Tend Your Garden

“Gail, remember to tend your garden!”

Shirley is the kind of friend who sends me alerts whenever she discerns I’m forgetting to pause and tend my own personal garden. To give myself permission to slow down and go someplace or do something that allows me to relax, recharge, and reflect. To rest in a way that restores my soul.

Little did I know that my summer project would create a perfect environment to help this happen more frequently.

My well-used white wicker porch set no longer beckoned me outside. My heart longed for some pretty, comfortable, and durable chairs as well as a matching table. Fully expecting an extensive search, the moment I stepped into the patio display of a nearby store, my vision came to life. The high back, glider/swivel chairs, with colorful pillows casually thrown on as a suggestion, as well as the perfect-size glass-top table, screamed “Gail.” The patio sale, that reduced the price by $50, added to the thrill of the find.

A comedy of errors ensued as my neighbor Pam and I placed the huge box in her truck, lugged the individual pieces to my patio, and began assembling the first chair…only to discover the plastic bag containing screws, bolts, and directions was missing. After picking up the crucial bag from the store, our stressful DIY project continued. A little while later I called Stacey, the store manager I now knew on a first-name basis, and explained our predicament. Taking pity on us, she allowed us to bring everything back to the store so they could put it together for us. Patrick, their charming “assembly expert,” loved being our hero.

After carrying the completed set to its designated spot on my porch, and thanking Pam profusely, I released her to tackle her own weekend condo projects. With nothing else pressing to accomplish that day, I prepared my lunch and carried it outside to enjoy my new, colorful oasis.

While slowly gliding back and forth in my comfy chairs, I read my book and listened to the birds chirping. The flourishing fern, displayed in my large, cobalt-blue pot, brushed my soul with delight. Periodically, I drank in the beauty of the pink cypress tree, and flowers and foliage gracing the backyard beyond my enclosed porch. Without realizing it, two hours had passed. Smiling, I declared out loud, “Time stands still out here. I could easily stay all day.”

Inspired, the next day I gave myself another challenge: find the right flowers to plant in my clay pot, which had sat empty way too long. I set off to the perfect garden store. Spying one of the employees watering an extensive array of plants, I dashed over and presented my need. Immediately, she shut off the hose and led me to some small yellow, pink, and orange blossoms, called purslane.

“These flowers will quickly trail out of your pot.” She added, “I’m Debbie, and you can find me here any time.”

After pouring in the potting soil, I arranged the plants diagonally, as Debbie had instructed. Sure enough, even by the next morning they were peeking out of the pot.

To celebrate this fun and relaxing adventure, and the creation of my new getaway, I took my dinner out to the porch that night to grab some more leisure time.

A creative twist from God: the sweet, colorful blossoms close at the end of the day and open again in the morning. Now each day, after pulling back the curtains and stepping on to the porch, I say good morning to my new little friends. Then I peacefully move into a quiet time with my heavenly Father who knows the little pleasures that help me “tend my garden.”

In what ways do you stop and tend your personal garden so you are refreshed, revived and ready to walk back into the various arenas of your life? Sometimes it only takes a pause.

“The music in a song isn’t just the notes.
It’s the space between them.
A song without rests, without timing,
isn’t a song. It isn’t music.” 

John Ruskin

Choosing a Vibrant Life

 

I want you to meet someone who challenges my faith and motivates me to keep moving forward in my personal calling from God.

Her name is Paige. In my heart I’ve named her precious Paige. Here she is in her wheelchair, surrounded by her mother Julie (second from the left) and three of her amazing, cheerful “helpers.” Paige is deaf and unable to breath on her own, yet she attends each annual Florida Christian Writers Conference. None of us can even imagine all that it takes to make this possible. Some of the gals interpret, some are nurses, one takes notes for her.

During an afternoon break in this year’s conference, I happened to find the group outside enjoying the sunshine. Loved the chance to be with them for a little while apart from our classroom. You’ll enjoy reading Paige’s humorous story about what happened before I arrived on the scene. Look for “A Swarming Writers Conference” at www.ThePaigeProject.org

Through the years, we’ve attended some of the same classes and workshops. As soon as she’s positioned in the best spot for her, the class begins. While the presenter speaks from the front of the room, Paige “listens” by focusing her eyes on the designated interpreter for that day.

