Connection and relationship– Musings and Prayer

My sweet Rowan most likely has nasal cancer. I say “most likely,” because I’m not going to put him through the stress of a biopsy or other diagnostics, but his symptoms point to a nasal tumor. We’re giving him prednisone to keep him comfortable as long as possible, and I am cherishing all the time I have with this wonderful dog, who has been by my side for thirteen years.

A few months ago, though, I was having a harder time enjoying time with Rowan. He has been declining for a while with cognitive dysfunction (dementia), and as he became at times confused and disconnected, I found myself distancing myself from him emotionally. I think that was an unconscious response on my part to my fear of losing him, as if distancing myself now would somehow protect me from the hurt of losing him.

Then a friend told me that perhaps Rowan, who has always taught me so much, is now teaching me about life and death. He encouraged me to stay connected, fully experiencing both the joy of Rowan’s presence and the sadness of impending loss. I realized that distancing myself to protect my heart wouldn’t work anyway; the loss will come, but I will be better off if it isn’t mingled with regret. And as I am finding now, through moments of joy and moments of tears, there is a unique sweetness in this time with Rowan.

As is often the case, lessons I learn from dogs make me think about other relationships, and as I ponder this connection, disconnection, and reconnection with Rowan, I am thinking also of my connections with other people. This week I’m hoping to cultivate peace and gratitude in my heart and in my relationships of all sorts. This passage is rich with encouragement on how to have peace in our relationships with one another, so let’s meditate on it together this week.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.                                                                                 Colossians 3:15-17 The Message


Monday: We need peace in our own hearts in order to be able to be in tune with one another, but sometimes we choose to go our own way, avoiding the peace and joy of connection for whatever reason. Let’s think today about whether our words and actions lead to greater or lesser connection, along with the peace that connection brings.

Tuesday: Gratitude is essential to having peace. Throughout today, think of what you have for which you’re grateful, and thank God for those things and for the time to enjoy them in the present.

Wednesday: God’s word imparts wisdom and points the way to peace with God and one another. Ask God to give you a growing hunger for his word. Spend time today mulling on a passage of Scripture, allowing it to dwell in you richly. This week’s passage is one I meditate on frequently, allowing it to deeply affect my attitude.

Thursday: When we give each other any kind of guidance, it must be done wisely and sensibly. Pray for wisdom and grace to be able to do this humbly, lovingly, and respectfully.

Friday: Whether or not we sing aloud during the day, we can have an attitude of praise and thanksgiving, based on our knowledge of God and of his amazing works. Praise him today!

Saturday: In all we do or say, we can it in the name of Jesus, faithfully representing him to the people around us. Thank God for the awesome privilege of representing Christ and pray for the ability to do it well.

Rowan and me

Of Yellow Jackets and Skunks…

I woke early yesterday, looking forward to my weekly Quiet Day, when Stephen goes to work and I have a day of solitude and silence. Always a day I look forward to and relish from start to finish. I try to have everything cleaned up the day before and no unwelcome chores to do on my Quiet Day. (I often do laundry on nice days like yesterday, because I love hanging laundry on the line, but I definitely don’t vacuum on Quiet Days!) I minimize my time online until later in the day, and I avoid talking on the phone or texting. I read, walk, pray, sit with Petra, Milo, or Acadia on my lap, snuggle with Rowan, lie in the grass, sketch, paint, hang laundry and then bring it in all clean and fresh, and so on.

I like to wake up extra early on my Quiet Day, since early mornings seem wonderfully magical when I have nothing scheduled. So yesterday when I woke up I thought of the day ahead and took a deep breath of the fresh, cool 51 degrees flowing through my window. Then I let Petra and Milo out. Rowan often opts to sleep in when I get up early, and thankfully that was his preference yesterday morning.

A moment after the dogs went out into the dim predawn light, Milo bayed loudly (is there any other way a Beagle bays?). Uh oh! I ran outside to be greeted by no-longer-pleasant 51 degree air and two very smelly dogs… two dogs skunked at 5AM! My first thought was how very thankful I was that my very furry Rowan was still in bed. My next thought was that this was a bit of a drag of a way to start my Quiet Day.

