Power Down & Reboot – Our Family Gets Out of the City For a Re-set of Life – Oualidia, Morocco

 Morocco Casablanca Grande MosqueSomehow, we raised a set of city kids. Over the course of nearly 20 years, we have lived in medium to large cities across two continents. They don’t require a lot of space to enjoy life…a cozy bit of couch for our daughter and her book; electronics for the boys; a movie shared with friends; games around a table. Our world can become small in the city…maybe as a defense against all the noise and craziness outside our door. Or maybe home, at the end of the day, is that place of respite for us…it’s all we need.

For the husband/dad in our family…a wider, less-peopled place is required, from time to time, to take that deep breath and remember a larger world out there, beyond the city. He has to get away from email and phone calls and appointments sometimes…just for a few days…and we all are the better off for it.

Ten years ago, while living in Casablanca, Morocco, we discovered a well-kept-secret, revealed to us by some of our local friends. Just a two-hour drive south of Casablanca is a tiny town by the name of Oualidia. It’s a fishing village, beside the Atlantic Ocean. Unique to Oualidia is a lagoon alongside the coast, protected by natural sea-walls. It provides a lovely space for families to picnic, swim, and play. Fishermen cast their lines off the rocky cliffs or take boats out into the open ocean. Young people gather for surfing or soccer, or in couples to properly court in this open public area. It is a magical place…Oualidia.

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These were the days before we had smart phones, and internet connectivity was spotty. Leaving the city, heading out into the countryside, slowed down our lives the farther we got from home. Getting outside the normal can be a bit unsettling, especially for 13- and 14-year-old boys. Surely, there would at least be satellite t.v. in the hotel rooms…or maybe not. I didn’t always know what they were thinking, as our eyes got used to a different view outside the car windows. Winter wheat fields now golden, the occasional sheep herd, and people walking along the desolate road…to who knows where.

It would take us a few hours  to recalibrate fun to a much more fundamental or even primitive level than what we were used to in town…with all our electronic supports removed, as well as our friends now more than just a phone call or taxi ride away.

As we settled into our shared hotel room (no t.v. after all), something  extraordinary began to happen. The simple beauty of Oualidia and even our hotel, L’Araignee Gourmande, began to settle us down like a gentle massage. Our communication/entertainment choices in the city would keep us attached to screens (email, internet, computer games, t.v., phones). We could do just fine for hours on end, not looking at each other or engaging the world. In Oualidia, there was no other option but. After an early awkwardness, we made peace with our situation and each other. It happened on the walk to the hotel restaurant and over dinner that first night.

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It was always fun for us to vacation in North Africa, especially not being tourists really. We lived there and we spoke the language. This always surprised the hotel staff and the servers in the restaurants and stores. We met kindness everywhere we went. And especially in this little hotel/restaurant. This tiny establishment was known for its fresh seafood brought in daily from fishermen just down the beach. And we ate like royalty – all types of fish, crab, mussels, oysters, and even sea urchins. Every meal was an adventure.

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For that long weekend (and others after it), we  let go of the city. In place of all our electronic devices and constant city friends, we found each other again. The boys played together, and with their sister. We took long walks on the beach and played for hours in the water, finding creatures in the tide pools we’d never seen before. We talked to strangers with abandon. We quietly soaked in the goodness of God through His creation of this beautiful spot and all its richness.

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Late each day, we watched the fishermen cleaning their nets on the shore (just like they must have in Bible days).

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Every evening the sun set into the Atlantic, with us watching, and we retired to our little hotel room to our books and thoughts. Apr 04 154

By the end of the weekend, we would giggle and be silly in the dark of the room with a daddy who had repaired from his city life, along with us.

In those days, we loved our lives in the city, and returned quickly to the routines of life there…but a few days in that little fishing village changed us…reset us again to what mattered most.

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The High Calling – Best Vacation Stories

8 Tips for a Nearly Tech-Free Vacation

Keeping It Simple & Tech-Free Tips for Surviving Travel with Kids

Technology-free Vacation

Best Unplugged Vacations

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Worship Wednesday — This Good Day by Fernando Ortega

O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your possessions. – Psalm 104:24

The garden came with the house. We needed a house where we could do our living on one floor, with elder parents coming for visits. The one we finally bought was everything we needed…and more. Walking out the back door, we enter a green space beautifully tended by the previous owners. Just in the few weeks since moving in, we have enjoyed the flowering of azaleas, irises, rhododendron, daisies, lilies, and more. We are mesmerized at all the beauty and refreshed by both the new growth and old – the flowers, changing weekly, and the tall ancient trees, standing at watch over the garden.

