Re: Renew

Nothing like a trip to the mountains to renew one’s spirit. A couple of weeks ago my husband took a week trip to visit his uncle and our son and daughter-in-love in Colorado. I wasn’t quite ready for another road trip so I stayed home. I had just finished a busy weekend at a writer’s conference (American Christian Fiction Writers) in San Antonio and I knew I’d need some down time. I also needed to be around for some commitments.

But about the time Jon returned, I was ready for a bit of a break and a trip. I gave him a couple of weeks to recuperate and we loaded up and headed out.

The sky always seems to be in abundance in the mountains, filled with sunshine during the day and stars at night. If ever you want to feel small, find the darkest location you can on a clear night, and spend some time looking at the stars. So vast. So amazing. And if you ever want to feel renewed, take a hike on a mountain trail. Both provide an opportunity for the spirit to be still and rest.

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31

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The Creative Call by Janice Elsheimerc

So good. I return to this book again and again. For reminder. For inspiration. For encouragement.

I’ve read The Creative Call three times. The first time in 2004. I was taking classes at the time and wanted to reignite my passion to write and somehow fit my writing into a busy life of being a wife and a mom, with a full time career in the Navy.

I picked it up again in 2012, wanting to return to my passion again after and during many changes and challenges: hurricanes, retirement, launching children, moving, parents with illnesses. All the things in life that teach us, grow us, take us to the depths of our souls and back.

And I picked it up again this year, in the midst of writing, when I felt the Lord leading me to conduct a writer’s workshop. I was learning so much I wanted to encourage other would-be-writer’s to pick up the pen and write.

In The Creative Call, Elsheimer walks creative spirits (we the artists, whether painter, writer, musician, gardener, etc) through our obstacles, arguments and frustrations and leads us to a place of inspiration. She provides places in the book to write our thoughts, our reflections, our answers. The exercises in the book provide me an interesting look back to where I was and where I am today. Some things have changed, some have stayed the same and some have come into fruition. At the end of the book, Elsheimer also gives ideas and suggestions for hosting an artist’s retreat. It definitely makes The Creative Call worth revisiting again. Anyone interested in an artist’s retreat next year?

Quotes

  • …even as a child I felt that these gifts were from God, that they were not just something he gave to me but something that came through me.
  • Creative people know that not only are they missing something important when they aren’t exercising their creative gifts, but they are also shrinking from the responsibility they have to develop those gifts.
  • Our gifts are not from God to us, but from God through us to the world.
  • In the end we come to know this:  We can’t do a thing about the past, but to some extent we can and do have control over the present.
  • Perhaps you have always thought it was just too arrogant to believe you have talent worth sharing.
  • Instead of hoping that finding ourselves will result in practicing our art again, we need to realize that only through losing ourselves and becoming reliant on God can we discover how to use those gifts the way he wants us to use them.
  • …unlocking your creativity is action: simply doing the next thing that needs to be done.
  • Through the Word, the process of creation began. And through God’s Word, our creative renewal will begin as well.
  • The want to either discover or more fully use their talents because they know that if they don’t, they will be leaving something important undone.
  • …practicing your art is a form of worship, a way to use your talents to draw closer to God.
  • We are here to do his will, not gratify our own egos.
  • Being time is the time when we cease to strive. It is about placing ourselves in a state of expectation so that we can hear what God, the Creator, has to say to us, his creation.
  • We do not write in order to be understood, we write in order to understand. – C. Day-Lewis
  • Artists, especially writers, often just have “too many words.”
  • It is instead our responsibility to realize that God gave our talents to us for a purpose, his purpose, and it’s not important that we understand what that purpose is before we start becoming productive artists. What is important is that we accept the talents God gave us, develop them, honor them, use them, and not bury them.
  • God does not give us overcoming life–He gives us life as we overcome. – Oswald Chambers
  • Inspiration far more often comes during the work than before it because the largest part of the job of the artist is to listen to the work and to go where it tells him to go.
  • That fact that artistic encouragement is so rare might explain why many of us did not believe that if we dreamed, we could become it.
  • Encouragement often comes when we least expect it.
  • I began to see my writing as a pathway to a closer relationship with God, not as a glorification of myself.
  • I began to see writing as a way to glorify him.
  • Our art is not necessarily Christian in content, but it is centered in the truth that the Holy Spirit reveals.
  • …wherever you are, to take in… a “healthy diet of sense impression. We must absorb the world around us and learn to see that world anew…
  • We must make up our minds that, just as in any job we are paid to do, we will attend to the work at hand.
  • …doing the work of becoming an artist is important, so important that sometimes other things may not get done.
  • Remember that as a creative person, the important thing is to create. Who sees what you make, where it goes and what it does is a secondary consideration; the first is to exercise the talent God has given you.
  • It is ironic that when we adopt a servant attitude, which seems to imply bondage, we are actually set free to create something greater than ourselves, something that results from a collaboration between God and us.
  • Whether you feel inspired to create or dry and uninspired, you must make time to practice your art.
  • It’s not that we don’t have time for our art. It’s just that we sometimes make unwise choices about how we spend the time we do have.
  • Too many worthy activities, valuable things and interesting people. For it is not merely the trivial which clutters our lives but the important as well.
  • The truth is — listen carefully to this one — other people really can get along without you!
  • Saying no to other people is saying yes to God’s desire for us to develop the gifts he gave us.
  • It is the place artists go when they are so caught up in their art that the worries an cares of the day have ceased to exist for them.
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Re: Regrow

