Not All Who Wander…

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This morning I had the exquisite treat of attending the Atlanta Hospitality Thirteenth Annual Prayer Breakfast with my friend, Beth. I have been her guest for these breakfasts for several years, and I always look forward to them. I have not been able to attend all of them, but Beth always includes me in her guest list, and if at all possible, I go. If my counting is correct, I think this one was my sixth. Each one has offered me something of value to take home with me to ponder, as well as something inspirational to strengthen me in my faith journey.

This morning’s program was no exception. In fact, it surpassed all of my expectations. I went in thinking, “How can this one be better than last year? Or the year before?” To be fair, I am not grading them. Each one has been the best. Each one has touched my heart. Each one has tugged at my soul. Each one has given me a special oomph I’ve needed at that particular time and place in my life.

I especially identified with Ken Mansfield’s presentation, or shall I be so bold as to say, testimony. Maybe it was The Beatles connection that caught my attention, as he shared with us about his business relationship with my all-time favorite rock and roll group when he was with Apple Records back in the day. That, at least, perked up my ears to listen more attentively. What struck me most, however, were his words as he described his faith journey. While I never experienced the prestige and the wealth that he had in the height of his career, there was something about his path that felt somehow like mine. I connected with him on a spiritual level and knew that God was talking to me through him.

Then, it was over. Beth and I drove back to her house where I picked my own car up to continue back home. Mulling over some of what I had heard this morning, my eyes were teary, and I had to keep brushing them with my hands in order to see where I was driving. My heart was full to overflowing with thoughts of God and God’s love, and I was thankful for this morning and the opportunity to reconnect and be re-filled.

When I stopped for a traffic light along my way, still thinking about what Ken had said in his talk, my attention focused on the vehicle in front of me. It was Jeep-like – I really can’t tell you what make or model it was. The only thing that I saw was the spare tire cover on its tailgate, which read, “Not All Who Wander Are Lost.”  

Pow! It was a message meant for me. I have been a wanderer all of my life. I am a Christian, and have professed the Christian faith for as long as I can remember, but my life has been that of a wanderer, both physically and spiritually. I have questioned God, my faith, why things have happened to me the way they have in my life, and a myriad of other things that I just haven’t been able to understand. I have wandered in the desert of doubt, and have nearly drowned in the sea of fear

Yes, I, like Ken Mansfield, am a wanderer. Our life paths have taken us to the mountain top and to the dark valleys below. We both have been in the place where all we had in our possession were a few boxes of personal belongings, holding them and wondering what the next day would bring. But the sign, “Not All Who Wander are Lost” brought comfort to my heart, and I’m sure it would to him if he had seen it, too.

I think God kind of likes us wanderers. We are the ones who aren’t satisfied and content to sit in the same place our entire lives, neither geographically nor spiritually. We are the questioners, the seekers, the ones who ask a million questions and who are always eager to learn.

I may be a wanderer, but through the grace of God, He keeps His light on my path. God has a firm grip on my hand, to lead me and guide me, to pull me out of mud puddles as well as deep waters, and to jerk me up by the nape of my neck when I get myself into a really bad place. Ken’s talk this morning reminded me once again that God loves me wherever I may wander, and that I am a child of God. There is nowhere I can go that God isn’t there with me.

I may be a wanderer, but I am not lost.

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Balm in Gilead

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“There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.”

For quite awhile now, I have felt like there has been an empty space in my heart needing to be filled. Something has been missing, leaving a dull ache that I just haven’t been able to get rid of. I have been searching for the balm that would make my heart whole again. I was looking in all of the wrong places, it seems.

Last week I watched the movie (for about the tenth time!), “The Spitfire Grill” where the song “Balm in Gilead” is the underlying theme. The empty place in my heart was touched by this movie, and the aching became more acute. I didn’t have a cure for it, and didn’t know what I needed to do to soothe this tear in my heart in order for it to heal. I prayed to God to send someone my way to fill this void, to teach me how to love again, and to open my heart to trust once again.

Then I came to the beach with the three women in my life who have been sharing this week every year with me for the past four years, the women who make me laugh, who cry with me, who challenge my beliefs, and who stretch my mind in oh! so many directions.

And I walked on the beach. And sat in the sand. And splashed my feet along the edge of the water. And let God speak to me. It wasn’t the answer I was looking for. As it is with God, it was much more than I ever dreamed of or expected.