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In the morning, when there’s time before work, I walk outside, coffee in hand, just to take in the gift of this garden – something we have the pleasure of, although we did not plant it. And I am reminded of the glorious and undeserved provisions of God in our lives. The beauty that surrounds us  reminds us of His tenderness and care.

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There’s a worship song that affects me like strolls in this garden. It is Fernando Ortega’s This Good Day. He wrote it in 1999 during a time in his career when he was touring with a band, and away from home for long periods of time. The album Home, released in 2000, came out of this journey. He recalled of this experience: “I missed being home a lot this past year, and so several of the songs reflect that, along with the recognition of God’s goodness and kindness in giving me a place I can call ‘home.'”

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We call this home now…this easy house, fit for old and young…and this beautiful garden. It is a glimpse of Heaven for us…and especially of the majesty of God as displayed in His creation. I love the garden best in the morning.

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My husband lays claim on the garden in the early evening after work. It seems a respite to him, even though he is the one who will tend it, like those who planted it before we settled here. It’s a quiet place…like him, and made even more beautiful by our adult children from time to time…who find their way to their father…there.

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In this place, and on this good day, I found my way to the Father there as well.

This Good Day

Morning sun and morning glories pouring down the hill, through my window I can feel the ocean breeze.  Noisy sparrows fill the oak trees.  Swallows can’t stay still, and in the glad commotion, Lord, You speak to me.

If rain clouds come or the cold winds blow, You’re the One who goes before me, and in my heart I know:

This good day – it is a gift from You. The world is turning in its place because You made it to. I lift my voice to sing a song of praise – on this good day.

I will walk to Woodman’s Cove. The fishing boats are leaving. Seagulls follow just above the water. I will wait until the sunset brings them home again, rigging lines and anchors in the harbor.

If rain clouds come or the cold winds blow, You’re the One who goes before me , and in my heart I know:

This good day – it is a gift from You. The world is turning in its place because You made it to. I lift my voice to sing a song of praise – on this good day.

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Fernando Ortega Official Website

Album Review of “Home”

YouTube video – Live Performance of This Good Day

YouTube video of This Good Day with Scripture for Worship

Give Me Jesus

 

 

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What if Romans 8 was the only Scripture Portion You Had

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The Apostle Paul’s letters to the churches must have been a great treasure to those believers, as they continue to be to us centuries later. His letter to the Romans, written in A.D. 57, is rich instruction and encouragement in the things of God. For those who want to know God in the fullness of His glory and to faithfully follow Christ, the book of Romans is invaluable. How grateful I am that God has preserved this letter over the ages, as He has done with all His Word, for our sakes.

Paul’s letter to the Romans is worth examination, no matter what your religious (or non-religious) affiliations.  Sometimes when I read the Bible, the thought of “What if” comes to mind. What if I only had this portion of Scripture? How would it change my life? It’s dangerous for any of us to pull out bits of Scripture to order our lives without considering the whole counsel of God. Yet, in some parts of the world, the Bible is not available to everyone. There may come a day, when it might be censored where you live, if it isn’t already. It’s already precious, so to think we might not have it all, I read sometimes as if what I am reading is all I have of the instruction and character of God. Romans 8 was my focus this morning.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (verses 1-2, Romans 8) You have to look back to Romans 7 to see what the “therefore” is there for…but in case, we only hypothetically have Romans 8 in our hands, let’s focus on what remains in the passage. No condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. No condemnation! What a glorious word for us who live under perceived condemnation (by self, Satan, or the world) every day. And with no condemnation comes the freedom we have in Christ. He has set us free. Amazing truth given our condition from birth apart from Him.

On a side note: Paul’s letter to the Roman believers also often refers to the perfect unity of God (in God the Father, God the Spirit, and God the Son). Watch for references to the Three-in-One – magnificent “Unity in Trinity”.

“But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (verses 10-11) No matter how deep our theological understanding is about life, we know that we wrestle daily with our flesh (body, sinful nature)…even as Christ-followers (not even…maybe more so). This struggle is with us until we leave this life. However, we are not alone in this. The Spirit of life (God), because Christ is in us, gives us life. Life here to choose to live according to God’s teaching and in His power…and life forever with Him. Let that wash over you this morning, Dear One.

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,  and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (verses 15-17) Here we see the witness of the unity of God in three persons as Paul further explains our position and inheritance in the Kingdom of God. We are adopted into His family. We are His heirs, fellow heirs with Christ! We share in the inheritance of Jesus which is His by divine right. Yet God the Father includes us…adopts us as His children. A casual read of this will not do. It is a mind-blowing gift from God!

