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Archive for the ‘Appreciation’ Category

 

 

A number of years ago and for the span of a decade, I commuted a half hour each way to and from the school where I taught.

Needless to say I saw all kinds of drivers: the speed demons and poke-alongs, the weavers and squeezers, the distracted and multi-taskers—each one an accident waiting to happen, each one confident that he or she was not.

One day a young man on a motorcycle whizzed by, darting between vehicles left and right in search of the fastest lane. This was not in near standstill traffic; it was on a stretch of Florida Turnpike where the speed limit is seventy.

Oh, Lord, I thought. Talk about an accident waiting to happen. That boy has no idea the danger he’s creating for himself and everyone else in his path.

 

 

A few minutes later I reached my exit and gasped aloud. Lying in the grass in the middle of the cloverleaf turn-off was that young motorcyclist, far separated from his twisted bike.

A few people were already hunched over him, perhaps from the nearby tollbooth area. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw his leg move.

Every now and then that scene comes to mind. I imagine that young man as he straddled his cycle that morning, anxious to be on his way for another exhilarating trip of engine revving, speed, and clever maneuvering.

No doubt a trip to the hospital never even crossed his mind.

The young often do live in a fantasy world of invincibility. And those of us with a bit more life-experience shake our heads at their carelessness.

But fast-lane living isn’t the singular domain of speeders and teenage boys on motorcycles.

Even a retired schoolteacher like me can forget: life is fragile.

 

 

Not that I drive recklessly or take foolish chances.

But I am very capable of rushing through a to-do list and missing an opportunity to provide joy in someone else’s life. I can breeze right past the blessings-of-the-moment because I’m focused on something down the road.

I can even forget the values I hold dear, including attentiveness to God and loving compassion for others.

It is downright foolish of me to live in a fantasy of invincibility, as if there will always be plenty of tomorrows for attentiveness and compassion, while cruising along in the fast lane of frenzied activity.

Instead, I’d rather cup my hands around each day and:

 

 

  • Find the wonder in the common. “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribable, magnificent world in itself” (Henry Miller).
  • Take note of the everyday miracles. “Looking is the beginning of seeing” (Sister Corita Kent).
  • Hug often. “Hugs are one of the reasons God gave us arms. So stretch out your arms to someone today…It will warm the heart of the giver and give light to the soul of the recipient” (Unknown).
  • Laugh easily. “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God” (Karl Barth).

 

 

  • Value every person. “The way we treat others is more about who we are, not who they are” (Unknown, emphasis added).
  • Forgive quickly. “Forgiveness isn’t about letting the other person off the hook. It’s about keeping the hooks of bitterness from getting into you” (Gabrielle Bernstein).
  • Avoid negativity. “Beautiful things happen when you distance yourself from negativity” (Unknown).
  • Choose joy. “True contentment is the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it” (G. K. Chesterton).

 

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Lord God, I have so much to be thankful for, including this cloudy, cozy day and the welcome chill in the air. I thank you for this moment, complete with winking candle, hazelnut coffee, and soft music to keep me company as I write.

Thank you also for the designated purpose you ordain for each person.   Because I am still alive, you still have plans to fulfill through me, especially to bless others. And for that I am grateful as well.

Keep me mindful, I pray, that fast lane living is not only foolish, it is dangerous to my soul.

(1 Thessalonians 5:18; Psalm 37:23; Proverbs 19:21; Ephesians 2:10)

 

What will you cup your hands around today?  Tell us about it in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.wikimedia.com; http://www.lawofficer.com; http://www.medienwerkstatt-online.de; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.quotesvalley.com; Nancy Ruegg.)

 

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“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery.

Today is a gift which is why we call it the present.”

–Bill Keane

(creator of the comic, Family Circus)

 

During my years as a fourth grade teacher, I used this Bill Keane quote to review with the kids the basic three tenses of the English language. The humor added a bit of fun; the truth of Keane’s statement added a bit of wisdom.