Stephen came out and we watched the skunk from the deck. She (of course I didn’t get close enough to see if it was a he or she, but it was so pretty I’m calling it a she) was small– maybe two thirds the size of an adult- and she clearly wasn’t in a hurry to leave. As we watched, she pranced along the fence, tail high and waving, then stopped and spent a long time nosing in the grass in one spot, before she finally wandered off and out of sight.

I rummaged through a cabinet and found a couple of bottles of Skunk Odor Remover and an old sponge. I changed from my nice pajamas into some rags, and thoroughly sponged off the dogs. Poor Milo was starting to shiver in the chilly morning air– funny that the skunk waited till the first chilly morning to spray the dogs. I gave the dogs some marrow bones to occupy them while the enzymatic odor remover worked, and while I mixed up a home remedy of peroxide, baking soda, and dawn dish detergent, then I brought the dogs in and bathed them thoroughly.

A little later I went out to hang laundry and went to look at the spot where the skunk had been nosing around, right by my clothesline. Two large sections of yellow jacket hive had been dug out of the ground and the yellow jackets eaten. I may not have liked my dogs getting sprayed, but I am very thankful that this young skunk so ably dealt with the yellow jackets. No yellow jackets to sting me while hanging laundry, with the bonus of a being able to watch a beautiful nocturnal resident of our land doing the wonderful work she was designed to do. I’ll take it!

Young skunk in the yard

After I got the dogs bathed, my day did actually quiet down, and I had a wonderfully refreshing day. I did have much on my mind, with my heart heavy for my friend who lost her husband the day before, and she has been in my prayers often since then. I sat before God yesterday morning asking him repeatedly to sustain Cindy through this time, to hold her close, to send her close friends to comfort her, to give her his peace that passes understanding. I know that he will, that she will be in his loving care through the very hard times ahead. She will be very much in my prayers in the coming weeks.

As the day went on, I read a book about Sabbath rest (24/6 by Matthew Sleeth– definitely worth reading), walked barefoot in dewy grass, watched hummingbirds, sketched, painted, walked, read psalms, and lay in the sun-warmed grass smelling the rich earth. Overall, a very refreshing day, even though touched with sadness.


Hummingbirds watercolor

Hope in Trials– Musings and Prayers

My heart is aching for a friend whose beloved husband died unexpectedly this morning. I also know several other people who are grieving deeply for loved ones, as well as others who are dealing with trials of various other sorts, so I thought I’d share my musings and prayer suggestions on one of my favorite passages. These words from Isaiah have often sustained me when I’ve felt like everything was too much and I wondered how I’d get through it all.

“But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.’” Isaiah 43:1-2

God reassures us that we need not fear, that we belong to him, that he will be with us through painful trials, and that he will keep us from being destroyed. This week let’s seek to apply these words to our struggles and to develop a greater understanding of what it means to belong to God.

Monday: Meditate on the thought that God personally formed you. Ponder the wonder of God lovingly fashioning you in all your uniqueness.

Tuesday: What do you fear most? God tells us that we need not fear anything, because we belong to him and he’ll keep us in his care through all that comes our way. Bring your fears to him and ask him to keep you in safety.

Wednesday: God made each of us a unique individual and he knows us personally. Listen for whatever ways he might be calling your name, and follow him as the special person he made you to be.

Thursday: God tells us we are his. We belong to him, so we need never feel that we are abandoned or alone. Meditate on this and thank God for this assurance.

Friday: Although we will face difficulties, God is with us and keeps us from being overwhelmed or destroyed. Ask him to help you trust him throughout trials.

Saturday: Read over this week’s passage, pondering each phrase and thinking of how it speaks to your heart. Pray for the ability to incorporate it deeply into your outlook on life. Ask God how you can help and encourage others when they’re going through fiery trials of life.

Rail Trail Twilight 011415

Bear Mountain State Park

Today is Stephen’s birthday, and he wanted to go to Bear Mountain State Park. We’ve never been there, other than to drive through once, so we wanted to see what it’s like. It is beautiful, with the kind of rock outcroppings and exposed granite slopes that I love, along with fabulous views of the Hudson River. We climbed up in the Perkins Memorial Tower at the summit of Bear Mountain, where there are 360 degree views. In the very distance we could see the New York City skyline, rising above mist like a fantasy city.

