In the Rush to Christmas, Slow Down for Advent

When our boys were young, the countdown to Christmas involved a festive green cloth calendar with pockets, one for each of 25 days until Christmas. A tiny grey mouse was moved from one pocket to the next as he made his way through the weeks leading up to our sons’ favorite holiday. Each day, a different boy took a turn at jumping the mouse into the new day’s pocket and announcing the countdown.

The older boys understood the progression of time and the build-up of excitement that was behind our family Advent calendar, but it was a hard concept for the two littlest ones to grasp. One morning, with the calendar clearly showing Christmas was still days away, the three-year-old took it upon himself to give the mouse extra jumps. When caught in the act, he turned to his brothers and happily declared “It’s Christmas!”

Sometimes, we grown-ups want to rush the season. Quoting the Angela Lansbury/Johnny Mathis tune, “We need a little Christmas right this very minute. Candles in the window. Carols at the spinet.”

Given the uncertainty, confusion and fear in America today, it’s no surprise this year’s rush to Christmas appears almost frantic. I’m not referring to Christmas decorations that appeared alongside Halloween masks or holiday music playing in the background at Wal-Mart while we shopped for Thanksgiving food. That consumer-driven reality has been with us for several years. What’s different is that people of all faith traditions (and without them) are speaking with nostalgia and great anticipation about the coming of Christmas.

I feel it myself. I sense a deep need to step into something solid, into a season grounded in words and promises I can trust. But my heart’s leaning is not toward December 25. My anticipation has been centered on the anticipation. On Advent — “the coming”.

In America, Advent begins on the Sunday after our traditional Thanksgiving, the fourth Sunday before Christmas. If we are true to it’s intent, at Thanksgiving we’ve given thanks to God — “eucharisteo” — and there has been the breaking of bread with others  — “koinonia”.

Stepping into Advent after we’ve given thanks and shared fellowship prepares us to receive the perfect gift of Christ. The liturgical calendar cycles through a rhythm of seasons.

“Advent to prepare for Christ’s coming, Epiphany to remember the Light, Lent to confess our resistance to the Light, Holy Week to remember Christ’s suffering, Easter to celebrate the resurrection’s power, the birthday of the church at Pentacost, and Ordinary Time to bring us back to the beginning again.” (quoted from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals)

The Greek word for liturgy means “the work of the people”. Advent, then, is as much a  time of work as a time of waiting. Our Advent work goes beyond decorating the house, baking cookies, putting up lights, installing the tree. Though all can be a life-giving aspect of the season. might we also choose actions that draw us near to the One we await, who is waiting for us.

Amidst the feasting, decorating and celebrating, there can be times for fasting, prayer and readings that set the pace for the slow walk toward Christ.

An Advent wreath, akin to the Advent calendar we hung on our wall for our children, is an intentional measuring of the journey toward receiving the gift of Jesus. Each Sunday, as we light the candle for that week, we step closer to Christ. In our practices throughout the week, we move into His presence by laying hands on His Word.

There is more. In this season of waiting and giving, could there not also be giving of “self? We can break through the distractions of the Christmas season and bring focus to the Advent with acts of kindness. The gift of “self” will look different for each of us — a meal for a neighbor, volunteering at a shelter, cookies dropped off at a nursing home, prayers with a friend in need, strangers around our dinner table..

In waiting, choose one gift of “self” for each candle lit during advent. One sometimes painful, terrifying, humbling gift. One action each week, perhaps even more as the gift of Jesus draws near.

As we actively wait for the coming of Christ, we’re aware that our celebration centers on the truth — that He has already come.

“We are forever seeking, while the forever for which we seek is now. Awaken to the truth that any place contains every place and every moment contains eternity. Seekers and searchers of all times have looked toward the heavens in order to find God. Then the gift was given.” (Richard John Neuhaus in “God With Us”)

Christ came, Christ comes, Christ will come again.

The mouse is already sitting in the December 25 pocket. Jesus is here. It’s Christmas.

 

 

 

 

How To Cure An Itchy Trigger Finger

twitter-logoJust 140 characters and two minutes.

That’s all it takes to spout an opinion or start a movement. In a flurry of emotional rhetoric, we have the freedom to proclaim to the world (or whoever’s watching) a point of view we may later realize was uninformed, or just plain over the top. But we do it anyway.

In my mother’s vernacular, some of us have developed an “itchy trigger finger.”