On a side note: I’m sure the bit about suffering registered. Suffering is inevitable for all of us. It just is, and God tries to prepare us for it through His Word (including these great letter-writers). Yet, with the suffering comes glory. We share in the glory of Christ!

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” (verse 28) This is such a familiar verse, often-quoted and sometimes misquoted in difficult circumstances of life. Still the truth of it resonates so well with us who follow Christ.  God works good out of all things…no matter what…for those who love Him and for His purposes. We can take great comfort in this promise…great comfort in the One who makes this promise.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be  against us?” (verse 31) Enough said. Hallelujah!

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (verses 35, 37-39) No matter how evil the times are in which we find ourselves. No matter what the course of our lives. Nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing. Nada. No matter the press of confusing circumstances or the prosecutorial arguments of the world or the evil whispers of Satan himself lying in our ears…God tells us that we are more than conquerors through Him and that absolutely nothing will separate us from His love.  That is the message Paul delivered to the Roman believers in this letter. They understood and clung to this message during a horrific time in history, and, one day, we will join them, worshipping the God of these great words.

This was my word from God this early morning…still resonating all these years after it was written. My life is steadied and course set on a foundation that is not shaken…thanks to a God who preserved His word for us to the present, and for as long as this world continues…as He purposes and in His love.

Romans 8 (and the rest of God’s Word) in Many Languages

Called According to His Purpose

The Preservation of the Bible

How We Got the Bible

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Ramadan – Much More Than Fasting – A Quick Study for the Sake of Your Friends & Coworkers

2008270mnj287“Ramadan Kareem!” “Ramadan Mabrouk!” “Ramadan Mabarak!” may be familiar words to you…or not so much. Around the world, among Muslims, these are greetings of blessing for their holy month of Ramadan. In this month, all Islamic peoples are united in the observance of their religion, more than any other time of the year.

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar and is considered holy because Muhammad, Islam’s most revered prophet, reported receiving the Qu’ran during this month. At the sighting of the new moon at the beginning of Ramadan, Muslims begin a month-long exercise of six tenets of their faith, consistent, to a large extent, among all of the world’s practicing Muslims.

Fasting [Sawm (Arabic: صوم‎)]  From sunrise to sunset, during Ramadan, devout Muslims fast. In some countries, in fact, it’s illegal for a Muslim to be seen eating or drinking during these hours. There are exceptions (young children, the sick, elderly, and others in a few defined temporary situations). However, the fast is intended to be complete during the day (no food, drink, smoking, sexual intercourse, or profane speech). At sunset, the fast is broken with a meal together as family and eating can continue into the night until just before sunrise the next day. Because of this “flipped day”, Muslims, when possible, sleep during the day or spend time in recreation, exercise, or visiting. The women must still cook for that “break-fast” meal. School and work hours are shortened during Ramadan because of the fast.

Tip for you: Be sensitive to your fasting friend or coworker. If possible refrain from eating, drinking, smoking in front of him/her. Invite them to break their fast with your family (it means a meal later than usual, if Ramadan is in the long summer months). Don’t miss an opportunity to join them if you’re invited to a meal in their home.

Charity [Sadaqah or Saddka (Arabic: صدقة‎, plural ṣadaqāt صدقات)] and/or Alms-giving [Zakāt (Arabic: زكاة‎ )] Part of the reason for fasting is to experience the life of one poorer than you. The idea is to eat less and use the money saved to give to the poor during Ramadan. Islam has two types of charity – one is voluntary charity to the poor that is seen often during Ramadan; the other is the mandatory alms-giving, required by faithful adherents to Islam. Ramadan is sometimes the month when Muslims give their alms through their mosque(s).

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Tip for you: You and your Muslim friends/colleagues may share a concern for the poor of your city or for an oppressed people group somewhere in the world. This could open a door for you to act together on behalf of those in need.

Prayers [Ṣalāt (Arabic: صلاة‎ ṣalāt; pl. صلوات ṣalawāt)] Prayers are a major tenet of the Muslim faith. During Ramadan, prayers are considered even more powerful to the faithful Muslim. Entry into Paradise can hopefully be won through the careful attention to religious practices during Ramadan. During the last 10 days of Ramadan, a special Night of Power [Laylat al-Qadr (Arabic: لیلة القدر‎)], is believed to have even greater weight in the practicing Muslim’s pursuit of favor with God.

