Welcome to my Blog!

Welcome to my blog! Of course if we were visiting in person, I'd have the teapot out and we could sit and chat.
I'm honored you stopped by to listen to my thoughts and ponderings - and if you have a minute sometime, let me know you dropped by!

You can also find me on Facebook at Grace Notes, Thoughts and Prayers.

I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Contemplative Life

Many of us express our faith journeys in different ways, as different as the personalities God gave us.  I believe those lines are blurring as we have conversations and learn to worship ecumenically... together!  I absolutely love gathering with different denominations, and although we might have different theological interpretations, we can rejoice about what we have in common!

Part of my own spiritual journey has to enter into more contemplative forms of worship, to be still, to listen to God, and this has enriched my life immensely!

For some, this might seem foreign, or different that what we are used to, but I remember our dear professor, a gentle man of God, telling us to lift our hands to God and open our hands, asking God to show us truth, and trusting God to filter what wasn't of Him away...

As I entered my first silent retreat, I was quite nervous.  I wasn't used to spending this much time alone, and in silence.  But as I did, a profound sense of peace came, and I sensed the God I loved was there.  "Be Still and Know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10) has become so vital to me... for it is when I am still, and inviting God's presence, there is a knowing... often confirmed by scripture.

I love to sit with scripture this way... asking God what I need to learn, and often the words come alive as they speak to different areas of my life, often the very thing I need for that moment.  And I know I need to practice this more!

Part of the joy of my art doodles is playing with words, and often I feel led to different scriptures to understand a thought or theme.

As I have been walking through this season of lent, I asked God which words I should think about for each week.  This week is the word Contemplation.

Now you might have noticed that in the art work, I use a word with the letter t - which becomes a cross.  I believe the cross is central to my faith, to following Jesus.  The cross is central to the Easter story, the gift of Jesus' life, his death and resurrection.  

There is an interesting verse from 2 Corinthians 3:18 which talks about how we contemplate the Lord's glory, and part of following Jesus is being transformed into his image!  

"And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit".

The practice of Lent comes from those early days when Jesus was preparing for ministry, where he spent 40 days in the desert.  That is a long time.  And as he sat in silence, I think he had much time to contemplate and meditate on what God was preparing him for.  As we know, he was also tempted, and he overcame that temptation.  

"My Soul finds rest in God.", the Psalmist says... and that involves time.  Time away from the phone, the TV, the busyness of life... time to just ponder... this is part of the journey. And I'm trying to practice this through these days of preparation for Easter.

There is mystery to this.  And wonder.  That is part of faith.  To think about - contemplate - that God, through Jesus came so that we could have life.  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Joy of being Forgiven

This post, the third in the series of reflections on the Lent journey, is one I've thought about a lot.

The word that came to me for this week is Contrition.

As we enter into a life of following Christ, we become aware of our own need, of our own faults.  In the many visits I make and spiritual conversations I have, the words sin and repentance can often be a barrier to conversation.  Many have felt judged before they felt loved...and the truth of it is that often humans are very good at judging before they practice loving.

I believe it is God's realm to judge... we are called to share his love.  Part of this good news is sharing God's gift of forgiveness!  I liked a definition of sin I heard recently... it is all about the middle letter... I!  My own desires, my selfishness, and we know we are human and don't measure up.

One of the emphasis of Lent is to take a solemn look at ourselves, and come, as we are, to the one who loves and calls us.  He is full of forgiveness and healing!  I love the picture of a dad, receiving his penitent child, and celebrating restored relationship!  In the story of the Prodigal son, which Jesus told, he shares the tales of two sons... one who blew it all, and lived recklessly... and then came back, so sorry and wanting restored relationship.  And the dad received him with open arms!!

And then there is the other son... one which I've identified with at times in my life... self-righteous, working hard, felt he was doing it all correctly... and then angry when his dad showed forgiveness to his brother..

It was a turning point in my life when I could say, God, in my weakness, with my faults, I come to you... and joyfully receive forgiveness and love.   God loved me exactly as I was.  God is a God of mercy and compassion!

There is a cleansing when we confess our faults, a transparency and authenticity that I believe God desires, and also helps us in our relationships.  James said, Confess our sins to each other and pray for each other that you might be healed!"

Psalm 51 is a wonderful prayer to pray when we are entering into confession... this Psalm of David was a cry of repentance after he committed a grievous crime.  "Create in me a clean heart!" he cries, and God was faithful to restore their relationship, even calling David a man after his own heart.

In this journey of Lent, I am thankful for the gift of Christ, who came, who invites us into relationship, who offers forgiveness.  This is the gift of freedom, to trust in One who loves us so deeply, who has given us the gift of life.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Waiting in Expectation

The next few blogs I write will be more devotional in nature, my own commitment to Lent this year, and I'm grateful if you choose to explore these themes with me!

The second word of the series is Expectation.  As we are invited into this walk with Christ, there is much expectation.

I was thinking this morning of how as a little girl I anticipated birthday parties, or other celebrations or vacations.  Truly the expectation was a good part of the thrill and enjoyment.

