When the power goes out…

Let there be light; and there was light!

[Genesis 1:3]

Let There Be Light

Regular visitors here will have discovered the absence of Friday’s post. That was just one of the by-products of a windstorm that caused a thirty-hour power outage affecting our area.

Our daily habits require adequate light for reading, use of our computers, the Internet and television, garage doors that open and close with the push of a button, and abundant water that allows (among other things), flushing toilets and showering.

Because we live rurally, we’re on a well. Without power to operate its pump or to keep the pressure up in the water storage tank, we don’t have water, so we had to rely on a five-gallon jug from our emergency supplies. Fortunately we had a wood-burning fireplace for heat in the main living area, and coal oil lamps to offer a meagre bit of light in the evenings. We ran the generator periodically to keep food in the fridge and freezer cold, and we prepared meals (and coffee!) on a propane Coleman camp stove set up in the garage.

It’s easy to take the conveniences of daily life for granted, and to be annoyed when they’re suddenly snatched from us. We’re spoiled. When we have to resort to living like pioneers, we think we’ve been stripped of some of our rights.

Instead of grumbling, I wrapped myself in a sweater and sat in the breakfast nook using the light from the windows to handwrite Christmas notes. I felt a sort of kinship with characters in historical novels, returning to basics. In this third week of Advent we’re meant to focus on joy*, and, looking past the inconvenience of our power outage, I realized it was giving me the chance to slow down, to take extra time to consider the Coming that we await during this season of preparation.

Today’s entry in our Presbyterian Prayer Partnership brochure says, “During the consumer-driven days leading up to Christmas, pray for a spirit of gratitude and an awareness of ‘enough’.” The power outage was an appropriate opportunity to do exactly that! (Although I admit I was glad to discover power had been restored this morning.)

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*The four Sundays of Advent:
Advent I – Hope
Advent II – Peace
Advent III – Joy
Advent IV – Love

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March Madness 3: Fragile Reflections

Bubbles 1A couple weeks ago a granddaughter was here for the afternoon. One of her activities of choice was bubble blowing with Grampa. There are various soapy solutions and different shaped tools that all seem to work, although some produce better bubbles than others.

This particular afternoon the bubbles were very fragile. After blowing them she would try to recapture one, hoping it would balance on the wand. Each time a bubble was touched, however, it popped with a splat and splatter into the air.

Left alone, the bubbles were light enough to catch the breeze and soar away.

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Thinking back on this I was struck with the similarities between those bubbles and my new WIP. One of the reasons I lean towards the ‘seat-of-my-pants’ kind of writing is because I like the unexpected pleasure of watching a basic idea develop into a beautiful story. I don’t generally talk much about it during the first draft because the concept seems fragile, and too much poking around can easily destroy whatever beauty my spontaneity may be creating. If I try to wrestle it into position, something that at first seemed exciting, begins to lose its appeal. The bubble finally pops and a rainbow idea disappears.

I’ve been moving gingerly into this new story, and now that we’re half-way through our March month of Madness it’s clear my original goal of a complete first draft isn’t realistic. As other MM hosts have suggested, it’s not a bad thing to step back periodically to evaluate what we’re doing, to redistribute our efforts over the remaining available time, and possibly even tweak our goals.

There is no shame in adjusting our goals, only in abandoning them. March 31st is only an arbitrary deadline. Do whatever it takes to stay focused on your destination but also retain joy in your writing. Don’t let anything burst that bubble!

Just sixteen days of this madness left. How are you faring? I hope you’re soaring!

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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) 

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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.”

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(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.

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“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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Bits of joy on the journey

We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature — trees, flowers, grass — grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.

Mother Teresa

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Bunchberries are native wildflowers that grow in our woods. Related to Dogwoods, they have a similar cluster of tiny individual flowers in the centre, surrounded by four white bracts. Once the bracts die and fall away, the centre flowers develop into a cluster of red berries which are enjoyed by our birds. In the fall the overlapping whorl of six leaves turn a bronzy red.

Bunchberries are popular as a slow-growing ground cover, but I like them because they survive on their own in the acidic mulch and moist shade under our evergreen trees. I like them because they delight me and inspire joy every time I come across their beauty en route to the marsh. When I’m focused on the destination they remind me to appreciate the journey.

Do you have a favourite wildflower? Do your characters encounter wildflowers in any of your stories?

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Take Joy

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Are you motivated by the destination or the journey?

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There were just two daffodils in our entire yard. I know better than to plant tulips because the deer consider them a gourmet salad mix. But I’ve planted dozens of deer-resistant daffs and narcissus through the years, carefully selecting varieties said to be good naturalizers. The first year several bloom; the next only a few; and from then on I’m lucky if there are any. I just don’t seem to have any luck with them. But I noticed these two daffodils a couple days ago, gamely working their way up through the protection of a rhododendron branch, and I smiled.

