a lesson from the snowflakes

Snowflakes? What could we possibly learn from something that disappears in seconds if it lands on your hand? We know that each has an intricate beauty all it’s own, but we can’t easily see that without magnification. A snowflake is so small that each is insignificant. Yet there is power in these miniscule masterpieces. And that’s where the lesson lies.

I looked out the window the other morning, after a day of snow and high winds. As usual when there’s a lot of wind with the snow, there were areas of bare ground and others with sculpted snow piles. The contrast can be startling, and it’s interesting to see which areas are clear after each storm. As I focused in closer, I saw a wave of snow within the window frame, curled in toward the window.  It was amazing to see how smooth the curve was and how deeply it curled over the clear area underneath. And that’s when I realized just what the snowflake can teach us.

You see, it is when the individual snowflakes work together that they begin to accomplish things. A few hundred thousand and you’ve got a snowball. A couple trillion and you have to stop and clean your car before you can drive. Get enough of them together, and they can tie up miles of traffic on the highway.

Like a snowflake, on our own we may feel insignificant and powerless against the forces blowing around us. But if God can cause the snowflakes to bind together is such a way that they can withstand the power of the wind, imagine what God can do with us. After all, with the snowflakes, it’s a matter of God-given structure. With us, we have our God-given gifts plus the capability of finding a way to bring out the best in our combined gifts.

As we face the challenges of the coming year, can we learn from the snowflakes? Can we seek out ways to come together and use our God-given gifts to make our world a better place? Lets start a conversation – after church, at the grocery store, over coffee – where doesn’t matter, what matters is that we come together. Will you join?

holding faith

I was flipping through a catalog of Bibles and spiritual books the other day and the title of one book, Holding Faith, struck me. I didn’t read the description, so I don’t know who the author is, or what the book is about. I just keep retuning to those two words, looking at them from various sides. Holding faith. Two simple words with a world of possibilities…

Holding faith. Do I hold it close in for myself? Yes, I do. By holding my faith I am comforted and strengthened. By holding my faith I am able to do so much more than I ever thought possible. By holding my faith I am able to see and understand as God would have me see and understand. By holding faith, my faith grows and and I grow along with it.

Holding faith. Do I hold it close in for others? Yes, I do. I can hold faith for others when they are unable to hold their own faith. I can comfort them and help them find their strength again. By holding their faith, I can help them when they feel like they have lost their faith. I can offer God’s words and the reminder of a Brother, Jesus, who has walked the path of pain and suffering. What power is available to us when we turn to our God who is intimately familiar with all we face on our journey here on earth. By holding faith for others, I may help them understand as God would have them understand. And then return their faith to them.

Holding faith. Do I hold it out for others, those seeking to grow in their faith? Yes, I do. If I can help others see where God is calling to them, I hold faith for them. If I can share words that God has given me to help the Holy Spirit move and work in another, I hold faith for them. And then we can grow in faith together.

Holding faith. Do I hold faith for the world at large? Yes, I do. I actively seek to see the good in all people and situations. I see God at work in the kindness and generosity of people around the world. Doing and being so much more than we might expect, but certainly not more than God sees in them, in us.

Holding faith. Do I hold faith for the future? Yes, I do, I really do. By holding faith today, for myself and for those around me, both near and far, I am growing into the future God is offering us. A future of love and understanding, of caring and support. A future of faith.

he/she?

For many years there has been conversation about assigning the male gender to God. Some say it’s a hold over from the male-dominated world that, thankfully, is changing. I can only speak for myself.

For as long as I can remember I had called God “Father”.  And yes, when I pictured God, He was a Gandalf-like figure, warm and wise with a long white beard. That view brought me comfort during countless difficult times, a father-figure I could always count on. I have long recognized the female side of God, using She for the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. But when others referred to God as She and Mother, I was quite uncomfortable. Whether it was because I still felt I needed that father-figure, or simply that it challenged me to look beyond my long held belief, I struggled with the concept.

But recently, I realized that I was limiting God by assigning such human attributes. God is more than I can imagine in every way. More loving, more nurturing, more supportive, more present than my mind can possibly comprehend. And suddenly, saying He or She became wholly inadequate. Just yesterday, working on a letter to Sunday School parents, I typed He when referencing God and it didn’t feel quite right. As I reread the letter, I had to change the He to God. That’s when I knew, I can never place those human limitations on God again.