Even nine- and ten-year olds can benefit from the realization that:

Yesterday is past. We’re better off if we choose not to hold on to the hurts and disappointments of days gone by.

Tomorrow is a mystery; ‘best not to dwell on worrisome possibilities that most likely won’t happen.

Today is a gift from the ultimate Gift-Giver, God himself, and there is much to savor and appreciate.

 

 

The problem is, I forget. Those moments when I’ve marveled, laughed, or sighed in contentment are lost by day’s end in the blur of busy-ness.

So over the last few months I’ve been recording small blessings worthy of celebration—at least one per day, sometimes more.

For example:

  • While I was exercising, a bustling little wren nodded and bobbed from her log-perch outside the window. She cheered me on.

 

 

  • A glowing pink sunrise in the east greeted a crescent pearl moon to the west. Beauty shouting praise into the silence of dawn.

 

 

  • Our four-year old granddaughter, Elena, found an instant friend at the playground. The two girls gleefully ran back and forth several times across a field, holding hands. They perfectly illustrated Celeste Palermo’s observation, “Children are high-energy guides from Heavenly Tours, Inc.” (1).

 

 

  • A woodpecker extravaganza occurred in the backyard when three different species congregated at the same time—a flicker, a red-bellied, and a hairy.

 

(Hard to tell this guy is a red-bellied woodpecker.)

 

  • I spent a quiet hour reading on the deck one evening, reveling in heavenly weather and a bowl of sublime strawberries. All senses were happily engaged—mind and spirit, too.

 

 

You’ll notice there’s nothing particularly exciting on this list. No exotic locations, no momentous adventures.

Just affirmations that right now is good and quiet moments afford their own distinctive treasures.

It’s been great fun collecting these small snippets of surprise, exhilaration, and solace each day. I’m learning to carve the extraordinary out of ordinary and find the holy among the humdrum.

The Gift-Giver himself resides among his gifts. And as I savor selected moments of my days, I taste and see that he is good (Psalm 34:8).

 

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

Thank you, Father, for this moment, right here, right now, that includes happy trees outside my window, clapping their hands in praise to you. I thank you for the soft cloak of quiet around me, and the nest of memories surrounding my desk, woven from things old, bestowed, and beloved. “The earth is full of your loving kindness, O God”—even in my little office.

(Isaiah 55:12, Psalm 33:5b)

 

What moment from today will you savor?  Tell us about it in the comment section below!

 

Note 

  1. Celeste Palermo, The Coffee Mom’s Devotional: A Rich Blend of 30 Brief and Inspiring Devotions, (Revell, 2009), 154.

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.wikipedia.org; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pexels.co; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

 

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“The hills are clothed with gladness,” King David proclaimed (Psalm 65:12b).

 

I couldn’t agree more. Even on the little hillside of our backyard viewed from my perch on the deck, I see much gladness. And observations of the gladness lead to worship.

 

Sun glints through the trees creating a spotlight effect on some branches and turning backlit leaves into glowing emeralds. Down by the creek bed foliage is draped in deep, green-black shadow, beckoning wildlife into its cool environs.

 

 

Thank you, Father, for the comfort and cheer of dappled light.

 

 

Air currents waft through the trees causing branches to bob and sway. The long, compound leaves of the black walnut tree swing back and forth like bells joyfully ringing on the breeze. And flowers appear to wave jauntily to their Maker.

 

 

Thank you, Father, for the restoration and delight of a cool breeze.

 

Two cardinals take turns serenading amidst the lacy greenery overhead. Robins, house wrens, chickadees, and more add accompaniment; the cicadas provide percussion.

 

 

The hills have certainly burst into song this day (Isaiah 55:12)!

 

Thank you, Father, for the pleasure and solace of bird song.

 

Two small squirrels play tag, spiraling rapidly around a tree five times. When they stop, I wonder, Are they tired or dizzy? And how do they run so fast, even clambering upside down without losing their grip?

