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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Merry Christmas Letter from Jennie

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Here is my annual Christmas letter. I am putting it out to the universe to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

Christmas, 2016

The theme for my life and Christmas letter in 2015 was Grace and Gratitude.

As I look back at 2016, I search within myself for this year’s theme. While pondering my year, I realize that I have carried last year’s theme of gratitude with me this year; however, it has expanded through my daily devotionals and my learning the practice of contemplative prayer to bring me to a heightened awareness of the world around me – the people, the animals, all living things in nature, sounds and music, and the colors, smells, and the feel of this planet we call home, not to mention the awareness of God’s presence in all of creation. For me, God has not been a heavenly father looking down upon me from heaven, but a constant companion in my life and one who is present in every aspect of what I do and who I am, and is in every breath that I take.

Everyday in my journey through life, I thank God for all that has been given to me. I also thank God for taking care of my family and my friends. “Thank you” is something that I say out loud and silently many times during the course of a day. I have made a conscious effort not to make my prayers a grocery list of things I ask God to do, but instead to thank God for being with us all, guiding us, protecting us, and delivering us.

Christmas is now a few weeks away. For years I have struggled with Christmas, with getting into the Christmas spirit, with wrestling with the commercialization and greediness of the season, and with seeking to understand the nativity story and what it means to me personally. It has been elusive, just beyond my reach, leaving me frustrated, empty-feeling, and confused.

This year is different. In the spirit of my theme of gratitude, I am approaching this Christmas with a great big “Thank You” on my lips and in my every breath.

Thank you, God, for being with me through another year. Thank you for lighting my path when it was rocky and dark. Thank you for bringing people and animals into my life to show me your grace and love. Thank you for giving me courage to take risks and travel new paths. Thank you for teaching me how to be more generous, loving, and kind. Thank you for finally bringing a teacher my way to explain the concept of The Trinity in a way that makes sense to me. And thank you for loving me, forgiving me, stretching me, and teaching me.

For all of you reading this Christmas letter, I say “Thank you” for being a part of my life and for sharing a few steps of your own life journeys with me.

May the breath of God touch you in a very special way this Christmastime.

Peace,

Jennie

It’s Christmas, World!!

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Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Children around the world will be excited and in full throttle about a visit from Santa Claus, and parents around the world will be putting the last-minute touches to their family’s Christmas experience, hoping that they didn’t forget anything. It will be a busy day for most families, one charged with anticipation and energy.

I remember those years fondly. My Christmas is not like that anymore.

Sunshine and I sit in our little living room tonight, while it storms outside. We are safe and snug indoors. My little Christmas tree is lighted and cheerful, but there isn’t a single package underneath it. Two stockings are hung at my hearth – one for her and one for me. Hers is bulging with some chew-toys I bought for her. Mine is empty. I thought about buying myself some little gifts to put into it, but decided against it, reasoning that doing so would spoil the spirit of Christmas. I have received a few gifts from some special people in my life, which have already been opened. There are no surprises waiting for Christmas morning.

Neither of my sons will be with me for the holiday. One is in California, and the other in New York City. Our family is a splintered one. The last celebration we had as a nuclear family was in 1992. That was a long time ago. With the distance separating us, it is too cumbersome to try to put the pieces together allowing us to be together for the holiday. I had my big day with them on Mother’s Day in New York, which was a logistical feat in itself, getting us all in one place at the same time, while keeping it a surprise for me. That day was Christmas and Mother’s Day, all wrapped up in one wonderful week-end package with my sons.

So, now I look at Christmas with misty eyes of nostalgia, a little loneliness, and wonderful memories of Christmases past. I am not sad. In fact, surprisingly enough, I am content with the way my Christmas is shaping up this year, and I am looking at the holiday with a fresh outlook. I spent a wonderful day last week with my brother and his family, and then another day with my friend, George, and his family. No gifts were exchanged either place – we spent our time eating, laughing, and enjoying being together. The celebrations are over for this year.