The new leader of the free world calls Twitter “modern communication” and says it’s a very effective way of reaching his 15 million Twitter followers. No doubt he’s right. And he is prolific; the man averages about 1 new “tweet” and hour. But I wonder how much thought he gives to his words and to other social media statements before he hits “post”. Judging from what we’ve heard and seen over the past year, not much.

The Wiktionary definition of someone with an itchy trigger finger is “a person eager to fire their weapon or likely to do so unexpectedly” or someone “with a tendency or readiness to act in haste or without consideration.”

Sound familiar?

Our next President, as well as those of us responding to his presidency via social media, would do well to heed the words of James, the earthly brother of Christ:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19

And if that isn’t clear enough, one could consider the wise words of Solomon:

“Do you see someone who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for them.” Proverbs 29:20

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Proverbs 18:2

“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3

Tapping out that very witty comeback or oh-so-original opinion with our itchy trigger fingers can undermine all the hard work we’ve done in the past to put forth an image that attests to our character and integrity. Thank goodness there is a cure for trigger finger.

Bind it, stop the inflammation and give it a rest.

“The time it takes to recover from trigger finger depends on how bad it is. The choice of treatment also affects recovery. For example, splinting may be necessary for six weeks. But most people with trigger finger recover within a few weeks by resting the finger and using anti-inflammatory drugs.” (WebMD.com)

The president-elect has time to get his itchy trigger finger under control. If he heeds the advice of James, Solomon and the medical community, in two months time when he lays his hand on the Bible to take the oath of office, that kink in his itchy trigger finger could be fully healed.

 

 

Sexual Misconduct Isn’t Just for Politicians

It’s always an awkward conversation. After we’ve played some games, talked about what they want in a dating relationship, done a bit of role-playing, we get down to the nitty gritty.

Sexual assault. Violence. Rape.

Some of the students avert their eyes. Others giggle nervously. A few show concern, even ask questions.

I talk to high school kids about teen dating violence because they already know it’s happening. They see it among their friends, maybe fear it could happen in their own dating relationships. And they need to know how to stop it before it becomes their reality, their life.

As I write this, I’m preparing to spend four days in another high school health class as the guest speaker from our local domestic violence agency. It’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month and the three county schools have opened their doors for our presentation.

For this group of students, there’s new information on the table. They’ve probably already seen it on the evening news or on the internet:

A candidate for the most powerful job in the world has been exposed as a perpetrator of sexual assault.

He did it just because he could. Because he’s rich and famous. And because he doesn’t value a woman’s right to say who can touch her body and when.

By the time we’ve finished talking about teen dating violence, rape, sexual assault, the students will know that if they had done what he has admitted to doing, they could wind up in jail with a felony conviction that would follow them the rest of their lives.

They’ll also know this:

  • 12 percent of high school students report having been physically victimized by a dating partner in the past year
  • 25 percent of high school students say they have been psychologically abused by a dating partner
  • Dating abuse begins as early as sixth grade
  • Adults who abuse their dating partners often do so during adolescence
  • Young women ages 14-17 represent 38 percent of those victimized by date rape
  • Any unwanted sexual contact is assault
  • Perpetrators of sexual assault and violence do it to gain control over their victims

We’ll have the awkward conversation because just maybe their awareness will mean they won’t have to know what it’s like to be a victim.

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For more information about domestic violence and teen dating violence, visit one of these web sites:

http://www.breakthecycle.org/loveisnotabuse

http://www.nrcdv.org/dvam/home

http://www.ncadv.org/

 

 

 

“Discovering Hope” Turns Chronic Illness Into Chronic Joy

Cindee Snider Re embodies these words from the author J.R.R. Tolkein:

Courage is found in unlikely places

I met Cindee in an unlikely place — at a writers’ workshop on the western coast of Lake Michigan. We were among a dozen writers, many of whom were still waiting on the Lord to show them how to use the gifts He’d bestowed on them. It quickly became evident that among Cindee’s gifts are photography and writing, as well as joy, compassion and a servant’s heart. What wasn’t evident was the fact Cindee was also given the gift of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a chronic disease comprised by “a group of disorders that affect the connective tissues that support the skin, bones, blood vessels, and many other organs and tissues.” (U.S. National Library of Medicine)

Four of Cindee’s five children also have this genetic disorder.

Cindee didn’t talk much about her condition, but there were moments when we could see she was pushing through the pain and discomfort to participate.

Cindee left our week-long workshop telling us she didn’t think the Lord wanted her to write words, but that she would focus on telling stories with her camera lens. God had other plans.

