Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transparent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. ~ Sara Ban Breathnach

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hard Gratitude

"Look at him; give him your warmest smile. Never hide your feelings from him." ~ Psalm 34:5 (MSG)

My cousin posted on Facebook that one of her choirs were singing "Follow the River." Curious, I began searching...

Follow the River will lead you home...

This morning I was led to Psalm 34 and was blessed. Of course, with Ann's book sitting on my kitchen table,  I am seeking gratitude...I am doing my best to be opened to the gifts that are given to me within moments...

The song my cousin is using in a school choir... that was a blessing this morning as I listened to the words.

Then Psalm 34 a psalm of "life"... real life was placed in my hands.

Life as described in Ann Voskamp's book.  Life as experienced by Job.  Life as I experience....

Psalm 34 is attributed to David when he outwitted Abimelech and got away.  How fitting scripture uses the name of "Abimeliech" that David outwitted. Abimelech is simply a "name" for any Philistine king.  Abimelech could also be the name of those things that pursue me.  Fear, uncertainty, anxiety, adrenaline rushes.... Like Ann, the author of Psalm 34 is not saying, "Life is always good and that I am happy at all times."  I believe the author is saying, "I CHOOSE to bless God at all times...ALL times."

Psalm 34:1-2 "I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with his praise. I live and breathe God: if things aren't going well, here this and be happy:"

That is the journey I am beginning...and continuing as I pick up One Thousand Gifts.  But, it is not a new journey.
This morning I thought back to Joyce Rupp's book, "The Cup of Life", the book that launched me into this blogging/journaling.

This morning I was reminded of "emptying my cup" so that it could be filled with what God wills...what God intends to be in my cup for my health and so that I might be used by him within his world.

Emptying my cup..."God met me more than halfway, he freed me from my anxious fears...When I was desperate, I called out, and God got me out of a tight spot. God's angel sets up a circle of protection around us while we pray. Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see - how good God is..." (Psalm 34:4-8 MSG)

Eugene Peterson writes of the words within Psalm 34:
"...they're the words of a person who has simply decided to speak a blessing every chance he gets, determined to be ready to give thanks in all things. The reason of coures sn't because he feels great but because he believes that God is working through all things to bring forth good."
Peterson continues:
"Do you think of the Christian life as something that lifts you out of the realm of the mundane into something more majestic? If so, you're wishing in the wrong direction. The Christian faith draws us deeper into the stuff of creation: bodies, money, emotions, relationships. Some of the stuff we see is awful. And some of the stuff we feel is painful. 
"But it is precisely there, in the awfulness and the painfulness of life, that we discover something that transcends these things." 
"If your heart is broken, you'll find God right there; if you're kicked in the gut, he'll help you catch your breath." Psalm 34: 18

While searching form the song Follow the River, I found another, Christmas Lullaby. The words of this song reflect on how she is like Mother Mary, bringing hope into the world.

I am also a Mary!  God calls me to empty my cup, to find him within the mess, the uncertainties, the fears.... of life...and to offer him praise!

That is hard gratitude, yet when I get this....when I live this truth...."I" fully receive God's hope and I bring hope into the world!

Peterson writes:
"The single qualification for being eligible for God's help is that we be in trouble. The reason we're in trouble doesn't matter, whether it's our own fault or someone else's. What matters is that God is right there in the midst of our troubles, stooping to pick up the pieces of our broken hearts and put them back together."
"Come children, listen closely; I'll give you a lesson in God worship." ~ Psalm 34:11

These lessons of offering gratitude within darkness, Hard Gratitude, God has given me...has put his word before me in so many ways.  He wants me to be able to bless him with my heart opened....within the darkness.  And when I do...when I am able to truly let him fill that space...I will be blessed and I will be a blessing.

Christmas Lullaby.....

May it come to pass....AMEN.

Many Blessings ~ Sandi

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why One Thousand Gifts?

From our beginnings, we keep reliving the Garden story. ~ Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p 15

Grace by Laura Story

It is a shame I can't keep a journal of all my life because when I would pause to look back, I know I would see things, people, images... all being repeated over and over again.  I know this because there are times I actually do notice!  One of the repeats that kept coming my way was Ann's book One Thousand Gifts.

"I do not want nor do I need another devotional to read and clutter up my space!"

"I can only absorb, I can only handle so many 'good things'!"

"I have actually latched on to a couple of devotionals, I'm good! I don't need another!"

".....!" ...was my response to each subtle invitation.