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Tip for you: Even if you do not notice your Muslim friend or coworker’s prayers usually, during Ramadan, you may see them praying in their homes or at their desks. The mosques in your neighborhood will be much more noticeably busy during Ramadan. Besides the usual Friday service, and the 5 regular prayer-times during the day, there are often special opportunities for Muslims to gather to pray and read and discuss the Qu’ran. Pray for them as they pray.

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God-consciousness or Piety [Taqwa (Arabic: تقوى‎ )] For many devout Muslims, Ramadan may not be so exceptional, except for the fast. Most, however, count on this month for its spiritual focus. Both men and women will have opportunities to learn more about God and the teachings of their prophet Muhammad. The global observance of Ramadan is a galvanizing experience for Muslims, with each other, and with the history of their religion, and, their hope, with God.

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Tip for you: Ramadan is an excellent time of the year to increase your own understanding of what your Muslim friends/co-workers believe. Questions about their faith are usually welcomed. Arguments about faith are not. Do your own homework about the faith issues where you may disagree with Islamic teaching. This type of information is prolific on the internet (especially related to differences in thinking between Christians and Muslims). Then you can ask or discuss the faith issues that matter most to your friends/colleagues, because during Ramadan, they have been thinking about them.

Community [Ummah (Arabic: أمة‎)] Breaking the fast together and praying together in the mosque are clear signs of the strong bond between Muslims, especially seen during Ramadan. Christians enjoy this experience through similar celebrations (Christmas and Easter, to name two) and through their faith in Christ, bringing them into the larger Family or Kingdom of God. This Muslim observance of Ramadan, in its 30-day concentration of focus and universal religious practice, is unique to this religion.

Tip for you: For some, the community of the Islamic world, in their religious practices and political views, can be a little uncomfortable. A good reminder to self is that Islam is a religion, and Muslims are people. Whatever you agree with or disagree with, regarding the religion, needs to be separate from how you engage with the persons who identify with a certain religion. All of us need community and affiliation. So don’t be put off by the Islamic practices you see in Ramadan. Remember, the people who are fasting, praying, and trying to understand God may share very similar concerns and struggles. AND if your Muslim friend/colleague is observing Ramadan away from his family/religious community, he or she is especially isolated and could really use your friendship during this time.

Ramadan’s Festival Day(s) [Eid ul-Fitr (Arabic: عيد الفطر‎)] – at the end of this month’s fasting and praying – in a future blog.

Muslim Website on Getting the Most Benefit Out of Ramadan

Breaking Fast with Family – English Subtitles – Coca-Cola Commercial – Strong Message of Perceived Power of Month of Ramadan in Changes of Heart

Short Public Service Announcement on Breaking the Fast & Family Time Together After

Breaking the Fast – Ramadan Subway Commercial – You Don’t Have to Know the Language to Appreciate the Message

California Muslim Teens Explaining Ramadan

A Morality Tale (Ramadan Pepsi/Lays Potato Chip Commercial) on the pull of society on Muslim Youth & How Ramadan Holds Family Together

What Growing Up in a Muslim Country Taught Us About Ramadan – Another Author’s View

Glossary of Islamic (Arabic) Terms for the Month of Ramadan

Arabic Words & English Transliteration

 

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Worship Wednesday – Bring the Rain – MercyMe

Blog MercyMe

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. – James 1:12, ESV

MercyMe, the Christian band, has touched my worshipping heart in these recent seasons of my life. It started with Here Am I, Send Me, the first song of theirs that resonated with what God was already speaking to me at that time.

Then there was the song I Can Only Imagine, a favorite of both my mom and older brother. Each of them died early, at least from our standpoint, and I ache for the day we will all be together again.  That song has come on the radio often over the last few years, just for me…and maybe for you, too. To comfort me in my missing of family gone ahead…and to stir up my hope and confidence in the knowledge of our merciful God.

Bring the Rain is not a new song but it’s most recently come to me as a gift from God during a time of struggle. It is so easy for us to take our eyes off the Lord, even though we don’t want to and we know doing so takes us nowhere good. When this fallen world presses in on us, whether through illness, loss, or disappointment, we do well to remember that God is good through all of our circumstances. We are to hold on to Him, as He holds tightly to us…no matter what.

I hope you can take a moment to worship God through these lyrics.

Then watch the video at the end of Abigail Smith’s journey through a cancer that took her life but could not touch her love for Jesus.  I also rejoice at getting to meet and know her in Heaven one day. This same God who sustained Abby through a hard last year here is the God that MercyMe worships, too…and we with them.