Just one year later, Cindee’s experience with chronic illness has led her to write “Discovering Hope: Beginning the Journey Toward Hope in Chronic Illness”. The Bible study is a product of her partnership in a new ministry with her friend Pamela K. Piquette, who also has Ehlers-Danos. Chronic Joy has as its mission “equipping those affected by chronic physical and mental illness through community and education rooted in Jesus Christ.”

discovering-hope“Discovering Hope” is an uplifting yet challenging workbook that will not only plunge you into the healing Word of God, but will draw from you your own story of chronic illness. Punctuated with insightful, inspiring stories from Cindee’s life, the study is a map through which the participant explores the tough issues and the joys associated with trial. While it is intended for use by those in a personal struggle, it would also be useful for anyone walking through chronic illness with a friend or loved one.

Working through the eight chapters, participants examine their story, perspective, sacrifice, humor, trust, gratitude, promise and choice in living with chronic illness. Instructions for doing the study with a small group are included at the back of the book, as well as a listing of scriptures used throughout the study. The book is also peppered with inspiring quotes, like the one from Tolkein and this one.

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Cindee’s study will be followed up by a book authored by Pamela Piquette entitled “Finding Purpose”.

I am giving a copy of this book to a friend who walks this journey, with prayer that it will minister to her. You can order the book and contribute to Chronic Joy by ordering at www.smile.amazon.com and typing in Chronic Joy as recipient. If you agree, all future purchases through Amazon will result in a donation to Chronic Joy.

Chronic Joy can be found on Facebook and on the website.

cindee Chronic illness is seen as anything but a joy. However, Cindee reminds us “It isn’t our circumstances that make life worth living. It’s God.” If you or someone you know is living with a chronic illness, consider this study by Cindee. She is, indeed, courageous, and you will be blessed.

 

 

 

 

“Crossing the Waters” book giveaway winner — Laurie Sherck! Laurie will be notified by e-mail. Thank you all for entering!

 

 

Of Fish, Boats, Faith and Friendship: A Book Review

crossing” ‘Look at you! So happy! You like fishing, no?’ I laugh and nod. Yes, this makes me happy, but I am here for more than this, of course. I have not tried to explain to him the fuller reason I am here, my own search. I do not tell him that I cannot know this place without being on its waters. I do not tell him that I am here to find the real gospel. And how do I explain that I am here on this lake to find Jesus in my own waters back home? I can hardly explain it to myself.” ~ Leslie Leyland Fields, fisherwoman, author, writer and mentor from her book Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt, and the Seas.

Lesley Leyland Fields hiked around and sailed upon the Sea of Galilee a few years ago in a quest to know more deeply what it means when Jesus calls us to “Come, follow me.” In her new book “Crossing the Waters”, Leslie carries her readers through her exploration of waters, deep and wide, both on the shores Jesus walked and on the other side of the world in the Gulf of Alaska.

Leslie, her husband and their six children run a commercial fishing operation from their own island off the coast of Kodiak Island in Alaska. She has been a fisherwoman for nearly 40 years. This is her 10th book.

I could heartily recommend “Crossing the Waters” based solely on my reading of it. Written in Leslie’s vivid narrative style, this study of the gospels is filled with Biblical truths, beautiful stories and profound insights. I have enjoyed other titles by this talented, prolific author and I trust her to move and inspire me as a writer, a mother, a woman, a daughter, and a follower of Christ (read about her other books here).

But on a personal level, I urge you to pick up Leslie’s latest book because I recently enjoyed exploring Alaska. And because I know Leslie as a mentor and friend.

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Nearly a year ago, I spent a week learning under Leslie’s tutelage, along with a dozen other writers, on the western shore of Lake Michigan. Each day, we gathered before a stone fireplace in the knotty pine living room of a lakefront cottage. Leslie shared writing tips, prompts and wisdom. She also critiqued our submitted work and made suggestions for ways we could better tell our stories. I came away from the workshop challenged and changed, both as a writer and as a woman.

While Leslie generously gave us her undivided attention during those writing sessions, she also spent every available spare minute throughout our week at the lake making final edits to this book. In fact, our little writing group gave her some encouragement as she faced an important change in her project, resulting in a mention in the acknowledgements.

“Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt, and the Seas” carries us back and forth across 2000 years, from the seaside of our Savior to the churning shore of Alaska’s gulf coast. At the same time, it plunges us deep into scripture as we examine for ourselves what it means to walk in the footsteps of the early disciples. Whether from the deck of a salmon fishing skiff or the bow of an early sailing boat, we are led to go deeper into our faith.