 

(Woosh!)

 

Sometimes they jump impossible distances from tree to tree and I catch my breath. Their safety seems in jeopardy, yet the little fellows never fall. God has specially equipped them to handle such feats—just one of a million examples of how he has engineered every plant and animal for survival.

 

 

(“In his hand is the life of every creature.–Job 12:10a)

 

Thank you, Father, for the evidence of your wisdom, power, and influence—even among our backyard squirrels.

 

I’m remembering other animals that have visited less frequently. In the fall, a chubby woodchuck lumbers in the underbrush, fueling up for hibernation. Every now and then we spot a chipmunk or rabbit; sometimes even deer emerge out of the thicket, regal and quiet, to feed and rest in the yard. Our resident raccoon occasionally perches in his hole high up in the hawthorn tree, checking on the weather.

 

 

On summer nights we enjoy a festival of fireflies. Our trees appear decorated for Christmas with hundreds of twinkling lights. Frogs in the creek bed offer the sound track.

 

Thank you, Father, for the fascinating variety of creatures with which you’ve populated the world. “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (Psalm 104:24).

 

 

The sky is full of God’s creatures, too. A small gaggle of Canada geese announce their coming with raucous honking. They’re heading for the pond behind duplexes down the street. Long necks stretch forward; large wings gracefully ply the air.

 

Also skyward, among great banks of cumulus clouds glides a puffy hippo!

 

And sometimes a red-tailed hawk glides in circles above the trees. Landing requires several battings of wings with feathers fanned out and talons extended forward–a lesson in aerodynamics and precision.

 

 

“The heavens declare your glory; the skies proclaim your works” (Psalm 19:1), O God, night and day.

 

Thank you, Father, that all things speak of you—flora and fauna, rock and water, earth and sky.

 

This deck has become a holy, hallowed place where the glory of your creation excites wonder.

 

And woven throughout your works is the mystical and supernatural—to inspire, expand, and enrich our souls for more of you.

 

To that end I seek for my own life the same wisdom, power, and influence I see in your creation. Then I too may reflect your glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).

 

 

________________________________________

 

 

What has compelled you to worship from your deck, porch, or beach towel? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

 

(Photo credits:  www.guideposts.org; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pixnio.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.flickr.com; http://www.slideshare.net; http://www.pinterest.com (2).

 

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Years ago I created a memory booklet to celebrate my dad on his birthday. Good thing I did. Over the intervening decades, some of those recollections would surely have been forgotten. And now the memories are more precious than ever.

 

(Dad and me 1964)

 

Their meaning, however, goes deeper than mere sentiment. Throughout my life, Dad has modeled the loving ways of my Heavenly Father.

For example:

Dad often took my brother and me to the community pool or on bike rides through the back streets near our home.  We also accompanied Dad to the hardware store, the lumberyard—even the dump! When he asked us to tag along, we always said yes. It meant quality time with our hero.

How incredible to realize God Almighty desires our intimate company, too (2 Corinthians 6:16).

 

 

    *     *     *

 

John and I had our own personal shoe fitter—Dad. He’d gently press on toes, instep, and heel, to ensure proper fit. Such attention to detail was his modus operandi. As a result, we could trust him. He always had our best interests at heart.

God also carefully attends to the details of our lives (Isaiah 40:11).   For a number of months in 2013 we searched realty websites for a new house. Two weeks before the actual walk-throughs, a perfect brick ranch just happened to become available. Though we looked at other homes, this became his obvious choice for us—a true gift.

 

 

 *     *     *

 

Dad started taking me to the library as a toddler. It was on his lap and my mother’s I learned to appreciate books.

My Heavenly Father guided me to appreciate his Book.  Nowhere else have I found such wisdom, consolation, inspiration, and direction. David was right: The scriptures are more valuable than gold (Psalm 19:10).

