Transitioning from Autumn to Winter and Pre-Christmas

Fall’s wardrobe is dusty with a hint of winter to come — a sharp, crisp morning turned fuzzy with frost.

Frosted Rhoddie

Neglected garden flowers are iced and finished, reminding me there is still work to be done before winter takes hold… before I turn resolutely away from summer memories and embrace Christmas preparations.

Frosted Flower

Except for baking my Christmas cakes six weeks ahead, I don’t begin thinking seriously of Christmas until Advent begins. This morning I realized that’s barely a week away! I won’t begin digging out the bins of memory-drenched decorations quite yet, but it’s not too soon to start planning how I want to celebrate this year.

Yesterday I watched a webcast with Ann Voskamp and Liz Curtis Higgs, Christmas at the Farm: Unwrapping the full love story of Christmas. It was the perfect precursor, reminding me that having “a sane, sacred and simplified Christmas” is not a matter of circumstances — but a matter of focus. “Simplify Christmas? Celebrate Christ.” The webcast video will continue to be available online, so if you missed its debut, do please consider pouring yourself a steaming cup of coffee or fragrant tea (or perhaps a spicy eggnog if you’re already that far into the season) and settling in to watch it now.

Frosted Leaf

Frost is in our forecast for the next week or so, with freezing nights and sun-filled days. I’ll need to take advantage of this last opportunity to finish up some of the fall chores and get set for the about-turn into winter. Then, except for meeting my NaNoWriMo goal, I’ll be more than ready to welcome December! How about you?

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(Consider a click or two on the photos to enlarge for a closer look.)

Remembering Sara

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“At times our own light goes out
and is rekindled by a spark
from another person.
Each of us has cause to think
with deep gratitude
of those who have lighted the flame
within us.”

(Albert Schweitzer) 

Light

Two years ago today a very special light went out in our world. Sara Frankl, known around the blogosphere and by her family and friends as Gitz, died. She had a disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis, a genetic, systemic, autoimmune disease.

Sara was a person who had every reason to complain, but instead she chose a more positive route. On her ‘Gitzen Girl‘ blog she said, “I’m just a girl who used to write for a magazine to make a living, and now writes a blog to make a life. Extremely blessed, well-loved and choosing joy while learning that homebound doesn’t limit your life, just your location.”

Sara & Riley

(Sara and her Riley, borrowed with thanks from the Gitzen Girl blog)

In one of her later blog posts she explained that she was allergic to most of the drugs the doctors would have liked to give her, and “the one medication I take for the disease [other than the pain killers] I can only take in a limited amount before my white counts drop to a level the doctors aren’t comfortable with. In other words, I’m stuck. And I’ve exhausted every option. And yes, I’ve tried homeopathic things that were worse for me than any drug I’ve ever taken. I spent years fighting, and I will always try what I can in the future, but accepting what is, living with it, embracing it and finding joy in it is the only way I know how to live a productive life.”

She was a light in so many lives, right up until hers flickered out. But her life continues to inspire. It was because of Sara that my focus word in 2011 was “Joy“. That year hers was “Praise“. Through her I found Ann Voskamp‘s ‘A Holy Experience‘ website and later, Ann’s book, ‘1000 Gifts‘ that urges us to thankfulness by living fully and counting small everyday joys.

The (in)Courage community created a video about her for their online conference last year… ‘Sara’s Story‘. When you have a half hour to spare I encourage you to watch it. Or hop over to SoundCloud and listen to her sing. I hope you’re provoked to Choose Joy for yourself.

I’m remembering Sara today.

~

“In the same way,
let your light shine before others,
so that they may see your good works
and give glory to your Father
who is in heaven.”

(Matthew 5:16)

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Finding the bright spot

Daylight Saving Time wasn’t a problem for us. My hubby systematically turned all the clocks ahead during the previous evening and we went to bed an hour early without really noticing. Judging by the attendance at church on Sunday morning, however, not everyone fared as well.

There were a number of empty seats, and I overheard a lot of mumbling about lost sleep, the struggle… the reluctance… to get moving in the morning, and more than the usual grumbling about the drizzle after a much-too-brief sunshiny Saturday. Then in the sanctuary I found this exquisite bouquet on the chancel. A small note in the bulletin said it was placed in celebration of a child’s first birthday. I don’t imagine those parents got any more sleep than the rest of us, but they had found a reason for joy and shared it.

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The news broadcast last night told the story of a young woman whose joy was to sing. She has developed a rare form of throat cancer and yet she’s found a way to make the best of the situation while she waits for surgery.

I know people who are discouraged and/or depressed for many different reasons, but I also know others who are in equally difficult circumstances but still manage to find something, however small, on which to focus and glean joy. Ann Voskamp, author of ONE THOUSAND GIFTS, has suggested the answer to surviving our bad times is to express thankfulness. It sounds outrageous, I know, but she’s right.

