Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My First Guest Post:Embracing the Gospel

Dear Friend, 

Today is a big day in my blogging life! My first guest post is up at Tim Fall's blog, Just One Train Wreck After Another. I wrote about a subject which is dear to my heart: embracing the Gospel through racial reconciliation. 

I dedicate my first guest post to Keilind, who recently turned eight. 
Happy Birthday, Keilind!

My husband Joe is a masonry contractor. A few months ago he was building a parking garage in our city. At lunch time he and his brick mason walked across the street to a small corner store. The proprietor was a black man of late middle age. He nodded in greeting to these two white men as they entered.

“I honestly just wanted to be friendly to the guy,” Joe told me later. “I tried to start a conversation. I noticed that he was playing heavy metal in the place. I thought that was odd, so I said, ‘This don’t sound like your kind of music.’”

A shadow passed over the man’s face. Joe’s employee cringed and looked away.

“Now, why would you say that?” asked the shop owner.

Peace & Joy,


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Wherever You Are . . .

Dear Friend,

At this moment I'm reading in front of this cozy fire. My baby girl is cuddled beside me sucking her thumb. Two of my boys are playing quietly on the rug. I'm thinking of a quote by Jim Elliot:
Wherever you are, be all there.
Sometimes that advice is challenging to follow. But not tonight. Tonight I'm "all there" enjoying this peaceful time.

Hope the rest of your weekend is blessed with peace and contentment.

With Love,

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Post Card: Silhouette of a Doe

Dear Friend,

This is the view from my kitchen window in the morning. I see deer from here often. Lately they've been coming down into our backyard to eat acorns. I've been hoping to capture this image for you. I enjoy living in the midst of their enchanting world. A few days ago I came upon a doe nursing her fawn! I had never witnessed that before. I didn't have my camera with me, but I was still grateful for the experience.

Hope you are well. Have a blessed day!

With Love,

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Air Mail: Letters I Wrote at Age 17

Dear Friend,

When I was seventeen my best friend and her family moved from the United States to a village in Hungary. I lived with my parents and three younger siblings on a farm in the Midwest. I was home-schooled for much of high school. We had no computer. I learned to cope with loneliness by reading and writing letters. I now have our complete correspondence in my possession. I'll share a few snippets from letters with you now. You can read another post about these letters here.
Dec. 6, 1993
Dear Jeni,
I really had you on my mind last night. I lied awake in the dark for two hours before falling to sleep. I hope you are doing well. I miss you terribly.
It is very gray here. My sister and I got up and took a walk this morning. It is safe to do so now that gun season is over. Three cute little puppies followed us for a long time. The wind was mean. It cut at my face and caused my ears to throb. The puppies were so brave as they walked with us. Their fur flew back and they had to squint their eyes.
We put up our Christmas tree last week. To save money, we used a fake one that my Aunt Debbie got out of the garbage last year. Along with our normal decorations we added strings of popcorn. It looks beautiful . . . 

Dec. 13, 1993 
The other day I went to the library and checked out a book about Hungary. It has a nice map in the back. In your next letter, could you please send the map that I have enclosed back to me. I would love to know where Sulysap is. Please circle it on the map . . . 
. . . I dream about going to Scotland someday. Want to come along? How fun it would be to climb a heather hillside and have another special picnic! -- Except this one would be spread out on a Tartan blanket. Imagine exploring a seaside town or a castle! Imagine listening to the bleating of sheep or the music of bagpipes. To experience Scotland with all the senses would be such an adventure!
 . . . Right now everyone is gone for various reasons. I have the entire evening to myself. I cannot think of a more enjoyable way to spend this time than by conversing with you . . .  
 . . . I know many people don't believe in making New Year's resolutions, but I always do. I have pulled out my resolutions from last year. It's funny to recall how most of them have been broken. Here's my favorite: "I will eat 52 sweets."  -- HA! HA! Yea, right! More like 552!
 . . . The saying on my desk easel for today is sort of dry (a bit like, "Friends, unlike fashions, should never change." How much thought went into that?) So I have decided to send you the saying for Dec. 11 instead:
"Tell me how much you know of the sufferings of your fellow men and I will tell how much you have loved them."
~ Helmut Thielicke
That all I'll share for now -- though I've only shared portions of two letters, and I have stacks of them!

Have you saved any old letters from the days before email?

Peace & Joy,

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Post Card

Dear Friend, 

Dad recently tapped on my door with a box of fresh produce! It was all so lovely I suggested we take a picture. I've already roasted the squash and parsnips. What's your favorite way to serve eggplant?