I noticed this morning the copyright date is 2010.  God/the Universe/Spirit...whatever term you are comfortable using when referring to the Source of all life....this Great Spirit must have begun nudging Ann's book my direction shortly after it was published!  My resistance is an indication to the stubbornness within me that this blessed Creator is constantly working to sand down a bit. : )

To show how silly I can be, part of my resistance to picking up Ann's book was that I LOVED the image on the book-jacket!  I was fearful of becoming engrossed in a book for which I felt I did not have the time.  OR, another silly thought was that I would be disappointed.  The inside would not match the pull of the image on the outside.

Long story short....I finally did purchase the book and was pleasantly surprised by how it fed me, how it challenged me, and how it encouraged me.

While I was at first hesitant to share some of my thoughts as I read through the book again, today, I am actually looking forward to the challenge.  Last Sunday I began a new study for adults at the church using the book of Job.  I've never studied Job before and have felt a sense of enthusiasm as I have begun making preparations for the class.  This morning, reading the first chapter of Ann's book, "an emptier, fuller life" I was struck by how the words she used to talk about an early tragedy in her life sounded similar to Job's friends.

"Ah!" I thought, "another layer I can use when reading both books!"

Ann begins early on with the theme of the entire book.

Ann introduces her theme with a single word, eucharisteo, with means "he gave thanks."

Eucharisteo is the word that is used in Luke 22:19 when Jesus gave thanks for the bread at the Last Supper before he served it to his disciples.

You might be thinking, "yet one more book on gratitude..." and you would be right.  I had the same thought which was one more reason I did not pick up the book.  Yet, Ann offers at times a gut-wrenching honesty which gave her words more strength and power than other books I have read on gratitude.  Stories and words shared are not simply words offered by someone who has not known, or is not willing to share her own struggles.

The thoughts and insights from this book have been pulled from life experiences...from real life struggles.

I wish I could continue writing, I feel as though I have much to journal, but I've a budget meeting to prepare for in a couple of hours!  So....hopefully I will have an opportunity to post more tomorrow.

Before signing off I do want to offer a praise by how I have been blessed today!

I enjoyed a wonderful brunch with a group of women within whose space I rest.  They offer me and one another a sacred space to "be". Later I visited with another woman from the group who was not able to participate.  Again, it was sacred moments spent sitting side by side in her living room.

I am grateful for the gift of sacredness...for the gift of love that was offered to me this day. I am so glad I made myself available to receive the gift.  Funny thing love, moments like today, it is so easy to reach out and touch.  Still, other times, it is some times discovered in places we would not expect.... Love is Here by Tenth Avenue North.'s a gift, it is sometimes a challenge to receive.

Many Blessings ~ Sandi

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Good News to Share...

I stopped by Family Christian Bookstore this afternoon to look for the latest Casting Crown CD and discovered two special gifts!

You have heard me quote from Eugene Peterson's The Message.  While I LOVE the Conversations edition, it is normally fairly expensive.  Until September 29, Family Christian will be offering the Message Bible for $7.00.

ALSO, until the 29th, the store will also be offering Ann Vankamp's book, One Thousand Gifts half price, $8.49. This is even less than Amazon's price.

An added bonus....I've wanted to read this book AND there it was in video form...half price.  The Forgotten God by Frances Chan. I have heard many positive comments regarding this book.  I'm not sure what the video format is.

Boggstown folks....I will be around a Family Christian Bookstore on Thursday.  If you would like me to pick you up a copy, let me know by tomorrow evening.

I have not checked, but you could probably order books online as well.

Isn't it great when we can be surprised by the gift of a lowered price!

Many Blessings ~ Sandi

Hard Gratitude

"When your energy fails you, do not look inward and lament the lack you find there. Look to Me and My sufficiency; rejoice in My radiant riches that are abundantly available to help you." ~ Sarah Young, "Jesus Calling"

You Are My Strength - Hillsong

I know so many people who are struggling and I feel helpless knowing how to help.  They are hard issues that I cannot fix, I can only pray and hopefully listen well when they need a safe place.

Ann will be encouraging me to discover gratitude within the hard places, she refers to it as "hard eucharisteo."

You know what is hard?

It is hard trying to share the truth of discovering gratitude in the midst of pain.  The words of Psalm 27 encourage me, within my own fears and darkness, and hopefully the words of this Psalm will help me encourage others.  Verses 13-14 read:
I'm sure now I'll see God's goodness in the exuberant earth.
Stay with God! Take heart. Don't quit.
I'll say it again: Stay with God.