Bring the Rain

I can count a million times
People asking me how I
Can praise You with all that I’ve gone through

The question just amazes me
Can circumstances possibly
Change who I forever am in You

Maybe since my life was changed
Long before these rainy days
It’s never really ever crossed my mind

To turn my back on You, oh Lord
My only shelter from the storm
But instead I draw closer through these times

So I pray
Bring me joy, bring me peace
Bring the chance to be free
Bring me anything that brings You glory

And I know there’ll be days
When this life brings me pain
But if that’s what it takes to praise You
Jesus, bring the rain

I am yours regardless of
The dark clouds that may loom above
Because You are much greater than my pain

So I pray
Bring me joy, bring me peace
Bring the chance to be free
Bring me anything that brings you glory

And I know there’ll be days
When this life brings me pain
But if that’s what it takes to praise You
Jesus, bring the rain

Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy
Is the Lord God Almighty
Is the Lord God Almighty

And I forever sing
Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy
Is the Lord God Almighty
Is the Lord God Almighty

Everybody sing it
Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy
Is the Lord God Almighty
Is the Lord God Almighty

You are holy, You are holy
Lord, You are holy
Is the Lord our God
Is the Lord our God Almighty, yeah, yeah, yeah

Everybody sing it
Holy, You are holy
Oh, holy, holy, holy, yeah, yeah, yeah
Is the Lord God Almighty
Is the Lord God Almighty, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

Holy, holy, holy, holy, holy, holy
Is the Lord God Almighty
Is the Lord God Almighty

Bring the Rain – Song Story

Amazing Abby – A Legacy of Hope

 

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Living in the Moment – It is All We Have

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I want to learn more to live in the moment.  Little guys seem to know how to do that intuitively, like they have no sense of what’s down the road.  Just the joy of the “right now” – a dinosaur pancake on a Saturday morning is splendid enough.

I’ll never forget the time that I walked up on our first-born Christie, when she was not even 2, and happily coloring on the hallway wall.  As soon as I appeared, her reverie stopped abruptly, causing her to even startle and catch herself, with the guilty crayon held still in mid-air.

She knew she was in trouble.  Her eyes went wide and her little mouth froze open.  Of course, I didn’t discipline her, but I didn’t take a picture of her crayon drawing either.  We grownups too often are  bound to the future, and the proper raising of children, rather than focusing in on what we have right in front of us.  A beautiful little girl who had lost herself in a white wall with a crayon in her hand.

That little girl is all grown up now, a teacher of little ones herself.2014 June Christie's 3rd grade class 024When I hear her talk about her childhood, there’s so much lovely detail.  She has a great memory, and I thoroughly enjoy her recaps of times gone by. I have lost too many of these details that are so vivid to her, and I’m thinking there are at least two reasons why.  One reason, of course, is that the memories are hers.  Those things happened to her.  I was a bystander, usually an interested one, but too often, a distracted one. Then there’s a second reason – life itself bombards us with so much to notice.  It’s like the experience of a baseball fan whose attention is drawn from the game by what’s happening on the big screen, or by the antics of some crazy person down the row from you, or by a hawker with just the snack you were watching for. There’s so much going on, you miss huge chunks of the baseball game…if you’re like me.

Life happens at many levels all the time.  We choose where we focus our minds…our attention.

As a parent with small children, attending to their needs was an in-and-out mental work.  I could hone in when I needed to be fully there to meet their needs.  Learning to quickly discern if they were wet, hungry, tired, hurt, mad.  And I would, at times, just be fully involved from the sheer joy of having them in my life.  Their babytalk, their discoveries, their accomplishments, their wonder at the world around them, their work and play, their sleeping times.n7607486_31797847_6155[1] Then there were other moments, however, when they were content with their cereal, or toys, or Daddy, and I would focus out – to a radio program, a phone call, or an idea or problem I was working on silently in my head.

This being my reality, there are details I don’t remember, or don’t remember well, because, in a way, I really wasn’t there.  Not that there is a moral issue necessarily at work here. It’s a reality of having the capacity of both attending to the needs before us, and thinking of other needs, or desires, not yet before us.  It’s one of the dichotomies that come to mind when I hear women who want to be stay-at-home moms because they don’t want to miss their children.  We can still miss our children, even when they’re hanging on our hips, or taking ballet right in front of us, or reading their first books to us, or playing those soccer games.  We can be talking to other moms, thinking about what’s on the schedule tomorrow, or sorting out how to deal with a conflicted relationship.  We can mentally be very absent from our children.