As I walked along the shore, I began to notice the shells at my feet. My eyes didn’t zero in on the perfect shells, or the colorful. I began to notice the broken ones, the ones other shell collectors were passing by. I picked them up, gently caressing their flaws, and I spoke to their injuries. These shells landed at my feet at the water’s edge beaten up, scarred, broken, and weary from being tossed by the waves, battered by the surf, and dumped onto the beach as broken pieces of what they once were. They were beautiful. Through their brokenness, I could see the strata of their makeup, the colorful patterns on their surface, and the symmetry of their creation. I felt a kinship to these shells, and placed them into my pockets.

I bonded with these broken shells. They were like me. Broken, beaten by the waves of life, scarred, battered, weary from being tossed around by the forces of nature.

On closer look, however, their beauty shone through. Even though they weren’t whole any more, they were lovely. They were old, and had a story to tell of life and survival. They were polished by their journeys and challenges in the turbulent sea. They were desired by someone like me, who was drawn to them to admire and cherish them. And they had found a new home – with me. I rescued them from the ocean, and will take them home with me to remind me of many things and to speak to me about my own life. They have a purpose. They have a mission. They have a calling.

 

And then God spoke to me in the sunrise, the ocean breeze, and the warmth of the sun. God invited me to quit yearning to fill the empty space in my heart, because it really isn’t empty. It is filled to the brim with God’s love, God’s creation, God’s gentle touch. Someday, someone may find me on the shores of a beach, pick me up, caress my scars and broken places of my life, and cherish me and my story, the same way as I have discovered the broken shells on the beach this week. God reminded me that perfection is not important. One can be whole and still be broken.

I discovered the Balm in Gilead this week.

The Power of the GIRL

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Not only am I collector of days, but I realized last night while writing in my journal that I am also a collector of GIRLS. Powerful girls, strong women, vulnerable females, tender-hearted moms, sweet-spirited ladies, active and vibrant / bold and daring women, developing and flowering teen-agers – all things bright and beautiful, all magnificent creatures, we women!

The phenomenon of having women in my life circle is relatively new to me. When I was a preacher’s wife, I had few female friends, and I can count on the fingers of my two hands those with whom I felt safe enough to confide in and to open myself up to. There were plenty of women in the churches that we served that I knew and liked; I just never felt secure enough to let my guard down to get to know them or let them get to know me, the real me. Those special women from my preacher‘s wife days who follow my blog know who you are. You each have a special place on one of my counting fingers, and I treasure you even after all these years.

During the years of my second marriage, I still did not develop strong personal friendships. I had workplace friends, for sure. But very few of these friendships spilled out into my personal life, and only a small number have stuck with me to form a new bond of friendship that was born in the workplace, but has spread over the years into deep, lasting personal women friendships. Again, those of you who are reading my blog know who you are. Hint: TAPPI and CoreNet Global!

Last night as I was counting my blessings and writing in my journal, I realized the circles of women friends that have somehow found their way into my life today. These circles sometimes intersect, and I find women friends in more than one circle, making the friendships even richer and more precious. I am so very thankful for these women.

My “Girls”. This is a small intimate group of women, ranging in age from 22 to my wonderful age of 69. I call these fabulous women “Jennie’s Girls”, and have adopted them as my own. Even though the age range is widespread, we are the best of friends and have found common ground for building our intertwined lives into a fortress of support and love. I have discovered that age is meaningless among My Girls, and we love the time we spend together.

The Wednesday Morning Prayer Posse: I joined this group about a year-and-a-half ago. I wasn’t sure if I would fit in, but this special group of women embraced me and my peculiar notions and ideas, and made me one of them. When I was asked by a family member about a year ago about perhaps moving to be closer to my family, I responded by saying that I had my posse here, and I didn’t want to leave them. When I shared this with the girls, it was unanimous that we would from that day on be the Prayer Posse. And that’s what we are! We share our innermost joys, challenges, and struggles, and we pray for each other continuously. I love my Prayer Posse more than I ever thought I would be able to love.

Knit ‘n’ Pearls: If you are a follower of my blog, you already know about this circle of Christian women. They are my rock. They have stood by me through thick and thin, and I can’t imagine my life without my knitting needles, my little felt tote bag, and these fantastic women of faith.

Exercise Class: This is a new group for me. With the nudging of one of my friends from my knitting group, I rounded up all of the introvert courage I had, and hesitantly walked through the doors into the gym at our local recreation center for an hour of exercise class. It was tough – at first. I have a really hard time going into an unfamiliar setting where there are people I don’t know. It didn’t take long, however, for me to meet some fantastic women who exercise there two mornings a week. And what is amazing to me is how friendly these women are. They came right up to shy me, introduced themselves, engaged me in conversation, and we were up and running. My circle of strong women friends has grown substantially through this group.