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Yesterday my hubby handed them to me. We’d had an exceptionally heavy rainstorm, and he found both of them broken, with their sunny faces resting on the ground. I rinsed them off and tucked them into a vase. The sun came out briefly during the afternoon and shone through the window. I couldn’t stop admiring how the flowers looked, basking in the glow. Naturally I reached for my camera and took shots from every angle.

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It was only as I reviewed the photos on my computer that I noticed something. I had selected a vase based on its appropriate size, and not paid a lot of attention to which one it was. But the sun’s rays made it glisten, and now my attention was drawn to the beauty I’d overlooked.

We often chuckle at young children who get more pleasure from the box than from the gift inside. Other times we may go overboard and labour over gift wrapping until the exterior of a package is worth more than its contents. In my case, I found joy in sunshine through petals, and only later gleaned equal pleasure from the casually chosen container.

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How often do we miss seeing the obvious? And when we miss seeing, we forget thankfulness. And without thankfulness there is no joy.

Not long ago I printed out “A Year of Graces” from Ann Voskamp’s website — a perpetual calendar with lines on which to record those things for which I am thankful each day. On the first page is this statement:

“Joy is always a function of gratitude —
and gratitude is always a function of perspective.
If we are going to change our lives,
what we’re going to have to change
is the way we see.”

Later there is this:

“No one gets to joy by trying to make everything perfect.
One only arrives there by seeing in every imperfection
all that is joy.”

And in that was my analogy, just waiting to be found… the link to writing. I have always affirmed that I enjoy revising my writing. There is such satisfaction in refining to bring forward the best a story can be. Yet many times I struggle with revisions, trying unsuccessfully to find exactly the right words, too often becoming frustrated and disheartened. In retrospect, I think it’s because I’m seeing my failure and overlooking the process… focusing on the results instead of how I achieve them.

I love writing. The thought of not writing fills me with anxiety. I’ve always been better at putting words on paper than in speaking them. How would I express the chaos of unuttered thoughts if not on paper? What would I do with all the story ideas and blog posts if I didn’t let them flow out through my fingertips? Fulfillment comes from the doing, from creative expression, in wrestling thoughts out of the void into a finite place. I’m grateful for the ideas, for the ability to put them into words — however imperfect they may be — for the desire to communicate and the freedom and time to keep trying.

My gratitude prompts thankfulness, which in turn encourages joy to blossom. In those moments when I gather together my efforts and raise cupped hands in a gesture of thankful praise, it is the uplifted hands that are important, not the quality of their less-than-praiseworthy contents.

I have a new work-in-progress that I put aside in favour of revising something older. Lately both have been preempted by a church history project, but it doesn’t matter what I’m working on as long as I approach the task with that attitude of gratitude. There will be joy in the doing.

What small everyday joy will bring thankfulness to your heart today?

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“I will praise God’s name in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving.”

Psalm 69:30

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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.”
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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?

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“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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I Didn’t Want to Know That!

Stumbling from the bedroom early this morning I clicked on the television. The first words uttered by the news anchorman were that Christmas is exactly two weeks away. I didn’t want to know that! Truly I didn’t.

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Yes, there is a decorated tree in our family room and the outside lights are up. That makes it sound like I’m well prepared, but guess what? I’m not. That’s just an annual trick to give the illusion that everything is under control. As is the case almost every year at this time, my cards aren’t written, the baking isn’t done, the shopping’s not finished and the gifts that need to be mailed out of town aren’t.

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But this evening I will join a group of carolers from our church singing for shut-ins and my heart will feel ready for Christmas. Advent is all about preparation, not of home but of heart. These first two weeks of Advent have focused on Hope and Peace. The next two will be about Joy and Love. When I return to my cards, baking and gifts, I will be remembering with joy those for whom these items are meant, and giving thanks to Him whose Love created Christmas.

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Boundless (Bouncing) Joy!

I say it frequently — “such boundless joy” — but that’s not totally accurate. What I should say is, “such bounding joy” or maybe, “such bouncing joy.” Our Labrador Retriever morphs into a gazelle the instant we ask if he’d like to go for a walk.

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“Go? Really? Oh, bliss! Oh, rapture! Oh, yesssss!” To use a cliché, he’s beside himself with joy. In fact, in multiple leaps he’s alternately beside me, my husband, the door and all over the room during his ecstasy of anticipation.

I could use a little of his energy and enthusiasm today. Now that September is past its mid point I’m beginning to recognize that it’s time to put summer’s leisurely pace aside. My mind agrees but my body is oh so reluctant. This has been such a happy summer and I’m not ready to let it slip away quite yet.

But wait! Autumn doesn’t officially arrive until next week. Ah, wonderful procrastination. It’s time to head out into the almost-autumn sunshine for that walk.

I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

[Habakkuk 3:18]