A New Leaf

Ponderings in Changing Seasons


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The HeART of Listening

The EAR! What a magnificent instrument!

When still in grade school, we learn about the inner and the outer ear, the cochlea, the tiny cilia that line the outer ear, the ear drum, the snail-shaped cochlea of the inner ear and the fluid that conducts sound waves to the nerves that tell the brain what we heard.  It may be a voice speaking words and tones that lift or deflate.  It may be music that grates and annoys or that inspires to loftier mood.  Perhaps the sound alarms, putting us on alert.  Or, it may lull us to rest.

Ears may be large or small, proportional or ludicrous.  Ears may be just right and, thereby, go unnoticed or they may protrude in a way that one is distracted because they demand notice.  Nonetheless, the ear is a vessel, a conduit first to the brain, then to the heart.

My sister who is in her sixties has had a startling discovery.  The hearing aids she received soon after the New Year began for her a new life!  She had never had them; she never knew what she was missing.  How it is that she has come to this so late in life is for another story time, but suffice it to say she is ecstatic!  She never heard so many birds; she never knew Walmart has piped music.  She has had to ask her husband of 41 years to lower his volume when he speaks because it hurts her ears.  She hears her colleagues at work now with crystal clear distinction.  She hears her own footsteps and she hears herself chew her food.  The mis-hears of her life now make sense.  She would hear “look” for “book” or “stoop” for “loop” as examples and find herself replying to a wrong concept being discussed.  She always thought she was not chosen for games at school.  Suddenly, the anxiety has been lifted and she recalls that her classmates would get in her face and call her name to tell her she had just been called to run over in Red Rover!  She now understands that she wasn’t simply inattentive; she could not hear!  Her memory book full of humiliations and disappointments in a moment’s time has begun to reverse.  Now she can hear!! And hearing makes all the difference!

There is a difference, however, between hearing and listening.  Hearing is what the ear is designed to do; listening is what the heart is inspired to do.  The neural or brain pathways differ according to which occurs.

Lately, I have been practicing my Listening.  I have been practicing my Listening into the silence.  Just yesterday we had a quiet late winter snow.  The large flakes softly fell like feathers drifting on air currents to the waiting ground.  I opened the door to listen!  I heard nothing.   The snowflakes made not a sound.  But when I listened with my heart, I heard music.  The beauty of that pristine moment will forever be etched in my memory!  It was a gift! A gift of a moment of stillness that resonated with meaning!

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It is a difficult thing to be still and listen.  It requires discipline; it requires intention and attention.  The natural bent of 21st Century Westerners is rarely to be still.  We are living in an age of Distraction.  I read once that “clutter is visual noise”.  We live with lots of clutter and lots of noise.  Consider the internet, the “Information Highway”:  FaceBook, email, news, weather, articles, Google, iBooks, Kindle.  No literal screen or screen in the mind is devoid of clutter of some sort.  It can be much like Ulysses’ Sirens of the sea whose irresistible songs lured sailors, who warbled incessantly for their consuming attention.*

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We are enticed.  We can rarely escape into the stillness.

image“Be still and know that I am God” is an oft-quoted verse in the Psalms.**  Oh, how simple the words appear; the doing is not simple, nor easy.  As soon as I am “quiet” I am assaulted by myriad siren-like voices that cry not only for my attention, but for my immediate activity.  Sometimes I find myself unwittingly rising from where I am seated to move toward that activity ~ to call or text someone, to write a list, to throw in a load of wash.  I have to quell within the voices and quash the urge to move ~ out and away from the stillness.

Nonetheless, I find that the more I practice, the more I am making a new channel to first my brain, then to my heart.  The more I dwell in Stillness, the more relaxed I become.  The more relaxed and mindful I am, the more I can truly heart listen and the more I am open to receive from the Holy Spirit what is fresh and new.  I am so often amazed at what He reveals to me.  He innovates creative solutions to complex problems; He inspires hope to replace discouragement.  In listening as a part of my spiritual practice, for part of my time in prayer, I am instructed, uplifted, challenged, loved.  It is so wonderful that I find there is a growing longing in me to spend less time talking in prayer and more time listening for His Still Small Voice, His Heart Whispers.

As you reflect on my words here shared, I extend an invitation to you.  Please join me in this Lenten Season when we are beckoned to separate a bit more from the “Sirens” of technology, busy-ness, distraction, to a more quiet, more reflective Listening posture.  I pray you will find this not merely an exercise for this brief Season, but rather an embarking upon a new spiritual discipline, a new lifestyle of really “hearing” beyond your brain to what has been planted in your heart.

