Joy comes after the storm…

Irene hit us yesterday morning.  For all the hurricane predictions, she was not as wild a woman as we all expected, reduced merely to a tropical storm by the time she reached us.  However, she unleashed a bit of fury in her passing by, knocking over trees, throwing debris all across our lawn, tossing flowerpots onto the ground as if they were bits of paper lying around.  I opened the door to shake out a towel, and she whipped the brush I had just used out of my hand, flinging it several meters away on the lawn.  I pressed into the wind nearly clawing my way forward finding the truant hair brush lying on the grass.  I wonder what a real hurricane feels like.

We spent the day inside as the winds remained high.  The children had no interest in going outside, choosing instead to play with toys neglected during the busy summer months and read books soon to be returned to the library.   By 9:00a.m., the power was out, just before little ones would come to the table for morning brunch, as is our summer time tradition.  No worries, as my thoughtful husband had made a pot of coffee at 6:00 a.m. prior to leaving the house for morning chores.   I settled in on the couch with my reading.   By evening, the winds had died down enough for us to take a drive to the western shore, although waves still crashed relentlessly upon the wet sandy shore.

We took our camera to capture the children, but were mesmerized in between by the setting sun on the horizon.  We took picture after picture of the sun as it made its descent into the ocean, until it slipped away like an egg yolk, leaving behind a pink trail of ribbon woven in and out of grey clouds.  The children jumped waves in the afterglow until the chill chased them from the water.  We happened upon a small waterfall between various slabs of sandstone.  Little ones climbed up, over and down again, delighted with their discovery. There were stones to carry as small hands picked treasures, wet and cold, from the slick sand.  A few special finds in the form of green, brown and white sea glass were collected in the pockets of my fleece jacket.   Pictures of each child were taken, frame after frame, depicting moments frozen in time.  As we made our way back towards our van, I stopped for one last lingering look at the rough waters mirroring the glorious sunset, reflecting light on water.  A lady I know from the neighbourhood was behind me as I turned to go back to the waiting crew up in the parking area, and I remarked to her how special it was to see this view.  She replied that it was something she took for granted.

Initially, I was taken aback at the comment, slightly unhinged at her flippant words.  Oh, that we would never cease to be amazed at the power of beauty and awed at the glory of nature.   Yet, I have since thought how easily I am guilty of doing the same.  I am the expert in taking things for granted, having had lots of practice doing so on a daily basis.  I dash in and out of the house, from day to day, rarely stopping to examine the littlest of blessings.  Bunches of grapes growing in thick clumps on the climbing vine, a lone raspberry still remaining on the bush after all the others have been eaten, a plum hanging on a branch that broke off during the storm.  Children jumping on our trampoline, a kitten purring, flower petals opened to the sun.  Good gifts from a good God, I humbly offer up praise from a thankful heart.  O Lord, our Lord, How excellent is your name in all the earth, who have set Your glory above the heavens! (Psalm 8:1, NKJV) 

It is not just in these that I forget to offer praise. Praise for the good as well as what I consider the bad.  Those times when the children are whining, screaming, crying, fighting, I must remember that there is good to be found.  When I feel tension in my marriage and communication breaks down, there is good to be found.  When I feel on the outside of the clique and friendship falls short, there is good to be found. When I am sick, tired, exhausted and weary, there is something of worth to be mentioned amidst the doldrums of everyday living.  In the words of Matt Redman, I echo his refrain:

Blessed be Your Name in the land that is plentiful, where Your streams of abundance flow, Blessed be Your Name.  Blessed be Your Name, when I’m found in the desert place, though I walk through the wilderness, Blessed be Your Name.  Every blessing You pour out I’ll turn back to praise, when the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say:  Blessed be the Name of the Lord, Blessed be Your Name, Jesus.  Blessed be the Name of the Lord, Blessed be Your Glorious Name.  Blessed be Your Name, when the sun’s shining down on me.  When the world’s all as it should be, Blessed be Your Name.  Blessed be Your Name on the road marked with suffering, though there’s pain in the offering, Blessed be Your Name.  Every blessing You pour out I’ll turn back to praise, when the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say: Blessed be the Name of the Lord, Blessed be Your Name, Jesus.  Blessed be the Name of the Lord, Blessed be Your Glorious Name.  You give and take away, You give and take away, my heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be Your Name. (Matt Redman)