My husband and I planted a butterfly/hummingbird garden in the spring. We selected plants that were either native to our area in the Texas Hill Country or did well in our climate (heat and drought tolerant). We also tried to choose plants that were somewhat deer resistant. Because the deer, especially the young ones, will try almost anything.

We selected the area on our property, a place where the ground sloped away from an extension of our driveway. We built a rock wall along the slope to make the bed somewhat level and most of it raised. We then had a load of soil delivered and dumped in the area. Once prepped, we began planting.

I surrounded the rock wall with creeping rosemary, hoping the smell would deter the deer. Then we added several varieties of lantana, along with esperanza, pride of barbados, mexican and jerusalem sage, butterfly bush, and a couple kinds of decorative grasses.

I set up a mister system to help water during our long periods without rain. And, just before we left for an extended trip, my husband and I put up a quick fence, hoping to deter any curious deer. The fence wasn’t very secure. It was made of plant netting and stakes shoved into the ground.

During our trip, we received a text from our neighbors. The deer easily knocked down our fence in several places and routinely enjoyed the salad bar we set out for them. Sure enough, when we returned, about half of the plants provided a feast for our four footed friends. The plants they didn’t care for flourished. The others, not so much.

If we wanted to provide food for butterflies and hummingbirds, rather than the deer, we’d have to improve our garden defense. We cemented the posts into the ground and wrapped the area in wire fencing. So far, so good. The deer are a bit miffed because they can’t get in.

The nibbled on plants are now regrowing, flowers are reblooming and the butterflies are returning.

Our hearts are like the flower garden. Quite tempting for the world (the enemy) to come in and slowly gnaw away at us, taking big chunks of us, stunting our growth and beauty, and ultimately hindering the purpose for which God created us.

Often, we erect our own fences, feeble, frail and usually ineffective. The enemy easily tramples down our weak defenses and feasts on our lives.

But God has something more effective in mind. He provides a sturdy fence, real protection, and the enemy cannot infiltrate.

– God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1
– I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:2
– So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
– But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. 2 Thessalonians 3:3

Sometimes the law, God’s word, his Torah, may seem restrictive, legalistic, and oppressive. But that’s not his intent at all. He has given his knowledge, his instruction, his guidance for our protection. When we follow it, it’s like a solid wall, and strong defense for our hearts.

For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you. Proverbs 2:6-11

As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him. Psalm 18:30

I take precautions to shield my plants so they can abundantly grow and display their beauty. In the same way, I want to allow the Lord to shield my heart, so it to can abundantly grow, displaying the beauty he has planted there.