“Eucharisteo—thanksgiving—always precedes the miracle.”

“…life change comes when we receive life with thanks
and ask for nothing to change.”
*

Joy isn’t an emotion, it’s a choice. I remember first hearing that from Sara Frankl. If you don’t know Sara’s story I hope you’ll take the time to check out this Dayspring video, Sara’s Story – Final. For years before she died Sara kept a blog. At a time when she needed much, she gave of herself to everyone she encountered. Her blog is still being maintained by her family, but on its sidebar you’ll find Sara’s own words:

I’m just a girl who used to write for a magazine to make a living, and now writes a blog to make a life. Extremely blessed, well-loved and choosing joy while learning that homebound doesn’t limit your life, just your location.

Ann Voskamp talks often about choosing joy, too, and has created a Joy Dare Collection of little cards that you can print out for each month with reminders to search for specific joys each day… to help us make a habit of looking for the tiny moments of joy that otherwise may slip past unnoticed.

As I step into this new week I am once again aware that no matter the circumstances, there is always joy. The choice is mine whether or not I will look for it and be thankful.

How about you? Can you think of at least one thing for which to give thanks today?

~

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.”

Psalm 9:1a

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* Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

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Making an Impact

“A mountain is composed of tiny grains of earth.
The ocean is made up of tiny drops of water.
Even so, life is but an endless series of little details, actions, speeches, and thoughts.
And the consequences whether good or bad of even the least of them are far-reaching.”

Sivananda
(Indian Scientist, 1887-1963)

~

We’ve all said it at one time or another: “What difference can I make? I’m just one person.”

I recently came across a 2007 article by author and personal life coach Jo Middlemiss, where she reflected on a book she had received for Christmas — Change The World 9 to 5. It offered many small yet effective ways we can make a difference to the environment and to the lives of people. She listed several, and then said:

Bacopa blossoms, each barely the size of a fingernail.

Please don’t think for one minute that I do all of these things, I don’t. I know I could do so much more, but for a long time I really did believe that it didn’t matter what I did – how could one little person make a difference? Then I heard a story about someone questioning Mother Teresa about her work with the homeless in India.

“Surely Mother, the work you are doing is but a drop in the ocean?”

“Yes” said the wise one, “But isn’t the ocean made up of drops?” Of course it is, and everything we do, say or think has an impact somewhere, somehow.

Ann Voskamp has recently returned from Haiti. Her heart is angry at the poverty, angry at the inequality between the life she saw there and her life at home, angry at her inability to change it all. But she does make a difference. She goes to them, demonstrates God’s love to them, helps the few she can, then shares her concerns in a way that convicts others of the need to also help. If you have a few moments to click over to Ann’s post, read her words, see her photos… oh, how it pierces!

We are but a single drop of moisture, a single drop in an ocean of hatred, hunger, fear, oppression, pain, injustice and apathy. The need overwhelms.

I remember how a single drop of water, a sliver of ice, on a parched tongue after surgery was such a blessing.

I have a small fridge magnet that displays a tiny flower and the words, “Bloom where you are planted.”

Each of us is only one… but God can use us to meet a need, if we will open our eyes to see it, distant or close to home — if we will allow him to convict and convince us into action. Each small gesture will join with others to make an impact.

I see what Ann is doing. What meaningful things have you noticed others around you doing, perhaps unobtrusively, that is making a difference in some way?

~

“The king will answer them, ‘I tell you with certainty,
since you did it for one of the least important of these brothers of mine,
you did it for me.’”

Matthew 25:40

.

“Jesus said, “The first [commandment] in importance is,
‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one;
so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’
And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’
There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”

Mark 12:29-31

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Joy in One Thousand Gifts

Ann Voskamp’s book, “One Thousand Gifts: a Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are” is everything I expected it to be after having read Ann’s blog, “A Holy Experience” for several months, after viewing this video/trailer and hearing her voice just as I always imagined it would sound.

There are painful words, undressed anguish, aching honesty bared for truth’s sake, all blessed by radiant thankfulness.

“One Thousand Gifts” is a treasure that shows us grace and gives meaning to the scripture, “Pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances.” (I Thess. 5:17-18)

I recommend it to you. It is available through Amazon, DaySpring, Barns & Noble and Christianbook.com.

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Excerpts:

“Maybe in those first few years my life slowly opened, curled like cupped hands, a receptacle open to the gifts God gives.

“But of those years, I have no memories. They say memory jolts awake with trauma’s electricity. That would be the year I turned four. The year when blood pooled and my sister died and I, all of us, snapped shut to grace.”

~

“If I’m ruthlessly honest, I may have said yes to God, yes to Christianity, but really, I have lived the no. I have. Infected by that Eden mouthful, the retina of my soul develops macular holes of blackness. From my own beginning, my sister’s death tears a hole in the canvas of the world.