Paige is a writer who dictates her beautiful thoughts and an artist who paints with a brush in her mouth.

Consider the full credentials on her colorful  business card: author, artist, illustrator and speaker. Does that not move you to stand in awe of what God is accomplishing through her life?

As you look at her painting below, which  graces the back of her business card, ponder all that goes into producing such a work of art.

Paige inspires me by her determination to never hide the creative gifts God has given her. Even with her expansive limitations, she keeps choosing to live a vibrant life and stay faithful to God’s calling for her. 

I don’t want to hide what God has given me either, or shrink from accomplishing my part of His mission by His power. Each day my desire is to keep my eyes on Jesus and continue believing God’s promise to complete the work He began in me.

 

(To read about one of Paige’s personal experiences at the Florida Christian Writers Conference and glimpse her delightful personality, click on www.ThePaigeProject.org)

 

Man at the Sea

He sat in stillness, as if mesmerized by the crashing waves in front of him.

“Mind if I take your picture?” I ventured.

“That’s fine.”

After the photo shoot, I asked him the standard beach-side question, “Where’re you from?”

“I live here and usually come once a day. What brings you here on a week day? How’d you get time off?”

With a smile I replied, “I recently retired so I can come any time.”

“What’re you doing now that you’re retired?”

I offered the first thing that came to my mind. “Well, it’s given me time to write a book.”

“What’s it about?

“Fear of rejection.”

“That’s something we all face. But you just walked up and talked to me.” He looked up from his sandy perch with a smirk.

Caught off guard by this realization, I paused.

He admitted, “The thought of rejection holds me back from saying things or presenting my opinion because I want it to be perfect, you know?”

“I know. I used to be afraid of what people might think of me. Making progress, though.”

“What are the principles in your book?”

After presenting the three sections—Living in Captivity, Breaking Strongholds, Tasting Freedom—I told him I had God in my life and He had set me free from the things that kept me in bondage.

“I want to buy your book.”

That led to an exchange of names and the full title of my book.

Then Alex told me more. “I belong to an AA group. I used to go to keep from drinking. Now I go because of the fellowship. And I feel safe.”

“How long have you been sober?”

“Seventeen years. I don’t want to take one drink, because I don’t want to give up what I have in the group.”

“That’s wonderful. God wants to help you stay sober.” After a pause I asked, “Alex, where are you on your spiritual journey?”

“I’m into spirituality but not religion.””

“God isn’t into religion either. Instead, He wants to have a personal relationship with us. Prayer is the way we can talk to Him, just like you and I are talking.”

Pausing for a moment, we looked toward the rolling waves, blue sky, and brilliant sunshine and agreed that all of it reflected God. Unexpectedly, Alex said, “I sometimes think of a pearl and how the irritation of the sand inside the oyster creates something beautiful.”

“And each pearl is unique,” I said.

“It’s like we are unique, but imperfect. When we speak up, we don’t need to be afraid to be imperfect. In my AA group, I listen but don’t say much about myself.”

With a big smile, I exclaimed, “You can tell them about our conversation. Then it’s like a story, not just about you.”

“Yeah, Jesus told parables, which are like stories.” His eyes shone as if he were considering the amazing possibility of being able to tell his story.

Sensing this a perfect time to explain more, I told him that Jesus had died to pay for our sins so we would be able to know God personally. When I asked if he’d heard about Jesus dying on the cross, he nodded.

“Alex, would you like to pray with me and ask God to come into your life? Or do you want to pray on your own?”

“I will pray myself, because you told me how to do that.”

As we stood together, he said, “Thank you for stopping to talk. I’ll buy your book. I know it will help me.”

“Alex, do you realize that God arranged that you would come to this spot and I would choose this time to walk by?”

We smiled at each other with the realization that this was an arranged appointment we would never forget.