Share this book with a small group or a Sunday school class by accessing the discussion questions provided for each chapter.

I am giving away a copy of Leslie’s book to one lucky reader who leaves a comment here between now and midnight Friday. Don’t miss the chance to read Leslie’s latest work, which currently has a five-star review on Amazon! Jump below my photos from our recent trip to Alaska to comment.

A glacier off the southern coast of Alaska

A glacier off the southern coast of Alaska

Seals warming themselves on rocks in the fjords

Seals warming themselves on rocks in the fjords

A misty morning view in southern Alaska

A misty morning view in southern Alaska

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Denali

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A beautiful valley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catholic at Heart: Surprised by the Faith That Formed Me

I did a double-take.

Five grown men in long brown robes with bald heads, beards blowing in the breeze, were jogging barefoot down the sidewalk. I slowed my car and caught their happy faces in my rear-view mirror. This was not a sight I was used to seeing in the middle of the afternoon in this rural community. I called my sister-in-law, who runs a business in the small town I was passing through. She laughed and explained “Those are our brothers.”

My introduction to the Franciscan friars (brothers) living in this lakeside community began a journey that over the past several months has carried me back into my Catholic heritage and, I think, was ordained by God.

The bearded men reside in a white Cape Cod home on the grounds of Our Lady Mother of Mercy Center across from Sylvan Lake in Rome City, Indiana. They are novitiates in the Franciscan Friars Minor, a Catholic monastic order committed to living the rule of Saint Francis, which includes a vow of poverty. People in the community have grown used to seeing the barefoot gentlemen in the grocery store, at civic events and elsewhere in town. Growing up, I’d seen priests and nuns in their habits, but not a monastic brother.

The journalist in me wanted to know more — about the friars and about Our Lady Mother of Mercy Center.

When I knocked on the door of the brick Victorian home that houses the center’s offices, I really wasn’t sure what I hoped to gain from my visit, other than to satisfy my curiosity. Standing in the lawn outside the house, I was transported back in time.

I was raised in the Church and grew up visiting the site of the Catholic retreat center on Sunday afternoons with my parents and grandparents. At that time, it was known as Kneipp Springs and was operated by nuns from the Order of the Sisters of the Precious Blood. The 65-acre compound was beautiful, dotted with gardens and green pathways, and amazing natural springs. It was our family’s own personal Catholic park. What I didn’t know as a child was that it was also a place of physical and spiritual healing. For 75 years, celebrities and devout Catholics from around the world had made the pilgrimage to Kneipp Springs to be immersed in the healing sulphur springs and to renew their Catholic faith.

MaryI left Catholicism when I headed off to college and eventually embraced the Protestant faith. About the time I returned home and began my career as a news reporter, Kneipp Springs was sold by the nuns to The Way International. The organization operated a residential religious school on the grounds for the next 20 years. Following their departure just before the start of the new millennium, the property changed hands many times as groups and individuals pursued various uses for the buildings and acreage. A year ago, the current owners, Catholics active in the diocese, decided to return the property to its original purpose as a place of healing and devotion to spiritual growth. A foundation was formed and the property was given a new name that reflected its devotion to Mary, the mother of Christ — Our Lady Mother of Mercy Center.

I met several times with the foundation’s director and was inspired by and drawn to the work being done at the center. I looked for a way to get involved. Restoration of the 100-year-old chapel is underway and, of course, donations are needed there, and the grounds are slowly being returned to their original beauty. Manual labor is always needed.

I wondered if others might be as curious as I was about the Franciscan friars, the history of the property and the future of the retreat center. I also longed to reconnect with the Catholic Church of today.  I offered to use my gifts as a writer and designer to write articles for the local newspaper and to create a magazine for the center’s use. It’s been a mutually satisfying project.

A Healing Labor of Love

During the weeks I worked on the magazine, I also spent a lot of time with my parents. Mom’s health was declining and Dad couldn’t live entirely alone as she spent time in hospitals and in two different nursing homes. On one of my visits to the nursing home, I took Mom her rosary. I knew she needed to hold it in her hands.

It’s because of Mom that I have an emotional connection to the Catholic tradition. She’s actually my stepmother and when she married my Dad over 50 years ago — a divorced man with three little girls and a Presbyterian background — she gave us not only her unconditional love but the love of Christ as she shared with us her Catholic faith.