 

 *     *     *

 

One time I ran out of reading material while sick with a virus. Dad went to the library to remedy the situation. Because he knew me well, Dad could choose books he was reasonably confident I’d like. And sure enough, I read all four.

 

 

My Heavenly Father knows me more intimately yet and cares about my interests (Psalm 139:1-3). After I had taken up writing again, a woman at church just happened to invite me to her writers’ group. Not only did the members offer encouragement and challenge, they became delightful friends as well.

 

  *     *     *

 

Dad and I were on an errand at Sears when we passed the bicycle display. Suddenly he asked, “If you’re willing to pay half out of your savings, what do you say we get you a new bike today?”   My heart pounded so loudly at such a glorious surprise, I found it difficult to focus on the decision of red or blue. (Blue won.)

God in heaven blesses us in delightful, surprising ways as well (Matthew 7:7-11). One afternoon a member of our church (where my husband, Steve, was pastor) called to seek a recommendation on a car. Why me? he wondered.  Steve thought perhaps she planned to purchase one for her grandson’s graduation. But no, it was for us.

 

 

    *     *     *

 

When I was seven or eight, Dad taught me the card game, “21,” so I could practice addition and subtraction. (Math never was my friend.) Not only did he sacrifice his time to help me, he aimed to make the exercise pleasurable too.

My Heavenly Father has gently taught me life skills too (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Recently I came across Ephesians 5:4 about what should be coming out of my mouth instead of foolish talk. Paul encourages thanksgiving, because it is life changing.   Positive thoughts become positive words that foster positive action. In addition, God knows a grateful heart is a joy-filled heart (Psalm 92:1-2, 4).

 

 

  *     *     *

 

My father is ninety-three, and still a remarkable man of strength, wisdom, and faith. His godly influence greatly helped shape my life.

I wonder how different the world would be if all fathers followed the model of our Heavenly Father (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)?  He lavishes such attentive, everlasting love on his children.  My heart fills with awe and adoration at the wonder that I am his and he is mine.

 

(Art & photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg (2), http://www.pinterest.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.slideshare.net; http://www.pinterest (2).

 

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Wouldn’t that be nice—a deep sea of joy—for the days when the washer breaks down in the middle of a load, a tire goes flat on the way to an important meeting, and a jar of spaghetti sauce slips out of hand, splattering bright red ooze and shards of glass over much of the kitchen.

Yup. That’s what we need: a deep sea of joy. We could jump right in and be swallowed up in delightful mirth while everything else conspires to dump us into despair.

But according to that wise preacher of long ago, Charles Spurgeon, that’s exactly what we do have:

 

 

“Our God is a deep sea of joy.

My soul will dive therein

And be swallowed up

In the delights of his companionship.” *

 

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Such sweet relief. But how do we do that? How do we delight in the companionship of an invisible God?

Actually, the relationships we enjoy with our (visible) loved ones give us many cues.

 

 

For example, just last weekend we enjoyed three days at Red River Gorge, Kentucky, with our older son and his family. You might recall Eric and Hilja (Hill-ya) have two little girls, ages four and four months. Needless to say our activities at the gorge were limited. No zip-lining, horseback riding, or long treks through the forest. Not this trip.

But we still took great pleasure in interesting conversations on the deck (especially in the evening after the girls were asleep), a short, scenic woodland hike, superb dinners prepared by Eric, reminiscings through some family history, frequent laughter**, and simply basking in the joy of being together.

God offers us similar joys as we delight in him:

 

  • Conversation—in the form of “simple, short prayers flowing out of the present moment” (Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, 55).

 

  • Common interests, such as impacting the lives of others–opportunities to participate side by side with God in his work (John 15:5).

 

 

  • The splendor of creation–all the more magnificent as we revel in his artistry and genius (Psalm 33:6-9).

 

  • Celebration of who our God is and what he does (Psalm 145:7, 92:4).

