “You look terrified.”

Noah’s been terrified of this adventure all along, but now even Rowan, who’s listing slightly to the left in ‘Lil Paint’s saddle, is strangely quiet, and my heart thumps wildly as we approach the muddy creek, our horses creeping along the trail in single file.

Only Brad seems unruffled, sitting as calm and tall as Sir Lancelot, reins held lightly in his right hand, left hand resting on his thigh. How in the world is he managing to look so regal, while I’m galumphing along like a flummoxed peasant? Is it because he’s on a stately stallion while I’ve got a dowdy brown mare? Minnie Pearl whips her head away from ‘Lil Paint’s swishing tail and I screech, grabbing a fistful of mane in my hand.

Rowan’s horse balks at the edge of the bank – perhaps he doesn’t like to get his feet wet? – but finally, after much snapping of reins and “giddyupping,”  we make it across the spring-swollen creek and enter a meadow of sage and aspen.

I relax a bit, despite the fact that a bone I’d long forgotten even exists suddenly rears out of post labor and delivery dormancy. As I shift up and down in the saddle, futilely trying to get comfortable, I can see from the slope of his shoulders that Noah has begun to enjoy himself up ahead. We all laugh as Jughead, Brad’s stallion, strips tender leaves from branches with one clamp of his giant teeth and then neighs shrilly, startling us and making me shriek again. I’m sure our guide, a real cowboy from Waco, must feel disdain for tourists like me, with my screeches and nervous giggles. Up ahead, Cole fiddles with something, cowboy hat bent low. I assume he’s texting, until I see him spit a brown stream of tobacco into the woods.

We’re headed back now, poised to cross the creek downstream, but as the horses splash in, one after the other, I realize in a panic that the river runs much deeper and faster at this spot. Frigid water sloshes over my right boot, soaking my jeans halfway up my shin, and I feel Minnie Pearl strain against the current, her big body pushed sideways, neck stretched out long.
Noah and ‘Lil Blue bound safely onto the opposite bank, but when I glance behind me, I see Rowan tilting dangerously to one side of the saddle as ‘Lil Paint labors, half-swimming across the raging stream. Rowan’s eyes are wide as he looks straight at me, his two hands white against the reins.
It’s over in just a few seconds, and then we’re on a sandy spit, horses panting, tails dripping. Cole dismounts, saunters over to Rowan and adjusts his saddle and stirrups. “Water’s running pretty good, ain’t it?” he observes, spitting another brown stream onto the river rocks. I don’t like the fact that our seasoned cowboy seems mildly impressed with the creek. It makes me wonder if we were in any actual danger, especially Rowan, clinging to the neck of his horse.

“We’re you scared?” I ask Rowan later. The horses are back at the trough, and we walk with rubbery legs to the mini-van. “Not really,” he answers. “I could tell ‘Lil Paint knew what to do, so I didn’t need to do anything except hold on.”

I think about that simple statement as we rumble over the dirt road back to our cabin, a wake of dust hanging like a gauzy veil behind us. Slogging through a raging torrent, plunging into a deep valley, trudging across the barren wilderness…sometimes it’s all we can do to hold on, gripping the reins, trusting that someone leads, someone who knows exactly what to do.  

Sometimes, it seems, holding on for dear life is the smartest move of all.

Have you ever felt like you were holding on for dear life...on a horse or otherwise?

With Emily and Jennifer:


 

And Ann, writing about how to live here when home is in Heaven:
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Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: Look to the Mountains


About ten years ago Brad and I went camping in the back country of Glacier National Park in Montana. We hiked about 11 miles in to the campsite, where Brad erected the tent on a lovely plateau. Far below us a glacial lake sparkled the blue-green shade of Aquafresh, and above us, enveloping us, the mountains loomed. It was the most beautiful spot I had ever seen. Over our dinner of macaroni and cheese and a Hershey’s Special bar we watched the mountains glow azalea pink as the sun set, and then we tucked into our flannel and fleece for the night.

Two hours later, about midnight or so, I awakened with a jolt. The wind had picked up, and the nylon tent flapped violently as gusts shuddered across the plateau. I panicked. Suddenly I was sweating, dizzy, nauseous.

“Brad! Brad! I feel gross! I think I’m going to throw-up!"