“Losses do that. One life-loss can infect the whole of a life. Like a rash that wears through our days, our sight becomes peppered with black voids. Now everywhere we look, we only see all that isn’t: holes, lack, deficiency.”

 

Versatility With Substance?

Holidays are my poor excuse for the delay in responding to Carol Benedict and Joylene Butler’s kindness in awarding me the Blog With Substance and Versatile Blogger awards. It’s such a precious gift to have one’s writing efforts acknowledged by other writers. Sincere thanks to both of you!

Both awards come with similar although not identical requirements. The Substance Award asks that I share five words that sum up my blogging philosophy. That’s something I haven’t thought much about. Let’s see, I want this blog to be a place that is:

  1. Respectful – of differences in people, their abilities and their opinions
  2. Reflective – of the world around me, of God’s light and love
  3. Helpful – sharing information, news and advice from within my realm of experience
  4. Individual – an honest expression of me, my faith and my ideas
  5. Uplifting – a place of encouragement and empathy

Then the Versatile Award wants me to share seven things about myself. Seems like I’ve already done that on a couple of occasions. Do you suppose these have to be seven new things? I may have to steal a few from a different list but I’ll give it a try…

  1. Although I’ve never been able to play it very well, my favourite musical instrument is the piano. I’m sure there isn’t a mood it can’t express.
  2. I painted in oils, mostly landscapes, for two decades, sold everything and now don’t own a single piece of my own work.
  3. Despite living on the Pacific west coast, the only kind of seafood I like is barbecued salmon and canned tuna.
  4. In 1954 I was a majorette, twirling my baton and high-stepping with a friend, providing half time entertainment for the BC Lions football games. “Lions roar in ’54!”
  5. Singing the Canadian anthem always brings tears to my eyes.
  6. I love a good mystery story but my favourite TV programs are non-violent ones such as “Little House on the Prairie” reruns, “Heartland” and “Divine Design”.
  7. If I had to pick just one food to exist on it would be soup. I love all kinds of soup except for clam chowder.

There! Does that do it? Not quite. The other requirement is to pass along the awards to several other blogs. I’m never comfortable singling out one favourite over another, and to complicate things, some of the writing blogs I might choose have already received one or both of these awards. Carol Benedict suggested nominating blogs that I feel qualify as blogs with substance, or listing the blogs I check most often. I could do that, but I don’t believe the owner of the one I have in mind would accept an award.

And perhaps that’s my answer. I won’t nominate anyone this time, but simply refer you to Ann Voskamp’s poetic words of faith. If you have not yet visited her blog, A Holy Experience, please check it out. You will be blessed.

Beautiful Blog or Blogger Award

Receiving an award is always an honour. There have been a number of awards circulating the blogosphere during the past year, each suggesting the recipient’s blog has been providing value to its readership.

Joylene Butler surprised me with the “Beautiful Blogger Award” last week. I was honoured by this award but I admit to a bit of confusion. She called it the “Beautiful Blog Award”, but as you can see, that’s not what it says on the award logo. Joylene’s version seems more appropriate. Most of my readers have never seen me, and those who have would be quick to agree that if the award is based on looks then I really don’t qualify! :)  Anyway, many thanks, Joylene! You’re very sweet and I truly do appreciate the acknowledgement.

I’m told the rules are simple: copy the logo, choose those blogs that you find most beautiful (sometimes that means words alone), and link back to the one who chose you.

So here, in alphabetical order, are the blogs (bloggers) I chose for this award. All are published authors whose blogging words either educate, encourage, or inspire me — sometimes all at once.

  • BERTRAM’S BLOG – for Pat’s openness and honesty about her life and writing.
  • LAURA BEST, AUTHOR – for her pride in and promotion of a Canadian heritage.
  • AUTHOR, JODY HEDLUND - for sharing her faith and publication journey with total transparency .
  • WRITER JENN - Jennifer Hubbard, for her constant encouragement of other writers.
  • RANDOM JOTTINGS – Richard Mabry, for his Godly humility and writing ethics.
  • A HOLY EXPERIENCE – Ann Voskamp, for the oasis of her beautiful words.

A Restful, Rest-filled Place

In a world of noise there are few quiet places where the mind can escape for a moment of refreshment. Today I discovered a stopping place that was like finding a grassy knoll beside a stream. I sat and let the cleansing water wash over me and was reminded of the Source of life. It was a place to ponder Psalm 46:10 — “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Ann Voskamp‘s blog, A Holy Experience, is a restful, rest-filled cyberplace that provides a moment of stillness in a noisy day. Her words minister. They are written art.

holy experience

To spend time browsing through her thoughtful posts is a blessing. I recommend it to you.