We walk again tonight, this time along the eastern shore.  We sit, my husband and I, on a picnic table at the edge of the sandy beach.  We watch waves crash and share dessert: Chocolate Confusion and Toffee Sticky Pudding.  All that is missing is the coffee.  There is sadness in life, and we talk of those things in the quiet of this moment together.   We talk of loss, pain and suffering.  And yet, we laugh and find joy amidst the sorrow.  Life is somehow beautiful.  You give and take away, You give and take away.  My heart will choose to say, Lord Blessed be Your Name.  We walk hand in hand to the waiting van that will transport us back to life, in all its messy glory. A return to children who will doubtless fight the instant we walk in the door.  To a house and yard that demand we take notice.  To stray cats that need food and shelter. To jobs, bills and the pressures of adulthood.  To people we know that have great sadness, sickness and loss.  And yet, there can be joy and praise in spite of it all.  There can be joy on the road marked with suffering.

What then shall we say to these things?  If God be for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulations, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  Yet, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-32, 35, 37-39, NKJV)

And so the Blessed is the Blesser, sparing nothing to impart love on those undeserving of that love.   And we are able to give thanks for the beauty of moments spent in joy as well as those that are lived amidst the everyday rubble.  Beauty from ashes, joy from sorrow, blessing from loss. Yet this life is somehow beautiful, worthy of living well and taking notice of its gifts.  It is a blessing; may we not take it for granted.

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Joy Found in the Moment

I was cleaning up after supper, when he suggested that we sit out on the veranda for coffee.  I turned around and saw the box of chocolate truffles waiting as an invitation for something more, a date with my husband on the porch swing.  I could feel the excuses surfacing…remnants from supper lay hardening on dishes strewn all over the counter, crumbs scattered the floors, and bits of paper and pencils spread over the top of the kitchen cabinet, a medley of our children’s forgotten drawings and art projects.  Not right now were the words on the tip of my tongue, and other excuses would doubtless follow.  But, resisting the mundane, the ordinary routines, just for tonight, seemed within reason. His invitation to come, almost a dare.

He was looking out at the river, coffee cup in hand.  I felt silly sitting there beside him, as if this was what we always did after supper. I tried not to make eye contact, for fear I would start to giggle at the sheer absurdity of it all.  I am, in every respect, a creature of habit, but now I defy the mundane, the usual.  How absurd this feels. I sip my coffee and observe the view.

Our second oldest, our intuitive daughter, noticed us together, and beckoned to the other younger two.  I caught them spying on Mom and Dad, peeking at us from the archway covered in wild roses.  They brought us flowers, petals from roses, peonies and weigela, pinecones and bits of greenery, and laid them in front of us on the wooden railing.  To make it romantic, the oldest said with a delighted smile.  They were enthralled with the spectacle of their parents, on a date, sitting on the porch swing.  In broad light of day, nonetheless.  They never see us like this, my husband whispered.

I was struck with the thought that the greatest love story our children are graced with, in this life, is that of their parent’s.  When we, as parents and married lovers, allow our children to witness our genuine affection for one another, we provide for them a healthy example of what it is to love and show love within a covenant relationship.  All too often, our children are observers of unhealthy relationships found in the media, among their peers or otherwise.  All around us are examples of what not to do.  Commitment is based on if it feels right or so long as it works for me.  How refreshing it is to see children looking to the committed love of their parents as the model by which to base their own relationships some day.

It was a teachable moment for us all.  We were serenaded, entertained and photographed.  Under the direction of our daughters, my husband and I walked hand-in-hand as they captured each moment in freeze frame.  Walk hand in hand one called out and lean your head in on his shoulder.

I almost lost precious memories and an opportunity to live out a testament to our married love, simply to wipe countertops and polish circles on the tabletop.

Joy found in release…

Emotion bubbling over into anger, spewing words reeking of bitterness.   Blood pulsing, heat rising, heart racing.   Hands fluttering over countertops, wiping at invisible stains.   I scrub the same spot distractedly, then pace the kitchen, a million things to do and I cannot think of a single one of them right now.  Frustration is the feeling, and this is what it looks like at this moment in time.  I come to the figurative pen and paper, and I wait for words to write.  I am trying my best to channel this frustration into a venue that is least likely to do me or others harm, and I need a word with God.  God, why do I feel so abandoned right now?  Where are you?  And where are friends when you need them?  Why is it that we let the people down whom we love the most?  I am alone, an island of despair.   Abandoned.

I think hard because I am guilty of doing the very things of which I now accuse others.  I inadvertently wound, seeking forgiveness when I have wronged or hurt those whom I hold dearest to my heart.  I have abandoned my closest at one time or the other.  I have forgotten God; oh, how many times I have let God down.  This is pause for reflection if ever there was one.  To be sure, I do not live up to others expectations of me.  Do I not seek mercy and grace?  Can I not do the same for those who from now I feel the sting of slight and indifference?  I need a self-check before I proceed.