As I walked away, I felt like my feet were barely touching the sand. Silently, I asked God to give Alex courage to pray, and to share his beach story and book with his AA group. I could only imagine the lives that might be changed when they listen to him speak up without fear.

I’m praying that this spiritual seed-planting and watering time will blossom and flourish in the heart of Alex, the man God brought to the sea that day.

https://www.redemption-press.com/shop/will-the-real-person-please-stand-up/

 

Unhurried

Sunday afternoon. My day of rest. Week-day demands furthest from my mind.

Often the relaxed, special moments at the end of the week become my unhurried time for heart connection with friends who live in other places. Communicating with them slows me down, refreshes me, and fills me with joy.

Yesterday, I wanted to answer some Christmas notes. Each one represented someone who loves me and cares enough to stay in touch. I longed to affirm our friendship through a hand-written note or heartfelt words created on my laptop.

I’d set no quota or deadline. Calmly, I reached for the first note from Judy. After expressing my love and inquiring about her husband’s health, I asked if she’d seen any recent glimmer of hope for reuniting with her estranged daughter. Kathy had stopped communicating with her parents many years before, without explanation.

This morning I found a response from Judy waiting for me! She’d received my email in the wee hours of her morning while she struggled to sleep in a recliner following back surgery. If I had not set aside time to write her, I would have been unaware of her need for healing prayer.

Also, I would have missed her good news: “Our daughter called while I was in the hospital and spoke briefly to her dad and me. She has been in touch with Pastor Brian [Judy’s pastor] through email.  Still not sure what the trouble is, but she referred to having boundaries.  We’ll keep praying and see what happens in the new year.” Somehow Kathy had heard about her mother’s surgery and lifted her resistance for a moment. Finally, we can embrace hope that God will restore this relationship, maybe even this year.

I long for more unhurried moments. It’s up to me to slow down so I have a chance to ponder life, and reach out to personal friends.

Each of us has priorities we need to weave into our busy days this year. Let’s ask our wonderful Holy Spirit to show us how to accomplish God’s priorities and also spend unhurried time doing whatever refreshes us and brings us pleasure. God will take pleasure as He watches us.

 

Unfamiliar Nativities

Welcome Rebecca Carpenter, my guest blogger today! A widow of several years, Rebecca shares this thought-provoking Christmas story that captured my heart.
Perhaps it will tug at your heart, too.  

Before my granddaughters arrived, I cleared shelves in my family room and imagined the nativity sets that would soon fill them. Every year, I carefully place each one in a specific spot with every figure in a certain position around the manger.

This year when Ashlyn, Emily and Molly came to spend the night, we decided to decorate my house. I looked forward to not carrying the bins of decorations into the house and not being alone as I went through memorable keepsakes. Their infectious enthusiasm put me into a holiday mood instead of feeling sad that I was alone.

As Molly and Emily unwrapped boxes of olive wood figures, I told them about purchasing the sets in Israel. When they took paper off ceramic figurines, I explained the set had been my parents’. Memories flowed from me to the girls as I remembered other Christmases.

While I dug through bins of decorations, the two younger girls took care of the numerous nativities from the United States and around the world. A tall church with a manger scene from Peru, a stone one from Kenya, homemade ones and a painted picture from Ashlyn. Some had movable pieces and others were carved or formed into stationary scenes. Every one had a story and meant a lot to me.

When they finished, I looked at various scenes before me. The characters were the same but in different positions. Instead of my symmetrical arrangements, shepherds were grouped together at one side with animals among them. Wise men stood way back.  One nativity set had all of the figures far apart on the entire shelf.

At first, I thought we should change them. But on closer inspection, I realized I liked the new way. The girls carefully put every piece where it needed to be. Their interpretation gave me a new perspective.

Of course the sheep should be close to the shepherds instead of in front. The shepherds were probably talking about what they were seeing. Maybe deciding if they should get close and what to say to the young girl and man next to the baby.

Even though the Wise Men actually appeared a couple of years after Jesus’s birth, modern nativity sets include them. Perhaps they did stand far off in awe when they first saw Him.

