letting go, pressing on

IMG_91732018 dawned in classic North Country winter fashion: piercingly clear, blazingly bright, and intensely cold. Mid-morning mercury hovered at negative 22 degrees Fahrenheit. Yikes! Wind chill warnings persist through mid-day, projecting negative 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Dangerously cold!

I’m in no hurry to get out although I will, eventually. I’ll bundle up and brave a brief walk across snowplowed path to check in on three grands next door. But for now, I’m content to linger in leisurely warmth.

Of course, this induces some guilt. I’ve been thinking of the Hubs since my feet hit the floor. Not a lot of good that’s done him, eh? There’s nothing worse than extreme cold on a dairy farm. They’ve been at it for hours, long before dawn broke, another miserably cold day in an exhausting week of subzero temps. I can only hope a batch of French onion soup and crockpot of beef stew are some comfort.  Meanwhile, I’m thankful for a quiet morning on the first day of the new year.

Yesterday I attended a new church. Pastor Floyd urged us to take a lesson from ancient King David’s epic example of letting go. As at the story goes, David, God’s elect, layered sin upon sin, including failure in line of duty, adultery and lying. As a result, a good man was murdered, a marriage ruined, and an infant died. Can you imagine what Facebook or Twitter would make of his mess?
Continue reading letting go, pressing on

sunrise, moonset

IMG_0922

I rushed outside for the sunrise
Winter coat thrown hastily over nightgown
Bare legs braving the frost
Misty fog of warm air rising from the river
Horizon slowly warming, blushing in pearly hues
Welcome to this new day.

I returned slowly, savoring the thought of piping hot coffee
That first cup always tastes the best
Pleasantly surprised by the harvest moon
Lingering as a bright ball of light
Slipping behind bare maple and birch, scruffy cedars and pine.

IMG_0919

Last night at dusk I startled a deer in the cornfield
He snorted and blew, fleeing over stubble
His white tail flying like a flag, he all but flew
Over corn stalks the combine left behind.

Oftentimes it seems life is like the deer
Gone in a flash. What was that? Was it really there?
Sunrise and moonset remind me to breathe
Just breathe.

You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
    My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
    at best, each of us is but a breath.
We are merely moving shadows,
   and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
We heap up wealth,
   not knowing who will spend it.
And so, Lord, where do I put my hope?
   My only hope is in you.

Psalm 39:5-7 New Living Translation (NLT)

 

~ René Morley

 

 

psalm 121 for children

The theme for children’s church this month is, “God is always watching over us.”  The preschool curriculum I purchased didn’t quite hit the target — even though most of our kids are ages 2 to 4 it needed a bit more weight.  So I created a very simple version of the psalm with motions to supplement the lesson. Week by week we act it out; I think they are getting it!

PSALM 121 for Children
 
My help comes from God! (Point and look upward)
He made the heavens and earth. (Arms extended upward, spin slowly in a circle)
He guards my steps. (Stomp-walk in place)
He never falls asleep. (Shake head and pointer finger as in “no, no”)
He protects me. (Cross arms over chest, move into crouch for next line)
He keeps me safe. 
He is with me wherever I go. (Arms extended upward, spin slowly in a circle)
God is always watching over me! (Hand over eyes)

I developed two additional crafts for this unit to reinforce the main point: God is always watching over us! The first was created with North Country landscape. I printed several photos on card stock. Children pasted lines of the psalm (numerically ordered) on top of the photo. The second was footprints which will be ready for Father’s Day. We traced in pencil then outlined with a sharpie. They applied paste and glitter. This week at home I’ll apply a cutout of the amplified version of Psalm 121:3, with a small spacer in between to layers to add dimension. Next week children will sign their names to the front.

Both were simple, low cost crafts to reinforce the central message, God is always watching over us. I hope these ideas are useful with your wee ones!

~ René Morley

 

open house, open hearts

open-house-2016

On the first Saturday of December we hosted an open house with Santa. It was one of those stars -have-aligned sort of opportunities. First Christmas in our new home. So many people to thank and so many reasons to be thankful. Young grandchildren and great-nieces and wee friends from children’s church experiencing the magical wonder and holy awe of Christmas. New friends in the community. Lots of good reasons to plan a Christmas party.

Most importantly, this will be the first Christmas since our beloved Betty passed over. She loved the Christmas season more than anyone I’ve known. Christmas a la Betty was a sight to behold. She trimmed the tree, the house, the yard, until every nook and cranny was graced by Christmas spirit. She spent an entire year preparing, purchasing gifts well in advance and baking sweets and treats for weeks leading up to the big day.

By the time I entered the scene the family was so large that gifts were exchanged in family groupings over the course of a week leading up to Christmas. Even then, she always exceeded expectations with beautifully wrapped packages spilling into the dining room from under the front room tree. On Christmas Eve, the entire brood gathered at the farm before church services. Santa made an appearance to the delight of the children as adults battled over Betty’s famous dill pickles in a gift exchange. Christmas was a celebration of family as well faith.