It's raining buckets right now. I'm making the most of my full cistern by getting caught up on laundry. Four of my kids are at an all-day outing so the house is pretty quiet. I'm listening to Malcolm Gladwell's new book David and Goliath while folding clothes. If I can get ahead on things, I hope to finish Jane Eyre this weekend. Do you remember how I headed up a "Jane Eyre Synchro-Read"? I think everyone else finished a couple weeks ago! (sigh) 

Hope you are well.
Peace & Joy,

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Silent Retreat: Part Three -- Pictures for You

Dear Friend,

Enclosed are some pictures I took of my walk around the Spiritual Center while on my silent retreat. Hope you are well. 


P.S. Do you remember what it was like to open the mailbox and find a letter with a dear friend's handwriting on the envelope? I would open these treasures ever-so-carefully with a letter opener. Sometimes as I unfolded the stationery, several photographs would spill unto my lap. Sheer delight! This was my attempt to simulate that experience for you.  ~A

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Silent Retreat: Part Two -- How to Use a Labyrinth as a Prayer Tool

Dear Friend,
If you missed my last post, go here. I'm writing about my first experience at a silent spiritual retreat. I left off at the point were I had just settled into a quiet spot by the river and I was checking out the labyrinth handout that our director had given us before the retreat began.

The labyrinth is described here as "a defined path, a physical journey inward to a sacred space." I've re-written the rest of the instructions to show you how it works step-by-step:

The goal: To discover your deepest, truest self while encountering peace and rest in the company of your ever-present God.

1. Pause. Breathe slowly. Begin when you are ready. Trace your finger along the path.

2. As you enter, leave distractions behind.

3. As you move forward, embrace what God brings to you. Pay attention to any words, thoughts, or feelings that come to you.

4. When you reach the center, linger there with God. Meditate on "Christ in you, the Hope of glory." as He reveals Himself to you.

5. The way out is the same as the way in -- just follow the path. The return journey offers space for reflection as you move back toward the exterior world, transformed at the core of your being. Carry with you the peace of Christ, which is with you always. 

"Meditation is not so much concerned with thinking as with being. And in contemplative prayer we seek to become the person we are called to be, not by thinking about God, but by being with Him." ~John Main

After tracing the pathway on the handout with my finger and entering into a moment of pure stillness in center of the labyrinth, I felt an urge to pick up my pencil. I recalled our director's prompting: Ask God for one thing.

I wrote that one thing down.

Because I feel overwhelmed
And hopelessly flawed.
I can't live up to my own ideals;
I'm weary of trying to get it all just right.

I ask for mercy
Because I've let others eclipse Your Light. 
When I look to them for approval,
Your Light appears dim
And I wither.

But here, Lord, Your mercy is washing over me,
Making me feel brave.
I am Your little child, drawing scribbles on this pretty paper -- do You like them?
I kiss Your hands and touch Your face.
Here in Your presence, 
I'm safe and free! 

During the next hour by the river I read various Scriptures and devotional materials. Each time I was struck by a passage, I wrote it down on my labyrinth. My copy-work curved all the way out of the labyrinth and into the white space beyond. This helped me to reflect on the experience and carry the peace of God with me into the exterior world. 

"The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace." ~Mother Teresa 

I hope you will make some time for meditation today. Perhaps the labyrinth will help you go deeper in prayer than ever before. In my next post, I'll wrap up this series with some photos from my prayer-walk around the Spiritual Center property.

Peace & Joy,

Friday, October 11, 2013

Silent Retreat: Part One -- Learning the Ropes and Getting Settled

Dear Friend,

I promised I would tell you all about my silent retreat! I have more pictures and thoughts than I can comfortably fit into one post, so I believe I'll made this a "Silent Retreat Series."

Lane to the Spiritual Center
Last Saturday I arrived at the Spiritual Center for breakfast. I was glad to meet up with a couple of my friends -- including my prayer partner, Beth, who had invited me to attend this event. We enjoyed an hour or so of "community time" during which our director, Linda, gave us some helpful tips on how to make the most of the silent hours we were preparing to enter.
"You are all busy people; you have a lot to do. There are ministry leaders here, some of you are missionaries, some are teachers, etc. You have a long list of things you'd like to accomplish today. But I want to encourage you to set your list aside. Allow yourself to become still and listen to God. Think of one thing you'd like to ask God for during this time of silent prayer."
Linda gave us a labyrinth handout. She explained how to use it as a prayer tool. This was new to me. I thought a labyrinth was an elaborate hedge maze in which a person could get hopelessly lost! But it turns out -- there is only one path in a prayer labyrinth; if you use it correctly, you will only get lost in God.