We found a few quiet, shady places to sit and paint (me) and muse (Stephen), where we wouldn’t bake in the sun. Orange granite sloping below us, fragrance of pines rising around us, vultures soaring through the view… It could have been a perfect place to spend the day, BUT we realized that if we want a peaceful, pristine experience of nature, we need to go north toward the Catskills, rather than south toward the city, at least on a beautiful Saturday. It seemed as though the city had emptied itself into the park, and with the mass of people came the blaring of car horns, radios, and motorcycles; along with people everywhere and scattered trash. Oh well… we made the best of it, seeking out some less populated spots, then headed north to Cold Spring to have lunch.

Despite the crowds, we had a great time together, just hanging out, enjoying each other’s company. I am so thankful for my wonderful husband!

Happy Birthday, Stephen!

The Thinker…

Bear Mountain State Park Queensboro Lake
Queensboro Lake from Bear Mountain
Iona Island from Bear Mountain

Rest– Musings and Prayers

I’ve been reading and pondering a couple of books about stress reduction and rest recently. Even though I cherish quiet time, I need frequent reminders of how important it is to schedule in time for real rest, since it’s easy to feel that I should be using as much of my time as possible productively, like many of the people around me. Stephen mostly works from home, but once a week he goes to his office, so that I can have a quiet day at home alone. Ideally I spend these days reading, resting, sketching, walking, praying, and so on. Sometimes, though, I find myself catching up on emails and other correspondence, doing several loads of laundry, cleaning, and so on.

Both of the books I’m reading emphasize the importance of evaluating priorities and living intentionally. I’m finding the book on rest, Sabbath, by Wayne Muller, particularly interesting and helpful, as he talks about developing a rhythm in our lives that includes putting a priority on rest and relationship. He discusses the way our society tends to value money over time and how that can impoverish us personally, relationally, and spiritually. This month I am focusing on establishing some helpful daily and weekly patterns or rhythms for myself, and this week I want to focus on the idea of Sabbath rest, especially thinking of it as a gift of rest and relationship, rather than as an onerous restriction.

No working on the Sabbath; keep it holy just as God, your God, commanded you. Work six days, doing everything you have to do, but the seventh day is a Sabbath, a Rest Day—no work: not you, your son, your daughter, your servant, your maid, your ox, your donkey (or any of your animals), and not even the foreigner visiting your town. That way your servants and maids will get the same rest as you. Don’t ever forget that you were slaves in Egypt and God, your God, got you out of there in a powerful show of strength. That’s why God, your God, commands you to observe the day of Sabbath rest.
Deuteronomy 5:12-15 The Message


Monday: Set aside some time as holy (which means “set apart”), a time for resting from work and for communion with God.

Tuesday: Thank God that he values us and our presence with him and not just the work we do.

Wednesday: Ask God to help you slow down to rest your mind and body and to nurture your relationship with him.

Thursday: How can you encourage the people in your life to set aside their work at times so they can rest. Ask if there’s some way you can help or affirm them in doing so.

Friday: Think back on what God has freed you from. Meditate on the amazing thought that God has freed you to be in relationship with him!

Saturday: Enjoy your time with God today. Read, pray, laugh, sing, or walk with him, and praise him for his redeeming love.

Sketch of my retreat house I did while having a day of solitude today. (This is the house my sons built for themselves for a homeschool project, which I inherited when they grew up.)

Musings on quiet mornings…

I have a fairly light schedule this month, which is very welcome after two rather full months. June and July were full of great things– with a beautiful new grandchild topping the list of events that included an artist retreat, attending an art workshop, vacationing on the Outer Banks, flying to California to meet little Elizabeth, and quite a bit more. Even such wonderful events on my calendar, though, take their toll of energy, and by the time August came around, I was ready for a month at home without a lot going on.

I’m trying to take advantage of this quieter month to be more intentional in how I use my time, with the hope of developing a sustainable rhythm to my days and weeks. Although I very much enjoy spontaneity, I find I also need structure, so my goal for this time period is to see what sort of balance works best for me. Of course, I know that that balance will change as circumstances change, but I’m hoping that I can find a flexible rhythm that I can adapt as needed, while still maintaining some continuity.

One thing I’ve realized is that I am calmer and at the same time more productive in the long run when I keep my mornings quieter for reading, writing, walking, sketching, praying, or putzing around the house getting enjoyable chores done. When I schedule up my mornings with appointments or socializing, I often end up feeling like my days are hectic races and that I have somehow sold my quiet-loving nature to a to-do list. On the other hand, when my mornings are quiet, I tend to feel peaceful and yet energetic, and in the afternoon I enjoy spending time with people or often get done as much as I do on the more scheduled days. I also am much more present with Stephen and with others after I’ve had quiet mornings.