He? She? No more. From now on – God!

lessons from a pencil box

I realized the other day that I have a lot to learn from the colored pencils I keep in a simple plastic box to use with my mandala coloring books.

I watch as those colored pencils make a dramatic difference on the pages as I color, yet they seem to lose little if anything of themselves. The various colors make the page come alive, but I only have to sharpen them occasionally. I need to remember that the next time I’m faced with the opportunity to make someone else’s world a little brighter. Do I moan and complain about what a sacrifice it is, how it drains me? Or do I follow the example of the colored pencil and quietly apply myself to the situation and give that little bit that makes such a difference? And when I truly have given a lot and have become dull and unable to make that difference, I can head to the one place that will bring me to the point where I can once again give – God. God is the one place where I know I will be nourished and strengthened to once again be able to share the beauty of God’s love.

Then I started thinking that if I was a colored pencil, what color would I be? I decided I would be red-orange. The blend of the two colors keeps either one from being too much – too hot, too bold, too “in your face”. Yet it’s still warm and comforting. And it works well with the other colors, often drawing out undertones that might be otherwise overlooked.

As I thought more about it, I came to realize that at various times in my life – sometimes in the course of a single day! – I have been many of these colors.

The barely-there peach that relieves the blandness of a blank page, though often only if you look closely. But that peach can sometimes be so light that you can’t see the missed spots, or opportunities, until you look back at the page from a different angle.

Bold red? Oh yes, I’ve been that hot color, on the verge of too much, demanding attention, upset if things don’t go the way I think they should have.

How about purple? Certainly. From soft gentle shades that comfort, to attention getting violet, capable of showing beauty in unexpected places like my beloved wild violets.

Orange? With the ability to warm, but harsh and jarring if used with too heavy a hand, I’ve been that one as well.

Thankfully I can also say I’ve been the calming, soothing greens of plants and trees; the inspiring blues of sky and sea; the sturdy, grounding browns.

Yet, I’ve also been white, the absence of color. Literally just occupying space without contributing anything. So too, the grays and blacks that represent the stormy unsettled times. Regretfully sometimes so intense I managed to blot out the colors of those around me.

Fortunately, I now recognize those times when my mood/attitude veers toward those harsher tones. My prayer is that I will remain aware and always strive to be my orange-red — warm, comforting, able to work well with others and bring out the best in them, things that might have been overlooked before…

tuning in

I read an interesting article yesterday, and the author talked about her experiences with a self-imposed 1 year shopping ban. What really caught my attention though, was her discovery of extra time each morning when she stopped the emails she regularly received from different stores and shopping sites. She went on to explain how she now uses that time to journal, read and pray.

Well, that got me thinking about how I spend my early morning time on my days off from work. Typically, as I’m enjoying my morning coffee there’s a morning news show on in the background. Most of the time I’m not really watching, but that sound is always there and obviously a portion of my brain is tuned in, because I will stop whatever I’m doing to watch a segment if the intro catches my attention.

So yesterday, I intentionally turned off the tv, and instead quietly worked in one of my adult coloring books. (Sorry grandkids, no Avengers or Hello Kitty in these!) I was a bit worried, because I have an ongoing, low level of ringing in my ears and I was afraid the absence of external white noise (the tv) would make my internal white noise too distracting. I’m happy to say that the parts of my brain that were engaged in selecting the colors, deciding where to use them and the physical act of coloring were enough to keep the part of my brain that registers the internal white noise occupied enough that I could ignore it.

And as I lost myself in the picture unfolding under my hand – rather than in some random news story – I relaxed, and was able to open myself to God’s whispers. I found inspiration in the picture, the colors, the colored pencils themselves. I even found inspiration in the sound of the pencils as they forever changed the page in that book.

I realized then, that I too often tune into this world, which means I’m tuning out God. What else have I missed while I was focused on that external white noise? What messages from God have I tuned out? What messages from family and friends? What opportunities to share love and compassion have I ignored, have I tuned out, while I was tuning in to things that really don’t matter? It’s not just the tv, though for me that’s a big culprit. It’s the word games on my phone, the solitaire games on the computer… Who could I have prayed for if I hadn’t played that game of solitaire? Who might I have contacted with a quick message of love and support when I opened my phone if I had tapped on text messages rather than a word game?

