A Year of Delights


One place that brings me joy- the beach. Winter at sunset. I love the colors of the sky.

One place that brings me joy- the beach. Winter at sunset. I love the colors of the sky.

Last week I heard a snippet of an interview on the radio. It piqued my interest. The writer Ross Gay has written a book called, The Book of Delights. On his 42nd birthday, Mr. Gay gave himself the challenge to write about something delightful every day for a year. The book contains a collection of some of those delights: nicknames, fireflies, air quotes, garden weeds. As he shared with the interviewer, it wasn’t as difficult as he thought in finding delights around him. At first he thought he would have to really work hard on finding delights, but after a while he realized that he was more attentive to all the delights happening around him.

I love the premise- intentionally looking for things that are delightful in our lives. As with so many things, it doesn’t take much money or effort to be hyper observant, but it does take time. One has to slow down enough to see what is around. As Mr. Gay noted, once he began finding delight in his day, it affected the rest of his day. He also noted that delight is interdependent with others because what he found to be delightful were often personal interactions.

I thought that I would give myself a challenge- to find and write about one thing each day that brings me joy, tickles my funny bone, puts a smile on my face or just is downright delightful. The item can be big or small. It can be an activity, a person, a place, situation or idea. I would like to write @ 300 words, but It doesn’t have to be a specific number of words. If pressed for time it can just be a note, phrase or even a list.

What about you? Are you up for a challenge? Do you think you could find something delightful about which to write each day for a year? If you truly feel you cannot, could you give it a try for 30 days? Or plan on writing just 3 or 5 days/week. If writing is not your thing, how about pictures? What if you took a picture each day of something about which you found amusing or interesting? You could post it each day on whatever social media account you use.

What do you have to lose? You might gain some insight about yourself.

Click here to read the interview. Another person who is uber observant of her life is the actress Sarah Jessica Parker. Her Instagram has various pictures of her observations living and working in NYC. (Click here for her postings.)


It Is Well

Recently I was asked to give a devotional for a group of women. They were exploring the idea of wellness in body, mind and spirit and wanted to use the old hymn, “It is Well with My Soul” as the theme for the day. It made me think, how does one say “it is well with my soul” when life doesn’t necessarily provide an environment conducive to that? For many of us, things are so far from being well in our soul. We are anxious, upset, hurt, broken, or troubled. There is no peace. Or as I say to my husband, some days “there is no joy in Mudville.”

There are certain mysteries of life. One is how, through God we can say that we have the peace that passes all understanding. I think that when we realize that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and that God loves us (and likes us) unconditionally, we can begin to put life into perspective. When we realize that we have eternal life with God, our temporal life on earth doesn’t require as much angst.

Certainly that doesn’t mean that we become anesthetized to the tragedies and difficulties of life. Far from it. But I think when we recognize Who is in control, that He is the one who created all, we can then adjust our attitude and thinking and take a longer view of what is and is not important.

The writer of the hymn “It is Well with My Soul” seemed to understand that. He was no stranger to tragedy.

Horatio and Anna Spafford

Horatio and Anna Spafford

Horatio Spafford was a prominent lawyer and business man in Chicago during the mid to late 1800’s. In 1871, he and his wife Anna were living with their four young daughters in Lake View, Chicago when the Chicago fire occurred. Even though Horatio lost money in a property investment deal due to the fire, they were grateful to have survived with their home intact. For the next two years they helped others in the recovery of the city.

In the winter of 1873, the family decided to take a respite and go to Europe with friends. At the last minute, Horatio was detained on business with the plan on meeting the family as soon as he could. Anna and their four daughters set sail on the Ville du Havre. Four days into their journey, the steamship was struck by another boat in the middle of the night. Within twelve minutes the steamship sank. Only 27 of the approximate 300 passengers survived. Anna was one having been found unconscious floating on a piece of debris. Tragically all four of their daughters drowned.

When Anna arrived ashore she sent a telegram to Horatio, “Saved alone. What shall I do?” Anna was bereft but she had a strong conviction that she was saved for a purpose.

Horatio set sail on the next ship. When they boat came to the approximate location and latitude that the Ville du Havre sank, the Captain called Horatio to the deck. After standing on that deck, he penned the words to the hymn.

The Spaffords returned home and in time had two more children, Bertha and little Horatio. Sadly, little Horatio died of Scarlet Fever when he was three years old. After the birth of their last child (Grace), the Spaffords with some friends decided to move to Jerusalem. Over time, the small group become known as the “American Colony”.