Sarah Young, in her devotional book, Jesus Calling writes this morning:
Relax in My everlasting arms. Your weakness is an opportunity to grow strong in awareness of My Almighty Presence. When your energy fails you, do not look inward and lament the lack you find there. Look to Me and My sufficiency; rejoice in My radiant riches that are abundantly available to help you. 
Go gently through this day, leaning on Me and enjoying My Presence. Thank Me for your neediness, which is building trust bonds between us. If you look back on your journey thus far, you can see that days of extreme weakness have been some of your most precious times. Memories of these days are richly interwoven with golden strands of My intimate Presence.
"Thank Me for your neediness..."

That is difficult.

It is difficult to live and it is even more difficult to preach!

Ahhh.... I first must live this truth before I can preach this truth!

I actually knew that....I did need the reminder.

On the back of the book jacket of Ann's book it says,
One Thousand Gifts beacons you to leave the parched ground of pride, fear, and white knuckle control and abandon yourself to the God who overflows your cup. As Ann Voskamp invites you into her own moments of grace, she gently teaches you how to biblically lament loss, turning pain into poetry, intentionally embrace a lifestyle of radical gratitude and slow down and catch God in the moment. 
Not a book merely to read, One Thousand Gifts begs to be embraced as a dynamic, interactive primer inviting you to engage with truths that will serve up the depth's of God's joy and transform your life forever.
Radical Gratitude.  I think that speaks of gratitude within things that the world would miss.

Oh, we [the world]  so need this kind of  lesson, but I am not the world.  Still, as Gandhi challenges us" "Be the change .... ."

I have two appointments and calls to make...all with individuals who are suffering. I simply pray that I can take the lessons I have learned and continue to learn within these conversations.

Prayer For a Friend - Casting Crowns


Many Blessings ~ Sandi

Monday, September 26, 2011

Blessed are the people...

Blessed are the people who know the password of praise, Who shout on parade in the bright presence of God. ~ Psalm 89:15 (MSG)

Blessed be the Lord God Almighty 

I was blessed by Psalm 89 this morning, I say "blessed" because it seemed so appropriate as I consider my new book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

Last evening I was questioning my decision to use this book.  I LOVE this book, but I haven't been sure I want to journal online as I once again read through its pages.  I wasn't sure I wanted to be quite so "open."  I was still questioning my decision this morning. I paused as I began my devotion time, asking God to give me direction AND to help me hear his direction!

Psalm 89 is a fairly lengthy Psalm. David moves from praising God, lamenting, and then back to praise. Once again, Eugene Peterson's poetic translation offers me new images to consider.  I loved the way he began"
"Your love God, is my song and I'll sing it."
I paused with this first verse, still it was verses 15-18 that opened me, giving me the courage to begin reading One Thousand Gifts with others and to eventually begin sharing my thoughts.
"Blessed are the people who know the password of praise,Who shout on parade in the bright presence of God.Delighted they dance all day long; they know who you are, what you do - they can't keep it quiet!Your vibrant beauty has gotten inside us - You've been so good to us! We're walking on air!All we are and have we owe to God, Holy God of Israel, our King!"
On the inside of Ann's book it reads:
what it means to be...
...deeply human
...deeply spiritual
...deeply and authentically fulfilled

The publisher (Dayspring) goes on to write:
"Like most readers, Ann Voskamp hungers to live her one life well. Forget the bucket lists about once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

"How," Voskamp wondered, "do we find joy in the midst of deadlines, debt, drama, and daily duties? What does a life of gratitude look like when your days are gritty, long, and sometimes dark? What is God providing here and now?

"A beautifully practical guide to living a life of joy, One Thousand Gifts invites you to wake up to God's everyday blessings. As Voskamp discovered, in giving thanks for the life she already had, she found the life she'd always wanted.

"Following Voskamp's grace-bathed reflections on her farming, parenting, and writing life, you will embark on a transformative spiritual discipline of chronicling gifts. Along the way you will discover a way of seeing that opens your eyes to gratitude, a way of living so you are not afraid to die, and a way of becoming present to God's presence that brings deep and lasting happiness."

Before I begin, I am confessing that this is the first time I noticed the words "transformative spiritual discipline of chronicling gifts."

I had totally skimmed past, over, through....those words in past readings.  This online journal is about discovering spiritual disciplines and I blew past these words!

This online journaling is to help me learn to "pause", to "slow down" AND I still blew past these words!!!

I confess (Okay...twice in one posting I'm confessing!) that I am totally, and have been totally, covered up with work today...and will remain so in the days to come. My mind has been fragmented today as I have tried to get things done for the church's upcoming Homecoming Celebration. It has taken me longer to do simple tasks, simply because I am not sharp mentally...I'm not focused.