On the days leading up to our open house, it was almost as if my mother-in-law was shadowing each step. She felt very near as I was baking spiral hams and dozens of rolls, trimming with lights and baubles and scents of the season, wrapping packages to fill the gap under the mammoth tree that the Hubs, a.k.a. Clark Griswold, couldn’t resist — he carries her Christmas torch. I knew she would be pleased with our preparations for sixty guests. My sisters-in-law and others showed up with helpful contributions just as I knew they would because they also know family matters. Betty’s example and joyful celebrations of family life and Christmas will serve us well in to the future.

In one important way, as the song below so beautifully illustrates, this is her first Christmas. Listen in… and if that doesn’t boost your Christmas spirit, then spend some time with my Christmas playlist!

And it was just (February) past 
She said goodbye, and breathed her last 
And the great-grandchildren miss her so 
But if she could she would let them know … 
This is my first Christmas 

First time to hear the angels sing 
Glory, hallelujah to the risen king 
And a holy night is what this is 
‘Cause this is my first Christmas 
This is my first Christmas

 

 

 

I’m pleased to report the open house with Santa a grand success and a ton of fun. The house was buzzing with conversation among family, friends, and neighbors. Twenty children leaned in one by one, wide-eyed and eager to bend Santa’s ear — except for our three grandgirls, who each preferred to keep their distance! Santa gifted each child with a Little Golden Book retelling the first Christmas story.

I crouched low on the carpet, observing each of the children up close in their moment of joy on Santa’s lap. They were just precious. One of the most memorable was in 3 year-old Henry’s Santa exchange. It was a very short conversation. “I want a bounce house” (trampoline), Henry proclaimed. I prompted him to continue on his sister’s behalf, just as he’d practiced, so Santa would know Anna Bea would like “something that squeaks.” Alas, he’d changed his mind about sharing this detail. “No, GiGi,” he said. “She’s fine. Beasy don’t need nothing.” Well, huh. I sure hope Santa doesn’t forget her!

Long into the eventing we ate, drank and were merry in the making of memories and start of a new Christmas tradition.

 

Merry Christmas!

~ René Morley

journey to bethlehem

We’ve had so much fun with children’s church this fall! The first quarter is drawing to a close with a Journey to Bethlehem. The curriculum was a free download, which is always appreciated. Unfortunately, it wasn’t age-appropriate for our mostly preschool-aged group. So we borrowed weekly themes and customized lessons and crafts for wee ones to follow the star and learn the story of the first Christmas.

Our journey is based on the Christmas story as told in Luke 2:1-20. In week 1, we explore the journey Joseph took in trusting God, a leap of faith that changed the world as he led his new wife to fulfill 500 years of prophecy in Bethlehem. In week 2, we drop in on the lowly shepherds, the first people to learn and act upon the good news of great joy available to everyone. In week 3, we consider the long and expensive journey of the magi, they who were wise in watching the signs and following the star that led them to worship the Christ child. In week 4, we learn about the long journey the baby Jesus took to Bethlehem, giving up heaven to become the ultimate Christmas gift.

The children are learning cute hand motions to familiar carols like Away in the Manger, Drummer Boy, and Silent Night. The favorite, by far, is newcomer, “Oh, What a Special Night.”  You can’t help but sing and move along! I invite you to share the wonder and joy of Christmas with the little ones you love through these fun activities.

TOP LEFT of CENTER and FAR RIGHT: Joseph and family of popsicle sticks and cloth (week 1) TOP FAR LEFT and RIGHT of CENTER: Baby Jesus in popsicle stick and paper manger  (week 4) CENTER: Soft sheep reminder of the shepherds (week 2) BOTTOM  Sparkly clay star; we used this recipe (week 3) Please use comments for craft assembly questions.

As always, Carolyn Arends inspires my advent preparation. Come and See, is a joyous accompaniment to our journey! I guarantee if you like that you won’t want to miss Story of StoriesLong Way to Go, and It Was a Holy Night. Listen in and be inspired by those and many other original, thought-provoking lyrics by launching her delightful Christmas Jukebox. Do you lack Christmas Spirit? Get it here!

 

screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-8-41-09-am

Bonus! A sweet reminder of the first Christmas with M&M candies. I wish I knew who to give credit for this clever poem. Please clue me in if you know the original author!

 

Happy happy and merry, merry! May your Christmas be especially blessed.

~ René Morley

deep and wide

dsc_0791

I love fall. It is a sentiment shared with nearly every North Country neighbor. You wouldn’t likely live here otherwise, knowing what is ahead!

Who doesn’t love breathing deeply of crisp air scented with sun-warmed apple, or looking long at forest and hedgerow ablaze in autumnal display? Paper birch, sugar maple, red maple, black cherry, black walnut, white oak, poplar and other hardwoods burn brightly interspersed with cooling conifers: white spruce, Norway spruce, blue spruce, balsam fir, scotch pine, red pine, white pine, and white cedar. No wonder the woods smell so good!

Nights are cool for sleeping. Days are bright, perfect temps by noon, and oh, so inviting. It’s a wonder I get anything at all done inside. Except that this is also an especially intense time of year at work, headlong into our busy season.