I shook him awake – of course he was sleeping peacefully through it all. “Are we okay?! The tent! The tent! It’s blowing over! I think I’m going to throw up!”

Brad assured me that we were indeed okay, something about the tent material and its tendency to flap loudly in the even the most innocuous breeze.

I decided I needed some fresh air to quell the nausea, so I crawled out onto the rock in my socks and stood up. But gazing up at those looming mountains, the glacial snow ripping dramatic, ghostly swaths of white across the darkness, was even worse, even more terrifying. A baffling mix of agoraphobia and claustrophobia swept through me as I stood on the rock shivering in my flannel pjs, my arms wrapped around my chest. The land was so monstrously vast that I felt squashed, like the mountains were an enormous vice squeezing the breath from my body. Suddenly the reality that I was trapped – stuck in this big, lonely, scary place, eleven miles on foot from civilization in moonless, bear-ridden blackness – horrified me.

I ducked back into the tent. “It’s not helping!” I gasped to Brad. “I feel weird! I want to leave! Can we leave now?”

Brad stared at me in disbelief. “Now? Are you kidding? How do you think we’re going to find our way back to the lodge in the middle of the night?”

I realized, of course, that he was right; leaving was impossible. I felt gaggy. I started to cry.

The rest of the night I dozed with my face pressed into a tiny opening in the zipped tent flap, trying to negotiate a balance somewhere between in and out of the tent. Brad was sweet and remarkably patient, especially given the fact that no one in his entire extended family would have ever acted like such a wackjob on a camping trip. At 5 a.m. we packed up our campsite and began the eleven-mile hike back out. The next night we spent in a lodge. All in all, it was not my best moment.

I was reminded of that camping disaster yesterday when I heard these verses from Psalm 121:

“I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from the mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.” (1-2, The Message)

I didn’t believe in God at the time I spent that terrified night in the backcountry of Glacier National Park. I wonder now, if I had, would I have perhaps experienced awe rather than simply fear? Or at least awe mixed with fear? I wonder if I would have looked at those massive, looming peaks and felt amazed at God’s power, his awesomeness and might, instead of feeling overwhelmed by my insignificance, smallness and mortality.

Unfortunately, fear alone prevailed that night in the Montana mountains; it took another decade or so for the beginnings of awe and wisdom to follow. But today, nearly 15 years later, as I read those verses from Psalm 121, I’m grateful that I do believe in a God that big, that awesome, that astoundingly and beautifully overwhelming. Sure, I still feel small in the face of such grandeur, in the face of God and the landscape he created, but I don’t feel nearly as insignificant. Because now I know that the God who created the majestic Rocky Mountains also created me.

When's the last time you were simply awed by God? And what prompted that reaction?

{photo from the Grand Tetons, 2012; and if this story sounds vaguely familiar, it's because I've written about it before...way back in 2010 when I first started blogging!}  

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Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community, a place where we share what we are hearing from God and his Word.

If you're here for the first time, click
here for more information. Please include the Hear It, Use It button (grab the code over in the sidebar) or a link in your post, so your readers know where to find the community if they want to join in -- thank you!

Please also try to visit and leave some friendly encouragement in the comment box of at least one other Hear It, Use It participant. And if you want to tweet about the community, please use the #HearItUseIt hashtag.

Thank you -- I am so grateful to have you here!




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Weekend Meditation: Heights



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Graceful Summer: A Day of Small Things


It’s blowing so hard dust swirls in a cloud across the gravel lot, raining grit on the windshield and coating the van. The sign says the nature center doesn’t open until noon, but the kids beg and plead and we’ve driven 25 minutes from town, the wracking wind bullying us across the yellow dotted line.

I say yes, let’s stay. The building itself may be closed, but the prairie is always open.
Open.

I stand on the rise, hair tangled across my eyes, and I shake my head, laughing, because it was exactly this – this wide open land, this vast space I called “nothingness” – that I’d dreaded so much. I didn’t cry when I first heard I’d be moving to Nebraska. I was simply quiet with a sick dread. I had deemed Nebraska among my top five worst places to live – third behind only North Dakota and Nevada. How would I survive life in a giant rectangular state filled with nothing but corn and cattle?

And now? Now I can’t get enough of these huge skies and low clouds, rippling grass, flash of gold wing, hot wind.