While I am confessing, I may as well continue, by admitting that I purchased a pretty fabric covered journal in which to "chronicle gifts."  I actually chronicled gifts for maybe 2-3 weeks, but then like many things that are healthy for me, I allowed it to become pushed to the side by the urgent stuff of life.

You know what?

Reading these words ("my" words), its no wonder God seemed to keep nudging me to use Ann's book for my online reflections.

Let's consider the upcoming three months...Wee Kirk, Homecoming, Halloween, trip to Wisconsin, Turkey Dinner at church, Thanksgiving, Hanging of the Greens, Seven Birthday Celebrations, Christmas Shopping/Wrapping/Decorating, Christmas Eve Communion, Christmas on Sunday morning, New Years on Sunday morning....... Gosh, do you think I might need help in keeping perspective on what it is I am grateful for in the midst of the upcoming demands on my time?

It is these kinds of non-stop busy times I allow my resident Demon permission to whisper doubts in my ears that I then choose to listen to and believe....and then I'm headed down that track of fear and anxiety full steam. I allow this to happen because I am not taking the time to spend moments within the presence of most important relationship of my life. I'm not taking the time to be deeply human, deeply spiritual, nor deeply and authentically fulfilled.

Lord, I just ask your blessing upon me and upon all those who decide to walk alongside me, reading One Thousand Gifts. By your Spirit, help me to remain present to you as the demands of work and family begin to mount in the days to come. I cannot do this on my own, God, I need you working within me to give me strength to pursue that which I know to be the most important.  I thank you and bless you for all you do for me! AMEN!

A song for me to cling to whenever life seems to be coming at me a bit faster than I like.  "Your love God, is my song and I'll sing it...with your help!  His Eye is on the Sparrow.

Many Blessings ~ Sandi

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Back in the saddle.

I read the most amazing scripture passage this morning in my Message Bible. 1 Peter 5:7-9 -
God's strong hand is on you; he'll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you. Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You're not the only one plunged into these hard times.
Keep my guard up...

This morning I posted a journal page, I saved it periodically even though Blogger is supposed to be saving it automatically.  But then I couldn't insert an image. I clicked "Save" and logged off the site.  I came back on and pulled up my "saved" post...and there was nothing.

Because I am physically exhausted after the past several days, I almost walked away, but then an old, old, old song from the past came to mind.

Stop! In the Name of Love!  by Diana Ross and the Supremes.

: ) Now, how's that for a blast from the past! : )

But, cant' you hear God saying, "Stop, in the name of Love" when you feel inclined to skip over the "important"?

"Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up."

Honestly, I have thought several times over the past few days how I would welcome a nap! Sometimes, a nap will refresh me, helping me to stay alert.  But, I know that is not the kind of napping Peter is talking about.

It is so easy to let the pressures of daily life crowd out that which is important.  Even though I have not been journaling, I have continued to read my devotion book by Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, nearly every day.  A few times I have plugged my earphones in and have listened to an online devotion at when my Soul Sister has sent an email reminding me of the gift that is awaiting me.

Today, on, Amy Butler writes:
What wouldn’t we give to have lives that are satisfied and content? Seek the face of God; look to God for food that satisfies. When you do, you’ll quickly find that God answers and provides.
I will not experience deep and life giving satisfaction and content by succumbing to the pressures of life.  By, letting things like aches and pains; frustration with Blogger; a clock reminding me of Evan's soccer game.... By letting these "urgent" things take precedent over the "important" it is far to easy for Evil to catch me napping and pouncing...

So!!! I am doing my best to calm my anxious heart this morning. I am doing my best to remain still before the God who created me and all that I see instead of succumbing to my urgent lists of "need to do..."

I'm doing my best to sit in the presence of life giving light so that I am better equipped to respond to my aches, my fatigue, my lists.

I'm doing my best...and I already feel stronger for just these few moments spent reflecting on God's Word, listening to the music of, and journaling.

God created me to journal!!!

I have completed Macrina's book, A Tree Full of Angels and have been wondering what my next read will be.  Honestly, I've several things going (imagine that!!).  I have not been able to decide on a direction for my online journal.  There are too many good books...good reads available and I feel confused with having to make a choice.  BUT!!! Today I am taking that step!

Next week I will begin journaling with Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts.

I will do my best to journal a little more about my choice later today but for now, I've a soccer game to go watch!

For now...a tease of what this book is about...

Gratefulness, Snatam Kaur - the Sun shines on everyone....

