Sheep may safely graze….

Picture waking up in a castle in Wales that was first built in 1277. Outside the opened window are sounds of bleating sheep, mooing cows, and even the cry of peacocks. As you peer out the window, sheep are grazing on the green hillside without a care in the world. Another gentle shower has ended. The air is cool as it touches your skin and the freshness of it all is full-on therapy. Breathe deeply. Take it all in and experience the beauty of the moment through each of your senses. This is God’s beautiful creation in stillness and peace.

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I recently stayed in this Medieval castle and experienced this very scenario. As we drove to this hidden gem, the fields and meadows along the road were covered with lavender and other wild flowers, but mostly dotted with sheep. They’re everywhere in Wales. As the road winds over the hills and through the valleys, occasionally it is lined with dense trees, literally mini-forests. It was a step back in time, and we wondered if Robin Hood and his merry men would actually appear. God’s creation of hills, valleys, forests and meadows is quaint and magical.  He gave us all good things to enjoy.

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Back at the castle, it is truly an amazing fortress of every feature you could ever imagine. At one time, a moat would have surrounded it.  The front entrance is guarded by stone lions.  In the back, a life-sized chess set is awaiting two contenders.  Long hallways lit dimly by chandeliers are decorated with paintings of Edward I, Charles I Coat of Arms and the Welsh Dragon painted on slate, as well as the armor of knights standing tall in the corners. What else would you expect from a Medieval castle?

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Upon exploring the gardens and grounds, you find hidden paths and remnants of rooms everywhere.  Imagine the past 700+ years of history here…. battles and romance, knights, lords and ladies, feasts and fare. Ah, the intrigue of it all!

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On one afternoon during my stay, the sheep were disappearing through a path in the trees. As I leaned out of the window, I was completely mesmerized watching them trail one another until there was only one sheep following far behind… limping. I felt compassion for this loner who was attempting to keep up with the flock. I wondered if it had fallen or if something had pierced its hoof. Prior to finally reaching the trees, it stopped… and slowly turned its head to look directly at me. I froze. Literally, it took my breath away. It was a God moment. You see, I had stayed behind that day (from watching our choir in a competition) to rest. I was feeling left behind. And as that sheep gazed at me, God spoke to my heart as if to say, “I see you. I know where you are. I will never leave you behind.”

After a moment, the lone sheep turned and slowly limped out of site through the trees. My heart was full knowing that God used that one sheep to tell me that He loves me and He cares about me.

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“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” John 10:27-29

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If you’ve got a moment, listen to Bach’s Cantata No. 208, “Sheep May Safely Graze.”  It is beauty for your ears and food for your soul.  Soli Deo gloria.

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Thanksgiving: Grateful for Traditions

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving meant being around family… lots of family. In both of my Dad’s and Mom’s families, we had cousins by the dozens. Thanksgiving was always spent with my Dad’s family. By the time you counted grandparents, great aunts and great uncles, aunts, uncles, cousins and so on, we numbered over sixty for dinner.

On Thanksgiving Day, I remember being scrunched in the back seat of a ’62 Pontiac or ’64 Chrysler in between three of my brothers, the fourth was in the front seated between Mom and Dad. I’m sure they heard, “are we there, yet?” a number of times. Turkey dinner was 90 miles away. So, to pass the time, we would play a game we called, “Zits,” which consisted of scanning the passing pastures for white horses. Upon seeing one, we’d call out, “zits.” Sometimes, we would drive for a long time through the Nebraska countryside without seeing any animals of any kind. We would pass farm after farm along the road, roll up and down the occasional steep hills, and stare out at the vastness of the heartland. As we studied the surrounding hills, we’d spot a deer or two, and maybe even an eagle. It was kind of like we lived out the song lyrics, “over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go.” We would pass through the various small towns along the highway that paralleled the Missouri River: Niobrara, Verdel, Monowi, Lynch, Bristow, and Spencer. When we finally rounded the last curve northward toward Butte, a town of 500 hundred people, my heart would jump with excitement!

Mom always got up early on those mornings filling the house with the aroma of a number of dishes she’d prepare. She’d always have a some sort of main dishes, a vegetable or two, and a dessert. She would bake bread, too. I’m afraid I didn’t get the baking gene. I’ve never been one to don an apron on a regular basis like her. She was always looking for a recipe for something. While she was a busy in the kitchen, my Dad and a couple of my brothers would go hunting at the break of dawn. They’d return with a couple pheasants and get ready for our family journey.