I look at my little crèche, tucked underneath my Christmas tree, and ponder the Christmas story. I am not satisfied with the story that has been part of my life since childhood, and I wonder how much of the nativity narrative is actually true. It’s a beautiful story, but I can’t help questioning. I think God understands my uncertainty about believing the tale of Christ’s birth, because I have been given some insight about it the past few days, which I can only explain as coming from him.

Instead of focusing on the birth, I have been paying closer attention to the life and teachings of Jesus this Christmas season, especially the past few days. I have witnessed unexpected acts of kindness and generosity, and I have watched as God’s love has been passed from one person to another in the most unusual and creative ways. I see the life of Christ personified in people I meet as they share love, support, financial aid, and helping hands to whomever they encounter. This has touched my life, as I have had the opportunity to share from my abundance with others, in ways that I hadn’t anticipated or imagined. It has been a season of surprises, as I have put my questions and doubts aside and opened my heart.

Of course, I will celebrate the birth of Christ tomorrow night at our church’s candlelight Christmas Eve service. I will think about the baby Jesus, knowing that he grew up to be The Christ. I will wonder at the love of Mary and Joseph for their infant baby son, as they held him in their arms for the first time. But I can’t keep Jesus in the manger; I have to release him to the world. For, it is there that God’s message is told, and it is there that we find our spiritual path, lighted with grace and gratitude illuminating our way to God.

It is Christmas. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. Maybe it is more than celebrating the birth of a baby. Maybe it is really celebrating the birth of love.

And that is something about which I have no questions or doubts.

Merry Christmas, world!

“Gratitude Turns What We Have into Enough”

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This was the subject line of an email I recently received from The Chopra Center. I am crediting this quote to Deepak Chopra, but I can’t be certain it originated with him.

As I was thinking about my annual Christmas letter, I couldn’t for the life of me come up with something I wanted to share with my friends and family this year. Then I saw this, and – amazing! – there it was. In an email!

In July, I participated in a three-week guided meditation, hosted by Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey. The theme of the daily meditation series was “Manifesting Grace through Gratitude.” It was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life, highlighted by an incident that brought home what grace and gratitude is all about. For those of you who read my blog, you know about Grace, the hen. In brief, Raven, the horse, stepped on her one afternoon during the time I was engaged in these meditations. When my friend, George, told me what had happened, I ran down to the chicken coop to see for myself. She was badly injured – we didn’t know how seriously – but she was unable to stand on her own. One of her wings drooped to the side next to her body. This sweet little hen was on the ground beneath the nests, unable to move. George had placed her in one of the nesting boxes following the accident, but she had fallen out. I scooped her into my arms, held her close to my heart, and began stroking her and talking to her. Through my tears, I told her what a special girl she was, how much we loved and appreciated the eggs that she lay for us each day, and assured her that Raven hadn’t meant to hurt her. I thanked her for being a good little hen and placed her gently back into the nest for the night. I left reluctantly, not knowing if she would survive the night. After I got home from George’s house that evening, I burst into uncontrollable tears, which wouldn’t stop. I was heartsick about this fragile creature, and wanted more than anything to make her well again. I prayed that God would take care of her through the night. What I didn’t know was that after I had left, George took an old dog kennel and fixed her a safe place, lined with hay, to stay in his garage. Over the next few weeks, we took care of Grace, as I had named her the day after the accident. Slowly, she  began to heal, fashioned a nest in the hay, started laying eggs, and began to softly cluck again. We watched her and cheered her on as she struggled to stand and to balance with her wounded leg and drooping wing. Finally, after about three weeks, she was able to stand on both legs without falling over. The day we took her back to join the flock was another day of tears for me. Happy tears, this time.

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As I embark on this Christmas season, I am reminded that I have enough. Little Grace, the hen, taught me what true gratitude is all about. Even though Grace was badly injured, she continued to lay eggs for us. Grace didn’t have much – she had no possessions to call her own. But she had George and me to take care of her. And she did what hens are supposed to do. I know she doesn’t feel gratitude for what we did for her, but I am eternally grateful for the lessons she taught me. What I have is enough. I don’t need more.