*Homer’s The Illiad and The Odyssey   ** Psalm 46:10

 


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come as you are

An Invitation:  to a Celebration!

A Come As You Are Party

No need to purchase an outfit:  what you have on right now will do just fine.

No need to check your calendar for conflicts: come right now.

No need to find out who else is invited:  YOU ARE and that is all that matters.

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A week ago Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten Season for 2016.  It will go on for 40 days.  Many who believe Jesus was and is the Son of God will spend this time in humble gratitude for what Jesus did for them.  They will fast some food or some activity that is significant to them.  Or, they will, as in my case, decide to stop a bad habit and acquire a better habit in its place.  They will allow this “Season” to be one of transformation.  Just as the humble caterpillar enters its cocoon and emerges a graceful butterfly, those honoring this Season hope to emerge a better, more grace-filled version of themselves.

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In many of my former years, I have elected to fast sugar .. or coffee .. or, not just sugar, but  sweet pastries .. or some other exercise in self-denial.  I emerged grateful for the aforementioned, embracing the delectable tastes once more. But, if I am honest, I cannot say I was changed, let alone transformed by the exercise in any discernible way.  Over the years, though, I have to believe that there has been a gradual transformation.  I now am fascinated by the WORD  and the Words of God!  I carry HOPE eternal in my heart that this world of woe belies.  I believe in the Power of Prayer to effect change.  ALL these things ~ and MORE ~ are due in part to my commitment to honor this Lenten Season which leads to the Via Delorosa which leads to Calvary which leads to the Tomb which leads to RESURRECTION MORNING!!!

What Lent requires of us is to Stand before Jesus, then to bow low.  I don’t easily bow low; my natural self prefers to STAND TALL!  But it is only in the laying low of self that the Journey to Truth occurs.  Only the Journey to Truth leads to Redemption.  And who doesn’t want Redemption?

“Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!”*

There’s a Party goin’ on .. non-stop!  And YOU – Me – We ALL are invited, “just as we are”!  We don’t have to get cleaned up or prepped in any way.  All that we need do is say, “YES!”  The saying is true that the ground is level at the foot of the Cross.

That means ALL are welcome.

Why not enter into Lent this year, if this is not your pattern?  Even though we are just a bit more than a week into Lent, if you commit the remaining time to draw apart from the usual, to draw in to taste His Living Water,** you will never thirst again!  You will find strength and peace for the day.  Not a placid, no troubles place is this peace.  Rather, it is a peace that looks beyond what sight sees and trusts that there is far more in the Invisible than all that is in the visible.*** It is a peace that endures EVEN in the tumult!

Jesus is the one who invites and His Holy Spirit says, “Come!  See!  Receive!” He was the First to show us LIFE Everlasting.  We, too, can have not only Strength for the day, but LIFE abundant and Life Everlasting.

Jesus says simply, “Just come!”

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*Psalm 34:8     **John 4:13-15; 7:38     ***Colossians 1:15-20


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The Love Language of a Bleeding Heart

Looking over the calendar, doing some planning, finding some dates.  Dates that need to be marked:  catching up on a few dates now past, noting the events that occurred, and adding to future dates both reminders and promises.

As I am flipping the pages forward in this still new-ish year ~ my heart skips a beat!  In the not-too-far-ahead, I see several days that fall clustered and that hold high expectation, joy ~ and just a little sadness mixed in with a dose of realistic expectation.  The month is May ~ a merry month ~ when flowers pop up & out, birthed from rainy wet April.  THAT is a promise in itself fulfilled:  Flowers after rain!

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This May there will be three birthdays for those whose lives are quantified as a product of my own birthing!  My daughter, my younger daughter, turns 40.  My third GrandBoy, her son, turns 13.  My youngest of six GrandBoyz, another of her sons, turns 7.  And in that order.  ‘Twill be a merry, color-filled month, yes, even if clouded with shadows of gray. The living out of our days brings both joy and pain and often the two are so intertwined, we cannot find where one ends and the other begins.  Love does not come sugar-coated.  Love comes with a price; it calls for commitment and sacrifice ~ the decision, the choice, made over and over.

There is a favorite flower of mine that befits this Month of Love, but blooms in that merry month.  It is known as Bleeding Heart.

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It is a beautiful, delicate flower that blooms, then fades as the weather warms.  Even the plant’s foliage disappears by mid-summer.  If you go to tend it, it is difficult to even find its remnants.  But it is still there, hidden below sight, under the warmed earth, watered by the sky.  It lies dormant.  It waits for the cold earth, the April rains, and then the warming of sun for its annual resurrection.