My childhood, high school, and college girlfriends: through the wonders of Facebook, I have reconnected with friends from my high school and college years. I follow their lives on a daily basis, and they keep up with mine. I have found that it is this group of friends, although I seldom actually see any of them in person, who are my cheerleaders, the supporters of my writing endeavors, and the ones who comment on and enjoy the things I post on my Facebook page. I admire these women, whose lives vary so greatly, and who don’t live in my town, and enjoy immensely reading about their children, their grandchildren, and their lives. I am thankful for the connection that Facebook has given to us.

There is a scripture in the Bible about a mighty cloud of witnesses. I’m not sure what the context of this scripture is, but when I think about the GIRLS in my life, I picture them as a mighty cloud of witnesses. They are the women who are survivors, thrivers, fighters, lovers, nurturers, adventurers, home-makers, trail-blazers, sympathizers, activists, teachers, healers, artists, creators, and so much more. And I am one of them.

We are women.We are powerful.  We are special.

Amen.

The Story of the Knitted Scarf

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I finished knitting a scarf today. Just in time for winter, you might say, but that wouldn’t be quite accurate. You see, I’ve been working on this particular blue scarf for well over a year! I think I began knitting it the summer of 2016!

     This is a huge accomplishment for me, and one that I wondered if or when I would ever knit the last stitch. I can’t believe it is done! Now, I have a new task ahead of me – to go out and buy a skein of yarn to begin another one.
     “What’s this all about?” you might be asking. “And why did it take you so long to knit a scarf? It can’t be that complicated or difficult, can it?”
      Here’s the deal.
      I have been a member of the Knit ‘n’ Pearls group at my church ever since it was created about seven years ago. I never claimed to be good at knitting, but I liked the women who formed the group and wanted to be a part of it. So, I bought a skein of yarn, a set of knitting needles, placed them into a little felt tote bag, and off I went to the new knitting group.
     Over the years, we have knitted baby caps for the local hospital, prayer shawls for shut-ins and people needing a little something comforting to wrap up in, and other items to give away or sell at the church’s Christmas bazaar. We also share patterns and ideas for projects at our meetings, along with prayer concerns and a devotional. We sit around the table relating bits of our lives and histories to one another, laughing a lot, and even crying at times.
     This particular group of women took me under their collective wing when I was going through a very dark and troubling period of my life a few years back, never judging me or berating me for my foolishness, but always lifting me up, supporting me, and praying for me. I will never be able to thank them enough or repay them for all that they did for me during that time. I love them dearly!
     I am the only member of this special group who isn’t retired. They all have more time to spend on their knitting than I do, and they have made some beautiful things – socks, sweaters, hats, blankets, scarves, and shawls. I am in absolute awe of their talent! Since I am still a working girl, it naturally takes me a lot longer to bring something to completion.
     Truth is, my knitting needles and yarn are primarily my prop, my admission ticket to the group. The ladies don’t care if I only knit a couple of rows each time we meet, or that I sit at the table, needles in hand but not doing anything with them, listening to their stories and adding a few of my own from time to time. They don’t care that I seldom finish anything, but bring the same tote bag to the group each week, clearly displaying that my unfinished scarf hasn’t left it since I put it away at the last meeting. They don’t care how slow I am. They are always happy to see me, and I am happy to be joining them at the round table where we sit each week. I love being part of this wonderful group.
     It’s taken a long time, but week by week, month by month, and row by row my scarf has grown longer and longer until today when I measured it by my height from end to end – the measuring stick I used to plot my progress – it was as long as I am tall.
     Today I finished the blue scarf I’ve been working on for what seems like forever. After binding it off, the ladies had me model it and took a photo to capture this momentous occasion, as my Great Accomplishment. They have been cheering me on for months as I ever so slowly knitted my way to this auspicious day.
     There is a lesson or two embedded in this tale of Jennie’s Knitting Project. I’m going to leave it up to my blog readers to discover for yourselves what it might be for you.
     As for me, the lesson is clear. It’s not necessarily what you make with your hands, or how long it takes to make it. What is important is who is sitting with you at the round table.

Take Me Back to the Hills of Camp Toccoa

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I have hiked the Appalachian Trail in three states.

I have gone tubing down the James River in Virginia.

I have body surfed in the Atlantic Ocean.

I have explored and hiked trails in Arizona, marveling at the art left in the rocks by those who lived there before my time.