I don’t want to miss the people right in front of me anymore.  I want to learn to be in the moment…the moments ahead will take care of themselves.

A Bit of Instructions on How to Live a Good Life – Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About It.

One Thing Well (the multi-tasking trap)

How to Miss a Childhood

How to Miss a Moment

P.S. My children were little, a couple of decades ago, before the internet or cell phones were our constant companions. Our lives were quiet compared to today’s assault on the senses. This is the culture in which they will raise their children. I write this for them…not to encourage them to focus on their children in an unhealthy, child-centered way, but to be all there with them. And when they must attend to other responsibilities or relationships, to teach their children that others matter, too. We can, joyfully, live in the moment – focused, intentional, generous, and aware.

 

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The Father I Never Knew – On Father’s Day

I was five years old when my parents divorced. By the time I was six, my father was completely out of my life. Their divorce came after more than twelve years of marriage and four children. I won’t go into the reasons of why their marriage unraveled. Neither my mom or my dad are here to tell their side. In the mid-50’s when people divorced, there was no court-mandated child support.  In our situation, Mom worked, and until she married again years later, we lived on what she was able to provide.

This is a picture of my father – Guy Anderson Stephens. Guy Stephens

It’s the only one I have. In those years, pictures were taken regularly, even in poorer families. So why there are no pictures of my father, I cannot say. My Mom said he was a handsome man, charming. He grew up, one of three siblings, on a sizable farm and his family was well-respected in the community.

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My mother, Mildred Jane Byrd, was beautiful and smart. She was the middle child of five. The only girl. Hers was a hard childhood with the Great Depression just one of the factors making her family poor. She had great dignity in the midst of her circumstances and continued so all her life. I love my mama and feel very grateful to be her daughter and friend. When she and my Dad married, she felt confident her hardest days were over. It was not to be so.2009 April May Trip to Georgia 089

When my parents divorced, we became a family of 5. My Mom, my older brother, Robert, me, and my two younger brothers, Dwane and Wade. Wade (not in picture above) was just a baby when we drove away from the house that last day. This picture was taken later, not on that bewildering last day.

2009 April May Trip to Georgia 102

The picture above shows us with our grandmother and cousins in our uncle’s convertible. It’s possible he was as poor as we were, except for the car. I’m holding my youngest brother. Our older brother must have felt great responsibility toward us, with Mom working long hours. I think, too, he felt the loss of our father the most acutely.

For reasons we will never know, our father didn’t stay long in our lives. Some months after the divorce, he took us to a county fair. He bought a bear for me at one of the concessions because he wasn’t able to win it. Then there was the Christmas following – that one glorious, magical holiday when he brought presents and it seemed he would always be close. And then he never came back.

He attended our older brother’s high school graduation years later, but I didn’t see him. And that was that.

Once I learned how to write, I would send him letters (at his parents’ farm) – telling him the news of his children.  For a couple of decades I wrote, imagining my letters helped him stay connected with us, maybe lessening his loneliness for his children.  He never wrote back.

The last letter was to announce the birth of his first grandchild.

It wasn’t a conscious decision, but after that, I didn’t write any more.

Years later, after many more births of grandbabies he would never know, I talked to him once on the phone. Someone told my mom that he was in a nursing home and not well. I called him, thinking we could visit together…one last time. As we talked briefly, he thought I was my mom. Too many years had separated us. I did not make that visit.

Guy Stephens Memorial Service (3)

The funeral home leaflet said so little.  It was sent in a note to my mother after the funeral. We did not go.  His death seemed to have happened to some other family. He would be grieved by those who knew him. His parents and siblings and others – these were his family…strangely, we were not.

The longing to know my father and the rest of that family passed with the years apart. As far as we knew, he nor his family (original or remaining) ever tried to communicate with us over these more than 50 years. Until recently.

His last surviving sibling died this Spring. Aunt Pauline. And we have been tracked down, so to speak. Two weeks ago, I spoke for the first time in all these years to a cousin. She is the executor of Aunt Pauline’s estate and we are remembered in her will. I will meet her this week. She remembers meeting my Mom nearly 70 years ago,  when my Dad was courting her She commented on how beautiful and tall she was. What a kindness this may turn out to be.

To finally close the gap on all those years of not knowing that family…my other family. It may be that I won’t really learn much about this father, but I am continually learning more about the Father I have in God. He has never left me. This is one of His countless tender mercies.