I’ve also found that I mostly paint when I travel rather than when I’m home, because art time typically gets scheduled out. Last month, though, a wise friend reminded me that I need to prioritize both art and prayer, both of which tend to get pushed to the side if I get too busy. As this month of reflection goes along, I’m finding myself painting a good bit more than I usually do when I’m home, and when I paint or sketch more, I also pray more. I’m writing more, too, and today I even surprised myself by trying my hand at a bit of fiction for the first time. This shows me yet again that if I nurture my spirit in the ways it needs, creativity will flow.  I’m planning to keep making time for quiet in the coming weeks, and hoping to enjoy many creative hours.

Resurrection Bay Sunrise (Alaska)
Meadowbrook Farm Sunset

Spiritual Clothing– Musings and Prayer

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
Colossians 3:12-14 The Message

Monday: God loves us deeply and has chosen us to live for and with him. It can take time for these truths to sink deeply into our hearts in a way that shapes our thinking and being, so let’s meditate on these words today and all this week.

Tuesday: Just as you select and wear certain clothes, choose to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience today and tomorrow.

Wednesday: Think about people who are hard for you to get along with. Pray for grace to bear with them patiently and respectfully.

Thursday: Ponder how freely and fully God forgives. Pray for the willingness and ability to extend similar forgiveness to those who have wronged you.

Friday: To “put on” love is a choice we make. Think about how you can put on love so that it shapes all your interactions today.

Saturday: Love enables us to have unity or integrity in our character, as it provides context for all the other virtues we’re told to put on. Ask God to grow your love for him and for his people.

Locust Tree 081615

Doing and Being… Musings and Prayers

Two weeks ago I visited my parents’ church, where the sermon was based on the story of Jesus and his disciples visiting Martha and Mary for dinner. Mary was sitting listening at Jesus’ feet, while Martha did all the serving, and Martha got bent out of shape and irritable that Mary wasn’t helping. Then this week at our church, our pastor preached on the same passage! God got my attention the first time, two weeks ago; he got it even more strongly this week with the repetition of the passage and a similar message, so I will be pondering this closely during the coming days.

I am by nature a Mary– I cherish quiet times of contemplation, and I enjoy learning, either by meditating on Jesus’ words in Scripture or by listening and observing, especially to nature. But I can also get into a productive mode, getting a lot done and feeling good about it. Sometimes, though, I all too easily shift into feeling like I’m doing too much or being resentful that someone else isn’t helping enough. I think those are the times this passage is addressing.

Of course, doing is both necessary and important. It’s easy to read this passage as an indictment against Martha and those who are busy like her, but I don’t think that’s what it’s saying. I really like what my pastor said yesterday about Jesus’ words to Martha being not so much a rebuke as an invitation– an invitation to her (and to us) to bring worry and anxiety to him and then sit at his feet to be renewed, so that we can go on to serve gladly in whatever way God has made us to serve.

In the message a couple of weeks ago, my parents’ priest (who says she is a Mary and her sister is a Martha) suggested reading The Practice of the Presence of God, a very motivating short book by Brother Lawrence, a 17th monk who learned to be attentive to God even in the midst of his daily work in the monastery kitchen. For this week I want to respond to Jesus’ invitation to sit at his feet and then take that focus with me as I go about whatever work I do.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:38-42

Monday: Let’s take time today to be quiet in Jesus’ presence, reading his word, Scripture, or meditating on creation and what it reveals about him.

Tuesday: Today let’s think about the responsibilities or concerns that distract us from focusing on God. Talk with Jesus about your work and your anxiety.

Wednesday: Do you resent others or God because of the responsibilities you have? Ask God for insight into how your approach to work affects your relationships with him or other people.

Thursday: Most of us are anxious or troubled at some time. Ask Jesus for the ability to keep your priorities right, even when you have much on your mind.

Friday: Mary chose “what is better,” time with Jesus, listening to and learning from him. Let’s do this today and find peace and wisdom in him.

Saturday: God doesn’t call us to work all the time or to overload ourselves with responsibility. Praise him for being a God who wants us as friends, not slaves.

“In the moment”