I have climbed a mountain and gazed down at the city of Kyoto, Japan.

I have gone 4-wheeling in the Pyrenees of northern Spain and southern France.

I have climbed Stone Mountain more times than I can remember.

I have sat on a rock overlooking the Shenandoah Valley and watched a hawk soar through the blue autumn sky.

All of these things, and many more, I have done in the 69 years of my life. I have experienced a lifetime of extraordinary days.

But none of these adventures hold a candle to the ones I had every summer growing up, and spending weeks on end at Camp Toccoa in the North Georgia mountains.

From the age of 8 until my 16th summer, the end of school in June meant that summer camp was near. My days were spent in anticipation of going to camp, riding the train from Atlanta to Toccoa, and then spending anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks (depending on my ability to beg my parents to let me stay, and their ability to pay for it) at Camp Toccoa.

I was a very shy little girl – an introvert before I knew the word or what it means – and never was quite comfortable anywhere except in my cabin at camp with 7 other girls. I always felt overwhelmed in a school classroom filled with kids, on the playground at recess, waiting to be picked for a team, and even in Sunday School, where I was never sure where I was supposed to be or what I was supposed to believe. In my everyday life I was somewhat of a chameleon – I could adapt to my surroundings and my environment, but I was never comfortable or at ease. I never felt like I was part of any school group I attempted to join – I was always on the fringes, or so it seemed to me. I was happiest when I was outdoors swinging on a rope swing, lying in the grass gazing at the clouds drifting across the blue sky, or walking on the beach or along a path, either by myself or with a trusted friend.

But I loved Camp Toccoa. And I loved being a Camp Fire Girl. Camp was a place where I felt like I belonged, and being a part of the group that was Camp Fire gave me a safe place to be me and to explore the depths of my imagination and my soul. The counselors and leaders were my mentors, and I looked to them as the role models for my emerging self. Camp was the place where I knew where I was, where I was supposed to be, and who I was supposed to be with. The pressure was off, and I was free to be myself.

This past weekend, the memories flooded back as I attended Camp Toccoa’s 90th anniversary alumni reunion. The camp has changed quite a bit since I was a camper in the 1950s and 1960s, but even with the changes and the growth, there are some things that never change. I slept in the cabin I spent four weeks in when I was 9 years old. I found my signature – along with the silly little writings of a 12-year-old – written in pencil in the rafters of another cabin. I found quartz crystals where I had searched for them as a teenager. I climbed a huge rock ledge to a lookout point where I had spent sleep-out nights as a girl pondering the universe and gazing out at the valley below. I hiked trails that were familiar to me, and a few that I had never been on before, discovering that Camp Toccoa always has something new to offer me.

Seeing old friends and familiar faces was a treat for this introvert, giving me the courage to step out and engage with new friends. Still, at age 69, it can be a challenge! I was a sponge, absorbing everything, every word, every face, every story.

I sat in a rocking chair on the lodge porch, my mind flooded with memories long buried, now bubbling to the surface. I observed the happy reunions as former campers and counselors arrived, recognizing familiar faces, and greeting each other with hugs and lots of love. I watched the night campfire crackle and pop, while children eagerly fed it wood and anticipated making s’mores. I listened to stories of summer camp, and contributed a few of my own as the bonds of Camp Fire intertwined around us all, pulling us all together as a universal family.

I was at camp, my safe place. I was home.

 

 

 

“Beneath the pine trees, I hear the night breeze. It seems to whisper of Camp Toccoa…..Take me back to the hills of Camp Toccoa.”

 

 

Musings After The Solar Eclipse

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I didn’t have special glasses for viewing the eclipse today. Where I live wasn’t in the totality zone, but in the 99% zone. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I wasn’t prepared for what I did see. I wanted to experience the event in its fullness, and not simply focus protected eyes on what was happening to the sun.

I sat in the shade of a flowering cherry tree on the back patio, waiting. I went outside about 30 minutes prior to the time I was told we would be in darkness, or in our case, not quite dark but somewhere in between late afternoon and twilight. My little dog, Sunshine, stretched out at my feet, and we watched and waited.

The first thing I noticed was that the brightness of the day wasn’t quite so sharp. A softness in the sky and in the green of the trees hinted of something different. Then a breeze brushed past my face and arms, a little cooler than the air had been minutes earlier. I stepped out onto the patio to feel the air more fully, and noticed that the sunlight didn’t feel hot on my skin. My bare feet weren’t hopping about on hot pavement as they would have been doing only an hour earlier.