I am so grateful to be getting back in the saddle!!! Even though I have been reading...I have missed journaling!!

Many Blessings ~ Sandi

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

God's Re-Creation

“Some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?” ` St. Augustine (354-430)

Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens

I'm on a tight schedule this morning and decided I did not have time to journal, yet, as Augustine reminds me, there are different ways to connect with God other than reading a devotional book...or journalling.

Sometimes, I just need to slow my pace and notice how God has blessed my morning.

First, it was this Monarch resting and gathering strength for her long journey.  I found an empty chrysalis nearby...what a gift.

Then, it was two bright flowers amid the more muted fall mums.  Again, what a gift.

God's re-creation...of a new day!

Many Blessings ~ Sandi

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Feasting With the Trees

For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver. ~ Martin Luther

I Will Delight by Fernando Ortega

I will delight in the law of the Lord
I will meditate day and night
Then like a tree firmly planted
I will be grounded in your word...

I have been dragging my feet to finish Macrina's book, A Tree Full of Angels because....I don't have a book to blog with!!!  Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Today, I decided to share Macrina's thoughts from page 152 of her book.  This journal entry is entitled: The harvest of beauty; feasting with the trees.

I love trees.  Earlier this year I posted a picture of a hard maple that has stood outside my kitchen window long before it was my kitchen window. She's aged and not in good health.  I am thankful for each season of her life. Thus, Macrina's thoughts on trees and community resonated with me. She writes:
"A community of empty trees sways outside my window, dancing in the early morning light. Revering them with awe during my morning coffee, I ponder. 
How many rays of sunlight have slipped through your wooden fingers, delighting me with golden steams of warmth and awakening me to the new day? How many parties have you hosted for the squirrels  watching their restless litte bodies leaping through your limbs - catching them, holding them, and being their support? How often have you welcomed home the birds nesting in your branches, lending them your slender arms, listening to their song, singing with them as you sway?"
I smiled, reading Macrina's reflection and I thought how a community of trees does not judge or create boundaries, limiting who comes into their sanctuary. I thought how they not only welcome new life into their midst, but as Macrina notes...they join in with them as they sing and praise and play.

Some days I think the church could learn a lot from observing trees and then reflecting on how they could model similar behavior.
"Your green leaves have long ago waved a fond good-bye, retuning to the earth to nourish you still more. Yet even in your barrenness, how beautiful you stand! You've held your share of beauty every season, and now with winter's icy breath almost upon you, you seem content. Content as when you wore your coat of green! Content as when you wore your bright and fiery robes! You stand unfretting and untroubled, a community of trees."
This morning, one of my Facebook friends asked, What makes you happy? I read through the comments and thought for a moment then wrote, A quiet day with no agenda.

Now, it is me who can glean a lesson from the trees! Macrina offers me such a wonderful image of grace, of resting as she considers a barren tree.

I've not viewed a barren tree through such a lens.  I absolutely hate the cold and barrenness of winter! I detest ice!!! I'm not crazy about snow when there is more than 2 inches. In other words, I become a Winter Grump.  I have to work hard to keep smiling behind my grumpiness.

I'm already experiencing a sadness as I watch leaves beginning to fall.  I wonder if it is possible for me to view the upcoming barrenness as my "quiet day with no agenda"?

I wonder if it is possible for me to view the upcoming barrenness with a sense of joining in some needed rest?

"A community of trees! A contemplative community, making holy space and time. I want to be, like you...I yearn, like you, to embrace all the colors of my life. I yearn to be the great adorer that you are. To bend and bow and sway! To stand in beauty through all the seasons of my heart!"
Wow...this is an image for me to hold as I consider my beloved and aging hard maple.  At this point in my life, honestly I can identify more with that maple than I can the trees I have set out since living here.  Most are 30 years old, young and spry in tree years! Yet, in their midst stands my favorite tree, an aging hard maple.

It isn't just me, there are many within my community of faith who struggle seeing the "golden" within their Golden Years.  It is easy to focus on aches and pains... to focus on those things that I/we can no longer do easily...if at all.

Macrina has offered me grace moments to simply sit within the sunlight of God's world this morning, acknowledging that I am a part of his creation. He has blessed me with a brain to think and to observe, and reflect.....

Sarah Young's devotion in Jesus Calling asked me to:
"Relate to Me as creature to Creator, sheep to Shepherd, subject to King, clay to Potter. Allow Me to have My way in your life. Rather than evaluating My ways with you, accept them thankfully. The intimacy I offer you is not an invitation to act as if you were My equal. Worship Me as King of kings while walking hand in hand with Me down the path of Life."