Why did I think the shepherds and Wise Men should be exactly the same distance from Jesus? Why did it always have to be a certain way?

Not only did the girls get me into the holiday spirit but they gave me a fresh perspective of those who came to see the baby Jesus. Every time I look at my extensive display, I remember their excitement and am thankful I can continue to learn from them.

By Rebecca Carpenter
http://rebeccacarpenter.blogspot.com

Be The One

 

 

 

 

 

Sickness can make us desperate.

During Jesus’ day, those stricken with leprosy were declared unclean and forced into leper colonies. I wonder how ten lepers managed to be around when Jesus entered a particular village during His travels between Samaria and Galilee. Luke 17: 12 clarifies that these diseased men stood at a distance as He approached. But in desperation they raised their voices saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Jesus saw them and said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” I hadn’t realized the significance of this statement, in relationship to what followed, until I heard a Thanksgiving message last Sunday. The wonderful reason for Jesus’ instructions was He planned to heal them as they walked, and He knew the priests had to see proof of their healing before they would be released into society.

Can you imagine the scene? The men obeyed Jesus and turned away from Him. They walked, perhaps trudged for a distance, all the while bearing their curse. Then the miracle happened. Their skin began to turn pink; their limbs grew back; they felt the sensation of their noses expanding to normal size. Surely right there in that dusty road, they jumped for joy.

They probably began running toward the temple, eager to find a priest. Except for one leper.

“Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at [Jesus’s] feet, giving thanks to Him.”

One moment this leaper had cried out to Jesus, begging for the mercy of healing. Now the voice of this free man soared in thanksgiving to the One who had heard his desperate cries and healed his diseased body.

“Jesus answered and said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they?’”

Looking into the eyes of the one, Jesus said, “Rise, and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

In the words of the deliverer of our Thanksgiving message, “All ten lepers received the mercy of physical healing. Only one had opened the gate of free access into the presence of God and His overflowing blessings.”

Let each of us “Be the One” who turns aside from this busy season and glorifies God by saying, “Thank You for healing me from my sins through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. Thank you for allowing me free access to Your presence where I can know You better and experience Your blessings.”

Numbers Don’t Matter


“I think we will have a good group coming today,” Lanita told me.

She had organized a women’s tea in her home because she wanted to give me a chance to speak about my life and promote my new book, Will the Real Woman Please Stand Up? Based on her ad in the community newspaper and the flyer she’d passed out in her neighborhood, she expected 30-35 women.

That day she and five ladies involved in her ministry flurried around the kitchen, while the fragrance of spicy teas and freshly-baked scones permeated the air. Soon they carried a colorful array of teapots to the mahogany table and set them near the silver platters of autumn-decorated cookies and blueberry scones.

The clocked ticked. But the doorbell didn’t ring.

Finally, one guest arrived. Just before the starting time of 1 p.m., three more women bustled in the door. After preparing their decorated name tags and hurrying to gather their tea and refreshments, they moved to the spacious living room, which overlooked a sun-kissed lawn and majestic trees.

Lanita stood near the fireplace and welcomed everyone, smiling as if to an overflow crowd rather than only nine women. We were disappointed; God had a better plan.

After Lanita introduced me, I stood and smiled at the array of eager faces, unaware of the life experiences represented in that room.

“We all face some kind of fear. For me, the fear of rejection ruled my life throughout my childhood and into my adult years. I want to show you how God began to set me free.”

After explaining about the pain of growing up feeling sad, lonely, unloved and unimportant, I admitted that I’d built a wall and worn a mask to protect myself from rejection by family, friends, teachers and eventually coworkers.

Near the end of my time, I lifted my book from a side table. “I want to read one story. It is about my sweet curly-haired 9-year-old great niece who broke through my aloofness and pulled down the remaining bricks of my wall.”

Later, I said, “Have you felt rejected in your life? I understand. I’ve been there. But I’m here to tell you, with God there is hope. He wants to set us free so we can stand up and say, ‘This is the real me!’”