I loved being with my cousins, as well as seeing my grandparents and all my aunts and uncles. We gathered in the church’s dining room, as that was the only place large enough to hold all of us. After dinner at the church, we would head over to various relative’s homes. I recall watching Nebraska football on Thanksgiving Day. The game was usually against Oklahoma… our biggest rival. Of course, nobody went anywhere until the game was over! If only we had Facebook, Instagram or Twitter back then. My goodness, we would have plastered cousin selfies and Go Big Red tweets all over the place!!

This annual tradition goes back as far as I can remember in the 60’s and 70’s. And even when we all left home to go to college, we would return for the holidays and make that same 90 mile trek, however our ride got upgraded to a Van (with mood lights). We would eventually move away to pursue various careers and have ended up all over the country. It’s been over a decade since I’ve been back to that part of the country, but there’s a special place in my heart filled with many happy family memories.

Today, I am looking forward to my sons returning home from college to celebrate our Thanksgiving together. The family gathering isn’t large like it was when I was young, but the tradition is still just as sweet. I am grateful for the family that God gave to me, especially my sons. They are the best gift I could ever receive. God gave us each other, to love and to care for one another. We are truly blessed.

Gathering together with family at Thanksgiving is a wonderful tradition.  God has blessed my family richly.  I am grateful to God for where I was born and the family I grew up with.  It is an incredible heritage, indeed.

I can’t say that I miss a 90 mile journey for dinner, but I wouldn’t mind playing “zits” once in a while. Maybe, someday I will play that game with my grandchildren. I’m thinking it will be a welcomed tradition.
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*When I was growing up, the town we drove through named Monowi, NE had a population of 6. Now, it has only one resident, the mayor.

Dreaming in Aqua

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I remember it was summer.  I think I was like 11 or 12.  I can see myself standing there in my green polka dotted swim suit, just trying to breathe while peering down into aqua colored water.  I didn’t know it then, but I was looking down at a dream that was floating in my favorite color, aqua blue.   It wasn’t water in an ocean, or water in a lake or pond.  It was aqua colored water in our small town community pool and I was standing on the “high dive.”  Now, if you grew up in the 60’s/70’s era, you know what I’m referring to…. the high diving board.  How high was it?  I don’t even know.  10-12 feet high?  All I know is when I looked up at it from the cement deck, it seemed as if it was towering over the neighborhood.  As I climbed up the ladder to the top, with every wrung grasped my heart beat faster and faster with….. you guessed it, fear.  You see, I wasn’t jumping, which I had done plenty of times before, but I had to dive.  Head first.  Into the deep end.  I was scared.  Shaking.

Now, I could do a really good front flip off the low board.  Even tried a back dive off the low.  Tried a 1 1/2 and made it, mostly… off the low.  Played the “jump or dive” game with my friends…. off the low.  But, I only jumped off the high.  The deal was I could not pass my advanced swimming class until I dove off the high.

It took awhile.  I’m sure my instructor was ready to give up on me as I stood there looking over the ledge of the board, but I had a goal.  I wanted to pass the class.  I wanted to be a lifeguard some day.  So, I had to dive, head first, into the deep end to get that last requirement checked off the list.

I must have looked pathetic.  My body would not relax.  I don’t even remember… did I close my eyes and just fall head-first forward?  I think that’s kinda what they told me to do.  At any rate, I dove.  I do remember that I felt all crumpled up when I dove.  So, form was out the window as I plummeted into the depths of aqua water.  It kinda hurt.  I remember that.  I don’t remember a huge celebration after I dove, but I do remember relief.  And, I still remember the fear.

One of my dreams lay in the depths of that aqua colored water.  It was a dream that took faith. At some point, I chose faith over fear.  I had aqua colored faith.

Faith over fear…. any day, right?  Yet, it can be a difficult choice.  Did I have faith that I would be okay diving off of that board?  I don’t know.  I just remember I had to do it, so I did.  There was too much too lose if I didn’t.

Our first reaction to situations is just that… an emotional reaction filled with fear.  I’m speaking firsthand here because I know it too well.  It’s easier to just remain in my comfort zone than reach out, branch out, speak out or venture out.  Out of what, you may wonder?  Out of my current comfort.

You see, fear is a thief literally stealing our dreams and keeping us locked up in our caged comfort.  Fear is the padlock on action and it is preventing us from moving forward toward our goals.  It’s robbing us of opportunity.  It’s raiding our happiness.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  There is a cure for fear… and it’s called faith.

Faith is the key to opening doors.  Faith is what unlocks your vision, your purpose, your dreams and your blessings.  Do you have faith?  It needs exercise.  It takes practice.  It requires action.  If you never use it, you definitely lose it.

Where we focus is powerful.  If I choose to look for bad stuff in a situation, then I’ll find something bad ‘cuz that’s all I’m focused on.  If I think about failing, I’ve probably just increased my chances of failure.  There’s plenty of negative out there to think on.  There’s excess and garbage.   Ain’t got time for that.  Life’s too short.  If I choose to look for the good, I’ll find it.  There’s always a rainbow after the storm!