[From the leaflet from my father’s funeral]:Guy Stephens Memorial Service (2)

In the Digital Age, the Family Photo Album Fades Away

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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East to Home – the Eastern Shore of Maryland/Delaware

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The Chesapeake Bay Bridge is one scary, long, breathtakingly beautiful ride (scary, that is, if you’re not so keen about heights or deep water)…but it is the way home for us… The Eastern Shore of Maryland was my husband’s childhood home, and for the past 30 years, it has become another home to me. There’s nowhere else across the USA, quite like the Eastern Shore.

After the up and over bridge experience, we find ourselves cradled on both sides of the road by sprawling farms teeming with life.Blog - Eastern Shore FarmI always want to stop and have a closer look, but our need to push on to get home keeps me in the car, pressed against the glass, watching the grain fields look a blur, as we pass quickly by. I wonder, looking out at each passing farm, what’s going on in that house; what the farmer is doing right then; what’s ready to be harvested or what crop will be sown next.

The land is flat, and you can see far and away the various crops planted and growing alongside the Bay and other wetlands. There are also more inland stretches, where the acres of grain, corn, and truck crops are watered, during dry times, by irrigation systems that stand as tall sentinels across the fields.WP_20140614_006

The seasons are marked by what is happening in the field. It’s mid-June now, and “Locally Grown” signs pepper the side of the highway. The strawberry season is over, and pumpkins will be planted in some of those fields soon. Right now, we can look forward to asparagus, sweet peas, early melons and tomatoes…maybe even the first peaches of the season.

PeachMine was delicious.

The pace of life slowed considerably for us, after arriving at Dave’s parents’ home. It seems like all we do, on the Eastern Shore is eat, nap, and catch up on family stories. Yet, it is not so for the farmers in this rural part of the country.

The fields are always turning over from one crop to the next. I can’t tell the difference, but it’s not all wheat growing golden in the fields. Rye, barley, and wheat are all sown at various times on the Eastern Shore. Soybeans, too. Then there’s the corn. It is in its own special category of goodness. Right now, the dark-green leafy stalks are only knee- to waist-high, but in a few more weeks of warm summer sun, you can almost hear it grow. And I have never eaten sweeter corn than that pulled fresh from the fields of the Eastern Shore.

My husband’s family, for generations, has made their home east of the Chesapeake Bay, either in Maryland or Delaware. Our children have deep and enduring memories of vacations there – on the fishing docks of the Chesapeake or the sands of Ocean City, riding inner tubes on the river behind their uncle’s boat, picking out steamed crabs on newspaper on hot summer nights, playing hard in the winter snow or at games on the long dining room table, falling asleep on the living room floor at MomMom’s & PopPop’s, with cousins all around.  And cooking out altogether, the dads tending the grill and the rest of us talking and laughing in the kitchen. If it’s possible to eat our way through the seasons on the Eastern Shore, we have.

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As we returned home to Richmond, Virginia, today, I was struck at how much life we experience at home on the Eastern Shore. Family, work, play, stories…life. Farms are never still. There are always different crops to plant and bring in. Animals to feed, and young ones to nurture along. Families are also changing with the seasons. Our parents turn into grandparents and great-grands. Our children grow up and don’t get to make the trip as often to the Eastern Shore as they did as youngsters in the backseat of our car. Between schooling, work, and blending families in marriage, it’s hard to get everything in, and I see the challenge for them.

My hope is that in the crazy pull of daily life, we never forget our way home…us or our children, whether it’s to their parents’ home in Richmond, to my family’s home in Georgia, or to the Eastern Shore…in time for the summer corn.

2005 Summer -- ILC & Delaware Family 163

A Panorama View of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge

Harvest Time on the Farm – Eastern Shore, MD – Youtube Video

Farm Fresh on the Eastern Shore

Eastern Shore of Virginia – “If You Throw Seeds on the Ground, They Will Grow”

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Worship Wednesday – Yearn with Shane & Shane

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“…so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being.” – Acts 17:27-28a

Yearn is a word that has too long been neglected. Owned by sonnet-writers and dreamers, this could well-describe God-worshippers. Last night, I rediscovered it during a lazy evening with friends. One is a Chinese student ravenous to master English vocabulary. We were looking in one of my textbooks and a list of feelings/emotions caught her attention. Many of the words were familiar to her from conversations with American friends, but one stood out unknown and, for us native English speakers, hard to describe: yearning.

As we were trying to describe it, her nearest friend in our group  pulled up a song on Youtube. It is “Yearn” by Shane & Shane.