And with this thought, I wish each of you a Christmas filled with grace and gratitude.

It is enough.

 

Bucket List or Shopping Bag?

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Bucket List – this is a term I hear a lot about these days. I saw the movie, I hear the term almost every time I get together with friends (especially those in my age group), and I feel like I need to find a bucket to begin filling it up with things I want to do before I die, if I am going to keep up with my peers. Whether I actually do the things I might put into my bucket is questionable, which leads me to the following pondering.

It’s something to think about. What size bucket do I need? What should go inside of it? Will it be cumbersome to carry, or light as a feather. Do I set it in a reserved spot in my living room, or carry it around with me all the time? Thinking about this reminds me of a blog I wrote, “The Shopping Bag” – http://jennielousdays.blogspot.com/2011/05/shopping.html a few years ago.

While the shopping bag in my blog was definitely not a bucket, there are certainly similarities in the two, as we travel through life, choosing what is valuable and what is not. As I consider the possibility of a bucket list, I can’t help thinking about my shopping bag. (Read my blog before continuing, and it will help you understand where I am coming from).

What would I put inside of my bucket, should I decide to get one? It seems to me what I am hearing from most people is that you put things you want to accomplish, places you want to visit, and things you want to do into your bucket. If this were the case for me, I’d be dumping my bucket out on the floor on a weekly basis, examining what’s in it, and constantly changing my mind.

The other night – one in which I was sleepless for several hours – I contemplated my life, where I’ve been, where I am, and where I am going. I have been to some really neat places on earth, and have wonderful memories of my travels. As I considered my life – and got a little too deep into it in my wakeful condition – I began imagining places I might yet visit and what the impact of seeing, or missing, them would be, considering the big picture. I came to this conclusion, and it’s kind of a strange one, if you think too deeply about it. When I die, it’s not going to amount to a hill of beans where I’ve been or what I’ve seen on this earth. What will matter is where I am going – and I do believe that there is something for me beyond this life. When I die, what might have been on my bucket list won’t really matter. Right now, for example, I am hoping to go on an Alaskan cruise next summer. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years. But, if I don’t go, what difference will it make when I look at my life as a whole? Not much, I think.

This all takes me around the bend to the idea of a bucket list again. I don’t think I want a bucket list. I much prefer the shopping bag that I wrote about years ago. But if I had a bucket list, it would be different from what I believe most other people’s are. Mine would include who I want to be, what I want to write, conversations and discussions I hope to have, wonderful smells, aromas, and tastes, laughter and music, hugs and kisses, licks and tail wags from friendly dogs, the wind in my face and sun on my arms, and knowing that I am God’s child no matter how often I come up short.

Bucket list or shopping bag? Take your pick! I’ll take the shopping bag and the journey!

Personally, I like rainbows, wildflowers, chips of robins’ eggs, birds’ feathers, and the song of a waterfall.

You Don’t Have To Go Far To Be At A Resort

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I am staying at “the resort” this week. And it is wonderful.

Actually, I am housesitting for my friend, George, while he is at the beach on vacation with his family. I am staying here to look after the house, his two dogs, and Grace, the hen. While I don’t have the responsibility of taking care of the horses, goats, and all of the other hens, I am enjoying keeping my eye on them to make sure they are ok. But I don’t have to feed and water them. Nice.

Being here has been a Godsend for me. Yesterday I finished the 21-day online meditation program on gratitude and grace, offered through the Chopra Center. This is the perfect setting for me to contemplate all that has been brought to my attention through this series, and I am feeling grace and gratitude flowing and weaving through my being, interlacing in one warm, comforting hug. The quiet peace of the country surroundings, the sparkling water of the swimming pool, the inviting swaying of the yard swing as a breeze sets it in gentle motion – all of these things have heightened my senses and swept out the cobwebs from my spirit. I have had the opportunity to look at my life from a new vantage point, and re-examine where I am and where I want to go.