 

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Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life by Henri J Nouwen

Reaching OutNouwen takes the reader on a journey through three spiritual “movements,” each one dealing with a different aspect of our relationships: to ourselves, to others, and to God. The first movement involves our relationship with ourselves, moving us from a place of loneliness to discovering the joys found in solitude. The second movement joins us to our fellow human beings, moving us from hearts bound in hostility to hearts equipped for hospitality. The third and final movement encompasses our relationship with God, moving us from our illusion of Him, to understanding Who He truly is through prayer. Nouwen then intertwines the movements, weaving the act of waiting, our need for community, and intimacy with the Father into a beautify symphony of prayer and expectation.

  • To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude.
  • Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you to write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all – ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write?
  • …because in our world we are constantly pulled away from our innermost self and encouraged to look for answers instead of listening to the questions.
  • “It is the Christ in you, who recognizes the Christ in me.” “Yes,” he said, “He indeed is in our midsts,”
  • But slowly we can become aware of the possibility of making our human encounters into moments by which our solitude grows and expands itself to embrace more and more people into the community of our life.
  • …but in our innermost self the place can be formed where they (friendship and community) can be received as gifts.
  • In solitude we can pay careful attention to the world and search for an honest response.
  • When hostility is converted into hospitality then fearful strangers can become guests revealing to their hosts the promise they are carrying with them. Then, in fact, the distinction between host and guest proves to be artificial and evaporates in the recognition of the new found unity.
  • When we have seen and acknowledge our own hostilities and fears without hesitation, it is more likely that we also will be able to sense from within the other a pull toward which we want to lead not only ourselves but our neighbors as well.
  • Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.
  • We are so afraid of open spaces and empty places that we occupy them with our minds even before we are there.
  • …how we ever can expect something really new to happen to us if our hearts and minds are so full of our own concerns that we do not even listen to the sounds announcing a new reality.
  • …we cannot force anyone to such a personal and intimate change of heart, but we can offer the space where such a change can take place.
  • Looking at hospitality as the creation of a free and friendly space where we can reach out to strangers and invite them to become our friends, it is clear that this can take place on many levels and in many relationships.
  • Healers are hosts who patiently and carefully listen to the story of the suffering strangers. Patients are guests who rediscover their selves by telling their story to the one who offers them a place to stay.
  • Real honest receptivity means inviting the stranger into our world on his or her terms, not on ours.
  • Real receptivity asks for confrontation because space can only be a welcoming space when there are clear boundaries, and boundaries are limits between which we define our own position.
  • When we want to be really hospitable we not only have to receive strangers but also to confront them by an unambiguous presence, not hiding ourselves behind neutrality but showing our ideas, options, and life style clearly and distinctly.
  • …it belongs to the core of Christian spirituality to reach out to the other with good news and to speak without embarrassment about what we “have heard and… seen with our own eyes… watched and touched with our hands.” (1 John 1:1)
  • Receptivity without confrontation leads to a bland neutrality that serves nobody. Confrontation without receptivity leads to an oppressive aggression which hurts everybody.
  • Only in a free space can re-creation take place and a new life be found.
  • Poverty of mind as a spiritual attitude is a growing willingness to recognize the incomprehensibility of the mystery of life.
  • …learned ignorance makes one able to receive the word from others and the Other with great attention.
  • With poverty of heart we can receive the experience of others as a gift to us.
  • When our unfulfilled needs lead us to demand from our fellow human beings what they cannot give, we make them into idols and ourselves into devils.
  • When we move from illusion to prayer, we move from the human shelter to the house of God.
  • So, the paradox of prayer is that it asks for a serious effort while it can only received as a gift.
  • The movement from illusion to prayer is hard to make since it leads us from false certainties to true uncertainties, from an easy support system to a risky surrender, and from the many “safe” gods to the God whose love has no limits.
  • When our heart belongs to God, the world and its powers cannot steal it from us.
  • Prayer, therefore is far from sweet and easy. Being the expression of our greatest love, it does not keep pain away from us. Instead, it makes us suffer more since our love for God is a love for a suffering God and our entering into God’s intimacy is an entering into the intimacy where all of human suffering is embraced in divine compassion.
  • Just because prayer is so personal and arises from the center of our life, it is to be shared with others. Just because prayer is the most precious expression of being human, it needs the constant support and protection of the community to grow and flower.
  • In the community of faith… we can affirm each other in our waiting and also in the realization that in the center of our waiting the first intimacy with God is found.
  • Since our desire to break the chains of our alienation is very strong today, it is of special importance to remind each other that, as members of the Christian community, we are not primarily for each other but for God. Our eyes should not remain fixed on each other but be directed forward to what is dawning on the horizon of our existence.
  • Therefore, the Christian community is not a closed circle of people embracing each other, but a forward-moving group of companions bound together by the same voice asking for their attention.
  • While living between the first and second coming of the Lord, the Christian community finds its meaning in a patient waiting in expectation for the time in which God will be all in all. The community of faith always points beyond itself and speaks its own unique language, which is the language of prayer.
  • But when prayer is no longer its primary concern, and when its many activities are no longer seen and experienced as part of prayer itself, the community quickly degenerates into a club with a common cause but no common vocation.
  • Without community, individual prayer easily degenerates into egocentric and eccentric behavior, but without individual prayer, the prayer of the community quickly becomes a meaningless routine.
  • When we reach out to God individually as well as in community, constantly casting off the illusions that keep us captive, we can enter into the intimate union with him while still waiting for the day of his final return.
  • We do not have to deny or avoid our loneliness, our hostilities, and illusions. To the contrary: When we have the courage to let these realities come to our full attention, understand them and confess them, then they can slowly be converted into solitude, hospitality and prayer.
  • …invite all who share our life to wait with us during this short time for the day of complete joy.
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Re: Replenish