At times, people view Christianity as something to be feared, a big list of do's and don'ts.
When Jesus said come and follow me, it didn't mean my life would be easy.  But what God offers is joy and peace, and companionship!  There is an anticipation and expectation of what this looks like, what God, my heavenly father will do for me!

There is a wonderful verse from Exodus, "The Lord Himself will fight for you, just stay calm!"  Wow... this is an invitation to be still, to let God do the work.  I see this picture of a father saying... Calm down, let me take care of it.

We are called children of God, and when you sit with that thought, it frees me to truly trust, as I wait with expectation.  I can tend to be a fearful person, but when I operate out of trust, knowing that God wants my best, it enables me to relax.  King David said, "When I wait, You strengthen my heart."

The practice of Lent is still fairly new to me, and I've been reading what I can about it.  My understanding is that it comes from the 40 days and nights Jesus spent in the wilderness before the beginning of his ministry.  The season of Lent as we follow today is taking 40 days and nights (Sundays are excluded in this count) to reflect, to fast, to focus on the life of Christ as we prepare for Easter.

For some, this has become a time of giving up something.  We were inspired by another idea, and want to give something, so we found a box and want to fill it with items that we can donate to those who need it.... an item for each day of Lent.

However you practice this season, for me, just like Advent, it is an invitation to look at the life of Christ, to prepare myself for this holy celebration.   Jesus' time in the wilderness was a time to wait on God, and as I learn from that example I feel compelled to wait... to wait with expectation to see what God has for me.

In the waiting, it is good to be reminded of Jesus' words, as I quoted last week: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest."  (Matthew 11:28).

I love the paraphrase of this verse in the Message, "Are you tired?  Worn out?  Burned out on religion?  Come to me.  Get away with me and you'll recover your life.  I'll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me... watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."  

As we wait in expectation oh God, may our hearts draw near to You.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

An Invitation

Last year I was inspired by my sister Cathy A.J. Hardy to draw this picture to illustrate her song "Come to the Table".

And today, Shrove Tuesday, can be a day of feasting, and many think of the traditional pancake supper!  We fill up before we fast!!

One of the precious things about my own faith journey in the last few years is that I have paid more attention to the rhythms of the church calendar.  Anything can become rote or meaningless, but I have found that as I pay close attention to these cycles, I am also drawn to the life of Jesus, whom I desire to follow.

So my take on Lent is a little different this year, perhaps not that traditional, but I have also searched to find meaning in these weeks leading up to Easter.  

I thought about how we focus on words over the four weeks of Christmas... Hope, Peace, Joy and Love...and because I love to focus on words, thought about which words would draw me into this coming season of Lent - preparing my heart for Easter.

So it is about invitation, and using the words of Jesus, He is the One who calls, who invites.  Some of His first words in his ministry were "Come, follow me!"  

And then in His beautiful words in his sermon on the mount, He says: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."    (Matthew 11:28)

So this God who loves, who became one of us in human flesh, invites us into relationship.  I always find this amazing.  Perhaps as we enter into this Lent season, instead of giving up something, we can focus on entering in, of accepting this invitation to relationship.

This is the gentle voice of the Shepherd, a picture Jesus uses to describe Himself, calling the sheep, wanting to care for them.  

So the first word I have chosen in these reflections is "Invitation".  I want to enter into this faith journey in a deeper way in these next weeks.  And if you care to join me, I'd be delighted!

Cathy's Music:  You can explore her music and work at http://cathyajhardy.com
or listen to her song here:  Come to the Table YouTube

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Politics and Religion

Politics and Religion.

I'm not a fan of either of these.

I probably should qualify that, but I am weary.  And I have a feeling I am not alone.

These are the topics that we joke shouldn't be discussed at a family gathering, and for the sake of all, this is a good point.

However, if one is connected to a news source (or a fake news source) or a news feed, or in everyday conversations, it seems that we are fed daily doses of both.

Much of the conversation is partisan...  and there is this constant draw to "take sides"... and even those in the Christian community are deeply divided and this saddens me.

I've been pondering these things often these last weeks, and this came to me... that God does not need our protection or our defense.

This is nothing new, of course, but I believe there is this urge for self-preservation, and to protect what we believe, what we hold dear.  Sometimes those beliefs are grounded more in tradition and in the values we hold on to.  

I am convinced that when we take sides we dull the real message that Christ proclaimed, which was to love one another.  Christ broke down barriers, he spent time with the disadvantaged, and he questioned the "religious right", who wanted to make sure everyone else did it right too.  They were called Pharisees in his day.

Many of us have grown up in a faith culture that is based on fear not love. I see the need to protect our own self interests, which we can begin to interpret as "God-interests",  and really that is where the splintering of the church begins. No wonder so many... and I meet them every week... are turned off of institutionalized church.  When I think of the glory of heaven, which we can only imagine, there will be NO denominations, no fracturing, just sweet harmony. 

Before I point any fingers, I know I am guilty of the same.  Trying to protect my faith, the way I practice my faith,  my values, and focusing energy on defending my position.