The boys skip, each with a bag of baby carrots in his hand. Noah spots scarlet on black, and a red-winged blackbird trills from the willow. Rowan crouches, tall grass itching his calves, to watch a caterpillar on a balance beam blade. I tip my head back far to glimpse a dipping, soaring, wheeling hawk, graceful daredevil of the plains.




We sit out of the wind on the wooden bridge, dangle our feet over a chartreuse marsh, spy on the still frog.
He doesn’t move. Neither do we. I resist the urge to hurry the boys along. A hot summer day on the prairie seems like the perfect time to break a bad habit.




“Who despises the day of small things?”
Zechariah 4:10

{Pictures from Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, near Denton, Nebraska.}

What's your favorite way to spend a day of small things?

Welcome to Graceful Summer, a new link-up community here on Fridays through the end of August. We're sharing stories about the smaller, quieter moments of summer - will you share yours, too?

1. Write your post and link it up here on Fridays.
2. Visit someone else and leave a little comment love  - you might get a new creatively quiet idea!
3. Please include the Graceful Summer button or a link in your post, so people can find us if they want to join in.




 

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The Importance of Doing Nothing on Vacation


We drive 12 hours across land that's flat and beige as far as the eye can see. Antelope graze on sage behind miles of listing wooden fence. The wild west’s Great Wall unfurls under low-hanging clouds. Heat bounces off scorching asphalt as I roll the big blue suitcase across the motel parking lot. Hand across my brow, I squint at shimmering foothills in the distance.


The next morning the minivan climbs, chugging between cliffs that loom like rugged skyscrapers, plunging into lush valleys, trees just now budding, grass the fresh green of early spring. I lean my forehead against the cool window, dizzy and breathless but unable to stop looking at the glittering stream that wends through emerald far below.

The first couple of days in the Grand Tetons are a whirlwind as we clamber over glacial boulders and crumbling scree, frigid mist from roaring falls settling like a web on our hair. We pose and snap and scramble through charred aspen and pine. Young fir, needles soft, push through decaying wood.



After dinner we sit on a gravel beach still warm from the afternoon sun. The lake is as smooth as ice, and the boys beg to skip rocks and make boats and maybe dig a castle in the sand for Bowser, their favorite Mario character.
But it’s late. The sun has slipped behind snow-strewn granite. Just a glimmer of rose paints the highest peaks. "There's not time," we tell the kids. "We need to rest up for another big day tomorrow."

We tuck the boys into fleece, and later, as bats squeal hidden behind the  cabin's log rafters, I lay awake (terrified, if you must know), and think, “We need more quiet." And I don't just mean during the night.

It's easy to make that mistake on vacation, isn't it? You want to see it all, squeeze in every possible activity, hike every trail, admire every vista.  And you end up exhausted, frazzled, the scenery and memories a blur, smudged in racing from place to place.
We spend the next afternoon perched on the shore of Jackson Lake. Rowan fashions a driftwood boat, complete with twig-and-leaf sail (we marvel when we find it the next day on the far side of the harbor, still intact).

Noah methodically hauls stone after stone to create what he calls Splash Rock Island three feet from the beach. I kick off my sandals, turn my face toward the sun and read Henri Nouwen while Brad excavates an old coin from the dirt.


One evening during a power outage (we had three during our stay in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone!), Brad and I sip merlot and snack on crackers and hummus outside our cabin while Noah and Rowan construct a hotel for carpenter ants out of pine needles, stones and sticks. 
The next day the three boys bend low over the marsh under the bridge to discover a colony of miniscule lake creatures costumed in moss and reeds. Rowan holds one in his palm, gleefully explaining how he’d spotted the cleverly camouflaged bugs. The three spend an hour on that bottom step while I stroll the bridge, cold wind whipping as I point my camera straight into the sun.

We may not have hiked every trail or glimpsed every grizzly bear, yet I'd say these do-nothing hours spent in quiet creativity were among the best in our ten days. Leave it to my kids, once again, to help me figure out the value of doing nothing at all...even on vacation. 

So tell me...what's your favorite do-nothing vacation "activity?"

** And might I invite you to come back Friday for a new special summer link-up here? You might have noticed my "Graceful Summer" series that I started two weeks ago... Well my friend Diana suggested it might make a fun community link-up, and I agree. Each week we'll share how we are enjoying the slower, quieter moments of summer. See you there?
With Laura...
 
And Jennifer...


And Emily...



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