My husband, sensing my need, puts kind hands on my shoulders, kneading the tensed sinew and muscles.  He loves me, and I am calmed by his touch.  So therefore, how much more does HE love me.  HIS touch a balm for tender emotions, easily bruised.  HIS love a salve for my soul.  HIS love an endless supply, restoring my joy so that I may remain in Him.  As the Father loved me, I also have loved you; abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15: 9-10, NKJV)   Abiding.   A continual, conscious act.   Abide with me; fast falls the eventide.  The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.  When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me. (The Celebration Hymnal, Songs and Hymns for Worship, Abide With Me, Henry F. Lyte and William H. Monk)

We leave the house, all six of us, and head for the river.  I have been housebound for the majority of the morning baking cakes for an upcoming family gathering this evening, and I need some open space wherein  to release this pent up frustration.  We take the motor boat out into the water and put the anchor down.  We are floating on overlapping ripples, the water gently slapping the boat as we sit back and feel the sun.  I take the yellow tube attached to a rope and push it into the water.  As I thrust out, I check behind me to make certain I will not float too far from the safety of the diving platform on the back of the boat.  I lie back and look up into the blue of the sky decorated by cloud upon cloud as far as the eye can see.  I feel God’s peace calling me to rest in His love, let go of the anger.  I choose to abide.

I will abide for today, but what of tomorrow?

Days elude my quest for understanding of and ability to continuously abide.  The ebb and flow of the daily walk proves to be a challenge.  Learning to lean back and rest in the arms of His love is not easy, we want to struggle free and handle life our way.  We take our eyes off the One who sustains and keeps us in His tender care.  We forget the necessity it is to abide in Him.  If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.( John 8:31b, NKJV)  We are set free from the bondage of unmet expectations, broken relationships and emotional breakdowns when we abide in the Word.  We are loosed from the chains that bind us to our fleshly self and are free to be filled with the Spirit showing love to those that hate us, joy in the midst of suffering, peace when life is tumultuous, longsuffering with those that rub us the wrong way. (Galatians 5:22-23, NKJV)  Replacing bitterness with kindness, goodness for anger.   Always proving to be a good and faithful follower of Christ, a faithful friend to the friendless, a loyal defender of the household of faith.  Exercising gentleness at all times for there is great force hidden in a gentle command. (George Herbert)  Underlying all these actions is the work of the Holy Spirit enabling us to be self-controlled even when we are pushed beyond our breaking points, driven to anger and despair.  If we abide in Him, we will know truth, and we will be set free.   We lay our burdens down at the foot of the cross.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.(Hebrews 12:1-2, NKJV)   When I fix my eyes on Jesus, earthly things fade into the background.  I can with God’s strength abide in Him, and so I choose to abide.  And with the words of that beloved old hymn, I choose today to turn my eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face.  And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.

We head out to the shelter of the veranda after supper has been cleaned up, and table and chairs wiped with a damp rag, taking with us the crowning glory of the evening: a beautiful cherry almond cheesecake graciously made for us that morning by my husband’s sister and placed in our refrigerator while I was out running errands.  I prepare the coffee and set the old wooden tray with silver and stoneware.  We gingerly carry our dessert out to little ones waiting at the front of the house for an evening snack.  My husband cuts generous slices and we sit back to enjoy.  The entertainment for our viewing pleasure is a series of foot races.  We cheer the children on, and give thumbs up to the daughter that always lets the youngest win.  Compelled, I enter the competition.  The racers are given the countdown, the children and I wait on the mark ready for the signal to go.  And then, we are off and running.  Muscles unfurl, arms moving in steady rhythm with the stride of legs beneath us.  We run to the tree and back, laughing and calling out to one another encouragement to stay the course.  Those who fall back are swept up in the swell of support from the bystanders.  We reach the finish line and declare the winners, and a new race begins.  As I run, it is as if I am carried on the wind, buoyed by the very essence of being alive.   I breathe in the evening air heavy with dew.  I run as if I am free.

Hello cyber world!

I am a mother, a wife,  a teacher, a daughter, a friend.  A sister, an aunt, a cousin, a neighbour, a colleague.  But, of course I am more than this.  I am one who knows what it is to feel joyful, and what it feels to be joyless.  I write for release, as well as to sort out my thoughts.  I welcome all comments you may have that provoke me to go deeper.  That is the intent of my pursuit.