I've been wondering what God sees in all of this... somehow I don't think God would be conservative or liberal, republican or democrat or any other label.... God looks at our hearts.  How do we treat one another?  Do we show respect?  How do we care for the poor, the sick,  the marginalized, the disadvantaged?  Are we busy protecting our own self-interests rather than protecting the those who are persecuted and defenseless?

I was drawn to the word "Protection" this week, and as I've pondered it, I realize that the safest place I can be is close to God, hiding under those feathers, as the Psalmist so picturesquely describes it.  I need protection from myself at times, from falling into the trap that I've found the "right way"... that my interpretations of scripture and of God are the correct ones.

God cannot be put into a box.  When I think with awe about the supremacy of God, the majesty of creation, I am small indeed.  God does not need my defense.

Instead we receive an invitation... to follow Christ, to enter into the rhythms of grace and forgiveness and love.  I am again inspired to change my focus.

In the weeks to come, I hope to spend some time on the journey of lent... not so much a giving up, but a fresh entering into a spiritual life that enters into the life of Christ.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Power of Words

Recently I was excited to go have a spa treatment and receive a pedicure. I had never visited this lady before and hoped I would be feeling terrific after some foot pampering.

The visit didn't go so well.  After telling me how young I looked (that was a bonus!), she proceed to find a number of challenges with my feet.  I won't bore you with the details.  It went downhill from there... she started to massage my feet and informed me she was practicing reflexology... something I had not asked for... (and suspected she was not licensed for), and then shared with me the various parts of my body that were toxic... it was quite the list.

I was then informed that I would likely feel ill after this "treatment" because of the flushing of the toxins, and I was dismayed... I had dressed up, looking forward to going out, and hoping to feel like a million bucks.

Instead I left, feeling more like two cents worth....

I had to process that.  And tell myself some truth.  And I did not get sick.

As well-intentioned as she might have been, her "words" were devastating to me.

I was reminded again, (and this was a very good lesson for me) how the words we speak are powerful and can impact others.

I recall in recent months someone coming up to me and telling me how tired I looked.

Immediately, I felt tired.  And started to evaluate how I really felt....

On a brighter note, there are so many who are encouragers.  I received a beautiful note today, thanking me for something I had done.  I was touched by the fact they would take time to write me, a relative stranger, and bless me with their words.

The words "I love you" or "I appreciate you" are precious words, and when I hear them my heart is blessed!  And I hope I bless others with encouraging words that bring life and lift the spirit.

I think about this, as I visit many who are sick and discouraged.  My words can be powerful, for good or bad.  When one is sick or depressed, it is challenging to look one's best.

But one can always find truthful positive things to say... like admiring one's smile, or cheerful attitude, or something about the room that is cheery.

Our whole physical demeanor can change when we are fed positive information.  It can feed those positive hormones like serotonin that help us to be calm and peaceful.

As I thought about this further, I was reminded about the awkwardness of words after a bereavement.  I have experienced this first hand, and have talked to many people who have experienced awkward conversation or even worse... no conversation at all.  "I know exactly how you feel" is one response that is NOT helpful to one who is in great pain or grief.  "They are in a better place", while it may be true, is very painful to hear.

Others don't know what to say, and avoid the griever all together.  As one who has heard these painful stories, I want to encourage people to not be afraid to have those conversations.  One can always be honest and say "I don't understand your pain, but I want you to know I care."

Words do matter.  The old saying "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." is a lie.  We all have a choice of how we receive what we are told - acknowledging that there might be very good intentions, and to receive words with grace.  I was reminded that I often have to sift through what I am hearing, and ask, is this true?  Do I receive it?

So a challenging experience for me really turned out to be a good thing.  I'm taking better care of my feet, for one!  :-)

I am also reminded to use the filter of love when I speak.  Is it thoughtful?  Is it true?  Is it kind?  Is it necessary? Will it lift up or bring down?

I like that thought.  To live life through a filter of love.  Good words...

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Everyday Joy

Everyday Joy

Joy was the word I chose for 2017. Now 39 days in, it is something I'm choosing to practice, everyday.

Melancholy was a word once used to describe my personality, I'd rather go with thoughtful and sensitive!

I've long admired those sanguine types, whose happy countenance seems to spread joy wherever they tread.

And I know that having an Eeyore type personality while wishing to be Winnie the Poo is not productive!

No, joy comes from a deep acceptance of how God has wired me, with plenty of grace for those who are different.

So how to practice joy, in the everyday?

My girlfriend inspired me to start a joy journal, and each day I write down three moments of joy. I also write down joy quotes from what I've been reading.

Which sets me on a joy quest every day!!

Yesterday the joy was lovely, for we spied a hummingbird fluttering just outside the patio of the home where we are holidaying. And then it settled into the tiniest nest I'd ever seen!!

I recognized that the hummingbird bird had been there all along, and us here a week!  But I had not noticed. It spoke to me again of the presence of God, our Creator, always present. But am I attentive enough to notice, to be aware?

I also came across this verse from an ancient prophet, Habakkuk, this week, about joy. The word that stood out to me was "YET". No matter what the day holds, I can choose joy, and look for those joy moments.

"Yet I will be joyful in the Lord, I will rejoice in God my Saviour". -Habakkuk 3:18