Yearn

Verse 1 – Holy design; This place in time

That I might seek and find my God, my God

Chorus – Lord, I want to yearn for You; I want to burn with passion over You And only You

Lord, I want to yearn for You; I want to burn with passion over You; And only You Lord, I want to yearn

Verse 2 – Your joy is mine, yet why am I fine

With all my singing and bringing grain in light of Him

Bridge – Oh, You give life and breath; in You we live and move. That’s why I sing

Copyright © 2004 River Oaks Music Company/True Bliss Music/Waiting Room Music/BMI (adm. by EMI CMG Publishing)

When you go to bed at night, do you ever struggle to get your mind quiet enough to sleep? Do your longings push through such that until you pray them out you can’t sleep? That’s how last night was for me. I long to know God’s purpose for these days in my life…I long to be closer to my children…I long for some of my friends and family to know Jesus…I long for….so many things. And sleep finally comes.

This morning the ache of some of those same longings woke with me. Then in the quiet,  with my coffee and the Word, a yearning for God Himself settled those other longings in their proper place.

“Father, I cry out to You. Let me rest in Your arms, that the world might not press in so, disturbing the peace. You only are the One who completely satisfies – otherwise we lean toward wanting more and more of something less. God, bring me to a place where obeying and following You is all I want. My soul gets tormented by things that are undone or not yet – relationships that aren’t where I’d like them to be; responsibilities that seem beyond my abilities; God, draw me to Yourself. Help me to be where You want me to be, and then everything else will be, at least, ordered rightly. Father, I lay down these longings – these relationships; these responsibilities – and lift my face toward Yours, yearning only for You right now. I love You, Lord. Teach me to love You more. In Jesus. Amen.”

But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.  – Deuteronomy 4:29

Story Behind Yearn

Shane & Shane Singing Yearn (Youtube)

Chords

How to Become a Follower of Jesus

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Our House…as I Dream It to Be

2012 December Christmas in Delaware 066Welcome!  Come on in!  Of course, you’re no trouble. So glad you could come.  It’s been too long.  No, you don’t have to take off your shoes.  Come on in!  Please!

Our house loves drop-ins.  You are always welcome here.  The front door with its beveled glass window that lets all kinds of light through invites you in.  The entranceway always smells like cooking or candles.  Like we were just waiting for you to ring the doorbell.  Your coat fits easily on the hall-tree; a hook is ready to receive it.

You can sit wherever you please.  There are comfy armchairs with ottomans for tired feet, deep worn couches perfect for naps, and soft carpet in front of the fireplace with pillows for those who prefer the floor.  With a flip of a switch, the room glows with firelight.

The kitchen is just beyond the living room.  Big and spacious with room to feed a whole crew of farm workers, and yet cozy enough for just two for tea.  There’s a crystal bowl of apples in the center of the wide table.  The coffee is fresh and strong, or you can have a cup of tea, if you prefer.  Somewhere the scent of cinnamon and vanilla tells you that someone in this house baked just for you… Conversation flows easily at this table as we sip and savor what’s before us.

When we retire to the living room, the front door bursts open with more to love.  Coats & boots off, and little curly-haired lads and lassies enter the room with all sorts of stories of the day’s adventures.  They tumble all over each other, trying to finish one story after another, but details are lost, as they become aware of company.  Then they pull themselves up and march over to say hello and to inquire about your health.  Well-trained, yes, but lovely in their own right…so fresh from Heaven, these little surprising ones.

Should you stay the evening, we will set dinner.  Not wanting to miss a moment of your visit, the slow-cooker tended the meal.  We will eat in candlelight.  There will be music…and laughter.

Then, the little ones and their parent (or two, whomever was able to come) will roll out of the house as noisily as they came in. Generous kisses and hugs mixed with the protests that they’re not tired.  There’s comfort for all that they’ll be back soon.

Should you stay the night, we will offer you your pick of bedrooms off the main rooms of the house.  There are rooms for young couples with large generous beds.  Simple rooms fitting the tastes of those young adults who come home for the night sometimes, just for fun.  Then there are fantastical rooms for the grandchildren…full of costumes, dolls and cars, books, and animal figurines.  All ages have a place here.  The older ones become young again in these rooms.

If the weather allows, we may breakfast on the porch.  The birds will keep you company and whatever we have will seem a feast when we take it outside.  The world opens up to us, on that porch, as the tree branches move lazily in the breeze, and we rock in the swing.  Time seems to stop…or slow down, for sure.

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It’s time to leave?  Oh, look at the time!  How did that happen?  Well, you know your way here, and you always have a home here with us. Come back soon.  Our house…is your house.

What’s your house like? Or as you dream it to be?

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