Revisiting the books I’ve read in the past and posting them to my Saturday Featured Books blog provide me an unexpected blessing: replenishment.

As I flip through the pages and reread the quotes, I am filled again with the truths, the inspirations, the takeaways of the books. Each one challenges me, prods me, and forms me.

I feel as if ‘m the pool of water at the bottom of a waterfall, taking everything poured over the edge. But, truth be told, I have a filtering gate at the top, because I don’t let just anything pour over. I’m very selective in the books I read, because they become a part of me. I want my pool to be replenished with true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy things (sound familiar?). I chew on the words, I question them, I wrestle with them. And I want them to be worthy.

Typically, I choose books by the season I am in.

A few years ago, I read through a stack of books on prayer (literally and figuratively, as some were on my kindle) because I wanted to wrestle with this thing called prayer. What is it? How do I do it? What should I expect?

Did I find any answers? Maybe? Mostly, I spent time in the questions.

When we lived in Mississippi and the Lord had us working with marginalized people, I poured over another stack of books, that time on poverty and racism and homelessness because I wanted to understand, I wanted to be effective, I wanted to make a difference.

Did I find any answers? Some. Mostly, I spent time in the questions.

Recently, as I’ve pursued my passion, my dream, my call of writing, I’ve plowed through some of the best books on the craft of writing because I went to tell engaging stories, powerful stories, life-changing stories.

Have I found any answers? Hopefully. Mostly, I spend a lot of time in the questions.

I’ve also pursued great fiction to read. I’ve started many novels, but only finished a few. Because time is precious and I don’t have time to immerse myself in a story that doesn’t grab me and pull me like a captive into its world, its adventures, its dangers. Quite possibly, as I continue my Featured Books, I will present some of my great fiction finds and rather than quotes (I rarely highlight fiction – although I have a few scenes that are life-transfomingly amazing) I will hopefully give enough of a tease to make readers want to dive in.

As I peruse each of the one books I’ve read in the past, I’m stirred to reread them. But then I look at the stack of books I have waiting. And the stories I have still yet to write. And I know I must press on and allow the fresh ideas and new insights continue to replenish my pool at the bottom of the waterfall.

How else can I search for more questions to spend time in?

 

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