This month and next, my bandwidth is running thin, calendar clogged with compulsory appointments and meetings including some at a distance. I can hear our home calling for a thorough cleaning, which I continue to ignore. I missed my exercise class again. And again. Even as I was preparing a welcome meal for neighbors, an activity I thoroughly enjoy, I felt myself running low, lower. Kaput!

I truly thought I was out of steam but no, I rallied for the grands. It’s highly unusual to see them all in the same week, even in a weekend, much less on the same day. Yet for some reason, as the day unfolded, there they were, by one or two or three. It was the best kind of day, largely spontaneous and unplanned. An entire day pushing swings, pulling wagons, assembling puzzles, serving snacks, preparing meals, singing songs, reading books, building block towers, setting up train tracks, kissing and hugging, snuggling and comforting. In other words, full on GiGi. It doesn’t get any better. 

Then I awoke aching midway through the night, fumbling for ibuprofen. Ohhhh. I did not see that coming. On Monday morning, I was just plain tired but determined to start the week off right, prioritizing ‘quiet time’ before launching my workday. Which led me to a familiar passage in Ephesians. Still, somehow, if was fresh and new. Just like God’s daily mercies, eh?

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father,  the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)

Oh! How wide, how long, how high, how deep his love! How unlimited his resources;  he never fails to bolster and support me. I close my eyes and breathe slowly, willing my roots deep, deeper, into this infinitely abundant place of love. Pressing in, my heart fills. My soul lifts. My spirit sings in gladness.

Meditating on this passage is like a drawing deep breath in autumn: rejuvenating, reinvigorating, refreshing! May God increase our understanding of his great love for us. I’m making Pauls’ prayer my prayer for October. How about you?

~ René Morley

 

art of neighborliness

We had a guest pastor in church this Sunday. I’d heard of the Reverend Juanita once and I liked what I heard. “She is a spitfire!” Pastor P commented. Sounds like my kind of girl! I was looking forward to hearing from her heart. Indeed, I knew from first glance of her awesome shoes — 4-inch heels in a jazzy pattern of gold, green, and blue — that she had something to teach me. Rev. Juanita inspires confidence in every step.

Rev. Juanita’s subject was the art of neighborliness. My thoughts turned immediately to  my mom; who, as I’ve mentioned, was an excellent teacher in this regard. Mom made it her practice to show neighborly love. Throughout my childhood it seemed she was always pedaling off with a gift of home made bread or cookies for a neighbor. But this week I was fascinated to hear from the pulpit: what does it mean for a congregation to practice the art of neighborliness?

Rev. Juanita’s message was terrific, rich with media and personal stories I can’t replicate. She imparted a history lesson of the 1938 reunion at Gettysburg, where veterans of the Blue and the Gray met again and embraced in brotherly love and amazing display of neighborliness. The essence of her message is one that settled in my heart long ago — I just didn’t know it by that name. The art of neighborliness is essential to building the kingdom of God.

As a Christian, neighborliness is putting people before ideology. It is throwing wide our doors and our arms to embrace and serve the other. It is loving and not judging. It is being the hands and feet of Jesus every day in the community. It is maintaining a focus on the Church rather than our church. Rev. Juanita reminded us that the kingdom of God (i.e. “Big C ” Church) is mentioned 121 times in the new testament, compared to less than a handful mentions of the church (i.e. “little c” church).

The art of neighborliness is exactly what Jesus was talking about in Luke 10. It is not complicated although it can be very difficult. Those who are generous in spirit are well equipped for this work. Not too long ago I shared my perspective on this basic truth.

The foundation of Christian faith is as simple as it is solid. There are a handful of basic tenets and nothing much to argue about. Jesus is God’s son, resurrected. God provided a way because He loves us. He wants to be in relationship with us. In accepting Him, we are adopted into his family. He sent his Holy Spirit to guide us until His return.

Beyond that, it doesn’t much matter. 

Although God provides the way, modern-day Pharisees continue to throw up gates, personally standing guard. But to what end? Christian faith isn’t a checklist of do’s and don’ts in order to be admitted. It’s about love. Seriously, it’s that simple.

‘LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, ALL YOUR SOUL, ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND ALL YOUR MIND.’ AND ‘LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’

That’s it, Jesus said. “Do this and you shall live!” And this is brilliant. Because when I do this — and when I trust that you will, too — everything else takes care of itself. 

[excerpted from March 2013 post, 40-watt Jesus]

Rev. Juanita’s secret to building a thriving local church in a small, remote community is embedded in her great love for God and consideration for the other. “I don’t need to tell them all that’s wrong with their lives; they know most of it anyway.” This is grace and a wonderful example of God’s graceful nature. She alluded to needs in the community that run deep, some of which may be generational or systemic. Neediness of this nature often overwhelms me.  Then she spoke of partnering — I love that term — with God, with church members, with others in the community to meet these needs. These are acts of mercy, just as God is merciful. In practicing the art of neighborliness, she and her church congregation are building the Church, investing in the kingdom of God.

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” 

Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?” 

The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 

“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!” 

The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  

[And here’s what Jesus had to say about that…]

Who is my neighbor? Who is yours?

~ René Morley