Returning to my chair under the cherry tree, I looked down to say something to Sunshine. To my surprise, she was covered with crescents of light, filtered through the leaves of the tree. My attention immediately left the sky, as I gazed, mesmorized, at the shadows on her fur, watching a dozen or more tiny eclipses dancing across her back and spilling out onto the pavement beside her. I couldn’t force my eyes to look away, and I prayed that she wouldn’t move.

Earlier in the day, I debated about taking Sunshine outside with me to view the eclipse. I read about the importance of protecting pets from the sun, that they could get eye injuries from looking at the sun, the same as people. But Sunshine wasn’t interested in looking up at the sky. She was enjoying the day, sitting at my feet, and doing what dogs like to do – hang out with their people. She had no idea that an historic event was reflecting across her back for me to see.

All too soon it was over. The crescents rotated on her back as the moon crossed the path of the sun, blocking its light from one direction, and then releasing it from the opposite direction as it moved on across the sky. I felt as if I had been given a gift from God. Instead of focusing my attention on the event in the sky, I was given the treat of seeing it right at my feet, on the back of my little dog.

How fitting and right this all seemed. My sweet pup, so appropriately named Sunshine, made my solar eclipse day one that I will remember as long as I live.

I think it’s good to look to the heavens for the works of God, but sometimes it can be just as important to focus on what is right in front of us at our feet.

Something to think about tonight.

That’s Not What Ships Are For

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While on our road trip with my cousin, Kate for the past two weeks, we had the time and opportunity to talk about many, many things, ranging from the silly to the profound.

Some of our conversations during those days on the road drifted away with the wind, while a few of them hit home with me and gave me cause to think seriously about some things in my life. One of these conversations centered around my feelings about my place in my family.

As the youngest of four children in our family, I felt like I was always being compared to my older siblings. They were smart, made good (and often, great) grades, and set their courses in life – and it seemed to me – with ease and little or no stumbling blocks. I had to study really hard to make good grades, and I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Both of my brothers married their high school sweethearts, to whom they are still happily married after 60+ years. My sister married at the age of 25, and she and her husband will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year. They are all comfortably retired and living in homes that have been paid for and enjoying enviable financial freedom. As the baby of the family, and from my perspective, the black sheep, I look up to them and wonder what happened to me?

I bucked the system, and broke my daddy’s main rule about getting married. He wanted all of his children to have a college education, and desired especially that his daughters would have a career before marriage “to fall back on” should it ever be needed. My sister got a degree in nursing, which made Daddy very happy, especially since my mother was an RN. I, on the other hand, walked down the aisle at age 19. I was a sophomore in college and had no clue as to what I wanted to major in. It seemed sensible to me to get married and worry about college later, but it took some convincing to get my father to bend his rule and give his younger daughter away to my young teacher husband.

To add insult to injury, I got divorced, not once, but twice. Thankfully, my parents only experienced my first marriage failure and understood, even though their hearts were broken. Both died before Husband #2 and I split up in a crash and burn scenario five years ago. It wasn’t pretty, and nothing that my older siblings could ever imagine would happen to me.During those dark days, I often felt like I was a failure as a daughter, as well as a mother to my two sons.

During my first marriage, I was able to get my bachelor’s degree, and then at the age of 45 my Master’s. But I hadn’t achieved the financial success and comfort that I wanted, and after my second marriage fiasco, I found myself homeless for a short period of time, until I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and started all over again.

This is what I was moaning and groaning about with Kate on our trip. I was feeling sorry for myself, that at the age of 69, I am still working even though I love my job. And while I have made giant strides in the financial aspect of my life, I feel that I do not have the reserves I will need as I head toward my retirement years. She gently reminded me that while things are tight for me right now, I have a great potential at my fingertips, unlike my brothers and my sister, whose lives are in the final stretch, and they no longer have goals to reach or accomplishments to pursue. In many ways, my life still stretches out in front of me, with many adventures yet to be had, paths to wander, interesting people to encounter, and stories to write.

With Kate’s wisdom soaking into my brain, I changed my perspective and as Jimmy Buffett sings, I made a change in latitude and in attitude. The world is my oyster, so to speak. I am not pinned down to any one geographical area, and I have a lot of living yet to do.

It was after this conversation that we stopped at a little gift shop in the Amish country of Pennsylvania. A small plaque caught my eye, and I bought it. It spoke to me as a reminder of who I am and what my life should be. I don’t need to compare myself to my brothers and sister. My ship is different from theirs.

My ship is still at sea, where it is supposed to be.