After walking to the couch and sitting next to Lanita, I asked the group, “Do you have any questions?”

Instead of a question, one woman told the group that her husband had died recently, and she’d had to begin making decisions herself. “It was scary, but I’ve started seeing changes in myself. I like my life and the person I’ve become.”

Her honesty started a snowball of sharing. Another recent widow piped up, “Thank you. Now I have hope that I will be all right.”

From across the room, a reserved woman admitted she’d felt intimidated living in that affluent community because she’d grown up poor. Someone assured her that wasn’t an issue with people living there.

A tall woman who didn’t know anyone except Lanita, began to tell about her mother’s mental breakdown and the three years she and her siblings had had to spend living apart from her parents. Several women responded to her heartache with soft words.

After a while, I commented, “If we had had a room full of people, we wouldn’t be telling each other these things,” They agreed and kept on talking.

During those unplanned 30 minutes, we became a small group of friends who felt free to share our deep hurts and fears. A desire to listen, encourage, and console one another filled our hearts.

When Lanita sensed we were finished, she ended with this: “We expected many more women to come today, but I want you to know you were chosen to be here.”

I’m sure God smiled.

Yes, we did eventually end up at the book table and everyone left with a book. For me, the priceless part came through the comment of one of the guests. “We’ve been talking, and we all want to get back together after we finish reading your book.”

Numbers don’t matter to God. He simply wants to change each heart, and He knows the best way to do that.

 

Unfinished Story

Not end of story 9-2018

MY STORY HASN’T ENDED!

This was my first response to this image I received from my long-time friend, Shirley Mewhinney. As co-mentors, we process life together.

We’ve relayed stories about our past and laughed, and cried, and mourned with each other. These stories have shaped who we are, but we celebrate each time we let go of the past and live as the person God desires us to be today. We marvel at this truth: who we are today is not who we will be tomorrow.

Sometimes Shirley and I find ourselves momentarily believing that the stories of our past define who we are today. When we recall the regrets and missed opportunities, the heartaches and pain, the mistakes and disappointments, we begin to believe we will never change.

Shirley’s reflections

Over the years, often felt my story ended in a country far away but not forgotten. Past experiences sometimes defined my life. The steps forward felt as if I was letting go of my dream to live and minister in that country for many years to come. 

In looking back, I realize that the choices and chapters of the past few decades represent only part of my story. This is not where my story ends as there are more chapters to be written. Even in fragile moments, and during wilderness wanderings, I am still living the story God wants to write through my life and by faith, have taken steps that have led me out of the wilderness. 

My future remains uncertain. It won’t be the same as I dreamed many years ago. Slowly, a new dream will emerge asGod uses past experiences – both joyful and sorrowful – to mold and equip me for a new ministry to others who have been wounded by pain and disappointment.  

As the above image indicates, at any given moment, I have the personal power, and the power of the Holy Spirit, to say, “This is not how my story is going to end.” 

My reflections

In earlier years, the fear of rejection held me captive to the approval of others. To protect myself, I stayed aloof and reserved, didn’t allow others to know me well, and avoided any risk of disappointing them. I believe I convinced myself that this was the best way to live and the best kind of person to be.

God wasn’t finished writing my story, though. He began to reveal that my isolation kept me in bondage to my fear and prevented me from experiencing the life He intended me to have. Slowly He gave me courage to come out of my prison and take small steps toward releasing my fear and experiencing freedom to become the person He wants me to be.

I’m learning to trust God for the responses of people and stay focused on His view of me. Through consciously making these choices, I’ve been able to enjoy the new chapters God is writing in my story and the opportunities He’s giving me to help others find freedom from their fears. My life can become a continuing story of God’s faithfulness.

 

How would you describe your life story so far? What positive and negative experiences have shaped who you are today and affected the way you think and live? Do you believe that God is still writing your story…that He isn’t finished yet?

A Magical Moment

The little girl in the pink polka-dot dress and her charming younger brother, who wore a cute plaid hat to complete his outfit, caught my attention.