I know that God is always calling to me, offering inspiration for ways to share God’s love. I pray that now that I’ve taken this first step, I can stay tuned in to the Good News of God, rather than the world’s news that draws me away from God. And not just for 1 year, but for all the days of my life.

the comfort of three

I wear three bracelets on my left wrist and during a quiet time the other day, I was contemplating why I feel so strongly that I need to wear all of them. And I realized that the comfort they offer goes far beyond the habit and the physical sensation of having them there. Each bracelet is different and each represents important, even vital, aspects of my life.
One is a cuff bracelet with the phrase “always in my heart” engraved on it. I’ve worn it every day since I purchased one for myself and both of my daughters after my mother-in-law passed away last November. I’ve come to see it represents not just my mother-in-law and her loving heart, but all those that have come before me. They are the foundation I have built my life on, and without them, I would not be the person I am today.
I also wear a beautiful double strand braided gold chain bracelet that my husband gave me in honor of of our 25th anniversary. In the 11-plus years I’ve been wearing it, it has come to represent the interweaving of our two lives. Each visibly separate, but intricately connected. It is my present, the circle of love that surrounds my daily life.
And “last but not least” is an expandable bracelet with a charm that says “Nana”. I received it as a Mother’s Day gift, and I proudly wear it in honor of my grandchildren and my children as well. Because without my daughters and sons-in-law, I would not have this amazing blessing of being a grandmother. They are the future, not just my future, but the future of the world. I pray that at least a tiny part of my love will live on in them and perhaps be the foundation of their lives…

sharing the love

“I will praise the Lord no matter what happens. I will consistently speak of all His glories and grace. I will boast of all His kindness to me. Let all who are discouraged take heart. Let us praise The Lord together, and exalt His name. For I cried to Him and He answered me! He freed me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:1-4 The Living Bible

This verse was part of the reading for my morning devotion today, and wow did it hit home. After my experience the last few days, it was the perfect verse and a reminder that it’s important to share these stories.

I’ve been feeling stressed and unfortunately my reaction to stress is to overeat. I know it’s not healthy, I know it’s not wise, I know in a way it denies my claim of faith – that I can rely on God to help me through anything and everything. But I felt powerless to stop. And finally two days ago as I was driving to work I reached my limit. I cried out to God, literally. People passing me may have thought I was crazy. I spent a good ten minutes talking out loud to God. I asked Him to help me understand why I couldn’t seem to rely on Him, instead turning to food for comfort. I reminded God, and myself, that I had asked Him to fill the God-shaped hole inside me. And that when He answered my prayer my life had changed drastically. I asked God to help me remember how much He loved me and wanted only the best for me. I offered Him my worries and my fears and by His grace I was able to leave them there. That day, the urge to eat just for the sake of eating was less and I felt encouraged.

Then yesterday as I was driving to work I realized I had left my phone at home. My first instinct was to proceed on to work as I don’t really need it, but then I thought about my mom. When she needs me, she always calls my cellphone. I decided to go back home to get my phone. I couldn’t leave her without a way to reach me, even if it meant I would be late for work. As I turned toward home, I felt the stress settle back around me. And that is when God helped me recognize the heart of my issue. I am my mother’s main support now. I’m glad to be able to help and do what I can for her, but I can’t do everything she needs, or even everything I might wish I could. And in that moment I realized that was my problem. I feel guilty for not doing more. My stress comes from feeling like I am failing my mother. But I give what I can, and I vowed in that moment to remember that God is there with me – and with my mother – and I do not need to do it all. I felt the stress begin to lift and as I rounded a curve in the road, God gave me the exclamation point to His reminder. The truck coming toward me had a sign below it’s license plate with one simple word – Jesus.

The rest of the day, my appetite was back to normal. I was comforted that my focus was back where it belonged and my stress was under control. God had heard my plea and answered me. He understood my fear and loved me even when I doubted His presence.

So now, you can see why the Psalm I read this morning prompted this post. I had to speak of God’s love and mercy and share how He is always near and ready to hear when we call..