Then there were breathing exercises. Before our lesson, I thought of breathing exercises as a New Age/Eastern practice for attempting to reach a state of Nirvana! But I learned that Christians can (and should) breathe too. The difference is in the approach. 

Since I had just recently read Sacred Pathways, by Gary Thomas, I felt eager to try some of these methods for enriching my prayer life.Through this silent retreat at the Spiritual Center, I was able to experience at least seven of the nine pathways that Thomas defines:

Naturalist: Loving God out of Doors
Sensate: Loving God with the Senses
Traditionalist: Loving God through Ritual and Symbol
Ascetics: Loving God in Solitude and Simplicity
Enthusiast: Loving God with Mystery and Celebration
Contemplative: Loving God through Adoration
Intellectual: Loving God with the Mind

The theme for our retreat,"Landscapes of Prayer", was inspired by the book by Margaret Silf. Inside the pavilion there were prayer stations based on this theme. For example, a person could gaze at a large photograph of a desert scene while running her fingers through a tray of sand. She could chose to "walk" with Jesus into the wilderness by reading Matt 4:1-11. She might also meditate on other passages which carry the "desert" theme such as Acts 13:17-18 and Isaiah 35:1-2. Many of the people who chose to remain inside the pavilion did so because of physical limitations. These stations provided calming landscape scenes, complete with sensory experiences for those who could not venture outside.

After a Scripture reading, a prayer, and a hymn, our time of silence began. I sensed a general eagerness as each pilgrim sought out her own quiet place. I carried a folding chair and a couple of light bags to a shady spot near the river. Since I had been one of the last to emerge from the pavilion, I was one of the last to find my place. I was surprised then to come upon an empty bench with an exquisite view of the river through a patch of trees. I once read that a view of water through trees is considered to be the most favored landscape of humankind. Either the women at the retreat did not share this opinion, or they were all too generous to take one of the best spots! I turned around to take in the full scene: I saw a couple women far in the distance, but no one was around and everyone appeared to be settled, so I began to unpack.

In my next post, I'll tell you about my first experience with the prayer labyrinth and about the thing I asked God to give me.

Hope you are well.
Until next time then. :-)

Peace & Joy,

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My First E-Card

Dear Friend,
This made me smile.

Jeannie Prinsen made it for me. I've never received an e-card before! How fun!
Jeannie blogs at Little House on the Circle. She's witty, wise, and very kind. Hop on over to her place now. I've got a busy mommy day ahead.

(I'm determined to peek my head in here more often, even if it's just to say hello.)

Hope you have a great day!
Soon I'm going to tell you about the silent retreat I went on last Saturday. If you have never been on one before, I'll give you the full scoop.

Gotta run now!
Peace & Joy,


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tea for Two: Oliver Twist on my Front Porch

Dear Friend,                                                                                                       
I have an extra rocking chair. Care to sit for a spell? 

Would you like a cup of tea? 
I'll put my kettle on now. :-)

What kind of tea do you like?
Do you take cream? Sugar? Honey?

What have you been reading lately? Anything good?

Name your favorite novel. Can't pick one? Well then, name some of your favorites. Or your favorite at the moment.

Wish you didn't have to go!
I enjoy spending time with you. Come back soon!

Love & Blessings,


Monday, October 7, 2013

Finding Freedom Beneath the Unclouded Night Sky

Hello dear friends,

Have you ever taken a long stroll in the night?

One night last week I went for a walk at around 3AM. At first it was a little creepy, but after a while, it was wonderful. I meandered along. There was no moon. The stars were brilliant. 

I recognized a couple constellations: Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. Ursa Major is also known as the Big Dipper. Before the Civil War, runaway slaves referred to it as the Drinking Gourd. I live in a place where runaways likely passed through the night on foot in pursuit of freedom in the North. They looked to the Drinking Gourd as a guide. It is a symbol of freedom.

Crickets chirped. Owls hooted. Deer barked as I approached their beds. I captured this picture of two bucks butting heads. They didn't notice me for a long time. I stood still, hidden in the shadows. So much to see and experience in the night time!

I thought about Jane Eyre. Last I saw her, she was curled up on the heath in darkness:
Night was come, and her planets were risen: a safe, still night: too serene for the companionship of fear. We know that God is everywhere; but certainly we feel His presence most when his works are on the grandest scale spread before us; and it is in the unclouded night-sky, where His worlds wheel their silent course, that we read clearest His infinitude, His omnipotence, His omnipresence.
If you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, unable to rest -- perhaps a night walk will help you sort things out. 

When I got back from my ramble, I slept like a baby til morning.

Peace & Joy,