The morning after the magazine project was first put into the hands of visitors to Our Lady Mother of Mercy Center, Mom was found unresponsive by nursing home staff. She passed away one week later.

I hadn’t attended Mass for years. The rhythmic cadence of the liturgy, the smoky cloud of pungent incense, the priest’s lyrical prayers — all combined in a wave of nostalgia that was both comforting and unexpected. I sat in Mom and Dad’s little church for the funeral Mass last week, surrounded by people who shared her faith and knew her well, and found the words were still with me:

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art though among women and blessed is the fruit of they womb, Jesus…..”

I’ve yet to spend an afternoon getting to know the barefoot, bearded Franciscan friars living at Our Lady Mother of Mercy, but I’m hoping they’ll let me tell their story soon. Now that a window has opened on the faith that formed me, I’m not anxious for it to close.

Father David Mary

Father David Mary, head of the Franciscan Friars Minor, celebrates mass outdoors at Our Lady Mother of Mercy Center.

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Brothers lead a Eucharistic procession past the chapel at Our Lady Mother of Mercy Center.

 

 

Nashville: Making Culture in Community

Where we are — the place where we are breathing, working, loving and living — that place, that community, forms us, even in the midst of trial and change. One of my adult sons was making a new life far from home a few years back, wrestling with change and trying to get a handle on the future. I was able to drop in on his life for a few days and wrote about his world from my perspective. My essay is included today at Topology:

The slap-crack of skateboards hitting cement punctuates the air. The town park vibrates with laughter, conversation, dog yelps, honking horns. Overhead, dark clouds roll, hanging low, heavy with moisture….(read more)

Topology is the online journal of *culture is not optional, an intentional community based in Three Rivers, Michigan. From their website:

“The mission of *culture is not optional is to model and encourage creative communities, rooted in the love of Christ in Three Rivers and beyond. Perhaps our first value is in our name: *culture is not optional. But what kind of culture? And why is it “not optional?” We believe humans are created to make something of the world, and what we make is “culture.” We can’t help but make culture in our homes, neighborhoods, churches and workplaces. The culture we make can be life-giving or destructive, beautiful or scarring, compassionate or self-centered. As followers of Christ, we aspire to make culture that is loving, just and joyful.”

I’m engaged in making “culture” today as I write and, later, as I handle issues faced by my aging parents. This morning, my community is the farm where I live in northeastern Indiana. Later, it will be a small town hospital where my Mom is being treated for multiple challenging health problems. Wherever today finds you, be present and let your presence be life-giving, loving, just and joyful.

One more thing ~

You may notice a lovely new icon on the right side of the page. I am beyond delighted to be part of the Redbud Writers Guild. This international community of authors, writers and speakers exists to “communicate in order to empower women to use their voices to be world-changers.” My affiliation with these many gifted women sets the bar high for any writing I do in the future.

 

 

 

Wasting Time ‘Tilting at Windmills’

“Tilting at windmills.”

This phrase came to mind as my husband I walked among the windmills at a local outdoor museum on Father’s Day. I had no idea where I’d heard it before, so of course, later in the day, I googled it.

The “tilting” refers to jousting. The phrase originated in the novel Don Quixote, written by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes in the early 1600s. In the scene referenced, the protagonist, Quixote, prepares to challenge an enemy.

“Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”

Quixote’s adversary in this “righteous war”?

Windmills.

Jousting or tilting at windmills — at incorrectly perceived adversaries — is a vain battle at best, a waste of time at the very least.

Tilting at windmills is a vain battle at best, a waste of time at the very least. Click To Tweet

There have been windmills in my line of sight through the years. Many of them, in fact — enemies on a far hill that threatened, or more often, adversaries that I felt were worthy of elimination. Though I hardly knew their form, I was willing to do battle, usually for quite self-righteous reasons.

“….the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”

And how might He bless me? With gratitude, with another jewel in my crown, with wealth and security?

My windmills have taken many forms:

  • a point of view that was unlike my own
  • a behavior that was contrary to my beliefs
  • an individual seeking unearned recognition
  • a concept or action that threatened my hard-earned security
  • a political candidate who in no way represents my values or goals for our nation, state or community.

While any of these adversaries may deserve to be engaged in battle, I’ve had to tell myself more than once maybe that battle is not mine to fight.

There are more than enough very real adversaries in my world, most of them directly in front of me, and a good many of them of my own making. My energy and Quixote-like passion might be better spent doing battle with these.