 

  • Humorous moments–created by God just like everything else, so that with Sarah each of us can say, “God has brought me laughter” (Genesis 21:6).

 

  • His ever-present, ever-attentive companionship–itself a source of lavish joy (Psalm 16:11).

 

 

Oh, but there are still more ways to delight in God as we…

Trust.

Consistent contentment is possible as we affirm, “He is faithful in all he does” (Psalm 33:4).

Thank.

Honoring God with our gratitude is uplifting to us and pleasing to him (Philippians 4:6-7; Psalm 69:30-31).

Praise and sing.

If God delights in us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17), how much more should we delight in him with an expressive, lyrical heart?

 

 

Charles Spurgeon was right:

 

Our God offers a deep sea of joy–

if only we dive into his delights

frequently,

all day long.

 

 

*from Morning by Morning by Charles Spurgeon, updated by Whitaker House, 1984.

 

**Maybe it was only funny to us, but I have to share what four-year old Elena said after her first fishing excursion. She’d been warned to stay out of the greenery along the side of the road in case of poison ivy. Upon returning to the cabin she announced, “I stayed out of the weeds so I won’t get poisonitis.”

 

(Art & photo credits: http://www.maxpixel.freegreatpictures.com; http://www.azquotes.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.uk.pinterest.com (2); http://www.pixabay.com.)

 

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Many of us have endured lots of rain this spring, but the payoff has been worth it. On our little hillside, tightly compacted foliage now covers trees and shrubs. Hearty blades of grass press thickly together like subway travelers at rush hour. The whole landscape is so green, you’d think we lived on the Emerald Isle.

 

(Trees and shrubs behind our house.  ‘Wish the light was better,

but it’s another day of clouds and  rain.)

 

Close inspection reveals, however, that spring foliage comes in many more shades of green than emerald.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isn’t green a glorious color? No matter the shade, there’s something about green that breathes restoration and life into our beings.

Researchers have studied the response of the body when a person is surrounded by a particular color. Green causes muscles to relax and blood vessels to dilate. Therefore, it has a calming effect and lowers stress.

The positive effects of green are even more pronounced when we get outdoors. Studies have shown that such capacities as short-term memory, mental energy, creativity and concentration all improve after time spent in nature. Even five minutes can produce positive effects.

 

 

Researchers are even discovering restorative responses in the body after a person has been outdoors. For example, inflammation decreases, nearsightedness is less pronounced, and the immune system improves.

What do you suppose accounts for all those benefits? Perhaps God intentionally designed his creation (at least in part) to provide restoration of body, soul, and spirit–for us.

 

 

The challenge is getting out there. Too often I’ve allowed indoor tasks and activities to take precedence over sitting on the deck or taking a walk.

And once situated on the deck or strolling in the neighborhood, I need to take note of my surroundings. If my mind is preoccupied with the to-do list or troubling concerns, restoration is not going to happen. I have to pay attention.

How?

Engage the senses.

 

 

  • Take note of the light dappling the foliage.
  • Listen to the breezes whisper among the evergreens.
  • Fill the lungs with pure air cleansed by flourishing, CO2-breathing trees.
  • Touch the cool, curled edges of the geranium leaves.

 

 

Experience the wonder.

  • Limbs and gentle winds join in an intermittent dance.
  • Leaves bob and sway.
  • Treetops enthusiastically participate; creek bed foliage plays the wallflower, quiet and still.
  • Sun glints through the woods, creating a spotlight effect on some branches. Others are draped in deep, green-black shadow.

 

 

And the most important step of all:

 

Express gratitude.

 

I thank you, Father, for the gift of greenery, the grandeur of stately trees, the delight of shapely leaves, the peaceful calm of an open field or forest temple.

 

 

I thank you for the lessons they teach—reminders to grow our roots deep into your love (Ephesians 3:17), to be watered by your Word (Psalm 1:2-3), and to live in the Light of your Son, Jesus (John 8:12).