My source for truth is the Bible.  When in doubt, that’s where I turn.  So, here’s what I read about focus from a Biblical passage:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”  Philippians 4:8-9 (MSG)

So, when there’s a presence of fear, I need to change my focus.  Because if I am focusing on everything negative in a situation, that’s mostly what I see.   Fill the mind with things that are good.  I can start with being grateful and counting my blessings.  Then, I can say “what if” and answer it with all the positives.  Counting to 10 and taking a deep breath may be in order as I surrender a situation to God believing that it will be handled in the best of hands.

As focus changes, one steps from fear to faith.  Sounds like a big step.  How do we get there?   There are plenty of examples of folks who took that step in The Bible, especially in Hebrews Chapter 11.  Here’s how it starts:  “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.” (MSG)

I encourage you to read the entire chapter in Hebrews.  There are so many examples of these ordinary people back in the Bible days who stepped out of fear into faith and, as a result, changed history.  The stories are told for us, to encourage us in our faith-walk.

The Bible says, “Perfect love casts out fear.”  My son told me today that we must have faith through love.  That fear has no place.  It all starts with love.  So, love yourself.  Love your dreams.  Above all, love and trust God.

Just in case you’re wondering what color I’m dreaming in these days, I’m still stuck on aqua.  My dream is to look out at that aqua blue ocean daily, in my home where grandchildren play joyfully and sleep peacefully.

After Hebrews 11 comes Hebrews 12, which is about discipline and action.  This is where my focus lies:

“So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out.  And run for it!”  Hebrews 12:12-13 (MSG)

I’m running now as I’m dreaming in aqua.

I love summer!

I love summer!  I was thinking about my Mom this morning.  It’s my last summer morning to sleep in and lounge around drinking coffee in my robe as I read my devotions and reflect.  My Mom was a school teacher for around 30 years.   She loved her summers, too.  She loved gardening and grew amazing vegetables and flowers.  In early August, she would find the finest tomato, the biggest cucumber, the largest eggplant and head over to the fairgrounds to enter them in the fair.  I remember husking sweet corn for freezing and snipping beans for canning.  It seemed like it took hours on that back porch to get through a big bag loaded with ears of corn.  The reward was worth it!  Corn on the cob for supper was one of summer’s finest treats!

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Her flower garden was splendid!  You name it, every kind of beautiful and fragrant flower was there, blooming boldly.  Mom also spent her summers cleaning out the closets and kitchen cupboards, having a garage sale, tinkering in her antiques store, and cooking endless hours for our family.  The favorites:  fresh buns and cinnamon rolls.   She would mix and cook and fry and bake daily.  Just thinking of it exhausts me!  But, oh, the flavor!

My Dad had a ski boat, so almost every Saturday we’d head over to the river to do some boating and Mom would bring the fried chicken, baked beans, fresh buns, cookies and cinnamon rolls.  I’m afraid it wasn’t much of a break for her, but she loved every minute of it.  On Sunday, she’d prepare something to take for the weekly potluck brunch at church.  She was nonstop in that kitchen!

So, as I was thinking about my Mom this morning, I thought of how hard she worked.  I remember her driving off to teach kindergarten and music every day.  She’d get home around 3:30, take her 20 minute nap and start making dinner.  She was a very good and dedicated teacher.  She was an investor as she bought a home to renovate (we had our own construction crew… my 4 brothers) and rented it out.  She was an entrepreneur as she opened an antique store and filled it to the rafters with every antique one could imagine!

Mom always made time for reading her Bible, reading various books and spending time in prayer.  She always knelt to pray by her bed before she crawled in to sleep.  She loved her Savior, Jesus Christ.  She was an incredibly loving and devoted Mother and wife.  She lived a beautiful and blessed life.

Summers are the best time of the year.  I love my summers.  My Mom loved her summers, too.  ❤

Motivation

27 years ago, I listened to a set of motivational cassette tapes in my car daily prior to my Master’s choral conducting recital. The guy doing the motivating was Denis Waitley. I was so excited when I learned that he was one of the speakers in the Success Symposium in San Diego on Thursday.

Here’s a few nuggets for you from Mr. Waitley:
Know thyself: what did you love to do as a child?
Chase your passion, not your pension.
Winners believe in their dream.
Live by choice, rather than chance.
Winners dwell on success.
Risk being a fool in the eyes of others.
Learn by others who’ve been there before.
What I leave in my children is more important than what I leave for them
Don’t live on “someday” isle.
Give all your attention to what’s before you. Leave all your failures behind. This is your moment.
Don’t wait for the future… it’s here.