  • my prejudice
  • my lack of initiative
  • my lazy faith
  • my unfounded fears
  • my greed

Very real “windmills” whirl and spin on the landscape of my life. Of all our lives. Tackling those giants requires all the energy I can muster most days.

“What giants?” asked Sancho Panza.

“Those you see over there,” replied his master, “with their long arms. Some of them have arms well nigh two leagues in length.”

“Take care, sir,” cried Sancho. “Those over there are not giants but windmills.”

Windmills 1

Mid-America Windmill Museum Kendallville, Indiana

 

 

Story Matters: Sharing a Family Story at “Breathe”

When a girl grows up casting her Daddy as the hero in every story, it’s natural that one day she will tell his story.

My father’s story is far from a fairy tale. The years immediately after my mother left our family must have been rough for my father as he took on the task of raising three little girls, ages 3, 2 and 1…….read more about how I was inspired to tell my father’s story in a guest post on the blog at Breathe Christian Writers website. 

And while you’re there, sign up to attend the 2016 Breathe Christian Writers’ Conference October 7 and 8 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This event is, hands down, my favorite writers’ conference. This year’s keynote speaker will be author and storyteller James Scott Bell.

Breathe ChristianWriters Conference (1)

Tending the Garden: Pour and Listen

The dry spell was broken over the weekend and finally my outdoor plants received a showering that did not come from my watering can. Everything is lush and green this morning, and for that I am grateful.

I have more than one watering can, but only the galvanized metal one gives the nice steady flow that ensures my plants get a good watering. So, I carry it everywhere, refilling it as I go. A week ago, as I toted my old metal watering can from plant to plant, from the pump to the porch to the patio, and stood patiently, letting the life-giving water sprinkle down in measured amounts, I thought “Why don’t I just drag the garden hose over here and drench the thing and be done with it.” But, honestly, I prefer taking the time to give each basket, tree or bed special attention. I like noticing the new blossoms, taking stock of the growth, plucking dead blooms and leaves, and listening as birdsong fills the air and leaves rustle overhead.

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I haven’t always taken the time to tend the plants that looked so lush when I loaded them in car at the nursery. Years past, my baskets have withered in the heat and beds have filled with weeds, and, truthfully, there’s no guarantee that won’t happen again this year, around mid-July when summer takes hold and I get distracted.

As I made my watering rounds last week, my thoughts turned to the women in my life that God has appointed me to “pour into”. Women with real, life-changing, heart-breaking needs, as well as women in seasons of joy and exciting changes. Each of those women brings beauty to my world, each in a different way. And as I tend to those friendships, cherishing them, looking for growth, even attempting to prune and pluck as they allow, I’m learning to listen as each shares her heart. I’ve discovered how important it is to be fully engaged, to move slowly and with intention as, through me, God pours life-giving water on their souls.

There are times, of course, when I’m not called on to be part of the watering, when the Lord speaks directly to them or when others are tapped to use their own methods for pouring into them. But when He sends me, I can only use what I know, what is familiar to me. Like the old galvanized watering can, my source is time-tested and proven faithful. As I dip into God’s word or offer up a prayer on their behalf, I draw from my well of past experiences, of scriptures that have guided me, and ask God to use them to reveal truth to another.

While in Nashville, Tennessee, recently the work of a “master gardener” caught my eye. Becca Stevens centers her ministry to wounded women in a healing garden at Thistle Farms near Nashville. I walked to the ministry’s diner, The Thistle Stop Cafe, each morning for coffee and delicious food served by women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction. Becca founded Thistle Farms in 2001 to provide employment and, more importantly, nurturing and hope for 50 residents who work to create a line of natural body-care products as well as serve in the café, and in the sewing and print shop. She has also established Magdalene, residential communities for women.

This woman, an Episcopal priest, writer and entrepreneur, ministers alongside her volunteers as they pour into women with profound needs in Nashville and throughout the world. My “garden” is considerably smaller than that of Thistle Farms and Magdalene, but it is no less important and I, too, work alongside sisters who share my desire to minister to wounded women.

This summer, I am harvesting wisdom from one of Becca’s books, “Letters from the Farm: A Simple Path for a Deeper Spiritual Life”. Today, I glean from a chapter about praying to get out of the way:

“Listening is the way we stop tripping over ourselves in the midst of trying to serve another….we simply listen and respond with the word of love. It is a simple and spiritual practice.”

With watering can in hand, I’m learning to pour and to listen.

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