Okay, Lord, I get the message. Help me to let go of my judgements I make regarding my life and the life of others. By the power of your Spirit, help me to avoid words like "bad", "good", "sad"... and simply be present within your grace. A friend shared with me the other day how an individual she know's responds "I am blessed" when ever he is asked "how are you..."

Gosh, God! How might that begin changing my lens as I view myself, others .... the world? How might that help me to sway, bow, bend like the trees. How might that help me breath...making holy space and time, just as your...hard maple outside my kitchen window makes holy space and time?

I am blessed!

Almighty and powerful Spirit! Transform me, help me to model the grace and the wisdom of the trees outside my window. Work within me, open my heart so that I might respond, "I am blessed!" and live into that reality! AMEN!

Who Am I by Casting Crowns.

Many Blessings ~ Sandi

Monday, September 12, 2011

Receive My Peace

Receive My Peace. It is My continual gift to you. ~ Sarah Young (Jesus Calling, September 12)

Pausing and resting for a few moments as I begin a new day.... The Shadows - Peace Pipe

Yesterday was a FULL day!

I left home at 5:45 so that I could make a stop at Wal-Mart to pick up a few supplies for the day and then it was on to my community of faith nestled within the cornfields of Shelby Co.

September 11 was the date for the annual Worship in the Park, which includes  a picnic and games.  Because of the 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 Tragedy, we also planned a Service of Remembrance at the church.

The worship time was wonderful and there has to be more good cooks in this congregation than any other in the county! I am always amazed at the amount of food at these picnics.

A little after 1:00 we walked to the church to host a community wide service of remembrance.  I was touched in ways I had not expected.  One woman whose father's funeral was being held at the church on September 11, 2001 came and sang in the choir.  She shared with me her dad had been a pilot and she had always wondered what his thoughts might have been on that day as planes were highjacked in order to create such tragedy.

I offered time during the service for names and stories of that day to be lifted up.  Besides the story of a father's funeral, another woman shared how a friend had dreamt of moving to New York.  She had been so excited as her dream came true.  She had been in New York two days on 9/11.  That fateful day, she was in the World Trade Towers.

Another, shared how her best friend's son had served this nation all over the world.  Sue worried constantly, knowing her son's postion always had him in the heat of any battle.  But, he was home, so life was good. This devoted son and soldier was in the Pentagon ten years ago. Survivors told stories of a large man in uniform holding up beams and barking orders on how to escape.

Our illusion of control was shattered ten years ago, making today's devotion in Sarah Young's, Jesus Calling even more poignant.
"Receive My Peace. It is My continual gift to you. The best way to receive this gift is to sit quietly in My Presence, trusting Me in every area of your life. Quietness and trust accomplish far more than you can imagine: not only in you, but also on earth and in heaven. When you trust Me in a given area, you release that problem or person into My care."
This morning I rose with a headache.  I still felt a sense of tiredness from yesterday and instead of taking the time to read Sarah's devotion or to sit down with scripture, I was going to just skip it and get busy.  Honestly, I wasn't in the mood to sit.

Yet, Spirit was really encouraging me to SIT DOWN, SAN!!! Thankfully, I listened.

First I was struck by how Eugene Peterson transposes Isaiah 30:15-17. Verse 15 reads:
"...Your salvation requires you to turn back to me and stop your silly efforts to save yourself. Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on me..."
Yesterday, during the Remembrance Service, I used passages from Job.  I shared that scripture does not say we will not suffer and at times we will suffer unjustly! That seems to be the reality of life. Yet, it isn't the suffering that claims our hearts and souls, it is suffering without God.  Isaiah 30:17:

"There'll be nothing left of you - a flagpole on a hill with no flag, a signpost on a roadside with the sign torn off."

You know, I felt a bit like a flagpole with no flag this morning as I stumbled into the kitchen.

Next I read Paul's letter to the church in Corinth. 2 Corinthians 10:3-6.
"The world is unprincipled...We don't live or fight our battles that way...The tools of our trade aren't for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt cultures..."
Last evening I watched a portion of a show that featured individuals who had worked to search and rescue victims of the World Trade Towers. One man said something like, "9/11 didn't happen ten years ago, it is still happening." This was true for him and the others gathered with him because of the illnesses rescuers have battled since they worked amid the debris of the Towers.

This morning I remembered his words as I reflected on Paul's letter to the Corinthians.  9/11 shattered my/our illusion of control, of being safe.  Even with the heightened security, living in rural Indiana, I still live with the illusion of peace, totally discounting the spiritual warfare that is going on around and within me and those I love.