Just as they had done in Chicago, they befriended their neighbors in need regardless of ethnicity, race or religion. During WWI, the colony nursed wounded soldiers on both sides of the conflict. When needs arose with orphaned children, the Spafford Children’s Hospital came into being, which is still running today.

From one family’s tragedy arose help and good work for others.

I find it incredible that a family who lost 5 of their 7 children could still have empathy for others and that they would and could reach out to others. I think I would’ve just shut down. It seems to me that in order to be empathetic there must’ve been some peace in their lives. Some reconciliation of their new reality.

What gave them peace? How did they accept the situation that befell their family? (or did they?) By their actions and lifestyle, they continually reached out to others. Was it realizing that there is a bigger plan of life than just what affects them? Whether they felt it or not, they demonstrated obedience, purpose and trust. They felt God calling them to a new venture and so they went.

There are conflicting accounts of the Spafford’s true reasons for moving to Jerusalem yet I don’t find the differing opinions taint my regard of the story. If we examine ourselves, we would admit that each of us is inconsistent in our behavior and thoughts. Our reasons for doing something can be quite complex. Whatever reason they had for moving to Jerusalem and whatever interpretation of their behavior, one cannot argue that they gave back to the community regardless of their circumstances.

I think Anna’s feeling of a purpose helped her. In reading Bertha Spafford’s account of the family’s life, she describes her mother as taking to heart the advice from Evangelist Dwight L. Moody to get involved helping others. Anna did just that even though she grieved for her children her entire life. Bertha mentions in her book, Our Jerusalem, that her mother was quite affected from the drowning of the girls- Anna could never touch corduroy as that was the material of the sleeve of her one daughter as Anna grasped in the dark sea to grab her.

I think purpose helps keep us afloat. My limited life experience has shown that purpose brings depth and understanding to our lives. It gives meaning to situations that on the surface may seem meaningless.

A prayer at Anna’s funeral seems to sum up what the family realized in their hearts: “Life is eternal and love is immortal; And death is only a horizon; And a horizon is nothing; Save the limit of our sight.”

I hope and pray that if I ever have such a life experience as the Spaffords, that I can say “It is well with my soul.” I pray that I can look beyond the immediate and see purpose. I pray that I can trust in Him who suffered and died so that I wouldn’t have eternal death, but life.

What about you? Is it well with your soul?

Lyrics:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.

Refrain: It is well with my soul, It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control, That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!— My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live: If Jordan above me shall roll, No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait, The sky, not the grave, is our goal; Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord! Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight, The clouds be rolled back as a scroll; The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, Even so, it is well with my soul.

Click here to hear a beautiful rendition of “It is Well with My Soul” narrated by Hugh Bonneville.

Getting Along

Spoken by the man who lived his words. Without communication how can any relationship form, maintain and thrive?

Spoken by the man who lived his words. Without communication how can any relationship form, maintain and thrive?

Our church leadership group is reading a book, The Good and Beautiful Community, by James Bryan Smith. It is a book that brings together the ideas of spiritual formation and community engagement. It is thought-provoking as well as practical.

We recently discussed one of the chapters: “The Christ-Centered Community; Loving those we disagree with. What struck me was the emphasis on getting along, something that is in short supply lately. When we really stop and think about it, most times we disagree with others on non-essential issues: ideas or actions that in the long haul won’t matter. Similarly to the big Christmas argument that no one in the family quite remembers the topic. Relationships become tense and possibly broken as each side harbors hurt, wounded pride and misunderstanding. When we really get to the heart of an issue we find that we generally agree on essential fundamentals. Not all the time, of course. And recently there seems to be more and more disagreement on even the essentials of human existence.

In the application section, the author reminds us of the 18th-century Methodist leader John Wesley’s advice on loving those with whom we disagree:

  1. Treat them as companions.

  2. Do not think of speak evil of them.

  3. Pray for them.

  4. Encourage them to do good.

  5. Collaborate with them in ministry.

Granted, this is written for Christ-followers in getting along with other Christ-followers, but I think that it has universal appeal. I think that these truths apply across the board. Just because someone doesn’t have your same beliefs doesn’t mean that you cannot pray for them (or think about putting your shoes in theirs for a while). While one might not call their work, “ministry”, you can still work with others in whatever job/service they do.

Makes me wonder- what would happen if our President and Congressional members prayed for each other? Treated one another as companions? Encouraged one another? Did not speak evil of each other?And, shall we even dare say, collaborated together?