 

 

It’s not just the infinite heavens that declare your glory and display your wisdom and power (Psalm 19:1). Even the minutest of plants offers evidence of your splendor and artistry.

 

 

The whole of nature is your living room, God, and I humbly thank you for the precious privilege of meeting you there.

 

  

(“Nature is God’s living room,” a Michael Hyatt creative expression.)

 

Photo credits:  www.pexels.com; Nancy Ruegg (3), http://www.maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com; http://www.pexels.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pexels.com (2), http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; geograph.org.uk; http://www.maxpixels.freegreatpicture.com; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com; http://www.pexels.com.

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(a personal psalm based on Psalm 36:1, 5-8, 10 and other scriptures)
 

 

Our world is in travail, O God.

Wicked men create schemes to fraud others;

They viciously hunt down the innocent.

Their mouths are full of curses, lies, and threats.

Blameless victims suffer at the hands of their selfishness and greed.

In prideful arrogance, they even mock You, Father.

 

 

How is it that the wicked accumulate wealth and wield power?

Their dark deeds and unjust treatment of others

stir up frustration and resentment in our hearts.

Then we remember: the days of the wicked are numbered.

Our best course of action is to contemplate You,

And affirm our trust in your wise and loving ways.

 

 

Yes, You are our God of steadfast, self-sacrificing love,

As expansive and incomprehensible as the heavens.

Evidence of your attentive love is all around us—

In the gracious people we meet,

The delightful circumstances we experience,

The unexpected gifts we receive and enjoy.

 

 

You are our God of reliable and unchanging faithfulness.

You keep all of your scripture promises—all 2,300-plus of them!

You always have and always will act according to your holy character;

Therefore we can forever trust you to do what is right.

Never will you turn your back on us,

Even if we turn our backs on you.

 

 

You are our God of perfect and transcendent righteousness,

As firm, immovable, and majestic as mountains.

Everything you do is good,

Motivated by a purity that will not forever tolerate wrong.

Your perfect plans always conform to the prudent purpose of your will.

Everything you say is truth; you cannot lie.

 

 

You are a God of certain yet merciful justice.

To be honest, we’re often mystified by your actions.

We see evil men prosper and righteous men suffer.

Your judgments are as unfathomable as the deepest oceans.

But what we do know is this, and we cling to its hope:

In your infinite wisdom you work all things for good.

 

 

You are our God of strong and ever-present refuge,

Offering comfort, peace, and security through your Word.

In your Presence we are strengthened; our faith is renewed.

You shelter us from the full force of the storms of life.

You even protect us from what we thought we wanted

And provide us instead with what You know is best.

 

 

You are our God of abundant and delightful blessings

That flow continually like a great river.

Who can count all the wonderful works you have done?

But above all, you O Lord, are the embodiment of all blessing—

In you alone we find rest, support, and salvation.

In you alone we place our trust.

 

 
Stanza #1: Psalm 10:2, 7

Stanza #2: Psalm 36:1, 10

Stanza #3: Psalm 36:5a, 7, 10

Stanza #4: Psalm 36:5b; Psalm 145:13; Deuteronomy 32:4; 2 Timothy 2:13

Stanza #5: Psalm 36:6a; Psalm 119:68; Habakkuk 1:13; Ephesians 1:11; 1 Chronicles 16:27; Numbers 23:19

Stanza #6: Psalm 36:6b; Jeremiah 12:1; Romans 8:28

Stanza #7: Psalm 36:7; Psalm 46:1; Psalm 31:19-20; Psalm 9:9; Psalm 18:2

Stanza #8: Psalm 36:8; Psalm 105:5a; Psalm 62:5-8; Psalm 31:14
 
(Art & photo credits:  www.wikimedia.com; http://www.flickr.com (2); http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pinterest.com (2); http://www.flickr.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; pinterest.com.)
 

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