This passage from 2 Corinthians reminds me that battles on this earth are fought with deadly weapons.  Eugene Peterson would most likely refer to them as "tools for war."  Peterson notes that human kind is heavily involved with tools.
"Every human endeavor - framing, cooking, learning, building, even believing - requires tools. Some tools are made of wood, some of metal, some of words. Prayer is a tool that is made mostly of words, but it's no less a tool than one made of steel." (Eugene Peterson, Conversations, p 1811)
Peterson continues with these thoughts by pointing out to me that all the tools are essential: the plow for farming, the book for learning, pots of cooking, prayers for believing. All the sources of our action - body, mind, sprit - are dependent on tools.

I'm a farm girl! I've been around tools my whole life.  Tools to till the land and to harvest. Tools to work with livestock. Tools to garden and to can or freeze....

I had not paused to consider the warfare going on around me just as I had not considered my time sitting with scripture, music, prayer... as using tools.
"Life is the issue, human whole in a world in which God is in action. To live as human beings means that we use tools...We live well or badly by means of the tools we have and how well we use them." (Peterson, ibid) 
I am sure the images of 9/11 being everywhere this past week have given me a heart that is more opened to hearing God's word shared in Isaiah and 2 Corinthians.  Like I said, I seldom consider the spiritual warfare going on around me.  The statement by the rescuer, "9/11 is still happening..." opened my heart to hearing these words of scripture in a new way...  Eugene Peterson compounded the message of these verses by referring to prayer, reading "tools" used in order for me to live well.

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, John tells us that he promised a gift, a Helper, to his disciples.  John 14:25-27.  I love verse 27:

"That's my parting gift to you. Peace. I don't leave you the way you're used to being left..."
"God, I thank you and praise you for the gift of your 'nudge' to SIT DOWN this morning.  Because I listened, I am stepping into this new day equipped with the peace you offer through your Word and through time sitting quietly with you in reflection and prayer. Thank you for the reminder that I need you to live wholly and sane. May the peace you have given me this morning be given those I come in contact with throughout my day. AMEN.

Yesterday I used the church's veterans and children in the Remembrance Service.  I closed by telling those gathered that for the sake of our children, we, as people of faith, have to discover ways to trust God with history so that they, our children and our children's children might know peace.  It sounds impossible, yet it will not happen without individuals deciding to take that step.  I am reminded of the old proverb, "Be the change you wish to see."

I have used this song many times in the past, yet, as I consider the children, it remains my prayer...Let There Be Peace on Earth - by The Choir Boys


Many Blessings ~ Sandi

Friday, September 9, 2011

I Wonder, I Wonder.... Symbolic Presence

If God had wanted to be a big secret, He would not have created babbling brooks and whispering pines.  ~Robert Brault

In honor of my saxophonist beloved brother who is recuperating from a procedure that will hopefully "fix" the problems with his head...

How Great Thou Art by Mr. P a saxophonist from San Diego.

Today I have been working to catch up from a hectic week of a my grand-baby being born, of a brother trying to discover solutions to the issues going on in his brain, of leading a Bible study, other regular responsibilities plus creating bulletins and two messages for two separate services this coming Sunday.

Feeling like I needed something to recenter my thoughts, I picked up Robert Hamma's book Earth's Echo - Sacred Encounters With Nature and read where my page opened.  With this reading, I moved from The Desert to The River that began with "Paying Attention" to the thoughts of Roger Housden:
"I had last seen the Ganges some years before, at Hardiwar. Chloe, my partner, and I had rented a room in the tourist bungalow. One day we were sitting watching the river through the open door. The cleaner emerged from along the corridor and crept into our room with his brown reed brush. He was stooped, older than his years, a sad little man. I was prompted to ask if he had a family. "Yes," he said, and then, after a pause, "but wife sick and children too. No money for medicines, very difficult." He made to start his work and then as if remembering something, he turned and pointed through the door to the river. "But Ma Ganga will take care of us." Without another word, he began sweeping the floor, 
"I had never heard of anyone speak of a river that way before. For this man, the Ganges was a living presence, a protector, a healer of ills."
"Pondering" (remember....Hamma's book is another lesson in Lectio Divina)

With the thoughts of Housden's reflection on Ma Ganges, Hamma writes:
"There is a story in the New Testament about a Roman centurion who approaches Jesus to ask for a healing of his servant. When Jesus agrees to go to the house, the centurion says that is not necessary. Jesus need only give the command and his servant will be healed. To this, Jesus remarks in amazement that nowhere else has he found such faith.  
"Often, it seems that the most awe-inspiring power is indeed the power of faith. For the aged Hindu man described by Roger Housden in this story, the river inspired such a faith. For him, the river was a compassionate presence. In it he recognized the benevolent goodness at the heart of life, even in the midst of his struggle and suffering. Ma Ganga was a spiritual mother to him, and he placed his trust in her." (Robert M. Hamma, Earth's Echo, p 131)
Tuesday, I led a Bible Study on Sarai, Abram's wife.