They had accompanied their parents to Panera’s, and chosen seats nearby where I sat doing book editing. Occasionally glancing in their direction, I noticed the parent’s attentiveness and the children’s comfortable banter between bites.

When they stood to leave, the father walked toward me first. “What a lovely family you have,” I exclaimed.

He smiled and thanked me. His wife called her thanks from their table, before turning to gather her children. I smiled as they passed by and returned to my project.

Soon a fluttering of pink caught my eye. As I turned around, I looked into the face of the sweet girl, who hovered shyly near the back of my chair.

“Come here!” I said, as I reached out. After our hug, I kept my arm around her. “You’re so cute. I like your pink glasses. What’s your name?”

“Rachel.” Her eyes smiled at me and then glanced toward the door.

As I turned further, I caught a glimpse of her father standing out of the way, giving us girls our special moment. When I released her, Rachel smiled and waved goodbye, as if signaling that her personal mission had been accomplished.

For me that was a magical moment. I contemplated the changes I’ve seen in my life that enabled me to welcome Rachel to my side with such joy and delight. Her personal desire to spend that moment with me left a deep impression in my heart.

I celebrated that I’ve become more open with children. You see, I’ve always felt a bit disadvantaged because I didn’t grow up with younger siblings or raise children of my own. Many times I felt inadequate to reach out to them.

God began some specialized training after He took my brother Greig to heaven in 2010. With His guidance, I became a hands-on aunt to Greig’s four adult children, which extended to three great nieces and eventually one great-great niece. Gradually I learned to relax and be myself and genuinely enjoy their presence and their love. Together we’ve created priceless memories.

The greatest difference I’ve seen is with my 10-year-old great niece Piper. At first, I worried if she would have a good time at my home and enjoy me personally. Eventually I realized I didn’t need to entertain her. What she wanted most were my time and attention. Piper accepted me simply as her Aunt Gail without any expectations.

I thought I loved Piper. In truth, I sincerely desired to love her but remained a bit guarded. God opened my heart fully during one of her recent visits. New and unfamiliar emotions bubbled up from inside of me.

By embracing those emotions, I was able to begin loving Piper in a way I’d never loved her or any of my family. Her love and acceptance gave me courage to let my heart be more visible and verbally express my love to her.

This new freedom around children is what enabled me to open myself to my little friend Rachel. She’ll never know the magic she created when she smiled and hugged her way into my heart. I loved that we could be together, enjoying each other, without expectations.

That’s what God loves, too. He invites us, as His children, to relax in His presence and simply be who we are.

God’s Light Show

2018-5-30 Sunset Light Shows _202717_HDRGod put on a light show for me last night.

Near the end of the day, I stood looking out the patio doors of my condo. I noticed a large, towering tree between two houses that peek over the fence separating that property from my complex.

Hmm…I don’t remember noticing that tree before. It’s like someone’s shining a light on it. I see blossoms at the end of the branches. 

My gaze shifted slightly to the left. A rainbow! God, you shown a light on that tree so I wouldn’t miss seeing Your gift to me.  

After opening the patio door and stepping out to my enclosed porch, I bent forward to take in the full expanse of the brilliant rainbow following a day of stormy weather. That rainbow could have arched across any area in town. God chose my backyard.

He wasn’t finished with His show. In the clear sky, three fluffy white clouds popped up, seemingly at roof level, and wisps of pink quickly embellished the center of each cloud.

As I turned to the left again, the whole sky was a soft glow of light pink. Strange, the sun isn’t setting here in the east, yet it’s so colorful. 

The front. There’s sure to be a lovely sunset out there tonight. Grabbing my cell phone, I raced to the front door and flung it open. The blazing sky characterized the aftermath of the day’s darkness, gloom, and flowing rivers down our street. Light triumphed at the bottom of the descending evening grayness, highlighted by the same wispy pink I’d seen from my back patio.

It had been a week of focusing on to-do’s for my publishing project, and fighting off personal doubts and uncertainty. God painted His rainbow across the sky as if to say, “This is for you, My child. I know how everything is going to turn out. Trust Me.”

What do rainbows represent to you?