Closer to home, what about the people with whom I disagree? Some times I am so annoyed with others that I do not want to think or pray for them and I definitely do not want to encourage or collaborate with them. Although I definitely want to speak evil of them- to all who will listen! Not a very good approach to building community.

Are you currently not getting along with someone or a group of someones? Are there any of the five suggestions you can try? I am thinking of one woman in particular who drives me crazy. Perhaps I need to stop thinking (and speaking) “evil”. (Evil might be too strong a word. But I do have the tendency to speak those subtle sarcastic remarks which are not encouraging nor uplifting.)

I did hear some wise advice once: find something positive to begin and end each conversation. If only certain twits (Is that the name for people who use Twitter?) would start that practice, imagine how much our political scene would change.

What about you? How do you handle disagreements? With your family, friends or co-workers? Do you ignore them? Provoke them? Love them?

Today, how can you get along with others or help someone else get along?

Obedience

I have been thinking about obedience lately. It is one of those words like prudence and chastity that is not used much. You never hear it in wedding vows and very rarely hear it being told to children. Perhaps that is not such a bad thing but I think we may be missing an important structure in our society.

Being obedient was brought home to me the other weekend when my husband and I took our dogs to the vets for a nail trim. I was inside waiting to settle up the bill while my husband took our two scallawags outside. As he waited along the side of the building, a dog that was boarding took off from behind the vets and started running down the street with the poor vet tech chasing behind. My husband secured our dogs and went to help the tech. The dog, a young terrier mix was extremely scared but also out for a frolic along a busy intersection and road. Our vet is located on a fairly busy country road with side roads of new developments mixed with farm land. The dog ran down many of the lanes and into the fields. She then would circle back to the main road and criss cross into traffic. Try as we might, she would not come to us.

At one point I was able to “corner” her in a portion of a field that was fenced on two sides. I crouched low, kept still and called her. She finally stopped bolting and lay down about a hand’s length beyond my grasp. As I tried to hook her up to the leash, she slipped out of my grip. She bolted, then stopped, looked at me and sprinted off into some deep woods.

My husband and I helped the vet staff for about two hours stopping neighbors to tell them about the little dog. The staff continued to call and look for her far into the twilight and night. The next day we got a call from them to say that the dog continued to criss-cross over the road and wouldn’t come to them. Tragically she was hit by a car. The vets tried to save her but to no avail.

Obedience.

With our independent streaks, we are not comfortable with someone telling us what to do. We want to control our own destiny and our own way. Unfortunately we deceive ourselves if we think that we are in control: life has too many variables for us to be in charge. All we can control is our reaction to what comes down our path.

Obedience comes when we realize that someone has a better handle on what is happening: more experience, education, or understanding. It would be wise to heed their advice, listen to their commands and do what they suggest. In the case of the little terrier, had she listened to our calls, she would have been safe. She represents not only time lost for her and those spent looking for her but also a life lost.

The whole idea of listening and obedience had me thinking. In obeying are we really giving up independence? Or are we choosing to be wise by listening to others with greater wisdom? The Hebrew writer says “to obey is greater than sacrifice.” There is the expression blind obedience but I think there is blind sacrifice. Either option seems to imply that one doesn’t have a choice in the matter. One responds almost by rote. Yet I think that there are choices in both options. We can choose to obey. We can choose what and how much we sacrifice.

Whether obedience is blind or fully understood, it also requires trust in the one whom we obey. It requires that we recognize why we should and could trust that person.

In the case of obedience to God- how can we not trust Him? God is love. Pure and thoroughly. He desires the best for us because He made us. It is inconceivable that He would harm us in any way just like it is inconceivable that we would’ve harmed that little terrier.

I think of the many times I did not (and still do not at times) listen to what is good for me. I strike out on my own and don’t come back to the safety of God’s path. If only I would learn that being obedient is not an act of weakness. It is an act of being smart. I could then get over myself and my thinking that I know best. I could embrace what I, at first glance, feel is “someone telling me what to do.” I could then move on to doing the things that God is calling me to do; willingly and obediently.

What about you? How are you with obedience? Do you bristle at someone’s attempt of guiding or helping you? Do you feel like someone is trying to squash your independence? Do you welcome the guidance? Have you ever obeyed and later realized that through obedience you avoided a catastrophe? Do you truly, deep down know that God loves you and wants the best for you?

What do you choose? To obey or not to obey?