I felt as though the author of the study was a bit hard on Sarai and Abram at times.  I reminded the women participating in the study that 1. Both Abram and Sarai were new to this one God thing. 2. They did not have a Bible or even writings to guide them and give them insight. With this in mind, I wonder if Abram's character would have seen the God that was speaking to him within his surroundings?  Would he have stood watching the setting sun, and felt the blessing of God flowing over his head?  Would he have stood looking out at the vastness of his surroundings and considered the awesomeness of God?

I wonder how much he prayed to this God?  Obviously, as they entered Egypt and he warned Sarai to say she was his sister, he was not relying on the God he followed from Ur to protect him without him making his own precautions.  I wonder if Sarai prayed to this God asking for a child? If she did, she either didn't hear a response or she didn't believe God's promise since she decided Hagar could provide Abram with a child.  I wonder if this couple sensed Sacred Presence within their surroundings?

Unlike Abram and Sarai, I have a record of God's moving within and between the people of this world, yet I all to often also try to create my desired results.  Still, like Abram...I continue to learn and grow in my faith.  Still, like Abram, I continue to grow in my trust.
"Such a faith is awe-inspiring. I imagine that the Roman centurion only arrived at such faith because he allowed himself to be touched by the Jewish preacher. When he did, he must have discovered the embers of faith being fanned into a flame within him. So too the Hindu man must have sensed a loving presence in the river, inviting him to trust, to be hopeful when no reasonable hope existed."
So too the Hindu man must have sensed a loving presence in the river, inviting him to trust, to be hopeful when no reasonable hope existed.  I wonder if it was such a presence that invited the "hope", the "trust" that was beneath and within the story of Abraham taking Isaac to be sacrificed?
"Looking at a majestic river is awe-inspiring. But what flows out of that awe within me? It is easy to walk away with a sense of nature's power and beauty. But it takes a deeper sensitivity for me to allow that awe to evolve into trust. This only happens when I recognize that the river is a symbolic presence, through which the goodness and compassion that ever holds the world, holds me too, safely in her arms."
Oooo...this hits me between the eyes.  Daily, I find myself pausing to notice beauty and power within nature, yet...I struggle with trust.  I struggle with releasing my illusion of control to the symbolic presence that causes me to stop and pause.  Hamma's words, "...through which the goodness and compassion that ever holds the world, holds me too, safely in her arms." is a powerful image.

"Responding"  Hamma writes a short verse:
"I am blessed in your presence,  for you speak softly to me,  inviting me to trust,  offering me hope.
Let me stay by your side, and learn the subtleties of your voice, as you fill my awe with peace, and draw me beyond passivity.
Say but a word,  and my soul will be healed."
And "learn the subtleties of your voice...Say but a word, and my soul will be healed."

I wonder...I wonder how much I am depending upon "my" will to draw closer to God?

I wonder how much I am depending upon "my" efforts to study readings that will open my heart?

I wonder how much I depend upon "my" intention of being aware?

I wonder sometimes if I am trying to hard.

"Surrendering" Hamma offers an insight by Thomas Berry:
"Go to the earth...and ask it for guidance."
A few days ago, I agonized with my best buddy that I wanted the faith of Teresa of Avila, or of the Desert Fathers/Mothers.  I could "hear" the smile in his voice as he asked, "San, when you get to heaven God is not going to ask why you weren't like Teresa..."

"I know," I exclaimed! "God will ask why I wasn't more like Sandi."

God of the oak, God of the mountain, God of the hawk and sparrow, God of the dandelion... I strive and seek to have the faith and the trust of Teresa, of the Centurion, of the Indian man... I seek and constantly feel as though I come up short. Yet, you tell me you can do great things with the faith of the size of a mustard seed.  Maybe the problem is not your ability to broaden and deepen my heart as much as the problem is me trusting you to broaden and deepen my heart...trusting that "Sandi" is enough and that is is "Sandi" you are seeking to meet...right where I am. O, Dear God...I am so thankful you continue to call to my stubborn heart!!! AMEN!

With All I Am...... 

Many Blessings ~ Sandi