As a perennial, The Bleeding Heart is a picture of resilience.  It proves to fainting hearts that there is growth and beauty after what seems like, what appears like death.  Valentine’s Day for some is painful, lonely, sad.  It speaks of Love All Around, but to the one jilted or the one who has never known a soul mate, to the one who has lost love by death or divorce or mere disinterest, it is a season that bespeaks perhaps shame and certainly sadness.  It is about a heart bleeding.

Yet, as we consider this sweet, obscure plant created by a Creator God whose own Heart Desire is fellowship with His created one, hope begins to rise.  Finding Him means finding that that you ARE loved after all.  Finding Him means finding that you are never truly alone.  Finding Him means that you, like this lovely flower may bleed sometimes, but always there is a Healer for your pain, a Constant Companion for your need, a Lover for your soul.

Valentine’s is a Day to celebrate LOVE.  It is a Day to celebrate that “I am loved”!  It is a Day of hearts and flowers, of candy and gifts.  Above all, it is a Day among Days to KNOW  and to SHARE LOVE with those around you by being attuned to their hearts.  Together, let’s give the Gift of Love to several others this Valentine’s, not just those within our circle.  Share a smile, a kind word, an unexpected remembrance.  Our love, like the bleeding heart, can restore hope and resilience in another.


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WHEN HEART SEASONS CHANGE

This blog, as titled, is about pondering changing seasons ~ both literally and figuratively.  Both have occurred for me since September 2015.

For me, there’s been a seismic shift over the past six months.  In July, I traveled with approximately 2500 other short-term missionaries from around the world to land in the Dominican Republic ~ Dominicana Republica to the Caribbeans.  We were there to answer a Biblical question:  Can a Nation be changed in a Day?  The short-term answer is a resounding “YES”!  The long-term answer has to do with “it takes a long time,” but then SUDDENLY!  

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This idea was answered concerning the nation to which the Scripture applied ~ literally ~ in 1948, May 14, to be exact, when the the Provisional Government of Israel proclaimed the new State of Israel.  The United States was the first nation, through the person of President Truman, to recognize the provisional Jewish government as the de facto authority of the new Jewish State of Israel. Although there was dissension, once the UN declared Israel a Nation, a landed Nation, a “new” nation had been born.

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But I digress.  The shift in national identity can be slow or quick!  The shift in our own identity may be gradual or sudden!  Witness the one who loses a life partner to death ~ or divorce:  there is an immediate identity shift even if the anticipation of this shift lingered long.

When I retired last month, my Season changed.  And my identity shifted!  No longer may I call myself by my former title:  a clinician, a clinical social worker, a therapist.  Rather, being forthright, I am a retired therapist.  I no longer hold the position of trusted confidante for those in pain, those in confusion, those in the morass of their faith.

My skills are still intact.  My heart is still full of compassion.  Still, my art is alive.  My license has not expired.  {Nor have I!} But, in the moment of retirement, I chose to end one Season and begin a new Season.  This Season has yet to be molded. It lacks continuity.  It holds mystery.

This new Season was pondered and prayed over for at least two years.  It was not suddenly thrust upon me, as for some, yet it feels SUDDEN!  One day I had responsibilities; the next I did not.  I no longer had to check my phone messages from clients.  I no longer carried with me the possible call or text at any moment that would demand my care.  Some would say I was FREE! But, though my schedule is freed, my heart is still attached.  My identity is still shifting!

Perhaps you can relate!  Perhaps there is something ~ or someone ~ in your life from whom your life is being or has been severed.  Perhaps you are faced with an identity shift and it is painful.  Or, perhaps the identity shift is liberating.  Or, maybe it is BOTH ~ all at the same time!

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Changing heart seasons can be a scary thing.  It draws us to attention.  Our blood pumps swift from a trembling heart.  Our minds resist the discomfort, the pain of change.  We fear making wrong decisions, decisions that will have long-lasting repercussions not only in our own life, but in the lives of many whom we love.

We pause.  We hesitate.  We quake.

There’s a Scripture way back toward the end of the Bible that says something to the effect that our Creator did not give us a spirit of fear, but that He will equip us instead to be bold and loving and sensible.  We challenge fear with faith; we may move out with a bit of trepidation, but we move nonetheless, in faith believing that there is something new and good just around the bend.

The body is made to regenerate.  A cut to the body first scabs, then heals from underneath the protective covering.  A broken bone immediately begins to draw upon life forces within to mend and heal.   The heart, literally and figuratively, is made the same.  From within a lifetime of living is drawn the lessons and tools that regenerate and heal.  It may be a long time in coming, but one day it will suddenly be all right.  You will wake up, look up and discover that truly a new Season has begun; your heart has been restored.

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* Isaiah 66:8; **2 Timothy 1:7 (The Message)