Gratitude and grace. You can’t have one without the other. The more I express my gratitude and become aware of new reasons to be grateful, the more I feel God’s grace touching my heart and soul, tugging me in new directions for my life, and assuring me that, even with my faults and short-comings, I am loved and cherished.

I am not a perfect person. Far from it. But I am me, and I am the only me that ever has been, ever is, and ever will be. There will never be another me in all eternity. Some people might say, “Thank God!” with a tone of sarcasm, exasperation, or disapproval in their voices. But I say “Thank God!” with all the gratitude and joy I can muster. No, I am not perfect. I have made a ton of mistakes, and continue to falter and miss the mark of who I was created to be. But I have a God who is full of grace and love, and who has enabled me to realize how grateful I am for everything in my life – good, bad, boring, exciting, exhilarating, frightening, and everything else in between.

I will return to my home next week, even though I’ll continue to visit “the resort”. It will be different, though, because this week has happened, and it has made a permanent imprint in the essence of this place. Gratitude and grace. I am so very grateful that I have this wonderful retreat available to me for renewing my spirit and feeling God’s grace.

All I can say is “I am grateful.”

A Little Hen’s Lesson on Grace and Gratitude

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After work today, I went over to my friend, George’s, house for an after-work glass of wine. As we were sitting on his outdoor swing, he told me that one of his hens had been stepped on by Raven, the horse, earlier today. He didn’t know how badly she was hurt, but hoped that she would be ok. He had picked her up and carried her to the hen house after it happened.

Of course, I had to put my glass of wine down and head for the hen house to check on the little injured one. The other 20 hens were happily clucking and scratching in the pasture, and followed us as we made our way down to the hen house. There she was, on the ground, inside the pen. She didn’t acknowledge George as he entered her space, while all of the other hens followed him like he was some kind of Pied Piper.

While George went to the barn, followed by all 20 of the healthy hens, to get some scratch feed to throw out to them, I went over to the little hen and picked her up. She didn’t object, but let me gently hold her close to my heart and stroke her sweet little back. I felt around her body to see if I could detect any broken bones, but I am not a chicken expert, and I couldn’t tell how badly injured she was. She didn’t object, though, and nestled her head against my chest. I instinctively knew that she was hurting, although there was no way for her to tell me. I held her close and talked to her. I told her what a good little hen she was and how much we appreciated all of the eggs she has laid for us this past year. I thanked her for being such a loyal friend and a good hen. I also told her that Raven didn’t mean to hurt her, that is was an accident. As I lovingly caressed her and spoke gently to her, I thought about grace and gratitude that I have been concentrating on for the past three days in the meditation program that I am participating in. It all came home to me clearly as I held this sweet little hen in my arms and prayed for her to get well.

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With tears streaming down my face, I placed her into one of the nests. George brought over some scratch feed, and I held it out to her in my open hand. She eagerly ate all that I had, and then drank some water from a cup he brought for her. I didn’t want to leave her, but knew there was nothing more tonight that I could do. I petted her for a few more minutes, wished her a good night’s sleep, and took George’s hand to walk back to the house.

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My little hen doesn’t have a name. If she gets better overnight and is well tomorrow, I probably won’t be able to tell which one she is – all 21 of the hens look pretty much alike. She will just be one of the flock, laying eggs and enjoying scratching for bugs and other good things to eat. But if she doesn’t get better, I know that I did all that I could for her, and I left her in the hands of her guardian angel to watch over her tonight.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring for this little hen, or for me. None of us know what is waiting for us in the new day. But one thing I know for sure – I experienced the true essence of gratitude and grace this evening as I held this sweet little bird in my arms and felt her returning my gratitude to me with all the grace God gave her to offer. I will say a prayer for her tonight and know that whatever happens, she is safe and secure in God’s love.